“I’m from here.”
It is a very powerful thing when one of the most famous people in the world stands on a stage at the corner of Main and California, looking up at City Hall, and declares that he is home. That’s what happened Saturday night – the unofficial “Kevin Costner Night” in Ventura – when the hometown boy returned for a special premiere of his new movie, Swing Vote, a fundraiser at the new restaurant Watermark, and a free concert featuring his band, Modern West.
I thought it was a great day. The buzz from having a movie star in town was a lot of fun. Main, California, and Chestnut streets were all closed off to accommodate the activities, and an enormous stage was set up at Main and California facing uphill toward City Hall. Costner did a red-carpet walk across Main Street from the Watermark to the movie theater, stopping again and again to sign autographs – often in an old Buena High yearbook. When his band played, all of California Street turned into an outdoor amphitheater, with thousands of people standing, sitting, and listening all the way up to City Hall. You couldn’t move on the sidewalk during the concert; and afterward hundreds of people just hung around downtown, dining along the sidewalks and waiting for a glimpse of the star.
If you think it was all a bit too much Hollywood hype for Ventura, you’re probably right. We’re not used to burly bodyguards and velvet ropes and restricted access around our town. We’re not used to Hollywood entrances like Costner made, walking in the spotlight all the way from City Hall down the California Street hill to the stage, accompanied by music so grandiose you’d think it was the opening ceremony of the Olympics. (Not all was gold-plated for the star, however: Watermark owner Mark Hartley drove him from Main up to Poli in an electric golf cart – which stalled halfway up, meaning Costner had to make the rest of the climb on foot.)
And after all, the whole thing was just publicity for a new movie.
But so what? The movie’s pretty good. The band is better than you’d think. The Watermark is a fabulous restaurant. It was a nice warm afternoon and a beautiful night. And Kevin Costner – hometown boy – was as gracious and down-to-earth as his reputation suggests. He thanked his best friend, Ventura real estate agent Tim Hoctor, for putting the whole thing together. He recalled his days as a boy in downtown Ventura, attending Cabrillo Middle School and wondering what happened inside the big building at the top of the hill.
Not every city is capable of pulling off what happened in Ventura Saturday night, when our downtown was turned temporarily into a major entertainment venue featuring a world-famous star. I’ve always loved the fact that we are so good at special events in Ventura. Think of ArtWalk and the street fairs and the Music Festival, which fills venues all over town for more than a week, and the annual Hillside Conservancy concert, which turns Arroyo Verde Park into an amphitheater just as the Costner concert turned downtown into one.
We on the City Council spend most of our time grinding through the details of running a municipal government. How do we pay the police officers? How do we upgrade the sewer lines? Should buildings be two stories high, or three or four or five? When we inspect somebody’s building to make sure it’s not a fire hazard, do the taxpayers pay for that or do we make the building’s owner pay full freight?
These activities are the nuts and bolts of municipal government, and I’m not complaining that we spend a lot of time dealing with them. But Saturday night was a good reminder that a successful community requires far more than just water lines and sewer pipes and firefighters and building inspectors. A successful community requires thousands and thousands of people who are dedicated to making it a great place – a place where people put their money on the line to open new businesses, where they work together to create big events that we all love, and where they turn out in droves to see a world-famous guy who maybe sat three rows behind them in eighth-grade homeroom.
More once during the concert, I couldn’t resist turning around and just taking in the view of thousands of people lined up the California Street hill – loving the concern, loving the scene, and just loving being Venturans.
Ventura’s way better at this kind of community-building than almost any other city I can think of. That’s why I love being on the City Council.
Monday, July 28, 2008
“I’m from here.”