Few singers mix country, folk, and roots-rock with more heart than Joe Pug. Fans and critics have compared his literate songwriting to early Bob Dylan or John Prine, but Pug has said he’s influenced as well by writers like Walt Whitman and Raymond Carver. All those influences come through in lines like these from his "Hymn #101": “Yeah, I've come to know the wish list of my father / I've come to know the shipwrecks where he wished.” Pug has a new album coming out in March, but don’t wait. He opens on Saturday, Jan. 31 for punk-bluegrass band the Devil Makes Three at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Details and ticket information here.
She Who Tells a Story
Stanford's Cantor Arts Center presents She Who Tells a Story, an exhibition of twelve female photographers from across Iran and the Arab world. With more than 80 works on display, She Who Tells a Story showcases artists working in various styles and themes, including documentary, political, portraiture, and humor. The exhibition includes photography from Jananne Al-Ani, Boushra Almutawakel, Gohar Dashti, Rana El Nemr, Lalla Essaydi, Shadi Ghadirian, Tanya Habjouqa, Rula Halawani, Nermine Hammam, Rania Matar, Shirin Neshat, and Newsha Tavakolian. Details here.
Les 7 Doigts de la Main
Les 7 Doigts de la Main is a Montreal-based circus troupe—unlike Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey (think: no animals), and more like a smaller, edgier Cirque du Soleil. The West Coast Premiere of Sequence 8 explores the theme of alienation on an intimate human scale, and is heavy on moody dance, theatrics, and acrobatics. Les 7 Doigts is led by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider. For those who miss the Pickle Family Circus, Gypsy is the daughter of Pickle founders Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider. Details and ticket information here.
SF Indie Film Fest
The annual compilation of under-the-radar, off-the-beaten-path gems, SF Indiefest, offers tempting films for unorthodox thinkers. The French satire Jacky in the Kingdom of Women (Feb. 15 and 19) unfolds in an upside-down country where women run the show and men are confined to the house and their improbable dreams. Sweden sends Aerobics: A Love Story (Feb. 14 and 16), an uplifting drama about a mentally challenged woman, the man she falls for, and her domineering sister. For irony-steeped saccharine, nothing beats the power ballad sing-along (a.k.a. Anti-Valentine’s Day Mass Karaoke Party). SF Indiefest runs Feb. 5-19, 2015 at the Roxie and other venues. Details and ticket information here.
San Francisco's nonstop songwriter Chuck Prophet crafted a wonderful ode to the city in his previous full-length Temple Beautiful, but with his latest release, Night Surfer, the longtime resident paints a more dystopian future. Live, Prophet and his Mission Express are thunderous, sentimental, thoughtful, loud and fun-loving—often in the course of the same song. That could have something to do with Prophet's deep marination in rock history; in an interview with KQED, Prophet says he’s rewritten "Street Fighting Man" a hundred different ways, and it’s never let him down. Details and ticket information here.
New Frequencies Fest
In a rare Bay Area appearance, the endlessly forward-thinking composer and saxophonist Henry Threadgill headlines the opening night of this unique jazz festival. While Threadgill brings his Double-Up group in a tribute to the composer Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris, other nights include vocalist Anjélique Kidjo, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, guitarist Jenny Scheinman, saxophonist Matana Roberts and more. Appearing on many of the shows is pianist Myra Melford, co-curator of the festival, who with Isabel Yrigoyen deserves a hat tip for a lineup that effortlessly straddles jazz's past and present. Details and ticket information here.