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Aural Report

How can you argue?
Danny Dolinger comes to play
by Kurt Dahlke

Self-proclaimed new-age redneck and hillbilly hippy Danny Dolinger hitchhikes 100 miles from Eugene to Portland's Snake and Weasel every Tuesday for happy hour.

In and of itself, the happy hour isn't bad; $2.50 pints of excellent small-batch microbrews (check out the Shipwreck Stout) can be had from 6-8 p.m. Moreover, with its deep-purple ceiling, darkly colored, intimate lighting, comfortable couches and unusual shape, the Snake and Weasel is a very pleasant space to bide-a-wee.

But that's not what brings Danny Dolinger. He comes to play.

Battered, stained cowboy hat firmly planted on his head, Dolinger leans into a short set of rain-related covers. Some you'd expect from a countrified spiritual Oregonian, such as "Who'll Stop The Rain," "Let It Rain" and "Fire and Rain."

Danny Dolinger wasn't born a hillbilly hippy, but he's clearly drawn that way.

But then starts "That's The Way Of The World" by Earth, Wind and Fire? In slow-burn bluegrass stylee? After such impeccably chosen covers, how can you argue?

Dolinger picks a mean, worn-down acoustic guitar. Speeding Kentucky solos careen wildly away from the tunes, yet always lead right back. Mostly, his deft strumming points up the beautiful, razor-sharp songwriting of his covers set. But Dolinger proves he can write as he winds up the first set with his own tunes.

Dolinger's been in Oregon about a year and a half, mostly by way of Austin, Texas. Though he misses that vibrant scene, he says he really likes what Oregon has to offer musically – the bluegrass scene in particular – and otherwise.

After just a few months of Tuesday happy hours, he's got a devoted cadre of fans who enjoy his medium-high lonesome voice and energetic picking – replete with behind the back solos, no less.

More of that delicious stout and some fine company keeps me happy till Dolinger takes the stage again. He's in good company, too, as I see a serious fan recording his set and others singing along to almost every song.

Dolinger's work is highly charged politically. Songs addressing inter-familial Pagan/Christian conflicts and the victims of American global imperial-capitalism are presented alongside an anti-establishment national anthem that the audience sings along with, word for word.

But then there's his cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man" and a song sung from the point of view of Speed Racer's nemesis, a lovesick Racer X. The contrasts in Dolinger's set settle things right nicely; his homespun bluegrass folkism is humane, combining wit and good humor with deep convictions.

The Snake and Weasel earns points for earnestness and great beer – a perfect spot for some new-time religion and a warm grin.

Dolinger winds down, a little spent, as a steamy-windowed bus, perhaps reminding him of the long trip home, lumbers down Southeast 12th through the wind and rain.

Catch Danny Dolinger:
The self-proclaimed new-age redneck and hillbilly hippy appears Tuesdays at the Snake and Weasel, 6-8 p.m.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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