Across the Universe


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.


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.


Joywave might be the only rock band in the country -- or perhaps the only one that will admit to it -- whose hearts go all aflutter at the sight of industrial architecture.

“When we were doing the van tours back in the day, that was kind of the thing we would see at 6 a.m. on the horizon,” Daniel Armbruster says. “We would say, ‘All right, we made it home.’”


It’s not that Rachel McKibbens has an issue with a cappella. 

But “unlike other venues,” she says, “it would have been a risk for us to book the YellowJackets.”

As the 12-day KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival unfolds, the University of Rochester vocal group is the last thing that the usual unusual clientele of The Spirit Room would expect to find there. Not in the midst of all those skulls and voodoo tchotchkes and drag queens.


This is how the sausage of journalism is made: Reporters from WXXI and CITY Magazine met last week to decide who is covering which drag queen at the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. We’re all in search of the year’s theme before we’ve seen whether Matt Morgan drops his pants to show off his tighty whities.

Rochester Fringe founder and producer Erica Fee says: Just be patient.

Max Schulte/WXXI News

“In February of 1983, I met this incredible British documentary filmmaker….”

These are the opening words of “Swimming to Cambodia,” the best-known work of actor and writer Spalding Gray, who took his life when he jumped into New York Harbor on a frigid night in January 2004.

But there he was in spirit, in Rochester, on an evening in July at the Multi-use Community Cultural Center on Atlantic Avenue, where Justin Rielly was breathing life into Gray and his work.

Jim Dolan

The poet composes a daily haiku:

Miles fly like eighth notes

Legato arpeggios

A big state, Texas

The photographer selects his favorite photo:

Peter Gabriel invents crowd surfing.

The musician considers what happens after he’s been on the road for more than six weeks:

“Home life becomes a theoretical thing.”

The poet. The photographer. The musician. They are all one man: Tony Levin. 

Dorothy Hong

Maureen Callahan is making her pandemic-delayed journey to the city that the New York Post columnist has decreed “grim and depressing.”

And, since we are such good sports, Rochester is welcoming Callahan. Our hometown baseball team, the Rochester Red Wings, has declared Saturday “Grim and Depressing Night,” with Callahan as the guest of honor.

Julie Gelfand

With a thin metallic click, Charles Jaffe flips open a lighter and ignites a cigarette.

How long have you been smoking?

“Since I was 11. Kicked out of Boy Scouts for smoking. At a jamboree.”

A rebel from an early age. What do you think about the book?

“Looks great. I can die now. Y’know? The book is a beautiful thing. A beautiful thing.”