Motivated by their son Brandon’s onset of schizophrenia 27 years ago, Napa Valley vintners Garen and Shari Staglin made a decision, as they put it, “to run toward the problem.” That “run” has resulted in advocacy, national leadership and more than $280 million in fundraising for scientific research in brain health.

The Staglins’ annual scientific symposium and celebration, the 23rd Music Festival for Brain Health featuring Lyle Lovett, will be held Saturday, Sept. 16 at the family vineyard in Rutherford.

At their home last week, the Staglins talked about their choice of the words “brain health” as the focus of their philanthropic work. ”There’s so much stigma and discrimination around the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness,’” Shari Staglin said. “There’s a lack of understanding considering character issues, rather than genetics and chemical issues.

“Whether it’s autism, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s, psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, there’s a lot of overlap genetically. So it’s all about the brain and changes in the brain and the chemistry of the brain. So we decided to call it what it really is, ‘brain health.’”

Organizationally, the Staglins created two nonprofit entities with two different fundraising and grant-making missions. The One Mind Institute supports individual cutting-edge researchers, whom they call their “rising star scientists,” while One Mind funds large collaborative, multi-centered “open science” projects.

The similar naming of their nonprofits has been confusing. Going forward, the identity of the work will be consolidated. “It’ll all be called One Mind,” Garen Staglin said, “organizationally, website-wise, linguistically, you’ll hear us just talk about One Mind. One Mind doing this range of activities, from individual scientist to large-scale projects.”

“There’s a desperate need to fund these rising star scientists,” he said. “They are doing very risky projects, projects determined by the National Institutes of Health to be too risky for them to support, so we are the ones who fund them. And then when they are successful, we get follow-on grants for them that propel them to greater success.”

“We continue doing the large-scale, open science, multi-centered projects in traumatic brain injury,” he added, “and we’re going to start one in post-traumatic stress and in psychosis also. These give us a way to bring the scientific community along with us with a goal which is all about ‘let’s go faster, let’s go together, let’s break down the silos so that you guys share information and data.’”

Shari Staglin highlighted their support for efforts in prevention. “We started these ideas on preventing psychosis,” she said, “identifying youth at risk. The initial work was done at UCLA and it’s gotten tremendous support throughout the state.

“The Napa County Board of Supervisors is supporting a state bill (Assembly Bill 1315) establishing early identification of youth at risk, to catch them early and intervene, so that they don’t have to go over the edge and have a psychotic break, ever. They can learn to live with it. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is in the Senate now.”

The donations supporting the Staglins’ efforts have increased, year after year. “I think it’s a reflection of the growing willingness of people to deal with these illnesses,” Garen Staglin said; “the recognition that no one’s done anything wrong, that there shouldn’t be any shame if you have it in your family. And the growing awareness that we can actually do something about it.

“The quality of the science that’s been a result of our continued encouragement and funding is actually producing things that are giving people hope that in their lifetimes we can dramatically improve the quality of life with these illnesses.”

“We used to get online donations of $5,000 a year, $10.000 a year,” he added. “They’re now a hundred thousand a year. We’re getting lots of $50 and $100 gifts from people from all over the country. And we’re tracking with very wealthy people now, supporting some of these large-scale projects. I think we’re going to be getting some $5 million gifts from individuals, which we’ve never had before.”

Shari Staglin pointed out that the profits from their Salus wines go to support brain health. “It says that on the label,” she said. “Salus is the Roman goddess of health. We have a chardonnay and a cabernet, our second blends from this vineyard, and 100 percent of our profit from those wines goes to brain health.”

From the start, the Staglins have combined musical performances with their scientific events. In the early years, they brought in symphony orchestras. More recently, they have featured popular artists such as Tim McGraw, Vintage Trouble, Melissa Etheridge and Michael Franti.

This year’s musical headliner is four-time Grammy-winning alt-country star Lyle Lovett, who will perform with his Acoustic Group.

“We want this to be a day of joy and enlightenment and hope,” Garen Staglin said. “It all fits within this circle of hope. The science that people learn about causes them to be more open, the music makes them happy, and they talk to us about illnesses that they never told anybody else they had.”

“People go away feeling like they can turn tragedy into triumph,” Shari Staglin added. “It’s doable.”

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Livingston Taylor – photo by Albie Colantonio

Livingston Taylor is many things – singer, songwriter, storyteller, author, pilot, professor and more. For a half century he has been creating and performing music and enriching the lives of his audience and his students. He will perform two shows a night, Aug. 25-27, at Blue Note Napa.

Taylor, three years younger than superstar brother James, has recorded 19 albums over the span of the last 47 years and has toured continuously, typically doing over 75 shows a year. His most recent album is 2017’s “Safe Home” on Chesky Records. Later this year, the documentary film, “Livingston Taylor – Life is Good,” will be released.

On the phone last week from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Taylor spoke at length about his fascination with the elements of live musical performance and his experience as a faculty member at the College. “I teach a course called Stage Performance,” he said. “It’s about how to be on stage

“Through the ‘80s, I was known as a good live performer and had given an occasional lecture on stage performance. A friend from the college asked if I’d be interested in teaching a course at Berklee. That was 28 years ago. I’ve been teaching the course ever since and now teach about 200 students a year. It’s been very gratifying.”

Talking about the course, Taylor quickly got to the subject of fear, of stage fright, saying implicitly that this is a major issue among his students. “Before we define how to be on stage, we have to define why are we are on stage,” he said. “What was our vision? Why did we think it was okay to interrupt other people’s lives and ask that they suspend their reality and enter our reality?

“These are compelling questions that get to the core of being on stage and being nervous. Why do we get nervous? What are we scared of? Ultimately what we’re scared of is that we’re interrupting people’s lives, having the arrogance to do that without something that will be of value to them. That’s ultimately where our fear comes from.”

“The problem for a performer being nervous,” Taylor said, “is that when you’re nervous, you’re thinking about yourself, but the audience is paying you to think about them. Nervousness is self-centered behavior. They’re not paying you to think about yourself. The core of my course is ‘How do you find and care for an audience?’”

Taylor aggregated his thoughts about the subject in his 2011 book, “Stage Performance.”He writes, “I think of a performance as a conversation between you and an audience … and having belief in yourself, developing confidence in your ability to have the conversation, and learning to be free of fear and open in front of all those people.

“I always watch my audience, and when the lights are in my eyes, I listen to them: the rustle of corduroy, the creak of a chair, the cough of boredom. All are part of the conversation of performance. I strive to speak fluent ‘audience-ese.’”

“Please remember,” he continues, “your audience means a lot more to you than you mean to them…The only enduring source of support for a career is an audience. They pay your salary. They are the foundation of your career.”

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With the sad departure of Tom Petty, I’m dusting off this year’s BottleRock review.

Tom Petty at BottleRock 2017 – photo by Andrew Lustig

It’s a joke, but it’s true. The best Tom Petty tribute band in the world, hands down, is Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Saturday night at the BottleRock Music Festival, on a tour celebrating the band’s 40th anniversary, their 19-song set was a showcase for a distinctly American artist with a knack for hits and hooks, and for sidemen who are as responsible as the front man for the sound, the successes and the fireworks in live performance.

The Heartbreakers are the four originals, Petty on vocals and guitar, lead guitarist and frequent co-producer Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench on keyboards and Ron Blair on bass. Latter-day members are drummer Steve Farrone, multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston and the Webb sisters, Charlie and Hattie, singing back-up.

Petty showed up looking himself—bearded, shaded, sporting a blue bandana and a long black coat. Campbell and Thurston were in top hats, which would have been right at home in the band’s iconic Alice-in-Wonderland video, “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The Webb Sisters, in all black and continuous, synchronous sway, provided a quantum of feminine energy to the performance.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer’s patter was cheerful, though not much more than a space-holder between songs. For newcomers, during the band introductions he told the oft-repeated tale of how he found Mike Campbell, slaying him with his chops on “Johnny B. Goode” on a beat-up old electric guitar.

They opened, for the sake of history, with “Rockin’ Around With You,” the first song on their first album. With the exception of one later song, “Forgotten Man” from 2014’s “Hypnotic Eye,” the performance was a banquet of Petty’s ‘80s and ‘90s hits gift-wrapped with Tench’s elegant keyboards and Campbell’s stunning guitar work.

The crowd was in it all the way, with the first big sing-along, with Petty’s encouragement, coming in the sixth song, “I Won’t Back Down.” There was a pattern to the delivery of many of the hits – verses and choruses, vocal and instrumental riffs and hooks true to the records, then outros showcasing Campbell and occasionally Campbell and Petty in guitar duos.

At about the halfway mark, there was a departure from the electric fireworks, a three-song country-rockish sequence built on Petty’s acoustic guitar – “Wildflowers,” “Learning to Fly” and “Yer So Bad.” They exited from this respite with the rock and roll apogee of the evening, “I Should have Known It,” and Campbell proceeded to burn the place down.

Mike Campbell may be the most publicly underrated guitarist in rock history, “publicly” because the industry certainly knows about him. Instrumentally, this concert was the Mike Campbell Show; ask anyone who was there. For the rock ‘n’ roll upshift, he strapped on one of his Les Paul Gibsons and suddenly the Heartbreakers were Zeppelin. It was electrifying, in both senses.

Petty followed with two chestnuts – “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” – and finally an encore of “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl.”

This was classic straight-ahead American rock ‘n’ roll played well, the soundtrack of a generation before the dominance of pop and hip-hop and the departures of indie. Judging from the response of the crowd – granted, a bit older than most festival crowds – these songs are enduring, permanently in the collective archive.

Each of the last three years, BottleRock has served up a legend on the main stage – Robert Plant in 2014, Stevie Wonder last year, and this year Tom Petty. Here’s hoping the tradition continues.

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Stevie Wonder at BottleRock 2016. Photo by Mitchell Glotzer

BottleRock CEO Dave Graham, typically a practitioner of MBA-speak, was in his office last week waxing metaphorical about the 2013 inaugural festival under the previous founders. “I would liken it to a birth,” he said. “A birth is amazing, it’s beautiful. At the same time, it’s not pretty.

“It did go off the rails as a business venture, but that does not take away from the birth itself. I give a ton of credit and respect for their taking that idea and making it a reality. The fact that they were able to bring it to life in Napa, of all places, was amazing. I was there as an attendee, I was proud to be from Napa and really happy it was happening.”

On the eve of BottleRock’s fifth year, Graham described how he and his partners, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins, leaned in, as he put it, to revive a festival that much of the community felt was beyond repair. “I was leaving a company that I had co-founded to take a little bit of a hiatus for the first time in my life,” he said. “One of my partners in that firm kind of planted the seed for me to take a look at what was going on with BottleRock.”

Getting started

“It started to resonate with me,” Graham said. “‘Well, a lot of things are going wrong with it right now. I don’t really know, but wow, what an experience it was, and there’s a lot of potential there.’ So I texted Jason out of the blue, ‘Hey, do you want to buy BottleRock?’ Literally, verbatim. And he said, ‘Interesting, let’s chat.’

“It didn’t take long for us to want to have Justin on board as an equal partner because, well, he’s Justin. He’s extremely talented and very smart and we have a pre-existing relationship and so we all know each other really well.”

The trio, each from Napa and successful in business, began an intense process of due diligence and subsequent negotiation with Napa Valley Expo that culminated in settlement of the debt from the 2013 festival and a lease agreement for a resurrected BottleRock in 2014. Their new company was Latitude 38 Entertainment.

Graham left metaphor behind and dissected the rationale for their commitment. “Because of our background in business,” he said, “having run successful companies and also things that didn’t work, you can see certain patterns — opportunities and attributes that are key to a business’s ultimate success — brand differentiation, experience differentiation, the site itself, the pre-existing demand for customers. We saw those things just staring at us.”

2014 – a rescue, but ‘Is this even a business?’

After a successful round of fundraising with investors, they went to work on the content of the 2014 festival. “It was intimidating at times,” Graham said, “because you knew that you did not know what you did not know. But coming into this business with complete humility relative to our knowledge of the music space, we knew right away that we were going to need to talk to people who knew a lot more than we did. And that’s exactly what we did, as fast as we could.”

Graham emphasized that one of their early surprises was just how expensive major bands are, and further, that even if you have the money, that doesn’t mean that you can book the band. “The complexities that dictate whether or not you can book a band,” he said, “we could spend the next week talking about that. That was a big roadblock for 2014 that we almost did not make it through.”

Well, they made it through. “After the festival, we were relieved to have not only pulled it off, but we pulled it off in a way that was safe,” Graham said. “Everyone was paid and we felt like everyone had a good experience. We were able to improve upon the previous year’s experience in a variety of ways. There was kind of just a sigh of relief. But we sold fewer tickets than they did the previous year, and it was not profitable. We were kind of like, ‘Well, is this even a business?’

“The community, fortunately, turned for us right after the festival and people were happy that we pulled it off, and the industry was shocked that we pulled it off. Locally, folks went from, ‘OK, who are these guys and can we trust them?’ to ‘Good job, we can trust them.’ That gave us a little bit of confidence that we could have a better shot at doing some of the things that we wanted to do in 2015, booking the bands that we would have liked to book. So we said, ‘Let’s do this, let’s lean in.’”

2015, 2016 – Identity, growth, ‘We have a business.’

“So we started down that path,” Graham said. “It was a slog to book bands like Imagine Dragons. It just about killed us to convince them to take our money. But we were able to do that and we were able to put together a plan for a VIP experience that we felt would differentiate our festival from others. Finally, we were able to re-brand the company in a way that we felt it needed to be re-branded.

“We aligned every single piece of marketing material with the Napa Valley and food and wine and weather and fun and ‘the first taste of summer.’ We felt like, ‘Let’s give this a shot and do it the way that we think it should be done before we really say there’s a business here or not.’

“We ended up not only becoming profitable in 2015 but beating our estimates. The brand pulled to focus and some of the things that Justin wanted to do in VIP, he was able to do. Some of the things that Jason wanted to do in terms of sponsorship, he was able to do. We ended up coming out of the 2015 festival saying to ourselves, “We have a business, no question, and we’ve found our groove. We know what we’re about.”

Graham said that while the 2015 festival was profitable, he considered 2016 to be their breakout year. “That’s when we took the leap to the next level,” he said, “not only for our festival, but in the festival business. What was done at the VIP level in particular, with the four different levels, whether it be VIP, VIP Skydeck, the Suites, and then Platinum, it’s not done in other festivals like that. It’s the year that we really put ourselves on the map.”

2017 – Upgrades for everyone

Not resting on their laurels, Graham and the BottleRock team have targeted investments for 2017 at nearly every element of the festival “We’re taking from 2016 and literally improving upon that in a very profound way,” Graham said. “While VIP levels will continue to be enhanced, the majority of investment for 2017 is in upgrades for GA (general admission).

Graham sang the praises of GA at BottleRock compared with other festivals, where, as he put it, “…there’s waffle cones and waffle fries. GA for our festival is really like VIP at other festivals.”

The list of GA enhancements for 2017 includes a $600,000 investment in a plush lawn for the entire massive area in front of the main stage; significant improvement in main stage sight lines through relocation of spotlight towers and the re-design of the front-of-house sound structure; and additional video screens and audio in multiple locations.

The list continues with an enhanced Wine Garden, where wines from the individual tasting rooms can be purchased in a centralized location; many more acoustic musical performances by major artists at wine tasting locations, and on Saturday night, the largest silent disco ever held in the U.S., with 5,000 headsets available.

For VIP pass holders at the various levels, there will now be double-decker structures on both sides of the Main Green, an expansion of the VIP Village and the Platinum Lounge, and for the first time a VIP structure at the second stage.

If all that isn’t enough, there will be, no kidding, a spa with a Champagne bar, massage, manicure/pedicure, hair care and a DJ, available to everyone from GA to Platinum.


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Stanley Jordan at Blue Note Napa, 2017. Photo: Mitchell Glotzer

Since his 1985 breakout album, “Magic Touch,” Stanley Jordan has been regarded as one of the premier jazz guitarists in the world. Playing across multiple genres, the four-time Grammy nominee employs a unique approach to his instrument, a technique that creates layers of music played simultaneously across the neck of his guitar.

At Blue Note Napa, Jordan, along with bassist Charnett Moffet and drummer Chris Wabich, dazzled a full house with a set of mostly progressive jazz, but with doses of Mozart, pop, rock and something called “A Place in Space,” which the guitarist, quite accurately, introduced as “out there.”

Jordan capped the performance with a glittering, inventive interpretation of “Stairway to Heaven,” which brought the jazz audience to its feet. I believe that Jimmy Page would have approved.

On the phone from Washington, D.C. a month earlier, Jordan talked about how being a pianist first, beginning at age 6, dramatically influenced how he would eventually create the “touch technique,” or two-handed “tapping,” that would distinguish his guitar-playing.

“My first instrument was piano,” Jordan said. “We went through a time when we had some difficulties with finances and we didn’t have a piano. That was when I started playing guitar. After a few years, I knew that guitar was my favorite instrument, but I started to miss some of the possibilities of the piano.

“I remember when I was like 13, I had this image in my mind. I saw myself playing with both hands flying all around the neck in both directions, and with all this music just spilling out of the guitar. It was sort of a piano way of thinking that was already implanted in my brain.”

Instead of playing the guitar conventionally — picking or strumming with the right hand while forming notes or chords on the neck with the left hand – Jordan does something else entirely. He taps with the fingers of both hands on the neck of the guitar, the way that a pianist would press or tap on the keys of a piano. The result is his extraordinary agility at fusing combinations of melody and harmony and bass and rhythm, not as trickery but in service of the music.

Over the past three decades, Jordan has recorded 14 studio albums, appeared as a sideman with a who’s who of other artists, toured worldwide, including an array of jazz festivals, and made his share of appearances with jam bands including The Dave Matthews Band, The String Cheese Incident and Phil Lesh. His most recent album is 2015’s “Duets,” a collaboration with Kevin Eubanks.

For many years, Princeton-educated Jordan has had a serious interest in the therapeutic potential of music “When I was younger,” he said, “I had a couple of experiences with the healing power of music. I was always interested in health and healing. We each have different callings and I think one of mine is to be in the health field. I was looking for ways to use music to kind of help people, not just with healing, but with growth and evolution.

“I had no idea that there was a profession, that there was sophisticated research behind it. And then one day, right before a show, I met a music therapist who sent me a big stack of scientific studies. I was really impressed with the quantity and quality of the research.

Long term, Jordan is serious about an alternative path in music therapy. He has attended courses and conferences conducted by the American Music Therapy Association, accrued hours toward a master’s degree in the field and serves as an advocate and spokesperson for the organization.

“Right now, because of my touring schedule, I’m not actively in the program,” he said, “but I do continue to do independent study. I do want to finish my Master’s, you know, get certified and all that. We’ll see where it goes, but right now, I’m still involved in different ways.”

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Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Photo: Mitchell Glotzer

Folk music was the main course at Blue Note Napa last Saturday night. The headliners were 17-time Grammy winner Béla Fleck, widely considered the finest banjo player in the world, and his singing, clogging, banjo-picking wife, Abigail Washburn. Armed with seven banjos, their scene-stealing three-and-a-half year-old son Juno, and a packed house including a few musical celebrities, they lit up the Main Street venue.

As Fleck explained about halfway through the show, he plays the banjo “Scruggs-style,” with picks on his thumb and first two fingers, while Washburn plays “old-time” or “clawhammer,” all downstrokes with no picks, an older technique born in Africa. Together, they are a remarkable instrumental blend, his playing heavy with intricate melodic runs and syncopation, hers with rhythm and percussion.

Their individual stage personas are as different as their playing styles. Washburn is bursting with energy, outgoing and joyful, while Fleck is quiet and self-contained, but sneaky funny, generally by way of a quizzical facial expression toward his partner or the audience, or a well-chosen laconic comment.

With power, vibrato and range up to the soprano register, she digs into an early American repertoire, heavy on blues and gospel, including songs by Clarence “Tom” Ashley (“My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains”), George Washington Phillips (“What Are They Doing in Heaven Right Now?”) and Sarah Ogan Gunning (Come All You Coal Miners”).

Washburn progressively surprises as they move through the set, one moment speaking and joking and singing in Mandarin, the next up and clogging as she sings “Harlan,” a modern-day Appalachian original composition.

Late in the performance, Washburn and Fleck took advantage of a delighted audience by bringing out their adorable curly-headed son to clog with mom and nicely execute a group bow with mom and dad. We ate up the shtick like it was Ben & Jerry’s.

This was a wonderful show, a likeable couple displaying epic talent in an intimate venue with great sound that, though featuring mostly jazz, is perfect for folk music as well. This fan hopes that Blue Note will continue to expand its bookings beyond the boundaries of jazz, particularly to the rich reservoir of American folk artists.

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Foo FIghters

Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Maroon 5 are headlining the fifth annual BottleRock Napa Valley festival, Latitude 38 Entertainment announced Tuesday.

The deep, star-studded lineup continues with a powerful roster of major artists that includes Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Modest Mouse, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, The Roots, Band of Horses, Fitz & The Tantrums, The Devil Makes Three, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Gavin DeGraw, Mavis Staples, Ani DiFranco and over 60 more.

“We’re continuing the approach that we’ve taken before,” said Latitude 38 CEO Dave Graham, “which is to have an eclectic lineup where there is literally something for everyone, from a 9-year-old to a 90-year-old.

“We also wanted to make sure that the lineup was on brand with the Napa Valley and the expectation that people have relative to the valley in terms of its beauty, its world class wine, its worldclass food. The lineup itself has to be world-class.”

“We stepped it up this year,” he said. “While last year they were incredible and well-received, this year we have arguably the biggest headliner lineup in the country.”

With 11 Grammy wins and a huge fan base, Foo Fighters is among the most sought-after rock bands in the world. “A lot of things had to come together in order for Foo Fighters to play Napa Valley,” Graham said.

“Dave Grohl was here in 2013 for the festival and he had a chance to experience it. We ended up connecting with Taylor Hawkins, their drummer, last year. We had him on the Culinary Stage and ended up befriending him and his wife, who loved BottleRock.”

“Their main agent was also at the festival last year and had a chance to experience it,” he added. “He became very comfortable with it, what it’s about, how it’s run. The Foo Fighters are in the studio all next year recording a new album and BottleRock may be their only show in 2017 in North America.”

Tom Petty

Tom Petty

Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Tom Petty, like Stevie Wonder last year and Robert Plant the year before, is the legend at the top of the lineup. “When you look at Tom Petty, he’s celebrating his 40th year,” Graham said. “He’ll be touring a lot in 2017. People are rumoring that it could be the last big tour for the band (the Heartbreakers). We’re honored to have him. He’s the man.

“We went to Maroon 5 because they are big and we feel we have the demographic that will definitely love to see them. This will be the first time they’ve ever played a U.S. festival. Gwen Stefani and No Doubt did really well at BottleRock. This is another high-quality, high-profile pop band. This is part of ‘something for everyone.’”

In an interview in his office in downtown Napa, Graham riffed at random on the rest of the lineup. “We’ve got one of the greatest indie rock bands of our generation, six studio albums, and that’s Modest Mouse … In the Americana and roots genre, there’s probably no bigger band right now than The Devil Makes Three … We could not be bigger fans of Michael Franti, his personality and his music. He is the unofficial ambassador of BottleRock.

“… Being able to have Charles Bradley is extraordinary, he’s an icon … Of course, Mavis Staples … and Andra Day, the potential to be the next generation Mavis Staples … some of the unexpected, funnest shows that you’ll see this year will be a mix between Saint Motel and Saint Lucia … Oh, and Fitz and the Tantrums, that one’s going to be crazy.”

At BottleRock 2016, the young British rockers, The Struts, was the relatively unknown band that caused the biggest sensation. Graham speculated on the 2017 equivalent. “I would say it’s going to be a mix between The Strumbellas and Judah and the Lion.”

As for the 2017 festival lineup, Graham said he and his Latitude 38 partners, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins, “don’t book what we like, we book what we think is on brand and will entertain the most, given what’s available in the market.

“We knew what was going to happen with Florence and the Machine last year. We knew that a lot of people were seeing her for the first time and we knew there was a high likelihood that something magical was going to happen, and it did. But you can’t sell it, you can’t say ‘you’re gonna love it.’ It doesn’t matter.

“I’m most excited about those kinds of situations, where I know, for example, that there are a lot of people in Napa, say an older crowd, that may not be familiar with Foo Fighters, and they may listen to their music and say ‘Wow, these guys are loud.’

“But Dave Grohl gives it all, he leaves nothing on the table. Even if someone isn’t into their music or has never heard of them, they’re going to look at this guy and go ‘Wow, that’s a rock star.’

“That’s what Justin, Jason and I really enjoy the most. It’s watching people experience it.”

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Cover photo: Frank Stefanko

Cover photo: Frank Stefanko

Bruce Springsteen’s long and lyrical autobiography, seven years in the writing, is unsurprisingly titled “Born to Run,” after his career-making 1975 album and perennial signature song. That makes sense, artistically and certainly commercially. Reading it, though, a different song kept coming to mind, 1987’s “Brilliant Disguise”:

So when you look at me,

you better look hard and look twice.

Is that me, baby,

or just a brilliant disguise?

The book’s 508 pages are panoramic and detailed, broad and deep. The author escorts the reader on two interwoven journeys: the musical rocket-ride, from start to present, of a rock ‘n’ roll überstar; and his internal odyssey, mostly shielded from the public, ridden with anxiety, self-deprecation, impermanence in relationships and, well after his establishment as a major artist, the onset of crippling episodes of depression.

He could have easily been one more tragic rocker, another Presley or Hendrix or Morrison or Joplin. He was likely saved by his adamant life-long avoidance of drugs, the loyalty of friends, his immersion in psychotherapy and, after a rocky romantic life from which he was routinely in flight, the commitment to a successful continuing marriage.

Springsteen’s prose is fluent and, no surprise, musical, with satisfying rhythm and harmony in the word choices and phrasing. His voice is personal, undefended, confessional. Several times along the way he addresses the reader as “friend.” His storytelling is evidence of an examined life, keenly intelligent, often funny, occasionally soaring in its language, and likeable. The cumulative effect is intimate, the superstar off his pedestal, just talking to you.

A quibble about the prose. There are, from time to time, untethered references to characters or phrases from his songs. Fans will get them, others will not. For example, he mentions without explanation “the Magic Rat.” Bruce devotees know that the young man with that nickname is a character in “Jungleland,” the epic, operatic finale to the “Born to Run” album. The uninitiated will likely be thinking, “Huh?”

There are no surprises in Springsteen’s effusive praise for his most important musical influences – first, Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show. “Americans that night were exposed to this hip-shaking human earthquake,” he writes. “It was all there in his eyes, his face, the face of a Saturday night jukebox Dionysus, the shimmering eyebrows and rocking band. A riot ensued.”

The Sullivan Show again – “It didn’t take me long to figure it out: I didn’t want to meet the Beatles, I wanted to BE the Beatles.”

“Bob Dylan is the father of my country,” Springsteen writes. “Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived. The darkness and light were all there, the veil of illusion and deception ripped aside.”

Late in the book, Springsteen, the long-established superstar, sounds like an excited teenager as he is about to share the stage with the Rolling Stones. “These are the guys who INVENTED my job!” he shouts, “THE GREATEST GARAGE BAND IN THE WORLD!”

On tour, 2016. Photo: Sharon Latham

On tour, 2016. Photo: Sharon Latham

Springsteen’s ace-in-the-hole has, from the start, been his live performances. It’s where he does, as he calls it, his “magic trick,” the transformation of an audience to something more. “I am here to provide proof of life,” he writes,” to that ever elusive, never completely believable ‘us.’ That is my magic trick.

“There is something about walking onstage in front of seventy-five thousand screaming fans with the oldest friends of your life, playing music that is ingrained in you, that’s hard to replace. If you had it for one – just one – evening, you’d never forget it. To go there night after night, over a lifetime, is an unimaginable, immeasurable pleasure and privilege.” Continue reading

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From my 2007 novel, “Standard of Care” –

They parked near the Bryn Mawr station and took the el to Wrigley, the home of the Cubs. The Bears played there too, but they were more like guests.

In Chicago, baseball was a matter of geography—and race. If you lived on the North Side, you were a Cub fan. Period. The White Sox played on the South Side in Comiskey Park. If you made that trip, it was usually to see the Yankees and their great stars. Morrie didn’t like to go there. “Too many schvartzes,” he’d say. Rose, Danny’s mother, would shoosh him. “Morrie, don’t talk like that. I hate that. Daniel, don’t listen to your father.” In fact, Wrigley was Chicago’s white ball park. Comiskey was at 35th and Shields, the poor, black near-South Side. Danny felt foolish when his father would take his hand, walking as though they were late, from the parked car until they were through the Comiskey turnstiles. He’d otherwise stopped doing that since kindergarten.

Wrigley was safe. Jack Brickhouse, the first voice of the Cubs—Harry Caray was originally a St. Louis Cardinal—talked about the “friendly confines.” This was a neighborhood ball park you could miss from a half a block away. No parking lot, no light towers, tucked tightly into one working class block of apartment buildings and storefronts. And unless it was a sunny Sunday doubleheader or they were playing a team like the Dodgers, no crowds. Sure, Ernie Banks was special. He was steady cheerful excellence, and an All-Star, but he never lit up the town the way Michael and Sammy would. He wasn’t a phenom and neither, goodness, was the team.

The Cubs didn’t just fail to contend. They displayed the kind of stable mediocrity, season after season, that emancipated the fans from hopefulness. And like a Zen paradox, Wrigley was a remarkably happy place. Nothing that happened on the field was particularly consequential. The Bleacher Bums made a fuss, but that was mostly the beer. Fans, with their backs to the players, chatted with friends. People strolled. They came late, they left early. Men in their business suits would show up for a few innings if the weather was good. Brickhouse’s marketing pitch was “Come to Wrigley Field for an afternoon picnic.”

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Mick Fleetwood at work. Photo: Jonathan Todd

Mick Fleetwood at work. Photo: Jonathan Todd

If you’ve seen Fleetwood Mac in any of its incarnations over the last five decades, the chatty, very tall and occasionally bug-eyed fellow permanently behind the drum kit has been Mick Fleetwood. These days, he is immersed in his first and abiding musical love, the blues.

On the phone from his upcountry home in Maui last week, Fleetwood talked about his commitment to the blues as a teenage drummer in London in the 1960s. “There was a huge, powerful renaissance of creativity, fashion, music,” he said. “Blues was the most boutique element probably, that was buried in amongst all of that.

“Early Fleetwood Mac was entirely a blues band. If you listen to the first album, three of us came out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers — Peter Green, John McVie and myself. The three of us were in that band together. We came out of that whole, we had done our boot camp. We were blues players. That was the world we lived in.”

Fleetwood spoke at length about the influence of black American blues pioneers on young white musicians in Europe. “It was John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, all of the men from that generation,” he said. “Later on it would be the B.B. Kings and Freddie Kings and that whole bunch.

“All of those guys happily came over to Europe. They weren’t really taken care of in the United States, which was ironic to us in England. Happily, all of these guys, including earlier on, way back in the ‘20s with ragtime and jazz, the black musician community gravitated especially to Paris and Spain. There was a reason. They were treated like heroes. A lot of the musicians stayed because they were treated right, quite frankly, on a sociological level.

“We benefited. A strong musical underground current was flowing freely. Even the Rolling Stones, let’s face it, was a blues band. This is the stuff we loved. I was part of that wave that ended up with bands like the Animals, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones way at the top of the list, and then early Fleetwood Mac. Looking back on it, it really had a lot to do with saving an American art form. I don’t think that’s an overblown statement.

“B.B., who we got to know really well through the years, was very open to repeating a mantra, which was, ‘if it wasn’t for Eric Clapton and all of them, us guys would never have gotten the amount of notoriety that we ended up having.’ It was a glorious accident that one way or another, a bunch of English guys grabbed onto an art form that they were able to identify with.”

Fleetwood said he believes that his passion and his presence, rather than his skill as a drummer, have been responsible for his success and longevity. “I’m not a huge technician as a player,” he said. “I play entirely from my gut. It’s almost a little frightening because I don’t really know what I’m doing. But in terms of emotional content and vulnerability, that was a very good place for me to be. Blues music requests that. It requests that you live in the moment.

“I felt that I could really contribute because I felt so passionate and fulfilled when I played blues. That’s the world that I walked into when I was fifteen and a half going on sixteen in London, and I never stopped.”

The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band is Rick Vito on guitar and lead vocals, Lenny Castellanos on bass, Mark Johnstone on keyboards and background vocals and Fleetwood on drums.

Read it in the Napa Valley Register.

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