music / sacramento / Shows

A Classically Funky Night at The Mondavi

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Photos courtesy of Mickey Martin

Oh the 1970’s; A decade full of disco, roller skates and polyester suits. A period of time that also birthed all that is funk. Blending soul, jazz and rhythm to create a unique groovy sound, funk music took off with legendary artists such as James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and The Isley Brothers. I cannot think of a better genre of music that exemplifies the idea that music is so much more than a progression of sound. Funk music demonstrated a way of life and a frame of mind. This way of life and frame of mind is also at the heart and soul of ETHEL’s 2012-13 tour “Tell Me Something Good”.

ETHEL is a four-part post-classical string quartet band founded in 1998. Based in New York, they are currently traveling the world on their 2012 tour. Last week I had the opportunity to interview Tema Watstein, the newest member of ETHEL. She described their overall sound as “friendly. We try to do something for everyone, to have a variation. Every piece has an element that people can grasp onto. I’d say our sound is not typical to the familiar academic sound of a string quartet. We are fun, make a lot of noise and love to jam out”. Their current tour “Tell Me Something Good”, which celebrates the culture and sounds of the 1970s, also features rock legend Todd Rundgren. Tema was “pleased to report that die-hard Todd fans that aren’t too versed in classical music would not be disappointed. There’s everything from electric, to video game music, to traditional. It’s fun, perky and a clamoring of different colors”.

Just from my interview with Tema, I was beyond excited to attend their show. As a loyal fan of rock music and a retired violin player myself, this seemed like the perfect mixture of taste and sound. On the evening of November 3rd, TUBE photographer Mickey Martin and I headed across the causeway to the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis. Before the concert even started we were met with a startling experience. Both of us having never been to the Mondavi Center were taken aback by how breathtaking it truly was. Walking in, we were greeted and assisted by the friendliest staff and personnel. After being escorted to our orchestra seats, we were overpowered by scent of wood and the size of the structure. I’d imagine every patron took a minute to truly admire the architecture and vastness of their surroundings. To look at the stage and imagine all the best performers from around the world standing right there. We were also surprised to learn that the Mondavi Center is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year, the program we were given announced all the generous donors that have contributed to the nationally recognized programs that take place there. As the lights dimmed and the guests were ushered to their seats, we were ready for the show to begin.

As ETHEL stepped on stage and took up their instruments of choice, the theatre approached complete darkness and silence. What came next can hardly be described in words. All I could do was stare and listen to the magical sound coming from this band, hardly being able to tell where one member started and the other began. The entire audience hung on every note and chord so elegantly played. From Estonia to India, ETHEL encompassed sounds from around the world. The energy and power protruding from these four musicians was felt deep down in the soul of every onlooker. Tema had previously told me that her favorite part about performing was the joy she gets from the audience response. I truly understood what she meant by looking at the people around me. It was literally impossible for all eyes to be anywhere else than on that stage.

Ralph Farris, founding member of ETHEL and Grammy-nominated arranger, displayed character and passion in his performance. From the second he touched his viola, the audience was entertained with his incredible dance moves, metallic silver pants, and evident love for his music. Co-founder of ETHEL and Julliard School graduate Dorothy Lawson, exhibited ethereal poise and reverence in her cello playing. Her deep notes set the tone for the each musical composition. Modern musical troubadour and “experimental folk” enthusiast Kip Jones stunned the audience with his violin abilities. His enthusiasm was seen on his face and captivating gestures. Tema Watstein, active soloist and chamber musician, wowed the audience struck a chord with each audience member with her body language and stage presence. And last but certainly not least is Todd Rundgren. As ETHEL exited the stage, Rundgren came on displaying a musical smorgasbord of guitar, piano and ukulele. While screaming, audience interaction and fist pumping may not be typical for quartet performances, they seemed entirely at home with an ETHEL and Rundgren performance. As the performance came to an end, the band was called back on stage for an encore that still left all wanting more. Simply put, ETHEL is a beautiful blend of culture, sound and heart.

I can honestly say that I left feeling empowered and affected. The power of live performances is something everyone should experience at least once, if not over and over again. While ETHEL and Todd are sadly on their way to Holland, the Mondavi Center continually holds many great performers. Check out their website for a full list of upcoming events. To watch videos and see where ETHEL is playing in the future visit their website or their Facebook page. And lastly, all photos are courtesy of TUBE’s Mickey Martin. Check out other photos and projects on his website as well. A big thank you to the Mondavi Center for enabling Mickey and I to attend this event and I hope all you TUBErs have the chance to do the same!

Words Rica Douglas

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