The Yard Dogs Road Show was never easy to translate. It possessed the kind of creative potential in every moment that was completely exhilarating and totally exhausting at the same time. The stage was the final destination, but it was what happened along the way that truly defined the project.
“If the Hell’s Angels had a cabaret chapter, the Yard Dogs Road Show would be it." Alarm Magazine
Flecher and Miguel strolled into my warehouse in Oakland in 1996. They looked like they walked straight out of a smokey 1940's jazz club, the influence of growing up in San Francisco deep in their bones. Their presence, their style, was unbridled and raw. There was no doubt we would be slammed together in a tour bus eight years later, filming corn fields out the window, on our way to some little town in Alabama.
Thanks to Zoopy Funk Theatre, the first chapter of the project was all about puppets and psychedelics. The first “show” was actually a band of puppets. There were multiple road trips to Oregon where we involved ourselves in all night happenings with Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters. The puppets had names like Dancing Piggy Boy and Fart Fire. You always knew who took the most acid because they would be the one dancing naked on stage by the end of the night. Zoopy Funk Theatre spawned the Yard Dogs Road Show.
“A wonderful acid trip without the comedown!” High Times
The next few years were spent in a van gathering performers and getting gigs anywhere we could - logger bars, retirement communities, Indian reservations, art fairs - anywhere that would have us. It was a great excuse to travel with friends and make art. We scrambled up and down the West Coast until 2001, when we bought a bus and headed east on our first national tour.
A few years and many miles later YDRS had developed a solid cult following - kindred spirits who not only came to shows dressed up, but who would eventually start shows of their own. If there was one thing that kept it together and on the road, this was it. The joy and creative inspiration it brought people was the true bottom line. The video below tells this part of the story.
“Cabaret and burlesque may have found a chic revival of late, but the Yard Dogs Road Show built this particular bandwagon… one of the most unabashedly sincere and spectacular displays of showmanship out there.” Flavorpill NYC
Meanwhile the YDRS aesthetic and lifestyle elements were evolving rapidly in the San Francisco underground, manifesting in everything from Burning Man “Playa Fashion" to a storefront in San Francisco called Five & Diamond - founded by Phoebe and Leighton of YDRS. This cross-pollination was documented in length by Textile View in an article titled "The Vaudevillians".
After partnering with a booking agent (Madison House) in 2005 YDRS made its debut on the larger touring circuit. Their creative community was also thriving with fledgling events like Symbiosis and Lightning in a Bottle. YDRS headlined both at the roots. They also performed at more mainstream festivals like Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Vegoose and Glastonbury. A headlining slot on the cabaret stage at Vegoose landed them a nice mention and photo in Spin Magazine. Their fringe element was gaining traction in the music world, opening the door for similar acts along the way. Music festivals were accessorizing and YDRS set them apart.
“The Yard Dogs Road Show is medicine for the ages. There’s no denying they are driven by the kind of bohemian ideals that don’t get much microphone time these days.”
“Eerily authentic vaudeville – and eerie is just the way we like our dusty Americana.”
In 2008 Les Claypool invited YDRS to be part of his Oddity Faire: A Mutated Mini Fest - with stops in Denver, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The bill was shared with Les Claypool, Devotchka, Saul Williams and Muytator. YDRS guitarist, Eenor, had previously toured with Les Claypool as part of his Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, so the inevitable cross-pollination happened on and off the stage.
The BIG rainbow dream was fully realized in Portugal in 2009. 10 years of hard work culminated on some of the most beautiful stages in the world. A restored circus theater in Braga made the perfect backdrop for a matured (but still unruly) vision.
The latest incarnation of YDRS is a feature length documentary which premiered (with two sold out nights) at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in November of 2015.
"The story of how a gang of poets and musicians turned a pile of puppets into and internationally touring "vaudeville" show."
400 hours of footage distilled into 94 minutes of essential YDRS.
See the trailer below.