[Hype Hype Hooray] The Knotty Pine: A Wild Mountain Venue From Another Dimension

Every [two weeks?] Jamie Hale takes a long, hard look at the music industry and the blog scene that feeds it. Here, he releases those findings and makes snarky, sarcastic remarks. Admittedly, both Jamie and Knox Road are a part of this scene. So sue us.

I stepped into the Knotty Pine on a crisp Tuesday night. The venue, located in Victor, Idaho (population 840), looks like an old mountain cabin on the outside and is decorated as such on the interior. Adorning the walls were photos of bands that have come through next to several pairs of antlers and signs for western microbreweries.

Given the location, one might expect the demeanor to be laid back and the music local. Given a single show at the Knotty Pine, however, and one might do a mental u-turn. On this particular night, the entertainment was the legendary Reverend Horton Heat. For those unaware, the Reverend Horton Heat is the stage name for rockabilly musician Jim Heath. Heath and his two fellow bandmates have been playing what they describe as “country-fed punkabilly” since 1985.

Not familiar with the rockabilly/psychobilly scene or the Knotty Pine, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The opener was a band called Nashville Pussy, a four-piece southern punk rock band with endless energy. As they belted out their brand of brash, fast-paced, southern-fried rock and roll, I took the opportunity to scan the crowd.

To my left were a couple of unassuming middle-aged men in polo shirts. To my right was a group of young girls, laughing and dancing. In front of me was a couple of 30-something women wearing long, tight, solid-color dresses and flowers in their hair. (Apparently this is a more modest version of what rockabilly fans wear to shows.) Elsewhere there were backwards-hatted dudes, middle-aged moms and socially awkward lanky guys sporting black band shirts and cowboy hats. How did all these people end up at the same show? It all seemed so impossible.

The barrier to entry in the rockabilly scene seems high, and the mood emanating from those in the proper attire was appropriately mightier-than-thou. And yet, as a whole, the crowd didn’t seem to care. As long as you didn’t mess with anybody else, you were fine. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that a drop of spilled beer would land me on the floor with a boot on my face.

Once the Reverend took the stage, the Knotty Pine audience lit up–figuratively and literally. The mountain venue suddenly transformed into a raucous saloon. People hooted, hollered and waved their hats in the air. Beer and booze flowed generously as people danced sloppily to the band’s punk rock western-twang. The air was thick with the endless smell of weed. Everybody came out of the bathroom stoned and drunk. Two dudes behind me lit up a pipe in the open. The fear of cops and moral police seemed to exist in another dimension.

At one point, one of the rockabilly women whispered something into the ear of a young dancing couple. The guy looked at his girlfriend, the two nodded and all three walked outside. Moments later, rockabilly woman came back with some other guy entirely and the two started guzzling down cocktails. (I never found out what happened to that dancing couple.) Meanwhile, Reverend Horton Heat belted out songs like “Please Don’t Take the Baby to the Liquor Store” and “Baby I’m Drunk”–appropriate tunes for the wild crowd.

Somehow, this tiny venue in tiny Victor, Idaho manages to bring in big-name acts and throngs of raucous hooligans. These musicians and fans could have easily gone to Salt Lake City or Boise, but instead they went to a little place in the Idaho mountains. When I first drove into town I wondered how the Knotty Pine could possibly afford to operate in a town of fewer than 1,000 people. Once the Reverend took the stage, I knew the answer to my question.

They do it by operating a venue that doesn’t exist in this world full of Urban Outfitters and MP3s. They exist in some different universe entirely, where music transcends time and fans spit in the face of conformity. This was a place where you could get a locally-brewed beer or Johnnie Walker on the rocks. It was a place where bands ask for weed donations, to be given to the guy selling t-shirts, thank you very much. Most importantly, it was a place where people from all over this secretive, rural state could go wild, free from the restraints society puts on them.

Sometimes I wish the entire world could be dipped into that alternate universe, if only just for one night.

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