Having reflected back on the year that was, 2017 has left me exhausted and with no shortage of uncertainty. Once again, even with all of the dynamic new releases from Velorio, Red Simpson, If It Kills You, The Secret Sauce, The Smokin’ Armadillos, Backup Johnny, Hate Drugs and more, our local music contingent hummed along with welcome, if placid, consistency.
Artist of the year: ladies first
This year’s artist of note isn’t just one but the welcome prevalence of female-fronted acts either solo or in a band. Female-led acts here are nothing new, but the prolific rise of them over the last year or so is very promising indeed; adding variety to the over-all scene in general. Singer-songwriters Ariel Dyer (who is currently recording her debut release), Lauren Victoria, Crimson Skye and local mainstay Therese Muller were very busy and visible this year. Hannah DiMolfetto has joined the ranks of the growing Bakersfield exodus to Portland, Oregon, to try her luck in a bigger market. On a quieter, but no less vital front, Amber Michelle as well as Nico Collins and The Soul Chance are making some truly cool music.
Female musicians and the working bands they front (cover and otherwise) such as Nicola Frudden of Lipstick Revolver, Solange Igoa and Andrea Walker of Bearcoon, Sheri Warfield of Warfield, Becky Aguilar of Lost Vinyl, Tamera Mahan of Blonde Faith, Tracy Peoples of The Peoples Project, and Wendy McWilliams of The Nightlife Band have been nonstop in output and you could find any of them performing on any given week. (In the case of Bearcoon, in any given state!)
In a year filled from start to end with women’s voices being heard loud and clear — ignore at your own peril — it’s fitting, and due, that we’re seeing more of it on stage as well.
Show of the year: Nine Inch Nails at Rabobank Arena
When Nine Inch Nails announced that it was embarking on its newest tour in years in Bakersfield, reaction to the news was split into two main camps: the ecstatic and the ambivalent. Anticipation reached a fever pitch when it was revealed that only 2,000 tickets were to be sold, and soon the mad dash to meet the demand resulted in a sold-out show on July 19.
Needless to say, the empty-handed were left to their own sour grapes — both the vocal and the drinkable — and the crowd was given a cathartic release to the recent shocking suicides of singers Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington who were devoured by the same darkness that NIN’s frontman Trent Reznor knows all too well.
The sound quality at the Rabobank Arena was helped immensely by halving it. But leave it to our local audience to remain loudly vocal at inopportune times; turning the encore song, “Hurt,” Reznor’s intimate testimony of failure and regret, into a well-intentioned but poorly timed opportunity to heckle.
The first song NIN performed, “Branches/Bones,” was filmed as a music video and can be found on YouTube.
Bummer of the year: the dearth of all-ages venues
The only way a live music scene survives is the youth. Without younger musicians to pass the torch to, that torch will eventually go out. Growing up, my generation had Bam-Bam’s to pay our dues, the next had Jerry’s Pizza (still around, but now more of a rentable stage) and The Gate. Now? Well, let’s say that options are limited — at best. Some places like Temblor Brewing Co., which seldom has live music shows but is killing it with comedy shows, or B Ryder's allow all-ages — but some with limitations.
It would be great to see a venue like B Ryder's — or even B Ryder's itself, with its access to an amazing sound system and stage — become a beacon for younger artists and bands to cut their teeth on, spill some blood, sweat and tears, and pay their dues — without having to resort to paying stage fees.
Young musicians need an outlet and without access to a platform to express themselves on, the fruit of this town’s illustrious music history will potentially wither on the vine. We will all be the poorer for it.
To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in “Jurassic Park”: Talent finds a way. More resourceful young musicians will make stages of their own if they have to. The question, though, is this: In a town that’s changed the face of music twice, why should they have to?