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May 4, 2006

Heading: The Hum, Wild & Wide-ranging by BOB DORAN

The e-mail from Vagabond Opera was intriguing, offering "passionate Bohemian vaudvillany, gut-bucket swing, Paris hot jazz, Arabic bellydance, tangos, Ukrainian folk-punk ballads, klezmer and vigorous originals mingling with Absurdist, Neo-Classical and European Cabaret style..." It sounded wild. I asked them to send a CD, which had an equally wild, wide-ranging feel.

My conversation with Vagabond Opera founder/accordionist Eric Stern was also wild and wide-ranging. I began with a simple request — "tell me about the genesis of the band" — and with occasional breaks to soothe his three-month-old son, Jascha, Eric launched into his life story. It began in Philadelphia, where he grew up in a bookstore run by his anarcho-syndicalist parents and which had a record collection that included music from all over the world. Despite the leftist leanings of his folks, he became interested in opera, and pursued operatic training even though he realized that it tended toward elitism. "At first opera was a beautiful, wide-open, wonderful world, but it became narrower and narrower. And my peers weren't going to opera I also had a broadening appreciation of my own Jewish and Eastern European heritage, and I realized that there was much more of a mix to be obtained."

And thus horizons, and his musical palate expanded. He explained that his bandmates share his broad interests and include ethno-musicologists and jazz players. But, I wondered, where did the accordion come in? That launched another long tale, one that involved a trip west, when he "tuned in, turned on and dropped out," took a mind-expanding visit to a Rainbow Gathering and made the acquaintance of a woman in Portland, Sylvia. "I met her in her garden and fell head over heels," he noted. Unfortunately, she eventually dumped him. He could not get her off his mind, at least not until the day he saw an accordion in a Philly pawn shop window and went inside and played it for an hour of more. "I realized I hadn't thought of Sylvia the entire time," he recalled.

He would eventually busk his way back across country to Oregon, assemble some like-minded musicians in Portland's wide-open scene and begin his experiment in re-thinking the idea of opera. The rest is history. Vagabond Opera makes its first visit to Humboldt next week, playing Wednesday, May 10, at the Red Radish. Absynthe Quintet opens the show. Be there. I will.

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Speaking of opera, the San Francisco Opera Center Singers close the Eureka Chamber Music Series season on Friday, May 5, with a performance at Calvary Lutheran Church by five vocalists performing selections by Monteverdi, Handel, Mozart, Bizet and others.

Les Scher is a jazzman par excellence, a longtime jazz deejay ("Lester Leaps In," Sundays at 7 p.m. on KMUD), a founder of the Backwoods Jazz Assoc. (of Jazz on the Lake fame) and a saxophonist to boot (Equinox etc.). Les turns 60 next week, but his birthday party is Friday evening at the Mateel, a jazzy Cinco de Mayo shindig featuring music by the great sax player John Handy playing with Paraguayan harpist Carlos Reyes, and an endless jazz jam by Les' friends, including members of the aforementioned Backwoods Jazz Assoc. and Equinox and others (Yolanda Nickell, Mary Jo Casasanta, Les' daughters Sarah and Paula) and of course Les on sax. There's no cover for the BYOB affair, but donations to the KMUD Spring Fun Drive are encouraged, and if you can't make it down, it'll be broadcast live on KMUD between 8 and 10 p.m.

Friday at the Kinetic Lab in Arcata, it's the annual rent party/open house. Along with Kinetic miniature golf and other madness, there's music by JPG and the usual suspects: The Art Band and Spudgun (also playing Saturday at Old Town Coffee for Arts Alive!).

"Jahwaiian" reggae band Natural Vibrations is working its way down the West Coast and will stop in Humboldt Thursday, May 4, for an all-ages show at Arcata's Portuguese Hall. Reggae fans will recall the band's appearance at Reggae on the River a few years back, an experience immortalized in a song on the band's latest album titled "Reggae on the River." SoHum rockers NPK open. They also have other NoHum shows this weekend: Friday they're at the Pearl Lounge, Saturday they're part of the massive May Daze show in HSU's West Gym.

The May Daze thing, presented by the HSU Snowboarding Club and organized by Bernie Steinberg (remember RBS Syndrome?) mixes hip hop and reggae. Underground rapper Busdriver of Project Blowed fame, tops the bill, which also includes SoHum/Arcata hip hoppers Subliminal Sabotage and revived SoHum reggae band Massagana, now living in Arcata and fronted by vocalist Ishi Dube (both bands are booked for this summer's Reggae).

You'll also find the Subliminal crew Friday at Humboldt Brews for keyboardist/beatmeister Brian Swizlo's Hip Hop Lounge revival. If you follow this column, you'll remember that Swiz is backing several young SoHum rappers as part of the S.S. band, along with former Hip Hop Lounge/Freestyle Kings cohorts and Pete and Piet from Nucleus, plus Bernie S.

Also on Saturday night, at the Bayside Grange, it's the Miranda Kelly Benefit Concert and Auction, raising funds to help cover 21-year-old Miranda's medical bills (yet another example of the failings of our nation's health system). The entertainment line-up covers a very broad territory, with groovesters Kulica, the mighty rock of The Hitch, blues by Buddy Reed and the Rip It Ups, tropical sounds of the Arcata High Steel Drum Band and a new band, Peeping Thomas and the Brokeback Mountain Boys, who play what they describe as a power-pop/comedy/pop-punk. Bring your checkbook for the requisite silent auction and raffle.

Saturday night at Indigo it's a party celebrating KSLG's 5th Anniversary, with music by JPG, Monster Women and Dragged by Horses, plus cake, prizes and a chance to meet the deejays.

Out at the Logger Bar in Blue Lake Saturday night, it's a makeshift trad country band called Donny Barnyard and the Dust Devils, led by guitarist/steel player Donny Holliman. According to Dust Devil drummer Peggy Martinez, the group came together to raise funds for a planned journey to Nashville by Donny and his songwriting buddy, Ryan Stewart.

If the roots of country is more your style — bluegrass, old timey and the like — check out the Blue Ox May Day Living History and Artisans Faire with Huckleberry Flint, Devil's Dream, Earth Rhythms, 2nd Hand Band and The Tumbleweeds. (Tumbleweeds play cowboy tunes later on at Chapala, their usual haunt —a big up to Honest Ted for shutting down Chapala Monday and hitting the street for the immigration protest.)

For traditional music of a different sort, kind of Cape Breton-Canadian/Celtic/bluegrass style, you've got ace fiddler Natalie McMaster playing Sunday at the Van Duzer. This show may lean towards bluegrass since her latest disc, Blueprint, finds her working with guys like Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and Sam Bush. (Don't expect them at HSU.) As of press time, there are still tickets available.

Also at the Duzer, on Friday, May 5, "Ravi Shankar's Festival of India III," featuring Nora Jones' dad (Ravi) on sitar and his other daughter (Nora's half-sister) Anoushka Shankar, another sitar player, plus other assorted Indian masters. Sorry, this one is sold out.

Sunday, May 7, at The Alibi, it's a upsidedowncross show with Alternative Tentacles "educore" artists Bloodhag, whose stated mission is to "use heavy metal music to promote literacy and vice versa," by reading works by sci-fi authors to loud music. Opening, The Lord's Burning Rain, with psychedelic metal.

Upsidedowncross strikes again Tuesday, May 9, this time at Six Rivers with Stovokor, a Klingon death metal band with lyrics only a trekkie will understand, plus Facedowninshit, a stoner crust-metal outfit from North Carolina, and locals Do Not Resuscitate.

Coming up Monday, May 8, at Six Rivers: Vince Herman, gone solo since the breakup of Leftover Salmon. Six Rivs regulars Moses Lincoln Johnson open. (MLJ plays their last show ever at Six Rivers this coming Wednesday, May 10.)

Wednesday night at the Accident Gallery in Eureka, it's the return of Humboldt native Mario Matteoli, lead singer of Austin's Weary Boys, performing songs from his upcoming solo album, Hard Luck Hittin' in a benefit for an indie film project, Don't Forget to Chase the Horses, written and directed by his sister, Maria Matteoli. Showtime 8 p.m.

This just in via a MySpace event invite from The Professional Superheroes: "Tractor Operator from Portland Oregon will be playing at East Side Deli (in Arcata) with The Lucky Ballers, a local bluegrass group. Visit to hear some of his tunes." I did. Sounds pretty good in a mellow alt. folk fashion. That's Saturday at 5:30 p.m. BTW, his page says he's playing with The Professional Superheroes. Could they be aka Lucky Ballers? Your guess is as good as mine.

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