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July 21, 2005

The Hum

Where's Betty?


This week's big entertainment story is not about an event about to happen, it's about one that won't be happening: Camp Betty Campout 2005, an ambitious three-day concert "celebrating the music, arts and creativity of women" scheduled for this weekend at Black Oak Ranch.
After an initial announcement in March 2004, a well-designed website helped spread the word and the "first annual" event grew in size, reputation and scope, adding a film festival, workshops and an art gallery along the way. Festival organizer Jenefer White signed dozens of musicians, including numerous locals and a few relatively big names like Laura Love and Lucy Kaplansky. The future looked bright.

Then on July 12, White announced that she was pulling the plug. What happened? "In brief, Jen did not do a very good business plan," said White when I called her Sunday at her home in Eureka. "I thought we could pull it off, and I didn't take seriously the idea that I needed investors who were willing to lose $100,000."

Any concert promoter is rolling the dice every time she puts on a show, betting that the proceeds will at least match the expenses. Early last week White was looking hard at some not-too-promising numbers. While interest was high close to 400 women "from one end of the country to the other" had volunteered to help out running the event advance sales for the concert totaled just 120.

"Two weeks ago I had a meeting with Bob Barsotti [a former Bill Graham associate who handles business for the Black Oak Ranch] and he sat down with me to go through the financials," White recalled. "He said, `OK Jen, here's the deal: You need to sell 1,200 to get back to where you are now.' And that was with me losing $40,000 I have invested so far. I was willing to lose all of my money to make this happen. The artists wanted and needed the venue. We just didn't have the advance sales to make it work.

"The nightmare that would have happened was, if 1,000 people didn't show up at the gate, I would have had all these artists there and no way to pay them, let alone the staff and the landowners. I just couldn't do that."

At this point White is $40,000 in the red; unpaid guarantees to performers will likely cost her another $40,000. "I'm being upfront and honest, admitting that I owe them money and that I made a huge business error. I don't know how I'm going to dig my way out of it."

While she is reeling from what would seem to be the loss of her dream, White is still feeling hopeful enough to report the cancellation as a delay. The message you find at the Betty website reads, "It is with heavy hearts that we must announce that the first annual Camp Betty Campout has been postponed until Summer 2006." Can Betty garner the same sort of support again and gather enough funds to move forward? That remains to be seen.

Meanwhile in McKinleyville, Tamaras, one of the many local performers left gig-less and "sad and disappointed" by the loss of Betty, leapt into action to organize an alternative event, albeit a far less ambitious one. Camp Better Than Nothing, "in no way affiliated with Camp Betty," takes place Friday, July 22, beginning at 7 p.m. at El Butmo Ranch, an old barn off Dows Prairie Road in McKinleyville.

"It's like, what you gonna do man," said Tamaras, when she called to drum up some ink for the event. "All of the money's gonna go to the artists who lost out [when Betty was cancelled]. Placebo donated their sound system; we have the place, the music, we just need our friends to spread the word."

Among those committed so far: funky, grungy folky Tamaras (of course), her twangy friend from Nashville, Amelia White (who incidentally flew out here on Jen's dime), folk-rocker Eileen Hemphill-Haley (who has a very busy weekend with gigs at a farmers' market, the Catch Café and Folklife's Saturday blowout in Blue Lake), country artist Kitty Rose, poet Christa Laririt, Alesia Panajota from Blues Per Square Inch and, as "Mistress of Ceremony," Mythara (who if nothing else, has an intriguing name). Directions to the barn can be found at No computer? Call 616-3678.

We haven't seen a lot of big-name mainstream country artists in Humboldt since Oakleaf Productions folded its tent a few years back. That changed this summer as two casinos opened their big bingo rooms to large-scale concerts and started booking country. The latest: Clay Walker plays Thursday, July 21, in Blue Lake Casino's Sapphire Palace. Walker is a Texas boy, born in Beaumont, home of George Jones. This is a guy who can sell records, more than 8 million so far. A recent blurb in music biz bible Billboard notes, "Walker has landed six No. 1 singles on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart since his career began in 1993. He has four platinum and two gold albums to his credit, according to the RIAA. Seven of his nine albums have gone top 10 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart."

There's an interesting juxtaposition of local rock styles at Humboldt Brewery Friday, July 22, as Nucleus, a self-described "maniacal power rock trio" coming out of the jamband world shares a bill with local garage rockers Trash and Roll. Should be cool.

Same night at Rumours in Eureka, punky, funky rockers Kids for Sale join forces with The Shine, a relatively new local band that includes David Bullard, formerly of Wonderland Ave.

Saturday, July 23, out in Blue Lake it's the Humboldt Folklife Society's free all-day folk music fest, the culmination of a full week of concerts that were discussed in detail in last week's Hum. (Thanks Joel, Gus and Cat for covering while I was away). I attend this event every year and it's never disappointing except for the fact that you can't see and hear everything because there are always several things going on at once. Music starts at noon with the Sari Baker Trio and Humboldt Accordions on the main stages (workshops begin at 10 a.m.) and runs until 9, when a kinder, gentler acoustic version of The Rubberneckers closes the show (their set starts at 8). In between you can hear a wide range of great music that extends beyond what you might think of as folk.

Later on Saturday night the electric Rubberneckers hit The Alibi along with Seattle-based trio The Riffbrokers, who describes itself as, "a twang-tinged power pop combo that appeals to the consort that read No Depression but still love The Jam."

Kulica plays its jazzy folk/rock grooves at the fest (at 6 p.m.) then heads over to the Blue Lake Casino for some late-night sets.

Elsewhere: Mobile Chiefing Unit lays down dubby psychedelic jams at Rumours and the Karen Dumont Electric Blues Band rocks Six Rivers Brewery.

The Hitch is at The Alibi Sunday night displaying its intricate metalwork alongside Washingtonian heaviness by Federation X, a fine trio with a brand new disc, Rally Day, on Estrus Records, the premier stoner rock label.

Are you ready for Reggae? The one "on the River" is sold out (as usual), but there's some excellent Jamaican reggae coming to Mazzotti's next week: Everton Blender and Blend Dem Band plays Wednesday, July 27.

Blues fans should not miss next Thursday's boardwalk concert in Eureka when harmonica master Mick Martin and The Blues Rockers, from Antelope Calif., play classic American (and British) blues. (Martin's latest, Tip of the Hat, focuses on the British blues revival.)

That's all the space allotted for this week. See you next time. It's good to be back.


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