Mention the words "club owner" to me and you can watch my eyes narrow. I'm probably picturing a beer gut sausaged into a too-small T-shirt, a few days' growth of beard from which sprouts an unlit cigar butt, greasy hair (well past the ears) with an overlarge monk's tonsure, or bald patch. This is so not Alma Felan. Ms. F. is such a young-looking 40 she is more likely to pass as one of the college kids she serves at her caffeine outlet than any conventional notion of a concert promoter, dance venue facilitator, patron of the arts, singer/songwriter/performer, band manager, or in any other way like the popular music-industry professional she has been for over two decades. Sitting in her office at the new location for her business that has its grand opening October 1, Felan appears to be an odd cross between an adolescent social worker and deceptively innocent-looking, girl-pirate captain at the helm of her ship, Hot Monkey Love. "I feel like I'm 20," she says in response to a compliment regarding her wholesome looks in a business where that is the second thing to go. Is it music that keeps her young?
"Maybe. I'm a percussionist, actually; that's how I started. At a little Latin, pizza café in New Jersey." She pronounces it, 'New Yersey,' as it is pronounced in Puerto Rico, where Felan happens to be from. "And no alcohol, kind of like this." August of this past year, a neighbor of HML's had finally made life so difficult for the artistic enterprise that Felan was compelled to relocate.
Not wishing to "give it too much energy," the diminutive entrepreneur chooses not to discuss the unpleasantness, but the bottom line is that she was pretty much screwed by one of those perennial enemies of music, the disgruntled neighbor with no life. Felan has been in San Diego since 1997, and according to her, the "unpleasantness" turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The new digs at 6875 El Cajon Boulevard (four blocks west of SDSU) are more spacious; that is to say, with enough room to contain the dimensions of her dream as it comes to fruition. Elements of that dream include a recording studio (in the works), a dance studio, rehearsal space, lounge and meeting rooms, and of course the café/concert venue for (mostly) local acts from a broad spectrum. HML will provide a vehicle for folk, country, rock, blues, salsa, and pretty much anything else. While musical animal acts, Serbo-Croatian martial music revues, and possibly klezmer cover acts of early Black Oak Arkansas may not get the exposure they demand, Hot Monkey Love will be your one-stop shopping destination for the largest variety of popular music at café prices in San Diego.
For the grand opening, Sunday, October 1, Felan has booked the Positive Energy Dance Group, Manny Cepeda and Trece de la Suerte (the Lucky 13) with an appearance by city councilman Jim Madaffer for the reception. The nature of the councilman's musical act is uncertain at press time. On the second of the month, HML will host Argentine tango (malanga) Night. Tuesday, the 3rd, you can catch an evening of hip-hop with Young C, Generik, Achitec, Trankwel, Kandi Cole from L.A., Diction, Scribe and DJ, with a special performance by West Bound (Mikey Mo & DapDaniel) from San Francisco. On Wednesday (and Wednesday nights thereafter) a continuation of Joe Rathburn and Lisa Sanders Acoustic Showcase kicks off. Thursday nights will continue as blues night at the new location; some other bookings lined up include, Stolen, Faded Glory, the Dinge, Supernova, Plane Without a Pilot, and Squiddo, to name but a few.
To be enthused about any local music endeavor that is also a business is to risk waxing promotional, and I am not nor have I ever been a press kit writer, a PR man, nor an under-assistant West Coast promo flak of any stripe. But if something good enough comes along, let me be dismissed as a mindlessly pathetic cheerleader rather than die a smart ass.
The word "vibe" is hard to avoid here, so I won't bother. On the phone, Alma Felan said she would send a driver to pick up my friend, guitarist Ike Curtiss, and myself, at the trolley station and take us to the new location. The club owner is sending a driver? Yes, a pleasant and enthusiastic young woman named Michelle who works for or with Felan and is a musician herself. Within seconds of boarding Michelle's SUV, we were off on a conversation about music (rap and hip-hop, to be exact) and the dire consequences of ignoring the muse. As sometimes happens with musicians, though never often enough, one can strike up a dialogue about the ineffable and be overcome with the sense that you are picking up the threads of an ongoing discussion started long ago and is likely to continue as long as man is capable of producing a note from bone, wood, stone, or skin. The vibe began in Michelle's car.
The new site, with finishing touches still being done throughout the multi-room work-in-progress, indeed seemed imbued with a utopian atmosphere that reminded me of what was best in rock clubs in the 1960s and what were called discotheques in Europe, but long before the commercial abomination boogie-oogie-oogied 'til it just couldn't boogie no more. The '60s utopian invocation is made with some hesitation. I saw no tie-dyed T-shirts (but I didn't see that many in the '60s either) or beads, flowers in hair, or painted faces (same goes for these Hollywood trappings) and nobody was smoking grass. What was it that was in the air in that now long ago decade? Certainly there was something, and I caught a whiff of it (no, not incense) at the embryonic Hot Monkey Love II. It has, I think, something to do with peace, love, and understanding, the embracing of change and a planet -- maybe just imagined, and that's all right -- without flags or fences.
Possibly these notions are quaint and too precious for words, but as Elvis Costello once asked, what's so funny about it? Besides, that triumvirate of power -- cash, drugs, and guns -- has had its run for a few decades now, and we have the music that goes with it. I may not know what was in the air 40 years ago, but I know what's missing now, and that's music that moves you in ways you don't always understand. Why did I get the feeling I might be hearing some of it here?