[Dixielandjazz] Report from Eureka
ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu
Sat Mar 29 23:15:46 PST 2003
A report from Eureka, for what it's worth, on the Redwood Coast festival.
I had never before been in Eureka (California, for those who
might have thought me to be encapsulated in the belly of some Greek
beast--'eureka' in Greek means "I have found it", or something like
The Palm Springs Desert Swing 'n' Dixie festival had been my
first stop, and it went well, even though the digs had to be changed
to the Rivera Resort. I reported on some of the bands and goings-on
in a previous (or, if you value spell-checkers as i don't,
'pervious', an adjective of doubtful yet dyslexic/anagramatic
authenticity except in describing ground-cover) post.
Driving up from Palm Springs on US395 to Reno to see friends was
a trip back in time from my time playing tuba in the 523rd USAF
SAC-Trained Killers Band at March AFB (Riverside), California, when a
trio of us used to drive it on a three-day pass ("Tahoe, Tahoe, it's
off to Reno we go" was the bad song, sung at 75 mph around the
corpses of sixpacks of bad beer). The mountains to the left
(Whitney, highest point in the continental U. S., among others) were
magnificently snow-bedecked, and although someone seems to have
shifted the highway a mite in my 20-year absence, the traffic was
sparse and compliantly passable. Reno was even bigger and more
garish than my remembrances of it from recent years, but i had no
interest in shows or gambling, just seeing my friends.
The drive from Reno up US395 through Susanville, Lassen, and
Redding, to Eureka, during the waning days of winter along mountain
lakes and tree-lined roadways, was sublime. Not much traffic,
sunshine, and unfamiliar but grand vistas were among the reasons not
to drive fast. From Redding to Eureka, the roads were winding and
hilly, paralleling mountain streams, but 146 miles of them became a
bit tiring, even with light traffic. However, as a holiday drive, if
you are not in a hurry, it can scarcely be improved upon.
Eureka, which i had never visited before, lies on a
island-protected bay on the northern California coast, north of San
Francisco by a hundred miles (or so). The city's population is
around 30,000, and has a number of other neighboring smaller cities
(like Arcata) nearby. This week has been sunny, with temperatures
around 60 Farenheit during the day and in the 40's at night.
Comments by the locals (waitresses and other denizens) and frequent
visitors (from Seattle) suggest that perhaps sunlight and fair
temperatures are not the most common aspects of the season.
To the music: in a perhaps misguided attempt at festival
Gemütlichkeit, i went to the opening ceremonies at the Bayshore Mall,
which was initially celebrated by a highschool jazzband (not too bad,
and the drummer was to my ears the best talent), hundreds of
parasol-twirling 5th-graders uncomprehendingly miming steps to the
Charleston, and a number of songs by Disneyland's Sidewalk Strutters,
a more-or-less swing-band. They played admirably, but of course i
was consumed with curiosity by their tuba-player, who played
prodigies of 4-beat bass-lines on his Marzan CC-tuba, but
unfortunately mostly inaudibly, even with a microphone (condenser).
Maybe it was the bad room-acoustics, but why would anyone this good
on tuba not want to be heard? An electric, or better yet, an
acoustic (i.e., real) string bass, with appropriate miking, would
have been better heard, and more rhythmic and heavier on the beat.
He was playing great stuff, i'm sure (a la Eli Newberger), but i just
couldn't hear it. (When i talked with him, he sounded unsure of who
Eli or Rich Matteson were, which i find hard to believe.)
Other bands at the actual festival i heard: a study in contrasts.
The High Sierra band simply has some of the best musicians, and the
most fun, around. Their rendition of Wrought Iron Rag on their
Jubilee CD is great (and who else does it?), and just looking at
Howard Miyata (trombone) while he's listening with angelic
concentration to Earl McKee (sousaphone) sing is worth the price of
The Titan Hot 7 is perhaps the craziest band around. In what
other band would the drummer sneak over to the clarinet player (Bob
Draga) and roll up his trousers above the knee, place the
trumpet-player's mute in Bob's sock, and lick and stick a small blue
plunger to Bob's forehead, all while Bob's playing an inspired solo?
But they're not clowns: their CD called "Without a Net" has one of
the best versions of "Willie the Weeper" (replete with crowd-noises)
that i must now measure other bands' versions against.
And what can you possibly say about Jean Kittrell and the
Rivermen? Jean (now retired after 35 years of teaching college
English) tries to herd the recalcitrant males toward a semblance of
normal dixiefying, but Red Lehr's and other's jokes derail that fond
ambition. Red is a phenomenon--he plays sousaphone in the tessitura
a fifth below middle C most of the night (which would kill my chops),
and does so with a sweet chordal sense of melody and 3rds and 7ths
that most tuba-pickers can never even conceive of (but with the
occasional BLAT! just to keep you on your toes).
Uptown Lowdown: one of the best 2-beat sousaphone-players in the
country (Art Horgen) simply and elegantly backs up the great West
Coast Revival style of this band, with Bert Barr still belting out
the Lu Watters' style cornet-lead and the two reed-players (John
Goodrich and Paul Woltz) occasionally combining their nether talents
on a TWO-bass-saxophone improvisation (wonderful!).
The other bands i've heard have also been good (Night Blooming
Jazzmen, Blue Street, Kinda Dixie--which don't play as much 'trad' as
i like), but i suspect i ought to quit this mess before i hurt myself
(besides, i'm out of beer).
** Dan Augustine Austin, Texas ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu **
** "If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing." **
** -- Kingsley Amis **
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