Monday, September 28, 2009

Opera House Hot Dogs

There is something surreal about watching live opera while eating a hot dog and drinking a beer. But when 25,000 other people are joining you the surreal becomes sublime.

For those uninitiated with San Francisco there is world class opera in that city. For the last three years the SF opera has sponsored a free simulcast of one of their performances onto the big screen in AT&T park. Once I heard about this I decided that I had to go. Besides the obvious "If it's free it's for me!" rule of life this really seemed like a cool thing to do.

I really had no idea what to expect as I approached the gate. The event is was free so there were no tickets needed. With no tickets seating was naturally first come first serve, which at a sporting event could lead to a shanking or two but this is quasi theater crowd was probably a lot more tame. Turned out the crowd was tame enough to not require any frisking but still warranted bag checks. So that seemed reasonable and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Take the beast parts of a ballpark and mix it with opera.

Arriving to at the ball park only 30 minutes before show time my seating choices were limited. The park was very generous and let the early arrivers set up picnic plots in the outfield but I was way to late for that. As I started my way up to the upper level one of the attendants said "Sir, would you like to go to the club house level?". Life lesson I learned from Peter Venkman in 1984 is "You say YES!"

The Club house level of AT&T park is really nice. This is where they put all the good stuff. Not only do they have fantastic garlic fires, but it is here that they hide all the gourmet sandwiches and brick oven pizza. To think that the best that the casual fan can get outside this middle level of culinary excellence is a crazy crab sandwich. Which, contrary to popular belief, is actually more a wacky crab sandwich. With all the choices that I had I decided to keep it simple.

Settling into a seat with my beer and a dog I took a look at my surroundings. About 250,00 people had shown up and were snuggling in to ward off the typical SF evening chill. As the orchestra warmed up blocks away kids were practicing their hook slides down on the field and pretended to pull in home runs as they jumped against the outfield wall. During the first act there was a crazy fan that rushed onto the roped off infield. That fan looked to be about four years old but he proved quite elusive to the security staff that tried to apprehend him.

What surprised me most however was how much the crowd treated this as a real stage performance. People silenced their cell phones, and applauded at the end of each solo as if the performer could hear them. Then at halftime/intermission/3rd act stretch the stadium rolled out their version of “Take Me Out To the Opera”! Yes, very corny, but still unique.

Spoiler Alert: If you don't want to know how Il Travorte ends skip this next paragraph. But really, this is opera we are talking about, there is no happy ending.

The performance itself was really great. They put up Super titles tho help those that are illiterate in Italian understand what is going on. The lead Soprano was superb and you knew the moment she said “His fate and mine are eternally linked that bad things were going to happen to her. The plot after this was pretty quickly telegraphed. She falls in love with the local rebel leader who really is a good guy but is betrothed to the local count who is the bad guy, the good guy and bad guy happen to be brothers separated at birth and the only person that knows this is the crazy gypsy woman. From there on you can pretty much tell who is going to live and die. To cap off the night at curtain calls the cast came out wearing Giants hats, jerseys, and big orange foam fingers.

So this certainly isn't a typical event you might see at a baseball stadium. But if you ever get a chance to try out a hot dog at the opera house I recommend the experience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Fest

Well… I made a vow to myself to check out the local music scene in the area in and around Exile. Slowly but surely I have been trying to get tuned in to satisfy that vow. The bad news is that the exact area in and around Exile is pretty much a desert of live music. Actually, it is pretty much a desert period. If it weren’t for irrigation and systems and sprinklers the place would be brown and probably have a lot of scorpions. Specifically in this case, however, it is a desert of music.

The good news is that just outside of Exile there is a pretty good mecca of music. San Fran has a ton of little music joints with all sorts of different modes of sound. There are almost too many choices. But as most people will recognize that isn’t much of an obstacle to stop me.

So the downside of living 5 minutes from work is that I don't get to listen to the radio much. I am sort of surprised how much I rely on that medium to get information in the Internet age. And especially for local music information there is still no better way to find out what is happening locally. Luckily I was talking to a coworker who casually mentioned to me about this music festival that was going on in San Fran.

This is the second year for the Outside Lands music and arts festival. Three days of music, food, and and all the crazy sights that you would come to expect from a place like SF. I will give the city some credit for putting up a compelling venue in the middle of Golden Gate Park. The big problem with holding an outdoor music festival in Golden Gate Park is that GGP is located in San Francisco and the weather there rarely climbs above 65 between the months of January and December. Fortunately I lucked out with a rare day! There wasn't even any fog! Twisting the arm of my friend Jim to go with me, we set out for the grounds.

Being only the second year for this music festival I think that the organizers are still trying to figure things out a little bit. They tried putting together some interactive entertainment areas that all had corporate sponsors. Except for the Beatles Rock Band there really wasn't much interactivity going on. Intel sponsored a stand that had a lot of people in blue wigs handing out what I hope was an energy drink in a test tube. The Heinekin “experience” was really just a place to buy beer matched up with a dance club that looked strangely like that really uncomfortable scene in Zion from Matrix: Revolutions. It came across just feeling a little “corporate” for a music festival.

Those corporate sponsors were balanced out by the Height Ashberry sponsored the first aid tents. For those not familiar with SF Height Ashberry is the center of the hippie 'head shop' culture in town. It is known for being for being the place the Grateful Dead liked to party after one of their shows! I really wanted to find out what kind of 'herbal remedy' they were providing.

But of course I went to the festival for the music. At that the festival didn't disappoint. The day that we decided to go The Black Eyed Peas and Dave Mathew's Band were the big draw. I am going to go right out and say it now, I think Fergie is hot. For all the Fergie hatters out there you now know what side I am on. Hot and getting hotter. Her current look with the brunette hair... oh yeah! More importantly however is that the Peas were all talented enough that I found a new appreciation for their music. They really brought their 'A' game and worked up the crowd.

Before DMB was scheduled to go on the sun had started to set. And now SF started to show it's true colors. Gone was the unusually sunny day and in it's place was a typical SF night. Cold and moist. DMB started off their show with some stuff from their new album and as they finished up their opeing song Jim decided that he needed to buy a tee shirt to keep warm. Expecting the sticker shock on merchandise that caught Jim by surprise I decided to tough it out. Jim decided to attempt to haggle with the guy at the stand based off the fact that he didn't like the colors of the shirts available for being way overpriced. His negotiations landed him last years tee shirt that the guy pulled from his own bag sold him half price.

This negotiations and a brief trip to the other end of the festival to give a quick listen to this band called the Mars Volta (think the Parliament Funkadelics with Jimmy Hendrix on guitar fronted by Lenny Kravitz) brought as back to DMB about an hour after we left them. I am fairly certain that they were still playing the exact same song. Now I know that DMB has grown into a jam band over the last few years but this is ridiculous. I think that they played seven songs over the course of their two and half hour set!

I was happy to hear hear classics like Ants Go Marching but does the song really need to go on for 10 minutes that could be used to play songs like Crash and Stay? His version of All Along the Watchtower, however, is really amazing. I didn't think that you could do that song better then Hendrix. And they finished strong playing a great cover of Sly and the Family Stone's 'Everyday People' (which of course we all know is significant because that was a song played by Sly 40 years ago at Woodstock). He coolest part was that the Peas coming on stage to sing backup. Little things like that are the reason why I really love festivals.
All in all this was a good start!