Danny Vitali crosses genres and mixes players

David Briggs
Minnesota native Danny Vitali has become a fixture in the West Marin music scene since he arrived in 2011. He spearheads three local bands and plays with seven others, and his point of view is that the more he mixes up both genres and band members, the more attractive the music will be for the staple multi-generational audience he draws.
10/17/2013

A girl sporting a gold sash and glittery red shoes, a woman sitting quietly in a cowboy hat while tapping her cowboy boots, a young couple jetéing, a man blowing kisses to—one hopes—a happy recipient. It was a welcome assortment for Danny Vitali, who played last Friday in the Dance Palace Church Space with his newest project, the High Tide Collective, for the venue’s new monthly local music series.

The collective describes itself as a blend of blues, jazz and West Coast surf. Mr. Vitali, who wore an embroidered western-style shirt as he plucked his electric bass that night, turned toward the funky and headily sprawling after initially tilting toward the blues.

Only hooting and clapping in the crowd demarcated one tune from the next, but perhaps name-checking would have unnecessarily interrupted the sharp musicianship that pulled people from their seats to the dance floor. Both couples and individuals boogied as the bass line threaded itself through fingertips, arms, hips and feet.  

Mr. Vitali, 27, came to West Marin from Minneapolis in 2011. He was seeking a haven from the frigid, polluted winters of the northern city, and family roots also enticed him: his aunt, Nancy Stein, lives here, and his parents met and married in Bolinas a few decades ago, although they eventually settled in Minnesota. 

In Minneapolis, Mr. Vitali made his living purely as a musician. Here he has struck a balance between his artistic passions and his interest in gardening and permaculture, which he studied both in college and at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas.

He currently works in the vegetable garden at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company and has other clients whose gardens he tends. “I just like plants,” he said as he kicked back on a red rocking chair at Toby’s Feed Barn on a recent afternoon. 

Leaving behind most of his Midwest bands allowed him to start over musically. “For the first time I was out here by myself, trying to find what I wanted to say. I spent a lot of time in the seashore and in the park and hiking a lot, trying to establish a balance and to be creatively motivated again, because I hadn’t felt that in a while, when I was in Minneapolis,” he said. 

High Tide guitarist and close friend Dylan Squires said Mr. Vitali has become an integral part of the local music scene since he arrived. “He’s really been a backbone of this music community for the past two years,” he said. “I love Danny. He’s the man.”

According to his own count, Mr. Vitali plays in roughly 10 different groups, though some have more shows than others. (“It’s possible,” he said in response to this reporter’s skepticism. “I have an iPhone.”) 

Of those 10, he spearheads three quite different groups. 

The High Tide Collective, which got its start at Smiley’s during the regular pool tournaments, is meant to be “a serious, more cohesive blues project… to make music of a specific quality that we love to play together, and that feels good to play and share and dance to.”

He also leads the Old Fashioned Tuesdays, which he described as bossa nova lounge music, as well as The Haggards, a comedic country band. “It’s apparently really easy to write extremely vulgar country songs,” he said.

“I like a lot of different kinds of music,” he continued. “I feel like matching mood with music is like an art, you know? It’s all situational. Sometimes I really like to listen to blues or rock and roll when I’m hanging out with friends, and sometimes, if I’m doing visual art, I like to listen to ambient music. Or when I’m driving, I want to listen to Fleetwood Mac.”

As Mr. Vitali listed the musicians who participated in each group, a crossover became clear: many of the people in the Old Fashioned Tuesdays are also in the local group El Radio Fantastique, and Mr. Vitali’s friend Mr. Squires plays in a number of Mr. Vitali’s outfits. 

And, as a collective, it’s expected that the line-up for High Tide will also evolve.

To Mr. Vitali, the fact that a number of West Marin musicians tackle a variety of genres in different groups offers the community a vast array of options when it comes to local music. 

“Here’s the deal,” Mr. Vitali said. “We’re typically entertaining the same people. I think having different flavors and combinations and different things happening is definitely to our advantage. For me, I like the diversity in music and it never feels stagnant and it never feels stale.”

Mr. Squires said the hope is that every High Tide show can be different. “It can be a little funky, sometimes it can be soul, sometimes it can be rock. I want it to change. I don’t want it to stay one thing,” he said.

The mutable mixed-genre group also helps draw a diverse crowd, which Mr. Vitali sees as a strength of West Marin. 

“The thing I love about this community is that it’s so cross generational,” he said. “Music is one of the things that brings people together and makes you connect with people of a different generation.”