Music » The Hum

Bold Language

Farewell Josephine Johnson, plus Chris Potter, a Hoedown, Lagos Roots, lots of jam and a Medieval battle


Josephine Johnson
  • Josephine Johnson

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now. -- Goethe


The quote on Josephine Johnson's Facebook page seems especially appropriate right now. After living in Humboldt for six years and dedicating this last year to a bold plan to make a name as a singer/songwriter, Josephine is about to embark on a new adventure -- spending much of the next year teaching English at Xi'an International Studies University in China. She first came here to earn a Masters in English at HSU (her thesis dealt with legal language and rhetorical constructs surrounding the Klamath River salmon kill). Post-Masters she shifted gears to focus on her music and learning about people's lives. 

"I really like to paint word portraits of people," she says. She does so with songs about folks she's met from all walks, and recently, falling back on her English degree, in a series of songs about great American authors. "I told the people who hired me to teach in China about the series, that I'd like to do about 20 of them. The dean of the school thought that would be a good way to teach English in the classroom, with songs about American authors." So far she's written songs about Emily Dickenson ("of course, because I identify with her"), Thoreau, Edgar Allen Poe, and most recently, "The spate of rain we had all through August inspired something for Sylvia Plath."

You might actually learn something Friday at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates where she's hosting a See-you-again China Party joined by friends Andrew Goff and Will Startare (aka 7-Oh), Lyndsey Battle (who plays with Josephine as We Like Love) and raconteur Jeff DeMark, who will tell a story or two. Sounds like fun. (Jeff also rolls oot a DVD of his baseball show Hard as a Diamond, Soft as the Dirt Saturday at the Arcata Playhouse, with The Delta Nationals playing after.)

Redwood Jazz Alliance launches its new season Friday night with Chris Potter's Underground, a killer combo led by the critically acclaimed saxophonist. When we caught up with Chris at home in New York City, he'd just returned from playing the Monterey Jazz Festival then doing a jazz clinic in SoCal.

How does one teach something as intuitive as improvisation? "There are aspects of it I don't think you can teach because it's all about what you chose to do next. And it's not a choice anyone can make except the improviser himself," says Potter. "There's a great deal of knowledge involved so it's not just, 'Oh, just play what you feel' or anyone would be able to do it and sound good. There's a lot of things to learn, a lot of listening to the musicians that have gone before you. Really learning the language is the most important thing."

At this point, Potter's playing is at a level where he's a touchstone, someone others listen to and learn from. "I guess that's gratifying," he says humbly, "but for myself, I would never want my sound to be defined. Once it's defined, then it's kind of dead. So every day I hope to find something that's exciting, to never decide, 'Oh, there it is. It's finished. Now I've got it.' That doesn't seem to be the way it works."

To hear how he's evolving, check out his performance Friday in Fulkerson Recital Hall, or come at 11 a.m., before the concert, when RJA hosts a free workshop with the stellar saxophonist.

The wild and wooly string trio The Devil Makes Three headlines the Mateel's annual Humboldt Hills Hoedown, 12 hours plus of stringy music Saturday at the Mateel, with a dozen acts including Town Mountain from Asheville, NC, Colorado jamgrassers Head For The Hills and Portland gypsy-folk Taarka (also playing Friday night at The Depot at HSU). A second, "Back 40" stage has a slew of locals including The Bucky Walters, The Phoebes and (Persimmons regular) Damien Roomets. Ya-hoo!

Back in the '80s, when the Bay Area was a hotbed for a burgeoning world beat movement, a number of African musicians settled there, guys who'd played for Fela Kuti's Afrika 70, Sonny Okosun's Ozziddi and other seminal Afrobeat bands back home. A number of them are still living by the Bay -- they are the core of Lagos Roots Afrobeat Ensemble, a kick-ass 15-piece Afrobeat band that plays its first Humboldt gig Friday night at the Jambalaya. DJ Brian "Mantease" Woida spins classic Afrobeat discs before and between sets.

The AfroCuban band Ponche! started in Humboldt, but since its members are now spread around NorCal they don't get together as much as they used to. They'll be in Arcata Saturday playing at the Farmers' Market during the day, then rocking Jambalaya that night.

New Jersey-based jamband Railroad Earth takes its name from a Kerouac story -- its musical style is rooted in Americana with touches of bluegrass, jazz and rock, but mostly they're known for extended improv -- jamming. They share a bill at Arcata Theatre Lounge next Tuesday with Toubab Krewe, a cool crew from Asheville whose jams draw mostly on North African guitar and kora sounds.

The electronica world and the jamband scene have been merging of late, which is no surprise aesthetically. EOTO is a prime example, with Jason Hann and Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident gone digital. They headline a show at the Arcata Theatre Lounge next Wednesday, Sept. 29, with dub-hop remixer/producer Mimosa and South African ex-pat MartyParty. More electro this Thursday at the ATL: Signal Path, who have a blippy new CD, Imaginary Lines, plus Blockhead and Nocando.

Tons more jammy music coming this week: For Deadheads there's Melvin Seals and JGB back at the Red Fox Tavern Friday. The Pimps of Joytime bring funky jams out of Brooklyn to the Fox Saturday, mixing in Latin and African beats. Same Saturday at ATL, World Famous brings back electro world fusion combo Beats Antique with electro-singer/songwriter LYNX opening.

It's not quite to the level of the Reggae War, but there's a pitched battle raging over local Renaissance Fair-type business. The Ren-Fair tradition began in the ’60s, with the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Marin setting the mold: folks dressed in Middle Ages garb playing lutes, clanging swords in mock battles and generally getting Medieval.

Eight years ago St. Bernard's Catholic School put together the Medieval Festival of Courage as a fundraiser; at some point Coastal Grove Charter School took it over. The location has shifted, most recently from Blue Lake to a field by Mad River Hospital. Run mostly by parent volunteers, it evolved into a hybrid elementary school carnival/Ren Fair. The loss of Medieval purity apparently ruffled feathers with some trad re-enactors. That's part of the reason why there are two Medieval events this year.

First up is the Excalibur Medieval Tournament and Market Faire this Saturday and Sunday in that field by Mad River Hospital. They're importing the Seattle Knights for swordplay and jousting and they'll have wandering minstrels, crafters, mead, folks in costume, the usual. Proceeds go to St. Bernard's School, the Mad River Hospital Foundation and Heart of the Redwoods Horse Rescue.

Then there's the 8th Annual Medieval Festival of Courage coming up in a couple of weeks, Oct. 9 and 10. They're back in Blue Lake, this time at Christie's Pumpkin Patch. They'll have "full contact tournament jousting" (on horseback) by Knights of Mayhem along with other Medieval stuff, plus the Knights' Dinner at Blue Lake Casino Saturday night, with Tempest supplying not-so-pure Celtic/Scandi-metal music with an edge. Proceeds benefit Coastal Grove Charter.

(Disclosure: Journal editor Hank Sims' wife is a teacher at Coastal Grove. Our art director Holly Harvey will be among the re-enactors at Excalibur Faire.)



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