ETHEL at The Winter Garden

June 24, 2014

“Don’t call it a string quartet. It’s a band.”

— Steve Smith, The New York Times

If the words ‘string quartet’ conjure up an image of stuffy, somber classical music, then you haven’t met ETHEL.

ETHEL is a group of string instrument players who, while based in the traditions of classical music, incorporate elements of jazz, blues, folk, post-rock and neo-classical music in their performances. The musicians perform new, original work as well as pieces by prominent contemporary composers, many of them written especially for the group.

ETHEL’s unconventional approach to string music reflects the musical backgrounds of its members: In addition to leading orchestras, they have played and recorded with rockers Sheryl Crow, Roger Daltrey, Tom Verlaine, Thomas Dolby, Joe Jackson, David Byrne, Jill Sobule, and Todd Rundgren. The band’s shows include improvisation, choreography, lighting, and video displays.

Tonight the River to River Festival featured ETHEL and guest guitarist Kaki King in a performance of “…And Other Stories,” in the Winter Garden Atrium at Brookfield Place.

The program included an interpretation of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #6 as well as works from ETHEL’s repertoire, original compositions by Kaki King, and a rearrangement of Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov’s Logbook.

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Kaki King
ETHEL performs “…And Other Stories” with Kaki King at the River to River Festival
Facebook: ETHEL


Bang On a Can Marathon

June 22, 2014

Founded in 1987, Bang on a Can is an organization dedicated to bringing new music to new audiences. Based in New York, Bang on a Can performs, presents, and records diverse musical works worldwide.

They are best known for their annual Marathon Concerts, usually performed in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place. During a Marathan, an eclectic mix of pieces are performed one after the other. Some audience members stay for the entire Marathon, while others feel free to wander in and out during a program that can last anywhere from 12 – 27 hours.

This year’s Marathon, held once again at the Winter Garden, lasted nearly 13 hours and included the following artists and compositions:

  • Great Noise Ensemble
    Armando Bayolo: Caprichos
    Carlos Carrillo: De la brevedad de la vida
  • Adrianna Mateo, violin
    Molly Joyce: Lean Back and Release
  • Great Noise Ensemble
    Marc Mellits: Machine V from 5 Machines
  • Bearthoven
    Brooks Frederickson: Undertoad
  • Anonymous 4
    David Lang: love fail (selections)
  • Dawn of Midi
    Amino Belyamani and Aakaash Israni: Excerpt from Dysnomia
  • Roomful of Teeth
    Judd Greenstein: AEIOU
    Caroline Shaw: Allemande and Sarabande from Partita for 8 Voices
  • Contemporaneous
    Andrew Norman: Try
  • Meredith Monk & Theo Bleckmann
    Meredith Monk: Facing North
  • Jherek Bischoff & Contemporaneous
    Jherek Bischoff: Works TBA
  • Meredith Monk, Theo Bleckmann, & friends
    Meredith Monk: Panda Chant II from The Games
  • Jace Clayton, electronics; David Friend, Emily Manzo, piano; Arooj Aftab, voice
    Julius Eastman and Jace Clayton: Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner
  • Bang on a Can All-Stars
    JG Thirlwell: Anabiosis
    Paula Matthusen: ontology of an echo
    Julia Wolfe: Big Beautiful Dark & Scary
  • So Percussion
    Bryce Dessner: Music for Wood and Strings
  • Bang on a Can All-Stars & friends
    Louis Andriessen: Hoketus
  • Mantra Percussion
    Michael Gordon: Timber

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Bang On a Can
Band On a Can Marathon
NY Times: Eight Hours of Free Music at Sunday’s Bang on a Can Marathon


Make Music New York

June 21, 2014

Now in its eighth year, Make Music New York is a city-wide musical celebration held annually on June 21st, the summer solstice.

The Make Music New York Festival (also known as the Summer Solstice Music Festival) was inspired by France’s “Fête de la Musique,” a national musical holiday launched on June 21, 1982. The success of that first Fête soon inspired other nations to host their own summer solstice music festivals.

The idea quickly spread and today, more than 100 countries around the world sponsor associated musical events, all of them open to both amateur and professional musicians playing in every musical genre.

This year, Make Music New York includes 1,350 free performances in public and private venues throughout the five boroughs. Participation is open to all, regardless of musical experience or style, and passersby are encouraged to join in the fun.

I was able to make it to only a single concert this year, but it was a great one: the Privia Piano Bar, a traveling show on a pickup truck. The moving venue, sponsored by Casio Keyboards, made several stops around the city. While Simon Mulligan played in the back of the truck, singer Lolita Jackson took to the sidewalk and encouraged onlookers to join her in the music of one of New York’s favorite musicians, Billy Joel.

If you missed the summer solstice concert, don’t worry; the same group sponsors a second festival, Make Music Winter, on December 21st, the winter solstice.

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The official poster by Josh Gosfield

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The song list

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The MC and star, Miss Lolita Jackson

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When he began to sing the crowd went wild

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Simon Mulligan, the piano man

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A passerby decides to sing

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Another passerby joining in the fun

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He can’t resist the opportunity

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Rocking on the sidewalk

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Impromptu trio

Make Music New York
Make Music New York Concert Map
Privia Piano Bar
Fête de la Musique
Billboard: From Billy Joel Sing-Along to Rhythm on Rikers


Two For the Price of None

July 21, 2010

One of the joys of living in Brooklyn is the overwhelming abundance of free entertainment. Especially during the summer, you’d have to lock yourself inside to completely avoid being exposed to the thousands of concerts, performances, festivals and extravaganzas — even spontaneous bursts of singing and drumming — that are available without charge around the borough.

It is impossible for even the most dedicated music lover to attend every show that takes place during a Brooklyn summer, but sometimes luck and circumstance allow those in the borough of Kings to something akin to a mini-music festival.

Today at lunchtime, a hip-hop flavored reggae band, Vybz Evolution, was performing on a stage erected in front of Borough Hall. The blazing sunlight seemed to fuel their high energy act as they sang, danced and engaged the enthusiastic audience.

Only a block away, in the cool, deep shadows cast by nearby buildings, Ginetta’s Vendetta brought the sound of funk-influenced jazz to a tiny plaza at the corner of Adams and Willoughby Streets. Listeners were spellbound as the band’s leader, Ginetta Minichiello, sensuously swayed in the street while playing her silver plated pocket trumpet.

Two great noontime concerts, only steps from each other, and both for the same great price: free!

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The stage in front of Borough Hall

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Tasha of Vybz Express

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Soloist from Vybz Express

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The banner acknowledges Borough President Marty Markowitz

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Ginetta’s Vendetta on the street

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Ginetta and her trumpet

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Keeping the beat in the shade

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Meta Ginetta (note poster in the background)

MySpace: Vybz Evolution Band
YouTube: Vybz Evolution Band
DC Caribbean Carnival
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Ginetta’s Vendetta
MySpace: Ginetta’s Vendetta
Jazzitalia: Ginetta’s Vendetta
Jazziz: Ginetta’s Vendetta
DC Bebop: Ginetta Minichiello


The 29th CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival

October 25, 2009

It was created by College Media Journal (CMJ), the magazine that published the first record charts based on college radio airplay. Back when it started in 1980, the CMJ Music Marathon (the Film Festival was added in 1994) provided college radio staffs the opportunity to meet and hear music from new and emerging sources.

Over the years the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival has grown and changed, but its primary focus has remained on music that appeals to college audiences.

This year’s Festival featured thousands of musicians at dozens of venues around the city and drew an estimated 120,000 fans, artists, filmmakers, and industry pros. To my surprise, someone gave me a pass to the event. Although I expected a “college music” festival to consist of endless loud party tunes for drunken frat boys (think MTV Spring Break), I was wrong.

In fact, I saw more acts than I could count (including old favorites and new discoveries), performing in a wide variety of genres. The panels, which I anticipated as dull, dry discussions of industry statistics and forecasts, turned out to be entertaining and enlightening. Not to mention the film. Or the parties.

I did remember to take my camera to a few of the events. And if anyone wants to give me a badge to new year’s Festival … I’d be more than happy to accept.

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Badge

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The Dizzy Gillespie All Stars

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Jim Rado and Galt MacDermot

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NOW Ensemble

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JD Souther

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Kimberley Locke

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Diana DeGarmo

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Mieka Pauley

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Woody Harrelson

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Jarrod Gorbel

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Fred Mascherino

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Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

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Jets Overhead

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Emmanuel Jal

CMJ09 Music Marathon and Film Festival
Wikipedia: CMJ Music Marathon
CMJ Milestones
The Dizzy Gillespie All Stars
Emanuel and the Fear
JD Souther
Mieka Pauley
Jets Overhead
The Color Fred
Free Energy
Jarrod Gorbel of the Honorary Title
NOW Ensemble
Emmanuel Jal
Julia Wolfe
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
David Lang
Jessica Pomerantz
Guyora Kats
The Messenger
Arlene’s Grocery
Pianos
Kimmel Hall
Living Room
Blue Note
Le Poisson Rouge
Judson Memorial Church
Clearview Chelsea
Rockwood Music Hall
Norwood Club
Gawker: Norwood: A Club For The Artistic And Talented
MTV Spring Break


New Amsterdam Village

September 9, 2009

Why is a full sized windmill turning right in the middle of Broadway?

It is part of the celebration of the Dutch arriving in New York 400 years ago, New Amsterdam Village was temporarily constructed, just below Bowling Green Park, at Broadway and Beaver Streets. The village contains booths designed to resemble traditional Dutch canal houses. Some sell traditional foods and products, including cheese, herring, stroopwafels (sweet waffle cookies), flowers and wooden shoes – and yes, even a windmill.

In an open area, intended to represent the village square, a variety of musical acts performed for passersby. The highlights were the raucous numbers from Dynamo, a colorfully costumed youth marching / dancing / percussion / kazoo group, the unexpectedly diverse and humorous repertoire of Kleintje Pils, a brass band clad in traditional striped smocks and wooden shoes and Jan David performing “Miss Sunshine,” the song he composed in honor of NY400.

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The windmill dwarfed by skyscrapers

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Dynamp reaches skyward

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Dynamp drummers

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Trying to play the kazoo while giggling

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Dynamp member dancing

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Dynamp and the bandleader

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Dynamp member performing

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Dynamp member with triangle

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Blue drumsticks and blue kazoo

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The traditional method of making wooden shoes

Kleintje Pils
Jan David: Miss Sunshine
NY400 Week: New Amsterdam Village


Arlo Sings in the Castle

July 30, 2009

One of America’s best-loved folk musicians, Brooklyn-born Arlo Guthrie is the son of legendary songwriter Woody Guthrie. Tonight he performed at Castle Clinton in Lower Manhattan, part of the tribute to the 40th anniversary to the Woodstock Festival.

Arlo’s humorous and heartfelt singing delighted the overflow crowd which he regaled with tales and tunes about the 50 or so years he has spent onstage. His stories, which punctuated the evening, touched on everything from his boyhood in Coney Island to appearing onstage at Woodstock to a brief gig acting on a television series called The Byrds of Paradise to his upcoming 40th wedding anniversary.

He played guitar, piano and harmonica and performed his own songs as well as those written by people he has known and loved: Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and of course, his father. The highlight of the evening was the last scheduled number, when the assembled audience joined him in signing what is arguably Woody Guthrie’s best-known song, This Land is Your Land.

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Arlo performed alone onstage

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He played harmonica, guitar and piano

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The songs included old favorites and rarities

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The capacity crowd was standing-room-only

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After the sun set, the audience sang along

Arlo Guthrie: Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys
River to River Festival: Arlo Guthrie
Rising Son Records
The Official Arlo Guthrie Web site


It’s a Family Affair

July 16, 2009

Tonight in Castle Clinton, all the way down at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra performed a tribute to the music of Sly and the Family Stone. The concert, part of the annual River-to-River Festival, was a dubbed “It’s A Family Affair” — the title of one of the biggest hits by Sly and the Family Stone (it reached #1 on both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts).

The musicians who crowded the stage included a lineup of seasoned performers, all of them clearly fans of the the legendary band described by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as “Rock’s first integrated, multi-gender band, funky Pied Pipers to the Woodstock Generation, synthesizing rock, soul, R&B, funk and psychedelia into danceable, message-laden, high-energy music.”

The members of the Millennial Territory Orchesta were accompanied by keyboardist Bernie Worrell from Funkadelic, guitar player Vernon Reid from Living Colour and vocalists Martha Wainwright, Sandra Saint Victor, Shilpa Ray and Dean Bowman, who joyously evoked the spirit of Woodstock as they took the audience “Higher and Higher.”

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Sandra Saint Victor and Steve Bernstein

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Shilpa Ray

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Vernon Reid

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Martha Wainwright

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Bernie Worrell

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Dean Bowman

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Steven Bernstein

The Millennial Territory Orchestra
Sly and the Family Stone
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Sly and the Family Stone
Steven Bernstein
MySpace: Vernon Reid
Living Colour
Martha Wainwright
Bernie Worrell
Sandra Saint Victor
Shilpa Ray
MySpace: Dean Bowman
River to River Festival
Castle Clinton National Monument


The thrill is gone

June 25, 2009

Michael Joseph Jackson, the world’s most famous entertainer, has died at the age of 50. I’ve been a fan of his music just about forever; I remember a big family event I attended years ago where I sat around a table with my cousins, arguing about whether or not Thriller was the greatest album ever recorded. The very first song I loaded onto my very first iPod was Michael Jackson’s Ben, the greatest love song ever dedicated to a rat. 

A year ago I attended Thriller Night, a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the video for Thriller. The evening included an appearance by John Landis, director of the ground-breaking short, a stage filled with zombie dancers and two Michael Jackson imitators who showed up unannounced. After a few minutes of competing for the spotlight, they peacefully posed together for me.

You can read my account of Thriller Night is here and see the very shaky video I shot here.

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Michael Jackson: Thriller, 25th Anniversary Recording Remastered
Michael Jackson: Video Greatest Hits – HIStory
Michael Jackson: Ben


OHNY: Brooklyn Lyceum

October 4, 2008

Today, this structure, which is almost entirely hidden by scaffolding, contains an enterprise known as the Brooklyn Lyceum. Located at the corner of 4th and President Streets, it offers patrons an unusual mixture of dining and entertainment, including a small cafe with Internet access, live music, dance and theater performances, open-mike nights, film screenings and “an occasional restaurant.”

But once upon a time, this building was New York City Public Bathhouse #7. When the bathhouse opened in 1908, many homes in the city lacked adequate indoor plumbing. Back then, residents of an entire tenement building would share a single backyard outhouse, mothers bathed their babies in washtubs, and children squatted in filthy, flooded gutters to cool off during the sweltering summer months. Vermin and disease, including cholera and typhoid epidemics, ravaged the city’s impoverished neighborhoods.

New York’s municipal bathhouses were part of a public health effort to improve conditions for the poor, and provided the city’s most crowded quarters with much-needed sanitary facilities. The first such structure, the Baruch Bathhouse, opened on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1901. As they went up, the bathhouses became larger and more elaborate, some of them modeled on ancient Roman baths.

This building, #7, designed by Raymond F. Almirall, was the largest and the last bathhouse constructed. For three decades, it gave the 150,000 residents of this area, then known as South Brooklyn’s “Little Italy,” access to extensive, sparkling-clean bathing and dressing facilites, two gyms and a swimming pool. The city finally closed the bathhouse in 1937.

After a renovation effort during which the swimming pool was filled in and half the showers eliminated, the bathhouse reopened in 1942 as a city-run gymnasium. Closed once again in the early seventies, it was sold to a local businessman who used it as a warehouse for his nearby transmission repair business.

When he moved his business away, the building went through several more owners, none of whom used it. The former bathhouse stood unused and unmaintained for decades. Leaks were unrepaired, broken window panes unreplaced, holes opened in the roof and stonework chipped off. Eventually, the empty structure was vandalized and stripped of all of the original decorative elements. Even the tiles, pipes, water fountains and plasterwork were carried off or destroyed while the building crumbled.

In the late 1980s, the bathhouse reverted to city ownership and a local community group, which leased it for $1.00 a year, briefly used it as a recreation center before it closed again. By the early 1990s, the bathhouse was considered a neighborhood blight, and there were cries for it to be demolished. Instead, in 1994, the city held an auction where it was purchased by Eric Richmond, who had long wished for a theater space of his own.

Today, as part of Open House New York, Richmond greeted visitors, explained the history of the building and escorted them on a short tour of the space. He explained that not only are the original decorative elements gone, the city lost the original drawings and he has been unable to locate any photographs of the original interior. As visitors gazed at the bare brick walls and looked at the dance troupe rehearsing in the basement, music boomed from above, where the top floor had been rented out for a bar mitzvah party.

A bar mitzvah in a bathhouse? Only in Brooklyn.

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The view from the street

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One of the last original elements: the name

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The doorway

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Inside the cafe

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View from cafe to basement theater

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Basement performance space

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Basement restroom

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A peek at the bar mitzvah

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The owner

Brooklyn Lyceum
All About Jazz: Brooklyn Lyceum
The Brooklyn Paper: Lyceum Site Under Construction
Forgotten NY: A Lost Opportunity
NYC: Asser Levy Recreation Center
The Villager: Don’t Let LaGuardia Bathhouse Go Down the Drain


Low Life City

September 7, 2008

Inspired by the book Low Life: The Lures and Snares of Old New York, Low Life City celebrates New York’s seamy underside.

For the past decade, it has been held on the Lower East Side (the setting for the book), and recreates the forms of entertainment enjoyed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the neighborhood’s notorious criminals, drunkards, prostitutes, losers, thieves, gangsters, beggars, swindlers and reformers.

This year’s edition of Low Life City was held in Tompkins Square Park. Bowery boys, Irish tenors, saloon singers, burlesque dancers, Victorian ladies and street urchins perform with modern sensibilities and great good humor. The cast included Hattie Hathaway, Joey Arias, Basil Twist, Dirty Martini, Pinchbottom Burlesque, the Vangeline Theater, the Duelling Bankheads, World Famous *BOB*, Adam Joseph, the Pixie Harlots, Heather Litteer and Tigger.

Although the organizers bill Low Life City as “not recommended for children!” there were quite a few very young faces in the crowd. The kids enjoyed the music, dancing, puppets, feathers and sequins while the bawdy humor and naughty political references went right over their little heads.

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Amber Ray at Low Life

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Heather Litteer at Low Life

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Changing the cards

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Duelling Bankheads campaign

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Joey Arias with glass of absinthe

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Joey Arias at Low Life

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Pinchbottom Burlesque at Low Life

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Vangeline Theatre

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Fauxnique

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Acid Betty and Ephiphany in a “sister act”

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Acid Betty

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Adam Joseph as the Irish Tenor

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Dirty Martini with her fan

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Tigger and the evils of the bottle

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Delirium Tremens unzips

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Delirium Tremens in her scanties

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Voltaire singing about evil devil songs

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Poison Eve with chickens on her hands

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante
Low Life City
Amber Ray
Dirty Martini
Miss Delirium Tremens
Joey Arias
MySpace: Adam Joseph
MySpace: Hattie Hathaway
MySpace: Pinchbottom Burlesque
MySpace: Tigger
MySpace: World Famous *Bob*


Snow in Summer

July 17, 2008

In 1974 her first album, a collection of self-penned folksy, blues-tinged pop and jazz tunes, zoomed up the charts. It earned a Gold Record, put her on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and earned her a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

Overnight, she was one the biggest stars around. And just as suddenly, she disappeared.

At the peak of her success she married a fellow musician, Phil Kearns, and in December 1975, they had a child. Their daughter, Valerie Rose, suffered severe brain trauma during birth and wasn’t expected to survive.

Defying the advice of family and medical experts, who urged her to institutionalize the girl, she decided instead to devote her life to loving and caring for the profoundly disabled child.

That decision cost her nearly everything, including her marriage, her money, her career and her own health.

For more than three decades, she stayed out of sight, paying the bills by singing advertising jingles for General Foods International Coffees (Celebrate the Moments of Your Life) and Stouffer’s Frozen Foods (Nothing Tastes Closer to Home).

Now she’s back. Today, as part of the BAM Rhythm & Blues Festival at MetroTech, Phoebe Snow gave a free lunchtime concert in Downtown Brooklyn.

The outdoor show was a love-fest, filled with devoted fans who have followed her career for 35 years and had brought their children and grandchildren along “to hear what real music sounds like.” While they waited for her to appear, the crowd swapped stories of the first time they’d heard her voice and what her songs meant to them.

After she — seemingly hesitantly — took the stage and shyly mentioned that it was her birthday, knowledgeable audience members rushed forward and handed the astonished singer gifts and flowers.

Her distinctive, soaring voice, as strong as ever, moved the crowd through a set that included R&B (Do Right Woman, Do Right Man), blues (Piece of My Heart), rock (Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu) and her biggest hit, Poetry Man.

A particularly powerful moment occurred when she sang You’re My Girl, a song she originally composed for her mother, which she has rewritten as a tribute to Valerie Rose.

Welcome back, Phoebe Snow.

BAM at MetroTech
Phoebe Snow
Bloomberg: Phoebe Snow Revisits `Poetry Man’
Don Shewey:The Blues of Phoebe Snow
NY Times: Phoebe Snow, Singing Her Way Back to the Top
Roger Friedman: Saying Goodbye to Valerie


Faces of DanceAfrica

May 25, 2008

Some people attend the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual DanceAfrica festival because they are enjoy the dancing. Others go for the music, films, or the food and crafts that are sold in the African marketplace that is temporarily erected for the duration of the event.

But me, I go to see the people.

They come here to greet summer, to celebrate art and culture, to form a colorful, diverse international community. They come to have a good time, and their excitement and exuberance is contagious. It is, I think, just about impossible to spend time at DanceAfrica without breaking into a grin.

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Mother and daughter

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Friends shopping in the African Village

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Girl with red punch on her nose

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Girl drinking red punch

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Good friends

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Pair in purple

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Black like Jesus

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Man and his best friend

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Singer

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Vendor

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Author with his first book

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NYPD on duty

DanceAfrica at 30
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
Wikipedia: DanceAfrica
Wikipedia: Brooklyn Academy of Music


three

April 23, 2008

Many people believe that this spot, at the intersection of Astor Place and Lafayette Street, marks the point where Greenwich Village turns into the East Village.

Today, this trio of buskers took advantage of the warm sunshine by playing their jazzy tunes near the entrance to the Astor Place subway station. When the musicians took a break, I asked whether their group had a name. “Three,” replied the sax player, “all in lower case.”

And so, here they are: three.

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The band playing at Astor Place

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Behind the band, people pour in and out of the subway station

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The drummer

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Drummer

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Saxaphone player

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Bass player


A Night at the Opera

October 2, 2007

One of the joys of living in this city is having the ability (at least once in a while) to spend a night at the opera.

This evening I visited the Metropolitan Opera, America’s largest classical music organization and one of the world’s greatest opera companies. Founded in 1880, the Met isn’t simply a venue for great voices; it is also an institution dedicated to growing the next generation of opera-lovers.

Sadly, most American schoolchildren learn little to nothing about opera, so the Met has taken on a great educational mission. The company employs many methods to make opera afforable, accessible and fun, including discount seating for students, backstage tours and simultaneous translation of lyrics displayed on small, individual screens affixed to the back of every seat.

Tonight was the season premiere of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The opera is based on the second of three plays that Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais wrote about Figaro, a hilariously subversive servant in a royal palace; the first in the triology is Le Barbier de Seville (The Barber of Seville) and the last La Mère Coupable (The Guilty Mother).

The show is long, very sexy and very, very funny. But even if the show wasn’t superb (it is), the setting couldn’t be finer.

Located at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Metropolitan Opera House is famed for the soaring arches of its white marble facade, the large, colorful murals by Marc Chagall displayed in the lobby, and an enormous gilded proscenium from which hangs the a massive sweep of golden fabric, the largest theatre curtain in the world.

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The front of the Opera House

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Reading Figaro posters at Lincoln Center

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The fountain in front of the Opera House

Lincoln Center
The Metropolitan Opera
Metropolitan Opera: Le Nozze di Figaro
Metropolitan Opera: Synopsis of Le Nozze di Figaro
Metropolitan Opera Shop
Metropolitan Opera Guild
Metropolitan Opera Guild Education Department
Opera News
Guggenheim Collection: Marc Chagall
Britannica: Marc Chagall
A Night at the Opera


Bill Shannon’s Window

September 20, 2007

This summer’s massive River to River Festival is in its final days. The last dance program of the season, Window, is being presented on Lower Broadway all this week at lunchtime.

Created by Bill Shannon, Windows is presented to two audiences simultaneously: pedestrians on the street and viewers observing through the windows of a nearby skyscraper.

The Step Fienz, a crew of breakdancers, accompany Shannon (also known as “the Crutchmaster”), as he performs on a skateboard and crutches, weaving in and out of traffic, flipping and spinning, startling drivers and engaging passers-by with his grace, athleticism and humor.

Those who entered the lofty viewing space  (located in an ordinary business office) were able to see live video closeups of the action below and listen to recorded music mixed with Shannon’s comments and street noise. The same music is played outside, but only on the dancers’ earpieces. 

Passers-by can’t hear the music, see the audience gathered at the office windows (unless they look up and squint), or view the cameras positioned above. As a result, most of the people on the street don’t realize they are witnessing (and participating in) a carefully-planned performance. The spontaneous interactions between the unsuspecting pedestrians and the dancers are, in and of themselves, vital parts of the show.

The crutch and skateboard, while important elements of the dance, are not simply used for dramatic effect. Shannon’s dance technique—known as the Shannon Technique—is one he invented out of necessity. Born with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease (a rare hip deformity), the dancer and choreographer has spent most of his life on crutches.

He has traveled and performed around the world, won numerous awards for his work and choreographed Cirque de Soleil’s production, Varekai. A documentary about Shannon, entitled Crutch, is scheduled to premiere at film festivals this fall.

An audience gathers at the window
An audience gathers at the window

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Shannon skates around traffic

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He is joined by another skateboarder

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He lies on the sidewalk

Maneuvering with his crutches
Maneuvering with his crutches

Pedestrians walk by
Pedestrians walk by

A good samaritan stops to help
A good samaritan stops to assist

She
She “helps” him stand

Then wants to discuss religion
Then wants to discuss religion

More dancers join in
More dancers join in

The Step Fienz in action
The Step Fienz in action

Darting through the crowd
Darting through the crowd

Another attempted conversation
Another attempted conversation

Shannon aloft
Shannon aloft

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The finale

The company takes a bow
The company takes a bow

Bill Shannon
MySpace: Crutch
Village Voice: ‘Crutchmaster’ Takes Dance to the Next Level
Cirque du Soleil: Bill Shannon
Time Signature Productions: The Step Fienz
DJ Excess
MySpace: DJ Excess
River to River Festival
LMCC Sitelines: Window
The New Yorker: Window


A Trip at the Whitney Museum

September 14, 2007

All summer long, I heard about the Summer of Love exhibit at the Whitney Museum.

Four decades after hippies gathered at a “Human-Be-In” in Golden Gate Park, the Grateful Dead released their first album and LSD was outlawed in the US, the Whitney Museum of American Art revisited this period of psychedellia, flower power and civil unrest, examined the creative and cultural explosion that took place in San Francisco, New York and London, and put it all into an historic context.

All summer long, I met former hippies and wannabees who assured me that the exhibit was “far-out, man,” and an authentic representation of their drug-soaked youth (at least, as far as they could remember).

And all summer long, I thought I’d eventually get around to making a trip to the Madison Avenue and seeing the show. Then, suddenly, I realized that this was the closing weekend.

I ran to the Whitney and spent the evening in psychedellic bliss, gazing at the intricately-drawn concert posters, watching the light shows, viewing “mind-blowing” experimental films, wearing goggles intended to create distorted visions, crawling through brightly-colored, sculpted environments, blinking at the strobe lights and spinning metal circles and listening to Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.

Listening? Yes, this is the first major museum show I’ve seen where the audiotour included a complete soundtrack, with songs tied to most of the major works. For example, stand in front of the case full of underground magazines, push the number posted on the wall and you’d listen to Bob Dylan singing Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship / My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip / My toes too numb to step / Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin‘.

The program’s musical selections included:

* The 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me
* The Beatles – All You Need Is Love
* The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
* The Beatles – Revolution No. 9
* Big Brother &Amp; The Holding Company: Piece Of My Heart
* Eric Burdon – San Franciscan Nights
* Butterfield Blues Band – East-West
* The Byrds – So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
* The Charlatans – Baby Won’t You Tell Me
* Chicago – Someday
* Country Joe & the Fish – Acid Commercial
* Country Joe & the Fish – Bass Strings
* Cream – Crossroads
* Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young – Ohio
* The Doors – Break On Through
* Bob Dylan – Mr. Tamourine Man
* Fleur Des Lys – Circles
* The Fugs – Kill For Peace
* Allen Ginsberg – Tonight Let’s All Make Love In London
* Grateful Dead – I Know You Rider
* Great Society – Somebody To Love
* Hapshash And The Coloured Coat – H-O-P-P Why
* Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced (Live)
* Jimi Hendrix – Foxy Lady
* Iron Butterfly – In A Gadda Da Vida
* Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
* Jefferson Airplane – Won’t You Try Saturday Afternoon
* Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz
* Janis Joplin – Raise Your Hand
* Moby Grape – Dark Magic
* David Peel – I Like Marijuana
* Pink Floyd – Interstellar Overdrive
* Purple Gang – Granny Takes A Trip
* Quicksilver Messenger Service – Mona
* The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man
* The Rolling Stones – Wild Horses
* Santana – Samba Pa Ti
* Santana – Soul Sacrifice
* The Velvet Underground – Venus In Furs
* The Velvet Underground – What Goes On
* Frank Zappa & Mothers Of Invention – Willie The Pimp

I descended to the Museum’s lower level to catch a glimpse of one psychedellic masterpiece that didn’t fit into the main galleries: Janis Joplin’s painted Porsche, exhibited on the museum’s patio. As I passed through the gift shop to reach it, I happened upon workers busily setting up seats for a one-time-only performance of Hotel Cassiopeia: The Backstory.

Part of the museum’s “Whitney Live” series, the show, hosted by Anne Bogart and playwright Charles Mee, was based upon the life of artist Joseph Cornell. It included an excerpt from the play Hotel Cassiopeia and presentations by filmmaker Jeanne Liotta and Cornell’s former assistant, sculptor Harry Roseman.

I joined the audience for what proved to be the perfect end to the evening: as part of a small, curious company tucked away below Manhattan’s busy streets and engrossed in an hour of art, film, music, magic and love.

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Summer of Love brochure

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Men in dark gallery watching light show

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Janis Joplin’s Porsche (rear view)

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Janis Joplin’s Porsche (front view)

Whitney Museum
Whitney Museum: Summer of Love
Timothy Leary
Poets: Allen Ginsberg
Charles Mee
Brooklyn Academy of Music: Hotel Cassiopeia
Joseph Cornell
Jeanne Liotta
Vassar: Harry Roseman


Ludfest

September 9, 2007

Ludfest?

To understand the rationale behind Ludfest (the Ludlow Street Festival), you should know that New York City is divided into 123 different Police Precincts. The tiny Seventh Precinct, second smallest in the city, is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Long a home to poor immigrants, bargain shops and, more recently, hipsters, foodies and trust fund babies, the area is served by the Seventh Precinct Community Council. The group sponsors a variety of activities and events including today’s fundraiser/block party.

The day-long Ludfest, held on the busy block of Ludlow Street between Stanton and Rivington, featured vendors, community and political organizations, a DJ and several up-and-coming local bands. All proceeds will be used for local youth programs including Christmas and Chanukah toy give-aways.

In front of Pianos
Smoking in front of Pianos

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Slices for sale outside Isabella’s

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Isabella’s $1 calzone

Outside the Living Room
Outside the Living Room

Crowd in front of Some Odd Rubies
Crowd in front of Some Odd Rubies

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The DJ

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Near the stage

Local cop on the beat
Local cop on the beat

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A Place to Bury Strangers

Case for A Place to Bury Strangers
Case for A Place to Bury Strangers

MySpace: Ludfest
NYC Police Precincts
New York Magazine: How Low Can You Go?
MySpace: A Place To Bury Strangers
Secret Machines
Dub Trio
Other Passengers
The Sugar Report
Emok
Isabella’s Oven
Pianos
The Living Room
Some Odd Rubies
Cake Shop


The J&R Music Fest

August 24, 2007

J&R is a large electronics store located in lower Manhattan, directly across from City Hall. Founded more than 30 years ago as a record shop (“Mommy, what’s a record?”), music remains an important part of the store’s business and, for more than a decade, it has sponsored a small annual music festival in City Hall Park.

This evening’s program featured three performers: Javier, a new singer/songwriter with his roots in R&B music, J. Holiday, a sleepy-eyed heartthrob with a hip-hop edge and Suzanne Vega, who writes and sings of city life and is best known for “Luka,” her 1987 hit about a battered child.

Each singer attracted such a different audience that the park emptied out — and was refilled by a new crowd, ready for the next artist — at the end of each set. And, of course, each performance was followed by an autograph-signing session at the J&R store.

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J. Holiday onstage

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J. Holiday singing a Stevie Wonder song

Javier
Javier with his guitar

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Javier singing

Suzanne Vega
Suzanne Vega

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Suzanne Vega sings Tom’s Diner

J&R Music Fest
Javier
MySpace: J. Holiday
The Official Community of Suzanne Vega


Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story

August 22, 2007

Tonight I attended a special screening of Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story at the ImaginAsian Theater. The documentary tells the story of Megumi Yokota, a Japanese schoolgirl who disappeared in 1977, and of her family’s long, heartbreaking struggle to find her.

Decades after she vanished, a North Korean defector revealed that Kim Jong Il’s henchmen had abducted more than one dozen innocent Japanese citizens. They were transported across the Sea of Japan and forced to teach North Korean spies how to speak, look and “act” Japanese. Taken at the age of 13, Megumi was their youngest kidnapping victim.

While the abductions have made headlines and caused governmental upheavals in Asia, they are little known in the rest of the world. In fact, I wasn’t aware of them until I saw this award-winning film.

Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story is the first effort from husband and wife directing team Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim. They appeared onstage for a question and answer session and described how reading a small article in the Washington Post inspired them to put Megumi’s story on film.

Also present was Noel Paul Stookey, the “Paul” of the legendary folk music group Peter, Paul and Mary, who performed his Song for Megumi. He explained that he wrote the song because folk music traditionally tells stories of struggle and injustice. 

He sang, “Return to me, Megumi, across the waves of the sea. Send me your spirit. My heart will hear it. And lead you home to me.”

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Noel Paul Stookey, Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim

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Noel Paul Stookey

Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story
Rescuing Abductees Center for Hope
Abduction Blog
Noel Paul Stookey
World Politics Watch: American Folk Singer Pens ‘Song for Megumi’
ImaginAsian Theater


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