by Serna Carlson, Ann M. Colford and Leah Sottile

No pretense of journalistic objectivity here, folks. I love Snoop Dogg. How could I not? I was in the eighth grade in 1992 -- the same year that Snoop Doggy Dogg exploded onto the music scene, rapping on fellow pioneering gangsta-rapper Dr. Dre's debut solo album, The Chronic. Rap music -- hell, even pop music -- hasn't been the same ever since. This first collaboration between Dre and Snoop, and the ultra-successful solo careers they have both embarked upon in the decade since, did more to popularize rap music to a pop-culture audience than any little white-haired punk from Detroit has ever done.

Rap as a musical style has caught on across all lines of demarcation. People of all races, creeds, genders and, yes, even age groups, are listening to rap music in ever-greater numbers. And perhaps I am inclined to assign most of this genre's success to the popularity of Snoop Doggy Dogg. Sure, other rap groups and singers were around prior to Snoop Dogg. Groups like Dre's N.W.A., and individual rappers such as Ice-T, truly did pave the way for a musical revolution. It's fair to give them credit where credit is due. Snoop and Dr. Dre, however, took the game to a whole new level. Snoop himself (with Dre stepping out of the limelight until recently) raised the visibility level on rap artists with his debut album, Doggystyle, which glorifies a lifestyle of endless parties, loose women and other trappings of "thug life," as rapper Tupac Shakur christened it. Doggystyle was released in 1993; it was the first debut album to enter the Billboard charts at No. 1.

Of course, it didn't hurt that Snoop actually seemed to practice what he preached -- a highly publicized arrest and charges as a murder accomplice actually helped his meteoric rise to popularity, even though he was eventually acquitted. The arrest simply proved to his audiences that Snoop was, in fact, the real deal, a guy from the ghetto with street cred to spare. He lived the high life, he had it all and he wasn't afraid to flaunt it. Snoop quickly became the guy to emulate, the guy to worship and definitely the guy to listen to.

Critics claim that Snoop Dogg would be nowhere without Dr. Dre. This may be true to some extent -- Snoop did get his start thanks to Dr. Dre's connections in the music industry. Since then, however, he has almost single-handedly become a one-man show on a stage full of wannabes, a guru of self-promotion. As a result, Snoop is one of the most emulated musicians in the industry, a veritable tour-de-force, a true success story.

Calvin Broadus was born on October 20, 1972 in Long Beach, Calif. His mother nicknamed him "Snoopy" because she felt he looked like the dog from the "Peanuts" comic strip, and the name has stuck ever since. He began rapping in earnest after a few run-ins with the law -- and some jail time as the result of cocaine possession -- after his high-school graduation. As the story goes, Snoop started rapping on demo tapes with his friend (and Dr. Dre's little brother) Warren G. The rest, as they say, is history.

But all good things must end, and the immense crossover popularity of rap music began to wane in 1996, paralleling what was happening in the rap industry. The shooting death of Tupac Shakur and the arrest of producer Suge Knight on racketeering charges also occurred that year. As a result, Snoop began to broaden his musical horizons. In addition to rapping, Snoop began to seek out collaborations with more mainstream rock acts such as Rage Against the Machine. Snoop even went so far as to tour with the hard-rocking Lollapalooza concert series in 1997 with bands such as Tool and Korn; this served to only increase his crossover appeal. He also focused on bringing new rap groups such as Tha Eastsidaz into the fold under his tutelage.

Snoop also broadened his horizons in other media, to the point that his personality and his activities are more responsible for his current popularity than is his music. Beginning with writing songs for movies such as Poetic Justice and Bad Boys, Snoop took tentative steps towards the big screen. He was soon cast in cameo roles in movies such as Half Baked and I Got the Hook-Up. His first major supporting actor roles came in Training Day and Baby Boy, which quickly led to starring roles in Bones and The Wash. Snoop will appear as Huggy Bear in Starsky & amp; Hutch, due in theaters in 2004. He is currently hosting an MTV sketch-comedy show called Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, named for Snoop's penchant for adding lyrical "izzles" to random words. He also recently participated in filming Girls Gone Wild: Doggystyle.

Busy guy.

Somewhere in this schedule, he also has time to tour. So don't miss him on Friday with guests Daz Soopafly and Bad Azz. Don't walk, run.

Music on the Vine -- On a sultry summer Sunday evening, what could be better than a laid-back picnic on the grass? How about adding in Arbor Crest's award-winning wines, one of the best views in the area and big-name touring musicians? Now that sounds like a formula for success.

For several years now, Arbor Crest has invited the public to come and watch the sunsets from the winery's three acres of landscaped gardens high above the Spokane Valley -- and sample some Arbor Crest vintages at the same time. About three years ago, General Manager Jim van Loben Sels decided to add music to the mix, inviting local musicians to entertain the picnickers. This year, the Sunday Sunset Concert Series runs from 5:30 till sunset through September 28, and for the first time the winery is offering a special three-concert series featuring national names.

"We have a new amphitheater area overlooking the vineyard with a view of downtown," says van Loben Sels. "About a hundred chairs and tables are available, first-come-first-served, or people can bring their own chairs or just sit on the grass."

Patrons may purchase wine by the glass or by the bottle in the newly remodeled tasting room. Among the wines available is the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, which recently received a rating of 90 from the Wine Spectator, van Loben Sels reports. "People can enjoy a picnic, have a glass of wine, and watch the sun go down over the city," he says.

And then there's the music. Blues legend John Hammond kicks off the series this weekend, bringing his low-down swamp-boogie blues to the wide-open West. Hammond has been hammering out classic acoustic country blues for more than four decades now, and he turned up the heat with his 2001 release, Wicked Grin, an album devoted to the tunes of his longtime friend Tom Waits. He covers songs by Waits, George Jones and the Rolling Stones on the new Ready For Love CD, which has just been released.

On August 10, Karla Bonoff delivers her heartfelt lyrics with a rich and soulful voice in the second show of the series. Known for her late '70s hits "Someone To Lay Down beside Me" and "I Can't Hold On," Bonoff also penned hits recorded by Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt.

Wrapping up the series is Scottish singer-songwriter Al Stewart, who comes to town on August 31. Stewart scored several Top 40 hits in the '70s, including "Year of the Cat," but in recent years he has explored acoustic styles and historical storytelling in his music. He's also a connoisseur and collector of fine wines and is appearing at wineries around the region.

Tickets for each of the three concerts are $25; series tickets may be purchased for $60. If the summer series is a success, van Loben Sels hopes to make music a year-round amenity at Arbor Crest.

"Our primary goal, obviously, is to make great wine and market it across the country," he says. "But we hope to have seating for about 80 in the tasting room, with concerts through the winter months. We want to be the east-side Chateau St. Michelle."

Bear Migration -- It's not that the guys from Minus the Bear don't have jobs -- they just don't want them. "We're trying to make this band our full-time thing so we don't have to work normal jobs," says Jake Snider, singer and guitarist for the band. "We have jobs, but we can ditch them at any time."

So that's what keeps them touring -- to find more fans, and play music that isn't like any other band's.

"We're just trying to make dance-y rock music that people can shake their ass to," he says.

The Seattle-based band will play its first show in Spokane at Club Soda on Saturday; it's also their first gig after a six-date tour through Japan.

Minus the Bear released its first full-length album, Highly Refined Pirates, on Suicide Squeeze Records last November. They've been promoting it ever since and have found that their following came quickly in Seattle, drawing crowds from three of the five members' former bands: Botch, Kill Sadie and Sharks Keep Moving.

"We were all just friends from being in other bands," Snider says. "We just thought it would be fun to do a band together."

Something clicked, and Seattle audiences were soon lining up to hear Minus the Bear's offbeat sound. Drawing talent from Snider's songwriting background, guitarist Dave Knudsen's past metal band, keyboardist Matt Bayles' reputation as a recording engineer, drummer Erin Tate's former punk band and bassist Cory Murchy's bass talent, the band was different from the beginning. When they combined their musical powers, the result was airy, toe-tapping alternative rock -- with a ribbon of jazz, punk and indie spiraling through every song.

"Most of our shows are opening for other bands," Snider says, noting that they have played with national acts like Built to Spill and Cornershop.

After gaining huge support as an opener, they turned their sights toward the national scene and went on tour for the greater part of this year. Their a-little-bit-emo, a-little-bit-indie style hit home with all-ages scenesters across the nation, attracting big crowds in Las Vegas, L.A and New York.

"In some cities, our draw is almost as good as in Seattle," Snider says.

After releasing its five-song 2001 EP, This Is What I Know about Being Gigantic, Minus the Bear was quickly tagged as "math rock" -- which supposedly implies fringe-y and exciting. But last time I checked, math was boring.

So they may have been a band without a genre, but things have become a little clearer on the new album with Dave Knudsen's guitar taps, Snider's breathy vocals and an occasional jam session or electronic beat. All in all, Minus the Bear mimics the style of the more innovative Modest Mouse or the Police -- without Sting, of course. Snider's voice sounds strangely like the guy from Helmet (an early '90s one-hit metal band) and keeps the band's sound jazzy and inventive.

"Everyone has their signature on it," Snider says.

Their songs are emotional, but the band is able to keep a sense of humor. With song titles like "Hey, Wanna Throw Up?" and "You Kill Bugs Good, Man" gracing the new album, you would think Minus the Bear was more like the Aquabats. But the titles are irrelevant. Minus the Bear simply tags their emotion-filled lyrics with funny names. Maybe it's their way of drawing audiences. Whatever it is, these guys are something completely different.

Publication date: 07/24/03

Judy Collins @ Bing Crosby Theater

Tue., Nov. 29, 8 p.m.
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