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SF Weekly Music Awards 2002 

A galaxy-spanning journey through space and sound!

Welcome to the SF Weekly Music Awards 2002! This year, it’s as if the Bay Area music community has finally sighed with relief. Sure, some musicians are out of work, there's still a shortage of rehearsal space, and the authorities continue to shut down nightclubs for functioning as nightclubs, but the economic stranglehold has weakened. Art lovers may partake of the (perhaps foolhardy) notion that no more musicians will be forced out of the area to make room for fusion tapas and valet parking. That is not to say the well heeled invasion has been purely detrimental to Bay Area music: It seems to me that the musicians who hung in there playing in warehouses, on street corners, at junk yards, on contaminated beaches, and at weird living room salons are some of the most talented and mutually supportive artists the Bay Area has produced in years. Evolutions in sound resonate between the bridges. One need only glance at the forward looking faces in the hip hop, rock, and electronic categories to see this. Thanks to all the music-makers for sticking around and making this a very, very interesting year. - Silke Tudor


Tom Armstrong

Old-fashioned, well-written, and well-performed honky-tonk has a cheerful new champion in San Leandro's Tom Armstrong, a modern-day master of the booze-soaked ballads that echoed throughout America's beer halls in the '50s. Hick-music patron saints such as Wynn Stewart, Ray Price, and Webb Pierce surely hover over Armstrong's personal turntable, as the soft-spoken songwriter delves deep into the sounds of a bygone hillbilly era. While many of today's crop of twangcore artists wade in waters an inch deep, Armstrong dives headlong into the swirling current of authentic pedal steel- and fiddle-driven Texas shuffles. His new record, Songs That Make the Jukebox Play, takes its title and cover design from an old album by Jimmie Skinner; his last LP featured covers of songs by Onie Wheeler, another '50s singer whose work is little known outside of the hard-country faithful. But though Armstrong has nailed the look and sound of days long past, his latest disc is packed with fab new material, original songs that are worthy of old masters like Harlan Howard and Leon Payne. These are clever, tongue-in-cheek ballads of broken hearts and romantic misadventures, performed with a nudge and a wink, and tailor-made for auditioning with a beer under your belt. For the CD, Armstrong gathered local roots music vets Mike Wolf, Les James, Greg Reeves, and David Phillips, who collectively go by the handle the Jukebox Cowboys. Together, these Bay Area pickers breathe life into a classic sound that once was called hokey, but now sounds pretty darn hip.

Dave Gleason's Wasted Days

Though the members of Dave Gleason's Wasted Days got their musical starts in '90s groups like the Loved Ones and the Glee Club, the East Bay outfit's spiritual roots go all the way back to the Nashville scene of the '70s. At that time, country "outlaws" brought a renegade, honky-tonk spirit to Music City, creating a new kind of country music that was both soulful and gritty. Dave Gleason adds his own spin to the work of that era's seminal songwriters -- Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Gene Clark, Clarence White -- combining that spirit with the warm country-rock sound popularized by bands such as the Eagles and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The Burrito Brothers reference is an especially apt one, as Gleason's voice evokes a reedier, seedier Gram Parsons. But Gleason sings with more fire in his belly and a lot more heartache on his mind, an emotional quality that also comes out in his lead-guitar playing. Gleason's Telecaster work is the stuff of legend, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone else in the Bay Area who can coax such perfectly heartbreaking notes of liquid loneliness from a fretboard. Joined by Michael Thereau on bass, John Kent on drums, and Dave Stark on tenor saxophone, Gleason has opened for acts ranging from Jerry Jeff Walker to Dwight Yoakam. Whether Dave Gleason's Wasted Days is the opener or the headliner, though, the group has a tendency to steal the spotlight, flooring audiences with its sometimes-reverent, sometimes-raucous revisiting of country music's recent golden age.

Mark Growden's Electric Piñata

Mark Growden is the kind of songwriter who only comes around once in an age. Endlessly, deliriously creative, Growden has recorded and released two full-lengths (Inside Beneath Behind and Downstairs Karaoke), written and performed a myriad of theater pieces, scored music for videos and films, and contributed to Bob Weir's Sun Ra tribute album. His work has earned him a deluge of praise throughout his career, including the Isadora Duncan Award for Best Original Music for a New Dance Piece and two Best Song awards from the Northern California Songwriter's Association. Hailed as "a contender for Beck's throne" by Alternative Press magazine, the restless Growden is one of those musicians who will play anything that gets in his way -- from pawnshop hallmarks such as the accordion, banjo, and saxophone, to a host of freakish home inventions and non-instruments like PVC pipes and scissors. His inventive, imaginative lyrics are as wide ranging as his instrument choices, evoking Tom Waits' ragged theatricality, but on a more charming and personal scale. Growden's stories -- about Ted Nugent, a shuttered factory that made wooden crates in an era of cardboard, and feeling like a piece of meat at a vegan potluck -- are at once contemporary and timeless, funny and heartbreaking, surreal and lucid. It sounds like an impossible set of contradictions, but Growden is born to achieve the inconceivable; for a man with his talents, the impossible is just a starting point.


DJ Disk

With an ear honed by more than 20 years of scratching, and a reckless, genius disregard for the alleged limits of a turntable, DJ Disk has been one of the trendsetters in a movement that has transformed the record player from a simple playback device into something far more diabolical. Whether he's working his magic on his own peerless projects -- such as 1998's mind-melting Ancient Termites and 2001's Phonosychographdisk vs. The Filthy Ape Mooch Moose -- or as a guest scratcher on works by Bill Laswell, Disk catapults the act of vinyl manipulation into the lofty realms of experimental art. Tchaikovsky, Hendrix, Coltrane, Laurel & Hardy, and old Disney soundtracks are all fair game for this sonic scientist -- though source material has a tendency to, uh, undergo some changes at the hands of the maestro. Disk doesn't just scratch records, he sculpts them, freaking his sampled sounds with an arsenal of effects, amplifications, and weird delays. Through this laborious process, Disk manages to create a pastiche of rhythm and noise that is much more than just the sum of its parts. As an original member of the seminal Invisibl Skratch Piklz crew (which also featured DJs QBert, Mixmaster Mike, and Shortkut) and on his solo albums, Disk continues to display jaw-dropping talent, most recently on Tabla Beat Science's Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove album.


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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

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