This week I attended a couple of free events that are open to the public courtesy of KCRW-FM, the renowned public radio station licensed to Santa Monica College where I was fortunate enough to work, first as a volunteer, then on staff, from 1983 through 2011.
On Saturday night I attended the free concert series Sound in Focus that the station curates in collaboration with the Annenberg Center for Photography in Century City. On the bill were legendary LA punk rock band X, and country star Dwight Yoakam.
And on Monday night, I went to a free Partner Screening previewing a sweet new film that I highly recommend, called “Mistress America,” directed by Noah Baumbach and starring the quirky Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”).
How did I find out? Well, as a KCRW member at a certain level, I am entitled to sign up for “First Take,” Matt Holzman’s curated almost-monthly screening series. If you were a member you could have seen “The End of the Tour” and “The Best of Enemies,” in the past few months, for free.
But there’s another free screening series, the Partner Screenings, and while you don’t need to be a member, you do need to sign up for the KCRW “Five Things” newsletter or “like” the KCRW Facebook page to be alerted. That’s also where you’ll hear about other KCRW events, such as Sound in Focus.
Anyone can attend with an RSVP but it’s first-come first-served, so sign up and get there early. In recent months the Partner Screening series has shown “Amy” at the Grammy Museum (it filled up almost instantly), and some of last year’s hottest movies including “Birdman” and “Gone Girl.” So get thee to a computer and click on www.KCRW.com, then scroll to the bottom of the home page where you can link to the newsletter sign-ups.
Sound in Focus, produced by the amazing Liz Macdonald, puts together pairs of musical artists for free concerts during the summer, and invites attendees to visit the Annenberg Center for Photography which stays open late on these nights. Bring a blanket, a picnic, there’s a wine and beer garden where you can purchase beverages in the dramatic plaza space below the twin Century City towers. It’s a gorgeous way to spend a summer evening-along with a few thousand other music fans, as it flows into the night.
The pairing last Saturday night sounds a little confounding: X and Dwight Yoakam, but there really IS a connective thread and it runs through Bakersfield.
X, consisting of Exene Cervenka (who lived in Santa Monica in 1976) and John Doe, was the crucial LA punk bank in the 1980s. Dwight Yoakam, who’d foresworn the slick sound of Nashville, left his native Kentucky, came west and found himself inspired by the likes of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, grand- daddies of the Bakersfield country sound that later inspired rockabilly. Yoakam brought those influences with him as he began playing in the honky-tonk music clubs across Los Angeles. His big hit, “Guitars, Cadillacs” topped the Billboard charts and it wowed the crowd on Saturday night.
By the 1980s he was playing in legendary punk clubs like Al’s Bar downtown and Club Lingerie. Between the country musicians and the punk rockers, friendships and a new genre, cowpunk were born.
X created a side group, The Knitters, which played the cowpunk sound, and they often shared billing with Yoakam. So the Sound in Focus concert on Saturday was really more of a reunion than a juxtaposition.
The other attractive feature of Sound in Focus is free entry to the Annenberg Center, a contemporary showcase for well-curated photography exhibitions. The concert was my excuse to visit this space for the first time since it opened.
The current show, “Emerging” was organized in partnership with Photo District News (PDN), the award-winning publication for professional photographers, featuring more than 90 emerging photographers from around the world who bring fresh perspectives and creative techniques to professional photography. Whether shot on film or digitally, done on social media or in documentary, fashion or commercial style, the imagery will knock you out.
The images that stood out for me were by Charlie Engman, who has cleverly constructed a photo merging two people, one facing front, the other in profile, both wearing pastel colored plaids, standing against a plaid background, with the faces and textiles bleeding into one another. It’s an outstanding image in a show of outstanding images.
I was also struck by a really stark fashion image by Juco Photo (aka Julia Galdo and Cody Cloud), featuring a solid, bright and bold color palette that grabs the eye. A blond model in heels walks up a short flight of steps, that’s all; but there’s a world to be imagined within that photo.
Beautifully composed by Wayne Lawrence is the image called “Kye, Kaiya and Kamren, 2009,” of a handsome black man holding two beautiful black children, standing in water, from his book, “Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera.” It’s so warm and loving, you’ll want to stand before it for a long time and soak up the vibe.
There is also a documentary film featuring profiles of the photographers that is gripping and gorgeous, offering insight into their modus operandi and their technique.
Coming up next on Aug. 15 are the bands Cold War Kids and Other Lives. So avail yourself of free summer entertainment. Visit the KCRW.com events page to RSVP (required) and get in line early. Be sure to sign up for those newsletters so you’ll be the first to know about future events.
Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various publications.
Photo credit: COPYRIGHT JUCO