Article by Pat Nevins & Photos by Carrie Korsgaard
Last Thursday night’s show, combined the finest elements of today’s vibrant jam band scene rolled into an evening of jams as the famous San Francisco fog rolled across the bay, cooling down a great crowd after a week of sweltering temperatures in Northern California at the venerable Ashkenaz Music and Dance Community Center featuring a stellar performance by CB3, Chris Berry’s hot world music, reggae fused band, that features electric mandolin wizard Michael Kang of String Cheese Incident, and Aaron Johnston (drummer) and Jesse Murphy (bassist) from Brazilian Girls.
This was the second show on a week-long West Coast Tour that includes stops in Santa Cruz, Ukiah, Eureka, Sebastopol, and Ashland and Portland, Oregon. The show was produced by Peter Lull of SpaceNug Presents, along with Soja Music Productions to a thrilled audience of reggae, hippie dance groovers. Lull and his pal Jamie Soja held nothing back in creating a scene focused on the communal vibe we all love…complete with vegan food tables, vitamin supplies, fruit baskets, and tropical flowers and plants. Rasta’s, dance fans and aficionados looking for the newest hip bands coming through a town long known as an epicenter of bone shaking music….
High Heat opened up the show. They are out of Berkeley, CA with Sean Hodge (guitar, vocals), Adam Bowers (lap steel) and includes members of The Flux Ryan Lukas (bass) and Brian Huston (drums). Hodge is a gifted, up and coming, fast rising guitarist, singer song-writer and he delivered a fine hour long warm up set. His local following turned out to support Hodge and his band mates. High Heat appeared to this reviewer’s eyes to have a solid growing fan base of flowing skirted ladies who hit the dance floor almost immediately. The four piece band delivered a set of groovy, dreamy tunes with Hodge and steel guitarist Adam Bowers trading solos. Bassist Ryan Lukas and drummer Brian Huston filled out the rhythm section on finely crafted tunes. “Don’t Think” was a standout song that brought more of the colorful crowd to their feet. “Work Together” seemed to be the perfect reminder of Ashkenaz founder, the late David Nadel, whose spirit is forever felt in this wonderful room.
Chris Berry and CB-3 took the stage after a quick break. Berry, who hails from Sonoma County left California when he was 18 to study music in Southern Africa. He’s a huge star and has sold over a million records for his work with the band Panjea. Berry is now settled back into the United States, delivering his message through thoughtful lyrics evoking justice, peace, and unity for all. Berry’s lyrics speak volumes built on his foundation and knowledge he acquired in Africa. His music features an electric mbira, a type of thumb piano, which has quite a unique sound. On vocals he has the smooth richness of legendary reggae dancehall legend Barrington Levy steeped in Afro beat swirling waves that had the crowd moving in unison with his band of incredibly talented musicians. Michael Kang, well known to the thousands of near cult like followers of String Cheese Incident knows that this music lets him cut loose in a new way turning the electric mandolin into a dizzying sound of vibrato, chorus and reverb generated effects offering a completely new sound that is totally his own. Kang is truly a virtuoso at the top of his game with CB-3.
Bassist Jesse Murphy laid down the ever present dance hall rumble and often combined his low end power with the super low bombs on a bass keyboard simultaneously. If you like a big bass sound, Murphy can register Richter scale notes you can feel in the ribcage, and his playing was relentless all evening long. Drummer Aaron Johnston, his band mate from the 2009 Grammy nominated band Brazilian Girls, kept a steady driving rhythm like a freight train rolling down a track… This is a combination of world class musicians. Matched with Chris Berry’s vocals and the psychedelic mandolin of Kang, the beat was driving and invigorating during a non stop set that including tunes such as “Come and Play”, “Cry Away with Me” and “Regina”. These songs are meant to drive straight into the heart and soul of listeners, and Berry and his band delivered the goods to a loving audience providing an unforgettable evening of jams.
The club crowd and town of Berkeley are long known as a gathering spot of the tribes…Ashkenaz has been a fixture in the East Bay music scene since founder David Nadel opened the doors in 1973 as a room for the fans of many genres of music. His vision was to bring together in this space…all who love to dance to the music of various cultures…It was this determination to give the people of Berkeley and the surrounding Bay Area a space to come together, hang out, and shake their bones.
His dream became a reality when he transformed an old warehouse into a dance hall devoted to presenting music from the entire world music spectrum. His goal was to break down all the barriers that keep people apart. He was a true visionary and was producing “world music” shows long before that phrase was coined. Berkeley, the epicenter of the student movement to the political left in the 1960’s, with its multicultural population, naturally followed suit and Ashkenaz quickly gained a strong following as a center for both dance, free speech, and a growing consciousness for crowds eager to hear new music. The club became a focal point and growing business that strived for peace, non-violence, and unity for all.
In 1996, tragedy struck when its founder refused to let an intoxicated patron back into the club who returned later in the evening and murdered Nadel in a violent act that shook the community to its core. Soon after, a group of diverse people, from students, musicians, community leaders and patrons came together and formed a tax-exempt, non-profit arts organization to keep Nadel’s work and vision alive. Together, they purchased the building which today is fully owned and fueled by the love brought on by this incredibly sad and tragic occurrence. David Nadel will be forever remembered as a modern day hero of peace and non-violence.
The club operates 6-7 days a week, and has been upgraded over the years to a beautiful dance hall with a huge natural wood dance floor and beamed ceilings reminiscent of an old barn. Political and music posters adorn the walls and the building houses a state- of -the- art PA system that can pump the “wattage into the cottage” that so many call home. Ashkenaz is an all age’s venue and the vibrant jam band scene thrives there many nights. It is also home to reggae, folk, African, and Balkan music, among others, as well as children’s shows on weekend afternoons. It was the first venue of its kind.
Berkeley, being the ultimate college “hippie” town, naturally gave the club an outlet for the emerging jam band scene that unfolded after the death of Grateful Dead guitarist and King of the Hippies, Jerry Garcia. Tonight’s show brought out the entire array of the hippie scene’s beauty and history. Beautiful women in flowing skirts twirled about to CB-3 and High Heat, providing another example of how the power of music and love live on in this room…with an eternal flame burning in all the fans’ hearts. The crowd included friends likely spanning six generations… from all across the jam band scene, given the roots of Chris Berry’s multicultural musical background. It was a perfect example of why this town is like no other in America. Any visitor to the Bay Area and fan of the music we all love, will always have a home for dance and community “togetherness” at this special concert hall, and owe it to themselves to go check it out sometime. Magical experiences continue here at The Ashkenaz. I have been fortunate enough to experience it for years and will likely be back soon for more! The music never stops.
For more information on the music and the venue, please check out these links: