CONCERT REVIEWS 2007
Rancho Nicasio is well noted for its array of band appearances – primarily folk, blues and jazz – but for any who long for a taste of Hawaii right here in Western Marin county, there’s no better venue to visit than when the Rancho is hosting a Hawaiian event such as this Hawaiian Lu’au and Buffet.
April’s event was held indoors due to the unpredictability of the season’s weather (other Hawaiian events e anticipated for summer would be held outdoors on the lawn), but indoor seating proved not only convenient but perfect for the venue being presented.
First, the buffet: a fine sampling of Hawaiian foods, the presentation included perfectly-cooked beef, Hawaiian chicken Lu’au, salmon, sweet potatoes with coconut, tropical fruit salad, even a very nice poi – and an array of breads and desserts. Reserved seating made for swift and easy processing of the sold-out house and led for the smooth introduction of the first act, a hula presentation by the Halau Hula Na Pua Oka La’akea troupe, which included vocals and ukulele playing throughout.
Several colorful changes of costume and different hula island songs demonstrated the variety and range of the hula style and proved a fine, lively introduction setting the mood and stage for the introduction of slack key guitar artist Ledward Kaapana, who next thrilled the audience with his falsetto singing paired with lively slack key guitar, and produced amazing solos on the ukulele.
Again, classic Hawaiian tunes both traditional and contemporary were presented, creating a lively Hawaiian atmosphere the audience relished.
Ledward’s performances are always a joy to behold: precise yet enthusiastic, and diverse enough to satisfy all kinds of Hawaiian music listeners, from the Don Ho standards crowd to younger listeners who enjoy contemporary flavors thrown in.
Guitarist Mike Kaawa’s pairing with Ledward really set the show on fire, though: the two together produced charged, enthusiastic music which peeled out complimentary chords spiced with complimentary harmony vocals.
When the two retired after a number of songs, the hula troupe returned with more entertainment, and when they were through – Ledward and Mike returned for a final performance.
The smooth, seemingly effortless, seamless segues between the performers really made for an outstanding concert: when paired with the exceptionally fine Hawaiian buffet, you had an evening’s entertainment that couldn’t be beat.
Rancho Nicasio is already well known locally for its blues and jazz acts: the Hawaiian island flavor was hugely successful and nobody living anywhere near the Rancho should miss the next one!
Ancient Future is a constantly-revolving lineup of top-notch musicians unified by the guitar and talents of leader Matthew Montfort: as such, you never know what an Ancient Future will embrace: it could be space music, Indian, Middle Eastern – or any fusion thereof.
Their March 31st concert was billed as a guitar-sitar ‘jugalbandi’ concert – a blend of classical Eastern and Western music featuring Montfort on guitar and Pandit Habib Kahn on sitar, with guests on dulcimer and percussion – and was simply an outstanding presentation.
No review would be complete, however, without describing the Larkspur Café Theatre, an exceptional new venue that combines the intimate café atmosphere of Paris with small tables and a very affordable menu and drink list with some outstanding variety acts. The Larkspur Café Theatre looks to add more international acts to its lineup and is the perfect place to view a small act in an unusual atmosphere of intimacy, with the stage nearly level to the floor and not a bad seat in the house.
If the Larkspur Café Theatre succeeds in adding more international acts to its lineup, it is sure to become a notable, popular local venue essential for any world music fan.
What made the ‘jugalbandi’ concert so special was the fact that guitar is seldom featured in Indian classic music – yet Montfort is a pioneer of such and uses the scalloped fretboard guitar to bring out the best in Indian sounds. His background as a student of the notoriously-difficult sitar lends to translations which shine on guitar; and by having a blend of sitar and rare guitar interactions, the concert became an extraordinary presentation indeed, spiced by the intimacy of stage which felt nearly small and close enough to be a living room.
Ancient Future’s focus on world fusion music has always produced extraordinary artist interactions and results; but this concert was an exceptional meld of East and West and offered up unique fingerings, approaches and collaborative efforts. It also held the unique ability to reach out not only to audience members already versed in Indian classic music, but to newcomers to the genre.
Any who want to experience a real fusion of East and West should not hesitate to listen to Ancient Future, to purchase their cds, and to attend one of their world-class, award-winning concerts. It’s not to be missed.
Once again Hawaii invaded California in the form of the dynamic trio Hapa, which took Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre by storm as it has over the years with each appearance they’ve made. Hapa is Barry Flanagan on guitar and vocals, Nathan Aweau on bass, guitar and vocals and chanter Charles Ka’upu. And the ‘storm’ is the joined efforts of their Hawaiian roots and a tinge of rock which keeps Hapa beyond the ordinary.
One might anticipate a Hawaiian concert would be gentle hula music: while there are soft Hawaiian songs and even a hula dancer for some, Hapa’s entire concert is a rollicking event rather than a quiet lull, powered by the driving guitar of Flanagan, the powerful vocal chants of Ka’upu, and the lovely harmonies between Flanagan and Aweau.
Add the fact that Hapa excels in originals and ‘Hawaiianized’ specials such as Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ rather than the usual Hawaiian standards and you have a unique listening experience which goes far beyond the usual slack key concert.
Hapa has recently released their 6th album, ‘Maui’, but no album can capture the humor, stories and interplays between Hapa and audience that also set Hapa apart from other Hawaiian concerts – though the albums do a splendid job of capturing the driving force of their music.
Hapa shouldn’t be missed by any with an affection for contemporary Hawaiian sound: next to journeying to the islands, it’s the next best thing to being there!
If there’s one thing to be said about LIGHT UP THE SKY, it’s that its survey of a frustrated set of actors who have cultivated both hope and angst will hit home to any who have written, directed, or dreamed of producing a hit play – and any who have experienced artist frustration.
Spreckels Performing Arts Center’s the perfect venue for producing such a sensitive production: its small theatre holds absolutely no bad seats, its smaller stage is perfect for the sitting room/business set of LIGHT UP THE SKY, and its acoustics and lighting are impeccable.
When the lights go down the audience is thus immediately drawn into the scenario: set in 1948 in the living room of actress Irene Livingston’s (played by Marcia Pizzo) Ritz-Carlton Hotel suite in Boston, it tells of actors and actresses long used to the challenges of the stage, and of a new screenwriter’s first promising play. The hopes and dreams of Light Up the Sky are explored in the first act; the realities of failure are considered in Act Two – which brings out the real underlying angst and jaded views of the stage in all.
The Pacific Alliance Stage Company’s production and casting is perfect, from the short, stocky secretary Miss Lowell – who is perhaps filled with the most hope and wonder of all – to the seasoned Irene, used to dramatic scenes both on and off stage.
While billed as a comedy, it’s fair to say LIGHT UP THE SKY is more a drama than your usual comedy: it comes to life in a series of moving encounters between the actors, their benefactor/investors, and the playwright and while humor is there, it’s of secondary impact compared to the play’s social and artistic message.
Moss Hart’s play is old-style 1940s culture at its best – and LIGHT UP THE SKY’s appearance at Spreckles is a notable event indeed.