Student musicians back Weird Al Yankovic and Doobie Brothers alum Michael McDonald in the Greg Coote Concert for the Arts
By Andy Vasoyan
For a lot of kids in high school band, the highest-stakes moment of their musical career will be performing in front of family and friends.
For student musicians of Santa Monica High School, that zenith might well come this Saturday playing alongside their bandmates — and oh, yeah, backing Michael McDonald, Amy Holland, Richard Page of Mr. Mister, and none other than Weird Al Yankovic.
The Greg Coote Concert for the Arts, also featuring the band Venice as house musicians, is a benefit for the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation’s efforts to fund arts education throughout SMMUSD.
The annual event has routinely sold out Samohi’s 1,200-seat Barnum Hall, and this year has been renamed in the memory of the entertainment exec and school district parent who led the foundation’s initial arts endowment campaign.
Preparations for this year’s concert have been well-laid but, as always, high school has a way of making things complicated.
“The crew is coming in to set up the stage, but Samohi is under construction, plus the students have a dress rehearsal, but Thursday and Friday are school days, obviously,” says event coordinator
Linda Greenberg, the foundation’s executive director.
Sometimes student musicians get whisked away to competitions, and those spots need filling. “It’s a delicate balance,” adds Greenberg.
Another delicate balance: Parents performing at their children’s high school. Venice’s Kipp Lennon and Michael Lennon, who are cousins, have a sophomore and a senior, respectively, in the Samohi music program.
“It doesn’t matter who you are — you could be the biggest rock star in the world, but kids always think their parents are geeks a little bit,” says Kipp Lennon. “They came to hang out with us in the orchestra room, and they were laughing, saying ‘It’s so weird that you’re here, dad!’”
Third-generation Westsiders, the members of Venice have been involved with the Concert for the Arts for years, and a number of their children have already gone through schools in the area. It’s through their involvement that this year’s concert landed a surprise guest, someone whose career has been both decades long and perennial: Weird Al Yankovic.
“Kids just think he’s cool!” says Lennon. “His style doesn’t go out of style.”
Yankovic, whom Lennon recruited while they worked together for a different benefit concert, is known for 30 years of parodying songs that make up the cultural zeitgeist.
He’ll be joined by Michael McDonald, formerly of The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, as well as Richard Page of Mr. Mister (“Broken Wings,” “Kyrie”) and Amy Holland (“How Do I Survive,” “Shake Me Wake Me”).
Holland who is married to McDonald, says the Concert for the Arts has a different feel than other events.
“Everyone’s here because they value the arts,” Holland says.
Arts programs have a special place for her and McDonald.
“Our son went into an arts program,” she says, “Not everyone is into sports, so he went into the arts, and it changed his life. For some of these kids, it’s a life-saver, a game changer.”
Holland will be joining her husband on the Barnum Hall stage for a number of songs, but she won’t be his only accompaniment.
“Some of the students will be joining onstage,” she says, “and it’s great to have Venice working as well.”
For Kipp Lennon, working with the students is still a great experience, even after 12 shows.
“These kids are phenomenal!” he gushes. “Every artist that comes to the show, they’re shaking their heads because it’s so good. Maybe they thought it’d be a high school talent show, but it’s like you’re at the Hollywood Bowl.”
The Greg Coote Concert for the Arts is at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at Barnum Hall, 600 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica. Tickets start at $50. Call (310) 396-4557 or visit smmef.org.