While Clement Street is a bit of a stretch from Chenery Street, Pauline Scholten has performed music along both San Francisco avenues.
Her most recent Glen Park gig was at Chenery Street’s Bird & Beckett on October 11.
Scholten, who lives on Arlington Street, fronts a four-member group called The Prairie Rose Band, which two weeks later, on October 28, performed at the Clement Street Farmers Market.
As children dressed in Halloween finery took center row at the corner of Third Avenue, Scholten, decked out in cowboy chaps that looked as if they’d been rendered from a Holstein dairy cow, checked her sound equipment, then fine tuned a set list that includes American singer-songwriters such as Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Maybelle Carter, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie.
The sort of musical gentry you’d more likely find canonized in the country music Hall of Fame than covered along a San Francisco multicultural byway.
“The band is named after Prairie Rose Henderson, a turn of the twentieth century cowgirl, bronco rider and Wild West show star,” Scholten emailed the Glen Park News two weeks before her Richmond District show. “Rose was known for her colorful costumes, which included scandalous Turkish trousers, sequins, feathers and cowboy boots.”
Rose Henderson could dazzle rodeo crowds with her daring buckaroo feats, but Pauline Scholten, accompanied by a bass, banjo and dobro, is equally adept at wowing corrals of children with renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “If You Are Happy and You Know It Clap your Hands.”
She did exactly that on what began as an overcast Sunday morning.
“We select what we play strictly by our audience,” Scholten said, watching children attired in bumble bee and super hero costumes.
Growing up in West Portal, attending Herbert Hoover Middle and Lincoln High Schools, and then graduating San Francisco State University in 1976, Scholten honed her musical chops listening to AM radio stations KYA and KEWB that had broadcast the likes of Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Mickey Newbury, the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.
“I loved music,” said the Glen Park resident of 30 years, “and I wanted to pursue it after I graduated State, even to the point of paying for guitar lessons.”
With a college degree in journalism in the bank and with the security that a Sillcon Valley tech writer job allowed her, Scholten branched out, unleashing her muse.
“I’d play at Ocean or Stinson Beaches,” she said, channeling informal hootenannies that were then common place. “When you play with other people, well, it encourages you to get better.”
She got her first paid gig, playing for a woman who employed her, a Hayward wedding in the early 1980s.
After meeting George Martin, a banjo player and San Francisco Chronicle copy editor, her eclectic tastes winnowed to a narrower Americana genre.
“George and I would cover a mix of country and western songs along with popular standards,” she said.
About 10 years ago, she and Martin started The Prairie Rose Band, performing a rootsy mix of melodies that one hears daily in the hollows of Appalachia, but only on the first weekend of October in Hellman Hollow during the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.
“There’s not a lot of opportunity for a cowboy band in San Francisco,” volunteered Scholten.
Consequently, her band has ventured forth to venues in Brisbane, Hayward and Crockett.
“We began picking up dates at Farmers Markets in Contra Costa County, but also here at Stonestown and the Embarcadero,” she said. “And the non-profit Bread & Roses facilitated entrees to public libraries, nursing homes, even prisons.”
Before the first set begin on Clement Street, banjo player and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Steve Rubenstein, who subbed for George Martin, bent over a youngster dressed as a dinosaur and encouraged the boy to finger his banjo.
The band began its set with a rendition of “Don’t Fence Me In,” then segued to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” a number it had performed at Bird & Beckett earlier in the month.
If there is a quintessential American song, it’s possibly this one, the provenance of not just rustic and rural old homesteads, but gritty and urban ones, as well. Originally sung by Guthrie, an itinerant Oklahoman, the lyrics are embedded in our consciousness, rooted in our national DNA much as is John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Pauline Scholten is aware of this.
“When you play it, peoples’ faces light up,” she said, during a Clement Street set break. “People remember that song. They come up to us afterward and want to talk about the music.”
From Dunsmuir, banjo player Tim Holt certainly did when he’d attended the band’s Chenery Street bookstore performance on October 11. Like Martin and Rubenstein, Holt is a journalist and publishes a quarterly he calls The Northwest Review. Like the two Prairie Rose Band members, he’s also a professional performer. Retained by the San Francisco Public Library, Holt weaves together, as he did on March 19 at the Merced Branch, a narrative featuring tunes from Pete Seeger’s and Woody Guthrie’s folksy repertoire.
At the end of The Prairie Rose Band’s bookstore performance, Holt, homespun and woodsy and who lives in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, wasn’t shy about contacting the Glen Park News.
“That Sunday afternoon at Bird & Beckett,” he emailed, “took me back to a time of wide-open prairies, cowgirls who knew how to wahoo and good old fashioned banjo pickin.’”
And there’s certainly lots that’s inclusive about the vernacular Pauline Scholten now performs, ballads that blanket America’s horizons with canals, riverboats, railroads, peaks, valleys, wagons and, of course, cattle.
“We have to keep this music alive,” Scholten said. “They’re classic songs, the peoples’ songs and they belong to us all.”
Siskiyou County’s Tim Holt wouldn’t argue, particularly about the Dust Bowl, freight train hopping troubadour who died in New York City in 1967.
“Woody Guthrie,” he said in a telephone interview, “is a cultural icon.”
On Clement Street a little before noon, the sun peeked from behind grey clouds and stared down upon a changing guard of Halloween-costumed kids, now including a fire fighter and a pirate. Along with Kenny Ludlow on bass, who would slam dunk a vocal rendition of “Little Maggie” and Kevin Owens on dobro, the quartet moved to a cover of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
Afterward, Steve Rubenstein again stepped up to child, knelt and this time demonstrated how his harmonica is played.
Pauline Scholten moseyed over to a Glen Park Newsreporter and sat down. Weeks earlier they’d sat at Chenery Street’s Destination Bakery for a chat. Now they sat next to a couple downing burritos from a Mexican tamales stand.
“So what’s with the chaps?” the reporter asked the Arlington Street minstrel.
“My son, Paul, wanted to be a cowboy for Halloween,” she answered. “They’re made from polyester and no animal was harmed. I got inspired and made myself a pair.”