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The Hum by Bob Doran

July 15, 2004

Photo heading of Karen Dumont, Lila Nelson and Joanne Rand

WHAT'S IT LIKE BEING A songwriter in Humboldt County?

"Well, it's beautiful here," says Lila Nelson, a singer/songwriter who has been living in and around Arcata for about five years. "There are so many people doing music and art here. In some sense that's what keeps us all afloat as a community.

"At some points I feel isolated here, but I think that's part of why I like being here -- I can tuck away when I want to."

The flip side of the isolation is the lack of outlets for your music, making it necessary to untuck and take your songs on the road. That's something Nelson did recently, playing a series of one-nighters all over the Northwest with fellow Arcatan Casey Connor.

"We had a lot of fun doing it. It was great to be able to play 10 nights in a row and play the same set, and make it better and better, and to reach all kinds of different audiences."

Those who were out for Arts Arcata last Friday had the chance to catch some road-tuned numbers from her finely crafted songbook and to pick up a copy of Nelson's second CD, Still Got the Farm. (It's also available in local music stores, as she points out.) A furniture store may not have been the best place to capture the nuances of her tunes, but she made the best of it, with help from her record producer/husband Ian Caliendo (on mandolin), along with Connor and Les Shiaman, whose graphite cello added subtle tones of color to her often very personal songs.

Another opportunity to hear her comes next Wednesday, July 21, when she plays as part of the Humboldt Folklife Festival's Songwriter Showcase at Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake, sharing a bill with Joanne Rand, Joshua Scott and Mary Dodd hosted by HFS prez Patrick Cleary. (He sings, too.)

Nelson continued, "It's great when the Folklife Festival comes around since it's a celebration of a wealth of talent, musicians who don't have a whole lot of venues to play during the rest of the year. I'll be out there on Saturday [July 24, for the all-day festival] to catch up on what everyone else is doing."

The Humboldt Folklife Festival turns 26 this year, making it one year younger than Nelson. Since the Folklifers began their association with Dell'Arte's Mad River Fest, the event has grown by leaps and bounds; this year's is astoundingly impressive in its scope. For a sneak preview, tune in to KHUM July 16 at 11 a.m. to hear Eillen Hemphill-Haley, Calleaghn Kinnamon, Don Haupt and Joshua Scott, among others.

Sunday's Humboldt Folklife Fiddle Festival, part of Blue Lake's Annie and Mary Day, is the first of seven days of Folklife in Blue Lake. An all-week series at the Carlo Theatre begins Monday, July 19, with A Cappella Soirée (as in a night of unaccompanied vocal music), featuring Sari Baker, Calleaghn Kinnamon, Mothers and Daughters and two barbershop quartets. Tuesday's Northern California Native Concert presents song, dance and spoken word from the Yurok, Karuk and Wiyot traditions. Wednesday's Singer Songwriter Showcase is followed by a Bluegrass Bash Thursday with Humboldt-style mountain music from the Compost Mountain Boys, Second Hand Band, Slewfoot String Band and Lazybones. Friday is the Festival Old Time Show with blues and old timey music by Slim Pickens, David Isley, Don Haupt, Hunchback Sally, the Huckleberry Flint duet and Wrangletown. All that leading to the Saturday finale, a full day of music and workshops with more than two-dozen acts on three stages.

As mentioned last week, Dale Watson and his Lonestars play country music out in Blue Lake Thursday, July 15 (at the casino, not Dell'Arte). Watson, an Alabama native who works out of Austin, was raised on country by a father who actually owned a truck stop/honky-tonk. I caught a set by Watson and company a few years back when he opened for Dwight Yoakam at the Muni. I took along young lion Mike Donohoe (of the Ravens) as "plus one" -- he insisted we should get there in time to hear Watson (the term "real deal" came up), and I'm glad we did. Watson took the whole crowd straight to honky-tonk heaven, playing music from deep in the heart of America.

For another take on Americana, check out the Humboldt Free Radio benefit Sunday, July 18, at the Alibi with two Portland, Ore., outfits: Clampitt, Gaddis and Buck playing traditional folk/country, and outlaw country from Power of Country.

Seeing the Funky Meters at Blues by the Bay made me hungry for more New Orleans music, and guess what: The Neville Brothers are coming to the Eureka Theater August 15. But before that (Wednesday, July 21, to be exact) I'm going down to the Mateel to see the Wild Magnolias, a group of Mardi Gras "Indians" led by Big Chief Theodore Emile "Bo" Dollis, who has been "masking," dressing up in feathers and beads to dance and sing, since the '50s. In 1964 Dollis became Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias; a few years later the band recorded the Mardi Gras classic, Handa Wanda. Believe me, they are hot. Hip-hop funksters Rhyme Related open the show.

Karen Dumont took a quick break from the (literal) grind of her day job to remind me that she'll be at Mazzotti's Friday night with her Electric Blues Band, most of whom (along with Karen) served as solid backup for the soulful Earl Thomas at Blues by the Bay. She also wanted my opinion on a tentative title for a new album in the works: Blues to Use. Works for me. Let's hope it doesn't take as long to finish as her first CD.

While we're talkin' blues, Dell'Arte's Edgefest includes a blues-themed play, Meet Me at the Crossroads, Friday and Saturday at the Red Radish with vignettes of the mythic crossroads and live Delta blues.

And speaking of new CDs, jazz vocalist Mary-jo Casasanta recently released her second album, a fine one titled This Is Always. I'm sure you can pick one up when she sings Friday and Saturday evenings as part of the Larrupin' Music on the Patio summer series.

Friday, July 16, at Six Rivers Brewing, it's Ruben Diaz returning with a slightly different version of Groove 101, once again with Bobby Vega on bass and Jimmy Sanchez on drums, and this time with former local Mike Emerson on keys. Since he moved down to Petaluma five years back Emerson has been getting better and better. Like Diaz, he has been moving up in the music world working as a hired gun. Maybe you heard him the other day when Daniel Castro played the Boardwalk. Or, if you really get around, you caught him playing organ behind soul legend Percy Sledge in Lincoln (Placer County) in June (sorry it wasn't here in Humboldt). Incidentally the whole Groove 101 team plays the Roll on the Mattole next Saturday, July 24.

Looking for something more alt.? The very cool Kill Rock Stars trio the Gossip and postmod-dance duo Dance Disaster Movement are joined by locals the Ravens and Eureka Garbage Co. Monday, July 19, at the 330 Club.

Then Tuesday, July 20, at the Placebo it's acoustic screamo with Wilmont Proviso and toned-down acoustic punk by This Is the Hardest Thing and Karate for Kids. Willoughby promises they'll try to be quiet.

Bob Doran



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