Monday, September 24, 2018

A Venice Saturday With Bikers And Burners!

It would be great if someone was visiting Venice for the first time this past Saturday, because they would have walked into what felt like good old Venice ... with fun and festivities for everyone - for free!

Clear blue skies and bright sunshine set the tone for the day. The roar of motorcycles woke the town early as the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club had their rally set for that afternoon, and they always kick it off with a group ride up the PCH, leaving bright and early - and loudly.

The rally itself felt a bit more sparsely attended than most years, with less bikes ... and for sure less babes, as there was no Miss Venice Vintage contest this year, so the venue was pretty dude heavy. I got there just in time to hear National Anthem rock the place, and split during the Cougar Getting, Jr. band that sounded a whole lot like AC/DC. People enjoyed checking out all the bikes, and the beer lines were well-attended. All looked to be a success ... but the beach was beckoning.

The Rayfield siblings (Dakota and Jackson) were tending bar together at Surfside, so we killed some time there until the sun started to set on the Venice Art Crawl Afterburn edition, which is when it got really spectacular to look at. The Burning Man burners brought a whole bunch of art installations to the beach at Windward Plaza, so the rest of us could get a little piece of desert Playa. The dragon was most impressive.

The Boardwalk was packed with partiers, and locals kept bumping into each other and couldn't stop smiling, because THIS is how we like to think of our Venice. Fun. Creative. Dancing. Art focused. Awesome, really. And PROUD - proud that visitors could be with us and see how Venice is supposed to be.

There was a big music box flame-thrower that served as headquarters for a Karaoke set, where someone was singing some buzzkill Adele when I walked by ... and quickly split down the way where more upbeat jams were being blasted.

There was a little pop up version of the great Rohitash Rao fake album covers show work.

If you needed some psychiatric help - you were covered.

If you felt like dancing in a big electric pineapple - no problem.

If you simply needed a hug - any variety of hug at all - someone would hook you up.

Of course, there were plenty of unofficial hugs to go around also, as every two feet you would bump into someone from Venice that you knew and loved ... even the Kosmick Krusader (Harry Perry) himself was there, looking right at home in front of a spaceship.

Several attractions had platforms for dancing on them, and one had to squeeze in real tight to get some dance partying in ... and it was a blast.

There were several things going on all over town Saturday night, but the more you hung out at the Afterburn, the more you realized you were staying put in Venice (Sorry, Bart Saric/Skatermade! Really wanted to be at the Everything Went Skate film release party ... but downtown!!). Moments like these, with the whole community dancing outside together under a huge moon surrounded by glowing art, are all too rare these days, and you have to stay put and soak them up!

There were little places to chill (inside the Yellow Submarine ... in a "Snailoon" ... on little hovercrafts), but most people were busy rocking out, many in their outfits leftover from Burning Man - only minus the dust. To glance around in any direction rewarded you with views of total and absolute fun.

There was a drum circle keeping time of it all, and that encouraged even more dancing around. Nights like this (and it was on all weekend long!) are truly why we live and love here in Venice, California.

A big bunch of Venice folks wrapped up the evening back at Surfside, with a performance from Jake Klassman, son of Bagel. RAD. Thank you to the V.A.C. and everyone involved with creating this wonderful gift to our Community! LOVE!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Last Days Of A Bohemian Paradise - An Evening With Dotan Saguy

I finally got to see Dotan Saguy's great photography show at Venice Arts last night for the closing reception and conversation that would kick off the four day Venice Art Crawl Afterburn extravaganza this weekend. Last Days Of A Bohemian Paradise shows off the Venice Boardwalk at its most beautiful and poignant, as we all know this last beach community of color is very much an endangered species. Saguy has been doing in photography what I have been doing with stories - trying to capture the beauty and originality of this place while it still exists.

Saguy's book of the same name was also being celebrated (and I'm creating a book of stories too!), and we got to see its wonderful photographs enlarged on the walls of the Venice Arts gallery, as local characters mingled and discussed the good old days - and what we still have. So far. Artists and hippies and all the character that has historically made Venice great is being evicted ... and we all have to ask, as the photo does below, Why are you doing this?

After an impromptu electric guitar set from Harry Perry that got folks dancing, we sat down to listen to Saguy speak on this fantastic photo project. It started super late (Venice Standard Time), but nobody seemed to mind, as Elisa from Venice Arts said, "Thank you for having a festive Venice attitude about the delay." Once the tech stuff got sorted out (maybe do that before the event next time, friends), Saguy shared the stories behind taking these photographs. He started shooting 25 years ago, and he knows that because he got a camera for a wedding present, and he and his professor wife just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. He took some classes and workshops, and assigned himself to go shoot Havana before it changed too much ... kind of like Venice.

Saguy won a National Geographic contest, and the prize was an assignment to South Korea, so he was now a real professional, and that gave him the encouragement to pursue photography as a full-time career. He was drawn to and felt connected to Venice (like most of us who chose to make it our home), and he showed a slide show of his progression in Venice. Saguy spent three years shooting the Boardwalk and its denizens, resulting in his beautiful book, completed in the summer of 2017. That was the year I reigned as Venice's Neptune Queen, and I was honored to be included in one of Saguy's photographs in the book (and am now coveting a print!).

Saguy talked about "how inclusive and generous (Venice) people are with each other ... with a tenderness to it all" ... and how that is all in danger. The project is so great that the press has been phenomenal, which brings an awareness to how special Venice is - and a responsibility to us all to preserve it. Saguy's method is best summarized by the acronym "D.I.E." - which stands for Design. Information. Emotion. - all of the elements he feels are necessary to make a great photo. And it's all there in every piece of his work. There was a photo of a surfer girl, that until he discussed it, I didn't really notice the organization and geometry of it all, and how he fills the frame with something interesting for the eye in the foreground, background, and the focal point. His pictures really are worth at least a thousand words.

Shooting in all Leica black and white lends a timeless quality to Saguy's work, and at times it's hard to tell if you're looking at the 60's or the future - should the future remain cool. That remains to be seen, and Saguy felt a responsibility and an urgency to document what still left of bohemian Venice, and create a record (same here, Brother). The Venice Freak Show, the homeless, skaters, body builders, surfers, gangsters, snakes ... they're all represented here, in all their glory. 

The Venice Boardwalk led Saguy back to Havana for his next project, where he will capture its own version of the Boardwalk, the Malecón. However, "I can't stop shooting Venice", so he's also at work on a project about the homeless and their pets, as well as one about Van Life. Awesome.

The Venice cast of characters celebrated with Saguy (seen below, the one who's not Harry Perry, Marcus Gladney, or Sunny Bak) until we got kicked out of Venice Arts and took it on over to James Beach, but I think we all felt happy to be together and to know that in some small way, we've all contributed to this creative mecca by the sea. With photos, stories, and each other - we'll always have Venice.

Last Days Of A Bohemian Paradise is available in book form and in photographic prints limited to 10 of each photo at Saguy will also be teaching a Leica master class in Venice, March 29-31, 2019 (information on his website).

Long Live Venice!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fahrenheit 11/9 - A Must See For ALL Americans

Holy smokes. I just saw Fahrenheit 11/9 last night, and I can't get it out of my head. And neither will you. Because you simply MUST see it. There's so much in it that hasn't been in the news, that you don't know about ... I honestly am still having a hard time shutting my jaw.

You might have a bias against Michael Moore, because you think he's slanted or bombastic or whatever, and he certainly can be (like when Trump's voice comes out of Hitler's mouth- but the point is made). But this one is equally critical about both sides of our government - and it SHOULD be. One talking head makes the point that we're still TRYING to be a Democracy, as how can you say we've been a Democracy when not everyone has even had the right to vote for very long. We're still working TOWARD a Democracy. And Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans sometimes.

I left this film with a whole different feeling toward Obama too. Did you know that he went to Flint, Michigan (Moore's hometown - it's personal), and they all thought he was coming to save the day and call their poisoned water a national disaster (with the funding that goes along with that), and he came to town and asked for a glass of water to drink to show that it was o.k (when it is literally killing people and making their babies' hair fall out from lead poisoning!)?! While sitting next to the absolute EVIL villain Michigan Governor Snyder?! Did you further know that after all they've suffered through, Flint citizens awoke one night to being BOMBED by our own U.S. Army - using their abandoned buildings as target practice - without telling anyone it was going to happen?!?! It looked like an Iraq style bombing. OUTRGEOUS. And the people of Flint are imprisoned there, because who's going to buy their homes so they can move? No one. It's enough to make you defect. But to WHERE? The whole world feels corrupt.

There are images and statements from the current Despot/President that make your skin actually crawl, and look for barf bags. Then, just as you're fully nauseous from that pig's face, you have to admit that it was the Democrats that put him in the White House. Some of us already knew that, because we tried with all we had to elect Bernie Sanders - who a thousand percent would have won. To watch the delegates (while people who previously thought their votes counted watched and sobbed) LIE and give Hillary Clinton the nomination from states that Sanders 100% won, was to watch corruption at the highest level - and the death of Democracy (that we barely even had yet). No wonder so many people didn't bother to vote - they were made to feel like their votes didn't matter anyway. I personally lost good friends over being for Sanders over Hillary (absurd), but now I feel like maybe I should have been the one to dump them over it. The Democrats blatantly CHEATED - and now we're all paying for it. On that note - we simply MUST abolish the Electoral College. It's outdated, and was created for slave states. The popular vote being allowed its victory would never have placed us in this situation ... going back at least to Gore.

People (including myself) were yelling at the screen. Laughing out loud. Crying out loud. Hissing. Booing. Clapping. Mortified. Inspired. Inspired because the PEOPLE really DO have the power, as demonstrated by the West Virginia Teachers' strike earlier this year, that had tears running down my face at how dedicated and in solidarity they all were. THAT is what it takes. And the marches. And the activists. And the young people getting involved. And the individuals that take a stand against all of this ... what a wonderful montage that one is. I wish Moore would have ended on that (it ends on a sad, but powerful note), so that we could keep the momentum of the PEOPLE in our hearts as we left the theater ... but you still can. I can't beg you hard enough to PLEASE SEE THIS MOVIE. And then PLEASE take whatever action you can personally, because that is what it is going to take. VOTE - that's the very least you can do. DEMAND the end to the Electoral College. SUPPORT new candidates that REALLY want to improve this country - and it's obvious who they are. Only then will we be able to rightfully claim that this big experimental country really IS a Democracy. Because it sure ain't right now. It's in our hands, and history will not be a kind judge if everyone just keeps looking at their phones and thinking they can't make a difference anyway. YOU. CAN.

PLEASE go see this outrageous (in the truest sense) film as soon as you can. Even if just so I can talk to you about it.

Fahrenheit 11/9 opens everywhere tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Be You!

There is a long mural stretching down Lincoln by the Venice Boys and Girls Club, and it's great.

Be Love. Be Beautiful. Be Kindness. Be Life. Be YOU (that part got cut off, but it's there in real life). What a lovely reminder as you're sitting in traffic. Think about it. Practice it.

BE it. Think how much better this place will be when people can follow these very basic principles.

Thank you, Boys and Girls!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Leaning Into The Wind - The Art Of Andy Goldsworthy

If the world has been wearing you down, and you need something that is pure loveliness to watch, do check out Leaning Into The Wind, a documentary about the art of Andy Goldsworthy.

Goldsworthy sees our world in a completely unique and beautiful way. His work is always about our relationship with nature, whether out in a forest or right in the middle of a city (where I'm fully going to do the Goldsworthy trick of laying down on the pavement to leave your shape behind, if it ever rains again in Los Angeles!).

I had just been to the concert for Pathway To Paris the night before I saw this wonderful doc, so the environment and its endangerment were stuck in my frontal lobe as I sat down to watch. Patti Smith read a poem about our connection to this planet, and ended it by saying, "Nature gives us everything." Watching Leaning Into The Wind put an exclamation point on that statement, in an unforgettable way.

Some people just have a different way of viewing life, and Goldsworthy is one of them. He poses the question of why do we take the road, when we could go through the hedge? The flow of people through a city is like a river, and you can feel our past and present - and future - unite, if only you take the time to stop and think, and truly FEEL.

This film was a beautiful escape from what we think of as the "real world", into what truly IS real - Nature. Check it out. Let's talk. Let's feel. Let's save this beautiful Earth.

Leaning Into The Wind (2018) is available now on ITunes.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Pathway To Paris - Patti Smith And Friends Sing For The Planet

I keep saying that none of the big issues facing our world today will even matter if we're no longer able to survive on this planet. When Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, it was a huge - and super embarrassing - blow to the work so many good people are doing on behalf of our Earth, and now good people are taking matters into our own hands to try to keep it livable here a while longer ... if it's not already too late. Seriously.

There was a great concert last night put on my the fine folks at Pathway To Paris, a group co-founded by Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon, committed activists and eco-warriors doing everything they can to try to help. Smith is also the daughter of Patti Smith, so they've got a lot of musical friends who share their enthusiasm to save the world. Quite literally.

The evening at the lovely downtown Ace Hotel featured many action booths in the lobby, merch to support the cause, and drinks to sip while you mingled and talked about how bad we've screwed up this planet. Once seated, the show started with a video about what Pathway To Paris is about, and what they hope to accomplish. It reminded us that "Time is ticking - let's make change NOW." Because we actually don't have a choice. Patti Smith took the stage to well-deserved cheers, and I had chills from the outset. She recited a poem about the environment (beautifully backed on cello by Rebecca Foon), with a line perfectly describing the night - and the organization - "We arise to walk as one ... Nature gives us everything." The man seated next to me had his palms up and open, receiving, almost as if in prayer. I got it. I felt it too.

Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon came out to talk about Pathway To Paris, which they founded in 2014 after the Peoples' Climate March in New York City.  Their hope is that we can be using 100% renewable energy by 2040, emphasizing how urgent this crisis that affects us ALL really is. It always frustrates me when things are said like "By 2040" - that's over 20 years off. Why not NOW? Why not DEMAND it? I know it's all very complicated, but isn't our survival worth just changing it all NOW? Because it really is that serious - it's our basic SURVIVAL. They talked about the 1000 Cities Initiative, and getting cities to commit to renewable energy on their own, outside of this lousy administration. They told us about, who are working to reduce fossil fuel usage. But most of all, they inspired us. Imany ("All the way from Paris!") was a beautiful singer, who took her time getting on stage, and when she did, she said, "I'm sorry I was late, but I'm French." People laughed, knowingly, but gave her a pass, because Paris.  She did a cover of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and did her best to get people to sing along ("That was horrible. We're gonna do it again."). We did, and then Patti Smith came back on to introduce her friend, Flea.

Red Hot Chili Pepper's beloved bassist, Flea, took to the stage in a purple tie-dyed suit with a L.A. Lakers tee under it (Go Lakers!), and laid a typical funky Flea bass throw down on us, and also blew minds with his gorgeous trumpet playing. He's like a modern Miles Davis, for real. He shouted out to his daughter, Clara, who was celebrating her 30th birthday on this day. Flea is awesome.

Pro skater, Tony Hawk, came out to talk about how he met Dhani Harrison when he was a little skater and invited them all back to his house (Castle) to hang out with him ...  and his Dad (George Harrison. Beatle.) and Tom Petty, and I think even Bob Dylan was there.

That cemented a friendship, and Hawk introduced Harrison, who played a song called "Press Pause", I think, that had never been played live before. My Morning Jacket's Jim James joined him for this lovely tune, and then stayed up there for his own "Over And Over". People were loving it, and his line, "If you don't speak up, we can't hear it" especially resonated for this night of music and charity.

350.Org's Bill McKibben showed video from his summer vacation, that was spent in Greenland watching giant ice shelves melt into the sea ... raising water levels with every crash. "We will keep doing this until we win," he said, and had us all write postcards to Gavin Newsom, our likely new Governor of California (which Tony Hawk skated down the aisle writing to demonstrate). All of this was happening while North Carolina was under siege from Hurricane Florence, illustrating climate change in real time.

Jim James introduced Karen O. (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) who played a couple of numbers from the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack that she did. "Worried Shoes" was lovely, but "Hideaway" seemed to my ears to be almost a direct ripoff of one of my very favorite tunes, Hendrix's "May This Be Love". Pretty, but I couldn't stop hearing Jimi. Still, happy that she was there in support of our world, and look forward to more of her original work.

Tenzin Choegyal was there from Australia (via Tibet) and brought a letter from the Dalai Lama for Jesse Paris Smith to read to us, and it was as lovely as you'd expect. It mentioned that when you see photos of Earth from space, there are no borders, just one blue planet. "It's in our interest to look out for it." Choegyal played his native instrument (whose name I don't know), and to me it was the musical highlight of the entire marathon show. SO beautiful - and unique, sounding like nothing else (except for a little bit like Eddie Vedder on his Into The Wild soundtrack). It was truly stunning, and then he had us all stand and make roofs with our arms over our heads, as "Tibet is the roof of the world, and the roof is leaking." He played a song called "Snowline" - "about elegantly leaving fear behind." His passionate playing and singing left a deep impression on everyone there, and the next artist - LUCINDA WILLIAMS - admitted to being in tears side-stage while observing Choegyal. "I just stood there and wept."  As were we in our seats.

We only got one song from Williams, but it was a new one, featuring just her wonderful voice and guitar, singing that "We've come too far to turn around." And in the climate's case - we HAVE to keep going in our struggle to protect it. Patti Smith returned to introduce her friend, Eric Burdon from The Animals. He took the stage in dark sunglasses at night (o.k.) and said, "Give it up for the Smiths! Great vibes here tonight!" Everyone cheered in agreement, and Burdon showed himself to still be in fine voice when he belted out Lead Belly's "In The Pines" (made real famous by Nirvana), backed by a ripping guitarist. It was dramatic, and his "Mother Earth" was a bluesy number accented by some excellent trombone. Good stuff.

Talib Kweli was next, and after a bunch of "Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care!" and "Make some noise!" requests, he got down to a version of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" done rap style. Another one had Nina Simone samples, and then that was that for his set. It was just o.k. to my ears. But then Tony Hawk came back up to tell how he came to know Patti Smith, which was that his skate company (Birdhouse) was doing a video and his skater, Clive Dixon, asked for his part to have Patti Smith music. She had given him a guitar pick, and after repeatedly trying a Nollie trick that had never been done ("NBD"), he held up that pick and then DID IT. Magic. So Hawk (and everyone else) loves Patti Smith, and he introduced her by saying, "Please welcome one of our greatest musicians, Patti Smith!"

Huge applause again, and then Smith cracked everyone up by saying, "Greatest musician? I can't play a fucking thing!" She dedicated her first number to North Carolina, and she (and Flea on backing bass) gave us "Peaceable Kingdom", which ends with the line, "Maybe someday we'll be strong enough to build it back again." We can only hope. The wonderful "Dancing Barefoot" was next, and Smith dedicated it to Flea's daughter, Clara, for her birthday. How cool. Smith ended her set with "Pissing In A River", and when she sang the line, "Don't turn your back now, I'm talking to you," she added, "Write those fucking letters!" Right on.

Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon returned to give their thanks to everyone there and involved, and urged everyone to continue taking action. They then asked all the performing artists back on stage for the All Star finale, which was her mother's "People Have The Power", and there couldn't have been a more fitting song for the night - and the world at large right now. Everyone was up there belting it out, and Smith shouted "Use Your Voice!!" to end the absolutely inspiring and spurring to action evening of Pathway To Paris.

Please join their good work by writing your own letters, signing all the petitions, and CARING about your Mother Earth - it's the only one we have. Thank you.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Juan And Nancy - Summer of '79

I've been taking Palms on my way to get coffee lately, and I keep walking over this engraving in the sidewalk:

Juan and Nancy, Summer of '79. I like to think they're still together. I like to think they're still in Venice, and would sell to a developer over their dead bodies (on that note, I hope they're still alive!). I like to think they hold hands and walk along the beach on the way to Hinano's, where they had their first dinner after their rollerskating date. I saw this photo on the You Know You're From Venice ... Facebook page (via "Groovy History"), and I like to think this is Juan and Nancy. It IS from 1979 ...

I like to think they're still that groovy. Juan and Nancy, wherever you are - Love to you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Dopesick Nation Premieres Tonight On Viceland!

Tonight is the premiere of the show I spent my summer working on, Dopesick Nation. It airs starting tonight at 10 p.m. on Viceland, and we're pretty proud of it. The opioid crisis (and the homeless crisis, which we're addressing in our documentary 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED, so it's been a heavy summer) in this country is at epidemic proportions - pandemic, really - and our hope is that maybe once people see how bad it really is, it will compel us all to really DO something about it.

Our main characters, Frankie and Allie, search out addicts to try to help them get clean, and it's some of the saddest, darkest stuff I've ever seen or heard of. In fact, I've heard stories that I'll never repeat because I don't want to put them in someone else's head. I've cried nearly every day ... but I've also felt hope. And it all begins with empathy. Addiction is a disease, and these people deserve our compassion, not our judgement. We all need to look out for each other, these days more than ever. Check out our trailer:

It's also a very scary time to be an addict, because the drugs have changed. Dealers have begun cutting it with fentanyl (what killed Prince) and carfentanil (what kills elephants), and people are dying off of one hit. I've heard of two people in L.A. o.d.'ing (dead) so far from COKE laced with fentanyl. Consider this a P.S.A. for those of you who still think it's fun to snort coke (gross), even just once in a while ... you can't tell it's got fentanyl in it, and you might die from one sniff. That simple. Up to you. Better to just say no. For real.

Please tune in tonight and every Wednesday for the next ten weeks, as the more people who watch, the more people we can help with another season of T Group/Viceland's Dopesick Nation.

Thank you!

Dopesick Nation airs 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Viceland.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

An Evening With Leon Bridges At The Grammy Museum

I've been a fan of Leon Bridges and his music for a while now, but hadn't seen him play live, so when given the chance to check him out at The Grammy Museum last night - off I went. I was there just last week to catch Greta Van Fleet for the first time too, so I've been learning a lot thanks to this excellent venue.

The two acts - and the vibes in the room - could not be more different, but there were a lot of similarities too. Grammy Museum Executive Director, Scott Goldman, introduced Bridges to the sold out Clive Davis Theater audience, and we settled in to get to know him better. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Bridges was there to discuss his new album Good Thing. Decked out in a sweater with stars in rasta colors, Bridges was soft-spoken and thoughtful with his answers, and the energy from both him and the crowd was MUCH mellower than for the Greta Van Fleet guys last week ... but they're both very young, they both have influences like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and both acts are doing things their own way.

Bridges' debut album, Coming Home, blew him up right out of the gate, with it landing at #6 on the Billboard Top 200. That retro-soul sound placed him on all the tastemaker's lists, but Good Thing is the album he always wanted to make. He said the theme during the recording of this sophomore effort was "Blood on the mics", meaning he was all in, and not at all settling for what was comfortable. He considers himself a crooner, but heard comments like, "Oh, that's for white people," admitting that black audiences were more of a challenge. For this record, Bridges teamed with producer, Ricky Reed, which was a big switch, coming from doing nearly everything himself his first time out. Arthur Alexander had a singing style that Bridges connected to, so Reed encouraged him to go for it with his falsetto, but his lead track on the new album, "Ain't Worth The Hand" has a more Curtis Mayfield "The Makings Of You" feel.  As Bridges said, "I've matured ... it's sexier." That got a laugh, and Goldman had to say, "I'd say there's a little more swagger, are you feeling yourself more?" Bridges answered, "Totally." (He said that a lot, actually).

Regarding the "sexier" part, Bridges' mom said, "I don't know about that 'Mrs.'", (a racier track) but now she's cool with it. Goldman mentioned that "Lions" was his favorite track, a spare, raw one that features Bridges alone with just a beat and claps. "Yeah, I wanted to get weird with the flow on that track." I respect an artist the most when they do exactly what THEY want to do musically, and Bridges seems to do just that. "Honesty and truth are very important, and what I want to chase as a songwriter."

Goldman said that "Georgia To Texas" was like his life story in 3 1/2 minutes, and Bridges agreed, saying that he'd started singing at 12 years old after his Mom brought him to Texas from Georgia. He cracked everyone up when he admitted that he had been obsessed with Sisqó at that age, singing all of that dude's songs, and then really started going for it at around 20. He went to church every Sunday, but never sang in the church, interestingly. Bridges went to school to pursue dance (also interesting), but picked up a friend's guitar, and "now I know three chords." That led to open mics around Fort Worth, where it was heavily country music oriented, and he'd be this "black kid with a guitar."  He was inspired by a band called the Texas Gentlemen and soon met co-writers Austin Jenkins and Josh Block at a bar, through a common love for Wrangler denim. Jenkins said, "I'd love to record your music in all analog." Bridges was like, "Great! But I didn't know what analog meant."

Bridges did a lot of Sam Cooke covers ("Because they were easy chords"), and found his own sound along the way. Before he knew it, he was opening for Harry Stiles in arenas, which was crazy, as he said, "His fans have a lot of energy." His understatement got a knowing laugh. Likewise, when Bridges said his hotel room info in Argentina got hacked and posted on Instagram ... "That was a great tour." I bet.

You'll find Bridges these days listening to Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance The Rapper, and he's also made his first foray into acting, with the tall order of portraying Gil Scott-Heron reciting his "Whitey On The Moon" in the upcoming Neil Armstrong movie, First Man. Wow. After that revelation, Goldman opened up the floor for a Q and A from the audience. The first guy asked if Bridges' faith had been affected by fame. "I still hold to spiritual values. It's shifted, but I stand firm in my beliefs. Someone asked about dancing, and Bridges responded that he emulates Michael Jackson, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire - the high bars. Asked about past and future collaborations, Bridges said, without hesitation, "Past - Bobby Womack. Present - Drake." I bet we'll see that happen. Some wise guy asked what was his favorite Sisqó song. "'Thong Song', man, c'mon!" Awesome.

Someone asked Bridges to recite "Whitey On The Moon", and he did it perfectly - as much as he could remember on the spot like that.  Asked what else Bridges would like to achieve, "I'd like to win a Grammy" - I see that happening too, and it couldn't hurt that he was in the Grammy's house.  More impressively, he concluded, "I'd like to use what I've been blessed with to help other people." Again, kind of like Greta Van Fleet! The musical future is bright, everyone!

Goldman wrapped up the conversation part of the evening by asking about Bridges' collaboration with the eyeglass company, Ahlem. I was delighted to find out that the proceeds from the sales of these glasses go to our very own Westminster Elementary in Venice! How wonderful! I also learned that Goldman lives in Venice too - Huh. Bridges himself bought a house in Fort Worth - "Being with family and friends is a nice way to stay grounded." With that, it was time for the much anticipated performance part of the night, and a full band (sans drummer) and backup singers joined Bridges on the stage. "Here we go!"

"If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)" was up first, and as funky as the bass was, it felt a bit low energy (especially when the latest show I saw in this room was the all-out rock explosion from Greta Van Fleet). When they finished, Bridges said, "Our drummer just quit on us today, sorry about that," explaining what I had been wondering. Whoa ... I wonder what they're gonna do for their show at The Greek Theater tonight? "Bad Bad News" was next - and also real funky, finger snaps and all. The room was very quiet, which I read as respectful, but it was also a little awkward. It felt more like we were listening in on a rehearsal ... really good, just a little low-key.

The groovy "Shy" was next, and had all that good old R & B soul that makes a record timeless. That also goes for "Coming Home", that featured both crooning and smooth moves. I can see Prince getting behind "Mrs." with its kind of horny licks, that afterwards had us all answering "Great!" to the "How you feeling?" question posed. Excellent, really. "Beyond" was really pretty, showing both shades of Bridges country-adjacent past, and his super romantic side. It's the one currently getting a lot of play on KCRW, for good reason. It's great.

Bridges strapped on a guitar and stood alone save for a female backup singer to deliver my favorite number of the night, "River". I choked up, in fact, it was so gorgeous. I hadn't been feeling very well, just off and strange, and I swear, after this song I felt a little better. The power of  music to heal! I believe! That earned Bridges a standing ovation ... and earned us another song! This was the longest set I've seen at the Grammy Museum, and the room was more than grateful. "Thank y'all! We're gonna do a rock and roll one." That meant "Flowers" and its chorus, "I wanna tell you about the good news (good news)!" At a time when we all need good news perhaps more than ever, this night of music and learning together was just what was needed. There was another standing ovation, and then Bridges was off ... probably to go find a drummer for tonight's show at The Greek.

I'm so glad I got to chance to see this super talented artist in such an intimate venue for the first time. What a privilege ... and a healing! Thank you to the Grammy Museum, and to Leon Bridges and his band, for a night that truly moved the soul - with soul.

*Photos courtesy of The Recording Academy/Rebecca Sapp for WireImage.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Hollywood Bowl Celebrates New Orleans' 300th With Harry Connick, Jr.

New Orleans has its Tricentennial this year, and the Hollywood Bowl had a three day party to celebrate, featuring the sounds of the Crescent City performed by New Orleans locals, Bonerama and my teen crush, Harry Connick, Jr. It was also the Fireworks Finale for the season, and we went on the third night, so people were ready to get DOWN. And get down we did!

Bonerama's guitarist, Bert Cotton, set the tone with a super funky Star Spangled Banner that had to be stood for. It was awesome, and then they got down with the heavily trombone based (hence their name) funky brass sounds that transported us to Louisiana for the night. A tribute to a legendary NOLA produce vendor, "Mr. Okra", gave us the local flavor from the start, and a real highlight was their cover of Zeppelin's "The Ocean" that has never sounded groovier.

Erica Falls came out to join the brass boys to belt out a few numbers that brought people to their feet if they weren't already on them. This lady can SING! Wow. By now we were all warmed up, and feeling the New Orleans vibes that you can only really know if you've been there, but these super talents brought you about as close to being there as L.A. could ever get.

And speaking of super talents ... after a lengthy feeling intermission (maybe because a lot of wine drinking got done in there), here came Harry Connick, Jr.! I had a BIG thing for him when I was a teenager (and he was probably the only one my Mom really approved of, because he sounded like Frank Sinatra vs. a Metal screamer!), and this was surprisingly my first time seeing him live. Well, HCJ, it was worth the wait! What a guy! He plays like every instrument there is, and could not possibly be more charming. The crush is back.

Connick, Jr. spoke about how he was said that his New Orleans Saints had lost their season opener that morning (while I was happy that the Vikings had won theirs!), but he felt better because he was playing three nights at one of the best places in the world, the Hollywood Bowl (Agreed. It's one of the very best places ever to catch a show). He was born and raised in New Orleans, and began performing with that city's musical greats when he was just five years old. One of his favorite songs was "Dr. Jazz", which he didn't realize until he grew up that it was about a drug dealer ... and then he and his band played it, and we all got why it was one of his favorites. Connick, Jr. can play piano, drums, one-handed trumpet (while holding the longest note ever and turning the thing all the way around on his lips) ... and sings like an honorary member of The Rat Pack. And looks kind of like a buffer Young Elvis. He's truly got it all.

We were the best crowd of the three night stand, and we know, because Connick, Jr. told us. First night crowds are the eager ones, second night crowd was all industry and too cool, but the third night folks are the fun ones - and you could feel it. Also, this guy is an American Treasure, so it was easy to let loose and party with his infectious way of letting the good times roll. We got a couple of numbers from Connick Jr.'s excellent When Harry Met Sally soundtrack, "Our Love Is Here To Stay" and "It Had To Be You" that were both so dreamy it was just silly. And then he had to go and remind us that he's been married to model, Jill Goodacre, for 28 years and their three beautiful daughters were there. Charlotte, Kate, and Georgia Connick came up on stage to be introduced by their supercool Dad, and you could feel the pride between them all. Special. And I'm not jealous at all.

Baptist churches were big in Connick Jr's upbringing (though he was raised Catholic) because "You WILL feel better" when you go. And he brought us there, with his "favorite Gospel singer in the world" Jonathan Dubose, Jr., only Dubose, Jr. sang with his shredding guitar. They played "How Great Thou Art" as funky as it's ever been played, prompting a group clap-along that I don't think I've ever heard done to that old spiritual chestnut. So so good. "Can I play a little New Orleans piano for y'all?", asked Connick, Jr. next, and the answer was YES. "It's all about the left hand ... if you keep your rhythm through your life, you'll be fine." Then he sat down at his piano and showed us all why he's been considered a virtuoso since before he reached double digits. He's something else.

Oh, and then the guy can tap dance on top of it all! HCJ brought out an awesome tap dancer, Luke Hawkins, who tapped it up with Harry, and then  had a tap off with the drummer, trading beats and steps in a frenzy of motion that still has us buzzing about it today. THEN we got a "Jazz Funeral" and the dirge processional turned into a second line for  "When The Saints Go Marching In" that wound all through the crowd, giving everyone an up close look at one of the coolest dudes ever as he banged a drum strapped over his shoulders.

Back on stage, now the group was about to get even funkier! Connick, Jr. sat down at the electric keys, and played his wonderful and positive, "Yes We Can Can" as the Bowl lit up with its Fireworks Finale! The music and the visuals were glorious, and then got even more so when Connick, Jr. played two keyboards, one with each hand, AND drums at the same time, while singing "Big Chief" DURING Fireworks. Talk about a slam bang finish! There wasn't much that could top that, and Connick, Jr. shimmy danced off the stage, the lights came on, and we all just looked at each other like "WOW".

What a way to wrap up the Bowl Summer Season, and what a way to finally see Harry Connick, Jr.! I'm humming and shimmying myself today, and am quite sure I'll never forget this fantastic celebration of New Orleans' 300th Birthday! I feel so lucky. Thank you to all!

*Press photos courtesy of the L.A. Philharmonic