Tag Archives: San Francisco

New collection skims the cream of Caffè Lena’s rich musical history


Live At Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013 is slated for release on Sept. 24.

A review of Live At Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013, with buying and streaming links after the jump

I’ve always meant to visit the legendary Caffè Lena, the tiny coffeehouse at 47 Phila Street in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Devonsquare, the sweet-harmonizing folk-rock trio, first piqued my curiosity about Lena and Bill Spencer’s cafe (or caffè, as they dubbed it, using two f’s) with their song “Caffè Lena” on the  1987 album Walking on Ice.

Caffè Lena was a place of mythical proportions to me then. For one reason or another, I never found myself in Saratoga Springs.

After all, I live close to The Turning Point in Piermont, N.Y., a music cafe that is, while 16 years younger than Caffè Lena, has a similar mission and musical profile.

And then there was the Towne Crier in Pawling, N.Y.,  from 1972 until closing in June with plans to reopen soon in Beacon. That gave me a backup option just a bit farther afield than The Turning Point.

So  I never got myself motivated sufficiently to make the trek to Saratoga Springs.

I should have known I was missing out. And now the Tompkins Square record label has  shoved into my face some very real evidence of exactly how much I’ve missed. Continue reading

UPDATED: Provocative musical ‘The Scottsboro Boys’ returning soon to the New York stage?

The cast of The Scottsboro Boys.

BREAKING NEWS: New World Stages reacts. Click HERE.

UPDATED: An earlier version of this post conflated the Broadway show where this news was overheard with the source’s current Broadway credits. This update clarifies the source’s credits and reflects that Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has now reached out to New World Stages and the producer for comment.

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has heard an interesting bit of theater gossip. We’re not generally given to reporting gossip, but the source of this one seems impeccable.

At intermission during the matinee performance of Leap of Faith on Broadway Saturday, April 7, a man greeted some friends near the bar. We couldn’t help but hear him reveal to his friend that he’s a Broadway producer. We didn’t immediately recognize him, but he mentioned that he’s producing Clybourne Park, a straight play now on Broadway, as well as a current Broadway musical comedy.

As the conversation went on, the subject of the short-lived Kander and Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys,came up. It turns out the guy also was a producer of that provocative, somewhat unsettling minstrel-style musical about an infamous racist incident involving accusations of rape by a white girl against nine black teenage boys in 1931.

“It’s coming back, soon, to New World Stages,” he said with obvious pride. Lately, New World is where Broadway shows that, for one reason or another are no longer viable in a Broadway house, take on new life. Rent was revived there, Avenue Q and Million Dollar Quartet live on there. And soon, it seems, The Scottsboro Boys will find new life there, too.

We didn’t recognize the producer who was doing all the talking. T-+here are only one or two producers whose images who are seared in our memory, including Elizabeth McCann and Steve Klein, both of whom were involved with Passing Strange. But a few minutes of research on IBDB.com and Google Images helped us figure out that the guy was, indeed, a producer of the shows in question. So we’re guessing he knows what he’s talking about.

Scottsboro got good reviews in its off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre. (Full disclosure: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? is friend and huge fan of Colman Domingo, one of its stars.) It took us a bit of time to get past our feeling that it was somehow wrong to laugh at such a serious true story from the sad history of race relations in the United States. But once we set that aside and got into the spirit of the show, we really enjoyed it. But others in our audience, including a black couple we encountered nearby after the show, left feeling more uncomfortable than entertained.

The show fell flat when it moved to Broadway, running for just 29 previews and 49 regular  performances in the fall of 2010. The feelings of discomfort dogged it from the beginning of its run, and the show drew protesters who claimed it was racist. It also earned 12 Tony Award nominations and gained some rabid fans who continue to beat the drum for its return.

The Scottsboro Boys hasn’t disappeared. It got an extended run in Philadelphia earlier this year, and is set to begin performances April 29 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, Calif. And it’s scheduled to play at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco starting June 21.

Continue reading

Big talent cultivates big prog-rock sound in Big Farm

Don’t miss the all-star ensemble’s gig at Public Assembly

Who knows when they’ll play again

Big Farm: Jason Treuting, Steven Mackey, Mark Haanstra and Rinde Eckert.

Q. Did you hear the one about the Pulitzer Prize finalist, the Guggenheim fellow, one of the leading new music percussionists and a Dutch Jazz Competition-winning bassist got together to make some garage rock?

A. Big Farm was born.

Janus Trio

Never heard of Big Farm? Go to Public Assembly at 70 North 6th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, and you’ll never forget them. (They’re on a bill with Janus Trio, a great Brooklyn-based flute-viola-harp trio.) Admission is $10 at the door.

Time Out NY has called Big Farm “something like a Blind Faith-style supergroup,” given the accomplishments of the individuals in the band. Jason Treuting, the drummer, is perhaps the most recognizable member of the versatile percussion ensemble So Percussion. Steven Mackey, the sizzling lead guitarist, is a former Guggenheim fellow, a Grammy winner and an accomplished New Music composer. Bassist Mark Haanstra is an incredibly talented jazz player from the Netherlands. And Rinde Eckert, the vocalist, was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his “Orpheus X” and also a Guggenheim fellowship. Continue reading

Thanks a lot, Chris Isaak

Bimbo's 365 Club (© 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Bimbo's 365 Club (© 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? made a pilgrimage to the West Coast a couple of weeks ago. And this time, we were determined to hit a San Francisco music club we’d missed previously. It’s the supper club and music venue with the potentially provocative name: Bimbo’s 365 Club.

OK, we admit we weren’t put off by the name — it’s what Tuscan immigrant Agostino Giuntoli’s boss at a San Francisco restaurant called him because he couldn’t pronounce the kid’s name. (“Bimbo,” pronounced beem-bo, is Italian for boy.)  Giuntoli was a smart guy, who apparently didn’t have any problem with the nickname. And it turned out to be a much catchier name for the nightclub he opened with Monk Young, his name-challenged s former boss, now his partner, in 1931.

We really didn’t know much about the place until the advent of singer Chris Isaak‘s Showtime network sitcom, The Chris Isaak Show. If you don’t remember the show, it ran from 2001-2004 and pretty much purported to be a fly-on-the-wall look at Isaak’s life in San Francisco — although the show was actually shot in Vancouver. One of the show’s most endearing and curious features was Isaak’s regular pilgrimage to Bimbo’s basement to visit Mona, who in the show played the club’s mermaid Dolphina, for advice about his love life.

The mermaid — created through projections, not real women in tanks of water — was and still is a feature of the real Bimbo’s. Mona (actress BobbyJo Moore) appeared nude on a turntable in the basement. Her image was projected into a “tank” in the club’s lounge.

We needed to see Bimbo’s and check out the mermaid. And luckily, it turned out that Laura Marling was performing there while we were in town. (Don’t be misled by the “365” in the club’s name. It comes from the club’s former address at 365 Market St. and doesn’t refer to being open every night of the year.)

Laura Marling at Bimbo's 365 Club. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Laura Marling and her band at Bimbo's 365 Club. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

It was great fun. Laura Marling was awesome, delivering a confident, rocking set. And her opener, Alessi’s Ark, a singer-songwriter with one backup player, did a surprisingly lovely performance.

Alessi's Ark at Bimbo's 365 Club. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Alessi's Ark at Bimbo's 365 Club. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

But we couldn’t find any sign of the “real” Dolphina. Sure, there was a statue in the swanky lobby. But we couldn’t even immediately figure out where the mermaid tank was based.

Before the evening was over, we finally — and to our slight disappointment — discovered that Dolphina appears only occasionally at Bimbo’s, projected into a faux aquarium that spends most of its time behind curtains on the back bar. The rest of the time, there’s a small aquarium with some fish in it behind bar in the retro-elegant lounge.

The club has a no-cameras rule that they did try to enforce, so we had to rely on crappy BlackBerry photos inside the place. But here’s the tiny fish tank that had to suffice on Sept. 18:

The resident fishtank at Bimbo's is behind the cash register in the cocktail lounge, providing a point of reference to show how small the tank is. (© 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

The resident fish tank at Bimbo's is behind the cash register in the cocktail lounge, providing a point of reference to show how small the tank is. (© 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

By the way, don’t forget to check out music from Laura Marling, Alessi’s Ark, and Chris Isaak, who has a new album, Beyond the Sun, a tribute to the classic recordings of Sun Records of Memphis, out this month.

Finally! Passing Strange the movie gets Bay Area screenings

Passing Strange movie banner

It’s about time!

Spike Lee‘s fantastic cinematic version of the rock musical Passing Strange is hitting the big screens of two Landmark movie theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area this Friday. Since the musical was developed in part at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, it’s only fitting that the movie (which is available everywhere on cable TV video-on-demand services) gets a theatrical run there.

The one-week run starts Friday, Oct. 2, at the Embarcadero in San Francisco and the Shattuck in Berkeley. If you’re in the area, please do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t be disappointed. It’s been getting rave reviews but is dependent on word of mouth to attract an audience. Please do your part!

Here’s Passing Strange creator Stew‘s thoughts:



both for one week only.

Rebecca Jones, who is in American Idiot currently @ BerkRep,
will be the Queen of Berkeley that week, as she’ll be starring
down the street from herself.

I could give the big speech right now about why you have to tell
all your friends to see it and see it soon since its only there for one
week, but its 3:14am here in Berlin and I need to sleep.

basically, there ain’t no advert money going into this thing and the killer
in the Chronicle already happened AND our kick-ass trailer CANNOT be shown
in these 2 theaters cuz they don’t do digital trailers. I guess IFC never
we’d need a non-digital trailer. What-ev.

This is known in the bizz as a COLD OPENING.
Sounds like a date I once had in Helsinki…

The only cure for a cold opening is word of mouth
or what people today call email blasts. We’re going
to need all the help we can get. Frankly, IFC should have
opened this thing in the Bay while the press love was flowing.
But don’t get me started.

See it on the big screen while you can, Bay Area peeps.
See it before we digitally edit in a french shower scene.
See it right after American Idiot.