John Williams and the Hollywood Bowl
Upon first arriving to Los Angeles, Cory suggested we go see John Williams live at the Hollywood Bowl. I agreed because I trust Cory’s judgements and also because I happen to enjoy unknown adventures. Not to mention a few days prior to the offer, my curiosity was peaked when I overheard a stranger mention the outdoor venue was a L.A. ‘must-see’. But that was when I had no idea the tickets would cost $150 per person. Shocked upon hearing the price for admission, I asked Cory, “Who is this John Williams character?”
“A very famous movie composer,” he answered quickly.
How famous could he be if I’ve never heard of him? I wondered.
The morning of the concert (a very quick four months later), Cory recommended we go to Trader Joe’s to buy some dinner items for the show. “Everyone picnics beforehand,” he explained. This idea seemed as strange to me as trusting an outdoor venue to never have rain. I’m from Florida, where it rains at 3pm each summer day. In Orlando I’m also accustomed to going to venues that have strict policies about bringing items into the event, specifically to eliminate people sneaking in alcohol. But at the Bowl, it is encouraged you bring your own alcohol. They even serve wine by the bottle in the gift shop.
So at about 5:30pm–a healthy two and half hours before the event was scheduled to start–we began our cross town journey by heading to the nearest Metro station (at Pershing Square). Unlike many other locals, we like using the subway as often as possible because parking can be a nightmare in Los Angeles. I also was cheated of the public transportation system as a child and think it fun when not absolutely necessary. For me, the Metro is part of the adventure.
With empty grocery bags in hand, the smelly Pershing Square elevator dropped us deep down into the bowels of downtown LA’s underground. Twenty minutes later, a different, cleaner elevator popped us up at the Hollywood and Vine Metro station, convienently just a block away from our super market destination. For those who have never entered a Trader Joe’s you should know it’s the best supermarket for last minute dinner plans. It’s kind of the best supermarket ever. They make fresh, healthier food so you don’t have to. Microwavable burritos, homemade salads, recently rolled pizzas–you can pretty much name any food that can be cooked in ten minutes (or not at all) and Trader Joe has it. After pacing up and down the supermarket aisles like zombies, careful to examine all of our options, Cory picked up a chick pea cous cous salad and I opted for a spinach salad with bacon and eggs. On the way out, Cory grabbed a bag of popcorn. Following his lead, I grabbed a bag of dark-chocolate covered pretzels. And before too long we were back to our journey to the Bowl with our dinner and snacks in tote.
Side by side we strolled through Hollywood, stepping on all the stars engraved into the center of the sidewalks and passing the frustrated drivers waiting in traffic, until finally we arrived to our final destination. The first thing I noticed at the entrance of the Hollywood Bowl (besides the cool, retro signage) was the small park across the street. The picnic tables and surrounding area was swarming with food and people. The number of people picnicking quantified immensely once we ventured inside the venue. Instead of hundreds, there were now thousands of people chatting and eating dinner at their seats. Looking around, it became clear that we were Picnic Bowl Beginners. While we donned our Trader Joe bags full of groceries, others were much more prepared. Like Picnic Professionals, they came equipped with coolers and table cloths and candles and fancy picnic plastic ware. Holy crap, I thought to myself. Next time, game on.
As soon as the usher showed us to our seats we began setting-up our make-shift dinner. Cory had brought a blanket in case the temperature dropped quickly but since it was still warm outside, we decided to use it for a table cloth instead. Now aware that John was a movie composer, I wasn’t surprised to see the set-up of an orchestra on stage. I was surprised, however, to see some many different generations of people. Our surrounding company included hipsters, grandmas, grandpas, granddaughters, many middle-aged mom and dad couples, and then what I will describe as ‘the nearly dead’ and ‘the too small to know what’s happening.’ By the makings of those in attendance, one thing was clear: there would be no mosh pits or raving glow sticks at this event (or so I assumed. Unknowingly, I had underestimated the staying power of Star Wars‘ light sabers).
After eating my Trader Joe-to-go salad and with fifteen minutes until show time, I pulled out my iPhone to further investigate Mr. Williams and immediately became in awe of his long resume. I may not have recognized John Williams by name, but I knew his work well. He practically wrote the soundtrack to my childhood. His credits, come to find out, included the theme of the Olympics, as well as the music to “NBC Nightly News” and “Monday Night Football.” The films Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, the Indian Jones films, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Home Alone and its sequels, Jurassic Park, Hook, Shindler’s List and the first three Harry Potter films are all movies John scored. And that wasn’t all. There were Tv shows, like the pilot episode of “Gilligan’s Island” and “Lost in Space,” and older movies that he made music for like Fiddler on the Roof and Goodbye, Mr. Chip. Upon reading about the greatness of Mr. Williams, two thoughts occurred to me. First, “How old is this guy?” Secondly, “How could I be so ignorant?” The more I learned about John, like the fact that he was eighty-years-old and still considered to be one of the world’s greatest musical geniuses, the more I began to realize a legend was about to take to the stage.
• • •
“Thank you,” I told Cory during the first intermission break. “This is fucking amazing.” The night had started with John leading the National Anthem. Next he directed the Olympic theme, which came accompanied by a magnificent slideshow of images from the 2012 London Olympics. Soon came the score to Superman, and then a few more tunes I didn’t immediately recognize. But it didn’t matter. While sitting in my seat with amazement, a heavy thought occurred to me. John Williams was delivering one of those ‘once in a lifetime moments,’ and I caught myself dreaming of the day I’d tell my children about the experience. Yet still, there was more.
John Williams grabbed the microphone and turned to address the audience about twenty minutes into the second half of the concert. He had a surprise. Per his request and as favor, he humbly began telling us, he asked his good buddy Steven Spielberg to send him a copy of the movie E.T. the Extra Terrestrial that was digitally enhanced and with audio, but featured no score. In celebration of the thirty-year anniversary of the movie, he wanted to compose the score of E.T.’s ending simultaneously as it displayed upon the screen before us. Never had I imagined watching a movie to a live orchestra of over fifty people. Upon comprehending the magnitude of what was about to happen, my head nearly exploded. Especially because I love E.T. the movie. It was the first movie I ever saw in a theater and as my Mom tells it, at four years old, it was the first movie that I connected to, or more like how she describes it ‘She bawled her eyes out.’ Thirty years later I’d nearly have the same reaction during the same scene I cried to as a child, the one where Drew Barrymore kisses the alien on the forehead and gives him the flower pot to say good-bye.
Everyone had hoped John Wiliams would play his most recognizable score but there wasn’t much time left. So when John Williams took to the stage for his encore and pointed to his peers to blow into the highly anticipated Star Wars theme, the crowd roared with enthusiasm. As if on queue, the audience eagerly dug out and turned on their light-sabers and waved them in the air freely to and fro. The flash mob of light sabers is a moment in time I hope remains embedded deep into my memory for years to come. The glow-stick riot caused such a disruption that even John turned around mid-performance and carefully took it all in. His reaction to the ruckus, an ear to ear smile. Note: The accompanying picture doesn’t do the scene justice. Imagine thousands of light sabers acting as a composing stick, aiding as John Williams directs to his orchestra. Now picture this act being performed by a plethora of full-grown adults.
To say it modestly, John Williams’ concert was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. If the opportunity arises, I want to ask you to seek out this legend while he’s still alive (even if at a hefty price). Living in an era where technology has invaded our lives and commanded our undivided attention, the orchestra art form is a pleasant reminder of simpler times. And somehow John Williams has mastered bringing back the child in all of us.