The Sons of the San Joaquin at Visalia Fox Theatre
Nov 23, 2016 11:00AM ● Published by Jordan Venema
They're Coming Home
By Jordan Venema
Photo courtesy of Russ Pate
It’s been a long road for the Sons of the San Joaquin, but like any cowboy worth his salt, they’ve always found their way back home. Over the last quarter century, brothers Jack and John Hannah, and John’s son Lon, have dragged their instruments back and forth across the country, but they’ve always, always been sure to be home in time for Christmas.
On December 17, the Sons of the San Joaquin will take the stage at Visalia’s Fox Theatre for their 25th annual Cowboy Christmas, performing a bevy of classic cowboy tunes and traditional Christmas hymns.
“We’ll be playing, for lack of a better word, some of our greatest hits and some of our cowboy stuff that people will remember,” says Lon.
The Sons’ repertoire of music goes back 25 years, but their songs are timeless. A few notes into a tune like “From When Came the Cowboy” and it’s clear the harmonies and melodies belong to every campfire and saddle and long and lonely road. There’s a mythic quality to their lyrics, like tales of unsung heroes, with the cadence of their melodies carrying across the plain like a horse’s gentle canter.
A long road for the Sons, but one they might never have taken if not for Lon’s encouragement.
“They were great singers all along,” he says about his father and uncle, “and they would sing with my grandpa, and sing at family gatherings. And one time” – he was 26, maybe 27 years old – “I asked if I could sing along.” Lon laughs, saying that they responded, “You don’t know these songs!” But Lon proved them wrong.
“They had the disadvantage of seeing the kind of music that we do disappear off the radio, you know,” says Lon, “but I talked them into letting me book us.”
They played some small shows, “this, that or the other,” says Lon, but the size of the venue didn’t really matter. “We used to tell people that we would have done it in the backyard if nobody was listening,” he says. “We were just happy that people enjoyed it.”
People did enjoy the music, though, even if it had gone out of style, though Lon says the genre saw something of a resurgence in the early ‘90s. Within two years, the Sons of San Joaquin signed a record deal with Warner Western.
Now the Sons have played shows all over the West, and in most of the contiguous United States, even Alaska. They performed at Austin City Limits, and once at Carnegie Hall.
“We’ve probably driven about a million miles over the years, hauling a trailer and pulling ourselves all over the West,” says Lon, and yet every year, they made it home for Christmas.
This is the Sons’ 25th annual holiday show, but this year’s performance comes with an early Christmas gift: their latest album, “One More Ride,” will officially be released in January 2017, but copies will be available for purchase at the December 17 show.
Having released more than a dozen albums, “One More Ride” is the Sons’ first album since 2011, and also likely their last. Most of the tracks were recorded between sessions in Nashville and Texas from about 10 years ago.
It’s one last ride in name, but not necessarily the end of the road for the trio, though Lon admits they’ve cut back. “Nowadays we’re not touring very much because my dad is 84 and Jack is 83. We’re not completely giving up the ghost, but this will be our last recording.”
Whatever happens, Lon insists this won’t be the last Cowboy Christmas. Should the Hannahs stop playing together as the Sons of San Joaquin, Lon plans to keep the tradition alive, even if under another name. It’s hard to give up the ghost when the tradition reaches across generations, and your family and friends have come to expect the gift every Christmas.
“We just want to be home at Christmas time,” agrees Lon. “We’ve kept that up. We love to see our Visalia family and friends.”
December 17 at 3 pm (doors open at 2 pm), Visalia Fox Theatre
300 W. Main Street • (559) 625-1369 • www.foxvisalia.org
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