Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performed an oratorio by Handel of Judas McCabee which I missed, but in my own great miracle happened here file, I met Michael Hedges’ widow Mindy Rosenfeld Hedges at The Varsity yesterday.
The Varsity is what we old timers call 456 University, which some think of as a chain book store or Blue Bottle coffee. It’s owned by Chop Keenan, leased to SAP as master tenant, has offices for a division of Cisco on the second floor – what we call the balcony of the movie house — and has a co-working space — $3 per hour plus you give them access to your data via your cell phone number — and coffee — I admit I liked the poached eggs– though I think I paid for bacon and never got it. They stole my bacon!
I met Mindy, who is blond and a flutist, because she giggled at Duffy, my dog, who was dragging a biscuit from his lips like Robert Johnson’s cigarrette.
In small talk, she let out “My husband used to play here….”
Me: Oh, who’s your husband?
(Thunderclaps, not quite an earthquake…Duffy drops the biscuit…)
Further: Mindy, nice to meet you. Unbeknownst to you, I tried to get The People of Palo Alto to buy this place and rebrand as The Michael Hedges Theatre at The Varsity.
She said she drove hours from her secret NorCal abode to play with Philharmonia Baroque at First Methodist (? — the one that had Dave Daniels’ memorial and a David Krakour show), but that the show was nearly 3 hours and her cue was not until very late in the show.
To me, and I thought of this in real time but did not mention it, that’s a metaphor for all of us, the Shakespearean “brief candle”. You drive and drive and wait and wait and then you have your brief interlude.
Ok, now I am on very thin ice in that, to my recollection — and I didn’t know this in real time but learned of it while writing my “Jazz History of Palo Alto”– the man I think did die in a car accident. Godspeed and safe passage to Mindy getting back to her home. And that she reads this.
Which I can redact at her command, if I am making public too much of our private chat.
We talked about Randy Lutge’s archive of music films, more than 100, of people, including Michael Hedges, playing in or at the Varsity. Beyond movies — briefly programmed by Gary Meyer, the founder of Landmark and recent as of this week or today inducted into the SF Film Hall of Fame — there was music in the courtyard, including Hedges, and Tuck and Patty and everyone on Windham Hill; shows in the main hall including Social Distortion, Dead Kennedys and Eugene Robinson pre-Oxbow Whipping Boy; old school stuff like Duke Ellington I think, and Bill Evans; Randall Klein, who built the SFJazz monument, told me he got started by producing a jazz show at the Varsity in the late 1970s — Oregon — that’s a group.
Mindy nodded as I described an amazing visual document: Hedges jams as a parade of faces, some noticing him, some noticing the camera, drifts past: they are cueing to get into the movies. It’s like Jem Cohen, or pre-dates such, “Instrument” about rock group Fugazi and a portrait of the fans waiting in line — that movie, excuse the digression — was in The Whitney Biennial. I saw it there!
Incidentally, now that I got the bully pulpit back, inspired by the Ms Mindy Muse, here on Plastic Alto, when I ran for City Council in 2014 Chop Keenan assured me that the Varsity was “going to rock”, yet when I tried to put my recent Tom Harrell show there — because Michelle Djokavic had booked The Mitch out from under me for Musikwest, 10/24/19– I was told that they phased out music at The Varsity, contrary to Chop’s promise.
So it was quite the pleasure and surprise and inspiration to feel the ghost of Michael Hedges at 456 Uni yesterday — I joked that we were surrounded by the Walking Dead – dozens of mostly millenials hunched over computers or in small groups all talking about their next ap and exit.
Personal to Mindy: would love to hear you play, some time: heck, I’ll book you! And you are always welcome at Earthwise Productions. Duffy says “woof”.
edit to ad: I put a ton of energy, mostly wasted, into “Save the Varsity, 2.0 or 3.0” which I called The Last Picture Waltz 456, which riffed, in my mind, on The Last Waltz –concert movie with Muddy Waters at old doomed Winterland – and The Last Picture Show by McMurtrey book and movie — I didn’t own “the Varsity” so didn’t feel appropriate using that in my political watchwords. The city of Palo Alto, because Jim Keene city manager had worked in Berkeley when they rebuilt Freight and Salvage instructed his development director — trying to forget his name — to call a list of concert promoters to see who would take, a subsidized lease — i.e. we would TDR to Chop the right to build higher than normal somewhere else — he built at High and Hamilton around that time. The only people who toured the room or agreed to were Danny Scher, from here, semi-retired from BGP Live Nation — and Steve Baker of Freight and Salvage who called me the day of the tour to say his son had broken his ankle at a soccer game and he was off to hospital instead. I pigeon-holed Roger McNamee a partner in GAMH about this. Jeff Crowe, my fellow Dartmouthian, of TheatreWorks board. Then, weirdly, and infamously, Amy French of COPA — who used to sing with The Tubes — got the idea of using my rhetoric about downtown arts to help A_____ present a ludicrous plan to build office towers at not 456 but 27 Uni, with Theatreworks as a tenant. So, to summarize, City of Palo Alto botched the opportunity to bring culture to The Varsity and instead precipitated or aided to the tune of $500,000 a plan that ultimately, because it was linked to another dubious plan about 7.7 acres at Foothills Park, became a grand jury report. (See also, and I am so far from dear Mindy — I said, don’t get me started — when the City of Palo Alto sent a fix-it letter to Facebook about their hiring David Choe to paint a mural in their first, Emerson Street offices, because the artist had dripped on the sidewalk. Palo Alto: Drips on the Sidewalk not Music in the Courtyard. Or as Jeff Tweedy would say: I am trying to break your heart).
and1: GS in the PAW, October, 2014, on my campaign maneuverings:
Yet occasionally he shows a glimmer of compromise. After initially opposing proposals from Charles “Chop” Keenan to redevelop the Varsity Theatre building (which Keenan owns), Weiss said at a recent meeting of the Architectural Review Board that he is keeping an open mind about the latest plan for the building — a cafe and public space geared toward young high-tech workers.
Weiss said he recently ran into Keenan, who told him that the new cafe will “rock.” This has prompted the veteran concert promoter to “reverse my position and give Mr. Keenan the benefit of the doubt.”
Weiss said he will give Keenan six months after the opening to see if the new business works at the historic site.
“And if not, we’ll let him have it,” Weiss said.