Thursday, August 12, 2010

Alice's Summerthing

It had been cold, gray and windy all week. Sunday was a glorious sunny day and even a bit warm. We blew off some World Cup drama and got outside. There was a free music event in Golden Gate Park, Alice’s Summerthing. It was being run by radio station Alice, 97.3 on your dial. It was music we usually didn’t listened to. We never listen to that station. but figured we would walk there and see some birds on the way.

We saw an ad with a list of the bands. We’d never heard of any of them. This would be a great chance to catch up with what some of the kids are listening to. I kept thinking of the Zappa line: The kids and their music are really where it’s at.

We’d be entering unknown territory for us. Alice played today’s version of Middle of the Road Rock. The kind of music that I would usually jab the dial to change the station as quickly as possible. It was a free event. Why not give it a chance? It was an event we hadn’t gone to before. It might not be a whole new subculture we were discovering here, but it would at least be different from the events we usually go to.

It was late in the season for birding. Most migrants had left. Veteran bird watchers said it was one of the worst spring seasons for seeing migrants. We’ve been to other events in Golden Gate Park and most birds flee the events with big crowds, but there always seemed to be hawks around. We’d seen them circle large Bluegrass Festival crowds. They seemed at least oblivious to the crowds and noise below. It almost seemed like they enjoyed it.

Alice’s Summerthing is held at Speedway Meadows, the site of free shows in the Sixties. We parked by the buffalo paddock. A recent article in The Examiner said they were thinking of adding some buffalo to the herd there. The ones in the paddock are getting old and the herd needs some new blood.

We knew the route from the buffalo paddock to Speedway, but we took a small detour to the area around the Polo fields. On the fields there were a couple of Soccer matches going on. These players must be hard core to be out here during The World Cup. They were missing Argentina vs. Mexico.

Many locals don’t even know there are stables near the Polo Fields. They’re slated for demolition. I remember reading about it, but can’t remember exactly why they have to be torn down. We saw some swallows zipping around the now shuttered stables.

There had been a section of concrete stands that had been erected almost a hundred years ago. It had been demolished and removed. A neighborhood group had protested, saying they had some historic value. I’d found the stands fascinating. They were a link to another time when the Polo Fields had actually been polo fields. They had been falling apart and were now gone.

The San Francisco Police Department have stables for their mounted Golden Gate Park patrols here. God knows what sights they see out here. I’m sure there must be tense situations in this stretch of the Park. Besides looking for miscreants, the mounted patrols of San Francisco’s finest have provided many great photo opportunites for the tourists.

We spotted some swallows and some interesting looking doves on a wire outside of the SFPD stables. A female officer came out of the stables. She seemed friendly, but I had a touch of the old paranoia. Was she going to chase us away? “Are you bird watchers?” she yelled. We must really look the type now. The binoculars may have given us away. Did she think we were spying?

She invited us in to see a sparrow’s nest inside the stables. We plunged into the belly of the beast. It was a police facility. It was nice of the female officer to call us in. “I’m going back to eat,” she told us. The nest was in the back, near a horse walking area. A pair of adult barn swallows landed on a fence near the nest and kept a wary eye on us. They are colorful birds.

We snooped around the stables a bit on our way out. There was a small room with trophies and photos of past mounted patrol officers. I was tempted to ask if the police stables were also slated for demolition. On our way out we saw our host officer was watching the last half of Mexico vs. Argentina. It looked like the end for Mexico.

We went farther on a path surrounded by eucalyptus trees. The trees almost created a tunnel. The music from Alice’s Summerthing came through the trees. We heard hawks screeching overhead. One flew into the trees. We saw at least four of them. We got a great look at them perched overhead. They looked like juveniles. They were screeching at each other and flying around. They put on a good show. The music coming from Alice’s Summerthing sounded good and had some psychedelic edge. It did sound a bit like the Jefferson Airplane.

We later found out it was One Eskimo. Later research revealed they were “a shoe-gazer band” from England. The chorus had the word “Baby” over and over. At home I did the inevitable YouTube search. The first hit was on their song, “Kandi” and it did use the word baby over and over. It must be their big hit. I would have listened to more of them, but found myself imagining how cool it would be if The Jefferson Airplane were on the other side of the eucalyptus.

We turned the corner and left the relative tranquility of the eucalyptus path. A huge banner told us we were entering “Generation Alice.” The crowd stretched across Speedway Meadow. The field was pretty well filled up with the only apparent spots way in the back. People had already been camped out for a while. We’d missed the first act, Thriving Ivory. It was hard to guesstimate how big the crowd was. I’ll say 40,000. We walked around a little and settled down on the left side, far from the stage. This spot was all right with us.

It was one of the most laid back crowds I’ve been in, and young! There were a few geezers, but most of this crowd was college age, even younger. Many of the older people looked like they were acting as chaperones. It was a change from the Baby Boomer crowd at events we usually went to. We’re teeny boppers again.

They were giving away many free samples. This was a great marketing opportunity. I suspect the Alice radio station is just one big marketing opportunity. There was a booth handing out hand and face cream as we entered. This is the demographic that makes them drool. Booths along the side of the crowd passed out swag to the young attendees.

The next act was “American Idol winner, Kris Allen!” Young girls in the crowd screamed. It was a bit Beatlesque. I hadn’t heard female screaming like that since Rod Stewart. Well OK, Chris Isaac. I hate American Idol and braced for the worst. It might be tough to make it through this one. Kris Allen had some kind of star thing going and the first song wasn’t bad.

I recognized some lines from the second song. It sounded vaguely familiar. Kathy figured it out! It was “Gangster Paradise” the song by Coolio that Weird Al parodied in “Amish Paradise.”

“Can’t Stay Away From You” “The Truth” “It’s All Right”

My attention wandered. I took a walk up the left side of the crowd. There were booths with more freebies: Pop-chips. Fruit snacks. Diet Dr. Pepper, and ONLY Diet Dr. Pepper! There was a big VIP area with a few people inside the tented barricades.

People in the crowd closer to the stage were standing. There was a backstage VIP area. About ten people were hanging out near the stage exit in there. They were patiently waiting for the winner of American Idol to leave the stage.

Kris Allen said it was it was the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s passing. (The exact date was the day before.) To commemorate this event, they would perform “Man In the Mirror” with everyone singing along. Some people did sing along. It wasn’t exactly a tearjerker. I had to hide the snide.

On the way back I passed a couple of tables where they were passing out excess food from the VIP buffet. It was a nice touch. We had a great Cuban pulled pork sandwich among other goodies. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? I’m still not going to listen to their radio station.

Another passable song, “Live Like You’re Dying” and then they do the Beatles’ “Come Together.” Was it a nod to the parents and chaperones in the crowd?

“I don’t get this demographic.” I was just kidding, but we usually weren’t around this kind of crowd. “There are no tattoos,” K noted. That’s it. On any walk around San Francisco you’d see more tattoos than all the freak shows in the Midwest combined used to have. There were very few illustrated people here today. There were many kids and family groups. Fun for the whole family!

It’s Dork Rock. These are all the good kids. I assumed most of the crowd were college students. There were many Asian fans. I wondered how much of the crowd had been drawn by the American Idol connection. I smelled a little weed, but there wasn’t much smoking and drinking going on. There was an ID station to get wristbands to buy beer and drinks. The drinking area was across the meadow and we never did make it over there.

There were some big banners informing us that Bud Lite was a sponsor. So, Bud Lite sponsors this, but Budweiser has pulled out of sponsoring The San Francisco Blues Festival. I’m sure it makes sense for their marketing purposes, but WTF?

The last band would be Lifehouse. A tape played of Alice 97.3’s “Alice Generation” sounds. It was largely peppy party music. At least there was some good synthesizer. Oh my God, am I getting soft?

There were some weirdos on the crowd. A young guy with a whiff was wearing a black fedora and had on a tee shirt that said: “Lucky Fuck.” Does he have to advertise it?

It was a long wait before Lifehouse. “What do you think they’ll play first?” a young teen age girl behind us asked her friends. That’s what we used to do. She had the excitement of going to the Big Rock Show. We still get excited, but we hadn’t expected much today. I was losing patience, then they played the big Lady Gaga hit. Now this I can understand. A Big Beat and a lot of hype. I was a bit annoyed when it was cut short by the introductions for Lifehouse.

The first half of the crowd stood in the opening excitement. Many stood throughout. Kris Allen and his band had looked very clean cut. These guys reminded me of Rockers from the Seventies. They looked more like a Rock band. The guitar player sported a big Ourobous tattoo, the coiled snake. They acted a bit more like Rock Stars. They looked older than their fans. The bass player had a weak combover. They reminded me of bands that banged around in the Seventies. Not having huge success, but living the road life. The hair was shorter, and the music more Pop, but it was the same kind of act. I’ll assume Lifehouse makes some money.

They did a song called “Nerve Damage” and then “Take Me Away.” They rocked, but they didn’t cross the line into reckless abandon. They had all the stage moves down. It might have been a little too rehearsed. They looked like real professionals. I wondered what they did backstage. I had no reason to, but I imagined them being total louts, terrorizing their young fans.

One song had a long bass run at the beginning. I thought it sounded like the beginning of Alice Cooper’s “Dead Babies.” They sounded good, and their fans were digging it, but I was still looking for something with a little bit more edge. I hadn’t expected to find at it something named “Alice’s Summerthing.”

A few of their songs were obvious popular anthems for Generation Z and/or “The Millennial Generation.” The guitar player raised his fist and held it in the air, like the Black Power salute at the ’68 Olympics. Many in the crowd returned the salute.

It was time to leave. This would be a “dumb” crowd. They would be confused and have a hard time getting out of Golden Gate Park. It would probably be a big traffic jam. We wanted to get a head start on this crowd. We made our way back up the sidewalk on stage right and got a last glimpse of the spectacle. We had a laugh when we ran into our next door neighbors. Still making the scene. It wasn’t my kind of music, but it had turned out to be another great afternoon in Golden Gate Park.