It feels as if 2022 flew past us in a blur, but looking back at the year reveals a distinct sense of activity and growth within our local music contingent.
Certain venues have seen increased activity to accommodate a newfound appreciation for live music and local revelry. A few of them, like The Trap in Oildale (formerly Goldies), Off the Rails (coincidentally named in the same location as the former On the Rocks and less thematically, Fishlips) and 18th Street Bar & Grill (formerly Goose Loonies), are new but familiar at the same time, having risen from the ashes of their previous identities.
As they did in 2021, breweries came in clutch with 2nd Phase Brewing, Crusader Brewing, Great Change Brewing and BottleShock Wine + Brew frequently hosting live music.
In Old Town Kern, Pyrenees Cafe and Narducci's Cafe are back to hosting live music events. In the case of the newly reopened Narducci's, it's just back, period.
Buck Owens' Crystal Palace is grinding its way back to its pre-pandemic status as a premium music venue. Some events and venues, like the evergreen Bakersfield Jazz Workshop, Jerry's Pizza, the east side location of Rock & Wings and World Records, with its No Stinkin' Service Charge Blues Concert Series, have managed to keep their momentum. Others, like Riley's Tavern and Off The Rails, have started to host live music a bit more consistently in the last few months.
The owners of Cafe Smitten have extended their franchise to include one of the more impressive bars this side of Tiki-Ko's Sunken Ship to open downtown: The Botanist.
Much like the southwest Smitten location, The Botanist is also hosting live music. I really dig that its vibe can be either summer Arizona nights or haunted Overlook Hotel meets "Blade Runner" with just the change of a room.
Temblor Brewing Co. continued its streak of hosting top-shelf comedians, had some fantastic live music events with Voodoo Glow Skulls, The Melvins, Hawaiian pop-reggae singer Anuhuea, L.A.'s goth-punk Generacion Suicida and the U.K. punk band The Subhumans.
Speaking of comedy, The Well Comedy Club has officially transitioned into what it was so evidently destined to be: a proper full-time comedy club in its own right. Under the direction of new co-owner Daniel Betts, the venue, with its large stage and dark yet accommodating aesthetic, gave local audiences a consistent way to watch stand-up comedy in a way we've been lacking for years. The Eddie Bravo/Sam Tripoli Tinfoil Hat and Swarm Tank show back in January, where audience members pitched their favorite conspiracies to the game comedians, and the JC Currais performance a month later, were a lot of fun.
What the understandable lull in 2021 seemed to point toward came to fruition in 2022: Folks have found a newfound appreciation for live music. The night before Thanksgiving, a personal barometer of the health of our nightlife scene, was booming in a way this year that I haven't seen since before the pandemic.
Please remember this, though: We are still in a pandemic. It has not gone away and we're in a transitive spot where we are all adapting to it as best we can. Please take any necessary and recommended precautions for the health and safety of yourself and others.
The best of 2022
In a year of many success stories, these are some personal favorites.
Artist of the year: The artist who made the biggest contribution and impact over the last year is musician and promoter Lauren Appleton.
She and her husband, Kyle Appleton, have kept an absolutely bonkers, nonstop work schedule with their Americana band The Appletons, which hit its peak this year when the group opened for — and performed with — Willie Nelson & Family at the Red Headed Stranger's show at the Dignity Health Amphitheater in October.
But Lauren Appleton has also made her mark by quietly booking and promoting some pretty great shows around town under the NashWest Production banner, which is also the name of the bustling recording studio run by her husband out of their home.
Just about every gig she's put together has been interesting, like the recent Norm Hamlet show and the performance by Virginia-based roots-Americana act Martha Spencer, both at 18th Street Bar & Grill.
But it's not just the opportunities she's made for local and out-of-town acts that's so welcome and appreciated, it's in the mutual respect she affords and garners from and for the acts she books.
Appleton approaches promotion with a sense of balance for the artistic and the pragmatic that can only come from someone who's spent significant time on both sides of the stage. She makes less scrupulous promoters who've flagrantly exploited local talent here look even worse. Why? Because she consistently treats the bands and venues she deals with with earned respect and compensation. She's good to her word. With that, others really have no excuse.
Song of the year: My pick is "High Voltage Arcade," the ode to childhood nostalgia by the group of the same name, created by Jason Ford Turner and Schuyler David Johnson. The song and its video, directed by Keaton Punch, are a fun blast for the past with a heck of a hero's journey in the video with plenty of local rock star cameos.
Album of the year: There were a bevy of strong releases this year — mostly EPs — including Céleigh Chapman's "Easy Now"; "XLove" by Ninefingers (and its buoyant single and video for "Burn"); "LOVE, MODERN" by ModernDayRome; "Mirrorball" by Izzy & the Fins; the untitled "..." EP by Best Dad (aka Hate Drugs frontman David Caploe); "Midnight Ministry" by Tonight We Are; and "Waiting" by Indigo Hush.
My favorite album of the year though was the self-titled release by Still Missing. It's the sound of skate punks all grown up and at the peak of a lifetime of accumulated musical powers. It's magnetic, thick and seething, edgy, uncompromising and blunt, littered with a sense of uncertain anxiety mixed with opaque confidence and some solid melody.
Show of the year: My wife, Alisa, and I spent a lot of hours at massive music festivals in 2022 like the Cruel World Fest in Pasadena and, closer to home, the Lightning in a Bottle festival at Buena Vista Lake, but it was a show held in a backyard that I found to be the most poignant.
It was at a Lamplight Lounge event in October, one of a series of intimate backyard concerts hosted by singer-songwriter Crimson Skye who also performed that night as well. I accompanied her on drums.
Among the many guest musicians that performed that night were Jim Ranger, Monty Byrom and Justus the Mystic. I wasn't familiar with Justus, but after this performance I'd never forget him.
Both Byrom and Ranger performed respective solid solo sets singing and playing acoustic guitar. Byrom's was impromptu and was accompanied by Skye and Ranger on their version of Merle Haggard's "Kern River Blues."
Justus the Mystic, playing a vintage Fender Rhodes piano, mesmerized the entire crowd with opulent honesty and a vibrant positivity belying an undercurrent of melancholy. He was accompanied only by vocal harmonies provided by John "Love" Irwin from Hate Drugs. Irwin's vocals were filtered through a vocal processor that he kept on his lap and constantly adjusted throughout the performance to brilliant effect. It was something quite special. Some of the crowd was moved to tears. The evening culminated with Skye's performance.
I saw musicians at this event from different generations and different levels of fame spur each other on to greater heights with skill and passion. World-class talent emboldened by world-class talent and all of them local. It was extraordinary.
Justus the Mystic and Crimson Skye with her band will perform a free New Year's Eve show on Saturday at the KC Steakhouse Speakeasy Lounge, 2515 F St. It starts at 8 p.m.
Movie of the year: I measure my life now by two different metrics: my life before I watched "Everything Everywhere All at Once" and my life after.
It is a truly transcendent cinematic and emotional experience that explores the absurdity and the profundity of existence — and I mean truly absurd; this movie is definitely geared toward mature sensibilities and rated R for a very good reason.
There were moments watching it in the theater — and this happened the multiple times I saw it with an audience — where there was complete silence from the audience. Every one of us absorbed, invested and immersed in what was happening on screen between two giant rocks on a mountaintop. Not kidding.
It plays this week at Maya Cinemas (1000 California Ave.) with two showings: 7 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday. It's also available for streaming on Showtime.
If you love film, especially high-concept action films like "The Matrix," and/or have ever been overwhelmed by the possibilities and complexity of life, I cannot recommend this movie enough. I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I did because to live life is an act of courage and this movie celebrates that struggle wonderfully and in a deeply, deeply cathartic and rewarding way.
Editor's note: This column was updated to correct the name of the Lamplight Lounge event.