Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Green House Smoke Shop - Gone, But Never Forgotten

 I can't believe I have to write this, but the beloved Green House Smoke Shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California is gone. GONE. Yep. Another victim of gentrification, the long standing purveyor of all smoking needs and community catch ups has shut its doors, leaving a massive hole in the hearts of so many old school Venetians. The landlord decided to cash in on their building, gave them a 60 day notice, and Green House owners Bunny Lua and Sandor Caplan found themselves having to pack up everything in order to close up shop on what has been nearly their entire existence the past two decades. The Green House was one of the last cool Mom and Pop shops on the boulevard, and now it's pretty much down to Abbot's Pizza, The Brig, and Burro. It's so sad, it really does feel like yet another death in the Venice family. 

I've written about the Green House in the past, but I would never be prepared to write about it not being there.  I wrote about Bunny in the past for Women's Day in Venice, too, but when I talked to her about her shop closing, we were both real emotional about it - for good reason. The Green House was not just a store, but a hub of the community, where you might not need anything to smoke that day, but you would stop in anyway, to catch up with your friends and hear about what was the latest in the neighborhood. I have spent hours on the couch behind the counter talking with Bunny, and saw first hand just how much this place meant to so many. 

Having survived the worst part of the Covid pandemic (so far), even though they were considered "non-essential" (and many would argue with that distinction), it was an especially hard gut-punch to be told that they had to clear out 20 years of Smoke Shop history, all while having no idea of what they were to do next. The Green House is quintessentially Venice, so relocating is a challenge ... plus they need time to grieve what was a true and deep loss in this community. 

As they had to be out pretty quickly, the Green House closed up shop without much fanfare. Longtime customers had no idea - and might still not know - that their go-to on Abbot Kinney was now gone. Empty. The stories and memories of a crucial Venice generation are now just that. Memories. Great ones. 

Bunny, Sandor, and their son, Leaf, as well as their extended family members are so dear to me, I have always considered them my Venice Ohana. The first memory I have of Leaf is of him banging on a conga drum at out annual 4/20 Sponto Croquet Tournament when he was just a little toddler. I painted his face with little leaves, and adored him ever since. Leaf would have little sales of his toys (I still have a Smurf!) on the sidewalk in front of the shop, and then when he got bigger (a LOT bigger, he's way taller than me now), he would practice his basketball moves on a hoop Sandor installed in front. Everyone on the block knew and loved Leaf, and he truly grew up inside that little shop. 


Bunny's dad tended to a slew of plants and succulents in the yard of the shop, and that was one of the saddest things to me ... seeing them all cleared out and gone. So much vibrancy, so much life, so many good vibes ... all just gone. For what? Caplan told me so many locals had told him over the years that if it wasn't for the Green House, they would never go to the Abbot Kinney anymore. When you take all the character out of a place, what's the point of going there? Everywhere has mall shops. And we don't like malls. 

They chose Abbot Kinney for their shop because the rent was cheap (!), as the block was as ghost town in those days - I honestly can recall a tumbleweed blowing down the road! Abbot Kinney (Formerly West Washington!) ran through the heart of town, was a main street for locals, and far enough away from the Boardwalk that they catered more to people who lived here than to the tourist crowd. Oh, how things very quickly changed. Green House never advertised - they didn't have to. It was all friends and word of mouth customers who quickly became friends. "To many, the shop stood as the last beacon of the true Venice, the Venice they remembered and fell in love with when they first arrived, and the Shop was locked in that time. It was so familiar, it made you feel at home - always the same, but a little different - when you came back years later," explained Caplan in what I think is a perfect summation of why the Green House was so special to so many. It encapsulated a moment in time in Venice ... a time that I think most will agree was way better.

The main thing both Lua and Caplan wanted to express was their deep gratitude for all the wonderful years of business, and all their friendships that were made. In the shop's last days, those who knew they were closing came in to thank THEM - showing just how crucial they were to so many's Venice experience. Those customers taught them things, and vice-versa. They supported the Green House, and in turn, the Green House supported so many Venice entities, from the Abbot Kinney Festival to getting new trashcans put in on the boulevard, to sometimes just listening to a friend cry on their shoulders (me). It doesn't even seem real to me that the next time I stroll down Abbot Kinney, I won't be able to pop into the Green House to see my dear, dear friends. And that SUCKS.

We all know things change and blah blah, but this one is real tough to swallow. Things are still a bit up in the air as this is all pretty new, but Lua has a CBD business she's getting off the ground called Vertbiotic, which you can follow on Instagram until there is a proper launch. (You can also keep in touch with the Green House family on Instagram. If you have any smoke needs or just want to know what they're up to, or would like to offer them your own thanks, you can DM them at Greenhousesmokeshopvenice on IG, or at I know that Vertbiotic will be a great business endeavor for Bunny, but still ... it sure won't be the same as dropping in to the good old Green House to catch on up with the news of the day. Those days are now gone. 

I'd like to offer my own deep thanks and gratitude to Bunny, Sandor, and Leaf. For the visits, the support, the pipes, the news, the laughs, the copies of Vice I would pick up there, the hugs ... but most importantly, for the years of friendship and memories that will be guaranteed to bring a smile to my face for the rest of my life. THANK YOU, FRIENDS! And Cheers to you for creating something special that will live on in the hearts of all the Venice locals who loved you for so long. WE LOVED YOU, GREEN HOUSE SMOKE SHOP! ALWAYS. 


IG: GreenHouseSmokeShopVenice


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Unzipped: An Autopsy of American Inequality Has Its World Festival Premiere In Newport Beach - And Wins!

The journey to bring our feature documentary UNZIPPED: An Autopsy of American Inequality to the big screen kicked off on October 24th, 2021 at the Newport Beach Film Festival. This is just the beginning of our larger mission to catalyze debate, awareness, and action around the already massive - and growing - affordable housing (and humanity) crisis in the United States and around the globe with this film.

When we set out to make UNZIPPED in 2018, we could never have predicted how much the world would change with the Covid-19 pandemic as we were filming ... or how much worse the affordable housing crisis was going to get. We who have lived and loved in our beautiful home of Venice, California (an "INTENTIONAL Beach community of color" - Naomi Nightingale, as quoted in the film) have been watching the outrageous and growing income inequality and lack of affordable housing (THE issues of our time, along with the climate CRISIS - which are all related) push our friends and neighbors out of their homes for years, all while gentrification continues to demolish the very soul of our town in real time. This isn't new. 

UNZIPPED follows the artists and stakeholders of Venice as they struggle to remain both housed and committed to their art, and to their/our community. We interviewed those on all sides who have been impacted by lack of affordable housing, homelessness, and rapid gentrification in our neighborhood. The overwhelming realization upon finally watching the finished film all unfold on the screen is that no matter what, we are all connected. All of us. We are ALL affected by the heartbreaking situation of families living outside on the streets, of people being evicted from their homes, of people struggling to remain in their community - and we can all do far better. We are one human family, and though some in our family are sorely lacking in empathy, it doesn't change that absolute fact. 

A fantastic crowd from Venice made the trip down to Newport Beach to see all of our hard work manifest into something beautiful there in the darkened theater of the NBFF. It was a joy to see all of the familiar faces, as well as most of the cast and crew of our movie, led by writer/director, Colin K. Gray. If you have lived in Venice for any amount of time in recent years, you will recognize many people in it, as we filmed in and around Venice for the last three years (including over 55 shoot days, 80+ interviews, and hundreds of hours of footage). It is a very heated issue, and that comes across in the film. We tried to give voice to the different opinions on these staggeringly complex issues - in search of actual, positive solutions - so that maybe Venice, CA. 90291 can be more than just a cautionary tale of how NOT to let byzantine zoning laws, developers,  and divisive rhetoric run roughshod over a town, and possibly find a way to maintain the beauty of its character. There is still time. Time to remember - and honor - that Venice is the PEOPLE'S beach.


Venice is one of the most vibrant and exciting places in the world, with a rich history of pop culture forming within its boundaries. Art, music, surf, skating, style, writers, and eccentrics all combined to be the creative vortex we were all drawn to. I truly believe that will never fully change, but landlords and corporations and just plain greed are trying their very best to wring the cool out of it. Well, we're not having it. Hence, this film. Hence, all the organizations and good people rallying around it to make things a little more righteous ... a hopefully a little more just, equitable, and compassionate going forward. To that end, we filmmakers have teamed up with The Illumination Foundation, an O.C. based homeless advocacy organization, as well as the co-host of our NBFF premiere. We will also be rolling out a comprehensive social impact campaign along side the film release - #RaiseTheRoof - which will support other local and national affordable housing initiatives.  We will also be donating 10% of the film’s proceeds to leading organizations active in the affordable housing, anti-displacement and homelessness spaces

We're also excited to announce Cargo Film and Releasing will now be representing UNZIPPED: An Autopsy of American Inequality for both domestic and foreign sales, as we all know that this issue has reached global proportions. Lack of affordable housing is a truly global crisis with over 1.6 billion people living in sub-standard housing.  UNZIPPED is a deliberately local lens on this growing national and global issue and we’re excited for it now to be shared with a worldwide audience. We're also thrilled to announce that Lucy Liu recently came on board as one of our Executive Producers, and that the incredible rap duo Run The Jewels has graciously allowed us to use their music for our opening and closing tracks ("A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters" and "Sea Legs", respectively)! 

It was so wonderful and emotional to see it all come together in such a heartfelt and beautiful way at NBFF after the eye-opening journey of working on this film. I really hope everyone will embrace our film, and I also really think it can help. The key way to gain progress on any issue is opening up the discussion, and our film is both a provocative and intimate starting point. Once communicating openly, we as a nation can begin to both heal and advance our causes in a humanitarian way. And we MUST. 

After the applause died down, and the tears were wiped away, we all assembled at a restaurant nearby to celebrate and catch up, as many of us had not seen each other throughout the pandemic (it was the first indoor movie for many!). The overwhelming feeling was not one of despair, but of hope. Hope that there is still time for America to fulfill its true destiny, as a nation by and FOR the PEOPLE. A nation that cares about ALL of its citizens, including the marginalized, and not just the ones with money. UNZIPPED: An Autopsy of American Inequality holds a mirror up to our country's collective face - and right now, it's actually kind of ugly and in need of a total makeover. We have the means, we just need the will. Our planet and its People are dying in front of our eyes. It doesn't have to be this way. We can do better. We must do better. We WILL do better. 


JUST as I was about to send this in for global publication, we got the news that UNZIPPED won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Newport Beach Film Festival! That's the one that's voted on by the people in attendance, not the industry panel of judges, which is even cooler, because this is a film for the PEOPLE. YES. Onward. UPward. Until it's totally normal that everyone has the basic human right of housing. C'mon.

UNZIPPED will next be in competition at the American Black Film Festival November 3-28, 2021, showing virtually from Miami this year. You can register at for free to see the film, as well as a wide range of scripted features, documentaries, and short films. Following that, we anticipate a Venice premiere and national release in early 2022. Tremendous thanks to all involved who helped to make this important film possible. Please see it as soon as you can, and let us know what you think, follow our socials @UnzippedMovie, and get more festival screening, release, and social impact information at . Our hope is that it will touch your heart and move you to become involved in the growing movement to enshrine housing as a human right. Thank you!



Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Venice West - A New Venice Live Music Venue That Celebrates The Old Venice

Hi Venice! It's been a while! I'm still handling family affairs in Minneapolis, but when I heard there was a new cool live music venue opening this month in Venice, I had to get the scoop. The Venice West is set to open for business this October 8th with a live show featuring Matt Costa. Venice has needed more live music venues for ages, and The Venice West is bringing that to Lincoln Boulevard in the space that was previously The Witz End. 

My friend (and former fellow Venice Neptune Queen!), Kaycee Smith, is the Director of Marketing and Community Outreach for The Venice West, so you know there are going to be locals up in there, and you know there's going to be good music. In the first week open alone they've got the aforementioned Costa, then back to back shows with The Samples (10/9) and The Wailers (10/10)!  That's a pretty stacked opening week, Dude. The team behind The Venice West is pretty stacked as well. Co-owners Rob Lissner and Allen Sanford are also the team behind the Beach Life Festival in Redondo Beach that is one of the best festivals I've ever covered, right there in the sunshine on the sand next to the Pacific. Sanford also owns Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, where we've all seen many a great gig, so you know The Venice West is going to be a real good time. Looking ahead, I see The English Beat, The Untouchables/Brobots, Donovan Frankenreiter ... seriously, this is gonna be good, Venice. 
I spoke to Lissner and Smith about the venue, as, frankly, I really wanted to be sure that it wasn't going to be a situation where douchey gentrifiers think they can come in and claim Venice, and piggyback on to the coattails of the cool that was established here long before they came. Well, I can assure you that Lissner and Company are being extremely thoughtful and respectful about Venice and its history, and stressed to me repeatedly that they want this spot to be for the entire community, where all feel welcome ... and you might even learn something about Venice you didn't know about before. 

Lissner has been doing his Venice research in the four years since they bought the space, deep diving into the era that saw The Venice West Café (in the old Sponto Gallery space) thriving with all the Beat poets, artists, and musicians of the day in the scene that was Venice West. He really wanted to pay tribute to that history and all the supercoolness that came out of that key moment in Venice time, and as permits and neighborhood hearings, Coastal Commission appeals, and Covid and all that kept pushing the opening, he had the time to be very thorough in his research. He has been in talks with Venice historian, Gerry Fialka, to create an evening of Venice history. We talked about getting Beyond Baroque involved and hosting Poetry nights at The Venice West. They also very much want to get kids from Venice Arts, Venice High, School of Rock, the Boys and Girls Club, whoever might have a need, to use the space for performance or rehearsals during the daytime. He's over-paying on Ebay for old photos and posters to adorn the walls, and is particularly proud of an original Earl Newman he scored. As he should be. 

I was happy to hear that they are putting an emphasis on hiring locals, both as staff and entertainment. GM Carl Roberts ("Reverand Carl") has been on the scene for ages, and their talent booker, Adam Spriggs, has a solid history of getting the good national acts for his projects like the KAABOO Festival, as well as booking local favorites like Christopher Hawley and Tom Freund, who are already on The Venice West's calendar, with Freund bringing "Hold Strong Thursdays" to town - a throwback to the hallowed Stronghold days.

They're going for a supper club feel, with tables and dining from 5-8 pm, and then the tables will be moved aside for show time. Diego Balan is heading up the food program, and from what I'm hearing about the pre-opening tastings, the food at The Venice West is going to be bomb. Who doesn't love dinner and a show? Though Lissner and Sanford could have opened their venue anywhere, it was very important to Lissner that it be in Venice, where he has lived for the past two decades. Anyone who was present for The Stronghold scene knows how fun that was, and Lissner is going for some of those kind of vibes to return. And, after the last couple of years we've all been through ... the people are READY.

"To me, Venice has always been art, culture, and eccentricity based, and I've seen some of that fade in recent years. I really think music can help bring some of that back. I want people to know that Venice history, while being cool and respectful to it," explained Lissner, in a statement that I can fully endorse. The Venice West looks to be a place where the community can always find great music, good vibes, and tasty eats. Smith envisions it being the spot where you can say, "Hey, let's hit The Venice West - I don't know who's playing, but you know it's going to be good." A real Venice hang ... for REAL Venice. I can't wait. 

The Venice West

1717 Lincoln Boulevard (at Superba)

Venice, CA 90291


*Photos courtesy of Kaycee Smith and Paul Gronner.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Owamni - An Indigenous Restaurant In The Land Where The Waters Reflect The Clouds

I had been so excited about Owamni opening ever since I first heard about what would be the first restaurant of its kind in this country - serving indigenous food without using any "colonial" ingredients like beef, dairy, wheat, or cane sugar - conceived of by The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, and his partner, Dana Thompson (Founder of NATIFS - North American Traditional American Food Systems). I stalked their website for months, and have no idea how I missed the actual opening, but I did. By the time I realized they WERE open, reservations were backed up for weeks, and the only one I could get was for a month out, and for lunch. Still very excited. 

The day finally came and my gluten-free friend (Owamni is automatically gluten-free as they simply don't use wheat at all!) Tonja and I headed out for our lunch on one of the most gorgeous days outside that ever was. The restaurant's location is perfect, situated right on the Mississippi River near the Mill Ruins and Stone Arch Bridge, with a gorgeous view out every window. The Dakota and Anishinaabe people call this space "OwamniYomni" - the sacred site of peace and well-being - and you feel that vibe from the moment you walk up the rustic wood staircase to the light, airy space above. 

The patio was full so we sat inside, which didn't feel as Covid-sketchy as it was lunch time and we were pretty well spaced out from other diners. Native American music was playing softly over the sound system, lending a real sense of place, purpose, and again, excitement for what was to come. 

I had done my research on the menu (Sherman won the 2018 James Beard Award for Best Cookbook for his The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, and I knew we were in for something special and educational even). The friendly and informative server quickly let us know, however, that the menu is not the same at lunch, and every single thing I was going to order was not available at that time. BUMMER. Right then and there I made a dinner reservation, so see you in October, Fish entrée and corn bread! 

Owamni has a completely BIPOC wine and beer list, which gets the highest praise, and an alcohol-free cocktail list that was far more interesting to me. 

I ordered one that I could not pronounce - the Z one - and it was extra delicious. I would personally have definitely added vodka, but I'm pretty sure that was brought here by the colonizers, so not here. It came with a little tiny clothespin holding a sprig of pine tree on the rim of the glass, in a touch that was both charming and an olfactory bonus.  

I adjusted my brain and absorbed my slight disappointment that nothing I had wanted was on the lunch menu (Alert! No interesting desserts at lunch either!) to order up what was essentially Thanksgiving, Native American style. I went with the roasted sweet potato as an appetizer, and it was hands down the best one I've ever had. Instantly fine with the lunch menu, as I would not have ordered this with the other dinner stuff I was intending to order. Live and learn! 

Tonja had the lake trout salad, and it was a beautiful dish, scattered with edible flowers. It was like eating a sunny day at the lake. 

I had one of the corn sandwiches, and went with the turkey and cranberry one to keep my gratitude feelings going. It was so good, and the corn empanada type deals that stand in for bread were flecked with wild rice in each crispy, fluffy bite. I'm getting re-hungry thinking about it now. 

There was a feeling of excitement from everyone there, as I think the overall vibe - from the music to the art to the purpose - lets you know that this is truly someplace special and one of a kind. So far. I was going to be attending the Mendota Dakota Pow Wow the next day, so this meal was an excellent way to kick off a weekend of honoring the people that were here long before all of the rest of us. Native people have been treated so very poorly in this country, and it's the very least we can do to educate ourselves about them, and honor their great sacrifices and traditions. We would all be so much better off if we had always lived by (or up to!) their ways, both in out bodies and in our climate and nature. I almost can't believe that these people would even want to cook for and serve we descendants of those who stole their land, but their grace and dignity always seems to prevail. I remain humbled and grateful - always.

The beautiful day outside was beckoning, so as there was no dessert menu to ogle at lunch, we wrapped up our lovely experience at Owamni, with a vow to be back soon to join them for that dinner. And dessert. 

I'm thrilled that this wonderful place is right here in my hometown, and excited for everyone in the entire country to make their way here so that they too can take some time to appreciate all that came before we did. 

Pidamaye (thank you!) to all that made this come together for all of us to learn from and enjoy. 


420 1st Street South 

Minneapolis, MN 55401

*Make your reservations now! 





Thursday, September 9, 2021

Blogtown Is 12 Today!

Blogtown is twelve years old today, and I just wanted to acknowledge that. It has been a privilege and an honor to tell the stories of Venice, California - and in more recent days, Minneapolis, Minnesota - in an effort to shine a light on the cool people and places that are doing good things and making our world a little better. 

 I hope you will continue to read along as I keep spinning the yarns that matter to me. Thank you!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Shooter Jennings Live At The Fine Line!

I went to my first live indoor show since the Covid pandemic began last night, and it was only because it was to see my good friend, Shooter Jennings play - at The Fine Line in Minneapolis, which is a proof of vaccination venue, so I took the risk. And it was well worth it (so far!).

Shooter and I have been friends since the days of his first band, Stargunn - and what days those were! I've rooted for him ever since, and am so happy to see him enjoying so much success of late. Grammys for producing Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker's albums have made Jennings a hot commodity in the studio, and he's been so busy producing for others that he's not had as much time for his own music, so last night was even more special to get to hear him strut his own - and awesome - stuff. 

The night opened with a set from Lillie Mae, a talented singer/songwriter who came up as Jack White's fiddle player. I was in the dressing room catching up with Shooter for much of her set, but did get to see her perform the title track for her most recent album, Other Girls - and it made me want to hear and know more. Dave Cobb had his mitts on her album, so that's the Jennings connection for this show. Excellent.

The crowd was packed in, and though they were presumably vaccinated, they were definitely not masked. I chose to head up top to the side stage balcony to try to keep away from the aspiration of others - in both senses of the word. Shooter and his longtime band took to the stage to huge cheers from fans that had been pressed up against the stage waiting in anticipation. Clad in a Brandi Carlile shirt and Jordans, Jennings yelled, "How you doin', Minneapolis?" - and it sounded like they were doing very well. Jennings sat down at the keys, and the band kicked of the show with "Bound Ta Git Down" from his Shooter album. The honkeytonk autobiographical banger got things off to a great start, and had me reminiscing about "Moving to California where the sun shines all day long"! Sigh ...

"Denim & Diamonds" showed off the great lyrical storytelling talent that Jennings has in abundance, and it had the crowd banging their heads in time and in appreciation for the outlaw stylings that they also loved from his legendary dad, Waylon. I has asked Shooter pre-show if he was going to play any from his outstanding concept album, Black Ribbons - in particular my very favorite song of his, "All Of This Could Have Been Yours", and that's the one that he played next - and said, 'This is for Carol." That was so special, because I love it, but also because it felt so absolutely great to be listening to a song I adore played live right in front of me by a friend that I deeply revere. Thank you, Amigo! 

Switching to guitar for the rocker "Steady At The Wheel" from his awesomely titled album Put The O Back In Country, Jennings first introduced his great and super-tight band. John Sheffler on lead guitar. Ted Russell Kamp on bass. Jamie Douglass on drums. Aubrey Richmond on fiddle and background vocals. Each of them are so good individually, but together they are something else, as the showed on "The Outsider" that featured just enough twang to keep the o in the country sound. Jennings again thanked the crowd, and said that Minneapolis has been good to him since Day One, playing places like The Turf Club and The Cabooze (Thank you, Mpls!). 

"Rhinestone Eyes" was a beautiful ballad written for Jennings' wife, Misty, from the Shooter album. She wasn't there, but it was very sweet because you could feel the love he has for her, even when she's not around. I love that. "Living In A Minor Key" was intended for a George Jones tribute album that never happened, but Jennings had taken it very seriously and still wanted to record it. It also found a home on the Shooter album, and when he introduced it by saying, "Just imagine a way better singer singing it, and it's like a George Jones song." Well, HE sang it perfectly, and it WAS like a Shooter Jennings song - as I believe he belongs in that same pantheon. And deserves to be playing way bigger venues like Target Center up the street. My two cents.

Everyone loves the 4th of July and everyone loved Jennings song of the same name. He threw out a "Those good old boys in Minneapolis", always a crowd pleaser, but he didn't need to do anything more to please this crowd. They were true fans, wearing the t-shirts, and knowing the words to sing along with. That made me so happy for him, because he's had a long career, been through a lot, and it's a joy to see him getting the reverence he should. "Loving County" was a Charlie Robison cover that Jennings has been playing for years, "Since my first band, Stargunn - Carol knows about that, she was there." I do, and I was. Very happily. Sheffler ripped off a guitar solo on that one that might have left blisters on faces. Wow.

"Don't Feed The Animals" (also from Black Ribbons) was a heavy rocker that showed shades of the Shooter that almost replaced Axl Rose in Guns N' Roses - and produced Marilyn Manson's most recent album. The crowd was loving it, as I think his fans are finally ready to let Shooter be Shooter, and play whatever the hell kind of music he feels like playing. Like "I'm Left You're Right She's Gone" from his Giorgio Moroder tribute album, Countach (For Giorgio). A kid growing up in the 80's has a TON of musical influences, and Jennings is open to it all. There aren't many people that can talk music like Shooter Jennings. For real. 

"Shades and Hues" was Jennings' personal tribute to Hank Williams Jr. and it had Jennings back on the keys playing this song that sounds as timeless as all the best country ones do. Aubrey Richmond really shone on this one, harmonizing with Jennings and completely wailing on her fiddle. "Leave Those Memories Alone" was dedicated to his late, great friend, Colonel Jon Hensley, who he wrote it for and with. A bluesy number ... you could tangibly feel Jennings missing his friend. 

Another one that sounds like you've always known it as a real classic was "Fast Horses and Good Hideouts". Extra gorgeous, with really pretty fiddle playing, if they didn't have the room in the palm of their hands before - they did now. "White Trash" got Jennings back on guitar, and got the people dancing! Here came the "I love you, Shooters!" and "Shooter, You're the shit!s" - and they were right. 

"I wrote this one about Nashville a long time ago," said Jennings by way of introducing "Outlaw You" - a perfect kiss-off to the baseball hat wearing wannabe country douchebags littering Nashville these days. They lyrics tell the story about how Waylon came to Nashville as an outlaw, changed everything, and now the suits are trying to package that kind of Outlaw - which, of course, you can't. So they should OUTLAW YOU! Yeah. There was a blistering jam between Russell Kamp on bass and Richmond on fiddle that foreshadowed the all-out band jam that came next, "Gunslinger". Big, epic, passionate ... clearly establishing the entire band as "motherfucking Gunslingers!" SO good. 

"Silver Springs" was the gorgeous ballad that would have people slow dancing in a different setting. I love watching Jennings on the keys, because he just BEATS on them and makes the most beautiful music. I feel like I'm kind of gushing about it all, but it just felt SO good to be listening to really great music LIVE again, that I can't say enough good about it ... especially as it's a friend who I think is vastly underrated for his own music, and I want to help blow it up even bigger for him. Because he truly deserves it. So there. 

That loveliness was the last tune of the regular set, and the band left the stage to chants of "Shooter! Shooter!" They didn't make the people wait like some lame bands, and came right back out to play "The Door', a George Jones cover that most likely never rocked as hard as it did last night with this band. It was awesome, and it was very clear that the whole venue agreed with me. We might all have been just happy to see live music again, but I think it was more just that good. "Thank you, Minneapolis!"

The band was sweaty, tired, and happy afterwards, all the hallmarks of a job well done. Shooter is off to Iowa to play tonight, and then off to Seattle to finish the next Brandi Carlile album. Lives are busy and scattered and very uncertain these days, but I think the power of friendship and music just might be enough to carry us all a little bit easier through these crazy times. At least it gives me hope. 

Thank you for that, Shooter. YOU are a class act. 


Monday, June 28, 2021

The Venice Heritage Museum - Know Your History!

 It always kind of amazes me how very little people know about the history of Venice. People that have lived here quite a while that have never heard of the Neptune Parade! That don't know who Arthur L. Reese was, and what he did for Venice. Or Irving Tabor! That don't know how Abbot Kinney chose the land that became Venice of America. That don't know the Black History of the Oakwood neighborhood. Maybe if they did, there wouldn't be people like the Penskes trying to buy a historical church for their personal residence? Well, the Venice Heritage Museum is about to make sure that all Venetians know their history. 

The idea of a museum for Venice has been discussed for nearly the entire time our seaside community has existed, but now there is really something happening with it. Founded by Venice collectors such as Todd Von Hoffman and his band of merry pranksters. I met with VHM Board members Kristina Von Hoffman, Marilyn Ramirez, and Takara Adair at the proposed site of the new museum earlier this month when I was back in my beloved Venice checking up on it and getting a badly needed break from caregiving back in Minneapolis. We sat down in the grass there in Centennial Park, and I wondered if most current Venetians even know where that is? Well, it's the expanse between Venice Boulevard, in front of the Abbot Kinney Memorial branch of the Library - and that is where the Venice Heritage Museum is going to be located, in the perfect spot to welcome all to Venice. 

The proposal features a restored classic Red Line Trolley to house the actual museum, along with a copy of the original Tokio Station where you would (will) buy tickets and get information, as well as a stage to host musicians, talent shows, storytelling, and all that good stuff that brings people together. The inside will feature the collections, archives, photographs, virtual reality interaction, and many, many stories of Venice past as our town gears up to celebrate its 116th Anniversary on July 4th this year! That's a lot of history, and it simply must be preserved to show future generations just how this groovy enclave became all that it is, including Dogtown and the designation as the "Last Beach Community of Color" in Los Angeles. 

I remember when the gentrification was really gearing up after the turn of this century, and I started Blogtown in 2009 in order to capture some of the stories and characters of a Bohemian Surf community that I could already feel starting to disappear as the big money came in. Greedy landlords drove out so much of the artistic, creative, eccentric, hippie spirit of the place ... but not all of it. Venice has an indomitable spirit that refuses to be snuffed out, and I saw all of it still very much intact on my far too brief of a return trip back. It's there. It's vital. It must be celebrated. It must be kept intact, and handled in a way that knows how precious and rare it is. That is up to all of us who love Venice. 

No one moves to Venice to live in a regular, humdrum place. When you become a resident of this Community, you must recognize where you are moving into. You cannot expect it to change to your personal desires - you're new, and much came before you. YOU have to change to become Venice (or not, if you're already somewhat cool). You come into such a place with RESPECT - for what came before you, and for what it is now. 


The only way forward for a place such as Venice is by treating all with that respect, with listening, learning, empathy, and kindness. The way you learn is by knowing your history, which you will learn from your neighbors, of course, but soon there will be an actual place to bone up on your Venice knowledge with the Venice Heritage Museum. 

There have been several successful fundraising events to make this dream happen, from a launch at Beyond Baroque, a party at Hama Sushi, and a car wash at Great Western Hoagies to a wrap party for the Go Fund Me campaign that was held at the beach parking lot. With all of the negativity surrounding Venice in the past few years, residents have been eager to have something positive to focus on, which this project most certainly is. This museum is wanted, and there is a clear will to make it happen. The hope is to break ground on the campus before the end of this year, with an eye on opening in July of 2023 in time for Venice's birthday! 

There is still a great deal of work to be done, and will take the involvement of the entire Community as the VHM strives to be an inclusive space that shares the stories of all. This space will bring together residents and tourists alike for very Venice events, which is the whole point - to show that the culture and that SPIRIT of Venice is still very much alive and well. They need your memorabilia, your photos, your written stories, and yes, your dollars to make it happen. Please reach out to the Venice Heritage Museum team via their Website, and help bring yet another Venice dream come true. 


Thank you so much for caring about the history and preservation of our Venice. 

Donate to the Venice Heritage Museum HERE

*Photos courtesy Venice Heritage Museum.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Return To Venice! A Love Letter.

Four years ago today I was the Neptune Queen of Venice. It was the happiest, brightest, best day of Summer ever ... and a week later, everything unraveled. My landlord jacked up the rent so high it was not possible, and I began a year of house sitting and couch surfing while trying desperately to stay in Venice, my home of 25 years. I got supremely ghosted by someone I loved. Then my beloved Mom got a bone infection in her toe, and I flew home to help her through it, putting my stuff into storage at 4th and Rose - thinking I'd be back in a few weeks. Then Mom's leg had to be amputated. Then the home where she was to live had a staff member that broke Mom's shoulder, so I had to get her out of there, signing up to be her caregiver myself. Then the pandemic hit. Then my brother who lives with my Mom had three strokes. Then George Floyd was murdered by the police here in Minneapolis ... and then we all got vaccinated and it was finally time for my return to Venice. After all the stories I had heard over the past year, I was nervous as to what state I might find my cherished chosen home town to be in, and had to see for myself. 

What I found was that yes, there were a LOT of changes. Many of my favorite places (The French Market!) have closed, some not to return. There are a LOT more homeless, but honestly, that's everywhere, not just Venice. It might seem terrible at the beach, but take a drive through Hollywood. It's a living nightmare. Look at the freeway exit ramps in Minneapolis in the middle of winter. I don't blame people for getting to the beach if they're homeless - wouldn't you? We're all in this together - a very important reminder.

There was rumors and realities of terrible violence, but that's always been the case in Venice, but I didn't see or feel or hear of any during my two weeks back, thankfully. And in many ways, it felt like I never left - we all just picked up where we left off before the pandemic! But most importantly, the SPIRIT of Venice and its COMMUNITY, are still very much intact - if you know where to look for it. And I do.


I always start at the beach. I dove right into the frigid Pacific water, that I had missed so very much. My skin drying off from saltwater in the sunshine is possibly my favorite feeling in life, and I got a lot of it. It was fitting that I was met with a big heart of rose petals right in front of where I have always spent my time on the sand, what we call Playa de Los Amigos. Heaven. 

The next stop is always the Skatepark, because it's the centerpiece of the entire Boardwalk - and I love it. There is always good skating to watch, and almost always a friendly face from the neighborhood. 

When I first arrived, the entire area of the Boardwalk from the Skatepark all the way north was one big homeless encampment. By the time I left it was mostly cleaned up. I don't know what happened in between, and I hope there was compassion and empathy involved - because that is one big thing I saw lacking. There is a lot of fighting and complaining by some Venetians, but very few solutions being offered by those griping. 

The VNC Election was happening while I was there ... and that was kind of ugly too. I'm very disappointed that Jim Murez was elected President, as I have yet to hear empathy or compassion from him in all the years that I've known him. Let's all hope that this position will help him find that part of himself within, because otherwise I don't see much harmony on deck for Venice. Everyone needs to make sure it's not just about those with property value concerns over People. I was also very disappointed that Sergio Perez from Great Western Hoagies didn't get in, because you don't get much more local or more awesome than him. But good for Mike Bravo, Jim Robb, and Alley Bean! We need people that CARE in leadership, and not just about their property values, but the COMMUNITY - which includes EVERYONE. 

The beach is a good place to start not only for the water, but for the art and entertainment as well. There weren't as many street performers out down there, but murals everywhere, starting with the updated Starry Night by Rip Cronk. Beautiful! (Leave it alone, taggers!) ...

There were two by Jules Muck honoring luminaries from Venice's past, like Arthur L. Reese, the first Black resident of Venice, known as "The Wizard of Venice" for his inventions and decorations - like floats for Venice Mardi Gras! He sounded like a great time. 

Right next to that is another Muck piece, featuring early Venice residents, Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow, and Abbot Kinney himself. There is so much history in Venice, all of which will be celebrated in the new Venice Heritage Museum - coming soon! 


A short stroll down the Boardwalk and you'll see a tribute to Kobe and Gigi Bryant - a loss that is still hard to believe, especially because I wasn't in L.A. at the time when it happened. Simply tragic. 

Also tragic was the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I had heard about the solidarity marches and support in Venice, and it was great to see images of George Floyd all the way across the country in the town that I love. Thank you! (and his filthy murderer Chauvin was just convicted for 22.5 years! Change begins now.)

Shepard Fairey has a new one on Pacific letting you know that PATIENTS HAVE RIGHTS. I've been entangled in our broken healthcare system for going on two years now, and it is a serious battle every single day. It SUCKS, and needs to be moved to the top of America's problem list - with the CLIMATE (Remember that? It does). 

Hampton Drive had a fantastic new piece celebrating all things Venice, and I love everything about it. The color palette, the images, the spirit! 

From Venice's long history of resistance (never needed more than today!) to Muscle Beach and regular beach people, to tigers and lifeguard towers and ice cream - it's simply wonderful. 

There's a great new mural over at Hoagie's too, and the day I saw it was the day Hecho En Venice had a booth set up in front of it and Oscar was the perfect photo subject to capture it with! 

The parking lot that runs behind Abbot Kinney is full of murals always, and I really dug the new one of Stevie Nicks back there. 

The rainbow crosswalk isn't really a mural, but it is really Venice. 

You can see art just walking the regular streets of Venice, like this happy rainbow wall.  

My favorite part of walking or biking around Venice is always the people that make the place. One smile from Fred at the Gonzo Africa Rasta booth at the beach will make your whole day. 

I had so many happy reunions I don't know where to start, but one of the most important ones was with my great friend Beckett, who has a bunch of new teeth since I saw him last! We were stoked. 

On my third night back there was a music night at The Penmar, the new venue at the Penmar Golf Course. I got my pals Paul Chesne and Lacey Cowden to join Blue Eyed Son and The Coastal Folk for a night of live music FINALLY, and it was simply the best. I got to see SO many friends all at once - without masks - and it was a true highlight of my return. Thank you to everyone there! 

Hinano's was, of course, one of my first (and last!) stops, and it was so good to grab an exceptional burger, a frosty beer (they were out of Red Stripe though, what?!), and especially a hug from my pal, Melissa! 

It was a blast to be just walking along a street and run into someone I adored that didn't even know I was back. It happened a lot, and was a boost to the soul each time - like when I randomly ran into my old pal and Skateboard Hall of Famer Ray Flores! Awesome. 


The beach is sincerely holy to me - my Church, really - and I need as much time there as possible. It is truly healing for me, and I miss it deeply every day that I can't just walk to it. What a life giver! 

The beach and ocean are the focus of nature for me in Venice, but natural beauty is also everywhere. I was so happy that I didn't miss the jacarandas this year! I came from purple lilacs in Minnesota and was met by the purple rain of jacaranda blossoms in Venice. Thankful! 

The community garden at Beyond Baroque is thriving, and was a lovely spot to sit and take it all in for a moment. 

The Venice Canals are as gorgeous as ever (if a little low!). A walk through the canals is always beautiful, peaceful, and transformative ... as well as aspirational for me. It is my dream location to live one day, if not right on the beach.

I missed Venice sunsets so much. The free show every night was one of my favorite things to stop and appreciate and be grateful for. You come to realize that they're beautiful everywhere - just different. It's really more about the people that you spend them with ... and I try to view them with people I love whenever I look, so it's still been lovely. Just not Venice. 


The creative spirit is what initially drew me to Venice, and it remains everywhere. Not just in the arts, but in the hearts, minds, and souls of its people. When the pandemic hit, people were still able to gather, because Venice folks thought up The Music Box - an actual box that performers get in to play music out on the sand (where all could be safe and distanced and still enjoy each other and the entertainment). I got to go on my last night in town, and it was exactly what I needed to sustain me until I'm back full time. Sunset, music, ocean waves on background vocals, and most importantly, FRIENDS. I just loved loved loved it. (and it's TONIGHT if you're in Venice!)

Time with my friends that are my family was the very best part of this return trip that FLEW by waaaaaay too fast, People! Phone calls and Facetimes and Zooms and texts and snail mail and everything is great, but to hug someone and look into their eyes as they well up with happiness to be back in each others' arms was an absolute elixir for my soul, one that I have carried with me through all the craziness that ensued the moment I got back to Minneapolis. I love my friends! 

The Ladies! (Christina, Steph, Lacey, Mandy)


Jenny! (Thank you for letting me stay at your pad!)


Paddy and Lacey! 

Suzy Williams! 




James and Danny! (Thank you for the excellent farewell Drag Brunch!)

Rebekah! (Thank you for letting me stay in the Shack!)

And so many more that I saw and didn't get photos with ... and that I sadly didn't see because the time went too fast (or they just didn't try!) that I love but will have to see in the future. But ALL of Venice, please know this. I'll be back ... and YOU ARE LOVED.