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Another Year Gone By 

Garaj Mahal back in town, and a Reggae update

click to enlarge Fareed Haque from Garaj Mahal. Photo by Bouche.
  • Fareed Haque from Garaj Mahal. Photo by Bouche.

Okay, it's New Year's Day, which means you've made it through New Year's Eve intact, and through 2008, a year of transition on many levels. Local bands formed and dissolved, venues rose and fell, life ebbed and flowed as always. "Same as it ever was," as David Byrne put it so succinctly.

As has been the case for as long as I can remember, the music scene in the greater Humboldt Bay area remains dependent on the student population, for better or worse. At the moment the students are on vay-cay, which means there's slim pickins on the music front, but there are a few shows worth mentioning.

Garaj Mahal has been a regular feature of the Humboldt jamband scene since the group came together in 2000, coming up from Marin to play early gigs at Café Tomo, when that venue was in its heyday. The original quartet, fleet-fingered Pakistani/Chilean guitarist Fareed Haque, German bassist Kai Eckhardt (of the Jaco Pastorius/fusion school), Chicago-born keyboardist Eric Levy and drummer Alan Hertz (from KVHW) has shifted slightly. Hertz's drum chair is now occupied by Sean Rickman, a native of Washington D.C. who's played in reggae, blues, jazz and funk bands (including P-Funk). Wondering what to expect when they play Tuesday at the Red Fox Tavern? Superb musicianship on stretched out jams that sometimes take an East Asian bent, often veer into fusion and always have some deep funk basis. Mr. Hood (who is also a member of the Steve Watts band) opens the show with some sort of DJ set.

Tuesday's Garaj jam follows the now legendary Monday night Red Fox Acid Jazz Experiment, now up to No. 36 and counting. It's truly embarrassing, but I have to admit that I've yet to attend; still, all reports are that stellar jams ensue week after week, some better than others, with no limit on what luminaries, local or touring, will show up to participate.

I finally got to hear a live set by surrealist songwriter Jon Ludington in 2008. Freerange lyrics and uncommon song structures set him apart from most folkies. Catch his set this Saturday at Old Town Coffee and you'll see what I mean. (It's also Arts Alive! night so there'll be other music around Old Town.)

The Alibi is typically the home of stoner rock and music on the heavy side, but with that club quiet this week, Francois from HFRC is moving the heaviness to Auntie Mo's for a Sunday, Jan. 4, show featuring locals 33 1/3 and a pair of related bands from Lozangeles: Ancestors and Night Horse. Ancestors is a five-piece psychedelic doom metal ensemble with a new LP, Neptune With Fire, just two long tracks (think sides of a vinyl album) with the title track allegedly telling the tale of some unnamed character and his "cosmic, psychological ordeal through war, celebration, remorse and revelation," (use your imagination). Night Horse shares the same guitar player and drummer (Justin Maranga and Brandon Pierce) but adds a vocalist for some bluesier songs with a hint of raw Southern rock.

Ought-8 was definitely a big year for little ukuleles, at least locally. UKEsperience has been picking up fans all over and led a massive uke jam at last summer's Folklife Fest. Now there's another uke-led combo, Papa Houli and the Fleas, playing Mondays at Six Rivers Brewing. (They'll be there Jan. 5 anyway.) Haven't heard them live yet, but they sound pretty good on MySpace (/papahowliandthefleas).

After the Journal ran its list of the top 10 stories of 2008, SoHum Parlance (II) blogger Eric Kirk offered his own collection of stories he thought should have made the cut. No. 1 on his list was the settlement that ended the long-simmering Reggae War. He complained that the July agreement didn't get much coverage in the press until the agreed upon payment was overdue. I'll admit that I stopped writing about what seemed a pointless battle, in part because I realized that only a few intimately involved people cared about it, and no matter what was said, they invariably felt slighted. Without going into intimate detail, we'll just say that Tom Dimmick and People Productions agreed to pay the Mateel half a mil to end the messy (and costly) court proceedings. As I understand it, Dimmick then made an agreement with Carol Bruno, sole proprietor of People Prod, that left him owning Reggae Rising, which Bruno will continue to produce. The deal was that Tom would pay off the Mateel. Unfortunately, his plan for getting the requisite cash involved some loan that ended up stalled by the same credit crunch that hit the entire U.S. economy. Nevertheless, he managed to pull together $256,400 (which includes principal, interest and Mateel legal fees) and made his overdue payment before Xmas. Dimmick also noted (in a press release), "[The] payment is the first of three, spelled out by the Settlement. The next payment of $200,000 will be due on Feb. 1, and now that my finance package is in place, I expect that payment will be made on or before its due date. The last [installment] being very small by comparison is due by Sept. 30, 2009."

That final payment comes after the 3rd annual Reggae Rising, scheduled for July 31-Aug. 2, at Dimmick Ranch. As things worked out, the Mateel still holds the rights to the Reggae on the River name, so presumably there will be two Reggae fests in SoHum this summer, just like last year. At this point the location for the Mateel's Reggae is "still undetermined." I could be wrong, but I'm thinking that the lack of determination in connected to the fact that Mateel staff would rather not use Benbow Recreation Area again.

At one point the preferred alternative was the Southern Humboldt Community Park (near Garberville), but future plans for its use as a concert facility are up in the air. As the SHCP board put it in a letter sent out in the fall, prior to the annual Irie Boogie. "Some recent communications between the Southern Humboldt Community Park and County Planning Division regarding clarification of the types of activities that are permitted to take place under zoning regulations have resulted in a temporary misunderstanding." So far the "misunderstanding" has not been cleared up so there's still no telling where this summer's RotR will land.

Without getting into any coulda, woulda or shoulda biznezz, I'm going to suggest that no one came out the winner in the Great Southern Humboldt Reggae War of 2006-2008. Both sides declared their ’08 festivals "spiritual" successes, but from what I've heard, neither Reggae on the River nor Reggae Rising turned a profit last year. What will 2009 bring? It's hard to say, but even with Obama in the White House, it's going to take some time for the economy to heal, and folks don't have much disposable income right now.

Of course there's another factor that comes into play: A portion of Reggae fans are involved in an underground economy that seems to be doing alright. What was it Freewheelin' Franklin said? "Reggae will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no reggae." Something like that, anyway. At any rate, let's hope there will be peace in the valley in Oh-Nine. I'm thinking "hope" will be a big word this coming year. It's what won the election, and I'm hopeful it will carry us through whatever lies ahead.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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