How I Spent My Summer Sabbatical: Part One…

Having decided to take a two-month sabbatical from the television business this summer, I left the production of the first season of “Push Girls” (Sundance Channel) and the eighth season of “Little People, Big World” (TLC) still in progress – and flew up to San Francisco in the first week of June to begin my unusual adventure.

My sabbatical began in the Bay Area because our middle-aged rock & roll band, Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation, was playing a benefit in Portola Valley on June 8th to support Breast Cancer Action, an event organized by our drummer Rockin’ Ronny Crawford’s wife, JoAnn Loulan. My summer sojourn was off to a loud, rocking start for a very good cause.

My great friend, Rockme band mate (and freshman college roommate) Brad Hall accompanied me on the flight from LAX to SFO. Brad was also playing hooky from Hollywood.

After picking up Brad’s rental car, we traversed the surface streets of San Francisco, iPhone GPS in hand, from SFO to Brad’s sister’s lovely house overlooking The Presidio. I’d never spent more than a few days in San Francisco before, and I saw more of the city on that drive than I’d ever seen. I felt like Steve McQueen in “Bullit” (only going a lot slower) as we made our way up and down the groovy urban hill country toward The Presidio: that vast expanse of green space overlooking the Pacific Ocean commandeered by the U.S. military since the early 19th Century.

That first evening in San Francisco, Brad and I went to The Presidio Social Club to meet up with our gathering bandmates — Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner and Maurice Cleary (college roommates) and Terry Barron and Tom Larson (also college roommates. Sensing a pattern here?). I had the liver and onions. My meal was fabulous, as was the entire evening.

The next day, Brad and I made our way to rehearsal at Lennon Rehearsal Studios, located at 271 Dore Street in San Francisco, where our entire band was gathered.

Lead guitarist Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner…

Rhythm guitar player Maurice “Mr. Mo” Cleary…

Sax player Thomas “Wolf” Larson – who had traveled all the way from his home in Madrid, Spain…

Drummer Rockin’ Ronny Crawford…

Bass player Rush Pearson…

Keyboard wizard Steve “The Decider” Rashid…

And vocalist Casey “Casemo” Fox…

Our rehearsal at Lennon Studios went well. We actually made our way through most of the two sets we planned to play the next evening – and I managed not to tear my vocal cords to shreds prematurely.

The next evening, June 8th, we played the gig that had drawn us all to the Portola Valley: the benefit for Breast Cancer Action at the stunning, stately residence of Lori and Deke Hunter.

Lori and Deke have built an amazing house and grounds, featuring prolific flower and vegetable gardens. Seeing the impressive layout, I quickly spun a series of jokes about how Lori and Deke were actually poor subsistence farmers, barely managing to eke out a hardscrabble, meager living from their small, humble plot of earth. (Those jokes would serve me and Brad later during the live auction.)

At sound check — hours before the party got underway — Deke had growing concerns about the band. When I went into his house to print our set lists, Deke warned me that, “Volume could be a problem.” I replied that, “Volume is always a problem.” Needless to say, Deke was not reassured.

But before the night was out, it was Deke himself who led a packed dance floor, as he and his benefit guests rocked along with our second set. We came. We saw. We rocked. And we helped raise a lot of money for Breast Cancer Action.

“Bubba” George McClellan and the author cool our heels before the gig. (Looking as if we’d like to make you an offer you can’t refuse…)

Steve “The Decider” Rashid decides to look ultra-cool by the pool before the gig.

The next day, most of us gathered at a funky local eatery to celebrate a successful evening of riotous rocking and fundraising.

Then, it was time for Steve Rashid and I to fly to Chicago for the next stage in my sabbatical: “The Vic & Paul Show” at The Beverly Arts Center. The morning after we arrived in the Windy (and very hot and muggy) City, we went to the WGN radio studios in the Tribune Tower to promote “The Vic & Paul Show” in an appearance on Rick Kogan’s weekly radio program, “The Sunday Papers.”

To listen to our conversation with Rick, click here: vic and paul show

The day before we opened at The Beverly Arts Center, Victoria, Steve and I joined our good friends Dana Olsen, Shelly Goldstein and Stew Figa for a special one-night performance of “Mr. Olsen’s Neighborhood” at The Wilmette Theatre on June 14th. The show was made possible through the vision of another good friend and fellow NU alum, Nili Yelin Wronski, The Wilmette’s Director of PR and Marketing. Nili knows funny. (She’s a great entertainer herself!)

I had not shared a stage with Dana, Stewart or Shelly since our days at Northwestern – and it was as though the intervening three decades simply melted away in laughter and the joy of performance.

Shelly, Steve, Vic, Dana and the author. (Where was the great Stew Figa?)

We packed the house at The Wilmette Theatre – and the Chicago stage of my sabbatical tour was off to a great start.

Our choral salute to the legendary, corrupt, imprisoned Governors of Illinois. The great Stewart Figa stands second from right, next to the author.

The next night, Friday June 15th was the opening night of “The Vic & Paul Show” at The Beverly Arts Center on Chicago’s South Side in the neighborhood where Victoria was born and raised.

A front page article in The Beverly Review announced Vic’s return to her old stomping grounds — and the audience that gathered on opening night was swelled by her old classmates from Luther South High School, family members, and dozens of others curious to see the show that Victoria and her husband had come back home to perform.

Vic backstage at The Beverly Arts Center.

We’d done “The Vic & Paul Show” on Chicago’s North Side before – but this was our first time on the South Side. And by the time the curtain came down on our opening night show, we’d learned three basic things about Chicago audiences North and South.

— Boy-girl relationship jokes, comedy about marriage, getting drunk, and certain jokes below the waist are universal.

— Political jokes go over very differently on the North and South Sides. (Our biting, satirical song about the Republican Presidential candidates that knocked them dead at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park on the North Side? In Beverly — not such a laugh riot.)

— The South Side loves a good Catholic joke. In fact, nowhere on Earth (except, we would soon learn, Cleveland) would a reference to Saint Augustine get such a huge, knowing laugh.

Our two-weekend run at The Beverly Arts Center was off to a pretty good start – but it wasn’t over yet. Or was it?

Coming up next: Our run at The Beverly Arts Center continues – then it’s on to the wilds of northern Wisconsin and Cleveland’s Playhouse Square!

8 Comments

Filed under Art, Beauty, Comedy, Improvisation, Music

8 responses to “How I Spent My Summer Sabbatical: Part One…

  1. Fat Dave

    Paul, you really must have been having big fun, what with turning Terry Barron into Terry McCabe and all. Bet that was a big surprise to Wolf

  2. Anonymous

    Just with the first venue, you already had a more productive summer sabbatical than I have. What fun! Wish I coulda been there. And yeah, you and Bubba do look like you’re eyeing the family horse, chainsaw in hand.

  3. Sally, you are never ano. I always know who yo

  4. gary1164

    Was I there? I’ve lost track of the past 6 years.

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