First Fridays at NHM

I visited the Natural History Museum after hours. I didn’t play fetch with a T-Rex. But I did watch live music and drink cocktails with one!

First Fridays is a special after hours program at the Natural History Museum. Guests can listen to live bands and djs in the mammal halls, drink cocktails, attend unique lectures, special exhibits or behind the scenes tours. This is one of those local events I keep meaning to go to, but would forget, or get busy and then poof! It was over. There are only five First Friday events this year. February through June.

The theme this year is LA Invents. Looking into different ways LA became LA. Each First Friday program offers different tours, discussions and live music. March 2nd’s lineup featured Mondo Cozmo, whom I love! I knew I had to get tickets. Admission is fairly inexpensive when you consider all you are getting out of the experience. Twenty dollars gets you access to the nights musical lineup as well as talks and tours. For and additional five dollars you can purchase a ticket to their special exhibition, Tattoo. Do it. Spend the extra five dollars. So worth it.

First Fridays 2

The doors open at 5pm. A bit too early for me to make it to the museum on a Friday. But early birds can sign up for one of three “L.A. Backstory” with NHMLA History Department tours at 5pm, 5:30 or 6pm. Tickets are first come first served as available in the Museum Grand Foyer. At 6:30pm the museum hosts an LA-centric discussion. This month’s topic was “Play It Again, L.A.” A look into the sports history of Los Angeles. From outlawing bullfighting in 1860 to looking ahead to the Olympics. If tours and talks aren’t really your thing. There is always music. Starting at 5pm and spinning all night were two of my favorite KCRW djs. Anthony Valadez and Anne Litt.

Upon entering the museum I’m immediately greeted by the iconic dinosaur duo that rests inside the main rotunda of the first floor. To the left is the African Mammal hall. Home to the djs this evening. And to the right is packed bar with the North American Mammal hall just beyond, where you could listen to the live bands. Which way to go first?!?! The bar inside the dj hall had a much shorter line. So African Mammal hall wins. I’ve been to NHM before, but during the day, like a normal tourist. This setup was way different. There were strobe lights, low loungy leather couches and tall cocktail tables draped in black fabric. All of which somehow feels totally normal among the animal dioramas along the perimeter.

I made my way to the bar. Typical offerings of beer, wine and spirits with a specialty cocktail Jungle Punch. Basically a bunch of fruit juice and liquor. I stayed away from that one. Memories of too many college parties drinking jungle-juice made with everclear in a large bin. I’ll stick to my vodka-soda thanks. With drink in hand I wander back in to the main hall. Projections of the live bands were visible on the upper walls.

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Drinking with Dinosaurs

The live band lineup included Shannon Lay, Superet and Mondo Cozmo. After watching some of Superet’s set I asked one of the staff when Mondo Cozmo was taking the stage. 9:15 she answered. Perfect. That gave me about an hour to check out the Tattoo exhibit. This special exhibition covers a 5,000 year history of tattoos. From ancient to modern practices. The cultures, continents and artists that made a mark (no pun intended) on the legacy of Tattoos. I have a couple small tattoos with about a billion ideas in my head for more. Whether you wear ink or not, the fascination with tattoos is palpable. Tattoo practices range from sacred rituals, scarification, markings denoting racial divides, to acts of both rebellion and belonging. I can not think of another art form that spans such wide variety of usage.

Tattoos are a living art form. They are best appreciated up close on someones skin. I wouldn’t imagine live models standing around all night for our amusement and pictures don’t always do the work justice. So this exhibit made a brilliant choice by featuring the work of some crazy talented skin artists on silicone body parts. I get that silicone doesn’t feel like skin. I know because there was a sample you could touch. But that is what makes these pieces even more incredible. To achieve this level of artistry on an atypical canvas really blew me away. Here are some of my favorite silicone pieces from the exhibition.

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The exhibit also looked at how tattooing has changed throughout the centuries. I really enjoyed the videos on display. I watched a short film about Whang-Od Oggay who in 2011 was 100 years old and one of the last master tattooers (mambobotok) among the Kalinga people of the Philippines. The video shows the ancient tradition of hand-tapping artistry. Another segment of the exhibition brought to light the 19th-century practice of tattooing criminals to identify them as dangerous. Makes me think of “The Penal Colony.” One of my favorite short stories by Kafka. Where criminals have their punishments tattooed on their bodies by a complicated and painful machine. The Japanese bodysuit style tattoos are very distinct. I learned that it originated with common people, but once the Japanese government outlawed the practice it remained in favor with the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia.) The stigma is still strong today and some public baths prohibit tattooed people from using them. Another very interesting video was about the rise of women as tattoo artists. Albeit narrated by a hilarious very “1950s propaganda film” voice. Tattoo parlors were a long time boys-club and these women pioneered female artistry long before it was cool.

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So if all these tattoos are making you wish you had one of your own. Or maybe desiring to add something special to your growing skin art collection? You are in luck. Towards the end of the exhibition you’ll find the NHMLA Parlor. An on-site tattoo parlor where you can watch live tattoo demonstrations. Currently all appointments are booked up, but you can join a waiting list in case there are cancellations. The tattoo exhibition runs during normal museum hours through April 15th.

Exiting the exhibition with dreams of black and grey sugar skulls dancing in my head. I returned to the main hall. The bar lines were even longer, but African Mammal Hall to the rescue! I’m telling you, if you go. Use this bar. Shortest lines all night. I almost think some people didn’t know it was in here. Shh… Now it was time for Mondo Cozmo!

I first heard Mondo Cozmo on KCRW’s MBE. Then I had the pleasure of seeing them play live at Outside Lands festival in San Francisco. They were great then, but even better now. The show was awesome. They played a great set to a full crowd. Including the wolves and elk that lined the North American Mammal hall. (Still makes me giggle.) If you think you don’t know who they are. Think again. I’m pretty sure you’ve at least heard this song. Shine is arguably their most popular and their last song of the night.

I left the museum happy and humming. Upon exiting the food trucks were still available to anyone who needed a late night snack before the long walk back to parking. WARNING! Do NOT attempt to park at the normal entrance for the natural history museum. This is for museum members only. You will be turned away. Believe me. You will instead be instructed to park around the block at the California Science Center. Then walk through the courtyard over to the museum.

I highly recommend checking out First Fridays. You have three more chances. April 6th, May 4th and June 1st to drink with dinosaurs.

First Fridays NHM

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