Country and rock fit for rowdy friends

Viva Cantina in Burbank was the place to be this past Sunday evening, as veteran music critic Jonny Whiteside held the latest edition of his annual Messaround concert showcase.

Now in its eighth installment, the Messaround featured a wide variety of bands and singer/songwriters, each performing for a lively packed house. The artists this time around included country rock songstress Tonya Watts, 1970s punk band the Gears, hyper-flamboyant Troy Walker and gritty rock rebel Simon Stokes.

All seats were already filled when the Messaround began at 5 p.m. and a house band kicked things off with a mellow mix of older country tunes. The bar's flat screen television made a feeble attempt to entice some patrons into watching Peyton Manning and the Colts wreck his brother Eli and the Giants in late-day football, but everyone was there to hear the bands. One country set was followed by another as Watts took the stage to sing some of her original tunes.

Alabama-born but a self-professed California girl at heart, Watts' combination of charm and sass pleased audience members of all ages. She even went so far as to poke fun at her own accent in the song "Alabama Crimson." Most folks were surprised to hear the strength of the voice belted out by this tiny blond bombshell — she used to body double for Pamela Anderson on "Baywatch" — but were pleased by what they heard.

After Watts' performance, Whiteside took the stage to warn parents that they might want to take their children outside to the Viva Cantina patio, as Stokes was set to perform, and they might not like what they heard. This only riled up the crowd even more, though, which was a considerable feat, owing to the fact that the restaurant was by that time standing-room-only.

Stokes made good on Whiteside's threats, and came out angry and cursing, a truly nefarious throwback to the mid-'60s psych-garage style. Stokes' colorful set included songs about finding his woman dead on the kitchen floor, screaming profanities in his grizzled voice, and delivering a particularly memorable rendition of "Happy Birthday" to one of his friends, one focusing on the man being one year closer to the grave. ("Happy Deathday to you! Happy Deathday to you! Happy Deathday dear …" you get the picture.)

The night only got wilder after Stokes was followed by the Gears and the controversial crooner Walker, both of whom received wildly enthusiastic introductions from Whiteside. The packed house loved every minute of the sonic spectacle, and the restaurant itself seemed to expand to hold a constantly growing crowd of fans.

While it may not look like much on the outside, Viva Cantina is a great little Mexican restaurant perfectly set up to host events like the Messaround. The front room and bar are equipped with a small stage. The rows of tables in the barroom are set out specifically to allow guests to view the performances, and a patio allows diners to enjoy the cool night air without missing any of the action. There is also a more formal dining area toward the back of the restaurant, for those interested more in the Cantina's great Mexican cuisine.

Whiteside's next Messaround is Oct. 17, but the restaurant hosts live music every night of the week.

Brian McGackin is an alumnus of USC's graduate creative writing program, where he focused on poetry and literary critical analysis.



What: Jonny Whiteside's Messaround Showcase

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 17

Where: Viva Cantina, 900 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank

Cost: No cover

Contact: (818) 515-4444

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