Hollywood Bowled over
No sooner had we arrived in California when an alert Canadian gal pal brought it to my attention that veteran crooner, Tony Bennett, would be playing at the Hollywood Bowl while we were in Hollywood. Hollywood Bowl! Now that is an icon venue worth checking out. Maybe not as renowned as some of the famous faces who take to its stage, but nevertheless a well-established Hollywood star with a faithful following. And Tony Bennett! An apparently still-living legend! So, blessing the global accessibility of the worldwide web, we scored four tickets and prepared for a grand night out.
It was a perfect Friday evening in summer LA, a little cool by local standards but nevertheless warm enough until sundown. We joined the throng of concertgoers who were strolling past our hotel in the general direction of the Bowl. Some were carrying picnic baskets, others were lugging larger bags containing spare jackets and hot drinks, and some were just like us – totally unprepared for anything more than a great concert by a vintage performer. A stream of cars crawled along beside us waiting to be guided into appropriate parking facilities next to all the tour buses that had presumably delivered diehard Bennett fans to the time of their lives. We snaked our way in through the gates as the crowd began to thicken, totally fascinated – and a little excited – by the laid back atmosphere of the picnicking patrons who were tucking into dinner ahead of the show and the fact that we were actually here at the Hollywood Bowl.
A set of escalators carried us up to the top of the venue where we found our bench seats and an unexpected wonderful view. The Hollywood Bowl lies below the Hollywood Hills, and in daylight the Hollywood sign is clearly visible in the backdrop. Now armed with good ol’ US Coca-Cola and popcorn, we settled in to watch the crowd take their seats.
I think it’s fair to say, that my two teen daughters did little to impact the average age rate. We all remembered Sinatra. Maybe not in his hay day, but near enough. I’m pretty sure many of us were on the other side of retirement age, but I’m entirely sure that spirits were high and the atmosphere good-natured. Groups of friends sat in neat rows, passing homemade cupcakes and compliments from one end to the other. Wine bottles were placed out of harm’s way, while blankets were dragged out of bags and hot coffee was handed from person to person until it finally reached a pair of grateful cold hands. With the sun now set, the air was getting chilly.
There was a roar of appreciation as the musicians took their places. Tony’s special opening guest was none other than his daughter, Antonia, a capable singer but possibly not a Bowl filler in her own right. Nevertheless, she delivered an adequate performance and whet the applauding crowd’s appetite for the arrival of her Dad. Now the venue was filling up rapidly. Chicken bones and beer cans discarded, last-minute stragglers were hurrying to sit down; and by the time loudspeakers boomed “Mr Tony Bennett!” we were all aboard for a rollicking ride down memory lane in the hands of a man who has been driving crowds wild for decades. Enter Tony Bennett. And at that precise moment, everything felt so right. Just there, just then. In Hollywood.
Tony’s voice faltered momentarily in the opening number, a timely reminder that he would be celebrating his 87th birthday the following day, but from that moment on he never looked back. The audience was with him every step of the way, including my teens, as he crooned and charismaed his way through a lifetime of hits. Some numbers, obviously, were more popular than others, but the steady flow of professionalism and goodwill between the man and his admirers saw us all through.
All too soon we were done. The final encore was delivered in the form of a birthday cake, ablaze with candles, as the band struck up the opening bars of another well-known song that give the crowd its cue.
And as I sat there under the stars on that Hollywood Bowl bench seat, squashed in between a friendly American couple and a small teen from Sweden, singing “Happy Birthday” with thousands of other well-wishers to an octogenarian entertainer, I wondered how many of today’s young artists would be celebrating their 87th birthdays on stage after a successful show. None? People, like products, seem to come and go as the age-old theatrical cry for ‘more!’ has been replaced with a cry for ‘new!’. Television competitions around the world spit out a bevy of new artists each season – each one with hope in their heart of becoming, say, the next Tony Bennett. And how ironic it is, that the very people who have voted and named these talented young hearts the ‘next star’ probably won’t stay around long enough to see them celebrate their first – and probably last – anniversary in show business.
Mr Tony Bennett, I salute you. Hollywood Bowl, I heart you.
I was Hollywood Bowled over by all we saw and heard that perfect August evening in LA.