One Band, Two Canoes, And The L.A. River: Flowing Down To Long Beach

8:48am | This is not Twin’s first time around the aquatic block. Last fall this Canadian hypno-alt-folk quartet from Winnipeg, Manitoba realized lead vocalist David Fort’s idea to do a concert tour down the Assiniboine River.
   
That 10-day adventure went so swimmingly (except, you know, in a boat) that the band almost immediately began to consider where to do the next one.
   
“We started reading up, and all of a sudden there was all this political energy around the L.A. River,” says Fort, referring in part to last summer’s recategorization of the Los Angeles River by the Environmental Protection Agency to traditional navigable river. “And it just seemed to make sense.”
   
Four months of planning later, the band is here in Long Beach making preparations to undertake their three-show L.A. River Music Armada Tour, which begins February 17 in the San Fernando Valley, winds into downtown L.A. the following day, and concludes here in Long Beach on February 20.
   
“It was just a light bulb that went off in my head: ‘This could be done, and it should be done,'” recalls Fort, who, aside from wanting to draw people down to the water (he’s a professional canoe instructor with eco-conservationist passions), thinks of the whole deal as a kind of “multitasking, [since] it combines my two favorite things: music and being on the water.”
   
“We’re calling it the L.A. River Music Armada,” says Fort of the tour. “[Because] it’s intended to have more and more people join. It’s a call, I hope, to a bigger community. […] With the right response, we could be doing this annually. We could be creating a network.”
   
Lesley Brown (vocals and violin) reports that the original Assiniboine tour was intended as a one-time-only event, “but after doing it we realized that after doing all that groundwork, it’s laid out and ready to be an annual thing. So we’re going to be doing that one again this coming summer. That could happen with this one as well. We’re doing three shows this time, but if people here want to get involved, that would make it easier for us to come back and do it again, with some network already in place.”
   
Like any band, Twin want their music to be heard, and maybe even to make a little scratch. But that isn’t so much what the L.A. River Music Armada is about. “We’re not going to make money on this tour; we’re going to lose money,” admits Fort. “But for us, [there’s a] long-term vision.”
   
That vision has to do with helping we urbanites understand this ribbon of nature running right through our backyard. “We’re definitely promoting the fact that there is a river here,” Fort says, “And that it could be the source of a lot of life. One of the biggest industrial cities in the word is starting to shift in how it treats its water. That’s a really inspiring thing—and a good thing to bring attention to. […] We want to make the canoe-tour concept international—and it doesn’t get much more international than Los Angeles.”
   
“I really appreciate the creative way they’re trying to bring attention to the river,” says Councilmember Suja Lowenthal, who in her five years in office has made environmental issues one of her main priorities. She says that while “for decades the City of Long Beach has been using traditional means to try to draw attention to the river,” she realizes that there are demographics which city government does not effectively reach. And so she praises Twin for “trying to reach folks through a mechanism that’s relevant to them. [It’s] a non-traditional way of communicating the same message.”
   
Naturally, Councilmember Robert Garcia, in whose First District Twin will be playing on February 20, concurs: “I think it’s great that these musicians are making a statement by arriving in Long Beach via the L.A. River. The river is such an important part of our city and its history, and we need to focus our efforts towards its restoration and rebirth.”
   
“A lot of people don’t realize we have a river,” says Los Angeles Councilmember Ed P. Reyes, who spearheaded the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, a 25-50 year blueprint to transform the river into a continuous, community-linking greenbelt. Reyes has made significant headway with the plan (adopted in 2007), with major parks, bikeways, and a motion introduced last year to allow non-motorized boating on the river—all of which he hopes will change not only the riparian reality but also perceptions. “Many people see the L.A. River as a glorified sewer carrying urban slobber through L.A. that ends up polluting the Long Beach shores. A boating program would bring people closer to experiencing the living, breathing ecosystem of that is L.A. River, all while helping to achieve one of the major goals of the Master Plan: to create public access to the L.A. River and bring communities together through recreational activities such as boating.”
   
To give you an idea of both how serious Reyes is about the issue and what he thinks of Twin’s venture, when I contacted Reyes’s office for this article, Reyes arranged to take a meeting with Twin, which occurred in L.A. on February 11. Fort, who labels himself “an old-school punk-rock, left-wing-literature kind of guy [who’s] not a fan of politicians,” found Reyes engaging and dedicated enough to the cause that “I couldn’t help liking him a little bit.”
   
For their part, Twin is serious enough to have prior to then taken meetings with the EPA, Watershed Management, Public Works, the Army Corps of Engineers3, and Friends of the L.A. River—groups that can be helpful with river stuff but not so much with selling CDs. Of course, a band moving five4 people and all their instruments downstream barely have room for 100 copies of their debut record, sharing secrets with strangers, five songs that hypnotically traverse terrain somewhere between stripped-down Neil Young and Ugly Casanova.
   
A record the band aim to take away from their short southern adventure is a documentary film of the tour (perhaps along with a music video), hoping that this will help explain the band’s choice to those who find it dubious.
   
“People say to me, ‘What are you doing the L.A. River for? There are a million places to canoe in California,'” says Fort. “But what I’m realizing walking up and down that river is that in this city not a lot of people get to throw the old kayak on the top of their truck and go. [An] important thing about this river is that there’s an attitude of, ‘Oh, this is just our shitty urban river. […] But for some of the people who live and work here, for minimum wage and less, this is their bird sanctuary. That is their access to what we’re accessing as an adventure. […] I used to have [a negative attitude about urban rivers,] too. When I moved to Winnipeg, I was totally like, ‘Why would I want to spend time with this city river? I grew up on the golden waters of northern Canada.’ But then I started to walk the river and get to know it, and talk to people who’d never left the city, and it blew my mind how they found a connection to the spirit world of nature right there, and I was blocking it because I think it exists in a superior place. But that’s right here, too.”
   
The band has been in Long Beach for a month because “it’s hard to plan a canoe trip from another country—especially down a river that no one canoes.” They played a song at Portfolio open mic last Wednesday, then a full set at Zephyr this past Saturday night.
   
But the L.A. River Music Armada officially kicks off with Twin’s show Thursday night at the Madrid Theatre (21622 Sherman Way, SFV; 818.347.9938). The next morning the band paddle downstream toward The Smell (247 S. Main St., L.A.; 213.625.4325) for a nighttime set, with the adventure closing Sunday night at The Infinite (517 Pine Ave., Long Beach; 562.338.2345).
   
Good music, good cause. Get in on both. 

For more information on Twin, visit them on MySpace. For more the Los Angeles River, go to lariver.org.

Footnotes
1“I don’t see how you can’t be eco-conscious,” says bandmate Brown.
2For example, her efforts to ban plastic bags (an idea I think definitely has merit).
3Fort reports that pulling off this tour is much more complicated bureaucratically than Twin’s tour down the Assiniboine, even though the 52 total miles of the L.A. River is about the amount the band paddled in a single day in Canada.” It’s confusing,” he says of the situation with the L.A. River. “There’s like 12 overseeing jurisdictions.”
4Eva Klassen is on the same bill for all three shows and along for the ride.

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