Friday, September 15, 2017

The Chicago Blues Festival 2017

It was graduation season and I was visiting Chicago for family festivities. I got a pleasant surprise after booking my flight. The Chicago Blues Festival would be happening while I was there! It really would be back to the roots.  
Since 1984 the Chicago Blues Festival has been drawing large crowds to the Lakefront. For years I had been monitoring the action from online and telling myself that some year I would go. The Chicago Blues Festival is still a free event.   
It was a hot day. Sunny and in the nineties. I took the train downtown. It blasted through the northern suburbs and the Northwest side of Chicago. The route from the Edison Park station had once been my commute. Some of the passengers were in Cubs gear and headed to Wrigley Field.
The tracks enter downtown and end at a platform in the new Ogilvie Transportation Center. Union Station was across the street. A few people from the train were headed to the Festival and walked up Randolph towards the lake.
Downtown was relatively quiet on Sunday. There wasn’t that frantic weekday buzz. A few blocks from Michigan Avenue I could hear electric Blues echoing in the canyons of steel and glass. A large mural honoring Muddy Waters on State Street had been dedicated on Thursday, and the Mud Morganfield Band, with Muddy’s oldest son, had played at the ceremony.  
  Blues is revered as a part of Chicago music history now. It’s amusing to see the civic recognition. The city fathers were not big fans fifty years ago. The Blues is now appreciated as a Chicago art form, and Blues bars are a big tourist attraction. 
The music got louder. It was like a magnet. I crossed Michigan Avenue and went under a large banner: Blues Village. The site of the Festival had been shifted a bit north to Millennium Park. It was still near the lakefront. The Festival had centered on the Petrillo Music Shell near the Art Institute. Now the main stage would be the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. 

Even a partial list of the Blues greats that have performed at the Festival is challenging. Here are some names I cherry picked from the Wikipedia entry. There are many more:    
Albert King, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry (with a cameo by Keith Richards!) Etta James, Homesick James, Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton, Jimmy Johnson, Jimmy Rogers, John Lee Hooker, Johnnie Taylor, Johnny Winter, Junior Wells, Koko Taylor, Luther Allison, Magic Slim, Matt Murphy, Mick Taylor, The Neville Brothers, Otis Rush, Pinetop Perkins, Ray Charles, Sam Lay, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sugar Blue, Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon, and many more.    
Muddy Waters passed away a year before the first Blues Festival. Howling Wolf had been gone for seven years by then.  
I remember freaking out when I heard about Keith Richards’ surprise appearance with Chuck Berry in 1986. A large exhibition of Rolling Stones memorabilia was being shown at Chicago’s Navy Pier. “Exhibitionism” was approved by the Stones and they provided many relics, including clothes and the equipment they used in their very early years. It certainly wasn’t as exciting as seeing a live show, but it was a fun exhibition, and there is more than a nod to the Stones’ debt to the great Bluesmen.   
It was still early. 12:30. There are five stages. My first stop was at one of the larger stages, the Budweiser Crossroads Stage on the “South Promenade.” Beer sponsors are important. It was the loss of beer sponsorship that was the last straw for the San Francisco Blues Festival. Another sponsor is WDCB, “Chicago’s Home for Jazz!” The station provided the invaluable programs that were being handed out by volunteers.
A square of Blues related booths led to a stage area where chairs were set up. It’s a laid back scene. Blues Festival veterans have set up under the trees. They have lawn chairs and coolers. They’ll accept a partial view of the stage to be in the shade.     
I had just missed the raucous antics of Tail Dragger, but I got there in time for: “The Blues Disciples with special guest Ms. Erica Johnson & Milwaukee Slim.” They were rocking out as I walked up. They dedicate the second song to Lou Pride: “I’d Rather Go Blind.” “Something told me it was over ...”  
The band brings it down while we get a show business style introduction to Milwaukee Slim. He launches into “Big Boss Man.” “You’re just tall, that’s all.” Milwaukee Slim is pretty tall himself. I wonder if he’s any relation to Fillmore Slim. They play a real Chicago Blues classic, Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.”    
The Mississippi Juke Joint Stage is inside a very large white canvas tent. It looks like it could hold a thousand people. Inside the entrance is a large booth handing out information: “Visit Mississippi!” The tent is great protection from the sun and there are plenty of chairs set up.   
J.J. Thames is doing another version of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” She’s the “Mississippi Blues Diva.” J.J. Thames sounds great, but I want to see what the rest of the festival looks like. After a couple of songs I go to the nearby Front Porch Stage. It’s on the rooftop of the Harris Theater. 
It’s a smaller stage. The Mud Morganfield Band is playing some rocking Chicago Blues. Larry “Mud” Morganfield is the oldest son of Muddy Waters. A small crowd stands in the heat and enjoys their authentic Chicago Blues sound. The band members look old. It must be unusual for them to be playing outdoors in the sunlight. 
The nearby Blues Village is a square of grass that is ringed with Blues related booths. There is the Blues Kids Foundation, the Windy City Blues Society, Koko Taylor’s Celebrity Aid Foundation and The Eddie Taylor Blues Foundation. The home office of Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation is at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue, the former site of the Chess recording studios. There is the Southwest Airlines Blues Lounge. It’s a small area with seats for interviews and panel discussions. 

I still miss the San Francisco Blues Festival. It’s been gone for almost ten years now. The San Francisco Blues Festival was a chance to get together with like minded individuals and enjoy a great lineup of Blues bands. We would meet at “the little tree” in the back of Fort Mason’s Great Meadow. Over the years we saw many of the same Blues greats that are listed above. After thirty-seven years creator and producer Tom Mazzolini had to end it. I can’t say I went to every one, but I went to most of them. It was always one of the best music events of the year. You’ve got to hand it to Chicago. Not only do they have a free Blues Festival, but they still have a Lollapalooza there!

Back at the Blues Village, it’s a laid back scene. It was still early on a Sunday. It would get more crowded as the day went on. I’ll assume it was a little rowdier on Saturday night. 
People who attended the Chicago Blues Festival in its early years told me that the first Festivals were looser. There was no limit to the alcohol people could bring with them. Groups rolled in kegs, and there were crowd problems. A more family atmosphere was encouraged. Chicago police were keeping an eye out today. It looked like a reasonable amount of booze was winked at. There were plenty of vendors selling beer and wine at the Festival. 

Zakiya Hooker would play at the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage. She’s the daughter of John Lee Hooker. I wanted to see at least part of her act, but there’s some kind of glitch with the sound. I wait for a while, but there’s too much going on at the other stages to have much patience. I bail. 

It was time for a real break. I was a little surprised to get a booth at the Park Grill. After a Thai Crab Sandwich I was ready for the summer heat again. I consulted the handy program. My plan was to see Rick Estrin & The Nightcats at the Budweiser Crossroads Stage. I had seen them many times in North Beach and expected some great rocking keyboards. 
They open with “What I’m Talking About.” Rick Estrin looks like the ultimate hep cat. He has an almost Beatnik, prototype hipster look. They do the song about buying a suit, “Wrap It Up.” “Easy Come, Easy Go.” The band is hot and tight, but maybe I should be looking for and listening to some more Chicago style Blues. 

There was a Blues scene in San Francisco. Much of it centered on Grant Street in North Beach. It was convenient for me. Some great bands played at The Saloon and The Grant and Green, but Chicago Blues always had the harder edge that I craved.  
I saw many of the great Bluesmen before I left Chicago in 1976. You could do the inevitable math. It was obvious that they weren’t going to be around long. They seemed ancient to me even in the Seventies. I was chasing legends. I knew that someday I would brag about seeing them. 
Muddy Waters saw the resurgence of interest in the Blues from young white Rock fans searching for the roots of the British invasion. He talked other Blues bands into playing at clubs like Alice’s Revisited, Kingston Mines and The Quiet Knight. It was a little safer to see live Blues.  
So I got to see Muddy Waters. Howling Wolf. Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Otis Rush. Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins. B.B. King played in the gym of Loyola University. I’ll always remember he stayed around long after the show shaking hands and talking about the Blues. The Siegel- Schwall Blues Band played great live shows.  
One of my favorites was Hound Dog Taylor. He played at a bar near the Loyola el tracks, I think it was called Gulliver’s. The place stayed open until 5 a.m. Let’s just say it had a lax ambiance. Hound Dog would grind out Blues for hours on his slide guitar.

It’s back to the shade and relative comfort of the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage. The band plays an instrumental while everyone gets ready for Denise LaSalle, a matriarch of the Blues. She uses a walker and sits in front of the band. There’s no doubt about who’s in charge during “I’m the Queen.” We’re in the presence of Blues royalty. 
People are dancing in the seats near the stage. There’s still more room in the back for people to chill out, relax and watch the show. It’s easy to walk up and get a closer look from the side of the stage. She sings a charged “Remember About You.”
I walk to the back of the huge tent. The crowd is into it. There is more dancing at the seats and in the aisles. After “Down Home Blues” the crowd gives her a big ovation.  
One guy’s tee shirt catches my eye. “Disco Demolition Army.” It was an artifact from a pivotal event in Western Civilization, the Disco Demolition Night promotion at Comiskey Park in 1979. There can’t be too many of these shirts left around. The shirt looked torn and ragged. 
The guy wearing the shirt looked torn and ragged. He was probably about my age. He had that look. This guy had been around. There were plenty of miles on him. He had a mustache and small beard on his wrinkled, pock marked face. He wore glasses, but you wouldn’t mistake this guy for a four eyed nerd. I didn’t notice at first, but he is an amputee. He was applauding by banging the stump of his arm against his remaining hand. Nothing was going to stop him from showing his appreciation for the Queen of the Blues. There can’t be too many guys like this still around.    

I went for a stroll on the promenade. There was a row of booths for sponsors. One of them was for the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Bureau. I thought it was odd to see a rival for the tourist dollar here, even if they paid to be a sponsor.   
One of the first booths was the Rosa’s Lounge booth. A band had set up in front and they were doing some impromptu jamming. There was no stage. The band just started blasting at eye level. They were loud and they were rocking. A crowd gathered. These guys were stealing the show. I should have found who they were, but conversation wasn’t convenient. The song became recognizable. “The Same Thing.” I did a time check. 4:40. Time flies when you’re having fun. 

The Festival isn’t far from the Crown Fountain. When we were kids many Chicago parks had a “sprinkler.” Water was constantly shooting out of a large pipe coming out of the ground. The water would spray out of the top and cover a small concrete area. It wasn’t a swimming pool, but the water gave us a welcome break from the heat. Like other simple things it provided us with hours of imaginative diversion. Parents got a break too. The big question was: “Can I go in the sprinkler?” The answer was usually yes.  
The Crown Fountain is the modern version of our “sprinkler.” People are drawn to it to get out of the heat. The fountain has two towers. Human faces are projected on the towers by embedded LED lights. It’s an unlikely combination of water and electricity. A timed release of water sprays out of the mouths of the projected faces. Kids run in the water and the Chicago wind spreads the spray. It’s a very popular spot today. 
The Cloud Gate is a large modern, metallic sculpture. I think its popularity was surprising. It is a huge piece of stainless steel that wraps around itself. Chicagoans quickly named it: “The Bean.” The surface is shiny and it creates some slightly distorted reflections with a Fun House carnival effect. People are constantly walking around and through it while taking pictures. There’s a unique view of the stages and booths of the Blues Festival reflected on the surface of “The Bean.”  
Back at the Mississippi Juke Joint tent, The Queen of the Blues was still onstage. She was lecturing the crowd about vaginal orgasms. There is the snap. There is the crackle. There is the pop. She prefers a man who can make all three possible. She’s very close to losing her G rating here. LaSalle goes right up to that line, but people were more amused than uncomfortable. The biology lesson leads into “Don’t Mess With My Toot. 
I walked around the back of the Front Porch Stage. Mud Morganfield was trudging towards me. Maybe it was the heat, but he looked stressed out. He carried his guitar case. I decided to at least say hi. I hesitated. He did look stressed out. “Nice show.” He said thanks and marched on. Was he trying to figure out where the next gig was? 

Another stop at the Budweiser Crossroads Stage for Melvia “Chick” Rogers. She sings “I’m a Woman” the female version of the Willie Dixon classic. “I’d make love to a crocodile!” Rogers fronts a big band of Rhythm and Blues veterans, complete with horns. The last song is “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.” Things are winding down. At the end of her set the announcer says, “See you in 2018!” It may be over at this stage, but the action at the Pritzker stage has hardly begun.    
The Festival has a solid lineup, but it doesn’t have any huge Pop music names. I’m used to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass where there’s at least a couple of very popular crossover acts like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton or Kris Kristofferson. Last year Cindy Lauper played there. Believe me, I’m not complaining about Chicago’s lineup. I’ve learned to avoid the “big” acts in a festival setting. 
Things don’t even get started at the Pritzker stage until 5 p.m. People have gathered in the seating area, but it’s still easy to get around on the back of the lawn. Ronnie Baker Brooks and his band play “Times Have Changed.” 
There’s too much steel and glass here for me. Speakers hang from a latticework of large pipes that hang overhead.
Brooks and the band do a great version of “Sweet Home Chicago.” Many in the crowd get up and dance to the Chicago anthem. 
Every once in a while a young musician is proclaimed the savior of the Blues. Gary Clark Jr. is the latest to be given the honor and duty. I had seen Gary Clark Jr. recently in San Francisco, so I decided to start the trek back to the suburbs. If you get a chance, check him out!  
Are the Blues dead? It has fallen out of favor before. It sure seemed to be thriving this weekend in Chicago. The many fans enjoying the acts here show that the Blues is still alive and kicking in Chicago.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Surrealistic Summer of Love

Surrealistic Summer Solstice Jam. June 21, 2017.

The Fiftieth anniversary of The Summer of Love could be the ultimate nostalgia trip. Big events in Golden Gate Park marked the Thirtieth and Fortieth Anniversaries of that historic summer. People were looking forward to what could be the biggest celebration yet. Fifty years! This was the generation that said that you can’t trust anyone over thirty.  
There weren’t any advertisements for Love Burgers yet, but many businesses had jumped on the chance to have Summer of Love themed sales. There were Summer of Love spa and mattress sales. It was just too good of a marketing opportunity to pass up.     
It was surprising to hear that The San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department  had denied Boots Hughston a permit for a celebration of the Summer of Love in Golden Gate Park. It didn’t seem right. 
Boots Hughston and his company 2b1 Records had organized and presented the last two big celebrations of the Summer of Love. They also ran the memorial for Chet Helms in Golden Gate Park. The events drew big crowds and there were no major problems. 
Park and Rec said that Hughston didn’t have the right experience and his plans looked primitive. They said his presentation was child like. Proper preparations were not being made. There were no solid plans for security, insurance or toilets. Hughston said he not only had the experience, he had the money.    
It looked like The City that used to know how would not have a commemoration of the Summer of Love in Golden Gate Park. It would be a shame. The Summer of Love was a big part of the San Francisco legend, even if much of it was myth. Tourists still go to the corner of Haight and Ashbury to take a photo of the fabled intersection and prove to the folks back home that they had been there. Something amazing had happened here.     
People on the Facebook group the “Summer of Love 50th Anniversary” had talked about their plans for traveling to San Francisco for the event. I think they were just the tip of the iceberg. Previous commemorations had drawn crowds of well over fifty thousand.   

The anniversaries of other Sixties events might be remembered and celebrated, but it won’t be the same. Would there be a reunion of the Rolling Stones and the Hell’s Angels to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Altamont? How about getting everybody who’s still alive back together in Grant Park to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Democratic Convention? The milestone dates will still get media coverage, but an event honoring the Summer of Love could be the last real chance at a celebration of the innocence of the Sixties. Would there be a Sixtieth anniversary celebration? How grisly could that be? Who would be left?    

I’ll admit I was looking forward to this one. It could be a last chance to see some of these musicians. There will still be Sixties reunions. Nostalgia never dies. But it could be the last time members of the Sixties bands could play in Golden Gate Park like this. The way things were going with Park and Rec this might be the last free show ever. Did they even bother to get permits in the Sixties? 
City and park officials have become used to getting big contributions from the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands Festivals. These events help pay for the Park’s upkeep. There won’t be another event like this year’s anniversary. The celebration of the Summer of Love is an event that the City should make happen. There should be an old fashioned psychedelic free show in the Park! 

Boots Hughston claimed that the City hijacked his event, and it looks like he’s right. Shortly after the rejection of his appeal, the “Surrealistic Summer Solstice Jam” was announced. There would be a celebration, but it would not be run by the people from 2b1 Records. It would be held on June 21 at the Conservatory in Golden Gate Park. The Summer Solstice.   

The DeYoung Museum had already started celebrating the anniversary with its exhibition, the Summer of Love Experience. The exhibit has posters, clothes and other assorted artifacts of the time. There is a room that simulates the light shows of the local psychedelic ballrooms.
It was amusing to see relics of the Sixties under glass in a museum. I overheard a docent who was leading a tour, “Now here’s a great piece of cultural anthropology.”  
The exhibit is fun, but it may have whitewashed the events of San Francisco in the Sixties. Selective nostalgia is powerful. The Summer of Love wasn’t all flowers, fashion, peace, love and LSD. Local San Franciscans feared the invasion. Police and other city officials braced for the deluge of starry eyed teenagers. There has always been some hostility in San Francisco between the natives and new arrivals of any kind. 

The longest day of the year was finally here! I walked over to the Park. It was early and people were settling into their spots. It was a great day. Warm and a little windy.
The area around the Conservatory wasn’t a good spot for the event. I know the festivities were centered on the lighting of the Conservatory in psychedelic colors, but that should have been a separate event. 
The problem with having the event around the Conservatory is the expensive flower beds. During the Bay to Breakers foot race they had been closely guarded. Ropes and small fences had kept the hordes out of the precious soil. Private security guards kept a close eye on the patches of soil and flowers. There were other parts of the park that would have worked much better, especially Speedway Meadows, now named Hellman Hollow. It’s where many of the original free shows had been held.     
The stage was set up on JFK Drive. It seemed to be a bit out of the way, like the stage was almost an afterthought. The stage and the musicians should have been at the center of this event. People were in a festive mood. As usual, the musicians would save the day! 

Those arriving early were ready for a long evening in Golden Gate Park. This was a veteran crowd. There were blankets and small chairs. They had brought extra layers of clothes for the expected fog and wind. The stage faced east, so most of the audience would be looking into the setting sun. The crowd was excited and expected a great night of music.  
Park and Rec predicted a crowd of ten to fifteen thousand. I think there are that many people that live near the park who would come out for an event like this if the weather was right. 
The stage itself was well set up. There was a large screen in the back for the light show. A large banner read: “Surrealistic Summer Solstice Jam.”
The members of Moonalice were doing a sound check. They played some Grateful Dead riffs. They will act as the house band. Some of them would be onstage most of the night. Pete Sears has seen much of the musical history that would be celebrated today.  He was onstage in his black cowboy hat for most of the show. The “musical director” is Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz, from the band Alo. Roger MacNamee and Barry Sless are members of Moonalice. There are two drum sets. Jay Lane plays one, and John Malo is on the other. “Steve Kimmock is in the house.”  
It’s a miracle anyone is left. This was a generation that hit it hard. Most of them are now over seventy. Some survivors wandered the crowd in Sixties regalia. There were more headbands than I’ve seen in a while. Women liberated long dresses from their closets. There were flowers in gray hair. It was a great day for Sixties fashion. There were even a few top hats. 
The survivors had a knowing look. “I was there.” I did see some familiar faces from the Haight. People who I know lived in the neighborhood for a long time. It was a day to be proud to be a survivor. 

I was in high school in Chicago that summer, and more concerned with surviving summer football practice. So I certainly can’t say I was there. The Seventies were my decade. In the Midwest the Summer of Love was a news story or a Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In sketch. We did get many of the songs on the radio. There were vague rumblings of what was going on in distant, exotic San Francisco. 

Most of the survivors are a little older than me. Even two years was a huge gap back then. It could make the difference between someone becoming either a member of a fraternity or a marijuana dealer. Or going to Vietnam. Most of the people hanging out in the Haight were in their early twenties, which puts them in their seventies now.        

Joel Selvin calls the proceedings to order. He was there and has written about the events of that summer. He has long white hair that is tied back under a fedora. “How many of you were on acid twenty years ago?” There’s a slightly amused reaction from the crowd. “How many of you are on acid RIGHT NOW?” This brought more of a chuckle. Most of the crowd admits to using anti-acid more now.   

The first song is “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It’s odd to hear this song done live. This version has a bit of a grinding edge, and crowd is into it. The album that changed it all is also celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. It’s a great start to tonight’s music. 

Everyone recognizes the first notes of “For What It’s Worth?” A woman in the crowd gushes: “This was a cool song!” It was still early and I was able to walk up one side of the crowd to the front of the stage. There I got the side view. I was on the house left, stage right. It was a nice spot, but it got more crowded as the day went on.
Chuck Prophet does a great version of Dylan’s “From a Buick Six.” Some of Prophet’s songs are about San Francisco history. He’s a great choice to appear at this event. 
Among the members of the house band onstage is Melvin Seals from the Jerry Garcia Band. He plays some great Hammond B3 organ. 
Mark Harron sings a great Bay Area tune: “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” The timeless song reminds us of the loss of Otis Redding. It’s an ominous fiftieth Anniversary coming up. 

Long time radio DJ and writer Ben Fong-Torres acts as MC. He gives a “shout out” to the “Council of Love.” There are some quick public service announcements. Public transit is available and there are food trucks! 
Fong-Torres mentions Boots Hughston and hopes there will be another celebration in the Park. He says Golden Gate Park is, “Wide enough to handle it.” I didn’t see Wavy Gravy today.

“Here’s someone who played in the park back then!” It’s David Freiberg from Quicksilver Messenger Service and his wife, Linda Imperial. There will be many anthems this afternoon. “Have another hit ... of fresh air!” Freiberg may look old, but he really pours his heart and soul into the intense lyrics of “Pride of Man.”  
The backstage area looked pretty laid back. A guy who looked like a stagehand walked around with a full joint burning in his mouth. You don’t see that too often in other venues these days. I could see the light show being created. A guy swirled paint and oil around in a large dish. The images were immediately projected on the big screen behind the stage. How they did light shows had been a mystery when we first saw them.

Golden Gate Park is a great backdrop for any music event. I live nearby, and I have to admit I sometimes take it for granted. The stage is surrounded in green. The Park always seems perfect for an event like this.  
Steve Parrish was the road manager for the Grateful Dead. That must have been an interesting job. He wants to mention two people who can’t be here today: Pigpen (Ron McKernan) and Janis.   
Just the mention of Janis gets the crowd buzzing. Two of the original members of Big Brother and the Holding Company are here today: Peter Albin is on bass and David Getz will play drums. Albin points out Jack Cassady standing backstage. The bass player from the Jefferson Airplane had heard a record by Erma Franklin (Aretha’s sister) “He turned us on to it.” Cassady knew the song was perfect for Janis. “Piece of My Heart” was Big Brother and the Holding Company’s first big hit. 
Darby Gould is Janis. She looks like Janis, but she can’t be Janis. Maybe that’s impossible. The first chords of “Summertime” drift over the crowd. Everyone knows this one. It’s a rare day with summer weather in San Francisco. The band and Darby sound great on this one! 

Most Rock shows now are carefully choreographed. Everything is well timed. Today’s event is different. The core of musicians from Moonalice are joined on every song by guests. There is last minute shuffling of microphones and other equipment. “What are we going to play?” It was more like the old days when things were more improvised. Have to hand it to the “musical director” Dan Lebowitz, he kept things moving.    
Barry “The Fish” Melton takes the stage. “S.O.S” (Save our Souls) is a great psychedelic Blues jam. Melton and the members of Moonalice tear it up and do a passionate version. 

Fong-Torres wants to mention and honor some of the artistic and creative people that made the scene in the Haight happen. Dr. David Smith is a founder of the Haight Street Free Medical Clinic that is still helping people today. There was a group of people who had a dream of living free outside of the system, The Diggers! Tom Donahue of KSAN helped change how we listened to radio. The last two are the biggest: Chet Helms and Bill Graham. A friend commented that few in the crowd today knew who these people were.   
David LaFlamme takes the stage and asks us, “Do you know what’s wrong with the world today? ... There’s too much violence and not enough violins!”  
Melton stays onstage and joins It’s a Beautiful Day on “White Bird.” We hear many special classics today. The band sounds the same as it did in the Sixties.  LaFlamme’s wife Linda is on keyboards. No reunion is complete without the soaring of LaFlamme’s violin. As he leaves the stage he says, “When you write a song like White Bird, sometimes you have to wing it!” 

Melton leads us in the “Fish” cheer. “Give me an F!” The crowd gets into spelling the four letter obscenity that starts the old tune, “Fixin’ To Die Rag.” “Well, come on all of you big strong men, Uncle Sam needs your help again.”
It’s a song with a grim sense of humor. It reminds me of the fear of losing your student draft deferment. Parents didn’t really want to, “Be the first one on their block to have your boy come home in a box.”
It’s a bit odd to see Barry Melton leading the cheer and singing this song. Where’s Country Joe? Maybe their feud is still gong on. Maybe Country Joe just couldn’t make it. This comic song reminds us that it wasn’t all sweetness and light in the Sixties.

It’s not a mosh pit, but it is getting more crowded near the front. Most people are polite, but it’s getting claustrophobic. People are pressing in. It’s time to walk around. 
There was a huge backstage area. This must be where the party is! With all the musicians tonight, there was a lot of equipment to lug around. 
Ronkat Speerman and Leslie Grant pay tribute to Sly and the Family Stone with “Sing A Simple Song.”  
Joli Valenti joins with David Freiberg. He remembers, “I was right in this Park,” listening to his father sing with an acoustic guitar. The Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” may be the best known peace and love anthem. “C’mon people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together and love one another right now!”   
It’s a cliche, but there is a good vibe in the crowd. People want to relive a piece of the dream for a day. People are friendly. There’s a constant stream of bubbles.  

The area around the Conservatory building is blocked off by metal traffic horses. A group of young people in Sixties gear are on the steps that lead up to the Conservatory. They dance and wave hand painted signs. It’s a restricted area, so they must have been invited. Are they a theater group? The clothes looked like brand new Halloween costumes. The group has the innocent enthusiasm of the Sixties. They smile and flash the peace sign.  

Former San Francisco Supervisor and mayoral candidate Angela Alioto is in the crowd. Her father was mayor of San Francisco during the late Sixties and into the Seventies. She’s wearing tie dye and talking to people about having another celebration with Boots Hughston in charge. Alioto is representing Boots Hughston in his appeals to San Francisco’s Park and Rec.

The area around the Conservatory was filling up. The only spots left were way in the back. The flower beds created large spaces in the crowd. It was time for a break on the grass behind some trees. The crowd is younger back here. I think many of them heard about the event and decided to come out at the last minute. It’s a changing of the guard. Everyone here is just hanging out, and pretty much oblivious to what’s going on onstage. The music is just a background sound track. Most seem to be in the spirit of the event. Many are in Sixties clothes. Hey, it’s a party!  

Lester Chambers is singing the Curtis Mayfield classic, “People Get Ready.” It’s another song that is meaningful again. His son, Dylan Chambers, sings with him. Lester is one of The Chambers Brothers. “Time Has Come Today” is still an epic live song. The crowd gets into the beat. More cowbell!   

If anyone can play the patriarch today it’s Norman Greenbaum. I can see him on the big screen, leaning on a cane. About twenty people join him onstage for “Spirit In the Sky.” It’s an odd psychedelic hymn.  
I’m not sure who is singing Scott McKenzie's “San Francisco.” “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” The song was a siren call to youth across the country. Like most of the songs tonight many people join in singing.   

As difficult as it is on the musicians, there should be a Hendrix song tonight. There is a brave attempt at “Axis Bold As Love.” Hendrix can’t be replicated, but the band does a great job on the song.  

Fong-Torres comes onstage again while the next guests get ready. He mentions the artists who created the light shows and the posters of the San Francisco ball room scene. Digital Obscura will project the lights on the Conservatory tonight.  
All this peace and love stuff is very nice. One band that always had a harder edge was the Jefferson Airplane. Naturally I gravitated more towards their sound.  
The first chords of “White Rabbit” always sounded a bit ominous. Paula Frazer sings. Many in the crowd repeat the refrain: “Feed you head!” Does anyone do that anymore?  
David Freiberg joins. Darby Gould plays the Gracie Slick role on the next song. Jack Cassady looks old but spry. He’s dressed all in black, and he can still stalk around the stage. “Somebody to Love” is still a stirring rocker.
It’s too bad Paul Kantner missed this. He would have loved this event. Kantner was always a participant and supporter of free music in the Park. The North Beach regular passed away a year and a half ago.  
I start fading away during tonight’s version of “Not Fade Away.” The light show at the Conservatory will run through October. It’s been a long day of music and memories. At least it gave us the illusion of freedom for an afternoon. Maybe that’s what the Sixties were all about.
“Viola Lee Blues” drifted above the trails of Golden Gate Park.  The Surrealistic Summer Solstice Jam was an event that had captured some of the spirit of the times. Will there ever be free music in the park again? The legacy of the Sixties will always be with us, but maybe the sun has finally set on the Summer of Love. 

About a week after the event there was an article in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. It was in a column with an annoying hash tag title: “@MISSBIGELOW.” The column usually covers social events like benefits for charities, museum openings and debutante balls. “Catherine Bigelow is The San Francisco Chronicle’s society correspondent.”   
The column starts by mentioning former Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife Charlotte Mailliard. She is the former chief of protocol for the city of San Francisco. She called the shots at high profile San Francisco events for years. In the Sixties George was a member of the Nixon cabinet. George and Charlotte were having a great time at the Surrealistic Solstice Summer Jam. The article says they were doing different things fifty years ago.    
Now it was starting to make sense. The inside of the Conservatory hadn’t been closed. It was the site of a “VIP confab” that was “technically free.” Many of those inside had donated to the Conservatory and the light display. 
A photo showed guests arriving in their “Summer of Love Rolls Royce.” The donors under the glass in the Conservatory dressed the part in Sixties clothes. Photos showed many tie dyed shirts and floppy hats at the reception. 
It is a different world than fifty years ago, and I’m glad the Conservatory got some money out of the event, but I still think the music should have taken center stage. The vibes had been groovy, but Boots Hughston should still have a chance to throw the last great Hippie get together in Golden Gate Park.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dweezil Zappa at the Warfield

Dweezil Zappa at the Warfield Theater: April 29, 2017

The area around the Warfield theater isn’t a war zone, but it is near the Tenderloin. I should be used to the desperation by now. It’s a place where the radar should be on. Lost souls wander up and down Market Street screaming at demons. Most of them are “harmless.”   
I was standing outside, waiting for the box office to open. There were only two guys in front of me in line. They looked about thirty. Not everyone here tonight would be a geezer. A Warfield employee encouraged us, “Don’t worry. There are plenty of tickets.” We waited while the meet and greet crowd was let in. It was still exciting to see Dweezil’s name on the marquee.
A black man walked up to the short line. He looked about sixty. I braced for the inevitable solicitation, but he surprised me. “Why don’t they mention Frank?” he asked us loudly. It took a minute to realize that this guy obviously knew who Frank Zappa was, and that he had some kind of interest and respect for the man and his music. “Why isn’t Frank’s name up there?”
One of the millennials in front of me explained, “It’s the family. They won’t let him use the name.” The black man looked puzzled. We explained what little legal implications we understood. The Family Trust had tried to prevent any use of the Zappa name, even by his own son. One of the young guys mentioned that, “It’s ugly.” In this viral age the family feud had gotten more than its share of coverage. At one point there was an attempt to keep Dweezil from using his own name. Dweezil retaliated by billing the tour as “Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F**k He Wants.”
“Oh, it’s a family thing,” the black man said. It was a family inheritance battle. He’d heard that before. He gave us a round of fist bumps and walked away. 

I was rescued from the ticket line by one of my colleagues from the Masonic Auditorium. She had an extra ticket. It was in the fourth row! I had expected to buy a ticket in the upper reaches of the balcony. Thanks Leslie!!! We were seated in the orchestra pit! 

There are two kinds of people in this world. Zappa fans and the bulk of humanity who just don’t understand. There was some of that old Zappa excitement in the air. I saw a few familiar faces on the way in. Zappa fans are a strange breed. I can certainly see why most people don’t like Zappa. Much of his music is abrasive. His satirical and smutty humor certainly wasn’t for everyone. Some just dismissed his work as “comedy music.” 
The tour was a continuation of the Fifty Years of Frank Tour. It was a celebration of the release of the Mothers of Invention’s first album, “Freak Out.” Dweezil and company didn’t play San Francisco last year. 
In 1966 “freak out” wasn’t a familiar term to most people. The double album broke new ground. During the last tour Dweezil had played the album “In its entirety.” 
It was great to hear that first blast of the Zappa sound. The early going would feature songs from Freak Out. It must be hard to start the show with “Help I’m a Rock.” It’s jarring and dissonant. It’s the first song on the first album. Zappa was really testing us. Are you in or out? It must be hard to reproduce the timing of the zany vocals. The original recording sounded impromptu, but I don’t think it was. Dweezil and the band made the vocals sound improvised.  

The rocking sounds of “Transylvania Boogie” almost sound relaxing after “Help I’m A Rock.” Dweezil rocks out on guitar. From the fourth row, I can see his fingers moving across the frets. I’m glad it’s not one of those “In its entirety” nights.

Dweezil looks older and more mature. He’s not as “cute.” Maybe it’s the shorter hair. He doesn’t look as emaciated as Frank did. He doesn’t sing as much. Kurt Morgan sings many of the Frank parts.  

It’s back to the first album, Freak Out, for the next song. We’re treated to the vintage vocal styling of “It Can’t Happen Here.” It’s scary how relevant some of these songs are today. What would Frank be saying about current political events? 

I’m using It’s an amazing age we live in. Within days there is not only a set list, but there is some footage of this show on Youtube. 
The next song is one of the first Zappa songs I can remember hearing. “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here” was always a bit of a challenge. That first exposure to the Mothers could be puzzling. The song worked both ways. Even veteran members of the band were confused to find themselves touring in strange, remote parts of the U.S.A. The next line is, “And so are we!” 
Dweezil and the band members recreate “Harry You’re A Beast” with its snorts and gurgles. Dweezil does the great solo on “The Orange County Lumber Truck.”  
“Let Me Take You To The Beach” is peppy and light hearted. It’s life in Los Angeles. If all else fails, go to the beach! 

Frank never liked romantic love songs. Maybe he just got sick of them. “How Could I Be Such A Fool?” is a biting, bitter look at the travails of love. A grinding, scary version of “Who Are the Brain Police?” follows. It’s a frightening dirge.  

“What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?” starts with some sweeping romantic music. Wait a minute! Is this a love song? It sounds like one, but segues into the ode to finding groupies: “Shove It Right In.”  
There were women in attendance tonight, but I’ll put the male to female ratio at about seventy per cent male. Most women are put off by Frank’s humor, his satirical love for the scatological. It is adolescent, and I still thrive on it.  

Then a fast, blistering version of “Flower Punk.” Frank despised the San Francisco Hippie music scene. “Psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street!” It was more than just the Los Angeles versus San Francisco rivalry. Frank rarely played in the Bay Area. 
He just never went for the Peace and Love philosophy. “I’ll love the police while they’re kicking the shit out of me,” didn’t make sense to him. He was against violence, but he had no patience for the Love Generation’s simplistic solutions. What biting, acerbic comments would be Frank be making about the celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Summer of Love? 
Another great Dweezil solo on “Inca Roads.” “Black Napkins.” 
  Most of the band leaves the stage and a power trio is left to blast a heavy metal “Apostrophe.” The crowd is into it. 
There are just some songs that a Zappa has to do. “Montana” has maybe Frank’s greatest line ever: “I might ride along the border with my tweezers gleaming in the moon lighty night.”  
The pace of the show picks up with “Doreen” “You Are What You Is” and “Yo’ Mama.” 
Scheila Gonzalez comes onstage during “Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt.” “It’s wet tee shirt night.” To say the least, she’s a good sport during songs like this and “On the Bus.” It must be hard to keep a straight face sometimes while singing lyrics like “Keep It Greasy.” 
“Packard Goose.” There are many songs from Joe’s Garage tonight. “Watermelon in Easter Hay.” 
Dweezil doesn’t direct the band with hand signals as much as Frank did. Frank did enjoy being the puppet master.
“Ride My Face to Chicago” has a “geographical update.” It’s now “Ride My Face to San Francisco.
Then they do one of the first Zappa songs I remember hearing live: “Cosmik Debris. The song roasts New Age charlatans. Scheila’s husband James Santiago joins on guitar as a special guest. 
“The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” is almost acappella. It’s another political song that still rings true. 
Dweezil sees someone wearing a “Others of Intention” tee shirt. He invites us to go the web site and join this organization.  
  I’ve seen or heard the same family inheritance story many times in recent years. The last parent passes away. Mom and Dad have worked hard for years to leave something for the kids. After they’re gone, the kids battle over the estate like a pack of hyenas. Old wounds are reopened. There seems to be an epidemic of this among the Baby Boomer generation. The Zappa family’s story is being played out in pubic. 
What is puzzling to me is that Dweezil kept Frank’s music alive at a time that the Zappa Family Trust was floundering. He also paid Gail to use the Zappa name. I doubt he ever made a fortune out of his Zappa Plays Zappa Tours. It was the family trust that really profited from Dweezil’s efforts. Keeping him from touring just doesn’t make sense. 

The band plays the majestic opening chords of “Muffin Man” and we know the show is approaching its end. It was always the last song. Dweezil does the band introductions.
Scheila Gonzalez played keyboards and saxophone. 
Ryan Brown: drums, percussion. 
Ben Thomas, Chris Norton and Cian Coey played various instruments including keyboards. 
Female backup singer: Mikki Hommel.
Kurt Morgan: bass.
Everybody helped out on vocals.  
They’re not the Mothers of Invention, but Dweezil and whoever the F@%k is playing with him still delivers a great show! 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Venice II

There was plenty of time before the afternoon tour, so I splurged at a nearby cafe with a view of the canal. I knew it would be more expensive, but I paid up for the view and the unique ambience. The waiters watched the tables like hawks. 

There was a stone bench near the entrance to The Doges’ Palace. Three middle aged Italian women sat there taking a break. It was a rare spot to sit near the square.  A ragged, older looking woman came up and sat down. She was probably a gypsy. The other women moved away from her. They held their noses. There was real contempt in the air. 

The VIP Tour of Venice continued after lunch. We would meet at the bridge with the view of the Bridge of Sighs again.  
Susan Steer was our guide. She’s middle aged, blonde and speaks with a British accent. She has a degree in architecture. It’s the familiar tour guide story. Susan tells us how she came to Venice and fell in love with the city and wound up marrying a native of Venice. She’s lived here for twenty years. She has a charming British accent. 
It was starting to clear up. Susan told us we were lucky. Yesterday’s downpour had ruined a tour she ran yesterday. She said there was something special about the sunlight in Venice after rain. “They say no light is clearer.”

Susan was counting heads and getting ready to start the tour. A group of young guys with carnival masks crashed their way through our group. The carnival masks gave them some anonymity and obnoxious bravado. Susan was irritated at their rudeness. At least they left and barged their way across the Square.  
Radios are synchronized and we walk a short distance to the Doge’s Palace. She brought our attention to the marble carvings on one of the arches of the Palace. They were close to where I had been sitting. The column tells the story of a family’s life. One relief shows the couple meeting, “Boy meets girl.” In the next image on the column they kiss and cuddle. “Between the sheets,” Susan says. This is the first flash of her saucy sense of humor. “What happens next? What happens after kissing and cuddling? ... It’s a bundle of joy.” There is a relief of the proud parents looking at their baby. In the last image, the parents grieve over their dead child. 
The story ends in unexpected tragedy. Was this typically Venetian? Did every story here end in tragedy? Susan says that people were still reeling from the effects of the plague when the column was built. That may explain the abrupt, tragic ending. 

We walked over to the large pillars. The Doge’s Palace had been built to impress. The pillars and palace were designed to be seen by approaching ships. Some of the marble arches may have been gilded. The Doge’s Palace would shine in the sun. The pillars and palace would be seen far off at sea, long before ships landed.  
The columns were part of the show. The first pillar is topped by St. Theodore, the first patron saint of Venice. He’s standing on a dragon that looks like a crocodile. The column that is closer to the Doge’s Palace is topped by the winged Lion, the symbol of St. Mark and Venice.   

We walked toward St. Mark’s Basilica. The facade of the Church is covered with ornate symbols and mosaics. It’s in Byzantine style. Venetians were heavily influenced by their trading partners from the East.  
One fresco above the doors tells the story of the rescue and smuggling of St. Mark’s body. In 828 Venetian merchants stole the body of St. Mark. To get it by searching Muslim guards the body was hidden in a barrel of cabbage and pork. In the fresco, one of the guards holds his nose. A barrel of pork was very offensive to Muslims. They allowed the barrels to go by without searching them.  

The line to get into the Basilica is long. The VIP tour gets us right through. Susan warned us about the steep stone stairs. It’s not that far up the stairs, but on the ancient staircase you have to watch your step. The steps certainly are not cut evenly. We enter what would be a choir loft in a Western church, and get the full view of the inside of the Basilica from above. It is breathtaking. Some sunlight is entering and it catches on the gold tiles in the mosaics. The light makes the interior of the basilica change throughout the day. There is mystery in this Byzantine, Eastern style church.  

The terrace level that we’re on has a new exhibition area. The original Four Horses of St. Mark’s are here. The Quadriga. It’s amazing how lifelike they are. Their origins are lost in antiquity. It’s believed they were made in Rome. They look bronze, but they are mostly copper. They were taken from Constantinople by crusaders in 1204. They were displayed on the facade of the Basilica. Susan says that it’s a miracle they weren’t melted down. In the past many great pieces were melted down for any precious metal they might have.
Napoleon took the Quadriga to Paris. He put them on top of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. (I had just seen the replicas over the Arc in Paris.) After he was toppled the peace treaty insisted on their return to Venice. Later, it was discovered that air pollution was taking its toll on the horses. They had to be protected from the elements. The horses outside the Basilica now are replicas. The ones on the terrace are the real deal.
We were able to go out onto the balcony that looked out over St. Mark’s Square. It was quite a unique view. Doges and dignitaries sometimes used the outdoor balcony to keep a wary eye on crowds.  

We walked around the inside of the Basilica. Susan pointed out that the floor was uneven. Areas had been replaced over the years. The more uneven the floor is, the older it is. We walk around and get a look at the Palo d’Oro, the golden main altar. 
Susan talks about some of the mosaic frescoes above our heads. The Harrowing of Hell shows Christ liberating worthy souls from Limbo. He’s standing on a dark, grotesque Satan.
A large figure of Christ Pantocrator looms over us on the dome. He’s enthroned above the patron saints of Venice. The mosaics form scenes from the life of Christ and the twelve Apostles. 

The Doge Fostatis survived a vicious murder attempt in the square. In gratitude he had a chapel built to the Virgin Mary. Fostatis was later deposed. We will pass his Palazzo on the boat tour later. 

One area that even this tour can’t enter is the crypt of St. Mark’s. The body of St. Mark was kept there, but it was later moved upstairs to the main altar because there was fear of flooding. Susan gives us a tip. The crypt is opened for a mass on Sundays. If you’re respectful and a bit reverent you can enter with the locals going to mass. It’s the only way to see the crypt. 
We walk from the Square to the Rialto Bridge. Here we will board a water taxi and get a tour of the Grand Canal. 
As we walk to the Rialto Bridge Susan gives us a lesson on shopping in Venice. The more aggressive the shop keeper is, the worse his merchandise is. “Real” Venetian merchants don’t stand outside their shop searching for customers. They don’t do the hard sell. Their merchandise guarantees that they will get enough business. They wait in their shop. Avoid shops with discount signs. It’s usually a ploy. “Besides, fifty per cent off of what?” Susan asks.
Susan pointed out some good restaurants. I should have copied down those addresses. Another tip is to look for restaurants that you see locals with their families at.

Venice had problems with flooding even before global warning. Many of the old buildings are starting to crumble. Susan talks about another problem Venice faces. Natives of Venice have been leaving. The skyrocketing cost of living here has created an exodus of those born in the city. Some fear that Venice will just become a Disneyland for tourists. Like San Francisco, the very nature of the city is changing.
Unbelievably, they will be opening Venice’s first shopping mall soon. Local shopkeepers fought against it, but after long battles the mall will open. It will be inside of an old restored building. It just doesn’t seem right.

We stop in a square for a bathroom break before getting on the boat. It’s the familiar square with the statue of Goldoni. We walk to a pier near the Rialto Bridge and get into a water taxi. We’ll take turns sitting outside, and I get to sit outside first. 
We go up the Grand Canal and pass the Vaporetto stop that is close to my hotel, the Ca d’Oro stop. The Ca d’Oro was a family palazzo. Susan tells us some of its history. Now it’s a museum. It’s named for the gilding that once decorated its exterior.

Some gondolas pass us. Susan says that the gondoliers are very well trained. They start by learning how to navigate the canal on the Targetta. Targetta are more like water taxis. They are cheaper than the gondolas, but you don’t get serenaded.  
The gondolas have a flat bottom. They can be hard to steer. The gondoliers have their own system for the maze of canals and bridges. When they approach a blind corner they will cry “Oii!” They can’t see each other, so they communicate by sound. 

It’s great to see the sights of Venice from the water. It’s said that water has a calming effect. Maybe that’s why Venice was called the Serene Republic. It is a city that is not only on the water, it seems to be floating.
We pass the Pescharia Fish market on the other side of the canal from the Rialto Bridge. There are also produce markets. Venice is famous for its fresh produce.
There’s some interesting graffiti on walls of the canal: “No Mafia!”     
Susan points out the Cannaregio, the Jewish Quarter. It’s a sad part of Venice’s history. This was the first modern ghetto. The word “getto” is on an early map of Venice. This is the first known use of the word. 

The boat leaves the Grand Canal and goes up one of the canals that cuts through the city. While we were passing under a bridge Susan said, “There’s no one under eighteen on this tour,” So she can give us the real story on the “bridge of tits,” the Ponte delle Tette. It was one of two sanctioned areas for prostitution. Susan says that single men trying to return here later this evening will be disappointed. It hasn’t been a red light district for years. 

Susan makes sure that we get a look at the Campo S. Maria Formosa. The large square is one of Venice’s busiest. The Church of St. Maria Formosa is the first church built in Venice that was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It has a campanile and a bell tower. 

Venice is full of mysterious and romantic spots. The Santa Maria dei Miracoli, St. Mary of the Miracles, is a church that was built right next to the canal. It’s known for the reflections its white and purple marble cast on the water of the canal. Susan tells us how a statue of the Virgin Mary was credited with miracles including bringing a drowned person back from the dead. The church has been renovated recently. Its romantic spot near the canal makes it a popular spot for weddings. 

Susan asks if any of us have wondered what happens when things go wrong. An ambulance can’t make it through the streets of Venice. She points out ambulance boats waiting at the entrance to Venice’s main hospital, the Ospedale, SS. Giovanni e Paolo. She assures us that response time is swift. We see the nearby Basilica. 

We’re back on the Grand Canal and float by the Ca Rezzonica. It’s another family palace that is now a museum. We pass the Accademia Gallery. I’ll be back to go inside later.  

We’re making our way along the Dorsoduro siestri on the Grand Canal. Susan has a special interest in the Guggenheim Art Museum. She interned there. “Peggy Guggenheim was a great woman.” She bought a family palazzo to house and display her collection of modern art. 
The Church of Salute stands guard at the entrance to the Venetian Lagoon. It was built in 1630 after prayers to the Virgin Mary to end a plague were answered. It’s a big feature in views of Venice.   
We’re on the Lagoon now and pass some of the sights we’ve explored earlier. We see the Doges Palace and the pillars that stand guard before St. Mark’s Square as they were meant to be seen, from the water. 
The boat goes out onto the Lagoon. We see the cemetery island, San Michele. Napoleon insisted burials take place outside the city. Apparently there was not a shortage of corpses. Local Venetians are still taken for their last boat ride before being interred on the unusual island cemetery. Just past it is Murano Island. Many tourists take the boat ride out there to see the home of Venice’s fine cut glass. 
The tour wasn’t a gondola ride so we didn’t get serenaded, but it’s great to see the sights of Venice from the water.   
It was time for a break. There were several outdoor cafes on the walkway next to the lagoon. I walked into one. “Do you want the restaurant or the bar?” Do Leoni is the restaurant and bar for the Londra Hotel. I ordered a glass of wine and the waitress brought a generous plate of olives, marinated onions and potato chips! There was a great view of the lagoon and the passing packs of tourists. This was the place!
There’s a constant menace here. Pigeons. Some lurk until people leave and swoop in on the remains left on the table. Bolder ones land on chairs or tables near dining customers. The staff came out and sprayed them with a water bottle. The pigeons fly away, but they are persistent. Eventually the water bottles are just left on the tables for us to defend ourselves with.    

I wandered the La Nuovo Strada again in search of sea food pizza. I had seen a sign for it earlier and now I was determined to get at least a slice, no matter how touristy seafood pizza is. I saw my greaser girlfriend was working at La Tappa Cafe so I had to stop in and have a Campari. Then I returned to my search for sea food pizza. 
I couldn’t find that sign again, and I was running out of gas. There was a restaurant on a corner and I got a table outside. The waiter steered me to the sea food risotto, the special of the night. It was a little dry, but still great. There were plenty of crustaceans.    
At the table next to me was a friendly young couple that was lingering. They were watching the same tourist scene. They were from Australia. I had met people from Down Under on almost every tour I had taken. It’s a long trek to Europe from there. Venice was one of their last stops on their epic journey that had included the Holy Land. 
We talked about traveling in a world of heightened security. What about terrorism? They told me there had been incidents in Australia. “It’s starting to happen there too.” I admitted that the incident at Bataclan had been a strange motivation for my trip. They said it was a consideration on their travels too.  

On Saturday night I was navigating the maze of bridges and narrow streets towards St. Mark’s Square. I heard them before I saw them. There were eight young guys. They were led by a young guy with wild, frizzy hair. It was a colorful Afro wig that reminded me of Crazy George. They all looked like they were on a mission. They didn’t look inebriated, but it looked like they might be headed in that direction. 
They were in front of me on one of the small bridges. They greeted a guy going in the opposite direction. He must have been a celebrity, probably a football star. They all went nuts! They jumped up and down singing what sounded like a football fight song. I don’t know who the other guy was, but they loved him. They made quite a scene, and it was clear they wanted him to join them.   
The football star was with a couple of young women who knew frizzy haired guy. One of them said, “His wedding day is October the first!” This made things clear. It was a bachelor party. There was a time I would have at least bought them a round somewhere, but I kept going on to St. Mark’s Square.   

Sunday. September 18. 
My last tour was scheduled for today: A day trip to the Dolomites. I was supposed to have confirmed my reservation two days in advance. I knew I was missing another great experience, but I certainly didn’t mind spending the last day of my trip in Venice. This would be the day of the museums! 
The first would be the Accademia Gallery. It was across the Grand Canal, but the  large Accademia Bridge made it walkable.  
On the way I came across “The Museo Della Musica Vivaldi.” It had been the Chiesa di S. Mauricio. The church has been converted into The Music Museum of Venice. There has been a church here since 1000 AD. At one time it was a basilica and it has been renovated several times. This “version” was finished in 1806 by Giannantonio Selva, who also built La Fenice Theater. 
Taped Chamber music plays inside. This place really drew me in. It looks like a church for music. Stringed instruments are displayed: violins, cellos, mandolins and harps. Most of them are in glass cases. Venice was known for violin making. 
It’s a magical place. There are statues of Vivaldi and other great musicians. Violins and a large cello are enthroned in the altar area. Maybe I liked the place because it was unexpected. I had discovered it on my own. It was a pleasant surprise.

The Gallerie dell’ Accademia is in the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carita, “One of the most ancient lay fraternal orders of the city.” It was once the gallery for the nearby school, the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, the art academy of Venice. Before that it had been a convent.  

It’s early and there is no line for tickets. I notice an Asian man who has just exited the museum. Suddenly, he turns around and goes back in over a turnstile he has just walked through. This triggers alarms and a security alert. Guards come running. Maybe he forgot something. There aren’t that many people in the area, but there is some fear in the air. Staff are running around like crazy. They only hear the alarms and don’t know why they’re going off. 
The errant visitor is confronted by guards, and things quickly calm down. Did he forget something inside the museum? What was he thinking? In today’s high security environment it was a very stupid thing to do. I’ll admit that I just didn’t want it to delay my visit to the Accademia.  
The Accademia shows art from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The collection is heavy on Tintoretto and Titian. Among the many large, impressive canvases were Tintoretto’s St. Mark Frees the Slaves and the Stealing of St. Mark’s Body. 
There are some familiar works: Titian: The Presentation of the Virgin. Giorgione’s Old Woman and The Tempest. There is a portrait of St. George by Andrea Mantegna.  
An exhibit on Hieronymus Bosch was a bit odd. Photographic reproductions were shown of works that were being restored, including the Triptych of Santa Liberata. They still drew a small crowd of Bosch fans. 
Like the other big museums in Europe, most of the paintings are on religious themes. Many of the canvases are very large, like the Battle of Lepanto by Paolo Veronese. Two fleets battle below the Holy Virgin, who is the one really determining the outcome of this historic battle.
There are two more by Veronese: the Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine and the Feast in the House of Levy. Nearby is the Creation of the Animals by Tintoretto.  
The Accademia features Venetian artists and paintings. The Procession of the True Cross by Gentile Bellini gives us a look at St. Mark’s Square in 1496. It’s amazing to see parts of Venice that look almost exactly the same as they do today. 
I left the Accademia and bought some postcards at a shop under the bridge. It was a quiet morning at the Accademia Vaporetto stop. I started towards St. Mark’s Square and my next museum, the Correr.  

I couldn’t pass a Catholic church named after an Old Testament figure without taking a look inside. The Chiesa di San Moise has a white, Baroque facade. The facade is covered in sculptures by Heinrich Meyring. The interior is covered in Baroque furnishings. A painting on the ceiling shows Moses drawing water from the rocks, but the main altar draws the most attention.   
The base of the altar is a pile of rocks representing Mount Sinai. Angels playing long trumpets surround God the Father as he hands the tablets of the Ten Commandments to Moses. There is a lot of action in the largely black altar. 
It had rained during the night. Now I would see the acqua alta. Large sections of St. Mark’s Square were covered in a couple of inches of water. It wasn’t a very threatening flood, but I remembered being warned about it in guide books. People gathered at the water’s edge. It made for an odd, impromptu beach front. 
A huge puddle covered about half the square. It was still easy to get around, but some people walked through the water barefoot for the novelty of it. People took photos of their friends walking on water way out in the middle of the flooded square with the Basilica in the background.      

Near St. Mark’s Square was the Museo Correr. The guy at the ticket counter sold me on an admission package that included the Correr, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, (The National Archaeological Museum) and the Doges’ Palace. Three museums for one low price!
The Correr Museum was begun with a collection bequeathed by Teodoro Correr in 1830. It must have been some collection. The building was “redesigned” in the 1990s. It has long halls displaying artifacts from Etruscan and Roman times.
There was a special exhibit: “Between Venice and the Orient.” I made a beeline for it. A vigilant guard stopped me. She told me I needed a special ticket for the special exhibit. I thought the guy had sold me the whole package. I could just go back and buy another ticket, but it’s a funny thing about many of the big tourist sites in Italy. The ticket area is always far from the entrance. I just went into the Correr.   
The Imperial Rooms are recreations of rooms from the 1800s complete with furniture and art. It reminded me of Versailles. Each room was a little world, a little time capsule. I walked through the Neoclassical Rooms. There was a large Ballroom. It was still hard to imagine what life was like back then. The Napoleonic Loggia had windows with a great view of St. Mark’s Square below. 

The National Archaeological Museum is in the same building, but it has a separate entrance. The rooms go in chronological order. The first room has large stone reliefs hung on the wall. There are statues from Fifth Century B.C. Greece, but most of them are Roman copies. There is a fantastic Numismatics Collection. A coin collector’s eyes would pop out! There were halls full of sculptures of Roman figures of history.

It was another hot, sunny day. I went back to the Do Leoni bar at the Londra Hotel. Tour guide Susan Steer had mentioned that we had been getting a break from the cruise ship crowds. Now I knew what she meant. People had left the ships and were now being guided in large groups by tour guides. Most of the groups followed a leading guide who carried a bright flag. Hundreds of people were pouring into Venice from the cruise ships.  

I was right in the neighborhood, so I stopped in at the Doges Palace again. It was a part of my Correr admission package, so I couldn’t resist. I didn’t spend as much time as when I saw it on the tour, but I did take an hour to walk around and get another look at the fantastic palace. 

I went back to the hotel to recharge my batteries. It was my last night in Venice, and I headed to the Square again. 
When I entered the square one of the cafe bands was playing The Godfather theme. It doesn’t get much cooler than that. It just seemed appropriate.
There had been wedding parties posing for photos every time I went through St. Mark’s Square, but there seemed to be more of them today. Maybe it was because it was Sunday.  
I wound up standing next to an obnoxious young woman juggling two iPhones. She was filming the band in front of the cafe with one phone. With the other she was talking to a girlfriend on Skype. Let’s hope that using two phones in this manner will eventually be illegal. 

I still wanted to get sea food pizza. I found the sign outside Osteria Con Cucina. I had to get a whole pizza, but that wasn’t much of a problem for me. The pizza wasn’t good, but the crustaceans were great!  
I thought I knew the route back to the hotel, but the short streets can be confusing. I found the Baccari Jazz Club. I knew I was on the right track when I saw it. The Baccari blasted Jazz and Blues music in front of the club. When I go by it tonight they’re playing B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” I stopped for a couple of minutes and grooved. Maybe it is time to go home.

I hate to admit it, but I stressed a bit about the start of my trip home. I wasn’t as anxious as during the trip to Europe, but the flight was ungodly early, 6:15 a.m. My real concern was how I would get to the airport. You just can’t call a cab or take Super Shuttle. 
Then it dawned on me. I wasn’t the first guy who ever had to catch an early flight from Venice. The woman at the front desk at the hotel had been very helpful and always asked if I had questions. I mentioned that I would be leaving and flying early. She suggested the Bucintoro Viaggi, a company that offered shared water taxis. 
I called the company and they said there was a place where they could pick me up near the hotel, but there was a catch. To come to that spot there was a minimum of two passengers. I’d have to pay for two! It seemed like a screw job, but I went with it. It was still cheaper than getting a taxi to the airport in U.S. cities.   

I got up in the middle of the night and went to the square. I was to meet “Paolo” there at 4:15 in the morning. I assumed he would meet me in the piazza and take me to wherever the water taxi was docked. It was dark and foggy. This really made the medieval buildings around the square seem a bit menacing. I felt like a sitting duck. The streets were empty and quiet. It was a bit eerie. Early morning Venice is strange. 
The sound of a motor broke the silence. There was a water taxi stop at the bridge that I had crossed daily to get to St. Mark’s Square. The boat picked me up right there. I might make it back to the USA after all.      
There were two couples in the boat. No one really wanted to leave and return to reality. It was foggy, but it was still a scenic ride across the Grand Canal to the airport. Venice is a city that hypnotizes you. Like San Francisco. Its people live in a different urban reality. My European trip was almost over. I was on my way back to the USA.