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Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Yard Dogs Traveling Vaudeville Road Show

Yard DogsSan Francisco traveling band The Yard Dogs Road Show are a perpetual time warp of vaudeville, cabaret and burlesque with a distinctive modern edge.

This 13-piece act takes the theatrics of old-style vaudeville, inspired by classic vaudeville artists such as Sophie Tucker and Will Rogers, and combines them with a unique form of cabaret music, using anything from pots and pans to live chickens to keep the show vibrant.

“Everyone in the group has a real strong connection to American history and European history with cabaret and performance art,” said member Eddy Joe Cotton. “I think it’s important for everyone in the group to pay respect to artists or old entertainers and the way things were.”

Storyteller and self-proclaimed “King of the Hobos,” Cotton has been in the band since the beginning, when it was just a three-piece jug band a little more than nine years ago.

Since then, the band has grown to a full performance, with the Black and Blue Burlesque girls performing their signature doll-like routines to the sounds of a music box and live-fire eating displays while the music quakes and shakes with intensity.

The band tours six months out of every year. Cotton says the touring process is a little grueling, but that it’s worth it to get the music out there.

“It’s physically and emotionally challenging,” he said. “It’s like going to war. You’re under very demanding circumstances. You have to have a strong constitution and believe in what you’re doing.”

Besides, touring was part of the entire vaudeville lifestyle.

“We had a sort of constitution with traveling and performing,” Cotton said. “It’s a hard life. It’s either a part of you or it isn’t.”

Much in the tradition of classic vaudeville, the Yard Dogs Road Show are, for the most part, an all-ages show. Cotton said he believes it’s up to the parents to decide if their kids should come to the show — after all, there are a few risqué surprises that reveal themselves during the Yard Dogs performance.

“We just let the parents decide; everybody has their own boundaries,” Cotton said. “We have a very eclectic demographic, I would say. From all walks of life, all age groups.”

The Yard Dogs Road Show is performing Thursday at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz. This is the first time they’ve been in the area since they performed at the Monterey Music Summit in October. Afterwards they’re embarking on a lengthy tour that includes South America and Europe.

They’re not quite sure when they’ll be coming back to perform in their home state of California — but that’s just a part of the Yard Dogs experience, the feeling of uncertainty.

“Really, we’ve just been flying by the seat of our pants and surviving on what we do,” Cotton said. “That’s what makes it authentic and gives it its charm.

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