Tuesday afternoon in Kelseyville, August. Mike Guarniero and Danny Prather perch on barstools next to the front window, half-full beer glasses on the floor next to them. Danny’s taken the lead on a Neil Young tune he’s finishing, and odds are they’ll switch it around on the next song. Between the two of them, they could play all day and never repeat a tune. Danny gives a hearty strum on his guitar as the song ends, then grins as he leans over and takes a sip of his beer. Caroline Chavez, co-owner of Kelsey Creek, sees his glass empty and quickly brings over two full ones. “Now everybody,” she says, walking the smooth walk of a skilled bartender, “You all need to pitch in. I’m the only one buying them beer right now.” Mike and Danny happily grab their full brewskis, sip off the foam, and start a new song.
Technically, the First Sunday Jam is an open mic, but don’t for a second think it’s the kind with poorly played guitar riffs sung by tone-deaf singers. Nope. This jam is made for musicians. John wanted a chance to play more with his friends, so he decided to schedule it on Sunday, the one day of the week that hardly ever has music scheduled. And every musician in the county knows about it. In one night, the ever-changing band will play classic rock, blues, jazz, a bit of reggae, fusion, and original tunes. It’s like visiting every musical event in Lake County at once.
The sun’s still above Cobb, but it’s steadily easing behind it, stretching the light into the four-car garage, where, tucked in a corner and surrounded by sound-dampening cloth, Breaker One-9 finishes up a song. A few thumps and bass notes fiddle around, then quiet as the band takes a break from practicing their first set. In an empty bay of the garage, papers, a tablet, and Diet Coke spread across the pool table. Mike Mendenhall sits at its edge in a foldup chair, his knees pressed against the table.
While you may not know musician Mike Guarniero personally, odds are you’ve seen him play. For years he has been involved in the Lake County music scene and played with over twenty different bands. You might have heard him play with his band, Dr. Groove, which regularly has performed in the county. Or you might have caught his Lake County Music Guide, which posts on Facebook and in The Bloom (when there is live music).
Sitting in the courtyard of Pogo’s Pizza in Kelseyville earlier this week with Mike felt as if we were seated with a long-time friend we haven’t seen in a while. You might feel the same if you are a music lover in Lake County; Mike’s friendly personality makes conversation easy.
It’s nine in the evening at Robinson Rancheria. The Kentucky Jugglers have finished warming up and kick into their first song, “Keep on Rockin’ me, Baby.” On the left of the stage, Danny Hogan, a black cowboy hat on his head and cowboy boots on his feet, plucks away at his bass. It’s been a while since he’s played; over a year ago, he was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. But now he’s back, and stands tall, thumping away to the beat. Tonight is special, and not just for Danny. Once the band found out about Danny’s illness, instead of replacing him, they decided to stop their gigs and wait until he got better. Tonight, they are playing together for the first time in over a year.