Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Reggae Night XV At The Hollywood Bowl - Burning Spear's Last California Show

We just celebrated Reggae Night XV at The Hollywood Bowl, and I'm happy to report that I have perfect attendance to this beautiful Los Angeles Summer tradition. I LOVE it. Everyone coming together, feeling Irie ... it's a perfect night every time.

The weather was a delight, and all the Bowl patrons streaming in with their picnic baskets were FEELING it. Almost every person there had something on in red, green, and gold as it seemed that everyone in attendance was an honorary Rastafarian for the evening. This show really is all about One Love, as people laugh and share and generally have the best time ever. We had a box this time, and I was happy to see that even the folks in the good seats were getting down this time - which may have been helped along by the gigantic Red Stripes the waiters were delivering. My favorite.

The show opened with a lively set by Etana, a gorgeous Jamaican woman with a great voice and excellent band. She came out in a bright red dress, and had the crowd moving along with her in no time flat. They did a song called "Reggae" and Etana educated us that in reggae, "the bass line goes with the waist line," and showed us how to move our hips for the Rude Boys in the Dancehall. We got it.

This was my first time seeing Etana, but even when you don't know a reggae band's own music, they always come up with some classics that get the crowd in there with them, and "No, No, No" did that trick for them. Babies were dancing in the aisles, game old people were being helped up the stairs to rock in their seats, and everyone in between was up and dancing. People watching at Reggae Night is spectacular, and one could have a good time with that alone, but it is always so much more. "Do not walk with fear ... with all that's going on in the world, find the strength to sing, NO, I'm not afraid!", urged Etana, as they lit into their song, "I'm Not Afraid". We all sang along to the chorus, and I think we all really needed to say, feel, and do that - together last night, but really, all the time. Thank you for that, Etana. Truly.

More good people watching during the break, and yes, there were several in the house wearing those knitted tams with yarn dreadlocks attached, in case you were wondering. When else would you wear it?! Chatting and snacking resumed until it was time for Kymani Marley to take the state. This was also my first time seeing this Marley, and he did not disappoint. In fact, he might be the one that sounds the most like Bob. A HELLA lot like Bob, which is trippy considering he was only 5 when his father passed away. Marley kicked things off with his dad's "Concrete Jungle", again getting the crowd on his side right away with one they knew.

After that, the answer to his question, "Are you feeling Irie?!" was an "Absolutely!" Marley introduced a new one of his, "Love Over All" and implored us all to really do that. That we NEED to put Love over all, and really, truly love your neighbor. Once again, I think this night was exactly what we needed, with how scary and negative the world seems to be these days (if you're watching mainstream media, which I try to avoid). It was beautiful. Marley then switched up the set list a bit and threw out another new one called, "Hey", that was all slow and cool and lit up blue. Kymani is clearly an excellent songwriter in his own right. It was lit up again next when Marley brought out his friend, Sammy Wilk, to share verses on one called "Light Up" - which is exactly what just about the whole Bowl seemed to do at that moment. A cloud of smoke enveloped the stage, and every little ting was alright.

There seemed to be a time crunch, so Marley followed that up with the one-two slam-bang finish of back to back "Is This Love" on into "Redemption Song", that, of course, everyone sang along with at the top of their lungs. Marley shouted, "Thank you so much for a beautiful moment for me, in one of my favorite places to be! Rastafari!!" And with that, he left the stage to thunderous applause and ear-splitting whistles (me).

The sun had now set over the gorgeous Bowl audience, and the bandshell was lit up in majestic hues in preparation for the legend, Burning Spear. His band came on and played a little medley of instrumentals, then Burning Spear walked slowly on stage to a standing ovation. Spear is in his 70's, but looks as hip as any dancehall rude boy could. Ripped jeans, rasta military vest, long grey dreads, rasta colored microphone ... Burning Spear is straight up cool. "TALK to me, People!" he would repeatedly urge, and got rewarded every time with massive crowd response.

Spear tore through a lively set, high-stepping and banging on his bongos like a man a third of his age. Each bongo solo was met with a roar from the crowd, and each dance move was applauded like it was his last - because, in fact, it was the very last performance for Burning Spear in California.

I guess the travel is getting to be too much for him, so he made the decision to wrap up touring here. This gave the evening a special patina, knowing that it would not happen again here in this beautiful place. "Jan No Dead" is always one of my favorites, and when Spear sang it, it was reassuring. From his wise eyes that you can tell have seen it all, to his very strong voice, he did a great job of convincing us that all is not lost.

"Do you want some more ORIGINAL reggae music?!" Yes, Sir. We did! Spear kept stressing original, not only the truth that he's an elder statesman of the genre, but telling us all to STAY Original. This was well-timed, as I'd just been having the conversation about how I can't stand slang when it catches on, and if I hear one more person say "Squad goals/That _______ Tho/I can't/ or any of that drivel ... UGH. So, please ... heed Burning Spear, and STAY ORIGINAL! Please forgive the digression - I had to.

"From 1969, the Spear has been burning until this time!" That was almost drowned out by the applause, and you could tangibly feel the respect in the air. After lively versions of "Tumble Down" and "Red, Green, and Gold", Spear walked slowly off the stage, and the place went crazy screaming for more. That went on for a few minutes, then Spear and the band returned, saying, "SHOUT it if you want to hear more ORIGINAL reggae music!" Which we absolutely did, and shouted for. I was not prepared for him to start singing, "Purple Rain", and tears instantly sprang to my eyes. It was a slow, melancholy version, and knowing that it would be Spear's last time here made it all the more emotional (plus it was my first live Prince cover since he passed away). It was beautiful as we all sang along, and Spear said that one thing he admired so much about Prince was that he always stood up for what he believed in, with confidence.

"In my own way, I salute Prince," said Spear as he began his best song, "Slavery Days". It was heavy truth, delivered by a master at the twilight of his career, making us all know and appreciate that what we were seeing and hearing was something special indeed. "Holy Foundation" was likewise heavy, and as Spear stretched out his hands to the audience, it looked like he might cry. I know I did.

"It's my last performance in California ... I know you will always remember Burning Spear, and keep his music alive!" And that was that. Burning Spear left the stage, but with the outpouring of love and admiration that followed, he may rest assured that he will never be forgotten.

What a beautiful time Reggae Night was once again. I'm so grateful to the Hollywood Bowl and everyone involved for the gift that they give to us in Los Angeles each Summer with this wonderful program. Hope to see you at Reggae Night XVI! One Love!

*All photos by Paul Gronner Photography

Monday, June 27, 2016

Celebrating The California Locos - One For The Books!

Saturday night was the opening of the California Locos art show, and it really was a party that will be remembered for years to come, as promised. You could feel the excitement in the air as people lined up on the Boardwalk in front of Juice Magazine headquarters to get their wristbands. There was a red carpet backdrop hung up, and people took shots in front of it as they waited and made friends in line. 

The Rose Room was the location for the art opening, and let me tell you something, it looked great. I was so excited to see all the art and meet all the guys, as I'd talked to most of the Locos previously to interview them about the show. My brother, Paul, installed the art for the show, and I must say, really did a spectacular job.

 The centerpiece of the room was the display of Duster Skateboards designed for each of the Cali Locos, and they created a kind of Rage Against The Machine Battle Of Los Angeles spray paint backdrop for them. It looked RAD, as did each of the wonderfully unique boards (complete with bottle openers on each).

It was a true pleasure to meet and befriend the artists and movers and shakers behind this show, and we were all fast friends upon hello. Everyone was in a high-flying mood, as this is the kind of jam everyone in Venice lives for ... skate, surf, art, music, fun, friends ... it's really what it's all about.

The place was jam packed by 8 pm, with fans and friends queuing up to take pictures and have a quick chat with the guys. I spoke to Loco, Dave Tourjé, about it all, and you could just tell how happy they all were with everything. Tourjé gave me a little insight on his supercool art, showing me how each of them are actually self-portraits, with little glimpses into his life mixed in the multi-media pieces. I loved each and every one.

The party was so fun because you knew practically everyone there, and if you didn't, you wanted to. I caught up with a slew of friends, and indeed, added a few new ones to the roster. As the place filled up even more (and got hotter and hotter in there), it was the perfect time to show a couple of short films, one about the Locos, and one on the life of John Van Hamersveld, produced by Tourjé. It was like when you watch surf and skate films in a theater and the whole place hoots and hollers at the cool parts (Jeff Ho, in attendance, got the loudest shouts). It was super high energy, and the whole place was having a blast.

From there, it just got cooler (and hotter). Tourjé's band, Los Savages, started up in the Rose Room and led a kind of second line down the Boardwalk to take the stage on the Juice balcony. It was so fun to process down the Boardwalk, with tourists and passersby being taken by surprise and delight to have such an excellent Venice moment going by. Inside Juice was the VIP area, that also featured a solo show of all the awesome skate photography by Juice's Dan Levy. Oh, AND they had Porto's pastries! Yeah.

As Los Savages ruled it from the balcony, Loco Norton Wisdom did his live painting along to the music down below on the Boardwalk to an ever-growing crowd. It's so cool to watch him do his thing live, and also so inspirational. As one song and painting finishes, Wisdom wipes it all away and goes on to another one. It's a good lesson for living in the moment, and all of us certainly were.

It was one of those nights when you're fully aware of how great it is, as it's happening. Like, people kept saying over and over, "Isn't this awesome?" "Isn't this great?!" "What a totally Venice night!" There really was nothing but stoke going on.

L.A. art and music legend, Llyn Foulkes, was there to jam with the band, and I even got to help him carry his amp. He played along with Los Savages on a little old-timey sounding horn thing, and everyone just loved it, and once again were all aware of the greatness before us as it was happening.

Time flew by, and before you knew it, the clock struck midnight and the party was over ... but the magic was not. Numbers and hugs were exchanged, and heartfelt congratulations were given all around for truly one of the best Venice nights in a long time. It was so good in fact, that we had to keep  it going, and danced on tables on the Boardwalk until hunger set in and folks drifted off to do something about it. The walk home had an extra spring in the step on this night, because just WOW.

Thank you to all the Cali Locos, to Dusters Skateboards, and to Juice Magazine for one of the best times ever! Cheers!

*California Locos is on display at The Rose Room until this July 1st, then it's on to Virginia Beach! And it's a must see.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Farewell To Gregory Westbrook

I just heard the sad news that a friend to many in Venice, Gregory Westbrook, died last night. I don't know any details, but I know people are sad and upset. I thought it would be nice to re-post the story I did about Greg and his Westbrook Maker hats that really kicked off the whole artisan hat trend here in town, and around the world. Peace and sincere sympathy to his family and friends, and love from Venice.

You've seen the guys (and some cool ladies too) walking around Abbot Kinney with their Westbrook Maker hats on ... LEGIT hats, custom made for the head they're on. Bringing back old time quality, with personal attention to every last detail, Westbrook Maker is quietly starting a revolution against sameness and throw-away consumerism, right here in Venice.

Gregory Westbrook and Nick Fouquet operate their hat shop underground in a parking garage on Abbot Kinney - for now. The cage is stuffed with hat forms and mannequin heads, ribbon, thread, sewing machines, and the mostly beaver fur felt that will become a hat of a lifetime. Many lifetimes, rather, as they are built not only to last, but to be handed down for generations.

Hatters (as they like to be called) Westbrook and Fouquet shared a love of quality, timeless fashion, hats in particular. "I grew up on the rodeo circuit, raised by wild Indians,", said Westbrook, who is as creative with his tall tales as he is with his hats. In truth, he grew up in Florida and New York before finding his way west to California (like the beavers "who started the Westward Expansion." Westbrook is full of useful information). His dad always wore proper hats, and would pass them on to Greg. He would restore and re-shape them and make them his own, as "If you have an interest or a passion for something, you just know how to put it together." He got a degree in photography, and then worked at Billy Martin, which taught him a lot about men's fashion and what clients really were looking for.

He also found that he would often be disappointed in the quality of the hats he liked, especially for how much they would cost. So he decided to make his own, after apprenticing with a master hatter in Utah. He made 6 hats on that guy's equipment, and got so many compliments wearing them (and people bought them off his head), that he decided to make more.

Fouquet, Westbrook's partner, and a "Professional Adventurer," grew up in New York and Paris and loved design, wanting his own brand ever since he was a little kid. He always wanted to be different with what he wore, and wanted to make custom things that no one else would have. Fouquet worked at Mr. Freedom in Los Angeles, honing his design sense, and discovered a common love of quality and hats with Westbrook when they became friends.

They started making their hats, and wearing them, and within a year they had international wholesale business. I recently visited their hat shop and watched how the whole process goes down.

Assisted by their apprentice, Mikey Soto (born and raised in Venice, where the high school's baseball field is named for his Grandfather, Ralph Soto) and their finisher/sewer, Rebecca Ross, the hatters crank The Clash and Cash (..."And Elvis ... and Bob Dylan ... And The Doors ...") as they create the most beautiful hats imaginable for their discerning clientele of rock and movie stars, hipsters and high-rollers, nabobs and neighbors. Though, as Westbrook said, "I'd rather make hats for the regular 9-5, 40 hour a week guys who just want their money's worth."

Their money's worth is an investment, as your custom hat base price is $400 - $800, but it's an investment for life. The gorgeous hats (wait list times for yours are currently 4-6 weeks, as "the longer they're on the blocks, the better they are") are not made of out disposable materials that will wind up in a landfill, they are made out of the finest possible of everything, built for longevity and value, that will stand up to the test of time. These are heirloom pieces, meant to be handed down, generation to generation. Classic Americana work wear, made the way it was done over 100 years ago. Westbrook explained, "The only thing different now is that we have electricity to run the machines. That's it."

Westbrook and Fouquet love what they do, and are happy they have happy customers, which is making their business grow like crazy. They're in Henry Duarte, and Bergdorf Goodman, Shelter Hats and Deus Ex Machina. They've been featured in GQ, Vogue, and the Best of L.A. edition of Angeleno. They're all over fashion blogs and are "big in Japan" - a sure sign you've made it internationally. So much so that they're out-growing their little spot in the parking garage. They need to get a store-front, and would love to stay in Venice, and keep shipping out their hats in their excellent new made-in-Venice boxes.

Both guys lament the loss of edge and grittiness in Venice, where "Even the surf and skate culture is gentrified now ... If we're not careful, you're looking at just another Promenade here, " but are doing their part to keep it real and clearly unique down here, a place that is "supposed to be about leaders, not followers", Westbrook stated profoundly and correctly.

So they enjoy our cleaner air, living close to work, riding bikes around and embracing what's left of the neighborhood feel, like walking over to Abbot's Habit for breaks and shooting the breeze with the locals, many of whom are now proudly sporting a Westbrook Maker on their heads.

Nodding our heads along to Willie Nelson, Westbrook looked into the future and told me, "One day someone will have one of my hats that their Granddad gave them." To which Mikey Soto chimed in, "And then he's gonna be my intern!"

I love these guys. I love their hats. Support your local community and "Come get a hat!"

Westbrook Maker will style you out by appointment and can be reached via their website at www.Westbrookmaker.com.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Celebrating The California Locos - A Skate Surf Punk Bash For The Ages

Today is Go Skateboarding Day, and where better to celebrate that than where it all started, right here in Southern California. Of course, skateboarding is now much more than the sport, it's an entire aesthetic, from clothing styles to fine art, and created an image coveted throughout the world. The artistic sensibilities of it can almost be personified within one group of artists - The California Locos.

The Cali Locos art collective is comprised of five world class artists: Chaz Bojórquez, Dave Tourjé, John Van Hamersveld, Norton Wisdom, and Gary Wong, each of whom have made their mark in skate and popular culture for the last 50 years. These are museum level artists, bridging the gap between the fine and street art that has defined Southern California's vibe ever since the dawn of skating and surfing.  Each of these legendary artists will be honored this Saturday, June 25th with an epic shindig hosted by Terri Craft and Dan Levy of Juice Magazine at The Rose Room and at Juice Headquarters on Ocean Front Walk. This is a Venice party that will be talked about for a long time to come, and you do not want to miss this historic jamboree.

These are some of the most profound artists in California history ... their authenticity cannot be questioned. The Cali Locos have all been friends for decades, and are a wonderful mix of international influences. All say that they inspire each other in different ways, and push one another to keep creating. "It's kind of like skating a pool," says founding member Tourjé. "You gotta bring your A game, and we all push each other to go higher." They all have a Chouinard Art Institute (later Cal Arts) connection, and all have been working artists since those days.

Tourjé bought and restored the old Chouinard house in Pasadena in 1998, and in 1999 formed The Chouinard Foundation to bring art programming into cities and schools. Learning more about other local groundbreaking artists caused Tourjé to get hyped about a collective of like-minded artists also influenced by the colorful and intense environments of urban Los Angeles. Tourjé has also made documentaries about both Chouinard and the Cali Locos, important historical works both.
Like the rest of the Cali Locos, Tourjé's art is always informed by the surf, skate, and punk scenes founded here. "This is happening all over the world, but L.A. is the epicenter of it all. The Cali Locos are a reflection of that, and that's why people enjoy it," Tourjé told me absolutely correctly. We love it.

Chaz Bojórquez is known as the Godfather of L.A. graffiti. From the streets of East L.A. to being in the collections of several fine art museums, Bojórquez has spent the last decades studying and mastering the art of lettering. He traveled the world to learn other styles (like Chinese calligraphy) different from the Cholo work being done locally, creating something entirely his own. He is known for his iconic stylized skull, "Señor Suerte" (Mr. Luck), and really started the stencil tag, later popularized by Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Today Bójorquez is collected all over the world, in museums from LACMA to The Smithsonian.

Norton Wisdom started out as a Topanga beach lifeguard, and has become one of the most recognizable performance painters working today. After painting a big section of the Berlin Wall, Wisdom realized he couldn't be contained inside of a studio, and began collaborating with bands on art pieces that exist only during the duration that the music is played. Cool. Wisdom often tours with punk and blues bands, live painting while they play (as he'll be doing this Saturday at the party as Tourjé's band, Los Savages, jams for the revelers), which he was doing when Tourjé saw him and asked him to be a part of Cali Locos. "Punk rock changed the whole course of the rest of the world's value system for a world aesthetic, and Cali Locos is an important example of that," says Wisdom of his group of friends. Wisdom has shown his art all over the globe, and has also collaborated with the best of the music world. In addition to this Saturday's performance, he'll also be painting with The Black Poets on August 5th at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater.

Most people know John Van Hamersveld from his iconic poster for the film The Endless Summer. That famous poster seen in dorm rooms world wide since the 1960's is only one aspect of the long and illustrious career of this self-described "Palos Verdes white boy". Van Hamersveld was the art director for Surfer Magazine, and has always been steeped in that culture. "As the elder statesmen now, we're showing off how the culture became what it is today," Van Hamersveld explained to me. "We've watched it get sophisticated and really be referential for all skate/surf/snowboarding culture today. After a busy period of art directing and art that served a client (like doing the album cover for The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street!), Van Hamersveld says his whole career has taken a turn toward public art. "I've built a new vernacular through murals," he told me. He did a lobby mural for a tech company in San Pedro, the press saw it, and a whole new career was invented for Van Hamersveld. Included in his work being shown this Saturday will be a piece called Thundercloud, based on a found photograph of a Native American from the Blackfoot Tribe, as he has never lost the part of him that insists that "the hippie world was my venue." No wonder I dig his stuff! There will also be a detail piece from a mural Van Hamersveld did called The Great Wave. Seriously, I cannot wait to see all of this incredible work in one place! There will also be a premiere that night of the new documentary Crazy World Ain't It - The Life And Times Of John Van Hamersveld.

Gary Wong is another product of Chouinard, where he became friends with Ivan Hosoi, and is the Godfather to skating legend, Christian Hosoi. A blues performer in addition to being a fine artist, Wong is known in those circles as "Mr. Charlie Chan"(and will also be performing on Saturday with Los Savages). Wong's artistic process includes collage, painting. and drawing, often coupled with his photography. His work reflects his music, and tends to have socio-political leanings, as all the best art will do. I've never seen his work in person, visual art or musical, so this is another exciting element of the opening for sure.

As if all of this wasn't enough for one party (and it is, by far!), there will also be a new collaboration of skateboards released, designed for each Cali Locos artist by Nano Nobrega of Dusters California. Nobrega designed a graphic based on work by each artist, and complimented each complete board with custom designed wheels, brands, colors, and even built-in bottle openers. It all started with an Endless Summer graphic board that Duster did. Van Hamersveld knew Bójorquez, who was next on Nobrega's wish list of graphics to work with, and it all just organically came together. Nobrega told me, "These boards all relate to each other, and bring the vibes of just having fun with skating." The Cali Locos all just saw their signature decks for the first time at a video shoot last week, and Nobrega told me that they were all "smiling like little kids." I bet. "I'm so honored and excited to be a part of this culture," says the Brazilian-born Nobrega, with obvious sincerity that is echoed by absolutely everyone involved in this history in the making. Truly. As my friend and art critic, Shana Nys Dambrot, has written, "What they did (the Cali Locos) changed everything - but what they are doing now is the best work of their lives." Meaning, you'll want to be there and see it all on Saturday.

The opening party on Saturday is going to be insane (Steve Alba's Salba & His Heavy Friends will also be playing!), and I'm told the people watching alone will be nothing short of epic. Come prepared to have your mind blown and the best time ever, as Venice celebrates the art, music, and skating culture that we all love.

Cali Locos Opening Reception
June 25, 2016, 7-11 pm
The Rose Room
6 Rose Avenue

*The show will be up until July 1st in the Rose Room, and then the entire show will move to Virginia Beach to give the East Coast a chance to see it.

**There will also be speaking panels during the week that the show is up, featuring Christian and Ivan Hosoi and Larry and Oliver Bell in a Fathers/Sons panel, and another one the next day with Jeff Ho and Jim Ganzer, both moderated by Shana Nys Dambrot. These will be held June 28 and June 29 in The Rose Room, from 7-9 pm.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Neptune Festival Declares It Officially Summer 2016 In Venice!

June Gloom split right on time and Sunday was hot and sunny for the annual Neptune Festival held in Venice each year to officially proclaim it to be SUMMER!

The party started at The Sidewalk Cafe, where sea-themed revelers caroused and prepared to parade together to the Ocean.

This year's King Neptune was Jeremy Parker and his Queen was Kaycee Smith, both all done up in vintage Hawai'ian threads, leis, and elaborate headdresses. Their royal court were all in similar attire, and everybody was ready to make a big scene in the name of Summer fun.

The group was called to order outside of The Sidewalk Cafe with a blast from the royal conch shell, and we all lined up behind the sparkling Venice sign to process down the Boardwalk, across the sand, and down to the water.

My favorite part of the Neptune Festival is seeing all the unassuming tourists and beach goers who have no idea what's coming or happening. The chants of "Hail The King! Hail The Queen Hail Summer! Hail Venice! Hail Yeah!" were repeated all along the way, and the parade grew in size as pleasantly surprised fellow lovers of Summer joined the gang.

Mermaid Queen Smith read her official statement, stressing the importance of our Venice traditions, especially in light of all the change going on around town. She encouraged us to live by example, "To skate more, and to love more!" Hear, hear!!!

With another blaring blow to the conch shell, King Neptune Parker read his royal decree next, urging that there be music and feasts, and "Fine wine, women and friends!" "We are all humans! We are an example of love and unity for the world! I declare that SUMMER IS HERE!!! To the Water!!" With that proclamation, we could now declare it to officially be Summer in Venice! It was awesome.

The King and Queen went into the water for the ceremonial dunking that the Neptunes must do to make it all legit. They were joined by several members of the royal court and a whole bunch of folks that just wanted in on the fun. Last year's Queen "The Visqueen" Dakota Rayfield had my favorite quote of the day when she looked out at all the summery chaos and said,  "Look, we're just reigning beautiful mischief all over the place!"

The entire group posed for photos together, then traipsed back across the sand to carry on the party at The Sidewalk Cafe with live bands and royal revelry all the rest of the day, until a golden sunset put the perfect exclamation point on the wonderful day.

May we all have a Summer absolutely FULL of beautiful mischief! Hail Yeah!!!