Follow the light
Black Light Folk Festival turns the Serenity Center into one happenin’ joint
I arrived at the most recent incarnation of Brooklyn visual-artist/singer/guitarist Mike Paré's Black Light Folk Festival at the Serenity Center almost two and a half hours after the announced start time of 7 p.m., having just finished playing a gig of my own; thus I’d already missed the first three acts: local singer/guitarist Nate Pendery (of local country-rock trio The Deer), Oakland’s self-described “ambient/new wave/black metal” band Turbine, and Oakland folkie Sorcerybird.
Spider, a young folk-singing woman from New York in a yellow dress and strappy white sandals, was busy strumming her acoustic guitar and singing on the “stage” (a floor-level area marked off by various tie-dyed sheets, a massive Grateful Dead pennant, and one black-and-white-checkered black light poster inside the huge old house that is the Serenity Center).
Soon after I came inside, I spotted blond-tressed local rock singer Doug Stein (Swamp Zen, Puddle Junction, Puddle), a local organizer of the event, among the sizable number of people inside listening to Spider. Stein quickly hunted down and found Paré and fellow New Yorker (and BLFF organizer) Roman Pietrs, who also plays ukulele and sings with Paré in their folk group The Joints.
I chatted with Paré, Pietrs and Stein on the back porch steps for a while before The Joints’ performance, which was coming up right after Spider’s.
“I started the Black Light Folk Festival in 2003,” the bespectacled Paré said, an ear always paying attention to what was going on inside in case he and Pietrs would have to excuse themselves to go play. “It was part of an art exhibit that I did in New York at the ATM Gallery [Paré's ‘60s-inspired graphite-and-tempera drawings can be seen online at www.atmgallery.com]. … It’s become an intermittent thing that we do at places like art galleries and warehouse parties about twice a year.”
Paré and Pietrs brought the festival—a mixture this year of “noisy bands, folky-traditional and hippie jam bands"—to Chico after Paré discussed the idea with Stein, whom he has known since the late ‘80s, when they both lived in Livermore.
Both Paré and Stein also know ex-Chico singer-songwriter Tim Bluhm of Mother Hips fame, who was due to play later that night for the first gig ever with his threesome Chambly Towers, consisting of Bluhm, “his lady” (as Stein described Bluhm’s long-legged, dark-haired girlfriend and bandmate) and singer/guitarist Pendery.
“I just said, ‘How about the 27th of May?'—and that was it,” Paré said of his discussion with Stein and Bluhm. “Our next one is on the East Coast in the fall. The Black Light Folk Festival is gonna continue!”
Stein, who plans to take part, chimed in excitedly. “Yeah, it’s gonna be in Manhattan! What’s that jazz song? Yeah, you know, ‘Autumn in New York'!”
Paré and Pietrs stood up and went inside to tune before their set. In a pared-down, two-man version of what at times is a seven-piece “folk rock/psychedelic/country” band (according to their MySpace site), the duo opened the set with oft-played folk-country standard “Long Black Veil,” with Paré and Pietrs singing harmony.
I left about six songs into The Joints’ set, while they were singing what they had introduced as “a very challenging song"—"Greenfields,” from ‘60s folk revivalists The Brothers Four.
“We were the lovers who strolled through green fields,” sang Pietrs in his resonant voice, his uke resigned to his lap after a couple of failed attempts at banging out the song’s chords.
As I drove down the long dirt driveway, more people were arriving who very likely didn’t want to miss Bluhm’s new act and Puddle’s reincarnated (from Puddle Junction) rocking closer.
I didn’t want to miss any more sleep.