What do you like best about living in Santa Monica?
No one thing jumps right to the fore for me. I love that it’s a very pretty and clean place for the most part, especially the beach areas, and after all these years here I’m uncovering more of that charm block by block as I continue my walks down every street in town. I don’t actually go in the ocean much, but I love having it there; vast, peaceful, constant, and the cool sea breezes it delivers. I love having all of L.A. available to me but getting to live at the very end of it, the beach end. AWOL (Always West Of Lincoln) is indeed a blessing.
But I’m through and through a music guy, and while we do have a handful of excellent venues here (McCabe’s, Harvelle’s consistently, a few others occasionally, and a few more just past the border), there are those who make their home in Hollywood just to be near so many live music opportunities. Hollywood is definitely not where my heart is.
Come summer, when music breaks out everywhere in L.A., usually outdoors and for free, this is the place to be. How nice to be walking distance to one of my favorite things in this vast megalopolis: the Twilight Concert Series.
It’s the 29th one this year, preceding me in Santa Monica by only a few months. I probably went to the very first one, too. I know I went to the second, third, fourth, because my wife Diane Michelle was singing for the ‘20s-style big band Rhythm Kings, and they led off the series the first few years. Back then the stage was toward the end of the Santa Monica Pier, facing the shore and with the sun setting behind. There was a little more elbow room then, easy to get a spot up close without getting there an hour early.
It was called the Twilight Dance Series for a couple of decades plus, a bit of nostalgia it outgrew, and only recently became the more accurate Twilight Concert Series. It was always fun, being out over the water around sunset and enjoying good music, but over the years the acts you could see there got better and better. That happened pretty quickly, actually, and soon people were coming from all over L.A. for the opportunity.
Now, sadly, the last few years, the lineups have taken a nosedive. I think I know why, and will spill the beans in a future column.
The lineup (http://tcs.dola.com/), most of it, was finally released this week, and I’m thrilled to see reggae legend Jimmy Cliff booked for the last show, Sept. 12. Not much else there thrills me. I am delighted, always, to have a chance to see an English Beat performance (Aug. 15), despite having seen them at least a dozen times. They always put on a great show, and most people are amazed how many Beat/General Public songs they remember and love. (When I say “they” I mean Dave Wakeling, Beat founder, the famous voice, still doing it because he really, really loves it. It’s almost a local gig for him, since he’s a longtime Pacific Palisades resident.)
I saw some reference earlier to Meshell Ndegeocello playing, July 18, and that would improve the picture, but she didn’t make it to the official website lineup, which as of Thursday listed only nine shows. What’s up?
The Aug. 29 show could be good because it’s billed as “A very special attraction from New Orleans. Artists to be announced shortly.” Good odds there, so many worthwhile artists from Nawlins. I’m already wondering mightily because I read most of the artist descriptions and I’m still reeling from the sugar rush. Who wrote those? Was “way, way, way over the top” the instruction? What were they on when they did? Where can I get some? (But I promise you I won’t write anything for publication when I do.) This is linked, I believe, to why the bookings have deteriorated.
The list of the big names who have played on the pier over the years is staggering. I don’t know where to begin. Wait, yes I do. I’ll just take off the T-shirt I’m wearing from the 14th one, in 1998, and read a few names off the back. Hold on.
OK, the opener was master trumpeter Maynard Ferguson; second show, founding father of rock and roll Bo Diddley. Next, country legend/Beatles’ favorite Buck Owens, then, hold on to your bling, Sugarhill Gang with Grandmaster Melle Mel, their first time back together in years. Fifth show, the great Chicago blues shouter Koko Taylor, then Senegalese master Baaba Maal. Then an off night (for that year) with the Young Dubliners (a very good band but local and we were spoiled with legends), then New Orleans royalty in Queen Ida. Another off week with Brazilian band Karnak, whom I either skipped or don’t remember, and finishing big with then still-emerging locals Ozomatli, a stellar, energetic show, and the most people I have ever seen packed onto the pier. The bookings for so many years tried hard to mix up the genres every show every year, accounting for the Dubliners and Karnak. 1998 was a very good year, but also typical.
So I’ll see you there, you lucky locals, starting July, 11. But not every week.
So long , so sorry
Norms is even better than I thought, which is a sad thing to realize on the eve of its demise here in Santa Monica (July 17). I received a captivating, articulate e-mail from an employee there telling me all kinds of stories about his fellow employees, longtime and from exotic places, some working for decades at Norms with other family members. And, of course, Ahnold. It’s exactly what I hoped I’d find if given the permission by corporate to interview them. Still waiting. If they stiff me, maybe I’ll just tell his stories. But I was delighted to have him report that customers were passing around the Daily Press with that column, and it was evoking even more stories from that loyal clientele.
Best bakery — oh yeah!
You’ve probably driven by it hundreds of times. I could barely find it on foot, with instructions from two people who had been there. They created my recent fantastically delicious birthday cake. I’m sorely tempted to keep the secret to myself — and maybe I will. You know, journalists don’t make much, so to give everyone the opportunity to support the Fourth Estate, I’ll give the scoop to anyone who sends a SASE (Google it, kids) with a nice likeness of A. Jackson enclosed. Or maybe I’ll interview them this Saturday and report next week. For free. God bless our free press.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org