Capturing Moments

Photography, artistry, life and living from behind the camera with local artist, Arthur Robinson.

by Lisa Talley

“I live in my head. I over think… in this one particular facet of my life, I’m not thinking, I just capture.”

When the lights dim and the crowd cozies up to a thundering stage, voices crash down on the sometimes seedy walls of an iconic local nightclub and live-action photographer, Arthur Robinson, is rapid firing from his camera, freezing moments within moments without ever breaking anyone’s concentration.

It’s not every photographer who can walk into a scenario without the usual faux pas such as an unwarranted flash in someone’s eye or unwittingly blocking someone’s view all in the name of a beautiful shot. Robinson is a familiar face among the local music scene in Fresno, and if you’ve ever seen him work, you know that by the time he lets you see him he’s probably already taken more than 200 photos. 

“Photography is the only aspect of my life where it is me living, being a human being.” Robinson shares as he probes the question of why he chooses live-action, and not just live-action, but live music as his subject.

“In overly technical situations, like portraiture, there’s so much time to think, to second guess myself. But in live music [I] don’t get that… [I] have to shoot… or I’ll miss an important moment.”

Robinson elaborates that live-action is an incredibly unpredictable place which requires quick reflexes, the kind of just ’knowing’ what to do rather than a process of analyzing and planning before actually doing. There’s a moment that happens and it’s unclear if it’s going to be the right one, the one that needs to be caught on film, but he’s there any way assessing the light, the angle, the emotion of the subject and suddenly, without thinking, his hands know what to do, the buttons to push and dials to spin. They pull the focus to perfection, and in a burst, the moment is captured. But is it the right one? The one that tells a story in a single frame. It’s a question that bounces around his mind until he’s able to sit down with his photos and take a look, so he continues to fire away until there’s nothing left to capture.

He recalls a Rolling Stones song that seems to encapsulate the nature of this a bit further: ’You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes well, you might find you get what you need.’

“Everything I capture, I get because a person gave it to me,” Robinson states about his work. It’s the notion that his photography is able to tell a story because the subject was in a state of creating or giving when the photo was taken. A singer who belts into the microphone, a poet speaking a powerful stanza, or a person watching the show awash in the message.

It’s almost an intuitive process. As an artist, Robinson knows what he would like to capture but what he ends up with is usually something unexpected, yet wonderful. A pleasant surprise that is both telling of the subject and himself as a photographer. In fact, it’s very much akin to how he discovered his style as an artist. In that it felt remarkably accidental, happening in this serendipitous way that seemed ‘meant-to-be’.

Photography had always been an interest for Robinson, from polaroids to the ever popular point and shoot disposable cameras, but it wasn’t until a cross country road trip for an unnamed documentary project in 2012 that things shifted into a more serious pursuit.

“I was going on the trip in order to help out, but I didn’t know that I was going to assist on camera as well and my friend gave me a camera and said, ‘Go!’ and [for the entire trip] I just took pictures, it was all I really did. … And I had that Malcolm Gladwell quote in my head, what he said about 10,000 hours being the magic number of greatness and I wanted to relate that to photography. Learning photography in 10,000 photos.”

And so the road trip became the training ground, where Robinson’s style was developed.

“Sometimes, I would machine gun my shutter and take 6,7,8 photos of the same thing. But I was seeing a progression, seeing the decisive moment [of something] where [the subject] she’s looking at me and feeling a certain type of way,” Robinson says about understanding his own style in those early days, “…and that’s street photography.”

It was a revelation for Robinson to discover that without conscious effort, there was a name for what he was doing, it was street photography. But should it come as such a surprise for a student of Gordon Parks’ work? Founder of the ‘blaxploitation’ film genre, an advocate for social justice, and prominent photojournalist, Gordon Parks earned a legendary reputation through street photography from the 40s to the 70s.

Yet, as influential as being a student of black history was to Robinson, it was also modern technology that helped him find his footing.

“Digital gives you the freedom to make mistakes and see where you’re going. Whereas film is limited in the ‘I only have 24 shots and that’s it.’ I could burn through a thousand roles a day, so-to-speak, and not worry about it.”

Where some would hail film as the cornerstone of artistry for photographers, Robinson’s sentiments are not entirely the same. To never have to worry about reloading and when to push down the shutter, it leaves one less thing on the table to second guess himself with.

It would be worth noting that at this point he might mention that with the good also comes the bad and the digital age has created a world where everyone is a self-proclaimed photographer. However, Robinson doesn’t seem to share that sentiment either. Photographers are boiled down to their perspective, not their equipment, they each have a style created out of that perspective, neither of which relies on technical know-how. Instead, their ‘eye’ is derived from their unique history, their life and experiences bubbling up in their work which makes it all one-of-a-kind.

“My perspective makes my photography mine.” A response when posed with the question of what makes Robinson’s work unique from all other photographers. It’s not something that can be adequately articulated, only seen or felt. The work pours out of Robinson as-is, distilled through his perspectives as a black, demisexual, feminist, artist.

And the digital age has also provided something incredibly noteworthy for Robinson aside from the ability to burn through thousands of snapshots. It’s the endless possibilities of not only sharing his work but, as he puts it, the image he captures of Fresno with the rest of the world.

“People say ‘there’s nothing to do in Fresno’ which is such a cliche thing to say. And I’m the literal antithesis to that… if there’s nothing to do then why am I here, able to do and show you all of these cool things.” Most all of Robinson’s work is of live-action (musicians, performers, etc.) who are either from the Central Valley or just passing through, making the cool side of the Valley all the more available for the rest of the world to see, not just for those who say ‘there’s nothing to do in Fresno’.

Arthur Robinson’s collection is a compilation of artists as well as those who exist in the peripheral, it’s  the people, the vendors… those who create the environment and culture around and along with the artists.

“I feel a responsibility as a witness [to life] to share all of these moments… having a camera not only helped me into a world I never felt part of before by giving me the confidence to live my own life, but it also led to having a deeper connection with the community [I choose to work in]. It expanded what the word ‘community’ means to me and I have more friends and loved ones because of that.”

Arthur Robinson’s work is available online at www.itsartwithwords.com but his most current work can be found on Instagram and Facebook @itsartwithwords where you can stay up to date with where and what he’s up to next.

Come See What the Fuss is About

by Arthur Robinson

Fuss Fest is not only a music and arts festival, it is also a revelation. Created by four women: artist Pris Van Rye, Midwest Moms vocalist and OtherXcore zine author Sam Retton, Sci-Fi Caper vocalist & bassist Emelia Guadarrama, and vintage clothing purveyor Rio Toi, the idea behind the event is to promote the creative endeavors of women and femmes locally, not just in our Central Valley but across the state, by bringing people together for an all-ages, all-inclusive free day of live music, food, art, and apparel.

“I thought of it as kind of making a fuss about presenting women in music,” says Pris, one of the four driving forces behind July 15th’s festival, which, held in downtown Fresno, was up against Beach Hut Deli’s Two Year Anniversary at Tioga Sequoia just a few blocks away. Yet, even still, they managed to pull in a crowd in the Yoshi Now! parking lot, with many of the audience coming in from out of town.

More than a dozen bands, from all genres, performed on that Saturday under the Fresno heat. Attendees from the Los Angeles and Bay Area arrived in Fresno to the die-hard supporters of the local music scene in order to view female fronted bands and performing artists. Groups like the newly formed awakebutstillinbed, created by musician Shannon Taylor from San Jose, the rock ‘n roll sister duo Dog Party, who hails from Sacramento, and the closing band Sister Mantos, a multi-instrumental band singing songs in Spanish and English about love, queer & people of color empowerment with healthy doses of Latin beats, a strong punk attitude and a psychedelic blend of funk rock.

As others came out with sunblock in hand to support artists with local ties to the community, like Lace Marie Eyewear and Laura May, by purchasing their homemade goods and art. Many more appeared to celebrate all the local femme musicians in their own backyard like hip-hop artist and poet Kooleidoscope, who took a break from her hiatus to perform for a captive audience, and bassist/vocalist Erica Najera from La Niña and Light Thieves, who said “it’s gonna be the La Niña’s last show for a while,” but made sure to leave everything out there on the stage floor for a group of friends and family throughout their set on a warm summer day.

“We definitely applaud anybody that wants to try to do something in Fresno. We just want to try to do it too. We’re not taking away from other festivals. The support is there in Fresno. It’s just a matter of making it happen,” said, Emelia, just days before she set to open Fuss Fest with her band Sci-Fi Caper.

A refreshing statement of positivism put into practice during a summer where the issue of racial discrimination and sexual violence at music festivals is getting increased attention in the media. These issues range from a lack of female fronted bands and the representation for them, to allowing alleged abusers to perform at several high profile festivals like the Vans Warped Tour, as well as a general level of blatant disrespect for people of color, the LGBTQIA community and other marginalized groups from white cisgender males, many of whom have been a part of the community for decades, who respond with obscenities filled with misogyny and racism to these members of the same music community. And in the past few years, organizations such as A Voice for the Innocent, Safe Gigs for Women, and advocacy blogs like Safer Scene are working with gig and festival goers, venues, events, bands and artists to promote diversity and inclusiveness on and off stage to raise awareness about assault and discrimination, and to improve the overall safety of the community for everyone to keep the music scene healthy and thriving.

Places like the Warped Tour are places for outcasts to enjoy the music they like, together within their area, but these places and events have developed a stigma over the years. Recent high-profile stories of male performers traveling in these music scenes have surfaced over their engaging in sexually aggressive behavior towards female fans, especially towards minors, and have cast it as something of a breeding ground for predatory bad behavior. One incident, in particular, occurred in Denver on June 25 of this year during the second week of Warped Tour involving the punk rock band The Dickies. More specifically, it involved their front man, Leonard Grave Phillips, and a female acquaintance of the band War on Women touring as part of the group Safer Scenes, who, in protest of The Dickies’ often obscene antics, held up a sign in the front of the crowd that read: “Teen girls deserve respect, not gross jokes from disgusting old men! Punk shouldn’t be predatory!” Phillips responded with a string of misogynistic obscenities directed towards the young woman, complete with fans in the crowd cheering the lead singer on.

Lines were drawn in the sand between the old-school and the new, and though the fire has died down here in the States, festivals abroad have women creating their own spaces in the other parts of the world to provide themselves a safe environment. The festival in Glastonbury launched its very first women-only stage known as The Sisterhood last year, and Sweden’s biggest music festival, the Bråvalla Festival, in response to a series of sexual assaults in year’s past, will be replaced next year by a women-only alternative.

“What do you think about putting together a really cool festival where only non-men are welcome, that we’ll run until ALL men have learned how to behave themselves?” tweeted Swedish comedian and radio presenter, Emma Knyckare. Shortly after, the powers that be decided to put her statement to practice and have since made an official statement regarding the change.

While women-led festivals can be found the world over, not just in the United States, it can also be found in our very own city. Not just with the recent Fuss Fest event, but also with the Women’s Art & Music Festival heading into its second. The event will be held on October 21st at the Tower Theatre.

Fuss Fest remains committed to supporting women and welcoming everyone with open arms. The organization recognizes that by keeping the event free, the barriers that can keep people, (“especially women, femmes, and people of color”), from accessing the arts will be minimized. And by keeping the event open to all ages, young men and women who might not have access to enough live music due to age restrictions can get a taste of what Fresno has to offer.

And it’s a sentiment that Pris Van Rye shares with her fellow Fuss Fest promoters:

“There are a lot of music festivals and it’s very rare that you see female musicians or artists that are presented in that light. It’s a lot of male driven bands, male driven promoters. We kind of wanted to set something up completely different. Kind of put a little more light on female artists and musicians, as well as queer and trans and other people that aren’t really presented in the festivals that we have [right] here in Fresno.”

You can find more information about Fuss Fest on social media by visiting facebook.com/fussfest and instagram.com/fussfest

The Women’s Art and Music Festival of Fresno will be offering #WAMFF Open Mic/Live Auditions Fundraiser on Saturday, August 19 at 12 – 4 PM at Full Circle Brewing Co. The selected artists will have the opportunity to perform later in October for this year’s event. For more information about the Women’s Art and Music Festival visit facebook.com/womensartandmusicfest

instagram.com/womenartmusic

photo credits: Arthur Robinson

Lindsay White’s Lights Out

and the Release Party at Full Circle Brewing Co.

by Lisa Talley

On July 19 at Full Circle Brewing Co. in Fresno, Lindsay White will be making a special stop during her west coast tour for a hometown album release party celebrating her new solo LP titled Lights Out.

White’s biography depicts the new album as “a cannonball dive into trauma-infested waters. Having lost her mother and grandfather, divorced her husband, come out as gay, helped her bandmate through two manic episodes, and remarried a woman to the religious dismay of loved ones, the songs kept coming for White, and the result is a powerful selection of lyrical lamentations.”

A reasonable assumption might be to expect an onslaught of angry guitars and a cacophony of brooding frustration erupting out from White’s voice, but in a twist of pleasant surprise, the experience is much to the contrary. There’s an influence of old bluegrass and folk that hums in the foundation of every song, it billows up and pulls you in. The album is full of beautifully crafted arrangements so sweet that it keeps you from noticing that hot shot of raw emotion you received until it’s too late. Hang on tight, Lights Out will take you on an emotional rollercoaster but don’t fret, because you’ll enjoy the ride.

“You’re the sugar coat to a bitter pill… You will walk to the porch with a bat in your hand so I don’t have to look at the boogie man. You flash all of the light underneath my bed and the monsters have not found me yet, but they found you.” – from the first verse of “Surrogate”, the lyrics begin a story of sisters and the love and protection that lies there. It’s a telling of sacrifices, scars, and unending gratitude. And that’s just the first song on the album with 9 more to go.

Lindsay White’s voice is feathery, light to the touch and almost impossible to imagine that it could hold so much weight, but it does. The album sometimes carries a certain kind of brightness that’s somehow dripping with an unexpected ache at the same time, it’s the kind of writing that used to exist in great country of the past with the likes of Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. Likewise, the instrumentation is organic, leaving behind the all too many technological trappings of an over-produced studio mix down, making for an uninterrupted and all the more intimate connection to the music.

“I carry you like a shotgun aimed for destruction.” A line from ‘I Carry You’ punches hard through the upbeat melody and bounces down a long line of complex faces I’ve learned to love and hate at the same time. Lights Out feels familiar in the way that old photographs feel familiar, the ones we stuff deep beneath the memories we’re happy to keep. The ones we never look at, but can’t bring ourselves to throw away. It’s like the echo of an old sorrow not yet finished with us. Through White’s telling of her stories, we hear our own and it’s in that parallel that Lights Out achieves something wonderful.

“Much of the album is centered on grief and loss since that’s much of what I was experiencing throughout the process of recording. Although those are difficult topics, they are so universal to the human experience and can be such a unifying force. I feel that our society is missing a huge opportunity by not talking about grief more often. Loss has a way of showing you where to find strength and compassion for yourself and for others. My hope with this album is that people can connect their own experiences to these songs, find a little courage to confront and process their own grief, and find some sort of healing in knowing they’re not alone in those emotions,” says White about her hopes of what people will experience while listening to her work.

Lights Out releases on July 14 (you can pre-order it on iTunes) and Lindsay White will play it live for a hometown album release party at Full Circle Brewing Co. in Fresno on July 19. Included on the bill are Fresno locals Patrick Nalty, a jazz/blues singer-songwriter and Americana / country styled group, Richfield. There are no tickets for the event, just a $10 cover charge at the door.

For more information about Lindsay White, her music, and where else she’ll be stopping throughout her west coast tour visit www.lindsaywhitemusic.com

Full Circle Brewing Co. is located at 620 F St Fresno, 93706. For more information visit www.fullcirclebrewing.com

Patrick Nalty: www.instagram.com/patthepragmatic | Richfield: www.richfield.bandcamp.com

One Year and Counting

It’s been 365 days, 52 weeks and 26 Flyers since we launched this publication in July of last year. But if we were going to tell the whole story, it would be exactly 1,095 days, 156 weeks and 78 editions from us to you since 2014. So why are we hootin’ and hollerin’ about ‘One Year and Counting’ when we’ve been dishing out papers for 3 years? Because the Flyer has always been the end game… things didn’t truly start until Fresno Flyer came to fruition.

But before I get carried away, you’re probably wondering just who the ‘Us’ is in that last sentence. Let’s clear that up, first.

Who We Are:

I can start by telling you who we are not. We’re not a corporation, we don’t have a parent company, we’re not a subdivision of a larger entity and we definitely do not send all our money back to some headquarters stationed in Los Angeles or San Francisco. We are a small, locally owned business living and breathing right here in the Central Valley.

It’s a little funny in fact, sometimes people arrive at our office and say things like “Oh, I thought it’d be bigger.” And I smirk with a knowing nod, all the while thinking that this is what Dalton must have felt like in that 1980s Patrick Swayze classic Road House. Newspapers, magazines and all other types of publications have traditionally maintained large personalities with a likewise sizable footprint and it’s no wonder people assume we should be in some high rise building with a dizzying office. And truth be told, that’s still very much the case with those other guys… it just isn’t for us.

Who We Are… Really:

All this time we’ve been using terms like ‘we’ and ‘us’ with a great deal of ambiguity without really giving too much away about the people who actually run things behind the scenes. So, who are we, really?

We’re a couple of millennials who thought it would be a fantastic idea to start up an independent newspaper in an increasingly growing digital age. More specifically, we’re Lisa and Kalian (kay-lee-anne) a stubborn, hardworking, and formidable duo who oversee the entire operation from start to finish of each Flyer.

Where Kalian was essentially born to do this paper, I sort of just fell into it by accident. A proud Bulldog by way of CSU Fresno, I graduated with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism in 2012 but with an emphasis on electronic media, or in other words, video. For me, it was all commercials, TV broadcast, film, and anything else I could capture with a camera or chop up in the software installed on my computer. Print didn’t even exist in my peripheral, truth be told, and I nearly forgot it was a thing… until Kalian showed up with all her print knowledge and a ‘print is a thing’, thing.

We met in the spring of 2013 through the round-about happenstance of meetings that are common amongst 20-something-year-olds. I soon learned that Kalian liked to stop at these free-publication stands around town to pick up newspapers and magazines for reasons I didn’t quite understand. Turns out, her family had been working in the print business for years where she had done everything from taking out the trash and delivering the papers to eventually working up to management. Picking up the collection of publications was a form of habit, to always be checking out what the competition was up to, even though she wasn’t really active in the family business anymore. (resulting from a myriad of complex reasons… as such is the case with most family affairs)

Publisher of Fresno Flyer
Kalian Nicole – Publisher of Fresno Flyer
Lisa Talley - Editor of Fresno Flyer
Lisa Talley – Editor of Fresno Flyer

Kalian always looked like she was in a state of musing while thumbing through magazines and newspapers like she was piecing together a puzzle. After some invasive poking and prodding, I learned she had a deeply rooted dream to own her very own newspaper… the kind that pushed to the forefront the sort of cool, diverse culture that bubbles in the underground of the Central Valley. When I heard that, I think the result was something to the effect of “S#@t yes! You should definitely do that.” But despite my charming enthusiasm, Kalian shot out a lopsided smile and dismissed it all as an elaborate pipe dream.

Then, at 27 years old, in the spring of 2014, Kalian had a rare opportunity to jump into the game and do that very thing. Well… sort of. First, she had to ask me for my help because I happen to be a media guru that can basically ninja her way around any and all things technology thus making me such an indispensable and valuable partner-in-crime. … That’s a little overselling it, I’m just a giant nerd who’s great at tech support. But, since I’m sitting here writing this story 3 years later, I think you can piece that one together.

The Journey:

We set up shop in an 852 sq ft house. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that, 852 sq ft… do you know how small that is? I’m fairly positive that’s not even the size of most garages in the majority of the newer homes being built these days. But I digress.

Our first real office was in the tiny house we shared, and we quickly learned that between the limited square feet and our personal belongings, there wasn’t enough room for everything a proper business needs… printers, desks, idea boards, computers, filing cabinets, shelves… so we did what any self-respecting business owners would do, we gutted the house and sold just about all the furniture to make sure there was enough room for everything we needed. For an entire year, we lived inside our office space with naught but beds and kitchenware as our home, sweet home.

And it was crazy. We held meetings in our living room, ate meals at the desks, kept magazine racks on the back patio and stuffed 20,000 copies of our paper into our garage every 2 weeks. It was learning how to be a boss when most of our adult lives were spent as employees, it was understanding what it meant to assume ultimate responsibility, to hit consistent and unrelenting deadlines, and convince seasoned business owners that a couple of late 20-somethings knew what they were doing.

In all this time we still weren’t the Fresno Flyer. If you’ve been following us a while then you know who we were before our debut; The Valley’s Nickel. It was ‘buy, sell, trade’ only, no editorials, highlights, or articles, just advertisements. That’s how we found our ‘in’, it was by picking up where an old business left off as they closed their doors. We cut our teeth and earned our stripes by being a ‘rag paper’ first. It took 2 solid years of working the delivery routes by hand, moving the stands all over the Valley as we began to truly understand the diverse neighborhoods who read the paper print after print, along with the businesses who chose to work with us. We revamped the design and layout of the paper over and over and over again on so many different occasions in order to get closer to where we wanted to be that sometimes it meant being up until 3 a.m. and driving our printing press nuts.

It took 2 years of doing every job ourselves to understand who we wanted to become and what kind of publication we wanted to produce. We learned a lot of valuable lessons the hard way (it really could be its own story) and took the longer, harder road more times that not, but we’re standing here today able to actually hand you the vision we’ve held for what feels like forever. Even though we’re celebrating one year as the Flyer, it wouldn’t have been possible without those 2 years as The Valley’s Nickel.

We’re Not Us Without Them:

It’s time we put the spotlight on some amazing people who have played a big part in helping us get this far in our journey.

Distribution of our papers is the lifeblood of our business because let’s face it if the Flyer doesn’t make it into your hands, we don’t have a business. Randy Shirinian is the backbone of our entire distribution, and he’s been with us since day one. Without fail, he fills an entire truck bed full with bundles of the paper every 2 weeks and makes the rounds out to Prather, Oakhurst, Reedley, Parlier, Fowler, Kingsburg, Selma, Sanger, Clovis, and a big chunk of Fresno… all the while without ever needing a map, because he knows these roads like the back of his hand. What we understand about the readership in the outer cities is largely due to Randy’s hard work.

Randy Shirinian - Distribution master of Fresno Flyer
Randy Shirinian – Distribution Master of Fresno Flyer

Learning the ropes of owning a business would have been even more difficult if it wasn’t for the help of our Senior Account Exec, Aaron Bianchi. He jumped on board with the sole intent of helping us build and lead our sales force, but when we really needed the extra help he never hesitated to share his expertise. See, Aaron’s a successful businessman himself having built and sold his own company. A veteran, an entrepreneur, a friend, Aaron has helped see us through some of the ‘downs’ in the ups and downs of this business.

When we decided we were going to dive head first into printing original editorials, Marc Chenault lent his writing and knowledge of music to help us take that next step. His experience brought us the history and diverse music communities existing in our area. After a year writing non-stop with us, he had to slow down and let go of writing due to health issues. Marc helped to shape the foundation of the Flyer’s identity, and we’ll always be thankful for that.

Some other notable mentions would go to our contributing writers: Anglia Walpool who has been covering a variety of entertainment topics ranging from music to stand-up comedy over the last year, Saeed Alkurdi who single-handedly mans ‘A Foodie’s Review’ with unique pizazz, Don Priest who not only covers live music but also throws down on some larger, heftier articles and Pete Salazar who works tirelessly at not only promoting his own events and personal business, but also works to uplift others in the community by connecting them to the Flyer in order to share with you as much of the original and unique things going on here.

The Fresno Flyer may be the brainchild of Kalian and myself, but it’s also a community of hardworking individuals who believe in the idea of local talent and local ingenuity. We always say that without our readers, we wouldn’t be here, and that is very true, but without the work of everyone behind this paper we couldn’t BE the Flyer.

The Future:

We still have a long way to go and the work is far from over or being easy. In fact, I’m sure it’ll never be easy. But we’re here for the long haul, so long as the readers keep emptying our stands like you do.

Print is an artform for us here and still one of the best damn ways to connect with your local community. As dailies continue to drop their coverage of the arts, we’ll pick up the slack. When small, local businesses need to catch a break in finding someone who will treat them like more than just a number, we’ll lend a hand any way we can because we know what it’s like to be in your shoes. This isn’t just a business, it’s our lives, this Valley, pouring out onto these pages and all we want to do is share it with you.

The conversation here is always open, we take calls and emails from readers with a buffet of ideas. We talk to each person and read all the suggestions, sometimes it’s a great fit, and other times, not quite a match. But this is your paper, too. Working with you is what helps us grow. We got the Flyer off the ground, and now these early 30-somethings would love to hear from you on where they should take it next.

Return of the Monterey International Blues Festival

by Don Priest

Monterey Fairgrounds 5/13/17 – Like a rising Phoenix, The Blues is back in Monterey! And the hole in the soul of this coastal community has been healed with the resurrection of the festival that had meant so much, to so many, for so long. Newly christened as “The Monterey International Blues Festival” in hopes of involving blues talents and food ideas from around the world, this latest reincarnation of the show hopes to rekindle the passion enjoyed by its predecessor.

“We’re starting small and working our way back,” is how board member Lee Durley describes the effort to replace the festival that for 27 years was one of the premier events on the summer music scene. In it’s prime, the Monterey Blues Festival ran for 3 days with the Monterey Fairgrounds awash in a sea of fans soaking up the music, the crafts, the beer, and arguably the best food of any festival.  Then in 2012, economic factors brought the show to a sudden close.

According to Durley, the community was devastated by the loss but seemed powerless to do anything about it, until now. “Several folks have talked about and even tried to restart a blues festival, but our team leader, Amy Treadwell, had the idea (to revive it) and invited the four of us to help plan it.

Treadwell, a long-time mover and shaker in the Monterey music community brought in Durley, a musician and board member of the former festival; Steve Vagnini, co-founder of the Monterey County Chapter of Guitars Not Guns and promoter of numerous benefit concerts and festivals; Ken Lopez, Chair of the Music Industry Department at the University of Southern California and renown recording engineer; and John D. Laughton, a lawyer and current chair of The Salvation Army-Monterey Peninsula Corps Advisory Board.  Together they developed the idea of making the festival a fundraising event for the Salvation Army and Guitars Not Guns, “because people and sponsors tend to support good causes more readily,” says Durley. Then labored for months to put all the pieces in place.

Adhering to the concept of keeping it small, this first attempt at the redo was confined to a half day show on The Garden Stage at the fairgrounds – as opposed to the 3-day, multiple stage events of the past.  The lineup included an assortment of superb local talent; nationally known guitarist Mighty Mike Schermer; and blues harmonica heavyweight, Charlie Musselwhite.  Together they provided 6 hours of top-flight music that had folks dancing in the aisles – or wherever they could.

Did it work? “This is magical,” beamed vocalist Ms. Taylor P Collins. “What a welcome back audience!”  Having performed at the festival multiple times over the years, Collins expressed the feelings shared by so many blues fans that day. “We all had anxiety when it left. There are so many memories attached to this place. But it’s back now and I know it’s going to get bigger and better.”

Durley was beaming at the end of the day. “The 1st festival was a phenomenal success,” he said. “We had already broken even with pre-sold tickets and the attendance was more than anticipated. The response and comments from the attendees were consistently positive and thankful.”

Will they be back? “We got your message loud and clear,” says Durley. “You want the blues back in Monterey and we intend to comply. We will begin planning for next year almost immediately.” – Long Live The Blues!!!

Snoopin’ Around With the Hound Dog in Humboldt County

by Don Priest

Yes, summer is almost here!  And as the temperature rises, so do thoughts of escaping the heat.  For many Valley Folk, the 1st place they head for solace is the Central Coast.  But there is another coast, a little further away, that offers some unique experiences to go along with the cooler temps, and that would be Humboldt County on the north coast of California.

Bare in mind it’s more than a weekend trip. To make it all the way to Eureka by car is a good 8 hours.  More if you want to take in a few sights along the way – of which there are plenty to choose from.

The most direct route from Fresno is to head straight up Good Ole’ 99 to Stockton, take the Highway 4 interchange West to Interstate 5, then North again all the way to Williams and the junction of Highway 20 West. Best to do this all in one fell swoop as there’s not much to see till you get off I-5. Then the terrain gets a bit more scenic as you meander on the two-lane through some rolling hills and into Clear Lake – a good place for the 1st pit stop. But you’ll have to do some searching to find interesting food and beverage, as there aren’t many options along that highway.  Gas stations are plentiful, though.

From Clear Lake, Hwy 20 continues to snake through the hills and past Lake Mendocino until it connects with 101 a little North of Ukiah.  From there it’s a pleasant 4-hour sojourn north through forests and across rivers to Eureka. Beautiful ride! Just turn on your favorite traveling music and enjoy! Again, there are plenty of places to stop and things to see along the way if you’re so inclined.

For the limited-stop driver, the little town of Garberville seems perfectly situated to heed nature’s call.  And for those seeking something more unique in their roadside attractions, especially after 7 hours of driving, “The Blue Moon Lounge” located on the main drag through town fits the bill. Cool, dark and well stocked with locals playing pinball, it’s the epitome of a small town watering hole – even on a Sunday afternoon. The sign above the bar encourages you to drink beer “because your friends aren’t really that interesting.” Food for thought as you drive the final hour to Eureka.

OK, You’re There, Then What?

Humboldt County offers a wide variety of accommodations designed to fit any budget. You can stay in a hotel, a motel, a condo, a cabin, rent a house or camp on the beach. Do your Google search to find what fits your needs. (This writer stayed with friends so those concerns were mute.)

Aside from breathing the clean, cool air, and checking out the gorgeous coastline, what to do? Here’s a list of inexpensive, mini adventures that should satisfy the needs of the “road less traveled” type of explorer.

Like Cheese? Then make the short drive south from Eureka to Loleta and check out the “Loleta Cheese Factory,” where the term “Artisan” takes on a whole new meaning. A family-run business, these cheese “craftsmen” blend unique ingredients into small batches of distinctive cheeses with colorful titles like “Mo Betta Chedda” and “Caraway Jack.” There’s also a snack bar where they’ll make you a grilled sandwich out of anything, as long as it’s cheese, which you can then enjoy on the equally finely crafted garden patio.

And then there’s Ferndale. Yes, it is a tourist town full of “crafty” little shops selling “cute” little gifts. But there’s also a couple of not-so-mainstream establishments with interesting stories to tell, like “The Blacksmith Shop.” Run by Joe Koches, who’s been blacksmithing for over 40 years and has the scars to prove it, the place is full of tools, cutlery, wine racks, almost anything you can think of, crafted from metal by members of the California Blacksmith Association. There’s also a gallery a couple doors down the street containing some beautiful metal sculptures. But if you go, be prepared to spend some time. Joe likes to talk.

In the music world, the difference between the sacred and the secular has long been debated. The Ferndale Music Company has found a way to balance the two by taking up residence in “The Old Steeple,” an 115-year-old former Methodist Church. The refurbished rectory side of the building contains the music store and teaching facilities, offering lessons on a variety of string instruments, drums, and piano.  The church itself has been transformed into a beautiful 225-seat performance venue that manages to maintain the rich architecture and stained glass appeal of the original. Of course, the hard pews have been replaced with comfy chairs and a professional sound system has been installed, making this a unique place to enjoy a concert.  Again, be prepared to spend some time as there are lots to see and talk about.

Eating and Drinking, the Basics of Life: 

Dining out was limited on this trip as staying with friends meant most meals were enjoyed at home. However, there were a couple of fun dining experiences that can be recommended.

Ready for a hearty breakfast? Then navigate your way out to King Salmon Slough and find “Gill’s By The Sea,” a local place where servings are sized for fishermen home from the sea – or on their way out. And a hardy lunch can be had, probably not on the same day as a Gill’s breakfast, at “Gallagher’s Irish Pub” in Old Town Eureka. Specialties of the house: Corned Beef & Cabbage, Bangers and Mash, and Shepard’s Pie, what else?

And then there’s the drinking. As Ben Franklin said, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.” So Humboldt County does its best to keep beer drinkers smiling with a plethora of pubs, taverns, and breweries. On the small side, there’s the legendary “Boathouse Bar & Grill” in Field’s Landing, a dive bar that can be extremely entertaining when the locals come in for Happy Hour. For a more mainstream experience try the “Lost Coast Brew Pub” in Eureka and sample the many varieties of beer from that brewery. You can also take a tour of their new brewing site on the southern edge of town. Very interesting. For another local experience, venture up the road a piece to McKinleyville and try the “Six Rivers Brewery,” where the folks are warm, the beer is cold, and everything comes with a story. Great fun!

So the next time the Central Valley heat is getting unbearable and you’ve got some time on your hands, consider a road trip north to Humboldt County. It won’t be boring. Well, once you get off 99 that is.

A Foodie’s Review – Take 3

by Saeed Alkurdi

Burgers are not typically a complex meal. At their core, they’re an everyday kind of meal and as such, it’s easy to assume that they could ever be taken as seriously as a sophisticated or refined dish but you’d be wrong. Take 3 Burgers in downtown Fresno is doing something special with what would otherwise be considered a simple favorite.

First, Take 3 starts with 1/3 pound patties that are enormous and add to it cheese, lettuce, onions, tomato and a plethora of other additions suitable for building the ideal burger. For those who dare to dream, you can customize your burger almost any way you can imagine with avocados, chili, a fried egg, pastrami, an all-beef hot dog… all these and more, if you can handle.

The location of Take 3 is nestled in downtown Fresno inside the Fulton Mall. Because of this, parking poses as a bit of a challenge since most of the area is under construction due to the Fulton Mall Street Project to bring in more traffic to the storefronts and businesses there. Navigating the mall during this time is a little difficult. However, once you’ve stepped inside you can’t help but stand and admire the surroundings. On the walls inside Take 3 are some fantastic black and white murals depicting some of Hollywood’s greatest scenes from famous films. Bruce Lee and Marlon Brando are among the faces of many of the featured performers.

Once I had fully taken in the sights, it was now time to get down to business. Today, I choose to be bold and I order a pretty standard burger with just cheese, lettuce, tomato, and grilled onion. Boring, you say? That might have been true except that I then say “Make it a double.” No strange yet wonderful condiments for me today, no guessing if chili and pastrami go together, oh no, just give me more beef stacked high on that beautiful bun and throw in a chocolate shake on the side.

The shake arrives first and it is gorgeous in its simplicity. It comes in a sizable plastic cup with a rich, thick looking mixture on the inside topped with a chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I take a pull from the straw and it is heavenly, not too thick and a balanced delivery on flavor between the chocolate, sauce, and whipped cream. It will be the perfect finisher to what I hope will be a fantastic burger.

About ten minutes later the burger arrives with a great portion of fries along side it. I bite into the burger and the response is juicy, delicious, and perfectly cooked. Unfortunately, however, I realize that I have made a calculated error during my order. The burger, being a double at a 1/3 pound per patty, is too much beef for me. The cheese, lettuce, and grilled onion are all being drowned out by the robust meaty flavor. Not to worry, all is not lost because Take 3 has a great selection of sauces available to their customers. On the floating shelf behind me are the vast assortment of sauces, from A-1 to Tabasco to Sriracha and back. I crack open a bottle of A-1 and pour a small dab onto my burger for the next bite and the result is fire! The tang of the sauce was exactly what this burger needed in order to cut through all the beef and allow the rest of the condiments to shine as they were meant to. Now, with every subsequent bite, I can appreciate all that this burger has to offer. I should also note that the fries were hot, crispy, and delicious adding great starch to cleanse the palette.

After tackling the mountain of beef that was the burger along with the fries and the tasty chocolate milkshake to boot, I’m ready to retire to my trailer (aka my car) for a quick nap. I’m sure someone will call me when I’m needed on set again.

Saeed is a local ‘foodie’ always on the hunt for the next great find of the Valley’s best-hidden gems. Twitter / Instagram: @kurshjak