Considering the fact that we're something of a rural backwater, Humboldt County certainly plays host to a lot of music in a wide range of styles. Sometimes there are just way too many choices of where to go and what to do. Check this week's calendar section for a rundown on this weekend's classical overload. The same is true in other genres.
Let's start with reggae, and we're talking lower case (we'll skip the Reggae biz this week). Friday, March 23, at the Red Fox, you've got a fine Cali-reggae outfit, Soul Majestic, a band out of Santa Cruz who among other things played Reggae on the River in '05 and toured the U.S. with Anthony B. They're up against a show at Indigo Lounge that night with The Skatalites, the godfathers of ska, the Jamaican style of music that preceded reggae.
The Skatalites have a fabled history. Almost all of the initial band members came from the Alpha Boys School, a combination orphanage/reform school in Kingston run by the Sisters of Mercy, where everyone was taught a trade - those in the Alpha School Band learned to be professional musicians. In the early '60s, that meant working in nightclubs and tourist joints playing American jazz and R&B. When they didn't have gigs they'd head for the hills outside town to jam with Rasta drummers like Count Ossie, an experience that spun things in a new truly Jamaican direction, leading to the creation of ska with its unusual hiccupping beat. In 1964 and '65, The Skatalites were the kings of ska, recording seminal tunes like "Guns of Navarone" and backing numerous singers as the JA record industry was born.
They didn't stick together long back then, but they reformed in the '80s around the time ska was revived in England, and again more recently. Of course a number of the original players have passed on, Tommy McCook, Rolando Alphonso, Jackie Mitoo and Don Drummond among them, but the current nine-piece lineup still includes drummer Lloyd Knibb and horn player Lester Sterling from the first Skatalites. Vocalist Doreen Shaffer has rejoined, and the younger guys carry the ska torch well.
Backing up to Thursday, March 22 - again, dreadies must make a choice. At Humboldt Brews, it's Humboldt's top reggae band Ishi Dube and Massagana. Their competition? The Abyssinians, one of the seminal vocal trios from the early days of reggae in JA, playing at the Red Fox. I'm sure the members of Massagana are bummed to miss this show - their band is named for The Abyssinians' classic song, "Satta Massagana." The trio's members, Bernard Collins, Donald Mannings and David Morrison, are on the road with the Cali-reggae band The Reggae Angels, plus OneRoot Soundsystem with DJs Papa Joshua and Selector Singh.
Moving on to the alt. world, we have several shows Thursday night dueling for the same audience. At the Pearl, it's Henpecker, who rocked the Jam on St. Pat's (Should I mention that their guitar player got 86ed later? Probably not.) plus The Femurs, a Ramones-esque punk duo from Seattle, and the nightclub debut of Dynamite Sweater, who slipped me a copy of their demo at the Jam Saturday.
As D.S. songwriter DJ Red explains, "Dynamite Sweater is Mike and Tad (of Cutters fame) on guitar and bass, respectively, and yours truly on 'drums' and 'vocals.' I use quotation marks around those terms because I'm using them quite loosely. I call our music 'comedic rock 'n' roll on the new wave tip' -- it's very tongue-in-cheek and nowhere near as good as The Cutters."
The songs are fun and funny: One speaks of their desire to open for The Buffy Swayze (hasn't happened yet), another is ready-made for a no-budget zombie vid. I especially liked "Portland," a little ditty about the tendency of local rockers to move to Oregon, concluding, "if Portland I can't hack, don't give me shit when I move back."
Meanwhile that night at the Accident Gallery, two Olympia punk bands, The Pasties and Fierce Perm, join forces with locals The Professional Superheroes.
Over in Arcata Thursday, the Jambalaya plays host to The Husbands, a kick-ass trio from S.F. touring with Black Time, a lo-fi garage band from London. Local openers The Invasions have shifted from zombie surf to post-New Wave.
Earlier that night at the Jam, it's the Arcata debut of Mr. Calamari's Jazz Machine, the jazzy alter ego of Dr. Squid, with special guests from the Martinez family, in town because drummer Bob Martinez (of the APD) is getting married Saturday. (Dr. Squid is at Blue Lake Casino Friday.)
Also on Thursday, in the alt. vein the "sultry twilight" folk duo Felina, from Seattle, at Muddy's Hot Cup. Pick up a copy of their cool/dusty disc, Let Me Tell You a Story. They're on the road with DeMarco, a hip Americana duo out of the Southwest.
Speaking of the Southwest, I have an unconfirmed theory about all the bands coming through town -- I'm guessing a number of them just got done with South by Southwest in Austin and are out west or heading home for that reason.
Again on Thursday, but attracting a different crowd (hip hoppers), Oakland's King of Hyphy, Keak da Sneak, plays Indigo. According to Wikipedia he's the guy who coined the term "hyphy."
Wait, there's one more on Thursday: Six Rivers has San Pablo Project, a funky outfit from the East Bay that takes its name from San Pablo Blvd. According to band member Matteo, the band is into "that good ol' down-home finger-licking funk like Booker T, Meters, etc. We prefer to mix it up [and] throw down a few AfroCuban grooves, a dollop of reggae, pinch of Afro-beat, and of course a healthy dose of chunky Oakland funk." S.P.P. also plays Friday, March 23, at the Pearl.
Friday at the Jambalaya, it's slide guitarist Ben Sidelinger and banjo man Phill Saylor Wisor, aka The Shiftless Rounders. The folky guitar/banjo duo out of Maine now calls the above-mentioned Portland, Ore. home.
A free all-ages show at Sacred Grounds Friday features Frank Turner, formerly of the Brit punk band Million Dead, with songs from his latest, Campfire Punk Rock, plus Joshua English, another punk gone solo from Boston's Six Going on Seven.
Down at the Riverwood Friday night, it's J.B. Beverley and the Wayward Drifters, led by former hobo J.B. Beverley,who sings country classics and his own tales of life on the road, trains and so on. J.B. and his guitar are backed by upright bass slapping and a killer banjo man. Saturday, March 24, the W. Drifters head north for a Bad Kitty show at the Logger Bar in Blue Lake, where they share the bill with Two Timin' Three, a rockabilly trio out of Austin.
You'd expect The Rubberneckers to be there if not for the fact that they play Saturday night at the Jambalaya as part of what Clay's calling "the three-town throw down," with Eureka indie-rockers Eustace and Arcata's Pete Ciotti, who, I'll point out, will be a newlywed by then. (He's getting married this week. And he's playing Friday at Humboldt Brews with his band Nucleus.)
More music from Portland: The "Puppies in Heaven" Tour hits Humboldt Brews Saturday pairing bluegrass/old time/Americana trio Whiskey Puppy with a wild neo-jug band, The Mighty Ghosts of Heaven.
Also on Saturday, out at Mosgo's, "songs that span the human condition with Appalachian roots," sung by none other than Joanne Rand and the Rhythm of the Open Hearts.
For the polar opposite check hip hop legend Del tha Funkee Homosapien playing Saturday night at the Red Fox. Del is from Oakland's Hieroglyphics crew, but he's probably better known for his guest shot on the "Clint Eastwood" track on the mega-seller disc by Gorillaz.
That same night at Indigo, a film crew from Montana working on a doc about rural hip hop will shoot a set by Fortuna's Dirty Rats.
The Portland onslaught continues Sunday, March 25, with the fourth show in a row at the Jambalaya: Vagabond Opera offers "passionate Bohemian vaudvillany, gut-bucket swing, Paris hot jazz, Arabic bellydance, tangos, Ukrainian folk-punk ballads, klezmer and vigorous originals mingling with Absurdist, Neo-Classical and European cabaret style." I saw these folks last spring and they are great. Highly recommended. Universalia Jane opens.
For the jamband crowd we have The Illuminasty Trio Monday, March 26, at the Red Fox, with the mad, manic sax man Skerik, his former Critters Buggin bandmate, drummer Mike Dillon (also of Hairy Apes BMX) and bassist James Singleton, "playing the hits of all Conspiratorial eras and creating a 4th book to The Illuminatus, in the nastiest way possible."
A message from the lovely Melody Walker notes that The Luscious Ladies (she's one of them) will be singing at Jambalaya Wednesday, March 28, with Lenny "Nipsy" Pettinelli on keys and "other amazing jazz players TBA."
That same Wednesday in the Ink People space (back of the Muni) it's Philly electro-metal trio Genghis Tron,who I mainly know as the guys who helped out Michelle Cable of Panache when she had her accident a while back. The Placebo show also includes Georgian psyche-metal band Kylesa, Tokka/Rahzar from San Luis Obispo and locals MTV and Mortiphobia. Music at 7. Bring earplugs.
In closing I'll pass along some sad news relayed by friends in the Humboldt Folklife Society. Don Wolski, long time Folklifer, ace computer technician and host of "The Bayside Hayride," an old timey/bluegrass music show on KHSU, died peacefully at his home in Bayside early Monday morning, ending his struggle with cancer. Expect some joyful picking at the celebration of his life scheduled for April 1, at the Bayside Grange. R.I.P. Don.