Monday, March 15, 2010

On It's All About Who You Know: Ben Harper, Origami Vinyl, and Fire Marshalls

Before Friday night when Ben Harper performed an in store for a packed house at Origami Vinyl in Echo Park, I knew very little about him. I knew my stoner friends in college liked him, I knew my dad liked his "mellower stuff," and I knew he recently was part of Ringo Starr's backing band.

What I didn't know and what I found out is far more intriguing. Firstly, Ben Harper is a man of the people. Sean Stentz, co-operator of the store, related to me the story of Harper coming into the store and doing some shopping. Upon checkout he noticed that some musicians were setting up equipment in the Origami loft. He asked Stentz what was going on and Sean explained to him that they did in store performances. Harper enthusiastically asked if he could perform some time and how the place was right up his alley. He provided Stentz with personal contact information and within a week, he was back at Origami performing. Instead of entering through the back to perform, which would have made more sense logistically due to the sardine can that was Origami Vinyl on Friday night, Harper entered through the front door, high-fiving his fans and saying hello as if he were greeting members of a soccer team or old frat buddies. It was cool to witness.

The other thing I learned about Ben Harper is that the dude kinda fucking jams. He played a solid forty five minute set of passionate, bluesy rockers, filled with guitar solos and aggressive rhythms provided by a very accomplished bassist and drummer. He sang like his vocal chords were on fire and only the sound of his voice belted out at top volume could quench the flames. Finally, he appeared to be having the time of his life. Having never seen him before nor listened to his music, I was duly impressed by his performance and his overall jam. I even found out that all the merch he put on consignment at the store he requested to be paid out to him in store credit! Kudos Mr. Harper. You're a class act.

As you might imagine having Ben Harper perform in a space the size of Origami drew quite a crowd, including the fire marshall, who in no uncertain terms told Sean and Neil they were breaking the law and needed to shut the thing down immediately and they were to receive a fine. Then two curious things happened. The fire marshall got wind of who was performing and lamented that he wished he could have been there for the whole set. This followed an encounter with the building's owner and Neil's landlord, who knew the fire marshall. Suddenly everything was congenial. The store learned how to avoid trouble in the future by knowing which permits to apply for and the show got to end on its own accord. Sometimes, it really is about who you know!

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