Archive for the 'Music' Category

Sourdough Slim and Other Characters

Sweetie and I joined six other aging but still competent Upper Ojai friends for a much-anticipated Sourdough Slim appearance at the Ojai Valley Women’s Club Thursday evening.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Recognizing the danger that excess stomach acid can produce when one is running late for the theater, we chose to have an early senior-style dinner at Il Giardino’s, about half a block from the Women’s Club.  Not being a big fan of that particular eclectic restaurant, I had agreed to it while gritting my teeth and expecting the usual combination of poor food and questionable service, topped with a general feeling of grouchiness.

Eight of us were banished to the Devil’s Island corner  of the outdoor patio.  Being the last to pick a seat, I had the pleasure of facing the wall which depicts a painted saga that is desperately in need of renovation by one or more otherwise unemployed Italian artisans.

We also were treated to the added attraction of live music performed by two young men who were oblivious to the hearing afflictions foisted upon elders due to the advanced atomic decibel readings achieved by today’s amplification systems.

Actually, surprise, surprise, the food was tasty, the company stellar and the two young musical aficionados graciously offered to turn things down after several of our party collapsed on the floor pleading for respite.  A good start, I’d call it, and totally unexpected.

Finishing with a flourish and with fifteen minutes to spare, several of our party with space remaining  in their large intestines made a quick stop at Bliss, the local do-it-yourself frozen yogurt eatery, and heaped calorie laden yummies on their already distended stomachs.

Having been clever enough to buy advance tickets to Sourdough’s performance, we entered the Women’s Club ahead of those who were either still enroute or who had the misfortune of thinking that purchasing tickets at the door would give them something other than a seat requiring the Hubble Telescope for a decent view of Slim.

This was the third time we’d attended a Sourdough Slim concert.  A masterful combination of Howdy Doody and Slim Pickens, Sourdough regaled the crowd with cowboy songs, jokes that have stood the test of time, and amusing facial expressions, all topped by a ridiculous ten-gallon hat that is as important to his repertoire as his music.  Accompanied by the formerly famous Robert Armstrong on a variety of instruments including the yet to be universally embraced musical saw, the aging but still standing  Sourdough keeps you rooting for him to complete his performance without suffering a massive coronary.

We picked seats that were close to the stage yet far enough removed to avoid becoming an unwilling part of the evening’s festivities.  I sat on a folding chair that had just enough cushioning to be comfortable for a full twenty minutes before wreaking havoc on my under-stuffed  fanny.  Looking for a comfortable spot to rest on, other than bone, was to be a major part of the festivities.

Two fiftyish party goers arrived and sat in the row in front of us.  Wearing over-the-top cowboy hats large enough to block out the sun, they mercifully sat to our right, out of our visual spectrum but close enough for those with adequate peripheral vision to observe the couple’s own performance that was in competition with that of the Sourdough.

The woman wore a tight red dress, short enough to allow a proper airing of her private parts yet tight enough to allow the substantial hills and valleys of her aging body to attract prying eyes to the various displays of her abundant cellulite deposits.  The man, balding and handle-barred moustached, spent much of the evening prodding and caressing the lady’s abundant flesh.

The lady in red, attired in cowboy boots that could have easily stomped a whole herd of cows, began the festivities by banging her heels to the rhythm of Slim’s music…well almost.  She then progressed to raising both her arms to the heavens, waving them with abandon and providing further evidence of her deepening dementia.  When this failed to draw the attention of those in the far reaches of the theater, she orally fixated us with randomly delivered whooping and hollering clearly intended to alert all, including the paramedics, to her presence.  I began to feel sorry for the lady in red who assuredly had been ignored as a child and, other than for her groping escort, was suffering the same fate as an adult.

The seat in front of me was occupied by a tall man with short legs and a long Yao Ming torso.  His shock of white hair was directly in line with my view of Slim.  Fortunately, the Cardiff Giant look-alike parted his hair down the middle affording me a limited view of the very top of Slim’s ten gallon hat.  I accepted my fate as being payoff for my many sins, and for most of the rest of the evening focused on Mr. Armstrong’s musical saw.

At least no one had a coronary.

sourdough slim

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Happy Birthday, Steven

Jon and Linda invited us to their home to hear their friend, David Roth, play the guitar.

I have great admiration for people who open their homes to large numbers of people, risking red wine carpet stains, backed-up toilets and conflicting requests about the thermostatically controlled temperature. The purveyors of such hospitality are usually adventurous, gregarious and welcoming. The Lamberts fit the mold perfectly.

Sweetie and I arrived unfashionably early, said hello to those we knew and a few we didn’t. Most were in the vicinity of our age group but with a smattering of the very young who, as the evening progressed, may have thought longingly of their idle smart-phones.

A couch at the absolute rear of the bridge-chair festooned room beckoned to us and we plopped ourselves into its welcoming softness, fully expecting to have our vision blocked by anyone who might choose to occupy the two taller chairs in front of us. No one did.

David Roth, a personable man with a name that abbreviated our own, and who you would be pleased to have to dinner, introduced himself and made us laugh. A folk singer and composer of some renown, he seemed quite at home in the cozy surroundings. My first inkling of what was to be a memorable evening came when David told us about his Chicago roots. Hmmm. A fellow landsman, I thought. Not a bad start.

David’s mother sat, appropriately, in the front row. He took genuine pride in talking about her, including her accomplishments as a theatrical performer. I’m sure Mrs. Roth must have thought, more than once, what a good boy.

David’s father also figured prominently in the Chicago scene having toiled at the long defunct Chez Paree, a restaurant cum nightclub that featured the likes of Jack Teagarden, Morey Amsterdam, Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman, Frances Langford and a cast of now almost forgotten names. I spent Von Steuben High School prom night there in 1956 with Brenda Dobbs. Another connection.

My mind wandered a bit and, maybe as a result of the connections, I realized that tomorrow, June 12, was Steven’s birthday. Our son who left us much too early in life. He too, like David, was a singer, guitarist and composer. I tried to remember the words to some of Steven’s songs and failed miserably.

It seemed to get softly warmer in the room, more relaxed, more at home.

David reminisced about his bar mitzvah and the mischief he got into as a very young boy who reveled in running about the Chez Paree, no doubt pursued relentlessly by his father. Displaying a photo of Jimmy Durante, he pointed out his own angelic face alongside that of his sister, both sitting on Durante’s lap.

He shared that time when, not so long ago, he was confronted with thyroid cancer and saw his singing career flash before his eyes. Another connection.

Sloan Wainwright spelled David and shared her own brand of music. And the loss of her husband to leukemia four years ago. Her house that he had built for her and that now provided only warm memories. Another connection.

I began to wonder if this evening had been carefully choreographed to remind us of Steven’s birthday. Whether some wizard had conjured up David Roth and instilled memories in him that were just close enough to raise our own. You’ve been there, I’m sure you have.

David finished and a few people wandered to the front of the room, telling him how much they enjoyed his concert. I shared my Steven story with him. At first he seemed just polite, nodding and listening to me. And then his eyes told me that it meant something more to him.

Happy birthday, Steven. Wish you were here.

DuranteDavid

Dolly Is Alive and Well

About ten years ago Sweetie and I journeyed to New York and spent a few days walking, eating and generally marvelling at the vibrancy of that great city.  One of the highlights included a trip to a theater whose name escapes me to see Carol Channing in Hello Dolly.  In one of those roles right up there with Marlon’s Stanley Kowalski, Carol entertained us with her vibrancy and wit…even though her frailty required the assistance of several cast members as she wheeled about the stage.

When we see a play at the Ojai Art Center or Ventura’s Rubicon, I am tempted to compare the lead actor with the one who made the role famous.  The poor shlep who was condemned to play Kowlaski for three hours at the Rubicon a few years ago comes to mind.  It was a painful evening for him and for us.

So, with some trepidation, Sweetie, Bert, Yoram and I bought our tickets and plunked ourselves about six rows from the Art Center stage waiting for Hello Dolly to make an entrance.  I’ve often found that some plays and movies are best anticipated with the worst in mind.  Whatever you get that’s worth savoring is all the more appreciated.

As it turned out, my trepidation and bah-humbug expectations were totally without merit.  I found myself smiling and tapping my toes during the entire performance.  I abandoned my usual habit of counting the number of songs left until I could mercifully depart the premises.  I was sorry when it ended.  I wanted more.

Our local physician, Jim Halverson as Cornelius, had a steep hill to climb.  Following in the footsteps of Michael Crawford who played the role in the movie…and then famously as the Phantom of the Opera…was no simple task.  Bravo Jim.  The versatile and always welcome Buddy Wilds, as Horace Vandergelder, was the right blend of curmudgeon and loveable dodo.  And the rest of cast seemed well-suited to their roles as they happily sang and danced their way through the evening with nary a sign of fatigue.

And then there was Dolly.  Oh god, I thought, please don’t let me think about Carol Channing.  Don’t make this painful.  And she didn’t.  From the moment Jaye Hersh walked down the aisle, looking at each of us like she knew us intimately, I knew we were in for a treat.  She was, this evening, Dolly.  She looked like Dolly should look.  She sounded like Dolly should sound.  She made us smile, feel warm and want to sing with her.  When she wasn’t on the stage, we missed her.

As with most community theaters, I find it best to award degree-of-difficulty points to the performances.  After all, these folks are volunteers, the staging normally falls well short of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the music is no Philharmonic and the, well, you know.  No special handicap points were required this evening.  We were at the Dorothy Chandler.  And we loved every minute of it.

Libbey Bowl Has Seats

Over 900 seats have been installed at the Bowl and the lawn seating area is ready for prime time.  If you would like a 360 degree ride around the site, click on the photo.  When you arrive at the Photosynth site, click on the plus sign to enlarge the image before scrolling around.

Libbey Bowl—November 11 Construction Photos

The bowl is on schedule and on budget.  And no one seems to be angry.  Refreshing, isn’t it?

Here are the latest photos taken on November 11.  Click on the photos to enlarge them.

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Head on…wall on stage right is at its maximum, stage left has 4 feet to go…

 

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Looking west through stage left.  Stage right is in the distance…

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Stage right…

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Stage left…

Save Libbey Bowl…why?

The first year that Sweetie and I moved to Ojai we attended the Music Festival.  We had no idea what to expect, including the Libbey Bowl wooden benches imported from Spain after Torquemada had finished with them.

We sat close to the front, not wanting to miss a dulcet tone, a memorable phrase, a catchy tune.  Warmly placed between what turned out to be veteran Festival goers, we patiently waited for the program to begin.  A middle-aged man emerged to polite applause, plunked himself before the impressive Steinway and began to play.  It’s been years since we experienced his performance and perhaps my memory is a bit clouded, but I swear he was playing with his elbows.

Sweetie and I looked at each other, screwed up our faces and wondered if this was a joke.  When the artist concluded his performance, those around us rose as one and amid thunderous calls of bravo, bravo proceeded to acknowledge what, in their opinion, had been an extraordinary performance.  We agreed, but not in the same sense they did.

Since that time we have attended other Music Festivals.  Being quick learners, we have moved to the lawn.  A place where you can snooze and, if necessary, make a relatively secret exit.  Try as I can, I find it nearly impossible to appreciate the avant-garde music that is the staple of the Festival.  Sure, there are moments when I’m able to minimize my search for good-looking women, ignore the high-backed chairs that screen my view of the distant performance, and enjoy the clandestine imbibing of the fruit of the vine.  At those infrequent times, the music can almost be, well, OK.

So why do we park three blocks away, shlep heavy lawn chairs, and race for a decent piece of grass year after year?  I have yet to figure it out.  The closest I can get is that it’s an Ojai thing.

Last year we heard that the old bowl was falling apart and that a mere $3,000,000 was needed to save it.  My first reaction was akin to let ’em eat cake.  Here we were mired in the midst of an awful recession, folks were losing their jobs and contributions to feed the hungry had fallen to bargain basement levels.  Why in the world would anyone think that saving the old bowl merited a prime position among other deserving community activities?  I argued with Don about the merits of the venture.  I vowed to keep my checkbook in my pocket.  I felt mildly self-righteous.

 And then a funny thing happened.  I looked around and saw signs.  Not just one sign in the Ojai Ice Cream store window surrounded by a gaggle of other signs.  No, everywhere I looked I saw Save the Bowl signs, plaques, and banners.  The only thing missing was sky writing.  Bottles and cans appeared at the check-out counters of the local merchants…with dollars and dimes floating in them.  Wherever I went, the talk was about the bowl.  The Ojai social calendar was filled with events that could save the old lady from destruction.  Events that could raise thousands or, bless them, events that could, on a good day, raise maybe a hundred.

People were engaged.  They were on a quest.  Smiles appeared where only glum faces had once been.  Sweetie and I made an obligatory appearance at a neighborhood meeting to discuss the bowl, its importance and the need for bucks.  Guests included folks from all economic levels.  Esther Wachtell made a compelling argument.  Jeff Haydon was at his usual likeable, knowledgeable, down-to-earth best.  Esther laid out the numbers.  The annual revenue generated for the local economy, especially from those who come from far away.  The other events that once used the bowl.  Events that have gone away but could be lured back.

I was converted from a nay-sayer to a yay-sayer.  Sure, the economy is on life support.  Unemployment is tenacious.  Lots of worthy causes compete for our dollars.  At the same time, there are some special  things that bring us together as a community.  That lift our spirits.  That make us smile.  That make us say it’s an Ojai thing.

Young at heart…

“Want to go to Theater 150 to hear the old folks sing?”  Bert, in her usual efficient way had spotted the publicity, ably developed by our neighbor Shed Behar.  “We better hurry because it will probably sell out.”  I mumbled something only heard by my inner self.

Our neighbor, Joan Rush, four other women and two men…all grandparents…were exposing themselves to the community in a way that most of us only dream of.  Get up in front of friends and relatives.  Stare into bright lights.  Hope that you don’t forget the words, miss a high note or have a heart attack.  Risk some polite applause. Go home to a stiff drink.  Then do it three more times.

We drove to the Makows, exited the car and as they appeared in the doorway I said “Quick, we don’t want to miss a minute of this.”  As usual, I mentally slapped myself for the sarcasm and promised to be a good boy for the rest of the evening.

We made all the lights coming into town, turned right on Montgomery, left on Matilija and grumbled when all the parking spots immediately in front of the former funeral parlor, now Theater 150, were full.  I drove a hundred feet down the street, parked and mentally calculated how long it would take to get to the car once the performance ended.  The four of us began the two minute trek to the theater entrance.  We were not alone.

The billboard in front of the theater proudly announced This weekend’s performances are sold out—Sorry.  A fourth performance had been added to accommodate the demand.  I wondered “how many friends and relatives can these seven people possibly have?”  Aryna, an ever present and supportive figure at our local events had similar thoughts when she asked me “Who is it that brings you here this evening?”

The lobby, more of a wide aisle than a lobby, was filled with people who looked like they were still celebrating New Year’s Eve.  Probably because two glasses of free wine were included in the ticket price.  I wondered if they would be refreshing drinks during the performance.  Maybe delivered through the same kind of device that Jack Nicholson conjured up for that poor, bedridden guy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

There are no bad seats at Theater 150.  Unless you count the half dozen or so straight backed, hard wood Torquemada seats along the east wall that, after thirty minutes, bring new meaning to the word posture.  Like most other community theaters, you are close enough to count the pores in the performer’s face.  So close that you cannot risk being discovered in sleep mode.

We settled into our seats, the lights dimmed and The Nanas and The Papas appeared.  As usual I had counted the number of songs listed in the playbill’s first act, fully intending to begin a countdown as a way of making the time pass.  I only managed to get to number one.

They were a delight.  Sharing funny and poignant experiences as grandmas and grandpas, they mesmerized the crowd.  It didn’t matter whether they squeaked during songs and creaked a bit as they moved about.  It was all part of an endearing performance.  I was reminded of the time Sweetie and I saw Carol Channing in her eighties in Hello Dolly.  Needing help across the stage, she managed to captivate us.

Okay, so I’m an old guy with memories.  And these songs were all about memories, youth and time.  I Remember It Well, When I’m 64, Children Will Listen and Young at Heart made me smile and remember what it was like and what is yet to be.  Even though my only French expression, omelette du fromage, was learned from a Steve Martin comedy album, I was seduced by Carol Kornhaber’s rendition of La Vie En Rose.  The finale, Forever Young, stayed with us all the way up the Dennison Grade.

Surprises help make life worthwhile.


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