Two documentaries caught my eye when I was planning my South by Southwest schedule in 2021. I felt fortunate to be able to see both of these as they had their world premiers.
The first of the two is Hysterical, a documentary that peeks into the lives of some of the most famous women in stand-up comedy. The cast includes Margaret Cho, Sherri Shepherd, Judy Gold and Kathy Griffin as well as many others as we learn about the beginnings of their careers and the roadblocks they experience to this day. Director Andrea Nevins moves deftly between subjects as they describe the lure of comedy. It’s an unvarnished portrayal of a life that each of these women are drawn to, but most of us can only imagine. No topic is off limits to these comediennes.
A particularly harrowing story is told by Kelly Bachman. She recalls telling jokes about Harvey Weinstein one night when someone pointed out to her that he was in the audience. People initially booed, but when she began talking about her own rape, the audience was on her side. Some of the other stories of sexism and discrimination are, unfortunately, as prevalent today as they were 30 years ago.
Hysterical is funny, poignant, and thought provoking. Exactly what you want a documentary to be. Hysterical is currently streaming on FX on HULU.
The second documentary was the eagerly awaited Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free, the story of the making of his 1994 album Wildflowers. Because of recently discovered black and white 16mm film shot during the making of the album, Director Mary Wharton was able to have Tom Petty star in his own movie. Current interviews with former band members, producer and Petty’s daughter Adria, filled in the edges with stories and explanations. Wildflowers became, to most, Tom Petty’s best album, certainly his most perfectly formed. When it was released, it sold 3 million copies, but most people didn’t realize how much unreleased material was left after recording.
As the story unfolds in the documentary, Petty wanted to record a solo album (only his second) and Rick Rubin signed on as producer. It was the first album he had produced with Petty. Eventually, most of the members of the Heart Breakers would end up being session players on the album. Although the nuts and bolts of record producing are interesting, the more fascinating angle to me was the song writing. Petty was in the midst of a failing marriage and this was laid bare in the songs on Wildflowers. The interviews that were recorded with Petty in 1994 are especially touching, since his divorce would not occur until 1996.
Full disclosure: I am a huge Tom Petty fan, so had been looking forward to this documentary. Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free did not disappoint – I felt grateful that all of this footage exists and that art, in some form or another, lives on after the artist has gone.
Wildflowers and All The Rest is a 2020 re-release of the Wildflowers album, but includes deleted songs, demos and live tracks.
Hysterical synopsis from SXSW:
Premiere Status: World Premiere Runtime: 87 Language: English Country: United States Synopsis: HYSTERICAL is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of stand-up comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender. Premieres April 2nd on FX. Cast: Margaret Cho , Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger, Kelly Bachman, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch, Bonnie McFarlane Director: Andrea Nevins,Executive Producer: Andrea Nevins, Ross Girard, Jim Serpico, Jessica Kirson,Producer: Rebecca Evans, Carolina Groppa, Ross M. Dinerstein, p.g.a.,
Tom Petty Somewhere You Feel Free synopsis from SXSW:
Premiere Status: World Premiere Runtime: 89 Language: English Country: United States Synopsis: Drawn from a newly discovered archive of 16mm film showing Tom Petty at work on his 1994 record “Wildflowers,” considered by many including Rolling Stone to be his greatest album ever, “Somewhere You Feel Free” is an intimate view of a musical icon. Cast: Tom Petty, Rick Rubin, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Steve Ferrone, George Drakoulias, Alan “Bugs” Weidel, Adria Petty, Stan Lynch, Howie Epstein Director: Mary Wharton,Executive Producer: Warner Music Films,Producer: Peter Afterman,Cinematographer: Anne Etheridge,Editor: Mari Keiko Gonzalez,This film has not been rated.
One of the most anticipated panel discussions available on my schedule for South by Southwest in 2021 was “We Want Live Shows Again! Concerts in a Post-COVID World.” Hosted by Adam Shore (the US General Manager/Programmer of Driift, a global live-streaming company), the conversation took place between Michelle Cable (Booking Agent & Manager/Panache Booking, Panache Management) and Tom Windish (Sr. Exec/Paradigm Talent Agency) as they addressed the future of live concerts.
Adam Shore jumped right in by asking Michelle Cable what aspects she saw being different that pre-COVID, once artists begin touring again. She is sure that a lot is going to change, “The protocols are going to be a lot more specific, not going to be as relaxed. From guest lists to ordering drinks to loading in to a venue; how we structure deals and confirm shows and how last minutes changes happen because of the precariousness of the COVID situation. I think we can expect a full overhaul of the live touring industry. We don’t know what that’s going to be yet.” In addition, Cable works with Australian artists that have started playing again. They are having to check-in when they travel from state to state. If they go to the grocery store or get a coffee, they are scanning a QR code that keeps track of COVID hotspots. Additionally, venues are paying for a COVID marshal “who acts as extra security to make sure people use their masks and follow protocols.” She sees the artists and crews are going to have to provide COVID safety plans.
Things in the United States are going to be a different situation: Tom Windish thinks the artists and crews will take on COVID protocols themselves – he doesn’t see a national protocol or even a state protocol. “There may be just some regulations or guidelines for venues in certain cities or states.” Windish also said, “It is too early to see how it will pan out. I think a big thing is we don’t know yet is how will the money, the additional costs that are incurred for any sort of COVID protocol, whether government-mandated or not, will affect the artist. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will affect the artist negatively. It will be different for every venue – it’s really too early for any venue to really know what the finances will look like. We’ve got a ways to go to figure it out.”
Shore’s next question for Cable addressed the artists’ personal lives, “How have you seen your bands take advantage of this time away from the road?” Her response indicated that it has been a fruitful time for the artists:
It’s been a different experience for most of the artists I work with. Fortunately, a majority of the artists I work with have taken this time to get really creative. Those that have been on the road for a decade have taken this time to heal and get healthy and be a little more human again. This has been a time for people to accomplish goals that are outside of touring. Some have collaborated, done more writing, producing other artists. A few artists that I have managed have started their own labels. It’s been a healing time, a time to restructure. A lot of started families during this time. People have gotten really creative with, like, their merch, like direct to consumer and fan engagement.
Shore’s next question was directed to Windish: “How do you see the agent, and the service the agent provides, being different going forward?” Windish explained:
There has been this hamster wheel for years – band makes a great song, gets interest, meets with tons of labels, signs a record deal, puts out the record, tours for like a year, and then does that again for as long as possible. How are we going to make the most on the shows, sell the most records? This time has given artists a chance to sort of step back and evaluate all the different sections of their business, all the way they communicate with their fans, gather new fans and try to make them better. There’s a lot of tools out there that most artists and their teams barely use or don’t use them very well. An example is selling merch on your website. There’s a lot more that can be done, and I’m not just talking about more products. How can you communicate with your audience the best? Also all the socials and everything.
To your question, I think a lot about services that agencies provide, or traditionally provided, versus what artists really need. Social media, for instance, is a big one. Most artists don’t have experts that are helping them with their social media strategies. Another is all this e-commerce stuff. People that help, like, look at your e-commerce or e-strategy across everything are really, really interesting. I’m talking to people that kind of go out to any creator out on the internet, podcaster, or people who have huge audiences and look under the hood of your business and see how you’re doing everything, and barely anyone’s doing it very well. Why would they? They’re experts at the thing they do. Who do you hire? There a few people that are awesome, but that’s who the biggest artists in the world are using. I don’t know that agencies will do it, but I think those are valuable additions that I think they should consider doing.
Shore’s last question addressed what happens next: “Since there seem to be so many new services, as an agent and a manager, where do you see the responsibilities lie and how do managers and agents ramp up?” Cable said:
I think what’s happening right now with live streaming where artists are doing live streaming with merch add ons, some managers are taking on this role, some agencies are taking on this role. Or creating their own platforms so there isn’t a third party that you have to pay. Some agencies have been creating streaming platforms on their own and then working directly with the artists and managers. I think that’s going to continue because artists have found that it’s a way to make money, engage with their fans more and do it well. I think the structures of hiring a social media within a booking agency or a management team, or someone who is really savvy at that has suddenly become much more real because that street marketing that we’ve been so used to, the print media is a thing of the past. Social media the sizing, the stories, the algorithms of your posting, those are all things we need to teach ourselves. The bottom line is everyone was impacted with this, especially the live entertainment industry. We were the first to shut down and we will probably be the last to open based on what we’re seeing, so we need to think about how we can all work together and of course take care of the artist and keeping them safe and happy. That’s something we need to keep brainstorming as we’re in this weird holding pattern.
I think it would great if what came out of this was artists could figure out how to make the same amount of money as they did before and have more time to focus on other things. Between song writing, and families, and doing other things, mental health is something, there has been more attention paid to it in the last few years, but not nearly enough and artists need to step back and get off the hamster wheel a lot. And I hope that this has actually been a good thing for them in that regard in a lot of ways. I know financially, it’s devastating, but I’ve talked to a lot of my clients and they do appreciate not being on the road all the time and seeing their family more often. It’s really important. If they can figure out how to do that more in the future, that would be great.
I found this conversation interesting on a lot of levels. I am very grateful that artists have been able to take this time to re-tool and rejuvenate. When you understand the hamster wheel, as Tom Windish described the musical routine, it is not sustainable for a balanced life or for an artist’s mental health. Fortunately, they have been able to prioritize themselves, which I am sure, leads to greater creativity, more output, and more money in the end.
I am encouraged that the people who are in the artist’s orbit are finding their own creative paths to support the artists without further grind. More engagement with fans is also a positive takeaway from this forum. I am anxious to see live shows again, as I am sure everyone is. However, as someone who has watched a lot of live streams this year, subscribed to more podcasts, and listened to a lot of music, I am grateful that care is being taken with the health and safety of both the artists and the audiences.
Although there have always been examples of athletes being the voice of social change, 2020 was a watershed year in the fight for social justice. The COVID-19 pandemic and the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers were three primary events that coalesced in a short period of time to bring the need for social justice to the forefront and the voices of athletes led the call. Morgann Mitchell, Senior Director, Integrated Brand Communications, Turner Sports, moderated Amplifying Athlete Voices Off The Court, a panel discussion during 2021 South by Southwest. Guests were Candance Parker, Analyst and Host for Turner Sports; Eric Jackson, SVP of NBA Digital Content Operations and Diversified Sports Content at Turner Sports; and Chris Webber, also an Analyst for Turner Sports.
When both the WNBA and the NBA returned to playing games during the pandemic, each league was separately sequestered in their own bubbles to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus. This unique situation allowed the athletes to meet more often and formulate their responses to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Mitchell: “How in the bubble were you able to come together?”
Parker: “Preparation is in the small moments when the cameras weren’t there. I think the WNBA was built for moments like this. We are a league of women – 80% are women of color, we have all economic backgrounds, and LGBTQ members.”
Mitchell: “Chris, you were on the air the night Jacob Blake was shot – what was the response of people?”
Webber: “I have to give a shout out to Turner. Turner wanted to know if I wanted to say something. The response was overwhelming great.”
Jackson: “Black voices have been heard for years – Ali, Hank Aaron. The WNBA was great – you left out (Candace) that you were mothers, so you had to balance that as well.”
In the midst of social justice issues, there was an owner of a WNBA team (Kelly Loeffler) that was also running for a permanent seat in the Senate. She opposed the Black Lives Matter stance of the WNBA players and wanted them to keep politics out of the game. As a direct result of this, players vocally supported her opponent, Rev. Raphael Warnock. (Note: Loeffler sold the team in February, 2021)
Mitchell: “How did the senate conversations come about?”
Parker: “I have to speak on leadership of the WNBA and NBA. We have a pretty solid player’s union – in both leagues. There were times we would hop on calls, one time with Michelle Obama. Because we were in the bubble, everybody was connected. We were able to surround that message and amplify it. We could have meetings whenever we want. I really commend leadership of WNBA and WNBAPA.”
Mitchell: “What is your role in this fight?”
Webber: “I think it’s cool that the younger players are embracing what has come before them and taking leadership. I am inspired that the lessons of the past weren’t wasted.”
Mitchell: “How is social media amplifying the stories?”
Jackson: “The beauty is the youthful exuberance of having voices heard. Authenticity makes a difference with social channels. Here is a guy or a lady that looks like me, that through art and expression do their own thing with social media. It’s beautiful to watch. The older people need to get on board.”
Mitchell: “Can the younger generation do or be so much more than the glass ceilings from before?”
Parker: “It is important to see something, but so, so crucial to see someone. This generation has seen so much that they don’t set boundaries and limits. I know my own daughter is this way. They care for others. It means more for Chris Webber to sit here and talk about women’s sports. Like it means more for our white allies to talk about Black Lives Matter.”
Jackson: “I’m a girl dad, (they are in their younger 20’s) so I’m seeing their engagement in the political election. They are seeing the responsibility of voting.”
Webber: “For my son, as a Black male, I hope I don’t have to worry about how he engages with the police later in life. For my daughter, she doesn’t have any limits, she thinks she can do anything! I have twins and they are still small. I’m excited for them to live in the glory of these times. I’m optimistic for the future.”
Mitchell: “Eric, how are you building diversity in your team?”
Jackson: “This is a passion of mine. Didn’t feel good, but felt comfortable for 20 years out of 30 I have been working. I went to a HBCU (Tuskegee University). I demonstrate my work ethic, I speak out. I need to set the example so when the next guy or girl who looks like me is applying to work here, it will be a no brainer. You want to be in the room where the decisions are made – hiring, content – I’ve tried to do that.”
Mitchell: “Why was ownership so important?”
Parker: “I have to make sure that I put my money where my mouth is – to support women’s sports. (Candace Parker is part of the ownership group of Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.) I am championing women’s sports plus teaching generational wealth. I am looking forward to going on this journey with my daughter – she is on the investor calls with me!”
SXSW Summary: Athletes have been using their platform and voices for decades to bring light to social issues on and off the field of play, but 2020 brought upon new urgency when COVID-19 and the killings of Black citizens like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor coincided in the span of a few months. Bleacher Report and Turner Sports will bring together a panel of stakeholders including, Turner analysts Candace Parker, Chris Webber and Senior Vice President of NBA Digital Content Operations and Diversified Sports Content, Eric Jackson, will dive into how these brands are concentrated on raising athletes’ voices on social issues to new heights and the importance of highlighting athlete activism.
Candace Parker – Host, Turner Sports Eric Jackson – Turner Sports – SVP of NBA Digital Content Operations and Diversified Sports Content Chris Webber – Turner Sports Morgann Mitchell – Senior Director, Integrated Brand Communications, Turner Sports
**elizabeth schneider is a former employee of the NBA and NFL and qualifies as both a sports critic and aficionado.
There was an interesting conversation tucked between movie premiers and music showcases at this year’s South by Southwest. Carole King is a Grammy Award®-winning singer, songwriter, author and environmentalist. She was joined by Jon Platt, Sony Music Publishing Chairman & CEO. Entitled Carole King & John Platt: Notes on Inclusive Leadership, the two titans of the music industry discussed their career paths and their viewpoints on inclusion in leadership.
There were several takeaways during this conversation between friends. It was interesting to hear that King, who began her career by writing songs with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, “…didn’t feel obstacles as a woman, but instead in my personal life.” Even though she entered the music business in 1960, she didn’t see barriers. Her tact was to keep her feet on the ground and do the task at hand. “If I have inspired people, I am glad and I’m glad I wasn’t conscious of it. When you are conscious, you are creating barriers to overcome.”
Jon Platt grew up in Denver during a time that there was no Black FM station. His brother listened to rock, so he grew to like it. He liked all types of music – a song is a song. When asked about the past obstacles in his career, Platt didn’t view himself as a victim. Obstacles were treated as a reason to work harder and smarter. He developed a thick skin. Additionally, he said he wouldn’t trade his journey for any other – good, bad and the ugly.
King then iterated, that when you have a goal, do the homework, be confident in it and go for it. “Like my dad, I acknowledge everybody. I didn’t get where I am without other people. Jon respects writers.” Respect the roles in bringing music to the people.
King also said that she works with a spirit of can-do – “The journey itself is amazing!”
Platt related that he tells young people when things are hard, you probably need to lean into that. At some point, it’s going to work out for you. That’s where the magic is. At 30 years old, I got the job at EMI, the lowest person at the company. I almost stopped, I was going to leave LA, go back to Denver and DJ before I got that job. The magic of leadership is do you have the ability to put others before you? When you are including people, you don’t think about what it’s doing for you – you think about what it’s doing for them. If you want to lead a team, you have to be inclusive and trust people. “My responsibility is to do a great job. When I do a great job, then I create opportunities for a lot of people.”
During SXSW 2021, I had the privilege of being able to see musicians that I would not otherwise get a chance to see. One such showcase was the CLOSE UP: A Sounds Australia Showcase. Each of the three nights had six different artists, each performing two songs. As Sounds Australia said in their release, “These performances have never been seen before and all were recorded in the artists’ ‘backyard’ (however they chose to interpret that theme).” Dom Alessio and Glenny G, both of Sounds Australia, hosted from Glenny’s actual backyard.
On this third night of music, Dom kicked off the festivities by paying respects to the elders, past, present and future, and any Indigenous people. No Money Enterprise, a hip hop quartet from Logan City, Queensland, played their energetic music in what looked like a park. In a nod to their Polynesian heritage, native dances were incorporated into the set alongside the hip hop rhythms.
Hauskey, from Western Australia, was next on deck playing from a studio. Playing the first song on the piano and the second on guitar, Hauskey displayed a pop flavor and versatility that reminded me of Ed Sheeran. He was followed by Indigo Sparke, an artist from Sydney. She played a stripped down acoustic set. Indigo Sparke has a voice quality that is both sweet and haunting.
The Merindas played their set outdoors at night and I wanted to be invited to that party! The Melbourne based duo performed dance tunes that mix pop and R&B beats. Like No Money Enterprise earlier in the evening, The Merindas infuse their music with their native Indigenous language and culture.
The next artist was Didirri, who hales from the town of Warrnambool in Australia. He also played an acoustic set, using a piano for the first melancholy love song and a guitar for the second song. Didirri’s voice is raw with emotion that perfectly matches his lyrics.
The biggest surprise of the night was the appearance of Jaguar Jonze. They played a live set in front of an audience – people in the comments of the broadcast were as pleasantly surprised as I was. In all honesty, I have no idea how big the crowd was, but the people there were very responsive to Jaguar Jonze’ brand of rock music. They had an energy and stage presence that we haven’t seen since March, 2020.
I look forward to the new music that artists in this Sounds Australia showcase will be making in the coming months!
As we all emerge out of quarantine and into what will be a more normal existence, a panel discussion at South by Southwest moderated by Andy Gensler of Pollstar broached the topic of what is next in the world of live music in independent venues. Joined by Grace Blake from Iridium, Amy Madrigali, a Troubadour agency associate, and Dayna Frank, CEO of Minneapolis venue First Avenue, the conversation offered frank ideas of what has happened and what is coming down the road.
All three venues were coming off fantastic showings for 2019 and were looking forward to great things in 2020. In fact, First Avenue was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary in April of 2020. And then, as Andy Gensler put it, “The gut punch was South by Southwest canceling.” Although talks of forming an industry association between Rev. Moose (eventual NIVA co-founder and Executive Director) and Hal Real had begun a little earlier than when the pandemic hit, the SXSW cancellation gave an urgency to the situation that led to the formation of NIVA (National Independent Venue Association). From an initial steering committee of about 30 people, NIVA has grown into an organization that has kept independent venues front of mind during lobbying efforts (#SaveOurStages Act) and fundraising, all with the goal of financially shoring up the independent venues and all of the people who are dependent upon them. Blake and Madrigali both serve on the NIVA board and Frank is the current president.
When asked about their takeaways from this year, all were quick to answer. Blake said, “We were really able to provide some comfort into how to navigate the system. We were able to say to Congress, you really need to step up and help these venues who have never asked for anything. For me, it was a lifesaver.”
Madrigali related, “To echo what Grace said, we came together. Sending 2 million letters to Congress. Showing the power of what we can do in our cities and our country. We can communicate with our government. My first lobbying call was with Representative Adam Schiff – myself and my GM. In his world, LD is Legislative Director and in my world, it’s a Lighting Director. We had great support from our representative and we are really lucky.”
Although President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law on March 11, 2021, Frank reminds us there is much to be done, “We are waiting for the SBA to finalize rules and open up applications for grants. We are nagging them every day. We’re hopeful that an SBA administrator gets confirmed soon so someone from the administration can guide the process along. We definitely need the SBA to provide the safeguards.”
Gensler then asked about the future: “We’re seeing some southern routing opening up in New Zealand. Are things creeping back to your venue at all?
According to Blake. “New York has some of the strictest restrictions. We have to walk before we can run. I do look forward to the vaccination process to continue to happen so that, as we head to herd immunity, we can get closer.”
When asked about Live Streams, Madrigali said, “We had the SOS Fest (October 2020). Coming up, we are doing a TV show. It’s minuscule as compared to where we were before. In November 2019, we had booked 30 nights. In November 2020, we had booked 5 live streams.”
Frank hasn’t found it financially feasible to open for less than full capacity, so summer may not be in play, but fall may be a different story, “When the fall happens – and I am going to will it into existence – we will be busier than we have ever seen.” Blake is “cautiously optimistic”, and is looking toward the fall as well. “October is almost booked. November is getting booked, December. 2022 is looking good, especially for overseas acts.”
For those venues still trying to hang on until the fall, Madrigali recommended checking the SBA website to apply for funds. Frank recommended that artists try to get PPP loans as an independent contractor.
For more information about NIVA and the work being done, go to www.nivassoc.org. Since it can take time for grants to be issued, money is still being raised to help those venues in the most need. A donation link is provided on the website.
The Island Stage is a platform dedicated to bringing music of the Caribbean to the forefront of the international music scene. Pioneered by rising artist Kalpee who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, and his manager Miss Vivianna of Therapy, the aim was to create a platform for Caribbean artists to come together and showcase their musical heritage. THERAPY.XYZ is a brand new series of boutique wellness and soul repairing events such as Music Festivals, Charity Events and Wellness Retreats & Seminars, which will take place in locations across the world that naturally promote healing.
On Friday March 19, I was introduced to a music showcase treat – Therapy presents ‘The Island Stage’. ‘The Island Stage’ has a mission to promote West Indian artists on the world stage. This first time entry streamed exclusively to SXSW and provided an hour packed with talented musicians, live from Hope Gardens, in Kingston, Jamaica.
First up was Mortimer, who sang an acoustic three-song set. ‘Careful’ was a blend of Caribbean rhythms and cautionary tale lyrics. This one easily segued into ‘Fight the Fight’ which also featured haunting lyrics. ‘Lightning’ is a love song written for his wife and three kids, and it was easily my favorite because of the emotion that Mortimer has in his voice. He definitely set the bar high for those artists who would come after him.
Khalia was next on the bill and she also provided an acoustic set. Her two songs, both released in 2020, were the perfect showcase for her incredible voice. ‘Love is Real’ had more of a rock sensibility but smooth vocals. ‘Easy’ was a song that made me dance in my chair! The island beat was hard to resist.
The third artist was Sevana. You may have heard her on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (home) concert – she performed with a full band on that platform and acoustically for the SXSW stage. It was a real treat to hear the stripped-down versions of songs from NPR. The four-song set was bookended with ‘Blessed’ and ‘Mango’. ‘Blessed’ starts out slow like a torch song and builds to use the full range of Sevana’s voice. ‘Mango’ is a love song with irresistible lyrics and an unforgettable melody.
Tessellated was a complete departure from the earlier three acts in that he was backed with a full band, including horns. His songs were hip hop with a Reggae beat. You may have heard ‘I Learnt Some Jazz Today’ in an Apple commercial, but the full-length song is a jazz and island blend. Very fun! ‘Pine & Ginger’ and ‘Tropics’ also possessed Tessellated’s own original stamp of mixed genres.
Rounding out the showcase was Kalpee, who was doing triple duty for the ‘The Island Stage’. In addition to performing, he was hosting the event and is one of the pioneers of ‘The Island Stage’ with his manager Miss Vivianna of FVP Global. With a message of “music is medicine”, the Trinbagonian artist capped the night with a set that included ‘Water Flowing’ and ‘Put a Record On’. His songs have a pop energy with a Caribbean flavor, but I feel like he could sing just about any song with his voice quality. So very emotive.
I hope that this is not the only time Therapy presents a showcase. The artists that were highlighted show such range and variety. I loved this entire showcase. I will definitely keep these artists on my radar when their new music comes out.
Twyla Moves, the documentary story of the life and career of Twyla Tharp, had its world premiere at SXSW on March 17th. Steven Cantor, Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker, crafts a piece using archival and current day footage to give us a look into the life of the acclaimed dancer, choreographer and director.
Twyla Moves opens in April, 2020 with Twyla Tharp creating a dance via zoom with four dancers in four separate locations after the pandemic necessitated quarantine. Herman Cornejo, Maria Khoreva, Benjamin Buza, and Misty Copeland all answered the challenge. As she was choreographing this dance, we are treated to the earliest film of Tharp dancing with her own voice as the narration, as well as taped interviews. Twyla Moves toggles seamlessly between the early days and the current times to show us the evolution of her dance which mixes modern dance and ballet. Although she began dancing in New York after college in 1963 – living in a Franklin Street ‘loft’ for $50 a month – it wasn’t until 1965 when she formed her first dance company that she began to get the kind of attention that would propel her to greater heights. That first company, Twyla Tharp Dance, was all women “because we didn’t want to be told what to do”.
In 1973, Robert Joffrey asked Tharp to choreograph a dance for the Joffrey Ballet and this is where the real combination of modern dance with ballet occurred. Over the ensuing decades, she would go on to choreograph more that 160 works, including Broadway shows, movies, figure skating and television specials in addition to ballets.
In a particular montage from 2020 early in the movie, the 79-year-old Tharp does warm-up exercises in preparation to dance herself. I was exhausted just watching her move. Twyla Tharp continues to have an infinite well of energy as she plots the next stop in her creative journey. As Misty Copeland said, “Even in this stage of her career and her life, she’s setting the standard for where dance is evolving to.”
I found this to be a fascinating documentary and I really enjoyed Cantor’s storytelling choice to interweave the old and new footage. I discovered that Twyla Tharp’s creativity and fearlessness have been the keys to her long career in dance. I can only hope to be like her when I grow up!
Twyla Moves is streaming on PBS until April 23, 2021 as part of the American Masters series.
The first day of SXSW was filled with films for me. One in particular that caught my eye from the moment I saw the lineup was a short – 10 minutes – film namedThe Beauty President.
Director Whitney Skauge has told a true story that most people may not be aware of – the 1992 bid for the White House by a write-in candidate. Not just any write-in candidate, but drag queen Joan Jett Blakk, an openly queer candidate. In referring to Ronald Reagan, she reminded us that “If a bad actor can be elected president, what about a good drag queen?”
At the height of the AIDS crisis in America, Joan Jett Blakk ran on a platform of health care for all and education – in fact, she wanted to switch the budget for the military with the budget spent on education. The healthcare was especially important in a time during our history when people were dying of AIDS at an alarming rate and antiretroviral drugs had yet to be developed to combat the HIV infection.
Although not considered a political threat, Joan Jett Blakk was an officially registered candidate. In video from the convention, we see that she even made it to the convention floor. Skauge used footage from the era and current interviews with Terence Alan Smith (the man behind Joan Jett Blakk) to convey a moment in history. I only wish it was longer than 10 minutes – I wanted to hear more of Smith’s story and I wanted Whitney Skauge to commit it to film.