Weekend Best Bets

Posted: Friday, February 16, 2001

Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt once said there were only two kinds of music, the blues and "Zip a Dee Doo Dah."

You can find both this week in Juneau.

Van Zandt wrote some of the saddest songs this side of Hank Williams, but the blues are not all about sad songs. There are plenty of "My baby left me" blues tunes out there, no doubt, but people did not flock to juke joints in the depression just to cry in their beer. They came to dance. Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters and Elmore James - those guys wrote lots of dance music.

That music, electrified and filtered through Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimmy Page, has made it to the 21st century. It's still dance music. And this Saturday night, The Bluesband brings it to Juneau.

The Bluesband, once a regular dance band on the Juneau scene, hasn't performed much in the past year, and I'm looking forward to hearing them again. Guitarist Justin Smith, drummer Vern Fowler, bassist Adrian Minne and keyboardist Steve Nelson are fine players, and I've seen them whip a roomful of dancers into a frenzy on many occasions.

This is a benefit for the Alaska Folk Festival, and I am a board member of the festival. But the dance is not intended as a money-making benefit so much as a good time and a showcase for some good music. It's an all-ages event.

For best results, do not come to this event late. Wisconsin Slim, aka Joel Bergsbaken, is opening the show at 8 p.m. with a set of scathing Delta blues. "Slim" is more than a Dobropowered Delta blues aficionado. He's a one-man band with a percussion section. He's hooked bass-drum pedals up to an old trash can and a galvanized bucket, and thumps out counter-rhythms with both feet as he plays. It's a sight, and it's not just a gimmick.

Music starts at 8 p.m. and goes until midnight, and admission is $5. The dance is upstairs at the Elks Club Ballroom at 109 South Franklin.

Townes Van Zandt singled out "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" because it's an unabashedly happy song. Coming from the old Disney movie, "Song of the South," it's a hit with kids. (And adults the song, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" won an Oscar in 1946.) Years ago the Juneau Community Co-op Preschool took the title of the song as the name for its annual benefit concert. This year, the family show starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Centennial Hall. Magician Jeff Brown will serve as master of ceremonies, and the show will include the Fantastic Mr. F., (aka Harborview Elementary kindergarten teacher and Juneau musician Jack Fontanella), storyteller Grace Elliott, the Zip A Dee Doo Dah Singers and musician Julie Pigott. Rumor has it that the Beatles will also show up this year. All four Beatles.

For bluegrass and folk music The Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band is playing from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday at the Alaskan Bar.

You can catch the "Banff Festival of Mountain Films" at 7 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Hall. This year's show highlights paragliding, mountain biking, skiing, big wall climbing and kayaking. This is an annual event for the University of Alaska Student Activities and has sold out the past two years, so get there early if you go.

"Hamlet" opens Friday for a three-week run at McPhetres Hall. A production of Theatre in the Rough, it features many of Juneau's finest actors. I went to a rehearsal Tuesday night, intending to stay for just an hour and I couldn't leave. I stayed until the end - and I already knew how it would end. If you have any fears about Shakespeare from a smalltown theater company, put them aside. It's done very well, and I plan to see it again at a "real" run. "Hamlet" plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday nights until March 3.

"Gypsy" closes this weekend at Perseverance Theatre. The last show is 2 p.m. Sunday.

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