On the One

Woodpeckers, CAMAs, and power soul


There’s a woodpecker outside my window. It’s been there almost two weeks now, perched atop an electric pole in my Lake Merritt neighborhood, briskly beating its bill into PG&E’s splintering timber. Little bugger probably knew it was a good time to do such thing–most likely migrated from a state where the utility companies aren’t made up of duplicitous despots robbing the people blind, a state where power lines simply pulse with snap, crackle, and pop, unlike Northern California’s about-to-get-shut-off-any-minute-so-they’re-safe-for-woodpeckers-to-snack-on ones. I’ve almost gotten used to waking up to my feathered friend Woody’s rapid-fire beak knocks by now–hollow mallet-on-cinderblock sounding sets of sixteenth (maybe even thirty-second) notes that echo through all the buildings on my block, rebounding off the surfaces of our stuccoed walls and shingled roofs with a timbre so resonant that when I run into my neighbors in the hallway, they immediately remark, “How ’bout that woodpecker?”

At first Woody annoyed the hell out of me. I considered slingshots. BB guns. But last Saturday afternoon, I noticed an eerie silence had fallen over my block. Woody had stopped pecking. Suddenly, I got kinda scared. Scared that someone else had considered slingshots. Scared that Woody had bumped into a carnivorous squirrel. Scared that it was so damned quiet. So an hour later, when I heard pecking once more, I heaved a sigh of relief. Woody was back, and thank God. Those pecks had seeped into my subconscious, become part of the rhythms in my brain. Since Woody arrived, I’d been unwittingly grooving to the metronome of a woodpecker. And so I got to thinking. There’s so many things one might consider annoying that we just might miss when they’re gone. Like the dot-coms. The yuppies. Jerry Brown.

Or the California Music Awards.

I just cast my ballot for this year’s CAMAs (you can too by logging on to www.californiamusicawards.com), which will be held–whooppeeeee!–in Oakland this year, at the Henry J. Kaiser Arena on April 28. And just like Woody, the folks behind the party once called the Bammies (before BAM Magazine went under and the awards got snatched up by Tower Records) have decided to migrate here, to peck away at our neighborhood with an event that the press release also states will be hosted by that prominent pillar of the Bay Area music scene, the mastermind behind hits like “The Power of Love” and “If This Is It”–Mr. Huey Lewis. Can I get another whooppeeeeeee?

All kidding aside, the CAMAs probably decided to come to this side of the bay because the only glimmer of entertainment that happened at last year’s dismal ceremony was when Oaktown’s Ledisi took the stage with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. This year’s performance lineup includes a few acts that just might kindle similar glimmers: nominees Blackalicious, whose album Nia was one of the best to come out of hip-hop last year, and Latin funk rockers Orixa, who’ve been tearing it up lately in local clubs with their incredible live show. And though I may clown the CAMAs, I might be a bit sad if they stopped happening all together. Where else would the deserving aforementioned acts get at least a few of the props they deserve? What the CAMAs need to do, however, is narrow the scope back to focusing on the acts that don’t get talked about on MTV or VH1. I mean, is it really necessary to be nominating LA bands like Limp Biskit, Marilyn Manson, or Stone Temple Pilots? Talk about acts with relentless pecktitude.

A few quick reminders: First, an almost too-good-to-be-true double bill of soul singer and funkman extraordinaire Martin Luther and those wonderboys of musical cross-mutation (hip-hop, avant rock, improvisational jazz) Live Human has been assembled for the Fillmore Sessions sponsored by Levis this Friday night. It’s being taped for TV so make sure your hair’s combed and your lipstick’s inside the lines. Catch Luther around town while you still can; the guy’s going to blow up any minute now.

The following Monday, NYC-based pianist Marc Cary makes a one-night appearance at Yoshi’s. I caught Cary live when he performed at Yoshi’s with one of my all-time idols–Abbey Lincoln–a few years ago and mostly appreciated how gently he treated the melodies on Lincoln’s ballad selections. His last album, Trillium, is a smart, nuanced jazz offering featuring some memorable originals.

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