Community radio has enjoyed a short but storied history in America, beginning on the West Coast in 1946 with the launch of KPFA at Berkeley by journalist/pacifist Lewis Hill and a group of like-minded individuals dedicated to fostering “a lasting understanding between nations and between individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors.” Community radio really blossomed in the 1960s during our country’s cultural revolution, when the appeal of breaking down prevailing traditions and boundaries became more widespread. Listener-supported stations were free from the corporate sponsors that exercised control over commercial stations, their minuscule budgets both a burden and benefit — virtually no money to work with, but a staff of community volunteers who actively participated as disc jockeys and producers, and brought color and variety back to radio with a diverse range of programming. By the 1970s, community stations had carved out a place amidst the corporate radio structure and were broadcasting in almost every state.
WMNF, the Bay area’s own beloved community radio station, first went on air in 1979 and celebrates 30 years of broadcasting on Saturday with its annual birthday party. This year’s event features 12 bands on three stages — national headliners Paul Thorn, Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers, and Amanda Shires, all pictured, as well as local and regional players like Nervous Turkey and the Legendary JC’s — at the Ritz Ybor. Here’s the complete breakdown, with video.
Have Gun, Will Travel (6:30-7:30) A local fave and 2008 Best of the Bay Readers’ Poll winner, this five-piece Americana outfit incorporates acoustic guitar and bass, viola, lap steel, banjo and harmonica into easy-going rhythms that dissolve into spirited overdrive with an Old West appeal in both the sound and subject matter. HGWT is currently working on their follow-up to last year’s NPR-plugged Casting Shadows Tall as Trees.
The Legendary JC’s (7:55-8:55) Few bands can get the bodies to the floor as quickly as the JC’s, who bring the scorching, horn-charged R&B and rump-shaking funk ’n’ soul. Lead singer Eugene Snowden channels all the classic greats with his unrestrained, belt-it-out brand of showmanship. Here’s video of them performing at Freebird Live in Jacksonville.
Paul Thorn Band (9:20-10:50) Son of a traveling preacher; one-time professional boxer; discovered playing in a pizza joint after hanging up his gloves to pursue music — these background details add texture to the songwriting of Paul Thorn, who sings in a soulfully husky Southern-soaked drawl and plays a gentle or blistering guitar to dynamic roots rock dosed with upbeat gospel, blues and alt-country swing. He uses good-natured humor to tell stories about life, love and the people he’s met, as in the title track of his sixth studio album, A Long Way From Tupelo, about a man stranded on a desolate country road and the young Lolita who saves him, “And just like Adam and that Garden of Eden / She showed me that apple and I got weak.;” the bouncy blues-soaked query of “What Have You Done to Lift Someone Up?”; the heavy riffing balladry of “Accept My Love,” a coarse workingman’s droll plea to an uppity woman (“I dialed your number but I couldn’t get through / So I bought a blow up doll, looked just like you / But these rubber lips I’m kissing, ain’t warm enough / So accept my love, accept my love”); and musings about regret and the mournful wail of slide guitar in “Things Left Undone.” Thorn offers up a quirky, personal, heartfelt, and rough-edged brew. Here’s a clip of Thorn performing “If I Can Get Over Her” from his DVD So Far, So Good LIVE. Gives you a nice taste of his style.
Nervous Turkey (11:15 -12:15) The local trio brings the good times with their heavy-treading brand of whiskey-soaked barroom blues and funkadelic rock marked by the bellowing or growling or crooning or soulful serenading of gritty deep-voiced frontman Ernie Locke. When he fires up his harmonica, you know things are about to get sweaty.
Sarasota Slim (7-8) The Florida homegrown guitar-slinging veteran sets fine-honed finger-licking and rusty vocals against his rolling rhythm and blues.
Knock Down Drag Out (8:25-9:25) A new Orlando five-piece that plays turbocharged rockabilly with much lively key-pounding and vocal aerobics.
Barely Pink (9:45-10:45) The playful power pop of Barely Pink’s “Mood Meter Maid,” with its falsetto harmonies and brief divergence into melodic, Beatles-esque psychedelia, proves why everyone’s excited about the foursome’s official reunion show — a special occasion within ‘MNF’s own special occasion. Here’s a clip from a 2004 Barely Pink gig at Gator’s on Treasure island.
Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers (11:05-12:05) Crain is a Choctaw Indian in her early 20s who’s just released her debut full-length this past April, Songs in the Night. The album showcases Crain’s distinctive throaty tone, which manages to be sultry, rich and enchanting all at once. Her driving folk rock is mournful, rootsy, ghostly or buoyant, depending on whether she’s gently persuading a lover to look into her eyes and come and see the rising sun, “it’s about to break,” or giving a firm pep talk to a friend and convincing her to “Get the Fever Out.” She adds color with occasional horns, whistling, harmonica, and even multi-tracked backing vocals. Here’s Crain and Andrew Tanz of the Midnight Shivers performing “Devils in Boston” acoustic, on a rooftop.
Suite Caroline (6:55-7:40) She’s only 12 and has already recorded two albums of original countrified pop, performed live with Sheryl Crow, and sang the National Anthem before a recent Rays-Rangers game.
Amanda Shires and her Roaring Fiddle (8-9) Shires has a honey sweet soprano that’s strong and piercing in murder ballads or songs of heartache, and she plays lively fiddle or ukulele with her dusty roots music. She played with Thrift Store Cowboys for several years before releasing her first solo effort in 2005. Currently, Shires is touring in support of a duo release with co-writer Rod Picott, Sew Your Heart with Wires, a completely acoustic recording. He’s not on this bill, but Shires and Picott perform this Sunday, Sept. 13, at the Studio@620. Here she is performing “Angels and Acrobats” and “Rings and Chains” with Picott earlier this year in Texas.
Tribal Style (9:20-10:20) Three Jamaican brothers lead Tampa’s hottest funk-ska-roots reggae group.
Ray Olan and The Jazz Ole Band (10:40-11:40) Latin jazz, pop, salsa and AC rock are combined in Jazz Ole’s multi-cultural music, lyrics sung in English and Spanish (including spiced up bilingual covers of early Beatles tunes), and Olan’s key-playing is usually accompanied by electric guitar and various percussion.
WMNF 30th Birthday Party: The Big 3-0, Sat., Sept. 12, 6 p.m.-12:30 a.m., The RITZ Ybor, Ybor City, $20 in advance/$ dos, wmnf.org.