Umphrey's McGee at The Fox Theater, by Joshua HuverJake Cinninger of Umphrey's McGee, Saturday, March 11 at the Fox

2017, contrary to what the losses of 2016 would have us believe, was a phenomenal year for the arts and especially live music. It was a troubling time where many of us sought a better understanding. An understanding of the things we already thought or believed as individuals as much as we do as a group, with and about each other. More people were creating and more people were listening. It was not always easy. It was not always fun. But through it all, 2017 turned out to be one of my favorite years. These are my 17 favorite musical events that rocked my year, from start to finish.

JANUARY 7: Tycho, Nitemoves @ The Fox Theatre

This show came days after I returned from the frigid iciness of a Western Michigan winter, and Tycho was hot. Scott Hansen and co. had just been nominated for a Grammy Award for Epoch, and the air was electric leading up and into the show. The mood coming in really set the stage for how incredible this year was going to be without skimping on the surreal.

FEBRUARY 4:The Motet, Skerik’s Bandalabra @ The Fillmore

The first seriously funky show of the year saw some of my best friends enjoy a night in the city. On this Saturday night, the Fillmore was a grab-bag of high energy, large in thanks to Skerik's never-disappointing momentum. The drum-off between Jason Hann and Dave Watts was enough to tickle the fancy of any rhythm junkie. A bona fide funk party, the Motet happened to make this list twice.

APRIL 6: Third Eye Blind @ The Chapel

Stephan Jenkins has never been very keen about looking backward, and that makes the retrospective summer and fall tours surprising. Even more surprising was the night of nostalgia and packed house at the Chapel. The event? Celebration of the 20th birthday of the release of the band's debut album. A birthday cake was shared, and Stephan even came back to the stage for a second and third encore.

APRIL 22: The Redlight District @ The Blue Lagoon

There’s something special about a dive bar that is split between catering to heavy metal bands and '80s/'90s dance revivals, but the Blue Lagoon is a downtown Santa Cruz staple that is easy to fall in love with. This particular show was special for several reasons — chief among them that the Redlight District had just wrapped their Easter weekend session at InDigital Studios, the product of which would later become their debut LP, Blackmail. The opening act was a comedy and burlesque routine, and the headlining band dressed in drag. Check out this video posted by the band from that night:

APRIL 26: Chance the Rapper @ Oracle Arena

This was the biggest rap concert I’ve ever been to, and admittedly I’ve not been to enough. But what was special to me was also that it was Chance's biggest rap concert of his life, too. It was my first time working as a photographer in an arena setting, and it was one of the first stops on Chance’s tour. Following a recent (and unprecedented) nomination for a Grammy, he had some big rooms booked. Several times throughout the show, Chance stopped and remarked at how grateful he was and that he couldn’t get over how big the Oracle was. He was in awe of where he stood. I felt a lot in common with him that night.

MAY 10: The Flaming Lips, Klangstoff @ The Fox Theater

I captured some of my favorite photos of my career at my first Flaming Lips show. I knew they were an off-the-wall band, but I was not prepared for the fan community that greeted me with open arms. The Flaming Lips are a band worth getting behind, and their stage production is out of this world. My favorite moment was a tie between lead vocalist Wayne Coyne getting on a mechanical unicorn that traversed the floor, in and around the crowd, or when they played “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. Of course, seasoned fans expected it, but I never saw it coming when Coyne rolled into and onto the crowd via giant hamster ball.

JUNE 2: Kimya Dawson @ SubRosa Community Space

Kimya Dawson has been a personal favorite since I discovered the Moldy Peaches in high school. I'd finally seen Adam Green near the end of 2016, but Dawson has been considerably quieter in her endeavors, eschewing live performances for handicrafts and being with her daughter. A small string of summertime appearances along the coast allowed for an intimate appearance at a small community space in downtown Santa Cruz, I finally was able to hear Dawson in person. There were maybe 75 people in total bursting outside and watching through the windows, singing along and laughing through the tears that Dawson’s bittersweet poetry tends to bring. Three days ago, Dawson released a brand new song called "Cyclone" that specifically addresses reasons why she has been largely absent the last six years. Check it out here on Soundcloud and stay tuned for more new music.

JUNE 8: Dispatch @ The Catalyst Atrium; Kuinka, T Sisters @ The Catalyst Atrium

This was a weird one, for sure. I had this date on my radar for months — Kuinka is not a band you want to miss! But the week before, out of nowhere, '90s college rock behemoths Dispatch announced the release party for their newest LP, America, Location 12, was going to be held the same day, in the same room, and actually before T Sisters opened for Kuinka. Half the tickets were given away via an online giveaway, and each ticket included a +1 to make capacity.

JUNE 30 - JULY 2: Umphrey’s McGee, Stick Figure, Snarky Puppy, Bokante, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers @ Red Rocks, Morrison, CO

I marked the halfway point of a wild an uncertain year with a road trip with my best friend. Starting in SF, we camped in Moab before meeting more of our friends for a family reunion to remember. The weekend in Colorado peaked early in the second set of the second night. As the setting sun laid out a pristine canvas for a fireworks display from the nearby racetrack, Bokante's Roosevelt Collier took a slide guitar solo, guesting on the song "Hajimemashite." The next day, Umphrey's McGee invited Jennifer Hartswick onstage to guest sing on a cover of Rush's "Red Barchetta." Overall, it was an exclamation in the middle of a perfect midsummer road trip.

AUGUST 10: Belle & Sebastian @ The Independent

On the Thursday ahead of Outside Lands, Scottish indie royals Belle & Sebastian granted a rare opportunity to catch them in an intimate club setting. One of my favorite bands since high school, I was an ecstatic fan. The stage was as equally packed as the venue, and throughout the night Stuart Murdoch recounted numerous tales of life in San Francisco and the people who inspired the songs about the stories. It was a special evening, no doubt.

Belle & Sebastian at the Independent, by Aaron Rubin(photo: Aaron Rubin)

SEPTEMBER 3: Tango Alpha Tango, The Redlight District, The Lower 48 @ Rontoms, Portland, OR

My first time visiting Portland, I was lucky enough to be involved with the Redlight District’s first time as well. This was the second Oregon show in a row that they played with now (unfortunately) defunct power trio, the Lower 48. Together, both bands rounded out the bill for Tango Alpha Tango, a dynamic three-piece that sound and feel much bigger than they look. The venue, Rontoms, is an upscale Portland restaurant with a massive backyard patio area where the bands played. I was already riding the highs of a sweltering 95+ degree afternoon warehouse jam between The Lower 48 and The Redlight District but I was not prepared for the awesomeness that was Alpha Tango Alpha and the end of summer party that they threw. For a three-piece band, they had an over-the-top lighting rig that helped them envelop the entire outside area with light sand sound.


SEPTEMBER 23 - 25: Camp Deep End 2 @ Camp Navarro

One of my absolute favorite things about moving to the Bay Area is having been introduced to the music-loving family of Deep Enders, the other people that made up this and last year's trial run. Camp Deep End is a family affair, with an extremely limited number of tickets being sold. Fans of Bay Area staples Hot Buttered Rum and Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) ought to have caught wind of this by now. Hosted on the edge of pristine Redwood forestry and the Pacific Ocean in Navarro, CA, the magic is palpable. Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes peeled for a third installment announcement later this year.

SEPTEMBER 30: The Shins, Spoon, Day Wave @ The Greek Theatre

A show I bought tickets for in April, the minute the went on sale. To be perfectly candid, I have little interest in the Shins. They propelled indie music into a spotlight that it has constantly been trying to leave and simultaneously soak up ever since. They're great, but Spoon was a bucket list band for me. To get the opportunity to see them at arguably the most beautiful outdoor venue in the Bay was one I relished, my excitement only surpassed by the chance to see Belle & Sebastian. It was everything that I had hoped for, with a healthy mixture of both old favorites and new tracks from Hot Thoughts.

OCTOBER 7: The Wah Wah Music Festival, Salem, OR

Remember when I got to visit Portland with the Redlight District and the Lower 48? One of their shows on that run was so impressive to the venue owners, The Governor's Cup Coffee Roasters, the band was begged to return five weeks later to headline an inaugural, free downtown music festival. Keeping the bill light with only four acts throughout the afternoon was a conscious decision to make every band a headliner. Portland natives Sally Ford, Red Ray Frazier, and Steve Swatkins and the Positive Agenda rounded out the evening with a wide range of garage rock, blues, and healing soul. The Wah Wah Festival was a fast favorite, and one to keep an ear out for.

OCTOBER 20: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Flamingosis @ The Atrium; The Motet @ The Catalyst

This is another show I was looking forward to the minute it was announced. Ironically, the two rooms were booked independently and it wasn't until someone noticed that they decided to combine their efforts, dubbing the evening The Melting Lights Festival. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and Flamingosis sold out the Independent in SF the night before, dropping their fourth studio LP Pizazz the same night. The first time they were in the Bay Area was only eight months prior in February, when they also dropped a new (live) album to a sold out crowd. I think the Bay likes them as much as I do.

OCTOBER 27: Dos Osos, Judo No @ Bocci’s Cellar; LIGHT The Band @ Bocci’s Cellar

Halloween is always a weird time. Musicians and creatives thrive around this time of year, especially in weird coastal mountain towns like Santa Cruz. The theme of the evening was locals night. Although Bocci's might not be everybody's favorite to frequent, I'll be the first to admit some of my favorite shows have taken place here. This was also my introduction to the infectious rhythms of experimental-sambada-funk and soul style of JUDO NO. Judo No? Now you know. One of the most eye-catching acts I've caught since moving to Santa Cruz. If you have a chance to catch them, they may become your new favorite local band.

NOVEMBER 17: The Stone Foxes, Thee Commons @ The Independent

I knew that the Stone Foxes' return from three months of a national tour was going to be fun, but I severely underestimated the fervor of their long-time hometown base. San Francisco was hungry for the brothers Koehler, and boy did they deliver. Opening band Thee Commons was the most surprising, though. Based on the volume and movement of the audience near the end of their set I, for just a moment, forgot that they weren't the headlining attraction. They're definitely a new favorite on my radar — they should be on yours.

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