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David Dondero

From David Dondero's "Living and the Dead": "I play the skinny indie white boy blues/ In scuffed-up military-style shoes/ I'm a convenience store connoisseur/ On a broken-shoestring-budget tour." Indeed, Dondero is the quintessential troubadour, having traversed the continent from Alaska to Florida many times over, working everything from fish processing to bartending jobs along the way. That this itinerant singer/songwriter who titled his last studio album The Transient chooses to call San Francisco home is an honor to the city Dondero once called "the only place I didn't want to leave." A folk musician for people who don't like folk music, Dondero plays acoustic guitar-driven vignettes that often draw from autobiographical events and overheard anecdotes, and sometimes serve as a cathartic, soul-baringly personal outlet. Colored by his vagabond explorations of the nation's byways and dive bars, this Minnesota native's narrative tunes are everyman miniepics, finding the tragic splendor and poignancy in the lives of the barflies, misfits, and workaday strugglers who populate this nation.

Dondero has been using the Mission District as his home base in recent years, slinging drinks at local watering holes. Images from the city often pop up in his songs, from Golden Gate Bridge suicides to sidewalk troubadour Carlos Guitarlos and that pigeon-loving 16th Street disseminator of one-sheet rants named Swan. Dondero's most recent album, Live at the Hemlock (Future Farmer), was recorded at the titular Polk Street tavern and includes an insightful Iraq War protest song called "Pre-Invasion Jitters" that prompted NPR's Bob Boilen to call Dondero "one of the best singer/songwriters I've ever heard." Inspired by kindred spirits from Woody Guthrie to Daniel Johnston, Dondero's warbled vocals and fervent lyrics have been a huge influence on emo icon Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. His new album on Oberst's Team Love label, South of the South, will be in stores Oct. 25. The Team Love Web site describes it as "a perversely American record full of sentimentality, contempt, humor, and lust."

Our Lady of the Highway

Remember when people were killing themselves trying to come up with clever genre descriptions like "y'allternative"? Well, this Oakland group was just what they had in mind -- a band that makes country music for people who remember how cool college rock was in the '80s. Formed in 1996 by bike messengers Dominic East and Andrew Gerhan, Our Lady packs all the misery and torpor of country into indie rock's feedback-y riffs, epic major chords, and bellowed vocals. The band's debut CD, 2003's About Leaving -- which featured full-time drummer David Clifford and part-time bassist Josh Housh, violinist Jason Kleinberg, and keyboardist Charlie Hall -- packed together 11 songs about girls who can kill you in a second. East's lyrics scroll out like little power plays, most of which end badly. There's a touch of early Springsteen in the stanzas, what with East's narrators driving aimlessly thorough the night, trying to come to grips with their broken hearts and confusing wanderlust. East's voice is the perfect complement to such searching lyrics, his yearning tone rising to beseeching levels just as the guitars build to a climax or the girls step out of reach. (It's no surprise that Our Lady is featured on a forthcoming Magnetic Fields tribute album, adding some mournfulness to the ultraromantic "100,000 Fireflies.") The combo has just started shopping its sophomore record, Beauty Won't Save Us, which is rumored to be even more miserable than the first. East's hope? That labels will say, "Y'all come back now, y'hear?"

Six Organs of Admittance

Six Organs of Admittance is the mystically flavored alias for Ben Chasny -- guitarist, vocalist, obscure record collector, and wandering spiritualist who has split time over the past seven years between Humboldt County, Santa Cruz, and the East Bay. From '98 to '01, Chasny released a succession of records featuring his singular fusion of freely flowing folk meditations, gentle indie-pop, Indian ragas, and Japanese-influenced atonal noise-drones. Most of these releases were LPs, 7-inches, and lathe-cut records pressed in hyperlimited quantities. Despite this form of self-imposed obscurity, Chasny's reputation as a totally unique indie musician and brilliant but dramatically unpredictable live performer spread throughout the underground. In 2001, the San Francisco-based imprint Holy Mountain rereleased on CD Chasny's critically acclaimed second LP, Dust & Chimes. Over the next two years, Holy Mountain proceeded to release a string of discs and vinyl by Chasny, including Dark Noontide ('02), Compathia ('03), a reissue of his self-titled debut ('03), and For Octavio Paz ('04). Nearly every rock critic on Earth has hailed these records as the products of a true genius. Without allowing success to slow his artistic growth, Chasny maintained his feverish music-creating pace into '05. He joined his buddies' band full time -- the ferociously loud, Bay Area-based psych-rock outfit Comets on Fire -- and recorded an album, School of the Flower, for his new label, Drag City (one of indie rock's genuine institutions). As if all this wasn't enough, Chasny (since the beginning of his career) has kept up this side project, Badgerlore, a folksy, experimental collaboration with former Deerhoof member Rob Fisk.


Nikola Baytala

More than 10 years after beginning his career as a talented teenager playing records for various renegade parties in the underground rave scene of Orange County, Nikola Baytala has become one of San Francisco's most beloved DJs representing the house and techno strains of dance music. He has few peers when it comes to his relentless work ethic, routinely playing at two to three parties on any given weekend night, whether it's a Sunset boat party, a below-the-radar warehouse gathering, or an early-morning set at the Endup, where audiences seem to love his infectious smile and captivating energy (he's known for dancing harder than many of his faithful followers). Baytala has played with top international DJs and artists such as Doc Martin, Derrick Carter, Daft Punk, and Swayzak, and has helped bring several notable up-and-comers to San Francisco to DJ at events he's put on as part of DJ/promoter collectives the Fool and S.W.A.T. This latter group also includes Kwai Le Chief and RaSoul, and has released several songs and mixes on acclaimed record labels such as Tweekin, Large, COA, Nightshift, Soul Food, and Tummy Touch, with more tunes forthcoming. Alongside other local favorites Solar and Iz, Baytala is a resident DJ at the long-running Sunday night club "Bionic," a weekly jam dedicated to electronic funk that began at the now-defunct DJ bar the Top and is currently held at Pink.


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