Friday, 16 April 2021

Arts & Life

Barry Brenner. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



UPPER LAKE – The inaugural Blue Wing Blues Festival has successfully joined the ranks of high brow Northern California music events.

Held from Wednesday, July 18, through Saturday, July 21, the event was the brainchild of maverick entrepreneur, Bernie Butcher, whose business savvy enabled him to draw some major talent to the small but mighty town of Upper Lake.

The event was sponsored by a hybrid coalition of business and private entities: KNTI Radio, The Tallman Hotel/Blue Wing Saloon, Remax Realty, and Dale and Jillian Billester.

Opening each night was Barry "Big B" Brenner, born and bred in that bastion of urban blues, Chicago's south side. Brenner is skilled in several sub genre's of the blues. These include Piedmont Rags, Texas Stomp, Atlanta Style and the good ol' Delta Slide. These styles were popularized from the 1920s forward by such iconic legends as Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller and this writer's favorite, Blind Willie McTell.

Brenner's Thursday night set went something like this. On "Highway 61" he utilized expert slide guitar fingerings on his National Steel guitar. For "Midnight Special," his axe of choice was the difficult 12 string guitar. When Big B played Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights" he broke out his 1933 National Steel Trovedor much to the delight of the guitar aficionados in attendance.

Brenner performed "San Francisco Bay Blues" as an up-tempo number and made his 12 string sing like an African banjo in conjunction with a blue banshee. I ain't lyin'!

Other numbers performed by Brenner included "Dust My Broom" written by Elmore James and "Silver Streak" written by Brenner's son. He closed with an original composition, "Steppin' Up & Go," a rouser which set the stage for the Blues Diva of Lake County, Miss Bettie Mae Fikes.

Brenner currently resides in L.A. and hopefully won't be a stranger to these Konocti Shores. For more information on Barry Brenner, visit

Closing the opening evening's festivities was Bay Area Legend Freddie Hughes. Hughes is famous for his hit, recorded in the late 60s, entitled "Send My Baby Back." The single has sold approximately 950,000 thousand units worldwide and as a result Hughes is hugely famous in Europe.

Ditto Upper Lake on Wednesday night. Hughes had the crowd in the cross hairs of his blues gun as he and the Rich Kirch Blues Band cranked out a virtual history of rhythms and blues.

Culling tracks from his soon to be released CD, Absolutue Hughes, Freddie performed such hits as "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You," "Last Two Dollars," "Love Land" and "Broke And Hungry."

His signature song, "Send My Baby Back," was the blues love ballad that brought the lovers in the house to the dance floor.

Rich Kirch is a fixture on the blues scene, most famously through his 13-year association with John Lee Hooker. Kirch has recorded and toured with many greats including Jimmy Dawkins, Jimmy Rodgers, Pinetop Perkins, Greg Allman, Jorma Koukonen, Billy Cox, Junior Wells and Hubert Sumlin.

The Rich Kirch Band consists of Rich Kirch, guitar; Michael Skinner, drums; and Ron Perry on bass.

The headliner on Thursday night was the great Bettie Mae Fikes. Though no longer residing in Lake County, Fikes continues to be our Blues Diva. Alas, now though, we must share her with the world. Blues patrons who frequented the now-defunct Konocti Blues Cafe know what I'm talking about.

A veteran of the Civil Rights movement, Fikes recently lent her chops to the recording of Mavis Staples' latest release, a reworking of those Civil Rights anthems and freedom songs that advanced the cause of the civil liberties that somehow are not paramount to the current administration of executive government. Hmm. Can the blues wax political? Anyway, Staples' new album, on which Bettie Mae contributes, is entitled “We'll Never Turn Back.

The band that backed Fikes included the talented guitarist Levi Lloyd, the great Andre Williams on drums, Ron Perry on bass and Carl Mureco on keyboards.

Tomorrow, Thurman Watts explores more of the great music brought to Upper Lake during the Blue Wing Blues Festival.




The Rich Kirch Blues Band. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



Freddie Hughes performs. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



The Levi Lloyd Band. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



D. Wills of the Levi Lloyd Band. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



Blues diva Bettie Mae Fikes. Photo by Abbye Brenner.






This is not the first time that a movie musical based on a stage musical has its origins in an original non-musical film. While Mel Brooks has no claim on “Hairspray,” it’s still a delightfully light and breezy comedy set to music which belies the musical’s roots in the disturbed mind of cult film director John Waters.

To tap into the zeitgeist of the quirky filmmaker’s predilection for the bizarre, one would only have to watch his classic “Pink Flamingos,” which starred the transvestite Divine in a role that was intended to shock normal sensibilities. In fact, Waters subtitled this film “an exercise in poor taste.”

The visible extent of John Waters’ involvement in this musical version of “Hairspray” is his appropriately funny cameo of a flasher on the streets of Baltimore. It’s a wink to the knowing members of the audience, even more so than having Alfred Hitchcock stroll through a scene in one of his classics.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing in bad taste about “Hairspray” unless you’re offended by the presence of John Travolta in drag, heavily padded by a fat suit so as to be practically unrecognizable. If offense is given, then you’re missing the point of a film which tilts the balance in favor of people who just don’t fit in to the everyday world of Baltimore circa 1962, when the push for integration and social acceptance is taking hold.

At the heart of this movie is a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart. Tracy Turnblad (delightful newcomer Nikki Blonsky), a perky yet chubby teen, bounces out of bed every morning with a passion for dancing. Every day after school, she rushes home with her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) to watch the teen dance TV program, “The Corny Collins Show,” the object of her fantasy. It’s Baltimore’s hippest dance party, but her plus-sized figure sets her apart from the cool crowd and makes her an unlikely contestant. That is, until the day TV host Corny Collins (James Marsden) catches Tracy’s dance moves and finds her irresistible.

At home, Tracy is reminded of her outcast status by her loving but overly protective plus-sized mother Edna (John Travolta), who fears her daughter’s obsession with the TV dance show can only lead to heartache. Edna may be reserved because she hasn’t stepped foot out of the house since 1951.

Tracy’s eccentric dad Wilbur (Christopher Walken), who runs a shop that sells jokes and novelties, is more understanding. At school, Tracy is often in trouble and finds herself the only white student in detention, which proves to be fortuitous because she learns better dance moves from the black students. Of course, Tracy’s ease on the dance floor wins her a spot on “The Corny Collins Show” where she becomes an instant on-air sensation.

The sudden popularity of Tracy Turnblad causes much grief and consternation for the show’s reigning princess, the ice cool blonde beauty Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow). Even worse for Amber, it appears that her boyfriend Link Larkin (Zac Efron) is smitten with Tracy’s charms.

Not to be outdone by her pudgy rival, Amber gets an assist from her scheming mother Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer), the racist TV station manager who only lets blacks show up on the program in a monthly event that is condescendingly billed as “Negro Day.” The bitter Velma stops at nothing to keep the coveted “Miss Teenage Hairspray” crown in the family.

Meanwhile, with help from her school friends and record store owner Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), Tracy becomes the catalyst of social reform by leading an integration march right on to the dance floor. It’s interesting how the serious issues of the early 1960s get wrapped up so neatly in song and dance, but the mission is effectively accomplished without being preachy, thus resulting in a movie both endearing and great fun to watch.

At its core, “Hairspray” is as bouncy as the bubbly Tracy and as goofy as her family members. With musical numbers wonderfully cheery, “Hairspray” is a perfect summer entertainment, full of laughs and an infectious spirit of fun that could put anyone in the mood to dance.

Tim Riley reviews movies for Lake County News.


LAKEPORT The Lake County Arts Council is happy to announce that it will hold a live art auction on Sunday, July 22, at the Main Street Gallery in Lakeport.

This will be in the series of live auctions that was begun last year, of work from the collection of the Arts Council and from private collections.

The series of auctions has been successful in a number of ways. Art lovers with modest budgets got to bring beauty into their homes; artwork that had been languishing forlorn in rarely-visited closets got to please and dazzle once more; space has been cleared in the art storage area of the Gallery; and stored art has been converted into cash to pay for Pastels in the Park and such. And all of these worthwhile things have been accomplished in an atmosphere of friendly but intense interaction.

These auctions are the real thing. They don't have a dinner, silent auctions, entertainment, a guest speaker, or a fashion show. They are not auctioning off a tour to the New Hebrides, nor a two-week stay at the Cato Institute. Just art.

They have paintings in oils, acrylics, watercolors and pastels, prints original and reproduction, photos, weavings and sculpture.

The work to be auctioned will be on display in the back room of the Main Street Gallery on Saturday, July 21, from noon to closing time at 3 p.m. There will be another hour for inspection on Sunday, from noon to 1 p.m., when the auction will commence. The auction will last for about an hour.

There will be a table by the front door where those who want to participate can sign up. There is no charge to sign up to bid. Refreshments will be served to those who are registered. All ages are welcome.

For more information, call or stop by the Main Street Gallery, 325 N. Main Street, Lakeport, telephone 263-6658, or visit the Arts Council Web site at


Rising stars, both overhead and on screen, are the specialty of the Coyote Film Festival sponsored by EcoArts of Lake County.

Before the night sky begins to darken over Langtry Estate and Vineyards (formerly Guenoc Winery) outside Middletown,  picnickers gather with their hampers of food to claim tables under a lush arbor of trumpet vine. The tasting room is open to dispense free tastes and paid glasses to take to the picnic table or to cloths spread on the lawn.

Some moviegoers bring in their mattresses, pillows and folding chairs to set up cozy encampments. And many settle for metal chairs, perhaps with a cushion or blanket to pad the seat.

The festival, now in its second year, is Karen Turcotte's dream come true. Regulars who attended last year's movies observed improvements – a better sound system, a bigger screen.

Turcotte scouts other festivals and their winners for promising films to show on Coyote's 20-foot screen. The skies provide their own show; last weekend, the crescent of a first-quarter moon, and once the passage of the space station.

Last weekend's program featured Jennifer Brett Winston's debut ocumentary film, “Fisher Poets,” a 42-minute reverie centered on the Fisher Poet Gathering, which started in Astoria, Washington, in 1998.

Sometimes moving in its nostalgia over the passing of an era of  independent fishermen and women, sometimes sparkling with light-hearted fun, “Fisher Poets” took six years to make.

Winston, who attended last weekend's festival, got started with National Geographic television, has produced documentaries for CBS, Discovery, A&E, Court TV, The History Channel, WNET (New York), TLC, and VH1. She and her team have won Emmy's for The Learning Channel's "Flight 93" (2002), and the Discovery Channel's "Jerusalem: City of Heaven" (1998).

Work on the last introduced her to famed documentarian Albert Maysles,  who is credited as a consultant on “Fisher Poets”. She said much of the film was produced with in-kind contributions of talent, which kept the cost at about $75,000, far below what it would have been with a paid crew.

It has been featured at San Francisco Independent Film Festival, at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev.,  and at film festivals in court, Townsend, Washington, Martha's Vineyard, Woods Hole and Dubrovnik.

The poetry of Billy Collins, former United States poet laureate and now poet laureate of the state of New York, was another highlight of last weekend's Coyote films, set to animation by Betsy deFries of Little Fluffy Clouds Production and Eun-Ha Paek of Milky Elephant Productions.

Comfortable, casual clothes in layers are recommended, as evenings can grow cool. Mosquito repellent may or may not be needed. Popcorn and bottled water are for sale, and the tasting room remains open during the films.

The Coyote Festival helps support EcoArts sculpture walk, now on display at Middletown County Trailside Park, with 35 works along the trail.

More films on this year's schedule will be shown August 17 and 18  and September 14 and 15. Admission is $12 general, $6 for children 12 and younger. Tickets are available from 7 p.m. until dusk, when the films begin.

The Langtry Estate and Vineyards are at 21000 Butts Canyon Road, Middletown.


E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Frankie J (left) leads Real Deal. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

LAKE COUNTY – The Summer Concerts in the Park have consistently gotten better each week, and this week's concert featuring Real Deal was the best yet.

Take great weather – 83 degrees with a light breeze – add some great music and toss in an estimated 2,000 people and you wind up with a great show in Library Park.

Real Deal opened with an extended rendition of a Booker T and the MGs hit before they rolled and rocked right on through a couple dozen Motown hits. The music brought hundreds of people to the dance lawn and kept them there until the party spilled onto the parking lots around Library Park.



Real Deal took these Motown and R&B classics and stretched them out while adding just enough new funk to them to give them a newer, more distinct sound, but never wavering too far from the familiar.



James Browns, Stevie Wonder, the great Ray Charles and Chuck Barry were just a handful of the original artists this group of four Nor Cal musicians draws on to entertain audience.



Real Deal's lead guitarist gave the crowd a very convincing Chuck Barry impression. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


Friday's concert draw the largest and most animated crowd of the summer concert series so far. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

Barry Brenner will be among the headliners at this week's Blue Wing Blues Festival in Upper Lake. Courtesy photo.


UPPER LAKE – This week, a new event is coming to Upper Lake with the inaugural Blue Wing Blues Festival.

Freddie Hughes, Bettie Mae Fikes, Mike Wilhelm and Frankie Lee will be featured vocalists during four evenings of world-class blues music in the open air garden setting of the Tallman Hotel and Blue Wing Saloon in Upper Lake, from Wednesday, July 18 through Saturday, July 21.

Hotel and Saloon owner Bernie Butcher organized the show, which is co-sponsored by local radio station KNTI-FM 99.5.

The Blue Wing Blues Festival starts each evening at 5:30 p.m. with a set from the great finger-style, steel string blues guitarist Barry “Big B” Brenner, followed by the headliner of the evening. The Blue Wing Saloon will be serving a tasty barbecue dinner with the show. The cost for the show and dinner is $25.

The festival opens on July 18 with Freddie Hughes launching his new CD on the BluesExpress label.

Born and raised in Berkeley, Hughes has performed world-wide since his first hit single in 1970 and has appeared with such greats as Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Etta James.

Hughes will be backed by the Rich Kirch Blues Band. A Chicago native, Kirch moved to the Bay Area in 1988 at the invitation of the late, great John Lee Hooker and played with Hooker on tours around the world for 13 years. He and his band have backed Freddie Hughes, Kathi McDonald and many others in recording sessions over the years.

Although Bettie Mae Fikes now lives in Los Angeles, she is well known in Lake County from her regular appearances at the Konocti Blues Café. Born in Selma, Alabama, Fikes was active in the Civil Rights Movement, beginning her singing career with the SNCC Freedom Singers and performing at the 1964 Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City and again at the 40th anniversary convention in 2004.

Fikes has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall, Newport Jazz Festival, the Library of Congress, and numerous blues festivals. She will be backed by a band organized by Nice resident Robert Watson, who played lead guitar with James Brown until Brown’s death last year.

Friday evening belongs to two popular groups that have appeared regularly at the Blue Wing Saloon/Café during its weekly “Monday Blues” sessions. The Lake Blues All-Stars feature guitarist Jim Williams, bass player Jon Hopkins, and Mike Wilhelm, who is featured on guitar and vocals.

Known for his adroit finger picking and bottomless baritone, Wilhelm has a long and varied music history stretching from the Summer of Love in San Francisco to the Blue Wing Blues Festival 40 years later. Friday will conclude with a high-energy set from Twice as Good, featuring the popular father and son duo of Rich and Paul Steward.

The grand finale of the festival on Saturday will feature BluesExpress recording artist Frankie Lee, whose appearance in Lake County is being co-sponsored by ReMax Realty.

From his humble beginnings in rural Texas, Lee moved from gospel music in the Baptist Church to his life-long love affair with the blues. His career took off in the early 1960s when he was invited to join the Ike and Tina Turner Review as a featured vocalist in their traveling road show. Since then, Lee and his band have traveled world-wide and most recently released a popular CD called “Here I Go Again.”

For more information visit the Blue Wing Saloon Web site at, telephone 275-2233.




Guitar legend and Lake County resident Mike Wilhelm and the Blues All-Stars play on Friday. Courtesy photo.



Upcoming Calendar

04.17.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Saturday market
04.20.2021 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Mendocino National Forest virtual open house
04.20.2021 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Mendocino National Forest virtual open house
04.23.2021 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
County library technology class
04.24.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Saturday market
04.24.2021 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Drug Take Back Day
05.01.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Saturday market
05.01.2021 1:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Park Study Club afternoon tea fundraiser
05.02.2021 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
WAMMY Jazz Quintet

Mini Calendar



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