Suze Diaz… A music lover has many venues to choose from to see incredible live music around the county. One favorite venue is California Center for the Arts, Escondido, named in the Top Five for UT San Diego’s Readers’ Poll for “Best Live Music Venue” and San Diego Magazine’s vote for “Best Limited Engagement” in North County. The Center also features a contemporary art museum, art and dance studios, and a full-service conference center with meeting and banquet facilities for weddings and special events. Extensive educational programs and free community events are offered in addition. It’s “one of the many reasons why the Center is the art and soul of our community.”
The Center has been hosting “First Wednesdays” for more than a decade and it has been their longest-running concert series. Held on the first Wednesday of each month, the series runs from September to June and is usually held in the intimate 400-seat Center Theater. Tickets to the concerts are free and handed out on a first-come basis so get to the show early to secure your seat or you can get a reserved seat for $12 through artcenter.org. This season, two new changes have been added: the delightful convenience of a food truck filled with culinary delights available near the main entrance of the venue from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM and select shows will be presented in the Center’s elegantly designed 1,500-seat Concert Hall. An added bonus is the chance to visit the contemporary art museum to view the latest exhibit also for free.
Photos by Suze Diaz
Los Angeles-based chanteuse, songwriter and accordionist Jessica Fichot was delightful as February’s “First Wednesdays’” featured performer. This was Ms. Fichot’s first appearance in Escondido; playing to a near-packed Center Theater. Accompanying Ms. Fichot was an diverse group of three talented musicians eloquent in their performance on upright bass, acoustic guitar and saxophone/clarinet. Dressed beautifully in a striking red dress with a red poppy tucked behind her left ear, Ms. Fichot enchantingly sang original songs, drawn from her multi-ethnic French/Chinese/American heritage, in between classical foreign tunes. With each number, she regaled charming and humorous stories of the tune’s history. Lively songs sung in French, Russian, Chinese and English were presented for the audience’s pleasure; encouraging them to participate in clapping and sing-a-longs. Each individual musician had their solo moments to showcase their engaging talents. Ms. Fichot captivated the audience with her artistry on the accordion, spoons and toy piano. Her splendid rendition of “It’s My Party”, lively composition of “Chinese New Year” and sweet delivery of “You Belong to Me” reinforces a unique style that is receiving more celebrated admiration from her international audiences.
An added bonus to this “First Wednesday” was the evening performance by Pink Martini, held at the Concert Hall. Founded in 1994 in Portland, Oregon by Thomas Lauderdale, Pink Martini first started as “a little orchestra” to provide inspirational music from all over the world as a melodic background for political fundraisers as there weren’t any to be found at any of the events. A year later, he connected with former Harvard classmate China Forbes and together wrote music that would eventually feature a dozen musicians and sing songs in over 25 languages that have been celebrated here and abroad. To quote Thomas Lauderdale himself: “Pink Martini is a rollicking around-the-world musical adventure…If the United Nations had a house band in 1962, hopefully we’d be that band.”
Excited chatter from first-time and long-time fans filled the lobby as patrons made their way to their seats in the near-packed hall. Various instruments (trombone, trumpet, violin, bongos, congas, and drums) set up across the stage waiting for their maestro to pick them up to play. The elegantly suited 10-piece band assembled for the evening’s performance and started the set with a mesmerizing rendition of “Bolero”. Rich tones lulled you into a trance as you settled for an exciting night. The second song brought singer China Forbes on stage. Recovering from shoulder surgery, Ms. Forbes looked dazzling in a sparkly dress with a shoulder strap that you forgot she was wearing once she started singing. Humor bantered between Ms. Forbes and Mr. Lauderdale as they entertained the audience with behind-the-scene stories of songs they had written. One of their first songs, “Sympathique” (“Je ne veux pas travailler” or “I don’t want to work”), became an overnight sensation in France, was nominated for “Song of the Year” at France’s Victoires de la Musique Awards, and to this day remains a mantra for striking French workers.
Pink Martini is all about FUN! From the start and throughout the show, the band promptly invited and highly encouraged audience members to come up and fill the backstage with dancing. Many patrons unable to sit in their seats due to the energizing music found themselves dancing up the steps onto the stage to join the party. At almost each foreign song, a question would be asked if there were anyone in the audience who spoke the language. During one Arabic song, a young woman, her husband and her parents came up on stage to sing backup to add to the festive atmosphere. An ode to Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” brought many groups of women on stage to sing along in support of female empowerment. A jaunty swing tune ended the first portion of the show.
Songs sung in Portuguese, Armenian, Turkish, Italian, and Japanese filled the second portion of the show. At one point, Thomas Lauderdale told hilariously stories of each Pink Martini albums accompanied by a showing of said albums and other items found at the merchandise tables. Pink Martini has collaborated with many artists and I was exceptionally tickled to find that two of the artists were Phyllis Diller and Charo!
For the grand finale, the show ended with an dynamic African tune with a notable portion of the audience coming onstage to perform a mass conga line. Nothing brings an active community together than music, dance and fun! Treat yourself to some and check the events calendar on the websites below to see where your next musical adventure waits!
For more information on Jessica Fichot, hear samples of her music and other projects, please visit her website at http://www.jessicasongs.com/
For in-depth information on Pink Martini’s history, music and future performances, please visit their website at http://pinkmartini.com/
To learn more about future musical performances, art and dance offerings and community events at California Center for the Arts, Escondido, please visit http://artcenter.org/