Music » The Hum

Whose Blues?



The blues. Who's the audience for it in this day and age? Who are the players? At a time when plenty of young musicians are sawing on fiddles and picking up and picking on mandolins and banjos old timey style, a scant few seem interested in playing the blues, and if they do, it's more likely to be old gutbucket blues rather than the post-war electric kind.

Look around the crowd at a festival like Blues by the Bay and you see a flock of graying boomers. Getting them out to hear the blues on a work night can be a tough sell. The folks I used to see partying into the wee hours at the Old Town Bar and Grill back in the day just don't get around much anymore. Of course the OTB&G is dark these days, waiting patiently for a retrofit before it gets back to the retro music, and there are not many clubs booking the blues aside from the blues/rock outfits that mostly play the local casino circuit.

A rare exception is a show this Thursday, March 8, at Indigo Nightclub, a place named for a shade of blue. Little Charlie and the Nightcats is one of those touring bands that once played the Oatbag, as it was affectionately known. The Nightcats is basically a partnership between a couple of long-time friends, ace guitarist Charlie Baty, a cat with an encyclopedic knowledge of his instrument who looks like he might have been your barber when you were a kid, and songwriter/vocalist Rick Estrin, a consummate showman and a wizard on the harmonica with the slicked back air and sharkskin suits of a used car salesman (a pencil-thin mustache completes the guise).

Both were actually blues-loving harp players when they met in the early '70s in Berkeley. Charlie switched to guitar and a band was born with a series of rhythm sections filling out a quartet. They settled in Sacramento, and when they weren't busy backing the blues legends that came through the capital they swung around the state and up the coast playing various clubs that catered to the blues crowd. Robert Cray became a fan and when he hit the big time and was interviewed by Rolling Stone, he praised Charlie's guitar chops, which led to a Nightcats record deal with the premier indie blues label Alligator.

Since then the Cats have been exploring the many shades of blues on one record after another, mixing jazzy guitar vamps and jump blues, the kind that eventually mutated into good ol' rock `n' roll. They still come out to the coast on occasion, although I can't quite remember the last time. They probably played the Riverwood, one of the few joints in the county that still books touring blues acts.

Meanwhile, up on campus Thursday it's St. Patrick's Day come early as Altan plays for Celtic music lovers at the Van Duzer. One of the premier traditional Irish bands, Altan formed in the early '80s starting with a husband and wife team, penny whistler Frankie Kennedy and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, a beauteous fiddler with the voice of an angel. They added more players over the years playing mostly music from County Donegal, and grew in popularity. In 1994 cancer got the better of Frankie, but as per his wish, the band played on, and they're still at it today.

Expect the jamband fans to gather that same night at Mazzotti's in Arcata, where Banyan brings together a stellar array of jammers. While the promotion might lead you to believe the band is built around liquid guitaristSteve Kimock,Banyan*was*actually founded in 1995 by drummer Stephen Perkinsof Jane's Addiction and Porno For Pyros. The combo typically pairs him with trumpeter Willie Waldman from Memphis Horns (who has also done session work for Snoop Dog and Tupac, among others) and an eclectic rotating cast. The current incarnation includes Kimock and journeyman bassist Rob Wasserman, last seen locally playing with Lou Reed.

Also in a jammy mode,a Friday night benefit for the Northcoast Environmental Center at Six Rivers withPlay Dead,the local Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Band tribute band. The following night at Six Rivers it's the real thing: organist Melvin Seals playing with the remnants of JGB.

Friday night in Eureka chose between loud, soft and arty. For loud we have Ukiah's emo-core superstars AFI at the Muni, joined by Fat Wreck Chords punks Love Equals Death and Viva Hate, a band named for a Morrissey album. (BTW, AFI stands for A Fire Inside, not Angst For Idiots.)

Something quieter? The Eureka Chamber Music Series presents the acclaimed string ensemble Daedalus Quartetat*Calvary Lutheran Church performing*Mozart's "Quartet in C Major, K. 465," Bartok's "Quartet No. 3" and Schumann's "Quartet No. 3 in A Major." Quieter, but I'm guessing no less intense.

You might be one of the millions who saw Duane Flatmoon TV playing"Malagueña" with his "mixer," but have you seen him do it in person? Your chance comes Friday at the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts, where Duane kicks off the C.R. speaker series: An Exploration of Passions, exploring his passion for kinetic contraptions, painting walls and other arty pursuits. He'll probably touch on his next big mural project, and we're talking huge: the backside of the Arkley Center.

Saturday you have yet another chance to see the Victorian modesty rock opera The Common Vice, when it plays at Muddy's Hot Cup. Also on the bill, the immodest alt. rock of Strix Vega. Later that night catch a double dose of sludge metal at the Alibi with Lozen from Tacoma and Hexe from Oakland.

I tuned in the beginning of the first ever televised Fortuna City Council meeting Monday, and there was young firebrand Shane Brinton complimenting the council, even going as far as declaring them "more progressive than Arcata" for reinstating the dance permit for all ages venue Out of the Sun. (See "The Hum," March 1.) That's right, OotS is back in action! Friday they bring in four bands: The Secret Stolen, The Professional Superheros, Kids for Sale and Pacific Radio, for what I'm sure will be a glorious rock revival.

Bad Kitty, purveyors of assorted honky tonk, rockabilly, ska and the like, presents another evening with "master of hillbilly swing" Wayne "The Train" Hancock at Six Rivers Brewing Wednesday, March 14. A couple of days later, March 16, to be exact, B.K./6 Rivs has Dave Gleason's Wasted Days, with the lead guitarist from Johnny Dilks' band out front in a Cali-soul band. Wasted Days also hits Riverwood Inn for St. Patty's Day, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. Friday, March 9, at the Riverwood it's Trailer Park Rangers, a trippy, eclectic band from Sonoma led by songwriter David T. Carter, playing what he calls variously "progressive roots" and "road music."

Also on Wednesday, March 14, at the above mentioned Indigo, another deviation from DJ music with People Productions presenting St. Croix reggae starsMidnite with brothers Ron and Vaughn Benjamin, on tour with Mystic Vision from New Mexico.

And yes, that segues into the latest Reggae update, at this point still a tale of two Reggaes. I spent a bit of time in the Humboldt County Courthouse this week, first, several hours at Thursday's Planning Commission hearing, where the poor commissishes had a hard time convincing the SRO crowd that they were not interested in hearing about who should run Reggae this year. What they were interested in was attendance and they got an earful -- contradictory reports on how many wristbands there were and how many concertgoers, ranging from 15,888 up to 25,000. Staff is recommending dropping the allowed attendance by 1,488, the amount the count was over on one night last Reggae, and while the commission delayed its decision until April, I think they might do just that, which potentially translates as a $200,000-plus drop in ticket revenue for whoever gets to do Reggae, be it ... Rising or ... on the River.

The who-gets-to question was addressed upstairs in the same courthouse at Monday's relatively short hearing before Judge Watson on a request for a temporary restraining order (one way or the other). This time it was just lawyers talking, and they kept on track. In short, both sides said "Reggae is mine," with the Mateel's lawyer contending that "without Reggae on the River there is no Mateel Community Center."

Again no decision was made, so everything's still up in the air while both parties wait. How long? One of the lawyers explained afterward that the judge had no more than 90 days to decide, but he may deliver his ruling in a week, a month, or right away, maybe even after I write this and before you read it. The lack of resolution has all concerned stressed.

And now for some good news regarding that other pair of dueling festivals. A note came via e-mail Monday night, Michael Welch of the Same Old People wrote saying, "Today is a day of celebration and relief for the Same Old People and those that care about the community aspects of the North Country Fair in Arcata. We have prevailed. Today the city of Arcata let all involved parties know that they would accept our application for the fall Equinox North Country Fair, and deny the application of last year's coordinator. Further, last year's coordinator let us know he has resigned his efforts, and is returning the Fair's assets. Thanks so much for your support and patience. Now the Same Old People will be able to move forward with the Fair, as in the past."

OK, the North Country Fair is back on track, same with the Kinetic Sculpture Race. If we can just resolve this Reggae mess all will be right, at least in this little corner of the world. Then we can start working toward peace on Earth.


Add a comment