Category Archives: music

Radio Radio by Mark Mason

laney college radio, college radio, alternative radio, oakland internet radioHey Peeps… here come’s my second ever guest post. Mark Mason has picked up the slack I’ve let gather in a wake of meetings, deadlines, to-do lists, and spreadsheets.  Thank you Mark.  And thanks to the fabulous folks at 9th Floor Radio for pitching the idea. As you all likely know by now I’m a bit of a music freak and a big fan of all things eclectic, interesting, and alternative (which no longer means what it used to). 9th Floor Radio fits the bill with 20+ shows that cater to musiphiles of all stripes, and all of it’s immediately downloadable.  I’m listening to an archive of Straight from the Crate as I put this together and I gotta say… it’s pretty damn sweet (because I’m old and I love those old school grooves). But enough of me, here’s Mark’s great writeup…

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Radio is dead. Ok, you can still turn the dial and get a crackle and hiss followed by music and chat. But is that really what you want? How many times have you been in your car or at home and tried in vain to find a station which appeals to your sense of restless discovery, only to be confronted with a commercial soaked station full of predictable programming? It’s frustrating.

This is where the internet has breathed new life into the tired old format of radio. Instead of a DJ stifled by advertising commitments you now have the power back in the hands of music lovers.

One such station is 9th Floor Radio, an internet radio station located in Oakland, California. The station, originally broadcasting from the ninth floor of the Laney College administration building, hence the name, has a formidable roster of shows. From the soulful melodic grooves of Her Blue Majesty, the punk, metal and primitive heavy rock of Kick Out the James to the Nu Jazz, Neo Soul and Funk of Jazzology-Remixed, no one need feel left out. All shows are archived at, ready for listeners to download and listen at their leisure.

A show which could be said to embody the spirit of the station and boasts of “always playing the darker weirder and louder side of Rock n Roll” is Dr. Feelbad. The Doctor, otherwise known as Ian Spangler, plays anything from The Melvins and Boris to interviews with the serial killer Ted Bundy– a provocative mix for sure.

When asked why 9th Floor Radio is important he says, “As I enter the booth I’m reminded of my relationship to music. I have some of the strangest, saddest, heaviest, and scariest records anyone ever had the pleasure of owning. I like to use my show as a big ‘go to hell’ to those who believe music is either unimportant or purely to be consumed at their convenience, and the good folks at 9th Floor make it possible for me to do just that.”

And it’s not just the diversity of the station which makes 9th Floor important. With the love of music and freedom of expression at the center, there comes a sense of community. The Doctor agrees, citing station manager Melissa Dale as a major factor for the success of the station:

I can’t say enough about all the work Melissa and her army of technicians do to give validation and exposure to those of us who are obsessed with sounds and music. There are more than 20 shows on 9th Floor, not to mention the television shows that keep us all looking like we know what we’re doing. Shows like Straight from the Crate and Electric Velvet Sound remind us that there’s plenty of older music we’ve never heard before. While shows like The Missing Box and 9thUBRadio help us breathe easy knowing there are plenty of thoughts we have yet to think. All of this is delivered to you commercial free, thanks to Melissa’s devotion to making sure the almighty dollar won’t poison the intentions of all involved.

It is exactly this kind of heartfelt enthusiasm, the very lifeblood of the station, that will sustain and grow it stronger in the years to come.

Radio is dead. Long live radio.

Mark Mason is a writer from Oakland, California. He has recently completed work on his debut novel, for which he is seeking representation. For a sample of Mark’s work go to

Laurel Summer Solstice Music Festival!

Tomorrow marks the 7th annual Laurel District Summer Solstice Music Festival.  It’s an all day event featuring 25 bands, DJ’s, artists, and kids activities, focused truly on the cultural & artistic microcosm that is the Laurel District.

Festivities begin as early as 9am (enjoy your morning coffee from World Ground Café over the acoustic bluegrass and bluesy/folksy stylings of the Clusterpluckers – you’ve gotta love that name!), and will run well past the official 8pm close of the festival as a few special acts move indoors (“King” Sunny Ade’s band will be featured at West African restaurant Miliki, and one of Todd Huth’s current outfits, The Knuckles, will perform at Lounge 3411, which gets nearly 5 stars on Yelp, and according to one Yelper, is “a secret magical place in the hood.”)

The festival is being hosted by the Laurel Village Association (LVA) with a great deal of support from Acme House of Music – a veritable institution to local musicians (check out my post from last year’s festival for a short download on Acme:  Support Local Music in Oaktown – bring your lawn chairs and dancing shoes!).

According to the LVA…

Unbeknownst to many, our neighborhood is represented by some of the world’s most well respected artist/bands within a myriad of musical genres including rock, electronic, soul, jazz, hip-hop, punk, metal, experimental, blues and beyond.  And so, this year the festival has a line-up composed solely of talent from our diverse microcosm of Oakland.  Believe it or not, the outstanding entertainment showcased this year is being provided by your neighbors!

From Carl Lockett (Bay Area legendary jazz/rock/funk guitarist), to Matt Payne of chiptune band The Glowing Stars (for those who don’t know, chiptune is a genre of music created using limited sound cards, usually from retro gaming machines such as the NES, Atari ST, and the original Game boys) to surf-rockabilly outfit Trivalve, to the alt-country stylings of The Rogers… the list goes on and on.  See full list of musicians here.

I’m not sure what else to say, except Go!

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Support Local Music in Oaktown – bring your lawn chairs and dancing shoes!

Summer Solstice Music Festival & Acme House of Music… in the Laurel

acme house of music, acme music oakland, acme music laurel

This Saturday, June 25th, the Laurel Neighborhood Village Association will be hosting its 6th annual Summer Solstice Music Festival.  Inspired by Fete de la Musique in France, where both amateur and professional musicians play in the streets on the summer solstice, the Laurel Festival will feature over two dozen local Bay Area musicians performing inside stores or cafes, or out on street corners and parking lots… all FREE.

Performances will begin as early as 9am and will continue throughout the day with the Fete Jam wrapping things up from 7:30-8pm at the main stage, located on Patterson Street which will be closed off to through traffic. MacArthur, though not closed to traffic, will likely be very crowded… best to walk, bike, or take public transit. And don’t forget your dancin’ shoes!

Nearby venues hosting musical acts include:

  • Ace Hardware – 4024 MacArthur
  • Acme House of Music – 3715 MacArthur
  • Kids n Dance – 3840 MacArthur
  • Laurel Bookstore – 4100 MacArthur
  • Monique’s Clozet! – 4140 MacArthur
  • World Ground Café – 3726 MacArthur

See map below, plus the full festival schedule here.

laurel summer solstice music festival, laurel music festival, oakland music festival

Of special note is the Acme House of Music, a neighborhood institution for over 40 years!

The music shop was opened in the early 70’s by jazz drummer Jay Rose, who manned the shop during the days, selling sheet music & instruments and providing lessons to a large roster of students, and spent nights playing gigs in San Francisco in his bow tie and black tuxedo. He kept up this routine for decades until 2004 when a fire destroyed a portion of the store, much of the equipment housed there, and part of the business next door. Needless to say it was devastating and Jay never fully recovered from the loss.

Jay is still a fixture in the shop (I know this because – personal disclaimer – I’ve been taking drum lessons here for the last couple of months), but now he visits as a guest of honor.

Acme was taken over by husband and wife (and friends of Jay’s) Annette & John in late 2009 when it became clear that he needed help… he was then 83! Both music lovers, they were at a transitional time in their lives as well with a new toddler added to the family… they decided to ditch their more conventional day jobs and take on the project of updating Acme into a modern day independent music store. Not an easy task in the day of cheap goods from China readily available with the click of a mouse or big box stores like Guitar Center.

But John & Annette are providing something that you can’t get at a box store or over the internet. It’s SOUL.

Their philosophy revolves around making music accessible to everyone, and providing great value in the services they offer.  Their goals are to provide:

  • A family friendly environment for learning – They’ve spent quite a bit of time clearing out decades of clutter, renovating the space with additional storage and larger practice rooms; and their roster of teacher musicians is quite impressive…  professional working musicians like Donald Duck Bailey (yes, the Donald Duck Bailey).
  • Unique offerings – John is an audiophile with a particular interest in vintage equipment; he’s always on the lookout for hard to find gear and unusual used equipment, and repair services are offered as well (see rave reviews on Yelp)
  • Customer oriented service – They pride themselves on pointing customers to what feels and sounds best rather than a one size fits all approach that’s focused only on the bottom line (often used equipment can be less expensive and sound better than new)
  • Supporting the community with integrity – They are truly part of the Laurel community and take pride in supporting other local business…  getting haircuts at the neighboring salon, flowers at the local florist, etc.  They also pride themselves on being “green” – and repurposed items from Goodwill and the local Hollywood Video that went out of business in their recent renovations.

I asked Annette what the biggest challenge has been, and not surprisingly, she said so much to do with so little time (and a limited budget), plus a 3-year-old in tow!

But more importantly I asked her about the greatest rewards they’ve experienced through Acme. She said it’s the connection they’ve established to the neighborhood and local residents… “It’s our community.  It’s our family.”

John, who has over 25 years experience DJ’ing and recording music, is donating all of the sound equipment for the festival’s main stage, literally saving the Laurel Association thousands of dollars.

Do check out the festival, and don’t forget to pop into Acme Music to say hello.  They’ll have their own set of performers out front, including many of the amazing musicians who teach lessons at their shop.

used guitars for sale, acme house of music, acme music oakland

Random Thoughts on Thursday…

Today I’ve got a smattering of stuff… a random collection of things I’ve been thinking about recently including local independent radio, amazing restaurant deals in Oakland, and the upcoming 2nd annual Oakland Marathon…

  1. KUSF (90.3 fm) has gone the way of classical as of this past Tuesday…  I said, “WHAT?!?”  It’s true, it’s true.  Another great independent college station down the tubes.  Or at least into the tubes.  While the University of San Francisco’s station has been broadcasting via the FM airways for over 30 years, it will now be moved to an internet-only format. You can see a recap of events and listen to an archive of an interview with relevant parties on KQED’s site:

    So please, support your local independent radio.  Here’s a recent write-up on the ever-excellent KALX. And here are a few of my other favorite local stations:

      • Pirate Cat Radio 87.9FM This is a true pirate radio station. I actually had to look up their number on the dial because I’ve only ever heard their broadcast from a particular photo studio in San Francisco – their broadcast range is postage stamp sized. In fact, they may not even be broadcasting that way anymore because they’ve had some trouble with the FCC (they simply won’t obey!)… it may be only internet now. But they play super interesting stuff consistently.
      • KFJC 89.7FM This is Foothill College’s radio station. Great stuff with a focus on new music.
      • KUSF 90.3FM Similar to KALX, but broadcast from the University of San Francisco… similarly cool off the beaten path programming… lots of local bands too.
      • KZSU 90.1FM college radio station… this one out of Stanford University. Even those Peninsula geeks can rock!
      • KPFA 94.1FM One of our Bay Area public radio stations, it’s mostly political, but they do have some good music shows. I’m particularly fond of their Thursday nights with Bonnie Simmons and Derk Richardson. But I’m old. ;)
  2. flora oakland, cocktails at flora, art deco flora

  3. Next week is Restaurant Week in Oakland. What is Restaurant Week you ask? (I’d never heard of it before either, but perhaps this is the first year?  Anyone?) In any case, it’s a week long event sponsored by the Oakland Visitor Convention Bureau in conjunction with Visit California.  Basically it’s about getting folks to come spend their hard-earned dollars in Oakland, while getting great values at an incredible variety of top-notch restaurants.  And locals can sign up too… Here’s a list of all the deals being offered:
  4. All I can say is Flora, Camino, Wood Tavern, Oliveto… the list goes on and on.  It’s going to be hard to decide where to eat~!

  5. The Oakland Running Festival! It’s coming again (March 26/27) and it’s going to be awesome.  Please check my posts from last year which have lots of information about this excellent event:

    I’ll be writing more about this in upcoming days (because I’ll by plying you for any hard-earned dollars not spent on Restaurant Week!), but I’m going to be running in the festival this year (last year I was a spectator), and I’m going to be running with Team Ella Baker Center.

    The Ella Baker Center is a local non-profit human rights organization working to “promote justice in the system, opportunity in our cities, and peace on our streets.”  I wrote a bit about them last year (Ella Baker Center Murals) and am extremely excited to be supporting their organization this year.  They’re hoping to raise $25,000 with approximately 100 runners, so if you’re interested in running with them, click this link: “Oakland Love Runs Deep“.

    I went to their kickoff party at Somar last night and it was incredibly inspiring. A representative from Corrigan Sports (the organization responsible for bringing the marathon back to Oakland… after a 25 year hiatus) recapped the 2010 event, saying that 98% of participants had a positive experience, 90% of participants came away with a more favorable view of Oakland, and thousands of dollars were raised for local organizations.  This is a super-positive event and I encourage everyone to get involved.  There are lots of ways to participate:

    • As a runner – there are races for everyone: 1/2 marathon, full marathon, relay race, twilight 5k, and kids’ fun run, and you can run for a cause too (bonus points!)
    • As a spectator – crowds lined the streets last year to cheer on the runners. It was truly inspiring.
    • As a volunteer – over 1,000 volunteers are needed to help orchestrate this huge event. Click here for more info

    More reading:  Corrigan Sports Enterprises Brings You the 2nd Annual Oakland Running Festival

KALX ~ “the greatest radio station in the world”

Ok, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s the tongue-in-cheek claim of one of their on-air pre-recorded DJ messages, and it always makes me smile.  Yes, this institution is based in Berkeley.  But their airwaves stream across Oakland and the greater Bay Area, and it’s one of the things I love most about living here.

The station was started nearly 50 years ago in 1962, broadcasting through a cigar-box mixing board (literally made out of a cigar box) hard-wired to the UC Berkeley dormitories. They played classical music for 4 hours a day .  Just classical music.

They’ve come a long way since then, broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with an incredibly diverse set of programming, not to mention their amazing roster of DJ’s. You can read The Full and Unabridged History of KALX if you want all the gorey details, including how  President Ronald Reagan inspired the station’s complete embrace of punk rock in the 80’s.  F&*k yeah!

There’s a great quote from 1986 by then General Manager Bill Davis: “What KALX stands for, more than anything else, is freedom. KALX doesn’t have a true format. KALX has no predetermined playlists. In general, KALX’s policies are designed to give programmers, reporters, producers, and sports announcers maximum flexibility, responsibility, and freedom. And that gives the listener the opportunity to hear things on the radio at 90.7 that he or she would never hear anywhere else on the dial. If that freedom is important, call 642-5259 to keep KALX independent.”

It’s still true today.  They play everything.  Ambient, disco, funk, hip-hop, punk rock, indie pop, country, bluegrass, classical, the list goes on… I can’t tell you how much amazing music I’ve discovered listening to KALX over the years.  I always keep pen & paper handy so I can jot down who I’ve heard when the DJ comes on air and announces their playlist.  Or even better, now you can go straight to the website and see the entire playlist for the last 24 hoursThank you KALX!

So please, support your local independent radio station.  You love freedom, don’t you? KALX is holding it’s annual Fall Fundraiser right now!  It’s one week only and we’re already mid-way there… drive ends this Sunday, October 31st.

They’ve got all kinds of schwag for your hard-earned cash:  bumper stickers, t-shirts, sticky notes, etc.  But they’ve got great packages too where they’re giving away limited edition cd packages, concert tickets, and more.  And one of my favorite donation options is to buy an hour of guest DJ time.  I did this two years ago… for 100 bucks (I was feeling flush then!) I purchased the right to join Alisa, Queen of the Cowbell, in KALX’s underground lair for an hour of spinning tracks of my own choosing, and even speaking on air.  It was awesome!

So please… take the next few days to tune into KALX… 90.7 on your FM dial.  Or you can find them on the internet (info here), and through iTunes (go to Radio->College/University->KALX). And call them up with your donations…

Support Freedom on the airwaves!

note: image above found on Facebook, no info on artist.  sorry.

Weekend Fun ~ 3rd Annual Oaktoberfest!!

Tomorrow my new neighborhood of Dimond is hosting their third annual Oaktoberfest (note spelling) to celebrate the district’s German heritage with good ol’ fashioned beer drinking.  Yay!

The East Bay Express has a nice write-up in A Shining Dimond District by Ellen Cushing so I’m not going to repeat it all here.  But in a bottle cap, the central Dimond District was dense with a number of popular German-styled beer gardens from the 1890’s through the early 20th century, until Prohibition effectively shut them all down. The most famous was Charlie Tepper’s Hotel which featured music and dancing every Sunday and was located on Hopkins Street (now MacArthur Blvd) just west of Fruitvale Avenue. [photos below] The building still stands today at 2030-C MacArthur Blvd.

charlie tepper, dimond beer gardens, oakland's german beer gardens, dimond history

photo courtesy Oakland Tribune

The sign in front that read “Take Diamond Cars”  referred to the old streetcar line that used to run from downtown Oakland (13th and Washington) up to Fruitvale and MacArthur.  Oh how I long for that streetcar now…

german beer garden dimond, charlie tepper, oaktoberfest

photo courtesy DimondOakland

Other establishments included the Hermitage (actually French), Neckhaus, and Bauerhofer’s.  These family friendly destinations attracted not only local residents – apparently Dimond has a high concentration of German descendants – but also vacationers from San Francisco, Marin County, San Jose, and as far as Sacramento.  See Dimond’s Beer Gardens for more info and great historical photos.

Come check out Dimond Oaktoberfest tomorrow.  Festivities run from 11am to 6pm, centered around the Fruitvale and MacArthur intersection. There’ll be something for everyone… music, art, food, and of course, beer.

Dimond Oaktoberfest 2008 (the 1st!) on Flickr

Music music music…

No Art Murmur this past Friday for me… we had tickets to The Flaming Lips at the Fox and wanted to check out the opening bands, which were actually pretty fantastic. First up was Thee Oh Sees with a blend of rock-a-billy garage pop that at times reminded me of punk bluegrass… They totally rocked, and their drummer actually performed a pretty sweet drum solo, which I can safely say, in the hundreds of shows I’ve seen over the years, I have never seen an opening band do.  Very cool.

Next up was Ariel Pink‘s Haunted Graffiti. Known for his impressive soprano, this guy (dressed extremely androgynously) could shriek an 80’s metal vocal like I’ve never seen.  This band rocked.  Period.  As my partner in crime suggested… Frank Zappa, but gay. And I mean that in the best way possible.  It was awesome!

Of course The Flaming Lips never disappoint.  Their shows are more performance art than concerts and though their bag of tricks is heavily recycled, it somehow never gets old.  I think I’ve seen this band about 5 times and I’m always surprised how they come out full throttle for the first song of the evening, giant balloons, confetti sprayed to the rafters, costumed dancers on stage, Wayne in his space bubble surfing the crowd… you have to wonder where they’ll take it from there (did they just blow their whole wad on the first song?!?) But somehow they manage to sustain and surpass, every time.  Highlight for me was the nearly 3000 audience members all singing Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 at the top of their lungs.  Pure magic.

flaming lips at fox, fox theater oakland, the flaming lips live

oct 1 show flaming lips, oct 1 show fox theater

Sunday we caught Arcade Fire with opening band Calexico at the Greek Theater in Berkeley… these guys are the real deal.  And though I’ve seen Calexico before and always enjoyed their shows immensely (I just love the harmonic horns in their Tex-Mex styled tunes), this show was all about Arcade Fire for me.  You sort of wonder how they’re going to pull off the complexity of their studio albums live, but incredibly they do, not to mention the fact that nearly every member of the band plays like three different instruments, amazingly. It was a fantastic show.

More reading…

The Flaming Lips @ The Fox Theater, Oakland, CA 10-01-2010 (examiner)

Saturday Night: The Flaming Lips Play Laser Tag at the Fox Theater (sfweekly)

History of Fox Theater on Oaktown Art

Arcade Fire with Calexico at The Greek Theater in Berkeley. 10/2/2010