I’m a traitor. To Santa Monica.
So many dedicated souls here go to all that trouble and expense to provide me with a free show in my own back yard, walking distance, and what do I do? I jump in my car and crawl in traffic toward downtown L.A. for a different free show.
Here I am campaigning for more music in our fair town, and I skip the opening performance of our most famous claim to musical fame, the Twilight Concert Series. After I criticized so roundly last year the last three summers of subpar, uninspiring or inappropriate bookings, this year, no complaints from me. Why? That good? That much improved?
Not exactly. Better than last year but still not up to the standards of most of the 26 summers preceding the new booking regime. But I’ve kind of given up. With the problems and controversy over snowballing crowds the last few years, culminating in 30,000 people coming to catch a glimpse (if they were lucky) of reggae legend Jimmy Cliff at last summer’s end, meetings were held and measures decided on to address the problems. They had to. But my take is that it won’t ever be the same, and ain’t that a shame.
No one’s fault. The legendary Santa Monica summer tradition of free Thursday night concerts on the pier by a genre mix of very talented acts, seemed to have suddenly grow’d like Topsy (inexplicably). Well, not entirely: attempts to skew many of the acts toward a younger demographic pushed the issues, in my opinion. But mostly, too many people started showing up, for whatever reasons, jamming both the pier area and the beach below. Our police and fire authorities worried about their ability to respond to emergencies in that sea of humanity.
After the huge turnout for Jimmy Cliff, the cry went up from some, “Well, then, you’ve got to book less popular acts!” Huh? I was pretty sure that had been going on for three years. And what a silly notion: let’s provide an inferior product, so fewer people will want to come. There’s a business model to latch onto.
But now we’re left with another of those wonderful gifts of living in Santa Monica that seems to be fading into history like bungalows on the beach. The shows will go on, I trust, and perhaps through circumstances I can’t foresee things will get better. So forgive me, dear Yuna, but I will turn my back on you tomorrow night and fight the traffic again to drive to MacArthur Park to see Loudon Wainwright III. You think I’m crazy? Loudon Wainwright up close and personal, crazy, outdoors, free? – if I’m breathing, I’m there.
Who inspired my trek last Thursday? The great Richard Thompson, who’s probably incapable of putting on a bad show. He won’t knock you out with hooks like the Stones or a voice like John Legend, but the Fairport Convention veteran can rock with the best of them, writes intelligent lyric stories and is considered by many to be among the very best guitar players on the planet.
Tomorrow night there are six major free outdoor shows to choose from; next Thursday, eight. Why always Thursday? Why? Why?!?
I hang around home so much a journey out into the real L.A. world always inspires contemplation, and I couldn’t help thinking about parks as I walked the two blocks across the width of MacArthur Park that night to get to the concert site. It’s in a pretty dense, urban part of town, close to downtown, hemmed in on three sides by freeways. Not exactly an ideal neighborhood for kids or families. But they were out in droves, all over the rolling green space, with pick-up soccer games, organized kids’ races, groups lingering at concrete picnic tables, and a lot of people just strolling, by the lake, in the light of the full moon. It was lots more crowded, on a Thursday night, than I would have guessed.
For most of us, MacArthur Park is a song about cakes and rain (they don’t mix well), or maybe a green dot on the map that we’ve never set foot in, but for these folks it seemed to be an important, invigorating yet calming part of their lives, the opportunity, in their own neighborhood, to be with friends and family and escape to a beautiful area of camaraderie and possibilities.
Great, and even good parks can do that. We are very densely packed in here in Santa Monica. About 80 percent of us live in apartments or condos. Few have yards. Some would say we’re pretty stressed. Even with the blessing of our beach, we need more parks, and we need politicians committed to creating them.
My other moment of pause that night was going up Alvarado, off Hoover. It’s a big deal in that part of town, a major thoroughfare, lined with businesses, many with signage in Spanish. Even less attractive, though, than Lincoln. How many of us here can point right to it on a map? Wilshire, Lincoln, Montana, Pico, San Vicente – those are our arteries, our lifestyle determinants. Los Angeles is a big place that we seem to pretend doesn’t exist, or matter much. Getting out there, especially on a balmy summer eve, puts living in L.A. (face it, we here do still live in L.A.) in perspective, and made me thankful for the part of L.A. I chose to live in within days after arriving here from New Mexico, 35 years ago.
Art therapist Marissa Rubin wrote a brilliant case for preserving the Muir Woods mural at Lincoln and Ocean Park, in a letter to the Daily Press Monday. I heartily suggest you look it up online, if you missed it. I hope you all will come to the screening of the documentary film “John Muir in the New World,” along with a pre-screening panel starting 6:30 p.m. on Monday, August 4 at Vidiots (302 Pico Blvd.) Free.
“Some characters in your life need to be moved to the balcony, not your first row.” – JD Taylor
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.