Posts Tagged ‘music festival’

RIP, Josh Fischel; or A Big Man Leaves a Big Hole Behind

Friday, September 29th, 2017

I met Josh Fischel in early 2013. He died yesterday, September 29, 2016. No, that can’t be right. That would mean everything I experienced of and with this man took place in less than four years. That can’t be right.

The first three things I learned about Josh were probably the first three things most people learned about Josh when they met him: he was a big bearded man with a big voice and big plans. Josh was always looking toward the next bigger and better thing he could put together. In 2013, that was RIOTstage. The idea was to create a new niche in the Long Beach theatre scene by staging edgy, raucous musicals. The first two were to be Tommy and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

He never got there because it turned out he was a little too good at putting together big ensemble musical performances of a more eclectic nature. Like the time he brought together two-dozen musicians to perform Abbey Road—which was only the second half of the show. Or the time he and a string quartet did Elvis Costello’s The Juliet Letters, then after intermission had a 13-piece band he put together do Pet Sounds in its detailed entirety (strings, horns, tympani, sleigh bells, glockenspiel, guïro, the whole shebang). Or hey, remember those times he transformed huge city spaces to do Let It Be, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Wall?

That’s just a few shows. During the same time period he also played his own music throughout the country and abroad. He co-created and curated the Live After 5 series. And of course you know about last weekend’s Music Tastes Good festival. He did all that.

He didn’t do it alone, of course. One of his great talents was bringing together the necessary talent—musical, administrative, logistical, technical—to hit whatever target was in his sights. For every one of his projects during these last four years, invariably the individuals he handpicked for a given project were mightily impressed with the new people they got to work with.

I think the reason so many different people got to work on Josh’s big ideas was his ability to see people as specific, idiosyncratic individuals and to treat and employ them as such, very consciously (as he once told me) putting them in positions to contribute uniquely and successfully. On several occasions I was lucky enough to be one of those individuals, and more than once Josh asked me to venture outside of my comfort zone. I was always willing to go there when he asked, because when Josh put his faith in you, you began to believe.

His communication style is something I will miss greatly. To be sure, Josh could do the charismatic diplomacy thing that is probably requisite for any impresario, but on a more personal level Josh would not hesitate to let you know when he was annoyed or pissed off. He would listen to your idea and accept it if he agreed, but he had no problem unceremoniously shooting it down if he didn’t. He did not pretend to like everyone equally—or at all—just as he did not hide his affection.

One of the best bonding experiences Josh and I had came out of a misunderstanding that got me partly thrown off RIOTstage’s Americana. During the initial stages of production I was a consultant and contributed some content. I was also slated to perform, but a few poorly-phrased e-mails on my part to an assistant who didn’t know me well enough to get where I was coming from led to his feeling it would be best if I were replaced in that capacity. We talked it out, patiently and earnestly, and came away from the conflict with no hard feelings and a better sense of each other’s character. He asked me to be a part of several projects afterwards. That’s the kind of guy he was: when you resolved an issue with him, it really was resolved.

I was honored to be in his confidence, a role I enjoyed because—as he told me on numerous occasions—he valued my reactions and that I knew how to keep my mouth shut when he wanted to talk about something that wasn’t for public disclosure. That’s not a story about what a fab friend I was, but an example of how Josh saw people for the individuals they are, and how good he was at letting his friends know how he felt about us.

No reminiscence about Josh can rightly exist without thinking about Abbie, his wife and partner. I add the latter title because “wife” doesn’t really get to the heart of it. It was clear even to those of us who aren’t new-agers that they were spiritual partners. Her warmth and support—which extended not just to him but outward to everyone they knew—sustained him in whatever he did.

I imagine it must have sustained him in what turned out to be his last days, as he plowed through the finish line of Music Tastes Good with little sleep (I asked him over coffee a couple of weeks ago if he was getting enough sleep: he just rolled his eyes). I imagine it’s part of what made it possible for people like me—people who knew about his health struggles of the past year or so, people who couldn’t help noticing how much worse his hearing had gotten, people who were startled when they hugged him at how emaciated his frame had become—to be caught completely off-guard by his passing yesterday.

But what also made it such a shock was that he was just Josh fucking Fischel, a boss, a force of nature, too big to fail. When he gave me that big Josh grin Sunday as I congratulated him for launching Long Beach into a better future, the kind of future he always dreamed of for this city he loved heart and soul, I could never have conceived that he’d be gone in just four days. I only imagined that his future would be what he said it would be: a couple of weeks wrapping up Music Tastes Good details, a three-week European sojourn with Abbie, then on to his next big thing. After all, isn’t that the way these last four years have been: Josh says, Josh does?

Just four years? That can’t be right. It’s not right. It’s true, but it’s not right. There is nothing right about Josh being gone so soon.

The loss of Josh leaves a big hole in the Long Beach community (and beyond), a hole that will never be filled. But the fruits of his too-brief presence can never be rotted by something as mingy and base as death. “There’s a lot of untapped talent in Long Beach, a lot of people who just aren’t getting seen or heard,” he told me two-and-a-half years ago, when much of Long Beach was still getting to know him. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to create RIOTstage. […] There is so much talent around here—it just needs to be harnessed. I’m not saying I’m necessarily the guy to do that, but I’m definitely going to be one of the guys.”

You definitely were.

*Photo credit: Matt Maguire
*Yes, the crude double-entendre of the title is intentional. Josh loved that sort of thing.

A Dozen Bites of the LBC’s Music Tastes Good

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Call this a sampler platter or some remnants from the buffet. It’s not meant to be a full meal, but perhaps these 12 nibbles will impart a bit of flavor from Long Beach’s first-ever, very own, full-blown music festival, a super success showing that we’re finally old enough to dine at the big-kids’ table. Bon appétit.

1. It was trippy to be standing in locations I frequent on non-festival days and momentarily feeling unfamiliar with my surroundings. Hiding and changing visual cues can do that to you. Getting to re-experience my home turf like that would have been worth the price of admission even if the music hadn’t been so great.

2. But the music was so great (at least what I took in, which was maybe a dozen acts). My favorite discoveries: Skinny Lister and Vintage Trouble. One was Pogues-like folk with a punkish sneer, while the other was retro rock ‘n’ soul with more than a little James Brown fire, and each of their sets was a complete presentation, from the moment-by-moment expenditure of energy to the overall arc of the performance. Being a pro is not just having good music and playing it well. There’s a lot to be said for knowing how to present it.

3. Fab sound and lighting. Great stages. Always plenty of room for the audience, including as much as you needed to dance (important!). Perfect use of urban space.

4. Well, almost perfect. Do you know about the East Village Arts Park? I doubt it, because this fab little shady nook—complete with comfortable seating—is chained just about all the time. Since it sits right in the middle of Saturday’s footprint, it seems like this would have been an obvious time to open it up. If not then, when? Never, I guess, because visitors could only gaze inside. Might as well make it a Starbucks if we’re not going to use it. (Just kidding. We’ve got more than enough of those downtown.) If you reserve a hotel room with a Jacuzzi and the Jacuzzi doesn’t work, it’s not a hotel room with a Jacuzzi, you know? Amenities are only as good as their availability for use.

5. Saturday’s festival footprint (basically Atlantic Ave. to Long Beach Blvd. and 1st St. to 3rd St.) worked perfectly, including having the businesses inside open as usual. I’m sure it was a drag for businesses on the outside looking in, but….

6. I’m not a fan of MTG’s “no reentry” policy (which surely withheld customers from nearby businesses)—although it’s fair to say that this was not exactly over-enforced.

7. Did you check out the art installations? Highlight: Rumination Attuning (perhaps a.k.a. “the bell one” at Linden/Broadway), a sort of gazebo adorned with dozens of bells and gongs, above each of which was a provocative statement (“I am an adult still having ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ moments,” “I am humbled by the endless generosity of my city,””I don’t have the discipline I need to be the person I want to be,” “Being painfully honest with myself is making me happier,” “There are songs that make me weep for joy”). The idea was to ring a bell when you read a statement that resonated with you; but with so many people on so many different journeys, a host of other types of interaction were mixed in, and the flow of the way people were encountering it was always changing, with the music from the Linden Stage playing into experience.

8. It felt like there was just the right amount of police/security, and that they were just the right sort of presence. If some real shit’s happening, you want them right up in it; otherwise, they should just sit there and enjoy the music.

9. WeedMaps, an official sponsor of Music Tastes Good and a good way to help you circumnavigate the City of Long Beach’s continued criminalization of cannabis. Fuck yes. (And fortunately we’re all gonna get together and pass Proposition 64 so the landscape will be different next fall, right?)

10. “Boxed Water Is Better.” Good slogan, good packaging (that sculptured skinny box is an image we’ll all retain), and maybe it’s true that boxed water is better than plasticked water. Great. Sell it. But what’s better better is people bringing their own canteens brimming with water and refillable at water stations within the event—as opposed to what we got: nowhere to get unboxed water (except at a couple of eateries within Saturday’s footprint) and having security make people dump their water before entering. Raising a minor stink each time they tried that with me was enough to get them to let me keep it so long as they could sniff it, so not a complete fail here. But can Music Taste Good 2016 please be the last event in Long Beach where people are actively discouraged from doing the right thing environmentally? At an event like this, water is the most essential thing you can put in your body, and there is a simple way to give it to us with minimal environmental impact. Make this mandatory, automatic. It’s a reasonable cost of doing business.

11. Every time I go to a concert, I am appalled at the amount of garage left on the ground, like people think they’re doing the cleaning crew a favor by giving them extra work. At MTG there were plenty of clearly marked receptacles for refuse, recyclables, and compostables (not to mention the ones specifically for the water boxes).

12. After I got home to my downtown condo complex Sunday night, I was in the elevator with a 20-something kid in a Michigan college football jersey/hat. He was carrying a can of Red Bull and looked contentedly tired. “Did you go to the music festival this weekend?” I asked. He was confused for a moment, because he had just attended one in Las Vegas but sniffed the gist of my question. “There was one here? Where was it? Do you know what it’s called?” Music Tastes Good, I told him, making sure to enunciate. “I’ll have to check it out online,” he said. I’m guessing that if he does he’ll be getting his fest on closer to home next September.