Best of the Bay 2009: Arts and Nightlife - Page 3

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Yet upon further inspection, it becomes as clear as the skies of Kentucky that Toshio is the real deal when it comes to getting deep into the Mississippi muck of Jimmie Rodgers-<\d>style bluegrass. Enchanted by the sound of American folk music as a Japanese college student, Toshio soon ventured stateside to spend years traveling and playing from Georgia to Nashville to Austin before finally settling in the Bay Area. Today, Toshio plays once a month at Amnesia's free Bluegrass Mondays to standing-room-only crowds. Stay awhile to hear him play Hank Williams's "Ramblin' Man" or Rodgers's "Blue Yodel No. 1(T for Texas)." It'll clear that Toshio's novelty is merely a hook — his true appeal lies in his ability to show that there's a cowboy lurking inside all of us.

www.toshiohirano.com

BEST COMMUNITY CHOREOGRAPHERS

A collective howl went up in 1995 when it was announced that the annual festival Black Choreographers: Moving into the 21st Century at Theater Artaud was ending due in part to lack of funding. But two East Bay dancers, Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimbrough Barnes, actually did something about it, working to ensure that African-American dancers and dance-makers received attention for the range and spirit of their work. It took 10 years, but in 2005, Ellis and Kimbrough Barnes helped launch Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now, which takes place every February in San Francisco and Oakland. The three-week event is a fabulous way for a community to celebrate itself and to invite everyone to the party. While the choreographers' range of talent and imagination has been impressive — and getting better every year — the performances are merely the icing on the cake. Master classes, mentoring opportunites for emerging artists, and a technical theater-training program for local high school and college students are building a dance infrastructure the next generation can plug into.

www.bcfhereandnow.com

BEST MADCAP POP MAIDENS

San Francisco can always use another all-female band — and Grass Widow satisfies that need beautifully, cackling with brisk, madcap rhythms and rolling out a happy, crazy quilt of dissonant wails. Drummer-vocalist Lillian Maring, guitarist-vocalist Raven Mahon, and bassist-vocalist Hannah Lew are punk as fuck, of course — in the classic, pre-pre-packaged noncodified mode — though many will instead compare the trio's inspired, decentered pop to dyed-in-the-bluestockings lo-fi riot grrrl. Still, there's a highly conscious intensity to Grass Widow's questioning of the digital givens that dominate life in the late '00s, as they sing wistfully then rage raggedly amid accelerating rhythms and a roughly tumbling guitar line on "Green Screen," from their self-titled debut on Make a Mess: "Flying low into trees. We exist on the screen. Computer can you hear me? Understand more than 1s and 0s?" Grass Widow may sweetly entreat the listener, "Don't make a scene," but if we're lucky, these ladies will kick off a new generation of estrogen-enhanced music-making.

www.myspace.com/grasswidowmusic

BEST PURPLE SING-ALONG

Karaoke is one of those silly-but-fun nightlife activities that always has the potential to be awesome but usually isn't. The song lists at most karaoke bars suck, the sound systems are underwhelming, and no matter where you go there's always some asshole bumming everyone out with painful renditions of Neil Diamond tearjerkers. Well, not anymore! Steve Hays, a.k.a. DJ Purple, is a karaoke DJ — or KJ — who has single-handedly turned the Bay Area's once tired sing-along scene into a mother funkin' party y'all.