Concert Dates

with special guest Laura Sandage!
When: December 18th 7-9pm
Where: Davis Odd Fellows Hall
Tickets are $20 on sale now at Armadillo Music in downtown Davis!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Melissa Manchester - Life on the Road

My friend Poppy and I are so excited because we’re going to go see Melissa Manchester in concert tomorrow night!

Singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester is one of my best friends. She will always be one of my best friends – even if I never speak with her again. When I think of what a “friendship” is ultimately about – love and support, growth, inspiration, challenge, the people I think of as my “best” friends are the ones who have given so much to me in those areas that the effects are everlasting. I wouldn’t be who I am today without Melissa Manchester.

I toured with Melissa for about 8 years. We experienced swanky restaurants, limousines, and lobster in Maine; roadside dives and four-star hotels…one and two-star hotels… and some hotels that were wishing for a star.

The band members were the entertainment industry’s equivalent of salty-dogs. They had been there, twice, seen it three times and tried it at least once. I was the baby of the band (except for when we hired a sub background vocalist named Kellie Coffey. Amazingly sweet girl who went on to win a Country Music Award.) I travelled so much with Melissa that I would literally forget where I had been sometimes, and I mean by the next day! So & So would ask me, “Where were you this weekend?!” And I’d have to say, “Hold on, let me look at my calendar… Oh, yea! I was in St. Louis.” And all too often Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

‘Less touring life should seem too exciting, let me say that often the most exciting thing each of the band members would see was some special on “Tornados”, on The Weather Channel. Life on the road can be painfully exhausting and often there isn’t enough time to truly sightsee (if one has the energy after all the planes, trains and automobiles). Very often a trip could be rated by the number of premium channels offered by the hotel. - The high-end hotels were gorgeous, but it could get tideous paying $50 for a $10 cheeseburger just because it was delivered via Room Service on an overpriced tray! We weren't rich, and our daily perdiems went a much longer way in the cheaper hotels. :-)

In the end however, I got to experience a lot of truly beautiful places (which I remembered far past the next day.) And most importantly, made some lifelong friends – one of whom I’ll be seeing tomorrow night! :-)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Exotic Animals

Growing up, I thought I would live in some kind of high tech, ultra modern mansion in Beverly Hills. Better yet, Bel Air! (which is sort of the rich man’s Beverly Hills) I know… “Huh?” – But it’s true. And that’s where I wanted to be.

I figured I’d have some kind of snazzy, red sports car, a motorcycle (we already know how much I love motorcycles) and exotic animals. Exotic meaning purebred Alaskan Malamutes, Siamese cats and colorful salt water fish.

- So why am I out in the middle of (a very lovely) nowhere… with a pet mouse; (actually bought at the pet store, although the field mice that get in are so cute I’d keep them as pets if they weren’t so terrified), 3 goats (who jump up and down and twirl like dogs when they’re being fed), and 7 chickens (who like to eat their eggs as much as I do!)? (True. They peck their own eggs. Farmers have all kinds of theories as to why: The eggs accidently crack and the chickens realize their youngins are yummy!; They need more calcium; ...They’re bored. All I know is that it’s annoying. And I’ve warned them more than once that if they keep it up they will end up on a plate. (I'm not a vegetarian.)

Recently, my 9 year-old son invented and constructed a new contraption for the hen coop: A row of laying boxes that are slightly slanted. So, as soon as the chicken gets her butt off of the egg, it rolls backwards onto a padded wall and then drops into a protected chute. And it works(!) … most of the time - well, enough of the time for me to think he’s a genius!!

Oh… that’s why I’m here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bono and the Motorcycle

I also had a huge... I mean HUGE crush on a producer/engineer named Niko Bolas. I am not the only girl who had a crush on Niko Bolas. Seemed to me that there was almost a catfight-like atmosphere swirling around Niko. I was the tamest cat in the bunch by a long shot. Anyway - Niko did invite me out to dinner once. Well... let me clarify that: I had to "run" some material over to Niko at another studio and he asked me to join him for dinner. I told him I probably should get back to A&M and he said, "Have you had dinner?"

"You have to eat sometime, don't you?" For once in my stupid life I said the "wrong thing" and said,... "Yes! You're right. I WILL go to dinner." Yeah! Yeah Me! I really treasured that dinner with Niko - very Zen (and okay, gorgeous beyond belief, beautiful brown eyes... but it was mostly the Zen-ness).

Here's a yummy sandwich: Niko was a motorcycle guy - I'm thinking a Harley (forgive me Niko if I'm wrong) but Niko rode some kind of cool motorcycle. And then Bono bought a motorcycle - yes, a Harley. I heard about the bike before I saw it! Then, one day, I was on my way into the studio. Bono and Niko were out in front, discussing their bikes. I smiled and waved. Two of my favorites! How sweet!? "Vatrena, have you ever been on a Harley?" Bono asked.

"No." I replied.

"Would you like to ride on a Harley?"


"I'll take you on the Harley."

Oh my gosh... "I'm going to ride on the Harley with Bono. I'm going to ride on the Harley with Bono." That was the only thing I could think for the next two minutes. I ran into Larry Mullen, Jr. in the hallway. "I'm going to ride on the Harley with Bono!"

"You are NOT going to ride on the Harley with Bono." said Larry, definitively. His relationship to me was like a big brother, which was great... most of the time.

"Oh yes..." I said, "I am.... Bono promised me he'd take me."

Larry: "Promise me you will not get on that bike with Bono."

Me: "Why not?!"

"Because he doesn't know how to ride the damned thing!" he practically yelled.

I paused... but just enough to take a quick breath "... "I'm definitely going."

Two weeks later, Bono crashed his bike.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vesta Williams

I just read the sad news that singer Vesta Williams died. She was a BIG woman, with a BIG voice... - except when she was not.

When I met Sting for the first time, it was on the set of the music video "We'll Be Together". Well... that was Vesta, who's big ole voice was belting out "TO GE - THER!!!" (if you remember the song. If not, it's worth a YouTubing.) It's a great song (of course... It's Sting!) And Vesta was just the big mama to compliment the refined Englishman. However, that's not what stayed with me most. What stays with me most is a moment that came later.

Flash forward some 7 years later and I was working at 20th Century Fox for Deborah Schindler and Ezra Swerdlow, the producers of the movie Waiting to Exhale. Forest Whitaker was the director who worked down the hall, and he was the sweetest thing. I remember finding out that he told someone (in his soft-spoken way) that he wanted to meet my fiance'. I saw/interacted with Forest maybe twice during the whole pre-production stint. - I found it so interesting that he was interested in anyone who was interested in anyone who was working with him. Amazingly familial. And he created a family-like atmosphere in that little office. And so did Deborah & Ezra for that matter. (I've always heard that company attitudes are created at the top.)

In any case, every Black actress (who was on at the very LEAST the "C" list) in Hollywood auditioned for some role in Waiting to Exhale. And it seemed to me that every "A" or "B" list actress auditioned for one of the top four roles. An adaptation of an extremely popular novel; the chance of a lifetime.

At one point, a very focused, quiet woman came in to read. Her name was Halle Berry. I remember sitting there and (discreetly, I hope) pondering her from my desk while she gazed out the window. She seemed to be centering herself. "She's"up and coming", isn't she?", I thought to myself, "I keep hearing her name being bandied about lately." - At the time, I didn't think she had much "presence" (lol). Shows how much I know!

One "C" list (meaning co-starred in a couple of movies) actress came in, gripped my hand VERY hard, leaned across my desk and hit on me so directly that I felt at once impressed by her... and terrified! When my fiance' walked in and happened to look (literally) the total opposite of her, she gave me a look of such complete disgust that I felt like apologizing. But what stayed with me the most was what happened with Vesta.

She came in to read for the role of the big mama in the film (the part that eventually went to the divine Loretta Devine). Well, to anyone in the industry, that would make absolute sense. - Only, by the time she auditioned for the role, she had dropped several (actually, tens of) pounds.

A casting associate pointed her out to me and said, "That's Vesta Williams." I said, "That is not Vesta." She said emphatically, "Yes... that is." I remember the producers and/or the casting director (an amazingly talented and incredibly kind woman named Jaki Carmen Brown) having to pull Vesta aside to say, "Honey... unfortunately, you're no longer qualified for the role of the big mama. You'll have to go for the role of the sexy vixen instead." Can you imagine being told that?!

Another powerful voice joins the heavenly choirs.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I'm Wide Awake

Out of the blue one night, a friend asked me what my favorite U2 song is. I thought for a moment; a very tough question. "Hum... All I Want Is You" I said.- The Edge wrote it. In fact he told me he wrote it in a hotel room when he was lonely for his wife who was at that time a woman named Aislinn.

My friend told me that some radio station had recently taken a poll, where people were asked the same question he'd just asked me. He recalled that the song the fans picked was a number.

"Hawkmoon 269" I yelled. This was a song that was recorded on the road and then mixed at A&M Studios (where I worked) exactly 269 times in order to get the right combination. "Great song," I thought, "That could be my favorite too."

"That wasn't it," he said.

After searching around on the web for a few minutes we found the song the fans had apparently voted they would keep if they had to take away all others. It was called "40". "I will siiiiing, sing a new song..." the chorus declares. Yes, I do like that song. It wouldn't have been my choice as the favorite but I could see especially U2's more Christian-based fans loving it. Hum... I thought, dreamily.

Then I woke up! How could I have forgotten!

I'd always known I wanted to go into Post Production. when I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be a film composer. Then I decided I would rather record film soundtracks instead of write them. That's why I ended up at Berklee College of Music, where I got a degree in Music Production and Engineering.

And that's why when after about 6 months at A&M Studios over-dubbing their "live" tracks, recording fix-its, etc. the band started spending time at Todd A-O post production facility, I started hanging out there too. Watch the credits of every other movie you see - and you'll see the name Todd A-O. At first I think I had to take things there for the band - tapes, sandwiches, etc. But then I made friends with the engineers, some of the sweetest guys in the world. There was a guy named Bill Bernstein arguably the nicest guy in the world, and the head engineer was a man named Chris Jenkins, arguably the nicest guy in the world.

Todd A-O was dark and comfortable with a little leather couch for viewing the large movie screen that fanned out about 30 feet away, and most importantly there was no Jimmy Iovine (more on him later.) There was a slight annoyance there in the form of the director. A spoiled, young Hollywood up-and -comer named Phil Joanou. He was engaged to Molly Ringwald at the time, and everyone would have to sit there and listen to their soupy goodbyes for ten minutes. "I love you...Oh, no,no I love you more..."Ugh. But that was a small price to pay.

One night, the team was re-mixing the song "Bad", which yes, happens to be my favorite U2 song. I especially love the concert version from "U2 Wide Awake in America". Listening to that song is transcendent for me - and about 40 million other people to be sure.

Anyway, the re-mix engineers were working on the live version from the most recent tour, and for some reason or other this version just didn't have..."it". Whatever "it" was Bono was looking for. And I quite agreed actually as I sat silently tucked into my purposefully-unobtrusive spot on the couch. "Something's missing." I thought. I longed for my favorite version.

"Can we listen to the other one?" Bono asked.

Did he just say what I think he said?

"The one from Wide Awake. It has something...that we're not capturing here."

This isn't happening!

Someone assured him that we could listen to that version and within moments I was sitting there with my favorite band, listening to my favorite version of my favorite song.

I can still see Bono silhouetted against the screen, listening intently, pacing somewhat as he listened. Trying to figure out what "it" was.

I was sure no one could see me getting misty eyed there in the darkness. In the darkness I could without risking my prized professionalism be somewhat emotional about what was truly an extraordinary moment for me.

You see, throughout my seventeen plus years in the entertainment industry I had to suppress my true feelings about any particular situation, moment, person. No matter how in awe, how disappointed, how flattered or how insulted I ever was, I had to maintain the same sense of calm professionalism. Not unlike a doctor. Detach. I've had to be completely "unimpressed"...only to run off and call one of my girl friends to re-live the whole event.

U2 never knew I was a huge fan of theirs before ever working with them. There was no reason to tell them. It was beside any point.

But now I have these memories to share. I will not let them go, and so fade away. I'm wide awake.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Memoirs

I've been toying with the idea of writing my memoirs for some time now.
Why, you ask, would I write my memoir? What would I have to say? Why would anybody care about it?
Well....I've been serenaded by Bono, been the infatuation of Warren Beatty, modeled after by Barbra Streisand, intrigued Sting, personally corresponded with Arnold and Oprah. Melissa Manchester was the first person after my husband to feel my first born kick. Once I answered the phone and John F. Kennedy Jr. was on the line. He said his name was "John". I thought he said "Sean".
Maybe none of this makes me anything special....but I DO have stories to tell. And I think if you have a story to tell, you should tell it.