Downtown Merced’s arts and entertainment scene is alive and kicking – and 2013 is all the evidence needed to prove that statement as fact.
From art exhibits and performances at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, to music and concerts at venues like the Merced Theatre and The Partisan, Merced residents had a diversity of weekend entertainment options in 2013.
Although we’re not even a week into the New Year, early indications are 2014 will also be a stellar year for local arts and entertainment. Case in point: Bands like San Diego’s Pinback and South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo already have scheduled dates to perform in Merced, and folks in the downtown arts community say there will be more to come.
Here’s a look back at some of the top Merced arts and entertainment moments from 2013.
Fishbone at the Merced Theatre/Two Gallants at The Partisan
Downtown Merced’s music scene was off to an electric start in 2013, as legendary Los Angeles funkateers Fishbone rolled into town Jan. 25 for a performance at the Merced Theatre. To add to the nighttime excitement, about a block down the street the same night, San Francisco garage rock duo Two Gallants played for a packed house at The Partisan.
The real fun, however, came after both shows came to an end. Toward the end of the evening, the drummers from Fishbone and Two Gallants played a post-performance drum showdown at The Partisan. Locals were also treated to an informal meet-and-greet with Fishbone lead singer Angelo Moore and other members of the group after the shows.
KRS One/Gift of Gab at The Partisan
Local hip-hop fans will definitely remember 2013 as a remarkable year when their prayers for more live, local shows were indeed answered. One of hip-hop’s founding fathers, KRS One, performed a sold-out show at The Partisan on Feb. 23. A few weeks after KRS One’s appearance, local audiences were treated to a performance by another well-known rapper in the hip-hop pantheon, as the Gift of Gab, one half of the duo Blackalicious, also performed at The Partisan. Both shows proved there is a large audience for progressive, conscious hip-hop in Merced.
Comedy Festival with Adam Carolla
The Middlestate Independent Comedy Film Festival enjoyed another successful year at the Merced Theatre back in April. The event was headlined by one of the most high profile comedians to be featured locally, as Adam Carolla performed to a packed audience at the festival. The festival also included a short film showcase, in addition to the independent film “It’s a Disaster” by director Todd Berger. Berger also stuck around after the film for a Q and A with audience members.
Playhouse Merced productions
There’s an old saying that “an old stone gathers no moss” –and there was definitely no standing still for Playhouse Merced’s staff in 2013, as the theater produced a wide variety of entertaining and challenging productions. Some of those included Boubill and Schonberg’s musical “Les Misérables,” Andrew Loyd Webber’s musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the comedic satire “Urinetown: The Musical” and “A Christmas Carol.” Playhouse Merced also has a full lineup of productions planned for the new year, including the comedy “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which opens Jan. 10, and August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” which opened Jan. 31.
Local fans of the “Bard of Avon” had their theatrical itch scratched in 2013 with free performances by Merced Shakespearefest in Applegate Park. The group performed “Hamlet” in February and “As You Like It” in September. Next up, Merced Shakespearefest will perform “Romeo and Juliet” from March 28 through 30. For more information visit mercedshakespearefest.org.
Crystal Syphon reunites
Old-school music heads were able to “turn on, tune in and rock out” in March after homegrown ’60s psychedelic band Crystal Syphon took the stage at the Merced County Fairgrounds – the band’s first appearance performing a full electric set in more than 40 years. Five of the band’s original six members played the show as the highlight of “Groovin’ with CASA,” a benefit dinner for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Merced County. Crystal Syphon was among the most popular bands to emerge from Merced’s 1960s music scene, making several appearances around the state, including three at San Francisco’s Fillmore West, sharing the stage with legends including Bo Diddley, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Santana. Although the band played an acoustic set at The Partisan in June 2012, last year’s show at the fairgrounds was the first time since 1970 that the band plugged into their amplifiers and performed for an audience.
Art Hop still going strong
Merced’s Art Hop marked its fifth year in 2013, showcasing the talents of Merced’s arts community and bringing visitors to downtown Merced’s businesses.
The event was started by Kimberly Zamora and Kevin Hammon in 2009 as a way to highlight local artists and create a small boom for businesses in the downtown area. With limited gallery space in the area, the pair worked with the local business owners to stay open late four times a year and offer their walls for the art.
The Art Hop is one of the city’s busiest nights downtown, with an average of about 2,500 people showing up to experience it, Hammon said. The Art Hop is held four times a year, in January, April, July and October in downtown Merced on the third Saturday of the month. The event also includes multiple local bands and performances from a variety of groups. The next Art Hop is scheduled for the evening of Jan. 18.
Local music exhibit at Courthouse Museum
Those interested in learning about the history of Merced’s music scene were offered a treat in June, as the Merced Courthouse Museum presented “On the Banks of the Old Merced: A Music History” – an exhibit that explored the music that has helped to shape the cultural history of Merced County from 1855 to the 1980s. The exhibit was arranged chronologically under four themes: Early Musical Development, The Swing Era, The Rock & Roll Era and Music Melting Pot of the 1980s.
Steve-O/Rob Scheneider at the Merced Theatre
“Saturday Night Live” alum and actor Rob Schneider and Steve-O of the show “Jackass” cracked standup jokes to a packed house at the Merced Theatre in November. CABsterical Comedy Jam 2013 was organized by UC Merced’s Campus Activities Board and open only to UC students. The board’s big event this year will be its Spring Concert at The Bowl on the UCM campus.
Members of Los Lobos perform at Merced College
Louie Perez and David Hidalgo of the Grammy-winning rock band Los Lobos visited Merced College in October for the Central Valley premiere of the multimedia theatrical production “Evangeline, The Queen of Make Believe.” The pair also met with Merced College students while they were in town, in addition to giving a special acoustic performance during a wine-and-cheese reception at the Merced College art gallery.
Artageddon at the Mulicultural Arts Center
In the spirit of creating and destroying art, in November about 125 people turned out for “Artageddon: Judgment Day.” Held at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, the event was a combination art competition and fundraiser. Proceeds from the event went to the arts center and participating artists. The first phase of “Artageddon” happened Oct. 26, when 17 artists gathered to create paintings for the competition. A single-elimination tournament was then held during which the paintings were randomly selected in four rounds and pitted against one another for the audience to judge by cheering and applauding. An onstage “sound meter” determined which paintings garnered the most cheers. Losing paintings were placed on a chopping block, and event host Joe Hypes spun a “Wheel of Death” to decide how they were destroyed. The only way a painting could be saved was if an audience member purchased it during an auction, with prices for each painting starting at $125. However, if the wheel hit “Instant Death,” the paintings were destroyed regardless.