It wasn't a groundbreaking year for the new and different in the local music scene. In fact, many of last year's noteworthy movers and shakers threw in the towel or disappeared without a word. And who can blame them? The entertainment business isn't for everybody.
But for those who choose to stick it out, the rewards eventually come. No band exemplifies the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race ethos better than Truxton Mile, my pick for local band of the year.
The group's stellar 2014 actually began in 2013, with the end-of-the-year celebration of the EP "On My Way." Not only did they sell out Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, but they kept their poise when, just a few minutes before showtime, the power went out in a freak storm. Not a good omen? Most bands might have seen it that way, but Taylor Unruh, Ryan Coulter, and Alec Olivieri carried on by candlelight and an emergency generator, eking out a 90-minute acoustic set before power was restored. That's how the pros do it, kids.
They continued building hopes in 2014 that they'd be the next local country act to break, a feat that hasn't happened since the days of Smokin' Armadillos and Big House. Skeptical? Just attend one of their shows and see how quickly you'll be converted.
They ended the year as strong as they started, staging their own festival in Taft as a way to say thanks to their hometown fans, thousands of whom showed up for the block party. And then came their long-overdue debut at the Fox Theater in Bakersfield, where they opened for country singer Easton Corbin. Expect a new collection of music from the group in the new year.
Now, if only Bakersfield country radio would give Truxton Mile some well-deserved airplay. In the meantime, download their music or find the band online at facebook.com/truxtonmile.
Keep up the good work, fellas.
Local promoters make good
In 2014, music fans couldn't find a daily Facebook update, downtown light pole, or handbill that didn't bear at least one show belonging to local indie promoters Art Machuca, Carlos Pena or Pat Spurlock.
Machuca, who took over booking at the all-ages Jerry's Pizza, filled the venue's schedule with everything from metal and punk to hip-hop and acoustic acts, while making regular improvements to the basement stage sound system.
Meanwhile, at Elements Venue at the Ice House, promoter Carlos Pena helped turn the rustic but remodeled (looking pretty swanky there) reception hall into a destination for live shows, especially reggae music.
Equally busy was show promoter and KSVG 89.7 community radio personality Pat Spurlock. Hosting shows under his Phantom Stranger, Inc. brand, Spurlock organized regular monthly events at Sandrini's, Riley's Tavern, and Texas 28 in downtown Bakersfield. Hitting the streets the way bands used to do it years before social networking made musicians even lazier, Spurlock was a one-man army of posters and packing tape, committed to the cause in a very punk rock, DIY manner. Bravo.
Big year for Cali reggae
Cali roots reggae shows continued drawing bigger audiences in Bakersfield at venues such as B Ryder's and Elements Venue. Visitors like Through the Roots, Hirie, Fortunate Youth and Irie Essence, to name a few, follow a musical formula of good-time, no-problem, hang-loose lyrics put to slightly modernized reggae rhythms. No Marley-style politics (with a few exceptions), these performers follow the lead of Sublime and the group's late lead singer/songwriter Bradley Nowell. Local bands felt the love as well: Dub Seeds, Amity Flow, and Rasta Manana all stay busy supplying fans with reggae grooves.
All eyes and ears will be on the Fox Theater in 2015, with shows by two of the genre's biggest acts: Tribal Seeds from San Diego (Feb. 5) and Iration from Santa Barbara (March 7). Can both make the jump from club to theater in Bakersfield? We'll see.
Matt's 2014 music picks
D'Angelo & The Vanguard "Black Messiah" : R&B and soul music has floundered in the wake of EDM-infused dance pop over the last decade, but leave it to the surprise re-emergence of neo-soul master D'Angelo to bring it back home to live instrumentation basics. It's a record too organically funky to resist.
Lana Del Rey "Ultraviolence ": Oh, Lana. People either really love you or hate you. After "Born to Die" was released to polarizing reviews in 2010, Del Rey had a lot to prove musically to shake off the critics, or did she? Teaming with Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, she didn't completely reinvent her romantic wheel of darkness for "Ultraviolence," but together they did create a cohesive collection of hauntingly romantic expressions. Choice cuts: "Shades of Cool," "Brooklyn Baby," "West Coast."
Little Dragon "Nabuma Rubberband" : A band worthy of far more attention and listeners than they receive, this electro pop quartet possesses a soulful quality that will make you take note of the current Swedish music scene. Ambitiously crafted with a much broader reach than the ultra-hip ambient style of their previous efforts, this release stands as the breakout in their respected but slow-burning career. No singles, just press play.
Ximena Sarinana "No Todo Los Puedes Dar": When Sarinana's debut album "Mediocre" dropped in 2008, she was instantly compared to a young Joni Mitchell and Fiona Apple by critics who branded her an old soul. But then she went and confused Spanish-speaking fans, myself included, with a more pop-oriented sophomore English-language release. Now she's back closer to where she started, performing in her native tongue. Sarinana produced most of "No Todo Los Puedes Dar" herself, recalling her strengths as a songwriter with delicate emotion. Currently on repeat.
Hopes for 2015
To avoid making ill-fated predictions about what to expect in the Bakersfield music scene next year, I thought I'd take a different approach and share what I'd like to see. Wishful thinking is free, right?
More female musicians and performers in Bakersfield : What I wouldn't give to see more local women taking the stage. Yes, we have some strong vocalists holding it down steadily in various pockets of the city, but where are the guitarists, drummers, screamers and riot girls hiding? If the next Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett or Patti Smith is out there in some rehearsal space, please make yourselves known soon. There's much imbalance in our musical universe.
More soul and jazz music : Believe it or not, Bakersfield was a hotbed for local soul and R&B groups back in the day. Among my earliest live-music recollections is catching a band called Black Diamond, which performed primarily funk hits of the late '70s and '80s before switching to deep-roots reggae, years before Bakersfield ever laid eyes on a dreadlock. Fast forward to 2014: Few R&B bands remain, and those that do feature mostly the same members performing under different names. You can't knock them for trying. But there are silver linings: Thanks to venues like the Jazz Lounge downtown and efforts by musicians like vocalist Marlon Mackey, bassist Jay Jay Hicks and others, live rhythm and blues is slowly heading back to the clubs.
With regards to jazz, the official underdog of Bakersfield's music scene, it's mostly relegated to the corner of a restaurant populated by local socialites checking their phones. Of note in 2014 was the release of "Too Many Notes" by keyboardist Jay Smith, the return of saxophonist Isaiah Morfin, a well-attended Bakersfield Jazz Festival and greater activity from the CSUB and BC music programs.
Til' next year...
Beat Surrender DJ Night at Sandrini's Bar, 1918 Eye St., 9 p.m. Friday, free, 322-8900.
It's going to be a big one-night-only house party-style homecoming for Alex Rodriguez, aka DJ Moustache, to tie a groovy ribbon on the holidays. Since relocating to Southern California last year to take a gig as general manager at the Glass House concert hall in Pomona, Rodriguez will make a rare appearance in Bakersfield, offering a chance to relive the popular Beat Surrender dance nights he threw downstairs at Sandrini's. Spinning strictly vinyl soul and funk classics from the '60s and '70s, he starts the party once the needle drops. It'll go non-stop until security throws the last-call houselights on. Come as you are, free your mind and let your booty lead the way to the dance floor.
WMDs with Paul Cartwright at Texas 28, 1517 18th St., 9 p.m. Friday, free, 327-7625.
You can bet when a particular group of local bands have the night off that Bako supergroup the WMDs will join forces for an evening of blues rockin' and riffs at some area watering hole. Showcasing the combined talents of guitarist Dustin "Catfish" Meridith, bassist Gary Rink, drummer Cesareo Garasa and multi-instrumentalist Paul Cartwright, the quartet doesn't need set lists, just time to stretch out. This year has been a particularly stellar one for Cartwright, who performed a jaw-dropping solo on violin with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in July. That moment and more from Cartwright can be found all over YouTube. Highly recommended.