The most significant environmental disaster in recent U.S. History, and the worst oil spill ever, occurred in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico when Deepwater Horizon, a floating oil rig, was hit with a massive blowout that resulted in 210 million gallons of crude oil flowing into the ocean waters before it could finally be stopped after 87 days of effort. The impact on marine wildlife was devastating, with dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, and countless other species in the area killed or harmed by the overwhelming volumes of oil flowing into the open sea. But while the long-term cleanup efforts were covered extensively by the media, along with analysis of the root causes and assignment of blame (mostly on British Petroleum, or BP), there was a direct human dimension to the incident as well, as eleven men lost their lives in the blowout and resulting massive fire on the rig, as the crew of 146 tried desperately to deal with the disaster as it unfolded.
The new film, Deepwater Horizon, starring Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell, tells the story of the people on the scene, and their heroic efforts to deal with the blowout, and to survive the catastrophe. The film is available in spectacular IMAX format in downtown Sacramento at the Esquire IMAX Theater.
As the film begins, one cannot help but be impressed by the amazing engineering feat of drilling for oil more than 5,000 feet under the ocean, and another 30,000 feet below the sea floor. As I marveled over the equipment on the rig, I was also struck by the fact that the rig is actually an ocean-going ship that essentially hovers over the well site. As the men go about their business of running the operation, we observe with little idea of exactly what they are doing, but you can gather that there is a problem with shortcuts in testing as the executives from BP, including John Malkovich as Donald Vidrine, are on hand to get things moving and back on track to start pumping oil. “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell, played by Kurt Russell, and Mike Williams, played by Mark Wahlberg, are crew members of Transocean, the company that owns the rig and is doing the work for BP. They clash with the BP execs, insisting on more testing. The audience is of course aware of what is about the happen, but the shocking violence of it all, as the blowout and subsequent fire overtake the rig, is filmed in hyper-realistic fashion, much like a modern war movie.
The film presents a picture of ordinary men (and a few women) going about their normal jobs, just as we all do, but suddenly faced with a major catastrophe with life and death at stake. The oil and methane gas, first shown bubbling at the ocean floor before bursting up the pipes, is as frightening as any movie monster we’ve encountered—more so as we know this one is real, and seems to extract its vengeance on man for the audacity of our efforts to awaken the beast buried below for millions of years. In fact, Wahlberg’s Mike Williams plays up the concept in in the beginning of the film in the idyllic home scenes with his wife, played by Kate Hudson, and his daughter. He promises to find the girl a dinosaur fossil for her school project on what her daddy does for a living. He keeps his promise, but at such a cost. The mud that delivered the fossil followed up with gas and oil that destroy the rig and take eleven lives in the process.
The film ends with a nice tribute to those who died in the incident, with photos of the eleven men, along with footage of the real life heroes of the film. It is an intense, eye-opening look at the process, and potential for disaster in our never-ending quest for oil, both amazing for the technical accomplishments in getting to the oil, and humbling for the overwhelming way nature can push back. The film is a must-see for those who want to learn more about the environmental catastrophe that kept our attention every day in the summer of 2010, or anyone who just loves a good disaster movie. Seeing it on the immersive giant IMAX screen brings you right into the action, especially with the superior sound system, as you experience everything from the rumbling in the deep to the popping of bolts when the structures begin to fail under the immense pressure.
Deepwater Horizon is now playing at the Esquire IMAX theater in downtown Sacramento. Several fine restaurants are within walking distance from the IMAX Theater for prior or after-movie enjoyment. Movie-goers may bring the parking stub from the Capitol Garage, L & 10th Streets, to a theatre host or the Box Office Monday through Friday after 5pm, and all weekend long, for free validated parking (not valid on $5 pre-pay parking events) . You can also 'like' Esquire IMAX Theatre on Facebook, or follow on Twitter. For more information about the Esquire IMAX, upcoming movies, services offered or to purchase tickets, visit www.imax.com/oo/esquire-imax or call (916) 443-4629. Enjoy the IMAX experience soon at the Esquire IMAX Theatre, located at 1211 K Street, Sacramento.
IMAX, an innovator in entertainment technology, combines proprietary software, architecture and equipment to create experiences that take you beyond the edge of your seat to a world you've never imagined. Top filmmakers and studios are utilizing IMAX theatres to connect with audiences in extraordinary ways, and, as such, IMAX's network is among the most important and successful theatrical distribution platforms for major event films around the globe.
Ken Kiunke 9/30/2016 Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
It’s October and as Halloween approaches, it’s also the time of year for a fairly new tradition in the El Dorado/Amador/Sacramento region, the Hangtown Halloween Ball, now in its fourth year in Placerville at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds. The event is a three day music festival bringing together bands from all over the country, mostly focused on bluegrass, “newgrass”, jam bands, and some funk, soul and indie music thrown in as well.
The host band, Railroad Earth, has been involved with the festival for all four years, and is integral to the event, really making it successful. The band are pioneers in the “newgrass ovement,” which, for the uninitiated, takes the basic instruments of bluegrass—guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and bass—and amplifies the sound, either with mikes or electrified instruments. Other non-traditional instrumentation can be added—notably drums and keyboards—and brings the feel of the music into the “jam band” arena, popularized by the Grateful Dead and Phish. With one foot firmly in the bluegrass genre, the bands explore rock, jazz, blues and progressive sounds. Over half the artists at Hangtown Halloween were either bluegrass or newgrass.
One option for attending the festival for all three days, and having a total immersion experience, is camping on-site. Keep in mind, tent camping is a group affair, with tents pitched all over the site, usually right next to another, so privacy is not part of the deal, unless you pay extra to bring an RV. The event is listed as family friendly, and there were quite a few kids in attendance and some Halloween activities. However, parents planning on bringing kids should keep in mind that this is still a music festival, with plenty of “free spirits” on hand, adult language, and cigarette smoke that sometimes smells a bit “different”. There is a small but varied selection of food choices on hand, and the ones I sampled were very good, including handmade pizza, Mexican food, and Asian and vegan options. Vendor booths are also arrayed around the main stage grounds, featuring lots of clothing, jewelry, and other handicrafts. And a Raley’s market is right outside, so you can purchase supplies and food as needed. Of course if a more limited experience is more your speed, you can get tickets for any or all of the days, and still go home at night.
I attended part of all three days, starting Friday evening. With nearly 40 bands playing, I couldn’t see all of them, but if you camped out, you could theoretically see everyone. There are two stages outdoors, and a late night indoor venue. Though the acts sometimes overlap, you could catch at least half of each show. I began the evening with ALO—a four piece indie rock outfit from the Bay Area. They did a set of originals, and some interesting cover songs, such as New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. They got into a progressive rock style jam at the end of their very exciting set at the Main Stage.
I followed that to the “Gallows Stage”—the second smaller, and more intimate venue. I really enjoyed the two bands I saw there as well. Mountain Standard Time is a Colorado based “rocky mountain free grass” band that uses mostly traditional bluegrass lineup, but verges into Grateful Dead style jamming, and features Stanton Sutton, who looks and plays like a young Jerry Garcia. They even delved into hip-hop and rap stylings as they finished their set. I finished the evening at that same stage with Mojo Green, a soul and funk style band that features a three-piece horn section. The band is fronted by Jenes Carter, a singer with a sweet and sassy vocal style, and who had all the right moves when she wasn’t singing. Held together by Frank Fletcher on drums and Trevor Rice on bass, they laid down the funky grooves that were built on by the guitar and horns. Not only were they tight and grooving, they were having a blast on stage, and were a lot of fun to watch.
Friday night, like all three nights, is wrapped up by the powerful Railroad Earth. The original newgrass band of Todd Scheaffer on guitar and vocals, John Skehan on mandolin, Andy Goessling on banjo, Tim Carbone on fiddle, Andrew Altman on bass, and Carey Harmon on drums, are of course the hosts and headliners of the event. Not only do they play every night, but their members frequently show up to sit in with other bands. Their Friday night show was a real crowd pleaser to kick things off. Andy Goessling even surprised everyone by playing some two-fisted saxophone during the show (two hands—two saxes.) Needless to say they are all top notch players, and fun to watch.
On Saturday we got to enjoy some more traditional bluegrass, mixed in with some newgrass as well. Poor Man’s Whiskey, the Dead Winter Carpenters, and the Absynth Quintet all featured a mix of acoustic and electric instruments. The electric banjo, which I first saw played by Bela Fleck back in the 90’s, was featured in several bands, such as the Absynth Quintet, who enjoyed parting from the usual style of bluegrass music. Conversely, Jeff Austin and his band, playing the main stage, stuck to traditional acoustic bluegrass, with all four players, including Austin on mandolin, showing off their virtuosity. The Brothers Comatose were anything but—they also played a fairly traditional sound from the more intimate Gallows stage, and featured some of the best harmony singing I heard that weekend.
We also got to see on the Gallows stage the Shook Twins, a 5-piece group featuring Katelyn and Laurie Shook, twin sisters who lead the group, singing tight harmonies, and playing guitar, banjo (as both a banjo and a drum) and their “golden egg”. The girls themselves were dressed for Halloween as golden eggs, in gold lamé dresses, while the other three guys had chicken costumes. (Many of the bands in the festival dressed in some kind of Halloween garb.) Rooted in folk music, the group likes to venture into ethereal techno-pop and the use of vocal loops and electronics. They sometimes sound a bit like Indigo Girls, but definitely have their own style. They make use of the talents of their band, with Niko Daoussis on mandolin and guitar taking lead vocals on a few songs as well.
Saturday night brought to the main stage the group Leftover Salmon, featuring Bill Payne, keyboardist and vocalist from Little Feat. They opened with the Payne written Little Feat hit Oh Atlanta, a real crowd pleaser, and jumped into their newgrass/jam band set. They were in the true Halloween spirit, all in costume, with singer guitarist Vince Herman in a Santa suit really looking the part. As their set progressed they delved into a very progressive mix, and at one point the “Salmon” were even swimming about the stage.
My high spirits were brought down somewhat on Sunday morning, but having nothing to do with the music. When I checked in Friday and asked about parking, they happily sold me a $30 three-day parking pass. When we arrived on Saturday, no one was even checking parking, and we found a space quite easily. But on Sunday I was curtly told that my pass had no in-and-out privileges, and I could not come in, and to bring it up with the box office. When I had bought the ticket I was never told about the lack of in-out access—I guess when they sold it to me they assumed I was camping there, but they never asked that either. The manager told me they had had lots of parking problems this year, and eventually sent me to park in the appropriately named “Mystery Meadow”. After trying to follow her directions to get there, I ended up just parking on the street about a quarter mile away, like many others had done. I knew of at least two other people having the same problem that morning, I suspect there were many more.
I hope that for the 2015 festival they can work out these kinds of issues. While the event is run very well in terms of booking great bands, and managing the event on the inside (everyone there was very helpful and courteous), there are problems outside. If you need to get tickets at the entry gate, the box office line is very slow—it takes at least 3 to 5 minutes per person. If you plan to attend next year and want to enjoy the music without staying on site, make sure you get clear direction on parking (or just park up the hill and hike in) and give yourself plenty of time.
So while all that was going on, I could hear from the distance Merry Gold playing at the Gallows stage, but only caught a couple of their songs by the time I made it in. Jillian Secor and band have a sweet bluegrass sound with her vice pleasing vocals. Meanwhile, Front Country played on the Main stage, with a bigger sounding bluegrass from their six-piece band. Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth joined them for some real nice fiddle duos. Then, back on the Gallows stage Whiskey Tango brought more electric bluegrass to life.
The Shook Twins were back, on the main stage this time, in new costumes and the same great sound. In this set they performed a vocal feedback loop, wherein Laurie would vocalize a beat, sample it, and both ladies would build more vocals on top of that, many layers deep. A very cool little effect—they call their style “folkno” (folk techno).
The next act, back on the Gallows stage, was the Scott Pemberton trio—actually a quartet, but no matter—when you see Pemberton, you are first stuck by his thick beard and gentle spirit. Then he plays his electric guitar like no one I have seen before. He holds his lightweight hollow body Gibson guitar against himself, then swings it down to a stool, and plays with a combination of tapping, strumming, fingerpicking, and simply summoning new sounds—then he picks it up and plays—kind of like a normal guitarist again, but not for long. A guitar strap would only get in his way as he treats his instrument like a swing dance partner and a mystic talisman. And then he’ll sing something laid back in the John Mayer/Jack Johnson style. His band features a steel drum and percussion player, a keyboardist, and drummer, but you can’t take your eyes off of Scott.
Funk powerhouse The Motet played me out as I had to leave Sunday afternoon, sadly missing the closing set by Railroad Earth. I was very happy to have seen and heard about half the bands, and a festival like this is always exciting, not only to hear new music, but to see the collaboration and fellowship of the musicians sharing with each other—not only as guests sitting in, but just seeing them around the venue, catching shows and visiting with friends themselves. As I write this, the San Francisco Giants have just won the World Series, and I was reminded of 2012, when I listened to them on the radio beating the Detroit Tigers as I drove home from the Hangtown Halloween Ball – it was like déjà vu all over again…
Ken Kiunke 10/30/2014 Originally published in the Gold Country Times. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
Railroad Earth hosts and stars in the Hangtown Halloween Ball
You couldn’t find a better theater to present Bonnie & Clyde—A New Musical than the 24th Street Theater in Curtis Park, Sacramento. The theater building was built in 1929 as a school house and is a Sacramento Historic Monument. It is surrounded by craftsman and Spanish style homes of the era, and can make you feel like you’re strolling through a 1930’s era setting. Then you enter the theater and meet Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
We are of course most familiar with Bonnie & Clyde from the 1967 film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The story of the Texas couple who spent the early 30’s in a romance fueled crime spree that left at least a dozen people dead became legend and folklore, aided by Bonnie’s penchant for taking pictures of their gang and writing poems about herself and Clyde. Her photos were discovered when they fled a hideout in a hurry, and the camera she left behind had film to be developed, and the photos were widely published. They showed her and the Barrow gang smiling, holding guns, and having a great time.
This production of their story was created in 2009 and premiered in San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, eventually making it to Broadway. With music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black, they combined rockabilly, blues and gospel to create songs that fit the era and tell the story of Bonnie, Clyde, his brother Buck and his wife Blanche, and the others surrounding them. The music follows a basic theme throughout, with some variations in individual songs, but always coming back to the signature tune of The World Will Remember Me.
The show opens with young Bonnie and Clyde (Erin Bruni and Maxwell Freedman) singing about their dreams of the future in the song Picture Show. Freedman has a nice stage presence as he portrays the young man with dreams of being a big-time gangster, and Bruni has quite a nice voice—I thought she was going to be Bonnie for the whole show! But they are replaced during the song by Jennifer Zimny and David Holmes as the grown-up versions, who soon meet and share their dreams in The World Will Remember Me.
We meet Blanche and Buck Barrow in the hoot of a song You’re Goin’ Back To Jail as Blanche, played by Gillian Tarkington, tries to convince her husband to give up crime with his brother, and go back to finish his prison sentence and get a new start on life. Meanwhile, Clyde tries to draw Buck back in with him in the song When I Drive, extolling the joys of a good car chase and beating the cops in an escape. Holmes as Clyde has a great voice, whether in a fun song like this, or when he sings a love song with Bonnie. Matthew Rives as Buck doesn’t have quite as strong a singing voice, but his facial expressions and enthusiasm help carry the song.
Sean O’Brien as the Preacher is a real character, as he leads his congregation in the gospel song God’s Arms Are Always Open, a message to the Barrow brothers that they can still be redeemed. The older man sometimes seems to lose the melody, but then brings it back in, while the company as the church choir hold it all together. He plays a perfect southern Baptist preacher.
The first act also features two very powerful duets. Clyde and his rival in both love and the law, Deputy Ted Hinton, played by Cole Forstedt, sing You Can Do Better Than Him, their shared message to Bonnie about each other. Forstedt starts off as a seemingly minor character, but is a real surprise when he gets to show off his voice in this song. The other duet is when Bonnie and Blanche share the song You Love Who You Love, about the sorry fact that the both fell for a man who will be nothing but trouble, rather than a more stable choice, like Deputy Hinton. Though both had already sung in the show, this song showed how powerful both their voices were.
In the second act, the story turns darker than the first, of course, as the good-time robbers have turned into murderers, and even the straight-laced Blanche is drawn into the Barrow gang. The few good times left, as when Clyde serenades his love on the ukulele with Bonnie, are mixed with ever growing sadness, as Bonnie sings Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad as she comes to believe everything will be OK as long as they had a fun, short life and can die together.
Overall the show is a very well done production, especially for a small community theater setting. The supporting cast all does a nice job, especially the “Salon Women”, played by Carolyn Watling, Hayleyanne Freedman, and Jenny Plasse. The sets are creative too, consisting mostly of barn-like wooden slat panels that raise and lower, and sometimes feature projected images of the real Bonnie & Clyde and their gang. A few opening night technical glitches occurred with the microphones cutting in and out, or not coming on in time, but hopefully those will be corrected as the show continues through September. It is also nice that, for a small theater, they have a live 7 piece “orchestra”, led by Deann Golz, who also plays keyboards, and is the show’s musical director. The show is produced and directed by Bob Baxter, and continues through September 28. It is suitable for adults or older teens, due to language and violent and sexual content. For info and tickets, see www.runawaystage.com.
Ken Kiunke 9/6/2014 Originally published in the Gold Country Times. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
Erin Bruni and Maxwell Freedman as Bonnie and Clyde