A night with Lars Ulrich and Friends was, by its mere definition, never going to be predictable. Look at the invitees. Lorin Ashton aka Bassnectar (DJ/electronic musician), Marc Benioff (Salesforce Chairman and CEO), Les Claypool (bassist/singer/songwriter/composer), Peter Coyote (actor/writer/Zen Buddhist Priest), James Hetfield (Metallica), Jonathan Parker (filmmaker), David Turner (designer), and Torben Ulrich (creative force across mediums and athlete) are not the type of creative energies who deliver the expected, and thus it proved to be, the atypical pace being set before a word had even been dropped…
Minutes before Ulrich was due to commence with his Cal Performances Front Row event, he became aware that a rather large demonstration taking place outside the venue (in the heart of the UC Berkeley Campus) might spill into the 1900 seat Zellerbach Hall. This was an advocacy action/protest designed to draw attention to the hope for more full time UC jobs currently occupied by contracted labor.
The existence of this demonstration meant he would be deviating (at the last moment) from his planned course of welcoming the student/fan club only audience to his symposium on creativity and the Bay Area - featuring some of his best friends and skilled collaborators - to offer the mic to any protestor for five minutes. Ulrich duly offered the opportunity within a minute of taking the stage, and a student called Claire accepted said-offer, sharing the details of a labor dispute on campus. It was perhaps the most perfect of imperfect starts to an evening alive with ideas and discussion about the creative process, freedom, and the Bay Area’s role in amplifying those elements. And given that Lars Ulrich has spent significant time in Berkeley (from hanging out at People’s Park in 1981 to living there in the late ‘80s) it was perhaps the most fitting of introductions to an evening that refused to be scripted.
This was the inaugural Front Row event for UC Berkeley, and is the brain child of Rob Bailis, the Associate Director of Cal Performances. With the help of cohort Kathy Rose, Event Producer of Special Initiatives, a grant was secured from the Wallace Foundation which actively seeks to fund groups working in the arts and education field.
The concept behind the evening had been to offer ten UC Berkeley students the chance to curate an evening which would integrate the life of a public Bay Area figure whose work they respected, and with whom they could create an interactive learning experience for the audience. Lars was the overwhelming choice, and so began six months of skype conference calls between these students, Lars, Brie Greenberg, and Vickie Strate (Lars’ event coordinators) during which various methods and models were explored. Eventually, everyone agreed on an event which was scheduled to run for 125 minutes with no intermission, and which was broken up in the following mini-salons, with Lars obviously hosting each one.
Visual Arts & Creativity - Peter Coyote, Jonathan Parker, David Turner
Film Discussion - Torben Ulrich
Philanthropy Discussion - Marc Benioff
Musicians Discussion - Lorin Ashton, Les Claypool, James Hetfield
Questions & Answers (delivered via Twitter) - all artists
No-one was checking their watches, and with everyone happy to offer a little more, the salons proved to be invigorating insights into both the lives and creative processes of all the participants. Coyote, a venerated social activist as well as actor, offered a more esoteric angle on the creative process and the eternal left/right brain issue, as well as discussing how he brought his own unique approach to supporting creativity to the California State Arts Council as the three-term Chairman. Jonathan Parker contemplated the various ironies, definitions, and observations of creativity via clips from his own Untitled film, and honestly – and at times comedically - discussed his own journey from writer to musician to filmmaker. Meanwhile, David Turner brought a crisp and intriguing peek into the world of commercial design, advertising, and the creation of both Metallica’s Death Magnetic and Through The Never packages whilst also folding in how the Bay Area encourages open thought. Turner also spoke about the beauty of “happy accidents” which can occur when teams work diligently yet freely on evolving concepts, which he experienced working with several major clients including Amazon and Coca-Cola.
Lars and Torben shared tales of their own work together on the film Before The Wall: Body & Being, a creative, and it is fair to say existential, exploration of how movement, breathing patterns, and self-awareness work for the human body in relation to daily life. As ever, Torben both regaled and charmed the audience with his genuinely unique approach to art and life.
Marc Benioff shared stories of his journey to Salesforce, including time spent in India, his subsequent belief of the importance in contributing to society and the common social good, and how important it is to be a strong, attentive listener in order to help develop one’s own ideas. Benioff also spoke passionately about the importance of healthy, well-educated children for a successful society. He included how vital it is that the entire Bay Area operates as one, noting that there “can’t be a healthy San Francisco without a healthy Oakland,” reinforcing his belief that the two are inextricably linked.
Hetfield, Ashton, and Claypool entertained and engaged the audience with their personal nitty-gritty on conjuring creativity in music, James saying that for him, the more thought poured into the process of creation, the harder it is. Meanwhile Claypool jokingly referred to himself as a “creative whore” with regards to the amount of creative projects he has been involved in. Ashton touched on his own unique journey from metal to electronic music, whilst also stressing that everyone should feel they can carve time out to explore their creative selves.
As the clock ticked into the over-over-time stage, and with Twitter questions being fielded at a furious rate, Ulrich suggested that perhaps another Front Row could happen in the future.
Given the overwhelming success of the evening, it would seem to be wholly possible.
N.B. Special thanks to The Student Curators of Cal Performances: Elizabeth Lin, Tait Melody Adams, Parmida Ziaei, Grace Lee, Nika Hoffman, Ivey Martinez, Brent Freed, Tess Hanson, Chris Vinan, Defne Gun along with Rob Bailis, Kathy Rose, Brie Greenberg, Vickie Strate, Frank Munoz, and (of course) all the many participants who helped create this unique event.