Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women – Swallow Hill, CO

Dave Alvin and band members known collectively as the Guilty Women: Cindy Cashdollar (dobro, lap steel), Christy McWilson (vocals), Sarah Brown (bass), Amy Farris (fiddle, vocal) and Lisa Pankratz (drums), played a rollicking two-hour set of blues, roots and folk music at the L2 Arts and Culture Center (a venue that Swallow Hill Music Association uses for some shows).

Though they were missing two members (Nina Gerber, Laurie Lewis) they soldiered on, playing songs from their new album, some well-chosen covers (John Stewart, Kate Wolf, Doris Day) and some from Dave’s other projects. And the theme of the night was definitely California.

The Most Beautiful Girl

Marie, Marie

“It’s wonderful to be back in Denver,” Dave said. “Home of the Rockmount Shirt Company, I might say. And also the hometown of my musical mentor, my hero, the guy that taught me so much, one of the greatest rhythm and blues saxophone player that I’ve ever heard. Even though he’s associated with New Orleans and all the great music that came out of New Orleans in the 1950s, he was born and raised right here in Denver, Colo., my hero, Lee Allen. So whenever I see an old building in Denver, I say, ‘What did Lee do there?’ Anyway, I digress. As you can see, the more perceptive of you, I’m a dude. Everybody else up here…”

“Those aren’t dudes behind you,” someone in the audience said.

“I hadn’t noticed, myself, to me everybody else up here is a musician. And they’re better than a lot of damn musicians I’ve ever had up here. That’s a song off the new CD, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women. We’re gonna do a few others right in a row, but first, a digression for a second or two to the great John Stewart.”

California Burning

“Over there on that fiddle, born and raised in Austin, Texas, please give a warm summer evening welcome to the beautiful Amy Farris. And over here to my right, picking up her dobro, is truly one of the greats of the steel guitar, born and raised in Woodstock, NY, please give it up for the dangerous Cindy Cashdollar.

“You know, I’ve done a lot of dumb stuff in my life, I really have. Ask any of my long-time friends and they’ll give you a long litany of jazz that I’ve done, but I’ve done a really dumb thing tonight, I’ll tell you. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb thing. I’m gonna tell you what it is because I like you so much, you seem like honest, good, hard-working people. The dumb thing I did tonight: wearing a wool jacket, on stage. That’s about the dumbest thing I think I’ve ever done, at least in the 21st century. You don’t mind if I remove it, do you? I know it’s a church and all that. (He took off the jacket and Christy made a joke about how she saw that coming.)

“Where where we before I was so rudely interrupted by my own band? I come from, I was born and raised in a middle-of-nowhere Orange Grove town called Downey, Calif. (Some scattered hoots and hollers from the crowd.) I knew you were there, you were cruising Harvey’s bar, I saw you. We were both younger and wiser. Anyway, there was a very beautiful, talented, famous and tragic singer that came from my hometown of Downey, Calif. (Karen Carpenter) And after all these years, it finally became apparent that I should write a song about her and that I should play it in tune. But that wool jacket, taking it off makes all the difference, like I just got out of prison.

“I’ve got to get in the mood for this one, give me just one second. Jesus, it got hot in here. I know it’s unprofessional to drink on stage, so I’m drinking Bud Light.”

Downey Girl

“So I was lying in bed this morning at the motel, we did eTown last night, had a great time, and about 8:30 in the morning the phone was ringing in my room. Which is never good, right? Anytime after 10 or before 9, it could be my brother. It could be your brother. And so I answered the phone, ‘Hello (growled)’, ‘Hello Dave, this is Floyd Kaufman from the Denver Musicians’ Union, we got some complaints from your appearance at eTown last night, your band was great, we loved the band, but you were out of tune. And I just want to let you know, when you play tonight, in the City of Denver, if you’re out of tune, it’s $200, pal.’ So I’m just going to spend the whole night tuning, I hope you don’t mind. I really don’t want to hear his voice again in the morning, not without flowers or something.

“Speaking of beautiful, famous, speaking of beautiful, talented female singers, who are not tragic, to do another song on the new CD, please welcome a woman I’ve known in one form or another since she was 11-years-old. Our parents used to plop us on the floor to watch the same cartoon shows and she would ignore me. But I finally get the opportunity to share the stage with her. All the way from the over-caffeinated, over-opinionated, city of Seattle, Wash. please give a warm welcome to the soulful, Christy McWilson.”

Weight of the World

“It’s a real thrill for me to share the stage with all these women. Amy over there, I’ve had the great opportunity and good fortune to produce a CD for her called Anyway and I had the good fortune and opportunity to produce two CDs for Christy, and why she listened to anything I had to say, I’ll never understand. The other good fortune I’ve had is my last record, not the current one, which by the way is available out there on your way out. Our good friend is out there selling Guilty Women t-shirts, Guilty Women tote bags, we’ve got tote bags. That’s right, I’m an NPR station now, I’ve been non-profit for 30 years and damn it, why change now? Anyway, there’s a bunch of jazz out there, he’s a good guy and he won’t cheat you. The record I did before this was called West of the West, it was a tribute to native California songwriters and Christy was sweet enough to come and sing on a song on that CD, we’d like to do it now, but before we do I have to say.

“I know some of you are out there counting, and yes, you’re right, we’re missing two guilty women. We’re missing the extraordinary Laurie Lewis and we’re missing the dynamic Nina Gerber. And because this whole issue with past warrants, with those two, they can’t get into Colorado, they got stopped at the border in Utah. They wish they could be here, but they can’t. I’d like to do a song off that CD that was written by one of the greatest California songwriters, one of the greatest songwriters ever, Nina Gerber was her guitarist for many years, this is a Kate Wolf song.”

Here in California

“This is a nice, comfortable venue. You all like it? Take your shoes off, well, don’t do it, but you could. They apparently have beverages, that’s a good thing because, well, one or two of you could take your shoes off, let’s not make it a group effort though. Grab your beverage, relax, because this next song, we’re going to be hanging around it for awhile.”


“I’m going to embarrass Cindy for a minute.”

Cindy was fiddling with her amp which suddenly made a loud feedback sound.

“Or maybe she can handle that on her own. Does anybody out there have a spare Fender steel king amp on them, maybe in the trunk of your car? We’ll take a deluxe, we’ll take a twin, we’ll take a super, even. Does anybody have a damn amplifier we can use Cindy, can I show you an old guitar player trick? Actually, this is educational for those of you who play, bang on it. Do it, that’s a transistor amp. There’s a trick, for transistor amps when they start doing that jazz, take your fist, it’s true, and you just pound the living hell out of that amplifier. It’s true, and Cindy, you watch, while you play, and I admire your bravery in doing this, because this next song is not going to cut it on dobro, it’s not. I’m going to waltz over there and I’m going to take my useless right hand and I’m going to pound the living hell out of that amplifier until it stops. Either that, or you want to line up right there, you all come up and pound the top of Cindy’s amp? (One guy came up to the side of the stage) I have one volunteer, wait there, wait there. You want to hit the right side, right about there, no don’t come on stage until you hear it. I admire you, Sir, you are indeed a music fan.

“Now, my brother Phil and I, we were 78 collectors and we loved old R&B records and old blues records and we figured out that where we lived, we were lucky enough that we could sneak into bars and see the guys that were on the old 78s. Because of that, at a very early age, we got to be friends with people like T-Bone Walker and Lightning Hopkins and my favorite of all, Big Joe Turner. So here’s another song off the new CD about Big Joe Turner, the greatest blues shouter ever, the man known as the Boss of the Blues.”

Boss of the Blues

“Back there on the drums, powering out that incredibly swinging beat, born and raised in Dripping Springs, Texas, the wise and powerful Lisa Pankratz. And back here on the bass, you ever pick up a book called Blues for Dummies, this woman has a whole section in it about her because in the contemporary blues world she is the greatest bass player, a legend of the modern blues scene and I can’t believe I’m on stage with her. Born in Chicago, raised in Ann Arbor, please welcome Sarah Brown.

“We’re going to bring Christy McWilson back here, we’d like to do another song off the new CD.”

“It’s called ‘Potter’s Field,’ and it’s about my dearly departed dog,” Christy said.

Potter’s Field

“I’d like to do a sad song right now, all of my songs are sad.”

Deep Sea / King of California

“I can’t believe it, nobody’s got an amp. Of course, who would leave an amp in their car parked on Colfax, right? ‘I left my ’52 prototype Fender in the trunk on Colfax, never saw it again.’ (Cindy was changing around amps, requiring a little more ‘dead’ time.) Oh, you want me to talk until then, tell you a story? Goodnight everybody, it’s been fun. Well, you know Cindy, in that case I’ll just play my guitar real damn loud.”

Christy suggested that Cindy could dance instead of playing.

“Yeah, you can dance,” Dave said. “Please, I’m dying up here.”

Haley’s Comet

“They weren’t kiddin, there was an amp on the way. Give that puppy a try. We stole it from the back of the Bluebird, or was it the Ogden, I don’t know.”

Cindy got the steel plugged in and working.

“Play something,” Dave told Cindy. “I just want to hear, hit the overdrive. I’m not going to do the whole set over, but hit that overdrive. Don’t mind us. Ok, you can rejoin the band again. We’ve been on tour for six or seven weeks and I want to say that one of the great things about music is that music gives you power over life and death for a little while, expect for when your amp goes kablooey, you can’t come back from that. But right now, we’re going to have a little séance, a musical séance and we’re going to see if we can’t make this stage come alive with a bunch of ghosts.”


“Thank you for all coming, thanks for Swallow Hill for bringing us here. I’d like to thank the guy who repaired Cindy’s amp yesterday, he did a great job. I think he just spit on it, hit it and handed it back. Anyway, thank you all very much, hope you enjoyed it and we’re going to leave you all with another blues number because there are many ways to play the blues, that last thing we just did might have been a little heavy handed but I don’t care. And this is another way of playing the blues.”

Dry River

They left the stage for an encore break and came back out, Dave saying, “Thank you, you are all very kind. The last time I was here in Denver, it was a coupe years back and it was two nights over at Swallow Hill, and with me for those two nights was my best friend in the world, Chris Gaffney. And Chris and I, well, skip it, he was my best friend and you don’t get many of them so if you have one, treasure them.

“And when Chris passed away last year I put together a tribute album, because beside being a former golden glove boxing champ and beside being my spiritual advisor, he was a very distinctive accordion player, he was one of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard and he was a damn solid songwriter. So we put together a tribute record of a bunch of Chris’ friends and fans doing his songs. It’s available at the merch table back there, the money goes to a group called ‘Hungry for Music’ giving musical instruments to underprivileged kids. On the record are people like Joe Ely, Boz Scaggs, there’ Los Lobos, yours truly, Peter Case, Tom Russell, Calexico, James McMurtry, Freddie Fender and the Texas Tornadoes, Jim Lauderdale, the Iguanas, Alejandro Escovedo, Robbie Fulks, John Doe, Big Sandies, Dave Gonzales and many many others and what I would like to do right now, with your kind indulgence, is to do a song Chris wrote, it’s the title track of the album. Los Lobos does this song on the CD, I can’t sing it like David Hidalgo, I can’t sing it like Chris, but I really don’t care.”

Man of Somebody’s Dreams

“Those of you who know me and I know you all know me so well, you know that I’m a new age kind of guy. So what we’d like to do is wrap up this little shindig with some new age music, would you mind? It’s my kind of new age music. It’s another song off the new CD, by the guilty women and it’s a philosophical song because you don’t need to buy any books you don’t need to read any books if you hear to this song so I’m going to save you a lot of money on books and gurus and donations. You don’t have to call some preacher at four am in the morning and give them your life’s savings because Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women are going to give you the secret to life, right here, right now and I’ll tell you what, you stop at that merch table and put down $15, it’s the wisest $15 you’ll ever spend because my sermon to you comes from the holy book of Doris Day.”

Que Sera

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Photos by Nichole Wagner

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