Grammy Awards: The Westport Connections

When Billie Eilish swept the top honors at last night’s Grammy Awards, Westporters — at least, those who are close readers of “06880” — felt a bit of pride.

As reported here in October, the entertainer — whose full name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell — lives in LA, with her brother Finneas, and her parents.

But she has local ties. Her father. Patrick O’Connell, grew up at the top of Compo Hill. A 1975 Staples High School graduate, he was an active member of Staples Players.

Billie Eilish and her father, Patrick O’Connell.

Billie won Grammys for Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, Record of the Year and Song of the Year, and was named Best New Artist. She was nominated for — but did not win — Best Pop Solo Performance.

Finneas earned a Grammy as Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. He worked on 10 albums, including his sister’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”

They’re not the only winners with a Westport connection. Ranky Tanky — who celebrate the Gullah slave culture that still lives in South Carolina, combining spirituals, poems, children’s songs and lullabies with fresh, jazz-inflected music — won Best Regional Roots Music Album. for “Good Time.”

Ranky Tanky were among the first artists signed by Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston’s Resilience Music Alliance. Based in Westport, the label empowers musicians who explore, challenge and celebrate the human condition of (you guessed it) resilience.

In 2018, Ranky Tanky played to a packed audience at the Levitt Pavilion.

At the Spoleto Music Festival, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston presented Ranky Tanky with plaques commemorating the #1 performance of the first release on the Westporters’ label, Resilience Music Alliance.

In addition there were 2 Westport-ish nominees for Best Children’s Album, though neither won. Daniel Tashian (“I Love Rainy Days”) is the son of Barry and Holly Tashian. He fronted the legendary rock band the Remains; she was a noted singer herself. The couple now live, record and write in Nashville, where Daniel grew up.

Kaitlin McGaw (“The Love”) is part of Alphabet Rockers, which “empowers kids with hip-hop.” Her grandparents are Westporters Ed and Kay See.

Interestingly, the O’Connell, Tashian and See families families all lived on Compo Hill. There must be something in the (Old Mill) water.

Here’s one more local connection to the Grammys — though it’s a stretch.

“Oklahoma!” was nominated for Best Musical Theater Album. The composer lived for many years on Hulls Farm Road in Fairfield, just over the line from Westport’s Long Lots Road.

His name: Richard Rodgers.

I’m sure I missed at least one other Westport tie to last night’s Grammys.

Click here for the full list. If you find someone in any category — jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk, reggae, Christian music, whatever — let us know in the “Comments” below.

Here’s The State Of Westport

The state of the town is strong.

The state of our schools is too.

Those verdicts were delivered by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin yesterday.

A large, inquisitive crowd packed the Westport Library. The 3rd annual State of the Town meeting was sponsored by our 2 Rotary Clubs.

Marpe began by citing 2 newly improved facilities: the library itself, and the Senior Center.

He also mentioned that Westport has the highest life expectancy in Connecticut, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Our neighborhood averages range from 82 years all the way to 89 (Old Hill area). Who knew?!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at yesterday’s “State of the Town” meeting.

Among the 2019 accomplishments, Marpe pointed to:

  • New accessibility projects at Compo beach, and environmentally friendly turf fields
  • Wakeman Town Farm improvements
  • Sasco Brook’s de-listing from the state register of impaired waterways
  • The town’s new mobile-friendly website
  • The Police Department’s innovative technology and equipment, including increased capability to respond in a crisis, and the groundbreaking Tesla 3 patrol car
  • Improvement projects at our 2 railroad stations
  • A 7% decline in Fire Department 911 calls, in large part due to proactive efforts in schools and the construction industry

The Westport Fire Department has made a determined effort to educate Westporters about fire safety.

  • Ongoing investments to upgrade commercial properties downtown and on the Post Road
  • 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane’s leadership of improved town wayfinding
  • 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker’s leadership of the “Westport Means Business” series
  • Commitment to be a NetZero community by 2050; rebranding “Sustainable Westport”; the RTM’s legislation on replacing single-use plastics; adding new solar energy capacity; switching 1,300 street lights to LED bulbs, and a “Zero Food Waste Challenge,” which includes a free pilot program for dropping off food waste at the transfer station (beginning April 1).
  • Consolidation of police, fire and EMS public safety dispatch centers with Fairfield
  • Automating building and land use processes with the Planning & Zoning, Building, Conservation, Public Works, Health District and Fire departments.

Building in Westport is becoming easier, with enhanced communication among town bodies. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Of course, there are challenges. Marpe mentioned:

  • Traffic. He, the police and Public Works are scheduling RTM district public meetings to identify practical, realistic solutions.
  • Affordable housing. We have 3 years left on our moratorium under the 8-30g state statute.
  • The need to enhance Longshore, and other town facilities
  • Keeping the tax mill rate flat, as it has been for about 5 years. Marpe noted that financial reserves are at or ahead of “our conservative targets,” and that pension and post-employment benefit assets are “very well-funded.”

Marpe concluded his prepared remarks by noting:

Westport is and will continue to be among the most attractive towns in the tri-state area to raise a family, educate children, create and grow a business, and retire.

We are a truly rare and wonderful combination of a small, charming New England town committed to celebrating our past and preserving our history, and also a cutting-edge community that fosters innovation, creativity and progress.

Westport preserves its past and looks to the future, says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. (Photo/John Videler for VIdeler Photography)

Board of Ed chair Savin said that the Westport School District is “strong, and getting stronger,” in areas like academics, arts, special education and athletics.

She noted the district’s focus on social and emotional health, safety and security — and combating vaping.

Among the challenges: reopening Coleytown Middle School, the budget, and the search for a new schools superintendent.

She said the board and community must “continue to invest in students, professionals and infrastructure.”

Board of Education chair Candice Savin’s presentation included slides like these, showing renovations to Coleytown Middle School.

Moderator Jeff Wieser then read questions from audience members.

Marpe was asked about his biggest budgetary challenge. “The capital forecast — school and town projects,” he said.

Regarding empty storefronts on Main Street, he pointed to new businesses coming in, along with “mom and mom” stores owned by local residents. He noted that the P&Z wants to improve efficiencies of town processes, and praised Regency Centers — owners of several large Westport shopping areas — for recent upgrades of their properties.

Marpe also said that the Downtown Merchants Association and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce are working hard to attract new businesses.

Asked about the relationship with the Westport Museum for History & Culture, the 1st selectman said that the town no longer stores records there, eliminating a $7,500 storage fee. He said that although this year the town helped fund the Museum’s First Light celebration, he was “troubled” when he realized some of the money went toward employees’ salaries.

“We are working with them to recover that portion” of the funds, he said.

However, Marpe added, “the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying. I appeal to residents to step back. You’re talking about people who live down the street from you.”

Regarding traffic, Marpe said the most significant impact comes from Waze. He acknowledged frustration with timing of Post Road lights, and said the town is in “regular communication” with the state Department of Transportation.

When the highways get crowed, Waze sends drivers through Westport.

As for Joey’s at the Shore, Marpe described the town’s 30-year relationship with the former beach concessionaire. He said they parted ways “without hard feelings.” An RFP has been issued for Compo, the skating rink/pool and golf course halfway house.

Seven or eight “well qualified” responses have been received. Bids will be open this week, and Marpe is optimistic that the new concessionaire will continue Joey Romeo’s “warmth, style, sensitivity and food.” He warned though that it may not be “fully operational” by the start of beach season.

In response to Board of Ed questions, Savin said that there are contingency plans in case CMS is not ready to reopen next fall; that pushing school start times back 30 minutes for all schools will be on the February 3 and February 10 agendas, and that declining enrollment is more challenging at the middle school level (because of the team approach) than in elementary schools and Staples High.

When the meeting was over, the town officials were not through. Members of the audience continued to ask questions. Marpe and Savin kept answering them.

Pic Of The Day #1014

Haskins Preserve, off Green Acre Lane (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Photo Challenge #265

“Anyone for tennis?”

That’s not quite what the sign — last week’s Photo Challenge — said.

It read: “Looking for a game?” That made it a bit harder to identify.

But Fred Cantor, Amy Bedi, Lynn Untermeyer Miller, Ben Sturner and Karen Kim all knew that it hangs outside the main tennis courts at Longshore. (Click here to see.)

Last week was not exactly tennis weather. This week’s Photo Challenge is a bit more wintry. If you know where in Westport you would see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Christine Utter Designs, And Paints

Three years ago, Christine Utter opened The Skillful Shopper.

The Westporter called her small spot on the Post Road near the Double L Market a “recycling, go-green boutique.” By giving new life to old chairs, tables, lamps and handbags, she saved her customers money — and did a tiny bit to reduce their carbon footprint.

But running a small business — particularly while paying Westport rents — is hard.

Christine Utter, in her Skillful Shopper store.

The Skillful Shopper has moved online. But Christine found a partner, with a shop at 239 Westport Avenue, just over the Norwalk line. They’ve just opened a new venture there: The Design + Paint Studio.

Christine and Daniella Toth offer custom painting services. Furniture, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, walls, floors — you name it, they paint it (using eco-friendly Annie Sloan Chalk Paint).

They also offer design and decorating services and workshops, color consultations, repairs, and estate liquidations and management.

Annie Sloan (left) and Daniella Toth.

Christine moved to Westport from North Stamford in 2003. She was looking for a community in which most children did not go off to private school. She was attracted too by our town’s diversity, “artsy” vibe, and proximity to water.

Her daughter graduated from Staples last year. And even though Christine’s store is no longer in Westport, she’s retained her ties to the community.

The Design + Paint Studio repainted a pine coffee table for Project Return, gratis. They’ve reached out to the Gillespie Center to paint there. They invite other non-profits to contact them for similar volunteer work: thedesignandpaintstudio@yahoo.com.

(The Design + Paint Studio hosts a “Feng Shui Your Bedroom for Love” event at 7 p.m. on February 11.)

Inside the studio.

 

Pics Of The Day #1013

Hundreds of rowers — teens and adults, male and female —  competed in the Connecticut Indoor Rowing Championships today.

The annual event is sponsored by the Saugatuck Rowing Club. With dozens of ergometers though, it’s too big for the Riverside Avenue facility. It’s usually held in Easton. This year, the SRC kept it local: the Staples High School cafeteria.

Camaraderie was clear. The competition was keen. And the energy level — predictably — was high.

(Photos/Dan Woog)

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest Tackles Stereotypes

For 6 years, TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest has considered specific, newsworthy topics.

Westport students have been asked to consider — and write on — issues like micro-aggressions, the “taking a knee” controversy, white privilege, Black Lives Matter, the increasingly diverse demographics of the United States, and self-segregation in school cafeterias.

This year, the town’s diversity action committee takes a different tack.

The 2020 contest asks teenagers to address a broad — but very important — theme: stereotypes.

TEAM Westport says:

A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a person, frequently based on that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or gender-identity. Stereotypes are often unconscious and may be introduced and reinforced — intentionally or unwittingly – by many sources, including family, peers, the popular media, curricula, and society at large.

This year’s challenge states: In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your experiences witnessing, delivering, and/or being subjected to stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, and describe the impact that such experiences are likely to have upon recipients. Consider steps that organizations, schools, and/or individuals could take to counteract stereotypes—whether as initiator, recipient or witness.”

“In order to dismantle bias, it’s important to first understand the factors that build bias,” says TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

“Stereotyping is a first step toward bias in what historians and sociologists call ‘othering’ — behavior that places the stereotyped group outside the normal considerations of society. History has proven that this can lead to dangerously impactful results.”

The entry deadline is February 28. Subject to the volume and caliber of entries received, at the discretion of the judges up to 3 cash prizes will be awarded. The first prize is $1,000; second prize is $750; third is $500.

Any student living in Westport — or attending school here — can enter.

The Westport Library is co-sponsoring the event. Winners will be announced at a ceremony there on April 2, 2020.

(For more information, including full contest rules and an application form, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #1012

Fire truck on the Cribari Bridge (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Police Awards Ceremony Set For Wednesday

Traditionally, the Westport Police Department presents awards and honors to members of the force at private ceremonies.

But great work deserves greater attention.

So — for the first time ever — a big event is planned. It’s set for Wednesday, January 29 (6 p.m., Town Hall auditorium). Everyone is invited.

“We are excited to welcome the public we serve to join us in giving the recipients some much deserved recognition for their great work in the field,” says Lieutenant Anthony Prezioso.

Numerous officers will be feted in the short ceremony, which includes remarks from Police Chief Foti Koskinas and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Mark it on your calendar. Head on over. But don’t speed!

 

Friday Flashback #177

It’s been (knock wood) a very snow-free winter.

That was not the case back in the day.

I’m not sure what year the photo above was taken. Carriages had already been replaced by automobiles. But on a day like that one, it was nice to have a horse on hand.

I don’t know the year of this one one either. But believe it or not, Greenberg’s was luckier this day than a few decades later.

In the 1960s, heavy snow collapsed the roof of the Main Street “department store.”

It never recovered, and closed shortly thereafter.