Category Archives: Entertainment

First Night 2015; Last Post 2014

First Night got underway late this afternoon. The sun was setting, the air was cold — but the anticipation of Westport’s 21st annual New Year’s Eve community celebration made for a warm feeling all around downtown.

Festivities continue through 10 p.m., when fireworks soar over the river. Come on down!

(Click on this schedule for all events.)

Horse-drawn carriages clomped throughout downtown. For more modern transportation, buses run between Jesup Green and Saugatuck Elementary School through 9 p.m.

Horse-drawn carriages clomp downtown. For modern transportation, buses run between Jesup Green and Saugatuck Elementary School through 9 p.m.

The Westport Astronomical Society hauled out some serious telescopes. The view is better now that the sun has set.

The Westport Astronomical Society hauled out some serious telescopes. The view is better now that the sun has set.

First Night Westport/Weston runs smoothly, thanks to an army of volunteers.

First Night Westport/Weston runs smoothly, thanks to an army of volunteers.

The Survivors Swing Band kicked things off at the library. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The Survivors Swing Band kicked things off at the library. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

First Night Forges Forward

Barbara Pearson-Rac’s life is intertwined with First Night.

She lived in Boston when that city inaugurated the original First Night — an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration at a variety of venues, with performances, entertainment and fun for all ages.

She moved to Westport 21 years ago — the same year our town started its own First Night celebration.

She joined the board 2 years later. Now she’s president.

First Night 2015 logoAnd though other First Nights have come and gone, Westport’s remains vibrant and strong. It’s one of only 3 left in Connecticut — and, judging from their websites, ours blows Danbury’s and Hartford’s out of the water.

Barbara is a strong believer in community service. She chairs Westport’s Make a Difference Day and is involved in breast cancer awareness, among other activities.

First Night — a happy, upbeat event, on a day when everyone looks forward and feels fresh — holds a special place in her heart.

“It’s live entertainment,” she says. “It’s a way of introducing children to talent, and for adults to have plenty of fun too.”

But keeping First Night alive is hard. There’s a perception that it’s only for kids (it’s not). More families now travel over the holidays. Non-residents don’t think they’re invited (they are). And the threat of bad weather always hovers overhead.

Fireworks in winter -- a tradition that moves this year to Jesup Green.

Fireworks in winter — a tradition that moves this year to Jesup Green.

First Night is an all-volunteer effort. Attendance — by button-buying people — is crucial. Costs include performers, sound engineers, insurance, police and fire support, and pyrotechnics. (A barge is being rented this year, because the new Levitt Pavilion is no longer a viable spot for shooting fireworks.)

Westport’s First Night lives on thanks to the ongoing support of sponsors and the town of Westport, along with a very fiscally responsible board. While many First Nights have folded, Westport’s is now 21 years years old. “We’re legal!” Pearson-Roc jokes.

But it’s still alcohol-free.

(New events this year include a fashion show with a “Project Runway” contestant; 2 children’s performers; telescopes on Jesup Green, with Westport Astronomical Society members offering guidance, and popular college comic hypnotist Jim Spinnato. Regular keyboardist Mark Naftalin — hot off his election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — is back at the Westport Historical Society. For a full schedule, and information on buying buttons, click on www.firstnightww.com.)

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist -- and new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member -- Mark Naftalin is a First Night regular.

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist — and new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member — Mark Naftalin is a First Night regular.

 

06880 (Dan) And 06883 (Jose) Wish You…

Remembering Joe Cocker

We’re getting to that age when the rock stars who didn’t die young are dying old.

In the wake of Joe Cocker’s death, “Howlin’ Doc Trulove” posted a memory on Facebook.

“Howlin’ Doc” says that back in the day, the raspy-voiced, air guitar-playing singer auditioned musicians for his upcoming Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour of Australia at the Westport Country Playhouse.

If you’ve got a Joe Cocker/Westport story, hit “Comments” below. We’ll get the complete version of his local connections — with a little help from our friends.

Joe Cocker

 

“It’s A Wonderful Life” Indeed!

Take out your earbuds. Move over, Spotify. You’re so old school, iTunes.

Staples students are embracing a cutting-edge new technology: radio.

But not just any radio: a 1940s-style radio drama.

WWPT_logoTomorrow (Friday, December 19, 11 a.m.), Jim Honeycutt’s Audio Production class and David Roth’s Theater 3 Acting class collaborate on a radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

They’ll use the original 1947 script — including advertisements from that long-ago time.

Two years ago, a similar WWPT-FM production won 1st and 2nd place awards in the John Drury national high school radio competition. Check it out:

It’s a phenomenal event — and a great undertaking. High school students incorporate live drama skills, sound effects and radio production into an entertaining, uplifting performance.

You can hear it locally on 90.3 FM. Or — in a modern twist unavailable during the Truman administration — you can listen to the livestream anywhere in the world. Just click on www.wwptfm.com, then go to “Listen Live” and “Click here to access the district stream.”

It is indeed a wonderful life!

Mark Naftalin Named To Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Westporter Mark Naftalin is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And not just to see the exhibits.

The keyboardist will be inducted in April, along with fellow members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The seminal blues-rock band joins Ringo Starr, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers in the “Class of 2015.”

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

According to the Hall of Fame website, Naftalin — along with bandmates including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop —

converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James. With the release of their blues-drenched debut album in the fall of 1965, and its adventurous “East-West” followup in the summer of 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band kicked open a door that brought a defining new edge to rock and roll.

 

And they played at Monterey:

 

After leaving the band in 1968, Naftalin — the son of former Minneapolis mayor Arthur Naftalin — produced records, concerts, festivals and radio shows.

He started his own label, recording with Duane Allman, Canned Heat, Percy Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner and James Cotton.

He’s been a sideman on over 100 albums — including the great jangly piano riff on Brewer & Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line.”

 

Last night, Naftalin reflected on what he calls “a great honor.” He is proud of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s interracial makeup; grateful to have worked with such creative, energetic musicians, and gratified that from the 1960s through today, people tell him the group’s music meant something to them.

“We’ve gotten fervent testimonials that we helped get someone through high school, college or Vietnam,” Naftalin said.

“And a number of musicians have said they were drawn to exploring blues music because of our influence. It’s a real privilege to be a little part of that.”

Mark Naftalin today.

Mark Naftalin today.

He and his wife Ellen — a 1967 Staples High School grad — started coming to Westport in 1991, the year they got married in the house she grew up in. They moved here permanently in 2002.

Naftalin will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. You can go to Cleveland for the ceremony.

Or you can head to the Westport Historical Society on December 31. From 6-8 p.m. he’s at the electric piano, part of his 7th annual First Night gig.

You can catch “Mark Naftalin and Friends” at the Pequot Library too, the weekend of January 17-18. He’ll play the Steinway concert grand.

It’s a long way from Monterey to Westport. But that detour to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes it all worthwhile.

 

4 Reasons To Watch Tonight’s Telecast Of “Peter Pan,” Besides The Fact That On Live TV, Anything Can Happen

  1. Westporter Kelli O’Hara plays Mrs. Darling.
  2. Weston resident Christopher Walken is Captain Hook.
  3. Staples Class of 2004 graduate Gina Rattan is associate director — as she was for the live broadcast of “Cinderella.”
  4. Staples grad Jeffrey Small is site coordinator.
Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

(“Peter Pan” is live on NBC at 8 pm EST tonight — Thursday, December 4. Of course, you can always tape it…)

 

Rudolph Is No Longer Horny

Last night’s ice sculpture carving — part of the post-Town Hall-tree-lighting festivities held around the corner at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church — was very impressive. Rudolph was one of the creations — complete with his trademark red nose. JP Vellotti was inspired to take a photo.

But when he went back this morning, the very alert “06880” reader was surprised to see Rudolph’s antlers were gone. He took another shot.

Rudolph collage

Before and after.

JP asks: “Did they melt in the sub-freezing temps overnight? Or was someone naughty? Only Santa knows who will get a present or coal in their stocking!”

Yeah, The Doors Played At Staples. Cream, The Byrds And Peter Frampton Too. And…

…also the Yardbirds, Animals, Rascals, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Plus the Byrds, Rhinoceros, Buddy Miles, J. Geils,  Peter Frampton and Taj Mahal. And Steve Tallerico, before he became Steve Tyler.

For years, those of us who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s have regaled friends with tales of those concerts. They looked at us like we smoked one too many bowls.

But they really happened. And now there is proof.

Smollin book cover

Mark Smollin — a 1970 Staples grad who went on to fame as an artist and designer — was at many of those shows. He’s just produced a massive e-book filled with photos, posters and ticket stubs — plus essays and remembrances by concert-goers and professional musicians — from those amazing days.

Oh, did I mention that tickets were usually just $2 or $3?

Doors posterThe Real Rock & Roll High School: True Tales of Legendary Bands That Performed in Westport CT is a 150-page gem. It opens with an essay by Barry Tashian. Westport’s 1st home-grown rock star — his band, the Remains, opened for the Beatles — provides some context by recalling hunting down 45s at the Melody House on Main Street, listening to jazz concerts at Compo, and going to dances at the Y and Longshore.

Smollin tracked down Ellen Sandhaus, whose brother Dick signed those first legendary shows — while still in high school. (The story of how he and classmate Paul Gambaccini became 17-year-old concert promoters is in the book). Ellen contributed fantastic photos, taken with her Brownie camera.

Cream ticketSmollin used Facebook to find more information. Mary Gai joined Ellen as a writer and editor. Fred Cantor did heavy lifting in the Westport Library newspaper archives. He unearthed proof that — as students who were there have always maintained — the Blues Project, Left Banke and Blues Magoos (twice!) all played at Staples proms.

The buzz grew. People chimed in about bands they claimed played at Staples, but actually were at other local venues. So Smollin added a section on other places like the Nines Club (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Vanilla Fudge, ? and the Mysterians), and the Westport Country Playhouse (the Critters).

Smollin also gives a shout-out to non-rockers who played in Westport. That’s an impressive list too: Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Sammy Davis Jr., Ferrante and Teicher, Odetta.

Ginger Baker, Cream's drummer, at Staples in 1968. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples in 1968. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Finally — because he himself played in a band (called Smoke; they still do reunions) — Smollin included a list of local groups that may not have lasted long, but were legends in their own (and many others’) minds: Triumvirate. The Wild Sect. The Saints. Strawberry Fun Band. Mandrake Root. Styx. (No, not the more famous “Come Sail Away” band.)

The Real Rock & Roll High School is a trip — down memory lane if you were there (or wished you were), into the rabbit hole of amazing musical history if you were not.

The Staples auditorium -- where so many legendary concerts took place -- as seen in the 1970 yearbook.

The Staples auditorium — where so many legendary concerts took place — as seen in the 1970 yearbook.

So if you have any interest at all in great bands and solo artists — and others like Edgar Winter, Livingston Taylor and John Lee Hooker, all of whom also played in Westport — check it out.

I know. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll. But we love it.

(Click to order The Real Rock & Roll High School.)

Bonus track: I mentioned Steve Tyler above. Here’s Aerosmith’s front man giving a hat tip to Staples, during his 1995 induction ceremony at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

Alisan Porter Knows “Who We Are”

It’s been quite a year for Alisan Porter.

The 1999 Staples graduate — who also played Curly Sue in the movie of the same name, and performed on Broadway in “Footloose” and “A Chorus Line” — gave birth to her 2nd child, talked openly about her sobriety, and has just released her 1st solo album in 6 years.

After many years recording and performing with her band The Canyons, she felt the need to explore musically on her own. She spent time in Nashville writing, and — with friend and fellow Staples grad Drew McKeon — went into the studio. He co-wrote, co-produced and played on the album, called “Who We Are.”

Ali Porter

“We basically sat in her kitchen in California with a guitar and a laptop and started writing a song,” he says, recalling the project’s genesis. “Twenty minutes later we had a demo for a tune.”

They went out and got all-star musicians, veterans of bands for Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Eric Clapton.

In a People magazine story written by yet another Staples grad — Jennifer Garcia — Porter describes her work as a recording artist, mother of 2 (ages 2 1/2 and 6 months), and blogger (“The Lil’ Mamas” is a no-holds-barred, tell-all, not-your- grandmother’s look at motherhood).

“Motherhood always comes first,” she says. “But I knew I wasn’t going to be a good mother if I didn’t continue to do what I love! Music is a part of me and I had to express myself, especially now that I’m a mom. That inspired a lot of the album. My own growing up and watching my children do the same.”

That’s happening in California now. But you can’t take the Westport out of Curly Sue Alison Porter.