Wild, Wild West
Every Wednesday night, The Ghost Town Rebellion meets in a backyard oasis off of 21st and C streets for what they like to call, “Decompression Chamber Wednesday.” It is a weekly ritual reserved for the band to practice songs, tell stories and bond over grilled foods and alcoholic drinks.
Those Wednesdays usually go down like this: The five members of the band huddle around a triangle table filled with Sol beers and an obscure tequila bottle. They steal cigarettes from one another in a chain-smoking frenzy, only breaking the cycle to readjust their stringed instruments or dress a hot dog with condiments. Sometimes, you will see guitarist/banjo player Justin Forcione show off his undeniably impressive ability to play the guitar with his front teeth.
These Wednesday indulgences, however, hold a deeper purpose than the above-mentioned. To The Ghost Town Rebellion, Wednesdays represent band bonding, jamming and perhaps what sets this band apart: storytelling. Aside from being tons of fun, these rocker dudes can also be considered really unorthodox educators. I would like to quote Kevin Hart when I describe what it’s like to listen to this band’s lyrics: “You gonna learn today!”
Shawn Peter, lead singer of the band, is a Downtown Sacramento Community Service Guide head and Historical Supervisor. He has been dedicated to Sacramento’s history since 2000, when he was recruited to develop a historic walking tour program for the region. He continues to be the head supervisor for what turned out to be a very successful program. Peter’s knowledge for all things Sacramento, whether ugly or prideful, worked as the seeds that helped his sound garden grow. The Ghost Town Rebellion tells Sac’s history though its songs thanks to Peter immersing himself in this city’s history and being inspired by it enough to incorporate it into his art.
“The band name itself is supposed to have a dirty feel,” says Peter, “It represents the ghosts of the area telling their stories. There’s a heavy emphasis on the Wild West, and the rebellion of Sacramento and its people. With that, it is also a true urban city which honors its wild and pioneering past on all levels of development.” Peter would find himself writing songs about the elements of Sacramento’s past that intrigued him most, which he then would share with the band. “They would love the concept. It’s just plain fun. I would pick an idea, place or person and the event surrounding the subject and we would turn it into a song.”
The band’s current EP, Ghost Town Rebellion: Volume 1, is a five-song historical chronicle of the city. “Poverty Ridge,” refers to the area around 21st and T, where Sacramento’s only hill is. The song tells of an incoming storm and floodwaters threatening the more impoverished part of town in the earlier days. “Poverty Ridge” documents the struggle of the poor running uphill to escape floods caused by rising levee waters.
Another song, this one particularly scandalous in nature, is “Murder on Grand Island.” This tune is about a crooked businessman, the county assessor to be exact, and the messed up ways he maintained a fat wallet. This real-life character would set up murders around town and methodically capitalize on them. He would find male landowners who had no next of kin, have them killed, and swoop in on their properties, among other assets; Sacramento drama, old school edition. The guy was eventually caught and as the song says, “… but the evidence was against them / And the town, they all, hanged them high! Hanged them high!” Here’s another weird fact I learned from this song: Sacramento practiced hanging all the way up until 1915. Ew!
The band’s songs are pure rock ‘n’ roll, with a dash of blues and a hint of Americana. Throughout the EP, the banjo somehow steals the show. To be completely honest, I never thought I would say that; but listening to the lyrics paired with the banjo in the blues context just worked so well. Peter has more of a straight-forward voice and is an audible lyricist. You can definitely hear his roots as an emo/punk rock musician.
There are decades of music experience among the five members of The Ghost Town Rebellion. Each of the guys are in at least one other band. Bassist Sean Navin says, “The band got together so seamlessly and almost effortlessly. When this particular lineup got together, we didn’t miss a beat and were playing shows within a matter of days.”
The mutual affection is also noteworthy in this group; imagine a band where everyone looks up to each other. The only negative event was in Reno a few months back, when Peter broke the hearts of his fellow bandmates by not helping them build a fort in their hotel room after a show.
“We moved the two queen-sized beds together so we could even sleep puppy-dog style after! We were ready to use the linen to build the sickest fort ever. Shawn ended up going downstairs and sleeping in the van,” says Forcione while eyeing Peter with disappointment. Other than the comical and disheartening fort incident of early 2015, the band is a true brotherhood of history and musical admiration.
Ghost Town Rebellion: Volume 1, is the first in a series of three being released in the coming months. The releases will continue to chronicle Sacramento history and channel the band’s rock roots into the effort.
“Musically, they’re gonna be different from each other, but the same lyrically,” says Peter about the other two EPs in the series.
Musically, the band has been developing a more bluesy and swampy sound that will be apparent with the use of more instruments like the slide guitar and the trumpet in the next releases. They will also mix up vocal varieties, with Justin Forcione and Darrell Hukill stepping in to front songs.
“The reason why we chose a three-part EP is because we want to stay excited and focused on sections of the music,” says Peter, “We will be telling more stories about the city and the West Coast. We have 160-plus years of inspiration!”
You can catch The Ghost Town Rebellion at the very fitting and historical Old Ironsides on Aug. 14, 2015, for their EP release. It’s Ladies Night, so all you queens get in for free! To make things even better, the first 100 people will get the EP for free. You can also check out The Ghost Town Rebellion at Theatre DeVille in Vacaville on Aug. 28 (with Lonely Kings and MDSO). Tickets are $8 and can be purchased at Devillevacaville.com.