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On The River 

Reggae at Benbow, plus picnics and the Humboldt Folklife Festival

With Mark Shikuma

If not for a bit of trouble along the way, 2008 would have marked the 25th anniversary of the quintessential SoHum music festival Reggae on the River. To avoid enflaming the ire of non-irie Reggae fundamentalists (and we’re not talking about the Rastafarian kind), we’ll skip the history of “the troubles.” Suffice to say, folks at the Mateel are not calling this the Silver Anniversary.

They explain, “Although a much different event from the Reggae On The River festivals of recent memory, this community celebration and keep-the-name-alive-forever fundraiser will continue the tradition of great reggae music on the banks of the Eel River.”

How is it different? For starters, it’s a one-day festival on July 19, which places it on the third weekend in July instead of the first weekend of August. There are a few other differences, but we’ll get to those after we look at the music.

Gates open at Benbow Lake State Recreation Area at 11 a.m. and first on the agenda is an old Reggae tradition, an opening ceremony with a few words from Kenneste elder Fred “Coyote” Downey, whose people, also known as the Wailaki, lived on the land along the Eel before the coming of the White Man. Expect Arcata’s massive Afrobeat band AfroMassive to get things rolling when they hit the stage around 11:30 to thrown down Fela-inspired grooves.

Just before 1 p.m. the “conscious dancehall” portion of the program commences with Sister I-Live, whose claim to fame is the fact that she’s the late Peter Tosh’s niece. At 2:10 Kingston-born Stevie Culture takes over with backing by The Demolition Squad, an amalgam of Humboldt and Jamaican musicians. At 3:30 it’s more dancehall from Warrior King, who was here for RotR in 2004 and 2006.

Then at 5, there’s a shift to roots reggae with Katchafire from New Zealand, an indigenous Maori band who played at the Mateel earlier this year. Culture is a classic roots vocal trio with a long history at Reggae, although this time will be different. Joseph Hill, the band’s lead singer and chief songwriter passed away in August of 2006. His son, Kenyatta Hill, has taken over lead, carrying the torch forward. Closing the show, starting at around 8:30, The Wailing Souls, a veteran Jamaican vocal combo who have been recording since the mid-’70s. From the ’90s until recently, the band was down to a core duo — Winston “Pipe” Matthews and Lloyd “Bread” McDonald — but recently original members Rudolph “Garth” Dennis and George “Buddy” Haye rejoined bringing the quartet back to full force.

Benbow Lake State Recreation Area has a curfew, so the show ends relatively early. They allow some overnight camping near the festival, but it’s almost all sold out, so you’ll have to camp elsewhere or drive home after. Just like the old Reggae on the River they’ll have vendors galore, 50 of them, and a kid zone. Unlike the old Reggae, you’re not going to be able to wander around drinking beer or other adult beverages. Benbow authorities insist on a fenced-off restricted adults-only area affectionately referred to by the Mateel folks as a “beer garden.” Smoking? You might want to take that down by the river away from the authorities. The party will be different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it?

Due to a prior commitment, I won’t be “on the River,” this year. Nor will I be around to write the rest of this column. At this point I’ll turn things over to guest Hummer, Mark Shikuma.

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Thanks, Bob. You can get a head start on dread beats and dub rhythms, on Thursday July 17, with I Wayneand Rude Lion Sound at the Red Fox Tavern. Also featured will be DJ Jimmy Jonz. At Hum Brews, the Green Mountain Bluegrass Band, from Eugene, Ore., will be delivering traditional bluegrass. No dread nor dub, just pickin’ and strummin’.

Picnics on the Plaza will continue on Friday, from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., with Blue Lotus Jazz, a guitar duo who will also be performing on Tuesday, as part of the Humboldt Folklife Festival (read on for further details). After the sun sinks on Friday evening, the Alibi will be hosting a double barrel rock ’n’ roll show, with Estrus recording artists TheDt’s, a hard-edged soul outfit from Bellingham, Wash., along with garage rockers The Ravens, who will be performing their first gig in months. When the Dt’s last graced the Alibi, over a year ago, they truly kicked it. And expect the Ravens — who’ve been holing up, laying down recording tracks — to be playing a batch of new songs, which will be featured on their upcoming release. If you dig great rockin’ garage that rattles the rafters, then this is a double kill bill of two bands led by boisterous, charismatic female vocalists Diana Young-Blanchard and Melissa Medina, respectively, who put the “riot” back into “riot grrrl.” Meanwhile, Colorado-based Great American Taxi, which features Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon and Barry Less (Phil and Friends), will be playing their blend of country, rock and bluegrass at the Red Fox Tavern, with Something Different opening (a homecoming, of sorts). And for jazz aficionados, Miles Ahead, a Miles Davis tribute ensemble, will be performing at Hum Brews.

The annual Humboldt Folklife Festival will be starting on Saturday, with a Kickoff Swing Dance at Arcata’s Veteran’s Hall, at 7:30 p.m., with Falling Rocks and The Country Pretenders to put the swing back in your shoes (and your hips). [Note: Check the pullout section in this week’s issue for a full festival run-down, and tune into northcoastjournal.com for live broadcasts from the event all week long.]

If you’re down by law, old school master blaster, DJ Red will be spinning the vinyl, bustin’ a move and chillin’ at the crib of the Pearl Lounge, with his crates brimming with old school hip hop (did someone say De La Soul, EPMD, LL Cool J, or Eric B. and Rakim?). And the garage sound continues at the Alibi with a triple bill of two Portland bands theAnxieties and Mosquito Bandito (a one-man garage assault), joined with Chico’s lo-fi rockabilly cats, The Shankers. For a trip (literally) down memory lane to roadhouse blues, check out the Doors Legacy Band at the Red Fox Tavern. If you come in “Sixties style” costume, you can get in for a special price. Shouldn’t be very difficult, man.I can only recall going to a Parisian graveyard in the mid-1980’s and seeing Baudelaire’s headstone, with the scrawl of “Jim” over it, accompanied with an arrow. Petaluma rockers Hillside Fire will be headlining at the Jambalaya, with Common Vice and Lost Avenue.

On Sunday, at Blue Lake’s Perigot Park, the Humboldt Folklife Festival and Dell’Arte will be celebrating its annual Annie and Mary Day, its name derived from the nickname of the old Arcata and Mad River Railroad. A chock full of events will begin at 11 a.m. There’ll be a full day of workshops and performances, with the Blue Lake Pageant at 4 p.m. For more details, check out the Humboldt Folklife’s website: www.humboldtfolklife.org. And if you want to turn up the volume a bit, there’s more music a stone’s throw away, at Dell’Arte’s Carlo Theater. The Mad River Festivalwill be presenting “Blue Lake: Bands-Out-Back,” featuring Kulica; the femme fatales the Brendas(with a plethora of special guest “Brendas”); storyteller, impresario and, um, singer Jeff DeMark; and the youthful power punk of theKiwis. Showtime for this all-ages event will be at 5 p.m., directly following the A & M Day Pageant. While in Arcata, the Jambalaya will be hosting the Deep Groove Society and Blue Lake ex-pats The Rubberneckers.

The Humboldt Folklife Festival will continue on Monday with Flying Fingers night, evening of fast-picking hootenannies featuring Daughtery Duo Bass, Fiddles Afire, Flatpickin’ Summit, and the Banjo Challenge, 7:30 p.m., at Dell’Arte’s Carlo Theater.

Madame De Squeeze will be serenading the folks at the Wildberries Farmer’s Market on Tuesday, from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Later in the evening, Nevada City (where Joanna Newsome and Golden Shoulders were reared) indie band Blue Tuesday will be sharing their brand of alt. rock, along with theUptown Kings at the Jambalaya. The Humboldt Folklife Festival will be presenting an Acoustic Jazz night at the Carlo Theater. Blue Lotus Jazz, Hot Club Papers and Gregg Moore & Co. will be the featured performers. Show starts at 7:30 p.m.

And even though the country hunk Clint Black’s appearance at the Arkley Center is sold out on Wednesday evening, you could still check out Humboldt’s own “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” singer/songerwriter Lila Nelson. She’ll be queen of the court at Blue Lake’s Dell’Arte/Carlo Theater, for the Humboldt Folklife Festival, entitled, “Lila’s Choice.” Good Lila? Or Bad Lila? You’ll have to find out for yourself. She’ll be joined by an A-grade assortment of local singer/songwriters, Tim Gray, Angela Rose, Calleaghn Kinnamon and John Ludington. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Ms. Nelson just completed her new record, Letter Home, which will be released this September (on her own Madeline Music label). There’s a release party/concert planned for that time.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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