Community gets creative

Jazz, improv, poetry and other juices will be In the Flow during Ross Hammond’s fourth annual all-things-inspired music festival

Ross Hammond, where you’ll find him on Mondays: at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar for his weekly jazz-improv series, Nebraska Mondays.

Ross Hammond, where you’ll find him on Mondays: at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar for his weekly jazz-improv series, Nebraska Mondays.

Photo By louise mitchell

The fourth annual In the Flow festival goes down this Thursday, May 12, through Monday, May 16, at various locations including Luna’s Café & Juice Bar, The Press Club, Phono Select, La Raza Gallería Posada and Antiquite Maison Privee; $10 per show, $30 for a festival pass; visit for more info.

If you’ve got nothing to do on a Monday night, take five bucks over to Luna’s Café & Juice Bar on 16th Street at 7 p.m. and give it to Ross Hammond. In exchange, you’ll get three hours of musical goodness—and for a few bucks more, possibly one of owner Art Luna’s refreshing licuados. Or a just a cold beer.

Anyway, Mondays at Luna’s are called Nebraska Mondays, one of the lone art-jam nights in the city. Similarly, this week, Hammond will unleash In the Flow, a five-day festival that begins this Thursday and stands out as one of Sacramento’s last-remaining jazz/improv/poetry celebrations.

Hammond chatted with SN&R about his big jazz bash this week, the local arts and music scene, and how many bands he’s currently jamming with (more than one, less than 10).

How many groups are you playing in this year? How do you find the time?

I think seven groups. I’m playing with Race!!!; the house band for Poet vs. Band at Luna’s; a quartet with Vinny Golia, Steuart Liebig and Alex Cline on Saturday; Lovely Builders on Saturday; ElectroPoetic Coffee and Josh Fernandez on Sunday; and again with Race!!! on Monday. It’s a lot, but it’s what I’m here to do.

Plus, if it weren’t a blast playing and getting my head melted by amazing musicians, I wouldn’t do it. But balancing that with being a good husband and a new father is pretty tricky. Naps are good. So is learning to cook.

Do you view yourself as the “jazz ringleader” for the region? Is that even a remotely accurate statement? Either way, describe your commitment to the scene and what motivates you to put on a festival like this.

I don’t really know. Maybe. I’ve never really thought of it like that. I guess I’m one of the ringleaders, if there is such a thing. There are a few guys and girls in Sacramento doing their part in helping to promote a healthy scene. Harley White Jr., Tony Passarell, Lob Instagon, the Capitol Garage jammers and myself are a few that I can think of off the top of my head that are trying to do some things to help make a cohesive scene. Just as important are folks like Art Luna and the gang at the Shady Lady who provide a place to present this music regularly.

So you’re just the guitarist?

It’s never really been about being a promoter, for me. I had always just wanted to just play my guitar. But that doesn’t really exist. If you don’t make up your own gigs and help promote others, then the gigging well is going to dry up pretty soon and you’ll just sit there. At least, that’s been my experience.

But as for In the Flow, it’s a nice collection of great musician and artist friends who are doing very cool things with their respective crafts. I guess my main motivation in terms of the festival is to promote some creative music that doesn’t really have the infrastructure that other music genres do.

Southern California’s Slumgum, one of the more hotly anticipated acts at this year’s In the Flow festival.

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If someone can only go see one show at the festival, what should they not miss, absolutely hands down?

Well, dang it now, how can I answer that one? They have to see every minute of every show!

But, if they were going to pick one, I’d suggest starting with Saturday’s show at Antiquite Maison Privee. It runs all day and there are about 12 bands playing. It’s a nice mix of what the festival is presenting. It goes from 11 a.m. through the evening. But you may also have to check out NSAA’s Poet vs. Band at Luna’s on Friday night. Improvising jazz bands married to poets for impromptu collaborations. It’s the bomb.

Is In the Flow just jazz? Nope—I just looked at the schedule—so tell me about the styles, genres, influences; what’s going on?

It’s more of a creative community festival than just jazz. There will be jazz there (Joe Carlson Trio, Nahum Zdybel), but there will also be electronic music (Wes Steed, Halfmonk), Latin soul (Nagual), poetry (Josh Fernandez, ElectroPoetic Coffee) and a ton more. It’s improvised and creative music, which spans all genres.

Oh yeah, Mike Watt is playing, too!

Where’d you get the idea for In the Flow? And what made it a reality?

My friend Byron Blackburn, who passed away in 2009, and I came up with the idea for a festival in the summer of 2008. We were both booking and playing in a lot of jazz and creative music shows and several different venues (Javalounge, the True Love, Fox & Goose, etc.). We realized that there were enough bands both locally and regionally to have a big event where they could all be showcased. The first one was on the patio of the True Love Coffeehouse in August 2008. It was really hot, but it was a great time. We were totally doing it on the go, as in we didn’t really know how to have a festival but we made it up as we went along. I still do that, to a degree.

I’m told by two separate people that Slumgum ripped it up a few Mondays back at Nebraska Mondays.

Slumgum is so good. They are from the L.A. area and, yes, they tore it up. What’s great about them and bands like Rick! and Alex Jenkins’ Sound Immersion is that they really push what we think of as jazz into new territories. That and they shred.

Slumgum will be playing at Phono Select Records on Friday evening (around 6 p.m.) with Garage Jazz Architects and Chris Ferreira’s Hum-Hum, who is one of my favorite guitarists in Sacramento, along with Aaron King and Victor Contreras.

I look at the list of local artists playing this festival, and I see a rich lineup of local names—but I don’t typically recognize Sacto as having a strong jazz/improv/experimental scene. But still, it’s a lot of names; describe our scene.

Well, there has to be a lot of locals, because we’re the ones who will still be here when the out-of-towners go home. So yeah, that’s by design.

There is a huge creative music scene in Sacramento. It’s probably the best that it’s ever been right now, because there are regular gigs that audiences can go and see. The Electronic Music Festival, NoiseFest, In the Flow festival, Nebraska Mondays, the Tuesday night jazz jam at Capitol Garage, etc., are all happening regularly. Sacramento is killing it lately.

The only thing that could make it better is if more musicians would step up and create more gigs for their fellow artists. That’s how a good scene develops. Promote each other. Go to each other’s gigs. Collaborate, etc. The scene is good now, but it really would be something special if more artists got up and made gigs happen.

When I think of this festival, I think drums, guitars, sax, stand-up bass. And I know I’m being closed-minded, regarding instrumentation, right? Tell me about the sounds of this festival.

No, you’re right on. A lot of bands will have that lineup. But there will be a lot of groups with laptops, modular synthesizers, noisy pedal boards, tabla, Latin percussion, scat singing, bit-crushing vocals, etc. If you were to walk into Phono Select and check out every record in the jazz, electronic, blues and international sections and then put all of those artists in one city, that’s what the In the Flow festival is.

Plus, Mike Watt!