On Saturday, the Hollywood Bowl reopened. And Dudamel and... Kenny Loggins performed. Huh?
For L.A. music fans, it was heartbreaking but unsurprising when the Hollywood Bowl canceled its season for the first time in nearly a century, because of COVID-19. But the beloved band shell wasn’t completely emptied out. Not if you’re the WME partner who throws the hottest-ticket private Zoom party for the entertainment biz.
For two months since the pandemic began, agent Richard Weitz and his 17-year-old daughter, Demi, have thrown invitation-only fundraising variety shows on Zoom that roped in A-list artists to perform, while film and music industry execs watched from their couches. The two usually host shows from their kitchen counter, but on Saturday, the regulars watched them beamed in from a familiar but now melancholy spot: a box at the Hollywood Bowl.
“When we saw this article, I almost cried,” Weitz said, holding up a copy of The Times’ story of the venue’s seasonal closure. “But this was the easiest time ever to park here,” he joked.
California is slowly reopening, providing hope that you might soon see your favorite artist in concert. But from an arena stage? A computer screen? A drive-in?
It was the ultimate flex of our long corona-spring that Weitz could broadcast from the most unattainable seat in all of Los Angeles. With a week’s notice, he wrangled permission from L.A. County department of Parks and Recreation, which owns the Bowl, and the L.A. Philharmonic Association, which co-manages it, to use small portions of the venue for the broadcast (and yes, they stuck to union guidelines for productions there).
“Richard is a huge fan of the Bowl, and was so disappointed when he heard the announcement about the Bowl season cancellation that he wanted to reach out to us about doing an event to support the LA Phil, and specifically our Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program,” said Johanna Rees, the senior director of presentations for the L.A. Phil. The organization “was able to grant access to a very small number of people, including the Mayor, to allow this to happen.”
From a few sections back, Mayor Eric Garcetti waved them on in person, with L.A. Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel across the aisles lamenting the rows of now-empty seats.
“Here we are in this magic place,” Dudamel said, pointing up to the white band shell. “It’s the place where I made my debut in the U.S., it means so much to me.” He introduced the trumpet section for the L.A. Phil which, at considerable distance from each other, performed the theme from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — perhaps the last time music will grace that stage for 2020.
Then the two cut to a red-lit room, where Billie Eilish, ensconced at home on her mom’s Zoom account, modeled good quarantine measures.
“I’m home because the mayor told me to stay home,” Eilish joked, as she touted her mom’s vegan meal-delivery charity Support + Feed.
“Billie was always ahead of her time,” Garcetti laughed back.
“I wish I was outside, I’d do anything to be at the Bowl right now,” added county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a bit later. She’s the only supervisor to have first performed at the Bowl (as a young entertainer) and then overseen it as an elected official, and no one looked happier to see the venue in some kind of action again.
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The show raised funds, in part, for the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles — one of Dudamel’s favorite projects, and several of their young musicians performed early in the afternoon. The near half-million raised on Saturday put the Weitzs’ “Quarantunes” total at $3 million for charity since it began two months ago.
The rest of the four-hour concert gamely tried to evoke the now-lost summer staples at the venue.
John Williams, whose “Star Wars” scores are a perpetual hit at Bowl movie nights, played Darth Vader’s theme music on his home piano. Kenny Loggins riffed on the “Footloose” theme from the upper reaches of the Bowl’s box seats, as the film’s star Kevin Bacon watched from his own Zoom window. “Now I can say I played the Bowl this year!” Loggins said. Rob Thomas hopped in (virtually) next to Carlos Santana, and Elvis Costello played an earnest version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”.
From their various quarantine locales, Beck played Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” from the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” soundtrack; Barry Manilow’s resurgent crowd favorite “When the Good Times Come Again” brought Amy Adams to tears in the group chat (“Crying. Thank you.”). The Killers powered through an apropos cover of Tom Petty’s “The Waiting,” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” had a new immediacy in the COVID era. Regulars like Clive Davis watched from home as classic-pop songwriter Carole Bayer Sager gabbed with guests in the screen rail.
“It’s cool to be a part of something like Richard’s Zoom Parties,” Thomas told The Times before the show. “For a party with so many legendary figures that takes place on your computer, it feels very much like you’re sharing a moment.”
For the thousand or so industry folks tuned in, it was a chance to see something, anything, on the most beloved stage in L.A. The rest of us will have to settle for screengrabs instead of wine-soused picnics and fireworks. It may be the first of more digital events to come.
“It definitely made all of us feel so much more what we will miss this summer,” said Gail Samuel, the president of the Hollywood Bowl and COO of the L.A. Phil. “You could tell that everyone joining the event really felt that. The L.A. Phil is considering a lot of options for digital and media content and will announce projects as they come together.”
If this was a trial run, it was a bit surreal for everyone. “There is no one else here, it’s crazy,” Weitz said to Herbie Hancock, as the jazz legend checked in from a digitized beach-scene Zoom background. “I always had a problem with the clock there,” Hancock said. “When I’m playing music, I’m so involved, I don’t know whether I’m counting up or down.”
For the Bowl’s 2020 calendar, the clock’s at zero. L.A.’s ultimate power-Zoom livestream was, so far, the first, and last show of the season there.
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