Up to this point in my short career, I’d worked with some of the most iconic figures in contemporary culture and found my way through some of the roughest parts of the business. It’s important to understand that even though many people envy the idea of working in music there is very little that’s nice about it. It’s a backstabbing, disappointing world fraught with more ego and greed than you’d equate with the idea of music.
Once in a while you come across something nice– even civilized — maybe too civilized to be appreciated by masses of people who swear they love all kinds of music.
By the early 1990s I was married and had two beautiful little girls. Julia and Reanne kept me quite busy in their little girl world having tea parties, playing dress up, reading, writing, drawing, singing, watching Sesame Street — and yes, I’m afraid we watched Barney too.
To add to the bottom line of household income, I taught piano lessons and volunteered for a subscription-based concert series called Community Concerts, keeping all those skills I’d acquired fresh, applying them to the local arts scene.
Community Concerts was developed during The Great Depression allowing performing artists a way to keep working on a circuit of shows bringing live music and performance to small communities for very little money. The tradition of the performing arts series was kept alive nearly 100 years, and many very talented people traveled through small towns like the Seattle bedroom community where I lived.
John Raitt — Bonnie Raitt’s father — a brilliant musical stage actor was among the most memorable concerts we presented. I remember him very well as an articulate, handsome, humorous man. When I went to the media with the idea of doing a feature it was ignored. I called the arts and entertainment editor of the Tacoma News Tribune explaining John Raitt was a Broadway legend, and for crying out loud “this is Bonnie Raitt’s dad – who, by the way, was soon being inducted into the Broadway Hall of Fame. He made his Broadway debut playing Billy Bigelow in the Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece Carousel, and was in all the major musicals, and was one of the original cast members in Oklahoma.”
Talking into the phone, I may as well have been talking to myself. Dead air on the other end. When I’d finished my pitch, the editor, who I later learned was really a sports editor put on the A & E desk, said to me, “If you were pitching Bonnie Raitt, we’d do a feature. We’re not interested in her father.”
Lesson learned. The only way to get the kind of feature I was looking for was to have a name everyone would recognize, not somebody only your grandparents might remember from back in the day. At least that was the media’s position. They did not understand Community Concerts was based on the idea entertainment could be about family. It could be about grandparents taking their kids and grandkids to see someone they grew up thinking was a rock star, or a heart throb.
Not many people came to see John Raitt, and it’s a shame. He was incredible onstage. Bigger than life, his voice could melt butter. The man was a contemporary of Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet, Richard Burton, and Roddy McDowell — he was that kind of legendary. I was very sorry to hear he’d passed away in 2005, but very thankful I got to meet him and share a little time.
The media did sit up and listen a little bit to a community outreach concert we presented featuring The Seattle Symphony, conducted by Gerard Schwarz. It was a very stiff, corporate ordeal to get the symphony down to our little town even though it was part of the orchestra’s mission to travel short distances to “less privileged” communities than Seattle — thank you very much.
Everything was controlled by the symphony office. All my press releases had to be approved before sending, and [sniff] “the word orchestra does not appear in our name. The word symphony should suffice.” The woman might as well have said, “the heathens in your community should at least know that much.”
Lesson learned. Quality organizations demand quality at all levels. Value in music begets value, and a memorable experience. Nonetheless, it was the first and only sold out performance in our 842-seat performing arts center.
Julia, my oldest daughter, was 5 years old at the time and sat in the front row mesmerized during the entire performance of Beethoven’s Fifth. When I took her backstage to meet Maestro Schwarz, whom I’d met at his home a few years earlier, Julia was a vision of absolute perfection, and Maestro was very kind taking her hand in both of his, and thanked her very kindly for coming.
Through this era of my career, raising children and working around their schedule rather than someone else’s, it went perfectly with the timeless traditions of music from Broadway and the symphony. And though I didn’t know it at the time, it was opening the door to something just a little bit bigger.