It was a double-bill that just had to happen. After local singer/songwriters Josephine Johnson and Chris Parreira tied for "Best Solo Musician" in the Journal's "Best Of Humboldt" poll, we pretty much dared them to do a show together. They agreed, so we decided to make it happen -- this Saturday at the Arcata Playhouse.
Josephine hails from Sycamore, Ind., a small town that she says is little more than "a grain silo and a four-way stop sign." She joined AmeriCorps to escape, then headed for Georgia to earn a bachelor's degree in art at Savannah College of Art and Design. That's where she started learning to play guitar and write songs. "I almost immediately started working on my own songs," she says. "I never had any musical training; I just taught myself everything."
She also worked in a program called Spitfire Poetry with fourth- and fifth-graders from Savannah's inner city. She recalls, "I taught the kids that songs were just poetry and music and showed them how to backwards engineer from there." That experience helped her hone her songwriting chops, something she continued when she relocated to California.
How did she end up here? She credits one of her favorite movies, The Goonies. While it was shot in Oregon, a friend told her Humboldt was similar, and there was HSU for post-grad work. While working on a master's in English ("that lucrative field"), she worked the open mic circuit, just a girl and her six-string. "I feel this pressure to do more," she says, "but I just sing and I play guitar -- that's what I do -- I don't juggle fire."
She's been learning a few covers, "because," she says, "people like to hear things they know, then you can play your own stuff." She definitely has lots of her own songs. "I try to write a new one every week," she says. She figures her latest, inspired by Occupy Wall Street and related protests, will be ready for Saturday's show. "It's about uniting and being together, trying to figure out how to get together," she says, and you can almost see the stars in her eyes.
Chris Parreira is almost a local -- he moved to Humboldt when he was 8. He grew up listening to folk and jazz and latched onto the music of Bob Dylan early on. (He hosted a very successful tribute to Dylan on the songwriter's birthday this year and plans another for 2012). He gained experience with his own music on the local open mic circuit and ran one at Sacred Grounds for a while.
Post high school he decided to leave Humboldt and "followed a girl" to southern Oregon. The experience had a strong effect on his music, and not just via a handful of love/heartbreak songs. "There was a great music community in Ashland and I found my voice there," he says in retrospect. "I also found the courage to move to Austin."
The city that has become music central in Texas is a proving ground for folk/Americana musicians. "I wanted a place that would really challenge me. People are really nice here and in Ashland, and they'll tell you you're great, even if you're not. I had to go to Austin to get my ass kicked. It was hard. I was homeless for a while; I lived very simply."
When he returned to Humboldt, he says, "Everything kind of snapped into place. I found people to play music with; everything just came together." He wound up moving away from solo work, instead focusing on a folky duo that became a trio, The Lonesome Roses, and playing in a country rock outfit, The Trouble.
He was surprised to learn he'd won the Journal poll as a solo artist. "I didn't ask anyone to vote for me and I don't really do the solo thing so much. It's much more fulfilling to play in a band rather than playing by myself. I still like it, but I'm getting more into organizing shows, arranging songs, things like that."
He's also learning the fine art of recording. He and his bandmates recently acquired a "serious" 24-track mixing board, which he plans on using to record (and re-record) a Lonesome Roses album. The Trouble plans on completing a record by next summer when it will head cross-country on tour.
"I want to do music as a career," says Chris. "I think it's doable -- between being a performer, a sound person and a promoter, I can do it." Self-confidence is a major step, and he's got that down pat.
So, on with the show.
Josephine Johnson and Chris Parreira and friends play Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Arcata Playhouse (1251 9th St.). Doors open at 7:15 p.m. Showtime 8 p.m. Proceeds benefit Food for People, winner of the Journal readers' poll as "Best Nonprofit." For that reason we ask you to bring a donation of nonperishable food along with $10 for your ticket.
Prepare for an evening of bests, as many "Best Of Humboldt" winners will be in attendance. Awards will be presented while you sip Lost Coast Brewery's Great White ("Best Beer") and fine wines from Fieldbrook Winery (thanks Bob). And we'll have some of the best snacks around. Join us for an evening of music and merriment, the best of the best.