Rapper interview enlightening


Rapper Chevy Woods

Rapper Chevy Woods


Rap artists might just be my favorite musicians to interview.
That music genre doesn’t get a lot of love on my play list, but the rappers I’ve talked with delight me.
I got to chat with Chevy Woods, a rapper from Pittsburgh who’s part of Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang, on Wednesday afternoon.
Now keep in mind, this is a telephone interview, normally not longer than 10-15 minutes. It’s like a cold sales call. I do my research and always have a list of questions prepared, but I never know what to expect.
With much of rap music filled with expletives and the N-word, one might think an interview might be more of the same.
Nope, every rapper I’ve ever interviewed has been respectful, open and very often funny.
Woods and fellow rapper Kevin Gates, traveling around the country on their “By Any Means Tour,” take the stage at the Lucky Mule Saloon, 1850 S. Clack St., Saturday night.
Woods, born Kevin Woods, grew up in Pittsburgh, in a, shall we say, less advantaged part of town.
“You know how people say there’s only a few ways to get out of somewhere?” he asked. “Pittsburgh’s like that. I can probably count the ways out on one hand.”
Originally, it seemed that his way out would be sports. He played high school ball and attended Robert Morris University as a football recruit.
“It was a time in my life I was trying to make my mom happy,” he said. Woods majored in sociology, but just couldn’t get motivated.
“I only went for a year,” he said. “I found out it just wasn’t for me.”
One day during the summer semester, Chevy told his mom he wasn’t going back.
She might have been disappointed then, but she supports his musical career.
“She’s excited now,” Woods said. “She’s my cheerleader for anything I do.”
In an undated documentary on KeepItTrill.com, Woods said before he left school, he was selling weed from his dorm room.
He made money hustling dope on the street when he was trying to get his music out. It was a chance meeting with Khalifa at a recording studio that put Woods on the rapper’s radar.
“I heard his music, he heard my music and we liked what we heard,” Woods said. The two musicians “shared a little greenery” and the friendship/partnership began. Khalifa urged him to leave the streets behind and devote his time to music.
Woods and Gates started the tour in Houston and played Austin on Wednesday, then San Antonio and Dallas before their show in Abilene.
Touring with Gates isn’t much different from touring with Wiz, Woods said, though the crowd and the mix of people change. He was looking forward to the Austin gig at the Scoot Inn, 1308 E. 4th St.
“The fans are crazy there,” he said. “The people love me.”
Tickets for the Lucky Mule show are $25, plus a $3 service charge. They can be ordered at www.luckymulesaloon.com.
The tour runs through August with shows from Texas to the West Coast and then to the East Coast and down South. Once the tour wraps up, Woods plans to focus on recording an EP, a recording with more than a single, but less than a full album, at the end of August or middle of September.
“The tour makes it hard to put away,” Woods said. “I’m trying to put it together musically. It’s like a storybook, getting people ready for me.”
He’s looking ahead to his first studio album in 2015.
Woods hopes that he offers inspiration as a success story.
“I hope people in my neighborhood see me as another way out,” he said.

Is network TV a dinosaur?

Every year, the Emmy Awards from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, make network TV seem less and less relevant. First it was shows from the premium channels like HBO and Showtime. Then the cable channels like USA Network, SyFy and Bravo TV started producing strong contenders.
The 2014 Emmy nominations on Thursday morning underscored the networks inability to put out strong shows worth spending our precious time watching.
The latest challengers battling for the golden winged statuette come from Netflix, a company that began as a DVD delivery service. But some 15 years later, Netflix is producing some of the most original, well-acted shows out there.
“Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” earned a whopping 25 nominations between them.
Not bad, not bad at all.
Don’t get me wrong, some network shows are scattered among the nominations, with “The Big Bang Theory” (7) and “Modern Family” (10) garnering the most. Other contenders include “Mike & Molly,” “Mom,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Homeland,” “Scandal” and “The Good Wife” earning at least one each.
I believe that competing with cable, premium and online networks are responsible for the continuing decline of network programming.
Anymore, a network show might get 13 episodes to prove its value to the audience. But way too many don’t get that many episodes.
There have been shows canceled after a single episode. I’d almost rather it be that way.
I really dislike watching 6, 8 or even 12 episodes and getting attached to the characters, only to have the show canceled.
My tendency these days is to DVR a number of episodes and wait to hear if the show received renewal status, before investing my time in it.
With “Orange is the New Black,” I waited for two seasons and binge watched them over a couple of weekends. Thankfully, Netflix and Hulu Plus offer that option.
Next on my list is “House of Cards” and maybe “Game of Thrones,” with its 19 Emmy nominations. They should give me hours of episodes to watch.
How about y’all? What shows do you consider must-see?

‘Bonnie and Clyde’ brings love story and gangsters to life


I have to admit it. I was skeptical.

The summer musical at The Paramount Theater delivers year after year after year.

But a musical based on Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow? Really? Really

I attended the final dress rehearsal Thursday night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The well-written songs, great voices and a compelling love story in “Bonnie and Clyde” come together to create a play I wasn’t expecting, given the source story.

I should have known better, with Barry Smoot as director.

Barry’s view of the world is decidedly unique. He never goes for the easy or traditional.

Anyone who’s ever attended the 24fps Short Film Festival has seen his choices of films, which are often quirky, hard to watch or oddly humorous, but always makes one think.

The casting of Annie Merritt and Will McInerney in the title was briliant. They presents the audience with a charismatic twosome that almost makes you forget they are criminals. Almost. Gunplay and poor choices remind the audience about the path the notorious couple beat through the country.

Merritt and McInerny came across as two people truly in love. That may be their acting skills or it may be the fact that they are a real-life couple. Whatever the reason, it works.

Hilary Compton and Rob Davidson took on the roles of Blanche and Buck Barrow, Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law.

It’s so nice to see Hilary back on stage. I remember her performances while studying theatre at McMurry University. She’s even better now than she was then. I particularly liked her solo number, “That’s What You Call a Dream.” I felt her pain and her love for Buck.

Davidson brought authenticity to the role of the man who loves his brother no matter what, but who also wants to please his wife.

Danny Simms plays Preacher – you might remember Simms as Scrooge in “A Texas Christmas Carol” in December at the Paramount. That was his return to stage after a 35-year absence.

I hope to see him in front of the footlights more frequently. I loved his two numbers, “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and “Made in America.” The man just put his all into it and gave me goosebumps.

It was fun to see familiar faces in some of the other roles, including Charlie Hukill and Mary Glover as Pa and Ma Barrow, Paige Sprouls as Emma Parker, Mike Stephens as Capt. Hamer and Betty Hukill as Gov. Ferguson (who was the first woman governor in Texas).


A number of the songs stuck with me (earworm anyone?) including Clyde’s “Raise a Little Hell,” Clyde’s and Buck’s “When I Drive” and “Picture Show” performed by Bonnie and Clyde, as well as Young Bonnie (Rylee Davidson) and Young Clyde (Jake Aldridge). The two youngsters opened the show with the jazzy number and performed it at different points throughout the play.

I have to mention the set. Charlie Hukill designed it and it was built with wood from an old barn, giving it a weathered and worn look that reflects the era. A set of images projected onto the wooden wall changes the set immediately. It’s fantastic.

So was the band. They spent the entire performance behind one of the wooden walls and the music that accompanied the show is as important as the story.

The Paramount only produces one musical during the year, with just three performances. Make time to see it this weekend. It’s worth it.





Metal band brings acoustic concert to Abilene

Let me say this right up front.
I am not a huge heavy metal fan. In fact, I’m not really a fan of metal, heavy or otherwise.
So when I heard Sevendust, an alternative metal band from Atlanta, had a concert scheduled in Abilene Wednesday night, I wasn’t particularly excited.
I put on my earphones and went online to familiarize myself with their music. The first song I listened to just about blew my ears off at the beginning.
But then, I found out it wasn’t an electric concert, instead featuring music from Sevendust’s acoustic album, “Time Travelers & Bonfires.”
I listened to the album and really liked what I heard. Strong songs, good music and lyrics — nice stuff.
I got to chat with John Connolly, the former drummer who handles guitar and vocals for the band, in a phone interview.
Why do an acoustic album?
“We did one years and years back and had such a good time doing it,” Connolly said. In 2004, they recorded “Southside Double-Wide,” a live acoustic album. The band decided it was time for another. “We finished it in three weeks.”
When touring for “Southside,” they only played 14 gigs.
“This new album gives us the opportunity to take what we’d done years and years ago and take it to the U.S.,” Connolly said.
He said when his mom played “Time Travelers,” she told him, “Finally an album I like.”
Connolly said there’s a totally different vibe to the acoustic show.
“We get to play a little longer,” he said. “It’s not as physical and it’s more vocal.”
The tour began at the beginning of April and will continue through October.
The band’s attracted new fans with the acoustic gig. He said there are a handful of die-hard metal fans that aren’t happy, but most fans are “really diggin’ it.”
This tour is just a little weird, according to Connolly.
“There’s no other band touring with us, so we’re taking all the pressure,” he said. The band is also seeing a lot more walk up ticket buyers, who buy their tickets at the door the night of the concert.
They’ll probably see more of the same in Abilene. This town is notorious for not buying tickets in advance.
Connolly realized he wanted to play music when he opened his first KISS album.
“I thought, ‘That’s amazing; I want to do that,” he said.
He played the drums for years before switching to guitar in 1994 when he joined Sevendust. He doesn’t regret the switch.
“I just play drums on the guitar. It’s more rhythmic,” Connolly said. Most guitar players want to move as little as possible, but not this guy. “I try to make it as difficult as possible.”
Catch Sevendust at the Lucky Mule Saloon, 1850 S. Clack St. at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $20, plus a $2.75 fee. Visit www.luckymulesaloon.com to purchase tickets.


Good things come in small packages

I got a sneak peek at the art for the silent auction at The Center for Contemporary Art’s spring fundraiser that takes place Thursday.

Member artists were given 5-by-7-inch canvases and asked to paint something floral- or fiesta-ish, keeping with the theme, ¡Fiesta de Arte!

And what a fine job they did.

Nearly three dozen little pieces of art show the diversity and talent of local artists. There are even student works.

Debbie Manns, the gallery manager, took time away from her preparations for the big party to show off the vibrant paintings. She credited board of directors’ member Julie Denny for coming up with the idea.

Ruth Jackson’s piece is a departure from her usual style and it just pops off the canvas. Katy Presswood did three paintings that could be purchased together and hung side-by-side on anyone’s wall.

Anthony Brown mixed paint and a photograph. Mary K. Huff painted all the way around the edges of her fun, colorful pieces.

The bidding will start at $50 and that’s a heck of a bargain.

The silent auction also provides the opportunity to have the first shot at the piñata, which holds a certificate for dinner for two at Perini’s and a night at the guest house there.

Let’s hear a cheer for the artists who gave of their time and talent to produce these little beauties.

Sally Struthers, Joe Bonamassa and audience etiquette

Last week I saw two shows at the Abilene Civic Center — “Hello, Dolly!” and Joe Bonamassa.
Very different, yet both entertaining shows. More on that later.
The thing they shared in common, besides taking place in the auditorium, was the rudeness of the audiences.
People obviously didn’t care what time the musical and concert began. They felt it was their right to show up late, then step on feet, block the views of people who were polite enough to be in their seats on time and just overall cause a ruckus.
And this wasn’t just two or three people. It was dozens and dozens.
These lollygaggers would open the doors into the auditorium and stand there talking, disturbing the performances as if they were the only ones who mattered.
Then, at the Joe Bonamassa show, near the end of his 45-minute acoustic set, the guitarist told the crowd he’d play one more song, take a 15-minute break, then play a 90-minute electric set.
As he and the band started playing, dozens of people all over auditorium got up and headed for the doors, once again, stepping on feet and blocking people’s views, with nary an “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me.”
I’m not sure if they couldn’t wait to go to the restroom or they needed nicotine stat, but they missed an amazing number.
At “Hello, Dolly!” I sat in the nosebleed section and could see nearly the whole auditorium. During intermission, the lights flash to let people in the lobby know it’s time to return to their seats.
Once again, people showed complete disregard for their fellow audience members, and even worse, for the actors onstage, as ticket holders rolled in well into the first number of the second act. I was embarrassed for Abilene.
Enough kvetching.
The cast of “Hello, Dolly!” presented a lively and fun show. Sally Struthers had such a good time playing Dolly Levi it was clear to the entire audience. There was a moment in Act 2 when Dolly and Horace are eating dinner at Harmonia Gardens and she offers to clip his wings. Struthers seemed to be overcome by the giggles and the audience loved it.
She broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the crowd more than once. It felt genuine and intimate, even from the very back of the auditorium.
And then there was Joe Bonamassa.
I can say, without hesitation that his concert ranks right up at the top of my list of best concerts ever. Bonamassa’s neck-and-neck with the Eagles, on their Hell Freezes Over Tour, when I saw them at the Rose Bowl, with Sheryl Crow as the opening act.
But he is undoubtedly the best guitarist I’ve ever seen.
When he came out all by himself for an encore after more than two hours of music, Bonamassa did such amazing things with his guitar, I swear I left my body and floated above the crowd. It was transcendental and incredibly moving. And when the musician from both the acoustic and electric set joined him, it was magic.
Whether he was soloing or had the band playing with him, there was never a false note, never a moment that left me unmoved.
Speaking of moving, I am convinced I have an inner musician. Like the guys up on the stage, I had a toe tapping or a knee popping or my head bobbing throughout the entire show. It amazed me at how many people were able to sit perfectly still with that music playing.
If not for the idiots taking flash photographs, blocking my view and stepping on my toes, it would have been a perfect evening.
Thank you, Joe and Sally, for great performances.


Local folks miss a great opportunity

Oh, I do love spring, even if it only lasts about 92 hours here in West Texas.

The trees are leafing out and I’ve seen pear trees in full bloom. Everything seems softer and brighter at the same time.

I’ve discovered the BEST way to kick off spring in Abilene: Outlaws & Legends Music Fest.
I spent most of Friday and Saturday sitting in a lawn chair listening to some awesome music, writing up reviews on an iPad and posting them on the Reporter-News website. I posted videos on FB and tweeted from Twitter. It was a blast.

We met a lot of people at the festival, but not a single one was from Abilene or even the Big Country.

There were folks from Fort Worth and San Antonio, Lubbock and Amarillo. According to founder Mark Powell, the crowds included people from California, Oregon, Nevada, New York, Illinois, even Denmark and England.

But Texas music fans in Abilene couldn’t make the short drive to the festival.

I was at the Abilene dog park on Tuesday and one young woman said her dad offered tickets, but she didn’t want to drive way out there.

The drive really is short. The Back Porch of Texas is within Abilene city limits, less than 2 miles north of I-20. Disabilities Resources, Inc. is further than the Back Porch.

What gives, Abilene?

I know of a few people from Abilene who were there — a number of my colleagues from ARN who were covering it in one way or another — and three friends.

I’ll give you the fact that Outlaws & Legends is a fairly new event and this is only the second year at its new permanent home at the Back Porch of Texas.

Although Texas Monthly, Texas Highways, and Southwest Airlines Spirit magazines all have featured the festival in their publications.

People all over Texas and across the United States know about it and make the long trek to Abilene, I just can’t figure out why there aren’t more locals enjoying the entertainment.

Tickets, if bought early, are $35, then they go up to $45 three months before the event. But even the $65 at the gate is cheap. You couldn’t see this many musicians for that price at SXSW or many other festivals.

The musicians/bands included Leon Russell, Robert Earl Keen, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Gary P. Nunn, Cooder Graw, Tommy Alvarez, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, and Mark Powell and Lariat. This is good stuff.

It wasn’t just my imagination or where I was sitting, either. Powell said far more tickets are sold to out-of-towners

Now that the festival is over for this year, you have lots and lots of time to make plans to attend the 2015 event, which most likely will be March 27, 28 and 29.

Put it on your calendar!

It’s all about the interview and interactions

How many people can say they really love their job?
Like it, yes, but love it? Not so many.
Of course, two very important things make my job a joy.
The people in Abilene and covering arts and entertainment mean I have fun every day. And I laugh. A lot.
I get paid to go to plays and concerts and art exhibits. How great is that?
Sometimes I feel sorry for the reporters in the cubicles close to mine when I do phone interviews…
I try to keep my decibel level down, so as not to disturb anyone else. But I interview so many funny, interesting entertainers, along with normal, everyday folks; sometimes it gets way from me.
On Monday, I interviewed Allen Say, the children’s book author/artist (I say artist rather than illustrator because each of his pages is a work of art) whose exhibit opened Thursday at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature.
Calling and talking to someone on the phone is more difficult than a face-to-face interview, where I can read expressions and body language.
But Mr. Say and I ended up talking for almost 45 minutes and we both laughed and chatted as if we’d been friends for years.
When I interviewed Crystal Gayle, I was told I had 15 minutes. I think we ended up talking for 30.
I owe my gratitude to the people who open themselves up to me, who share their memories and feelings. It’s an incredible honor that is appreciated whole-heartedly.
My favorite part of any interview is asking a question and having the interviewee say, “That’s a great question. Nobody’s ever asked me that.”
My job is to take what these people tell me and mix it with their background information and the things they produce and turn that into an article. I want to tell their stories, to do them justice, to touch our readers.
I’m interviewing Sally Struthers on Friday. She’s playing Dolly Levi in “Hello Dolly!” at the Abilene Civic Center on April 3. I’m working out my questions for her today…
Talking to a celebrity can be intimidating. I’ve interviewed Tim Curry, Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kermit and Miss Piggy, among others.
Miss Piggy was a bit daunting, but mostly they are just real people who laugh and talk and share.
So I offer my appreciation to anyone I’ve ever interviewed. You’ve played a big part in my job satisfaction and the smile I wear every day.
Thank you.

Places to go and things to do in Abilene

I recently read an article on the 35 things to do in Austin before you die. Most of them sounded fun and I’ve even done a couple.

It made me think of the Top 10 Things Ya Gotta Do in Abilene list that was created by the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau. That list includes feeding the giraffes at the Abilene Zoo, visiting The Grace Museum and Frontier Texas! and eating a juicy rib-eye steak. All 10 are worthy activities.

Nanci Liles, executive director of the ACVB, said the bureau has gotten good feedback on the campaign since it was launched in November 2006.

“The campaign was created to have a 15-second elevator speech about Abilene and what there is to do,” Liles said. “We have them in all the prominent places, like the back of a bathroom stall,” she added with a laugh.

It’s a good list, but I can think of a few things to add to it.

Visit the prairie dogs at Red Bud Park. The cute little rodents scampering and yipping and ducking into their warrens are fun and funny to watch. Word of warning, if you bring your dog, keep him or her on a short leash. The wall around the enclosure isn’t very tall.

How about a visit to Play Faire Park, the oldest continually operating miniature golf course in the state of Texas? Play Faire also offers live music most weekend nights for free with the purchase of a golf game.

Since the list from ACVB includes Buffalo Gap Historic Village, which isn’t technically in Abilene, how about taking a gander at the giant armadillo parked outside Perini Ranch Steak House. And since you’re there anyway, grab a bite to eat. I suggest the prime rib, the green chile hominy and the bread pudding.

If you like thrift shopping or antiquing, Abilene is home to a number of antique shops and thrift stores. Butternut and South 1st streets both feature a number of these types of places, as well as other locations around town.

Visit the Hickory Street Café to eat the famous chicken salad with grapes and cashews served with the equally famous zucchini bread.

Watch a real, live rodeo during the West Texas Fair & Rodeo (Sept. 4-13), with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo at the fair taking place Sept. 9-13. The Western Heritage Classic occupies the Taylor County Expo Center from May 8-10. WHC includes a ranch rodeo and the Ranch Horse Association of America’s National Finals.

The WHC also includes a chuck wagon cook-off with cowboy cooks from all over the country. Anybody can purchase a meal of chicken-fried steak, potatoes, beans, bread and dessert. Done right, chicken-fried steak is sublime.

Those are just a few things to consider. By the way, the other six items on the ACVB are: Catch a star at the Paramount Theatre; See artists in action at The Center for Contemporary Arts; Book time for the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature; Shop, shop, shop ‘til you drop; and Review WWII at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum.

Now you’ve got 17 things to do in Abilene, so no more squawking about nothing going on.

Got more ideas for activities in Abilene? Send me your suggestions to janet.vanvleet@reporternews.com. I’ll add them to the list.


Ready for a very interesting show?

“Damage Control” by Anthony Huff

“Damage Control” by Anthony Huff

Ricky Nelson once sang, “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

I believe that’s the mark of a really good artist. Someone who creates art that expresses himself, rather than trying to fit into any niche or preconceived notions.

Anthony Huff is one of those artists.

His “A Leo H” exhibit is hanging in The Center for Contemporary Arts downtown.

It’s a very interesting show. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean it makes me think. It makes me take a closer look and wonder what led to this image, this sculpture, this moment.

Anthony puts his distinctive spin on his mixed-media art. He incorporates found items, magazines, books, paper and oils, and whatever else takes his fancy. He’s been known to take things out of trash piles.

Layers fascinate him, like the paint on the window frames or doors of an old house. I relate to that. I’ve stripped down painted furniture or doors and found a rainbow beneath the surface.

It’s almost like going on a paleontology or archeology dig, going deeper and deeper to see what you find.

Whether he’s layering paper or paint or social commentary, there is so much to see in each of his pieces. I found myself returning over and over to look again.

His “GD-HD” series #1-#4 feature photographs of his wife, Mary K Huff, a fabulous artist herself, along the edges of the four pieces.

“She hates that. I laugh every time I see them,” he said with a laugh. “She was kind of giving me the stink eye.”

Many of the pieces in this show include cartoonish drawings in the center. While these are new to the Abilene audience, Anthony said he used to do a lot of drawing when he and Mary K lived in New York after college graduation.

“I’m always making fun of thing like politics or religion,” he said.

Even his sculptures are layered, with paper on wood that’s been gone over with paint or stain. Some of his works include photos of himself and paper “money.”

Now, you can ask him what they all mean at the 5:30-7:30 p.m. reception on March 7 at the gallery.

But you probably won’t get an answer.

“A lot of it is personal stuff,” Anthony said. “It won’t matter to the viewer, but it matters to me.”

But that’s OK. That’s as it should be. So much of contemporary art is open to conjecture. Nobody sees the same thing. The very nature of it is subjective.

The ultimate question is: Do you like it? If so, you can buy it and take it home. If you don’t, you can walk by and forget about it.