Frazier History Museum and Kentucky Opera commemorate end of the Civil War Saturday, Feb 21 2015 

BattleCryOfFreedom-FrazierBy Seiler Smith The Civil War tore the country apart. More than 3 million people fought in the war, and there were more than 500,000 casualties. The country pit family against family and, especially here in Kentucky, brother against brother. … Continue reading

The Healing Place, Heroin and Helping Celebrate Freedom Tuesday, Feb 17 2015 

On Friday, the Healing Place holds its annual Celebrate Freedom Dinner. Laurie Dhue, a former cable TV news anchor who appeared on MSNBC, CNN and Fox, will be there to talk about her personal journey and recovery from addiction.

Laurie Dhue

Laurie Dhue

She will be a guest on my podcast, the Rusty Satellite Show, and I’m looking forward to speaking with her. If you don’t know about the work of The Healing Place, you should. Addiction is not pretty, and ruins more lives than you can imagine. I went to the Celebrate Freedom Dinner a few years ago, when the actress Ashley Judd spoke about her battles with addiction. She didn’t speak that night as an acclaimed actress, but as a recovering, humble addict.

If you’re not aware of how big the problem of addiction is, and how much it’s growing, consider what’s going on at the Healing Place. They’re undergoing a $20 million expansion, the need for services growing due to the heroin epidemic. Yes, the same heroin problem that Kentucky legislators are addressing this session, the one that doesn’t discriminate. The fastest-growing segment of the organization’s needy — 18-25 year-old heroin addicts from Louisville’s East End.

If you’d like to go to Friday’s event, click here for ticket info.

An Op-Ed in the Courier-Journal this week, written by Development Project Manager Laci Comer, illustrates the need:

The Healing Place is needed now more than ever. The heroin epidemic is exploding. Heroin addicts make up 96 percent of those coming in to detox. Our fastest growing population: 18 to 25-year-olds from Louisville’s East End and Oldham County. Heroin is one of the biggest reasons that we are expanding our men’s campus in downtown Louisville —we just can’t keep up with the demand for services.

BBC brewing up some Fat Tuesday festivities Tuesday, Feb 10 2015 

bbcSince 1993, Bluegrass Brewing Company has been throwing one hell of a Mardi Gras party. For many years it was held solely at the St. Matthews location, but the last few years it’s spilled over to the Theater Square BBC, which … Continue reading

‘Mardi Paws’ party will benefit The Arrow Fund on Feb. 15 Sunday, Feb 8 2015 

Photo by Springfield Photography.By Seiler Smith Going to a Mardi Gras party could be one of the best times a person can have. With all the beads, booze and boogying, could a Fat Tuesday trip down Bourbon Street get any better? Well, for animal … Continue reading

Ben Folds Fab at Sold-out Kentucky Center Sunday, Feb 1 2015 

I was pretty sure that Ben Folds was going to put on a memorable show at the Kentucky Center with the Louisville Orchestra.

Before last night’s show, I didn’t really know much about Folds. But I knew he had to be more than a mere pop star to get an invite to play with the Orchestra, and that Whitney Hall doesn’t sell out for just any act. And it was special. More on that in a few graphs.

About mid-week was when I first realized that – A, I had an opportunity to take Paula somewhere special on Saturday and that B, I’d better get tickets. Here’s how that went.  I went to this Business First Breakfast thing where the Orchestra’s Teddy Abrams was more than intriguing, and decided I’d figure out a way to go Saturday night.

I went online to the Kentucky Center web site. Sold Out. Tried StubHub. Zero. Called the member line at Kentucky Center. No tickets together in the whole place. Called my ticket guy, Jeff McLennan, who’d never failed before. Gone to Super Bowl, no Ben Folds tickets. Found a few sellers at Craigslist, but was either too late or seller had changed his mind. My friend John advised me to go down there and find a scalper. No thanks.

BenFoldsCRAltonStrupp394X

PHOTO CREDIT: Alton Strupp

Meanwhile, I had promised Paula, starting Thursday, a surprise for our Saturday night. So about 4:30, during a timeout from watching the U of L-UNC game on TV, I told her about my plan, admitting that this probably wasn’t going to work out. Paula, who doesn’t always share the same cultural wish lists as I do, loves the Orchestra, though she didn’t know who Ben Folds was.

One last chance. Todd from Michigan was in town and had bought two extra tickets for someone who couldn’t make it. He left his number on the Craigslist ad. I called. Left a message. He finally called back, about 5:30, and said he’d sell me the tickets (Row K, good seats) for less than face value. He was going to dinner at Bistro 301 and would meet me in the lobby 30 minutes before showtime.

Thanks to Todd, I’m a hero with Paula and we find our seats. We listened to a few Ben Folds songs on Amazon Prime on the 20-minute drive to the show. I told her about the one song I know, Gracie, and that I only knew about Folds from a stage my son Nick went through at Manual High School. He’d also gotten some play on WFPK radio a few years back when I listened to that station, when he fronted a group called the Ben Folds Five. I liked what I knew, but that wasn’t much.

As for the show — I think even an average musician could sound good playing in front of the Louisville Orchestra. The big, big sound is a mesmerizing experience. But Folds is far better than average, a wizard on the piano, his hands a blur above the keys. He played songs that most of the people around us already knew, and songs he seemed to be making up as he went along. And he played Gracie, about midway through.

At one point, he directed different sections of the orchestra to copy melodies he seemed to whip up on piano. Horns, play this. Woodwinds, try this. Strings, another melody. Then he put them all together. Then he transformed the crowd into another band instrument, coaching us to sing our Aaahs and Laaas at his direction. The result was absolutely beautiful music, audience participation at its best.

There’s this thing about Ben and the phrase “Rock This Bitch.” Check the link to find out, and know that it’s a tribute to Folds’ talents at improvisation and playing to the crowd.

Paula compared Folds favorably to Lyle Lovett.  Great talent, skinny, elegantly dressed, weird hair, and a unique understated delivery of humorous lines. Folds was obviously respected by the musicians, who played as if it wasn’t the first time they’d met.

An example — for a two-song encore, Folds said he’s just play something they knew since they hadn’t planned an encore, tongue in cheek, as he said he was reading from a script that announced exactly the songs for the encore.

You had to be there.

 

 

Butchertown, Ben Sollee Are the Stars of Actors’ “At the Vanishing Point” Saturday, Jan 31 2015 

At The Vanishing Point, currently playing at Actors Theatre, might not be so riveting if it took place in another city, or another neighborhood. But the way it uses Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood as an omnipresent character in the lives of one family puts your mind squarely on Story Avenue.

Or the Fischer’s meatpacking plant, the Oertels brewery, the Kentucky School for the Blind or the Thomas Edison House. All those locations play an integral part in this production. Just as you couldn’t tell a family story about Louisville in 1937 without focusing on the historic flood of that year, the family members who recount their oral histories on stage must anchor their stories to Story Avenue.

At the Vanishing Point Actors Theatre of Louisville, 2015 Photo by Bill Brymer

At the Vanishing Point
Actors Theatre of Louisville, 2015
Photo by Bill Brymer

Each of the six storytellers captures their version of the family story, all of whom are working-class folks who’ve spent most of their lives in Butchertown.

The highlight, for me, was the musical and acting performance of Ben Sollee, the Kentucky-born cellist and composer. Sollee wrote an original score for this production, and remains a presence onstage as the other actors present their stories. I only wished there were more of Sollee’s music in the performance.

The play was written by Naomi Iizuka and directed by Les Waters, who collaborated on this play 11 years ago at the Humana Festival.

During the play’s introduction, Waters promised two more plays set in the local area.

At the Vanishing Point will be performed through Feb. 15 at Actors Theatre. For more information and tickets, click here.

See Larry Muhammad’s “Double V” at Ali Center Feb. 4 Sunday, Jan 25 2015 

It was “the good war.”

That’s how America portrayed its involvement in World War II: a righteous struggle of freedom against tyranny.

FilsonEventPoster1But America in the 1940s had legal restrictions denying its black citizens the vote, and segregated them in rundown neighborhoods, poor schools and low-paying jobs. Black GIs were assigned to building roads and waiting tables at officers clubs. Military hospitals kept black blood separate from white, and white officers treated Nazi prisoners more respectfully than they did black servicemen wearing the uniform of Uncle Sam.

Crusading African-American newspapers exposed these hateful contradictions with their Double V campaign – victory against Hitler overseas and victory against racism at home. They were harassed by the FBI, lost advertisers and got hate mail from bigots. But led by Louisville Defender publisher Frank Stanley, they helped persuade President Harry Truman to integrate the US military.

February 4 at 6 pm a talented ensemble of Louisville actors will perform a riveting docudrama of the period, “DOUBLE V”, in a Black History Month presentation of the Filson Historical Society and Muhammad Ali Center. The play will be preceded by a setup talk from playwright and director Larry Muhammad, a former Courier-Journal reporter who has written about the historical Black Press USA in Columba Journalism Review and Nieman Reports at The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

WHEN: Feb. 4 at 6 pm

WHERE: Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N. 6th St., Louisville

TICKETS: $10 at the door; Free to members of the Filson Historical Society and Muhammad Ali Center

Ali Center to screen MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech for free on Monday Saturday, Jan 17 2015 

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech was given in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.By Seiler Smith Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Monday, Jan. 19, makes a three-day weekend for many. One of the best ways to commemorate the man and honor his legacy is to head over to the Muhammad Ali Center … Continue reading

MAP Louisville makes acceptance possible with fun and … Tupperware? Friday, Jan 16 2015 

dixie3-640x420The fifth annual MAP Louisville fundraiser fights for great causes … all in the name of fun. An acronym for Making Acceptance Possible, MAP will be held this year at the Vernon Club & Lanes on Saturday, Jan. 17, and all … Continue reading

The Brothers Size Brings Powerful Performances Sunday, Jan 11 2015 

The Brothers Size, currently being performed at Actors Theatre, is promoted as a “lyrical tale of brotherly love (that) explores the tension between fear and desire on the elusive road to freedom.”

That is accurate, perhaps, but it doesn’t prepare you for the reality of the play’s raw emotions, street language and battle of wills between two brothers. One brother, Ogun, embodies hard work and the struggle to make a living (he’s an auto mechanic) running a business. His brother Oshoosi is just out of prison, returning home and prevailing upon his brother to help get him back on a path to success. But Ogun’s expectations and Oshoosi’s work ethic conflict, and Oshoosi must also deal with other temptations outside of his brother’s shop.

For 80 minutes, on a bare stage, the brothers explore their roles in life, using the rough and lewd language of the street, accompanied only by an ever-present drum beat. There is only one other character, Elegba, Oshoosi’s cellmate from jail, whose influence is opposite that of Ogun.  He provides Oshoosi with a car, while Ogun pushes his brother to work.

The actors announce their comings and goings and intentions just off stage, then perform them on. Two are shirtless and lean, while Oshoosi wears a wifebeater t-shirt. In the intimate Bingham Theatre, the actors need no props to engage the audience visually.

There’s plenty more to Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s story. It’s not one that I’ll forget soon.

See it at Actors through February 1.

Ben Williamson (drummer) with Ronald Kirk, Che Ayende and Larry Powell in The Brothers Size Actors Theatre of Louisville, 2015 Photo by Bill Brymer

Ben Williamson (drummer) with Ronald Kirk, Che Ayende and Larry Powell in The Brothers Size
Actors Theatre of Louisville, 2015
Photo by Bill Brymer

 

 

 

 

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