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The Best of the North Bay 2004

Culture
Writer's Choice

Best Place to Absorb Hipster Cred
While Enrique Iglesias and the Smothers Brothers can easily sell out the Luther Burbank Center, there's a natural urge to hunger for some entertainment that's a little different. There aren't too many venues in the North Bay for music, and certainly not enough that dare to book bands that veer outside the alt-country, folkie standards that satisfy an older demographic. The Raven, which this past year found a new booker in Tod Brilliant, formerly of Roshambo Winery, seems to be blazing a new path through the musical wilds of the North Bay. Brilliant is determined to shake up Healdsburg, peppering the lineup at the Raven with such a variety of performers that trying to slap an overall genre on the venue is an exercise in frustration. This winter alone has seen everything from a kung fu fashion show to progressive hip-hop maestro Lyrics Born to vomit-friendly Skitzo. In diversity and novelty, the Raven is finally finding an identity. 115 North St., Healdsburg. 707.433.6335.--D.B.

Best Earth- and People-Friendly Reading
Trathen Heckman is a one-man whirlwind, a dervish of good works and kind words. In addition to organizing the popular Sustainability Tours every summer (now entering their third season)--daylong traveling events that showcase everything from straw-bale houses to community gardens to biodiesel transportation--Heckman also puts out a quarterly zine called Ripples. Written and produced almost entirely by Heckman, with help from likeminded friends under the banner of an organization called Daily Acts (www.daily-acts.org), Ripples offers inspiration, education and enjoyment. Heckman's unorthodox writing style conveys his joy and enthusiasm for all things green and groovy while ever so slyly promoting ways and means to heal the earth. Available at Whole Foods and independent bookstores in the North Bay. $4. 707.865.2915.--D.B.

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Best of 2004 Categories
Culture
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Everyday
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Food & Drink
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Kids
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Recreation
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]
Romance
[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]

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Best Place to See Live Music: Your House
With the club scene knocked down to the Phoenix Theatre and a scattered handful of fluke bookings at places like Tradewinds, Spancky's and Last Day Saloon, North Bay underground rock has truly gone underground. Resourceful musicians and music lovers have made due by folding up futons, rolling away carpets and throwing shows in warehouses, garages, basements and living rooms--their own. Sure, hosting a show on the fly may be illegal, but as long as the noise stays down, the crowd remains intimate and you (hopefully) live out in the boonies, who's the better to know?--S.B.

Best Way to Combine Indie Rock and West Marin
Bonnie Prince Billie (aka Will Oldham) isn't a big name. He sings strange, piercing songs about love and death. He's a little bit country, and when he takes the stage, he gets a little bit rock and roll. But the man has a huge cult following and opened for Bjork on the West Coast leg of her recent tour. And he loves Point Reyes. He loves it so much that he rarely performs in San Francisco, where the indie-rock kids go nuts for his freaky lyrics, preferring instead to take the slight stage at the Old Western Saloon, a friendly, dark bar in Point Reyes Station, which also hosted singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman in a surprise January show. As Prince Billie's fans fill up the small town for one night a year, marveling at the world outside hipster San Francisco, self-consciously ironic trucker hats and clunky belt buckles outnumber the locals' decidedly unironic trucker hats and clunky belt buckles almost three to one. Old West Saloon, Highway 1, Point Reyes Station. 415.663.1661.--D.B

Best Masked Naked Texan
Fred Curchack, a former SSU professor now teaching dramatic arts at the University of Texas, is a talented actor-writer-director and stage "magician" who uses masks, puppetry and other theatrical voodoo to bring his numerous fertile imaginings to life. Of the 60-odd productions he's launched in his long career, Curchack has done 22 of them as one-man shows, many of them solo versions of Shakespeare classics (The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet) with occasional ventures into Greek drama (Euripedes' Bacchae) and neo-modern art (the recent Gaugin's Shadow). Ever the dedicated performer, Curchack often finds it necessary to doff his clothes for dramatic reasons. For the last several years, he's come to Petaluma's Cinnabar Theater to premiere each new show, a tradition for which local theater fans, Bard lovers, and naked-old-man fetishists are eternally grateful.--D.T.

Best Bad Public Art
Public art is a funny thing. One passerby's eyesore is another's thing of rare beauty. Take Martin Munson's Large Buoy, the dangerous-looking hunk of fused and rusting junk metal on display in Santa Rosa's Courthouse Square West, at Third Street and Santa Rosa Avenue near Ralph's Santa Rosa Subs. Part of Santa Rosa's ambitious civic artwalk plan, the Sonoma-based Munson's jarring installation resembles nothing so much as a 10-foot-tall machinery part made of crusty, decaying steel, dragged in from a rotting refuse dump somewhere and left in the plaza to grow even rustier. At first glance, this thing is ug-lee. Upon closer inspection, however (and we recommend tetanus shots first), one begins to see that, from a certain perspective, Munson's baffling Large Buoy is an example of man's technology being reclaimed by the forces of nature, an elegant, mute duel between the relentless forces of machinery and the constant, corruptive power of organic decay. What the hell. It's still ugly.--D.T.

Best Place to Watch Movies With George Lucas
The Century Cinema Theater in Corte Madera was constructed as a single-screen theater (remember those?) with 70 mm capability and a spacious 800-seat auditorium that curves gently, each row a graceful semicircle, to face the massive screen adorned with mind-bogglingly large curtains (remember those?). Though not especially ornate, the big-box theater is a Bay Area treasure, what with so many single-screen movie houses going the way of the dodo and the drive-in. Now boasting the biggest screen north of the Golden Gate, the Century, formerly owned by the Pacific Theater Group, was completely refurbished in 2000, when it was acquired by the Century Theater chain. Rumored to be among Steven Spielberg's favorite places to watch films, the darling old dinosaur is routinely used by none other than George Lucas, who's made it a tradition to show advance screenings of his movies there. Too bad those movies have been such stinkers lately. The Century deserves better. 41 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 415.924.6505.--D.T.

Best Way to Hear Writers Discuss Their Craft
The first and third Wednesday of each month on KRCB radio 91.1-FM, literature is revealed. North Bay Bohemian contributor Jordan Rosenfeld, with help from Elizabeth Dunphy and poet Jenny Orvino, puts together a biweekly program called Word by Word that digs deep into the craft of writers. From "it" girls ZZ Packer and Julie Orringer to such established literary stars Diane Di Prima, Billy Collins and the ever-effervescent Kensington Ladies' Erotica Society, Word by Word uncovers a wide swath of the literary world via intelligent conversation with interesting people. Unlike Terry Gross' Fresh Air or the odd Michael Krasny book-focused program on KQED's Forum--which limn the book world by talking more about issues--Word by Word focuses almost entirely on the writer's inner world, a refreshing take on the possibilities of radio. 'Word by Word' airs at 7pm.--D.B.

Best Place to Borrow Another's Eyes
Those who waste precious minutes of this one precious life arguing about whether or not photography is a fine art should simply walk through the doors of the Barry Singer Gallery. Once inside and apropropriately calmed, some time spent with the Singer's walls should put to rest any further qualms. Featuring emerging artists as well as museum-quality prints of innovative photographers of the last century, the Singer sells very little from its elegant Petaluma storefront. The real business is done in the wide world of collectors, who must try to parse the images on the Internet or wait for co-owners Barry and Gretchen Singer to fly to them. We lucky ones can just walk on in, still arguing, and see for ourselves. Barry Singer Gallery, 7 Western Ave., Petaluma. 707.781.3200.--G.G.

The Best Place to Elevate Your Intelligence Quotient
The North Bay is blessed with several excellent chamber-music series, so it's almost unfair to single out any single one. Still, the Santa Rosa Junior College chamber music series is outstanding and deserves a nod. Held in the comfortable and acoustically pleasing confines of Newman Auditorium in Emeritus Hall, on the SRJC campus and operated by the college's Community Education Office, the series presents just a handful of concerts each year, but what splendid concerts they are. Past performers have included the Grammy-nominated St. Lawrence String Quartet, hands down one of the best ensembles to ever flip their way through a Mozart quartet. Ticket prices are in the $20 to $35 range and the series, which runs through the winter months, is always a sellout. Schedules are available by clicking the Calendar of Events link on the SRJC website at www.santarose.edu or by calling the Community Education Office at 707.527.4372.--G.C.

Best Reminder of the Marshall McLuhan Lesson in 'Annie Hall'
Bucolic and funky, the North Bay hides away some of the finest minds in America today, the kind of people who can unconcernedly shop at the local hardware store without being accosted because most of us don't know who they are or what they look like. But if, when you're in to get a new length of rope, the gentleman in line behind you begins a cogent discussion of the role of poetry in modern life and his concerns that the president may not understand its gravity and sounds kind of smart, it may be because poet and National Endowment for the Arts chair Dana Gioia is from Windsor. If the fellow in the cut-to-fit steel section seems to know his metals, it could be because that's MacArthur Genius sculptor Ned Kahn. Then again, it could also be renowned sculptor Mark di Suvero, who splits his time--like a bad T-shirt--between Paris, Manhattan and Petaluma. And if the dapper dad in the Cazadero post office seems to know a bit more about music than you, that just might be composer John Adams. A frizzy-haired Marin mom cheering her son on at a sporting event is just as likely to be author Anne Lamott as anyone; the beautiful woman with the Spanish accent considering grapefruit, Isabel Allende; she of the chic hair, The Mirror's Lynn Freed; and that marvelous caped lady striding Sonoma Plaza, the poet Carolyn Kizer. Consider yourself warned: like the mild McLuhan suddenly appearing in Annie Hall's movie queue, this place is lousy with geniuses.--G.G.

Best Place to Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture
If you still think that a night of abandoned dancing involves a trek to San Francisco, $12 for parking, a $10 entrance fee and a two-drink minimum, then, I'm sorry, but you ain't cool. Under the disco ball and the smoke machines, hip kids are getting down every Sunday night at Santa Rosa's own Rock 'n' Roll Sunday School. Locals with ample vinyl collections rotate DJ duty, and from 9pm to 2am, the mob shake their moneymakers to sounds from the retro '80s to today's millennium hits. You'll mix with the punk rockers, the artists, the intellectuals and the misfits of Sonoma County, brought together by a need to get wild on the dance floor. You say you can't possibly dance in front of other people? Grab a few $2 cosmos and you'll be bopping along to the theme from The Breakfast Club with all the others. So follow the wise words of Outkast and "Shake it, shake it, shake-a, shake-a shake-a, shake it like a Polaroid picture." P.S. It's free. All you need to buy are your drinks, and that's only if you don't get lucky. Rock 'n' Roll Sunday School, every Sunday at 9pm. Anthony's Music Box, 53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.575.9140.--L.G.

Best Lesser-Known Museum Devoted to a Famous Local Writer (And It's Not The One You're Thinking Of)
Jack London wasn't the only famous writer to live in the North Bay. Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon squatting on the side of Mt. St. Helena. You can learn all about it at the Silverado Museum near downtown St. Helena. The display of some 8,000 pieces of Stevenson's possessions includes his original marriage license, childhood letters and drawings, the last words he ever wrote and, oddly enough, one of Henry James' gloves. A great place to bring the kids and, hey, it's free. 1490 Library Lane, St. Helena. 707.963.3757.--J.L.

Best Little Roadhouse West of Red Hill
19 Broadway Nite Club used to be a rather unexceptional watering hole for Fairfax locals in search of cold beer and, well, another cold beer. Since a 2001 remodeling, however, this little red-brick hideaway has blossomed into a world-class night club and host to a cavalcade of top reggae, world-music, jazz, rock and folk acts, all performing in an intimate setting that is just about unparalleled in the Bay Area. Recent billings have included the alt-rock supergroup Banyan, jazz diva Diane Schuur, jazz sage Mose Allison, the Count Basie Band, R&B sax pioneer Sam Butera, surf-guitar king Dick Dale, the Mammals (featuring fiddler Jay Ungar's daughter and Pete Seeger's grandson), the Sam Kininger Band (featuring the band's namesake and Soulive saxophonist) and AC/Dshe (an ass-kicking all-girl AC/DC tribute band). Makes me wish I lived in Fairfax again. 19 Broadway Blvd., Fairfax. 415.455.8702.--G.C.

Best Place to Watch Movies While Inebriated (or Watch Inebriated Folks Watch Movies)
Cinema Epicuria--the official other name for the Sonoma Valley Film Festival--is a celebration of film, food and wine, made manifest in the festival's determination, over the last few years, to serve free snacks and free wine at every single screening. This unique fusion of celluloid, alcohol and cheese, cheese, cheese is becoming legendary, giving the festival a reputation for being a great place to watch movies while getting toasted in public. Last year, at an event to honor One Hour Photo director Mark Romanek, comedian Robin Williams was brought onstage by Pixar genius John Lasseter, who, as master of ceremonies, was seated at a table with a big bottle of wine. "This is the craziest film festival," said Williams. "There's an open bar everywhere you turn. Everyone's drinking free wine! Right now there's a wino in the park across the street going, 'Fuck! I should have made a film!'" When Romanek was called up to receive his award, he quipped, "This is great--I finally get to meet John Lasseter, and he's hammered!" Lasseter (who certainly wasn't showing it if he was), laughed graciously at Romanek's joke, which Williams quickly one-upped by improvising the rant of a startled little boy, crying, "Mommy, Mommy! There's the man who made Toy Story, and he's pissing on our car!" This year, according to festival planners, there will be more films than ever, more food--and a whole lot more wine. Cinema Epicuria begins April 1. 707.933.2600.--D.T.

Best Campus Buzz From Retail
The two stores forming Corte Madera's Book Passage complex have the same intense, joyful buzz that a college quad best possesses. People bend heads together over books, discussing their contents as if, well, as if literature mattered. A recent visit found a seminar group just breaking for boxed lunches at the bookstore's outdoor tables, while inside, the conference room was just filling with students signed up for another literary seminar. Featuring almost daily readings by authors, as well as moderated book groups, professionally led writing groups, trade-of-publication seminars and even an item or two for sale, Book Passage asks a lot less tuition than the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop but gives a great whiff of its feel. 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 415.927.0960.--G.G.

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From the March 17-24, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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