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Four Twenty 

Dark Star Orchestra's stony music plus Taarka, Chi-Town Afrobeat, Earth and One Wise Sound

click to enlarge Dark Star Orchestra
  • Dark Star Orchestra

It started as a time. 4:20. Time to get stoned. As the story's told, a now-legendary group of Marin teens gathered at that appointed hour by a statue of Louis Pasteur for post-school bakeage until it became routine. At this point the two numbers are synonymous with the marijuana brand.

By stoner logic, if 4:20 is a designated time to smoke, April 20 -- 4/20 -- is too, particularly at 4:20 on 4/20. In Humboldt, where, like it or not, marijuana branding is well underway, 4/20 is a major holiday with its own events and associated concerts. First there's the annual unsanctioned (but police monitored) afternoon gathering in Arcata's Redwood Park complete with drum circles, guitar strummers and makeshift food stands. There are similar get-togethers elsewhere (Clam Beach is popular -- watch out for the plovers), but face it, Arcata is "Pot City, USA."

Tuesdays are not typically big nightclub nights, but promoters are counting on stony peeps being out in force. Passion Presents alone has three shows that night: Dark Star Orchestra's Dead tribute returning to the Eureka Theater, a post-DSO show at the Red Fox with Steve Watts and the Humboldt All Stars and a parallel reggae show in Arcata.

What does 4/20 mean to a band like Dark Star Orchestra? "Let me put it to you this way," said keyboardist Rob Barraco. "Last year we played 4/20 there and we were bombarded onstage by joints, buds and brownies. It was insanity. I understand the whole lexicon of 4/20, but I've never seen anything like it. It was pretty crazy." It was also something the band has not experienced elsewhere, on 4/20 or otherwise. "I think it was specific to Humboldt," said Barraco between laughs. "It was big fun. People just had a wonderful time and we're looking forward to doing it again."

Of course Grateful Dead music goes hand-in-hand with the stoner lifestyle. "It's totally psychedelic. It's all about the exploration, the journey. This music helps propel that -- it takes people on a journey, and it takes us too," Barraco concluded.

The Red Fox afterparty has a band featuring Passion P's Steve Watts on guitar, Melvin Seals of JGB on keys, guitarist Michael Hinton, plus locals Berel Alexander and Vidagua and an opening set by Peace of Mind Orchestra.

Meanwhile at Humboldt Brews, graying reggae veterans The Wailing Souls share a bill with the always-smiling rootsman Prezident Brown. Again, we're talkin' music designed for the stoned.

BTW, there's an even cooler reggae/hip hop thing Monday at Nocturnum (4/20 Eve if you will) with rising dancehall star Collie Buddz and Phife Dawg (from A Tribe Called Quest) plus Rocker T, Ishi Dube and Selecta Prime. Bonus: free shuttle to and from Hotel Arcata starting at 9 that night.

They're skipping the usual Tuesday Blues Night at the Jambalaya on 4/20, instead bringing in Colorado's self-described "gypsy folk troubadours" Taarka with their Revolutionary New & Ancient Sounds (a new CD) plus like-minded locals Absynth Quintet. Stony? Sure.

Back in Eureka, Lil' Red Lion has Brazilian garage duo Canja Rave for 4/20, plus stoner rock by The Zygoats.

KHSU continues its 50th anniversary fling at Humboldt Brews, this Thursday highlighting deejay Bud C's radio show, "Funky Junction." (Thursdays 8:30-10 p.m.) He'll introduce the funky Crawdad featuring Steven "Fuzz" Bernhardt from Bump Foundation on bass, Aber Miller (Bump) on keys, Chris Noonan (Bump, Moo-Got-2, The Lowdown) on sax, Wolf Navarro (Silent Giants) on guitar and JT on drums.

Thursday at the Jambalaya: Chicago Afrobeat Project, another from the Fela Kuti school of music a la Albino! (coming to the Red Fox April 23) and NYC's Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra (coming in July for Reggae on the River).

Same Thursday at Nocturnum, it's a wave of Northwestern heaviness as Missing Link and High Art present Seattle's highly influential drone doom band Earth with guitarist Dylan Carlson, plus Wolves in the Throne Room, a regal ambient black metal band out of Olympia. Local instrumetalists Fall The Giants open.

Friday the Red Fox has Hammond organist Joe Doria's McTuff Trio, a Seattle combo with Andy Coe on guitar and D'Vonne Lewis on drums. (With Skerik on sax it's the McTuff Quartet.)

Over at the Arkley Center Friday: Diane "Deedles" Schuur and Bobby Caldwell and a big band put "The Sing in Swing," drawing from the era "when all great orchestras had a vocalist and all great vocalists had an orchestra," as they put it on Deedles' Web site. Schuur won a couple of Grammys in the ’80s for her jazz vocal work; Caldwell is a big-in-Japan smooth jazz crooner, best know for his much-sampled quiet storm hit "What You Won't Do For Love."

Down at the Mateel Friday, Chirgilchin, The Master Throat Singers of Tuva get seriously polyphonic. The Tuvan singers come from a Russian province north of Mongolia on the southern edge of Siberia. Their songs (in Tuvan) often include three notes in different registers sung by one person, deep growling combined with forest animal sounds or whistling like the wind. Esoteric? Yes, but also quite beautiful.

Friday at the Jambalaya locals Blue Street Junction plays "high-energy blues-rock-funk-jam music," according to a description from drummer Sam Kaplan-Good. "We've got a rippin' female lead singer, an Arcata local named Claire Bent," he adds, "and we put on a fun show." Haven't heard them yet -- I'll take Sam's word for it. Serious Lee opens with some funk-rock.

The feminine side of DJ culture steps forward Friday with Electric Moon, a benefit at Redwood Raks featuring "the local ladies of bass," DJ Haiku, Rawkell, Kaleena and Bruit, plus fire dancers, live art and a raffle of works by local female artists, all in support of the Emma Center and Take Back the Night.

On Saturday at Redwood Yogurt our favorite raconteur Jeff DeMark offers what he calls, "my once-a-year performance" of his monologue Writing My Way Out of Adolescence. "Opening the show are Josephine Johnson and Andrew Goff, and they are going to add some musical touches to the show, experiment a little bit and see what happens. Why not?" says Jeff. Full disclosure: Andrew is the Journal's "Seven-Oh-Heaven" guy and does our calendars. He and Josephine met Jeff when they all appeared on the KHSU radio show Fogou during the recent pledge drive. (I help produce Fogou.) That was the first time I heard Josephine sing and Andrew playing guitar -- they're both really good. Honest. See for yourself at Jeff's show, or catch Josephine with 7-Oh (including Will on drums) at the Mad River Brewing Tasting Room this Thursday.

Humboldt honky tonk heroes Rooster McClintock play the Alibi Saturday with Steve Schecter, aka Ghostwriter, a folk/punk/blues whirlwind from Portland. He'll also be at Missing Link Records that afternoon (3-ish) as part of their Record Store Day celebration. Additionally, Adam and Matt promise, "Tons of exclusive releases available only for that day; DJs all day!"

The infamous Soul Clap Dance Competition returns to the Arcata Theatre Lounge Wednesday with ace NYC DJ Jonathan Toubin spinning rare 45s that simply force you onto the dancefloor. The panel of celebrity contest judges includes the judgmental Brian Pyle of Starving Weirdos fame, his charming wife Phoenix Rath (of Crafty Mavericks), dancing fool Willoughby Arevelo (Medicine Ball), the erudite Deric Mendes (Magnum), the feisty Julie Ryan (Raven Project) and lastly, yours truly. Guess I'll have to set aside the biblical "judge not lest ye be judged" ethos for the night.

Irie competition for the S. C. D. Competition comes from One Wise Sound, a local sound system that spins dubplates biweekly for the Jambalaya's Wednesday reggae night. But first, OWS is heading to S.F. to rep Humboldt in Saturday's 6th Annual Club Dread Sound Clash. What's One Wise? What's a sound clash? Dubplates? You'll have to read about it online ’cause I'm outta room and outta here. See you on the dancefloor.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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