High Again 

Eli's returns to active duty

FRI 6/6

When Eli's Mile High Club closed its doors to make way for yet another live-work loft space, it seemed a further sign that the cultural identity of Oakland -- once the center of a vibrant blues, soul, and R&B scene -- had shifted, and not for the better. The club, a fixture in North Oakland since Martin Luther King Jr. Way was called Grove Street, was known as the "Home of the West Coast Blues," a place where both legendary and obscure blues artists often performed, or just dropped in to sample soul food and hear slide guitar. At the old Eli's, the history was as thick as the dust on the walls. Original owner Eli Thornton went out in true blues fashion, shot to death inside the club by a jealous paramour, and pictures of his successor Troyce Key (boogie) chillin' with the likes of John Lee Hooker and B.B. King were everywhere. The blues may have been down, but they are certainly not out. Salvation arrived in the person of Frank Klein, proprietor of SF's Biscuits & Blues nightclub, who bought the place with the intention of restoring its fabled juke-joint glory. Klein painted and remodeled the venue, returned the considerable memorabilia to its rightful place on the walls, and added a modern staging and lighting system. "It's exciting to be reopening the club," he said over the phone from the W.C. Handy Blues Festival in Memphis. Word about Eli's resurrection has already gotten out, he says. "I can't tell you how many artists have heard about it." Blues is "the root of all American jazz and American rock," Klein noted, peppering his conversation with words like "cornerstone" and "heritage." Preserving such a seminal tradition is important, especially in a venue with thirty years of history. "It's almost like a West Coast blues museum, the way we've got it set up," he says.

While blues will remain the club's primary musical focus, Klein plans to venture into funk, soul, and R&B territory. Audience participation is encouraged by Tuesday jam nights, Wednesdays are reserved for B-3 throwdowns, Thursdays have been tapped as a showcase for local blues singers and musicians, and big-name national artists will be featured Fridays and Saturdays. Not only that, soul food and BBQ will be available for hungry music fans, and admission prices will be kept within working-class budget range -- $5 to $10 for most shows. The revitalized Eli's celebrates its grand opening Friday, featuring the powerful roadhouse-style blues of longtime Bay Area favorite Joe Louis Walker. Call 510-655-6161 or check out the June schedule online at www.elisblues.com -- Eric K. Arnold

SAT 6/7

Celt-a-Thon

Shake your shillelagh

"We're different from most Celtic festivals. We focus on music, dance, and living history," says Gayle Wayne of Wee Hand Productions, coproducers of Saturday's Ardenwood Celtic Festival at Fremont's Ardenwood Historic Farm, 34600 Ardenwood Blvd. (10 a.m.-5 p.m.). Plenty of all three at the fest: the inevitable pipers and step dancers, a military parade, Claude the Dragon for the kids, a Victorian ball, and reenactments featuring ancient Romans, Vikings, Jacobites, and Mary Queen of Scots. Info: 510-796-0663 or www.ebparks.org -- Kelly Vance

TUE 6/10

The Chang Dynasty

On the strength of The Rape of Nanking and her earlier Thread of the Silkworm, author Iris Chang has vaulted into the Chinese-American lit-culti hot seat once held by Amy Tan. Chang's ambitious new book, The Chinese in America (Viking, $29.95), attempts to put the complicated history of that much-maligned ethnic group in a narrative framework -- and she's been hitting every bookstore in the Bay Area to promote it. But Chang's Tuesday evening reading at the Fremont Main Library (2400 Stephenson Blvd.) promises to be a little less commercial than the rest. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Info: 510-735-1401. -- Kelly Vance

SAT 6/7

Tomorrowland

The West Contra Costa Unified School District's Bright Futures program presents its second annual Communities Embracing the Future event in Richmond. Starting at 11:45 a.m. with a parade from Nichols Park, the festivities move to the courtyard of the Richmond Memorial Civic Center Plaza where, from noon till 4 p.m., you can peruse food booths and participate in a raffle. Between 1 and 3 p.m., students will perform Mien music, African dance, poetry, hip-hop, and more. 510-222-8814 -- Stefanie Kalem

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