First Fridays On Fourth

Posted by: on Apr 22, 2009 | Comments (0)

Some of you may have heard of First Fridays in Santa Rosa, where the streets are overtaken on the first Friday of each month with local art, theater, and live music. This year, the organizers are looking to ramp up the whole shebang, and they’re presenting a great opportunity for local bands and musicians to play in public – and actually get paid for it.

Attention, everyone! First Fridays is looking for bands!

The music schedule is still wide open at this point, and there’s two time slots in both Courthouse Square and Railroad Square each Friday. That’s four bands each month. This is your chance to bang on a guitar, howl in public—and instead of getting a citation from downtown cops, you’ll get a check from the City of Santa Rosa. How can you lose?

It’s easy to sit back and complain that there are no places to play in Santa Rosa, but it disheartens me when the city actually funds a budget to create opportunities like this and they go unseized. So far, it’s mostly classical and acoustic music, but all types of music are welcome. Let’s fill the schedule up quick with kickass bands and prove that Santa Rosa can support its local scene.

“We are looking for all genres of music,” writes Arts District Coordinator Vicky Kumpfer, and notes a sizable stipend will be paid (it’s not pocket change). Those interested in joining the lineup—and I’d act fast if I were you—should get in touch with her at (707) 543-3732, or email at vkumpfer [at] srcity.org.

Harmony Festival Just Got Five Times Awesomer / Weirder

Posted by: on Apr 17, 2009 | Comments (0)

The inital lineup for this year’s Harmony Festival was announced last month, with all of the Spearheadiness and Matisyahuism and Kimocky vibes you’d expect from the Harmony Festival. But I just checked their site again, and hang on to your beanies…

The Dead Kennedys?! The Bad Brains?!

This is no joke. The re-formed Dead Kennedys (minus Jello Biafra) and fellow punk rock pioneers Bad Brains are playing—on separate days—in the land of Nag Champa and the Goddess Grove at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa this year. I have just spit my herbal green tea all over the keyboard. This is nuts!

In another exciting development, the excellent Somali-born rapper K’naan is appearing at the Harmony Festival both Friday night and Saturday. His new album, Troubadour, is easily one of the year’s best so far. I’ve written about him extensively here, here, and here. His short set at last year’s Outside Lands festival was unbelievably great. My pal John Beck echoes the sentiment: “When will K’naan hit the Bay Area as a headliner?”

This is also a good time to applaud Saturday night’s jazz addition, the Spirit of Miles Davis quintet with Ron Carter, Airto, Mike Clark and Mike Stern. Ron Carter! On the bass! In Santa Rosa! And they’ve thrown Killah Priest in the group, too?! Seriously!

Job well done, Harmony Festival. This is the craziest / best news in a long time. I’d like to think it also represents a shift in consciousness about punk rock; that at its sweaty, aggressive core, it’s basically always been about caring for humanity and trying to make the world a better place.

Orchard Spotlight Goes Dim

Posted by: on Apr 7, 2009 | Comments (5)

A month after the City of Santa Rosa changed the zoning code to make it harder for all-ages venues to open downtown comes the disappointing news that the Orchard Spotlight, a historic church and acoustic performance space, has been forced by the City to cancel all of their upcoming concerts.

The music has been quiet. The attendees have been well-behaved. The neighbors haven’t complained. So what’s the deal?

Last week, the Orchard Spotlight hosted Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy, an underground legend who drew a large line on the sidewalk, causing a nosy tipster driving by to notify the city. “It wasn’t like they were even complaining,” says Spotlight co-owner Linda Rose-McRoy, “they just called with an inquiry, saying, ‘We saw this line outside of 515 Orchard. We wondered if that was okay.’ Like, duh!”

Rose-McRoy and co-owner Cheryl Ulrich met soon after with the Community Development department and were informed that entertainment at the Orchard Spotlight violates the area’s residential zoning. “We’ve known for a while that there were going to be some zoning questions here,” says McRoy, mentioning certain loopholes to stay loosely legal—registering on the Internet as a church, for example, and holding “mass” at 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights. “But Cheryl and I are the kind of people who don’t like feeling we have to continually look over our shoulder,” she adds. “But we’re also not giving up.”

What’s exciting is that “not giving up” involves working with the Arts District and the City Council to get a variance in zoning to allow entertainment at the venue. Vicky Kumpfer, coordinator of the Arts District, thinks it’s possible. “This is really an interesting opportunity to try to make this viable, and to work within the law,” says Kumpfer. “Yes, we have these laws, but is there a way that we can make a certain exemption?”

What the issue comes down to, then, is the neighbors, and so far, the Cherry Street neighborhood association has been supportive of the Orchard Spotlight. If that continues to be the case, and if the City is willing to honor their General Plan guideline to “consider the diverse cultural needs and talents of the community,” we may see the Orchard Spotlight rise again. “It’s just gorgeous,” Rose-McRoy says of the space. “It’s so moving, because it was built in redwood, for sound, for the human voice! I love it, it just makes me tingle all over. And so we’re not giving up.”

Interview: Joel McHale from 'The Soup'

Posted by: on Apr 7, 2009 | Comments (2)

Did you ever in a million years think you’d have a job making fun of TV?

No. I did not make this plan. It’s very strange, because I was always highly opinionated about pretty much about anything. I was one of those guys who was always like, “Your favorite band sucks!” So I would yell back at the TV all the time. The fact that someone would pay me for it? And that I’m not sitting around in my underwear yelling? Its just a hoot. I never would have thought it.

So many people watch TV these days—especially with the glut of reality shows—and say, “I know it’s awful, but I’m addicted to it.” Do you understand where they’re coming from?

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of Schadenfreude. It’s like, “Look at these freaks.” I see the morbid fascination; it’s the Gladiator aspect of wanting to see people fall apart. The shows are becoming so insane, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in twenty years.

After that girl taking a shit on the stairs on Flavor of Love, where is there really to go?

That was an incredible moment in television. And then her excuse was just tremendous! She’s like, “Well, I had to go, and then I started walking up the stairs, and then that happened.” That doesn’t happen to normal people! Normal people, that does not happen to. Something is wrong with you, ma’am. And what a surprise you got on a reality show with Flavor Flav.

Where do you think television’s gonna be twenty years from now?

I’m gonna say Live Sponsored Executions. It’ll be like Monday Night Football.

Do you think your job on The Soup, then, is important?

Well, it’s definitely important to pay my mortgage, and clothe the children and things like that. I… gosh, I have not really thought about that.

Well, culturally, do you think society needs someone to point out that what they’re addicted to is ridiculous?

I don’t know. Television is out of control, and a morally bankrupt place. To comment on that is good. I don’t know if it’s important, but it’s not stupid. There’s a lot of things on TV that suck, and they’re very popular, and kids love ‘em. When we make fun of an MTV show and go, “Hey Mom and Dad, it’s on after school!”—I feel like that’s a good comment. Or like a few weeks ago, VH1 was running promos for Black History Month. They’d run this very beautifully done promo with a lot of still photographs of African-Americans, in America, with beautiful music behind it, saying, “This is Black History Month, send in your photos and you could be a part of this campaign!” We just put Rock of Love and Charm School and Surreal Life—we just put a bunch of footage from that behind that very same music, showing how African-Americans are portrayed on VH1 shows. We felt like that was good. We love calling bullshit on things, but we don’t want it to be heavy-handed, or no one would watch. We still want it to be as funny as possible.

How do you deal with celebrities who get mad at The Soup? Is Tyra Banks still constantly pissed off at you?

We ignore it until they try to sue us, which really hasn’t happened. She’s the only one who’s tried to legally stop us, but almost without exception, there’s been very few really upset with us, from what I can tell. I know that David Hasselhoff is not a big fan, but he shouldn’t have gotten totally wasted and started shoving tacos in his mouth! It’s like, what do you expect us to do? We never go after people because we have a vendetta; we try to let their clips hang themselves. Like, we don’t make much fun of Oprah until she talks about her vajayjay. Because for the most part, Oprah’s show is great, and reasonable, and she’s a reasonable person, and she does good topics. But you know, when you have Tyra saying she’s afraid of dolphins, we’re gonna make fun of it!

Were you surprised when the Karsashians agreed to be on the show the other night?

Kind of! We’ve been relentless against them. I did learn that Bruce Jenner hates me, which. . . I don’t blame him. But you know, when someone comes on the show, I’m kind of like, “Hey, that was really cool.” So we probably won’t go after them the way we do. Of course, Kim has that sex tape, which is crazy, and which we have made relentless fun of. But they were all really cool, and I liked them. Hopefully they’ll come back.

How much of The Soup is written by writers, or written by you beforehand, or written by you on the spot, ad-libbed?

The whole script is written out, by the writers. I used to write way more than I do now—my schedule has become so crazy. But I rewrite the script on Wednesday night for how I want it to sound, and then on the floor I let it go and do a lot of improvising. You can’t just walk out and start riffing, because it’s 22 minutes of television, and it has to be very tight. So if something doesn’t work, or goes on too long, we stop and go back and get a new joke. For the most part, we try to tape it without stopping. The writers are so tremendous that there’s no need to improvise a lot of times. I’m not able to watch the amount of TV I used to watch, either. It used to be awful. I used to watch four to six hours a day and it was just killing me. It became a chore. My wife would be like, “Can’t you go do…” I was like, “I’m literally working! I’m literally working, watching this show, this Extreme Makeover: Home Edition two-hour special. Again. I have to do this, hon. Don’t disturb me!” It was really weird.

I assume the show now has people whose job it is to watch TV.

Yeah, we have twelve staff members and a few interns that are watching TV all the time. And we have to cover the things like Idol, and Dancing With the Stars, all those things. You know, the Rock of Loves and the Charm Schools are really easy lay-ups to make fun of. But it’s the shows like Dutch Oven, and I Love Toy Trains, and Korean Drama—literally called Korean Drama—it’s those shows that I really love covering, because they’re so off the regular map. I love it. Like, I Love Toy Trains is a show! I love that!

Part of your charm on The Soup is that fantastic, Conan O’Brien-ish self-deprecation.

Well, he’s a genius.

Does that style—“What am I doing here? Why am I on this show?”—does that come naturally for you? Or in real life are you actually a total egomaniac?

I was raised Catholic, so I grew up with all that guilt. That helped. I think anybody raised Catholic is self-deprecating to a point, where you think basically, if all’s going well, at some point the wheels are going to fall off and everything will be a disaster. And anything you get on top of that is a bonus, so you’re like, hey, this is working out great! But I think you can’t be a jerk, or people will not tune in to watch. I’m not putting on an air, but you just have to approach the show with a light heart, and not take it too seriously.

And not be afraid to dress up like Rainbow Brite.

Right! Anything for comedy!

My gay friends are all in love with you. As a married man, how do you react to that kind of adulation?

I love lesbians! Oh, wait, you’re talking about gay men! Well, I love gay men. Just pull that right out, pull that soundbite out. Having a gay following is great, because they seem to have all the money, they’re definitely the best dressed, and the most in shape. So that makes me very happy. And what’s great is that they’re very loyal fans. Lately we’ve been having Matt the intern come out, and he is always covered in oil, it seems now. He’s been doing interviews with a couple of gay websites, and he was addressed as a “greasy treat.” Which, I think, is really funny. But no one ever talks about my enormous straight following! Or, my enormous hermaphrodite following. That’s so sad.

You grew up in Seattle in the ’90s. How did you weather the grunge storm?

“Weather the grunge storm?!” I think grunge is the greatest music of all time!


Yeah! I really disliked big hair metal, I just never got into it. I spent most of my time listening to the Beatles, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M.—a lot of alternative stuff. I just could not stand all those big hair bands. Then grunge came in when I was in college, and it was the greatest four years in Seattle. Nirvana is, I think, one of the best all-time bands ever. I actually saw their last show in Seattle, and it was tremendous, it was for the In Utero tour. I’ve seen Pearl Jam almost every time they come through here, and Soundgarden. Mother Love Bone, way back when. I loved that time, and I knew no different growing up in Seattle. Bands were just playing everywhere all the time, because Seattle was not a stop for any of the big acts; they would go up to Vancouver because it was a bigger and, at that time, more metropolitan city. Seattle had to make their own music. I mean, to think that a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt became popular is nutty. It’s ridiculous! But it did what it did—it shut down the entire hair-band industry, and Sebastian Bach was left without a job for a while. And now he’s on a reality show.

Did you ever hop in your car and drive down Broadway on Capitol Hill listening to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “My Posse’s on Broadway”?

My Posse’s on Broadway!” I have done it! I did it in high school, I admit it! That was the great thing—obviously Sir Mix-a-Lot’s music wasn’t grunge, but it was so Seattle. He made all these local references, so you kinda felt like, this guy! He’s ours! The same thing with Sleater-Kinney, which is an actual place outside of Seattle. “Baby Got Back” is still one of the biggest hits of all time. And going to Dick’s Drive-In on Broadway is still the best burger in the world.

So, your standup show in Santa Rosa coming up. Is it like The Soup at all?

It is. I don’t bring a monitor out and make fun of things, but I talk a lot about pop culture, I talk a lot about behind the scenes at E!, and I can go into a little more depth than I do in The Soup. That’s half the show, and the other half I’m talking about my life, and my family, which is a nutty, nutty place. So it’s half-and-half, there’s something for everyone. And then I take my pants off.

Joel McHale comes to the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa on Saturday, April 11 for two shows, at 8pm and 10pm. Tickets, $39.50 each, can be bought here.

Live Review: Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson at the Wells Fargo Center

Posted by: on Apr 2, 2009 | Comments (1)

The rare treat of seeing Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson last night in their first-ever concert together wasn’t one easily passed up. Not by the sold-out crowd; not by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who ambled in with trademark cowboy hat and cane; and not by—brace yourselves, folks—Cher, who sat in the sixth row.

What in the world was Cher doing at a Merle Haggard / Kris Kristofferson show in Santa Rosa? We may never know. What’s for sure is that she, along with fans that capped the night with an epic five-minute standing ovation, witnessed two bona fide heroes of country music give a performance at turns tender, humorous, poignant, insightful, and above all, intimate.

Let’s just hope Cher wasn’t the woman who yelled out for “Me & Bobby McGee” a few songs after Kristofferson had already played it.

The 1,400-capacity Wells Fargo Center has a historic knack for achieving a living room-like atmosphere for acoustic music. They did it with the Landmine Free World concert in 1999 with Steve Earle, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Patti Griffith and Bruce Cockburn; they did it with the two Elvis Costello / Steve Nieve concerts they’ve hosted; they did it with the Texas songwriter night in 2005 with Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Guy Clark and Joe Ely; and they did it last night by closing the stage curtain and presenting Haggard and Kristofferson front and center.

When Merle Haggard played at the Center last year, electric, he drew a shitkickin’, Copenhagen-dippin’, cheap perfume-wearin’ crowd. This tour was different. Instead of a parking lot scene with greasy dudes in Suicidal Tendencies T-shirts smoking joints, it welcomed wine tour limousines and sixty-somethings gingerly stepping out of Oldsmobiles. The performance itself suited the new audience: pensive, slow, and mortal.

“If there’s a Hall of Fame for heroes in heaven, this man’s definitely on his way,” said Kristofferson, introducing Haggard after opening the show with “Shipwrecked in the Eighties.” Added Haggard, fresh from successful lung cancer surgery: “Between the two of us there’s about 150 years of experience here.”

Those expecting a “Storytellers”-type show, with Haggard and Kristofferson sitting down with acoustic guitars and swapping tales about the Army (Kristofferson), prison (Haggard), Louisiana oil rigs (Kristofferson) or stealing Buck Owens’ wife (Haggard) got something far better: a run-down of the two giants’ greatest songs backed by an elegant, semi-acoustic version of Haggard’s band, the Strangers. (Turns out Haggard must have won the battle.) As for storytelling, most of the night’s commentary got squeezed between lines of the songs themselves.

Kristofferson, during “Nobody Wins”: “George Bush and Dick Cheney were singin’ this song in the shower together.”

Haggard, during “Sing Me Back Home”: “This goes out to all the ex-convicts. It’s every convict’s dream to be an ex-convict.”

Kristofferson, during “Best of All Possible Worlds”: “Did you know that here in the USA, the land of the free, we got more people behind bars than any other country on the planet? That’s right, boy. We’re #1.”

Haggard, during “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”: “I feel like a stripper without a G-string!”

Yes, the two were very funny together, but also incredibly warm, and wise. It’s not uncommon for former hellraisers entering life’s twilight, particularly in country music, to embrace a life-lesson empathy. When I spoke with Kristofferson last year, he elaborated: “There is a freedom in accepting the fact that there is a difference at this end of the road,” he told me. “I’ve watched a lot of my friends and heroes, like Johnny Cash and Waylon, I’ve watched ‘em slip and fall. And be gone. And it’s gonna happen to all of us. So I think the acceptance of it gives you a freedom to be less critical of yourself when you make mistakes, and to not be so hard on others.”

Warmth like that was conveyed on stage last night so often, it sometimes outperformed the fantastic songs. Check the set list below—there were nearly 30 of ‘em. The selections played off each other cleverly, as Haggard ran with the torch of Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” and answered, “Are the Good Times Really Over?” Kristofferson pleaded to help him make it through the night; Haggard, up next, just wanted to make it through December.

Yes, it was a considerable union. To see Kristofferson sing backups on Haggard’s “Silver Wings” and a reworked verse in “Okie From Muskogee,” or to have Haggard play his ranchero-style nylon guitar solos on “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night” was truly exciting. By the end, after the two had finished “Why Me Lord,” the standing ovation seemed endless. No one could believe it when five minutes later, the house lights came up.

(Afterward, Cher was quickly escorted behind velvet ropes into a tinted-window SUV. Kristofferson obliged a waiting crowd of about 50 with autographs and gracious conversation, and Haggard stayed put on his bus until it rumbled, slowly lurched forward through the parking lot, and breezed into Highway 101 for the next town.)

Photos by Elizabeth Seward.

Set List:
Shipwrecked in the Eighties
Big City
Silver Wings
Me & Bobby McGee
I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink
Folsom Prison Blues
Best of All Possible Worlds
If I Could Only Fly
Mama Tried
Here Comes That Rainbow Again
I Wish I Could Be 30 Again
Rainbow Stew
Help Me Make It Through The Night
If We Make It Through December
Nobody Wins
T.B. Blues
Okie From Muskogee
Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down
Back to Earth
Jody and the Kid
The Silver-Tongued Devil and I
Sing Me Back Home
He’s a Pilgrim
Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star
For the Good Times
Are the Good Times Really Over
Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down
Today I Started Loving You Again
Why Me Lord

Live Review: Will Oldham at the Orchard Spotlight

Posted by: on Mar 30, 2009 | Comments (5)

In 1992, when I moved out of my parents’ house to a small apartment on Slater Street, I felt old. Not grown-up old, mind you, but world-weary old. You know the deal. I had a penchant for drinking Cisco mixed with Hawaiian Punch, listening to syrupy, sentimental Reprise-era Frank Sinatra albums like Cycles, and basking in the unique bitterness and nostalgia that only the hardened, grizzled age of 16 brings.

Living in the same town long enough produces some extraordinary occurrences. Tonight, during a spellbinding show at the Orchard Spotlight, Will Oldham provided one in the form of “Cycles,” the Frank Sinatra song that I used to replay over and over just a few blocks away.

“So I’m down, and so I’m out, but so are many others…”

Oldham and his band completely claimed the song as their own, while I, amazed that he’d chosen such an unusual song to cover, thought about age. Do we ever really feel as old as we do when we’re 16? We hit our 30s and all of that hard-earned “wisdom” and half-fledged nostalgia fades away, and we grow ever open to new experiences even as the opportunities for new experiences occur less and less.

What’s happening? Why do we lose our toeholds of self-assurance as we get older? Why do people’s feathers get so ruffled over age? Why is it easier to make young people feel old than it is to make old people feel young? Why don’t young people realize they have the rest of the blobby, unsure, aging world in their hands?

Why does Will Oldham sometimes stand on one leg like a stork?

“I’ve been told, and I believe, that life is meant for livin’…”

Tonight, Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, age 38, played the world-weary music he’s played since he too was a teenager, and showcased perfectly why his live shows are at least twice as good as his albums, if not more. His outstanding band broadcast a new cosmic American music inside the Orchard Spotlight, with crests and turns and tangents and silent forks upon which to dwell on life’s mysteries. His songs ballooned both inward, outward and lateral, and sounded like Oldham’s music has always sounded—wiser than its age.

The sheer fact that Oldham even played the Orchard Spotlight on this trip is impressive enough. This is Oldham’s “real” tour, where instead of playing the Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes, like he did in 2004, or Pegasus Hall in Monte Rio, like he did in 2002, he’s playing the Fillmore; there’s commercials on television for his new album, Beware, and almost all his shows are in large theaters. Last year, however, local soundman Ross Harris walked up to him in San Francisco and asked if he’d like to play a beautiful old church in downtown Santa Rosa. Sure, Oldham replied.

Tickets, limited to 130, sold out in about a day, and diehards, begging for extras on Craigslist, flocked from miles around. I met a guy at the show who’d driven all the way from Tahoe. “I saw him once in the middle of a forest outside of Athens, where I used to live,” he told me, more than happy to make the trek to pick up a last-minute ticket at the Last Record Store. “He’s worth a four-hour drive.”

The show began in grand fashion: Oldham, wearing a stained V-neck T-shirt, white cap, polyester slacks and no shoes or socks, hit the stage with the squat giddiness of a teenager and launched his band into the Carter Family standard “Nobody’s Darlin’ on Earth,” with each member of his band and the opening band taking verses in a steam-train hootenanny usually reserved for ending instead of opening a set.

“We’re back in the country, building the confusion hill brick by brick,” Oldham announced, referencing the Humboldt County roadside attraction they’d passed earlier in the day. He then asked, to no one in particular, “What was your favorite song growing up?”

“Shout at the Devil!” someone said. “No, no,” Oldham said, “growing up!” “Growin’ Up!” some clever person said. “I Want a New Drug!” said another. “Yellow Submarine,” said yet another. Oldham launched into “Beware Your Only Friend,” the first song from Beware, and midway through began singing, “In the town / Where I was born / Lived a man who sailed the sea…”

When Oldham gets excited, he manifests it in strange ways. He shoves his hands all the way down into his pockets and pulls his pants up to his chest. He yanks his cap off and holds it high with an animated face. He ravels his arms in pretzel-like patterns, and splays them out into the air like a drag queen, and rolls one pant leg up, and throws his head down and sticks his gut out and falls to his knees.

Is it intentional, or improvised? The question could also be asked of his band—his band!—who could thunder down the line like a Southern Pacific for one song (“I Don’t Belong to Anyone”), wander in a semi-Haggard haze for another (“Love Comes to Me”) and then fall apart in beautiful, formless atmosphere for the next (“There Is Something I Have To Say”). Drummer Jim White, often looking like an angry Ron Jeremy, was a particular standout; he’d explore the drum kit like free-jazz pioneer Sunny Murray, nail down hi-hats like Booker T. & the MG’s Al Jackson, Jr., and lay back behind the beat like Tonight’s the Night’s Ralph Molina. Oldham’s band on this tour is exceptional—all of them, truly, were excellently in tune with each other and engaging to watch—but White’s the reason it feels the way it does.

Sometime soon after the semi-gospel coda of “I am Goodbye” and the brilliant reclamation of “Cycles,” Oldham brought out Faun Fables’ Dawn McCarthy, an old tourmate and studio partner who I can only assume lives in Sonoma County now (she played at Aubergine a couple weeks ago, and won a yodeling contest at the Mystic Theater last month). Oldham introduced his band to her, but not to the audience, and had a conversation about her new baby, which slept in the room behind the stage. McCarthy took center stage for most of the rest of the set. They sang the duet “Lay and Love,” and Oldham was happy—he grabbed his big toe and pulled his foot as far behind his back as it could go.

Maybe Oldham stays young by playing old music. Maybe when he sings, during “I Called You Back,” that “the older that we get we know that nothing else for us is possible,” he’s offering a warning rather than a truth. Sure, we’re getting older. It happens. Let’s bask in it, like we did when we were 16. On nights like this one, this one special night in Santa Rosa, we can spill out of a fantastic show and walk home through the deserted streets, and it’ll feel like everything else for us is possible.

Look Who’s Coming

Posted by: on Mar 17, 2009 | Comments (2)

Spring is anon, meaning festival announcements and venue bookings are being shot down the pipe faster than the flowers can bloom. In a quick overview, there’s Classics of Love (with Operation Ivy’s Jesse Michaels) at the Last Record Store (Mar. 28); bass-heavy knob twiddlers Crystal Method at the Phoenix Theater (Apr. 15); walking freak-folk embodiment Devendra Banhart at the Mystic Theatre (Apr. 17); fado sensation Mariza at the Napa Valley Opera House (Apr. 30); electronic visionary Bassnectar at the Hopmonk Tavern (May 4); soprano legend Kathleen Battle at the Marin Center (May 9); and Lucinda’s right-hand man Gurf Morlix at Studio E (May 16).

What’s that, you say? You like to watch TV more than you like to listen to music? Fear not! The Wells Fargo Center has the interminably funny Joel McHale, he of dryly absurd wisecracking on The Soup (Apr. 11); and hang on to your thong straps—the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma has glam-metal washup-turned-reality show “star” Bret Michaels (June 27) to attract a slutsational crowd good for copious dead-drunk bikini-clad hoochie watching beneath the ferris wheel. Look what the cat dragged in, indeed!

Sounding a different note entirely, Napa’s beautiful Festival del Sole steps forward this year with young violin sensation Sarah Chang (Jul. 18-19) and the return booking of Renée Fleming (pictured above, Jul. 23), who in the festival’s first year was forced to cancel her performance of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs due to illness. Iran’s most famous composer, Anoushirvan Rohani, will appear for a dinner and concert (Jul. 20), and the dashing Robert Redford—be still our throbbing hearts!—benefits his Sundance Preserve by narrating a piece to be announced (Carnival of the Animals? Peter and the Wolf? An interpretive tone poem of The Horse Whisperer?) at Castello di Amarosa (Jul. 21). Full lineup here.

In economic-crisis news, the Russian River Jazz Festival and the Russian River Blues Festival this year will be combined into one solitary September weekend as the Russian River Jazz & Blues Festival preserves a 30+ year tradition of great music on Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville. “This allows us to keep the Russian River festival tradition alive,” says Omega Events president Rich Sherman, “while enabling music fans to still enjoy their love of jazz and blues outdoors in this picturesque setting.” Saturday’s jazz lineup and Sunday’s blues lineup (Sept. 12-13) will be announced in April. Check here for updates.

After the Masada show at Yoshi’s, I overheard a guy talking to bassist extraordinaire Greg Cohen, who along with accompanying Ornette Coleman as of late was part of the great New York band on Rain Dogs, Frank’s Wild Years and Swordfishtrombones. “Hey, guess who I played with the other week?” the guy asked. “Waits. Went up to his place and rehearsed.”

“Oh?” asked Cohen. “New material?”

It seems so. In addition to finally releasing Orphans on vinyl soon, Tom Waits’ publicist confirms that he is writing, rehearsing, mangling, fixing and re-mangling new material for an album to be released in the sometime-maybe-this-year-who-knows future. Recording is anticipated sometime this summer. Waits, of course, was last seen snapping photos of the brimming crowd that gathered en masse at his daughter Kellesimone’s art show in Santa Rosa.

Despite a mission statement promising to “present and preserve jazz,” it’s probably time to just roll over and accept that the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival’s gonna book whoever they’re gonna book. We could say, you know, Lyle Lovett has some sax players in his band. Joe Cocker, you know, he might play some solos. And hey, they added that tiny little “+” to their name to represent past headliners like Steve Winwood, Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller, LeAnn Rimes, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt and Kool & the Gang. Who are we to be snobs?

But look, since no other media outlet in the area seems brave enough to protect this American art form—and since local jazz programmers don’t want to be quoted saying “You mean that bullshit thing they call a jazz festival?” (actual quote)—it’s up to us. There are plainly no jazz artists headlining Sonoma Jazz+ 2009 this year. Around here, we’d even be cool if, like, Rick Braun was playing. But Chris Isaak?

Sonoma Jazz+ does many great things, not the least of which is providing support to music programs in area schools. They also have a second stage, and ‘Wine and Song in the Plaza’ with small combos. But in light of the PR assertion that they’ve already booked any jazz headliner who could fill a 3,800-seat tent, our suggestion is to honor jazz and please just call the festival what it actually is: the Sonoma Music and Wine Festival. Joe Cocker, Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, Ziggy Marley, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Shelby Lynne and Keb’ Mo’ come to Sonoma May 21-24. Tickets are on sale here.

Simultaneous with the creative definitions emanating from Sonoma is the encouraging news from the Healdsburg Jazz Festival announcing its initial lineup, and it looks great. John Handy, Randy Weston, Airto Moreira, Esperanza Spaulding, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Denny Zeitlin and Julian Lage head up a list-in-progress of bona fide jazz headliners appearing May 29-June 7 this year. For updates, check here.

Hey man, the Harmony Festival is full of good vibes this year! Michael Franti, India Arie, Matisyahu, Cake, Steve Kimock, ALO, Balkan Beat Box, and Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars head up the festival June 12-14 at the Fairgrounds. Barring any John Mclaughlin-esque guitar freakouts by Kimock, the weekend should be bereft of maniacal discord. Be harmonious.

The Santa Rosa Symphony announced its rough sketch for the 2009-2010 season today, including a finale performance by Ute Lemper singing Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins! Also on the slate: returning conductor emeritus Jeffrey Kahane playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (the one from Shine), performances of Beethoven’s 4th, 5th and 9th symphonies, Mozart’s Requiem, a program celebrating Chopin’s 200th birthday, the Red Violin concerto, and more. I always love the symphony’s Magnum Opus commissions, and Bahzad Ranjbaran’s new work will receive its world premiere next season as well.

On a semi-related note, I listened to Elliott Carter last night—an LP I found years ago, bought for the cover art and loved for the music. It’s his Sonata for Cello and Piano, and I still love it. Unbelievable that he’s 100 years old and still completely lucid about his work. I love the excerpt from this interview, which succinctly captures not only his sense of humor but the reason why I give such a damn about music:

Q: Could you imagine a day when people, concertgoers, would hear your music and walk out humming your music?

A: Well… it’d be hard on their throats!

Q: What would you want the listener to walk away with after hearing your music?

A: Happiness. And pleasure. One of the fundamental things always that music should do is not only give pleasure, but widen one’s horizons, and give new kinds of fantasies, and new kinds of pleasure, and new kinds of surprises, and new kinds of connections between things.

We Ride At Night

Posted by: on Mar 8, 2009 | Comments (1)

My man Jay Howell had to bow out last night, which meant that yours truly played records for four hours straight at Jason Vivona and Brian Henderson’s art show at Daredevils & Queens. I say “played records” instead of “DJed” because unless you’re matching beats and blending mixes, I don’t really consider it DJing. “DJing” also insinuates the presence of dancing, and luckily, that was not on the tab.

The events at which I’ve been behind the decks before—weddings, parties, and once, Rock ‘n Roll Sunday School—have always carried the pressure to supply rhythm of appropriate popularity and/or contagion for body movement by the masses. That’s nice if you’re trying to make more friends but a nightmare for me, and I was glad to evade that pressure by asking Vivona beforehand if I could play Born Against. He’s got a D. Boon tattoo on his hand. He said yes.

Correspondingly, Vivona and Henderson’s art doesn’t exactly cry out Rapture mashups and Lady Gaga. Vivona paints psychedelic characters with ooze for heads and Playmobil toys for penises, usually staring into nothingness with 28 eyeballs. Henderson photographs the undead; his bodies splayed out in abandoned warehouses, contorted, naked and covered in blood. Thus: Flipper, Archeopteryx, City of God, Lightning Bolt, Dewey Redman, Battles and of course, the Minutemen. There’s only one thing I love more than playing records for four hours straight, so thanks, guys, for having me.

I should let you know that on May 23, I’ll be joining my friend Larry Slater for his Jazz Connections radio show on KRCB. We too will play records for four hours straight, except that all of those records will be by Charles Mingus. Since I have more records by Charles Mingus than by any other jazz artist (unless, like me, you count Frank Sinatra as a jazz artist), this is a natural fit; Dr. Slater and I will cue up, play, and discuss the great man’s music, about which there are an infinite number of insights to make. (I’m still working on my volatile axe-throwing accusatorial temper-tantrum Mingus impersonation for a special segment called “What It Was Really Like To Play In Mingus’ Band.”) That’s on KRCB, 90.9 FM, on Saturday, May 23,from 8pm-midnight.

How about Devendra Banhart coming to the Mystic? How about Bassnectar coming to the Hopmonk? How about K’Naan being marketed through MySpace and MTV instead of NPR? Oh, wait. Sorry. The NPR interview’s here.

The Boogie Room to Close Down

Posted by: on Feb 25, 2009 | Comments (5)

And so it’s happened. The residents at the Boogie Room, home of some of the most exciting subcultural activity of the past two years in Santa Rosa, have received a 60-day notice to vacate. They’ll pack up and call it a day in mid-April.

Speculation that the property might go on the market had been brimming for a while, and to be fair, most everyone so far seems surprised that the Boogie Room lasted as long as it did. “I’m one of them,” Bryce Dow-Williamson, a heavily-involved volunteer, told me today. “I thought it was gonna be, like, two months.”

“But I’m grateful for what we were able to do,” he added, proposing that perhaps now that the Boogie Room has set the example, “people have seen how it can work. Maybe someone’ll come along and do it right.”

There’s a handful of house concerts left on the calendar, and then the Boogie Room’s two-year run culminates on April 10 in a farewell show with the Crux, Pete Bernhart from the Devil Makes Three and more. It’s also Bryce’s birthday the next day, so a slumber party is rumored, along with a “memorabilia sale.”

I suppose it goes without saying, but Santa Rosa isn’t going to be the same.

Live Review: James Hunter at the Russian River Brewing Company

Posted by: on Feb 18, 2009 | Comments (0)

The recipe for a fantastic lunchtime concert is pretty basic. When it comes down to it, all you need is a Fender twin reverb, a vintage Gibson, a Gretsch drum kit, a standup bass and some damn fine songs. That’s all James Hunter brought to the Russian River Brewing Company today, and it was enough to bring the house down.

Parked behind the place on Fifth Street was Hunter’s large tour bus, which leads me to believe he’s normally got a pretty impressive stage production, horns and all. Today, however, on the tiny stage in the corner, Hunter pared down to a three-piece and worked overtime on the guitar to fill in the missing sound. It wasn’t what he was used to, but man, it was great.

In blue jeans, a black t-shirt and a denim jacket, Hunter announced songs in his thick British accent and then sang them like Sam Cooke or Otis Redding; just pure, beautiful soul. Near the end, he even unpacked “The Very Thought of You,” and, instructing his band in an aside to take it at “the usual stupid speed,” a ripping three-piece version of “Talkin’ Bout My Love.”

Filling in extra chords and licks on his guitar, Hunter took a crazed, half-picking half-fretboard-tapping solo with his bare palms. He played a little hand-jive, and then, when the tank-topped hippie dude in beads who’d been dancing the whole time was joined by a long-haired female, Hunter clasped his hands together in thankful prayer toward the sky. “Oh!” he cried. “A girl!”

The crowd went nuts at the end, a testament to Hunter’s engaging charisma and talent. He plowed through the shoulder-to-shoulder house to get to the bathroom, and by the time he finally came out everybody was still clapping and screaming. Hunter played the Fillmore last night, and you gotta think he loves doing these little shows—he certainly seemed like he was having a blast. So it was one more song, and one more great noontime concert by the KRSH. Thanks, guys, for brightening everyone’s Wednesday.