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March 16, 2006

Heading: The Hum: Everything Just Stopped, photo of Orpheus Supertones

The term "old time music" is not particularly specific. It's usually applied to pre-bluegrass Appalachian string band music, but as the old time fiddler/banjo picker Walt Koken points out on his web page ( it can also refer to a broad range of string music.

Having played and studied old time tunes for 40-plus years, Walt travels out of Chester County, Penn., playing this old music, almost always with Clare Milliner, a fiddler who has been learning and annotating fiddle tunes for 20-some-odd years herself. They play and record as a duo, but also as a quartet with the dramatic name Orpheus Supertones, where they are joined by another veteran East Coast-based banjo picker/guitarist, Pete Peterson, and by vocalist/guitarist Kellie Allen. Lured out west for a bluegrass festival in Sonoma County, the band is playing a series of gigs in California, including a Saturday night show at the Red Radish in Blue Lake.

"We're just playing the music we love," said Walt calling from Berkeley, where the band was playing a house concert. "It's really pretty much based on the recording from the '20s. We don't write music, we don't play bluegrass style, we just play old time music. It's based on old fiddle tunes, simple arrangements, old square dance tunes, things by the Carter Family, Charlie Poole, things like that."

The band's name? It's simple, says Walt. "Pete plays a Supertone banjo. I play an Orpheum. Of course, Orpheus was the legendary Greek who played music so beautiful that everything just stopped. That was the legend, anyway."

This is a band with a mission. Walt and Clare have assembled a collection more than 1,500 tunes and would like to produce a book of these manuscripts, along with a searchable database where one might find a song by its title, source, tuning, key or mode, or even look for the collector who "found" it. To that end, they established the nonprofit Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music based in Greenville, Del. Looking for help they've applied to the National Endowment for the Arts a couple of times, but no luck so far. Walt complains, "This book of transcriptions is a monumental undertaking, and the beginning of a way to study traditional tunes as they are related all across the country, but our government, which sets up copyright incentives for a billion-dollar commercial music industry, cannot seem to find a sensible way to promote its own musical heritage."

What can you do? Well you could start by going to hear them play at the Radish; they'll have CDs along, so you could buy a couple. Or if you really want to play an important role in preserving old time music, you can make a tax-deductible donation to BFOTM. Give 'em $100 or more and they guarantee a copy of the book, when it's published.

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The night before Orpheus hits town, on Saint Patrick's Day, The Pine Box Boys play what might be described as alt. old timey music at Six Rivers Brewery. Guitarist/vocalist/bandleader Lester T. Raww is joined by banjo man Alex "Possum" Carvidi, Col. Timothy Leather on bass and S. "Your Uncle" Dodds on drums, playing macabre self-penned songs like "I Had To Cut Her," the murder ballad "I Kept Her Heart" and "Just A Crush," a dark tale about a serial killer that wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Also on Sat. Pat's Day, and with even less connection to anything Irish, it's a hard-edged hip hop show at Mazzotti's featuring Da Fyre Dapartment, led by "Fyre Chief" Swifty McVay from the D12 crew out of Detroit, touring with DJ Salam Wreck. Those who know their recent hip hop history will recognize D12 as associates of Eminem. The group's first disc, Devil's Night, sold over 4 million copies. The Arcata show, produced by Proper Productions (who brought in KRS-1) also includes Elision from Subliminal Sabotage, and a couple of dance troupes: Real Hip Bellydance and Humboldt Breakers. (Did you guess that the latter are breakdancers?)

There's plenty more music that Friday night, lots with Irish connections (see "Everybody's Irish on St. Pat's Day" in our calendar section). Rock fans may want to hit the show at Brogi's Boiler Room with Irish-type punk by The Smashed Glass, a band that started out as a Pogues cover band, then got out of hand with a bunch or original tunes and sped up trad Celtic numbers. They still do "Streams of Whiskey" by The Pogues, so feel free to make a request. Joining them at Brogi's are The Ian Fays and the anything-but-Irish The Buffy Swayze.

The Irish pub Kelly O'Brien's has Celtic tunes by Seabury Gould early in the evening Friday, followed by Kulica (not Irish). Mobile Chiefing Unit jams on Irish reggae (not really) at Humboldt Brews.

Friday night at Cecil's it's Midnight Souls, three musicians who met on the job at Wildberries and started playing together six months ago. Band member Thomas James notes that everyone in the band is a songwriter. "All I can say is that we don't think about what kind of music we are writing when we write a song, we simply create from the heart. We all connect very well on a personal and musical level, and we feel like we are really on to something." In addition to the group show Friday, James plays a solo gig at Old Town Coffee on Saturday.

San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Martin Dory plays at Old Town Coffee Friday night, at The Catch Café in Trinidad Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.) then again at Chapala Sunday at 6 p.m. Says Martin of his craft, "What better challenge than to help explain and move people with song. If I scan the entire breadth of what the world has to offer, great songs, for me personally, have done more to capture the complexity of existence than anything else out there. Whether they are trying to communicate depression, love, party time, call-to-action, great songs are phenomenal at transferring a state of mind, so much better than anti-depressants or alcohol or drugs. Are there studies on this? There must be."

It's another double-shot evening at the Blue Lake Casino Saturday: This time it's Papa Grows Funk, a funk rock outfit from New Orleans led by John "Papa" Gros, who also plays with George Porter Jr. (of the Meters). While they rock the Steelhead Lounge, the 10-piece powerhouse Banda Pachuco will undoubtedly fill the Sapphire Place with fans of Mexican banda music. They've been around for 12 or so years and count among their accomplishments a platinum album, Sabor a Chocolate, released in 1995.


You're guess is as good as mine as to how a holiday dedicated to the patron Saint of Ireland, the man who led the country away from Paganism towards Catholicism, evolved into a party where we drink beer turned green with food coloring. Green or not, Irish pride rules this weekend, with music with any sort of Irish flavor as the soundtrack to several events. Among the celebrations: The 2nd annual Irish Gold Peace Benefit and Brew on St. Patrick's Day proper (Friday, March 17) at the Mateel Community Center. Musical guests include Shana Morrison and Caledonia, led by the American-born singer/songwriter daughter of that fine Irish s/s Van Morrison. Adding a touch of irony, the opening act is The Druid Sisters Tea Party, a neo-tribal women's band who mix Irish fiddle with pagan jungle drums. The event, starting at 6 p.m., also offers traditional Irish dinner and beers from seven different micro-breweries, all for $30 with proceeds going to Community Cornerstone, EPIC, Mattole Restoration Council, KMUD, Friends of the Eel River and Thoya-Oya Children's Charitable Foundation. Call 923-3368 or go to for further details.

Also on Friday at the Van Duzer (at 8 p.m.), a concert by Celtic fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas. While the casual listener might assume this is trad Irish music, it's not. Fraser is Scottish, in fact he's a leading teacher of the art of Scottish fiddling who has been running a couple of fiddler camps, the Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School in Sonoma County and another on the Isle of Skye in the home country. Concert admission is $25/$23 seniors, children. $20 for HSU students. Call 826-3928 for reservations.

The most Irish concert of St. Pat's weekend is on Saturday at the Morris Graves Museum, where Annette Griffin, a native of County Galway, plays her harp and sings traditional Irish songs, just as she does back home, where she is the resident harpist at Ashford Castle, an 800-year-old estate in western Ireland. Showtime at the Graves is 7p.m. Admission: $10. 442-0278 for reservations.

Of course County Humboldt, being a green sort of place, boasts it's own fair share of Celtic musicians, among them Good Company, a fine Celtic quartet, who will be found on Friday at Gallagher's Irish Pub and Restaurant at the Eagle House in Old Town, then on Saturday at Avalon, both shows starting at 6:30 p.m.

Another local Irish combo, Scatter the Mud, led by Seabury Gould, performs St. Patrick's eve, Thursday, March 16, at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates starting at 7 p.m. On St. Patrick's Day, Seabury plays solo at Kelly O'Brien's Pub in Eureka from 5-7 p.m. Then on Saturday it's a post-St. Pat's celebration at the Westhaven Center for the Arts starting at 7:30 p.m., with Seabury joined by fiddler Judy Hageman from StM. Admission is $8/$5 elders and children.

And last but not least, at the Red Radish in Blue Lake St. Patrick's Day, it's a traditional Irish session, a casual gathering of musicians swapping jigs, reels and ballads. Fair guess would be some of ye olde Primal Drone Society may show up. The tunes should start by around 7, no cover. Since the Radish is a vegetarian restaurant there'll be no corned beef, but they'll have some sort of potato dish, and beer. Call 668-5994 for more details.

Coming up on Tuesday, March 21, at Six Rivers it's an unusual duo called Cosmic Starfish, in which the acoustic songs of Jeffrey Randall Snyder are augmented with electronic production by a guy who calls himself Adrien75, who, at least according to the Cosmic Starfish website, "blends the psychedelic elements of IDM [intelligent dance music] with the warm approachability of folk."

In the indie rock vein we have a show next Wednesday, March 22, with locals Strix Vega and touring band Franklin Delano, who despite the reference to one of my favorite presidents, come from Bologna, Italy. While their inspiration is American folk and blues, they tend to spin their songs into space, creating a post-folk akin to post-rock.

One more show worth a mention: The return of Kickball, a bouncy rock band from Olympia who were just here for a really cool show at Sacred Grounds. (I caught the tail end of it.) They play a house concert this Thursday, March 16, at the Green House with The Strangers, another great Oly band, which not coincidentally includes many Kickball members, and their friend Craig Peters, about whom I know nothing. Sorry, I can't tell you exactly where the Green House is. Ask some young scenster and they'll know. I will offer a couple of hints: It is not a house made of glass and there's no connection to St. Patrick's Day.

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