Kevin Vance has spent his life sharing his love of music over the airwaves, and now many of the musicians he’s championed are demonstrating their abiding appreciation for his efforts. Struggling with underemployment, Vance has fallen on hard times, a situation exacerbated by a prostate cancer diagnosis last year. On Saturday, a stellar roster of roots musicians will hold a benefit concert for Vance at Ashkenaz to help him to stay in his one-bedroom Berkeley apartment.
COACHING FOR LITERACY EVENT Coaching for Literacy has partnered with Cal Bears basketball to offer an “all-access” fan experience to raise funds for literacy work during the Saturday Feb. 6 Stanford game in Haas Pavilion. The Golden Bears join 17 other NCAA institutions and the Washington Wizards as a member of Coaching for Literacy’s 2015-16 Assistant Coach Program schedule. The initiative is to raise valuable awareness about the problem of illiteracy in America. Currently, 19% of high-school graduates in America are functionally illiterate. Financial support will also be raised and directed to literacy efforts in the Bay Area through The Re(a)d Zone – an initiative of the 50 Fund, the legacy initiative of the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Details at CalBears.
BCCO 50TH The Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra celebrates its golden anniversary this weekend with three concerts at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall. The program from the non-auditioned community chorus includes the first performances of “I Think I Shall Praise It,” composed by Napa-based Kurt Erickson for the BCCO 50th celebration, two movements from Brahms’ German Requiem, selections from Handel’s Messiah, Sibelius’ Finlandia and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. In addition to the concerts, the BCCO has built a special website for the 50th birthday, filled with stories about the group’s first half century. Performances are free, but donations are welcome. Friday, Jan. 8, 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 9 and Sunday, Jan. 10, 3 p.m., Hertz Hall. (more…)
CARIBBEAN ALLSTARS The Caribbean Allstars, pioneers on the Bay Area reggae scene, return to Ashkenaz on Saturday Nov. 14 at 9:30 p.m. The ensemble, whose geographical roots range from Jamaica and South America to West Africa and the U.S., began joining together their musical forces and international backgrounds during the early 1970s. Not only do the Caribbean Allstars play Jamaican reggae with a traditional electric bass-drums-guitars-keyboards lineup, they also add steel drums to bring in South Caribbean calypso and soca styles of Trinidad and Tobago, producing rhythms that drive listeners to the dance floor. Tickets: $15 ($10 for students). More info at Ashkenaz. (more…)
DEMYSTIFYING BATS In an appropriately timed event, come learn about local bats on Saturday Oct. 31 at the UC Botanical Garden with Director of NorCal Bats, Corky Quirk. Quirk will talk about bats and discuss the harmful myths that surround these potentially cute animals. You’ll also learn the importance of bats in our environment. Live bats will be presented for viewing and discussion. Saturday Oct. 31, 10 a.m., UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, 200 Centennial Dr.. Price: $15 Adult/$10 Adult Member/$5 Youth (ages 3-17). Details on Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. (more…)
BANNED BOOKS WEEK BIKE PARTY Join the Berkeley Public Library for the second annual Banned Books Week Bike Party on Saturday Oct. 3, 10 a.m.-12 noon. This year, the event takes place at South Branch (1901 Russell St.) for a kickoff celebration featuring bike decorating, music and more. Participants will then ride as a group over to the Central Library (2090 Kittredge) via Russell, Milvia and Kittredge streets for a reading from some of the most frequently challenged books. There will be a raffle off a prize for readers at the end. The ride is about 1 mile long and is perfect for beginning cyclists and kids. Info on the BPL’s website. (more…)
The pantheon of African musicians who have put their bodies on the line while turning their music into a vanguard force against despotism and corruption includes Nigeria’s Fela Kuti and South Africa’s Hugh Masekela. But no one occupies quite the same role as Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo. His startlingly innovative musical vision, which transposed sacred Shona rhythms and cadences onto chiming electric guitars, came to fruition in the midst of the 1970s anti-colonial struggle that gave birth to his nation.
Maybe a Manhattan methadone clinic wasn’t an auspicious setting for encountering a musical hero, but Macy Blackman wasn’t going let an opportunity to hang out with New Orleans drummer Charles “Hungry” Williams go to waste. Looking to get clean in the bitter winter of 1978, Blackman was sitting on a couch in the lounge of the Bernstein Institute strumming a guitar when someone informed him that Fats Domino’s drummer was in the next room.
GERSHWIN PROJECT Pianist Peter Nero, a two-time Grammy winner, “romps through” George Gershwin’s music with bassist Michael Barnett and vocalist Katherine Strohmaier on Sunday, Feb. 8 at Zellerbach Hall, as part of Cal Performances’ jazz series. Nero’s trio will perform songs from musicals and films like “Strike Up the Band,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Funny Face,” “Girl Crazy,” and “Shall We Dance,” as well as standards from the Great American Songbook. Zellerbach Hall, 7 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 8. Tickets available from Cal Performances. (more…)
Update, Feb. 2, 12:25 p.m. The man found deceased on West Street was 70-year-old Gary Skupa, according to a close friend of his who asked to remain anonymous. Skupa was a native of Colorado, a long-time Berkeley resident and activist, and a volunteer and board member of Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center on San Pablo Avenue. Authorities said they were unable to confirm the identity at this point. Asked why the case was first described as “suspicious,” Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said: “Initially, the investigation was classified as suspicious because it appears the victim passed away, unattended in a public area. We have to gather as much information as possible to try and determine what may have occurred. It appears the victim may have been riding his bicycle and collapsed. This is not a ‘murder’ investigation, it is a death investigation.”
Stu Allen holds down one of the most consistent gigs in Berkeley. For the past three years the guitarist has led Mars Hotel, which is less a band than a revolving cast of accomplished players dedicated to the music of the Grateful Dead. While Allen and his merry crew perform around the region, his homebase is Ashkenaz, where he’s held down a weekly gig that now serves as the hub of the Deadhead community. He closes out 2014 next week with a three-night Ashkenaz engagment, exploring different facets of the Dead constellation.
As a brief catalytic blast of energy, the Free Speech Movement achieved its primary goals so quickly that it didn’t have much time to inspire enduring songs and anthems. But music played an important role in those heady fall months of 1964, when students forced UC Berkeley’s administration to drop campus restrictions on political speech. Saturday’s concert at Ashkenaz celebrates the 50th anniversary of the FSM, while connecting the musical threads between the FSM and earlier progressive struggles.
Safra: The sound of coexistence at Ashkenaz