Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Year The Music Died


It was the summer of 1988. I was 21, and was working three part-time jobs over the summer before starting my senior year in college. I was single (a rare moment in Val history as all my lifelong girlfriends will attest), mini-skirts were in again, and I was wearing out the cassette deck in my Datsun 710 station wagon with one tape that I listened to over and over again that whole summer.

George Michael. Faith.

Even today, every time I think of George Michael, the vision I have is my memory of driving that ugly little green car from one of my two radio station jobs to my shift waiting tables at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland. I can even tell you what I was probably wearing. Sunglasses, a spandex tank and a black and white polka dotted mini-skirt with knee length leggings. That was the uniform of 1988. And - like almost every single car ride during that un-airconditioned summer - I had my window rolled down while I sang at the top of my lungs. I loved every single song on that cassette tape. I still have it somewhere, packed away in a box of memorabilia from my youth. And now, with George Michael's death on Christmas, that's all he is now. A memory. But a really, really good one.

The list of iconic music figures that have passed away this past year is so extensive that it's a little overwhelming. It may have ended with George Michael, but it started with David Bowie, and I was crushed. Then death took Glenn Frey, the man who wrote "Hotel California." Early in the Spring we lost one of our own, Merle Haggard, and that same month Prince was gone. So many brilliant songwriters gone already, that it seemed like a slap in the face when Leonard Cohen, who wrote "Hallelujah," passed away at 82. But death wasn't finished. She finally claimed soul singer Sharon Jones, who told Rolling Stone earlier this year "I have Cancer; Cancer doesn't have me." And now, finally it does. I consider myself one of the lucky few who got to sit in the front row at the Cascade Theatre to experience her amazing death defying attitude just a little over a year ago. That woman danced like Tina Turner while belting out song after song. She kicked her heels off. Her earring flew off into the audience. And the whole time I was just floored, knowing that she had been told just six weeks earlier that her cancer had returned, and she was going through chemo. That woman never let Cancer define who she was.

Cancer took so many of the great artists we lost this year: Bowie, Joey Feek, Buckwheat Zydeco, Leonard Cohen (who actually died in his sleep after experiencing a fall, but cancer was a major contributing factor says the family), and Greg Lake. Lake was one third of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Another third, Keith Emerson, also passed away this year by self-inflicted gunshot, the only music icon known to intentionally end his life this year.

Rather than stretching for ways to wax on poetically about how so many talented musicians died, I offer this list, and an accompanying playlist of their amazing songs. I'm also including Sir George Martin, the iconic producer of The Beatles. He died this year at the age of 90, and contributed so much to the recorded sound of John, Paul, George & Ringo that I thought it would be a crime not to include his genius in this list of people we lost in 2016.

They're calling 2016 "The Year The Music Died." But it's not. The musicians - amazing musicians, all of them - may have died, but their music is a legacy that lives on. We should all be so lucky to leave such a legacy.

Jan 10 - David Bowie, cancer, 69.
Jan 17 - Glenn Frey, The Eagles, complications from surgery to treat arthritis, 67.
Jan 28 - Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane & Jefferson Starship, heart attack, 74.
Feb 04 - Maurice White, Earth Wind & Fire, Parkinsons Disease, 74.
Mar 04 - Joey Feek, Joey & Rory, cervical cancer, 40.
Mar 08 - Sir George Martin, Beatles Producer, unknown, 90.
Mar 11 - Keith Emerson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, self-inflicted gunshot, 71.
Mar 23 - Phife Dawg, Tribe Called Quest, complications from Diabetes, 45.
Apr 06 - Merle Haggard, complications from Pneumonia, 79.
Apr 21 - Prince, Fentanyl overdose, 57.
Oct 23 - Pete Burns, Dead Or Alive, heart attack, 57.
Sep 24 - Buckwheat Zydeco,cancer, 68.
Nov 10 - Leonard Cohen, cancer & fall in home, 82.
Nov 13 - Leon Russell, complications from heart surgery, 74.
Nov 18 - Sharon Jones, cancer, 60.
Dec 07 - Greg Lake, Emerson Lake & Palmer, cancer, 69.
Dec 25 - George Michael, heart failure, 53.

I offer this playlist of songs from the musicians listed above, but if you can think of others worthy of this list, please let me know in the comments below, or list your own favorite songs from these incredible icons we lost this year.

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How To Make Lemonade


I sat at the dining room table on November 9th and sobbed. Hard. My eyes had already welled up with tears when I got the text from my daughter, and started streaming down my face as I told my husband what she had just shared with me. But it was his response that opened the floodgates, causing me to sit, bawling into my napkin for a good couple of minutes before I could go on with dinner again, puffy eyed and red faced. Even thinking of that moment now causes me to tear up again, a little overwhelmed with emotion. 

But maybe not for the reason you think.

OK, some of it is for exactly the reason you're probably thinking. I've definitely been moving through the stages of what's being called 'Election Grief' over the past week. Same stages that one typically suffers during the loss of a loved one. For me, it wasn't the loss suffered by Clinton that has reduced me to a crumpled, sensitive mess. Not exactly. For me, it's something much bigger than that. And it's not that easy to explain, although I'll try. (And if you just want to skip to the end to get to the good part about why I cried and how unpretty I am when I cry, go ahead...it's 5 paragraphs down, right after I mention how the biggest lesson this election is sending to our children is that now you can throw a huge temper tantrum and still get dessert.)

For me, watching this election going to Donald Trump is like what I imagine it must be like to be a parent who did everything in their power to raise their child to be a decent human being who makes good choices, is respectful, doesn't take advantage of others, uses thoughtful words instead of violence or name calling to settle disagreements, and shares with others. And somehow that child grew up to be just the opposite. This child turned into a monster who says all kinds of horrifying, inappropriate things, makes fun of other people, bullies, makes awful, violent threats, and encourages others to get on board with him.

I have to imagine what that would be like, because it hasn't been my experience as a parent. Maybe I was just really, really lucky. But I know there are a few kids out there like that, and if one of them displayed any of that behavior while at school, that kid would get sent directly to the Principal's office for disciplinary action. Because we all would agree  (I hope we would all agree) that any of that behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Whether its action, or just talk.


And yet less than two weeks ago, our country rewarded the awful, unacceptable behavior that would result in serious punishment if it was from a child with the highest honor we can bestow upon a citizen of this country. We have just given positive reinforcement to extremely negative behavior. And that is a tragedy.

What I'm afraid of - and experiencing quite a bit of grief over - is the concept that the citizens of our nation are giving their blessing to behave like a belligerent bully to get what you want. And that's just not cool. Not cool at all. I'm concerned that other citizens will take it as a green light to behave badly. Because hey, we're handing out prizes for this shit now.

As a mother, I have tried my hardest to raise my child to operate at her ethical best. I've even told her from her earliest days that if she ever wanted to be president someday, that she'd need to be at her best behavior from Day 1, and continue trying to be the best human she can. And she took that to heart. And now...none of that matters. Because when it came down to election day, we had to choose between the monster accused of being a criminal for hiding her emails (and allowing the One Percenters into her back pocket), and the monster accused of being a criminal for business fraud (and being the One Percenter). Either way, the other 99% of us lose. We are losing the trust of our children, who have just been shown that you can throw huge temper tantrums and still get dessert.

Back to my child, who, whether I think it's going to give her any kind of leg up in life anymore to be the respectful, ethical young woman she was brought up to be, is exactly that.

Would you like to know what she did the morning after the election?

That young lady made sparkling lemonade out of lemons.

She woke up, put on her big girl panties, and went to the Dollar Tree. She purchased two plastic crowns, and took them to one of her college professors who has two little girls that adore my daughter. She asked him to give them to Winnie and Calliope, along with a note that said, "We may not have it now, but (someday) we will have a woman president. Until then, I'm giving you these crowns, so you can remember you are important."

Winnie & Calliope wearing their crowns
I found out about it at dinner Wednesday evening. That's when I got a text from my daughter with a photo of her professor's two little girls with their crowns, and a Facebook post he wrote along with it claiming, "I'm so grateful to have a job where I get to spend my time working with students like Sophia who inspire me (and my family) every day."

That's when I got all proud and red-eyed. Then my husband - always the one to unleash the flood by pulling his finger out of the dike (although in our house we call it the eyeball pluck) - said, "Well, if you want to know the truth, I'm kind of glad Hillary Clinton didn't get elected. I'm still holding out hope that Sophia will be our nation's first woman president." I cried into my napkin for a good, long time. There were tears of disappointment for half of our nation, tears of grief for the other half, and tears of pride for my child and hope for our future all rolled into one 5 minute bawl.

This is actually right before the big crying spell, when I wanted to
show my daughter that her actions had gotten me kind of emotional.

And then I did the math. 16 years. It's really not that far away. Sophia Miller in 2032!

So right now, although it feels like half of our nation just died, I'm trying to keep some hope alive that the world won't end in the next four (or sixteen) years, and that we aren't entering into a new era of condoned bigotry and belligerence. But I'm still having a hard time with it. Originally I had titled this column "Elegy For Half A Nation" and put together a playlist of music for those who feel like like something just died inside of us. But I've changed my mind. Now, we're making lemonade! So while I'm still starting off today's "How To Make Lemonade" playlist with some elegiac music and a few pieces about feeling sorry for ourselves, it morphs along the way (and we'll even head to church), with songs that sing of healing, hope, woman power, a brighter tomorrow - even if that tomorrow is 16 years away - and lemonade.

Here's hoping you've found a way to make your own lemonade out of this crop of sour lemons. If you've got a song to add, a story of how you're getting through these dark times, or the best lemonade recipe to share, please do so in the comments section below.

How To Make Lemonade


I sat at the dining room table on November 9th and sobbed. Hard. My eyes had already welled up with tears when I got the text from my daughter, and started streaming down my face as I told my husband what she had just shared with me. But it was his response that opened the floodgates, causing me to sit, bawling into my napkin for a good couple of minutes before I could go on with dinner again, puffy eyed and red faced. Even thinking of that moment now causes me to tear up again, a little overwhelmed with emotion. 

But maybe not for the reason you think.

OK, some of it is for exactly the reason you're probably thinking. I've definitely been moving through the stages of what's being called 'Election Grief' over the past week. Same stages that one typically suffers during the loss of a loved one. For me, it wasn't the loss suffered by Clinton that has reduced me to a crumpled, sensitive mess. Not exactly. For me, it's something much bigger than that. And it's not that easy to explain, although I'll try. (And if you just want to skip to the end to get to the good part about why I cried and how unpretty I am when I cry, go ahead...it's 5 paragraphs down, right after I mention how the biggest lesson this election is sending to our children is that now you can throw a huge temper tantrum and still get dessert.)

For me, watching this election going to Donald Trump is like what I imagine it must be like to be a parent who did everything in their power to raise their child to be a decent human being who makes good choices, is respectful, doesn't take advantage of others, uses thoughtful words instead of violence or name calling to settle disagreements, and shares with others. And somehow that child grew up to be just the opposite. This child turned into a monster who says all kinds of horrifying, inappropriate things, makes fun of other people, bullies, makes awful, violent threats, and encourages others to get on board with him.

I have to imagine what that would be like, because it hasn't been my experience as a parent. Maybe I was just really, really lucky. But I know there are a few kids out there like that, and if one of them displayed any of that behavior while at school, that kid would get sent directly to the Principal's office for disciplinary action. Because we all would agree  (I hope we would all agree) that any of that behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Whether its action, or just talk.


And yet less than two weeks ago, our country rewarded the awful, unacceptable behavior that would result in serious punishment if it was from a child with the highest honor we can bestow upon a citizen of this country. We have just given positive reinforcement to extremely negative behavior. And that is a tragedy.

What I'm afraid of - and experiencing quite a bit of grief over - is the concept that the citizens of our nation are giving their blessing to behave like a belligerent bully to get what you want. And that's just not cool. Not cool at all. I'm concerned that other citizens will take it as a green light to behave badly. Because hey, we're handing out prizes for this shit now.

As a mother, I have tried my hardest to raise my child to operate at her ethical best. I've even told her from her earliest days that if she ever wanted to be president someday, that she'd need to be at her best behavior from Day 1, and continue trying to be the best human she can. And she took that to heart. And now...none of that matters. Because when it came down to election day, we had to choose between the monster accused of being a criminal for hiding her emails (and allowing the One Percenters into her back pocket), and the monster accused of being a criminal for business fraud (and being the One Percenter). Either way, the other 99% of us lose. We are losing the trust of our children, who have just been shown that you can throw huge temper tantrums and still get dessert.

Back to my child...who, whether I think it's going to give her any kind of leg up in life anymore to be the respectful, ethical young woman she was brought up to be, that's who she is.

Would you like to know what she did the morning after the election?

That young lady made sparkling lemonade out of lemons.

She woke up, put on her big girl panties, and went to the Dollar Tree. She purchased two plastic crowns, and took them to one of her college professors who has two little girls that adore my daughter. She asked him to give them to Winnie and Calliope, along with a note that said, "We may not have it now, but (someday) we will have a woman president. Until then, I'm giving you these crowns, so you can remember you are important."

Winnie & Calliope wearing their crowns
I found out about it at dinner Wednesday evening. That's when I got a text from my daughter with a photo of her professor's two little girls with their crowns, and a Facebook post he wrote along with it claiming, "I'm so grateful to have a job where I get to spend my time working with students like Sophia who inspire me (and my family) every day."

That's when I got all proud and red-eyed. Then my husband - always the one to unleash the flood by pulling his finger out of the dike (although in our house we call it the eyeball pluck) - said, "Well, if you want to know the truth, I'm kind of glad Hillary Clinton didn't get elected. I'm still holding out hope that Sophia will be our nation's first woman female president." I cried into my napkin for a good, long time. There were tears of disappointment that half of our nation, tears of grief for the other half, and tears of pride and hope all rolled into one 5 minute bawl.

This is actually right before the big crying spell, when I wanted to
show my daughter that her actions had gotten me kind of emotional.

And then I did the math. 16 years. It's really not that far away. Sophia Miller in 2032!

So right now, although it feels like half of our nation just died, I'm trying to keep some hope alive that the world won't end in the next four (or sixteen) years, and that we aren't entering into a new era of condoned bigotry and belligerence. But I'm still having a hard time with it. Originally I had titled this column "Elegy For Half A Nation" and put together a playlist of music for those who feel like like something just died inside of us. But I've changed my mind. Now, we're making lemonade. So while I'm still starting off today's "How To Make Lemonade" playlist with some elegiac mourning music and a few pieces about feeling sorry for ourselves, it morphs along the way (and we'll even head to church), with songs that sing of healing, hope, woman power, a brighter tomorrow - even if that tomorrow is 16 years away - and lemonade.

Here's hoping you've found a way to make your own lemonade out of this crop of sour lemons. If you've got a song to add, a story of how you're getting through these dark times, or the best lemonade recipe to share, please do so in the comments section below.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Get Me Through This


I've got a lot on my mind these days. And I know you do too, even if it's for different reasons.

But I worry. About so many things.

In fact, I look around me at the rapid decline in Redding over the past five years, and it worries me. Every time I see herd of scruffy looking individuals camped out on the benches outside my office asking passersby for spare change, I worry. It wasn't like this 10 years ago. Will it get better, or this is the new normal? Will it get worse? I wonder if its like this in every community across our country, or if it's particularly bad in Redding.

I've never been more worried for the future of my country. With every scroll down my news feed or Facebook (or worse, my husband's Facebook feed), I see people spewing forth vile, hateful crap. Doesn't matter which side of the political fence you're on, right now both sides are flinging it fast and furiously, and I wonder, will it get worse? Will I wake up next Wednesday and feel like I've got a brighter day to look forward to, or should I start stocking up on canned goods just in case we go to war? I'm not as worried about World War III, but another Civil War? For the first time in my life, I feel like we're on the brink of something.


I watch the national news reports about protestors and police clashing over the Dakota Access pipeline looming large over the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, and I worry about how our country has given corporations priority over human beings. I'm convinced the outcome of next week's election won't change that one bit. And that worries me.


In our own town a young mother goes out for a jog and disappears, and I worry about what has happened to her. I worry about her husband and her children and all the other people who love her and are desperate to find her. I start thinking about all the other people who have gone missing in the past few years and have never shown back up (Baby Ember Graham, Cort Jones and Heather Cameron). It makes me worry even more about my own daughter, and I fight the urge to check in with her every hour to make sure she's okay.

I need to find a way to stop the worrying, and for me, music is the key that opens the door to transport me somewhere else to a fantasy land where I don't have to wring my hands over anything.

So I went to my friends, and asked them for some help to come up with today's playlist, to help "Get Me Through This." Because that's what friends are for. I asked them for a song - or two - that never fails to transport them to a better place. I didn't specifically say why, so I got all kinds of song flavors to mix into the recipe. Songs that help us dance away our worries, songs that provide hope and meaningful inspiration. Some songs bring back memories of carefree days of high school, others of sweet love affairs of the past. Some are songs that lift us up spiritually, and others that just float you off into a dreamlike music coma. And some are just pure silliness. But if you've ever had a truly shitty day that was knocked off the rails by a good belly laugh, well, then you understand why "Henry VIII" (bless you Denise) is just as valid as either of the amazing versions of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" that made it onto the list.

When I sat back and looked at the friends who took the time to tell me about the songs that had special meaning for them, I was astounded when I realized who had responded. I heard from friends that span my entire lifetime. From my very first friend (and next door neighbor) from birth, to friends from grade school, junior high and college. Friends from Oregon, Alaska and California. I  heard from other writers whom I respect, relatives whom I love, and friends who are planning to vote for the other guy, but I'll still love them come next Wednesday.

I realized something else that made me take a big breath in and hold it for a good long time. Four of the friends who shared their songs with me have recently lost their own children tragically and unexpectedly, and somehow they got through it. Well, they're still getting through it. When a parent's worst nightmare comes true, I don't think it's ever really over. You just keep moving on. Another four have recently lost a parent, a sister, or a spouse. And here they are, lifting others up with music.


So I hope you'll take the time to listen to today's playlist, especially if you've got worries of your own, and carry some heavy burdens on your shoulders. Maybe these musical friends can lift you up for a while, and take you away to a better place, even if it's only until the music's over.

And while you're thinking about getting through whatever you're going through, let me know what songs help move you past your worries and to a better place. Because we need more of that. I think no matter who you've voting for on Tuesday, we can all agree on that.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Beat That Went 'Round The World


If I told you that Ska and its lovechild Reggae got its start in Tennessee, would you believe me, or would you think I was out of my ever lovin' gourd? Well its true my friends, and I'm here to tell you all about it, in a quickie music education course. Are you up for it?

 First of all, I have a lot of conversations with people that start out like this: "Oh, what do I do at JPR? Well...I host a daily classical music program. But that's not what I'm necessarily all about, musically speaking." If you make a habit out of reading this column, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But today, when one of my dedicated volunteers walked into my office - a volunteer I've known for well over a decade - we had a conversation about music that left both of us a little stunned, I think, that we both had a pretty deep understanding and fondness for a genre of music that neither of us really gets a chance to show off on the airwaves.

 Derral Campbell has been one of JPR's Blues DJs for many a year, and has graced our airwaves with his great knowledge and affection for Soul and Blues on many a Saturday night. That's 10-Midnight on 89.7FM for anyone within about 100 miles of Redding. This morning Derral dropped by some Sam Cooke for another volunteer to play in an upcoming show spotlighting Soul artists. A musical discussion ensued, as it always does when Derral and I get together for more than 5 minutes. But this time we went down the rabbit hole and ended up in Alice's Ska Wonderland.

 Up until that moment, Derral had no idea that my Senior thesis in the music appreciation class I took in college was on the development of Ska and Reggae and its influence on the Punk/New Wave/Alternative Music scene. Likewise, I had no idea that Derral could take the Ska family tree one step beyond...to Tennessee.

The way it went down, if I remember it correctly, was that we received a new Colin James cd in the mail. Derral was unfamiliar with him, perhaps a little skeptical about giving him a shot on Late Night Blues. But I knew Colin James. I grabbed the disc out of his hand and threw it on to give it a listen.

Derral asked if James was a Brit. I said I didn't think so. We googled him, and found out he was from Regina, Saskatchewan. I wanted to share my favorite Colin James song from a few decades ago, so I pulled up "No More Doggin' Around" and played it. Derral was familiar with the original version (I didn't even know it was a cover), as done by some other Blues artist from way way back in 1952, a guy from Memphis Tennessee named Rosco Gordon.

Rosco Gordon

Derral regaled me with a story about how Rosco was known for incorporating a beat different than anything anyone else was doing into his Blues music, "a backbeat kind of thing," he said. Somebody in the islands got a hold of the record, and suddenly the dance halls of Jamaica were filled with the upbeat sound of Rosco Gordon. Gordon's obituary (he died in 2002) had a quote from Islands Records exec Chris Blackwell, who said, "They got hold of this beat, cheered it up a bit, added some cute lyrics and called it ska. From 1959 onwards, this was all the rage."

One of the biggest figures in Jamaica to embrace this new sound was singer and producer Prince Buster, who recorded the original version of "One Step Beyond." If you don't recognize it from Prince Buster, you'll most certainly recognize it from a version that came many years later in a land far away from Jamaica. But that's a whole other rabbit hole.


You see, in Jamaica, Ska eventually gave birth to Rocksteady, which then gave birth to Reggae as we know it today. That's how we got Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker. But when the British Mods, those wild kids on the other side of the world with their Vespa scooters and tailored suits got a hold of it, they made it theirs (just as their rival rockers had motorcycles, leather jackets and rockabilly). Some of the Mod music that grew out of this subculture included Small Faces and The Who, as weird as that might sound.


Eventually Ska gave birth to a newer, edgier genre called 2 Tone (after the record label) - kind of a stepsister to the Jamaican equivalent - Rude Boys. Then, as the Punk movement grew in the 1970's, Ska was incorporated into that as well, by bands like The Clash. That's how I was first introduced to Rosco Gordon's backbeat, around 1982 when I bought my first Ska album (it was Pauline Black and The Selector, "Too Much Pressure"). I was immediately smitten, and not long after added The Specials, The English Beat and Madness to my record collection.


And then you know what happened? Ska came back home, to the USA, when bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the Untouchables and a little band you may have heard of, No Doubt, put the beat and the horns to work in their music.

Believe me, I'm simplifying things...but basically, when you get down to it, you've got a guy from Memphis to thank for the beat that went all the way around the world and came back home.

Today's Spotify playlist incorporates a lot of this great music, starting off with the song that started it all, both the discussion and the whole genre. And it's a great opportunity to pay our respects to Prince Buster, who passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 78.

Friday, September 23, 2016

I've Got A New Favorite Band


If  you were to ask me the name of my favorite band of 2016, I've got a definite answer. There's a clear winner. But if you were to ask my favorite song of 2016, that might be a little trickier to answer. Mainly because there's two frontrunners, and I just can't quite decide between them. But since both songs are performed by that same favorite band of the year, do I really have to choose? Can't I love them equally, like my own children?

Yes? OK, good. Glad we cleared that up. I don't want to have a Sophie's Choice situation on my hands.

I hope that over the years we've spent together with me serving as your musical guidance counselor, that I have gained your trust. Remember when nobody had heard of Pink Martini? Remember when I made it my mission to introduce as many people as possible to their incredible sound when they came to Redding the first time? Remember how good that show was? Total strangers still still come up to me in the grocery store and thank me for inspiring them to get a ticket to that show.

So I'm hoping that I've earned a spot in your musical brain trust. That when I tell you something (as long as it relates to music) is awesome and amazing, that by now you would place some faith in my word and just believe me without question. But you won't have to. Because of course, I'm going to share my favorite band (and favorite songs) of the year with you.

One of the coolest things about this band is that - and this is a pretty bold statement for the chick that is lucky enough to get a front row seat to a lot of really amazing live music performances in this town - unlike many other great bands, these guys are better live than they are in the studio. You all know how much I love a good concert, but it's hard to live up to the produced studio version of your favorite song. Go ahead, it's okay to disagree with me. I want you to, really I do. Because it means you value live music performance, and that is one of the best things about Redding.

I know, a little luster has worn off of Redding's shine over the last few years. I think we're all struggling a little bit to keep the love alive with Shasta County. But admit it, we have some incredible music happening in this town, both locally made and coming from far away. We are lucky to be able to bear witness to music at outdoor festivals, in small clubs like Vintage, and bigger venues like the glorious Cascade Theatre (my home away from home), and the even bigger Civic.

Speaking of the Civic, my favorite band of 2016 is going to be playing there in November, and hopefully they'll be playing some of my favorite songs. And the point that I was trying to make (albeit kind of badly) two paragraphs ago is that this band is just so much fun to watch, that I think I'd rather see them live than listen to them recorded. Which is why maybe you haven't heard of them, because they've never graced Shasta County with a live performance. Yet. I suppose I should tell you who they are. I've been keeping you waiting long enough. Better yet, I'm going to show you who they are, and introduce you to both of my favorite songs…in alphabetical order, because as you know, I'm not playing favorites with my favorites.


Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome for your viewing and listening pleasure, PostModern Jukebox - my favorite band of 2016 - performing the most amazing rendition of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" that you've ever been witness to. Even if, for some strange, unfathomable reason, you don't care for the song, you'll probably appreciate Haley Reinhart's dress.

And here's their version of Radiohead's "Creep."

Do I have your attention? Incredible, right? Has PostModern Jukebox just kicked Pink Martini out of the eternal first place spot in The Mistress of the Mix's Top 10 All-Time Favorite Uber-Hip Bands? Well, maybe so.

There's actually a lot of similarities between these two bands. First of all, it's really hard to define them, because they're just not like anybody else.  And they're huge in Europe. PostModern Jukebox, like Pink Martini, is a collective of about a dozen ever-revolving members, many professionally trained musicians schooled in classical and jazz. Pink Martini (or PM) has Thomas Lauderdale arranging the songs and leading the band from the keyboard, while PostModern Jukebox (or PMJ) has Scott Bradlee doing the same. PM is teaming up with the VonTrapp Family Singers to inject some variety into their show these days, while PMJ has brought Puddles Pity Party's sad clown in to sing. All 6' 8" of him, not including the little hat. What a sight.

Puddles Pity Party, the Sad Clown (aka Mike Geier)
The biggest difference between Pink Martini and PostModern Jukebox is that after Pink Martini put out their first album, they made us wait another 7 years for the next one. Meanwhile, Scott Bradlee is steamrolling ahead at breakneck speed, and since their first release hit the shelves in 2012, they have put out an astonishing 14 albums in 5 years. The other big difference between the two is that Pink Martini tends to lean towards finding obscure, vintage foreign songs to cover in the most amazing way, while Postmodern Jukebox will happily take the hottest hits of today (or the 80's) and arrange them into something totally new, yet with a vintage, jazzy or Motown style that I find so endearing and fun. PMJ has covered everything from "Seven Nation Army" to "All About That Bass" and Lorde's "Royals." In fact the last song (featuring Puddles) has received over 15.3 million YouTube hits. The guy's voice really is amazing, although I'm a bigger fan of his version of Tears For Fear's "Mad World." The other thing that makes PMJ so cool is that Bradlee is always looking for a new twist. A great piece in Mother Jones a few years ago refers to PMJ as creating an "alternate history of pop music...Lady Gaga transposed to the '40s? Daft Punk done by Irish tenor singers? A Motown tribute to Nickelback?" Yup. And it's all so cool.

I hope you'll find them as mesmerizing as I do, and that you'll join me for their performance at the Civic November 19th. In fact, I want you there so badly that I'm giving you tickets. I can't take everyone with me, but I'm giving away a pair of tickets to the show, all you have to do is post in the comment section below, and you'll be entered into the drawing. No need to post any contact info in the post…we'll get ahold of you through your email address to let you know if you're the winner. by October 1st.

To wet your whistle a bit further, check out today's Spotify streaming playlist of My New Favorites below, full of PMJ and PM, as well as a lot of the other bands that fit into this fascinating somewhat undefinable genre of retro-jazzy, vintage swingy yet progressive and space age martini lounge music.



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Empty Nest


By the time you read this, I will officially be an empty nester. And I don't quite know what to do with myself.

My daughter has been home from college over the summer, but she's already packed up all her stuff into totes again, ready to move into her first real apartment in Ashland. But currently she's on her way to Alaska for a trip through Denali (lucky girl). She's growing up more and more every day, and becoming more of a strong, liberated woman than I knew was possible. She amazes me. I'm going to miss her (again).

Likewise, my stepson has received his national EMT certification, and has just signed the lease on his first real apartment in Eugene, heading out into the real world to make his mark. Jesse has only been in my life for the past 8 years on random weekends and holidays, and he's only recently come down to hang with us for a more extended time. But in that short time, I've become so fond of this amazing young man, and so proud of his motivation and dedication. He's going to do well. I'm going to miss him just as much.

While I've had them here over the summer, ticking off the days until they both leave, I've been working hard to teach them everything I know about cooking so that they won't starve (or worse, exist only on cereal, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and frozen pizzas). I've also stocked them up with some of the important things they'll need to survive in a real world kitchen (a toaster and rice maker, mixing bowls, a pyrex baking dish, measuring cup and garlic press for each of them). Jesse is now a master at barbecuing burgers, ribs, tri-tip and chicken. Meanwhile, Sophia has been focusing on making anything involving the word chicken. Orange Chicken? Check. Chicken Piccata? Check! The strangely-amazing-yet-so-simple-even-a-college-student-could-make-it Teriyaki Ranch Chicken Bake? She's got it down, and it's delicious. And here's the recipe, for those of you bold enough to try it for yourself. Keep in mind that there are no measurements listed, because you really don't need them. You make as much or as little as you want, and put in as much of each ingredient as you feel like. But maybe take it kind of easy on the teriyaki sauce.

COLLEGE KID TERIYAKI RANCH CHICKEN BAKE

Chicken Breasts or Chicken Tenders
Teriyaki Sauce
Fresh Garlic, crushed
Ranch Dressing
Tomatoes, sliced
Mozzarella or Cheddar Cheese, grated
Green Onions, diced
Bacon Crumbles

Set oven to 350. Lightly oil pyrex baking dish. Arrange chicken pieces along bottom of dish. Mix garlic into small cup with teriyaki sauce. Brush chicken with teriyaki sauce/garlic mixture. Drizzle ranch dressing over breasts. Don't drown 'em, but don't starve 'em either. Place sliced tomatoes on each piece of chicken. Top chicken with cheese. Sprinkle green onions and bacon crumbles if desired over the top.
Bake for 25 minutes for tenders, 45 minutes for full breasts. 
Serve over rice or pasta.

As of a few weeks ago they both now have drivers licenses and their own vehicles, as well as all the responsibilities that come along with it…or as I like to say, I have all the worries that come along with my kids owning cars and licenses to drive them.

I've been trying to cherish every moment I've had them, but now…it's time.  Both of my little birds are really jumping out of the nest and spreading their wings, and while I worry for both of them, I think secretly I've been more worried about myself. Because what am I going to do without having someone to cook for? Without having someone to nag about cleaning up their room or folding their laundry? Nobody to ask "What time do you think you'll be home from the movies?"

I'll have nobody to boss around and give chores to, so I'll be dealing with all the dirty dishes myself (but then again, I'll be the only one dirtying them). I'll be the one taking out the trash and doing all the laundry (and once again, it'll be just my trash and my laundry) until my husband comes back from his working season up at Crater Lake in a couple of months. And I'll have no one to help dispose of the dead bodies. You think I joke, but…

For awhile there I was feeling like a mob boss, texting my stepson every morning for about a week during a brief, but critical rodent infestation, asking him to ditch the dead rat and reset the trap because it freaked me out a little too much to do it.

So here I sit, alone, just me and the fish and the dogs. I don't even have anyone to listen to my column and serve as proofreader. I don't even have the rats anymore.

Harrumph.

Long sigh.

Another long sigh.

OK, now that I'm done pouting and feeling sorry for myself...I'll tell you about my plan. Because I do have one. I need to formulate something so that I don't dig myself a little hole that I don't come out of until November. But it's going to be up to you guys to keep me on task. Whenever you see me, galavanting about town in the next couple of months, feel free to ask me if I'm still on task. Deal?

First, I'm going to be more active and eat healthier. I only have myself to cook for, so why not eat salad? That's my plan. Salad, salad, salad! I'll be getting so much fiber in my diet that you'll never see me because I'll always be in the bathroom. And I'm going to try to ride my bike to work again. I was doing that for awhile, until it got too hot, but I can do it again.

Second, I'm going to choose a room of the house...one  room at a time...and start some deep cleaning. If I'm the only one messing up the house from now on, I have no one to blame except for myself when I see cobwebs in the corner and gigantic dust bunnies floating across the floor.

Third, I'm going to write my novel. Its a love story, but its also filled with grit, grief, loneliness and all those other things people have to go through sometimes to find true love. Its a story that's part Nicholas Sparks, part Shawshank Redemption. Some of it is based on recent and not-so recent historical fact. And some of it isn't, mainly to keep the peace... because I've made the hard decision not to wait until certain people kick the bucket to write a story that may or may not resemble certain events that may or may not have actually occurred.

A few weeks ago my mom and I went on our first trip together - just the two of us - in years and years. We went to the Cabrillo Music Festival in Santa Cruz, taking the godawful late Amtrak train both ways. One night we shared a bottle of Chardonnay at the Babbling Brook Inn, and I told my mom about the book about I wanted to write, why I wanted to write it, and why I need to get the story out of me to share with the world. She told me I needed to do it, and do it now. That was her advice.

There have been a few pivotal moments in my life when my mom has given me exactly the advice that I needed to hear. The first time was when she said "You can't make a man change for you." The second was when she said, "You have to go to Greece. If you don't go, you'll regret it for the rest of your life." The third time was when she said, "Write it."

I got back to Redding on the 3:06am train (although of course, it didn't get here until 5:30am), and started writing that very day.

That's all I'm saying for now, because I've got a chapter to write. And an Empty Nest playlist to share with you today about my birdies flying the nest, about feeling a little sad about it, and how I'm planning to cope with being in the hole for the next few months. Hope you enjoy it, and if you've got my phone number, don't forget to reach out and nudge me every once in awhile.



Thursday, August 11, 2016

Shaped By Music


I find it really odd - but in a charming way - that every summer for the past 6 or 7 years, a summer intern has shown up out of the blue. It's not like I'm putting up Help Wanted signs in high school hallways, but every year someone presents themselves to me and says, "Hey, can I learn from you?" Usually (but not always) it's a student from U-Prep, just like this summer's intern, Ayla Clark.

Ayla was one of the first humans I met after moving to Redding back in 2002. She doesn't remember me from that far back, but on my second night in town, I met all my neighbors, and one of them wasn't old enough to talk yet. That was Ayla, a little baby who was fortunate to have parents who love and encourage music. Her mother Katrina is a wonderful singer, and her dad Phil turned his entire basement into a music space for jamming with friends. Ayla has been surrounded by music from day one, and music has been shaping her for all her of her 15 years, even when she didn't realize it.

This year, Ayla was the U-Prep student who called me and asked if she could intern at the radio station over the summer, and she turned out to be the quickest learner I have ever had the pleasure of introducing to the JPR on-air console. She ran the board, quickly mastered our on-line playlist software (which ain't easy, let me tell ya), and pretty soon she was picking out the music for my show. 

Since Ayla was learning how to be Val over the summer, I figured she should have the chance to experience every facet of Val...so as her last assignment before going back to school next week, I gave Ayla the challenge of a guest starring role as the Mini-Mistress of the Mix. Please welcome her, and be amazed at some of the music she chose for her playlist that accompanies the column. Her influences range from Nina Simone to Beck, and it's all awesome. When I can introduce someone to new music, and then they turn around and introduce me to my new favorite songs of the week…..well, that's saying something. I hope you'll push the play arrow and give it a listen.  Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for Ayla Clark:

15 year old Sophomore (and neighbor) Ayla Clark

Music has always been a big part of my life. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve noticed how much music affects my life and the lives of those around me. If I have a great day, music is always there to make it even better, and if I have a bad day, there’s music to pick up all the pieces. One thing I know is that a life without music is not a life at all, it’s being alive without living. Which is a total crime if you ask me.

This past summer I interned at Jefferson Public Radio Station, with the voice of the fabulous Valerie Ing at the helm. I’ve known Val since I can remember, so actually I should probably say that she has known me since I was born! As you may already know, Valerie is the afternoon host on JPR’s classical music radio station. At first I wished I could intern at a radio station where I would actually know the music and maybe even the artists that we were playing, but nevertheless I accepted it as a learning experience and not a musical experience.

I know people usually have a hard time saying this but...oh my gosh I was so WRONG!

Classical music has been in my life since I was about 12 years old when I started playing the cello, a beautiful instrument. All we’d ever play in school was classical music, so I had a bit of an idea of how to pronounce some of the exceptionally difficult foreign composers’ names and the premise of classical music. The thought that interning at JPR’s classical music station wouldn’t give me a musical experience was immensely incorrect. I learned that classical music is the foundation of every genre of music in the entire world. Classical music practically started music as a whole, it gave rhythm and order to a bland world. Even today you can listen to any song, even that weird Skrillex mess, and you will hear some type of input from the classical era where full music began to form. My point is that even classical music makes the worst days better, and the best days seem more exciting, because every genre of music is a musical experience.
Ayla & Friends, listening to music together.

After my Summer interning at JPR, I’m so excited to broaden my horizons when it comes to music.  Now I realize way more about myself, about the history of music, and about the love people have for music. It was tremendously humbling when I heard fans call in, sometimes so eager to learn where a certain song came from or who it was by. It showed me how much people love classical music, even though I wasn’t such a fan.

Music is everywhere; in the streets, in the forest, in the rain, and especially in movies and media. I’m in high school, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my future and what I want to do with my life.  From my JPR experience, which I am so grateful for, I’m pretty fortified in my desire to be in the music industry as a producer or supervisor. I want to put a smile on everyone’s face when there needs to be laughter or bring a tear rolling down the cheek of everyone in times of sadness. I'm excited to see where life leads me, and I’m ready to flow with every musical experience to see where it might take me.


When Valerie gave me the opportunity to put together a Mistress of the Mix playlist, I decided to show all the different genres of music I've been exposed to throughout my life and how they have shaped me as a person. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe you'll be surprised at some of the music that I consider instrumental in shaping me as a musical person. Feel free to share the music that shaped you, and enjoy.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Preaching To The Choir


Have you seen the greatest meme of all time? The one with a pie chart showing the percentage of minds changed by a political Facebook post? Needless to say, It's a solid red circle.



Oddly, it's the exact same pie chart that shows what Meatloaf would & wouldn't do for love.


I've been watching some pretty serious politically fueled keyboard fisticuffs going down on Facebook lately. There's even a 2pm smackdown scheduled for this afternoon somewhere in the Bay Area between one of my college friends and someone who disagrees politically with her about something or other (I forget what and can't find the Facebook argument again to lay it all out for you word for word, but it involved the long form of the acronym 'FU', something along the lines of 'Oh you can say it on FB, but do you have the balls to say it in person' and then there was a discussion of when and where). They're actually meeting IRL (that's In Real Life to you internet slang newbies), taking it off of Facebook and dealing with their election season disagreements in a face to face duel. You may laugh, but this is some serious Aaron Burr/Alexander Hamilton stuff.

But really, what do we think we're going to accomplish, spouting our collective and varying political points of view on the internet? Will anyone's mind be changed? We keep hoping and hoping, but really?
I looked into it (for like 5 minutes this morning) and lo and behold my cyberpals, yes, sometimes political discussions amongst friends on the world wide web do actually have the power to change minds every once in awhile. I'm not just talking about pretend pie charts, I'm talking about some actual, official research done by the Pew Research Center back in 2012. It's a pathetically small percentage when you consider all the ranting and raving going on out there on the internet, although your chances are better if the discussion is between people who seek out and are actually interested in discussing political issues. People who aren't interested in discussing political issues either unfriend or unfollow you, and just go on their merry way.

But here's the kicker: It's pretty much only liberally minded people who are willing to have their minds changed. Conservatives report that as far as having their minds changed, they are closed for business, not interested in exploring the matter further, that is it, thank you and goodnight. Even with the liberals, it's not necessarily that anyone's mind is going to be changed, but liberals are more motivated to become involved in a political issue due to discussion on a social networking site. They're interested in gaining more knowledge or taking action towards furthering a political issue because of something they saw on the internet. By the way, I'm not Republican bashing here. These are cold hard facts. And get ready to have your mind blown by this next fact: Independents are even worse in the My Mind Is Made Up And Nobody's Gonna Change It Department than Republicans.

The takeaway for me from the Pew research is that Democrats trying to sway a Republican over to their way of thinking is pretty useless, but Republicans might actually have a shot at winning over a few Democrats to their camp. But at the same time, if everyone out there on Facebook harps on their friends to get out there and vote this November, the donkeys should have a better chance at getting asses out of their easy chairs than the elephants will. At least that's how it was 4 years ago, the last time we went to the national election circus.
What got me to thinking about this was watching the Democratic National Convention earlier this week. Two whole nights of it. This was more than I was planning to watch. In fact I wasn't going to watch any of it, just like I hadn't watched any of the Republican National Convention the week before. I'm like everybody else. My mind's made up. I know where I'm drawing the line this November.

Then my freezer died. Which meant I had a 16 pound turkey that I absolutely had to cook.

So I turned my oven on for 3 hours on the hottest day of record so far this year, and invited a friend over for dinner. She said yes, and even said she'd bring the wine, as long as I'd watch the convention with her.  At first I actually declined. I couldn't imagine anything more boring than sitting in front of the TV watching political speech after political speech after political speech. I was already surrounded by so much hot air, what with it being 110 outside and 450 in my oven.

But I really wanted to see my friend, and she gets so bolstered by speeches like this, that I gave in. I ended up watching it even when she wasn't there, just so I could get prepped. I saw Sarah Silverman (I just love her sense of humor and her twinkly eyes). Then Bernie Sanders got up to speak, and he was so good, especially when he told his supporters, "I think it's fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am" about the turnout of the primary. I watched Michelle Obama, and the mothers of young people who have died at the hands of gun and police violence over the past year, and the young woman with cerebral palsy who talked about rights for the disabled. And another young victim of sex trafficking. Then I sat for an hour riveted by the man who could be the first First Dude ever, Bill Clinton. That guy abides. I actually think it was two entire evenings well spent on the couch, but I knew that the reason I found all of those speeches interesting and inspiring and worthwhile was because I already agreed with the people who were speaking.

The whole time I kept thinking to myself...why bother? For both parties. This is a bi-partisan thing for me. Why not just get together and nominate your candidate already and then go back home? Why bother with 4 days of speech after speech? Maybe I'm totally wrong about this, but I doubt many of my Democrat friends watched any of the Republican National Convention and were moved to switch parties and vote for Trump. And likewise, I don't think any of my Republican friends decided to bat for the other team after this week's convention. I'm willing to bet that if any of my friends watched the other team (other than my journalist friends who were working), that it was solely to make fun of and hate on the other side.

Sure, we may come across a political post while scrolling through Facebook that makes us pause for a few moments to contemplate another point of view. But how many of us would willingly give up an entire week to watch speeches rallying for someone who disgusts us? Can I see a show of hands?

The way I see it, the national convention of each party serve as not much more than an opportunity to preach to the choir. Not that there's anything wrong with having a convention. I mean, donkeys and elephants, knock yourselves out... but wouldn't politics be so much more interesting if there was some way that registered Republicans could only watch the Democratic National Convention, and Democrats could only watch the Republican counterpart? It seems that the only way to affect any real change with the conventions is by putting it in front of someone who's mind could possibly be changed. But I don't think they're bothering to watch. Again, I'm happy to be wrong. If you're a diehard donkey who watched the elephant parade last week, I'm interested in hearing how your experience was and why you put yourself through it. And to all the pachyderms who have suffered through my attempt at mostly equal handed criticism of the way things are done in an election year, and you also suffered through all those annoying "I'm With Her" speeches, did it change anything for you at all? Or just set your views in concrete?

It seemed appropriate to end today's column by taking you to church...so here's some of my favorite spiritually themed songs in today's Preaching To The Choir playlist.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Vacation


Remember how much you looked forward to Summer vacation as a kid? So many of my memories as a kid were from those three months of glorious freedom. I remember getting excited when I'd hear the ice cream truck from two blocks away, and sucking on popsicles with Chris, the boy next door. I recall climbing the big plum tree in our backyard in Oregon, and picking blackberries so that my friend Katrina's mom could bake them into a cobbler.

Summertime meant visiting my grandparents in Texas where my little sister and I spent our days swimming or making elaborate projects out of cardboard boxes, and our evenings catching fireflies and scratching chigger bites. My sister and I read so many books from the public library that the librarian must have feared they'd run out of ones we hadn't read.

Within a few years I was spending my months babysitting neighbor kids, reading Teen Beat magazine and falling in like with boys down the block. As an older teenager, summer was a never ending party: keggers and concerts out at the lake, and rafting trips down the Rogue River.

Those days. Those months. Those years. So many vivid memories. I miss summer.

And here I am, living in the summeriest place in the United States, where the thermometer hit 109 this week. So it's not that I actually miss summer. I just miss summer vacations.

For a working stiff like me in my particular job, I don't get a summer break. In fact, it's harder than ever to take any kind of break in the summer, because for me, taking a vacation means hunting down someone else not currently taking a summer vacation who would be willing to come in and do my job. For free. Someone who knows how to pronounce names like Bedrich Smetana and Christoph Willibald Gluck. So its been many many years since I've taken off more than a day or two at a time during the summer.

I was just reminiscing on all my great vacations this afternoon, and realized that since 1989 when I took off to Greece the day after graduating from college, that every trip I've taken to Europe was in September or October. Every trip to Mexico was in March or April. Every trip to Hawaii was in January or February. I haven't had a real summer vacation since I was 22.

My friend Caroline and her kids, currently on their summer vacation (lucky people!), visited earlier this week. While at the grocery store stocking up on chardonnay and cheese, we ran into A News Cafe's Editor-In-Chief while cooling off back in the dairy department, and I started complaining about how I never get a break, and how I was even having a hard time finding inspiration for my next column. And Doni, bless her heart, said, "Well Val, there's no reason you can't take a summer vacation from the Mistress of the Mix. Why don't you do that?"

And suddenly, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. My face lit up (I'm sure it did…didn't it Doni?), and I thought of all the things I could do with my free time. I could read books. Lots of books! I could read all the book club books I never had time to finish. I could read that Stephen King book my dad got me for Christmas! I could make blackberry cobbler, and maybe go to a kegger concert, and raft down the river. So many things I could do!

And suddenly, as I held the door to the cooler open with a carton of half and half in my hand, I found that inspiration. And so, dear friends, as I embark on my first summer vacation in years - although not an actual vacation, just a short break from MOTM, I offer up one last little delight for you, because I couldn't help myself. And because there are so many great songs of summer, that you deserve a streaming Spotify playlist of summery tunes to enjoy while you (I hope) get your Summer Vacation. Feel free to share your favorite summer songs, and the songs that bring back your favorite summer memories.



Friday, June 17, 2016

Anatomy Of A Bit Part


I just finished wrapping up my first role in a movie, and I'm happy to announce that I didn't flub any of my lines. Of course, I didn't have any actual lines. But I nodded when I needed to nod, furrowed my brow like the concerned, somewhat intimidated wife I was chosen to portray, and grabbed my movie-husband's hand to exit stage left as the script called for. It's hard to flub your lines when you don't have any, right? So I think I can say with complete confidence that I totally nailed my performance as Mrs. Brigman in the movie that's filming right now in Shasta County.


"Interpreters" is a feature length Sci-Fi Action/Thriller from Archetype Pictures. Since I've signed a non-disclosure agreement, I can't say too much about the film's plot, but it involves some pretty intimidating characters, and a town who's inhabitants are either quickly disappearing or turning up dead, and a handful of badass scrappers who are working hard to uncover what's really going on.
I play Camille Brigman, who's one of the quickly disappearing types (although I was also offered the part of one of those turn up dead types, and I politely declined when I found out that I would have to die on screen).

 If Director Michael Ryan is reading this right now, he's probably thinking that he doesn't recall giving Mrs. Brigman a first name when he wrote the script. And he didn't. I just came up with that on my own, just like I invented a first name for my movie-husband, Harold. I think the whole crew thinks I'm a little crazy anyhow, since I showed up at a pre-production barbecue last weekend introducing myself to everyone as "Mrs. Bratigan." They all thought I was just being a little weird and old school, not realizing that I was just flubbing the name of the character I was playing. You can see now why I'm totally cool not having any lines, right?

I'm no actor, not really. Which is kind of funny, seeing as how many times I've been on stage since 2004, when the Cascade Theatre opened, and somehow I landed the sweet role as Mistress of Ceremonies. So I'm familiar with the stage. But not acting, per se. But now that I think about it, I'm one of the only members of my immediate family who hasn't done any acting. My daughter has been involved in countless productions, both on stage and behind the scenes, and now she's working on the "Interpreters" film crew handling props and set dressing, which is sort of how I ended up landing the bit part, and how my garage ended up filled with props. In high school, my little sister had a starring role in a couple of educational films like "It Could Never Happen To Me" about the dangers of teenagers driving under the influence. My dad also had a supporting role in one of the cautionary tales from the same institutional film company playing a football coach, and my older half sister was in numerous stage productions before heading to Hollywood where she was a producer on a daytime television show.

 But I've always secretly wanted to act - even unsuccessfully auditioned for a community theater production of "A Christmas Carol" when I was ten years old. Maybe it was the fact that they never called me back after my amazing renditions of  "The Wayfaring Stranger" and "Oh Shanandoah," but I never tried out for anything ever again. In the 4th grade when I was cast as a Native American in our Thanksgiving class play, I was 'too sick' to go to school that morning, but I was miraculously cured right after the play was over. That was probably my best acting performance, ever.

When my friends Ann Marie Lockamy and her husband Tyler Penn told me they were finally filming the independent movie they've been putting together for an eternity, and that they were doing it right here in Shasta County, I was super excited (and immediately asked if there were any opportunities to get involved with it) not because I thought I'd get a chance to be in it, but because:
  1. There is a growing pool of people in Redding with interest and experience in the film industry, and this is exactly the kind of industry that could be a game changer if it was to take a bigger, better foothold in the area, and 
  2.  My daughter is one of those people, who is currently studying film in college, and I saw this as a great opportunity for her to get involved and see what it's really like on a film set.  
So….wanna know what it's like on a film set? A real film set? One with a budget, where everyone's getting paid, a film that's actually listed on the Internet Movie Data Base? One with actors both local and from far away, actors who've actually been in stuff you've probably seen (like the TV shows Criminal Minds, The Young & The Restless, and films such as Ride Along 2 and Castaway), and ones who've never been in nuthin', like me (unless you count the Shasta County Historical Society's documentary of "The Wright Time").
Caleb (holding the slate), Stefan Hajek & Chris Kriesa filming at Red Rock
First of all, there are contracts. And permits. And non-disclosure agreements. And scripts and call sheets and questions about dietary restrictions. That's because there's food! It wasn't fancy food, but there was cheese, vegetables, bagels and gatorade, and plenty of other stuff to keep people hydrated and fed over the course of a normal shooting day, which is 12 hours, minimum. And no leaving. In fact just moments ago my husband ran out the door with a heavy sweatshirt for my daughter, who begged us to bring her something warmer for their outdoor shoot tonight at the Rodeway Inn. Other locations in town used so far this week have included Old City Hall (maybe you were an extra in their town hall meeting scene on Monday?), Red Rock Bar & Grill in Palo Cedro, and the driveway of a really nice house outside of Palo Cedro Tuesday. That was Camille and Howard Brigman's house.

For my brief performance as Mrs. Brigman, I showed up late in the afternoon with a suitcase on wheels full of "upper middle class casual" clothing, jewelry and additional shoes. The makeup was thick, the hair was just right. I met my on-screen husband, George Ireton (you may have seen him onstage in the Riverfront Playhouse's production of M.A.S.H.), and then met Stefan Hajek, a Seattle actor who was preparing to intimidating the crap out of the Brigmans. Chris Kriesa

The set on Tuesday.
The three of us gathered in the driveway, in front of the house, and after a brief chat with the director, blocked our scene. Then we rehearsed. Then, when camera, lights and sound were all ready, Caleb held the slate in front of the camera, called out all that cool movie jargon before clacking the clappers, and suddenly it was on like Donkey Kong. We were acting.

I stood behind George, nodding and doing my best to look intimidated and slightly offended as he and Stefan did all the talking and acting. The talking and acting went on for an entire two minutes before George grabbed my hand and we exited the frame, as they say in the biz. Each time I tried to hold my hands in the exact same way so I didn't screw up the continuity, and after a few takes I thought maybe I should switch it up, so I tried putting my hand on George's back a few times instead. I'm sure these will all be very important details in the final cut, right?

Then we did it again. And again. And again. And once more for good measure after someone thought a shadow from one of the behind the scenes technicians might have creeped into the frame. An airplane flew over, so we stopped mid-scene. Kevin the sound guy, holding a boom with a furry cover over the end he called a dead cat, heard a far off dog barking, so we stopped and did it again. Then a motorcycle roared at least a half mile away, and we did it over again. The last hitch was the laughter of a couple of kids playing in a nearby backyard.

And if you think that's the end of it, it wasn't. Those were just the wide shots. Next were close ups, followed by some drone footage overhead, and finally, just when I was getting the hang of it, we were done. I was richly paid for my hour and a half of brow furrowing and wide eyed surprised looks, and then I hung out for awhile chatting with the crew and watching the next scene being filmed.

Another scene from Interpreters.
I know, I'm biased, but I'm really impressed with so much of what I'm seeing. Not just with Interpreters, but in other filming projects that have been taking place in the area recently. Redding is starting to attract independent, professional filmmakers who are serious about their craft. People like Matthew & Joy Thayer of Speropictures are creating some amazing short films in Redding, and passing the craft on to others through workshops and classes, as is the Shasta County Arts Council. Rene Perez, who's filmed several monster-packed thrillers in the area. And then there's the festivals, like Sundial and Firereel, that are not only honoring local film, but encouraging more of it to be made.

I don't know that you'll find me auditioning for any more acting parts in the near future, but I'm really interested to see if Shasta County can land bigger roles in the film industry. It could be a game changer. And we need to start shouting from the rooftops that there are films being made here, and that there are trained professionals who can help get them made.

I don't know if I've ever said this out loud, but my dream job has always been to be the person who chooses the soundtrack for films. But since nobody's beating down my door yet, I'll just leave you today with this streaming Spotify playlist of songs about The Movies. Click the play arrow to listen!