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.
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)
Assembly of Dust with openers Doobie Decibel System sold out The Sweetwater Music Hall on Dec. 11th, the night of a major storm. The two acts both put on stellar performances with a wide range of original material and some covers. The frontmen from both bands have an interesting thing in common as leaders in the tech world as one of their other endeavors. Roger McNamee, famed venture capitalist of Elevation Partners seen this week on CNBC, performed with Jason Crosby as Doobie Decibel System and Reid Genauer, CMO of the rapidly growing Magisto, perform with his band Assembly of Dust on guitar and vocals. Special guests included shredding guitarist Mark Karan, of Ratdog, and the amazing singer Shana Morrison, who performed a rendition of her father Van’s “Into The Mystic!”
Sunday Nov. 9 David Nelson Band performed their final performance of a three night run at Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads with Doobie Decibel System opening that night’s sold out show. The evening started in the parking lot which was full of hippies old and younger, many of them holding up a pointer finger, the universal sign for “I Need and Miracle,” to buy or be given a ticket.
The show started off with an excellent performance by Doobie Decibel System which included Roger McNamee, of Moonalice, and Jason Crosby. The main event, which included Bay Area psychedelic era legend, of New Riders of the Purple Sage, David Nelson and his all star band. The David Nelson Band rocked the night away keeping the crowd happy and dancing. While David Nelson band took their set break Graham Lesh, the son of Terrapin Crossroads owner and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, and his band Midnite North performed an exceptional set in the, separate, bar area including a sit in from Doobie Decibel System. The night finished of with Scary Little Friends in the bar after David Nelson performed.
Blue Bear Benefit at Sweetwater with Vicki Randle & Members of Santana, and Doobie Decibel System, Performing For a Good Cause
On Thursday Sept. 11 Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley hosted a Blue Bear School of Music Benefit featuring Vicki Randle (Tonight Show, Aretha Franklin) and Friends. The band included members of Santana. Every one of the musicians throughout the set was on top of their game with styles ranging from soul to funk, folk to rock.
The night started out with a beautifully done duet set by Roger McNamee (Moonalice) and Jason Crosby of Doobie Decibel System. They performed songs such as “Feerless” (Pink Floyd) and Moonalice original “Couple of Puffs.” Blade, a Blue Bear Youth Band of teens, performed second playing renditions of famous rock songs such as “Purple Haze”
Blue Bear School of Music is a private music school devoted to spreading the art of music through lessons to people of all ages.
Jason Crosby and Friends with Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and Doobie Decibel System Rock Sweetwater
Wednesday August 27th Jason Crosby and Friends performed a stellar show at Sweetwater Music Hall. Guests included the amazing Jerry Harrison, Talking Heads guitarists, Roger McNamee (Moonalice), vocalist Shana Morrison (Van Morrison’s daughter), Dan Lebowitz, and Reed Mathis and Cochrane McMillan (Tea Leaf Green). Jason Crosby and Roger McNamee opened the show with the debut of their duet Doobie Decibel System.
Photos by Jamie Soja – Soja Photography
Southern rock legend Dickey Betts and Great Southern made a rare Bay Area performance Sunday night at a sold out Sweetwater show in Mill Valley. His performance with his band Great Southern included his son Duane, named after the late Allman Brothers guitarist, on lead guitar. Duane’s band Brethren of the Coast warmed up the night. During Dickey’s set the relatively small stage was filled to the brim including two drummers on risers. With a packed house and stage the band ripped through classics such as In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Ramblin Man, and Jessica, which Betts won a Grammy for in 1996. Dickey and the band played a phenomenal set heating up the room to a boiling point. Dickey’s signature style was on display throughout the night with the harmonizing octaves of the lead guitars bringing it back to where it all began.
Betts, despite being a founding member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee The Allman Brothers Band, hasn’t performed a concert with them since 2000 after a turbulent departure from the band. This year The Allman Brothers announced they would be breaking up following a run at the Beacon Theater in NYC
Photos and Text by Jamie Soja – Soja Photography