It seemed like an improbable dream; organize a music festival in downtown Santa Rosa with multiple stages and a stellar lineup of the Bay Area’s hottest folk and revival acts, and make it free for all to attend. Yet, this year’s inaugural Railroad Square Music Festival was an outstanding success that brought together a friendly, communal and musical vibe that was positive as it was invigorating.
The all-day lineup of bands featured a host of performers who are beloved in the North Bay and beyond with headliners like the Brothers Comatose, T Sisters and the Sam Chase all on hand. I arrived just in time to see Santa Rosa’s own John Courage fronting his blues rock trio the Stone Cold Killers and playing an electrified set of sizzling solos and groovy jams on the Traveling Spectacular Stage, a vaudeville-inspired mobile set up that transforms from a truck into a full-on stage experience.
The main stage, donated by the city of Santa Rosa, saw Santa Cruz’s Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra perform the slowest burning set of the day. The young, but experienced group took traditional rhythms and infused them with a emotional and strained energy for supremely satisfying pay offs. The Old Soul Orchestra will be back in the North Bay on Saturday, June 20, performing at the Big Easy in Petaluma to raise funds for a European tour they have planned in the coming months.
The neighborly feeling at the festival extended from audiences to the bands, with special appearances and pairings; such as when enchanting singer Sally Haggard jumped in with Frankie Boots and the County Line for a ditty, or when the main stage was packed full of performers at the close of the show. The Brothers Comatose held crowds captive with their fast fiddling and multi-part harmonies, and many attendees stayed past the 7pm end time to contribute to an ebullient sidewalk chalk jamboree.
The Festival’s ultimate success was due to the tireless work of the North Bay Hootenanny’s Josh Windmiller and an army of volunteer staff who made the whole thing a smooth and easy experience. Food and drink lines moved quickly (even as 32 kegs of Lagunitas beer sold out in the early evening), kids and families hung out in the shade of the Big Tree kids area, and Wilson Street turned into an art walk with live art sessions by Luddart artists and wares from local vendors. Kudos to all involved. Here’s hoping the Railroad Square Music Festival returns next summer. If you’d like to contribute to the local music scene and events like this, you can donate to the North Bay Hootenanny, a nonprofit group, by clicking here.
BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival was one wild weekend, and our intrepid photographer Jamie Soja was there to capture it. From Snoop Dogg and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto rolling sushi, to the eclectic assortment of headliners that packed crowds to maximum capacity, here’s a look back on all the music and antics from this year’s fest.
Written by Eddie Jorgensen:
Eric Lindell was a Sonoma County resident long before he moved to the South. Already a household name here and a veritable headliner everywhere he played, it only made sense to venture out of town to see what kind of musical influences he could soak up.
Fans of both blues, Americana, country, and anything in between will enjoy his live show which, at times, far eclipses anything he can do on record. Lindell is also one of the biggest sellers on his previous label, Alligator records. Today, he’s doing things on his own and just recently released a new EP on his Sparco records label.
Your latest release, ‘The Sun And The Sea,’ only has seven songs. Was there a conscious decision to make a shorter record?
Definitely. We recorded a bunch more songs but I wanted to narrow it down to make a more cohesive set. I’m not concerned with releasing a ton of material as I am good material.
What was different about this album than your other releases?
This album was made with live drums that were sampled rather than using a live drummer as I usually do. They are organic drums sound but just pieced together where applicable. When we played this project to my drummer and friend, Will, he thought it sounded amazing. It was recorded by one of my bass players, Sean Carey, and I’m very proud of what we made.
You weren’t always Eric Lindell, the solo artist, correct?
Besides playing in Grand Junction (local funk band) for awhile, I even sang with Accolades (local heavy metal band from the mid-80’s) with my buddy, Tim Solyan (of Victims Family fame). I ran into guys from both bands not long ago and it reminded what a great music scene we had in Sonoma County.
What are some of your favorite places to play?
I get so excited every year when I come to Sonoma County I can’t even explain it. It’s also lots of fun to bring friends who’ve never been here as well since they can’t believe how beautiful the place is. I also love other cities like Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco.
The lead song on the new record is “Going To California.” Sounds like you’re aching to be back.
For sure. However, I come and play here pretty regularly. I moved to New York in 1998 and left to Louisiana just a little bit later. I pretty much come here every Summer with my band and every December with my band Dragonsmoke (with Ivan Neville, Robert Mercurio, and Stanton Moore). I always come back.
Eric Lindell plays on Sunday, June 21, at the Forestville Club, 6250 Front St, Forestville. Oyster Feed starts at 5pm. $20. 707.887.2594. The next night, Monday, June 22, he appears at The Big Easy, 128 American Alley, Petaluma. 6:30pm. $20. 707.776.4631. For more info and tickets, visit www.ericlindell.com.
By Eddie Jorgensen
Jello Biafra fronted the Dead Kennedys and released some of the most ferocious, vitriol-fueled punk ever. He plays the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma this Friday.
Unlike much of the punk rock diaspora that didn’t have the education or wherewithal to tackle topics like politics, organized religion and everything in between, Biafra was an anomaly. His current band features some impressive Sonoma County brethren including guitarist Ralph Spight and bassist Larry Boothroyd, both of punk trio, Victims Family. Dead Kennedys’ sound, a blend of surf, rock, punk, avant-garde songs arrangements, is still alive in well but resides with Biafra rather than the members who now make a mockery of the moniker. His band today gets much more respect for remaining loyal to its mission of steering clear of corporate-sponsorship.
Dubbed by Jello himself now as “the world’s greediest karaoke band” band, today’s Dead Kennedys have seemingly done everything wrong since breaking up the original band. Jello, on the other hand, has been doing everything right. From his on-the-spot spoken word to his Lard project to appearances with Nomeansno, The Melvins, D.O.A. , and countless others, it would seem he can do no wrong. His band plays the DK classics along with material from their own records and are a sight and sound for sore eyes and ears. Come see for yourself.
Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine play with The Vibrating Antennas and Acrylics at the Phoenix Theatre. Doors open at 7pm doors, 8pm start. Tickets are $16 advance and $18 at the door. All ages are welcome. 201 Washington St. Petaluma. 707.762.3565.
By Eddie Jorgensen
Slide blues guitar player Markus James let’s his fingers do the talking on his latest album for Firenze Records, the fabulous ‘Head To The Hills.’ A resident of an unincorporated area of Sonoma Country James calls “between Graton and Occidental,” he says the title of his album was no mistake.
“Head To The Hills” was a conscious effort to break tradition in the recording business and make records wherever the mood fits. After traveling to Mississippi and joining some of the most intimidating players in the blues world, his finished batch of songs received national acclaim immediately upon release.
Locally, he’s been getting a nice rotation on Sonoma County’s KRSH radio station which are also sponsoring his upcoming HopMonk Tavern show May 8 in Sebastopol.
Fans of world music, roots, and sweat-soaked blues steeped in the rich cultural surroundings of the south will enjoy the shuffle of the album’s lead track “Just Say Yes” along with solo slide-guitar-laden anecdotes like “For Blind Willie.” If you’re into back-and-forth guitar work, check out the stellar “Sleepyhead” which sounds as if it could have been an outtake from 1996’s ‘Slingblade’ soundtrack.
The album ‘Head For The Hills’ was largely recorded in the hills of Mississippi. How did your surroundings effect the overall song?
The recording process for this album was the culmination of a lot of great experiences during many visits to North Mississippi over several years. When I started recording in Sherman Cooper’s potato barn in Como, Miss. I felt right at home. Drummer Kinney Kimbrough’s open-air carport, next to a train track, on a windy day when a storm was coming in ended up also sounding great. My favorite setting was on Calvin Jackson’s porch in Luxahoma with the birds. Sometimes we would stop for a minute when a car came past there on Yellow Dog Road. The sound of his feet on that porch was really something as well.
What was it like playing with the many other talented drummers and musicians you recorded with?
You know, one thing has just led to another. It wasn’t like I had a plan or anything. I’m a songwriter and have been hooked on recording for most of my life going back to suitcase recorders which, ironically, I’ve started using again. I just wanted to stand next to the flame, you know? Also, playing with Ali Farka Toure’s calabash player, Hamma Sankare, was a dream come true for me.
You played with drummer Calvin Jackson (of RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough fame). How did that come about?
During one trip to Como, Sherman Cooper (whose barn I was staying in and recording in) said “how about playing with (drummer) Calvin Jackson?.” I couldn’t believe it. That was quite an experience. The mics were hanging on cables from the barn rafters, there was the most amazing lightning storm going on outside complete with flickering power on the inside, and he was polishing off a bottle in a brown bag.
What instruments do you play outside of the guitar are we hearing on the new record?
On ‘Head For The Hills’ I play numerous instruments. I play both acoustic and electric guitars, slide, cigar box guitar (3-string), gourd banjo (West African instrument), dulcimer, 1-string Diddley Bow, harp, and beat box.
How difficult is it to get that stinky groove only R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough can play?
That’s why I wanted to play with their drummers Kinney Kimbrough and Calvin Jackson. They are just plain bad ass. The drummer I’ve been playing live with, Marlon Green, toured with the great John Lee Hooker for the last year of his life. If I had to guess what is the common thread (between the drummers), they all three played in church. There is something undefinable about what they call the “Hill Country Stomp.”
Markus James celebrates his ‘Head For The Hills’ CD release Friday, May 8 at HopMonk Tavern in Sebastopol, with HowellDevine opening. 9pm. Tickets are $12 advance and $15 at the door. 230 Petaluma Ave, Sebastopol, 707.829.7300. He also plays Saturday, May 9th at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley with Gurrumul opening. 8pm. Tickets are $25 advance and $27 at the door. 19 Corte Madera Ave, Mill Valley, 415.388.3850. For more info, visit Facebook.com/markusjamesmusic.
Photos by Jamie Soja http://sojaphotography.com/
Bill Kruetzmann, Steve Kimock, Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz, Dave Schools, and Jeff Chimenti formed a supergroup together to perform “A Night of Voodoo” at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma Wednesday April 8th and 9th 2015. The show was announced just a couple of days before and sold out immediately. A second show the next night was announced the day of the first show and also sold out immediately. The night featured a wide variety of material including classic reggae song “Congo Man Chant” by The Congos, “Fire on the Bayou” by The Meters, and of course, during the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, many Dead songs including “Morning Dew” with guest Jerry Joseph on vocals.
Takes A Lot To Laugh A Train To Cry
Congo Man Chant
Get Up Stand Up
Man Smart, Women Smarter
Fire On The Bayou
Morning Dew (Jerry Joseph on vocals)
Last year’s Huichica Music Festival, a burgeoning tradition at Sonoma’s Gundlach Bundschu Winery, was my first time at the rousing, rollicking festival full of indie rock sweethearts and celebrated Bay Area artists; and it was by far one of the best days of music of my 2014. This year, the festive weekend returns on June 12 and 13, and now the full lineup has been announced.
Performing at Huichica this year are Allah-Las, Atlas Sound, Amen Dunes, Jessica Pratt, Shannon and the Clams, Sonny & the Sunsets, Gap Dream, the Fresh and Onlys, EDJ, Pure Bathing Culture, the Tyde, GospelbeacH, the Donkeys, Ryleey Walker, William Tyler, Mariee Sioux, Kacey Johansing, Trummors, DJ Andy Cabic and DJ Golden Gram.
The lineup is jam packed with popular indie bands and accomplished songwriters. Headliners Allah-Las are a Southern California based quartet of garage rockers who meet up while they were working at Amoeba Music in L.A. Atlas Sound is the solo moniker of Atlanta songwriter Bradford Cox, known as the striking front man of post-punk shoegaze rock band Deerhunter. Amen Dunes is the self-described bedroom industrial pop of Damon McMahon. And Jessica Pratt is a young folk songstress with an old soul renowned in her native San Francisco steadily being discovered by a larger national audience. More details on the rest of the bands can be found here.
Presented by musician Eric D. Johnson, Gun Bun owner Jeff Bundschu and boutique event curators (((folkYEAH!))), the Huichica Music Festival this year is adding the winery’s historic Old Redwood Barn to the Hillside Amphitheater and Cave stage, expanding the setting of the picturesque venue. There will also be a host of gourmet food trucks and beer and wine on hand.
Tickets are on sale now.
By Eddie Jorgensen
If you haven’t heard of Black Map, chances are you’ve never listened to the members’ former bands which all have distinct fan bases of their own. Drummer Chris Robyn played with Far which released two albums through Immortal/Epic records, guitarist Mark Engles has played with Dredg since the band’s inception, and bassist/vocalist Ben Flanagan played with The Actual and Trophy Fire.
Black Map shows some immense musical depth with their latest album on minusHEAD records, ‘…And We Explode.’ And while the album was released in October 2014, the band is just starting to play out live.
Even before the release of the band’s album, the group landed a coveted slot on a national tour with Chevelle. “The experience with Chevelle was better than anything I could have hoped for,” said Robyn. “Chevelle are great. They are genuine and were incredibly generous to provide a stage for us to share. Far (Robyn’s previous band) fans did come out and it made me incredibly proud of what I spent so many years doing. It has been a good while since those years and people who witnessed it then, or did not get a chance to, came out and it was an extra reward for me to hear from them and talk with them.”
The songwriting process, as well, has been very organic and the members are already starting the writing process for a follow-up.
“Typically Ben and/or Mark have a piece of music that they introduce. I just try to empty my head of any predetermination, find the base/core rhythm of the piece, dive in full on, and allow myself to find a pattern that is musical, exciting, and purposeful” said Robyn. “Sometimes it comes quickly. Sometimes it takes a little bit. I try not to over think parts or beats, as history has taught me that if I over think something it will usually, in the end, be the most stale part or parts of a given piece of music. It’s a fine line, but that’s the rewarding part of writing music.”
However, personal interests can get in the way of a song structure but rolling with the changes has made Robyn’s life in Black Map easier.
“Ben and Mark will always chime in on where I am going with something, whether it be minor tweaks or to let me know I am way off base,” he says. “I welcome any and all of their input. We constantly feed off one another during the writing process.”
And while most bands would readily assume signing to a major label deal is still where it’s at, Robyn knows otherwise.
“minusHEAD (band’s current label) has been great. They have been incredibly supportive and we have a shared vision on the exploitation of Black Map” he said. “Although it is substantially less expensive now to record and people can experience music in so many different ways, I don’t see things for a band much different than back in the day. You just have to go out there and do the work no matter who you are. Label support, whether indie or major, is great but never a guarantee for success, whatever you deem success to be.”
Black Map play Friday, Jan. 23 at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma with The Iron Heart, French Girls, and We Are Invisible Monsters. 8
pm. $8. All ages are welcome. 201 Washington Street, Petaluma. 707.762.3565.
Noah Benjamin Lennox is best known as a member of experimental indie rock group Animal Collective, and under the pseudonym Panda Bear, Lennox has evolved considerably as an electronic artist with a pitch perfect penchant for expansive melodies in his sampled beats. This week, Panda Bear released his fifth solo album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, to universal acclaim; and today at noon tickets go on sale for Panda Bear’s upcoming concert at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma on April 16. This is a great chance to see the indie star in the intimate setting of Gun Bun’s newly restored Old Redwood Barn. Click here to grab tickets to the show, and watch the official video for “Mr Noah,” the first single off the new album.
By Eddie Jorgensen
It’s been 33 years since Sonoma County’s longest running band, Skitzo, started its reign of sickening, barf-encrusted, thrash metal terror and vocalist/guitarist Lance Ozanix shows no signs of slowing down. Ozanix’s annual side project, Sweet Leaf, an Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute act, will be celebrating their 20th anniversary together and will play one last show in the area before they reconvene again in December.
Sweet Leaf features a veritable who’s who of the metal scene. Guitarist Steve Smyth has done countless national and international tours playing with the likes of Testament, Nevermore, Vicious Rumours, Forbidden, Dragonlord, and currently lives in England with his wife and dog where he teaches guitar to over 60 students. Drummer Chris Newman played with Intense, one of the largest drawing speed / thrash metal bands in the late 80’s and also played with local hard rock outfit, Ariah. The group is rounded out by the ultra-talented bassist, Steven Hoffman, from the defunct Esseness Project.
“Nowadays it’s just one practice and go” said Ozanix in a recent phone interview. “This year because of the 10 year anniversary of Dimebag Darrell’s death, we have added some some Pantera songs into the set. Of course, when we run out of material during shows, we will throw in some Accept, Judas Priest, Dio, or even some AC/DC tunes.”
“I tried in 1989 to get Sweet Leaf going but I couldn’t get my shit together,” said Ozanix of the band’s humble beginnings. “People were in the band for only a couple of months at a time. All the current guys came together in 1994.”
“This will actually be an interesting return to Spancky’s in Cotati, as it’s the first time in nearly twelve years since we’ve been back to play there,” said guitarist Steve Smyth. “The last time we were there, the power surged onstage and blew out Steve Hoffman’s amp so we couldn’t continue from there. We managed to get through nearly an hour set though, so that was a great thing.”
Although Ozanix’s loves the annual Sweet Leaf shows, he made certain to mention the status of Skitzo, his main band. “We just finished our 19th album, ‘Dementia Praecox,’ but have not planned a release date since we don’t have a drummer.”
And while Skitzo may be a bigger name in Sonoma County, Sweet Leaf has quite the following of its own and plays shows in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Fresno, and anywhere else in between.
“We just played Livermore (Pine Street Bar and Grill), Sacramento (On The Y), as well as our hometown area shows in Rohnert Park (Quincy’s Pub) and Santa Rosa (Sprenger’s Taproom). We did our second annual acoustic show there at Sprenger’s. It was a lot of fun!” said Steve. “ We average a handful of shows per year with Sweet Leaf due to the fact I live out of the country now, but we still can manage around eight shows a year.”
Metalheads who love Ozzy Osbourne’s body of work along with the entire heavy metal genre will be thrilled with Saturday’s show however unrehearsed it may be. “ Expect surprise, I would say!” said Steve. “Of course, there are the usual fan favorites one can expect and the songs we love to play as well, but there are songs in those band’s back catalogs that seem to get called out a little more.”
Sweet Leaf (Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute band) play Saturday, January 10th at Spancky’s in Cotati, with Lord Mountain opening. 9:30pm. No cover charge but donations accepted. 8201 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati. 707.664.0169.