David Rokeach - drummer
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So Near,' So far: Holly Near Returns for Ukiah Performance

By CAROLE BRODSKY 11/29/2012 for Ukiah Daily Journal

On Saturday, Dec. 8, legendary singer/songwriter Holly Near is coming to Ukiah with her new band and new material. Near will be performing two concerts as a benefit for SPACE- Near and Arnold's School of Performing Arts and Cultural Education.

And yes, there is a family connection. Holly is the sister of SPACE co-founder, Laurel Near.

Near is excited about the release of her latest 2-CD package titled "Peace Becomes You, which hit the stores in early fall. It contains 28 newly recorded songs. "The material extends from my own songs to songs written or sung by artists including Irving Berlin, Jacques Brel, Ferron, Gnarls Barkley, Bernice Reagon, and Keb Mo. I chose the material to showcase many of my musical interests - love songs, standards, timely reflections on our world - all with conscience, some with humor," Near notes.

"I was fortunate to be accompanied on this extraordinary musical journey by 22 outstanding musicians and vocalists, each contributing to the variety of sounds and styles." For her CD release tour, Near is taking a small but mighty band on the road with her. Veteran performer Jan Martinelli is on bass, John Bucchino, pianist is a virtuoso and award-winning songwriter whose work has been performed by everyone from Art Garfunkel to Liza Minelli. Andre dos Santos Morgan accompanies Near on vocals and David Rokeach, who has played with the likes of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, is the drummer.

"I usually travel with just a pianist, but this tour is different. It feels like my last major musical project," Near notes. "I wanted to take the music on the road and have it reflect the feeling of the CD." The group has been touring throughout the West, and Ukiah will be their last concert of the year. "This is a great way to wrap up this leg of the tour. The songs are arranged beautifully. It has been so great to work with these players. They are so sensitive and astute." The songs feature a little bit of everything- from very rhythmic, powerful songs to gentle jazz ballads. "I'm happy with the show," Near continues.

Near credits her lifetime success as a musician to her Mendocino County roots.

"Even way back when I was coming up, for a variety of reasons, there were excellent teachers in our area. I particularly remember my singing teacher Connie Cox, but there were dance and other professionals whose life journeys landed them in the Ukiah Valley and Willits area. It made a big difference for those of us growing up here- those moments were life changing," she explains. "Not all of us wound up being professionals, but exposure to the arts gives children a form of expression and helps them to figure out who they are apart from their parent or guardian. Every animal has a moment where they have to get out of their nest. Art is how we learn to fly. It helps us to become people, and it's been proven that arts are essential for development."

Near's dedication to the arts made the decision to play a show for SPACE an easy one. "I love that SPACE exists in Ukiah. It's hugely important in terms of what goes on in terms of development of children." Recently Near was talking with a person on a bus. "The person said, I don't know why I have to pay for education. I don't have children.' I asked them if they'd ever gone into a Radio Shack. Without an education, that salesperson couldn't help you with anything. Everyone's talking about high taxes. If you don't educate children we pay for prisons," Near continues.

"SPACE makes supporting the arts easy by having a great concert. People buy their ticket and know exactly where the money goes," Near smiles.

Near, a lifelong political activist, will always use music to inform as well as entertain. "What seems to be continuing to happen is that people forget how important it is to gather in the same room. When we leave the house and gather as community, something happens to our hearts. Music is built to entertain, lift our spirits and to heal our hearts. Regardless of party politics, we're living on the only planet we know of. We get to be right here. Music reminds us of how awesome that is- even with all life's complexities and drama. That's been my job, all my life - to find that special spot when we gather together."

Near continues to stress the positive in her music and her life. "We get bombarded a lot by negative messages in the news- even the toughest of us fall prey to the language used. If bad stuff could be buried on the fifth page of the paper, maybe we'd wake up and feel differently about the day." She sees profound changes that have affected her life and the lives of women and the disenfranchised. "Watch The Voice. We watch a mainstream television show and we now see gay people, people of color, of all ages and classes. Change occurs in funny ways, but we made that happen. I think that's where my hope comes from. Human beings are horrific and spectacular. Let's quietly applaud each other for the good things we've done."

She has a word for budding artists: "I didn't know where life was going to take me. I thought I was going to Broadway to be a Broadway star. I remained curious and open to the unexpected. When opportunities came along that weren't in my plan, I'd consider them. Focus on your passion and stay open to educational opportunities that inform one's art. I'm still being informed. There's a lot of peer pressure when you're young. It was very important to me to be popular. I had to work very hard to balance that. I wanted to be liked. As an artist, this is a very hard thing to balance. It requires a lot of bravery, to follow one's heart."

Near sees herself and her peers as "elders in training."

"When you're not having to work so hard, life opens up all kinds of creative opportunities and ways to be effective in the world. Sometimes people leave my shows saying, Whoa, I just realized I got off track a little.' This is a soundtrack for people's lives. This show is not a retro concert- it's a contemporary concert of ideas. Mature audiences reflect on, That's where we've been, here's where we are today, and look what we're still doing!' We bring a lot of experience and wisdom to the table."

"People ask me, Aren't you singing to the choir?' Absolutely. The choir is doing a lot of work and I hold dear those values that keep humanity going."

The concerts will take place at the SPACE Performing Arts Theatre, 508 W. Perkins St. Shows begin at 4 and 8 p.m. For ticket information, phone (707) 462-9370 or visit www.spaceperformingarts.org.