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Musical Drag


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I wasn't on top of my game enough to get in a column relevant to the other week's Unpopular Opinions theme but I thought, even though late, why wouldn't I want to get some hate mail as well? (See email address below.) What could be more unpopular than me telling you that your taste in music sucks? Musical taste is entirely subjective so you'd be just as right responding, "Well your taste sucks." So how about this: Instead of me saying bluegrass and old-timey music sucks, I'll just state that I don't care for those genres and try to figure out why so many of my neighbors do. I've often thought about this as my wife is a fiddler who loves banjo and can't stand my love of progressive rock. I, on the other hand, like music with a drum set and can't stand whiskey references by suspender-wearing musicians. I'm mocked for listening to '60s and '70s music, but what is it about living in Humboldt that makes even older music hip? Beyond "I like the way it sounds" or the "It's what my grandpappy listened to," I think some of it has to do with living in a rural area similar in some key ways to Appalachia, where much of the music was born. Look at the cultural isolation — thanks to the mountains and self-reliance necessitated by the landscape — plus a healthy bit of moonshinin' and black-market-outlaw mentality, and there are similarities. I'm oversimplifying, of course, but we're not the easiest county to get to in California — remember when 101 was closed? Our mountainous landscape makes routes 36 and 299 treacherous to outsiders. Switch out whiskey for pot and we've got quite a bit in common.

And many of us transplants came here expressly to get away from the rat race, to go somewhere less decimated by humankind, where there was still a bond — albeit vague and esoteric — to the land. With that desire, it's not surprising a musical form crafted by forgotten poor, rural musicians would appeal to us salt-of-the-earth-firsters. We may not work the soil or run a still in our shed, but we drive our Priuses to the farmers market and know the name of the farmer who grows the corn we eat and the pineapple sage we smoke, with our values in stark contrast to the consumer-me-first mentality of the outside world. And why shouldn't our music further fit into that hard-scrabble proletariat-DIY identity? Because it's incredibly trite, formulaic appropriation. It's drag. It's putting on a costume when other people are around. It's putting on your spotless $150 Blundstones and your quaint and folksy suspenders and wax on your ironic mustache. It's wearing your cowboy hat to the Folklife Festival two days out of the year. It's playing an upright bass when it's cheaper to play electric. It's singing about a life that isn't your own. It's singing someone else's story. It's the musical equivalent of a Civil War reenactment (fine to keep alive as a historical relic but not something that should require dutiful and daily devotion.) It's a projected image that reinforces who we want to be. Drag is a wonderful thing, as long as you realize it's drag. If I have to listen to one more soft-handed studio art major singing about "working the family farm" or 20-year-old vegan singing about whiskey and women, I'm going to run home, pour the tequila, put on the headphones and crank Rush's 2112. Now look, if you truly like wearing suspenders, never slow banjo solos, an endless root-fifth pattern on the upright bass and songs about whiskey, then more power to you. If you think your life in the 21st century, with your internal combustion engine, iPhone 6 plus and Instagram account is best summed up by art festishizing whiskey, saloons, cotton-picking, dusty Roanoke roads, then have at it. You do you. But that's the point — really do you. Not some historically poached version of you. Music has the power to let us see ourselves in the future. Don't be content with it being a museum piece.

To all the old-timey fans who wear leather jackets; to all the bluegrass fans who love a snare drum, to all the rockers who don't have tattoos, to all the reggae fans who don't have dreadlocks, this column's for you.


Fred & Jr. (no relation) get the weekend underway at Mad River Brewery's Tap Room this evening at 6 p.m. and they'll be doing their swing/jazz thing for free while you enjoy the sunshine and local beer. Down in Arcata at The Miniplex, you'll find the "finest in retro synth dark wave, think Siouxie and the Banshees for the David Lynch set," courtesy of Troller out of Austin along with fellow Holodeck label mate Samantha Glass from Madison, Wisonsin. Rounding out the bill is noise artist Collin Gorman Weiland out of Minneapolis and locals Paint Shadows anchoring the 9 p.m. show. This show's got a sliding scale from $5 up to $10.


Classic Country music is on the bill this evening at the Mad River Brewery Tap Room courtesy of Orick's Redwood Ramblers who are coming down to play for free around 6 p.m. Just a bit north, you'll hear from The Jim Lahman Band laying down some "blues funk and good old rock 'n' roll" at The Westhaven Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. The band features Jim on vocals and guitar, Jim (no relation) on drums, Tim on bass and Ron on harmonica. Sliding scale of $5-20 will get you in the door for this one. Back up in ol' Blue Lake you've got the father/son x2 band known as Doug Fir & the 2x4s playing the Blue Lake Casino and Hotel in the Wave Lounge at 9 p.m. for free. They'll be in it for the long haul, playing until about 1 a.m. Starting around the same time, you can hear the USGGO (Ultra Secret Good Guy Association) at Six Rivers Brewery playing for free. Catch their improv-heavy jazz and feel free to leave a tip to show your appreciation.


Local yokels The Yokels are returning to the Mad River Brewery at 6 p.m. doing their "rockabilly soul" thing for free. Vista Del Mar is hosting a rare appearance by the frontline of ShinBone at 8 p.m., comprised of Chas Southside Lewis on the harp and Robert Franklin on guitar, for free. When they hang it up, DJ Statik will spin the hits from the '90s and early aughts. Roland Rock plays instrumentals and quirky originals at Siren's Song Tavern tonight at 8:30 p.m., also for free. For something a bit more in the reggae vein, Humboldt Brews is the place to be as the Irie Rockers play their brand of reggae with influences from across the spectrum which will get you groovin' and rockin' on the dance floor around 9:30 p.m. $10 gets you in the door. There's a special tribute to Chris Cornell tonight at The Jam starting around 10 p.m. Superunknown — comprised of local heavy-hitters Piet Dalmolen on guitar, Pete Ciotti on drums, Tomek Zajaczkowski on the keys and Pat Quinn on the bass — will play songs from the Soundgarden, Temple of The Dog and Audioslave days as a tribute to a voice we recently lost. A $10 bill gets you in the door for this needed tribute.


Local singer/songwriter Joanne Rand is joined by violin champ Rob Diggins along with fellow fiddler Jolianne Einem at the Westhaven Center for the Arts tonight at 7 p.m. to wrap up the weekend. You can get into this performance of seasoned musicians for a sliding scale of $5-20.


The Miniplex hosts "surf sirens from Seattle" La Luz tonight along with new project from Chicago dweller Jeff T. Smith named Living Body and local favorites The Monster Women for this 9 p.m. $10 show.


It's America's birthday so I hope you'll be eating cake, watching fireworks or blowing shit up on your own to celebrate. We're the Most No. 1 in the World and don't let anyone tell you none otherwise. Moonalice alum and friends of Phil Lesh, Barry Sless, John Molo, Pete Sears and Rob Barraco are teaming up with singer Katie Skene as California Kind at Humboldt Brews tonight at 8 p.m. for an early show that's $20. These pros have been on the jam scene for decades and bring top-tier experience to Humboldt County, so be kind, and hopefully they'll be back before too long.

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 protected].

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. Hey reggae, be glad he hit his word limit.


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