You know how you feel some mornings when you wake up and don’t want to get up? The world just doesn’t feel right, like you’ve slipped into an alternative reality. “It’s a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity, the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge …” as Rod Serling put it.
Maybe it was the virus I was fighting off that took me into the Twilight Zone. I slept 12 hours straight one day, having strange dreams that drew on “It's a Good Life,” a frightening episode by Mr. Serling where people living the “good life” were scared. A monster had arrived in the village, a young powerful boy who magically wished people off to the cornfield when he didn’t like what they were thinking. He took away things he didn’t like, “because they displeased him — and he moved an entire community back into the dark ages.”
Getting down to Hummish things, we start with a double bill on Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the Blue Lake Casino’s Sapphire Palace that sounds like a Twilight Zone story. Imagine an Insane Clown Posse-style Ronald McDonald fronting a Black Sabbath cover band with guys dressed in outfits with an equally twisted Grimace, the Hamburgler, etc. The result: Mac Sabbath with Ronald Osbourne, Slayer MacCheeze, GrimAlice and the Catburglar, “for an epic night of drive thru metal — a feast for the senses,” based around Sabbath songs with twisted burger and fries lyrics.
Opening the show from some other part of Bizarro World (aka htraE), Metalachi, “the world's first and only heavy metal mariachi band,” who promise to “Make America Fun Again,” if they can get past the infamous “wall.” (They’re actually from Hollywood.)
Meanwhile up on campus at the Van Duzer, it’s something else you’ve never heard before: Black Violin, a jazzy, hip-hopesque band with two classically-trained string players, Kev Marcus and Wil B (aka Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste) on violin and viola respectively, backed by a drummer and a turntablist. Drawing inspiration from the late great black swing era jazz fiddler Stuff Smith, they borrowed the name from the man’s last album, Black Violin. Kev and Wil say, “As black men living in America, we understand challenges and we also understand the power of ‘I can’t,’ yet we decide to live by and promote the power of ‘I can.’ We realize that every opportunity to connect our diverse fans is an opportunity to break down the barriers that separate us, empower individuality and encourage progress.”
Later at the Jam, it’s a Whomp Wednesday “Sound Culture” show with the return of Angel Rubio-Hale aka OnHell, a producer who used to live in Humboldt then relocated to Oakland and joined forces with bass-heavy label STYLS, short for “stop taking your life so seriously” (not that Angel doesn’t take things seriously).
Sharing the bill: Dub Smugglers, a reggae-ish sound system all the way from Manchester, UK, and Tanasa Ras, a Humboldt homegrown type, associated with the Void sound system provided by Bass Craft. “The only good system is a sound system,” they claim.
More on a Wednesday? Really? Really. At the Alibi, upsidedowncross presents black metal from Arcata’s Ash Borer, just back from a West Coast tour behind a new release, The Irrepassable Gate, that took them to seven cities in seven days, up to BC and down to LA. They’re joined by a second black metal band, Zelosis, from somewhere in “rural California.” What is black metal? It’s about as dark as anything gets, and like metal, it’s heavy. There are guitars involved. ’Nuff said.
Strings and jam
Thursday at the Jam, celebrate PC’s Bday Bash with The Humboldt Jam Collective. You say you don’t understand? Well, PC would be Pete Ciotti, owner, pizzamaker, occasional DJ and everything else at the Jam with his wife Rose. He also plays in several bands of a jammish nature and it’s his party so he’ll play drums and maybe guitar with the HumJamCollective exploring the world of jam, everything from blackberry to space and back. HJC draws on too many local bands to list, all of them based on improvisation. In short, it’s a party. HB PC! Eat cake! (&jam@Jam…)
At the Crib that night (Thursday), “with the new and unpredictable socio-political era about to descend upon us, it’s likely time to immerse ourselves in the truth and beauty to be found in creative expression,” says The Cribmaster. His creative old friend John Stowell is in town with his “suave” guitar “an ideal antidote to the uncertainty many of us are feeling in this week of foreboding. He presents a superficially calming vision, beautiful melodies exquisitely played and presented in his Buddha-like serenity.” You know the rest of the drill: bread, soup and drink at 6 p.m. Music at 7, pay for it. Om optional.
Thursday at the Goat/Miniplex, former Arcata gal and HSU alum Caitlin Jemma returns from somewhere on the road. (She now calls Eugene home.) She’s a folky songwriter, with a guitar or banjo, often with her fiddler Megan Graham. They’re on the road with accordionist/multi-instrumentalist Kalei Yamanoha and Oddjob Ensemble, an organic multiculti “musical pretzel” offering a largely instrumental take on old timey jazz and progressive music.
Caitlin just returned from a “reenergizing week” in Mexico. “The shuttle driver said as he was dropping me off, ‘Well, now back to the real world,’ which inspired some thoughts. For one, when and where does this so called ‘real world’ occur? When most people talk about the ‘real world’ they are speaking from a place of enduring, instead of enjoying. What would happen if you fell deeply in love with what you do in this life? Today is filled with beautiful moments of opportunity to embrace mystery and pursue magic … The real world is waiting for the real you to start showing up and being present!” Personally, I need an antidote to the surreal world that’s been bumming me out.
The next night at the Goat (as in Friday) the headliner is Ohtis, a post-pop/folk duo out of Detroit built around the songs of Sam Swinson with his old friend Adam Pressley adding sonic touches. They were high school friends who made records together early on, only to find Sam pulled into the dark side of drugs. They reunited when Sam was in rehab, writing new songs about his new life and faith in the future. They’re on the road with “high and lonesome rocker” Levi Thomas from Oakland. Local support comes from the amazing one-human-band Mister Moonbeam.
Also on Friday, Marty O’Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra play neo-folk/blues at Humboldt Brews. “Playing in Humboldt has always felt like a hometown show,” said Ben Berry, the band’s stand-up bass player, who noted the Santa Cruz band’s video for Chuck Johnson’s Humboldt Live Sessions series has been viewed over 70,000 times. “The video has earned fans all over the world, for one couple in Germany, viewing the video inspired them to move to Humboldt County.” The soulful version of “Cold Canary Gaslight” features Marty on banjo with a fiddler and a bassist (not Ben), but Mr. O’Reilly also favors resophonic guitar, and he’s damn good. I’ve always liked that vid too, in part because it was shot in Arcata’s Redwood Park not far from my house.
Their “Deep Pacific Tour” finds them on the road with Royal Jelly Jive, a neo-swing outfit from the North Bay. (They also did a Humboldt Live Session.) It seems like something right up my alley with accordionist Jesse Lemme Adams, horns, and Lauren Bjelde, a singer with a smoky voice reminiscent of Amy Winehouse. The two bands have been writing new music together that features members of both combos, that should work.
Yes, it’s true. Matt ’n’ Adam of Missing Link are getting ready to say goodbye to Soul Night. Just five to go, with SN#63 Saturday night at Humbrews beginning a countdown to the end of an era. Come shake a tailfeather with the boys. I’m told #Jaymorg and DJ Red will be around for further dance parties, but it just won’t be quite the same. Dance! Dance! Dance!
Saturday at the Westhaven Center for the Arts, you’re invited to “bring a sense of musical adventure and leave those preconceptions in the box at the door” along with a donation, as the self-described “oddball quartet” SquarPeg offers a trip into the zone via “Stranger Chamber Music.” Classically, chamber music was played in palaces for the entertainment of rich folks who, well, live in palaces. Goethe described it (in that case string quartet music) as “four rational people conversing,” but this is something different. Some might debate the rationality of the players, Gregg Moore, Virginia Ryder, Jill Petricca and Rahman “Tinku” Abdur, who forego the more or less string-based instrumentation (violin, viola, cello, etc.) for tuba, trombone, clarinet, bass clarinet, English horn, flute, piccolo, saxophones and tabla, with Gregg occasionally adding banjo or bandola.
Gregg suggests, “considering the abundance of information from other musical cultures at our fingertips via the advances in technology it is not hard to imagine the idea of small acoustic ensembles assimilating some of those influences into a chamber music lexicon reflecting our smaller modern world.” Thus these square pegs force themselves into round holes drawing on “the rhythms and melodic and harmonic structures of such diverse traditions as French musette, Western popular song, Arabic maquam and American jazz” rendered as “strange” music freed from the strictures of what he describes as “comfortable contemporary genres.” Eavesdrop on the conversation, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the former home of Pee Wee’s Market.
A bright morning
Remember that “Good Life” story from the Twilight Zone? It did not end well. The monster was going to make it snow, ruining the crops and bringing starvation for all, but the scared people pretended that was, “a real good thing. And tomorrow ... tomorrow's gonna be a ... real good day!”
In my alternative to that alt. world, there’s a brighter future possible. One where we all “bring the family to Breakfast in Bayside on Sunday (8 a.m. to noon) at the Bayside Grange” with good healthy food, mimosas and music by fiddler Sam McNeill and his students from The Humboldt Music Academy All Stars, delightful kids beaming with pleasure at their new found ability on their fiddles. It’s a wonderful thing to see, especially surrounded by the people of our strong community with an emphasis on unity.
We are all in it together. We’ll make it a brighter day, and beautiful music will fill our hearts. There’s a good life possible. Really.
One more thing. For those whose plans for a bright future include an annual pilgrimage to Black Oak Ranch to hear music at the Kate Wolf Music Festival, the holidays are almost over. At least the “Holiday Ticket” prices for the fest go up after Sunday, Jan. 29, when it shifts to “Early Bird” ticket prices from Jan. 30 - March 26.
Wondering who’s playing? At the top of the bill, it’s John Prine, Bruce Cockburn, The Waifs, Brandi Carlile, Dar Williams and Blind Pilot all artists who have a folkish influence in Kate Wolf homage. But then you have Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Baka Beyond, Rising Appalachia, who range wider, even pulling in the electronica crowd.
Who else? Paul Thorn Band, Paper Bird and Las Cafeteras. They have local faves Front Country and Poor Man's Whiskey and bands I know little about: Dirty Cello, Rainbow Girls, The Sam Chase & the Untraditional, Keith Greeninger with Dayan Kai, The Cave Singers, Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams, plus undoubtedly more as yet unannounced. Get your tickets here now, and watch this space for more details as they emerge.