Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Plaza de Cesar Chavez Heated up in More Ways Than One Last Weekend

San Jose's own Jackie Gage performed a couple sets for Fil Maresca's birthday party at Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Photo by Gary Singh

When the anti-man-about-town gets depressed and feels isolated, all he has to do is reassess the cosmic matrix of artmaking in San Jose and then he realizes everything, and everyone, is connected. Last week, he began to view himself as a local one-man Kevin Bacon degree of separation generator.

Since there is no absolute beginning, for the sake of this column I will start with the SVArts Awards at Mexican Heritage Plaza. Every year the SVLaureate program recognizes achievement in the arts and creative contributions to Silicon Valley cultural life. This year, a former professor of mine, Joel Slayton, received a brand-new award called the SVNexus Award for those who pioneered efforts at the intersection of arts and technology. I owe Joel a lot, going back to the SJSU Art Department when he was a professor, an artist and the genre-shattering hero in charge of the CADRE Institute, an acronym for Computers in Art, Design, Research and Education. At CADRE, Joel presided over a radical interdisciplinary goulash of unclassifiable exploits, essentially the managing partner in a lawless firm of art raconteurs. CADRE was one of the places where I first started to find myself as a writer.

That was the mid-'90s, and as I sat there in the Mexican Heritage Theater watching the awards show, I recalled being the first person to run the soundboard in that theater when it first opened. At the time, I was in way over my head and didn't know what I was doing, so the opening of that complex made me quit doing live sound and instead focus on writing. Nowadays, the dude operating the sound, Rob Riddle, knows exactly what he's doing, and he and I were students of Joel's, in the same class, about 23 years ago. Decades before that, the parcel on which the theater now sits was the site of one of the first grocery store boycotts for farmworkers' rights that Cesar Chavez organized in the '60s. These types of vibrations, in which everything and everyone are connected, fueled the rest of my weekend.

Later that evening, I slithered through the plaza named after Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose to watch the Awesome Orchestra play the Twin Peaks theme for a few dozen people. There were more people on stage than in the park, and since the rest of the neighborhood was dead as a doorknob, I could hear the orchestra all the way on Second Street. It was very David Lynchian.

The next night, though, after Tony! Toni! Tone! drew thousands to Plaza de Cesar Chavez for Music in the Park, Vincent Herring tore up the Cafe Stritch stage for a capacity crowd, including fans who frequented the Ajax Lounge upstairs 25 years ago. I attended the VIP soft opening for Ajax in 1991. Everything and everyone is connected. On the mezzanine level of Stritch overlooking the floor, where I'm sitting as I write this column, I have fond memories of Metro's editorial staff meeting every Thursday in 2003, when the restaurant was called Eulipia. Steve Borkenhagen would bring us coffee and bagels.

The very next day, June 23, right back in Plaza de Cesar Chavez, the 37th Annual San Jose Fountain Blues & Brews Festival unfolded in the searing heat. The festival used to be free at SJSU in the early '90s. Everyone could bring in their own beer, drink all day and then pass out on the lawn. I once skipped work to do exactly that. Those days are long gone, but the festival is evolving just fine.

Finally, Sunday morning was Fil Maresca's birthday celebration in the same Plaza de Cesar Chavez, with the impossibly talented singer, San Jose's own Jackie Gage, doing two sets beginning at high noon. Fil used to own the F/X nightclub, now the Ritz, and used to hold Twin Peaks-themed events 26 years ago. Jackie, who now lives near Manhattan, even performed a new song she wrote about San Jose and how she misses living here. Everyone is one degree of separation from everyone else. Kevin Bacon would be proud, and I feel much less isolated.