Singer/songwriter fiddler/guitarist Laurie Lewis is a shining light in the Bay Area neo-bluegrass world. She's a dynamic performer, almost always joined by her longtime musical partner Tom Rozum on mandolin. She also serves as a mentor for younger musicians. That's how Lewis met the musical duo Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman, familiar in Humboldt since Melody lived here for years and played with a wide range of bands from AkaBella and Vintner's Daughters to WoMama.
Lewis knew Groopman from mentoring one his previous bluegrass bands. "When he started working with Melody, he got in touch with me to run over some of their songs, to have me listen and give some feedback before they did this EP recording project," Lewis recalled. Impressed with Walker's songs and singing, Lewis included the duo in New Voices, a folk showcase she curated last April at the Berkeley folk club Freight and Salvage.
This weekend the two duos are doing a mini-tour together -- a Friday gig in Martinez, Walker's hometown, followed by a show on Saturday at the Arcata Playhouse. Walker emphasized that it's not a case of Melody and Jacob opening for Laurie and Tom. "Both duos will play equal time and collaborate a lot in between -- it's a whole integrated show." Lewis says she's looking forward to the experience. "They're such great players and there's a lot of overlap of interests between the two duos. I think people who are fans of Tom and me will like Melody and Jacob a lot, and I think people who are fans of Melody and Jacob will like us a lot. ... It's going to be really good." Sounds good to me.
The name Bill Botrell may not ring a bell, not unless you're someone who reads liner notes -- the guy's name is in the credits on literally millions of record sleeves. Back in the '70s he got his start in the SoCal music business with Jeff Lynne from ELO, who hired him as an engineer. Botrell spent the '80s doing freelance engineering for mega-stars including Michael Jackson (Bad and Dangerous), Madonna (Like a Virgin), Tom Petty (Full Moon Fever) and the Dylan/Harrison/Orbison supergroup Traveling Wilburys (with Petty, Lynne and Jim Keltner). When he engineered Sheryl Crow's first record in 1995 (Tuesday Night Music Club), the single from it, "All I Wanna Do," took the "Record of the Year" Grammy. Impressive. Then there was the I Am Shelby Lynne record in 1999, and a move to Albion. He's been there since, mostly focusing on his own music. On Thursday Botrell plays songs and tells stories at the Arcata Playhouse accompanied by bass player David Hayes, a veteran who worked for years with Van Morrison.
Friday the Playhouse hosts "Legends of the Celtic Harp" with legendary harpist Patrick Ball telling tales and strumming his wire-strung Celtic harp alongside Lisa Lynne, who plays mandolin, bouzouki and Celtic harp, and Aryeh Frankfurter, who plays cittern, nyckelharpa (a Swedish bowed instrument that's a cross between a fiddle and a hurdy gurdy), and the Celtic harp (of course). Between them they promise to "take you deep into the myths, magic and fabled history of this most captivating instrument."
Saturday evening in the Plaza Grill View Room, local Irish musicians and friends will gather in a celebration of the life of Charles Huntting Rudd, better known as Charlie, who died in November. Charlie was more than proficient on the concertina, penny whistle and Uilleann pipes -- he played them with the Primal Drone Society and other local Celtic bands and told stories he learned during travels in Ireland. His musical friends and family will share tales from his life and play some Irish tunes to remember him.
That same night at the Arcata Presbyterian Church you'll hear stories told by the North Coast Storytellers. Master storyteller Baba Jamal Koram is in town for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, something that North Coast Storytellers founder Dan O'Gara arranged in the last few years. Sadly, Dan will only be there in spirit this time -- he died last week. His yarn-spinning friends will undoubtedly share some stories of Dan's life and times.
Monday's Bowl of Beans Benefit and celebration of Dr. King at the Arcata Community Center includes Baba Jamal and, as usual, stirring songs from the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir and the associated Interfaith Children's Gospel Choir, plus students from Arcata Elementary with a Stomp-inspired routine. This year's MLK birthday party is a bit different: It includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially changing the name of the short street leading to the community center from Community Parkway to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.
Funky sax man Chris Noonan (from Afromassive, Moo-Got-2, etc.) is back in town for a couple of unusual gigs. Thursday he's at Humboldt Brews subbing for the saxophonist in the excellent Seattle funk/Afrobeat big band Polyrhythmics. "They're comrades of Afromassive and we sometimes kidnap their trumpet player for our shows, so now I get to return the flavor," he explains. "I'm also opening the show as my alter-ego MaDDHaTTa, where I combine live instruments such as sax and flutes with some of my original material and other current dub, glitch, ghettofunk-style tracks." MaDDHaTTa also plays for Sundaze at the Jambalaya, opening for house music maven Gabriel Black from San Jose and Deep Groover The Middle Agent.
Keith Anthony Blair, better known as Anthony B, returns to Humboldt Thursday for a night of Rastaman vibrations at the Arcata Theatre Lounge, joined by Jamaica-born semi-local Stevie Culture on the Freedom Fighters Tour. It's kind of unfortunate, but Jan. 17 also happens to be the third Thursday in the month, the designated night for Upful! Third Thursdays at the Jambalaya, when dreadlocked DJ Red Rasta spins platters for the reggae massive. He's probably hoping the ATL show will end early.
Friday's Women's Winter Music Festival at the Mateel features the New York-based trio Red Molly, banjo/guitar, husband/wife bluegrass duo Anne and Pete Sibley and locals Joanne Rand and Lyndsey Battle. First time for this fest, which the Mateel plans on doing annually.
Relive the days of old school rap Friday night at the Red Fox with Black C from RBL Posse and 2Pac associate Rappin 4 Tay. Both came out of the '90s San Francisco gangsta rap scene: RBL (Ruthless by Law) was what you'd have to call an authentic gangsta posse -- Black C's bandmates Mr. Cee and Ricky "Hitman" Heard were both killed in gun battles. Anthony "Rappin 4 Tay" Forté served time on drug charges before he showed up on 2Pac's All Eyez on Me album. Too young for the club? Black C and Rappin 4 Tay have an all ages meet 'n' greet at the Works before the show (7 p.m.).
Northcoast Environmental Center celebrates installation of executive director Dan Ehresman with a little party at the Arcata Playhouse Wednesday evening with music by Jan Bramlett, Josephine Johnson, Sam Whitlach, Mo Hollis and NEC's own Morgan Corviday (she's the editor of EcoNews). The music part (5:30-7:30) is followed by a documentary on eco-activism, A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle For a Living Planet, from filmmaker Mark Kitchell who was nominated for an Oscar for his film, Berkeley in the Sixties.
Call it alt. Americana night next Wednesday at the Shanty, with headliner Tater Famine up from Santa Cruz joined by like-minded local combo Gunsafe and wild one-man band The Bored Again. Tater Famine has John Dodds on guitar, Matteo Brunozzi on mandolin and Lauren Burman on the big ol' bass playing twangy music the trio says is influenced by Bad Religion and the Avett Brothers (I hear The Pogues too). Tune in KHUM Wednesday around 5 p.m. for a Tater preview. Tasty.