B.B. King and Buddy Guy aren’t just the best headliners the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival (Sept. 24-25) has had in years, they’re also an example of the longtime legends who, lucky for us, return to the North Bay perennially. This fall season boasts everyone from jazz survivor Herbie Hancock (Sept. 18, Wells Fargo Center) to indie-rock progenitors the Pixies (Nov. 20, Uptown Theatre), with a little bit of country survivor Wynonna Judd thrown in for good boot-scootin’ measure (Nov. 8, Lincoln Theatre).
When Herbie Hancock was here last, he regaled the crowd with a song he hadn’t played live in 25 years—”Rockit,” the early-turntablist fusion breakdance anthem. Expect similar crossover from jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour (Sept. 17, Napa Valley Opera House) and, to a lesser degree, recent Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding (Oct. 2, Uptown Theatre). Spalding, who has successfully crossed over out of the jazz world with the large help of Starbucks, has got a marvelous hairdo to rival that of Diana Ross, who stops in for a diva show to end all diva shows (Sept. 17, Marin Center). And speaking of glamour, there’s two chances to catch quasi-globetrotting ensemble Pink Martini (Nov. 17, Marin Center; Nov. 19; Grace Pavilion), who continue to receive rave reviews even with the temporary hiatus of lead vocalist China Forbes.
Rock legends abound, with the Last Day Saloon hosting recent box-set grantees UFO (Sept. 15) and Mr. Playin’ It Straight himself, Pat Travers (Oct. 8). Lindsey Buckingham, the poor soul who has been stuck with a not-very-funny SNL skit, plays in Napa (Oct. 25, Uptown Theatre) just before guitar wizard Jeff Beck flies through with three shows (Oct 31, Wells Fargo Center; Nov 1-2, Uptown Theatre). And though they may not be in the Cleveland Hall of Fame, they’re our own legends, like it or not: barf-metal act Skitzo celebrates 30 years of regurgitation this year (Oct. 8, Phoenix Theater).
A strong indie-rock double bill of Band of Horses and Brett Netson brings the bearded out of the woodwork (Sept. 9, Uptown Theater), while Dawes and Blitzen Trapper give a virtual encore a month later (Oct. 7, Mystic Theater). Ryan Adams, whose career has been a rollercoaster to say the least, plays a completely sold-out show (Oct. 15, Uptown Theater), while the almighty Pixies hold the record for quickest ticket sales (Nov. 20, Uptown Theatre)—the Napa stop of their Doolittle Tour was sold out in minutes.
While the grizzled country-music patriarch Merle Haggard returns (Sept. 30, Uptown Theatre), many young-uns swim in his wake. Son Volt’s Jay Farrar glides onto the stage with a voice of velvet (Sept. 9, Mystic Theatre), while Dave Alvin continues his quest to make the bandana cool again—if anyone can do it, it’s him (Sept. 15, Mystic Theatre).
Jackson Browne is all over his solo set these days, with stories and spontaneity and rarely any set list (Nov. 9, Marin Center), while master storyteller Tom Russell comes back for a special intimate evening (Oct. 27, Studio E). The nimble and fleet-fingered Bruce Hornsby continues to provide examples of why he’s among the most sought-after in the business (Sept. 14, Uptown Theatre), and at the Napa Valley Opera House, two artists get up close and personal: Rickie Lee Jones (Nov. 3) and Stephen Stills (Nov. 17).
Blues fans looking forward to the great B. B. King–Buddy Guy teamup can also get down and low over at the Mystic Theatre with J. L. Walker (Sept. 15) and Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout (Oct. 1). And if that doesn’t work, then the hell with it—just flush all cares down the drain and go enjoy the crazy theatrics of “Weird Al” Yankovic (Nov. 7, Wells Fargo Center).
She’s the voice of a thousand dentist’s offices, the definition of “adult contemporary” and possibly the furthest thing from jazz that’s ever headlined the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival.
Nevertheless, Sheryl Crow, toting a new soul-tinged album, 100 Miles From Memphis, could easily have been poised last night to win over a new crowd. She hired the tremendous guitarist Doyle Bramhall II for her touring band. In interviews, she spoke of influences like Curtis Mayfield, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. Her show was even sponsored not by the local adult contemporary station 100.1-FM KZST, who have played Crow’s innocuous hit songs every day for ten years, but by the Americana station 95.9-FM KRSH.
But Sheryl Crow is no Aretha. In a set frontloaded with material from 100 Miles From Memphis, Crow demonstrated last night that no matter what accoutrements an ungifted artist dons, the essence remains flat. She struggled to imbue her vocals with soul and wavered on poorly executed harmonies, even on standbys like “Every Day Is a Winding Road.” She played a variety of instruments, from a vintage Wurlitzer organ to an accordion to guitar, but her watered-down material dictated that her immensely talented band play at one-tenth of their ability.
It was enough to suggest to even the open-minded that the singer, who gave away free Tom’s toothpaste samples at the festival gate and hawked her cookbook at the merch stand, isn’t so much an artist as a brand; a lifestyle choice of the culturally trepidatious; a meeting area where nothing happens. “Sweet Rosalyn,” a song Crow said was inspired by a strip club in New Orleans, was free of sweat, gyration or danger. A political song, “Redemption Day”—introduced with some combination of the words “Bosnia,” “Rwanda” and “Hilary Clinton”—came off as obligatory at best.
Crow’s banter was playful (“Thank God the world didn’t end today,” Crow said, acknowledging the supposed May 21 Rapture, “I’m so happy, I had a few things planned”) and her fanbase stayed seated and largely calm until the block of hits at the end. That’s when drunken air-guitaring and booty-shaking ensued in a celebration of Bermuda shirts, cosmetic surgery and arrhythmic dancing to guaranteed pleasers “Steve McQueen,” “If It Makes You Happy,” “Every Day Is A Winding Road,” “Soak Up the Sun” and “All I Wanna Do.”
The set closed with a barn-burning “I Shall Believe,” which allowed the band to finally unlock its potential, but it didn’t cleanse the off taste of the night. It’s one thing to book a non-jazz artist at a jazz festival, but it’s another thing to book an affront to the creative process. “We had a great day here. We want to move here,” Crow said at one point, unconvincingly. “We want to only play jazz festivals from now on.”
If that were truly the case—if she really wanted to immerse herself in jazz—then Sheryl Crow would have a mountain of research and miles of catching up to do. Instead, she’s touring this summer with Kid Rock. Enough said.
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.
On Friday, May 21, Crosby Stills & Nash (anyone see their seemingly unrehearsed tour kickoff at the Wells Fargo Center two years ago?) headline the Sonoma Jazz Festival, or the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival, or, as it seems to be called now, SonomJaZZ+! Opening the show will be it’s-funny-that-we-need-to-point-out-that-she’s-a jazz singer Lizz Wright, who appeared with Herbie Hancock in Sonoma in 2008.
On Saturday, May 22, Earth, Wind and Fire will headline in the giant 3,800-capacity tent (will they play “Come on Feet” from Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song?), with the openers being “a Latin Jazz supergroup—we can’t give you their name yet.” (Malo? El Chicano? Azteca? War? Tierra? The Fania Allstars?)
As the Santa Rosa City Schools wrestle with budget cuts in music programs, maybe it’s time for them to think about hosting a quasi-jazz festival too—the Sonoma festival has so far raised $460,000 for Sonoma Valley schools in its first five years. (Come on, Mark Wardlaw! Book Rick Springfield and Joan Baez! Call it jazz, baby!)
Tickets to CS&N go on sale to the general public this Friday, Feb. 19, with a special locals-only deal on Thursday for those with a Sonoma mailing address. For more info, hit up the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival site.
My friend Jeff over at Waxidermy has just posted some clips from a record made by the Sonoma Valley Jazz Band in 1974, and man, it’s worth a listen. There’s some seriously crazy drums on “Spinning Wheel,” and the arrangements are out of this world for a high school band. Who knew this stuff was happening in Sonoma in 1974?
In related news, the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival has announced its lineup for 2009. Count the jazz artists.