The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Growing up in the late 1970s and early ’80s, I did not realize how seriously the movies were taken until I saw a little show on PBS called Sneak Previews. It featured two movie critics from Chicago, easily identified as the skinny guy (Gene Siskel) and the fat one (Roger Ebert).
True, they gave the world the now-often-derided moview review shorthand of thumbs up and thumbs down. But in between the prestidigitation were passionate, enlightening conversations about films destined to become classics such as Raging Bull and Ordinary People, and some not so much — I remember being a bit disappointed the Mad Magazine movie Up the Academy got a fairly quick and dismissive thumbs down.
Ebert and Siskel’s show soon became the commercial, syndicated At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and continued to show that movies were something to be passionate about, and people could disagree without being disagreeable. They and my hometown newspaper critic, The Virginian-Pilot’s Mal Vincent, were my early film education, and undoubtedly helped lead me to where I am today.
When I started working toward a career in journalism, with the hopes of breaking into arts and entertainment writing, I discovered the Pulitzer Prize-winning, entertainment journalism icon that was Ebert, who died last week after a long and heroic battle with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands.
The disfigurement and loss of the ability to eat, drink or speak after numerous cancer surgeries would have led many to retire from the pressures of a day job, and living life on deadline is pressure. But in some ways it seemed to invigorate Ebert and give him a stronger sense of purpose both in his film reviewing and broader political and cultural commentary. His work became a lesson in overcoming obstacles and using the platform he was given, as much as his previous work was a lesson in developing taste, discernment and an independent voice.
Listening to Fresh Air’s tribute to Ebert on Friday, he reiterated a philosophy of reviewing I have heard him articulate before and should be a guide star to anyone who takes up the craft of reviewing: “You have to realize you’re not writing for the filmmakers. You’re writing for the potential film audience. And I would much rather hurt somebody’s feelings who made the picture than send somebody to see a movie and spend two hours of their life seeing a movie that I don’t think is worth seeing.”
This is a man who published two books filled with scathing reviews: I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie (2000) and Your Movie Sucks (2007), the latter being a frequently intriguing look at the role of a high-profile critic frequently dealing with the people he trashed. But those were validated by the numerous raves for films he thought were important for people to see, and vice versa.
In 2005, I was at the Toronto International Film Festival’s screening of Elizabethtown, and I spotted the unmistakable Ebert on his way into the theater. It was an electric moment thinking I would be in the same screening as the icon. And it was tempting to go up and tell him what his work had meant to me and how it influenced my career.
But how many times had Ebert heard that from many, highly accomplished scribes? Anyone who does this sort of job, chronicling culture, owes Ebert a debt for raising the profile and seriousness of this profession. It was a job he seemed to have to do, particularly as he confronted the challenges of his last few years. And it was a job he defined.
The Kentucky District round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions isn’t until until Nov. 17 at Memorial Hall. But two University of Kentucky singers already have advanced to the regional round of the competition by competing in other district competitions.
Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. was one of four winners at the Ohio District Auditions on Oct. 20 in Cincinnati. That put Smith in direct competition with singers from the prestigious University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and he held his own in advancing to the Central Region Auditions on Nov. 4 in Evanston, Ill. University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said Smith went to the Ohio audition because of scheduling conflicts with the Kentucky District.
Soprano Holly Flack, a UK graduate now living in Chicago, also won Saturday, at the Wisconsin District Auditions. She has advanced to the Feb. 2 Upper Midwest Regional in St. Paul, Minn. Flack has been working in Chicago and is cast as the Queen of the Night in Chicago Chamber Opera’s 2013 production of The Magic Flute.
Both Smith and Flack have advanced to regional rounds of the Met auditions before, but neither has gone on to the national rounds in New York.
As many as 30 singers might be in the running when the Kentucky District round is held on Nov. 17. Traditionally, a sizable contingent of UK students has participated, and at least a couple usually advance to the regionals. So there is a chance of a historic field of regional competitors from UK this year.
Audio Adrenaline has taken a page from the Newsboy’s playbook enlisting a former member of iconic Christian rockers dc talk to restart the band, which had for the most part ceased recording and performing in 2006 when vocal problems silence lead singer Mark Stuart.
Last month, Billboard magazine reported that dc talk’s Kevin Max has become the band’s new frontman, and the newly reconstituted group has released a new single, Kings and Queens, and will have a new album in early 2013. Audio A formed in the 1990s at Kentucky Christian College (now University) in Grayson and went on to record some of contemporary Christian music’s greatest hits including Big House and Hands and Feet.
But in the mid-2000′s, Owensboro-native Stuart developed spasmodic dysphonia, which creates spasms around the larynx that have left Stuart unable to sing. After an extended farewell tour, the group disbanded though Stuart and bassist Will McGinniss have continued to be heavily involved with the band’s Hands and Feet orphanage in Haiti and occasionally gave performances to raise awareness of the project, including an appearance at Broadway Christian Church earlier this year.
The reconstituted band is signed to Fair Trade Services. McGinniss is the only member of the band when it disbanded that will be actively performing with the new group. Stuart will continue as a writer and producer. According to Billboard, former members Tyler Burkum and Ben Cissell had moved on and were not interested in joining the new lineup.
That new lineup will include drummer Jared Byers, keyboardist Jason Walker and a familiar face (and hairdo) to Christian rock fans in former Superchick guitarist Dave Ghazarian. When last we saw Ghazarian in Central Kentucky, he was playing in the pickup band for former Newsboys frontman-turened-solo artist Peter Furler.
That brings us back to the Newsboys playbook, as Newsboys are now fronted by another third of dc talk, Michael Tait, who joined the group in 2009.
The other third of the group, Tobymac, has enjoyed a thriving solo career for more than a decade since dc talk went on a seemingly permanent hiatus.
But Christian rock fans have to be imaging the possible supertour of Tobymac, Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline.
TobyMac’s new album, Eye On It, made a little music sales and Christian music history last week when it landed at No. 1 on Billboard Magazine’s Top 200 album sales chart.
T-Mac’s fifth non-seasonal studio album was the No. 1 album in the land last week, the first time since 1997 and only the third time that a Christian album topped the overall best-seller charts, and we’re going to do some qualifying of those other two. The last No. 1 was LeAnn Rimes You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs, which topped the chart for three weeks. But Rimes was already an established star in the pop and country markets with No. 1’s to her credit in mainstream music. Shortly before that, Bob Carlisle’s Butterfly Kisses went to No. 1. Carlisle is a Christian market artist, but the title song, a father’s reflections about his daughter on her 16th birthday, was a pop culture phenomenon in its own right. The album was actually a reissue of the album it originally appeared in on, Shades of Grace, which was retitled for the re-release.
So, it is fair to say that TobyMac is the first Christian music artist to take an album to No. 1 based on his own starpower and the music he has made.
It’s a mark that has been a long time coming. Numerous Christian artists such as Casting Crowns have sniffed No. 1 in recent years. And TobyMac’s former band, dc talk, made its own history with its 1998 release, Supernatural, which debuted at No. 4, at the time an unprecedented bow for a Christian band.
“Depending on whether you see the music industry’s glass as half-empty or half-full, this either points to a long-running genre that has built a healthy audience or simply done a better job holding on while most other music sales have tanked,” wrote Ben Sisario of The New York Times. “According to Billboard, 27 percent of TobyMac’s sales came from Christian retailers and bookstores.”
You could also attribute it to a savvy releases strategy as late August is a fairly light time for new music releases, making it an easier week to make a run at No. 1. Eye On It’s main competition came from the hip-hop collective Slaughterhouse, whose Welcome to: Our House bowed at No. 2, and Alanis Morissette, who hasn’t been a chart powerhouse since the mid-1990s and saw her Havoc and Bright Lights come in at No. 5.
It is fair to say TobyMac’s music has endured a lot longer in the faith-based market than Morissette’s in the mainstream.
If someone was going to bring contemporary Christian music a No. 1, it is entirely appropriate it is Toby McKeehan who has played a huge role in dragging along a genre that is often behind the times. Read the rest of this entry »
It occurred to me Tuesday watching the final dress rehearsal of SummerFest’s production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire that this is the first time in 14 years covering theater in Lexington I have seen the same show presented two times by the same director.
Joe Ferrell directed Actors Guild of Lexington’s production of Streetcar in 2003 at the Downtown Arts Center’s black box theater, and he is directing the production that is trying mightily to get going in the Arboretum – the first two attempts at an opening night, Wednesday and Thursday, have been scuttled due to rain and lightning.
Rehearsals are not performances and this is not a review, but looking at this production, it was striking how similar yet different this show was from 2003.
There certainly was that signature Joe Ferrell style — a reverence for the playwright’s words and eye on crisp storytelling. You always know with a Ferrell show that everyone onstage will know what they are saying and why, and interesting interpretations will come out of that.
Contrasting the productions speaks to the impact casting and venue have on a play.
Ferrell noted in an interview earlier this summer that as big a title as Streetcar is, it is something of a small, intimate show for the vast Arboretum stage. The essential drama plays out between four people — Blanche, Stella, Stanley and Mitch — and there are just a few other ancillary characters. The setting of a modest New Orleans apartment is also fairly low-key for SummerFest.
But Tuesday, lead actors Evan Bergman as Stanley and Bess Morgan as Blanche (photo, above) were crafting big performances that filled the space and maximized the drama. Nine years ago, Kevin Hardesty and Lisa Thomas were giving decidedly different interpretations of the same characters. Hardesty’s Stanley was more arrogant than primal, making Blanche’s characterizations of him seem to be part of her fantasy. Thomas’ portrayal was less demonstrative and she and Hardesty seemed to be engaged in more of a psychological struggle.
And that really worked for the black box, a a venue that seats a couple hundred at most and fewer, I believe, for the Streetcar production. That take may have been lost in the Arboretum, but that is where venue comes into play. And good actors know where they are playing and make adjustments accordingly — both Thomas and Hardesty have brilliantly led productions in the Arboretum, as have Bergman and Morgan in the Downtown Arts Center.
It really speaks to the elasticity of a script. It sets out the words and essentially the story and emotions, but it is when the director, actors and designers come together that the play really comes to life, and it is different every time, even when some of the same people are involved.
Before we get into what Frank Ocean‘s Channel Orange is, let’s say what it isn’t. It is not the gay hip hop/R&B album.
Ocean, born Christopher “Lonny” Breaux, caused a sensation earlier this month publishing a letter saying his first love was another man and then giving a riveting performance of the taxicab confessional song Bad Religion on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (above). While pop music has been open open to gay artists for years, hip hop and R&B have traditionally been less accepting of openly homosexual performers. The letter garnered Ocean a lot of attention, which is what his new album, Channel Orange, deserves, regardless of why you tuned in.
Orange is one of those albums that sounds like the emergence of a brilliant young talent. The 24 year old has been around as a writer for artists such as Justin Bieber and a member of the hip-hop collective Odd Future. Last year he dropped the acclaimed mix tape Nostalgia, Ultra, and Orange is his major label studio debut on Def Jam records, and it is as confident an opening bow as we have heard since Kanye West’s The College Dropout.
It is an album that demands attentive listening, at least the first few times around. That’s where you hear the connective tissue between the songs. It is a stream of money and sex that are the rewards of fame and a complete dissatisfaction with them. This won’t be a surprise to fans of his single, Novacane, released last year. Orange opens with the wistful Thinking Bout You, also previously released, pining for an idyllic love. Then a few tracks later, we are into Super Rich Kids, a longing for genuine emotion in the face of excess. Crack Rock is a great listen in spite of its focus on drugs and violence, leading into Pyramids, which completely defies the conventional belief that young writers should not attempt concept pieces. The 10-minute track makes Cleopatra and her fall a metaphor for everything we have been hearing about for the last half hour with brilliant rhymes and innovative structure. If this album didn’t have Bad Religion, Pyramids would be the masterpiece of Channel Orange.
As great as it was on Fallon, Bad Religion is even better in the context of the album. After expressing an outward and even historical view for the majority of the album, the song focuses inward, quietly. Ocean resists any compulsion to demonstrative drama, instead tending to his emotional wounds in a corner. You sort of want to push stop as the track fades, though there are a few more numbers including the playful Forrest Gump.
And really, as one of the most compelling albums this year, you don’t want to change the channel.
The noon and 2:30 p.m. shows will launch a series of five Saturdays of movies, and free lunch will be provided at 11:30 a.m. for the first 50 moviegoers ages 18 and younger this Saturday and July 14 and 28. Noon shows are geared to kids while 2:30 shows are geared to adults. Admission is free to all patrons.
The full series is:
July 14. Noon: Chicken Run (2000), animated comedy about chickens breaking out of a chicken farm. 2:30: The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), Will Smith stars in the true story of a single father who works his way out of homelessness.
July 28. Noon: Akeelah and the Bee (2006), an inner-city Los Angeles student tries to compete in the National Spelling Bee. 2:30: Imitation of Life (1959), a drama about a black girl who rebels against her mother and tries to pass for white.
Aug. 18. Noon: Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001), animated film that launched a Nickelodeon series. 2:30: Something the Lord Made (2005), Alan Rickman and Mos Def star in a drama about the inventor of heart bypass surgery and his gifted lab technician who struggles to receive credit for his contributions because he is black.
Sept. 8. The Great Debaters (2007), Denzel Washington stars in the story of the debate team from all-black Wiley College in Texas that faces Harvard in 1935. 2:30: Crash (2004) The Oscar-winner for best picture explores cultural clashes over a day in Los Angeles.
With the Kentucky Theatre hosting a very rare Saturday night concert by Bruce Hornsby on June 16, booker Larry Thomas has put together a week that looks sorta like the old days of the Kentucky, when there was a new movie every couple days.
The Kentucky traditionally does not book Friday or Saturday night concerts because distributors of first-run films require theaters to play their movies on Friday and Saturday nights, the most lucrative nights at the movies. The Kentucky agreed to present the Hornsby concert when the Troubadour concert series found itself in a bit of a pinch for a venue on the 16th. The trade off was no first run film for the Kentucky that week.
“Rather just put in something to fill, I thought we might have some fun with it,” Thomas wrote in an email.
So, the old-school Kentucky Theatre week will get started with the June 13 Summer Classics showing of Johnny Guitar, a 1954 western starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden.
Here’s the rest of the lineup:
June 14, 15: Marley (2012) – Kevin Macdonald’s documentary about Bob Marley, featuring Jimmy Cliff and Ziggy Marley.
June 16: Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers in concert.
June 17: Yellow Submarine (1968) – A digitally restored print of The Beatles’ animated classic.
June 18, 19: First Position (2011) – Bess Kargman’s documentary follows six young dancers preparing for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world.
June 20: Ghostbusters (1984) – The 1980s classic comedy starring Bill Murray. This is part of the Summer Classics series.
June 21: Mulberry Child (2011) – Susan Morgan Cooper’s documentary follows a woman who grows up in China during the Cultural Revolution, emigrates to the United States, and returns to China with her daughter during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The film about cultural disconnects was a hit at the Central Library’s Farish Theatre in April.
The cello isn’t just for classical music anymore, if it ever really was in the first place. This month started with new releases from Lexington’s own Ben Sollee and Northwesterners The Portland Cello Project that highlight the variety of ways the cello is being used.
The Portlanders may look more more like a traditional classical ensemble, though there aren’t many of those that devote themselves to one instrument … or cover of hip hop tunes. Homage is a tribute to recent hip hop by artists such as Jay-Z and Kanye West and an attempt to put the music in a new context so audiences that don’t appreciate rap will appreciate the music. It hits more than it misses with really illuminating takes on songs such as Lil’ Wayne’s She Will and Jay-Z and West’s H*A*M that really accentuate rhythmic and harmonic lines and reset the tunes in a 21st century classical context. There is a lot here reminiscent of both pop acts that have classical underpinnings such as the Dave Matthews Band and genre-crossing projects such as Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile’s Goat Rodeo Sessions. The least successful effort is the best known song on the record, Outkast’s Hey Ya. With a dominant line that mimics the song’s vocal, this rather literal interpretation sounds like an orchestral take for the sake of an orchestral take on the song.
Maybe the coolest thing you can do with bringing a new instrument into a foreign genre is make people forget what instrument they are hearing, because it sounds so natural. That’s what happens in Sollee’s new album, Live at the Grocery on Home, recorded at the Atlanta venue in the title. Sollee has become somewhat known as “the cello guy” in roots and Americana music, but more simply as a singer-songwriter of terrific tunes such as It’s Not Impossible and Bury Me with My Car, featured on this rousing outing. The live setting accentuates Sollee’s rhythmic playing and subtle delivery of pointedly socially conscious lyrics such as Bible Belt. Electrified, appropriately, has captured Sollee at his most rocking. And like his studio efforts, Live at the Grocery on Home captures a Kentucky artist who looked at his instrument and saw no limitations. The CD (which includes two copies, so you can give one to a friend) is available at Louisville’s Heine Bros. Coffee shops, online through bensollee.com and iTunes, and at Sollee’s tour stops.
The Portland Cello Project and guest Ben Sollee perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday (May 7, 2012) at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville. Visit nortoncenter.com for ticket information.
The University of Kentucky Wildcats spotted one of their Big Blue bretheren on the red carpet and tried to wave him into the picture with them.
But the ol’ pro waved them on.
Patterson, who now plays for the Houston Rockets, said he wanted to, “Make them have their moment. People say, ‘Yo, go on down there with them.’ I said, no, that’s the championship team. Let them have their moment. Let them enjoy this as a unit. Let them enjoy this as a team, because they’ve been together. I stay back and do my own thing.”
Patterson is a Derby veteran, and he said he told the team, “Be ready to take thousands of pictures — sign autographs, kiss babies, mingle with the fans. Hopefully you’re wise, you make some good bets, and you’re going to have a lot of fun. You’ll see a lot of interesting people, a lot of celebrities. Pretty much just soak it all in, because this only happens a few times in your life.”
As for the team’s prospects in the upcoming NBA draft, Patterson said, “I’m going to step out on a limb. For the first time in history, all six people from Kentucky get drafted in a row … Watch, it’s going to happen. We’re going to make history.”
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