This year, our live music contingent worked its hardest competing against shortening attention spans and people's “fear of missing out.” It’s tough to get people out of their homes and into a venue to have them catch a live show, and it’s even tougher to keep that attention once they get there. My hat is off to anyone and everyone who did just that. Keep the fire, y’all.
In terms of shows, Pat Spurlock of Phantom Stranger Inc. has maintained an almost herculean schedule keeping bands on stage and on CD. Pat Evans at World Records has commandeered a sort of miracle by piloting his World Records into one of the most consistent live music stages in town, hosting such luminaries as Mavis Staples, Petula Clark and Elvin Bishop. He also brought Herb Alpert and Lani Hall to the Bakersfield College Outdoor Theater in May.
Rick Kreiser's Guitar Masters Series (including a superb performance by ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuru and his trio at the Crystal Palace in July) is equal to World Records’ in terms of consistent quality and urgency.
The Beale Library has hosted some really cool events that are free and open to the whole community. If you’re into seeing vintage horror movies on the big screen, crafts, Legos, anime, or joining a ukelele club, I highly recommend you check out their schedule. Also, for my fellow geeks, they have a graphic novel selection. Not into the whole “leaving the house” thing? If you have a library card, you can quite literally check out select titles — including those graphic novels — that you can read online with the Hoopla app.
Favorite album: There were some solid local releases out this year including Foster Campbell & Deep Water’s debut, “Believe,” Orphan Jon & The Abandoned’s “Abandoned No More” and Art & The Resistance’s ambitiously operatic “From the Shadows.” But my choice for my favorite album of 2018 is Kaybab’s debut “Habitats.” The album, produced by Western Medicine’s Emile Antonelli, has a sprawling ethereal warmth to it and feels like it was recorded in front of a campfire — sing-alongs and all — only to have it all thrown into orbit where monolithic galactic overlords trade reverb guitar tones. The songs are rarely static and offer plenty of surprises, including the song “Resolute” and its aforementioned spaciness. The whole journey ends with the album back where it started, with those voices and the campfire, even if a bit more wiser from it.
Show of the year: Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s bonkers, guerrilla hit and run at the Fox Theater on May 5 and 6. I attended the latter show. Young had previously stated in interviews that there were no plans to revive his backing band Crazy Horse from its dormancy. Fans should have known better. Announcement of the two shows — and three others at Fresno’s Warnor Theater on May 1-3 — came out of nowhere, announced a little over a week before the dates, and were met with a stunned sense of disbelief.
For a few days, the Central Valley was part of an elite club that nowhere else in the world could claim membership to: the five gig club, and I’ve got the T-shirt to prove it.
Eye on the scene: All-ages venue Bruised Reeds (1660 S St.) is quietly filling the hole that The Gate left when it shut down. It will host a free show on Dec. 29 at 6:30 p.m. featuring some promising and hard-working talent including Ryan Barge, Sweatpants, The Dewalt Corporation and Johnny Cage. I also see a rise of enthusiasm for open mics and workshops from new talent hungry to show the world what they have to say. "Life finds a way” in "Jurassic Park," but around here, music does.
No Stinkin’ Blues Series Part 95 featuring Rick Estrin & the Nightcats and Deep Blue Dream, 7-10 p.m., World Records, 2815 F St. $40, available at the venue or by calling 325-1982.
The stellar blues act Rick Estrin & the Nightcats will perform at World Records this Saturday, the band's first show after completing its tour of Israel.
Their 2017 album “Groovin’ in Greaseland” is an incredibly strong release. It kicks off with “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere,” a defiant ode to the perseverance of the blues in the face of changing fads, and even its champions. Estrin’s aggressively distorted harmonica blows rough like a haunted steam engine.
“There’s a school of people that think that the blues is gonna go away if we don’t do something to maintain it,” Estrin, 69, said. “So I took that idea and that thought and actually brought it back to what the blues is really about. The genesis of the music was people needing an outlet for their problems and something to get them through their problems. That’s the purpose of it. The blues ain’t gonna die because the world is f----- up and it’s gonna stay that way because people are people.”
It must have made its point. The tune won song of the year at the Blues Foundation’s 39th annual Blues Music Awards this year, along with band of the year and Estrin as best traditional blues male artist of the year.
Each of the band members know their roles and don’t waste a note. They play with the mature economy of seasoned sidemen who know how to say more with restraint than with a flurry of notes – until it’s time for that flurry to happen. There’s no leaking oil from that chassis.
“We have a great time and the bandstand and the point of the music is for people to forget their problems and have a good time,” Estrin said. “That’s what it’s been about the whole time. It’s a cathartic thing and it’s an antidote for all the troubles in the world. We put on a show, man. You don’t get the full picture just listening to a CD.”