Hangtown Halloween Ball continues tradition of feel-good vibes

Trombone Shorty headlined the Hangtown Halloween Ball last weekend.

By Paul Piazza

The Hangtown Halloween Ball celebrated its fifth year by doing what it does best: bring amazing talent into a cozy, family-friendly campout that also goes deep into the night for dance fiends. It also continued a tradition of displaying established acts as well as interesting new sounds.

This year’s four-day event, held at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds in Placerville, featured national acts like Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Yonder Mountain String Band and the festival’s host band Railroad Earth. There was quite a variety in between with Brooklyn’s quirky Rubblebucket, electronic bellydance sensation Beats Antique, Portland’s supercharged Scott Pemberton Trio and South Lake Tahoe’s Dead Winter Carpenters (DWC). DWC is the only band besides Railroad Earth that has played the festival all five years.

Railroad Earth, Hangtown Halloween host band.

Sacramento funksters Ideateam

Over 30 bands performed—many in costume—for the more than 2,500 guests in attendance. Among them were Sacramento’s Ideateam, who delivered a great set of adventurous, explorative, funky rock.The band got an overwhelming response during its first-ever Hangtown set. Afterwards, drummer Joe Carusi and the rest of the band played a couple more renegade sets out on the festival campground. 

Another discovery for many: Rubblebucket. The band likened its first Hangtown experience to High Sierra Music Festival, which it played a few years back. “We could sense a High Sierra vibe at Hangtown,” said Rubblebucket bandleader and trumpet player Alex Troth. “There is a similar musically enthusiastic crowd of good people. It really feels like a community.”

Kalmia Traver of Rubblebucket 

Rubblebucket has been touring extensively in support of its album Survival Sounds, which was written while singer Kalmia Traver was battling and then recovering from ovarian cancer about three years ago. Troth, to whom she is engaged, also decided to quit drinking during that period. The result is a record with themes about overcoming massive obstacles without being overwhelmed by them. “What I took from Kal’s being sick is that no matter what happens, it doesn’t help to add more stress,” Troth said. “We focused on the interpersonal aspect of being in a band together and to take things as they come and learn from them.”

The Dead Winter Carpenters, who wore three-dimensional polygon deer masks one day and dressed as the cast from Smokey and the Bandit on another echoed Troth’s thoughts.

“Hangtown holds a very special place in our hearts,” said DWC’s vocalist/rhythm guitarist Jess Dunn. “It feels like a family reunion where we get to reconvene with our friends that we haven’t seen since our last go ‘round.”

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