Monterey Notebook 2005, Part 2: Saturday Afternoon
12:30pm - The Fairgrounds
The Monterey County Fairgrounds are quietly busy as festivalgoers amble along the seemingly endless stretch of vendors, sampling the greasy foods of five continents. Out behind the Fairgrounds, the back nineholes of a local golf course have been converted into a massive parking lot, with one fairway already packed like a sardine can.
At the Festival's information booth, a small wooden box waits for donations to the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Fund, a project of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (www.braf.org). Donations have been slow so far, but the day is just beginning and the staff is optimistic.
Donations of a different sort are accepted outside the building known as the Night Club. Inspired by the illness of saxophonist Michael Brecker, the Festival has allowed the National Marrow Donor Program to set up a blood-screening tent on the grounds. 9,000 Americans die each year awaiting a bone marrow transplant, explains a staffer, with the need especially acute among minority populations. The testing proves to be quick and nearly painless, and the tent is already seeing a steady flow of donors, keeping two phlebotomists busy.
1:15pm - Jimmy Lyons Stage (The Arena)
It is time to bring the funk.
Sharon Jones' band, the mighty Dap-Kings, announces this in no uncertain terms as tenor saxophonist Neal Sugarman strides to the front of the Jimmy Lyons Stage and lets loose a blistering attack punctuated by the acid sting of David Guy's trumpet.
The band runs their set like a 1960s soul revue and nails every twist, warming up with retro grooves both hot and mellow before bringing out their star performer. Introduced with a barrage of cool-cat lingo that puts those old JBs records to shame, Jones knows the stage is 100% hers from the get-go, and struts and shimmies with abandon. She draws from and feeds the lightning grooves of her band, which in an earlier decade would have topped the R&B charts.
The band, which even looks the part in their suits, shades, and sideburns, turns Aretha Franklin's "Respect" into a high-octane blowout, before turning serious for two tunes. After taking a point-blank shot at the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, Jones launches into "Stop Paying Taxes," the latest in a long line of soul tunes going back at least as far as James Brown's Watergate jams. The theme continues with "This Land Is Your Land," reworked into an anthem for the urban poor.
A handful of older folks in the audience can't handle it, and make for the exits even before Jones gets up to full steam. But most of the arena crowd keeps up just fine, and they are treated to a rollicking hour of pure entertainment. When Jones demonstrates a wild dance purporting to blend African and Native American moves, and the band throws itself into a manic crescendo, all cylinders in overdrive, the Arena goes nuts. Jones will expand on this theme in a later set at the Garden Stage, running through the full spectrum of 60s dances, from the mashed potatoes to the jerk.
2:00pm - Night Club
It's not easy for a bunch of teenagers to make a splash amidst Monterey's big names, but the Australian Youth All-Star Big Band is holding its own in the crowded Night Club. A coolly swinging arrangement of "Lullaby of Birdland" balances the sweet vocals of Danielle Blakey with big, punchy horns. Blakey's poise and confidence win over the crowd, and she even dares to scat a few lines.
A smooth cha-cha version of "You Gotta Have Heart" goes over equally well, before tha band takes on a pop song ("The Devil You Know") with a brash Vegas swing that lets Blakey really open up and showcases the band's tight, dynamic arranging.
3:00pm - Starbucks Coffee House
Matthew Bourne is attacking his piano, literally, going straight for its musical jugular. Arms flailing, body rocking in a sort of St. Vitus dance, Bourne creates abstractions of startling density and violence, at one point leaving the keys entirely to bang on the piano's body.
Tweaking a sampler atop his instrument, Bourne suddenly finds himself playing along with a monologue by Homer Simpson, allowing the animated character's cadences to become a part of his thunderous improvisation. Bits of cartoon melody break through the splintered maelstrom, which abruptly ends, just as surprisingly as it began.
Now playing off an Irish storyteller, Bourne is spare and melodic, the cyclone gone to reveal a blasted plain, quiet and lonely. But soon, Bourne's raw, passionate creativity will again push him up and outwards, with snippets of Harlem stride, locomotive chugging, or haoor-movie themes giving way to massive block chords.