Category Archives: Music

Professor Burns & the Lilac Field #Occupy San Francisco’s Hotel Utah

The Professor and his companions

By Connor Buestad


A hot button hashtag if there ever was one. Polarizing, galvanizing, mesmerizing, you can really describe it however you want. After all, “Occupy’s” main knock is that it doesn’t have a clearly stated goal. So go ahead, call it what you will.

I, for one, have had trouble describing my stance on the issue, as I’m sure is the case with many people around these parts. So, rather than dip my thumbs back into the proverbial Twitter well, I took to the streets of San Francisco in search of some clarity. By streets I mean bar, of course. “The Hotel Utah Saloon” on 4th and Bryant to be exact. I had caught wind from a certain Orinda elementary school teacher that “Professor Burns and the Lilac Field” were playing…and they shouldn’t be missed.

With its low ceilings and classic furniture, you could go as far as to say that “The Utah” was built for conversation. As it turned out, by the time the barkeep had poured my first pint of Speakeasy Ale, a qualified conversationalist was headed my direction. The lead vocalist/guitarist of the headlining band, no less.

Professor Burns owns a beard that you’d expect any University of California professor to have, not to mention a certain excitable charm that is never lost on his growing fan base. Luckily, this aforementioned charm, coupled with the inherent lubrication that comes with a bar, allowed me the liquid courage to talk social movements with a UC Santa Cruz “Social Movements 101” professor. Don’t worry, it went well.

Right out of the gate, I went after The Professor with, “So what’s the deal with Occupy Wall Street? Is it a joke? Is it legit? Is it gonna work? Are these people lazy? crazy? Are they right? Are they Wrong? Basically, I took an imaginary bullet for all of my imaginary blog readers and went after Mr. Burns with all the tough, open ended questions he could have ever bargained for.

His response? Well, considering he was minutes from heading out on stage, there wasn’t much time to get too deep. Even so, he gave it his best shot. “The best thing about ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is that it is getting people to talk more. People need to vocalize ideas outside of the mainstream media or other traditional outlets,” said professor Burns.

I was waiting for him to lash out at a Banker or lament on the whole “evil 1 percent”, etcetera, etcetera. However, that wasn’t his stance at all. Maybe it’s just me, but I got the vibe from Burns that we are all in this together in one way shape or form. Whether you have been occupying Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and looking homeless, or you have been busting your ass at your finance job paying off your student loans, the issues still have an effect on everyone. Professor Burns, it turned out, was just glad to see more people talking about it.

Now, if ever there was a guy to get fired up about something like “Occupy Wall Street”, it would be Burns. Not only does he teach social movements at a university level, but he is also now releasing his first book titled “Archie Green – The Making of a Working Class Hero”. Mr. Green was a folklorist and labor historian devoted to understanding the diverse cultural customs of working class people. Described as having an unwavering commitment to cultural pluralism, Archie tried to educate the public about the place of workers’ culture and music in American life. Heavy stuff, for sure, and Professor Burns thought highly enough to write a book about him.

Even with qualification upon qualification, Burns’ message about “Occupy Wall Street” still came down to the simple idea of communication and he was glad to be seeing more of it. Sure, perhaps those “occupying” need to come up with a clearer agenda or need to better organize their list of demands, but it seemingly can’t hurt if they are organizing just to voice their opinion. Burns isn’t the only one who acknowledges that inequality, unemployment, corruption, greed and fraud are issues that need to be dealt with here in America. Moreover, it is a safe bet that these ills have had a negative effect on people regardless of their rank on America’s food chain, Wall Streeters, Mainstreeters, or otherwise.

Of course, when Burns himself took the stage, it was finally his time to properly add to the communication and idea exchange he had discussed by the bar. Using a 1942 Martin 0-15 acoustic guitar, Burns played a host of songs from his debut EP album titled “Orange Blossom Blinds”. While I’ll let you click here in order to sample the music for yourself, it was a joy to soak in his vibrant, albeit quirky stage presence throughout the show. There was rarely a dull moment in between songs, as Burns would routinely ramble and meander about a subject while still miraculously making sense. (Makes me want to take a class at Santa Cruz someday.)

The music itself could best be described as indie-folk, with sound similarities to Van Morrison, Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. My favorite song, titled “Birds”, had all the catchiness that you’d typically see from a Jack Johnson number, while also tying in some thought provoking lyrics, “All our thoughts aren’t our own, we’re just living in an edit room of teleprompts and phones / And the space behind our eyes is a trophy case for Madison Ave designs.” Not exactly “Bubbletoes” or “Banana Pancakes”, but you get the idea.

Flanking The Professor onstage was Lathan Spaulding (keys/vocals/guitar) and Adam Kirk (drums/vocals/guitar) while Adam “Tree” Burnstein (bass guitar) was absent for the night. The Berkeley based band worked well together, especially considering they only teamed up but a year ago. Unlike Occupy Wall Street, Burns and his mates don’t necessarily suffer from being misguided in their mission statement. Says Burns, “I try to mill the textured, spilling grain of daily life for emotions worthy of story and story worthy of song craft.” Whether you area fan or not, you can’t fault “Professor Burns and the Lilac Field” for trying to get their voice heard, one way or another.


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Joe Pug puts his Poetic Harmonies on Display at San Francisco’s “Bottom of the Hill”

"I am right now, I am back then. I will return, don't ask me when."

By Connor Buestad

For emerging singer-songwriter Joe Pug, it’s really quite simple. As he puts it, “Just write the songs that have to be written and play them for anybody who will listen.” Last Tuesday night at SF’s quaint “Bottom of the Hill” music venue, I was able to see Joe’s creed put into action, as he wooed a capacity crowd with a talent undeniable and lyrics unforgettable.

Trained as a Playwright at the University of North Carolina, Pug made the bold decision to leave school just one year shy of graduation. Perturbed by the amount of time and involvement required by writing plays, Pug reasoned that his abilities as a wordsmith would best be served with a guitar in his hands and a harmonica around his neck. Chicago was where he would start his music career, but “the road” is what he would end up calling his home.

Fast forward three years and Pug is currently knee-deep in a budding music career. He released his first EP in 2008 titled Nation of Heat. Then came In the Meantime in 2009 and finally his first LP called Messenger in 2010. In between stints inside the recording studio, Pug has made it a priority to tour as much as humanly possible. At one point he reeled off 46 shows in just seven weeks, leaving in his wake a pool of satisfied fans mesmerized by the signature sound and meaning of Joe Pug.

Still only 26 years old, Pug has showed a certain wisdom and confidence not only in the music he plays, but also in his marketing and promotion abilities. He was able to sell-out his first show in Chicago and has since done everything in his power to connect with his growing fan base. E-mail Joe and tell him you’re a listener and he’ll personally send you a two-song sampler of his music, free of charge, shipping and handling included. On his recent “$10 Tour”, Pug traversed the nation in his 1995 Plymouth Voyager (devoid of a stereo or A/C), stopping in just about any city that wanted to hear him play.

Surely, when you speak of musical genres that garner the biggest crowds and rake in the most money, singer-songwriters are rarely at the top of said list.  Head to a major music festival like Coachella and you’re much more likely to find yourself watching a synth-pop band like Cut Copy rather than an indie-folk set by Joe Pug. Nevertheless, despite often slipping under the radar at times, singer-songwriters shall always hold an important place in the music scene. This is especially true when you talk about a guy like Joe Pug, who’s talent is confirmed with each poetic verse of one of his many classic songs.

Striding atop the “Bottom of the Hill” stage in a worn-in pair of cowboy boots, Joe Pug showed no signs of fatigue from all those days and nights on the road. Instead, Pug’s face seemed to be constantly beaming with a youthful energy usually reserved for a musician’s first show. Most songs began with a welcome burst on his harmonica, followed by soulful guitar and poignant lyrics. In between songs, Pug thanked his fans in a way that was undoubtedly genuine. After all, we the fans were the ones putting gas in his Voyager all this time.

You wouldn’t be too far off base if you compared Joe Pug to Bob Dylan. Same goes for Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Curt Cobain, Johnny Cash or Josh Ritter. Even with these flattering comparisons ever-present, Pug manages to produce a sound all his own, spurred by pieces of lyrical genius that can be found in virtually every song he chooses to write.

Perhaps my favorite song Pug played last week in San Francisco was titled “Hymn 35”. The fourth song on the Nation of Heat EP. The song begins with a passionate harmonica riff that gives way to the lyrics, “I am the day, I am the dawn, I am the darkness coming on.” Dylan’s influence is present throughout, in both sound and style. Pug later laments in this song, “I have done wrong, I will do wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing wrong.” However, there’s not much Pug does wrong in “Hymn 35”, as it leaves the listener sad to hear the song end.

Title track “Nation of Heat” is Pug’s most aggressive ballad. Shades of Bruce Springsteen are on display as Pug cries out about the country he was raised and resides in. “We got the loudest explosions you ever heard. We got two dollar soldiers and ten dollar wars,” shouts Pug. “We got billboards for love and Japanese cars,” continues Pug. “It ain’t rare to hear the street lights call themselves stars. The more that I learn the more that I cheat. I come from the nation of heat.”

“How Good You Are” showcases Pug’s ability to mix a catchy acoustic melody with fantastic harmonica work. Great lyrics aren’t lost on this song either. Sings Pug, “Everything that you were meant for, everything that you were born to do, does not need you to do it, someone else was born to do it too.”  Wise words, although it’s hard to imagine Pug wasn’t meant to write and play songs.

In “Hymn 101” Pug again acts as a storyteller with a guitar in his hand. The lyrics flow effortlessly, leaving the audience heartbroken and inspired all in one breath. “I’ve come here to get high, to do more than just get by,” sings Pug. “Oh they say I come with less, than I should rightfully possess. I say the more I buy the more I’m bought and the more I’m bought the less I cost.”

Other notable songs performed by Pug included “Unsophisticated Heart”, “Speak Plainly Diana”, and “In the Meantime”. “I’m dreaming for a living, I got no time for work,” sings Pug. “In the meantime, I’ll just be passing through.”

Last Tuesday wasn’t the first time Joe Pug has passed through San Francisco, and it surely won’t be his last. As is customary with Joe Pug, he sat down to greet his loyal following after yet another show. He explained he was headed south to Santa Cruz to play the following night. He would return home at some point, he just didn’t know when. As he makes clear in “Speak Plainly Diana”, Joe Pug doesn’t mind simply riding around…

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A Bounty of Music in the Middle of the Bay


By Connor Buestad

In my experience on this earth, god knows how many times I’ve popped the question, “What type of music do you like?” Over all these years, I’ve essentially only received two different responses. It’s either “I like all types of music, depending on my mood, I guess.” Or sometimes I’ll get, “I like everything except country, pretty much.” That’s it. Two responses. Nothing more, nothing less.

Keeping this in mind, I’m going to go ahead and assume every last one of my loyal readers would be interested in attending the Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend. Music will be played, none of it will be country (at least I don’t think), and good times will be had.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to be honest with you and admit that I’m not a qualified music critic. In fact, my means of discovering new music is considered pretty shallow, at least in some circles. I’ve taken a big gulp of the Pandora Kool-Aid as of late, and what I’m left with is a smattering of songs that I really like, with no vinyl to show for it. Regardless, many of these songs will be played this weekend on an island in the middle of the Bay, in what is shaping up to be a splendid event. Miike Snow, LCD Soundsystem, Belle & Sebastian, Rogue Wave, etcetera, etcetera, will all be on stage at some point over the weekend, doing their best to make heads nod, feet shuffle, and minds open.

Please note: The Vegas over/under on how many Hoopsters will be attending this event is still unknown….may the best jersey win.

R&R TI style

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Music Preview: The Pack A.D. at Thee Parkside on Friday, May 29

By Garrett Wheeler


Girl power was never this cool: The Pack A.D. rippin' in to some tasty blues-rock.

Girl power was never this cool: The Pack A.D. rippin' into some tasty blues-rock.

To everyone and anyone who happened to glance at this blog’s about page, let me say: sorry, folks. You’ve probably been lying awake at night wondering when Bay Area Surf ‘N Sport was going to fulfill its promise and cover some music. Well here it is- a show, and band, that you should know about now.

 By far the coolest non-Dude (and by that I mean all-female) band to come around since, hmmm, ever is garage-rock duo The Pack .A.D. Led by guitarist/singer Becky Black, the British Columbia based outfit wallows in the rough and tumble blues-rock championed by groups like The White Stripes and the Black Keys. Of course, the Stripes and the Keys owe their jagged blues riffs to the Mississippi Delta, specifically to juke joint mainstays R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and T Model Ford. Signed to Vancouver’s Mint Records label, The Pack A.D. has two rock-solid albums under its belt, the newest being Funeral Mixtape, issued last year. Visceral and raw, with plenty of whiskey-drenched swagger, The Pack A.D. represents the best of what contemporary blues riffage has to offer. Check out their crazy-creepy music video below, and if you like what you hear, fork over the 8 bucks and see ‘em live on May 29 at Thee Parkside in San Francisco.

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