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Across the Universe

Our musicians, our writers, our artists, the culture that comes to visit us, the Elvis impersonators, the stars. WXXI Arts & Life Editor and Reporter Jeff Spevak takes a look at the local scene each week in Across the Universe.

Imagine you're driving in a car through the mountains, and up ahead is a tunnel. You enter the tunnel, and immediately the sunlight disappears. You don't know how long the tunnel is, how long the darkness will last, or what you'll see when you come out on the other side.

That's where we are now.

Idle hands are the devil's tools. Unless we place a musical instrument in those hands.

The coronavirus pandemic has put virtually every musician in the country out of work. But many have responded by retreating to their basements. Recording a song. Then letting it run loose on the internet, where an innocent browser will uncover something beautiful. Such as the Rochester band Violet Mary, and its stunning version of Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song."

For this moment, a dramatic response was called for. It was time to come up big. Matt Ramerman had what he calls a local "power roster" of musicians lined up and ready to go this weekend. He had sponsors. He had a venue, the biggest club in town, Anthology. The technology needed to stream the show live on the internet was ready. The message: We're down, but not out …

Coronavirus' vast, leathery bat wings are slowly encircling the planet, casting a shadow across the globe, choking out light, our culture. Go home, draw the curtains closed, turn on the television, do not answer calls from friends inviting you to dinner or a movie.

The moment calls for a new cautionary label. It was duck and cover, for those who survived the Cold War. Shelter in place, for those who heard shots from a lone gunman in the next classroom. Now, social distancing.

As the winter solstice rolls around, the pagans have decided that bows and arrows simply won't do, they'll need cannons to vanquish their foe. And so the cannons do their work, and the pagans parade the bodies of their victims through the town. And then, "The song goes into cannibalism," Cary Ratcliff explains, as the pagans hand out extra pieces of meat to the poor.

Caroline Vreeland is on the phone, fresh out of the shower. Usually it's the other way around; people want a shower after they talk to me.

She is the great-granddaughter of Diana Vreeland, formerly the lofty columnist and editor of the fashion magazines Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. It's a connection that has led Caroline Vreeland to walk the runways herself, and even design a lingerie collection for Kiki de Montparnasse. Thongs with a wine-glass motif, that sort of thing.

"People want me in their jeans, you know?" she says.

There was never any doubt that the Rochester Music Hall of Fame class of 2020, with five new names to be celebrated at the April induction concert, would belong to The Dady Brothers.

Few musicians here have been so highly regarded, and for as long, as the traditional folk duo. They played coffeehouses and taverns and shared stages with Pete Seeger, Tommy Makem, The Clancy Brothers and Ani DiFranco. Going back to 1979, John and Joe Dady released 11 albums as a duo, and one solo album a piece.

No square on the calendar seems to have escaped. "Extraterrestrial Abduction Day" is March 20. Entire months have been claimed. November is NaNoWriMo. Translation: National Novel Writing Month. And now we're in the midst of FAWM: February Album Writing Month.

Two questions into this phone interview, where Joe Pug is at his home in Maryland, he's called away to an emergency.

"I have to go poopy."

A few minutes later, 3-year-old Rudy's all squared away and has settled in front of the television for some cartoons.

Poopy. "That's the stay-at-home dad life," Joe Pug says. "When I'm not on the road, I'm at home with my kids."

Find more arts coverage at WXXINews.org.

What Hubby Jenkins was hearing on a cable TV news show had reached an obscene level of sanctimonious nonsense. At a rally in Virginia, attended by 22,000 well-armed Americans, on the January day set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a speaker was appropriating the memory of the slain civil rights leader on behalf of their pro-gun cause.

"The icon of nonviolent protest, assassinated by a gun in our country, would be pro-gun," Jenkins says, slowly, evenly, incredulously.

"It's important to know your roots, and to know your history, and to be empowered to boldly go forward."

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