No one really knew what to expect when we poured into the Buffalo Club last night. It was supposed to be a musical tribute to the film Inside Llewyn Davis, and to T-Bone Burnett. There had already been one such tribute in New York City, and one in Telluride where the Coens sat for a Q&A as we watched clips from the films the two had collaborated on. But the room was so jam-packed full of celebrities and media that it was immediately apparent something else was up. Through the dark bar in the front of the club, we could see the patio was lit with tiny flickering white lights. John Goodman stood to the right of the room chatting with Joel Coen. T-Bone Burnett was hovering near the stage. There were some seats set up in the front but this would turn out to be a standup affair.
The music was vibrant, acoustic, enhanced with gorgeous fiddle-playing and the sweet song of the Milk Carton Kids, the Punch Brothers, and of course, Oscar Isaac. This was really an event for musicians to enjoy what other musicians could do. The open bar kept the drinks flowing. Gales of laughter erupted occasionally from the corners where pockets of party-goers spoke in hushed tones. There were two kinds of people there — those who wanted to hear the music and those who just wanted to be there.
Oscar Isaac, lead actor and singer of the Coen brothers’ sublime Inside Llewyn Davis took to the stage last night at the Buffalo Club, along with a reunited Nickel Creek, the Milk Carton Kids, and none other than Steve Martin who rocked that banjo hard. Under the watchful eye of T-Bone Burnett, a genius by all accounts and generally awesome human being, exemplary musicians had been selected to celebrate the early folk era. Though the singers and songs featured in Inside Llewyn Davis don’t match exactly the kind of music on display at the Buffalo Club, their spirit was alive and well. Isaac took to the stage to perform Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song) and Green, Green Rocky Road, which is performed by Dave Van Ronk on the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack. Bringing down the house was the astonishing Rhiannon Giddins. If you ever get a chance to see this woman sing, run don’t walk.
Among the celebrities in attendance were Barbra Streisand and Jim Brolin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Gina Gershon, Roseanna Arquette and, of course, Joel and Ethan Coen. Toward the end of the night, a tall woman appeared at the end of the bar. Her blonde hair cascading down her face. She looked familiar — but her face, unlike many of the other actresses in that room, had no work done, no effort to forestall the inevitability of aging. It was the beautiful Nastassja Kinski. She asked me if Carey Mulligan was there (she wasn’t). She really wanted to meet her, she said. She stayed for a song or two and then disappeared out of the room and onto the streets of Santa Monica.
I think I might have scared Ethan Coen while I was trying to pass in front of him. I was holding two drinks in my hand and said I was very very sorry to have to move in front of him. I think he thought I was going to spill my drink, or drinks, on him. That was the only exchange I had with either of the Coens. Some people have no problem walking up and talking to people they admire. I am not one of those people. Although I did have the opportunity to finally tell Jennifer Jason Leigh how much I admired her work throughout her career. She was and is such a strong actress but Hollywood doesn’t leave open many doors for actresses over 40. She seemed to be grateful for the praise, but again, speaking to a celebrity at a private party is always a bit awkward. There is no way you aren’t going to look like an asshole. Still, you know you have just the one shot.
By the end of the night, the music was done. The party-goers began shuffling out. Dreamland was over. You know you are part of a publicity event. You know you are there to help bring attention to the movie, the actors and the music. But you can’t help but get swept up in it sometimes. You can’t help but feel like Nick Carraway, enamored and beholden nonetheless to the world you don’t normally inhabit opening its arms to embrace you for one stolen moment.