Looking back over the last year's collection of musical events, it wasn't hard to pick a few of my personal favorites. Top of the list: the recent visit by Sharon Jones, who filled The Depot with powerful soul and took us to the land of 1,000 dances. The Dap-Kings were the tightest, funkiest band I've heard in ages. Add in the intimate venue and you have a winner.
There was Huckleberry Flint's transcendent set as the sun went down, ending the Humboldt Folklife Festival's Country Night out back at Dell'Arte's Rooney Amphitheatre. Dustin Taylor's electrifying take on "Wayfaring Stranger" sent shivers up my spine.
Celebrating the Life of Bryan Osper, a memorial gathering of friends and family at Humboldt Brews, was a long series of stirring moments. As his bandmate Jesse Jonathon put it, "Music as a medium for expression was truly brought to life that evening." It became abundantly clear how deeply Bryan affected the Humboldt community in his time here.
The Nels Cline Singers laid down two incendiary sets at the Arcata Playhouse with Nels (whose day job is guitarist for Wilco) soaring alongside drummer Scott Amendola, former Eurekan Trevor Dunn on bass (from Mr. Bungle, etc.) and Nels' keyboardist wife Yuka Honda (from Cibo Matto) adding colors.
Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom brought some joyous jazz to the Kate Buchanan Room with Allison smiling behind her drums, Myra Melford on piano and former local Jenny Scheinman on violin -- one of many great Redwood Jazz Alliance shows this year.
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 closed the Mateel's successful Reggae on the River at Benbow with a heavy, heavy blast of hot Afrofunk featuring Seun on sax backed by a big band that included veteran players who once backed his legendary father, Fela.
Tower of Power proved that the funky "Oakland Stroke" is eternal, answering the question, "What Is Hip?" with a burst of horns to conclude Blues by the Bay.
Another great festival closer: Pokey LaFarge and The South City Three, who wrapped up the Jefferson State Old Time Review at the Arcata Playhouse later the same Saturday as the Folklife All Day Free Festival (let's try not to do that again).
Chris Parreira pulled together a fitting celebration of Bob Dylan's 70th birthday at Mad River Brewing with a mini-fest that included two of his bands, The Lonesome Roses and The Trouble, among many paying tribute at a "Million Dollar Bash." Incidentally, Chris' fave was Huck Flint at Folklife (he played later that same night at the Logger with his both bands, sharing a bill with Strix Vega).
Lila Nelson returned to Humboldt for at least a couple of gigs. My favorite was her Upstage Live show at the Arcata Playhouse with her vibrant friends from Portland, Come Gather Round Us.
Well, that makes 10, but I barely skimmed the surface of the wealth of excellent entertainment that penetrated our Redwood Curtain.
There was also the red hot young trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire, who brought his band to Fulkerson Hall for an RJA show right after the release of his Blue Note debut, When The Heart Emerges Glistening. That recording ended up on multiple year-end best jazz album lists (including the RJA's).
Other shows worth a mention: The Sea and Cake's dual guitar Chicago post-rock at the Jambalaya; The California Honey Drops pulling together swing, soul, blues, even Dixieland, for a too-sparse crowd at the Jam; old time wunderkind Frank Fairfield, who played the Jam again, and dark post-jazz at the Red Fox by Endangered Blood (another under-attended show).
Knowing there were great shows I shouldn't have missed, I took an informal, unscientific poll. Top choice overall, same as mine: Sharon Jones. Boom Tic Boom drew kudos from several including KHSU staffers Jeff DeMark and Mark Shikuma. (Mark also liked Nels.)
Jennifer W. dug Los Amigos Invisibles at HumBrews. (Me too, especially since they were opening for Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave.)
Some things came up repeatedly. In particular: The Meat Puppets rocking Humboldt Brews, They Might Be Giants at the Duzer and the Chromeo/Mayer Hawthorne one/two punch at the Arcata Community Center. On the electro front, Shpongle's Shpongletron Experience at the ATL (with Random Rab) also drew multiple votes, same with Thievery Corps' Rob Garza at HumBrews. DJ Psy-Fi cast his vote for Star Slinger and Shigeto at the Jambalaya.
KHSU DJ Jakob Sweden says, "Top show for me was Jim Haynes and Brendan Murray at the Ballroom," a semi-secret location in Eureka. Mad Dr. Matt Knight (another KHSU DJ) declared the Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussien, Edgar Meyers show at the KBR "pretty effin' amazing."
Tavan Anderson from White Manna was not the only one who chose the Leeches of Lore show at Lil' Red Lion with Drifter Killer and DownLooksUp. Eureka Garbage Co. drummer Chris Colland liked a show his band played opening for Mikal Kronin, "4 real dawg." For Drew Mohr from Children of the Sun it was Lettuce at the Red Fox "with our friends Afromassive opening." Brian Sykes from The Alliez went with "The Teacha," KRS One at the ATL. Brett "The Truck" liked Hank III at the Mateel.
For Senegalese reggae singer Elhadji Niang, the best night of the year was the benefit at Bayside Grange for Que Grande taco truck owner Joe Magana. Of course he was playing, along with Ishi Dube, Jah Sun and others. "There was a really great vibe," said Elhadji.
DJ Red Rasta loved the Cutty Ranks reggae show at the Red Fox. Carol Bruno of People Productions declared the Stephen Marley show at the ATL best of the year (yes, she produced it).
Lost Coast Communications prez Patrick Cleary went with Country Night at the Folklife Festival (he's on the HFS board). Maia C.C. concurred, noting, "I LOVED The Country Pretenders." Others agreed, some adding the above-mentioned Huck Flint set.
For LCC's Mo Burke it was simply, "Franti!" Jennifer Callen from Reflection liked the little big band, Pink Martini at the Van Duzer. Local news blogger Charles Douglas liked the Chamber Fables 54 show "at the short-lived Eureka Alibi -- it was my first date with Gabby."
Former Arcata Mayor Susan Ornelas liked the funky Dumpstaphunk show at HumBrews. BBQ-King Smokin' Moses liked Crosby/Nash at the Van Duzer. Chef Brett Shuler dug Rooster McClintock "at the Open Grave" (aka the Ocean Grove). Coco T. cast her vote for David Lindley, saying, "I just never get tired of that little polyester-clad elf."
Piet Dalmolen from The Nucleus chose Bruce Hornsby at the Van Duzer. Pete Ciotti, also from The Nucleus as well as Full Moon Fever, liked the Rich Robinson show, and The Sea and Cake, and Billy Martin and Wil Blades." (Pete also owns the Jambalaya where all three shows took place.)
Soundman Tofu put the Jefferson State Old Time Revue at the Playhouse first, adding. "A close second was The Bucky Walters/Shook Twins show also at the APH." (He was the soundman both nights.) Morgan from Trillium loved the 10th anniversary show by The Mother Hips at HumBrews.
Edward Gordon chose a show at Redwood Yogurt by ukulele picker Lyndsey Battle. While he did not mention one particular show, Donald Hart liked Josephine Johnson, "because she plays from her heart ..." For Vickie Fowler, bluesman Earl Thomas' set at "BBB" (as in Blues by the Bay) was supreme.
With Christmas Eve on Saturday night, this is a pretty lean week for shows. However, Donald and Vickie are in luck: Josephine Johnson is part of a free Spirit Vibrations show Thursday at the Jambalaya with Trillium, The Lonesome Roses, Madi and Lorenza Simmons among others. And Earl Thomas joins forces with Eddie Angel for a soulful evening next Wednesday (Dec. 28) at the Arcata Playhouse with jazzy vocalist Rose Armin-Hoiland (and her brother) opening.
Happy holiday, your choice which one.