Nostalgia runs thick in downtown Oakland. For years I lived in a ramshackle building near the old Fox Theater, and I could never shake the 1940s vibe, the itch to wear a felt hat and carry a neatly folded newspaper. Jazz trumpeter Khalil Shaheed knows the feeling. When Historic Sweet's Ballroom reopened last year, Shaheed had an idea so great he must have slapped himself: He ushered his band, some catfish, and a vat of hot oil into the famed 1920s art deco dance hall, and the "Friday Night Family Fish Fry" was born. Featuring world-class blues and jazz, these family-friendly, monthly all-ages events are a throwback to the hopping juke joints of yore.
This Friday's go-round features the raucous sounds of the legendary Elvin Bishop, founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, along with the Oaktown Jazz Band, Park Place, and the house regulars, Shaheed's own Big Belly Blues Band. Happy Homes Sea Food restaurant cooks up the fried fish, hush puppies, and chicken dinners with all the fixings. Show up hungry (and be ready to dance full) at 7 p.m. at Historic Sweet's Ballroom, 1933 Broadway (at 19th Street), Oakland. Admission is $10-30, and dinner is $10 extra; call (510) 206-4509 or e-mail email@example.com.
-- Michael Leaverton
Down with agribusiness
Beef infected with deadly pathogens. Ubiquitous pesticides linked to everything from cancer to Parkinson's disease. Fish so laden with mercury that even healthy folks are advised to eat it sparingly. Is the food industry trying to feed us or kill us? That's the question journalist/activist Christopher D. Cook asks in his book Diet for a Dead Planet, a compelling indictment of big agriculture that exposes horrific practices rampant in factory farms and feedlots. With a style often compared to that of Eric Schlosser's hugely successful Fast Food Nation, Cook traces the destruction of family farms and the rise of agribusiness and processed foods, finishing with a hopeful examination of the burgeoning organic and slow food movements. Take a critical look at what's on your plate as the author reads at 7:30 p.m. at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia (at 20th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 282-9246 or visit www.mtbs.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Boogie Down Productions
A feast of folk dance
It gets cold in the Balkans, so it only makes sense for locals to warm up with a little folk dancing. Besides, the area's classic combination of rhythmic acoustic instrumentation (heavy on the tambourines and mandolinlike strings) and dances replete with kicks, linked arms, and fancy footwork is a lot more fun than gyrating at some gym. The Kolo Festival offers two days of classes along with three nights of Balkan parties and performances, starting with a dinner at 6:45 p.m. on Thursday (preregistration is required), at the Russian Center of San Francisco, 2450 Sutter (at Divisadero), S.F. Admission to individual events is free-$25 (or $99.95 gets you into all events); call (800) 730-5615 or visit www.kolofestival.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Short and Sweet
Tobias Wolff wasn't sure that the Word for Word theater company could make good drama out of his short works. But after seeing its interpretation of two of his pieces, he hailed "a new art form." "Stories by Tobias Wolff" opens tonight at 8 (and runs through Dec. 5) at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton (at Madrona), Mill Valley. Admission is $20-25; call 383-9600 or visit www.142throckmortontheatre.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser