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Jessica Felix Reinstated for Healdsburg Jazz Festival; Current Board of Directors Resigns

Posted by: on Sep 7, 2010 | Comments (0)

The Healdsburg Jazz Festival is back. And so is Jessica Felix.

After the outpouring of support for Felix, the current Board of Directors of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival has voted unanimously to reinstate Jessica Felix to the Board and to elect her Chairperson. All five members of the current Board are resigning, effective immediately. Felix will book a jazz festival in 2011, and will form a new Board.

This isn’t just great news—it’s incredible news. How rare is it that an entire Board of Directors resigns over public outcry? Over a small little town’s jazz festival?

I called Felix, who’d just returned from signing papers and putting her name back on the bank account. “I’m so glad,” she told me. “I’m just overwhelmed by all the support. It’s been heartwarming to know how much people care.”

As reported earlier, Felix was fired five weeks ago from the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, which she founded in 1999, and the Festival Board announced a hiatus for the 2011 season. Multiple media outlets covered the actions taken by the Board, including this one, and comments protesting the decision piled up at the festival’s website. The Board bluntly erased them all, apparently oblivious to Google cache; this only prompted more online comments from fans and musicians alike, including George Cables, David Weiss, Charlie Musselwhite, Bennett Friedman, Adam Theis and many more.

Key among the responses were those from Kathy Martin of Santa Rosa Systems, pledging to cancel her annual $25,000 sponsorship, and Babatunde Lea, who vowed without Felix not to participate in the Operation Jazz Band program in area schools, the only activity the Board had planned for 2011.

Felix said she heard the news by email.

“We have a victory—we’ve got a festival back with a tremendous debt,” she laughed. “It was a fight for jazz, and jazz won, and we haven’t won the battle yet, but jazz really won out here.”

Winning the economic battle means erasing the $30,000 debt that the festival faces, and to that end, Felix is planning the 2011 Festival as a benefit. She also says she’ll increase her outreach to area restaurants and wineries. “Now people realize finally that this festival cannot be taken for granted, and that it meant something,” she said. “That’s what shocked me. How much it meant to people.”

Ray Manzarek, Body or Brain, and the Doors at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1968

Posted by: on Sep 1, 2010 | Comments (0)

I spoke with Ray Manzarek this week about settling into the Napa Valley and playing the Napa River Festival this weekend (he’ll be doing a few Doors songs with the Napa Valley Symphony). He’s always kept his ears out for new bands, and had nothing but praise for Napa’s own Body or Brain, in whose video he’s made a memorable cameo. They filmed it at The Shop in Sonoma, and Manzarek’s really pretty excellent in it:

“I’m just some psychedelic guy from the ’60s.” Ha!

Of course, I also had to ask him if he remembered anything from the legendary night the Doors played the Grace Pavilion at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds in 1968. He couldn’t recall much other than the band played in a boxing ring, apparently left over from the night before. “That was the only time the Doors ever played inside a boxing ring,” he confirmed. “What in the world was it doing there?”

There are some photos from that show here (scroll down), and apparently it was the first show filmed for the Doors documentary Feast of Friends. So . . . some footage must exist somewhere, right?

Jack Attack: "I Hate Spiders"

Posted by: on Aug 18, 2010 | Comments (0)

After a Bohemian article in March of this year, quite a few readers found resonance in the outsider music of Jack Attack, a.k.a. Jack Springs, a high-functioning mentally retarded heavy metal fan who works rounding up shopping carts at G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa. The story of his trials growing up and finding catharsis in music was incredible to me, and his music, posted previously here, even more so.

So it makes me happy to share more of Jack’s music today. I’ve gotten his most recent recording, and along with themes about his soul no longer being destroyable, his rights being violated and his position as a singing God, he includes a timeless warning to the arachnid species.

Dear readers, here’s Jack Attack’s newest hit, “I Hate Spiders”:

Healdsburg Jazz Festival Comments Taken Down; Reposted Here

Posted by: on Aug 10, 2010 | Comments (8)

As reported earlier, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s Board of Directors last month fired festival founder and artistic director Jessica Felix. And guess what? People were mad! Musicians who played the festival vowed to return only if Felix was back on as artistic director, sponsors who contributed $25,000 per year pledged to cease their financial support in Felix’s absence, and fans lamented the very plain and obvious fact that firing Felix is tantamount to ripping out the heart of the festival.

All this happened in the comments section of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s website. It was a lively forum of voices—mostly smart, some funny, all of them upset—but apparently, it was too much for the Board of Directors to handle. All the comments were removed from the site yesterday. Says the home page: “For further comments, please email us at [email protected]

I’ve made my opinions on the matter of Felix’s firing pretty clear so far, but this latest action of erasing people’s public comments is completely atrocious. So with the aid of Google cache, here’s the collected 46 comments that were taken down from the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s site. Click through below to read them all, and feel free to continue to comment below.

[UPDATE: It worked! Felix is back and so is the festival. Read here.]

Smashing Pumpkins to Play the Phoenix Theater

Posted by: on Aug 10, 2010 | Comments (1)

This Just In: Smashing Pumpkins are playing the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma on Wednesday, September 8.

The Phoenix is among the smallest venues that the band is playing on their current tour, which sees them visiting 17,000- and 18,000-capacity stadiums after they leave Petaluma. Founding member Billy Corgan is the only original member in Smashing Pumpkins. (He tends to ramble at Smashing Pumpkins shows.)

Tickets, at $40 a pop, go on sale to the general public this Saturday, 10am, via InTicketing. A 101.7-FM “The Fox” presale happens on Friday at 10am. If you really want to be guaranteed a ticket, lining up outside the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa for an old-fashioned cash-transaction hard ticket is recommended. The store opens at 10am.

Zone Music in Cotati to Close, Downsize

Posted by: on Aug 9, 2010 | Comments (9)

The rumors are true: Zone Music in Cotati is closing its doors.

But they’ll open again soon, promises owner Frank Hayhurst.

The venerable music store which since 1983 has seen the likes of Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck as customers is downsizing its inventory and floor space to reopen sometime in the future, possibly with a different name but most likely in the same general spot, Hayhurst tells me.

“Cotati is a great community and a perfect location for a music store—it’s the heart of Sonoma County,” he says. “We’re looking at closing for a short while to remodel, but haven’t picked the exact dates yet, because there are many variables. We need to rescale, but it shouldn’t take too long.”

Whatever the future holds, the new store will focus instead on the things that still make money in an online age—guitars, accessories, used gear, consignments—in a remodeled, “much smaller” shop. “Basically,” says Hayhurst, “the old model of a full line music store doesn’t work in this current economy.”

Last week, customers reported the shelves at Zone being bare, and employees saying that the store was “going under.” The news came as a shock to those who’ve patronized the popular, well-loved store over the past 28 years—with most of the finger-pointing directed at online megastores like Musician’s Friend.

But even when Zone offered competitive price-matching with online merchants, “it’s 10% more expensive to shop with a local retailer than making the same purchase online,” says Hayhurst. “That’s the sales tax inequity issue.”

Several businesses surround Zone Music, and will stay open. Zone Recording, run by studio veteran Blair Hardman, will continue to record bands, singers, commercial jingles, books on tape and all manner of audio projects. Backstage Audio, run by fix-it whiz Kent Fossgreen, will continue to fix amps, guitars, keyboards and all manner of musical instruments.

A used vinyl LP store is moving in on the premises as well.

Even in tough times, while Zone restructures, Hayhurst says he hasn’t lost his passion for the business in Sonoma County. “My favorite visiting musicians have been the working musicians of the North Bay Area,” he remarks. “They are my inspiration. Oh, and the kids! Hearing kids rock always brightens my day.”

Healdsburg Jazz Festival Postponed; Jessica Felix Ousted

Posted by: on Jul 29, 2010 | Comments (8)

In a shocking, upsetting announcement, the Board of Directors for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival announced today that there will be no Healdsburg Jazz Festival in 2011.

What’s more, festival founder and Artistic Director Jessica Felix has been voted out by the Board, and will no longer be a part of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival she started 12 years ago.

Citing the poor economy, the Board says they’ll focus instead on their music education program which for 10 years has brought jazz to area schools. “There also seems to be a more limited audience for pure jazz in the community as evidenced by lower ticket sales,” Board president Pat Templin says. “There may be an opportunity to broaden the offering in the future. We need to find a winning model that will interest more people and businesses in the community to get involved, provide financial support and to attend a revised music festival.”

A “revised music festival.” A “limited audience for pure jazz.” An “opportunity to broaden the offering.” These are not good harbingers of things to come.

I called Felix to find out what happened. She said she couldn’t comment until she spoke with a lawyer, a bad sign. “I was totally surprised,” she said.

Reached by phone, Board president Pat Templin told me that there are “no plans” to reinstate Jessica Felix in 2012, adding that it was decision not made lightly, and one borne of finances instead of artistic vision (the festival, she stresses, will not move in a smooth jazz direction).

“She’s an amazing person, she’s done an amazing thing, and we’re trying to build on her legacy,” Templin says. “We’re committed to jazz, and to maintaining that reputation. And we’re also interested in some of what the community has told us, that there might be other genres that support the kind of jazz we do.” What other genres might those be? “One is blues,” Templin says.

If Felix can’t comment, then I will: The Healdsburg Jazz Festival as we know it is committing artistic suicide.

As a journalist, I’ve butted heads with Felix a couple times, but one thing I’ve never, ever questioned is her top-quality booking for the festival. I assume this so-called “limited audience for pure jazz” wasn’t part of the sold-out crowd this year for Ravi Coltrane and Charlie Haden, the sold-out crowd for Esperanza Spalding, or the full crowd for Jason Moran and Bill Frisell.

And that’s just in the last year alone. Previous festivals have hosted, to great acclaim, Joshua Redman, Billy Higgins, Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Jackie McLean, Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett, Frank Morgan and Dave Brubeck. Look at those names—and then find me another jazz festival booker in a town with a population of only 10,000 who can attract such stature.

The community needs the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, but in particular it needs the festival as booked by someone well-connected, passionate and knowledgeable about jazz. That someone is and always has been Jessica Felix. She’s taken creative risks that have paid off—such as two sold-out shows with the decidedly avant-garde Trio 3 last year—and that’s because over the last 12 years she’s cultivated an audience for jazz in Sonoma County. She’s even saved the festival money by putting up musicians in her home, and finding other local hospitable jazz fans to do the same.

As for ticket sales? The slump isn’t just in Healdsburg—concert ticket sales have been down significantly nationwide; Templin admits she’s aware of this too. So sure, a scaling back on the festival makes sense. A focus on music education is good for attracting new sponsors. A one-year hiatus in 2011, painful as it may be, may be necessary.

But in reorganizing, there’s one thing the Board shouldn’t overlook, and that’s the respect Felix has earned from the artists and fans in the jazz world. Every musician playing the Healdsburg Jazz Festival who I’ve interviewed for the Bohemian in the last six years has praised Felix’s devotion, without my asking. The national reputation of the festival speaks to her great work.

If she wants to continue booking the festival she founded—and it seems like she does—I can’t think of any reason to stop her from doing so.

[UPDATE: The Board of Directors have removed all public comments from their website. I’ve reposted them here.]

[UPDATE: It worked! Jessica’s back and so is the festival. Read here.]

Wrapping Up Loose Ends

Posted by: on Jul 27, 2010 | Comments (1)

The spigot, it sometimes bursts, and the drip-pan of CSI is too meager to contain the blast. Here’s a few things that’ve happened over the weekend, while I can still catch them coming out the pipe.

Silian Rail at Guayaki Mate Bar
I try not to make a habit of coveting thy neighbor’s anything, but Christ if Silian Rail doesn’t make me jealous. Jealous for their tone—some glorious, thick whomp that sounds like Bigfoot tap-dancing on the strings. Jealous for their composition—the rare form of noodley that travels down the road to an agreeable destination. Jealous for their form—the very fun ways in which they play multiple instruments at once.

Silian Rail’s new album Parhelion on Parks and Records is worth picking up, but at the Guayaki Mate Bar Friday night, they proved they’re better live; or, at least, the tricks are revealed. Seven or so effects pedals for the guitarist, a drummer that hammers guitar frets while striking the hi-hat and stepping on bass tones with his foot, and the elusive connection required to pull it all off. See them if you can, leave happy and envious.

Soundboutique
News from an old friend, DJ and fellow record hound Sean, who used to spin weekly at Soundboutique on Thursday nights at the Ivy Room in the East Bay. I heard last week he kept a blog of the same name, and lo and behold, the first post that popped up was on Lyman Woodward. Sold! Sean’s got a great, conversational writing style, and that Lyman Woodward record (Saturday Night Special) is like gritty, oily gravel on a Detroit sidestreet—electric organ never sounded so raw. Check it out. Sean is also noted for his ability to convince the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa to comp him for a two-night stay, which means he can probably also spin gold from straw, ride King Ridge in two hours and unearth original sealed Liquid Liquid EPs at Kmart.

Robyn Live at Amoeba
For those who don’t know, Robyn is a former teen-pop sensation from Sweden who decided five years ago to start her own label and go her own way. She’s done so forcefully: Her latest, Body Talk Pt. 1, opens with a song called “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do,” and closes with a jazz tune originally recorded by Bill Evans, sung in Swedish. Her latest single, “Dancing On My Own,” is on full-blast anthem status for 2010. It took me 2 1/2 hours in weekend traffic to catch her free in-store at Amoeba on Saturday. It was worth it.

With a pared-down two-piece band, Robyn performed hits in mostly ballad style: “Hang With Me” was a beautiful, slow opener, “With Every Heartbeat” caused audible gasps from the crowd and a pensive, piano-driven “Dancing On My Own” elicited the lonesomeness buried in the song’s rhythm-heavy album version. Robyn still danced. It was great.

The North Bay Film and Art Collective
It’s now officially called the Arlene Francis Theater—which is one syllable shorter! Arlene Francis was an actress best known for her long run on television game shows, including What’s My Line? and The Match Game; she also appeared with Doris Day in The Thrill of It All.

Why, you may ask, is the North Bay Film and Art Collective now called the Arlene Francis Theater? Because her son, Peter Gabel, wanted to name it after his mother. (His dad, Martin Gabel, warn’t no chopped liver, either—he hung out with Orson Welles, starred in Deadline U.S.A. and Marnie, and worked with Billy Wilder.) Gabel and his partner Martin Hamilton have some other ideas for the place, too, involving a cafe and eventually, a seated theater funded by redevelopment money. Hamilton says he wants Joan Baez to play there. It’s probably possible.

Gilman, Rent, Landlords, Etc.
I ran into my friend Eggplant at Grouper’s ‘Sleep’ audio installation at the Berkeley Art Museum. Eggplant’s volunteered at Gilman for 20 years, and although he just got fired for making a hilarious flyer poking fun at the club’s nostalgia-preying penchant for $10 reunion shows, he’ll probably be let back. Gilman is like that.

Gilman also has been faced with a steep-ass, widely publicized rent increase, and Eggplant and I talked about the community implications if Gilman actually had to close. The club still has yet to nail down a lease agreement with the landlord, but things do not look particularly promising. Sometimes, Eggplant wonders if Gilman closing wouldn’t be such a bad thing—if it’s perhaps outgrown its purpose and turned into a dusty relic where bands want to play just so they can say they played the same stage where Green Day and OpIvy got their start.

No, no, no, I countered. It has to stay open. It still embraces the creative spirit, is based on solid codes of conduct and provides an all-ages outlet that’s needed. Every time I walk in the place I feel like I’m being hugged by its walls. I admittedly say this as someone who only gets down there two or three times a year, but I think it’s be terrible if the place had to close. They have some money in the bank, but not enough for a down payment to buy the property at the figures that are being thrown around. If they could, it’d be empowering—the punks own their own club!—but it’d still be a struggle.

The long and short of it is it was nice to have a conversation about Gilman’s rent increase that did not begin and end with “Billie Joe should buy it,” although that’s not a terrible idea, either.

For the Kidz
Kidz Bop is the name of a very stupid series of CDs featuring current radio hits sanitized for the under-the-age-of-10 crowd. They’re incredibly popular, but generally they just drive everyone crazy. The best thing to do with a Kidz Bop CD is listen to it all the way through to find all the lyrics that are changed for the kidz. Unfortunately, that is torture. Maura Johnston at The Awl has listened to the latest CD in the series so you don’t have to, and rounded up the “13 Most Awkwardly Altered Lyrics on Kidz Bop 18.” It is most amusing.

Eric Lindell
This week’s Bohemian cover story is on Eric Lindell and how he left his record label to make the best record of his career. You know you’re old when you can remember Lindell’s dominance of the newly-opened Third Street Aleworks in the mid 1990s; you’re older if you remember seeing him play bass and sing for his 10-piece funk band, Grand Junction. I do, vaguely, and visiting Grand Junction’s MySpace tribute page is a fun little trip back in time to the punk-funk era of Sonoma County.

Gwyneth Paltrow Sings Country
This week’s Bohemian column is on Miranda Lambert, who’s playing the Sonoma County Fair on Monday. (Y’all should go.) As I point out in the article, here’s really no reason the very gifted Lambert shouldn’t be played on Americana radio. Why, even Gwyneth Paltrow is more pop-country than Miranda Lambert, as evidenced by this new single from her upcoming movie, Country Strong!

Les Savy Fav Wrestle With Leaks, Stalk People On Twitter

Posted by: on Jul 26, 2010 | Comments (0)

This is pretty great: Les Savy Fav (motto: “Missing Out on Cashing In for Over a Decade”) is about to release their new album, Root for Ruin. Their label, Frenchkiss, set up a protected stream so reviewers can listen to—but not download—the album. The login information that music writers got implied that we would be a “dick” if we leaked the record. Such a threat obviously didn’t deter fans rabid to share the thing, because almost immediately, someone apparently got into the source code and leaked the mp3s for download.

What’s a band to do when their album is leaked? The savvy Les Savy Fav has since created a Twitter account (@u_took_my_music) as “the Ghost of Les Savy Fav” to “haunt” those who post links to the leaked album. What’s more, they’ve set up a Paypal donation site to which the shame-filled Twitter user can then donate. “Okay, so you got our leaked record. At least now you know how awesome it is,” the page reads. “Here—donate some cash to us and be free of guilt for the record. Pay extra and you’re also forgiven for sex sins and stuff AND we’ll tell Jesus to send you cookies.”

I like this approach. In related news, Root for Ruin is really, really good, and you can pre-order it here.

Universal CEO to Independent Record Stores: Suck It

Posted by: on Jul 23, 2010 | Comments (2)

Jim Urie is the President and CEO of Universal Music Group, which has spent the last two decades buying up every label it possibly can to become the world’s largest music conglomerate. Like all record company CEOs, Jim Urie is trying to curb illegal downloading. Also like all record company CEOs, he’s not having much luck. So he’s begging you to help him out by signing this handy online form letter to representatives in Washington, D.C. which claims that illegal downloading is destroying American music.

Urie gave a real whiz-bang presentation about all this in front of other industry honchos at the NARM convention earlier this year, and got so fired up at the response that he created a Facebook page called Music Rights Now as a “call to action.” He recently asked the folks who champion independent record stores under the banner of Record Store Day to promote his Music Rights Now page, and they obliged with a click-through banner on their site.

He also asked them to distribute to independent record stores this statement he wrote, which reads in full:

I’ve received hundreds of e-mails enthusiastically reacting to my “call to action” at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers convention last month. The music business is facing huge challenges from piracy and theft. Never before in American history has an entire industry been so decimated by illegal behavior. Yet the government has not responded in a meaningful way to help us address the crisis. My call to action is for all of us to become more aggressive in lobbying our government, more outspoken in drawing attention to the problems caused by piracy and more actively engaged. We cannot win this fight alone.

Governments outside the U.S. are legislating, regulating and playing a prominent role in discussions with ISPs (Internet Service Providers). Sales have dramatically improved in these countries. How is it that the U.S.—with the most successful music community in the world—is not keeping up with places like South Korea, France, the UK and New Zealand?

As I said in my speech, I hope that the industry can negotiate a voluntary deal with the ISPs. We need our government representatives to encourage this. But whether or not we reach a deal with the ISPs, our government needs to know that we’ve got a piracy problem and we need real solutions. To accomplish this, our government needs to hear from all of us, so they know that their constituents are out here. Join me in calling on our elected officials to fight piracy. Please help by forwarding this email to your colleagues, friends—everyone who loves music. And consider enlisting your entire company to help in this fight. Then by clicking on the link below, a message will be sent to your representatives in Washington. Help us launch a viral campaign to cut off access to the online sites that are used to steal our music, our property and our jobs. It only takes a second, but it can make a tremendous impact.

You might think: A valiant crusader in the fight for justice! Except as a supporter of the ideals behind Record Store Day, and as one who thinks hometown record stores are just as important as gigantic conglomerates (Universal Music Group owns the catalogs of Motown, Def Jam, Island, Interscope, Geffen, A&M, MCA, Mercury, Verve, Lost Highway, Polydor, Decca, Hip-O, Prestige, Riverside, and lots of others), I say let’s look at this Urie guy a little closer.

Here’s the thing. In March this year, Urie announced a new $10.00 suggested retail price on most titles for Universal’s new releases. (The Roots’ How I Got Over and M.I.A.’s ///Y/ are the first that come to mind.) Which seems like great news, right? Consumers have been asking for cheaper CD prices forever! Everyone knows how little it costs to make a CD by now, and most people justifiably feel like charging $19.99 is outrageous.

But when Universal rolled out the new pricing structure, they conveniently forgot to mention who’s making up the margin. It’s not Universal. Instead, Urie is shifting the burden onto record stores—and in particular, independent record stores.

Let’s look at the M.I.A. record as an example. Big-box stores order so much quantity and so little variety that they’re able to get concessionary wholesale pricing from labels on new releases, but independent stores order nearly all new releases from distributors called one-stops. Under the old pricing tier, an independent store would have ordered a copy of ///Y/ for $10.99 from a one-stop, sold it for $15.99 and made five bucks.

Under Universal’s current “Velocity” program, the suggested retail price for ///Y/ is only $10.00, a fact touted clearly to customers on the overwrap sticker on top of the CD:

But how much does that CD cost the store? Below is a screen grab from the B2B ordering site at AEC, one of the country’s largest one-stop distributors to independent stores, and I swear it’s not Photoshopped. The first figure on the bottom line is the suggested retail price. The second is the wholesale cost to stores.

$10 MSRP, $9.99 wholesale. That’s right: The independent record store makes a one-cent profit. Essentially, Jim Urie is telling record stores to fuck themselves. Who could possibly be happy earning one measly penny per sale while making Urie’s company look like saviors for lowering prices?

The end result is that independent stores are threatened anew not by illegal downloading but by Urie himself, who apparently only wants to sell CDs at loss-leader outlets like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target—retail behemoths that continue to drive independent stores out of business. Urie doesn’t care; he’s shifted the burden to store owners, so he’s still making money. How the indie-loving people behind Record Store Day could even speak to the guy, let alone promote his agenda, is totally beyond me.