Bay Area musicians band together for 'After the Fire' benefit album release
Like so many people who woke up Oct. 9 and saw the face of Northern California changed by wildfires, Scott Mickelson felt compelled to help, but what can a musician and record producer do?
He could call a bunch of musicians to come to his studio and make an album.
Next Thursday Mickelson will present the record release party for “After the Fire, Vol. 1” at the HopMonk Tavern in Sebastopol, followed by a second show, in association with the Noise Pop musical festival, at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco on March 30.
The money raised by the sale of the album CD and downloads, with 15 North Bay acts donating their work, as well as by both live events, will go to fire relief efforts, Mickelson said.
“I am very proud of the album,” he added. “Everyone wanted to do it. Every song blossomed into its own production. The project turned into this powerful, original record documenting some of the best artists in the Bay Area. It’s a viable time capsule.”
To Mickelson, the most important thing about “After the Fire,” is that it’s a gift to the community that will keep on giving.
“The damage just doesn’t go away,” Mickelson said. “This was one of the biggest disasters in California history. In our culture, everybody forgets, because it’s in the news, and then Trump has a fight with North Korea, and nobody cares anymore. Some of the people who lost their homes are still trying to figure what to do next.”
Mickelson’s Mill Valley home and studio weren’t touched by the fires, but one of the album’s contributors, Bobby Jo Valentine, who will perform at the Sebastopol show, wasn’t so lucky.
“Bobby Jo lost everything,” Mickelson said.
Not all of the musicians who contributed to the album produced fire-related songs, but popular Sonoma County singer-songwriter David Luning came up with “My Hometown’s on Fire,” Mickelson said.
“He basically wrote that song in the studio,” Mickelson said.
And not all of the musicians on the record will be at the live shows. Some of them, including Luning, were previously committed to other gigs.
Josh Windmiller, front man for the band The Crux and director of Santa Rosa’s annual Railroad Square Music Festival, will perform at the Sebastopol show. His contribution to the album is titled “Same Bed, Different Dream.”
Mickelson, who is also on the album and will perform at the live shows, has a long list of credentials in the music industry.
After moving from New York to California in 1984, and going to work as an acoustic solo musician in San Francisco in 1987, he formed the band Fat Opie in 1992, which lasted eight years.
“We had a couple of brushes with success,” Mickelson said. “We were signed with Lookout Management, so our manager was Elliot Roberts, who manages Neil Young. Roberts is kind of a legendary guy, Then we won this national band search on MTV and were awarded 15,000 bucks in about 2000, but then Fat Opie broke up.”
Illness interrupted Mickelson’s musical career for eight years, followed by a career as a newspaper and magazine illustrator.
“I had a book that I wrote and illustrated, called ‘Artichoke Boy,’ that got published,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a children’s author as a career, but then I started painting and I did a one-man show in San Francisco and the gallery owner recognized me from Fat Opie and she said, ‘You should play at the gallery opening.’ So I called together some of the remaining guys from the band, and I never painted again.”
Once back in music, he toured the nation solo for a couple of years, and ultimately decided to record as just “Mickelson,” and dropped the Fat Opie name.
“By that time, I had moved to Mill Valley,” he said. “That was seven years ago, and I set up my studio here.”
His first solo recording, “Flickering,” released in 2015, got on the Grammy Awards nominations ballot in two categories: Best Folk Album and Best Roots Album.
Now he has produced “After the Fire, Vol. 1,” and the title suggests there is more to come, but that’s not a certainty.
“I felt the ‘Vol. 1’ helped signify that it was a compilation and not another Mickelson record, as I am releasing my new albvum, ‘A Wonderous Life’ on May 4,” Mickelson said.
“I’d love to do a ‘Vol. 2,’ but I took a big hit financially, meaning I needed to push aside my paying production work in order to make ‘After the Fire, Vol. 1’ the artistic success that it is,” he explained. “I easily put a couple hundred hours into it and enjoyed every minute.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dannarts.