There's a lot that makes Humboldt stand out among the other 57 rather bleh counties in our great state. (OK, Mendocino is pretty cool. And Trinity has the Trinity River, so that's awesome.) I don't want to make this a long list of what Humboldt has going for it, but rather to point out one very specific and unexpected thing: We have a small but incredibly strong and vibrant steel pan community right up here in our neck of the woods. It's pretty remarkable when you think about it. The steel pan originated far away on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. We could point fingers at professor Eugene Novotney for bringing the steel pulse here to the North Coast, then teaching the craft to Humboldt State University students who in turn bring the sound and rhythm of the pan to younger students all over our county. Novotney-ite Jesse Jonathan has been teaching elementary school students the ways of the pan for a while now, and he's helping showcase their talents this weekend at the second annual Steel Pan Festival (more info below). Outside of hearing pan music, you'll also be blown away by seeing kids of varying ages from Blue Lake, Arcata, McKinleyville, Trinidad, Eureka and beyond completely locking into the groove. The few chances I have to see the Blue Dragon Steel Band — and some of the kids who are barely 10 years old — I see kids who have mastered syncopated beats and polyrhythms, and I know the next generation is way ahead of us already. Outside of having a damn fine time at the festival, know that it's a fundraiser to keep the pan music alive in schools here on the North Coast, and with your help, we can keep Humboldt groovin'.
You can ease into your weekend this evening with some "folky fiddle tunes" from local band Fingal at 6 p.m. up at the Mad River Brewery. This is a free show and I'm hearing that the big tent is coming down soon, so make sure to bring some sunblock for you and the kiddos. David from local psych-rock band White Manna tells me that it's joining Sub Pop band Heron Oblivion at The Miniplex tonight. Heron Oblivion has a drone-y, pulsating, mildly psychedelic vibe and a local connection through bassist Ethan Miller who some of you may recall from Comets on Fire and Howlin' Rain so that should prep you for a bit of what you'll hear tonight at 8 p.m. for $7. If bluegrass is more up your alley, The Jam has Thursday Night Bluegrass hitting the state around 9 p.m. Again, no word on the cover charge so let's go with $5-ish. The Alibi is known for its rare Thursday night show and wouldn't you know it, tonight's one of those nights. On the bill are heavy rockers out of San Diego Sacri Monti, who will be the first ones up around 11 p.m. Local instrumental stoner rockers Ultramafic headline this $5 show. May the fourth be with you.
It's Cinco de Mayo, which we all know is the celebration of the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla. We here in majority white mainstream America celebrate this day by not knowing a thing about the Battle of Puebla and treating this holiday as the Mexican St. Patrick's Day. We have a good number of local shows to choose from for tonight's festivities but as far as I can tell, none are playing up the Cinco de Mayo angle too hard. Ultra Secret is at the Mad River Brewery at 6 p.m. and, as usual, it's a free, all ages show. At 7:30 p.m. you'll find the JD Jeffries Band at the Fieldbrook Market playing classic hits and originals for this also free and all ages show. Just a half hour later — and perhaps inadvertently helping to prove my Mexican St. Patrick's Day point — we've got The Vanishing Pints playing at the Redwood Curtain Brewery, also for free. Local guitar-slinger (and Pink Floyd and Tom Petty aficionado) Piet Dalmolen tipped me off to San Francisco indie-rock band Go By Ocean, who are stopping by Humboldt Brews at 9:30 p.m. tonight, and he highly recommends you check them out. Opening this $10 show is Love Bush. Tonight the Mateel in Redway is hosting a fundraiser for Tools for Change, which distributes new and used tools to rural villages in West Africa, with music starting around 8:30 p.m. Musicians Keith Greeninger and Joe Craven will be starting the show off and then Achilles Wheel will close out this fundraiser. A $20 donation will be asked at the door and you know it's going to a good cause.
Slather on the sunblock as today is the second annual Humboldt Steel Pan Festival. This festival in Blue Lake's Perigot park will go from noon until about 5 p.m. and features some amazingly talented local artists raising money for steel pan programs in local elementary schools. You'll be watching the groovin' hands of The Humboldt Calypso Band, The Blue Dragon Steel Band, The Del Norte High Steel Band, Super Pan, WoMama and Timbata. There will be food and local beer on hand, but pace yourself and hydrate as the tunes will get you moving. If you're still looking to party in Blue Lake once the festival is over, head to the Mad River Brewery for some non-steel pan music courtesy of locals The Yokels at 6 p.m. and for free. At 7:30 p.m. talented Celtic musicians Ryan McKasson and Eric McDonald will be performing at the Westhaven Center for the Arts. A small donation may be asked at the door but you'll be in for an intimate treat from this violin/guitar duo. Americana rockers Rogue's Gallery stop by the Sanctuary in Arcata with songs of old roads rarely traveled these days, and stories of the dusty trails of time. Fellow locals The Honky Tonk Detours join them on stage for this show with a $10-25 sliding scale starting at 8 p.m. Reggae fans will no doubt be flocking to Humboldt Brews tonight to catch legend Don Carlos on the stage. No stranger to Humboldt County, Don Carlos is wise to keep stopping here while on the road as he has a lot of fans in our neck of the woods. Local reggae band Woven Roots will warm up the stage along with DJ Gabe Pressure. It's a 10 p.m. start time for this show with a $30 ticket price.
As mentioned above, local Pink Floyd and Tom Petty fanatic Piet Dalmolen returns to the Mad River Brewery Tap Room for some of his solo guitar wizardry at 6 p.m. The show is free but feel free to leave a tip. If you saw Go By Ocean on Friday night and liked it, thank Piet for helping to spread the word.
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 email@example.com.
Andy Powell is a congenital music lover and hosts The Album of the Week Show on KWPT 100.3 FM Tuesdays at 6 p.m. He was once in the Calypso Prep Band at HSU. He kept his day job.