Friday, November 30, 2018

14,000 And Counting ... Milk Cartons For Missing Childhoods

The rain swept through last night and today broke bright and sunny ... just about 72 and Sunny, in fact. I went for my morning beach walk and there was a giant milk carton down in Windward Plaza, filled with 12,800 individual milk cartons representing the immigrant children in our shameful current government's custody. The sign explaining it all got messed up in the rain, I was told by a security guard, but he filled me in. This installation is brought to us by the marketing firm of 72 and Sunny and the public art organization Now Art L.A., to bring awareness to this absolute crisis, and get people involved by signing a petition at Please, please do.

There are over 14,000 children separated from their families as we speak, and the number is only growing. Christmas is fast approaching, and it's unfathomable to imagine that these innocent little kids will be on their own in some scary government facility, with many families not even knowing exactly where their kids are. Imagine!

I recently did some work on an upcoming documentary feature about deported families, and my assignment was to work out a ride-along with ICE agents. I had to do some Oscar worthy acting on the phone in order to make that happen, as I mainly just wanted to punch everyone in the face and wake them up to the trauma they're causing to families all over our country. Then you listen to them and realize that they really believe they are doing morally upright work, and they really are keeping America safer by ripping apart families and giving people the boot. It's such a sticky situation, because it would be great if everyone could escape tyranny the legit way and get all their paperwork in order and all of that, but when you're facing terrible situations and even death to your family for any number of reasons around the globe, and you know there's this place with a Statue of Liberty raising a lantern of welcome to refugees and immigrants from wherever they come, you probably just want to go for it, and I don't blame them. This country is entirely made up of immigrants, unless you're Native American. Some people seem to always forget that fact. And that IS what has the potential to make it great. Global ideas coming together to make a better whole ... wasn't that the idea?

There HAS to be a better solution that putting tiny children in internment camps (which they are) with no idea what is happening or where their parents are. It has to be terrifying, especially in another language. Please take a moment to reflect on this. Remember these throwback milk cartons in your face in the middle of the Venice Boardwalk (I love you, Venice) this weekend. It will be lit up at night right behind the big Venice Sign holiday lighting tomorrow night, as another reminder that these kids most likely will not be back with their families by Christmas (C'mon, Christmas miracles!). Sign the petition. Help. Remember your humanity while you're out having an awesome weekend. CARE.

Thank you to 72 and Sunny, NowArt LA, and for this important message.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Fluent In Love

There seems to be a new street art person around town, and I saw a few different pieces today from "TrustyScribe" on my constitutional this morning. My favorite was about love ... and everyone could do with taking this dude's language course.

Then a way up the street on Abbot Kinney there was another one, that he might have slept on a little, but I still get it.

I didn't take a photo of the one by Blue Bottle Coffee because it was about depression, and no one needs to be reminded about depression right now. Then I looked them up and saw that Trusty Scribe's Instagram page talks about love and depression, and even offers a number for people to call if they're dealing with depression (#877-726-4727) ... which so many are these days.  No one is alone. And there is always love to be spoken.

Thanks, TrustyScribe!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Giving Tuesday! Be A Part Of 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED

Today is "Giving Tuesday", when you get hit up for your end of the year charitable donations. As all of the holiday frenzy begins and the year 2018 is coming to a close, it's a good thing to stop and reflect and think about ways we can all give. It's almost become a trite saying now, that it's better to give than to receive, but that feeling of helping someone else in some - ANY - way, really is what it's all about. I've never been that comfortable asking for help, but then I think about the homeless problem and all the ways that they all NEED help, and I can suck it up myself to try to help them/us. Because as we all know in Venice, it really does affect us all.

90291: VENICE UNZIPPED has been shooting all over Venice the past month, which means we've used up most of our fundraising so far, and need more to continue telling our Venice stories by shooting more, editing, and marketing it to get it out there. And it's gonna be GOOD. I've laughed. I've cried. I've been outraged. I've been inspired. I've been encouraged. I've been moved ... and all of that is just from watching as we film. It's going to be something else once it's up  on the screen.  Everyone will be able to see and feel themselves and their communities worldwide, as this income inequality problem is everywhere - and doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.

Affordable housing and the homeless crisis are hot button issues these days in Venice, and there's a lot of complaining about it, without many solutions being offered up by the complainers. I wrote about the VNC meeting with the Rose project being discussed last week, taking no real side on it, because I'm not sure housing just a few families makes much of a dent in the problem, but I do know that something simply MUST be done.

One charming gentleman (I'm dripping in sarcasm here) called me a "Silicon Beach girl" on the Venice Community Facebook page for my efforts, which tells me that people often really have no idea what they're talking about, and should maybe just zip it until they do have some understanding on any given topic. I'm still fuming about that one a little bit, as I can't stand that lame (mainly real estate developer) term, and everyone who knows me knows it. But you still have to speak your truth to power, and do that the best that you can.

So, I'm here, asking if readers might like to contribute toward our making the film that I truly believe will share with the world what is happening with the art and artists of Venice ... and how we can make sure that this place remains something special.

You'll meet our artist families ... one homeless, one in transition, and one doing great, as well as hearing from members of our community that make the place still one of the most interesting and eclectic places on the globe (indeed, in walking around on the Boardwalk and Abbot Kinney you mainly hear foreign tongues, so everyone from everywhere seems to know and love our Venice). You'll be a fly on the wall at contentious Town Hall meetings, where you can really see where priorities tend to line up according to one's fiscal standing, rather then their humanity. You'll learn about Venice history, and how we got here. You'll see the absolute squalor that some of our community lives in, and also see the events that make the very same town radiate with joy and fun. You'll see it all, the awful AND the wonderful.

We need funds to continue telling these crucial stories. We need funds to live on also, as none of the principal members of the production team have taken any salary on this project this entire year, doing other odd freelance things to keep ourselves going the best we can while doing this absolute passion project. We all feel that income inequality is THE issue of our time, and we want to try to do something about it. Once people are talking about an issue, traction builds, and that tends to become action. That is our goal for this film.

If you are able, please go to our IDA (International Documentary Association) page and make an end of year tax deductible donation to this, we feel, very worthy cause. This is the story of this time and place in Venice, and ALL of the people who make up this last beach community of color, this place where art meets crime/eviction, and this place that lives in our hearts, now and always.

We can't wait for you to take part in, and to ultimately see our vision for 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED come to fruition with your help. Thank you for your consideration!


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Small Step Forward In The Venice Homeless Crisis

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Pretty much everyone is bustling about getting ready for the big meal with family and friends, celebrating our gratitude and abundance. Except some people have nothing at all, and you can see that on the streets of Venice every single day. Something must be done about the absolute crisis that homelessness is in this entire country ... this country that claims to be great, but looks the other way when it comes to poverty. There is no good excuse for the squalor that is everywhere that you look in a nation that has so very much.

The Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) meeting was held last night in the Westminster School auditorium, with the 720 Rose project up for a vote. The supporters of this affordable housing project from Venice Community Housing (VCH) were out in force, clad in black t-shirts and holding red roses to show their solidarity with this plan. As opposed to the completely disgusting mayhem that was last month's Town Hall meeting on the MTA homeless housing project, this one was very civilized and respectful - thank you all for that. There were 77 speaker cards turned in, and almost all of them that we heard were in support of this project, and almost all know that this Rose project for merely 35 homes is just a drop in the bucket, but that we MUST start somewhere. There was hardly anyone there that opposed the project, as I guess they just want to yell and make a scene when news cameras and the Mayor are there. Also, the ones who oppose homeless housing tend not to offer any solutions, they just complain, so it was a relief that they mostly sat this one out. Come with solutions or zip it. Seriously.

I kind of don't get why these projects for NEW buildings keep getting proposed for millions of dollars, when there are plenty of unused large buildings all over Los Angeles that could be repurposed for affordable and low or zero income housing (In fact, it was just approved that the massive County General Hospital in downtown L.A. will be repurposed into housing for the homeless, and that will help massively. That seems to be the main opposition, the spending of big money when housing can be done for so much less (though some VNC board members were all held up on parking spaces - and how many homeless people really need parking? - and height dimensions and stuff, when really, who cares? There are big ugly houses all over Venice that they approved - and those same board members seem to be very much in cahoots with money grab developers. It's gross.). As one speaker said, "Why do you care at all about parking spaces when people are sleeping on the street?" Exactly. C'mon. We need SOLUTIONS, not just complaints, though board member Jim Murez offered up the solution of the decommissioned USS Enterprise battleship to be stationed at the end of the pier for housing, and the flippancy of it was not well-received by the community in attendance. Because it's not at all a joking matter. People are DYING on the streets. On Thanksgiving.

Several speakers had great things to say, and several mentioned that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and why not try some humanity, for goodness sakes! Most were longtime Venice residents, again as opposed to the awful Town Hall that was mostly all NIMBYs behaving badly. Many mentioned that they want to "Keep Venice, Venice" - meaning welcoming, accepting, and diverse. An eclectic community worthy of its legend and history. My friend, Alice Stek, was there and I thought had the best and truest comment of the night when she said that those board members opposed to the project, "Your opposition is actually opposition to poor people in the community." Which is sad, because Venice has never been an enclave for the wealthy. When I first lived in Los Angeles, I lived in Beverly Hills. I couldn't wait to get out of there and live in Venice, where I hung out every weekend. All of my B.H. friends were opposed, saying it was sketchy and dangerous and a dump. Well, times change, but the people that made Venice great in the first place have not. They're here, they're proud, and they have hearts. At least most of them do.

At meeting's end, VNC Board President, Ira Koslow, said, "Well, that was surprisingly pleasant!", and he was right. People who support affordable and supportive housing are generally civil and polite and want what's best for everyone, and not just out for themselves and their property or resale values. The project passed with a 9-4-1 vote, with the expected people voting as expected. It's a tiny step toward solving this terrible crisis, but at least it's doing SOMETHING. I honestly am still not sure if it's a good or bad project in the long run, but time will tell. I mean, your friend CJ STILL needs affordable housing, so this hits close to home. I'm also working on our documentary 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED, and we shot our homeless family the last couple of weeks, and I know how hard life is for them (but it looks like they're getting housing - THANK YOU ST. JOSEPH'S CENTER!), so this whole issue might mean more to me than someone else, but it SHOULD mean something to us all. Because we're a COMMUNITY. Everything that happens here affects us all, and it really could be you someday. I hope it's not, but don't get too comfortable in this crazy world. I don't have all the answers, or any really, for this ENORMOUS issue, but I do know that SOMETHING must be done.

So, tomorrow we all take a break from that crazy world to gather and give thanks for all of the good stuff in our lives ... but that also means DOING good. Gratitude is the Glory.

Happy Thanksgiving, Venice! Thank you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

New Mural On Speedway Celebrates Muscle Beach

There's a big new mural on Speedway right behind Muscle Beach at Speedway, and it shows off some of the things that have historically made Venice a cool place to be. Skating. Surfing. Babes. Boards. Muscles. The good stuff.

Jonas Never has been making his mural mark around town for a while now, and this is another good one that gives passersby a true sense of place. A place that has its fair share of problems, but none of them outweigh the good vibes, and the general aura of letting the good times roll.

There is yet another VNC meeting tonight that will deal with affordable and homeless housing, both sorely needed in this place where Art has always met Crime (and now Eviction - thank you Attaway and Gallo for coining these phrases). I hope that if you're planning to attend (and you should if you care about the future of Venice), and if you do, and you're planning to speak, I hope you're coming with ideas for SOLUTIONS, and not just your complaints. Everyone knows people don't like needles and human waste and people sleeping on the sidewalks, and that you don't want your kids seeing these things on the way to the beach. We get it. But if you're new, and you're freaking out about that, well ... you probably shouldn't have moved your kids here. If you're old school and freaking out about these things, come with solutions, not just shouting over other people. People just embarrassed themselves (but were so self-involved that they probably didn't notice) at the last one, and I'm hoping for a much more civil evening tonight. A meeting where mature citizens who can agree that we all love Venice can come together as the intelligent and creative people that we are (or can be) for the greater good. Come on. Make us all proud. One Love. Thanks in advance.

On a cooler note, right after I saw this new mural this morning, I also saw dolphins! Another bit of glory we get to witness in this excellent (perhaps last) beach community of color and diversity and art. These are the moments you put in your back pocket to get you through things like tonight's meeting - and what makes it all worth it. V's up!

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Venice Weekend - From Surfside To Moby Dick!

Another excellent weekend in Venice was just lived, and it was well-needed after all the drama of the world and California last week. The weather was lovely, and I think people were just in the mood to cut loose a little bit. To that end, there was a bunch of house parties and fun like that, and then on Saturday night there was a little book release party for Jason Hill's new second edition of his collection of Venice Stories (and I'm in it!).

I don't believe I've ever seen Harry Perry play anywhere other than the Boardwalk, but there he was shredding it up at Surfside with his band, the Karma Kosmic Krusaders. They were louder and harder than most anything I've ever seen at Surfside, but it was legendary to see Perry play an actual set with a full band.

Friends and locals were all there celebrating life, basically, and it was almost like the last day of school when everyone signs your yearbook, as those featured in this Venice Stories booklet were going around having everyone sign their copy. It was cute, and a good way for everyone to come together.

I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked because all THREE of my brother Paul's bands (The Weight Of Everything/spaceblanket/Shotshell Press) were playing the same night in San Pedro (at Harold's Place, who really need a new person that doesn't double book bands like losers - but I digress). Sunday was a lot of recovery, but we were able to get it together in time to hear a little bit of Moby Dick being read in its annual beach reading at the Breakwater, put on by the wonderful Venice Oceanarium. It's one of my favorite annual events for good reason - literature being read aloud next to the sea where the story takes place. Wonderful, picturesque ... great. I think I missed the clam chowder this year, but the view and the story was more than enough.

Then just like that, it's a new week, a new hustle, and a new opportunity for more great things to happen. My beach walk this morning was rewarded by running into the bulldozers that are building the winter sand dunes as we speak, which means today is Opening Day of Sand Sledding Season! Yay.

As we now enter the hustle and bustle of the holidays with Thanksgiving kicking off this week, let's remember the little things that make life great. Walking along and looking out at the beautiful sea, I recalled a quote a mystical lady told me one day at the beach, that I think goes great with Thanksgiving especially, but every damn day too.

"Gratitude IS the Glory." Think about that. Like, if you're feeling grateful, that IS the recognition of things being good at that moment, and that you're tangibly aware of it. Thus, that feeling IS the glory that we're all going for.  Gratitude is the Glory. Get after it! Happy Thanksgiving Week, Friends!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Do Good To All!

Thank God it's Friday. For real. It's been a hard week in California, with people picking up the pieces from the wildfires, breathing bad air, and the general feeling of what's next that we'll have to deal with? Then we shot a wonderful, beautiful homeless family for our documentary 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED this week, and I found myself wondering how come there's an outpouring of help and support for the fire victims in the Malibu area (as there should be), but those same people coming out of the woodwork to help the (generally wealthy and insured) folks affected by the fire (when it's trendy) generally just walk on by the thousands of people living on the street with nothing every day. It bothers me. Especially when a call for help went out asking for "Only new, not used" items, like Malibu people could only accept new fashion brands for help, keep your used stuff. Like, really? There are people who would be THRILLED to have ANYTHING, but please, for Malibu, only give new, preferably name brands was the vibe (plus, what a waste in the already super-polluting fashion industry). I believe we are meant to help EVERYONE, with any and every thing we are able to, when and if we can. And we usually can.

DeShawn, Nikol, and their babies, Jade and Diamond live on the streets of Venice. They are college graduates. They are artists. And they are homeless, due to multiple circumstances. The couple met on the Boardwalk, and their devotion to each other, and their children, is tear-jerking, if you weren't already emotional from just the fact that they live in a tent with two daughters under two years old - which I was.

Even with all of their harsh realities, DeShawn and Nikol have the best attitudes and spirits of almost anyone I've ever met. Just wait until you watch our film and hear their beautiful philosophies on life,  and you won't be able to help feeling a little guilty about any little complaint you might have about your own, most likely comfortable, lives. It's truly awe-inspiring that they can move through this world with such grace and calm, when so many are so much less with so much more. I checked myself, as should we all, really.

When the family was tucking in for the night in a tent on the cold sidewalk by public storage, I was a mess inside. I was also freezing, and I wasn't about to sleep on concrete with two babies. Yet once again, DeShawn and Nikol were just practical and doting on their babies, making sure they were warm and cozy far more than themselves. They are not the typical homeless story these days. They are driven in their art, they aren't on drugs, and they are a seemingly far more happy family than many in Los Angeles who have everything they could ever need - and more. Money doesn't buy you happiness, but it does buy you a warm bed and a roof over your head, and that's the only thing this wonderful little family doesn't have. Yet. We're all working on it. (You can help too, by buying some art from them when you see them on the Boardwalk!)

There is so little affordable housing in Venice now (believe me, I know), and I fear that compassion, humanity, and empathy is getting just as scarce. Then, every once in a while, you hear of someone helping just out of the goodness of their heart, and you are encouraged to go on. To stay. To fight. To help.

After all of the beauty and emotion (and art!) of the week, we decided to pile on and experience some more, this time at the excellent Ai Wei Wei exhibit Life Cycle at the Marciano Art Foundation. I love Wei Wei, and his dedication to putting a spotlight on the human condition worldwide. This show (his first in Los Angeles!) is about refugees and freedom of speech, among other hefty topics, but most of all, it's beautiful and inspiring (and free!).

I love a good quote, and there are many surrounding this show, again full of beauty and inspiration, but also majorly thought-provoking.

I believe we can absolutely do good to all who come into our orbit, as even the smallest act of kindness can create change for the better in someone's life, and I'm sure going to try. I hope you will join me. As I often say, we're all in this together. Plus, it's almost Thanksgiving, so let's focus on being grateful - and helpful. Happy Weekend of doing good!

*Happy 168th Birthday to Abbot Kinney (and to dear Vavine, my Ai Wei Wei co-adventurer!)

Monday, November 12, 2018

California Fires - A Community In Action

The absolutely horrible wildfires in California over the weekend (and still not fully contained) were shocking. I've never seen actual flames from the beach here in Venice, but I did on Friday night. And it was scary. There wasn't even a chance to fully process the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks on Thursday, before that same community needed to be evacuated for the fires. Beautiful Malibu was going up in flames, and we could SEE it. It was a really heavy week.

There was a Movie Night at Muscle Beach on Friday night, also the first time that has happened, that I know of. They were screening the wonderful surf documentary, Hawai'ian: The Legend Of Eddie Aikau, and I never thought I'd be nearly out loud sobbing while sitting at Muscle Beach - but there I was. A good little group turned out to get their minds off of everythig, though we were all distracted by the encroaching flames on the horizon to the north. Every now and then, the streaming would falter and the movie would stall, so we'd go look at the flames until it came back on. (Thanks, Lance!)

We weren't looking at just the glow from the flames, but actual FIRE. When the movie was over, and the much needed drink at James Beach was gulped down, we went up to the rooftop across the street. The words being used were "Surreal". "Apocalyptic". "War zone". "Hell". And yes, "Climate Change". Danny Samakow and I were getting emotional about it, mainly because you felt so helpless to help. I don't think anyone slept well that night.

Saturday morning the whole town woke up to thick smoke and the smell of wood burning. You could look directly at the sun, as it was so obscured by smoke you could barely make out the orange ball of fire within it. Fires make for gorgeous sunsets, but this one was heavy with so much loss. Then the beautiful part of it all began to happen ... the Community jumped into action. All social media feeds were full of offers of places to stay (um, does that only count for fire victims?), places to donate necessities for the people who have lost everything, citizen firefighters fought alongside the official ones (and all of the inmates making like $2 a day to save others!), and the outpouring of help and love continues to this moment. The expected Santa Ana winds mercifully did not yet arrive, and that gives a fighting chance to putting this entirely out before they do show up. We hope.

People around the country (and world) have sent messages of love and thoughts and support, with even the Empire State Building turning blue and gold in a symbol of solidarity. That's one thing that has always been - and remains - great about this country. When something goes really bad, everyone bands together to help. That's when you realize that we really are all in it together. Climate change, especially, but all of it. Voting, shootings, failing infrastructure, natural disasters - it affects us all. Times like these really spotlight the Power of the People - because as we heard over the weekend, our leadership is both clueless and useless. So, thank you to everyone who shows up to help. The everyday heroes. It reminds me of the story Mr. Rogers would tell:

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Today I think we can all also find comfort by realizing that there are STILL so many helpers. Thank you. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Hills Are Alive ... With The Sound Of Wildfires

California is on fire. Again. It's pretty close to Venice this time, like you can see it in Malibu from the beach. It's super hot. The air is of poor quality. People have been evacuated ... my friend didn't even have time to grab her toothbrush. Shops are closed. Schools are closed. Animals are being evacuated from the L.A. Zoo in Griffith Park. And it's just another day in Southern California in 2018.

A friend of mine posted today that wildfires are terrorist acts. The devastating damage they do starts somewhere ... and it's usually because of an idiot who doesn't know better than to not smoke and toss out your butt. Or make any sparks anywhere when it's dry and windy and prime kindling for a massive fire. We should be better at avoiding wildfires by now.

This has already been an intense week, with the midterm elections (where basically no candidate but Bernie even discussed climate change and the results of it that we see and feel daily), yet another mass shooting (this one not far from the area being evacuated for the fires, as if they haven't suffered enough), and now all of this natural (but most likely man-made) disaster. THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY. Geez.

Get out there and enjoy the hell out of yourself, because we all deserve it. Be safe. Be smart. Be kind. Look out for each other. Love.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Venice Says Vote!

It's November 6th. Voting Day. The Midterm Elections. Time to stand up and use your right to vote, your voice, your citizenship, your HEAD - and GO VOTE! It's shocking to me how many people don't use this one weapon we have against tyranny and oppression and sit on their hands and whine later. I have no time for it. I was out walking around town this morning, and was encouraged to see so many people with "I Voted" stickers on, and reminders for everyone to go vote everywhere you looked.

I'm also nervous that when everyone DOES go vote, that it won't count. One friend in Venice told me that they had no BALLOTS (!?!??!?!?!?!) at his polling place, and there no volunteers to even do anything about it. Then I saw a video of a polling place in Georgia where a gigantic line was waiting to vote ... but they didn't have any power cords to plug in the machines!!! This, in the year 2018, with so much technology you can call people from a watch phone ... but they can't get it together to run power to a machine. Or even have the ballots to vote on. Shocking. Disturbing. Disappointing. Criminal, actually, when these fools have known it was going to be Voting Day today for a good year. Inexcusable. A sign in the Canals to go VOTE made me feel a little better - but not much.

We encourage everyone to vote, but we can't guarantee that they'll be able to once they get to their janky, out of date polls - or that if they do get to successfully vote, that they won't count. That they'll be mysteriously thrown out. That they'll be switched in the machine for someone you'd never vote for. Whatever shady shenanigans the powers that be try to pull. We were talking yesterday about being fed up with it all and leaving the country ... but to where? At least here we still have the guise of freedom, the will of the People, and the American spirit that we were founded on - whether or not we've ever truly lived up to it (Our experiment in Democracy can really only be counted since everyone has had the right to vote, so the whole real deal is only like maybe 50 years old), or whether or not we'll ever truly get there.

But we still have the right to vote. And the freedom of speech to rat on the villains that would try to take that right away. And that superpower - the Power of the People. Use it today, and every day. And one more time ... VOTE!

 Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" 

- The New Colossus

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Beautiful Night For A Benefit In Topanga - Starring Butch Walker And Friends

We eased into Daylight Savings Time in the gentlest, most lovely way possible, with an evening at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum for a benefit for pancreatic cancer put on by beloved troubadour, Butch Walker and his awesome friends. The TALPanga (The Autumn Leaves Project) concerts took place on both Saturday and Sunday evenings, to honor Walker's father, "Big Butch", who passed away from the awful disease, and also to raise funds to help those currently suffering from it.

Walker has a lot of cool friends, and they all joined together to bring these magical nights to life in a beautiful and memorable experience for all. The beach was socked in with fog, but by the time we drove the windy road up Topanga Canyon, the sun was out and dappling through the trees that surround the Theatricum, making for an even more gorgeous setting. Tacos Hell Yeah were there serving up delicious Mexican fare, and we enjoyed some of that, along with some cocktails for the cause. An event organizer announced that the first act, Jaime Wyatt, was about to begin, and we all took seats in the wonderful amphitheater to enjoy a night of first class entertainment.

After a few solo numbers, Wyatt was joined by Walker for a lively tune called "Ain't Enough Whiskey", which was then followed by "a song for our Dads", as they both lost theirs - and I bet they would have both loved "By Your Side" with its excellent harmonies, both vocally and on guitar. Wyatt wrapped up her set with a cover of my main man Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" ... and all seemed right in the world just then.

Walker addressed the crowd next, talking about the Autumn Leaves Project organization he founded after losing his Dad. "We raised so much fucking money last night! I had so much love in my heart I thought I was gonna explode!" His gratitude was genuine, and obvious ... and he was ready to get down all over again. As were we.

Grace Potter took the stage, explaining that she was a new mom "So everything is a rhyme". She opened with the Jackie DeShannon classic, "Put A Little Love In Your Heart", which is a perfectly timed request for these times, for sure. The crickets in the woods surrounding us provided great background vocals, making it all the more enchanting. I'd never seen Potter live before, and she is something else. Fantastic. She cracked that she had borrowed everything from Walker to perform - guitars, picks, "This outfit". Her husband brought her another guitar, and after she thanked him, she asked, "Where's the baby?" She seems like someone you'd want to hang with.

Potter has a new album coming out soon, and played a track from it next, a gorgeous one called "Release". The mic stands were all wrapped in twinkle lights as the stars twinkled above, and you could smell the chaparral in the air ... ahhh. The crowd joined the crickets in singing along for a cover of Neil Young's "Helpless", and then Potter played her beautiful song, "I Can't Look At The Stars" (they make me wonder where you are) for all the people we have lost. I believe those people are among the stars, and it made me want to look at them more. It was like living within a shared prayer at that moment, and one couldn't help but be moved. Grace Potter is a treasure.

A man who is currently suffering from pancreatic cancer spoke to how much The Autumn Leaves Project has helped him, and told how he has now lived well beyond the predictions of his doctors. His speech put a real face on this dreadful disease, and really connected us to why were were all there. He told Walker that he knew his father was looking down, "So proud of you", and they shared a meaningful hug that brought another lump to my throat. What a blessing to know that there are people who will help you get through these obstacles that life can throw at you ... and no one is alone.

After the previous night's event, there were no more things to auction off for the benefit - other than Walker's well-traveled jacket with its "Butch" patch. As the entire event was streaming live on Facebook, Walker looked into the camera and said, "I hope your name is Butch - or that you swing that way!" Not only is Walker multi-talented and extra versatile musically, he's also hilarious. Another one you just want to hang with. He launched right into his own solo acoustic set, kicking it off with "21+" to the delight of the place that was packed with Walker superfans - of which I am now one too.

The great "Chrissie Hynde" was next, followed by "some more sad bastard shit" that was "Wilder In The Heart" and "Don't Move" with its line about staring at the stars being super fitting. No one wanted to move - and didn't. Here someone yelled, "I love you, Butch!" to which he made everyone laugh by saying, "I like you a lot". Walker is one of the rare ones - a rock star that is actually a super nice and genuine person. There for his friends. Caring. Considerate. Funny. A truly good guy. My friend KC told me that when her dad was ill, Walker called her every day to check on her. Things like that. REAL goodness, not just for show.  Another true treasure of a human being.

A new one was up next, and painted a whole story with its poignant lyrics about a mean kid calling him names when he was young, ended up being saved by him. "I was born into what I became" is so true for so many ... and this one really spotlighted the deep lyrics and truths that Walker should be far better known for. I feel like Walker should be HUGE ... and he certainly is to his many fans singing along happily in their Butch Walker shirts. The next one was "Pretty Melody" (which it was) and maybe my favorite moment of the night. As Walker sang, the doors of the balcony of the wooden barn on the stage opened up, and Walker's band came out to sing harmonies from above. In a night of magical moments, this one was all the way up there. I loved it.

The band came down from above to join Walker on "Spark Lost" and "East Coast Girl" which I loved with its references to Venice and Abbot Kinney. "It's Gotta Get Easier" was yet another standout, with Walker singing in otherwise absolute silence, save for the crickets chirping along. By now my friend who had never seen or heard of Walker before was also a superfan. You really can't not be.

Walker moved to the piano for "Joan" and "Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought Of You" in a song that everyone can relate to. Its line, "You can't trust a man. It's a species that captures things just to let them go", resonated with me a lot. Walker is a wise cat. "Sorry for the bummer songs, Jakob Dylan is about to change that." With that, Walker was joined in a group bromance of a set from Dylan and the band that was nothing short of wonderful - especially in this setting. They opened it up with "Nothing But The Whole Wide World" which was my friend's favorite Jakob Dylan song - AND his first time seeing him live. Again, in THIS setting. Magic.

"6th Avenue Heartache" and "God Don't Make Lonely Girls" were both made greater by the fact that it was again two great friends supporting each others' causes (Walker played at Dylan's fundraiser for Crohn's and Colitis earlier this year). Walker had now gone electric, and backed Dylan up on a fiery awesome "One Headlight". They brought Potter and Wyatt back up to join them for a cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", but not before Dylan commented, "How fun and special is this night?!" just as I was thinking exactly that. Because it sure was. So much so that after that one, Walker said, "Don't ever let anyone tell you being in a band sucks, 'cause it's awesome!" Right on.

The rest of the show was Walker on his own with his band, playing the fan favorites. He invited them all down front, and they all happily squeezed in down there to sing and clap along for every tune. "Ludlow Expectations" was great, but that's just redundant, because his songs are truly all great. Like "Closest Thing To You I'm Going To Find", featuring a rare accordion/guitar off. Like "The Weight Of Her". Like the covers of "Teenage Wasteland (Baba O'Reilly)" and "Summer Of '69" that prompted one guy down front to shout, "I'm peaking!" Haaaa. At this point we pretty much all were, some more naturally than others, apparently.

The surprise of the night was that Walker was next joined by his old band, The Marvelous Three that disbanded in the early 90's. "Let's play a few for the ladies," said Walker by way of an intro for "Cigarette Lighter Love Song" that was a beautiful ballad dedicated to his mom and sisters, who were all present on this special night for their family. "Mrs. Jackson" and "Over Your Head" were obviously beloved by the fans, as they knew every clap and raising of the bird the song contained. Impressive - and touching. "I'm having a fucking ball!" yelled Walker, and that was clear - and infectious.

"Every Monday" and "Freak Of The Week" were the evening's closers, and there were so many happy faces singing along that you couldn't help smiling yourself. That it was all for a serious cause that helps so many people made it all the better. The ovation at the end of the show was deafening, and I think people left that enchanted forest feeling a little better about the world and these times. If people and events like this are still happening, it can't be all bad, right? Right. I'd go so far as to say it was life affirming. Good people doing good things is what will save this place - and each other.

Thank you to one and all involved ... and especially to Butch Walker, for being one of the GREAT ones, doing GREAT things. Thank you.

*All photos by Jeff Forney