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May 19, 2005

Spontaneous combustion [photo of ryan MacEvoy McCullough playing piano]


The HumPIANO PRODIGY RYAN MacEVOY McCULLOUGH was not thrilled about his graduation outfit. "I just tried on my cap and gown and it looks ridiculous," he told me when I called him at his home in Eureka.

It's not a surprising sentiment coming from an 18-year-old, but there is something unusual about the circumstances. Ryan is not about to graduate from high school with the other kids his age -- he received his diploma from Humboldt State University on Saturday.

He likes to shock people by telling them he is a high school dropout. "With my desire to pursue music I couldn't get the necessary support or inspiration at any of the local public high schools," he says, explaining that he found what he needed studying at HSU with Deborah Clasquin, starting when he was 13.

Ryan began his musical education when he was 2, taking "sol-fa" singing classes at the Humboldt Music Academy. Piano lessons followed when he was 5, but he says he did not get serious about music until he was 11.

Asked if his focus was always on classical music, he says yes, before noting that he does not really like the term classical. "It reduces and puts in a box a tradition that is much more varied than the term would allow. Music is music. It's an alternative form of communication. For me it's a place to seek refuge. Any music is worthwhile."

Ryan says he was never really interested in rock. "I always preferred more complex music," he notes, while admitting that he sometimes listens to "alternative music," Miles Davis and Bill Evans for example.

And while he has experimented with jazz, he says, "Improvisation is not a skill I've fostered." Instead he focuses on the nuance possible with music on the page. "When I'm playing music I try to leave myself enough wiggle room so that I'm forced to make critical decisions. I like to think of performing as creating music on the spot. Even if I've been practicing a piece for months, the music seems more alive if it feels spontaneous."

A good opportunity to experience Ryan's spontaneous combustion comes this weekend as he performs Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, "The Emperor," with the Eureka Symphony Orchestra in concerts on Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21, at First Assembly of God Church in Eureka. The orchestra, under the baton of Maestra Carol Jacobson, also presents Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite," Debussy's "Prelude to Afternoon of the Faun" and Schubert's "Symphony No. 6 in C major."

It's day two of the double shot of twangy psychedelia by The David Nelson Band Friday, May 20, in the Blue Lake Casino's Sapphire Palace. Simultaneously in the casino's Steelhead Lounge Humboldt's rockin'est blues band, The Clint Warner Band, celebrates the release of their first CD, Bad Weather. At press time Clint and company were "just about done" with finishing touches and Clint assures me that the local CD manufacturer, Bongo Boy, will have a supply ready for Friday.

It's a pretty good week for blues. Friday night in addition to Clint's show, you can catch blues legend Guitar Shorty at the Riverwood Inn down in Phillipsville. I'll always remember meeting Shorty during sound check at the now-defunct Hefe's about 10 years ago -- his Humboldt debut. I brought along my 11-year-old son, and when I mentioned he was a fledgling guitarist, Shorty handed him his guitar, unpacked another, and proceeded to spend a half hour teaching him how to play "Purple Haze," a tune he often includes in his set since he was Jimi's brother-in-law.

The blues roll on Saturday night with the Karen Dumont Blues Band at Blue Lake Casino while Kin People (with Earl Thomas) are at Sal's Myrtlewood Lounge, and the all-grown-up guitar prodigy Corby Yates (another Hendrix aficionado) plays at Mazzotti's.

You can also catch the fine local blues trio ShinBone that evening at the Jambalaya. And yes, you read that right, there's music once again at the Jambalaya. I spoke with Jam owner Deborah Lazio about it at the Farmers' Market Saturday (where she caught the end of an amazing pan-African set by Djally Kunda Kouyate); she said her plans were to keep it low-key with a variety of acoustic acts one night a week. Lazio noted that ShinBone's fans (informed via the band's e-list) had already almost filled all the dinner reservations for Saturday night, so if you're interested, it might be best to call ahead. Lazio also confirmed that she is involved in a tentative sale to Justin Ladd, the owner of The Alibi, a deal that could take months to complete, should it work out. And if it does, it will likely mean even more music at the Jam.

There's still more blues next Wednesday, May 25, as Mojo Daddy returns to the Blue Lake Casio's Steelhead Lounge. The relatively new local band has a prestigious gig coming: opening the Sunday show at Blues by the Bay (that's July 9 and 10 at Waterfront Park).

Friday, May 20, the rock trio Kickball rolls in from Olympia for some bouncy pop-tinged tunes at the Placebo, sharing a bill with Lowlights, which is basically Dameon Lee singing dark, dusty, romantic songs about love and loss. Lee has a new album, Dark End Road, due soon from Darla, but when I ran into him at The Alibi last week he mentioned that various glitches have delayed its release. And speaking of The Alibi, you can see Lowlights there on Sunday, May 22, with Que La Chinga providing raucous contrast to Dameon's mellowness.

My favorite Gypsy jazz quintet, Cuckoo's Nest, provides music for shoppers at the Arcata Farmer's Market Saturday, May 21, then plays later that evening at Café Mokka.

Catch some "feral guitar" music by 1/3 Dogbone (aka John King) Saturday afternoon on the patio of the Catch Café up in Trinidad.

Just when you thought ska was dead and gone, a new ska/punk band pops up. The Disappointments premiere their hiccupping take on the classic style Saturday at the Placebo.

Three loud rock bands hit Rumours that night: Top Dead Center, Critical Mass and Entheogen.

There's more rock at Humboldt Brews, where Kids For Sale and Rita Lynn and the ADD Boys play to raise funds for CASA. The advocates for kids are moving into a new facility and, said KFS frontman John Hee, "We want to help out in whatever way possible." Hee, who is also donating his landscaping services to CASA, notes that advocates will be at the show to sign up other volunteers, "in case you want to help too."

Saturday evening at the Westhaven Center for the Arts it's old time cowboy music by The Dead Sea Drifters, a couple of local wranglers, Rabbi "Lefty Les" Scharnberg, who herds llamas, and "Dubious David" Isley, who runs Guinea pigs on his Dow's Prairie ranchland.

Jazzy jams fill Six Rivers Saturday as Marco Benevento and Joe Russo, aka The Benevento/Russo Duo, come to town. To say this organ/drums combo is huge in the jamband world is an understatement. As an illustration look at the recent Jammy Awards, where B/R took one home for "Best New Groove." Their performance included three guest bassists: Mike Gordon from Phish (who works with them regularly), Les Claypool from Primus and Phil Lesh from that little jamband, the Grateful Dead. Up-and-coming New York City jammers RANA open the show; be forewarned, it starts early (8 p.m.).

Meanwhile at the Bayside Grange, reigning Rutabaga Queen Monica Topping hands over her scepter at the annual Rutabaga Ball, a precursor to the upcoming Memorial Day weekend Kinetic madness. The Delta Nationals provide the rock `n' roll soundtrack.

This week's requisite reggae show is on Sunday, May 22, at Six Rivers Brewery with that irie Sonoma County band Groundation backing Apple Gabriel, one of the original members of Israel Vibrations.

Kill Rock Stars recording artists, Two Ton Boa return to Arcata Monday, May 23, for a show at The Alibi. The opening track on the trio's eponymous EP, a tune called "Two Ton Boa," shows where the band is coming from (besides Olympia) as chanteuse/songwriter Sherry Fraser sings, "My heart is floating in a seasick bag of meat," beginning a dark yet ravishing song about "a dopesick topless dancer." Local neo-new wavers Monster Women open the show.

On Thursday, May 26, down at the Mateel, Diamondback presents an evening of hardcore hip-hop featuring Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne, plus Spice 1, Professor Mojo, Chain of Kommand, O.E.B. and local boys, Potluck (no, not the hotdish kind).



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