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LIZARD LOUNGE OPEN MIC CHALLENGE – August 22nd, 2011 – Show #248



Travel Well, Travis Lund

Our first LLOMC Monday winner ever was Jesse Dee, who is now a main stage caliber artist headlining The Paradise here in Boston, as well as consistently touring Europe and back.  And me?  I have the best job in the world. I’m lucky enough to see artists of such talent in their earliest days of performing. Every new face that hits the LLOMC stage could be the next big thing. As an open mic host I’ve had the opportunity to set the stage for Ryan Montbleau, David Wax, Low Anthem, Amos Lee, and so many others. Not a bad job at all

As I’ll say on any given night, Travis Lund is a huge reason I run these shows. A few years ago I met Travis at TOAD when my band, Baker Thomas Band was playing there. He would come out to see many shows, not just the BTB.  He was a real nice guy and very supportive of music. One night he finally asked me, “Hey, are you the guy that runs the open mic?” 

He had not come by yet. I guess the “Contest” aspect of our show sometimes scares away young talent. “I’m not ready for that” or “I don’t want my music to be judged”. Reasonable statements, but if I’m lucky enough to meet someone and describe to them what the show is all about I can usually change their minds.

“Dude, it’s not about the contest” I said. “It’s about the stage, and the show, and the community.” Travis mentioned he was looking to jam with other artists. Well.. the open mic scene can expose you to 20 brand new performers in one night. Done!

Travis Lund came in to our Monday show with raw talent and some great songs. Playing guitar, banjo and a resonator from time to time he started solo and soon collaborated with other artists as well. Mission started. Off the bat he was nervous, you could even see his hands shake a little. A few drinks took care of that. Sometimes a few too many drinks would stop the hand shaking and start the swaying and stuttering as well, but many artists go through that…. (no comment from the writer here…) Somewhere along the line the artist must find the balance.

As this man developed his skills he also developed his confidence. One night Travis was picked for our ‘Final Three’ round at midnight. Nice. Humble and honored he played one more song. He did not win.

More Mondays passed and Travis would break into that final three from time to time until one day he went home with our prize. Now, not winning for a while may not be a measure of talent at our show. I often will say from the mic that our show is inherently ‘unfair’. One judge? One person’s opinion? It could never be fair. I try not to let anyone get too hung up on the contest aspect of Mondays.

But, what does this mean for an artist like Travis?  Simple: hard work, humility, graciousness, focus and drive pay off. In a relatively short period of time, Travis Lund went from a green artist to a confident top notch performer who has shared bills and collaborated with great talent, and now has the accolade of “LLOMC Winner” under his belt.

Again, the Travis Lunds of the world are why I love doing this job. Teeth cut and raring to go, Travis is moving back to his home town in Atlanta. Travel well sir!

Okay then! The man I just wrote 9 paragraphs about was not eligible for our Monday prize, but he sure as hell played a killer two song ‘goodbye’ set for us!

A two song set from Noel Smyth is always a good thing on Mondays. I always raz Noel… the kid writes songs every day – tons and tons of material. Rock tunes, swing tunes, ballads, stories of love and loss, drinking, winning, loosing… he never runs out! Noel just put out a record and he’s halfway done with another! Cut that out Noel! You’re making the rest of us look bad!  

Emad Younin from Australia played two songs written by his brother, Jesse, on this evening. Jesse was an artist who was just peaking with national attention in his country when he was tragically struck down early by Leukemia. Emad has learned his brother’s songs and he’s been touring the states and sharing them. The talent must run in the family because Emad could really shred with his finger picking guitar style and sing with skill and emotion. For anyone who knew Jesse, this performance must bring up a whirlwind of emotion, conflicting happiness and pride with tears and tragedy.

Joe Kowan played for us, and Joe is always a hit. He can touch on so many different versions of humor; quirky, ironic, awkward, introspective, parody and of course, just flat out funny! Tonight Joe shared an a-cappella song about an artist’s fears and self-doubt. Kind of a ‘do you think they’ll like me?’ ballad. Funny stuff, and something every performer can relate to.

Two standouts were Matthew Pezone and Sarah Louise Pieplow. Matt is a regular. A 12 string guitar player instrumentalist who is blazingly fast and precise while also focusing on melody and a heavy groove as well. Always a hit.

Sarah Louise Pieplow from Colorado is surely my kind of artist. Edgy and powerful, aggressive and then sweet, with constant and complete control over her performance. Sarah was a hit and if she finds her way back to Boston we’ll book her for sure!

Our list was completed and it was time for Midnight Madness, our final three!

  Tonight’s judge was Fred Bement, a tremendous harmonica player who has been on stages and recordings with some of the finest performers in Boston. In his past he’s worked for WBOS as music director for some local shows and even placed in the top 3 for the “Derek Trucks Remix Contest” of  “Get What You Deserve” in 2010. Fred is a great dude and he had his work cut out for him on this evening.

After some discussion Fred picked his final three; Aaron Shadwell, Corrina Melanie and Juan Marcos.

Juan Marcos kicked us off. A three piece band with strong 3 part harmony, bass and guitar, they had 3 killer pop tunes for us this evening. The kind of tunes that are simply hits, simple brilliance. There’s no prog rock or crazy solos, just catchy hooks and lyrics you can grab, the kind of songs that stay in your head and sell records. These guys are awesome.

Corrina Melanie, who played earlier in our night took advantage of our piano (only open mic in town with a real deal acoustic piano! Hell yeah!) and shared three very sweet and gently melodic songs. Her voice hits the heart, and the songs would swing and swoon with her delivery. Corrina is a very promising up and coming artist for sure.

The only artist who played earlier than Corrina was Aaron Shadwell, slotted #1 at 8pm. Aaron shared a few stories of inspiring the muse in between his songs and did something that always impresses me: brought the room to a completely still ‘pin drop’ silence during his songs.

Way too many male writers will talk about how a female artist ‘looked’, before talking about how she ‘sounds’. (creeeepyyyy…) Man or woman, I appreciate when someone hits our stage looking the part, or any part for that matter, point being: try. It ain’t that hard. Aaron, dressed primarily in black with a sharp blazer on, ‘looked’ the part. Dressed as a rock star, maybe not duds for a main stage, but surely a rock star on a semi-casual day off, it’s simply easier to take him as a pro. His stage presence securely backed up his straight forward guitar delivery and well composed songs that were all lead by a strong melodic and at times smoothly haunting tenor vocal. What I’m getting at is Aaron Shadwell is a consummate professional, and on this night it payed off!

Fred Bement had great things to say about everyone, especially our final three, but his choice for our prize came quick. Aaron Shadwell’s positive attitude, stage presence and performance blew him away.  Aaron Shadwell was the winner of the 248th LLOMC!!!

Thank you for another great show! Thank you Fred Bement, and congratulations Aaron!

Thank you for making it through another LLOMC review at Please do come down and take in a show anytime. Every Monday night at The Lizard Lounge. 1667 Mass Ave. Cambridge, MA. Doors @ 7:30, show @ 8pm. Final three at midnight. See ya!


Tom Bianchi
Baker Thomas Band
Host of The Burren Sunday Night Music Series
Host of The Lizard Lounge Open Mic Challenge


Rain and Fire in Sedona



Ange Alex

A rainy day in Sedona? What are we going to do. Everything we have planned is outdoors. I am pretty sure that is why people come to Sedona, for the beautiful OUTDOOR activities, like hiking, biking, Jeep tours, viewing the red rocks and photography. 

What to do, what to do.

Oh, I know. I had the privilege of meeting some great artists that work in fire and glass! The perfect indoor activity when your outdoor plans are washed away!

The Melting Point in Sedona, conveniently located across the street for the Whole Foods (two birds with one stone, yeah!), is a group of artist focusing on creating and teaching others how to create as well.

When we entered the facilities, it was like entering a fine arts gallery. So many beautiful works of glass art. Jordan Ford is the general manager and one of the Artists. He came out of the workshop and told us the rules, then brought us into the fold. 

We were about to become glass blowers! 

Jordan had a love for the natural world from a very early age. He went on to study geology in college but that is when he discovered glass. He currently has Bachelor’s Degrees in both Earth Science/Geology and Visual Arts/Glassblowing.

Jordan says , “It’s the process of blowing glass that drives me. I find the physical act of making glass so overwhelmingly fascinating. I approach most of my work with a consideration for the more classical techniques – it’s the framework that I use as a jumping point for experimentation.”

Not only is Jordan incredibly talented, he is really personable and extremely funny. He made everyone in the room feel at ease and we all often irrupted in bouts of laughter.

Another artist that was helping us is Austin Littenberg. Austin became interested in the art of glass blowing at age 16 after watching a documentary. He spent over 12 years developing his craft and learning the technical precision needed to work at this level.

Austin views the many ways Art presents itself and is in tune with it all, and it shows.

Clearly these two artist love what they do, and I for one am grateful for their expertise and their willingness to show the world their art.

They worked with us to create a beautiful cactus, complete with three flowers, one for each kid, and a Sedona rock like base. We loved the patience they showed and the skill to make us feel at ease. We never felt like  we were about to do something we just couldn’t. It felt like we had been doing this before. That is the measure of a true instructor. 

Our work of art was complete and we left there feeling accomplished and quite honestly, amazing! 

Both Austin and Jordan have remarkable skills but also wonderful comedic timing. They were a absolutely pleasure to meet and I look forward to keeping up with their art in the future.

If you find yourself in Sedona and want to meet some really wonderful people, stop by The Melting Point and say hello! While you’re there, blow some glass!

How could I forget one of them most important things; They have a studio dog! Austin brings his sweet baby girl to work with him and she is an angel! We loved her! Make sure you give her some love when you visit!

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Artists to Watch

Cry With Us! Puddles Pity Party in Orlando



Ange Alex

I owe him a poem:

Here’s a story of a sad clown who one night in February was traveling through O-town. 

He brought a suitcase and a lot of gum, he brought music and videos and tons of fun.

He sang high but mostly he sang low, and he put of one hell of a good show.

He gave a bearded guy a cupcake and danced with a lady, a wolf he would make

There is no doubt he is a boss sir, he even got love from Kevin Costner.

Fans filled the plaza for a night of delight as the 7 foot clown gave us some real insight.

He sang Bowie and Queen and even some Who, also Cash, Lorde and “Let it go” too

Videos played of pets and babies crying, also beautiful artwork and people smiling.

Last night Orlando was anything but mad as we showed much love for a clown that is sad.

Ok, I’d cry too after that poem. Here’s some more info:

If you haven’t been to see a Puddles Pity Party show, you are missing out. 

The show had me smiling and laughing so hard my stomach hurt, but I was also moved so many times by the range of Puddles voice. True entertainment never gets old and I have a feeling he is going to last forever.

I loved the interaction he had with the crowd. He pulled numerous people up to help him on stage and all of them were good sports, one man even singing the entire song, “All by myself” karaoke style! The show was so well thought out and planned but with room for some hilarious improv. Especially at the end when he pulled the 3 fans from the audience dressed like clowns. At the end of them performing together, Puddles suddenly remembers that he is scared of clowns! Genius! 

Hands down one of the best performances I’ve seen in years.


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“20/20:Visionary”: Looking Back, Looking Forward



Photograph by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Last weekend (March 18-20) the Atlanta Ballet gifted the city with “20/20: Visionary,” three pieces, including a world premiere, presented at the Cobb Energy Center.

The world premiere, “Playground,” by British choreographer Douglas Lee, belied its name by being a shadowy piece danced between upright, rolling chalkboard set pieces. Prepared for a lighthearted, joyful expression of childhood, I was surprised that the work instead exposed the darker side of childhood memories. There were some light moments, such as the towering billboard inscribed with multiple lines reading, “Jackie must remember the steps” – clearly a humorous aside about Jackie Nash, one of the most capable company members and perhaps the quickest study in rehearsal. There were some easily-seen choreographic devices–a lot of theme and variation, even more pushing around of set pieces–but there were a few exceptional moments as well, including intricate, slow-motion manipulation of a dancer’s body by another dancer.

Pen-Yu Chen & Tara Lee in “Boiling Point.” Photo by C McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

The opening work, “Boiling Point,” by Darrell Grand Moultrie, was playfully performed at breakneck speed. Dancers are often told to “make it look easy,” and the company took that concept to heart. Highlighted against the men in black costumes, the women wore bits of metallic fabric, providing splashes of intense color and exposing powerful bodies with long muscles. The piece began with the stage space open almost to its fullest, and the dancers running across like a rushing river. They rolled, twisted, turned, and slid like water itself. The choreography juxtaposed synchronicity with counterpoint, traditional with innovation. There was a gargouillade, rarely seen even in classical ballets. The lines of the bodies were critical to the piece, and often layers deep. The flow was almost nonstop, with only an occasional flick of a wrist or toss of a head to provide momentary stasis. The standout was Christian Clark, who sometimes nearly managed to integrate himself into the group but then something distinctive and powerful in his dancing drew the eye to him again.

“Red Clay” from “Home in 7.” Photo by C McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

“Home in 7,” a work by Amy Siewert, closed the concert. A portrait of Atlanta, the ballet was a rich tapestry woven from music, spoken word, and movement. Performed in 7 segments to a libretto written and performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and an intriguing, haunting string score composed and performed by Daniel Bernard Roumain, the dance, too, was a poem, shimmering like summer moonlight on the Chattahoochee. John Welker opened the ballet with tiny explosions of movement “Secrets.” Perhaps the most enchanting segment was “Home of the Braves:” 5 men using baseball imagery, holding their formation as they slid precisely between pitches and catches. “Red Clay” evoked August nights, intolerance, and redemption—Atlanta history, a story familiar to many. I first saw this ballet in 2011, and it has grown in depth as the dancers have matured technically and emotionally. Atlanta loves its ballet company, and never more than when it showcases its home city.

John McFall is ending his tenure with the company at the end of this season. For newcomers to Atlanta Ballet offerings, this will have been a dynamic performance. For long-time supporters, it will have been an opportunity to reflect on his legacy. There are a couple more opportunities to see the company under his watch, and then he will pass the torch to Gennadi Nedvigin, the company’s fourth artistic director. Stay tuned!

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