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October 2018

The Story Behind the Song

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Guitarist Suzanna Spring of the Mustangs of the West reflects on her life as a songwriter and the story behind their new single “T-Shirt from California.”  Come hear the Mustangs play the song THIS FRIDAY, October 26 at the Bankhead.  Read her story and then get tickets to hear it live!

The Story Behind “T-Shirt From California”

I wrote the song “T-Shirt From California” as a valentine to a place I missed when I was living in another state. I wasn’t born in California, but my parents were always California dreaming and we moved here the year I turned sixteen. I still remember the shock of the big sky, the far horizon, and the freedom. No one asked what church I went to, and it felt like everyone out here was just beginning something. I used to drive in the evenings up to a reservoir, because the road had twists and turns, and with the windows down I could really feel the way the air changes from desert-hot to cool. I became a Californian. I fell in love with the mountains and the desert. I went free-diving for abalone up the coast; hiked in Yosemite, in Joshua Tree, drove down Highway 1, to the teal-color ocean that is Big Sur.

I moved to southern California after college, and I auditioned for a band called The Mustangs, because my mom had taught my sister and me to sing and how to harmonize, and I wrote poems and songs and played guitar. I always had melodies in my head, because I’d kept a radio next to my bed since age six, soaking in the music. This band–The Mustangs–all of us women had similar stories in a way, and we had given up a lot to begin something new. We played gigs around southern California, frequently at The Palomino for Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance. We were new writers, and we wrote a lot of love, and love-gone-wrong songs. We had some ballads, too, and a cool version of a Stones song. I always pictured that when The Mustangs got a record deal, I’d drive up PCH and run out on the beach screaming.

The band dissolved when one person left the band, another moved, and I went to Nashville to write songs. Nashville was different than California. The checkers at the grocery stores would ask, “How can I hep you?” and one time I overheard two grocery baggers having a discussion about which was the best religion: Methodist or Baptist. Any night of the week in Nashville you could hear great music, great songs–and just like all the waiters in L.A. are actors, a lot of the waiters in Nashville had song ideas they sometimes wrote on napkins, and if you talked to a waiter long enough, they would tell you a song idea they had, and ask you what you thought.

I had mostly written songs alone, in moments of angst, but in Nashville your publisher would make writing appointments for you, with co-writers, and you’d have a regular schedule of appointments: 10am-2pm, 2pm-5pm, 5pm-8pm. Not all of those necessarily on the same day, but sometimes, yes. You needed to write 12 songs a year for the publishing deal, but everyone wrote more than that, to improve the odds of getting a song cut. Then you’d make rough recordings of your songs and play them for your publisher, and if your publisher liked them, you’d get a studio recording session. This was heaven, and one step closer to having your songs played for artists, managers, and record labels. I learned that a lot of the songwriters kept “hook books”–journals where they jotted down song titles and ideas. It was more efficient than a napkin and kept all the ideas in one place. You could take this book to your writing appointment and say, “I’ve got this title,” and if your co-writer didn’t grab onto it you could say,”Well I’ve got this other idea…”

I wrote for Bluewater Music, a publishing company known for signing artist/writers. Unlike some publishers who would put up a blackboard telling their writers they needed an uptempo positive song for a particular country artist, Bluewater mostly let us write what we wanted to write. Of course the songs didn’t always get cut, because they weren’t about wise grandparents or falling in love at age four and still being crazy about each other at fifty, but If a Bluewater song did hit, it usually hit big. They were known for good and quirky writers and although I didn’t like it that they didn’t pay much, I did like the freedom.

I was missing California one morning, and just sitting on the small sofa in my living room, strumming guitar, and the chorus to “T-Shirt From California” came into my head. I knew it was good because it stayed with me; I don’t think I even wrote it in the hook book. I took the chorus to a writing appointment with Wes Hightower, a writer and session singer, and we wrote a song about how it feels when someone leaves for California to start something new– and how it feels to be left. The things I loved about California–the ocean, driving up Highway 1 or down Sunset Boulevard, hiking in Topanga Canyon –all went into that song.

I always thought “T-Shirt” would get cut by an artist in Nashville, but now I realize it probably belongs to California. I sent it to Sherry Rayn Barnett, with some other songs, since we’d stayed friends after The Mustangs. And after I moved back to California, Sherry said she had an idea about The Mustangs, and had been talking to Holly Montgomery about us playing together again, and that we should record this song. Holly had played with a drummer named Suzanne Morissette Cruz and Sherry had met Aubrey Richmond, and Sherry had found a place to record. George Landress engineered. From the first run-through, it felt right. And all the things I love about California music, the guitar jangle and the Beach Boys harmonies, it’s all there. Sherry got the song to Kirk Pasich at Blue Élan, and he got it.

And so the song came back to California, and became something new, as did The Mustangs Of The West: Suzanne, Aubrey, Holly, Sherry and me. We got a record deal, and “T-Shirt From California” is our first single. So don’t stop California dreaming–It’s different out here.

–Suzanna Spring

Opening Act: Paul Jefferson

Friday, October 26 at 8pm


RED: Connecting to Art

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Red“, John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play about abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, opens tonight on the stage-on-stage at the Bankhead Theater. If you don’t have tickets, get them now … this is truly a play worth seeing.

Our team has watched as this powerful play has emerged – from the first read-through to last night’s dress rehearsal – in much the same way a Rothko painting emerged as he applied many layers of precisely-tinted color. “Red” is a remarkable five-scene window into the heart and soul of an artist at work – a gifted, passionate, tortured mind wrestling his art to life. Rothko verbally clashes with his assistant Ken, yet each takes away something from the other. Poised at an important moment in the history of art – as Abstract Expressionism was giving way to Pop Art – the play shines a light inside the mind of an artist driven by his artistic ideals.

The intimacy of the stage-on-stage setting at the Bankhead, makes the play even more compelling. The raw industrial feel of the walls and lighting evokes Rothko’s studio. Seated just feet from the action in the acoustically-beautiful space means the audience is part of every word, every breath, every emotion.

Viewing art in a museum, especially Rothko’s commanding canvases, can be a transformative experience. Watching an artist at work provides a view into artistic creation. But seeing into the soul of the creator yields an understanding of the value and meaning of art that goes beyond what the eye can see. “Red” provides that inner view of art in a way that will remain with you forever.




Directed by Misty Megia with Harvey T. Jordan as Mark Rothko and Michael P. McDonald* as Ken
*Member of the Actor’s Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers.


October 18 at 7:30pm
October 19 at 8:00pm
October 20 at 2:00pm
October 20 at 8:00pm
October 21 at 3:00pm



On personal connections…
I’m familiar with many of the artistic references in the play. I grew up around classical music and my mother often took us to art exhibits. Years later, I volunteered in a parent-led arts and music elementary school program. But some personal connections to “Red” made working on it even more enjoyable…

One of the first things Rothko asks Ken when they meet is “Who’s your favorite painter?”  It’s a flashback for me.  When I was 25, I had a “final” interview for a high-tech marketing job. It was with the vice president, several levels up, a final sign-off before an offer could be made. He was well-known for being critical and difficult, and I felt intimidated walking into his office. But the first thing he asked was “Who’s your favorite artist?” which led to a fascinating discussion about finding inspiration in different types of art. A couple years later, at dinner with him and his wife on my first business trip to Boston, they encouraged me to visit a museum in every city I traveled to. His understanding that art recharges the soul, refreshes one’s perspective, and sparks new ideas stayed with me and I have, indeed, looked for museums everywhere I’ve gone.




Danville Native Returns to Co-Star in John Logan Play “Red”

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Rehearsals are underway for an intimate new production of “Red” by John Logan at the Bankhead Theater. The two-man play features Harvey T. Jordan as the abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko and Michael McDonald as Rothko’s assistant Ken. The production is directed by Misty Megia and produced by the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center.

“Red” is the first show in a stage-on-stage setting at the Bankhead and opens for a five-performance run starting October 18.

About “Red”

Winner of the 2010 Tony Award, “Red” captures a pivotal period in Rothko’s tumultuous career. The play provides a compelling view into the artist’s mind as he ponders his artistic legacy, even as he works on a notable new commission. Set in the late 1950s, “Red” is based on a true event.

Rothko was asked to create a set of large murals for the new Four Seasons restaurant in New York. He hires a new assistant to help him, an aspiring artist eager to learn from a master but who also represents the emergence of a new generation in modern art. While they work side by side, the duo challenges each other over divergent styles, musical taste, attitude, and philosophies.

The play debuted in London before transferring to Broadway and has been seen in multiple productions, including an acclaimed recent revival in London’s West End with Alfred Molina (Rothko) returning to the role he created in 2009. At the Bankhead, Henry Jordan will also be stepping back into Rothko’s shoes. Jordan, who appeared in the role at Stage 3 in Sonora in 2012, has appeared in various roles at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and American Blues Theatre Company, among others.

The return of a Danville native

Michael McDonald returns to his East Bay roots to make his first appearance in the role of Ken. McDonald spent his early years in Danville and attended high school in San Francisco before heading to the University of Minnesota, where he participated in the actor training program as part of obtaining his BFA. Since then, McDonald has appeared off-Broadway in productions with The Acting Company, as well as Drury Lane Oakbrook and other regional theater companies.

McDonald is excited to star in a theater close to where he grew up, in a role he has looked for an opportunity to play ever since he first became aware of the play, not long it made its U.S. debut.

About Misty Megia

For more than two decades, Megia has worked as a director, choreographer, set designer, and performer throughout the Bay Area. Among her many directing and choreography credits are the 2015 Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre production of “The Pirates of Penzance” at the Bankhead, as well as “Evita,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Cinderella,” “Oklahoma,” and ‘Into the Woods.” Megia has appeared on stage in such roles as Val in “A Chorus Line,” Gloria Thorpe in “Damn Yankees,” Lorraine in “42nd Street,” and Virtue in “Anything Goes.”

The performance

“Red” by John Logan runs each day from October 18-21, with two performances October 20. Sets for the production will be designed by Carol Edwards with lighting by Eric Johnson. Both actors and audiences will be positioned on stage for the performance, so seating is limited.

Tickets are just $33, with $13 tickets available for students and active military personnel, plus an additional $7 facility and handling fee.

Book yours today!

Upcoming Events

Fri 18

Melissa Manchester

Fri, January 18 @ 8:00 pm
Sat 19

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Sat, January 19 @ 8:00 pm
Organizer: Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre
Sat 19

Django Shredders

Sat, January 19 @ 8:00 pm
Mon 21

Branford Marsalis Quartet

Mon, January 21 @ 7:30 pm

Call 925.373.6800 or email for tickets and information