Bassist Uriah Duffy is one of Oakland’s hardest-working musicians. A former member of Whitesnake who’s now in “melodic guitar-driven instrumental” band Points North, Duffy has worked with everyone from The Coup to Lyrics Born to the Kev Choice Ensemble, and has been known to play as many as three gigs in a single day. But his greatest accomplishment may be Crossroads, the music-themed camp he’s brought to Burning Man’s Black Rock City for the past three years and running.

Crossroads at Black Rock City

Crossroads at Black Rock City

Duffy is Crossroads’ musical director and visionary, a role which requires not only musical talent, but considerable physical exertion: every year, Duffy and about 30 of his Burner buddies erect a stage on the playa, which consists of 11 freestanding 8’x8’ platforms weighing about 300 lbs each. As Duffy notes, “I ran the wood shop in the back of a giant U-Haul (maybe not the best job for the bassist)!.”

Uriah Duffy in builder mode

Uriah Duffy in builder mode

Once the stage is built, the Crossroads camp—which this year was home to 125 campers—features what Duffy calls “full live nighttime concert experience from Tuesday through Friday,” played by a band consisting of professional musicians.  This year’s line-up included two other MDs, vocalist Trance Thompson and Jazz Mafia’s Adam Theis, who are a notch or two above the usual BM fare.   “There are no jams, djembes or self-indulgent riffing,” Duffy notes.

Instead, Crossroads offers “theme nights, complete with coordinated colored outfits,”Duffy says. The themes range from“MTV Returns” to “Ladies Night” to“Erotic City.”  The Friday finale performance features smash-ups and greatest hits from the previous nights. There are opening sets by belly dancers and hula hoopers, burlesque performances (including one from the“newly-formed Boylesque” all-male revue), and a post-show set by a DJ, who continues the evening’s musical theme.

if you build it, they will come

if you build it, they will come

As Duffy notes, “it can be difficult to pull off a show of this scope with minimal rehearsals (if any at all).” As with any live concert, there’s lighting and sound preparation to troubleshoot, in addition to music. “But every year we pull it off, to rave reviews,” he says.

“The response from the BM community (and BM itself) has been nothing short of astonishing!” he exclaims. “We are able to touch people on a very deep level out there. I’ve seen people tear up in the crowd when we’ve had moments on stage. I believe there are many reasons for this, one being that BM participants’ hearts and minds are already open just by being there… There’s nothing more soul soothing than coming across a nostalgic melody from a favorite tune being performed live while riding your bike through a sea of electronic music!”

After three years, Crossroads has become one of Black Rock City’s musical highlights, attracting around one thousand people at any given time each night. “This year we had to have a Crowd Control division,” Duffy explains. “We needed to get the peoples’ bikes to our bike parking area behind our bar, as well as park the giant art cars so they were not obstructing the circle street that our camp resided on.” As for the crowds themselves, they arrived wearing “everything to anything to nothing. Really,” Duffy says.

night on the playa

night on the playa

Crossroads is a huge undertaking and a definite labor of love. But it’s worth it, Duffy says, to go into debt every year to make the camp happen, and he doesn’t even mind missing out on paid gigs (last year, he was asked to play on Lionel Ritchie’s world tour but chose Burning Man instead).

The highlight for Duffy “is seeing how such a large camp can actually work and come together to make this happen. We had no drama this year. People knew their roles and did them- whether it be bartending, building, etc. Those of us who’d been going forever didn’t have to do 15 jobs each this year (only 5, hah!).”

Uriah in performance mode

Uriah in performance mode

Duffy says he’s proud that Crossroads has become a vibrant part of Black Rock’s virtual city of 67,000 people and of the learning experience each Burn has become for him. There’s much that he’s thankful for, “but most importantly I love that so many people can share a journey together that covers all aspects of life, concentrated into one week in a remote location. I will continue to do this, refine it and gift it to make the world a better place. Oh, and it’s the most fun you could ever have!”

For those considering attending future Burns, Duffy offers the following tips: “Don’t try to hold on to the ways of the default world you live in… Don’t just stick with your crew- go OUT and meet someone… Don’t expect anyone to clean up after you. With the exception of the porta potties, we all bring our sh*t in; we all bring our sh*t out. Cigarette butts included!”
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Eve performing at Grand Live

Eve performing at Grand Live

There’a new venue in town. Well, technically, several venues in one, within the appropriately-named Venue, a 24,000 sq. foot space in at 420 14th Street in downtown Oakland, at the former location of the House of Soul. The building’s three levels include a restaurant/nightclub/lounge, Vinyl; the Blend juice bar, and Grand Live, a live music space (the basement also houses 510 Spokes, a bike shop).

Venue has been open for a couple of weeks, and is already adding to Oakland’s burgeoning nightlife scene. The space is so new, it doesn’t even have a website yet, just a FB page. Last weekend, Oakulture decided to check it out, as well as see legendary female emcee Eve, the onetime “first lady of the Ruff Ryders.”

The concert was held in the Grand Live space, which is a large, beautiful room with art deco ambiance (owing to its history as a ballroom). Patrons who paid for the show also had the option of checking out the reggae DJ inside Vinyl (there was no cover), which was a nice change-of-pace option.

Wifey at Grand Live

Wifey at Grand Live

While Eve brought back a certain amount of ‘90s nostalgia—and looked damn good doing it—the East Coast artist was, dare we say it, upstaged, by her opening act, a local rap artist named Wifey. Not only did Wifey out-glam Eve with a queenly coiffure and an outfit which combined a leotard, fishnet stockings, and a ruffled feather boa, but she damn near out-rapped her as well, delivering a much more energetic performance. We couldn’t find a website or any info about Wifey online, but we’ll definitely keep an eye out for her.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for Grand Live, which appears to be aiming to fill a void for live rap/hip-hop and urban music (upcoming shows include DJ Quik and Slum Village), as well as Vinyl, which is hosting several new weekly parties featuring local DJs.
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Betti Ono's Anyka Barber

Betti Ono’s Anyka Barber

Last First Friday, Oakulture popped into the Betti Ono Gallery to pay our respects. It was the gallery’s third anniversary, during which time they’ve gone from an experimental, ambitious pop-up space to quite possibly the most progressive, forward-thinking and community-minded visual art space in Oakland, with a permanent location in the center of the downtown area. While viewing the current exhibit, “Is It Love or Desire,” a patron chatted me up, remarking on how Betti Ono was bringing it on a level which even more-storied SF galleries couldn’t match. Oakulture whole-heartedly concurred, though we’ll also admit to a little bit of pro-Oaktown bias.

In the past year, ever since moving to their current location on Broadway, Betti Ono has really set the tone for the ongoing resurgence of Oakland’s cultural arts scene, establishing the spot not just as a place to view up-and-coming visual artists, but also as a space which celebrates community. Hat tips are in order to founder/curator Anyka Barber, whose original vision, inspired by Yoko Ono and Betty Davis (ex-wife of Miles) has come to fruition, and then some. We couldn’t imagine Oakland’s artistic renaissance without Betti Ono. Well, actually, we could, but it would be a lot less dynamic and interesting.

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This Week’s Picks:

It Takes a Village, featuring music and performances by Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene, Aima the Dreamer, Enajite Loicy Pela, Yosimar Reyes and DJ Lady Ryan  9/12, 8pm, $5-$50 sliding scale, Betti Ono Gallery, 1427 Broadway.

Battle of the Bells, 9/12, Grand Live, 420 14th St.

Ozumo After Dark featuring Twilite Tone, 9/13, 10pm, $15, RSVP required, Ozumo, 2251 Broadway.

True Skool 14th Anniversary featuring Dan the Automator, Shortkut, Pam the Funkstress, Platurn, Goldenchyld, Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist, 9/13, 9pm, $5, Mighty, 119 Utah, SF.

Rock the Bells, 9/14-9/15, Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View

 

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