Media Life: Waybacks ready to take Auburn audience to musical extremes

World Music Fest spotlights new Downtown Auburn venue; Stage set at State Theater
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Click on a YouTube video of The Waybacks performing all of Led Zeppelin’s classic second album and try to find the Gibson Les Paul crunchily meandering through some of Jimmy Page’s most legendary riffs. But it’s not there. There’s a singer. And a drummer. A bass player is doing his best John Paul Jones. The fiddle player is providing some well-placed aural nuances. But no electric guitar. And then it hits you. The guy with the acoustic is the source of all that Page-like goodness. He’s cranked up the gain, slammed down the distortion pedal and he’s going for it, feedback and all – on a, gulp, standard, acoustic guitar. The guitarist would be James Nash and, yeah, he’ll admit it, he’s willing to take his music in extreme directions like the Merlefest concert’s Zeppelin tribute – and take the audience along with him for that wild ride. The Waybacks, who are the headliner at Friday’s Party in the Park, played the Led Zep II concert at last year’s Merlefest outdoor concert in Wilkesboro, N.C. That’s where the YouTube video was culled from. The band returned this past April to Merlefest and performed the complete “Sticky Fingers” album by The Rolling Stones, with Emmylou Harris sitting in on “Wild Horses.” Speaking by phone near the tail end of some East Coast gigs, Nash said he embraces that extreme mentality when he hits the stage – but adds that musical extremes can move the other way. “To me, music is all about extremes,” Nash said. “When it’s fast, it’s great when it’s really fast. And when it’s quiet, it can be really beautiful and quiet.” The Waybacks, who backed the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir in some well-received performances three years ago, meld the fiddle playing of Warren Hood with an acoustic rhythm section of drummer Chuck Hamilton and bassist Joe Kyle Jr. TAILOR-MADE TUNES Nash, who was raised in Nashville and formed the Waybacks 10 years ago in the Bay Area, said he’ll have about five or six songs ready for the Auburn audience that the band plays every night. But the group will tailor much of the rest of the show to what they think will work best, taking in the setting, the mood of the crowd, even the temperature outside. “Part of the fun of seeing the band is that we’re taking chances – there’s an element of danger in our music,” Nash said. That sometimes means getting the various sound engineers at the mixing board at different performances on the same page. “Sometimes when I get feedback (in the amp) I hear it and it sounds good but they hear it and they start turning the fader down,” Nash said. “When they ‘get’ our music, they realize that things can get louder and quieter and they let it happen.” The concert, presented by the Auburn Recreation District, is free and seating is on the expansive lawn in the bowl shaped area off Regional Park’s Richardson Drive. The Waybacks are slated to start playing at 8 p.m. and go to about 10 p.m. Opening act Kate Gaffney will open the show, starting at about 5:30 p.m. BOWLED OVER The use of the Regional Park’s “natural bowl” for Party in the Park provides a good segue into two other venues that are coming into their own in Downtown Auburn. The first is the Auburn School Park Preserve’s amphitheater. Ignored for years, it has been revitalized and will be used on Saturday during the many World Music Day performances. Janis Wykoff, part of the organizing committee for the event, said that hopes are the venue can expand to basically anywhere in Auburn. That’s the way World Music Day rolls in other communities worldwide. It’s been spreading since its origins in France 27 years ago. I’m looking forward to seeing who gets first dibs to play at the center of the sidewalk over the Foresthill Bridge at sunrise. STATE HAS STAGE Speaking of stages that are making a comeback, the new stage at Downtown Auburn’s State Theater is nearing completion. George Remaley was at work the other day on a sturdy, 16-by-20-foot performance space that should stand the test of the Thunderfoot Cloggers or any other fancy footwork entertainers can dish out. Bob Snyder and a volunteer construction crew did much of the work over an active weekend. With two movie projectors in place for movies that could start showing on the new screen by the fall, seating for 120, wiring installed for lighting and the continued presence of the spectacular neon sign out front, the State Theater is getting its mojo back. Next up are some August shows by the Placer Community Theater. BLUES CAMPOUT Thom Myers, organizer of summertime Blues Benefest festivals-past in Auburn, wants to remind aficionados of the blues of the Rollins Lake Blues Education Campout & Jam from June 26-28 at Greenhorn Campgrounds on Rollins Lake. Workshops, classes and plenty of jamming will take place for an event sponsored by the Sierra Blues Society and Sacramento Blues Society. Michael Sasaki, once guitarist for San Francisco band Cold Blood, is one of the instructors. Call (530) 268-9166 for more details. Myers said that he’s still keeping alive the possibility of bringing back the benefest to Auburn but it won’t be happening this summer. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at