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ENTERTAINMENT

LIZARD LOUNGE OPEN MIC CHALLENGE – August 22nd, 2011 – Show #249

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A Major League Show

The “Lizard Lounge Open Mic Challenge” is only slightly different from “The Mothership” which it was named after- Atlanta’s ‘Eddie’s Attic Open Mic Contest’ – and in my mind it was important for me to differentiate. I’ve never been to Eddie’s for an open mic, so I don’t know what his show is like, but I knew right off the bat what I wanted Monday to be; a killer open mic, in a killer room, in a killer bar that did not become a drunken and apathetic song beat-down half way through the night.

From day one, this Monday Night Stage had to be a place where musicians would feel warmly welcomed to come work on their crafts, try out new songs, perfect older ones, and take their first steps in the sometimes terrifying realm of live performance, as well as come back to humble roots after their careers have taken off. The objective of the LLOM”C” “Challenge” is not to win the contest, the objective is to push an artist to the best of  his or her abilities.

That being said, if an artist is invested in the contest aspect of our show, the REAL challenge can often be making it to midnight on a Monday night ready to rock a third song. My challenge? Finding a volunteer judge, weekly, to accomplish such a task as well.

Backing up a pretty nice streak of judges, this week I double scored… literally. Two members of the 4 piece folk-rock group Pesky J. Nixon were our judges on this fine evening.

The beginning of our show was great, but for the sake of the contest it was obvious that some folks were not in it for the long haul. Artists early on, like Ellen DeGenova and Sonny Barbato, rarely stay for the whole night- which is fine. Ellen and Sonny have been huge supporters of our LLOMC since the very beginning, and even though I know they’re not staying for the midnight hour, I know they never disappoint either. Backed by Sonny Barbato, a multi-talented accordion player and pianist who’s musicianship and deep groove is undeniable, Ellen sings the songs that she has written and charted with the passion of a proud author. Her songs are often stories of wisdom and inspiration that could only be penned from the honesty of living, and the will of prevailing goodness. Musically, the arrangements are well put together, melodic and entertaining, which is why Sonny always seems like he loves digging into them, and spiritually, Ellen and Sonny are always moving.

The early part of the evening saw a young newcomer named Veronica Isabel, an up and coming artist from Cape Cod, who used a jazzy sound (with real jazz chords!), very smooth vocals, and a stage image that was a funky combination of 80’s and 90’s fashion that backed up her performance with a unique rock star presence. Veronica has real raw talent, and she was pushing her ‘debut’ record that was self produced on ‘Garage Band’- a telling sign that a good artist could very well be on their way to emerging into an amazing pro. I hope to see her again for sure!

Cathy Schumer was in attendance tonight, and even though she was not eligible for our door prize she put on an amazing two song set. (Rules state that if you have won a Monday Night Door Prize, you are no longer eligible until you perform in the Semi-Annual Main Event show which happens every Spring and Fall.) It never fails with Cathy. Sure, our room is a listening room, but there’s always a little bit of chatter going on. Cathy always brings our room to a pin-drop silence half way through her first song, and rides that level of focus right on to her very last chord. With a gentle finger picking style that is somehow a perfect combination of warmth, and soul, yet cutting enough so one can precisely hear every note played, Cathy entrances the listener with melody and song.  she performs with a confidence that enables you to trust her completely, and gives you no choice but to submit to the journey.

We had a great night.  Jake Bush and Ethan Baird of Pesky J. Nixon had their work cut out for them. Going back and forth with these gentlemen all night was a ton of fun! These guys are certainly a team, and they mentally connect to some degree. The few times I’ve had a two person judge panel the decision had always been tougher. I recall one situation in particular; to pick the final three, two judges had to pick one artist each and then flip a coin for the third… seriously! But not Jake and Ethan! Although their choices differed a bit, they compromised quickly, and their decision was made with out to much tribulation. The final three for 8/22/11 would be Rob Lytle, Sarah Fard and Paul Wilmet.

Rob Lytle is two for two as far as playing 3 songs on our open mic night. Straight out of the folk scene that nurtures the classic coffee house stages, Folk Alliance, NERFA, Falcon Ridge and so many other folk venues, associations and other places of opportunity, Rob’s sound is crisp, clean and perfected. Great finger picking guitar parts, and a real nice and articulate vocal style makes taking in his songs a piece of cake. He’s totally pro and simply a great dude. For what it’s worth, Rob showed up at 7:30 for a ‘chance’ to play. I got him on second to last. That’s a rock star.

Sarah Fard was seriously rewarded for her efforts on this evening. In her few previous LLOMC appearances, Sarah has been very content playing jazz standards (and playing them very well), but she never played her originals. That was not the case tonight. Tonight the chords penned were hers, and the lyrics were straight out of her journal and not a Fake Book (hey kids… if you don’t know, a Fake Book is a giant book of jazz standards that every session musician has in their arsenal somewhere). Sarah’s performance was spot on; sultry and smooth with an elegant sex-appeal that every film director has wished to capture when shooting a scene starring a female vocalist.   All of this was backed up by champion musicianship, and chordal movement on her semi-hollow body jazz guitar. Sarah somehow took all those standards, combined them, and instead of feeling cliche, she created something all her own.

Okay… Man crush time. I’ll tell ya right out, the performer I’m about to describe won our show… and, seriously – it had nothing to do with the following:

7:30 pm
Me: “Hey Paul! Good to see you again!”
Paul: “Yeah, The Burren was fun last night.”
Me: “So, you’re in town from Nashville playing drums for Kevin So, but you also do your own singer/songwriter thing, is that right?”
Paul: “Yeah… I’m a session drummer, but writing songs has always been something I like to do”
Me: “Oh, cool! Have you done anything touristy? Park Street? Freedom Trail? Harvard Square?”
Paul: “A little bit. Are the Sox in town? I’d like to take in a baseball game”
Me: “If they’re not in town you should do a Fenway Tour, they’re pretty cool”

(Then I proceed to geek out on baseball for about 5 minutes.)

Paul: “Cool. I never made it to Fenway when I pitched for Texas, that could be cool. I did do Harvard Square today and… (insert more talk here that I could not possibly focus on….)”
Me: ??????? Did you just say ‘pitched for Texas?!?!?!?!’

Paul: “Yeah, just a little bit.”

F’*%^#!’IN AWESOME!

Paul, very humbly, went on to tell me he was a professional pitcher for many years, and in his last season spent some time in the Texas Ranger bull pen. I was smitten and star struck for the rest of the night, constantly jumping up and down with excitement, asking every stupid question I could think of.

Me: “Baddest hitter you ever got out?”
Paul: “Fred McGriff”
Me: “What’s it like to strike out a Major league batter?”
Paul: “Awesome”
Me: “Gotta keep you humble – longest homer ever dinged off of ya?”
Paul: “Cecil Fielder. They say it went 500 feet, but I didn’t even turn around to look.”
Me: “Did a manager ever tell you to stare someone down and bean’em with a fastball?”
Paul: “No one ever had to tell me” (my favorite response)
Me: “Bull Durham, great movie or piece of shit?”
Paul: “Great movie!”

Paul Wilmet:  official bad ass, and a dude who got to pitch in “The Show,” has a new accolade under his belt: LLOMC Winner #249.

He’ll tell you he’s a beginner singer/songwriter, but perhaps Wilmet’s years on the mound staring down major leaguers helped him to approach any situation with confidence. His tunes are certainly cool and his articulation and delivery of each lyric was spot on. With deep groove in the guitar parts and intelligent chord progressions, you’d never guess he was a beginner, and I suppose he’s not in many ways. Like a real deal pitcher going 9 full innings, Paul rolled into our show at 7:30, played around 10 pm, and proceeded to play one last song in our final three at 12 midnight. He went the distance and surely met the Lizard Lounge Open Mic “Challenge”.

Jake and Ethan really enjoyed Paul’s performance on this evening and handed him our humble door prize. They also asked him to sit in with Pesky J. Nixon on their gig two days later at TOAD, sister venue to Lizard Lounge. Ain’t it nice how it all works out?!

Thank you for making it through another LLOMC review at www.thebackstagebeat.com 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

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

Art

Rain and Fire in Sedona

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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

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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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Dance

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

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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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