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March 23, 2006

Heading: The Hum by Bob Doran, I'd Rather be a Musician, photo of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies

Yes, it's that time of year again: Dixieland time -- but wait, we don't use that word anymore, at least not in the name. Now it's the 16th annual Redwood Coast Jazz Festival. They dropped "Dixieland" a couple of years back, but that doesn't mean the festival has changed all that much. They've added some Cajun bands and this year a Latin jazz combo, and there are bands that play more swing music than trad jazz, but the interpretation of the word "jazz" is still pretty narrow. You won't find any bebop, or jazz funk, or the wide-open vision of jazz you see at something like the New Orleans Jazz Fest. For the most part the focus is still the same as always: It's a festival designed to bring in dedicated Dixieland fans who follow the trad jazz circuit the same way Deadheads used to follow the Dead. The trouble is, that audience, mostly senior citizens, "don't get around much anymore," as the Duke might have put it. Thus the expansion into what they call "alternative" styles, and the push to draw the local audience to one big Saturday night event.

Who are the big guns, the names that are supposed to pull in a younger demographic on Saturday night? Well, we have Pinetop Perkins, a 93-year-old blues piano legend from Mississippi, backed by the Paul deLay Band. I'm sure he'll be great, but it's more what you'd expect at Blues by the Bay than at the Jazz Festival.

Then there's the infamous Cherry Poppin' Daddies, whose name will be familiar to those (like me) who appreciated the flash-in-the-pan swing revival of the late '90s. I tracked down founder and front man Steve Perry, at his home outside of Eugene, home base since he came out West to attend college at U. of Oregon. He recently returned to college to complete a degree in molecular biology, but decided that lab life was not for him. "I'm interested in the science side of it, but the work is boring to me, I'd rather be a musician," he told me.

I mentioned that we had actually met years ago when I attended the 1998 Warped Tour, mostly a skate-punk affair, where the Daddies shared the main stage with NoFX, Rancid, Bad Religion and a nascent Ozomatli among others. "The Warped Tour is a gigantic hole in my memory," he admitted. "By that time we'd been touring for a year solid and basically dealing with low-level sickness. I can't think what I would have said back then."

At the time the band was at its peak. The short-lived swing revival was raging and the Daddies had charted their big hit, "Zoot Suit Riot" from the double-platinum album of the same name. Short-lived is a key phrase. "It was fated to fade," said Perry of the neo-swing movement. "I probably said that at the time."

One topic we touched on was the controversy that has always clung to the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' risqué moniker. Back then there were venues that would not allow the band's name on the marquee. The complaints haven't stopped. When the headliners for the local jazz fest were announced, cyber-pundit Capt. Buhne announced, "I think I need a shower," in an attack on the "sleaze festival," then quoted from an incest survivors' website that CPD "...brings to mind the idea of an older man (a father no less) who goes around having sex with virgins."

Perry noted, "We have a new booking agent and this [kind of complaint] has happened twice since we signed with him. It hadn't happened for years. When we were in the news all the time people heard it enough that it didn't elicit a response. I think it's just that people have completely forgotten about us, and that era. So now we're back to pre-1998 thinking. Of course, it's a way crazier time now than it was back then. It's like we've returned to the Victorian era."

In the beginning the Daddies picked up horns and started playing ska and swing as a reaction to the guitar-heavy grunge era the dominated the Northwest at the end of the '80s. Says Perry, "I chose those styles because I feel antipathy for the mainstream -- the irony is, when they dismissed us I got mad. It was problematic, but it was my problem. Then when you get into the music business and record labels, you see it's just fucking fools top to bottom. We always felt people were trying to stuff us into stupid holes. The kind of music we played and what we represented was threatening and irritating to Americans.

"I dislike American culture, but at the same time I love it. I'm an American. I guess I just dislike the provincialism and the fear of refinement, of intellectualism and sexuality this is American culture, so I always chose things that are a `fuck you' to that."

With that in mind, I wondered how aware he is of the nature of the festival they're about to play. "I know it's a family festival," he replied. "We do jazz festivals. I'm not going to take my pants off. They'll love us. I'll cut out the bad words and we'll do the things we're supposed to do. I play to the audience. It's been that way our whole career."

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Looking for the opposite of Jazz Fest music? Stop by Brogi's Boiler Room Thursday, March 23, for a blast of metal madness from Locust Furnace, Mourning Stiffness and Reverse Order. The following night Friday, March 24, Brogi's brings in Tierra Del Sureste, a 13-piece Mariachi band playing horn-heavy Mexicali music.

The alt. crowd has a wide array of choices this weekend. Friday, March 24, at Sacred Grounds catch Vitiver, an avant-folk outfit led by Andy Cabic from Devendra Banhart's band. They're touring with alt. Americana band Currituck Co. Filling out the bill: Sacred Grounds barista Deric Mendes and local heroes the Starving Weirdos (check their interview in the latest Vice mag, follow the link at

Friday, March 24, at Empire Squared, on the dark end of Old Town, it's Swan Island, an all-women punk band from Portland, plus a mess of local slam poets. (Early show: 7 p.m. start.)

On Sunday, March 26, at Synapsis Gallery (next to Empire Squared) it's The Volumen, a heavy new wave band from Missoula, who "sing songs about space, sexy astronauts, kinky monkeys and robots in love." The show also includes The Pharmacy and Yes Oh Yes from Olympia, and Eureka's Professional Superheroes, an indie rock cover band that dresses up like superheroes (they're my latest MySpace friends) and, allegedly, both Chrises from Thee Eureka Garbage Co. Not sure when it starts; check and see if they know.

In the world of reggae we have the return of Toots and the Maytals, legends whose history goes back to the beginning of the ska era. (Toots claims he made up the word reggae.) They're at the Mateel Sunday night with local drum and dance troupe, Kafo Djun Djun. Warning, they say it all the time, but this one probably will sell out.

And speaking of Reggae (capital R) I misspoke when I said there are 12,000 tickets on sale. That's the eventual goal, but this year there are just 10,000. A usually reliable source tells me the headliner will likely be Sinead O'Connor, yes, the Irish singer. Her latest album, Throw Down Your Arms, is a reggae thing with Sly and Robbie, who will be touring with her this summer.

I'm running out of time and space (damn that time/space continuum). No room to talk about the three night run at the Alibi (Sat.-Mon. see Music & More) nor to wax poetic about the H.F. Radio all ages show next Tuesday, March 28, at the Milk Barn (Spear Ave. and Janes Rd. in Arcata) with The Juanita Family and Runaway Truckramps (think women singers in alt. country bands).

One more show I must mention: the unique pairing of The Great Salvation with Nucleus Saturday night at Humboldt Brews. Both bands are learning a bunch of Dixieland jazz for the occasion, well, not really, but it'll be a great show anyway.

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