EVEN WHEN THEY live so close to Tinseltown, it's still easy for Venturans to get excited about an old-fashioned movie premiere in their hometown.
Our laid-back city got a big dose of Hollywood glamour with the premiere of Academy-Award winning actor Kevin Costner's new Disney movie, "Swing Vote," and a wonderful free concert afterward that drew thousands.
The stage, set up at the intersection of California and Main, faced City Hall and thus created a natural amphitheater with concertgoers spread up the hill and out onto the side streets. It was a mellow evening of kids and dogs milling about and great music from Costner's band, "Modern West."
The congenial actor is also a pretty decent singer and guitarist and has assembled a band of talented musicians. He made a grand entrance through a delighted crowd after a montage of his films ran up on the the stage.
What was the most fun was listening to his candid and often heartfelt patter between sets. He clearly has a great affection for the city he grew up in. "Thank you, Main Street," Costner said to the crowd. "I went to junior high right over there at Cabrillo. My whole life's wrapped up here."
But he couldn't resist putting in a big plug for his film, "We have a deal here," he told the crowd. "You came free, so I expect you to go see the movie."
NOW THE FIXATION of many adoring female fans, he recalled his Buena High School days when it wasn't always that way. "I wasn't much with the girls. I wanted to be. The only dances I went to were Sadie Hawkins ones where the girls asked the guys."
Costner was also apparently confronted with his old high school yearbook picture a few times during the day. "I was really small back then. But thank you for sticking that in my face 100 times today," he joked to classmates in the crowd.
He also invited his mother and father to the concert. "I'm so thankful they're alive to see this."
Kudos go to Costner's childhood friend Tim Hoctor, a Ventura realtor, for convincing Costner to stage the event in his former hometown. "Tim said to me, 'If we die and never do something for our hometown, we will have missed out.' "
The guy with the magic wand today was local entrepreneur and music agent Mark Hartley who helped pull off the whole event. The showpiece of the day was Hartley's new restaurant, The Watermark, which was the setting for the $500-a-ticket charity premiere party. I have already fallen in love with the remodeled building and its classy interior, but was still curious about the menu. The artful and enticing spread out in the adjoining reception tent left no doubt this will be a first-class epicurean endeavor.
HOPEFUL CELEBRITY WATCHERS at the premiere party might have been a bit disappointed. Costner was quickly spirited up the stairs for an interview with "The Insider" host Pat O'Brien. Some of the high-profile co-stars of the film such as Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper and Nathan Lane, didn't attend. But actress Virginia Madsen, a Ventura County resident, was in attendance along with "Swing Vote" co-star Madeline Carroll.
I had a chance to speak with The Watermark's interior designer, Kathleen McMullen Coady of Tower Designs. The interior was a collaboration between her and Hartley, who has taken on many projects Downtown and has a talent for transforming buildings. Whose idea was the cool jellyfish tank on the third floor? "That was Mark's," she said. "He's very creative."
I want the booth underneath that tank when I go back there.
Since the two-plus hour concert was such a resounding success, I hope very much we can do it again with another act some time. It was a community-building effort and a great way to show off our thriving Downtown.
Kudos also go to both City Corps and Peace Through Music, who put on a great side event at the City Corps headquarters in front of City Hall. The musical lineup was stellar and the City Corps kids made wonderful volunteers at the Costner event.