Even on a slow night you can find a generous array of live music in Berkeley, but on New Year’s Eve the People’s Republic offers a particularly enticing selection, especially if you’re looking for the chance to dance. Every venue seems to play to its comfort zone, with La Pena delivering Cuban, Ashkenaz offering Balkan, Freight & Salvage bearing bluegrass, and Jupiter getting groovy. Why brave the Bay Bridge when you can dance the night away close to home?
Orquesta La Moderna Tradición @ La Pena
Even in Cuba, bands focusing on the gracious 19th century style known as danzon are rare, but Orquesta La Moderna Tradición breathes new life into this elegant form, which combines Afro-Cuban percussion with flute and violins. Violinist/arranger Tregar Otton, who’s also a key member of the Mexican music ensemble Los Cenzontles, co-directs the band with conguero Michael Spiro, a percussion master who’s been at the center of the Bay Area Latin music scene for more than 25 years. Cuban-born Felix Samuel and Caracas-raised Eduardo Herrera share lead vocals, while flutist Jesus “Chus” Alonso, violinist Sandy Poindexter, pianist Robert Karty, clarinetist Don Gardner, timbalero Carlos Caro, bassist Steve Senft-Herrera and percussionist Sage Baggott (guiro and bongos) round out the ensemble. With a family friendly vibe, this might be the most welcoming New Year’s event in the region.
Brass Menazeri and Edessa @ Ashkenaz
Directed by trumpeter and clarinetist Peter Jaques, Brass Menazeri is a turbo-charged Gypsy-style brass ensemble devoted to the kinetic, odd-metered dance music honed by the Roma people of the southern Balkans. Edessa, another excellent Bay Area band steeped in Balkan music, shares the bill.
High Country and Dix Bruce & Jim Nunally at Freight & Salvage
Launched in 1968 by vocalist Butch Waller, High Country is a potent purveyor of old-time bluegrass, a sextet that blends deft originals with blues, dazzling instrumental breakdowns and gospels sung in warm, close harmonies. Featuring Larry Cohea on banjo, bassist Glenn Dauphin, fiddler Tom Bekeny, Bob Waller on guitar, and Jim Mintun on dobro, High Country proudly walks the path built by Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers. Dix Bruce & Jim Nunally, a folky duo featuring lovely harmony vocals and acoustic guitars, open the show.
The Barbary Coasters at Starry Plough
A spin off from the roots rock combo Saturn V, the Barbary Coasters play raucous, coruscating guitar-driven tunes featuring the aggressive fret work of Johnny Bartlett and Rick “Moonfruit” Kvoriak. With the powerful vocals of Jessica Roux and the slinky Farfisa organ work of Patrick “Dr. Pat” Phelan the band delivers hi-octane garage rock with style.
Loveseat and friends at Jupiter
Featuring drummer Nick Cobbett, bassist Will Lawrence and keyboardist Ari Margolis, Loveseat draws inspiration from volatile trios like The Bad Plus and Medeski Martin and Wood, delivering slinky originals and boldly reimagined covers of tunes by acts like Soundgarden, Beck, the Grateful Dead and the Beatles. Founded in Colorado in 2005, the funk-inflected trio has set up shop in Oakland, where they’re forging ties with likeminded Bay Area players. They’ll be joined by several guests, including guitarist Cal Reichenbach, who leads the jazz/funk band Socket and performs often with Afrobeat ensembles Albino! and Aphrodesia.
Andrew Gilbert covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley.
To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.