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Harmonic Convergence

Blues harps and other post-turkey events



It's the week after Thanksgiving, a quiet time in general, and really quiet on the local music front. One holiday down, and "Christmastime is comin'...," which means lots of parties and celebrating in the weeks ahead. Since we're nearing the end of 2007, touring musicians are starting to go into self-imposed hibernation. After all the traveling they do throughout the year, they certainly deserve a break to rest and recharge.

But I'm getting a little ahead of things. There's still time for a blowout or two, and one is about to hit the sleepy hamlet of Blue Lake. This Friday night the Sapphire Palace will play host to Mark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowout. Hummel, a mainstay of the Bay Area blues scene for over three decades, has been assembling an impressive array of his harp-playing brethren for the past 16 years. Inspired by a series of shows produced by SF Blues festival organizer Tom Mazzolini in the 1980s, Hummel decided to pull together a few of his buddies to do a show at the fabled Ashkenaz in Berkeley back in 1991. It was a success, and he was asked to do it again the following year. It soon became an annual event, later moving to Yoshi's, the great jazz club in Oakland. Starting as a one-night extravaganza, it later expanded to a three-night run.

A few years ago, Hummel decided to take the show on the road. He bought a van, customized it for comfort and started making phone calls. The Blowout tours feature a rotating roster of seasoned vets, a mix of old and young musicians.

Hummel figures that just about every pro harp player has been on his stage over the years, and they include Charlie Musselwhite, Carey Bell, Lazy Lester, Magic Dick and Lee Oskar. You might call it a hurricane of harmonicas (sorry).

The trio that will be coming here are some of the finest. James Cotton is considered by many to be the last of his generation, a true blues legend. He's played with everyone from his mentor Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters to Johnny Winter and the Grateful Dead. The man known as "Superharp" played the Palace a couple of years ago, and I'm here to testify that he can still blow with the best of them.

Kim Wilson is the mainstay frontman for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, though he's also recorded half a dozen solo albums. A genius interpreter of classic blues tunes, and a great songwriter himself, Wilson is a harmonica master.

Thirdly, there's Curtis Salgado, straight outta Portland. Widely known as the inspiration for Joliet Jake, John Belushi's character in the Blues Brothers, he was also in the first incarnation of the Robert Cray Band, and singer for Roomful of Blues. He formed his own group in the early '90s and has been tearin' up the circuit ever since. Salgado has had some health problems recently (notably, a liver transplant in 2006), so it'll be good to see him grace our local stage.

That is one fantastic lineup, backed by Hummel's longtime band, the Blues Survivors. Guitarist Rusty Zinn is with him now, plus Bob Welch on piano and guitar, making this package a must for blues aficionados.

The night before, Nov. 29, will see the Casino celebrating the re-opening of their bar and lounge. Formerly the Steelhead, it's now called WAVE. The room is twice the size it was, with an expanded dance floor, brand new sound system, a plethora of big-screen TVs and two bars. I believe that their popular karaoke night will be the entertainment. The AfroCuban band Ponche will be playing there Friday when the bluesmen are in the Palace.

Also on Thursday, Nov. 29, the return of Myshkin's Ruby Warblers to the Jambalaya. Actually, this time it'll just be singer Myshkin, solo, doing her original material. The same night, Play Dead truck on down from the comfy confines of the Clam Beach Inn for a city gig at the Red Fox Tavern in Eureka — spirited renditions of Dead and Jerry Garcia tunes by some of the best musicians in the county.

Ekoostik Hookah, a neo-hippie jam band from the Midwest, visit the Red Fox the next two nights, with locals opening: The Fickle Hillbillies (no, they don't play bluegrass) on Friday and Moo-Got-2 on Saturday.

If you're a fan of Rooster McClintock (wildly enthusiastic old-time mountain funk), you might want to head south Friday night, because they'll be at the newly refurbished Scotia Inn. Surely the right band to lure folks out of the hills of Rio Dell.

Want to stay in Arcata Friday? Joanne Rand takes a break from teaching and working on a degree in music to lead her Rhythm of the Open Hearts Band into Muddy's Hot Cup for an evening of political and spiritual folk-based music for the soul. Also, the Tom Toohey Trio bring their gypsy-jazz to Libation.

For lovers of hip hop, the place to be is next door, at Mazzotti's. A slew of acts make the drive up from Oakland – Zion I, Mistah F.A.B., and Z-Man – to bring bangin' beats to the Plaza. Plus Caveman, DJ Itchie Fingaz and the return of DJ Thanksgiving Brown, back from the East Coast and his new gig as the booking agent for the Knitting Factory in NYC.

There's a lot going on in Eureka on Saturday, beginning with an event at the Eureka Theater. Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, and the Humboldt County AIDS Task Force is putting on a fundraiser to raise money for their AIDS Emergency Fund and to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS issues affecting Humboldt. Things kick off at 5 p.m. with the Bob Billstrom Band, then a set by Earl Thomas & the True Gospel Singers, followed by a candlelight vigil down F Street to Old Town.

That will put you right in the middle of the Holiday Arts Alive! Strix Vega and The Broken Hearts are at the Pearl Lounge, and the Kulica Duo (Curtis and Julie) are nearby at Old Town Coffee & Chocolates. At Los Bagels, KHUM has a CD release party for the second edition of the KHUM Blend series. The new disc features all local artists, and a few of them will be appearing: Huckleberry Flint, Sari Baker (with Joel Sonenshein) and Lila Nelson. Net proceeds from the CD go to the Stop The Violence campaign.

Later that evening, former underground MC and current hip-hop icon Lyrics Born rocks the house at the Indigo nightclub.

Back in Arcata on Saturday, Mosgo's throws an all-ages punk show at the Westwood coffee house, with three bands: Social Ills, Four Star Bravado and The Moffs. The raging starts at 8 p.m.!

Up on the HSU campus, it's time for the holiday concert with the ever energetic Calypso Band and Percussion Ensemble. This program will spotlight a new suite of Samba music, collected by director Eugene Novotney on several trips to Brazil. They always pack the house for this show, and there's rarely anyone left seated by the end. Dress lightly!

And finally, for those who appreciate the sound of the human voice, there are two events on Sunday, Dec. 2, just for you.

That afternoon, it's the 13th Annual Messiah Sing-Along, at the Morris Graves Museum of Art. If you'd like to participate, you're encouraged to bring your own copy of "The Messiah." The rehearsal begins at 1:30 p.m., with the performance to follow at 3 p.m. Sunday night, back at HSU's Fulkerson Hall, it's a repertoire of "Madrigals and Mad Torch Songs," sung by the HSU Madrigal Singers and the Mad River Transit singers, accompanied by pianist Darius Brotman, bassist Robert Amirkhan and drummer Jonathan Kipp.

Something else to look forward to: After a lengthy closure for extensive remodeling, Humbrews in Arcata is set to re-open next Thursday, Dec. 6. More about that next week. In the meantime, get out there and see some live music before hibernation season sets in!

Editor's note: The Hum's Bob Doran is on vacation. Russ Cole, a music professional and radio deejay living in Arcata, was kind enough to substitute for him.


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