Although we in the East Bay may be a smidge bigger than a one-horse town and a tad more liberal than the Lone Star State of Texas, that doesn't mean we don't like our country music. As far left and west as you can get across this big ol' country of ours, the tumbleweeds got stuck somewhere outside Reno and the coyotes are hard to hear over the blaring sounds of perpetual traffic. So who are these rough-and-ready Yanks that prefer the sound of C&W over, say, something played without real instruments? Take a quick meander down the old 880 to the town of Fremont, where Wednesday through Saturday you can hear whiskey tales and amplified fiddles pour into the night sky, thick as the cream on top of the dairy barrel ... or some other cliché. Just like the story says, it's about life, it's about liquor, and it's about time y'all heard about the Saddle Rack -- the only place to see a decent country act between the Turlock fairgrounds and the seedy little rest spot of Clear Lake. Line-dance lessons, a mechanical bull, and a fully stocked bar might make it easy to mistake it for a scene from Urban Cowboy -- recall Travolta in his tight dungarees and canyon-deep chin cleft? And sure, what's lasting about country music are its unchanged values and familiar sound. But what's hot now is the influx of young new talent that makes the hackneyed lyrics somehow seem totally updated, timely, and whip-smart. There's also a fresh new attitude that self-proclaimed "redneck woman" Gretchen Wilson calls "country music without prejudice." Well, it's something to work toward.
Recent Saddle Rack acts like Aussie country girl Jamie O'Neal and 2002 ACM winner Phil Vassar fired things up in October, and American Idol favorite Josh Gracin drove 'em wild with his smash hit "I Want to Live." Most nights you'll find hard-working house band Appaloosa giving the crowd something to cheer about with its unique blend of country, rock, and funk. As Toby Keith says: "I like this bar."
42011 Boscell Rd., Fremont. 21 and over. 510-979-0477 or TheSaddleRack.com-- Justine Nicole
Heaven bless pop-punk. As long as young men have testosterone to spare but hearts that ache to break, and beer makes it easier for everyone to sing and jump around, the exuberance of four chords and gruffly melodious singing will continue to rule certain days. Take this Saturday, for instance, when Denver outfit Roper invades Cornerstone Fellowship, 348 N. Canyons, Livermore (okay, so maybe you should forget what we said about the beer) with Dead in the Water as back-up. Roper features members of Five Iron Frenzy, Divit, Black Black Ocean, and Brave Saint Saturn, and they're not afraid to tip a hat to the '80s -- that pet decade of the '00s -- with periodic synth parts and a song titled "1985." $7 in advance, $10 at the door. 925-447-3465.-- Stefanie Kalem
So Where Are All the Dikes?
The East Bay has acquired a reputation for being an artists' colony over the past few years, with creative types -- always long on ideas but short of cash -- fleeing SF for EB's cheap-rent industrial flatlands, but Dutch Boy Studios is the daddy of them all. Established in 1978 and operating continuously in a converted factory on the corner of San Leandro Street and 47th Avenue, the complex houses studios and a gallery space for a wide variety of painters, sculptors, glass blowers, furniture designers, sound and video artists, etc. Dutch Boy's Winter Exhibition and Open Studios start Saturday at 1 p.m., with music till late. Info: 510-533-3775.-- Kelly Vance
Pros and Congo
Fill yourself up on the sights, sounds, and stories of the Congo Saturday night at Ashkenaz. At 8 p.m. filmmaker Tom Weidlinger (Dreams of Hanoi) will show his latest work, Heart of the Congo, wherein he tells the story of European aid workers helping Congolese refugees rebuild after five years of civil war, facing myriad obstacles three hundred miles from the nearest paved road. At 9:30, Congolese singer-guitarist Samba Ngo takes the stage with upbeat melodies, strong, spirited vocals, and thoughtful words. Admission costs $15, and Ashkenaz is located at 1317 San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley. Call 510-525-5054 for venue details.-- Stefanie Kalem
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