Dessa was the perfect act for the Hennepin Theatre Trust's New Century Sessions. The idea is to get to know Minnesota musicians via performance and conversation. Dessa, the rapper/singer/poet/essayist/teacher, was articulate and delightful during last Friday's show at the New Century Theatre in Minneapolis' City Center. The only hitch was that interviewer Paul Fletcher of Cities 97 interrogated her after the first and third songs. This sold-out event was not being taped for radio broadcast, so why break up the momentum with a Q&A? Not to mention Dessa's concentration. But she made the best of the situation. In fact, she'd anticipated questions and when DJ Fletcher didn't ask her, she decided to talk about her first public performance anyway — singing "Amazing Grace" at high school. "I got the words wrong," she admitted. "I sang 'that saved a wench like me.' I turned a classic spiritual into pirate porn."
From hijacker to Trainwreck-er
Barkhad Abdi will test his comedy chops in Judd Apatow's next directorial effort, "Trainwreck," according to Variety. Amy Schumer, who wrote the script, will play the lead role. Plot details are scarce, but according to the website Slashfilm, it concerns "a basket case (Schumer) trying to regain control of her life. Other key characters in the film include the woman's boyfriend, her best friend/co-worker, and her parent." The "Trainwreck" part is Abdi's first major role since earning an Oscar nomination for "Captain Phillips," where he played a young Somali hijacker. His performance in the film won the BAFTA best supporting actor award. If the rest of the desired cast signs on, this could have one of the oddest ensembles in years. Among those eyeing roles are Tilda Swinton, pro wrestler John Cena, stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia and ex-"Saturday Night Live" guy Bill Hader. Let's hope Abdi ends up as the romantic foil for Swinton. That would be very Apatowian.
Since you only clock 90 once in your life, the occasion deserves a party. Or several in the case of Warren MacKenzie, whose big day was Feb. 16. The internationally known Stillwater potter was feted — for the fourth time — Sunday at the Weisman Art Museum. More than 100 friends, fellow ceramists and colleagues at the University of Minnesota (where MacKenzie is an emeritus regents professor) munched cupcakes and raised toasts in honor of a principled guy legendary for his modesty, potluck suppers and dedication to functional Japanese-style pottery. Former colleague Mark Pharis recalled overhearing an argument decades ago between MacKenzie and a tax collector who showed up at the potter's house at dinnertime. Asked what brought a tax man out at that hour, MacKenzie said, "I've been withholding that part of my phone bill that funds the Vietnam War." MacKenzie downplayed the hoopla and his longevity. "Getting to be 90 is not something I can be proud of," he said. "I didn't do anything. You just go on from 60 to 70 and 80 and then you get to be 90. But the birthday parties have been marvelous."
Drive-by Truckers co-leader Patterson Hood put up with an obnoxious audience member for two hours at last week's three-hour gig at sold-out First Avenue. Finally, Hood spoke up. "I'm gonna put my boot up your ass," was one of the more colorful things the singer yelled at the guy in a minute-long tirade while the rest of the group played on. Amused to see his bandmate so firmly lay into the guy, singer/guitarist Mike Cooley more cool-headedly addressed the putz between songs: "In a few days, I'll be back home with my 6-, 8- and 10-year-old dealing with the same [stuff]. Don't let alcohol be an excuse for acting like a child."
Calling all arty ideas
In January the Miami-based Knight Foundation announced it was giving St. Paul an $8 million-dollar shot in the cultural arm, with $1.5 million of it going to "challenge grants" for which anyone — artists, non-artists, individuals, groups, for-profit companies, nonprofits — can apply, as long as you do it in 150 words or less. The only three rules are: The idea has to be about the arts; it has to somehow benefit St. Paul, and you have to get matching funds from local sources within a year. A sampling of ideas that have won the money in previous challenge-grant cities including Detroit, Philadelphia and Miami include putting on a hip-hop Mardi Gras parade and repurposing lumber from abandoned buildings into fabulous handmade guitars. The deadline is May 5. A series of Q&A meetings will be held at various locations the week of April 13, see knightarts.org for info.
Brothers on film
When they host their official album-release party May 17 at Black Bear Crossings in St. Paul, the Okee Dokee Brothers will at least be in a semi-scenic natural setting on Como Lake. The nearest hometown fans can get to seeing the Grammy-winning, family-friendly song pickers on the Appalachian Trail — which was the inspiration for their latest adventure album, "Through the Woods" — might be watching the accompanying DVD — which will be screened Sunday at the Riverview Theater (11 a.m., $10, 3800 42nd Av. S., Mpls.). The Okees will be there to play a few of the new songs, which they started writing on the trail while their videographer, Alex Johnson, was doing all the actual heavy-lifting. A trailer for the film shows them fighting wind, rain and rocky slopes and mingling with wild horses. Sounds more like "Lord of the Rings" than a music doc.