2016: A Personal Year In Review
What did I do last year? 2016 was a whirlwind of parenting, work, movies and reacting to one more piece of bad news after another, many of them having to do with the deaths of some of my musical heroes. Despite the feeling of “burn baby burn” many of us had about 2016 at the end of the year, there were some great things that happened as well. Let me preface my personal list here by saying that I’m a working dad and husband whose chief responsibilities are homework-checker and kid-shuttler, so I don’t get to see and hear everything. Or even a lot of things. I know that there are tons of great things I’m missing. For example, I watched little to no television aside from "Poldark" (which I thoroughly enjoyed!). But here are a few of my own personal highlights...
StoryCorps South Texas: In February, the StoryCorps Mobile Booth made a multi-week stop in San Antonio, where over 100 pairs of friends, family, and neighbors entered a specially-equipped Airstream trailer and sat down to record a conversation about their lives. Fourteen of them were edited and broadcast on Texas Public Radio, and you can find the archives on our website here. From the emotional story of a mother finding grace in her sick child, to coming out stories, to the roots of San Antonio-based entertainers Jesse Borrego and Vikki Carr, StoryCorps delivers when it comes to empathy.
Zootopia: It’s a tough call between this movie and “Moana” for my favorite Disney film of the year, but I think I’m going to give the edge to “Zootopia” for its deft combination of detective story with social commentary and laughs. Ginnifer Goodwin voices Judy Hopps, our spunky heroine who’s always dreamed of being the first rabbit police officer in the city of Zootopia, made up of several species of mammals living together in (seeming) harmony. Jason Bateman is Nick Wilde, the sly fox (yes, it’s a cliché but works) who ends up helping her uncover the mystery of why the anthropomorphized animals in the city keep reverting to their primal selves.
Tower: No other movie this year resonated so powerfully with me as a Texan, and as a modern citizen bearing witness to the all-too-frequent mass shootings that have occurred over the past decade. Using a combination of archive footage, contemporary interviews, and animated recreations, Austin-based director Keith Maitland lets us relive the hot, horrible August day in 1966 when a sniper climbed to the top of the UT tower and opened fire on the public below. Strangely enough, the animation gives the film an immediacy and contemporary resonance it may not have had if the director had relied solely on archive footage. “Tower” is shortlisted for an Oscar nomination, and it deserves it. You can read my interview with director Keith Maitland here.
Margo Price: I don’t often watch Saturday Night Live, but one night in April I turned on the television just in time for the musical guest, a country singer I had never heard of. Margo Price and her band tore into “Hurtin’ on the Bottle” and I was sold. The Tennessee-based singer and songwriter’s debut album, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” is the real deal. It’s full of hard times, hard livin’, hard drivin’ country with a soulful edge to it; Price's voice reminds me a little of Emmylou Harris. In June, I was lucky enough to see Price at Floore’s Country Store. She put on a killer set, and graciously signed my LP after the show. Price returned to the area in the fall to play at Gruene Hall, and with her Texas-born husband, seems to be a pretty frequent return visitor to the Lone Star State (I loved her Instagram posts from San Marcos over the holidays). Price is already at work on her second album, and I can’t wait to hear it.
Being on stage at the Tobin: In July, the world-renowned Emerson String Quartet became the first chamber group to play in the H-E-B Performance Hall at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. As a co-sponsor, TPR was offered an opportunity to introduce the group from the stage, a duty which fell on yours truly. As I understood it there were over 1,000 people in the hall that night, which is I think the largest crowd I’ve ever addressed at once. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember Emerson’s searing performance of Shostakovich. What a night!
Government Canyon: It only took me a decade after the place opened to finally get my butt out to Government Canyon, a 12,000 acre natural area near Galm Road in northwest Bexar County operated by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Of course we decided as a family to go hiking in the hottest month of the summer! Nevertheless, it was such a great experience we repeated the visit again the following weekend, and I'm resolving to visit the natural area even more frequently this year.
The Oliver Stone Experience: Three years ago, critic Matt Zoller Seitz put together probably the definitive book on Wes Anderson, featuring critical essays, interviews with the filmmaker, and scores of film stills and shots of ephemera related to Anderson’s oeuvre. Books on “Mad Men” and Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” followed, and last year, Seitz released two books. One of them, written with his friend and colleague Alan Sepinwall, simply called “TV (The Book)” ranks and reviews the greatest television programs of all time. The other is a six-pound monster tome that combs the career of Oliver Stone, one of our country’s most talented storytellers and certainly one of the more fascinating characters one could ever hope to meet, based on Seitz’s lengthy interview transcriptions. "The Oliver Stone Experience" covers Stone’s entire life, from his childhood in the 1950s to his military service in Vietnam, and on into the films, including titles that are seared onto film fans’ collective conscious like “Salvador,” “Platoon,” “Wall Street,” and my personal favorite of Stone’s, “JFK.” The interviews offer unique insight into Stone’s life and the filmmaking process, and Seitz doesn’t mind calling Stone out on certain aspects of Stone’s career, such as less-than-flattering depictions of women onscreen in his earlier films. This is an essential book for movie fans.
Chrysta Bell at Paper Tiger: I first heard San Antonio native Chrysta Bell some 20 years ago, back when she was fronting the Austin-based swing band 8 ½ Souvenirs. Now the sultry-voiced chanteuse has found her muse (or maybe vice versa) in David Lynch, who produced her 2011 album “This Train.” Bell’s performance at Paper Tiger, the opening night of a tour across America and Europe, was supposed to feature a multimedia backdrop, but early on in the show the playback computer crashed. Breaking character, she addressed the audience to apologize for the technical difficulties, sang an a cappella version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and shared personal stories with us before continuing with just guitar and bass accompaniment. It made for a memorably intimate evening, even if it wasn't the experience Chrysta Bell was hoping to present.
Stewart Copeland at the San Antonio Symphony: “For the next 30 minutes, you can make as much noise as you want!” exclaimed drummer Stewart Copeland before the first San Antonio performance of his concerto for trap set and orchestra, “The Tyrant’s Crush.” Although I heard a few hoots from the audience, mostly everyone was spellbound by Copeland’s rhythms and showmanship—he even used the orchestra riser as a percussion instrument! My kids loved the concert, which also featured Camille Saint-Saens’ beautiful “Organ” Symphony during the second half.
Nina Diaz, “The Beat Is Dead”: Two years after she debuted her new band on the Tobin Plaza, Girl in a Coma lead singer and songwriter Nina Diaz finally released her solo album, “The Beat Is Dead.” The album is a personal journey from addiction to recovery, and its sound harkens back to the best pop/rock music of the 1980s and 1990s, complete with subtle electronic drum and synth touches. There’s even some 1960s-style background vocals on “Fall In Love.”
San Antonio Sound Garden: This year, a new nonprofit was formed in San Antonio to help make the city a more sustainable place for musicians to live and work. San Antonio Sound Garden is still in its infancy, but has grand plans to provide training, workspace, and recording tools for local songwriters and musicians. In the fall, TPR was asked to collaborate on some of their house concerts, and I was honored to shoot interviews with Brandon Cunningham, Demitasse, and Azul Barrientos. Look for them online soon, and look for great things to come from San Antonio Sound Garden!
So, what did you do in 2016 that was memorable? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you! And best wishes for a happy and fulfilling 2017.