Looking back at 2019 is an odd sensation because my initial thought is, “Where did the year go?” The feeling of creative dormancy that permeated the last year — continuing from years prior — was undermined by some really outstanding events that flew under the radar.
Rick Kreiser has brought some fantastic players to town for his ongoing Guitar Masters series of concerts, including Tommy Emmanuel, Twanguero, Jake Shimabukuro and the excellent one-to-watch Madison Cunningham.
Likewise with Pat Evans over at World Records, who hosted Los Lobos (who will return Jan. 3), Ace Frehley and Ottmar Liebert among others. On a smaller scale, Pat Spurlock and his Phantom Stranger Inc. have been a prominent fixture in our local indie and punk rock contingent, promoting both his and others’ shows with tireless efficiency.
Two of my favorite events this year are in stark contrast to each other. The first was the massive and bold Lightning in a Bottle festival.
For a few short days in May, the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area was transformed into what one performer called a “New York-Oakland-Portland mashup”; a vibrant, bohemian Disneyland where all manner of art, music, dancing, food, vendors and even meditation (as well as rows and rows of ATMs) abound. It was a family-friendly (and sober-friendly) all-ages and all-types-welcome party that truly became vividly illuminated after dark — quite colorfully and quite literally — howls to the moon and all.
A highlight of the event was the outstanding performance by astro-synth-pop artist Santigold on the main Lightning stage. When she invited the sizable crowd to jump the barriers and join her on stage, seeing the crowd at first hesitate then proceed en masse was a bit intimidating. Then, emboldening, satisfyingly cathartic and transformative — much like the festival itself. Here’s hoping its return in 2020 will be as equally rewarding.
My second favorite event of the year was considerably smaller. The seminal punk band Agent Orange was set to play at Jerry’s Pizza on Nov. 21 but ended up canceling instead. Promoter Joe Schaffran scrambled and made the best of a losing situation, adding local punk rock tribute band Me 2nd to the bill along with the event’s planned opening acts: The Withdrawals, The Cretins and Tanked.
The scrappy show had the same sense of collaborative community that was reminiscent of the old halcyon Bam Bam’s days. Each band I saw, and the small but fierce audience that was there, was game to have as much fun as they could — almost in defiance of the night’s big absence.
The drummer for Me 2nd, Colin Walker (frontman John Walker’s teenage son), is fantastic, skilled and solid. Check the band — and him — out.
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Certain venues, like Sandrini’s Public House and Riley’s Tavern, have eased a bit on their live music output without completely stopping. While others, like Temblor Brewing Co., Jerry’s Pizza and The Well, have stepped up their game.
I’ve also seen an encouraging trend of open mics and showcases open and thrive around town, such as the weekly Thursday night open mic at Dagny’s Coffee Co. and the songwriter showcases at Bakersfield Sound Co. Events like these are fostering our esoteric, eclectic and singular local talents who are looking and deserved to be heard.
My artist of the year, singer-songwriter David Tetz, encompasses these traits more so than any other artist I’ve seen this year.
He performs his songs acoustically, usually with violinist Jordan Belardes in tow, under the name David T8tz; performs rap under the name NineFingers (whose single "Where the Water Meets the Earth Beneath the Sky" is my favorite release of the year); and both under the banner David T8tz the NineFingers. Heck, he sometimes dons a cowboy hat and performs his songs in a Johnny Cash, low baritone style under the name Old McCloves.
Not only are the performances all good — sometimes shockingly so — they have gravity. Tetz is a fearless performer who can range from devastating intensity to heartbreaking intimacy without diluting any of his music’s emotional power. I once asked him who his inspirations were and his answers were all athletes. He plays like a focused competitor but with the vulnerability of a man broken and put together, the seams still showing — sometimes bleeding.
“Pack Thy Secrets Deep,” his 2017 album as David T8tz and His Lovely Friends, is an autobiographical retelling in four acts (Destruction, Numbness, Grief, Acceptance) of the wrecking of his family by drugs and his own resulting battles with PTSD (notice the first letters of each word in the album’s title). It’s not easy listening (by contrast, his delivery as NineFingers can be quite smooth) but unforgettable and rewarding.
Tetz is is the epitome of our local music scene: tenacious, creative, prolific, hardworking, unpredictable and constantly striving to communicate no matter who is there to listen.
"Pack Thy Secrets Deep" can be heard on Spotify and available for purchase on Bandcamp.com. The NineFingers releases are currently only on Spotify.
Izzy and the Fins’ Christmas Concert, 7 p.m. Thursday, Ovation Theatre, 1622 19th St. $10.
Orphan Jon Recording Live, 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, O’Hennings Bar, 1312 Airport Drive. Free.
Isaiah Morfin and his band, Izzy and the Fins, will play the Ovation Theatre on Thursday, performing a selection of jazzed-up Christmas music in an all-ages show. The theater setting is perfect for Morfin and his able band to really dig in and get into the moods of the pieces that can swing from merry to pensive to soulful, while retaining the right amount of solace. Keyboardist Tony Rinaldi will add a bedrock of synthesizer padding while guitarist Nick Gonzales, Morfin’s saxophone, vocals and Jess Ardray’s secondary vocals give the music its proper weight.
And over at O’Hennings on Saturday, "Orphan" Jon English — whose band has been on fire lately — will perform a set that will be recorded live with selections of it going on an upcoming EP release.
The band is poised to have a bonkers 2020. Besides an upcoming EP for Rip Cat Records, the group will perform at a showcase concert in Memphis in late January and embark on a national tour in April. Whether you’re a fan of the blues — and these guys are killer — or a fan of the band itself, this is the perfect time to see them perform and get a piece of yourself cheering them on, on the record.