I'll probably always think of him as young Bernie Steinberg, leader of RBS Syndrome, Fortuna High's hottest punk pop band, but these days he's calling himself Berel Alexander.
"Berel is the name on my birth certificate: Berel Alexander Steinberg. Bernie was my grandfather; Alexander was my great great uncle. I went by Bernie my whole life, but since 2007, I've switched to Berel," he told me.
This weekend he celebrates the release of Hooked, the first album by the Berel Alexander Ensemble, but not his first by any means. He began recording as part of a pre-teen chorus that did records like All You Need Is Love: Beatles Songs for Kids for SoHum's Music for Little People. Six years ago we talked about an RBS Syndrome album that came out as the band members were finishing high school.
The plan then was to keep making music together. "That was the dream. We kept that dream alive for about a year, but it was a struggle," he said wistfully. "Eventually people decided they wanted to do other things. At that point I thought my world was over - the band was over and I was no longer working with my best friends." He opted against enrolling in college - he wanted to make music. After just "hanging out" locally for a bit, he joined an Orange County punk band, Halfway Home.
"That fell through very quickly. Then a couple of years ago I began focusing more on the acoustic side of my music. I realized being a singer-songwriter is what I want to do with my life. I started using the name Berel. I thought Bernie Steinberg didn't have quite the right ring to it, unless I was like a klezmer musician. I had a different vision."
Part of that vision involved enrolling in classes at HSU while he worked on the songs that would become Hooked. "I had these songs written; I knew I wanted to do something with them and that I had to put together an ensemble with at least drums, bass, cello and violin. That's the instrumentation I heard. I struggled with the concept of how to do it. I was thinking big, listening to music coming out, seeing Jack Johnson in Rolling Stone. I started playing with the Berel Alexander Septet in 2007, and a lot of the songs on the album were developed starting then. They're songs about my life and about what's going on in the world."
In "No Rules" he sings of a relationship, but also lays down a come-what-may philosophy: "Take it as it comes. Don't plan too much, 'cause plans are bound to be broken. There are no rules for what we're doing now."
"I wrote that song when I was backpacking in the Trinitys," he recalled. "It's personal, but anybody can relate to it in some way. I hope it also speaks to greater issues in everyone's lives."
Bernie, I mean Berel, celebrates the release of Hooked with four different shows this weekend: Friday, Dec. 4, is the big one at the Red Fox with a 10-piece band; Saturday afternoon 2-4 p.m. he'll be at The Works in Arcata playing acoustic and signing CDs, then he'll do the same during Arts Alive! at Plaza Design in Eureka. Sunday he'll be at Eel River Farms Gallery in Loleta from 5-7 p.m. playing his songs while you sip apple cider.
The Absynth Quintet has sort of a pre-CD show Saturday at the Jambalaya. They note on their Facebook page, "We are ready to celebrate so many things that night. First, the band is in the process of making a new CD, and we are trying to raise money for its completion. Next, it is our drummer Tofu Mike's 36th birthday! And the Jambalaya is celebrating new ownership by Pete Ciotti, so you know its gonna go off."
Across town at the Arcata Theatre Lounge that same night it's another blast of bass-heavy electro-dance music with Ana Sia up from Oakland with some "dirty dubstep, grimy glitch and her personalized blend of global slut psy-hop," plus crunked-out "future soundz" from Flying Skulls and T-dUb, all brought to you by Rebel Bass Collective. Need more dubstep? The Red Fox has DoJo and Cadence dubbing Sunday night
For old school roots reggae you'll want to stop by Humboldt Brews Sunday night to hear The Melodians. The trio is best known for the Rasta anthem, "Rivers of Babylon," used on the soundtrack of the seminal reggae movie, The Harder They Come, with lyrics based on "Psalm 137." Original members Tony Brevett and Trevor McNaughton will be backed by Yellow Wall Dub Squad.
Those looking for a blues fix will head down to the Riverwood Inn Friday to hear harmonica legend Mark Hummel and The Blues Survivors, with the current iteration including Rusty Zinn, a true blues guitar hero.
Simon Legree's in Hawkins Bar jumps again Saturday night with outlaw country band Kelli and The ShadowMen fronted by tough looking Kelli Lidell, daughter of country singer Johnny Lidell (remember "Primrose Lane"?) also known for her stint on The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams TV series.
You might know the fine flatpicking guitarist Larry Keel from his days with the Larry Keel Experience, a wild post-bluegrass combo that passed this way a few times working out of Keel's home turf in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He's currently on the road with Adam Aijala of Yonder Mountain String Band fame. Expect some serious picking when the two guitarists converge at Humboldt Brews Friday night.
Among your many holiday music/theater options: A Very Playhouse Christmas: A Televised Special, a faux access cable Xmas program (it's not actually televised) with the The Tannenbalm Sisters (Jacqueline Dandeneau, Tinamarie Ivey and Zuzka Sabata) as hosts plus Andrew Phoenix and piano man Tim Randles. The show has a gala opening Friday, then runs this weekend and next with an array of "special" guests including local treasures Lynne and Bob Wells, Joan Schirle (from Dell'Arte), Siena Nelson (Lila's big sister), Art Jones and the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir.
The post-Black Friday shopping season is in full swing and with it the requisite holiday gift fairs. The big Humboldt Artisans Craft and Music Festival takes over Redwood Acres this weekend (Friday through Sunday) and always includes beaucoup music, although I can never find anyone to tell me who's playing.
A new, smaller Arcata take on the art/craft/gift fair runs parallel to the Eureka event, and perhaps comes from a parallel universe. Galactivation: Visionary Art for Planetary Healing Dec. 4-6. in the Warehouse Gallery on F St. (behind the ATL) promises "a stellar explosion of visionary sensory stimulation in celebration of The Luminous Culture," including visionary artists, local vendors, plus "musical acts and performance artists," among them, The Humboldt Space Program, Shemaia and her Sound Body Prayers, Synrgy and SambAmore (Friday night), Dharma Dojo, Soniq Al-Khemyst, Anantha and Galactivation Performance Art (Saturday) concluding with a DIY "Sound Vibration Bath" Sunday night.
"What is The Luminous Culture?" they ask rhetorically. "It refers to the individuals living and loving on this planet right now, i.e. YOU. You are The Luminous Culture. It is we who shall be the ones to instigate change on the Planet Earth, lest we perish... We are asking our guests to come in and experience a different world. Visualize a place of love, art and beauty. Treat yourself and others as though this is the reality in which we live... As the saying goes: 'Be the Change You Wish to See.'"
Now there's a holiday wish we can all get behind.