Katherine Sawyer 

21 Grand celebrates nonprofit status

It's tough to be noncommercial and still pay the bills in today's dog-eat-dog entertainment business, so when downtown Oakland's artsy 21 Grand saw a chance to finally become officially nonprofit, it took it. The perennially strapped year-and-a-half-old gallery/performance space recently applied for federal 501(c)3 status, giving it a tax exemption as a bona-fide nonprofit. Now it's time to celebrate -- and to throw a major benefit bash with the most outrageous comedians, storytellers, video artists, spoken-word shouters, rock bands, rap groups, and belly dancers the 21 Grand folks know.

As it turns out, they know plenty. "We've always existed to give a platform for performers who aren't commercial, who don't otherwise have a place to play," says Sarah Lockhart, who booked Friday night's "The High Cost of Living" benefit show with fellow 21 Grand director Darren Jenkins. "We didn't want to use the same acts you might see at, say, the Stork Club or the Starry Plough. We're trying to present a broad spectrum of 21 Grand-style acts, to show the types of entertainers we really like."

Expect the unexpected. Like Harmon Leon, a monologist and standup comic who blends videos into stories of a fundamentalist Christian ventriloquist convention and his recent attempt to buy a gun. Or folk-rockish Katherine Sawyer, in a solo break from her band Wire Graffiti, singing songs of urban love and regret. On the other hand, there's SF Fringe Festival and Dadafest vet mikl-eM, obviously one of Lockhart's favorites ("I've worked with him for years"), who focuses his "vermouth-dry" wit and various multimedia elements on scripted vignettes. Brain Science (that's his name) plays high-tech games with patterns and images. M.i. blue, another Dadafest refugee, likes to shock audiences with his manic sexual patter. Art-rock combo Glass Bead Game features singer-lyricist Cera Byer and members of the Lemon Lime Lights. Hip-hop artsters Dime Life Crooks take a personal approach to cultural criticism. Cap it with a pair of belly dancers, Iris and Yvonne. "The High Cost of Living" takes place at 8 p.m. Friday, January 18, at 21 Grand Ave., Oakland. 510-444-7263. Tickets are $7-$20.

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