whatzup2nite • Monday, February 8

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Things To Do

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National Shows

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Music & Comedy

Jen Fisher & Friends — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8 p.m., no cover, 432-8966

Open Mic Night — Variety at Checkerz Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 489-0286

Shelly Dixon & Jeff McRae — Open stage at Bar 145, Fort Wayne, 6-9 p.m., no cover, 209-2117

Karaoke & DJs

American Idol Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 483-5526

DJ — Variety at O'Reilly's Irish Bar & Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 11 p.m., no cover, 267-9679

Stage & Dance

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Movies New and Improved!

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Featured Events

Fort Wayne Dance Collective — Workshops and classes for movement, dance, yoga and more offered by Fort Wayne Dance Collective, Fort Wayne, fees vary, 424-6574

IPFW Community Arts AcademyArt, dance, music and theater classes for grades pre-K through 12 offered by IPFW College of Visual and Performing Arts, fees vary, 481-6977, www.ipfw.edu/caa

Sweetwater Academy of Music — Private lessons for a variety of instruments available from professional instructors, ongoing weekly lessons, Sweetwater Sound, Fort Wayne, call for pricing, 432-8176, academy.sweetwater.com


Musiq Soulchild

Pushing R&B’s Boundaries

When Musiq Soulchild (birth name: Taalib Johnson) was growing up making music in Philadelphia, his aspirations did not feature a major record label. “I wasn’t even planning to sign a deal,” he said in a phone interview. “I was planning on just recording records – pressing up CDs and selling them myself. That was pretty much the plan. “I’d heard a lot of stories about artists going through what they were going through with record labels,” Soulchild said. “I mean, I didn’t really know anything from anything, but I was thinking about my music not being respected and appreciated and having to compromise my integrity in order to make a dollar.” But Def Jam President Kevin Liles, who’d fallen hard for Soulchild’s demos, proved very persuasive. “I guess everybody around me was doing their best to make me feel comfortable,” he says. Soulchild said he wasn’t in a position to turn down a blessing like that. “I had nothing to my name,” he said. “I was homeless, essentially – depending on the kindness of strangers.” The result was that Soulchild made a big splash in 2000 with his first single, “Just Friends (Sunny)” and with a debut album, Aijuswanaseing (I Just Want to Sing). He was hailed by some as heir to a possibly endangered tradition of sweet soul balladeering and, by extension, as a presumed protector of that tradition. Musiq Soulchild performs Feb. 12 at the Embassy Theatre Soulchild released three subsequent albums in the Aijuswanaseing vein. They were all well received and lucrative, but Soulchild began to feel restless. “Everybody’s point of reference for me became this crooner or love man or romantic guy,” he said in a phone interview. “And that never fit me. That’s not even my personality.” Indeed, it was Soulchild’s diversity that made his musical reputation in Philly. He could beat-box, freestyle, scat sing and perform credible street corner doo-wop. In a 2000 profile in the Philadelphia Daily News, a 22-year-old Soulchild expressed a fear of being pigeonholed. “The world is my focus,” he said. “It’s not just the ghetto. It’s not just the suburbs. It’s not just soul or hip-hop music. It’s not just pop, blues or jazz. The whole world is my focus.” Soulchild’s desire to experiment with his hits in concert rather than mimic them hasn’t sat well with some fans. “People expect a typical R&B show,” he said. “And I do the singles – do the hits – but I like to try different iterations. I may rock out on one and do a jazz version of another and a straight out remake of something. And people get this look on their faces sometimes – because it doesn’t sound like it did on the radio.” The debut of Soulchild’s rap alter ego named The Husel in 2014 also met with a lot of pushback. Soulchild said he welcomes criticism. He listens to what sounds relevant to him and casts the rest aside. It wasn’t always that way. He said it used to upset him more when he learned that someone wasn’t pleased with something he’d done. Based on a preponderance of the anecdotal evidence, it might be safe to conclude that sudden fame isn’t so much a mixed blessing as it is a mixed curse. In the early days of Soulchild’s career, people used to tell him how well he was handling everything. But he said he really wasn’t handling everything well at all. “I wasn’t really ready or prepared,” he said. “I wasn’t accustomed to that amount of attention. When you don’t have much going on in your life, nobody really cares. You have to beg for attention. Suddenly it was coming at me in a way I’d never experienced.” He said it was really difficult at first for him to handle people recognizing him and coming up to him on the street. “My shoulders would get tight,” he said. “Because people don’t walk up on you like in Philly.” Soulchild wasn’t much of a drinker then, but people started buying him free drinks and it became a problem, he said. He’s been sober for a while now. These days, Soulchild said he’s committed to “refocusing people’s expectation about who I am and what I have to offer.” He is gratified to be so widely identified as an R&B artist, but he hopes to become known as more “R&B adjacent.” To that end, Soulchild is launching his own record label called Soulstar Music Company. It will be a venue where his various personas can play, including one that no one has heard yet: Purple Wondaluv. Asked what sort of music Purple Wondaluv makes, Soulchild gave an expected response: new age. “The sound comes from an idea I had,” he said. “‘What would it sound like if you sort of mashed together Bob Marley and Sade?’” Soulchild said he intends the music to be calming and relaxing. “With Purple Wondaluv, I don’t plan on making love songs or songs about romance,” he said. “The songs will be about general compassion. Not only for other people, but also for yourself. He likens Purple Wondaluv songs to self-help books. Soulchild wants to use Purple Wondaluv to convey to listeners what he has learned about coping with some of the more difficult aspects of life. “Without being self-righteous about it,” he said. “My idea is, ‘Here’s how I felt and here’s how it helped me and maybe it will help you if you go through it.’” All future feats and forays will be kept separate from each other, Soulchild said. The only persona audiences should expect to see at a Musiq Soulchild show is Musiq Soulchild. Soulchild said he isn’t afraid to fail. “Being an artist is about learning to walk in your artistic confidence,” he said. “I may not know anything. I may not always know what I am doing. But I will always know what I am capable of.”

Steve Penhollow

Davy Knowles

Manx Man Axe Man

The Isle of Man, a possession of the British crown, is not widely known for its bluesmen. Most Americans know so little about this tiny, self-governing, water-encompassed country in the Irish Sea that they couldn’t even begin to surmise what might be giving its residents the blues. But one Isle of Man axe man who has made headlines in the states is here to report that the Isle of Man has a vibrant and varied music scene. And it owes it all to herring. “The fascinating thing about the Isle of Man is that it’s slap bang down in the middle of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales,” said Davy Knowles in a phone interview. “Back in the day, there was huge fishing – herring fishing. So you’d get boats from all of those countries and other places coming to the Isle of Man, fishing around the waters and stopping in the Isle of Man.” They’d all bring their songs, and Manx musicians (Manx being the name of the language and native people of the Isle of Man) would learn those songs and appropriate those songs and tweak those songs, he said. So “there are a lot of great musicians” on the Isle of Man performing traditional Celtic music, blues and rock, Knowles said. Knowles will play a mix of all three when he performs at C2G Music Hall on February 13. But it wasn’t a Manx musician that inspired Knowles to take up the guitar. It was Mark Knopfler. Knowles’ dad had an expansive record collection and Knowles was poleaxed by the Dire Straits hit, “The Sultans of Swing.” “My dad played me that tune when I was 10 years old,” he said. “I was totally hooked. (Knopfler’s guitar work is) just so melodic. You could sing every one of his solos.” Later, his sister introduced him to the Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher and Knowles was brought closer to what would become his style of play. “I really connected to him a lot because I could hear a lot of Celtic in his playing,” he said. “It was really cool to see this quite exotic American music being played by an Irishman and coming out slightly mid-Atlantic. “The aggression of Rory’s playing really grabbed me,” Knowles said. “Between Rory Gallagher and Mark Knopfler is where I’d like to be.” Knowles started gigging when he was 14, toured England when he was 15 and formed a band at 16 with some schoolmates called Back Door Slam. The short-lived group played the SXSW Festival and toured the states twice before disbanding in 2009. Knowles said his first U.S. tour was “astounding.” “Just totally a dream come true,” he said. “Up to that point, we’d just been playing pubs, mainly on the Isle of Man. It was a hell of a big jump. It was quite daunting to go from playing in pubs to actually touring the United States. There were a lot of learning curves. I think that’s what ultimately shortened the life of that band.” Knowles found himself opening for such guitar gods as Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani and Buddy Guy, which was both thrilling and nerve-wracking. “Totally terrifying, yeah,” he said. “There’s part of you that’s a fan and is totally blown away. Everything seems very surreal. But there’s also that degree of, ‘Well, this is my job and I’d best get on with it.’ Practicality kicks in. It’s only after the fact that you think, ‘[Expletive]. How lucky I am?. “You try to absorb as much as you can,” Knowles said. “They’ve been around a long time and are at the top of their craft and their game. They’re total inspirations and you’d be foolish not to sit and take notes every night.” Sharing a stage with legends is one thing. Collaborating with them is quite another. A friend of Knowles who lived in Nashville shared his music with another musician, and that was how Knowles came to be on the receiving end of a call one day from Peter Frampton. “I got a phone call from him and he said, “Hey, I’ve been listening to your stuff and I like it a lot. We should get together,’” Knowles recalled. “And I’m thinking it’s a big practical joke.” Eventually, tour breaks coincided and the men met up. “We just hit it off,” Knowles said, “He’s such a lovely bloke. We just wrote and worked really well together.” Because they’d co-written so many songs, Knowles asked Frampton to produce his next album. “He was into the idea, thank God,” he said. “It all kind of fell into place quite nicely. What a joy he was to work with. A lovely, lovely man.” These days, Knowles is based in Chicago, the home of the blues (or one of them). He lives with his girlfriend who he met at one of his Windy City shows. “I’d been on the radio and her folks dragged her down there,” he said. “She didn’t particularly want to go.” One sad fact about contemporary Chicago is that its days as a blues mecca are long past. Knowles said the blues scene is made up of “a very, very, very few elder statesmen – people like Luther ‘Guitar’ Johnson, Jimmy Burns and Buddy Guy. But there are very, very few people who are doing it with integrity, with a kind of old-fashioned spirit behind it.” A lot of the blues that gets played in Chicago, he said, is equivalent to music performed by a rock cover band or tribute act: designed for undiscerning tourists. And few African-American residents patronize the music, Knowles said. “It is a very, very strange thing,” he said. “Not that I’m one to talk in any kind of way. But the audience is mostly white people – white, middle-aged people. Which is fine. If you like music, then [liking music is] the only thing that should be involved. “But this is very much a black music adopted by other people,” Knowles said. “It’s kind of sad to see that not a lot of that is being embraced.” Before the Internet robbed records and CDs of their profit-earning potential, success in the music business was easier to define but harder to achieve. Of course, it’s never been easy to be a bluesman. For Knowles, success “just means carrying on doing it.” “I don’t want to be a big pop star,” he said. “I just want to get better and better and keep enjoying it and be able to tour.” There are certainly some unsavory conditions in the music business, Knowles said. “But it’s no good complaining or grumbling about it,” he said. “I don’t know what the old days were like. I wasn’t there. This is the only time period I will know. I’ve got to make the most of it. There is a place for musicians rather than people who just want to be on the charts.”

Steve Penhollow

Fort Wayne Ballet's Love Dance

Ballet Serves Up a Valentine’s Treat

There have been many reasons to celebrate the new ArtsLab black box theatre at the Auer Center. Even after a short time hosting arts events of many kinds, there have been some remarkable performances hosted in the intimate space. Dance, theatre and music have all found a cozy home, one which lends a special quality not always possible in larger venues. One arts organization which has an obvious link to ArtsLab is Fort Wayne Ballet. With their studios just a few feet away upstairs in the Auer Center, the bare stage of ArtsLab provides a perfect backdrop to some of the shows they now have between the larger shows at the Arts United Center. A perfect example of their deft use of that space is their now annual Valentine’s Day performance, love dance, which this year takes place the night before the annual celebration of love. With two performances on February 13 – one at 7:30 p.m. and an encore at 9 p.m. – the close proximity between audience and the talented company of Fort Wayne Ballet lends a special quality to the evening, one which the ballet promises will feature “premier works, mixing up a romantic medley of love stories that only the heart knows so well.” These special performances have sold out in the last two years, so you may want to hurry to get tickets at the ArtsTix box office (422-4226) or at the ballet’s website, fortwayneballet.org. Tickets for the performance are $20 each, but if you want to make the evening especially romantic, for $50/person you can reserve a VIP table for two, which includes a bottle of champagne to share, chocolates and roses. All that and the beauty of dance in the heart of downtown.

Michele DeVinney

Young Frankenstein

Hilarity! Hilarity! No Escaping Hilarity!

I am so proud to present our production of the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein because of this incredible cast and production team. I am honored to be able to direct them and allow their talents to shine on stage. They all came to the process as team players, giving 100 percent of themselves to make this show the best it can possibly be. Most of you will remember Brooks’ 1974 satirical horror comedy film starring Gene Wilder as the title character, a descendant of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Fronk-en-steen). The supporting cast included Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Richard Haydn and Gene Hackman. The screenplay was written by Wilder and Brooks. Young Frankenstein, an affectionate parody of the classic horror film genre, went on to win nine film awards. As a Broadway musical in 2008, it was nominated for three Tony Awards. On the film’s 40th anniversary, Brooks described it as by far his finest (albeit not his funniest)film as writer-producer. While shooting, the cast ad-libbed several jokes used in the film. Cloris Leachman improvised a scene in which Frau Blücher offers “varm milk” and Ovaltine to Dr. Frankenstein, while Marty Feldman surreptitiously moved his character’s hump from shoulder to shoulder before anyone noticed it, and the gag was added to the film, as “Didn’t you used to have that on the other side?” with the response “What hump?” These hilarious lines are retained in the musical. While casting and rehearsing our production of Young Frankenstein, our cast and production team enjoyed the hilarity while trying to keep a straight face and play scenes for their dramatic elements without breaking out with laughter. This is not an easy feat when working with the words and lyrics created by Mel Brooks, but it did make the process fun. Fort Wayne Civic Theatre invites you to escape the stress of the day and enter the world of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.

Phil Colglazier

2016 All-Star Comedy Jam

Laughter All the Way

What do you get when you take one night, add the Embassy Theatre, stir in six comics, then jam? Answer: the Daily Double. Just kidding. What you really get is the 2016 All-Star Comedy Jam, hosted by veteran comic Gary Menke and headlined by Damon Williams, Nikki Carr, Mike Redbone Alcott, Brandon Glover and Jesnaira Baez. The All-Star Comedy Jam has taken many forms over the years, beginning in 2009 when inaugural host Shaquille O’Neill introduced the world to the likes of Kevin Hart and Aries Spears. Since then, countless funnymen and women have brought the house down all over the U.S. with routines about everything from tough-loving mothers to the exorbitant price of gas to the proper technique for throwing one’s shoe at another person in order to demonstrate displeasure. No subject is off-limits and no laugh is left behind. The lineups might change quite often, but one thing all All-Star Comedy Jams have in common is the fact that the talent on stage is, indeed, of the all-star variety, and the comics coming to the Embassy Theatre Saturday January 23 at 7:30 p.m. are no exception. Menke has been in the stand-up world for two decades. You might have spotted him in the Don Johnson-helmed cop comedy Nash Bridges and on the Travel Channel and Comedy Central. As the host/emcee for the evening, Menke will introduce the headliners and perform a short set himself. Think Neil Patrick Harris at the Tonys, with fewer costume changes. Like Menke, Williams has an impressive pedigree. A Chicago native and former Subway sandwich shop owner, Williams is perhaps best known for his work on The Tom Joyner Morning Show where he delivers “The Seriously Ignorant News.” He’s shared the stage with the best of the best, including Aretha Franklin, Pattie LaBelle, Ray Charles, Chris Rock and Jamie Foxx. From that list, it’s probably obvious that Williams is something of a triple threat. He’s toured with the musical comedy production of Laughin’ on the Outside Cryin’ on the Inside, and his personal motto is “Don’t stop and don’t quit.” Not a bad mantra for a comedian in this fickle world. Carr is one of the standout performers from the hit reality TV show Last Comic Standing. For the last 17 years she’s been making audiences all over the world laugh at her anecdotes about her life as a mother, grandmother and lesbian. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t finding the humor in ridiculous situations, and her mother, noticing her daughter’s essential silliness from a young age, encouraged her to pursue her stand up dreams. In addition to Last Comic Standing, Carr’s other TV credits include BET’s Comic View, Charlie Murphy’s Crash Comedy, Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Stand Up and Stand Up for Family. Like Williams, Carr has a set of pipes, and her song “Fat Girl’s National Anthem” has garnered her some serious radio play, not to mention a legion of loyal fans. Alcott, known to followers as “Redbone,” is a master of high-energy physical comedy. Also a veteran of Comic View, he describes his act as “colorblind,” guaranteeing that people from all walks of life enjoy his routine. Speaking of colors, Glover, whose stage name is “Hot Sauce,” was christened so on account of the fact that his face goes straight to fire engine red when he’s performing his unique storytelling brand of comedy. He began his career at the St. Louis Funnybone and since then has taken his stand-up act to clubs all over the country. Last but definitely not least, Baez, a native of Chicago’s west side, will round out the evening. Baez’s stand-up story began in 2010 when she participated in an open mic night on a dare from a friend. Six years later, she’s jamming with the all stars. Fans of comedy, take note. It’s not often one gets the chance to hear so many different voices and be exposed to such a wide variety of funny in one night. And, if you’re one of the many people suffering from post-holiday blues, the 2016 All-Star Comic Jam is probably the cure (though not the droids) you’ve been looking for.

Deborah Kennedy

J. Hubner

Dreams from the Big Cloud

From his underground lair, one-man music machine J. Hubner continues his streak of solid solo releases. His latest, Dreams from the Big Cloud, marks Hubner’s third album under his own handle in as many years. And it’s a safe bet he’s already on to another project as this one rolls out of the shipping dock up at ground level. Some artists wait for the muse to visit, while others are simply compelled to create because it’s part of their being. Unless Hubner has locked the doors and compelled the muse to stay put, I’d put my money on the latter to explain this guy’s motivation. This record has all the elements that made ears perk up to his tunes in the first place: power-pop with an edge; heartfelt lyrics; vocals and harmonies that flow over the arrangements. It’s clear from the opener, “Run,” that we’re not going to be disappointed. “Days when we walked to parks and nights when we took the car to shows that we never got to see / ‘Cause we got lost,” he sings amidst an arrangement that’s equal parts jangly and dense, as if R.E.M. had kicked off the “shoegaze” movement. This isn’t to imply synthesis. It’s thoroughly, distinctively Hubner’s style (one facet of it anyway). Similarly, the title track somehow conjures a bit of a Britpop vibe, though you’ll find no Pollard-ian, faux-Limey accent here. Hubner’s strength lies in delivering bittersweet, even at times melancholy material inside often breathtaking ear candy. In the case of this track, headphones pay dividends. And you might find “Theme For Enlightenment (Terry Riley’s Beard Part One),” with its circular guitars and languid organs, may seem somewhat slight at first. But this uncomplicated instrumental quickly grows in to an earworm. In fact, “Theme...” could easily pass for an unused Matthew Sweet number. It also sets the stage for the closer, “Ash Wednesday.” Simultaneously upfront and spacey, the song’s tom-driven drums and low-flying guitar chords anchor the echos that bathe Hubner’s vocals in the chorus. And, yes, the whole song is a hook. We’re lucky to have local artists like Josh Hall, Kevin Hambrick, and Hubner: each is never afraid to step out of his comfort zone but is always instantly recognizable in his own work. To me, that’s an art in itself. (D.M. Jones)

D.M. Jones

Albert Brownlee

Making Connections

Many performing artists draw from past experiences of pain and angst to shape their performances. Albert Brownlee, by contrast, had a happy childhood that was highlighted by family support, social interaction and an appreciation for the arts. His maternal grandparents were singers, as was his mother, who had a natural talent for drawing as well. Brownlee’s artistic family ties have carried on into his adulthood. “My family is immersed in the arts,” he says. “My wife Tamarah was a theater minor in college and is an accomplished singer and thespian in her own right.” He and Tamarah met while college students. Brownlee led a vocal performance and recording group, of which Tamarah, a theater minor at another institution, was a member. Like her husband, she came from a long line of artists and continues to perform today. Their children are also heavily involved in various aspects of the arts – dance, theatre, music and drawing. Brownlee describes his own performance background as “a natural evolution.” Music was his first love; he began singing as a toddler and played piano and saxophone as a boy. He credits teachers Linda Greaf, Laura McCoy, Ed Harris and Mike Whitlock for honing his musical skills through the Summit Program with Fort Wayne Community Schools. “I haven’t stopped performing since,” he says. Other aspects of performing also appealed to Brownlee. During summer vacations he would write and direct plays with the other kids in his neighborhood. “I had been bitten by the acting bug,” he says. He soon began participating in church and school theater and eventually community theatre. While on tour with the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, a fellow singer encouraged him to audition for the upcoming Youtheatre production, Ride a Blue Horse. The show was directed by Harvey Cocks who would become one of the primary influences on Brownlee as a performer. “I was totally unfamiliar with the script or even the premise of the show,” he says. “I just knew two things: one, I liked performing, and two, I wanted to be cast.” Despite his lack of preparation, the 11-year-old Brownlee was cast in a supporting role. “I remember being nervously excited,” he says of his theatrical debut, “as well as enamored with the experience of performing live on such a big stage.” Thirty years later, he hasn’t stopped performing. His audition preparation skills have evolved since the 1980s. He reads the script ahead of time to determine which roles he would like to audition for, and he sometimes will turn to the internet to find videos of shows he is unfamiliar with. Once cast, he utilizes his own instincts for the characterization while also heeding the director’s advice for how his character fits into the overall story.  “I also like to research and develop a context for the character by understanding the setting, time in which they lived and any social implications,” he says. “This helps make my characterization more ‘real’ versus ‘acting.’” Brownlee’s method of acting is quite simple: “In the words of Nike,” he says, “just do it. The more natural your performance is, the less it will feel like acting to the audience. My goal as a performer is to take the audience on a journey into a world that is outside of their own. The audience should become a part of the show and emotionally feel what we are expressing on stage.” He enjoys the challenge of working with different types of actors (an interesting irony, he says, is that people he might not get along with offstage sometimes turn out to be his strongest scene partners). “It stretches you as an actor to find ways to connect with others on stage that you may have difficulty connecting with in real life,” he says. “This, at times, can produce great chemistry.” Some of his favorite roles are also ones that buck the obvious. “I love being cast in roles that are typically cast for other ethnicities, races or body types than me,” he says. “I like things that are out of the box and challenge us to change our paradigms.” Brownlee enjoys playing the gamut of roles, from comedic to deeply serious. He says he is typically cast as “the family man or religious type.” However, one of his favorite roles was the antagonistic Wazir in the musical Kismet, in which he appeared while an undergraduate student at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta. “What I liked most about the role was the ability to portray someone who had so many varying dimensions,” he says. “The Wazir was the one you wanted to hate but loved to watch. He was the comic center of attention, but at the same time the nemesis.” His current role is quite different. He plays Peter in The Zoo Story, a one-act play by Edward Albee that is part of a double feature of one-act plays at First Presbyterian Theater. Billed as Two Plays on a Bench, both one-acts feature two men sitting on a bench and talking (the other play is The Duck Variations by David Mamet). In The Zoo Story, Brownlee’s character Peter is both similar to himself and very different. “In some ways, I am Peter – a professional family man who loves his family,” he says. “He’s a family man who is accomplished, somewhat reserved and the quintessential picture of normalcy in a society that is anything but normal. The biggest challenge has been to go outside of myself and find reasons to react as Peter does that is very different than the choices I would tend to make in my own life.” Brownlee’s scene partner is Reuben Albaugh who plays Jerry. “He is engaging as Jerry, as well as in real life,” he says. “We have great chemistry together on stage, and that has made it fun to be a part of this show.” He says he has not only gotten a lot out of working with Albaugh, but from working with director Thom Hofrichter as well. “I immensely enjoy working with him as a director and artist because he ‘gets it,’” says Brownlee. “His approach is very introspective in that he always encourages you to look within and find your character from there. It’s more about understanding who you are and why, versus ‘the author wrote it this way, so this is who and why I am.’ This makes working at First Pres vastly different from other theaters.” When he’s not performing, Brownlee is the CEO of Genesis Outreach Inc., a social services agency that helps the homeless with housing, workforce development, and support services. His theatrical background has proven to be a boon to this organization. “I often have to speak in public settings and engage donors in supporting us charitably,” he says. “The theater has helped me learn how to be comfortable in diverse settings and has provided me techniques in reaching others and gaining their attention.” However, he also points out, “I think on some level, we all ‘act’ while doing our day jobs.” His job gives him a unique perspective on his current role in The Zoo Story, which is not only funny but thought-provoking. “It will make audiences look at life and how we live in a society where we see, but yet don’t see one another every day,” he says. “We often look past the forgotten ones: the homeless, the disenfranchised, persons of certain ethnicities. Yet these are all people who simply want to make a connection. This play will help us to think about that and hopefully make changes in our own lives and daily choices as human beings.”

Jen Poiry-Prough

Christopher Ganz

The Man As Artist As Art

Down a flight of wooden stairs, in the basement, hangs a curtain of Visqueen that hides the artist’s workspace. A sheet of drywall mounted to the wall serves as the perfect drawing surface for Christopher Ganz, a master of charcoal, pencil and printing. A large sheet of paper tacked to the drywall waits, ready to accept his newest charcoal drawing. His subject is the Tower of Babel, a tower partially built by the survivors of the Great Flood, a tower that would stretch into the heavens. Ganz’s tower nods to the Seven Wonders of the World as he draws one civilization on top of another, each giving way and crumbling under the weight of the next. His concept reflects his own interpretation of societies crumbling under their own weight. He is drawing a piece of architecture that represents the life cycle of civilization; when one society dies, another takes over, building its foundation on the previous but moving forward toward modernization. Ganz is fascinated by architecture. His idea for the Tower of Babel drawing buds from annual trips to Italy where Ganz marvels at the ancient buildings and ruins, perfect examples of old civilization serving as the foundation for our modern life. The artist is also intrigued by the internal framework of objects, a fascination that was deep-rooted during his studies of anatomy and drawing the human figure. He plans to show both the inside and outside of his Babel structure by adding caverns and gaps which will allow him to draw both the outer and inner structures of the architecture. His current drawing, which is that of a large object drawn almost as an island, is a step away from his normal method of composition. Ganz normally creates unique worlds within his drawings, worlds that extend beyond the page and keep the viewer’s mind thinking and wondering what lies beyond. In his piece, “Reclamation,” Ganz produces a world that is dark yet uplifting. The drawing represents the inside of a cathedral with light streaming in through multiple paned, Gothic windows to spotlight trees that somehow grow from the church’s floor. Light pulls the eye to the altar, and then up toward the peaks of the flying buttresses where the shadow of three moon phases hangs overhead. The piece leads one to imagine walking through a forest planted between the pages of an ancient tale but with something more. A virtual overlay appearing similar to a theater scrim offers soft lines and streaks that suggest a barrier between the viewer and the world within the drawing. The piece both haunts and absorbs. “Reclamation” is successful in both charcoal and print and is a piece that tends to linger within the viewer’s mind for the long term. The absurdity of our society and culture is the running theme in Ganz’s work. He walks through life with an idiosyncratic eye, keenly aware and responsive to the absurdity that surrounds us all. “There’s definitely sarcasm in my work,” he says. “I don’t want my work to be dripping with it, just a little bit is enough.” At first sight the piece “Checking Out” is jarring, as it depicts comatose bodies sliding down the conveyor belts of a big box store. One wonders if these figures are alive or dead; then a quick realization connects with the eye as it discovers that all the figures, all eight of them, are of the same man, Ganz himself. Eight self-portraits within one drawing lets the viewer know that this piece has intentions beyond showing the deft skill of the artist’s hand. Small details such as an apple paired with a snake lead one on a search for symbolism and hidden meaning. “Absurdity isn’t always bad,” says Ganz as he refers to his drawing and its subject. “Just going into one of those stores is a visual experience. When I first started drawing I didn’t realize how much was in those places. There’s just so much information, and it’s all contained at eye level. The ceilings are so high, but there’s nothing to look at above and there’s nothing to look at below. Most of the space is just empty in those stores. They’re almost incomplete.” Ganz fulfills his role as an artist by showing us how these stores are dehumanizing products of our consumer society. “Everything in the store is designed to get your attention and to buy it. Things aren’t made to be beautiful; they are there just to get your attention. Big stores are a direct reflection of America. “The artist should be an agent of change in society, or at the very least try to get people to look at things a little harder,” he continues. “I guess there is quite a bit of social criticism in my work but I try to use humor to get the point across.” Ganz has been using his own image to get the point across since he was an undergraduate. He started adding multiple images of himself within one drawing as a graduate student and continues to use the device to tell stories and as a means to move the viewer through each piece. Caravaggio and Rembrandt are two artists with bodies of work that guide Ganz through each of his pieces. Besides creating beautiful images, both Rembrandt and Caravaggio are masters at moving the eye through a painting. “To me they are more like directors of a stage,” says Ganz. “There is drama they are creating as a person moves through a piece, kind of like directing a film. There’s a hierarchy in a piece, some things are more important than other things. If everything has the same value, then the piece becomes flat and no one will want to look at it long.” Spending time looking at Ganz’s work is compulsory for most viewers. The precision of line and accurately developed shapes and forms in his work are not easily surpassed. “I love trying to draw complicated things,” he says. “I love the feeling of trying to capture light. That’s when I really get into my work. It can take a while to figure out which way the shadows should fall and how the light hits things. Line form and shape are the hard things to solve. Getting to the details is the fun part.” Ganz has mastered accuracy and detail, but what makes his work stand apart is his intuitive use of the picture plane. “The paper is an arbitrary thing, an abstraction,” says Ganz. “There is value and space beyond the picture that needs to be considered. It is important not to stop at the edges. An image is one part of the bigger whole.” Ganz goes on to explain that a successful piece of art can be cropped into smaller pieces that can stand alone, a feature that is common in his own work. Ganz is an artist skilled at creating worlds that are absurd but so finely executed that we believe them.

Heather Miller

Dan O’Connell

Putting the City’s Best Face Forward

When Dan O’Connell moved to Fort Wayne in 1988 to head the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (now Visit Fort Wayne), he did so because he could see the potential in Fort Wayne and felt much of it had not yet been tapped. Now, almost three decades later, the city has exploded with options for both residents and visitors. While he’s happy with the growth, O’Connell also sees so much more on the horizon. His arrival in Fort Wayne came after O’Connell left a similar position in St. Cloud, Minnesota where he had graduated from St. Cloud State University, part of the University of Minnesota network and a campus that O’Connell says compares to IPFW. His major had been marketing, and he quickly saw that he could apply that knowledge to helping to improve a community. “While I was in school, I had an internship at the local Chamber of Commerce,” says O’Connell. “I saw how advertising and marketing could be more rewarding if it was used to help with community development. Making a destination better, whether it’s through ballparks or festivals, is an asset for both visitors and residents.” O’Connell admits that the focus of the visitor’s bureau in St. Cloud involved a lot of fishing and snowmobiling, but he saw how much Fort Wayne had to offer and how a move here could benefit his career. “There was a lot of potential here that the bureau wasn’t really capitalizing on or championing. At that time the Memorial Coliseum was just adding on the new Expo Center, and there was the Children’s Zoo, Science Central was coming along, and there was the Grand Wayne Center. There was a lot to offer.” Of course, the addition of Parkview Field has helped grow the downtown area and brought more foot traffic to the businesses there, but O’Connell says the seeds of downtown’s revival pre-dates even the ballpark’s contribution. “The Downtown Improvement District was already working to bring more businesses to downtown and making downtown cleaner, greener and friendlier. That was an important foundation block for all the things that followed, like the ballpark, the expanded library, the expansion of the convention center.” That growth also helped the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to both move and re-brand itself Visit Fort Wayne. O’Connell says the changes have helped it grow and better serve the community. “When we moved our offices from a small parking garage across from the Hilton into the corner building on Harrison, we were within walking distance of the Grand Wayne Center and many of the places we were working with. And with the move we decided we needed a new name, and other cities were beginning to incorporate ‘Visit,’ which made sense. When we were the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, people thought we were a government agency, which we’re not, or the convention center, which we’re not. At that same time, our online presence was exploding, and Visit Fort Wayne was already aligned with that.” The main focus of O’Connell’s job is to bring people to Fort Wayne, and a few years ago that effort took a very personal turn. His brother John, a theater and directing veteran, was looking for a new place to call home. When the IPFW theater department was looking for a new chair following the death of Larry Life, John’s brother Dan was able to provide some valuable information that ultimately led to John’s relocation to IPFW – where he is now dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts – and Fort Wayne. “Of course, my brother had come here regularly to visit my family during the holiday season, so he had spent time here. But when he was looking to move here, I was able to pitch the growth of IPFW, which had just become a Division I school and was adding a medical school and the Rhinehart Music Center, so there was great growth there and in the downtown area. But I was also able to tell him that there was an active gay community here. The gay community wasn’t reclusive, and I could tell him what an open community this is. People here are tolerant.” O’Connell also notes how moderate the political landscape is here, not liking anything “ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal,” and that, while it sometimes takes awhile for the city’s residents to get on board with a new idea, once they do, they embrace it. “Once we reach a consensus, this city acts and embraces it. That’s why we’re able to have the best ballpark in the country, the best genealogy center in the country. I was talking to someone the other day who said, ‘I’m so tired of hearing about your River Greenway! You have 60 miles of trails, and in Indy we only have 18.’ I love hearing things like that.” On the horizon for O’Connell is to continue to lure more businesses and organizations into town for their conventions. He says the city’s affordability, not to mention the amenities it has to offer, have made it easier to bring events, like this summer’s National Scrabble Convention, into Fort Wayne. Visit Fort Wayne has also developed its social media presence, with more than 10,000 Facebook likes and 750,000 visits to their website. Those elements have helped draw more attention to everything Fort Wayne has to offer. O’Connell is also excited about the upcoming riverfront development project, and sees terrific potential for its possibilities. “With a quarter-mile of riverfront area to work with, we can do almost anything. We can have a commercial area, but we can also incorporate a natural habitat with parks and picnic areas. We have a lot of riverfront to work with, so we can play to a lot of different tastes. We don’t have to put all our eggs in one basket.” In the end, with all the changes and new developments that have taken place since O’Connell came to town all those years ago, he still likes to sell Fort Wayne with the same approach that made him want to call this city home. It’s a great place to raise a family. “People say that all the time, right? That this is a great place to raise a family. And that was important to me at that time because I did have a young family, and the important factors were schools, parks, Friday Night Lights. But our social services are aimed at kids and our sports programs aim at kids. So those are the things that enticed me, and as a community leader, those are the assets to sell to other people.”

Michele DeVinney

Let’s Comedy

Finding Stages for Comics

Open Mic nights have long been a staple around the country, and Fort Wayne is no exception. The tradition provides an opportunity to people who have a desire to perform and to audiences who want to catch a new and perhaps promising talent. Typically those open mic sessions are musical, but a group of friends decided to provide a new spin on open mic, providing a different talent the chance to shine. The result of that desire is Let’s Comedy, a source and resource for local comedy hopefuls to try out material on audiences looking for a good laugh. The friends who made Let’s Comedy happen are Ryan Ehle, Ian Anderson, Alex Price, Jared Busch and Corey Courrielche, and now, more than two years after they first came up with the idea, the quintet are seeing big results from their efforts. Not surprisingly, a couple of them are comedians themselves. “Jared and I have been friends for years, and I worked with Ian at Discount Comic Book Store,” says Ehle. “The three of us all became friends, and Corey and Alex are comedians and have performed all over the region, touring and doing comedy for quite some time. We started talking about bringing open mic nights on a regular basis for comedians in Fort Wayne and surrounding cities. Comedians are always looking for places to perform, and they like to perform in front of different audiences so they can work on material and not have to come up with new material for the same audiences all the time.” Once they got the ball rolling, word spread quickly through old school means like flyers and through the new millennium’s version of word of mouth, social media. Soon comics from cities in adjacent states – Chicago, Detroit, Columbus – as well as cities in Indiana like South Bend were flocking to the events, providing the evenings with a lot of talent. “We would have maybe 75 people show up for these open mic nights, and we’d have to get it down to 12 to 15,” says Ehle. “We were posting flyers all around town, but word was also getting out on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter which was very helpful. We started getting more comics to commit to performing here, and they would talk to other comedians and share our events with them. It’s really helped open up interest in what we’re doing.” And what they’re doing has grown considerably since they began with the simple concept of open mic events. Let’s Comedy has grown into a larger, promotional entity, one which is helping to give area comedians a break while also bringing already established talent to the region. While they continue to host events at local establishments like Pint & Slice, O’Sullivan’s, Pedal City and the Calhoun Soups, Salads and Spirits Tiger Room (where Ehle works booking events, giving him an inside track on the room’s availability), they also filled one of the performance halls at IPFW’s Rhinehart Music Center when comedian Doug Benson appeared last May. That May performance came fresh on the heels of the group officially branding itself Let’s Comedy, with a logo and merchandise to help build that brand. Their events have branched out to include scores of local venues, including Deer Park, Columbia Street West and the new Trubble Brewing on Broadway. On January 30 Let’s Comedy hosts a unique event, An Evening with the Authors, at the Jennifer Ford Art Gallery on Carroll Road. White Rabbit Cabaret in Indianapolis, which hosts An Evening with the Authors regularly, describes the events as “some of the best comedians working in the Midwest today lends their skills to An Evening with the Authors, performing in character as fake authors reading from their fake books.” Ehle sees this as not only a great way to bring comedy to Fort Wayne, but also a means of widening the reach for Let’s Comedy in its quest to give local talent a place to share their comedy. In fact, as comedians from other states continue to come to Fort Wayne to ply their trade, Let’s Comedy is working to expand into other areas as well, particularly Indianapolis, but contacts in larger markets like Chicago and Los Angeles have also taken note of what’s happening here in the Summit City, providing exciting possibilities in the months and years to come. Ehle says comedians and performers are becoming increasingly aware of the growing demand in this area. For his part, Ehle is content to be the man behind the machine while his cohorts take the stage. Ehle says he enjoys writing but leaves the performing to others, preferring instead to handle promotion and marketing. Courrielche lives and works in South Bend, though he performs here as well, and the partners often take the stage to do standup or to play host to the open mic festivities, itself a demanding job. As Let’s Comedy continues to grow, Ehle says local fans of comedy should watch for announcements in the months ahead, including a partnership with Cinema Center where Let’s Comedy will have events similar to the popular Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on Comedy Central. Ehle, a father of three young children, also hopes to provide children’s comedy shows in the near future, giving kids and families a chance to hear less R-rated material than might be found in clubs and open mic sessions. And that’s just a taste of what lies ahead for Let’s Comedy. “People should stay tuned because we have some big plans coming up in 2016,” says Ehle. “There are some big names involved, and we have some great things we’re already lining up for this year.”

Michele DeVinney

Mark Paul Smith

Writer of ‘Real Life’ Stories

Area attorney, musician, art gallery owner and author Mark Paul Smith said he wrote the first draft of his latest book, Honey and Leonard, in the mid-90s while he was struggling with addiction. It was, he recalled, “written in a hazed frenzy.” After 15 years of sobriety, Smith “dug the manuscript out of a drawer” and said he could “feel addiction dripping off the page. “It was a shocker,” he said. “It was like, ‘Whoa, I thought I was fine back then.’” Drugs and alcohol can be a kind of “rocket fuel” that can provide “some inspiration,” he said. “Some good stuff came out of the bad stuff,” he said. “But in the end, if you keep drinking, you’ll kill yourself like Hemingway.” Smith doesn’t miss those days at all. “In fact, guess what?” he said. “This’ll shock ya. Life’s more fun without it. Who knew? I could have saved a million bucks.” Smith said he had to get knocked off his high horse and end up down on his knees. “And by ‘down on my knees,’” he said, “I mean I had to accept a higher power in my life. I’m not saying it’s Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha. I don’t know what it is. I just know it’s not me.” Honey and Leonard, which can be purchased via Amazon.com and at the Castle Gallery (owned by Smith and his wife, Jody Hemphill Smith) is about an elderly couple that goes on the lam and becomes an international cause célèbre in the process. Among the many aims of the book is banishment from common English usage of the word “elderly,” he said. “The book says you can be vibrant and vital well into your 70s and 80s,” he said. “In fact, you can be in love! You don’t have to be just elderly. I think elderly should go the way of the word retarded. Don’t use it anymore. It’s not nice anymore.” The Honey of the title struggles to make what she thinks she knows about love fit her current circumstances, Smith said. She thinks loving Leonard might cure him of Alzheimer’s. She wonders if she can continue to love Leonard as Alzheimer’s progresses. And she ponders what the ravages of age mean for her own lovability. What she realizes (and this goes back to revelations Smith has had in his own life) is that it’s “more important to love than to be loved,” he said. “You can have a stadium full of people love you and it won’t do you one bit of good if you can’t love at least one of them back,” Smith said. There was a time in his own life when Smith sought the love of stadiums full of people. After a stint as a newspaper reporter in the 70s, Smith went off to seek fame and fortune as part of a rock band called Wyler. He describes Wyler as “a seven-man band touring the southern United States and working steady during the disco era.” The band found especially enthusiastic audiences on the Bayou south of New Orleans, he said. “The band got to the point where we met with (Bob) Dylan’s manager,” Smith said. “He was going to sign us, and I realized, ‘I don’t understand any of this.’ So I went to law school so I could negotiate my own rock n’ roll contracts, none of which were forthcoming.” Smith’s father was a lawyer who taught his young son cross-examination at the breakfast table. “He’d say, ‘Who were you out with last night? How many sisters does he have? What’s their number? I’ll call them. What time did you get in? Really? Because your mother and I were up then.’” Smith said that everything he did for the first 30 or so years of his adult life was dedicated to changing the world. “I tried to change the world as a hippie protester,” he said. “I tried to change the world as a journalist. I tried to change the world through rock n’ roll. And, finally, I tried to change the world through law. I’m sad to report that the world has changed me. I have not changed the world. “For everybody who is out there now trying to change the world,” Smith said, “I’ve tried it from every angle and, as far as I can tell, it ain’t changing.” The only thing you can change, Smith said, is yourself. “That’s kind of what Honey and Leonard is about,” he said. “How to change yourself. “Here’s the deal. Life is a spiritual obstacle course. It’s designed to see if you can get over yourself. That’s the whole game.” We are all destined, perhaps, to believe at one or more points in our lives that we are at the center of the universe, Smith said. “That is a trap we are all in,” he said. “And one way out of the trap is to love somebody more than you love yourself.” Smith, who describes writing a book as “the most fun you can have with your pants on,” is already hard at work on his next tome. It’s called Rock and Roll Voodoo. “It’s about my band in New Orleans and on the Bayou,” he said. “I’m about 70 pages into it, and I’m having a ball.” Smith describes it as a roman à clef. “That is fact disguised as fiction,” he said. “Because, lord knows, this protagonist is doing stuff I would never dream of doing.” Smith eschews the “violence porn” that infects so much entertainment these days and encourages authors to write about real life. “It’s not always pretty,” he said. “It’s not always thrilling. It’s long stretches of boredom punctuated by sheer terror. But that’s life.”

Steve Penhollow

The Green Frog

Sunday Brunch a Locavore’s Dream

The worst thing about Sunday brunch at the Green Frog is deciding what to order. The best thing is realizing that it really doesn’t matter. There are no bad choices. Granted, this generous assessment of the Green Frog brunch is based on just two of the seven dishes offered. Certainly it would be a mistake to heap praise so wantonly were it not for the resume and track record of the people at the controls. Matt Billings, owner of the Green Frog, has joined forces with Andrew Smith, Jack May and Dan Campbell, the team behind the Junk Ditch Brewing Company and Affiné Food Truck, and Grace Kelly, the GK in GK Pastries, to offer up a menu that is varied and unexpected. And the bloody Mary bar doesn’t hurt. Fancy a tumble with croque madame (house ham, Havarti, pickled onion, fried egg, GK Cuban bread)? Or do biscuits and gravy (house chorizo, lime, scallion, GK biscuit) sound more like your style? Neither of those appeared at the table on a recent Sunday in early January. What did show up, however, was an appealing plate of potato rosti (fingerling potato, oyster mushroom, bechamel, spinach, slow egg) and another of shrimp and grits (crispy shrimp, polenta, jowl bacon, house knackwurst). The potato rosti was a perfect balance of ingredients. It would have been easy to soak the veggies and ’shrooms in the sauce, which combined with the egg yolk would have required a straw or strong tongue to lap up. But such was not the case. The firm exterior of the potatoes yielded nicely to reveal the fluffy interior while the finely cooked spinach added a healthy feel to the dish. As for the grits and shrimp, no southerner could complain. The polenta (the fancy name for cornmeal mush) was just mushy enough if that makes any sense. Snuggled in and on the grits was an ample school of tender and crispy shrimp and cubes of jowl bacon and knackwurst (a fancy name for sausage). It wasn’t easy for me to tell the difference between the bacon and the knackwurst. I don’t think they could pick me out of a pile of grits either. But that’s okay. Recognition is not required for enjoyment. I was happy, and the hog didn’t complain. Speaking of hogs, the ones who add flavor to the Green Frog brunch selections did not have far to travel, coming as they did from Gunthorp Farms in Lagrange. The other ingredients come from local sources as well. Junk Ditch Gardens provides the produce, Fischer arms in Jasper the beef and maple syrup, eggs come from Wholesome Horizon in Larwill and from Country Garden in Fort Wayne, which also supplies produce. Hawkins Family Farm rounds out the localvore dream team by providing chicken and produce. The menu is rounded out by the brunch must-have, Benedict (Hollandaise, house Canadian bacon, slow egg, GK biscuit) and perhaps the most adventurous of the items: chicken and waffles (fried chicken, sweet potato waffle, citrus, maple, Valentina). Well, almost rounded out. The pastries must not be neglected. Consisting of banana bread, cranberry and white chocolate scone and cinnamon roll, the baked goods whipped up by Kelly are enough to make any grandmother hang it up. The perfectly balanced flavor and texture, not to mention the delicate sweetness, made the Green Frog brunch experience complete. Rating: 4.5 napkins out of a possible 5. mark.whatzup@gmail.com

Mark Hunter

The Snarks

It’s Like ... Carpe YOLO, Man

The spirit of punk is alive and well. It spits and swings, spins and flails and breathes fire on The Snarks new EP, It’s Like ... Carpe YOLO, Man. Last year’s Night at Crystal Beach was a rallying cry from the Fort Wayne-based Snarks – a mix of post-punk angst, surf rock dreaming and fractured pop jangle. There was no denying the infectious swagger that was contained on that EP. If you weren’t a convert to The Snarks before, prepare to be. “Toothache” opens with the sound of someone saying “Roll it”; then the band break into a swirl of punk rock bravado. “Counterfeit” doesn’t let up, with Kendra J spitting each word through the speakers with just the right amount of attitude and indignation. “Space Cases” is a dreamy track, and epic in length in comparison the the first two tracks’ under-two-minute time stamps. Kendra Johnson, Bart Helms, Zachary Evan Kershner, Dan Kinnaley and Dan Arnos pull off introspective just as well as they can aggressive. “Drone” sounds like the love child of The Damned, Love and Dick Dale – a whole mess of surf rock, jangle, and a middle finger to the establishment. “Make It Stop” is an explosion of hardcore speed and Johnson’s innate ability to push 10 tons of anger down your earholes while you’re giving yourself whiplash. It’s the ultimate punk rock statement on an EP that’s filled with ’em. The Snarks waste no time. There’s no dead air in between these five songs and the very tight 12 or so minutes this EP inhabits. Recorded and mixed directly to tape at Jason Davis’ Off The Cuff Sound in Fort Wayne, It’s Like ... Carpe YOLO, Man is yet another shining example of the quality bands that are coming out of the Midwest, and Fort Wayne in particular. If hardcore, post-punk, jangle pop, and even bits of late-60s surf rock pique your interest, then grab a copy of It’s Like ... Carpe Yolo, Man at its CD release show on February 6 at The Brass Rail. Check out The Snarks playing these tunes live, along with special guests Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. You can also order a copy at thesnarks.bandcamp.com.

John Hubner


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