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Apr 26th
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Features

The Sonny Side of Life

The Sonny Side of Life

Sonny Rollins resurrects the golden era of jazz at the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival

There are music fans that travel the globe like surfers looking for the perfect wave, and this year at the Monterey Jazz Festival there is depth, height and a wide selection of acts to please the most ardent jazz aficionado, or those just looking for a fun ride. Now in its 54th year and located on the Monterey Fairgrounds, this is one festival that provides entertainment for all levels of listeners: discussions of jazz in film with Clint Eastwood, a tribute to soul music with Huey Lewis and the News, a peek into the funkified world of Herbie Hancock, plus Terence Blanchard in a tribute to Miles Davis, to name a few.

A Grounds Pass will get you the Motown groove of Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88’s, the New Orleans sounds of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, and The Soul Rebels Brass Band—or you can upgrade to an Arena Pass to catch the bigger names like Huey, Herbie and India.Arie. All will enjoy tasty food and artistry at vendor booths, but be warned, once you leave your patch of grass, navigating back through the crowds will be a challenge.

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Features

Texas Mojo

Texas Mojo

Tales of top hats, medicine men and synchronicity from The Band of Heathens

Gordy Quist is praying for a Texas flood. “It’s an outdoor gig here in Austin, and it’s like 110 degrees!” laments the singer-songwriter/guitarist. It seems Quist has just finished up a soundcheck for a hometown show with his quintet, The Band of Heathens.

The Heathens are set to appear at Kuumbwa Jazz on Saturday, Sept. 17 in support of their new Americana album, Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster’s Son. While still peppered with the influences of bands like The Grateful Dead, The Band and The Black Crowes, the disc places a little more emphasis on the blues and R&B, than the group’s previous efforts.

Hold on … Top Hat and the who?
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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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We Can Rebuild You

A look back at how downtown Santa Cruz recovered from the 1989 earthquake

 

International Earth Day—Mother Earth Day

Every April 22, humanity celebrates International Mother Earth Day and Earth Day. As more than a billion people participate in Earth Day activities every year, Earth Day has become the world’s largest civic observance. The massive concern to build right relations between humanity and the living being we call Earth is evidence of humanity’s love of the Mother. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed April 22 International Mother Earth Day, with a significant resolution affirming “the interdependence existing among human beings, other living species (the kingdoms—mineral, plant, animal and human) and the planet itself, the Earth which we all inhabit.” The Earth is our home. Celebrating Earth Day helps us define new emerging processes (economic, social, political) focused on the well-being of the kingdoms. Through these, humanity seeks to raise the quality of life, foster equality and begin to establish right relations with the Earth. We dedicate ourselves to bringing forth balance and a relationship of harmony with all of nature. Learn about planting a billion trees (the Canopy Project); participate in 1.5 billion acts of green. Disassociation (toward Earth) is no longer viable. We lose our connection to life itself. Participation is viable—an anchor, refuge and service for all of life on Earth. Visit earthday.org; harmonywithnatureun.org; and un.org/en/events/motherearthday for more information. From Farmers Almanac, “On Earth Day, enjoy the tonic of fresh air, contact with the soil, companionship with nature! Go barefooted. Walk through woods, find wildflowers and green moss. Remain outside, no matter the weather!” Nature, Earth’s most balanced kingdom, heals us. The New Group of World Servers is preparing for the May 3 Wesak Buddha Taurus solar festival. We prepare through asking for and offering forgiveness. Forgiveness purifies and like nature, heals.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Mission Critical

How reading Lisa Jensen’s reviews taught me to love film
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Oral Fixations

Blown away by a Tuesday night dinner at Oswald

 

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Hydrogen-gas cars that are coming this summer. Scott Oliver, Santa Cruz, Professor

 

Sarah’s Vineyard

Sarah’s Vineyard of Gilroy is known for crafting fine wines—and one of my all-time favorites is its Chardonnay. But this time, its Viognier has my vote.

 

Munch

East Coast meets West Coast in new meat lover’s paradise