The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Central Kentucky has more of a rooting interest in the Hollywood round of American Idol as Winchester’s Lauren Mink, a Georgetown College alum, is getting a second chance at the competition. Mink advanced to Hollywood last year but did not make it to the live competition.
She will be joined in Hollywood by Kelly Casey of Nicholasville, who advanced out of the Baton Rouge auditions.
Mink auditioned in Charlotte, which was shown Wednesday night, and impressed a mostly new slate of judges including Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey.
“The judges were so different this year,” Mink says in a video on the Idol website. “I was really excited there was Keith Urban, who is a country person, which is awesome. They never had a country judge before. But I was shocked that Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey liked me so much. They’re probably the ones that were most complimentary to me.”
According to her Facebook page, Mink started singing at age 9 and has performed around Central Kentucky and recorded two albums, an inspirational/contemporary Christian album and a collection of country originals.
Like Casey, Mink counts fellow country singer Carrie Underwood among her favorite Idol winners, though she’s also a fan of original winner Kelly Clarkson.
And like pretty much everyone else in the competition, Mink thinks she would be an ideal Season 12 winner.
“I think I’m a good singer,” Mink says on her video. “It’s taken me a long time to say that I’m a good singer. It’s taken a lot of people telling me I’m a good singer. I don’t feel like I’m cocky about it. I feel like I’m just very confident in who I am as an artist, and I think that I’m also a good role model.”
Also like Casey, Mink was not seen in the episode covering the audition from which she advanced. But Hollywood is coming.
Note: The original posting of this story misidentified Mink as a Georgetown College student. She is an alum.
With Sunday night’s performance at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, J String completed the journey from hot summer night lark to a winter night performance that attracted a good, enthusiastic crowd, despite a cold rain.
The conceit of the duo of Lexington cellist Jacob Yates, now a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Cincinnati-based Broadway actress Jessica Hendy, is that they take big pop songs by artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and reset them for voice and cello. It has worked well for J String over a quintet of web videos that have been modest viral successes, particularly the sleek production of David Guetta’s Titanium.
J String has a lot going for it, primarily a pair of extremely talented musicians and a unique concept: voice and cello pop duo. Add to that, they have tossed artsy snobbery to the wind and taken songs often dismissed as Top 40 confections seriously.
That may have worked best in their take on Britney Spears’ debut hit … Baby One More Time, in which Hendy really accessed the emotion of a girl pleading to get a guy to give her another chance. The duo’s take also accented one of the controversial aspects of the song, the lyric “Hit me baby one more time,” which Spears has maintained is not a reference to violence. But Hendy’s performance did convey a note of unhealthy desperation.
Throughout the 16-song set, she and Yates, to an extent, embodied their songs like a Broadway performer embodies a character. On three songs, they were joined by Cincinnati Conservatory senior Josh Tolle, from a piano-bar style rendition of Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You to a pointed interpretation of Radiohead’s Creep.
Yates was clearly on a cellist’s holiday ripping intricate solos in songs like Titanium and using a looping pedal for some very cool overlays.
There is no clear path for what is next for J String. They are hoping to book a New York gig later this year that could get them in front of some influential ears. Hendy and Yates have no designs on creating original material, though Tolle is a songwriter and clearly finds the combo inspiring. Maybe they will know they have arrived if someone takes a J String original and sets it to guitar, bass, and drums.
For now, it’s fun watching the group put on the hits.
SummerFest, the annual July theater festival in The Arboretum, will get an extreme makeover this year. Kentucky Conservatory Theatre, which presents SummerFest, has announced the next two summers of shows in a schedule that will reduce the number of productions and expand the number of weeks.
Instead of the usual three shows, there will be two shows this year, each for a two-weekend run: J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, July 5 to 14; and A Chorus Line, July 24 to Aug. 4. The summer of 2014 will have Romeo and Juliet, July 5 to 13; and The Color Purple, July 23 to Aug. 3.
“This is a change that has been a long time coming,” said theater general manager Wesley Nelson. “For a long time, the feedback we were getting from designers and technicians and a lot of other people involved was that we needed to take it down to two shows.”
Nelson says the revised scheduling addresses several problems that have haunted the festival over the years including spates of bad weather that have plagued some productions and the pressure two-day changeovers put on productions, particularly the later ones.
“Two solid tech rehearsals was the best you could hope for,” Nelson said, “and by the time you got to that third show, the crew was just worn out.”
The new schedule leaves an open week between productions. Nelson said there was concern that having an open week between shows might interrupt the momentum of the festival, which has previously been presented on three consecutive weeks. “But we decided the benefits outweighed that,” he said, noting that with two-week runs, shows could now take advantage of positive word of mouth from audiences.
Nelson said in future years, SummerFest might present a concert or other sort of presentation in the Arboretum on the open weekend, but for this year, it will remain unscheduled, “so we can see how this new system works,” Nelson said.
He said KCT is announcing summer 2014 for several reasons.
“We knew that some people might see we were going down to two shows and think that means we’re in trouble, and we’re not,” Nelson said. “So we hope by announcing next summer, people will see we are planning for the future.”
He also said that directors wanted to assure fans of Shakespeare that the Bard will still be part of the festival, just not every year. SummerFest’s predecessor was the Lexington Shakespeare Festival. The Shakespeare Festival folded in 2006; SummerFest was created to fill its void.
Nelson said SummerFest is also being considered part of the Kentucky Conservatory Theatre season, which will run on calendar years instead of school years, contrary to the practice of most Lexington arts groups. Along with the SummerFest announcement, KCT announced its lineups for the next two seasons. Excluding SummerFest, they are:
March 2, Blackbird’s Evening of Dance: The premiere of KCT’s dance ensemble, led by choreographer Jenny Fitzpatrick.
April 20, 24-Hour Theatre Project: High school students work with theater artists to create five original 10-minute plays in 24 hours.
Aug. 30-Sept. 1, The Girl Project: An original theater work created by area high school girls.
Nov. 8-14, The History Boys: Alan Bennett’s play about boys in a British boarding school.
Feb. 7-23, The Real Thing: Tom Stoppard’s 1982 play about reality and honesty.
April 29, 24-Hour Theatre Project.
Nov. 7-23, Cabaret: The classic John Kander and Fred Ebb musical in the version of the 1998 Roundabout Theatre Broadway revival.
The sweltering days around the Fourth of July were perfect for city kids to pop open a fire hydrant to cool off, but not so great for expensive instruments in apartments that are not air-conditioned.
That’s what Lexington native Jacob Yates was fretting July 7 in his hot digs near the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he is a student. He was spending the summer playing cello and keyboard for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s production of Next to Normal. Cast member Jessica Hendy suggested Yates bring his cello to her air-conditioned home.
“We just hung out all day, and we just started making music,” says Hendy, whose Broadway credits include Cats, Aida and Amour. “It was one of those random things.”
They started working on a rendition of Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory with a healthy dose of J.S. Bach thrown in. Then they decided to make a video of it with Hendy’s iPhone and post it on her YouTube page.
That black-and-white clip (above), with Yates playing in a backward baseball cap and a giraffe in the background, became a minor success.
“We both really like social networking, and we started getting a significant number of views really fast,” Yates said.
Hendy elaborates, “We both posted it on our Facebook pages, and we had so many shares from friends and acquaintances who were posting it on their walls, we thought, ‘Oh, maybe we should do another one.’”
Their duo, J String, was born.
Sunday night, they bring their live show to Natasha’s Bistro and Bar in Lexington with more than a dozen pop songs set for voice and cello including the summer of 2012’s No. 1 earworm, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe.
Brooklyn, 7, will be an understudy for five roles including Molly, the littlest orphan who has several featured moments in the classic 1977 musical by Charles Strouse, Thomas Meehan and Martin Charnin.
Annie is the first hit in several months of auditioning in New York for Brooklyn and her older sister Sydney, 9.
Their mother, Angie Shuck, says that all three of their daughters, including 6-year-old Raleigh, have shown a knack for musical theater and worked with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s Academy for Creative Excellence, a musical-theater training program for school-age children. Brooklyn was seen recently in the UK Opera Theatre’s Grand Night for Singing showtune revue in June and singing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus at last month’s Celebration of Song at Victorian Square.
With the experience Brooklyn and Sydney were gaining, Angie Shuck said they decided to take a shot at New York stages under the guidance of Lexington-based manager Peggy Stamps and her SquarePeg management group.
“They went up there, and they were naturals,” Angie Shuck says. “So we decided we would give them that opportunity.”
Stamps says the girls have been auditioning for 10 months and made it into the final rounds of auditions for several shows, including The Grinch and Godspell 2032.
Shuck says she was called last month about the Annie audition and had 22 hours to get Brooklyn to New York.
Brooklyn is a second grader at Garden Springs Elementary School, but of course will have to move to New York, at least while she is in Annie.
Nicholasville farm girl Kelly Casey says she auditioned for American Idol so friends and family would stop bugging her to audition. It seems like they had the right idea, because she’s going to Hollywood.
“I’ve always kind of been told that I should audition, and I never have in the past,” Casey says in a video on the Idol website. “This is my first time, so I was just kind of trying to get people off of my back about doing it and, wow, I got a golden ticket. It’s incredible.”
Casey advanced out of the Baton Rouge auditions, which were broadcast Thursday night on Fox. She was not seen on the episode, and there are several more audition cities to be shown before Hollywood episodes next month, which will be the next chance to see Casey compete.
As a two-time Miss Kentucky contestant, Casey is no stranger to competition, and she has maintained an active singing career in Central Kentucky. In the Idol video, she says her rural upbringing will be a key to her success on the show.
She says, “I think I’m the next American Idol because growing up in a rural area and living on a farm in Kentucky has taught me a great work ethic, which I can convert into music, because no matter how cold it is outside or what’s going on, if it’s Christmas, the animals still have to be taken care of.”
Casey’s Facebook fan page lists her as a country and Christian musician with favorites and influences including Shania Twain and Martina McBride. Her favorite Idol contestant is fairly easy to guess: Carrie Underwood.
““She’s extremely successful, and it’s the same genre of music that I have grown up listening to,” Casey says. “I love country music.”
Up until the end, Tobymac was a major part of the Ichthus Festival. His headlining appearance Thursday night at last year’s edition was the last of many at the annual Wilmore Christian music festival, which announced in December it is closing after 42 years.
We caught up with Toby this afternoon for an interview to preview his upcoming appearance headlining Winter Jam at Rupp Arena, March 16, and talked to him about the No. 1 debut for his latest album, Eye On It, his former dc talk bandmates’ new gigs and all sorts of other stuff. More on that, later. But we couldn’t let him get away without asking about Ichthus, where we watched his solo career grow:
“I didn’t just watch my solo career grow there, I watched dc talk’s career there. It’s a sad day for sure. That festival has meant a lot to me.
“I remember when the festival was struggling a little. I remember my agent called me and said, ‘Would you be willing to do it for this?’” he said, referring to his performance fee. “I said yes, because it was tough financially, and we wanted to be there for Ichthus because Ichthus has been there for us and for the people.
“I can remember one of the first times we really connected with a big audience was at Ichthus. I remember the guy that signed us drove from Nashville to watch us, and I just remember him after the show going, ‘Wow! That was electric. This is going to work.’ I remember that distinctly. So obviously, when I began my solo career, I looked to Ichthus too to be one of the electric moments. And it always was. One year, it was so electric the show got cancelled.”
Actually, that happened twice.
Tobymac was slated to perform Friday night at the 2005 festival when severe thunderstorms ripped through the festival, forcing the cancellation of that night’s performances by him and Audio Adrenaline. The storms were ushering in a cold front, and the next day it snowed on Ichthus. The next year, the festival was moved to June after one too many tangles with early spring weather. That didn’t fix everything, as Toby’s 2008 appearance was also lost to storms.
“It’s too bad,” he said of Ichthus’ end. “Ichthus was one of the foundational, pioneering festivals.”
I don’t know if The Kinks ever lip-synced a performance of their song Predictable, but it would have been appropriate considering the reaction any time a high-profile, big-arena performance is done with pre-recorded help.
The latest brouhaha comes following Beyoncé’s rendition of the Star-spangled Banner at Monday’s inauguration of President Barack Obama. The reaction in my house was pretty much the same as everywhere else: Wow! Nailed it! Right up there with Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl! Of course, we know the lifespan of unmitigated praise in 21st-century culture is about a day.
The backlash, it seems, started in earnest about 24 hours after Beyoncé’s final notes faded across the Washington Mall.
The former Destiny’s Child member recorded the performance Sunday night and possibly lip-synced to the track Monday afternoon. (As I get ready to hit “publish” on this post, the story is in flux.)
The news was touted with headlines like E! Online’s “Inauguration Shocker!” Even NPR was covering this in its top-of-the-hour newscasts Tuesday afternoon.
OK. If you have followed this sort of thing for any length of time, you should not be shocked — you do follow these things, don’t you, E!? Big-arena performances like Super Bowls and inaugurations are usually pre-recorded, sometimes with the full intent of performing to the track, sometimes as a backup. These are very high-stakes, high-profile, unpredictable venues, and people are wary of risking a big embarrassment if something goes wrong artistically or technically.
According to available reports, it appears that this was a backup that someone might have decided to go with at the final second. Who knows why? Maybe Beyoncé or someone directing the production listened to James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson struggle with a few bum notes in the massive, open, chilly venue and decided not to risk the finale. Maybe after sitting quiet in the open air for more than an hour, Beyoncé decided she wouldn’t be able to give 100 percent without a warmup. Reports say she never rehearsed with the Marine Band, which appeared to play with her Monday, although she did record her track to the band’s recorded performance.
(Her dramatic removal of her inner-ear monitor does make me wonder whether this was a live performance, because artists usually do that when what they’re getting in the monitor is detracting from their performance.)
If she did lip-sync, forgive me if I don’t get too worked up about this and declare it further evidence of the decay of our culture.
There are times when I will be less forgiving of Memorex performances. Ashlee Simpson’s infamous Saturday Night Live non-performance was ridiculous. If you bill yourself as a live performer, you should be able to go into a venue like SNL’s Studio 8H and sing live — even though artists as big as Paul McCartney and Kanye West have struggled on that stage.
Then there have been moments when artists maybe discovered that a track might have been a good idea. Lexington’s own Laura Bell Bundy found herself out of breath during an aerobic, live performance of her single Giddy On Up during the 2010 Academy of Country Music Awards.
Ideally, every performance we see would be live, because it is certainly most satisfying to watch someone excel while hanging it all out there when everything is on the line. Maybe that’s what Beyoncé will do Feb. 3 as the halftime act for the Super Bowl, along with a reunion of Destiny’s Child.
Live would have been ideal and a bit more impressive, but that still was Beyoncé’s performance Monday. It was not as if someone else recorded the song and she just went out there and looked good mouthing it. This was not Milli Vanilli. And it was a tasteful, beautiful rendition of our national anthem, with just enough ornamentation to make it distinctly hers, not one of those travesties we so often see from pop stars.
So if she lip-ynced, so what?
Monday morning, composer AJ Hochhalter was settling into his new workspace at The Livery, a downtown Lexington space he shares with four other artists.
Moving into a cool downtown location is an exciting step for the 24-year-old University of Kentucky graduate, still wading into his career. But a lot more excitement for Hochhalter lies west this week, in the mountains of Utah.
Hochhalter, above, composed music for Blood Brother, a documentary about a man who gave up a design career in the United States to run an orphanage for children with AIDS in India. It is an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival.
“Every year, something I have been a part of has been submitted,” Hochhalter says. “And honestly, anyone can submit.
“But I watched it for the first time with the group that made it in Pittsburgh, and after we were done watching it, you know, everyone thinks whatever they’re involved with is the greatest thing ever, and I try to take a step back and say, ‘If I wasn’t so closely attached to this, would I think this was a great movie?’ The answer was yes a hundred times. We thought it had a lot of potential.”
That means Hochhalter’s trip to Park City, Utah, this week has a lot of potential to get his own name out there as a film composer for hire, certainly a non-traditional career path for a business major.
Hochhalter was born and raised in Louisville, spending his entire school career at Christian Academy of Louisville. There, he got into a variety of musical endeavors, from school ensembles to bands, and he knew he wanted to pursue a music career.
“I had gotten into Belmont,” Hochhalter says, referring to the Nashville university with a prestigious music program, “and I thought, do I go into music or do I go into business? And business made the most sense. Everyone thinks they’re going to make it in the music industry, and it’s a very small crowd that actually gets in, so I knew most of the bands and that they were businesses, and you need to know how to market yourself and do stuff like that.”
So the lifelong Wildcats fan came to UK and majored in business marketing. At the same time, his market was being defined.
Greg Barrett and his seven companions were kind of conspicuous at the border of Jordan and Iraq.
“We looked like spring breakers, a group of unarmed Caucasians,” he said of the group that included Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne in all his dreadlocked glory.
Quickly, a group of U.S. Army soldiers arrived in Humvees, and Capt. William Don Foster assured the group that if they went into Iraq they would likely be kidnapped and decapitated.
Decapitated — a word they heard several times.
The captain was legitimately concerned, Barrett said. Since he’d been in Iraq, three of Foster’s interpreters had been kidnapped and beheaded. Foster had to watch the videos.
“I was ready to turn around,” said Barrett, who remembered his wife told him before the 2010 trip not to do anything foolish. “But peer pressure is a wonderful thing. Sami said it wasn’t true.”
While it is easy to presume many Iraqis would see this Western group as synonymous with their enemies, Claiborne, Iraqi-American Sami Rasouli and their fellow travelers had different experiences.
In 2003, several of them traveled to Iraq as the United States was getting ready to invade under the pretense that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
“They were going to reside in the middle of ‘shock and awe,’ ” Barrett said. “Some people said they were suicidal. Not at all. They were courageous.”
The Americans were trying to help and show the Iraqis a different side of the United States than they were about to see.
And they survived, only to be injured in an auto accident as they were leaving the country. Just when their journey looked extremely dark, the group was rescued by Iraqi Muslims and treated and protected at a devastated clinic in the town of Rutba.
“The story of American Christians being rescued by Iraqi Muslims resonated with me because I was in Iraq in 2003 and was amazed at the kindness that I was treated with,” Barrett said.
Barrett, a longtime newspaper writer for a number of papers including the Baltimore Sun and USA Today, was in Iraq with Gannett News Service. His aim was to put a human face on the people who were about to be on the receiving end of the U.S. invasion, though he was a little apprehensive about how he would be received.
On one of his first days in Iraq, he was in a crowded market and became separated from his group.
“I was in a crowd of Iraqis, mostly men, and there was no mistaking me for an Iraqi,” Barrett said. “I am a dirty blond American.”
But the entire 45 minutes he was alone in the crowd, no one laid a hand on him except a man who told him the zipper on his bag had opened, and he was in danger of being pickpocketed.
It was one of many instances that solidified in Barrett a belief that regardless of ethnicity, religion or nationality, people are essentially the same.
And that is what he sought to chronicle in his new book, The Gospel of Rutba: War, Peace and the Good Samaritan Story in Iraq, which tells the original tale and the story of Claiborne and crew’s journey back to Iraq in 2010.
The gist of his presentation is the theme of unified humanity, despite walls people put up, such as the walls between Jews and Palestinians on the Gaza Strip.
“I was there with Shane,” Barrett said. “The walls are as high as San Quentin — they are a literal manifestation of fear. We were on both sides of the wall, and everyone was really the same: they love their children, they love their friends, they want security.”
Of course, when the group returned to Rutba, there was a little fear on both sides. When they arrived, Barrett said, they were initially questioned by local officials about what they were doing there. But after they understood the mission was to say thanks and show a different side of America, Barrett said, the Americans were greeted warmly, and the mayor even gave them his security detail while they were there.
It was an experience that would not have been possible, Barrett said, if they had turned back or come armed with their own security.
“There is a huge difference in showing up with our own security detail with guns pointed saying we want to be friends and showing up with our hands extended and no guns,” Barrett said.
On the 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, it’s a message Barrett and Claiborne, who has helped promote the book, want to convey.
“You can’t bomb the world into peace,” Barrett said. “You have to build dynamic relationships, not expensive wars.”
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich