By Elizabeth Gracen:
I’m just going to say it: The Hollywood Bowl is the quintessential La La Land experience. Some might argue that there are better, more iconic points of interest associated with a visit to Hollywood, but I dare say that this gorgeous amphitheater, nestled in the Hollywood Hills under the stars and Klieg lights, is the absolute must-see experience in Tinsel Town.
Whether you tote your own picnic basket, bottle of wine, blanket, and cushion for the hard bleacher seats or you decide to splurge on a box seat and an expensive, yummy packaged dinner and wildly over-priced bottle of vino from an excellent selection of markets or restaurants within the Bowl’s confines, as they say,"It’s all good."
Over the years, I’ve seen a variety of performances in this fine venue—everyone from the likes of B.B. King, K.D. Lang (it was actually a “blue moon” the night I saw her), Ray La Montagne, Sting & Peter Gabriel, and various Broadway revivals. I even spent a rollicking evening a week before I gave birth enjoying a terrific concert bill of David Byrne and Arcade Fire that ended in a crazed finale featuring the Extra Action Marching Band appearing high in the bleachers, making their way through the crowd to a cover of Beyonce’s "Crazy in Love." I can’t leave out the numerous evenings spent in the nosebleed seats enjoying the LA Phil, conducted by Esa Pekka Salonen. I even splurged one evening for a box seat with one of my best pals for the Sing Along SOUND OF MUSIC. I’m not a Bowl pro—as I’ve only purchased one season pass over the years thus far—but I feel experienced enough to say that I understand, on a visceral level, what a good night at the Bowl can deliver.
Now that my resume is sufficiently sorted, we can move on to the good stuff.
When I heard Natalia LaFourcade’s voice on KCRW late this past June, I immediately scoured YouTube and Spotify for a healthy music binge, but I didn’t realize that she would be performing at the Bowl until I sat down to plan an evening out with my mother for her yearly visit for my daughter’s birthday. My mom had never been to the Bowl before, and I wanted to treat her to something special. Little did I know that I had struck gold and that the upcoming evening would turn out to be ever so satisfying.
Maestro Gustavo Dudamel has been the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2008, and The Dudamel Foundation continues its dedication to the belief that the arts play an essential role in creating a better society. The foundation's mission is “to expand access to music and art for as many children as possible, while providing tools and opportunities for young people to shape their creative futures.” Without exception, Dudamel’s talent, charisma, and obvious appreciation for the artists he performs with always sets the stage for unique musical moments whether at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles or in the summer at the Hollywood Bowl.
On this particular evening, Dudamel could not keep the warm smile from his face as he introduced Natalia LaFourcade as a phenomenal talent, an extraordinary human being, and nothing less than the “voice of Mexico.”
When LaFourcade hit the stage, the audience, predominantly Hispanic, greeted her with an open-hearted familiarity that paid tribute to her solid career of pop and traditional music. Born in Mexico City in 1984, LaFourcade has been writing songs since she was sixteen years old. Releasing the first of her eight albums in 2002, she has received eleven Latin Grammy Awards and has been nominated five times for a Grammy Award, winning in 2015 for best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album for Hasta La Raíz.
Dressed in sheer blue lace and knee-high black cowboy boots, it was hard to believe that the commanding, clear, precise, perfectly tamed vocals came from such a petite powerhouse of a woman. At one point I actually leaned to my mother and said, “Little Sparrow—just like Piaf.”
With the LA Phil behind her, LaFourcade lead the way through songs that lightly touched down on a cool summer breeze of a setlist that began with Alma Mía and sailed through to the beautiful Soledad y El Mar. As she sang Academy Award-nominated Remember Me/Recurdame from COCO and the beautiful Tú Me Acostumbraste (En Manos de Los Macorinos), I had lost count of the happy hugs shared with Dudamel between songs, their mutual respect and sheer joy of the moment spilling over into the receptive Bowl audience— all of them up on their feet, basking in the sublime music, happy and content, if only for just a few hours in this crazy world.
The first half of the evening ended with Mi Terra Veracruzana (En Manos de Los Mocorinos) and, honestly, I felt so full of music and goodwill that I could have gone home at intermission a happy woman with yet another perfect Hollywood Bowl evening under my belt. But that, as it turns out, was just the beginning.
The second half brought LaFourcade’s superb band, sans the LA Phil, and invited us into an intimate set. LaFourcade, now in black lace and bright-green chandelier earrings, strolled the stage and picked up a guitar almost as big as she was to offer up her hits, starting with Lo que construimos and ending with the sensual Tú sí sabes quererme (En Manos de Los Macorinos)—all the while, the audience on their feet, singing along, delighted, ever moving, swaying together in the music. It was truly glorious. All too soon, and five encores later, it was over, but not before Cucurrucucú paloma played, leaving us with only the summer breeze to remind us how lucky we were to have been there.
The evening ended with bows and LaFourcade’s plea to the audience to indulge her in a selfie, the Hollywood Bowl crowd behind her as she took the shot—all of this to Piaf’s La Vie En Rose playing through the sound system!
It just so happens that the whole damned perfect La La Land evening streamed live on YouTube that night, so aren’t you lucky? Enjoy!