Country stardom made easy

The Alkali Flats learned 40 Hank Williams Sr. songs, but you only have to sing one

Tim White, Chris Harvey, Keith Cary and Mark Miller perform in the Alkali Flats’ favorite venue—the Nevada desert.

Tim White, Chris Harvey, Keith Cary and Mark Miller perform in the Alkali Flats’ favorite venue—the Nevada desert.

The Alkali Flats present Hank Williams Karaoke, with the Haints; 9 p.m. Friday, February 4; Old Ironsides, 1901 10th Street, (916) 443-9751.

The flier begins, “Musical trainwreck at 10 p.m.” A bit of self-deprecation isn’t unusual among local musicians, but read the rest: “'We’ll never get out of this club alive!’ The Alkali Flats perform Hank Williams Karaoke.”

When the Alkali Flats promise a musical train wreck, they aim to deliver the goods. First, they decided to learn every song on Hank Williams Sr.’s 40 Greatest Hits CD. Then, those crazy bastards announced they’d let any dang fool with a hankering for country-music stardom get up and play Hank to their Drifting Cowboys. Make no mistake: Hank Williams Sr. was the rowdiest, drunkest country-music icon of them all. Those who volunteer to channel his spirit for the night may find themselves behind bars come morning or, at the very least, all alone and brokenhearted.

Also, keep in mind that a karaoke machine is not hindered by a vocalist with no rhythm. But a live band? Well, the Flats may spend a good deal of the night trying not to be led astray. If you’ve ever wanted to hear a 12-minute rendition of “Moanin’ the Blues,” this may be your chance.

At a recent interview, guitarist Tim White sat with bandmates Chris Harvey (bass and guitar) and Mark Miller (drums), discussing how the train wreck became their destiny. Harvey retraced the first steps in the band’s downward spiral. “We spend a lot of time in the Nevada desert, poking around, trying to find ghost towns,” he explained. “There’s this sort of do-what-you-want aspect to it that’s really enjoyable. Some people bring guns, or we bring fireworks or flare guns. You know, you can make as much noise as you want. We usually bring all our instruments, drink as much we want, and we can kinda fall down wherever we want, and nobody cares.”

It was during these trips, playing music around a campfire and sleeping in long-abandoned miners’ cabins, that the Alkali Flats began to develop strange ideas of how to put on a show.

White described their gigging experiences. “The best shows we have, besides trips to our ghost town, involve us walking into random rural bars and just playing.” White continued, “Those people seem to get it without being critical about musical genres and shit. We can play everything from the Blue Sky Boys to Gram Parsons, Louvin Brothers to Willie Nelson and throw in a ’60s folk song just to fuck you up, and it don’t matter. We just play music, sing, smile and laugh.”

Clearly, the band enjoys life outside the clubs. So, when the Alkali Flats venture into club land, you know they’re on a mission. When asked if he really expects a train wreck, White answered, “I think there’ll be moments of musical brilliance and moments of sheer comedy.”

The band is picking up Williams’ songs at an alarming rate. With only three rehearsals to go at the time of this interview, the Flats had learned 33 songs. White pointed out the difficulty in tackling such a set: “Learning a Hank Williams song is fairly easy because a lot of them are real straightforward. Trying to learn 40, they tend to all start to bleed together a little bit.”

As if the band hadn’t signed up for enough uncertainty, the Flats have arranged for guest musicians to join them. Mike Farrell, better known for his over-the-top rock ’n’ roll, will show what he can do with an acoustic guitar. “There are rumors that we might have a fiddle player,” Harvey added mysteriously. “He hasn’t practiced with us yet. We haven’t really met, but he might play with us.”

In addition to Farrell and “Fiddle Player X,” there is a fourth official Alkali Flats member. Multi-instrumentalist Keith Cary is a minor celebrity on the old-timey music circuit, having played with the Joy Buzzards as well as Robert Crumb’s Cheap Suit Serenaders.

There ought to be just enough room left on the stage for the merry karaoke singers. Pull out them Hank records and choose a few favorites to rehearse. The band has vowed to play no song more than twice, so show up early and have a few backup selections ready.