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Jeff Larson, the new executive director, threw out the first pitches of the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival on Monday night at Rarig Center. “Fringe Previews #1” gave about 120 people a taste of what’s coming up in the July 31-Aug. 10 festival of theater, dance and performance art.
Larson jockeyed 30 shows into three-minute previews (and how disciplined 98 percent of them were – staying within the time limit!). There will be another preview 7 p.m. next Monday (the 21st) at Rarig. Again, 30 shows will get three minutes to tempt you into spending an hour with them at the festival. If you need even more information, the out-of-town Fringers will do a preview at 7 p.m. July 30 at Mixed Blood. Admission is $4, which gets you a Fringe button and you’ll need that button to get into the festival.
It's always chancy to choose shows from three-minute previews but as with a book, sometimes you really can judge it by the cover. It would be unfair to torpedo any of the vignettes I saw Monday night and scrawled in my program these variations: “No, not worth the trouble; No, absolutely not; No-No, ignore.”
However, if you want some positive feedback, these shows hit the top of my list: “Failure: A Love Story;” “Tatterhood;” “The Tourist Trap;” “Cursed;” “Indefinite Articles;” “Marie-Jeanne Valet;” “Sex and Sensibility,” and “Hour Town.” The last two were my favorites but the others were solidly on the nice list.
Again, caveat emptor. Just because you can put together three good minutes, is no guarantee. This is not a prospectus, nor a solicitation to buy. But I liked what I saw.
As Larson noted, at least on Monday night, what’s with all the Southern accents this year? There were three or four shows in a row with a possum-pie feel. Has “Dukes of Hazzard” made a comeback somewhere?
Larson also announced that the Fringe was one of 69 finalists chosen by the Knight Foundation for a program that funds arts and cultural programs in St. Paul (the Knight family once owned the newspaper there). About 75 percent of the finalists made the cut so it’s a good bet there will be a second Fringe during the Winter Carnival – which was the festival’s proposal for fund dollars.
I don’t know whether it’s a sign of the quality this year, but the previews Monday were generally so much better than previous years. Make no mistake, there are stinkers. But I remember past occasions where a three-minute preview felt like an hour with a splitting headache.
See you next Monday.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has hired Jill Ahlberg Yohe to be Assistant Curator of Native American Art in the department of Africa and the Americas. Ahlberg Yohe, who will start work in Minneapolis on August 4, comes from the Saint Louis Art Museum where she has been an assistant curator of Native American Art since 2013 and a Mellon Fellow since 2011. She replaces Joe Horse-Capture, former associate curator of Native American Art, who moved to Washington, D. C. in May 2013 for a post at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Ahlberg Yohe earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology at the University of New Mexico with a dissertation on "The Social Life of Weaving in Contemporary Navaho Life." Previously she was a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA. She co-curated the exhibition "Mother Earth, Father Sky: Textiles from the Navajo World," which is currently on view at the St. Louis Art Museum.
Why shouldn’t somebody celebrate “Purple Rain” this summer at First Avenue?
While Prince is adverse to celebrating anniversaries and looking back, his former drummer Bobby Z toasted the 30th anniversay of “Purple Rain” in a big way Saturday at First Avenue at his third annual Benefit 2 Celebrate Life for the American Heart Association.
Bobby Z, drummer for Prince & the Revolution, found an array of local guests – and one out-of-towner, “Purple Rain” co-star Apollonia – to play songs from “Purple Rain” as well as some of their own selections.
Four years ago, Bobby Z suffered a near-fatal heart attack. So he has organized an annual benefit to raise awareness about heart health. He gave a little speech and showed a quick video but the “educational” highlight was when one of his doctors, Dr. Uma Valeti, said: “It’s easier to save a man’s life than to put up a show like this.”
Amen. The scheduled opening act didn’t arrive on time. So, the music began with a surprise guest, pinch-hitting for a stuck-in-transit performer. Yes, Bobby Z called on Brian Setzer, Minneapolis’ most overlooked guitar hero, to open the show with the house band – which the pompadoured guitar man dubbed Bobby Z’s Purple Hearts Club Band.
And, apparently without rehearsal, Setzer and the the band tore through a rockabilly number and two Stray Cats classics, “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town.” Indeed, Setzer did rock this town. And to show you what kind of guy he is, he usually let Cory Wong from the house band take the first guitar solo - - and there were solo opportunities for the other band members, as well.
Then the expected kickoff act showed up: hip-hop hero Slug, of Atmosphere, just back from Milwaukee. He threw down a rap/sing version of “Let’s Go Crazy,” and then it started raining “Purple."
“American Idol” finalist (from Season 5) Paris Bennett declared “Baby, I’m a Star,” with some star-like testifying at the end. Her mother, Jamecia Bennett, raised the bar by taking “When Doves Cry” to church with the help of Sounds of Blackness. The Grammy-winning choir stuck around for some of their own selections, including “Optimistic.”
Then it was star time with Apollonia offering “Take Me with U,” which apparently Apollonia 6 recorded before Prince reclaimed it for himself for “Purple Rain.”
Dr. Fink, formerly of Prince and the Revolution, showed why he has a PhD in keyboards, as he played “Do Me Baby” as a wedding march and offered “Father’s Song,” composed by Prince’s dad John Nelson for the movie soundtrack.
Then it was time for a little Purple detour, with G Sharp of Dr. Mambo's Combo, who does the best vocal impression of Prince of anyone in the Twin Cities, delivering “Dirty Mind.”
Paul Peterson took the stage next to ask: What time is it? If you can’t have Morris Day, then Peterson, a Time replacement member for “Purple Rain,” sang the Time’s “Cool” and “Jungle Love” that were featured in the movie.
The show concluded, of course, with the entire cast (save Setzer) doing “Purple Rain.” Wong’s guitar defined the song as several vocalists took turns. But, in the end, when Jamecia Bennett wailed and Wong’s guitar kept rising, there were chills like when Prince himself performed “Purple Rain” at First Ave.
What do you do for an encore? Show “Purple Rain,” the movie, in its entirety on First Avenue’s big screen.
For her encore, Apollonia headed to Paisley Park where Prince and 3rdEyeGirl gave her a private concert at 3.a.m. plus a tour of his complex. She hadn't been in the Twin Cities since she filmed "Purple Rain" here in 1983.
At 4:42 a.m. Sunday, Apollonia posted an item on her Facebook page but it was later taken down. Still, Consequence of Sound republished her post, which said, in part:
"They play loud and HARD. Heard new music that was dope! He had a cool chair for me on the stage at his side and I sat there transfixed on every note, every move, every vocal. After every song I yelled and clapped my ass off. It was so amazing it made me sweat. These ladies are so talented and beautiful. I was charmed. And Prince….my heart still skip’s a beat. Paisley Park is a fun place. He showed me all my images painted on the walls. 'Hey thats me!!!' I said, he just laughed in that cool way he that does. The biggest room will be The Purple Rain room….he will have us painted there, huge murals. 'My big head gonna be up there?' He just laughed and laughed."
“I have loved Sommerfest since I led my first festival concert in 1984, early in my career,” Litton said in a statement. “I admire its spirit of playfulness, its urban setting and adventurous audiences—and the great Minnesota Orchestra musicians with whom I have been fortunate to collaborate.”
Litton’s contract had been set to expire after next month’s festival, July 5-26. This year’s session is the first to be held in the newly renovated Orchestra Hall. Litton will conduct Brahms and Bernstein, serve as piano soloist in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and lead a semi-staged version of Strauss’ comic opera “Die Fledermaus.”
He will also inaugurate the Target Atrium as a performance venue on July 12 when he will play selections from his first solo piano recording, “A Tribute to Oscar Peterson.”
Litton has been a popular and comfortable fixture at Sommerfest and his continued presence provides stability for the orchestra and for audiences. He’s the longest-serving director for the festival, which was founded in 1980 with Leonard Slatkin. Litton serves as music director of Norway’s Bergen Philharmonic—where he will oversee that orchestra’s 250th anniversary celebrations in 2015—and the Colorado Symphony, as well as conductor laureate of Britain’s Bournemouth Symphony.
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