Humboldt loves a good tribute. We have a plethora of tribute bands from Silver Hammer’s Beatles tribute to Pink Floyd covers from Money, Naive Melodies doing Talking Heads, and of course, multiple deadicated Grateful Dead tribute lineups including The Miracle Show, Play Dead, Rosewater and others.
Then there are the major artist tributes: Chris Parreira’s annual “Million Dollar Bash” marking Bob Dylan’s birthday and a group of women (and a few men) celebrating the awesome songbook of Joni Mitchell, also around her birthday.
So I wasn’t surprised when I saw an announcement for a Paul Simon Tribute Show planned for Saturday, April 29, at the Arcata Playhouse (also home for the Joni tribute). I clicked on the little button on Facebook saying I was “interested.” Almost instantly my friend Joel Sonenshein messaged me asking if I might bring my camera along that night.
He’s been one of the outnumbered men at the Joni shows and had mentioned before that he was thinking about doing something based on the wide-ranging songbook of Mr. Simon. I’ve taken a mess of pics at the Joni-o-ramas over the years, and I would have promised to be there, but alas, I’m going to be on the East Coast that Saturday.
That didn’t stop me from grilling Joel. First I wondered if it was going to be one of those birthday things.
“More like his half b-day,” said Joel. “His actual [birthday] is three weeks before Joni Mitchell’s, and several of our performers do that show.”
(Paul was born October 13, 1941. Joni was born November 7, 1943, and plans are already afoot for another big Joni show.)
When I asked an overly broad lob ball question, ‘What do you like about Paul Simon?’ Joel replied with a paraphrase from Almost Famous: “Everything?”
(To be accurate the Almost Famous rock star responded to the young journalist’s question, “What do you love about music?” saying, “To begin with, everything.”
What’s not to like about Mr. Simon? As they put it in the show’s p.r. blast, “From touching acoustic ballads, to poetry with music, to rowdy sing-alongs to African rhythms, Paul Simon is a master of song.”
As Wikipedia notes, “Simon has earned 16 Grammys for his solo and collaborative work, including three for Album of the Year (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Still Crazy After All These Years, Graceland), and a Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Joel had to admit, “I cut my folk and folk rock-influenced musical teeth on P.S.’s music, sort of grew up with him. When I was at UMass [1966-’67 “in idyllic Amherst, Massachusetts”], I lived in a very noisy dorm. (Who didn’t?) I used to put the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album on my stereo, one of those with the removable speakers, and put a speaker up to each ear to drown out the noise while I went to sleep. My first headphones, if you will.”
When I continued peppering Joel with questions, he wondered, “Hey, is this an interview?” Yes, it was. “Let me tell you a story.” Please do.
“S&G did a concert at UMass in 1967 in the gym (known as ‘The Cage’). I didn't have the greatest of seats, but I saw that all the children in the audience were on the floor in front of the stage. As the lights dimmed, I snaked my way through the kiddie crowd and sat with them directly in front of Paul. He looked at me there with the kids, smiled and winked. Big moment for this star struck groupie. And having just recently discovered the joy of [herbs, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and others], let's say I was quite mesmerized by the whole experience.”
Since he was the show runner/organizer, of the current show, course he got first pick of tunes. They’ll start with his take on “Homeward Bound,” from that Simon & Garfunkel album about the herbs, and Joel will do “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” from the eponymous album Paul Simon and “Kodachrome,” the lead single from his third studio album, There Goes Rhymin' Simon, and a favorite of photographers. (Joel is also a shutterbug.)
He was still arranging and rearranging the set list, not really thinking chronologically. “It's more about getting a good flow between early stuff and later stuff,” and mixing the “flow” so that “slower, quieter” songs alternate with rockers. They’ve been rehearsing twice a week for a while to be ready to rock. (Yes, they’ll play “I Am a Rock.”)
“It's getting really tight musically,” Joel continued. “We’ve got a great house band with Marla Joy on bass, Mark Weston on drums, Jesse Jonathon on percussion, Jeff Kelley, Chris Manspeaker and myself on guitars, Marcia Mendels on keys and Julie Froblom on woodwinds. Plus a trove [of alternating lead singers] and great backup voices. We're going to ‘blow that room away,’” he noted, quoting from “Late In The Evening” off of One Trick Pony. And yes, that’s another from the set list, along with all of you favorite Simon songs.
Filling out the tributaries: Jan Bramlett, Morgan Corviday, Leslie Quinn, Kate Juliana, Violet Dinning, Robert Keiber, “Tofu” Mike Schwartz and Mango with Russ Cole on sound.
Tickets available at Brown Paper Tickets and Wildberries. Get yours early. I predict a sold out show.