Category Archives: Entertainment

Helium Brothers Land In Westport

Toad’s Place may be Connecticut’s favorite indoor music venue.

But that’s New Haven. Westport once had live music too. Anyone living here in the 1970s and early ’80s remembers 3 great spots: Grassroots. Players Tavern. Tin Whistle.

Each was different. Grassroots was a folk-oriented coffee house next to National Hall (then Fairfield Furniture), on the Post Road just over the river.

Players Tavern was a rockin’ place, with great bands and a less-than-observant attitude toward things like legal IDs.

Tin Whistle was a restaurant/bar (now the site of Westport Hardware Mumbai Times), with a variety of music.

This undated menu from Players Tavern mentions upcoming gigs by Papa John Creach, James Montgomery, Pat Metheny , James Cotton, Gil Scot Heron, Dave Edmonds, Nick Lowe -- and the Helium Brothers.

This undated menu from Players Tavern mentions upcoming gigs by Papa John Creach, James Montgomery, Pat Metheny , James Cotton, Gil Scot Heron, Dave Edmonds, Nick Lowe — and the Helium Brothers. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

Nowadays, you can hear live music on Bobby Q’s roof (in summer), the Black Duck (occasionally), and the Levitt Pavilion (but that’s not the same).

And, from time to time, at places like the Unitarian Church.

Every so often, they sponsor the Voices Cafe coffeehouse. There’s one this Saturday (November 14, 8 p.m.). What makes it “06880”-worthy is that the headline act is the Helium Brothers.

Thejazz/bluegrass/country/rock group has been around for 40 years. Recently, they performed a reunion show at Toad’s Place.

But they’re no strangers to Westport. Back in the day, they opened for former resident Johnny Winter.

And they performed regularly at — yes — Grassroots, Players Tavern and Tin Whistle.

Whatever goes around, comes around.

Even if it’s helium, brother.

Helium Brothers

Nile Rodgers: A Man For These Times

Today’s New York Times Men’s Style feature on Nile Rodgers — nominated 9 times for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but never an inductee — starts off this way:

“My attitude is that there are plenty of buildings that want to have me. Why would I want to live in a building where they don’t?” said Mr. Rogers, drawing a metaphor from Manhattan real estate, where he learned over the years that he was sometimes too famous or too black to appeal to everyone’s tastes.

As it happened, Mr. Rodgers was milling about on a recent afternoon not in his Upper West Side co-op but in his six-bedroom compound in Westport, Conn.

The view of the Long Island Sound stretched for miles, the furniture included Louis XIV chairs and ancient Chinese beds, and the walls were covered in platinum records he earned producing hits for Madonna, David Bowie, Chic and Sister Sledge.

The story is an intriguing look into our neighbor’s recent collaboration with Kylie Minogue, Janelle Monae, Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and Hugh Jackman; his gig next spring at Coachella; his past encounters with cocaine (it’s been replaced with stevia), and his Westport life since 1994 (including his battle with prostate cancer).

To read more about the full story about this fascinating — and very stylish — Westporter, click here.

Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers

Soundwall Hangs In Westport

For decades, sound engineers have worked to make home audio speakers better. The music in your living room, media center, wherever, is now concert hall quality.

Meanwhile, designers have tried to make the speakers themselves look nicer. They’re handsome — but not exactly works of art.

Unless they really are.

Soundwall is an innovative concept — and company — that marries original artwork with high fidelity audio. Framed art — or art made on creative surfaces — hangs on your wall. It plays rich sound. The entire canvas resonates — because the entire canvas is actually a speaker.

That’s not all. The artwork can play whatever music you wish, via any app — or audio (songs, interviews, anything) curated by the artist.

Soundwall art hangs above a sofa.

Soundwall art hangs above a sofa.

Soundwall art is handcrafted in Colorado. The office is in Tribeca. But its Westport roots are strong.

CEO Aaron Cohen has spent his career in media. A dotcom entrepreneur who sold 3 companies, he retired early and taught internet history at NYU. A year ago he and his wife Nina left the city, with their son and daughter.

They found a great house — with much more space than they were used to. “Any New Yorker could relate — we had empty rooms and empty walls,” Cohen recalls. “What goes there?”

Aaron Cohen

Aaron Cohen

Around the same time, 2 engineer friends in Boulder had created Soundwall. They asked Aaron and Nina to help.

The timing was fortuitous.

“When I looked under the hood, what I thought was a flat plane speaker company was much bigger,” he says. “I realized that the art I like the most is where I know the artist, or have a relationship with it. Soundwall was a chance to make ‘connected art’ — art that evolves, or is interactive, or takes its inspiration from its installation.”

Over the past year, Soundwall has evolved. The company now controls its own printing. They can make almost any size of artwork — and a variety of styles.

Cohen is particularly proud of a large format original Brigitte Bardot piece.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But a Westport couple also asked Cohen to turn their wedding into a Soundwall.

Soundwall’s evolution includes audio messages that go along with the artwork. So — in addition to choosing, say, a Spotify playlist — a piece can play words from the artist, or anything else he or she chooses to add.

“Art can fade into the background,” Cohen notes. “But when you add meditative music, or your own playlist, or an interview with the artist, you look at that artwork a lot more. It becomes much more immersive, and you become more engaged.”

Soundwall art in a home office.

Soundwall art in a home office.

Meanwhile, Soundwall has engaged art- and music-lovers far from Colorado, New York and Westport. Earlier this week, Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark sold his Soundwall photography at Christie’s in London.

That’s a few thousand miles from Westport. But sound travels fast.

And these days, Soundwall travels far.

Soundwall logo

For Your Viewing Pleasure

There’s a lot to see and hear in Westport. No one can do it all.

But if you missed 2 recent Staples High School-related events, YouTube can help.

A couple of weeks ago, the music department presented a fantastic concert: “The Art of Folk Music.” One audience member said “it equaled or surpassed many a NYC production.”

To hear Luke Rosenberg’s superb choral groups, click below:

Last week, David Roth’s Theater 3 acting class and Jim Honeycutt’s audio production class collaborated on a WWPT-FM live radio broadcast of “Dracula.” It was just like 1939: the Orson Welles Mercury Theater original script, period commercials, sound effects, the challenge of conveying a story completely with actors’ voices and sound effects.

The media lab shot the show. Here you go:

Enjoy!

Love And Marriage And Westport

A few weeks before moving to Westport 4 years ago, Théo Feldman told her next door neighbor in Los Angeles: “I’m moving to Connecticut, to a town called Westport.” To her shock, Feldman’s neighbor said that their mutual friend who lived nearby, Stephanie Landon, was moving there too, in just a few weeks.

Feldman and Landon exchanged walks in L.A.’s Fryman Canyon for ones at Compo Beach. They also became involved in the community, joining the board of a local charity. Now the 2 women are co-chairing Hadassah of Westport’s Fall Fundraiser: ¨Love and Marriage — An Evening of Comedy.¨ It’s set for Saturday, November 14 at Temple Israel.

But the coincidences don’t stop there.

Dani Klein Modisett

Dani Klein Modisett

“Love and Marriage” is based on the new book “Take My Spouse, Please,” by Dani Klein Modisett. She’s a Los Angeles comedian and author — but also a Staples High School graduate.

Feldman and her husband David had frequented Klein Modisett’s comedy shows in Hollywood. When they heard she was doing a show in New York for her book launch, they went to see it (and her). Feldman quickly realized she had to bring the show to Westport.

The show also includes Marla Schultz, Emmy Laybourne, Elisa Zuritsy, Alyssa Reiner, David Alan Basche and others. They’ll tell hysterical stories about marriage (maybe love, too).

Klein Modisett is excited to return to her hometown. Even though — with all those connections — she could almost as easily have done the show in LA. And had a full Westport audience.

(For ticket information and more, email hadassahcomedynight@gmail.com)

Werner Liepolt’s Ghoulish Halloween Rediscovery

In 1972, Werner Liepolt was a Bedford Junior High School English teacher. Today, as Halloween approaches, is a good time to remember those long-ago days.

Fellow Annenberg School of Communications graduate Christopher Speeth had secured a soon-to-be-demolished amusement park as a set, raised enough money to rent a 35mm camera and hired some actors. Knowing of Liepolt’s off-Broadway credits, he asked him to write a horror movie.

Werner Liepolt, back in the day.

Werner Liepolt, back in the day.

Liepolt told his 9th graders about his script. It involved a carnival that consumed its customers. He tested scenes on them, and revised it based on their reactions.

“My students were my idea of a perfect horror movie audience,” Liepolt recalls. “They were impeccable critics of the macabre.” The film that emerged was “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood.”

It was released for a limited run at Texas drive-ins. Liepolt saw it at one screening. His students never did. The movie disappeared.

A former student managed a seafood restaurant and store. For years, every time Liepolt bought shellfish or went to dinner, he asked about the film. The teacher never had any news. But “his faith in it convinced me of its worth,” Liepolt says.

Four decades later — in 2003 — others realized that worth too. Speeth dug the movie out, sent it to Lucas and Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, and convinced them to remaster it.

In 2007 British horror film aficionado Stephen Thrower saw a screening. He gave Speeth and Liepolt’s work a chapter in his acclaimed, encyclopedic “Nightmare USA.”

Malatestas Carnival of Blood

Word spread. Amazon sold copies of the DVD.

Liepolt’s son Jamie and some classmates at College of the Atlantic unearthed it, and screened it. He alerted his dad that “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” was alive. (Or, Liepolt notes, “had joined the ranks of the walking dead”).

Last month, Arrow Films — which negotiated the rights to redistribute the film — asked Liepolt for an interview. A crew from LA arrived at his Westport home several days ago. They’ll use 40 minutes as part of a DVD bonus package.

“I was as surprised as they were that I remembered so much about the writing and the shoot,” Liepolt says. They may even include a digital copy of the shooting script that he preserved.

Werner Liepolt today.

Werner Liepolt today.

Liepolt also provided Arrow with photos of actors he recruited for the film. Herve Villechaize — famous for his roles in a Bond film and the “Fantasy Island” TV series — began his theatrical career in Leipolt’s American Place Theater production of “The Young Master Dante.” He said he wanted — theatrically — to commit a murder in a certain gruesome way. Liepolt obliged.

The writer also recruited Lenny Baker, who went on to headline on Broadway (“I Love My Wife”) and starred in films (“Last Stop Greenwich Village”).

“That ‘Malatesta’ emerged from the crypt astonishes me,” Liepolt says. Thrower is not surprised, though. He said it “more than deserves a spell in the cult spotlight.”

There is a Facebook page for the film, so Liepolt’s 9th graders from the 1970s can finally track down and see the film they heard about 40 years ago. There’s also a website, and Arrow promises a number of promotions.

“It’s amazing fun that people are enjoying what I helped create so long ago,” Liepolt says. “What makes me sad, though, is that there are so few remaining who helped create the film.”

Halloween is here soon. What better way to get in the mood than a screening of Werner Liepolt’s great — and now rediscovered — ghoulish cult classic?

Remember The Reverbs?

Plenty of Westporters remember the Remains. Their lead singer and keyboardist were from Westport. They toured with the Beatles. They were on track to be America’s best rock ‘n’ roll band — until they broke up.

Not many Westporters — perhaps none? — remember the Reverbs. I’m pretty good with local rock trivia, but I’ve never heard of these guys.

The Reverbs’ guitarists were Larry Didona, Ken Josselyn and Bob Erisman. Fred Erisman was on drums; Gerry Lenore sang lead.

Apparently they cut a record — a big deal in those days — in November 1965. Like many local groups, they were a cover band. Among the songs: “Twist and Shout,” “Hang on Sloopy,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “Money,” and (of course) “Louie Louie.”

Reverbs

The only way I know of the Reverbs is because alert “06880” reader Chip Stephens sent me a link to eBay.

“The Reverbs Chalk-Up” album is still available — but act now! Bidding ends on Tuesday at 9:10 p.m.

Last I saw, the highest bid — of 2 — was $10.50.

I’m sure there’s at least one Reverbs fan here who can top that.

Bill Meyer Brings Westport Together — Again

Keith Stein sent an email the other day. He wanted me to promote a special event.

Because it honors Bill Meyer, I said “sure!”

Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer

The event is a reception and staged reading of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” It’s a fundraiser for the Westport Community Theatre’s Bill Meyer Scholarship.

Bill — who died last June, at 85 — was an avid WCT supporter, and served as a director.

But he did much, much more. He:

  • was elected 9 times to the RTM
  • founded the Westport Little League softball program
  • served as Y’s Men president and membership chairman
  • was a director of Sunrise Rotary, Senior  Center, First Night, Westport’s AARP chapter, and 2 intercity Bridgeport agencies
  • served on the Saugatuck Congregational Church council
  • helped with Meals on Wheels
  • was a board member of Isaiah House in Bridgeport, which helps parolees transition from prison to life outside

All those are great reasons to support the Bill Meyer Scholarship. But here’s the really intriguing thing about Keith Stein’s email, asking me to publicize the event:

Bill was also a staunch Republican. Keith is the chair of Westport’s Democratic Town Committee.

The staged reading includes a cast of veteran WCT actors — and a bipartisan cast of local politicians, including Martha Aasen, Toni Boucher, Gail Lavielle, Dewey Loselle, Jim Marpe and Jonathan Steinberg.

Westport Community Theatre

“Bill was an enthusiastic cheerleader for Westport,” Keith says. “I’m involved in the Democratic Town Committee because I want to promote Westport. Sure, he was a Republican. But he transcended politics.”

So did Keith’s email.

Washington: Are you listening?

(The Westport Community Theatre’s fundraiser for the Bill Meyer Scholarship is set for Saturday, October 24 [6-9:30 p.m.] at the Westport Historical Society. It starts with a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception, followed by a staged reading of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Tickets are $50 per person. Click here or call 203-226-1983.)

When The Music Died

Sally’s Place — the last record store in Westport — closed 2 years ago. It marked the end of an era, for devoted fans like Keith Richards and all the rest of us regular Joes.

Once upon a time, record stores were stacked up here like 45s on a spindle.* Sally bought her beloved store after she left Klein’s. At one point, there were not 1 but 2 Sam Goody’ses within shouting distance of each other on the Post Road, a musical version of today’s nail spas or banks.**

The Record Hunter occupied space next to Remarkable Book Shop — the now-forlorn corner of Main Street abandoned by Talbots. Jay  Flaxman oversaw that store, allowing teenagers like me to hang out, discover Richie Havens and Phil Ochs, and very occasionally even buy something.

Long before my time there was Melody House. A Main Street fixture, it apparently featured “listening booths” that were quite the rage in the doo-wop days.

Jean Rabin

Jean Rabin

Overlooked in most memories is Record & Tape of Westport. Clunkily named, and a bit removed from downtown — located in Compo Shopping Center, where either Planet Pizza or the Verizon store is today — this was simply one more spot to buy (duh) records and tapes.

But it too was a great place, and a labor of love. Owner Jean Rabin presided joyfully over its narrow aisles. She knew each customer’s likes, and enjoyed recommending (in her gentle Southern accent) new artists based on those preferences. If you didn’t like something, she gave a full refund — no questions asked.

It must have been hard, running an independent record store in a town filled with others (and a couple of chains), but she never complained. She loved music, she loved the diverse group of customers who shopped there, and she loved Westport.

Though she lived in Trumbull, she spent time here even after closing her shop. This past summer, I saw her at Compo. We talked about many things — including music.

Jean Rabin died last week. She was 79 years old.

Years from now, I can’t imagine anyone writing such a fond remembrance of Pandora, Spotify or iTunes.

(Visitation is tomorrow [Thursday, October 8], 6-8 p.m. at Spear-Miller Funeral Home, 39 S. Benson Road, Fairfield. A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at  Greens Farms Congregational Church. Donations may be made in Jean’s honor to the American Heart Association or Susan G. Komen for the Cure.)

*Kids: Ask your parents.

** Clever reference: One of the stores is actually, today, Patriot Bank.

Annie Keefe, Arthur Miller And Marilyn

Westport Country Playhouse associate artist Annie Keefe has had a legendary life in theater.

Before coming here, she spent more than 20 years at Long Wharf. In 1994 she worked on the world premiere of “Broken Glass” — a riveting story of Kristallnacht and Jewish identity. Playwright Arthur Miller was there for most rehearsals.

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Keefe recalls:

The material was fascinating, dense and complex, and we were the first people to explore it. It was thrilling to watch the actors, along with Arthur, tease out the plot and build the characters. It was a complicated and difficult birthing process.  Director John Tillinger and Arthur were longtime friends, and there were post-rehearsal conversations I wish I had had the sense to focus on. But there were production notes to be sent and schedules to be made and things in the rehearsal hall to reset for the next day.

On Wednesday (October 6), the curtain goes up on the Playhouse production of “Broken Glass.” Keefe looks forward to artistic director Mark Lamos’ interpretation.

She’s also thinking about Arthur Miller. The legendary playwright’s connections with the Playhouse — and this area — are strong.

This will be the 6th Miller production at the Playhouse. “Death of a Salesman” was 1st, in 1966. “The Price,” “All My Sons” (twice) and “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” followed.

In the late 1950s, Miller lived here with his then-wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

A few years ago, Daniel Brown wrote about the couple for the arts journal AEQAI.

One morning, when he was 12, he saw Miller and Monroe at Weston Market. She wore blue jeans and sunglasses. A babushka covered her head. Brown wanted an autograph; his mother said no, she deserved privacy. He could, however, say “Good morning, Mrs. Miller.”

She replied, “Hello, little boy.” But she looked unspeakably sad.

Brown left the store with his mother.

“Mom,” he asked, “why did Marilyn Monroe look so sad? Doesn’t she have everything she wants? And who is that old guy she’s with?”

(For more recollections from Keefe, click here for the Westport Country Playhouse blog. For information on “Broken Glass,” click here. For Daniel Brown’s full recollection of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, click here. For Mark Lamos’ thoughts on Miller, click the YouTube video below.)

(Hat tip: Ann Sheffer)