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Mar 05th
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Music

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Love Your Local Band

Taylor Rae

Taylor Rae

In June next year, after the San Lorenzo Valley High School graduates toss their caps, 17-year-old Taylor Rae Vencill will head for the stars—on Hollywood Boulevard, that is. But Vencill doesn’t aspire to be the next Julia Roberts, rather she hopes to end up .2 miles east of Grauman’s Chinese Theater at Musicians Institute, the college of contemporary music that birthed Jeff Buckley and Weezer bassist, Scott G. Shriner. There, the Ben Lomond singer-songwriter—who has taken vocal lessons since age 8 and taught herself guitar at 12—hopes to become immersed in music. “It’s something I have to do,” Vencill says of songwriting. “I don’t feel good until it’s done.” Inspired by nature and Santa Cruz’s residents, Vencill writes mature songs for her age—lyrics off her self-titled album, like “Will you ever come back around and tell me the truth, because falling in love with thin air isn’t so hard to do,” prove she’s well beyond her years. Asked about her songwriting process, Vencill explains, “I get into a zone, almost like a coma, and then when I come out of it, I can’t believe I came up with it.”

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Features

Six String Sting

Six String Sting

WebExclusive: Pacific Grove guitar maven brings finger-picking magic to The Crepe

“I guess I always loved music my entire life,” says guitarist Sean Smith, recalling the Fisher-Price toy music kit he had as a toddler, which had horns, whistles, tambourines and drums. “There is this picture of me freaking out over it. Music has always been a huge part of my life, from before I can remember.”

After playing in rock bands growing up, doing the solo acoustic bit in his early 20s, and playing for influential San Francisco indie rockers Citay, Smith left to pursue the “doom metal, Krautrock, dark folk” style found on his latest record, Huge Fluid Freedom, which dropped Aug. 30.

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Features

Forever Young

Forever Young

The 56th annual Santa Cruz Follies proves that age is just a number

When third generation Santa Cruzan Jim Idleman steps onstage, Jim Idleman no longer exists. In his place stands a tattered Fred Astaire from the 1948 musical film, Easter Parade. At his side, Barbara Wright stands tall, with the grace of Judy Garland. Together, the two perform “A Couple of Swells,” one of several songs that will anchor the 56th annual Santa Cruz Follies, kicking off Sept. 14 at The Civic Auditorium.

“We tried to get this [piece] as authentic as we can,” says Idleman. “We are actually characters in those costumes—we become somebody other than who we are.”

Offering an escape for locals age 50 and up since 1955, the musical revue—a fundraiser for Senior Citizens Opportunities, Inc. (SCO), produced by The Market Street Theatre—gives 40 people the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a live audience.

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Love Your Local Band

The Chop Tops

The Chop Tops

Santa Cruz psychobilly veterans The Chop Tops are in the midst of an insane 10,000 mile tour—35 shows across 20 states, in just five weeks. Having survived the East Coast earthquake, the band now finds itself driving into the keister of one of the biggest hurricanes in recent memory, Irene. Putting the “psycho” in rockabilly is nothing new for these road warriors who eschew the corporate model of rock and roll and live every day grateful for the opportunity to be independent working musicians. Stand-up guy and drummer (a la Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats) Sinner started the band 16 years ago and is currently enjoying his eleventh U.S. tour.

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Features

In their Footsteps

In their Footsteps

Zimbabwean ensemble Mbira dzeMuninga honors the past, inspires the future

Remember concerts before artists teamed up with Ticketmaster and Live Nation? Mbira dzeMuninga sure does. Band members of the Zimbabwean ensemble recreate the mbira and hosho-laden music of their Shona ancestors: inhabitants of southern Mozambique and northeastern Botswana, who once performed in the most intimate and dimly lit of venues—caves.

Although no longer performing “in the cave,” as the second half of their name, “dzeMuninga,” suggests—the well-sought-after act journeyed as far as Oregon, for the 2011 Zimbabwean Music Festival, Zimfest, in August—the five gwenyambiras, or “master mbira players,” make their own instruments, wear clothes made of cheetah, goat, and cow skins combined with buckskin leather, and mesmerize audiences with their musical narratives, inspired by the experiences of their ancestors.

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Features

Little Dualities

Little Dualities

Sweden’s Little Dragon spreads its wings

During the latter stages of August, Little Dragon suffered through the kind of routing that would make even the most grizzled tour veteran groan. Playing a few record release shows in support of the brand-spanking-new Ritual Union, the Swedish foursome—coming to Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library on Tuesday, Sept. 6—made stops in Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Belgium over the span of four days.

“It was very tight scheduling, but it was also very inspiring,” says drummer Erik Bodin.

“Those shows were really for the fans,” breaks in singer Yukimi Nagano. “The tickets were really cheap, and the fans were really up for it.”

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Love Your Local Band

The Best Friends

The Best Friends

“Who threw away a perfectly good white boy?!” screams a rowdy passerby on Haight Street in San Francisco, addressing The Best Friends vocalist/guitarist, Aiden Ward. Ward yells back for a high-five. Having chopped off his shoulder-length blond locks, Ward does seem clean-cut now, but don't let his ’do fool you. Fans fall for The Best Friends’ melodic dance funk with every shout: “booty scones,” “give me back my grandma!,” “I need another drink,” and “wahahaha,” are just a few of the lyrics chanted during their concerts. Bassist Derek Burte compares the spectacle to their banner: “We have a big sign. It's been caught in the rain, run over a few times. It says The Best Friends, with two dinosaurs high-five-ing.” Sometimes on stage, when they play their song “Dinosaurs,” keyboardist Benjamin Einstein and Ward “have a dinosaur battle,” says Ward. “I imagine myself as a T-Rex,” Ward admits. “I'm more of a Velociraptor,” counters Einstein.

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Features

Living in the Shadow

Living in the Shadow

Picture Atlantic tosses ‘that band that opened for Coldplay’ title, forges own path
When asked about the time his band opened for Coldplay, Nikolaus Bartunek deflects the question with a languid, matter-of-fact, “We won this contest,” then adds, “We were one of three final contestants, and Coldplay chose us.”

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Bartunek isn’t too-cool-for-school, or feigning humility. The singer and songwriter for Picture Atlantic, a San Jose-based alt-rock outfit, is concerned that he and his band are living in the shadow of the gig.

“It was a show,” Bartunek says of the 2008 performance at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. “At the time that it happened, it was great. I'm really glad we got to play it.” Then again, he worries that when his band's name is mentioned at a party, or in a bar or coffee shop, they will simply be that band that opened for Coldplay.

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Features

By the Book

By the Book

Indie quartet Stories in Braille translates epic narratives into ambient rock

Four experimental, indie rockers of Christian faith dare you to quit judging books by their covers. Meet San Jose-based Stories in Braille: Curtis Kern (drums) and Brandon Wright (bass)—two full-time college students—Jala Tass (guitar), and college student pastor Jay Kim (vocals/lyrics/guitar). Since 2008, Stories in Braille’s page-turning tales of love, unity and valor have been articulated through meticulously crafted ambient music, into albums that are, essentially, a more entertaining version of audio books.

“That’s the idea behind the band,” says Kim. “To tell stories that people can feel.” That philosophy is reiterated on the band’s Facebook and Myspace pages, where a quote by author Jim Fiebig is prominently displayed: “There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back.”

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Love Your Local Band

Nathan Dennen

Nathan Dennen

Like the ebb and flow of the tide, singer/songwriter Nathan Dennen keeps getting pulled back to Santa Cruz. In what he says feels like a past life, Dennen split his time between his home in Oakdale, and his grandfather’s house in Rio del Mar. Today, he lives in San Francisco, where he’s been inspired by “groovy music, with a lot more soul.” In the city, Dennen has created what he calls, a “little niche of music that I was really inspired to recreate and expand upon—taking old-timey music and giving it a modern flair.” To produce the ragtime saloon sound on his self-titled debut album, he used a piano built in the early 1900s, and even mixed the album on tape. “I would leave the little pops and buzzes in there to keep that raw sound,” he says. Focused on reviving Scott Joplin-esque northern jazz melodies first, and letting lyrics fall into place second, Dennen says he’s always surprised to get feedback from fans about his lyrics.

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Features

Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort

Mississippi-bred Paul Thorn sings of preachers, pimps, and small town America
One way to hear about the real-life effects of Capitol Hill rivalries is to read the newspaper. Or you could talk to somebody who travels to small towns for a living, entertaining the downtrodden and picking up fans along the way. Enter Paul Thorn—a Mississippi singer/songwriter who has been traversing America’s back roads for more than a decade, crafting musical stories based on the lives of the common man and pumping blood back into the heartland.

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Features

All Grown Up

All Grown Up

Indie-rap crew, Atmosphere, shows signs of evolution in sound and maturity
Upon listening to the latest effort from Minneapolis indie-rap crew Atmosphere, the word "maturity" comes to mind. And while it is arguably a fair adjective to describe the new album, The Family Sign, the group's front man, Sean Daley, doesn't like it.

"I make rap music, so 'mature' is kind of a bad word," says Daley, the MC better known as Slug. He prefers the word, “evolved.” "Ultimately, this is music for kids," he explains.

The group's sixth LP has passion, machismo and plenty of snark—only in a more grown-up kind of way. And Slug is fine with that.

"I can't freak the funk," he says. "I can't make another God Loves Ugly"—2002's ode to debauchery and depression, wherein Daley bemoans the loss of his fictional muse, Lucy Ford, while drowning in booze.

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Crop Circles

How the confusion over GMOs is undermining the organic movement

 

Week of Festivals: Full Moon, Lantern Festival, Purim, Holi

It is a week of many different festivals along with a full moon, all occurring simultaneously. Thursday Chinese New Year celebrations end with the Lantern Festival (at full moon). Thursday is also the Pisces Solar festival (full moon), Purim (Jewish Festival) and Holi (Hindu New Year Festival). Sunday, March 8, Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. The festival of Purim celebrates the freedom of the Hebrew people from the cruel Haman (a magistrate) seeking to destroy them. Esther, the Queen of Persia, who was secretly Jewish, saved her people from death. The sweet cookie hamentaschen celebrates this festival. Friday, March 6, is Holi, the Hindu Spring Festival celebrated after the March full moon. Bonfires are lit the night before, warding off evil. Holi, the Festival of Colors, is the most colorful festival in the world. It is also the Festival of Love—of Radha for Krishna (the blue-colored God). It is a spring festival with singing, dancing, carnivals, food and bhang, a drink made of cannabis leaves. Holi signifies good over evil, ridding oneself of past errors, ending conflicts through rapprochement (returning to each other). It is a day of forgiveness, including debts. Holi also marks the beginning of New Year. At the Pisces Solar festival we recite the seed thought, “We leave the Father’s home and, turning back, we save.” Great Teachers remain on Earth until all of humanity is enlightened. The New Group of World Servers is called to this task and sacrifice. Sacrifice (from the heart) is the first Law of the Soul, the heart of which is Love. This sacrifice saves the world.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Don’t Tell a Soul

The Secret Film Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary
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So Long, Louie’s

Louie’s Cajun Kitchen & Bourbon Bar closes, plus Back Porch pop-up, and 2015 Outstanding in the Field tour