Last week, the anti-man-about-town resurfaced after not appearing in this column for a long time.
He wanted to stop letting the emptiness of downtown San Jose affect his well-being, so he once again transformed into Marcello of the Fellini film La Dolce Vita and forayed from place to place, event to event, in search of happiness. It was therapy.
On May 15, about 40 people filed into Tabard Theatre for a regular series called “Off Night.” Mighty Mike McGee and Mr. Ato Walker hosted the whole thing. Jay Meduri of Poor House Bistro and veteran bluesman J. C. Smith sat there on stage talking about music and the history of Poor House, including the hurdles its new location still needs to clear before opening.
The following night, Vietnamese maestra Vanessa Vo, along with her band, the Blood Moon Orchestra, gave a world-class performance in the City Hall Rotunda. Singing and playing traditional instruments, she led the band through a vibrant transnational repertoire, although she didn’t do “Purple Haze” this time, unfortunately. Nevertheless, it was far superior than anything I’ve seen in that space, and a perfect lead-in to a new exhibit at City Hall, “Hidden Heritages: San Jose’s Vietnamese Legacy,” showcasing various Viet artists and pillars of the community, including a dedication to the late Jenny Do, who originally helped elevate Viet arts in San Jose starting 20 years ago. She was the best. I miss her very much.
These are abridged experiences, of course. I won’t take three hours, like La Dolce Vita. Yet so much transpired last week, all over downtown San Jose—music, community events, street parties and mini-fests every day. Yes, the neighborhood has a multitude of problems, and contrary to what various unhinged gadflies might suggest, I’m not ignoring it. My skill set, at least this week, is to bombard you with culture. Capische?
Which brings me to the next night, May 17, the Go Go Gone Show at Mama Kin, the only situation in San Jose history inspired by both Chuck Barris and Aerosmith. When Aerosmith comes back around this December, maybe guitarist Joe Perry should make a surprise appearance at Mama Kin. In any real city, you’d see stuff like that.
By the time I made it to the downtown historic district block party the following evening, May 18, many people were out and about. Yes, in Fountain Alley, I saw a hundred people of all demographics, voluntarily present, all experiencing local businesses set up in the alley and the parking lot. It was a lot more successful than the ping pong table that the Knight Foundation put out there one summer. And not one person tried to sell me drugs like the previous 30 years in that alley.
Many people also attended the PAC*SJ awards night on May 19 at History Park, which unfolded simultaneously with other events, like San Jose Bike Party’s Wizard, Witches and Magic Ride, plus the San Jose Jazz Break Room, a ballet and four different theatrical events at four different venues. I couldn’t even keep track.
And that was just the first five days. The next night, on May 20, the Japantown Immersive event kicked off with San Jose Taiko performing a different type of gig than normal, replete with drummers moving drums around the intersection of Fifth and Jackson during the performance. Of course, since nobody in San Jose is capable of walking more than two blocks to go anywhere, it remains debatable if Japantown is even part of downtown. For me, it’s close enough.
Finally, on the seventh day of this adventure, I rested. In St. James Park. Why? Because the Levitt Pavilion series started again, offering free music on Sunday afternoons.
The verdict is easy. Downtown San Jose is not just empty storefronts, vapors of urine rising from the sidewalk and cops shutting down freeway access. A lot of people are trying very hard to produce rocking stuff. As always, some people who’ve lived right down the street for 25 years still won’t attend anything. Why they’re not living in Lodi, I’ll never understand. After last week, the anti-man-about-town no longer felt apocalyptic downtown. This is why people roam and travel. Vagabonding improves one’s outlook. If some idiot with a newspaper column can do it, then you can too.