Music News & Reviews

Sacramento’s Concerts in the Park thinks local, books beyond

Mariana Rose Calderon-Lidell, 5, dances with Shayna Horwitz and Brooke Steurer, right, to the music of Nickel Slots at 2014’s first Concert in the Park at Cesar Chavez Plaza.
Mariana Rose Calderon-Lidell, 5, dances with Shayna Horwitz and Brooke Steurer, right, to the music of Nickel Slots at 2014’s first Concert in the Park at Cesar Chavez Plaza. Sacramento Bee file

For more than 20 years, the lineup for the annual Friday night Concerts in the Park series have been built with the same philosophy: Keep it local.

That philosophy is still very much in place for 2015, but for the concerts’ organizers, the definition of “keeping it local” is evolving.

“We’re at a point where we don’t want the same thing every year,” said Andy Hawk, part of the talent-booking team that works with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, the organization that presents the event. “We can do Middle Class Rut and !!! (Chk Chk Chk) every year, but at some point we peak. We want to be bringing people from all over, bring them downtown and show off the city.”

When the 2015 installment of Concerts in the Park commences May 1 at Cesar Chavez Plaza (by calendar date, the earliest show in the series’ history), it inaugurates a lineup rife with new talent. Of the acts on the season bill, 26 will play CIP for the first time, and only eight played the series in 2014. Many acts on this lineup may not completely qualify as “local,” but nonetheless strike a chord with Sacramento music lovers.

One genre that hits home with the Sacramento concert scene is electronic music. The offerings on the electronic music stage – which keeps the music going between set changes on the main stage – have steadily risen over the last couple of years, and this year it looks like they might reach new highs with eight first-time performers (and no strings attached).

“In the past, there’s been DJs who have brought out extra drummers or singers,” Hawk said. “We’ve really grown that (stage) and encouraged every DJ to do whatever they want. I imagine there will be some horns and more dancers.”

Concertgoers can also expect to see some slightly expanded drink options at the beverage lines, as well as more food trucks. There will be five trucks this year instead of four at each show, and many of them will rotate week-to-week. Additionally, we can neither confirm nor deny that at some point this season, you might be able to get your hands on a temporary rub-on tattoo featuring the likeness of “Kenny the Dancing Man.”

Whether they’re local legends or fresh faces, here are five headlining acts not to miss in 2015:

Blackalicious (May 29): Expect this to be one for the ages. Hip-hop hasn’t always been a front-and-center fixture at CIP, but this legendary funk-laden local duo of Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel makes for one of the most anticipated installments of the series. “We don’t ever (make) the calendar and think we need to hit this or that genre,” Hawk said. “It’s just about the right timing and getting bands that are hot and whether they are available.”

Jonah Matranga (June 12): The lead singer of alternative rock heroes Far headlines what concert organizers have dubbed “Legends Night,” where it does seem somewhat crazy that local fixture and 7 Seconds frontman Kevin Seconds is actually “opening.” Seems there’s no need to argue over the order of legends on a bill that includes the Storytellers and One Leg Chuck, who Hawk says “might be more excited than anyone on the bill this year.”

Mr. T Experience (June 19): The quirky and maniacal musical vehicle of the revered “Dr. Frank” Portman is a persisting fixture of the Berkeley punk-rock scene, dating back to the mid ’80s. Where’s the Sacramento connection there, you ask? Take your pick: Dr. Frank is currently being backed by Sactown rockers Bobby Jordan (the Knockoffs, Red Star Memorial and the Haints), Ted Angel (the Mallrats, the Devastates and the Haints) and Jaz Brown (Helper Monkeys). Will that do?

The Soft White Sixties (July 10): This San Francisco breakout act (which has graced both the Outside Lands and Bottle Rock stages) fits both criteria of the “new breed” of CIP act. They’re locally connected, with lead singer Octavio Genera having grown up in Woodland and attended Woodland High, and guitarist Aaron Eisenberg, a native of Cool (near Auburn). They’ve also been regular performers in Sactown, throttling local crowds with a frenetic brand of glam-rock ’n’ roll that’s greasy, bluesy and just dirty enough to weaken the knees.

From Indian Lakes (July 17): This is another band that has become a local favorite thanks to their regular stopovers in Sacramento, but there’s no true “local connection” to be found here. The group hails from the Yosemite area, spinning spacious, lush organic indie pop inspired more by Yosemite’s sprawling mountaintops than its buzzing valley floor – a group sure to make fans of the Shins or Blind Pilot swoon.

As exciting and fresh as this year’s headliners are, you can’t overlook the undercards. Here are five non-headlining acts you’ll want to know about. Some could well be headliners next year:

Riotmaker (May 1): The first band to take the stage in 2015 includes former members of local ruffians Shakedown. Theirs is a pop-etched catalog of lively reggae rock that doesn’t know if it wants to kick back and chill or totally lose its mind. Either way, who cares – it’s Friday night.

Zyah Belle & the Funkshun (May 8): If you happen to be at Cesar Chavez, and it seems like everything around you spontaneously stops moving – well, that’s just what happens when Zyah Belle sings. She has an intensely captivating, breathless and almost cosmic soul-funk about her, peeling open a time warp to the far reaches of the heavens. It’s a heck of a place to party.

Ashley Barron (May 15): This Sacramento songstress might end up being a breakout in the modern country world if she’s not careful, thanks to that boot-scootin’, barroom, honky-tonk vibe she’s toting around – the kind of sass-ladden urban cowgirl rock that’s likely to form a hefty line outside Goldfield on a Friday night.

Alex Vincent Band (May 22): It’s easy to see why Alex Vincent is somewhat of a protégé of local rock hero Frank Hannon (Vincent has opened shows for Hannon). His straight-for-the-gut rock chops are sharp and heady – just big and crafty enough to appeal to the same Tesla crowd that traversed the gap between stadium rock and modern alternative.

Burro (June 5): Come summertime, word is bound to have spread that this spanking-new group is fronted by Zack Lopez of Middle Class Rut and features members of rock standouts Lite Brite – a pedigree sure to draw big crowds. But don’t expect “New Low 2.0” or even any of Lopez’s signature echoing wails and thrash of the MC Rut variety. This group is straight ahead American rock ’n’ roll, cut from the Springsteen/Petty cloth.

Friday Night Concerts in the Park

When: 5 to 9 p.m. May 1-July 24 (no show July 3)

Where: Cesar Chavez Plaza (910 I St., Sacramento)

Cost: Free

Info: For the full 2015 Concerts in the Park lineup, visit

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