Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Spotlight Your Talent 2 Welcomes Entertainment Industry Performers and Networkers at R Bar - July 31

A little over five months ago, Creative Spotlights and The Red Shark Entertainment Inc. threw their first "Spotlight Your Talent" industry mixer, which showcased a variety of up-and-coming musical acts, and allowed artists across all veins of the entertainment industry to meet, socialize, and network.

Tomorrow, July 31, Creative Spotlights and Red Shark are at it again, throwing a second industry party, "Spotlight Your Talent 2". As with many sequels, there are tributes to the original, but there's also an entire new cast of characters, a new venue, and, of course, drink specials.

Spotlight Your Talent 2 kicks off at swanky rock bar, R Bar, at 6pm, and will be hosted by Demetrius Triplet and Tiana Miller, with live performances by Rick Rocker, Gabrielle Sterbenz, Craig Greenberg Band, and Johnny Hobbes ft. Ran Dosis and Circe. Click around these links and you'll see what an incredible line-up is in store for the night.

The use of the word "spotlight" is also no accident as, in addition to spotlighting the talent of these live performers, select attendees will have the opportunity to claim 5 minutes of their own spotlight during an open mic portion of the show. Plus there will be an open casting call by TZ Productions, as well as one area of the bar designated specifically for networking. The aim of the event is to "provide opportunities to build stronger relationships in the entertainment industry."

The best part? It's free, if you're 21+ and RSVP here in advance.

It's Showtime at the Apollo Theater Every Wednesday Evening at "Amateur Night"

Child Star Kai Rivera Performs at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater
Photo Courtesy of Shahar Azran*

Apollo Theater Photo
Courtesy of Shahar Azran
It's almost Wednesday night, and that means it's Showtime at the Apollo! Every Wednesday evening, The Apollo Theater holds its famous Amateur Night, drawing budding performers-- singers, dancers, comedians, and the like-- through it's doors with dreams of discovery. Tomorrow's show, July 30, will be a particularly special Amateur Night, a Top Dog Competition, bringing together the best contestants of the 2014 season thus far, to further compete and potentially continue towards a grand prize of $10,000 cash at a culminating "Super Top Dog" Amateur Night, which will be Wednesday, November 26. On the eve before Thanksgiving, one lucky (and talented) winner will really be bringing home the bacon!

The Apollo Theater's Amateur Night celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, having staged shows nearly every Wednesday since 1934, when Ralph Cooper was Master of Ceremonies. One of the first stars to be discovered was one Ella Fitzgerald, who initially entered as a dancer, but changed her tune to sing instead.

Any individual Amateur Night is only as good as its audience, as performers rely on audience participation and judgment to decide who will pass on to the next round. As each performer gets into his or her act, the audience is asked to cheer or jeer, based on how much they are enjoying the set. If the jeers are overwhelming, the performer risks being literally ousted from the stage by "The Executioner," comedic impressionist (and tap dancer extraordinaire), C.P. Lacey. The only performers who remain safe from the audiences jeers are the "child stars," who are typically introduced in the first half of the show, when audience members are asked not to critique these "stars of tomorrow". Finales for all groups of performers feature an applause meter that measures the audible energy of the audience as they clap and cheer for one performer or another. The finale cheers are then instantly converted into a graphic representation of volume from 0-100, and presented via a giant on-screen stage. The performer with the highest score moves to the next round.

WGINY had the opportunity to attend a recent Amateur Night on Wednesday, July 16, with an international crowd hailing from Japan, France, Australia and other countries, not to mention many native New Yorkers. By 7pm, a huge line had formed outside of the theater that night, despite a sign announcing that the evening was already sold out. Walking through the doors that have welcomed an unprecedented number of legendary stars, many often at the start of their careers, was equally humbling and encouraging. A pre-show DJ warmed up the crowd with soul and hip-hop sounds, as the audience danced in the aisles. Ignorant of curtain calls, the real show actually opened a few minutes before the 7:30pm start time listed on tickets, and within seconds the audience was at a hush.

Capone, the "Gangster of Comedy"
Photo Courtesy of Shahar Azran
Things didn't say silent for long, however, as the aptly named "Set It Off Man," Joe Gray, along with some appearances from The Executioner himself, continued to liven up the crowd with some opening introductions, songs, and impressions. Several entertaining moments passed before I realized that Gray wasn't the show's main MC. That title belonged to the night's wisecracking host,
Capone, who was introduced by Gray. An actor and comedian known as the "Gangster of Comedy," Capone kept the audience on its toes.

As for the performers, there was a healthy dose of competition. The "Stars of Tomorrow" segment featured a talented pool of mostly teenage singers and dancers with incredible potential. Standing out were "Energizers Dance Company," a children's co-ed dance troupe from nearby Hudson Valley, and 15 year old female vocalist, Sydney Arterbridge, who wowed the audience with her rendition of Minnie Riperton's "Loving You," her voice never wavering even as she hit the high note walk-downs.

As Capone introduced the second round, the adult performers' segment, he reminded us how quickly stars can be born at the Apollo. In 2012, a little known metal band named "Unlocking the Truth" graced the stage as an Amateur Night competitor. Two years later, "Unlocking the Truth" had just signed a record deal with Sony and had plans to embark on a North American tour. Capone also did not let us forget how easily a hopeful career could be crushed on the same stage, and we saw this reality unfold as one singer was herded off by the Executioner. As mentioned earlier, at times it really is a mix of not just talent, but luck. The shamed singer actually had a pretty voice, but she chose the wrong song, attempting to replicate one of Whitney Houston's greatest known ballads, "I Will Always Love You," to the chagrin of the majority of the audience.

My personal favorite of the adult competitors was "Energy Dance Company," literally the grown-up counterpart of the proficient child star dancers we had watched earlier. The choreography for both groups was sophisticated and hip, yet there was a real genuineness to these multicultural dance teams which showcased various races and body types, breaking barriers and stereotypes about dancers. Despite my cheering as loud as I could for these guys (and gals), the evening's first-place winner was Jawan Mathis, a male vocalist with a range of several octaves who was unafraid to show off. An audience favorite, Mathis took first-place again at the most recent July 24 competition, and will be one of the contestants at tonight's "Top Dog" show.

Read more about the History of Amateur Night, the blessed Tree of Hope that performers rub for good luck, and the current Crew, including accomplished Musical Director, Onree Gill. Tickets for Amateur Night at the Apollo can be purchased at, and/or discounted tickets are sometimes offered at The Apollo Theater is located at 253 W. 125th Street.

*All photos in this post are courtesy of renowned entertainment and politics photographer, Shahar Azran

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ballet Hispanico and A Palo Seco Flamenco Company Celebrate Spanish and Latin Culture

By Tami Shaloum
Photos by Heather-Ann Schaeffner

Two dance companies showed how rich and how distinct Spanish and Latin cultures are from one another on Wednesday night at Rumsey Playfield. Although often conflated, the two cultures represented by the dancing of A Palo Seco and Ballet Hispanico have their own unique zest. The wild flourishes and intricacies of A Palo Seco’s flamenco was a nice segue way for Ballet Hispanico, a company that aims to explore and preserve Latino culture through dance. The two sets complemented each other well, as A Palo Seco represented a more classic, traditional way of dance and Ballet Hispanico pulled from that Spanish tradition to create something entirely its own, a more contemporary take on classical dance and Hispanic tradition.

A Palo Seco consists of three female dancers and a four-piece band. What I really love about flamenco dancing is how it is not just the body that is used to express the art form, it is also about the live music for the rhythm, the shoes stomping to the beat, and the dancing with fans, skirts, and scarves that add to the aesthetics of the movement. A Palo Seco exemplified everything wonderful about flamenco—the clothing was vibrant, the music dramatic, and the dancers elegant. In fact, the performers were so skilled that the specificity of their movements made their dancing look both precise and improvised all at the same time.

Ballet Hispanico is an exciting company in that they infuse their classic dancing with a lot of other styles and some amazing physical feats. They began their set with an all-male piece that incorporated some acrobatic-like dancing, then went on to perform a piece with salsa and flamenco movements, and finished with some Afro-Latin dance moves. Like A Palo Seco, they wore very bright costumes but in a modern twist, they were neon colors. This was used to great effect during the last piece, which had an EDM-like sound scape. The company also gave a nod to Latin music greats Tito Puente and Celia Cruz, who provided much of the soundtrack to the set, and furthered the company’s cause to celebrate Latin culture.

While the one-night dual performance is over, the good news is that both companies are based in New York City, so you are bound to find them performing somewhere relatively soon. Separate from each other, they would definitely stand up on their own; but together, they were magical. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

80s & 90s Rock Cover Band, "Lavender Steel" Created an Infectious, Nostalgic Dance Party at Shillelagh Tavern.

by Heather K. with contributions from Marissa Strong

80s & 90s Rock Cover Band "Lavender Steel" Performing at Shillelagh Tavern
Photo by Marissa Strong Used With Permission
When my friend invited me to see her personal trainer's new 80s & 90s rock cover band, "Lavender Steel" at Shillelagh Tavern in Astoria last Thursday, I didn't know what to expect. As we first entered the intimate bar and music venue, I was so struck by the loud sound of the band warming up that I almost walked out. I'm so glad I didn't. Within minutes of the start of Lavender Steel's set, rather than fighting the urge to leave, I was fighting the urge to be the first one to spontaneously break out into dance. Several songs in, as singer Barbara Serbes made her way into the audience with her microphone, I knew I could no longer remain seated and it was time to join the dance party that had already begun on the floor.

Lavender Steel touted their "girl power," as the band was fronted by two somewhat alter-egoed female vocalists whose styles and voices complemented each other well. Serbes (also the creator and founder of Female Fitness Force), who went by "B," sported an all-black glam rocker chick getup that accentuated her features, while her counterpart, Collette Mclafferty wore a glimmering lavender dress and had her hair slightly pulled back into a bandana, portraying a hippie/gypsy vibe. The smiles never left their faces, and the energy in the room continued to rise as they belted out rock ballads including Madonna's "Burnin' Up," Pat Benetar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," George Michael's "Faith," Modern English's "Stop the World and Melt With Me," and a random sampling of renditions of other rock, pop, and new wave blockbusters from the 80s & 90s.    

"B" has also been known to have yet another alter ago, that of lead female vocalist, "Myndi Lauper," in 80s cover band, "Weird Science". Starting off with similar roots in a small neighborhood setting, Weird Science gained acclaim and now tours the tri-state area and beyond, often playing in large, outdoor venues. With those roots, it's no wonder that Lavender Steel's performance Thursday night (only their second ever since performing as a band in public) was more like an all out exciting rock concert than the quiet, intimate bar show I had expected. Complete with a range of vocal harmonies and fast-fingered guitar solos, it was like going to see Broadway's "Rock of Ages," but cheaper, more fun, and a whole lot more interactive. Lavender Steel's energy was truly infectious.

Lavender Steel closed out their intended one hour set with Journey's, "Don't Stop Believing," encouraging everyone to stand up and sway their arms. The entire audience obliged, and as the song ended, we were already begging for an encore, chanting "One More Song!" in unison. The band had earlier taken several requests, so I yelled out a suggestion, another Journey favorite, "Separate Ways". The band members smiled, but fittingly went into Whitney Houston's "I Want to Dance With Somebody," as we all laughed and danced. The band then began to clean up and say their goodbyes... until... a few minutes later... I was chatting with Collette, who noted how much she loved singing "Separate Ways". With a microphone still in her hand, she starting mouthing some of the song lyrics jokingly. Without warning, a random audience member then jumped up and starting fiddling on the band's keyboard. After a few notes, the room began to realize that he was playing the introduction to "Separate Ways," and suddenly Lavender Steel was compelled to re-take the stage by this "keyboard bomber". This awesomeness continued for several more songs before finally ending for good, to the dismay of the audience who still wanted more from Lavender Steel.

As the show closed out for real, the owner of Shillelagh Tavern, "Astoria's Best Live Music Venue," informed us that he would be immediately re-booking the band for a Friday or Saturday night slot. Although Lavender Steel is a newly formed band, they've already appeared on a college radio station, Long Island University's 88.1, and I expect to see them booking many more varied venues soon. Whether you're nostalgic for your favorite 80s or 90s tunes, or you're just looking to have a fun night out, you should look no further than Lavender Steel's next show. Follow them on facebook and twitter for updates. The Shillelagh Tavern can also be found on facebook and twitter.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Free Andrew Bird Summerstage Show Is A Rare Treat.

by Heather K.
photos by Katherine Kinkela

Andrew Bird Expressively Bows His Violin.
On Tuesday, Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory band bestowed a rare treat on New York City by playing a free show at Summerstage in Central Park. Setting the stage for Andrew Bird was Luke Temple, whom you may better know as "Here We Go Magic". Temple's laid-back lyrics and pop-Americana vibe were the perfect complement to Andrew Bird's versatile set.

By the time Andrew Bird appeared on stage, Rumsey Playfield was full, having already neared capacity more than thirty minutes before the opening act began. A diversely talented musician known for making his violin sing, and writing sophisticated songs to accompany his violin and other stringed instruments, Bird opened his set with several instrumental solos - first strumming on a ukulele before moving onto his violin, churning out tunes that were suggestive of some of his popular songs such as "Dark Matter".

Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory
With a discography of 20+ albums (LPs, EPs, and live), it's no wonder Andrew Bird has garnered such a large following. He incorporates nearly every mode of music into his repertoire - country, folk, rock, Americana, pop, jazz and bluegrass, to name a few. His songs are often both ironic and intellectual, such as "Plasticities," a song based on a made up word that sounds a lot like "Plastic Cities". As Bird and the Hands of Glory band played "Plasticities" at Summerstage, they stretched out the song with a beautiful, melodic instrumental riff that had the audience captivated in its resonance.

Andrew Bird is also heavily influenced by "The Handsome Family," and played many songs from his latest album, "Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of...", a complication of covers of "Handsome Family" tunes.

Pay close attention to the discography listed on Andrew Bird's official website, because you can click on each album and listen to full-length songs. Wikipedia has an even more comprehensive list. Note curiously that the title of his 2012 album was "Hands of Glory". 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jon Batiste and Stay Human Provided the Perfect Soundtrack to a Summer Afternoon.

By Tami Shaloum 
Photos by Heather K.

Jon Batiste and Stay Human at Summerstage 6.29.14
On any given weekend in New York City, one can hear all kinds of live music played in a bar, concert hall, or some other venue. Fortunately, there are no walls surrounding Rumsey Playfield, where Jon Batiste and Stay Human played a dynamic hybrid of New Orleans jazz, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, and even a little ragtime last Sunday afternoon. Part of the City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage in association with the Blue Note Jazz Festival, the bill began with some funky hip hop and jazz from Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

The band begins with a familiar, relevant tune, "Summertime"
As audience members swayed under the warm sun, Jon Batiste and his insanely talented band, Stay Human, filled Central Park with tunes ranging from the familiar to the original. Beginning with an evocative "Summertime," they definitely won over some fans, especially when saxophonist Eddie Barbash soared in with sultry accompaniment. The band was both really tight—in sync with each other from start to finish—and loose in all the right places, giving the almost two-hour set a playful, experimental feel as they danced around each other, then came together in unison.

Batiste and Ruhumbika getting close with the crowd
Tuba player Ibanda Ruhumbika and percussionist Joe Saylor rounded out the crew perfectly, imparting their expert musicality. Each member was remarkable, but it was Batiste who really stood out, playing the piano and melodica in an improvisational style that showcased both his classical training and jazz sensibilities. His charismatic band leading resulted in a really dynamic show, culminating in a nearly half-hour march through the audience. As they stopped in front of groups of grooving fans, one could see they were clearly having a ball.

More Photos