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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Paramount Theatre presents rousing version of "The Little Mermaid"

Photo credit: Liz Lauren

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

The Paramount Theatre in Aurora has once again taken a familiar classic and made it fresh.

On the heels of last season's acclaimed version of "Hairspray," director/choreographer Amber Mak has done it again with this rousing production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid."

For those not familiar with the story, "The Little Mermaid" is about a mermaid who longs to leave her enchanted underwater kingdom to find love up above. Paramount newcomer Kari Yancy seems destined to play the role of the ever optimistic Ariel, and her sunny disposition is what helps bring so much joy to the production.

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Her powerful vocals also are a highlight of the production, and it's no wonder that the evil Ursula wants to keep that memorable voice for her own purposes.

Another Paramount newcomer, Christina Hall, brings the right amount of devilish charm to the role of Ursula as well as a commanding stage presence, something else the role requires.


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Other cast members such as Jonathan Butler-Duplessis - who is no stranger to the Paramount stage having starred in "A Christmas Story," "Tommy" and "In the Heights" - add to the strong overall performances in the production. Butler-Duplessis also shows off the fact he is multi-talented. Not only is he the voice of Ariel's crab friend, Sebastian, he also is tasked with controlling the strings of the puppet.

Actor George Keating, another Paramount Theatre alumnus, is also kept busy during the production playing the dual role of Grimsby and Chef Louis. His unbridled take as Chef Louis leaves the audience in stitches and is one of the many highlights of the production.


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Not to be outdone is Michael Ehlers, who turns in an incredibly charming performance as Scuttle the seagull. Along with the strong performances, eye-popping visuals, sparkling choreography and a soaring score by the Paramount Orchestra help make this the perfect event for the family during this holiday season.

Because of record advance sales, Paramount Theatre has announced a one-week extension of its upcoming, holiday-season production of "The Little Mermaid." Originally scheduled for a seven-week run through Jan. 8, it will now run through Jan.15.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid is rated G. The Paramount Theatre is located at 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. 

Tickets are available by calling the Paramount at 630-896-6666 or visiting its website, www.paramountaurora.com.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Shams Band frontman Donnie Biggins releases solo album, will perform two shows in Chicago



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

For The Shams Band frontman Donnie Biggins, now was the right time to step outside the band and release his solo debut album, "Profiles." 

"Profiles" will be released on Nov. 29. To celebrate the release of the album, Biggins will perform Dec. 2 and 3 at the Tonic Room, 2447 N. Halsted St., Chicago. 

The shows start at 9 p.m. and tickets are available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Biggins about the new album.

 

Q - Great talking to you again. Of course, your solo debut album,"Profiles," will be released on Nov. 29. Was this just the right time to release a solo record? What is the meaning behind the album's title?

This was the perfect time for me to release the record. It's getting cold outside and people are gathering closer together.




I have been working on this for about a year and a half and winter always seems to be a better to listen to a record and pay close attention to the words and production.

"Profiles" was chosen as the title because this record is a profile of the last 10 years of my life. I have gone through a lot of life changes throughout my 20s and it seemed like a perfect way to sum it all up.

Q - Did you intentionally want the record to sound different than something the The Shams Band would put out? Was it hard transition to make, writing for yourself rather than for a band?

I worked with an entirely different crew of people outside of The Shams Band to capture what my "sound" would be. Ryan Joseph Anderson is a great producer and had a big hand in making the sound of this record.


I have been writing solo material for a very long time. I came into my first session with 27 songs to choose from and narrowed it down to eleven, “11” being my family's lucky number.

Q - "People Killing People" is one of the songs off the new album. Chicago has seen some 700 murders this year, which is the highest number of murders the city has seen since 1998. What inspired you to write the song and what do you want people to get out of the song?

I wrote the song the day the video of Laquan McDonald being murdered by the Chicago Police Department was released to the public. I loathe guns and gun violence and hope that Chicago can find a serious and realistic solution to decrease the murders, gun trade and hopefully eliminate it.

Q - You book bands through your own promotional business, Harmonica Dunn. What makes the Chicago music scene different from other music scenes across the country? Who are some Chicago artists or bands that you are excited about these days?

Chicago's music scenes are very tight. Like our neighborhoods, there are many of them.


Once you are in it, you tend to know everyone. I feel like Chicago works together a lot more than the other major music scenes across the country.

We support and build each other instead of competing. It's a very mid-west attitude to have.

Q - What is The Shams Band up to these days? Are you guys working on new music? When can we expect a new album from the band?



  
We are currently working on finishing another full length record and expect that to be out in 2017. Our last EP, "Dirty" was released in 2014.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Chicago musician Peter Joly releases solo debut, will perform at The Hideout in Chicago





By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 
For his self-titled solo debut, Chicago musician Peter Joly has enlisted the help of some top local musicians, including Jon Williams, Josh Piet (The Hoyle Brothers), Charles Rumback, Joe Adamik (Iron & Wine) and Gerald Dowd (Frisbie). 

Joly will perform at 9 p.m. Nov. 26 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. Rachel Drew, who also performs on the album, and her band the Bitter Roots are also on the bill.

Tickets are $8, available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Joly about the new album.
 

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you will be celebrating the release of your solo debut album on Nov. 26 at The Hideout. In sitting down to make the record, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Wow, this question covers a lot of ground. Believe it or not, the inception of this new record was a few years back in 2012.


I had done the rounds performing and recording with two separate bands, Big Breakfast and For Pilots, since arriving in Chicago in ’93. Both projects were very positive creatively and personally.

It had been well over a year since For Pilots released "Fortunate" and so I had plenty of new songs to start working on a new record. I’m always writing, so until now I have always had enough new material to start a new recording project not long after finishing the last one.

I’m sitting on at least six or seven keepers for my next record as we speak!

Anyway, there was something personal that I’d been trying to achieve with those past recordings that I just wasn’t getting to. I absolutely wanted to get very acoustic. I also wanted to create more space in the music, a challenge when you are playing with a band. Plus, the guys I was playing with at that time (Paul Ovnik on drums and Jamie Wagner on bass) are great players - so you gotta kind of turn them loose and let them play! 




We were styled as a three-piece original rock band, so I didn’t feel I could impose on a band, the necessary restrictions musically to achieve my vision of a primarily acoustic record with a lot of space. It didn’t seem fair to them in that setting.

One day I got a call from Jon Williams; he had heard through the grapevine that I was ready to do another record. Jon was one of the first musicians in Chicago I’d worked with. He joined Big Breakfast when it was just myself and a bass player and together we built that group and did what we did.


We’d fallen out of touch a bit since the amicable Big Breakfast split, both busy doing different things with different people. I was driving around one day and my cell rang and it was Jon.

I pulled over and we talked for about half an hour. Jon suggested that it was time I did a solo record. I had written all the songs recorded by both previous bands, so maybe now it was time to just buck up and own it!

In a figurative sense. Jon agreed to be on board to help me, for as long as it took, to accomplish my vision. That was the day I decided to do the solo record.

Our goals were very simple: to make a record from beginning to end that, when finished, I could stand back and say - there’s nothing about this that I don’t love or would change. To say, “this is the record I’ve been trying to record for over 20 years.”


So in that sense, yes, I think we accomplished our goals.

Q - Several local musicians are featured on the album. How did you connect with them and what do you think they brought to the record?

Jon’s role throughout this project was that of producer. He got to sit in the big chair! I mean we agreed that I had ultimate veto power creatively, but Jon was steering the ship and the acting captain.


So, he initiated all the musician choices. Jon’s extremely connected and respected throughout Chicago as a top notch player and collaborator.

He first recruited Josh Piet of the great country band The Hoyle Brothers on upright bass. Josh is one of the best upright players in the city- so when I heard he was in I felt we were really on our way.

We took a somewhat unique approach to recording this record, after some admitted trial and error. Our first run at it had me on scratch guitar and vocal while Josh recorded his bass parts. The thinking was that maybe we’d get some of my live stuff that we could keep, but if not once we had good takes of Josh, I could go back and perfect my parts over his bass tracks.

 

We’d gotten pretty deep into the process after getting great takes from Josh, I’m talking about a year in- before deciding to scrap all that work and start over from the beginning.

I just couldn’t perform good takes of my tunes that way and I hated everything, literally every song, that I had played. That was a sobering day in the studio. So we sat down and started all over.

Our new approach started with getting primarily live solo takes of all the songs; all my guitar and vocal parts, the way I was hearing them in my head, then build upon that. Once that was accomplished, Josh came back in and redid all of his parts, and voila! We were on our way.


I especially enjoyed this process because of the freedom it gave me to perform the songs unencumbered by the restrictions imposed playing as an ensemble. I know that sounds odd but I believe this approach is what gives this record such a unique feel. Somehow it worked in this instance.

After we had these basic tracks all finished (again),  Jon started recruiting the rest of the musicians who would really breathe life into this record. I couldn’t be more humbled by the folks who performed on this thing and made it what it is; all so accomplished and talented.


Jon considered each song individually; who might be a good fit where? We used three different drummers- all top tier in their peer groups: Charles Rumback, a leader in the thriving Chicago jazz music scene. I’d known Charles peripherally over the years and had worked together with him once or twice.

Charles has this quiet grace about him that translates into his incredible playing. I liked him so much the first time I’d met him that when Jon told me he was in I knew he was a perfect choice.

I had never met Joe Adamik or Gerald Dowd prior to this record although both of their reputations preceded them. Among many other accomplishments, Joe had recorded and toured with Iron & Wine.


I must admit I felt somewhat intimidated meeting him that first day we worked together over at the MINBAL recording studio. He’s just so accomplished and talented.

He couldn’t have been nicer or worked harder at giving each song he performed on the perfect percussive touches. It was inspiring to be part of his process and to have had the opportunity to watch and hear him work out music.

I feel the same about Gerald Dowd. Although Gerald was brought in closer to the end of the project and ended up performing on just one track, I feel no less blessed to have had his participation.


As well as being an in-demand drummer, Gerald is a successful singer/songwriter. So he brought those additional sensibilities to this essentially singer/songwriter record.

I met Rachel Drew at a monthly residency that I play. She came and performed some of her original material and I was blown away by her voice. When the first singer Jon had enlisted, (Jackie Rae Daniels), moved to Seattle mid project, I suggested to Jon calling Rachel.


She accepted the gig and made my day! Rachel now fronts the heavy hitting The Bitter Roots. She and her band will share the stage with me at the release show Nov. 26. I couldn’t be happier about that bit of synchronicity.

Gabriel Stutz played pedal steel on one tune, “God in Love in June,” off my new record. Listen to that song and there’s no way you’ll disagree.


That one contribution, on that one tune, makes a huge difference to the listeners overall takeaway from the record. His playing made that song in my opinion.

In much the same way I feel [good] about Daniel Gillespie who played fiddle on “Midnight Rain.” Daniel came up with this beautiful string part that just lassoed that song, tightened it up and brought it home.


One of the most repeated compliments I’ve received on the record is “that string part in ‘Midnight Rain’ is so beautiful man.”

Q - I understand that you wrote the song "God In Love In June" after hearing that June Carter Cash had died. How did she inspire you as a musician?

I wouldn’t say she inspired me as a musician at all, although her folks stuff, The Carter Family stuff, was inspirational to me. Now Johnny Cash, he’s a different story.


As much as you can love someone through their art without knowing them as a person, I loved Johnny Cash. He just laid it out there, scars and all; take it or leave it.

Of course he became beloved for who he was as much as for how great his music was. The movie "Walk The Line" had come out not too long before June’s death.

The best thing that movie did, in my opinion, was to portray June’s salvation of Johnny’s seemingly certain demise and his undying love for her for doing so. It really schooled the public about that.

So, when I’d heard she had died my first thoughts were of him and the deep sadness he was certainly experiencing. So that song is really about him much more so than her.

Q - You play on a regular basis at the Friendly Music Community in Berwyn. Do you feel like you have become part of a larger music community through playing there?

I do. Rob Pierce over at the Friendly Music School and club has done some amazing things in such a short period of time. Really all of the new Berwyn music venues should be very proud and stand tall for the massive cultural contributions they have given that community.


There’s this whole recent and ongoing organic, cultural thing happening with live music right now in Berwyn. I mean there’s always been the great Fitzgerald’s Nightclub- the real flagship of the Berwyn music scene.


But you know what we all found out? There was room for more, and more turned out to be a great thing for everybody! Great for Berwyn, great for us musicians to have even more places to play and I would argue even great for Fitzgerald’s.

It’s become a real destination for folks, residents and tourists, to hear great live music. A little like Frenchman Street in NOLA, but different because it’s a bit more spread out.

But yes, not only at Friendly’s but now there’s great music happening at The Outta Space, The Wire and many other cool Berwyn live music stages.

Q - How would you describe your music? Who are your biggest inspirations?

My most recent standard go-to on this is “Americana, roots, original, acoustic, singer/songwriter”- how’s that?
 

Regarding inspirations? Songwriters.

My first concert experience was Neil Young, solo at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. I was a freshman in high school. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I learned the whole "Walking Man" record by James Taylor.

I had gotten good at listening to a song on a record over and over; lifting the needle and setting it back down in the same spot a hundred times until I could match what the guitar on the record was doing. That’s how I learned to finger pick.

Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Gordon Lightfoot, Elvis Costello, Joan Armatrading, Randy Newman - "Sail Away," wow! I recall seeing Paul Simon live as the musical guest on a very early Saturday Night Live - he was a young man at the time.


I was transfixed by this guy: just a guitar, a pretty voice, heartbreaking lyrics and the coolest chord changes I could ever have imagined. Later I discovered Lyle Lovett and Bob Dylan. It’s funny, I recall hearing “Tangled Up in Blue” on my transistor radio as a kid.

I knew instinctively that there was magic in that song, and those lyrics - “She was working in a topless place when I stopped in for a beer.” Even at 11 years old there’s something so poetically honest about that phrasing that grabbed me and screamed...”This! This is it man!”

But I never really dug into Dylan until later, in my late 20’s. Maybe subconsciously I was afraid to confront that much power in songwriting before I was really ready to process it. I was obsessed with Lyle Lovett for years after the first time I first heard "Joshua Judges Ruth."

Q - You moved to Chicago in 1993 from Buffalo, New York. What made you want to move to Chicago? How is the music scene here different from the Buffalo music scene?

I was in my mid-20s in Buffalo NY, driving a cab and writing songs; playing gigs and struggling to pay my rent. In order to make any money driving a cab, you must work 12 hour shifts minimum.


There are long periods of down time with zero fares, so in order to offset that, long hours are required to hit that spurt of a couple hours here and there when the fares are flying and money is actually coming in. I mostly worked the 4 p.m. - 4 a.m. shift, then would pick up my relief who would drop me off at home and use the car for the day until picking me up again at 4 p.m.

It was grueling. It did give me an opportunity to work on my music though, so I took that. Business would die most weekdays days after 11 p.m. 

People don’t use cabs in Buffalo as much as they do here. So, I’d keep my guitar in the trunk and depending on where I was at in the city (I had my regular “out of the way” spots depending on what part of the city I happened to be in), I’d park in a private spot, get my guitar from the trunk and sit in the back seat and write music.

I’d keep the dispatch radio very low so as not to be distracted and must admit, I missed more than just a few good money calls because I didn’t hear them call my cab number! To this day that was the hardest job I’ve ever had.

I had a bad break up with a long-term, live-in girlfriend and it was time to make a break. The music scene at that time in Buffalo was very limited for me, so I knew I needed to get to someplace else to grow and succeed. 


The time seemed right to leave. NYC and Chicago were pretty much my options. My sister, Margaret, lived in Chicago and just happened to have lost a roommate and was looking for a replacement so I took that as my sign.

I was on a train to Chicago within a week of deciding to leave Buffalo for good and start a new life. I have been here ever since.

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?

Short term goals? Promote this record as successfully as I can; keep writing and recording songs that I like and continue to nurture the love and support that I give and get from family and friends.

Long term goals? Get rich AND famous. Shit, I’ve only been doing this for over 30 years, so my overnight success must be just around the corner.


Thanks for asking.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Blues supergroup Golden State - Lone Star Blues Revue coming to SPACE in Evanston


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

There are not many supergroups that pack as much power as Golden State - Lone Star Blues Revue.

The band features Mark Hummel (harp-blower, vocalist, bandleader and Grammy nominee), Little Charlie Baty (ex-Nightcats bandleader), RW Grigsby (bassist), and Texans Anson Funderburgh (guitarist and Rockets bandleader) and Wes Starr (famed Austin drummer).

The band will perform at 8 p.m. Nov. 17 at SPACE, 1245 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are available at ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to band leader Hummel about Golden State - Lone Star Blues Revue.


Great talking to you again. We last spoke in 2004, when you were playing with your band the Blues Survivors at B.L.U.E.S. in Chicago.

Q - So how did Golden State - Lone Star Blues Revue come together? Did you know who you wanted in the band?

Myself, RW Grigsby and Wes Starr (who've been playing together since high school), started doing gigs in 2010. In 201, Charlie Baty started doing gigs with us and Anson joined in 2012 when we did our first tours together.

Both Anson and Charlie had semi retired previously to starting this group, but we've all known each other many years.

Q - How is the chemistry in the group?

It's a great guitar contrast with these two guys, plus the rhythm section is one of the best with their years of playing together. Both Anson and Charlie backed harp players in their own groups, so they know that style well. 

Q - In sitting down to make Golden State's debut album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

On the new CD, I had Anson produce and used Kid Anderson's studio and ears (he's got big ears, literally and figuratively). I'm stoked with the results.


We really went into to the studio to do a fairly democratic record and I feel we featured everyone's strengths well.

Q - I know that Anson Funderburgh and Little Charlie Baty are both featured on your 2014 album,"The Hustle Is Really On." What makes the three of you work well together?

Like I say, the fact their styles are so different but also so in the same genre really helps and that they both backed harmonica players makes a huge positive difference. Plus everyone is a bandleader, so they know the drill well- plenty of road experience here, many miles.



Q - You have been called one of the best harmonica players in the country. I know you decided to pick up the harmonica after hearing people like James Cotton and Sonny Boy Williamson. What have you tried to do to set yourself apart from other harmonica players?

I've always listened a lot to horn players, guitar players, piano as well as harp players. I've already tried a lot of different styles of music over the years, but I've always been about blues.

Q - Your 2014 album, "Remembering Little Walter," was nominated for a Grammy award and won two Blues Music awards presented by the Blues Foundation. It features you playing with Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Sugar Ray Norcia and James Harman. What was that show like? Was it like lightning in a bottle?

That was an amazing tour and we enjoyed it so much we thought recording it was a natural. Billy Boy and Musselwhite go way back to the early '60s, Sugar Ray was a joy to work with and we all owe a huge debt to Little Walter, who we wanted to represent in our own way!


I felt everyone did a hella for that one!

Q - Your book "Big Road Blues - 12 Bars On I-80," has received rave reviews. You still do more than 200 shows a year. What keeps you going and do you ever see yourself giving that up?

The love of music mainly. I've been making my living blowing harp since 1981 and it's too late to change careers now! I still love it though and can deal with the travel as I'm used to it.

Q - You've done so much in your career. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

I'm considering some blues review type things - I'd love to work with Dietra Farr and Joe Beard next year and may try to put some projects together.