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Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay: Hello, Hybrid!

by Catherine Bigelow

Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay
Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay

Up? Down? Still around? Tracking the latest COVID-19 data and precautionary measures can feel like chasing balls bouncing. Last month, as vaccination rates continued rising among eligible Bay Area citizens, but concerns over uncertain school closures, economic challenges and reduced staff or quarantines remained, Alice Waters announced her heralded Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley will remain closed to indoor diners until early 2022.

A logistical scramble also remains for organizers of large or indoor arts events. Last year, deep in virtual Zoom zombie-land events, we assumed that by now we’d achieve at least a fully masked return. With safety protocols — and a healthy amount of hesitancy — still in play, many live events now include a virtual corollary that we’ve dubbed, “Hello, hybrid!”

“I’ve been in so many documentaries about the rock business, but always as a talking head.” — Ben Fong-Torres

“The word ‘pivot’ is overused,” notes Litquake cofounder Jack Boulware. “But I feel like we’ve pivoted about 67 times since January of this year. We’re very fortunate that so many members of the community wanted the festival to return in some sort of live format.”

Words worthy: Litquake 2021, the 22nd edition of this fave festival (October 7–23) offers bookworms and belletrists a 16-day literary potpourri: virtual and live indoor or outdoor events — readings, workshops, panels, word jazz — populated by 300 international authors including Isabel Allende, Andrew Sean Greer, chef Bryant Terry, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Daniel Handler and Alia Volz.

And this year, Lit Crawl SF, the festival’s famed, free finale on October 23 — a boozy Mission District walkabout of readings in bars, galleries, tattoo parlors or laundromats — is back, baby!

Big screens and small: The popcorn popper will be fired up when live audiences return to CinéArts Sequoia in Mill Valley and the Smith Rafael Film Center as the 44th Mill Valley Film Festival, presented by the California Film Institute, unspools October 7–17. This cinematic feast of American independent flicks, documentaries and world films, led by MVFF founder and director Mark Fishkin, also includes live panels and big stars, such as Belfast writer-director Kenneth Branagh. But local cineastes and rock fans are focused on Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres.

Ben Fong-Torres at Bay Area rock station KSAN-FM, where a 1970 fill-in turned into a decade of doing weekends — while editing and writing for Rolling Stone.

The film debuted this year at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival and the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. So journalist Ben Fong- Torres, a storied former Rolling Stone editor (and KQED radio host, DJ and dazzling event emcee), jokes his MVFF screenings are “the Northern California, below Napa and above Sausalito, world premiere.”

Directed by longtime pal and fellow pioneering journalist Suzanne Joe Kai, the film examines the life of Fong-Torres, one of the few Asian American reporters amid the heady, ’60s rock ’n’ roll scene, who joined the legendary music magazine within five months of its San Francisco founding by maverick publisher Jann Wenner.

“I’ve been in so many documentaries about the rock business, but always as a talking head,” explains Fong-Torres. “I never thought there should be a film about me. But Suzanne wouldn’t relent. A quick 11 years later, here we are.”

Following the October 10 screening and Q&A, Fong-Torres hosts a Sweetwater concert starring friends who either performed songs in the film or are related to his career: “We’ve got Maria Muldaur, Annie Sampson, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils’ Glenn Walters and the Starship’s David Freiberg, singing the ’60s anthem, ‘Get Together,’” notes our new resident movie star. “Then I’ll entertain with my impressions of Elvis, Dylan and Dean Martin.”

Haute tickets: This month, the most famous intersection in the countercultural world — Haight and Ashbury streets — features exhibition and event pop-ups (October 15 through mid-November) on the ground floor of the historic Doolan-Larson Residence, hosted by philanthropist Adam Swig to benefit his Value Culture nonprofit.

“Haight Ashbury is known for the Summer of Love,” notes Swig. “So we’re celebrating local artists and creators in the ‘Autumn of Awesome.’”

Journalist Suzanne Joe Kai directs Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres, which screens this month at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Highlights include Bark Mitzvah, an interactive exhibit for dogs and their people, and Seven by 7, an exhibit on and by The Last Black Man in San Francisco actor Jimmie Fails, who created a series of poems, short stories and ’zines during his San Francisco Heritage artist-in-residency at the historic home.

On October 15, St. Anthony’s Foundation hosts the 43rd Penny Pitch in the heart of North Beach at Chief Sullivan’s Irish Pub. The spirited “competition” is a down-home afternoon in support of St. Anthony’s critical social programs in the Tenderloin. Teams are comprised of sports celebs, restaurateurs and EssEff natives — “battling” it out to win the coveted trophy named in honor of late restaurateur Ed Moose, who dreamed up this heartfelt fundraiser.

Fare thee well: Exactly one year after the unexpected death of philanthropist Ann Getty, a full house of family, friends and fans gathered in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music concert hall to pay tribute to this beloved, dynamic lady.

Led by Conservatory President David Stull, an onstage program featured fond memories of Getty and her intellectual pursuits — symphonic trips to China, dusty archeological deserts digs in Ethiopia, interior design, major Dem donor — shared by friends including Chief of Protocol Charlotte Shultz, maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, anthropologist Dr. Tim White and James Cuno, CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world’s wealthiest art institution.

“To be seated next to Ann at a dinner and be dazzled by her deep knowledge of so many fascinating topics,” toasted Stull, “was like winning the lottery.”

Her exemplary pursuits encompassing education, the arts, science, history and classical music rang clear as a bell in the Conservatory music hall, an institution blessed by the beneficence of Ann and her husband, composer Gordon Getty.

The heartfelt tribute ended with a performance by composer Jake Heggie and soprano Lisa Delan, who sang one of Ann’s favorite Keats’ poems, “Shed No Tear,” which Heggie set to music.

But before the starry crowd (including major power brokers and longtime Getty family friends such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Governor Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, former Governor Jerry Brown and Da Mayor Willie Brown) took its leave for a reception at the Gettys’ Gold Coast manse, Stull announced that Ann’s educational legacy will now inspire young Conservatory students who study at the newly named Ann Getty Center for Education.


Join Catherine Bigelow each month for a roundup of newsy nuggets, boldface names and juicy tidbits. Gotta item to share? Email [email protected].

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