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Lizard Lounge Open Mic Challenge, August 8th, 2011, Show #247



It’s been one of those dog-days of August filled with random spurts of torrential rain and sunshine, but always accompanied by heat and humidity.  I left for the gig without an umbrella was happy to get mostly sunshine for my 20 minute walk.  The cool air-conditioning of the Lizard Lounge was as welcome on this night as the familiar deep dark red lighting in this basement club that I’ve grown accustomed to after more than four years of working here on Mondays.  Time to set up the stage for the 247th LLOMC.

The Lizard Lounge sound system is one of the best in town, created step by step by engineers like Tom Dube, Dan Cardinal, Matt Malikowski and currently maintained by Joe Stewart.  These guys are the best engineers out there, all with their own professional recording studio these days, and/or doing live sound for the biggest names in music.  They’ve all had their hand in figuring out how to make the Lizard Lounge low ceilings and awkwardly shaped turns and cubbies sound amazing.  Big and small speakers surround the parameters and even the musician’s monitors provide sound for the audience as they are pointed partially at the stage and partially into the crowd.  With its speaker-specific equalizers and a “drive rack” which enables me to pre-set my settings for our Open Mic show, setting up this room for sound has become less of a science for me and more of habit.  Thanks to these engineers, this room sounds great… and it’s easy.

Okay.  Microphones on, mic stands and instrument cables in place…. piano ready to go… The stage is set and it’s 7:30 pm, time to open the doors.  A steady line of patrons starts to filter into the lounge being greeted by a solid hello and wrist-banded one by one.  Green for patrons and orange bands for musicians that are also labeled appropriately so.  Many a performer when getting on our stage for the first time will say, “How great is it to have a wristband that says, “Musician” on it in bold print!”  This orange wristband is the first right-of-passage at the LLOMC.

The bar starts to pour beer and serve food, the regulars catch up with each other and the newcomers, a bit wide-eyed begin to find comfortable real estate to call home for a while and it’s time to actually start the show.  For more than 20 years I’ve managed to scrape out a living in the music community, mostly with instrument in hand, but not on these nights.  On Monday nights the ol’ faithful 1966 Fender Jazz bass takes a night off.  My gear for this show includes an Open Mic sign up book and the microphone.  I’m the host.  My job is very simple;  do my best to make everyone feel at home and keep the show running.

8 pm hits and I share the run down of the evening, introducing our staff including Keith Foley our bartender (who also goes by Axel Foley in the DJ scene around town) and a quick breeze through some of the “rules” of the night.

Rules!  Ugh!  Yup.. rules.  Sure it’s an open mic… but it’s more than an open mic.  It’s an “Open Mic Challenge”, which is a fancy way of saying “contest”.  A contest has to have some rules.

If you want to be in the contest we need two original songs and and/or a 10 minute and under performance.  No pedals, no backing tracks… nothin’ but live.  Those are the basics.  That being said, we do often have artists such as story tellers and cover artist from time to time who are not invested in the contest aspect of our show, but the majority of folks in the room are here to share songs that they have penned.

An artist and regular face in our crowd named Dave Konyha kicks us off properly with two songs highlighting expert musicianship and a newcomer to our night named Ruby Ross follows up with a heart-ache love song about love lost and travels, and then shows off her versatility a bit by putting down the guitar and playing a gentle piano ballad for song #2.  Brand new to town, Ruby is great and she is one of those musicians I encourage to please keep coming back to our show.

Sam Bayer gets up next and of course is as clever as ever.  Sam is an icon in our local music community and has been supporting Open Mic shows for longer than I’ve been in town.  On this night we would chat it up a bit about the revival of “The Old Vienna Kauffehous” that is happening this Thursday at The Armory For The Arts.  If you don’t think Open Mic’s are important, ask some of the artists that came up through the Old Vienna scene, like Dar Williams, Martin Sexton and Don White.  They’ll set you straight.

Our show rolls on and our judge has his hands full.  Tonight’s judge is Mr. Alex Wise, one of the few Cambridgian’s who was actually born and raise right here in Cambridge.  Throughout the night he tells stories of seeing music icons like Tracy Chapman in their youngest days busking Harvard Square and sharing lessons learned about performing to the best of your ability no matter what the situation (most specifically siting a historic evening in which Ellis Paul played a NYC club to only 4 patrons.  Two of them were the Cohen Brothers.)  Alex has been around, put on hundreds and hundreds of Boston based shows through Songstreet Productions, Folk Tree and other organizations as well.  He’s quite frankly way over-qualified for this gig and it’s an honor for us to have him on this night.

Zach Robinson from Manchester, NH steps up and just slays his two songs including a rock-rap jam that has all the energy a young performer can harness, Katey O’Callaghan is better than ever with her voice that is one part angelic and one part cutting edge grunge rock, similar to the way Blondie could aggressively woo a crowd.  Sarah Donnor, traveling from Princetown, NJ played Baritone Uke and Guitar.  She’s been a winner here before and is always a fan favorite.

Tony Lovell, Gus Agudelo, Rune Jensen, one by one the performers entertained our crowd as our guest judge visibly became more and more distraught about picking just three.  Finally, 12 string guitarist/instrumentalist Matt Pezone hit the stage and left no stone unturned with his bright, brilliant efficiency and complete control of his instrument.  The list was through.  Midnight.  It’s now the Tuesday morning Open Mic Challenge.

Yes… part of the Open Mic “Challenge” is making it to the wee hours to see who will with the door prize.  Alex Wise came back to the green room during the judge’s break with a final “8”.  Sorry Alex, you can only pick three.

The drum roll…. Alex says his thank you’s, shares one last story with the crowd and announces his picks.  Kristen Ford, Shawn Taylor and Laura Grill.

Kristen Ford comes out blazing.  This local singer/songwriter rolled in to the LLOMC for the first time about 2 years ago with foot and a half long dreadlocks, standing on the chairs and singing from the heart.  She still has the same energy, but it’s more dialed in than ever.  Kristen just came in from a photo shoot, so she’s got a rock star quality show going on tonight sporting a businessman’s white button down and tie, but with sleeves rolled up, two buttons undone as if to say, “yeah, this is my work uniform.   And my job is melting faces!”  Her voice is filled with confidence, yet a kind of emotional desperation that takes the listener anywhere she’s like them do go.

Laura Grill is up next and she hits us with a perfect contrast to the first performance.  Laura’s jazzy sweet sound and obvious knowledge of chords and arrangement are perfectly clear as she sings though compositions that only a schooled musician could write, or at least understand what they have written.  Ever so gently with one word at a time Laura brings the room to a silent stand still and the crowd and the judge are captured by the beauty of the soundscape Laura creates.  Wow.

It’s Shawn’s turn and he steps up and does what he does.  Shawn is a singer/songwriter/folk/blues guitarist.  Plain and simple, that is to say it’s easy to categorize what he does.  Years ago artists may have struggled to be unique and different, inspiring the category of “alternative”, but these days that category is more of a curse, lumping an artist in with a billion others that sound like more and more generic in their quest for originality.  Instead, Shawn dives directly into folk/blues with heart and soul, telling stories of real people with real hardships, all backed by a finger-picking style that can be crass, gentle, fast or simple, what ever the moment calls for, and led all the time confidently with his gruff and raspy blues voice.  He’s found originality within his genre.  A tough thing to do.

Shawn did not go home with our door prize, but his presence at this show further backs up Alex Wise’s lessons shared.  Shawn went home with a killer booking, an opening for Boston legend and hero, Kevin So.

Alex took a break from the final three and we had one last beer.  The choice of the beer (from a selection of 30 taps) was plenty easier than the choice of the artist for the evening.  When all was said and done it was Laura Grill who went home with our humble door prize and our 247th LLOMC came to a close.

Thank you for making it through my first 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
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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