Music for the people
Local production crew debuts new PBS music series
In late December 2014, just a few days before Christmas, guests of the Torres Community Shelter received a unique gift from an unexpected visitor when world-renowned musician Joe Craven stopped in to play an impromptu set.
“People just went nuts; they were dancing around and really enjoyed it,” said Peter Berkow, who was on hand to capture the performance for his latest video project, a 10-episode curated concert/music-documentary series called Music Gone Public produced for PBS.
“I’ve seen Joe on stage in front of thousands of people before, but he also does this kind of pro bono, impromptu stuff all over the country. I admire him so much.”
Music Gone Public is largely driven by Berkow’s admiration for Craven and the other musicians spotlighted in the series, including guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel, slide standout Roy Rogers, cross-cultural music mob Delhi 2 Dublin and current king of the Las Vegas strip Frankie Moreno. They’re not exactly mainstream, household names, but are highly respected in festival and other musical circles. For Berkow and his largely local crew, that’s part of the point of the series.
“We want to present an alternative to the music machine. That’s part of our mission statement,” he said. “PBS should be doing the music that corporate America is not. Much of this music is just fantastic but will never get airplay on radio stations owned by Clear Channel [now iHeartMedia Inc.], or be shown on any of the major networks.”
Berkow, a musician himself, has been producing television since the 1990s, and his storied career also includes extended forays into journalism, teaching and sound engineering. A recent conversation with him about Music Gone Public included frequent and interesting digressions about working on demos by Dan Fogelberg and REO Speedwagon in his native Urbana, Ill., and achieving a “minor radio hit” in 1977 called “Burger Love.” (“It’s a silly little song about a guy walking to Mount Lassen and finding a 7-Eleven and a burger joint. People still sometimes walk up and sing the lyrics at me while I’m picking out my carrots at the farmers’ market,” he said.)
For Music Gone Public, Berkow partnered with co-producer Michael Hoopingarner, a Chico ex-pat now living and working in Los Angeles. The crew also included local sound wizard and Electric Canyon Studios owner Dale Price, who twisted the knobs on the latest album for another of the series’ performers, Nashville artist Antsy McClain. Berkow filmed at various locations around the country, including the Sierra Nevada Big Room.
“Chico is a music town with a lot of talent, and that’s why we have national acts that travel here to work with Dale or be involved with Music Gone Public and other projects I’ve done,” said Berkow.
Those projects include a 2010 documentary about local musician/musical-historian Gordy Ohliger called The Banjo-ologist, and two seasons (2004, 2006) of the live-music series Sierra Center Stage, filmed at the Big Room. Much of his work has been shown nationwide on various public-television stations, and Music Gone Public—already several episodes deep into the series in other markets—premieres locally on Redding’s KIXE and Sacramento PBS affiliate KVIE on July 9 and 11, respectively.
Berkow said he and the crew have been working tirelessly to complete the series, and that he just put the finishing touches on the final episode last week. A second season is already in the planning stages, and in the meantime he plans to break ground on a Christmas special with Emmanuel soon.
When asked whom he’d most like to work with, he quickly named The Mother Hips and all of that band’s associated acts: “I don’t really care to work with anybody really big and famous; I’d rather just work with bands that I think deserve national exposure and [that] corporate America has ignored.
“Chico definitely has some bands that are ready for that exposure, and I’d really like to include some local acts in the next season.”