Wranglers, ropers, cowboy hats--the urban Seattle eye is unaccustomed to viewing such rustic country duds displayed in full regalia. But Greenlake's Little Red Hen is where urban cowboys and girls can go for their honky-tonk fix, and anyone who's ever seen them will tell you there's never a better night to go than when Knut Bell and the Blue Collars are playing. Saturday night was no exception. The band's upbeat covers of beloved country songs, ballads, and anthems mixed with some of Bell's own kept the packed dance floor twirling well past midnight.
Bell is an imposing figure--broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, with a deep baritone to match. But his stage persona is good-natured and inviting, and as soon as the set began promptly at 9 p.m., dancing couples were out on the floor. Things were already in motion for an evening of casual, low-key entertainment, but the Blue Collars were in fine form and kept the energy up, easily complementing Bell's smooth twang with rich, reverby pedal steel and a steady, driving drum beat.
In between a good dose of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash covers, Bell threw in his hometown pride anthem "Skagit Days" and the Jennings-esque "Wicked Ornry Mean and Nasty," along with some David Allen Coe and Bob Dylan songs. It was a variety bag of folk, rock, and country, all dressed up in what Bell calls "honkahillyrockabilly"--and a blast at that. Dancers were visibly drunk and couples were getting elbowed and nudged on the dance floor, but Bell--and nobody else--didn't seem to mind. After a few rockabilly versions of "Happy Birthday" and friendly reminders to the crowd to tip their bartenders, the band was still playing when I left around 12:30, just as hard-working as their name implies.
The Scene: Packed, lots of beer drinkers, two bars. Urban cowboys, 20-ish singles, single old-timers, dancing couples old and young. Fun-loving, easy-going scene.
Overheard in the crowd: "If you see the hunky bassist, that's my dad."
"It's un-Seattle, I love it. There's 70-year-old guys in their Wranglers and cowboy hats."
"Ken--he's the best in the state." --Knut Bell, on his pedal steel player.