by Steven Sanchez
Summer has officially drawn to a close. This will go down as a memorable one for the books. As we prepare for the Fall season consisting of football, pumpkin spiced-everything, school, and autumn leaves, may we not forget the eventful summer that precedes it. The months of June and July set the bar very high, and as August closes its doors, it was a good finale of what was a spectacular summer for entertainment.
Just because the season is over doesn’t mean that the entertainment will go away with it. The fall has itself one heck of a lineup with concerts, stand-up comedy shows, and sporting events. Here is a recap of what August brought to the Central Valley.
Styx, the classic rock renegades, returned to the Central Valley on July 29 at Table Mountain Casino in Friant and as always put on a phenomenal show. We featured them previously this year when they played in Bakersfield in January at Fox Theatre. It was my first time seeing them, and as they made their return, it was as equally as exciting as when I saw them the first time. In that few month gap Styx has had quite year.
They got done serving a seven-show tour throughout the month of March with the Blue Collar Comedy alum Larry The Cable Guy for the tour referred to as LAUGH. ROCK. SERIOUSLY. Original member Chuck Panozzo (bass), Tommy Shaw (guitar, lead and backing vocals), and James “J.Y.” Young (guitar, backing and lead vocals) are still keeping this mythic rock ‘n’ roll river flowing after all these years.
With them playing hits like “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” “Babe,” and “Renegade,” just naming a few, the Styx fanbase came out in full force and bought a one-way ticket to sail away with them to a time of rockin’ nostalgia. The slot machines in the casino weren’t the only bright lights booming through the night. Only can Styx take a casino in the hills and rock the joint as if it were a stadium. It may’ve been a Monday night, but their loyal fans did have time on their hands to enjoy the best of times with this roaming classic rock train.
This tour has been even more special as it’s been the first one in a long time where they played “Mr. Roboto.” And it supports their sixteenth studio album, The Mission, in their forty-year career. I had the privilege of speaking with James early in the year about their place in rock ‘n’ history and their deserving status of being voted into the Hall of Fame. “I love what I do, and I love getting on that stage and playing our music; and it brings me joy to do that…and whether or not we get voted in, it’s not going to be the end of my world,” James announces confidently. “But do we deserve to be in there? Of course.” The band has their mission to continue on, and as a fan, I have one as my own, that when the time comes for the discussion of who should be inducted, they undoubtedly got my vote.
Grizfolk, the half Swedish, half American alternative rock band from Los Angeles, came to Strummer’s on August 3 and bestowed us with their Indie pop magic. I had the honor of talking to the band before the show and while conversing with members Adam Roth, Sebastian Fritze, Fredrik Eriksson, and Bill Delia, you really hear in their voices the passion they have towards their music. On the Swede side, Fredrik and Sebastian started out as producers, and then the Americans Adam and Bill came later, and through that fusion is when they found their initial sound.
“It was natural, we have our own influences, the diversity of our influences is what gives us our distinct sound,” says Bill.
And that sound has had the privilege of being heard and seen on late night television with live performances on Late Night with David Letterman and Conan O´Brien. The band came out of the gate very fast. The demo of their first track “The Struggle” went viral on the internet in 2013, and in that same year, they were signed with Virgin Records without a self-released EP.
And they’ve also branched out into films. Their song “Way Back When,” was featured on the soundtrack of Dreamworks Animation’s 2014 film Mr. Peabody and Sherman. The KCRW DJ Chris Douridas who was also the film’s music supervisor came to the band with an opportunity to do an original song for the film. It only took them an hour to write and conceptualize the song! The whirlwind of interest and success came so early for them that…what do you they think now looking back in hindsight?
“Don’t take it all for granted. It all happened fast. People telling you that you had to go here and there. It destroyed the creative process at first. And now we take our time and step back and ask ourselves, ‘Will this make us happy?’ So, with the new music we’re releasing now is and feels truer because we had the privilege to use that time to make the music we wanted,” says Sebastian.
The band has no fear of putting everything out there with their fans. The single “Heavy Crown,” is a personal song for the band as it reflects a very tough time in their lives. And they also did a video diary documenting their time on the road called “The Vagabond Diaries.” And because of that openness to be revealing, people have gravitated towards their music where they mix acoustic music with electronica. A new genre name I’ve never heard before for this new sound is called “folktronica,” and there are those that’ll put them into that category. What’s it like to know that they’re considered a contributor to a new form of music? “This is the first time I’m hearing this, but if that’s what people say then so be it, we’ll take it,” Adam announces with pride.
This was my first time seeing them live with their flashing lights and the array of different instruments and sounds. They put in a lot of effort into the presentation of their show, and I would know after them telling me, but while watching them perform I became so enraptured in their performance that I completely forgot I talked to them just hours before and I was just enjoying the moment as a casual fan. They’re back in the studio making new music and before you know it, more people will be talking about the name Grizfolk.
Fresno loves its reggae, and we got it with Rebelution in June, but on August 9 at Woodward Park Rotary Amphitheater, we got Iration. Comprised of members Cayson Peterson (keyboards), Joseph Dickens (drums), Adam Taylor (bass), Micah Pueschel (The Rainbow Road Warrior) (guitar, vocals), Micah Brown (lead guitar, vocals), Drake Peterson (percussion, trumpet), they’re from Santa Barbara, but they all originally hail from Hawaii. The crazy thing is, just by going off appearance, you’d think this was a garage jam band playing at the local bar and grill on the weekends…think again. When you see them play they bring back the classic, authentic reggae sound. That Friday night was blistering hot, but once they took the stage, their music and aura exuded coolness that from there on out it was chill the whole time.
They are the one of the premiere acts when it comes to keeping reggae alive and well as they are Billboard’s darling when it comes to toping the charts in the genre with two number one albums and three number two albums. With singles like “Summer Nights,” “Reelin,” “Fly with Me,” and “Chill Out,” it’s pretty self-explanatory on what kind of band they are and what they’re all about.
There was already a buzz in the air before they even took the stage, whether it was in regard of the hype to see them or the cloudy haze people felt before the show. There was an assortment of colorful lights that was in perfect unison with each song and the pageantry of the stage production was…I swear I’m sober when describing this.
They may have played in Fresno, but they brought that Southern California vibe with them. They’re described by fans as being contributors to this subgenre of reggae referred to as sunshine reggae. The purpose of this form is filled with positivity and a cheerful attitude towards the sound and lyrics. Needless to say, this band exemplified that. Their show was just another indication that the Central Valley enjoys the magic of reggae and Iration satisfied that desire.
Legendary singer/songwriter, Jackson Browne, will go down as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and on August 18, at the Warnors Theatre, Fresno got to witness that greatness. This man is 70, and after watching him live, singing, playing guitar and other instruments, he performs the way he did in the 70s. This individual was a reigning hitmaker back in his heyday with hits like “Somebody’s Baby,” “Running on Empty,” “These Days,” and my personal favorite, “Take It Easy” that was recorded by The Eagles. His set was basically a jukebox of classics, and even though I was more than likely the youngest one in attendance, when the crowd heard his music, it was if they were transported back in time and there was an aura of youthfulness throughout the entire theater.
As much as I was impressed with Jackson’s set, it was his backing band that also stood out. All the instrumentalists and the backup singers all had their moments under the sun, where he allowed each member to have a solo and receive individual applauses. He’s also known for his political activism, so he definitely saw this as a time for him to speak his mind about his views of the world. That’s what folk rock is about.
For me, this show had sentimental value as I was repeatedly listening to “Running on Empty” in my later teen years and learning to play that song on drums since it was featured in the film classic “Forrest Gump.” There was catering at Frank’s Place for him and his bandmates and crew, and while mingling away and having some food, I got the opportunity to converse with him. He has ties to the Fresno area as his first wife had family here; he expressed his appreciation for the interior of the theatre; I told him about how much his music meant to me while he was eating chocolate cake. This guy is a Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Famer and was voted by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and watching him perform and talk to him was an amazing experience and his longevity is the key to his accomplishments.
Very few people exist in this world to the point where you automatically make it a priority to want to hear what they have to say. Whether it be from the greats such as Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, and the list goes on, that is such a rarity these days. But there is hope for the few out there in the world that are awoke and speak about change and faith in people and society. It doesn’t get any better than the philosopher, political activist, social critic, author, and public intellectual, the one and only, Dr. Cornel West. He came to Fresno City College on August 27 on behalf of the Speakers Forum and gave such an inspirational speech that I believe all were transformed after witnessing it.
A product of higher education with degrees from Harvard and Princeton and his profound work as an educator at some of the best Ivy League schools, a world-renowned author for countless books but with the most influential being “Race Matters” and “Democracy Matters,” it’s his intellect and the impact he’s made on the culture that has made him a fixture as a go-to commentator on race and politics in documentaries and talk shows. His beliefs caught the eye of filmmakers The Wachowskis that they featured him in the Matrix sequels. He brought that wealth of knowledge to the stage, and this was no Q&A, they just gave him a podium, and they just let him have at it.
No subject was off topic in his unfiltered speech about American history and culture. He warned to not give in to this celebrity, social media, and money obsessed culture and those that chase to be smart as competition and seek validation for attention are spiritually empty and suggest that “Let the phones be smart, but you be wise.” It was great to see a man of his intellectual caliber speak with appreciation and in defense of the importance of art as he sounded off on music, how it represents us as people not just for escapism but they challenge us to change the world, and shared his love for the classic jazz and R&B artists of his day. That if we want change and to have a sense of perspective that to a certain degree we must experience suffering as it helps us relate to those that have, and in order for us to make that change we must be able to shed some tears. He preached the power of kindness and how he felt that love from his family and church and that we need more of that in the world. And spoke of his criticism of war and the killing of innocent people and it’s wrong in the eyes of God because he loves everybody.
Love knows no color, and it can spill over into any race as long as they believe and exemplify it. That in order to experience change and rebirth and reinvent yourself you have to go through a metaphorical death of the old you in order for the new you to be born.
Wow! I’ve heard this man speak on television and it has moved me, but to have heard it in person to where his words transferred to me into my subconscious, it was cerebral. I was lucky enough to witness his one hour speech as there was a huge crowd trying to get in for a first-come, first-serve basis. It was open to the students and the public and not everyone got to see him. The anticipation was so strong that the cops were called in to have to manage the crowd because of the excitement to hear what he had to say. That’s how strong his words are, and if this world wants to change for the better then it can learn something from this man.