Jazz & Stories with Garrison Keillor

Last week I was lucky enough to get to go see Garrison Keillor, the renowned storyteller, at the Eastman Theatre! I was so excited to have the chance to see him live. My family wasn’t an NPR family growing up, but many of my college friends are fans, and they had always raved about good old Garrison. After a long week, “An Evening of Storytelling with Garrison Keillor” seemed like just what we needed!

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I wasn’t feeling well the night of the show, so I forgot to take pictures. Here’s a photo of the beautiful program on my beautiful coffee table!

Being a bit of a Keillor n00b going into this show, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I was pretty delighted, though, when he kicked off the evening with a singalong! It was an eclectic mix, everything from “This Land is Your Land” to “I Saw Her Standing There.” Another delightful factor? I spotted the president of my alma mater, Joel Seligman, seated in one of the boxes near the stage, blowing his nose frequently and singing along. (I was under the weather too, Joel. It’s okay. Hope you’re feeling better!).

Garrison Keillor performed with an incredibly talented jazz sextet from the Eastman School of Music, and they blew me away. Garrison would chat and joke for a bit, then have the musicians play a little bit. They played Gershwin, New Orleans jazz, and much more! The clarinetist was so fantastic it made me really want to pick up my clarinet again. And I haven’t played in 4 years!

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Credit where credit is due: that was a damn good jazz sextet.

They closed out their set with a number I was very pleased with myself for recognizing: The St. James Infirmary Blues.

While the song’s origins are unknown, Louis Armstrong made it famous with his recording in 1928. I actually knew it from my visits to Fritzel’s, my favorite jazz club in New Orleans! I’ve visited NOLA enough to love the city, but definitely not enough to count myself satiated. I can’t wait to go back sometime!

Anyways, this jazz sextet from Eastman performed a phenomenal rendition of this fantastically depressing song and it brought the house down. And then they came and sat next to us in the crowd! So that was pretty cool.

Garrison has such an interesting style. He’s understated, calm and mellow, but manages to include a level of depth and detail in his stories that’s both astonishing and impressive. My mind caught on details of each story more so than the overarching story arc. The strawberry shaped change jar his parents kept in his home growing up. The French’s mustard he squirted on his burger on his sneaky trip out of the house. A memory like that is bound to make you a good storyteller!

My favorite story that he told was about the insane murder ballads his grandma used to sing him. So strange and so hilarious! I couldn’t believe how he remembered every single word of the ballad. They were bizarre and hysterical.

Up next in the fantastic Eastman Presents concert series? The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is coming to town! They’re featuring Nikolai Lugansky as the pianist and are performing Brahms and Shostakovich. I’m sure this will be an amazing concert and I’m psyched to see it!

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Photo via eastmantheatre.org

Good news for YOU! I’m giving away a pair of tickets to this concert too! To enter: 1) Follow @eastman.school on Instagram. 2) Follow me on Instagram (@servemethesky). 3) Leave a comment on my photo about this post telling me why you’d love to see this concert. If you’re not feeling competitive (or don’t win but are still dying to see the show), you can purchase tickets here.

Best of luck to all!

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Norm Lewis Lookback

Last week I had the opportunity to see Norm Lewis perform at Kodak Hall, and he was pretty fantastic. That guy can sing! You were probably expecting that, though, if you know anything about Norm Lewis. He’s basically a Broadway superstar- he’s been in practically any show that comes to mind when you think of Broadway classics. Les Mis? Yup. Phantom of the Opera? Yup. Porgy and Bess? Yup. He gets around!

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Ready for an evening of incredible music!

His show at Eastman included highlights from many of the musicals he’s been in. My personal favorites were the huge show stopping numbers like “Music of the Night” from Phantom and “Bring Him Home” from Les Mis. His rendition of “Bring Him Home” was particularly moving, as he prefaced it with a story about a fellow cast member who died young in an accident. I may have been a little misty-eyed by the end of that one, if I’m being honest. Norm’s voice filled up the whole theatre; it was clear that every audience member was listening raptly.

Norm was a very personable performer. He loved interacting with the audience and included lengthy anecdotes between each song. At the beginning of the night, he mentioned reading the local paper and seeing we “had a lot going on,” then referenced catching himself on Scandal while watching TV in his hotel room. This was the start of a long night of humblebrags. We heard all about his friendship with Audra McDonald, that time he went to a house party at the White House, and how he got to meet Barack Obama. I suppose humblebrags are warranted when you’re as talented and experienced in show business as Norm Lewis is.

Things did get a little weird, though, when he performed a Marvin Gaye number and interspersed his passionate singing with yells of “ISIS!” and “Black Lives Matter!” My boyfriend and I looked at each other in total shock and confusion. Never have I ever been to a concert at Eastman where I’ve heard a musician scream “ISIS” in the middle of a performance! I totally get artists standing up for what they believe in during turbulent political times. The song was called “What’s Going On,” and while it is super important to discuss what’s going on, especially in 2017, this seemed like a bizarre, jarring, and superficial way to approach the topic. I wanted to yell back to him, “Dude! You’re just saying names and phrases!” Yelling nouns is not a particularly effective way of engaging in political discourse.

Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable evening and I’m glad we got to see this talented man bring down the house! Just thinking back on the night, I’m getting some serious feels thinking about his rendition of “Bring Him Home.”

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World-class music right here!

Now, you may recall that the Eastman Presents concert series was on my list of 7 Things I’m Psyched About in 2017. There are three shows remaining in the series, and up next is Garrison Keillor. Apparently I’m out of the loop on the whole Garrison Keillor thing; I’ve heard he’s pretty amazing,  and I’m excited to see him when he comes to town on February 17th!

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Garrison Keillor is coming to ROC! Photo via Eastman Theatre.

Even more exciting for YOU, is that I’m doing another ticket giveaway! Love the idea of seeing Garrison Keillor IRL? Comment below telling me why you want to see him. Winner receives a pair of tickets to the show on 2/17! I’ll announce the winner on Friday, February 10th.

Best of luck to all!

7 Things I’m Psyched about in 2017

While many people are eager to call 2016 a dumpster fire of a year, it was actually a pretty darn good year for me. I traveled to New Zealand, visited my BFF in Texas, saw amazing live music, and even bought a house! Oh, and I swam with manatees too. The downside of all those wonderful things is that it’ll be a tough year to top. Hopefully these 7 things I’m psyched about in 2017 will contribute to it being an equally awesome year:

    1. Axe throwing at Hatchets & Hops – My friend Chris of Exploring Upstate has gotten me totally on board with the idea of checking out this new place in Buffalo where YOU GET TO THROW AXES. How cool is that?! We’re planning to make a day trip to Buffalo soon, and I’m stoked to try something totally new and different.
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Photo courtesy of Hatchets & Hops Instagram
    1. Snowshoeing – This year, Tim and I received snowshoes for Christmas from my parents! We can’t wait to hit some local trails and try them. Now I’ll just sit here patiently waiting for snow…
    2. Chicago – For years, I’ve been meaning to take a trip to Chicago. This year may finally be the year. I’ve always heard such great things about the art and culture in Chicago, and I’ve only ever flown through. Now that Hamilton is in Chicago, I have some extra motivation to get there! Maybe I can even see Wayne Brady…
    3. Meliora Weekend – It’s my 5 year college reunion. I can’t believe it, but it’s true. Usually I don’t get too psyched for Mel Weekends, but this year, I’m guessing many of my friends from college will be back in town, so that will be fun! Plus, I no longer work on the campus of my alma mater, so it will actually feel a bit more special to visit.
    4. More Sofar shows – Sofar Sounds puts on tons of great concerts in unique venues in Rochester. I love the surprise of a quirky venue and interesting live bands every time! Last year we saw shows at a motorcycle shop, the Public Market, the Brainery, a thrift store, and many more neat spots. I interviewed local Sofar leader Kelsey Delmotte for I Heart ROC last year, so if you’re curious about Sofar, that’s a great place to learn more!
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Megalodonis at the Public Market
  1. A trip West – Shockingly, my boyfriend and I have never traveled together. We’ve both traveled plenty separately, but we’ve never gone on a trip together! We’re hoping to make a trip out west this year since Tim has never been to some of the national parks out there.
  2. The Eastman Presents: Winter Spectacular – The four remaining concerts in the Eastman Presents series are sure to be amazing and delightful in totally different ways. There’s a Broadway star, a public radio figure, a philharmonic orchestra from Russia, and an incredible tap dancer. Damn!
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Photo via Eastman Theatre

Now time for some really exciting news… YOU, my loyal readers, have the opportunity to win tickets to each of these concerts in this fantastic series! I’m giving away a pair of tickets to each of the four remaining shows, so be sure to check back every couple weeks for the next giveaway.

The first concert of the series is Norm Lewis, who is known for his role as the first African American phantom in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I love Phantom. I listened to techno remixes of the soundtrack in high school- yes, I’m a nerd. I’m psyched to see him perform live next weekend!

To enter for a chance to win a pair of tickets to Norm Lewis: be sure you’re following me and the Eastman School on Twitter (@servemethesky and @eastmanschool) AND tweet me what your favorite concert is that you’ve ever seen. The winner will be announced Saturday morning!

What are you excited for in 2017? Any places I should check out? Let me know! And keep following along for more chances to win tickets to phenomenal performances in the Eastman Presents concert series.

A Much-Needed Break of Reality

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the opening of the Eastman Presents concert series, featuring the talented cello rock group, Break of Reality. I’ll let you catch up- I know that’s a lot to take in. Yes, a cello rock group. And they’re amazing. If you need convincing of that fact, check out their semi-famous (and by semi-famous, I mean 12 million views on YouTube semi-famous) cover of the Game of Thrones theme.

The group was founded in 2003 when the original members were freshmen at the Eastman School of Music. It was a very special night for them to return to Eastman to play a kickass show for a huge, appreciative crowd. Ivan Trevino, their percussionist, did most of the talking that night (because, as he joked, his instrument doesn’t require nearly as much tuning as the rest of the group’s). I was struck by how incredibly humble and grateful he and his bandmates seemed- it was pretty moving to witness.

For one piece, Trevino brought his friends on stage, Michael Burritt and Aaron Staebell, who performed with the group a marimba duet that Trevino himself had composed. It was so cool to see teacher and student performing together- a true testament to a) the relationships built at Eastman and b) the talent cultivated there.

I really didn’t know what to expect when seeing this group perform, but damn, they exceeded whatever expectations I may have had in my brain. I loved their original stuff as much as (if not more than!) their covers. Helix and Star were some of my favorites. I became such a gushing fan that I even had to buy their album! Peruse their YouTube and Spotify pages if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into their epic music.

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This wasn’t the first time I attended a show as part of the Eastman Presents Series! Last year I saw the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and they killed it. If you’re curious about what other shows Eastman Presents is bringing to town this year, be sure to check out their website! Break of Reality was pretty stoked to be featured in the same concert series as Renee Fleming (! she’ll be here in November). Personally, Savion Glover has piqued my interest!

 

Whenever I’m in the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, I look around and try to remember how lucky we are to have this beautiful gem in Rochester. Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted, but when I’m physically in that space, I just sit in awe and take in the beauty and the luxury. It’s gorgeous. Sometimes I can’t believe that I performed on that stage in both high school and college, or that I walked across it to receive my master’s degree. I’m so grateful for Eastman, for music, and the vibrant arts community in Rochester.

Philharmonic Fun

Given the recent heat, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about some of our other favorite seasons here in Rochester. You know, fall…spring…and even (shocker) winter. And throughout that time, I saw a few really great performances down at Eastman. I’ve come to realize that the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Eastman School do a really great job cultivating interesting and diverse programs and getting out into the community to perform for folks who might not otherwise come hear their phenomenal music in the theatre.

Last fall, we went to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain as part of the “Eastman Presents” concert series put on by the Eastman School. It was absolutely fantastic. It was almost a comedy show as much as a live music performance. Those brilliant Brits played all kinds of hits, including everything from Nirvana to Amy Winehouse, The Who to Lady Gaga. You really need to watch their “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover. Their selection was eclectic, their humor was quirky, and their talent was clear. I was thrilled we went.

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Weird British people with ukuleles. Solid choice.

The next show we saw was on Valentine’s Day weekend. There was snow. It was cold (I almost remember what that feels like…glorious!). A former American Idol contestant, Michael Lynche, sang in front of the RPO for a concert called “Heart and Soul.” So many great R&B classics, including Ray Charles, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and more! Lynche was incredibly talented- and it was his first time performing in front of a full philharmonic orchestra! How cool!

I find that going downtown to see a show in Kodak Hall always feels very special- the lights at night, the huge, beautiful chandelier, the painted walls and the plush seats- it all makes for an experience that feels extra-meaningful. It’s almost like visiting another era. Going to see the orchestra sounds archaic in 2016 (but it’s not, I swear!). You step slightly outside the norm of your day to day and get to immerse yourself in music. I love it!

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Love seeing it all lit up! World-class music right here, folks.

As a college student at U of R, I used to take the bus over to Eastman for lessons. Going to Java’s quickly became tradition, as I’m sure it is for music nerds and Rochesterians alike. Best hot chocolate in the city- I doubt anyone would even fight me on that! It’s pretty much a fact. I also enjoy spending time around Eastman during Fringe Festival, since so many eccentric performers can be found all over the area seemingly anytime during the festival. Gibbs Street is a pretty great place to be.

The cool thing about the RPO, though, is that they don’t just stay put. They’re pretty active in the community, and even put on a summer concert series where they play in public parks! How lucky are we that we get to experience that?! For free?!

They’re called “RPO Around the Town” concerts, and they’re quite excellent. Locations range far and wide, everything from Susan B. Anthony Square to Mt. Hope Cemetery, ending the series at the Maplewood Rose Garden. We attended the wind quintet concert at Mt. Hope Cemetery on a lovely summer evening and really enjoyed the selections! It was a diverse array of things- Sousa and Grieg and Bach (if I remember correctly), and more, of course. I played in a wind quintet in high school, so I especially enjoyed it! Sadly this concert series is over for the summer (probably for the best for the performers at this point, so they don’t melt), but make a mental note to check it out next year.

As a young adult living in this awesome city, I appreciate all the RPO and the Eastman School do to cater to our diverse population and to serve the community in a variety of ways. The RPO even has a blog where you can follow along with what the musicians are up to! A blogging orchestra? That’s pretty cool!

If I’ve piqued your interest, you can check out the RPO concert calendar here! They’re playing the Zelda music this fall (so cool!) and Yo-Yo Ma is coming in December (sadly, it’s already sold out). For more information about the Eastman Presents series for 2016, head over here. Go listen to some world-class music, right here in our hometown! You won’t regret it.

NOLA Has My Heart

For all my Rochester love, there is one other city that really has my heart. Time and time again, I’ll find myself thinking about it and yearning to go back. Cheesy, but true. I’ve only been to New Orleans, Louisiana twice, but that’s not enough!

The first time I visited New Orleans was in 2010. I went with a group of college students from my church, Perinton Presbyterian, to help rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina. More on that later.

My first taste of New Orleans (literally) was an encounter with the cuisine at a seafood restaurant. A mere 5 years ago, I did not like seafood (what was I thinking?!). I was thoroughly disturbed by these crawfish…

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Hello, crawfish

Instead, I made the brilliant decision to order a muffaletta. This muffaletta situation truly blew me away.

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Monstrous sandwich

What is a muffaletta? The most enormous sandwich you’ve ever seen. No joke. Even in retrospect, I’m still astonished by how large it was! It includes olive salad, ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, and even mortadella (an Italian sausage). It’s served on round Sicilian sesame bread and was popular among Italian immigrants living in New Orleans. Unfortunately, not my cup of tea. I hate olives and sausage, so, not my best meal choice. The beginning of my first trip to NOLA was off to a bit of a rocky start!

Luckily, some New Orleans residents in the musicians’ village were quick to show off how friendly the people are in this city. They rushed out to our car as we were touring around to get familiar with the area, and were eager to hand us plastic coconuts (I’m still not sure why) and share their life stories. The eclectic decorations in the yard were an accurate display of the colorful personalities of the residents! These people could have just let our car drive by, or messed with a van full of college students, but instead they decided to come talk to us. I think it really says a lot about the city and its people.

After that trip, I would often tell my friends and family about our time in NOLA and they’d say, “Hurricane Katrina? Wasn’t that like, 5 years ago? Shouldn’t they be fine by now?” People really struggle to wrap their heads around how massive Katrina’s impact was. A lot of the homes look like this one (or much worse), 5 years after the hurricane: empty, water damaged, structurally unsound, and totally abandoned.

Even though it was MUCH colder than we expected in Louisiana in January, we still really enjoyed having the chance to build a house in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.

My second visit to NOLA was last year in July. Yes, Louisiana in July. And I still loved it! It really couldn’t have been any more different from my first visit- the tone was incredibly different, for starters. We weren’t there to help rebuild in the wake of a devastating natural disaster; we were just there for a conference. Also, I was old enough to enjoy a drink on Bourbon Street!

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Obligatory hand grenade photo

There were so many highlights to this visit that it’s hard to distill it down to just a few. One of the best parts for me, though, was visiting Fritzel’s again. It was one of the only spots we visited on Bourbon Street back in 2010, and we drank juice and listened to jazz. This time around, I was able to sample a hurricane (and a hand grenade, on a different evening). But the remarkable jazz was just as good as ever.

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One year ago – not much had changed!

It felt so special to go see this band again and hear their soulful voices and upbeat music. Man, can that clarinetist play (and I’m a clarinetist, so I would know)! I may err on the side of cheese here and say it was a magical moment. It allowed me to reflect on where the last 5 years had taken to me, all while listening to spectacular jazz in an intimate setting (the whole jazz club can hold probably no more than 20 people).

We also stumbled upon some pretty amazing art at night. The little shop on a random side street was owned by a real character named Adrian Fulton, who was quick to offer us beer or a shot (we politely declined both). He had a dog named Faith and liked to create art on the shingles and other scraps that had blown off of houses during Hurricane Katrina. We pet the dog and we bought some art.

Another neat thing about New Orleans is that it has TONS of literary connections. Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and more all spent time in NOLA. It’s fun to meander around and see how many literary landmarks you can find. We visited Faulkner’s old apartment as well as the Hotel Monteleone, where many literary icons stayed and worked.

The last item we ticked off our NOLA bucket list during that trip was a steamboat ride down the Mississippi River. A bit touristy, but worth it- there was great food, jazz (by the clarinetist from Fritzel’s!!!), and tons of interesting history narrated by our guide.

What is it about NOLA that makes me keep wanting more? It’s such a damn vibrant place- I don’t know how else to describe it. There’s a lot of life. It’s the music, it’s the architecture, it’s the food, it’s the people.

I could have featured photos of my gorgeous, haunted hotel, or the very cool Louis Armstrong Park, or the over-the-top parade our professional organization marched in, but then this blog would go on forever.

Every time I experience a few days in NOLA, I find myself wanting to go back before I’ve even left. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to any other place that has such a strong sense of place, if that makes any sense at all. I can’t wait to return.

Photo credit for the featured image (in the header) goes to my friend and coworker, Shawn Denman, who is an excellent photographer.