Tag Archives: San Francisco

Professor Burns & the Lilac Field #Occupy San Francisco’s Hotel Utah

The Professor and his companions

By Connor Buestad


A hot button hashtag if there ever was one. Polarizing, galvanizing, mesmerizing, you can really describe it however you want. After all, “Occupy’s” main knock is that it doesn’t have a clearly stated goal. So go ahead, call it what you will.

I, for one, have had trouble describing my stance on the issue, as I’m sure is the case with many people around these parts. So, rather than dip my thumbs back into the proverbial Twitter well, I took to the streets of San Francisco in search of some clarity. By streets I mean bar, of course. “The Hotel Utah Saloon” on 4th and Bryant to be exact. I had caught wind from a certain Orinda elementary school teacher that “Professor Burns and the Lilac Field” were playing…and they shouldn’t be missed.

With its low ceilings and classic furniture, you could go as far as to say that “The Utah” was built for conversation. As it turned out, by the time the barkeep had poured my first pint of Speakeasy Ale, a qualified conversationalist was headed my direction. The lead vocalist/guitarist of the headlining band, no less.

Professor Burns owns a beard that you’d expect any University of California professor to have, not to mention a certain excitable charm that is never lost on his growing fan base. Luckily, this aforementioned charm, coupled with the inherent lubrication that comes with a bar, allowed me the liquid courage to talk social movements with a UC Santa Cruz “Social Movements 101” professor. Don’t worry, it went well.

Right out of the gate, I went after The Professor with, “So what’s the deal with Occupy Wall Street? Is it a joke? Is it legit? Is it gonna work? Are these people lazy? crazy? Are they right? Are they Wrong? Basically, I took an imaginary bullet for all of my imaginary blog readers and went after Mr. Burns with all the tough, open ended questions he could have ever bargained for.

His response? Well, considering he was minutes from heading out on stage, there wasn’t much time to get too deep. Even so, he gave it his best shot. “The best thing about ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is that it is getting people to talk more. People need to vocalize ideas outside of the mainstream media or other traditional outlets,” said professor Burns.

I was waiting for him to lash out at a Banker or lament on the whole “evil 1 percent”, etcetera, etcetera. However, that wasn’t his stance at all. Maybe it’s just me, but I got the vibe from Burns that we are all in this together in one way shape or form. Whether you have been occupying Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and looking homeless, or you have been busting your ass at your finance job paying off your student loans, the issues still have an effect on everyone. Professor Burns, it turned out, was just glad to see more people talking about it.

Now, if ever there was a guy to get fired up about something like “Occupy Wall Street”, it would be Burns. Not only does he teach social movements at a university level, but he is also now releasing his first book titled “Archie Green – The Making of a Working Class Hero”. Mr. Green was a folklorist and labor historian devoted to understanding the diverse cultural customs of working class people. Described as having an unwavering commitment to cultural pluralism, Archie tried to educate the public about the place of workers’ culture and music in American life. Heavy stuff, for sure, and Professor Burns thought highly enough to write a book about him.

Even with qualification upon qualification, Burns’ message about “Occupy Wall Street” still came down to the simple idea of communication and he was glad to be seeing more of it. Sure, perhaps those “occupying” need to come up with a clearer agenda or need to better organize their list of demands, but it seemingly can’t hurt if they are organizing just to voice their opinion. Burns isn’t the only one who acknowledges that inequality, unemployment, corruption, greed and fraud are issues that need to be dealt with here in America. Moreover, it is a safe bet that these ills have had a negative effect on people regardless of their rank on America’s food chain, Wall Streeters, Mainstreeters, or otherwise.

Of course, when Burns himself took the stage, it was finally his time to properly add to the communication and idea exchange he had discussed by the bar. Using a 1942 Martin 0-15 acoustic guitar, Burns played a host of songs from his debut EP album titled “Orange Blossom Blinds”. While I’ll let you click here in order to sample the music for yourself, it was a joy to soak in his vibrant, albeit quirky stage presence throughout the show. There was rarely a dull moment in between songs, as Burns would routinely ramble and meander about a subject while still miraculously making sense. (Makes me want to take a class at Santa Cruz someday.)

The music itself could best be described as indie-folk, with sound similarities to Van Morrison, Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. My favorite song, titled “Birds”, had all the catchiness that you’d typically see from a Jack Johnson number, while also tying in some thought provoking lyrics, “All our thoughts aren’t our own, we’re just living in an edit room of teleprompts and phones / And the space behind our eyes is a trophy case for Madison Ave designs.” Not exactly “Bubbletoes” or “Banana Pancakes”, but you get the idea.

Flanking The Professor onstage was Lathan Spaulding (keys/vocals/guitar) and Adam Kirk (drums/vocals/guitar) while Adam “Tree” Burnstein (bass guitar) was absent for the night. The Berkeley based band worked well together, especially considering they only teamed up but a year ago. Unlike Occupy Wall Street, Burns and his mates don’t necessarily suffer from being misguided in their mission statement. Says Burns, “I try to mill the textured, spilling grain of daily life for emotions worthy of story and story worthy of song craft.” Whether you area fan or not, you can’t fault “Professor Burns and the Lilac Field” for trying to get their voice heard, one way or another.


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