Friday night Live – Local artists unique in more ways than one!
By Mindi Levine
Like love, art is something elusive and difficult to define. In regards to Friday Night Live, I declare it an open-and-shut case. A local band, Friday Night Live, made up entirely of local artists, is unique in more ways than one. In addition to creating an old-timey traditional bluegrass environment, where the audience is welcome to join in, FNL Is made up entirely of artists who create different types of art in various mediums, who all come together and create the beautiful art that is music.
”It all started with Frank Kerr,” explains Sherrell Harper, the band’s upright bass player, who also runs the Artists of the Valley Gallery on First Street in downtown Napa, where the band both displays its art and plays its music. “Several years ago, Frank and a group of artists in the gallery wanted the place to stay open on Friday and Saturday nights. But, no one wanted to be by themselves at night. Frank told everyone to come back one evening and bring an instrument with them. Sure enough, everybody came down to play, and that’s where it started.”
Frank, having played bluegrass music when he was young, was a natural to bring the traditional country, “let’s all get together and jam” flavor to the group. These little jam sessions grew and grew, until they eventually grew into, and became, the band Friday Night Live, playing not just every Friday, but Saturday as well. While they welcome anyone to come and sit in with them, there is a core group: Sherrell Harper on upright bass, Pat Smith on ukulele and cello, Suzie Antonini and Clyde Burns, both on guitar, and Frank Kerr on banjo and/or keyboards.
“It’s all about having fun” said Harper. “It’s a mixed group, open to anyone; a social get together by a bunch of artists.” In describing what kinds of cover songs they play, Harper explains, “Southern songs. Anything country and western, anything sad and lonesome.”
Being in Napa, it’s no surprise that lots of tourists drop in and are pleasantly surprised when they find live music. Oftentimes, they don’t just watch, but sing along. According to Harper, the best part about being in the group is “seeing the smiles on people’s faces.” They love when tourists from Louisiana or Virginia drop into the gallery and ask for a song from their hometown. Inevitably, the band will find something in their music book. Folks will sing along, and they all walk out with the biggest smiles on their faces. The band lives for those smiles.
In true country/bluegrass fashion, the band welcomes anyone to join them, and a number of people drop by fairly regularly, Some are one time only, while others are the tourists who are breezing through town. Harper says, “Suzie graciously offers her guitar to anyone who comes in. We hand out percussion instruments, and words and chords are available to anyone who wants to play and/or sing along. We go there to have fun. We welcome pets and kids, and even sing special songs for the kids when they’re there.”
According to Harper, Frank is the most ‘musically professional’ of the group. Pat Smith has some music history, and the rest are newbies. Harper had never played a string instrument before she joined the group. They never put out a tip jar, but Donations are welcome.. If they do get one, 100% of the money goes to the scholarship program for the Napa Valley Art Association.
While they don’t play outside of the gallery much, they have played Chef’s Market, and would certainly consider playing elsewhere if someone asked (promoters, are you listening?) When asked about a goal for the band, Harper muses and answers, it is to simply get better and better. She acknowledges that it is a huge commitment to play every Friday and Saturday; the band feels it to be an honor to be part of the ever-increasing music scene in Napa.
Harper lit up when talking about Napa, with its burgeoning role as a hub of activity in the Valley, from new restaurants and tasting rooms to live music, and the overall number of new places to go where there’s something happening on any night of the week. She remarked on the phenomenal difference from 10 years ago to now. “You wouldn’t recognize the place.”
“I think St. Helena is getting jealous and freaking out,” she teases. “There never used to be anything to do in Napa. Tourists used to just drive right by us. Now that there are so many things to do, people actually go out of their way to come here. The ‘redheaded step child’ has grown up and taken the lead.” Indeed, the gallery helps anchor the “West End” of Napa’, so coined by the New York times, where such places as Tarla, the Andaz Hotel, Sala Salon, ABC Bakery, and the Uptown Theatre host special events and are bringing the neighborhood to life.
Well…all this talk about art, and I haven’t even told you what each artist does when they’re not entertaining the Friday and Saturday night downtown Napa crowds. Each member is an accomplished artist in various mediums. Pat Smith does photography and makes handmade scarves, one of the bestselling items in the gallery. Frank’s mediums are watercolor and photography, and is known for his incredible detail and large pieces. Clyde creates watercolors, recognized for capturing the countryside from a non-traditional wine perspective. Instead of the typical wine-country motifs, he explores cars, tractors, barns, the “other side” of agriculture. Suzie paints watercolors, and her subjects are wildlife, birds, countryside, water, seaside, lakes, light colors, and she works in large pieces. Sherrell’s mediums are acrylic and watercolor, exploring pastels, landscape and still- life. She’s known primarily for her themes of the Napa countryside and wine glasses.
While art, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder, Friday Night Live certainly embodies all that is artistic in my mind. And, in a town that loves keeping it local, FNL is just the ticket.