Holiday in the Sun

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James McFarland, a native of Chicago, watched the guys he played shows/had neighborhood barbeques with get famous (Billy Corgan, Liz Phair, UO) when one morning he rolled over to find the ’90's nearly gone. He needed fresh air.

In late ’99, he threw a dart at a map and moved to St. Pete. In a few years, he'd become one of the most revered songwriters in the Bay area, but at this point, he had yet to play one of his own songs in public.

In Chicago, McFarland played bass in several types of bands, from a goth group to a Bossanova-laced rock outfit called Butter that was fronted by San Paulo, Brazil’s Ruth Varella. She encouraged McFarland to sing backup but he declined, saying she was just too good.

But songwriting always burned in the back of his mind. A couple of months after he moved to the Bay area, he told patrons of an open mic night at Yeoman's Pub on Davis Island not to throw tomatoes and he gave it a shot. McFarland says he had technical difficulties but he was finally playing his own music, so he kept going. Afterwards, host Ronny Elliott complimented James on his writing. Four years later the two shared a bill at an WMNF tribute show at Skipper's Smokehouse.

A couple of weeks ago, friends and fans packed the Globe coffeehouse in St. Pete to bid McFarland adieu. He's leaving in less than two weeks and heading to Portland with his lovely wife to take in and contribute to the Northwest sound he's always been so fond of.

It's a good move for his family, he says, but he also hopes it'll help his career. Yes, he became a well-established name in Tampa’s “off the grid” music scene. But he's never been able to make a living at it. He spent more nights working behind the bar at Café Alma than playing shows or going out to have a beer in support of his friends' shows.

I recorded an interview with James McFarland for my MNF show, which airs Monday, May 21, from 4 to 6 a.m. on the dial at 88.5 or online at wmnf.org. Don't worry about waking up early – you can stream it from the archives for up to a week afterwards.

In the meantime, go out and see a local band at your favorite establishment tonight.

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