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Free Events Spice Summer’s Arrival:

July has been a great month for free concerts in our burg-by-the-bay. Recently, I attended a delightful performance by the Santa Monica Woodwind Quintet at the new Annenberg Community Beach House at 415 PCH. It was one of the new beach facility’s summer series of free Tuesday night cultural events. Next up was Joan Baez at the Santa Monica’s Pier’s weekly summer Twilight Dance and Music series.

Baez was magnificent as ever and I nominate her performance as the city’s biggest cultural happening of the summer, at least so far. The Baez performance lasted well over an hour. One highlight was her rendition of “We Shall Overcome” which became a sing-along for the crowd and I suppose for many of us old enough to remember, a time warp back to the protests against war in Southeast Asia and Jim Crow’s South. The crowd for Baez was beyond capacity — security on the pier actually quit letting folks in once the concert started and at least several thousand overflowed onto the sand south of pier. The sand is a great place to picnic but a crummy site to watch a concert, and for we plebeians on the sand the din of the crowd pretty much drowned out Baez. One wonders if in the future the Thursday night concert stage could be moved closer to the pier’s railing so performers could better play to both the on-pier and on-sand crowds? Better acoustics reaching the sand dwellers would also be great.

A huge crowd on the Santa Monica Pier is hardly news. Our pier, which bills itself as the West Coast’s last great “pleasure pier,” has become an iconic visitor attraction even without the concerts and one suspects that upcoming bicentennial on 9/9/09 (what a great date!) will be a gargantuan blow-out.

Far less certain in my mind is the future visitor draw of the Annenberg Community Beach House where I attended the woodwind quintet concert. To be sure, the Beach House will not be going out of business. We are most certainly a better city for having such a recreational and cultural windfall, made possible by a huge $28 million pop from the Annenberg Foundation, at the recommendation of Wallis Annenberg. The self-described concept for the attraction is somewhat eccentric: “…a new public beach facility open to all, no membership required.”

You may not need to join, but you can’t exactly walk in either as if it were a free ride for the proletariat of the Peoples Republic of Santa Monica (excepting the Tuesday night summer free events series). Adult admission is $10 plus $10 for all day parking — it would cost our family of four $50 to have a pseudo exclusive beach club experience on a summer day. There are reduced admissions for seniors ($5) and kids ($4). Getting to the Annenberg Beach House is also not the easiest of journeys. Parking is limited. We walked from Palisades Park , joining the bike path once we got to the sand but it may have been in violation of the law as is says “Bikes Only” every few hundred yards. Walking along PCH, where the sidewalk is narrow to almost nil, seems awfully dangerous. Biking to the Beach House would be best, also the Big Blue Bus Beach Ride on summer weekends stops at the facility. For more information — including free Tuesday night summer cultural events — visit www.beachhouse.smgov.net.

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