That vision thing

The next time you complain that nothing is happening here in our sun-baked burg, try to remember that all things begin with a vision—but it takes at least one person willing to put in some effort in order to make that dream concrete.

If you are hurting for examples, consider Gene Savage, the retired California State University, Sacramento, music professor who died July 15 at age 67. Savage, who was teaching at CSUS in the late 1970s, noticed that serious music—the kind of scored, generally un-improvised stuff played in concert halls by people with years of training—was still mired in the 19th and early 20th centuries; meanwhile, composers were coming up with plenty of new and exciting repertoires that weren’t getting played.

So, in 1978, Savage organized the Festival of New American Music (FeNAM), which continues to take place every November at CSUS and a few other spots around town, including area high schools. He lucked out his first year, when the critically acclaimed ensemble the Kronos Quartet, then in residence in San Francisco, came to Sacramento to play the inaugural FeNAM.

In an interview (“Notes from the underground”; SN&R Cover; November 7, 2002), Savage told us that he was inspired by something an old colleague of his, Rod Whitaker (who wrote such novels as The Eiger Sanction under the nom de plume Trevanian), once told him: For the arts to continue to succeed and grow, they needed to be presented on a small scale, using local talent, to a local audience. Whitaker was talking about theater, but his maxim applies to music, too, from avant-garde sting quartets to garage punk bands, electronica acts and solo folk artists. “If we were going to have what I wanted to have,” Savage recalled thinking, “we would have to produce it ourselves.”

Savage retired after the 1992 FeNAM, and the festival has continued under the aegis of Dan Kennedy and, later, under Stephen Blumberg. This coming November will be FeNAM’s 27th year. It is one of this city’s finer treasures, and it would not have happened without the vision of Gene Savage.

And if one man’s vision was a classical-music festival, another man’s vision is to present top-notch blues performers with the appropriate culinary accompaniment. Big Mike Balma knows how to throw a concert good enough to eat, as anyone who’s attended one of his wintertime throwdowns at the Sacramento Horsemen’s Club can attest. This coming Wednesday, August 11, Balma will bring the fine Chicago act Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials into the Blue Lamp, at 1400 Alhambra Boulevard, for a sweet summertime repast. Showtime is 7 p.m., and barbecue will be served; call the club for the cover charge. We aren’t sure if the night’s menu will be Carolina-style pulled pork or Texas-style brisket, but if you’re a carnivore with an appetite for the blues, you’re sure to be sated on both accounts.