The very-occasional, still-always-unexpected media request pertaining to the St. Paul sandwich has made an appearance for 2017.
Can say that St. Louis Magazine, specifically those sections headed up by arts editor Stefene Russell, has been very good to me of late. After struggling to find a consistent blog presence at stlmag.com in mid-to-late 2016, I hatched an idea about 30 years old: a weekly music column. Turns out that the idea’s found a home and that’s quite pleasing. So far, four pieces have been published, including this week’s, which has a variety-pack approach.
In addition to the music coverage for the blog, there was a perceived need for some added material on the local comedy scene, be it standup, improv, game-/talk-show based or other. For starters, I’m going to roll out a series of occasional Q/As with local comedians. The first one’s just appeared and more will follow.
At some point in the late, weird days of 2016, I caught myself saying these words aloud, in this very order: “I think I ought to join a board.” Having served a couple of brief tenures on the boards of local non-profits over a decade ago, I knew the kind of situation that’d keep me interested and active. As it turned out, an opportunity presented itself nice-and-quick.
After years of covering the arts festival Artica, I look forward to joining the board as of, uh, right now, giving me plenty of lead time to help promote this October’s edition. And, yes, I see myself mostly working that promo angle, rather than signing on for on-site art creation; attendance at the event, though, almost requires some type of active, live-time engagement, so we’ll see how that manifests itself.
Also, along with the artist and educator Con Christeson, I’ll be working on the curation of an up-’til-now retrospective of Artica, which will likely be booked for mid-2018 run.
While I certainly gained a lot by attending multiple Artica events and writing about them, primarily for St. Louis Magazine’s website, I look more forward to this type of participation. Super-excited.
Some photos from past events here:
Kinda crazy for me to think about, but I’m the co-owner of a sandwich shop.
Chef Byron Smith will handle the kitchen. Which, interestingly enough, he built, by hand, from scratch.
Jeff McGraw will handle the books. As a pretty fair cook, himself, he’ll add onto Byron’s menu ideas.
And Fred Hessel owns the building, a sharp little storefront at 3148 Morganford, in the heart of that district’s growing food-and-beverage scene. (Together, Fred and I co-own the Tick Tock Tavern, along with Steven Smith.)
Our opening date’s a floating one, though located somewhere around the middle of October.
The Eat Sandwiches FB page is live and will have the deets as they become available. Just as our name is imperative, it’s imperative that you “like” us there immediately. And, there, folks, you see my role in the operation.
Twice this year, for the RFT, I’ve written stories on musician Andrew Franklin. One, published in May, detailed his pitched battle with cancer; the other, published early today, noted his passing at the too-young age of 29.
We were introduced a while back by Kelsey McClure, who mentioned that Franklin’s band at the time, Big Brother Thunder & The Master Blasters, was looking for group photos. At the time, I was working on a personal photo project called The Magic Door and, so, he, I and the rest of his band met out back of an auto repair shop on MLK Boulevard, taking pics until dark. Later, we worked on another series with the group, at Cherokee’s Bomb Door. And not much more than a month ago, we met for that purpose again, this time meeting up at Nebula for a series of shots with his new group, Sugar Kings; I can’t say I did a good job with the Sugar Kings shots and wound up getting some decent pics of each musician, but without ever getting that keeper, full-group shot. Would that we could do it all over again!
A few months prior, I’d met with Drew and his longtime partner Jessica Bellomo, catching up at Soulard Market. We sat outside on the steps of the bandstand and chatted for a good hour, before the two went inside to shop for produce. An anecdote that I’ve told since came out of that. (I’ll share it here, then will turn things over to those who knew him better, those I reached out to for the second RFT piece.) Here’s how “the potato story” goes…
Drew was talking about “food as medicine” at one of their stops in the market. Just down the row, we stopped again as he was putting a couple dozen potatoes into a plastic bag, which he handed to the farmer. Weighing the produce, the farmer asked for $2.90 and Drew handed him three dollar bills, telling him to keep the extra 10-cents, that he’d grab an extra potato to even things out. So, that didn’t go well.
The farmer, lacking anything resembling social grace, handed back the bag and the singles, saying something like “I only sell what I’m paid for,” which prompted a memory I’ll take with me for a bit. Drew took the bag of potatoes back and calmly, without a word, poured them back into the bin. They then exchanged another word, or two, after all, but all points had already been made. While Drew’s lanky body had obviously been stressed by his cancers and their treatments, his spirit had plenty of spark left; he was not about to take shit over a dime’s worth of potatoes. Not that day.
Random, maybe, but it’s the impression of him that’ll last with me longest.
Here are what his friends had to say when asked to contribute some thoughts to today’s RFT piece. Due to story brevity, I was unable to include most of these, so they’re all here, minus any real edits:
Darian Wigfall: I’m still collecting my thoughts a bit. This is hitting me pretty hard. He was one of the first people to buy my book and one of the first people I met and liked in the music scene in St. Louis when I was writing music buzz for Examiner.com. I loved his band, his spirit; he was a good friend. He was a good friend to a lot of people. He was a fireman, which is one of the most dangerous jobs there is, and a great athlete. That was my guy, man. Even though we didn’t see each other often because he was busy, and so am I, but we always would call each other ‘brother’ when we would meet up with friends for music or drinks or at a show.
Donald Williams: A few things immediately come to mind when I think of my friend Andrew Franklin: kindness, sincerity and his smile. He always had a smile for everyone he knew. The two of us had a lot in common and our conversations almost always touched on our bands, being bass players, writing music, and what it all meant to us. As he was dealing with his cancer there was a period of time where the chemo was really wearing on him. We stayed in touch whenever he was feeling up to it and there were times that I could tell he was absolutely exhausted. I wanted to cheer him up and hear him laugh again so one night Jesse Gannon and I took him out to dinner. Afterwards, he said he had some energy and wasn’t ready to go home so we met up with our friends Darian Wigfall and Ted Brookins for a couple of drinks. It’s difficult to not have fun with that crew of people but that particular night our conversations were so hilarious and outrageous that some of us were in tears while the rest of us were screaming. At several points, Andrew said it actually hurt to laugh. A few times during the course of the evening, it crossed my mind that there was a very good chance I might not get to hang out with him again. There was a very good chance that his family, girlfriend, and close friends might soon lose him. I don’t know if the others noticed when, for a few minutes here and there, I would withdraw from our ridiculous conversations to watch Andrew. I just sat back and watched him tell his stories, crack his jokes, enjoy himself and enjoy our company. I thought about how good it felt to help make him happy, to see him smile, and then I thought, that’s exactly how he always made us feel. That night with that group of friends is how I’ll always remember Andrew Franklin.
Kelsey McClure: Drew and I rarely had to call each other to hang out because we had a habit of running into each other at late night bar spots. The night of the Boston Marathon Bombing, we found each other at the Gramophone on open mic night. Drew had come to play and I to drink because it didn’t seem the night for jokes or to be alone. So Drew refused to get on stage, unless I did, too. He coaxed me up by playing to my utter vanity and insisting a full band back my set. But more importantly, Drew swore to never speak of it again if it went poorly, which I insisted it would, having not prepared and also forgotten I was about to take the stage with the bass-playing love child of James Brown and Richard Pryor. There wasn’t a time after that night when we crossed paths that he and I weren’t blowing plans out of proportion to recreate that night in a bigger, better way.
Mathias James: I met Drew when he was about 16- or 17-years-old. Shoulder-length dreadlocks and a thirst to make music his life’s work. I immediately took to him. Despite me being a solid decade older, we ended up having a lot in common. Our love for that FUNK. Good, soulful hip hop. Our mutual zest for the way music enriches your life. Our mutual affinity for the game of baseball. Over the years, Drew became one of my trusted few. Part of the inner circle. Now and then, months would go by without seeing each other, especially when he was out saving lives with the Fire Dept., but when we’d reconnect it was always like not a single day had passed. Early in our friendship, I brought him in to audition for the vacant bass player role in Core Project. I was rooting for him to get it; perhaps he was still somewhat green at the time, so he didn’t. Immediately after that, though, he used that as fuel to go out and become one of the most soulful, innovative, celebrated musicians in STL. He became twice the musician I’ll ever be. I’ll miss Drew terribly. He was always there with a smile and a huge hug. He was one of the most genuine and passionate people I’ve ever known. I’ll be forever grateful to have been his friend.
John Harrington: Every time we played a show & didn’t get paid or I wanted to go to a party instead of practicing he would always say: “Forget about all that side track BS. Let’s get back to the music.” He also was a revolutionary & full of wisdom & would say: “We can’t sit around complaining about what we don’t have, if we don’t get up & go get what we want!”
Dan Mahfood: Not only was Drew a heavyweight in the music scene, he gave his all as a firefighter, brother, son, and cancer victim. Always blew me away that during his battle with the disease that this guy had the determination and strength to keep getting on stage and spreading love through his music. A true hero and funk soldier. RIP to a legend.
Delighted to have written two articles that appeared in this week’s Riverfront Times. That phrase last happened in, oh, the 20th century.
One feature details the efforts of Phil Berwick and his associate Kapp, as they merrily decorate the streets of St. Louis with Berwick’s decades-in-the-making Merferd character. The article grew out of a very different initial angle, which would’ve bounced out of the presumed arrest of the tagger Super. With this approach, the article would’ve delved into more the “traditional” graffiti scene, if such a phrase exists. Instead, I came across the works of Berwick and quickly shifted focus, ditching the usual names for this relative newcomer – and complete outlier – to the local street art scene. Glad to have been able to do so, aided by an understanding editor realizing the real story presented itself later-than-expected.
In the same issue, I interviewed Andrew Franklin, a bass player, only 29, working through the serious effects of cancer treatments. The story touches on his health, his new band (The Sugar Kings) and his approach to life. Was an intense piece to work on, giving a sense of someone creatively flowering, even as their body strains to keep up. Glad to have been entrusted with telling such a story, by both editor and subject.
EDIT: As if on cue, I was invited to DJ Wilson’s KDHXtra blog, Collateral Damage. Talked about the stuff above. Here’s that clip.
Not going to lie: it’s still a bit unusual to see my name in/on the Riverfront Times. It’s been a good, long while since I was a staffer at the RFT, a run that encompassed most of the ’90s. It’s even been over a decade since a short freelance run in the early-2000s. As a veteran of very mixed experiences as a reader/consumer of the RFT since, I’m appreciative of the new energy brought to the paper by its fourth ownership group and by new(ish) editor Sarah Fenske, with whom I’d previously worked with at Feast.
This week’s cover, on moving from a vegetarian to a meat-eating diet, was something that grew out of the “Ax to Table” project that I attempted (but didn’t complete) while freelancing with Feast in 2015. It’s surprising for any abandoned project like that to enjoy a second life, especially with as prominent a rebound as an RFT cover.*
This new stretch of work with an old publication’s been fun. And that’s all I have to say about that.
(* The piece drew a rebuttal. Huh.)
Working for Alderman Cara Spencer of St. Louis City’s 20th Ward, I’m writing a year-long series of blog posts around the people, places and developments within that corner of South St. Louis. The project got off to a slower start, but just as the weather’s allowed for a little more traveling within the Ward, the stories are starting to appear.
This short feature, on Earthbound Beer, is how I’d like the blog to look/read as the year progresses.
With a little luck, another project of the same sort will be undertaken with the next month. As always, updates as they come.
Some months back, I got an email; not exactly testy, but definitely direct. The gist of it was that my monthly music coverage for St. Louis Magazine was lacking in one important respect: not enough diversity, especially racial diversity. Some of the facts presented in it, I quibbled with, but the writer had a point and I started to think about how to diversify the blend of acts that I was covering. The work involved in that was pretty simple: sit and think and contact folks.
At the start of 2016 and looking to the half-year mark: two of the artists I’ve profiled are African-American, three focus on women and one’s still to be determined. It’s a good list of varied artists so far, all of whom deserve media play.
I ended up accidentally erasing the email that kicked off my thinking on this topic and the act he was pitching (if in a unique, just-shy-of-aggressive way) is way out of my head, lost to space and memory. But the gist of the letter, even if challenging, was a worthwhile one to both make and consider; they made me look at this monthly gig in a different way and kicked me out of the autopilot, talk-to-friends-and-friends-of-friends rut I’d fallen into. By extension, I’d like to think that people can civilly, even pointedly exchange ideas and get a result. I appreciate getting the note, in retrospect, sure do. Here’s my list to date:
2016: June, Paige Alyssa; May: TBD; April, Kellie Everett; March, River Kittens; February, Paul Stanton; January, Walk Miles aka The Walkman
2015: December, Mikey Wehling & Vandeventer; November, Lliam Christy; October, Rich Wooten and Nick Barbieri; September, Clockwork; August, American Wrestlers; July, Beth Bombara; June, Animal Children; May, The Tennis Lesson; April, Ethan Leinwand; March, Aaron Griffin; February, Tom & Alice; January, Town Cars
2014: December, Tommy Flynn; November, The Dock Ellis Band; October, Mathias & The Pirates; September, Ian Fisher and The Present; August, Pat Liston; July, Big Brother Thunder & the Master Blasters; June, Lizzie Weber; May, Boxing Clever Records; April, Willis, March, Sleepy Kitty; February, Brothers Lazaroff; January, Jenny Roques
2013: December, So Many Dynamos; November, Kimmy V; October, Letter to Memphis; September, Kentucky Knife Fight; August (not in rotation); July, Tommy Halloran & Guerilla Swing; June, Syna So Pro; May, Black James; April (not in rotation); March, Mike Apirion; February (not in rotation); January, Bruiser Queen
2012: December, El Monstero; November, Tory Z. Starbuck
Looking at that list, I give myself an overall B for effort (with late push), C for execution (ditto). Moving those grades up in 2016.
(And props to Stefene Russell for the continued and appreciated work.)