Media Life: Auburn’s historic State Theater starts booking live shows

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The big, bold neon sign has been bathing Lincoln Way in pastel hues since last summer and work has been taking place inside the State Theater since early this year. You had to know it was only a matter of time before live entertainment returned to the 79-year-old Auburn landmark. That will happen for the first time in a long time April 26 with a performance by The Mitguards, a touring duo from Colorado steeped in roots based Americana music. The building owner, the Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center non-profit organization, is making it a celebration, with a pre-concert reception open to ticket holders preceding the 4 p.m. show start. Concertgoers will take in the show from a portion of The State that has been fitted with a stage and seating since the previous movie theater business left in December. About 120 seats will be available. The Mitguards are a mandolin, guitar and vocals team who will be touring California in late April in support of their new CD release “Something True.” In fact, the CD release party is tonight in Colorado Springs, Colo. Tickets for the Sunday concert will be on sale at the door. They can also be bought in advance at Cherry Records in Auburn or through the Performing Arts Center office at (530) 885-0156. FEST MAY FLY For the past three springs, the Karfluki Fest has added a layer of eclecticity to Auburn’s springtime. Word out of the Oakland-based Karfluki camp is that there will be no festival this year. (Yup, ‘karfluki’ is a made-up word. And in the spirit of things, so is ‘eclecticity’ for that matter). The good news is that Karfluki should be back in 2010. But there’s some so-so news to go with the good and the bad. Karfluki may be coming back at a new location other than Auburn. Organized each year around performances by pioneer Celtic rock band Tempest and held at the Gold Country Fairgrounds, the event has been a quirky change of pace for Auburn. It brought a folk twist to the standard rock fest and plenty of visitors to the area. Much of the excitement was due to the 20-year-old Tempest’s strong regional following. Tempest leader Lief Sorbye and Karfluki organizers made each one of the three festivals special, by featuring a mix of acts but also bringing in performers with strong rock pedigrees. Bands included Big Brother & The Holding Company, It’s A Beautiful Day and Fairport Convention. Karfluki Festival IV is now slated to return some time in the spring of 2010, the event’s Web site says, adding that negotiations are taking place at a number of venues to establish a permanent home location. The roster of potential venues does still include Auburn’s Gold Country Fairgrounds, General Manager Greg Hegwer said. But with the one-year break, it may be harder to get the exact date in 2010 that Karfluki is looking for, he said. The festival was held the first weekend in May last year. This year, the fair already has slotted in the weekend of April 25-26 for the Wild West Stampede and Rodeo. Fast Fridays returns to McCann Stadium May 8 for motorcycle races that continue through September. Hegwer said he does know Karfluki likes the fairgrounds location and it’s just a matter of seeing how it stacks up against nearby contenders like the Nevada City Fairgrounds. KEEP BOOKIN’ And while one festival is gone from the musical landscape, budding musical impresario Scott Holbrook is making things happen at The Ridge in North Auburn. Holbrook is bringing musical acts to what has been a hitherto silent golfer’s refuge. His first foray – providing a preview performance to Party in the Park opening act Kate Gaffney in February – drew a sell-out crowd. He’s followed that up with a performance last Friday by area Western music stalwarts Bob Woods and Gary Campbell. Holbrook, who ends pretty well every conversation with the phrase “Keep smilin’” has set up a third performance at The Ridge. This one will be April 24 and showcase Auburn’s Pete Grant. Grant’s musical muse is played out on a steel guitar and his roots are planted deep in the San Francisco music scene. He was there in the early days of the Haight Ashbury explosion of the 1960s, trading chords with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, cruising down the freeway listening to music on the radio with the Dead’s Jerry Garcia, teaching guitar in San Jose with future Jefferson Airplane members, and even watching the Beatles in concert with Bay Area music legend Skip Spence. Grant would go on to play pedal steel and steel guitar in country-crossover pioneer Hoyt Axton’s band, do session work on several records by major artists, and, finally, end up in Auburn for the past seven years, where he teaches music and continues to perform. That’s just the short version of the Grant file. It doesn’t begin to do Grant’s work justice. Just listen closely to the Grateful Dead’s “Doin’ That Rag” from 1969’s “Aoxomoxoa” LP some time. That’s Grant on pedal steel. Grant will be joined by Nevada City’s Kelly Fleming, who will add guitar and vocals to the mix. CARNEY SIGHTINGS Speaking of the Auburn fairgrounds, American Traveling Shows set up its carnival rides there last weekend after taking part at what’s called Maintenance Mania in the fair world. In case you missed it, Auburn was the place to be for carneys from across California to learn about the latest electronics, carnival equipment and all-important safety innovations. The Southern California carnival company was there with equipment to give carney folk a chance to find out first-hand how rides are put together. Hegwer said American Traveling Shows didn’t want to waste all its work bringing rides in and setting them up so stayed through the weekend and opened everything to the public. The downside to the magnanimous gesture was that it rained almost all weekend, keeping crowds low. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at