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East vs. West 

Cross the bridge for bEASTfest, the East Bay's all-inclusive music and arts showcase

Wednesday, Dec 11 2002
Weary of the in-crowd pretensions of the San Francisco scene, some performers and artists from Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda have banded together to showcase their talents under the clever banner of bEASTfest ("East Bay" is pig Latin for "beast," an apt euphemism for the region's notorious wild side). In its third year, the festival spans three nights of music and the arts at seven venues. The organizers' ambitious goal is that the event "can ... make the East Bay home to potential new hybrid art forms, and in turn strengthen East Bay culture," according to publicity materials. To this end, filmmakers, painters, mixed-media innovators, dancers, poets, theater mavens, laptop noodlers, rock 'n' rollers, hip hoppers, improvisers, and rootsy guitar twangers are well represented, along with a healthy dose of uncategorizable, world-class eccentrics.

One example of bEASTfest's all-inclusive approach, the "Spoken Word Showcase" (Dec. 12) is an exhibition of writing that flies off the page, with Charles Ellik and Sonia Whittle as MCs, a wide range of competitive stylists, and a mind-bending turntablist (Mushroom). A hyper and engaging performer, Ellik has hosted slams on both sides of the bay, coached UC Berkeley's slam team to the International Collegiate Championship, and currently heads the weekly Berzerkeley Slam. Singing and shouting with soulful urgency, top slam poet Whittle is priming the next generation as host of Oakland's Slam on It! The MCs aren't the only ones who can throw down: When Team Berkeley (ranked fifth in the nation) squares off against Team Oakland, expect rapid-fire tongues to weave vivid urban tapestries.

Out of the dozens of musical groups slated to appear at bEASTfest, Peoples Bizarre most embodies the event's mission statement. Boasting top-drawer players with roots in classical, jazz, world music, and blues, the six-piece ensemble performs a compelling mix of traditional Balkan tunes and originals that spill over with seriousness and serious fun. Given its broad-minded approach to both composition and improvisation, the collective ventures way beyond the limits of genre, which no doubt accounts for its headlining slot on the "Eclectic World Sounds & Revelry" bill (Dec. 14).

Using various combinations of voice, strings, accordion, piano, saw, clarinet, saxophone, upright bass, and drums, the songs on Peoples Bizarre's new eponymous CD run the gamut. From "September," a soulful and sad quasi-R&B ballad, to "Joy Fu Fritters," a midtempo noir soundtrack, to the propulsive "Polka," a kick-up-your-heels number that ends with the ghost of Jimi Hendrix haunting Jessica Ivry's electric cello with mad overdrive and raw feedback, Peoples Bizarre paints aural portraits that resonate with Technicolor innovation -- the hallmark of the most auspicious East Bay artists and the respectable aim of bEASTfest.

About The Author

Sam Prestianni


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