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Your Name Here: WXXI launches arts column

The Futurebirds play Thursday at Three Heads Brewing.
David McClister / futurebirdsmusic .com
The Futurebirds play Thursday at Three Heads Brewing.
The Futurebirds play Thursday at Three Heads Brewing.
Credit David McClister / futurebirdsmusic .com
The Futurebirds play Thursday at Three Heads Brewing.

This is the start. It’s like the opening moments of a “Star Trek” episode, where you know the new young guy in the blue shirt will be the one to die at the hands of an alien, before Captain Kirk works it out. Likewise, the editors at WXXI have shot down all of my suggestions, so you can help name this column. Until then, it’s called “Your Name Here.”

Check out events happening this weekendWXXI has made a commitment to expanding its arts reporting, and you’re beginning to see the results. We have big plans. Starting with a Thursday entertainment column (Your Name Here), which we’ll soon get on the air with WXXI and its affiliates as well. We’re building from a foundation of the WXXINews.org website, and its Arts & Life page. Over the next few weeks and months, you’ll see and hear us developing a platform for feature stories, show announcements, provocative interviews, witty conversation, blogs, solid reporting on social issues and speculative musing.

Here’s the philosophy: Rochester is every bit as deserving as New York City when it comes to enjoying access to high-profile names and cutting-edge arts. Welcome to Rochester, “So You Think You Can Dance Live.”

More philosophy: A band playing at the Bug Jar for 50 people is every bit as important as an act drawing 8,000 to the Blue Cross Arena. Because in the arts, you’re hearing the voice of the community as well as the national conversation happening beyond our city limits.

(Your Name Here) celebrates our rich cultural scene. We’ll have to cast a wide net to capture it. With that in mind, we’ve trimmed down my job title from my original suggestion of “Senior Arts & Free Lunch Correspondent.” But I do have access to a company car, so if you see a little Ford with “WXXI” emblazoned on the door, and it’s parked in front of Abilene Bar & Lounge, you know I’m hard at work.

Futurebirds, playing Thursday at Three Heads Brewing, emerged about a decade ago from the Athens, Georgia scene, same place where you get your R.E.M.s and Drive-By Truckers. And in particular, your Widespread Panics. 

It’s country-rock, yet dark, in the Southern gothic way. Yet with a prominent psychedelic edge that pushes the sound to an entirely different place. Perhaps that’s reflected in the name, Futurebirds, suggested by one of the original band members who was studying poultry science (something that happens in Georgia), and was told that some Native Americans would use chickens as a way to forecast the future (I have not independently verified this claim). 

This is a band that understands the musical applications of the word “landscape.” A band that admits, as one of its members says in a short documentary about its 10 years on the road, “We value our gas-station stops.” Rochester’s The Mighty High and Dry opens at 8 p.m., tickets are $25 at Three Heads Brewing, 186 Atlantic Ave. Call (585) 244-1224.

It’s like Broadway, except Rochester

A theatrical convergence is forecast for the next seven days in Rochester, with new productions opening at the Auditorium Theatre, Geva Theatre Center and Blackfriars Theatre.

The Rochester Broadway Theatre League brings back “The Book of Mormon” starting with the 7:30 p.m. Tuesday opening and running through Oct. 27 at the Auditorium Theatre, 885 E. Main St. As might be expected from a show coming from the creators of the animated anarchy of “South Park,” the characters include portrayals of Joseph Smith, Jesus, Adolf Hitler and Satan that run a bit contrary to accepted history. Tickets (starting at $29) are available at rbtl.org, ticketmaster.com, the box office and by calling (585) 222-5000.

Opening that same night, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, and running through Nov. 17, is “The Niceties” at Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Blvd. The play is a conversation on race, set in the waning moments of the Barack Obama presidency; with Donald Trump and the accompanying escalation of race as an issue, that conversation remains timely. Tickets (starting at $25), are available at gevatheatre.org, the box office and by calling (585) 232-4382.

Motown is the setting for “Detroit ’67” opening Friday and running through Nov. 3 at Blackfriars Theatre, 795 E. Main St. Addressing conflicts over race seems to be a theme in theater these days, as the hip music of “Detroit ’67” evolves into the 1967 riots. Tickets (starting at $28.50) are available at blackfriars.org, the box office or by calling (585) 454-1260.

Can the dead be a live radio play?

After an opening run at the Multi-Use Community Cultural Center, Mary Shelley’s 201-year-old tale of science run amok returns for two readings at the Record Archive Backroom Lounge, 33 1/3 Rockwood St. The two performances of “Frankenstein: A Live Radio Play,” at 7 p.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Sunday, feature a handful of actors and one musician on piano and flute. This version of Shelley’s story of the reanimated cadaver arts has been adapted by playwright Philip Grecian, who has built a nice theater empire on stage and radio adaptations of “A Christmas Story,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Dracula” and Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.”

“Frankenstein: A Live Radio Play” also evokes the 1940s era of radio dramas through effusive use of sound effects and local commercial jingles. For those of you who think you know the story, Shelley’s vision is not quite the creature of cinema that many people are familiar with. The cultural compass of this monster strays to dark soliloquies worthy of “Hamlet.” Shelley’s depiction of Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s creation included confessions such as, “I’m a creature of fine sensations.” Tickets ($20) are available at screenplaysonstage.org and Record Archive.

Antiquarian Book Fair

Credit Provided photo

If you’re in the market for a used copy of “The Story of Clinical Pulmonary Tuberculosis” by Lawrason Brown, Jonathan Smalter’s got a copy of that page-turner. And it can be yours for a mere $50. “My favorite things to deal in are either very focused or narrow topics,” Smalter says.He’s organizing this year’s 47th year of the Rochester Antiquarian Book Fair, running from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Main Street Armory, 900 E. Main St. Smalter’s been a part of this event for 15 years. This is its fifth appearance at the creepily gothic Armory, built in 1905 primarily for training soldiers, with ramparts designed to hold off rioting citizens. Saturday’s fair features about 40 vendors, with some coming from Canada, Ohio and Massachusetts. That’s down a little after a few years of going head-to-head with a similar event in Brooklyn, but a shift in weekends away from that competition should bode well for the Rochester show’s future, Smalter says.

While the bulk of the Antiquarian Book Fair is easily affordable, secondhand books, Smalter’s own bookstore, Yesterday’s Muse, 32 W. Main St., Webster, specializes in rare editions. “You’d be amazed at what walks through the door here,” he says. Like? The Edgar Rice Burroughs Fanzine Ephemera Archive, 20 issues of fanzines and fan fiction, advertisements, playbills and dust jackets devoted to the creator of Tarzan and John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

The Burroughs collection arrived at Yesterday’s Muse a few years ago via a man whose brother had passed away, leaving behind “The Land That Time Forgot” and other Burroughs greatest hits. Yours for $400.

Estate sales, that’s how many vendors acquire these treasures. These are the curated passions of people such as Edward Atwater, a University of Rochester graduate, doctor and Renaissance man who passed away this spring at age 93. “He was a donor to the UR special collections library,” Smalter says. “He donated 5,000 volumes on domestic medicine, how-to guides for laymen, and quackery.”

Medical how-to guides? Isn’t that a bit dicey? “Depends on who’s writing it,” Smalter says.

Admission to the Antiquarian Book Fair is $5.

Quote of the week

Adam Bello, Democrat running for Monroe County executive, spoke to a group of area arts leaders last week at WXXI. Here, he explains how the creative and innovative thinking generated by arts programs is essential for today’s young people: “They’re preparing for careers and jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

Delightful mixed metaphor of the week

At the same meeting, here’s Bill Ferguson, Garth Fagan Dance’s executive artistic liaison, on why representatives from the arts should have “a seat at the table” with city planning groups such as the Economic Development Corporation: “There’s nothing happening. We just keep turning over the same dead horse. Let us be creative about it. That’s what we do.”

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts and Life editor. You can contact him at jspevak@wxxi.org.

Copyright 2019 WXXI News

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle. He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show. Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.