whatzup2nite • Sunday, May 1

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Things To Do

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National Shows

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Music & Comedy

Blues Jam Hosted byLee Lewis and Friends — Open jam at Checkerz Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 6-9 p.m., no cover, 489-0286

Dan Smyth — Acoustic at Bar 145, Fort Wayne, 1-4 p.m., no cover, 209-2117

Sol Fest — Variety feat. Sunny Taylor Band, Will Certain, Citizens Band, Jon Durnell. Kyle Haller Band, Theresa Long, The Be Colony, Dan Dickerson, Grateful Groove at Fox Island County Park, Fort Wayne, 12-7 p.m., $5, 449-3180

Yesterday's Headtrip — Variety at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-5526

Karaoke & DJs

American Idol Karaoke w/Scott — Karaoke at Latch String, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526

Stage & Dance

Avenue Q — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s production of the R-rated comedy based on Muppet-like puppets seeking to discover their purpose in the “big city,” 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 6-7, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $17-$29, 424-5220

Jane Eyre — Lauren Nichols’ adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte novel for all for One productions, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 1; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 6-7 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 8, Parkview Physicians Group Arts Lab, Auer Center for Arts and Culture, Fort Wayne, $10-$18, 422-4226

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — David Wasserman’s adaptation of the classic Ken Kesey novel, 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 6-7, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121

Movies New and Improved!

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Art & Artifacts

36th National Print Exhibition — Hand pulled prints from new and veteran artists on exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 25, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Art Cislo: Expressions of the Heart of Man — Woodblock and monotype prints convey his fascination with the heart of man in all its mysterious complexities and myriad expressions, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 10, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467

Beaux Arts & Blueprints: The Allen County Courthouse, a Treasure Among Us — Dozens of the original blueprints from it’s 1902 construction, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 12, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$10, 422-6467

Daybreak in Myanmar — Photography by Geoffrey Hiller, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 29, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 422-6467

Don Osos — Watercolors on exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 25, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Elemental Attraction: Works in Iron and Steel by George Beasley and Susanne Roewer — Small and large scale sculptures, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 10, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467

Senior BFA — Samantha Conrad paintings, Joshua Pyburn sculptures, Karla Yauchler ceramics, daily thru May 8, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6705

Small Art Show/Sale — Works on exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 25, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Tossed and Found — An invitational exhibit of recycled, re-purposed and re-imagined art featuring works from Sayaka Ganz, Dianna T.M. Auld, Branden Thornhill-Miller, Dan Sigler, Jerry Lawson, Art Farm, Mark Phenicie and Jennifer Hart Sunday-Friday thru June 5 , First Presbyterian Art Gallery, First Presbyterian Church, Fort Wayne, 426-7421

Featured Events

Fort Wayne Dance Collective Spring/Summer Workshops — Workshops and classes for movement, dance, yoga and more offered by Fort Wayne Dance Collective, dates and times vary, 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

TekVenture Public Workshops: Interconnecting Imagination, Technology and Community — Access to tools; Saturday hands-on workshops for making things in machining wood and metal, 3D printing, electronics, robotics, CAD design and more; ages 12 thru adult, TekVenture, Fort Wayne, fees vary, membership discounts available, 432-1095


Robin Trower

Life As a Guitar God

In 1967, a respected British band in the midst of enjoying its first hit single came to guitarist Robin Trower and asked if he’d like to join up. He said, “Yes,” of course. From the point of view of an American fan of British Invasion rock, this proposition might seem like one with no discernible downside. A perusal of that aforementioned single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” might change your perspective, however. There are many impressible things about the song, but one of them is not the prominence of the guitar. Procol Harum were a piano-and-organ-based band, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if Trower, who performs at C2G Music Hall on May 5, was going to get widely described as a “guitar god,” as eventually occurred, it wasn’t going to be as a member of Procol Harum. In a phone interview, Trower characterized the songwriting of Procol Harum founders, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, as “very forward-thinking.” “It was Gary and Keith who wrote those songs and I just added my bit on the guitar,” he said. On the side, Trower was writing a lot of guitar-driven songs that he knew would never be played by the band. Eventually, in 1971, he decided to take his leave. “I needed more room,” he said. “I had a lot to say I wanted to get on and say it.” But the parting was amicable, Trower said, and he left with no regrets over how he’d spent the previous four years. “I learned a lot from Procol Harum,” he said. “The band gave me tools I absolutely needed to move forward.” In 1974, Trower achieved his first monster success as a solo artist: the album, Bridge of Sighs. Critics compared his sound to that of the late Jimi Hendrix. Trower said he didn’t really discover Hendrix’ music until after his death. Reid wanted to find a way to pay tribute to Hendrix on the band’s Broken Barricades album, and Trower listened to all of his music in preparation. Trower became an enormous fan, of course, but he said he didn’t consciously try to incorporate Hendrix’ musicianship into his own style of play; it just happened naturally. “I can revisit songs now and think ‘Oh, yeah. There’s the Hendrix influence,’” he said. “But at the time, I was just writing songs. I wasn’t stopping to think about what might have influenced them.” Some critics were less than enamored with the Hendrix echoes in Trower’s music, but Trower said it would be silly for any serious electric guitarist to try to ignore Hendrix. The guitar god label is one that Trower shares with such countrymen and contemporaries as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Some so-called guitar gods might feel ambivalent about that tag, but not Trower. “I think it is flattering,” he said, “because the people who describe you in this way tend to place you alongside your own heroes.” It is rare in the 21st century for a young axman to be granted this designation. Trower said he believes the guitar god era has come and gone. “I can’t see younger musicians having the same inspiration as perhaps those of my generation had,” he said. “We were inspired by extremely gifted people. It may be that what musicians are being inspired by now is more second and third-hand.” Guitar gods may have divinity in their playing, but many of them are known for deviltry in other areas of their life. Trower is a relatively straight arrow. He doesn’t drink and has been married to the same woman for almost 50 years. “We were married in ’68,” he said. “She was a very special lady. We both lived in the same town, and we would run into each other in the sort of places where young people ran into each other back then.” Trower, 71, is touring on extravagant praise for his latest album, Where You Are Going To. Strong reviews are nice, Trower said, but he doesn’t count on them and never has. “I’m making the records really for my own personal gratification,” he said. “If people like it, it’s great. It’s really great. But the most important thing to me is that I am happy with it.”

Steve Penhollow

Avenue Q

Life Lessons Amid the Laughter

Sometimes life can become so overwhelming that you just need to take a break and enjoy yourself. It’s often very rare that we give ourselves that opportunity. Avenue Q is really just lots of fun because it gives adults the okay to just let go and be a kid again. Avenue Q, believe it or not, also has many wonderful life lessons. It is important to face reality, but we should never forget our dreams. Sure, we have to make a living and support ourselves, but along with that we should take the opportunities that present themselves to expand our horizons. Taking time out to explore your dreams can only make one a more rounded and happier person. For example, Brian in Avenue Q has always wanted to do stand-up comedy, so he finally took the chance and did it. He may not have been a great success right at first, but who knows what opportunities may arise later on because he took that risk. You have to be willing to take chances in life or you just become stagnant, which can lead to unhappiness. Another life example presented in this show is Princeton’s story. He becomes so involved in searching for his purpose that he loses sight of the important things in life: people and friends. I believe that if you just open yourself up to the people and situations around you, your whole purpose in life becomes more and more clear. You become more and more conscious of the world around you. Success isn’t necessarily having lots of money. Being happy with who you are is far more important. Which brings us to Rod. Once he stops hiding from who he is and accepts himself, life becomes so much more enjoyable. We all need to stop trying to be something we’re not and start loving ourselves and each other more. Once we love and accept ourselves for what we are, we become much more caring and tolerant of the world around us. Avenue Q, may be a little naughty (snicker), but just sit back, relax and have a few good, hearty laughs on us. “Life’s too important to be taken too seriously.” Avenue Q is rated R for adult content.

Becky Niccum

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Kesey’s Classic Still Resonates

First Presbyterian Theater has long been known for its thought-provoking drama, and its latest offering, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, F certainly lives up to the tradition. From the novel by Ken Kesey and dramatization by Dale Wasserman, the play examines the lives of patients and health care providers in an Oregon mental hospital. The Betty Ford Clinic, it ain’t. Director Thom Hofrichter reveals, with compassion, a story racked by everyday brutality and battle for power. The principle characters in this struggle are patient R. P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, played ably by Joel Grillo and Emily Arata. It would be easy to say that Ratched represents all that is unsavory in an authoritarian circumstance and that McMurphy the non-conformist who fights the power, but this story is not that easily told. Visually, the set is crumbling, drab and piecemeal, a right-on-the-money design by Bob Sutton, and stage manager Myra Mae McFarland and production staff Devin Dec and Joaquin Ferrando handle the technical side seemingly without effort. The ensemble of beautiful crazies are the backbone of this show – Tom Corron as Dale Harding and Brett Kaminski as Billy Bibbit deliver performances that are equal parts hilarity and heartbreak. Duke Roth, Nol Beckley and Steve Bricker each delineate the narrow no-man’s land between lucidity and breakdown. These are all guys you probably know. In the pivotal role of Chief Bromden is artist Nick Stolle, and Bromden may be the one soul redeemed in the story, the one man who overcomes his paralyzing fear and becomes “big enough” to rejoin the world. Still, his redemption comes only after a terrible act of mercy. The play is set in the early 1960s. From a contemporary perspective, many elements of this play are disturbing, like the casual denigration of all women: McMurphy’s 15-year-old rape victim, Harding’s good-looking wife, Bibbit’s smothering momma, a terrified young nurse, the promiscuous party girls and the embodiment of all the men’s hatred, Miss Ratched. Of course, these men are patients in a mental hospital, and their rage is perhaps understandable. Their therapy is less so, given what has been learned about mental illness in the last half-century. What passes for treatment would seem quaint were it not for the dreadful consequences for the patients. Today, Martini’s PTSD would be easily identified, and his medical regimen would go beyond a command to “Quit hallucinating!” Stuttering Bibbitt’s suicidal ideation might be easily mitigated with speech therapy. And Harding wouldn’t be in a mental institution at all, since his main issue seems to be homosexuality. Still, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a timely story. Today, people know well the outrage of unbending authority and the equivalent danger of anarchy. This is the perilous spectrum in politics, in the workplace and wherever people struggle to maintain their tenuous grip on reality. As the characters say in the group therapy circle, we are “society in miniature.” So what’s a sane person to do? Do we go along to get along? Or do we strap up and go down fighting? It’s hard to know which way leads to the light. One flew east; one flew west.

Virginia Relph

Indian Performance Series

A Synthesis of Sound

When Dr. Vijay Chilakamarri started Shruti, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the best in Indian classical music and dance to Fort Wayne, the prevailing opinion was that he was wasting his time. “They told me there was no way I could keep it going, that we’d be done before you knew it,” Chilakamarri told me in a recent phone interview. “One of the first artists I brought to town said there wasn’t going to be enough interest. There was no way to sustain a program like ours, he said.” The naysayers could not have been more wrong. Three years on, Shruti is going strong, and next month Shruti is sponsoring the “Violin meets Sarod” event, which will give Fort Wayne audiences the chance to hear two Indian classical music stars – the sarod master Pandit Tejendra Maryam Majumdar and acclaimed violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan – at the top of their game. Majumdar and Rajagopalan will take the stage at IPFW’s Rhinehart Music Center Saturday, May 7 for an evening of improvisation and call-and-response common in Indian classical music. “As a genre, Indian classical music shares a lot in common with jazz,” said Chilakamarri. “The performers often start with a melody, usually short, and then they pick up from there, improvising and expanding on that melody, creating something new and infinitely variable.” The sarod is, like the sitar, a beloved and storied instrument used in Hindustani classical music thought to have been brought to India in the mid-18th century. A fretless stringed instrument, it delivers a more somber, weighty tone than the sitar and is played by stopping the strings with a fingernail or the tip of the fingers. “If the sitar is like the Indian violin, the sarod is like the cello,” Chilakamarri said. “The sarod delivers a deep, rich sound. That’s one reason we wanted to pair the sarod with the violin. They’re stringed instruments, but their tonal qualities are entirely different. Even though the violin is not an Indian instrument per se, these two instruments sound wonderful together.” Owing to its lack of frets and the fact that sarod strings carry a great deal of tension, it is a demanding instrument. Sarod masters are, therefore, a rare breed, and Majumdar – who trained under Indian classical music household names Bahadur Khan, Sinha Roy and Ali Akbar Khan – is one of the most popular and accomplished modern sarod players working today. His appearance as part of the “Violin meets Sarod” event will be his first performance in the United States. Ganesh Rajagopalan is likewise an Indian classical music heavyweight. He is best known as one half of Ganesh and Kumaresh, a brother/brother violin duo from southern India who have given the Carnatic classical music tradition a shot in the arm with their new and innovative takes on ancient songs. Ganesh is often categorized as a prodigy, having taken up the violin at the tender age of three, and by the time he and his brother were approaching their teen years they were wowing crowds with their talent, passion and poise. A writer with Times India Delhi gushed: “When a couple of boys clad in half-pats and not yet in their teens, climb on the platform to give a recital of classical music, one gets prepared to muster all the indulgence at one’s command … but Ganesh and Kumaresh who offered a violin recital at Vigyan Bhavan on Sunday, showed proficiency that compels serious attention. The main raga of the evening was Kalyani, handled by Ganesh with considerable ease, his sense of melodic beauty was also commendable. “Above all, the confidence which the two boys displayed was phenomenal. The Tanam which they developed was what any seasoned artiste could be proud of. As the years go by, they are bound to be in the forefront among violinists …” Rajagopalan, now in his early 50s, has toured the world, both with his brother and as a solo performer. In addition to his work as a versatile violinist and vocalist, he is a teacher and composer, famous for his work on a number of Bollywood movies and Indian televisions shows. When his skills are paired with those of Majumdar, magic will be the inevitable result, as will, according Chilakamarri, a certain amount of musical ambassadorship. Majumdar of the Hindustani musical tradition and Rajagopalan of the Carnatic school will bring together the musical styles of India’s northern and southern regions. Audiences will, therefore, walk away with a greater understanding of how these musical traditions can communicate with each other on stage. “India’s artistic traditions are very diverse, and they vary based on what part of the country the artist is from, what the artist grows up learning and studying. The north is very different from the south which is different from the, east, which is different from the west. There’s an incredible richness and that is something we hope people will see when they come to one of our programs.” Chilakamarri founded Shruti with the initial goal of introducing second generation Indian youth to the culture of their homeland, and to opening the eyes of Fort Wayne’s non-Indian residents to the boundless creativity practiced by India’s many artists. An added and unexpected benefit has been the creation of unexpected friendships. “I have met so many people over these short years, people I might never have talked to or interacted with in the course of a normal day,” Chilakamarri said. “Even my neighbors – people who live on my street. I didn’t know some of them until they started coming to Shruti events, and now we see just how alike we are, how many things we have in common.”

Deborah Kennedy

Rodney Carrington


Comedian Rodney Carrington is known for many things. Those things include a) his trademark cowboy hat, (b) a love for country music and (c) an irreverent attitude toward pretty much everything, primarily himself. Carrington, who will take the stage at the Embassy Theatre Saturday, May 7 at 7 p.m. as part of his “Here Comes the Truth” tour, broke onto the comedy scene with his 1998 stand-up album Hanging with Rodney, released by Mercury records nearly 20 years ago. Since then, he’s starred in his own sitcom (the ABC vehicle Rodney (ridden alongside Toby Keith in the film Beer for My Horses and put out six best-selling comedy albums, including 2000’s Morning Wood, 2003’s Nut Sack and, most recently, 2014’s Laughter’s Good. An accomplished vocalist, he’s even written a Christmas album, and his single, the patriotic “Camouflage and Christmas Lights,” hit the Top 40 Christmas chart in 2009. Carrington is, in other words, one of the comedy world’s true renaissance men. He’s also one of the top 10 highest grossing comedians of the last decade. So you might want to get your tickets now for a show that promises, judging by the promotional pictures anyway, to pack quite a punch. To mix our movie references, can you handle the truth, Rodney Carrington style? Well, can ya, punk?

Deborah Kennedy

Jane Eyre

A Play 40 Years in the Making

On April 29 a play will open which has been 40 years in the making. At least it seems that way to me. I read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre when I was 12 or 13 years old and fell in love with the story, the atmosphere, the language. I’ve read it more times than I can count. And, unsurprisingly, I have also seen every film or television adaptation I could get my hands on. Alas, they all fall short of the story I’ve created in my mind from so many readings of the novel. Sometimes my disappointment has been due to missing key scenes or characters. Sometimes, the themes underscored don’t seem to me to be the most critical ones. Oddly enough, I have never seen a single stage adaptation of the book, although I have read several (and experienced the same disappointment). About nine years ago, having written and produced a number of my own plays (original, historical, and other adaptations), I first considered how I might go about telling such a familiar, well-loved story onstage, without sacrificing too much in plot or theme. At first it was a whim; I didn’t imagine I would ever actually stage this play. But I started outlining a non-linear (non-chronological) script which would allow the precise moments to be portrayed that would move the story forward. I believe this keeps an audience engaged and even surprised, while staying true to the plot, characters and original words. It also allows the storytelling to underscore parallels and contrasts in the plot and characters. Less than three years ago I finally had time and energy to devote to writing without a deadline, and I decided I really should try to put Jane Eyre on paper. After so much mulling, the scripting process was delightfully fluid, although much of it had to be written in “stolen moments.” Just about 18 months ago the play was ready for a private reading, and the feedback I received was useful in making a few more revisions. Deep breath. “Yes,” I thought, “it’s ready to put on its feet.” The world premiere adaptation which opens on April 29 is the culmination of a long labor of love on the part of many people besides myself. I was pleased to find that many of the actors who tried out for Jane Eyre were fellow devotees of the novel and were attracted to the same qualities that attracted me: the themes of integrity and sacrifice, the atmosphere of mystery, the wonderfully passionate love story. Together we have further refined the script as we put flesh on these timeless characters. (It is very satisfying to direct the premiere of my own work, not only for the sense of completion, but because I have freedom to fix any problem which comes to light.) A small army of volunteer designers and builders have pulled out all the stops to tell this story well. From period costumes to staging to lighting and sound effects, this is the most ambitious production afO has ever mounted. Our cast of 16 includes nine actors who are new to us, including our leads, Sarah Hodgin and Jordan Plohr. Twelve members of the ensemble play at least two roles each, and our stage crew are costumed as servants. Everyone stays busy. My fondest wish is for those who already love Jane Eyre to be delighted by a faithful yet fresh look at a favorite story, and for those who are new to the tale to fall in love with it – and then go read it for themselves.

Lauren Nichols

Always a Bridesmaid

Southern Charm & BFFs

I’m betting few of you have the same group of friends now that you had in high school, let alone middle school. Oh sure, social media has made a difference, but only if we can count “liking” pictures of people’s animals and their famous lasagna as being part of our close circle of friends. Twitter doesn’t count either. This is what makes Always a Bridesmaid so wonderfully fun. The authors, Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, have a way of drawing us into the lives of six incredible women. Four of them have been friends since middle school and remain equally as close today. Not having dates to their high school prom, they made a promise that they would be in each other’s weddings from that point forward. Of course, they had no idea just how many weddings that would equal as some of them would get married again and again and, well, again. The playwrights also let us experience all of this through the youthful eyes of young Kari, who is new to this wedding idea, and the daughter of one of the friends, Libby Ruth. Throw in Sedalia, the headstrong owner of Laurelton Oaks, the venue in which all of the weddings take place, and hilarity, as they say, ensues. Full of Southern charm, the characters – played by veteran actresses Morgan Spencer, Jill Bixler, Susan Domer, Janet Howard, Gloria Minnich, Janet Piercy and Morgan Spencer – pull you into their crazy world, causing you to wish that you, too, were friends with them and part of the hijinks taking place. As with any Jones, Hope and Wooten play, there are a few touching moments to remind you that these women are meant to be real. Should you have the opportunity to join us for a fun evening of theater, I suspect you’ll find a little bit of yourself in one of these amazing characters as well.

Suzan Moriarty

Bryan Ballinger

The Storytelling of Art

Bryan Ballinger is a man who looks at the world through a unique lens. The artist is described by gallery director Bridget O’Riley, as an artist who has the “uncanny ability to capture the beauty and humor in the often overlooked aspects of life.” Ballinger’s current showing at O’Riley’s Jennifer Ford Art gallery, brings together a collection of photographs that reflect the wide spectrum that his work spreads across. His series of floral photographs is intricate and uplifting, while other images like that of a small doll once belonging to a child can be chilling and even haunting. With his floral works, Ballinger uses images of both fresh and pressed flowers. He breaks these familiar images into fractals and rearranges them into designs reminiscent of what one might see if peering through a kaleidoscope. Viewers enjoy his delicately detailed flower parts, which are reorganized and repeated via digital manipulation to create something completely new. Using common images, Ballinger helps the viewer observe what is perhaps mundane in a new way. He prompts thoughts that stem from the familiar to branch out into new directions. Ballinger’s ability to capture the delicacy of nature reminds us of the magnificence of our surrounding world. His piece “Crowning Star” most likely attracts viewers with its bold color and brilliant pattern and design. Stepping closer, one realizes that the actual beauty is in the detail. Veins of a flower petal are magnified to crystal clarity that allows one to observe a small sliver of nature with renewed reverence. Even the gnarled mass of wilted flower innards near the center of the piece transmits beauty and elegance. Ballinger’s work shines brightly at Jennifer Ford Art, an environment that bathes each piece in light and gives abundant wall space to each piece to allow for comfortable viewing and a smooth flow from image to image. While the pieces there are unframed, finishing information is provided by Frame Art for viewers to consider. Also notable is the paper upon which each piece is printed. Each strictly limited edition is on Crystal Archive Digital Pearl paper which contains pearly mica crystals covered with a thin layer of metal oxides. The reflective properties of the paper result in intense warmth and depth of pigments and captivating end results. In addition to his floral pieces, Ballinger enjoys playing with the placement of familiar objects in unusual places. Most notable is a tiny distressed and haggard doll with long blonde, tangled hair and tiny red shoes. The miniature piece was a childhood toy of his aunt who received it while in Germany. Ballinger carries her with him as he travels and seeks out unique settings for placement and opportunities for interesting photographs. There is something unsettling about the doll. She is very small – plastic – with thread wrapped around her legs. In many of Ballinger’s images she appears hauntingly sad, discarded even. These attributes beg the viewer to conjure scenarios and stories. “I like to do stuff that has an implied story,” says Ballinger. “The story is there but it’s not specific. I want people to wonder what is going on there.” In one particular image, “Alone with the Light,” the doll stands alone in the dark, illuminated by a harsh and aggressive spotlight, leaving the viewer with a feeling of unprotected vulnerability and fear. In another, “Dandelions,” she rests in a patch of aged and seeded dandelions. Her neck twists at an unnatural angle suggesting neglect or struggle. The scene begs the viewer to reach into the picture plane to offer a kind hand of help just to let her know she is not forgotten. Like a three-ring circus bouncing from one act to the next, Ballinger’s brain seems to harbor a similar energy. While his current show at Jennifer Ford illustrates his serious side, a wacky sense of humor seems to continuously swirl in the background of Ballinger’s mind. With a new book for children, illustrated and written by the artist, his absurd tendencies bubble to the surface. Animal Gas is a wild scratch n’ sniff picture book that kids will surely embrace while many adults scoff at its content, making the book even more appealing to children. Animal Gas isn’t Ballinger’s first adventure in the land of children or publishing. He has experience in both worlds. Once an illustrator for Microsoft, he helped develop software for children as the lead illustrator for the first version of the Encarta encyclopedia. He went on to even bigger projects while working for Big Idea Productions, where he worked on the VeggieTales series for children. He currently works as a freelance illustrator, hopping from one project to the next, developing children’s books, websites, games and videos. “I can’t seem to help myself,” says Ballinger. “I just always seem to be making stuff.” Another project about to launch is a series of four books highlighting “weird food”. The series is called Kookey Cookery, a campy archive of irregular recipes from yesteryear. It features vintage recipes such as cheeseburger pancakes and flowerpot sandwiches. “That whole era of food is hilarious,” says Ballinger with a chuckle. With a whirl of ideas constantly brewing, Ballinger is a creative who has the luxury, or maybe the curse, of moving from one thing to another. “When I get burned out on one, I can switch gears and work on the other,” he explains. “Being able to change up is really nice, but working on so many projects at once makes it so I can’t really give all my time to just one project.” Ballinger’s first solo show, Forgotten Observations, hangs at Jennifer Ford Art through April 8.

Heather Miller

Joe Five

Ready to Play Anything

It is often interesting to learn the history of local bands, particularly those that feature veteran performers who have worked on the stages of Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana for many years. Typically, the members have each worked individually and together for a long time, sometimes tracing their history back to high school where they first found happiness in playing music in front of an audience. While one member of Joe Five, singer Heather Davis, is relatively new to the group, three of its members – guitarist Patrick Madrid, drummer Brian Digman and keyboardist, singer and bassist Rich Gardner – have been playing together since 2001. At that time, the band was not Joe Five, but it is that core of three players that eventually became Joe Five. Since that time, three other female singers have shared vocal duties, with Davis joining the quartet in 2013. Gardner thinks the presence of a female voice has given them greater versatility. “Having a girl in the group gives us more depth, more variety of music,” says Gardner. “It’s not exact, but Heather probably sings about 45 percent of our songs, I sing 45 percent and Patrick about 10 percent. We’re able to do a variety of musical styles – rock, pop, country, dance.” The band didn’t start out that way, beginning its life as a 1990s alternative rock band, but they quickly learned that broadening their appeal provided more opportunities to play. “As we started playing different places, we saw we could get more people if we play more music instead of sticking to one musical style. If someone doesn’t like one song we do, then they’ll probably like something else. It’s like the weather in Indiana: if you don’t like it, wait a minute because the music will change. And I think most people appreciate that we don’t play just one style of music.” The three men all currently live in the Fort Wayne area (Gardner and Madrid are natives while Digman is originally from Muncie), but Davis lives in Lima, Ohio, making her commute for rehearsals a sure sign of her commitment. That geography also provides some additional venues to play since they frequently hit stages in Fort Wayne and Angola but also play regularly in Lima. While she isn’t from this area, she wasn’t an unknown to one member of the band. “Heather and Brian were in a band together in the early 90s,” says Gardner. “When our last singer moved to Georgia, we started auditioning singers and she was looking for a band. It all fit together pretty quickly. We told her ‘Here are the girl songs we’re doing – what songs do you know?’ It was a good acclimation. Actually, when each girl left we had minimal down time because they all fit in so quickly.” Although Joe Five have some original music, mostly from their early alt-rock days, Gardner says most of the places they play tend to focus on covers, since the ultimate goal is to keep people on the dance floor. But those covers run the gamut, and Gardner says the band members are in constant contact even between rehearsals about possible additions to the setlist. “We’ll text each other if we have ideas for something to add to the list, and we try to learn one or two new songs a month, if possible. We all work full-time jobs and have to work around those commitments, but we want to keep adding new material regularly. We try to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s new and popular, so, for example, we added ‘Uptown Funk’ as soon as it came out. But we also do a lot of classic rock from the 70s, too. Everybody brings ideas to the table.” Sometimes those classic rock songs get hot again, providing a reason to bring them back to the front burner. “We just brought ‘Barracuda’ back into the show,” says Gardner. “There seems to be a Heart resurgence, and with their upcoming concert at the Foellinger, there’s a lot of interest in them again. So we mull ideas like that, and then sit down to make sure we can make them work.” Gardner also sings lead on a number of songs, many of which are well-known classics from different eras. But there are a couple which catch people by surprise. “There’s nothing on our setlist that I don’t like, and we try to have a different set each time we play. One song that’s a lot of fun for me is when we do ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang. We don’t do the full seven-and-a-half minute version; we do a shorter three-and-a-half to four minute version. The audience doesn’t expect to see a middle-aged white guy rap. The funny thing is how many people know that song. It doesn’t seem to matter who they are or how old they are, everybody seems to know ‘Rapper’s Delight.’” The band’s dates are set to work around everyone’s busy schedule because Gardner says Joe Five is “like a family” and the friendship among its members is strong enough to make it work for each person. They all have a long history playing in bands – Gardner says he’s been playing in bands since he was 14 and started playing in bars in 1984 – and credits a supportive community for providing an outlet for a city filled with talented musicians. “This area has shown a willingness to support the arts. It’s great that places are open to trying new things. This is really an arts mecca, and it’s been great for us to have all these places to play.”

Michele DeVinney

Billy Dawson

An Actor Comes Full Circle

A surprising number of actors get their start in Fort Wayne theater and go on to work professionally in big cities – New York, Hollywood, Chicago. Billy Dawson has come literally full circle and has forged a professional music theater path back here in Fort Wayne. Dawson’s road to professional theater was an unusually easy one, but it started, as such roads often do, in childhood. He describes his childhood self as “weird, and I mean that in the best possible way. I was an only child so my imagination was my best friend. I certainly had a sense for the dramatic.” His family considered him a born performer, and he certainly made the most of his imagination and talent for the dramatic. He was also introduced to a diverse selection of music early on by many members of his family. “My grandmother used to sing gospel music with her siblings on the radio way back in the day,” he says. “My cousins, Logan and Levi, are in a band called Dag and the Bulleit Boys.” His first experience with live musical theater was a production of Beauty and the Beast that he attended at the Embassy Theatre as a small boy. Although he was too young to remember much about the performance itself, he says, “I remember feeling that magical buzz in the air before the show, and it was all just so grand to me.” It wasn’t until he was a 5th grader at Weisser Park Elementary that he got his first taste of the stage himself. “We were doing a play called The Nightmare,” he says. “I was auditioning to play the lead boy, and I held my music up to my face so I couldn’t see anyone. The director said, “Lovely voice,’ but I didn’t get the role. However, I was cast as half of a singing floral couch and the rest is history.” His next role was a duckling in Honk!, a musical telling of the Ugly Duckling tale with Edwards Productions. Although his experience playing singing water fowl and musical furniture didn’t tell him he was destined for a career on the boards, his role as The Baker in Into the Woods his senior year at South Side High School did. “That is the role that showed me I could train to this professionally,” he says. “That was the moment that I truly fell in love with performing.” Throughout high school he also performed with the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, Arena Dinner Theatre and the Fort Wayne Youtheatre. “I also sang the national anthem for the Komets once and would love the opportunity to do that again,” he says. After graduation in 2009, Dawson attended IPFW’s Department of Theatre for about three years. However, felt pulled in another direction. “I made the choice to take a leap of faith and left before I finished the degree,” he says. “Luckily, I was still able to get work without it.” However, he cautions, “If a young person considering going to school for theater is reading this and thinking, ‘Well, I’ll just quit school and go for it,’—don’t. My experience was rare and lucky.” He is also quick to point out that he has nothing but praise for the school. “I proudly consider myself an IPFW alumnus,” he says. “That department taught me so much about myself as a person and a performer. It taught me to always be honest onstage. One of my favorite pieces of acting advice has been, ‘Don’t act, just be.’” His experience at IPFW also taught him the discipline that is required for a life in the theater. “Show business is not easy, and it takes a lot out of you emotionally, physically, and monetarily,” he says. “I’ve seen many talented people crumble and quit because of the challenges that come with being a performer. I support anyone who has the guts to make their life in the arts, but I advise everyone – including myself – to buck up and do the work.” Upon leaving IPFW he headed straight to Chicago and began auditioning. He lost track of how many auditions he had before he booked his first job (“When they say ‘100 “no’s” to every “yes,”’ they aren’t exaggerating”). Eventually he booked a role as one of the four core singers in The People’s Passion Play with Quest Theatre Ensemble. “We called ourselves The Bible Belters,” he says. From there he started “making connections and auditioning for anything that I could,” he says. “Theater performers don’t have the right to be too picky, especially when you’re just starting out.” As he gained experience, Dawson learned even more about performing do’s and don’ts, including the value of collaboration. “Very few things I hate more than a performer who is only focused on themselves,” he says. “Luckily, those people never last too long in the business.” Although he found himself missing doing straight plays like he’d done at IPFW, he soon discovered that the Chicago musical theater scene was a completely different entity from straight theater. The audiences, he found, were also different from the ones in Fort Wayne. One of the last musicals he did in the Windy City was The Producers, in which he played the flamboyant Broadway director/performer Roger DeBris. “Every night during ‘Springtime for Hitler,’” he says, “I had a moment to flirt with someone in the audience. Let’s just say that some of the responses were ... unexpected.” As good as Chicago theater was to Dawson (he appeared in nine musicals and two operas, and earned membership in the American Guild of Music Artists union), after four years he started to feel the call to return home to his roots. He and his partner of six years, Andy Planck, another former Fort Wayne theater star who found professional theatre success in Chicago and elsewhere, decided to take what they had learned from Chicago theater – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and bring it back home. And thus, the Three Rivers Music Theatre was born. “We pay all of our actors and staff, and have a relationship with Actors Equity Association,” says Dawson, who is employed by the company as both a performer and the marketing coordinator. “While other theater companies certainly run in a professional manner and have had professional actors direct and perform on their stages, we are the first contractual professional theater company.” The company’s affiliation with the actor’s union means they will be hiring Equity actors for their productions and in a few seasons they will be able to offer local actors Equity Membership Candidate points toward eventually joining the union themselves. Dawson is currently playing Jamie in the Three Rivers Music Theatre’s first production, The Last Five Years, which opened April 1. He considers this to be the greatest performing challenge of his career. “First, it’s very vocally difficult,” he says. “I come out belting my face off at the very beginning and have to have enough voice left to do my ballads at the end.” The other challenge comes from finding the honesty of a character who is very different from himself. “As a person, I speak with my hands, and have a very expressive face,” he explains. “Jamie is teaching me to trust the stillness. I can’t rely on my usual ‘bag of tricks,’ and I have to really lose myself in the role.” Although a Hollywood film based on the musical was recently released, Dawson says the live theater production is a bit different. Nevertheless, he says, “the audience can expect a very real story, told by very capable storytellers, with some of the best music to ever come from a musical.” Dawson considers himself lucky to be back in his hometown that still values the arts so much. “There is so much room for art in this incredible city, but only if we support it,” he says “The developments that the Fort Wayne arts communities have been so exciting and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”

Jen Poiry-Prough

Lauren Nichols

Acting on Her Faith

By Michele DeVinney Even as a small child in upstate New York, Lauren Nichols, artistic director for all for One productions, was a theatrical sort, happy to stage plays and performances with other kids in the neighborhood. In fact, she had a tight-knit community of friends which pretty much introduced her to repertory theatre. “As a kid I was a voracious reader,” says Nichols. “We lived in a quiet area, but I wasn’t allowed to cross the street. We had the best backyard, so the kids would all play in my yard, and I was always coming up with role-playing and pretend games for us. There were probably some early indicators there of what my future would be. The older girls all loved horses, so I started coming up with stories and chose names for all the horses. There were a lot of scenarios, but usually something tragic happened to the horses.” Attracted to drama, Nichols was living in Fort Wayne and attending Bishop Luers High School when her mother suggested supplementing the theatrical opportunities at school with something a little bit different. “My mom took me to Fort Wayne Youtheatre, and she really had to drag me kicking and screaming because I thought that was just for littler kids. I did get cast for the role of the mother in Hans Brinker because I was taller than the other girls.” More significantly, it was there she met Dennis Nichols. She had seen him perform and was attracted to his talent and, although he didn’t know, she says she had “a mad crush on him.” He came to know eventually. The couple married five years later and have now been married for 33 years. Both deeply religious, they attended Boston University where Nichols earned a degree in communications. They weren’t sure if theater was compatible with their deep faith and had set it aside for some time when an opportunity to teach arts enrichment classes led to a move to Los Angeles. “We got to L.A., and the whole project fell through. At that point we were stuck because we had no money to come back, and [we] stayed for over four years. But we did hook up with Jews for Jesus, which is a traveling gospel team, and then we had our first child.” During this time, Dennis was interested in doing a one-man play about Martin Luther, which led to Lauren penning A Mighty Fortress. But as their yearning to perform returned, they knew that, with one of them staying at home full-time, they couldn’t afford to raise a child as they wanted to if they remained in California. Returning to Fort Wayne, they started looking for opportunities to produce plays. Nichols had long remembered her early theater experiences in Fort Wayne, particularly a performance of Inherit the Wind at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre. She also knew she needed to touch base with Youtheatre’s director, Harvey Cocks, to learn more about how to get a play produced. In 1991 they found a Lutheran church which allowed them to premier A Mighty Fortress. “From that point we started traveling with the show, booking it in Lutheran churches, which was easy to do since all we needed was a chair and a tablecloth.” In their efforts to promote faith-based productions, they met Sharon Henderson, now the executive director of all for One productions. Her connection with First Missionary Church provided the building block which would become all for One. After networking through Christians in the Theatre Arts and traveling with their productions, Henderson began to plan for something more substantial and grounded in Fort Wayne. “I still remember Sharon gathering us around our kitchen table with the idea of a Christian theater group,” says Nichols. While the company didn’t happen overnight, the conversation at that meeting grew into the all for One. Another Nichols play, Sentimental Journey, which told the story of World War II and D-Day, provided new material for the new group. Nichols had written the play years before as a one-act, but she always felt that it begged for more. Once she further fleshed out the material, she credits Henderson with seeing its potential and helping all for One finally take the next step. “Sharon is such a visionary leader, and she saw this as a way of honoring veterans and enriching and educating audiences. We were booked for two performances at the Grand Wayne Center, and both sold out, so we added a Sunday matinee. In all, 1,600 people ended up seeing the show, and there was a strong response that people wanted us to do more things like this.” They also knew that to grow and provide a rich schedule of programming which Nichols says “should demonstrate a basic Judeo-Christian ethic but not be overtly Christian,” they couldn’t rely on only original material and began looking for published works to perform. They also began finding other stages in town for their plays including Founders Hall, where they staged The Curious Savage in 2002, and Canterbury High School, where they produced I Remember Mama in 2003. By 2007, they found a more permanent home. “It took awhile to nail down what we were looking for, but in 2007 we contracted with the Allen County Public Library to use their new auditorium as our new home. It gave us a great location in downtown, and we were finally able to begin planning entire seasons rather than just one or two plays at a time.” Nichols’ love of reading has paid dividends as she has adapted some classic works (most recently Jane Eyre) as well as continuing to look for works which tap into historic times and situations which challenge both the actors and the audience. She looks forward to providing more premiers in the years ahead. Having done much acting over the years and having been successful as a playwright, she’s learned that her childhood penchant for directing her neighborhood friends in elaborate stories was an indicator of what her future would hold. “I think if you held a gun to my head and told me I could write plays, direct plays or be in them, I think I would have to say I’d rather direct them. When we did Turtle Soup this year, it was the 30th production that I’ve directed since 2004. I love production design, and I always have a picture in my head of what I think it should be. It took me awhile to realize that I’ve come full circle, that those early hints of playing with friends, that directing was always going to be where I landed.”

Michele DeVinney



The metallurgist forging the sword on the cover to Zephaniah’s second album, Reforged, alludes to the brute force waiting to be unleashed from within the confines of a compact disc. The word “forged” itself means that something is being made with the utmost care and concentration, particularly by beating it into shape, and preferably with a sledge. As it applies to Zephaniah, this definition manifests in their music by pounding their listeners into submission with their Manowar-inspired progressive power metal. And much like a sword, Reforged is a powerful weapon against everyday villains we all face. The self-titled opener is a stately re-introduction to the band after a six-year hiatus, and finds the five-piece more skilled and melodic than ever before. From this auspicious beginning, it is apparent that the production throughout the album boasts a more professional attack and is, as a result, more powerful in its impact. For over an hour, every member’s contribution to the whole statement can be easily discerned, and the whole purpose aims to force the band’s musical prowess front and center. The triptych of songs dedicated to the Mad Max series – one for the namesake film, “Road Warrior” and “Thunderdome” – are well-endowed tributes to the cult films. Appearing early on in Reforged, these three tracks showcase technically proficient performances from guitarists Justin Zych and Shaun Cothron, who deserve mention for their imaginative and harrowingly paced melodies that accompany the lyrics from vocalist Logan Detwiler. Of course, they wouldn’t quite have the same impact were it not for the rhythm section of Ian Bender on bass and Cody Johns drums providing the much needed gravity for the otherwise sky-rocketing guitarists. Perhaps the most exciting aspect listening to Reforged is the same thing that will prevent non-metal heads from giving this album a listen out of curiosity: there is a certain thrill in wondering exactly when the pressure of the music’s blistering pace will finally cause its craftsmen to buckle. Given power metal’s implications, listening intently to an album like this can be an endurance contest in which metalheads already challenge themselves to see if they can withstand the energy bursting out of the speakers. Additionally, the progressive nature of the song structures (particularly “Quest for the Royal Crown”) inevitably makes the listener wonder how the band can keep track of the sheer number of riffs and ideas in each song. Overwhelming as the scale of Reforged can seem, it certainly does its job in separating those who claim they like metal from those who actually love it and live it. You’ll notice that I consciously avoided using the word “epic” to describe Zephaniah and their staggering songs because given everything this band strives to accomplish, “epic” is just redundant when it comes to describing just what Zephaniah really strive for: total sonic annihilation.

Colin McCalister

Embassy Theatre

New Life for a Landmark

The people who saved the Embassy Theatre from oblivion in the 70s, 80s and 90s never solidified a plan for revitalizing the adjacent Indiana Hotel and they may not have had any solid interest in solidifying a plan. “The founding fathers, like Bob Goldstine – they didn’t really want the hotel,” said the Embassy’s marketing director, Barb Richards, “They were focused on the theater.” The seven-story hotel, which once catered to traveling businessmen, closed in the late 60s or early 70s. It had 250 tiny rooms, and there have been at least 250 casual proposals across four decades for what to do with it. Now, the Indiana Hotel is no more. It has been transformed into something that would surely please the late Goldstine and his partners in reclamation. The four remaining, undeveloped floors of the dilapidated hotel are gone, and in their place are a grand ballroom and a number of things the theater has been badly in need of, including classrooms, conference rooms, rehearsal rooms, a copy room, a break room and proper office space. The former offices have been turned into a lounge, a new suite of dressing rooms has been added in the basement and there’s a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. None of this was easily achieved. Because the Embassy is a historically protected landmark, Weigand Construction couldn’t knock out any walls, as it might otherwise have been inclined to do. Debris had to be carried out in wheelbarrows, and steel beams had to be brought in through windows and maneuvered down long, narrow corridors. And the theater could not close, said Executive Director Kelly Updike. The renovations had to be accomplished without disrupting business. Final cost of the project is $10 million, she said, $8.2 million of which has been raised. One of the wonders of the grand two-story ballroom, apart from its photogenic staircase, is that it has been made to look like it was created at the same time as the rest of the theater, circa 1926. “That’s a high compliment,” said Updike. “Moake Park Group is the architect. They are thrilled when people say that, that it looks like it’s always been here.” The process to create the textured walls required nine laborious coats, she said. The need for the ballroom went beyond the merely decorative. Before this expansion, one in four people who wanted to rent a portion of the Embassy for a private event had to be turned away because of space or logistical constraints, Updike said. Now the Embassy will be better able to earn its keep. Updike said this expanded roster of private events should net the Embassy between $100,000 to $150,000 a year. The ballroom is already booked through February 2017, she said. The new rentable spaces will help ensure that the Embassy will never again need to be “saved.” For the most part, the rooftop terrace will be available for use by people who rent the ballroom. But there will be a series of Wednesday night summer concerts on the terrace, crowdfunded by Arts United’s Amplify Art! They start May 25. “There will be music up here and a portable bar,” Updike said. “People will maybe pay a small cover fee, and they’ll be able to come up here and sit.” There’s really nothing else quite like the rooftop terrace in downtown Fort Wayne, and Updike thinks it is spurring some competition. “I think other people who are building things are saying, ‘Hey, maybe we should do something like that with our rooftop.’” Two permanent bars were added to the theater lobby via a one-story expansion into an alleyway, she said. “We owned half of the vacated alley and the parks department owned the other half,” Updike said. “We had to obtain that from them.” The mobile bars that the Embassy used to use meant that inventory and equipment constantly had to be shifted around. “It’s nice to have a home for things,” Updike said. There are new homes for a lot of things in the theater, and this has meant that the staff has had to devise new migratory patterns, so to speak. They have had to come up with new workflow paths. Efforts at the end of the last decade to link the new Courtyard By Marriott with the Embassy and the Grand Wayne Center accelerated movement on Indiana Hotel rehabilitation. The Courtyard’s requirement of a covered walkway to the Indiana Hotel launched other refurbishment plans. If no agreement on the walkway had been reached, the entire Harrison Square project might have collapsed. For years, Updike said, people looked up and saw four floors of perpetually dark windows. Everyone knew something needed to be done. In the 90s, many of the people who’d helped save the Embassy thought it should almost be a museum, reserved for high culture and closed to the public many more nights than not. But people have come to understand, Updike said, that the Embassy needs to be a living, breathing thing. If future generations are going to care about, and care for, the Embassy, they will need to experience it in visceral ways. Richards said she believes the Embassy’s saviors would approve of what it has become. “We’ve taken every single inch of this hotel and made it into something that benefits the Embassy Theatre Foundation,” she said.

Steve Penhollow

Three Cities

For the Price of One

Guitarist Patrick Brown says that when he thought about starting his own band, he had a vision of incorporating the influence of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Genesis, Yes, Rush, Dream Theater, Metallica and Frank Zappa. You might be thinking, hey, that’s every big name in 70s and 80s prog rock and metal, plus the Beatles and Zappa; there’s no way Brown is going to fit all of that into one band. But somehow he and his bandmates in Three Cities do, indeed, manage to bottle up the essence of their chosen genres, and their method has a lot to do with playing complex arrangements very fast and singing with an energy that we haven’t heard much of since about 1976. There’s no question that the band’s songs are built around Brown’s guitar, which hails very much from the glory days of heavy rock (when every song had more than one solo and every solo had a million notes) and the guitar is driven along by the frenetic beats provided by drummer Anthony Decker. But Three Cities is far from just a guitar band. David L. Herring’s keyboards have the operatic warble that 70s prog-rock supergroups used to distinguish themselves from their less sophisticated peers, and Terel Lynn’s vocals soar with the best of them, although he’s more soulful than the wail of Robert Plant and more musical than the growl of James Hetfield. Where do the Beatles and Zappa come in? For that, try out the goofy introduction to For the Price of One, a self-deprecating, theatrical romp that lies somewhere between Sgt. Pepper and Monty Python. Mixing a sense of humor into the heady rock stew makes the album that much more fun.

Evan Gillespie


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