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September 1, 2005

The Hum



When I was told that Dirk Powell was "busy in the studio" on Monday and might be hard to reach, it did not occur to me why. It turns out his studio, Cypress House, is near Lafayette, Louisiana, potentially in the path of Hurricane Katrina, and he was battening down the hatches preparing for a deluge.

"We were really lucky. We didn't get any damage at all," he told me on Tuesday morning. "If it hadn't made that last turn to the northeast we would have been right in the line of it. It's a gamble every hurricane season here. You wait it out and hope you'll be all right."

Powell lives in Louisiana with his wife Christine Balfa. He became a master of Cajun-style accordion, learning from her father, Dewey Balfa, one of the legendary Balfa Brothers. Dirk and Christine founded the Cajun group, Balfa Toujours, after Dewey's passing in 1992.

But when he comes to the Red Radish in Blue Lake next Thursday, Sept. 8, for a Humboldt Folklife show, it will be as leader of the Dirk Powell Band, a group that plays old time mountain music. A multi-faceted instrumentalist, Powell also shines on fiddle and banjo, playing the Appalachian styles he learned from his grandfather, J.C. Hay, in the hills of Kentucky.

"That's really my first language musically," said Powell, explaining that he learned old time music at its source. "You can study the notes, but when you really feel people's lives and feel how much it means to them, then it carries that weight into your life. And that's what I wanted it to be for me. I realized how much it meant to them."

What does it mean? "Well, it's a means with which to express your innermost feelings with the world. I think a lot of people have that in traditional cultures, but as traditional cultures have been replaced by more modern, mass cultural settings, a lot of the entertainment goes a different way. If you sit and watch TV, it's coming out of the TV at you, and you're not putting anything back into it. But when you play music, especially within a known framework, then, not only are you being entertained and passing the time, you are also saying some of the deepest things you have to say."

The folks at the Red Radish had previously booked David Ross MacDonald for a return engagement that night. As the sisters in the Aussie folk band the Waifs are on maternity leave, their drummer is touring solo again, playing finger -- style guitar and singing his well -- crafted songs. David's music is far from old timey. As Folklifer Jen put it, "We put the incongruities together -- it will just be a diverse night," and undoubtedly a memorable evening. The Red Radish does not hold many people, so I'd advise getting tickets right away.

Saturday Sept. 3, at Mazzotti's it's the return of Jackie Greene, a young blues/folk artist who was one of the featured "special guests" at last spring's Redwood Coast Jazz Festival. I caught two sets by Greene at the jazz fest. He was good at the Muni where he played solo opening for Dan Hicks -- Jackie's songwriting is great and he can deliver a tune -- but the show earlier in the day at the Eureka Theater with his full--on rockin' electric band was much better. Rest assured, he's bringing the band to Mazzotti's.

Looking for your weekly reggae fix? Stop by Que Grande Tacos, the taco wagon at Spear and Alliance in Arcata Saturday for roots music by Fiya Roots Crew, DJs Selah, Truth and Mass-Spect from noon until 6 p.m.

Former and current members of Que La Chinga and Slewfoot String Band join forces Saturday night at The Alibi playing Humboldt--style hillbilly music as The Dirt Nap Band. Local indie rockers Strix Vega share the bill.

Sunday at the Alibi catch Dameon Lee, this week in Lowlights mode, along with Rademacher, a band from Fresno who promises "an intoxicating mix of windswept balladry, raucous post-punk and indie integrity."

Saturday's Arts Alive includes music at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates by those first-rate folk-rockers, the Eileen Hemphill-Haley Band. (Eileen and company also play Thursday, Sept. 1, at Six Rivers.) Arts Alive at the Morris Graves features pianist Easton Stuard, back in town from Oregon to play the museum's baby grand, joined by flautist Jill Petricca.

The end of summer festival season continues and with the long Labor Day weekend come several multi--band outdoor parties. In Arcata Sunday, Sept. 4, it's the 20th Annual I Block Party, starting at noon in between and in front of Los Bagels and Wildwood Music. They'll have fun stuff for the kids and music all day including samba by Bloco Firmeza, newgrass by Moses Lincoln Johnson, country punk by Que la Chinga, and jamrock by Nucleus (in that order). Admission is free, but bring some cash for local brews, the tasty barbecue, desserts, a raffle and a silent auction, all to support a good cause: efforts to improve life in Arcata's sister city, Camoapa, Nicaragua.

Simultaneously on the Arcata Plaza, gypsy-grass jamming Absynth Quintet plays for the Summer Music and Art Series with The 707s opening. (Absynth Q. also plays Saturday night at Humboldt Brews.)

Meanwhile Sunday in Eureka there's Brews by the Bay, which seems to be an adults-only (21+) extension of the Rotary Club of Old Town's annual Festival on the Bay, which takes place in the same place, Halvorsen Park, the following day. At Sunday's Brews event, you can engage in beer tasting with samples from a dozen micro-breweries and listen to blues by the Clint Warner Band at noon (Clint is also at the Blue Lake Casino Friday night) followed by a double shot from Blue Lake, The Rubberneckers (at 1:05) and Kulica (2:10). (Kulica plays for the Arcata Farmers' Market Saturday morning.) Then it's blues/rock from the Jeff Jolly Band (3:15) and closing the show with a set starting at 4:30, Red Beans and Rice, a blues band from Monterey who recently added former Humboldter Bishop Mayfield as their new lead singer.

Monday's Festival on the Bay is a more family--oriented affair with children's entertainment by clowns and magicians, the Quacks for KEET, rubber ducky race (at 1:30), an albacore bbq, and music by Somewhere North (10 a.m.), Sara Fae (11:15 ), reggae/rock by Rhythmethod (12:20), and classic rock by Dr. Squid (1:25) who also play a second set with Sari Baker out front. Then it's Cajun tunes by The Bayou Swamis (3:35), and closing, Que La Chinga, fresh from Sunday's I-Block.

Singer/songwriter Meridian Green plays a house concert Tuesday, Sept. 6, between Arcata and Eureka. Green, the daughter of folk singer Bob Gibson, grew up in Greenwich Village, then settled in Mendocino where she performed Romanian czardas, Portuguese fado and Appalachian music with the Gypsy Gulch International String Band, then later, bluegrass and country rock with former Byrds member, Gene Parsons. More recently she's moved to Oregon and has been performing her own songs up and down the West Coast. For reservations, directions or further details about the show, contact Michael at or 445--4252.

Coming up next Thursday, Sept. 8, at Mazzotti's, Floridian swamp funksters Mofro plus Cali-soul from Samantha Stollenwerck. More on that one next week. For now, have a great Labor Day -- and don't work too hard. ·


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