time will tell: some of my parts, blue nile.

b and mBW

Brenda Burner: aunt. When I was little, I was eavesdropping on a conversation my aunt Brenda was having with my mom. Brenda explained how she thought graying women were beautiful and how she couldn't wait to have long gray hair. I had not thought about beauty in that way until that moment. Brenda has a few gray hairs (usually wrapped up in one giant roller) and she gets more beautiful each year. I'm happy that my nosiness intersected with one of her (many) chat sessions with my mother. Brenda was later my Lamaze coach and continues to be a strong female role model for me.

Brenda Burner: aunt.
When I was little, I was eavesdropping on a conversation my aunt Brenda was having with my mom. Brenda explained how she thought graying women were beautiful and how she couldn’t wait to have long gray hair. I had not thought about beauty in that way until that moment. Brenda has a few gray hairs (usually wrapped up in one giant roller) and she gets more beautiful each year. I’m happy that my nosiness intersected with one of her (many) chat sessions with my mother. Brenda was later my Lamaze coach and continues to be a strong female role model for me.

Jay Herr: friend. Jay lived across the street from me in college. One evening we were on our way to a Pearl Jam concert with a bunch of friends. We made a restroom pit stop and when we returned to the interstate we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I complained "Aw man! If we didn't make that stop, we could have missed this accident." Jay replied, "…or we could've been in it…" This one line has made me more aware of my complaints, even to this day.

Jay Herr: friend.
Jay lived across the street from me in college. One evening we were on our way to a Pearl Jam concert with a bunch of friends. We made a restroom pit stop and when we returned to the interstate we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I complained “Aw man! If we didn’t make that stop, we could have missed this accident.” Jay replied, “…or we could’ve been in it…” This one line has made me more aware of my complaints, even to this day.

L'Tanya Sims: friend. I met LT when IHOP first opened and we both waited tables there. What I admire most about L'Tanya, other than her enormous heart, is her ability to lay down roots and create a sense of community around her...where ever she may be. Give her a box and it becomes a home where all are welcome. Give her a big city and she will find a nook and become mayor of that nook. Give her a naive college girl (that would be me) and she will look out for her and see that she makes it out alive. Just for you, LT: Mens Rea! 

L’Tanya Sims: friend.
I met LT when IHOP first opened and we both waited tables there. What I admire most about L’Tanya, other than her enormous heart, is her ability to lay down roots and create a sense of community around her…where ever she may be. Give her a box and it becomes a home where all are welcome. Give her a big city and she will find a nook and become mayor of that nook. Give her a naive college girl (that would be me) and she will look out for her and see that she makes it out alive.
Just for you, LT: Mens Rea!

Teddy Helsley: father. When I took this photo it was the third time I've met this man. Each time I leave him, I leave with a better understanding of myself. He contributed to half of my DNA and before I even ask, his stories explain the parts of me that have been mysterious up to that point. It’s sometimes as if he reads my mind. He has a kind, calm soul and I look forward to making more memories with him and his family.

Teddy Helsley: father.
When I took this photo it was the third time I’ve met this man. Each time I leave him, I leave with a better understanding of myself. He contributed to half of my DNA and before I even ask, his stories explain the parts of me that have been mysterious up to that point. It’s sometimes as if he reads my mind. He has a kind, calm soul and I look forward to making more memories with him and his family.

some of my parts sistersCopyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

know by heart: some of my parts, blue nile.

some of my parts signWhen a friendship is forged in disaster, I think it means more.

It’s easy to be friends when life is sweet, when things are looking up and laughter is the norm. When life is good, our edges are smooth. We appear peaceful and benign. We radiate contentedness. We’re easy to approach, and easy to spend time with.

When life turns sour, as it does for us all from time to time, our ugliness hangs out. Our bitterness rises up, our tempers flare, our patience recedes. We go to bed worried and wake up sad and are just AWFUL to be around.

Anyone who would love you at your absolute ugliest is the truest form of friend there is. I keep using “we” and “you” as if to exclude myself from the very idea I’m writing about. So let me rephrase that. Anyone who would love ME at my absolute ugliest is the truest friend I could have. And I’m lucky to have a few of those precious people in my life. And my most dear friend, Brandy Somers, entered my world when I wasn’t exactly at my prettiest, and she recently complimented me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I knew she was putting together this massive photography show called Some of My Parts, and I knew she needed a photo of me for it, but it wasn’t until I was there, at the Blue Nile, looking at eighty-some photos on the wall, that I fully understood.

Her idea was to portray her life’s timeline through photographs. When we think of a timeline, we think of major events along a linear path, marked by years divided into neat increments. But life is so much deeper (and messier) than that — life follows no two-dimensional line… and really, it’s not the events themselves that are important; it’s the people involved in those events. So she made this list of, like I said, eighty-some people who held an important place on the timeline of her life, and she contacted them all and asked to take their pictures. She traveled all over the place, literally hundreds if not thousands of miles, to find each person and take a NEW photo. For mine, it was easy: she just walked the two hundred steps from her classroom to mine and clicked the camera. But some people on her list were in Alaska! Australia, even! So she had to get creative there. And some people had already passed… so she assembled a collection of things that represent those folks and snapped a photo of that.

some of my parts opening3Then I realized my portrait would be hanging among all these other important people. Really? Me? But… she’s seen all my ugly parts!

Every single photo is captioned. She showed it to me later — it’s FIFTEEN TYPED PAGES of captions she wrote. Mine says this:

“Katie Mitchell: friend, coworker.

Like two thorny roses rising from the ashes…that pretty much describes the start of our friendship. We experienced similar let downs around the same time in life…and Katie was my go-to, my levelheaded rock. She is a wonderful friend, teacher and mother. I love her so much I could start a blog about our friendship…oh, wait…we did that.”

I was so nervous to read my caption! (It seems so silly, but… well, you’ll understand in a minute. Stay with me here.) My face hung on the wall amid dozens of others, and I liked seeing it. Although my crows feet have deepened, my eyes are still bright, and I think I looked how I feel I look when sitting across from my best friend: safe, loved, and of course, a wee bit amused.

The whole process, naturally, got me thinking about my timeline and the people who would be on it. Of course my parents, who were present at most every major event in my life… my best childhood friend Kathy, who would ride bikes with me down to the creek, whose mom took us to see Dirty Dancing at the theater, with whom I’d stay up ALL NIGHT eating Twizzlers and playing Missile Command, Space Invaders, and Yars Revenge. And even my bully in middle school. I’m pretty sure he ending up killing someone and is still in jail. But he certainly made his mark on me, and he’d have to be on my timeline.

When you scroll through these portraits and read the captions (and this is just a tiny portion of them), no doubt you’ll be touched. But I struggle to describe the effect of them all, hanging together on the wall in a small space… all the faces gazing out collectively at the viewers… echoes of memories past and voices present. A collision of time and space.

Shawn Nicholson: cousin. When I was little, I thought Shawn was the coolest.dude.ever. I was annoying and he put up with me and made my days more interesting. I feared death a few times riding in his Mustang...then there was that time he shot me...but other than that he protected me from the world with his real advice and stories of trial and error.  Just for you, cuz: BB to the butt.

Shawn Nicholson: cousin.
When I was little, I thought Shawn was the coolest.dude.ever. I was annoying and he put up with me and made my days more interesting. I feared death a few times riding in his Mustang…then there was that time he shot me…but other than that he protected me from the world with his real advice and stories of trial and error. 
Just for you, cuz: BB to the butt.

PLUS, realizing that a good many people featured in the show are actually standing in the room with you. Everyone seeing double! It’s possible Brandy was the only person there who knew all the people there and on the wall. I probably knew twenty-five percent: most of these folks were strangers to me! How could I not know more of them, when they are so important to someone who’s important to me? But we ALL knew that everyone in that room was important to this woman’s life, and she took great pains to honor that.

Lori Simmers: former classmate. Lori and I went to high school together. When we graduated, Lori married her high school sweetheart and asked me to photograph their wedding. She believed in me and that stands out. I shot her wedding (my first wedding ever) on a Canon film camera. 

Lori Simmers: former classmate.
Lori and I went to high school together. When we graduated, Lori married her high school sweetheart and asked me to photograph their wedding. She believed in me and that stands out. I shot her wedding (my first wedding ever) on a Canon film camera.

Lee Parton: friend...damn near brother. My brother-from-another-mother for sure. Lee and I met and became insta-friends my freshman year at JMU. The bond was familial from the start and all the ups and downs in both our lives have only brought us closer. We have survived being roommates twice...I'm still not sure how that was ever possible.  Lee probably doesn't know it, but I may not have made it through my first year of college without his push. I admire his determination. He is a fighter, in the best of ways. Just for you, Dawg: Professor Parton...I need mah keys!

Lee Parton: friend…damn near brother.
My brother-from-another-mother for sure. Lee and I met and became insta-friends my freshman year at JMU. The bond was familial from the start and all the ups and downs in both our lives have only brought us closer. We have survived being roommates twice…I’m still not sure how that was ever possible.  Lee probably doesn’t know it, but I may not have made it through my first year of college without his push. I admire his determination. He is a fighter, in the best of ways.
Just for you, Dawg: Professor Parton…I need mah keys!

And so lots of people who’d never before crossed paths — ever — met each other that evening and came to understand where they stood in the story of Brandy’s life, in relation to each other.

Katie Turner: friend, neighbor. What I love about Katie is that she is always up for a spontaneous, fun adventure. Whether it be hiking Old Rag (in the wrong direction), getting turned sideways, tipped and scarred in a canoe on the Shenandoah river, midnight rides to Wendy's, or playing real life Where's Waldo on road trips...she showed me that positive, happy memories can be made during difficult times, even on random weekday evenings. Just for you, Katie: Eagles suuuuck!

Katie Turner: friend, neighbor.
What I love about Katie is that she is always up for a spontaneous, fun adventure. Whether it be hiking Old Rag (in the wrong direction), getting turned sideways, tipped and scarred in a canoe on the Shenandoah river, midnight rides to Wendy’s, or playing real life Where’s Waldo on road trips…she showed me that positive, happy memories can be made during difficult times, even on random weekday evenings.
Just for you, Katie: Eagles suuuuck!

Jake Miller: uncle. Jake is an electrician. One day Nanny and I took him lunch at a house he was working on. The house belonged to a photographer for National Geographic and I was totally enthralled with the quality of images all around his house. While Nanny and Jake chatted I wandered from room to room looking at the photographs. That day, I decide I wanted to do that. I wanted to take photos that mattered to people…that were memorable. If my uncle Jake had any other career, that moment may have never happened for me.

Jake Miller: uncle.
Jake is an electrician. One day Nanny and I took him lunch at a house he was working on. The house belonged to a photographer for National Geographic and I was totally enthralled with the quality of images all around his house. While Nanny and Jake chatted I wandered from room to room looking at the photographs. That day, I decide I wanted to do that. I wanted to take photos that mattered to people…that were memorable. If my uncle Jake had any other career, that moment may have never happened for me.

Maurice Burner: Pawpaw. A man of few words but the shrapnel in his leg proves that he has quite a courageous story to tell. This Dale Earnhardt lovin' father of seven is a pro at the boob-grab-photo-bomb (with his wife of course). He is earth conscious and the best farmer I know. He taught me the value of backbreaking labor with the reward of fresh produce at the end of the day.

Maurice Burner: Pawpaw.
A man of few words but the shrapnel in his leg proves that he has quite a courageous story to tell. This Dale Earnhardt lovin’ father of seven is a pro at the boob-grab-photo-bomb (with his wife of course). He is earth conscious and the best farmer I know. He taught me the value of backbreaking labor with the reward of fresh produce at the end of the day.

The impact of watching that phenomenon unfold was akin to being slapped with her big ole raw bleeding heart. Not in a horrific way, but in the sense that all the little bits of Brandy I’d seen over the years were now together, in one space, at one time, as if some great secret had finally been revealed. By the time I finally composed myself long enough to look at every photo and read every caption, including mine, I was stinging with emotion. They say the human brain is the most complex object in the universe. But maybe it’s the heart.

Nanny (Betty Longerbeam): best friend, grandmother. (RIP) There’s a video of the hospital waiting room on the day my son, Blake, was born. In the video, everyone is glued to the window surrounding the nursery as Blake is carried in by his father after my cesarean. Oohing and aahing filled the clip…except for Nanny. I could hear her concerned voice asking repeatedly, “Where’s Brandy? How is she? When can we see her?” Then she proceeded to count Blake’s fingers and toes…as she always did with all newborns. When Ella was born, my Nanny at the age of 70, drove from Strasburg, Virginia to Wilmington, North Carolina to meet her the day after she was delivered. Four miles from the hospital, Nanny was in a car accident that totaled her car. She was transported to the same hospital as me and when I wheeled myself down to see her, she waited until her young doctor turned around and gave him a trademark Nanny-breast-shake behind his back. She was the youngest 70 year old I have ever met. There was never a question in my mind that my Nanny loved me. She brought me into her home when I was a fresh baby human, cared for me until she passed and provided me with a lifetime of memories. She taught me how to drive and play rummy and laugh at life.  Her birthday is April 13, and this show is dedicated to her. Just for you, Nanny: Go buck a fuzzard.

Nanny (Betty Longerbeam): best friend, grandmother. (RIP)
There’s a video of the hospital waiting room on the day my son, Blake, was born. In the video, everyone is glued to the window surrounding the nursery as Blake is carried in by his father after my cesarean. Oohing and aahing filled the clip…except for Nanny. I could hear her concerned voice asking repeatedly, “Where’s Brandy? How is she? When can we see her?” Then she proceeded to count Blake’s fingers and toes…as she always did with all newborns. When Ella was born, my Nanny at the age of 70, drove from Strasburg, Virginia to Wilmington, North Carolina to meet her the day after she was delivered. Four miles from the hospital, Nanny was in a car accident that totaled her car. She was transported to the same hospital as me and when I wheeled myself down to see her, she waited until her young doctor turned around and gave him a trademark Nanny-breast-shake behind his back. She was the youngest 70 year old I have ever met. There was never a question in my mind that my Nanny loved me. She brought me into her home when I was a fresh baby human, cared for me until she passed and provided me with a lifetime of memories. She taught me how to drive and play rummy and laugh at life.
Her birthday is April 13, and this show is dedicated to her.
Just for you, Nanny: Go buck a fuzzard.

The moral of the story is… well, there are three. One, I am inspired to somehow incorporate this concept into my life. Because at the end of the day, we all just want to know we mattered to somebody. That we’re part of someone’s timeline. Two, what might seem like a casual or chance encounter with someone could change his or her life. Handle with care. And three, you have to see this. You have to. And you still can, upstairs at the Blue Nile (which is located at 181 North Main Street in Harrisonburg) between now and April 29. You’ll see a few more portraits here on the blog tomorrow and Wednesday, but please believe me when I say YOU REALLY HAVE TO BE THERE.

some of my parts openingBWCopyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

a wine-wine situation: rocktown wine and dine festival 2013. yow!

rocktown wine and dine crowdHarrisonburg’s getting pretty good at this festival thing. Between film festivals, music festivals, beer festivals, various heritage and diversity festivals, and wine festivals, you can be festive every month of the year in this town. I LOVE IT. The key to any great festival is inclusivity. Variety. Public interaction. The spirit of welcome. Makes sense that you’d find such qualities in full force on a Saturday afternoon in Harrisonburg.

Because of the awesome collaboration of our local businesses and organizations like Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, Bluestone Vineyard, and Downtown Wine and Gourmet, plus a host of local restaurants, and our always-reliable army of cheerful volunteers, citizens of and visitors to our city were able to enjoy a day where people, wines, and foods of all types engaged in merry mingling.

rocktown wine and dine tasting 1If you were there, you know the weather was absolutely perfect. Brandy, Michael, and I arrived promptly at 2:30, moved swiftly through the entrance line, and in a flash, had our stemless glasses in hand. We threw our stuff under the big tree and headed for the Turner Pavilion. There would be time for sitting later!

We headed for the nearest table, which happened to be number 6. There we found Bluestone Vineyard’s 2011 Rose paired with ( I know it sounds strange) Local Chop and Grill‘s Duck Fat Laced Local Watermelon cubes filled with Feta-Olive Mousse. I was a little wary at first… but then I ate like three cubes. Yes, watermelon and feta sounds like some kind of accidental spill, but those people know how to put flavors together! See? Integration. IT WAS DELICIOUS. We were off to a great start.

rocktown wine and dine watermelonWe got excited when we got to table 4 and saw the word “sriracha.” It’s getting to the point where I need it every day. Billy Jack’s offered a house-made crab cake with sriracha mayonnaise, paired with Don Manuel Chardonnay from William Harrison Wines. The fruity tones of the wine with the spicy crab cake were, again, luscious, and I started feeling a bit fancy.

rocktown wine and dine crab cakes 3Table 2 featured two of our favorites: Crosskeys Vineyards and Beyond Restaurant and Lounge. And I’m pretty sure as I approached the table, I let loose with a “Where are the meatballs?!” Cy kindly informed me that they were at the table across the way. “Beyond has two tables? Ohmygolly.” So we gladly ate the Crispy Vegetable Dumplings with house-made garlic and ginger soy sauce, paired with Crosskeys’ super-crisp and summery Joy White.

Next we got to sample my favorite meatballs in the universe, Beyond’s Teriyaki and Pineapple meatballs. The Tinto Negro Mendoza Malbec from Vineyard Brands was a soft, mild wine that didn’t compete with the meatballs, but complemented them. Which was probably wise because those meatballs kick butt. I remember that we lingered at that table for some time… til a plate of cheeseburgers went by.

rocktown wine and dine wontonrocktown wine and dine meatballsAt table 3, burgers sizzled on Jack Brown’s flat top grill while volunteers poured Edgebaston “The Pepper Pot” Red from Southern Starz Wines. Talk about a seamless integration…  succulent beef with spicy, peppery wine… it was warm as an electric Snuggie. I also liked their Nugan Third Generation Shiraz from Australia.

rocktown wine and dine burgersTable 5 should have sported a map of France. Albert Bichot Wines offered the Chateau Boussargues Cotes du Rhone Rouge (“house…sompn sompn sompn sompn… red”), which was tres délicieux, avec Cotes du Rhone Cured Duck Breast, Red Wine Salt, and Poached Local Apple-Fennel-Raisin Preserve from our Local Grill and Chop House. The combination was… how do you say? Sublime. Ah oui!

rocktown wine and dine crackerContinuing with the multi-cultural flair, because Harrisonburg is so good at integration, we left France and tried Union Station‘s Smoked Jamaican Jerk Chicken Breast with Pineapple Salsa, paired with the Cottonwood Creek Organic White from Bronco Wine Co. This wine was like line-dried linen; it was one of my favorites of the day. Clean and fresh and smooth and beachy. They also offered a Truck Red Blend, which of course we had to try.

Union Station also set up shop at table 8, where we tried their Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders and House BBQ Sauce. THOSE were excellent!! And they’re so cute and little, you can eat like six of them so fast there’s no time to feel guilty. We washed those suckers down with what I think wins the award for the most creatively described wine at the festival, the Senda 66 Tempranillo, offered by Frontier Imports. Here’s what the program said: “An exotic wine with aromas of graham cracker, blueberry, violet petal, and pastry. It feels lush, grabby, chewy, and slightly tannic with heavy flavors of clove, black licorice, savory berry, and baked plum.” Okay, they managed to get fruits, herbs, baked goods, flowers, and a touch of candy all in one bottle. I-N-T-E-G-R-A-T-I-O-N!

rocktown wine and dine pork 2The final two tables were hosted by Blue Nile. At table 9, we tried their Whole Lentils, Green Peppers, Chopped Lentils, and Bits of Injera tossed in Vinegar, Olive Oil, and Mustard. This dish had quite a kick, complemented nicely by the fresh, lemony Domaine de Ballade Blanc offered by Bourgeouis Family Wines (love that name!). We finished up with Small Vineyard’s Palama Arcangelo Negroamaro, a spicy Italian wine served with Blue Nile’s Collard Green, Stewed Onions, Garlic, and Ginger. The combination was lovely, and I thought it was cool to drink an Italian wine with my Ethiopian food.

rocktown wine and dine tasting 3Suddenly, it was 5pm, and we were ready to head to the lawn to hear the jazzy musings of the Rick Olivarez Trio, a band out of Charlottesville influenced by eastern European and French musicians, among others. Once out there in the sunshine, we saw more evidence of inclusivity. Chefs Alex and Jon were conducting cooking demonstrations. Their two dishes were Charleston Style Shrimp served on a Pan-Seared Grit Cake with Watercress and a Pomegranate-Thyme BBQ Glaze; and, Grilled Poundcake with Balsamic Marinated Strawberries. Well, I wasn’t going to miss that! Dozens of people stood around watching the demo, asking questions, and then being treated to a generous sampling. AND, Grilled Cheese Mania was there, too, in case you had a serious craving!

rocktown wine and dine musicrocktown wine and dine chef rocktown wine and dine chef 2rocktown wine and dine salad rocktown wine and dine skillet rocktown wine and dine strawberryrocktown wine and dine GCMAnother new thing this year? A beer garden. What?? Yes, a beer garden at the Wine Festival, provided by Specialty Beverage. This was a nice gesture to the companions of wine lovers who wanted to enjoy the festival together. Inclusivity! I love the idea of a beer garden. As if you can plant seeds and little taps will sprout up in your yard. Someone please invent that. So… why not? It was warm, I was thirsty, and there was corn hole. Beer and corn hole go hand in hand. Since we were a party of three, I teamed up with a total stranger to take on Michael and Brandy. And that’s how we spent the rest of our evening: playing corn hole, listening to great music, and making friends with strangers. Just another day in our friendly city.

rocktown wine and dine BEERrocktown wine and dine corn hole1rocktown wine and dine tasting 2 rocktown wine and dine tasting 5Thanks, Burg, for a beautiful day. Thanks to the volunteers, the vendors, the sponsors, and the organizers. You are very much appreciated, and very much a part of what makes our home special. A la vôtre!

rocktown wine and dine goofballsCopyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

loud & clear: MACRoCk 2013.

MACRoCk tee shirtOn Sunday, April 7, I saw this post on Facebook and laughed out loud:
macrock facebookIt was like 8pm.

Not surprising. God bless those folks who once again brought this two-day music conference and thousands of people to Harrisonburg. I can’t even imagine where to start putting something like that together. If I can get rice, chicken, and green beans to be ready at the same time, I’m impressed with myself.

We attended MACRoCk on Saturday, the second night. And actually, the day started early, at the Larkin Arts first-ever Art Market (read about that here). More than a dozen artists plunked their wares on tables outside the Denton building. It was sunny and bright, people were chatty and cheerful, and the burg was a-bustle with locals and visitors alike. A happy morning.

Many Nights AheadAfter a bit we made our way to the Blue Nile for the label expo, where we saw books and upcycled clothing, tee shirts, buttons and stickers, pottery and “animal-friendly taxidermy,” and, refreshingly, lots of vinyl.

Label ExpoLabel Expo Label ExpoThen Brandy had to scoot out for a bit, and Michael and I headed to the Dodger. By now it was 2:30. We’d already been downtown for four hours and had ten hours yet to go. When we arrived there, Pachangacha was on stage and the place was packed. We found a tiny sliver of space at the bar. It was funny to watch the crowd come and go. After Pachangacha finished, this massive throng of people vacated, chasing the next show, and some seats opened up. We quick planted ourselves at a table. We enjoyed a performance by Amanda X — three ladies out of Philly: Cat Park, Kat Bean, and Tiff Yoon. They released their first EP back in August. Have a listen! Then sure enough, the mass of spectators shoved through the doors, and this time we scored a booth!!

Artful DodgerNext up was a band from New York called Lvl Up whose latest album Extra Worlds had JUST been released that very day. And they were loud as ohmyfreakinears. In a good way. And with quiet segments that would build to some kind of sonic boom. They’ve got two guitars, a bass, and drums, and they took turns singing or sometimes all three of them sang. I heard a little hint of Weezer at times. They were really great, and it stands to reason that we liked the next band, too — Sirs — because the two bands share some band mates.

MACRoCk Dodger 8 MACRoCk Dodger6Seat update: After Lvl Up we snagged the coveted “circle booth” at the Dodger. We knew Brandy would be coming with Danielle and Ben, and I was right tickled to know that everyone would have a seat. So we moved ourselves and all our stuff one last time, and stayed there through two more bands.

Artful Dodger 3As I was saying, Sirs played next and then Monument, from Maryland. Both bands were awesome, freakishly loud, extraordinarily tight. Brandy (sporting her MACRoCk press pass…. eeeeeee!), Ben, and Danielle arrived and we all mouthed “hello” to each other. Then we had a conversation about where to go for dinner by passing around a spiral notebook. Yes, it was that loud. Louder even. I felt like I was stuffed with cotton. In a good way.

press passIt should come as a surprise to no one who ever reads this thing that we ended up at Beyond. I don’t remember a whole lot about our dinner conversation, probably because I couldn’t hear ANY of it. But a good portion of it was devoted to the fact that Beyond had just gotten a keg of Juju Ginger beer, and Brandy got THE FIRST GLASS OF THE SEASON. This was better than the press pass, I think.

Juju JujuWe also talked about the band descriptions in the MACRoCk program. Some of our faves:

Black Mask – If you’ve never been curb stomped, Black Mask is probably the closest you’ll come without doing the deed. Metallic hardcore from Punxsutawney, PA for fans of early Converge, Nails, and Black Breath. Makes you wanna puke blood in the best way.

Barbelith – Atmospheric depressive black metal inspired by the wrathful elder gods, soiled by the scummy streets of Baltimore.

Borrowed Beams of Light – Borrowed Beams are a soundtrack to the perfect sunny summer indie-rock barbeque that you and all of your friends want to get drunk at.

Dope Body – Noise-rock freakcore from Baltimore. Do you ever think that your punk could use a little more metal and your metal could use a little more funk and that your funk really should be garage rock and not funk? You’re on this band’s wavelength then. Noisy guitar spazzouts are cut with freak hybrids of punk and funk rhythms.

Legs Like Tree Trunks – Mellow guitars with a side of reverb-heavy twinkles and soft-sung, dreamy vocals. Sounds like taking your shoes off after a long day of work.

Shat Shorts (omg) – Very, very weird punk. Blends hardcore, noise-rock, and thrash into one ridiculously chaotic package. Rhythms jump and shift drastically, and this one guitar is just spazzing out the whole time.

Other than that, the only really notable part of the conversation was when Brandy asked, “Wait. Is Jimmy short for James?”
Beyond Restaurant Beyond sushi

fansUnlike the hordes of people who zigzagged through downtown, moving in and out of venues like kids on a scavenger hunt, we tended to stay a while. So our second and last stop of the evening was Court Square Theater, where we saw Wynter Poe, Half Circles, and Timbre. That place is so comfy, what with its cushioned rocking chair-ish seats, age-defying lighting, and beer, there’s just no good reason to leave. We got there at about 7:15 and found seats on the front row. Good for photographs, and good for leg room.

Wynter Poe was unexpectedly awesome. I mean, we really had no expectations, but she impressed the crowd. The band — four people including Wynter — played at least five instruments: a couple of guitars, a bass, drums, a dulcimer. Here and there they sounded a bit like The Sundays, and Wynter’s vocal quality reminded me of Christina Perri. Other than that, the band defies comparison.

Wynter Poe Wynter PoeWynter Poe Wynter PoeIt was fun to see Half Circles, an eclectic Harrisonburg band who played far more instruments than they collectively had hands for. The guitar at times smacked of The Cure; another description that comes to mind is “bluesy Smashing Pumpkins,” but neither of those comparisons can pin down their multi-dimensional sound because suddenly there’d be a melodica or a xylophone or a flute to change my mind. Honey-laced vocals by Dan Baker and the unassuming, hands-in-pockets Amanda Styer led each tune and provided a solid foundation for their instrumental concoctions.

Half Circles Half CirclesWe fell in love with Timbre last year and couldn’t wait to see her again. And hear her, too, of course. But part of a live show is the visual aspect. And when one band member is seated behind a cello, one is seated behind a harp, and one behind a drum kit, you might not expect much in terms of a visual experience. BUT, that cellist was amazing to watch, Timbre looked beautiful in her gown behind that gleaming harp, and the drummer (who played a gorgeous wooden Whitney kit) actually danced while he played. They were all obviously quite happy on stage and love what they do. So they looked great. Add to that their incredible, crystal clear sound. They are made for live performance because their hypnotic music fills the space so well.

Timbre TimbreAdd to THAT their lyrics. Lines like “No one will know you long enough to sing your song back to you when you’ve lost the tune” juxtaposed with “Pain can be beautiful, my dear.” And a song inspired by the George MacDonald story “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” about light and dark and how they came to discover each other. The song centers around her perspective, from her dark cave. Her lamp, and the only light she’s ever known, breaks. She finds a way out of the cave and sees the moon for the first time. Then she meets Day Boy, and he shows her the sun. She wants the light, even if it hurts or kills her. He wants to be unafraid of the dark. They need each other’s strength. As the song says, “If I have seen only the night, can I imagine the day?” We see what we know; we know what we see. Sometimes we must step out blindly, even when it’s scary.

And on that “note,” (oh, ha!), we stepped out into the dark night with the moon shining and music playing in the distance and people laughing and our minds buzzing and our ears ringing. In a good way.

See you next year, MACRoCK!!

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

who’s in your cup? art lotto 2013.

Hard to believe it’s time to get lucky again. Has it really been eight months since dozens of couples put their (art) tools together in the spirit of creation?

Yep. Art Lotto!! Put simply, this brain child of Brandy Somers and Denise Allen is an art show comprised of portraits of artists by artists. More specifically, artists randomly select other artists by way of a lotto system, resulting in a cosmic explosion of incredible talent and vision that will completely knock your socks off.

art lotto ballsbwwebLast year, Brandy and Denise used an old-timey lotto cage for the drawing. At this year’s Luck of the Draw event (on March 20 at The Blue Nile), participants selected their subjects by choosing a cup that concealed a ball. Written on the ball was another artist’s name. The cups were all hand drawn — I repeat, hand drawn — by Denise… beautiful, detailed drawings of birds and bees, bears and fish, hot air balloons and airplanes, an octopus, a cat, a peacock feather, and 46 more! That’s a total of 55 artists, compared to last year’s 43.

art lotto cups denise with cupsA bar full of artists is quieter than you might expect, each one carefully choosing a cup and shyly making eye contact with their selected artist. And I guess it’s not so strange… I mean, when you have to produce a piece of work depicting another artist, you might feel a new type of pressure. But really, the event is about bringing together artists who might not usually collaborate to share their ideas, their insights, and their lives with each other. After all the artists had made their selections, Brandy reminded them of important guidelines and deadlines and encouraged everyone to put something in the comment box “for nice words or questions,” lol. Then everyone seemed settle down and mingle, trading contact information and reminiscing about last year’s Art Lotto. Last year the finished products were ridickers good, and with even more people participating this year (and some interesting new media, too!), I really can’t wait to see the walls of The Dodger filled with all those beautiful faces again.
art lotto rhoda miller

green jacket art lotto jay herr art lotto jess herr art lotto misti grimes yoder Here’s the lowdown; mark your calendars:
• July 17 — each artist must finish his or her portrait AND submit a photograph of it to  Brandy for inclusion in the Art Lotto Yearbooklet.
•  By the end of July, judges will select winners in various categories.
•  August 1 — private opening for artists, judges, and sponsors
•  August 2 — First Friday in Harrisonburg and public opening at The Artful Dodger

art lotto namesbrandy and deniseFor more information and updates, please visit the Art Lotto website and Facebook page frequently. Then join the rest of Harrisonburg in celebrating home grown art on August 2!

*Most of these photos were taken by Rachel Herr, as Brandy was busy hosting :) thanks, Rachel!

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

happy burgthday to us! : indian american cafe.

indian american cafe signBirthdays are special. They remind us of a day when something really great entered our lives. Birthdays are different from other holidays because they’re personal. The whole nation isn’t celebrating… just your circle of friends and family… just those who inhabit your world. And so birthdays are for telling our loved ones, “I’m grateful you’re alive. I’m happy you were born. My life would not be the same without you.” And we throw parties with cake and laughter and music and silly activities. Like bobbing for apples. Or pinning a tail on something. Or running with a water balloon between your legs. I love birthday parties!! More than any other holiday.

shanks cupcakeOh, the memories of my childhood birthday parties. The one where the wind ripped the paper tablecloths right off the tables, spilling drinks and cake and all of it… blowing across the yard, my mom frantically chasing cups and napkins. The one, in middle school (people, don’t throw a large party for a tweenager. It’s just a bad idea.), where finally some kid, on a Hawaiian Punch bender, walked right through the sliding screen door and everyone ran for cover while my dad yelled, “That’s it! THAT’S IT!” The one that coincided with father’s day (my fourteenth?) and we had a party on the lake, and I got to drive the pontoon boat (that was my favorite). In fact, June is always a spectacular month–so many birthdays. So many special people to be grateful for, including my daughter, her dad, Brandy, Blake, Rebecca, Kim, Caleb, Sarah… we just celebrate all month.

On this night, we weren’t really celebrating a person’s birthday; we were commemorating the first birthday of ilovemyburg.com. Yep — one year ago, on February 14, 2012, we launched this blog with our first post about Granny Longlegs. But, we were certainly celebrating people. I mean, the blog’s primary purpose is to document Brandy’s and my experiences in the city… so it serves as a permanent scrapbook of sorts that will become more meaningful each passing year. So it was a celebration of our friendship. But it was also, and this blog is, a celebration of all the people who inhabit our little world… all of you who read each week, all the folks we see out and about, everyone. I can say that my love for this city has grown in the last year, probably because of my increased focus on it.

We decided to eat our birthday dinner at Indian American Cafe. Brandy had hoped it would snow because she was envisioning snowy cafe photos, and I, admittedly, had not been in that restaurant in about a decade <cringe>. I used to go all the time! I don’t know why I stopped… but I will not let that place disappear from my life EVER AGAIN. We invited several friends to our birthday party, and we were joined by Danielle, Kai, Sean, and Denise. At first we discussed what to call our birthday — our “burgthday” as the title of this post indicates, or our “blogthday” or “blogirthday,”… but then Kai whipped out “Geblogstag” (German) and its equally impressive variant “Geburgstag” and trumped us all. How can anyone argue with a German guy in an Indian restaurant? I was clearly out of my league, culturally.

Indian american cafe 2 indian american cafe s&dOn to the food. When you order your food, you can choose your level of spiciness, from one-half to four. One-half is mildly spicy but certainly not bland, and four makes your eyes bleed. Just kidding. But really, don’t underestimate the hotness. I don’t remember everyone’s spice level, but I ordered my dish–this yummy steak with rice and spinach dish– at a two. Brandy got the same thing but with chicken and at level three. If memory serves, Kai got a one. Still, he was grunting away eating his meal. I was snorting and sweating my way through my plate, Brandy got splotchy and snotty, and Danielle could flat out see through time. Still, we shoveled it in as some kind of feat of endurance. The food is so good you cannot stop eating it. And they give you A LOT of food. I took half of mine home. And what did I do at two in the morning because my heartburn wouldn’t let me sleep? I ate the rest of it. Yep. You CANNOT stop eating it.

indian american cafe menu indian american cafe food 1Between mouthfuls we watched You Tube videos on Kai’s phone. Yes, we were those people. Kai had not seen the Sweet Brown remix thing, and I’d somehow continued to exist despite having missed several other compelling Internet videos. Egads. And then of course, any time anyone said anything the rest of the night, one of us had to say “Ain’t nobody got time for dat” or “I can’t call it.”

indian american cafe videoIt was getting on time to head to Clementine to see The Steel Wheels (post forthcoming!), so we ended our dinner with a birthday cupcake from Shank’s, compliments of Danielle. We lit the candle and sang the birthday song while Danielle tried to take photos of two really giddy idiots. Someone finally told me I had spinach between my teeth. And when we emerged from the restaurant, much to Brandy’s delight, it was snowing. Unfortunately, it was also dark.

indian american cafe bday 2

photo by Danielle Campbell

Indian American Cafe is located at 91 North Main Street in downtown Harrisonburg, about a block south of the Blue Nile. This will go down as one of my favorite birthdays ever. Thank you to the 60+ local businesses that have tolerated our antics. Can’t wait to see what this year brings!

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

major artery: larkin arts.

larkin arts ellaRemember when Studio Art Shop was downtown? This was way back when Dave’s Taverna was on Water Street and Main, and Jokers (now the Blue Nile) was the hot spot for local music. Studio Art Shop was located where Oasis Gallery is now… I remember that art store fondly… the smell of paint and canvas, rows of colorful bottles, rainbows of oil pastels, stacks of naked sketch books, jars of never-used brushes with smooth wooden handles, neat paper bags of rabbit skin glue, Gesso, tubs of Gojo. Simply walking in there would inspire even the least artistic of us (like me) to create.

Needing more space, Studio Art Shop expanded to a larger store on Neff Avenue and became the place for art students to purchase supplies each semester. Lamentably, Studio Art Shop closed its doors for good a few years ago.

No doubt Valerie Smith remembers Studio Art Shop, too, and thanks to her, her hubby Scott, Lynda Bostrom, and many other local art supporters, Harrisonburg once again has a full-service art supply store on the Court Square… an apt location in the heart of a city that loves and values art of all kinds.

larkin arts val and scottBut Larkin Arts is not just a source of supplies; it’s also a gallery, a school, and a studio–a place for learning, creating, and displaying art. The store itself carries thousands of products for the new, developing, or veteran artist, and a cozy lounge area where one can sit and sketch or peruse hundreds of art books from their library, all the while listening to albums on the old-school stereo system, from Loggins and Messina to Talking Heads to Fugazi, the Beatles, or even “Latin for Lovers.” :) And, even if you’re not an “artist,” many of their items make lovely, unique gifts for people of all ages and for any occasion, really.

larkin arts1In the space adjacent to the store is the gallery and reception area. Two large, open, bright spaces regularly feature curated, juried, or group exhibitions.

larkin arts denise larkin arts food larkin arts reception2Down the hall to the right are three (three!) classrooms hosting a variety of classes. Every Monday from 6:30 to 8:30pm the public is welcome to attend live figure drawing. Children ages 4 – 12 can attend classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, weaving, and art history. What a great way to spend dark, chilly afternoons, and when the weather is warm and school’s out, kids can attend week-long art classes — even one taught by our own Brandy Somers! — during the 2013 Youth Summer Art Program.

The left side of the hallway houses local artists’ studios. Large, bright, open rooms with closets and plenty of space to haul out your supplies and make a big ole mess.

In the last couple of months, Brandy and I have visited Larkin Arts a number of times. Back in December, we did some Christmas shopping there. More recently, we’ve gone to visit the gallery. Nathan Shearer’s simply framed photographs of LEGOs blew me away. One, I love LEGOs — I even have a LEGO room in my house. Two, the scenes he depicts in the photos are both realistic and imaginative. Three, his attention to detail, posing little LEGO figures in front of less playful backgrounds, getting the scale just right so that the photo is as believable as a portrait. And four, the colors! I wish I could have bought every one of them and hung them all together on a single wall in my house. You couldn’t be unhappy in that space. To see more of Nathan’s photos, please check out Katie Schmidt’s photos, here.

larkin arts nathan s nathan shearer bwThe other exhibit we attended was that of Jade Webber, an artist currently studying at JMU after completing a degree in Fine Art at New Mexico State University. Her large, heavily textured paintings depict the natural world, which is, as she describes it, a blend of “the metaphysical, the supernatural, and the ineffable.” Her work particularly reflects a love of animals, who “remind us that we, too, are animals. We are subject to forces beyond our control.” In this way she underscores how natural art is to the human experience: it springs organically from the artist herself; tools of wood and hair and metal push around hues of the outside world we see every day, resulting in a connection between artist and viewer that is not forced, but… ineffably genuine. You can see Jade’s work at Larkin Arts through the end of February.

jade webber notes jade webber 7 jade webber 5 jade webber 1The kids were with us, of course, and what would an ilovemyburg post be without the antics of children? Let’s see. Bree dropped her cupcake on the floor, icing side down (major tragedy). A couple of the Judy Chops were there to perform (because, let’s face it — all of ’em would have caused a sonic boom-ish catastrophe knocking the artwork right off the walls), and so lots of giggly, dizzying dancing ensued. Scott whipped out some brown Model Magic for the kids to “play with.”

larkin arts cupcake larkin arts blake ella judy chops 3 larkin arts brownAnd Cal left a note on Brandy’s car that said, “Your butt looks really good.” She laughed and acted like it was silly, but I bet she taped that thing to her bathroom mirror. Ha ha!! After she previewed this post, she clarified that it is NOT on her bathroom mirror. It’s on her fridge. :)

Congratulations to Valerie and Scott for opening this Harrisonburg gem. We hope you will visit soon and see why it’s so, so special. It’s yet another reason we love our burg.

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

going to gr8 lengths: super gr8 film festival.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge came up with it… what he defined as “awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us.” It’s one effect that art—music, poetry, film—has on us: transportation to another time and space, whether comfortingly familiar or refreshingly foreign. It doesn’t matter which—we just like to go there. And that’s why we love to read a good book or watch a riveting film. As my daughter simply put it, “It feels good to sit in the recliner and forget my own ideas for a while.”

Yes.

The term Coleridge coined for this phenomenon is the “suspension of disbelief.” And although he was originally talking about poetry, it applies to any art form and has evolved in movies since Thespis and the origin of acting itself, to the cinematic pioneering of Antonioni, to the funny/grotesque stylings of Tarantino. It’s that moment when, in the viewer’s mind, Marlon Brando stops being Marlon Brando and simply IS Don Corleone. Sylvester Stallone IS Rocky Balboa. Daniel Day-Lewis IS Abraham Lincoln. Will Ferrell IS Ricky Bobby. You get the picture. Ha.

Sometimes the “suspension” is caused by a filmmaker who’s soooo good that his or her film carries the viewer to another realm entirely; other times it results from the willingness of the viewer to ignore low-budget special effects and narrative hiccups and just go with it. The Super Gr8 Film Festival showcased both methods, in full force, forty-seven times over.

We got to the Court Square Theater lobby just before six on the first night (Black and White night), expecting a long line. Thanks to advanced ticket sales, there was none! Yay! That meant we had enough time to grab a beer at Capital Ale House. Once again confronted with that giant beer menu, I decided to just let the bartender recommend something. I raised my hand and waited to be called on. Michael and Brandy chided me mildly for it, and even snickered, but the bartender came right over and took our order. I chose the first beer the bartender suggested. Unfortunately for him, that variety was upstairs. So was the beer Brandy chose. That’s when Brandy came up with the best freakin’ idea since 8mm film, a device she calls… ready? The Alevator <insert trademark symbol here>. Yes, that’s right, an elevator for beer, so those poor chaps don’t have to scurry up and down the stairs all night.

Before long we heard some activity in the corridor so we drank up and headed out. I’ve never seen so much smiling and hugging, people laughing over their many mishaps during filming, others curiously predicting the slate of films that evening. The line moved swiftly and in just a few short minutes we’d gotten our tickets from Danielle, our programs from April, and beers from John. Beer at a theater is a really nice feature, and so… European or sophisticated or something. But they might consider serving shots next year because, oh my–the nerves. Several people needed a stiff drink :) Anticipation was reaching critical mass. And the place was packed solid.

The films began, and my disbelief immediately ceased. So many films to get lost in, like El Viajera, where a cornfield is the saddest place in the universe, and love is expressed in feet. Or Onward, a solitary soul’s journey to the peak. Jump, with the best slow-motion jumping I’ve ever seen, and Funny Dancing in the City, which had the best message–“So Much Fun!”

One that particularly touched me was Ode, in which an older couple gets ice cream cones together. Old hearts, new love. Something so simple… a film haiku, if you will. I want that. Clean, Classic, Safe 2 also spoke to me. It asks, “What is the meaning of age in the context of eternity?” Seconds later, he sticks her in the freezer.

The rotating shotgun scene in Take One impressed me in a craftsmanship kind of way… yet the couple, whose love endures no matter the circumstances, impressed me emotionally. While all the films were funny/touching/weird/random/sad/nostalgic, the one that elicited the strongest reaction in me was The Alamo. The young man’s voice reading the letter to children… his difficult experience in a war zone getting sanded down to something palatable… “The work we do here is very important.”  How does one explain war to a child? I wish we never had to. To me, that film felt SO real that for three minutes, everything else fell away.

The conclusion of that night’s films brought cheers and applause and hoots and shouts, and then we all slowly returned to reality and started to file out. I heard many beautiful comments and compliments among the filmmakers, the actors and participants, and the fans. Everyone warmly celebrating all the achievements of the night, large and small–from the perfect way Barbie rolls across the floor in her car, to how a piece of music fit its film perfectly, to the seemingly effortless way Paul and Tim made it all come together. This buzz of happiness and relief followed us all to the Nile for the after party.

Even though there were awards up for grabs, no one seemed nervous at the Nile. The hard part was over–seeing the film for the first time.. having all those nerve-wracking questions finally answered–did my film turn out at all? Did the music match up with it? Did the ending get cut off? Aaaaaggghhh! All that was over now, and the rest of the night was about being with fellow artists and art lovers, curing one’s lethargy with the loveliness and wonders of friendship.

I’m sad to say that I was unable to attend the Color Night, so I can’t relate that experience. However, if you missed either of the two nights of films like I did, they’re ALL being shown again November 29 and 30 at 7pm. All 47 films on each night!! Visit this link at the Theater web site to get tickets and information.

And finally, here’s a list of the winners of this year’s Festival. Congratulations to all, and thank you so so much for suspending my disbelief for three minutes at a time.

Black & White Film Awards
Best Visuals – Jaguardini’s Electric Jesus
film by Ivan Christo

Best Actor / Actress – Take One
film by Brandy Somers
actor Luke Wilson

Best Soundtrack – El Viajera
film by Ben Fraits
music by Don Townsend

Best B&W Film – Jaguardini’s Electric Jesus
film by Ivan Christo

Audience Choice – Chris Happens
film by Jeff & Emily Guinn

Color Film Awards
Best Visuals – The Other Side of the Record
film by Jay Zehr

Best Actor / Actress – Storm in the Heartland
film by Joseph Huffman
Actor Joseph Huffman

Best Soundtrack – Super Gr8 Heroes
film by Teale Davies
music by Bran Flakes

Best Color Film – The Birds and Lady Justice
film by Aaron Cook

Audience Choice – Herbivore’s Revenge
film by April Sedeen & Tim Estep

Paul & Tim Award – Paper Plane Pilot
film by Elwood Madison III

Tim & Paul Award – The Alamo / La Corrida
films by Jeremiah Knupp & Holly Marcus

Stay tuned for more super photos of the festival this week! And see you at the encore presentation!!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers.This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

set the record(s) straight: honky tonk happy hour at the blue nile.

In the car on the way there, we listened to some Johnny Cash. “Cry, Cry, Cry” came on; Bree asked, “Why does this song have to be so sad?” Because it does, I told her. Because it’s raw. Because it’s how he felt at that time, with no shiny gloss or double talk or self-pity. “He wants you to feel what he felt,” I told her.

“Well, I feel it,” she assured me.
Then, “I’m hungry. Are we there yet?”

We were on our way to Honky Tonk Happy Hour at the Blue Nile, hosted by DJ Real Gone (a.k.a., Jason Summer), and I was bracing myself for the likes of George Jones, Kitty Wells, and Buck Owen… songs about love and betrayal, about heartbreak and loneliness, about drinking and riding your lawnmower to the bar.

We arrived and there was Jason, ready to spin some old time, twangy vinyl… not behind the sound booth, but instead under the bright lights of the stage, where those musicians infinitely deserve to be.

He carefully thumbed through the albums which no doubt have brought him solace, hoping perhaps to transfer, through needles and grooves, the same impression to us.

Customarily, my kids started running around, and I sharply snapped, “Stop running! Where do you think you are??” To which Cal replied, “I really don’t know.” Fair enough. A few minutes later, Cal asked Brandy and me for “a tape.” “Tape? What do you need tape for?” “No,” he said, “a tip.” Ah. Money for the bowling video game.

We sat at the bar and listened to the full-bodied words of Loretta Lynn, Johnny Paycheck, and Hank Williams, and felt strangely uplifted. It’s like reading a book with a plot that just worsens and worsens, and at the end there’s absolutely no redemption. Most people like a happy ending. But unhappy endings make you feel better about your own reality.

This is not to say that all the songs were “sad.” Not all of them put a tear in your beer. Some were funny, some were romantic, some were feisty. But none were understated or devoid of intent. Music back then was simple and straightforward, both instrumentally and lyrically. Meant to be heard and listened to, not just enjoyed as some kind of sedating backdrop. People think music today is “explicit”… but vacantly, meaninglessly so. These old songs have an inescapable intimate quality that make one’s eyes moisten and one’s heart sting. These tunes SAY something, and often it’s something we really don’t want to hear because we already know it’s true. They not only shine a light which provides a path through the darkness, but which also causes our scars to glow white hot. And when everyone around you glows like that, you know you’re not alone.

You can catch Jason this and each Wednesday in the basement of the Blue Nile from 7 – 9pm. Leave your thick skin at home. It won’t work.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

our poetic harriSANDBURG: poetry night at the blue nile.

I’m an English teacher. And I feel I know a thing or two about literature. But attending the Carl Sandburg poetry reading at the Blue Nile recently made me painfully aware of how disconnected from poetry I’ve gotten.

I’ve read tons of poetry–the “canon,” if you will–Yeats, Keats, Eliot, Thomas, Blake, all the Beats, the Brownings, Owens, countless others… but I’ve not even dipped a tentative toe in that pool in a long time. And even as a teacher, I ask myself, “What the heck is poetry anyway? I mean, really–what is it, other than a section in the textbooks collecting dust in my classroom?” It’s literature that’s alive. It has a pulse and a heart and lungs and a gut. It has genitals and a butt and blood and a soul and it walks amongst us every second of every day. It’s an art form which, like music, can bend and twist to meet mood and message.

I was inspired on this night. Yet again. By my city and the talented people who live here.

Local action figure Paul Somers puts on these casual poetry readings, each one dedicated to a different poet. The idea is that participants (and it’s open to everyone) write poems in the style of that poet. Then everyone gets together and shares their poetry. They can also read a poem of that poet. Really, anything goes.

And sharing poetry’s a big deal. Because with poetry, it’s just you and your words and a microphone. Maybe a guitar or piano or bongo… but you don’t get to hide behind the noise of your band. You don’t get to hang your piece on the wall and walk away from it. You’re there with it and everyone’s reaction to it. The horror of performance art.

So I was with nine brave souls on a recent Monday at the Blue Nile who stood poetically naked in front of a crowd of seventy-five or so spectators. Paul, being the emcee of the evening, started things off by reading a description of poetry he’d written, comparing baseball to “a game of catch” and asserting that “Sandburg put the poem right in your mitt, every time.” Even in the humbling company of poets like Amy Lowell, Dorothy Parker, William Carlos Williams, Pound, and Eliot, Sandburg’s been hailed as the “first urban American folk singer.” In his poetry, Sandburg explores the guts of American society–the working poor, industrialism, farm life, and the geographic expansiveness of his nation.

Paul read Sandburg’s touching poem “Back Yard” (“Shine on, O moon of summer”)–fitting for this summer night with friends–and several of his own, including “Little Boy Pink” and “Animal Intellection,” about a fox, which I really liked… and this perfectly expressed teen love poem reluctantly titled “Fish Bone Poem,” containing the piquant line, “The world rolls off the edge of the table every time you walk in the room.” Oh, Christina Harbor, you’re killing us all. You and your weirdly symbolic name.

Next up was Brent Finnegan, who reminded us in his poem “To Breathe” that “touch, they say, is sometimes worth the pinch.” It’s true. What matters most also hurts the most. He then sang a couple songs with his pensive guitar, like “Waiting for the Wolf,” in which he howls, “When the darkness falls, I wanna feel nothing at all.” RESONANCE. And “The valley’s no greener and the love’s no deeper than the love we left behind.” By the end of his performance, I was stinging. Still am.

Then we heard ZaMont Burton read a couple of his poems, “MOTH” (Music Of The Heart) and “The Meadow,” both very sweet love poems told in a dream-like narrative in which the speaker moves through time and space as his perceptions change. He writes, “The next time I saw you I felt blues in your heart,” and “As we got closer to the meadow, my fear of you vanished.” The line between what’s real and what we perceive thins and thickens, appears and disintegrates.

Kevin Edwards, aka “the cat guy,” took the stage and felt the need to warn us that he “writes short poems.” He also provided a brief summary of each before he read it, in case we didn’t get it, like “This one’s about booze.” “This one’s about gettin’ old. Ear muffs.” “This one’s about loss.” “This one’s about not drinking so much.” I think he was trying to prepare us for some really bad poetry. Sorry, Kevin–your poems were good! Oh, how we all can relate to “a standard less handsome with time.”

Daniel Gilhart awakened for us Sandburg’s nature-loving side in his poem “The Woods of James High,” a lengthy, image-rich work evoking the joy and serenity of a meandering stroll, which, by the way, he delivered from memory. Lines like “we brushed the crumbs from our beards to leave a trail going home” make me long for a nippy autumn day marked by a blue sky so beautiful I keep staring at it to be sure it’s real. The poem also traces the emotions that come when one walks and thinks for a long time, remembering past sorrows and triumphs, bittersweet memories and the anguish of unknown terrors ahead.

Next up was Jeremiah Jenkins. Before he began he warned us: “I’m a little out of it. I’ve been camping in the woods for four nights.” And because of that, time crept up on him and he had to grab a few poems from his “pile of poems” for tonight’s reading. Pile of poems? You’re in better shape than I! I’m now determined to create my own such pile. Anyway, his first poem, “Her Children Followed,” was a narrative with a narrow focus–the story of a woman, who’s also a mother, who’s also a prostitute, and her struggle. He also shared “No Longer Our Own,” about what’s happened to his hometown neighborhood, how what was home has been razed and replaced with something both unrecognizable and generic. I loved the juxtaposition of sweet jelly with the “dark, dank basement.” But the poem of his that got to me the most was “What is Violence?”, a gorgeous/ugly/frightening/assaulting  glimpse of violence in America and all its forms. We think of violence as gun shots and black eyes and dark-alley muggings, but maybe not as “needin’ three dollars that bad” or as “the severed ear I found one September morning.” Jeremiah, straighten up that pile. It’s actually a book waiting to happen.

I was excited to see Susan Facknitz on stage next. You might know her–she teaches literature and creative writing at JMU. Her poems were so mesmerizing I forgot to take notes about two of them–“The Fence” and “Endless Relations.” But “Girl 3” is about her being the third child of eight with not a lot of money or possessions to go around. It’s a situation to which many of us relate–the hand-me-downs, the seeming injustices among siblings in a large family, the strange meals our mothers pieced together right before payday. And although those challenges are frustrating, Susan’s rendition radiated a gentle beauty that entered me the way a photo would. As she put it, her family “lived a discarded life. Barn doors for picnic tables.” Making do, yes–but there’s something about barn doors that’s better than a brand-new Ethan Allen table, right?

Katelyn Romaine’s poems were about American girlhood, so half of us could relate, and the other half eagerly listened for some mystery about the human female to be revealed. Her funny and sarcastic poems garnered several chuckles from the crowd, but they also, like “Questions About Limbo,” hinted at the uncomfortable parts of life, like “how reunions remind you of death and little meannesses.” Exactly. That’s precisely why no one likes them, but we all get roped into going somehow.

The final poet of the evening was Chad Gussler, who happens to be a fan of Basho, a 17th-century Japanese poet who wrote lots of haiku and also mixed haiku with prose. Chad wrote his poem “Millrace Canal” combining Sandburg’s love of nature and Basho’s simplicity of expression, and it worked beautifully. It even contained a few haiku. The poem takes the listener on a journey through fields of “white phlox, white roses, milkweed, and body odor” and past “a floating, sinking red canoe.”

I really wish there were room in this post to publish all the poems shared that evening. But there’s not, nor could I write them down fast enough, ha ha. I do have, though, a few bits and pieces of poems left in my notes, so I’ve put them together into a poem, collectively written for Carl by Paul, Brent, Zamont, Kevin, Daniel, Jeremiah, Susan, Katelyn, and Chad. Here it is:

A lightning bug like a pixel of the coming dawn,
When darkness falls, I wanna feel nothing at all.
As we get closer to the meadow, my fear of you vanishes.
The stars abate themselves, just as we abate ourselves,
And the kids say, “Oh, we hate what we’ve become.”
The children follow–they seem to know the way.
Blurred and blended… death and little meannesses…
Everything is
As it should be.

The next poetry reading will honor the life and work of Walt Whitman. You should come–it’ll be at the Blue Nile again, sometime in September. You can find their events calendar here. You don’t want to miss it!

See you out and about!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

in recent exposure: lurid pictures.

People usually think of filmmaking as glamorous business. As a director or producer, you’re surrounded by famous actors who hang on your every word, you get to show up when you want and leave the dirty work to the rest of the crew, and there’s enough food provided by craft services to feed a school-full of ravenous teenagers. But when you and your friend alone are the writers, directors, producers, costumers, sound engineers, editors, and everything else, glamor quickly unravels into endless sweaty hours of toil and sporadic meals of semi-gelatinous Ramen noodles, brightened by spurts of creative energy. Still, when the film is finished, it’s soooo worth it.

This is the reality (okay, well, maybe slightly embellished) for Alex Kent and Wade Vanover, founders of Lurid Pictures. To back up a bit, Brandy and I first hatched this blog post at the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival back in April, because she wanted to use Lurid Pictures to create a promotional video for her upcoming Art Lotto project. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the beer festival, I didn’t remember the conversation with Alex and Wade… at that particular moment, I was busy squishing mud between my toes. At any rate, here it is a couple months later, the promo video is completed and it all worked out. :) She is perfectly pleased with the final cut and YOU get to see it here today!! ….keep reading, keeeeep reading…..

Alex and Wade first worked together on a short film for one of Alex’s classes–it’s called Mechanics, and, told by a character named “Isaac” after Isaac Newton, it’s an endearing film about life lessons against the backdrop of Newton’s laws of mechanics. From then Alex and Wade continued to collaborate here and there, both with the hopes of one day making full-length feature films (Wade’s even written a full-length screenplay). For now they are getting their feet wet with a diverse medley of shorter projects. For example, they’ve made a music video for the song “Wonder” by Eternal Summers (watch for a new music video for the song “You Kill,” coming soon!); last fall, they created this intermission film for the SuperGr8 Film Festival; they’ve dabbled in wedding videography. They produced this really cool commercial for Harrisonburg’s Wonder Records, and they’ve done a few promotional videos, too, like this one for Larkin Arts, a community art store, studio, exhibition space, and school.

~ an image from Lurid’s Wonder Records video

~ an image from “Drunko Nart”

~ Eternal Summers music video

More recently, and the reason we met with Wade and Alex Tuesday night at the Blue Nile, they completed this two-minute promotional video for Harrisonburg’s first ever Art Lotto–a portrait show of artists by artists, conceived by Brandy Somers and Denise Allen. 

~ pictures of the filming of the Art Lotto promo, taken by Brandy…
… and here we are watching the finished film!
and HERE IT IS! Everyone, stop right now and watch it. I’ll wait. In fact, I need another beer anyway. Come to think of it, if you wanna give me a longer break, go ahead and check out all the links so far, plus Lurid’s Vimeo page here.

 

Art Lotto 2012 from Lurid Pictures on Vimeo.

If you’re wondering about that music, it’s by Andrew Barnes, whom you might also know from Gifts from Enola and Equestrians. The Blue NIle graciously loaned their basement to Lurid for about three hours to shoot the Art Lotto film.

Which brings me to something Alex and Wade mentioned to us: the willingness of people in the Burg to help out with projects, to lend whatever talents, resources, space, time to contribute to something important to someone else. There’s a sense of community here that might be absent in larger cities. We all want art to succeed, and we do what’s necessary to make that happen. Another reason I, and Brandy, and Alex and Wade, love our Burg. Along those lines, what Alex and Wade produce, using the priceless help of others, serves to promote not just themselves as filmmakers, but the valuable endeavors of other Harrisonburg-ians, like Larkin Arts, and Art Lotto, and the SuperGr8 Film Festival, and Wonder Records. There’s this recursive effect.. where one person’s project promotes another and another in such a way that the effect on the community is much greater than the scope of the original project. Does that make sense? It’s late and I’m soooo rambling… Let me simplify: here, it’s not “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It’s “I’ll scratch your back for nothing, and voila! it’s repaid ten-fold.” And that’s how it should be.

In their day jobs, Alex and Wade actually produce videos for Health Bites, a health-related website from the Virginia Department of Health, funded by a grant through JMU. Unfortunately, the grant runs out in November, so they’re working hard to grow Lurid Pictures between now and then. These other projects I’ve mentioned are in addition to their full-time jobs at JMU. They’re clearly passionate about their art, and we talked a bit about that Tuesday night at the Nile. We talked about how selling one’s art is like jumping off a ledge. Alex and Wade love their craft, and they get deeply involved in every project, wanting to provide the best possible product, not just for the satisfaction of their clients, but for themselves, too, as artists. They have learned to navigate the middle ground between meeting the clients’ wishes and honoring their own artistic vision… applying their unique stamp while bringing to life the client’s idea. And so when they present the finished product to the client, they bare a bit of soul. So far, no client has been dissatisfied. And I think it’s because Alex and Wade care so much about their craft.

Please consider Lurid Pictures for your next video project. Their work is gorgeous and they understand how important their clients’ needs are. And, they love their Burg, just like the rest of us.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

birthday in the burg!: blue nile.

I was so worried about my birthday curse that for my recent 40th birthday, I considered doing nothing at all. Because turning 40 is bad enough without everything going wrong.

I have a history of bad birthdays. Not every birthday has been a disaster, mind you—there are two or three I don’t remember at all (like my first, second, and third birthdays), so I guess those don’t count. But some stick out as awkward or just plain bad.

For my 18th birthday, my parents got me luggage. Hint hint. But they also got me a plane ride over my hometown, co-piloted by my dad. That was pretty cool. Of course, my birthday always coincides with Father’s Day, so I think the gift served two purposes. Whatever.

One birthday in the mid-1990s (they all run together now), my friends at work planned to take me out to lunch at Indian American Cafe. But they forgot to actually tell me about it, and I was in Nags Head. Here’s a summary of the answering machine messages:
“Hi, Katie. It’s Anne. We’re all down at Indian American Cafe. Since you’re not answering the phone, I’ll assume you’re on your way! Can’t wait to see you!!” <beep>
“Hi, Katie. It’s Anne again. I hope you’re okay. I thought you’d be here by now. We’ll wait a little longer.” <beep>
“Hi. Um, we’re kinda hungry, so we’re gonna go ahead and order, okay? Hope you get here soon!” <beep>
“I’m not really sure what happened, but we’re eating your cake.” <beep> When I got home from the beach, I got all the messages at once. Anne was kinda embarrassed about the whole thing. Apparently the cake was really good.

On another birthday, someone tried to plan a surprise camping trip for me. Only, I’m not the best camper—I’m bony and pretty much allergic to everything outside. Also, no one was on time. So when I got there, it was just one girl standing in the woods with a balloon. “Surpriiiise…..”

This one takes the cake (ha!). I actually invited a few people over for dinner on my birthday, which I cooked… and one of the guests arrived completely trashed and literally passed out in his salmon filet. Oh ghee.

So I’m sure you understand why I get a little nervous at birthday time. Despite all those wacky experiences, I still love to be surprised. And this year, Brandy and Danielle ended my birthday curse once and for all. At The Blue Nile. They didn’t tell me much about what they’d planned… they just told me to meet them at The Blue Nile at 11ish for brunch and to wear sunscreen. I did as instructed.

Only, they weren’t ready at 11, and Brandy kept texting me, “Not yet, not yet…” So I drove around Harrisonburg til nearly twelve (man, I was hungry!!) when I got the text: “Okay, now would be good.” And when I got there…. look!!

Forty presents. FORTY! FOOORRRTTTY!!! And a Happy Birthday sign Danielle made. Of course, I instantly started crying because I knew the curse was broken, and then I realized what a task I had ahead of me and I pulled it together. Danielle crowned me with a hand-made tiara and we got down to business. First, ordering food. It was Sunday brunch at the Blue Nile, and their menu features several delicious entrees plus an ample buffet. AND, one-dollar bloody mary’s and mimosas. ONE DOLLAR. And let me tell you, their bloody mary’s are the best I’ve ever had. I ordered the eggie grinder while Brandy and Danielle hit the buffet. My meal was excellent—scrambled eggs with rosemary, guacamole, and collard greens served on a honey wheat bun and a side of sweet potato fries. Brandy and Danielle made a couple trips to the buffet. We were all quite satisfied, or as Brandy put it, “full up to my collarbone.”

Then, the presents. OH my goodness, what a treat. I thought it was really cute that some of Danielle’s gifts were wrapped in brown lunch bags with the top folded over three times and stapled. Unbeknownst to her at the time, I was reminded of an old Phil Hartman SNL skit called The Anal Retentive Chef. “And how do we dispose of odiferous waste?” Ha ha! All of the gifts were wrapped in some fashion and accompanied by a note—really, really a tremendous effort by my two friends.

Here are some of the gifts, in addition to brunch and morning cocktails I received:
a bouquet of flowers
a drawing of the three of us by Danielle

two pairs of earrings from Ten Thousand Villages
pumpkin bread from Shank’s Bakery
a pint of blueberries from the Farmer’s Market
a gift card from Pulp
three fortune cookies! One says, “You are going to have some new clothes.” Another: “You will have many friends.” And, “Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think.” (I personally think that last one is backwards, but I’m getting of track.)

coffee, tea, beer, and wine
a book from Downtown Books called The Disruptive Student and the Teacher
a copy of Virginia Living Magazine and a brochure, both featuring photos from this blog!
beer koozies

who cries over beer koozies? I do, when they’re hand-decorated by friends!

and several coupons: one for babysitting, one for “bitch-free yard work/slavery,” and one for an hour-long photo shoot courtesy of Brandy Somers Photography, “non-blog”

…and several other things… have you been counting??

At any rate, if you are looking to surprise a friend with a lovely birthday, head to the Blue Nile. For me, it was one for the record books and completely disaster-free. The Blue Nile is located at 181 North Main Street, across from Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

the happiest place on earth no. 21: rocktown beer and music festival.

It was a day of music, singing, and dancing; of froth and foam and cheers-ing; of sideways rain and tropical-storm winds gusting; of sunshine and warmth and rainbows shining; of laughter and smiles and happy loving; of food and friends and mud-stained frolicking… it was, quite simply, a perfect day. The most wonderful day of the year. The day of the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival.

From 2:30 til 9pm on April 21st, throngs of music-loving, beer-craving people of all ages, from tiny tots to retirees, college girls and frat boys to yuppies, hippies, parents, and all the rest, assembled at the Turner Pavilion to sample beer from 30 breweries, hear music from Yarn, the No BS! Brass Band, and The War on Drugs, and nibble freshly prepared dishes from the Joshua Wilton House, Jack Brown’s, Dave’s Taverna, Billy Jack’s, Clementine, and Hank’s Barbeque.

Having purchased our tickets ahead of time (the event sold out earlier that week), getting into the festival was a snap and much more efficient than last year (not that last year was inefficient… just sayin’). While we were still in line in front of the municipal building, volunteers came along and checked our IDs, took our tickets, and installed our wristbands.

The gates opened and everyone just walked in, easy-peasy. We received our mugs and programs and although we both wanted to make a bee line to the beer vendors, we decide to lug our stuff to the grass and get set up. We knew the weather forecast; at this point it was sunny and gorgeous, and Brandy wanted to take as many photos as she could before the rain came.

The No BS Brass Band was on first, and although I really didn’t know much about them before the festival, I really really liked them. Especially the number that sounded like something the Ladies Man might sing to a lady friend over a glass of courvoisier. I also enjoyed the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean.”

Next up was Yarn, and it was during this performance, if I’m not mistaken, that the rains came. People go absolutely crazy for Yarn. The band is so happy and high energy, people just start moving and spinning around, almost like a flash mob. There they all are, innocently milling around, and at the first note by Yarn, everyone’s in front of the stage boogying down.

We watched as clouds ominously advanced. We were armed with extra clothes, a rain jacket, and two umbrellas. Other things to remember to bring or wear to an all-day festival: chapstick. Sunscreen. A hat. Comfy underpants. Eh. Anyway, when the rain started, we decided (I forget why) to stay in our seats on the lawn. Brandy stuffed her camera under her shirt (the lens hung out the bottom and it was kinda funny looking–hee hee!) and we huddled under umbrellas in our seats. Brandy couldn’t resist sneaking the camera out a few times to take some shots of how ridiculous the rain was. I mean, we were drenched. Wringing wet.

I remember screaming. It was somehow raining upwards, under the umbrellas. And then we finally decided to run under the pavilion with the other 2998 people. It was packed. I remember thinking, “Man, the fire marshal would NOT like this.” Except that we were outside. And it was raining.

Snakes of people slithered through the crowd to reach beer vendors for a refill. This is where trust becomes important. In any situation involving crowds and a small space, I usually wonder how long it’ll be before someone goes psycho and causes some kind of ruckus. But here, in our friendly city, nothing like that occurred. Everyone was patient and happy and kind, and polite–lots of “excuse me”s and “sorry!”s and “woopsie”s, and one girl who kept repeating the word “willow” to us. We tried so hard to understand what she meant so we could help her or answer her.

Then, because we were wet, we were cold. Rachel Jenner and Brandy had to help me figure out how to put on a shirt under my wet shirt, and leggings on under my soaked skirt, without completely disrobing in front of everyone. I never would have accomplished it without them. At any rate, the rain stopped, the music continued, the beer flowed, and we were all warm and fuzzy again before too long. And you know? When there’s a mud puddle nearby, everyone becomes the same age: four and a half. Brandy and I did not slide belly down through the mud puddle pool (although we did let our feet get quite squishy), but we loved watching everyone else get down and dirty. We saw children splashing and dancing in the mud; we witnessed the destruction of many gorgeous sundresses worn by young women who lost their footing; we watched a grandma fall allll the way down, onto her back, and still get up and keep dancing with the grandkids! We loved it! Every single moment, every droplet of mud, every smile and person there… we loved it all. Our city.

By now, The War on Drugs had hit the stage. What a treat they were. They were a great pick-me-up for weary revelers, re-energizing the crowd as the sun went down. Honestly, all three bands were fantastic, and the combination of bands couldn’t have been better. Just before sundown–a rainbow. Can I get a “hallelujah”?!

Later as we walked to the Nile to see Cinnamon Band, we talked about the day–the people, the fun, the spirit, and yes–the beer. What did we like best about the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival? Everything. Everything.

Already looking forward to next year! Stay tuned all week for more photos from the Fest!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

that’s why it’s called ROCKtown: MaCRoCk 2012.

When I handed Brandy the press pass, she actually squealed. And the night only got better from there. Well, except that she kept flashing that thing like she was the fire marshall or something. As if people don’t already get out of her way when they see her coming with that monstrous camera.

It’s been at least ten years since I’ve attended MACRoCk, definitely before my kids were born, and it’s even awesome-er now than back when I didn’t tire out so quickly. Brandy and I went on the first night (Friday, April 6) because it was also First Friday downtown (post forthcoming!) and there were so many cool things to do. How do two girls on one night cover an event that spans thirty-one hours and showcases more than eighty bands? We really can’t. Child protective services would be at my door (JUST KIDDING.), Brandy’s camera would explode, and my notebook just isn’t that big. Sorry. But we can do the best we can and have fun. With so so many bands participating and no clones of ourselves, we had to be focused and disciplined. We wanted to see a couple of local bands, for sure, so we let that goal carve a path for us that evening.

First up, Elephant Child at Downtown 34. This local three-piece suit features John Hostetter (guitar and vocals), Aaron Propst (bass), and Scott Whitten (drums). The crowd grew as the performance continued, and soon the place was full of fans all nodding their heads to the music. Which of course is a sign of approval, but it might also have been involuntary because those three guys were so chest-thumping loud, the whole place was vibrating.

Sidebar: I love music, I love live music, and I love loud music, but I’ve noticed that spectators do strange things at shows. Like clapping. From a very young age we are taught to bang our hands together. Why do we clap? When and where did this start? I mean, who was the very first clapper, and how did clapping evolve into the custom it is today? Don’t get me wrong… I clap, too. Enthusiastically. But I find it strange. And sometimes I watch myself clapping and think, “How odd of me to do this.”

Okay. “Beehive” was a great number… “We drove out to the canyon and we lost our minds…” Heads nodding, hands clapping… we wish we’d gotten more than forty minutes of them.

It was dinner time, so we grabbed some food. It didn’t take as long as we thought, so we had time to meander from the path and go to Court Square Theater for a couple of shows. Once there, Brandy’s press pass suddenly acquired magical powers, because I looked up and she was just gone. I think she teleported in there or something. Anyway, the band that was playing–The La De Les, from Ohio–had already started, and I entered the theater just as they finished a number. Now, I embarrassed Brandy when I said loudly, “BRANDY SOMERS,” but I was not going to scan all those hundreds of people, looking for the back of her head. And where was she? Front row. Yep–press pass. Once I was finally settled in, we really liked the performance. Again it was just three people–Jocelyn, Aaron, and Cody–and they sort of all played everything.

Jocelyn sang and played keyboards; Aaron played a bass, a drum, and his Mac, all in bare feet… he even recorded a drum track as he played; and Cody sang and played guitar. Their sound was like, according to the MaCRoCk program, “golden beams of light shining through huge white fluffy clouds.” I’d say that sounds about right. I love all the technology they used and how they played with sound. Lots of layering of sounds that distilled into this ethereal, melodic effect.

We stayed put for the next band–Timbre out of Nashville. As soon as I saw the harp, I knew two things: I’d love this band, and I’d cry at some point. Timbre, the female harpist, wore a gown and a long braid and reminded me vocally of Leslie Feist plus Joni Mitchell (my all-time fave, by the way). Her frighteningly massive range revealed a pure and unfaltering voice. There was also a cellist and a percussionist, and I was absolutely glued to their performance.

There was no head-nodding, no clapping… not a sound anywhere but on stage. I think we all stopped breathing. They closed with a gauzy, goose-bump inducing cover of Radiohead’s “Like Spinning Plates.” After their set, Brandy and I sat there stunned, then looked at each other and said, “Damn. That was good.”

It was time to head to Clementine to catch Invisible Hand from Charlottesville. The place was PACKED and just kept getting packed-er.

It was 10pm. We’d started our adventure at 6:30, and the evening itself was shaped like a piece of music–an energetic, yet low-key beginning, followed by an emotional bridge, and now crescendoing into a beautiful crowd of happy people all smushed together to see this four-piece blow the roof off.

Brandy flashed the pass and wiggled her way to the front. And anywhere else she wanted, for that matter. They had two drummers–one standing and one seated–two guitars, and a bass. Loud and fun and quirky and dedicated, they were very much loved by the crowd.

At this point, I must admit, I was TIRED. Happy, but tired. And though I wanted to see Valkyrie at the Nile, I didn’t. Brandy, however, was NOT out of energy,  and she went. Infused with the power of the mighty press pass, she found the endurance needed to see MaCRoCk Night 1 through to the end. She said Valkyrie was awesome, so awesome that “everyone went crazy and I feared for the safety of… my camera.” No worries–she got some shots of them and got out with no scratches or cracks.

I was unable to go again on Saturday, but Brandy did–and you can see photos of The Cinnamon Band, Bison, Bib-bi, The Turlocks, Psychic Teens, and The Beets at her photography page here. Wowee–that woman is busy!!

MaCRoCk staff and participants, thank you for a crazy night of talent. Ya blew our minds.

little city BIG TALENT no. 12: rock lotto 2012.

I am always amazed by musicians. And not just people who can “play an instrument.” I took piano lessons for years; I could read music and touch the right keys. But I’m not a musician. Musicians can improvise. They can hear a tune and mimic it. They can tell you how they feel through music. They communicate in the same language as their instruments, and that understanding conveys to other instruments. If they learn one instrument, it’s like they unlock the door to several. For example, a musician who plays the piano can most likely play any keyed instrument–accordion, xylophone, glockenspiel–because he gets his instrument. And musicians, just like other artists, create.

Harrisonburg’s got some crazy good musicians. And I was privileged to watch them work on March 16 during the acoustic night of Rock Lotto.

This year–Rock Lotto’s fourth year since its hiatus back in 1997–the event took place over two nights at the Blue Nile, one for acoustic acts and one for electric.

We had our own pre-show warm up, with the lovely Lynda.

In brief, here’s how the whole lotto thing works: a whole bunch of local musicians throw their names in a hat, and depending on how they’re drawn, they form bands. Bands of relative strangers. Bands of people who’ve maybe never played together before at all. You people are brave. Then for two months-ish, they work together to write 25 minutes of original music. (Bands are allowed to play one cover, but only one.) I say for two months, but remember that these people all have jobs and lives and responsibilities and other projects, so finding a time–or multiple times–when they can all get together to write, practice, and rehearse is quite a challenge. After all the performances, the audience “votes” for their favorite using quarters. I thought this was a neat idea, until I remembered that I didn’t have any quarters, because every time I go to Kroger or Food Lion, my kids ransack my wallet for quarters for the gumball machine. Dang it! Despite my lack of change, the event raised more than $2500 for local music programs.

I love Harrisonburg.

On acoustic night, there were four bands: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Shoelace Face; Strange Fruits and Creative Juices; and Space Sex and Robots. The place was packed, inside and out, and while Brandy took photos, I scooted around and asked for people’s names and set lists. In the craziness I wasn’t able to talk to everyone, so this is only a partial list of participants, and if I’ve left you out, please comment… but we did see Brent Finnegan, whose band performed first. They were fantastic and I was quite impressed with Brent’s vocals–hadn’t heard him sing before. Also in attendance were Megan Tiller, Marybeth Kananen, Heidi Smith, Wes Harper, and Old Stevie; Garrett Stern, Sarah Murphy, and Sheila Newman; Ashley Hunter’s group performed fourth, and two brothers–Josh and John Yoder–performed, but in different bands. This was interesting to their parents, who sat next to me that evening. They were so nice to talk to–so excited to hear their boys play… and if memory serves, both of their sons play the drums.

The photos of this night really tell the story–Brandy is so good at that. I’ll leave you with a few moments that moved me in some way:
1. The lyric, “You’ll be just another woman that I used to know.”
2. The cover of Neil Young’s “Old Man.”
3. The cover of Nancy Griffith’s “Looking for the Time (Workin’ Girl).” That was freaking amazing.
4. The insane instrument switching. Again, these were musicians.
5. The crowd chanting “Shoelace Face! Shoelace Face!”
6. The use of a washboard.
7. The joy on everyone’s faces… including my own.
One last thing, Brandy took tons of gorgeous photos at this event, so we’ll be featuring groups of them all week. Congratulations to everyone who participated and to the organizers of this event. This is one Harrisonburg tradition that MUST continue.

See you soon!

gettin’ lucky in the burg no. 9: art lotto 2012

You gotta admit it–Harrisonburg is a great town for art. A hub, if you will. A hotbed. Perhaps even a mecca. And on the lucky evening of the thirteenth of March, forty-three local artists journeyed to the Blue Nile to uncover their collective destiny… controlled completely by an old Elks Lodge bingo cage.

photo by Sarah Murphy

Unfortunately, I didn’t attend on the 13th, but Brandy and I recently went back to the Nile to relive “Luck of the Draw” night for Harrisonburg’s first annual Art Lotto. It just so happens that one of the participating artists–Lynda Bostrom–was tending bar, so between Brandy and her, I think I got a pretty accurate picture of the evening. But before that, a bit of history.

It was summer of 2011. Brandy and her friend (another local artist) Denise Kanter Allen met at El Sol for dinner and to discuss their upcoming joint art show. Inspired by her own collaboration with Denise, Brandy came up with the idea of bringing that collaboration to a larger scale. Brandy likened her idea to Harrisonburg’s long-established Rock Lotto, in which bands are formed in a random drawing. Art Lotto is similar in that each artist randomly selects another artist whose portrait he or she must then create. Denise loved the idea and couldn’t wait to help make it a reality.

*Speaking of collaboration, and I’m not really sure where to insert this tidbit, but Lynda Bostrom and Denise currently have a joint show on display at the Nile. For the whole month of March. What a coininkydink!!

The ladies tried to name the event something other than “lotto” because they didn’t want to step on any toes. But “Art Lotto” just sounded right, so they asked permission from the Rock Lotto founder and, with his blessing, went for it. After three months of sign-ups and meetings, the March 1 deadline arrived, and Brandy and Denise prepared for “Luck of the Draw” night on March 13.

Denise and Brandy. Photo by Pat Jarrett.

Which brings us to the events of that evening. Let’s see… Brandy insists she was very nervous talking to a room full of artists, even though she speaks to large groups of teenagers every day. But Lynda says Brandy was “graceful and teacher-like,” what with her handouts, bulleted lists, and stern shushing. The method of selection was in keeping with the whole lucky/lotto/13 theme: each participant had to come to the bingo cage and crank the handle not once, not twice, but thrice, as the lotto balls quivered nervously against each other.
Then the artist chose a lotto ball, on which was written another artist’s name. Interestingly, only two artists actually selected each other. And there was some Rosenwasser/Rosenberger confusion. To add to that confusion is my probable misspelling of both names. Sorry!!

This went on for some time, and after 129 handle cranks, Brandy and Denise had their results:
The photo above shows who’s doing whom. (Now don’t go starting any rumors.) Brandy reminded the crowd that Art Lotto’s purpose is “to get people who live in the same town and coexist and do the same thing to collaborate.” And it’s also about branching out and meeting new artists. She continued, “If you get your roommate, or friend, or brother, you can do ’em, but come on, people… do you really wanna?” Hm.
She also gave a few guidelines on this handout:
and added, with enthusiastic gestures, “Unless your piece is long and skinny.” Hm.

Okay, now these artists are prolific people, and they need time to complete their portraits with care and craftsmanship. Stay tuned for details about their finished portraits, which will be displayed to the public on Friday, August 3, at The Artful Dodger.

Have fun gettin’ lucky! And remember, size matters.