Monday, September 30, 2013

The 2013 Abbot Kinney Street Festival!

It was perhaps the most perfect day for our Abbot Kinney Street Festival that has ever happened. Simply gorgeous ... bright blue skies, warm sunshine and a breeze right when you needed it all combined to welcome the masses to Venice for our annual jamboree. It was a complete blast. As usual.

I spent a good chunk of the day at the Free Venice Beachhead booth, meeting neighbors and discussing the things that concern, bug, elate, and mean something to our community. The big talk was about the proposed hotel on Abbot Kinney - that absolutely no one seems to want. Including me. I kind of got a kick out of the fact that as I use my initials in the paper, some readers have assumed I'm a guy. I'm a lady, and it was nice to meet so many kind readers. I always say the AK Fest is like Venice Thanksgiving, in that you see so many faces that you haven't seen since the previous year's throw-down. I love it.

The Jesus people had a strong presence this year, walking up and down the Boulevard with big signs and loudspeakers telling us all what sinners we are. True enough, but obnoxious, and probably not that effective as everyone seemed to be simply ignoring them.

I love the moment when you hear drums approaching in the distance, and soon enough the samba school line dances past and invigorates everyone clapping alongside them. It's a great tradition, and full of the fun spirit of the day.

Beyond Baroque had a stage where folks could get up and read one of their poems, even if nobody was listening. It's so great that we have an organization devoted to poetry, and that we have so many talented people willing to share their most personal work, as the microphone was never unattended every time I walked by.

There was a lot of head-wear for sale at booths this year, flower crowns, hats and the like. Jewelry was another big presence this year, and art, t-shirts and stuff for the kids were the other big draws. Long lines for food, and the rumor that it cost $25 just to get a wristband to get into The Brig's beer garden, that did not include any beers. Um ... Yeah, no thanks. I can find my own, and better party.

Which we did at Aust, the new Australian clothing store tucked in behind the beautiful Fiore flower shop. As once again this year it seemed that the downtown p.r. people that have been hired to handle the AK Fest forgot that Venice people like to listen to Venice bands at our own Festival. This did not appear to be be possible on any of the official stages, (except for the awesome Superbroke Orchestra that I heard I missed, dangit!) so Aust had a bunch of locals play right there at the store. 

Aussies and North Americans alike crammed in to hear Aussie Matt Ellis play all new songs solo acoustic.

Lacey Cowden played her stellar songs of love and redemption to a rapt audience.

J.R. Reyne rocked the place, as did Clayton Joseph Scott, while the party out back behind the store grew and grew as more neighbors heard about friends playing at the Festival.

After a bit, it seemed like it was all that was going on in town, even as the jam-packed street continued to flow with people out front until after the sun set.

The Police did their end of Festival sweep, and the tent poles soon began clanking down. It's pretty impressive how quickly it all just disappears, including the people that split off to after-parties or to catch the Breaking Bad finale.

Another beautiful day in Venice, on the books, with pictures, laughs and memories enough to last us until next year. Cheers to all who helped put on another wonderful Street Festival!

*Photo of me by Emma Leslie

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Another Kind Of Sunrise Dawns On Abbot Kinney

Yay. I'm excited to announce that Another Kind Of Sunrise is now open for biz on Abbot Kinney! The lovely idea was brought to reality by owners Diana Garcia and Gregory Rogove, with the help of a super successful Kickstarter campaign (they made MORE than they needed!) and great friends and family.

Located in a little alleyway next to The Stronghold building, locals and tourists alike are already lining up to get their cereal fix, Handsome coffee, Moon Juice, Distira teas, Mylkman milk and handmade bowls of Paleo granola, Chia porridge and Acai. Yuuuum.

The sidewalk is painted from the sun to the moon. The big mural by Garcia and Brandon Boyd is complete. The benches are inviting, as kiwi begins to grow around you. The hosts are awesome and fun to talk to. You walk in and immediately feel like you want to hang out a while, any time of day.

As Garcia told me, "It's been beautiful to see the support and love for this place already." It's clear from the great Kickstarter response, and all the friends and family kicking in with design, painting, and help of all sorts, that this is truly a labor of love. There is a distinct sense of place here, with the mad creative vibes and community involvement, that is all about Venice. It will become even more so once they start hosting their acoustic music nights, art events, and all that good kind of stuff.

They're still figuring out what the hours will be, but the aim is to satisfy your cereal fix when you crave it. Stop in and say hi during this weekend's Abbot Kinney Festival, and see what you're in for.
It's on. Garcia and Rogove are ready and welcoming all to share in THIS kind of sunrise. Enjoy!

Another Kind Of Sunrise
1629 Abbot Kinney Boulevard

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Fall Venice Art Crawl

I love the Venice Art Crawl. It's such a good night every time, everyone seems to be in high spirits and excited ... all in the name of art!  Last night was the Crawl for fall, and we covered a lot of ground. It's best to do it on bikes, as the various stops on the Crawl are pretty spread out around town.

It kicked off with a gorgeous - though muted in a more autumn palette - sunset that rivaled much of the art that we were about to see. Clouds hid the full moon, but you could tell it was there. Rowdy!

The best thing to do is go to pick up a map outside of Danny's Deli and go from there. Danny's had some art upstairs and a musical Improv group downstairs, and Cairo Cowboy, Kiki Designs, Gotta Have It and Gumbo Kinney all did too. More and more people are participating each time, and the art changes out of course, so it's a different experience each time the VAC takes place.

Down the bike path we went to the Cadillac Hotel who were hosting a very cool exhibit called "Mirror, Mirror" where local professional artists paired up with a local homeless person to create pieces from oil paintings to drawings on burlap, from skate and surfboards as canvas for paintings to sculptures of heads. The sense of pride from both parties was tangible, and helped make clear how very healing art can be. Powerful stuff.

From there it was on to the Venice Breeze Suites who had music and art on their rooftop lounge, where it was tiny and packed and stunningly beautiful.

Shulamit Gallery had seemingly nothing going on and nobody to explain what wasn't going on, so it was on to the bright fun of the art at Canal Club, featuring very Venice superhero surfers and sea-like amoeba paintings. 

James Beach had some C.A.V.E. Gallery works and a DJ - and drinks. There was a great spread at "Streamlined" on North Venice, with art works by Dillon and a ton of good snacks. Good hosts!

Over on Venice Boulevard there was a little show of photographs of Big Bill, everyone's favorite Venice mechanic, who is now being forced out of his longtime garage. The photos of Big Bill made that already sad and wistful truth even more stark.

Back on Windward, Hama had some bright paintings by John Christensen displayed outside, and next door was a photo exhibit of Red Bull Flutag events. There was even a sand mermaid on the sidewalk outside of Venice, bringing some Boardwalk to the street.

The very best part of this edition of the VAC I've saved for last, as it was awesome.

My old friend Jason Teague has built a home complex out of shipping containers on Main Street, fronted by a huge mural by our local street artists. Inside (if you got in, there was a verrrry long line) all those same artists had pieces hanging for silent auction to benefit our Venice Symphony Orchestra. That's right, we now have a Symphony Orchestra, led and conducted by Wesley Flowers. They play everything "from Beck to Bach", and were in performance in the courtyard in the middle of the complex.

As everyone enjoyed the pulled pork sandwiches and cold brews (and Dogtown Coffee) being served, the PACKED crowd circled around the orchestra to hear selections from Mozart and yep, "Two Turntables And A Microphone" from Beck, orchestra style. It was so great. I'm so proud of these guys for having a beautiful idea and making it happen (You will hear more about the VSO very soon).

The VAC is so great for Venice because this is one happening that you actually see people from the neighborhood, like First Fridays used to be. I couldn't go two feet without bumping into another fantastic Venice person, also having an excellent time and loving it.

I didn't make it to every location along the Crawl, but we did pack a lot in. I feel so lucky and grateful to live in such a vibrant, talented, creative community, and the VAC spotlights those characteristics better than just about anything we have going on. The next one is in December, and promises to be another art extravaganza. Join in the creation or the appreciation - both are extra rewarding.

Thanks to the VAC for yet another blast. Love it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Janes In Chains at Irvine Amphitheater!

The Rockstar Uproar tour wound up in California this weekend, and I got to catch Jane's Addiction and Alice in Chains together in one show! There were a bunch of other bands, but we headed to Irvine for Jane's and Alice. What more do you need, really?

We arrived in time for a gorgeous sunset over the Amphitheater where I had seen a few Lollapaloozas in the past, so it was fitting that we got through Friday 405 traffic just in time for Juana's Addicion!

Tribal sounding drums set the stage, and then the crowd roared to see the band arrive with "Underground" off of their latest - great - album, The Great Escape Artist. Their dancers, Etty Farrell and Stephanie Spanski, swung from the rafters on trapezes wearing giant white dresses that reached to the stage. Awesome. Perry Farrell danced around barefoot, and kept the momentum going right into the classic and monstrous "Mountain Song". The place went crazy for it, as they should have.

"West Coast!!!" yelled Perry, to thunderous crowd recognition. He said, "It's Yom Kippur and since I couldn't make it to Temple, I made my own! ... AND it's Stephen Perkins' birthday!" Both facts blew the place up even more. "Ain't No Right" went straight into "Been Caught Stealing", which featured a cool kind of scat vocal from Perry while Dave Navarro answered every sound back with his guitar.

"Is marijuana legal here yet? Fuck them! I wanna be a superhero!" asked, answered and stated Farrell before blowing into "Another Soulmate" - a brand new song played by shouted request. The people were into it. "Shit, I've been up for two days already ... should we do 'Two Days'?" asked Farrell, but they did the original "Three Days" to everyone's delight.  Etty and Steph were back, this time in gags and twirling canes as they vamped around the guys. Navarro had a particularly blistering solo on this one, that had dudes and chicks alike gasping. Perry and Etty were getting DOWN together, and it's always a joy to see this long-married couple so into each other. For real. Perkins had a crazy solo, complete with sparklers going off, perhaps for his birthday. Chris Chaney was holding it all down on bass, whose licks are especially featured on this one.

"Motherfucking 3,4!" yelled Farrell as the classic intro to "Ocean Size" - the best. Everyone was up and dancing, and the party was ON. That flew right into "Stop!" which was just crazy. Perkins was going OFF, Perry was dancing like a dervish, and absolutely every voice in the joint raised as one to sing the "Hum along with me, hum along with the tv .... ohhh ohhhh OH!" part. It was awesome as ever.

Farrell's voice sounded as great as it ever has. This was quite a feat as he next told us that "I didn't think I was gonna make it, you know when you party so hard ... but then I drank a YooHoo and now I feel fine ... every day you just gotta chip away!" And did they ever.

"Chip Away" featured women (I think) suspended from bars skewered through the skin in their backs as they swung out over the audience, while everyone in the band but Perry banged on drums in unison. Perry sang and howled without restraint, ("This is what WE do at Temple!") and the crowd absolutely loved it (and were a little nauseated too, as I overheard. The skin does look like it's going to split open at any instant).

Then that was it - "No, 'Jane Says'!?!" I overheard one girl wail - and one of the greatest bands ever took their bows, along with the gorgeous dancers, suspension artist, and even the young Farrell boys waved to the crowd. Awesome awesome awesome - and too short.

Some fun was had catching up with friends, then Alice In Chains took the stage. I was personally excited to see them play as I've been friends with their singer, William Duvall, since back when he was the singer of his own band called Comes With The Fall. I hadn't yet seem him perform with Alice In Chains - no small feat to take over those Layne Staley shoes - so this was going to be cool. And it was. They opened with "Them Bones", and I wish I had a photo of just how hard the guy in front of me was rocking out. In his very own, ecstatic, slightly boozy world. The very feeling of why any of us cares about music.

Duvall sounds great, kind of like Staley, but making it all his own at the same time. He harmonizes beautifully with the now short-haired Jerry Cantrell, with both their voices and guitars. "Check My Brain", "Again", "Man In A Box" where Duvall sounded a LOT like Staley ...

They had the crowd with them for every note, fists pumping. "Got Me Wrong", "Last Of My Kind", "We Die Young", "Stone", "Nutshell" were all blazed through with all rock pistons firing. They only played two songs off of their new album (The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here), so it seems they know their crowd, as every time the classics began, the place went ballistic. We made the what turned out to be very wise choice to cut out and hear the all-time greats "Would?" and "Rooster" as we made our way to the parking lot - and like ten minutes later they closed the 405 North! Phew.

I'm so glad I got to see Duvall rule it, and the Jane's In Chains/Alice in Jane's (as the bands have been hash-tagging it) extravaganza together. They are both MONSTERS of Indie Rock and the soundtrack to some of my greatest times ever. Bless and thank them both, on that high holy day, and yeah, Man.  You gotta just Chip Away! And then you get nights like these.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Jail Guitar Doors Show Rocks Out The Ford Ampitheater

In 2007, Billy Bragg founded the Jail Guitar Doors organization in England, named after The Clash song about Wayne Kramer of the MC5, who served time for cocaine offenses, but Bragg didn't know it was about Kramer. In 2009, Bragg and Kramer met up for a show at Sing Sing prison, and Kramer both told him he was the song's namesake, and decided to start up Jail Guitar Doors USA. They give guitars to inmates, who then learn and have a skill to use - even if just to make themselves feel good and express themselves - when they get out of lock-up. After many shows in many prisons, their good work is clear to see, and we saw it up close and awesome in their benefit show Friday night at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater in Los Angeles.

It was a hot night, perfect to rock out under the stars, and rock out we did! Comedian Jay Mohr was the host of the evening. It's obvious that he's a big music fan, but he started out his schtick talking about how musicians should just shut up and play their hits, going into a long bit about Eddie Vedder being ridiculous for talking about politics and playing venues without advertising. It seemed odd that he'd go off on that, when all the musicians playing this night are major activists, and activism was the cause of the evening. But I guess THESE musicians are cool by Mohr. Anyway.

Mohr introduced Brother Wayne Kramer and Billy Bragg, who told us that Jail Guitar Doors is now active in 40 prisons nationally, and there are 42 on the waiting list. And on this very day, they just found out that they will receive an Annenberg Grant - amazing! Though as Kramer said, hardened inmates are a tougher sell to get people to give to than baby seal pups in the Arctic, but these are human beings, and they are changing for the better through music. Like we all do.

Then they brought out a JGD alumni, Franc Foster & His Melting Pot, who started with JGD a year ago, and "Look at me now!" His enthusiasm was infectious, and when he said, "This one is called 'Nightmover', and if it makes you wanna dance, don't be afraid," many in the house complied. His other guitar player had a thing with baby powder that he kept shaking all over the stage, to the extent that you could smell it a few rows back. He looked like he was having fun sliding around in it, but the Ford workers cleaning it up every time did not seem thrilled. He didn't care, all smiles and powder. The Melting Pot is Foster's program to teach music to the homeless on Skid Row. What a difference a year can make, indeed.

After the powder got swept up, Jason Heath and The Greedy Souls took the stage. Heath dissed Obama in his opening statements and the power went out on his guitar. Someone in the audience yelled, "They're watching!" which cracked everyone up, and these days, seemed probable. They played "God's Name In Vain", which asks the good question, "What have we done in God's name?" Think about it.

Brother Wayne returned with his famous star spangled guitar to join the Lexington Arts Ensemble in a jazzy guitar and sax duel/conversation that was jamming at its best, and then played the song that started it all, "Jail Guitar Doors".

It was a great end to the first part of the program, and the intermission gave us time for perusing the cool stuff at the booths by Jail Guitar Doors and KPFK. It's such a relief to know that there are still good people doing good things! Phew.

Dave Alvin kicked off the second half, looking smooth in his cowboy hat, and playing his "4th Of July", with Kramer backing him up, aptly, on that patriotic guitar.

They were then joined by Dave's brother, Phil Alvin, who said, "If any guitar belongs in prison, it's this one!", making everyone laugh before they launched into The Blasters' "Marie Marie", 50's Chuck Berry style rocking, which made many of the older generation in the audience (the vast majority) completely thrilled, up and dancing in the aisles. It was simply great.

As was the next act, Tom Morello, The Nightwatchman. He took the stage to happy shouts before he played a note, and then said he'd been thinking earlier on "What do Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi and Wayne Kramer have in common? They've all been in jail, and got out to change the world."

Much as Morello continues to try and do, with his "One Man Revolution", which was his first song (backed up by Carl Restivo, Dave Gibbs and Eric Gardner, his Freedom Fighter Orchestra), complete with amp feedback solo. His "Fuck, YEAH!" at song's end was echoed by us all. But THEN - Morello brought the house not down, but UP - on their feet as he incinerated the poor place with his now-famous version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad". I've seen this one played live many times now, and I still get chills every single time. I mean ... Watch!

Yikes. People sprang to their feet and caused such a ruckus that another song (unplanned) was demanded, and the entire joint stood and sang along to the Na-na-na-na chorus on his "Road I Must Travel".

The place went crazy, and as Mohr came out he joked, "You'll get 'em next time," admitting that he'd never want to follow Tom Morello. But he did. I'm a person who really doesn't find mainstream comedians that funny as it's usually so smart assy and mean spirited, but I especially didn't laugh when, in telling a bit about Christopher Walken, he said, "And then he looked over his shoulders like he was telling a black joke at work ..." Really? Talking/perpetuating "Black jokes" at an audience full of activists and KPFK listeners, with African American people on stage and in the seats? He then went on to say about something else how men should think things through 1,800 times before they say them. He didn't take his own advice on that one, and I found it to be the one damper on the evening. I'm sure he must be cool if Brother Wayne is his friend, but it left me unamused. I guess I don't get the joke?

But then Jackson Browne came out and also said, "Among the dreams and aspirations in my life, I never did want to follow Tom Morello." High praise, Tom! But he did a beautiful job of following, with a new song, played gorgeously with just him and the piano, called "Standing In The Breach." He said it started out being about the terrible earthquake in Haiti, and then became about the disaster of poverty, and how we can't seem to do anything about that. I've been thinking of that a lot myself lately, seeing giant Russian billionaire yachts anchored off of Venice for our homeless to look out at. How can anyone feel right about that kind of excess when there are children in our own city that don't have enough to simply eat?! I don't get it, Man. The theater was so quiet,  just Browne's voice, the piano and crickets in the trees harmonizing. We're such a far cry from where the world could be ... The song touched me, and from the sound of the place at its end, everyone else too.

Kramer joined Browne for "Casino Nation" and then the Lexington Arts Ensemble returned to rip through "the feel good hit of the Summer ... many Summers ago," "Running on Empty". His fans for life in the place were ecstatic, dancing as they time-traveled themselves back to their own past Summers. It's wonderful to look around and see so many people so happy, just because of music, proving again how healing, transformative (even if just your mood!) and inspirational it can be.

When Billy Bragg took his solo turn on stage, he said it can be hard to connect with young people in prison who may have never heard of him, or even Joe Strummer, but he can always count on the songs of Bob Marley. He played "Redemption Song", solo acoustic, in a very British version that held the fans rapt. He next gave us his pretty true"No One Knows Nothing Anymore." Bragg then explained that "the real enemy of all of us is not capitalism or conservatism, it's CYNICISM. Our OWN cynicism, that nothing can change. This must be overcome, and the only antidote to it is ACTIVISM. I have faith in this audience to change the world!" He should too, as this was a fired up bunch he was playing to. He dedicated his lovely, "I Keep Faith" to this very audience ("in every single one of you!"), in a song statement that was not only extra hopeful, but completely NECESSARY. KEEP. FAITH. Amen.

The wonderful Jill Sobule was the penultimate treat, joined by Kramer. She said that her favorite gigs ever have been "with Wayne - in prisons!" She played her gorgeous - and funny - "Mexican Wrestler" that begins with the lyric ... Sometimes I wish that I was an angel, a fallen angel that visits your dreams ... but she really needn't wish any longer, because with her voice, she already is an angel. LOVE her. Everyone did. Even more so because the next line goes ... Sometimes I wish that I was a Mexican wrestler in a red vinyl mask, and I might grab you and body slam you and maybe cause you physical harm ... Classic.

Then it was time for the All Star Jam, which of course, HAD to be the mighty MC5's "Kick Out The Jams"! Morello took a second to tell us all that Kramer had recently become a father, "And I've never seen him happier!" It was true, as Kramer - as well as the entire cast of rockers - all had best time ever smiles plastered across their faces.

These friends and comrades proudly displayed how much fun they all have playing together, and the JDG grads seemed to be having the best time of all - complete with more powder!  "Right now it's time to .... Right now it's time to" Kramer repeated until the crowd all shouted back, "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER!" And they sure did.

The barn burner finale was one big jumping rock out, precisely as billed. There was even an extended trombone solo that rocked! It's almost surreal to be at these shows, where any ONE of the artists playing would leave behind a stoked audience, but to get them ALL on stage together is something truly special. You could tell they thought so too. And they "Done kicked 'em OUT!"

Bows were taken, and the fans roared. It was a great night of rock and roll, but more importantly, it was a great night of doing something, caring about something, together. These nights DO help you to keep the faith. Cynicism, be damned! Please check out Jail Guitar Doors, and help if you can. Help with ANYTHING if you can. And you can. I have faith. In every single one of you.

PS - You get that I'm not a photographer, right? Just visual aids.  Love, CJG