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click to enlarge Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Old Crow Medicine Show

College is almost back in session, the students are back in town and it’s time for another CenterArts season. The local concert juggernaut kicks off a stellar ’07-’08 season on Sunday, Aug. 19, with a show at the Van Duzer featuring what is likely the most successful old-timey band working today, Old Crow Medicine Show .

A video for the band’s cover version of the old Stones’ tune “Down Home Girl” shows OCMS busking on the street in what seems to be New York City, initially being told to move along by a sympathetic cop who lets on that he likes their music. They dutifully cross the street with their guitars, banjo and standup bass and start again as city life grinds on. At the end an old guy wonders, “Are these the Sex Pistols?” The band does not correct him, answering, “How’d you know?”

Now, it’s not likely you’ll see OCMS busking on the Arcata Plaza, but there’s a grain of truth in the vid. The band got its start in NYC and played on the street and in dive bars for some time before they got their big break, a mythic meeting with Doc Watson (coming soon to CenterArts) in front of a North Carolina pharmacy. That led to a slot on Doc’s annual Merlefest (named for his late son, not Mr. Haggard, by the way, although OCMS later toured with that Merle).

Moving up in the world, they relocated to Nashville and eventually got to play the Grand Ole Opry, which is about as big as it gets in the country scene. A couple of albums and a coupla hundred thousand units later and they’re playing all the big festivals -- Bonnaroo, Telluride, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage and so on. They’re regulars on Prairie Home Companion , and CMT is playing their videos. That country-blues take on “Down Home Girl” crossed over to Triple-A radio and won them new fans at home and abroad.

After working their way down the West Cost they head for Europe for the fall, returning late October just in time for another visit to the Ryman, home of the Opry, and my guess is they’re having a grand ole time.

If you’re thinking of going, you might want to act now. I’m told the show’s close to selling out. Tickets are also moving fast for the return engagement by Portland’s loungey orchestra Pink Martini (playing Sept. 9), and also for blues legend B.B. King (Sept. 11), the Celtic Christmas show (Dec. 14) and especially for the Cirque du Soleil/Pickle Family spin-off Cirque Works in Birdhouse Factory (Sept. 25).

Coming (relatively) soon to CenterArts, jazzy chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux (Aug. 28), funky world music by Zap Mama (Aug. 31), jazz guitar giant John McLaughlin (Sept. 23) and Mickey Hart’s spacey Planet Drum (Sept. 30). Then, in one week in October, a veritable festival of American music, with the aforementioned Doc Watson (Oct. 4), Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby (Oct. 7), Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (Oct. 8) and Solid Blues , a mini-fest in itself with Mavis Staples , Charlie Musselwhite , The North Mississippi All-Stars and New Orleans-style pianist Joe Krown (Oct. 10).

Now, the truth is, between the music styles and the prices, the CenterArts season is not really designed for HSU students. Their on-campus musical needs are met more by Associated Students Presents, whose season also opens this coming week with a visit by the funky San Fran Afrobeat band Albino! , playing at the Depot Wednesday, Aug. 22. AS Presents has beaucoup coolness on the horizon, including the 7th annual Fall Harvest Festival Sept. 9, with a double dose of neo-old-timey: Hot Buttered Rum and Devil Makes Three. Then it’s a turntablist’s dream, with DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist reunited for their Hard Sell tour (Sept. 17), followed immediately by an indie rock one-two with Built to Spill and those old school alt. masters Camper Van Beethoven (Sept. 18). There’s still more old-timey with the ladies known as Uncle Earl , plus local opener Huckleberry Flint (Oct. 16), then (drum roll please) a visit by alt. rock royalty: Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame, playing at the Depot of all places (Oct. 26).

Coming Thursday to the Indigo Lounge, Peruvian-born “activist rapper” Felipe Coronel, aka Immortal Technique . Raised on the mean streets of NYC, I.T. latched on to the political side of hip hop. Classic example: his most famous record, “Bin Laden,” produced by DJ Green Lantern, with Mos Def making a guest appearance, in which I.T. puts the blame for 9/11 squarely on the shoulders of the Bush admin. (He buys into the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center.) Diabolic and DJ GI Joe complete the bill.

Earlier in the evening Thursday, the Old Town Boardwalk Summer Concerts roll on, this time with hot Cajun swing fiddler Tom Rigney and Flambeau . Meanwhile, the Power 96 Battle of the Bands is almost over. The winner plays next Thursday.

McKinleyville has it’s own parallel Concerts in the Park in Pierson Park Thursdays, this week with that jazzy incarnation of Dr. Squid, Mr. Calamari’s Jazz Machine , next week with bluegrass by Compost Mountain Boys .

Seattle’s Datura Blues play the Jambalaya Friday night with Washington neighbors Mindless Thuggs , a band described by D.B.’s Ryan Jones as playing “freeform, droney improv rock” (which might also describe his band). Datura Blues got its start in Arcata in 1999, led by Jones who’d played in rock bands while in high school. Since the turn of the century, says Jones, “We’ve gone from a quieter ambient sound to something more aggressive and rough around the edges. It’s what I’d call psyche-rock, a mix of experimental sounds and rock ‘n’ roll.” You might think new roughness came from moving to Seattle, grunge central. Not so, says Jones. “It had more to do with living in Prague. I lived there for a year and worked as a DJ playing fast music all the time. I had never explored that high-tempo world in my own music.” He’s figuring eight Daturas on stage at the Jam Friday, five from Seattle plus a few old friends who are still in town. When the tour ends Jones is following the Dynamite Sweater plan, “Movin’ to Portland.”

The Felice Brothers are a rough-hewn, honest Americana band from somewhere along the shores of the Hudson River in New York. (Several of them are actually brothers; you can tell by the way they play.) They’re traveling the country in a beat-up bus packed with drums, guitars, a fiddle and an accordion, driving to Humboldt all the way from Omaha to sing about whiskey and bad women on Friday at Six Rivers.

For rock in several flavors, hit the Alibi Saturday, where The Ravens mix rock and soul, Oakland’s Rock N Roll Adventure Kids kick it lo-fi and The Shankers out of Chico play punky rockabilly.

Saturday is solo acoustic night at the Jambalaya, with local boys Clay Smith from The Rubberneckers and Bret Bailey from Que La and The Common Vice strummin’ and singing, hosting guests Nick and Heather Riffbroker from The Riffbrokers out of Seattle and Robert Szeles from L.A.’s Kiss The Girl.

That night at the Red Fox marks the return of guitarist Marc Ford from the Black Crowes. ’Nuff said.

The mural created on the wall below Wildberries is done, and the Summer Youth Mural Project is throwing a block party Sunday afternoon to celebrate . Stop by for Wild food (from the store), jugband blues by Likely Story and samba drumming by The Janky Mallets .

Need a shot of reggae? Try Reggae Monday at Big Pete’s, with SelectaTruth and DJ Knutz spinning reggae, hip hop and funk.

The “ Funk The West Coast ” Tour hits Humboldt next week, landing at the Pearl Tuesday, then moving to the Jambalaya Wednesday. It’s a joint venture by Indubious , a reggae/funk/acid jazz trio out of San Francisco with brothers Spencer and EvanBurton on bass and keys. The band is on the road with Teddy Presberg and his Red Note Revivalists , a jazz/funk/jam band from Portland led by guitarist/composer/Ropeadope recording artist Presberg. Says Presberg, “There will be a lot of room for collaborating and jamming.”

The Benbow Summer Jazz Series resumes where it left off in June bringing jazz almost every night to the Inn starting Saturday with guitarist Sheryl Bailey and her trio, followed by the Mary Jo Casasanta Quintet on Sunday, the Sam Maez Quartet Tuesday, pianist Larry Vukovich and his trio Wednesday, and so on until the end of the month. Cool music on a summer night beneath the redwoods. What else could you ask for?

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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