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LISTENING POST: Persevering through the plague

New music and a small book for the untimely sheltered

LP #1 DfT&LS By Jeffrey Grove
Photo credit: Jeffrey Grove
WATERS RUN DEEP: Halocline, recently released on Bandcamp by Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel (Frank Schultz, left, and Scott Burland, right), is a full-length album featuring Louisville, Kentucky-based vocalist Dane Waters. Proceeds from album sales benefit Giving Kitchen and the Atlanta Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund.

Here we are, a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Hitherto relatively normal citizens are executing pre-dawn raids on Publix, Piggly Wiggly, and Walmart to secure inordinate caches of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, surgical masks, Pringles, and microwavable dinner entrees. The stock market has taken a dump, and the general economy teeters on the brink of DEFCON 2. After Senate Republicans ensured that assistance to the least advantaged Americans was pared down to the barest minimum and the largest corporations jacked up for another stock buyback bonanza, checks that might cover a monthly mortgage payment and, in some cases, maybe a week’s worth of groceries, are trickling into the coffers of the proletariat.

Lunatics, for the most part, are running the pandemic response asylum. The president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, offers guidance based on hunches, selfish whims, and exhaust gasses from the right-wing scream machine. By the time you read these words, the White House may or may not have discontinued daily televised briefings co-starring the handpicked Coronavirus Task Force. Previous episodes featured the president’s fapping assessment of his great and unmatched wisdom coupled with deranged rantings at critics real and imagined. Sometimes, tidbits of factual, helpful information by scientists and health experts, cowed into gurgling subservience, made their way into the script. Regardless of whether the White House network cancels the COVID-19 reality show, whose ratings Trump touts as a praiseworthy achievement, the public can expect ongoing obfuscation and disinformation from the president’s sycophantic representatives dutifully following the dictum that chaos favors the powers that be.

Closer to home, buoyed by not quite unanimous approval from the state legislature and supported by a body politic inclined toward herd stupidity, Governor Brian Kemp, the former Secretary of State who oversaw his own election, is ignoring the global consensus of epidemiological experts, not to mention the federal government’s official guidelines, in favor of his own strategy for handling COVID-19. While it’s too early to draw hard conclusions about Kemp’s approach, it doesn’t take a PhD in epidemiology to predict a less than desirable outcome resulting from opening up businesses and encouraging public gatherings, for example, at shopping malls and restaurants, regardless of whatever safety measures are being observed at any given locale.

Thank the goddesses, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is disinclined to follow Kemp’s lead. On March 19, with the rising number of coronavirus cases and deaths caused by the disease showing no sign of leveling off, Bottoms ordered the closure of all nightclubs, private social clubs, fitness centers, gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and arcades within the city limits “until further notice.” At press time, restaurants and bars are limited to offering take-out and curbside pickup service. Individually, metro area county and city officials have issued executive orders and announced strong recommendations regarding what residents and businesses within their jurisdictions can and cannot do. Check your local listings, as they say, for the latest details.

In this time of pandemic sheltering, here are a couple of Listening Post recommendations:

Buy and read Jim Tate’s Bruce Hampton: The Early Years (1962-1970). Tate was a close adolescent friend of the late iconoclastic musician and actor (Sling Blade) who passed away May 1, 2017, while performing onstage at the Fox Theatre during his 70th birthday celebration. Only a man of preternatural essence could pull off such a dramatically compelling mortal uncoiling. Tate’s brief, 50-odd-page, anecdotal account confirms the presence of this essence in his friend at an early age. During their teenage years, Tate and Hampton lived a few doors apart on Millbrook Drive near Chastain Park. They shot basketballs, raced bicycles in the dirt, and did the usual stuff teenagers do together. Except, this was Bruce Hampton, which means “the usual stuff” also included strange powers of prognostication, unearthly athletic feats, and the incitement of a near-riot on Live Atlanta Wrestling. All of the shenanigans described in the book transpired before the formation of the Hampton Grease Band, which marked the beginning of Hampton’s journey to avant-jazz-rock before “the Colonel”’s jam band fame, acknowledging small details in the mirror of embarrassment, and cosmic immortality. Get Tate’s book and discover the latent reality behind the myth tangential to the enigma wrapped around the conundrum, which forever remains Bruce Hampton.

Elsewhere in this issue, Chad Radford provides details on Halocline, a new release from Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel, and Six Feet Apart, a three-track mini-album featuring DfTaLS lap steel specialist Frank Schultz and percussionist Klimchak performing as a duo. Bandcamp is the place to download and preorder both albums, with proceeds from sales going to Giving Kitchen and the Atlanta Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund.

Halocline is a superbly crafted work of electronic ambience, the best release yet by Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel’s Scott Burland and Schultz. Texturally variant, richly layered, irresistibly immersive, the eight tracks entice the listener into an alternate dimension of contemplative spaces. Think of Halocline as an antidote to pandemic-induced anxiety.

The tracks were taken from improvised sessions during February, March, and April of 2019. Three songs feature Louisville, Kentucky-based Dane Waters, an operatically trained singer with an exquisitely light, precise, and alluring voice. DfTaLS sent three tracks to Waters who sang and improvised non-lyrical melodic lines for incorporation into the final mix. Her contribution lends a gracious, human presence to the instrumental proceedings.

“We met Dane while on tour in 2019 and fell in love with her voice,” says Schultz. “After seeing her perform in Louisville, we went to her house the next day and asked her to provide some vocal tracks for our upcoming album.”

The album’s title refers to an oceanic phenomenon in which the salinity of water changes rapidly in a vertical gradient, causing dramatic differences in the water’s density and clarity, which produces visually observable effects. “We saw a similar phenomenon in the music we chose for the album,” says Burland. “Some is shapeless, murky, dense, while other pieces are melodic and sparse.”

With track titles such as “Swell,” “Brinicle,” and “Sea of Eternal Gloom,” the aquatic theme runs deeply through the album. Years ago, a reviewer described Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel’s music as “a long-lost soundtrack to a deep-sea documentary,” which Burland says “describes Halocline perfectly.”

Regarding Six Feet Apart, Schultz says he enjoyed the collaboration-at-a-distance with Klimchak, even though some aspects of the process took some getting used to. The music was conceived and mixed before sheltering in place became the operational norm. Schultz recorded his tracks alone, while experimenting with preparing and playing the lap steel with chopsticks, then sent the completed tracks to Klimchak.

“What is missing is being in the same room and making on-the-spot decisions, whether agreements or changes, as well as that feeling of urgency, immediacy, and instant gratification,” says Schultz.

The idea of collaborating in a more conventional setting was something the two musicians had been discussing for some time. When he initially received the three tracks from Schultz, Klimchak says it seemed like a good idea from a convenience standpoint.

“I was in the midst of several other big projects, so it was actually a way to jump right in without having to fit a practice session around other deadlines,” he says. “It really only seemed odd after the fact, now that long-distance collaboration is something we have to do.”

The music on Six Feet Apart is a captivating mixture of modal undercurrents created by waves of synthesized sound; sharply percussive accents, modified natural and electronic noise elements, and what sounds like horror movie samples from Klimchak’s fathomless bag of tricks; and a distinctly gamelan-like metallic reverberation imparted partly by Schultz’ chopsticks on lap steel technique. The mélange of exotically beautiful, vaguely Asiatic tonal colors and deeply sinuous world grooves make for a perfectly wondrous listening experience.

desc
ODD AFTER THE FACT: Veteran experimental percussionist Klimchak (shown here) and Frank Schultz (the lap steel half of Duet for Theremin & Lap Steel) recently released a special three-song mini-album, Six Feet Apart, available for purchase and download on Bandcamp. Proceeds benefit Giving Kitchen and the Atlanta Musicians' Emergency Relief Fund. Photo Credit: Anne Cox

“While Frank’s parts were improvised, mine were not improvised, although improv was a part of the composing process,” Klimchak explains. “Because I had his finished tracks before starting on mine, I had the luxury of listening to his parts at length and trying different things to see what worked best. After picking out the individual instruments that I wanted to use, I sat down and wrote the parts, then recorded them.”

Klimchak is currently in the middle of a long-distance collaboration with percussionist Sean Hamilton in Grand Junction, Colorado. The duo decided to record an album in lieu of a planned five-week West Coast tour in April/May. “It’s been really easy going because of the experience doing Six Feet Apart,” says Klimchak.

If there is a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic, it might turn out to be the different ways in which musicians and other artists are forced to collaborate at a distance. Even beset by a plague, the muse always finds a way. —CL—



More By This Writer

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The last time Creative Loafing checked in with Tomer Zvulun, the general and artistic director of the Atlanta Opera, he was preparing for the 2019 Atlanta premier of Dead Man Walking. The opera by Jake Heggie is based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean who became spiritual advisor to a man on death row in Louisiana. Last December, following its Atlanta run, Zvulun traveled to Israel to direct the Israeli Opera, the company with which he began his career, in a series of performances of Dead Man Walking. Opening night in the Tel Aviv Opera House marked the first time a contemporary American opera was ever staged in Israel.

“The most telling moment for me occurred when I met the head of the makeup department,” Zvulun recalled, chuckling. “They’re used to working with wigs and costumes for classic operas. When they asked what kind of wigs we used for Dead Man Walking, I laughed and replied, ‘The opera is set in New Orleans in the 1980s. I don’t have any wigs, but I do have tattoos.’”

In January, the Atlanta Opera announced its 2020-21 season, which starts in November. The lineup includes four main-stage productions at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center: Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème, Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, and Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. The Atlanta Opera’s Discoveries Series, which showcases newer, more intimate works, will present The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates at the Ferst Center for the Arts on the Georgia Tech campus and Laura Kaminsky’s As One at the Out Front Theater on the west side of Downtown.

Remaining on the 2019-20 Atlanta Opera calendar are two major operas and one Discoveries production. George and Ira Gershwin’s masterpiece, Porgy and Bess, runs March 7-15, while Puccini’s beloved Madama Butterfly runs May 2-10 at the Cobb Center. Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, which tells the tragic tale of Col. Jim Thompson, America’s longest-held prisoner of war, opens May 21 and closes May 24 on the Hertz Stage at the Woodruff Arts Center.

::::

Doug DeLoach: Reflecting on the critical acclaim and popular success of Dead Man Walking and other contemporary operas, it seems like opera is on a roll in the 21st century.

Tomer Zvulun: There is something really exciting happening, historically, right now in the world of opera, especially in America. It’s like a renaissance. So many new pieces are being written. Opera America recently published a survey, which noted that there are a couple of hundred new pieces — chamber operas, full-scale operas — written every year. A lot of companies make it a point to commission new operas, including the Atlanta Opera, which will be staging a world premiere in 2022.

Grand old opera is all of a sudden relevant again.

TZ: We’re seeing more operas with a conscience, operas that are focused on social justice, and themes that are relevant, such as LBGTQ issues, bullying in school, veterans’ experiences, or familiar characters, like Steve Jobs. Those pieces are different from the classic boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-in-love-with-girl, girl-dies stories. We still love the classic operas, but it’s hard to find social context in many of them. We find humanity and universality in those operas, but there is something very immediate about new operas, which we find especially fascinating.

When I came to the Atlanta Opera in 2013, I insisted on running a modern American opera every year. That first year it was Three Decembers by Jake Heggie with a libretto by Gene Scheer. Then we did Soldier Songs about the life of a veteran. The following year, it was Out of Darkness: Two Remain about the Holocaust. Then came Silent Night about World War I, followed by Dead Man Walking. Next year, we’re doing As One, which is about the journey of a transgender woman; and an opera about one of the most iconic people in recent history, Steve Jobs.

We are living in a great period in opera history.

The music has to match the theme in terms of its ability to engage with the audience, which was not always the case after the end of the bel canto era and the turn of the 20th century.

TZ: Opera experienced a crisis in the 20th century. If you look at the 18th and 19th centuries, you have composers like Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti, Puccini, Bizet, and Wagner. Then you think about the 20th century and who comes to mind? Berg, Schoenberg, Britten. There was all this atonal music, which was popular in the academic world, but which did not grab audiences. Cerebrally, philosophically, it’s fascinating — and, in many cases, it was tremendous music. But a lot of times, it was alienating because it lacked the raw emotion, tonality, and melodic style which characterized those composers from the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the late 20th century, people like Jake Heggie, Gregory Speers, and other emerging composers were not afraid of embracing tonality, melody, the tonic world — a world in which audiences can still hum what they hear in the opera house.

Did you approach programming the 2020-21 season any differently than previous seasons?

TZ: Whenever we are planning the season, it’s like planning a meal for friends. You’ve got your protein, your vegetable, a nice dessert, good wine.

We start with two of the most famous operas in the canon, La bohème and The Barber of Seville, presented in new interpretations with visually stunning productions, great voices and orchestra. With these works, people who want to introduce friends to opera know they can return and see something they will love.

Then we are doing what is maybe the most challenging opera in the company’s history, Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. The Ring Cycle is generally considered to be the pinnacle, the most rewarding operatic masterpiece ever written. Then we’re doing a brand new work, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, at Georgia Tech as part of our Discoveries Series, and an opera about transgender, As One.

We’re also presenting The Sound of Music, a very well-known musical theater piece, a crossover work, like we’ve done in the past with Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, and The Pirates of Penzance. The Sound of Music is a  completely new production, which we are doing with a partner, the Glimmerglass Festival in Houston.

We are serving different flavors to accommodate the different palates of our dinner guests.

What does the live musical presentation of The Sound of Music bring to the party, which is different from the famous film?

TZ: I’m a huge film buff. Movies inform my vocabulary as a director. But there is a competitive advantage to live performance, which movies or Netflix will never have. That advantage is the feeling of community when 2,500 people gather in the same room, breathing the same air, feeling the energy from the stage, and transmitting their own energy back to the performers on the stage.

The second advantage to producing these pieces in the opera house comes from the kind of singers we are getting for those shows, classically trained singers backed by a world-class orchestra. The quality that you are getting is very high. I would love to program future productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret — there are so many great musical theater pieces, which deserve to be seen through an operatic lens.

What distinguishing elements will the Atlanta Opera bring to the production of Das Rheingold?

TZ: It’s an altogether new production, which I have been working on for the past four years. I have been preparing for the time when the company is ready to do something monumental, which requires an extraordinary level of excellence and commitment. If you look at the landscape right now in North America, there are very few companies producing Wagner on a high level: The Met, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto, maybe Washington. From the marketing department to the orchestra to the production and technical abilities of the company, to do something so grand is a daunting undertaking. It’s like saying to an athlete, “You are going to the Olympics.” The training is at a different level. The nutrition is at a different level.

The opera we are putting on right now (January 2020), Richard Strauss’ Salome, isn’t Wagner, but it’s close. Strauss was a disciple of Wagner. Salome has a similar style and other requirements. You need a large orchestra capable of handling very technically challenging music. You need dramatic singers who can overcome that sort of orchestration, and you need production elements on the highest level supported by the technical ability to make everything work flawlessly. It takes years to build a company that can manage all of those things.

Das Rheingold is using the same production team as Salome. I’m going to direct. My colleague, Erhard Rom, is creating the set projections. Mattie Ullrich is creating the costumes. We are very excited about the production team.

How do you describe or characterize the stylistic elements, which the Atlanta Opera is bringing to productions like Salome and Das Rheingold?

TZ: This style is something we have been bringing to our audiences in the hope that they will appreciate what we’re doing. With productions such as Eugene Onegin, Dead Man Walking, Silent Night, Madama Butterfly, and La bohème? — all pieces we’ve done here with the same team — the term we use to describe this style is ‘timeless mythology.’

One of the things that I think functions as a cliché or trap for opera productions is when the first thing the audience asks is, “What time period is this?” or “What is the location?” I think that’s a cop-out. If you’re thinking, “I am going to do Eugene Onegin in 1982 in Soviet Russia,” that’s where the idea ends. It will never match what the composer had in mind because the opera was written in the 18th century. And the production will be dated because 1982 might be interesting right now, but, in 20 years, it might not be so interesting; it won’t feel organic.

In “timeless mythology” you are abstracting the time and creating a mythological world. When you’re watching Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, you never ask yourself, “What time period is this?” or “Is that an 18th- or 19th-century gown the princess is wearing?” Instead, you are immersed in the story, the characters, and the psychology of the characters. That’s an important word for me and my team: psychology.

The most fascinating thing about great operas is the psychology of the characters and the relationship between them. That’s what opera does so well, because music and the human voice allow you to penetrate a psychological world in a way mere words do not allow.

::::
Does this strategy represent a conscious attempt to break from tradition?


TZ: I’m not inventing anything new here. I’m not trying to be the world’s greatest innovator. We believe that opera is a combination of all the art forms: It is theater as much as it is music. It’s the voice as much as it is design. Projections and scenery and costumes and makeup — all of those art forms are coming together to create a magical evening at the theater.

Opera is primarily storytelling. It’s universal. It’s about humanity. It’s supposed to move you emotionally. I get a little worried about psychological theories, Freudian theories, Jungian theories, whatever. At some point, that kind of discussion distracts from the fact that opera is the most emotionally powerful art form you can imagine.

We’re not trying to cerebralize anything. We’re trying to strip away distraction and focus on the human character in a way that brings forward the music and the human voice. Salome is a great example. When Oscar Wilde wrote his play, his departure point was the Bible, but he didn’t write a biblical story. More than anything else, Wilde wrote a story about forbidden love, obsession, phobias, and all the things that were on Oscar Wilde’s mind, which also happened to be on Richard Strauss’ mind, which happen to be on our minds today.

Think about forbidden love taken to extremes, such as necrophilia and incest. Think about Wilde and his struggles in his own time. We’re dealing with these struggles in our time with issues related to LBGTQ. The point is, I don’t care about the biblical setting of this opera. If you’re focusing on that, you’re missing the point. All of the operas we are doing are going in that direction: What is this story about? What is this character about? Not what a dress in 1882 should look like.

How does this conceptual strategy apply to the remaining 2020 productions, Porgy and Bess and Madama Butterfly?

TZ: Porgy and Bess is a very successful production by Francesca Zambello who is one of our frequent collaborators. She runs the Glimmerglass Festival at the Washington National Opera. The production has traveled extensively in America from Chicago to Seattle to New York, and it will be done in Washington immediately after Atlanta. The cast is fantastic. Morris Robinson and Kristin Lewis who sang the opera in La Scala a couple of years ago. When it was presented in Atlanta in 2005 and 2011 to sold-out crowds, the Atlanta Opera Chorus was such a force of nature that when the Opera Comique in Paris decided to do Porgy and Bess, they chose the Atlanta Opera Chorus to perform with them all over Europe. Not to mention the fact that the story takes place in the South, not far away from us, in South Carolina.

The same team that’s doing Butterfly did Salome and are doing Das Rheingold. We have great respect for the Japanese setting and style, but, at the same time, we are telling a universal story. A foreigner in a different country falls in love with a girl. Despite the differences between them, they find something that deeply connects them. Circumstances separate them, and heartbreak ensues. When you think about Puccini writing Madama Butterfly or La fanciulla del West or Turandot, he’s never been to Japan or the Wild West or China. He’s an Italian guy who was really interested in a universal tale that combines love, death, and sex — the things we love about opera.

What about the person who can hum all the arias from Madama Butterfly, but has never been to the opera? How do you lure that person into the Cobb Center to experience Madama Butterfly as it should be experienced?

TZ: Number one, you do it with the people who are starring in this production of Madama Butterfly, who will knock your socks off. Gianluca Terranova, who sings Pinkerton, is a world-class tenor who was here for Turandot, La bohème, and Carmen. He is one of the greatest singers of our time. Yasko Sato, who plays Madama Butterfly, is a Japanese soprano who has sung this role all over the world with great success. She embodies the character of Cio-Cio San. The character of Sharpless is sung by Michael Chioldi, an American baritone making his Atlanta Opera debut. He possesses a powerful voice and is very charismatic. Suzuki is sung by Katharine Goeldner, a mezzo-soprano who has sung the role at The Met and every other major opera house. The conductor, Carlo Montanaro, is an Italian who specializes in Puccini. I did La bohème with him in Seattle several years ago. He is so charismatic and musical and will be exciting for the orchestra to work with.

So, you have this incredible cast and this rich storytelling combined with modern technology, such as lighting effects, projections, and other visual effects, which let us get into the characters’ minds in ways we were not able to do before.

In contrast to traditional operatic themes, Glory Denied, the remaining production in the 2020 season, is about as topical as an opera can get.

TZ: We have a program for veterans, which started when I arrived. We did Soldier Songs, an opera by David T. Little, and Silent Night by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, which is about World War I and the universal experience of being a soldier. Those two pieces paved the way for us to create an initiative for veterans supported by Home Depot, which, to date, has brought 7,000 veterans to see our shows free of charge. Every season 2,500 veterans get to see Atlanta Opera productions. On opening night for Salome, 750 veterans were in the audience. 

Glory Denied continues this tradition. It’s about the longest-held prisoner of war, Colonel Jim Thompson, who was captured in Vietnam in 1964 and released in 1973. When he came back, his life was shattered. His family was broken. His wife was with someone else. Four children — he came back to a world that was completely different.

Michael Mayes, who starred in Sweeney Todd and Dead Man Walking, stars in a role he created. He is also co-directing the opera with me. He brings so much passion to his work. I think he’s one of the greatest singing actors of our time. It’s a small cast of four with an orchestral ensemble of 13 or so musicians. We open it on the weekend of Memorial Day, which is often seen as a holiday when you go to the beach and barbecue in the backyard, but originated as a day to honor our soldiers and veterans.

In what way does the 2020-21 season represent the next evolutionary step in the growth and development of the Atlanta Opera?

TZ: Next season is what we have been waiting for and building toward for seven years. In 2013, we did three rental productions, Faust, The Barber of Seville, and Tosca. We were a $5 million opera company. Today, the Atlanta Opera is a $10 million company. We’ve been in the black for the last four years, and we will be in the black this season. We are doing six productions, three of which are brand new, with a diversity of programming and a caliber of singers, conductors, designers, directors, and staff that can stand with any opera company in the world. We have an infrastructure, largely created over the last two years, which has garnered a level of support that allows us to accomplish our mission: We believe this major international city deserves a major international opera company."
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The last time Creative Loafing checked in with Tomer Zvulun, the general and artistic director of the Atlanta Opera, he was preparing for the 2019 Atlanta premier of Dead Man Walking. The opera by Jake Heggie is based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean who became spiritual advisor to a man on death row in Louisiana. Last December, following its Atlanta run, Zvulun traveled to Israel to direct the Israeli Opera, the company with which he began his career, in a series of performances of Dead Man Walking. Opening night in the Tel Aviv Opera House marked the first time a contemporary American opera was ever staged in Israel.

“The most telling moment for me occurred when I met the head of the makeup department,” Zvulun recalled, chuckling. “They’re used to working with wigs and costumes for classic operas. When they asked what kind of wigs we used for Dead Man Walking, I laughed and replied, ‘The opera is set in New Orleans in the 1980s. I don’t have any wigs, but I do have tattoos.’”

In January, the Atlanta Opera announced its 2020-21 season, which starts in November. The lineup includes four main-stage productions at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center: Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème, Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, and Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. The Atlanta Opera’s Discoveries Series, which showcases newer, more intimate works, will present The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates at the Ferst Center for the Arts on the Georgia Tech campus and Laura Kaminsky’s As One at the Out Front Theater on the west side of Downtown.

Remaining on the 2019-20 Atlanta Opera calendar are two major operas and one Discoveries production. George and Ira Gershwin’s masterpiece, Porgy and Bess, runs March 7-15, while Puccini’s beloved Madama Butterfly runs May 2-10 at the Cobb Center. Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, which tells the tragic tale of Col. Jim Thompson, America’s longest-held prisoner of war, opens May 21 and closes May 24 on the Hertz Stage at the Woodruff Arts Center.

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__Doug DeLoach: Reflecting on the critical acclaim and popular success of ____''Dead Man Walking''____ and other contemporary operas, it seems like opera is on a roll in the 21st century.__

__Tomer Zvulun__: There is something really exciting happening, historically, right now in the world of opera, especially in America. It’s like a renaissance. So many new pieces are being written. Opera America recently published a survey, which noted that there are a couple of hundred new pieces — chamber operas, full-scale operas — written every year. A lot of companies make it a point to commission new operas, including the Atlanta Opera, which will be staging a world premiere in 2022.

__Grand old opera is all of a sudden relevant again__.

__TZ__: We’re seeing more operas with a conscience, operas that are focused on social justice, and themes that are relevant, such as LBGTQ issues, bullying in school, veterans’ experiences, or familiar characters, like Steve Jobs. Those pieces are different from the classic boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-in-love-with-girl, girl-dies stories. We still love the classic operas, but it’s hard to find social context in many of them. We find humanity and universality in those operas, but there is something very immediate about new operas, which we find especially fascinating.

When I came to the Atlanta Opera in 2013, I insisted on running a modern American opera every year. That first year it was Three Decembers by Jake Heggie with a libretto by Gene Scheer. Then we did Soldier Songs about the life of a veteran. The following year, it was Out of Darkness: Two Remain about the Holocaust. Then came Silent Night about World War I, followed by Dead Man Walking. Next year, we’re doing As One, which is about the journey of a transgender woman; and an opera about one of the most iconic people in recent history, Steve Jobs.

We are living in a great period in opera history.

__The music has to match the theme in terms of its ability to engage with the audience, which was not always the case after the end of the bel canto era and the turn of the 20th century.__

__TZ__: Opera experienced a crisis in the 20th century. If you look at the 18th and 19th centuries, you have composers like Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti, Puccini, Bizet, and Wagner. Then you think about the 20th century and who comes to mind? Berg, Schoenberg, Britten. There was all this atonal music, which was popular in the academic world, but which did not grab audiences. Cerebrally, philosophically, it’s fascinating — and, in many cases, it was tremendous music. But a lot of times, it was alienating because it lacked the raw emotion, tonality, and melodic style which characterized those composers from the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the late 20th century, people like Jake Heggie, Gregory Speers, and other emerging composers were not afraid of embracing tonality, melody, the tonic world — a world in which audiences can still hum what they hear in the opera house.

__Did you approach programming the 2020-21 season any differently than previous seasons?__

__TZ__: Whenever we are planning the season, it’s like planning a meal for friends. You’ve got your protein, your vegetable, a nice dessert, good wine.

We start with two of the most famous operas in the canon, La bohème and The Barber of Seville, presented in new interpretations with visually stunning productions, great voices and orchestra. With these works, people who want to introduce friends to opera know they can return and see something they will love.

Then we are doing what is maybe the most challenging opera in the company’s history, Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. The Ring Cycle is generally considered to be the pinnacle, the most rewarding operatic masterpiece ever written. Then we’re doing a brand new work, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, at Georgia Tech as part of our Discoveries Series, and an opera about transgender, As One.

We’re also presenting The Sound of Music, a very well-known musical theater piece, a crossover work, like we’ve done in the past with Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, and The Pirates of Penzance. The Sound of Music is a  completely new production, which we are doing with a partner, the Glimmerglass Festival in Houston.

We are serving different flavors to accommodate the different palates of our dinner guests.

__What does the live musical presentation of The Sound of Music bring to the party, which is different from the famous film?__

__TZ__: I’m a huge film buff. Movies inform my vocabulary as a director. But there is a competitive advantage to live performance, which movies or Netflix will never have. That advantage is the feeling of community when 2,500 people gather in the same room, breathing the same air, feeling the energy from the stage, and transmitting their own energy back to the performers on the stage.

The second advantage to producing these pieces in the opera house comes from the kind of singers we are getting for those shows, classically trained singers backed by a world-class orchestra. The quality that you are getting is very high. I would love to program future productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret — there are so many great musical theater pieces, which deserve to be seen through an operatic lens.

__What distinguishing elements will the Atlanta Opera bring to the production of ____''Das Rheingold''____?__

__TZ__: It’s an altogether new production, which I have been working on for the past four years. I have been preparing for the time when the company is ready to do something monumental, which requires an extraordinary level of excellence and commitment. If you look at the landscape right now in North America, there are very few companies producing Wagner on a high level: The Met, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto, maybe Washington. From the marketing department to the orchestra to the production and technical abilities of the company, to do something so grand is a daunting undertaking. It’s like saying to an athlete, “You are going to the Olympics.” The training is at a different level. The nutrition is at a different level.

The opera we are putting on right now (January 2020), Richard Strauss’ Salome, isn’t Wagner, but it’s close. Strauss was a disciple of Wagner. Salome has a similar style and other requirements. You need a large orchestra capable of handling very technically challenging music. You need dramatic singers who can overcome that sort of orchestration, and you need production elements on the highest level supported by the technical ability to make everything work flawlessly. It takes years to build a company that can manage all of those things.

Das Rheingold is using the same production team as Salome. I’m going to direct. My colleague, Erhard Rom, is creating the set projections. Mattie Ullrich is creating the costumes. We are very excited about the production team.

__How do you describe or characterize the stylistic elements, which the Atlanta Opera is bringing to productions like ____''Salome''____ and ____''Das Rheingold''____?__

__TZ__: This style is something we have been bringing to our audiences in the hope that they will appreciate what we’re doing. With productions such as Eugene Onegin, Dead Man Walking, Silent Night, Madama Butterfly, and La bohème? — all pieces we’ve done here with the same team — the term we use to describe this style is ‘timeless mythology.’

One of the things that I think functions as a cliché or trap for opera productions is when the first thing the audience asks is, “What time period is this?” or “What is the location?” I think that’s a cop-out. If you’re thinking, “I am going to do Eugene Onegin in 1982 in Soviet Russia,” that’s where the idea ends. It will never match what the composer had in mind because the opera was written in the 18th century. And the production will be dated because 1982 might be interesting right now, but, in 20 years, it might not be so interesting; it won’t feel organic.

In “timeless mythology” you are abstracting the time and creating a mythological world. When you’re watching Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, you never ask yourself, “What time period is this?” or “Is that an 18th- or 19th-century gown the princess is wearing?” Instead, you are immersed in the story, the characters, and the psychology of the characters. That’s an important word for me and my team: psychology.

The most fascinating thing about great operas is the psychology of the characters and the relationship between them. That’s what opera does so well, because music and the human voice allow you to penetrate a psychological world in a way mere words do not allow.

::{img fileId="29682" desc="desc" styledesc="text-align: left;" max="800"}::
__Does this strategy represent a conscious attempt to break from tradition?__


__TZ__: I’m not inventing anything new here. I’m not trying to be the world’s greatest innovator. We believe that opera is a combination of all the art forms: It is theater as much as it is music. It’s the voice as much as it is design. Projections and scenery and costumes and makeup — all of those art forms are coming together to create a magical evening at the theater.

Opera is primarily storytelling. It’s universal. It’s about humanity. It’s supposed to move you emotionally. I get a little worried about psychological theories, Freudian theories, Jungian theories, whatever. At some point, that kind of discussion distracts from the fact that opera is the most emotionally powerful art form you can imagine.

We’re not trying to cerebralize anything. We’re trying to strip away distraction and focus on the human character in a way that brings forward the music and the human voice. Salome is a great example. When Oscar Wilde wrote his play, his departure point was the Bible, but he didn’t write a biblical story. More than anything else, Wilde wrote a story about forbidden love, obsession, phobias, and all the things that were on Oscar Wilde’s mind, which also happened to be on Richard Strauss’ mind, which happen to be on our minds today.

Think about forbidden love taken to extremes, such as necrophilia and incest. Think about Wilde and his struggles in his own time. We’re dealing with these struggles in our time with issues related to LBGTQ. The point is, I don’t care about the biblical setting of this opera. If you’re focusing on that, you’re missing the point. All of the operas we are doing are going in that direction: What is this story about? What is this character about? Not what a dress in 1882 should look like.

__How does this conceptual strategy apply to the remaining 2020 productions, ____''Porgy and Bess''____ and ____''Madama Butterfly''____?__

__TZ__: Porgy and Bess is a very successful production by Francesca Zambello who is one of our frequent collaborators. She runs the Glimmerglass Festival at the Washington National Opera. The production has traveled extensively in America from Chicago to Seattle to New York, and it will be done in Washington immediately after Atlanta. The cast is fantastic. Morris Robinson and Kristin Lewis who sang the opera in La Scala a couple of years ago. When it was presented in Atlanta in 2005 and 2011 to sold-out crowds, the Atlanta Opera Chorus was such a force of nature that when the Opera Comique in Paris decided to do Porgy and Bess, they chose the Atlanta Opera Chorus to perform with them all over Europe. Not to mention the fact that the story takes place in the South, not far away from us, in South Carolina.

The same team that’s doing Butterfly did Salome and are doing Das Rheingold. We have great respect for the Japanese setting and style, but, at the same time, we are telling a universal story. A foreigner in a different country falls in love with a girl. Despite the differences between them, they find something that deeply connects them. Circumstances separate them, and heartbreak ensues. When you think about Puccini writing Madama Butterfly or La fanciulla del West or Turandot, he’s never been to Japan or the Wild West or China. He’s an Italian guy who was really interested in a universal tale that combines love, death, and sex — the things we love about opera.

__What about the person who can hum all the arias from ____''Madama Butterfly''____, but has never been to the opera? How do you lure that person into the Cobb Center to experience ____''Madama Butterfly''____ as it should be experienced?__

__TZ__: Number one, you do it with the people who are starring in this production of Madama Butterfly, who will knock your socks off. Gianluca Terranova, who sings Pinkerton, is a world-class tenor who was here for Turandot, La bohème, and Carmen. He is one of the greatest singers of our time. Yasko Sato, who plays Madama Butterfly, is a Japanese soprano who has sung this role all over the world with great success. She embodies the character of Cio-Cio San. The character of Sharpless is sung by Michael Chioldi, an American baritone making his Atlanta Opera debut. He possesses a powerful voice and is very charismatic. Suzuki is sung by Katharine Goeldner, a mezzo-soprano who has sung the role at The Met and every other major opera house. The conductor, Carlo Montanaro, is an Italian who specializes in Puccini. I did La bohème with him in Seattle several years ago. He is so charismatic and musical and will be exciting for the orchestra to work with.

So, you have this incredible cast and this rich storytelling combined with modern technology, such as lighting effects, projections, and other visual effects, which let us get into the characters’ minds in ways we were not able to do before.

__In contrast to traditional operatic themes, ____''Glory Denied''____, the remaining production in the 2020 season, is about as topical as an opera can get.__

__TZ__: We have a program for veterans, which started when I arrived. We did Soldier Songs, an opera by David T. Little, and Silent Night by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, which is about World War I and the universal experience of being a soldier. Those two pieces paved the way for us to create an initiative for veterans supported by Home Depot, which, to date, has brought 7,000 veterans to see our shows free of charge. Every season 2,500 veterans get to see Atlanta Opera productions. On opening night for Salome, 750 veterans were in the audience. 

Glory Denied continues this tradition. It’s about the longest-held prisoner of war, Colonel Jim Thompson, who was captured in Vietnam in 1964 and released in 1973. When he came back, his life was shattered. His family was broken. His wife was with someone else. Four children — he came back to a world that was completely different.

Michael Mayes, who starred in Sweeney Todd and Dead Man Walking, stars in a role he created. He is also co-directing the opera with me. He brings so much passion to his work. I think he’s one of the greatest singing actors of our time. It’s a small cast of four with an orchestral ensemble of 13 or so musicians. We open it on the weekend of Memorial Day, which is often seen as a holiday when you go to the beach and barbecue in the backyard, but originated as a day to honor our soldiers and veterans.

__In what way does the 2020-21 season represent the next evolutionary step in the growth and development of the Atlanta Opera?__

__TZ__: Next season is what we have been waiting for and building toward for seven years. In 2013, we did three rental productions, Faust, The Barber of Seville, and Tosca. We were a $5 million opera company. Today, the Atlanta Opera is a $10 million company. We’ve been in the black for the last four years, and we will be in the black this season. We are doing six productions, three of which are brand new, with a diversity of programming and a caliber of singers, conductors, designers, directors, and staff that can stand with any opera company in the world. We have an infrastructure, largely created over the last two years, which has garnered a level of support that allows us to accomplish our mission: We believe this major international city deserves a major international opera company."
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  string(19015) " LP La Boheme Atlanta Opera Jeff Roffman Web  2020-03-03T16:43:52+00:00 LP_La_boheme_Atlanta_Opera_Jeff_Roffman_web.jpg     The Atlanta Opera‘s 2020-21 season reaches for next-level performance 29679  2020-03-03T16:33:07+00:00 LISTENING POST: Opera unbound  will.cardwell@gmail.com Will Cardwell DOUG DELOACH  2020-03-03T16:33:07+00:00  As this was posted prior to concerns regarding the global coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, please check to see if these events are still occurring. Be safe. Be healthy. Wash your hands.

The last time Creative Loafing checked in with Tomer Zvulun, the general and artistic director of the Atlanta Opera, he was preparing for the 2019 Atlanta premier of Dead Man Walking. The opera by Jake Heggie is based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean who became spiritual advisor to a man on death row in Louisiana. Last December, following its Atlanta run, Zvulun traveled to Israel to direct the Israeli Opera, the company with which he began his career, in a series of performances of Dead Man Walking. Opening night in the Tel Aviv Opera House marked the first time a contemporary American opera was ever staged in Israel.

“The most telling moment for me occurred when I met the head of the makeup department,” Zvulun recalled, chuckling. “They’re used to working with wigs and costumes for classic operas. When they asked what kind of wigs we used for Dead Man Walking, I laughed and replied, ‘The opera is set in New Orleans in the 1980s. I don’t have any wigs, but I do have tattoos.’”

In January, the Atlanta Opera announced its 2020-21 season, which starts in November. The lineup includes four main-stage productions at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center: Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème, Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, and Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. The Atlanta Opera’s Discoveries Series, which showcases newer, more intimate works, will present The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates at the Ferst Center for the Arts on the Georgia Tech campus and Laura Kaminsky’s As One at the Out Front Theater on the west side of Downtown.

Remaining on the 2019-20 Atlanta Opera calendar are two major operas and one Discoveries production. George and Ira Gershwin’s masterpiece, Porgy and Bess, runs March 7-15, while Puccini’s beloved Madama Butterfly runs May 2-10 at the Cobb Center. Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, which tells the tragic tale of Col. Jim Thompson, America’s longest-held prisoner of war, opens May 21 and closes May 24 on the Hertz Stage at the Woodruff Arts Center.

::::

Doug DeLoach: Reflecting on the critical acclaim and popular success of Dead Man Walking and other contemporary operas, it seems like opera is on a roll in the 21st century.

Tomer Zvulun: There is something really exciting happening, historically, right now in the world of opera, especially in America. It’s like a renaissance. So many new pieces are being written. Opera America recently published a survey, which noted that there are a couple of hundred new pieces — chamber operas, full-scale operas — written every year. A lot of companies make it a point to commission new operas, including the Atlanta Opera, which will be staging a world premiere in 2022.

Grand old opera is all of a sudden relevant again.

TZ: We’re seeing more operas with a conscience, operas that are focused on social justice, and themes that are relevant, such as LBGTQ issues, bullying in school, veterans’ experiences, or familiar characters, like Steve Jobs. Those pieces are different from the classic boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-in-love-with-girl, girl-dies stories. We still love the classic operas, but it’s hard to find social context in many of them. We find humanity and universality in those operas, but there is something very immediate about new operas, which we find especially fascinating.

When I came to the Atlanta Opera in 2013, I insisted on running a modern American opera every year. That first year it was Three Decembers by Jake Heggie with a libretto by Gene Scheer. Then we did Soldier Songs about the life of a veteran. The following year, it was Out of Darkness: Two Remain about the Holocaust. Then came Silent Night about World War I, followed by Dead Man Walking. Next year, we’re doing As One, which is about the journey of a transgender woman; and an opera about one of the most iconic people in recent history, Steve Jobs.

We are living in a great period in opera history.

The music has to match the theme in terms of its ability to engage with the audience, which was not always the case after the end of the bel canto era and the turn of the 20th century.

TZ: Opera experienced a crisis in the 20th century. If you look at the 18th and 19th centuries, you have composers like Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti, Puccini, Bizet, and Wagner. Then you think about the 20th century and who comes to mind? Berg, Schoenberg, Britten. There was all this atonal music, which was popular in the academic world, but which did not grab audiences. Cerebrally, philosophically, it’s fascinating — and, in many cases, it was tremendous music. But a lot of times, it was alienating because it lacked the raw emotion, tonality, and melodic style which characterized those composers from the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the late 20th century, people like Jake Heggie, Gregory Speers, and other emerging composers were not afraid of embracing tonality, melody, the tonic world — a world in which audiences can still hum what they hear in the opera house.

Did you approach programming the 2020-21 season any differently than previous seasons?

TZ: Whenever we are planning the season, it’s like planning a meal for friends. You’ve got your protein, your vegetable, a nice dessert, good wine.

We start with two of the most famous operas in the canon, La bohème and The Barber of Seville, presented in new interpretations with visually stunning productions, great voices and orchestra. With these works, people who want to introduce friends to opera know they can return and see something they will love.

Then we are doing what is maybe the most challenging opera in the company’s history, Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. The Ring Cycle is generally considered to be the pinnacle, the most rewarding operatic masterpiece ever written. Then we’re doing a brand new work, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, at Georgia Tech as part of our Discoveries Series, and an opera about transgender, As One.

We’re also presenting The Sound of Music, a very well-known musical theater piece, a crossover work, like we’ve done in the past with Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, and The Pirates of Penzance. The Sound of Music is a  completely new production, which we are doing with a partner, the Glimmerglass Festival in Houston.

We are serving different flavors to accommodate the different palates of our dinner guests.

What does the live musical presentation of The Sound of Music bring to the party, which is different from the famous film?

TZ: I’m a huge film buff. Movies inform my vocabulary as a director. But there is a competitive advantage to live performance, which movies or Netflix will never have. That advantage is the feeling of community when 2,500 people gather in the same room, breathing the same air, feeling the energy from the stage, and transmitting their own energy back to the performers on the stage.

The second advantage to producing these pieces in the opera house comes from the kind of singers we are getting for those shows, classically trained singers backed by a world-class orchestra. The quality that you are getting is very high. I would love to program future productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret — there are so many great musical theater pieces, which deserve to be seen through an operatic lens.

What distinguishing elements will the Atlanta Opera bring to the production of Das Rheingold?

TZ: It’s an altogether new production, which I have been working on for the past four years. I have been preparing for the time when the company is ready to do something monumental, which requires an extraordinary level of excellence and commitment. If you look at the landscape right now in North America, there are very few companies producing Wagner on a high level: The Met, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto, maybe Washington. From the marketing department to the orchestra to the production and technical abilities of the company, to do something so grand is a daunting undertaking. It’s like saying to an athlete, “You are going to the Olympics.” The training is at a different level. The nutrition is at a different level.

The opera we are putting on right now (January 2020), Richard Strauss’ Salome, isn’t Wagner, but it’s close. Strauss was a disciple of Wagner. Salome has a similar style and other requirements. You need a large orchestra capable of handling very technically challenging music. You need dramatic singers who can overcome that sort of orchestration, and you need production elements on the highest level supported by the technical ability to make everything work flawlessly. It takes years to build a company that can manage all of those things.

Das Rheingold is using the same production team as Salome. I’m going to direct. My colleague, Erhard Rom, is creating the set projections. Mattie Ullrich is creating the costumes. We are very excited about the production team.

How do you describe or characterize the stylistic elements, which the Atlanta Opera is bringing to productions like Salome and Das Rheingold?

TZ: This style is something we have been bringing to our audiences in the hope that they will appreciate what we’re doing. With productions such as Eugene Onegin, Dead Man Walking, Silent Night, Madama Butterfly, and La bohème? — all pieces we’ve done here with the same team — the term we use to describe this style is ‘timeless mythology.’

One of the things that I think functions as a cliché or trap for opera productions is when the first thing the audience asks is, “What time period is this?” or “What is the location?” I think that’s a cop-out. If you’re thinking, “I am going to do Eugene Onegin in 1982 in Soviet Russia,” that’s where the idea ends. It will never match what the composer had in mind because the opera was written in the 18th century. And the production will be dated because 1982 might be interesting right now, but, in 20 years, it might not be so interesting; it won’t feel organic.

In “timeless mythology” you are abstracting the time and creating a mythological world. When you’re watching Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, you never ask yourself, “What time period is this?” or “Is that an 18th- or 19th-century gown the princess is wearing?” Instead, you are immersed in the story, the characters, and the psychology of the characters. That’s an important word for me and my team: psychology.

The most fascinating thing about great operas is the psychology of the characters and the relationship between them. That’s what opera does so well, because music and the human voice allow you to penetrate a psychological world in a way mere words do not allow.

::::
Does this strategy represent a conscious attempt to break from tradition?


TZ: I’m not inventing anything new here. I’m not trying to be the world’s greatest innovator. We believe that opera is a combination of all the art forms: It is theater as much as it is music. It’s the voice as much as it is design. Projections and scenery and costumes and makeup — all of those art forms are coming together to create a magical evening at the theater.

Opera is primarily storytelling. It’s universal. It’s about humanity. It’s supposed to move you emotionally. I get a little worried about psychological theories, Freudian theories, Jungian theories, whatever. At some point, that kind of discussion distracts from the fact that opera is the most emotionally powerful art form you can imagine.

We’re not trying to cerebralize anything. We’re trying to strip away distraction and focus on the human character in a way that brings forward the music and the human voice. Salome is a great example. When Oscar Wilde wrote his play, his departure point was the Bible, but he didn’t write a biblical story. More than anything else, Wilde wrote a story about forbidden love, obsession, phobias, and all the things that were on Oscar Wilde’s mind, which also happened to be on Richard Strauss’ mind, which happen to be on our minds today.

Think about forbidden love taken to extremes, such as necrophilia and incest. Think about Wilde and his struggles in his own time. We’re dealing with these struggles in our time with issues related to LBGTQ. The point is, I don’t care about the biblical setting of this opera. If you’re focusing on that, you’re missing the point. All of the operas we are doing are going in that direction: What is this story about? What is this character about? Not what a dress in 1882 should look like.

How does this conceptual strategy apply to the remaining 2020 productions, Porgy and Bess and Madama Butterfly?

TZ: Porgy and Bess is a very successful production by Francesca Zambello who is one of our frequent collaborators. She runs the Glimmerglass Festival at the Washington National Opera. The production has traveled extensively in America from Chicago to Seattle to New York, and it will be done in Washington immediately after Atlanta. The cast is fantastic. Morris Robinson and Kristin Lewis who sang the opera in La Scala a couple of years ago. When it was presented in Atlanta in 2005 and 2011 to sold-out crowds, the Atlanta Opera Chorus was such a force of nature that when the Opera Comique in Paris decided to do Porgy and Bess, they chose the Atlanta Opera Chorus to perform with them all over Europe. Not to mention the fact that the story takes place in the South, not far away from us, in South Carolina.

The same team that’s doing Butterfly did Salome and are doing Das Rheingold. We have great respect for the Japanese setting and style, but, at the same time, we are telling a universal story. A foreigner in a different country falls in love with a girl. Despite the differences between them, they find something that deeply connects them. Circumstances separate them, and heartbreak ensues. When you think about Puccini writing Madama Butterfly or La fanciulla del West or Turandot, he’s never been to Japan or the Wild West or China. He’s an Italian guy who was really interested in a universal tale that combines love, death, and sex — the things we love about opera.

What about the person who can hum all the arias from Madama Butterfly, but has never been to the opera? How do you lure that person into the Cobb Center to experience Madama Butterfly as it should be experienced?

TZ: Number one, you do it with the people who are starring in this production of Madama Butterfly, who will knock your socks off. Gianluca Terranova, who sings Pinkerton, is a world-class tenor who was here for Turandot, La bohème, and Carmen. He is one of the greatest singers of our time. Yasko Sato, who plays Madama Butterfly, is a Japanese soprano who has sung this role all over the world with great success. She embodies the character of Cio-Cio San. The character of Sharpless is sung by Michael Chioldi, an American baritone making his Atlanta Opera debut. He possesses a powerful voice and is very charismatic. Suzuki is sung by Katharine Goeldner, a mezzo-soprano who has sung the role at The Met and every other major opera house. The conductor, Carlo Montanaro, is an Italian who specializes in Puccini. I did La bohème with him in Seattle several years ago. He is so charismatic and musical and will be exciting for the orchestra to work with.

So, you have this incredible cast and this rich storytelling combined with modern technology, such as lighting effects, projections, and other visual effects, which let us get into the characters’ minds in ways we were not able to do before.

In contrast to traditional operatic themes, Glory Denied, the remaining production in the 2020 season, is about as topical as an opera can get.

TZ: We have a program for veterans, which started when I arrived. We did Soldier Songs, an opera by David T. Little, and Silent Night by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, which is about World War I and the universal experience of being a soldier. Those two pieces paved the way for us to create an initiative for veterans supported by Home Depot, which, to date, has brought 7,000 veterans to see our shows free of charge. Every season 2,500 veterans get to see Atlanta Opera productions. On opening night for Salome, 750 veterans were in the audience. 

Glory Denied continues this tradition. It’s about the longest-held prisoner of war, Colonel Jim Thompson, who was captured in Vietnam in 1964 and released in 1973. When he came back, his life was shattered. His family was broken. His wife was with someone else. Four children — he came back to a world that was completely different.

Michael Mayes, who starred in Sweeney Todd and Dead Man Walking, stars in a role he created. He is also co-directing the opera with me. He brings so much passion to his work. I think he’s one of the greatest singing actors of our time. It’s a small cast of four with an orchestral ensemble of 13 or so musicians. We open it on the weekend of Memorial Day, which is often seen as a holiday when you go to the beach and barbecue in the backyard, but originated as a day to honor our soldiers and veterans.

In what way does the 2020-21 season represent the next evolutionary step in the growth and development of the Atlanta Opera?

TZ: Next season is what we have been waiting for and building toward for seven years. In 2013, we did three rental productions, Faust, The Barber of Seville, and Tosca. We were a $5 million opera company. Today, the Atlanta Opera is a $10 million company. We’ve been in the black for the last four years, and we will be in the black this season. We are doing six productions, three of which are brand new, with a diversity of programming and a caliber of singers, conductors, designers, directors, and staff that can stand with any opera company in the world. We have an infrastructure, largely created over the last two years, which has garnered a level of support that allows us to accomplish our mission: We believe this major international city deserves a major international opera company.    Jeff Roffman THE ATLANTA OPERA: Maria Luigia Borsi as Mimi and Gianluca Terranova as Rodolfo in the Atlanta Opera’s production of ‘La bohème.’  0,0,1                                 LISTENING POST: Opera unbound  "
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Tuesday March 3, 2020 11:33 am EST
The Atlanta Opera‘s 2020-21 season reaches for next-level performance | more...
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  string(125) "Kelly Hogan and Bill Taft (W8ing4UFOs) recount misty-colored memories prior to their sold-out show at the Vista Room tonight"
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  string(18116) "!!!Children of the night … what music they make.
!!!— Bela Lugosi (Dracula, 1931)
 

Friends, Atlantans, comrades in hot buttered soul and the American Songbook, lend me your ears (or eyeballs, as it were). As we plunge headlong into the second decade of the 21st century, precariously poised on the precipice, I come to praise two of the finest musical talents ever nurtured by our fair metropolis. Three decades and change after reigning supreme over the local alt-indie-progressive music scene as founding members of The Jody Grind, three years after a similar all-star reunion during Christmas season 2016, chanteuse extraordinaire Kelly Hogan and guitarist-banjoist-singer-songwriter-and-occasional-cornetist Bill Taft will once again share a bill Friday night, fronting their respective bands at the Vista Room.

For the sold-out (sorry, kids) concert, Hogan will be grounded by regular rhythm-mates Nora O’Connor (Andrew Bird, The Decemberists) on bass and John Carpender (Expo ’76) on drums, augmented by hometown guitar hero Andy Hopkins (one-half of FLAP) who has played with Hogan in multiple settings over the millennia. Taft will be commandeering W8ing4UFOs, the most recent in a long line of misfit savant troupes to fall under his sway. This one features Brian Halloran (cello), Katie Butler (viola), Billy Fields (keyboards), Sean Dunn (electric guitar), and Will Fratesi (drums, squeezebox).

Today, Hogan’s resume includes multiple solo albums, national television appearances, world tours, and recorded collaborations with artists ranging from Rock*A*Teens, Mavis Staples, and Jakob Dylan to Drive-By Truckers and Neko Case. Many Listening Post readers already know much of the deeper backstory. An Atlanta native, after graduating from Douglas County High School, Class of 1983, Hogan became immersed in the flourishing underground music scene. A year later, the classically trained singer with the sultry Southern voice was in her element, slaying audiences with The Jody Grind’s irresistibly imaginative amalgam of jazz, Appalachian balladry, country twang, and power pop swagger.

The tragic closing act of The Jody Grind saga has been recounted multiple times by this correspondent and others. Let it suffice to mention that any concert featuring Hogan, Taft, Halloran, and Fratesi automatically qualifies both as a memorial for and celebration of the lives and art of their late compatriots — Deacon Lunchbox (Tim Ruttenber) and former Jody Grind members Robert Hayes and Rob Clayton — who were killed when their vehicle was struck by a drunk motorist on Easter Sunday 1992.

Taft, Halloran, and Fratesi have been playing together since forever in myriad congregations including the Opal Foxx Quartet, Smoke, Hubcap City, and Smoke That City. Fields is a seasoned veteran of the Atlanta scene with credits including Follow for Now, Rev Rebel, Seek, and Antagonizers ATL. Rounding out the UFOers are Dunn, electric-guitar-shredder-maximus from Athens-based Five-Eight, and Butler, whose viola also elevates the evocative escapades of Evan Stepp & the Piners and The Chumblers.

Tonight's concert at the Vista Room promises to be one helluva gathering of the tribe. Expect cross-pollination between bands, an excessive amount of revelry and remembrance, and more laughing and crying than you can shake a “cheese and pickle sandwich squished flat under a sofa cushion and thrown to the infield from the roof of a rented Ryder rig in gastronomical disgust” at (Deacon Lunchbox from Some Different Kinds of Songs).

Listening Post posed a few questions to Taft and Hogan. Both eagerly followed through with answers, the responses only slightly edited for clarity.

Listening Post: It wasn’t very long after moving to Atlanta in 1982 that you started playing music around town. As briefly as possible, tell the story about meeting Kelly and forming The Jody Grind.

Bill Taft: Turtles, the record store (where Hogan was working at the time). Kelly let me hang out there. She laughed at my jokes. Her laugh had a hint of danger to it, like, if I asked her to rob a few banks with me, she would be all in. I also saw her a lot at Atkins Park. We’d hang out there and talk about music. She could talk about the Beastie Boys and Duke Ellington, REM and Billie Holiday. And she knew a lot about country music.

I tend to book the gig first, then see who can help play the show. This method brought Kelly and me together. I had a Monday-night gig at the Little Five Points Pub. I asked her to sing some songs as part of the set. She fit right in. And then other places asked us to play. Under the name An Evening with the Garbage Man, we played with friends at the Little Five Points Pub and the White Dot a lot. The White Dot was a lot of fun because we could do just about anything. They also gave Deacon Lunchbox much support.

LP: Where did the name An Evening with the Garbageman come from?

BT: I liked variety shows, vaudeville, ironic lounge music, and blues. I saw a poster for a Tony Bennett show, something like “An Evening with Tony Bennett.” I wanted a name for the ever-changing group that tied all those elements together. When I was little, four or five, I wanted to be a garbage man. I wanted to ride around on the back of the truck and toss trash into the mouth of the machine and watch it go away. All the other kids wanted to be astronauts and cowboys and baseball players. Not me.

After a while, the sound of the group with Kelly became consistent and steady. So we needed a new name, something that reflected the new sound: The Jody Grind. We found a book that included a section on jazz slang. The term comes from a World War II-era joke about women doing “the Jody grind” while their husbands and boyfriends were away overseas.

LP: Over the years, you’ve fronted a lot of bands: The Jody Grind, Chowder Shouters, Smoke, Smoke That City, and now W8ing4UFOs. Is there a common theme or impetus, which ties the bands together or explains why you keep forming bands?

BT: People keep asking me to play shows, so I keep showing up with friends. A lot of what I’ve always done is bring groups together in order to play shows.

Music has given me a chance to make all of my childhood dreams come true.

::::

Listening Post: In a previous interview, you told me about the first time you sang in front of an audience, something about a camp retreat and being in a bathing suit.

Kelly Hogan: It was Girl Scout summer camp, Camp Tanglewood, in Martinez, Georgia, around 1976 or ’77. I walked around camp for three days in a damp bathing suit because my tent-mates stole my clothes while I was in swim class. They refused to give them back until I agreed to sing at the closing ceremony on the last day. I sang “Memories” from The Way We Were, a cappella, in front of about 200 people: counselors, parents, campers. I was barefooted, wearing raggedy denim cut-offs and a red-white-and-blue t-shirt that read, “Eat Beans. America Needs the Gas.” 

LP: When and where was your first gig with a real band?

KH: Unbeknownst to my parents, I sat in on a few jazz standards with (I think it was) Tim Settimi’s band at Cafe Debris in Buckhead on Thanksgiving night, 1982. I was 17. 

LP: Bill (Taft) said he wasn’t sure, but you might remember when and where was the first official Jody Grind gig?

KH: Hard to say, because we evolved so gradually from the Evening with the Garbageman open mic nights at the White Dot. Our little snowball of dog hair, dryer lint, and duct tape just kept rolling along until it got big enough to put a real name on it.

LP: When was the first "Kelly Hogan" solo/headliner gig?

KH: Dang, also hard to say. The Star Bar probably, 1995 or so, with the Noxzema Three (Andy Hopkins, Jo Jameson, Andrew Barker) while we were working on my first solo record (The Whistle Only Dogs Can Hear, 1996).

LP: What’s your favorite song to perform from the mythical Great American Songbook?

KH: When I was around four or five years old, I used to love to sing along with Mitch Miller records with my teenage Aunt Debbie in her bedroom at my grandparents’ house in Marietta. "Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goodbye)" was my stone cold jam. I still have a tiny soft spot for barbershop, but I try not to waft that towards anyone else. 

LP: What’s your favorite song to perform that was written for you?

KH: "Ways of This World" by Vic Chesnutt. I had the great honor and pleasure of knowing Vic, although not very well. Yet, somehow, in that song he told me the story of my own life. Pretty much verbatim. I’m not worthy. None of us are. Vic is the king.

LP: What is the craziest/funniest thing that happened during or at a live gig?

KH: I can’t use any “-est” qualifiers for these answers. I’m too old and have too many miles on me. However, one time in the middle of a Jody Grind show in the early ’90s, Bill Taft helped me cut off my hair with a Bowie knife, onstage at Sluggo’s in Pensacola. It was an unplanned, impulsive act (a recent divorce + Jägermeister). I'd managed to saw off one foot-long braid with some dull office scissors I’d found backstage, but the second braid was taking too long (so long that the soundman had started playing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” over the PA). Finally, Bill wordlessly walked over to me with his guitar still strapped on, whipped his knife out of his back pocket, and cut off the other braid with one quick and clean swipe, all the way to my nape — and we kicked into our next song. They nailed that sliced braid above the soundboard where it stayed, covered in gummy cobwebs, for many years. I still have the scissored one in my sock drawer.

LP: What’s the most embarrassing/goofiest thing that ever happened during or at a gig (might be the same as craziest/funniest thing)?

KH: Again, no way to pick the “-est”; there are at least 10,000,000+ embarrassing stage things in my life. But, one time I was sick during a Jody Grind show at The Downstairs in Athens. I realized during the middle of a song that I was gonna throw up. So I yelled “Take it!” to our bass player, Robert Hayes, and ran to the bathroom as fast as I could, barfed my guts up, and ran back onstage in time to do the last verse of the song. I found out later that, because the club was so small, the audience could hear me puking almost as loudly as Robert’s bass solo. They gave me a round of applause for finishing the song.

More recently, I’ve been onstage after singing most of a set, once with Neko Case and once with my band The Flat Five, before realizing my dress was on inside out. That’s one of the perils of having to get ready for a show behind a dumpster outside the rock club.

And this one’s for the ladies. Show of hands, please: Who else here has started their period very unexpectedly while onstage at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, one song into their set while going commando in a skirt? Anyone? Woohoo! Good times! Thankfully, it never got gory. No one but me ever knew. I just stood completely still while singing for 30 minutes and then kinda bunny-hopped offstage to the bathroom. And that’s what showbiz is all about, Charlie Brown.

LP: What’s your favorite band/van/road story?

KH: There are way too many to tell, so here’s just one. We were on a Jody Grind tour opening for Robyn Hitchcock on a freezing cold night in Fell’s Point in Baltimore. It was our bass player Robert Hayes’s turn to sleep in the van to keep our gear safe overnight. He bedded down in our Ford XLT, drank a big bottle of Valpolicella to stay warm, but then had to pee. He peed in the empty wine bottle, corked it, and sat it outside on the cobblestones to throw away in the morning.

Later during the night, Robert heard two dudes jiggling the van door handles and then saw them start trying to siphon our gas tank. He yelled and scared them off. In the morning, Robert saw that his pee bottle was missing. It delighted him to no end to believe that the buttholes trying to break into our van and steal our gas had found that full wine bottle and taken a few swigs. Well, at least one.

LP: What’s your favorite Atlanta venue in which to perform?

KH: For a thousand reasons, I’ll always have a crush on The Star Bar. I also have super-fond memories about playing The Point with The Rock*A*Teens. I cried all the way through my farewell show with them there when I was moving to Chicago.

And I’ll never forget our album release show at The Point during a really horrible ice storm. The sound man was making fun of our crappy gear and our yowly songs during soundcheck. Then he looked up at the weather report on the bar TV and said, “I’ll tell y'all one thing. Ain’t nobody coming out to this fucking show tonight.” But, it ended up being a super-fun and sweaty packed-to-the-rafters SOLD OUT show. It was the best-ever revenge.

LP: What’s your favorite Atlanta venue in which to be in the audience?

KH: The Fox Theater. I adore every brick in that joint. I’ve seen so many great shows there. B-52s, R.E.M., Eurythmics, Sinead O’Connor, Tony Bennett, X, Linda Ronstadt, Devo, Puddles Pity Party, The Judds, Iggy Pop, umm, Liberace. Yeah! All very great!

LP: What’s the best-ever meal on the road, including internationally?

KH: Damn. There are soooooo many “worst-ever road meals,” but I’ve been very lucky to have had lots of “best of” meals, too. I can’t possibly name the absolute best, so I’ll name the very first one that sprang to mind: a surprise feast that was waiting for all of us very road-weary Decemberists in our dressing room after soundcheck at the State Theater in Portland Maine. Big platters of warm messy-buttery lobster rolls and endless dozens of raw oysters on ice (with a nice dude standing there shucking ’em on demand.) I think my fellow oyster-loving back-up singing buddy Nora O’Connor and I both started crying with happiness and gratitude.

LP: What’s the best-ever meal in Atlanta?

KH: I’ll have a Varsity chili slaw dog with onion rings and a P.C. with ice, thank you. And oh man, we had a spectacular band meal (with my mom and stepdad along too) at Miller Union on a rare off-night during our 2017 Decemberists tour. I think that’s my personal ATL acme meal. Incredible. Satterfield in 2020!

LP: What’s your favorite dish to cook?

KH: Damn, I love to cook anything and everything. I love winging it with whatever I have in the pantry and making a big pot of chicken and dumplings or pozole or spaghetti sauce or something else that steams up the windows and takes all day (best when it’s snowing outside). Recently, I’ve been hankering to slow roast some cocoa-spice-rub bone-in pork butt. It’s ridiculously delicious and makes your house smell incredible.

LP: What’s your favorite dish to eat?

KH: My mom Hilda’s country-fried deer steak with gravy and buttermilk biscuits. Sushi and cold sake at Sai Cafe in Chicago. A big glass of red wine and a big bowl of pasta e fagioli at La Scarola in Chicago (this last combo is also best when it’s snowing outside}.

LP: What’s your favorite dog story?

KH: I have tons of stories involving my late, great poodle mix, Augie. She toured with every band I was ever in since she was three months old until she was almost 15. Back in the early ’00s, my solo band was on tour opening for Indigo Girls, with us in our cruddy van, trailing them in their tour bus. On our way to Toronto from Niagara Falls, we all arrived at the Canadian border for a routine crossing in the wee hours of the morning. As our vehicles pulled in we were all immediately surrounded by a big crowd of agitated-looking border patrol agents shining flashlights in our faces. What the hell?!

They gruffly mustered Amy and Emily and their band and crew off their tour bus and us out of our van and had us all stand there on the asphalt. A dozen agents started to search the tour bus, and as another dozen came towards our van to do the same, I blurted out, “Hey! Our dog is in there!” The group of agents all immediately froze in place and their hands went to their holstered guns. A female agent yelled, “Is it aggressive?!” Me, panicking: “No! Not at all!”

They crept to the van en masse in excruciating slow-motion and gingerly slid the side door open to reveal my wiggly little dog sitting there on the bench seat with her tennis ball in her mouth, happy as hell to see so many people. The agents collectively exhaled and relaxed and we all started laughing. After a cursory van search, they finally chilled out enough to tell us they were expecting Eminem’s tour entourage at the border at some point that night, and that Eminem (at the time) was forbidden to come into Canada.

When they saw our bus and van pulling in, they'd thought we were him. Hence, the massive and stiff reception. I always kinda felt sorry for them. They were all bowed up for Slim Shady, but instead just got a bunch of sleepy folk-rockers and a 20-pound mutt hoping for a fetch.

LP: What’s your favorite thing to do when not doing professional music stuff?

KH: Kayaking on the Sugar River near my house in Wisconsin with my dogs. Hands down. It keeps me from killing myself. Or others.

LP: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

KH: My Spotify playlist is extremely not-cool. All my friends know how very square I am. I love harmony, so, yeah, I listen to lots of the Free Design and The Hollies and Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters. But, I also listen to the Osmond Brothers and Jackie and Roy. I’m dirty. I have no shame.

And I live alone, so when I’m home I can do whatever the hell I want most of the time. This Christmas, I gave myself a one-night pass to eat a ton of those little crunchy french-fried onions straight out of the can while binge-watching Glow Up on Netflix. I’m still brushing the grease off my tongue a week later, but at the time it kicked holiday ass. —CL—"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(18425) "!!!''Children of the night … what music they make.''
!!!— Bela Lugosi (''Dracula'', 1931)
 

Friends, Atlantans, comrades in hot buttered soul and the American Songbook, lend me your ears (or eyeballs, as it were). As we plunge headlong into the second decade of the 21st century, precariously poised on the precipice, I come to praise two of the finest musical talents ever nurtured by our fair metropolis. Three decades and change after reigning supreme over the local alt-indie-progressive music scene as founding members of The Jody Grind, three years after a similar all-star reunion during Christmas season 2016, chanteuse extraordinaire Kelly Hogan and guitarist-banjoist-singer-songwriter-and-occasional-cornetist Bill Taft will once again share a bill Friday night, fronting their respective bands at the [https://www.thevistaroom.com/music|Vista Room].

For the sold-out (sorry, kids) concert, Hogan will be grounded by regular rhythm-mates Nora O’Connor (Andrew Bird, The Decemberists) on bass and John Carpender (Expo ’76) on drums, augmented by hometown guitar hero Andy Hopkins (one-half of FLAP) who has played with Hogan in multiple settings over the millennia. Taft will be commandeering W8ing4UFOs, the most recent in a long line of misfit savant troupes to fall under his sway. This one features Brian Halloran (cello), Katie Butler (viola), Billy Fields (keyboards), Sean Dunn (electric guitar), and Will Fratesi (drums, squeezebox).

Today, Hogan’s resume includes multiple solo albums, national television appearances, world tours, and recorded collaborations with artists ranging from Rock*A*Teens, Mavis Staples, and Jakob Dylan to Drive-By Truckers and Neko Case. Many Listening Post readers already know much of the deeper backstory. An Atlanta native, after graduating from Douglas County High School, Class of 1983, Hogan became immersed in the flourishing underground music scene. A year later, the classically trained singer with the sultry Southern voice was in her element, slaying audiences with The Jody Grind’s irresistibly imaginative amalgam of jazz, Appalachian balladry, country twang, and power pop swagger.

The tragic closing act of The Jody Grind saga has been recounted multiple times by this correspondent and others. Let it suffice to mention that any concert featuring Hogan, Taft, Halloran, and Fratesi automatically qualifies both as a memorial for and celebration of the lives and art of their late compatriots — Deacon Lunchbox (Tim Ruttenber) and former Jody Grind members Robert Hayes and Rob Clayton — who were killed when their vehicle was struck by a drunk motorist on Easter Sunday 1992.

Taft, Halloran, and Fratesi have been playing together since forever in myriad congregations including the Opal Foxx Quartet, Smoke, Hubcap City, and Smoke That City. Fields is a seasoned veteran of the Atlanta scene with credits including Follow for Now, Rev Rebel, Seek, and Antagonizers ATL. Rounding out the UFOers are Dunn, electric-guitar-shredder-maximus from Athens-based Five-Eight, and Butler, whose viola also elevates the evocative escapades of Evan Stepp & the Piners and The Chumblers.

Tonight's concert at the Vista Room promises to be one helluva gathering of the tribe. Expect cross-pollination between bands, an excessive amount of revelry and remembrance, and more laughing and crying than you can shake a “cheese and pickle sandwich squished flat under a sofa cushion and thrown to the infield from the roof of a rented Ryder rig in gastronomical disgust” at (Deacon Lunchbox from ''Some Different Kinds of Songs).''

Listening Post posed a few questions to Taft and Hogan. Both eagerly followed through with answers, the responses only slightly edited for clarity.

__Listening Post__: It wasn’t very long after moving to Atlanta in 1982 that you started playing music around town. As briefly as possible, tell the story about meeting Kelly and forming The Jody Grind.

__Bill Taft__: Turtles, the record store (where Hogan was working at the time). Kelly let me hang out there. She laughed at my jokes. Her laugh had a hint of danger to it, like, if I asked her to rob a few banks with me, she would be all in. I also saw her a lot at Atkins Park. We’d hang out there and talk about music. She could talk about the Beastie Boys and Duke Ellington, REM and Billie Holiday. And she knew a lot about country music.

I tend to book the gig first, then see who can help play the show. This method brought Kelly and me together. I had a Monday-night gig at the Little Five Points Pub. I asked her to sing some songs as part of the set. She fit right in. And then other places asked us to play. Under the name An Evening with the Garbage Man, we played with friends at the Little Five Points Pub and the White Dot a lot. The White Dot was a lot of fun because we could do just about anything. They also gave Deacon Lunchbox much support.

__LP__: Where did the name An Evening with the Garbageman come from?

__BT__: I liked variety shows, vaudeville, ironic lounge music, and blues. I saw a poster for a Tony Bennett show, something like “An Evening with Tony Bennett.” I wanted a name for the ever-changing group that tied all those elements together. When I was little, four or five, I wanted to be a garbage man. I wanted to ride around on the back of the truck and toss trash into the mouth of the machine and watch it go away. All the other kids wanted to be astronauts and cowboys and baseball players. Not me.

After a while, the sound of the group with Kelly became consistent and steady. So we needed a new name, something that reflected the new sound: The Jody Grind. We found a book that included a section on jazz slang. The term comes from a World War II-era joke about women doing “the Jody grind” while their husbands and boyfriends were away overseas.

__LP__: Over the years, you’ve fronted a lot of bands: The Jody Grind, Chowder Shouters, Smoke, Smoke That City, and now W8ing4UFOs. Is there a common theme or impetus, which ties the bands together or explains why you keep forming bands?

__BT__: People keep asking me to play shows, so I keep showing up with friends. A lot of what I’ve always done is bring groups together in order to play shows.

Music has given me a chance to make all of my childhood dreams come true.

::{img fileId="27631" desc="desc" styledesc="text-align: left;" max="800"}::

__Listening Post__: In a previous interview, you told me about the first time you sang in front of an audience, something about a camp retreat and being in a bathing suit.

__Kelly Hogan__: It was Girl Scout summer camp, Camp Tanglewood, in Martinez, Georgia, around 1976 or ’77. I walked around camp for three days in a damp bathing suit because my tent-mates stole my clothes while I was in swim class. They refused to give them back until I agreed to sing at the closing ceremony on the last day. I sang “Memories” from ''The Way We Were'', a cappella, in front of about 200 people: counselors, parents, campers. I was barefooted, wearing raggedy denim cut-offs and a red-white-and-blue t-shirt that read, “Eat Beans. America Needs the Gas.” 

__LP__: When and where was your first gig with a real band?

__KH__: Unbeknownst to my parents, I sat in on a few jazz standards with (I think it was) Tim Settimi’s band at Cafe Debris in Buckhead on Thanksgiving night, 1982. I was 17. 

__LP__: Bill (Taft) said he wasn’t sure, but you might remember when and where was the first official Jody Grind gig?

__KH__: Hard to say, because we evolved so gradually from the Evening with the Garbageman open mic nights at the White Dot. Our little snowball of dog hair, dryer lint, and duct tape just kept rolling along until it got big enough to put a real name on it.

__LP__: When was the first "Kelly Hogan" solo/headliner gig?

__KH__: Dang, also hard to say. The Star Bar probably, 1995 or so, with the Noxzema Three (Andy Hopkins, Jo Jameson, Andrew Barker) while we were working on my first solo record (''The Whistle Only Dogs Can Hear'', 1996).

__LP__: What’s your favorite song to perform from the mythical ''Great American Songbook''?

__KH__: When I was around four or five years old, I used to love to sing along with Mitch Miller records with my teenage Aunt Debbie in her bedroom at my grandparents’ house in Marietta. "Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goodbye)" was my stone cold jam. I still have a tiny soft spot for barbershop, but I try not to waft that towards anyone else. 

__LP__: What’s your favorite song to perform that was written for you?

__KH__: "Ways of This World" by Vic Chesnutt. I had the great honor and pleasure of knowing Vic, although not very well. Yet, somehow, in that song he told me the story of my own life. Pretty much verbatim. I’m not worthy. None of us are. Vic is the king.

__LP__: What is the craziest/funniest thing that happened during or at a live gig?

__KH__: I can’t use any “-est” qualifiers for these answers. I’m too old and have too many miles on me. However, one time in the middle of a Jody Grind show in the early ’90s, Bill Taft helped me cut off my hair with a Bowie knife, onstage at Sluggo’s in Pensacola. It was an unplanned, impulsive act (a recent divorce + Jägermeister). I'd managed to saw off one foot-long braid with some dull office scissors I’d found backstage, but the second braid was taking too long (so long that the soundman had started playing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” over the PA). Finally, Bill wordlessly walked over to me with his guitar still strapped on, whipped his knife out of his back pocket, and cut off the other braid with one quick and clean swipe, all the way to my nape — and we kicked into our next song. They nailed that sliced braid above the soundboard where it stayed, covered in gummy cobwebs, for many years. I still have the scissored one in my sock drawer.

__LP__: What’s the most embarrassing/goofiest thing that ever happened during or at a gig (might be the same as craziest/funniest thing)?

__KH__: Again, no way to pick the “-est”; there are at least 10,000,000+ embarrassing stage things in my life. But, one time I was sick during a Jody Grind show at The Downstairs in Athens. I realized during the middle of a song that I was gonna throw up. So I yelled “Take it!” to our bass player, Robert Hayes, and ran to the bathroom as fast as I could, barfed my guts up, and ran back onstage in time to do the last verse of the song. I found out later that, because the club was so small, the audience could hear me puking almost as loudly as Robert’s bass solo. They gave me a round of applause for finishing the song.

More recently, I’ve been onstage after singing most of a set, once with Neko Case and once with my band The Flat Five, before realizing my dress was on inside out. That’s one of the perils of having to get ready for a show behind a dumpster outside the rock club.

And this one’s for the ladies. Show of hands, please: Who else here has started their period very unexpectedly while onstage at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, one song into their set while going commando in a skirt? Anyone? Woohoo! Good times! Thankfully, it never got gory. No one but me ever knew. I just stood completely still while singing for 30 minutes and then kinda bunny-hopped offstage to the bathroom. And that’s what showbiz is all about, Charlie Brown.

__LP__: What’s your favorite band/van/road story?

__KH__: There are way too many to tell, so here’s just one. We were on a Jody Grind tour opening for Robyn Hitchcock on a freezing cold night in Fell’s Point in Baltimore. It was our bass player Robert Hayes’s turn to sleep in the van to keep our gear safe overnight. He bedded down in our Ford XLT, drank a big bottle of Valpolicella to stay warm, but then had to pee. He peed in the empty wine bottle, corked it, and sat it outside on the cobblestones to throw away in the morning.

Later during the night, Robert heard two dudes jiggling the van door handles and then saw them start trying to siphon our gas tank. He yelled and scared them off. In the morning, Robert saw that his pee bottle was missing. It delighted him to no end to believe that the buttholes trying to break into our van and steal our gas had found that full wine bottle and taken a few swigs. Well, at least one.

__LP__: What’s your favorite Atlanta venue in which to perform?

__KH:__ For a thousand reasons, I’ll always have a crush on The Star Bar. I also have super-fond memories about playing The Point with The Rock*A*Teens. I cried all the way through my farewell show with them there when I was moving to Chicago.

And I’ll never forget our album release show at The Point during a really horrible ice storm. The sound man was making fun of our crappy gear and our yowly songs during soundcheck. Then he looked up at the weather report on the bar TV and said, “I’ll tell y'all one thing. Ain’t nobody coming out to this fucking show tonight.” But, it ended up being a super-fun and sweaty packed-to-the-rafters SOLD OUT show. It was the best-ever revenge.

__LP__: What’s your favorite Atlanta venue in which to be in the audience?

__KH:__ The Fox Theater. I adore every brick in that joint. I’ve seen so many great shows there. B-52s, R.E.M., Eurythmics, Sinead O’Connor, Tony Bennett, X, Linda Ronstadt, Devo, Puddles Pity Party, The Judds, Iggy Pop, umm, Liberace. Yeah! All very great!

__LP__: What’s the best-ever meal on the road, including internationally?

__KH:__ Damn. There are soooooo many “worst-ever road meals,” but I’ve been very lucky to have had lots of “best of” meals, too. I can’t possibly name the absolute best, so I’ll name the very first one that sprang to mind: a surprise feast that was waiting for all of us very road-weary Decemberists in our dressing room after soundcheck at the State Theater in Portland Maine. Big platters of warm messy-buttery lobster rolls and endless dozens of raw oysters on ice (with a nice dude standing there shucking ’em on demand.) I think my fellow oyster-loving back-up singing buddy Nora O’Connor and I both started crying with happiness and gratitude.

__LP__: What’s the best-ever meal in Atlanta?

__KH__: I’ll have a Varsity chili slaw dog with onion rings and a P.C. with ice, thank you. And oh man, we had a spectacular band meal (with my mom and stepdad along too) at Miller Union on a rare off-night during our 2017 Decemberists tour. I think that’s my personal ATL acme meal. Incredible. Satterfield in 2020!

__LP__: What’s your favorite dish to cook?

__KH__: Damn, I love to cook anything and everything. I love winging it with whatever I have in the pantry and making a big pot of chicken and dumplings or pozole or spaghetti sauce or something else that steams up the windows and takes all day (best when it’s snowing outside). Recently, I’ve been hankering to slow roast some cocoa-spice-rub bone-in pork butt. It’s ridiculously delicious and makes your house smell incredible.

__LP__: What’s your favorite dish to eat?

__KH__: My mom Hilda’s country-fried deer steak with gravy and buttermilk biscuits. Sushi and cold sake at Sai Cafe in Chicago. A big glass of red wine and a big bowl of pasta e fagioli at La Scarola in Chicago (this last combo is also best when it’s snowing outside}.

__LP__: What’s your favorite dog story?

__KH__: I have tons of stories involving my late, great poodle mix, Augie. She toured with every band I was ever in since she was three months old until she was almost 15. Back in the early ’00s, my solo band was on tour opening for Indigo Girls, with us in our cruddy van, trailing them in their tour bus. On our way to Toronto from Niagara Falls, we all arrived at the Canadian border for a routine crossing in the wee hours of the morning. As our vehicles pulled in we were all immediately surrounded by a big crowd of agitated-looking border patrol agents shining flashlights in our faces. What the hell?!

They gruffly mustered Amy and Emily and their band and crew off their tour bus and us out of our van and had us all stand there on the asphalt. A dozen agents started to search the tour bus, and as another dozen came towards our van to do the same, I blurted out, “Hey! Our dog is in there!” The group of agents all immediately froze in place and their hands went to their holstered guns. A female agent yelled, “Is it aggressive?!” Me, panicking: “No! Not at all!”

They crept to the van en masse in excruciating slow-motion and gingerly slid the side door open to reveal my wiggly little dog sitting there on the bench seat with her tennis ball in her mouth, happy as hell to see so many people. The agents collectively exhaled and relaxed and we all started laughing. After a cursory van search, they finally chilled out enough to tell us they were expecting Eminem’s tour entourage at the border at some point that night, and that Eminem (at the time) was forbidden to come into Canada.

When they saw our bus and van pulling in, they'd thought we were him. Hence, the massive and stiff reception. I always kinda felt sorry for them. They were all bowed up for Slim Shady, but instead just got a bunch of sleepy folk-rockers and a 20-pound mutt hoping for a fetch.

__LP__: What’s your favorite thing to do when not doing professional music stuff?

__KH__: Kayaking on the Sugar River near my house in Wisconsin with my dogs. Hands down. It keeps me from killing myself. Or others.

__LP__: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

__KH__: My Spotify playlist is extremely not-cool. All my friends know how very square I am. I love harmony, so, yeah, I listen to lots of the Free Design and The Hollies and Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters. But, I also listen to the Osmond Brothers and Jackie and Roy. I’m dirty. I have no shame.

And I live alone, so when I’m home I can do whatever the hell I want most of the time. This Christmas, I gave myself a one-night pass to eat a ton of those little crunchy french-fried onions straight out of the can while binge-watching ''Glow Up'' on Netflix. I’m still brushing the grease off my tongue a week later, but at the time it kicked holiday ass. __—CL—__"
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  string(18767) " Hogan Sepia RESZD  2020-01-17T13:56:08+00:00 Hogan sepia RESZD.jpg     Kelly Hogan and Bill Taft (W8ing4UFOs) recount misty-colored memories prior to their sold-out show at the Vista Room tonight 27628  2020-01-17T13:27:52+00:00 LISTENING POST: The tribe that won’t shut up! tony.paris@creativeloafing.com Tony Paris DOUG DELOACH Doug DeLoach 2020-01-17T13:27:52+00:00  !!!Children of the night … what music they make.
!!!— Bela Lugosi (Dracula, 1931)
 

Friends, Atlantans, comrades in hot buttered soul and the American Songbook, lend me your ears (or eyeballs, as it were). As we plunge headlong into the second decade of the 21st century, precariously poised on the precipice, I come to praise two of the finest musical talents ever nurtured by our fair metropolis. Three decades and change after reigning supreme over the local alt-indie-progressive music scene as founding members of The Jody Grind, three years after a similar all-star reunion during Christmas season 2016, chanteuse extraordinaire Kelly Hogan and guitarist-banjoist-singer-songwriter-and-occasional-cornetist Bill Taft will once again share a bill Friday night, fronting their respective bands at the Vista Room.

For the sold-out (sorry, kids) concert, Hogan will be grounded by regular rhythm-mates Nora O’Connor (Andrew Bird, The Decemberists) on bass and John Carpender (Expo ’76) on drums, augmented by hometown guitar hero Andy Hopkins (one-half of FLAP) who has played with Hogan in multiple settings over the millennia. Taft will be commandeering W8ing4UFOs, the most recent in a long line of misfit savant troupes to fall under his sway. This one features Brian Halloran (cello), Katie Butler (viola), Billy Fields (keyboards), Sean Dunn (electric guitar), and Will Fratesi (drums, squeezebox).

Today, Hogan’s resume includes multiple solo albums, national television appearances, world tours, and recorded collaborations with artists ranging from Rock*A*Teens, Mavis Staples, and Jakob Dylan to Drive-By Truckers and Neko Case. Many Listening Post readers already know much of the deeper backstory. An Atlanta native, after graduating from Douglas County High School, Class of 1983, Hogan became immersed in the flourishing underground music scene. A year later, the classically trained singer with the sultry Southern voice was in her element, slaying audiences with The Jody Grind’s irresistibly imaginative amalgam of jazz, Appalachian balladry, country twang, and power pop swagger.

The tragic closing act of The Jody Grind saga has been recounted multiple times by this correspondent and others. Let it suffice to mention that any concert featuring Hogan, Taft, Halloran, and Fratesi automatically qualifies both as a memorial for and celebration of the lives and art of their late compatriots — Deacon Lunchbox (Tim Ruttenber) and former Jody Grind members Robert Hayes and Rob Clayton — who were killed when their vehicle was struck by a drunk motorist on Easter Sunday 1992.

Taft, Halloran, and Fratesi have been playing together since forever in myriad congregations including the Opal Foxx Quartet, Smoke, Hubcap City, and Smoke That City. Fields is a seasoned veteran of the Atlanta scene with credits including Follow for Now, Rev Rebel, Seek, and Antagonizers ATL. Rounding out the UFOers are Dunn, electric-guitar-shredder-maximus from Athens-based Five-Eight, and Butler, whose viola also elevates the evocative escapades of Evan Stepp & the Piners and The Chumblers.

Tonight's concert at the Vista Room promises to be one helluva gathering of the tribe. Expect cross-pollination between bands, an excessive amount of revelry and remembrance, and more laughing and crying than you can shake a “cheese and pickle sandwich squished flat under a sofa cushion and thrown to the infield from the roof of a rented Ryder rig in gastronomical disgust” at (Deacon Lunchbox from Some Different Kinds of Songs).

Listening Post posed a few questions to Taft and Hogan. Both eagerly followed through with answers, the responses only slightly edited for clarity.

Listening Post: It wasn’t very long after moving to Atlanta in 1982 that you started playing music around town. As briefly as possible, tell the story about meeting Kelly and forming The Jody Grind.

Bill Taft: Turtles, the record store (where Hogan was working at the time). Kelly let me hang out there. She laughed at my jokes. Her laugh had a hint of danger to it, like, if I asked her to rob a few banks with me, she would be all in. I also saw her a lot at Atkins Park. We’d hang out there and talk about music. She could talk about the Beastie Boys and Duke Ellington, REM and Billie Holiday. And she knew a lot about country music.

I tend to book the gig first, then see who can help play the show. This method brought Kelly and me together. I had a Monday-night gig at the Little Five Points Pub. I asked her to sing some songs as part of the set. She fit right in. And then other places asked us to play. Under the name An Evening with the Garbage Man, we played with friends at the Little Five Points Pub and the White Dot a lot. The White Dot was a lot of fun because we could do just about anything. They also gave Deacon Lunchbox much support.

LP: Where did the name An Evening with the Garbageman come from?

BT: I liked variety shows, vaudeville, ironic lounge music, and blues. I saw a poster for a Tony Bennett show, something like “An Evening with Tony Bennett.” I wanted a name for the ever-changing group that tied all those elements together. When I was little, four or five, I wanted to be a garbage man. I wanted to ride around on the back of the truck and toss trash into the mouth of the machine and watch it go away. All the other kids wanted to be astronauts and cowboys and baseball players. Not me.

After a while, the sound of the group with Kelly became consistent and steady. So we needed a new name, something that reflected the new sound: The Jody Grind. We found a book that included a section on jazz slang. The term comes from a World War II-era joke about women doing “the Jody grind” while their husbands and boyfriends were away overseas.

LP: Over the years, you’ve fronted a lot of bands: The Jody Grind, Chowder Shouters, Smoke, Smoke That City, and now W8ing4UFOs. Is there a common theme or impetus, which ties the bands together or explains why you keep forming bands?

BT: People keep asking me to play shows, so I keep showing up with friends. A lot of what I’ve always done is bring groups together in order to play shows.

Music has given me a chance to make all of my childhood dreams come true.

::::

Listening Post: In a previous interview, you told me about the first time you sang in front of an audience, something about a camp retreat and being in a bathing suit.

Kelly Hogan: It was Girl Scout summer camp, Camp Tanglewood, in Martinez, Georgia, around 1976 or ’77. I walked around camp for three days in a damp bathing suit because my tent-mates stole my clothes while I was in swim class. They refused to give them back until I agreed to sing at the closing ceremony on the last day. I sang “Memories” from The Way We Were, a cappella, in front of about 200 people: counselors, parents, campers. I was barefooted, wearing raggedy denim cut-offs and a red-white-and-blue t-shirt that read, “Eat Beans. America Needs the Gas.” 

LP: When and where was your first gig with a real band?

KH: Unbeknownst to my parents, I sat in on a few jazz standards with (I think it was) Tim Settimi’s band at Cafe Debris in Buckhead on Thanksgiving night, 1982. I was 17. 

LP: Bill (Taft) said he wasn’t sure, but you might remember when and where was the first official Jody Grind gig?

KH: Hard to say, because we evolved so gradually from the Evening with the Garbageman open mic nights at the White Dot. Our little snowball of dog hair, dryer lint, and duct tape just kept rolling along until it got big enough to put a real name on it.

LP: When was the first "Kelly Hogan" solo/headliner gig?

KH: Dang, also hard to say. The Star Bar probably, 1995 or so, with the Noxzema Three (Andy Hopkins, Jo Jameson, Andrew Barker) while we were working on my first solo record (The Whistle Only Dogs Can Hear, 1996).

LP: What’s your favorite song to perform from the mythical Great American Songbook?

KH: When I was around four or five years old, I used to love to sing along with Mitch Miller records with my teenage Aunt Debbie in her bedroom at my grandparents’ house in Marietta. "Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goodbye)" was my stone cold jam. I still have a tiny soft spot for barbershop, but I try not to waft that towards anyone else. 

LP: What’s your favorite song to perform that was written for you?

KH: "Ways of This World" by Vic Chesnutt. I had the great honor and pleasure of knowing Vic, although not very well. Yet, somehow, in that song he told me the story of my own life. Pretty much verbatim. I’m not worthy. None of us are. Vic is the king.

LP: What is the craziest/funniest thing that happened during or at a live gig?

KH: I can’t use any “-est” qualifiers for these answers. I’m too old and have too many miles on me. However, one time in the middle of a Jody Grind show in the early ’90s, Bill Taft helped me cut off my hair with a Bowie knife, onstage at Sluggo’s in Pensacola. It was an unplanned, impulsive act (a recent divorce + Jägermeister). I'd managed to saw off one foot-long braid with some dull office scissors I’d found backstage, but the second braid was taking too long (so long that the soundman had started playing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” over the PA). Finally, Bill wordlessly walked over to me with his guitar still strapped on, whipped his knife out of his back pocket, and cut off the other braid with one quick and clean swipe, all the way to my nape — and we kicked into our next song. They nailed that sliced braid above the soundboard where it stayed, covered in gummy cobwebs, for many years. I still have the scissored one in my sock drawer.

LP: What’s the most embarrassing/goofiest thing that ever happened during or at a gig (might be the same as craziest/funniest thing)?

KH: Again, no way to pick the “-est”; there are at least 10,000,000+ embarrassing stage things in my life. But, one time I was sick during a Jody Grind show at The Downstairs in Athens. I realized during the middle of a song that I was gonna throw up. So I yelled “Take it!” to our bass player, Robert Hayes, and ran to the bathroom as fast as I could, barfed my guts up, and ran back onstage in time to do the last verse of the song. I found out later that, because the club was so small, the audience could hear me puking almost as loudly as Robert’s bass solo. They gave me a round of applause for finishing the song.

More recently, I’ve been onstage after singing most of a set, once with Neko Case and once with my band The Flat Five, before realizing my dress was on inside out. That’s one of the perils of having to get ready for a show behind a dumpster outside the rock club.

And this one’s for the ladies. Show of hands, please: Who else here has started their period very unexpectedly while onstage at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, one song into their set while going commando in a skirt? Anyone? Woohoo! Good times! Thankfully, it never got gory. No one but me ever knew. I just stood completely still while singing for 30 minutes and then kinda bunny-hopped offstage to the bathroom. And that’s what showbiz is all about, Charlie Brown.

LP: What’s your favorite band/van/road story?

KH: There are way too many to tell, so here’s just one. We were on a Jody Grind tour opening for Robyn Hitchcock on a freezing cold night in Fell’s Point in Baltimore. It was our bass player Robert Hayes’s turn to sleep in the van to keep our gear safe overnight. He bedded down in our Ford XLT, drank a big bottle of Valpolicella to stay warm, but then had to pee. He peed in the empty wine bottle, corked it, and sat it outside on the cobblestones to throw away in the morning.

Later during the night, Robert heard two dudes jiggling the van door handles and then saw them start trying to siphon our gas tank. He yelled and scared them off. In the morning, Robert saw that his pee bottle was missing. It delighted him to no end to believe that the buttholes trying to break into our van and steal our gas had found that full wine bottle and taken a few swigs. Well, at least one.

LP: What’s your favorite Atlanta venue in which to perform?

KH: For a thousand reasons, I’ll always have a crush on The Star Bar. I also have super-fond memories about playing The Point with The Rock*A*Teens. I cried all the way through my farewell show with them there when I was moving to Chicago.

And I’ll never forget our album release show at The Point during a really horrible ice storm. The sound man was making fun of our crappy gear and our yowly songs during soundcheck. Then he looked up at the weather report on the bar TV and said, “I’ll tell y'all one thing. Ain’t nobody coming out to this fucking show tonight.” But, it ended up being a super-fun and sweaty packed-to-the-rafters SOLD OUT show. It was the best-ever revenge.

LP: What’s your favorite Atlanta venue in which to be in the audience?

KH: The Fox Theater. I adore every brick in that joint. I’ve seen so many great shows there. B-52s, R.E.M., Eurythmics, Sinead O’Connor, Tony Bennett, X, Linda Ronstadt, Devo, Puddles Pity Party, The Judds, Iggy Pop, umm, Liberace. Yeah! All very great!

LP: What’s the best-ever meal on the road, including internationally?

KH: Damn. There are soooooo many “worst-ever road meals,” but I’ve been very lucky to have had lots of “best of” meals, too. I can’t possibly name the absolute best, so I’ll name the very first one that sprang to mind: a surprise feast that was waiting for all of us very road-weary Decemberists in our dressing room after soundcheck at the State Theater in Portland Maine. Big platters of warm messy-buttery lobster rolls and endless dozens of raw oysters on ice (with a nice dude standing there shucking ’em on demand.) I think my fellow oyster-loving back-up singing buddy Nora O’Connor and I both started crying with happiness and gratitude.

LP: What’s the best-ever meal in Atlanta?

KH: I’ll have a Varsity chili slaw dog with onion rings and a P.C. with ice, thank you. And oh man, we had a spectacular band meal (with my mom and stepdad along too) at Miller Union on a rare off-night during our 2017 Decemberists tour. I think that’s my personal ATL acme meal. Incredible. Satterfield in 2020!

LP: What’s your favorite dish to cook?

KH: Damn, I love to cook anything and everything. I love winging it with whatever I have in the pantry and making a big pot of chicken and dumplings or pozole or spaghetti sauce or something else that steams up the windows and takes all day (best when it’s snowing outside). Recently, I’ve been hankering to slow roast some cocoa-spice-rub bone-in pork butt. It’s ridiculously delicious and makes your house smell incredible.

LP: What’s your favorite dish to eat?

KH: My mom Hilda’s country-fried deer steak with gravy and buttermilk biscuits. Sushi and cold sake at Sai Cafe in Chicago. A big glass of red wine and a big bowl of pasta e fagioli at La Scarola in Chicago (this last combo is also best when it’s snowing outside}.

LP: What’s your favorite dog story?

KH: I have tons of stories involving my late, great poodle mix, Augie. She toured with every band I was ever in since she was three months old until she was almost 15. Back in the early ’00s, my solo band was on tour opening for Indigo Girls, with us in our cruddy van, trailing them in their tour bus. On our way to Toronto from Niagara Falls, we all arrived at the Canadian border for a routine crossing in the wee hours of the morning. As our vehicles pulled in we were all immediately surrounded by a big crowd of agitated-looking border patrol agents shining flashlights in our faces. What the hell?!

They gruffly mustered Amy and Emily and their band and crew off their tour bus and us out of our van and had us all stand there on the asphalt. A dozen agents started to search the tour bus, and as another dozen came towards our van to do the same, I blurted out, “Hey! Our dog is in there!” The group of agents all immediately froze in place and their hands went to their holstered guns. A female agent yelled, “Is it aggressive?!” Me, panicking: “No! Not at all!”

They crept to the van en masse in excruciating slow-motion and gingerly slid the side door open to reveal my wiggly little dog sitting there on the bench seat with her tennis ball in her mouth, happy as hell to see so many people. The agents collectively exhaled and relaxed and we all started laughing. After a cursory van search, they finally chilled out enough to tell us they were expecting Eminem’s tour entourage at the border at some point that night, and that Eminem (at the time) was forbidden to come into Canada.

When they saw our bus and van pulling in, they'd thought we were him. Hence, the massive and stiff reception. I always kinda felt sorry for them. They were all bowed up for Slim Shady, but instead just got a bunch of sleepy folk-rockers and a 20-pound mutt hoping for a fetch.

LP: What’s your favorite thing to do when not doing professional music stuff?

KH: Kayaking on the Sugar River near my house in Wisconsin with my dogs. Hands down. It keeps me from killing myself. Or others.

LP: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

KH: My Spotify playlist is extremely not-cool. All my friends know how very square I am. I love harmony, so, yeah, I listen to lots of the Free Design and The Hollies and Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters. But, I also listen to the Osmond Brothers and Jackie and Roy. I’m dirty. I have no shame.

And I live alone, so when I’m home I can do whatever the hell I want most of the time. This Christmas, I gave myself a one-night pass to eat a ton of those little crunchy french-fried onions straight out of the can while binge-watching Glow Up on Netflix. I’m still brushing the grease off my tongue a week later, but at the time it kicked holiday ass. —CL—    Paul Beaty WAS IT ALL SO SIMPLE THEN: Atlanta native Kelly Hogan headlines a concert with dear friends and former collaborators now performing as W8ing4UFOs tonight, Friday, January 17.  0,0,1                                 LISTENING POST: The tribe that won’t shut up! "
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Friday January 17, 2020 08:27 am EST
Kelly Hogan and Bill Taft (W8ing4UFOs) recount misty-colored memories prior to their sold-out show at the Vista Room tonight | more...
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  ["title"]=>
  string(52) "LISTENING POST: Ear Pollen spawns experimental music"
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  string(94) "A new monthly concert series at 378 will feature adventurous musicians from Atlanta and beyond"
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  string(94) "A new monthly concert series at 378 will feature adventurous musicians from Atlanta and beyond"
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  string(10914) "In Greek mythology, the consumption of ambrosia endowed the Olympians with immortality. In real life, ambrosia is another word for a mixture of fermented bee pollen and nectar, called “bee bread,” which is gathered and deposited by honeybees for sustaining the residents of a hive.

Ear Pollen is the title of a monthly concert series at 378 in Candler Park programmed by Atlanta percussionist Klimchak at the behest of gallery manager Tom Zarrilli. While immortality may not be in the offing, starting January 15 and running through the end of 2020, Ear Pollen will sustain experimental music fans in the Lo Gallery (downstairs) on the third Wednesday of each month.

“The idea is to showcase different niches of experimental music including electronic and acoustic styles ranging from jazz to noise,” says Klimchak. Known for constructing one-off instruments for imaginative performances, Klimchak once played instruments derived from kitchen tools while simultaneously cooking a meal for the audience. He says Ear Pollen will feature mostly, but not exclusively, Atlanta-based artists.

“Experimental music in Atlanta and elsewhere is divvied up into small sub-genres,” Klimchak says. “Ear Pollen will provide space where folks can listen to a variety of genres all in one place."

The first Ear Pollen concert features Andrew Levine from Hamburg, Germany, improvising on theremin and synthesizers. Born in New York City, Levine began playing violin at the age of six. He studied voice and earned an M.A. in computational linguistics and cognitive psychology at the University of Trier. Since 2010, while the theremin has been Levine’s primary instrument in solo and group settings, he also plays an 0-Coast (“oh-coast”) analog synthesizer, STEIM Cracklebox, and Haken Continuum (synthesizer).

Sharing the triple-bill with Levine are Helton & Bragg, an Atlanta-based drums/percussion and guitar/fretless bass duo (Blake Helton and Colin Bragg, respectively) who play mostly improvised, jazz-oriented music infused with electronic effects. Rounding out the program is Tim Crump, a local saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer whose music explores the intersection of jazz, post-classical, and free improv. Given that the inaugural Ear Pollen lineup features musicians working in closely related realms along the experimental spectrum, Klimchak says he is “anticipating a collective group piece will close out the evening.”

The 2020 Ear Pollen concert calendar currently includes JayVe Montgomery (from Nashville), Amplituba (Bill Pritchard), Kenito Murray, Hypnagogue (James Rosato from Massachusetts), Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel, and Jeremy Muller with many more musicians TBD. “I’m primarily interested in presenting solo and duet improvisation work,” says Klimchak. “That’s due to the size of the room and because smaller groups tend to create a more conversational atmosphere both between the performers and with the audience.”

With a performance resume that stretches back through the 1970s, Klimchak has witnessed and participated in the trailblazing efforts of Atlanta’s most adventurous music explorers. He sees the contemporary scene as a nurturing environment evolving along a mostly positive trajectory.

“It’s somewhat fragmented, but I’m beginning to see the same cross-pollination that made for a peak in the past,” he observes. “A Bent Frequency concert is attended by jazz buffs. A noise show at The Bakery is attended by classical musicians and rap producers. This situation leads to more experimentation across genres, which is needed to take us to the next level.”

Despite a recent spate of performance space closures (e.g., Eyedrum, Mammal Gallery, Murmur), new venues (e.g., The Bakery, Mother Bar, Mammal Gallery relaunched at Met Atlanta) are sprouting in their place. Says Klimchak, “I’m hoping the Ear Pollen series adds another dimension to a movement, which is carrying us toward another peak of experimental music-making in Atlanta.”

Because of its power to heal wounds and reinvigorate the body, Zeus, Hera, Apollo, and the rest of the Olympians sometimes ate ambrosia as a restorative. The Ear Pollen series comes with restorative powers of its own special kind, fit for gods and mortals alike.

Ear Pollen inaugural concert with Andrew Levine, Helton & Bragg, and Tim Crump. $5 suggested donation. 7 p.m. Wed. Jan. 15. (Gallery) 378, 378 Clifton Road. 404-530-9277. On Facebook: Ear Pollen Experimental Music series.

* * *
Shooter, a new album by Jeff Crompton, is due for release on January 11. The eight-track album, which can be streamed and downloaded from Bandcamp (don’t “forget” to pay for it, Listening Posters), features the accomplished Atlanta musician and composer performing overdubbed multi-horn pieces and unadorned solos on alto and baritone saxes and clarinet.

Shooter is an impassioned response to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which left 31 people dead and some 50 wounded during a horrific weekend in August. It expresses with deftly structured imagination and acute sensitivity a range of emotions from anger and despair to unabashed hopefulness.

“I don't know how ‘important’ this album is in the grand scheme of things, but it's very important to me,” Crompton explains in an email exchange. “After the back-to-back mass shootings in August, it became a compulsion to me to record this music. This is an album no one asked for, few people will listen to, and one I absolutely had to do.”

The title song, which was written several years ago, vividly evokes a sinister, foreboding atmosphere. “It has been performed a few times in various guises, but I hope the nine-saxophone version on the album captures the menace and intensity I originally had in mind,” Crompton says.

While the past few years have been frequently disrupted by disconcerting events, including more mass shootings than anyone should have to count, the August massacres, which occurred 13 hours apart, pushed Crompton into an unusually deep state of despair.

“The motivations of the two shooters — white supremacy in one case and apparently just the desire to commit a mass shooting in the other — seemed emblematic of this uniquely American plague,” Crompton reflects. “The fact that we have chosen as a nation, not as individuals, to just let this keep happening is almost literally maddening.”

Other than expressing inner turmoil, Crompton hesitates to ascribe further significance to his work. “Writing music and playing the saxophone are about my only skills, and my only outlet to say something,” he offers, with characteristic self-deprecation. The music tells a different tale, fraught with complex emotions best rendered in the abstract by an artist willing to plumb the seldom-visited, shadowy depths of the soul.

"Slow March (through a dark place)" was written in one day, not long after the acrid smoke in El Paso and Dayton had dissipated. Crompton describes the recorded performance as “a dark, despairing piece of music; if it doesn't strike the listener that way, I haven't done my job.”

As a respite from the wrenching anguish (which nevertheless conjured up some exquisitely beautiful music), Crompton turned to the John Coltrane composition "Peace on Earth" and the African-American spiritual "There is a Balm in Gilead." Both tracks are magnificently affirming, standalone saxophone solos with no overdubbing.

“Despair followed by hope,” Crompton remarks. “I think working on this album has helped me reach a state of hopeful realism.

A house concert celebrating the release of Shooter is scheduled for Saturday, January 11. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/462029214698925/

* * *
On January 3, internationally acclaimed, Atlanta-based vocal artist, jazz performer, and social activist Virginia Schenck (who also goes by the nom de art “VA”) dropped her latest album Battle Cry. Available on all digital platforms and CD, the album, which was recorded in 2018, delivers a topically pertinent message in an assuredly swinging package.

In 2016, sparked by the election of Donald Trump, Schenck felt a renewed commitment to advocating for progressive change and resisting oppression and injustice. “Music is my resistance,” Schenck declares in an interview with Listening Post recorded a few months ago. “I mean that in the best of terms, not to be off-putting, but, rather, to be engaging.”

Schenck earned her activist bona fides almost at birth. Her grandmother was pregnant with Schenck’s mother while campaigning for the right of women to vote in Philadelphia in the 1920s. Almost a century later, this suffragette’s granddaughter co-led a pilgrimage to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture with Rev. Kimberly Jackson, an ordained LGBTQ+ Episcopal priest and candidate for the Georgia Senate in 2020, and Dr. Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing.

“I thought the world was getting better as I aged,” Schenck says. “I thought we were, for the most part, improving every year. Instead, we took one step forward and two back.”

On Battle Cry, her fourth album, Schenck is accompanied by Kevin Bales on piano, Rodney Jordan on bass and Marlon Patton on drums. Bales, a seasoned veteran who can be heard regularly at jazz clubs around Atlanta, has been collaborating with the singer for a decade. While he was living in Atlanta, Jordan taught at Georgia State University when he wasn’t touring or recording with the likes of Marcus Printup, Mulgrew Miller, and Russell Gunn. Most recently, Patton, a Georgia native, along with trombonist Dave Nelson, has been supporting Lonnie Holley in a genre-bending trio.

The music on Battle Cry includes soulfully interpreted renditions of familiar songs, such as Donny Hathaway’s “Sack Full of Dreams,” Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John,” and “Bali Hai” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. It also features evocative takes on “America the Beautiful” and “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

Propelled by Jordan’s subterranean bass and Williams’ hair-raising saxophone, Schenck embellishes “Strange Fruit,” the protest song immortalized by Billie Holiday, with harrowingly abstract poignancy. “Hear My Battle Cry,” the album’s one original song, uses a funky, rolling groove to communicate a central directive: “Can we find the path to freedom by the truth in our lives/Find the courage, strength and hope to stand tall/Resurrect ourselves, correct ourselves, and pay our due/Hear my battle cry: I will live in truth or die.”

All in all, the jazz-inflected tidings of Battle Cry are well worth hearing and heeding. -CL-"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(11061) "In Greek mythology, the consumption of ambrosia endowed the Olympians with immortality. In real life, ambrosia is another word for a mixture of fermented bee pollen and nectar, called “bee bread,” which is gathered and deposited by honeybees for sustaining the residents of a hive.

Ear Pollen is the title of a monthly concert series at 378 in Candler Park programmed by Atlanta percussionist Klimchak at the behest of gallery manager Tom Zarrilli. While immortality may not be in the offing, starting January 15 and running through the end of 2020, Ear Pollen will sustain experimental music fans in the Lo Gallery (downstairs) on the third Wednesday of each month.

“The idea is to showcase different niches of experimental music including electronic and acoustic styles ranging from jazz to noise,” says Klimchak. Known for constructing one-off instruments for imaginative performances, Klimchak once played instruments derived from kitchen tools while simultaneously cooking a meal for the audience. He says Ear Pollen will feature mostly, but not exclusively, Atlanta-based artists.

“Experimental music in Atlanta and elsewhere is divvied up into small sub-genres,” Klimchak says. “Ear Pollen will provide space where folks can listen to a variety of genres all in one place."

The first Ear Pollen concert features Andrew Levine from Hamburg, Germany, improvising on theremin and synthesizers. Born in New York City, Levine began playing violin at the age of six. He studied voice and earned an M.A. in computational linguistics and cognitive psychology at the University of Trier. Since 2010, while the theremin has been Levine’s primary instrument in solo and group settings, he also plays an 0-Coast (“oh-coast”) analog synthesizer, STEIM Cracklebox, and Haken Continuum (synthesizer).

Sharing the triple-bill with Levine are Helton & Bragg, an Atlanta-based drums/percussion and guitar/fretless bass duo (Blake Helton and Colin Bragg, respectively) who play mostly improvised, jazz-oriented music infused with electronic effects. Rounding out the program is Tim Crump, a local saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer whose music explores the intersection of jazz, post-classical, and free improv. Given that the inaugural Ear Pollen lineup features musicians working in closely related realms along the experimental spectrum, Klimchak says he is “anticipating a collective group piece will close out the evening.”

The 2020 Ear Pollen concert calendar currently includes JayVe Montgomery (from Nashville), Amplituba (Bill Pritchard), Kenito Murray, Hypnagogue (James Rosato from Massachusetts), Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel, and Jeremy Muller with many more musicians TBD. “I’m primarily interested in presenting solo and duet improvisation work,” says Klimchak. “That’s due to the size of the room and because smaller groups tend to create a more conversational atmosphere both between the performers and with the audience.”

With a performance resume that stretches back through the 1970s, Klimchak has witnessed and participated in the trailblazing efforts of Atlanta’s most adventurous music explorers. He sees the contemporary scene as a nurturing environment evolving along a mostly positive trajectory.

“It’s somewhat fragmented, but I’m beginning to see the same cross-pollination that made for a peak in the past,” he observes. “A Bent Frequency concert is attended by jazz buffs. A noise show at The Bakery is attended by classical musicians and rap producers. This situation leads to more experimentation across genres, which is needed to take us to the next level.”

Despite a recent spate of performance space closures (e.g., Eyedrum, Mammal Gallery, Murmur), new venues (e.g., The Bakery, Mother Bar, Mammal Gallery relaunched at Met Atlanta) are sprouting in their place. Says Klimchak, “I’m hoping the Ear Pollen series adds another dimension to a movement, which is carrying us toward another peak of experimental music-making in Atlanta.”

Because of its power to heal wounds and reinvigorate the body, Zeus, Hera, Apollo, and the rest of the Olympians sometimes ate ambrosia as a restorative. The Ear Pollen series comes with restorative powers of its own special kind, fit for gods and mortals alike.

''Ear Pollen inaugural concert with Andrew Levine, Helton & Bragg, and Tim Crump. $5 suggested donation. 7 p.m. Wed. Jan. 15. (Gallery) 378, 378 Clifton Road. 404-530-9277. On Facebook: Ear Pollen Experimental Music series.''

::__* * *__::
''Shooter'', a new album by Jeff Crompton, is due for release on January 11. The eight-track album, which can be streamed and downloaded from [https://jeffcrompton.bandcamp.com/album/shooter-2|Bandcamp] (don’t “forget” to pay for it, Listening Posters), features the accomplished Atlanta musician and composer performing overdubbed multi-horn pieces and unadorned solos on alto and baritone saxes and clarinet.

''Shooter'' is an impassioned response to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which left 31 people dead and some 50 wounded during a horrific weekend in August. It expresses with deftly structured imagination and acute sensitivity a range of emotions from anger and despair to unabashed hopefulness.

“I don't know how ‘important’ this album is in the grand scheme of things, but it's very important to me,” Crompton explains in an email exchange. “After the back-to-back mass shootings in August, it became a compulsion to me to record this music. This is an album no one asked for, few people will listen to, and one I absolutely had to do.”

The title song, which was written several years ago, vividly evokes a sinister, foreboding atmosphere. “It has been performed a few times in various guises, but I hope the nine-saxophone version on the album captures the menace and intensity I originally had in mind,” Crompton says.

While the past few years have been frequently disrupted by disconcerting events, including more mass shootings than anyone should have to count, the August massacres, which occurred 13 hours apart, pushed Crompton into an unusually deep state of despair.

“The motivations of the two shooters — white supremacy in one case and apparently just the desire to commit a mass shooting in the other — seemed emblematic of this uniquely American plague,” Crompton reflects. “The fact that we have chosen as a nation, not as individuals, to just let this keep happening is almost literally maddening.”

Other than expressing inner turmoil, Crompton hesitates to ascribe further significance to his work. “Writing music and playing the saxophone are about my only skills, and my only outlet to say something,” he offers, with characteristic self-deprecation. The music tells a different tale, fraught with complex emotions best rendered in the abstract by an artist willing to plumb the seldom-visited, shadowy depths of the soul.

"Slow March (through a dark place)" was written in one day, not long after the acrid smoke in El Paso and Dayton had dissipated. Crompton describes the recorded performance as “a dark, despairing piece of music; if it doesn't strike the listener that way, I haven't done my job.”

As a respite from the wrenching anguish (which nevertheless conjured up some exquisitely beautiful music), Crompton turned to the John Coltrane composition "Peace on Earth" and the African-American spiritual "There is a Balm in Gilead." Both tracks are magnificently affirming, standalone saxophone solos with no overdubbing.

“Despair followed by hope,” Crompton remarks. “I think working on this album has helped me reach a state of hopeful realism.

''A house concert celebrating the release of ''Shooter'' is scheduled for Saturday, January 11. For more information, visit [https://www.facebook.com/events/462029214698925/]''

::__* * *__::
On January 3, internationally acclaimed, Atlanta-based vocal artist, jazz performer, and social activist [http://www.VirginiaSchenck.com|Virginia Schenck] (who also goes by the nom de art “VA”) dropped her latest album ''Battle Cry''. Available on all digital platforms and CD, the album, which was recorded in 2018, delivers a topically pertinent message in an assuredly swinging package.

In 2016, sparked by the election of Donald Trump, Schenck felt a renewed commitment to advocating for progressive change and resisting oppression and injustice. “Music is my resistance,” Schenck declares in an interview with Listening Post recorded a few months ago. “I mean that in the best of terms, not to be off-putting, but, rather, to be engaging.”

Schenck earned her activist bona fides almost at birth. Her grandmother was pregnant with Schenck’s mother while campaigning for the right of women to vote in Philadelphia in the 1920s. Almost a century later, this suffragette’s granddaughter co-led a pilgrimage to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture with Rev. Kimberly Jackson, an ordained LGBTQ+ Episcopal priest and candidate for the Georgia Senate in 2020, and Dr. Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing.

“I thought the world was getting better as I aged,” Schenck says. “I thought we were, for the most part, improving every year. Instead, we took one step forward and two back.”

On ''Battle Cry'', her fourth album, Schenck is accompanied by Kevin Bales on piano, Rodney Jordan on bass and Marlon Patton on drums. Bales, a seasoned veteran who can be heard regularly at jazz clubs around Atlanta, has been collaborating with the singer for a decade. While he was living in Atlanta, Jordan taught at Georgia State University when he wasn’t touring or recording with the likes of Marcus Printup, Mulgrew Miller, and Russell Gunn. Most recently, Patton, a Georgia native, along with trombonist Dave Nelson, has been supporting Lonnie Holley in a genre-bending trio.

The music on ''Battle Cry'' includes soulfully interpreted renditions of familiar songs, such as Donny Hathaway’s “Sack Full of Dreams,” Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John,” and “Bali Hai” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical ''South Pacific''. It also features evocative takes on “America the Beautiful” and “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

Propelled by Jordan’s subterranean bass and Williams’ hair-raising saxophone, Schenck embellishes “Strange Fruit,” the protest song immortalized by Billie Holiday, with harrowingly abstract poignancy. “Hear My Battle Cry,” the album’s one original song, uses a funky, rolling groove to communicate a central directive: “Can we find the path to freedom by the truth in our lives/Find the courage, strength and hope to stand tall/Resurrect ourselves, correct ourselves, and pay our due/Hear my battle cry: I will live in truth or die.”

All in all, the jazz-inflected tidings of ''Battle Cry'' are well worth hearing and heeding. __-CL-__"
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  string(11536) " LP Andrew Tremolo Resized  2020-01-01T21:17:14+00:00 LP Andrew_Tremolo resized.jpg     A new monthly concert series at 378 will feature adventurous musicians from Atlanta and beyond 27127  2020-01-01T21:07:59+00:00 LISTENING POST: Ear Pollen spawns experimental music tony.paris@creativeloafing.com Tony Paris DOUG DELOACH Doug DeLoach 2020-01-01T21:07:59+00:00  In Greek mythology, the consumption of ambrosia endowed the Olympians with immortality. In real life, ambrosia is another word for a mixture of fermented bee pollen and nectar, called “bee bread,” which is gathered and deposited by honeybees for sustaining the residents of a hive.

Ear Pollen is the title of a monthly concert series at 378 in Candler Park programmed by Atlanta percussionist Klimchak at the behest of gallery manager Tom Zarrilli. While immortality may not be in the offing, starting January 15 and running through the end of 2020, Ear Pollen will sustain experimental music fans in the Lo Gallery (downstairs) on the third Wednesday of each month.

“The idea is to showcase different niches of experimental music including electronic and acoustic styles ranging from jazz to noise,” says Klimchak. Known for constructing one-off instruments for imaginative performances, Klimchak once played instruments derived from kitchen tools while simultaneously cooking a meal for the audience. He says Ear Pollen will feature mostly, but not exclusively, Atlanta-based artists.

“Experimental music in Atlanta and elsewhere is divvied up into small sub-genres,” Klimchak says. “Ear Pollen will provide space where folks can listen to a variety of genres all in one place."

The first Ear Pollen concert features Andrew Levine from Hamburg, Germany, improvising on theremin and synthesizers. Born in New York City, Levine began playing violin at the age of six. He studied voice and earned an M.A. in computational linguistics and cognitive psychology at the University of Trier. Since 2010, while the theremin has been Levine’s primary instrument in solo and group settings, he also plays an 0-Coast (“oh-coast”) analog synthesizer, STEIM Cracklebox, and Haken Continuum (synthesizer).

Sharing the triple-bill with Levine are Helton & Bragg, an Atlanta-based drums/percussion and guitar/fretless bass duo (Blake Helton and Colin Bragg, respectively) who play mostly improvised, jazz-oriented music infused with electronic effects. Rounding out the program is Tim Crump, a local saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer whose music explores the intersection of jazz, post-classical, and free improv. Given that the inaugural Ear Pollen lineup features musicians working in closely related realms along the experimental spectrum, Klimchak says he is “anticipating a collective group piece will close out the evening.”

The 2020 Ear Pollen concert calendar currently includes JayVe Montgomery (from Nashville), Amplituba (Bill Pritchard), Kenito Murray, Hypnagogue (James Rosato from Massachusetts), Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel, and Jeremy Muller with many more musicians TBD. “I’m primarily interested in presenting solo and duet improvisation work,” says Klimchak. “That’s due to the size of the room and because smaller groups tend to create a more conversational atmosphere both between the performers and with the audience.”

With a performance resume that stretches back through the 1970s, Klimchak has witnessed and participated in the trailblazing efforts of Atlanta’s most adventurous music explorers. He sees the contemporary scene as a nurturing environment evolving along a mostly positive trajectory.

“It’s somewhat fragmented, but I’m beginning to see the same cross-pollination that made for a peak in the past,” he observes. “A Bent Frequency concert is attended by jazz buffs. A noise show at The Bakery is attended by classical musicians and rap producers. This situation leads to more experimentation across genres, which is needed to take us to the next level.”

Despite a recent spate of performance space closures (e.g., Eyedrum, Mammal Gallery, Murmur), new venues (e.g., The Bakery, Mother Bar, Mammal Gallery relaunched at Met Atlanta) are sprouting in their place. Says Klimchak, “I’m hoping the Ear Pollen series adds another dimension to a movement, which is carrying us toward another peak of experimental music-making in Atlanta.”

Because of its power to heal wounds and reinvigorate the body, Zeus, Hera, Apollo, and the rest of the Olympians sometimes ate ambrosia as a restorative. The Ear Pollen series comes with restorative powers of its own special kind, fit for gods and mortals alike.

Ear Pollen inaugural concert with Andrew Levine, Helton & Bragg, and Tim Crump. $5 suggested donation. 7 p.m. Wed. Jan. 15. (Gallery) 378, 378 Clifton Road. 404-530-9277. On Facebook: Ear Pollen Experimental Music series.

* * *
Shooter, a new album by Jeff Crompton, is due for release on January 11. The eight-track album, which can be streamed and downloaded from Bandcamp (don’t “forget” to pay for it, Listening Posters), features the accomplished Atlanta musician and composer performing overdubbed multi-horn pieces and unadorned solos on alto and baritone saxes and clarinet.

Shooter is an impassioned response to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which left 31 people dead and some 50 wounded during a horrific weekend in August. It expresses with deftly structured imagination and acute sensitivity a range of emotions from anger and despair to unabashed hopefulness.

“I don't know how ‘important’ this album is in the grand scheme of things, but it's very important to me,” Crompton explains in an email exchange. “After the back-to-back mass shootings in August, it became a compulsion to me to record this music. This is an album no one asked for, few people will listen to, and one I absolutely had to do.”

The title song, which was written several years ago, vividly evokes a sinister, foreboding atmosphere. “It has been performed a few times in various guises, but I hope the nine-saxophone version on the album captures the menace and intensity I originally had in mind,” Crompton says.

While the past few years have been frequently disrupted by disconcerting events, including more mass shootings than anyone should have to count, the August massacres, which occurred 13 hours apart, pushed Crompton into an unusually deep state of despair.

“The motivations of the two shooters — white supremacy in one case and apparently just the desire to commit a mass shooting in the other — seemed emblematic of this uniquely American plague,” Crompton reflects. “The fact that we have chosen as a nation, not as individuals, to just let this keep happening is almost literally maddening.”

Other than expressing inner turmoil, Crompton hesitates to ascribe further significance to his work. “Writing music and playing the saxophone are about my only skills, and my only outlet to say something,” he offers, with characteristic self-deprecation. The music tells a different tale, fraught with complex emotions best rendered in the abstract by an artist willing to plumb the seldom-visited, shadowy depths of the soul.

"Slow March (through a dark place)" was written in one day, not long after the acrid smoke in El Paso and Dayton had dissipated. Crompton describes the recorded performance as “a dark, despairing piece of music; if it doesn't strike the listener that way, I haven't done my job.”

As a respite from the wrenching anguish (which nevertheless conjured up some exquisitely beautiful music), Crompton turned to the John Coltrane composition "Peace on Earth" and the African-American spiritual "There is a Balm in Gilead." Both tracks are magnificently affirming, standalone saxophone solos with no overdubbing.

“Despair followed by hope,” Crompton remarks. “I think working on this album has helped me reach a state of hopeful realism.

A house concert celebrating the release of Shooter is scheduled for Saturday, January 11. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/462029214698925/

* * *
On January 3, internationally acclaimed, Atlanta-based vocal artist, jazz performer, and social activist Virginia Schenck (who also goes by the nom de art “VA”) dropped her latest album Battle Cry. Available on all digital platforms and CD, the album, which was recorded in 2018, delivers a topically pertinent message in an assuredly swinging package.

In 2016, sparked by the election of Donald Trump, Schenck felt a renewed commitment to advocating for progressive change and resisting oppression and injustice. “Music is my resistance,” Schenck declares in an interview with Listening Post recorded a few months ago. “I mean that in the best of terms, not to be off-putting, but, rather, to be engaging.”

Schenck earned her activist bona fides almost at birth. Her grandmother was pregnant with Schenck’s mother while campaigning for the right of women to vote in Philadelphia in the 1920s. Almost a century later, this suffragette’s granddaughter co-led a pilgrimage to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture with Rev. Kimberly Jackson, an ordained LGBTQ+ Episcopal priest and candidate for the Georgia Senate in 2020, and Dr. Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing.

“I thought the world was getting better as I aged,” Schenck says. “I thought we were, for the most part, improving every year. Instead, we took one step forward and two back.”

On Battle Cry, her fourth album, Schenck is accompanied by Kevin Bales on piano, Rodney Jordan on bass and Marlon Patton on drums. Bales, a seasoned veteran who can be heard regularly at jazz clubs around Atlanta, has been collaborating with the singer for a decade. While he was living in Atlanta, Jordan taught at Georgia State University when he wasn’t touring or recording with the likes of Marcus Printup, Mulgrew Miller, and Russell Gunn. Most recently, Patton, a Georgia native, along with trombonist Dave Nelson, has been supporting Lonnie Holley in a genre-bending trio.

The music on Battle Cry includes soulfully interpreted renditions of familiar songs, such as Donny Hathaway’s “Sack Full of Dreams,” Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John,” and “Bali Hai” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. It also features evocative takes on “America the Beautiful” and “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

Propelled by Jordan’s subterranean bass and Williams’ hair-raising saxophone, Schenck embellishes “Strange Fruit,” the protest song immortalized by Billie Holiday, with harrowingly abstract poignancy. “Hear My Battle Cry,” the album’s one original song, uses a funky, rolling groove to communicate a central directive: “Can we find the path to freedom by the truth in our lives/Find the courage, strength and hope to stand tall/Resurrect ourselves, correct ourselves, and pay our due/Hear my battle cry: I will live in truth or die.”

All in all, the jazz-inflected tidings of Battle Cry are well worth hearing and heeding. -CL-    Jochen Quas MUSIC ETERNAL: The first installment of the Ear Pollen series showcases the music of American-born, Hamburg, Germany-based improviser Andrew Levine.  0,0,10                                 LISTENING POST: Ear Pollen spawns experimental music "
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  string(7890) "It’s an extraordinarily good thing when good people come together to celebrate a good business by presenting good music while raising money for a good cause. That’s the formula for the concert sponsored by A Cappella Books marking 30 years of continuous operation as Atlanta’s hippest independent book store.

Headlining the concert at the Variety Playhouse on Monday, December 16, is Cat Power, performing a rare solo set. The nom du art of singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, Cat Power has been beguiling listeners with her distinctly breathy, Southern-fried voice and oddly irresistible, melancholic songs since the 1980s when she was living in thoroughly un-gentrified Cabbagetown. Sharing the special A Cappella bill with Cat Power are W8ing4UFOs and FLAP, whose roots also extend through the same deep local underground as Cat Power.

Proceeds from concert ticket sales will benefit Common Good Atlanta (CGA), a nonprofit co-founded in 2008 by Sarah Higinbotham and Bill Taft. CGA offers accredited and non-accredited college courses in three Georgia prisons. To date, more than 250 incarcerated men and women have taken one or more CGA courses. In October, the organization was honored with a 2019 Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities. (For more information about CGA, see the “College Behind Bars” feature also in this issue.)

When asked to expound on the concept behind the benefit concert, A Cappella Books founder and owner Frank Reiss replies, “We had a 25th-anniversary celebration, which was really wonderful, but it felt a little self-indulgent. I pledged that, if we were still around for our 30th, we would do something focused on the community, since the community has been so supportive of us.”


In 1989, when A Cappella Books opened in its original Little Five Points location on Euclid Avenue, the internet was not yet a global shopping destination. Independent book stores, such as Oxford Books and Chapter 11, were around, but most of those eventually succumbed to competition from online outlets and behemoth retailers, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. A few — Charis, Tall Tales, Eagle Eye, and others — forged on, but also felt the impact of a changing marketplace. 

Now in its third location in roughly the same neighborhood (technically, Inman Park), A Cappella Books caters to the sharper end of the book-reading spectrum. The 1,500-square-foot store carries collectible first editions and out-of-print books, as well as shelves of carefully curated new and used books from authors known and obscure, on subjects popular and esoteric. A sizable portion of the store’s sales stem from special events, such as in-store book signings and author presentations at venues including the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Wrecking Bar Brew Pub.

At three decades and counting, A Cappella stands as a testament to Reiss’ now seasoned business savvy and commitment to the cause of serious literature. “I just haven’t known anything else to do through the tough times other than to keep on keeping on,” he says. “I started selling books when I was 21, so it really is all I know.”

The trajectory of A Cappella Books has always included a musical component. Author-musicians are regularly feted, some by Creative Loafing’s own longtime music writer Chad Radford as part of the Writers at the Wrecking Bar series. In past years the store has hosted performances by numerous local musicians including FLAP and various group ventures led by Taft, who also sings and plays guitar with W8ing4UFOs, a band he founded after fronting several Cabbagetown-based aggregations. 

“Bill has been a central part of the music scene since before I opened A Cappella,” Reiss says. “I’ve also been following his work with CGA and always wanted to do something with the organization. Since Chan holds such strong affection for Bill and the other musicians, we figured getting her to come back home for this benefit would make for an ideal lineup.”

In an email exchange, Marshall admits that performing in Atlanta, where she spent her formative years as a musician before moving to New York and ascending to the upper realm of indie-rock stardom, induces mixed emotions.

“Playing hometown shows always brings heavy tides of a million memories, especially playing without our friends we have lost along the way,” she writes. “The magic is that we get to be together again, to share time again, as friends and as creatives, just like we did in the old days.”

During the mid-1980s, which is generally acknowledged as the beginning of a “golden age” of independent and experimental music making in Atlanta, Marshall shared a small, ramshackle house in Cabbagetown with Robert Hayes. Hayes was the bassist for The Jody Grind, the legendary alt-jazz-rock-lounge combo founded by Taft, which included vocalist Kelly Hogan (who will be performing at the Vista Room in January with W8ing4UFOs), and Rob Clayton, who replaced the band’s original drummer, Walter Brewer. Back in the day, as often as possible, The Jody Grind gigs opened with a performance by the “mad poet of Ponce de Leon,” Deacon Lunchbox (Tim Ruttenber).

On Easter Sunday in 1992, Hayes, Clayton, and Ruttenber were heading back to Atlanta from a concert in Florida when a drunk driver plowed head-on into their vehicle, killing all three men. In the aftermath of the tragedy Taft and Hogan formed Kick Me, which became a trio when drummer Alan Page sat in. In February 1994, Page was found in his parked car on Wylie Street in Cabbagetown where he died from a heroin overdose.

During the ensuing years, the music community continued to lose key figures associated with the same era to the ravages of unbridled self-medication. Benjamin, the stage moniker of Robert Dickerson, singer, lyricist, drag queen, and founding member of the Opal Foxx Quartet and Smoke — which included Taft, W8ing4UFOs cellist Brian Halloran and drummer Will Fratesi, plus guitarist Coleman Lewis — passed away from liver failure in 1999. Lewis, who also accompanied Cat Power, died of an overdose in 2014.

“Doing this concert in the name of something good, which needs support, makes it very special, especially so close to the holidays,” says Marshall.

With similar nostalgic affection, FLAP guitarist Matt Miller recalls the heyday of the 1980s/’90s. One of FLAP’s earliest gigs was at the Mudd Shack, the alias for Tortillas, a tiny burrito stand on Ponce de Leon Avenue. On select Saturdays at midnight, after the restaurant closed, the Mudd Shack became a staging platform for the blossoming bohemian subculture. Poetry readings, indie films, music, and performances by the edgiest artists and bands in town were the regular fare.

“When we started playing the Mudd Shack as teenagers, we were warmly welcomed by some of the older and more established musicians and performers in the scene,” Miller says. “People like Deacon and Bill Taft set the tone, which was characterized by friendliness, humility, and generosity rather than exclusivity or snobbishness. Looking back on it, it was a very nurturing and collaborative environment in which we could pursue our idiosyncratic musical vision without worrying too much about interpersonal politics or drama.”

Imagine: A nurturing environment distinguished by a welcoming, inclusive spirit, largely devoid of overt rancor, unnecessary drama, and one-upsmanship. Those were the days, my friends, which most of us knew would eventually end. Regardless, come celebrate good times gone by at the A Cappella Books 30th Anniversary Concert benefitting Common Good Atlanta on December 16. -CL-

A Cappella Books 30th Anniversary Concert, with Cat Power, W8ing4UFOS, and FLAP, at the Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. N.E. Tickets $38.07 to $55.58. 404-524-7354."
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Headlining the concert at the Variety Playhouse on Monday, December 16, is Cat Power, performing a rare solo set. The ''nom du art'' of singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, Cat Power has been beguiling listeners with her distinctly breathy, Southern-fried voice and oddly irresistible, melancholic songs since the 1980s when she was living in thoroughly un-gentrified Cabbagetown. Sharing the special A Cappella bill with Cat Power are W8ing4UFOs and FLAP, whose roots also extend through the same deep local underground as Cat Power.

Proceeds from concert ticket sales will benefit Common Good Atlanta (CGA), a nonprofit co-founded in 2008 by Sarah Higinbotham and Bill Taft. CGA offers accredited and non-accredited college courses in three Georgia prisons. To date, more than 250 incarcerated men and women have taken one or more CGA courses. In October, the organization was honored with a 2019 Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities. (For more information about CGA, see the “College Behind Bars” feature also in this issue.)

When asked to expound on the concept behind the benefit concert, A Cappella Books founder and owner Frank Reiss replies, “We had a 25th-anniversary celebration, which was really wonderful, but it felt a little self-indulgent. I pledged that, if we were still around for our 30th, we would do something focused on the community, since the community has been so supportive of us.”

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In 1989, when A Cappella Books opened in its original Little Five Points location on Euclid Avenue, the internet was not yet a global shopping destination. Independent book stores, such as Oxford Books and Chapter 11, were around, but most of those eventually succumbed to competition from online outlets and behemoth retailers, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. A few — Charis, Tall Tales, Eagle Eye, and others — forged on, but also felt the impact of a changing marketplace. 

Now in its third location in roughly the same neighborhood (technically, Inman Park), A Cappella Books caters to the sharper end of the book-reading spectrum. The 1,500-square-foot store carries collectible first editions and out-of-print books, as well as shelves of carefully curated new and used books from authors known and obscure, on subjects popular and esoteric. A sizable portion of the store’s sales stem from special events, such as in-store book signings and author presentations at venues including the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Wrecking Bar Brew Pub.

At three decades and counting, A Cappella stands as a testament to Reiss’ now seasoned business savvy and commitment to the cause of serious literature. “I just haven’t known anything else to do through the tough times other than to keep on keeping on,” he says. “I started selling books when I was 21, so it really is all I know.”

The trajectory of A Cappella Books has always included a musical component. Author-musicians are regularly feted, some by ''Creative Loafing''’s own longtime music writer Chad Radford as part of the Writers at the Wrecking Bar series. In past years the store has hosted performances by numerous local musicians including FLAP and various group ventures led by Taft, who also sings and plays guitar with W8ing4UFOs, a band he founded after fronting several Cabbagetown-based aggregations. 

“Bill has been a central part of the music scene since before I opened A Cappella,” Reiss says. “I’ve also been following his work with CGA and always wanted to do something with the organization. Since Chan holds such strong affection for Bill and the other musicians, we figured getting her to come back home for this benefit would make for an ideal lineup.”

In an email exchange, Marshall admits that performing in Atlanta, where she spent her formative years as a musician before moving to New York and ascending to the upper realm of indie-rock stardom, induces mixed emotions.

“Playing hometown shows always brings heavy tides of a million memories, especially playing without our friends we have lost along the way,” she writes. “The magic is that we get to be together again, to share time again, as friends and as creatives, just like we did in the old days.”

During the mid-1980s, which is generally acknowledged as the beginning of a “golden age” of independent and experimental music making in Atlanta, Marshall shared a small, ramshackle house in Cabbagetown with Robert Hayes. Hayes was the bassist for The Jody Grind, the legendary alt-jazz-rock-lounge combo founded by Taft, which included vocalist Kelly Hogan (who will be performing at the Vista Room in January with W8ing4UFOs), and Rob Clayton, who replaced the band’s original drummer, Walter Brewer. Back in the day, as often as possible, The Jody Grind gigs opened with a performance by the “mad poet of Ponce de Leon,” Deacon Lunchbox (Tim Ruttenber).

On Easter Sunday in 1992, Hayes, Clayton, and Ruttenber were heading back to Atlanta from a concert in Florida when a drunk driver plowed head-on into their vehicle, killing all three men. In the aftermath of the tragedy Taft and Hogan formed Kick Me, which became a trio when drummer Alan Page sat in. In February 1994, Page was found in his parked car on Wylie Street in Cabbagetown where he died from a heroin overdose.

During the ensuing years, the music community continued to lose key figures associated with the same era to the ravages of unbridled self-medication. Benjamin, the stage moniker of Robert Dickerson, singer, lyricist, drag queen, and founding member of the Opal Foxx Quartet and Smoke — which included Taft, W8ing4UFOs cellist Brian Halloran and drummer Will Fratesi, plus guitarist Coleman Lewis — passed away from liver failure in 1999. Lewis, who also accompanied Cat Power, died of an overdose in 2014.

“Doing this concert in the name of something good, which needs support, makes it very special, especially so close to the holidays,” says Marshall.

With similar nostalgic affection, FLAP guitarist Matt Miller recalls the heyday of the 1980s/’90s. One of FLAP’s earliest gigs was at the Mudd Shack, the alias for Tortillas, a tiny burrito stand on Ponce de Leon Avenue. On select Saturdays at midnight, after the restaurant closed, the Mudd Shack became a staging platform for the blossoming bohemian subculture. Poetry readings, indie films, music, and performances by the edgiest artists and bands in town were the regular fare.

“When we started playing the Mudd Shack as teenagers, we were warmly welcomed by some of the older and more established musicians and performers in the scene,” Miller says. “People like Deacon and Bill Taft set the tone, which was characterized by friendliness, humility, and generosity rather than exclusivity or snobbishness. Looking back on it, it was a very nurturing and collaborative environment in which we could pursue our idiosyncratic musical vision without worrying too much about interpersonal politics or drama.”

Imagine: A nurturing environment distinguished by a welcoming, inclusive spirit, largely devoid of overt rancor, unnecessary drama, and one-upsmanship. Those were the days, my friends, which most of us knew would eventually end. Regardless, come celebrate good times gone by at the A Cappella Books 30th Anniversary Concert benefitting Common Good Atlanta on December 16. __-CL-__

''A Cappella Books 30th Anniversary Concert, with Cat Power, W8ing4UFOS, and FLAP, at the Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. N.E. Tickets $38.07 to $55.58. 404-524-7354.''"
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  string(8569) " Listening Post Dec Composite  2019-12-04T19:26:17+00:00 Listening_Post_Dec_composite.jpg    listening post cat power chan marshall a cappella books Anniversary concert benefits Common Good Atlanta 26560  2019-12-04T18:55:07+00:00 LISTENING POST: Cat Power, W8ing4UFOS, and FLAP celebrate 30 years of A Cappella Books and community service jim.harris@creativeloafing.com Jim Harris Doug Deloach Doug DeLoach 2019-12-04T18:55:07+00:00  It’s an extraordinarily good thing when good people come together to celebrate a good business by presenting good music while raising money for a good cause. That’s the formula for the concert sponsored by A Cappella Books marking 30 years of continuous operation as Atlanta’s hippest independent book store.

Headlining the concert at the Variety Playhouse on Monday, December 16, is Cat Power, performing a rare solo set. The nom du art of singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, Cat Power has been beguiling listeners with her distinctly breathy, Southern-fried voice and oddly irresistible, melancholic songs since the 1980s when she was living in thoroughly un-gentrified Cabbagetown. Sharing the special A Cappella bill with Cat Power are W8ing4UFOs and FLAP, whose roots also extend through the same deep local underground as Cat Power.

Proceeds from concert ticket sales will benefit Common Good Atlanta (CGA), a nonprofit co-founded in 2008 by Sarah Higinbotham and Bill Taft. CGA offers accredited and non-accredited college courses in three Georgia prisons. To date, more than 250 incarcerated men and women have taken one or more CGA courses. In October, the organization was honored with a 2019 Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities. (For more information about CGA, see the “College Behind Bars” feature also in this issue.)

When asked to expound on the concept behind the benefit concert, A Cappella Books founder and owner Frank Reiss replies, “We had a 25th-anniversary celebration, which was really wonderful, but it felt a little self-indulgent. I pledged that, if we were still around for our 30th, we would do something focused on the community, since the community has been so supportive of us.”


In 1989, when A Cappella Books opened in its original Little Five Points location on Euclid Avenue, the internet was not yet a global shopping destination. Independent book stores, such as Oxford Books and Chapter 11, were around, but most of those eventually succumbed to competition from online outlets and behemoth retailers, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. A few — Charis, Tall Tales, Eagle Eye, and others — forged on, but also felt the impact of a changing marketplace. 

Now in its third location in roughly the same neighborhood (technically, Inman Park), A Cappella Books caters to the sharper end of the book-reading spectrum. The 1,500-square-foot store carries collectible first editions and out-of-print books, as well as shelves of carefully curated new and used books from authors known and obscure, on subjects popular and esoteric. A sizable portion of the store’s sales stem from special events, such as in-store book signings and author presentations at venues including the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Wrecking Bar Brew Pub.

At three decades and counting, A Cappella stands as a testament to Reiss’ now seasoned business savvy and commitment to the cause of serious literature. “I just haven’t known anything else to do through the tough times other than to keep on keeping on,” he says. “I started selling books when I was 21, so it really is all I know.”

The trajectory of A Cappella Books has always included a musical component. Author-musicians are regularly feted, some by Creative Loafing’s own longtime music writer Chad Radford as part of the Writers at the Wrecking Bar series. In past years the store has hosted performances by numerous local musicians including FLAP and various group ventures led by Taft, who also sings and plays guitar with W8ing4UFOs, a band he founded after fronting several Cabbagetown-based aggregations. 

“Bill has been a central part of the music scene since before I opened A Cappella,” Reiss says. “I’ve also been following his work with CGA and always wanted to do something with the organization. Since Chan holds such strong affection for Bill and the other musicians, we figured getting her to come back home for this benefit would make for an ideal lineup.”

In an email exchange, Marshall admits that performing in Atlanta, where she spent her formative years as a musician before moving to New York and ascending to the upper realm of indie-rock stardom, induces mixed emotions.

“Playing hometown shows always brings heavy tides of a million memories, especially playing without our friends we have lost along the way,” she writes. “The magic is that we get to be together again, to share time again, as friends and as creatives, just like we did in the old days.”

During the mid-1980s, which is generally acknowledged as the beginning of a “golden age” of independent and experimental music making in Atlanta, Marshall shared a small, ramshackle house in Cabbagetown with Robert Hayes. Hayes was the bassist for The Jody Grind, the legendary alt-jazz-rock-lounge combo founded by Taft, which included vocalist Kelly Hogan (who will be performing at the Vista Room in January with W8ing4UFOs), and Rob Clayton, who replaced the band’s original drummer, Walter Brewer. Back in the day, as often as possible, The Jody Grind gigs opened with a performance by the “mad poet of Ponce de Leon,” Deacon Lunchbox (Tim Ruttenber).

On Easter Sunday in 1992, Hayes, Clayton, and Ruttenber were heading back to Atlanta from a concert in Florida when a drunk driver plowed head-on into their vehicle, killing all three men. In the aftermath of the tragedy Taft and Hogan formed Kick Me, which became a trio when drummer Alan Page sat in. In February 1994, Page was found in his parked car on Wylie Street in Cabbagetown where he died from a heroin overdose.

During the ensuing years, the music community continued to lose key figures associated with the same era to the ravages of unbridled self-medication. Benjamin, the stage moniker of Robert Dickerson, singer, lyricist, drag queen, and founding member of the Opal Foxx Quartet and Smoke — which included Taft, W8ing4UFOs cellist Brian Halloran and drummer Will Fratesi, plus guitarist Coleman Lewis — passed away from liver failure in 1999. Lewis, who also accompanied Cat Power, died of an overdose in 2014.

“Doing this concert in the name of something good, which needs support, makes it very special, especially so close to the holidays,” says Marshall.

With similar nostalgic affection, FLAP guitarist Matt Miller recalls the heyday of the 1980s/’90s. One of FLAP’s earliest gigs was at the Mudd Shack, the alias for Tortillas, a tiny burrito stand on Ponce de Leon Avenue. On select Saturdays at midnight, after the restaurant closed, the Mudd Shack became a staging platform for the blossoming bohemian subculture. Poetry readings, indie films, music, and performances by the edgiest artists and bands in town were the regular fare.

“When we started playing the Mudd Shack as teenagers, we were warmly welcomed by some of the older and more established musicians and performers in the scene,” Miller says. “People like Deacon and Bill Taft set the tone, which was characterized by friendliness, humility, and generosity rather than exclusivity or snobbishness. Looking back on it, it was a very nurturing and collaborative environment in which we could pursue our idiosyncratic musical vision without worrying too much about interpersonal politics or drama.”

Imagine: A nurturing environment distinguished by a welcoming, inclusive spirit, largely devoid of overt rancor, unnecessary drama, and one-upsmanship. Those were the days, my friends, which most of us knew would eventually end. Regardless, come celebrate good times gone by at the A Cappella Books 30th Anniversary Concert benefitting Common Good Atlanta on December 16. -CL-

A Cappella Books 30th Anniversary Concert, with Cat Power, W8ing4UFOS, and FLAP, at the Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. N.E. Tickets $38.07 to $55.58. 404-524-7354.    Courtesy of A Cappella Books   0,0,10    listening post "cat power" "chan marshall" "a cappella books"                             LISTENING POST: Cat Power, W8ing4UFOS, and FLAP celebrate 30 years of A Cappella Books and community service "
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Article

Wednesday December 4, 2019 01:55 pm EST
Anniversary concert benefits Common Good Atlanta | more...
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  string(54) "‘College Behind Bars’ packs a rehabilitative punch"
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  string(54) "Gripping documentary spotlights Bard Prison Initiative"
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  string(14009) "When it comes to incarceration, the United States of America is far and away the global leader in all the major categories. Based on data compiled by watchdog organizations, such as World Prison Brief and the Prison Policy Initiative, the American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, 80 Indian Country jails, and a smattering of military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in outlying U.S. territories.

In 2015, the country with slightly more than four percent of the world population held 21 percent of the world's inmates. Every year, some 630,000 men and women are released from U.S. prisons. In the near total absence of rehabilitation programs, within three years, nearly half of those released are back behind bars.

“Mass incarceration has crushing consequences: racial, social, and economic,” declares Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, in the foreword to Ending Mass Incarceration: Ideas from Today’s Leaders, a 2019 survey containing essays by presidential candidates, community activists, authors, journalists, and policymakers. “We spend around $270 billion per year on our criminal justice system. In California it costs more than $75,000 per year to house each prisoner — more than it would cost to send them to Harvard.”

The cost comparison between incarceration and education is a telling point, one of many discussed in the national broadcast premier of College Behind Bars next Monday and Tuesday, November 25-26, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). The four-hour-long documentary (two hours per night) follows a small group of men and women grappling with the rigors of obtaining a higher education through the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). Among the students are people who are serving time for serious crimes, including murder.

Shot over four years in maximum and medium security prisons in New York state, College Behind Bars was directed by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick (The Vietnam War, Frank Lloyd Wright), produced by Sarah Botstein, and executive produced by Ken Burns. Intense and compelling, the film offers an insightful glimpse into an existential crisis that should be a platform plank for every candidate during the unfolding election cycle.

“Through the personal stories of the students and their families, the film reveals the transformative power of higher education and puts a human face on America’s criminal justice crisis,” notes a PBS press release. “It raises questions we urgently need to address: What is prison for? Who has access to educational opportunity? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we have justice without redemption?”

Named for the college where it was founded by undergraduate students in 1999, the Bard Prison Initiative provides incarcerated men and women with an opportunity to earn a fully accredited diploma from the 160-year-old liberal arts institution in Annandale, New York. Currently, some 300 students in six prisons are enrolled in BPI at a cost of about $6,000 per student per year. Most of the funding is gleaned from private sources. Since BPI was launched, more than 500 alumni have been released; fewer than four percent have been sent back to prison.

Closer to home, the Georgia Department of Corrections administers one of the largest prison systems in the U.S. with nearly 52,000 incarcerated people under its supervision. Common Good Atlanta (CGA), a nonprofit co-founded in 2008 by Sarah Higinbotham and Bill Taft, teaches courses through Georgia State University to students at Phillips State Prison in Duluth, through Bard College (Clemente Course in the Humanities) at Whitworth Women’s Facility in Hartwell, and at the Metro Reentry Facility in south Atlanta. CGA recently launched a course in downtown Atlanta for previously incarcerated people.

“While we have no formal relationship, CGA is inspired and influenced by BPI's emphasis on the humanities,” Taft explains.

CGA students enroll in a non-degree bearing program, which offers enrichment courses in subjects including literature, mathematics, history, and philosophy. The courses focus on critical thinking, written and oral communications, time management, teamwork, and self-advocacy. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 incarcerated men and women have taken CGA courses.

CGA’s campaign to bring the rehabilitative power of education to Georgia’s criminal justice system has not gone unrecognized. On October 24, in a ceremony in the Georgia State Capitol, Governor Brian Kemp presented Higinbotham and Taft with the 2019 Governor's Award for the Arts and Humanities. The award recognizes individuals and organizations for their “significant contributions to Georgia's civic and cultural vitality through excellence and service to the arts and humanities.”

On Monday, December 16, A Cappella Books will mark 30 years of continuous operation with a special concert benefiting Common Good Atlanta headlined by Chan Marshall. Better known as Cat Power, the singer-songwriter adopted the feline moniker at the beginning of her career when she was living in Cabbagetown. Atlanta-based W8ing4UFOs (led by Taft) and the unflappable guitar duo FLAP will open the concert at Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points (for more info, see Listening Post). 

Up until the early 1980s, America’s prison population was somewhat commensurate with the country’s general population numbers. That alignment started skewing apart when “waging the war on drugs” and “getting tough on crime” became expedient mantras across the political spectrum. In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Authored by then-Senator Joe Biden and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the bill contained certain provisions, such as harsh sentencing for non-violent drug infractions and mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders, which sparked a quantum leap in America’s prison population.

One of the bill’s most contentious provisions was a ban on extending Pell Grants — which provide financial assistance to low-income families for college undergraduate and post-baccalaureate programs — to incarcerated people. This in spite of multiple studies proving the effectiveness of education as an instrument of rehabilitation.

In recent years, the socio-political pendulum has swung back in the other direction. In 2015, the Obama administration launched the Second Chance Pell pilot program, which reintroduced limited eligibility for Pell Grants to incarcerated people. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced his administration’s support for “second step legislation,” which generally professes to seek “successful reentry and reduced unemployment for Americans with past criminal records.” Having seen the light illuminating the poll numbers, presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged to “eliminate barriers keeping formerly incarcerated individuals from accessing public assistance such as SNAP, Pell Grants, and housing support.”

On Wednesday, October 23, Novick and Botstein, accompanied by two BPI graduates, Wesley Caines and Dyjuan Tatro, presided over a preview screening of College Behind Bars in the Morehouse School of Medicine auditorium, followed by a panel discussion moderated by WABE-FM’s Rose Scott. During the afternoon prior to the confab, Novick, Botstein, Caines, and Tatro discussed the documentary with Creative Loafing in an exclusive telephone interview.

Doug DeLoach: What has been the response to College Behind Bars?

Lynn Novick: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive regardless of the setting. We’ve been in city halls, governors’ offices, and on college campuses, and the energy from the audiences has been remarkable.

Dyjuan Tatro: At the launch meeting, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, sent us off on the right foot. Basically, he said, “So much of what we’re used to seeing in the media around people in prison is derogatory and depressing. This is a story about hope. This is a story that inspires. It’s a different type of story about people who are incarcerated in this country.”

What sort of challenges did you face in the process of making the film?

Novick: The biggest challenge was the fact that we were watching and documenting a story, which was unfolding before our eyes over four or five years. We had to let the story happen first and then figure out how to tell it using four hundred hours of film, which was masterfully edited by Tricia Reidy.

The original idea was to follow people over time beginning with their acceptance into the Bard program through graduation. Of course, as things happened within each person’s story, we had to be flexible and follow things where they led us.

What sort of access did you have and how difficult was it to arrange?

Sarah Botstein: It took a long time to get access. Having said that, the New York State Department of Corrections and the State of New York really believe in higher education in prison and the BPI program in particular. They were supportive all along the way.

We were in a maximum security prison. We were always very mindful of what we could bring in, where we could and could not shoot, where we could be and not be depending on the time of day. It was unlike anything we had ever done before. We had to be extremely well-organized and coordinated. At any given moment, we were very much aware that the Department of Corrections or some other authority might decide they had given us enough access and that the production could end.

How did you coordinate the production schedule with activity inside the prisons where you were filming?

Wesley Caines: The prison days are structured into three modules: a.m., p.m., and evening. Those three modules include about three hours of out-of-cell time. Everything happens around that schedule: classes, programming, recreation, study hall. The filming took place within that ecosystem. Lynn, Sarah, and the crew would be in at seven in the morning, but access to the people inside who were studying only occurred during specific periods of about two to three hours each.

Tatro: We never knew when Lynn and Sarah were going to show up. They couldn’t call us to plan things. They would just show up with the cameras and take in what was happening in a spontaneous way.

How does the BPI admission process work for incarcerated students?

Caines: First and foremost, Bard is a liberal arts college. The global nature of a liberal arts education is intended to cultivate in the individual a sense of civic mindedness, a humanistic viewpoint, and critical thinking. The admission process for BPI is the same as if you walked up to the front door in Annandale and announced your intention to attend college. It’s an extremely competitive process. Each academic year, anywhere from 10-16 people are admitted out of between three and four hundred submitted applications.

How does someone who did poorly in school or might not have graduated from high school qualify for admission to BPI?

Tatro: When you take the essay-based entrance exam, you are given a series of prompts by authors you have never read before, people you are not familiar with, and they ask you to respond to those prompts in a way that is meaningful to you. What is amazing about this process is that the subjectivity in it allows people to be smart in different ways. It is not a formulaic, standardized test. It’s not a test intended to measure intelligence or academic ability or whether you know how to take a test. It’s designed to measure the student’s interest in and engagement with the subjects and ideas placed in front of them. When I took the exam, I did not know what to expect, and I sweated the whole time. Then I sweated, waiting for that letter to come. (Laughing)

What sort of reaction or response did you get from the prison population?

Caines: I was in the very first cohort of BPI students. My greatest support when I entered the program came from the people in prison with me. They saw in my admittance to the program and in my subsequent success the potential for their own success. They were very considerate and supportive of me and my fellow students. They were conscious of the noise level when we needed to study. They encouraged us when things got tough, when we questioned why we were enduring this academic rigor. They would say, “What’s wrong with you? I wish I could be there.” The impact of their support cannot be over-stated.

College Behind Bars is a remarkable documentary in its advocacy for expanding educational programs in the American prison system and, in particular, the effectiveness of the BPI model.

Tatro: While the film features all BPI students, it exemplifies the type of talent and genius that we have locked away in our prisons all across America. Rather than this film being a commercial for BPI, it is a film that demonstrates the transformative power of education and makes an argument for a greater need or access to education in this country in a very broad and general way.

Caines: Education is the vehicle in this documentary. BPI is the fuel in that vehicle. As a mirror of society, it reveals some of the choices we have intentionally made around mass incarceration. It shows the value of public education and the ways in which we grant access to quality education in and out of prison.

Tatro: Some people are going to watch this film and continue to disagree with what we’re doing. The film creates a space where both sides can come together and have a reasonable and balanced conversation around this issue."
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(14685) "When it comes to incarceration, the United States of America is far and away the global leader in all the major categories. Based on data compiled by watchdog organizations, such as [https://www.prisonstudies.org/|World Prison Brief] and the [https://www.prisonpolicy.org/factsheets/pie2019_allimages.pdf|Prison Policy Initiative], the American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, 80 Indian Country jails, and a smattering of military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in outlying U.S. territories.

In 2015, the country with slightly more than four percent of the world population held 21 percent of the world's inmates. Every year, some 630,000 men and women are released from U.S. prisons. In the near total absence of rehabilitation programs, within three years, nearly half of those released are back behind bars.

“Mass incarceration has crushing consequences: racial, social, and economic,” declares Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, in the foreword to [https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/2019_EndingMassIncarceration_digital.pdf|Ending Mass Incarceration: Ideas from Today’s Leaders], a 2019 survey containing essays by presidential candidates, community activists, authors, journalists, and policymakers. “We spend around $270 billion per year on our criminal justice system. In California it costs more than $75,000 per year to house each prisoner — more than it would cost to send them to Harvard.”

The cost comparison between incarceration and education is a telling point, one of many discussed in the national broadcast premier of ''College Behind Bars'' next Monday and Tuesday, November 25-26, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). The four-hour-long documentary (two hours per night) follows a small group of men and women grappling with the rigors of obtaining a higher education through the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). Among the students are people who are serving time for serious crimes, including murder.

Shot over four years in maximum and medium security prisons in New York state, ''College Behind Bar''s was directed by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick (''The Vietnam War, Frank Lloyd Wright''), produced by Sarah Botstein, and executive produced by Ken Burns. Intense and compelling, the film offers an insightful glimpse into an existential crisis that should be a platform plank for every candidate during the unfolding election cycle.

“Through the personal stories of the students and their families, the film reveals the transformative power of higher education and puts a human face on America’s criminal justice crisis,” notes a PBS press release. “It raises questions we urgently need to address: What is prison for? Who has access to educational opportunity? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we have justice without redemption?”

Named for the college where it was founded by undergraduate students in 1999, the Bard Prison Initiative provides incarcerated men and women with an opportunity to earn a fully accredited diploma from the 160-year-old liberal arts institution in Annandale, New York. Currently, some 300 students in six prisons are enrolled in BPI at a cost of about $6,000 per student per year. Most of the funding is gleaned from private sources. Since BPI was launched, more than 500 alumni have been released; fewer than four percent have been sent back to prison.

Closer to home, the Georgia Department of Corrections administers one of the largest prison systems in the U.S. with nearly 52,000 incarcerated people under its supervision. [http://www.commongoodatlanta.com/|Common Good Atlanta] (CGA), a nonprofit co-founded in 2008 by Sarah Higinbotham and Bill Taft, teaches courses through Georgia State University to students at Phillips State Prison in Duluth, through Bard College (Clemente Course in the Humanities) at Whitworth Women’s Facility in Hartwell, and at the Metro Reentry Facility in south Atlanta. CGA recently launched a course in downtown Atlanta for previously incarcerated people.

“While we have no formal relationship, CGA is inspired and influenced by BPI's emphasis on the humanities,” Taft explains.

CGA students enroll in a non-degree bearing program, which offers enrichment courses in subjects including literature, mathematics, history, and philosophy. The courses focus on critical thinking, written and oral communications, time management, teamwork, and self-advocacy. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 incarcerated men and women have taken CGA courses.

CGA’s campaign to bring the rehabilitative power of education to Georgia’s criminal justice system has not gone unrecognized. On October 24, in a ceremony in the Georgia State Capitol, Governor Brian Kemp presented Higinbotham and Taft with the 2019 Governor's Award for the Arts and Humanities. The award recognizes individuals and organizations for their “significant contributions to Georgia's civic and cultural vitality through excellence and service to the arts and humanities.”

On Monday, December 16, [https://www.acappellabooks.com/|A Cappella Books] will mark 30 years of continuous operation with a special concert benefiting Common Good Atlanta headlined by Chan Marshall. Better known as Cat Power, the singer-songwriter adopted the feline moniker at the beginning of her career when she was living in Cabbagetown. Atlanta-based W8ing4UFOs (led by Taft) and the unflappable guitar duo FLAP will open the concert at Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points (for more info, see Listening Post). 

Up until the early 1980s, America’s prison population was somewhat commensurate with the country’s general population numbers. That alignment started skewing apart when “waging the war on drugs” and “getting tough on crime” became expedient mantras across the political spectrum. In 1994, Congress passed the [https://www.congress.gov/bill/103rd-congress/house-bill/3355/text|Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act]. Authored by then-Senator Joe Biden and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the bill contained certain provisions, such as harsh sentencing for non-violent drug infractions and mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders, which sparked a quantum leap in America’s prison population.

One of the bill’s most contentious provisions was a ban on extending Pell Grants — which provide financial assistance to low-income families for college undergraduate and post-baccalaureate programs — to incarcerated people. This in spite of multiple studies proving the effectiveness of education as an instrument of rehabilitation.

In recent years, the socio-political pendulum has swung back in the other direction. In 2015, the Obama administration launched the [https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/12000-incarcerated-students-enroll-postsecondary-educational-and-training-programs-through-education-departments-new-second-chance-pell-pilot-program|Second Chance Pell] pilot program, which reintroduced limited eligibility for Pell Grants to incarcerated people. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced his administration’s support for “second step legislation,” which generally professes to seek “successful reentry and reduced unemployment for Americans with past criminal records.” Having seen the light illuminating the poll numbers, presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged to “eliminate barriers keeping formerly incarcerated individuals from accessing public assistance such as SNAP, Pell Grants, and housing support.”

On Wednesday, October 23, Novick and Botstein, accompanied by two BPI graduates, Wesley Caines and Dyjuan Tatro, presided over a preview screening of ''College Behind Bars'' in the Morehouse School of Medicine auditorium, followed by a panel discussion moderated by WABE-FM’s Rose Scott. During the afternoon prior to the confab, Novick, Botstein, Caines, and Tatro discussed the documentary with Creative Loafing in an exclusive telephone interview.

__Doug DeLoach:__ ''__What has been the response to __''__College Behind Bars__''__?__''

__Lynn Novick:__ The reception has been overwhelmingly positive regardless of the setting. We’ve been in city halls, governors’ offices, and on college campuses, and the energy from the audiences has been remarkable.

__Dyjuan Tatro:__ At the launch meeting, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, sent us off on the right foot. Basically, he said, “So much of what we’re used to seeing in the media around people in prison is derogatory and depressing. This is a story about hope. This is a story that inspires. It’s a different type of story about people who are incarcerated in this country.”

''__What sort of challenges did you face in the process of making the film?__''

__Novick:__ The biggest challenge was the fact that we were watching and documenting a story, which was unfolding before our eyes over four or five years. We had to let the story happen first and then figure out how to tell it using four hundred hours of film, which was masterfully edited by Tricia Reidy.

The original idea was to follow people over time beginning with their acceptance into the Bard program through graduation. Of course, as things happened within each person’s story, we had to be flexible and follow things where they led us.

''__What sort of access did you have and how difficult was it to arrange?__''

__Sarah Botstein:__ It took a long time to get access. Having said that, the New York State Department of Corrections and the State of New York really believe in higher education in prison and the BPI program in particular. They were supportive all along the way.

We were in a maximum security prison. We were always very mindful of what we could bring in, where we could and could not shoot, where we could be and not be depending on the time of day. It was unlike anything we had ever done before. We had to be extremely well-organized and coordinated. At any given moment, we were very much aware that the Department of Corrections or some other authority might decide they had given us enough access and that the production could end.

''__How did you coordinate the production schedule with activity inside the prisons where you were filming?__''

__Wesley Caines:__ The prison days are structured into three modules: a.m., p.m., and evening. Those three modules include about three hours of out-of-cell time. Everything happens around that schedule: classes, programming, recreation, study hall. The filming took place within that ecosystem. Lynn, Sarah, and the crew would be in at seven in the morning, but access to the people inside who were studying only occurred during specific periods of about two to three hours each.

__Tatro: __We never knew when Lynn and Sarah were going to show up. They couldn’t call us to plan things. They would just show up with the cameras and take in what was happening in a spontaneous way.

''__How does the BPI admission process work for incarcerated students?__''

__Caines:__ First and foremost, Bard is a liberal arts college. The global nature of a liberal arts education is intended to cultivate in the individual a sense of civic mindedness, a humanistic viewpoint, and critical thinking. The admission process for BPI is the same as if you walked up to the front door in Annandale and announced your intention to attend college. It’s an extremely competitive process. Each academic year, anywhere from 10-16 people are admitted out of between three and four hundred submitted applications.

__''How does someone who did poorly in school or might not have graduated from high school qualify for admission to BPI?''__

__Tatro:__ When you take the essay-based entrance exam, you are given a series of prompts by authors you have never read before, people you are not familiar with, and they ask you to respond to those prompts in a way that is meaningful to you. What is amazing about this process is that the subjectivity in it allows people to be smart in different ways. It is not a formulaic, standardized test. It’s not a test intended to measure intelligence or academic ability or whether you know how to take a test. It’s designed to measure the student’s interest in and engagement with the subjects and ideas placed in front of them. When I took the exam, I did not know what to expect, and I sweated the whole time. Then I sweated, waiting for that letter to come. (Laughing)

''__What sort of reaction or response did you get from the prison population?__''

__Caines:__ I was in the very first cohort of BPI students. My greatest support when I entered the program came from the people in prison with me. They saw in my admittance to the program and in my subsequent success the potential for their own success. They were very considerate and supportive of me and my fellow students. They were conscious of the noise level when we needed to study. They encouraged us when things got tough, when we questioned why we were enduring this academic rigor. They would say, “What’s wrong with you? I wish I could be there.” The impact of their support cannot be over-stated.

__College Behind Bars'' is a remarkable documentary in its advocacy for expanding educational programs in the American prison system and, in particular, the effectiveness of the BPI model.''__

__Tatro: __While the film features all BPI students, it exemplifies the type of talent and genius that we have locked away in our prisons all across America. Rather than this film being a commercial for BPI, it is a film that demonstrates the transformative power of education and makes an argument for a greater need or access to education in this country in a very broad and general way.

__Caines:__ Education is the vehicle in this documentary. BPI is the fuel in that vehicle. As a mirror of society, it reveals some of the choices we have intentionally made around mass incarceration. It shows the value of public education and the ways in which we grant access to quality education in and out of prison.

__Tatro:__ Some people are going to watch this film and continue to disagree with what we’re doing. The film creates a space where both sides can come together and have a reasonable and balanced conversation around this issue."
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  string(14815) " Bard Prison Initiative College Behind Bars 1  2019-11-22T22:41:47+00:00 Bard Prison Initiative College Behind Bars 1.jpg   This is awesome! Making progress on the road to reason. We need more of this please.  Gripping documentary spotlights Bard Prison Initiative 26353  2019-12-02T22:44:00+00:00 ‘College Behind Bars’ packs a rehabilitative punch tony.paris@creativeloafing.com Tony Paris Doug DeLoach Doug DeLoach 2019-12-02T22:44:00+00:00  When it comes to incarceration, the United States of America is far and away the global leader in all the major categories. Based on data compiled by watchdog organizations, such as World Prison Brief and the Prison Policy Initiative, the American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, 80 Indian Country jails, and a smattering of military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in outlying U.S. territories.

In 2015, the country with slightly more than four percent of the world population held 21 percent of the world's inmates. Every year, some 630,000 men and women are released from U.S. prisons. In the near total absence of rehabilitation programs, within three years, nearly half of those released are back behind bars.

“Mass incarceration has crushing consequences: racial, social, and economic,” declares Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, in the foreword to Ending Mass Incarceration: Ideas from Today’s Leaders, a 2019 survey containing essays by presidential candidates, community activists, authors, journalists, and policymakers. “We spend around $270 billion per year on our criminal justice system. In California it costs more than $75,000 per year to house each prisoner — more than it would cost to send them to Harvard.”

The cost comparison between incarceration and education is a telling point, one of many discussed in the national broadcast premier of College Behind Bars next Monday and Tuesday, November 25-26, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). The four-hour-long documentary (two hours per night) follows a small group of men and women grappling with the rigors of obtaining a higher education through the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). Among the students are people who are serving time for serious crimes, including murder.

Shot over four years in maximum and medium security prisons in New York state, College Behind Bars was directed by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick (The Vietnam War, Frank Lloyd Wright), produced by Sarah Botstein, and executive produced by Ken Burns. Intense and compelling, the film offers an insightful glimpse into an existential crisis that should be a platform plank for every candidate during the unfolding election cycle.

“Through the personal stories of the students and their families, the film reveals the transformative power of higher education and puts a human face on America’s criminal justice crisis,” notes a PBS press release. “It raises questions we urgently need to address: What is prison for? Who has access to educational opportunity? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we have justice without redemption?”

Named for the college where it was founded by undergraduate students in 1999, the Bard Prison Initiative provides incarcerated men and women with an opportunity to earn a fully accredited diploma from the 160-year-old liberal arts institution in Annandale, New York. Currently, some 300 students in six prisons are enrolled in BPI at a cost of about $6,000 per student per year. Most of the funding is gleaned from private sources. Since BPI was launched, more than 500 alumni have been released; fewer than four percent have been sent back to prison.

Closer to home, the Georgia Department of Corrections administers one of the largest prison systems in the U.S. with nearly 52,000 incarcerated people under its supervision. Common Good Atlanta (CGA), a nonprofit co-founded in 2008 by Sarah Higinbotham and Bill Taft, teaches courses through Georgia State University to students at Phillips State Prison in Duluth, through Bard College (Clemente Course in the Humanities) at Whitworth Women’s Facility in Hartwell, and at the Metro Reentry Facility in south Atlanta. CGA recently launched a course in downtown Atlanta for previously incarcerated people.

“While we have no formal relationship, CGA is inspired and influenced by BPI's emphasis on the humanities,” Taft explains.

CGA students enroll in a non-degree bearing program, which offers enrichment courses in subjects including literature, mathematics, history, and philosophy. The courses focus on critical thinking, written and oral communications, time management, teamwork, and self-advocacy. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 incarcerated men and women have taken CGA courses.

CGA’s campaign to bring the rehabilitative power of education to Georgia’s criminal justice system has not gone unrecognized. On October 24, in a ceremony in the Georgia State Capitol, Governor Brian Kemp presented Higinbotham and Taft with the 2019 Governor's Award for the Arts and Humanities. The award recognizes individuals and organizations for their “significant contributions to Georgia's civic and cultural vitality through excellence and service to the arts and humanities.”

On Monday, December 16, A Cappella Books will mark 30 years of continuous operation with a special concert benefiting Common Good Atlanta headlined by Chan Marshall. Better known as Cat Power, the singer-songwriter adopted the feline moniker at the beginning of her career when she was living in Cabbagetown. Atlanta-based W8ing4UFOs (led by Taft) and the unflappable guitar duo FLAP will open the concert at Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points (for more info, see Listening Post). 

Up until the early 1980s, America’s prison population was somewhat commensurate with the country’s general population numbers. That alignment started skewing apart when “waging the war on drugs” and “getting tough on crime” became expedient mantras across the political spectrum. In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Authored by then-Senator Joe Biden and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the bill contained certain provisions, such as harsh sentencing for non-violent drug infractions and mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders, which sparked a quantum leap in America’s prison population.

One of the bill’s most contentious provisions was a ban on extending Pell Grants — which provide financial assistance to low-income families for college undergraduate and post-baccalaureate programs — to incarcerated people. This in spite of multiple studies proving the effectiveness of education as an instrument of rehabilitation.

In recent years, the socio-political pendulum has swung back in the other direction. In 2015, the Obama administration launched the Second Chance Pell pilot program, which reintroduced limited eligibility for Pell Grants to incarcerated people. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced his administration’s support for “second step legislation,” which generally professes to seek “successful reentry and reduced unemployment for Americans with past criminal records.” Having seen the light illuminating the poll numbers, presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged to “eliminate barriers keeping formerly incarcerated individuals from accessing public assistance such as SNAP, Pell Grants, and housing support.”

On Wednesday, October 23, Novick and Botstein, accompanied by two BPI graduates, Wesley Caines and Dyjuan Tatro, presided over a preview screening of College Behind Bars in the Morehouse School of Medicine auditorium, followed by a panel discussion moderated by WABE-FM’s Rose Scott. During the afternoon prior to the confab, Novick, Botstein, Caines, and Tatro discussed the documentary with Creative Loafing in an exclusive telephone interview.

Doug DeLoach: What has been the response to College Behind Bars?

Lynn Novick: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive regardless of the setting. We’ve been in city halls, governors’ offices, and on college campuses, and the energy from the audiences has been remarkable.

Dyjuan Tatro: At the launch meeting, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, sent us off on the right foot. Basically, he said, “So much of what we’re used to seeing in the media around people in prison is derogatory and depressing. This is a story about hope. This is a story that inspires. It’s a different type of story about people who are incarcerated in this country.”

What sort of challenges did you face in the process of making the film?

Novick: The biggest challenge was the fact that we were watching and documenting a story, which was unfolding before our eyes over four or five years. We had to let the story happen first and then figure out how to tell it using four hundred hours of film, which was masterfully edited by Tricia Reidy.

The original idea was to follow people over time beginning with their acceptance into the Bard program through graduation. Of course, as things happened within each person’s story, we had to be flexible and follow things where they led us.

What sort of access did you have and how difficult was it to arrange?

Sarah Botstein: It took a long time to get access. Having said that, the New York State Department of Corrections and the State of New York really believe in higher education in prison and the BPI program in particular. They were supportive all along the way.

We were in a maximum security prison. We were always very mindful of what we could bring in, where we could and could not shoot, where we could be and not be depending on the time of day. It was unlike anything we had ever done before. We had to be extremely well-organized and coordinated. At any given moment, we were very much aware that the Department of Corrections or some other authority might decide they had given us enough access and that the production could end.

How did you coordinate the production schedule with activity inside the prisons where you were filming?

Wesley Caines: The prison days are structured into three modules: a.m., p.m., and evening. Those three modules include about three hours of out-of-cell time. Everything happens around that schedule: classes, programming, recreation, study hall. The filming took place within that ecosystem. Lynn, Sarah, and the crew would be in at seven in the morning, but access to the people inside who were studying only occurred during specific periods of about two to three hours each.

Tatro: We never knew when Lynn and Sarah were going to show up. They couldn’t call us to plan things. They would just show up with the cameras and take in what was happening in a spontaneous way.

How does the BPI admission process work for incarcerated students?

Caines: First and foremost, Bard is a liberal arts college. The global nature of a liberal arts education is intended to cultivate in the individual a sense of civic mindedness, a humanistic viewpoint, and critical thinking. The admission process for BPI is the same as if you walked up to the front door in Annandale and announced your intention to attend college. It’s an extremely competitive process. Each academic year, anywhere from 10-16 people are admitted out of between three and four hundred submitted applications.

How does someone who did poorly in school or might not have graduated from high school qualify for admission to BPI?

Tatro: When you take the essay-based entrance exam, you are given a series of prompts by authors you have never read before, people you are not familiar with, and they ask you to respond to those prompts in a way that is meaningful to you. What is amazing about this process is that the subjectivity in it allows people to be smart in different ways. It is not a formulaic, standardized test. It’s not a test intended to measure intelligence or academic ability or whether you know how to take a test. It’s designed to measure the student’s interest in and engagement with the subjects and ideas placed in front of them. When I took the exam, I did not know what to expect, and I sweated the whole time. Then I sweated, waiting for that letter to come. (Laughing)

What sort of reaction or response did you get from the prison population?

Caines: I was in the very first cohort of BPI students. My greatest support when I entered the program came from the people in prison with me. They saw in my admittance to the program and in my subsequent success the potential for their own success. They were very considerate and supportive of me and my fellow students. They were conscious of the noise level when we needed to study. They encouraged us when things got tough, when we questioned why we were enduring this academic rigor. They would say, “What’s wrong with you? I wish I could be there.” The impact of their support cannot be over-stated.

College Behind Bars is a remarkable documentary in its advocacy for expanding educational programs in the American prison system and, in particular, the effectiveness of the BPI model.

Tatro: While the film features all BPI students, it exemplifies the type of talent and genius that we have locked away in our prisons all across America. Rather than this film being a commercial for BPI, it is a film that demonstrates the transformative power of education and makes an argument for a greater need or access to education in this country in a very broad and general way.

Caines: Education is the vehicle in this documentary. BPI is the fuel in that vehicle. As a mirror of society, it reveals some of the choices we have intentionally made around mass incarceration. It shows the value of public education and the ways in which we grant access to quality education in and out of prison.

Tatro: Some people are going to watch this film and continue to disagree with what we’re doing. The film creates a space where both sides can come together and have a reasonable and balanced conversation around this issue.    Courtesy of Skiff Mountain Films HARD EDUCATION: Incarcerated students earn diplomas through the Bard Prison Initiative. ‘College Behind Bars,’ a documentary about the rehabilitative power of education, premieres November 25-26, at 9 p.m. on PBS stations.  0,0,1                                 ‘College Behind Bars’ packs a rehabilitative punch "
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Monday December 2, 2019 05:44 pm EST
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