all in a day’s (and a night’s) work: the 24-hour project.

24-hour project mike and laurieAfter the awesomeness of Friday at the 24-Hour Project, Brandy and I decided that Saturday we’d return, this time with Michael and some of the kiddos in tow. We scoured the program, reading through the descriptions of the 24 performances scheduled for day two, and with input from all involved, decided to try to make it to the theater in time for Mike Hudson at 1pm, because according to the program, he was “a guy you haven’t heard of” who “plays songs on the piano that you haven’t heard, in ways you haven’t heard.” Our curiosity wouldn’t allow us to miss THAT.

So after some breakneck-speed sledding down a steeper-than-we-thought hill, we raced home to put on dry clothes and then raced to Court Square Theater. We managed to score seats right up front again. I don’t know why more people don’t sit in the front row. We love the front row: I love the leg room, and Brandy likes to be able to get where she’s going without awkwardly squeezing between seats, bonking people on the back of the head with that giant lens.

Mike did exactly as promised: he played songs on the piano — some we’d never heard. A sad one called “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face” about a quiet exit from a relationship. An unusual assortment of other covers, from “Music for a Found Harmonium” (Penguin Cafe Orchestra — you might recognize it from Napoleon Dynamite) to a Belle and Sebastian song, to Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” As many times as I’ve heard that old number, I’d honestly never heard the lyrics so clearly as when Mike sang it. A primitive protest song. At one point Mike told the sound booth he’d “feel a lot more confident if I could get a little more in the monitor.” They made the adjustment, but take it from us in the front row: we detected no such lack of confidence.

The female vocal ensemble Shekinah (which means, roughly, God’s presence among the people) performed next, bringing with them only a bongo, a tambourine, and a chair. At first I thought the chair was just in case the pregnant lady needed to sit down… but no, it was for the bongo player. Brandy and I saw these ladies at the Our Community Place Christmas Concert in 2012. Cal was enthralled and loved their purple dresses. I remember he asked me if he could “pet” them. ??? Anyway, they dressed in purple on this day, too.

Shekinah proves with their voices that the human being is the greatest musical instrument in existence. I can’t understand the concentration required to do what they do. Each of them must somehow hear only herself, because each woman seems to sing a distinct part, but she must also pay attention to the group so she doesn’t veer off and end up somewhere else. Not only that, but they sang ten songs in seven different languages, including a Dolly Parton cover, a traditional Irish children’s song, a Finnish song based on Psalm 100, and a sassy Bulgarian number.

After Shekinah, we took a little break at the Explore More Children’s Museum. The beauty (well, one of the many beauties) of the 24-Hour Project is that you could come and go. When the kids finally got all their wiggles out, we returned in time to see the Ears to the Ground Family take the stage.

ears to the ground family 1Any time you get a chance to see this band, you MUST. I mean this sincerely — I can’t believe how great they sound. Beautiful harmonies, clear as bells, never a sour note, never a lackluster performance. It’s probably not a priority to be “famous” or whatever, but they totally could be.

They have a few instruments — guitar, trumpet, bongo — but they also make use of their hands and feet, shoes and skin. My favorite of their set was Nichole’s song for her mom, in which she repeats, almost chants, like a prayer, “With a love like this, I will not despair.” Also, “Prison Cells,” a song about, essentially, forgiveness (and hypocrisy) inspired by a judicial system that just won’t “let them forget what they done wrong.” And the song about time: “Why waste so much precious time when we can float downstream in the living water, be grafted to the vine?” Thank you for that reminder!

ears to the ground 2Lastly, Chris Howdyshell took the stage. Yes, he was the last performer. The closer. By this point, a certain… euphoria hung in the air. Maybe it was sheer loopiness emanating from everyone who’d been up for 24 hours. It became clear that Chris’ job was to keep everyone from keeling over in exhaustion. He was their Red Bull. And really, there’s no better person for that task.

chris howdyshell 1He sang a few songs… “He Is a Friend of Mine,” accompanied by the story of Oliver’s birth. The one for Mariana, with the Alan Watts backstory. The song about workin’ and money and family — mighta been called “Walkin’ With the Devil.” But no, it’s actually called “Happiness.” But mostly he just talked to us. He entertained with a string of meandering anecdotes, like how he once ran into Nick Melas at the community health center, and even with a mask on, Nick was the “best looking guy in the place.” He also recalled the history of Open Mic at Little Grill… let’s see, it started with Ron Copeland, then Jay Zehr hosted it, but “only for a year because he got old,” and then Chris took over in the year 2000 until he left the Grill a year or two ago to become a restaurant manager.

chris howdyshell 2Which led to a story of his near-death experience. He’s taking phlebotomy classes, and during class, students “practice” on each other, and someone accidentally pushed IN on the syringe. Chris expected to die instantly, but he didn’t (obviously)… but his hand, where the needle went in, did swell up and get huge and black and horrifying… and after that big, long story he reminded us that he “paid money for that!” And the last thing I remember was  something about a wicked book from elementary school that scarred him for LIFE.

I wonder, next year… could there be a 36-hour project? Or 48? <cringe> Or, how about this — have a 24-hour project every quarter. This one was so much fun, I’m sure people will be eager to participate and attend the next. Here’s hoping that happens soooooon!

24-hour project survivors 2Copyright © 2012 – 2014 · All Rights Reserved · 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.



all day and all of the night: the 24-hour project.

24-Hour Project programsThe week leading up to the 24-Hour Project at Court Square Theater, I only worked one day. It was a teacher workday – we were finishing up first semester grades and planning for the second semester. I had a most productive day. I finished my grading and made a couple weeks’ worth of shiny, pristine, gorgeous lesson plans.

As usual, when I get ahead at work, we get a snowstorm, because the Universe can’t allow me to be fully and confidently prepared for tomorrow. So, we missed school the rest of the week. And each day, I thought, “Surely we’ll go back to school tomorrow,” so I made sure to be AS LAZY AS POSSIBLE that day, staying in bed as late as possible, returning to bed as often as possible, exerting as little effort as HUMANLY POSSIBLE. If I had known, lol, that I’d have a whole week off – man! I would’ve accomplished sooooo much more. I would have cleaned out the fridge, painted my kitchen cabinets, and laundered the linens on all five beds. Instead I ate Cheez-its, drooled on my pillow, and junked up on Dr. Phil. My mind grew as soft as the Playdoh my kids had dropped all over the family room carpet. Meh.

But Friday, January 24, I showered. I dressed. I did the hair and makeup. And I met Brandy at Capital Ale House for a sip before we embarked on the 24-Hour Project. Did we make it the whole 24 hours? Pffffffft. Heck no. For one, we got started a couple hours late. Two, I’d reverted to such an infantile condition that week that I worried what might happen if I wasn’t back in bed with a Binky by 11pm. So… this is a recount of what we actually saw.

When we got to the Capital Ale House that evening, the bartender immediately asked if we were responsible for “those love notes.” Did you see any of those? Someone (and no, it wasn’t us) sent love notes to local businesses. We could tell – based on handwriting and content analysis – that the notes came from a group of people. Creative people. People who could write a love note using the phrase “bloodless corpse” (Midtowne Market’s note). Dragonflies Toys and the Yellow Button also received notes, among other businesses. And Capital Ale House got this one:

Capital Ale HOuse love note frontCapital Ale House love note backWhat a nice ray of sunshine in that dreary week! Ah, Burg. You are so loved!

More evidence of Burg love: the attendance of and participation in that evening’s main event. The 24-Hour Project welcomed 46 acts (more than 200 performers!) who gave of their talents and time to put the Harrisonburg arts community to an “endurance test.” Could a theater stay open for 24 hours straight, managing back-to-back performances, patrons who arrived at all hours, and their own sleep deprivation? Yes. Could artists of all kinds get themselves to the theater and deliver a quality performances at any ungodly hour? Yes. Would patrons be so excited by the variety of performances that they would stay awake and attend the event for 24 full hours? Yes. And this 24-hour period is merely a microcosm of our arts community and the endurance needed to continually promote it and grow it.

We arrived at the theater, got a couple beverages, and found empty seats on the front row. I leafed through the program and read the descriptions of the performers. Some were quite intriguing, like Chris Howdyshell’s invitation to take a shower. Or Akota Chase: “the place you find yourself after drinking just enough to realize you’ve been conversing with the devil.” Or Crab Action, who managed to include “corpse paint,” “space opera,” and “uplifting” in their 40-word description.

First up for us was the JMU Horn Society, who for thirty minutes soothed and entertained us with several French horn pieces… from Handel’s Watermusik to a more playful number, “Hide and Seek.” In fact, JMU was quite involved with the Project, contributing eight performances and more than three hours of entertainment.

JMU Horn Society1 JMU Horn Society 2

Bourbon Barrel Congress hit the stage next, and if you haven’t seen these guys perform, you need to find out when you can and make arrangements. THEY ARE SO GOOD. Ethan Hawkins’ voice made me want to sob during the first number… sadness tinged with a weeeee bit of anger/vengeance/romantic tension: “I want you so bad… I want you so bad.” But then Chris Davis sang. Lordy. “I put some whiskey into my whiskey, I put some heartbreak in my heart” and that whole mournful thang. JUST STOP IT. We were mildly confused when they sang “Nothing Gets You Down Like Your Hometown”… Brandy pointed out that they must be from Staunton. Wamp! Good one!

Bourbon Barrel Congress 1 Bourbon Barrel Congress 2Luke Gibson and friends were… well, hilarious. I laughed continuously for their 15-minute set, even during the “uncomfortable silence” advertised in the program. At times he stood, at times he sat, at times other people came on stage… he joked about the stress of having to perform, his math teacher who sells drugs (it’s a JOKE, people), and delayed sentiments leading to heartache… None of that sounds funny as I read over it now. I guess you had to be there.

Luke Gibson 1 Luke Gibson 2I probably won’t adequately express how, ahem, funny Ivan Christo was, either, during his stand-up routine. He joked about how Virginia is just North Carolina upside down, what if hats could talk, and how some jokes only make sense in Wilmington, and his props (a piece of neon green poster board) added a much-needed element of awkwardness :) Punchlines included “drop your drawers,” “bald beagle,” and “it’s freakin meowt.”

Ivan ChristoDead Professional (aka John Harouff, aka the guy who’s also in Cinnamon Band) is just awesome. He does this thing with drum loops and two vocal tracks and his guitar. He harmonizes with himself. It’s part trickeration and part sheer talent… except it’s no trick: he’s responsible for all the sounds… playing music with his hands and feet and heart and lungs, all by himself.

Dead ProfessionalIt was getting kinda late and my Playdoh mind was wandering. Do musicians ever, during a performance, just get tired of singing? I mean, I love to sing, but I never sing for ninety minutes because I run out of hot water after like thirty. I also sing in the car while my kids cringe in the backseat. And even that’s never longer than thirty minutes or so… and even still I find myself saying, “Man, singing makes me tired!” Maybe I’m just doing it wrong.

The last performance I saw on Friday night was Medicine Calf. They are the loudest two people I’ve ever heard. And I mean that in the best of ways. The drummer played with those giant Q-tip things, and the brushy things – I love that sound. I loved their complicated rhythms and tempos; I heard tones of Pink Floyd and Radiohead at times, and at other times, I’m not exactly sure what happened. But they were phenomenal.

Medicine CalfI got in the car. I was bushed. I thought about the many long hours ahead for the theater staff, volunteers, and performers. I thought how committed and caffeinated they must be. I resolved to return the next day, kids and all. There was too much good stuff; I didn’t want to miss more than I had to.

Growing an arts community isn’t easy. Many people have forgotten that art is a natural part of daily life. It brings depth and meaning to the rest of life. It softens the demands of work. The stress of family. The pinch of finances. Art suspends time, and that suspension is about as good for the soul as anything. After a long day of work, it’s sometimes hard to go back out just to see a couple paintings or a performance. But once there, you are infused with such energy that you want to return soon for more. And that’s why, after a week of Cheez-its and Dr. Phil, I NEEDED to get into that theater for an infusion. The arts cannot be looked upon as extra-curricular, as something one enjoys on a special occasion, or something reserved for those of a particular class. Harrisonburg works hard to provide regular, affordable access to all forms of art, and that work – the constant fundraising and promotion and creation – takes a level of endurance many communities just don’t have. Thankfully, our community does have it.

Stay tuned for the story of Saturday’s performances at Court Square Theater.

Court Square Theater nightCopyright © 2012 – 2014 · All Rights Reserved · 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.

city kids: a guide to summer fun in the burg.

I don’t know about you, but during the school year, I am BUSY. And my kids are busy. The end of the year arrives none too soon, but still shockingly fast, and I often find I’m… unprepared. Come Monday, June 10, I’m going to have that “oh-my-gosh-what-the-heck-am-I-gonna-do-with-the-kids-now” freak out. But this year, I’m determined to be prepared when they ask, “Mom, what are we going to do today?” So I’ve compiled this list — for myself, for you, for everyone who might find themselves in this predicament — of activities, camps and classes offered by Harrisonburg businesses and organizations to keep your kiddos busy allll summer long.

kids on a slip-n-slideSpitzer Art Center Children’s Workshops
Children ages 5 – 10 can sign up for one of many classes offered at the center. Register one week ahead for topics such as collage, drawing, water color, greeting cards, and more.

Larkin Arts Youth Summer Art Program
Kids ages 6 – 14 can attend week-long, 3-hour classes for $85. Classes include papier mache, sculpture, basket making, drawing, collage, photography, food art, painting, and a bunch of others.

larkin arts signArts Council of the Valley and Court Square Theater Summer Art Camp
These 3-hour, Monday to Friday classes cost $80 and include acting, characterization, script writing, choreography, improv, singing, dancing, poetry, filmmaking, comic creation, plus many more. Ages 6 – 15.

You Made It! also offers week-long camps, Monday to Friday for three hours, for $185. Ages 6 and up. Classes include clay, canvas painting, wheel throwing, pottery painting, fused glass, and several others.

kid in treeExplore More Children’s Museum offers 4-day classes, three hours per day, for ages 3 – 5th grade. Topics include LEGO engineering, Jedi training, Culinary Kids, Project Funway, Castles, Crowns and Catapults, Animal Adventures, and Construction Junction, to name a few.

kids hands holding LEGOSBlue Ridge Community College Learning Can Be Fun 
BRCC offers a zillion classes for grades K – 12, including art, music, dance, theater, culture, history, literature, nature, science, technology, sports and outdoor recreation. The classes run Monday – Friday for 3 hours each day, through the end of July.

James Madison University
JMU also boasts a large assortment of camps for summer kids, including baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, football, fencing and field hockey. They also offer band camp, diversity studies, poetry workshops, nonviolence seminars, and STEM classes.

Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation
In addition to spending some time at one of our many city parks, like Purcell, A Dream Come True, or Hillandale, your child can enjoy swimming at Westover Pool (open Monday through Saturday noon to 7pm and Sunday 1pm to 7pm) and a variety of classes. Some of their offerings include guitar, mountain biking, water adventure, adventure sports, rock climbing, rafting/kayaking, a ton of dance classes, archery, fishing, jump rope, skate boarding, and pretty much every major sport.

child in pool child at poolMassanutten Regional Library kicks off its annual Summer Reading Games, but you have to register THIS WEEK to get the free pass to the Massanutten Water Park. Other activities include Baseball Storytimes (Turks read to kids), Crafty Kids, LEGO Club, and Stitch and Knit, plus others.

RMH Wellness Center has full- or half-day camps on a weekly basis, for kids ages 4 – 11. Kids will learn about topics like dinosaurs, medieval times, the ocean, and space, plus participate in activities like swimming, rock climbing, indoor and outdoor games, playground time, crafts, fitness, and sports.

Library signYes, summer is about relaxing and decompressing after a stressful school year, but keeping your kids active will make them healthy, blah blah blah. Really, it’ll make them SLEEP WELL at night :) So sign up for something today! Consider it an investment in the sanity of your household. You’ll all be better for it.

child asleep in carCopyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · 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.

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 · 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.