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Earthwise Productions offers indie musicians a place to play in Palo Alto

CANCELED: Jazz/roots supergroup Parlour Game's performance at Mitchell Park Community Center on March 16

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Since 1994, Earthwise Productions founder Mark Weiss has been bringing a variety of up-and-coming and established independent artists to the Palo Alto area. A local fixture both online and around town, Weiss boasts an impressive track record of booking artists from the likes of CAKE, Imogen Heap and Blink-182 in their early days to trumpeters Dave Douglas, harmonica titan Charlie Musselwhite and vocalist Jane Monheit in just the past few months.

After having produced shows in spaces such as Stanford's CoHo, the Varsity Theatre courtyard and Cubberley Community Center, the 56-year-old Gunn High School alumnus now uses Mitchell Park Community Center as Earthwise's de facto bandstand, having kicked off an invigorated incarnation of Earthwise Productions Live in 2018 that's going strong, with Weiss arranging for not only the booking and paying of the artists but also the rental fee of the room, publicity and the cost of the sound person.

"My goal is two shows a month for the next two years or a total of 50 all-in to see if people will think of the Mitchell Park ballroom, (the) El Palo Alto Room as a concert hall," he wrote in an email to the Weekly that has since been published on his Plastic Alto with Mark Weiss blog, which he frequently updates with his musings on the local arts, sports and politics scenes. (As of Wednesday, he's surpassing his goal, with nine shows currently booked for March and April.)

"I say quite often at shows, as part of my welcome or introducing of the acts, that the taxpayers of Palo Alto, myself included, voted a $41 million bond initiative and the facility opened five years ago and I just want to see part of its use being live music."

On Monday, March 16, Earthwise is presenting Parlour Game, the rootsy jazz combo featuring violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Allison Miller.

Weiss' history with the co-leaders of Parlour Game, which also features pianist Carmen Staaf and double bassist Tony Scherr, runs almost as far back as Earthwise itself:

Pianist Rachel Z. gave an Earthwise performance in October 2000, leading her trio with Miller and contrabassist Miriam Sullivan.

"That was the first time I met Mark," the New York-based Miller said. Four months later, he presented Scheinman and her group for the first time at CoHo.

And according to Weiss, Miller was the first artist to perform at an Earthwise show at the new Mitchell Park space.

Both Scheinman and Miller have career arcs that encompass a large swath of musical expression. They have both played in one another's groups, and they both overlapped in singer/songwriter/activist Ani DiFranco's band. In addition to both playing with and leading a variety of instrumental bands, both have histories with other singer/songwriters including Scheinman with Bruce Cockburn, Rodney Crowell, Robbie Fulks and Emmylou Harris and Miller with Brandi Carlile, Toshi Reagon and Erin McKeown.

"One big thing that's happened to me in the last six years, basically since I became a mom, I'm not working as a side musician as much -- actually hardly any," Miller reflected in a phone call with the Weekly while walking to catch the new Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Company" with some friends. "Part of that was a conscious decision, because I've gotten more into composing.

"It also works better for me, my schedule as a mom. It's like, 'Okay, I need to be home more. I need to be able to craft my own schedule and not have to just get on a tour bus with a rock band or a singer-songwriter and be on tour for a few months,'" she continued. "I can't do that anymore, so I really thought if I can get this going with my bands, then I can have a little bit more say of when I leave town and when I'm home."

As bandleaders or members of collectives, both she and Scheinman continue to juggle multiple live projects.

Scheinman, who's based in California, is performing in three different musical settings this month while Parlour Game itself was actually born out of another of Miller's bands, Boom Tic Boom, while on a tour including Staaf and Scherr.

"We noticed this affinity that the four of us had for a certain type of playing and overlap in early influences. And we just wanted to go for something that honored those early influences and was simpler and felt good," she said.

Scheinman said that Parlour Game has a more accessible style, compared to some of the musicians' more abstract endeavors.

"It's definitely an open-hearted kind of group with relatively simple compositional structures. Grooves that feel good -- not too much jerking around or changing time signatures," she said. "It's not particularly heady, though we still try to go for the transformation. It's kind of a different doorway into that."

How do Miller and Scheinman manage to keep track of all their various musical endeavors?

"There's a part of me that questions my need for so many different projects," Miller admitted. "I asked myself if it's too difficult to split my brain, split my creativity. But I don't think it is. Because we all run in the same circles, I think it made for it to be kind of seamless."

What: Parlour Game.

Where: El Palo Alto Room, Mitchell Park Community Center, 3700 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

When: (CANCELED AS OF MARCH 12) Monday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $20.

Info: Earthwise Productions.

Due to ongoing public health concerns, events may be canceled with short notice. Call ahead to confirm.

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The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

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