Say you’re a singer-songwriter known for performing in and presenting epic concerts at your stunning ranch, amidst the perfect vista of mountains in beautiful Southern California. Now say that in the past year, your world has expanded by a factor of two; into the group of wonderful friends and family you’ve had for years as a rock singer and contemporary songwriter comes a tremendous new group of professional jazz musicians from your more recent performing world. When the two groups met for the first time, a creative vortex of joyful inspiration was born, and inspiration revealed itself in the music that flowed naturally out of conversation and songs. And that’s how Jan. 1, 2016, emerged as arguably the “best year ever” for Kiki Ebsen.
Amidst the beauty and harmony of The Healing Equine Ranch, Ebsen found herself surrounded by the most positive collective of talented people who flowed into the ranch house and outside, appreciatively taking in the serenity of the place that had long served as inspiration for the majority of her songwriting through the first five of six albums she’s recorded.
As she described it, conversation was brisk and spirits soared. Ideas flew into Kiki’s mind faster than ever, fueled by her joy of bringing all these people together. In a word, it was “epic!” From this meet-up, Ebsen was inspired to create a newly titled music event, which she calls the peace.harmony concert series. For the first week of 2016, Kiki considered the possible theme for the debut. One answer emerged and seemed appropriate and most fitting, guaranteed to fill her heart with joy and satisfy her soul. It would be a tribute to Joni Mitchell. Now, who would join her?
The next few steps went like this. She reached out to Gigi Worth, the talented and lovely singer, for the Joni tribute, the perfect collaborator, and Gigi was in. They chose three of their favorite musicians to add to the music tribute. Sounds great, right? What could be better? Nothing. What could go wrong? Well, since you asked, there’s this list. How did the debut go? Was there peace? Was there harmony? This is where our story continues.
Rain! Friday’s weekend weather forecast for Sunday, Jan. 31, was the first sign there could be a wrench on its way to the debut of Kiki Ebsen’s peace.harmony concert series. Everywhere you looked, newspaper, online, radio–the forecast was solid, rain expected for Sunday. Most events go on rain or shine, but on a ranch there are more than a few variables where rain can present a bigger impediment to those arriving to enjoy the day’s events. The first thought was that the pre-concert ranch tour would not be feasible, so a group e-mail was sent out to all concert attendees as prelude to preparation.
Surveying the winding road that led to the concert site and the path that it encompassed past the multiple gates, Kiki looked serious as she said, “There’s an entire section of the road here that’s covered with dirt from the last rain a few weeks ago; time to address this so it won’t turn into a problem.” Saturday’s forecast also affirmed rain on Sunday, despite only gently cloudy skies that revealed magnificent sunlight and seemed unlikely to dump rain on the landscape.
For three solid hours, Kiki and her ranch team worked to remove debris, piles of piled-up dirt (that could easily turn into slick mud skids and send an unskilled driver running for cover). You’ve never before seen a professional musician and touring rock star morph instantly, in chameleon-like fashion, into a skilled tractor-driving, front-loader maneuvering crew chief. But this girl was booking it down the road to move dirt from where it was to where it needed to be. She and her team coordinated creating a protective barrier of railroad ties to keep water from spilling over the edge and taking dirt along for the ride.
The shining sun beat down more heavily, brooms moved the free dirt, and shovels undid the fixed dirt. Then there was barely time to clean up before the musicians arrived for final rehearsal. Drummer Matt Starr was still out of town playing his gig, but text messages to Kiki notwithstanding, the sunshine in (it never rains in) southern California boded well. All systems were go. Right? Wait for it.
The morning of Jan. 31 arrived early, with thunder, lightning, and the howls of a few restless coyotes, being kept at bay by trained guard dogs whose warning barks were sufficiently persuasive for the coyotes to move along; ”nothing to see here.” The plan was for Gary Bergeson of Mission Viejo’s KSBR-FM (88.5) radio to arrive with “a few folks from the Alert the Globe Network,” and set up the electronics that would allow everything to be captured for their vault and future complete showing and the event to be simulcast for the second hour.
The Alert the Globe team is a musician collective, including Waddy Wachtel, Neal Faison, Gregg Bissonette, Bernard Fowler, and Bunny Brunel, to name a few, who live-stream select entertainment events and record other international concerts as well. They’re new, the project is exciting, and thanks to Bergeson, Kiki’s peace.harmony concert debut was on their radar screen.
Through the almost-blinding rain and rather loud thunder bursts, the folding chairs for all attendees of the sold-out concert arrived, and the red carpet of towels did the trick between trips in and out through the entrance closest to the concert hall. Friends suggested to Kiki that now would be a good time for her to get away for a spell and enjoy a pre-concert yoga session, to take her mind off the rain and tune in to peace and harmony so she could return and share it with others.
As Ebsen drove off down the long road, the chair guys had gone. Another cup of coffee was brewed and there was a knock on the door. There in the pouring rain stood a soaked Gary Bergeson and his colleague, Danny Gray, audio engineer with Alert the Globe, who came in to survey the best place(s) to set up mission control for the filming.
They had some equipment between them on the first trip in, but the majority of it, and the Alert the Globe team and friends were en route they said. The best entrance to haul in the rest of their “wide loads” was a set of French doors, which were sturdy—any other time except in the high wind and heavy rain season that was happening that morning.
After about the sixth or seventh offload by Gary and Danny, after both were safely inside, the two doors flew open wide, despite their having been pretty much shut and secured. You know how wind is; you can’t see it but you can watch its aftermath.
Running to close the flung-open doors, the mission was accomplished, but yet another door blew open; the air pressure changed. And, well, the magnificent wood-framed glass door between the dining area and the concert hall slammed shut with such force that you would have sworn it was the USC marching band hitting their last beat on “Tusk.”
Rather than glass shattering everywhere in shambles, there was a new wrinkle, as the wood simply sheared away from one side of the glass and the unbroken full-length pane was in suspended animation. As three people watched it, stared first at it, then at each other, a decision was made quickly to secure it before the glass did break off. A toolkit was less than 20 feet away, and the hinges of the door were removed and the door was carried out of sight and out of mind, temporarily. The best news was that no one was hurt when glass did not shatter (or fly) and no one was even thinking about worst-case scenarios at that point. It was the peace.harmony concert series debut, right?
Now, Kiki is still at yoga, probably in the toughest challenge workout she’d choose, and the rain subsided, for about five minutes. Then it came back with renewed vigor. The rest of the crew had still not arrived, which was a little curious…for about five more minutes, when three people came through the doors and announced they were not able to “get up the road and had to walk at least a mile to reach the concert site.” That was puzzling news. When queried, one gentleman said, “well the road was blocked.” What? How? “By the tree.” What tree? “The one that was blocking the road.” Where? “About a mile down the way.” Oh. What???
There was no time to don rain gear when an exploratory team went out to survey exactly what tree it was that was blocking the road. Took about 30 seconds to see in the distance a very tall, extremely wide old oak tree had to have been hit by lightning. It had instantly splintered, severing off from its sturdy broad base, sending it arcing down to the ground, and completely blocking the entire path to the concert site. Tall foliage and thick branches were still intact. The gate upon which the tree fell couldn’t sustain the force. Even though the rain was subsiding a little from “monsoon” to storm system status, the damage was threefold: the tree, the gate, and the blocked path.
More observers flowed down and up, respectively, the blocked path and the horses in various open pens out in the distance stood and observed this group of humans, sizing them up quickly and deciding that there was a better-than-even chance none of them had extensive ranch experience as much as they’d probably watched all the episodes of “Green Acres.”
The observation team quickly reached consensus: better call Kiki. But most of them didn’t know there was calming music and some peace and harmony going on somewhere in Calabasas, and that her cell phone was in the “off” position. So a couple of them made similar calls and voice messages to make sure she got the bad news, a lot, when she turned her phone on, all rested and everything. From “ohm” to “oh my” in sixty seconds.
The good news was that Kiki hadn’t turned her cell phone on yet when she drove up at the expected time. Calmly she exited her vehicle and saw the crowd that had gathered to contemplate the “what’s next” part of things. They then announced to her that a tree had fallen, and since no one had located a chain saw yet, they anxiously anticipated her thoughts on the matter. Cheerfully she said, “That’s okay, I have a tractor! I’ll be back in a minute.”
True to her word, Kiki returned in rain gear, and Damaris Mercado, of Alert the Globe’s video production team, followed her to the barn and documented her jumping up on the tractor and approaching the fallen tree confidently, determined that this wasn’t any big deal. As the crowd stood there stunned, Kiki wrapped chains around the tree and secured them to the front loader and without so much as a “by your leave,” backed on down the road after having maneuvered the giant branch up and off the now-sagging broken steel gate.
Halfway down the road, the giant wooden souvenir had decided to shift off back onto the ground but, as you’d expect, Kiki got off the tractor, resecured the chains around the giant branch that the guys estimated weighed at least 800 pounds, and a zip and a boom later, the branch was up, and she was gone and found a great place to relocate it to be chopped into firewood early the next morning. Something good can always come from disaster.
A small traveling party made their way down the hill to inform her of the latest unfortunate development of the moment: the power had gone out. Almost as quickly as Kiki had secured the big tree branch, the rain had stopped, the sky color shifted gently into a new shade of cadet blue-grey and some tree watchers had begun to clear the path of the extraneous smaller branches and piles of leaves that the event had left in its wake. Peace. Harmony. You bet. No power.
Upon hearing the news, Ebsen was unflappable as she said, “Okay, the power will probably come back on soon (it was now 3 hours before show time), and we’ll go all-acoustic if we have to, but we will have a concert here. You’ll see; it will all be fine.”
What everyone had just witnessed was not only the virtual power of attraction during the real-time loss of electric power, but also seen and relevant was the power of what one person’s positive spirit could do to take a “turn-down day” and make you want to start humming, “Blue Skies.” The energy and determination that define Kiki are matched only by her abilities to remain calm in any crisis, and to her this was not a crisis. When you’ve toured for 20 years on the road and seen every scenario that could be, “Just stay calm and it will work out.”
Since not much else could be done without power, Ebsen said, “I’ll be right back,” and went back down the (newly cleared) road and all the way back into the city for a full supply of candles, from votives to practical. At the far end of the road, a young man met her at the gate and asked her if “this was the place where the concert was and where Gigi needed a guitar.” She said, “This is the right place and just go all the way up the hills and you’ll find her.”
Turns out the young man, Matt, was a savant of a guitar tech and that he had managed to borrow a guitar for Gigi, who’d driven off and forgotten hers, across town. Peace, harmony, sure. During the concert the audience would learn whose guitar saved the day. It was only Snuffy Walden’s guitar; yes, that W. G. “Snuffy” Walden, the 11-time Emmy nominee for music composition, who won an Emmy for the title theme to “The West Wing.” The Southern California music world is amazing that way; friends jump right in whenever and wherever they’re needed. Guitar disaster—averted. Check.
Arriving back home at 3:30 pm, Kiki knew guests would soon be arriving anytime for the usual protocol of a ranch concert. Music was to begin at 5:00 p.m. so beforehand, everyone brings something to share or brings their own food or snack to enjoy in a collegial community of music lovers.
The production team including Bergeson, Gray, Rudy Milanovich (TV director, Alert the Globe); Kevin Melvin (KSBR Radio and camera operator for Alert the Globe); Rob Ballanger (KSBR Radio and Alert the Globe) Dave Sampson (camera operator, Alert the Globe); and Robert Fisher (Alert the Globe A/V producer and still photographer) were all working hard, connecting everything in hopes the power would return in time.
Alert the Globe president Ron Garrett had also arrived to witness the event, but without power, all they could do was wait. Across town, Kiki reflected on what a privilege it was for her concert series debut to be chosen by Alert the Globe as their first livestream for 2016. She smiled quietly, appreciatively, and calmly.
In what can only be named as the miracle it was, finally the power came back on, almost the same moment Kiki had driven up with all the candles. She asked a friend to arrange a few of the votives for a nice decoration to go atop the piano lid.
At last Kiki turned her cell phone on, only to find about five messages about ‘a tree’ on her voice mail. Flying past those, there was one from drummer Matt Starr, whose plane was delayed, which meant he was going to have to miss the entire concert. “Hey, we’ll go all-acoustic!” she said cheerfully to everyone. As the electronics wizards were now able to finish out their sound wiring and camera testing, Kiki dove back into her sanctuary to remove the day and prepare for her peace.harmony concert.
No matter what happened, Kiki’s leadership and healing spirit of smiling her way through the latest disaster, seemingly that occurred in domino fashion, never once losing her cool, set the tone for peace and harmony for the occasion. At this point in the story, you know for sure that the sold-out crowd would be able to walk in and not have one clue about what happened just hours beforehand.
The music that followed would prove to be magical, and the ambiance of the surroundings would prove majestic and magnificent. If you weren’t there, you missed a full spiritual lesson in achieving true peace and harmony. You also missed the brilliance of mega-talents, as Kiki, Gigi, and friends pulled off a tribute to Joni Mitchell that would have surely found Ms. Mitchell among the first to stand and join the others in the standing ovations that the performers received. The opportunity to see the world of singer-songwriters, thanks to an all-access pass, was an unforgettable experience from both sides of the stage.
In “Night in the City,” Joni Mitchell wrote it true, and Kiki sang it purely, “Night in the city looks pretty to me; night in the city looks fine. Music comes spilling out into the street, colors go flashing in time.”
Upon the evening’s conclusion, everyone dispersed smiling, talking about all that they’d seen, heard, witnessed. Kiki and Gigi were so gracious in receiving the heartfelt accolades from each attendee, each of them relating what that evening, and what Joni’s music, had meant to them. Hugs of affirmation and thanks were exchanged so warmly.
The horses had to have been smiling that evening, too, as the concert was a benefit in support of Kiki’s nonprofit, The Healing Equine Ranch. Love and light prevailed. Healings happened that day and night as so many spirits were soothed. Hearts were filled with the most beautiful music that flowed forth on the crest of waves of water that had washed everything clean away. And the colors went flashing in time.
This story is Part 4 in a five-part series of stories that shares Kiki Ebsen’s peace.harmony concert debut in tribute to Joni Mitchell. Part 5 shares the concert events and how the inspiration of one woman, Joni Mitchell, has impacted the lives of four outstanding musicians, each contributing their gifts in sharing their love bringing her music to life for others. Note: Kiki & Friends will reprise this Joni Mitchell Tribute on June 5, at Bogie’s in Westlake. Check Kiki’s website for details.