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The 2004 season of Celebrate Brooklyn kicks off another summertime of live music and movies in the Prospect Park Bandshell on June 16 with two music industry insiders with decades of history in the biz - legendary record producer Clive Davis and Los Lobos.

The Grammy Award-winning band is on tour promoting their new, self-produced album on Hollywood Records, "The Ride," and their performance at the bandshell on Wednesday will be their first New York-area gig.

And it’s free.

The suggested admission, however, is $3, and for those with a love of music performed al fresco, the preceding dinner, a fundraiser that benefits the performing arts series and honors Clive Davis, is $250 a ticket. That’s a small price to pay to rub elbows with Los Lobos, Davis and fellow honoree NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney.

Because Los Lobos has been rockin’ for 30 years, they were in a position to invite a roster of guest musicians to collaborate with them on their latest album. And they are thrilled by the stars who RSVP’d to their record-making party. "The Ride" features appearances by Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Ruben Blades, Mavis Staples, Bobby Womack, Richard Thompson and Little Willie G among others.

"The reason why they’re on there is because these are people we admire and respect and kind of worship," explained Los Lobos saxophonist-keyboardist Steve Berlin in a telephone interview from his home in Seattle. "To have them show up and be part of our deal is huge for us."

Los Lobos collaborated with Cafe Tacuba, who played Celebrate Brooklyn last year, on "The Ride’s" first track, "La Venganza de Los Pelados," which loosely translates to "Revenge of the Underdogs" from Chicano slang, explained Berlin, who said his band invited Cafe Tacuba to be part of their record after playing with them in September 2002.

"The stars just kind of align so that people showed up when we needed them," recalled Berlin. "Even ones on tour, like Elvis, actually came and did the work anyway. Elvis, Tom and Tacuba, they were able to do work from home or the road.

"Technology these days is so portable. Basically anyone with a laptop has a studio with them all the time, so it’s really not that difficult to get things like this accomplished, especially when you’re just looking for a vocal or something like that. It’s much easier than it used to be - even five years ago."

When Los Lobos hits the stage in Brooklyn, they won’t have those other stars in their constellation.

"All we can do is try to represent the intent of the song the best we can," said Berlin. "Clearly none of us can sing like Mavis or play guitar like Richard Thompson or Cafe Tacuba, so all we can do is represent the song as well as we can. In some cases it works, and when it doesn’t work, we don’t do it." Berlin doesn’t rule out the possibility of those guest performers meeting up with them on stage if their touring schedules allow.

Los Lobos’ own tour includes lots of outdoor venues, said Berlin.

"I like them. It’s fun because people are generally looser," he said. "If there’s alcohol, they’ll be drunker. Generally it’s a lot of fun. We play quite a few outdoor venues, and I kind of picture myself out in the audience while we’re doing it. In a club, you can’t really see the faces or get a sense of what’s actually happening out there. If it’s the right time of night [outdoors], you get a visual, a more interesting sense of what the audience is experiencing."

It was an outdoor music festival, the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, that changed the life of record producer Clive Davis. That’s where he was so moved by a performance by Janis Joplin and her band Big Brother and the Holding Company, that he signed them - discovering a legend process.

The 70-year-old Davis, who grew up in Crown Heights, has since launched numerous superstars from Barry Manilow to Bruce Springsteen to Whitney Houston to Alicia Keys, and he’s now the chairman and CEO of BMG North America.

Many, including Berlin, agree that Davis has a golden ear that enables him to hear star potential.

"I actually produced the first Crash Test Dummies album," said Berlin, recalling his own collaboration with Davis. "They had a hit called ’Mmm mmm mmm’ and that was their first record on Arista, and I had made the record for literally next to nothing. It was so cheap it was ridiculous.

"Clive called me and said, ’You know, one of these songs, I want you to remix it. I want you to add strings and make it a big thing.’

"It started off as a really humble song, and he wanted to turn it into something much larger. And I said ’fine.’ And they gave me a bunch of money to do it. I spent it all, and I handed it in. And he goes, ’You know what? I liked the other version. The other version sounded what I think it ought to sound like, so don’t worry about it. Thanks anyway.’

"I tell you, that really doesn’t ever happen in the music business, If someone spends the money, they bloody well use the stuff they spent the money on, if for no other reason than to cover their ass. It’s kind of the way it usually works.

"And it turned out to be a pretty big hit for them. So he definitely has got ears, there’s no two ways about it."

Davis, who now lives in Manhattan, is being honored by Celebrate Brooklyn for his work in the music business. Although he’s already been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and been bestowed with a lifetime achievement Grammy, Davis is glad to come to his old stomping grounds and celebrate both Brooklyn and music festivals in general.

"They celebrate music, and I think it’s good for the record industry," Davis told GO Brooklyn in a telephone interview. "I think the fact that it is well attended and often 50- to 100,000 or more show up to celebrate music is great - any event that gives artists and musicians a chance to play in front of a large audience."

Davis, who appeared on FOX’s "American Idol" as a guest judge last month, lauded that television show as another vehicle that exposes artists to a giant audience.

"I think that [’American Idol’] has been good for pop music," said Davis. "There’s rock, hip-hop and urban, and I think it’s helped America reawaken its interest in pop music ... And it’s obviously captured America like no other new program in years."

On the show, Davis suggested contestant Fantasia Barrino sing "Greatest Love of All," a song Houston made famous. (Davis told GO Brooklyn that he would be meeting with that diva in a couple of weeks to begin talks about a new album.) Not content to rest on his laurels, the septuagenarian is still harvesting and launching new talent. Davis’ label J Records will release "I Believe," sung by "Idol" champ Barrino, on June 22.

And this is just the beginning of the talent Celebrate Brooklyn is bringing to Prospect Park this summer.

 

Celebrate Brooklyn presents Los Lobos on June 16 at 8 pm. The gala benefit preceding the performance, honoring Clive Davis and Robert Tierney, begins at 5:30 pm. Gala tickets, which include reserved concert seats, cocktails, dinner and dancing, begin at $250.

Admission to the concerts is $3. The Prospect Park Bandshell is located at Ninth Street at Prospect Park West in Park Slope. For information visit www.celebratebrooklyn.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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