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Published: 2007/06/10
by Joy Rosenberg

The Of Course Festival, Bayside Grange, Bayside, CA- 5/5

Of course it had been raining for an entire week, yet on Saturday, May 5th, the sky was clear and sunny. Of course the cinco de mayo celebration at the Bayside Grange near Arcata was flanked by fields of grazing sheep and a view of the ocean. Of course there was a woman serving strawberry shortcakes out of the back of her van in the parking lot. Northern California appears to be under a magical spell at times, and this was one of them, as homegrown, local bands put the groove down earlier this month in a celebration of life, family, and music.

Passion Presents was ambitious when it planned the cinco de mayo Of Course festival, which began at 2 p.m. and didn't end until midnight on the dot. Jammers Sound Trek opened the afternoon, unfortunately to a mostly empty room. Next were the hard rock funk jams and hit-below-the-belt lyrics of Full Sun. It's hard not to relate to a song that laments "two steps forward; three steps back." After an amp caught fire and prematurely ended the set, the festival persisted and up next was an acoustic set by guitarist Chris Nance, who played a few more obscure Johnny Cash covers.

The light show got going just as psychedelic reggae rebel rockers Mobile Chiefing Unit took the stage with some serious jam engine tunes that really got the room dancing. Later, Michael Beck of MCU joined Chris Nance for another song as the crowd began to fill up the room. The dark funk, metal-edged Steve Watts Band tore it up with some experimental sounds and a guest accompaniment by sax player Chris Noonan of MooGot2. They were followed by the forceful Ishedube & Massagana, who ushered their audience into the evening with a sundown set of positive reggae.

I had seen the blue "Keep Tahoe Seductive" stickers on the bumpers of trucks filling up the parking lot as the afternoon wore on, so it was no surprise when Blue Turtle Seduction took the stage. Standing in the front row during a Blue Turtle Seduction set is like experiencing the Doppler effect of a train carrying a barbershop quartet out of Texas, through Jamaica, and into Eastern Europe. Their original sound is a high-energy mix of bluegrass and funk with a reggae beat, a country twinge, turbo fiddle and a pan flute. A neon blue glowstick in the shape of a turtle bounced around the first few rows, as if it were swimming along with the music.

The Of Course festival, with its strong family vibe and seamless production, was about as down home as it gets, showcasing some of northern California's purest local musicians. Passion Presents promoter Steve Watts said the show "served as a reminder of the commonality among the musicians, their cause, and the progress towards their goals." Completely grassroots and free of corporate sponsorship, it took me back to a time of more carefree days, smaller festivals, and personal connection to the talent on stage.

On our way to Redwood National Park the day after the festival, my caravan stopped near a prairie to get a better look at some elk that were grazing. We stopped the cars for a moment and I noticed some graffiti on an abandoned, dilapidated house that said, "READ MORE."

Of course it did.

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