“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV, Ep. 20: Peter Holsapple, Sideshow, and Sacred Music

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Saturday show covered a lot of cool things going on in New Orleans over the next few days, including one that started Friday night, two at Café Istanbul, and one that might make your Blue Monday a little less blue. That said, we welcomed:

Mistress Kali of Freaksheaux to Geaux and Tommy Breen of World of Wonders to discussed her third annual event, the Southern Sideshow Hootenanny, which kicked off last night at Café Istanbul and continues through Sunday.

We also welcomed Sean Johnson of Wild Lotus Yoga and co-founder of the 6th Annual New Orleans Sacred Music Festival, which takes over Café Istanbul and other parts of the New Orleans Healing Center on Saturday.

Also finally, legendary singer-songwriter Peter Holsapple discussed a career that includes incredible work in the db’s and New Orleans’ own Continental Drifters as well as collaborations with R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish. Peter Holsapple plays his first solo show in New Orleans in over a decade when he performs Monday night (March 13) at Chickie Wah Wah.

SEGMENT ONE: Mistress Kali and Tommy Breen
Mistress Kali has spent several years in the nation’s sideshow scene, producing shows that feature fire-breathing, sword-swallowing, knife-throwing, human blockhead and other feats of human strength and general craziness. New Orleans has a history of sideshow performer, and the sub-culture has enjoyed an ebb-and-flow kind of existence over the decades but currently seems in ascendance.

Mistress Kali’s been at the forefront of this scene here in New Orleans, producing such regular events as Freaksheaux to Geaux and “Storyville Rising,” but especially her third annual Southern Sideshow Hootenanny, a three-day affair at Café Istanbul. Along with celebrating the great American art form of sideshow, the Hootenanny fosters growth in the community and among individual performers through workshops, panels, peer review, and one-on-one consultations with some of the top performers and producers. It also seeks to educate the general public about sideshow, its history, and traditions.

This year’s event will also serve as a tribute to legendary Ward Hall. Several of the performers will come from the popular “10 in 1” touring sideshow troupe World of Wonders, and so I met with Kali and World of Wonders partner and manager Tommy Breen down at Café Istanbul as they prepared for Friday’s opening.

SEGMENT NO. 2: 6th Annual Sacred Music Festival
So, I had this idea: to conduct a brief interview with Wild Lotus Yoga’s Sean Johnson about the 6th Annual New Orleans Sacred Music Festival, which runs today from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., at the New Orleans Healing Center. (Johnson co-founded the festival along with Sallie Ann Glassman.) And then Johnson would perform a tune from the Wild Lotus Band’s 2014 CD, “Unity.” But the full band wasn’t yet available, and so Johnson did the next best thing, and gathered a about 10 friends in a semi-circle to help lend their voices to a song that Johnson says is tailor-made for a call-and-response engagement with the audience on Saturday.

The New Orleans Sacred Music Festival spans the spectrum of the city’s spiritual communities, with nods towards Western Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Japanese drumming and much more. There also will be rituals, art and altars, crafts, food, prayers, and workshops, according to its Facebook event page. The producers noted that the festival is in its second year without charging an admission fee, thanks to underwriting support from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Call and Response Foundation and Wild Lotus Yoga.

Sean Johnson’s passion for music ranges from a deep appreciation for the transcendental power of rock, Irish folk music, Indian and Sufi devotional music. He’s been leading kirtan for the last seventeen years. His voice is equally influenced by his roots in New Orleans, vocal exploration of his ancestral Irish heritage, as well as study in Indian vocal music and love of the path of bhakti yoga– the yoga of the heart.

Meeting me to discuss the festival was, along with Sean Johnson, Brandon Curran, Marketing Manager and Events Coordinator for The New Orleans Healing Center Brandon oversees all events, services, classes and workshops at The New Orleans Healing Center. He strives to use the community to lead the direction of the various services, events and offerings of the Healing Center.

Here’s our discussion, and their performance, at Wild Lotus Yoga.

SEGMENT THREE: Relevant Link
Last week’s Relevant Link was to a story about a controversy brewing from the appearance of Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman after she recorded, and commented on, a Facebook Live video of herself and her husband, Paul, costuming and riding in the Krewe of Zulu parade on Mardi Gras. In accordance with Zulu costume, this included wearing a form of blackface makeup that’s distinct for Zulu tradition. However, a comment by Paul, and repeated by Ann, drew a fierce backlash on social media, which included an exchange with a recently transplanted bartender from Chicago that led to a Facebook Live exchange all its own in which the two discussed the controversy itself as well as issues surrounding race, privilege and consciousness.

I watched the entire exchange on Facebook, after the fact, and I have to say, it’s a fascinating hour on so many levels. I’m not sure if there are any plans to post the video to an even more public site like YouTube, although anyone connected to the two participants on Facebook can download and upload it accordingly.

And then what caught my eye was a column in the news website, The Lens. The column, titled “Behind the Zulu blackface flap: liberal guilt, clueless outsiders,” contributing writer C.W. Cannon uses his participation in the Krewe du Vieux parade as a way to consider issues of cultural subversion, transgression and expropriation and argue that many people got what Tuennerman did, and said, wrong on many levels. That includes, I should point out, her husband Paul’s key comment, “Throw a little Black Face on you and you lose all your Media Skills” — which, when discussed out of context, is obviously a problematic comment. Cannon writes:

“To me, Paul Tuennerman’s comment is a critique of media, not a critique of blackness. It suggests his awareness that certain forms of expression are so explosive that they can’t be digested at all by national media, with its inability to process the ironies and inversions of carnival expression. It shows his well-founded fear that the frightened and dishonest world of America’s ‘conversation about race’ is likely to cry ‘racism’ whenever it sees an image that might be racist in some other, very different context.”

An objective observer might suggest that Cannon, who I believe is white, can offer this perspective from his own particular vantage point, while others might come to it from another place in which blacks historically have had their intellectual capabilities called into question as one of several forms of oppression and subjugation.

Regardless, Cannon’s column and Facebook Live video exchange between Ann Tuennerman and the bartender offer two fascinating and compelling elements of a dialogue about race, culture and history in New Orleans.

Read the article here.

Oh, and, apparently the Confederate monuments are coming down. What a week!

SEGMENT FOUR: Peter Holsapple flies solo Monday at Chickie Wah Wah
Our next guest could be called a legend you might not have heard of, but you’ve certain heard at least a little bit of his music. Singer-songwriter Peter Holsapple was a founding member of ‘80s indie-rock band the db’s, and later became a founding member of the roots rock band the Continental Drifters that, after setting up in New Orleans, featured Susan Cowsill as well as Vicki Peterson of the Bangles. Along the way, Holsapple served as a sideman with R.E.M., and more recently has performed with Hootie and the Blowfish, both as a keyboardist. The db’s and the Continental Drifters were critically praised bands who never seemed to get the commercial success they deserved, and now, at age 61, Holsapple — who left New Orleans for Durham, N.C., after Hurricane Katrina — is content to focus on his solo efforts. That leads us to his Monday night appearance at Chickie Wah Wah, in which he’ll offer a little overview of his work but also preview some of his most recent solo efforts, including the haunting single, “Don’t Mention the War.”

I spoke with Holsapple by phone while he was still at his home in Durham, where he juggles his projects with his life as a husband and father.

AND IN CLOSING …
Before closing Saturday’s show, I noted that, this is our 20th episode, which means we’ve been doing this for five months. Wow. So, in order to shake things up and maybe even snag a few more ears, we’re going to be moving to Friday afternoon at 12 p.m. That means our show will precede the freakishly popular “Eat, Pray, Fight” hosted by the illegally talented Chris Lane. I should also note our show will soon follow something else that’s pretty cool, so please stay tuned for more news on that front.

It’s been great doing the show on Saturdays, especially to help get folks excited about the show that follows, “La Chancla NOLA” with the very cool Mid-City Martha. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to pop back in and say hi from time to time over the weekend. So farewell, for now, from Saturday, and please tune in to “PopSmart NOLA” at its new time: Fridays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. starting this week!

So that was our show for this week. Stay tuned for info on next Friday’s episode; I’ll give details about later in the week.

I want to remind everyone that if you like what you hear on “PopSmart NOLA,” we’re here every Saturday from 3-4 p.m. on WHIV (102.3 FM). You can listen to the archived, podcast version of the show on my SoundCloud account, “dlsnola.” Also, you can visit the website at popsmartnola.com, and like our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Instagram at “@popsmartnola” and I’m yammering away as always on Twitter at @dlsnola504.

Also, if you like our show, we’d love your support in the form of underwriting; email me at dlsnola@gmail.com for more info.

Our theme music is “Summertime” by Robin Mitchell.

We closed the show with Peter Holsapple’s single, “Don’t Mention the War.”

Thanks again for joining us, y’all. For “PopSmart NOLA,” I’m David Lee Simmons, reminding everyone to keep the intelligent discussion going.

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New Orleans stories dominate top of 21st Century Burlesque’s list for 2015

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Stories about New Orleans burlesque performer Ruby Rage and Chicago performer Jeez Loueez’s experiences at the 7th annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival were the No. 1 and No. 2 most popular articles of 2015 for 21st Century Burlesque magazine.

The popular media outlet published three separate posts on the Ruby Rage controversy, which received heavy media attention in New Orleans as well at both NOLA.com and Fox8. There was the first article breaking the news, and then a response from performer Dirty Martini, followed by a response from New Orleans’ own Bella Blue, who produced the “Blue Book Cabaret” show at Lucky Pierre’s at the center of the Ruby Rage controversy:

If we learn anything from this, it has to be that communication is super, super important. The huge flaw is the actions of the individual speaking for the club online – and I don’t know who that is – but it was really difficult to watch. It seems clear that very little research was done, and people were referenced in their statement without being contacted or consulted. It demonstrated no real knowledge of the art form or the community. And then when whoever was speaking tried to pull it in a different direction – claiming dissatisfaction with Ruby’s performance – well, too late now. If that had been clearly communicated from the beginning we wouldn’t be here now.

Blue cut ties with Lucky Pierre’s, which closed later in 2015. Ruby Rage provided an official statement on the subject as well, which can be read here.

Jeez Loueez, who earlier in the year performed at Kali von Wunderkammer’s Storyville Rising show at Cafe Istanbul, raised several issues — many related to the use of hip-hop and the representation of performers of color — at Rick Delaup’s festival in a lengthy YouTube video. 21st Century Burlesque reported it here. Here’s the video:

Both articles clearly struck a nerve with a national audience and were not confined to New Orleans alone, and illustrated how what happens in the Crescent City’s burlesque scene can speak to larger issues, whether about how body image is perceived among burlesque audiences (and in this case, club management) or about race and burlesque. (I addressed this issue on the eve of both the New Orleans Burlesque Festival and seasonal The Roux: A Spicy Brown Burlesque Festival.)

21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 poll is due out soon. I wonder what compelling stories might emanate from New Orleans in 2016. Stay tuned.

 

Fly Movement Salon offers ground zero for New Orleans’ circus arts training

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The future of New Orleans’ circus arts scene is hanging in the balance — or, maybe more accurately, about 20 feet in the air. Dallas Alexander, a petite 23-year-old with a gymnast’s physique, is grappling with a pair of crimson silk ropes hanging from the ceiling of Cafe Istanbul in the monthly Fly Movement Salon.

Working her way up, spinning lazily around, and working her way back down again, Alexander is literally trying to get the hang of this form of circus arts performance, the aerial silks. They’ve become a mainstay of both circus-themed performances around New Orleans as well as in more conventional burlesque shows such as Rick Delaup’s Bustout Burlesque and Trixie Minx’s Fleur de Tease. And it’s starting to catch on with this younger generation of performers.

Including Alexander, a Biloxi, Miss., native who’s spent the past three years dancing on Bourbon Street but has spent the past two years adding the silk ropes to her pole experience . This Tuesday night marks only her second time performing in front of a Fly Movement Salon audience, which gathers monthly to watch newcomers learn the ropes of the circus scene.

“It’s an extremely laid-back environment. The audience (members), even if you mess up, they don’t notice or they don’t care,” she said. “The fact that we’re participating or we’re trying, or starting somewhere, is a good thing to have.”

She said she only messed up once in this performance, “but apparently nobody noticed, so … .”

There was plenty variety on this evening, which doubled as a little fundraiser for fellow performer Clay Mazing and his work with both his own Emergency Circus and Clowns Without Borders in helping entertain Syrian and Afghan refugees in Europe. Coordinator Liza Rose and fellow producer LadyBEAST were even able to hail Clay Mazing in an iPad for a brief Skype chat with the audience at the end of the evening, from an airport in Europe.

Beforehand, the audience got to enjoy a song Sami Smog plucked on her ukulele, juggling by David Chervony, rope work by Penelope Little, Say Rah performing with a hula hoop, and then a closing duet on the ropes by Liza Rose, the seasoned veteran, and Sarah Stardust. It was all emceed by Alison Logan, the self-proclaimed “Original Classy Broad” and a recent transplant from Chicago who filled in the gaps between performances with silly jokes a few songs (including a hilariously dark turn on the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”). Chervony, perhaps playing to the notion of the evening as a workshop, pretended to keep dropping one red pin, followed by a smirk at the audience before flipping it back into his hands with one foot.

Scanning the stage, an older audience member smiled and observed with a thick Irish accent, “It’s the best reason to come out: watching a bunch of clowns pursuing their dreams.”

The show raised nearly $500, according to Rose.

Learn more about the Fly Movement Salon by visiting its Facebook page.

‘You Don’t Know the Half of It’ fills in the comedy holes at Cafe Istanbul

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“You Don’t Know the Half of it,” created and produced by Cecile Monteyne, continued its seasonal run at a packed Cafe Istanbul on Sunday (Oct. 18) night, and I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. As baffling as it is hilarious, “Half of It” revels in the confusion and chaos of improv comedy made even more confusing by the structure.

As Monteyne, fresh off her critically praised turn in The NOLA Project‘s “Marie Antoinette” explained to the audience, performers are divided into duets with writers providing one of them a makeshift script and the other one forced to play off the written lines with moments of their own. (The stories themselves are divided into two parts, with a different duet assigned to the second “act.”) Too often, gratefully, those improvised moments steer a little too far from the apparent story, and it can take a few leaps for the clued-out performer to get back to the story.

So at any given moment one performer is trying to keep up while the other (hopefully) is trying to help them stay on target. It’s almost impossible not to break character in these moments, and when the do the crowd eats it up.

The writers for this particular evening were Laney Bedford, Breanna Biets, Tucker Keatley and Randy Walker. The actors: Jonathan Greene, Lyndsay Kimball, Eli Timm and Corinne Williams. The improvisers: Valerie Boucvalt, Christopher Kaminstein, Emily Slazer and Mike Yoder. The You Don’t Know house band featured Sam Craft, Alexis Marceneaux, Marc Paradis and Amanda Wuerstlin serving up song parodies tied to each sketch.

If “You Don’t Know the Half of It” does nothing else, it proves just how complicated and difficult improv comedy can be. For those raised on the craziness of TV’s “Whose Line Is it Anyway?”, it’s easy to take it for granted. But watching these performers work both with and against the script provides a new-found appreciation for the craft. That’s why Emily Slazer in particular was such a joy to watch, happily tossing out (and coming back to) such loony culture references as shopping at Sam’s Club to keep up with her partner (Corinne Williams). Christopher Kaminstein was another highlight, working a kind of stoner charm in one sketch and contorting an almost rubbery face in another for laughs. (At times it felt like his partner was one trying to keep up.)

“You Don’t Know the Half of It” will celebrate its fourth anniversary Jan. 17, 2016, at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré. Learn more about the show by following them on Twitter (@thehalfofit) and at Facebook.com/thehalfofit.