Best Cultural Guerillas
Cherri Lakey & Brian Eder
Anno Domini, 366 S. First St., San Jose; 408.271.5155. Not everyone around here knows the names of the duo behind Two Fish Design and the Anno Domini Gallery, but their influence runs deep into the culture of downtown San Jose. To hear their collaborators tell it, they just have a certain way of connecting the right people and making the right suggestions—true visionaries in the local art and music scene. As best evidenced this year by the SubZero Festival they organized, Lakey and Eder simply see possibilities that others can’t, and make them into reality.
Best Vintage El Camino Bar
4141 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650.493.9020. An authentic old-California neighborhood hangout (don’t call it a dive bar), from the cursive-on-stucco signage to the smokers’ patio, Dan Brown’s has all of the basics covered: pool tables, cheap drinks, friendly bartenders. Plus three things that make it the best on the South Bay’s longest block: “Ass-Kicking Chili,” karaoke Thursday and a 10pm-to-midnight happy hour.
Best Place to Talk Cupertino Politics
Paul and Eddies Monta Vista Inn
21619 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino; 408.252.2226. The line on Cupertino is that “there’s no there there.” Well there is, and it’s called Paul and Eddies. Housed in an iconic orchards-era barn of a building, the Monta Vista Inn has a great beer selection—there are 11 micros or importos always on tap—and of course a full bar. But it’s the crowd that makes it one of the west valley’s best.
Best Place to Buy an Accordion
Ace Loan Office
31 Post St., San Jose, 408.295.1488; 199 S. Murphy St., Sunnyvale, 408.739.2530. Accordionismo is alive and well in the valley. The recent national ATG (Accordionists and Teacher’s Guild) conference came to Santa Clara this July, and the Silicon Valley Accordion Society still has monthly meetings. And there’s always hot and sweet norteÃ±a being pumped at bars on Monterey Road and South 13th Street. Acquiring a squeeze box locally is no easy matter—just read the norestforthewicked.biz blog to hear Dax of Corpus Callosum’s own troubles about finding the right instrument. In a pinch, try this venerable downtown pawn shop: because when times are tight, many a player’s main squeeze has “to go to the repair shop” to visit its relatives.
Best Free All-Ages Shows
Streetlight Records appearances
980 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose; 408.292.1404. Wanted to see pale Canadian fritillaries Tegan and Sara, but didn’t have the money to watch them opening for Paramore at the Shark Tank? You could have done what a hundred or two fans did: cut work or school to line up at Streetlight for their recent free matinee: it’s one of the many all ages shows offered during the course of the year. Up and coming is Brightmillion (Sep. 26), Both Cheese (Oct. 10) and Peelander-Z accompanied by the all-girl act TsuShiMaMiRe, Oct. 27.
Best Local Political Band
Los Tigres Del Norte
This immensely hard-working (as hard-working as their audience) local band tours like crazy and sells in the millions, and can play nine hours long at a stretch; their incredible story is now available for the gringos in Alec Wilkinson’s New Yorker article of May 24, 2010. Los Tigres address the paradoxes of the border: tunes about la migra and the drug-smugglers’ lives. Check their hit, the devastating musical Aesop fable “La Granja,” which became a problema molesto (hot potato) when they tried to play it in Mexico City.
Best Urban Uprising
San Jose. The SubZero Festival in June was a turning point for downtown San Jose not just because it brought music and art to the SoFA district, which has always been a hot spot for the newest and most interesting cultural movements in the South Bay. In a bigger way, it answered a larger question about San Jose’s identity, the one that has always nagged at those who live here: What makes this place unique? From the eclectic musical lineup, culminating in what must have been the first ever melding of taiko and hip-hop, to the strange array of art offerings, to the multi-ethnic crowd filling the streets, SubZero did for the South Bay’s cultural rep what the silicon chip did for its industry—provided the spark of innovation and creativity that others will hopefully use as a jumping-off point for a new golden age.
Best Little Music Series That Could
Jazz on the Plazz
West Main Street and Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos. In economic times like these, it’s not easy to pull off any music series, let alone a free one. Yet Los Gatos Music & Arts has managed to bring live jazz music to town for 10 weeks every summer and keep it free. Hard to believe this all started almost 10 years ago when LG Coffee Roasting Company’s Teri Hope was looking to bring music to Plaza Park and KRML jazz radio host Michael Jacobi wanted to start a Wednesday night jazz series. The two joined forces, and they’ve still got great jazz talent every year, plus Branford Marsalis as their artistic adviser, and through their fundraising efforts give generously to Los Gatos groups.
Best Breakout Band
Campbell. Building on the success of their “Very Busy People” single last year, Campbell’s Limousines have had a hell of a year, releasing their first full-length, Get Sharp!, and breaking their second single, “Internet Killed the Video Star” on Bay Area alt-radio and beyond. In the last year, they’ve played the Treasure Island Music Festival and Live 105’s BFD at Shoreline, and have an upcoming gig opening at the Fillmore. Beyond more than just popularity, though, they’ve also provided the current electro-happy, beat-driven generation with its own theme music: “The kids are disco dancing, they’re tired of rock and roll, don’t try to tell ’em that that drum machine ain’t got no soul.”
Best Scenesters to Party in Your Pajamas With
Grand Fanali Presents
San Jose. Two things are guaranteed at a Grand Fanali Presents show. First, integrity: Eric Fanali has been booking local rock bands and bringing touring acts to the local scene for 14 years, in the scene’s best of times and its worst of times. Besides joining forces with the Blank Club recently (to the mutual benefit of both parties), Fanali has continued to work in the South Bay’s music underground, and he has treated both his bands and his audience like the consummate professional. The glowing testimonials from those who’ve had the good fortune to be booked by him, and the South Bay kids (and former kids) who remember “that one show he did” with a sense of awe still in their voice is a tribute to his importance to the music scene. The second thing guaranteed at a GFP show is sheer fun. Fanali just celebrated his remarkable run as a promoter with a pajama party, what else do we need to say?
Best South Bay Scene Queen
Barbara ‘Barb Rocks’ Wahli
San Jose. We can’t take credit for calling Barbara Wahli the queen of the South Bay scene; it was actually a DJ on FCC Free Radio. We’re not even sure it’s a great title for her, as she’s about the farthest thing from a diva we can imagine. But it is admittedly catchier and more glamorous than what we’d say, which is simply that Barbara Wahli is the hardest-working woman in South Bay rock. Not only does she promote Barb Rocks shows all around the South Bay, but she’s also a real advocate for local bands. If she hears something she really likes, she will champion that band, and in a few cases (A Four Star Affair, Drop Dead Sixty, Letters Make Words) even manage them. Her energy is infectious, and her ear for local talent remarkable.
Best Official South Bay Cultural Treasure
Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival artistic director. If great artists hang around long enough, everyone wants to call them a “national treasure.” Hey, there’s plenty of those at this point, we want our own right here in Silicon Valley. And we finally got it, in the form of Linda Ronstadt, who pretty much single-handedly transformed the San Jose Mariachi Festival into something much bigger, and more artistically ambitious. Its name change to the Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival aptly describes what she has elevated it to, not just bringing in big names like Joan Baez and Los Lobos along with the many celebrations of mariachi music, but commissioning this year’s multimedia event “¡Adelita! Women of the Mexican Revolution” and joining with Latino organizations around the state for a series of concerts that, at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment has reared its ugly head in a huge way, assert the critical importance of Latino culture in America.