Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekend in Golden Gate Park

So I’m walking in Golden Gate Park last Saturday. Perfect weather. I’m approaching the DeYoung and I hear music. It’s definitely Heavy Metal. It’s a Led Zeppelin song. I loop around the Japanese tea garden. It’s about noon, so I can’t figure out what’s going on. If it’s a big event I probably would have seen a listing. It sounds so much like Zeppelin that at first I thought it was a tape, but no, it’s a live band. It’s free music in the Park man! Maybe it’s Zepparella? They’re an all female Led Zeppelin cover band. 
I get to the Spreckels Temple of Music Bandshell, and sure enough it’s Zepparella. I’ve been wanting to see them since I first heard about the band. They usually play clubs. This has to be an unusual gig for them. Outdoors in the sunshine.  
It was amazing. They’re three young women in white pants and long hair. They all have the Rock star swagger. The singer, Noelie, looks like Percy. (Sometimes Robert Plant’s onstage mannerisms struck the boys as too feminine. They took to calling him “Percy.”) She has the head shake, and sometimes she sounds like him! She does have his stance and act down. 
They were the entertainment for the inaugural 420 Games. The 420 Games are being held so that athletes who smoke marijuana can battle the stereotype that everyone smoking marijuana is a couch potato. After all, we now know that there are professional athletes who smoke marijuana. The area at the Bandshell was the end of a 5K Fun Run. There would also be a cycling competition in Marin and the “Marijuana Olympic Challenge” in Sacramento. I am not making this up. I swear it’s true. 
  There were a few booths scattered around with various products, most of them 420 related. There wasn’t much of a crowd. Many of the runners were in an area segregated from the non beer drinking world by a cyclone fence. A small crowd sat on park benches watching the band. 
I didn’t notice at first, but I didn’t see anyone smoking marijuana. Unusual for an event called The 420 Games. I learned later that organizers had discouraged smoking of “illegal” marijuana. They didn’t want it to be another “smoke in.” The 420 Day celebration held on April 20th in the Park on Hippie Hill had gotten out of hand. It wasn’t the pot use. Large, unruly crowds had left too much trash. It had cost too much to clean it up.  
Zepparella pounded out the hits. Talking About Love. Black Dog. Ramble On. A couple of songs from Houses of the Holy. A great version of Kashmir. The guitar player was great. I guess it’s unfair to compare her to Jimmy Page. They did Moby Dick with the obligatory drum solo by Angeline. It was amazing how much they sounded like Zeppelin, and it was loud. Very loud for noon time.    
Each member got a bouquet of flowers. Noelie said that it was an honor to play on this historic stage where so many Rock greats like Led Zeppelin played. (That was a bit of a stretch. Zeppelin did play at the nearby Kezar Stadium. It’s also a historic stage because one Anita “Durt Gurl” O’Shea performed there.) There were definitely Zepparella fans in the crowd proudly wearing Zepparella tee shirts. There will be a new album coming out.  
The funny thing is that I just stumbled on this one. There are still days in San Francisco. I remember a visitor from France saying, “We heard that every day they have zee Rock and Roll on every street corner!” I remember we didn’t discourage him from this idea.  
The next day I hit Comedy Day in the Park. This could be a rough one. It would be a tribute to Robin Williams. It was early, about eleven a.m, but I was still surprised how small the crowd was. In the old days there was always a chance Robin Williams was going to show up for Comedy Day. Now we knew that wasn’t going to happen.
It had been a jolt to learn he was gone. There weree rumors that he was troubled and struggling. I kept thinking of his appearance at the memorial for Bill Graham at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park. Williams was going to announce the next band. There were technical difficulties. It looked like and it was a long delay. He went off in his impromptu, manic way. He kept looking at the stage crew, who were begging for more time. He went off into multiple personalities and scenes. The huge crowd got him at his best. It was one of the greatest stage performances I’d ever seen.    
I was starving and lurked around one of the food trucks until they opened. Slider Combo #2 was a great deal at eight bucks. I found a park bench at the back of the crowd. It’s usually the epicenter of the drummers on Hippie Hill. The plaque said it was: “The Jose Simon” memorial bench. Simon had been one of the founders of Comedy Day. 
Debbie Durst is the MC. She performed and hung out at The Holy City Zoo with Williams. There would be some sad moments. Williams had deep Bay Area and San Francisco roots. After he passed the local TV stations broke into regular programming and had “special reports.” It was almost like after the Kennedy assassination. A large picture of Williams was rolled out over the stage.
Williams was the kind of celebrity that everyone felt like they knew him, even if they didn’t meet him. It was more than the power of television. We felt we knew him because our daughter Anita and her school class were extras in Mrs. Doubtfire. They were great to the kids. They got a look at a movie being filmed and had catered lunches at the Italian American Athletic Club. Many of the scenes were shot in our North Beach neighborhood. 
Durst read a list of comics who had passed away in the last year. She made an appeal for the crowd to donate funds on their web site. The permits to have the event in the Park were $10,000! “We’ve got a stage and a sound system,” she said and vowed that Comedy Day would continue even if they have to use the Jose Simon Memorial bench as a stage, “and use bullhorns.”   
Father Guido Sarducci did the benediction. He said, “I’m sure he’d be here, if he were here.” The good father talked about how exciting it had been when rumors flew that Robin Williams would be making a Comedy Day appearance. “Is he coming?” “Is he here?” If he did show up word spread fast and the crowd buzzed.  
Sarducci says he can imagine Williams going to heaven. He’d ask God, “What does it all mean?” And God would tell him to, “Put your right hand in. Take your right hand out. Put your right hand in and you shake it all about.” The band picks up the wedding party classic. What does it all mean? The Hokey-Pokey! 
It was getting windy. The banner with Robin Williams’ image on it didn’t want to cooperate. It flopped around and stagehands rushed to nail it down. Cardboard recycling boxes went flying. The wind would settle down.   
It’s comedy time! First on the stage would be the “Fresh Faces of Comedy Day.” They were young comedians who had never performed at Comedy Day before. Each comic gets five minutes onstage. Ronn Vigh would start it off. Durst says he’d still have a job if Joan Rivers was still alive. It sounds a bit brutal, but Vigh was a writer for a Rivers TV show. It was typical Joan Rivers humor.  
He does sound a bit like Joan Rivers, especially with his pacing. He’s Gay and he’s a football fan. He says they should have Gay translations explaining what just happened to the casual, Gay football fan. 
“How many people out there do yoga?” A surprising amount of hands go up. It is San Francisco. “I hate people who do yoga! And I’m a yoga teacher!” “You know what I hate?” He tells us about being harassed at a party. “I’m standing there with a glass of wine,” and a woman comes up to him. “What are you doing? You’re a yoga teacher! How could you do that?” Uh ... like have a glass of wine. So, because I’m a yoga teacher I can’t have a glass of wine? “OK, Moonbeam!” 
“You know what else I hate? Vegans!” He does a good routine about a vegan kids birthday party. The kids are so malnourished that they can’t break the pinata. When it breaks, vegetables fly out. 
Next is Gary Anderson, a young Black comic from New York. He asks if people in the crowd want to get into better physical shape. Well then, just get thrown in jail! You’ll lose weight and come out buffed from all the weight lifting. “Everybody who goes to jail loses weight.” So, what you do is put a gram of coke in your pocket, or more depending on your fitness goals, and get busted. He also does a routine about renting in New York City. Should he just tell prospective landlords that he’s Black? 
Priya Prasad spoke in a heavy Indian accent for the beginning of her five minutes. “You are all shitting there, laughing and having fun.” If anyone else did it, it would probably be considered offensive. She told some zingers about her parents. Her mother thinks drugs are “the gateway to lesbianism.” 
There were other Bay Area comedy icons coming up later in the afternoon. Tom Ammiano, Bucky Sinister, Scott Capurro, Margaret Cho, Bob Sarlatte, Dana Gould, Will Durst. Diane Amos would get the “Standup Comedy Legend Award.” Most of the big names wouldn’t be onstage for three hours. People were still coming in with lawn chairs.  I headed for home. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Besides, what else would I find going on in the Park on my way home?