Monday, February 28, 2011

2-28-11 Playlist

1. Free Me-Otis Redding
2. These Ain't Raindrops-James Carr
3. First I Look at the Purse-Contours
4. Piece of My Heart-Erma Franklin
5. Let's Twist Again-Chubby Checker
6. Keep Your Hands Off My Baby-Little Eva
7. A Woman, a Lover, a Friend-Jackie Wilson
8. Oh Lover-Sherri & Singin' Sammy
9. I Can't Quit You Baby-Otis Rush
10. Revival-Soulsavers
11. Freight Train-Elizabeth Cotten
12. Stackolee-Mississippi John Hurt
13. Overflowin'-Infantree
14. Bear Cat-Rufus Thomas
15. Call Me The Breeze-JJ Cale
16. Buggin' Blues-Kitty, Daisy and Lewis
17. Jesus-Amos Lee
18. Bridal Train-The Waifs
19. No One Knows My Name-Gillian Welch
20. Leave the Light On-Chris Smither
21. Wedding Bells-Lissie
22. Drop Down Daddy-Lucinda Williams
23. Antonia June-Lightning Dust
24. You're The One I Care For-The Weary Boys
25. Glencoe-Richard Thompson
26. A Song for Dreaming-Judson Claiborne
27. Lakeville-Amy Correia
28. The Poet-Ryan Bingham
29. White As Diamonds-Alela Diane
30. Ship Out On the Sea-The Be Good Tanyas
31. How'm I Doin-Mountain Man

Marchin' into March,
KCSB 91.9FM/

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Record: Contemporary Art & Vinyl Exhibit

I wish I could have seen this!! Such a brilliant idea.

An excerpt from Emily Temple's article:
"Opening this month at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, this exhibit makes it quite clear that vinyl records can be much more than just sonic masterpieces. The 41 artists whose work is represented--including Christian Marclay, Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha, and the ever-inspiring Carrie Mae Weems--made pieces out of (and about) records. The exhibition features Laurie Anderson's "viophonograph," a brilliant record-player-cum-violin, Berlin-based artist Satch Joyt's 16-foot canoe made of red 45-rpm records, and a life-sized Polaroid photomontage by David Byrne--the very one that graced the cover of the Talking Head's 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food.

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University exhibit summary:

"The Record" is the first museum exhibition to explore the culture of vinyl records within the history of contemporary art. Bringing together artists from around the world who have worked with records as their subject or medium, this groundbreaking exhibition examines the record's transformative power, from the 1960s to the present. Through sound work, sculpture, installation, drawing, painting, photography, video and performance, "The Record" combines contemporary art with outsider art, audio with visual, fine art with popular culture, and established artists with those who will be exhibiting in a U.S. museum for the first time.

The exhibition is organized by Trevor Schoonmaker, the Nasher Museum's curator of contemporary art.

"The Record" explores the intersection between visual art and music, considering the vinyl record as a lens through which to view the world. Powerfully marked with nostalgia, linked to the search for musical and cultural authenticity, and valued for its listening quality and cover visuals, the record has long been both a significant source of inspiration and material for artistic production. Indeed, for many contemporary artists, the specter of the vinyl record looms large, taking on a power and significance that moves well beyond the medium's traditional use, and thoroughly into a space of innovative artistic production. The exhibition will explore the impact of the medium on both art and popular culture and the ways in which the record has been manipulated, preserved and transformed through art.

The exhibition includes rarely exhibited early work and recent and newly commissioned work by 33 international and mutigenerational artists, as well as an interactive artist-and-musician-curated component. "The Record" exhibition will be accompanied by a wide array of educational programming, a 240-page color catalogue and an extensive website with supplemental information on the exhibition and record culture at large.

Artists (partial list)
Laurie Anderson (b. 1947 USA), Felipe Barbosa (b. 1978 Brazil), David Byrne (b. 1952 Scotland), William Cordova (b. 1971 Peru), Jeroen Diepenmaat (b. 1978 Netherlands), Satch Hoyt (b. 1975 UK), Jasper Johns (b. 1930 USA), Taiyo Kimura (b. 1970 Japan), Tim Lee (b. 1975 Korea), Christian Marclay (b. 1955 USA), David McConnell (b. 1975 USA), Mingering Mike (b. 1950 USA), Dave Muller (b. 1964 USA), Robin Rhode (b. 1976 South Africa), Dario Robleto (b. 1972 USA), Ed Ruscha (b. 1937 USA), Malick Sidibe (b. 1935 Mali), Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974 USA), Su-Mei Tse (b. 1973 Luxembourg), Fatimah Tuggar (b. 1967 Nigeria), and Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953 USA).


Vinyl dreamin',

Thursday, February 24, 2011

35th Annual Banff Film Festival

UCSB Arts & Lectures: 35th Annual Film Festival
When: February 22-February 23
Where: Arlington Theatre

The warning that the director of the Banff Centre gave before Wednesday night's screenings was undeniably true: these films will make you want to go on an adventure--immediately. The film festival offered a wide array of film genres while catering to the evening's diverse crowd. From the adrenaline junkie to the socially aware environmentalist, the film festival attracted Santa Barbarians from all ages and backgrounds, drawn together by their immense love and fascination for the undeniable allure of the natural world. With a slightly Thoreauvian meets Patagonia meets FuelTV tone, the festival's selection highlighted films in which the filmmaking and narratives were as awe-inspiring as the locations depicted. Upon leaving the always stunning Arlington Theatre, my wanderlust had never been so potent. This film festival was more than a small introspection into the natural world: it was the equivalent of a stamp on your passport. The audience held their breath with every climb and crawl, they gasped in amazement with every phenomenal physical feat, shivered with every snowy gust, swelled with every tide of the rolling sea, and gushed at the surreal world that only a few have truly seen.
The first film, The Longest Way, chronicled Christopher Rehage's travels in which he decided to walk from Beijing to Germany over the course of the year. Although his trip was cut short, the montage of the pictures taken of himself in all of his destinations allowed him to document the physical manifestations of the internal change that he was experiencing through his search and unremitting desire "to find a place called home." His film revealed the transformative power of travel, traversing the borders and landscape of the physical world and the search for one's self. It reminds me of the quote by T.S. Eliot: "We shall not cease exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." The exploration of the world coincides with the exploration (and subsequent transformation) of self in Rehage's 5-minute film. Although the film was simplistic in intention and execution, the impact was one of profound revelatory and meaningful significance. (Check it out at the bottom of this post).

As emotionally powerfully as The Longest Way, the second film, Into the Darkness, evoked an equal response, but this time of physical reaction. Into the Darkness followed extreme explorers who embarked on dangerous journeys underneath the earth's most elusive secrets: underworld caves. The audience cringed with the cave divers' struggle to get into the microscopic spaces that led to the magnificent caves adorned with ancient stalagmites. Deemed as one of Earth's "final frontiers," the hunt for these caves highlights the evanescent nature of the world's geology and the great lengths that some will endure in order to witness this uncharted terrain. Director John Waller offers a brief glimpse into the hidden worlds that are just below our feet, but teasingly out of our grasp.
In A Life Ascending, filmmakers document the life of Ruedi Beglinger, one of the most respected mountaineer guides in the world, along with his family in their residence tucked away in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. The film examines their lives of quiet solitude against the backdrop of one of the North America's most unrelenting yet stunningly beautiful geographic landscapes. We see Ruedi's life as one of simple determination: hard work, dedication, family, and a deep abiding love for the nature that he has immersed himself in since his childhood in the Swiss Alps. It is at first contradictory: adrenaline with a business plan? adventure with household responsibilities? But we soon realize that living in such harsh terrain requires not just planning, but plotting. We learn through sorrowful testimony that it is not only difficult, but also potentially fatal. With the loss of a dear friend and seven guests, Ruedi is forced to reassess what it means to be a husband, a father, and above all, a mountaineer. Banff critics describe this film as one that "ultimately explores the power of nature as both an unforgiving host and a profound teacher." Interspersed with touching poetry and resplendent music, the film explores the Beglingers' grief, love, connection, and renewal under the heavy gaze and dark beauty of Selkirk's indomitable mountains.

Feel the Hill, was positively drenched in creativity, spawned by the ideas of two 17 year-old boys who combined their penchant for master editing and a sincere passion for the sport of longboarding all on their own dime. Although not entirely groundbreakin, this film was an amazing contribution that added a zest of enlivened youth into the realm of extreme sports. In an industry constantly dominated by corporate sponsorship and the cutthroat quest for trophies, filmmakers Jeremy Comte and Alexandre Auray reminded the audience of the unadulterated sincerity and enthusiasm that sports can evoke while highlighting their incredible inclination for highly aesthetic camerawork. A People's Choice finalist in the festival, these two young men personify the Banff festival's fresh and invigorating spirit.
The evening closed with the lively and entertaining 20 minute film, The Swiss Machine which offered an interesting view into the vivid story of Ueli Steck, the fastest alpinist in the world. While his tenacity for perfection is only matched by his surprising amicable nature, Steck showed the audience the intensely arduous journey of a man pushing the limits. Slithering up the sides of daunting mountains and cliffs with fellow climber, Alex Honnold, Steck demonstrated with unparalleled physicality and steadfast concentration (jokingly attributed up to his Swiss descent) a relationship to the natural world that was not only about survival or observation: it was one of an unquenchable lust for immaculate performance and strength. While short and sweet, this film was an appropriate close to an evening that encompassed so many dimensions of the natural world: the adversarial, the enduring, the creative, the adventurous, the daring, and most of all, the irrefutable sublimity that can occur when humanity bares witness to the raw and ferocious purity of the natural world.

Happy trails,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Freight & Salvage: Chris Smither

On a cold, rainy evening in Berkeley this past weekend I saw Chris Smither perform at one of the coolest venues in town: the Freight and Salvage coffeehouse. With floor to ceiling wooden walls and wagon wheel chandeliers, Freight and Salvage offered me an incredible concert experience (while completely satisfying my caffeine addiction). Every seat was filled and the aisles were full of people teeming to get an earful of Chris Smither, an acclaimed "blues infused innovator." Celebrating it's 40th anniversary in 2008, Freight and Coffee has created a tradition of playing host to a myriad of musicians of all genres. In its biography, the owner, Nancy Owens, states that, "Since its founding in 1968, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse has been deeply rooted in that aspect of Berkeley's culture that embraced freedom, tolerance, cooperation, and innovation. It has resisted the bottom line mentality, and, instead, has been a mission-driven non-profit organization. The club not only survives, it has become a world famous venue for traditional music, be it folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, world-beat, or gospel...From the start, my hope was to be multi-ethnic and multi-racial," Nancy continues, "a group of men and women and children who could get together in a spirit of community. Somehow, our dreams came together and meshed, and we created this community."

Christ Smither put on a great show, expertly blending beautiful guitar with gruff, grainy vocals. Tossing his hair back and forth and singing through a half-cracked smile, his commanding presence and witty banter was comfortable and effortless. He charmed the audience with anecdotes and stories about everything from past music festivals, to his impeding age, and, most memorably, to his young daughter. Stereo Review wrote that, "Chris Smither recasts the real folk blues in the ethereal language of the poet, projecting a kind of streetwise mysticism." Check out Richard Skelly's review as well:

"Like John Hammond and a handful of other musicians whose careers began in the 1960s blues revival, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Chris Smither can take pride in the fact that he's been there since the beginning. Except for a few years when he was away from performing in the '70s, Smither has been a mainstay of the festival, coffeehouse, and club circuits around the U.S., Canada, and Europe since his performing career began in earnest in the coffeehouses in Boston in the spring of 1966. Smither is best known for his great songs, items like "Love You Like a Man" and "I Feel the Same," both of which have been recorded by guitarist Bonnie Raitt. Raitt and Smither got started at about the same time in Boston, though Smither was born and raised in New Orleans, the son of university professors.

Smither's earliest awareness of blues and folk music came from his parents' record collection. In a 1992 interview, he recalled it included albums by Josh White, Susan Reed, and Burl Ives. After a short stint taking piano lessons, Smither switched to ukulele after discovering his mother's old instrument in a closet. The young Smither was passionately attached to the ukulele, and now, years later, it helps to explain the emotion and expertise behind his unique fingerpicking guitar style. Smither discovered blues music when he was 17 and heard a Lightnin' Hopkins album, Blues in the Bottle. The album was a major revelation to him and he subsequently spent weeks trying to figure out the intricate guitar parts. Smither moved to Boston after realizing he was a big fish in a small pond in the New Orleans folk/coffeehouse circuit of the mid-'60s.

Since then, he's more than proved his mettle as an enormously gifted songwriter, releasing albums mostly of his own compositions for the Flying Fish, Hightone, and Signature Sounds labels. Smither's albums during the '90s and into the 21st century include Happier Blue (1993, Flying Fish), Up on the Lowdown (1995, Hightone), Drive You Home Again (1999, Hightone), Live as I'll Ever Be (2000, Hightone), Train Home (2003, Hightone), Leave the Light On (2006, Signature Sounds), and Time Stands Still (2009, Signature Sounds), a career highlight. Any of Smither's releases are worthy of careful examination by guitarists and students of all schools of blues and folk music. Smither is still, to some extent, an unheralded master of modern acoustic blues. Fortunately, his recordings and festival bookings during the '90s and into the 21st century have elevated his profile to a higher level than he's ever enjoyed previously."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider

UCSB Arts & Lectures:
-Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider-
When: February 16
Where: Campbell Hall

On Wednesday, February 16 I had the immense pleasure of seeing 3-time Grammy nominee Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider perform at Campbell Hall at UCSB. Let me preface this review by stating clearly and concisely: I am not a music critic. But even with my little knowledge about Persian music or even Kalhor's instrument of choice, the kamancheh, I was able to immerse myself in the gorgeous, haunted rhythms of this collaborative performance.

Cited by NPR as being responsible for "recreating the 300-year-old form of string quartet as a vital and creative 21st century ensemble," the evening began with Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on violin, Nicholas Cords on viola and Eric Jacobsen on cello performing Giovanni Sollima's "Frederico II" from Viaggio in Italia, a composition which chronicles Italy's tumultuous history. Sollima is quoted saying that the inspiration for "Frederico II," was based off of the Italian ruler, who when his tomb was exhumed was found in the arms of woman. Sollima chose Frederico II as inspiration because he wanted to "render the bright, joyous and multiethnic atmosphere of the court of Emperor Frederico II (1194-1250) in the guise of dancing..." This inclination for a transnational transference of language, emotion, and experience parallels Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider's collaboration. What began as a soft interim soon segued into a profound musical experience that had the audience utterly captivated and enraptured with the beaucoup of musical innovation and creativity on Campbell's stage. It was at once active and tender, tantalizingly delicate yet still laden with vibrant fortitude. There was an indelible, muscular quality to their performance. And it seemed to be almost a dialogue between the instruments, a duel of an expansive, sonic feast, teased out by the musicians who sporadically beat on the sides of their instruments and playfully took turns with unique solos. And as quickly as they began this banter of sound, they just as easily, seamlessly and masterfully aligned themselves in their primal yet dulcet vibrations.

After a roar of applause, they embarked on Philip Glass' Quartet No. 3 "Mishima." Prefacing it by stating that they wanted to move from one port city (Sicily) to another port city (New York), they began to evoke a transnational, borderless and, seemingly, boundless performance. "Mishima" was multilayered, pensive, and saturated with wistful longing. The violins' wavering strings mirrored that of a slowing heartbeat or a swaying breath. It was a dark, romantic, winding tide that surprisingly culminated into an abrupt, anticipatory pause. After a few moments of searing silence, they erupted into soaring crescendo of newfound energetic revival. The song's stages were staggering: from fragile and exquisite to sojourn and somber to frenetic and pulsating, the song was both rich and riveting throughout its entirety. Inspired by the famous author's suicide after an unsuccessful coup d'etat, the group is quoted saying that the openness of the music allowed it to be "curiously 'unstuck' from time" which catalyzed them "to draw connections to other familiar sounds from the urban mechanization of Brooklyn to the drone infused textures of Persian music; all of this made the music more deeply rooted in our collective experience."

Soon it was time for the next piece. The musicians discussed how upon their pilgrimage to Iran they soon became enveloped with not only Iran's language and culture, but also the ultimate texture of the culture, a texture that seemed to permeate all facets of life, from calligraphy, to art, and, most significantly, to the music they heard everywhere, from temples to every nook and cranny of Iran's busy streets. There was a component of antiquity to their performance, almost as if an homage was being paid to the Zoroastrian temples in which they observed Kalhor improvise for hours upon hours during their trip. They likened this experience of observing Kalhor to fire, an element that was "at once hypnotic and perpetually changing." Then, Kalhor arrived: He came onto the stage, quiet and unassuming, taking his seat on a large, Persian pillow center stage. He raised his bow and immediately began Beloved, Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged, a title stemming from 16th century Turkish poet Fuzuli who writes of star-crossed lovers, doomed by their zealous love. It begins slowly, with deep complexity and intention. It rendered the audience silent with its tendrils of smokey and hollow tones, combined with its tenuous and diaphanous melodies. Soon, Kalhor's kamancheh merged with the other musician's strings, creating a marriage of two sounds and, subsequently, two worlds. It was an undulating efflux of competing but complementary sounds: it was not a clash of cultures but rather an entrancing dance. It seemed voyaging and triumphant, conjuring feelings of epic and primordial distinction. And all too soon, it was time for intermission.

After a brief break of toffee and tea, the audience returned to their seats, wide-eyed and eager for Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider to continue. Their last piece was entitled, Silent City, a collaboration that they explained was the result of a process in which they not only explored one another musically, but also delved deeper on an emotional and personal level. They relished their relationship with one another and began to learn from Kalhor the subjective and reflexive nature of time and music. Music became a journey and Silent City became an example of their assertion of control and autonomy over the time of a story: they decided to have the song tell a story in reverse, going gradually from desolation to a state of prosperity. And so the song commenced: it began like an instrumental desert, as windswept and bare as the land from which Kalhor hails. But soon this dirge bloomed into a sound of resurrection, unfurling with sounds of grandiose exultation and joy. Utilizing improvisation, call and response, and divergent harmonies, the piece becomes a narrative of "a universal testament to fallen cities and civilizations. But even more central to Silent City is the idea that life always returns, sprouting anew out of the empty landscape." As the audience sprang from their seats for a standing ovation, the ending of the song was an appropriate conclusion to an enriching evening of musicianship at its finest. Their performance was many things, but above all, it was drenched in feeling, feeling that lingered long after the last note.

All the best,

Featured Artist: LA Ladies Choir


“We have restrictions in every other place in our lives, so I wanted the choir to be a place where there are no rules, where we just enjoy each other,” says Aska Matsumiya, one of the two leaders, along with Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark, of the L.A. Ladies Choir. “Actually,” she says, correcting herself, we do have one rule: “Sing joyfully.

-By Alexa Brazilian-

"The project that’s got Hollywood buzzing? We’ll give you a hint: It’s not the next 3-D blockbuster. From Silverlake to Malibu, California’s coolest girls are joining the L.A. Ladies Choir, a group of creative types that includes model Frankie Rayder, pastry chef Jenny Park of the beloved Trails Cafe, singer-songwriter Ariana Delawari, Diva Dompé of the rock band blackblack, cult costumer and stylist Miss KK, and vintage-store owner and musician Kitty Jensen, among 30 others. The gang gets together weekly—sometimes accompanied by Rayder’s husband, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, on bass—to sing around the city, belting out everything from groovy classics by Leonard Cohen, Yoko Ono, and Marvin Gaye to originals by founders Becky Stark (front woman for both the folksy-pop quartet Lavender Diamond and the trio the Living Sisters) and Aska Matsumiya (of indie bands AsDSSka, the Sads, and Moonrats). Here, Stark and Matsumiya share the secrets and joys of perfect harmony."


By Nikki Darling

In a city crammed with noise, punk, metal and thug bands, the L.A. Ladies Choir seems downright radical: a group that is exactly what its name implies. But that’s the simple truth: They seem to have no ulterior motives other than to spread the proverbial peace and love. For real, a fluttering, unironic rainbow of pastel-colored vintage dresses, genuine smiles and beautiful faces. (This isn’t a requirement in the Ladies Choir, just some freakish accident.) Upon closer inspection, what becomes obvious is that each member’s beauty is a result of Matsumiya’s golden rule.

Formed in January after what seems to be a fated meeting, the choir gave its first performance, fittingly, on Valentine’s Day at the Aaron Rose–curated show “Passion for the Possible” at theCalifornia State University Northridge Art Galleries. The exhibit’s focus was Sister Corita, a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order, famous for her antiwar lithographs during theVietnam War. She serves as a powerful source of inspiration for the group. “If the Ladies Choir was a religion, Sister Corita would be our god,” says Matsumiya, who also performs in Moonrats, AsDSSka and Aaron Rose’s band, the Sads.

Like many magical things in this world, the L.A. Ladies Choir came into being, in part, inside a different reality, Stark explains on the phone while on tour with the Decemberists, for whom she sings background. “I had this dream. In it, I needed a female pianist and a place for the choir to rehearse.” Her band mate in Lavender Diamond, Ron Rege Jr., had been urging her to start a choir. She recalls him saying, “‘You know so many women. You all need to sing together. You need to start a choir.”

Rege organized a small singing group for an installment of Arthur Fest, and shortly thereafter Stark put together an event at the Silent Movie Theatre. “I set up this whole carnival environment: kissing booth, raffle, and a fortunetelling booth. We had a crystal ball, lace curtains, but no one wanted to be the fortuneteller.” She suggested everyone tell their own fortunes, but soon people started approaching her to describe these amazing sessions they had just finished. “So I walked to the booth to see who was doing the fortunetelling, and it was Aska’s amazing 5-year-old daughter, Babel. She is the most amazing child. Then later at a show, Aska walks up to me and says, ‘Hi, do you remember me? My daughter was the fortuneteller. I’ve been thinking of starting a ladies choir; would you want to join me?’ It all came together. Aska and I had been having the same dream!”

The choir added members, and currently consists of a bevy of notable musicians, including Anna Oxygen; Kitty Jensen from Portland’s Parenthetical Girls; Diva Dompe from Black Black and Pocahaunted; supermodel (and Flea’s wife) Frankie Rayder; and an ever-growing roster of talented, dedicated women, not all of whom consider themselves trained musicians. They now carry the message in all aspects of the group’s work, from charity functions for the downtown women’s shelter to simply hanging out and rehearsing.

Membership is pretty much open. “I actually met Becky in a coffee shop and we were discussing holiday woes, and she said, ‘Why don’t you join the choir?’ ” member Tracy Hood recalls. “I walked in and all these wonderful women were singing, and I just went, ‘Whew, I’m at home.’ ”

The choir has attempted to capture that feeling on tape. Its first EP, produced by the legendary Jim Scott (who’s worked with everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dolly Parton to Wilco, Tift Merritt and Lavender Diamond), is called Sing Joyfully, and will be released in the fall.

Stark was inspired to form some sort of choir a few years ago, after she’d finished writing music for the Tom Hanks–produced film City of Ember, which came out last fall. “It’s this story about an underground city,” she explains. Her friend, the director Gil Kenan (whom she’d met at the Smell), recruited her for the project. “[He] asked if I wanted to write postapocalyptic children’s hymns for this movie. And I just said, like, ‘Yes!’ ”

Stark speaks in excited gasps over the phone. “Making the music for that film was the most unbelievable experience ever, and it left me totally wanting so much to make music with a choir. The experience of singing together is so powerful. I had choral parts I wanted to try, but I wanted it to be a ladies choir for myself and for the world.”

Matsumiya mirrored Stark’s sentiments recently while eating a goat cheese–and–balsamic vinegar salad at Sunset Junction’s Casbah Café. Looking every bit the mercurial L.A. wandering-Gypsy musician, the striking Matsumiya says the goal from the start was simple: “We wanted to create this positive feminine energy, not against anything, but just this beautiful energy of strength and power for something, by women.”

She and her band, the Moonrats, moved to L.A. from Seattle three years ago. “I have a daughter,” Matsumiya explains, “and I wanted her to grow up in the sunshine.” As well, they packed a bit of the DIY Northwest. Her presence alongside feminist performance artist and musician Oxygen and the dozen-odd others, with Stark’s mantra of peace and love, make for an interesting swirl of women and ideas commingling and rejoicing in the same room. One of their performance staples is a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Sister O Sisters,” with the chorus, “O sisters, o sisters, let’s give up no more/It’s never too late to build a new world.” Not exactly an apolitical song, this contrast between politics and agenda and an innocent, unbridled enthusiasm offers a curious tension.

The bonus, adds Pocahaunted’s Dompe, is community. “I never really had a large group of women friends. I’ve played in bands with boys, but here, I really look forward to coming in and relaxing and being around everyone. Everyone is so different.”

And yet when they gather, the differences combine to create a single, beautiful voice."

Surrender to your feminosity,


Feature: Down Home Records


This Memorial Day weekend my father and I had the pleasure of visiting Down Home Records, a small record store in El Cerrito, CA. Cluttered with posters on the walls and worn wooden paneling, this musical treasure chest is the type of record store that attracts all types of listeners: the store caters to a crowd as diverse as its selection. It is the type of place where once you start chatting up your cashier, you find that he is not only a bluegrass fan who becomes bashful when he talks of his own recordings, but that he also holds a master's and PhD in International Relations. As we perused the new and used sections of cds and wall-to-wall vinyl, I wondered how this little gem of store has flown under the radar. Upon further research, I made the discovery: it hasn't. Check out this recent article in the New York Times:


The sign on the wall of the building that serves as the home of Arhoolie Records here, just north of Berkeley, promises “down home music,” and for 50 years, often operating on a shoestring, and a thin one at that, the label has delivered a rich and quirky mixture of blues, folk, jazz, Cajun, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco and gospel — the full panorama of American roots music — to an equally diverse collection of music fans.

John F. Kennedy had just been elected president when Chris Strachwitz, Arhoolie’s founder and still its owner, sat pasting pictures on the cover of the label’s first LP, “Mance Lipscomb: Texas Sharecropper and Songster.” Driving across the South a few months earlier, Mr. Strachwitz had recorded that blues singer at home, dreaming of giving up his job as a high school teacher but never imagining that his homespun venture would outlive some of the world’s largest recording conglomerates.

To commemorate its 50th anniversary, Arhoolie is about to release a four-CD collection of songs, ranging in style from the blues of Jesse Fuller to the free jazz of Sonny Simmons, that Mr. Strachwitz recorded between 1954 and 1970 in the San Francisco Bay area. Called “Hear Me Howling: Blues, Ballads & Beyond,” the package also includes a 136-page book that tells the history of the label; the set will be available for purchase at the company’s Web site,, beginning next week and from music stores early in 2011.

Most of Mr. Strachwitz’s best-known recordings, though, are from the field, especially in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. That is where, starting in 1960, he found, recorded or helped revive the careers of seminal bluesmen like Bukka White, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred McDowell and even Clifton Chenier, the accordion-playing King of Zydeco.

For someone so devoted to American roots music, Mr. Strachwitz has an unusual background. Born in Germany in 1931 into an aristocratic family as Count Christian Alexander Maria Strachwitz, he spent his childhood under Nazi rule and came to the United States after World War II as a high school student living originally in Reno, Nev. From the start, he said, the variety of American music styles, especially their driving beat, enthralled him.

“The rhythms haunted me,” he said in an interview in his office, cluttered with records, at Arhoolie’s headquarters and warehouse. “I’d hear all this stuff on the radio, and it just knocked me over. I thought this was absolutely the most wonderful thing I had ever heard.”

Richard K. Spottswood, a prominent musicologist who edited and annotated the Library of Congress’s 15-volume series “Folk Music in America” and is the author of “Ethnic Music on Records,” said that Mr. Strachwitz’s role in preserving American vernacular music has been crucial.

“He is probably more American than many of us, but he experienced this music not as something he was born into and took for granted like the air we breathe, but as something rare and delightful, not available to the rest of the world,” Mr. Spottswood said. “Coming from another language and culture, he perhaps saw the artistry in this music a little sooner, a little earlier than the rest of us, and his vision of a kaleidoscopic American musical culture, from Tejano to country and Southwestern blues, has helped thwart the single standard the music industry has tried to impose on us over the years.”

For a generation of folk- and blues-inspired performers, from Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones to Bonnie Raitt and T Bone Burnett, Arhoolie has been a lodestone. In his autobiographical “Chronicles Vol. I,” Mr. Dylan, a member of the advisory board of the nonprofit Arhoolie Foundation, credits the label as being the place “where I first heard Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Charlie Patton and Tommy Johnson.”

Ry Cooder, the Grammy Award-winning guitarist and producer, recalled that “I must have been about 13” the day he took a bus to a blues and folk record store in downtown Los Angeles and for the first time heard Big Joe Williams singing ferociously and playing a nine-string guitar, on an album called “Tough Times.” That recording, Arhoolie’s second release, changed his life, Mr. Cooder said.

“The whole thing started like it was going to blow up, or fly apart at the seams, and it really took hold of me,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘This is what it ought to be like, total physical involvement with the music, going into it so hard that you just about lose control.’ ”

He added, “It started me on a path of living, the path I am still on.”

At a time long before the Internet the extensive liner notes on the back of Arhoolie recordings — many written by Mr. Strachwitz — were a vital source of information about artists considered far outside the mainstream. From recordings put out by Arhoolie, whose name comes from a Southern dialect term for a field holler, budding performers could learn not just about songs, but also the instruments and tunings that performers used.

“I was a big folkie back then, and I would read about the latest releases on Arhoolie in Sing Out magazine,” said Ms. Raitt, who is also an advisory board member of the foundation, which is dedicated to documenting, preserving and disseminating “authentic, traditional and vernacular music.” “Every one of those records was a treasure. I loved the tasteful artwork on them.” She added, “Chris became an important figure, a monumental link really, from whom I learned a lot, especially about Cajun and Tex-Mex and zydeco and Hawaiian music.”

But Mr. Strachwitz is above all a collector. Even now, what strikes those who have worked with him, like the documentary filmmaker Les Blank, who collaborated with Mr. Strachwitz on films like “Chulas Fronteras,” about Tejano music, and “J’Été au Bal,” about Cajun music, is “the degree of his extreme enthusiasm” for tracking down and acquiring the recordings that interest him.

“He’s like a kid who caught his first fish when he finds one of these groups that he likes, or old 78s he wants to add to his huge collection,” Mr. Blank said. “While we were in Texas, he’d hear about a stash, some vendor who once served jukeboxes, his widow and children have a big room full of records, and he’s on to it. He won’t eat or drink or sleep until he gets his hands on it.”

Though he does not speak Spanish, Mr. Strachwitz has built what is believed to be the largest private collection of Mexican-American and Mexican music, from mariachi and norteño accordion groups to corridos, with some recordings from as early as a century ago.

“That music had the same appeal to me that the hillbilly music did, this soulful country sound and a lot of duet singing,” he said. “And there was this weird mixture of string music with the trumpet filling in almost like a jazz musician, which I thought was just gorgeous. And the accordions!”

Last year, after the Arhoolie Foundation donated those recordings, the Frontera Collection opened to the public at the University of California, Los Angeles. Recordings are first catalogued and digitized in a small room at the Arhoolie building, then made available through the U.C.L.A. library; scholars have already drawn on them for academic papers, theses and a book.

“The range of these nearly 50,000 recordings is amazing, so vast that we don’t yet fully have a handle on it,” said Chon Noriega, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center at U.C.L.A. “This is our musical heritage in the broadest sense of the word, and it is remarkable that Chris Strachwitz had the foresight and passion to know how important it was to preserve this.”

As Mr. Strachwitz is quick to acknowledge, his collecting obsession can be expensive, and there has never been much money to be made in the line of work he has chosen. But every now and then, mainly through pieces of the publishing rights to songs that have become unlikely hits, he has had lucky strikes that have helped keep his business afloat, if not flourishing.

In 1965 a Berkeley folkie named Joe McDonald wanted to record a newly written protest song on short notice and ended up doing so in Mr. Strachwitz’s living room with Mr. Strachwitz’s equipment. In exchange, he granted Mr. Strachwitz publishing rights to the “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” which four years later became a worldwide sensation when Mr. McDonald, by then the leader of the psychedelic band Country Joe and the Fish, performed it at Woodstock and it was included in the movie of the festival. Mr. Strachwitz’s share of the royalties on the song, an anthem of opposition to the war in Vietnam, allowed him to put a down payment on the building that is now Arhoolie’s home.

Arhoolie also recorded the bluesman K. C. Douglas, whose “Mercury Boogie” has been a hit numerous times, perhaps most notably in a 1993 country music version by Alan Jackson that became the centerpiece of an ad campaign for the car manufacturer. Mr. Douglas had already died by that time. But Mr. Strachwitz said one of his most gratifying moments in his career was handing over a royalty check to Mississippi Fred McDowell after the Rolling Stones recorded his “You Gotta Move” for their 1971 album “Sticky Fingers.”

“I got tangled up being a sort of agent for some of them, for Fred and Mance and Lightnin’,” Mr. Strachwitz explained. Originally, he said, when he approached the Stones about royalty payments “their lawyers said ‘no, no, no, everything they record is their own stuff.’ ” But Mr. Strachwitz persisted. “Fred was already suffering from cancer,” he said. “But I was very happy to be able to give him a check before he died.”

Those dealings with Mr. McDowell are indicative of another trait associated with Mr. Strachwitz: his reputation for being upright in his business dealings. “Chris does not exploit his artists, he respects them,” said Ms. Raitt, who early in her career played on bills with Arhoolie performers. “That shadow, of people trying to make money off the artist at the artist’s expense, is not there with Chris. He has so much integrity that he really does his utmost to take care of the person as well as the music.”

Get on Up and Get on Down,