Sometimes the stars just align. My wife and I were setting up our ninth Save Music in Chinatown benefit when Ross Emory walked in. He said that he was in Los Angeles for the previous evening’s X, Los Lobos, Blasters, and LP & The Tragedy show, had been getting lunch in Chinatown, and saw Raul unloading drums. A Mike Watt & The Missingmen set? An all-ages punk matinee to raise money to support music education for kids in Chinatown? Ross not only bought tickets to check out the show before running off to drop off his friend the airport but donated tickets to his upcoming Roadshow Revival roots fest in Ventura for our raffle as well. My dad won the tickets, gave them to me, and I invited my brother. Instant road trip!
Roadshow Revival is more like a family picnic than Coachella. Prime spots are taken by families on blankets and there are slots for fans show off their classic cars or best Betty Page-inspired looks. You get a wristband and are free to wander around the modest vending areas (for rockabilly and roots music as well as looks) or go into town for a bite. After scarfing some vegan tacos and loading up on coffee on Ventura’s main drag, we arrived just in time to see the Cadillac Tramps. Sadly, Gabby’s health didn’t allow the band to play, but openers Inazuma got to play an encore.
During Inazuna’s kick-ass set, I spotted Ross and told him I how glad to be able to catch the high-energy punkabilly trio from L.A. via Japan in action. He asked if we wanted to check out the VIP section and how could we say no? We were glued to the barricade from then on. That meant no merch from Inazuma (next time), no bathroom breaks (we’d sweat it out anyway), and one set of earplugs between the two of us (our right ears were closer to the speakers). Poor us.
Greg and I didn’t know much about Robert Gordon except that he was a punkabilly pioneer from the ’70s who played with Chris Spedding, Link Wray, and even The Boss. Starting off with “The Way I Walk,” a song covered by The Cramps, didn’t hurt and neither did having The Blasters as his backing band. Legends behind a legend–amazing!
More than three decades ago, Greg and I got to see The Blasters open for The Go-Go’s on the Prime Time Tour. This would be the third time for me to see them this year since they played a tiny benefit for their big-hearted roadie Jamie at Cafe NELA. Is there a better band to play a roots fest than the band from Downey that carried for the torch for SoCal’s punk-spawned rockabilly revival in the early ’80s? They sound better and tougher than ever and their roots rock is as powerful as it is primal. American music, indeed.
John Doe might think I’ve been stalking him because a month or so ago I attended his book release event and two X concerts in one week. But I really wanted to see him play songs off his excellent new solo roots and raw country album as well as some reworked tunes by his legendary L.A. punk band. For good measure, the rock combo played some Johnny Cash songs, as well, in tribute to the festival’s own roots. Does anyone have anything bad to say about Doe, who has helped create so many classic L.A. punk songs, supported so many populist causes, and is nothing but humble whenever fans like us meet him? And is there a more humble yet killer fest than Roadshow Revival? What a perfect show and day trip, especially one week before a family excursion to Memphis and Nashville–the cradle of roots rock–but that’s another story…
Sahra Vang Nguyen is on a mission to explore stories at the intersection of diversity, culture, and human potential. With a background in journalism and creative writing, she has written for NBC News, The Huffington Post, and Complex on topics including race, identity, politics, and entrepreneurship. Under her own production company, One Ounce Gold, Sahra has produced, directed and filmed 9 short documentaries about NYC entrepreneurs in a series titled, “Maker’s Lane,” which was co-presented by the Smithsonian. In early 2016, she created, produced and directed 5 short documentaries for NBC News about Asian-American trailblazers in a series titled, “Self-Starters.” You can catch her on-camera as a host in VICE’s two-part documentary about transgender Mormon activist, Emmett Claren. As an entrepreneur, Sahra shares her passion for Vietnamese American culture as a co-owner of “Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen” in Brooklyn. She tours universities speaking on a wide range of social empowerment topics and performing spoken word poetry.
(1) What are you currently working on?
I just sold my second documentary series to NBC News, which I’ll be producing, directing, and filming under my own production company, One Ounce Gold. The documentary will cover the current crisis of Cambodian deportation and the incarceration and detention of Asian Americans. I’ll be following the global fight for increased rights for deportees through the lens of social justice organization, 1Love Movement.
There have been a few really great documentaries that tell the story and struggle of people who have been deported, including “Cambodian Son” and “Sentenced Home.” I wanted my film to build upon this conversation and show the work that is being done domestically and internationally to address this problem. Much of social justice organizing is not sexy or glamorous work, and most of the work is undertaken by women. But in mainstream conversations around immigration or the migrant rights movement, women working on the grassroots level are practically invisible in the media.
Not only did I want to take a journalistic approach to following the current state of reform on Cambodian deportation, but also I wanted to center women’s voices and power where possible in this global effort. From August to November, I’ll be traveling to Seattle, Philadelphia, and Cambodia to film a nationwide strategizing conference, community actions outside detention centers, a United Nations convening, and families and deportees in the U.S. and abroad.
(1a) What was your first documentary series for NBC News about?
“Self-Starters” is a documentary series about Asian-American trailblazers around the country, which I created, produced, filmed, and sold to NBC News for distribution on NBCNews.com, the NBC News App for mobile and Smart TV, and the NBC News Official YouTube channel. Season 1 published in early 2016 and included 5 short documentaries where I interviewed the creators of street art festival POW! WOW!, female street wear brand HLZBLZ, solar energy company GigaWatt Inc., social enterprise RedGreen Rivers, and noodle shop phenomenon Xi’an Famous Foods. My series, “Self-Starters,” was the first show to launch the new video channel for NBC Asian America.
Through personal stories, I’m able to extract themes of race, culture, and identity in the conversation of pursuing an entrepreneurial path across different industries. For example, subjects from “Self-Starters” included people who were refugees from the Secret War in Laos, whose families survived Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust, and whose family immigration stories illustrate a global diaspora. I’m really excited by level of diversity (in ethnicity, generation, gender, and geography) within the Asian-American experience I achieved in a short season of 5 features. Of course, there’s always more I could’ve done, but it’s a start. While I am passionate about turning a lens on the Asian-American community to increase visibility, I am also intent on creating content that can speak to and resonate with a broader, non-Asian-American audience — by drawing viewers in through the interest of creative entrepreneurship and engaging with universal topics of dreams, passions, and courage. Through this process, we can truly begin to draw connections, celebrate differences, and grow compassion for others.
(2) Where do find inspiration?
I usually find inspiration in things that push me outside of my comfort zone. For example, once I’ve accomplished something, I ask myself, what can I do next that’s going to challenge me physically, creatively, and intellectually. I’m really curious about the human potential, and use my own life as an experiment to see how far I can take it.
For example, a year and a half ago, I joined three friends in opening a restaurant in Brooklyn. I never considered myself a restaurant person, but when the idea came to me, it just kind of made sense. I was able to bring my skills and passion in storytelling and promoting Vietnamese American culture through food. Watching both my parents start a floor sanding and laundry business, I always considered myself an entrepreneurial spirit. Everyone was surprised when I did it, because there’s this conventional idea that life has to be linear. But it’s not. Life is multidimensional and we can evolve it in every direction we want.
In addition to exploring new challenges, I also find inspiration by looking at what’s happening in the world around me — in entertainment, in media, in politics, in international affairs, etc. I look at what’s being done, and I try to learn from it. I look at what’s missing, and I try to find ways to build upon it. So I guess my inspiration comes at the intersection of figuring out how I can support my growth and how I can support the world.
(3) What does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t even know what a typical day looks like for me, because it’s always changing!
I wake up anytime between 7am to 9am, and I always start my day with a cup of coffee and a cup of water (trying to stay more hydrated these days!). I spend the morning writing and responding to emails, checking my social media, scrolling through headlines, and prioritizing things that need to get done in the day.
Currently, I’m in pre-production for my new documentary for NBC News, so my days are filled with research, phone calls, meetings, planning upcoming shoots, booking travel, etc. My restaurant, Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen, is always on going, so at any point of the day I can be in conversation with my business partners about what’s going on and what needs to be done. My role with Lucy’s is mostly managing communication, branding, and social media. It’s summer time, so I’m also working on booking my Fall/Spring speaking tours at conferences and colleges. I have two speaking engagements coming up in August in Seattle and Minneapolis, so towards the end of July I’m going to be spending a good amount of time writing my speech, creating my presentation, and practicing everything until its memorized. I also write for NBCNews.com and other sites, so at any point I could be working on an article — whether it’s researching, interviewing, or writing. A work life balance is really important to me, so throughout my days I might sprinkle in breaks like going for a bike ride, meeting up with friends for matcha, and working out.
Starting in August, I’ll be traveling every weekend for speaking and filming, so a typical day there is going to look really different, and honestly much more intense. There’s so much work that goes into producing and filming. I rarely get any sleep when traveling for work.
When I’m in post-production, my days are usually filled with being locked up in the editing room. It’s really boring and exhausting. My Snapchat activity always drops during this time!
(4) Best part of your job?
Best part of my work is envisioning an idea in my head, and then finding a way to turn it into a reality. It’s the coolest feeling — manifesting the life I envision.
I also love building and collaborating with people. Especially in media and storytelling, there are so many opportunities to connect with people through a shared human experience. In the process of creating, I’m engaging with so many amazing individuals to make something happen together. Then, in the process of sharing my work, I get to connect with so many people around the world over art.
(5) What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while pursuing this career?
Ever since I left my full-time job in LA and moved to NY in 2013, I’ve been on the creative independent grind. The biggest challenge of course is financial, emotional, and mental instability. Forget about the paycheck for a second, when you’re pursuing a non-traditional career path with very little guidance as a first generation daughter of refugees, it’s a bit of a mind fuck. You’re constantly questioning yourself, your ability, your decisions to go down this path. It’s really exhausting mentally and emotionally. The financial instability — that’s been a challenge, too, but it hasn’t hindered me as much as the fear of not knowing. Money is essential for living, but making money isn’t hard. It’s deciding on how you want to make your money and what kind of risks you’re willing to take — that’s the hard part.
(6) What is your dream project?
As of today, my next dream project is to produce and direct a mega-budget movie or television series about a group of non-exclusively-white girlfriends in their mid-20s living in New York City navigating relationships, sex, and careers — loosely inspired by my own experiences and group of friends because well, my friends are dope. I say mega-budget because I don’t want financial limitations to my vision, as well as being able to compensate everyone nicely. Through my intention of increasing representation of women of color in media, my casting and character profiles will naturally create the lens of immigrant families, race, and diverse cultures at the intersection of human experiences like the pursuit of love and happiness.
I think one of the best ways to challenge stereotypes and change one dimensional perceptions of people, including Asian Americans, is to engage people as people. I don’t want to create a show about Asian American women that only focuses on the Asian-American experience to resonate with an Asian-American audience. That’s not where I’m at. I’m interested in creating a show about a universal set of human experiences, whose characters also happen to be Asian American and other people of color. Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” is a great example. I totally see what he was trying to do with that series, and it was brilliantly executed.
If anyone wants to make this project happen with me, let’s connect.
(7) If you could give some advice to your teenage self, what would it be?
Stop worrying about what other people might think of you. It is seriously the biggest waste of time and energy.
(8) Any upcoming projects you would like to share?
I’m scheming on a few new things, and can’t really talk about anything just yet. But I will say that it’s something I’ve never done before!
All those customer service headaches of calling, being on hold, getting frustrated, terrible service reps. Service will take care of it for you. You write down your situation and desired outcome, attach relevant docs, and they try their best. There is no fee right now while they are in Beta.
The Berrics and The Skateboard Mag have partnered up to come up with Next New Wave, a collection of up-and-coming skaters, companies and new projects for the year of 2016. They will be releasing short series throughout the next month featuring brands and skaters such as The Quiet Life, Jamie Foy, WKND, Zion Wright and more. Check out the teaser and an inspiring video of Andy Mueller from The Quiet Life below.
Say Hello to OLLI!
It’s an electric self-driving mini bus that runs IBM’s Watson, so you have have a conversation with it while it transports you to your destination. But that’s not all, it’s also 3D printed! Is that still a thing? or are we just assuming everything new is getting 3D printed anyway?! Either way this bus looks to be a big step into the self driven future.