Friday, December 29, 2017

The Book Launch. Hinckle and Thompson

This was an event I didn’t want to miss. Last Gasp Books and Comics was having a “Book Launch” for their ambitious publication of: “Who Killed Hunter Thompson?” I had seen mention of the event online. The Sunday Chronicle had an article about the event at the bottom of the front page. Another article inside recounted some of Warren Hinckle’s exploits: "Friends Remember Hinckle =  bar by bar.” The first bar mentioned was Cookie Picetti’s Star Buffet. That really got my attention.  
The book is an anthology with thirty contributors describing their adventures with the good Doctor. It begins with a “book length introduction” by Warren Hinckle. The heavy tome is 530 pages and weighs three and a half pounds. 
The list of contributors is too long to repeat here, but here are some that stand out for me. Susie Bright, Robert Crumb, Johnny Depp, Ben Fong-Torres, William R. Hearst III. Dan O’Neill, Paul Krassner, Garry Trudeau, Wavy Gravy, S. Clay Wilson, Tom Wolfe. Even Governor Jerry Brown gets into the act.
The book has been heralded as the long awaited appearance of “The Night Manager.” Hunter Thompson and Warren Hinckle had shared an upstairs office at the infamous Mitchell Brothers Theater. The Mitchell Brothers Theater was a revolutionary advance in the area of adult entertainment! They redefined the strip club. Hey, it was the Seventies! Hunter was hired as the night manager, but that was probably just an excuse to hang out there all the time.    

“The Night Manager” was expected to be a description of Hunter Thompson’s adventures at the theater. Fans waited well over a decade for the book. It never appeared. Dark rumors swirled. One story was that organized crime had paid him to not publish the book. “The Night Manager” was probably just a victim of Hunter’s procrastination. Ron Turner said it never got started. Gonzo journalism and deadlines just didn’t mix.
Sam Whiting’s article in the Chronicle says that after Thompson died Jim Mitchell advanced Hinckle $10,000 to work on a book about Thompson. That was over ten years ago. Hinckle was notoriously hard to work with. He usually ignored deadlines. “Who Killed Hunter Thompson” was finished hours before Hinckle passed away.     
The book launch was held at 111 Minna, an art gallery. During the day it serves as a cafe. At night it’s a bar disguised as an art gallery. The Gallery is a block from the historic Palace Hotel. Technically it is South of Market, but I think of it as being an outpost of the Financial District. Maybe in today’s tech boom it doesn’t matter anymore. The bars and restaurants I passed on the way were crowded on a Monday night. 
The gallery is on a corner where Minna, which is really an alley, meets Second Street. This event would have drawn a big crowd anyway, but the article in the Chronicle guaranteed it. I arrived early. The event started at 6 p.m. I got there about 6:15. There were a few people outside. I entered and was surprised to find the place was already packed. It was still early. Where were they going to put fashionably late arrivals?   
I had been here for the Fortieth Anniversary of Last Gasp Anniversary, but that had been held in the larger Frank Zappa room. It puzzled me why they had it in this smaller room tonight. I checked the larger room. A sign warned: “Private Event.” It must have been some big Christmas party. The Frank Zappa Room does have an impressive bust of the man himself. It’s worth a visit.   

Right inside the door there was a table with copies of the book for sale. I debated getting a copy but there were about five people in line, so that could wait. I didn’t feel like lugging it around and I'm not much for asking for autographs. Another Hunter Thompson book? Maybe I’ll at least get a look at it first.
The paintings from the Gallery’s feature show that month were hanging around the room. “Forks In The Road. The Mike Davis Solo Show” had surreal landscapes that perfectly fit tonight’s event. There were works of another artist: “It Was Written In the Future. The Beau Adams Solo Show.”   

A table held some artifacts. There was an odd figurine of Hinckle. I recognized an ad from Hinckle’s mayoral campaign. Buttons with his opponents names were stuck on piles of dog feces. “Tired of the same old crap?” Hinckle did have a down to earth sense of humor. There were pieces of original Ralph Steadman art work. 

Hunter Thompson and Hinckle came along after the heyday of the Beats in San Francisco, but I expected some of the old guard of San Francisco’s literary scene to be there. Anybody who was anybody in San Francisco’s literary scene had to be at this one! San Francisco had been losing its true eccentrics at an alarming rate. There won’t be too many more events like this.  

People seemed to know each other and there were warm greetings and reunions. What had I expected? Maybe I would spot a familiar face from the North Beach days. Wait a minute... Who’s that guy. At least I know who he is. It’s Barry Melton! The Fish from Country Joe and the Fish! Well, at least I know who he is. Jerry Cimino, the founder of The Beat
Museum in North Beach entered.

A photographer wandered through the crowd. He had a professional camera. People gladly posed for pictures, but one guy did crack, “Is this going to be posted on Face Book?” He was trying to be humorous, but I could tell that it seemed like a repulsive idea to him. I figure it probably will be posted on Face Book.

I headed to the no host bar. It didn’t look good. In fact, it looked hopeless. Three bartenders were obviously overwhelmed. I made a stand for a while. I could have used a beer, but I hadn’t come for the booze. It was a chance to survey the room. The place was packed.

Display boards with photos divided the room into parts. Tables with a seat for the contributors were placed around the room. Each spot had a card with the signers name. Few of the signers had arrived. There was a card for “Governor Jerry Brown.” If he showed up his security would love getting him in and out of here.   

Meeting an idol usually doesn’t work out. It was during the early Eighties. I was taking an afternoon break in Tosca, a great North Beach spot. Murals on the wall were covered in nicotine. There was a back room with a pool table. An empty pool table was a valuable find at the time. As the years went on Tosca became a haven for celebrities, especially writers and those in the entertainment field. The back room was closed off for VIPs. Tosca was the kind of place with both Country and Western classics and Opera on the juke box.   
  An odd looking guy was standing near the bar. I thought he looked strange, even for North Beach. He seemed to be mumbling to himself. It took me a minute to realize who he was. I knew that Hunter Thompson had been hanging around in San Francisco and that Tosca was one of his spots. 
He said something to the bartender. I couldn’t understand a word he said. He talked in an odd, staccato way. This was my chance. I offered to buy him a drink. It’s funny to think back at how naive I was.
He recoiled and looked at me like I was a repulsive insect. I was a little surprised.  Buying drinks usually worked back then. Certainly he would want to compare notes on the state of the world with me. My buddy Hunter and me weren’t like everybody else. I’d tell him what a great writer he is, and he would share his literary secrets with me. He quickly went back to the privacy of the back room. Maybe he was tripping on something. Later I figured out how many times this probably happened to him. A younger, star struck fan wanted to hang out with the great writer.   

The place was just getting too crowded. I retreated across the street to a bar called Eddie Rickenbacker’s. Rickenbacker’s had been one of the early “fern bars" in the Seventies. It was a place to pick up members of the opposite sex. There were new owners, but it still had some of its historic decor. It wasn’t extremely crowded. Young people stood at the bar and had a good time.
I had seen Hinckle around, usually in Gino and Carlo’s. There’s not too many guys who wear an eye patch, even in San Francisco. Hinckle was one of the regulars. There was some of that North Beach aloofness. Hinckle was deeply rooted in San Francisco. He edited The Fog Horn, the student paper at the University of San Francisco. His big break was transforming Ramparts. It had been a Catholic literary magazine. Hinckle put it at the center of Sixties controversy. He was one of the first to question what was going on in Vietnam. Nixon put him under government surveillance.
Hinckle was something that was called a journalist, but he was also a prankster. He loved to roast City officials, especially prissy Mayor Dianne Feinstein. He got San Francisco police so riled that they arrested him for walking his beagle, Bentley, without a leash. The harassment backfired when pictures of the incarcerated beagle ran in the newspapers.

San Francisco has many “Sister” cities. One of them is Cork. Hinckle loved to mock the local authorities. He arranged for a visit from one of Cork’s City Council in June of 1986. Usually this wouldn’t have attracted much attention, but the councilman Hinckle invited was Bernie Murphy.
Hinckle was stirring it up again. I couldn’t remember most of their shenanigans and did a Google search. There were obituaries from The Irish Independent News and The Irish Examiner of September, 2007. Murphy was an illiterate “sandwich-board man” or as he put it, an advertising agent. Cork had been hit hard by the Recession. Casey ran for the City Council. Murphy rode a protest vote and was elected by embittered voters.  
Others saw it as “a betting coup.” The odds had started at fifty to one. Heavy betting for him lowered the odds. It was suspected that solicitors bet on him and then funded his campaign. The bookies “took a hammering.” Hinckle appreciated his notoriety. He invited him to San Francisco.

Murphy said he came to get a new set of teeth, but his official mission was to promote investment in Cork. His fellow legislators didn’t feel he was “representative.” He arrived for a ceremony at City Hall with an empty suitcase. He said he would take delivery of promised aid money right then and there.
A report about the ceremony said they were headed to Gino and Carlo’s. They were celebrating, but I’m not exactly sure what they were celebrating. For some reason the City authorities didn’t fill Bernie’s luggage with cash. He didn’t seem to mind. There was some kind of strange Irish diplomacy going on.  

On election day The Argonaut was planted on doorsteps and distributed throughout the City. Hinckle resurrected the news paper founded by Ambrose Bierce. It was one of my favorite parts of an election. There would be articles about the election, and there were great articles on San Francisco history. I still have copies aging in a box.

I left Rickenbacker’s, crossed the street and went back to the Minna Gallery. People were starting to huddle outside the front door. I went up the alley that was next to the gallery. 
It’s hard not to recognize Ron Turner, the creator and owner of Last Gasp Publishing. He’s tall and has long, stringy white hair and beard. He looks like a Hippie elder statesman. He was with four people who looked like they were in their twenties. He was obviously pleased to have the book out. Hinckle was notorious for procrastination and ignoring deadlines. Turner must have been ecstatic to get this book done. 

It still puzzled me that they weren’t using the big room for the book launching. A couple of valets stood in front of the door to The Zappa Room. It didn’t look like anyone was there. The valets almost looked embarrassed.  
There was a side entrance and I slipped back into the Gallery. There was more room back here and I had another look. There still weren’t many signers. Few were gathering autographs. The night was certainly a success though. 
It was still early, but it was time to leave. I couldn’t figure out what, if anything was going to happen. 
The construction of the Moscone Convention Center had eradicated a strip of nearby bars that catered to newsmen. Breen’s was gone. M&M’s moved up the street, but was never really the same. They would be called dive bars now, but in older San Francisco they were respectable establishments that served those in the newspaper industry. I hit these places in my early days in San Francisco. I knew they probably wouldn’t be around long. 
I imagined Warren HInckle and Hunter S. Thompson ditching out of the book signing and going down the street to a dark and smoky bar. God knows what they would be talking about in these dark times. Thompson always had a great way of describing evil. What would he be saying about Trump? 



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2017

It was less than a week after the massacre on the Las Vegas strip. People at a Country and Western Festival had been gunned down. It looked like the work of a lone gunman, but even that had to make you think. How many nut jobs are there out there? 
The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival would be held on the next weekend in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The event is free and there are no entrances. There are no checkpoints for security checks. The Festival area is not fenced off. There would be a huge crowd with little security by today’s standards. Well, the show must go on! 
This year’s post may read more like a list. There will be some commentary. Some song titles are approximate.

Friday. October 6.
Friday is the best day to go. The crowd just isn’t as large or as intense as the rest of the weekend. Everything just seems more laid back on the first day. I went with Jack Stuber, one of the founding members of local band Cornbread Willie. We parked at 44th and Cabrillo. We park farther and farther away each year. This year my plan was to get there later and leave later. It didn’t work out that way.      
  There are only four stages going today. There’s no Towers of Gold Stage, so the first music we chanced upon was at The Swan Stage: Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors were singing “American Beauty.” Then a new song: “Family.
You can’t go wrong with Dry Branch Fire Squad. They’re one of the first acts I ever saw at HSB. It’s real Bluegrass with the band led by slow talking Ron Thomasson: “Even people that are into Bluegrass say we’re a little hard to take.” “Valley of the Gun.” “Take Me In.” 
Thomasson says that “Rock and Roll would have been impossible without Bluegrass.” He said it at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction for Bill Monroe. 
Heidi Clare is guest on fiddle. As if the music wasn’t traditional enough she does a clog dance.
We met up with Van. “It’s like the old days!” when HSB drew crowds of thirty thousand. It was still early.   
We check out Big Thief at The Rooster Stage and hear three songs: “Mary.” “Masterpiece” and “Shoulders. They sing some great harmonies.  
Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express at The Swan. They open with the first of many tributes to Tom Petty this weekend. “The Waiting.” “Waiting is the hardest part.” Prophet not only sounds like Petty, he looks like him too. 
“Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins.” “Go All the Way.” An unknown new song. 
I still scribble song titles on a piece of paper, but in the last couple of years I’ve been using more. 2016 was a “Bad Year for Rock and Roll.” 
Prophet has written some great songs about San Francisco history. Some of them are on his album The Temple. “The Left Hand and the Right Hand” is about the Mitchell Brothers. “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp.)” “Mausoleum.” 

There are no more printed handouts of the schedules and act biographies. They can be downloaded from the HSB web site. It makes sense, but I’ll still miss the paper. Will most ephemera be lost?
There is one big change. The Arrow Stage is now The Arrow Meadow. This is in the former Speedway Meadows that have been renamed for Warren Hellman. There are now two smaller stages. The Bandwagon stage is an RV that has been opened up to create a performance space. Next to it is the Victrola Stage. It has a huge Victrola behind the stage. Very cool. 
The Arrow Stage had been a problem traffic area. The stage and a row of food vendors created a traffic bottleneck. There were problems with the sound coming from the nearby Banjo Stage. The Arrow Stage had the more “Hippie” Sixties Grateful Dead type acts. That action seemed to be more spread out this year at the other stages. Was it one of the reasons the HSB crowd seemed more laid back this year? 
Nearby is the Silent Disco. It’s not open for business yet. The area reminds me of an empty amusement park.
Foy Vance was on the Bandwagon Stage solo with a guitar and a synthesizer. The acoustic problem wasn’t totally solved. He was sometimes drowned out by the end of Billy Bragg’s set at the Banjo Stage.  

There were understated public announcements. I never heard any mention of Las Vegas from the stage. There are announcements about the few rules every year, but I think people listened to them more this year. This year it was a little more than the “No smoking in the Park” announcement. Know the nearest park exit. That sounded nice, but I had to wonder. How much would that help if something really happened. Would people calmly look for the proper exit? Or would they crash off into the trails and  bushes? 
“If you’re at The Rooster Stage exit towards the ocean.” At least this announcement made some sense. The back of the Rooster Stage has cyclone fencing put up to accommodate the VIP golf carts. They could block a quick exit for those on the hill. 
We went back to the Rooster Stage and caught the end of The Felice Brothers. “Ghost Town.” I’ve seen them before at HSB. They’re a lively band that features an accordion. During “Where’d You Get Your Liquor?” they used some lines from “Froggy Went a Courting,” an old family favorite.
It was time to get serious about food options. There are more food vendors and trucks this year. It cut down on the lines a bit and offered even more variety. I went with a piece of pizza. 
People still dress up for HSB. They get out their cowboy clothes. There is some Halloween in the air. One guy was skating around with a gold costume and odd headgear. On his back it read: “RIP SOL.” The Summer of Love may finally be over.  
Back to The Banjo for ‘The Bo-Keys featuring Don Bryant and Percy Wiggins.” “Learned My Lesson in Love.” They’re a big band from Memphis, Tennessee and have a great R&B sound.
No alcohol is sold legally at the event, but there are entrepreneurs. One group of young men even had a sign: “HSB Beer.” As the weekend went on the forces of law and order prevailed. The few sellers left were very more cautious.  

T Bone Burnett will close today’s festivities at The Banjo Stage. Missed him last year, so that made him a priority for me.  
Walking on JFK Drive, Stuber and I spotted a guy wearing the “Hot Rod” Rowdy Roddy Piper tee shirt. We gave him high fives. “Best tee shirt of the day!” His spirit lives on! 
There would be a long wait for T Bone Burnett, so we went back to The Rooster for First Aid Kit. “It’s a Shame.” “Emmy Lou” is a song about Emmy Lou Harris.  
I’ve always liked the dark, ominous sounds of T Bone Burnett, but today’s set is puzzling. Burnett is onstage with two others, a drummer and a synthesizer. Burnett is in front of a synthesizer. I don’t see any guitars onstage. The first song is a long spoken word piece. I thought it was just an intro, but it went on and on. Burnett drones the lyrics like the voice of God. I tried to stay just to see if anything would happen, but eventually I gave up. 
Stuber commented that it seemed like he was trying to prove he could do anything onstage and his fans would approve. “River of Love.” “Trap Door.” 
We did stop on the way back to the car for some of Brandi Carlile. “This Is My Song” “I Was Made For You.” Great end to the day. 
Saturday. October 7.
Took the bus today and went solo. On a tip from Jack Stuber I got there in time for Gurf Morlix. With a name like that, how could I have never heard of this guy? Went up the hill on the right of The Rooster Stage. One of my first “spots” at HSB. Too much of it is fenced off now. There seemed to be technical problems setting up and getting started. Didn’t start until 12:44. “Deeper Down.” The new album is “Soul and the Heart.” We hear “Love Remains Unbroken.”  
Gurf looks like a crazy geezer that has come down out of the hills. He has long white hair and a ZZ Top style beard. He told a story about going to a funeral. He didn’t really know the guy that well. It was an acquaintance. The funeral was quite a production and looked expensive.  
At the reception he found himself introduced to the funeral director. He asked him about the cost of an event like this. The funeral director thundered: “Don’t you have any respect for the dead?” Gurf replied, “Upper case or lower case?” 
The music is kind of Country and Western and Rocking. Fats Kaplan is on steel guitar. 
“The next song is about a good man who did some bad things... It’s not autobiographical.” Someone in the band cracks, “But it could be!” “A Good Man Who May Have Done Some Bad Things.” 
Gurf talks about the B Major 7th chord. “It’s a pretty chord.” Then he does “My Chainsaw.” It’s one of my highlights from this year’s HSB.  
Gurf: “Some people say my songs are a bit on the dark side. I don’t think so...”
He sarcastically admits and apologizes for not sounding like John Denver or Barry Manilow. Gets a cheer from the crowd.  
Gurf talks about Warren Zevon. He knew him when he was writing “Werewolves of London.” When Zevon told a friend, Waddy Wachtel, that he was writing a song about werewolves in London Waddy immediately howled. It became the howl that is heard on the record, and Wachtel got a one third songwriting credit for the howl! Gurf plays the perfect Halloween song for San Francisco. Buddy Miller joins for this and “This May Be the Last Time,” A Blind Boys of Alabama song. 
“The Parting Glass.” 

My must for today is: Peter Rowan - Dharma Blues featuring Jack Casady. 
Peter Rowan looks ancient. It’s funny. Jack Casady has short hair, but looks almost the same as he did in the Sixties. He’s playing a large acoustic bass that does have an electric hookup.
“Raven.” “Dharma Blues” has an exquisite start. They’re really doing some great weaving here. “My Love Will Never Change.” A song about Jerry Garcia: “Jerry and the Deep Blue Sea.” “It’s a Hard Lesson to Learn.” 
Dragonflies are buzzing the Banjo Stage Area. There must be fifty of them. What is drawing them to this crowded part of the Park. Don’t they prefer water?

The brazen entrepreneurs with their “HSB Beer” sign are still here. Guys selling beer are more cautious today. The cops did chase most of them away.  
Today’s tee shirt of the day: A young woman sports an “Orgasm Donor” tee shirt. 
Phil Lesh must have been checking out his former colleague at The Banjo Stage. He’s getting a ride on one of the VIP golf carts. He slips through with few bystanders recognizing him. 

I go to the Arrow Meadow. There is a big crowd for Willie Watson at The Victrola Stage. He plays an acoustic guitar and has a synthesizer in front of him. He’s doing the old, familiar Folk tune: “If I Could Change This World.” He says that he doesn’t have that much time onstage, “I usually tell stories.” For his last song he does “The Midnight Special.” People stand, clap along and sing. He has many devoted fans here today.  

At the back of Hellman Hollow was the Silent Disco. I’d seen this at other events in San Francisco. You put on a pair of headphones and went onto a designated dance floor. I was a bit surprised at how popular it is. There were hundreds dancing around with headphones on. I’ll try this when there’s not so much live music going on. 

There are certain acts I see every year by chance. I don’t really plan on seeing them, but I happen to be walking by when they’re playing. Such is “Alison Brown and the Compass Bluegrass All Stars featuring Bobby Osborne.” I’m fading a bit and just sit in the back.  
They’ve taken out almost all the picnic tables. I realized how much I depended on them to take a little break and sit somewhere that’s not on the ground. It does make a difference. There’s nowhere to take a real break. The museums and their concessions are too far away. I thought about leaving and visiting the real world, but then I’d notice something coming up on one of the stages and decide to go for it. Hey, it’s only once a year.   
Even with six stages going there are some strange gaps in the schedule where nothing is going on. Or nothing is going on right around me. I can hear the party sound of Ozomatli coming from The Swan. The crowd already takes up the entire meadow. This used to be rare. Now it happens earlier every year. People are showing up for the later acts: Patti Griffin and Sturgill Simpson. I lounge at the back of the crowd. Never saw the stage.   

The Blue Angels roared overhead. Fleet Week and HSB had been on separate weekends for a couple of years, but not this year. 
Even though they were aggravating and drowned out some of the music I still find jet airplanes fascinating. I did get some great views of their aerial display.  
A couple of dogs started fighting. They were spooked by the jet sound and then they went after each other. The Blue Angels soared overhead. Dogs started fighting on the ground.

The Saturday crowd is larger. Robert Earl Keen was a priority. I wanted to get at least a look at the Saturday night party crowd. 
Most people tended to walk on the inner part of the JFK Drive if they were headed east. Those headed west, towards the Towers of Gold Stage tended to use the outside lane. An odd traffic herd instinct. I wound through people and crossed the road. 
It was three o’clock. I considered leaving. If I bailed, it would be the earliest I had ever left HSB. Maybe I’ll just see one more act.

The Towers of Gold Stage has a steep hill that runs along one side of the meadow. There is a view of the stage where Jamey Johnson was playing. I had seen him last year in a similar situation. Just get a spot on the hill and get out of the human traffic. He had a big band with him that looked slick and professional. This was real Country and Western. A change of pace for me.    
They were doing their Petty tribute as I got settled. “Southern Accents” “Room at the Top” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” 
“In Color.” I’ll have to track that song down. They cover the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” Another original: “Willin.’” A great version of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In.”
They cover Jerry Reed’s “Eastbound and Down.” This could be the greatest trucking song ever. “We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.” 

One of the few real eccentrics left in San Francisco is Frank Chu. He wanders big events like this with a sign warning of alien invasions. He’s still making the scene, but his clothes are torn and frayed. How long can his quixotic quest go on?  

Usually Robert Earl Keen closed The Rooster Stage on Saturday night. There was more room for the party crowd here at the Towers of Gold Stage. The crowd didn’t seem as rowdy. Was it because everyone wasn’t jammed into the smaller Rooster Stage area? Maybe it was because it wasn’t dark yet. I was able to walk through the crowd and get closer.  

I still scribble song titles while I’m at HSB, but now I turn to for guidance. Keen opens with the Grateful Dead song, “Casey Jones.” 
“The Man Behind the Drums.” Keen’s tribute to Levon Helm.
Keen sure sounds like Dylan. He’s barking the lyrics at us. 
“The Rose Hotel.” “Dreadful Selfish Crime” segues into “I Know You Rider.” “If I Were King.” “Shades of Gray.” “Feelin’ Good Again.” This is where I take off.
I’ve learned to look before I leap at HSB. I looked down JFK Drive. There was a  mass of humanity. Yeah, I could get through it eventually, but I opted for the longer route that goes around the Polo Fields. A flock of large geese foraged on the football fields. 
Heard the last song of Buddy Miller at The Rooster Stage. It was tempting to stay for Dan Auerbach. (The Black Keys) but a large crowd was gathering for the last act of the day here. It had been another full day and I bussed it home in time to see Steve Earle and the Dukes online. 
I’ll say it again, live is much better, but it’s hard to beat being able to sit in a chair and see what’s going on onstage. “City of Immigrants” “Warren Hellman’s Banjo” “Dominick Street/The Galway Girl” “Harlan Man” “The Mountain.” “Jerusalem” “Copperhead Road.” 
There was the odd Dragnet beginning to “San Franciscan Nights.” This made up for Eric Burdon not playing it at Stern Grove. The fiftieth Summer of Love was coming to an end. “ Transcendental Blues.” “Fixin’ To Die” “Hey Joe!” Another version of “I Know You Rider.” Funny how some songs keep popping up.
Another powerful performance by Steve Earle with his usual political statements.
Sunday. October 8.
Arrived at The Rooster Stage at 11:30 for part of The Secret Sisters. “You Don’t Own Me Anymore.”   
The Secret Sisters were too nice for me. Hot Tuna at the Banjo Stage was my top priority today. I got there in time to see the end of The Sons of the Soul Revivers,  “The Gospel sensations.”   

Hot Tuna Electric. 12:15. It’s still great to see Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy play in Golden Gate Park. This is where it all happened. 
Bubbles swirled in the air. Got there in time for “Trial By Fire.” “I Just Can’t Be Satisfied.” “Talkin’ About You,” a song once covered by The Rolling Stones.   
They’re quite a power trio, with Justin Guip on drums. 
Between songs someone says, “Tuning is overrated.” Pretty sure it was Jorma.
“Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man.” “Watch the North Wind Rise.” “Funky #7.”  
The MC after the set: “Let’s hear it for Hot Tuna. They play something old and aways make it new and challenging.” 

A guy walked around with a large sign: Free Destiny Readings. I saw him later with a guy who wore a tall wizard hat. Guess he was drumming up business for him. 

There was a half hour before the next act, Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones. This was a good chance to visit the smallest stage, The Porch Stage. The Sisters Morales were getting tuned up. “The World Goes Around and Around.” Even the acts on the smallest stage have to be talented. The acts that perform on The Porch Stage could make a great event on their own! 
Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones is another act that I see almost every year. It’s usually a case of convenient scheduling. He’s got one of those great soothing show business voices. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen ...”
Alvin dedicates the first song to flood victims across the country. It’s a Big Bill Broonzy song: “Southern Flood Blues.” Then into: “Haley’s Comet.” 
Alvin says the next song is “A thirties political song. It’s as true today...” “This World Is In a Bad Condition.” It was originally done by The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.   
Alvin admits that anyone who has recorded this next song sings it better than he can, “But I wrote it!” “Long White Cadillac.”
“Johnny Ace Is Dead.”
Next is “an existential song” that Alvin says he’s never done at HSB. “Out of Control.” His brother usually sings it. Are they feuding again? The first line is, “I scored some speed in San Berdino...”
“Fourth of July.” A cover of Spirit’s “I Got A Line On You.” 

I made an attempt to see “Lampedusa Featuring Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Emmy Lou Harris, Buddy Miller, Lucinda Williams.” From the HSB biographies handout: “Lampedusa is part of a series of shows that aim to raise awareness of the 65 million displaced people around the world as a result of war, conflicts and disasters.” 
This was being held at The Rooster Stage. It was a poor choice for an act with this star power. Thousands streamed in. It was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at The Rooster Stage. I lurked way in the back during “Refugee” another tribute for Tom Petty. It was just too crowded. 
I got a “Bacon Melt” from one of the food vendors near The Rooster Stage. I found a spot and took a total break from the crowds. I could hear the rocking sounds of Nelson & Promise of the Real coming from the Swan Stage. “Die Alone.” “Four Letter Word.” Another Tom Petty tribute: “American Girl.” “Runnin’ Shine.” “High Times.” “Something Real.” “Forget About Georgia,” a breakup song about a woman, not the state. “Find Yourself.” The singer talked about being in Neil Young’s band. 

The Flatlanders. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock.  
I should know the songs better by now. Well, I do just see them once a year. Usually they played the now gone Arrow Stage on Saturday night. Today they’re at The Banjo Stage. There’s still plenty of room, but it didn’t have that Saturday night vibe.       
“Reap What You Sow.” “Standing at the Station.” “From the Cradle to the Grave.” “Julia.”  
There is more Blue Angels jet action today. We get buzzed.  

I reconnoitered near the back of the Swan Stage. Some millennial buskers formed a circle near me. Several were in HSB fashion. Straw hats and blue jean bib overalls. Somehow I knew they just didn’t step off the farm. They had a couple of guitars, a banjo and a mandolin. I’ll admit that I thought they would be an aggravation, but they did know what they were doing. “Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” Those close enough to hear gave them a round of applause.

A former floor colleague had tipped me about Courtney Barnett (Thanks Cliff!) so I knew about the female rocker from Down Under. She’s teamed with Kurt Vile in a new band: The Sea Lice. I just love that name: Kurt Vile.
The set list from “Over Everything.” “Fear Is Like A Forest.” “Continental Breakfast” A couple of Courtney Barnett songs: “Out of the Woodwork” “Avant Gardener” “On Tour (A Kurt Vile song) “Depreston” “Untogether.”  
Courtney and Kurt wore matching plaid shirts. I’m sure there’s a joke there somewhere. How Grunge can you get?

It was deep into the “Hardly” part of HSB. After the Grunge set it wasn’t that far back to the Towers of Gold for Cheap Trick. Would every former juvenile delinquent at HSB head for this area? I got a spot on the hill. An audio tape took us through the history of the band, concluding with the question: “Are you ready for the greatest fucking Rock and Roll band in the world?”
“Hello There.” “Big Eyes.” “California Man” “Ain’t That A Shame” a cover of the Fats Domino song. “Baby Loves to Rock” with “Long Time Coming.” 
Cheap Trick’s antics were amusing, but after a while I made a move. There was a long bass solo. They did a cover of “I’m Waiting For the Man” a Velvet Underground song. Guess it’s back to the roots.  

I don’t listen to much radio now, but I do check out Grinder’s Grooveyard on local radio station KPOO on Monday nights. Rockin’ Jim Grigsbee has been a longtime DJ and record collector. 89.5 FM. Every show is a look at music history. One Monday night, he played a wild instrumental by one Junior Brown. I did some research on Youtube and found wild footage of him playing live. He would close this year’s festivities on The Rooster Stage!
Junior Brown plays a “guit-steel” double neck guitar. It’s an electric guitar with a steel pedal guitar. It creates a wild, rowdy, roadhouse sound. Junior sure looks like an original good old boy. “Who’s ready for some twanging?”
“Party Lights.” “The party is over for me.” “Lifeguard Larry.” A hilarious “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead. “I Hung It Up.” “Long Walk Back From San Antone.” “Freeborn Man.” “Deep In the Heart.” “Another Honky Tonk Burned Down.”
It’s not as crowded here as earlier in the day. I can easily walk up to the sound tent for a good view. HSB seems to be winding down. Many are headed to the 25th Avenue exit. Junior does have many fans left, and he’s rocking the place. The songs are short.  
“Between Anger and Despair.” “Guit-Steel Blues.” “Highway Patrol.” “Give Me a Little Old Fashioned Love.” “The Better Half.” “I Wouldn’t Buy a Used Car From Him.” “Hang Up and Drive.” “Blues Power.” “Surf Medley.” “So Close Yet So Far Away.”
What better way to end this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival than Junior’s cover of Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” 
Got home in time to see some of Lucinda Williams online. Going three days in a row is a little crazy, but it’s close to my neighborhood.  
It could have been an odd year at HSB after the tragedy in Las Vegas. As the weekend went on people seemed to forget about it. I know I did. The threat of terrorism means things will never be the same. It was a bit of a relief that nothing happened.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Eric Burdon at Stern Grove

Eric Burdon and the Rock and Roll Rebels at Stern Grove. July 16, 2017. 

Stern Grove is a unique venue out in the avenues of San Francisco’s Sunset district. For eighty years free concerts and cultural events have been presented there on Sunday afternoons. The shows are free and usually attract a large crowd. I took a casual look at the schedule and flipped when I saw Eric Burdon would be there! 
Stern Grove is closer to the ocean. This means fog. The performances start at two o’clock, so the sky usually does clear up. It’s a pleasant hike under the canopy of eucalyptus to the Grove. The Grove is in a long valley that leads to Lake Merced and then the Pacific Ocean. The two steep hills are covered in eucalyptus trees. It’s not bowl shaped, but it does form a natural amphitheater. There is a large stage in The Concert Meadow. Chairs are set up, but most people spread a blanket in the lawn area or climb the steep hill.   
There are some picnic tables along the back. They are given away in a lottery. The Stage and the Concert Meadow were renovated a few years ago. The stage is larger and there are more facilities. Concrete dividers were put in around the Concert Meadow.
Near the Grove is one of my favorite hidden spots in San Francisco. The Trocadero Clubhouse is a rustic white building. It looks a bit like a gingerbread house  that blends into the trees. It was one of the first buildings put up in this part of the City. A post in says that it was a residence at first, but it was in a remote location that encouraged its use as a roadhouse. This was especially convenient during Prohibition. It’s now used for lectures and events before the concerts.  
Stern Grove was built with smaller crowds in mind. Vintage photos show polite, well dressed crowds. Most of the programs featured the San Francisco Symphony, Opera and Ballet. Eventually shows that featured Jazz, Folk, Rhythm and Blues and Rock were added to the schedule. Other artists that will perform this year are Kool & The Gang. Nicki Bluhm & The Gamblers. WAR (who Eric Burdon joined forces with in the Seventies.) Mavis Staples. International acts this year include Los Angeles Azules and Amadou & Marian.
It’s a great venue, but bigger crowds did lead to problems. The Concert Meadow would get too crowded. Parking is usually a problem anywhere in San Francisco. The staff and volunteers did learn how to deal with the larger crowds. As people enter the Concert Meadow they get a hand stamp. Eventually only those with a hand stamp are allowed back into the Meadow, so there is a limit to how many can get into the Meadow. I don’t know what the capacity is on the hill. I was early, but I wanted to walk around the area and check out Pine Lake. The weather was almost perfect. 

Past the Grove the park has a trail between the two hills. The bluffs form a huge rectangle. The hill on one side has houses that have a great view of the park. They’ve always fascinated me. The backyards are steep, but the back porches look like they would be a great place to hang out. It wasn’t a good bird day. Maybe they were scared off by the event. There were a couple of Red Tailed Hawks. 

It’s always better to be able to see the musicians and performers, but Stern Grove was built for more classical music events. There’s a lawn next to the Grove that has no view of the stage. It’s still popular, especially with families that need more room to spread out.     
It was time to find a spot. I went up the hill into the eucalyptus trees. Most of them were planted about a hundred years ago. That’s about their life expectancy. What to do with the eucalyptus has become a problem in parts of the City. There were plenty of big roots and stray branches. I’ve sat on the hill, but I forgot how steep and awkward it was to get around. 
Any distant view of the stage would be acceptable for me today. I found myself a spot in the roots of a tree. My view of the stage through the trees wasn’t that bad. The binoculars helped. It was hard to get settled. I’ve been coming out here for years, but I forgot how steep the hill is. It’s a constant battle against gravity to stay in place. No matter how you position yourself, it’s steep enough that there’s a constant slow sliding down the hill. 
There are some small, relatively flat areas on the hill where people have thrown out a blanket and set up picnics. Some even use small tables. I guess you have to get here early for that. There were ingenious little spots on rocks and fallen trunks. 
The place was filling up, and there were fewer visible “spots.” It’s not very encouraging for people who had just arrived. People still show up at events like this at the last minute and then they’re amazed that anyone else is there. It’s always more crowded than they expected. Stern Grove draws a big crowd for every show. Why are they so surprised? It looked like the crowd reached to the top of the hill. People just arriving might have to climb way up the hill to find a spot. Getting up the hill meant navigating a maze of loose dirt, tree branches and felled trees. Footing was difficult. 
Even some obviously athletic types were having a hard time getting up the hill. I was surprised to watch a guy carrying a skateboard stumble and almost wipe out. Another guy wearing a bike helmet was obviously struggling on the way up.
Our MC today is Liam Mayclew from KPIX TV. He’s a friendly local TV personality. He’s a veteran of these events, but he does sound excited to be here today to see Eric Burdon. Before some routine announcements he says hello to, “The people on the hill.” 
Stern Grove does have a good vibe about it. People are usually in a good mood here. People seem to be more excited today than usual. Some are still floating along on Summer of Love nostalgia. It’s not really a Summer of Love event, but Eric Burdon just played the Monterey Pop Festival’s fiftieth anniversary show. He’s one of a very few that played at both the original and the fiftieth anniversary.  

The Stone Foxes will open up and get things started. They’re a local band that have played at Stern Grove before. “We’re glad to be back ...” They have a classic Seventies Rock sound. The first song is an interesting rocker: “Everybody Knows.” They play twanging riffs that sound like The Rolling Stones. 
Spence Koehler is the front man. He really does sound like Ray Davies! He’s a good performer and stalks the stage, generating excitement. 
The Members of the Oakland School of the Arts Choir come onstage to sing “Eye for Love.” Bringing the choir out at Stern Grove is a nice touch. The place was really built for choral singing.     
  They have a Stones sound, but they’re not very loud. Maybe they’re victims of the old keep the volume down until the main act trick. “If I Die Tonight.”
They do an old Blues song the Stones covered long ago: “I’m a King Bee.” The Stone Foxes do a more Heavy Mental version. They do get the afternoon off to a great start.  
It’s time for intermission and an equipment changeover!  

I rearrange my position to the other side of the tree trunk. The view is the same, maybe even a little bit better. I have more of a perch to sit on, so I’m not sliding down the hill as much. People are still arriving and struggling up the hill. 

The Stern Grove programs lists the headliners today as: “Rock and Roll Rebels. Eric Burdon & The Animals.” I remember first hearing about them. The band name struck us as being very cool. “They’re Animals, man!”  
The band starts with a very familiar instrumental intro: “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” It’s an old Cannonball Adderley song. “Have mercy on me!” 
Eric Burdon gets an enthusiastic introduction from Liam and bounces onstage to “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” I think of it as a Three Dog Night song, but a later Google search reminded me that Randy Newman wrote it. It was a surprising choice for the first song, but the crowd was into it. Everyone knows this one. 
Burdon is dressed all in black. It makes his head of white hair more striking. He’s a small guy, but his voice is still huge. He doesn’t look or act like someone who is seventy-five. From my perch up on the hill, I’m able to hone in on him with the binoculars.  
Burdon talks about meeting Bo Diddley. They play “Bo Diddley Special... The Story of Bo Diddley.” It’s a tribute to a pioneer of Rock and Roll that many have forgotten.  
“This is a song I wrote when I was young so that I could sing it when I got old.”  “When I Was Young.” It’s the first of the songs that I came to hear. 
The song becomes a medley with “Inside Looking Out.” I’m more familiar with the Heavy Mental version immortalized by Grand Funk Railroad, but Burdon wrote the song and recorded it first.    

Burdon talked about being in Monterey recently. “I just played there for the Fiftieth anniversary.” Burdon is one of the few survivors of that event so he drew a lot of attention from the media. “People kept asking me how it happened ... Was it the love or the drugs?” After a pause Burdon confesses: “It was the drugs!” Few would admit this in today’s anti-drug PC climate.   

“It’s My Life.” Another song that really gets me. It was another Sixties song of  freedom. “It’s a hard world to get a break in...” How did this little guy from England write these songs that hit us teenagers in Chicago right between the eyes? Burdon was older than us, but he had his finger on teenage angst. Music is all about the emotional connection.  
Burdon sings “Bring It On Home To Me.” The Animals recording of this was the first version of the Sam Cooke song that I remember hearing. It’s a song that can test the vocal cords.
“Don’t Bring Me Down” was one of the original songs of teenage alienation. It wasn’t just the feedback guitar. Burdon was older than me, but he sure understood teenage angst.     
  “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is another classic. Burdon gets some audience participation. Prompted by his cue, the crowd sings the song’s last line. 
I scanned the crowd in the Concert Meadow from my perch. Most were standing and dancing. It looked like everyone was having a great time at this, probably one of the last Summer of Love anniversary events. There was a wave of recognition when the opening chords of “House of the Rising Sun” started. This was the song most of the crowd had come to hear. 
The traditional classic had touched everyone here at some point in their lives. It was an old song when it was released. How much did any of us know about “real Blues” or life in general back then? Well, we thought we knew. What could a bunch of grammar school kids in Chicago have in common with the short singer from England? There was the Blues connection.   

Burdon dedicates the next song to those who went to Vietnam: “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” It also became a song we sang at miserable jobs while watching the time clock. “If it’s the last thing we ever do!” Burdon had a knack for writing songs that became anthems for many of us.   

People had started leaving after “House of the Rising Sun.” Stern Grove can be a hard place to get out of. There would be more room in the Concert Meadow, and I had the precious hand stamp. At least I could find a spot to stand in. 
I had a much better view for the last songs.  We get a Summer of Love surprise: “For What It’s Worth.” As usual, Burdon makes the song his own. “There’s something happening here ... But it just ain’t exactly clear ...” 
People have been dancing during the show, but everyone gets on their feet for Sam and Dave’s R&B classic, “Hold On, I’m Coming.” This is a party song everyone remembers!  
The crowd is loving it and nobody wants to leave. After “Hold On” MC Liam Mayclew Liam really works the crowd to cheer for one more song. I didn’t realize it until later, but they didn’t play “San Francisco Nights.” I thought that was kind of odd. Really expected to hear that one today. Burdon and the band must have made a quick exit. It was another day of great memories at Stern Grove.