Saturday, December 26, 2015

The End of the Pacific-Panama International Exposition

When the Lights Went Out. The Last Day at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. December 3, 2015. San Francisco Public Library. 6:00.
The Ferry Building is at the end of Market Street. It’s downtown San Francisco’s main vein. It was the central gateway to the City, and it’s still the spot for New Year’s Eve and civic celebrations. You can see it for a long way down Market Street. This year the building has had the large numbers 1915 lit up under its clock tower. It honors the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. 
It’s been quite a year for lovers of San Francisco history. There were many Exposition related exhibits and celebrations during the 2015. It was a unique way to look at life in San Francisco a hundred years ago. The fair was a celebration that brought the world to San Francisco. It may not have reflected what daily life was like in the City, but it was San Francisco putting its best face forward to the world. 
The Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebrated the innovation and progress of the times. The Panama Canal had just been finished. It was considered a technological wonder of the world. Domestic and foreign pavilions displayed many other achievements in science and art. The celebrities of the time gathered to celebrate. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford took a ride around the fair grounds in a Model T. “Too bad that conversation wasn’t recorded.” The entertainment stars of the day visited or performed at the fair. America’s frontier past was celebrated with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Many saw their first airplane there. Daring aviators were the rock stars of the day. Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand made a short film of their visit to the fair.  
The Panama-Pacific International Exposition stretched from what is now Crissy Field to Van Ness. Most of the buildings were in classical Beaux Arts style. They were made of burlap that was painted a travertine pink. Lights shone on the buildings, especially the Tower of Jewels. The tower was covered in dangling Novagems that caught and reflected the light. There are black and white photos and film footage, but even sepia tinted photos can’t capture the lighting effects and beauty of the fair. It was a classical vision, but it was ephemeral. The buildings and the fair were never meant to be temporary. You had to be there. 

The centennial celebration started a year ago with a lecture by Laura Ackley at the Mint Building in downtown San Francisco. The Mint was one of the few structures to survive the fire of 1906. There were heroic efforts to save the building and the treasure inside. It was a San Francisco history museum in the Seventies. Budget cuts had forced its closure, and it had been empty for years. There were attempts to make it a history museum again, but it didn’t work out.
Ackley’s book has been called the seminal work on the Exposition: “San Francisco’s Jewel City. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.” It’s a beautiful, well printed volume with an expert description of the fair and great photos. 
The day after Ackley’s talk there was an opening ceremony at the Palace of Fine Arts for the exhibit: “City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair.” I describe it here: Many people came in period dress, and it was a great San Francisco event. 
The exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts has a large map of the fair grounds and a short film about the fair. There are statues and other items that were at the exposition. The Palace of Fine Arts is the last building from the fair in its original location. 
The California Historical Society had an exhibit at their home on Mission Street. There was a large diorama of the fair grounds that had been in storage for years. It’s a great way to visualize how large and grand the fairgrounds were. There are original Novagems from the Tower of Jewels and fascinating newspaper clippings from the time.   
There were exhibits and celebrations in other parts of California. Sacramento, Monterey, Fresno and Saratoga had exhibits showing their city or county’s participation in the fair. In the East Bay the Bancroft Library and Mills College joined the fun. The Wells Fargo History Museum and the Chinese Historical Society of America in downtown San Francisco had displays of PPIE artifacts. There were related exhibits in San Luis Obispo, Los Gatos and San Ramon. 
The DeYoung Art Museum in Golden Gate Park has gathered two hundred art works that had been shown at the Exposition for: “Jewel City. Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.” Most of them are paintings. It’s only a glimpse of the art that was shown throughout the fairgrounds. There were twenty thousand pieces of art spread throughout the fair. 
Tonight’s event was at the Skylight Gallery in the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Branch. It was fitting that Laura Ackley would speak again on the eve of the anniversary of the Closing Day at the Exposition.  
The Skylight Gallery is home to yet another exhibit on the Panama-Pacific Exposition: “Company’s Coming: San Francisco Hosts the Pacific-Panama International Exposition.” Amazing memorabilia from PPIE is displayed around the room in glass cases. There are photos, business papers, newspaper clippings and other ephemera from the San Francisco History Center’s collections. Other artifacts are souvenirs, scrapbooks, ticket stubs and badges. Old sheet music is entertaining and humorous. Our MC is Christina Moretta. She is the Photo Curator for the San Francisco Public Library. Everything in the glass cases around us are from the library’s archives. Moretta looks proud to say: “We have a lot of stuff.” Moretta mentions that this would be one of the last centennial events and it might, “Bring a tear to your eye.”
Moretta tells us of Ackley’s impressive academic resume. Ackley has graduate degrees from Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. She has worked for Lucasfilm, the Bechtel Corporation and Autodesk. She became interested in PPIE when she was an undergraduate.
Ackley thanks Moretta for the introduction, and praises the library’s History Center and San Francisco’s City Archivist, Susan Goldstein. Ackley first came to the History Center about four years ago. Much of her research was done at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, but “I found things here that I couldn’t find anywhere else.” 
Ackley is a slim and attractive women. She’s an entertaining and personable speaker with a subtle sense of humor. The people attending are history buffs, and they’re looking forward to one of the last events held during the centennial year. It was a rainy night, but the crowd was larger than expected. They did have to bring out more chairs.   
The planning of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition began as early as 1904. There was some competition from other cities to hold the fair. San Francisco just edged out New Orleans. It didn’t look like San Francisco could survive the devastation of the earthquake and fire of 1906. How could the ruined city put on an international exposition that would draw participants from around the world? City authorities and businessman persisted in their plans. They wanted a new image for the City that would replace the many pictures of the ruins and rubble of “The Paris of the West.” The outbreak of World War I threatened the fair. PPIE officials scrambled to encourage those swept up in the war to still participate. Most of them did. 
The Panama-Pacific International Exposition is quite a mouthful. It needs an acronym. Ackley says, “We call it PPIE, for brevity and sanity.” Tonight’s talk would focus more on the end of PPIE, and what happened to the buildings, artifacts and the Marina neighborhood after the fair closed.
The next day, December the fourth, would be the centennial of the last day of the PPIE. 1915 had been a very wet year in the Bay Area, and that had affected attendance when the fair opened. “PPIE started in the rain, and it looked like it would end in the rain.” Ackley points out that it rained heavily the day before Closing Day. “Just like it did today!” It was expected that 450,000 would attend the Closing Day ceremonies wearing special badges. Rain was predicted, but in a last piece of Exposition magic, the day dawned clear and brilliant.  
There were grand plans to make the final day of the fair special. There was a large parade that led attendees to the entrance for the last day. They were met with a twenty-one gun salute. Ackley shows slides of the parade. She points out a ring of lights around one float. Using electricity like this was still impressive back then.   
There were many events at each pavilion to celebrate the end of PPIE. Starting at five o’clock there were closing ceremonies at each pavilion. It was a bittersweet day for the crowds walking the fairgrounds for the last time.  
PPIE stayed open until midnight. Walter D’Arcy Ryan’s Great Scintillator lit up the Novagem Jewels for the last time. Pilot Art Smith flew over the fair, leaving trails that looked like fire in the sky. There was a massive fireworks show. 
Ackley describes the last moments of the fair. At midnight the lights went out. One light remained on Descending Night, the statue by Adolph Weinman. Attendees wandered the fairgrounds for the last time. They danced until dawn. No one wanted it to end.  

It was sad to see PPIE being torn down, but there was also an odd civic pride that at least there was some control over the demolition. The residents had gone through the trauma of seeing their city destroyed in 1906. Ackley says that this time it had been a conscious decision to demolish the fairgrounds, and not the whim of nature. It’s hard to believe, but The Jewel City had always been planned to be temporary. Exhibitors scrambled to sell anything they could. It was cheaper than taking it back home.
The land was all leased. The buildings had to come down. The Marina and the residential neighborhood around it would be built over the former fairgrounds. The demolition started almost immediately. A slide shows us one of the more spectacular scenes when the Towers of Italy were torn down. It had to be a jarring image for former fair goers. Some of the buildings were dynamited. Railroad tracks had been put in to get heavier exhibits and machinery into the pavilions. They were covered during the fair and now they were dug out to move rubble and heavy things out. 
Most of the buildings were destroyed, but some were sold and relocated. Some of them were moved and used as private homes. A slide shows us the odd view ferry riders had when the Ohio Building was carried across the Bay with the help of a tug boat. 
There are some surviving buildings in the Bay Area. “The Victor Talking Machine Temple” is now in San Rafael at Fifth Avenue and H Street. The pagoda from the Japan Pavilion was moved to Golden Gate Park and is still there today. The plaza in Sausalito has one of the remaining pieces from PPIE. The two elephant flagpole bases and fountain were once in the Court of the Universe. They were barged across the Bay and later renovated.
Ackley shows us a slide of some of the iconic sculptures of the fair abandoned to the elements on the Marina. They were “left to deteriorate.” One of the statues is James Earl Fraser’s “The End of the Trail.” An Indian slumps on his horse in exhaustion and defeat. The statue was sold to Visalia. They made a replica and sold the original to the National Cowboy & Western Museum in Oklahoma City. 
Ackley went to the Cowboy museum and saw the original stature. She says it’s very impressive to see in person. The Indian warrior on horseback is thirty-five feet tall. The plinth base it’s on is ten feet tall.  She’s embarrassed to admit she didn’t get a picture!
The Palace of Fine Arts was saved after a campaign led by Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Its burlap exterior began to crumble in the elements of the Marina of San Francisco. It was saved and made more permanent after another public crusade in the early Sixties.
The Q&A. 
A woman asks about the fate of The Palace of Fine Arts today. A new tenant must be found and many are concerned about having a hotel or restaurant in the facility. 
Ackley points out that a building must pay for itself or it doesn’t work. The building will be neglected and deteriorate. The Palace was home to the Exploratorium for years, but the children’s science museum had moved to larger quarters on San Francisco Bay. The Palace of Fine Arts building had been used as a storage space and even as a garage for a while. There have been rumors that the lagoon and rotunda would be radically changed. “They are not tearing down the rotunda! Tell people that!”
The new tenant will be responsible for any necessary seismic retrofit and other upkeep costs. The controversy makes blood boil among Marina residents. The traffic a new attraction would draw would be a problem.
Another question. Can some of the areas of the liquefaction that caused most of the damage from the earthquake of 1989 show up on the plans and maps for PPIE?Ackley says that early plans for PPIE showed lagoons and small bodies of water that had to be drained. They were the same problem areas during the earthquake in 1989. She points out that most of San Francisco was on dry land back then. Very little of The City was landfill, and they had no idea liquefaction would be such a problem. 
The buildings of PPIE were always meant to be temporary. They didn’t really have foundations. The bigger buildings did have supports driven into the clay of what would become the Marina, but they would be torn down shortly after the fair. 
Could you see any of the effects of World War I at the PPIE? Ackley told us that fair organizers had to scramble after the outbreak of the war to end all wars. Germany canceled. It would be a rash indulgence during wartime. There was some German art at  PPIE, but there was no official participation. After much persuasion, France agreed to send most of its planned exhibits. There were still empty spaces at PPIE where countries at war had to cancel. 
Last question: What were the socioeconomic problems at PPIE? Where people denied admittance because of race? This was a time of real discrimination in the United States. Were some people barred from entering? Ackley says no. No one was denied entrance because of race, but the price of a ticket did keep some of the lower classes from going to the fair. It was a different time. Some of the facades of attractions in the amusement section were bizarre racial caricatures of the day. One exhibit in “The Joy Zone” was a simulated opium den from Chinatown. Citizens in Chinatown complained and the attraction was closed.  
There would be another last question. An earlier slide had shown very creative floats made for the parade on Closing Day. Some of them had a string of lights along them. How had the lights been lit? They used batteries! It was probably quite an effect at the time. 
It felt like the Q&A could have gone on much longer, but Laura Ackley had books to sign.     
The next day, December 4, was the centennial of the closing day at PPIE. The lights under the numbers 1915 were turned off, and they would soon be taken down. Some people showed up in period costume for the ceremony, and a celebration was held at the nearby California Historical Society. The centennial of one of San Francisco’s brightest years was over. 


Friday, November 13, 2015

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival 2015

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 15. October 2,3,4. San Francisco. Golden Gate Park. 
It’s that time of year again. I’ve been to most of the fifteen Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festivals. It’s still an incredible event. Yes, it will be crowded. It’s free! San Francisco authorities estimate 750,000 will attend during the three days. Crowds can be overwhelming. There are ways to avoid the real crush of the crowds. I tend to lurk on the periphery anyway. 
The Warren Hellman family still bankrolls Hardly Strictly. Warren passed away a couple of years ago, and he made sure that a trust fund would keep the festival going. It costs the city of San Francisco nothing. HSB even pays for any damage done to Golden Gate Park during the event. It’s still Warren’s gift to the people and city.
There didn’t seem to be as many big show business names this year. No Dolly Parton or Willie Nelson. Big acts bring out clueless throngs. There were still plenty of familiar names and some new ones too. It didn’t seem to bother attendance. 
The best way to do the festival is to “Get a spot,” and spread a blanket, but it gets harder for me sit on the grass all day. I’d rather wander around anyway. There are four stages going on Friday, and six on Saturday and Sunday. It’s amazing how many different acts you can see in one day. There are some acts that are “musts,” but sometimes it’s just a matter of chance who I see.     
This will read more like a list and it will be hard to read at times. Song titles are in quotes. Sometimes they are guesses or the first line from the song. Corrections are welcome and appreciated. Sometimes half the fun is going back and trying to figure out who I saw and heard. I will make a few of my usual cynical comments on the event and the crowd, but I can only describe a small slice of what goes on in Golden Gate Park over this magical weekend. I tend to focus on the unusual in crowd situations. Most of the crowd are “normal” looking people. So, if you can’t stand the crowds, or you just missed it, here’s the annual report.   
My plan this year was to go early and to leave early. It’s a much different atmosphere in the morning and early afternoon. It’s easier to get around and there’s just more room. Much of the festival is streamed live on the Hardly Strictly web site. The band Moonalice sponsors the webcast. Seeing it online has been frustrating in the past, but the technology is smoother now. I believe that music is always better live, but after five or six hours in the park, I cut some corners this year and watched the last hour of the day online. Three days in a row at this event can be challenging.   
There is a Baby Boomer, Woodstock feel to the crowd. It’s a real throw back to the old days. People share more and want to help each other out. It’s part of the long tradition of free music in the park. Things get a bit crazier near the end of each day when people pour in to see the bigger acts, but even then there is usually the unique courtesy seen at big events in San Francisco. The tradition of free music in Golden Gate Park goes way back into the history of San Francisco.   
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sweetness, peace and love. There was a disturbing report in The Examiner the day after the festival ended. A body was found in the park near the festival grounds. The feel good atmosphere wasn’t marred, because most of us didn’t hear the story until the next day. Few at Hardly Strictly knew what happened. More details unfolded in the week after the festival, and I’ll give them to you after the report. It’s the first fatality at HSB that I can remember.     
Friday. 10/2. There are only four stages active today. There will be six going on Saturday and Sunday. It all starts at noon at the Banjo stage with Dry Branch Fire Squad. I’m here for Ron Thomason’s dry humor and stories. They open with a Bluegrass instrumental. At least HSB starts with a Bluegrass song. “We’re the strictly part of Hardly Strictly,” Thomason tells us. “Echo Mountain.” “Can You Be Mine.” A Gospel song mentioning Ezekiel and the trip to Jordan. 
These guys are the real deal. They wear country style suits and ties. They’re professional! Thomason talks in a laid back Southern drawl that can sometimes mask his biting humor. “I’m not talking too fast for you now, am I?” He tells us that the first time he met Doc Watson, Watson was on his roof fixing his TV antenna. “This was a scene of existential angst.” Thomason made the speech for Watson’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 
“Girl I Left Behind.” “Someone You Used to Know.” 
Thomason has been a long time family friend of the Hellmans. He tells us he met Warren “at the races.” “Later, I saw him announcing bands at the Bluegrass festival.” Thomason had no idea how rich Hellman was. He asked him, “How did you get a job announcing bands at a Bluegrass festival?” Warren said he knew someone in management. Thomason later figured out Hellman was more than management.  
Mandolin player Tom Boyd has a mandolin that was owned by Bill Munroe. The story is that an enraged woman smashed it to pieces. Munroe sent it back to Gibson for “some warranty work.” 
Guitar player Brian Aldridge gets a dig from Thomason for once being in a Country and Western band. “He played in a band with men who wear makeup.” Thomason goes on a long diatribe about “that other kind of music,” that defies summary. 
“Seven Spanish Angels.”  
Gospel song of the year: “Lift Up.”  
Thomason announces that Ralph Stanley will have to cancel his appearance at the Banjo Stage on Sunday. He broke his hip. I’ve seen Stanley almost every year at HSB, and he’s always inspiring. Some of the older musicians from the first HSBs are no longer with us. Stanley is one of the last of the originals. Here’s hoping he can make it back next year.  
Gillian Welch song: “Rolling Home.” “Orphan Child.” The 2015 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival starts with some real Bluegrass from some long time festival stalwarts!
In past years the cell phone thing was nearly out of control, but people text more now. It does cut down on obnoxious chatter. “Where are you?” “Dude! I’m right by the stage!” There will be more oblivious people as the day goes on, but there are less people yelling into their cell phones. It’s only because the technology gets better.
They’re setting up a Hammond B3 organ for the “Psychedelic Soul” of the Monophonics. It’s a little early for night club music, but they get things going with: “Are You Ready?” and “There’s a Riot Going On.” 
Then they do an odd Bluegrass cover of the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” that gets the crowd going.  
A group of about fifteen young people dance into the crowd. They have to be in their early twenties. They have flowers and feathers in their hair and carry around staffs with trinkets, ribbons and jewelry. They look like they stepped out of a time warp. The Sixties have to be a remote concept for them, but they seem to be living the dream. They are selling their trinkets at the big Rock show in the Park. 
“Finding My Way Back Home.” “Hanging On.”
“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down.)” The Sonny and Cher hit from 1966! 
There’s a forty minute gap so I wander, and catch the very beginning of Mary Wilson-Piper’s Acres of Space. Mary Tilson, the host of America’s Back Forty on KPFA introduces them. It looks interesting, but I press on to the Banjo Stage. 
The Mavericks are a band that have been around a long time. They’re a swinging R&B party band. The Banjo Stage will be the home for some Rhythm and Blues acts today. “That’s What You Do To Me.” 
The Mavericks are a colorful bunch. They wear loud suits. The keyboard player is very visible with a pink suit and pink pork pie hat. An original: “Summertime.” Good time music. 
There are certain regulars who show up at many of the free music events around San Francisco. One of them is a man who I call Dancing Guy. He looks about sixty and always wears a suit and hipster hat. He looks a bit bloated and scarier than usual. When the music starts he dances and wildly throws his arms around.   
He can get a bit aggressive with his swinging windmill arms. He creates a space for himself. He also says that, “Contributions are appreciated.” The last time I saw him he created a bit of a confrontation with his neighbors. Today when he arrives a few people have to scatter from their spots and relocate. It’s early in the day and easier to just move away from his space.   
A friend of his shows up. They greet each other. They’re two old veterans meeting again. They compare notes. The other guy has a hook for a right hand. They’re quite a pair.    
A sad song: “Harvest Moon.” A long, soulful version of “Guantanamera” that blends into “Twist and Shout.” The crowd is getting into it. “Back In Your Arms.” “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down.” 
The former Star Stage has been renamed to honor Warren Hellman’s wife. Chris Hellman was a ballet dancer when they first met. The Star Stage is now The Swan Stage. There’s a gap in the schedule. In the early hours it’s easy to find a place to stretch out a bit. This area will be jammed with people later.  
It seems like people are more dressed up today than usual. Halloween is almost a month away, but there are people in the spirit already.  Some people do stick out, even in a crowd of two hundred thousand. A guy is running around with a strange green suit. It looks like grass is growing out of the suit. It’s some kind of organic suit. A mustachioed juggler is putting on quite a show nearby. He’s tossing pins thirty feet in the air. It’s a carnival atmosphere.
There’s a mobile home size trailer next to the Bandwagon stage. It’s a mini museum of the history of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. There are posters and pictures from all fifteen years of the festival. This has become a permanent exhibit at the Jewish Contemporary Museum in downtown San Francisco.  
The MC talks about the tradition of free music in San Francisco, especially Golden Gate Park. Peter Rowan was a part of that tradition: “He was there.” Rowan has played and recorded Americana music for many years. “There are some genres he invented.”   
They start with a Doc Watson song, “It’s a good day for guitar picking.” 
“Free Mexican Air Force.” A song that brings back old memories. 
“Tin Roof Shack.” “Rain and Snow.” 
Peter Rowan’s brother, Chris, joins. 
“Midnight Moonlight.” “Across the Roaming Hills.” “Arise.” “The Day Odetta Died.” “In the Pines.” A Bill Munroe song. “Angels Rock Me To Sleep.”  

Hardly Strictly is a magnet for anyone who lives in the park. Near the eastern entrance of the park there is an encampment of younger people who are living on the streets. Most have long hair, sleeping bags and ragged clothes. Are they living the dream or the nightmare of the Sixties? 
At the back of the Banjo stage there is a big oak tree. It’s cordoned off by iron police traffic barricades. A couple of years ago the tribe of way-wards and strays took over the shady area under the tree. I don’t know exactly what was going on under there, but the authorities put an end to it. Maybe it was just too obvious a haven for drug abuse. 
They still gather near the oak tree. A group of fifty of them can be a bit intimidating. They smell bad. There are a few older, more grizzled residents of the park, but most of the tribe look young. They try to panhandle, but they don’t seem to be getting many contributions here today.

Michael Franti & Spearhead. “Just Let You Heart Just Go.” Franti’s songs have a very positive message. “Hey Hey Hey.” “Let It Go.” “All I Want Is You.” It’s starting out as a rocking, lively show. I’m way in the back and decide to head home. It doesn’t take me long. I find the live stream on the web site.  
“Take Me to the Place I Want to Go.” 
“It’s 11:59.” “It’s 11:59 and 59 seconds.” 
Franti comes down off the stage and climbs into the crowd. He’s high five-ing everyone. He’s singing and hugging fans. He lets people sing into the microphone. It’s quite a love fest. “Everyone should have someone to love.” Not only is he in the crowd, but he goes way into the back. People are thrilled to suddenly be near the action. The show comes to them. I start to wonder how he’ll get back onstage for the finale.  
“Say Hey (I Love You.) “Once a Day.” “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like)” 

Saturday. October 3. I get a ride with John Stuber, a member of The Albany All Stars. We head to the Arrow Stage for the 11 a.m. start of Pokey LaFarge. The band plays original songs with an early Americana flavor. The new CD is “Something in the Water.” The first song is “What’s the Matter With You,” and then they play the title track from the new CD. “Bow Legged Women.” “Ton of Bricks.” 
They have two horn players that add to the old time sound. Pokey is out in front in a gray suit. Stuber turns to me: “They’re children!” I don’t get it at first, but they look so young that they look younger than college age kids or even teenagers. They look like children. Well, compared to us they are, but they’re playing old time music. It’s great to hear a band so into recreating a historic sound. 
  Pokey makes it a point to tells us that all their songs are original. He makes a catty comment: “We don’t do covers. You’ll have to deal with a cover band later.” It’s pointed at Leftover Salmon, who will be playing The Arrow Stage later on in the day.   
They play a Spanish song: “Goodbye Barcelona.” I liked the song, but they seem to lose a bit of momentum with the crowd. It’s early, but the fans want to party. “Acting the Fool” gets the crowd going again.  
A Red Tail Hawk flies around to our right. Most of the birds have fled the huge crowds. The raptors never seem to be bothered by it. Maybe it stirs up extra groundhogs. 
“I Wanna Be Your Man.” An original, not the Beatles song I heard Ringo do Thursday night. The music sounds like a revue of older Americana music: Jazz, Country, Swing, but all the songs are original.  
“Where Have All the Good Girls Gone?” “Riverboat Shuffle.” 
Pokey tells us they’ll be going on tour in Europe. They will be ambassadors, “For better or worse.” They love playing the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, but are looking forward to getting home to St. Louis, where they will be on “Central Time” again.  
The Bandwagon Stage is in the back of the Arrow Stage area. There’s a mobile home opened up with a stage in front of it. It’s a great idea. Smaller acts fill some of the dead time while equipment is changed on the Arrow Stage. 
A muscular guy is playing an acoustic. He looks like he could be a lumberjack. The first song is about a guy who does the right thing and exacts revenge on someone who wronged his sister. He did what he had to do, and it was worth getting executed. 
Barry is pouring his heart and soul into every song. In the next song he offers to “cover the cost of a flight” to be with his lover. Barry is intense and the songs are heartfelt. 
Barry tells us that he’s toured a lot, but he is still terrified before performing. “Do something that you’re afraid of! Do something dangerous!” 
“Has anyone here ever heard of Gabriel Prosser?!” The inevitable Google search reveals that Prosser tried to lead a slave revolt near Richmond in 1800.   
Barry is from Virginia. He says, “We shouldn’t erect any more statues to Civil War generals.” We should be honoring the heroes of the Civil Rights movement. This is a popular stand in San Francisco. The confederate flag controversy had just been in the news. 
Stacy is in the crowd. You may have seen him on television coverage of many Bay Area sporting events. They usually show him playing banjo before commercial breaks. He was a member of The Family Dog in the Sixties. I’ve heard he has the patent on the twirly helicopter thing on baseball hats. Stacy has been a guest musician on The Rooster Stage in past years. He’s nodding approval. 
Barry’s passionate performance is drawing a crowd. People headed to other stages have to pause. “I flew in from Virginia for this half hour!” “It’s So Long.” Barry says he’s going to party tonight. We spot him in the crowd the next day headed to the Porch Stage. 
The HSB band biography handout says that The New Mastersounds are a greasy soul and funk band from Leeds, UK. We hear them pound out three songs. They’re long jams. They sound great, but we want to visit The Rooster Stage before Hot Tuna. 
  The Rooster Stage is being commandeered by Buddy Miller & Friends for most of the day. (12:15-5!) Jim Lauderdale is the first guest in Buddy Miller’s cavalcade. “Something Should Happen In Good Time.” “Let Me Find You.” “And It Hurts.” The new record is Soul Searcher. “Mysterious.” Lauderdale is tanned and wearing a big Stetson. Buddy Miller joins in a purple suit jacket and trademark hat. Lauderdale says every Bluegrass festival has to have a Robert Hunter song: “Throw My Bucket Down.” “Worth the Wait.” 
Lauderdale says that corporations are taking each other over at such a fast rate that maybe we should just get it over with. Maybe there should just be “One Big Company.” 
Buddy’s second guest is Donnie Fritts & John Paul White. The two Alabamans   teamed up to play at the premiere of the documentary about the legendary Muscle Shoals studio. John Paul White was in The Civil Wars. The first song is about swimming in fried chicken. Donnie Fritts plays great Wurlitzer electric! “Errol Flynn.” Do they even make Wurlitzer electric pianos anymore?  
It’s time for a slice of pizza. There are food vendors, but they will be swamped later. Jim Lauderdale is in the back of Marx Meadow talking to a small group of fans. It’s one of the great things about HSB. Sometimes you see musicians you’ve just seen onstage wandering the crowd, even though they can get a ride from stage to stage on golf carts.  
Hot Tuna Electric. Banjo Stage. 1:25. Big crowd for this one. They’re loud, but it’s still hard to hear them from the back. The wind is a factor. The boys are blasting in the Park again. “I See the Light.” Jorma and Jack are dressed mostly in black. The hair is all white. They’re still an imposing pair. They’re in conservative attire, for them. Gracie Slick  once said Jack Cassady is, “The weirdest looking guy on the planet,” and it’s still true. Jorma looks and sounds as powerful as ever on guitar and vocals. They’ve been playing together for almost fifty years! “Hesitation Blues.”
They play an ominous Blues: “99 Year Blues.” “Well give me my pistol, man, And three round balls/ I’m gonna shoot everybody/ That I don’t like at all.” 
They’re a power trio with Justin Guip on drums. “Bow Legged Woman, Knock Kneed Man.” A tremendous “Rock Me Baby.” “Hit Single #1.” “Come Back Baby.”
It’s as close as you can come to the old days in the Park. “Rock Me Baby” alone was worth it. One of the highlights of the whole weekend!        

It’s off to the Swan Stage for Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones. One of the acts I see almost every year. We pass the Arrow Stage where the Doobie Decimal System is covering a Pink Floyd tune! It does sound good, but we press on. Love the band’s name.
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones. “Mister Kicks.” “This World Is In a Bad Condition.” “Southern Flood Blues,” a Big Bill Broonzy song. We’re on the left side of the stage. There is a small hill that has a good view of the stage, but it is packed with people. It also cuts off our view of the stage. The crowd around us is distracted. Small groups ignore the stage and chatter. Almost can’t blame them, but they’re missing a great set.
“Trucking Little Woman.” The Alvins did an entire album of Big Bill Broonzy covers. The brothers had a bitter falling out that has been mended in recent years. Phil is a respected mathematician. It’s an odd combination of careers. Dave wrote a song, “What’s Up With Your Brother?” It’s humorous. No matter what he accomplishes everyone wants to hear the latest news from his brother. It could be the ultimate sibling rivalry song. 
“Dry River.” “Someday it’s going to rain...” We’re starting to wonder in California. El Nino storms are predicted for this winter and many fingers are crossed. The weather for HSB weekend has been almost perfect. Clear by the time it starts. Sometimes it’s a bit windy, but really great weather. The wind does whip up late in the day and it did cause some sound problems.   
A hot cover of the James Brown classic, “Please, Please, Please.” An old Blasters song: “American Music.” “Turn On Your Love Light,” by Bobby Blue Bland. 
Even with the distractions it’s a rocking show! Great set the whole way. Definitely one of the highlights! Maybe the best act I see at the festival this year.   
We head to the neighboring Towers of Gold Stage for Joe Jackson. He draws a fanatical following. The Towers of Gold has more room and a hill on the left that gives many people a view of the stage. 
“It’s Different for Girls.” The big hit: “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” “Real Men.” “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want.)” 
The crowds are huge by now. I’m at the western edge of the festival, and working my way back. The Arrow Stage is packed for Leftover Salmon. “The cover band” Pokey taunted earlier. They do a rocking Bluegrass version of the T-Rex hit, “Bang a Gong.” The crowd loves it!   
The portable toilets at the back of the Arrow Stage have lines about ten deep! I’ve seen lines like this at the festival before, but never so early in the day.  
Over the years HSB has set up a network of cyclone fences. Most of them keep the human traffic going on JFK Drive. Green tarp is put up on the fences to keep people from stopping at stages to “take a look.” It’s been an unavoidable change over the years.   
Ry Cooder has been playing live more these days, but it’s still rare. When he does it’s always a music history lesson. He’s teamed up with “Bluegrass pioneer” Ricky Skaggs and Skaggs’ wife, Sharon White. 
“Family Who Prays.” “Take Me In Your Lifeboat.” 
Merle Travers tune: “Sweet Temptation.” 
“Mansion on the Hill.” Great Americana “roots” music. “Now we’re going to do a Merle Travis tune,” “Sweet Temptation.”
The wind is getting stronger. It causes sound problems again. It’s sound versus wind.
Skaggs acts as MC and promises us, “A history of Rock and Roll and Bluegrass. There will nothing after ’65.” 
Cooder is wearing a blue woolen hat. Skaggs is in his professional Country and Western suit and cowboy hat. 
They do a Gospel song: “End of the Day.” Cooder says he found it on Youtube!  
“Are there any Jimmy Martin fans here today?” There is some applause. “The rest of you should find out about him.” “Coming Home.” 
“Are there any Dillard fans here?” There is more of a reaction. “How about Darling fans?” The Darlings? Aren’t they the family that played Bluegrass on The Andy Griffith show? That may be the first taste of Bluegrass that many of us heard. Skaggs tells us: “The black and white ones are the best.” 
“Old Home Place.” “Why did I leave for a job in town?”  
“Ready To Go.” “San Antonio Rose.” Of all the songs I heard today, this version that sticks in my head.  
“We gotta have a train song. This was done by The Delmore Brothers.” “Pan American Boogie.”
Another Gospel song: “Wait a Little Please Jesus.” They close with a Bill Monroe song. It’s been quite a romp through the history of Gospel, Country and Bluegrass.  

This is the Saturday night party crowd. I consider going to the festival’s smallest stage, The Porch Stage, to see The White Buffalo. This is usually the most laid back area of the festival, but I can see people are pouring in. JFK Drive is a sea of humanity. It looks impassable. I know I can get through, but decide against it. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I head back in the direction of the apartment. 
It’s strange to sit at the computer and watch an event I was at a half hour ago. I’ll say it again, live is always better, but this was luxury. I could choose between four acts: Flogging Molly, The Flatlanders, Steve Earle or Boz Scaggs. I’ve seen Flogging Molly several times at local events including the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Steve Earle was a bit too mournful. I was in more of a good time Saturday night Rocking mood, so I settle on watching The Flatlanders even though I see them almost every year. 
The Flatlanders. Featuring Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmour & Butch Hancock. “The Highway Is My Home.” Joe Guzman plays some great accordion. Jimmy Dale Gilmore tells us that their first record, made in 1972, is finally being released! 
“Rambling River.” “Old Shoes.” “Borderless Love” is “A song about tearing down the walls.” “Wind’s Dominion.” “The Road Goes On Forever.” 
“Dallas.” “Have you ever seen Dallas from a DC9 at night?” Gilmore says the last DC9 was just decommissioned. “In and Out of Love.” 
I usually catch some of The Flatlanders every year. It’s the same old guys with the same songs, but it’s a great rocking set for the Saturday night party crowd. Fun time. Even online.  
“Midnight Train.” “Pay the Alligator.” “Sitting On Top of the World.” 
Butch Hancock’s son Rory joins on guitar. He does two great solos. 
Jimmie Dale Gilmore announces that after this they’re headed over to The Great American Music Hall! What a scene that must be! 

Sunday. 10/4. 
John Stuber picks me up and I’m very glad to get a ride there. We head to the Porch Stage. We’re curious to see Chicano Batman. Another great band name. It’s early, but people are gathering. They do have a following. There are Chicano Batman groupies grabbing spots near the stage. The band wears suits and ties. They have an ominous, interesting Blues sound, but we wander to The Arrow Stage to see James McMurtry. 
A white raptor flies by. Possibly an osprey. 
We go to the Bandwagon Stage for Nancy and the Lamb Chops. Nancy is Nancy Bechtle, Warren Hellman’s sister. It’s a family affair with Warren’s son Mick on drums. Bechtle is wearing a dress once owned by Dale Evans. She got it at a Christie’s auction. At the same auction the stuffed remains of Trigger were sold for $260,000! 
Bechtle was the President of the San Francisco Symphony for fourteen years. She sings a song Michael Tilson Thomas wrote for her: “Symphony Cowgirl.” She gives a spirited performance, but does struggle a bit with the vocals. Heidi Clare joins for a fiddle duel on “Orange Blossom Special.”   
“Jambalaya.” Ron Thomason is in the crowd. He’s been a long time family friend and he’s showing his support.   
We get to The Arrow Stage for the Steep Canyon Rangers. No Steve Martin this year. McMurtry will be on after them. Their new record is “Radio.” “Show Me the Way.” Some security staff are blowing large bubbles over the crowd. “Diamonds in the Mud.” “Trouble is Simple. Simple is Me.” “Headed Out to Caroline.” “Tripping On Your Doorstep.” “As I Go.” “Monumental Fool.” “You Never Did Nothing for Love.” “Things That I Never Knew.” 
James McMurty has a big rocking sound. The songs are deep. “What I Know Now.” “Choctaw Bingo.” “Operation Mistake.” 
We head to The Porch Stage for Heidi Clare & The Goose Tatums. Is the band named after the legendary Harlem Globetrotter? A Google search confirmed it. He was credited with inventing the hook shot. He also played baseball and was a teammate of Satchel Paige! I never did figure out what the connection to the band was. Maybe it’s just a cool name.   
They’re playing what sounds like a Doors style dirge when we arrive. Then:  “Bring Your Love from Behind Those Brown Eyes.” A sad love song. Eric Drew Feldman is on keyboards! He played with Captain Beefheart for years. 
The Blind Boys of Alabama are waiting onstage at the Banjo Stage. They’re sitting on chairs, and they have a powerful presence before singing a note. “People Get Ready” is always a stirring song, but they take it to another spiritual level. Then a great version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky.” What a great song for this group to cover!  
Jamey Johnson at The Arrow. “You Should Have Seen It In Color.” “This Land Is Your Land.” Stuber says he can leave now, he’s heard this year’s Woody Guthrie cover. It’s kind of odd, but I never heard a Dylan song covered this year.  
Delbert McClinton. The Towers of Gold stage. I sit way in the back on the hill. The band is loud! “Bye Bye Baby.” A rocking song. “Honey Can You Squeeze Me In.” 
For some reason I realize I haven’t seen Frank Chu here this year. He’s one of San Francisco’s beloved eccentrics. He constantly carries a sign warning of extraterrestrial attacks and invasions. I haven’t seen him yet this year, and then he walks right by me. There’s some kind of weird synchronicity going on here! 
Asleep At the Wheel. A band I really wanted to see. I saw them years ago at the now gone Old Waldorf. “I Hear You Talking.” The big band has a Country Swing sound, like Bob Wills.  
Robert Earl Keen joins for “The Girl I Left Behind.” “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” “Back to Texas Boogie.” 
“Tiger Rag.” Asleep At the Wheel are great at breathing life into old songs. People have been leaving to catch the last big acts on other stages, so I’m able to get a bit closer.  
A young Asian guy has a well crafted tiger mask. I had noticed it earlier. A couple next to him are fascinated by the coincidence. They explain what the song is about to him. It takes him a while to figure it out, but after a few more verses of “Hold that tiger!” he bounds off into the crowd waving the tiger mask head in the air. 
“Choo Choo Boogie.” I’m almost out of the crowd when they start “Hot Rod Lincoln.” Gotta stick around for that!   
I see Grass Man from Friday. He’s in red today!
I head for home. By the end of day three I’m OK with getting back to the computer and watching the last acts online. Hate to miss a chance to see Los Lobos live, but the legs are going. I watch some of their jams in the comfort of the man cave. 
I watch a little of Alo, but it’s Devotchka that I want to hear. 
The start of the last acts is a bit staggered, so I see most of Devotchka’s set. Their unique blend of music genres draws a huge crowd. “From Eastern European wedding bands to Norteno ballads,” the HSB bio handout tells us.
“The Enemy Guns.” “All the Sand in All the Sea.” “The Clockwise Witness.” “The Alley.” “Head Honcho.” The accordion player is Tom Hagerman. He’s one of the best I ever heard! 
They draw a huge crowd. I’ll admit it was great to not be in the fray. I saw them at HSB a couple of years ago and the crowd was just too much. People kept pouring in, even though it was obvious there was nowhere to go. Devotchka is a unique band. A couple of their songs feature tuba!   
“How It Ends.” They cover “Stand By Me.” “Such a Lovely Thing.” They use a theremin with a balalaika!
Doing three days can be a challenge. I did cut some corners this year. I left before the “main acts” on each day, so I probably missed most of the obnoxious end of the day drama.  
Hardly Strictly can be a bubble of unreality. It’s crowded, but as I said there’s a friendly Sixties vibe. It was very crowded at times, but this year it seemed more laid back than in previous years. Maybe it was because there were less huge mainstream show business acts. It made the news the next day a bit more disturbing. 

The day after HSB is always a Monday, and it can be hard to get back to reality. The mundane details of life have to be caught up with. There was a short article in the San Francisco Examiner. A dead body was found on the outskirts of the festival grounds. It took a couple of days to get any details.
The victim was Audrey Carey, 23. Her family said she was a “free spirit” who was traveling the US alone. She died of a gunshot to the head. There are three suspects. They are also accused of killing “a 67 year old Tantra instructor” in Fairfax, Steve Carter.  They left him on a trail and shot his dog. They stole his car and were tracked to Portland and arrested. They still had the gun and some camping gear that was owned by their first victim, Audrey Carey.  
The three suspects lived in Golden Gate Park, but they were despised by the other residents of the park. Tinkerbell lives in the park, and she is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle: “They were tweakers, we don’t hang with them.” They were well known on Haight Street for their amphetamine fueled antics. A woman who knew and saw them at HSB said they were “terrifying.” 
It’s a typical San Francisco story. Masses of people have a magical, great fun time, but San Francisco has a dark side. There’s always that stark contrast. What really happened to Audrey Carey in the Park? It will probably come out at the trial.   
HSB is a huge event. It probably won’t be tarnished by the tragedy. What could be done? It’s a sad aftermath to one of the more positive, good vibration events of the year in San Francisco. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band

Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band. October 1, 2015. The Masonic Auditorium.  
This show was originally scheduled for March 13, but it was canceled shortly before the date. It took Ringo a while to get back to the Masonic Auditorium. Even veteran staff were glad to work this one! It’s still exciting to see a Beatle! 
It was one of the oldest crowds I’ve seen, and maybe the most spaced out. Some of the crowd bordered on being elderly. There were some kids and family groups. Some parents brought their kids.  
Ringo gets a rousing introduction, but it’s not really needed. Who doesn’t know and love Ringo? The crowd quickly gets on its feet and he’s met with a standing ovation.
Ringo sings from the front of the stage. We’re used to seeing him behind the drums. It’s funny how small he looks.
The first song is Matchbox, an old Carl Perkins rocker to get started. It’s a nod to The Beatles Rockabilly roots. How it all got started. 
Yeah, who doesn’t love Ringo? He’s the Everyman Rock star, the guy who apparently lucked out by being in a band of geniuses. Ringo was the funny one, the Beatle we could relate to.  
He apologizes for the canceled show. “I was in Chile,” and he got bit by a bug, “That was this big!” He holds up a fist. “It Don’t Come Easy.” A good sing along song: “Got to pay your dues...”  
  A new song by Ringo: Islands in the Sun. 
The All-Star Band, for the record: Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey.) Steve Lukather. (Toto)  Richard Page on bass. (Mr. Mister) Warren Ham on sax. (Toto) Gregg Bissonette is the other drummer. Each member of the band will do at least one song from their former bands.
Todd Rundgren starts things off with: “I Saw the Light.” He still lives much of the year in the Bay Area, so this is a homecoming of sorts.  
I miss some comment about Woodstock and they play a song Santana did there: “Evil Ways.” The aging Baby Boomer crowd loves it. Gregg Rolie plays some great organ. 
“Rosanna.” A Toto cover led by Steve Lukather. “Kyrie” a Mr. Mister cover led by Richard Page. They are big radio hits that I recognized, but I had to go to to identify some of the pop hits. 
Todd Rundgren takes center stage with steel drums for “Bang the Drum All Day.” I didn’t realize it was a Todd Rundgren song. 
“Boys.” There are many memories with the old Beatles songs. When I hear this I always think about how we used to sing Beatles’ hits in the old neighborhood. This was one of our big hits. 
“Don’t Pass Me By.” Beatles tune. Strange song. Always thought it was a time filler for the album. Crowd likes it.   
Ringo: “I’m not going to tell you the name of this next one. If you don’t know it, you’re in the wrong venue.” He tells us we won’t be hearing any Led Zeppelin tonight. “Yellow Submarine” really gets the crowd going. Everyone knows the words to this one! 
More Santana with “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen.” Rolie is again outstanding at the keyboards. The band looks like they’re really enjoying letting loose and jamming. 
“You’re Sixteen.” Another old Rockabilly song. 
“I’m the Greatest.” Ringo Starr song. 
“Anthem” Ringo Starr. 
“You Are Mine.” Richard Page. 
“Africa” Toto. 
Another song done by Santana: “Oye como va.” 
Ringo asks, “Are there are any ladies in the audience tonight?” They respond. It’s a bit of the old Beatles charm. “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The band Rocks! 
“Love Is the Answer” Utopia song. 
“Broken Wings” Mr. Mister song. 
“Hold the Line” Toto. 
“Photograph” Ringo Starr song. 
“Act Naturally” It was Ringo’s first big song with The Beatles. 
Ringo again tells us there won’t be any Led Zeppelin, and that we should know the next one: “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Everyone is standing. Most are singing. So many people have so many memories with this song. 
Have to give this ancient audience credit. Many were up and dancing throughout. 
A great start to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass weekend!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Weird Al Yankovic at the Masonic Auditorium

There’s something different about a Weird Al crowd. It’s an odd family atmosphere. The hard core fans waited for a couple of hours to get into the Masonic Auditorium even though they had assigned seats. Some of them were dressed like the Flintstones, surgeons and other characters from Weird Al videos. Some wore tin foil hats and even tin foil skirts and pants. It makes sense if you’ve seen the videos. There were many family groups passing the torch to a new generation.  
Almost twenty years ago, I had taken my daughter and her friend to see Weird Al at The Fillmore. I was surprised at how young the crowd was. Most of the crowd was under sixteen. I had thought Al’s humor would be over their heads, but I had underestimated the youth of America. Many of them knew all the lyrics. It was the power of MTV, which actually showed music videos back then.
This was Weird Al’s Mandatory World Tour. On the big screen behind the stage, a stern looking, uniformed Weird Al looked up into the horizon as the crowd found their seats. Here’s a bit of a disclaimer. I worked this show as an usher, but was able to watch and hear most of it.
The band started playing onstage. On the big screen behind them we could see Weird Al downstairs in the Exhibition Hall of the Masonic Auditorium. A remote video crew is doing a live stream to the big screen over the stage. Those in the crowd who had waited before the show knew exactly where he was. Al is in the building!   
He comes up the stairs singing “Tacky.” It’s based on an upbeat tune, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Weird Al is wearing a very loud plaid and paisley suit. After coming up the stairs singing, Al went out through a side door and walked down California Street. Even in San Francisco it must have been a sight to see Weird Al walking down the street with a video crew trailing him. 
Now we see him approaching the front doors and just about everyone has figured out what’s going on by now. There’s a big cheer. It’s a Weird Al cheer! He’s getting closer. He comes in the door and serenades a surprised looking security guard. He’s getting closer! Al crosses the lobby and bursts in through one of the back doors. The crowd goes wild! 
Al slows down as he makes his way to the stage. He’s high five-ing people and singing. He takes his time going through the crowd. There’s another roar when he gets up onstage! Entering from the back of the venue is an old show business trick. It sure worked tonight, and got the show off to a very exciting start.   
I had heard some of the new songs on Youtube. The first song onstage was “Lame Claim to Fame,” a parody of the group Southern Culture on the Skids. It’s almost a parody of a parody. Al mocks those with spurious claims to fame: “A friend of mine in high school, had jury duty with Art Garfunkel!” 
After the song, Weird Al held his accordion up over his head like the conquering Rock star would hold his axe aloft. Holding an accordion up in the air is impressive. “San Francisco! I just have one question: Are you ready to Polka!” and they do a ripping Polka number. Weird Al exults: “Now That’s What I Call Polka!” 
Half the show is the big screen behind the stage. We’re shown clips while Weird Al does a his costume changes. We see a trailer for “Gandhi II.” Gandhi is back and he’s dropped the nonviolent philosophy. He now kicks, maims and shoots his opponents. Epic Rap Battles features Sir Isaac Newton versus Bill Nye the Science Guy. Newton testifies about his effect on science and human history. Bill Nye is apparently out of his league. We see the trailer for Al’s cult film, UHF. 
One of Weird Al’s wildest videos is a take off on Lady Gaga: “Perform This Way.” Weird Al struts the stage in Lady Gaga/Carmen Miranda drag. The video overhead shows most of the video, with all the chameleon like costume changes it takes to poke a little fun at Lady Gaga. 
Weird Al will always bear the onus of doing “comedy music.” Even Frank Zappa had to deal with it. But Al’s lyrics are brilliant. I think he’s one of America’s greatest song writers. Some of the lyrics and videos are biting. He meets with the subjects of his parodies and gets their approval. Few have rejected his satirical tributes. 
Weird Al and Devo! What could be a weirder combination? The idea is mind boggling. “Dare To Be Stupid” gives them a chance to play some great synthesizer riffs. Al and the band wear the conical plastic red hats that Devo used to wear onstage. 
After another short break a bloated Weird Al comes back for “I’m Fat,” a take on Michael Jackson. He waddles around the stage in an inflated rubber suit. 
I used to recognize the songs Weird Al parodied, but now I have to look them up on Youtube to figure out what songs he’s covering. I learned that “Foil” is a parody of Lorde’s “minimalist electro-pop song ‘Royals.’” The first verse sings the praises of aluminum foil with its many useful purposes. But in the second verse he starts ranting about how the government is always watching us. Someone is always listening Aluminum foil saves the day again! Tin foil hats are easy to make and they will block the evil government’s radio transmissions and surveillance. Of all the nights for me to leave my tin hat at home!   
The song mentions The Illuminati! This really struck me. When I first came to San Francisco I was deep into The Illuminati trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Daniel Shea. The books may be a fictional account of an elite group of Masons founded in Bavaria in 1776. They were a kind of “super Masonic” secret society that some say ruled the world. I had been fascinated by the Masons and the conspiracy theories that surround them. When I first walked by the Masonic Temple and Auditorium I joked that the Masons were inside there watching us. Now I know they really do have video cameras that can monitor the premises while Weird Al is onstage singing about the Illuminati!
Nob Hill was always the small neighborhood that displayed San Francisco’s wealth. Celebrities and richer tourists can stay at one of the historic hotels. Grace Cathedral dominates the hill, and across the street is The California Masonic Memorial Temple. 
It’s a modern white marble building at 1111 California. I have a small piece of ephemera that tells the history of the building. It’s a small but well printed handout put out by the Masons. The Masonic opened in 1958. It has an auditorium where music concerts and other events can be held. It was renovated and reopened a year ago.
In front of the lobby are two tall marble pillars, “Symbolic of the pillars on the porch of King Solomon’s Temple, which represents the mythical origins of the fraternity.” Each pillar weighs more than 14 tons and is 23 feet high.
There is a huge “endomosaic” mural in the lobby. It took twenty months for artist Emile Norman to complete it. Materials like sea shells, sand and soils from around California are embedded in the mural. There is a Masonic Museum and Library upstairs. The Masonic is also a war memorial. A memorial sculpture juts out from one corner of the building, honoring all four branches of our armed forces.  
Weird Al is back onstage for one of his oldest songs: “Another One Rides the Bus,” to the tune of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Weird Al got his start when he sent tapes to Dr. Demento’s radio show. He became a regular on the show and the rest was history. Dr. Demento has made many cameo appearances in Weird Al videos.
We imagine our entertainers live charmed lives, but into each life some rain must fall. Maybe being in the spotlight makes life’s more serious surprises more intense, especially for comedians. Tragedy struck Weird Al. Both of his parents died under mysterious circumstances. The elderly couple had started a fire in the fireplace. The flu didn’t work correctly and they died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Suicide was suspected, but it was later determined that it was a tragic accident.  
Weird Al was informed of his parent’s death a few hours before one of his concerts. Weird Al fans have a deep bond with him. His music and comedy had helped many of his fans through dark times. He went on with the show hoping that it would be good therapy for him. Maybe the fans would pick him up at what could be the lowest night of his life. It wasn’t just a case of “The show must go on!” 
We hear the problems of being the Marvel hero Spiderman in “Ode to a Superhero.” The tune is from Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” “Handy” is a takeoff on “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea. During “Canadian Idiot” (Green Day’s “American Idiot.”) streamers with the Canadian colors burst over the crowd. 
The hits start coming fast now. We see clips of Forrest Gump during “Gump.” Weird Al channels Kurt Cobain during his version of the Nirvana song: “Smells Like Team Spirit.” “Smells Like Nirvana.” 
The next might be an original: “Wanna Be Your Lover.” Weird Al comes off the stage and wanders the audience thrilling and embarrassing some female members of the audience. One of the lines is: “Do you mind if I chew on your butt!” 
We see a clip of Weird Al visiting the Simpsons while the band moves around. They’re on chairs in a mockup of those casual MTV acoustic sessions. They do a medley that includes “I Lost On Jeopardy” and “Rocky Road.” The songs are a bit slower and Al sings in a lounge lizard crooning style. 
One thing I noticed is that once the show started very few people left their seats. A few had to answer the call of nature, but this was more like a theater performance. No one wanted to miss anything. Weird Al is a great entertainer. His voice can be nerdy, but he’s a good singer. He kept the crowd laughing all night!  
We see some more clips and then Al rides a Segway onstage. He’s wearing a red bandana to sing “White and Nerdy.” He looked skilled at navigating that thing around a crowded stage. The song is a parody of “Ridin’” by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone. 
I had to go to Youtube again to find out that “Word Crimes” is a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Weird Al laments the loss of proper grammar in cyberspace. It could be a nightmare song for any blogger. So what if I start a sentence with a preposition? Is that a crime? Weird Al believes that yes, it is!   

“Amish Paradise” Only Weird Al could combine the Amish lifestyle with gangster rap: “Now we’re going to party like it’s 1699!” This was one of the few songs where the subject, Coolio objected. He made vague threats. Later on he cooled off. Even Michael Jackson had been spoofed by Weird Al. Coolio lightened up. 
The finale was Al’s Star Wars epic, “The Saga Begins.” You can’t get much nerdier than that. 
There’s an interview posted on Weird Al’s web site. He’s on MSNBC talking about the future of music. Things change fast now. Everything is so topical and viral. It takes about a year to get enough songs together for an album. By then the songs are stale and outdated. Weird Al may be more popular than ever. He’ll do over a hundred concerts around the world during his Mandatory World Tour!