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Historic Berkeley Folk Venue Freight & Salvage Welcomes A New Generation Of Music Fans

Ramblin' Jack Elliott at The Freight

Photo: Hail McGrath

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Historic Berkeley Folk Venue Freight & Salvage Welcomes A New Generation Of Music Fans

"There's kind of a special feeling when you walk in. It's like you are walking into someone's extra-large living room with a bunch of your close friends," Sharon Dolan, the historic venue's Executive Director recently explained

GRAMMYs/Oct 4, 2019 - 08:20 pm

When The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse opened its (original) doors in 1968 in Berkeley, Calif., the intention was to create a cafe and gathering place for the community. Housed in a former used furniture store (thus, the name of the venue), it began to attract local musicians—acoustic guitar strummers, banjo pickers, fiddle players and more. It soon became the nexus for the burgeoning traditional folk and old-time music scene that was rooted in the anti-establishment, counter-culture, radical and experimental ethos of the iconic '60s and '70s eras.

Now, 51 years later, this legendary establishment is still going strong. The Recording Academy spoke to several of the people who help run the venue to learn how it's still shining bright.

In 1983, the popular club became a nonprofit, "the Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music," to be exact. Five years later, the Freight moved to a slightly larger venue nearby, in 1988, eventually moving to its current home at 2020 Addison St. in 2009. The newer space offers an inviting, architect-designed 400-plus seat performance hall with a state-of-the-art sound system from Berkley's Meyer Sound. Yet even as they've grown, their space—and those who perform there—retains the rustic and intimate atmosphere.

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Just down the block from other popular cultural institutions—Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Aurora Theater Company and the California Jazz Conservatory—it is firmly planted in the heart of the Downtown Berkeley Arts District. A large, eclectic group of local and international artists, like Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Teresa Trull and David Grisman, have graced its stage, in genres ranging from traditional folk, blues, jazz, bluegrass, world and classical music.

GRAMMY-nominated Windham Hill Records artist Barbara Higbie has served on the Freight's Board of Directors for 14 years, and is currently its Co-Chair. A pianist, composer and fiddler, she began performing there 42 years ago, alongside fiddler Daryl Anger and guitar and mandolin player Mike Marshall.

"The City of Berkeley really wooed the Freight to come down there [to the current area], because they wanted to create an arts district, and at the time, the club was bursting at the seams," Higbie explained. "The Freight has so much goodwill. In the East Bay there are a few big communities that have supported it in a big way—the bluegrass community, the women's community, the blues community, the people who really love singer/songwriters and the alt-country community." 

Deeply passionate about preserving the integrity of the club, she initially had some concerns about the new venue, based on what she had seen happen to other spaces in the Bay Area. Now, 10 years later, she believes they are on the right track.

"I had experienced so many clubs getting bigger and either going out of business or changing beyond recognition," she explained. "I am so loyal to the Freight and I want it to survive, so it was a really a big concern to me that we didn't become just a commercial venue." 

Three years ago, Peter Williams was hired as the new Program Director at the Freight and has been giving their programming a fresh, worldly spin. With a resume that includes prominent positions at the Green Music Center in Sonoma, the Napa Valley Opera House, and Yoshi's in Oakland, his eclectic musical background made him the perfect choice.

"When the position became open I was really excited about it, because they wanted to diversify the programming and the audience a bit, so it sounded like a great opportunity for me to get creative and put all my musical tastes to work," Williams said over the phone. 

He explained the Freight's focus for many years had mostly been Americana and bluegrass music before he came on board. He began mixing it up by booking a healthy mix of Latin and world music artists, including bands from Haiti, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

"Since Peter came, it's been phenomenal—he's such an expert at booking," Higbie revealed. "He is balancing it out amazingly between big draws, keeping all the constituents happy, bringing in new communities and trying to expand. He is a really visionary booking person and I think it has made a huge difference."

Not long before Williams, current Executive Director Sharon Dolan came onboard in 2015, after many years as a patron and volunteer. She is committed to preserving the Freight's original ideology of diversity.

"When I first got there, I saw the potential to fully live out our mission of preserving and promoting traditional music from a variety of cultures around the world," she said. "Historically we had focused on music from the folk revival from when we were founded in 1968—bluegrass, old-time and Celtic music. We still continue to do all that, but we also saw an opportunity to broaden our thinking and reach more people, partly by community outreach and partly by what we were putting on stage."

Dolan feels that the newer venue has maintained the comfortable, welcoming atmosphere it has always been known for. "There's kind of a special feeling when you walk in. It's like you are walking into someone's extra-large living room with a bunch of your close friends—a shared experience that we have. It's different from being in a large stadium show where the audience is so far away. You are right there, and there's much more of a connection between the performers and the audience, and that's a really key part of what happens here."

Along with the innovative and eclectic programming, the Freight also offers music classes for adults and kids, open mic nights and education and community outreach programs, to further its mission. 

"Our new education programming is part of our longer-term planning. We are continuing to work with adults, but the new part is the collaboration with middle schools in Berkeley, and we are definitely reaching a more diverse population," Dolan added. "The program is about mashing up traditional music with something more contemporary that the kids can relate to. For example, we have a program mixing traditional Indian vocal percussion with rap that the kids are really enjoying. We have only just started it and it's really cool."

They are also set to work on a new project with their local Recording Academy chapter in early 2020. PC Muñoz, who was recently hired as the Freight's Director of Education and Community Engagement has been an active member of the Recording Academy San Francisco Chapter.  He explained by email they are working on the details of a collaboration with Academy members who are educators, for a professional development event for the Freight's teachers.

With an exciting and ever-expanding roster of performers, classes, events and numerous other collaborations, the Freight seems to have found a sweet spot in the arts community that has helped it to retain its vitality and relevance in the Bay Area.

"I think music and the arts right now are critical," Dolan emphasized. "Music is one of the ways we build empathy for each other and for each other's cultures—we learn about each other that way. It's a way to share with a room full of other people, your despair or your hope about what's happening in the world."

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

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"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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