With his dress shirt buttoned to the top and a ‘20s-era haircut, 20-something old timer Frank Fairfield looks like he could have stepped out of a time machine. He'll often play selections he calls "unheard ofs and forgotten abouts" from his carefully curated collection of vintage 78-rpm records before he sits down with a guitar, a fiddle and a banjo to play and sing tunes that sound, quite authentically, like music from another decade. NPR hit the nail on the head referring to him as a "one-man folk revival." He's unequivocally the real deal.
I was duly impressed when I caught his act at a local nightclub. He was in the pocket, and he'd drawn a sizeable crowd of local hipsters. Some settled in to listen with rapt attention, but too many were there because, well, it seemed like the place to be. Before long folks were chatting about who knows what, and the general hubbub made it nearly impossible to hear Fairfield's playing. When he took a break, I introduced myself and apologized for the rudeness of the crowd. He seemed unperturbed; I imagine that's his nature. I told him he'd be better off playing at the Arcata Playhouse, a venue where folks tend to listen more closely. Then, even though I'd enjoyed what I could hear of the first set, I left early.
This coming Monday Frank Fairfield finally plays at the Playhouse (Colin Vance from Striped Pig and Water Tower Bucket Boy Cory Goldman open). The show comes in the midst of something A.P. proprietors David and Jackie are calling "March Madness" (no sports involved) with the venue marking its fifth anniversary by hosting shows night after night. I have to say, the Playhouse has become my favorite place to listen to music. Don't get me wrong, for some bands nightclubs are preferable, but when you really want to listen (and be able to get a beer or a glass of wine in the lobby), the Playhouse is it.
Former local Melody Walker chose the Playhouse for her Gold Rush Goddess CD release party on Friday, her first headlining gig in the venue. Of course she'll be joined by her musical partner Jacob Groopman. Melody says she's excited about momentum on the new album, which she's offering as a "name your price" download on Bandcamp. "Maybe two-thirds get it for free, but that's OK; it's getting out to the world," she said, calling from the East Bay digs she shares with Jacob. "This coming Monday is our radio add date, so we've sent 350 CDs to radio stations. I'm hoping they'll play it so I'll chart on Americana, maybe AAA, as in ‘adult album alternative,' whatever that means. It's what KHUM is, like contemporary folky pop." (The Lonesome Roses open.)
Saturday the Playhouse goes alt. folk/rock with Lost in the Trees, a music collective out of Chapel Hill, N.C., with two discs out on Anti- Records helmed by songwriter Ari Picker, who describes the Lost sound as "orchestral folk music." Strings and brass combine with accordion, banjo, mandolin and musical saw on elegant tunes. Opening is Seattle band Poor Moon, with Fleet Foxes bassist Christian Wargo moving to lead guitar, joined by F.F. keysman Casey Wescott and brothers Ian and Peter Murray. The first P.M. LP, Illusion, is due soon on Sub Pop.
Sunday Humboldt Folklife presents an evening at the Playhouse with New England-based singer-songwriter, raconteur and sit-down comedienne Cheryl Wheeler accompanied by songwriter/guitarist Kenny White (he'll sing a few of his own).
Monday's show with Frank is followed by Tuesday and Wednesday with soul man Earl Thomas joined by Londoner Eddie Angel, a guitarist Earl met on one of his many European tours. "It's called ‘The Coffeehouse Show,'" said Thomas. "An acoustic guitar and vocal duo with Eddie and I doing this eclectic mix of songs, anything from Tracy Chapman to Bobbie Gentry to Robert Johnson, even some of my stuff in the mix." Tuesday the ladies from Vidagua open; Wednesday it's Jason Hodel from UKEsperience with Jo Kuzelka from Wet Fez.
It's a good weekend for funk and soul. Thursday Humboldt Brews has another Missing Link DJ party with Matt n' Adam and the usual suspects plus special guest Funky T-Rex aka DJ Tanasa Ras from Akaboom Sound.
Friday, it's "nu-funk" at the Arcata Theatre Lounge with Washington DC's renegade funk n' soul label Fort Knox Recordings' "Rhythm & FX" tour featuring Fort Knox Five, Thunderball and nu-funk pioneers All Good Funk Alliance. All that plus electro artists Smash and Grab, Quade and Little John.
Then on Sunday the eight-piece organic funk/soul powerhouse from L.A. Orgone plays Humboldt Brews. This band's more old school funk than "nu" -- really good dance music.
More electro Sunday at the ATL: a World Famous thing with dubstep by NiT GRiT from San Jose, hip hop-ish grooves by Two Fresh, and electrojams by Conspirator with Disco Biscuits' keyboardist and bassist Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein exploring their electronic mad scientist personae joined by New Yorker DJ Omen.
Sinners drummer Jason Trevino and Justin Hobart Brown have been hosting a series of jam nights at the Red Fox. Thursday (following Taste of Main Street) they ramp things up with an "All-Star Blues/Jazz Jam" with The Uptown Kings and St. John and The Sinners.
Thursday at the Jambalaya Seattle's saxophonic punk-jazz iconoclast Skerik introduces his latest project Bandalabra with guitarist Andy Coe, upright bassist Evan Flory Barnes and drummer Dvonne Lewis. Skerik describes the quartet as "conjuring the sounds of Fela Kuti meeting Steve Reich in rock's backyard."
The three bands playing Friday at HumBrews share the same irrepressible bassist, Drew Mohr. "Psycho-blues power trio" Children of the Sun rocks. Area Sound explores hip hop grooves. Opening act Smith House has Sky Miller on sax, drummer John Thomas and Mohr on bass, who says, "I've been calling our music ‘death jazz.' It's pretty hard-hitting and funky; Thelonious Monk tunes never sounded so heavy."
Yellow Ostrich started with Alex Schaaf making lo-fi indie pop in his Wisconsin dorm room on a four-track recorder. After success with a series of EPs and the LP, The Mistress, Schaaf enlisted multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez and drummer Michael Tapper for the anthemic Strange Land. "The Mistress was a guy in a bedroom," says Schaaf, who now lives in New York. "Strange Land is a band. In a slightly bigger room." Fresh from SxSW, Yellow Ostrich is working its way up that coast, stopping at HSU Saturday night to play The Depot. Added bonus: "special guest" Strix Vega opens.
Bad Kitty brings L.A. punkabilly kings The Rocketz back to the Firewater Lounge Saturday with locals The Smashed Glass. "Consider it a high-energy alternative to the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival," says Norm.
Saturday at the Alibi, Seattle's Sir Coyler and His Asthmatic Band. "We're a laid-back, pretty simple lo-fi, ‘60s punk fan boys sorta band," says Sir Coyler. Eureka's Bitch Doctor opens.
Saturday also sees two big fundraisers: "Unity in the Community" at the Bayside Grange has CADA, Guinea Gbe, Samba Da Alegria, Likwefi and The Mighty Redwood Ambassadors with Madi Simmons all helping out the McCabe family with some medical bills. It starts in the afternoon (3 p.m.) so reggae fans can still catch the Jah Sun party later at the ATL.
Also starting early (5 p.m.): the Tempus Fugitives' Apocalyptic Cockroach End of the World 2012 Kinetic Team Fundraiser at 3rd Eye Sculpture with rock by Silent Giants and The Grass Band, plus Va Va Voom Burlesque and the Que Grande Taco Truck (and beer). Sounds wild.
As noted above, it's also Jazz Fest weekend in Eureka. Coincidentally Grammy-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis, of the illustrious New Orleans Marsalis clan, brings his quartet (with pianist Joey Calderazzo) to HSU's Van Duzer Theatre Sunday night for an evening of stellar neo-classic jazz. Cool.