Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol is consistently one of the best live music venues around, showcasing local talents and traveling bands alike in the intimate space of the tavern’s Abbey and outdoor courtyard. One of the highlights of the venue’s schedule is always the “Songwriters-in-the-Round” series, happening the last Thursday every month, and always featuring a bevy of North Bay musicians performing solo, original songs.
This month is no different, as songwriter Jon Gonzales hosts a night of folk, rock and throwback pop music presented by four players, Jeremy McCarten, Jen Tucker, Ken Risling and Georgia Ruth, rotating on stage for an eclectic night. If you’re not familiar with these songwriters, click on the videos below to preview what’s sure to be an engaging show.
First up is Jeremy McCarten, best known as the front man of Sonoma County indie rockers Manzanita Falls, a singer with deep emotional reservoirs and a magnetic stage presence.
“They’re kind of a late night, hard liquor, rowdy music, rap music kind of place, if you look at their lineup in Sebastopol.”
—Wait a minute. Rowdy music and rap music? Good heavens! Anywhoo, Hopmonk Tavern is opening another location in the former Southern Pacific Smokehouse spot in Novato, and a neighboring brewpub owner seems to think it might not go so well. (He’s not so hot on low-income housing or the SMART train, either.)
Jolie Holland’s voice is an old wooden roller coaster; a reciprocating saw; a warped steel beam that stopped holding up the building years ago. It falls behind, it jets diagonally. It soars above and below, limboing through the weave of a song instead of along its linear plane. It has, in moments, transformed a room.
At just $10 a ticket and with a strong local following, her show last night was filled. Moving to the front, away from the chattering bar crowd, was the thing to do. Also, up front, Holland and her band—Carey Lamprecht on violin; Keith Cary on mandolin, viola and lap steel; and Henry Nagle on guitar—played sitting down. It helped to be close. It felt close, and right, and Holland was visibly touched by the warmth of the crowd.
Holland played mostly material from her new album, Pint of Blood, but if it didn’t sound familiar, that’s intentional: she has a way of trying out new roadmaps each time she ventures into a melody. After openers “All Those Girls” and “Gold & Yellow,” Holland played loose with songs like “June,” while boldly inhabiting “Alley Flower” with a forceful, harrowing voice.
Musicology runs in Holland’s blood, evidenced by her choice of covers and her frequent referencing of those that came before her. “My dad was teenage hippies with Townes van Zandt,” Holland said, talking about how he’d worked on a studio for Jimi Hendrix and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, then launched into “Rex’s Blues.” Likewise, Holland raised a glass to the recently deceased Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist, from whom she learned to “turn the amp up loud, and play real quiet.”
After a fantastic “Mexico City,” the set veered into Escondida territory—the album she recorded at Tom Waits’ behest just over the hill from Hopmonk, in Forestville. “Amen” was followed by a lengthy ghost story, and then “Goodbye California” and “Old Fashioned Morphine” closed the set thrillingly. “I have vinyl,” Holland announced, “and I have these useless little pieces of garbage called CDs,” inviting the audience on the stage after the show. A half hour later, there was still a line of people waiting to talk to her, ask her to sign their albums and take pictures.
When we heard the rumors about this last December, it made perfect sense. Though speculation has run wild, we have it on good authority—Dean Biersch himself—that the former Gordon-Biersch partner who opened the Hopmonk Tavern to universal acclaim in Sebastopol has officially inked a deal for a second location in Sonoma.
“It’s 99-percent there,” he told us. “We’re hoping to make an announcement this week.”
Yes, Biersch confirmed, he is taking over the old Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack location at 691 Broadway—a building whose layout and outdoor patio makes it a perfect spot similar to his Sebastopol hotspot.
In addition to a restaurant and bar in Sonoma, live music will be a key component. Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack fought long and hard with the city for an amplified music permit, but something tells me that Biersch, a ten-year resident of the city, will be able to renew it smoothly. The first thing he’ll do, he says, is construct an eight-foot fence around the beer garden; after that, he imagines a hemisphere bandshell in the patio for outdoor concerts. “I’m looking into the acoustics of it,” he says.
Inside the restaurant, Biersch is passionate about reserving space for an acoustic room seating about 40-50 people, because “there’s so many singer-songwriter acts that we have to pass on at Hopmonk,” he explains, “that I think would be perfect for Sonoma.”
This is fantastic news for live-music fans in the city of Sonoma, who’ll soon be able to go to the Uptown Theatre in Napa for larger concerts in addition to the excellent small-club acts that a ‘Hopmonk East’ will surely bring. After recently parting ways with downtown Santa Rosa nightspot Chrome Lotus, Hopmonk booker Patrick Malone is looking forward to bringing his talents to Sonoma. “I’ll definitely be helping out there,” he says.
Biersch is aiming for a Summer 2010 opening.
It’s unlikely that Sebastopol is going to see a Monday night anything at all like this for the rest of the year. It felt like Bassnectar’s show at the Hopmonk was everything that the old stone building was built for, all those eons ago: “Avast! One Monday, these walls shall absorb the Earth’s pinnacle of gut-rumbling bass. Build strong, gentlemen!”
Yes, the bass could be heard two blocks away. I am surprised the windows are intact. Inside, the sweet combination of smells that only a packed club creates, fueled by Bassnectar’s singular style that had fans driving from hours away (the show was sold out days ago, but if you had a $20 bill, or a good story about your car breaking down, or were pregnant in a tube top and skirt, the guys watching the side doors seemed amenable).
Bassnectar has been in heavy rotation around these parts, and once an album receives that distinction, it’s time for the knighting ceremony, a.k.a. putting it on cassette. The Side Two to my Bassnectar Underground Communication tape is Spank Rock’s YoYoYoYoYo, a record which shares a lot of the same breakbeat production but has rapping, which is nice. One of my favorites from that album is “Bump,” with a killing verse by Amanda Blank. She’s got a solo album out in June, and judging by the first peek, it looks to deftly rule.
For those who weren’t able get in tonight, across the alley at Jasper O’Farrell’s was the place to be, at the long-running Monday Night Edutainment (“WBLK a dun di place every Monday at Jaspers.” “Seen? Yes Iyah! I-man WBLK a wickid!”). Jacques and Guacamole come up on eight years this summer, and they bring back the Coup’s Pam the Funkstress on June 1 to celebrate. Before that, for some of the best in Bay Area beats, Hopmonk’s got Greyboy coming in on May 14’s Juke Joint, too.
I sometimes have a hard time explaining to adults why a crowd can get excited about a person on stage pushing buttons. I’d hope that tonight would set some of the naysayers straight, if only for variety alone—it’s the only set I’ve heard that’s referenced the Gorillaz, Bill Haley, and “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun.” One thing, though, is undeniable: Sebastopol is whipping Santa Rosa’s ass on Monday nights. I drove home, brain still slightly curdled, and downtown Santa Rosa felt like a whimpering dog with its tail between its legs in comparison.