Category Archives: Music

Sunday Night, Fun Day Done Right Day.

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Good Evening:

Sunday night in downtown San Francisco could not have gone much better for culture vultures. The Playwrights Center of San Francisco sponsored a fund raiser in which 8 groups of playwrights, directors and actors wrote, directed and acted in 8 short plays. I happened to play a role in this project: aside from providing breakfast for everyone on Sunday morning, I contributed 2 of the 3 required elements for each play.

The required theme for each play was “Surprisingly Unexpected.” Didn’t come up with that one (my offering: “This Is the End of the World As We Know It”), but I did contribute the required noun and the required line of dialogue. The noun: “Escape Vehicle.” The line of dialogue: “But what about the strawberries?” Thought the poor playwrights would suffer. Thought very wrong. The show was great.

Think for a moment of what kind of play you might write with the theme “Surprisingly Unexpected,” the noun “Escape Vehicle,” and the dialogue, “But what about the strawberries?” Offhand, I can recall these:

  • An extraterrestrial crash-lands her UFO in a male Earthling’s strawberry patch.
  • Two zombie cheerleaders try to cash a check.
  • A mother accidentally reveals that she has lied to her daughter for 21 years–she does know her father’s name.
  • An Elizabethan woman asks William Shakespeare to pretend that he wrote her plays.
  • A nice elderly Jewish couple, both wizards, discover that their new human customer used to be their pet hamster. Not a misprint.

Surprisingly unexpected, aren’t they? And yes, they all included escape vehicles and strawberries.

San Francisco playwrights have excellent imaginations.

After an excellent show, maybe the best 24-hour playfest the PCSF has done, I wandered down to the cable car turnaround on Powell Street, where a gentleman with what appeared to be a 4.5 inch reflector telescope hosted a “Saturn Party,” wherein he offered free viewings of the planet. A little different, even by San Francisco standards.

Just around the corner, in front of the Gap store, stood Clare Means. Who? Clare is a tall woman with Pre-Raphaelite hair, an acoustic guitar, and quite a gift for songwriting in the genre some might call Americana. She currently has a curious sort of nationwide tour in progress: she travels from city to city, busking on the streets with her guitar and portable amp, performing songs from her two current CD collections, collecting dollars to pay for gas and food–basically trying to make a name for herself without a record deal and with an advertising budget of zero. Dropped a dollar in her guitar case and listened to “Look Who’s Lucky Now,” a great intro to her music, which you can find on iTunes. Have heard a lot of musicians and bands that deserved only the greatest success never came anywhere close. Clare Means is just the latest of the bunch, but it would feel pretty darn good some day to see her name on a Top 20. I mean, come on, Pre-Rephaelite hair. Dang.

I even found two dimes on the sidewalk.

Sunday night was that kind of night.

Vonn Scott Bair

World Music and the World of Music in San Francisco: YOUR New Puzzle of the Week!

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Good Evening:

One of these days, maybe just maybe your correspondent will finally break down and subscribe to Songlines Magazine, a very fine periodical devoted to the world of music, the world in music, and world music in particular. Each issue includes one or two sampler CDs (remember those?) containing sample songs featuring that issue’s featured artists–and one of these days I will learn how to write coherent English sentences.

Ukulele Player Busking Before the Last SF Giants Game of the Season.

Ukulele Player Busking Before the Last SF Giants Game of the Season.

The current issue (#111) puts Seckou Keita on the cover–and if you are also a hard-core lover of kora music you will immediately start looking for this issue. The issue includes two CDs. The first is the usual Songlines sampler.

The second–well, that is your official Puzzle of the Week!

Schooled in Massachusetts, Performed in Austin TX, Loves Dogs.

Schooled in Massachusetts, Performed in Austin TX, Loves Dogs.

The second CD includes the following: a song by a band called Jaffa Road (Jaffa is a place in Israel); another song by a band called Delhi 2 Dublin (referencing India and Ireland); and a song by Ayrad entitled “Moroccan Gospel.”

And here is YOUR Puzzle of the Week! What is the title of the CD?

Musician Performing East Asian Music in Front of a Starbucks Ad, Powell Street Station, San Francisco, CA, 7 October 2015, 9:10 p.m.

Musician Performing East Asian Music on a Japanese Koto  in Front of a Starbucks Ad, Powell Street Station, San Francisco, CA, 7 October 2015, 9:10 p.m. Note how the ad complements the dress and vice versa.

You probably did not guess correctly. Not unless you own the issue.

The title of this CD is–believe it or not–Canada Now (Canada Maintenant).

It consists entirely of Canadian music. Or at the very least, music by Canadian musicians.

No one can deny that almost all recent developments in the music industry have caused a lot of pain for the artists, as fewer and fewer superstars grab more and more of the attention and money, except that they suffer as much from illegal downloading as anyone else (in terms of actual dollars lost, perhaps more, but I don’t have the numbers). Musicians share the very reasonable hope that they can support themselves with work they love, but their fans have developed the expectation that music should be free, possibly as an offshoot of the original idea that information wants to be free (sometimes attributed to Stewart Brand, late 1960s).

The one positive development? Music itself.

How on earth does a balding, late middle aged, pot-bellied, government bureaucrat white boy like yours truly even know that the kora exists?! Have you seen one of those things?! The kora is The Elephant Man of the guitar family, the horribly misshapen, deformed and monstrous mutant offspring of the unholy dalliance between an oud and a diddley-bow that the family keeps locked up in the basement out of shame–and yet the kora produces gloriously ethereal and beautiful music equal to anything else in the world.

How did I first hear of this West African instrument?!

The truth is that I don’t remember. Somewhere in the past decade, I blundered into In The Heart of The Moon, a collaboration between the late Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate and became madly enraptured with the performance of Toumani on one of his own koras–but even that doesn’t count as my first encounter with that strange-looking instrument. Nonetheless, we all know where I first encountered the kora. On the Internet.

We have entered an extraordinary era, one in which it has become more difficult than ever for musicians to make a living, and yet more easy than ever to discover each other, learn from each other, and experiment with each other, drawing inspiration from music and musical instruments that we might never have encountered even a decade ago.

Making Napster, the iPod, YouTube et alia very bad news for the musician–and very good news for the musician’s music.

I feel so glad I don’t work in music. Feels much better that I just enjoy the sound.

Especially since I never steal music.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Incongruities & Little Pleasures of Market Street.

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Good Evening:

1. Sometimes, even something so commonplace as a butterfly can look different.

Such as the one fluttering about Market & 8th Streets after my Sunday trip to the Civic Center farmers market. I don’t think this was a lone Monarch butterfly that had gone waaaaay off-course on its northern migration; I suspect this was a butterfly that looks like Monarchs because supposedly the Monarch tastes too unappetizing to certain predators.

But for whatever reason, this particular butterfly chose to orbit my head like a drunken moon for a few seconds, then fluttered off to the strangest and possibly deadliest location for such a critter. The yellow dividing stripes in the middle of Market Street, where it could have gotten killed by a passing automobile even without getting struck. Fortunately, thanks to the arrangement of red lights on Market, the block was empty of cars. I walked into the middle of the street and chased the butterfly from its resting place. It orbited my head like a drunken moon for a few more seconds, then fluttered up into the sky toward the nearest tree.

The other San Franciscans looked at me as if I was nuts and I didn’t care.

2. The aria near noon.

I frequently walk to the City’s Department of Human Resources on business, which takes me along the block of Market Street between 10th and 11th streets. Last week, during one such trip near lunchtime, as I turned onto Market, I spotted a group of four people–all strangers to each other, each stood apart from the rest–with their jaws hanging down as they craned their neck to look upwards at a four story building that houses among other things a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residential hotel.

I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, so I also looked up.

At which point, the singing began again. Opera. We could not see the woman, but anyone within a hundred yards could her practicing an aria, singing for maybe 15-20 seconds, pausing, singing the same passage again, then singing that passage and continuing with the rest of her song. My guess: a guest artist in town to perform with the SF Opera, but not a big star, so the Opera put her in a nearby residential hotel.

But she was really really good. I just have a feeling that for her next visit they will place her in more luxurious quarters. Which will be too bad for the strangers gathered on the sidewalk that morning to hear something as incongruous as beautiful singing on one of Market Street’s dingier blocks.

Vonn Scott Bair

Ozomatli @ The Fillmore, 20 December 2014 & The Aristeia of Caipo.

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Good Evening:

I know what you’re thinking–what the heck is a Caipo?

I have written once before on the subject of the aresteia: that brief passage of time during which an individual suddenly, astonishingly, not only performs at a level far above his/her previous best, but actually becomes the best ever. Ozomatli came to the Fillmore Auditorium for their annual Christmas shows this weekend, and as usual they blew the roof off the building, More on that later; the time has come to praise Caipo.

Bang Data: Deuce Eclipse on Vocals, Caipo on Percussion

Bang Data: Deuce Eclipse on Vocals, Caipo on Percussion

Ozo loves to showcase opening acts so good they might make you forget that Ozo even exists: Cumbia Tokeson in 2011, Los Rakas in 2012, and for 2014 they brought in Bang Data, most famous for the inclusion of their song “Bang Data” in a classic scene from Breaking Bad (the one where Gus poisons the entire Mexican cartel–yeah, that classic scene).

Anyway, most everyone I asked didn’t know the name of the opening act: one of the Fillmore employees said “Ben Data,” while another audience member thought it was Deuce Eclipse, actually the name of the vocalist.

But when Caipo hit his bass drum, he got everyone’s attention. Tokeson brought the dance, Los Rakas brought the energy, but Bang Data brought pure power, and that power came from the drummer. Of all the solo drummers I have ever seen perform live (as opposed to teams of percussionists such as Ozo’s), this was the absolutely best performance I have ever heard. Seriously, better than Charlie Watts, Jack DeJohnette or Bill Bruford. Even a song like “Calavera Life,” their best song of the night and normally a swinging dance tune, sounded like the offspring of a happy marriage between rap and heavy metal thanks to Caipo’s thunder. I have no idea if Saturday night was a fluke performance, but Bang Data will perform at The Addition on 1/22/15, so perhaps I’ll visit then.

However, someone else performed at the Fillmore on Saturday night–I have not forgotten about Ozomatli. Unlike the 2012 show, which featured among other things two Wushu masters demonstrating their rope dart techniques and a dancing banana (not a misprint), the men from LA also chose to play a simple, no-frills, pure power sort of show, playing their hits with a quicker tempo and more of a rocking sound than normal–even their famous closing number featured a Chuck Berry riff, something I’ve never heard them do before.

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All these pictures came from my iPhone 4, which theoretically cannot take still photography in darkened concert venues. I prefer to convert the weakness into a strength; please think of these pictures as Instant Expressionism.

Ozomatli chose to acknowledge the holiday by bringing a bare Christmas tree onstage and then inviting a pair of volunteers from the audience to decorate it. They did a good job. Ozo also produced their latest invention–official, genuine Ozomatli Christmas sweaters (not a misprint). I am not making this up, and admit it; until you read “Ozomatli Christmas sweaters,” you never realized that you never realized that you ever realized that you never thought you would ever read the phrase “Ozomatli Christmas sweaters.” Or something like that. In 2012, I stood so close to the stage that the band literally sweated on me, so this time I stood further back. Big mistake; the sweaters they threw into the audience came nowhere near me.

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The band concluded with their famous drumming circle in the middle of the audience; never gotten this close before. They then led the audience in one giant conga line to the bar–very considerate of Ozo, insofar as the fans needed refreshment after all three hours of dancing, and the bar hadn’t sold much beer because of all that dancing (and it was close to the merchandise table). Just another incredible Ozo @ the Fillmore show, and I’d like to thank the band for having the guts to bring in opening acts good enough to challenge them. Especially when that opening act has a drummer giving us the performance of a lifetime.

Vonn Scott Bair

Families (Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue)

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Good Evening:

Dialogue.

To a playwright, dialogues do not confine themselves to two characters; my personal record for a stage play consists of 13 distinct characters nattering away (in screenplays, eight). So I did not confine myself to just two pictures for this, my final post inspired by this week’s Challenge.

Besides, families come in all sizes and types. We have the traditional family…

Family at Duboce Dog Park, San Francisco, California, 30 August 2014

Traditional Family at Duboce Dog Park, San Francisco, California, 30 August 2014

…and the new traditional family.

New Traditional Family at Old Navy, San Francisco, 30 August 2014

New Traditional Family at Old Navy, San Francisco, 30 August 2014

But family doesn’t have to be just about families. After all, you can make your own.

These folks are part of a musical family that have hung out in Golden Gate Park for more than 40 years.

Drumming Circle @ Golden Gate Park, 31 August 2014

Drumming Circle @ Golden Gate Park, 31 August 2014

These gentlemen have their family, clan, tribe, or what have you. Their home? Wherever they can thrash.

Skateboarders Headed for the Park, 31 August 2014

Skateboarders Headed for the Park, 31 August 2014

 

Finally, this family, mentioned in a previous post.

Homeless "Family," Hayes Street Behind Civic Center

Homeless “Family,” Hayes Street Behind Civic Center

They are all they have, so even if only for a few hours, or perhaps a few days, or years, they make their family, although in this case, “mutual protection society” might seem apropos. But at least one can make one’s own family, whether for traditional reasons, shared passions, or mutual need.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Drumming Circle of Golden Gate Park (Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic)

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Good Evening:

Some of these guys have spent four decades of Sunday afternoons at this location.

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If you ask, no one quite knows when the drumming circle began, who began it, or who is the oldest remaining veteran of the old days, but even on World Cup Sunday, they come here and pound the percussion. This group was one of the tiniest I’ve seen; presumably, the others were still celebrating/despairing over the Germany-Argentina game. But only horrible weather will prevent the Sunday gathering of this living relic of San Francisco’s brief glory days as the center of the music universe. People have despaired of San Francisco’s musical decline for decades, more intensely than ever in recent years as our soaring rents keep driving out people.

And yet, the San Francisco music scene persists.

Somehow.

In the theater community (well, San Francisco’s theater community), we have one of the strangest compliments you might ever hear: we praise others and happily describe ourselves as “cockroaches.” Not a misprint. Cockroaches. It refers to the ability of some artists and theater companies to keep afloat, keep acting, keep creating theater no matter how bad the arts environment can get. Somehow or another, we sneak around and create art in the dark, as it were. The term might also have an application for San Francisco’s musicians. On the same Sunday I photographed the drumming circle, I wandered down Upper Haight and wandered past two soloists and a band, all performing on a single block. That guitar in the first picture was homemade from a wooden box and parts scrounged around the house, plus a leftover piece of a broken acoustic guitar.

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Haight Street hasn’t looked this um, uh, well–hasn’t looked this Haight Street in years.

Surely they know. Surely they know that the music scene in San Francisco hasn’t been this weak since before the Gold Rush. And yet the city’s musicians keep playing anyway, even if it means creating their own guitars in order to do so.

Vonn Scott Bair

Singing in the Office, 16 June 2014

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Good Evening:

At 8:40 a.m. today, several co-workers including your fearless correspondent, for perfectly sane, rational, logical, work-related reasons, began singing the refrain of “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” as the perfectly sane, rational, logical, work-related result of a perfectly sane, rational, logical, work-related discussion. Which baffled the heck out of all of us. Not the discussion (logical) or the song (awesome!), but the group.

No one could remember who first made “Thin Line Between Love and Hate.” My hypothesis: a one-hit wonder circa 1970 whose name began with “The” and ended in “-ells.” Actually, not that bad a guess–they had two other Top Ten hits on the R&B charts, but nothing as memorable as this masterpiece.

Now it’s your turn. In 1971, “Thin Line” peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100, but spent two weeks at #1 on the R&B charts. Without peeking at the Internet, can you tell me the name of the group?

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Do I have terrific co-workers or what?

PPS–UPDATE! The correct answer is The Persuaders, who had five Billboard R&B Top-25 hits from 1971-73 and then vanished.

Anouar Brahem @ 3:00 p.m. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Room)

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Good Evening:

I cannot recall how I blundered into the music of the extraordinary Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem; probably just another example of how serendipity is a life skill that can be mastered. He takes his time creating music; he recorded his most “recent” work, The Astounding Eyes of Rita, in 2008. The combination of oud, bass clarinet, bass and percussion produces music at once soothing and intriguing, quiet and mysterious.

In other words, a great addition to my collection of music for 3:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.

The HR department at the SFPUC also has a great room for enjoying songs like the title track, “Stopover at Djibouti,” and “Dances with Waves.” The Sunol Conference Room has comfortable chairs, a few small tables, an adequate view of the Civic Center, and a soft quiet light suitable for winding down after a busy week and contemplating the upcoming weekend. Someone has taken to leaving old issues of Time magazine in the room. Another co-worker brought plums from his tree to share with the rest of the gang on Friday. Incredibly sweet and flavorful, best I’ve ever had.

So I put the music, magazines, room, plums and the Civic Center together, and got this.

Still Life with Plums and Magazines, 6 June 2014

Still Life with Plums and Magazines, 6 June 2014

The different qualities of light (interior vs. exterior) posed a challenge for my point-and-shoot. Will need some advanced work to make the table whiter.

I hope you have a great weekend. Mine could prove a big one; the world premiere of my short play “The Duck” takes place tonight and the Friday preview looked terrific.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Did you notice that not all of the flags fly in the same direction?

Haighting the Thursday, 15 May 2014

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Good Evening:

Had to run a few errands after work this afternoon, and when I run errands, my camera(s) run with me. My aim with The 30 Shot technique has sloooooowly improved ever since I started to experiment with taking candid street photography with my point-and-shoot, and I didn’t even crop some of these shots, let alone edit them (although I do feel the temptation to experiment in black-and-white or with filters).

It’s blurry and a little hard to tell from this angle, but the young lady with the cat’s ears and green ponytail also has a brown tail hanging down from her derriere.

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Good day for dog pictures.

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This guy, noting the color of my shirt, shouted at me, “Hey, Purple! Come dance with me! Hey, Purple! Come on, Purple!”

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In San Francisco, books without booze is like Barnum without Bailey.

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Hanging out in front of the local gourmet market.

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Tourists taking pictures of each other in front of The Red Victorian.

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And of course, the Upper Haight wouldn’t be the Upper Haight without buskers.

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Just another spring afternoon in the Haight to the people that live there.

But I can understand why people come from all over the world to have a look around

Vonn Scott Bair

On Top @ The Bottom: The San Francisco Music Scene, 2014. (Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top)

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Good Evening:

In the 1990s, San Francisco became home to a variety of underground clubs that took over vacant buildings in industrial areas such as SOMA (South of Market). Underground club = unlicensed + unregulated + only one exit + zero fire extinguishers = deathtrap; in other words, one of my favorite places to listen to new music at the time.

(Optional reading: one of the earliest known uses of the word “deathtrap” in San Francisco referred to a short-lived building fad in the mid-19th Century–steel houses. They were advertised as unburnable, which was true. Unfortunately, when a fire did strike an entire city block, the steel houses melted, sealing the doors and windows shut, turning into ovens and roasting the trapped inhabitants.)

The Line on McAllister of Fans Waiting to See Lana Del Rey

The Line on McAllister of Fans Waiting to See Lana Del Rey, Bill Graham Civic Center in Background

Sometime in early- or mid-1993, I passed on attending a show with a few friend at one such venues featuring a pair of Berkeley bands. The following day, I really got the abuse. Aside from the fact that the two bands tore the house down (figuratively), my friends overheard the lead singers talking to each other after the show. Both bands had just signed with major labels and had major-label debuts coming out in late 1993 and early 1994, and their major-label debuts were going to hit the tops of the charts and stay there throughout 1994. This talk did not impress me at all; after all, the music scene in San Francisco was huge, I mean huge, no, I mean huge at the time and lots of bands were signing contracts, and lots of bands knew, they just knew their major-label debuts would sell huge numbers of CDs.

I did not feel at all impressed.

The singers: Billie Joe Armstrong and Adam Duritz.

The bands: Green Day and Counting Crows.

The albums: Dookie and August and Everything After.

Yeah, I kinda missed a good show.

Forward to 2014.

Recently, one of the city’s local free weekly papers hosted a town hall meeting to debate the question, is the San Francisco music scene dying? The overwhelming opinion: no. The San Francisco music scene is dead. We have hit bottom. The number of musicians is down, the number of bands is down, the number of venues is down, the number of rehearsal spaces is down, et cetera et cetera et cetera. This represents a pretty sad decline for a city that for a few years became the center of the music world. Specifically, circa 1968-1972, when 2400 Fulton Street among others became the homes of bands like the Jefferson Airplane. It might surprise outsiders that a city this young could feel nostalgia, but ’tis true.

But San Francisco still goes crazy for music when it can. I had the opportunity to reflect upon this when Lana Del Rey (currently on top of the music scene, at least in the US) came to town last week for a 75-minute gig at the Bill Graham Civic Center. It’s not that we no longer care about music; look at the length of that line. The funny thing is that these folks missed out.

Lana Del Rey Signing Autographs Behind the Civic Center on Hayes Street

Lana Del Rey Signing Autographs Behind the Civic Center on Hayes Street

That’s Lana Del Rey minus her public ultra-cool ultra-hip persona, not acting like a superstar on top of the music world (picture taken with an iPhone 4, unedited). Instead, she looks more like the organizer of a night on the town for a bunch of friends attending their 10-year high school reunion. See the guy with his right arm raised, revealing a big wristwatch? That’s her head underneath. The folks waiting in line in front of the Civic Center missed out on a chance to meet her when she was just being herself, hanging out with people who were temporarily her friends.

So San Franciscans haven’t given up their love of music.

But have we given up on making music?

I don’t know about that.

I believe that partly because I am very much a contrarian. In January 2009, I made a big investment in the S&P 500 because everyone else was abandoning stocks. In January 1982, I moved to San Francisco despite the fact that the city had just lived through one of the worst decades of its existence–specifically, I moved to San Francisco 8 days before the 49ers won their first Super Bowl. I also believe in the music scene because like the city as a whole, our entire arts scene (not just music) has booms and busts; we are definitely busted now, so maybe the next boom is just around the corner.

And I believe that partly because I keep hearing music in the strangest places.

Like outside my window at 5:30 p.m. today.

Four Musicians Walking to Rehearsal, the Saxophonist Entertaining a Young Lady

Four Musicians Walking to Rehearsal, the Saxophonist Entertaining a Young Lady

I heard a saxophone and knew I would want my camera. I saw these four gentlemen walking in one direction, and a rather attractive redhead walking in the other direction.  The saxophonist also decided that she was rather attractive and began performing to impress her. She kept walking. But still…

I can’t tell you which band will lead the San Francisco Renaissance, not can I tell you when it will begin. Humility is good for me; in 1993, I thought D’Cuckoo was going to rule the world, not some angst-ridden or punkish kids from the East Bay. But there is a reason the Phoenix is so significant to this city. We just keep rising from the ashes.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Efficiency & Trust of the Saxophone, 13 April 2014

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Good Afternoon:

At first, it all seemed so very “meta:”

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Just a tip basket on the railing of a footbridge next to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park (Georgia O’Keeffe fans, rejoice–the retrospective is excellent). No musician, no artist, no writer, no poet, no actor, no mime. Just the tip basket. Busking as conceptual art, I thought; ingenious!

Then the saxophone made itself heard.

I leaned over the railing and observed this gentleman:

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So he was collecting tips from two different locations, and trusting that no one would swipe his earnings from the bridge. Impressive faith in humanity! However, I observed that the tip basket had grown full, and remembering the Social Experiment in the Office (Part I here, and Part II there), I chose to serve my fellow artist by adding a dollar of my own and lowering the basket to him using the twine taped to the basket’s handle.

“Wait, wait! Don’t lower it yet!”

This came from a 20-ish young lady with dark brown hair. She fetched a dollar bill of her own from her purse, added it to the pot, and then gave me permission to lower the basket.

“Not yet!”

This came from another 20-ish young lady with dark brown hair. She fetched a dollar bill of her own from her purse, added it to the pot, and then gave me permission to lower the basket.

This time I did succeed in lowering the basket. The saxophonist expressed his thanks for our help and offered to play requests for his supporters.

I moved on, having chores to run, plays to write, scripts to mail, acting to practice, et cetera. Could not help but wonder, though: had I accidentally conducted my own accidental social experiment?

The unanswerable question: would the young ladies have contributed to the support of live music in San Francisco had I not made an effort to present the musician with all of the money that he earned?

Honestly, I have no idea.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Bubble Music of Haight Street (Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected)

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Good Evening:

You expect buskers on Haight Street, especially during Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday weekends. Superficially, these two gentlemen seem hardly surprising:

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But this group was actually a trio performing at the intersection of Haight & Ashbury late last Saturday afternoon.  See the gentleman in back wearing an olive zipper-front hoodie and blue jeans? He constituted the third member of the band.

And you will never guess what instrument he played.

He played this:

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While bubbles are a frequent San Francisco phenomenon, I had never seen such a contraption before. Now don’t get me wrong: the machine made no music at all. The only sounds it produced came from the motor and the popping bubbles. However! It did do to passersby what good music frequently does.

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It made them dance.

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And dance.

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And dance some more.

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It’s official; San Francisco is magic.

Vonn Scott Bair

Because It’s After 3:00 a.m.? Because It’s Me? Because It’s Levi Stubbs?

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Good Morning, Incredibly Enough:

Just finished my second draft of a play for a fund-raising 24-hour theater festival. I received my assignment at 8:00 last night: the producer assigned two women actors (one African-American, one South Asian), one director, and the theme “Objects Appear Larger.” The playwrights have a maximum page limit of 12, but I want to shorten mine as much as possible. With three actors in a ten-minute play, each will have roughly 40 speeches, difficult but not impossible to learn in twelve hours. With two actors, the total can exceed 70, and that becomes a brutal challenge for them.

And yes, as of 3:25 a.m., I have already written two drafts, and plan to write one more.

Normally, I wait a week between drafts, but I don’t have that luxury, so I write this post to clear my mind.

Staying awake represents the biggest physical problem, but you probably guessed this already. I have an extra issue insofar as I volunteered to donate breakfast to the 30-35 individuals involved in the show, so I cannot afford to go to sleep until my director and cast have safely received the scripts. The secret consists of taking a nap for no more than 30 minutes  at around 9:00, vast quantities of tea, and irresistible dance music to keep my knees pumping and therefore me awake.

And irresistible dance music means Motown.

Currently listening to The Temptations, but at 3:00 a.m. this morning I was listening to The Four Tops’ cover of “If I Were a Carpenter.” Honestly, I can’t recall if I’ve heard their version before (which leaves me severely disappointed with myself), but somewhere during the second verse, it *finally* hit me, over four decades too late:

Levi Stubbs was one of the gosh-darned greatest pop-soul-R&B singers of the previous century.

It could be just my imagination (once again) running away with me–told ya I was listening to The Temps–but at this crazy hour of the morning, it feels as if I have never appreciated the lead singer of The Four Tops as much as I should have done. It’s not entirely my fault: for one thing, the rest of the Tops were also pretty darn good, and they sang amazing harmonies; for another, Stubbs himself never pursued a solo career, remaining a loyal member of a team that was more together than together, more married than married. The original quartet never broke up; they performed together for 44 years until Lawrence Payton died in 1997.

But Stubbs! What enunciation, power and emotion! What a pure voice! He could deliver a song with such force it feels like he’s grabbing my solar plexus and shaking it hard.

And I missed this until approximately 3:00 this morning.

OK. New cup of tea (or “cuppa tay,” to quote Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion), brain feeling a little clearer, and The Temptations are singing “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” Back to work.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–My play includes references to 19th Century scrimshaw, the London School of Economics, The University of Washington women’s softball team, and the difference between Madras and Chennai. I’ve completely given away the entire plot of the script, haven’t I?

Outside Lands 2013 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree)

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Good Evening:

Even with last week’s self-imposed  Weekly Photo Challenge “homework,” the 2013 festival proved a fun, carefree day of music and food. Outside Lands is a three-day affair, and I could only attend one day. I went with Saturday because of the five bands I most wanted to see, four played on that day (Murphy’s Law, Paragraph 482a: the band I most wanted to see, The National, played on Friday). I arrived early just to see how the crowd would grow and take some “before and after” photographs, such as these two:

Outside Lands Saturday 2013, "Land's End" Stage, Early in the Day

Outside Lands Saturday 2013, “Land’s End” Stage, Early in the Day

Outside Lands Saturday 2013, "Land's End" Stage, Later That Day

Outside Lands Saturday 2013, “Land’s End” Stage, Later That Day

One funny irony consists of how totally wired the festival has become (complete with its own iOS app!), and yet at the same time they try to tamp down the “wired-ness” of the concert-goers. Evidently, folks have complained of people screeching into their phones, “WHERE ARE YOU? I’M OVER HERE!!” Hence this sign on one of the portable toilets:

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The people have taken notice, and come up with their own interpretations of “funny flags.”

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The festival must have had a hundred food vendors of all sorts. Of course, since we are San Francisco, we can’t do normal festival carnival food. San Franciscans do not do junk food: we do le food de junque.

Les Junque Food Stands, "Land's End" Area, Outside Lands 2013

Les Junque Food Stands, “Land’s End” Area, Outside Lands 2013

Gourmet S'more, Outside Lands Festival

Gourmet S’more, Outside Lands Festival

The Biggest Paella Pans I Have Ever Seen, Outside Lands 2013

The Biggest Paella Pans I Have Ever Seen, Outside Lands 2013

A whole day of eating adds up after a while (all include tips):

  1. Fried Egg Sandwich w/Bacon & Provolone (excellent) $9
  2. Garlic Fries with Chimichurri $9 (half-pound, but still…)
  3. Coffee $6 (seriously?!)
  4. S’More (excellent) $6
  5. Lamb Paella (very good, but mine is better) $11
  6. Social Kitchen & Brewery Pilsener (excellent) $10
  7. Pacific Brewing Laboratory Squid Ink Beer (outstanding) $11
  8. Hot Chocolate (very good) $6

The beers are worth a special search if you’re so inclined.

I did see a fairly large number of smokers; however, only one of these smoked tobacco. The rest smoked–well, I think you know what I mean. Two of the cops I spotted were trading air guitar licks with each other, so I have a funny feeling the local constabulary did not make a large number of arrests.

Lots of people arrived and partied in costume, as one might expect. For myself, one great peculiarity is the recent trend (possibly unique to San Francisco) of wearing what I will call “neo-Hippie) clothing. outfits that maybe perhaps possibly kinda sorta somewhat partially echo the clothes worn by hippies during the Sixties. Back then, hippies couldn’t afford anything more expensive; today, neo-Hippie fashion looks if anything too expensive.

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Have you ever heard of “furries?” In San Francisco, the term refers more specifically to sexual activities than elsewhere (surprise, surprise). Furries like to engage in various X-rated antics whilst dressed in costume as their favorite furred critter. The furries were out in force on Saturday. As jaded as I have become to people’s personal private peculiar playtime peccadilloes, I must admit that SF’s furry community remains the only sexual sub-genre that can make me stop, stare and say “What the bleep?”

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Some miscellaneous pictures.

If It Isn't Digitized, Did It Really Happen?

If It Isn’t Digitized, Did It Really Happen?

Noon, and Already Exhausted

Noon, and Already Exhausted

Land's End Stage, Soft White Sixties Performing

Land’s End Stage, Soft White Sixties Performing

Mural Artists

Mural Artists

The Most Expensive VIP Seats and Yet Over 100 Yards from the Stage

The Most Expensive VIP Seats and Yet Over 100 Yards from the Stage

The music itself? Overall, a very good show, got lucky with my choices. Land’s End opened with the local group Soft White Sixties (new to me), which played solidly for forty minutes, then something clicked and the last 20 minutes scorched the stage and left the crowd crying for more. At Sutro Stage, Milo Greene (named after a non-existent music agent) played the last show of a two-year tour with the energy of musicians who know they can cut loose because tomorrow they can sleep late.

The bands I wanted to see on Saturday began with Gary Clark, Jr. and everyone with whom I spoke agreed that if one group had a monster breakout performance, it was these guys, a hard rock quartet with not one but two reincarnations of Jimi Hendrix (they were that good). If you like guitar, you have to see these guys live. Young the Giant followed and were the only disappointment for me. Thai & The Get Down Stay Downs (new to me) turned in a pretty interesting performance. Jurassic 5 gave my second favorite show of the day and were by far the most danceable of the bands. The Tallest Man on Earth (new to me) performed an impressive quiet little set at Sutro.

The top-billed acts were Nine Inch Nails and Phoenix, and this posed a dilemma. I used to like NIN until Elvis Presley bent Trent Reznor over his knee, spanked him but good, and said, “This, young man, is how you ‘Hurt.'” On the other hand, whilst Phoenix’ music has received generally excellent reviews, I had not been quite as impressed as the critics.

I went with Phoenix in the end, and paradoxically, they played such a good live show that they justified my opinion of their studio work. As technically competent and well-written as their songs sound in the studio, in a live performance Phoenix have an edge, urgency and intensity that sends their music several levels higher.

Phoenix - Purple

Phoenix – Purple

Phoenix - Red

Phoenix – Red

That was a good day. Sunday I did the dishes, bought groceries, made my lunches for the week. A care-full day indeed, but it feel great to settle down and watch the first of the last eight of Breaking Bad.

Vonn Scott Bair

Outside Lands 2013 (Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways)

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Good Evening:

Since I had already purchased a ticket to this year’s Outside Lands Festival, I hauled my digital point & shoot plus my iPhone 4 along with me to try and get some decent shots for this week’s theme. While the interesting bark of a nearby tree proved a cooperative addition to my Grey Series…

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…human beings are another matter. They have a tendency to move, darn it…

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…which made it very difficult to capture the exact same shot two ways.

Really, human beings should make a greater effort to understand the needs of photographers.

Another interesting complication consisted of how a good shot in landscape orientation became a bad shot in portrait orientation, and vice verse, if I did not change the zoom. I haven’t inspected my shots that closely (busy week), but it appears that none of the pairs of shots I took with the same settings were both good. The semi-decent ones required either zooming in or out, such as this pair.

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The final pair for tonight is an odd couple: the only pair taken with my iPhone 4; taken at dusk when the light was much dimmer; heavily pixelated due to the camera’s struggle with the lighting conditions; and yet somehow the final result is, for lack of a better term, kinda sorta almost kinda sort neat.

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Sorry for the use of the high-falutin photography lingo in the previous paragraph.

Vonn Scott Bair