LA LA Land: Magic in the Hollywood Hills
Music Magic in the Hollywood Hills. Moira Smiley’s album release celebration.
LA is the only county in America cut in half by a mountain range, the Santa Monica Mountains, which separate the 2 million or so people in the San Fernando Valley from the 8 million or so people in the LA Basin. Located on the south side of this mountain range are the Hollywood Hills, a set of low rise peaks and valleys that overlook the city of Hollywood and greater LA. They are the home of the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Bowl, and numerous Hollywood stars and workhorses – actors, producers, directors, and writers. This past weekend one of those homes was the site of undoubtedly the best album release party I have ever been to. It was the celebration of Unzip the Horizon by folk/Americana/world singer and concert mistress Moira Smiley and it was magic.
The home belonged to Peter Hastings, six-time Emmy-winning television writer, producer, director and actor. Hastings, who was involved in series like Kung Foo Panda: Legend of Awesomeness, The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, and Animaniacs among others, is also a very accomplished musician, collector of rare musical instruments and supporter of the music arts. Part of that support is the “Music Room”, a music venue built into his home high above Hollywood. The Room, as configured for the release concert, featured a stage area with a baby grand piano, backline, mics and music stands for 6 people, a sound engineer (David Weber, Moira’s producer), PA, lights and seating for 70 people in chairs, benches and pews, plus another dozen or so in the balcony.
Every chair, pew, bench and corner was full. Many of those in the audience were professional singers taking a night off from their own recording and performing to support Moira and enjoy what we all knew was going to be a unique and exhilarating evening. And it was.
Over the two plus hours that Moira entertained us there were many, many highlights. Each song was preceded by a story of its background, how or why she created it, and its mirroring of deeper meanings — or not. The evening combined a tale-telling assembly with singing around the campfire, although my campfires never sounded this good. Moira set the tone from the very beginning by starting not on the stage, but far out in lawn, singing haunting, melodious animal calls as she strolled in through the garden doors and threaded her way to the stage.
The set list for the night ranged from the heart wrenching ballad “Refugee” to the banjo-led folk song “Wiseman”, to the tongue-in-cheek joke against technology, “Rotary Phone”. Every song was a moving work of art, framed in a beautiful home and lit by a roomful of powerful voices, all of whom seemed to not only know the words and melodies, but the key changes. When you compare what I saw at Peter Hastings home with Moira’s YouTube videos from Disney Concert Hall (1 million views and climbing!) there is little difference emotionally. She went right to the heart with every note.
But by far, the most moving moment of the night for me was the final song when Moira brought up her singers and pulled others out of the audience for an A Capella version of Lead Belly’s “Bring Me Little Water, Silvy”. I had seen the video of her performing it in 2016 in the Disney Concert Hall with 1000 singers for the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 28th Annual High School Choir Festival so I knew what to expect. What I didn’t expect was her ability to create the same level of join and emotion in the Music Room as she did in a 2000-seat concert hall.