Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Abbot Kinney Street Festival 2014!

We look forward to the Abbot Kinney Festival every year like it's Venice Thanksgiving. Old home weekend style, as you finally see all the old school friends that have been hiding out and avoiding Abbot Kinney these days when it's much harder to recognize as Venice there. But the Festival brings us all back, brings us all together ... and that's why we love it. This year was its 30th anniversary, so it felt extra-special.

You couldn't ask for a more perfect Festival day, bright blue skies, high puffy clouds and a slight breeze to refresh you in the sunshine. It all started real early, as we awoke to the sound of poles clanging as they set up booths in the wee hours.

When you start to hear the live music wafting inside your windows, it creates a sense of urgency to get out there and let the fun begin! This year - FINALLY - we had a dedicated stage (curated by Matt Ellis) for local music at Andalusia. That became our headquarters for the entire day, as every artist playing was a dear friend, thus it was by far the place to be (So much so that I didn't really see all that much else at either end this year, as we were smack in the center of it all). It kicked off with a performance by our Venice Symphony Orchestra, which I JUST missed, but know it was great as always.

Lacey Kay Cowden played so beautifully that I heard a lady say she'd heard the music from a few blocks away, and headed right in our direction. Once there, she was so mesmerized (like we all were) by Cowden's resonant voice, that she said she completely forgot there was the entire ruckus of a street festival right behind us. That's a good review.

Blue Eyed Son was a perfect fit for the day, as his surfy tunes put a spring in your step automatically. It also made us want to party. Which we proceeded to do ... all day and night.

I took a little stroll to see what was what, and was happy to see that Beyond Baroque again had their Spoken Word stage set up, with Venetians and friends getting up there to express their souls to anyone who happened to be there taking a breather. Poetry lives!

The fine folks at Trim were all American Hustled out, with glam 70's looks and $20 hair cuts all day, keeping their fun theme tradition alive.

The morning attendance seemed a little more sparse than usual, I think people had big nights the night before. That soon changed, and before long, you couldn't walk two feet without bumping into a familiar, friendly face. That's the best part of the whole festival, seeing your homies all together having fun in the place that we all love.

The next best part might be the annual parade of the Samba school and drum line that always struts their stuff down the middle of the festival. It's so happy, such a celebration ... everyone just stops in their tracks and shouts and dances along. What a beautiful tradition.

Next up on the Andalusia stage was Paul Chesne, our favorite local raconteur/tireless showman.

 He fired up the people, as usual, and showed why he's booked like 300 nights of the year all around Los Angeles. 'Cause he's the best.

While we were on a burger/drink break on the delightful patio at The Roosterfish (*Festival tip: never a line for the ladies bathroom in there)...

... the Spirit Of Venice awards (and grants) were given out back at the Andalusia stage, where artists Ed Moses, Laddie John Dill, Tom Everhart, activist Mariana Aguilar, VNC's Eduardo Manilla, and a post-humous award for skater Jay Adams all received their Venice props.

Also keeping it very Venice were the Hecho en Venice and Dogtown booths, where there were lines all day to buy the gear that has always shown their local pride. 

Next up at Andalusia was Matt Ellis and his band. Andy Clockwise was the guest drummer, and they demanded and held the attention of pretty much everybody walking by. We sang along, we danced, we felt really grateful that this much good music is available to us all the time here in Venice, most every night of the week.

A little more strolling ... lots of jewelry booths, some new big, cool wings for kids to wear, clothes, t-shirts, bags, hot sauce, art, art, ART ... if you couldn't find it at the AKF, you probably won't.

We made sure to get back over to Andalusia to see Venice's own Tom Freund close out the local stage, playing songs from his great new Two Moons album (also set mostly in Venice). Freund and his band (Adam Topol! Jessy Greene! Gabe Noel! Rami Jaffe!) brought their international level talent to our own backyard, and it was a sublime time in the sun with all of our friends.

As was the entire day, really. The party kept going long after the police did their sweep to clear everyone out. I saw that the beer garden at The Brig was still going strong when we had to gather our wits and head to Hollywood for the excellent George Fest. Phew!

What a great day in Venice. Social media and word of mouth blew up with people talking and sharing photos about all the fun they had at #AKF2014, as this year's t-shirts read. Very timely.

I could go on and on about it all ... but it really comes down to just this every time: I LOVE YOU, VENICE!

Monday, September 29, 2014

George Fest - A Celebration Of George Harrison

Last night was the big George Harrison-A-Thon show at the Fonda theater in Hollywood, affectionately called George Fest. It was really one for the ages, People. More a matter of who DIDN'T get up there and play. For real.

I had spent the day at the Abbot Kinney Festival going nuts, so it was a true test of endurance to first, get to Hollywood at all, and second, hang in there for this many-hours-long show. I did not make it to the end, I confess, but I sure did see an awful lot while I was there. For instance ...

We missed a few openers like the tight house band led by George's son, Dhani Harrison, and I heard Conan O'Brien threw down "Old Brown Shoe". Wow. I got there just in time to hear the end of the darling guys of Jamestown Revival singing "If I Needed Someone." Bam. Just like that, I have a new crush.

The Black Ryder played "Isn't It A Pity", followed by Chase Cohl (and Brian Bell of Weezer) with "For You Blue". The stage was almost as packed as the audience, where people stood on tip-toe the whole night to catch a glimpse of who was all cramming on up there. Like The Heartless Bastards' (who I love) rendition of "If Not For You." So good. Butch Walker got up and sang "Any Road", The Cold War Kids did "Taxman", and then The Cult's Ian Astbury really delivered with "Be Here Now". I was standing next to Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains) during this number, and we both just went "Wow. That was awesome." when Mr. Astbury was done. And whistled real loud. I think it was my favorite of the night.

Next up was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with "Art Of Dying" - Awesome. Then Spoon's Britt Daniel with "I Me Mine", which was great, but even better was the lovely Karen Elson and Norah Jones on "I'd Have You Anytime". And even better than THAT was Ben Harper with "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)". I mean, come on.

Kind of weirdly following that was Weird Al Yankovic in an unusually straight turn for him, singing, "What Is Life", real lyrics and all. Then Dhani Harrison (and friends, including Aaron Emby, Jimmy Vivino, and Stephen Perkins from Jane's Addiction) really going for it with their "Let It Down". It's really good. We got down.

Big Black Delta played "The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp" while we were in line at the bar (Jameson was the gracious sponsor), and then Dhani Harrison was back on lead with "Savoy Truffle". Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips came out and gave us "It's All Too Much" - which it really almost was. Because NEXT, joining Coyne and Harrison came Perry and Etty Farrell, singing the sweetest favorite, "Here Comes The Sun" to us, and to each other. Love.

The line-up was so super-diverse, and so jam-packed ... it was clear to see how intensely George Harrison (and The Beatles) have influenced and inspired, well, everyone. And they clearly all wanted to play in a show honoring him, because the cavalcade continued on and on ... Nick Valensi (with Danny Masterson and Matt Sorum) playing "Wah Wah". Norah Jones' beautiful ways with "Behind That Locked Door" and "Something" were simply lush and gorgeous. As was Heart's Ann Wilson with "Beware Of Darkness".

My phone died somewhere around here after a long day's work, so I gave up on photos and caring and just completely enjoyed ... The Killers' Brandon Flowers throwing down "Got My Mind Set On You" with Dhani Harrison. How good. We thought that would be a good note to sneak out (and CRASH!) on, but just as I turned around to split, out came Brian Wilson. BRIAN WILSON with "My Sweet Lord", which I'm pretty sure is what I said right then too. Wow. What an evening! What a day!

That was a REALLY good note to sneak out on, so we did, and that was our finale. The real finale, I'm told, was an All-Star jam of both "Handle With Care" and "All Things Must Pass" - both very sage - and timely, as we were about to crash hard. What an excellent night of music, and what an excellent legacy to see, more than honored ... Rocked. Let's hope this was the first of many, many George Fests ... and many thanks to all involved for a spectacular time!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pie Fidelity - A Pie Premiere

After writing about Nicole Rucker's Kickstarter film project back in March of 2013 , the eagerly awaited Pie Fidelity premiered last night at the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax. It was a celebration of both the great American road trip ... and the great American favorite - Pie.

After cleaning up in the KCRW Pie contest, Rucker set out with her director, Casey O'Brien and their crew to try pies and meet their makers along the way to Orlando, Florida to compete in the 2013 National Pie Contest. Rucker thanked all from the Gjelina group (where she is the house baker), by saying, "Exploration is the name of the game - no matter what." O'Brien simply introduced the film by saying, "She's really good at making pies, so we made a movie about it." There you have it.

The film couldn't be more charming. As Rucker says when she arrives in Florida, "I was visually assaulted by a level of Americana I'd never seen." The same could be said for the film, which spotlights all the very best things about that America ... old fashioned skills, farm fresh ingredients, beautiful land, the open road, and the biggest hearts of the biggest characters.

"I like characters," says Rucker in the film (I do too!), and it shows. The folks they encounter along the way, from Venice to Orlando, are lovingly portrayed in all their down-home glory. The "Pie stops" along the way include Pie Town, New Mexico, where there were no pies to buy until Kathy Knapp moved to town and opened up shop. There her many satisfied customers experience "Piegasms", oohing and aahing over her delectable creations. I'm going there.

Rucker Ranch in Oklahoma was the next stop, at the home of Blaine Rucker's (Nicole's husband) relatives. There they enjoy home-made pies and wisdom shared ... "Always say thank you, I love you, and I'm sorry."

On they travel to the Arbuckle Mountains in Oklahoma, home of The Original Fried Pie Shop. Fried. Pies. That's really all you need to know. Throughout the film, the various characters are gorgeously photographed in a series of stills that are so wonderful, they really demand their own coffee table book or something (with recipes, please!).

A stop in Texas to visit a friend's Grandma Jodie is a joy, and then it's on to Louisiana, where they get to sample the wares at Strawn's Eat Shop in Shreveport, where "It's like being at Grandma's house." Which I think is the appeal of pie. Childhood memories, simple pleasures, someone baking something from scratch with nothing but love. That's why I love to make (and eat) pies, and I certainly got that from my Grandma Olson. I'm also going to Strawn's.

The final pie stop in this adventure was perhaps the coolest. and the one Rucker herself was most anticipating a visit to - the Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama. "They put a modern take on what we're doing.", said Rucker. Wow. They have single-handedly (together) transformed the Mom and Pop Main street in Greensboro to once again be a thriving center of the community, where their philosophy states, "Pie + Conversation = Social Change." Awesome. I'm for SURE going there.

From there, they high-tail it to Orlando for Rucker to compete in the "Perfect Pie" category in the National Pie Contest. When her absolute perfection of a four-apple-combo apple pie comes out of the oven, the Silent Movie Theater audience audibly moaned and gasped ... if only it were in Smell-A-Vision!

The National Contest is hilarious. Young ladies in pie costumes, red, white and blue bunting everywhere, the Pillsbury Doughboy as a host ... it really is an explosion of Americana. It's highly amusing to watch the Ruckers take it all in, and exceptionally awesome when - SPOILER ALERT - Rucker takes home the blue ribbon.

The theater erupted in applause and cheers at that foregone conclusion, and after distributing the pies won in the evening's raffle (donated by fancy chefs about town like Evan Kleiman, whose apple I got to taste, and it was flawless), it was time to EAT PIE in the courtyard pie after-party.

The entire evening was delicious, and so heart-warming. The simple delight of a piece of pie with friends ... enjoyed all across America.

Pie Fidelity is a triumph of pie, fun, and friendship. There could be a full-length documentary on any one of the characters involved. Like all the best movies. and all the best pies ... it leaves you wanting more. Many thanks to all involved for taking us along on this absolute treat of a trip, and sharing all that love. And pie.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Jane's Addiction Weekend On The Sunset Strip

It was all about Jane's Addiction this last weekend in West Hollywood, as it was declared Jane's Addiction Day on September 19. The declaration was celebrated with a ceremony at the House Of Blues on the Sunset Strip, with the band receiving the Elmer Valentine Award for being one of the most awesome bands ever to grace the Strip ... where it all started.

After the red carpet shenanigans, friends and fans milled about inside drinking Jack Daniels (the sponsor of the weekend) and feeling the love for Jane's.

The band, friends and family assembled in the upstairs balcony of the House Of Blues, where they listened as various luminaries spoke about what Jane's Addiction meant to them. Skate legend Tony Hawk introduced the award, saying that back when he was touring around in a van, it was impossible for the guys to agree on a TAPE to listen to on the road ... the only one they ever agreed on was Nothing Shocking (which we were there to celebrate the 25th anniversary of). He went on to say that everyone credits Nirvana for changing music back in the 90's ... but really, it was Jane's Addiction. Truth.

Stryker came out to do the introductions, and Rodney Bingenheimer (both of KROQ fame) came out to swap Hollywood war stories with Perry Farrell. It was evident how much they mutually adore each other. There was a LOT of love in the room, for sure.

A tribute video of Jane's Addiction through the years screened, and it was great to watch Perry watching himself onscreen, talking about how badass The Doors and The Bad Brains were, and how it was all "Deep as fuck", and how he came up with Lollapalooza as, "I just want people to get out there and celebrate." Which we certainly have, enjoying his epic vision through the years. The Vice Mayor of West Hollywood then came out to present the band with a certificate proclaiming it Jane's Addiction Day, and the crowd loved it.

They loved it even more, however, when Farrell mused aloud that they couldn't very well have all these people there to honor them without giving them a song or two ... so they asked the night's band, Dead Sara, if they could borrow their equipment ... and they said yes. So that meant "Mountain Song"!

People went SO nuts, that then it also meant "Ain't No Right" from what Tony Hawk had called "The house band of the Sunset Strip."

The revelers were thrilled, upstairs and down, including the glamorous Mrs. Farrell.

Because it was unplanned (and already an unexpected treat), that was all for then. "We're happy to serve you, L.A.!" It was time to party.

The band and their guests celebrated upstairs until it was time to split and call it a night ... because the next day was the day Jane's Addiction was going to shut down Sunset Boulevard and play Nothing Shocking in its entirety. Again, where it all began...

The Sunset Strip Music Festival went on all day Saturday and Sunday, but all I really cared about was Juana's Addicion. I rode over to the festival with the Farrells, and as we approached the venue site, it was thrilling to see the entire Strip filled with throngs of Jane's fans, eagerly anticipating the show.

We got there almost right at showtime, so the golf carts sped off and soon the opening chords of "Up the Beach" rang out over West Hollywood. The excitement was palpable.

That gorgeous instrumental launched right into "Ocean Size" and the place just went off. OFF! People couldn't contain themselves, screaming and singing themselves along hoarse. Not a beat was skipped before "Had A Dad", "Ted, Just Admit It", and "Standing In The Shower...Thinking", and it was obvious that the band mates of 25+ years (and new-ish bassist, Chris Chaney) were FEELING it, as were the masses of hard-core Jane's Addiction fans, absolutely loving every note.

It was then that the opening began to one of my top five favorite songs of all-time, the glorious and majestic "Summertime Rolls". As we're winding down our own Summer here in L.A. (where, yes, it's endless, but still different than official Summer), it was the perfect song to sing along with, feeling so happy and great with thousands of friends that felt the same way. Dave Navarro gave it an extra bluesiness to his solo, lending a perfect air of wistfulness to the song that already embodies dreamy nostalgia. I love it so, so much. I was grinning ear to ear at this point, and I was not remotely alone.

That dream come true was followed right up by many peoples' all time favorite jam, "Mountain Song". You can see Foo Fighters drummer (and big Jane's Addiction fan), Taylor Hawkins, here in this little video, absolutely feeling the stoke you get every time from this monster of a song.

There was hardly a moment to catch our breath before they blasted into "Idiots Rule", which DID rule.

Then Perry told a story about how they got a little jaded a while back and didn't always want to play their big "Jane Says" hit ... but then thought about how he'd feel if he went to see Lou Reed and he hadn't played "Heroin", he'd have been bummed ... so back in went "Jane Says".

Thankfully, to judge from the reaction of the crowd, who happily sang along to every word of the steel-drum version that found the awesome Stephen Perkins and Chris Chaney joining Farrell and Navarro right up front.  In another nostalgic moment, Farrell said at song's end, "Oh, there was so much drugs back then ..." Yep.

When the fans went completely up into orbit after that one, Farrell thanked them, saying, "It's the greatest honor playing for people on the streets of Los Angeles, here is where we really shine... They didn't ever really appreciate us in New York, because they know we're not theirs. We're yours." Well, that's all the crowd needed to go even more crazy, which they absolutely did for "Pigs In Zen". And should have, because it was AWESOME.

There was a brief interlude while everyone screamed for more, which they got. Jane's came back and blasted everyone with the one-two punch of "Been Caught Stealing" and "Just Because". It was so rowdy and packed with ecstatic fans that it couldn't get much crazier. You thought.

Then for the real knock-out, Jane's brought out their suspension artists and dancers, meaning that for the  literal show-stopper of "Stop!", they had ladies swinging from rods pierced through their shoulder blades high above the stage, and hot dancers (including Etty Farrell) firing up the entire Strip.

The band was in rare form, and seemed like they could've played all night, and probably would have, were it not for that dang curfew.

As Farrell stated, "L.A. was always the place. We'd play just as hard for three people as we did for all of you. I'd fill a bus with people from Venice (!!!) and bring 'em all to the show...and tonight we shut down Sunset Boulevard! What a great night!"

So it was, that performers and fans beamed at each other, mutually thanking each other for the now many great years of music given and appreciated, no, LOVED, by so many.

To hear it live, in its entirety, on the Sunset Strip that may as well be a fifth band member, so steeped are the songs in its history ... well, it was just a night that anyone there will forget. Ever.

Backstage, it was both excellent and fitting that the Farrell children, Hezron and Izzadore, entertained themselves in the jam tent, making up their own beats and words. The family business is in good and capable hands, dear friends.

Dear friends. I'm so grateful to call the Farrell Family dear friends. After loving the music for so long, to be able to know, understand, and love this family is - to rip off the Jane's Addiction movie title - a true Gift.

Thank you for the music, the friendship, and the creativity that goes into every aspect of the Jane's Addiction/Farrell/Lollapalooza worlds ... it has factually made the world such a better place. A better place to celebrate ... just like Farrell envisioned.

Happy 25 years, Jane's Addiction!!! It feels as great as it ever did.

*SSMF awesome photos by www.PaulGronner.com