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Folk on fire 

by Sheri Boggs


A quick glance at AMY MARTIN's debut CD, To You, might lead one to sum her up as an earnest hippie chick with guitar. But to do so would be a grave disservice. Martin's roots go deep into the ideological soil of Missoula, the place she now calls home, and yes, she is a young woman who sings earnest songs to the accompaniment of her guitar. But she's also so much more. Her lyrics bring to mind the poetry of Walt Whitman, after whose poem To You the album was named. Her style is as bluesy and bold as it is melodic and ear-pleasing, and her vocals are as pure and steady as a young Joni Mitchell. So it comes as no surprise that the appeal of this artist, who plays at the Shop next week, goes far and wide.


"I'm always surprised by how many different people seem to connect to my music," she says. "You'd think it would just be a younger crowd, and primarily young women. But there are lots of men at my shows, older people, little kids. It's really gratifying to appeal to more than just one demographic. I think that's the test of good music, that if it comes from a deep place, it should be able to reach over superficial boundaries."


The songs on To You cover a lot of ground, both in style and content. The album kicks off with "Georgia, Late November," a surprisingly upbeat take on the annual protest against the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Columbus, Ga. But from there, the songs quickly become more personal -- passionately so. "Bitterroot" revolves around a gorgeous cello refrain and the loneliness of coming back to yourself, over and over again. "Let it Go" is a sensual and beckoning call to the rewards that come when you just give up trying so damn hard, and "Not Anymore" is a scathing and hilarious song that says nothing so much as "go to hell, pal."


Although Martin has been musical all of her life, she had not originally set out to become a musician. At Augustana College in Illinois, she sang in the choir but devoted her studies to philosophy, writing and political science. Already proficient on piano, her relationship with the guitar began purely as a marriage of convenience.


"I wanted something that I could just play for 10 minutes, here or there," she says. "The piano was clear across campus, which wasn't convenient every time I wanted to play."


After graduation, Martin taught English in Peru, later moving to Chicago where she supported herself as a freelance writer. It was there that she broke up with her boyfriend and decided a cross-country journey to the West was in order.


"It was your typical crisis where you -- and I hate to use this clich & eacute; -- but 'find yourself,' " she laughs. "But it was a really cool time for me, I visited some communes and things like that, and I traveled around playing music and camping super cheap."


By the fall of 1999, she had two vital epiphanies: she wanted to make a CD, and she wanted to live in Missoula.


"I wanted to experience what it meant to define myself as a musician. I come from a practical Midwestern family, and you just don't do things like this. And 24 hours into my stay in Missoula, I knew I wanted to live here. But it wasn't a sudden thing, it was more like the huge build-up of years and suddenly this knowledge was being handed to me, like a gift, of who I was and where I wanted to be. It was like someone was saying to me, 'You don't have to worry about that anymore.' "


Martin has just finished recording her second CD, Unbroken, which will be something of a departure from her first.


"The music is done, but I'm not done with the graphics yet. Unfortunately, it's still going to be in the manufacturing process by the time I'm in Spokane," she explains. "When I first came here, I lived in this straw bale house up in the foothills of the Bitterroots and we recorded it there. It was the beginning of June and there was this snowstorm the day we recorded, but it was great because we got all the outside bird noises and you can hear the sound of the snow dripping off the trees."


This CD is even more of a solo effort than her first, and much more experimental.


"With this CD, I was hoping to try to get into the mental/emotional aspect while having fun with my music. It's much more of an authentic approach to how I get out there. And it's definitely different; you can hear me talk between the songs," she laughs. "But listening to it will be kind of like hanging out with me for awhile."





Amy Martin plays at The Shop, 924 S. Perry, on Thursday, July 26, at 7 pm. Cover: $3. Call: 534-1647.





Mecca in Moscow


Well it's another year and another three-day, musically divergent, culturally significant festival for the good people of Moscow, Idaho. But as RENDEZVOUS IN THE PARK kicks off its 19th season, Director Julie Ketchum puts a finer point on the thrust of the annual live music event.


"It is a community event," she agrees. "But more and more we've been reaching out to neighboring cities and states including Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Spokane, then down south to Lewiston, Grangeville, Boise. We have people who come from all over the Northwest."


Rendezvous has a lot going for it. A great open-air venue (situated within Moscow's beautiful East City Park), a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere, affordability (that's a big one) and on-site food and beverage vendors. Oh yeah, and performers that are on the top of their game and frequently on the verge of big-time national recognition (the Nylons, Arlo Guthrie and the Dixie Chicks have all recently made the Rendezvous scene).


It's no wonder Ketchum (in her fourth year as director of the non-profit organization responsible for Rendezvous) and the other festival organizers stick pretty close to a time-tested formula: three nights, three different genres of music and performers that are familiar and appealing yet ambitious, even challenging.


"That's definitely one of the things we try to do with Rendezvous. To get artists that wouldn't come here otherwise. This year, we have a Cajun night and a country night and a blues night."


Sure enough, Thursday night will rumble first with the jazz fusion-meets-world sounds of The Guarneri Underground, then with the fiery folk, Cajun and zydeco of fiddle master Tom Rigney and his band, Flambeau. Friday night's "Country Connection" will feature Lewiston band, Coltrain, opening for national country star, Lacy J. Dalton.


"We always try to do some kind of world music the first night," says Ketchum. "Everybody loves it -- they can't get enough of it. It just not a kind of live music that's readily available here."


Another thing that's not readily available in Moscow is a blues guitarist of Jimmy Thackery's caliber. Thackery (Saturday night's headliner, preceded to the stage by Louisiana bluesman Tab Benoit and contemporary blues guitarist Debbie Davis) is a true six-string virtuoso and in a field overpopulated by pretenders.


Thackery became widely known as the innovative guitarist with the Nighthawks, one of the hardest-working and most popular blues outfits of the '70s and '80s. After leaving the Nighthawks in 1987, Thackery assembled the six-piece R & amp;B band, the Assassins, which toured the East Coast and released three studio albums before disbanding in 1991. For his next project, Thackery went the other direction, trimming things down to the bone instrumentally. Now leading a trio, the Drivers, the guitarist is able to emphasize the guitar as the predominant melodic weapon in the group's arsenal. Thackery's powerful, tough and low-down brand of electric blues -- in which he seamlessly mixes traditional Mississippi mud with roots rock ala Springsteen -- has made him one of the most sought-out performers on the blues circuit today.


The Drivers (rounded out with Michael Patrick on bass and Mark Stutso on drums and vocals) have released six albums on the prestigious Blind Pig Records since debuting in 1992 with Empty Arms Motel. The group's latest, Sinner Street, benefits from the addition of sax player and newest Driver, Jimmy Carpenter.


"When Jimmy Thackery was here before, we had a fantastic night. So we're expecting another big one. It's going to be a very eclectic blues night. Jimmy and Debbie Davis do Chicago and Texas-style blues and Tab Benoit does Cajun-style. It really is going to be a mix and match jam with those three artists. It's really exciting. These are three outstanding electric blues guitarists who have been wanting to play together. And I don't think all three of them have all played together before at a festival."


This year, returning festival-goers will notice a new, portable main stage in a different -- and more spacious -- area of the park. The existing stage will be used for the Rendezvous for Kids program (art and music workshops for children ages 3-12) which runs Thursday and Friday from 8:30 am-12:30 pm.


"It's rain or shine, so come prepared for the weather," says Ketchum. "But it should be smooth sailing." --Mike Corrigan








Rendezvous in the Park will be held in East City Park, Moscow, Idaho, on July 19-21 starting at 6 pm each evening. Tickets: $10, advance; $15, day of show; free for children under 12. Pre-registration for Rendezvous for Kids is required and costs $13, for one day; $20, for both days. Call: 208-882-1178.





Jamaica North


And speaking of festivals, the Okanogan highlands 12 miles East of Tonasket, Wash., will be transformed this weekend into a sort of Camp Little Kingston as the ROOTS MOUNTAIN REGGAE FESTIVAL commences. Ticket prices include a spot in the adjoining campground for the entire festival. Though the site is natural and primitive (that's right, no electricity or showers), food and craft vendors will be on hand to attend to various basic human needs, namely, appetite satiation and shopping.


Once again, the highlight of this annual three-day celebration of music, color, community and hemp accessories will be an impressive array of performers representing the many facets of modern reggae. The gates open at noon on Friday (it's a good idea to get there early to secure your campsite) and the music begins at 6 pm. Friday evening's performers include the Cultivators, Tchiya Amet, the Revolutionary Dream Band and the headliner, Ras Shiloh.


Spokane's own Civilized Animal will kick off day two of the festival with its horn-driven skank. Other artists on Saturday's ticket include Sister Luv, Rocker T, Katt & amp; the Progressions, Sister Carol and Everton Blender. Sunday, the sturdy campers will be treated to the sounds of Sisters, Alpha Ya Ya Diallo, Reggae Angels and the Mystic Revealers.


Like a standout in a stellar cast of thousands, Saturday's headlining artist, Everton Blender bears special mention. A transitional figure in the evolution of Jamaican music, Blender (real name Everton Dennis Williams) is a dancehall performer with one foot in the music's more roots-oriented forms. As such, he represents the modern directions reggae is heading while recalling classic reggae performers of days gone by and the traditions that have sustained the musical form for over 30 years.


Blender was raised in Kingston and worked as a laborer before setting out on a music career. He released a string of singles in the early '80s but failed to score a hit. Disillusioned and frustrated with the music business, he withdrew in 1985 only to resurface with "Create a Sound" (a bona fide hit) in 1992. His first album (1994's Lift Up Your Head) established Blender internationally as a rising star in reggae. Today, Blender is regarded as not only one of the most respected, socially conscious voices in contemporary Jamaican music, but as a vibrant and charismatic performer as well.


Festival organizers suggest that you bring plenty of water, sunscreen and shade (there's no place to hide from sol out here, mon) and that you come ready to dance. -- Mike Corrigan





The Roots Mountain Reggae Festival is held 12 miles East of Tonasket, Wash., on Hwy. 20, July 20-22. Tickets: $50 in advance; $60 at the gate and include three days of camping. Children 12 & amp; under are free. Call: 877-996-9283.
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