“Tonight’s show is a live magazine,” greeted the curators of the “Golden State Record” as patterns of stars churned across the large screens of the Greek Theatre on Sept. 30. Transforming the Greek Theatre into a live magazine is exactly what the “Golden State Record” managed to pull off — complete with advertisements from Squarespace and Audible to pad the enormous amount of stories it attempted to tell.
The “Golden State Record,” inspired by Carl Sagan’s “Golden Record,” was launched into space to portray a snapshot of what planet Earth looked like in 1977. “We’re trying to tell a story about California and the west in 2016,” said event organizer Derek Fagerstrom of Pop-Up Magazine in a phone interview. This story of California was broken into 22 “tracks” — small segments that trace this pattern of California through both time and space. Pop-Up Magazine and Noise Pop painted a diverse, relevant picture of what California is from their perspective.
The event, like Sagan’s “Record,” was a one-time only affair — if you’re there you get to see it but if you miss it, you’ll never see any footage, as there are currently no plans to release this “Record” to the public. “(The audience’s) experience is something unique and singular,” Fagerstrom said. “The way you get to hear about it is you talk to someone who has been there and … you get to have people relate stories to their friends.”
This impermanence imbued the whole event with the sense that what you’re witnessing is something very special, something so unique to the stage and the date that the time spent at the Greek is worth savoring. The importance of storytelling through the art of regaling friends is even traced through the weaving of radio-style tales encompassing the sounds of space, the sounds of heartbreak and everything in between.
Punctuated with short live musical performances, one being Bethany Cosentino’s rendition of “The Only Place,” alongside the X’s John Doe, the “The Golden State Record” bordered on camp — a rustic version of California where folk music is really popular, the sky is always blue and relationships always work out. Yet even through this portrayal of California, the “Golden State Record” did not fail to address the current issues facing the state, as evidenced with a segment on the drought ravaging the state.
After segments covering heartbreak, collisions of black holes and body cameras on police officers, Lil B stepped on stage for a question and answer session, in what was perhaps the most refreshing of the “tracks.” The rapper invigorated the audience with a newfound energy as he proved his “mad love to Kevin Durant” and detailed his plans to possibly join City Council.
“We love to take our audiences on a real emotional journey,” said Fagerstrom. “We want them to laugh and cry.” This sentiment is achieved in the segment detailing the story of a homeless San Francisco resident, Tim Blevins, a Broadway star and Juilliard alum looking for a second chance. Blevins, in fact, came onto the stage to perform “The Impossible Dream” from “The Man of La Mancha.” His performance culminated in the entire theater standing in ovation after his deep baritone rolled across the stands.
Blevin’s performance was the high point of a placid evening filled with live readings and musical performances. That is, until “The Sound of Spirituality” was performed. The segment was a bizarre tribute to Alice Coltrane, the famed musician who had relocated to Southern California to open up a Vedantic center in which she sang, as described by narrator Mark “Frosty” McNeill, “the transcendental lord’s highest song of bliss.”
McNeill then went on to say, “While for most, Eastern religion was a passing fad, it was (Alice Coltrane’s) destiny,” a disappointing reduction of Eastern religion to a fleeting trend. What followed was a musical tribute to Alice Coltrane that was performed by Georgia Anne Muldrow and the Ashram Community Singer, a cacophony of women garbed in saris chanting “Kaliyuga” and other bits of mispronounced Hindi as the singers attempted to bring voice to what Alice Coltrane believed in.
The “Golden State Record” accomplished exactly what it set out to achieve: bringing an audience together as one through a diverse, unique line-up of performers. It even accomplished its hope of inciting emotion and developing a collective learning experience. Yet it treaded the line between sincerity and pastiche very closely. Yes, the “Golden State Record” did paint a picture of California. But like the glossy pages of a magazine, the show was just too perfect for the real world.