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

Balancing paper plates overflowing with ribs, coleslaw and baked beans, folks squeeze into rickety picnic desk benches to observe 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 might cease by Roxx on Predominant to listen to Duo Gadjo … , the French band?” “Oh, proper … properly, 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 one in every of California’s oldest cities, Martinez. Initially an Italian fishing village, in the present day, it is primarily recognized for its oil refineries. Many Bay Space residents are stunned to be taught the town gives excursions of John Muir’s dwelling, Joe DiMaggio was born right here, it is dwelling to the biggest bocce ball league within the nation, and in accordance with legend, an enterprising Gold Rush bartender in Martinez created the martini. Extra not too long ago, 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 via 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 outside on Predominant Road in Martinez; the Firehouse Brew & Grill, decrease proper. Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Arguably no different Bay Space metropolis this dimension 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 common to see at the very least 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 concert events. Molly Blaisdell, who’s from San Francisco however not too long ago moved to Martinez, says she was pleasantly stunned by the quantity of music and the standard of the bands. “Yow will discover dwell music in SF, nevertheless it’s scattered throughout the 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 seeking to become profitable. … There have been good bands on the market with no respectable locations to play,” says Martinez native Roy Denims. “SF misplaced a variety 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, in contrast to some close by cities the place everybody seems to be 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 under his Martinez house had nice acoustics. “There have been no home windows, which makes for a greater sound,” says Denims. Taking a word from the well-known line within the film “Subject of Goals” (“when you construct it, they’ll 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 to get a liquor license.” Denims obliged and chuckles, “Whereas I used to be ready for the license to course of, the police prevented 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 relating to the music scene in Martinez.

Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

Armando’s, named after Denims’ grandfather, who owned a Martinez restaurant earlier than World Battle II, was an immediate hit. “Folks had been crossing the bridge and going via the tunnel to listen to dwell 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 pal “who actually is aware of her music,” Eloise Cotton. A neighborhood glassblower and jewellery designer, she met Denims at California State College Chico artwork lessons 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 instances,” says Denims. “He beloved the place. He refused numerous cash from file labels as a result of the contracts required performing in huge arenas.” 

Being attentive to Armando’s success, close by eating places and breweries started constructing levels. “The best way to attract folks is to herald a band,” says Denims. “The very best music is dwell music, not on TV. It is like fireworks, it’s important to see it in particular person.” Neighboring cities started competing for this viewers. Marty Duvall, music curator for Lucca’s Beer Backyard in Benicia, mentioned the bridge between Martinez and Benicia was once a psychological barrier. He did some highway testing and got here up with the slogan, “Bought 12 minutes? Go get some dwell 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 referred to 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 company 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 out of doors patios and the town closed Predominant Road to visitors, turning the downtown into a large out of doors cafe with dwell music. “Folks 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 Massive 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 the town’s potential. “Nice bones, historical past, the water and all of the out of doors 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 dwell music in downtown Martinez. Images by Lance Yamamoto/Particular to SFGATE

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

“20 years in the past, we predicted the downtown can be the following 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 cannot afford elsewhere, they usually’re revitalizing the 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 properly supported by locals and the town.” 

That patronage has not gone unnoticed by musicians who give again to the group via the Martinez Music Mafia. Chris Bryant, or CB, who performs within the GarageLand Rodeo band, says a couple of 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 folks 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 by 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 group. 

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 tourists, 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 mentioned, ‘No downside, we all know you are good for it.'”

Denims, who’s actively searching for a brand new music venue, provides, “They don’t make small cities anymore, and we’ve received the actual deal.” Mayor Schroder agrees, calling the downtown “a time capsule.” 

“It’s changing into increasingly appreciated,” says Denims, “as a result of expertise is taking up every thing.” For the town of Martinez, the antidote to that sort of cultural shift is an old school 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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