Thom Berry hosts world/funk band tonight at Old City Hall

Thom Berry figures life’s an adventure, so music should be as well.

That helps explain Thom Berry’s Musical Ventures, a project he launched in cooperation with the Shasta County Arts Council to add a little spice to the entertainment scene. “I’m trying to bring in a few different things instead of the usual sixes and sevens,” Berry said.

His latest venture is New World Ape, an eight-piece dance band out of Santa Cruz that he’s booked for Friday night at Old City Hall. The youthful ensemble employs three horns, two guitars, drums, percussion and a grand piano to generate a high-energy blend of funk, jazz and world music. Doors open at 7 and music starts at 8. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door; call 241-7320.

For Berry, who is practically a north state institution as a blues harmonica player, the show will be a bit of a family reunion and a homecoming of sorts since New World Ape’s lineup includes his sons Cole and Miles.

Both Cole, a 27-year-old percussionist, and his bass-playing brother, 24, attended Shasta Elementary, Shasta High School and Shasta College. Berry, who owns and operates a landscape business to support his music habit, said he had been looking for an opportunity to get his boys back in town to perform for their family and friends.

“We’re super excited about this,” Cole said during a phone call from his home in Santa Cruz. “Miles and I especially. We’ve been pumping this band up for awhile. I hope people have high expectations for it. We’re really excited to play for all our family and friends. It should be a good show.”

Berry said he got Cole his first drum kit at age 5 “because I knew he had the aptitude.”  Miles’ interest in music surfaced a little later; he asked his dad for a bass guitar when he was 15.

Cole said he studied percussion under Shasta College instructors Richard Fiske and Larry Grandy before transferring to Cabrillo College in Aptos. Cole excelled at Cabrillo and earned an academic scholarship to UC Santa Cruz. He graduated in 2008 with a degree in language studies.

While traveling in South America, Cole said he got a call from two of former classmates. “They said they were putting together a world funk jazz band and wanted to see how far they could take it. I said sure. They had fired their old bass player so I told them to audition my brother. He came down from Redding and it was a good fit.”

Berry said his musical ventures project, which has already brought Latin-style violinist Willie Royal and his Locos to Old City Hall, has become a reality thanks to the support of Debra Lucero, the Shasta County Arts Council’s executive director. “It’s nice to have that kind of support,” Berry said.

“Our goal is to really help grow local artists,” said Lucero, who is completing her first year as head of the arts council. “Whether they are visual artists or musical artists, it doesn’t matter.”

Berry’s efforts to add some musical diversity fits well with the arts council’s goals, including the promotion of Old City Hall as a venue. “We want to utilize Old City Hall as the asset it is, right in the center of Redding. It’s a really nice, beautiful, intimate space,” Lucero said.

Additionally, Berry’s concert series dovetails with the fledgling True North Tour, a collaborative project Lucero is spearheading to unite arts councils in Shasta, Trinity, Tehama and Butte counties.

Lucero said the idea is to coordinate programming to raise the visibility of arts councils as both cultural touchstones and economic development engines for their respective counties.

“Arts councils are not big money makers so we’re trying to be more regional to get a bigger bang for the buck. We’ll be utilizing KIXE and public radio to create regional awareness. It’s tough everywhere. If there’s a way to help make it a little less crazy out there, that’s what we want to do,” Lucero said.

And if that means more chances to enjoy gifted musicians from throughout northern California, so much the better.

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.
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