Monday, March 20, 2017

Tinderbox a.) A box for holding tinder. b.)A dangerous state of affairs

Step right up, one and all, to the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center this coming Thursday at 7:30.
Come be amazed and astounded!
Come see things that will test your sanity, things that will not seem humanly possible!
Come take an emotional roller coaster ride!
I recently chatted via phone with Zak Crouch, aka Captain Darron Von Awesome. Kayti McMyermick, aka Trashique, herded feral cats in the background and occasionally chimed in. Collectively they are Tinderbox Sideshow. They combine sideshow and burlesque to enthrall their audiences across the country. There are other members of the troop who sometimes perform with them. For this show it will be the two of them. They met about eight years ago when Von Awesome was doing sideshow prior to the band at a concert in Lexington, Kentucky. Trashique was at the show. They started performing together from that point on.
“The beautiful thing about being a weirdo is that you tend to bring about other weirdos.” He told me. He hails from a small town in Eastern Kentucky and she from North Georgia. 

Me: I almost came to see you last year until I watched YouTube and the thing you do with the knives jabbing them between your fingers. I thought, I can’t see that!
Von Awesome: Oh sure you can! It’s like riding a roller coaster or going to a scary movie. It’s all fun and games. 

Me: Do you ever miss?
Von Awesome: Occasionally, very rarely these days, but occasionally.
Me: How do your parents feel about what you do? (The mom in me had to ask.)
Von Awesome: Our parents were supportive once we came around and showed them that we could actually make a living at what we do. They’re not crazy about it. They’d prefer, I’m sure, that we have a cubicle job in front of a computer, something a little safer. But they don’t hold us back.
Me: I have a cubicle job and frequently want to stab myself... How would you describe what you do to people who have never heard of you or have never watched one of your acts on YouTube?
Von Awesome: We are a traditional ten in one sideshow like would have been common 60, 70, or 80 years ago that people would see under a big top or on a carnival midway.
Me: Wow, so they really did what you do all those years ago?
Von Awesome: Absolutely. In some very rare places they still do. We’re predominantly sideshow these days, like for this current show. We tailor our shows to the venue. We’ve performed for small children all the way up to rowdy and raucous rock n roll shows.
*A ten in one is ten consecutive acts for the price of one admission, whereas a single-o is like paying to see the fat lady, then paying to see the two-headed goat, etc.
Me: When you walk down the street, do you feel like you stand out?
Von Awesome: In a way, not related to performance though. I’m into body modification which means I’m heavily tattooed and pierced. Kayti is too. We’re kind of black sheep I guess you could say.
Me: Your stage personas are certainly reminiscent of another time. The face paint and costumes are so creative. Did you collaborate on that?
Von Awesome: Absolutely. All the costuming and stage production is a concerted effort to hearken back to those old carnival sideshows, to bring about a very specific feeling.
Me: How do you find the people you work with?
Von Awesome: Typically they come to us and we audition them. We are well-connected with the variety and sideshow performance industry. A good portion of what we do is inspired by acts that were performed throughout the history of sideshow.
Me: How do you train for stuff like that?
Von Awesome: Carefully. The more dangerous things that we do are taught to us by established performers. They’ll teach us how to do things without seriously damaging ourselves. Some of it we’ve trained ourselves through trial and error and injury.
Me: Do you go into some kind of a Zen state?
Von Awesome: It’s more of an adrenaline rush in our world. There’s a whole different headspace you get into when performing and receiving positive feedback. In a way, you could call it trance-like, but mostly it’s about enjoying the audience.
Me: It’s so incredible what you do. I mean, it’s not like a magic act. You really do what you do. There’s no sleight of hand.
Von Awesome: Yes, there’s no illusion. Everything is exactly what we say it is.
Me: It’s amazing how an earlobe can hold a bowling ball.
Von Awesome: I can’t argue with that.
Me: Do you guys do a lot of collagen injections?
Von Awesome: (chuckling) No, just careful conditioning.
Me: The impaling stuff amazes me. Is there blood involved? 

Von Awesome: Rarely, and typically only when things go wrong. In a perfect show where nothing has gone sideways and everything has gone well, there’s not a drop of blood.
Me: I know that if I stapled myself, I would bleed.
  Von Awesome: Yes.
Me: What makes you different from me?
Von Awesome: Conditioning and knowing where to do what we’re doing. It requires a certain knowledge of the human anatomy and what to avoid.
Me: Obviously there is knowledge and art to this; otherwise it would be a mess.
Von Awesome: I cannot agree more. There are those out there that do rely on the shock of seeing blood, but that’s not the show that we do. That’s not the feeling we want.
Me: Are there many who do what you do?
Von Awesome: There is a small network out there. I would put the number of people at maybe 300 at the most. And I would personally only work with about a 100 of them. You know, it’s a small group of us. It’s an art-form that’s had its heyday, and then it kind of went underground. It hasn’t been hugely popular since the 1930s, the 1940s.
Me: I used to love to go to the sideshow tents, but I never saw more than, say, a sword swallower as far as the physical arts. I wonder why it went away?
Von Awesome: Um, a lot of historians in the field, and when I say a lot I mean there’s only about 5 of them, would put the downfall of the sideshows to the prevalence of rides. It’s a lot cheaper to rent a ride for your carnival than it is to pay 6 or 7 people to hike up a tent and perform all day. 
Me: Are you familiar with Johnny Meah?
 Von Awesome: We are familiar with him. The last time we were here we were scheduled to meet him but it didn’t work out. I think we are Facebook friends.
Me: Johnny is a wonderful visual artist as well as a sword swallower. Do you guys do other types of art as well?
Von Awesome: In minor ways. We both have other outlets like painting, music, and writing. But sideshow is what we’ve chosen to make our career.
At this point Trashique chimes in, “Which was a stupid choice!”
Me: But somebody’s gotta do it, right? What do you want people to take away with them after they see you perform?
Von Awesome: This is a show they are unlikely to see again. We’re one of the last traveling sideshows in the world. There are less than a handful of us left. This is an art form that doesn’t really get around much. You’ll be shocked. You’ll be amazed. You’ll be amused. You’ll laugh and you’ll cringe. It’s a whole gamut of fun. We are a show for everyone. Yes, some of the things we do are shocking, but it’s presented in a way that’s palatable. We do this show with a minor change in language for children, for the over 70 crowd. We do birthdays and weddings-so it’s suitable for everyone. It’s a rare day when a sideshow comes to town.
Me: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you guys, but I might hide my eyes through most of it.
Von Awesome: Just leave room between your fingers!
Interview and blog post by Debbie Klein

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ez-Ra - SHAMc's first Artist in Residence

Todd and Kiaralinda met Ezra Huleatt four years ago in Austin where he and Black Taxi played South by Southwest. Now, Ezra is back, but this time, solo.

“He’s our first artist in residence,” Todd said. “We’re excited to have him. He’s one of the most creative front guys I’ve ever met. He’s always thinking ahead, whether it’s music videos, lyrics, photography. He’s an artist with goals in mind and that’s powerful”

You might have already started humming one of the memorable Black Taxi songs, all emanating electric dance beats and catchy lyrics. Black Taxi  still occasionally plays together with a couple different members, but Ez-Ra is excited about a new phase in his career.

Sitting with him outside on a perfect Safety Harbor day, it was easy to chat about life, plans, and his dreams. What came of our conversation renewed my intense respect for artists risking the unknown all for the magic of creating.

“What I’m working on now… it’s a little darker and heavier than what we did with Black Taxi,” Ezra said. “We are going through some trying times and I want to get some of this out there. Purposeful, but not necessarily polished.”

Ezra’s a likable guy. One of those people you can sink into a deep conversation with on life, love or dreams. He takes risks. Just that day he was planning a kite surfing lesson because as he put it, this area has some of the best conditions for it. But “going solo” was what felt like a risk. “I guess it’s is a different animal than having a band. You go outside naked. But it’s refreshing that way. You can’t hide with your voice.”    

(I admitted that I still know the lyrics to most of Black Taxi’s Electroshock Death Grip album.)

“We were singing songs we wrote five years ago. You either get bored or you’ve moved on. It became difficult.”

He released an EP last summer and Toska last month. “I’ve been working on a collaborative album,” he said, to raise funds for Haiti.”

Ezra had worked in a hospital in upstate New York and was on the path to becoming a doctor. He wanted to do something to help people and he imagined, like his brother, that was the way to do it. “I thought about working for Doctors Without Borders,” he said. But he couldn’t imagine spending so many years in school. He had spent time in Haiti in the early 2000s and got involved in schools and orphanages.

The Haitian Peoples Support Project, or HPSP is a non-profit organization,” Ezra explained. “I spent many years working in Haiti teaching English. I saw a lot—it never ends in Haiti. There are always issues. Always needs. People donate to charities like Red Cross but it doesn’t always get where it needs to go. I knew I had to help.”

He found a way to do that through music. Now, his time as SHAMc’s Artist in Residence is dedicated to writing and producing more music and every penny he makes from sales will help the people of Haiti. “Every penny,” he said. “I am releasing a song a week while I’m down here. I’m working to get them mixed and mastered.

“There’s a word,” he continued, “saudade. It’s a word that doesn’t translate but it is the act of wishing what was or could be. I guess when you’re out running with a dog and I get déjà vu and think about the good times you had with a girlfriend. A pleasant feeling, but sad. The songs I’m writing are about that. Nothing is about Haiti but some of the topics reflect on a feeling of loss.”

He’s already released his first song, I Feel Everything. It’s the only love song he plans for the album. He’s written more and will release one a week while here.  “There’s one I write about the whole refugee situation. I was up on the subway platform last week and I imagined their situation and thought about what I could do to help. 

“I want to get into awkward situations and challenge myself. Even if it’s staring someone in the eyes. I want to do something every day that scares me. I don’t have any desire to live out of my van, but I have enough room if I have to do that.

“My goal is to spend a month in a town, get to know the culture. I don’t think music will be my only income. I want to write and create from the road. This month is about figuring it out.”  

Ezra expressed relief at his respite from the New York hustle. “Something about this environment allows me to play. I was over by Guitar Center the other day and saw a soccer game in progress. I haven’t played soccer in years. I joined a pick-up game and had the best time of my life. There’s no chance for that in New York. As a musician, you have to hustle pretty hard. But even in this Artist in Residence Program I want to be a success story. I want to put some good music out, be a trailblazer for others. There are still pressures, but despite that, I’ve been given an emotional and physical space that allows me to breathe deeper. The energy in their house is childlike and I mean that in the best way. Everyone I meet here is very open.”

(Of course, I had to ask how he’d make a living if all proceeds are going to help the Haitian people.)

“I have my website. I write customized songs. You can reach out and tell me what you want and I can write it, sing it, or you can write it and I will put music to it. I have a gift for writing fast.

“I’m still figuring out,” he said. “Still trying to write catchy songs. It’s a tricky line to walk but I am creating every day. I need to get inspired by things. Not just by politics. Take our national parks, they’re so important and I want to visit them all. I want to rock climb. There is always going to be music and writing but I want to get back to some of my roots – use my hands a bit more. I don’t know what my next profession will be but I’m on my way to finding those things. It will be a year for exploring and I want to see what’s out there that excites me.”

Ez-Ra will perform at SHAMc for Third Friday beginning at 7 p.m. He will also perform in a few weeks, prior to leaving. Keep an eye out for the date. And if you like the music he’s creating, buy it. You’ll be helping to encourage the Artist in Residence Program and perhaps, more importantly, a whole country to heal.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Perfect Valentine's gift: a new song by EZ-RA

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

I got to interview Ezra Huleatt the other day. Do you remember Black Taxi? Yes, that's the same Ezra. He'll be performing some of his new music on Friday night at SHAMc, so be sure to stop by for this free concert.

He has a story to tell and I can't wait to share it with all of you, but he's also released a new song and he wanted to get it to you for Valentine's Day, so take a listen and I will go back to forming the blog post that will re-introduce you to this amazing person and what he is doing to make the world a better place.

This song and the ones that follow it are helping people struck by disaster in Haiti. So if you like this, please purchase it. I did!

EZ-RA is the first Artist in Residence at Safety Harbor Art and Music Center and he is here for the whole month, so you'll soon have the opportunity to purchase songs recorded, produced and often conceived right here in Safety Harbor.

All proceeds from this song go directly to the Haitian People's Support Project (HPSP). I'll have more about that organization and what prompted Ezra in this next phase of his life and his music soon. Check back Thursday! 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Time to REVEAL ...

You've dreamt about it. You've crossed your fingers, hoping your favorite songwriters were chosen. You might have already purchased your tickets! You've been waiting long enough! Well, the wait is over. It's time for the SONGFEST REVEAL PARTY! 

As a result of our evening of voting on music (VOM), many of the top ten vote-getters are joining the #SongFestFamily and heading to Safety Harbor April 1st and 2nd. 

Rising Appalachia - credit Holly Apperson

"We have another year of eclectic music planned," says Todd. "The only announcement so far has been Rising Appalachia who played a big event for us last year. We're excited to have them back."

Join us at Crooked Thumb Brewery,
555 10th Ave. S., Safety Harbor, 34695 beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 10. 

From 7 to 8 enjoy live music by Joshua Reilly and at 8, the digital LED truck will reveal all SongFest singer-songwriters!

SongFest 4 tickets are available now for $40 online or $50 plus fees at the gate. 

2015 SongFest Reveal Party - credit Holly Apperson

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It's your lucky day!

The Year of the Rooster is soon upon us and of course, we are encouraging rats, horses, snakes, and all to help us celebrate.

Bring something awesome to the potluck dinner, dress up to represent your Chinese Zodiac or dress with artful Asian flair with the passing year of the monkey or the new year of the rooster in mind. Of course, there will be prizes awarded for best costume.

Come and experience the Extraordinary Garden Fairie's Fashion Show of Over-the-Top Artful Asian Wearables, Young Talented Contortionists, Dancing with Dragons, games and other lucky things. Beer/wine/soda/water for purchase with all proceeds benefiting SHAMc arts programming.