Rock and blues singer, songwriter, guitarist and music producer Nick Gravenites, a longtime Occidental resident, marked his 80th birthday on Oct. 2, but the party is yet to come.
Roughly 30 musicians, including some major players from the 1960s, will take the stage for five spontaneous hours Sunday at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center, and a whole lot of music will be made.
“We’re gonna put groups together. They’ll be sitting in and they’ll be doing sets of their own. We’ll turn ‘em loose and I’ll watch. There’ll be as little rehearsal as possible. I like things to be alive as possible. Make some mistakes, but make it real,” said Gravenites, who shunned the title of emcee for the event.
“I’m gonna sing and smooth over problems and talk,” he said. “I’ll be the smoother-over. Let’s put it that way.”
The line-up Sunday includes hippie icon and activist Wavy Gravy, Peter Albin and Dave Getz of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Pete Sears of Jefferson Starship and Moonalice, Barry “The Fish” Melton of Country Joe and The Fish, David LaFlamme of It’s a Beautiful Day and star guitarist Harvey Mandel, who has played with the Rolling Stones, Canned Heat and John Mayall.
“All of the old beatniks will be there, the hippies, some blues people. People will set up to play some of David LaFlamme’s specialty items,” Gravenites said. “You talk about hippie music, and his ‘White Bird’ instantly comes to mind. He did a great thing, introducing classical violin to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Drummer Jack Irons, a founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and former member of Pearl Jam, also will perform.
“He’s probably the most famous guy in Sonoma County that no one knows about,” Gravenites said. “We’re going to have too many drummers. That’s what my wife tells me.”
Born in Chicago, Gravenites connected with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band there and ultimately found himself at the heart of the San Francisco scene in the ‘60s, working with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Electric Flag and other bands.
After moving north to Sonoma County in 1982, Gravenites lived in several spots before settling in the Occidental area a couple of decades ago.
“I’ve been here for a long time. I’m pretty localized in Occidental. That’s my hometown. People know me,” he said. “I get treated with great respect by everyone. It’s a great feeling.”
Gravenites gave up playing guitar a few years back, when numbness in some of his fingers made it difficult, but he still sings.
“I’ve known Nick for years and I have one main comment,” guitarist Mandel said. “The guy can still sing better than ever. He is one of the all-time great blues singers.”
Gravenites said he finds life as a singer-only easy and efficient.
“If you’re going to a gig, you just show up,” he said with a laugh. “No plugging in, no hauling, no tuning.”
You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Arts blog at arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.