The long-awaited blog summary of the J-Town Summer Sessions 2011! Well, maybe not that long-awaited, but anticipated. Right? Right. I’d hope so, anyway, since this intrepid blogger suffered sore feet and sunburned shoulders to bring you a live-blog of the entire event.
The Summer Sessions, held in the courtyard of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, began at 1 PM last Saturday. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there until 1:45. It’s a long story, involving metro lines that arrived late and terrible walks in the hot LA sun. The venue still wasn’t very crowded when I finally arrived, though, and it was smaller than I had expected, too. The left side of the courtyard was ranged with vendors’ stalls selling everything from cookies to art pins, as well as a space for the visual artists to work. The right side of the courtyard featured booths selling water, soda, and The Park’s Finest BBQ, the last of which I sadly was not able to taste.
The concert had already started by the time I arrived. Mista Cookie Jar was onstage, and when I finally took a seat, he’d segued into the song “The Love Bubble.” I was already late, so I decided to start with interviews right away. I’m not going to lie: nervousness was pretty much the only emotion I felt before approaching Mista Cookie Jar, also known as CJ Pizarro. But the interview went well. Pizarro talked about his musical influences,as well as his reasons for being a performer.
The next artist was Lindsey Yung. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to interview her or the next artist, Shin Kawasaki. I had to retreat to a nearby Starbucks to update Pacific Ties’ Twitter and figure out how to upload some of the pictures that I’d already taken.
When I came back from Starbucks, Shin Kawasaki was just finishing his performance, and Connie Lim was taking the stage. She didn’t start playing right away; all of the artists took at least five to ten minutes to set up before performing.
Connie Lim captured my attention almost immediately. Like I said in my tweet, her music is pretty barebones. It was just Lim on her piano and her partner on the guitar, and the lack of backup sound created a haunting but powerful set. Lim’s voice reminded me of Regina Spektor. It’s powerful and it resonates, suiting the music perfectly.
When I interviewed Lim after her set, we talked about her musical influences as well as how she felt performing at the Summer Sessions. Then I brought up the question of whether or not she’s faced any difficulties in the entertainment business as an Asian American woman, and she said there were difficulties, but that it was better not to think of yourself as disadvantaged going in. It was an interesting answer, but not the one I was expecting.
After Lim came SKIM. I have to admit, at this point I was curious about the visual artists, so I wasn’t paying as much attention to her performance. Instead, I wandered around the space where the visual artists were working. And since pictures will give a much better idea than I can…
I recognized the artist who came after SKIM, since Pacific Ties had done an article on her once before. It was Jane Lui, and the MC who introduced her was Keiko Agena. Apparently she’s known for her role on Gilmore Girls. Having never watched the show, I had no idea.
After joking around with the audience for a bit, Lui played a song about her childhood imaginary friend. Her music is light and fun. It’s not quite pop; a bit too funky for that, but still enjoyable to hear. Lui promised an “angry song” after the one about her imaginary friend, and followed up on the promise. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the angry song very well. It wasn’t angry sounding; more forceful than the first song, but I think most of the anger was expressed through the lyrics.
Jane Lui finished her set, and Keiko Agena came back to introduce the next performer, who, according to her, needed only one word to describe him: “smooth” (no, seriously, her words, not mine). Who was this “smooth” performer? Dawen. To be honest, he seemed more bashful than smooth when he came onstage. Dawen first began performing at Tuesday Night Cafes, the twice-monthly open-mic held in Little Tokyo by the Tuesday Night Project, which was also hosting the J-Town Summer Sessions. According to him, the Tuesday Night Cafe is where he feels “most comfortable as a musician.” And that became evident as he started his set piece, because, while Dawen as a speaker was more shy than smooth, Dawen as a performer was what Keiko Agena described him as: smooth. There’s a soothing, R&B sound to his music, from the song “Wake Up” to the sweet, feel-good “Get Enough.”
I managed to interview Dawen after his performance, and asked him what influenced him to write “Wake Up,” a song about being judged for the color of his skin. For Dawen, it was growing up in Boston and facing racial slurs and being told to “go back where you came from.” His struggle with his Asian American identity is the focus of his debut album, American Me.
The last performer of the day was Andrew Figueroa and the Blazing Rays of the Sun. As with all the other performers, I didn’t know much about him before going into the live concert. I’d only read all their bios on their websites. But it doesn’t take much information to know how to enjoy a good performance, and Andrew Chiang gave just that. He was one of the few performers who moved around the stage–not dancing, exactly, but giving off an impression of energy and charm. After improvising a song about the lucky winner of a raffle, he launched into the second to last song of the evening, a dance number that had the audience on their feet in front of the stage.
Sadly, I had to leave before Andrew Chiang finished his performance. But the day was already winding down anyway, and I’d had an enjoyable time. It was more than worth the sunburned shoulders and tired feet.