Friday, August 12, 2005

Pig out & music at Blue Loon

From Fairbanks Daily News:

Grateful Dead icon inspires pig out, music at Blue Loon
Staff Writer

What do Cracker, Laura Love, Jazz Mandolin Project and the Big Wu all have in common? They've all played the Blue Loon's annual Jerry Garcia Pig Roast.

Now in its ninth year, the pig roast has become a local institution. Originally started as a way to celebrate Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia's birthday in early August, it's also become a tribute of sorts, as 10 years have passed since he died Aug. 9, 1995.

The idea for the roast is to bring up jam-based bands who play in the spirit of Garcia, according to Blue Loon owner Adam Wool. That leaves the doors open to a range of bands, rather than strictly Dead cover bands.
The roast is held come rain or shine and restricted to those aged 21 and older. There will be plenty of pig and side dishes to go 'round, for $10 a plate. Wool makes sure to have extra roasts on hand to supplement the 150-pound pig that will be cooked.

Zilla to headline
The improvisational band Zilla will be the headliner for the evening. When the Boulder, Colo.-based band got together, they worked backward from the way most typically form.
The band started when percussionist Michael Travis (from the String Cheese Incident) and hammered dulcimer player Jamie Janover played with a guitar player in a group called Zuvuya. According to Janover, things fell through with the guitarist and the duo called on two friends to fill in at a show. Deeming the event a success, they decided to go through with the rest of Zuvuya's pre-arranged shows as a quartet: Travis, Janover, Aaron Holstein on guitar, bass and other instruments, and Steve Vidaic on keyboards (although Vidaic is no longer with the band).
"It started out as a bunch of gigs, no songs and no material," Janover said. The impromptu approach toward performing suited Zilla's members so much, they've spent the past two years perfecting their own take on spontaneity.

No songs, no problems
The key, Janover said, is to get the music to sound like it's not improvised, when, in fact, it is. There's no framework the band relies on to build the songs from; it's all off-the-cuff.

"We're 100 percent improv and 100 percent live," Janover said.

The self-described "spontaneous compositionalist" said while each player may have themes or patterns they establish throughout a composition, Zilla takes the stage with no previous arrangements as to what they're going to play.
"We're 100 percent going with the flow, no songs whatsoever," Janover said, going on to describe how each member might have a trademark lick or riff, but how many times it gets played depends on the show. "That's as structured as it gets," he said.

The two albums the band will have for sale at this Saturday's show, "Zilla" and the newly released "Egg" are drawn from those live experiences. Favorite tracks are extracted and laid down. Then names are created.
"We name all the songs by listening to what it sounds like (and coming up with something). We have lots of songs and lots of names," said Janover.

Stepping on stage and facing an audience without knowing where music might take off doesn't appear to daunt Janover.

"We're definitely comfortable and it's not scary. We all take it seriously," he said. "We are responsible to our listeners, which means there are times where we have to concentrate hard and learn to let go at the same time."
Janover has been playing the dulcimer for 19 years, and was named national champion in 2002. However, he warns that his style is unusual.

"I hope the bluegrass people come out for the show. It's not like the dulcimer they're used to hearing. I use a damper pedal (and other effects)."

Pieces of Jerry
Playing a Jerry Garcia pig roast is appropriate for Zilla, as members of the jam-band scene and personal fans of the Grateful Dead. Janover alone has tallied 55 shows since 1984.

"I had the honor of playing with Bob Weir late last year with the Everyone Orchestra." (A massive collaboration of musicians that play benefits for nonprofits.)

In a similar fashion to the Everyone Orchestra, no one member of Zilla outshines the rest. According to Janover, Zilla is a total group effort, with the members drawing off many influences--jam, techno, drum and base.
"We're all very influenced by jam music. We abolished the solo (in favor of) group improv," he said. "We're kind of like the Dead ... they were at their best when they were all equal parts.

"I've got a little bit of Jerry in me." Which part, one might wonder? "The heart, it's all about the intention, not about the hitting all the notes."

Salem makes return
Another Pig Roast band will be Salem, which is wrapping up an almost three-week tour of the state on Saturday.
Salem frontman Todd Anders Johnson likes coming to Alaska. A lot. And the Seattle-based band is returning in October, to play University of Alaska Fairbanks' Pub.

Johnson started out with a college degree in geography and regional development and has been recording music for the past 10 years. His love of both subjects has come through in some of his professional work for nonprofits that combine music with social justice.

In fact, talking with Johnson by phone in Anchorage last week, that's how he described Salem's sound, as "socially conscious, funk/hip-hop, with jazz sensibilities."

He cites performers such as Michael Franti and Spearhead, Ani Difranco and Ozomatli as inspirations.
"I'm clearly glad they're doing what they're doing," he said. "I was a fan of Bob Geldof (of Boomtown Rats) who started Live Aid. ... I aspire to be able to be part of that."

The seven-piece band consisting of bass, drums, guitar, keys, saxophone, percussion and vocalists drums, raps and sings Johnson's compositions. While seven is the ideal lineup, "I'm aspiring to have five or six for the October tour," he said. The lineup has seen variations, recruited from a pool of friends and acquaintances.

"Everyone can really play their instruments," Johnson said. "That's a very lucky thing."

Their current CD, "Selected," is live and studio songs. Johnson anticipates a studio album will be out by November.


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