By CESAREO GARASA, Contributing columnist
As anyone who has ever driven downtown looking for something to do on the Fourth of July knows, there is nothing happening.
It doesn't matter if the Fourth lands on a Friday or Saturday, most of the city will be at house parties blowing up fireworks and eating barbecue with friends and family.
Outside of these get-togethers, though, there is what I call the dead zone -- a citywide vacuum of volume, a black hole of silence.
Sandrini's? Closed. Guthrie's Alley Cat? Closed. Texas 28? Closed.
In fact, the only venues open in the downtown area will be Riley's and the Mint, sure to get the real revelers, the ones looking for fun on a Friday night that just happens to land on our national birthday.
But for something for the whole family, the best bet on Friday will be at the Bright House Networks Amphitheatre for a free concert by Foster Campbell & Friends.
The group, which plays a lot of the high-profile shows in town, is a fun blast of pure R&B and soul with a lineup of some of the most consistent and capable musicians in town.
Bandleader Campbell is a jovial host who truly appears to be enjoying himself and is just as entertained as the crowd by his talented bandmates (who each share the spotlight throughout the show). This is no "star vehicle"; these guys are here to make you get up and get down.
There will be a fireworks display after the show, and if you want more entertainment when that's over, go to Riley's and sing some karaoke.
One thing I can say with utter conviction: They will have ample booze to serve, and as is the truth with karaoke, the more you drink, the better you think you sound. The good thing about fewer bars being open are the shorter wait times for a cab.
Most of the real entertainment options will be reserved for Saturday, when people will be more willing and able to step up and trip the light fantastic with visiting family and friends ready to revisit old haunts -- and maybe some new ones.
In the case of the Old River Monte Carlo, it's both.
The saloon has been serving thirsty farmers and ranchers for over a century, and is still catering to them to this day. Located on Old River Road and Taft Highway, the saloon has seen better days but remains as a time capsule to a Kern County that existed decades ago. This Saturday, it gets to prove that you can teach an old bar new tricks.
After the back of the bar was doubled in size a few years ago, the Monte Carlo has hosted a variety of cover bands to entertain the always-game south county patrons who know how to have a good time. On Saturday, the bar will be hosting four acts that break the mold by playing original music. It's an honest-to-goodness rock show at the Monte Carlo, officially opening the door to another viable venue for original music in our town.
The event is being coordinated by Darin Buoni, lead singer of The Cult/Guns N' Roses acolytes Redadare, who will be playing the show along with the debut of acoustic duo The Sappers, Bakersfield's Niner Niner, and outlaw country/rock headliners the Iron Outlaws (full disclosure: I'm in the Outlaws).
Buoni and his family have patronized the saloon for years and have a vested interest in making this a celebration for family and friends.
In fact, all the bands have ties to the agricultural region where the Monte Carlo is centered: The Sappers' Erin Draguesku and The Iron Outlaws' Danny Garone were both raised in the area.
But for those apprehensive about the bar's distance from town -- it is a long way -- carpooling or splitting a cab may be worth the cost.
The Iron Outlaws, Redadare, Niner-Niner, and The Sappers 8:30 p.m. Saturday, the Old River Monte Carlo, 9750 Taft Highway; Free; 21 and over
Knower 10 p.m. Saturday, Texas 28, 1517 18th St. $5
Neil Swank knows his music.
The acting entertainment consultant at Texas 28 has great taste in music and ever since unleashing the Israel-based Monotonix on Bakersfield -- which was the first time I ever saw an audience carry a drummer and his drum kit around the bar while he was still playing it! -- Swank has been bringing in interesting out-of-town bands that either need a gig between Fresno and L.A. or who genuinely want to play here (which they should).
He's championed local artists and is an all-around cool guy to hang out with. This Saturday, his newest entry in the "who the heck are these guys?!" sweepstakes is Knower out of Los Angeles.
The duo -- singer Genevive Artadi and instrumentalist Louis Cole -- specialize in Dirty Loops-ish type dance music based on schizophrenic yet percolating synths with drum beats and syncopated rhythms that range from wacky to smoothly amazing.
Like a Kate Bush-led supercharged Daft Punk with no fear of combining dissonance and straight groove, they have chops (their drummer -- if he performs with them -- is straight-up TERRIFYING). They perform souped- up synth jazz pop with covers from Michael Jackson (their version of "P.Y.T." is super-cool) to newer pop artists like Katy Perry. I can only assume they killed it when they performed at the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee last year. You can see what I'm talking about at www.knowermusic.com.
The inherent challenge for these acts is presented in the bland reality of what it actually is: two people on stage with keyboards.
But with a multimedia show combining lights, video and some canny costumes (are those Stormtrooper outfits?!) they seem to have figured out a way to divert our 21st century attention spans away from our smart phones.
There are a lot of DJs and fans of dance music I know in town who have to check them out, because if they can pull off these absolutely bonkers tunes live, you're going to see and dance to something that we don't get around here too often.
That Monotonix show I mentioned earlier was years ago on a Monday night in front of 10 people who called every one of their friends to get there ASAP, and everyone who showed up will never forget that show.
Wouldn't you want to be on the ground floor of something like that?
The Burning of Rome, with Jesus Christ Muscle Car, and A Formal Adversary 9 p.m. Saturday, Riley's Tavern, 1523 19th St. $5
Speaking of unique, The Burning of Rome (also from Los Angeles. Was there an earthquake?) will return to Bakersfield to play Riley's Tavern on Saturday.
The best way I can describe them is as an L.A. lo-fi Arcade Fire; they play a variety of instruments and share male/female vocals, but that's pretty much where the comparison stops.
Whereas the Fire is going more towards a New York/Roxy Music/coke-fueled '70s dance party route, TBOR are well and happy to wallow in the dada-ish, creepy darkness of dim-neon-lit L.A. The single "God of Small Things" off of their new album "Year of the Ox" is a bullet of pure pop malevolence. Imagine Coldplay's "Clocks," minus the wistful romanticism and replaced with a simmering menace over hazy, glazed-eye longing -- like listening to an unsettling, pretty song between dreaming and being awake.
When I caught a glimpse of them the last time they were in town, their stage setup was as a spooky and magnetic as the music -- especially their electric piano with light bulbs on top that flash depending on the note pressed -- but don't imagine a bunch of shoe gazers.
These guys (and gal) rock a show. I get the feeling they don't want you to like them -- they want you to join them.
On the local side, they'll be supported by new sludge rock gods with the vaguely blasphemous name, Jesus Christ Muscle Car, who have a sound that's as revved-up as, well, a muscle car.
Lead singer Stephen "Thunderdome" Castro brings his Lemmy/Corrosion of Conformity growl and is flanked by metal veterans Tommy Sosobee and Josh Burns (both formerly of American Standard), and Castro's old band mate Scott Alexander.
Aggressive and inspired, these guys are bringing a new game to town. A Formal Adversary will be adding their own brand of prog-fusion rock to the mix as well.
Contributing columnist Cesareo Garasa is a Bakersfield musician who writes about music, pop culture and life. He brings you "The Lowdown" every other Thursday.