Long Sonoita Nights with Andy Hersey
By Brendan Joel Kelley
(Thanks to my friend Paula Harms for taking the lovely photos of Andy Hersey)
Last weekend, as I mentioned in a previous post, I took off down south to see my cowboy buddy Andy Hersey throw down at a barn dance in Sonoita to celebrate the release of his latest record, Between God and Country. If you're not familiar with Sonoita, it's a small ranching community about 40 miles south of Tucson, near the Mexico border. I've been down there several times, and wrote about Andy a couple of times, but I'd never been out and about in Sonoita, to really see what the community's like. This time around, I got a good look...
The CD release party/barn dance was held at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, which doubles as the rodeo grounds. And, though as the proverb goes, this wasn't my first rodeo, it was cowboy as fuck. By 8:15 the hall was filled with genuine hat-and-buckle cowboys with their ladies done up in frosted jeans and big bangs, some with the sparkly BeDazzler action happening on their outfits. There's not much to do in Sonoita - the bar at the Steak Out restaurant was closed at 11:15 when I walked over to see if they sold cigarettes - so practically the whole community, kids and all, were out at the show.
The opening act, Dan Simonis and the West Texas Millionaires (out of Bisbee) failed to impress me but they had a few couples out on the dance floor. After they were done, the MC, country singer/songwriter Bruce Andre, announced "there's CD's for sale on his website for those of you computer folks," which made me laugh.
Andy was late for his own show, which is fairly typical, but he sauntered in to the joint about 9:30 and took me in the back for a quick hit of Bacanora, the Sonoran moonshine that makes its way across the border down in those parts. Then he hit the stage with his band and played the new album start to finish. (If you're interested in hearing it, the entire record is streamed on Andy's website). By the third song the entire dance floor was filled and there were ladies line dancing across the rear of the hall. It was a genuine Arizona-cana hoedown, and after Andy had gone through the album he busted out with some Marty Robbins and David Allen Coe covers. The shindig went on until about two a.m., and then we moved the party to Andy's ranch.
At the ranch we were joined by the boys in L.A.-based country rockers Sherman; they'd played Tucson and then busted down to catch Andy's show and jam with him and his band onstage. There was a bonfire out near the barn, with three guitars and a mandolin and campfire songs until way past the time I crashed out about 4:30 a.m. When I woke up at 7:30 I found Andy and his drummer hitting golf balls across the pasture. He stumbled into me with a drunken smile on his face and excused himself to bed, which was probably a smart idea since he had a party to play that afternoon.
You don't find shit like this in Phoenix. Here it's easy to forget that this was once the Wild West. Down in Sonoita, it still is.