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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 09:55 am

Remnants from the Roots saga

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Naked Raygun riles up a random audience.

Along with the privilege of writing this week’s IT cover story on Sean and Jamie Burns’ legacy with the Sangamon Valley Roots Revival came many personal recollections unable to fit into the professional, journalistic tack I took (or at least attempted to) with the story. I presented the lighter and brighter side of the saga, but here in my column I’m about to tell the real truth of the sordid side of the SVRR and sully the fine reputation of this honorable organization with garish gossip and rancid rumors.    

My first experience with the dark side of the SVRR came years before the existence of the ominous organization. In 1984 when a young Sean Burns booked the punk freaks Naked Raygun at Sangamon State University I aided the process by hooking him up with the late Ken Reynolds of Rock Creek Sound. All went well until the lead singer of the Chicago-based group began swinging his (actually Ken’s) microphone around and generally abusing the sound equipment as the raucous group of mostly high school-age wannabe punks joined in the fracas. Reynolds, aghast at the irreverent attitude toward his gear, grabbed the mic and abruptly ended the show to save what was left of his PA. Things turned out okay, but it was a harbinger of what Burns had in store for Springfield.

My next adventure with SVRR concerns the doings of one Wayne Hancock, a self-described hillbilly singer more than 50 years after the last hillbilly was sighted leaving Missouri for Montana. When Hancock performed at the Illinois State Fair in 1999 I shared a Goose Island Orange Cream soda with him and immediately wondered about his credibility as a musician when he informed me of his self-inflicted, newfound sobriety. Burns was there and soon after began looking for a place to launch his nefarious scheme to inundate Springfield with such riffraff. The next time I saw Hancock was about 5 in the evening in May 2001 as he rolled into town for a SVRR show at the Alley. The first question he asked was, “Is this the Alley?” I replied in the affirmative. His second question was, “Do you know where I can score some reefer?” I must plead the Fifth regarding my reply.

When the now internationally famous Ryan Adams played the Alley, he spoke to hardly anyone, sat on a chair on stage and suddenly the whole room was silent. Truly one of the creepiest stage events I’ve ever experienced, the room remained hushed throughout his performance, with people sitting on the floor in front of the stage, staring at Adams like a bunch of mesmerized zombies. After his brief show of less than 45 minutes, he walked straight to play a Golden Tee golf game while everyone watched and waited for the second set that never came. I have no personal experience in the following hearsay, but credible sources claim the then unheralded star later asked more than one audience member for a line on purchasing cocaine. Can you believe the nerve of these musicians?

The squalid tales go on and on. Rosie Flores downing shots of tequila like water and still performing a great show. Mandy Barnett smoking cigarettes and sipping bourbon like Tom Waits on vacation as she dissed Hank Williams. Candye Kane autographing other women’s breasts. The late Ray Condo lost in the Alley beer room declaring to Jamie Burns that he must be in hillbilly heaven. And now the SVRR in a cloak of respectability continues to bring in these musician types who show no regard for the common decency levels expected of regular people. Honestly, I need to stop now, before it just makes me sick.

By the way, just to be sure because sometimes my tone in print is misunderstood, even though these things actually occur, I really think Jamie and Sean achieved a great and wondrous accomplishment in making music happen in Springfield where a vacuum once thrived. Congratulations and thank you.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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