Jesse Colin Young brings some old-time California spirit back from the islands.
Thursday, September 1, 2005
Putting together a career retrospective is no easy task for Jesse Colin Young.
The guitarist, singer and songwriter is in the midst of a musical odyssey that stretches back more than 40 years, to the heyday of the Americana roots revival in Greenwich Village, where he learned his craft from blues legends such as Lightning Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt.
As the folk movement gave way to the Summer of Love, he was in the center of the action with his band the Youngbloods, which recorded one of the era’s anthems, “Get Together.” And when artists turned their attention to the dangers of nuclear power the following decade, Young was there too, as a galvanizing force behind the 1979 No Nukes concert at Madison Square Garden.
“If we play for two and a half hours we only skim the highlights,” says Young, 63, from his Hawaii home on the Big Island. He performs at Monterey Live on Monday. “It would be wonderful to actually have a show where you have guests who travel with you and sit in for a couple of numbers, but that’s not realistic.”
There have been many other stops along the way, as Young has performed on behalf of numerous righteous causes, often using solar energy to power his concerts. He has played benefits for organizations such as the Dream Foundation and the Kona Pacific Waldorf School, which he and his wife Connie helped to build, and where they both teach music.
It’s been a long satisfying journey, and in recent months Young has had good reason to be look back, as he’s been compiling material for a two-CD album The Very Best of Jesse Colin Young (Artemis Records), which is due in stores on Oct. 4. The album’s executive producer and co-producer is longtime Monterey resident David Bean, whose label BeanBagOne is sub-licensing the material to Artemis.
For his Monterey Live performance—Young’s first public gig in the area since the Monterey Film Festival’s 1987 celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the epochal Monterey Pop Festival—he is performing with a group he calls the Kona All-Stars. The band features bass, percussion, drum set and Connie Young on violin. A classically trained musician, Connie started performing with her husband for the first time about five months ago. She also contributes vocals, filling out the group’s lush three-part harmonies.
“I’ve never had a band with a percussionist and a drummer,” Jesse Colin Young says. “I have no idea what it’s going to sound like. We’ll rehearse for two days and then start playing. It’s the surprise of something new that’s the most fun.”
A resident of Hawaii for the past decade, Young has absorbed a mellow dose of hapa haole. He’s added the ukulele to his arsenal, and always includes several uke pieces in his shows. His most recent album, Living in Paradise, reflects his island environment, with a synthesis of folk blues, reggae, Latin rhythms and Hawaiian slack key guitar stylings.
The Youngs’ decision to relocate to Hawaii was made under less than ideal circumstances. After more than a quarter century in the rural Marin town of Point Reyes, the Youngs lost virtually all of their possessions, including many of his master recordings, when a devastating fire in 1995 swept through the area and reduced their house to ashes.
They had bought a small retreat on the Big Island several years before, and rather than rebuild in Marin they decided to try life in Hawaii. In addition to their full musical lives, the Youngs grow two and a half acres of organic Kona coffee. It seems like a natural progression for a city boy who never gave up on the dream of going back to the land.
“The Youngbloods came out of New York City and we moved to rural Marin,” Young says. “We probably should have been in the city with the Dead and the Airplane, but we were way in west Marin, in the ranching part. Talk about culture shock. That was the beginning of falling in love with the country. Luckily, there’s not a lot to coffee farming except pruning the coffee, which is an art. I can see why farming was something that was passed on from parent to child.”
JESSE COLIN YOUNG AND THE KONA ALL-STARS PLAY MONTEREY LIVE, 414 ALVARADO ST. IN MONTEREY, MONDAY AT 7PM. TICKETS ARE $22 IN ADVANCE AND $24 AT THE DOOR. 646-1415.