Country Darkness

Nudie Suit Stardusters at the Little Red Hen, Nov. 30, 2006.

Blue was not the word for the way I felt last Thursday. It was worse, and the lead singer of traditional country group the Nudie Suit Stardusters must have known. When I took a seat in the corner of the Little Red Hen, throwing back a cold Rainier, the band struck up Ray Price's "Crazy Arms," a song I first heard on my grandma's radio—then later in college when I discovered the Flying Burrito Brothers.

For the uninitiated, the Little Red Hen is situated behind the Baskin-Robbins on Green Lake. While that neighborhood is a classic example of the sort of hypergentrification Seattle has undergone post-software, the Little Red Hen remains a stubborn devotee to rail liquor and Stetsons. Unwilling to budge under the pressures of development, the Hen stands out amidst the yoga studios, sports bra retailers, and marathon-training centers that dominate Seattle's urban fitness mecca. But whereas other bars of its kind cater to a blue-collar hipster crowd, the Hen plays to the kind who like both kinds of music: country and western.

Unlike more uptight establishments, the dance floor at the Hen is perpetually packed. An octogenarian couple shuffled their feet as a younger crew got down around them. A big fellow in a massive cowboy hat and tight black jeans had some moves, and he twirled nearly every woman in the joint. One dark-haired woman was lucky, and she was spun around by nearly every cowboy in the house. Except by me, of course: I was sitting by myself in the corner, staring into my beer, mouthing the lyrics to every song the band played.

Patsy Cline's "Crazy," "Hello Walls" by Faron Young (via Willie Nelson), and "Oh, Lonesome Me" by Don Gibson: We're talking some serious tunes for white people to dance to—and sad songs for a guy feeling down on his luck. What amazed me, however, was not the note-for-note delivery of these classics but the fact that I knew, like, every word. These songs take me back to Pennsylvania, into my parents' living room, where my folks used to spin country constantly through the '80s because, as my old man so delicately put it, that's the decade when rock music went to shit.

True to their name, the Nudie Suit Stardusters were dressed in Nudie Suits—or at least good replicas. (I asked the guitar player if they were real, and he said: "I don't know. The band just gave me the shirt and said I had to wear it.") And replication is what the Nudie Suit Stardusters do best. They don't try to win over a crowd with country-style Springsteen covers, or by doing twangy versions of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" (we'll leave that to Eddie Spaghetti). They simply play old songs like they were meant to be played. And for the Thursday night crowd that was just looking to swing their partner, the mix was pitch perfect.

Opening Act is a weekly look at a band you didn't go to see, but saw anyway—because they played before the band you went to see (and were maybe even better).

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