ALMOST FAMOUS – Round XVIII
My Continuing Adventures As A San Francisco Rock (and Entertainment Event!) Journalist!


This month:

The 25th Annual (and my 2nd) Mill Valley Film Festival!
An interview with Leigh Nash of Sixpence None The Richer!
This 'n That Around Town!

Greetings, media junkies! Well, they say "quality, not quantity", but I've got an overflow of both this month. Perhaps some of the fine local talent will get more comprehensive coverage in the near future. Remember, I love you all!

On September 22, I checked out those local Irish lads again, the brothers Shaw and their rockin' band Petrol (petrol@petrol sf.com), at the Parkside Bar in San Francisco. Great set, and I still got home in time to watch the Sopranos... On September 28, producer and professor extraordinaire, Dr. John Barsotti accompanied me to the Down Low Lounge in Berkeley to see an amazing local band he produced called The People (www. nickmanagement.com). Kind of Sly and the Family Stone meets Jah Rule meets Bob Marley for starters, with enough energy to tear the roof off of 1000 mothersuckahs! This ain't the last you'll hear about them, I promise.
And even more amazing, they opened for...Coolio! Although the attendance was sparse, the crowd of multi-ethnic 20/30-somethings seemed to be having a blast gettin' their groove on to one of the true masters of rap. Nary a single bad vibe was felt or expressed and crazy-haired Coolio and his crew rocked da houuuse. Props to open minded Coolio for having a multi-ethnic, funky band with the whitest looking bass player I've ever seen. More props for posing for a picture with yours truly, and taking a copy of my "music-industry slam" song called "What's In a Name" which contains the lyric: Here's another Julio/Where's my man, Coolio?...

On October 19, I dragged myself down to the Exotic Erotic Ball to see our friend and previous SF Herald cover girl, Mary Cary (formerly of Electric Peach) play guitar with the flamboyantly fabulous band Simon Stinger (www.simonstinger.com). Fronted by the alluring Alicia, aided with dancers in outlandish costumes and a tight-ass band, Mary never rocked harder. Okay, all these innuendos are coming out of me because I have never seen so many scary body parts on display in one place. Nor do I ever wish to again. Call me a prude, but after their set and some backstage antics, it was time for this fully clothed chick to get the hell outta there...

Attention: take a nap during the day and get all your SF Herald (and all sister publications) reader butts up and out on Friday, November 15, 11pm to the Brava Theater @ 2781 24th Street, SF, for the SF premier of the film Love Will Travel, directed by Teddi Dean Bennett

(www. lovewilltravel.com). Why? Because it's part of the 18th annual Film Arts Festival, November 13-17? Well, that and because our own Lee Vilensky plays a cab driver (what a stretch!) in this film and he is hilarious! And because my own burnin' baby brother, Kirk Goldberg, was the film editor! (www.filmarts.org for more info).

Come help rockin' Nashvillian Tommy Womack (whose cool CD, Circus Town, I reviewed in this illustrious newsrag a few issues back), celebrate his 40th birthday on November 20, 10 pm, at Hotel Utah, 500 4th Street, SF (415-546-6300). Yours truly will be sitting in on background vocals in Tommy's "Almost Famous" band, and the convergence of Southeast and Northwest should make for one wild night. Party on!

Last, but not least: for the BEST color and cut that mess laying on your head could ever hope for, go see Elle and Akemi at diPietro Todd Salon, at three Bay Area locations: 177 Post Street, SF, 415-397-0177, 250 Camino Alto, Mill Valley, 414-388-0250, and 2307 Birch Street, Palo Alto, 650-328-4545. They are the dynamic duo of beauty!

Now on with the stars of this show...

Highlights of The 25th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13

This year marked the 25th anniversary of The Mill Valley Film Festival, one of the oldest and largest in the country. It also marked the 2nd year Kimberlye "Almost Famous" Gold was on hand to wreak havoc with the rich and actually famous. Held in the storybook town of Mill Valley in prestigious Marin County, CA, it offered films and events that proved to be both innovative and traditional in theme and tone. Included in the anniversary celebration were re-visitations of several classic films, such as Strictly Ballroom, which had its US premier ten years before at the MVFF. Director Baz Luhrman made a guest appearance and was greeted with a standing ovation, as was actor Edward James Olimos, for his appearance at the screening of Stand And Deliver, originally shown in 1987.

Opening Night Films and Gala

The four films premiering this year on opening and closing nights ranged from the "hyped" to the "hip", with "historical" and "whimsical" falling somewhere in between (okay, so I cheated on that last one). Opening night, White Oleander, based on the Oprah-approved novel by Janet Fitch and starring the blonde quartet of Michelle Pfieffer, Renee Zellwegger, Robin Wright Penn and newcomer Allison Lohman, fell into the former category. Frida, starring Selma Hayek as legendary painter Frida Kahlo, was the alternate choice but I unfortunately, I was not granted a ticket to either film.

I did attend the opening night gala in Mill Valley, not quite the star-studded affair it was last year (where was Huey Lewis?). It still provided the illustrious publisher of this little newsrag, Gene Mahoney and yours truly with Pasta Pomodoro cuisine, award-winning margaritas made by the entertaining Giovanni, The Margarita King, and some interesting party-goers. Dave Tureaud, of Tureaud Events and Promotions, (415-235-1545, www.tureaudbiz.com) and his staff, especially the beautiful Juliet, made sure each reception was a successful one. The charming Richard Habib, owner and founder of Alexander's Decorative Rugs in Mill Valley (415-383-3908) and SF (415-626-8430, www.alexandersrugs.com), who I became acquainted with last year, and his lovely wife, Shelia, were on hand to meet and greet throughout the festival. Mr. Habib, "The Rug Guy", king of all networkers, provided the beautiful rugs under the feet of the stars being interviewed.

The vibe had somewhat of a  "face-lift /singles mixer" air about it "Don't any of these people have dates?" Gene queried. Best name: Mikayla Mickleberg, an attractive, young woman who was pitching her documentary, Living in Conflict Voices from Israel and Palestine. Most important press person we've met since Mick LaSalle: Carla Meyer from the SF Chronicle. High point: chatting with the legendary singer/songwriter/ film music composer Robbie Robertson, formerly of The Band. Handsome and laid back, Robertson revealed that out of all the film festivals he's attended, the MVFF is one of his favorites. "So many others feel so spread out. This one really feels like we're lovers of something (film) coming together to share it."

Short Films and Documentaries

I was sent three tapes of the Five@five short series to view, plus Rob Nillson's new film, Noise. This quirky film was a dark and convoluted affair, which I must admit I had a difficult time getting through.  Some of the short films were stellar works of art, some felt like high school projects. Ernst Gossner's Bar Time, a somber study in choices and consequences, was this genre's finest, everything a short film should be. Honorable mentions to Gay Block's ode to her weird mother/daughter relationship, Bertha Alice and Rachel Libert's poetic description of escape from domestic abuse, Kool Breeze. Ryan Kennedy's Control displayed a flair for the futuristic, or at least a future in commercials and music videos. 

I attended the screening of Sally Clark's Cowgirls, and Beth Harrington's Welcome To the Club The Women of Rockabilly - a bill that truly celebrated the struggle of women to excel in male-dominated arenas, with spirit and humor. You go, girls! Adding to the fun after this screening was a special musical evening hosted by my pal Ben Fong-Torres, who was responsible for getting Welcome To The Club into the festival. "Rockabilly Filly" Rosie Flores, an artist I personally tracked down for this gig in Nashville, where I used to see her perform, kicked off the cowgirl jam. "Rosebud" was instrumental in resurrecting the careers of these forgotten pioneers of music history, like Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin, "the female Elvis", who were featured in the film. She included them on her "Rockabilly Fillies" CD and helped put them back on the comeback trail! "I cancelled a European vacation right after my tour, just to be a part of this festival," Rosie shared. "It means so much to me!"

Also on the bill was local rockabilly band, Cari Lee and the Saddle-Lites, a fun bunch who share their charismatic drummer, Ricky Quisol, with our own Lee Vilensky. Spotted in the audience with Ben: actor Terry Chen, who portrayed Mr. Fong-Torres in the film, Almost Famous!

Tributes

There were many fine tributes, including ones for director Milos Forman and actress Robin Wright Penn, who reportedly did not attend, due to a stomach ailment. Phil Bronstein, Executive Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle (and "Mr. Sharon Stone") conducted an on-stage interview with outspoken anti-war activist and actor Ed Asner. Phil was more charming and Ed much funnier than one might expect from the usually gruff gentlemen. Commenting on his film clips, Asner revealed his most embarrassing moment in Oliver Stone's JFK: "I beat the hell out of Jack Lemmon's face - with a rubber gun!"  He bemoaned "ageism" in Hollywood and claims it affects everyone, even directors and writers. On his politics: "Most people in show biz don't speak out," Asner claimed. "When you reveal yourself, people may boycott your films."

During the Q&A, I was just about to exhibit my brilliance about Asner's guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm, given my newfound knowledge about the improvisational nature of the show since my interview with cast member Richard Lewis. Before I could open my mouth, a woman behind me yelled out, "Tell them about Curb Your Enthusiasm and how there are no scripts and it's all improv!" Who stole my question?? Ed's wife. I told her I forgave her and gave her a copy of last month's issue with Richard Lewis on the cover.

At the reception at Piatti in Mill Valley, Asner graciously held court, chatting with everyone, posing for photos, and even teaching this bleached blonde Jewess a Yiddish word or two. I gave him a copy of the Herald and he said, "Oh, my wife told me about you. She thought you were funny." Thank God. Hanging out with Ed and his posse was Don Novello, who many may remember as "Father Guido Sarducci" on Saturday Night Live. Dapper Don and I smiled for the camera while we chatted about his next gig: a comedy show in Palm Desert on November 22 with...Richard Lewis! Six degrees of separation from everyone I meet, apparently...

The high point of the festival, was the tribute to Academy Award winning actress, Dianne Wiest, hosted by the ubiquitous Ben Fong-Torres. Ben instructed the audience to turn off their cell phones, warning, "Don't speak!", Wiest's famous line from Bullets Over Broadway. After viewing the first series of clips, Ms. Wiest got an uncontrollable case of the giggles, claiming she never watches her own films and couldn't remember doing parts of them now. Ben told the story of his interview with Willie Nelson, who couldn't remember entire films he'd done. This cracked Ms. Wiest up even further. The more Fong-Torres attempted to reign her in, the wilder it got, and the audience was in stitches right along with her. A TV film called 'Big Foot", which she couldn't remember doing at all, became a running joke, and several audience members joined in.  Festival co-chairperson Zoe Elton had a cast list faxed over and read it aloud to the audience. Ms. Wiest, practically rolling on the floor at this point, still insisted it was a complete blank. "Oh my God, I'm Willie Nelson!" she cried out. Was it an Internet hoax? A case for Law & Order? Turned out it was an animated film she had provided a voice over for. Mystery solved.

Whether it be hanging out with real Avon ladies for her role in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands or learning how agoraphobics "create their own world from the inside" in last year's I Am Sam, Wiest seriously researches every role. She attributes her film career to Woody Allen, who "cast me in roles no other director would have ever considered me for. He has millions of films running in his head and is an abundance of creativity. He never let me hit a false note." On the differences between working with Woody Allen and Tim Burton: "Woody is intellectual, Tim is emotional. They're different as apples and oranges, but they're both fine fruit!" On working with director Mike Nichols in The Birdcage: "He ruined three takes because he could not stop laughing!"

Turning the tables on our man Ben, Ms. Wiest demanded he confirm a rumor that he was, indeed, an Elvis impersonator.  Happy to oblige, BFT indulged her (and us) with a few lines of his best "Are You Lonesome Tonight".

Wiest revealed that her moving monologue in Drunks, a film about recovering alcoholics at an AA meeting starring Richard Lewis (again!), was completely improvised. Curb Your Enthusiasm, hello? On her stint on TV's Law & Order as the D.A last season, Ms. Wiest expressed regret. "I failed to fulfill an interesting role. It's not an actor-dependent show, the formula is the star. I wasn't allowed to bring in my own humor and sensibilities, and I couldn't take their formula and make it my own."

During the Q&A, Wiest told an interesting story about a film from her early career called Independence Day, where she played a battered wife who kills her abusive husband and herself by blowing up the house. " It was my first major film. The critics buried and it wasn't until years later that Pauline Kael from The New Yorker rediscovered it and helped it find a whole new audience as a TV movie," Wiest explained.  "I am very proud of that film. It was the first of it's kind to address domestic violence, before The Burning Bed. It's probably the most meaningful work I've ever done."

Surprise guest: an audience member who identified herself as the woman who played "Adeline" in Ms. Wiest's high school production of  "Guys & Dolls"!

 Ms. Wiest wasn't feeling well at the reception at Da Silva Island in Mill Valley (too much excitement at the tribute?) but stayed long enough to pose for a few pictures and chat amiably with her admirers.

The show must go on!

Closing Night Films and Gala

The closing night film we saw, Personal Velocity, a trio of dark short stories about crisis-bound young women, written and directed by Rebecca Miller (Arthur's daughter) "personified" the indie-film genre. Anything with Parker Posey in the cast is bound to be edgy, and this proved no exception. Kind of made you appreciate your own, hopefully less %&*$ed up life. Merci Docteur Rey, a quirky French comedy starring the versatile Dianne Weist, was the alternate choice.

The gala reception, held at the Osher/Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael was a pleasant end to an enjoyable cinematic ride. The food and drink, provided by Grace Street Catering, Frie Brothers Reserve, VOX Vodka, and Knob Creek Bourbon was delicious and plentiful. The "sultry Latin sounds" of the Rolando Morales Quintet, and some of the very expressive dancers on the floor heightened the festive atmosphere. Ay caramba! Dianne Wiest was on hand, feeling much better this evening, smiling, toasting, and conversing with everyone. "I love Mill Valley, it's so beautiful here!" she exclaimed.

Festival publicist Pam Hamilton, who tirelessly orchestrated each event with her efficient staff, always had a smile and friendly greeting for yours truly. California Film Institute Executive Director and Mill Valley Film Festival founder Mark Fishkin claimed this 25th anniversary represented a time of introspection. "People look to film as the art form of the 20th and the 21st century. The events of 9/11 have demonstrated this more than ever. Our attendance has jumped from 40,000 to 42,000 since last year. People are seeking much more than just escapism now."

"DIVINELY DISCONTENTED"
An interview with Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer

Fate. Karma. Destiny. A master plan or luck of the draw? Most of us subscribe to one belief system or another to explain the things that happen to us in this world at any given moment. We try to make some kind of sense amidst the increasing insanity we experience on a daily basis, and if we're lucky, find some pleasure in the journey. Whatever forces have converged to bring Nashville-based pop band Sixpence None The Richer to its present moment have finally given birth to a brand new album, Divine Discontent. It has been a road paved with many obstacles and some angels along the way, for the heart and soul of this band, vocalist Leigh Nash and co-founder, main songwriter and co-producer Matt Slocum.

Lengthy contractual disputes, resulting from the sale of their former label Squint's parent company, Word Entertainment, from Gaylord Entertainment to Warner Music Group forced the band to take a three year break from the airwaves while their fate hung in limbo. After touring heavily behind their self-titled breakthrough album that delivered the Grammy-nominated number one hit "Kiss Me," which seemed to be everywhere in 1999, the band began recording new material in the Spring of 2000 that wasn't allowed to see the light of day until now. They have resurfaced on Reprise Records with a long-delayed labor of love, co-produced by Paul Fox (XTC, The Sugarcubes) that is both supremely joyful and utterly haunting. With the fresh-as-a-daisy single "Breathe Your Name" already in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio, Divine Discontent is a transcendent and triumphant return. The combination of Matt Slocum's evocative, ear-catching melodies and thoughtful lyrics, with Leigh Nash's uncanny ability to wrap herself around them like a velvet glove is an even sweeter one this time. They've added a cover of Crowded House's  "Don't Dream It's Over" and four new songs to the mix, two penned by the singer, who proves herself no slouch in that department as well. And the beautiful closing song, "A Million Parachutes" is a wistful love song to...San Francisco!

To hear 26 year-old Leigh Nash tell it, the way their story began back in New Braunfels, Texas is the stuff small town dreams are made of. Like Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, or Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach, this duo seemed destined to bring their respective gifts to the other's table. "I was really into old country music, like Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Charlie Pride, Tanya Tucker. I loved that stuff! And even '80s stuff, like Crystal Gayle and Dolly Parton. But I wasn't pursuing fame, I was a just starting high school, " the soft-spoken singer reminisces. "Matt was into The Sundays, Juliana Hatfield, XTC, bands I had never even listened to. He had just written his first song and he heard me sing in this high school talent show. He wanted to hear how it would sound with a female vocal and that's how we started. It just worked right away. He brings songs to me that are almost always fully fleshed out and there has never been one that I felt I couldn't sing or do justice to. I owe everything to Matt, he created our sound. He's amazing."

Her tone sounds so adoring one immediately wonders if there was ever a romantic connection between them. "No, I don't think we ever had those kinds of feelings for each other. It's always been a brother/sister thing," the singer explains, who became a married woman at the ripe old age of 19 to record producer Mark Nash. "I've learned so much from Matt. There's never been any competition between us. I used to think all I had to bring to the table were vocals, but I'm getting more confident now and writing more. I play guitar, enough to be able to show him the chords. Maybe I'll play more eventually, but I think what sets us apart is the way I feel the music in my body. I need to be free to express it, even though I don't move that much."

A move from New Braunfels, however, was eminent. Things progressed quickly for the dynamic duo and they soon signed a deal with a small Nashville-based Christian label called REX, producing two albums, The Fatherless and The Widow, Beautiful Mess, and an EP. "We were busy!" Leigh exclaims. "Different band members have come and gone, but the nucleus of the group was always us. We started it together and we'll quit it together." So intense was her loyalty, that when Matt made the decision to move to Nashville in '96, Leigh followed suit a month later. Almost immediately, they had their first set back: their record label folded.

"It was pretty scary at first," the singer muses. "But then we met this guy named Steve Taylor who was just starting a record a label called Squint. We were his only band and he really worked hard for us. It was such a unique, unusual situation.  Even though our album was distributed through Word, Columbia got behind "Kiss Me" and got it into the movie "She's All That " which gave it a tremendous amount of exposure. Then Elektra got behind our next single "There She Goes". So both those songs had a lot of muscle behind them. Honestly, I don't understand how it all worked, but it was such an incredible time. People were probably sick of hearing us; they played those songs so much! We loved Nashville and felt like it was exactly where we were supposed to be."

Unfortunately, label politics took precedent over the music, an all too familiar tale of woe. Sixpence None The Richer came home from a worldwide tour in 2000, ready to record a new CD, but without a label to get it back out to the world. Time passed. And passed. "It was very frustrating. It felt like forever and we had no idea what was going to happen," Leigh explains. Not one to sit and mope, Leigh lent her vocals to other projects, including Delerium's Top Five dance hit, "Innocente (Falling In Love)" and "Need To Be Next To You", the Top 20 AC song that was the end title track to the Gwyneth Paltrow/Ben Affleck film, Bounce. But her heart remained hopelessly devoted to Matt and the band, which now included long-time members bassist Justin Cary and guitarist Sean Kelly, and new additions keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden and drummer Rob Mitchell. With producer Paul Fox at the helm, they began the original recording sessions that became Divine Discontent on a wing and a prayer.

"We were up for a change and we had a lot more time," Leigh says. " We had more financial resources this time and we wanted to try different things, strings, horns, stuff like that. And we were so excited to get to work with Paul Fox; we're such fans of his. He produced XTC's Oranges and Lemons, one of our all-time favorite records! He came up with such incredible arrangements and ideas for the songs, he really took us to a whole other level. And he's such a nice guy!"

Fox brought in legendary musicians like Van Dyke Parks, who did the string arrangements for the Beach Boys. On songs like "Dizzy", the soaring, orchestral result is one that would make Burt Bacharach proud. "I absolutely loved singing that song!" Leigh raves. "I hope we can add strings on the road, if the tour budget permits." But the single and opening song "Breathe Your Name", has a completely different feel, a contemporary blend of Dido-esque drum loops and vocal octaves that gives the band a Top 40 radio-friendly sound that's not quite as prevalent anywhere else on the CD. "That had everything to do with Paul," Leigh explains. "We knew that was going to be the first single and we just went for it. It felt great!"

Refusing to be pigeonholed into any one arena, diverse lyrical and musical colors abound throughout the CD. One might think "Paralyzed", the most hard-edged of the 13 tracks, is another tribute to the events of 9/11. "A lot of people will probably think that," Leigh agrees. "But it was about this German journalist who interviewed us for 'Kiss Me'. He had just found out his best friend was killed covering a story in Kosovo. He had to tell the man's pregnant wife, and he was just devastated. It was horrible, we didn't know what to say." And on the flip side is "Tension Is A Passing Note", a poignant acoustic/vocal that uses a musical term to describe the struggle to balance life on the road with love at home. The average Joe might not understand the reference, but its' bittersweet ache is inescapable. "I don't know if Matt wrote that for me, or his own love life, but I can't sing that song without crying." Leigh says wistfully. "It's my favorite song on the record."

While waiting for the powers that be to get their contractual act together, the band went back into the studio earlier this year to tighten up the existing material and add four new songs. "So much had changed since we had recorded the CD and we had different things we needed to say," Leigh muses. "It had been two years! We had run some of the songs into the ground and we were so lucky to get another shot." The new batch includes two that the singer wrote alone. "Eyes Wide Open", a dark tale about a doomed woman surviving on the streets is something Leigh claims she "just made up in my head. It comes from my love of old country music. I only write about melancholy stuff, things that are awful!" she says cheerily.

So does anything really get to this pleasant, happily married singer? Fans of boy bands! "For some reason, they keep putting us on tours with these boy bands, like 98 Degrees," Leigh says, the first sign of an edge creeping into her voice. "We were staying in the same hotel, and I have enough trouble sleeping anyway. Some girl was in the hallway at three o'clock in the morning screaming 'Jeremy!' at the top of her lungs, and I just jumped out of bed up and ran out into the hall and screamed at her, 'What's wrong with you, are you crazy? People are trying to sleep! Get out!' And she actually said to me, 'I don't know who you think you are, but you're staying in the wrong hotel, little lady!' I wanted to punch her!!" 

Beware, all who dare to disturb the slumber of the sweet princess with the angelic voice or you will suffer the wrath of her divine discontent.

 

To read other articles by Kim Gold, click here!