Photo of the Week


Jason Hickman recently won an award for this photo, taken at Pinnacles National Park last year. The Paso Robles resident likes to photograph “the wonders of man” as well as the wonders of nature. Paso Robles Daily News

 © Jason Hickman

Of Note

slomaexhibitsThe San Luis Obispo Museum of Art has expanded its hours to seven days a week through Labor Day. Visit 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to tour the galleries or catch a film. A full listing of events is available here.

Carmel-by-the-Sea has been selected as one of the 10 Best Small Cities in America, finishing in second place behind Santa Fe, New Mexico. Jeanne Cooper pays a visit to the tiny seaside hamlet and explains the charm of this tourist mecca. San Francisco Chronicle

One of the main drawing cards for Carmel-by-the Sea continues to be its annual Carmel Bach Festival, currently celebrating 77 years of performing great music. Barbara Rose Shuler profiles festival executive director Debbie Chinn, who actively engages the community each year in the performing arts. Monterey Herald

chicagoSingle tickets for the upcoming Cal Poly Arts 2014-15 season go on sale to the general public on Friday, August 1. Highlights for this year include Blue Man Group (September 23-24), humorist Dave Barry (September 27), the Broadway hit musical Chicago (November 4),  and Branford Marsalis (October 15). Complete schedule and ticket information available here.

All good writers understand the importance of editing and how the process works. Ruth Harris provides some valuable editing tips and resources, appropriate for just about any project you’re tackling. Anne R. Allen

VinaRoblesTickets continue on sale for upcoming concerts at Vina Robles Amphitheater in Paso Robles. Get your tickets here for Dwight Yoakam (August 24), Chicago (September 14), and Crosby, Stills, & Nash (September 30).

Opposing attorneys will meet in a Washington, D.C. courtroom starting Monday to argue the fate of the historic Corcoran Gallery of Art. Gallery trustees are seeking permission to turn over valuable artwork to the National Gallery of Art following years of financial challenges. The proposal is being blocked by a group called Save the Corcoran who believe the gallery can continue to operate independently. Washington Post

Most film and television productions turned down for a subsidy from the state of California over a recent four-year period ended up shooting in other states or countries, according to a new report released last week. The California Film Commission found that 93 projects opted to film outside the state after being denied financial assistance from California’s film tax credit program. LA Daily News

By David Congalton

Living Large with Lyle Lovett at The Mountain Winery

July 27, 2014 (Nipomo, CA)—Geography is not my strength. For years, I mistakenly assumed that Saratoga was a small town tucked away somewhere up north in Napa Valley, out of range for attending concerts at this place called The Mountain Winery. Then Lyle Lovett and his Large Band announced only three California dates for his current summer tour and I was slightly embarrassed when I finally Googled Saratoga. Hell, that’s only a couple hours away, just southwest of San Jose. I broke out the plastic and ordered some tickets.

If you have not been to The Mountain Winery, you must go. It’s an historic venue, akin to the Hollywood Bowl, where the location itself is as much a drawing card as the music. Downtown Saratoga, a collection of very upscale stores and Thai restaurants, is only minutes from Route 85. Saratoga is apparently the most wealthy suburb in California, so certainly admire the well-manicured homes along Pierce Road, but don’t even think about buying unless you’ve got high tech money.

25308732Beyond the downtown, the narrow road twists and turns, but that’s only a warm-up for your eventual drive up to the winery. Yes, The Mountain Winery is actually on top of a mountain, accessible by only the thinnest of roads. More twists and turns before you hit the summit. Parking ($20) is easy enough, but you are quickly rewarded for your journey with The View. Spread out before you is the entire Santa Clara Valley with downtown San Jose sparkling in the distance at sunset. Trust me, it’s a pretty impressive opening act.

There is a fascinating history to the winery, originally founded in the 19th century by the famed Paul Masson, but I’ll spare you all the details and instead mention that the original concert bowl opened in 1958. The 2500-seat outdoor venue features the smallest stage I’ve seen, a facade with an Old California theme. The sound is great and there’s truly not a bad seat. And since there’s no backstage at The Mountain Winery, you get to watch the performers enter and exit from the main building and walk on to the stage. Let’s just say we were impressed as we took our $55 seats, already thinking about what other concerts we might return to see.

Be prepared for the typical venue sticker shock for food—a bottle of water and a small baguette will run you $19. There are drunks everywhere, and no, they don’t shut up during the concert. We were surrounded by talkers in the audience, but I’ve given up fighting that battle. The one caution to visiting The Mountain Winery is the wind. The temperature dips quickly even on a hot July evening—can’t imagine what the place is like in October.

Charlotte and I both had the same immediate reaction to The Mountain Winery—this is the place Vina Robles in Paso Robles aspires to be, a winery-based outdoor venue attracting big names and sold-out crowds for summer shows.

The concert itself began with a four-song set by Alaska Reid, a talented young woman still in her teens, who actually had some in the audience listening to her by the end. She’s good. But we were here for Lyle. He loves performing at The Mountain Winery. On stage, he tells the story about playing so long one night, the promoters finally shut off the power to get him to leave.

Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaak opening duet. Photo by CV Wells

Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaak opening duet. Photo by CV Wells

We knew we were in for something special when Chris Isaak strode out on stage and welcomed the crowd by proclaiming that this was his most favorite venue to perform. An Isaak concert was scheduled for the next night, so he made a special trip up the road to introduce his old friend and stick around for an opening duet. Lyle took it from there and didn’t stop for nearly two-and-a-half hours.

The Large Band is actually a dozen very talented musicians, all men dressed in dark suits, anchored by the legendary Russ Kunkel on drums, a musician so famous that even I have heard of him. Lyle also used to travel with as many as four back-up singers, but lately he’s trimmed that down to just one, but in this case, it was the famed Atlanta-based Francine Reed. She hasn’t been with Lyle for several years, so the two of them touring again was a special incentive to buy tickets.

There is nothing flashy about Lyle Lovett. He doesn’t run around stage, nor depend upon some kind of elaborate stage show. He’ll crack jokes and tell some interesting stories. He’s not afraid to step aside and let Francine or one of the band members do a song. For him, it’s clearly about the music and he stands center stage, strumming his guitar and marching through a long set list. Most of the songs are only recognizable to the hardcore believers. I don’t think Lyle has ever enjoyed a bona fide musical “hit,” but I don’t know of a better musical storyteller.

During his last few tours with the Large Band, Lyle has shied away from new material and has mostly drawn from his earlier albums, meaning we were treated to vintage standards. Opening with Stand by Your Man, the songs came fast and furious: Penguins, Nobody Knows Me, Here I Am, What Do You Do, Church, If I Had a Boat, LA County and an extended version of I’ve Been to Memphis featuring solos by each band member. My only gripe is that Lyle chose not to play my personal favorite, the haunting North Dakota, which made for such a powerful encore during last summer’s appearance at Vina Robles.

Closing Time announced the end of the show. The lights of San Jose twinkled in the distance as we made our way back to the car. Driving time from the parking lot, down the hill, back to our hotel in Campbell, was under 30 minutes. Not bad.  A magical venue. A great concert. Well worth the drive.


The Shaughraun: Irish Politics in Oceano

By Charlotte Alexander

July 25, 2014 (Oceano, CA) —So . . . before heading over to The Great American Melodrama in Oceano to see its newest offering, you might want to do a bit o’ research if you really want to understand what’s going on in The Shaughraun.

First, the plot is not easily summarized, as it contains multiple twists and unexplained turns. That, as well as understanding the nature of Irish politics in the 1870s (or hearing it explained in a brogue as broad as modern-day Stage Irish allows), is problematic in this production.

TheShaughraunThe story revolves around a man wrongly convicted of something (Chase Byrd), his fiancée (Emily Christine Smith) and his sister (Christine Arnold) who are trying to keep the family homestead together and out of the hands of greedy villains (more about them later), and the friends who want to help (including the Shaughraun and his mother, well played by Melodrama newcomer Joel White and Melodrama veteran Hayley Galbraith, respectively). There’s a naïve Englishman (Andy Pollock) who thinks he’s tracking a bad guy but is really tracking a good guy. There’s lots of crying into handkerchiefs and discoursing about love and changing scenic backdrops, but sometimes the “why” gets lost in the confusion.

Let’s get the title of the piece, “The Shaughraun,” out of the way. It’s pronounced “Shah-GRAWN,” and outside of this play there doesn’t seem to be any modern-day usage for the word. Its derivation is Irish and can best be translated as wanderer, vagabond, or rogue. As played in this production, he is a lovable character named Conn O’Kelley who has a solution for every dilemma, but always with a bit o’ the blarney (and the drink) thrown in. He doesn’t show up until a good ways into the proceedings, however.

The play itself goes back a ways, first appearing on the American stage in 1874 with its playwright, Dion Boucicault, in the title role. A 2011 revival at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York was hailed by The New York Times as “one of those sturdy theatrical vehicles that’s hard to resist” because of its comedy, action, romance, plots and counterplots, as well as its melodramatic character types.

Here the players do their best to expound on those types and keep the audience informed about their intentions. In true melodrama form, they often share their insights directly with the audience, which seems to evoke either the most sympathy or, in the case of the villains, the most boos and hisses.

As usual, the villains are the most interesting and the most entertaining. Philip David Black plays a bad guy here, as he does so well as “Judge Basil Kadaver” in the Song of the Canyon Kid, playing in repertory at the Melodrama with The Shaughraun. He and Noah Kaplan as a police informer do their dastardly deeds with wit and aplomb.

It’s worth noting that The Shaughraun is a play, not a musical. Audiences expecting to see the show-stopping tunes they often encounter during a Melodrama headliner have to wait until the evening’s third act vaudeville revue, Life’s a Beach!, to be so serenaded.

For The Shaughraun, director Suzy Newman has worked with Melodrama musical director Kevin Lawson on some musical underscoring to help cue the audience’s usual participation: cheering the heroes and dissing the villains.

It helps. Reading an essay on the politics of Irish drama before you see the show would certainly clarify the goings-on a bit, too. If you aren’t into deciphering the whos and whys and wherefores, you might want to stick with the aforementioned Song of the Canyon Kid, which alternates nights with The Shaughraun on the Melodrama stage through September.

Asked & Answered

Alan Gilbert,  New York Philharmonic Conductor

(Santa Barbara, CA)—The Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara is busy kicking off a new four-year partnership with the New York Philharmonic. The orchestra is coming to Santa Barbara for full performances in 2015 and 2017 and conductor Alan Gilbert, who also teaches at the Juilliard School of Music, plans on regular visits. Tom Jacobs of the Santa Barbara Independent recently interviewed Gilbert.

Tom Jacobs: You argue that the role of the orchestra in a city’s or a country’s cultural life is changing. In what ways?

Alan Gilbert: Over the last 50 years, there has been an obvious shift. Outreach into schools, multicultural initiatives — a lot of these things became a part of the orchestra’s portfolio. There was a vacuum that needed to be filled. I believe — and this is the premise of a lot of what drives me — that we’ve entered into the next chapter. What were noble, important, but ancillary activities have now become central. They’re part and parcel of what orchestras are. In a sense, education is very much at the center of everything we do, including in our “normal” subscription concerts. So orchestras are fundamentally different now. The challenge for us is to remain true to the heritage and tradition — to play Beethoven as well as it’s possible to do so — but also use the energy and abilities of all the people in the organization as fully as possible, and being the richest possible resource for as many people as possible. I know this all sounds very lofty, but it’s really exciting to me.

TJ: How does the new partnership with the Music Academy fit into this new paradigm?

AG: Since I’ve started at the New York Philharmonic, we’ve been trying to build relationships and create situations in which we can really hunker down and develop connections with new audiences. When we tour, we want to do more than play a one-night stand and then move on to the next city. We spend two weeks [each year] at the Vail Music Festival. We’re going to start spending significant chunks of time every year in Shanghai. We have an ongoing relationship with the Barbican Centre in London. First of all, this is practical: You don’t have to travel as much. But for me, it’s about being who we are, even on the road. So often orchestras do one thing at home, then trot out the warhorses on the road, playing a popular program in city after city. It’s great for people to hear that, but I’d like to try to preserve our musical identity, to stay true to who we are, even when we’re on the road. That’s much easier to do if we do multiple concerts and give people a chance to really get to know us. In this context, the Music Academy of the West partnership fits right in and makes a lot of sense. It allows the Philharmonic to be connected to a wonderful, well-established school. My interest in education is very well-served by being able to work with the student orchestra there. I won’t say it’s a no-brainer, since a lot of work went into it, but a lot of things seemed to fall into place.

TJ: How do you incorporate your educational mission into the concerts themselves?

AG: I always try to create programs that utilize connections between pieces. I think that part of my job is to help people realize what there is to appreciate and enjoy about the widest range of music possible. It’s more than just using “bait” by putting a lesser-known piece on the first half of a program and then a Beethoven symphony on the second half. It’s also helping people understand that there are things they may not know about that they might actually love. I often speak at concerts, which I guess is an overt form of education. But I never try to say anything particularly profound. I just want to make sure people realize the door is open (to new experiences) and they can walk through it themselves.

Read the rest of Tom Jacobs’ conversation with Alan Gilbert in the Santa Barbara Independent.