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Dano Forte's Bluesy, One-Man Freak Show

Dano Forte's Bluesy, One-Man Freak Show
Taylor Hamby

Costa Mesa's Dano Forte has found his musical niche. Being a one-man band who serves up rompin', stompin' roadhouse blues affords him opportunities that your traditional four-piece might not get.

"You never know where they're gonna put me," Forte says. "It's great to be able to set up anywhere and go. [There were] shows at the Detroit Bar [at which] I'd sit out in the smoking area, and it was just packed out there. People would be out there dancing. It was great--a show inside the show."

He may be out on a smoking patio instead of onstage, at the risk of spilled beers and smashed gear from the crowd, but his show is hardly an afterthought. Instead, he's the glue that holds the night together, entertaining the crowds as bands set up inside.

It was one of these patio gigs at the Detroit Bar (now known as the Wayfarer) that helped Forte land an opportunity any local rock band would covet: a 14-night stint opening for Social Distortion during their annual block of House of Blues shows. Todd Miller, manager of the Anaheim venue, saw him and offered Forte the coveted slot. Forte not only performed on the main stage, but he also stuck around after the show to play--where else?--on the smoking patio/barroom upstairs.

When he's not sharing the stage with Fullerton's finest punks, you can find Forte and his semi-iconic suitcase, filled with oddities and (hopefully) dollar bills, fairly regularly at the divier bars and more intimate venues around the county. He also performs with a consistent cast of characters, including local bluegrass outfit Moonsville Collective and the rowdy Restavrant [sic], whose brand of blues is nasty in all the right ways.

He's been a one-man band for just shy of five years, but for many years, he sang and played harmonica with jump-blues swing group the Jive Kings. When that outfit's members went their separate ways, Forte wasn't ready to retire from music. Forte has been a mouth harpist for 25 years now, but surprisingly, his guitar playing began only a few years ago. One day, he "picked up the guitar, put one of those silly harmonica racks on, tried it, and was like, 'Holy crap, I can do this.'"

He started playing juke-joint-style music for his friends. "They're like, 'Oh, my God, you're such a freak,' and it just kinda stuck," he says. "So . . . 'Juke Joint Freak Show.'"

Forte considers himself rather lucky to have a weekly Wednesday-night residency at the tiki lounge Anchor Bar in Costa Mesa, which will celebrate his third month come October. "It's pretty fresh each time--there's a different crowd that comes in there," he said. "It's definitely not like you're putting on a concert each time. It's more like you're a lounge musician."  

It's a fun gig, he says, one he won't soon tire of because no matter how many people are there, if they're having a good time, Forte is having a good time. "I'm the King of the Cocktail Hour," he says.

The New York native moved to Orange County when he was 12 years old. As the owner of Dano Surfboards, Forte lives and works in Costa Mesa. "It's funny, when you play, people . . . wanna hear you're from some small town in Texas or something or Louisiana," he says. "No, from Costa Mesa . . . sorry.

"I always think I have to think of an alter-ego or something and a made-up place to make people think I'm more of the bluesman than I am," he jokes. Well, it worked for Robert Johnson anyway.

Dano Forte performs at Anchor Bar, 2675 Irvine Ave., Ste. B, Costa Mesa, (949) 574-5141. Every Wed., 8:30 p.m. Free. 21+.

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