Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Night in the West Village: Sunset on the Hudson with Guitar Man David Ippolito at Pier 45 and "Annie" at RiverFlicks for Kids at Pier 46

We were looking to chill on our last free Friday night of the summer - next week we'll again be teaching a class on the Brooklyn College campus on Friday evenings (and we have class on Labor Day weekend, too). Something relaxing and low-key. David Ippolito, that guitar man from Central Park, was having his last Friday night Sunset on the Hudson one-man concert, and he was the perfect performer tonight.

We got to Pier 45 at the foot of Christopher Street after 7 p.m. and he'd already drawn a substantial crowd on the grass. It soon became clear that a lot of these people were big David Ippolito fans, and regulars here, and there was a real family feeling to the evening. It felt like being at a nice party where you don't really know anyone but are so enchanted by the people that you hope they invite you back to the next one.

David, of course, is the chief attraction. He became a New York phenomenon and legend years ago when a New York Times editor was passing by David's usual one-man Saturday guitar performances - he gradually gathered quite a following over the years - and wrote about how good he was. David is a fine guitarist who plays his own surprisingly skillful and winning songs along with standards. He was doing "Sweet Caroline" as we approached.

We listened to him sing "Country Roads" and thought of a 1974 John Denver concert at Nassau Coliseum; at "Lola," we flashed on a very late night drive up along the beach on Collins Avenue/A1A from North Miami Beach to Hollywood; "Big Bad Leroy Brown" made us recall driving our 1973 Mercury Comet over the bridge to Staten Island for graduate classes in literature months after the singer's death.

As we said, his own songs can be funny - "Facebook Is a Stupid Idiot" - or romantic or thoughtful political or social commentary ("Tom Cruise Scares Me"). David seems like a nice guy who's been around the block lots of times, and his appeal is both generational (baby boomers and older Gen Xers) and pretty much universal.

Of course the sweet black and Hispanic gay teens who've been on this pier forever were in their own beautiful world.

Anyway, David did his usual tribute to the sunset. He's really good at chatting between songs; of course, he's had years and years of experience, but you can't fake that kind of genuinely nice personality.

And it was a gorgeous night; a gibbous moon came out above the downtown skyscrapers and across from us was the now-crowded and impressive skyline of Jersey City and the smaller one of Hoboken to our right.

David's set, a mixture of his own stuff and classic songs from artists from the 60s, 70s and 80s, mellow material of people like Donovan, Christopher Cross and Cat Stevens, was nostalgic for us. He also introduced his friend Mark Aaron James, who did one song of his own. The show ended after 9 p.m. and we went a little bit north to Pier 46, where, on our way to see the Guitar Man, we noticed Annie was playing as part of RiverFlicks for Kids.

We could hear the movie for some time. Weirdly, we got there at the best scene of a film we only mildly like:
Sandy, Annie, Daddy Warbucks, Daddy's beautiful secretary Grace Farrell, and Punjab, Daddy's bodyguard, take themselves off to see a movie at Radio City Music Hall. This is the era of F.D.R., the Depression, the National Industrial Recovery Act, orphan asylums and the Music Hall. Daddy, as is his way, does things right. He buys out the house for one performance.

There, in lonely splendor in the middle of that vast gold auditorium, Sandy, Annie, Daddy and Grace sit in a row, with Punjab behind them, beholding the Music Hall's wonders. First there is the elaborate stage show, including the Rockettes, followed by the feature attraction, Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor in "Camille," projected, for some reason, in the wide-screen ratio of today.

After being held spellbound by the stage show, Annie and Sandy fall asleep as soon as the movie begins. Daddy Warbucks generously hides his boredom and worries about Grace, who weeps happy bucketsfull as Mr. Taylor's Armand is renounced by the great Garbo's Marguerite.

"No one has ever loved you as I love you," says Armand with all of the conviction of a Nebraska shoe salesman. "That may be," says Miss Garbo, sublime even when acting by herself, "but what can I do about it?" It's a marvelous, moving and very funny moment that suddenly defines this "Annie."

We remember the night in the mid-1970s around 11 p.m. after we'd just come back from a weeknight date and were sitting in our kitchen drinking tea when our parents came in from an angels' (financial backers) audition of Annie, where the would-be Broadway musicals' creators ran through the show with music for prospective financial backers, which included Mom and Dad and their friend and fellow Catskills hotel owner George Gilbert and his boyfriend.

They told us how stupid and banal Annie seemed to them, and how they knew it would never work on Broadway. "There's only one good song," Dad said. "Something about the sun coming out tomorrow."

We had a nice sundown and evening at Piers 45 and 46 tonight.

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