I have been fascinated with music every since I can remember. In fact, my earliest memories have been of me sitting and dancing in front of a portable record player when I was no more than 3 or 4. My dad used to have to replace the needle on the record player often as I would break it. So, it's no surprise that music would become my serious hobby and would be profession. We're still working on the profession part. Until the, I have to pay the bills working in the mundane insurance world. So, when opportunities come up, I like to share the music I like with as many people as I can. My latest project is trying to bring the music of Iakovos Kolanian to as many people as I can. The following logs will describe what goes into putting together a tour, dealing with the Armenian and non-Armenian listening public, and some other surprises along the way. It's been a while since I have fully unleashed my thoughts into words for this forum. The last time was in June of 2001 for cilicia.com describing my experiences in Armenia. I'll do the best I can conveying my thoughts as I know it won't be everyone's cup of tea. And plus, I have a bit of an ego, so please excuse me for that. Here we go...
As I boarded my United Airlines flight from Boston to LAX on Thursday March 3, I knew two years of work with my friend and producer Kevork Imirzian was finally coming together. The concert would be tomorrow, I thought to myself, and we can at long last enjoy witnessing something truly special. Monthly dinner meetings with Kev at Sepal in Watertown hashing through the album "Shoror: Armenian Folk Music for Guitar" and tour took over two years. We wanted to make sure we presented Iakovos in the proper way, taking into account that we were dealing with a pro and here were a couple of music enthusiasts trying to do something to kickstart his career in the North America.
While on the plane rider over the LAX, I asked for one thing to go right- just get Iakovos to San Francisco and ready to play the next day. For some reason, I had a bad feeling about the San Francisco show. I decided on renting the best venue I could find at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. It cost $1750 to rent plus ads in the Asbarez, California Courier, and some ad banners announding the San Francisco. Since my budget was limited, I did the free press release thing and blanketed all media outlets. However, I still did not feel good about this show for some reason. Maybe it was the 175 people that showed up for a Lilit Pipoyan in the Bay Area the year before- even when she was well known in that town.
As my plane touched down at LAX, the plan was for me to pick up my rental car, go to Fresno and pick up 300 CD's and drive to San Francisco. I turned on my cell phone and found that I had 5 messages waiting for me. At that moment, I knew something was wrong and that I was somehow screwed. I checked my first message and it was my wife mentioning something about our cat. Ok, nothing of importance there. However, the next four message were from Iakovos- he was "snowed-in" from his Paris connection and there was a good chance he was going to miss his connecting flight to LAX en route to Oakland. Great, there is no way this is happening to us. Those damn French again!
So, the show was Friday March 4 at 8pm, and here I was on the phone with Iakovos at around 2pm on Thursday March 3rd trying to find out when he can take the next flight to LAX to connect to his Oakland flight. The best case scenario was that he would take a flight the next day and arrive at LAX at 12:05pm and hit a connecting flight to Oakland at 2:30pm arrive at the Hilton Oakland airport at around 4pm, grab an hour of sleep and then perform as scheduled. In the meantime, I jumped in my rent-a-car and booked it Oakland, checked into my hotel and started working the phones with Air France. When I checked in at the front desk, I noticed someone familiar that also checked in at the same time with the last name of "Hamill". I glanced at him again and was shocked to see none other than Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. I shook his hand to do the famous actor thing and just say that I met him.
As the evening wore on, I was contacted by a person who was in town for the San Francisco show from Vancouver, Canada whom I had met in Shushi, NKR. I gave him a CD while in Shushi last September 2004, and he promised to see Iakovos if he ever made it to North America. A guitar afficionado, Vahe and I met that night for dinner and I told him of the situation regarding Iakovos. While driving into San Francisco, he accessed Iakovos's cell number and we reached him on cell where he was just about to board an Air France flight that would arrive at LAX at 2pm the day of the concert.
Next, we needed to get Iakovos to Oakland and then to the Legion of Honor by 8PM. So, the next day we rebooked Iakovos on a Southwest Airlines flight taking off at 4:30PM and arriving at 6PM at Oakland. So, on Friday, we get the call from Iakovos that he arrived at LAX and was going to board the Oakland flight. Luckily, Vahe was available to pick him up at 6pm while Kev and I headed to the Legion of Honor to set things up for the concert. I still had never met Iakovos and I had briefly met Vahe for 5 minutes in Karabagh and for dinner the night before. Yet, the Armenian network was in full working toward the common goal of getting Iakovos on stage- asleep or awake for a large anticipated San Francisco crowd.
As I arrive at the Legion of Honor, we had 36 advance ticket sales and my hope was for a few hundred to show up. Not bad, I can cover costs and make a little to put toward my next project, I thought. It was 7:30PM and Vahe was driving Iakovos to the Legion while the poor guy is limbering up his fingers on the guitar in the back of the Lincoln Town Car. At 7:50pm, I get a call that Iakovos and Vahe just pulled up. I finally meet Iakovos for the first time, then we get to the main question- does he have enough energy to go on stage having not slept in over 24 hours? Iakovos gave us the international thumbs up sign, needed about 20 minutes to meditate and get mentally for the show in the dressing room, and at 8:23pm, he took the stage.
To my utter amazement, the San Francisco crowd numbered no more than 70 people with only 56 tickets sold. I was pissed and swore I would never put a show on in this lame Armenian community again! What a joke, 70 people! However, as I took my seat in the back of the theater and saw Iakovos take the stage, the crowd was treated to an amazing show from the master of the guitar. 24 hours without sleep, Iakovos later said that he gave the show on "only heart, because the mind was asleep". He considered cancelling the show because of his fatigue, but, knew what Kev and I had went through to put this thing on and for the 70 people in the audience who paid good money and were cool enough to show. Iakovos delivered as only a professional could, a money performance that left the crowd in relative awe of his talents. Fortunately, Kevork captured Iakovos in action during the show from stage left.
After the show, we were treated to a wonderful reception at the Hillsboro home of Assadour Kevranian until 2 in the morning. Vahe set up the whole thing and Iakovos felt at home, finally here after all this time. The 12 or so people who were at the reception promised a better showing the next time Iakovos was to come to town. I will take them up on their promise. As we said out goodbyes, the next show was in less than 16 hours in Fresno. Would 70 people show up there as well and totally financially sink Pomegranate Music for a couple of years?
I'll tell you that story another time.
All photos by Kevork Imirzian.