Category Archives: Entertainment

Dylan Connor Sings For Syria

Eighteen months ago, “06880″ profiled Dylan Connor.

Eight years earlier, singing at Southport Brewing Company’s karaoke night, the Westport native met a Syrian woman named Reem. She wouldn’t give him her number, or take his.

Desperate to talk, he gave her a CD of his music. She was impressed that an American sang anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War songs.

Dylan Connor

Dylan Connor

Over a long period of time, they fell in love. Her family finally granted her permission to be married. Dylan and Reem had a daughter, Fayrouz.

Traveling to Syria — a country he had known little about — Dylan was overwhelmed by its history, beauty, food, sights and people.

He wrote a song about it. After the revolution began — and seeing horrific photos and videos of protesters being shot — Dylan wrote more songs, and posted them to YouTube. They were played on Al Aribiya. Syrians were moved that Americans cared.

If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.

Dylan organized and played at benefits in 7 states. He has helped raise over $1 million for Syrian aid.

Now, in 2014, Dylan is still singing about, and trying to help, the country he has grown to love.

On January 14 he’ll release a CD called “Blood Like Fire (Songs for Syria).” Available worldwide on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby and more, it chronicles the Syrian crisis. He sings in both Arabic and English.

Each song was written at a crucial moment in the nation’s struggles, as seen through the lens of Dylan’s family members on the ground.

The cover of "Blood Like Fire."

The cover of “Blood Like Fire.”

All proceeds will benefit the Karam Foundation’s Camp Zeitouna, which brings educational programs to displaced Syrian children. Dylan has been invited on their summer mission to Amman, Jordan, where he will provide arts programs to kids.

On Friday, January 17 (7 p.m.), Dylan celebrates the CD release with a show at FTC Stage One. His backing band includes very talented Westporters Merritt Jacob, Mark Mollica, Joe Izzo and Dan Asher.

Then Dylan heads off for performances in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego.

His Syrian in-laws have lived with Dylan and Reem for nearly 3 years. Their New Year’s wish is to be back in their country — a free country — next year. Those are high hopes.

In 2013 Dylan helped some family members leave Syria for safer pastures. It was, he says, “intense but satisfying work.”

He also collected clothes, so Syrian children can stay warm this winter. They are, he notes, “literally freezing to death.”

Life is brutal in Syria. Many Americans are still only dimly aware of the conflict. Through songs, concerts — and relentless activism — Dylan Connor is doing what he can to change all that.

If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.

Hall And Oates: Westport Went For That

Most people, upon hearing that Hall and Oates will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in April, think “She’s Gone.” “Rich Girl.” “Private Eyes.”

Westporters of a certain age think, “#$%^&*!

The duo — who for some reason were wildly popular from the late 1970s through the mid-’80s — are part of the lore of Westport concerts.

There is only one difference between Hall and Oates and the  Doors, Cream, Yardbirds and many others (besides talent).

Hall and Oates never actually played in Westport.

It was perhaps our town’s greatest hoax.

Hall and Oates, back in the day.

Hall and Oates, back in the day.

According to the Norwalk Hour of July 10, 1985, “The surprise the town’s 150th Birthday Committee had planned for Sunday’s celebration at the Inn at Longshore was apparently on the committee itself.”

First Selectman Bill Seiden’s office said that “a person claiming to represent the rock group Hall and Oates was an impostor.”

The paper said, “Almost 4,000 people crowded Longshore Park on Sunday, many in anticipation of the pop stars performing at the town’s birthday party. Tickets were $20 per person.”

Someone “purporting to be a legitimate representative of Hall and Oates” had contacted the Birthday Committee and “offered the services of sound, stage and lighting equipment for the birthday party.”

There was one stipulation: no media publicity.

Ahem.

The Inn at Longshore would have been a great spot for a Hall and Oates concert.

The Inn at Longshore would have been a great spot for a Hall and Oates concert.

On the big day, committee members fielded several phone calls, saying the van carrying equipment had broken down on I-95 in New York State. However, the group would still make the gig.

There had been no written contract. “It was all verbal and it was all done in very good faith,” said Al Binford, administrative assistant for public information.

Double ahem.

Westporters waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Eventually, Staples student Cary Pierce’s band played. Then everyone went home. Hall and Oates-less.

No legal action was planned, the Hour said. $10 refunds were offered to those people “with tickets in hand.”

Hall and Oates never made it to Westport. But now they’re in a better place: Cleveland. At least, for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Anyway, if you were one of those who sat at Longshore waiting for hours for Hall and Oates to appear — or even if you weren’t — here’s what you didn’t see:

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

All Candlelight, All The Time

The Candlelight Concert is the Staples music department’s gift to the town.

And the Staples media department’s gift is to play those concerts over WWPT-FM (90.3), during the holiday season.

From now through the end of this week, “Wrecker Radio” is presenting every Candlelight Concert, from 2001 through this year’s very rare show. (Due to snow, only one concert was performed.)

Audio production instructor Jim Honeycutt recorded the 1st show 12 years ago, with help from student Robert Anstett. This year, Alex Fasciolo helped out.

Click here to listen to the livestream of this special holiday gift.

Candlelight Collage 2013

Jose Feliciano: Far More Than ‘Feliz Navidad’

“Feliz Navidad” — the jingly-jangly, ever-popular holiday tune — is the 1st thing most people associate with Jose Feliciano.

The Puerto Rican-born guitarist/singer/composer — and longtime Weston resident — has done much more, of course. He produced a great version of “Light My Fire,” played for the pope, and performed the 1st-ever non-traditional version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a sports event. (The 1968 World Series — and though it was controversial at the time, it set the stage for all the Whitney Houstons who followed.)

Feliciano is more than a 1-trick pony when it comes to Christmas songs, too. Check out this beautiful “Cancion de Navidad.” He accompanies Silvio Rodriguez on guitar. (Click on the “Playlist” on the upper left corner of the YouTube video for Jose’se song.)


(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

Thanks, Jose. After listening to this, there’s only 1 thing left to say:

Feliz Navidad!

“A Christmas Carol” Comes To (Radio) Life Today

When NBC presented “The Sound of Music” — the 1st live network television musical since 1959 — earlier this month, the ratings gangbuster boasted a Westport connection.

Former Staples Player Gina Rattan served as associate director.

Today (Thursday, December 19, 1 p.m.), an entire cast of Players participates in another live performance: “A Christmas Carol.”

This one’s on radio. And while the audience is a bit smaller — WWPT-FM 90.3 is the Staples radio station, though it is livestreamed worldwide — the challenges are the same as with TV. When you’re live, you get no second chances. The moment you screw up, everyone knows.

Rehearsing "A Christmas Carol," in front of the microphones.

Rehearsing “A Christmas Carol,” in front of the microphones.

The show is a combined project of David Roth’s Theater 3 and Jim Honeycutt’s Audio Production classes.

The instructors have collaborated before. In 2009, “A Christmas Carol” took 1st place at the Drury Awards — the highest honor in high school radio. Two years later, “Dracula” earned 2 Druries.

Roth and Honeycutt are using the original radio script from the 1930s — the one for Orson Welles and Mercury Theatre

Live music will be performed by 2 quartets of Orphenians.

Even the sound effects will be live: footsteps on gravel, doors opening, and wind (there’s a wind machine).

Students work on a wide variety of sound effects.

Students work on a wide variety of sound effects.

Roth likes live radio theater. “The challenge to my actors is to convey everything through voice,” he says. “They can’t rely on their body or face to convey emotions.”

(Later this school year, they’ll have another challenge: masks. That takes away their faces, so they must use only their bodies to show feelings.)

For Honeycutt’s class, the challenge is to understand how sounds are made — and recreate them, in many different ways.

“A Christmas Carol” is a holiday favorite. Today, hear this old chestnut performed a new way — an old new way.

(Click here for the WWPT-FM home page, with livestream links.)

Time Is On His Side

Today is Keith Richards’ 70th birthday.

To celebrate, here’s one of my favorite Onion stories of all time. Published on July 6, 2012, and datelined “Weston, CT,” the headline says it all:

Keith Richards’ Housekeeper Has Braced Herself For Finding Dead Body Every Morning Since 1976

Here’s the story. But hold your fire!

  1. I love Keith Richards. I particularly love seeing him around town in his white Rolls, and more than once at — yes, it’s true — the drugstore.
  2. The Onion is satire.

WESTON, CT — Since her first day on the job in October 1976, Keith Richards’ housekeeper Rosemary Velasquez, 64, has mentally and emotionally prepared herself every single day to find the hard-living Rolling Stones guitarist lying dead somewhere in his home.

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

“Each morning before I leave for work, I look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and think to myself, ‘Rosemary, you could very well find Keith Richards’ dead body today,” Velasquez told reporters Thursday, adding that from the moment she was first hired by a “nearly comatose” Richards, she began steeling herself for the inevitable discovery of the guitarist’s wiry corpse in his bedroom or kitchen. “It’s never been a question of if I would find him dead, but where and how soon.”

Velasquez said her workday begins as she pulls into Richards’ driveway and braces herself for the potential sight of his stark-naked cadaver sprawled out on his front lawn. From there, after gathering her supplies, she takes a quick peek into the backyard, where she fears she will find Richards floating lifelessly face down in his swimming pool.

The housekeeper said that as she goes about her work, she takes a moment to collect herself before opening every door and pulling back each shower curtain. If a door is locked, she noted, she leaves it be and prays it’s not locked the next day.

According to Velasquez, anytime she smells an odor other than alcohol or stale cigarette smoke, she immediately imagines a scenario in which the odor gets stronger and stronger, leading her to a closet with a week-old dead body inside.

Keith Richards, back in the '60s.

Keith Richards, back in the ’60s.

“In the late ’70s, especially, there were a few close calls where I would find little droplets of Mr. Richards’ blood leading to his bedroom, and I would tell myself, ‘Today is the day,’” Velasquez said. “He’d usually be lying there with a needle sticking out of his arm, but somehow he would always still be breathing. So I would call an ambulance.”

“I’ve had to call 911 at least 30 times since I started working here,” she added. “I have to admit, over the years there’s been a lot more gunplay around this place than I’d care for.”

Besides resigning herself to one day discovering Richards’ corpse, the housekeeper of 36 years said she has also remained alert to the possibility of stumbling across the dead bodies of his bandmates and friends. She confirmed there have been several mornings on which she’s found a heap of naked bodies in the living room, all belonging to people who were unconscious but not dead….

The story goes on from there. To read the entire piece, click here

Happy 70th, Keith!

Cara Macdonald Comes Back

On November 2, 2012 — a few days after Hurricane Sandy — the Post Road street lights were still out. Crossing the street near CVS, Cara Macdonald was hit by a car.

Miraculously, the Staples High School sophomore broke no bones. Doctors said that because she never saw the car coming, she was relaxed — not tensed, which leads to greater injury.

But she suffered a traumatic brain injury.

After a week in a coma, she woke up at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, New York. Her first memory is of seeing her shaved head in a mirror. Confused, she thought she was looking at her brother.

Cara Macdonald

Cara Macdonald

Cara spent 75 days in the hospital. Her time was filled with therapy: physical (she had to learn to walk again); speech; occupational (lots of iPad games for multi-tasking and cognitive development), even eating (she could not swallow properly).

Weekdays were lonely. On weekends, Staples friends, teammates from Saugatuck Rowing Club and cousins visited regularly.

She spent Christmas in the hospital. For some reason, she thought she would not get any presents. She was pleasantly surprised when she did.

By the last couple of weeks — when she was fully aware of what was going on — Cara was ready to go home.

Doctors said regaining her executive functioning — planning, organizing — would  be tough. She did not believe them. But, she realized, it now takes more effort and energy to “actively think and plan.” She writes everything down, and records it on her iPhone.

She made it home on January 11. Because she could not stay awake all day, tutors came in.

By March, Cara was back at Staples. She moved down, from honors classes to A level. She dropped Chemistry completely. It was, she says, “too confusing.”

But she finished the year with her class. She learned to accept that she was not at “the same level” she had been.

“That was tough,” she admits. “I’d had a 3.8 GPA, I was headed for AP classes. Now certain parts of my brain don’t function the same way. My sister and brother go to Yale and Vanderbilt. Now I wasn’t going to go to a school like that.”

However, she realizes, “I know I can find a school I’ll love, and be successful at.” She plans to work in the nutrition field.

Cara Macdonald (center), with good friends Avery Wallace and Amy Jeanneret.

Cara Macdonald (center), with good friends Avery Wallace and Amy Jeanneret.

Cara’s therapist convinced her that “I have a lot going for me. I still get good grades. And I have a real story to tell.”

She credits her parents with letting her “go at my own pace. They realize I need time, and they give it to me.”

Her teachers have been great. “We talk a lot,” she says. “They really help me plan and organize.”

Cara’s longtime friends — Hannah Berggren, Malin Hovstadius, Dylan Donahue, Sophia Corde and Amy Jeanneret, who was with her the night she was struck but has since moved — have been fantastic.

Cara's friends help raise money for Blythedale Children's Hospital.

Cara’s friends help raise money for Blythedale Children’s Hospital.

They have supported her — and done even more. Last year they raised $1,200 for Blythedale. This year, they hope to top that amount.

They’ve sold candles, and solicited funds on Crowdrise. They’re collecting money through Friday; that day, they’ll donate it during a special concert at Blythedale, featuring Colbie Caillat and The Fray.

Meanwhile, Cara reflects on the lessons she’s learned over the past 13 months.

One is patience. Another is to take nothing for granted. “I couldn’t even talk for a long time,” Cara says. Her voice now is strong — in more ways than one.

A 3rd lesson is the value in working hard to get something back. A 4th is the importance of accepting what she can and cannot do.

Cara has learned one more thing, she says. “Take the crosswalk!”

You Can’t “Rent” In Trumbull

This week, Trumbull took a star turn in the spotlight usually reserved for small towns filled with small-minded people, many many miles from Broadway.

Rent logoBut the principal of Trumbull High School really stepped in it when he decreed that “Rent” — the Pulitzer Prize-winning, long-running hit musical — would not be allowed as the Thespian Society’s spring production.

A few days later, Trumbull’s Board of Education backed him up. They too believe that some of the show’s plot elements — homosexuality, drug use, AIDS — are inappropriate for high school students.

Showing far more wisdom and insight than their elders — and plenty of restraint — an enormous number of Trumbull students disagreed. They pointed out that sex and drugs are part of their reality. They talked respectfully about the importance of artistic freedom. And they started a Facebook page that garnered thousands of pledges of support.

Staples PlayersThe tempest in Trumbull stands in stark contrast to the high school theater scene in Westport, just a few miles away. In recent years, Staples has produced “controversial” — aka “real” — shows like “The Laramie Project” and “Cabaret.” Nearly 20 years ago, they staged “Falsettos.”

And in 2010, Players’ summer production was “Rent.”

Westport points with pride to Players — and rightly so. In weeks like this, we should be proud too of our administrators and Board of Education. Not for “allowing” Players to do such important theater — that’s something every educator should encourage — but for never even causing anyone here to think it could possibly be an issue.

"Rent" cast members (from left) Chris McNiff, David Ressler and Tyler Jent. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Staples Players’ “Rent” cast members in 2010 (from left) Chris McNiff, David Ressler and Tyler Jent. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Painting With A Twist (And With Wine)

Here in the US, the largest employer of artists is: our schools.

The 2nd largest? “Painting With a Twist.”

Those are 2 great facts I learned from Ellen Meehan Jent.

Here’s another: She and longtime friend Janice McGuire are opening up the 98th “Painting With a Twist” franchise here in Westport, this Friday.

If you think that’s worthy of a toast, you’re the person Ellen and Janice have in mind. “Painting With a Twist” is a place where people get together to paint. To discover their inner artist. And to do it while listening to music and sipping nice, art-inspiring wine.

“Painting With a Twist” is located in the Pier 1 shopping center (behind the old V restaurant).  Soon, Ellen and Janice hope, the large space will be hopping as all kinds of groups gather to do something  artistic. Something fun. Something definitely different.

Painting With a Twist -- ready for painters, and a twist.

Painting With a Twist — ready for painters, and a twist.

The women met when their kids were in pre-school. Janice and Ellen joined the Young Women’s League, gravitating toward projects that bring people together.

When they met the founder of “Painting With a Twist,” they had an aha! moment. What better time than now — and better place than fast-paced Westport — to offer “Painting With a Twist”?

In New Orleans — the franchise headquarters — the Westporters sat in on a session. At the next table were 2 nurses. Nearby were 2 younger women; 1 was pregnant. “Normally, I’d never have talked with them,” Ellen says.

When “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” came on, the women started bopping. “We made a connection with them,” Ellen notes. “There was a real transformation. It’s a left brain/right brain thing. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.” She describes the scene as “not a bar, not a home — something very different.”

Janice calls the concept “transformational.”

There’s a deep relaxation that comes from focusing on your color mixing and brushstrokes. By the end of a class, a room full of strangers has little by little become united as they laugh, sing along with the music, and sometimes make fun of their own painting skills. It’s about the process, not the product.  But everyone comes away feeling relaxed and inspired, and proud of their masterpieces.  It can become addictive, relaxing like yoga, fun like a party, and inspiring like a fresh idea.

The 2 women have worked together before. After 9/11 they created a Women’s Circle. They were empowerment seminars, breaking into small groups for part of the session for connection and sharing. Now, they look forward to a fun atmosphere, and an activity that gets people out of the house for something beyond dinner or drinks.

Janice McGuire (left) and Ellen Meehan Jent.

Janice McGuire (left) and Ellen Meehan Jent.

Each “Painting With a Twist” session is run by an artist/facilitator who helps explain the process, encourages conversation and stimulates creativity and laughter. The first 4 to sign on in Westport have intriguing backgrounds. One is a high school art teacher and professional comic. Another is a part-Jewish, part-African American minister who leads empowerment training for girls. The 3rd works in fashion. The 4th is a furniture painter.

The space can be booked for 2- or 3-hour parties — for holidays, birthdays, corporate outings, Sweet 16s, bachelorettes, girls’ night out, special events and more.

You paint on bare 16″ by 20″ canvases (paint and brushes are provided). You choose the art you want to paint — landscapes, cityscapes, flowers, abstracts, whatever — and the music playlist. (You also choose the wine, since it’s BYOB.)

Oh, yeah. You get to keep your artwork, too.

(For more information, click here or call 203-955-1855.)

Christmas In Connecticut

Actually, in Westport.

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association threw a holiday party tonight, and nearly everyone in town came.

After the Christmas tree lighting at Town Hall, hundreds of folks — nearly all of them under age 10, it seemed — moseyed around the corner to Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

There was music, food, a fire pit, ice carving, and — for the adults — wine. Plus tables with info about Westport’s favorite non-profit groups.

And — most important of all — Santa.

Holiday 1

A small part of the large crowd at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

A small part of the large crowd at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

An ice sculptor, hard at work.

An ice sculptor, hard at work.


(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to the Staples High School Orphenians’ YouTube video.)