By CESAREO GARASA, Contributing columnist
Eagle Mountain Casino outside Porterville might seem like a long drive, but how far would you be willing to go to see an actual living legend of rock 'n' roll?
Gregg Allman is one such legend. One half of the titular Allman Brothers Band and a successful solo artist in his own right, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee will be returning to the Central Valley when he plays the casino on June 27.
Formed in 1969, the Allman Brothers Band was a pioneer in the Southern rock genre -- although they tended to disassociate themselves from the description, citing it as too limiting for a band of their sonic sprawl. They mixed blues, jazz, country and rock with legendary instrumental jams that made up their dense improvisational/ swampy sound. They had their peak with the release of 1971's "Live at Filmore East" and weathered the death of two members, including founder and iconic guitarist Duane Allman, Gregg's brother.
The younger Allman stayed with the group (which has disbanded and re-formed many times since) while pursuing a solo career that has earned both critical acclaim and great success. Along the way, he lived the debauched life you'd expect of a '70s rock star -- a short marriage to Cher and enough substance abuse to warrant the need for a new liver. His autobiography, "My Cross to Bear," aired all the skeletons upon its 2012 release.
But even now, in what by his own account is a time of mellow reflection as he enters his golden years, tragedy can't seem to leave this rock god alone. Allman has been center stage in the media spotlight lately, and not because of his music. Production on "Midnight Rider," the working title of a biopic of his life, was shut down in recent months following the death of film crew member Sarah Jones. The rocker, an executive producer on the film, is being sued by another crew member who said she was injured in the same incident that killed Jones. Though Allman declined to be interviewed, he has told other media outlets that he wants nothing further to do with the movie.
Sad indeed for a man who looks to have gotten his act together in recent years: "Low Country Blues," Allman's last CD, was released in 2011; though well into his 60s, Allman is holding up under the demands of a rigorous touring schedule.
A lot of drama, yes. But don't go for the tabloid angle. Go to see this master instrumentalist and improviser -- backed by an outstanding band -- hit those grace notes he's still capable of and earned.
Gregg Allman, 8 p.m. June 27, Eagle Mountain Casino, 681 Reservation Road, in Porterville. $35-$45.
MURS with Â¡Mayday! 8 p.m. Friday, B Ryders Bar, 7401 White Lane; $16 all ages at ticketweb.com (note: the material might not appropriate for all ages)
While underground rapper MURS might not be a household name like Jay-Z or Kanye West, his status in the indie-rap movement is impressive and consistent. He returns to Bakersfield to play at B Ryders Friday.
MURS, 36, (both an acronym and a backronym, having multiple meanings before and after the fact) uses nimble wordplay and a muscular rhythmic flow that relies less on provocation and posturing than actual verbal skill. His latest release, a collaboration with Florida hip-hop group Â¡MaydayÂ¡ (and his first on Tech N9ne's record label, Strange Music), titled with the obvious portmanteau Â¡MursDay!, is a hot-blooded, energetic release that ups the tempos and evaporates the fake lethargy of most of the ring-tone hip- hop out there. It is in your face and instantly cathartic. Come to move; stay to listen.
This isn't just going to be a good rap show, it's going to be a good show . I've written before of the game-changing show he had at Fishlips a few years ago (where he proved the validity and potential of underground hip-hop locally with a capacity-filled performance), and even though he's been back a few times since, I have a feeling this show will be no exception. With a stellar reputation as unique as his choices, MURS proves that talent, instinct and ability transcend genres.
Rappers are more rock stars now than rock stars are.
Vinylgraph, Niner Niner and Easter Teeth (from Santa Barbara), 9 p.m. Saturday, Sandrinis Bar 1918 Eye St. $5.
The members of Vinylgraph have been through the local rock 'n' roll gauntlet for a while now. Veterans Colin Cook, 34 (Broken Record Gospel, Get up Get down, The Polyrhythm) and Mike Montano Jr., 35 (Karmahitlist, Midnight Panic) have each been at it for close to two decades. Even the comparatively relative newcomers (although far from inexperienced) singer Chanell Hall, 24 (Holy Beast), and drummer Robert Morgan, 28 (The Volume), are no strangers to touring or the realities of what it takes to be a working musician.
Now the four of them have come together to create a new Bakersfield supergroup that has the local scene buzzing with anticipation and curiosity. A combination of Cook's asymmetrical guitar leads with Hall's emotive, powerful voice blended with the melodic bass-played-as-lead lines of Montano and Morgan's solid-yet-fluid drumming makes for a very dynamic new-yet-familiar sound -- as anyone who caught their debut a few weeks ago could attest to.
Imagine a musical combo of Jane's Addiction and At The Drive In, with the pipes of Joss Stone singing and the drumming somewhere between the soulful hammer of Led Zeppelin and the dark, dense murk of Black Sabbath. It sounds a bit hyperbolic, but these are the influences I heard from their songs: deep, melodic, soulful, varied, unpredictable and solid. It was one of the best debuts I've ever seen performed in Bakersfield.
From my experience, whenever our scene hits a plateau, it's because under the surface, groundwork is being laid. Bands, planning ahead for their futures, are laying tracks to get ready for the long trip ahead. On the surface, all appears placid, but underneath, the sharks are swimming.
In the four months they've been together, Vinylgraph has recorded and is finishing up their upcoming CD, which they plan to sell both physically and digitally. All of this before their second gig. Their work ethic and dedication is as conspicuous as their ambition, but they're also pragmatic -- they work to keep the momentum up and fluid, not as work-for-work's-sake.
That balance between having a life and having a dream is something a lot of musicians know all too well. After a hugely successful debut show, the band was greeted with instant acclaim and validation to continue, but with careers and families, difficult choices will only become more difficult. To Cook, the future can jockey for position as it comes: "I see us going out and sharing it with as many people as possible."
As to what the audience could expect? Cook predicts "a night of heartfelt, energetic rock 'n' roll."
Their upcoming show at Sandrini's Saturday with Niner Niner and Santa Barbara's Easter Teeth will also be a glimpse of things to come -- not just from the four stellar musicians performing, but to the ripples on that calm surface proclaiming the sharks are ready to eat.
Contributing columnist Cesareo Garasa is a Bakersfield musician who writes about music, pop culture and life. He brings you "The Lowdown" every other Thursday.