In the audience for the Artists for the Arts concert at Samohi were Santa Monica politicians, community activists and local residents all there to put their money towards arts in neighborhood schools. These were not people who needed convincing; they were there to make sure kids get the chance to explore the arts in schools, even if the schools themselves can no longer afford to offer such classes. As the event’s co-chair Greg Coote said, “It’s all about the kids guys, just remember that.”
Certainly Jackson Browne was the biggest name of the evening, however, when local favorites and Artists for the Arts Foundation co-founders Venice started the show, there was palpable excitement in the room. They kicked off with “Samson & Delilah,” an old Blind Willie Johnson song entitled “If I Had My Way,” made popular by Peter, Paul & Mary and later introduced to legions of Deadheads by the Grateful Dead. Venice’s rendition was definitely more Peter, Paul & Mary than Grateful Dead, and it got the crowd going. “The Road to Where You Are” was snappy, and also a perfect example of that family harmony that money just can’t buy. “Rewind,” a song recently recorded in an old wooden church in Amsterdam, was nothing short of amazing. The best way (but perhaps not the most technical) to describe “Think Again,” one of the last songs of Venice’s set, was that it really, REALLY, rocked.
Equally interesting to the music was the discovery, known to many in the audience, that Venice is a family group. The two lead singers and both guitarists are all brothers and cousins, and were all raised in Venice. Guitarist Pat and singer Kipp Lennon are brothers, two of eleven, while guitarists Michael and singer Mark Lennon are brothers, two of thirteen. And this reviewer thought sharing a bathroom with her brother was bad! The band is rounded out by bass player and Olympic High School teacher Mark Harris (who proudly brought out some of his students) and drummer Jamie Wollam.
Okay, it’s finally happened – Jackson Browne has aged. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer now looks 25 instead of 20.
Jackson Browne is unequivocally one of the most talented artists to ever record a song. He’s also always the first one to say yes to a good cause, be it local or global, so it should come as no surprise that he volunteered his time for the event. In the late 1970s, when most Americans weren’t yet hip to the dangers of nuclear power plants, there he was, along with friend and fellow musician Bonnie Raitt, organizing what would become the No Nukes concerts. In fact, if you can’t get Jackson Browne to do your benefit, your organization must be devoid of any humanity. This man gives, and gives and gives, and there is not a worthwhile cause he isn’t attuned to.
He started his acoustic set with “I’m Alive,” and also performed “The Barricades of Heaven” from Looking East. Browne went back to one of his earliest albums, Late for the Sky, for a thoughtful rendition of “Before the Deluge.” He has recently began performing “For America” once again, a much-needed reminder how we all love America, maybe just not in the same way “they” want us to. “As if freedom was a question of might/As if loyalty was black and white.”
Longtime Santa Monican Browne shared with the crowd. “How grateful I am to live in Santa Monica, California. I get to work out on the beach. I hate gyms – they’re really smelly and the music’s really bad.” He spoke of his classes on the beach, with “people my age,” and how the homeless nearby are “not part of the class but they’re part of the lesson if you know what I mean.”
It was nice seeing Browne in the middle of the show, instead of waiting until the end as headliners usually do. The night was all about we, not me. Browne was joined by bass player Kevin McCormick and eventually Fred Martin & the Levite Camp, who Browne described as the “Christian choir with the Jewish name.”
The Levite Camp had the packed crowd at Barnum Hall mesmerized by their strong, emotional offerings. The vocal talents of the Levite Camp were unbelievable, especially co-lead singers Chavonne Morris and Alethea Mills. Unbelievable in an Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston kind of way. Martin mentioned how all of the Levite Camp, himself including, had their lives saved by the arts. The gospel number they sang was authentic enough to feel for a moment as though Barnum Hall had been transformed into a Mississippi Delta church.
Throughout the evening student musicians were brought on stage to play with the various bands. Seeing these young, talented, poised musicians holding their own with seasoned veterans was one of the more touching parts of the evening. There was a lot of jamming, enjoying, entertaining, teaching and learning going on. It makes one wonder how it’s possible for so many government officials to look the other way when funds for arts education get cut more and more and more. Everyone in attendance knew how important the arts are; why not the president, the senators, the governors, and countless other, often faceless, bureaucrats?
The participating musicians from Samohi included David Jang on cello; David Martinez on bass; Gloria Lim on violin; Gracie McAleer on viola; Theodosia Roussos on oboe; and Matt Vincent on violin. Olympic High School was represented by Mario Cardenas, Max Furstenau and Daniel Tia, all on guitars.
The finale exploded with Browne’s “Running on Empty” and “Take it Easy” then Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Love the One You’re With,” followed by a few riffs of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” ultimately culminating in a most rousing version of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” complete with Jackson 5 dance moves including jumping in place that even Browne couldn’t resisting participating in at one point. The whole crowd was up and dancing. It was happy, powerful end to an awesome evening.
The evening was a bona fide success, having raised $100,000 For the Arts. That money will be used in local schools to make sure children are given an education that includes the arts. As Jackson Browne said, “It kills me that you have to do benefits for arts in school. The day that they hold a fundraiser for a B2 bomber….”