Tag Archives: Rex Fowler

Roundup: Inauguration, Staples Sports, Restaurant News, More

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Tuesday night’s COVID remembrance at the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool will be remembered for its somber, stunning 400 lights. Each represents 1,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus.

Staples High School 2009 graduate Andrew Lott — a former Staples Players lighting director — played a major role in the event. He also helped light last night’s Biden/Harris inauguration show, featuring musical performances, fireworks, and tributes to Americans affected by the pandemic.

Lott — a University of Michigan alumnus — has worked with the Spoleto and Williamstown Theatre Festivals, Public Theatre, Shakespeare in the Park and Lincoln Center.

He spent 2 years as lighting director for “CNN Tonight.” He now works nationally on a wide variety of events.

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their spouses admire 400 lights, at the Lincoln Center reflecting pool.

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Meanwhile, there were no protests — in Washington, state capitals or Westport — yesterday, as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as America’s new leaders.

But Westporters Rex Fowler and Dodie Pettit — aka Aztec Two-Step — headed to the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge to celebrate.

A few people asked why Fowler was wearing a red hat.

“We are All Americans today,” Pettit explained. “We didn’t think about the color when we went out of the house. Maybe that’s the point!”

Rex Fowler, with flag. (Photo/Dodie Pettit)

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Last Sunday, author Layla F. Saad honored Martin Luther King Day with a  compelling discussion based on her book, “Me and White Supremacy.”

Two days later a panel of local leaders explored how to undertake Saad’s self-guided 28-day process of self-reflection.

It was an important talk. If you missed it — or want to see it again — click below.

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Winter sports practices have begun at Staples High School.

The usual date is around Thanksgiving. The pandemic delayed the start nearly 2 months; the first competition will now be in early February.

For the boys basketball team (shown below), along with girls basketball; boys and girls indoor track, ice hockey and skiing, and boys swimming and diving, it was one small step toward normalcy — though masks are required at all times, and spectators are not allowed.

Wrestling and competitive cheer are still prohibited.

(Photo/Dylan Goodman)

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I got a nice surprise this week with my takeout (fantastic lamb dan dan) from Kawa Ni.

The Japanese/pan-Asian restaurant has partnered with 2 others also owned by Bill Taibe — Don Memo and The Whelk — in a game. Every time you order from one, you get a letter (mine was “E”). When you have enough to spell out the name of one of those restaurants, you can post it to social media (with a tag) and win prizes (a family meal for 4, takeout up to $75, or a cocktail to go).

There are instant prizes too: guac and chips, fried oyster deviled eggs and crab rangoon.

It’s great food fun. And a lot better than a toy with a Happy Meal.

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Noted chef Matthew Redington died unexpectedly earlier this month in New York. He was 40 years old.

The Westport native learned his craft at Acqua restaurant on Main Street under Christian Bertrand, formerly of Lutèce. Matt graduated from New England Culinary Institute where at age 19 he was the youngest person offered a spot in the Advanced Placement Program.

Matt and went on to top chef positions at Jean-George Vongerichten’s Spice Market in New York, Clio in Boston and Tengda in Greenwich (a co-creation of his). At Paul Newman’s The Dressing Room next to the Westport Country Playhouse, he helped Michel Nischan create the groundbreaking farm-to-table menu.

Most recently Matt ran a consultancy, creating culinary themes, concepts and menus for new and re-launched restaurants in New York and Connecticut.

Matt also enjoyed yoga, snowboarding, and innovative art and graphics.

He is survived by his father Thomas of Colebrook; sister Jessica Redington-Jones of Taylors, South Carolina; 3 nieces, 7 aunts, 6 uncles and numerous cousins.

A memorial celebration of Matt’s life will be held at a later date. Donations may be made to the New England Culinary Institute Scholarship Fund, 7 School Street, Montpelier, VT 05602. To leave online condolences, click here.

Matthew Redington

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And finally … Happy 71st birthday to Billy Ocean!

 

“Breathe”

Rex Fowler calls John Lennon “a genius.” “Imagine,” for example, is “one of the simplest, most straightforward protest songs ever.”

But not all Lennon’s social commentary songs measures up. “Power to the People,” for example, is “one of the worst.”

Fowler should know. Since founding the folk-rock band Aztec Two-Step nearly 40 years ago, he’s written his share of political tunes. “Living in America” and “Naked” are 2 examples.

It’s not easy, though. Fowler — a Westport resident — notes, “there’s a temptation to preach, or use platitudes.”

Fowler and his wife Dodie Pettit — now part of Aztec Two-Step — avoided those pitfalls with their latest release.

Aztec Two-Step: Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler.

“Breathe” was born out of this summer’s peaceful, passionate protests after the murder of George Floyd, and other unarmed Black men and women.

“I was proud of so many people — young and old, every color and creed — getting out and doing something. It really gave me hope,” Fowler says.

But he knew better than to try to force a song. A good creation must be “visceral, soulful,” he says. “Once it starts, it rolls out. But I can’t manufacture it.”

For a couple of weeks, Fowler fiddled with a guitar melody. He particularly liked Neil Young’s “Down by the River.” Pettit thought her partner was on to something.

“It’s such an iconic song,” Fowler explains. “‘Be on my side, I’ll be on your side … You take my hand, I’ll take your hand…'”

Fowler and Pettit included 2 of Young’s verses, then added their own.

They also drew on Martin Luther King, Sam Cooke’s soaring anthem “A Change is Gonna Come,” rapper Killer Mike’s rallying cry to vote, and a few notable slogans chanted by the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors.

The result was “Breathe.”

Aztec Two-Step could not use Neil Young’s lyrics without permission. They tried hard to get it. They hired a lawyer, and sent letters to his publicist and manager. They received a cease-and-desist order. Fowler and Pettit are sure the singer/songwriter never knew what they were asking.

“He rightfully doesn’t want people taking his music, and changing it,” Fowler says. “But I think if he heard ‘Breathe,’ he’d really enjoy it.”

In fact, Fowler adds, in January Young — a Canadian by birth — became an American citizen. He did it in part to be able to vote against President Trump.

Undaunted, Fowler and Pettit removed the “Down by the River” verses. They changed Young’s melodic ideas.

But the beginning — Pettit’s gritty lead guitar solo — sounds like a tribute to Young’s style. “He really resonates with us,” Pettit says.

The song was recorded here in Westport, in Aztec Two-Step’s home studio. Band members came in one at a time — because of COVID-19 — to overdub their parts.

Rex Fowler and Dodie Pettit were married in Westport. Their studio is in their home.

At first, Fowler wanted to send “Breathe” out to disc jockeys and program managers complete with the back story. Instead, he and Pettit decided to let listeners hear it with “clear ears,” and figure the meaning out themselves.

All proceeds will go to Black Lives Matter. That’s controversial, the couple acknowledges. There’s been pushback on social media from some people they thought were friends.

Still, Pettit says, “this is a moral cause we’re proud to lend our support to. We’re setting down our marker. We’re standing up and bein counted. We have a voice, and people listen.”

Aztec Two-Step’s New Words

The other day, WFUV’s “Mixed Bag” host/longtime Mets fans Don McGee celebrated the return of baseball by playing “Stay at Home for the Ballgame.”

It’s a new song by Aztec Two-Step’s Rex Fowler and his wife, Dodie Pettit.

Though married only 2 years, they have known each other for decades. Nearly 40 years ago, she played guitar and sang on Aztec’s 5th album. Dodie went on to a long Broadway career.

She and Rex now perform as “Aztec Two-Step 2.0.”

I loved the COVID-safe message, and asked Dodie for a link to post on “06880.” The song is so new though, that none is yet available.

But there is other Aztec Two-Step news. “Words” — released in April — dates back to 2017. Rex started writing it after his musical partner Neal Shulman’s wife died of cancer.

During the COVID lockdown, Rex and Dodie finished it. They recorded it at their Westport home, with bandmates coming in individually (wearing masks).

Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler perform together.

“We thought it would be a song of comfort,” Dodie says. She’s lived with her own tragedy: Her husband, Staples High School graduate and Broadway actor Kevin Gray, died of a heart attack in 2013 at age 55.

Dodie adds, “We wanted to do a real grown-up, thoughtful statement of how hard the aftermath is — without using any of the standard, patronizing fare.”

They’ve performed it on Facebook, for a traumatic brain injury group.

Their next song — a mash-up of Neil Young’s “Down by the River,” focused on Black Lives Matter — will be released soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy the “Words” video below.

And keep your ears open for “Stay at Home for the Ballgame.’

Aztec Two-Steps Into 323

Sometimes, the bands that play at 323 are pretty good. Occasionally they’re not. Usually though, they’re just nice background music to your dinner and drinks.

On Monday night, patrons at the Main Street restaurant had good reason to actually listen.

Aztec Two-Step — the folk-rock band that’s been a cult favorite since 1971 (!) — lugged their equipment, plugged in and played a full set.

Aztec Two-Step at 323. (Photo/Chip Stephens)

It wasn’t totally random. Westporter Dodi Pettit married Rex Fowler — the band’s co-founder — in August. (Nearly 40 years ago, she played guitar and sang on their 5th album.)

Still, it’s pretty cool to have such a legendary group performing in such a down-home venue.

You never know what a restaurant’s Special of the Day will be, do you?

Dodie Pettit’s Next Act

Kevin Gray — the  1976 Staples High School graduate who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died in 2013, of a heart attack. He was just 55.

Kevin met his wife, Dodie Pettit, in “Phantom.” Quite a performer herself, she starred in “Cats” on Broadway, was in 3 Tony-winning shows, and worked with Staples Players (where her husband learned his craft) in a summer production.

Since then, Dodie has kept Kevin’s memory alive. She produced a tribute CD, with over 170 Broadway singers. She also hosted and organized an evening of songs at the Levitt Pavilion, dedicated to her husband.

But life goes on. Now Dodie’s life has taken a wonderful turn.

In 1979 she met Rex Fowler. He was Aztec Two-Step’s singer/songwriter. She was hired to play guitar and sing on the folk rock band’s 5th album.

Nearly 40 years later they ran into each other again.

On August 4, they got married.

Husband and wife.

The ceremony — in Dodie’s Meeker Road back yard — included locals Terry Eldh, Raissa Katona Bennett and Frank Mastrone. All were in “Phantom,” and all sang at the ceremony.

Mary Jo Duffy was there; she sang too. Many musician friends of Rex’s performed, including his Aztec Two-Step partner of 47 years, Neal Shulman.

Of course, Dodie and Rex sang as well.

Rex has adopted Dodie into his band, on guitar, piano and vocals. They’ve toured often since the spring, when they announced their engagement.

They play Saturday, September 15 at the Mitchell Farm Fest in East Haddam, Connecticut. Jonathan Edwards is also on the bill.

A Westport date may be in the works.

Congratulations, Dodie and Rex!

Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler perform together.