Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Waymores Play Sassafras Saloon

The Waymores
I’ve seen a lot of concerts over the years, some of them in rather odd rooms. The Sassafras Saloon is a cool-looking bar, no question about it, with some great décor giving it a deliberately old-time vibe, but it’s not the best place to see a band perform. The stage is on a small balcony above the audience. That creates a natural distance between performer and audience, and for that reason, if not perhaps for others, it is not a good listening room. The music is happening, but it ends up not being the focus because of the setup. It’s like a large television high up in a corner in a sports bar. You look up at it occasionally, but it doesn’t stop the conversation below.

This venue was obviously not designed by a music fan. It has other things going on anyway. The doors opened at 7 p.m., and when I got there just after 8, some kind of dating game was in progress. The woman leading the game told the participants to check their online music playlists and find others who had at least five songs in common. And so they were all busy looking at their phones, just as they would have been had they not been taking part in the game. It’s a strange world. As much as I love music, and as important as it is to be with someone who also loves music, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to learn someone’s musical interests that way. I would just, you know, ask the woman what kind of music she liked. It turned out that no two people in the group had more than two songs in common. It wasn’t clear how long the playlists were. But they seemed to be having fun. Another woman gave them country dance lessons to prepare them for the live music that would soon be played. A banner below the stage read, “Grand Ole Country Bunker.”

This was the first time I saw The Waymores perform, and apparently it was the first time they’ve played in Los Angeles. The duo of Willie Heath Neal and Kira Annalise, both on vocals and guitar, took the stage at 9 o’ clock. They released a new album, Greener Pastures, just a few weeks ago, and they played several songs from it, including their cover of “Under Your Spell Again,” which is the album’s first track. They followed that with “Bring You Down,” and then joked that they met during the dating game just fifteen minutes earlier. Then from The Stone Sessions, they played “Even When,” following it with “But I Don’t,” my personal favorite from the new album. They were able to engage the audience at times, no simple task from their position above, and they joked about how it would be difficult to get alcohol from the bar to the stage (though someone eventually did get Willie Heath Neal a shot of whiskey). They covered Waylon Jennings’ “Lonesome, On’ry And Mean,” Dale Watson’s “Flat Tire,” Summer Dean’s “Lonely Girl’s Lament,” and two songs from John Prine, “In Spite Of Ourselves” and “You Got Gold,” the latter included on Greener Pastures. They wrapped up their set with “I Don’t Like The Liquor.” Their set ended at 9:53 p.m.

Even with the less-than-ideal setup and the crowd noise, these guys delivered an excellent set of music, giving us a taste of what was possible under better conditions. I hope the next time I get to see them, the stage is closer to the floor and they’re able to play a nice long show. I definitely want to hear more from them.


Sassafras Saloon is located at 1233 N. Vine St. in Los Angeles, California.

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