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Column: LA La Land – Serena Foster at the Study

Serena Foster at the Study: a great talent, poor production, but still a winner.

Patrick O’Heffernan.  Host, Music FridayLive!,  

The Study is one of Hollywood’s hottest cool music venues. Located in the historic Schwab Building (site of a 1922 menswear store, not the famous drugstore where Lana Turner was supposedly discovered), it has seen many uses over the decades until its present incarnation as a nightspot.  Today, The Study is an elegant venue with an outdoor patio and 2 music rooms inside.

The main room inside is a “study” – a 2 story-tall large room lined with books floor-to-ceiling, hence the name.  Entry is through a small lobby with tables and chairs, often filled with hipsters and music fans chatting while separated from the sidewalk and the inevitable velvet rope and security staff (very friendly!). Once through the velvet ropes and lobby, you are in the book-lined main room.  There are upholstered booths around the walls, a very busy long bar along one side, a fairly spacious low stage and plenty of room for standing or dancing. Overall, The Study is roomy, friendly, comfortable and a joy to be at… mostly.

What there was not at The Study that night was a decent sound system or adequate lighting, which made seeing Serena Foster there last weekend less than the ecstatic experience I was looking forward to. The sound was distorted, the band was in the dark, and Foster was washed in garish red light. But, because it was Serena Foster, it was still great, even if shooting even cell video was impossible. And, since I was at the front of the stage, the fact that the two dinky red spotlights turned on that night were aimed so they lit the PA speakers and not the band was not visually fatal. Serena Foster is so good that  I would have gone if she was in the dark singing through a bullhorn.

The reason for my interest is the promise that lies in her history. Serena Foster is one of the many 20 to 30-something young women with big talent and big dreams who play almost nightly in LA’s 300-plus venues. Like many local artists, she came from a musical family and started singing as a child, at five years old, but she stood out by learning the guitar and writing songs at the age of 9. By high school she had mastered the piano and shifted her now very sophisticated songwriting to that instrument, producing polished music at age sixteen.  It didn’t take long for those songs to see success: her single “Hollow” was a Spotify hit and others soon followed.   She worked with producer Raz Klinghoffer, whose work can be heard on television shows such as “American Horror Story,” Ink Master” and “The Flash,” and with J2 Producer (Beyoncé, Shakira, LL Cool J, The Pussy Cat Dolls, and Cassie). So I was stoked to see her,

Foster was the headliner in a Mighty Lamb Productions showcase at The Study called Breaking Sound. A Mighty Lamb Production is a community-driven production company founded in 2015 that nurtures emerging artists by providing showcase platforms at venues around the city. There are several such companies and nonprofit organizations in LA, making it possible for fans and new bands to connect. They scheduled Foster to come on at 10:30 pm – early for Hollywood –  after three local acts, but it worked well. She made a dramatic stage entrance to a room packed with her fans. Resplendent in a white jacket and black lace top, black miniskirt and Doc. Martins, she belted five hot, breathy earworm blues songs from her catalog and upped the room’s energy 10-fold.

As Foster moved through her set of hits like “Hollow”, “Flatline Love” and “More than Friends” dancing broke out in the audience and the fans who were not singing along with her were screaming her name. The party was on. Warmed up, Foster shed her white jacket, throwing it to friends in the audience, and really rocked out. The distortion from the sound system no longer mattered (although Foster told me later that she could not hear herself at all), the shadow- darkened band became alive and the underwhelming neon red light on Foster’s cherubic face kept her in view as we all danced and then called for more (no encores, sadly).

If  The Study keeps booking talent at the level of Serena Foster, it will continue to be one of Hollywood’s hottest cool music venues, but it will be a lot hotter and a lot cooler if the show producer always uses a quality sound system and a quality lighting package – which I know The Study can do because I have seen it there in the past.  In the meantime, I am tracking her to see when she will perform in a venue with good sound and lights. And I’ll be back to The Study.

Until next week!

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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