December 8, 2016

Mr. Little Jeans ~ December 8, 2016 @ SOhO

Conscious Dancing

When Millennials don’t have their phones out snapping selfies during a show, you know you are in a hot spot. Touted as “the show” by one of SOhO’s very own bartenders, it appeared I was indeed at the spot, as the crowd was actually conscious in the moment.  

Mr. Little Jeans, known as Monika Birkenes on her driver’s license, graced the SOhO stage with her presence to a captive, crowded audience. The Norwegian born songstress’s smoky voice enveloped the room and beats filled every corner, leaving everyone swaying in the aftermath. The young crowd seemed mesmerized in her presence, as she danced on stage accompanied only by drums and keyboards. It was all vocals, tribal beats, and conscious dance moves from MLJ.

Mr. Little Jeans’ performance was a unique mixture of elegance, poise, and poignant relatability. Definitely classifiable as an electric pop “diva” in training, she had a dedicated following as the crowd moved along knowingly to “Waking Up,” “Good Mistakes,” “Stitches,” and “Haunted.”  Catchy tunes, slightly different yet slightly the same.

There is a lot of counter culture shrouding MLJ, including the conception of her stage name – but that is google material. MLJ’s performance was as whimsical as her delicate electronic music, which kept the crowd dancing – and that’s conscious material.

November 17, 2016

Tyrone Wells ~ November 17, 2016 @ SOhO

Comfort Food of Music

You know when you go to a restaurant that’s been hyped up and you get a meal that’s decent, but doesn’t quite excite the taste buds – well that’s what I got with Tyrone Wells.

Tyrone Wells is a singer/songwriter of typical form. Catchy tender songs, heavily relying on lyrics and relatability. His songs have been played on TV shows during the dramatic ending as the lead comes to some sort of life-changing conclusion and a single tear falls down their face.

Wells visited SOhO on his Cover to Cover tour, which Wells pleasantly explained as him playing songs off all his albums, but his first – which he’s heard too many times, as well as some covers off his newest album, amply named “Covers.” He played to a seated crowd full of his fans. It’s not often SOhO has seats, so it was a sign of the mellow evening to come.

While accompanied by his talented band, the songs were bouncy and upbeat. When playing solo acoustic, the songs were more melancholy and heartfelt. The set had a feel and tone of a Christian Rock band, and after some research, it was discovered that’s how Wells got his start. His fans definitely were dedicated to him, singing the chorus and rejoicing in its pleasantness.

Tyrone Wells seemed like a nice guy with a decent voice and catchy songs. It was very pleasant, but just didn’t set my world on fire. fine. Sometimes you just need comfort food, and that’s just fine.  

November 3, 2016

Lizzie ~ November 3, 2016 @ Center Stage Theater

The Devastation of a Little Girl

Contemporary musical theater is not a new phenomenon; musicals have been around for ages. However, hard rock musical theater is a bit newer, and quite a bit more electrifying. 

Lizzie, an Out of the Box Theatre Company presentation, tells the story of a young Lizzie Borden just days before the infamous brutal death of her father and stepfather in 1892. Written by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt, and Tim Maner, the story reasonably portrays the facts of the events, while taking some liberties in the story in between. Not a light hearted story, they portray the gruesome events with vivid imagery set to the back ground of hard, close to punk, rock, giving the story a deeper sense of insanity.

The cast is what makes this musical event stand out.  Katie Moya plays Lizzie, Amy Soriano-Palagi plays Lizzie’s sister Emma, Sydney Wesson plays their neighbor Alice, and Samantha Corbett plays the maid Bridgett (sometimes called Maggie).  The four of them create a rock opera event like no other. Accompanied by a live four-piece band set behind a curtain on a stage with a choice few props, the show centers entirely on the girls; their emotions, reactions, and interactions with each other. Together they tell the heart wrenching yet brutal story of the deterioration of a young girl as she slips deeply into darkness. 

Act 1 is one of innocence lost. Lizzie visibly struggles with the “secret” of her family, which is implied carefully through hints and innuendoes via songs in a very punk rock fashion, more Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” than West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty.”  Feet stomping, clutching the mic stand, Lizzie screams “Why are all these heads off?” as the light of innocence visibly leaves her after her father brutally chops off the heads off her beloved pets. Lizzie’s world gets darker. All violence is implied in the background but seen in the anguish in the violence of the songs throughout the act. The intensity, complexity, beauty, and violence build until Lizzie goes mad, culminating in the ensemble gathering together in the beautifully poignant and painful “Mercury Rising” musical piece consisting of no words, only moans of loss. Then murder...

Act 2 is the emergence of a new Lizzie, a darker one. All four
ladies appear in period appropriate under garments and heavy, somewhat whorish, makeup. Perhaps to portray how hot it is in August, but most likely to demonstrate their power as females in their new world. It’s all in the interpretation. There are reprisals of songs from Act 1, but their meanings are reversed in this inverted world. Intricately intertwined within new lyrics, the twisted new world of Lizzie Borden is revealed. No longer the innocent victim, Lizzie is now a monster herself, wickedly commanding attention and getting her way, again in a very punk rock fashion.  Lizzie counted down her days in jail until pay day upon her release in “Thirteen Days in Taunton,” once again clutching the mic stand and stomping her foot. Then the verdict…

Historically accurate (cuz I fact-checked immediately), Lizzie stoked the fire of interest in the historical events surrounding the scandal of Lizzie Borden. Executed craftily through the use of provocative lyrics and hard rock, the lesson in history was quite painless and somewhat subliminal. The lesson was painless, but not the devastation. 

October 28, 2016

Jimmy Eat World ~ October 28, 2016 @ The Arlington Theater

Are You Listening?

Sing it back! Whoa oh oh oh oh! Jimmy Eat World, a hard edge emo-punk rock band from Arizona, took to the Arlington Theater October 28th in support of their ninth studio album Integrity Blues. Their ninth since forming in the early ’90s. That’s a whole lot of emo with a whole bunch of catchy phrases now stuck in your head.

Known for songs that express the pain that comes along with the confusion of growing up, of falling in love, of losing love, and of losing yourself, Jimmy Eat World’s newest effort is a bit harder with the rock and subtler with the context. Throughout their years, they have created such teenage anthems as “The Middle,” “Pain,” and “The Sweetness,” songs that were raw yet poppy, getting the darkest emotions stuck in your head in the most melodic way. The boys seemed to have grown up now and it shows in their new music.

But how is it for an established band to have new music out, on a very well-made alternative rock album, only to play live for a crowd that simply want to hear the emo songs that got them through the darkest days of their young lives?  Songs that are like dear friends in the cold, lonely night? I imagine you’ve learned to pick and choose your set list wisely and don’t get too attached to the outcome.

Boldly starting the set off with a new song, Jimmy Eat World teased the crowd to attention with “Get Right.”  Unlike most shows at the Arlington Theater, this one was General Admission.  This basically meant no seat assignments and some dancing (if not too close to security). It was the first time I had attended a GA show at this venue and it was perfect for this band.

Once at attention, Jimmy Eat World gave them what they wanted. “Bleed America,” “Big Casino,” “If You Don’t, Don’t” got the crowd jumping and singing along as if in church, leading into another new song, “You Are Free,” that actually could be a choir hymn.  By this time the audience was tethered in, the selection of new and old songs was so masterfully intertwined there was no escaping its musical web. Blocks of new songs, including “It Matters” and “You with Me,” quickly followed with the staples “A Praise Chorus,” “Let It Happen,” “23,” and “Work.” All the wonderfully crafted catchy phrases sung with all the emotion of middle-school, filled the Arlington as the crowd rejoiced in the music.

Jimmy Eat World went on to play twenty-four songs, including three encores, ending with “The Sweetness.” Truthfully they could have played on through the night. I was spinning free! Whoa oh oh oh oh oh! With a little sweet and simple numbing me…

September 28, 2016

Cyndi Lauper - September 28, 2016 @ The Arlington

Detour to Fun 

When Cyndi Lauper was a young girl, women didn’t have so many rights, at least not so many choices as they do now. In 1953 women just waited to be married. “What do you want to go to college for,” Cyndi said her Nana asked, in her heavy New York accent. “You’re just gonna get married.”

You can imagine that at the age of thirty when offered the opportunity to record “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” what an evolutionary process that was from the self-proclaimed freakazoid from Queens. Now at the age of 63, Cyndi Lauper is yet again recreating herself. On the “Detour Tour,” she’s still a lil’ more Rock ‘n Roll than Country.  But that’s a lot more Country than before.

Detour is a cover Country album released by Cyndi Lauper this year. That’s correct, an album of covers of Country songs from the hay day of Country sung by 80’s pop sensation Cyndi Lauper. Covers of songs from Wanda Jackson, Patsy Cline, and Patsy Montana to name a few. It is a lot to take in – and a lot of fun to see performed live.

Decked out in head-to-toe leather, during a heat wave in a theater with no AC in Santa Barbara, Cyndi was as cute as a country button and as hard as a girl from Queens. Opening with a cover of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” Cyndi’s distinctively unique vocals made it her own.  But it was surprising and unexpected (to the uninformed) coming from the pop star. What a detour indeed.

But it wasn’t all Country all night. Cyndi and her band infused the set with many of her earlier pop hits and even a cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” in recognition of his passing. The range of songs covered during the night truly spoke to Cyndi’s ability as a performer. Her voice seemed stronger than I ever remembered, begging the question – how much synth did they use on artist’s voices in the 80’s? Really. Her vocal range and strength was commendable, even while dancing around the stage and twirling on a revolving platform.  At the age of 63… in all leather… under house lights… during a heat wave in a theater with no AC.

As much as the singing impressed, it was the story telling that really hooked the audience. Taking her time between songs to tell her tales, Cyndi proved to be quite the comedian. She talked about “her evil cousin, Madonna” and even related “What Would Dolly [Parton] Do” to “What Would the Dalai Lama Do.” She infused stories of her family, speaking fondly of watching TV with her Nana, and later watching it hopped up on sugar cereal with her siblings. Heavily influenced by TV, Cyndi admits to reenacting Saturday morning Country Westerns and to trying to sing “like a Country star” at first. Cyndi then decided she sounded like she was having an “Ethel Merman sound off” and just embraced her own sound introduced in her first band, Blue Angel. And it works. Cyndi’s voice translates well into the country genre of that era.

Being the rock star that she is, Cyndi stopped mid-encore, insisting that the security allow the audience to get out of their seats and dance up by the stage. “What is this –  The Mormon Church?” Cyndi asked, again in her heavy New York accent. “People want to rock out. I could be sitting in a chair too – but I‘m up here bustin’ my ass.” Obviously, this detour into country hasn’t stopped this girl from just wanting to have fun.

August 17, 2016

Culture Club ~ August 17, 2016 @ The Arlington Theater

Good Karma

What is it about time that heals all wounds? I guess there must be something to it because Culture Club, once known for their turbulent dynamics, is now one solid zen machine thirty-five years later.

Walking onto the Arlington Theater stage in the little town of Santa Barbara, Boy George beamed enlightenment like a different man. Change has definitely occurred. Boy George (vocals), Roy Hay (guitar), Mikey Craig (bass), and Jon Moss (drums) make up Culture Club, one of the most influential groups of the 80’s. Decked out in fabulous outfits, the original four were accompanied by eleven extra players which included a horn section, an extra drummer, as well as three fabulous back-up singers. They were now a super group, fully professional and a delight to see.

“Roy used to live here,” Boy George announced. “We are playing to most of his friends – the first 20 rows.” It’s a miracle there was any place to dance in the packed crowd. But dance we did. “There are 3 rules of Culture Club: 1 – dance like no one is watching; 2 – dance like you don’t give a shit; and 3 – love more now.” So stated Boy George, so complied the crowd as they began to tumble for him. 

The group looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, like they were truly grateful for this very moment. And Boy George’s voice – his voice was incredible. Deeply soulful and strong, his voice took you to church. He and the band continued to interact with the delighted crowd, with Boy George stopping between hits to give life lessons. “What is it about my obsessive behavior that turns you off?” Boy George laughed, “I stand here as a cured individual… I don’t do emotion like I used to.”

Apparently they all don’t. Culture Club’s happiness was infectious, raging through the crowd like a disease and taking us over, making us dance like we were 15 again. “There’s too much to really let go, by the end of the evening we’ll have you all dancing!” They continued to play one hit after another, and just when you thought you had heard them all, they played yet another, making us miss them blind.

Throughout the evening there were two wardrobe changes – Boy George wouldn’t be a diva if he did any less.  There was more than silence during these interludes, enough to let the saxophone get in a solo and allow the other guys to jam. Showing great gratitude, Boy George later thanked MTV for spreading their music to the US, with the likes of Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, INXS, Prince and Pat Benatar. As part of the gratitude speech, Boy George mentioned that their first single was released in what is called a white sleeve, which is just blank, allowing their music to be heard without any judgement on the band’s appearance. Laughingly, he said their image just hit the public too late, people already liked them. “People have changed… but haven’t” in that regard.  But that didn’t make the crowd want to hurt him.

At the age of 55, Boy George says he understands life better. “In reflection, I have many regrets,” he stated, “but I can’t think of one.” His karma is clear.  

(see what I did there...) 

May 14, 2016

Hammers 'N Ales ~ May 12, 2016 @ M.Special, Goleta

Good Vibes Only

An event featuring local live music, local craft beer, local food trucks, that is also family friendly – all to support a local non-profit. What’s a Santa Barbarian not to love?

The inaugural Hammer N’ Ales event hosted at M.Special Brewery to benefit Habitat for Humanity was a success, drawing a huge crowd to the Goleta parking lot the two organizations share. An UCSB alumni always one to do his part, the event also featured musical acts off Jack Johnson’s record label, Brushfire Records. New Noise Foundation was brought in to assist with the event towards the ends, bringing a bit of expertise to event and stage management. “This event has all the things New Noise Foundation loves – it’s local and benefits a non-profit,” according to New Noise’s Jeff Theimer. “The motto here is good vibes only.” 

Made open to kids of all ages complete with a kids’ play area and bouncy house, it allowed parents to get out of the house to enjoy a brew and a show with the kids. “There is no judgement here,” stated Veronica, one of many mothers with a youngster strapped to their body with a brew in hand. But unlike many festivals, the brew selection was not limited to a select few. M.Special was pouring all their great brews: American Lager, Farmhouse Saison, Pablo Ale, Lazy Eye Special Double IPA, and the Greatland IPA is just a short list. It was a toss-up as to which was the bigger hit: the craft brew or the music. Both the brewery and the dance floor were packed.

The day of music featured Adam Phillips, Jessie Bridges,
Soul Majestic, Matt Costa, and Animal Liberation Orchestra, better known as ALO. People definitely came to dance.  When local reggae sensation Soul Majestic took the stage, the crowd started grooving as the sun came out and more people arrived. The band kept the energy high as Dan Leibowitz joined in the near hour long set. True to the claim of “family friendly,” kids with painted faces threw beach balls from the stage into the dancing audience while singing with the band. 

Matt Costa provided a mellow vibe as he played new material acoustically with a lone cellist. By this time the place was packed although people still could easily maneuver from the stage to the brews to the food. The brewery staff was on point, remaining fun and enthusiastic throughout the busy event. This was definitely a well-organized and well-staffed event.

As it came closer to the end of the event, the main event hit
the stage. Santa Barbara locals ALO hit the stage and instantly got the crowd jamming again – this time at full capacity. In honor of the beneficiaries, lead singer and pianist Zach Gill came out in a hard hat, nicely reminding the audience of the reason for the party, and then quickly tour it up! Knowing that they are playing for “their people,” the band held nothing back playing all the (my) favorites. It was barely noticeable that this was the middle of the day and not one of their late night jam session.

 A true family friendly event, it ended at 7pm – just in time for the youngsters and tired ol’ folks such as myself to get home at a reasonable time. A great show, some great brews, and home by 8pm. There were definitely good vibes only created here. 

April 10, 2016

WARNING: Non-Music Post

Where Your Warrior Meets Your Saint

Sat Nam Festival West 
April 7-10th, 2016 @ Joshua Tree

This wasn’t your average run-of-the-mill spring cleaning, although I did participate in that ritual as well. But pictures of the piles of junk I removed from my house pale significantly to the junk I removed from my psyche at the Sat Nam West Festival* in Joshua Tree, California. 

I went to the desert in search of healing and clearing of a deeply personal cycle that was thrust in my face after a recent traumatic event. What I left with was the foundations to building a warrior that is able to meet challenges with clear intentions and self-awareness. And a huge Kundalini* buzz.

My days in the desert were full of classes, workshops, and concerts geared towards… well basically self-enlightenment. To remove all the junk that the mind creates that prevents the authentic “me” from showing up. Of course, that’s a very watered down version of what happened, but it’s easier to digest that way and I am not a subject matter expert on Kundalini.

It rained the first night, which was also a new moon in Aries,
the first sign of the zodiac calendar year and hence considered a new beginning. At 3:15am, three of us awoke to make our way to the big tent for Sadhana*, which would go until 6am. New to Sat Nam, I was not sure what to expect, but was willing the find out. Essentially there is about a half hour of prayer, then 45 minutes of guided Kundalini yoga movement, followed by an hour of chanting. Again, a watered-down version, but I don’t want to get loss in the language and terms used in the ceremony. It started to rain hard as we sat on our mats in a big tent in the middle of the desert. It felt so cleansing and added to the effects of the experience.

I had an idea, a plan, as to where I wanted this all to go, what I wanted to get out of weekend. I wanted to direct this experience to fix a particular problem in my life. Done. But that’s not how it works – that’s not how any of this works. As the rain came down and emotions came up I quickly realized this, but still tried not to surrender. I had a damn plan.

By 6am, I still had not surrendered. On my path to magical healing, I steadfastly planned out my day: yoga, self-help workshop, karate. Surely, by the end of the day I’d be that much closer to my goal. But the plan shifted. As the events of the day unfolded, the message I received was not one of healing, but one of strengthening. Apparently the universe believed I was done “healing,” I had spent the ENTIRE winter on that project; now it was spring, and time for me to emerge from the darkness as my warrior self.

Seriously, this is what the universe spoke to me. Every class I attended with the intention of receiving some sort of healing presented me with the message of becoming a warrior. For real’s. My first class of the day, not including my 3am chanting, was what I thought to be a celebratory Kundalini yoga class. But Krishna Kaur* had a different agenda. She challenged me to go far beyond my physical comfort zone, while delightfully laughing at my struggles. “Hold this space with courage and grace,” she encouraged as I tried not to swear at the well respected yogi (although I’m pretty sure I did, wahe guru*). The last kriya* she presented had to do with the mudras* where Saturn meets Jupiter, “Where your Warrior meets your Saint". This is where you find balance.” Here, warrior got engrained in my head. Warrior.

What if I had been to “saintly,” therefore pushing my warrior back? Metaphorically of course. But what if I was not standing up for myself as much as I should be in my relationships, all my relationships? What if I was not showing up for myself as much as I should be in life? Who was my warrior if not I? Warrior it was to be then. 

At this point, I surrendered. This was surprisingly easy for an OCD task master like me. But I liked where this all was going. Truthfully, I was quite sick of myself moping around; I really wanted to break free and just move on already, although I know you can’t rush the process. But c’mon! Warrior! 

This changed my whole input receptivity. Tommy Rosen* gave a lovely workshop on how to manage addictive patterns in the mind, after which he led us through a pretty intense 41 minute meditation geared towards letting go of frustrations, which did not feel as long as 41 minutes should. However, the message that stood out for me was his words on inputs: Kriya are actions towards liberation, where as Karma are actions towards addictions. You can manage your actions; you can manage your mind. But you have to manage.

Sitting in the residual effects of a 41 minute deep meditation, I decided to stay for the next class – GuruJodha Singh: Using Kundalini Yoga to Develop Your Spiritual Warrior.  I basically had to due to its title. There was that word again, warrior. I was getting it loud and clear. This class was amazing. Not only was GuruJodha Singh* a Kundalini master, but he was a martial arts master as well. The message he dropped had to do with reacting to a situation. All the planning in the world is not going to help you when a crisis arises, because you never know how someone else is going to act. You have to be present in the moment and strong in your knowledge of your own capabilities. You have to be fluid and flexible, and one more “F” I can’t recall. Like a warrior.

It was raining again and the main tent was soaking wet. Saturated and cold, I decided to skip the 3am Sadhana the next morning so that I could be ready for my 8am course on how to heal others. Yes, taking it to the streets y’all, to my peeps. How can my warrior-self help YOU? Getting out of my head and into yours. Mahankirn* taught a session on what’s called Sat Nam Rasayan Healing*. When you suffer trauma, it is not the event, but an aspect of the event that the nervous system cannot digest which holds the shock in your system. Through meditation, you can transcend the problem that is blocking the system, therefore removing the issue that is making the system intolerant. 

Wow. It was really simple and quite powerful, but again, I am not a subject matter expert, so will not go into the details. As Mahankirn went on, she explained how the system manifests the experience creates a box by which one defines themselves. “You are already you, but you are distracted,” as stated by Yogi Bhajan* according to Mahankirn. The goal is to restructure the box and then within this new framework, have no box, no differentiation. Every kriya in this class I wanted to take home, and before the class ended I was in tears. Just a broken down, box-less warrior.  

This was the beginning of my second full day and I was at my edge. Completely at every possible edge. My body ached from all the yoga, my heart ached from all the opening, and my mind ached from all the thinking. I groaned when I moved, blinked back tears when I made eye contact, and literally could not form full sentences. My senses were whelmed, but not quite overly yet. Plus, I pretty much had been on a miso soup and chai tea diet since Thursday night being that I barely made time to eat between classes. It was getting real.

Alas, I had more to do in spite of everything. The challenge was still on. I am a warrior, not a whiner! I made the conscious choice to just take all the classes offered in the big tent so that I didn’t have to move or think much, which was apparently what the universe wanted for me. Serenaded by the raw angelic vocals of Jai-Jagdeesh*, I briefly napped in the big tent, quickly running to grab soup prior the next class starting.

Looking all the part of a rock star, Guru Singh* commanded attention as he began to play guitar. Thinking another concert was going to take place, I was awakened to the fact that much more was going to transpire as Guru Singh’s first assignment was to put your left hand on your heart, your right hand up, and meander around the room, making hand and eye contact with strangers during the longest song ever. Tears flooded to my eyes, as did they to others. People I just met, now good friends, stopped to give me big hugs as we passed. The song was an eternity and I loved it! The connection was raw. Smiles and tears, courage and fears.  

Guru Singh began his lecture soon after and I rushed to feverishly scribble notes. He told us to focus on three words: equality, identity, and infinity. Grabbing a big board with notes he went on to explain how we have two axis on our vertebrate – our yes and no. From ages 2-12 we decide what we are NOT (no); and from 13 on we decide what we ARE (yes). It is the INFINITE IDENTITY which is EQUALITY. I scribbled so many notes, hanging on his every word as he spoke, as if he was answering every question I ever had on life. “See the value in our presence; the solution is in our presence.” “See others as you. That exists in me…” “Every life has the same deck of cards; you just may choose not to play THAT one.” “When you are equal to your enemy, your enemy becomes your friend.” “You got to disappear in the way you THINK you are, in order to appear in who you ARE.” You need to know your identity; you need to be strong in who you are: I am who I am. He broke out into another song as we posed in a squat-like tiger pose and chanted “I am (pause) who I am!” Tears again. Why? Why is the warrior crying again? There is no crying in warrior-ing. (Guru Singh said it was alright to make up words.)

I was now overwhelmed. I stayed for another concert with the lovely Simrit* to decompress (nap), before sitting down to my first actual full meal – which was delightful. Then I was done. I decided once again to forego the Sadhana as well as the late night gong bath for a good night’s sleep and an 8am dance class with Wah*. Bless my friends who attended the last Sadhana. I choose to close out my weekend by doing some Kundalini dance and doing it solo so I could get funky!

The sun did not come up on the last day. Soon after dance concluded, I was quickly changed, packed, and ready to go. I had a long way back to reality and I needed to give myself time to adjust. But I did make time for a huge hot slice of cheese pizza before making the trek back home. It was necessary for the re-integration into society… Besides, that’s what warriors eat, right?   

*Goggle it. 

March 2, 2016

WARNING: Non-Music Post

My Gift 

It was the most amazing experience. The Shaman said before I got there, she had opened her circle up for my guide for this process to step forward. It was my Dad! She said this was the first time something like this has happened to her, for someone so close to show up and so strongly! My Dad said "She needs to know where this has come from." Very clearly and knowingly. Of course we did not know what "this" was, and assumed it was the pain I was experiencing from a recent break-up.

Which it was in a roundabout way. We started the journey with some energy work, basic relaxation and aura cleaning (you know, the usual). She guided me through a meditation,  touching my hand for reassurance. Then as images came up, the Shaman guided with questions and chants. She asked her guides what message they had for me, and they replied, "Just be honest." 

We first went to a forest near Santa Cruz where Mike, my ex-husband, and I used to live. Then, while crying hysterically, I explained where I was and with whom as streaming tears filled my ears. She guided me to a place to calm down, which was my room in our house in Aptos. Mike refused to be called forward as a guide; she asked him why he was hiding, he scoffed and claimed he wasn't, he “just did not like people in his space." After more conversation, Mike said I had to take his hand, said I would understand why, but I couldn't. I just couldn't, the image kept slipping. I started crying hysterically again, and said it was the guilt. I couldn't because of the guilt. She asked what I wanted to say to Mike.... I said I was sorry, I didn't know what else to do at the time, I acted selfishly and childishly.

At that point the entire session turned! This was no longer about THEM. It went into a healing process about me. She said, "This guilt came long before your husband dear." She started chanting, singing and playing a drum. "Your childlike nature is your gift, your father knew this." In her chant, she drew out a child that hovered above me, my Innocence. 

She asked my Innocence to join me back in my heart. Innocence replied, "I can't - there is no room in her heart for me. The guilt, it has hardened, and there is no room." An image of a child with a thick block around her neck, choking her, appeared.

So the Shaman chanted some more. As she chanted, she sounded so sad. She said the child Innocence was on her knees, hands together begging the heavens to stop her pain. Asked why in so much pain, the child howled because I do not know how to cope. Cope with what? The suffering. What suffering? The suffering of others, why do they hurt when they love. They pain is there for their learning my dear, so they can grow. But I love, and I do not suffer, I feel guilty that I do not. You feel guilty that you love? Yes, I love without pain; I feel joy. "Oh child, this is your gift." 

The Shaman chanted for my Innocence to return to me. As she did this I felt a great lightness come over me and my closed eyes filled with a bright pink light. Then her chanting slowed as she started to ground me. She asked her guides to join her in a prayer, a prayer that this reunion is fostered and that I am able to see signs that there has been a shift as time goes on. 


She said I don’t have to repeat this cycle anymore. I do not have to feel guilty for feeling happiness, joy and love. I can do so with childlike abandon.  It has been healed.

I do not have to seek out partners who are suffering or broken so that the cycle of guilt is repeated. It had become a familiar, punishing habit. It has been healed.

She said now, I can truly embrace my simple happy existence and show love freely.

The trauma was my own, from not understanding my surroundings and not having the parental support to explain it to me as a child. My Dad always said I was his happy child. He must have known at some point I had lost it. 

February 11, 2016

The Outstanding Directors Award ~ February 1, 2016 @ The Arlington Theater

No Fleeting Wisp of Glory

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival had the honor of hosting all five Oscar nominated directors at the Outstanding Directors Award tribute this year, creating a scene akin to Camelot’s own  Knights of the Round Table.

Film Festival director Roger Durling admitted to being giddy in the presence of these great men. “Look,” he exclaimed, “my palms are sweaty!” Durling quickly introduced the night’s moderator, Hollywood Reporter’s own Scott Feinberg to take over the stage.

The movies directed by the night’s honorees ranged from the hardship of the uncharted wilderness in America during the 1800s, to the experience of a boy growing up in the small confines of a room.  Movies so different, you get a unique experience from each one. As director Alejandro Inarritu said, “There are moments from each that you keep reflecting on after.”

Lenny Abrahamson was being recognized for Room, a movie about a woman held captive with her five year old son in a small room until they finally gain their freedom. Abrahamson had to shoot in an actual 11 X 11 room with no walls removed for filming. “I had to lie flat in the tub during shooting so that I could not be seen,” he described. It was necessary to keep the authenticity of the situation and highlighted the courage of this mother to give her child the chance to have a real childhood under dire circumstances.

Moving from a small room to the great outdoors brought us to Alejandro Inarritu’s film The Revenant. The film was shot outside, where Inarritu believed the physicality of the experience helped enhance the performances of the actors.  “They didn’t pretend to be cold, they were cold,” he explained, “good actors react.” The film was also shot in natural light, which Inarritu believes is a director’s best ally.

And where do you go from the frontier? To church of course. Tom McCarthy explores the investigation of allegations against priests of the Catholic Church in the film Spotlight. McCarthy and his crew traveled to Boston and did more investigation of their own, and took what they learned into the film. He was excited to have a great cast that were able to portray real people and give life to this important story , one that has had real world impact. The film was screened at the Vatican and further investigations are underway.

So far the night’s films have covered frontier life, life in captivity, and misdeeds of priests, so how about some finance now? In the film The Big Short, director Adam McKay brings Michael Lewis’s book to the big screen. “I knew half way through the book that it needed to be a movie.” McKay states, “I had to open the story up to the audience.” Known more for comedy than drama, McKay mixed the two in his portrayal of the story, which also included a star-studded cast who not only got the story, but were not worried about their image. According to McKay, they story isn’t a right wing / left wing one, everyone in 2008 lost their homes and savings.  “The end message,” proclaimed McKay, “Don’t vote for politicians that take money from banks.”              

To end the night, Feinberg made the biggest leap of all – to the Citadel. George Miller’s film, Mad Max, follows apocalypse survivors fleeing the Citadel across the desert. It is as big as a film gets, with major special effects and massive chase scenes. Miller claims the key to the movie’s success lies entirely with the team amassed to create the film. “It is critical to get the right team together, like a band,” attested Miller. “If something went wrong, it would go horribly wrong.”     

As the night closed and the directors collected in a group with Feinberg, it was definitely a stage filled with greatness. Yet with all the accolades and box office success these men had this year, all five were quite gracious and humble still, with McCarthy quipping, “I’m honored, but it’s been going on too long.” I guess its hard being a legend.

February 6, 2016

The Virtuosos Award ~ February 6, 2016 @ The Arlington Theater

 Hello, Nice To Know You

The red carpet is a strange place. Normally experienced from the perspective of the observer as a glamorous affair, the actual process is quite tedious. Actors, directors, and writers are herded down an assembly line of photographers and writers to pose for a million bright flashes of lights and stop for some idle chit-chat. For the first-timers it may appear thrilling, like they have finally ‘made it.’ Yet for veteran actors, it seems like just another part of the job.

That is what makes the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Virtuosos Award so appealing. This award is given for break through performances of lesser known actors. These actors are either being recognized for an outstanding first performance, or are finally being recognized after years of work. “A break through moment can happen at any point of your life or career,” proclaimed the night’s moderator, entertainment writer Dave Carter.

The night acknowledged seven such outstanding actors, no small feat to fit into a two hour ceremony. According to Leonard Maltin, it is the equivalent to speed dating. To fit it all in while being diplomatic, Carter brought each award recipient on stage by alphabetical order of last names for a solo interviews. 

Elizabeth Banks, with over 15 years in the biz, was first to be interviewed. Acknowledged for her role in Love & Mercy, the
true-life story about Beach Boy Brian Wilson, Banks admitted she loved the love story. “I loved falling in love. I’ve only done it one other time in a film – in Zach & Miri Make a Porno.”  This was said with great comedic effect, a trait Banks is so well known for. Banks was quickly followed by Paul Dano, who also starred in Love & Mercy as the young Brian Wilson. Per instructions of the film’s director Bill Pohlad, Dano did not confer with John Cusack whom played the older Brian, nor did he meet Brian Wilson until he had sufficiently researched the character and his illness. “I learned so much,” recognized Dano, “I really wanted to protect the character.” 

Tribute Joel Edgerton’s interview was prerecorded due to his receiving another award that night in Los Angeles. Being acknowledge for his role in Black Mass, the Australian born actor admitted that perfecting a Boston accent was difficult, and contributed his success as much to his dialect coach as to his make-up crew.

First time actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. confidently followed. Not only was Jackson given the task of playing his father in a film
written about his father, but the film was also produced by his father – legendary Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton. “[My father] said he needed me,” Jackson disclosed, “and that’s all I needed to know.”  Although Jackson confessed he had some doubt, “After two years of auditioning to play your own father – you get some doubt.” When asked about the lack of diversity in the nominations of best actor at the Oscars, Jackson said it was nothing to dwell on, “It was more about best picture for my father – for the family legacy.”

Following the alphabet, Hungarian actor Geza Rohrig was next, honored for his role in Son of Saul, a Hungarian film set in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The film follows Rohrig’s character for two weeks in the camp, focusing on his face with most of the background blurred out, which was a challenge for the actor.

The youngest of the tributes was 9 year old actor Jacob
Tremblay from the film Room. A drama with a heavy plot line, the actor said it was easy for a kid to watch, “It is worse for a mom than a kid. A kid is like – oh whatever.” Easily charming the audience, Tremblay was endearingly honest and thoughtful in his responses to Carter’s careful directed questions.

Alicia Vikander was the last actor honor at the tribute, but only because of the alphabetical order. Honored for two films, the Swedish dancer demonstrated a range in her acting ability, playing a sly robot in Ex Machina, and the wife to a transgender husband in the true story The Danish Girl. Vikander relied on her dance training in her portrayal of both characters, believing that movement gives them life. 

After the solo interviews, Carter brought all tributes onto the stage for a round of questions. There were no egos involved as each actor showed respect and fondness for each other – especially the young Jacob. Leonard Maltin emerged on stage as the time came to hand out the awards. Each accepted graciously, without speeches or shout-outs. “It is a privilege to introduce someone we didn’t know a year or two ago,” proclaimed Maltin. But we know them now. 

Photos by Art Fisher. 

February 4, 2016

The Modern Master Award Honoring Johnny Depp ~ February 4, 2016 @ The Arlington Theater

There’s No One Like Johnny

The word on State Street is that Johnny Depp was spotted disguised as a street person sitting on a bench across from the SBIFF Hub the first day of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, taking it all in incognito. After seeing the shy actor accept the Maltin Modern Master Award on Thursday night, I believe that this was probably a true sighting.

Arriving late to venue, Johnny Depp graciously attended to his fans and accepted gifts on the red carpet, then quickly disappeared into the Arlington. Usually the recipients of the tribute awards sit amongst the general public in reserved seating; however this was not the case for Depp. Swept away to a back room he was guided to an area to watch as Leonard Maltin, for whom the award is named, introduced a montage of Depp’s “enduringly popular movies.”

Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Black Mass, Dead Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Blow, Chocolat, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sweeney Todd all merged together in one great accolade to the actor with over 40 movies to his credit.

Almost reluctantly, Depp made his way on stage from a side curtain, receiving a standing ovation. He stopped exclaiming “Now I stand for you,” before taking his seat next to Maltin. “This is not my favorite thing to do,” he admitted. “I have no idea what I am doing here; that [montage] was ludicrous.”

Maltin got right to business talking about Depp’s transition from TV star to Film star. “Playing the same character for 9 months out of the year can really make you insane – it didn’t affect me…” Depp said with at sly grin. “It was to pay rent… and I was never a good salesperson. I tried to get fired – a lot!” Depp considers himself a musician first and acting on a television show was not remotely close to what he strove toward. And why? “The best question in the world to anything is ‘why.’ Why – ha!” Depp’s exclamation was met with an awkward silence.

“Oh God, bemoaned Depp, "More clips?!” as Maltin went into the first clips of the night. He turned away and throughout the clips, obviously not comfortable watching himself on screen.

As more clips and discussion around the films emerged, funny stories were craftily pulled from Depp by Maltin, a great gift of the moderator. On the film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Johnny admitted he had been going through a hard time. Depp pondered if it was necessary to play the part of Gilbert Grape, or just a coincidence. On co-star Leo DiCaprio, he joked, again giving the crowd a sly grin, “He’s grown! Have you seen him?”

Moving on to Don Juan DeMarco, Depp contemplated the perspective of reality. “Who’s to say… what’s real to one? Who’s to say?” It was here he fell in love with his idol Marlon Brando, forging a friendship that would last a lifetime. “I liked playing opposite Marlon Brando and I’m playing the crazy one. How often does that come around?” Depp’s voice softened when he spoke of Brando, telling us that he was not what people thought; he was all about justice and equality. “There’s a saying that you should never meet your heroes… I’ve met every one and I’ve never been let down.”

Names like Marlon Brando, Bill Murray, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Al Pacino. Working with Al Pacino, Depp realized that Pacino was “certifiably insane,” and made a point to tell the actor, to which Al responded, “Oh yeah! Oh Yeah! You didn’t know that? [Dramatic pause] You know you’re pretty f-ing* strange yourself.” Ha!
Depp’s choice to do a Disney film arose from the non-stop cartoon marathon he was subject to once he had a child. “How can I make a live action performance within the parameters of a cartoon?” In cartoons you accept the absurd as reality, you don’t question how Wyle Coyote only needs a band-aid after a 1200 pound bolder falls on his head, and this is what Ed Wood called ‘a suspension of disbelief.’  So he tried something different, and made Jack Sparrow a more comical character – and almost got fired! Again.

His first and only attempt at directing resulted in the film, The Brave, starring Marlon Brando. Depp was proud to watch what Brando gave to him, but found it difficult to be both star and director himself. Depp holds the right to the film domestically and claims politics, and then the passing of Brando, prevented him from releasing it in the US. However, after much prodding from Maltin, Depp promised to screen the film at next year’s SBIFF and sealed the agreement with a gentleman’s handshake.  

More clips emerged, and it was obvious Depp’s talents easily ranged from comedy, to drama, to mockery, and to musicals. Depp divulged he takes influence from everything, “Why be rigid with any education? Take it from everywhere!”

As the night came to an end, Scott Cooper, director of Black Mass, presented the Maltin Modern Master Award to Depp. “Besides his awe inducing performances and cinematic brilliance, it is his deep humanity that sets him apart,” Cooper acknowledge. “There is no one like Johnny.”