Friday, August 28, 2009

Mavericks Surf Contest 2009/2010 - 24 Contestants Named

It's the moment Mavericks fans have been waiting for, the announcement of the doughty 24 who will line up in hope of tackling one of the world's most dangerous waves in the 2009/2010 Mavericks Surf Contest.

The 24 are specially selected among the world's top big wave surfers. They will prepare themselves to be ready to ride the giant chill waves of Mavericks at Half Moon Bay at just 24 hours notice. First, though, they have to wait for Mother Nature to send a gigantic swell across the Pacific with waves deemed to be worthy enough within the contest season of November 1 to the end of March.

A record prize purse of $150,000 has been rolled over from last year.

Among the chosen few is the reigning Mavericks Champion, Greg Long of San Clemente, who won the title in 2008. Last season there was no contest because of a lack of waves. Instead, he gloried in winning Ride of the Year in the 2009 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards - the Oscars of surfing - and being nominated for Surfline Best Overall Performance Award.

He will be facing tough competition from Darryl 'Flea' Virostko who achieved a hat trick by becoming Mavericks Champion in the first three contests held in 1999, 2000 and 2004. 'Anywhere in the world, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who so perfectly combines a crazy, almost reckless attitude with raw ability,' says his Mavericks bio.

'Flea', from Santa Cruz, withdrew from injury in 2005 and the title passed to Anthony Tashnick, also from Santa Cruz and another hopeful this season. Anthony is listed as an 'alternate' for the prestigious Eddie Aikau contest in Hawaii for the third year in a row.

Also in the line-up is Grant 'Twiggy' Baker of Durban, South Africa, the Mavericks Champion of 2006 and last year's runner up. 'Twiggy,' says his Mavericks bio, had a 'stunning big-wave summer in South Africa, earning Billabong XXL nominations for Biggest Wave, Monster Paddle and Ride of the Year'. Another achievement is to be a main-list entry in the Eddie Aikau contest for the first time.

San Francisco's Grant Washburn, a finalist in '04, '06 and '08, has been surfing at Mavericks for many years alongside the now-deposed Contest Director and legendary pioneer of The Wave, Jeff Clark. Of all those in the line-up, Grant, described as having arms like oars, is considered to be the one with the most experience.

Not only a surfer, he is a filmmaker who has made documentaries and helped to produce books on The Wave. He coedited 'Inside Maverick's: Portrait of a Monster Wave', to which many of the surfers taking part this season contributed.

He is joined both in the event and surfer-writer world by Evan Slater of San Clemente, editor of Surfer Magazine.

Someone for whom the trophy seems to have slipped tantalisingly from him over the years is Pete Mel of Santa Cruz - 'To say that he's due would be putting it mildly. For years, Mel has been the hands-down choice as Mavericks most talented, influential surfer.' A pioneer of the Northern California tow-in movement, he is one of the two most known surfers from the area in Hawaiian competitions.

Brazilian Carlos Burle was winner of the Biggest Wave honors in 2002 for a colossal 68 ft Mavericks wave and was nominated for Monster Tube and Ride of the Year in the 2009 Billabong XXL awards.

Other contestants, all of whom have achieved distinctions in this life-threatening sport are: Hawaiians Brock Little, Jamie Sterling, third in the last contest, and Dave Wassell; Chris Bertish of South Africa - 'known to pull into any barrel at any size – the quickest way to gain respect in the big-wave surfing community.'; Ben Andrews of San Francisco and Nathan Fletcher of San Clemente, both of whom were injured and unable to compete last year; Matt Ambrose, a finalist in three of the last four contests and Shawn Rhodes, both of Pacifica, south of San Francisco - quote by Jeff Clark: “Shawn’s the kind of guy you see out at Mavericks when everyone else is running for cover.”

Another contingent are from Santa Cruz: Josh Loya; Shane Desmond - 'undoubtedly the most accomplished backside surfer in Mavericks' history' and a 2005 XXL winner of the Paddle-in award for a ride accomplished in the Mavericks contest; Zach Wormhoudt - 'among the most accomplished tow-surfers in the world, earning a Biggest Wave nomination in the 2009 Billabong XXL awards.'; Tyler Smith; and Kenny 'Skindog' Collins - 'In the summer of '06, he came out of a massive tube at Puerto Escondido - one of the most sensational performances ever witnessed at the famed Mexico break - to win both Ride of the Year and Monster Tube in the Billabong XXL awards.'

And there are two surfers from Half Moon Bay itself, Ion Banner, the first truly local guy to make the main list as Jeff Clark kept himself out of the competition when he was running it. Of Ion, it is said, 'Always a standout in past contests, Banner gained singular recognition last year for his amazing air-drops and whimsical switch-stance maneuvers.'; and Tim West - 'Best of the up-and-coming younger generation from the Half Moon Bay coastside', Tim made Mavericks headlines in 2005 when a shark buried a tooth in his board. See for the dramatic story.

One notable missing from this year's contest, however, is Jeff Clark. In an epic boardroom battle earlier this year, the man who discovered the Mavericks wave claims to have been pushed down and under. In his place is Keir J. Beadling, CEO of Mavericks Surf Ventures.

Seemingly, the cause of the battle is over the momentous decision of when to call the contest. Some years, in 2007 and 2009, Jeff as Contest Director never made that call. Not only is he no longer Contest Director but all mention of him has been deleted from the Mavericks website.

There was no contest, either, for three years between 2001 - 2003 due to sponsorship difficulties. This season the contest window opens on November 1 instead of January 1 due to increased sponsorship from Sony Ericsson.

What makes Mavericks to be 'like no other place on the planet'? It is waves often as high as 50 ft, very strong currents, dangerous rocks, shallow reefs and bone-chilling water.

Greg Long and Grant Washburn suffered competition-worthy wipeouts last year. Also 'Flea' Virostko 'on a face conservatively measured at 65 feet.'

Evan Slater knows injury from The Wave. He writes in Grant's book: 'Even after surviving countless beatings and a handful of two-wave hold-downs, I still have no clue why there's a 99.9 per cent wipeout survival rate at Maverick's. Every time you go through one, you wonder in midthrashing, "Is this the end for me?'''

Somewhere betweeen November 2009 and March 2010, these 24 surfing daredevils hope for the opportunity to pitch their skills against each other and Mother Nature...and come out alive.

For more info:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wings Over Wine Country Air Show 2009 - Fun Displays

Wings Over Wine Country Air Show on its second day - see previous blog - was also about highly skilled and entertaining displays of a different genre - see previous blog

The crowd held their breath as a 'very diminutive young lady' performed a headstand and kicked her legs - on top of a bright red and yellow plane in the air and with not even a lapbelt to hold her in place.

Teresa Stokes, a top wingwalker, flew with 'no safety wires, no ropes, no chains, no nothing!' She started with a lap belt, but removed it for the last few stunts, leaving her to hang on to a pole known as 'the javelin' as the plane turned upside down.

Acrobatic pilot, Gene Soucy, in his Showcat teamed with her for a stunning wingwalking act and also in the show gave a solo display.

Teresa, when she's not climbing onto the top of planes, is an aviation artist who has had two of her paintings exhibited in space on the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Another great acrobatics pilot was Greg Poe. He likens one of his stunts where he stands his plane on end and lets it slide downwards, to 'balancing a chair on one leg on one finger!'

Canadians Team Rocket performed as a duo, flipping their wings as they passed and looping over and around each other, leaving smoke patterns in the sky. They also did a routine with 'intruder' hang glider pilot, Dan Buchanan, cutting the ribbons from his glider. Dan, who entertained with live commentary during the mock contretemps, is a paraplegic hang glider from Nevada.

And model aircraft at the hands of experienced fliers added their own spin to acrobatics.

Drama arrived with 'Henry 1', the Sonoma County Sheriff's search and rescue helicopter. First, with one member of the SWAT team dangling on the end of a 100 ft rope, they demonstrated a precision rescue in an inaccessible place, harnessing and lifting someone off the top of a fire ladder. This done with just the pilot at the controls and no second person in the chopper to help guide.

Helicopters like this are used in the commercial world for logging or lifting heavy things onto buildings.

Next, Henry 1 returned with six members of the SWAT team hanging onto the rope. Their mission: to rescue a hostage on a school bus. Amid thick plumes of black smoke, they succeeded!

A timely demonstration, given the wildfire at Santa Cruz, was given by two firefighting planes. They showed how the planes work in pairs, the first one laying down a smoke trail to show the one following where to release the fire retardent.

It was a great show with a lot of variety and opportunity to see many old planes, including helicopters and Coast Guard seaplanes, and the chance to sit in quite a few cockpits. And you could also buy a luxury seven-seater jet or sit in an Indy car from the Infineon Raceway.

Not only were there veteran planes, however. One visitor for whom the show brought back memories was former paratrooper, 83-year-old Don Clouston.

Don jumped into Normandy on D-Day with the 101st Airborne Division. When the division was disbanded after the war, he saw later service in Korea with the 187th Airborne Division. His plane, a C-47, wasn't there, but an earlier DC-3 civilian version was.

Then 'I was young, dumb and gung-ho! I'd have to think a lot before I did it again,' he said. 'When you're young, you don't think you're going to die. I lost a lot of my buddies, but somehow I survived, I don't know how.'

pics by Chris

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wings over Wine Country Air Show 2009

The 'Big Dog' took mastery over the Sonoma skies this afternoon bringing a thunderous end to the Wings Over Wine Country Air Show.

America's newest and biggest lifter, the C-17 Globemaster 111, rolled to the end of the runway, creating airwaves that blew hats off in its wake.

Hang onto your children and your toupes, turn down your hearing aids, had advised the air force commentator who took over the 'mic.'

And then, 'who do they think they're dealing with?!!!' he roared of Big Dog's enemies as the beast shook the skies in a maximum angle climb.

With a wing span half the length of a football field and over 20 world records, Big Dog soared, dipped and turned with a power that could shake the grapes off the vines across Wine Country.

Thousands of people were gathered for the annual celebration of aviation history presented by the Pacific Coast Air Museum. The two-day show exhibited planes from World War 11 to supersonic fighters, with plenty of entertainment flying and imaginative demonstrations in between.

Veteran aircraft with 'open cockpits' for people to climb into lined part of the grounds at the Charles M Schulz - Sonoma County Airport, and Big Dog earlier in the day was open to visitors to not only roam inside its cavernous body but view the flight deck.

Among its duties, the cargo plane powers its way to the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan to rescue seriously injured service men and women and ferry them to hospital in Germany and performs humanitarian airlifts.

It has a speed of 450 knots at 28,000 ft, a short landing capability of 1,200 ft and to fill up with gas would take four days of pumping 24 hours a day.

Warbirds from World War 11 had a special and protected showcasing. For the first hour only there was opportunity to get close-up to them.

During the air display itself, warbirds from both World War 11 and after were an evocative showpiece: three bomber escorts, silver P-51 D Mustangs, with Rolls Royce Merlin engines, that became the 'cadillac of the skies.' These later versions flew with disposable fuel tanks enabling them to escort bombers all the way to Germany and back, rather than having to return to Britain halfway; a US Navy trainer, a black T-28 Trojan of which production began in 1950; and a British-designed fighter-bomber, the Hawker Sea Fury, that flew with the Royal Canadian Navy.

While the grandees paraded, the show music was turned down for the distinctive throb of their engines to be heard. The Mustangs especially are a preserved remnant. Of 15,000 that were built, only 150 remain across the world. At the end, the Warbirds flew in the Missing Men formation, as all at the show stood to honour those who had lost their lives in war, and their families.

Half-way through the show, four sleek black supersonic T-38 fighter jets from the Beale Air Force Base, California, made a handsome fly-past at 500 ft. It was a fleeting appearance and announcer Rob Reider said it had been hoped that they would fly at 300ft, but it was not to be.

However, an A-10 Thunderbolt 11, the 'workhorse of power and manoeuvrability,' roared and rolled with power and agility for some minutes around the runway. Known as 'the warthog,' it is used today for ground attack and close air support of ground forces.

Also putting in an appearance that afternoon were a WW 11 fighter, a P-38 Lightning; trainers from Red China, the CJ-6s, appreciated as 'Cold War Trophies' and still in service in Developing Countries; and North American T-6 Texans, known as 'the pilot makers' for their crucial role in training.

pics by Chris: Big Dog; the Mustangs, Trojan and Hawker Sea Fury; A-10 Thunderbolt

more to follow....

Saturday, August 15, 2009

J-Pop Culture - Center Opens in San Francisco!

Japanese Street Fashion looks likely to explode on the streets of San Francisco with the opening of a store that is the first in America to sell some of the leading designs.

Up to now, devotees have quietly been importing clothes from Japan or making their own. Japantown today though was the day when the fashion, part of Japanese popular culture, really took to the streets.

The J-Pop Summit Festival was the party to celebrate the arrival of such designer labels as Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Alice and the Pirates, 6%DokiDoki and

Black Peace Now.

Girls paraded in colourful, elaborate costumes, many of which are an artistic version of Alice in Wonderland, accessorized from head to toe. There was an open-air fashion show, music from MTV Iggy with live bands, plenty of food stalls and, outside and in of the store that was the centre of attention, long, long queues.

'I just really like the way you can express yourself as something different, it's not just limited to conventional ways of dress,' said Marissa, who was turned out in an outfit she had made herself.

'This is something I actually wear to work - I'm an in-house artist for a website company,' she said. Her company was 'really lax about a dress code. They really encourage me to dress the way I want.'

Kaydie and Kristin posed for a pic and a cluster of admirers with cameras started clicking.

Kaydie has been following the fashion for about two years, 'ever since I got my first dress for Christmas,' while Kristin

has been interested for seven years and bought her first dress about five years ago.

The fashion has many genres, one of the main ones being 'Lolita,' but not connected to the infamous film of the same name. 'Baby', the most popular of the designer labels to come to San Francisco, specializes in Lolita which has sub-genres including Classic, Gothic, Punk and Sweet Lolita.

Kaydie was wearing another designer, a red Angelic Pretty in the style of Sweet Lolita, and Kristin in pink was styled as Hime - 'princess' - Lolita.

Many girls in San Francisco either make their own dresses, as Kristin had done, or take a design to a seamstress said Kristin. Some even design their own print first and have the material made up.

Part of the homemaking popularity was cost as the store designs are very expensive, especially for younger girls, she said. The fashion is popular with girls from their mid-teens to later twenties' and older girls tend to wear black-based designs with straighter skirts.

But there seemed to be no shortage of spending money this afternoon at New People that had thrown it's doors open. According to an internet site for devotees, some people had even travelled from LA.

'People are so ready! I've been getting emails from a month ago!' said the President and CEO of New People World and VIZ Pictures, Seiji Horibuchi.

Last night as he was in the store preparing for the opening, girls were walking up and down the street asking him what time this morning they needed to line up by!

'It's like a whole community,' he said. 'It's totally a Japanese original. It doesn't look like it,' he said of the style that has refashioned something of a young girl's Victorian look. The store is also selling artifacts, for example, lamps and ornaments, toys, books and a range of ties.

Most of the items have come from individual craftspeople and are being sold in the USA for the first time. The buyers, he said, had had one hectic year finding interesting goods. On the top floor of the J-Pop center is an art gallery, and in the basement is the VIZ Cinema showing Japanese films.

pics show: models at the fashion show; Marissa; Kadie and Kristin; the New People store.

'Let's Go Fly a Kite!'

Over 70 children coloured kites and clutched strings as 'let's go fly a kite!' was a popular activity in the picturesque Mission Creek Park today.

The children designed and assembled their own kites and flew them, their mums and dads having just as much fun.

'It's great, it's the first time I've been here,' said Cindy, watching six-year-old Brandon draw with crayons on his kite in the pavilion.

Brandon meticulously explained his design: an airport, airplanes, lots of trains on the tracks and a broken wheel.

Was he looking forward to flying it?

'Yes!' he said.

Kite Day was staged by the Mission Bay Parks System, part of whose role is to provide community events. This is the second time they have had a kite-flying day for the public, and have just held two others for day camps for UCSF, whose new campus is behind the park.

Property Manager, Carolyn, was pleased by the response. Over 70 people had made an RSVP on behalf of children and others had just showed up.

'At Mission Bay you have wind and you have children!' she said, though she added, as she stood in the sun enjoying the kites, that the day had not turned out to be as windy as usual.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Darwin Coon

The only ex-Alcatraz inmate who made it back to the Rock for the 75th Anniversary of it's opening as a federal penitentiary was 76-year-old Darwin Coon, a former bank robber who helped in the 'dummies' heads' escape of three men.

He was one of over 75 Alcatraz Alumni, the rest made up of former guards and residents, who returned for the day to give audiences and to meet people...see previous blog

'This island was a hell hole,' he said, standing in the dining room with sight of the kitchen behind barred doors where he used to work as a cook.

In the first of three public audiences that he held over the day, he gave a brief history of himself before turning it into a quickfire question and answer session:

He started his criminal career very young, was at Reformed School by the age of 12, and at 26-years-old, figured he would die in Alcatraz. He arrived on the Rock in 1959 and was one of the last group of prisoners to leave in February 1963, he told his audience.

Due to a sentencing error, Darwin entered Alcatraz not only with shackles on his hands and feet but the weight of an 80-year jail sentence on his young shoulders.

Why did he take the risk of helping in an escape attempt? I asked.

'Well, they were friends of mine,' he said of the Anglin brothers. He had got to know John and Clarence when they were in jail with him in the Leavenworth Prison in Kansas.

Does he still think, as he has written in his book and continued to say, that they and third inmate Frank Lee Morris survived the attempt?

'They got away from here. That's my opinion.' Their bodies were never discovered, he added.

If he were to devise an escape plan, how would he do it? someone else asked.

'I would do it the same way,' he said, by using dummies and escaping at night. It was nine hours before the men were discovered to be missing, whereas during the day they would be checked every 15 minutes.

How did he feel when Alcatraz closed?

He was 'glad'. The then Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy, closed it down because it was too expensive to run.

What was the worst part of his stay?

'You had no social time on this island.' It was worse, he explained, than other prisons because prisoners only had two hours out of their cells in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon.

The very worst of all was when he was sent to the isolation unit for 29 days as punishment for being found with a knife. Kept in a darkened cell - he added 'wearing a pair of boxer shorts' out of decency before a mixed audience - he struggled to keep warm and was fed only half rations twice a day plus no dessert.

He had made the knife with brass so it bypassed the 'snitch box', the metal detector, and was carrying it to protect himself from a prisoner who had tried to stab him, he said.

Of the inmate, Darwin said, 'He was just crazy, he was mental,' and 'he didn't get caught,' he added in answer to another question.

What does he think about prisons today?

'My belief is they need about 1,000 of these scattered throughout the US,' he said, meaning prisons that are strict. Today's prisons are too soft.

What was Darwin in for?

For robbing five banks. From the first four, he and others had netted $1 million in today's currency.

How was he caught?

In a road block, 45 miles down the road from the last bank.

Why didn't he stop at four?

'We were on the run from the law. We needed to keep running.' And the money he'd had, he'd 'spent on pretty girls!'

Does he believe in the death penalty?

'Yes. Sure.' There are hundreds of guys over there, he said, referring to San Quentin, sitting on Death Row, and the state isn't executing any of them. The task of keeping them behind bars is enormous and it costs so much money.

Were there any women inmates?

There were no women and no gangs, either

What terrible incidents did he see?

Two men get killed and dozens of guys cut up.

Was there anything good about Alcatraz?

'The only thing that was good about this island, they served good food.'

The meanest prisoner?

'Red' Hayes, who was transferred from the state prison of Massachusetts. He killed seven men, five with his bare hands.

What family did Darwin have?

Two sisters and a brother. One of his sisters used to visit him.

Did he have any hobbies in Alcatraz, like many of the prisoners?

'No hobbies.'

How does he spend his time now?

'I go visit people and hang round the house, whatever!' Live one day at a time, that was the strategy he used in D-Block - the isolation unit - he added.

Did he resent the guards?

'No. They were just here trying to make a living.'

Is he in contact with any of his foster children?

'I don't see them - they're in Iowa - but I hear from them all the time...especially when they want money!!!'

Darwin found faith in God while in Alcatraz. When he came out he became a committed Christian, married his now late wife, Marge, and became a foster father.

For 18 years he ran a 'safe home', he said, and fostered 94 children. 'We raised nine from babies', he added. 'Those were the best years of my life. Most of them (the children) are doing pretty good.'

Did he ever feel he shouldn't have been in Alcatraz?

'No, I put myself here,' he replied, this despite the fact that he was transferred from the Kansas jail for a false accusation of stealing prison tools.

How long has he been going back to Alcatraz? Since 1994 when he visited it with a niece. The Rangers discovered he was on the island and he's been going back ever since for events and to sign copies of his book.

Does he have any regrets?

'Yes, many, many of them, but there's not a thing I can do about it. They're all in the past.'

pics by Chris: Alcatraz barracks and the jetty where the boats dock; Darwin and his audience; the kitchen through the bars.

Darwin's lifestory see:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Alcatraz Alumni at 75th Anniversary - Stories of the Rock's Notorious Inmates and Residents

A former Alcatraz guard who used to sit and play checkers with notorious inmate, 'Birdman' Robert Stroud, was giving his story on the Rock yesterday.

He was one of over 75 Alcatraz Alumni, including an ex-con, former guards and residents, gathered there to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the opening of the federal penitentiary...see previous blogs

The guard was 83-year-old George De Vincenzi.

'George knew him best of anyone because George spent time in the hospital,' said one of the Rangers.

George is also the guard with the epithet of the 'most dramatic introduction to working there' in the history of Alcatraz.

Playing checkers with Stroud wasn't allowed on the basis that it constituted socializing with an inmate, especially such a high-security one.

'It was prohibited to do what I did,' said George. But he did it. 'We both were bored, and it was an opportunity to pass a little time occasionally.'

Stroud, said George describing the hospital scene, was 'behind a barred door with a chain and lock on it, I did not even have the key. I put a little table against the barred door and he played with his hands through the bars.'

Security for Stroud was so tight that before George could push the table up to the bars he had first to open another door, a thick oak one with a glass window at the top. When the oak door was closed, Stroud would stand behind the window 'to look out and try to get your attention,' he said.

George, however, was always very aware of the dangers of socializing with inmates. Of conversation with Stroud he said, 'I kept that to a minimum. I didn't want it to get personal. If you get too close they begin to want something from you. The next thing you know, they want you to bring a letter out, or something in. I was very wary of that.'

'He would ask me questions sometimes about my family. I knew what I was doing. I just answered what I had to.'

The idea of playing checkers had been passed on by a fellow officer who also played occasionally. The clandestine games took place only when George was confident he could trust other officers to watch out for him and warn him if senior officers were about. 'If I couldn't trust them, I wouldn't do it,' he said.

Had he been caught, 'I probably would have been given thirty days off, possibly fired.'

Who won the games?

'He did! I don't believe I won one. He beat me at checkers, he won all the time.'

Stroud, the 'Birdman', was considered to have a high IQ score of 134, and researched and wrote on birds that he had kept in his former prison in Kansas. He spent a record 44 years in isolation, 17 years of that in Alcatraz, for his brutality.

He killed a barman, assaulted a prison orderly, stabbed a prison inmate, made threats against prisoners and finally murdered a prison officer. Deemed a risk to other prisoners, for most of his time there he was only let out when they were locked up, a feature that used to annoy many of the prisoners, said George.

He was also a known homosexual and a psychopath. 'He was a psychopath. Definitely,' confirmed George.

But though George used to supervise him in the bathroom without the protection of metal bars, he never feared for his personal safety.

'I was always leery of him, but I got to know him quite well, and I got along fine with him,' he said.

Which wasn't the case with all prisoners. His first morning's work there would have sent many a man scurrying back to the dole queue.

George had returned to America from service in the navy during the Second World War. He needed employment and decided to take a short intensive training course to become a Correctional Officer, as guards were called, on Alcatraz.

Three weeks later, Monday morning at 9 am with 'starched shirt and shiny shoes', he reported for his first duty. He was given the innocuous-sounding task of supervising at the barber's, a place where inmates cut each other's hair. It would serve as a sharp lesson that nowhere on the Rock was safer than any other.

There were two black inmates there, Freddie Lee 'Curly' Thomas, barber for black inmates, and in the chair, Joseph Barsock. Both were murderers.

They were whispering together, George recounted. 'I began to get a little suspicious,' he said.

Without warning, suddenly the barber plunged his shears into Barsock's neck, heart and lungs.

'I jumped in like a damn fool,' said George, who risked his life to try and separate them. Barsock collapsed on the floor.

'And then a very strange thing happened,' said George. The barber knelt down, kissed the dying man on the side of the face and whispered "I love you."

The attack was a lovers' tiff, and the time was 9.35 am. George was 24-years-old and had completed his first 35 minutes on duty.

As officers rushed into the room, George, who now cannot recall how he came to have the bloodied shears in his hands but presumes he must have picked them up, handed the gruesome evidence over to an officer.

Nor was it to be the only murder that he witnessed. Five years later, and George had been promoted and given more responsibility. One morning he was ascribed the role of Acting Lieutenant. He had to go to D-Block, the isolation unit, with two other officers to fetch a prisoner who had been in there for two years for his own protection.

He was one of two inmates who had both been sentenced to 40 years in jail for mutiny in the army. Again, it was a lovers' quarrel and one had threatened the other. After two years, and with space needed in the special treatment unit, officers thought that the grievance would have melted away.

George brought the prisoner into the shower and clothing room to kit him out for his return to the main cell block. But who should be working there that morning? His ex-lover. Before George could realize what was happening, the ex-lover had pulled a knife and stabbed his former partner.

'Within thirty seconds, he was dead,' said George.

Over his time there, he was on duty when other terrible things happened, including the incident when an inmate slit his throat with glass from a light bulb.

How did the murders impact George, especially the first one with the barber?

'I'm not the kind of person that falls apart with something like that,' he replied. In part, he was strengthened by his war service, in part he had a resilience and strength of personality that enabled him to cope.

'I've seen potential officers go over there and when they enter inside they say "this is not for me, I don't want the job."'

'You've got to be a certain type of person to do it.'

During the Anniversary day, George related some of his experiences before an audience. Asked by someone if he had any regrets, he replied, 'It doesn't seem as bad (now) as it did then.

'Looking back, it was quite an experience!'

pic by Chris

more stories to follow...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Alcatraz 75th Anniversary - Alumni Discuss Escapes

The greatest mystery of Alcatraz surrounds the 'dummy heads' escape of three men in 1962.

Their escape was still a disputed topic on the Rock today as over 75 Alcatraz Alumni, including an ex-con and former guards and residents, gathered to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the
opening of the federal penitentiary...see previous blog
for first part of previously untold escape story

'I am certain that they drowned because nothing has ever been heard of

them,' said 85-year-old Bill Long, the guard that discovered they were missing on the morning of June 12, 1962.

Bank robbers, brothers John and Clarence Anglin, and Frank Lee Morris, convicted of crimes ranging from narcotics to armed robbery, had planned and worked on their escape for over a year with a fourth man, Allen West, a car thief. All were in Alcatraz because of escape attempts in previous prisons.

Once the prisoners had worked out their escape from the cell blocks, they then had to find a means to cross the treacherous waters of the Bay, not to San Francisco but to Angel Island and the Marin headland on the opposite side to the city. They collected prison-issue rubberized raincoats from some of the inmates to make a raft and life vests. To inflate the raft, they used a concertina, one of the musical instruments provided for the prisoners' 'music hour.'

The first thing the prisoners would have had to do on reaching land was to steal a car, said Bill. They would also have had to rob for money. There were no stolen cars reported, nor was anyone robbed at that time.

'There's a theory someone was supposed to meet them,' he said, dismissing it, and likewise rumours that they made it to South America, but the FBI's checked everything out, he shrugged.

The raft was flimsy, he said, being put together in small squares. 'They were trying to go to Angel Island - the largest island in the Bay - that raft didn't make it, I'm sure,' he said.

The Anglin brothers were 'dumb-hill hillybillies' who had started with petty crimes and graduated to bank robbery, said Bill. A third brother, Alfred, convicted of the same bank robbery had remained in jail in Atlanta because he hadn't joined them in an escape attempt.

Morris, however, was a different kettle of fish. 'He had an IQ of 118, something like that,' said Bill. 'He's the guy that devised the raft but he didn't pick the tides very well.'

The night of the escape, the tide was flowing fast at 6 knots.

A replica of the escape had been attempted for a TV documentary. Picking a professional swimmer and a tide running at the same speed, the 'escape' had to be abandoned and the swimmer rescued because the tide was pushing him out of the Golden Gate, said Bill.

Generally, the men might not have been in bad shape physically but they had had no training. In fact, one of the inmates reported to the authorities afterwards that John Anglin had described himself as a poor swimmer.

Former guard, 82-year-old Frank Heaney, with the distinction of being the youngest-ever guard on Alcatraz, agreed. Asked by one of the audience about the escape as he was giving a talk about his experiences, he thought that conditions that night defeated the men. The water temperature was cold as usual at 55 degrees, the distance to land was about one mile to one-and-a-quarter miles, and the tide was running very swiftly out to the Golden Gate, he said.

'So we think they drowned and got swept out into the ocean. No-one knows for sure,' he added. He thought it significant, though, that Fox TV had once offered a $1 million reward for information.

'That's how much they think those inmates drowned,' he said. But of the escape plan itself, he said, 'And what a genius escape that was!'

Ex-bank robber, 76-year-old Darwin Coon, who was a friend of the Anglins and helped in their escape, disagreed that they had drowned in the attempt.

'They got away from here, that's my opinion,' he said. Darwin's view is that the Anglins simply went back to the Everglades of Florida where they were from, and disappeared. Their bodies were never discovered, he maintained.

In the days after the escape, the remains of the raft, homemade paddles, two life vests - one in the Bay, the other outside the Golden Gate - and two packages containing Anglin family photos and sheets of paper with names and addresses on, were found floating in the water.

Several weeks later, a body was found outside the Bay but was so badly decomposed - CSI hadn't been invented! - that it remained unidentified. The colour of the clothing was blue, though bleached by the water, and so a query remains as to whether it was blue prison issue clothing.

Darwin had earned the reputation of being a 'solid con', one who wouldn't squeal on other inmates. He knew the Anglins from their time together in the Kansas prison and when asked by John to help, he took the risk because he was a friend.

The irony of Darwin's criminal career is that he was sent to Alcatraz in September 1959 from Kansas for a crime he DIDN'T commit: the theft of prison tools.

At Alcatraz, Darwin worked in the kitchen as a cook. Shortly after, an inmate on the maintenance team slipped him a screwdriver. At a prearranged time, he went to the restroom, unscrewed the cap on the waste line and lowered the screw driver down on a cord to the waiting John.

Over a few months Darwin passed on more tools and one day in the exercise yard surreptitiously handed over his raincoat.

He discovered afterwards that other prisoners were doing the same.

Darwin was asked by someone in the audience as he spoke, how would he have devised an escape plan?

'I would do it the same way, with dummies,' he replied. With guards checking prisoners every 15 minutes during the day, the nighttime was the only possibility.

The question remains, however, why did the Fourth Man, Allen West, remain in his cell on the night, and who was the inventor of the 'genius escape'?

Bill believes he has the answers. At the time, West said that work on the vent in his cell wall wasn't finished and by the time he had squeezed out into the cavity, the others had vanished onto the roof. This meant that West wasn't able to get through the air vent and onto the roof by himself because of its height, the others having hoisted the first man up and pulled the last man through.

Not so, said Bill. 'I do think he stayed behind and he was smart.'

The raft, said Bill, was small and would only take three men. The Anglins and Morris were planning to abandon West on the shore, and West knew this.

Even though he was the mastermind of the scheme. In the early years after the escape, Morris was credited with devising the plan. But others began to say it was West.

It was West who spotted the possibility when he was working at the top of the block, said Bill, confident of his sources on both this and the intent to abandon West on the Rock.

'I have heard that from some very reliable inmates. I'd been there about ten years before the escape. I got to know some of the inmates pretty well.'

pics by Chris show: Alcatraz water tower; Darwin; Frank; Bill

More firsthand stories of life on the Rock and it's notorious inmates in next blogs

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI have released its documents on the escape:

A Summary of all the Escape Attempts:

Saturday, August 8, 2009

75th Anniversary of Alcatraz - Alumni and Untold Escape Story

It is the escape story from Alcatraz that's 'never been told,' said former guard, Bill Long, today, speaking on the Rock as part of the celebrations of the 75th Anniversary of the opening of the federal penitentiary.

The untold story concerns the most ingenious of escapes, that of the Anglin brothers and Frank Lee Morris.

Also giving their stories were ex-bank robber Darwin Coon and other former guards and their families who lived on the Rock during its illustrious penitentiary days from 1934 to 1963. Another ex-con, John Dekker, also a bank robber, was due to be there but was ill.

The Alcatraz Alumni as they are known have been gathering annually since the 50th Anniversary in 1984. The anniversary event was a sell-out, giving 5,000 people the chance to meet over 75 former residents of the Rock.

The story, however, that has
not been told is what happened on the evening watch of June 11, 1962, the night of the escape. Up until now it has been thought that the prisoners escaped without being noticed at all. But, says Bill, they were heard by two officers who failed to react to warning signs.

'I was the one that discovered they were gone,' he said.

In 1962, John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris had burrowed through their cell walls by enlarging vents at the back, giving them access to a cavity in the cell block. They made false wall segments to cover the holes. From there they scaled up pipes to an air vent and cut away metal bars, using the prisoners' 'music hour' to cover the noise, to be able to get onto the roof.

On the night of their escape, they placed dummy heads in their beds made with real hair and painted flesh colour, so that they weren't missed until morning.

That evening Bill was five minutes late arriving for his shift due to the fact that he was working a double shift. The report when he took over was that all was routine. 'It was actually anything but routine,' he said.

Minutes before he reported for duty, his fellow guard - the strict term was Correctional Officer - had heard a loud noise like a hub being dropped on the ground.

One of the escapees had dropped the cover off the air vent as they were removing it. 'It rumbled,' he said, and was heard by inmates.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, an officer working in the prison hospital heard footsteps on the roof and notified the control center. Nothing happened. Ten minutes later, the hospital officer called again.

This time a lieutenant got a key and went to the hospital. He couldn't hear any footsteps, said Bill, but of course the Anglins and Morris were not there by then. They were out and down by the shore.

What the lieutenant should have done, said Bill, was to 'make sure there's a man in every cell,' by doing a stand-up count. If that had happened, the escapees would have been caught on the Rock. Instead, the officer in charge 'came back down and ignored the whole thing.'

At 7.15 am the following morning, a sergeant 'hot-footed' it to Bill: at the stand-up count three men weren't responding.

Bill went along to the cells. Then he knelt with his head against the bars and with his left hand struck one of the men's pillows hard - the pillow not the head, he stressed. 'The head flopped over on the floor. That's when the shit hit the fan,' he said.

How did he react to that?

'Ma'am, that would give you a shock! They said I jumped back about four feet, and I was kneeling!' he said.

Whistles blew then, Bill notified Control Room and 'we started looking at every nook and cranny.' The errant lieutenant was never disciplined.

'I've never really told this story much before,' said 85-year-old Bill, speaking in a corner of the prisoners' dining room to a small cluster of journalists and cameramen.

As Bill spoke, it became apparent that quite a large number of inmates had been aware of the impending escape. Why, he was asked, did it remain unknown from the guards and those in charge?

'They must have had everyone pretty well scared,' said the questioner.

'The whole group were rooting for someone who would be able to make the break,' said Bill, to prove that it was possible to escape. That's why even their regular, reliable snitch - he didn't name a name - kept quiet.

Another factor was the unusual method that they used - to chisel through rock at the back of the cell with sharpened spoons and other implements.

'For years and years we checked the bars, but we never checked the back (of the cell), it was meant to be solid rock,' he said. Every so often guards were required to tap the metal bars with a rubber hammer. If they vibrated, all was secure.

But checking the backs of the cells? 'It never entered anyone's mind. It was quite clever the way they got out.'

Bill enjoys his story-telling. 'I'm the guy that knocked the head off....I enjoy it (the story telling) in fact,' he said. Now living in Pennsylvania, he handed out a business card that describes him as a historian and story teller.

He arrived at Alcatraz with his wife, 18-month-old daughter and six-month-old son in 1953 and stayed until it closed in 1963.

The mystery surrounding the escape of John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris has never been solved. Did they make it to Angel Island and Marin County where they were heading for, or San Francisco, and to freedom, or did they drown?

For Bill's views and those of Darwin Coon and former guard Frank Heaney, and to discover who was the real mastermind behind the escape...see next blog

pics by Chris

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Skydivers Make Record Demonstration Jump in San Francisco

The views were 'just awesome' said Blake, of dropping into San Francisco out of sunny, clear blue skies.

From 12,000 ft down, for the first time in his life he saw over the city, and the Bay with Alcatraz, the Golden Gate bridges and beyond.

He was part of a specialized 100-strong team performing the biggest-ever skydiving

demonstration in America in order to promote the new T-Mobile myTouch 3G phone....see previous blog

'It's one of the coolest visual skies I've ever done. This was definitely the top drop and definitely THE demo jump I've ever done in 18 years of jumping,' he said, exhilarated by the success of the freefall.

'This is my first time in San Francisco. I grew up on the West Coast and it's the first time I've been here,' he said, as he stood minutes later in the Justin Herman Plaza by the Ferry Building.

The jump was organized through Skydiving Innovations, a company that specializes in skydiving demonstrations, often with some of its members in costume. Yesterday in the plaza there was an Elvis.

Many are either active or former military personnel from special forces both in America and Britain.

Michael, a Navy SEAL, said the biggest challenge had been turbulence around the skyscrapers.

Because of this, and because it was the biggest-scale demonstration ever carried out in America, their top 100 skydivers had

been picked.

'We wanted to get it right first time,' he said, as it would pave the way for other large-scale feats in the future.

The event, he stressed, had been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Michael has made 2,800 jumps and has been four years in the Navy, and pointed out that some of the team had made 6,000, 9,000, and even 12,000 jumps.

Next to Michael was Nathaniel, with 11,000 jumps, who was thrilled to have taken part in the 'biggest demo ever.'

According to the show's commentator, the average for the team is 7,000. One of the participants is the most experienced in the movie world, the man who parachuted off the Eiffel Tower as May Day in A View to a Kill in 1985. The film was the last of Roger Moore as Bond.

Also there was the skydiver who was the first-ever skydiver to re-enter in mid-air the plane that he had just jumped from, a manoeuvre executed by the plane nose-diving beneath him.

Another world record-holder was Carmen, one of about 20 women in the team. She has made 2,400 jumps and has 25 years of experience. As a Program Analyst for the California Department of Transportation, she also uses her skydiving skills to raise money for breast cancer.

She holds two womens' world records for the largest formation skydives and in September will attempt a third under the charity, Jump for the Cause, which raises money for breast cancer research at the City of Hope cancer center near Los Angeles."

On her Jump for the Cause blog she writes, 'I started skydiving Easter Sunday, 1985. I worked in a church at the time and thought, "what a cool way to get close to God!" The sky has been my sanctuary ever since.'

The skydivers mingled with the crowds in the plaza, some having to disentangle themselves from the pink and white streamers that had been sent up into the air to mark the launch of the phone, and posed for pics. Elvis especially was mobbed!

So will this giant razzmatazz achieve it's commercial goal of enticing customers to buy a myTouch 3G phone?

Alex and Paul, who work in the city, saw the end of the display and were now eating lunch on the plaza steps.

'It's not going to make me switch, but it will create some intelligence,' said Alex, with Paul agreeing, 'it's definitely made me notice it a lot more than it would if it was on TV.'

But to purchase? Paul said no, as mobile phone contracts are for two years so to buy a T-Mobile phone would mean breaking his contract.

Alex was philosophical. 'So who knows, when my current contract ends in a year-and-a-half, maybe they'll have something better.'

pics show: Blake; Michael; Carmen; Elvis being mobbed; Alex and Paul

Albums 1 of pics

Album 2 of pics

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Skydiving Record in San Francisco

The largest-ever skydiving demonstration in America happened at lunchtime today in the skies over San Francisco.

A hundred top skydivers, many with military experience and holding skydiving records, landed in four different places near the Bay.

The event was a launch by T-Mobile of their new myTouch 3G phone.

First, L39 Patriot jets flew low between the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges streaming pink, white and blue smoke.

Then five planes carried the skydivers up. From 12,000 ft they jumped, dotting the sky with colour as they opened their chutes and floated over the edges of the city and the Bay.

Trailing plumes of smoke, some performed 'stacks', jumping in pairs and breaking away nearer the ground to allow banners to flap behind them.

An Elvis was in the air, if not singing Blue Suede Shoes then perhaps Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

There were four landing sites. Two were in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge at Marina Green and the Moscone Recreation Center near to Fort Mason, one was at Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf, and another at the Justin Herman Plaza opposite the Ferry Building, close to the heart of San Francisco. Because of the plaza's popularity, there were landing spots at both ends.

The plaza was crowded both with people who had come to see the event and those who were there fortuitously as part of their regular lunchtime break.

Before the air show, there was entertainment from breakdancers, The Renegades, professional skateboarders and a BMX Biker, all of whom have achieved recognition in their sport and compete internationally.

Entertainment was running from midday to 6 pm, with acrobatics from the San Francisco Circus, jugglers, mime artists, and plenty of music with live performances including drumming displays.

And costumed characters to enliven an already lively scene, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Jimi Hendrix to name a few, said Rae of T-Mobile. She was rounding up her lime-green tee-shirted teams to promote the new phone.

The plaza was festive. Strings of large red and white balloons arched over the heads of the crowd. Midday chimes from the clock tower at the Ferry Building were struck. 'Hello, San Francisco!' announced the commentator, and the show was rolling with relay broadcasting on the jumbutron - giant screen - from a live satellite at Coit Tower.

Heads tilted upwards to search for the jets, but they flew too low to be seen well, and the best views were on screen, only a few distant glimpses available over the Bay.

And then came the skydivers, first appearing around the side of a skyscraper. As they landed, a celebratory burst in the plaza sent pink and white streamers and balloons skywards.

The myTouch 3G phone was well and truly....launched!!!

Interviews with the skydivers in next blog...

Album 1 of pics:

Album 2 of pics

pics show: the jets relayed on the screen at the Justin Herman Plaza by the Ferry Building; jumping over Marina Green near Fort Mason; a skydiver over the top of the Ferry Building; skydivers stacking in pairs and displaying banners; flying near the Bay Bridge

Rod Stewart Concert at HP Pavilion in San Jose

In fuchsia jacket the 'Ole Rocker with rooster hair and raspy voice crooned, 'Some guys have all the luck, some guys have all the pain....'

And Rod Stewart was back, performing to a rapturous welcome from thousands of fans in the HP Pavilion at San Jose last night.

Other old favourites followed, It's a Heartache, which was Bonnie Tyler's hit, and then This Old Heart of Mine. Up on the jumbutron, as Rod sang, was a Motown tribute featuring clips of many of the artists in their younger days. The song had

first been recorded by The Isley Brothers, was covered by Rod, and re-recorded very successfully as a duet by Rod and Ronald Isley in 1990.

Next came the pathos-loaded Cat Stevens' song, The First Cut is the Deepest. By then, Rod had the audience on their feet, rocking and swaying and

waving hands gripping pic-taking phones.

But before there was even a glimpse of Rod, was a cartoon version of Rod the Terminator, known as the Rodminator!

The show was fun, a mix of favourite songs, video clips including some of his beloved Celtic Football Club, great individual performances from some of the backing band, and an unexpected star turn from his 22-year-old daughter, Ruby.

Ruby, daughter of model Kelly Emberg, exuded personality as she strode the stage and belted out Son of a Preacher Man and Rescue Me, the second song particularly suited to her voice, and the audience showed their appreciation.

'I want to say "thank you" to my father,' Ruby said after her performance, for the opportunity she had had to sing. Returning to the stage, Rod said how proud he was of her and added that he was proud of all six of his children.

After four songs, Rod sat on a stool and launched into 'Having a Party,' a song that was 'sung by my personal idol, the late great Sam Cooke', whom he had listened to while he was growing up.

The show was as much about nostalgia as great performance. With Rod having turned 64 in January, there was less of the old Rod from yesteryear. Still a performer to woo his audience, there were subtle signs of a slowing down. Less of the wild dancing, and breaks for costume changes filled by the other performers.

After his own song of You Wear it Well, he sung Downtown Train, with drum solos from David Palmer and Matt O'Connor that had the audience wildly applauding.

Back on stage, Rod in white jacket opened up with Tonight's the Night, a song which he combined with another great love, Celtic Football Club. To the lilt of 'ain't nobody gonna stop us now' there was video of the Scottish team, kitted in green and white, as they scored triumphantly and held aloft a coveted silver trophy!

Circling a drum were the words, 'The Celtic Football Club, 1888'. Footballing memorabilia is a hint of Rod's brief professional career with London's Brentwood Football Club. Fortunately, the musical world won him over.

His three vocalists showed off the power and range of their voices, singing Rhythm of My Heart, with Rod, an ode to his Scottish heritage accompanied by the sound of bagpipes, and later, the Ike and Tina Turner hit, Proud Mary. Also on stage were saxophonist Katja Rieckermann and violinist J"Anna Jacoby.

A trio of rock songs followed, Twistin' the Night Away, written and recorded first by Sam Cooke and recorded twice by Rod, Forever Young, and Chuck Berry's Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller.

And then the inevitable for us happened. It wasn't Love Train but Last Train. There were six songs to go, and Maggie May was the last, said the usher as she opened the door for us.

I could only imagine the rest as we sat on the train rolling into the night. With it's unmistakable strains of the mandolin.......'you stole my soul and that's a pain I can do without.' The roar of the chorus as thousands of voices join him, 'Maggie! I wish I'd never seen your face!'......

Poor Maggie! The face that millions the world over wish they'd never seen. But without it, Rod Stewart wouldn't be Rod Stewart!!!

I also left behind in the seat next to me, Norma, a 78-year-old San Franciscan who rocks! Norma, like many of the audience, remembers Rod from the start of his career.

Does she have a favourite song?

''I don't have a favourite song. I like them all, there's something about everything, when you like someone, you find something in it - the song - that you like. His tone is mellow', she went on. 'He's soft, he's not screeching at you.'

Age is irrelevant to Norma. 'I'm 78 and I want to keep going!' she said.

For more pics from Chris click here:

pics show: Rod on screen and below, on stage with some of his band and backing vocalists; Ruby, his 22-year-old daughter; fans Gary and his 'rocker' of a mum, Norma

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Applause - a documentary on San Franicsco's Musicians and the Music Industry

They are the stomping, strumming, gyrating icons of music: Elvis, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Rod Stewart, Elton John, The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson...... known for glamour lifestyles, mansions and limos, millions and billions as much as for their music.

And in a subtle sense, they are also history.

Cue in Phil Lang...who? An iconic San Franciscan musician of today's modern music scene. Phil personifies the demise of 'The Rockstar' in the age of digitization. Thronged by his friends, he rides public transport and rents.

The singer and songwriter of his rock band, Bloomsday Rising, is one of a new generation of musicians. Young, talented and struggling to be heard in the maelstrom of digital downloads and

proliferation of performers.

But Phil's voice is rising above the streets of San Francisco. He is the star of a documentary, 'The Applause', a serious analysis of today's music industry, a coalescence of San Franciscan musicians in a fightback against the odds.

The film, soon to be released, is the work of San Franciscan media company, Bricks and Mortar Media - BAMM. Director Chris Hansen is the creative energy behind it all. Says Chris, the film 'surveys the digital landscape from the perspective of the unknown songwriter who stands precariously on the lowest and most crowded rung of the music industry’s ladder.'

It illuminates the aspirations of young musicians in what he describes as the 'digitization quagmire', a morass of free downloading that is affecting all, musicians known and unknown, and industry giants.

The film, made also from Chris' perspective as fellow band member of Bloomsday Rising, focuses on the positive as well as negative aspects of the music world.

In it, Phil is filmed as he 'tries to engage all aspects of the music industry in a conversation about what’s right with music, what’s wrong with music, and how to proceed amid the uncertainty of the times'.

Rod Stewart and his ilk are a fading image as the goal now is to achieve a 'musician’s middle class', that elusive state of being able to work full-time on one's craft and pay the bills. Or, as Chris summarizes, 'How about paying rent, updating MySpace, and getting 50 people to show up to your next gig?'

Background to the film is the Hotel Utah, scene on Monday nights of 'open mic' recording sessions, where for some artists it is the only place possible to have a recording made. Down on 4th Street, in the SoMa - South of Market - part of the city, the Victorian hotel is the domain of JJ Shultz who records and produces the music online under

Musicians from the Hotel Utah were filmed for the documentary on an open-topped red London bus touring and performing around the streets of Mission Bay and 4th Street - see previous blog

The film is unique in that Phil's conversations draw together a wide-ranging, experienced group of people from different aspects of the music industry. He moves, says Chris, from 'grassroots open mic musicians to Grammy-winning major label acts; from traditional media executives to new media trailblazers; from industry lobbyists to file sharing P2P pirates.'

Among those featured are JJ Schultz, songwriter and founder of the work at the Hotel Utah; Tim Westergren, founder and President of the online radio service, Pandora, with one million users per month; Jocelyn Kane, Director of San Francisco Entertainment Commission; Eric McFadden of the band, Stockholm Syndrome, described as a 'legend and guitar virtuoso...whose career has endured through the dot-com boom and bust that shaped the city’s identity'; Jim Donio, President of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers; and Jon Healey, editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times who specializes in intellectual property, technology, and business, and who created the Bit Player blog on entertainment and technology.

And then, of course, there is Phil...who?

Aside from his conversations, 'we follow Phil,' says Chris, 'through the trenches as he records a demo, books gigs, hauls gear, updates five webpages, and launches a publicity campaign. Such are the minimum requirements for an emerging band, and none of it guarantees a pass into the fabled "musician’s middle class.”

'Because underneath it all lurks the lingering question: What if we’re just not that good?'

Unhampered in their determination by that thought, Chris and Phil are equipping San Francisco's young musicians with insight into and opportunity within the industry, and galvanizing them to action.

After all, they are still the stomping, strumming, gyrating icons of the future.

An in-depth feature on Chris' analysis of the music industry will follow.

For more info on The Applause, and to view exclusive videos online: And visit the Hotel Utah open mic Mondays at 8pm.

pics show: Rod Stewart; Phil Lang; a cartoon from Chris' press release; JJ Shultz of Hotel Utah