The Hum ~ 2/8 ~ Facing absurdity

It seems like someone has hijacked every conversation in America, on all social networks, on TV, in talk among friends.

On his latest platform, Facebook, newsman Dan Rather uses theatre as a metaphor for current events.

“If all the world’s a stage, and Donald Trump is in the role as President, he is playing the part unlike anyone before him. And the reviews, not only from many here in the United States, but from other countries around the world, are bad. (Russia excepted.) For many Americans, in the weeks since the inauguration, we have whipsawed from tragedy, to farce, to the theater of the absurd.”

Indeed, absurdity is everywhere. What are we to do? Perhaps the arts can serve as a refuge in a time where we all seem like refugees. Where do you find sanctuary?

Charlie King and Bev Grant

We’ll start with Wednesday, Feb. 8, when we’ll find Charlie King and Bev Grant in the Crib. The Cribmeister describes the duo as “Vintage Lefty Singer/Songwriters,” who will have something political in mind for a tour they call, “A Century of Song—Still Going Strong!!!”

Bev Grant grew up singing and playing up in Portland, starting with a band with her two sisters before heading for New York City, where she devoted herself to topical songwriting and social activism in the ’60s. Describing herself as an activist, a feminist and a singer/songwriter — in that order — she also sings with the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus. (I imagine she was marching somewhere with women the other day.)

Charlie King is another songwriter on a parallel path. He recently released a career retrospective, So Far, So Good, which he describes as “the soundtrack of my life traveling, singing and writing about the people and the issues that inspire and define the road we’ve traveled together,” covering 40-plus years of songwriting. Expect stories and songs about the labor movement and other left-leaning causes. Doors at 6 p.m. for soup, bread, talk, etc. with music at 7. More info? Try and/or  or (707) 499-8516.

Ralph White

Legendary Austin musician Ralph White plays at The Goat/Miniplex Friday night. As Merrick put it, he’s “the real deal.” Back in the ’90s, he was part of a band with the great double entendre name, The Bad Livers. They bent their fiddles, banjos, etc. to their own devices, creating their own sound, avoiding -grass categorization. As an Austin writer explained it, “seems to inhabit a musical dimension all its own, a Twilight Zone of Bad Liverdom.” With the Livers fading in his taillights, he took off on a bicycle trip through Africa where he picked up an mbira (and/or kalimba) and worked out a new sound, deemed “Afrolachian.”

As Ralph told yet another Austin writer, “I wanted to play something original like that stuff but didn't want to become what I called an ‘-oid’ – someone who plays one type of music and gets it down really good. I’m not very taught as a musician, and at first I was kind of embarrassed of it being like that, but now I don’t try to stop it from happening … A lot of my music is just me playing a melody I couldn't figure out.”

Theo Bleckmann

Same night (Friday) at HSU’s Fulkerson Recital Hall, the Redwood Jazz Alliance begins what they call the “spring portion” of their 2016-17 season of concerts (we have too much winter yet to come, but whatever) with an evening with vocalist Theo Bleckmann, leading his Elegy combo with Shai Maestro on piano, Ben Monder guitar, Jorge Roeder double-bass and John Hollenbeck drums.

Elegy is Theo’s debut for the ECM Records label, ECM short for “Edition of Contemporary Music.” Founded in Germany in 1969, the label was known for “jazz” although that term is loosely applied, and as Wikipedia notes, “ECM’s artists often refuse to acknowledge boundaries between genres.” Searching YouTube for his wide ranging music, from a set of Kate Bush songs to a piece by 15th Century composer Guillaume de Machaut, you’ll find little you’d call “jazz.” (Incidentally, the de Machaut YouTube was recorded at NYC’s Tribeca “New Music” Festival, which is as good a genre-fixation as any.)

Describing the Elegy work, Bleckmann explains, “These are all songs that in some way relate to death and transcendence in some existential way.” Transcendent seems a perfect word for the music and songs, including a zen piece, “To Be Shown to Monks at a Certain Temple.” He says the zen poem offers advice that seems timely, “It’s about not giving up, like, what are you complaining about? Just keep going …”     

Bleckmann is also presenting a free “open, public pre-show workshop” from 3 to 4 p.m. Friday, also in Fulkerson Hall. Sounds like a splendid way to find solace on an afternoon. (Showtime later at 8 p.m.)

Square Dancers or Barn Dance

Saturday at the new improved Arcata Vets Hall (I say “improved” since they just a opened an in-hall bar), Humboldt Folklife Society presents a Barn Dance with live music by Striped Pig Stringband and calling by Lyndsey Battle.

Years ago I did a story for The Hum about the Pig boys, at the time they were a stringy “old time” (don’t call them old timey) Humboldt-something-grass band with a dream: to play dance music with a caller, just the way people have done for many years. Square dancing was something I learned in my California elementary school starting in third or fourth grade, so it was in our Cali blood. Of course, by the time I was a high schooler (and started getting high after school), square dancing seems impossibly, well, square.

That all changed in recent years with the renaissance of stringbands and the like (Oh Brother Where Art Thou? played a role in the re-up), and “old time” was cool for the new generation. I don’t know how it worked in the rest of the country, but the Northwest got the bug bad and hipsters in plaid and big skirts in Portland, Seattle and vicinity starting to have “barn dances” with callers calling the sometime intricate moves and do-si-does etc.

The Humboldt Folklifers and Striped Pig got a couple of name callers to come down for dances here. (There really were some callers with big names in the circuit, mostly dudes.) They taught some locals calling, and Tara Stetz became the local caller. That partnership worked well until Tara got a job (something wild, I forget what) and the squares were back to square one.

There were others who tried, but calling takes skill — it’s a calling — and not really something you take up casually. You have to boss people without sounding bossy to get a room full of folks going in circles and squares and so on. (I should mention the Folklifers also engage in contra dancing and what’s called country or round dances, which draw on British/Irish and other relatively un-American traditions, but we’ll save that discussion for another day when Sue Moon is leading a dance.)

This brings us around to Striped Pig again, and their latest caller Lyndsey Battle, a dear friend of mine who is talented in so many ways: She fronts her own eponymous band, she took over for Lila Nelson as host of “Meet Me in the Morning,” a folkish radio show on KHUM, she recently produced a cool kids music album for the First 5 California preschool program with an all-star all-local cast, she teaches ukulele to kids and adults, she makes prize-winning cider, has a cool fiancé (he makes prize-winning beer) and she’s raising one of the coolest kids I know. 

The event features It’s Alive Kombucha, beer, wine, pizza, baked goods and a raffle. The whole thing is a benefit, which barn dance generally are, this one for Arcata High School Safe & Sober Graduation sponsored by Tiger’s, Inc., which I’m guessing is a booster group (although the Inc. makes it sound like a business).

The missing toe from The Big Lebowski

The other day, I was listening to “Fresh Air” on KHSU (noon Monday thru Friday), a show with Jeff Bridges and his Oscar-nominated film Hell or High Water, which is up for “Best Picture.” (Bridges is up for “Supporting Actor.”) Of course, the conversation turned to The Big Lebowski.

He said when the movie shows up on TV, he often finds he can’t help himself, he gets sucked in and keeps watching one scene after another. It’s been on HBO lately and I found the same thing happened to me: I stayed up until 3 a.m. watching.

Get ready, The Dude is coming to Humboldt. At the Eureka Theater Saturday, Dell’Arte International presents The Dude and Mary Jane: a Match Made in Humboldt, a double-feature pairing two films that go together, Mary Jane: A Musical Potumentary and The Big Lebowski with a very important guest, the original Dude, Jeff Dowd, who the Coen Bros used as an inspiration for the character played by Bridges.

Jeff Dowd aka The Dude

The Dude will talk between the films and do a Q&A “talkback” after. (See for timings.) The night before, Friday, you have an opportunity to going bowling with The Dude at LeBOWLski Night at E&O Bowling in Glendale (near Blue Lake, but technically in McKinleyville for some unknown reason). For high rollers, Dell’Arte also has “exclusive event is open only those who purchase VIP All Event Passes” (for the whole shebang on Thursday, in the Carlo Theatre at 8 p.m.) Someone will abide.

Mr. Humboldt 2013

Well, I rambled a bit and didn’t get to some other very important events. (VIEs?) Showing the absurd range of culture behind the Redwood Curtain we have the following at roughly the same time Saturday night in Arcata: A Club Triangle All Ages Drag Show at the Jam; the wink, wink, nudge, nudge comic Mr. Humboldt Pageant No. 4 at the Arcata Theatre Lounge; at the Bat Cave (a semi-underground club) some bands, Genocide Skin (industrial power-violence from Oakland) and punky Cross Contamination and the action-comedy band Rush Hour IV, both from Arcata; and at the Arcata Playhouse Ferndale Rep is part way through a two-weekend run of Arthur Miller’s political play All My Sons. Also Saturday at the Sequoia Conference Center in Eureka, my friend Thomas Dunklin will be talking fish at the Peak of the Run Steelhead BBQ Dinner hosted by Humboldt Steelhead Days. Guess what’s for dinner?

Mad River Chinook, steelhead, suckers and juveniles_10/18/12 from Thomas B. Dunklin on Vimeo.

Absurdity abides. Embrace it. Just keep going. What else can you do?