SOME DAYS IT ALL JUST WORKS OUT. Sunday was a gorgeous day for a drive up the coast to the Memorial Day weekend party my friend Mary always throws at her magical home in Ojai, nestled into 800 acres of rolling hills, much of it blanketed with avocado trees.
I reluctantly ran off from excellent food and people a bit early to try to make it to Barnum Hall for at least the Mahler part of the Santa Monica Symphony performance that evening, finishing at home with the joy of watching the amazing Steph Curry handing big baby Dwight Howard a 35-point thrashing in the NBA playoffs.
What a great day. Traffic cooperated, and I even got to hear the final notes of the opening Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21. Mahler’s my man, and I haven’t heard his First Symphony live for quite a while. It’s not often done because it’s quite a production, requiring some 90 musicians. The SMS pulled it off most admirably, enabling me to marvel anew at the intellect and heart, vision and youthful skill behind the composition.
Comic relief was provided when music director/conductor Guido Lamell acknowledged our mayor was somewhere in the audience, and Kevin McKeown boomed out from a corner of the balcony, “Sounds great from up here!”
It was the last concert of the Symphony’s 70th (yes, 70th) season, but you have one more chance left to participate, this Sunday at 5:30 p.m. They are putting on a benefit concert in a local home, a chamber music quartet of LA Philharmonic pros, hors d’oeuvres and dinner included. Sounds pretty cool to me.
KEVIN COSTNER & MODERN WEST
The previous Sunday I was drawn to the last day of the First Annual Malibu Guitar Festival, and I’m betting the performers list will increase in stature and numbers by next year. I was close to the stage, with a perch overlooking the verdant Malibu Creek, with a cool ocean breeze on a sunny day, and non-stop excellent music.
Rather than make this a concert review, I’ll cut straight to it, to the musician everyone wanted to know about, and who clearly drew the most fans: Kevin Costner.
Let’s be honest. He’s no Willie on guitar, vocals or songwriting. But then who is, besides the old weedy warbler/writer himself? Costner’s band is excellent and can rock out, his voice lacks some range but is expressive and a great fit for the material, and he writes meaningful lyrics. Most of the songs he performed, while veering towards some similarity, individually kept my attention. It was a pleasure, not a celebrity indulgence, to listen to his entire set (although 90 minutes was a bit long).
I had been promised a short interview with Costner at 3, and got it at 7:30. Wasn’t his fault; he was surrounded backstage by family, friends and neighbors, in addition to the usual hangers-on.
Was this your first show in Malibu? I asked him. “I’ve not even played in L.A.,” he responded.
I then dragged him into a golf cart parked in the backstage area, to give us a modicum of privacy and distance from the noisy throng, and he immediately leaned forward, looked around and joked, “I was just looking for my balls.” It was, folks, a golf joke (“Tin Cup”). Like, any time I’m in a golf cart I’m ready to play.
Costner is well aware that he draws interest for his acting fame, from people who have no idea what his music is like. During his set, that was peppered with terrific stage patter, he introduced one number as, “This is a new song … of course, they’re all new songs to most of you” (despite four albums and a new one coming).
He told me he grew up surrounded with music. Born in Lynwood, “I came up in the church, in Compton,” he said. “My grandmother played the piano, my mom and her sister were in the choir at church, and I wound up playing classical piano. I was in some traveling choirs and did some musicals. I had so much music in my life, but left it behind when I started acting a lot.”
I told him I knew that he was hanging out with a group of young writers and musicians back in the pre-big fame days that included the band X, and he said, “Yeah, and a guy named John Coinman, and John and I put together an album, called ‘The Simple Truth.'”
It was an important event in his career, because it drove him straight out of the music world.
“I got a really terrible notice from a critic,” he recalled. “He kind of lacerated me, was really, really cruel. It hurt. I’ve rarely backed down from anything in my life, but I turned away from music at that point. The acting was going pretty well and I thought, why do I need that grief?”
So it stayed on the shelf for decades, until his wife Christine came across the album, listened and liked it, and urged him to start playing again.
“I resisted, like a willful child,” Costner confessed, “but she kept gently prodding me, for two years, then finally one day asked me, ‘Are you happy when you’re doing this?’ and I said yeah, and she asked, ‘Do you think the people in front of you (audience) are happy?’ and I said … yeah, and she asked, ‘What could be wrong with that, Kevin?’
“So I called Coinman and he drove out from Tucson right away. We made a record, but I never had a grand plan, there’s no machine behind us. If someone wants us to play, and they’ll pay us, we do it. We’ve wound up playing all over the world, tied to my film shooting schedule, sold out in Rome and Istanbul, we’ve been on the Grand Old Opry three times, we did a concept album about the making of ‘The Hatfields and the McCoys'” – a 2012 History Channel mini-series that earned Costner a Golden Globe, garnered 12 Emmys and set cable TV records.
“My daughter Lily wrote a song on that, and sang it,” he said proudly. He added that it was a delight for him to sing with her on stage that day. It was a pretty good Sunday for Kevin Costner, too.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The political machine triumphs because it is a united minority acting against a divided majority.” —Will Durant
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.