Our Laguna: Art spotlight shines on Rocker, others

[seven-degrees] rocked April 1 — no fooling.

The annual Art Stars Awards included a short set by Lee Rocker, recipient of the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts' Visionary of the Year award, for his influence on the revival of rockabilly. Rocker's award was one of eight Art Stars Awards presented this year.

"Tonight we are honoring exceptional people and programs and awarding one-of-a-kind and much-coveted Louis Longi sculptures," said Lisa Mansour, chairwoman of the event.

"The Academy Awards may have their Oscars, we have our Louies."

Rocker's award was the first one presented.

"I have to begin by saying that when I received a call from the [alliance] that they wanted to give me the Visionary Award on April Fool's Day, I was a little suspicious," Rocker said. "With that said, I am happy and proud to receive this award. Our town's history is a history of art, music, theater, dance, creativity and innovation. Laguna Beach is a vibrant and world-class arts community.

"We may be small in population or geography, but not in any other way."

Rocker has lived in Laguna for more than 20 years with his wife, Debbie Drucker. Their children, Justin and Sadie, both now in college, attended Laguna Beach schools.

"We are lucky to live in community that embraces its citizens — a city that values and nurtures the arts, the artists, the kids, all of us," Rocker said.

Rocker himself was surrounded by music from birth. Both his parents are classical musicians and teachers.

But it was a different kind of music that made Rocker's heart sing.

"I was in love with rock 'n' roll," Rocker said.

He couldn't know then that someday he would be appearing on the same stage and in the same recording studios with his heroes.

Rocker left home at 17 with two friends, and a bartender whom they took along because he was British. They called themselves the Stray Cats. They were headed for London.

It was 1980.

They went hungry the first few months, but they were playing gigs with the Clash and the Pretenders. Members of the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin and the Kinks were in the audiences.

U2 was one of the Stray Cats' early opening acts, too serious to make it big, Rocker thought.

"Within three months of arriving in London we had a top 10 single, appropriately called 'Runaway Boys,' Rocker said.

After thousands of hours of lessons, practices in the family garage, gigs in seedy clubs — the group was an "overnight success."

Since then, Rocker has performed with many of his musical heroes: Carl Perkins, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, John Fogerty, Keith Richards and others; traveled the world; sold 10 million records — 23 of them gold or platinum; performed on Broadway; and was nominated for a Grammy the same year his father was.

He credited his wife with enabling him to achieve his life's goals.

"Without her, all is meaningless," Rocker said, f

or which he received a big kiss when he returned to his table.

[seven-degree]'s Inspiration Award was next on the program — a $5,000 grant to the alliance to be awarded to a local artist pursuing a new direction in his or her art.

Mark Orgill and Dora Wexall presented the award to Roark Gourley for his proposal to film a documentary of the human form in a liquid environment, "Liquescent I," using the local ocean to capture continuous movement in a world with no gravity.

Gourley may be remembered as the creator of "Fork You," an installation of large, wooden sculptures of forks on the hillside above the Village Entrance, which then-City Manager Ken Frank almost immediately had removed. The installation became a worldwide story.

Rocker then returned to the stage to perform two of his hits with Buzz Campbell. Rocker switched to the guitar on the second song, with his son taking over the glittering, white double bass that made his father famous.

Karyn Philippsen, representing the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Assn. that won last year's award for the Best New Arts Program, Fete de la Musique, presented the 2011 award to No Square Theatre's Musical Theatre University, led by David Green.

The year-round program provides intensive training for aspiring musical theater performers, including summer stock productions, such as last year's "The Secret Garden."

"We've given it away for 20 years — we charged for this one and we won," said No Square founder Bree Burgess Rosen, who accepted the award with Green.

The fourth award of the evening was presented to the James Irvine Foundation by 2010 Arts Patron of the Year. Mark Porterfield accepted the award on behalf of the foundation, which had no one in attendance.

Porterfield then introduced Mayor Toni Iseman, who was supposed to introduce the Passport for the Arts Team, but went straight to the introduction of the presenter of the following award.

"I have always wanted to say this," Iseman said. "And now a woman who needs no introduction" … and promptly left the stage.

Who else but Pat Kollenda?

"I'll be back," Kollenda promised before she relinquished the microphone to the scheduled Passport Team — Cynthia Fung, Sharbie Higuchi, Ashley Johnson and Mike Cahill — which won last year's award for Outstanding Arts Collaboration.

Cahill announced the 2011 winner, Action Sports Track, a collaboration of Laguna College of Art & Design and Hurley.

The partnership is seeking accreditation for the track in the school's graphic design department, headed by Katherain Eure, who accepted the award with college graduate and Hurley staff member Shannon Garcia.

Kollenda returned to her natural habitat in the limelight to present the award for Outstanding Innovation and Leadership in the Arts to Dennis Power, retiring LCAD president.

"Under the direction of Dennis Power, LCAD has redefined what a focused modern college of art and design can be," said Kollenda, winner of the 2010 award.

Power was so convinced he would not win, he had not told his wife, Leslie, that he had been nominated. But he sure was pleased with the award.

"I have always wanted a Louis Longi sculpture," Power said.

Marsh Scott presented the Artist of the Year Award, which she won in 2010, to Scott Moore, Festival of Arts exhibitor, head trustee of the Sawdust Festival's Benevolence Fund, past president of the Festival of Arts and president of the Festival of Arts Foundation for seven years.

"I knew I couldn't be a rock 'n' roll star so I had to do something twisted," Moore said

He developed the surreal style that combine a robust disregard for scale, a telling eye for detail and meticulous craftsmanship, Scott said.

Moore also found an outlet for his musical ambitions as a member of the memorable Buck Naked and the Chapped Cheeks, which used to play gigs around town and in the Patriots Day Parade.

Songwriter Rob Harryman performed his tribute to the organizations that stepped up to the plate to assist artists devastated in the December deluge.

Longi presented special awards to the Festival of Arts and its Emergency Flood Relief Fund, the Sawdust's Benevolence Fund, the Artists Fund and No Square Theater, honoring those who "heed when people need."

"Without your help — and cash — so many artists would have not only lost their possessions, but their hope," Longi said. "You've given us hope."

Fred Sattler, Sue Thompson, Anne England, Rosemary Swimm and Burgess Rosen accepted the awards.

Arts Commissioners Mary Ferguson and Suzi Chauvel and Mansour were also called to the stage for a quick bow.

Dancing to Rocker's music concluded the evening.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 302-1469 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World