The annual Hootenanny Festival always celebrates the maverick spirit of roots rock and punk music, and this year's edition on Saturday at a new site--Hidden Valley Ranch in Irvine, adjacent to Verizon Wireless Amphitheater--was no exception.
But thanks to key moments in headlining performances by rock elder statesman Chuck Berry and veteran punk band Social Distortion, Hootenanny 2001 also turned into a poignant thanksgiving for another day on planet Earth.
The recent deaths of John Lee Hooker and Chet Atkins combined with the realization that Berry turns 75 later this year to make his atypically focused and energetic performance all the sweeter.
Midway through his hourlong set, Berry gave a respectful nod to mortality with an unexpected version of Tony Joe White's country waltz " 3/4 Time," in which he sang: "While I'm still kickin' / I'm gonna keep pickin' my tunes / I love what I'm doing / I hope it don't end too soon."
Where his performances in recent years have been wildly erratic, Berry largely played his Rock 101 classics in full, inhabiting rather than simply reciting those artful lyrics.
Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness has long been punk's most consistent proponent of the message that life's too short for self-destruction, for ignorance, for artifice or pretty much anything except living fully and honestly.
That view has only gained resonance for him and the band's fans in the two years since the group's guitarist Dennis Danell died of a brain aneurysm. So along with "Don't Take Me for Granted" and "Bad Luck," the Orange County quartet introduced some new material from its first post-Danell album, currently in progress, as if to show that life does go on.
Earlier in the day, British singer-guitarist Dave Edmunds tipped his hat in a quick, three-song solo set to Atkins and former Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore, who canceled his Hootenanny appearance because of illness. Edmunds returned at the end of singer-bassist Lee Rocker's performance to join the band on a rollicking romp through Presley's Sun Records-era hit "Mystery Train."
The all-day concert and hot rod show featured a half-dozen other punk and roots-rock acts and drew about 11,000 fans.