Wow, man. Far out!
The eighth annual Sacramento Heritage Festival is almost fixing to get ready to rattle your bones
Bill Graham, the late San Francisco promoter, had a novel approach to booking shows. Oftentimes, a Graham bill would be all over the map, musically—imagine Camaro-loads of rocker dudes caravanning to “The City” from Fremont and Hayward to check out the latest Sammy Hagar project or eight-track-roasting Marshall noise from yonder England way, who’d get their boxers bunched by some completely incongruous opening act: gospel choir Voices of East Harlem, or perhaps the African ensemble Osibisa. “Whoa. Like, what’s that?” they’d mumble through a haze of beers and blunts.
Graham might toss in a genre-stretching middle act to mess with their heads, too—something akin to Mahavishnu Orchestra, a viciously angular rock-jazz fusion quintet, or Poco, one of those seminal laid-back L.A. canyon bands. And with festival seating—the old egalitarian first come, first served—if someone wanted a good seat, they had to sit through those openers and, thus, got exposed to new stuff they might not seek out otherwise.
These days, of course, that dawg don’t hunt. Most concert bills give you a few variations on one theme; you’re not gonna find a gutbucket Mississippi blues band, a nylon-string bizjazz guitarist and this week’s major-label KoRn-come-lately act booked together. Sorry, but corporate research has determined that you, the targeted consumer of rock product, would prefer to see this week’s major-label KoRn-come-lately play with last week’s and next week’s KoRn-come-latelys, thank you.
Which makes the Sacramento Heritage Festival somewhat of an anachronism. Over two days—Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3—the Heritage Fest will present some 80 acts on seven stages. These range from Joe Louis Walker & the Boss Talkers—the kind of top-shelf blues band that the Festival’s promoter, Mike Balma, likes to book at the barbecue events he hosts in cooler weather—to what looks like a pretty good cross-section of local acts. And the Fest’s music is, contrary to current trends, all over the map.
Since blues is Balma’s forte, it would follow that blues would be prominently featured. Specifically, blues guitar. Walker, who knows his way up and down a fretboard, tops the Saturday blues bill on the stage sponsored by the beer manufacturer owned by the cigarette conglomerate; before him, guitarists Chris Cain from San Jose, Fillmore Slim from New Orleans and other points south and Johnnie Marshall from Georgia will play, along with something called the Have Mercy Allstars—locals Gayiel Von, Omar Shariff, Little Aaron King and Jimmy Pailer. Sunday’s blues lineup is headlined by local deities Little Charlie & the Nightcats, fronted by singer-harpist Rick Estrin and the always amazing guitarist Charlie Baty. Also on that bill are guitarists Tommy Castro from San Jose, Johnny Rawls from Mississippi and Jake Sampson from Oakland, along with Trey Stone and Destini Rawls.
The stage sponsored by the local record retailer also has slotted blues in its lineup—Blues Experiment on Saturday, and Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Road Runners on Sunday. OK, so zydeco is only tangentially “blues.” And it isn’t stated in the promotional material if Blues Experiment will reanimate the corpse of Lightnin’ Hopkins, either, but we’re assuming that might be on the schedule.
Blues isn’t the only flavor on the menu, however. Junior Brown, a Texan whose music answers the question, “What would happen if you crossed Jimi Hendrix with Ernest Tubb?” headlines Sunday’s show. Orixa, a rock en Español combo from the Bay Area, plays Saturday. So does Storm, Inc., a San Francisco rock quintet fronted by a 6-foot-tall woman. And Sunday’s lineup includes Tempest, a Bay Area Celtic-music band, and songwriter Chuck Prophet, formerly of Green on Red.
There’s also reggae, always a favorite with crowds baked by the sun and other things. Morgan Heritage features five of the 29 children of Jamaican singer Denroy Morgan; even though the band members grew up in the American Northeast, they play the kind of warm Caribbean take on ’60s Motown and soul favored by classic Jamaican groups as the Heptones and the Maytals. They play Sunday. On Saturday, another family affair, Santa Rosa-based Strictly Roots, will play. That band is no stranger to these parts; although bandleader Ras Jahson died three years ago, two of his sons are still members.
However, the real reason to venture out to Gibson Ranch, a county park that’s all the way up Watt Avenue at Elverta Road, for the Fest is that it’s the biggest lineup of local bands you’ll see in these parts at one time. If you want to get a crash course on what’s happening in the local music scene, this is probably the best place to get it—if you don’t mind sunlight, a few voracious insects and the often less-focused acoustics of an alfresco setting.
For starters, check out Dawn Silva, who headlines Saturday’s lineup on the stage sponsored by, ahem, the daily product of some people in a big brick building a few blocks south of Zelda’s Pizza. Formerly one-half of the Brides of Funkenstein, one of the many late-’70s projections of Parliament-Funkadelic auteur George Clinton’s fevered imagination, the Sacramento native is still fronting the funk with a capital P, and her recent CD All My Funky Friends is one of the best things to emerge from this burg recently. Get the hint?
Another reasonably local act that recently released an exquisite CD is the Chico-Sacramento quartet Mother Hips, whose The Green Hills of Earth is filled with the kind of aggressively creative pop music—think Brian Wilson, not Backstreet Boys—you don’t hear coming out of rock bands these days. The Hips play Sunday.
It wasn’t clear at press time whether the defunct band Far, whose two albums for Immortal/Epic, Tin Cans With Strings to You (1996) and Water & Solutions (1998), were ignored at release but have become cult totems since, would reunite for the fest. At least three of Far’s four members will play Saturday, albeit in new bands—Chris Robyn and John Gutenberger in Milwaukee; Shaun Lopez in the Revolution Smile. Only singer Jonah Matranga, now of onelinedrawing, will be missing. Or perhaps he won’t.
In the “two turntables and a microphone” department, Live Human, Socialistik, the C.U.F., 3AM, Verbatum and Brother G provide the house party Saturday, and acid-jazz combo Mind Club sets the groove early on. On Sunday, the same stage (the one sponsored by an insect named “Scoopy”) will feature more hybrid jazz/textural sounds: smooth jazz keyboardist Roger Smith, the Broun Fellinis, Suite 304 and ¡Tang.
And those looking for more of a DJ-piloted experience, Stage X will feature DJ Rocket, Digital E, Orion and Jason Who (Saturday) and Dred, Dragn’fly, J Vigor and Simon Apex (Sunday).
As for that crash course we mentioned, where else can you see Shortie, Groovie Ghoulies, the Skirts, Hurt, Pocket for Corduroy, Jackpot, the Beer Dawgs, Freight Train Riders of America, Tattooed Love Dogs, Willknots and Las Pesadillas (Saturday) and Luxt, Craving Theo, 7th Standard, Tenfold, Low Flying Owls, God Among Men, Random, Eightfourseven, Forever Goldrush, the Brodys, Popgun and Larisa Bryski (Sunday)?
But here’s the cinch: Everybody needs religion, and so do you. If you’re sitting around the trailer watching Benny Hinn, drinking beers and eating those microwave burritos, you most likely aren’t getting your minimum daily requirement of soul. But if you’re willing to spend two days in Mike Balma’s gospel tent, you’ll have enough to last you till next year this time.
We’re talking about black gospel music here. Lots of it. Such as Sons of Salvation, Sacramento Highlights, Endurance, Harmonics, Stars of Glory, Sensational Travelers and Pittsburg Gospel Allstars (Saturday) and Roy Tyler & New Directions, the W.D. Gospel Singers, Corinthians of San Francisco, Mellonaires, Oakland Silvertones and Olde Tyme Religion (Sunday). If you’ve ever heard the Soul Stirrers’ recording of “Touch the Hem of His Garment” with Sam Cooke on lead vocals, you already know that this will be the kind of healing and blessing experience that Benny Hinn, Jimmy Swaggert and Ernest Angley put together can’t beat.
Are you in the tent? Are you ready for school?