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High on Hiatt 

by Clint Burgess, Leah Sottile and Mike Corrigan

You my have never heard of John Hiatt, but maybe you've heard of Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Paula Abdul and Iggy Pop. All of these artists have heard of John Hiatt and heard enough of him to cover his songs. He will be bringing his straight-up, no-nonsense brand of "tell it like it is" tunes to the Big Easy on Tuesday night.

Hiatt has been working the underbelly of the soul/blues/rock scene for three decades. He and his band, the Goners, have released 18 albums and toured with Buddy Guy and B.B. King as well as countless others. He contributed to the soundtrack of Disney's The Country Bears film (if that piques your interest) and seems to have worked with just about everybody at one point or another. So what does a guy like Hiatt do when he has, seemingly, done it all? He does it all over again.

Year 2001 found him getting back together with old band mates that he hadn't played with in nearly a decade. The result, The Tiki Bar Is Open, brought rave reviews and featured a noticeably reinvigorated Hiatt. Thanks in part to guitarist Sonny Landreth, whose slide guitar left an indelible mark on the album, this release was one of Hiatt's most remarkable outings of his long career. While touring for that record, Hiatt was inspired to have a go at his next project head on. He began writing on his own and came up with a collection of songs that would make up Beneath This Gruff Exterior (New West Records). Released in 2003, the album was cut in eight days and includes some of the best moments of the singer/songwriter's career.

As Hiatt is no stranger to the road, he brings his heart-on-the-sleeve attitude to the stage, and the results are magnificent. Although Hiatt is 50, he brings his years of seasoned performance and legendary songwriting prowess to the audience with a conviction that can only be conveyed through his weathered exterior and detailed personal nuances. Much like the music he produces, Hiatt is somewhat of a timeless character. He resides on a 100-acre farm outside of Nashville where he lives and breathes his music. He is old school to the bone, but not so much that he alienates audiences. In fact, music fans of all ages have learned and continue to learn the ethos of a man like Hiatt through his constant touring and continual vocalization of the experiences that have shaped and molded him, as well as the correlation of those defining moments with the history of all that happens to the average Joe on a regular and continual basis. This is an opportunity to see a man who personifies his art and makes no bones about it.

Festival Extravaganza -- Spokane is a cultural prune. There are times when it bustles with activity: days when protests are staged, independent coffee shops open, live music echoes in the streets and independent films hit the corporate movie screens. That's when Spokane is very much like a juicy prune in a bag of organic dried fruit. It's a pleasant, satisfying taste you never thought you'd enjoy, but are happy to finally see it doing something good for you and your digestive tract.

But prunes shrivel, and it seems as fast as Spokane sees coffee shops open, they close. Restaurants fold. Bands move on. In this very same way, Spokane can be very prune-ish -- old, shriveled and hardly good for you. In these times, a sign should be posted at all entrances to the city that says, "Spokane has shriveled and could be hazardous to your well-being."

Summer, however, is one of those times when Spokane is ripe and delicious. Granted there are warm-weather staples like Bloomsday and Hoopfest that keep things booming along. But for the last few years, two popular festivals have brought out crowds and shown that there is quite a bit of cultural vitality in our fair city.

In its second year, PEACH (Positive Ethical Alternatives for Children's Health) will hold the Local Flair Street Fair this Friday and Saturday. It's a fair for everyone and was established for the sole purpose of bringing together diverse local resources for the good of the community.

This year's Local Flair Fair will serve as a town gathering for many downtowners -- including artists, organic food vendors, wineries, literary figures and, of course, musicians. PEACH has arranged for two stages this year, kicking things off on Friday evening with performances by the Longnecks (blues, funk and soul), the Agitators (reggae) and Jupiter Effect (pop, ska and funk) until 10 pm.

Bands will perform for one hour each from noon to 9:30 pm on Saturday, with three Spokane favorites, the Side Project, Raggs and Ctrl-Z, wrapping up the night. The Side Project -- an ambient piano-based group with former Pitching Woo singer, Suzie Anderson, on vocals -- has become Spokane's premiere coffee shop, caf & eacute; and bookstore band in the last few months. Other local favorites Mercy Lewis, Mad Mama Moon and Matt Kelly will wrap up the night.

Another celebration of the arts will be happening just across town at the 5th annual South Perry Street Faire. Taking place in one of the next best neighborhoods in Spokane, the festival's planners intend to show that the South Perry district is a place to "live, work, shop and play." And what better way is there to show how great their neighborhood is than putting on a festival -- namely one with music? Well, there just isn't.

Festivities at the Faire kick off on Saturday morning with a parade beginning at noon. The parade will travel south on Perry from Ninth to 11th Avenue, where it will turn and end at Grant Park. A classic car show will continue there all day. Outdoor movies will show on Saturday night.

The Shop, the coffee joint located in the heart of the Perry district, will host bands all weekend -- ranging from the new age folk of Sidhe and the world music of Coerimba, to the roots rock of Mad Mama Moon and the reggae beats of the Agitators.

With all the food, drink, tunes, arts, film and community, there's no better thing to do in Spokane this weekend. Now get out there, enjoy these community events and enjoy yourself -- the supply of things to do might shrivel up at any second.

Swap that Sound -- Compact discs may be today's recorded music media of choice among the masses, but good old vinyl LPs have held their own against repeated eradication attempts -- largely because there is a growing culture out there that places a high value on the format's sonic and physical beauty. It's a fiercely loyal and wildly diverse group made up of DJs who swear by the feel of vinyl under their fingers, audio purists who prefer the analog warmth of LPs to the harsh, icy precision of CDs and kids who dig the counter-culture allure of abandoned technology. To service their needs, many independent and even some major labels continue to produce limited vinyl pressings of select new releases. And then there are the mountains of used vinyl out there to be had. Often, what fools discard in the endless rush towards the promise of new technology can be yours for a song.

This Saturday, Tony Brown of Unified Groove Merchants record store is throwing a music swap the likes of which haven't been seen around these parts since... well, since last year when Brown did it the first time. At the Music and Audio Swap you can buy, sell or trade your music (on CD, LP, cassette, 8-Track, cylinder, what-have-you) as well as pretty much anything else that produces, propagates or transmits music: musical instruments, home, PA and production audio gear, and, as Brown promises, lots and lots of turntables.

This guy is a vinyl freak -- the good kind. When he isn't running the record store or throwing record swaps, Brown spins selections from his eclectic personal collection at various local nightclubs under the moniker, Grand Groove.

"This sort of thing happens six times a year in places like Portland and Seattle," Brown says. "I figure I'll give it a go once a year here in Spokane. For me, this is the coolest thing that could happen here, but then, I'm a fanatic."

The swap will take place Saturday in the newly remodeled and spiffed up United Groove Merchants warehouse space located just behind the store. It's free to get in and buy. And anyone can come and set up a table to sell or trade (dealers without their own table can rent one for $10). Brown says dealer space -- and tables if you need one -- need to be reserved by July 16.

So far, 12 dealers have signed up. Most are from the Spokane area.

"Dealers come from all walks, young and old," says Brown. "One dealer has nothing but electronic records, a couple of young guys have hip-hop, jazz and soul. One guy deals in nothing but county. I know one dealer is getting rid of a lot of modern rock records and CDs. And there's an older gentlemen with big band, '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll, and 78s. I made it cheap and accessible because I want everybody involved."

Publication date: 07/15/04
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