So the government didn’t shut down after all. That should give you even more reason to celebrate America when July 4th rolls around. Okay, so that might not be the best reason, but the lineup of the annual Welcome America celebration’s featured concert should lift your spirits. Curated by Roots drummer/coolest guy in town ?uestlove, the Fourth of July Jam will feature performances from R&B cornerstones Earth Wind & Fire, yacht rock crooner Michael McDonald, fiery newcomer Sara Bareilles, and more. Of course The Roots themselves will be performing, making this a kind of sequel to the previous month’s Roots Picnic. Also slated is a 40th anniversary salute to Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records and the requisite fireworks display. It is the Fourth of July, after all.
The July 4th concert is free, and more information about the entire Welcome America festivities (including its sister celebration, Taste Of Philadelphia), is available at welcomeamerica.com.
"I've been 30 years" in the practice of the traditional African religion, proclaimed one woman during yesterday's Q&A with Robert "Bobby" Shepard, cinematographer and co-director of When the Spirits Dance Mambo. She was visibly moved while telling Shepard that she wanted to thank him, that she never thought she'd see her religion represented so fairly and beautifully on the screen. Shepard smiled broadly, crossing his arms over his heart to receive the praise, and as the commenter finished by saying she wished her mother, who had initiated her into the religion, was still here to see this, Shepard beamed, "She is." As Shepard allowed to another commenter, yes, being in the presence of so many spiritual people had a profound and lasting effect on all working on the movie.
Clearly When the Spirits Dance Mambo goes far beyond the colorful rhythm-driven typical Cuban music and dance documentary. Those elements are there, but shown in their natural place, as part of the religious experience. Anytime you have three practitioners of a religion you get four opinions, and the traditional African sects are no exception. The film does an excellent job of showing each opposing view in its best light. Some priests are thrilled that people travel from around the world to be initiated, paying fees for their instruction. Others say, this makes it nothing more than a commodity in the marketplace — cut to the orisha dolls being sold on the street. One batá priest mutters that everybody in Cuba is a drummer and no, batá drumming is not open to all comers. On one topic all spoke with one voice. They declare that no matter which branch you follow, this is a religion of caring for family and community. Bad actors are not welcome by true believers.
The film has been out long enough to be available on DVD, with both the original Spanish-only and the English subtitled versions in the same box. Seeing the exquisitely researched archive material, centuries-old ink drawings of natives and enslaved people in Cuba flash all too briefly across the big screen tempts the acquisition of a private copy for the chance to linger over the details at leisure. Lovers of modern Cuba will appreciate the shots of churches and shrines that accompany the discussions of how Yoruba religion was preserved by cloaking it in Catholicism. Watching the dancing scenes of the Fiesta in Santiago de Cuba, it is asserted that without the contributions from Africa, there would be no Cuban culture as it is known today.
Shepard is a warm and approachable man, and the winner of numerous awards for his cinematography. In the Q&A he happily shared production details. He and co-director, Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, to whom Shepard humbly gives all praise, arrived in Havana with a script. "After the second day we abandoned the script" and shot whatever the ancestors and the spirits lead them to. They ended with over 50 hours of film which they pared down to 90 minutes, working on it two or three times a week. "When we learned that the film had to debut in Havana in 10 days we looked at each other and said it's done." How often will you encounter that kind of candor from a star in the business? To learn more about the mechanics of shooting a documentary, attend Shepard's workshop tonight at Scribe Video Center.
The Art of Documentary-Style Cinematography, Wed., April 6, 7 p.m., $25, Scribe Video Center, 4212 Chestnut St., Third Floor, 215-222-4201, scribe.org.
Kevin Smith should feel right at home in Philly. He’s amassed a legion of deeply devoted fans — the type of people who have named their dogs Brandi Svenning and Loki, or own a closet full of Silent Bob trench coats. It’s only natural that his Philadelphia fans would be just as loyal to him as they are to, well, everything else.
Before the big guy (actually, not so big anymore, as he’s shed 65 pounds) even took the stage, watching the boozed-up crowd of fan boys and girls was already worth the trip in entertainment value. Batman and Superman tees, replica Mooby’s uniforms a la Clerks 2, “Jay” wigs complete with fake blond tresses, and an assortment of Flyers jerseys littered the 1,300-seat Keswick. As soon as Smith walked on stage, he quipped that the Devils beat the Flyers, and all hell broke loose.
Smith is known for his easy-going sensibilities and everyday-man persona. He sauntered comfortably around the stage wearing a jersey and jean shorts (really, Kev?) and spent the first hour or so discussing his new film, Red State, which is inspired by the so-called villainy inherent in many fundamentalist religious organizations, particularly the Westboro Baptist Church. Smith was never haughty or even particularly fervent about the background of the film and the adventures of filming or promoting — he just talked about what happened along the way. And the things that happen to him along the way are often funny as hell.
After his Red State spiel, he opened up the floor for audience questions. The first came from a guy who asked Smith how his dogs were doing (so enveloped in Smith’s life that he knew the dogs weren’t doing so well). Instead of seeming fazed by such a personal question, Smith launched into an almost-15-minute account of the health of each of his dogs. There was the distinct impression that we were watching two buddies talk over beers. That’s just the kind of guy Smith is.
And then we saw the softer side of the dick- and fart-joke director. An audience member asked Smith to talk about some of the stars he had worked with, and he responded with story after story about the late George Carlin. He mentioned that Carlin was exceptionally detailed in his acting approach, more so than Smith could ever imagine was necessary on his type of movie. He said that Carlin taught him that it was OK for intelligent people to curse, and that above all, the man “didn’t just execute, but elevated everything he did.” Then, Kevin Smith got choked up.
Even with your most gorgeous duds and glamorous 'do, you best prepare to be outdone: The Bingo Verifying Divas are busting out their curliest eyelashes and most extravagant gowns for the AIDS Fund’s 12th annual Black Tie Gay Bingo event, and they're out to out-fabulous everyone in the crowd.
The AIDS Fund is pulling out all the stops in its once-yearly benefit to combat AIDS, enlisting local Philadelphia businesses to donate prizes. If you’re in the market for cocktail gift baskets, accessories, restaurant gift certificates and more, you won’t want to miss the silent auction. The event will also feature cocktails, six rounds of bingo games and a choreographed dance number from the BVDs.
“They are the heart and soul of this event,” say Robb Reichard, AIDS Fund executive director of the all-volunteer troupe, all of whom have sacrificed their time to rehearse and money to acquire their own wardrobe and makeup. “They are an incredible group of guys.”
Besides the entertainment, the AIDS Fund will also give an award for Favorite Straight Person of the Year. Says Robb, “It's a way to recognize a person who has done a significant amount of work in the battle against AIDS."
12th annual Black Tie Gay Bingo, Fri., April 1, 6:30 p.m., $150, Crystal Tea Room, 100 Penn Square East, 215-731-9255, aidsfundphilly.org.
On Sat., March 26 from 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m., the Japanese Mother's Association is throwing a flea market and bazaar at the Church of the Holy Trinity (1904 Walnut St.) that benefits the Japanese Red Cross, a charitable organization that supports victims of the earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan. Besides purchasable goodies, the event will feature a variety of real Japanese kimonos that attendees can try on and take photographs in, and entertainment scheduled throughout the day. Here's the line-up:
Noon-2 p.m.: The W.M.R. Trio's Wataru Niimori performs live with special guests.
2:30 p.m.: Taiwanese dance instructor Ya-Chih Chuang (pictured) performs traditional Chinese folk dance.
3 p.m.: A koto (a traditional Japanese instrument similar to a small wooden harp) performance by Mirai Yasuyama.
For more creative ways to send aid to Japan, check Kaleidoscope in last week's A&E section.
As Will Stone mentions in this week's Agenda section, Lynda Barry will read from her new memoir, Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book, at the Free Library tonight. We caught up with her earlier this week to hear her thoughts on drawing, fake dancing and why we need a good book at a Jiffy Lube.
City Paper: What prompted you to write this follow-up to your first graphic memoir, What It Is?
Lynda Barry: My two books, What It Is and Picture This are siblings. Both look into the question — what is an image. What It Is used writing as a way of exploring that, and Picture This used drawing; those are very tied together – drawing and writing – because they both use what I like to call the original digital devices – your fingers. Both books are trying to understand why we do that.
CP: For example …
LB: Yeah, for instance, when you’re at a meeting, and you’re bored—why do you doodle? Why is it that people want to make things? And why is it that, when we’re little, we can do these without hesitation. Or even when you’re with a kid. Say, you’re generally a grumpy old uncle, but you really dig your little nephew; you’ll dance, sing, and make sculptures, as long as you’re with the kid.
Why is that? Okay, well, it’s not intimidating to be around a little kid, but also I think it is a language that they both can speak. The arts are a kind of language. As far as evolution, why do we keep the arts? I mean, it takes a lot of energy to make art, and what would be the point if it didn’t have any biological function? I think of the arts as the corollary to our immune system and our autonomous nervous system; in the same way that the two systems keep our bodies healthy, an image system makes us want to keep living.
When your hand is moving, it actually improves your experience of time; it becomes less like a cheese grater and more of a Brillo pad, which is still not terrific, but it’s a hell of a lot better.
CP: Who did you imagine reading your book?
LB: I wanted to make a book that is like a kids book. I picture someone looking at this book while sitting in a jiffy lube, waiting for their oil to get changed
CP: But your book encourages being active. Did you see it having more of a function for readers than passing the time?
LB: For sure, I want to make their finger get itchy. I mean when you’re at a jiffy lube, no one is expecting anything; you’re just expecting it to be a drag. I thought It’d be fun to help someone forget how much things sucks at the moment.
|The Low Anthem|
The band began with "Ghost Woman Blues," the opening track off their new album. For this song and others scattered throughout the 17-song show, frontman Ben Knox Miller and company grouped around a single condenser microphone standing at center stage. Accompanied by Miller's guitar and Jocie Adams's clarinet, the four-piece sang in close harmony with remarkably precise pitch for a live show. Next, they spread across the stage, taking up a variety of instruments. Over the course of the performance, every member of the band played multiple instruments; Mat Davidson, for example, covered bass, harmonium, fiddle, clarinet, banjo, and a wood saw played with a violin bow. Like his bandmates, he played them all with such clarity and natural flair that I couldn't have guessed which was "his" instrument.
Despite the variety of instrumentation, however, the show was hampered by a lack of variety in the songs themselves. Almost every one was slow, including songs that were recorded at faster tempos. Lacking real familiarity with each tune, I was at times hard-pressed to tell the difference between them; the concert occasionally dragged and I craved something more upbeat.
Overall pacing aside, though, there were excellent individual songs. Highlights of the concert included "This God Damn House," a song written by Dan Lefkowitz, a former member of the band who opened for them on Friday and later joined them for a song. The song tells the story of a man alone in bed after his lover has left; though she asks him to spend another day there, he grapples with a feeling of suffocation. In this and other songs, the band excelled at producing an atmosphere, both lyrically (the vocals were clear enough to understand, as they always should be but rarely are at shows) and sonically. The harmonium provided a foundation for many of the songs, while the bending of the saw added a ghostly whistling on top.
In one song, Miller asked the audience for help. It wasn't the usual clapping along or singing: he told everyone to call the person next to them and then hold their phones together, both on speaker phone, creating a cricket-like chirping sound. Instead of sounding futuristic, the noise blended with the acoustic instruments onstage, and the audience was drawn into the performance.
|Huey and the Banjo.|
|Crescent Vase, Box and Mug III|
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