Stage Fright

by Bruce McEwen, July 22, 2010

Lauren's Restaurant should be packed to the rafters this Saturday night when Nahara, Boonville's fledgling songbird and healing arts masseuse, takes the stage for her first live performance as a professional singer.

Nahara has performed before, both at the Varity Show and she had a solo role in the recent production of Dearly Departed by the AV Theatre Guild, where she demonstrated the range of her evocative voice. She's been hard at work during the past months writing songs I have no problem characterizing as beautiful. Locals can accrue some boasting rights when these songs hit the charts and everybody's scrambling to get tickets to her sold-out concerts. “Hey! I saw Nahara back in the day when she first started at Lauren's!”

It's important to get out and support local talent. The music business has become so exclusive and “safe” that it's virtually impossible to break in to it. The big labels make their millions on the familiar names, proven artists nobody would dare question. Most radio stations use computerized demographic charts to decide which songs rate airtime. A listener's tastes are dictated by the lowest common denominator of mass appeal, and the subse­quent ravings of the DJs. And everybody gets conven­iently pigeonholed: Nora Jones is smoky jazz, Allison Krouse is plaintive bluegrass, Nahara is, well, different. This doesn't play well with the staid, stolid old CEOs of the corporate record labels. Deserving talent goes unrec­ognized. Expressing oneself through singing and song­writing is by definition highly individual — that is to say, different. It is also the source of a great many songs with universal appeal.

I've heard some of Nahara's songs — “You Caught Me” and “Beating Heart” (which she performed at the Variety Show in the spring) — and they do have univer­sal appeal. She says her music is “poppy,” but she's shy and modest about it. And Nahara really can sing. Nahara and her rich 12-string guitar at Lauren’s Saturday, July 24th at 9pm.

* * *

Impresario Steve Sparks has made a huge, immediate success of the Tuesday Night Bingo Extravaganza at the Senior Center, Boonville, housed in the Veteran's Building south of our town center: Rossi Hardware, Anderson Valley Market, the Post Office, The Boonville Lodge, and Pic 'N Pay.

Everything else is suburbs.

The Senior Center's new cook, Natalie Matson, who also drives the Senior bus, which she proudly keeps pol­ished, has been a big improvement. Her lasagna was very good on Bingo Night. I had a pasta house in Montana and I could serve up a respectable lasagna, in a boat, hot out of the oven, for individual orders. But keeping a big hotel pan of lasagna from “going off” on you is tricky business. Natalie has mastered the trick.

The long line of hungry bingo enthusiasts went to the lush salad bar first, filling their plates with fresh greens, bite-size broccoli and cauliflower buds, fresh grated Parmesan, any number of garden delights from a local farmer who — shame on me, I didn't get the name — and then some casserole-style salads I'd never tried before.

I was at the back of the line, having arrived late. But I learned at the homeless camps that the women, children and elders always go first. I was loading my plate with salad when an elderly gent and some youngsters started the new line behind me and started tugging at the foil cover Natalie had her lasagna under. She was fretting nervously and I empathized with her anxiety. I mean, you can’t exactly pop each piece back in the oven if the air hits it and the cheese suddenly crusts over! Finally, Natalie relented and pulled the foil off. The smile on her face said, “Relax: I'm a professional!” The poisonously delicious elasticity of the strings of mozzarella stretched and snapped as she piled the first serving on my plate.

It was very good too, served with steamed zucchini and perfect garlic toast. And the best lemonade I've drunk in years — without rum, that is. Any lemonade is potable with a weedoodly of rum. Restaurant quality, at a third the price.

At seven sharp, “precisely,” as the Brits say, Steve Sparks' professional cheer came over the PA, and the bingo game started.

The bingo cards were $2 each or three for $5. I got three, and almost invariably I'd have only one number to go when somebody would yell “Bingo!” We all groaned in unison, then applauded the winner after the card was examined by experts and declared legitimately winning. The prize money kept escalating and this kept the crowd enthused — this tension plus Mr. Sparks’ jolly penchant for introducing local and worldly and popular knowledge into the number calling. He would say, for instance, “Nineteen! The number of miles between Boonville and Ukiah: I-19.” Meanwhile, everybody was scanning the I-column on their cards for a 19. Or he would say, “Fifty-four!” and a chorus of enthusiasts would sing out in uni­son: “Car 54 where are you?” And when he would say “Fifty — five-oh,” they would respond with, “Book 'em, Dan-o!” It may sound a little corny, but it was huge fun. And… Oh, look! Now they're bringing out a huge platter of carrot cake! Wiith a half-inch of cream cheese icing.

Mr. Sparks, as you should know by now, also pre­sides over the weekly Trivia Quiz contests on Thursday nights at Lauren’s. These contests are said to be domi­nated by my colleague The Major, an inexhaustible source of arcane and generally useless information on innumerable subjects. And Mr. Sparks, a restaurant con­sultant and sheep farmer, somehow finds the time to interview local notables for this newspaper. If he isn't mayor, he should be.

The Senior Center is shady and breezy on hot sum­mer evenings, and as the dog days of August descend on the Anderson Valley, I highly recommend it for a place to get out for some old-fashioned affordable entertain­ment in these edgy times. And who knows but what the seniors with their polished manners and pleasantly unpretentious expectations may have something useful to impart. And you could win some money!

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