Wonder Valley California

Telling lies and spilling whiskey on the floor

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Campfire Tales, Brilliance and Passion in the Mojave

Wonder Valley is a rather small place in a big vast desert. For it's size it sure has it's share of talent. The spotlight this week is a man of great talent but that's not what I want to examine here. What I want to talk about is drive and passion. In my little corner of the world passion is far and away what I admire most about someone.

Each time I go to our local entertainment and social hangout here also known as the Palms Restaurant I am greeted with the smiling face of the fellow we know and love as Kev. Kevin Bone is bar keep, cruise director, actor, theatre director, festival coordinator and master promoter and an all around good guy who's passion (remember that word) always amazes me.

So, all that said, lets sit around the virtual campfire and chat about Kev's Campfires, a new reoccurring production that is as unique as it is brilliant. Picture this... The back room at a Mojave roadhouse, pitched mountain tent, a roaring fire, 3 microphones a few guitars, a keyboard and three talented singer-songwriters telling stories and singing songs. Add to that S'mores and mulled wine and one is smack dab in the middle of Kevin's passion.  You see, Kevin's passion is providing our little town with unique entertainment that gives you that warm feeling in your soul. For that he deserves not only your thanks but your admiration as well.

The singer's campfire is something Kevin says he's been wanting to do for a while. I'm glad he got around to it at Christmas time because it fits right in like turkey and dressing with a side of mashed taters and gravy on a gold winter's night. As I listened to the songwriters apply their trade, a double Southern Comfort in hand,  I reflected on my time in town known to be the Live Music Capital Of The World. In my ten years in Austin I never saw anything like Kevin's crafty little songs around the campfire brilliance.  The reason for that is a lack of the passion that Kevin is blessed with. Three good performers and a fantastic idea made for some pretty cool stuff on a cold, damp but starlit evening out in the middle of nowhere. The big city has nothing on Wonder Valley and a lot of that is because they don't have a Kevin Bone.

And with that friends here is a taste of what you missed or had the pleasure of experiencing.

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Ode To The Pack Rats

Here's to all those pack rats I battled all year. You were a worthy adversary and I respect your tenacity and lust for life. May you rot in hell.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Succulents (An evening of small, juicy theatre) at the Palms Restaurant

Many years ago in Washington, D.C. I started a theatre website called DC Theatre Scene mainly to report on and promote local, smaller theatre companies. DC is the third largest theatre town in the country behind New Your and Chicago.

Since moving to our community slightly over two years ago I am finally getting back into writing and involving myself into music and local theatre. 

Succulents is my first foray into theatre criticism in the hi desert and I could not ask for a better opportunity to apply words of praise to a few pieces of original writing and spirited performances.

I have always felt that small intimate theatre productions are by far the most enjoyable for me. I've experienced Broadway, attended lavish productions at the Kennedy Center and the Shakespeare Theatre but my true love is fledgling theatre company productions in small black box spaces. Succulents is such a production.

First, a bit about the space. The Palms is a local bar, restaurant and community meeting place in Wonder Valley, California. Theatre performances take place in a large room behind the bar.  Limitations of such a space exist of course. The bar noise is omnipresent but manageable and not all seating faces the stage. That is where the limitations end and the intimacy shines.  The sense of community and positive vibes overtake any limitations that exist and the audience becomes part of the production in a meaningful way.

"Succulents" is a series of short pieces all written, directed and performed by local writers, actors and directors. 

The evening started with poignant tunes by Steve Jensen and his piano and served as a perfect pairing for the evening's theatre performances.

"Woman of a Certain Age -- Dating" was first up, a smart, funny piece about the complexities and quirkiness of dating later in life by Catherine Gurbaxani.  The age old dilemma of how to find satisfying relationships in a superficial world always makes for good comic relief and usually, as in this case, also brings introspective analysis on the human condition. Catherine nailed it!

"Match", my favorite piece of the evening explores a couple with a date in the works that is in a session with a relationship counselor before the actual first date . Oh, the possibilities of such a scenario! The absurdities of such a premise make for a lively back and forth between two middle aged singles and a relationship counselor.  It's no surprise of course that once they just put aside the pressures of a first date they realize all the worry and stress was silly and useless. Kevin Bone shined in this one as did Celene de Miranda.  

"The First Trip" by Christopher Schoonover was a look back at a mother and son road trip.  The complexities of the relationship and stressors of road trips in general make for an interesting thought piece.  How to deal with an aging parent is something no one is ever prepared for but a flat on a dark desert highway provides an opportunity for the narrator to see the value of simple human kindness we all many times take for granted. 

No Hard Feelings Improv Group brought a comic interlude ala whose line is it anyway.  I need to experience far more of them in the future.

"Women of a Certain Age -- The Doctors Office" was a quirky look at not only the frustrating experience of the doctor's office waiting room but also being a care giver for an aging parent all while juggling the demands of divorce and dating. Celene de Miranda was simply flawless in her performance.

Truth Hurts is part deux of the First Trip and serves as a reminder of why we should always cherish any time with a loved one no matter how frustrating it might seem at the time because life can change with the blink of an eye. Christopher Schoonover is someone I would love to hear more from.

"The Play With No Actors" written and directed by Kevin Bone was a cold script reading that turns into murder as the director comically pursues her dream of performing ALL the parts. This piece was certainly the most difficult to pull off in the confined space but turned out splendidly. 

What I came away with from my evening with"Succulents" was small intimate theatre will continue to be my favorite form of theatre performance. I look forward to more from these talented folks and the potential they possess.

The actors:
Catherine Gurbaxani
Heather Clisby
Celene de Miranda
Kevin Bone
Christopher Schoonover
Steve Jensen

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Cosmic Holiday Tunes

It's that time of year.... When all the elves and creepy Santas with bloodshot eyes and Cuban cigars visit the Hi Desert to help moms and dads with spirit laced eggnog and festive baked goods. Yes it's time for my top holiday videos of the not so traditional Perry Como type.

Because what are the holidays without some Glimmer Twins magic?

Merle is one of my favorite performers of all time.  He does a holiday song right. Now if we just make it through December.

Hey ho! Let's go with the coolest punk band ever! This is tied with Fairytale Of New York by the Pouges but Ramones win because they are all related (sly grin).

Space Kacey is just brilliant and my kinda kooky. Catch her new record if you can.

Ah Willie! He may not smoke pot anymore but can sure sing a holiday tune. Not Santa but a red headed stranger.

Old Bob!  The original folk icon. Sing us some holiday magic man.

Alice is the king of freaky horror rock stars. He makes an excellent bad Samta. No snakes in this one.

Linda, not a better voice in popular music in my humble cosmic opinion.

And we close it out with Miss Emmylou. Sings like a bird ol' Gram once said.

Thanks for listening and have a super holiday season!

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Artist Spotlight -- Kaz Murphy

Ronnie: Kaz Murphy, what do you love about music?

Kaz: I love how music is ethereal and literally pulled out of thin air, and how just by chance, and by taking chances, alchemy can be established that creates the possibility of making a sound, or sounds, or sounds with words, that has the potential to be brutally or beautifully powerful.

Ronnie: I totally agree..

Kaz: I remember some years back, I was asked to play at a wedding, and the bride wanted me to cover John Denver's “Country Roads.”  I thought the song was OK, catchy,  but never really cared that much for it or followed John Denver as far as that goes.  So as I was giving it my first run through, I came to the bridge where it goes to E minor with the words “I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me,” and I just broke down crying.  And I don't mean getting a little teary, I mean, I balled like a baby for several minutes.  The first thing I thought was, oh, that must be why John Denver is John Denver.  Honestly, I had no idea why I was crying like that.  So I took a deep breath, sat up straight, tried it again, and boom, hit that same part in the bridge and cried all over again.  It took me two or three days of playing that song to finally get through it without crying.

I guess that's the kind of power I”m talking about.  For some reason, that coincidental combination of words and music brought something out of me that I couldn't explain, even to this day.  It wasn't nostalgic crying, it was completely random., and it has always stuck with me.

Ronnie: That's extremely powerful Kaz, how would you describe your music to my readers?

Kaz: I'm a singer songwriter with leanings towards folk and country.  Hell, I guess you could say I'm a folk singer.  I was raised in South Jersey, and there is a really thriving folk scene that bleeds over into Philly, and I grew up writing and performing in that arena.  Once I've landed on a subject I always look for one line or one word that really jumps out at you in an attempt to make the song unique and fresh.  For a song to work for me, I either need to get chills, tears or get light headed when writing it. 

Ronnie:  What venues do you like to play up here? I know you're living down the hill in Desert Hot Springs.

Kaz: So far I've played Lander's Brewery, Palms Restaurant and Joshua Tree Saloon.  They're all different and all great.  Looking forward to playing more venues and events this coming year.

Ronnie: All songwriters seem to have a process, what's yours?

Kaz: It can go two ways, Ronnie, sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the lyrics.  When the music comes first it includes chords and melody for the vocals.  Sometimes lyrics will come right away, other times, I just put the music in my roster (which probably has over 100 song ideas at any given time) and wait and see what happens.  Maybe a few months later I'll come up with a title or a line and think, oh, that might fit that music I recorded back yonder.  I'll pull up the song and start piecing together from there.
If the lyric comes first, again, the music might quickly follow or I just put those lyrics in my roster and eventually if I feel the lyric or idea is strong enough, some music will come to me, I look up those lyrics and put it all together.

Ronnie: What are you working on lately?

Kaz: Besides writing new songs and working on placing some of them, I'm working on a sound for my upcoming album.  I don't want to say too much about what that exactly is, let's just say it will come to be known as the Desert Hot Springs Sound. 

Ronnie: I like that!  DHS will be right there with Bakersfield. 

Ronnie: Which of your songs is your favorite?

Kaz: Good question, Ronnie.  I guess right now, one of my favorite is off of the “Ride Out The Storm” album and it is called “All I Wanna Do Is Work.”  It has a kind of slave chant in it, and that chant has become a sing along staple at a lot of the shows.  It feels good to get folks to sing, and even though many are hesitant to do it, once they do, it's a good thing.

Ronnie: Do you think music can be a force for change?

Kaz:  I certainly do, and I've seen it happen.  My song “When People Come Together” is a force for change.  I have played it at Democratic conventions, and it is possibly going to be part of larger picture in the upcoming election but I'm not at liberty to talk about that right now.  I'll let you know if it happens.

Ronnie:  Who are your musical heroes?

Kaz: Speaking of force for change, one of my all time favorite singer songwriter's is Phil Ochs.  He started with protest songs and for a time back in the mid to late 60s he was almost on par with Dylan.  When the war was over he started branching out into different sounds and ideas that were astounding and breath taking to hear.  He will always be way up there on my list.

Just as a last note, I have many musical heroes, but as a rule, I have always been much more taken by novelists and authors, than I have by musicians.   I am just so stunned when I read a  perfectly executed novel.  It almost seems impossible to do and that humbles me in a big way.  And I usually get more inspiration from books than I do from other songs.  Sound weird?  Sorry about that, chief.

Ronnie: Not weird at all!  As I interview folks I find songwriters draw inspiration from so many places.  Kaz, it's been great talking with you, see you down the hill or up the Yucca grade soon.