Our first two-day stint in a town, and it comes immediately before a four-day stop in our next locale. It's an easy week in California.
The appeal of Los Angeles continues to confound me, but more positives are showing their faces all the time. Rae Davis and I start making a list.
- The oppressively Californian weather
- There's a place on Santa Monica that sells $2 thrift clothing. It's all in a giant pile on the floor, but there you go.
- There's damn good food to be found
- The city is large enough and diverse enough to not only have a little China and little Italy, but a little Ethiopia.
So it grows. Today was originally scheduled as an off day. Davis spends most of it relaxing around our host home, while Sara Routh has brunch with a friend, then heads to a photo shoot. The hot LA sun blazes away as errands are run and friends are commiserated with.
That would have been it, but one of Routh's friends invited her to play at his bar in the previously mentioned Little Ethiopia, and she said yes. The crowd isn't expected to be gigantic, but they're promised free food and 10% of the bar, and it's another chance for Routh to play for some friends in her old home, so everyone is on board.
The Hang Glider is, in Routh's words, "a pop up bar that's lasted for a year now." It shares a space inside an Ethiopian restaurant. When Routh and Davis arrive, there's nobody inside, and a sign outside advertising free funk music. Hopes are high.
Lance is the guy behind the bar, and he seems like a cool cat. Drinks are poured, food is ordered, and everything seems OK at the start. The venue, however, is slightly less than advertised. The stage is a couple of four foot pallets shoved together and covered with carpet. There's no stage lighting (the band playing the late set brings their own workshop floodlights), and one of the speakers is blown, making leveling and volume a bit of a crapshoot.
When Davis takes the stage to kick things off, she's playing exclusively for Lance and the people who rode here from Des Moines with her. As she gets into the set, we're joined by a family of four who are renting the restaurant for a wedding reception in the summer, and are there to sample the food. Sitting on the other side of the low dividing wall between the dining room and the bar, they shout to each other throughout the show about where the gift table will go, and how Ethiopian food will do in a buffet setting.
Slowly, some friends trickle in, and Routh makes the rounds. Davis' set is about as good as one would expect for a largely impromptu show in a dive pop-up bar, being played to no people. Musicians tend to treat these nights--and they will all have these nights--as a glorified practice session, testing out songs they haven't played in a while, maybe getting a little tricky with some chord progressions or new melodies on set list standards. She sounds good, and the 8 or 9 people who are there when she finishes clap approvingly. For her part, Routh's set is much the same as Davis'. She tries a couple new things on for size, messes around with the final chorus on "I Like You," jokes with her friends along the way.
When both artists are done and the late set open mic is in full swing, Routh chats with friends while Davis tries her hand at getting payment from the bar; money that Lance tells Routh he knows nothing about. Davis shows him the email from the bar owner. Lance continues to be deferential, passing the buck to the owner of the restaurant, who tries to pass it right back to Lance, when Davis approaches him.
Finally cornered, Lance tries a new tack. "It's a little late now," he says. "We're into the next show, and I don't know exactly how much was sold during your sets."
That, Davis informs him, is not their problem.
Finally, Lance gives in and figures that $80 in drinks were sold during the hour and change the ladies played. Feeling suddenly generous, he bumps the number up to an even $100, and hands Davis a $10 bill. It will be the only money that Davis makes in the LA swing; people apparently don't buy CDs here.
After one last round of goodbyes, it's back to their host house for a couple quick hours of sleep. The plan is to get up by 3 a.m. and be on the road within the hour, to get to the next town before 2 p.m. The alarm goes off entirely way too early, and everyone crawls out from under blankets and packs belongings. Right on time, the Prius pulls out onto The 5, and the morning begins.
The Prius winds its way north, leaving LA behind, along with its smog and traffic and quirky neighborhoods and great diners and image-conscious d-bags and long-loved friends. If there's a city in America that could really be all things to all people, it's you. For better and worse.