TE TE hootenanny

There doesn’t seem to be a fully functioning neon sign anywhere in Capitol Bowl. It’s ironic, considering how much the West Sacramento bowling alley’s décor depends on neon. Just across the Tower Bridge from Old Sacramento, nestled among seedy “by the hour” motels like the Experience, the Capitol Bowl’s electric-green emblem beckons passers-by with foot-high letters reading “Capi… Bowl.” On the evening we arrived, for a Tuesday-night hootenanny hosted by the Haints’ lead singer, Kepi, the missing letters formed a charming, if misspelled, tribute.

Indoors, the scene was straight out of an Alive & Kicking cover story. Cake blared from the PA system as publisher Jerry Perry, in a bright teal bowling shirt, tried for a spare on the center lane. The smell of bowling-shoe disinfectant mingled with the crackly mozzarella odors of fresh-baked pizza from the snack bar. It was tempting to trade in our footwear and join Perry, but the televisions over each lane reminded us of our mission: “Hootenanny. First Tuesday. 7pm.”

A live-music show at an early hour, on a weeknight, in a bowling alley with free admission, fresh pizza and a bar is a great idea. It’s cheap for the young and broke, it’s family-friendly for rockers with children, and it fills a slow night in the weekly music calendar. Unfortunately, the bands perform inside the 300 Club (the Capitol Bowl’s bar) and can’t be heard from the lanes. Music fans were forced to choose: band or bowling. The gutter-ball all-stars among us seemed relieved, but bowling enthusiasts were truly torn. As one in our party laughingly complained, “This is bowl-shit.”

Vowing to bowl another day, we crowded inside the 300 Club as the Haints took the stage. The band sported an extended lineup including David Houston on tambourine, Bobby Jordan on organ, Claire Armstrong on the saw and Dan Reynoso on drums (filling in for a vacationing Scampi). All were backlit by neon beer signs in various stages of decay. A red “TECATE” sign flashed the letters “TE TE” over and over. “Tay tay” became the slogan of the night, eliciting applause with every utterance.

The hootenanny was less a Haints show than a bunch of friends taking turns entertaining one another. Assured by the bartender, who won many fans that night, that time was no concern, the musicians in attendance—including Anton Barbeau, the Helper Monkeys, Mickie Rat and Tony Brody—joined the jamming. Everyone traded instruments and talked through the songs, debating who would play when. Kepi’s trademark banter, with updates on the progress of a runaway spider crossing the bar, smoothed the sometimes-bumpy musical transitions and made even those with Fred Flintstone bowling skills forget about the game.

A second bowling hootenanny is planned for March. Add the Groovie Ghoulies to your MySpace friends and look for their bulletins for more information.