This tiny Bay Space city is an unlikely hotbed of stay music

Balancing paper plates overflowing with ribs, coleslaw and baked beans, individuals squeeze into rickety picnic desk benches to look at a country-rock band whereas {couples} dance beneath a string of lights. 

When The KillBillies take a break, conversations focus on music. “Are you going to the brand new brewpub after this? They’ve reggae tonight.” “No, thought I would cease by Roxx on Predominant to listen to Duo Gadjo … you already know, the French band?” “Oh, proper … nicely, afterwards meet us at Bar Cava, the Diablo Rhythm Wranglers are enjoying.”

This vibrant music scene isn’t San Francisco, Nashville, New Orleans or Memphis, however certainly one of California’s oldest cities, Martinez. Initially an Italian fishing village, as we speak, it is primarily identified for its oil refineries. Many Bay Space residents are shocked to study town gives excursions of John Muir’s residence, Joe DiMaggio was born right here, it is residence to the most important bocce ball league within the nation, and in line with legend, an enterprising Gold Rush bartender in Martinez created the martini. Extra lately, this East Bay metropolis of 38,000 has remodeled their desolate downtown right into a vacation spot spot for music followers. 

Duo Gadjo at Roxx on Predominant.

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

A view through the window of Roxx on Main, in Martinez. 

A view by way of the window of Roxx on Predominant, in Martinez. 

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Firehouse Brew & Grill

Firehouse Brew & Grill

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Daryel Gheni Dillon of Gheni Band

Daryel Gheni Dillon of Gheni Band

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

At prime, Isabelle Fontaine, left, and Jeff Magidson of the band Duo Gadjo carry out at Roxx on Predominant; Daryel Gheni Dillon of Gheni Band, decrease proper, performs open air on Predominant Avenue in Martinez; the Firehouse Brew & Grill, decrease proper. Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Arguably no different Bay Space metropolis this measurement gives so many venues for bands enjoying simply blocks from one another, amongst them: Roxx on Predominant, Sluggish Hand BBQ, Bar Cava, the Firehouse Brew and Grill, Del Cielo Brewing Co., Nu-Rays Bar, the Campbell Theater and shortly the brand new 5 Suns Brewing.

“It’s commonplace to see not less than three bands in a single night time,” says Jill Scheidel, a so-called “super-fan,” who enjoys selling musicians when she’s not watching their live shows. Molly Blaisdell, who’s from San Francisco however lately moved to Martinez, says she was pleasantly shocked by the quantity of music and the standard of the bands. “You will discover stay music in SF, nevertheless it’s scattered throughout town, not concentrated in a single space like it’s in downtown Martinez.”

All of it started with one man’s dream of showcasing native performers. “I used to be not trying to generate profits. … There have been good bands on the market with no first rate locations to play,” says Martinez native Roy Denims. “SF misplaced a whole lot of artists when the dot-commers got here in and costs went up. Artists moved east, and musicians fell in love with this refinery city. It had selection, not like some close by cities the place everybody seems like a USC cheerleader.” He’s not a musician himself, however Denims “fools round with ukulele,” and he says his father took him to jazz golf equipment in San Francisco, “so I used to be uncovered to good music at an early age.”

In 2003, Denims found {that a} vacant storefront beneath his Martinez condominium had nice acoustics. “There have been no home windows, which makes for a greater sound,” says Denims. Taking a observe from the well-known line within the film “Discipline of Goals” (“in case you construct it, they may come”), he constructed a stage and began what he calls an “underground” music scene. “It was all about music,” says Denims, “not meals or hooking up or cocktails,” though he did serve beer and wine. Sooner or later, Denims says the chief of police noticed him at a espresso store and commented, “I like what you’re doing, however it’s essential get a liquor license.” Denims obliged and chuckles, “Whereas I used to be ready for the license to course of, the police averted my block.”

"It's a similar vibe to Memphis," says musician Maurice Tani regarding the music scene in Martinez.

“It is a related vibe to Memphis,” says musician Maurice Tani concerning the music scene in Martinez.

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Armando’s, named after Denims’ grandfather, who owned a Martinez restaurant earlier than World Warfare II, was an on the spot hit. “Individuals have been crossing the bridge and going by way of the tunnel to listen to stay music in a small venue, with parking solely a block away,” says Denims. One native expertise, Melody Walker, was featured in Rolling Stone journal after she took off for Nashville to jot down songs and carry out with the band Entrance Nation. One other musician, Will Bernard, a stalwart of the Martinez scene, was later nominated for a Grammy.

Quickly, Denims wanted assist reserving bands, so he employed a buddy “who actually is aware of her music,” Eloise Cotton. An area glassblower and jewellery designer, she met Denims at California State College Chico artwork courses 50 years in the past, and he satisfied her to maneuver to Martinez.

Cotton introduced in heavyweights, together with Maria Muldaur, Pete Escovedo, Jeff Tamelier from Tower of Energy and Starship, Mighty Mike Schermer and Dan Hicks and his Sizzling Licks. “Dan performed right here 4 occasions,” says Denims. “He beloved the place. He refused a number of cash from file labels as a result of the contracts required performing in huge arenas.” 

Paying attention to Armando’s success, close by eating places and breweries started constructing phases. “The best way to attract individuals is to herald a band,” says Denims. “One of the best music is stay music, not on TV. It is like fireworks, you must see it in particular person.” Neighboring cities started competing for this viewers. Marty Duvall, music curator for Lucca’s Beer Backyard in Benicia, stated the bridge between Martinez and Benicia was a psychological barrier. He did some street testing and got here up with the slogan, “Acquired 12 minutes? Go get some stay music!” and “Downtown to downtown, door-to-door in 12 minutes flat.”

Gerry Griffin, owner (and magician) of the California Magic Club in Martinez.

Gerry Griffin, proprietor (and magician) of the California Magic Membership in Martinez.

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

The historic storefronts in downtown Martinez at the moment are a mixture of eating places, breweries, wine bars, espresso outlets, vintage shops, a brand new meals corridor known as Market & Predominant and a contact of Hollywood glamour on the California Magic Membership. Every night, host Gerry Griffin dons a tuxedo and opens a purple velvet rope for visitors who dine on a three-course meal whereas watching skilled magicians, usually visiting from the well-known Magic Citadel in Los Angeles.
Proper earlier than the COVID-19 shutdown, Armando’s misplaced its lease, however the bands performed on as a result of most eating places had outside patios and town closed Predominant Avenue to visitors, turning the downtown into an enormous outside cafe with stay music. “Individuals got here from everywhere in the Bay Space as a result of it was one of many few locations with leisure,” says Paul Cotruvo with the band Huge Jangle. “It was like New Orleans,” he laughs. 

Rob Schroder, who has been the Martinez mayor for 20 years, says he moved right here from Walnut Creek three many years earlier as a result of he was impressed with town’s potential. “Nice bones, historical past, the water and all of the outside areas. I name it ‘Mayberry with an edge.'”

Mayor Rob Schroder. Mayor for almost 20 years.

Mayor Rob Schroder. Mayor for nearly 20 years.

Lance Yamamoto

Roxx on Main.

Roxx on Predominant.

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Del Cielo Brewing Company

Del Cielo Brewing Firm

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

At left, Martinez mayor Rob Schroder; Roxx on Predominant, prime proper, and Del Cielo Brewing Firm, backside proper, are two native venues providing stay music in downtown Martinez. Pictures by Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Along with Armando’s, he credit a compulsory earthquake retrofit for growing the downtown. Somewhat than paying for costly upgrades, he says many landlords offered their buildings to younger individuals who opened wine bars, espresso home and breweries. “There’s a whole lot of new vitality,” says Schroder. 

“Twenty years in the past, we predicted the downtown could be the subsequent Sausalito, and now it is lastly taking place,” says Lesley Stiles, who owns Roxx on Predominant. “So many younger persons are shopping for properties in Martinez as a result of they can not afford elsewhere, and so they’re revitalizing town. On weekends, you see younger {couples} strolling from a brewpub to a wine bar to a restaurant, listening to music in each spot.” 

“It is a related vibe to Memphis,” says musician Maurice Tani. “I do not know if being on the river has something to do with it, however like Memphis, it is a welcoming place for any sort of music: Latin, nation and rock. It is a small scene however extraordinarily nicely supported by locals and town.” 

That patronage has not gone unnoticed by musicians who give again to the neighborhood by way of the Martinez Music Mafia. Chris Bryant, or CB, who performs within the GarageLand Rodeo band, says a few dozen years in the past, a gaggle of fellow musicians sitting round in an outdated guitar store got here up with the thought of beginning a membership just like the Frank Sinatra Rat Pack. “Music brings individuals collectively” is their motto, and the objective was selling native performers in addition to elevating funds for these in want.

“There are little charities on the town that wrestle day-after-day,” says Bryant, “so the Martinez Music Mafia focuses on serving to the native meals financial institution, shelter and homeless coalitions.” Over the previous 13 years, the Martinez Music Mafia has contributed roughly $30,000 to the neighborhood. 

Chris "cb" Bryant, musician and founder of Martinez Music Mafia.

Chris “cb” Bryant, musician and founding father of Martinez Music Mafia.

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Regardless of the inflow of holiday makers, Martinez retains its small-town ambiance. Musician Bruce “Jackknife” Campbell says, “I used to be in a restaurant the opposite day and forgot my pockets. They stated, ‘No drawback, we all know you are good for it.'”

Denims, who’s actively in search of a brand new music venue, provides, “They don’t make small cities anymore, and we’ve bought the true deal.” Mayor Schroder agrees, calling the downtown “a time capsule.” 

“It’s turning into an increasing number of appreciated,” says Denims, “as a result of expertise is taking up all the things.” For town of Martinez, the antidote to that sort of cultural shift is an old style live performance.

Ruth Carlson is a contract journey author and the creator of “Secret California: A Information to the Bizarre, Great, and Obscure.”

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