As local music traditions go—the Tucson Weekly's Club Crawl™, The Great Cover-Up, our Tucson Area Music Awards (TAMMIES), etc.—The Wooden Ball stands above them all in at least one category: longevity.
The first one was held sometime in the late '80s (possibly 1987, but no one seems to remember for sure), organized by then-River Roses front man Chris Holiman as a way to bring together what was at that time a fractured local music scene. In 1994, Holiman—who went on to front 35 Summers and the Downtown Saints, and who is now a solo artist—revived the event with a redefined focus: to showcase a thriving music scene by stripping away the Marshall stacks and seeing what the songs sounded like underneath. In other words, bands were asked to perform mostly acoustically.
Do the math, and you'll find that this is the 19th annual Wooden Ball—and the 20th overall. (I seem to remember that the event took a year or two off during that period, but I'm going with Holiman's memory here over mine.) Over the years, the ball has been held at both Plush and Club Congress, and in 2006, it was expanded to a two-night format. This year marks the second one in which both venues host it on consecutive nights.
The Wooden Balls over the years have provided some goose-bump-inducing moments—when you've got that many great acts playing back-to-back in short, 20 minute sets, they tend to try to outshine each other—and that's largely a testament to both the caliber of musical talent in this burg and Holiman's curatorial skills. (He always seems to strike a nice balance between tried-and-true veterans and up-and-comers, though this year's event seems to have a roots-ier vibe than most.) Many people have told me over the years that they were introduced to, and won over by, Tucson's music scene via the Wooden Balls, and I imagine this year's event will provide the same opportunity to local-music newbies.
As an added incentive to attend, for the first time, the Wooden Ball is doubling as a benefit for Primavera, which, according to its mission statement, "provides pathways out of poverty through safe, affordable housing, workforce development and neighborhood revitalization."
And so, without further hesitation, here is the lineup for this year's Wooden Ball:
Night One at Club Congress on Friday, Jan. 13: Chris Holiman (8 p.m.), Hank Topless (8:30 p.m.), Ricky Gelb (9 p.m.), A House, A Home (9:30 p.m.), ... music video? (10 p.m.), Amy Rude (10:30 p.m.), Seashell Radio (11 p.m.), Tracy Shedd (11:30 p.m.), Saint Maybe (midnight) and Joe Pena (12:30 a.m.).
Night Two at Plush on Saturday, Jan. 14: The Jits (8 p.m.), Kaia Chesney (8:30 p.m.), Chris Holiman (9 p.m.), Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl (9:30 p.m.), Lunar Light Collectors (10 p.m.), Silverbell (10:30 p.m.), The Modeens (11 p.m.), Silver Thread Trio (11:30 p.m.), Al Perry (midnight) and Leila Lopez (12:30 a.m.).
Music begins at 8 p.m. each night. Admission to Night One is $7; admission to Night Two is $5. If you have questions about the Friday portion, head to hotelcongress.com/club, or call 622-8848; if you need more info about the Saturday segment, go to plushtucson.com, or call 798-1298.
Around for even longer than the Wooden Ball, Titan Valley Warheads celebrate their 30th anniversary with a performance this week.
The band, which specializes in bluegrass, Western swing and old-time country music, has racked up some impressive honors over those years, including winning the title of Best Bluegrass Band at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (no small feat).
Players have come and gone in the last 30 years, and for this special performance, the Warheads will welcome several former members to the stage to perform.
Titan Valley Warheads' 30th Anniversary Party takes place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14, at Suite 147 in Plaza Palomino, 2970 N. Swan Road. Advance tickets are available for $17 at Antigone Books, Bookmans and Dark Star Leather; online at rhythmandroots.org; or by phone at (800) 594-8499. They'll be $20 at the door. For more information, head to the aforementioned website, or call 319-9966.
AN EP, A RELEASE PARTY
On the other end of the spectrum, relative new kids on the block A House, A Home release their debut studio EP, Stories of the Frontier, this week. The quintet—Kyle Seyler, Justin Tornberg, Bryan Fraunfelter, Steven Tracy and front man Tyler Akin—recorded the seven-song EP at Glow in the Dark Studios in Atlanta, and it was mastered in Tucson by Fernando Rivas at OG7 Studios.
I'll be honest: I wasn't familiar with A House, A Home's music until recently. Like, very recently: The band got me a copy of the EP just hours before my deadline. That said, on first listen, I hear a band that knows exactly what it is: The seven songs here would fit in perfectly on AAA radio or as the soundtrack to a scene on Grey's Anatomy.
"Different Shades of Black and White" opens the disc with an uplifting, wordless chorus à la Arcade Fire before settling into something a little less bombastic. "Blue" is a lovely little pop song propelled by staccato piano chords and graced with a pretty, melismatic chorus. (The song's title is rendered in five syllables.) "Recovery" adds memorable synth to the mix in the beginning of the song and on the chorus, the first hint of an electronic element that runs throughout several songs that follow. "The Good Looking" is a brief, wistful ballad (its opening lines are "All the good-looking girls / go out to the city / to meet with good-looking boys / who make them feel pretty") with keyboards and electronic drums providing its minimal backing.
A House, A Home celebrates the release of Stories of the Frontier with a CD-release party at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, Jan. 18. Kaia Chesney and Steff Koeppen and the Articles open the show at 8 p.m. Admission is $5. For more info, check out hotelcongress.com/club, or call 622-8848.
Fronted by enigmatic Arizona resident Maynard James Keenan, Tool represents pretty much its own genre. The band borrows from prog rock in song length and structure, but its music is much darker and heavier than any other proggy band I can think of. The group rarely tours these days, so its show here this week is a rather unexpected treat.
Tool performs at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the Tucson Convention Center Arena, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are available for $47 and $57 via Ticketmaster (before their obscene fees are tacked on, that is—add about $11 to the price of each ticket). For more information, call the TCC box office at 791-4101.
Albuquerque's Le Chat Lunatique is a quirky acoustic quartet that plays what it calls "filthy, mangy jazz"—it uses the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli as a base to explore any number of genres. Based on their recent covers EP, Under the Covers Vol. 1, which includes renditions of tunes like "Minnie the Moocher" and "House of the Rising Sun" (not to mention a take on Paula Abdul's "Straight Up"), I imagine these guys are a real hoot live.
Le Chat Lunatique performs at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Friday, Jan. 13. The Bennu opens at 9:45 p.m. Admission is $5. For further details, check out plushtucson.com, or call 798-1298.
ON THE BANDWAGON
The B-52's at Casino del Sol's Event Center on Sunday, Jan. 15; the Cab Calloway Orchestra at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Friday, Jan. 13; Professor Gall at Plush on Tuesday, Jan. 17; the House for Hunger Tour featuring Avicii at the Fourth Avenue Block Party (behind The Hut) on Sunday, Jan. 15; Scorned Embrace CD-release party at The Rock on Saturday, Jan. 14; Arvel Bird at Abounding Grace Sanctuary on Saturday, Jan. 14; Gabriel Ayala at UA's Holsclaw Hall on Friday, Jan. 13; The Cab, The Summer Set, He Is We and others at The Rock on Sunday, Jan. 15; Chuck Wagon and the Wheels and Rock Salt at Boondocks Lounge on Saturday, Jan. 14; The Fab Four: The Ultimate Tribute at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 14; Greyhound Soul at Che's Lounge on Saturday, Jan. 14; Crosscut Saw at the original Nimbus Brewing Company on Friday, Jan. 13; Eduardo Minozzi Costa at the UA Museum of Art's Retablo Gallery on Sunday, Jan. 15.