When Vanessa Niemann takes the Fais-Do-Do Stage with her Honky Tonk Revue, she’ll be wearing Gal Holiday’s signature “fancy” cowboy boots. But don’t expect the classic vintage western wear that once defined the Gal Holiday look. “Those high-waisted pants are just too constricting to sing in,” says Niemann, who now favors jeans and retro-chic Trashy Diva frocks. “I am moving and singing differently these days, with a lot more power in my voice.” What began as an earnest, if tongue-in-cheek, tribute to traditional country and western swing has morphed into the Real Deal: a working roadhouse band that blurs the line between Gal Holiday and the tattooed Blue Ridge-born gal who created her.
Live, Niemann’s full-throated voice and the swinging five-piece band behind it act as a siren call. Spry golden-agers, hot rockabilly chicks, grizzled tugboat captains, Cajun-zydeco two-steppers, giddy middle-aged tourists and young lindy hoppers pour onto the dance floor for a crash course in honky tonk history from 1930 to 1972. “This one was written in 1941 by a 12-year-old girl,” Neimann announces, launching the dancers into overdrive with “Boogie Woogie Blues.” By now, the room’s filled to overflowing with curious passersby, new converts and the growing ranks of regulars who religiously follow the band.
Gal Holiday’s new CD—the long-awaited follow-up to their 2007 debut—is a gift to those fans. “We’re making it as a tribute to the people who come week after week and dance and buy drinks and drop money in the tip bucket,” says Niemann during a break from recording sessions at Axis Studios in Metairie. Untitled as of press time, the self-released CD is packed with crowd favorites from Bob Wills (“Brainy Cloud Blues”) to Bob Dylan (“Don’t Think Twice”).
Fest-goers will get a preview of the album with a band that now includes guitarist Cranston Clements in addition to Dave James (guitar), Dave Brouillette (upright bass), Steve Spitz (pedal steel) and James Clark (drums). The word from the Gal? Get ready to dance. “We definitely swing these country songs out.”