Category Archives: Entertainment

Raise Funds — And Upper-Body Strength — For Kids

Westporters know that every day is different at the Levitt Pavilion.

One night there’s a rock group. The next night, a military band. Then comes a comedian, followed by Klezmer musicians. It’s Ed Sullivan on steroids.

But on Sunday morning, June 4 (10:30 to 11:30), the Levitt stage will be taken over by regular people of all ages.

Doing push-ups.

It’s the 8th annual Push Against Cancer for Kids. Individually and in teams, everyone is invited to bang out as many push-ups as possible.

Last year’s Push Against Cancer drew a wide variety of ages and sizes …

The only catch: You have to be sponsored. Friends, family members, colleagues — all pledge money, based on how many push-ups you can do.

All proceeds go to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the program for children facing severe medical challenges.

An anonymous donor will match all funds raised by everyone under 23 years old (up to $25,000).

… and both genders.

Paul Newman founded the Hole in the Wall Gang camp nearly 30 years ago. This year, Westport-based Newman’s Own Foundation is helping out.

The Westport and Danbury Police Departments are all in too.

Opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. A Hole in the Wall Gang camper, now in remission from cancer, will deliver an inspiring speech.

DJ Sean McKee — aka Big Daddy — will motivate the push-up participants. He has a great reason to help: He’s a 2-time cancer survivor.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas (5th from left) and his entire force are strong supporters of the Push Against Cancer.

Last year’s event drew over 400 people. They raised $79,000 for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Organizer Andy Berman’s goal this year is $100,000. The cost of a week at the camp is $2,500 — though all services are free to campers and their families. So Berman hopes to raise enough money for 40 kids.

How many push-ups will you contribute to the cause?

To register, or for more information, click here. Questions? Email andy@mentalgritfitness.com 

It’s A Dog’s World

Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Winslow Park has always been Westport’s 32-acre, right-near-downtown park. It’s big, beautiful, hilly, wooded and — let’s face it — dull.

Sure, dogs romp. Their owners walk, throw balls and socialize. It’s a wonderful place. But not much really happens.

Last year, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce sponsored the 1st-ever Dog Festival there.

It was the greatest thing since flea collars.

The 2nd annual Westport Dog Festival is set for Sunday, May 7 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). I can already hear Fido and Spot pawing at your door.

Demonstrations include police dogs, emergency rescue dogs, guide dogs, hunting dogs, and and agility and training exhibitions.

Earth Animal offers prizes for best tail wagger, best dressed, best kisser, best trick, best lap dog over 50 pounds, and dog that looks most like its owner. Judges include some very important humans: Selectmen Jim Marpe, Avi Kaner and Helen Garten, and state legislators Toni Boucher, Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Steinberg.

There’s an obstacle course too. The winner gets a year’s supply of dog food.

Surrounding the main activities will be dozens of pet-related vendors, rescue/ adoption opportunities, vet seminars, caricaturists and giveaways, plus food trucks (for humans).

Choice Pet is the lead sponsor. TAILS — the local spay/neutering group — is again partnering with the Chamber.

There’s plenty of parking at the Westport Country Playhouse. Proceeds from the entrance fee ($10 per person, $25 for a family of 4) benefit non-profit organizations. Last year, the Chamber of Commerce donated $5,000 to deserving groups.

Dog owners can register for the competitions online, or at the festival. Click here for more information.

Arf!

Roger Wolfe’s small dog enjoyed last year’s large Dog Festival.

Hail To The Victors (And Justin Paul)

Saturday’s University of Michigan graduation ceremonies — coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the institution — caused a bit of controversy. Some students were disappointed there was no keynote speaker.

But everyone loved the entertainment.

Justin Paul — the Staples Class of 2003 alum — joined with songwriting partner (and fellow Michigan Bicentennial Alumni Award winner) Benj Pasek in a special musical performance.

The Oscar and Golden Globe Award winners — accompanied by UM School of Music Theater & Dance seniors — entertained the 10,758 graduates and many more family and friends with “Amaizing Blue Medley.” It included songs from the duo’s “La La Land” movie and “Dear Evan Hansen” Broadway smash, along with original references to UM.

(Earlier today, Pasek and Paul earned a Best Original Score Tony nomination, for “Hansen.”)

Click below for a video of the cold and windy but energetic event (which unfortunately omits the “Amaizing” pun in the graphics). Justin and Benj begin at the 2:30 mark.

Congrats to the UM graduates from Westport: Siri Andrews, Perri Cohen, Jonny Denowitz, Jen Dimitrief, Anna Fiolek, Louisa Freeman, Jason Hoving, Julia Kaner, DJ Petta, Rusty Schindler, Lily Seo and Bailey Valente.

(Hat tip: Westport 2nd selectman Avi Kaner — proud parent of 2017 University of Michigan grad Julia Kaner)

The view from the stage of the 109,000-seat stadium.

Ethan Walmark Nails The National Anthem — And Life

Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is tough under any circumstances.

It’s even harder in front of a crowd of 25,000. In a stadium, with background noise, delay from the sound system, and god knows what else as you stand all alone on the field.

It’s particularly difficult when you’re only 11 years old.

But Westport’s own Ethan Walmark aced it on Saturday. He brought a sellout Major League Soccer crowd to its feet at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, powering through our national anthem like a pro.

Which he is.

Ethan’s band Clueless — formed by fellow School of Rock musicians — has opened 3 times for the all-female cover band Lez Zeppelin.

He’s been a Broadway “School of Rock” finalist. A lead performer in numerous theatrical productions.

In 2012 — when he was only 6 — a video of him playing and singing “Piano Man” went viral. It was viewed nearly 2 million times. Billy Joel himself said, “I like his intro better than mine. Maybe he could teach me a few things.”

Ethan is a hometown hero.

But he’s an international hero too. Every day, he demonstrates how much someone on the autism spectrum can accomplish.

Ethan began playing piano by ear when he was just 15 months old.

However, a preschool educator advised his parents, Michael and Allison, to take away his music. “You want him in your world, not his,” they were told.

Instead, they fostered his talents. They exposed him to as many musical experiences as they could. More than any other therapy, music positively transformed every aspect of Ethan’s existence.

In his young life, Ethan has been a 2-time (and youngest) recipient of the McCarron Foundation’s “Genius of Autism” Award.

He was named Autism Speaks’ 2012-13 “Volunteer of the Year.” On World Autism Awareness Day, he helped Yoko Ono light the Empire State Building.

Ethan Walmark and Yoko Ono. Channeling John Lennon, he told, her, “Imagine a world without autism.”

Ethan thrives in his Westport public school classroom. In the summer, he attends French Woods Festival for the Arts sleepaway camp.

Those are remarkable achievements. But I still don’t think anything can compare to nailing the world’s most difficult national anthem, in a stadium full of people who usually hear it mangled and maimed by professional musicians 5 times his age.

(Click here for a collection of YouTube videos starring Ethan Walmark. Click here for “06880”‘s story on Ethan’s “Piano Man” video. Hat tip: Westport 2nd selectman and Red Bulls season ticket holder Avi Kaner.)

Photo Challenge #122

Maybe it was the great spring weather. Maybe the photo challenge was too hard. Maybe my cropping of the image threw everyone off.

Whatever the reason, only 3 readers responded to last week’s shot. The good news is all 3 — Andrew Colabella, Joelle Malec and Brandon Malin — got it right.

The photo showed the bottom part of the Levitt Pavilion — everything below the stage. I took it from inside the Westport Arts Center, across the Saugatuck River.

Joelle even knew that the path beneath the pavilion is called the Jeff Shoup Walkway.

Click here to see the shot that either stumped most readers, or that no one cared about.

I think more readers will click “Comments” to identify this week’s challenge.

Then again, what do I know?

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

“A Tribute To Pamela”: Local Benefit Show With Wide Impact

Jim Naughton is a pro.

Whether winning Tonys on Broadway, raves for roles in films like “The Paper Chase” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” or plaudits for directing plays like “Our Town,” the longtime Weston resident does things the right way.

Pam Naughton

After his wife Pamela died in 2013 of pancreatic cancer, he dedicated himself to raising funds to fight the disease. He has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for a very important clinical trial — and on Sunday, May 7 he’s set to raise more.

He’s doing it with a very professional — and extremely entertaining — benefit show.

“A Tribute to Pamela” brings his family together on the Westport Country Playhouse stage. Naughton will be joined by his son Greg, a producer, actor, singer/songwriter and founding member of the Sweet Remains; his daughter Keira Naughton Forgash, a Broadway and TV actress, and Greg’s wife Kelli O’Hara Naughton, Tony-winning actress and Broadway star in “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and “Light in the Piazza.”

The songs and celebration will support research aimed at early detection of pancreatic cancer. It’s led by Westporter Dr. Richard Frank, of the Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital.

Newman’s Own Foundation is a lead sponsor of the May 7 event.

So it’s a very local, one-night show. But its impact could be global — and everlasting.

(Click here for tickets. For more information, call 203-739-7354.)

Maker Faire Makes Its Mark

You can’t keep a good geek down.

Chilly temperatures and a light rain did not deter thousands of folks from descending on the Westport Library, Jesup Green and Bedford Square, for today’s 6th annual Maker Faire.

Every type of STEM creation was represented: robots, 3-D designs, flight simulators, submersibles and more.

The arts were there too: violinists, jewelry makers, sculptors…

And of course local organizations: the Y, Wakeman Town Farm and Rotary Club were among those showing their commitment to creativity and community.

In 6 short years, the Maker Faire has become one of the biggest events of the Westport year. Now all we need is some young guy or girl who can control the weather.

Which I’m sure we’ll see next spring.

Hand-made robots were a huge hit.

Christopher Crowe’s creations drew a crowd.

What better spot to hang out in than the Westport Library’s permanent Maker Space?

State Senators Toni Boucher (front) and Tony Hwang (right) joined 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (left) and Westport Library trustee Iain Bruce at the Maker Faire.

A father gives a hands-on wind tunnel demonstration to his daughter.

Westporter Charlie Wolgast — a professional pilot — checks out a flight simulator in Bedford Square.

Beware!

Earth Day Plea: Fear “Digital Crack,” Not Coyotes

Today is Earth Day. Richard Wiese — host and executive producer of the Westport-based “Born to Explore” TV series — sends along a timely note. 

It’s co-signed by Jim Fowler — Wiese’s longtime friend, “Wild Kingdom” spokesman and Darien resident — as well as Dr. Marc Bekoff, a coyote expert at the University of Colorado who has worked with both Wiese and Jane Goodall. They say:

Nature and its wildlife are under siege. We also are witnessing a new generation of children who regard the outdoors as “a place that doesn’t get Wi-Fi.”

When Richard moved to Fairfield County almost a decade ago, he was told by neighbors not to leave his young children outside at dusk because coyotes might eat them. At the time this sounded amusing — who leaves their 2-year-olds alone anywhere, much less outdoors?

Richard Wiese and his family, enjoying the Westport outdoors.

Fast forward to the present. Not a day goes by where someone confesses that they are afraid to go outside because of the “coyote problem.” Worse yet, some are even arming themselves just in case.

There are many threats in our lives, but coyotes should rank far behind guns, alcohol, drugs, distracted drivers and even lawn mowers.

Yes, each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, and more than 20,000 are injured.

The representation of animals — especially carnivores — in the media is based on bad science or no science, which is bad for the animals. What does the available data show? Coyotes very rarely attack. To put it in perspective, meteorites have hit more homes in Connecticut than people who have been harmed or killed by coyotes.

Research clearly shows that coyotes and other urban animals fear people. Most animals don’t associate good things happening to them around humans.  Whenever possible they avoid us at all costs.

What should we fear? Or rather, be outraged by? On any given beautiful day, we have legions of children sitting on a couch hypnotized by their electronic devices. Digital crack.

We fear that we are raising a generation of children who have “nature deficit disorder “ and are totally removed from the outdoors.

Psychologist Susan Linn notes, “Time in green space is essential to children’s mental and physical health … And the health of the planet depends on a generation of children who love and respect the natural world enough to protect it from abuse and degradation.”

We should appreciate the presence of coyotes and educate ourselves on how to coexist with them, rather than instilling fear of them.  Let’s encourage the media to provide a more balanced view of coyotes (and other animals) based on what we know about them rather than irresponsible sensationalism. And for goodness sake, get your kids outside, let them track mud into the house, have grass stains on their knees and be thoroughly exhausted from fresh air and sunshine.

We need to re-wild not only our children, but also ourselves — before it’s too late.

Drew Angus Does SNL

If you saw “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend, you (hopefully) roared at Melissa McCarthy’s spot-on skewering of Sean Spicer. (“I know they’re not ‘holocaust centers.’ I clearly meant to say ‘concentration clubs.'”)

Drew Angus had a front-row seat to the show.

In fact, even better: The 2007 Staples High School graduate — a talented musician and “American Idol” golden ticket winner — was on stage.

Let him tell the story:

———————————–

I got a call from my voice coach at 2:09 last Thursday afternoon. He asked, “are you in town right now? SNL gig. They need 2 white guys who can sing. Giving your phone number to them right now.”

Two minutes later the drummer from the band Shawn called, and asked how quickly I could get to 30 Rock.

I got there fast. How often does an opportunity like this come around?!

At guest check in they said, “Oh, Mr. Angus, right this way!” I went up the elevator, down the hall and through the doors to the Studio 8H set. I was living a childhood dream.

Immediately I saw the iconic Grand Central Station facade/bandstand behind all the hanging lights, moving scenery pieces, cameras, cables and crew.

They put me right on the scene.  My friend Ian, who also got called, taught me the song we were to sing. (We were hired to reinforce the melody with the cast.)

A kid named Harry introduced himself. I looked at the script, and realized he was Harry Styles.

Jimmy Fallon sat in front of me. Bobby Moynihan stood next to me. It seemed unreal. I’d gone from Head Mouse in “The Wiz” to Union soldier on SNL.

We rehearsed the sketch 5 or 6 times, then got sent to wardrobe. We were measured up, and on our way in an hour and a half.

Later that night, I was playing the Bon Jovi after-party with my band that’s on tour supporting my new record “Hold onto Something” (available on Spotify and iTunes!).

Shawn called again, asking if I could come in at 8:30 the next night to do another thing for the opening monologue. I canceled my Friday gig

Of course, there’s another Westport connection.

I showed up Friday night to sing background vocals in the booth on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” during the opening monologue. My friend Ian got the same call, along with a guy named Frank Simms.

Frank has done SNL hundreds of times. He knows the ropes, and everyone knows him. He was our shepherd for the night.

Nile Rodgers

Frank and his brother sang the backing vocals on the original “Let’s Dance” record, produced by Nile Rogers — who has lived in Westport for years.

Frank said he, his wife and daughter lived for many years as caretakers of the Westport Woman’s Club house on Imperial Avenue.

Saturday was long. Call time was 11:30 a.m. Rumors of Nile Rogers playing on the opening monologue came true when he showed up in the afternoon.

We went through rehearsals, they cut sketches, we got wardrobe. Jimmy told me to break a leg as we passed in the hallway.

The food was amazing. The crew was awesome.

At 8 p.m. we did dress rehearsal with a test audience. The producers then met for final changes.

We went live at 11:30 across the country — for the very first time in SNL history — with Jimmy Fallon as host.

Drew Angus (right), on “Saturday Night Live.”

The energy was truly electric. I think the cast really has as much fun as it looks like they do.

At some point between the dress and live shows, Frank took us up to Nile’s dressing room. We talked about Sally’s Place, Trader Joe’s, Achorn Pharmacy, Bobby Q’s, Bedford Square, Arnie’s Place, and how all the mom and pop shops are gone from Main Street.

Then they called Nile down to the stage and we left.

It was insane.  I still have no words.  Tina Fey smiled at me in the hall.

It will be hard to top that weekend.


Thanks, Drew, for that great inside look into SNL. But I disagree with your last sentence. 

One day soon, you’ll be a featured artist — or guest host!

Meanwhile, click below for the full video of Drew’s “SNL” appearance:

Buell Neidlinger: The Ace Of Bass

He’s played and recorded with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton and Barry White.

He hung out with Pablo Casals — in Westport.

He’s 81 years old. He lives a continent away, near Seattle. In fact, Buell Neidlinger hasn’t been back here much since he left in 1955.

But he’s an avid “06880” fan. He comments frequently, primarily on music and looking-back stories.

And man, does he have tales to tell.

Buell arrived in Westport in 1938, at 2 years old. His parents rented a house on South Compo Road. (A few years later, his father worked with General Eisenhower’s staff in London, planning the Omaha Beach landing.) Buell’s grandfather lived nearby, on Thomas Road.

Buell went to Bedford Junior High, then St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

Pablo Casals was one of the first famous musicians Buell Neidlinger met. He would not be the last.

His first instrument was the cello. That led to his early encounter with Casals. The bass came later.

He spent one year at Yale. The McCarthy hearings mesmerized the country. Buell realized, “I was in school with the same type of people I was watching every day on TV.” College was not for him.

Buell floated around. He returned to Westport, working in Frank Zack’s “high-class haberdashery” downtown.

He sold aluminum windows. Meanwhile he practiced bass in a warehouse, playing along to records.

Max Kaminsky, a famous jazz trumpeter renting in Westport, convinced Buell to move to New York — perhaps the best advice he ever got. He backed Billie Holiday when she played clubs, during the last years of her life.

The first hit record Buell played on was Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

“We’d call the answering service,” Buell remembers. “They’d say, ‘you’ve got a session on Saturday, 10 a.m.’ That would be that.”

The custom of the day was for the rhythm track to be recorded first. Then came vocals, followed by horns. The “string sweetener” — with Buell — came last. The lead vocalist cut another track, this time singing along with the strings.

In 1957, Buell Neidlinger played at the Newport Jazz Festival with famed pianist Cecil Taylor. (Photo/Bob Parent)

Buell’s studio work led to a number of live gigs. He played with Chuck Berry, whose promoter was the first white man Buell ever saw with long hair.

He was on stage with the Carpenters — and can be heard on their famous version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

The Moody Blues flew Buell to London. They needed his acoustic bass.

It wasn’t all rock, pop and jazz. Buell also played with the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.

The list of famous recording sessions rolls off Buell’s tongue: The Village People’s “YMCA.” The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and “Desperado.” He played with the 5th Dimension and Chicago. He was there the night John Lennon challenged Harry Nilsson to the screaming match that ruined Harry’s voice.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

He met Whitney Houston when she was just 9 or 10. Her mother — famed gospel singer Cissy Houston — brought her to sessions. During breaks, Cissy and other backup singers sang church songs to their kids. “I’ve never heard anything like that,” Buell recalls.

Elton John played piano on his first 3 albums, while Buell played bass. Years later, Elton offered him $10,000 to perform in a Hollywood concert that included Leon Russell (whom Buell had backed on earlier club dates). Buell was honored — but had retired.

He’d gotten other calls too, like the one to play with Frank Sinatra in Egypt, for King Farouk’s birthday.

Sinatra is a huge name. So is Dolly Parton. He played on her “Coat of Many Colors.”

“What a voice! Buell says. “What a song! What a person! What a night!”

Among all the singers Buell backed, Barbra Streisand stands out. During one session, he played a Mozart composition. She did not like one note. “She changed Mozart,” Buell marvels.

Buell Neidlinger and his wife, Margaret Storer, on the Warner Brothers sound stage in 1993. The big blue trunk carried his 1785 Italian bass.

Buell — who for 27 years was principal bassist of the Warner Brothers orchestra — played on hundreds of movie soundtracks. His first was “Soylent Green.” His last was “Oscar and Lucinda.” In between were many others, including  “Aladdin,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Lion King,” “Shawshank Redemption” and “Yentl.”

Film recording has changed a lot, Buell notes. When he began, musicians worked up to 8 hours a day, for 10 days. For “La La Land,” he says, the orchestra played for just 4 hours, once. All the rest was done on computers.

In 1992, Buell and his wife, Margaret Storer, took their very first vacation: to Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. They liked it so much, they bought property there.

That’s where they live now. In retirement, he plays cello all day.

These days, Buell Neidlinger plays in a local coffee shop. He calls himself “Billy the Cellist.”

Though he hasn’t been back to Westport in decades, he remembers it fondly. “It was so beautiful,” he says. “It was like living in the wilderness — with amenities.”

He asks about local musicians, then answers his own question: “I hope Jose Feliciano is doing well. I did a session with him in L.A.”

Of course he did. He’s Buell Neidlinger.

The only man from Westport who has played with Pablo Casals, Brian Wilson, Duane Eddy.

And Ringo Starr.