One of the first areas in Northern California I ever explored with a band was the town of Arcata in Humboldt County. A college town, close to the water and home to some of the most gorgeous strands of redwood trees in the world, the area is mostly associated with the production and harvest of marijuana, but has a lot of other cool things to offer bands and musicians as well.
Though I am not a local (and probs need to be schooled on exactly what this town is all about), I have been visiting regularly for the last 3 years and from what I've observed, the heart of the Arcata nightlife scene is the Arcata Plaza, or "The Square". A large public park in the center of the town, The Square is bordered on 4 sides by a hotel 3 or 4 bars, several restaurants a record store, People’s Music. The folks I’ve met in this isolated, beautiful town tend to be eccentric, friendly and pretty keen listeners.
People’s Music is one of the lynchpins of the Square. The store has been around for several years and is one of those rarest of institutions : a long running independent record store. They have a sizable collection of jazz on display and playing over the stereo and the they also keep the place well stocked with the latest selection of hipster, indie records as well. On this last trip, a clerk complained about the number of Vampire Weekend CDs they have been selling. “They’re just not that good,” he complained. “They just seem watered down.”
As one of the area's only purveyors of contemporary music, the spot is something of a mecca, drawing isolated campers, vactioners, students and tree huggers to purchase and listen to dozens of CDs on their visits. They have always been reliable about doing consignment with us and other touring bands, and surprise of all suprises, our records regularly sell there, which is a blessing.
There are a few venues in town, most on, or just off, the Square. Here is a list of a couple of my favorites.
(Photo of Portland's premier Shakespeare metal band - at the Alibi, Arcata, CA. Jan 19, 2008 by Terrance McNally.)
This is probably my favorite of the venues we’ve played in. Much of this is due to sentiment, the Alibi was the first place I ever played in Arcata. It is a bar / diner during the day that is open to patrons of all ages. After 9pm they only serve people 21+. It is dark, a little dingy and the walls are decorated with murals of various anthropomorphic dogs engaged in various activities (playing poker, dancing and golfing). You can pick up the local alt-weeklies here and other info. Wi-fi is available. The food is completely awesome and features a wide assortment of vegetarian and meat eating options. I regularly crave the BBQ tofu, the Ahi tuna sandwich and I must admit -- I am fascinated by a wrap they serve there called “The Works” – which is potent combination of just about every side you can imagine (chicken strips, onion rings, fries, etc.) wrapped in a tortilla and smothered in chili and cheese.
Shows seem to draw a regular crowd. They clear out a few tables and set a PA at the far end of the bar and maybe 60 people can fit into the remainder of the place. It gets crowded quick and people tend to be easily excitable, ready to dance and eager to buy merch.
It is a great place to play, and even if you don’t end up with a show, it is a great place to grab brunch. Most of the items on the menu are around $8.
744 9th St
Arcata, CA 95521
(Photo of unknown band - at Jambalaya, Arcata, CA. By Terrance McNally.)
This Southern themed seafood restaurant is half a block from the Alibi and is much larger. The capacity is closer to 200 folks and they have a fully stocked bar and several beers on tap. I have yet to eat there, but the staff is friendly and they have a curtained and raised stage and nicer bathrooms than the Alibi (for those all important on the road poops).
If you find yourself on a nice bill and can get a good sized crowd in here, you’re in for an awesome night. People in Arcata tend to move to the music, no matter how slow or indie or esoteric you make it and the warm reception will come as a welcome surprise to most kids used to playing obdurate crowds in Los Angeles or SF.
Shows here can be totally rad, but the size of the room and the presence of a stage make it feel more “formal” to me. It doesn’t quite have as much of a neighborhood vibe as the aforementioned Alibi, which is just the opposite of how I envision things should go down in Arcata. But folks used to playing proper, bigger stages like Spaceland in LA or Café du Nord in SF would probs feel more comfortable here.
915 H Street
Arcata, CA 95521
The Pearl (Eureka)
When we haven’t been able to nail down a date in Arcata, we usually try to nail down a date at this little venue in Eureka. Eureka is about 7 minutes east and in terms of scenery and distance and stuff, it is nearly identical to Arcata. Slightly larger and far less clique-ish, Eureka is more of a meth town than a pot town and the creepy people you meet in Eureka tend to be scary and intimidating rather than the kind of “safe” creepy people you meet in Arcata. The weirdos in Arcata seem to be Disney movie creepy in comparison to the ones you find in Eureka.
But with any luck you won’t run into any creepy folks at all.
This Pearl is slightly larger than the Alibi in Arcata, but is a wine bar with modern hip furnishings located near the water. The clientele tends to be slightly older, more conservative, but still pretty cool. If you play louder music the older crowd who come in for a glass of cabernet after a good meal will complain about the volume and eventually leave, but as the night wears on, the true music fans and drunks will trickle in.
The Pearl is a nice place, but defs a step down from the two Arcata clubs in terms of how excited people there tend to be to have you. If that makes sense.
507 Second Street
Eureka, CA 95501
One o the most rewarding feelings about playing in Arcata or Eureka is that the residents tend to be honestly thankful that you drove out of the way to come to their small, isolated town. They are compassionate and care bout music, are eager to buy merch from bands they like and tend to reappear at your shows if you make repeat visits to the area. We’ve made lots of friends there and really enjoy the nights and afternoons we can spend there. Plus, it is absolutely one of the most gorgeous parts of California.. Very easy on the eyes. That never hurts.