The cyclical nature of revolution songs is undeniable. Take a song from 100 years ago and it will be, at least in part, relevant today. Take, for example, the songs of Irish revolutionary James Connolly.
Mat Callahan, who fronted the San Francisco political punk/worldbeat band the Looters in the 80s, has compiled a book of Connolly’s music from original publications long thought lost to history. The book is put together well, with just enough history to give a sense of Connolly’s importance but relying mostly on the man’s own words from his music, all of which was written over 100 years ago. Connolly, a leading Marxist theorist in his day and was executed by the British in 1916.
Callahan and his wife Yvonne Moore, who now call Switzerland home, performed about a dozen songs on acoustic guitar and vocals at the Arlene Francis Center Friday night. The performance was the most punk rock thing I’ve seen all year, and will hold that title for at least a while. The duo sent a frozen shiver down my spine with lines like, “The people’s flag is deepest red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead; and ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.”
Santa Rosan Robert Ethington opened the show with original songs on acoustic guitar, accompanied by his wife Amy on vocals. They played a handful of powerful songs, suggesting they’d be a treat to see as a headlining act.
The album, “Songs of Freedom,” includes fully orchestrated versions of the songs Callahan and Moore played Friday night. It’s got Callahan’s worldbeat sensibility and arrangement, with guitar, bass, drums, Irish whistles, pipes, vocal harmony, fiddle, accordion and harp. The production is excellent, and the arrangements are updated to modern sensibility without losing their original feeling. Some tunes to Connolly’s songs were lost, so Callahan wrote original music to his lyrics. It serves to note that Connolly’s main purpose of putting these revolutionary words to music was for people to sing them and remember them, so many of the tunes are actually traditional country songs or somewhat hokey, simple melodies. They sound best when sung with 100 of your closest, most fed-up-with-the-system friends.
Get the book and CD here. It’s perfect for fans of history, revolution and Mat Callahan, each of which is equally important.
Last night’s show at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa was a revelation. I thought punk was dead; turns out it’s alive, but it lives in Oakland and Mexico City.
On the hottest day of the year (103 degrees, for fuck’s sake), a bunch of punk bands and fans crowded into the even hotter Arlene Francis Center to “dance” to fast, loud rock and roll music. Dancing, of course, is subjective. Nobody complained about the heat, but shirts were removed (and, at times, pants). Some bands didn’t show up, some unscheduled bands did, almost everyone shared the same drum set all night (which, since I was running sound, I was fully on board with). Turns out most of the bands were from Oakland, and two were from Mexico City. So that’s where all the rock and roll was hiding.
Burger Records’ Pookie and the Poodlez started off in the café, with the underwear-clad front man screeching into a yellow telephone receiver living a second life as a microphone. This is the ‘60s, semi-surf punk craze all the kids are into now, with the grit and simplicity of the Ramones combined with the poppy harmonies of the Monkees. That front man was in four bands of the evening, including Elvis Christ, Cumstain and Primitive Hearts, covering vocals, guitar and drumming duties.
In Cumstain, the singer and drummer donned stockings over their heads, as if they were about to burglarize the crowd. The only thing they stole, however, was the show, as the crowd threw possibly half-full cans of Pabst at the stage in appreciation. Crazy antics and wearing a stocking on your head in 100-degree heat playing fast punk rock under stage lights for half an hour will do that.
And now for something completely different, in every sense of the word. We Are the Men took the stage next. This super-talented group of Bay Area natives played unclassifiable rock, possibly in the vein of Dillinger Escape Plan or Triclops, but with a hearty helping of what-the-fuck-is-this-music on the side. Lots of screaming, lots of dynamic and style changes mid-song, lots of catchy-as-fuck hooks that disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they appeared. I liked them, I think. Judging by faces in the crowd, it seems like many had a similar opinion. I think.
Elvis Christ was led by a standup comedian in training, who yakked about half the time, and took a Pabst to the nuts for his troubles. All in good fun, because he was actually somewhat amusing, and the doo-wop punk rock was delightful.
Los Headaches, from Mexico City, came on at midnight after waiting the whole day for their 15 minutes, literally, of “fame.” Even at this late hour, there were a few stragglers still watching and dancing. The next band, which featured the same members plus one crazy ass motherfucker of a singer, played for 20 minutes immediately after.
I didn’t catch their name, they weren’t on the official flyer It’s Los Vincent Black Shadows – Thanks Sam). Holy shit. At 12:15am, this band pulled in a larger crowd just two songs into their set. The energy gave the crowd a second wind and stage diving, knocking over of instruments, heavy moshing (not that circle pit bullshit) took place. Their songs were in English (as far as I could tell, at least–he was yelling most of the time, sometimes with a microphone literally in his mouth), but it didn’t matter because punk rock transcends language. During one song, the singer repeatedly bashed his guitar, neck down, into the ground, then threw it across the stage and ran after it, like it had just stolen his wallet, and stomped on it to teach it a lesson. The guitar did not break.
Santa Rosa’s music scene is vastly differently from other parts of the Bay Area, as evidenced by this show comprised of bands from outside the area. Kudos to Jake Ward for organizing the show, which also had a barbecue and awesome looking stage. Here’s to more traveling bands coming to one of the few venues in greater Sonoma County supporting music as more than just a moneymaker.
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.