Linda Ronstadt lets wisdom strike notes
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Singer Linda Ronstadt is all about family traditions, heritage and freedom of expression. She's appeared in Hawai'i before, including previous Diamond Head music festivals, and she'll perform at Saturday's Crater Celebration along with the Steve Miller Band and War.
Ronstadt turns 60 this year, and she says she's excited, not fearful, about becoming a senior citizen. The way she figures, it's like wine: A time-tested vintage may provide the best experience.
"It doesn't do me any good to be afraid of getting old," she said in a telephone interview from her San Francisco home (she also lives in Tucson, Ariz.), where, as a single parent, she is raising two adopted children, Mary, 14, and Carlos, 12.
She was candid about her age, her repertoire, her respect for hula, and, not surprisingly, her disdain for President Bush.
"I earned every gray hair on my head, every creak in my knee," she said. "Like my friend Emmylou Harris (with whom she recorded a pair of 'Trio' albums, along with Dolly Parton) says, 'You don't get older, you get better.' I know more now; I think I'm a nicer person now, though I speak up.
"I don't think I was restless in my youth. I was raised in a family with very conservative values — rooted in a very traditional Mexican family means you respect your elders, you respect property, you live by the law. My family never let me get away with anything; if I screwed up, I paid. I had to behave."
Ronstadt, a darling of the baby boomers in her prime, can't recall much about her earlier Diamond Head crater appearance.
"I remember it was hot and dusty," she said. "And I had way too much fun."
She couldn't pinpoint the date (it was June 7, 1970) but said she adores Hawai'i, a frequent destination for her since the late 1960s and her Stone Poneys era.
"Man, I love the hula," she said. "And slack-key guitar. I have great respect for dance and music of the Islands.
"What I truly love is the tradition of kindness and acceptance in Hawai'i. I savor the connections to the past," Ronstadt said. "I love the old saimin stands; my memories of Hawai'i are just blurred with pleasure. I got sick once, on Kaua'i, on my way to Waimea Canyon. But I love roaming around the fishing village of Lahaina.
"I love regionalism. I mean, I hate it when they put up houses that look the way they do in New Jersey — then you lose the sense of place. I remember old hardware stores, with wooden sidewalks in front. You know, the times when everybody knew everybody."
Everybody knew Ronstadt when she burst on the scene in the mid-1960s, rendering folk songs with her Stone Poneys group, with whom she had her first hit, "Different Drum."
She prevailed in the '70s with a rock sound studded with country influences, but through the years, she has been a chameleon, dabbling in many styles. Besides rock, Ronstadt has endeared herself to audiences in jazz, mariachi, Latin, new wave and opera. She's played Broadway and made films.
Her latest endeavor has a Cajun undercurrent, thanks to her 14-year-long alliance with Aaron Neville, a resident of New Orleans.
"I'm working on a new album that features amazing music that is rooted to a family in Cajun country, about five hours outside of New Orleans," she said. "There are fabulous musicians there — great people who are individual thinkers, who've been farming for generations, sitting on the same land as their ancestors. We became fast friends after I started investigating and exploring with Ann Savoy, who sings and plays guitar. She and I used to hang out in pajamas, soaking up the music.
"We could have made a quilt, I guess, except we're musicians, so we're making a record together instead. She sings in French — I don't speak French, I just copy — but there's traditional love in this bond."
These days, she's mixing smaller personal gigs with meaningful symphonic outings, teaming up with orchestras. Her repertoire delves into her past hits ("You're No Good," "Blue Bayou," "When Will I Be Loved," "It's So Easy," "That'll Be the Day"), along with American standards, particularly a song bag she recorded with the legendary Nelson Riddle.
Ronstadt's Broadway credits include the part of Mabel in a popular 1980 remounting of Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance," playing opposite Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury and Rex Smith. "It was an incredible experience for me. I had eight performances a week; I learned when they say you're 'in theater,' you really never leave it. Two shows Wednesdays and Saturdays, one on Sunday — it was tiring but a good time." She reprised the role in a movie version of the operetta.
She also sang in Puccini's "La BohEme" in a Public Theatre presentation in New York, and staged a limited-run show, "Canciones de Mi Padre."
Ronstadt has never married, but her high-profile romantic relationships have included, in the 1970s, Jerry Brown, then governor of California. In the 1980s, she was linked to George Lucas, the "Star Wars" creator.
She prefers being single, but admits, "I wish I were better at being a single parent. They don't have a handbook on how to do it; it would be nice if you could follow the book and have guaranteed results, in developing, creating and maintaining a relationship without mistakes.
"But hey, my kids teach me stuff: I learned, for instance, what a good band AC/DC is, and I missed them in the '70s. They're really good; I love them now."
Ronstadt made headlines in 2004 when she was reportedly ejected from the Aladdin casino in Vegas for supporting controversial documentary filmmaker (and outspoken critic of President Bush) Michael Moore at a concert. She clearly has no love for Bush's policies.
"In a democracy, you have to speak up," she said. "There's a huge danger today. The media are controlled by a few ... I mean, we (the U.S.) attack a country, make it look like they attacked first, and we have to put up with a president who lies, who does wiretaps without warrants. We can't find the weapons of mass destruction we said were there."
Ronstadt argues that democracy profits from debate. "My mom was a Republican, my dad a Democrat, and they had lively discussions at home when I was growing up," she said. "I have a sister and a brother, both Republicans, who think Bush is dangerous, too. ... The president is not supposed to be doing stuff without a system of checks and balances."
HOUSE RULES FOR CRATER CELEBRATION
Going to the Diamond Head Crater Celebration?
Leave the backpack at home; ditto for the large purse, oversized tote, umbrella and camera.
No homemade Spam musubi either. Outside food is not allowed.
You can't walk into the crater; you need to take a shuttle. Check your ticket, which tells you where to park to hop on to a shuttle; sites are determined by ZIP codes.
Here's the skinny on other house rules for the crater event:
When: 2-8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Inside Diamond Head crater
Tickets: $125 general; $135-$175 reserved
To buy: Blaisdell Center box office; (877) 750-4400; www.ticketmaster.com
Will-call tickets: From 9 a.m. Saturday at Waikiki Shell box office
Featured acts: Steve Miller Band, Linda Ronstadt, War, the Honolulu Symphony, Na Leo, Yvonne Elliman
Seating: Assigned seats for reserved; low-back beach chairs, blankets, mats allowed for general admission
Suitability: Geared to adults and teens; not suitable for children because of the amenities and program
Parking: Each ticket comes with designated parking area, such as Hawai'i Convention Center and Kalani High School, good only for specified lots and determined by ZIP code at time of purchase. Parking sites span downtown Honolulu to Hawai'i Kai, with downtown lots open from 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Hawai'i Kai lots from 11 a.m. Color-coded wristbands will identify shuttle ride destinations for return.
Shuttle service: Free; from 11 a.m. downtown and Hawai'i Kai, to crater site; must show admission ticket, which will be torn, to board shuttle; wristbands required for return destinations.
Waikiki shuttle: Visitors staying in Waikiki can board a shuttle from the Sheraton Waikiki hotel from 11:30 a.m.
Disability considerations: Seating available in reserved and general sections for those in wheelchair and one ticketed guest. Those with disability parking passes may be able to park at designated shuttle parking lots if space is available. Questions? Call 735-7000.
Food and drinks: Available only from vendors inside the crater.
Allowed: Fanny packs (subject to search), cell phones; service animals OK for shuttle rides
Not allowed: Cameras, large bags, backpacks, umbrellas. If brought, return them to your cars before boarding shuttle.
What if it rains? Ponchos will be for sale
Smoking: Allowed only in designated, nongrassy areas
Questions: Leave message at 735-7000 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.