Classical 91.5

Jeff Spevak

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.

Here’s the question for Missy Pfohl Smith: What prompted the creation of the ARTs + Change Conference?

Worldwide, it’s the rising tide of polarization, and social media’s role in it, she says. Closer to home, it was the death of Daniel Prude — a man in the midst of a mental health crisis — at the hands of the Rochester Police Department “that sparked all the protests and brought up the problems that have been happening here for a long time, but really became acute in that moment last summer,” says Pfohl Smith, who organized the conference.

The prison in Central America was run down, the conditions horrible. Yet art was there. 

“Guys with tattoos on their faces, their eyelids, under their lips,” says Mandalit del Barco. “Places that hurt. They would try to put art on themselves, their whole bodies.” 

Some of these men had roamed the streets of Los Angeles, in gangs, until they’d been deported. And now, imprisoned. Perhaps that guy had been one of them, the one with the tattoo on his forehead.

This was a name almost -- almost -- as big as previous visitors to the Bug Jar, such as The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire and Lizzo. 

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, backed by the iconic chintzy décor of the tiny Rochester music club, was describing in a March 31 press conference some of the federal government’s programs that are designed to save our music culture from the coronavirus pandemic.

As freelance artists in a time of pandemic drought, David Cowles and Josh Gosfield sensed it was time to put matters in their own hands.

“Let’s not wait for art directors to give us jobs,” Cowles says, “let’s do something that we really love.”

Heroes. We love heroes. We need heroes to get us through tough times. Cowles and Gosfield have given us 63 heroes, as defined by 63 artists, for this moment in a new art-driven magazine, Public Eye.

I had my coming-out from COVID-19 about a week and a half ago.

My first indoor concert in more than a year. Two solo acoustic performers: a ridiculously talented young guy, Max Doud, then Tommy Brunett, scratchy-voiced scenester and Fairport whiskey baron. It was a night at The Penthouse at One East Avenue, 11 floors up in the downtown Rochester skyline. It’s a spacious room, and the tables seemed separated enough. All four of the people at our table were fully vaccinated.

A handful of framed gold records lined the otherwise mundane hallway of the Rochester Presbyterian Home, and then on to the walls of the one-room apartment of Ethel Gabriel. She was 91 years old then, but she remembered. 

“How could I forget Elvis?” she said. “I made him famous.”

That was eight years ago, before dementia swept away so many memories of Elvis Presley and of the estimated 2,500 albums -- probably more -- that she produced over the course of a career that began in 1940, when the recording industry was a man's world. 

Hanif Abdurraqib left Connecticut in the spring of 2017, after a painful breakup. Now he was back in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. A wounded writer. Perfect. Anger and bitterness have filled many, many library shelves.

Except, it was too easy to be bitter, he says. “I don’t really write well when I’m bitter. And so I needed to figure out something for myself that served my writing.”

It is such a simple morning ritual. 

Daniel Armbruster gets out of bed. His own bed, after years of so many unfamiliar ones. He pours himself a bowl of granola, sets out the butter and bread for toast. 

There’s some sugar and vitamin C in the cupboard. What’s this, a bottle of C24H28ClN5O3? A chemical formula, better known as Dramamine. The date on the bottle says it’s expired, and it's no longer needed since the high-speed rock-and-roll life has slowed to a more manageable pace. Throw it out. 

And then, on to what “After Coffee" is really about.

In the midst of downtown Rochester’s new Innovation Square development is an ambitious plan to resurrect the former Xerox Auditorium, creating a new performance space for the city. Natalie Fuller and Karl Stabnau plan on having the Theater at Innovation Square up and running by early summer.

“We’re really hoping to give back to the community,” Fuller says, “and provide a space here for groups to come in and either do shows at limited capacity at whatever the guidelines are from day to day and week to week.”

Danny Deutsch is watching the charts. Not the Billboard magazine charts. But The New York Times charts, tracking the new COVID-19 cases. And the COVID-19 deaths.

“It’s not something to trifle with,” he says.

Deutsch is the owner of Abilene Bar & Lounge, the tiny downtown Rochester club that’s offered a stage to local musicians -- and small but intriguing national acts -- for more than a dozen years now. But Abilene has been open and closed and open again throughout this coronavirus pandemic year. And closed again since November.

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