Arts Listings

Arts: Jimbo Trout, Toshio Hirano Play the Twang Cafe

By Justin DeFreitas
Friday May 05, 2006

Jimbo Trout and the Fishpeople will be the headliners this Sunday at the Twang Café, an ongoing Americana music series held monthly at Epic Arts on Ashby Avenue. The series, produced and hosted by Berkeley resident Tom Wegner, is held on the first Sunday of every month and features an array of Bay Area folk and bluegrass artists in a casual and intimate venue. Toshio Hirano and Jacob & Harry round out this month’s bill. 

Jimbo Trout’s music has a sort of jugband feel to it: It’s good-time music, filled with funky acoustic guitar, jangly banjo, mandolin, fiddle, washboard, and an assortment of junkyard percussion. It sounds as though they raided the kitchen cabinets and pieced together a rhythm section. 

“They’re a great amalgamation of classic Americana,” says Wegner. “They combine Appalachian bluegrass with Louisiana swamp music, Cajun, zydeco, Dixieland, ragtime and street-corner jugband.” 

Jimbo Trout himself has a sort of white-boy blues voice, bringing to mind the late Bob “The Bear” Hite of Canned Heat: full, drawling, and with a touch of humor.  

The band has one CD, It’s Breaktime!, a live performance recorded at a small club. It’s a lively set, made up for the most part of the band’s reworkings of classic and traditional songs. But as infectious as the live album is, says Wegner, it still doesn’t quite capture the essence of the band’s live shows. 

“Jimbo Trout and the Fishpeople are best experienced live,” he says. “They are known for a crazy, fun, upbeat, fast-paced show.” 

It’s Breaktime! can be purchased at the show or through the band’s website, 


To describe Toshio Hirano as a Japanese singing cowboy, though tempting, is to reduce this sincere and soulful musician to a novelty act, and he is anything but.  

Hirano was a college student in his native Japan when he first heard the music of Jimmie Rodgers, and it immediately change his life. He set out to explore the American South, eventually finding his way to Texas where he met the woman who would soon become his wife.  

After moving to San Francisco in the mid-’80s and starting a family, Hirano began performing at open mics in the city’s Mission District, establishing himself as something of a cult favorite.  

Much of his work consists of covers of American country and bluegrass classics, many of them by Rodgers. Hirano’s ability to mimic the tones and cadences is uncanny considering that he normally speaks with a strong Japanese accent.  

But this is more than mimicry; Hirano truly understands this music, feels its pain, its loneliness, its joy, and the depth of his absorption in these songs is authentic and moving.  

Samples of his Hirano’s music can be heard at at his website, 



Americana music at 7:30 every first  

Sunday at Epic Arts, 1923 Ashby Ave. $10.