Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Last Call For Abbot's Habit!

Today is the very last day of Abbot's Habit being open on the corner of Abbot Kinney and California in Venice. That was hard to type.

My Mom and I were just in there having one last coffee, exchanging hugs, and generally not wanting to leave. Not wanting it to really be over. Not wanting to accept that our beloved local hang is closing its doors for good.

Gentrification, man. We all lament it, but it just keeps on happening. People keep raising rents, selling out to the highest bidder, and making it harder and harder for genuine lovers of Venice to stay in both business and in residence. The big picture seems to have been lost in a haze of money and greed that has been changing our town for the way less cool for a while now. Venice is losing its edge daily.

I got choked up several times while sitting in there listening to the regulars exchange stories, and wonder where they'll hang out now. For anyone that was a Habit habitué, places like Intellegentsia or wherever just don't cut it. You want to be where locals are, not where hipsters think is cool. Where will the corner guys hang now that the Habit is gone? Like Stanley Behrens wrote on a goodbye poster hanging up there today, "This was my favorite corner." Ugh, I'm choking up again.

Change happens, we know, we know. But the astonishing rate of turnover on Abbot Kinney, and the lack of vision it is accompanied by, is just downright sad - and wrong. Driving out everything that made Venice special will only make it boring ... the same as everywhere else. Generic. Who wants that?!

We finished our coffees (there was hardly any food left for sale after an intense morning of folks wanting their one last bagel special, etc...), shared more hugs, and will be heading back over there in a little bit to pop some bottles of thanks and one final finalé with Nina. With for sure some more tears.

Thank you for everything over the years, Abbot's Habit. You will live forever in our wonderful memories.

Last call!!!

R.I. P. Abbot's Habit!!!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The 2017 Venice Neptune Parade - Hail Summer! Hail Venice! Hail Yes!!!

Last Saturday was just about the best Venice day ever. After the sadness of Abbot's Habit's closing party the night before, everyone was ready to have some fun, and remember what Venice is all about. It was June gloomy out, though, and many were dealing with the vicious hangovers that come with drowning deep sorrows like a local institution closing forever. We were going to have to dig deep to rally if we were going to officially declare it SUMMER in Venice at this year's Neptune Festival. So that's exactly what we did.

I was deeply honored and humbled to be asked to be the Queen of this year's Neptune Fest, along with Jeremy Marco as King Neptune. This has been a very heavy year for many, myself included, and the opportunity to ring in Summer in the name of Venice was just the bright spot I needed to look forward to - and it did not disappoint.

My Mom - the Queen Mother - came in from Minnesota and created a royal robe fit for the Queen of the Mermaids. My dear friend Stephanie Hobgood came in from the Valley and gave me the mermaid hair of dreams. My dear friend Kimberly Jackson came in from Wabi Sabi (where she is the "Door Diva") to bedazzle my eyes with an enchanting mermaid sparkle glow for the occasion. My dear friend Rebekah Ozier created a masterpiece of a Queen Neptune crown that was so spectacular I felt transformed the instant I put it on. It even had shells from our beach in Venice on it! It is truly Venice Historical Museum worthy.

While we were busy getting me all dolled up for the parade, the sun began to ease its way out. By the time we left (very late!) for The Sidewalk Café for the pre-party, the skies had turned entirely blue, and the stage was set for our Summer Solstice Festival.

We arrived to cheers and applause, and I was immediately given a shot that turned my personal tide for the much better. We took photos and marveled over the wonderful costumes that were showing up, and you could tell that we were all ready to blow off some steam.

These events always take place on Venice Standard Time, which is to say it's not exactly "sharp". Ever. Think of it kind of like Island Time. A crowd was building up outside, as they had been told 3 p.m., and it was well past time to march down the Boardwalk. The royal conch shell was blown to rally the Merpeople, and we processed out of The Sidewalk Café.

We were greeted by shouts from the crowd, and I almost cried to look around and see all the wonderful Venice faces from my past and present, there to join me in declaring it Summer - the very best time to be here in Venice.

There was a brief ceremony to pass down the royal scepters from the previous King (Jeremy Parker) and Queen Neptune (Dakota Rayfield, filling in for Kaycee Smith, who was at Primus. I get it.), where we humbly accepted our royal duties.

It was important to me that my little kid friends would attend this year, because that is the way to keep traditions alive. Those little buddies having these awesome Venice memories will ensure that they want to carry them on when they grow up. The little boys and girls dressed up too, and jockeyed for position to carry a piece of the hem of my robe down the Boardwalk. It was precious, and they were probably the highlight of my entire day.

Once about a zillion photos were taken, it was time to march to the sea! The Venice sign was unfurled over our heads, and King Jeremy and I led the parade on down the Boardwalk. The entire crew chanted the whole way to the water, yelling, "HAIL THE KING! HAIL THE QUEEN! HAIL VENICE! HAIL SUMMER! HAIL YEAH!" at the top of our lungs as we walked.

Apologies to the street performers down there whose acts we interrupted, but you have to admit, it was a pretty awesome sight to behold. A whole town of friends and families marching together through the crowds at the beach, to show them what the Spirit of Venice means. The delighted faces we passed, the cameras being whipped out to capture it all, and the willingness to join in was the very best.

We stopped for more group photos, and all the colorful attire and surroundings made for some all-time great shots. It couldn't even be helped.

The parade carried on past the V statue, and on to the Venice Skatepark. Skaters joined in the chanting, and we exchanged the raised fists when it got to "HAIL VENICE!" As one should. Out across the sand we went, with the little kids picking up the chant at one point. You could tell they thought they were getting away with something a little naughty when they yelled "HAIL YEAH", and it was the most adorable thing ever to hear in their high little voices. I keep smiling every time I think about it.

Once down by the Breakwater, it was time to disrobe and enter the sea to officially declare it SUMMER in Venice!


The water has warmed up quite a bit, so this part of the tradition was not at all torture. King Jeremy scooped me up, I raised the trident, and BAM! It was Summer!!!

I encouraged everyone to join us in the water, and several gamers braved the waves with us, in the name of Neptune! We had a little bathing beauty photo shoot, and I couldn't stop beaming when I saw all the effort and creativity that had gone into the fine costumes of the day. We even had real mermaids!

Back on land, it was time for the official speeches and declaration of Summer. I barely remember what I said, but I know it was heartfelt and very difficult for me not to well up and start crying, both from the sheer happiness and joy of the day, but also the sadness that the Venice we know and love is becoming more unrecognizable every day. I know that I said that events like these - and the PARTICIPATION in them - are what will ensure a cool Venice for the future. I know that I said "We are all still here!" because I looked out and saw everyone I knew, and if I didn't know them yet, I wanted to.

Because these are the very best parts of what we love about Venice. The FUN. The ART. The CREATIVITY. The SPONTANEITY. The COOL. The DIFFERENT. The MUSIC. The FRIENDSHIP. The LOVE. It's all I felt, all day long.

Once I finished rambling on, King Jeremy took the official royal proclamation, and read it with gusto to make it all officially official. Once the words had been spoken, we both took the royal conch shell and blasted it to let all know, far and wide, that it was SUMMER IN VENICE!!!

The cheering and chanting carried on all the way back to the Sidewalk (with brief pit stops to greet our subjects at The Townhouse and the new Surfside - formerly Danny's Deli - it looks nice). The group had re-assembled in the back of the bar in the Sidewalk, and were now being entertained by former kings Jeremy Parker and Masao Miyashiro, giving us their punk jams. It was just so fun.

It was like a big, long photo shoot all day, and every one I've seen shows nothing but happy smiles all day. You really couldn't help it, there was just so much fun being had. The appreciation for Venice and its People was tangible all day long, and I can't get over that I got to lead it all this year.

Eternal thanks to the Neptune Committee for choosing me to represent the fair citizens of Venice and Neptune this year! It will absolutely go down as one of my very favorite life memories, and I hope that goes the same for all who were there in attendance and solidarity. It was a classic day, and a classic weekend. One that shows just how very powerful the spirit remains here in our beachside Community. Forever. You could just feel it.



Love, Your Queen Neptune '17 ... Ceej xoxoxo

*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography (the Queen Brother)

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Musical Finale Of Abbot's Habit - The True End Of An Era

This was an all-time classic Venice weekend, kicked off with the farewell to an absolute Venice treasure. It's true. Abbot's Habit is closing for good this Wednesday, June 28th. The corner of Abbot Kinney and California will never be the same ... and this is the one that hurts the most. By far.

There are so many memories tied up within the walls of this legendary coffee shop you can almost see the ghosts of Venice past with your naked eye every time you enter. Last Friday night we gathered to have one last hurrah, with a musical celebration of both the people and the place that has been so special to so many.

My brother, Paul Gronner, managed Abbot's Habit for years, and during his tenure there he and our friend, Scott Passaglia (Scotty P!) hosted a music night most Fridays (setting off what became the dread First Fridays that are now nothing like they were). Many of the musical artists from those storied days returned on Friday to serenade what seemed like ALL of Venice crammed into Abbot's for one last throw-down. Those who didn't fit (many) spilled out on to the sidewalks, in a visual display of just how much this place meant to us, and how very much it will be missed.

The evening started when it was still light out ... and so did the tears. Mikel Farber opened up the music, and got me choked up right off the bat by remembering the friends who would hang out outside every day ... Abbot's Habit was their spot. Dr. John ... Zeta ... they've passed away now, but their presence was tangibly felt through Farber's touchingly beautiful musical tribute. He sang, "He'd hang for hours because he knew it was where it was at." Abbot's Habit was always where it was at in Venice ... people left for years, and Abbot's would be their first stop back, because they knew they'd run into someone they knew and get caught up on all the latest in Venice. Now that is no more. Farber posed the question ... "What's next?!" Indeed, what? Where do we go from here, Venice? What are we going to do about it?

Hugs, laughter, stories, beers, joints, and love were all being shared along with the music, and Holly Long continued the Irish Wake of a night. A motorcycle roared by in the middle of one of her songs, and she said, "That's what I remember!" She was a young mother, and would come to Abbot's Habit to get out of the house, meet other people, and find her community. That story was told often. Once the kids grew a bit and Long wanted to explore her music more, Abbot's was the place that gave her that opportunity. It was obviously a very special place to her, as she choked up, saying, "I'm amazed I can sing!" Looking around, she noted her first guitar teacher was there among all the familiar faces, adding, "When you're up here, it's super trippy." It was very much old home night.

Tom Freund was next, giving us the appropriate "East Of Lincoln", singing, "When I moved east of Lincoln, I started drinking ... I feel my heart sinking..." echoing many thoughts in the room. Next up was "Truly Mellow" about "the smells of Venice", complete with toke breathing flourishes. The singalong at the end "La di dah!" belted out by absolutely everyone might have been my favorite part of the night, as it was the "Venice Choral Society" all singing together in solidarity for a time and place we knew was fleeting. It was emotional once again, for sure. Steve McCormick and Heather Donovan joined Freund for his "Collapsible Plans", and it was beautiful. Freund had his last Abbot's coffee and said, " I send my love to you all, may it grow in another place!" Yes, please. But where?

Paul Chesne and Dutch Suoninen were up next (there were many acts booked, so we had to keep it moving!), and gave it their Venice all. Chesne spoke about playing here with wine in his coffee cup (which many of us had in our hands that moment), and kicked off their set with the fun, "Pink Champagne", which the crowd (now equally as large outside as in) ate up. They gave us a brand new one called, "It's Called I'm In Love With You" that was swoon-worthy, and for "one more song at Abbot's Habit", they got down with "Get Myself Right". Chesne ended up with a "Who you gonna call?!" chant that had everyone yelling back "Ghostbusters" in the Snapchat dig of the night. Ugh. Looking around now, it was like the All Star Game of Venice musicians in there ... and their fans. It was like the coolest family reunion possible ... which it exactly was.

Kim Michaelowski played a gorgeous set, but I didn't hear the specifics because it was very hot inside, and like musical chairs in that some would go outside to give others a chance to hear inside. I was outside at this point to catch my breath, and Kim sounded so good that even more people wanted to cram inside.

I returned just in time to see Kim taking the crowd's photo from the stage, and thanking Abbot's Habit, and its owner, Nina Santangelo, for everything over the years.

Nina was being thanked and hugged all night, and it was hard to hold back the tears when doing so. How do you even begin to sum it all up?! I mean, I remember when 9/11 happened and my brother was working early shift at the Habit, and some stoned guy called there to ask if what he was seeing was real. Paul called me and woke me up telling me to turn on the t.v. ... and I saw that horror show live. I found out Paul Wellstone died while getting coffee at the Habit. Love stories began here. I  know a dear couple who met and had their first date at the Habit. They just happened to be back in town this weekend, and went to have coffee at their old table, and renew their vows to each other there while they were at it. Their kids got to see where Mommy and Daddy met. We had so many art shows, naked poetry open mic nights, and the wonderful music nights we were honoring on this night. It's all just too much to even process yet ...

So let's keep talking about the music! Matt Ellis and Vavine Tahapehi took over the stage, and I again got teary, because we met these two now wonderful, lifelong friends, right there at the Habit music night. They were new to town from Australia, and instantly found their people there. As Vav said, "If we'd lived anywhere else in Los Angeles, we wouldn't be here anymore. Here's to you, Venice!" And they sang their lush and gorgeous "Seven Years At Sea", which is all about finding their way here. As we sat on the wooden pews, I heard someone behind me say, "It kind of IS our church." Exactly, and the solemn reverence Abbot's Habit was receiving on this night was both appropriate and well-deserved. "Heart Of Mine" was played first ever at the Habit music night, and Ellis' last Abbot's song - "Won't Let This Die" - was about the friendships forged within those walls, that will last "'Til the day we die!" Venice friends are forever.

Steve McCormick and Stan Behrens played the blues that everyone was feeling, and "Lying On The Bottom Of The Mississippi River" is just about how we felt ... but in a good way. David Ralicke joined them to rule the trombone. It was Venice Greatest Hits in there, man, and it was good. I feel for Stan maybe the most ... he and his cronies have hung out on the sidewalk in front of Abbot's Habit ever since I've been here ... a good twenty plus years. Where will he go for his morning joe and shooting of the breeze? It's all just sad. Period.

Stan stayed up there to accompany John Vester and Marky Lennon (of the band, Venice), and they played beautifully together, with Stan's artful harmonica weaving a spell around John's acoustic guitar and Lennon's harmonies. It was the world's greatest living room concert in a coffee shop. I miss it so much already just typing about it ...

Amilia K Spicer is one of my very favorite songbirds, and we were privileged to get her back at Abbot's Habit one more time before it's gone. She had a mandolin player with her, and together they astounded everyone with the beauty of the harmonies. The reception to the music was so great that she urged, "Come on the road with me!" It was so, so beautiful, and you can hear more at Spicer's c.d. release show at Beyond Baroque on July 15th. SO good.

Music Night co-founder, Scotty P. was next, with "She Has Magic In Her Heart", where she might have been Venice, and her heart might have been Abbot's. "This place is special. It's been a really great spot in Venice for everyone, and I'm gonna make up a song right now," said an inspired Scotty P. And did just that. While he was riffing on the spot, my friend Shane leaned over and asked me, "Can you imagine not coming here anymore?" All I could say was "No." I truly can't imagine it.

And we've only got until this Wednesday now - even though last Friday felt like the real goodbye. The final made-up lyrics from Scotty P's last Abbot's gig were, "Celebrate life, making memories that will last until the end of time ... remember the good times!" He's right. That's all we can do. And must do.

Crash was up next, and I must be forgiven because I was back outside trying to breathe again during his set, but my brother said the loungey vibe was great, and that Crash even sparked up a j while singing, in true Venice fashion. I'm sorry I missed being inside for it, but it sounded fun from outside - where it was also real fun. People were feeling it, and not wanting to let it go.

Scotty P. introduced my brother, and asked for a big salute to him for starting the music nights back in the day, and everyone hooted and hollered. "We've met some of our best friends here ... and now, Ladies and Gentlemen - spaceblanket!" A shiny silver spaceblanket back-drop was unfurled and Paul's shoegaze band mesmerized the room for the remainder of the night. There are no lyrics and no singing, which I think was apt for the occasion that there really were no words for. I looked around the room as they played, and saw so much love in the eyes that it really capped off the emotional night for me. After the last song, the mics had already been put away, so Paul just shouted "I love you! I love us all! We gotta stick together! Thank you, Nina! Thank you, Abbot's Habit!"

And that was that. The last music event ever at Abbot's Habit. The crowd didn't want the fun - or the camaraderie to end there, so everyone dispersed to after-party ... and another wonderful Venice night went down in history.

I love you! I love us all! We gotta stick together! Thank you, Nina! Thank you, Noah Farrell! Thank you, Abbot's Habit!!!

From us all.

Abbot's Habit

*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography
**Exterior shot by Ron Geren Photography

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Peace Economy

I love walking around Venice and coming upon the delightful surprises that happen all the time. There is so much creativity to tap into, it's as if it comes up through the cracks of the actual earth. It's also a great joy to know that people here CARE. One obviously cares a whole lot about humanity for them to paint their intentions right on their house.

"Growing a local Peace Economy" sounds like a great idea to me, and I'd like to know more about it. I saw this beauty on Linden Avenue on my way to somewhere that I had to be, so didn't have the time to really investigate, but I love it. And appreciate it. We all need to be doing our own part to make this world better - now more than ever - and growing food, supporting each other, participating in your community, and even just putting peaceful thoughts out there all helps so much.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Ziggy Marley Live With Orchestra At The Hollywood Bowl - One Love!

One of my favorite nights in Los Angeles went down last night with the 16th annual Reggae Night from KCRW at The Hollywood Bowl. It was extra special this year, because the headliner this year was Ziggy Marley playing the songs of his father, Bob - on Father's Day, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for the first time. Special, for sure.

The good times were already rolling when we arrived at the Bowl, due to the ever-awful traffic that one must endure to reach this storied venue. Once there, however, the long lines were a distant memory as the whole place was raring to go to have as good a time as possible. Which we all most certainly did!

The show opened with a set from Keith & Tex that got the people dancing in their seats. It was still light out, and picnics were still the main focus, so these cats provided a welcome soundtrack to the al fresco dining. "Sweet Jamaica", indeed. I ran into a whole slew of people I knew, and many of them were mainly excited to see The Specials. The legendary U.K. punk/ska band had the folks up and at it from the first note. People were excited, and it showed. The dancing was non-stop, as was the wafting of weed from the last row to the stage. It felt like a giant, open-air club, of the best possible kind, with only the very best vibrations. Everyone looked to be in an awesome mood. At one point, Lynval Golding shouted out, "Are there any father's here?!" A huge roar indicated yes. "Well, Father's Day has been cancelled, it's Mother's Day every day!" Right on.

The Specials got quite a long set, and it kept building until it reached the superhits, and the superfans were overjoyed. "A Message To You" was ever-classic, as was the ultra-upbeat, "Monkey Man." By the time Lynval Golding, Horace Panter, Terry Hall, and their excellent backing band reached the final number, "Enjoy Yourself" - well, that's exactly what everyone there was doing. Beyond enjoying themselves, really ... it was just an absolutely perfect night. That was about to get even better.

I LOVE Reggae, and it doesn't get any better or more legit than when played by a Marley. Tonight was Bob's eldest son Ziggy's turn to shine in the spotlight, and the fact that it was Father's Day made it feel even more poignant when Ziggy played his father's songs. Marley was introduced by KCRW host, Aaron Byrd, who said that it felt more like April 20th than June 18th in there, and acknowledged single mothers (like his and mine) who pulled double duty ... "Happy Father's Day, Mom!" We toasted our own mother right then and there. Byrd added that there were three things that brought Los Angeles together ... "The Lakers, The Dodgers, and Reggae Night!" That certainly felt true last night, and when Marley and his band took the stage, as it felt like instant global unity the moment they began to play.

They opened with "Revolution", which was very well received by this most-likely lefty crowd that would be more than fine with a revolution here in the U.S.A. right about now. Timely stuff. "True To Myself" is some great advice disguised in a peppy song, with the line "I can't make you happy unless I am", particularly resonating. "Wild and Free" was an homage to all the marijuana blowing in the breeze, and the miracle that the plant itself truly is. Watching Marley, you can tell he means every word he sings, and performs with everything he's got. His denim shirt was soon soaked through with sweat, from his non-stop dancing and entertaining, with long dreads flying. He's great.

1988's "Tomorrow People" is the one that put Ziggy on the reggae map for me, and he has only made his own name as prominent as his father's ever since. After that one, Marley introduced the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, who took the stage with their conductor this evening, Thomas Wilkins. I got immediate chills as the majestic horn section chimed in on "Beach In Hawai'i". Orchestras always make everything sound even better - and more emotional. Like on "Love Is My Religion", which is very much true for me, and always brings up a lump in my throat as we used that song for a friend's funeral years ago (RIP Sponto!), and it still always gets me.

The whole place was got when "Is This Love?" started up, and the lights on the Bowl turned to the rasta colors of red, green and yellow. People love themselves their Bob Marley songs, and Ziggy is the closest thing we've got now to the real thing. He didn't speak much between songs, but at one point shouted, "It's so good to see people gathered in unity! Oneness!" That's what it feels like at each year's Reggae Night, total unity and One Love ... and that's why I've never missed one. My soul needs this feeling annually. Thank you! (It should also be mentioned that pretty much all I want is to be a Marley backup dancer or flag waver. I'm available!).

"We Are The People" carried on that theme, and it urges all not to "let them divide us" as we are "People, not corporations" (exactly what we say in Venice these days). "Get Up, Stand Up" - I did, I do. Last night, we all did in there, as this one caused the Bowl audience to leap to their feet, front to back. "Don't give up the fight" ... there's no way we can. Not when things keep happening, like Philando Castile's murderer being acquitted of that crime. NEVER give up the fight.

"One Love" summed up the whole event, as we all sang along to that reggae-defining song that really is the answer to world peace. Just love everyone ... we're all in this together. Why is that so hard for people to remember in regular life outside of Reggae Night? Thank Jah for this reminder of a tune.

Looking around, everyone was so happy, up and dancing and singing (and smoking and drinking and hugging and laughing), that all one could really feel was truly One Love. My heart was full.

"Exodus" was the last song, and proved to be our outro as well, as there was no encore to Marley's surprisingly short set. I haven't mentioned much more about the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra since their first song, because, frankly, it was very hard to hear them. The reggae beats pretty much drowned them out, but it was still nice to know they were there. Or it all blended so seamlessly that you couldn't discern between it, but I think it was the reggae guitar domination. Before our mass exodus, Marley brought out his own kids, who shouted, "YEEEEEAAHHH!" in their Father's Day appearance on this grand stage. With that, the Marleys were off to have their own celebration, and we all filed out, still humming along, with springs in our steps. Happy. Full of One Love.

Reggae Night is the very best. All thanks and praise to KCRW, The Hollywood Bowl, the wonderful bands, and the people that provide all the unity and fun each year for one of my very favorite nights of the year. JAH! Rastafari.

*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography.