Friday, September 28, 2012

SHOW REVIEW - Lavender Diamond 9/24/12

Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond (Autumn de Wilde)


Sept. 24 @ The Echo (Echo Park)

It's always amusing to watch the reaction on audience members' faces when Lavender Diamond frontwoman Becky Stark begins to sing. At first there is shock and awe that such a powerful sound can come from such a pixie-like being, and then there are grins as blissful euphoria overtakes their countenances.

As Lavender Diamond took the stage for the final night of their monthlong residency at the Echo, I awaited the crowd's response with bated breath, and Lavender Diamond did not disappoint. This being the eve of the release of their new album, Incorruptible Heart, the band spent most of the set polishing up the new tracks in anticipation of heading to the East Coast for some shows. From the hip-sway inducing "I Don't Recall" to the plaintive "Just Passing By" and exquisitely heart-wrenching "Everybody's Heart's Breaking Now," Lavender Diamond captivated everyone's attention in the Echo. Ron Rege Jr.'s rhythmic pounding on his drums made hearts beat a little faster on "Teach Me How to Waken," while Steve Gregoropoulos' keyboard mesmerized on "Forgive."

My favorite moment of the night came during "All the Stars." Stark shimmered in a long, black vintage dress, and it seemed as if we had all been transported to a different era. The reflection of the stage lights danced off the beads and crystals on her shoulders, and her face was engulfed in an aura of bright light. She looked so ethereal and angelic and her voice soared to such otherworldly heights during the song, that, by the end, I was absolutely breathless. As the evening progressed, and Stark amused with banter such as a story about dragons transforming into dragonflies before "Dragonfly," everyone fell in love with her a little more.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Events for Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2012


The Roxy takes over Sunset Strip Market



The Roxy's Grilled Cheese Night @ Sunset Strip Market (West Hollywood)
The Roxy takes over the Strip's weekly farmers market, using select produce and ingredients from local farmers and artisans to create gourmet sandwiches. You'll be able to pair your grilled cheese with a local craft beer or California wine and enjoy performances from the Mowgli's, End of Ever and Sierra Swan.



In Theaters This Week
With a screenplay co-written by Robert Smigel, Hotel Transylvania features the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Andy Samberg and Selena Gomez; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt in Looper; Pitch Perfect, it's like "Glee" but in college, and only with girls; Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis in Won't Back Down. Also in theaters: Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best; The Hole; Solomon Kane; The Waiting Room



L.A. Loves Alex's Lemonade @ Culver Studios (Culver City)
The third annual fundraiser for fighting childhood cancer features tastings from 40 top chefs and mixologists from across the nation. The event will be emceed by Jimmy Kimmel and co-hosted by Suzanne Goin, Caroline Styne, David Lentz, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka. Didn't get your tickets before it sold out? You can still participate in the silent auction by bidding online.

Wilco (Austin Nelson)



Wilco @ Hollywood Bowl (Hollywood)
If one band is worth braving Carmageddon II, it's Wilco. Their headlining debut at the Bowl, Wilco closes the summer season with selections from their 10-album catalog.

Odd Future Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival @ Club Nokia (Downtown)
The first annual extravaganza features a carnival with games, rides, prizes and food specially selected by Odd Future. Then, there will be performances by the Internet, Trash Talk, Odd Future and other special guests.



Andrew McCarthy @ Barnes and Noble (The Grove)

The Pretty in Pink, Less Than Zero and Weekend at Bernie's actor is also an award-winning travel writer. In The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down, he documents his soul-searching journeys around the globe.


The Royal Concept @ The Troubadour (West Hollywood)
The Stockholm indie rockers captured attention early this summer with their incredibly catchy "Gimme Twice" from their debut EP. Swinging through the Troubadour with Wolf Gang, the venue will surely turn into a sweaty fun discotheque for the evening.

The Spring Standards (Shervin Lainez)



The Spring Standards @ Hotel Café (Hollywood)
The Brooklyn-based trio is in the midst of a national tour in support of the double EP yellow/gold. While their gentle acoustic instruments soothe the soul, their haunting vocal harmonies soar to sweeping heights for a thoroughly unique sound.

Garbage @ The Palladium (Hollywood)
There really is no excuse if you've never seen Garbage live. Shirley Manson is one of the best frontwomen performing in rock today, and along with the musical mastery of Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig, Garbage puts on thoroughly unforgettable shows.



Penny Marshall @ Aero Theatre (Santa Monica)
American Cinematheque presents Live Talks LA: An Evening with Penny Marshall, as the director/actress discusses her memoir, My Mother Was Nuts. Garry Marshall will conduct the conversation.


Kate Earl @ Hotel Café (Hollywood)

Written and recorded with a crew that includes Brett Dennen and Blake Mills, Kate Earl's upcoming debut, Stronger, (Nov. 20) features a rootsy brand of all-American '70s pop-rock. The singer-songwriter shares the personal stories found on Stronger at Hotel Café.

Slash @ The Wiltern (Koreatown)
One of my favorite guitarists returns home as he wraps up a U.S. tour in support of his new album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, Apocalyptic Love. The iconic musician is amazing on recordings and oh-so mesmerizing live.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Beta Wolf

Sergio Ruelas, Rocko McIvor and Grant Arnow of Beta Wolf in front of Urban Light at LACMA


At Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles (Miracle Mile)

"Everyone says you're a beauty queen, cigarette butts and your magazines and bad dreams, but you make me believe. You complicate me, when you show me how you feel. But you give me something real. Los Angeles, if you only knew, nobody loves you the way that I do. Los Angeles, others can do their best, but no one moves like you do. Los Angeles."

With lyrics like these from "Los Angeles," their ode to the City of Angels that appears on their latest EP, Just Before Morning, I couldn't ask for a more appropriate band to profile for Jigsaw than Beta Wolf. Although only one of them is a native Angeleno, all five of the band members have grown to love the metropolis for different reasons.

"I grew up in Las Vegas, but there's so much to love about Los Angeles. It's not nearly as hot as Vegas, and the love of my life is out here," says bassist Rocko McIvor with a grin. "The thing I really dig about L.A. is that there are so many different styles, cultures. There's so much culture, it's amazing."

"Well, I was born here, and I love it for many different reasons: This is where I went to school, where all my friends live, where I have the most memories, and it's home," admits guitarist Sergio Ruelas. "It's cool to have grown up here, especially being a musician. You don't really meet a lot of people that are actually from here, being in that world, so it's cool to have that unique thing. And, yes, the weather is always nice. You can always count on that."

"With Los Angeles, it isn't easy to live here, so I think that what ends up happening is the people that stay, they truly have a reason they want to be here," adds vocalist Grant Arnow. "It would be easier to move somewhere that was less expensive, with less traffic. But for me, living in Los Angeles, every day is a unique experience. Either I'll go someplace and see somebody I know or something new will happen or I'll go eat somewhere new. It keeps you on your toes in a good way."

Besides the song "Los Angeles," Beta Wolf have released a series of videos called Living in Los Angeles to further demonstrate the love they have for their home base. They go to one of their favorite spots around town, such as the Watts Towers or San Pedro's Sunken City, to perform a track from Just Before Morning and share stories about Los Angeles.

"We're going to do some more videos soon. We actually have one that's on Melrose, which is where I like to hang out. We'll be releasing it for the song 'Undertow,'" shares Grant. "Then we're going to do one for Devon [Pangle, guitarist], but he hasn't figured out the location yet. Devon definitely has a taste that's unto his own, so whatever it will be, it will be cool. Chester [Lang, drummer] likes to go out on Sunset Strip most of the time, like to the Viper Room or Libertine since he lives right off the boulevard."

The location that they take me to is definitely one that is unique only to our city: Chris Burden's Urban Light installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Burden restored 202 antique street lamps that he collected from places like the Rose Bowl Flea Market to create what he calls "a building with a roof of light." The cast-iron posts once again shine as part of the large-scale assemblage sculpture, and they have also brought light to Beta Wolf.

"For me, not growing up in L.A. and coming to L.A., I was kind of aimless at first. I was just looking for stuff that I could really get behind, not stuff that everybody else told me was cool – because people do that in L.A. a lot, they say 'You should go here, it's cool,' and then it sucks," laughs Grant. "When I came here for the first time, I loved it. It's such a unique spot. The light installation, especially when you drive by it at night, it has that instant of, 'what the hell is that?' LACMA's so big that you can explore it at your own pace. Anybody that I know can come to the museum and find something different that they like about it."

"I've heard about the cool shows and interesting programs that they have here with different kinds of music (symphonies, hip hop and jazz), that I would like to go to," says Rocko.

In the two years since they formed Beta Wolf, the quintet has been able to explore the city together, from Downtown to the coast. As we take a seat on the patio of Ray's and Stark Bar, located just behind Urban Light, the guys tell me about some of their other sweet spots in Los Angeles.

"I used to live off of Sixth and Main in Downtown, and there's a cool bar called Spring St. Bar. There are lots of rad cats who hang out there," tells Rocko.

"Have you ever been to the Edison? It's the coolest place in Downtown. I love it," says Sergio. "For food, I like eating at Poquito Más. I actually had it last night."

"Everything he eats is some kind of bread and cheese," exclaims Rocko, as Sergio bites into some flatbread with provolone cheese and sausage.

Grant's weakness is street tacos: "My favorite is Tacos 'El Gallito.' They've got these yellow trucks, and I know all the spots where they are now so I can modify my course home and go by there. They're always good."

"I actually like driving on the freeways when there's not a lot of traffic," says Rocko. "If I can get on the 101 or the 405 and just drive 70-80, it's like a forced meditation. I get a lot of peace out of that."

"I really like driving PCH. When I can have the ocean on one side and the other side is just a cliff, I can drive and just not think about anything or think about all sorts of stuff," agrees Grant. "It just sets my mind at ease because, ultimately, the ocean helps me remember that as bad as my problems might feel, I'm just one small piece of a major puzzle. It helps put everything in perspective, just because of how big the ocean is and how small you are. I realize that the course of my life is a lot larger than the one issue I'm experiencing at that moment."

Beta Wolf have had some pretty amazing moments thus far. After parting ways with their former band, Takota, Grant and Sergio formed Beta Wolf with Sergio's fellow Musicians Institute (MI) alumni, Devon and Chester. After Rocko joined, the group entered an MI competition and garnered the attention of a Japanese record label, travelled to Japan for Summer Sonic and released an album, Dark Days, which reached No. 51 on the international charts. They put out Just Before Morning, their U.S. debut EP, in July before embarking on tour in support of multi-platinum rock band Daughtry.

"The whole experience was like going to college. Over the course of the whole thing we learned what works and what doesn't work from playing in front of huge audiences. And the guys in Daughtry's band took us under their wing and gave us little pears of wisdom," says Grant. "One night I was having a rough time with my voice, and Chris pulled me aside and gave me some remedies that he uses. I tried them, and they worked. I would have never known about them if it wasn't for him."

"They totally became our big brothers. They were always supportive and encouraging," concurs Sergio.

Reminiscing about the Daughtry tour leads into a discussion about the first L.A. concerts that the Beta Wolf guys attended.

"The first concert I went to in Los Angeles was Weezer at the old Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard," remembers Sergio. "I was in high school, and it was crazy because I slept in the parking lot the night before to make sure I got into the show. It was amazing."

"The first concert I remember coming to in L.A., I had to lie to my parents to come up here from where we lived in Orange County and see it," confides Grant. "I went with a friend to a place called the Hollywood Athletic Club to see Rocket from the Crypt. It felt dangerous, just because I was in Hollywood. The band was all dressed up, and the crowd was going insane. People were jumping off balconies onto each other. I was like, 'Holy shit, this is awesome!'"

Rocko experienced a similar feeling when he played his first show at age 13.

"I got my first bass when I was 13 years old, and actually booked my first show a month after I got my bass. I didn't know how to play it, I didn't write any songs, I didn't have anyone in a band. Then the day came, I got two friends together and we wrote five songs right then. We played terribly, we forgot all of them and didn't play a single note right for a good 20 minutes," he recalls with a laugh. "My older brother grew up playing music, he was in a Los Angeles-based band and I looked up to him as my role model, so I always wanted to do music. Once I started to learn how to play music, he introduced me to rock 'n' roll and heavy metal, that's what I fell in love with. It was probably that first show at age 13 when I knew that music was it for me. "

Like Rocko, Sergio grew up with a strong musical influence in his family, his father.

"My parents are from Mexico, and they migrated over here when my mom was pregnant with me and my dad was 20. My dad was a professional singer in Mexico, so when they came here he started doing shows at bars for a living. Once I was born, my mom asked him to stop, so he stopped. My earliest memories are of me going under their bed, finding a guitar and bringing it out to him because I wanted to see him play and sing. When I was 5, he enrolled us in a piano class together. After that, I played piano until I was about 12 and then picked up guitar," Sergio says. "We were visiting my dad's brothers in Mexico, and my dad started playing 'La Bamba.' He played that riff, and I was like, 'That's the coolest thing I've ever seen!' So I went up to him after and asked him how to play it, and he just handed me the guitar. I sat there for an hour trying to figure out what he did, just by what he had done with his hands. That was when I wanted to start playing guitar. My dad eventually got me a guitar, and I played it every day."

Grant also realized that music would be his lifelong passion at a young age.

"My parents would sing Peter, Paul and Mary to me when I was very young, and they always talked about the fact that I would sing it back with them. But then I stopped singing for a long time, I actually started playing music on the trumpet," he says. "Then we went to the Orange County Fair, and there was a boys chorus singing in a little pavilion. The conductor was talking about how they had been to the Soviet Union and Boston that year, and I've always liked traveling. So at the end of the performance, the conductor said, 'If there are any boys out there who are interested in singing, traveling and meeting amazing people, come and talk to me to sign up.' That's all I needed to hear. Without even asking permission from my parents, I took off to sign up. From that point forward, all I ever did was sing. I went to high school, did musical theater and when I was 16 I was in my first rock band. I got a scholarship to sing classically in college, and the minute I got to school the first thing I did was try to set up a band. It's all I've ever really wanted to do, ever."

Just Before Morning is currently available. For more information, visit

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

STREET SIGNS - Football Girl

Each piece you see around the city by Austin's Becca Midwood is an original one-of-a-kind painting, and you can always recognize her feminine forms for their trademark vintage styling. Football Girl is located in Sunset Junction, on Sunset Boulevard near Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake. When Becca was left out of MOCA's Art in the Streets exhibition last year, she responded to the snub in awesome fashion. She wheat-pasted an image of Football Girl in a bathroom stall at the museum's Geffen Contemporary location where the exhibit was being housed.

Monday, September 24, 2012

SHOW REVIEW - The Youngs 9/21/12

Tim Young, Eryn Young and John Schuller of the Youngs perform amidst a sea of bubbles at Mr. T's Bowl.



Sept. 21 @ Mr. T's Bowl (Highland Park)

A photo usually fails to duplicate the true beauty of a sunset, just as most recordings fall short of capturing the entire essence of a band, especially a group who is so enthralling on stage. While the Youngs shine on 2007's Hand Up, Head Down, as well as their self-titled album from 2009, nothing compares to experiencing songs like "Letting the Pressure Out" and "Killing of the King" in person.

While Eryn Young's voice is remarkable on their albums, the emotion she puts into each note as she simultaneously pounds on the drum kit is powerfully moving live. It's as if she's speaking directly to your soul, captivating with her soaring vocals as she slowly builds into the crescendo of "Over the Wall." When she sings, "Let's go, let's go today. Let's go, I'll show the way," you become mesmerized and really have no choice but to follow her on the lyrical journey.

Guitarist Tim Young has performed with musicians from Daniel Johnston and legendary jazz violinist Michael White to the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, but it's so thrilling to see him perform his own material as part of the Youngs. His raw solos grab you by the gut on songs like "Hard to Love." And as John Schuller lays down a hypnotic bassline on "The Last Migration," Eryn's and Tim's voices meld in perfect harmony. I can't think of a better way to kick off the weekend than filling my ears full of the Youngs.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Coldplay (Sarah Lee)



June 2, 2003 @ Hollywood Bowl

It's no surprise that  whenever I ask people what their favorite venue is in Los Angeles, Hollywood Bowl is consistently mentioned. Nothing really compares to seeing a band you love perform on the legendary stage nestled in the Hollywood Hills and feeling swept up in the energy of being surrounded by nearly 18,000 other excited fans.

At the time, Coldplay was definitely one of my favorite bands. They had me from the very first notes of "Shiver" in 2000. I fell in love with Jonny Buckland's guitar intro, Guy Berryman and Will Champion's laidback cool rhythm section and Chris Martin's heart-wrenching lyrics and unexpected falsetto. As "Yellow" propelled Parachutes up the charts and the group to international acclaim, the album remained in constant rotation on my CD player. With the release of their sophomore effort, A Rush of Blood to the Head, in 2002 and the announcement of a world tour, I couldn't pass up the chance to finally see them play.

The Bowl was buzzing with anticipation, and as Coldplay took the stage for the the frenetic intro of "Politik" it felt like an immense jolt of adrenaline shot through the crowd. I had seen them perform on TV before, so I was expecting Martin's piano-bench antics, writhing and grinding à la Tori Amos, but I was delighted by his spastic dancing and jumping all over the stage. He was like a grinning little boy, full of passion for the music. Besides tracks from A Rush of Blood to the Head ("The Scientist," "Daylight," "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face") and Parachutes ("Trouble," "Yellow," "Don't Panic"), they performed a beautiful cover of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" and two new songs, "Moses" and "Your World Turned Upside Down."

There was a frenetic laser show set to "Clocks," but the most breathtaking moment was more simple: Martin calmly seated at the piano for my favorite Coldplay song, "Everything's Not Lost." As his crooning and tickling of ivories led into Buckland's piercing guitar riff and the entire audience singing "Ah, ah yeah, everything's not lost," tears began to flow. Even when I listen to the song now, thinking back to that night which was so full of amazing energy and music, it's hard not to get a little teary-eyed.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Events for Sept. 20-26, 2012





L.A. Beer Week
This celebration of beer culture actually lasts 11 days throughout L.A. and Orange Counties, culminating in the Fourth Annual L.A. Beer Week Festival Sept. 30 at Union Station in Downtown. From an ice cream social with beer floats at the Oaks Tavern in Sherman Oaks to a five-course sausage and beer pairing brunch at Wurstküche Downtown, there's something for every beer lover across the Southland.



The Perks of Being a Wallflower (John Bramley)


In Theaters This Week
Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch; Just in time for football season, Head Games is a look at the concussion crisis; Jennifer Lawrence in House at the End of the Street; Based on the acclaimed novel, Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller star in The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake in Trouble With the Curve. Also in theaters: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel; Dredd; How to Survive a Plague; You May Not Kiss the Bride


Problem @ Key Club (West Hollywood)
The Compton producer, engineer and MC just released his Welcome to Mollywood 2 mixtape on Aug. 30, featuring the single "Like Whaaat," currently in rotation on Power 106. With writing credits that include work with Snoop Dogg and E-40, it's only a matter of time before Problem breaks out to national acclaim.



TarFest @ La Brea Tar Pits Park (Miracle Mile)
The 10th annual free, music and art festival features live art exhibits, a Biergarten and Wine Bar, local gourmet food and musical performances by bands like Blondfire, Helena, Soft Swells and So Many Wizards. The festival coincides with a retrospective exhibition, curated by LACMA's Holly Harrison, which features art from 36 of the 225 artists from past TarFests, through Oct. 6 in the Variety Building.


The Exorcist @ Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Hollywood)
I'm way too much of a scaredy cat to brave this one, so you'll have to go send off this season of Cinespia in my place. I can barely watch The Exorcist in the safe confines of my own living room, and I would totally annoy people around me with my jumps and screams, however, this is the perfect film to wrap up a great summer of films at the cemetery.


Epicenter @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (Irvine)
Stone Temple Pilots, Bush, Deftones, Chevelle – I feel like we've been transported back to the '90s. But revisiting songs that bring back great memories is always fun, especially when it's with performances by bands such as these. Scars on Broadway, Hollywood Undead and Dead Sara round out the lineup, among others.


Wyclef Jean


Live Talks LA: An Evening with Wyclef Jean @ Aero Theatre (Santa Monica)

Join American Cinematheque for a conversation with the musician, actor and producer, as he presents his memoir, Purpose: An Immigrant's Story, which documents his childhood in Haiti, journey to the states, coming up on the East Coast and eventual path to stardom. Wyclef Jean will also do an acoustic performance of some songs.


The International Chocolate Salon @ Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (Santa Monica)

I just re-read Chocolat, so the artisan, gourmet and premium chocolates and confections at this Luxury Chocolate Salon look incredibly tempting. The sixth annual event includes tastings, demos, chef and author talks with artists like Amano Arisan, Mignon Marti, Chuao and Kallari.



Rockie Fresh @ Key Club (West Hollywood)
The up-and-coming Chicago rap artist blends elements of alternative rock to create his own unique hip-hop style. He's collaborated with everyone from Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump to internet phenom Lil B, and is touring in support of his upcoming Electric Highway mixtape. After the show, Rockie Fresh hosts Electric After Parties, with a DJ set by Lunice. Also at the Glass House on Tuesday, Sept. 25.


Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra (Shervin Lainez)


Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra @ The Fonda Theatre (Hollywood)

The musical performer, director, blogger and founder of the Dresden Dolls released an album, Theatre is Evil, earlier this month with her new band, the Grand Theft Orchestra. Palmer's first new studio album in four years is just as intimate and soul-baring as her previous work, and her live performances are mesmerizing.

Dragonette @ El Rey Theatre (Miracle Mile)

You'll recognize Dragonette's trademark electronic edginess and frontwoman Martina Sorbara's unique vocals from their collaboration with Martin Solveig on "Hello." The Canadian trio releases their third studio album, Bodyparts, today, featuring electrifying singles "Let It Go" and "Live In This City," and celebrates with a show at the El Rey.



The Features @ The Troubadour (West Hollywood)

While it's easy to affix a multitude of labels to the Nashville-based quartet's sound, it would be impossible to place them in a single genre category. Heading to the Troubadour in support of their Wilderness album from last year, the Features' dynamic live show is sure to energize the entire venue.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

L.A. HAVENS - Two Boots

A slice of the Earth Mother pizza delivered from Two Boots



826 S. Broadway, Los Angeles (Downtown)

1818 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Echo Park)

Figuring out where to order pizza delivery from in a new neighborhood is usually a matter of trial and error. We tried every place that would deliver in the first eight months of living in this neighborhood before Two Boots opened and became our go-to spot. Since 2009, the New York chain, which fuses cajun and creole with classic Italian (The pizzeria's name comes from Louisiana and Italy both being geographically shaped like boots.), has been serving up its cornmeal-dusted pies to Echo Park. They just opened a second L.A. location near the Orpheum in Downtown last May.

All of Two Boots' specialty pizzas are named after different film, TV or music personalities, such as the Dude, Mr. Pink, Cleopatra Jones, the Bird and the Newman. They even have one named for Dodger great Fernando Valenzuela. The El Toro comes with al pastor pork, nopalitos (prickly pear cactus), salsa verde, fresh cilantro and onions on a white pie. My favorites are the Larry Tate (spinach, plum tomatoes and fresh garlic on a white pie), the Tony Clifton (wild mushrooms, sweet red pepper pesto, Vidalia onions and mozzarella), the Bayou Beast (barbecue shrimp, crawfish, andouille sausage, jalapeños and mozzarella) and the Earth Mother (any five vegetable toppings. I usually get artichokes, garlic, jalapeños, sliced tomatoes and mushrooms).

I like it when a crust has a little bite to it; you can hear the crunch as you bite into it. Two Boots' crust is crispy on the outside and pillow-soft on the inside. Although we usually order delivery, actually going into the shop is fun as well. I like to grab a slice, a bottle of Boylan's black cherry soda and sit on their patio to people watch. Sandwiched between Origami Vinyl and the Echo, there's always plenty of activity going on out front. Both the Echo and Echoplex serve Two Boots if you didn't get to grab dinner before a show, too.

For more information, call (213) 413-2668 or visit

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

STREET SIGNS - Vampire Cat

I'm not a cat person, but even I get a kick out of the pieces by Cat Cult. I especially like Vampire Cat – maybe it's because of the howling wolf in the background. This particular portrait is on an electrical box at the corner of Alvarado Street and Montana Street in Echo Park.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stars in Stereo

Stars in Stereo's Justin Siegel, Bec Hollcraft, Drew Langan, Jordan McGraw and Ryan "Frogs" McCormack at Delancey



At Delancey Bar and Pizzeria

5936 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Hollywood) (323) 469-2100

On the surface, Delancey might seem like your average bar and pizzeria. But what may appear to be a regular Italian restaurant to some, will forever be a treasured place for the five members of one of the city's fastest rising bands, Stars in Stereo.

"The first time we all worked together was at a studio next door. We just kind of stumbled across this place and ended up coming here every day for the next three months," says guitarist Jordan McGraw. "Delancey means a lot to us because we grew closer as a band here."

"Our first meal together was here, so it holds a lot of memories," adds vocalist Bec Hollcraft. "It's just a cool spot, too."

The rest of the group is just as enthusiastic about Delancey while telling me about their usual orders.

"They have awesome beer," begins drummer Drew Langan. "I normally go with the Downtown Brown and a Chopped Salad."

Bassist Justin Siegel says, "They have a different fish special here every few days, which is usually very good. I like that, and the Cucumber Carpaccio."

"I usually get the pizza," says guitarist Ryan "Frogs" McCormack. "They make damn good pizza. The thin-and-crispy crust and all of the toppings are really good. Everything works well together. The one with a sunny-side up egg and truffle butter [the Horatio] is so good."

While Jordan sticks to the Penne alla Vodka and a glass of the Allagash Curieux, Bec usually gets the Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, olive oil and basil.

"I'm kind of picky with what I eat. I don't eat meat, and I try to stay away from dairy. Sometimes I eat fish, but I'm a wannabe vegan, that's the best way to put it," she says.

I take a sip of pear cider as Bec shares some of her favorite L.A. vegan haunts.

"The one I like most is in Silver Lake, which isn't so close to where I live, but it's worth the drive. Flore Vegan is so good; it's like vegan junk food. I also like Real Food Daily and M Café."

Bec is not only the group's only female and wannabe vegan, she's also the newest to the quintet. The four guys were formerly band mates in City (Comma) State. When it came time to start another project last year, they found their perfect frontwoman in Bec – who, after several years of touring as a solo act, was ready for something new.

"Now, these guys are my brothers," she says. "I'm much happier being in a band than being solo because I would have to travel out there alone, and it's so much better when you get to experience the excitement with other people. When I'm on stage, I feel like these guys have got my back and I've got theirs. It's a family. I love bouncing ideas off them and creating with them, too."

Bec is a Portland, Ore. transplant and, like most of Stars in Stereo (except Lakewood native Drew), didn't grow up in Los Angeles, but they've all come to love the city.

"I grew up outside of Boston, Mass., then I moved out here after college. It was nice growing up there, but there was way too much snow," says Frogs. "I like just about everything here. The weather's a lot nicer. All my friends moved out here, so my social circle lives here. The music industry – basically if I was anywhere else, I would feel like I was standing still."

"There's a little bit of everything here, so you can't really be bored. Anybody who says they're bored in L.A. is full of shit," laughs Justin, who grew up in South Florida. "I actually like the people. Some complain about the people who live in L.A., but ... wait, I only have four friends—"

"Let the record show that he pointed to the four of us in this group," interjects Frogs.

"No, seriously. If I didn't live here I wouldn't have met you guys," continues Justin. "I didn't start playing music until I moved out here, either. So that's a big part of why I love it here, because I started that chapter of my life here."

"I grew up in Texas and moved out here with my family," shares Jordan. "As soon as I finished high school I moved out on my own near the Sunset Strip. I used to walk to the House of Blues and go down to the Key Club for random shows. Metal Skool was always fun. There was a period when I went to Metal Skool every week."

Nowadays, Jordan is more likely to be found hanging out at the Den or the Rainbow ("It's like going to the '80s") late at night. The self-confessed Disney freak also enjoys the occasional trip to Disneyland.

"I love the Nightmare Before Christmas, so the Haunted Mansion at Halloween is definitely my favorite ride," he says.

Bec likes to spend some of her free time going shopping.

"I love Melrose, searching through shops there," she admits. "Also, AllSaints is a great store. I like certain brands that I find at places like Urban Outfitters. I like LF, it's one of my favorite stores. There's so much shopping here. That's one of the things that I love about Los Angeles. I know it's girlie, but the shopping is amazing."

Drew, on the other hand, is the person who can steer you to the right sports bar to cheer on your favorite football team and can't wait until there's an L.A. team.

"I love the game, but because I was born and raised in L.A., I have yet to latch onto a team. Every year I grow more fond of one team than another, but I'm going to wait to pick a team for good until L.A. gets one," he says, before sharing his sports bar picks. "There's Big Wangs, which was my favorite for a long time. I've never had a bad time at Buffalo Wild Wings, either. There's a really cool Ravens bar called the Parlor. I'm not that big of a Ravens fan, but that's a fun place to watch a game."

I soon learn that Drew not only likes to watch the game, but likes to play it on the Stars in Stereo tour bus – well, virtually, at least.

"Drew and I may be the most competitive people on the planet, so we have an ongoing bet with 'Madden.' Loser has to shave a line in their eyebrow. I'm up 9-6, for the record," tells Jordan. "I  actually paused a game of 'Tiger Woods' before coming here. We'll play that all night, every night. I think everyone else hates that game because it's always on."

The band has spent a lot of time on road lately, opening for the likes of Foxy Shazam, Hoobastank and the Used.

"All the bands we've toured with have been some of the coolest people we've met," says Justin. "They each gave us an opportunity to learn something different. The Used do what they do and make no apologies for it, and they own the crowd. Foxy Shazam are probably, without a doubt the most interesting performers we've ever seen. And then Hoobastank's fans are almost a part of the band because they're so engaging. They make it look so easy. We've gotten to learn something from each of the bands that we've been on tour with. I don't think we could have asked for a better first set of tours for a new band."

Whether they're on the road or rehearsing together here in Los Angeles, the band is always writing new material.

"Writing is like therapy for me. If I'm going through something I just write it down, and it helps," says Bec. "We all like to write. We all come in with ideas, sit in the studio and figure out what we're clicking with the most. And we don't leave the studio until we're happy with it. It's really important that everyone is stoked on everything, and that is represents everyone."

One song that not only resonates with all of the members in the band but also with many of the crowds they've reached on tour is "The Broken."

"Everyone feels broken at some point in their lives, I know I've been there," confesses Frogs. "It's one thing that connects us to our audience. A lot of our lyrics talk about not just being broken but being able to come out of stages of being broken, how we could all come together and help each other out."

"I can say that whenever I sing that song it upsets me the most out of all of our songs. It comes from a really personal place," adds Bec. "Growing up, I struggled a lot with that feeling of isolating myself because I felt different or unique or weird or like an outcast. It's liberating every time I sing it. I just want to scream, 'I'm broken, and I don't care!' It feels good, and it's cool to see people start to learn the song on these tours. We write these songs about our internal struggles, but we really people to be a part of our music. So it's really amazing to see that reaction from the audience."

After wrapping up some dates with the Used, the band is crossing the nation with Blue October to reach even more audiences. With their self-titled debut album on the horizon, Stars in Stereo plans to spend as much time on the road as possible.

"I think that's where we excel the most: giving a great show," says Bec. "We put everything into our shows."

"We've had the opportunity to learn from some of our favorite bands," adds Drew. "We really know how to focus all of our energy on connecting with our audience and putting as much as we possibly can into the time that we're on stage."

For more information, visit

Friday, September 14, 2012

REMEMBER WHEN - The Black Keys

Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys (Danny Clinch)



Sept. 14, 2006 @ The Avalon (Hollywood)

To say that the Black Keys have blown up in the six years since this show would be an understatement. To put it in perspective, they went from playing the Avalon (and the even tinier Troubadour the night before, Sept. 13, 2006) to headlining two nights at the Staples Center next month. Yes, the Staples Center! Although they have used two additional musicians (a bassist and keyboardist) on the arena tour so far, vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have primarily pulled off gigs in the massive venues on their own. It's not surprising, considering the mastery both band members command over their respective instruments. A mastery that I first witnessed at the Avalon.

The duo had just released its fourth studio album, Magic Potion, and several of its singles were stand-out moments of the night. Auerbach displayed his bluesy guitar swagger with "Just Got to Be" while his voice was able to shine on "You're the One," and Carney's pulse-pounding beats drove the crowd into a frenzy during "Your Touch." They satiated the audience with older songs like "No Trust," "Set You Free" and the Richard Berry cover "Have Love Will Travel" from 2003's Thickfreakness, as well as "10 A.M. Automatic" and "Stack Shot Billy" from Rubber Factory (2004).

Whenever friends and I would talk about the awesomeness of the Black Keys, I think we knew deep down that they would only remain our secret for so long. The next time I saw them, at Sunset Junction in 2008, the hoards of people clamoring to get close the stage were insane. From competing in a "sell-out-off" against Vampire Weekend on "The Colbert Report" and several appearances on "SNL" to gracing the cover of Rolling Stone, the Black Keys have become pop-culture fixtures.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Events for Sept. 13-19


Atlas Genius



Silversun Pickups and Atlas Genius @ Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (Santa Monica)
Silversun Pickups unveiled a new record, Neck of the Woods, in the spring, but some of the most exciting news they've revealed recently is that bassist Nikki Monninger is expecting twin girls later this year. The Silver Lake group heads to the west side with Aussie act Atlas Genius in tow. The trio immediately won this USC alum over with their incredibly catchy "Trojans."



Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival (San Pedro)
Since 1999, Angelenos have gathered in San Pedro to feast on lobster, celebrate pirates and see performances from up-and-coming acts. This year features bands like Saint Motel, NO and Youngblood Hawke. Through Sunday.


In Theaters This Week
Channing Tatum and Rosario Dawson in 10 Years; Richard Gere in Arbitrage; Josh Radnor ("How I Met Your Mother") wrote, directed and starred in Liberal Arts; Paul Thomas Anderson directs Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams in The Master; Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth installment of the series with Milla Jovovich. Also in theaters: Bait 3D; Bangkok Revenge (Rebirth); Finding Nemo in 3D

When Hollywood Met Nora @ Aero Theatre (Santa Monica)
The cinema world lost a valuable legend of a screenwriter when Nora Ephron passed in June. American Cinematheque pays tribute to her with three nights of double features: Friday – When Harry Met Sally/My Blue Heaven; Saturday – Sleepless in Seattle/You've Got Mail; Sunday – Silkwood/Heartburn.

FIDLAR (Alice Baxley)


FIDLAR @ The Wiltern (Koreatown) Alice Baxley
The L.A. foursome wrap up their tour with the Hives at home tonight, graduating from Highland Park house parties to the Wiltern. Guaranteed you'll hear some songs from their upcoming self-titled full-length, which will be released early next year.



Comikaze @ L.A. Convention Center (Downtown)

Stan Lee's comic, anime, gaming, sci-fi, fantasy and horror expo features appearances by Lee, Elvira, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Kevin Smith, Felicia Day, Adam West and many others. Besides the celebrity appearances, there will be the Whimsic Alley Cup live Quidditch tournament, a screening of Daniel Tosh's new cartoon, "Brickleberry," and a Zombie Apocalypse obstacle course. Through Sunday.


Back to School Double Feature @ Exposition Park

School's back in session, and Street Food Cinema is screening two beloved college movies: John Landis' Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. Grill 'em All, Kogi, Munchie Machine, No Jodas, Perk Up Coffee and other food trucks will be on hand to satisfy your snacking needs.

True Romance
True Romance @ Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Hollywood)
Tony Scott is another huge loss Hollywood has suffered this summer, and Cinespia screens his 1993 romantic crime film, written by Quentin Tarantino and starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. A DJ will spin before and after the film, and there's only one more film left this season so don't miss either of the remaining nights.



Mumbo Gumbo Food & Music Festival @ Boston Court Performing Arts Center (Pasadena)
Chef Claud Beltran's sixth annual festival features his famous Louisiana gumbo and mouth-watering shrimp, plus $5 beer and wine and Bananas Foster for dessert. It wouldn't be a true Louisiana feast without music, so there will be classic Americana, folk, jazz and blues throughout the evening.



Back-to-School Beer Class @ Mohawk Bend (Echo Park)

Mohawk Bend is the perfect place to start becoming a beer aficionado, since they have over 70 beers on tap. Instructor Paige Reilly will guide you through California beers and their unique characteristics with tastings and appetizers.



The Citizens Band @ The Avalon (Hollywood)
As Election Day draws nearer, the New York musical collaborative brings tunes from their dazzling, pro-democracy rallying cry, Grab a Root and Growl (available Sept. 18), to the Avalon stage. Comprised of Karen Elson, Ian Buchanan, Nina Persson and Sarah Sophie Flicker among others, the Citizens' album and performances are a call to action and inspire audiences to vote and take part in the election in any way they can.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stephen Kalinich

Stephen Kalinich at his L.A. haven, the Santa Monica Bluffs at Palisades Park


At Palisades Park

Ocean Avenue at San Vicente Boulevard, Santa Monica

It's not often that one gets to collaborate with the artists that he looks up to in his youth. Growing up in Binghamton, N.Y., Stephen Kalinich never dreamed he would rise to international prominence as a groundbreaking poet and lyricist for such artists as the Beach Boys, P.F. Sloan, Diana Ross and Paul McCartney.

"By the time 1965 rolled around, I was in my early twenties. I sat in my room and thought about P.F. Sloan's 'Eve of Destruction,' about the Beach Boys and Motown. I ended up writing with all three of them," he shares. "Then, with Paul McCartney … I was scraping cellars for $80 a week, and I wrote this song: 'Dear Paul McCartney / enclosed are a few poems of mine / please read them through / and if you like them / drop me a line / I write them in the morning / I write them in the evening / in the cellars that I sweep.' I never sent it out, but I put the thought out in the universe and 45 years later I end up having him do one of my songs with Brian [Wilson], 'A Friend Like You.'"

Stephen releases his latest effort this week, a double album collaboration with Jon Tiven, a composer/producer/guitarist who has performed with bands from the Rolling Stones and Big Star to Alabama Shakes and Warpaint. On Shortcuts to Infinity, the lines of Stephen's lyrical poetry soar to Tiven's multi-instrumentation and guest spots by Willie Jones and Brian May. For the Symptomology disc, the two created the alter egos of Reverend Stevie Nobody and Jack #, who are in their late-20s and comprise the band known as Yo Ma Ma.

"Reverend Stevie Nobody is different from Stephen. Stephen is a little proper, he would write for the Beach Boys, a prayer or a poem for the United Nations – like when I read my book, If You Knew, in Washington for members of the House and Senate. But Reverend Stevie Nobody would question everything," says Stephen. "What Reverend Stevie Nobody wants is to organize the good, bring out the good. He believes we're not all helpless victims; we can rise up and do something. Stephen doesn't want to make waves."

When Stephen mentions that Reverend Stevie Nobody would probably have a lot of tattoos, I ask him what a few of them would be.

"One might be George Harrison's words, 'Within You, Without You,' with the little initials of 'G.H.' underneath. I love that lyric," he says. "That's today, tomorrow I might say something from Paul Tillich, the German theologian's The Shaking of the Foundations: 'Shake the Foundation!'"

As Stephen and I discuss the new albums, it's hard not to be distracted by our beautiful surroundings in Palisades Park. Even though he has moved to the hills of Glendale, this area near Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard was his home for many years.

"I still come here and walk a lot," he confesses. "Years ago there was an artist, Victoria Sperry, who was in her 90s, and I worked for her, driving her around. She had all these places where she liked to come. I would help her walk, sit on a bench and we would look out at the ocean. You can walk along the path here or go down to look at the ocean and see the pier, the bicycle path, the people." 

He has, however, settled into his La Canada/Glendale neighborhood on the east side of town quite well.

"I like going to this little bookstore where you can get coffee on Foothill Boulevard, past Verdugo Boulevard [Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse]. Carol Schofield, the CEO of my record company MsMusic Productions, owns Foothill Records, which is on the left," he says. "I just love Los Angeles. Jon and I did a song, it's not on this album, but it's called 'Los Angeles.' It's about going to Downtown and seeing the homeless walking the streets. With all of its problems, it's such an exciting, alive and vital city. Sometimes where the most life is, the most dirt is. The real edge of life is where you see light, not in perfectly sanitized mansions. I'm anti-materialism in a lot of ways, but I know you need food and things like that. But to deify it is an atrocity."

Stephen's humble beginnings have definitely influenced his world view. His parents split up when he and his brother were quite young, which had a profound affect on him.

"I was about 12 or so and having a lot of problems adjusting. One time, I wanted to go away from society and be a monk. I always had a spiritual leaning, and I read books on psychology about improving yourself. I was doing terrible in school. I always wanted to get attention. I would try and make people notice me, which stems out of insecurity because I didn't have a father growing up," he remarks. "The poet developed as I got into my teens, when I started wanting world peace. I read everything: the Systematic Theology volumes by Paul Tillich, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus. And then, I hitchhiked across the United States."

At 19, Stephen embarked on a cross-country hitchhiking trip, ultimately landing in Los Angeles.

"There's a part in 'California Feelin'' that I wrote with Brian Wilson that is one of my first visions of Los Angeles. You've got to realize I'm from New York, it's really cold there and I never saw a lemon tree or an orange tree a grapefruit tree. In that song it goes, 'Look at the orange groves / and taste the grapefruit from a grapefruit tree / Feel the loveliness and beauty / of that California feeling.' It was like I felt the Righteous Brothers out of an orange, lemon and a grapefruit tree," he recalls. "That's one of my simplest lyrics, but people seem to love that song, just like 'Little Bird,' because beauty can be found in the simple things we do every day. Albert Einstein said, 'You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.' I'm more on the side of everything's a miracle."

While studying at UCLA, Stephen immersed himself in the anti-war movement, writing and performing poems about World Peace. Eventually he was signed to the Beach Boys' Brother Records and penned several hits with Dennis Wilson, including "Be Still," "Little Bird" and "A Time to Live in Dreams." Over the years he has worked with artists like Mary Wilson, Art Munson, Randy Crawford and Odyssey. But it was his collaboration with P.F. Sloan that led to his current partnership with Tiven.

"I met Jon through P.F. Sloan. He and I were working together when he took my book, If You Knew, and put it to music. Tiven produced that album. At first when I met Tiven, I think I e-mailed him too much. We hit it off, though."

The trio took a spiritual journey to India in 2006, which resulted in Stephen and Tiven writing their first song together.

"We wrote a song called 'Everything's Exploding,'" Stephen tells. "I liked it because it brought out another side of me, I think that was the beginning of Stevie Nobody rising. Jon is a good complement, a good partner. We started talking, becoming friends every day and writing. We've written close to 500 songs."

Thirty-one of those songs appear on Shortcuts to Infinity/Symptomology.

"'Grow a Pair' is about the women in my life who boss me around, who try to take the male's alpha dominance," he laughs. "Humor is very important, but it has to be a combination of humor and meaning. 'Climb Stone Walls' symbolizes all the obstacles you have to overcome. I'm dealing with being Russian, Jewish, Christian, Born Again, Greek Orthodox – all these elements, how do I integrate it all. With Yo Ma Ma, if we have different opinions, I want to express them both. The beauty of it is: I can go off on a diatribe and then turn around the next minute and do something that's fun for people. These songs, no matter what age you are, you have a Yo Ma Ma, a youth in you. That's part of Yo Ma Ma, that we have – without being preachy – something to do in the world. We want to kick ass and have fun too."

As the years have passed, Stephen has come to develop a balance between idealism and reality, in his personal life, his poetry and his music with Yo Ma Ma.

"It may seem corny in this day and age, and people call me a hippie, but what I've grown into is that same poet from my youth but with the reality of how hard it is to make change in the world – how difficult it is, how you have to stand up for rights and maybe even fight sometimes," he says. "That really sounds anti-pacifist, but because of the nature of the world and how it is now, if you lay down and someone comes into your house and takes your children, I don't think that's right. Real peace needs some kind of strength. Even in The Art of War, Sun Tzu says you may never have to come to blows, but you have to let the enemy know you're in charge. The enemy could be deception, depression, whatever tries to get at your consciousness and pull you away from your calling. In my work, even with Jon, I don't spell it out like this, I just put it in a song like 'You Want What You Want' or  'Climb Stone Walls.' Whatever the case may be, just go for it outside, inside out."

Shortcuts to Infinity/Symptomology is currently available. For more information, visit and

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

STREET SIGNS - Monocle/Mustache

The corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Ogden Street in Miracle Mile is home to this refined gentleman. Perched on an electrical box with his dapper monocle and mustache, he oversees  the crosswalk over to LACMA.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Valarie Pettiford

Valarie Pettiford at Indexx



At Indexx

5213 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood (818) 509-0705

Poise is the perfect word to describe Valarie Pettiford. The Tony-nominated actor/singer/dancer effortlessly exudes elegance. One would immediately attribute her graceful bearing to her years of dance training, but after speaking with her for a few moments, I realize that she is an inherently charming and talented individual.

"My mom and dad said that I came out dancing. By the time I was 2, I was doing a mean twist," she laughs. "I knew at 3 years old what I wanted to do: dance. From that, it evolved into acting and singing."

We sit down for a conversation at Valarie's favorite place to spend time in Los Angeles, a clothing boutique called Indexx, and her natural effervescence bubbles to the surface when she introduces me to the shop's owner, Joy Yassan, and recounts how they became friends.

"I'm a shopaholic. When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1996, Joy had one of her original stores across the street. I am a native New Yorker, so I was checking out my new neighborhood, trying to find my watering holes, my Starbucks, where I could go to the cleaners and to shop. She was one of the first shops I went into, and I've been going there ever since," she says. "At least 85-90 percent of the stuff that I own is from her shop. She makes jewelry, T-shirts – she's just amazing. As her customer and friend, I have some of her original artwork. She does oils and watercolors, and I have three of her paintings in my home."

It's true that Joy has a keen eye and impeccable taste. Indexx is a gorgeous boutique, and many of the pieces displayed are of Joy's own design. Watching the two chums laugh and interact, their genuine fondness for one another is apparent. Valarie has not only grown to love her friends in Los Angeles, but also the city itself.
Indexx's Joy Yassan with Valarie

"I [first] moved to Beachwood Canyon, right under the Hollywood Sign. It was beautiful. I was there for about a year, and then I got the Broadway show 'Fosse.' I went out of town for a year-and-a-half then bought a house in Studio City. I'm a Valley Girl now, and I love it," she confesses. "I love the Mexican restaurant Senor Fred because it's fun, and the people are so nice there. Right across the street is Stanley's. They're excellent. I love to go out to restaurants and to hear my friends perform. One place is called Show at Barre, actually they've changed the name to Rockwell: Table & Stage, in Los Feliz. They've expanded, made the stage bigger and the place is more conducive for shows and dinner as opposed to being two separate venues. Another place is Rolling Stone L.A. in Hollywood & Highland. It's amazing, so rock 'n' roll. There's a great stage with great sound, a bar with VIP bottle service, couches and a huge space where you can dance and listen to some incredible music."

Music has always held a special place in Valarie's life, from growing up in Queens, N.Y. to her years in musical theater, her 2004 solo debut album and the Oct. 9 release of a new album of original lullabies, Velvet Sky.

"Music was a huge part of our family upbringing; there was always singing," she remembers. "All types of music (jazz, classical, country, blues, R&B) were playing in our house. It was an amazing time."

Whether it was instilling an appreciation of music or taking her to dance class, Valarie's family has always provided her with a solid support system.

"My dad went out and got pointe shoes before I even took a ballet class. He just knew I loved the ballet," she recalls. "We would watch 'The Nutcracker' on television every year, movie musicals and a lot of ballet concerts on PBS."

Valarie went on to study at some of the most prominent schools in the country.

"I studied at the High School of Performing Arts; you don't get anymore showbiz than that," she laughs. "The dancing school I went to was called Bernice Johnson Theatre of the Performing Arts, and some of the greatest dancers came out of that school or went on to be great choreographers, like Michael Peters who choreographed a lot for Michael Jackson –  'Thriller' and all that. Some of the best choreographers for the concert world, modern dance and the ballet, a lot of them came out of Bernice Johnson."

At age 14 Valarie won her first film role, in the chorus of The Wiz, a musical that holds special significance to her.

"The turning point for me as far as making the transition from concert dancer – from really wanting to go to Alvin Ailey (I was still a ballet major and then changed to modern dance) – was when I saw my first Broadway show, 'The Wiz,' which changed everything," she says.

From there, the dynamic performer began amassing a list of credits that includes "Show Boat," "The Wild Party," "Sophisticated Ladies," "Chicago," "All That Jazz" and a Tony-nominated performance in "Fosse." But there is one role that remains the catalyst for Valarie striving to develop her acting skills and led her to become a real triple-threat.

"I was doing musical theater, but it wasn't until 'West Side Story' gave me chance to play the role of Anita – where I had to sing, dance and act – that there was a turning point in my career, as to being a leading lady on the Broadway stage," she says. "It changed the course for me, in terms of deciding to really sink my teeth into acting lessons and singing lessons because this is what I really want to do: act. I really wanted to study acting and get my singing chops together to be able to do those leading roles that Chita [Rivera], Liza [Minnelli] and all those great people created."

Roles in films like The Cotton Club, Stomp the Yard and Jumping the Broom, as well as TV turns on "Half and Half," "House of Payne," "CSI" and "Bones," are results of her dedication to the craft. She most recently worked on ABC Family's "Bunheads," a show about aspiring dancers.

"To work with Sutton Foster, Kelly Bishop and those delicious ballerinas – it was an incredible experience," she shares. "Amy Sherman-Palladino ["Gilmore Girls"], who created the show, is amazing. She's like a spitfire. She was a dancer, too, so she has that energy and language. It's just beautiful to watch her man the ship. There are a lot of strong women on that set, and they are amazing."

Valarie is also a recurring guest star on HBO's hit series "Treme," but she remains tightlipped about the role.

"I can't say too much, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement," she laughs. "She's a delicious character, though. I got the chance to work with Wendell Pierce who played my husband on 'House of Payne,' so that was awesome. To work with Khandi Alexander, whom my sister went to junior high school with, it was so extraordinary to work with that woman. Love those guys on 'Treme!'"

As far as Valarie's own guilty pleasures when it comes to TV-watching, she is a fan of "So You Think You Can Dance."

"I don't get to watch it as often as I would like to, but I do watch it. The dancers blow me away, and that show is bringing dance back into the forefront," she declares. "Shows are not as plentiful as when I was growing up, when every other show was a big dance show. With 'Glee' and 'Smash,' they're bringing it back so dancers can get work!"

Although she has garnered numerous acting accolades and praise for her vocal performances and releases, Valarie always considers herself a dancer first.

"Whether you continue on and make it your profession, there's nothing like a dancer's foundation and training. It will carry you through the rest of your life, that type of discipline," she says of the art form. "It's a work ethic, professionalism, giving your all and never settling – mediocrity is not part of one's vocabulary – always wanting to do the best and getting the best out of others. Dealing with all types of people from all facets of life, getting to travel and seeing how other people live opens so many doors that are just going to enrich your every-day life. Learning about respect for one's craft, and in turn respect for another human being, for what they do and bring to the table."

Dance has given so much to Valarie, and she, in turn, has blessed the entertainment world with her amazing talent. No matter where her career has taken her and what awards have been bestowed on her, there's one form of praise that remains most dear to her heart.

"I think the nicest compliment that I've received is that I have not changed. That means more to me than anything else in the world."

Velvet Sky is currently available. For more information, visit

Friday, September 7, 2012

L.A. Havens - Red Hill



1325 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles (Echo Park)

I am a big fan of restaurateur Jason Michaud's Local; I even had my birthday party there last year. So when I heard that he was opening a new restaurant within walking distance of my house, I was excited. For years I had stared at the vacant Chinese bakery sitting on Echo Park Avenue, hoping that a good restaurant would move in. My wish was fulfilled when Red Hill took up residence in the space and began serving New American fare at the beginning of this year.

Chef Trevor Rocco artfully oversees an ever-changing menu, since Red Hill is committed to using seasonal local produce. The venison meatballs drizzled with a hearty sauce in the winter evolve into lamb meatballs in a white bean puree in the summer. Broccoli topped with a sunny-side up egg and anchovies is replaced by cauliflower with pine nuts and a chile aioli. Salad elements and flatbread toppings come and go, but the one constant is that the simple yet high-quality ingredients are prepared in a deliciously unpretentious way.
Red Hill's beets with farro and hazelnuts

There are several standards on the menu that have become favorites. The crisp on the outside/soft as a feather pillow on the inside beignets glisten with slices of melting lardo and pickled mustard seeds. I love the jewels of roasted beets served on a bed of farro, avocado, hazelnuts and honey-mint yogurt. The spit-roasted chicken is incredibly juicy with addicting crunchy skin. And the pasta! The papardelle in a pulled pork sauce is so good, you won't want to share a forkful from the enormous bowl. It's one of those dishes that just makes people blissfully happy.

The best thing about Red Hill is that it has turned a neighborhood eyesore into a comfortable place to gather with friends. Whether I'm there for a quick breakfast of an everything bagel with vegan cream cheese, tomato and avocado or a leisurely glass of rosé and hearty bowl of mussels with fries, I usually always leave with a smile on my face.

For more information, visit