Friday, February 24, 2017

Nick Miller + Urbanic = #Urbanick

There was a fun neighborhood gathering last night to celebrate the launch of Nick Miller's new line of art and cards now available at Urbanic on Abbot Kinney.

Miller is a writer living in Venice, who I became friends with when he and his now wife, Cammy, lived downstairs from me. Both Millers are deeply involved in Venice, with Cammy owning her own store on California Avenue, Show Me Your Mumu. You've also probably seen them around town walking their beloved dog, Mick Swagger. I adore the Millers, and was delighted to join in the party for Nick's new endeavor.

Urbanic (dubbed UrbaNICK for the evening) was full of friends and fans, all enjoying the libations served up on the outside patio in back by some of the lovely Mumu girls.

Miller writes his cards and art pieces on vintage typewriters, one of which was there for revelers to write their own profound thoughts.

It's almost a shame that this soirée took place after Valentine's day, as most of Miller's cards are deeply romantic, and would have been very well received on that day. Good thing Valentine's Day is every day, right? RIGHT?!

Absolutely correct, if you glanced around and saw the love all over the place last night. Family, good friends, and a community gathered to celebrate and support one of our own. That's love, and that's good times.

Miller's novel, Isn't It Pretty To Think So? was also available, and the author was present to get them signed. I think my favorite piece in the collection is one that says "Art will come from this". These days, that's some solace.

Congratulation to Nick Miller and to Urbanic, for an excellent new collaboration between community citizens and businesses ... that's the way to help keep Venice, Venice. Isn't it pretty to think so, at least?

Cheers to #Urbanick!

*Top two photos by Mark Epstein

Firebrand Thursday - Tom Morello And Friends Back At Hotel Café!

Tom Morello first brought his group shows with friends to the Hotel Café as The Nightwatchman ten years ago, and he was back there last night with his label-mates from his Firebrand Records to give us a healthy dose of music for the Resistance. In a switch from Firebrand Fridays (previously held at Genghis Cohen), this one was on a Thursday. Though it started at ten, which is pretty late for a school night, the crowd was packed in and singing along in solidarity until the last note was hit.

Morello introduced the evening, saying it was good to be back at Hotel Café, before bringing up his comrade in arms, Ryan Harvey. Harvey is one of my favorite people to turn to in times of global crisis, as he has incredible knowledge and explains things in an erudite and understandable way, often through song. He told us about how he recently went to visit Nora Guthrie, and she told him all about her father Woody's songs, and the stories behind them. He played us "Old Man Trump" (about the current Trump's equally disgusting father), which speaks to how they try to divide us with racism. Still. The chorus even features a Eugene Debs quote, and explains how - sadly - "Your ideals escape them." Powerful stuff, and I'd encourage everyone everywhere to take the chance to hear Harvey play if you get it.

 Harvey brought Morello back up, wearing his shades inside at night, perhaps to indicate his Nightwatchman persona had returned (otherwise I can't really condone it). He extended greetings from his mother, Mary. She had a fall earlier in the day, and they'd spent the day in the ER, having to miss giving their fiery speech for Black History Month at his kids' elementary school. Instead, he put it into song form, and sang about torches in the woods, and if you want a taste of freedom - "Keep Going!" It was ominous and inspiring at the same time. The kids would have dug the storytelling, I'm sure. Feel better, Mary!!!

My favorite Nightwatchman song has always been "Let Freedom Ring", and I got to hear it again last night. It was silent in there as Morello strummed and sang about the Freedom that is in so much jeopardy right now, and I felt all emotional. He ended it with a revved up acoustic jam that fired everyone back up, loving it even more.

The outstanding Lia Rose performed next, and began by asking "How did we get ourselves into this mess?" Right? I mean, we know, but still. Ugh. She spoke about how beautiful and inspiring it is to have a friend like Morello, who walks the talk EVERY day. The shouts of "Thank you, Tom!" were heartfelt and loud. I concur with Rose. He really does fight the power EVERY single day, and we're all so lucky to have SOMEONE out there unafraid to speak truth to power every chance he gets. And it's contagious, as evidenced by the beautiful, equally aware songs Rose gave us. I don't know the name of the first one, but my friend next to me just said, "Wow. She's something else." Totally agree. Her voice is so ethereal and expressive, you just need to experience it live. Rose was wearing a Standing Rock shirt, and dedicated her next song to the Water Warriors there. "Awake" nearly had me sobbing out loud, not prettily. The song is so beautiful, but the whole time all I could picture was that day's news showing the tipis and camps set on fire as the Native Americans are being raided. It's so awful, and "So cold" as the song says. Rose said, "In the future it will be very clear who was on the right side of this." Agreed, except for it's pretty clear right now.

The bright side is that "incredible goodness rises up greet evil", and with that truth spoken, Rose sang her "Of Good And Evil". It was so pretty, so hopeful, and so needed - as indeed, this whole night of rebel music was. Crucial for these times.

Headliner Ike Reilly was next, but Morello stalled for him, as he "needed a moment to get it together." Morello told about how both he and Reilly grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, long suffering together over the Cubs until this year's miraculous championship that has them both still beaming. Reilly stayed in the Midwest, while Morello headed for L.A., but that didn't stop him from becoming "One of the greatest acoustic singer/songwriters of all time" - per Morello. And per every superfan Reilly had in there, and there were many. Most of them waving their arms and getting sauced. Before bringing Reilly up, Morello said, "Don't let the People down." There was no chance of that.

Reilly began with a new one called "Boltcutter" (that Morello titled), all about the travel ban and what's going on right now in our world. Extra timely, and enthusiastically cheered along with ... especially when he ended it with, "When they steal our dreams, we gotta steal 'em back!" Facts. Real facts.

"Anyone here a racist?" No one raised their hands to that, thank God. Reilly is a great storyteller (and writer, and guitar player, and harmonica player ...) and told a yarn about how he used to have a thing for this girl in high school, who was gorgeous, but would always say these racist comments. "Laura, why you gotta be so mad that somebody else matters?" It was funny, but also biting and true (and Morello named this one "Laura".) Reilly next told about how his Dad was in the hospital dying, and Reilly found a poem in his Bible about his girlfriend having an affair with Satan. Right around the time Reilly was born ... hmmm. "Devil's Valentine" features his Dad's lyrics with Reilly's music, and contains the wonderful line, "Somewhere between dreams and fear is life." I love that. And so did a big guy that showed Reilly his back tattoo of those words once at a show, though credited the words to Ike and not Daniel Reilly. Still cool.

The Valentine theme continued with "Valentine's Day In Juarez," that turned into a lusty singalong. Reilly said if you didn't know the words, "Follow the drunk ones". A lady down front raised her hands, so we followed her. Correctly, it seemed. "They got the cocaine, Oxycontin, mushrooms, marijuana, vodka, plastic pop-off, twist one off ..." was belted out by fans that sounded like they knew what they were talking about. "Loving In The Wrong Time" was just recorded with the Ike Reilly Assassination (who he said were on strike tonight), and was great, and then the drunk ones got a drinking song, with drinks all around for his "Wasted Friends". It was super fun, and just what the Dr. Feelgood ordered.

These shows always end with an All-Star Jam, and this night was no different. The Firebrand gang brought up their friend Jason Heath, and everyone joined Reilly on his fantastic jam, "Put A Little Love In It". Morello and Reilly played dueling guitars, and the exceptional flamenco-ish solo by Morello was summed up at song's end by his own expression:

Because it was awesome. Morello encouraged "Singers" to come up on stage and join them, with the one caveat that they couldn't take out their phones - they had to act like they were in the band. A slew of folks crammed up on the little Hotel Café stage and if they didn't exactly act like they were in the band, they did at least pocket their phones. They all enthusiastically rocked out to Morello's "The Road I Must Travel" with Morello only occasionally having to jostle for elbow room. The fans on stage were so clearly happy to be exactly right there, that it was easy when Morello called for "Once more, in solidarity, Everybody!" Done.

"I'm not entirely sure we're done," was met with more roars, and the ironic champagne bucket was passed around, as is the custom for these shows designed to benefit social justice organizations. This time the money will go to the relief efforts for Syrian refugees in Greece, where Harvey will be reporting to once again next week, in his own walking of the talk. These shows also customarily end with a rowdy version of "This Land Is Your Land", which was even more special as it had been written 77 years ago to the day by Woody Guthrie in 1940. I'm sure Guthrie would be so pleased to know that it is still being sun as our "Alternative National Anthem", and that his torch has been so valiantly carried by this bunch of modern musicians. Though Morello has undoubtedly played this a million times by now, it is always with the same fervor and conviction. Which the audience feels, and carries with them.

You will leave every Firebrand show feeling both inspired and empowered. We're all in this together, and there are still very good people doing very good things. As we all sang out throats out, and jumped up and down together in TOTAL solidarity, you got the feeling that maybe we got this. As ever, the People have the Power. I don't think that fact has ever been more important than now. Morello closed the night by thanking everyone, telling us all to take it easy, but to take it, and adding, "Firebrand Records is so much better than Interscope." If this night had anything to say about it ... there again is a real fact.

Thank you to everyone involved with the fantastic Firebrand - the World needs you!

*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The 2017 Venice Mardi Gras Parade and Party!

Though the real Mardi Gras isn't until next Tuesday, Venice celebrated it a little early this past Saturday ... mainly because our organizers are attending the real one in New Orleans next week! There has been a lot of marching around town lately, but none of them have featured as many smiles and pure fun as this march down the Venice Boardwalk.

It rained all day the day before, and parade organizers insisted that the good times would roll, rain or shine. It was still raining on Saturday morning, but as it got closer to noon and parade meet-up time, the drops stopped and became merely grey skies. I put on my purple pants (the Windward Krewe color!) and "Here Comes The Sun" shirt ... and sure enough, here the sun came!

I had a couple other things going on so got down to the Boardwalk a little late, relieved that we're almost always on Venice Standard Time - meaning things don't usually start very on the dot. I headed down the Boardwalk toward Rose Avenue, not seeing or hearing any sign off the festivities. As I kept on walking, I thought I saw a glimmer of sparkle a ways down, and then I heard the unmistakable distant sound of a sousaphone's oom pah. It was on! Here comes the parade!!

I was swallowed up by the paraders, and we all danced and sang on down the Boardwalk, to the delight of tourists that had no idea it was coming. Faces lit up and cameras came out, as beads were tossed and passersby were invited to join along in our promenade down the beach.

The windows and balconies facing Ocean Front Walk had people hanging off of them, straining to catch beads - though it was only males that I saw flashing their boobs. One guy had those confetti blasters (that I should have stocked up on in Chinatown at the Golden Dragon Parade!) and was showering it all down on us as we passed, making everyone hoot and holler in appreciation.

 The street performers along the Boardwalk would join in as the parade went by, and I particularly loved this couple that accompanied us on guitar and washboard. Adorable.

Participants really had the Mardi Gras spirit for this year's theme of "Circ Du L.A." (frankly, I think we all just needed to blow off some steam), and the costumes were great. The handsome King Ravi (of the late Danny's Deli fame) and his Queen Toni presided over the event, giving it all a very regal flair.

I think Best Costume has to go to the Clown in his own basket with a sly fake dog on his back. There was a lot of effort and color involved, and that dog looked like he was checking everyone out. Classic.

Also impressive was this costume actually made out of Mardi Gras beads, that shook like a flapper girl when she danced down the Boardwalk...

Miss Jessica Long led the parade, as its founder and most enthusiastic Mardi Gras reveler. She has a home in New Orleans, and is on her way there for the real thing, with an excellent head start from what she has created here in Venice. It was SO. FUN. Thank you, Miss Jessica!

Once the parade ended up at Windward, there was a full-on dance party there, with everyone joining in. The hula hoopers hooped and made a circle that became a dance off centerpiece, with the brass band playing all the while. The sun was now out and the party was now ON.

As Danny's Deli has closed, the after-party was held at Larry's Venice there on Speedway. The Gumbo Brothers (who I learned began as a result of this very parade) played their Dixieland tunes for everyone to dance along to, there were New Orleans themed drinks like Sazeracs, and the Mardi Gras treat of King Cake was served - though I never heard who got the baby.

Feather masks were handed out to those that didn't have their own, so soon everyone was both looking and acting the part of official Mardi Gras Reveler. The Dayger raged on well past sunset, and I can report that the bon temps definitely roulered.

This day was so fun, and so needed. Times have been so heavy and the chance to come together with your community in the name of simple fun should always be taken. I had a friend say the next day, "I hear about these things and I never go." I think that's a real shame, because there is something very great and healing about being all united for just a good time. THAT is what Venice has always been about, that and the art ... We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams, right? This kind of day solidifies that joy in our hearts, and reminds us all of what long ago made Venice the place to be ... not money, not greed, not corporate b.s., but FUN.

I love you, Venice. Happy Mardi Gras!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Venice Corner Ball Park

It's been raining so much lately (Finally! - more to come this weekend!) that California has greened up considerably. Returning from my walk at the beach this morning, I noticed that the little Corner Ball Park at Ocean Avenue and Venice Boulevard is really starting to look like an actual park.

Robin Murez and her Venice Public Art have been working on this project for years (there's always red tape and money involved with these kinds of things), and it's nice to see grass growing and a real area to take a break in. The mosaic balls (depicting sea weed, a Venice column, and triangles for the Silver Triangle neighborhood) are there as both decor and something to sit on. What used to be a beat down old concrete corner is now an inviting little oasis for Venice. Enjoy!

Thanks to Robin and the rain!

Now if that little market across the street would ever re-open up for biz ... !!!???

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Love From Venice!

Love. That's what it's all about. It hasn't really felt like it in the World lately, so it's awfully nice that there is a day set aside each year to focus on it ... even though we would do well to observe this holiday EVERY day. I've been thinking about all the many forms of love kind of a lot lately ... and how important it is to show it to those you care about - all the time.

I was thinking that the other day when I saw a bike cop watching a slightly sketchy looking dude, keeping an eye on him to see what he was up to. I walked by the guy and half-smiled, as I wasn't sure if he was danger-crazy or just rebellious crazy. As I passed him, he said, "Love you." The only natural response was "Love you too."   I carried on down the street feeling a little better about humanity, and hope he did too.

About a block up, I ran into my old mailman from two neighborhoods ago. His face lit up and he took out his headphones and said, "HI! How weird, I was just listening to that song "Here Comes The Sun" and then you walked up, how perfect is that?!"  Well, it was perfect, and a day maker too. Love is everywhere.

So today is Valentine's Day, and it can be kind of a bummer when you hear snotty ladies strutting down Abbot Kinney saying things like, "He BETTER have gotten me something good or I'm gonna be pissed." Like that's what it's about. It's not. Then I saw a shirt that said,"Treat them mean/Keep them keen". Like, WHAT?! Is that who we've become? (Er, is that what I've been doing wrong? I've been pretty nice to my dudes ... Hmm...) When I got home from that lame excursion,  I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement to see that my little baby hummingbird friends had decided to reveal themselves on Valentine's Day!  Meet Valentino and Corazon (Gender fluid names as I have no idea what they are)!

I can't stop staring at them, and watching their mother (who I've named Frida/Freeda) care so dearly for them ... and thought, now THAT is love. My own dear Mother was just here visiting, and she simply defines love. I went to the beach and called her, and looked out at the water and felt my heart swell with love for this place and that sea. REAL, true love. Then I saw the old Russian ladies that always come and sit in the sunshine and help each other walk to their bench. The deep and binding love of friendship, and how lucky we are when we find that real deal stuff. The important, money can't buy it kind of showing of love.

 The Venice sign has been adorned with a big heart for the occasion, and that's one I wouldn't mind just leaving up. A heartfelt daily reminder of all that we truly need. LOVE to you all, everywhere!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Guerilla In The Mist

Today was one of those days when Dogtown is Fogtown ... and that's when my friend Edgar from Costa Rica was coming for his first visit to California ever. It was not at all the stereotypical bright sunshine and blue skies kind of day that those who have only ever seen Venice on t.v. or in movies have come to expect. You could barely SEE the water from the Boardwalk, but you knew it was there.

The good thing about Venice is that it's cool no matter what the weather. We walked the Boardwalk, as you must, and I was happy to see the fog hadn't dampened any spirits. The street performers and vendors - and their attendant crowds -  were still out in force. I particularly liked this guerilla Venice sculpture put up by a creative soul down there. We ducked into Hinano's to show the Costa Rican boy a true Venice experience, and by the time we came back outside, the sun had peeked through very far off over the ocean's horizon, turning the water all silvery. The beauty is always there ... sometimes you just have to look a little harder for it ... and then it's even more worth it. Good life lessons ... for a Pura Vida!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Tommyland? Hmmm.

There's a whole big thing going down at the beach today in Venice ... which has suddenly been transformed into "Tommyland". Meaning Tommy Hilfiger, not Tommy Lee (shoot). Big corporate clothing empire Tommy Hilfiger, taking over the Boardwalk. Great. If California is a "Donor State", Venice is definitely a Donor City.

I'm told there is a fashion show this evening starring It Girl, Gigi Hadid. All of Venice will be hearing shrill teen girl screams right about sunset (Do not be alarmed). There is clearly a decent budget for this big deal, so I wonder if any of those shooting fees will find there way back into Venice? I wonder if they will pay to clean it up? I wonder if the people that are pimping out the Boardwalk and its cool are thinking about taking care of the actual people that made it cool in the first place? If they showcase the skatepark (which I'm sure they will), will Jesse Martinez and his cleaning crew get actually paid for once for doing all that they do every single day, big budget or not? I wonder if some of the money made off of this endeavor will find its way to the houseless citizens of Venice, who will no doubt be kept out of the area that they call home? I sure hope so.

Tommy Hilfiger has recently said it would be an honor to dress Melania Trump. OK, Bro. Not a very popular stance here in town. Venice has never been about big corporations, though those companies have always sought to profit of of the innate edge that Venice has naturally. I'm sure the awful Snapchat has its mitts all over this, and for that alone, I'll be nowhere near this hubbub. Nah thanks.

Tommyland. Yep. See you at Hinano's instead.