Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Artist Interview: Annie Bacon's Pounding Corps

When I think of artists who exemplify The Bay Area's creative culture, I think of people like Annie Bacon. Highly original, filled with integrity and continually questing, the SF-dwelling singer/songwriter/composer/bandleader and mother has several EPs and a full-length CD with annie bacon and her oshen, as well as a highly acclaimed musical suite, The Folk Opera, to her name.  She's also sung and played on a slew of other artist's recordings and projects (Corinne West, Savannah Jo Lack), and just received an Arts Incubator award from Intersection for the Arts for her next creation. I recently caught up with her as she prepared for a benefit performance she's doing for The Liberation Institute Urban Retreat Center, Sunday, October 26, in San Francisco.

Q When did you first embrace songwriting? Who was a big early influence on your becoming an artist and who or what is fueling your muse currently?
AB: Before December of 2007, I'd definitely written songs, but I never considered myself a songwriter. I was content to play other people's music. That was the month, however, when I got Garageband, which changed everything. Suddenly I could sketch out concepts of songs across multiple tracks, and it was like a floodgate had been opened. Within a few weeks I knew that this was what I was supposed to be when I grew up. Pink Floyd and whatever was playing on the soft rock station in the late 80s ... those were my early influences. Music that was emotional. Right now I'm dealing with an Alt-J infatuation, a British art-band that does everything I love: harmonies, highly literate lyrics, dirty-grimy bass drops, ear-worming melodies, and arrangements that keep you on your toes. A few songs of theirs I love: "Fitzpleasure"and "Ripe &Ruin."

Q Tell us about the new EP and the 'community effort' it's entailed? 

AB: The new EP, which I haven't yet named, is a collection of ukulele songs that I've written across five or six years, but which never quite fit on any other release.  2012-13 were hard years for me and my family. Without going into it, I'll say that I was creatively paralyzed coming out of it and having trouble getting re-started. A kind friend set me in motion with a gentle nudge, another friend stepped forward to engineer it, and others threw down their massive talent as the OSHEN. And still other friends have offered ears, insights, and hours of talking them through. It's one of those projects that has happened for me, not because of me, which is a sweet and humbling relief. I feel really blessed by my community.

Q You just were just awarded an Arts Incubator by Intersection for the Arts. What does that mean for your work and will you build upon The Folk Opera or drum up something else altogether?

AB: Yes! This is really exciting for me. There's another project altogether that inspired me reaching out to them for support. It's a project that needs to happen within a certain framework, and to be honest I don't even know what exactly it is going to be yet, only that I'm supposed to set out to do it. I'm being necessarily vague, you'll forgive that I hope. But I do also see the potential for the IFTA sponsorship as a platform for finding the Folk Opera's next life, which is on stage. Maybe I'll find funding to get the incredible Alphabet Arts puppet production of the piece out here from Brooklyn.

Q You're doing a benefit performance for The Liberation Institute. Tell us about their work in the Bay Area (and any more details about the show) and how it's important to you.

AB: The Liberation Institute is an organization dear to my heart. I sit on their Board of Directors and am consistently amazed and impressed by how much they do with so little. Their community-mental-health model means that absolutely anyone can access their services. As an artist, I know how often I and other artists need support, but feel limited by finances, so this accessibility is a key part of what I love about them.
The show is to raise funds for their services for children, teens and families. As a mama myself now, I also have deep empathy for how necessary therapy can be in the process of both being and raising a child! Holy moly. The show will be kid-friendly, with those under 12 free to enter and the show happening from 3-5p. (After nap before dinner!) It's going to be an intimate show with only about 30 tickets available for purchase. Since it's a fundraiser we're asking $25-50/ticket, fully tax-deductible since Libi is a 501(c)3 non-profit. I'll play the Folk Opera, followed by a set of ukulele songs from the EP.  
Details: Music Is Love: An afternoon with Annie Bacon, Sunday October 26th, 3pm-5pm at the Liberation Institute's Urban Retreat Center, 1227-A Folsom Street at 8th, San Francisco. $25-50 tax-deductible donation suggested, kids 12 and under are free! Tickets available via

Monday, October 20, 2014

FAR-West Fun; Coming up on KZSU & @ The Cottonwood Truckee

Well, FAR-West in Oakland turned into a song-soaked, musical fun ride. I had a great time playing PGS rooms hosted by Bohemian Highway, Maurice Tani & Jim Bruno, Kyle Alden and Amy Andrews Music, as well as the pre and post-conference events at High St. Station and Awaken Cafe, and the gig with Kate Burkart at High Street on Saturday between everything. I heard SO MANY GREAT songs and met a slew of great folks. I feel both replete and reinvigorated for more!
On that note, I went straight from FAR-West to a rehearsal with KCDC. We'll be playing LIVE this Wednesday, Oct. 23 on KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM. Tune in!
Thursday, I'm hitting the road with Kwame to play in Truckee, CA. Got friends in this fun, mountain town? Send them our way as we'll be holding down The Cottonwood from 7-10pm. The award-winning restaurant "has it all; a rich and vibrant heritage, a lively music scene, a full bar, and an adventurous menu created by the Executive Chef of 17 years, David Smith."
Deborah Crooks in Truckee @ Cottonwood Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 7pm Off Brockway Rd.(Old hwy 267) Truckee, CA 96160 (530) 587-5711

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


Deborah Crooks in Truckee - 7pm
Off Brockway Rd.(Old hwy 267
Truckee, CA 96160
(530) 587-5711
- See more at:

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


Deborah Crooks in Truckee - 7pm
Off Brockway Rd.(Old hwy 267
Truckee, CA 96160
(530) 587-5711
- See more at:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Read.Eat.Listen: Island State

Read:  Though I was hard pressed to wander to far from the beach on my visit, there's a more to Hawaii beyond the sand and teaming tourists. Written in 1866 (!), nearly a century before it became a state,  "Mark Twain in Hawaii: Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands: Hawaii in the 1860s by Mark Twain captures Hawaii when it was still a kingdom yet in the process of getting colonized ...and all the complexity inherent in a collisions of cultures the state still exhibits: "Nearby is an interesting ruin--the meager remains of an ancient temple--a place where human sacrifices were offered up in those old bygone days...long, long before the missionaries braved a thousand privations to come and make [the natives] permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there; and showed the poor native how dreary a place perdition is and what unnecessarily liberal facilities there are for going to it; showed him how, in his ignorance, he had gone and fooled away all his kinsfolk to no purpose; showed him what rapture it is to work all day long for fifty cents to buy food for next day with, as compared with fishing for a pastime and lolling in the shade through eternal summer, and eating of the bounty that nobody labored to provide but Nature. How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their gaves in this beautiful island and never knew there was a hell." — Mark Twain
Eat: Acai berries are native to Trinidad,  and Acai bowls originated in Brazil, but given how omnipresent the latter are on Hawaii breakfast menus, you'd think the antioxidant packed berry was an Aloha original. I'm not complained about having eaten so many acai bowls — which combines the best aspects of superfruit smoothie, fresh fruit and crunch —  last week. I became partial to those layered with raw granola and topped with local honey. Ascension Kitchen offers a good guide to composing one at home.

Listen: I've been playing Jenny's Lewis's The Voyager (produced by Ryan Adams) nonstop. This song encapsulated her fresh, rocking sound and humor well as what it's like travel in popular vacation destinations:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Red Meat, Run Boy Run, David Jacobs-Strain to Perform at FAR-West Music Conference Venues' Choice Concert, Thursday, Oct 16, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 7:00 P.M.
Oakland Marriott
On Thursday evening, October 16, FAR-West will kick off its 11th annual conference with the Venues’ Choice concert. Five venues from around the region, dedicated to presenting acoustic music year-round, will each present an artist(s) of their choice. FAR-West's opening night 'kick-off' concerts are always one of the highlights of our conferences and we anticipate another great night!
Limited tickets ($15) are available for public purchase at the FAR-West Brown Paper Tickets site.

Folk Alliance Region West (FAR-West) is the western region of Folk Alliance International including Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northwest Territory, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Yukon Territory.
FAR-West fosters and promotes traditional, contemporary and multicultural folk music, dance and related performing arts in the Western United States and Canada.
FAR-West supports this mission through its annual conference each fall, one of five regional Folk Alliance Conferences. The annual FAR-West conference provides a three-day, music-filled weekend for the folk and acoustic music community to unite, exchange songs and ideas, re-charge and do business.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hawaii Postcard: Walking Up Hills

                    Old ghost ranges, sunken rivers, come again
                             stand by the wall and tell their tale,
                     walk the path, sit the rains,
                     grind the ink, wet the brushes, unroll the
                              broad white space:
                     lead out and tip
                     the moist black line.
                     Walking on walking,
                                              under foot          earth turns.
                     Streams and mountains never stay the same.    
                                                                      -- Gary Snyder, Endless Streams & Mountains

In a new landscape, the mind reaches for known landscapes. My body reads 'tropics' on the skin and in the air, and automatically conjures up paths it's stepped, breathed, been before. In the years since I took that first flight to Hawaii, I've been to many other lands, other islands. Driving through Honolulu this week, I'm recalling Mysore, India; Austin, TX; St. Croix, VI; and, seemingly pedestrianly, Sacramento, CA. All of thes places I've been, share heat, a certain stickiness, and similar foliage (and some birds, native and/or introduced).*
Walking up Diamond Head yesterday, hearing multiple languages as we switched back up the side of the crater, my mind scrambled with memories of walking the stairs of Chamundi Hill, in India; and  ascending the cable route of Half Dome; as wells as a low-slung mountain that the painter Cezanne was said to favor outside of Aix. 
I've read body turns over all of its cells every 7 years, but somewhere there's a file of miles walked within me, beyond it seems, even the cellular. The mystery of being glimpsed yet again.
The view from Diamond Head

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hawaii Postcard: Wherever you go...

I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down.
Wherever you go, there you was fun to happen upon several paintings by Georgia O'Keefe at the Honolulu Art Museum this week. The Dole Company paid for O'Keefe to fly here in 1939 in exchange for two paintings (on any subject) they could use in their pineapple juice ads. She produced 20 paintings inspired by her time in the island landscape, and the three I saw were lovely and so immediately recognizable as her work. Even though Hawaii is 180 degrees different than New York, where she was living, and Santa Fe, where she settled. It reminded me what I've been feeling this latest bit of travel, and what I've learned in the past: wherever you go there you are
For a long time, my urge to travel was to get away. But my need to escape myself was cured  by my last trip to India. Both knees injured, yoga practice compromised (physically), far from my love, I felt finally a big 'uncle' in me. Realizing once and for all, I was not going to transmogrify into a fantasy of myself that had it all together and was pain (physical, emotional, you name it) free. No I was me, that wasn't going to change fundamentally, this lifetime. So when I came home, I really came home, and started to put down roots for the first time in years. I've travelled a little in the past three years, but it's been pretty west-coast centric, road-trippy and domestic.
So flying to Hawaii this week was the longest I've been on a plane in a bit. Still it felt pretty natural and familiar and I arrived curious for perspective rather than looking for escape.  Flying out over the Bay Area, getting a clear picture of my home territory: the small island of Alameda we call home, the vast, bridge- becrossed San Francisco Bay as well as Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, and Pt. Reyes jutting out furthest west fromthe mainland as if it wanted to go to Hawaii, too, was the literal broad overview. And being here has been a balm and extension of that. It's been great to mostly unplug and not do too much -- not try to see everything, everywhere, or play out or what have you, going to the yoga studio in the a.m., writing and strumming a little, albeit augmented by warm water, acai bowls and sand. Mm mm Mmmmm.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Artist Interview: Michele Kappel-Stone's Full Heart

Oakland musician Michele Kappel-Stone is one of those rare hybrids of cool, talented and nice. The Baltimore native is always playing somewhere and she's a seemingly tireless advocate of her fellow artists. When she's not working on her own projects, she can often be found sitting in with another band, helping book a show or organizing an event for The California Roots Union.  
I've been catching  Kappel-Stone on various stages in various guises — playing as Tippy Canoe, putting together shows at The Starry Plough — around the Bay for years, but one of my favorite of her artistic incarnations is her recent collaboration with Laura Benitez, Heartache Sisters. The duo project is a winning spin-off of Laura Benitez & The Heartache in which Kappel-Stone plays drums and sings backup. The duo's voices blend well, they can play multiple instruments, they exude fun and look great doing it. Think Shovels & Rope crossed with Loretta Lynn and you start to get an idea of what the Heartache Sisters have going on.
After meeting up for coffee in the burgeoning Grand Lake District of Oakland, which she now calls home, Kappel-Stone answered some questions about the evolution of her musical life.

Q How did you first start singing and writing songs? Who were some of your earliest influences?
My professional singing debut was dressed in a head-to-toe white leotard performing a song called “Sex In Wetsuits” for multi-media avant theater company Impossible Industrial Action’s original play “The Pleasure Raiders.” This was 1990 in Baltimore. Before that it was mostly singing into a hairbrush in my bedroom and daydreaming. I started writing songs seven years later when I was the drummer in The Kirby Grips. I was learning to play the guitar and set my sights on becoming a songwriter.
A portion of my earliest influences include the Grease Soundtrack, Patsy Cline, The Monkees, Donna Summer, Barbara Mandrell, Earth, Wind & Fire, Eurythmics, and The Pretenders. That’s a combination of my mother’s record collection and my first order from Columbia House Record Club (cost just a penny). My first instrument is drums. I have the theater company, I.I.A., to thank for this, too. They gave me a shot behind the kit when the “real drummer” suddenly quit.

Q What brought you to the Bay Area? Does the East Coast ever pull you back?
The Bay Area’s arts and music scene was the initial draw. Secondly, I was deciding between New Orleans and San Francisco in the heat and humidity of Baltimore in August and my air conditioning broke. SF sounded “cool.” Lastly, my best friend, Mandy, decided to move here first and that sealed the deal. One of the reasons I’m excited to return to touring next year (both solo and with Heartache Sisters) is to get to visit my homeland again. I miss it, but always feel connected.

Q You've got your finger on the pulse of the Bay Area music scene as a steadily performing artist and a talent buyer — whose inspiring you now?
There are far too many to name and I’d hate to leave out someone I really adore. Instead, I think I’ll name the bands I’ll be sharing bills with coming up. The Demons I Knew (10/11 at Amnesia, SF), The McCoy Tyler Band, Secret Town (11/13’s The Heartless Woman Ball at Leo’s, Oakland), Maurice Tani, Loretta Lynch, and Yard Sale (featuring Jill Olson, Denise Funari and Melanie deGiovanni) (11/22 at The Starry Plough, Berkeley).

Q Describe your writing process. Do you write words first or start on an instrument?
The melody and chord progression come along first, then the words fit themselves in. Sometimes a single line of a lyric and the melody occur together while driving in the car and I’ll develop the rest when I have a guitar or ukulele in my hand later, but that’s less common.

Q How do you feel to have your first solo show is coming up? What can audiences expect?
I’m excited for my first solo show under my very own legal name. Audiences can expect a slight tingling sensation, but it won’t be anything to be alarmed by. Musically it will be a mix of my new songs, with a few older tunes from projects that have stuck with me and deserve to live on. Style-wise, I suppose you can revert back to the earliest influences question and imagine what that mix sounds like filtered through my personality.

Michele Kappel-Stone plays a rare solo show at Amnesia, 835 Valencia, San Francisco, October 11 at 6pm; Laura Benitez & The Heartache celebrate the release of their full-length CD Heartless Woman November 13 at Leo's Music Club, 5447 Telegraph, Oakland. For more information visit