Arts and Culture

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Five Bands From Country Thunder You Should Know (And Will be Hearing More From)

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 5:45 PM

LANco: "We're not going for shock value." - ADAM GAUB
  • Adam Gaub
  • LANco: "We're not going for shock value."

1. LANco
These five guys have a smooth sound, a pair of well-rounded singles, including their latest – the chart-climbing “Greatest Love Story”—and the kind of live show energy that is going to build their fan base in a hurry.

Headed by frontman Brandon Lancaster, LANco—which is short for Lancaster and Company—has a four-song EP available now for fans but is working with super-producer Jay Joyce to get a full-length album out later this year.

“We want to give a fuller picture of our music,” Lancaster said. “We want to be relatable—we’re not going for shock value. We want to be the anthem of people’s lives.”

They are already seeing that with “Greatest Love Story,” which is getting airplay on satellite radio and elsewhere, and is drawing in fans from across the globe. The song was actually titled “American Love Story,” before its official release, but some fan input convinced the band of the need for a name tweak.

“We’ve had people messaging us internationally—from Ireland and England, all over the place—telling us about how this has become their song,” Lancaster said. “You have these things in your life that are special to you … and you hope other people can relate to.”

Keyboardist Jared Hampton credits Joyce for “drawing our sound out of us.”

The band’s first single, “Long Live Tonight” went Top 40 and sounds like a much more seasoned group, and the first song on their self-titled EP, “Troublemaker,” is a rollicking ball of fun.

It’s a sound that if you haven’t heard it, you’d better.

Naomi Cooke from Runaway Jane. - HOWARD WAGGNER/NEWS OF MARICOPA
  • Howard Waggner/News of Maricopa
  • Naomi Cooke from Runaway Jane.

2. Runaway June
This trio has drawn comparisons to the Dixie Chicks, and while they obviously have a long way to go before they could come close to that level of success, they’ve got the right ingredients.

Lead singer Naomi Cooke is a star waiting to explode. She’s got the correct amount of rock-star sass on stage and pipes to match.

Doesn’t hurt she’s a knockout with a laid-back fashion sense (while Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne carry an elegant beauty often missed these days by female artists who go the route of simply showing as much skin as possible). Even better, all three are genuine, snarky-yet-sweet and the kind of people you’d want to just hang out with.

Wayne (the granddaughter of legendary actor John Wayne) was part of Stealing Angels before partnering up with Cooke and Mulholland, and said the group is enjoying its ride so far.

“We all kind of want to say the same thing,” in our music, she said. “When people started singing our song back to us, that was so cool.”

That song, “Lipstick,” debuted last year and made it into the Top 40 on country music charts. Even more, Cooke said, the trio has been amazed by devoted fans watching YouTube videos of previous performances and learning the words to original songs not yet released (though likely in album form later this year).

“That was a ‘holy shit,’ moment,” she said.

As much as Nashville has gone girl-crazy in recent months with the success of Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and more, expect a quick rise for this supergroup-in-waiting.

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Stars of David Because a Fab, Super-Entertaining Show at Berger Performing Arts Center

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 5:16 PM

Cast of Stars of David (from left): Kelli Workman, - Liz Cracchiolo, Jeremy Vega, Dennis Tamblyn. - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Cast of Stars of David (from left): Kelli Workman,Liz Cracchiolo, Jeremy Vega, Dennis Tamblyn.

Not every musical is a big, splashy outrageously overwrought Disneyland on stage. No, some are smaller, more intimate and focused on characters and songs instead of stuff. These are the kinds of musicals Kevin Johnson, artistic director of Arizona Onstage Productions, prefers. And for one weekend only, he has mounted what’s sure to be—if we can judge from his past work—a well-presented and entertaining show.

The musical is Stars of David. Johnson says his interest was piqued when a friend sent him a boot-legged recording of the show. “I knew immediately I wanted to do it.” However, it involved so many well-known lyricists and composers, arguments about royalties got complicated and licensing for productions was impossible. When they get all that worked out, Johnson jumped on it.

Stars of David began as a book by ex-broadcast journalist Abigail Pogrebin. She had an idea to interview a whole bunch of Jewish luminaries, many from the entertainment field, and ask them about what their Jewishness meant to them. She started with those with whom she had some connection: Mike Wallace, who had been her boss at 60 Minutes; Leonard Nimoy, who had attended Torah study with her parents; Gloria Steinem who was a family friend. When she was done, she had interviewed 62 folks, including Joan Rivers, Tony Kushner, Jason Alexander—even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Pogrebin fashioned each interview into a self-contained little story, and her book was published in 2005.

It wasn’t long before there were thoughts of turning these little stories into songs. It was a complicated undertaking, and the participants included a who’s who list of Broadway musical theater aces. It was workshopped and revised and then re-worked some more, and the current version now includes a couple of songs/stories about folks who were not even a part of Pogrebin’s book. Gwyneth Paltrow is an example.

Johnson says that one of his favorite story/songs is “Lenny the Great,” Leonard Nimoy’s recollection of his great desire, as a child, to be a magician. He saved up until he was finally able to get the best trick in the magic store, but when he got it home, it was packed with anti-Semitic pamphlets and drawings.

Johnson has rented the Berger Auditorium at the School for the Deaf and Blind, which seats around 500, for the production. But it was the best place available for how the show needed to be staged, he says. “I’ve got a lot of seats to sell, and part of the problem is that so many people aren’t aware of smaller musicals like this one.

“And, of course it’s not just about Jews, and it doesn’t appeal just to Jews. We can all find ourselves reflected in these songs about people who we’ve heard about, and whose stories on some level feel like our own.”

The show features Liz Cracchiolo, Dennis Tamblyn, Jeremy Vega and Kelli Workman. Hank Feldman is music director.

Stars of David—A Musical Celebration

7 p.m. Saturday, April 15 and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, April 16
Berger Performing Arts Center
1200 W. Speedway $25-$35
Run time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Streets of This Town: The Nervous System

Posted By on Tue, Apr 11, 2017 at 3:10 PM

Moonshadow. - BRIAN SMITH
  • Brian Smith
  • Moonshadow.

"Streets of This Town" is a little daily photo series featuring random pics I take on long walks through Tucson—to sort of coincide with Tucson Salvage.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Dispatches From Country Thunder No. 4: Hometown Boy Comes Full-Circle

Posted By on Mon, Apr 10, 2017 at 8:00 PM

Austin Burke is hardly the newest entry to the douche-laden bro country genre. - ADAM GAUB
  • Adam Gaub
  • Austin Burke is hardly the newest entry to the douche-laden bro country genre.

FLORENCE—Artists playing Country Thunder nearly 15 years after their first performance are often in the latter stages of their careers.

For Arizona-native Austin Burke, he’s just getting started.

The babyfaced, early 20’s country singer is just getting his career off the ground, with his first single—"Sleepin’ Around"—already topping one million spins on Spotify (more on that in a bit).

The last time he was here, the festival was in Queen Creek and the year was 1998. Lonestar was the big headliner and Burke was getting set for his big show – by taking a nap.

He’d been doing national anthems at sporting events across the Phoenix area since he was 3 years old and had made a pair of appearances on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, singing first a Garth Brooks song and later an Alabama cover.

So there he was, playing a miniature set—band and all—in the lead up to one of country music’s biggest acts. He hasn’t been back since. And, in fact, since leaving behind college baseball in California to move to Nashville more than three years ago, he hadn’t been back to his home state before today.

“This is a big homecoming celebration for me,” he said. “It’s really a full-circle story for me. I’ve dreamed of coming back here.”

Despite the enormity of the moment, Burke says he was too young to remember his performance, and now returns, with his first song hitting it big with plays on satellite radio as well, ready to get his career as an adult fired up.

“My heroes are Garth Brooks and Johnny Cash,” he said, “but I also like the new songs and blending them with some of the older lyricism.”

Back to the name of the single: On first blush, the title makes Burke sound like he’s taking a crack at being the newest entry to the douche-laden bro country genre.

Just the opposite.

With two younger sisters and a strong moral upbringing, Burke’s song is actually a criticism of the very genre some might confuse him for.

“The song has a provocative title, but it’s a wholesome song,” he said. “I’m big on uplifting women.”

He hits on his message on the chorus: “I want a girl worth waking up to.”

For those that wet their whistle with Sleepin' Around, more music from Burke is on the way in the form of an EP, set to be released next month. 
Burke: “I’m big on uplifting women.” - ADAM GAUB
  • Adam Gaub
  • Burke: “I’m big on uplifting women.”

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Dispatches From Country Thunder No. 3 Dierks, Others Bring the Thunder

Posted By on Mon, Apr 10, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Dierks Bentley: Beach balls, toasts and fan faves. - ADAM GAUB
  • Adam Gaub
  • Dierks Bentley: Beach balls, toasts and fan faves.
FLORENCE —Day two at Country Thunder is when crowds really packed it in and the artists on both stages did not disappoint.

Headliner Dierks Bentley’s shows are known for being can’t miss and he didn’t disappoint, though he led off with a song that many may not have expected—the title track from “Up on the Ridge,” from his less-popular, though critically-acclaimed bluegrass album he released in 2010.

He saved plenty of fan favorites, including some of his newer work from “Black,” getting the crowd revved up with beach balls and traditional country music “Raise ‘em up” toasts.

The crowd, which swelled to near capacity, was already riled up by strong performances from ACM New Male Vocalist of the Year Jon Pardi and ACM Duo of the Year nominees Maddie and Tae.

Runaway June singer Naomi Cooke did time in Quartzite. - ADAM GAUB
  • Adam Gaub
  • Runaway June singer Naomi Cooke did time in Quartzite.

Even the earlier acts during the day, such as indie star Aaron Watson and up-and-coming female trio Runaway June, hit the right notes.

The trio, made up of Californians Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne and Floridian and lead singer Naomi Cooke.

Cooke, however, has an Arizona connection—she lived in the desert wide spot in the road of Quartzite with her family for about six months when she was 10.

“So there’s where I got my start—playing guitar on the street corner in Quartzite,” she said.
Cooke said their expectations for playing the event for the first time were “far exceeded.”
“Everybody really talks about this one,” she said of Country Thunder.

The trio has a single, “Lipstick” that they ended their two sets with and has the capability to have the same sort of catchy tune like a Kelsea Ballerini hit.

Mulholland said the smiles from their fans are huge while Wayne says the emotions they feel when fans sing their songs back—particularly ones they haven’t even released yet but have only been posted from other shows on YouTube—provide a certain emotional high that drives them.

Cooke isn’t shy when saying she’d like to see the group have a Grammy award within the next decade, she admits it’s “intimidating” to hear the comparisons of their group to one of their idols—the Dixie Chicks.

“Those are some big ole’ shoes to fill,” Cooke said.

The trio said they don’t want to get too far in front of themselves though, clearly enjoying this early sprint to the spotlight.

“Right now, we hope to keep making music that we are proud of and that people want to sing and dance to,” Mulholland said.

  • Courtesy of Howard Waggner/News of Maricopa
  • Naomi Cooke

To that end, the group has carved out studio time this summer with the aim of finishing and then releasing a full-length album, complete with many of the songs they’ve already been playing on the road. For what potential fans can expect? Wayne says it’ll be a “western, romantic” sort of sound.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Daily Dispatches from Country Thunder No. 2: The Eminently Forgettable Chris Young!

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 1:30 PM

Um, please clap for this dude Chris Young. Somebody has to. - ADAM GAUB
  • Adam Gaub
  • Um, please clap for this dude Chris Young. Somebody has to.

FLORENCE –– If country music was represented by the 2016 Republican presidential contenders, then it was Jeb Bush on stage Thursday night at Country Thunder in the form of the eminently forgettable Chris Young.

Please clap.

He seems like a swell guy, and as he meandered his way through his low-energy set of country radio staples, it was easy to go “Oh, I’ve heard that before,” or “Oh, I recognize that.”

He got a good reception from the crowd during his second song, his first No. 1 hit “Gettin’ You Home.” It’s a solid song, and Young performs it well, but that was the highlight of his set.
Part of the issue is too many of his songs sit in the same key and don’t really carve out a niche for him – he sounds like he could be one of a half-dozen different country singers, and didn't bring anything particularly special to a headlining performance that historically has the thousands packing the main stage here in full throat.

Much like Bush, Young’s set didn’t leave anyone feeling anything on either side of things—he isn’t disagreeable nor is he someone a country fan would despise. He’s just, well, there.

There were others, like Jared and The Mill, Terri Clark and Brandon Ray, who brought significantly more energy to the main stage and Dierks Bentley Whiskey Row side stage for much smaller crowds, proving once again the real music lovers are wise to hold off on some of the event’s day drinking and discover some of these lesser-known jewels.

Even the main stage lead act to Young, LOCASH, were only so-so in their performance. They played last year with a little more energy and passion, though after a KMLE Country-sponsored campsite concert earlier in the day and recovery from last weekend’s ACM’s may well have left them a bit sapped.

Young was in an unenviable position—the Thursday headliner position draws the smallest crowds of the four days, typically, and particularly with this year’s lineup—Dierks Bentley, Thomas Rhett and Blake Shelton—the other headliners are all top-shelf showmen whose shows promise not to be missed. Young’s set was more easy listening for a Sunday afternoon drive by comparison.
There was perhaps no better example of this than when Young came back out for a two-song encore that wasn’t really needed, sleepwalking into a cover of Eric Clapton’s “Change The World” that was somehow slower and even more mellow than the original.

Today promises to serve up perhaps one of the most complete lineups of the four days on the main stage, with the aforementioned home state heartthrob Bentley getting warmed up by ACM new Male Vocalist of the Year Jon Pardi, along with new female group Runaway June and dynamic duo Maddie & Tae getting main stage time as well.

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Daily Dispatches from Country Thunder, No. 1: Brandon Ray Kinda Rocks It.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 12:22 PM

Ray: A little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll. - ADAM GAUB
  • Adam Gaub
  • Ray: A little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll.

FLORENCE— A little Nirvana and then it was Lit and Country Thunder was, well, lit, thanks to the rock-influenced set of West Texas native Brandon Ray.

As the opening act for Country Thunder on Thursday, Ray’s crowds won’t be the biggest the main stage area will see, but he knew it was his job to set the tone.

“It’s intimidating,” he said. “You’re the first impression these people get.”

Though it was his first time as a solo artist at Country Thunder, he wasn’t unfamiliar with the Arizona desert, having played six years ago as a guitarist in another band, and playing in Brett Eldredge’s band in the same role before that.

His sound isn’t what many country music traditionalists may expect, but in the genre’s changing landscape, it may be exactly what it needs.

“You gotta do your own thing and stick to it,” he said. “The beauty of country music is it’s all over the place. The hardest thing we do to ourselves is compare ourselves to others.

“You’ve got to blaze your own trail.”

In a sense, he’s doing that, getting six weeks in the top spot on CMT with his music video for “American Way,” one of the two singles he’s released. It didn’t have any of the storyline and flair of some music videos—it was a live take letting the words and energy of the song speak for itself.

He also got played on Sirius XM’s The Highway and The Bobby Bones Show, and saw “American Way” find its way into the Top 10 of country music singles on iTunes for a time.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I get one play from Bobby Bones,” to get that result, he said.

He plays with his wife on backup vocals and his brother on drums, along with two of his best friends filling out the band.

“I came from nothing. My parents worked their asses off to put food on the table,” he said of his upbringing in Big Spring. “Now I’m on the road for 250 dates a year, selling T-shirts just to pay for gas money.

“For us, it’s ‘Hell yeah, let’s do whatever we’ve got to do.’”

He’s making progress though, working with Keith Urban on some new songs that he hopes to get a chance to play live when he plays the same day as Urban at Country Thunder Wisconsin over the summer.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dunbar Was Just The First of Many for this Local Author

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 12:08 PM

Aloma Barnes, author of Dunbar: The Neighborhood, The School, And The People 1940-1965, is a retired nurse. Her book Dunbar is a novel about the beginnings of Tucson and how early segregation took place. A second edition of the book is scheduled for release this month. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Can you talk a little more about the segregation and how it impacted Dunbar's community?
Well, Dunbar wouldn't have existed if it wasn't for the law that separated blacks and whites. The whole thing about having the school in Dunbar was so that blacks could attend. When people migrated there, they selected their homes based on the school—just like any parent would do now. Dunbar's neighborhood then grew up from that school.

What were some reactions you got from publishing Dunbar? Especially those who still live in the community.
If people weren't happy, I told them to pick up a pen and make it better. You throw a stone in a pond and it makes a ripple, is how I look at it. I write very simply and I've been told that people were happy about the book and that it was about time. People who still live there say it's as if "history came alive" and those comments are what make it worth it.

How has Dunbar changed since these segregated times?
It's a small neighborhood. Six blocks long, five blocks wide and used to be a mix of blacks, whites, Hispanics and Indians. But now, it's 98 percent white because of other places in town and because they can afford it. The Dunbar school is still standing but the original has been renovated on Second Street and 11th Avenue. The church is still there too. They're making a museum about Dunbar's history soon. They even have a dance studio and an active barbershop.

What inspired you to write Dunbar?
Well, I’m a retired nurse. I live in the Dunbar neighborhood so it kind of just fell in my lap and it seemed like it was time for a story like this to come. The school reunion happened in 2015 and I had begun my research for the book in 2013.

What did you find difficult about the research?
History of black people, there isn't much of it. I think of it like this, history of caucasian shells are all at the surface of the water but those black shells, you have to dig and dig and dig until you get seaweed-which isn't a shell. It was very difficult but I was talking to contacts from the reunion, finding clips from the library of Civil Rights movement news from back then and the book that Gloria Smith wrote about Dunbar. She's one heck of a researcher. But, I could only go back so far because the archives only started in 1965 so it was as if almost everything before that was lost. I couldn't even find many obituaries.

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