by Leah Sottile and Mike Corrigan

Don't be fooled by the name --the music of the Blank Tapes is hardly empty. And it's quite surprising that it isn't, considering the fact that the band is only "kind of" a band. The three-piece group came out of Newport Beach, Calif., but two of the members are currently traveling and playing dates with other groups.

So the glue that holds the Blank Tapes together is one dread-locked 22-year-old with a Jack Johnson attitude and a musical style inspired by the Kinks and Leonard Cohen. Adams is touring now under the Blank Tapes name, but it's really just a one-man show--perfect for a coffeehouse setting, he says.

"Small audiences work for my music," Adams says. "If you can get a read on the audience, you can just play off of that."

Adams will bring his one-man band to the Spike Coffee House this week, and he says that he'll be playing the band's music all alone.

"I'll play guitar and drums, and maybe a kazoo or something," he says casually.

Casual, while a fitting description of Adams' personality, doesn't totally characterize his music. It's the kind of stuff your tree-hugging friends from Eugene would hammer out around a beach campfire. It's that spontaneously thrown together kind of music that is practically genre-less and fitting for any time of day.

But while his songs are relaxed, but he's hardly casual when it comes to having a respect for musical art. For a child of the '80s, Adams has a strikingly clear and profound knowledge of musical craftsmanship -- which comes across on the Blank Tapes' only album, Country Western Honky Tonk Saloon Blues. Adams and friends recorded the entire record themselves on a Tascam eight-track cassette tape recorder, which made for a gritty, unpolished sound on the final product. Somehow the novice group miraculously mimicked the crackle of vinyl, achieving a sound that works perfectly for their kicked-back music.

So what differentiates Adams from the rest of the guitar world? There's something unique about Adams' music that defines him as an artist. He lazily strums like Ben Harper and Leo Kottke, and finds room for vocal outbursts similar to Phish's Mike Gordon. But more important, he has more to say than his surfer-like appearance would suggest. On Honky Tonk, Adams finds room to take some potshots at his hometown of Newport Beach, pledge his love for a girl and hammer out an angry tune about performing on the streets and doing drugs.

With that said, a lot of the Blank Tapes' music takes on a Jack Kerouac air -- contemplating encounters with strangers and the freedom of the open road. But there's one difference between Adams and a lot of other freethinking songwriters: He actually does know a thing or two about the open road. In fact, his stop in Spokane is part of a 14-city "road trip" where Adams will play everything from coffee shops to house parties and a halfway house. In the past, Adams has been known to ask people he meets along the way to jam during shows. He says the invitation is open to anyone for his show at the Spike, on one condition: "Up in Spokane, if someone really wants to jam I'd be down -- as long as they don't suck," he says, showing he's really not just another hippie with a guitar.

The Blueprint for Fun -- This Saturday night, CenterStage on West First will be bursting at the seams with art and artists of many different persuasions representing the latest (and greatest?) battle in Spokane's ongoing War Against Boredom. That's the idea behind Blueprint, or what organizers are calling "the first step into a new era of arts and music in downtown Spokane." It's an all-ages multimedia event featuring visual treats from local artists Jason Bagge, Charlie Forina, Derrick King, John O'Donnell and J. Corcoran in the first floor gallery and music from local DJs and experimental musicians Central Service, Brainchild, V. velella, Spince and Synthetic Som McAiram, and jazz from Three-D on floors two and three. (Note: for Central Service, V. velella and Brainchild, the happening will also serve as a release party for their latest recording projects.) All three levels of the CenterStage complex will be accessible and throbbing with entertainment -- all for one surprisingly affordable ticket price.

Though the sights and sounds on tap represent the cutting edge of Spokane culture, there's nothing the least bit pretentious or stuffy about this party.

"There are a lot of people in this town looking for a cool place to hang out and dig some mature music," says Tony Brown (aka Grand Groove) who organized the event with local musician Airam Gessner. "CenterStage is a clean, sophisticated, non-smoking environment with great food and atmosphere."

"I think it's a party that can be enjoyed by all," he adds, while admitting to a small bias. "I'm 35, and I can't wait."

RAWKing Preview -- Sick of this oppressively cold weather? Allow us to suggest some all-ages, live local action that's sure to generate a little steam heat and get you pulsating to the backbeat. That's right, it's time to ignite the RAWK Final Four teen band competition. For the third year in a row, nearly two dozen young, lean and hungry bands from the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene area will gather over the next few weeks to square off in four friendly bouts where songwriting and performance skills will be put to the test and concert-goers will have the honor of anointing the winners.

RAWK the Inland Northwest is a Spokane faith-based nonprofit group that supports all-ages live music, fosters a sense of "scene ownership" among area teens and promotes music as a way for young people to constructively and creatively channel their energies. This Sunday, Jan. 11, RAWK kicks off the first of four semifinal rounds of its Final Four series at Fat Tuesday's Concert Hall.

The competition is set up like this: bands will meet up in groups of 5 in four preliminary rounds to be held on Jan. 11 (with Thalamos, The Reign, Solidify, Immunity and Vicious Cycle), Jan. 18 (Wide Eyed Wonder, Schema, Sonnet, My Buddy's Sean's Band, Dancing Cadavers), Jan. 25 (Derby, Peace Without Silence, United Effect, Soulkore, For Years Blue) and Feb. 8 (Coney Island Pilot, Hijacked Royalty, Manifest, Lucia's Grey Dot, Municipal Source). Winners of each round (plus one "wild card" choice) will be determined by the crowds via written ballots and will receive $100 and will advance to the final round. The victors will all meet again during the finals on Sunday, Feb. 29, to compete for the grand prize: a weekend loaded with studio recording, mixing and mastering time provided by Seattle's Delve Music - and with RAWK picking up the tab for travel and lodging costs. All shows will be open to everyone, will be held at Fat Tuesday's Concert Hall, and will start each evening at 6 pm. Tickets are available in advance from the bands for $8 (bands will retain a portion of the ticket proceeds) or at Fat Tuesday's on the night of the events for $10.

New to the Final Four this year is the creation of a compilation CD featuring all 20 of the bands taking part in this year's competition. They will be available at the shows for a very modest five bucks. For more information, visit

The first installment this Sunday night features performances by Solidify and Vicious Cycle (whose members all attend Central Valley High School), the Reign (made up of Mead and Shadle students), Thalamos (from Gonzaga Prep) and Immunity (from Ferris and LC).

The members of Thalamos describe their sound as "experimental progressive rock." The band has been together for just over a year and is comprised of 16-year-olds Jacob Levernier (vocals, guitar, woodwinds, keyboards), Jack Mountjoy (drums, percussion, keyboards) and Bryson Nitta (bass, keyboards), along with 17-year-old James Miller (guitar, keyboards). They finished third and also grabbed the People's Choice Award at BOBfest 2003 and are working on their debut album in their home studio.

The Immunity squad features brothers Aaron and Brian McConkey (on lead guitar and bass, respectively), Luke Erler (bass) and Landin Kretz (drums). Kretz says that while his band has been together for a year and a half (and playing gigs at their local Young Life center), Immunity has yet to perform in front of a large audience. Until now, that is.

Good luck, junior achievers.

Publication date: 1/08/04

Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 10
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