Classical 91.5

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.

The Bug Jar is a slim sliver of Rochester real estate. Four small rooms, if you count the two bathrooms, at the corner of Monroe Avenue and South Union Street.

Yet, it is such a big deal in Rochester’s music scene. I’ve written it before, I’ll write it again: Red Creek and The Penny Arcade are in the Rochester Music Hall of Fame. The Bug Jar, which reopens Friday, should be there as well.

After 20 years of writing its own history, you’d think people could talk or write about Blackberry Smoke without referencing The Allman Brothers Band. Or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Or The Marshall Tucker Band.

Charlie Starr pays no mind to our need to place his band in such a box.

“Not really,” says Blackberry Smoke’s lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter. “Because I love those bands, so dearly.”

One man’s heaven is another man’s hell.

“It’s like, ‘Well, it could be worse, you know,’” Starr concedes. “They could say, ‘You guys remind me of the Bay City Rollers.’”

In some respects, it’s as though the coronavirus pandemic never happened. Over the last couple of weeks, blueswoman Carolyn Wonderland was at Abilene Bar & Lounge. Oliver Wood, lead singer and songwriter of the Wood Brothers, was at Anthology. Irascible and invaluable social critic Steve Earle was at Point of the Bluff Vineyards.

This was how it always was, back in the day.

A music festival dominates our perception of what American culture was a half-century ago. It is Woodstock, of course. Properly filmed and recorded, it’s a touchstone that social historians, documentary makers and dads who once dropped acid -- but not the brown acid!! -- return to repeatedly.

And now, after that same half-century, we have found another one.

The scene was something that might have been directed by John W. Borek himself. Three people, including two women in angel wings, opening the show -- show would likely have been Borek’s own word for this memorial -- by sashaying through the crowd, displaying photos of Borek and his wife, Jackie Levine, flinging rose petals into the bright afternoon sun, and throwing in a ribbon dance for unexpected good measure. 

Cindy Cashdollar did not use the past year of pandemic retreat as an opportunity to reinvent some aspect of her life. “I did not sit down and learn Japanese flute, or learn Indian raga scales or do anything like that,” she says. “I didn’t learn how to quilt, I didn’t learn how to become a photographer.”

What she did do was finally, after all these years, get into the cardboard boxes of history she’d been squirreling away: posters of shows she’s played, photographs of the musicians she’s played with.

After more than a year of the twists and turns of life in the coronavirus pandemic, Danny Deutsch decided he had to lay down the law. In mid-May, he declared that no one would be allowed in Abilene Bar & Lounge unless they had proof that they had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

He posted the new policy on the club’s website. And on Facebook.

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.

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