This past weekend, April 15-17, some 28 bands and hundreds of fans came together for Sonoma County’s inaugural Next Level Showcase and Conference, with two days of music and a daylong seminar covering the business of creativity all aimed at helping local musicians get the information and assistance they need to take their music to, well, the next level.
Organized by the folks at Creative Sonoma (a program under Sonoma County’s economic development board) as well as the North Bay Hootenanny and Second Octave (both local promoters and event producers), the Friday and Saturday showcase took place at Arlene Francis Center next to Railroad Square, and the Sunday conference commenced down the block at Chop’s Teen Center.
In short, the two-day showcase was a fun-filled inspiration to anyone who’s a fan of North Bay bands, with a variety of genres and styles on display. Friday featured several folk acts alongside indie rockers. The crowd cheered along with harmonious groups like Rainbow Girls and emotionally-resonating rockers like Manzanita Falls.
Pop band Lungs and Limbs got a dance party going in the classroom stage, one of three performance spaces that featured bands, and the eclectic Oddjob Ensemble closed out Friday with a fantastic performance that included horns and accordions a plenty.
Saturday was a decidedly louder affair, what with experimental noise rock outfit Antiphony blasting the small saloon stage to pieces as the evening’s opening act.
Other spirited Sonoma County bands, like the quirky and solid Secret Cat, reminded the crowds that you can be both silly and sensational, and several San Francisco acts showed up as well, like Travis Hayes & the Young Daze, who were joined onstage by Petaluma singer Emily Whitehurst of Tsunami Bomb and Survival Guide fame.
Recorded last Valentine’s Day and released last month, the five-song “Killer” EP from Santa Rosa singer-songwriter Katie Phillips is strong. From the easy, muted strumming to Phillips’ fearless voice, this largely acoustic Americana rock offering is potent with stirring melodies and memorable hooks.
One third of local band the Bootleg Honeys (who perform this weekend at the American Roots Music Festival), Phillips says she takes influence from Karen Carpenter and Led Zeppelin, though on this new collection there’s plenty of other artists that come to mind, like John Mellencamp and Fiona Apple. Joining Phillips on the record is drummer and producer Mark Tarlton, who also provided the studio space in his Sonoma location.
For me, the best track is “Baby Blue,” which builds with a driving rhythm and features a powerful conclusion. “Hobo” is also an interesting turn, finding Phillips singing nearly a capella while Tarlton’s drums underscore her vocals like a roots rock chant, or a chain gang hymn. In fact, each track on the EP is a solid, confident outing that encourages repeat listens. Sample the EP below and see Phillips and Tarlton play as the Katie Phillips Duo on Friday, Sept 18, at Pub Republic, 3120 Lakeville Hwy, Petaluma.
The new self-titled album by Sonoma County duo HUGElarge is a blistering blend of classic songs done up with garage rock revivalism from two veteran Bay Area musicians. Guitarist and vocalist Robert Malta (Paw Paw Blowtorch / Bermuda Triangle Service) and drummer Matt Norelli (American Music Club) sound as fresh and eager as a couple of teenagers, pounding fuzzed-out riffs and grinding beats that fans of the Black Keys will swoon over.
Since forming in 2005, this stripped-down duo has kept it simple, utilizing vintage equipment and playing in Norelli’s garage for the pure joy of rock and roll. That joy is on display throughout the new record, and HUGElarge sound as big as advertised. It’s a raucous collection of classic proto-punk and glam rock gems, with tracks like T. Rex’s “Motivator” and ? & the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” inventively revisited and invigorating as ever.
Recorded by mix master Karl Derfler (Tom Waits, Roky Erickson) the album sounds amazing for two guys, a guitar and a cocktail drum. Coming soon as a special high-quality collector’s edition, this self-titled album is available next month though Hwy 61 Records and at local record stores. To give you a taste of the album, check out the video for the album’s only original track, the instrumental “D.O.G.”
Last Saturday, the idyllic Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood got a little jolt of of rock and roll with the 6th annual Lion Awake Productions Backyard concert. Taking place at a private residence on Slater St, the concert featured four local favorites performing on the deck and crowds of up to 150 people hanging out on the large lawn.
Kicking off at 4pm, the show opened with young Sonoma County band Parcivillian mixing a fresh blend of rock and blues with a dash of folk thrown in via their fiddle player. Next up was popular local rockers Kingsborough, who impressed with their tight rhythms and free-wheeling attitudes. Powering through their own high-energy original tunes and dedicated covers of classic party songs alike, Kingsborough really got the party going.
Along with the music, the house show featured a delicious taco truck parked on the curb offering up spicy carnitas tacos and sumptuous chicken burritos. After scarfing down on some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, it was time to enjoy the perfectly-pitched sounds of the T Sisters and the grooving beats of Lazyman.
Hailing from Oakland, the three harmonizing T Sisters, Erika and twins Rachel and Chloe, were joined by mandolin master Andrew Allen Fahlander and standup bassist Steve Height and crowded on to the deck for a sonorous mix of traditional gospel folk tunes. Honestly, they didn’t even need the microphones, their vocal power is so great they could have sung to the whole block without any electronic amplification.
By the time the sun set, headlining act Lazyman was ready to rock. Fronted by Sonoma County songwriter Steve Pile, the band capped off the concert with their eclectic rock that’s singularly dedicated to having a good time. With cooling temperatures and gusty winds, Lazyman kept the crowd lively and laid-back all at the same time.
Slide guitarist and songwriter Roy Rogers has played with some of the biggest names in country and rock and roll in a career that spans forty years, from John Lee Hooker to Bonnie Raitt. Still, the accomplished musician has largely eschewed the big label approach to making his own music by self-releasing his albums on his independent label, Chops Not Chaps Records. With his long-time trio the Delta Rhythm Kings, Rogers again offers up a foot-stompin’ assortment of blues-tinged jams with his latest album, Into the Wild Blue.
Made up of eleven tracks, the album kicks off with the dance hall rocker “Last Go-Round,” showing off a sizzling electric riff over a two-step beat. Rogers follows that up with the upbeat jam session of “Don’t You Let Them Win.” Rogers’ effortless slide guitar is in full effect on the record, and the Delta Rhythm kings keep a steady southern influence over the beat, like a hoedown happening in the bayou heat.
Recorded with long time bassist Steve Ehrmann, drummer Kevin Hayes, keyboardist Jim Pugh, and violinist Carlos Reyes; Rogers feels right at home throughout the record, laid back and carefree in his songwriting. Into the Wild Blue is available now, Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings will be in the North Bay on Wednesday, August 5, performing at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa.
Check out the funky track “She’s a Real Jaguar” below:
Petaluma singer-songwriter Emily Whitehurst used to be known as the dynamic front woman of pop punk outfit Tsunami Bomb, though since 2011 she has been the brains behind electronic project Survival Guide. Back in May, she released “Way to Go,” an elegant indie gem of a record. And now, there’s a new music video for the title track to feast your eyes upon.
Featuring Whitehurst’s sublime vocals over hypnotic beats and twinkling keys, the video’s storyline mirrors the album’s own tale of holding onto your passions-even when you have to stand on your own. Survival Guide’s next show in the Bay Area is on Thursday, July 30 at the Stork Club, 2330 Telegraph Ave, Oakland.
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.