If you're in a band, or lucky enough to read press releases for a living, you quickly come to the conclusion that labels or categories of music are often underwhelming. When you try to explain to your friends or parents what your band's music is like, it's not easy to capture what you think is the entirety of your sound. "We're indie/alternative/rock," you might say, or "jazz influenced nügrass with Americana/outlaw country nuances," when talking to friends. And when your press agent/girlfriend/boyfriend crafts a press release, your sound is "like nothing you've ever heard before." (For the record, never ever describe your band that way.)
The point being, like the substance of everything else ineffable, no label or description will capture your music, and that's OK. People, bands, music, art, etc. aren't meant to, nor are they able to, be fully captured by a few words. That's not the fault of the words, nor the art, it's just the way it is. While it's OK to understand that labels are generalizations or a type of "elevator pitch" to describe your band to someone in under 10 seconds, always remember that a label is something that should be helpful, not constricting.
If you're a "bluegrass" band, that doesn't mean you can never entertain the idea of having a drummer. If you're an Americana band, that doesn't mean you can't one day sing a song that doesn't mention whiskey. If you're a punk band, that doesn't mean every song you ever write has to be angry and faster than 160 beats per minute.
I was talking with a friend at the Mad River Brewery last weekend and we got to chatting about The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. I won't bore you with all the talk of the sound or the rawness of Mick's voice, etc., but we then pondered Some Girls and the song "Miss You" specifically. Where the hell did that one come from?
You listen to "Sweet Black Angel" and then "Miss You" and you'd be forgiven for thinking it wasn't the same band. And you know what? That's wonderful. Here you have The Stones, with all their swagger and sway, dabbling in American country and then letting Charlie Watts throw four down on the floor and playing a goddamn disco song! The balls these fellas had! And while we all dance and move to the groove, you can imagine Keith smiling. "Yeah, we just pulled off a rock/disco song. And you fucking loved it."
The next day I heard my neighbor bumping some tunes while gardening. Guess what came on the radio? That's right, "Miss You." I heard him singing along. I couldn't help shaking my hips the slightest bit. At the end of the day, it's a great song. So unless Capitol Records is getting in your face, if you're a rock band that wants to play a jazzy tune, or a folk group that craves a little distortion, play what you want to play and let the words say what they'll say.
A great reason to celebrate is upon us as the Humboldt State Calypso Band turns 30. Returning to the scene of the band's first performance (2016 - 30 = 1986), Fulkerson Recital Hall, the Calypso Band will be joined by special guest Andy Narell, a virtuoso steel pan player. HSCB founder and nice guy extraordinaire Eugene Novotney is "beyond thrilled to have [Narell] come to Humboldt State, and we are extremely excited to share the stage with him and experience his artistry." Pan on! $8 for this celebration — free for HSU students — and an 8 p.m. show time.
KMUD Battle of the Bands 2013 winners Dead Man's Tale will be at The Jam in Arcata joined by Imperial Destructo. Get ready to rock at 10 p.m. at this free show.
I never got the chance to see Led Zeppelin live, but I've been lucky enough to see Zepparella a few times here on the North Coast. These ladies bring the rock, swagger, sway and mighty force of the Zep. Catch 'em, and sing along, at Humboldt Brews around 9 p.m. Opening up this $20 gig is Stars Turn Me On.
The Humboldt Symphony and ArMack Orchestra team up in Fulkerson Recital Hall at 8 p.m. to pay tribute to Louis Armstrong, along with one of my favorites, the first movement of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #2 (the second movement is beautiful as well). Wish local Charles McClung luck as he tackles the piano for the concerto.
Move and shake your way to the top of the hill in McKinleyville at 9 p.m. because locals The Movers and The Shakers are rocking for you (for free) at Six Rivers Brewery.
Marin County rockers Midnight North return to our neck of the woods with a show at Humboldt Brews at 9:30 p.m. Before they start to jam, the Fickle Hill Band will get the stage warmed up and the crowd moving. Bring $10 to get in.
It's Arts Alive! so Eureka will be poppin'. Mad River Rose will perform for free at the Morris Graves Museum of Art at 6 p.m. These Moody Blues fans will be playing until 9 p.m. so you've got time to stop in and hear their sweet sounds. For a good time, request "Nights in White Satin" but please don't tell them I mentioned it (Full disclosure: My wife is, sadly, the non-Moody Blues fan in the group).
Over in Arcata, The Ethniks will be playing for free at Cafe Mokka starting around 8 p.m. I see they are labeled as "international" which seems to make sense given their name, but other than that, your guess is as good as mine.
Ex-locals the Scratchdog Stringband return to The Logger Bar in Blue Lake. Although the band members all met in Arcata, they now reside up in Portland but are glad to stop by the Logger on a tour supporting their first full-length album Three Times Fast, which has them traveling down the coast with friends The Desert Kind. Showtime is around 9 p.m. for this "Americana/rockgrass" with a $5 cover. Rooted by the bass/fiddle/guitar combo, expect some other instruments to sneak their way in.
No banjos in sight at Humboldt Brews! The Miracle Show will be jammin' their way through Dead tunes, and although Jerry could kill it on a banjo, I don't imagine you'll hear too much of the jugband sound. Ride the good vibes around 9:30 p.m. and bring $8 for a ticket.
In the event you missed the Humboldt Symphony and ArMack Orchestra on Friday, you have another chance today at 2 p.m. in the Fine Arts Building at Arcata High School and for only $5.
The Humboldt Chorale and University Singers team up at 8 p.m. in Fulkerson Recital Hall. The Chorale will dig into John Rutter's "Gloria" and the Singers "celebrate the blessings of nature in the music of seven cultures." Got it? They'll all be literally teaming up to do some gospel all together at the end of the performance. $8 tickets and free for HSU students.
Full show listings in the Journal's Music and More grid, the Calendar and online. Bands and promoters, send your gig info, preferably with a high-res photo or two, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andy Powell is a congenital music lover and hosts The Night Show on KWPT 100.3 FM weeknights at 6 p.m. He likes trying to define the ineffable.