It's been a weird week in America.
The government is still shut down because the president demands American taxpayers pay for a monument to his ego on our southern border.
A group of supposedly "Christian" high school students from Covington High School—who were bused into Washington, D.C., to march and demand that women be forced to have babies they don't want—were caught on video sneering at and mocking Native American activist Nathan Phillips, who apparently stepped in to defuse tensions between the high schoolers and a group of protesting black men who were yelling at the MAGA hat-wearing kids. Even weirder, the whole fiasco blew up on social media with liberals piling on the apparently disrespectful kids while conservatives rationalized the kids' behavior by condemning Phillips for being the aggressor. How's that for partisan tribalism?
- Photo Courtesy Of Martha Redbone
- ALL AMERICAN Martha Redbone's Bone Hill concert looks back at four generations of her multi-ethnic Appalachia-dwelling family. Redbone performs it in Cal Poly's Spanos Theatre on Jan. 27.
And finally, James Baldwin's 44-year-old novel about systemic racism, If Beale Street Could Talk, opened locally at the Palm Theatre, and its message seemed all too timely and not 44 years old at all.
Clearly, the time feels right for Native and African-American soul singer Martha Redbone and her Bone Hill concert at Cal Poly's Spanos Theatre this Sunday, Jan. 27 (7 p.m.; all ages; $39 general admission and $31.20 for students, faculty, and staff at calpolyarts.org or (805) 756-4849).
Bone Hill is a piece of musical theater that Redbone and her longtime collaborator pianist, Aaron Whitby, developed at NYC's Joe's Pub in The Public Theater. The original musical production traces Redbone's family back four generations in their Kentucky homelands of the Black Mountains and the coal mines of Harlan County. The concert's song genres change as Redbone, taking on the various characters of her ancestors, moves through time. You'll hear traditional Cherokee chants and lullabies, rootsy bluegrass, blues, country, gospel, jazz, rock 'n' roll, and R&B.
Redbone's family is a true American melting pot—Native American, African-American, and European.
"Well, not only my family but also the whole town was a melting pot," Redbone explained during a recent phone interview. "We were all coal mining families, and our story upends the cliché that the hill people associated with Appalachia were basically all a bunch of inbred rednecks. People forget that coal mining brought in people from all over: Portuguese, Turkish, African-American, Native American. People think of the Scottish, Irish, and Germans, but people came from all over, and their truths get shut by the wayside."
Bone Hill doesn't shy away from dark and violent times in her family's past, exploring colonialism and race, examining the plight of the Cherokee people upon their return home from the Trail of Tears, looking at the dynamics between Native and African-Americans, and more.
Does Redbone see parallels between her family's story and what's happening in American today?
"Absolutely! How long do you have, you know?" she joked. "All of the things going on in the world affecting everyone everywhere have been continually happening over time and are continuing to happen faster than we can get our heads around. I do think looking into the past helps explain how were got here. Even if there hasn't been an actual genocide, there's been a genocide on paper and through policies that are meant to affect certain groups of people, to exclude and contain them."
At the heart of Bone Hill is one woman's attempt to look at "The Truth," to pull back the curtain and face the facts.
"The truth always rises. Even when families try to hide information, the truth comes out," Redbone said. "I remember a story about [the actor] Jack Nicholson, who was raised by his grandmother, who he thought was his mother, while his real mother he thought was his sister. He didn't find out until years later. The truth comes out."
You can hear Redbone's truth this Sunday and decide for yourself how it fits into the context of America today.
"I'm just really excited to tell this story out there in San Luis Obispo," she said. "It always surprises me how the story seems to resonate with all people. It's a real American story. I did the show in Texas and afterward an Indian family from India came up and told me how they had moved to Texas in the 1990s, and their struggle to become American but to also hold onto their home culture."
Every American has a story. Witnessing Redbone's may remind you of yours.
Also at Cal Poly this week, see iconic trumpeter and composer Herb Alpert in the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m.; all ages; $32 to $52 general and $25.60 to $41.60 students, faculty, and staff at calpolyarts.org or (805) 756-4849). "The Lonely Bull," "A Taste of Honey," "Rise," and "This Guy's in Love with You" are but a few of Alpert's hits. He'll be joined by his wife, Lani Hall, a Grammy Award-winning vocalist and former lead singer with Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66.
- Photo Courtesy Of Jacob Banks
- SOULMAN Up-and-coming English soul man Jacob Banks plays the Fremont Theater on Jan. 25.
One of my favorite live performers, soul and R&B act The James Hunter Six, plays the Fremont on Sunday, Jan. 27 (9 p.m.; $27.31).
The always-amazing Richard Thompson—named one of Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time"—and his electric trio plays Tuesday, Jan. 29 (7:30 p.m.; $30.83 to $42.56).
All shows are 16-and-older. Buy tickets at Boo Boo Records or fremontslo.com.
Numbskull and Good Medicine Presents at The Siren
- Photo Courtesy Of Front Country
- INDIE FOLK POP Americana acoustic string band Front Country plays The Siren on Jan. 26.
Somewhere between indie folk and Americana, you'll find Front Country, a roots pop act disguised as an acoustic string band. See them Saturday, Jan. 26, with Alec Lytle & Them Rounders opening (8:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $12 presale at Boo Boo's or ticketfly.com or $15 at the door).
SLO Brew Rock Event Center
- Photo Courtesy Of Whitey Morgan
- DARK COUNTRY KJUG 98.1FM presents Whitey Morgan and the 78's on Jan. 30 in the SLO Brew Rock Event Center.
KJUG 98.1FM presents Whitey Morgan and the 78's on Wednesday, Jan. 30 (7 p.m.; 18-and-older; $26 single, $85 four-pack, or $75 VIP at slobrew.com). If you want hardscrabble stories about down-on-their-luck antiheroes, Morgan delivers.
More music ...
The African Children's Choir plays the Clark Center on Friday, Jan. 25 (7 p.m.; all ages; donations appreciated). Prepare to have your hearts melted by this joyful group performing lively African songs and dances.
Catalina Eddy and the Blue Keys play D'Anbino Cellars on Friday, Jan. 25 (7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $10). Expect a smokin' mix of jump-blues and rootsy rock 'n' soul.
Bootleg Sunshine plays the Frog and Peach on Tuesday, Jan. 29 (10 p.m.; 21-and-older; free). These soulful, funky improvisers play songs "about the most important things in life: love, loss, food, death, and dancing," they said via email. Δ