Legendary Jamaican rockers the Skatalites perform tonight at the Last Day Saloon, and it will be one of the last shows at the venue as we know it—it’s slated to close May 5.
It has been a year since the Skatalites came through Northern California, nearly selling out their last show in Santa Rosa. Although only one founding member remains, the band sounds as true to its roots as it did thirty years ago.
Last year, we wrote about The Skatalites celebrating Jamaica’s 50th anniversary as an independent nation. The band was collecting instruments to take back to the Alpha Boys School in Kingston, which over the years has transformed orphaned boys into some of reggae’s biggest stars. Their new album Walk With Me contains some of the last recordings done with founding drummer Lloyd Knibb; it’s a tribute to all the members who played with the band from the beginning in 1964 until each passed away.
Widely considered the founding fathers of ska music, tonight could very well be one of the last opportunities to see an original member of one of the best ska bands in the history of reggae music play on stage.
The Skatalites headline with local favorites Our Vinyl Vows and DJ Konnex tonight at the Last Day Saloon, 120 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. $20-$25. 707.545.5876.
Sister Carol took the stage ten minutes before midnight. In dark glasses and tall rasta head dress, the 54-year-old radiates reggae empress on stage. Born Carol East in Kingston, Jamaica, Sister Carol is celebrating three decades of bringing women up in a culture dominated by masculinity. Part roots singer part rhymer, her signature chatty dancehall style has crowed the “Black Cinderella” one of the most eloquent women in reggae music.
A fashionably late entrance is standard affair in reggae culture. The practice is a gesture of sorts, giving the crowd a chance to appreciate the DJs and fill the dance floor. In fact, a seasoned fan knows to arrive no earlier than 11pm so as not to wander aimlessly until someone gets on stage. Arriving just before show time, the venue had already filled with people who had seen Sister Carol or Mykal Rose several times before. Fans came down from Mendocino County, Lake Tahoe, and up from the City owing to the significance of having these two reggae legends play such a small venue with a live band.
Now in its second year as the only reggae genre night in Santa Rosa, Casa Rasta has garnered a steady following of local fans. Resident DJ Kieran “Sizzlak” Eagan is lead seleckta, building on experience as a late-night reggae music programmer with San Jose’s KKUP, 91.5FM. And now taking to the decks is DJ Dinga, better known for his MC techniques with the wildly popular mixed martial arts event, Cage Combat. With Bay Area sound system Jah Warrior Shelter dropping in on a regular basis, the dynamic duo are coming into their own, booking quality live talent and attracting a fan base four counties wide.
Sister Carol’s performance was memorable. Having seen her perform on festival stages for thousands of people, it was an entirely different experience to see her engage a small audience. She took care to give attention to those in the front row and was absolutely on point with the back-up band. Going into several free styles, even within songs, the clarity of her rhymes was beyond impressive. It was if she had played a thousand times yet this time’s rhymes had renewed potency. Flawless renditions of “Rasta Girl” and “Womb-Man” sounded like album recordings, and the classic anthem “Reggae Arena” was, as always, the highlight of her set. Not a minute of lagging, just pure concentration in the music and the vibe. To our dismay though, the crowd did not realize “Wild Thing” was her last song and failed to produce an applause worthy of an encore. When she did not come back on stage, a sense of somber awe filled the room. The crowd knew they were not ready to say goodbye.
Question! Third Eye Blind sang a) “Barely Breathing,” b) that “It’s 2am I Must Be Lonely” song, c) “Steal My Sunshine” or d) that one that goes “Doot-Doot-DOOT! Doot-Doo-DOOT!-Doo, Doot-Doot-DOOT! Doot-doo-DOOT!-Doo.” If you don’t know the answer, don’t worry! It’s easy to find out by walking down to the Sonoma County Fair, standing outside the fence of the Chris Beck Arena and listening as the quasi-funky drums, plaintive acoustic guitars and impassioned harmonies of one of 1997′s biggest bands blast from the stage, rebound off the rodeo grandstand and dissipate, unlistenably, into the sky over Brookwood Avenue.
Because “the Chris Beck concerts are restricted from press,” they tell me (oh really?), this happens to be my only option. Last year, for Huey Lewis & the News, this wasn’t such a bad thing, and I was still able to find some insight for a review while standing outside the gates. But I suspect that Third Eye Blind’s genius merits a closer analysis that can only be ascertained by witnessing the band visually, because on the other side of the barbed-wire fence it was hard to understand what the half-full grandstand was cheering for.
What makes a Stabat Mater so special? Is it the holy text? The seriousness with which composers undertake the task? Whatever it may be, the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus and Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestra plucked every string in both chambers of the heart this weekend with their rousing performance of Gioachino Rossini’s Stabat Mater at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa.
Rossini’s version of the sacred text, which dates back to the 13th Century as a somber hymn about the Sorrows of Mary, is powerful in a very Rossini way. At first, it might be surprising to know Rossini even composed a Stabat Mater (it was to me, at least). But the Romantic composer known for wild operas like the Barber of Seville and William Tell (think The Lone Ranger theme) was known for memorable melodies and dramatic crescendos stayed true to the feeling of the piece.
I first time came across Church after stumbling out of Stark’s Happy Hour with a couple of friends. Down the street they came, skipping past Western Farm Center and hanging a right into Railroad Square. It was a motley crew, held together by a few lopsided grins, an accordion (played by Kalei Yamanhoha from the Crux), clarinet, a couple of saxophones, snare drums, trombones and a big, ole’ sousaphone. They looked like a bunch of wily mutineers, the Goonies of marching bands, and as we grinned and walked towards the railroad tracks, with Church behind us on the street, we claimed them for a moment as our own personal soundtrack. As they rounded the corner onto Sixth street and headed up into the West End neighborhood, I texted my husband and said, “Look out the window, a marching band is about to pass by!” For a second, everything felt shiny and good in the world.
The next time, I literally ran (or biked) into Church while navigating through dumb Santa Rosa Plaza to get into downtown. As I approached Macy’s, the glass entrance doors burst open, and Kalei the accordionist, came barreling out, still playing his accordion, followed by a tumult of ragtag marching band hooligans, all laughing and breathless—and probably being chased by an humorless department store security guard who didn’t appreciate the charm of being serenaded in the shoe department with off-kilter Russian folk songs. The best part… Church played the theme from “Cops” on the way out the doors.
That’s the great thing about Church: you never know when they’ll perform. The last time I saw them, they were playing guerilla-style at the Tour of California “Lifestyle Festival.” They were making bank in tips, I’m sure without a permit, and I thought, “Ah, now this is a lifestyle I can get behind.” Hopefully, next time I see Church they’ll be playing the shit out of a Ratatat song on the top of Hugh Codding’s tribute arch until the damn thing rumbles down…
Here’s what they say about themselves on their Facebook page: “One rainy night the idea was formed to create a marching band of friends. Why not? Everyone we know plays music, so why not get everyone together for it? We practice hard, perform harder, and create a redonc party everywhere we go.”
And here’s the official 12 -piece line up: Jesse Shantor (Sousaphone), Gaven Hayden-Town (Baritone Saxophone), Ben Weiner (Drums), Ricky Lomeli (Drums), Zak Garn (Drums), Joey Lynch (Drums), Travis Hendrix (Clarinet), Annie Cilley (Alto Saxophone), Adam Lessnau (Trombone), Jeremy Lessnau (Melophone/Trumpet), Josh Jackson (Trumpet), Kalei Yamanoha (Accordion)
While spontaneous, surprise Church sightings are the most fun, you can see them in a more “official” capacity when they play the Arlene Francis Center on Friday, May 25. The show is a benefit to send the West County-based marching band Hubbub Club, along with Church, to this year’s HONK! festwest.
By Leilani Clark
With the death this week of Levon Helm, the world lost one of country-rock’s finest ambassadors. As drummer and singer for The Band, Helm was at the forefront of a musical movement, along with The Birds, Bob Dylan, Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, and even Led Zeppelin at times, that combined, to fine effect, the rough-and-tumble feel of rock with the rangy, winsome tones of country music.
Fortunately, Sonoma County has produced its own country-rock ambassador in John Courage. On Saturday, April 21, at the Last Day Saloon, he celebrates the release of Don’t Fail Me Now, his first album to feature the bona fide, full-blown band known as John Courage and the Great Plains. A springtime release date is perfect for this smooth-toned, solidly produced album. Just like the black velvet drawing on the back by local artist Mica Jennings, the album is a prime soundtrack for poolside hangout sessions with a cold drinks and friends, or maybe long stints on the road driving to deserts and mountains.
While some of the lyrics are in the vein of “yearning for a pretty, long-haired lady in a short skirt who understands that behind my stoic, highway-burned face is a man who just needs real love,” the songs have an expansiveness that probably comes partially from the time Courage (nee Palmer) spent in living in New Mexico’s high desert a few years back. In one of the album’s best moments, on the song “Heartbreak Man,” the unapologetic narrator says goodbye without looking back, in the morning, or “under cover in the middle of the night,” and the lady and town about to be left behind are gifted with this caustic observation: “I miss my life back on the West Coast/I forgot my true identity/No one here knows my god-given name/They’re just in love with the fantasy.”
“Old Faithful Pulse” explores the three M’s: mortality, mystery, and misery. It sets the tone for the ensuing set of songs, well-crafted melodies that build up to crackling, sing-a-long choruses, of the type to be sung in hot, southern bars, where the only requirement is a beer in hand and a lost love lingering in the shadows near the jukebox.
The song “Middle Man” is a bluesy juke-joint tale of lies and cheating. “If it all ends tonight,” Courage sings, “how it all went down.” Money trees, devil tea, and bad men on the horizon, it’s all in there, sung with an convincingly burning sarcasm. It tells a story, and reminds us that often times the best music is told from the distant third, not necessarily the close first.
On many songs, Courage’s voice carries the languid, passionate, caramel tones similar to Chan Marshall from Cat Power, and though at times the songs are as world-weary—filled with hustlers and heartbreakers— as the famously world-sick front woman’s, the album’s 21st-century wild-west territories are subtly optimistic, bathed in golden California sunlight. The title track has a surprisingly poppy bridge, kicked up a notch with dulcet bell tones that might have come straight off Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. “You take the mountain, I’ll take the crown,” sings Courage, simultaneously giving in and remaining hopeful.
On the last track, Courage wails, “I sold my soul for rock-and-roll” in a somber, nearly cracking voice that belies his age, singing softly, sadly—seeming over it before he’s even started. “It ain’t paying up,” he bemoans in the chorus. Yet, in actuality, with this new album, music’s melodic riches have truly bestowed themselves on this particular lanky, red-headed West Coast son.
The North Bay Hootenanny presents the album release show for John Courage and the Great Plains on Saturday, April 21, at the Last Day Saloon. 120 5th Street, Santa Rosa. 8pm. $10-$12. 707.545.5876. CDs will be available for $5.00.
Here’s a video for Courage’s home demo “Game of Charades.” It’s not on the album, but it’s a nice, pensive tune.
Talk has been swirling for weeks, and now, it’s been made official: After 33 years, there will be no Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa in 2012.
The full announcement from Harmony Festival CEO Howard “Bo” Sapper is below, and it looks like the decision wasn’t made lightly. Harmony Festival organizers “spent many months creatively exploring dozens of promising options” to keep the festival alive, Sapper writes, but to no apparent avail. “We know this news is a great disappointment to the entire Harmony team and the community at large,” Sapper writes. “We share your feelings of disappointment.”
So far, this is only a postponement—the festival is not necessarily permanently cancelled. In an egalatarian move worthy of the festival’s aims, organizers have set up a website, www.harmonyfestivalonline.com, to collect ideas about the future of the festival from the fans and extended community. “We are looking ahead to the annual Harmony Festival in 2013,” it reads.
Obviously, this is sad news for many. Official announcement below.
Dear Harmony Festival Family,
On behalf of the Harmony Festival Board of Directors and management team, we sincerely thank you for your continued support and encouragement as we grew and evolved the Harmony Festival from a grassroots community event in 1978, into the nationally renown music, arts and cultural festival—that you’ve come to expect year after year.
It is with a deep sense of regret that we announce that after 33 years we will not be producing a Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, CA in June 2012. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult announcement for us to make. We appreciate your patience as we took the necessary time to prepare a thoughtful message to inform the greater Harmony community of our decision, which is now effective immediately.
You might ask why we made this decision. Please trust that we have spent many months creatively exploring dozens of promising options in the hopes that we could keep this magical event alive this year. We know this news is a great disappointment to the entire Harmony team and the community at large, and we share your feelings of disappointment. We ask that we work together to move beyond this stage, toward hope and optimism for future Harmony Festivals.
We are working on plans to reorganize the company and the possibility of creating Harmony Festivals in the future. We are counting on engaging YOUR support and participation going forward as we re-envision a sustainable future for the festival. We also ask that you assist in communicating this message within your own community, in the most positive light possible.
We welcome your comments and feedback via our new blog www.harmonyfestivalonline.com and look forward to the possibility of rekindling the Harmony Festival flame so it shines even more brightly again in the future.
Howard “Bo” Sapper, CEO Harmony Festival, Inc.
Strolled down to Christy’s on the Square tonight and was pleased to see that Christy’s Thursdays are working out pretty well. For the past couple months, the live music booking on Thursdays has skewed toward the louder variety, which is welcome indeed. Hell, live music period in downtown is welcome indeed, especially when clubs that opened swearing they’d never have DJs now host nothing but.
Even though the bands are allowed to be loud at Christy’s, the sound system is crisp, and not muddled. What’s more, the doorman is unimposing, a healthy change from the unnecessary velvet-rope of the location’s former incarnation as Upper Fourth (the swift demise of which is still one of my favorite Santa Rosa stories, which I probably shouldn’t repeat here, but if you see me, ask). Yes, the attendant in the bathroom at Christy’s offering soaps and cologne is a little out of place, but in front of the small stage, there’s plenty of dimly-lit room to mosey around and chat with friends, drinking cozily in their booths. A five-dollar cover seals the deal.
Playing was Derailed Freight Train, a band that keeps getting better and better. It’s always a pleasure to watch drummer Jamie Voss, who many know from his behind-the-beat laze in Cropduster, but in Derailed Freight Train, he’s fast, crisp, sharp and anything but derailed. Jesse Kindt holds down a solid bass. But the treat is frontman Damian Cohn, a brilliant paradox who plays his well-weathered guitar with simple open tuning but goes off on abstract, strange solos. Over the years in Sonoma County, Damian’s proven himself a master musician, not only adept but excelling at hip-hop (Kranky), free jazz (Army of Ants), cut-and-paste electronics (Scattershot Theory), novelty rap (again, ask me in person) and who knows what the hell else.
In short, Damian knows music inside and out, but instead of playing some ridiculous amalgam of all his influences, he’s choosing to dominate at straight-ahead power-trio rock. So dominating, in fact, that Flavor, downstairs, asked Christy’s to stop Derailed Frieght Train’s set until their dining hours were over! If that’s not a good indicator, I don’t know what is.
Never mind that the beat (and the title) is a direct lift of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar.” Never mind the low (or no) production values. Just enjoy this video shot at the Roxy Stadium 14 Theater by local rapper Tru Lyric, who apparently works cleaning up auditoriums after showings of Underworld: Awakening 3D and who goes home with plenty of rhymes running through his head.
Have you ever seen Weird Al? No? Well, let me try to explain. He plays for two hours. He plays about 65 songs. He has about 20 costume changes. He assumes two dozen personas, and shows just as many funny fake interview clips between songs. He’s nonstop, and it’s nuts, and his crowd is nuts, and then he plays some songs about Yoda and it’s all over, and like any good fast-paced comedy show, it’s hard to remember what just happened.
Here’s what I can reconstruct.
When I walk in to the show, there’s a guy who’s 6’5″ in sweatpants, a headband and a red “Jews 4 Bacon” T-shirt. This is a good representative example of the typical Weird Al fan who has arrived here tonight to pay their respects to the master. I follow the Jews 4 Bacon guy to my seat, the lights go out, and Weird Al starts a polka medley of the following songs:
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
Day ‘n’ Nite
Need You Now
I Kissed a Girl
Blame It (on the Alcohol)
Break Your Heart
The medley comes back around to “Poker Face,” the song ends, the lights go out, people go nuts. The lights blink back on just in time to see Weird Al bonk his face on the microphone with a huge “WhhHHHAhaOoompPP!,” and then recovering by shouting “HELLO SANTA ROSA!!”
There’s a joke about a drum solo, and then the video screen shows a interview with Eminem where Eminem keeps saying “You know what I’m sayin’?” and Weird Al keeps losing his patience in increasingly aggravated fashion, and this goes on and on, and the crowd loves it, and then some cheerleaders come out on stage to the opening strains of “Smells Like Nirvana.” I’m impressed that Weird Al plays the whole song on guitar left-handed, but then attention to detail is his specialty—surely he knows that Kurt Cobain played left-handed. He also gargles the guitar solo into the microphone with some mystery liquid and throws the red keg cup and its contents out on the crowd, and they go wild.
“TMZ” is a Taylor Swift parody, “Party in the C.I.A.” is Miley Cyrus, Jesus, what else? It all goes by so fast, and honestly, some of the best songs are his own, like “Skipper Dan,” the sad tale of a failed actor who was once “the next Olivier” but is now working the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland, reciting the same crappy schtick about the wiggling hippo ears 34 times a day. (“I research everything that I do as much as I possibly can before I even start writing,” he says in this interview about the song. See, attention to detail!)
Somewhere in there is perhaps the show’s highlight: “Wanna B Ur Lovr,” with Weird Al in a red-and-black leopard print suit hopping off the stage and grinding up on audience members, like, legs up on the seat, while singing lines like “My love for you’s like diarrhea, I just can’t hold it in” and something about chewing on your butt, maybe? It’s insane. He launches into a food medley, with “Whatever You Like” and “Nothin’ on You” and “Eye of the Tiger” and “La Bamba” and “Stand” and I forget what else, and then they all come out dressed like the Doors.
Doing Jim Morrison is hard, but Weird Al nails it, and their bassist is sitting back at the keyboards because the Doors had no bassist (ATTENTION TO DETAIL!) and the song is about Craigslist and the personal ads and annoying complaints people lodge on Craigslist. Weird Al wins a place in the heart of Santa Rosa by addressing a diatribe during the bridge: “An open letter to the snotty barista at Bad Ass Coffee on Mark West Springs Road,” and again, attention to detail, place goes nuts, it’s totally cool and uncool at the same time, which I guess sums up the whole show, actually.
The hits roll out: “Perform This Way,” “eBay,” “Canadian Idiot,” “White and Nerdy,” “Money for Nothing / Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Fat,” with the famous fat costume, and it’s hard to figure out if he’s making the fat people in the audience feel better or worse about themselves, but I’m guessing better, because Weird Al is all about making everyone feel better about themselves no matter how weird or quirky or idiosyncratic or different they may be. Even if they’re 6’5″ and wearing sweatpants and a headband and a shirt that says “Jews 4 Bacon.” Weird Al is there for that man, and that man is not giving up on Weird Al, because like Homer Simpson says: “He who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life.”
There’s an encore, with songs about Star Wars, a.k.a. the Spiritual Advisory Board of the disenfranchised. There’s an amazing acapella thing that I can’t begin to describe (thank you YouTube, start at 3:40), and the whole thing comes roaring back in with “Yoda,” and the accordion is king, and people are swaying in their own ridiculous joy, and UHF is a great movie, and Jessica Simpson is dumb, and no one thought about the state of the world for two hours, and Weird Al yells “Thank you Santa Rosa!” and I believe that he actually cares. And that’s what a Weird Al show is like.