Ross Rowley: Heavy-hitter hippies & rednecks & punks & hipsters – February 3, 2010

At the gathering for the celebration of Sean Bohannon’s life, Joey Koches said it best, “You guys are the heavy hitters…all of the heavy hitters are gathered together to honor Sean.”

While he and his band, Ukesperience honored Sean Bohannon with the music of the ukulele, I was taken by those words as I let my eyes gaze around the room. Gathered on that blustery Sunday at the Bayside Grange were truly the heavy hitters of the north coast music scene. Many of them have gone into a somewhat state of performing retirement, but this great abundance of musicians, from all points Arcata north, gathered to pay tribute to a gentleman who helped them achieve their notoriety.

Sean Bohannon, for those who didn’t know him, was one of the area’s finest live sound engineers who performed his task with the utmost grace, sense of humor and compassion. For the past 30 years, he made it possible for performers’ songs to be heard above the din at numerous venues. Plus, he sold many of them the tools of their trade when he worked at Wildwood Music.

Along with Sean’s sound mixing capabilities, he was an accomplished mandolin player with the perennial favorites of the local bluegrass scene, The Compost Mountain Boys. Most readers, I gather, will know him for his musical performances rather than for his years of toiling in obscurity to make others sound better.

On that Sunday, it occurred to me, this may have been a gathering of the greatest generation of musical performers to have lived and played music in northern Humboldt County. These players have given nearly 40 years of their talents and time to bring the joy of music to local audiences at dances, concerts, clubs, festivals, farmers’ markets, house parties, store openings, fundraisers, political campaigns and anywhere their voices and instruments could be heard.

This generation of 50-somethings and 60-somethings were the driving force for creating the culture and community of musical performance artists as we know today in northern Humboldt County. The pop-combos and country & western outfits who stemmed from the post World War II logging era had their time playing around the county in the 1950s up through the mid 1970s. They only lasted a couple of decades. This new, Arcata-based, generation of musicians are starting to head into their fifth decade of performance. That says an awful lot.

As you scanned the audience at Sean’s celebration, musicians representing a cacophony of musical styles were in attendance. Reggae, country, Celtic, folk, brass bands and punk styles were accounted for. There were jazz cats, bluegrass pickers, rock and rollers, string quartets and blues belters mingling amongst the horde. They represented bands such as Airhead, Backstreet, Caledonia and Dreamticket. There laughing and shaking hands were players from Barking Dogma, Roly-Poly, Mason-Dixon and Buckshot. Over there chatting and remembering were musicians from The Rage, Terra Firma, The Stink Band, Swingshift and guys who played with Merv George. And local recording studio progenitor Bert Pectol was there, too. The list of band names and their many combinations could go on and on and on.

When Joey Koches, representing the next generation of Humboldt County musicians, said to the crowd, “Give yourselves a hand,” I silently agreed. For these are the heavy hitters of northern Humboldt musicians. Hippies and rednecks and punks and hipsters. It was great to see them all honoring Sean Bohannon, the gentle man who linked us all together.

I invite you to visit humboldtbandsfamilytree.com and share with us your branches.

Ross Rowley thinks a Humboldt Music Hall of Fame would be a worthy project.

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