The man in the Panama hat

Tim Eschliman is a man of many hats, and many bands.|

As the weather turns from our lovely fall archetype, warm days and cool nights, to cool days and cooler nights, many folks are swapping their hats for a warmer style. Band leader-about-town Tim Eschliman is known for wearing his natural-colored straw Panama hat. When he changes hats, it is usually a figurative swap. Eschliman is a man of many musical hats, and many bands.

On any given night during the busy season, music lovers can hear Eschliman playing with the one of his outfits. Could be either the Back pOrchEstra, New Copasetics, Rhythmtown Jive, Left Coast Syncopators, Louisiana Time Travelers, Mystery Dance, or if you’re lucky, the Christmas Jug Band.

Eschliman is a string man. He plays guitar with the BackpOrchEstra, but is usually plucking the double bass in the other bands. He is also a fine singer no matter what his hands are up to.

On Nov. 12, at The Reel and Brand in El Verano, Eschliman will wear his Back pOrchEstra hat, which is a roots-rock styled chapeau. This band of his has been around for about as long as the current pandemic. As music venues shut down, Eschliman began to yearn for a small combo, one that could play in his own living room. He recruited drummer Bower Brown and violinist Candy Girard, and they formed the nucleus of Back pOrchEstra.

In Eschliman’s words, they are a “roots rock, singer-songwriter, American combo befitting the newfound minimalism of the current times…going back to the basics.”

Raised in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Eschliman benefited from the worldly attitudes oozing out from nearby Antioch College. In addition to opening his eyes, Antioch helped to open Eschliman’s ears. The many concerts held there brought different styles of music to town, and Eschliman ate it up.

Eschilman, now 69, left Yellow Springs in 1970 and came out west. Already an accomplished musician, he fell into a lasting gig with the beloved hippie country band, Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. Over the years playing with the recently departed George Frayne, AKA Commander Cody, Eschliman developed a deep love for what is now called roots music.

Many years and many gigs later, the ex-Sonoma resident now living in American Canyon, has cultivated extensive musical relationships with dozens of well-known folks. Eschliman has played, recorded or produced with dozens of familiar musicians: Maria Muldaur, Etta James, Bo Diddley, Big Joe Turner, Jesse Colin Young and English singer-songwriter extraordinaire Nick Lowe.

One of Eschliman’s gigs before he found himself playing regularly in the Valley of the Tunes was in the house band at the old Condor Club in San Francisco’s North Beach, newly christened as Andrew Jaeger’s House of Seafood and Jazz. The owners envisioned up a New Orleans flavored joint, and Eschliman was hired to play bass in the house band.

The gig was a six day a week deal, a situation that afforded him the luxury of leaving his bulky bass in the room during the week. It also allowed Eschliman to change clothes before the shows “in the same room that Carol Doda used to change clothes in,” he said proudly.

That New Orleans flair gave him entre into Sonoma when the now defunct Eric K. James tasting room began to offer live music in the evenings. That business morphed into the Sonoma Speakeasy and American Music Hall, a place that Eschliman calls one of his favorite places to play.

Sonoma itself is a favorite place of Eschliman’s. He cites the familiar push/pull between the locals and the tourists, reminiscent of his time in Yellow Springs. He also feels a draw to the hydrogeophysical similarities of the two towns. “Both my hometown and Sonoma have the hot springs thing,” Eschliman said.

Eschliman also likes the “relaxed and laid-back attitude” that is prevalent here. Moving up from San Francisco, he remarked Sonoma is “not as intense, and it has a really good music scene.”

One of Eschliman’s seasonal efforts is the wonderful Christmas Jug Band. The CJB is comprised of well-known regional players with an impressive working knowledge of Christmas songs and a serious penchant for eggnog. Their mini tour this season starts Dec. 18 and drags to a grueling finish Dec. 22. The band pulls into the Reel and Brand on Sunday, Dec. 19.

If you happen upon a great sounding band in one of the many music venues around Sonoma, and the bass player is wearing a Panama hat, stop in and lend them your ear. Tim Eschliman’s bands, no matter which one, always are worth a listen.

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