SF Sketchfest X Vienna Teng X Rockage 4.0

This weekend was huge.  We were double or triple booked from Friday through Sunday and had to make some hard choices.

Back in November we had purchased 3 day passes for Rockage 4.0, a MAGFest sponsored music festival in San Jose that featured a bunch of chiptune and video game inspired bands and a lot of retro arcade and console gaming.  Tickets for the event were on a heavily discounted presale at $20 each when we purchased them and we were excited to see bands like The Minibosses and Bit Brigade perform somewhat locally and Smooth McGroove was advertised.  We didn’t know if he’d be performing or bringing his cat but we figured he’d be doing a panel.  He did do a panel… a couple of weeks earlier at MAGFest on the east coast.

Rockage 4.0 would have occupied our Friday afternoon through Sunday evening.  It happened just two weeks after PAX South, where eventually The Minibosses were annouced to play during the PAX Friday night concert, a show we watched from our hotel room in San Antonio.

Then, we remembered, San Francisco Sketchfest happens during the last week of January and first two weekends of February every year.

This year’s Sketchfest had conflicts with PAX South and Rockage, but the Rockage conflicts were huge and significant and we couldn’t do anything at Sketchfest if we were in San Antonio for PAX.

Sketchfest’s lineup included a couple of events with John Cho, most recently of the short lived television series Selfie, which my wife and I really grew to enjoy.  Celebrity Autobiography also had Debbie Harry, so while we were sitting at the Creation Star Trek convention in Burlingame in December, we nixed plans to go to Rockage on Saturday night and chose Cho/Harry/etc instead.  Then I saw Cho and others were doing a family friendly children’s storybook event the following morning and our Sunday morning at Rockage was nixed.

On January 9, Rockage was officially off of the books, as A Tribute to Christopher Lloyd and a screening of Back to the Future was added to the Sketchfest lineup.  We’d only spent $40 total on Rockage at that point and with Smooth McGroove not being there, The Minibosses playing PAX South and the promise of Sketchfest awesomeness, we decided to just eat the cost of the Rockage tickets… or did we?

As icing on the conflict cake, Vienna Teng was making a rare Bay Area appearance at the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Leading Ladies fundraising event on Saturday.  The good news was that it didn’t conflict with the evening John Cho event, but did conflict with daytime programming at Rockage.  Vienna performed in the early afternoon so we figured we should have plenty of time to get to the Celebrity Autobiography event.

Then came the wind and rain.

A “hecka” storm, as we Northern Californians call it, is a storm just a bit less dangerous than a “hella” storm.  On Friday, the hecka storm blew in.  While I was at work making a presentation, some of the windows from a nearby building under construction blew off and sailed past the conference room window where I was presenting.  The winds were that strong.  The rain was tolerable but the wind speed and force was downright scary.

I left work a bit early and took my normal BART/bus commute home.  I managed to fight the wind and make it home safely to prepare for the evening’s Christopher Lloyd/Back to the Future event.

My wife was having some trouble with the weather on her way home, but she was on her way and getting close when I was eating a microwave burrito and the email came in.

“Dear ticket holder,

We are very sad to share that due to inclement weather, Christopher Lloyd is unable to appear at the 30th anniversary screening of “Back to the Future” at the Castro Theatre tonight. Mr. Lloyd tried valiantly to get here but multiple flights that he was booked on were canceled. We will still have a DeLorean, and will screen the film.

You will be issued a full refund over the next few days. We still invite you to bring your tickets to the door tonight and enjoy the film for free. Additional walkup tickets at the door can be purchased for $10, but all advance ticket holders will be let in for free. We thank you for your understanding.”

The jokes on Twitter about how this was the same guy who had climbed a clock tower in a storm and something just didn’t seem right were funny.  I was actually pretty glad the event was canceled.  I certainly didn’t want us to go back out in that storm.

Sadly, we didn’t get to go back in time with Doc Brown on Friday night, making my previous posts about time travel not as much of a segue as I expected them to be.  Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to see Mr. Lloyd at another future time and place.

Staying home allowed us to prepare a bit and rest up for Saturday morning’s trip to Mountain View for the Vienna Teng performance and benefit event.  We also took a trip to get me some casual dress pants and a new jacket for the Saturday morning event.  There was no one else at the store when we went shopping in a lull in the storm on Friday night.

A hunt for our dress shoes kept us home ten minutes after we had planned to leave. We made our way down the peninsula and got to the venue as Vienna was already well into soundcheck.  We hung out with a friend and Vienna backstage for a bit and talked about the differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  Vienna has never gotten to Walt Disney World so she couldn’t really compare the two.

Eventually Vienna got pulled away to do some promotional photos with the other Leading Ladies who were going to speak before she did a short set of songs.  We headed out to the lobby, where the event had advertised a “light” lunch was to be served.

The food spread was amazing.  From cheese, vegetable and fruit platters to sandwiches to salad and a ton of tasty looking salmon, vegetarians, carnivores and pescetarians were all being catered to.

The cheese, all of it, was awesome.  I had a falafel, some fruit, some carrots and celery, a turkey and cheese sandwich and a good sampling of the many types of cheese they had available.

David’s Tea provided some different flavors of iced tea as a refreshment and they also had wine for if you’d like that with your cheese.  I enjoyed two different flavors of tea and some water with my lunch and my only regret is not going back for more tasty cheese.

The afternoon began with an introduction from some of the TheatreWorks folks.  Jenny Dearborn, the Chief Learning Officer and Senior Vice President of SAP, was the chairperson for the event and she put together a pretty great mix of female leaders who have had the courage to make tough decisions to add a second or third act to their lives.  All four of the women that took the stage as keynote speakers or in Vienna’s case, as an entertainer, had lived at least a portion of their lives in the Silicon Valley and all four brought something different that complemented the others’ stories.

The first keynote speaker was Lalita Tademy, previously a leader at several companies in the tech industry and now a New York Times best selling author.  Tademy stumbled upon a story from her ancestors that she felt she needed to share with the world, and her fictionalized novel, Cane River, based on the story of her great-great-great-great-grandmother, a slave on a Creole plantation and the generations that followed eventually caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey and was selected for her book club.

Since that time, Tademy has made being an author her full time career and while she was an award winning and innovative leader in the tech business sector, she feels that sharing the stories of her ancestors and venturing forth into new areas of historical fiction has been a fitting second act for her career.

Up next was Margaret Nagle, a woman who started out as an actress until one of the directors pulled her aside and delivered to her the bad news that she was actually a writer.

It is funny.  I had that same situation happen to me in high school.  When I was cast in my first stage play, Cheaper by the Dozen, I was given a rather small role and was labeled as the understudy for another somewhat small role.  After doing my six lines for three nights, I tried out for the next play and was pulled into the director’s office and told that I wouldn’t be getting a part because I was a writer and not an actor.  I didn’t make it further than that second try with the acting, but I’ve definitely kept up dabbling with the writing.

Anyway, there Margaret Nagle was, on the set of My So-Called Life, when series creator Winnie Holzman pulled her aside and informed her that she saw a writer in her.

Nagle decided she wasn’t ready for the drastic shift from being an actor to being a writer and tried producing for a while.  That didn’t work out and she ended up selling purses out of her car for a while to make a living.

While selling purses, she was trying to find a writer for a movie called Warm Springs that told the story of Franklin Roosevelt going to a backwoods resort in Georgia in search of a cure for his polio before becoming a politician.  She took the film to a famous Hollywood writer who asked her why she wasn’t writing it herself.  So she did.  Warm Springs ended up being picked up and produced by HBO.  It was her first screenplay and she won an Emmy award for it.

Those purses that she was selling out of her car actually lead her to her first big screen project, The Good Lie.  The purses were being supplied by men who had been part of an immigration program from Senegal and Sudan.  They had shared their stories with her and she turned their real life experiences into the film.  It is a film where the majority of the cast is actual refugees and immigrants or their descendants and a film that she is very proud of.

Nagle fought for nine years to get the film made and eventually, thanks to the intervention and funding of Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, she was able to make it.

The third presentation was by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.  Her story wasn’t so much about taking a different path with her career but about championing causes and apparently quoting a lot of men at a female-focused event.  I missed a lot of her presentation as I needed to step out of the room for a bit.

It was after Eshoo’s presentation that the TheatreWorks folks started soliciting money from attendees, using flashing rings to denote donors. My wife and I stepped outside. Eventually, the room emptied into the lobby and a light dessert of cookies and brownies was offered. The dessert was far less tasty than the awesome lunch spread. We spent the brief intermission conversing with friends in attendance and eventually made our way back to our seats.

The second half of the Leading Ladies event was a near hour long performance by Vienna Teng, who was being sold as leaving the tech industry for a career as a musician.  That part of the bio is a bit outdated as she’s sort of left the music industry for a business career.  I’m willing to overlook that for the means of the event though.

Vienna’s set drew a lot of inspiration from the earlier leading ladies.  She had a conversation with them before they took the stage and also perched behind us in the back row and watched a lot of their presentations.

I felt like the concert portion of the event really connected the dots between the keynote stories and it was a very positive and uplifting set of a mix of songs familiar and in the case of one song somewhat new.

Vienna Teng - Leading LadiesHer 50ish minute set:
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Whatever You Want
The Hymn of Acxiom
Goodnight New York
Ain’t No Sunshine/Lose Yourself
Grandmother Song

After Vienna’s performance there was a raffle for a “Silicon Valley Staycation.”  We didn’t win.  Neither did any of our friends in attendance.

We chatted with friends while Vienna and the other leading ladies did that whole post-show meet and greet thing and eventually a big group of us ended up at Pho Hoa on Castro Street for a meal.  It was getting pretty late when we left and we still had to stop at home before heading into San Francisco for Sketchfest’s presentation of Celebrity Autobiography.

Between the storm causing a bit more traffic and Sixth Street being closed between Howard and Mission, we ended up 20 minutes late for Celebrity Autobiography.  We walked in as Steven Weber was finishing up an excerpt from a lusty portion of Kenny Loggins’ autobiography: The Unimaginable Life: Lessons Learned on the Path of Love.

Our first full experience was Jennifer Tilly reading the prologue from Susan Lucci’s “All My Life” autobiography.  It was the story of Lucci finally winning an Emmy after being nominated without a win for many years.  Kind of a boring story to read but listening to the dramatic and comedic way Tilly told it, much improved.

That’s the way the rest of the performance went too.  Micky Dolenz came out next and read from the Motley Crue authorized biography “The Dirt” about Tommy Lee’s courtship of Heather Locklear.  Debbie Harry read from Hedy Lamarr’s “Ecstacy and Me,” a chapter dealing with what it was like to be a star.  “I once owned four buildings on Wilshire Blvd.  I didn’t even know where they were.”

The show continued with groups of comedians coming together to mash up pieces of several books as once.  Sometimes this resulted in mashups that tell different sides of the same story, like Burt Reynolds, Loni Anderson and Elaine Hall memoirs being used to talk about the beginning and end of the Reynolds/Anderson relationship.  At other times, it resulted in some very different sports stories being shared by the likes of Joe Namath, Tiger Woods, Mr T and Brian Bosworth.  The Woods excerpt about how he strokes his putt was read in a context that made it sound an awful lot more like innuendo than it should have.  Another segment had the comedians read from sections about diet from Sylvester Stallone read by Eugene Pack, co-creator of the Celebrity Autobiography show, Dolly Parton, read by Dayle Reyfel, the other show co-creator and George Hamilton read by one of their comedian guests.

One of my favorite sections was when John Cho read from Michael Buble’s autobiography about his life on the road and backstage.  That guy is insane.  Ricky Martin, played by Eugene Pack and Destiny’s Child read by Jennifer Tilly were a part of that same mashup.

There were excerpts from others like David Cassidy about that time he and television sister costar Susan Dey ended up in bed together and when Little House on the Prairie sweetheart Melissa Gilbert, read by Janeane Garofalo suspected Rob Lowe was cheating on her.

In the end, the entire cast of comedians came together to read Britney Spears’ Crossroads Diary from cover to cover to close out the hilarious show.  Who thought words badly ghostwritten for celebrities could be so funny?

A friend visited Rockage on Saturday night and suggested that we go on Sunday even if just for an hour or two to check it out.  San Jose is kinda far south, but we considered it.

Sunday morning was something completely different.  Again, it was comedians, some even who had performed at the same venue on the same stage the night before for Celebrity Autobiography, but this time reading from children’s books authored by Mo Willems.

Don’t Let the Comedians Do Storytime! was a family friendly show with Willems bringing in Scott Adsit, who once was on 30 Rock but most recently did the voice of Baymax for the film Big Hero 6, John Hodgman who I know best from The Daily Show and his time as “PC” in some Apple commercials, Kate Micucci of Garfunkel and Oates, Busy Phillips from Cougar Town, Kevin Pollak who I know best from The Usual Suspects and Grumpy Old Men but is often a fixture at Sketchfest events, Kristen Schaal who I also know from The Daily Show, Trixie Willems, a teenager whose father is Mo Willems, and Mo himself, a children’s book author.  Joining them were John Cho and Janeane Garofalo.

The show was very well put together, with visuals from the pages of Willems’ books on screen above the comedians narrating each page.  The show was very interactive, with balls being thrown out into the crowd branded with Willems’ Elephant and Piggie characters at one point and Willems teaching the audience how to draw the Pigeon from another of his series with the comedians passing out pencils and paper to the entire theater.  They read from several books, including “I Will Take a Nap!” an Elephant and Piggie book that won’t even be out until June.

It was a short presentation, running under an hour.  We waited as Kristen Schaal and Scott Adsit left in hopes we might catch John Cho for a quick Selfie.  We caught him but so did a lot of other folks and he escaped through an employee entrance to get away from the swarm.

Every year, Sketchfest brings some awesome quality shows and events together.  2015 was more of the same and I am very happy we have folks like David Owen, Janet Varney and Cole Stratton to make these shows happen each year.

So we decided to go to Rockage afterward.  We drove south and had a nice lunch at Freebirds World Burrito and parked a few blocks away from the San Jose State University Student Union, where Rockage 4.0 was being held.

Despite our friend giving a fairly positive review of the event, it is one we probably could have missed.  The second floor of the Student Union had a couple of rooms converted into an “Arcade” with a stage where the main acts were performing and pinball and classic arcade machines were available on freeplay and a “Lounge” where classic consoles were set up with ample seating to sit and play while rows of seats sat in front of a stage where panels and other music acts performed.  The “lobby” hallway had another stage area, a maid lounge and several vendors.

While there wasn’t really a “WOW!” factor, we still got to see a portion of the Chiptunes 101 panel which had Danimal Cannon, Super Soul Bros and a couple of other artists discussing how they make their songs and what changes when you add more to Gameboy sounds like real instruments.  We also saw performances by San Jose’s own Starover Blue (formerly Cartoon Bar Fight), Yulia and Santa Cruz’s Justin Beepboop.

There was a fun looking Rock Band setup where they had over 2700 songs available to play.  I also have that size of a catalog collecting dust at home sadly.

Rockage 4.0 was a bit underwhelming.  It was still a fun experience and if we didn’t have so much else going on during the same weekend and weren’t both somewhat injured, it would have been an inexpensive way to spend the weekend with a small crowd of people who shared common interests.  I don’t think I’d consider going again in the future but one never knows.

We had a nice dinner at Tomatina’s in Santa Clara on the way home and somehow managed to fit in just about everything we’d had on our schedule on a crazy cross section of a weekend.

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