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the Long Center, from Inside the Ring

Author Archives: nickcurry

Even those of us who are gleefully filled with holiday cheer can get burnt out from the oversaturation of Christmas music. When various radio stations and department stores switch over to all-holiday-music-all-the-time before Thanksgiving is even past, it’s sometimes hard not to feel some Scrooge-like sentiments bubbling up. Fortunately, there are some holiday albums that aren’t just the same smooth jazz and smarmy pop that inundate the airwaves. Here are a few that might help resuscitate your holiday cheer:

 

Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold (2012)

Indie rock darling Sufjan Stevens released Silver and Gold, a new collection of holiday tunes, this past November. With 58 tracks ranging from fresh takes on Christmas traditionals like “Silent Night,” “Good King Wenceslas,” and “Let it snow!” to new originals like “Lumberjack Christmas” and “Mr. Frosty Man,” there’s bound to be something for everyone in the almost five-dozen-song collection. Stevens’ characteristic folk instrumentations and mix of optimism and melancholia are sure to pull on the heartstrings and induce bittersweet nostalgia in even the most hardened of holiday hearts. Check out “The Midnight Clear” and “Auld Lang Syne” (also known as “that song they always sing at New Year’s”) and feel your heart be warmed with holiday cheer.

Click here for more of Sufjan Stevens’ Silver and Gold.

 

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)


If you’ve heard anything from jazzman Vince Guaraldi, it was probably the music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” He’s no one-hit-wonder – Guaraldi won a Grammy for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and had 17 albums to his name before his untimely death – but this album has stood above the rest.

There’s a reason why “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is still a seasonal staple, and the soundtrack is as good as the TV special itself. The jazz piano solo tracks like “O Tannenbaum” and “Skating” are more than worthwhile on their own, but the songs that really shine are the endearing piano and children’s chorus songs “Christmastime Is Here” and “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.”

Click here to see Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas on Amazon.

The Sonics / The Wailers / The Galaxies – Merry Christmas (1965)


If you’re looking for something really non-traditional, look no further than Merry Christmas, a collaborative album from 1960s garage rock bands The Sonics, The Wailers, and The Galaxies. Etiquette Records brought these three groups from Tacoma, Washington together for this 1964 release, and it’s more than unfortunate that it isn’t more widely available. If your nostalgia for bygone holiday seasons is tinged with longing for the sounds of groups like The Kinks and Paul Revere & the Raiders, then this album should bring a smile to your face. And really, even if not, this is a great listen.

Unfortunately, this one seems to have never been reissued, so you’re pretty much limited to what’s on YouTube.

Sam Billen – Merry Christmas (2012) and A Light Goes On (2011)

Billen MerryChristmas2012_Cover

Sam Billen has been releasing an annual free Christmas album since 2008, and this year’s edition is no letdown. Family has always been a central feature of Billen’s music, and this mostly-acoustic album features his brother Dan and father Bill alongside Sam and his oftentimes collaborator Josh Atkinson. It’s understated and folksy, with a tinge of retro synth. It’s a pleasant 22 minutes of holiday classics, with “I Wonder as I Wander” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” particularly standing out

Click ‘play’ to take a listen to Sam Billen’s “A Light Went On,” from A Light Goes On (2011).

But while this year’s instrumental album is great, for me it can’t top last year’s Billen Christmas project, A Light Goes On. And while there are plenty of fantastic takes of holiday classics in this one (Katlyn Conroy and Austen Malone’s take of “Baby Its Cold Outside” and Timbre’s “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” are particularly charming), the original and unexpected inclusions are where this really shines. Beau Jennings’ rendition of Woodie Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre” – about the 1913 Italian Hall Disaster, where 73 people were trampled to death after someone shouted “fire” at a crowded miners’ Christmas party – is as hauntingly beautiful as it is tragic. Sam Billen’s title track, “A Light Went On,” is a story of nostalgia for the Christmastimes of childhood, all bundled up with endearing indie-pop trappings.

You can find more information or download Merry Christmas (2012) here, and you can click here for more of A Light Goes On (2011).

The Maccabeats – “Candlelight” (2010)


Okay, this one isn’t an album like our other selections, but it’s brilliant enough that we just couldn’t leave it out. The Maccabeats, an all-male a cappella group out of Yeshiva University, became an internet sensation for their hilarious parody of Taio Cruz’s party hit “Dynamite.” The new lyrics tell the Hanukkah-appropriate tale of the mighty Maccabees, and the impressive music video and top-notch a cappella work does not disappoint. Whether you’re one of the treasured people or you don’t know the difference between Seder and cedar, you’ll enjoy this wonderful remake.

Click here for more Maccabeats.

Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland – Fireside Songs for the Soul (2010)


This list wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of local flavor, and Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland both have plenty of that. These two regionally acclaimed Texans have been significant players in the Austin music scene (as well as throughout the rest of Texas) for years, and there’s a reason why. Their country twang is charming in this cover of the wintertime classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Even though it’s never actually that cold in Austin, Texas (although I’ve heard 55 degrees described as “frigid” by some of the locals), this iconic tune is always fitting for the holiday season.

You can check out Fireside Songs for the Soul on iTunes, or find it on Carolyn’s website.

– Nick Curry, Marketing and Development Intern
The Long Center

The Long Center hosts Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland’s Holiday Roast on December 20- 22. Click here for more information and tickets.

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There’s no way around it: the Blue Man Group is a strange bunch. Intentionally and delightfully so, but nonetheless, pretty odd. Their uniqueness is part of the appeal, but it makes it slightly tricky to explain what it is they actually do. The press kits they send us, allegedly to help us tell you what exactly it is the Blue Man Group is, aren’t too much help either: they like to drop phrases like “indescribable phenomenon” and “experiences that defy categorization.” Fortunately for us, we’ve seen Arrested Development (more on that in a later blog post) and we’ve scoured the interwebs for the best clips of the Blue Man Group in action, so we’re at least slightly more familiar with the Blue Men.

1. “Blue Thousand One”

This might be the classical music nerd part of me talking here, but I’m a sucker for just about anything that uses the opening to Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” (or, as it’s more commonly known, the music from the monolith scene of Stanley Kubrick’s classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey). Whether it’s the computer files scene in Zoolander or Blue Men tossing exploding balloons full of paint at each others’ faces, this music can make just about anything dramatic and epic. Maybe I should cue that tune up for the next time I’m washing dishes.

2. Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”


Okay, I like Lady Gaga. I’ve spent the last five and a half years studying classical music theory, but there’s still just something about cheesy, superficial pop music that I enjoy so much. This last week, my listening was split (nearly 50/50) between Maurice Ravel’s La valse and Swedish pop star Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend,” and I’m okay with that. I can love them both.

In this clip, the Blue Man Group takes a crack at Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and, as you could expect, it’s wonderfully silly. While this isn’t my favorite Gaga cover ever (that distinction goes to the staff of National Public Radio for their amazing rendition of Gaga’s Telephone) it’s still pretty cool.

3. Rods and Cones


Part science lesson and part musical performance, this video from the Blue Man Group production “Tubes” features mesmerizing rhythms, grooving percussion, and an intriguing look at how our eyes work. I definitely have a soft spot for well-done educational entertainment (my childhood was spent with Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Bill Nye the Science Guy, after all) and this clip not only has some pretty great music but throws in a fascinating examination of the human eye.

– Nick Curry, Marketing and Development Intern
The Long Center

The Blue Man Group will be at the Long Center on December 31-January 2. Click here for more information and tickets.

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Americans love to laugh, especially when things are the most serious. And with a hotly-contested presidential election looming, political satire has never been more popular.

Serious topics have rarely been too taboo for jokes. Jonathan Swift famously suggested eating babies in his 1729 essay A Modest Proposal. Joseph Heller made a mockery of war in Catch-22. That politics would become the butt of jokes is no surprise: the often dysfunctional American political system usually seems like it would be better suited for a sitcom than for actually governing a nation.

In 2011, Jon Stewart’s news-satire The Daily Show averaged more viewers than any cable news show other than The O’Reilly Factor. And with Election Day only two weeks away, it’s prime-time for political satire. Comedy Central’s coverage of the Republican National Convention actually pulled in more viewers than any of the actual news networks, and a Facebook page mocking Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” quote from the second presidential debate has over 350,000 ‘likes.’ Even when it comes to things we care about, there apparently is just about nothing that is no laughing matter. And I have to say, this year’s election has not disappointed when it comes to humor.

The normal suspects like Stewart and Colbert have had plenty of fun with things. But there have been some new kids on the block, like Soul Pancake’s ‘Kid President’.

The Gregory Brothers, who produced Auto-Tune the News, have been on fire with their ‘songified’ debate highlights (warning, some strong language in this one):

And The Gregory Bros and the New York Times collaborated for another one: in “Patriot Games,” Romney and Obama square off to see who can drop the most buzzwords in this mash-up of their nomination acceptance speeches:



Maybe we’re gluttons for suffering: unsatisfied with the news being depressing enough, even our humor has to have that tinge of black comedy. Maybe there’s something cathartic about making light about the same national issues that we’re intensely stressed about.

Whatever the reason, the Long Center’s presentation of political satirists Capitol Steps this Thursday couldn’t be more timely. If anyone in the political satire business knows just how tragically funny the American political system can be, it would be them – most of the group started out as congressional staffers, and they’ve been making fun of their old jobs and former bosses professionally since 1981.

Capitol Steps have done their share of bipartisan bashing this election season. Here’s their take on the first presidential debate:




So as we bring in a bunch of political satirists less than two weeks before this heated election, it’s not that we’re not taking the election seriously – it’s just that sometimes things are so serious, there isn’t anything to do but laugh.

– Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center

Capitol Steps will be at the Long Center on October 25. Click here for more information and tickets.

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Four of the five Brown siblings wait in the green room at KUT’s studios before their on-air interview with Eklektikos host John Aielli.

Two of the most important lessons to learn in life seem to be to do what you love and to put family first. The Five Browns can check the boxes for both.

We sat with the group in the Green Room at KUT studios this morning before their interview with Eklektikos host John Aielli. They talked about everything from the program tonight (Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to Saint Saen’s Dance Macabre to Star Wars) to what they wish Juilliard would have taught them (the practical stuff, like how to build a website, instead of just how to practice more hours than you sleep), from music theory love/hate to how if they had known that the Austin City Limits Festival were this weekend, they would have found an excuse to stay an extra few days. When music majors get together, they generally lapse into shop talk within about thirty seconds. Being musician siblings seems to shave even a few more seconds off that average time.

What they didn’t really say was just how great it was to be able to work and tour and perform with the family they grew up with: all five brothers and sisters on the road and stage together, sometimes even all five playing at once. But they didn’t have to – you could tell.

The world is full of mixed messages: family over everything, but take care of yourself first. Don’t sacrifice your dreams, but you better be practical. Do what you love, but be realistic even if that means doing something else. It’s enough to give just about everyone a pretty confused sense of priorities.

The Brown siblings somehow lucked out. I’m sure that they’ve all made plenty of sacrifices in their lives, but they get to do what they love, to play music for a living with the people they love the most. There’s a special joy to that.

They don’t have to say it – you can tell.

– Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center

The Five Browns will be at the Long Center on October 11. Click here for more information and tickets.

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Ballet Folklorico De Mexico isn’t a typical ballet. It doesn’t look like ‘The Nutcracker’ and it definitely doesn’t look like ‘Black Swan.’ Now we love Tchaikovsky ballets as much as anyone, but the lack of resemblance is actually a good thing.

When dancer and choreographer Amalia Hernández founded Ballet Folklorico De Mexico in Mexico City back in 1962, she gave ballet a somewhat novel twist. As a classically trained dancer, Hernández knew all the things ballet was supposed to be – graceful, elegant, refined, and with just about as little in common with folk art as possible. She just didn’t care about what it was ‘supposed’ to be.

Hernández took the regional folk dances of Mexico and blended them with ballet. This kind of folk art infusion changed the classical music landscape through composers like Antonín Dvořák and Béla Bartók. And while Amalia Hernández might not have the worldwide recognition that Dvořák and Bartók have found, she’s no less of an innovator. Hernández and Ballet Folklorico pioneered the ‘baile folklórico‘ amalgam of Latin American folk dance and classical European dance.

Amalia Hernández’s Ballet Folklorico De Mexico combines the high art of ballet with the ethnic and regional folk dances of Mexico. The dances are often stylized – many of the choreographies are from Hernández herself – but they still retain some of the regional folk traditions that are disappearing from the modern world. But Ballet Folklorico De Mexico isn’t celebrating what their culture was, not who they as a people were; it isn’t a nostalgic nod to the past-tense but a celebration of who they are. A celebration of the idea that your roots are part of you and that ignoring those roots means ignoring a part of oneself.

And we’re looking forward to celebrating all of these things with them.

– Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center

Ballet Folklorico De Mexico will be at the Long Center on October 23. Click here for more information and tickets.

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When it comes to music, everyone has their guilty pleasures. I finished up a degree in classical music in May but somehow still spent all summer shamefully listening to the new singles from Nicki Minaj and Carly Rae Jepsen (okay, to be honest, I don’t feel that guilty about it). But whether you actually lived through the ‘80s or, like me, just found out about it later and still can’t figure out how anything in that decade could have possibly happened, there isn’t much better guilty pleasure listening than ‘80s rock.

Broadway hit Rock of Ages comes to the Long Center on their national tour today, and from what we can tell, they brought their hairspray. The Tony Award-nominated musical features almost everything that made the 1980s so retrospectively hilarious. Especially mullets, hair bands, and a complete disregard for what should be socially acceptable.

Like just about every musical, it’s silly yet sentimental, filled with love-triangles (I think even a love-square at one point), melodrama, and catchy show tunes. But unlike most musicals, this one has characters with names like “Stacee Jaxx” and the catchy show tunes are all ‘80s hits. If there were ever a time to pull out the signed t-shirt from Bon Jovi’s 1987 tour that you’ve been hiding from your wife for the last two decades, this would be it.

To celebrate, we’re counting down our top five guilty-pleasure hits from Rock of Ages. And every one of them is so hilariously bad, but oh-so-good.


5. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – “I Hate Myself For Loving You”


While we mostly picked this one because the title pretty much describes how we feel about every song on this list, that’s not the only reason. “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” which reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1988, features Jett growling away about her love-hate relationship with her man. The music video is prototypical ‘80s – it depicts Jett performing live, surrounded by frenzied fans and with lighting just dark enough to make sure you know she’s edgy. We’re not sure what’s with the complete non sequitur 3-second long dreamy bike scene at 1:28, but we dig it.


4. Whitesnake – “Here I Go Again”


Coming in at #17 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the ‘80s” is Whitesnake’s glorious car ballad “Here I Go Again.” It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1987, probably at least partially thanks to nearly drowning the listener with synthesizers and reverb. If there’s anyone who should represent the big hair era, it’s Whitesnake – those rockers don the leather pants and hairspray-soaked locks oh so well.



3. Bon Jovi – “Wanted Dead or Alive”


It’s no “Livin’ on a Prayer,” but Jon Bon Jovi’s 1986 hit “Wanted Dead or Alive” is pretty great. It’s shot in black and white, interspersing concert clips with some sort of story about American dreams and the hard life of the rock star. And I mean, who couldn’t love a song with lines like “I’m a cowboy / on a steel horse I ride / I’m wanted dead or alive”? That’s Shakespeare-caliber brilliance right there. Once the obligatory gratuitous guitar solo comes in around 2:27, it’s almost impossible to not air guitar along.


2. Europe – “The Final Countdown”


The Swedish band Europe had another top 10 hit in “Carrie,” but they’re almost exclusively known these days for the monolithic “Final Countdown.” ‘Epic’ hardly does the song justice – unlike Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, who sing about hard times on the road, Europe’s idea of a road trip involves outer space. Like all the others, the video does include gratuitous live concert clips, but the real story of the video is about the human race fleeing to Venus. With lyrics inspired by David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity,” a wicked harmonized guitar solo, and the iconic synth melody that even Europe’s own guitarist John Norum thought was too much, “The Final Countdown” is about as epic as it gets.


1. Journey – “Don’t Stop Believing”


While only reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1981, “Don’t Stop Believing” has found life after the ‘80s in a way that few of the decade’s top hits have. It’s the top-selling song in iTunes history out of all songs not released in the 21st century, and it’s remained so popular that the song actually re-entered the UK charts in 2009, almost 30 years after its original release. From Glee to The Wedding Singer to Detroit Red Wings games, “Don’t Stop Believing” is still a fan favorite. From the instantly recognizable keyboard intro to the soaring guitar solo to the heartwarming-if-more-than-slightly-cheesy lyrics about midnight trains and small town girls, this one is a perfect rock anthem and a perfect song to close Rock of Ages.

-Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center

ROCK OF AGES WILL BE AT THE LONG CENTER SEPTEMBER 25-30. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TICKETS.

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I’m pretty new to Austin (and even newer to the Long Center staff), so it was something of a pleasant surprise to find out that, a) there’s a place like the Long Center, and b) there’s a lot of stuff going on here. But some of the Long Center’s productions are a little more self explanatory than others.

Rock of Ages? A rock-music Broadway musical. Makes sense. Tap Dogs? Unfortunately, not actually tap-dancing dogs (I would so go watch that), but still pretty obvious what’s up. Improvised Shakespeare? Now that one, I’m a little bit thrown.

Since I’m somebody who spent the last few years getting a degree in music theory, I’m really not an expert on Shakespearean drama. But I’ve still managed to glean through all my schooling that Shakespeare has been dead for something like a long time, and his plays are sort-of set in stone at this point. How exactly does Improvised Shakespeare actually, you know, improvise Shakespeare?

This guy probably would have been ALL over Improvised Shakespeare.

As it turns out: very carefully. The Chicago-based crew studies up on their Shakespeare so they can take a topic suggestion from the audience – they’ve had everything from “the corset of death” to “robots attack” in the past – and turn that prompt into an Elizabethan-era goldmine of hilarity. Basically, it’s long-form improv comedy with authentic Shakespearian language and themes, set in the Bard’s own time.

That’s one of the crazy things about improv comedy: despite the fact that it would seem like all the actors have to do is jump onstage and be funny, improv troupes actually have to practice being able to instantaneously become new characters in new places, all while interacting in hilarious ways. It just so happens that Improvised Shakespeare manages to do this all while being as Shakespearian in language, culture, setting, and philosophy as possible.

Forsooth, indeed.

-Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center

The Improvised Shakespeare Company will be at the Long Center September 18-23. Click here for more information and tickets.

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