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Adventures on MySpace, Starving Weirdos, and a peek at the new CenterArts season

I’m not really into MySpace. I heard they upgraded the whole thing recently, but it doesn’t seem any different. It’s just as slow and clunky as ever. But despite the shortcomings, I end up using it pretty much every week to check out one band or another.

Today I was taken to Space by accident. It happened like this: On the 4th-o-July I spent most of the day at a party at my friend Vinnie’s house. A few bands played in his backyard: a raucous punk band called AMA from the Co-op where Vinnie works, then Brett the Truck with a special guest fiddler. I missed their set because, believe it or not, I had a haircut appointment that day. I stopped off at the Plaza after the trim to see the always awesome Ishi Dube and Massagana tearing it up, but was back at Vinnie’s in time for a wild ambient/noise set by a pickup band combining Vinnie and Merrick from the Starving Weirdos, Erin from Pipe(s) of the Doctor of Witchcraft on electric fiddle and a guy I know only as Shoegazer on keys. I shot a few pics and sent one to Merrick the next day.

So today I get a message from Merrick saying thanks for the photo, and, “feel free to pump our next event: Sunday, July 13, at steve’s (across from the clothing dock). bbq beforehand, music at dark or 9pm.”

He then included links to the MySpace pages for the three Portland-based bands coming: “youth oriented maraca mosh-ers” White Fang (/whtfng), “healing vibes” White Rainbow (/whiterainbowwhiterainbow), Rob Walmart(/robwalmart), “ghetto beats from a parked van,” plus his own “Manila floor-core” band, Starving Weirdos

(/starvingweirdos). He added, “actually really looking forward to this one... should be our last public performance for a while... we’re gunna hunker down and get our Euro-set in order. [They’ve booked a tour over there for later this summer.] so no more gigs till we get back in Oct.”

So I wouldn’t forget, I copied the whole e-mail and pasted it in a Word doc I’d started for this column. A while later I was mousing around and I guess I accidentally hit the Weirdos link. Their page opened up in my browser and there I was. Lost in Space. First thing I did was re-Friend the Pipe(s) (/pipesofthedoctorofwitchcraft). I don’t want to get into the details, but we were Friends, then we weren’t, now with a click of the mouse and an invite, we’re Friends again.

Then I figured I’d better check to see if I had new Friend requests. I had one from “Melissa” who does not appear to be a real person. (She wants me to see her “naughty pictures.”) Another came from Alisa Turner, a songstress from “Everywhere” who is real, but whose name I did not recognize. I clicked on the “View Mutual Friends” link. We share two: the anti-folk singer Regina Spektor and John Ludington, a “folk/lyrical/progressive” songwriter from Eureka (also one of The Tao Jonesers).

John just happens to have a CD release party coming up Saturday, July 12, at the Jambalaya. Bouncing over to his page, I was able to hear some of the album and learn more about it. Some Glitterwas recorded 10 years ago, “but it’s awesome so we’re putting it out there,” says John, adding, “Since then I’ve written mostly stories while continuing to steer clear of as many ‘normal’ chords and progressions as possible. An album with recent material will be out spring ’09.” John’s style is something I’d call post-folk, taking the genre in new directions to spin literate tales. He mentions traveling up and down the West Coast with a “stilt-walking ballet” where he provided the soundtrack. Is that how he ended up here? I don’t know. I don’t think we’ve met in person, although we are Friends and we share 29 Friends in common, including Regina and, now, Alisa, who I’m hoping will come out this way sometime. By the way, Quitzo and Setting Sun share the bill with John that night.

Earlier Saturday (from noon until 4), those wildly flamboyant faux nuns, Eureka Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, are throwing their second annual Picnic at the Pump Station, at Pump Station No. 1 along the Mad River. There’s a barbecue by Stars, fun and games and prizes, bellydancing by Diana, and, yes, music: The Bayou Swamis will be doing their Cajun thing and DJ Blancatron will spin something appropriate.

Thanks to Pollstar we’ve been leaking news on a few things in the upcoming CenterArts season as they came up. Now the brochure is out and the list is official. As always there are a number of great shows. We’ll start at the beginning, Tuesday, Aug. 26, when Aussie folk-rockers The Waifs return to the Van Duzer. While it’s not part of the season proper, reggae legends Steel Pulse play the same night at the Kate Buchanan Room. The following night, Aug. 27, parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic takes a break from the state fair circuit to bring his “Straight Outta Lynwood” tour to the JVD. The following week brings Broadway to Arcata with a touring company of Chicago (Sept. 2) followed immediately by alt. country star Lucinda Williams, back in town with Buick 6 (Sept. 3). Next up (Sept. 16) is an evening of Malian blues with Vieux Farka Touré, son of the late great Ali Farka Touré. I heard the Taj Mahal Trio knocked them out at last weekend’s smoky Kate Wolf Fest; he’s back at the Duzer Sept. 27. Other notable shows: Linda Ronstadt,revisiting her Canciónes De Mi Padre roots with Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano (Oct. 26); stand-up from Martin Short (Nov. 7); indie star Kimya Dawson of Juno fame, who was in town not long ago for a house concert (Nov. 15) and the always awesome Richard Thompson playing the KBR (Dec. 10), and just added, jammin’ jazzers Medeski, Martin and Wood (Nov. 16).

Coming up next year, jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin (Jan. 9), Lila’s mentor Loudon Wainwright III (Jan. 17), The Second City sketch comics (Jan. 27), Afro-Cuban All-Stars (Feb. 22), guitar blues (March 3) by Jorma Kaukonen, Robben FordandRuthie Foster (who will surely steal Saturday’s show at Blues by the Bay Aug. 30), more Malian blues from Habib Koité (April 2), cool jazz from the Josh Redman Trio (April 16), wry ruminations from David Sedaris (April 27), the inimitable Leon Redbone (May 8) and the wild rhythm review Stomp closing the season with a two-night run (May 12/13).

Buying tickets ahead is recommended if you don’t want to be in the balcony. Bulk discounts kick in when you pick six or more, and if the cash outlay is too hard to handle, they allow for an installment plan.

One thing you might not notice is this season’s contraction overall. The ’08/’09 season includes 33 different shows, not counting three “special add on shows,” the above-mentioned Steel Pulse show, Asylum Street Spankers at Mazzotti’s (Sept. 4) and Black Crowes with Howlin Rain (Sept. 10). Some dry statistics, based on a look at brochures from the last couple of years: The ’07/’08 CenterArts season included 48 different shows and offered a reduced price “I Can’t Believe I Bought the Whole Thing” package, with a ticket to each, for $1,551. The ’06/’07 season saw 46 shows and a Whole Thing package for $1,402. This year you can pay just $991 for the Whole Thing. The lower price is partly because there are fewer shows, but also because the individual prices are down overall and there are fewer mega-shows, nothing like the iconic B.B. King and James Brown gigs from previous seasons.

The prediction from more than one local promoter is for a volatile year in the concert biz. If you saw the Arcata Eye last week, you know that Laura and Brian Cox finally got a loan package together to get going on their long-delayed Arcata Theatre Lounge project, and they hope their 600-seat venue will be running by the end of the year. (I wouldn’t bet on it.) Also in the pipeline: another remodel at Humboldt Brews that I’m told will expand their capacity to something over 400. All this at a time when out-of-control fuel prices are making touring more costly than ever, knocking some mid-level acts that stop here out of the game.

The festival business is taking a hit, too. Check the Reggae Rising website and the first thing you see is a contest for a $100 gas card, which might pay for gas to and from the Bay Area. They’ve also just added a Sunday-only ticket for day-trippers who can’t afford the three-day rate. Of course, both things are attempts at boosting sales, something People Productions never had to worry about in the past.

Meanwhile, word comes from in-house organizers of that other Reggae festival: “The Mateel is hopeful for a strong showing of local support as [we] work to rebuild [our] community festival and would love to see a sold out event to show the world that the spirit of Reggae On The River is alive and well. Many tickets are still available however.”

Will either festival sell out? I wouldn’t bet on it. The Clint Black show coming up at the Arkley Center sold out, however. And my guess is folks will snap up tickets for the A-Center’s recently announced Aug. 4 appearance by The Doobie Brothers, even if it is the Monday after Reggae.

With the concert business in trouble, and CD sales slipping, how’s a musician going to make a living? Hard to say, but there are plenty of folks out there making music, whether they get paid or not. Take a look around MySpace, you’ll find them.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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