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Earthwise Productions offers indie musicians a place to play in Palo Alto

Jazz/roots supergroup Parlour Game to perform feel-good grooves at Mitchell Park Community Center on March 16

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Since 1994, Earthwise Productions founder Mark Weiss has been bringing a variety of up-and-coming and established independent artists to the Palo Alto area. A local fixture both online and around town, Weiss boasts an impressive track record of booking artists from the likes of CAKE, Imogen Heap and Blink-182 in their early days to trumpeters Dave Douglas, harmonica titan Charlie Musselwhite and vocalist Jane Monheit in just the past few months.

After having produced shows in spaces such as Stanford's CoHo, the Varsity Theatre courtyard and Cubberley Community Center, the 56-year-old Gunn High School alumnus now uses Mitchell Park Community Center as Earthwise's de facto bandstand, having kicked off an invigorated incarnation of Earthwise Productions Live in 2018 that's going strong, with Weiss arranging for not only the booking and paying of the artists but also the rental fee of the room, publicity and the cost of the sound person.

"My goal is two shows a month for the next two years or a total of 50 all-in to see if people will think of the Mitchell Park ballroom, (the) El Palo Alto Room as a concert hall," he wrote in an email to the Weekly that has since been published on his Plastic Alto with Mark Weiss blog, which he frequently updates with his musings on the local arts, sports and politics scenes. (As of Wednesday, he's surpassing his goal, with nine shows currently booked for March and April.)

"I say quite often at shows, as part of my welcome or introducing of the acts, that the taxpayers of Palo Alto, myself included, voted a $41 million bond initiative and the facility opened five years ago and I just want to see part of its use being live music."

On Monday, March 16, Earthwise is presenting Parlour Game, the rootsy jazz combo featuring violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Allison Miller.

Weiss' history with the co-leaders of Parlour Game, which also features pianist Carmen Staaf and double bassist Tony Scherr, runs almost as far back as Earthwise itself:

Pianist Rachel Z. gave an Earthwise performance in October 2000, leading her trio with Miller and contrabassist Miriam Sullivan.

"That was the first time I met Mark," the New York-based Miller said. Four months later, he presented Scheinman and her group for the first time at CoHo.

And according to Weiss, Miller was the first artist to perform at an Earthwise show at the new Mitchell Park space.

Both Scheinman and Miller have career arcs that encompass a large swath of musical expression. They have both played in one another's groups, and they both overlapped in singer/songwriter/activist Ani DiFranco's band. In addition to both playing with and leading a variety of instrumental bands, both have histories with other singer/songwriters including Scheinman with Bruce Cockburn, Rodney Crowell, Robbie Fulks and Emmylou Harris and Miller with Brandi Carlile, Toshi Reagon and Erin McKeown.

"One big thing that's happened to me in the last six years, basically since I became a mom, I'm not working as a side musician as much -- actually hardly any," Miller reflected in a phone call with the Weekly while walking to catch the new Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Company" with some friends. "Part of that was a conscious decision, because I've gotten more into composing.

"It also works better for me, my schedule as a mom. It's like, 'Okay, I need to be home more. I need to be able to craft my own schedule and not have to just get on a tour bus with a rock band or a singer-songwriter and be on tour for a few months,'" she continued. "I can't do that anymore, so I really thought if I can get this going with my bands, then I can have a little bit more say of when I leave town and when I'm home."

As bandleaders or members of collectives, both she and Scheinman continue to juggle multiple live projects.

Scheinman, who's based in California, is performing in three different musical settings this month while Parlour Game itself was actually born out of another of Miller's bands, Boom Tic Boom, while on a tour including Staaf and Scherr.

"We noticed this affinity that the four of us had for a certain type of playing and overlap in early influences. And we just wanted to go for something that honored those early influences and was simpler and felt good," she said.

Scheinman said that Parlour Game has a more accessible style, compared to some of the musicians' more abstract endeavors.

"It's definitely an open-hearted kind of group with relatively simple compositional structures. Grooves that feel good -- not too much jerking around or changing time signatures," she said. "It's not particularly heady, though we still try to go for the transformation. It's kind of a different doorway into that."

How do Miller and Scheinman manage to keep track of all their various musical endeavors?

"There's a part of me that questions my need for so many different projects," Miller admitted. "I asked myself if it's too difficult to split my brain, split my creativity. But I don't think it is. Because we all run in the same circles, I think it made for it to be kind of seamless."

What: Parlour Game.

Where: El Palo Alto Room, Mitchell Park Community Center, 3700 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

When: Monday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $20.

Info: Earthwise Productions.

Due to ongoing public health concerns, events may be canceled with short notice. Check directly with the venue or event organizer to confirm.

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Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2020 at 12:21 pm

Coincidentally, the original name of the band that played the series last weekend was Allie and The Cats.

In accordance with the discussion of caution regarding the potential pandemic, we've cut the capacity of The El Palo Alto Room to 150 paid for these shows:
Akira Tana, March 13
Parlour Game, March 16
CJ Cheneir, March 20
Cam, April 1
Laura Veirs, April 6
Myra Melford (member of Boom Tic Boom, described above) April 17
Marcus Shelby Orchestra featuring Tiffany Austin, April 18
Wayne Horvitz Duo/ Lisa Mezzacappa 6, April 23
That 1 Guy, May 3

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2020 at 9:12 pm

The point you are missing, Yoshi, is that Earthwise at Mitchell Park fairly regularly in 2019 and except for a force majeur will see 2020 performing arts groups that also play Yoshi's (for example, as Johnny A did in January), SF Jazz (where the group you describe above is playing this tour) and Freight and Salvage in Berkeley --all venues that utilized significant organizational dollars to build world class music facilities. The Mitch was not built with that purpose, but it turns out with a little hustle and luck we can at times approximate those places. And its a great use for the space.

I think the article could also expand or explain your point about being "a fixture around town and online". What are you getting at? Which might explain, why am I doing this?

Not to toot my own horn (like Dave Douglas, Tom Harrell, Melecio Magdaluyo, Ron Miles, or Vince Difiore), but there is a connection between these events, running for City Council, lobbying for the return of The Brown Bag series or marrying an arts commissioner. I'd be curious to read an educated guess about such.

When Frank Benerst was named city manager, your paper said he was a former concert promoter -- not true; I asked him about it and it turns out that he was more like our Suzanne Warren than Bill Graham or Greg Perloff or Seth Hurvitz, or Randall Kline, or Danny Scherr or Jim Nadel or the Oswald brothers who went to Cubberley, or Rick Mueller, or Jen Bilfield or Mystery Machine or Jason Colton or Bryan Perez. Or the man from East Palo Alto who just passed.

Actually this is the laziest hodge podge I've seen in a while, well below the standards of previous articles about Earthwise written by Jim Harrington, Monica Hayde, Eric Espe and in other publications.

Allison Miller and Jenny Scheinman are pound for pound (and pluck for pluck) two of the best musicians in the world --and in fact are now both mothers. They are bad mothers! Bad in the sense of good. Parlour Game is your invitation to another world, ears wide shut. F-- your father's rock and roll pneumonia and boogie-woogie flu! This band is Crichton-level scary good!

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2020 at 7:26 pm

SFJazz cancelled the band’s four SF shows which led to the band cancelling the rest of the tour.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2020 at 2:46 pm

Cam is rescheduled to June 13 at Lucie Stern ballroom, lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2020 at 10:01 am

Web Link

This post from my blog which thanks for mentioning above includes at the bottom about an hours worth of samples from recent events please enjoy the music while we try to reach your party

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2020 at 1:17 pm

I woke up this morning thinking I could, after 26 years change my name from Earthwise to Ears Wide or Earswide in that "big ears" is jargon for having diverse interests in music and "wide" is a play on "big". Not that I am abandoning an interest in the environment ("green" "sustainable" et cetera) but is secondary and generally has been.
The actual reference, three comments ago and 11 days ago, was to the Kubrik film "Eyes Wide Shut" which I think is about lucid dreaming and maybe going to parties. (I said Yoshi Kato in his preview to the Parlour Game show that never happened could have been more definitive in his praise or critique of the group. I was going to say that going to our event might be like going to that party in the Tom Cruise movie. Now I would joke about Eyes Wide Shut-In.

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