A woman with long dreads covering part of her smiling face plays guitar in front of a Freight & Salvage sign
Shelley Doty. Credit: Eden Bassett-Jones

You never know when high school algebra might come in handy. For Berkeley guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Shelley Doty, solving a musical equation helped define her independent identity as an artist. 

Shelley Doty X-Tet, Freight & Salvage, Saturday, Aug. 26, 8 p.m. $20

Returning to Freight & Salvage Saturday for her first gig under her own name at the venue since 2016, the Shelley Doty X-Tet and special guests deliver her trademark mélange of rock, jazz and funk. 

She first made her mark in the late 1980s as a co-founder of Jambay, a band at the center of the Bay Area’s emerging jam band scene. Launching her own project in the mid-’90s Doty didn’t want to be defined by past associations or hemmed in by musical conventions. Recalling her days studying math at Berkeley High (class of ’84), she christened her new project the X-Tet. 

“When I struck off on my own as a bandleader, I always wanted to be playing with people who wanted to be there,” she said. “I want everybody to have a special experience, in the band and in the audience. Thinking back to high school algebra, I remembered X was the undetermined variable.”

The X-Tet can deliver riveting music in any number of configurations, from solo singer/songwriter mode to various duos, trios and the full quintet. The band features a cast of longtime collaborators, including her Jambay compatriot Mike Sugar on bass and drummer Dale Fanning. 

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Prolific producer and multi-instrumentalist Julie Wolf holds down the piano/keyboard chair, while the rhythm section pivots around percussion maestro Vicki Randle, Doty’s bandmate in the all-star collective Skip the Needle (which celebrates the release of a new Octavia Butler-inspired EP Sept. 16 at the Ivy Room). They’ll be joined by several special guests, including Sarah Bush and Skip the Needle’s Kofy Brown.

Expect the unexpected. “One thing I’ll be doing, as I always do at the Freight, is pushing the X to the max,” Doty said. “I’ll break it down into solo or duo with Mike Sugar, who I’ve been playing with for a long time. I’ll be drawing from all different parts of my repertoire, pulling out some older stuff that people don’t know unless they were at Jambay gigs in the ’90s. I’m trying to give a sampler, with some new songs, too.”

Freelancer Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. Andy, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, covers a wide range of musical cultures, from Brazil and Mali to India and Ireland....