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Jeff Spevak

Arts & Life Editor

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.

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The defining question for every band is always: How will this play in Kristiansand, Norway?

So it was that The Colorblind James Experience had booked a hotel-lounge gig in that beachside city in southern Norway. This was the mid-1980s, when the Soviet Union — just a couple of narrow Nordic countries away — was still a thing. And about 30 of what bassist Ken Frank calls “members of the Soviet elite” showed up.

“Bad music! Very bad music!” they shouted.

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There seemed to be nothing to worry about. Mary Monroe and her partner, Nate Coffey, were fully vaccinated on that Aug. 8 afternoon, a celebration of life for their friend, Dan Murphy. The 65-year-old Murphy, the owner of Murph’s Pub in Stutson Street Plaza, had died unexpectedly a few days earlier. 

And now Monroe, Coffey and some fellow musicians who had played Murph’s stages -- at both Stutson Street and its longtime previous location on Titus Avenue -- were serenading the memory of their friend.

Jim Dolan

It was the late 1980s, and Greg Townson was playing guitar in one of the more successful acts on the Rochester scene at the time, The Essentials. A rock band with some horns, which lent it a sense of funk and R&B.

And if you’re going down that road, there’s James Brown right in front of you.

Max Schulte/WXXI News file photo

If you’re lucky, here’s how Garth Fagan greets you at the front door of his home off East Avenue:

“Give me a hug!”

And you do. He’s earned it.

Fagan played a major role in creating the look of contemporary dance, incorporating Black culture into the art. “I wanted to see dancers and dance movement on a stage that wasn’t existing anyplace else,” he says. “Everything was ballet-based.”

Max Schulte / WXXI News

Thomas Warfield was thinking back about 20 years, to when Shawn Dunwoody had created a work of art for the Rochester Museum and Science Center. “Some day,” Warfield remembers thinking, “we need a bust of Uncle Bill.”

Someday came Monday, in the Miller Center Courtyard across from the Eastman School of Music, with the unveiling of Dunwoody’s bust of William Warfield. Uncle Bill. A sculpture of the singer and actor’s head, larger than life.

John Schlia / WXXI

Very few people who give a damn about music have the same kind of records, album after album, on their shelves. That was the appeal of “Smokestacks,” the largely Rochester-centric closing show of the 12-day KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. A preamble of ukulele and harp, followed by sternum-rattling, downtown-window-shaking energy.

Saturday’s free show brought the exhilaration of big-decibel music in an open space in the cool of the evening, the sound echoing off the nearby buildings.

Ashleigh Deskins / WXXI

The name, Charming Disaster, would seem to explain everything. But I’ll go ahead with this review anyway.

And as it turns out, first impressions built on titles drawn from cute dichotomies (Led Zeppelin!), and a studied attention to Goth eveningwear (Lady Gaga!), are no way to judge a band.“Charming Disaster’s Musical Tarot Show” is a schtick, but the music of the Brooklyn duo is legit.

Matt Burkhartt / WXXI

Rochester’s PUSH Physical Theatre is a remarkable fusion of dance, body architecture, sight gags, and social philosophy. Thursday night at the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, these provocateurs took aim at the most-dangerous inhabitants of the planet.

It’s long past time to bust the balloon of the “Generic Male.”

At the core of PUSH Physical Theatre has always been the husband-and-wife team of Darren and Heather Stevenson. Over the course of its 20 years, it has also included an evolving cast of performers. Ashley Jones, who is from England, joined a few years ago. 

Matt Burkhartt / WXXI

The room at the Rochester Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Gibbs Street was packed. Fifty-five or so people, most of whom were likely familiar with what Watkins & the Rapiers would be delivering Wednesday night at the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. Whimsy, irreverence and cleverness.

The show was “Singing Serling: An Evening of Songs Inspired by Specific Episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone.’” Fourteen songs, each inspired by one of the show’s science-fiction tales. 

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Still singing the same songs

Every time they’re needed, artists are there to reflect on and grapple with urgent concerns, create room for crucial conversations, and provide guiding lights for others lost in the fog.

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