December 18, 2011

Coming Soon: Jack Hanna's 'Into The Wild, Live!'

A new year dawns, and typically this is when most people's thoughts start to veer away from the generally good times of the holiday season. Alas, rather than continue the frivolity and good spirits, they turn to more serious thoughts. You know, something along the lines of New Year's resolutions, preparing for tax season and/or committing to jog off those holiday pounds they've gained.

But, wait a sec... Who says that quality family time has to stop when the holidays end?

Well, The Paramount sure doesn't. In fact, the 2011-2012 season rings in the new year with a very special treat. As a part of the Majestic Series during this season, they are bringing in a dose of wholesome fun. A live show that possesses universal appeal, as well as a possible fanged creature or two. Worry not, my dear readers. There's nothing to be afraid of, since the whole show will be under the supervision of one of the world's best known zookeepers: Jack Hanna.

Hanna is a veteran in zoological circles, and his media appearances have paved the way for the likes of later TV animal experts like Jeff Corwin and the late Steve Irwin. Jack's live animal showcases on television have made him readily identifiable over the decades, and introduced millions to groups of interesting beasts. Or should I instead say... flocks? Herds? Packs? Prides? Gaggles? Eh, well, you get the idea. Regardless of the terminology, the point is that he's displayed lots and lots of critters.

And, I might as well come right out and say it.

I love watching this guy and his parade of animals. It's simply great entertainment to see Hanna on a talk show. For example, he's been a staple on The Late Show with David Letterman for years. Heck, even going all the way back to the NBC days.

As the years went on, their hair may have gone white, but the energy is still there. The mix of Jack's goofy charm, Dave's wit, and majestic creatures is gold. Of course, sometimes the zoological guests can generate quite a different response...

You just never know what critters Jack Hanna will show up with. Just ask Ellen DeGeneres as she encounters pre-simians, gators, and owls.

No matter what, it's always a treat when the parade of animals makes an appearance. Jack Hanna will bring his gang of four-legged friends (or if snakes are present, no-legged friends) to The Paramount this January. Bring your friends, bring your family, and bring your enthusiasm. Few people have made exposure to different species both entertaining and enlightening like he does.

I have no idea what critters will make an appearance, but I wouldn't miss it for the world. Just between you and me, I'll have no issues with snakes if any come along for the show. But if he brings out any freakin' scorpions, I'll scream like a 6 year-old girl. Yeah, I'm not a fan of the scorpion.

Either way, I'll be ready to gape and gasp at whatever Jack and his live show have to offer. With all apologies to Tony the Tiger... it's gonna be grrrrrrr-eat.

Jack Hanna and his furry companions hit The Paramount Theatre on Saturday, January 28th at 2:00 p.m.

November 29, 2011

Coming Soon: John Waters' Christmas

As we usher in December, the Christmas gears are spinning like clockwork. 'Tis the season for colder weather, warmer wishes and a plethora of holiday traditions. Things like: families, stockings, chestnuts, Rudolph and Frosty. Yes, everywhere one looks there are reminders of what this season is about: consumerism. Er, I mean goodwill towards men... and stuff.

The Paramount Theatre will be offering many holiday themed shows over the coming weeks, each with their own unique spin on December celebrations. Among the festivities are those by Michael Martin Murphey, Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, and Asleep at the Wheel. Yet there is a one man show coming to grace the stage, and is guaranteed to present a holiday event unlike any other. And that man is...

John Waters, of course.

Wait, what?!?

John Waters, the pencil-mustached film director, is... how shall we say... an interesting choice to host a live Christmas show. I mean, this is a man so unconventional and outlandish that he makes Tim Burton look like Newt Gingrich. Waters has been a film maker since the 1970s, but he certainly isn't a part of the New Hollywood wave of Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma, Spielberg or Lucas. His movies were more underground, shocking audiences with content and quickly attaining a cult following. He and his motley crew made some memorable sleazy flicks during this period, including the so-called "Trashy Trilogy" of Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living.

In many ways, he is a crusader for bad taste itself. But there is a method to his madness. Allow him to explain...

Ever the champion for filthy yet personable characters, Waters has always pushed the boundaries of censorship. As he grew more mainstream his films grew less controversial, yet John never abandoned his idiosyncratic style.

Hmmm. Now that I think about it... Considering how Christmas attitudes have skewed from genuine goodwill to crass commercialism, perhaps John Waters isn't such a bizarre choice for a Christmas show, after all. After all, he is a big fan of the holiday. Don't believe it? Then give this a listen. It's his deliberately facetious view of the most wonderful time of the year.

With this in mind, I can think of no other person to shine a new light on how I view Christmas. I mean, who better to sift the tinsel from the trash than John Waters? Here is a man who needs no reason for his season. He keeps it weird.

Now where ever have I heard that before?

Oh, yes. This is shaping up to be one Christmas show we won't soon forget.

John Waters will have himself a Merry Little Christmas at The Paramount Theatre on Friday, December 2 at 8:00 p.m.

November 13, 2011

Coming Soon: Kenny Rogers

As the first entry in the Marquee Series this season at The Paramount, I gotta say that Kenny Rogers fits the bill as the appropriate level of "legendary." I mean, come on. Kenny's a big deal. Over the past five decades, Rogers has made waves as a songwriter and singer in a dominant fashion. In the mid 1980s, he was named "Favorite Singer of All Time" in a poll by USA Today and People magazine (take that, Elvis and The Beatles). In addition, Rogers is an accomplished producer, actor, and more. This man even launched an empire of rotisseire chicken franchises (take that, P. Diddy).

Although best known as a country music icon, Kenny Rogers actually began his musical career as a member of doo-wop group (!!!) in the 50s, and bounced around as a member of various bands and dabbling in different genres (including jazz, folk, pop, rock, and even psychedelia). For instance, check out this bizarre clip from the old Smother Brothers TV show, where Kenny Rogers and The First Edition performi their mild hit "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."

Hard to believe that's the guy who would later sing "Islands in the Stream," isn't it?

If "Just Dropped In" sounds familiar but you just can't quite place it, fret not, my friends. I can assure you that you are not the victim of any hallucinogenic episode. The song was revitalized in the late 1990s when it appeared on the soundtrack of the cult classic film The Big Lebowski. It was even featured in the movie's trailer.

As Kenny began a solo career in the late 70s, he steadily grew in popularity. But when "Lucille" was released, he skyrocketed into the upper atmosphere. he entered the 1980s firmly entrenched as one of country music's biggest stars with smash singles like "Coward of the County," "Lady," "Through The Years," and "Islands in The Stream" (a memorable duet with Dolly Parton)

Ah, but how could I leave out his best known hit. A song that spawned a legion of followers and a series of television movies. That's right, I'm talking about "The Gambler." I find it only appropriate, in the spirit of the season, to share a unique version of Kenny Roger's most famous song. No, I'm not referring to the Christmas season. I'm thinking something more contemporary to these recent weeks in 2011... something like... The Muppets.

In the years since, Kenny hasn't slowed down one bit, and still enthralled his legions of fans. As of today, he has recorded 65 albums and sold well above 100 million records.

Rogers has also appeared as an actor in the film Six Pack, as well as a string of television films based on his single "The Gambler" and a variety of television programs. Over the past decades it almost seems as if his face is omnipresent, and in the realm of internet American pop culture that has not gone unnoticed. If you really do think you see him everywhere, you're not alone. Check out this website to put your mind at ease (and a smile on your face).

And now Kenny's sure to be giving Austin his best, gracing the stage as only he could. Rest assured, he will do much more than see what condition our condition is in. You won't want to miss this chance to see Kenny Rogers on stage at The Paramount, and if you haven't got tickets yet, you now know when to run. . So don't hesitate; hurry and get your tickets now. When they are in your hand, you'll know when to hold them, but don't even think of folding them or walking away. The chance to see this legend is a gamble you can't afford to lose.

Kenny Rogers will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Thursday, December 1 at 8:00 p.m.

November 9, 2011

Coming Soon: A Tuna Christmas

Why, hello there, November. You sure took your time getting here this year. Thanks for your lackadaisical ushering in of cold fronts that bring the temperature plummeting. Okay, well, maybe it's not cold. Cool, maybe. Would you believe, Cool...ish? Anyways, as central Texas temperatures drop into the 60s, we can all dust off our Snuggies in hopes of using them... next month. Oh, and while I'm at it, thanks also for turning out the lights. You know, the whole daylight savings thing that for some reason I can't quite adjust to this year.

Alright, November. Perhaps I am being a little hard on you. After all, you also bring unwavering traditions. Christmas creep has penetrated our stores, thoughts of turkeys and pies fill our brains, and Texas and Texas A&M will continue to tussle for eternity just as they always have... Oh... wait. As Rick Perry so eloquently said recently (after 50 seconds of agony), "oops."

Well fear not, my fellow Texans. It's not all about holiday blues. In fact, this month brings one more tradition that continues to endure every holiday season: Tuna. That's right. I said tuna.

No, not this guy.

If you're not familiar with "A Tuna Christmas," I can understand the confusion.

Having nothing to do with Charlie the Tuna or any other aquatic cuisine, "A Tuna Christmas" is a farcical play created by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard. Set in the fictional town of "Tuna" (proudly proclaimed as the "third-smallest in Texas"), the play revolves around the community's annual Christmas Yard Display Contest, a wayward vandal, family strife, and a frustrating attempt to stage a production of "A Christmas Carol."

The twenty-plus roles in the play, and all help the audience paint a mental picture of what Tuna, TX is really like. Each is distinct, and yet readily identifiable to anyone who's ever been in a podunk town in the Lone Star state. Funny? Yes, but here's the truly entertaining part. Everyone one of these roles is played by Williams and Sears. That's right.

It's like some mad math equation:

2 guys + 24 roles x lightning fast costume changes + comedic wit = entertainment gold.

Brewed right here in Austin and performed by many across the country, the play constantly tours the country. Extolling the virtues (and shortcomings) of tiny Tuna, TX, the performances yield laughs that spread like a contagion of silliness. And as a holiday treat each year, the original cast of Williams and Sears bring it back for a homecoming reception by the Austin crowds. Now it's as much of a November tradition as eating way too many starches on Thanksgiving, watching the Cowboys on TV, and being underwhelmed by Black Friday newspaper ads.

So come to Paramount and help yourself to something that won't disappoint.
Tuna. It's what's for Christmas.

A Tuna Christmas will be performed on:
Tuesday, November 22 at 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, November 23 at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, November 25 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 26 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, November 27 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

October 30, 2011

Coming Soon: The Cake Boss, Bakin' with the Boss Tour

My oh my, how we've had some mighty fine courses thus far to start the season. From k.d. lang to Sergio Mendes to Joan Rivers, the entertainment served on stage has been prime. So how about a little dessert? It only seems appropriate that the next course in the 2011/12 season features Buddy Valastro. That's right, The Cake Boss himself. He's coming to Austin as part of his Bakin' with The Boss Tour, where he will be hosting a live and interactive event up on stage.

Now, perhaps a few of you are asking, "who is this Cake Boss guy?"

Well, for the uninitiated, Buddy Valastro is featured in the hit reality television show "Cake Boss" on the TLC network. He operates Hoboken, New Jersey's own Carlo's Bakery, a family business. A far cry from the like of Jersey Shore, this show follows the ordeals of Buddy and his clan as they fulfill orders for some truly epic cakes.

And when I say epic cakes, I mean epic. cakes.

Yeah. When you're creating massive baked masterpieces like that, there are hazards involved that most of us could never imagine. No Easy-Bake Oven here, kiddos. Tribulations aside, the results are often nothing short of spectacular. Take this one, for instance, where an anniversary cake for Sesame Street doesn't just impress the crowd, but also one of the world's most well known purveyor of baked goods...

Is your sweet tooth awake yet? Mine sure is.

The show offers many different areas of interest. Some may gravitate to Buddy,who really is quite a character. Others may follow the drama inside a family business, and for the rest of us, we gawk at baked goods.

Myself, I must confess a weakness for cooking and baking shows. To paraphrase an old saying, the surest way to my eyes nowadays is through my stomach. Now that I reflect back for a moment, I guess it's always been this way. One of my earliest Saturday morning cartoon memories was this PSA...

To this day, those frozen juice blocks remain the pinnacle of my cooking ability. My cooking and baking skills are limited to bowls of cereal and slightly burned toast. Make no mistake, I would be fired by any cake boss with the utmost quickness. No wonder I gravitate to these foodie programs.

Those who can, bake. Those who can't... er, watch... and then eat.

As part of the Majestic Series during this season, this show promises to be a real delectable treat. Valastro will share stories about the show and his family, and even answer audience questions. Best of all, he'll give a live demonstation right there on stage. I have no clue what it may be, but I'm hoping it's enough to feed the whole audience.

So satisfy that sweet tooth and get ready or a unique event. The Cake Boss is coming, and I can't think of a better way for foodies and their families to spend an evening than to get baked with Buddy.

Buddy Valastro will be appearing live in his Bakin' with The Boss Tour at The Paramount Theatre on Thursday, November 10 at 7:30 p.m.

October 26, 2011

Coming Soon: Joan Rivers

"The only thing that's saving me is my age. Because I don't care. I've been up, I've been down. I've been fired, I've been hired. I've been broke. What are you gonna to do to me? Not like me? I don't give a damn."
-Joan Rivers

Over the years, I've heard Joan Rivers called a lot of things, and not all of them have been flattering. Her fearlessness, no-nonsense manner and raspy voice are distinctive, but can rub people with all the velvety touch of steel wool. In many ways, she's a comedic splinter, capable of getting under your skin, but never cutting deep or inflicting irreparable harm. Regardless of your feelings about her, one thing is certain. After being one of the first successful American comediennes (not to mention staying relevant for nearly 50 years), Joan's a certifiable legend. She's been a comedian, an actress, a talk show host, an author, a TV personality, a reality TV star, a red carpet commentator... and, through it all, an unflappable performer.

She emerged on the comedic scene from Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, and broke into show business writing for Candid Camera. Her big splash, however, came when she made her first appearance on The Tonight Show back in 1965 as a guest for host Johnny Carson. She appeared on the show numerous times over the years, and Rivers cites Carson as the person who provided her with "her big break."

In the 70s, Rivers was omnipresent. She would appear on TV on The Carol Burnett Show, Hollywood Squares, and other programs. Joan began to enter the big time, and soon everyone knew her trademark self-depreciating humor, delivered with that particular voice you would know anywhere.

The 1980s arrived, and the hits just kept on coming for Joan Rivers. Johnny Carson anointed her as the permanent guest host of The Tonight Show in 1983, and she became a full-fledged pop culture icon at that point. Always a comedian's comedienne, now everyone got to know her brand of humor. Although she remained inimitable, Joe Piscopo sure gave it a noble effort when she hosted Saturday Night Live.

Alas, things took a turn in the middle of the decade, Rivers and Carson had a falling out, and her own attempt at a late night talk show proved disastrous. She lost her husband to suicide shortly thereafter, and times were hard indeed.

Joan's comeback began with a daytime talk show, which won her an Emmy and ran for five years. Then, she and daughter Melissa Rivers in 1994 began their stint as red carpet interviewers for the E! channel. She introduced her snark to a whole new genreration as a red carpet commentator / reporter for the network, with an emphasis on the slash, I may add. Her wickedly funny criticism and dissection of celebrities were sharp as razors, and occasionally shaved soem personalities a little too close for comfort.

In the years since, Joan has kept her hands full. Despite entering her seventh decade, she hasn't slowed for one moment. Rivers has appeared on: Nip/Tuck, Drawn Together, QVC, Celebrity Apprentice, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louie, and The TV Guide channel. All the while still touring and performing with the vigor (and venom) of a young and hungry comedian.

In 2010, Rivers was the subject of a film documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which was lauded by critics on the film festival circuit. It provided a rare glimpse behind the curtain, and is a candid portrayal of Joan as a real person in an unreal profession. Her looks may be timeless due to her freely admitted frequent trips to a plastic surgeon, but her longevity through her sheer will. One doesn't last as long in the business as she has through luck. In this clip, she's discussing her treasure trove of jokes over the years. No, really. It's an archive. Take a look:

Amazing to think she can still do these shows without showing down. After decades in an unforgiving profession, Joan has een highs, lows, and everything in between. Her life has had has had ups and downs, but she's still the same uncensored, uninhibited queen of comedy that you've either come to love or hate.

Joan's definitely lived her life on her own terms, and will continue serving her unique brand of acerbic humor on her own terms. Soon, this devilish whirlwind will come to Austin for one night only. It's a can't miss event, because when someone as fearless as Joan takes the stage, there's no 10-second delay, and no one knows what's gonna come out of that mouth next.

Joan Rivers will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Thursday, November 3 at 8:00 p.m.

October 9, 2011

Coming Soon: Sérgio Mendes

When a theatre has a history as deep and vast as The Paramount, one comes to expect entertainment of a higher caliber. All this time, the venue has never disappointed. Heck, viewing superior talent just comes with the territory. But lest we become content, even The Paramount kicks things up a notch every so often by bringing in honest to goodness legends.

The next performer is just such a man and living legend: Sérgio Mendes.

A Brazilian musician with nearly 50 years in the business, Mendes is a pianist and pioneer in Latin Jazz and Bossa Nova. Originally trained as a classical pianist, he became influenced by jazz and began to play nightclubs and lounges. His reputation grew as he played with nearly every American jazz musician that toured through Brazil in the late 1950s.. After forming the Sexteto Bossa Rio in 1961, Mendes toured Europe and North America before finally moving to the U.S. in 1964.

After that, things really blew up for him. The Bossa Nova scene really took off, and Sérgio helped lead the way towards its prominence in the U.S. in the 1960s with his new group, Sérgio Mendes and the Brasil '66.

Even if the name doesn't ring a bell, surely you are familiar with the music. In fact, I'm willing to bet that you know this tune. It's a staple of the Bossa Nova era, "Mas Que Nada," released in 1966.

In the decades since, Sérgio hasn't slowed down one bit. He's recorded and released over 35 albums over his career, and is constantly striving to reach new audiences with the timeless sounds of Brazilian music and culture. The late 1990s saw a revival of the retro lounge music genre, and Mendes' riffs captured a whole new generation. Regardless, he is never afraid to evolve his music, and even infusing it contributions with modern artists. His latest album, Timeless, features an impressive lists of collaborators: Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, India.Arie, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Q-Tip, Stevie Wonder and Pharoahe Monch.

To underline his ability to evolve, here's a modernized version of "Mas Que Nada," this time with the Black Eyed Peas.

¿Impressionante, que no? Sérgio Mendes continues spreading the influence of Latin jazz, one set of ears at a time.

Doesn't this just want to make you just get up and dance? Go ahead, I won't tell anyone. But be sure and dave some of that groove thang for November. It's not everyday that someone of Mendes' caliber graces Austin, but when he does, it's only appropriate that he appear onstage at The Paramount Theatre. After all, legends play here.

Sérgio Mendes will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, November 2 at 8:00 p.m.

October 3, 2011

Coming Soon: Bela Fleck and The Flecktones

"I don't wanna celebrate the old days. We're here now. Let's go do something we've never done before."
-Béla Fleck

What comes to mind when you hear the word "reunion?" Perhaps the term has no vested interest for you at that moment; maybe you're too young to have attended even a high school reunion thus far. If so, let me share a not-so-little secret about them. What should be a celebration and a rejuvenation is often just not so. Instead, they're usually a tad preoccupied with past achievements. It can be a somewhat sad affair, a commemoration that is nevertheless tinted with the regret of nostalgia.

For music groups, their own reunions often fall into the same traps. It's rarely about starting a new chapter, and instead seems more preoccupied with cashing in on past success. Alas, it's also a general rule of thumb that the get-togethers are sub-par. Off the top of my head, the only two recent examples of reunion where hype matched the performance was The Police tour and the one-night-only Led Zeppelin reunion. Exemplary examples of this sort are exceedingly rare, because... well, let's be honest. The bands usually broke up for a good reason to begin with. All the money in the world won't right the ubiquitous "creative differences." I'm looking at you, The Monkees.

Why not let the sleeping dog lie, then? Because once in a blue moon the stars align and offer renewal rather than a recycling of old times. Case in point, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. These guys aren't driven by greed, but by promise. Although preforming for nearly a quarter of a century, the band deviated from its original members long ago, last playing together as that unit in 1991.

Now before I go any further, I know what some of you are thinking: Just who the heck is Béla Fleck?

A world renown banjo player, Fleck has participated in a wide range of solo and collaborative projects throughout his career. He has blended some musical genre lines and busted through many others. As a result, Béla has been nominated in more different Grammy categories than any other musician. He has won Grammys for his work with Asleep at the Wheel, Alison Brown and Edgar Meyer. The things Fleck can do with a banjo can defy belief. Fearless in his approach, Béla has even adapted classical selections for use with a banjo. One can witness the beautiful result as he plays Prelude from Bach Violin Partitia #3 on his own set of strings right here.

In 1988, he formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones with Victor Wooten, Roy "Future Man" Wooten, Howard Levy and, of course, Fleck himself. Their music isn't easy to classify, but it is a fusion of bluegrass and jazz. In fact, they should create a whole new category just for them. The wide variety of influences in their body of work is the very reason why they have been Grammy nominated in such a spectrum of categories: instrumental, jazz, bluegrass, pop, spoken word, contemporary Christian, gospel, classical, and country (to name a few). In many ways they are musical chameleons, adapting to whatever inspires them.

Keyboardist and harmonic player Levy stayed with them during their first three albums, but departed the group after the 1992 album UFO Tofu. This year, Levy returned to the lineup and the original members have released a new album, Rocket Science. This is the first time in nearly 20 years that The Original Flecktones have performed together. Instead of using this as a cash grab opportunity, their purpose is simply creative in nature. They aim to push each other into new grounds, and that's quite a bold statement for such an innovative group that has blazed trails and blended genres for nearly a quarter century.

But don't take my word for it. Here, meet the band for yourselves...

Is this a glimpse of the future of the band? Or is it merely a one-time reunion tour? The Flecktones may not even know, but they're taking advantage of the rejuvenation and celebrating the progress they are able to make together. It's rare, it's inspiring, and it's something to behold with your eyes and ears.

Getting the band back together isn't rocket science, but it can be a challenge to do it for the right reasons. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones are their own guiding light, and this reunion is no mere time machine to the past. Instead, the guys have reunited to build their own rocket ship to move forward, reach new heights, and inspire new audiences in ways they've never imagined. We as listeners are merely along for the ride, but what a wonderful musical adventure it's going to be.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Thursday, October 13 at 8:00 p.m.

Coming Soon: k.d. Lang and The Siss Boom Bang

Are you ready? The time is right. Summer is now gone, and it finally took the cursed heat away with it. As we now enter October, all of us are ready to throw open our arms and fully embrace the autumn season.

The 2011-12 season at The Paramount brings the high-wattage star power early by featuring k.d. Lang as its first act this year, an inspired choice of an inspiring artist. She arrives this month and brings her band, The Siss Boom Bang.

A Canadian country crooner with pop appeal and mainstream success, k.d. Lang got her start in the mid-1980s. She won "Entertainer of the Year" by the Canadian Country Music Association for a duet with the legendary Roy Orbison, but that was merely the beginning of her accolades. She won her first Grammy in 1989 (Best Female Country Vocal Performance).

1992 saw Lang reach the stratosphere with her breakout hit, "Constant Craving." For this song, she won multiple Grammys (including Best Female Pop Vocal Performance), an MTV Video Music award (back when people paid attention to those), and legions of new fans. Her collaborations over the years have been wide, varied, and universally acclaimed.

Lang's passion also extends into her activism, where she champions for: gay/lesbian rights, animal rights, veganism, and free Tibet. She's also made some crossover appearances in film and television over the years ("Ellen," "Glee," "Dharma & Greg," "The Larry Sanders Show"), but her heart and soul still reside in her music.

Oh, and what incredible music it is, my friends. It begins and ends with that voice of hers. It's nuanced, emotional, and full of a certain smoky soulfulness tempered beyond her years. Reminiscent of Roy Orbison, and perhaps even Elvis himself, her vocals possess a haunting tone that makes her style unique and timeless.

For example, here's one of her latest tracks with the band, the sultry and sorrowful single entitled, "I confess."

That's just... amazing. Simply sublime.

Thinking of that timber, resonating within the walls of the theatre, gets my heart racing with an eager anticipation. It's the sense that I'm in for a special night. It's not everyday that one gets to experience such a subversive and truly alternate take on a genre often viewed as conservative, but through her talent k.d. Lang has made her music all her own. She's a natural and a living legend, and she's coming to Austin.

As the first notes from her and her band rise from the stage, the 2011/12 season will truly be kicked off with a bang. Well, perhaps I should say with a... siss boom bang.

k.d. Lang and The Siss Boom Bang will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, October 12 at 8:00 p.m.

September 21, 2011

Coming Soon: EPIX Presents Kevin Smith Live

"There's something to be said for failing. It's not the failure you feel, it's the failure that people project when something disappoints. You're back to ground zero, where there's no expectations, and that's where I like to be. People like to set the bar high. I like to put the bar on the ground and barely step over it. I like to keep the expectations really low. After something like Mallrats, the expectations are in the toilet. People are like, 'He's over, he's done.' So it's easier to be, like, 'Ta-da, I'm not.' It's a much more comfortable place to work from. When you have an escalating career, and every time you have to outdo yourself, I couldn't handle that kind of pressure. But having to outdo Jersey Girl? Not very difficult."
-Kevin Smith

You know Kevin Smith, right? I mean, not personally, but you know of him, correct? He's best known primarily as an independent filmmaker, but as far as "fanboy culture" is concerned, he's much more. In fact, Kevin's kind of a big deal.

In addition to being a screenwriter/director, Smith has stamped himself on American geek culture as an author, a comic book writer, podcaster, internet radio personality. In fact, now that I can't think about it, there's no other personality that I think has better taken advantage of the internet to establish themselves as a relevant cultural icon. Take that, Matt Drudge.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise to someone who makes a living as a storyteller, but Kevin has also established himself as one heck of a raconteur. He tours markets (predominantly college towns) across the U.S. and charms the crowds with his anecdotes about filmmaking, as well as humorous stories about his life. Over the years, these long and funny Q&As have been assembled into a few video chronicles: An Evening with Kevin Smith, An Evening with Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder, Sold Out - A Threevening with Kevin Smith, and Too Fat for 40.

And now, Smith is assembling footage for his next Q&A chronicle. Six months ago, he was in town for a special screening of his newest film Red State and proclaimed Austin as one of his beloved cities, and also The Paramount as one of his all-time favorite venues. Well folks, looks like that wasn't just lip service. because Kevin's coming back to film new segments for his upcoming special. And you know what that means. Embarrassing and self-effacing tales will be shared by the man of the hour, and (if you have an intelligent question) there's a chance of being chronicled yourself.

Am I excited? You betcha. But years ago, my answer may have been different.

I gotta be completely honest, my affinity for Kevin Smith used to be a bit of roller coster ride. With his initial snarky splash with Clerks in 1994, Kevin spoke a truth that had rarely been seen before (and was confirmed as true during a period of my life when I worked in retail). After his debut film, he began a career I referred to as a director of "puerile cinema." All were silly and slightly goofy to varying degrees, but no one could ever question that these movies came straight from his heart. Heck, up until Dogma I would drive out of town with the expressed purpose of seeing his movies. Alas, I found the humor began to wear thin after a while. To this day, I have yet to see Jersey Girl.

But then, Kevin started to win me back. His Q&As always had me in stitches, and I rediscovered after Clerks II that I still had an interest in what the man had to say.

And then, I saw Red State on the big screen... and everything changed. It was hard to believe that this comedic filmmaker had churned out cinema like someone microwaving Hot Pockets could cook something truly deep dish, as if from the oven of Tarantino or the Coen Brothers. I mean- just... wow. Now, it's safe to say my enthusiasm for Smith is back in "bezerker" territory. It's a shame that he only plans one more film before he retires from directing features.

Whether you think Smith has risen the bar once again now that he's in the twilight of his film career is a matter of opinion. Of course he will always have his haters, loudmouth detractors that call him a hack. And on the opposite end are those who have been unabashed die-hard fans, always eager to drink the next drop of elixir from the ViewAskewniverse. For those of us in the middle who favor the man and what he does, he's just a regular guy (albeit a very funny one) who simply does what he enjoys. You can't fault the man for that, and you can't undo or unmake what he has forged from his heart.

So are you ready for more from Red Bank, New Jersey's finest? The Q&As are always a real treat, and this time the hockey jersey-clad big man is coming back to Austin. And in true Kevin fashion... he's leaving his give-a-damn at the door. And personally, I wouldn't have it any other way because when it comes to entertainment value, this man simply can not fail.

Kevin Smith will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m.

June 13, 2011

Coming This Fall: The 2011-2012 Season

Right now, it's like a mirage on the horizon. A paradise seen in the distance, faintly visible after another long, hot summer. You may thirst for it and reach in vain, for as of now it remains beyond your grasp. But give it time, my dehydrated friend. Soon, the seasons will change. And come the fall, you can quench your thirst for more live performances... at The Paramount Theatre's 2011-2012 season.

I, for one, am craving more performances. Last season was the first I experienced at The Paramount, and it blew me away. Everything surpassed my expectations, and it was incredible to see so many people at the top of their craft. I was entertained, moved, enlightened and always amazed by the artist on stage. At every event, I found myself rapt at attention as I watched each act on stage inside the classic venue. And as excited as I was last season, I am even more feverish with anticipation at what lies ahead.

Now's the time to start salivating at the announced entertainers. A full season of 19 shows approaches. So dust of your calendars and start clearing your plans. Some of these you just can... not... miss.

Presenting the following Season Subscription Series...

Experience music, comedy and candid discussions with the following ladies:
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
A spoken word performance with the "Divine Miss M" about passions that extend beyond the world of showbiz.

Thursday, November 3, 2011 
She's bringing the funny. Be ready to gasp... repeatedly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
An evening with one of the most commanding voices in music today.

Legends and bold entertainers shine brightly upon the classic Paramount Theatre marquee.

Thursday, December 1, 2011 
The Legend. The Gambler. The man with over five decades in show business under his belt sings his greatest hits.

Friday, March 23, 2012
Hilarious comedy that is sort of a two-for-one deal: Not only do you get Short, but the show will feature his alter ego, the delightfully annoying Jiminy Glick.

Thursday, February 2, 2012
A story of truth, beauty, freedom and love. Why watch it? Because you can can can!

Unique shows and personalities for a city that keeps it weird.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
This legendary and eclectic performer has sold millions of records. Experience his distinctive sound.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012
The affable yet acerbic Bourdain of Travel Channel's "No Reservations" takes on Ripert, celebrated chef of New York’s Le Bernardin restaurant and Bravo TV’s "Top Chef." This will be a dish best served cold.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011
One of New York's hippest storytellers, The Moth has packed houses across the nation with his live stories (told without notes!) about people from all walks of life.

Offering entertainment for the entire family. Great for audiences young and old.

Thursday, November 10, 2011
Buddy's live show serves up fun and cakes!

Saturday, January 28, 2012
An afternoon of stories, family fun, and critters. Lots of critters.

Saturday, March 3, 2012
Canadian quintet who put on an energetic show. Their instruments are crafted from recycled materials such as scrap metal and even artillery shells! Together they create music that is far from being junk.

Ah, but there are still many more shows.

Thursday, October 13, 2011
Composer and bandleader Bela Fleck has reunited his original Flecktones and brings them all to The Paramount. Also along for the ride, Bela's signature banjo.

The Paramount tradition returns! Comedians Joe Sears and Jaston Williams bring their two-man show back for a tale of Christmas hijinks in the little town of Tuna, TX.

December 2, 2011
Yep. That John Waters. The director of Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Serial Mom brings his offbeat humor to the stage in a one-man vaudeville act. It would be a dirty shame to miss it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011
Another Paramount tradition returns for the holidays! Texas royalty on the country music scene, Willis and Robison bring warmth and joy in a show that has something for everyone.

February 17 & 18, 2012
A production of amazing choreography that blurs the line between individual performers. Sure to mesmerize audiences with their "sense of dance-troupe-as-organism" acts.

Sunday, March 4, 2012
The Queen of Kids' Music. Need I say more? You know what little members of the family to bring.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 
A powerful play performed by one of America's oldest and most respected touring companies. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play, it was also adapted into an Oscar nominated film in 2008.

Monday, April 23, 2012 
What would a season be without David and his sardonic wit? There's never a dull or artificial moment during his live performances. If you've never seen him, you owe it to yourself to attend. If you have seen him, you know you can't wait to do it again.

Season packages and various combinations of shows are available now. Don't forget that as a subscriber, you can reap the following benefits:
  • Priority Seating
  • Waived Service Fees
  • Free Parking
  • Paramount Club Membership
and... exclusive access to
  • The Season Kick-Off Party
    September 21, 2011
  • The Holiday Party
    November 30, 2011
  • The Wrap Party
    April 18, 2012
Get the best seats possible or choose more flexibility for the shows you want to attend. The choice is yours on how you want to see them. Each one of these is a special event in itself. Special because of the performer, special because of the historic venue, special because it will be something you'll aways treasure.

This lineup truly has something for everyone, and that's no mirage. Join us at The Paramount all season long. It forever shines bright in downtown Austin, and is always your oasis for culture and entertainment.

Try and contain yourselves, folks. It'll be here before you know it.

May 1, 2011

Coming Soon: Ann

The old adage is true. Everything is bigger in Texas. And as a result, we Texans tend to admire the larger varieties in life. Longhorn steers, expansive ranches, and ten-gallon hats... (giggling) Just kidding. We aren't that clichéd, folks. But one thing we do seem to identify with are the big and iconic personalities. Our state has produced a long line of characters: from athletes, to entertainers and even politicians. But please don't judge us as the land where Dubya came from. Ask around, and you'll find that one of the most beloved figures here is another former governor, the late Ann Richards. I've heard countless stories of her attending shows and films at The Paramount Theatre before she passed, and now she is the subject of a one-woman show by Holland Taylor entitled Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards.

Richards was tough, smart, sassy, savvy and charismatic. After a career as an educator, Ann climbed the political ladder from humble beginnings. She was seated as the state's treasurer when asked to make a speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Although Michael Dukakis was the man of the hour as the Presidential nominee that year, the breakout star for the Party was this sly and affable Southern lady. Still known for her remark on Republican nominee George H.W. Bush during her speech, Ann quipped that he was "born with a silver foot in his mouth." That speech catapulted her to fame, and she rode it into the governor's office. In 1990, Richards became just the second female governor of Texas, and the first elected to the position.

Although ultimately a one-term governor (defeated in her re-election bid by George W. Bush in the sweeping 1994 Republican election victories), Ann still placed her stamp upon Texas. She tirelessly advocated financial responsibility and economic growth, and also helped spur funding for education by initiating the Texas Lottery in 1992. Even after her term, she continued campaigning for the issues and platforms she believed in, never faltering in inspiring leadership amongst women. I won't tire your eyes with an ad nauseam list of accomplishments, but suffice it to say that the grand old lady was as strong as she was witty. Pity we are now stuck with the likes of Sarah Palin, because Ann was a real leader.

With regard to the former governor's credentials, you may be wondering who the heck can possibly fill the shoes of Ann Richards and hope to portray her onstage? Well, there is one who not only dares... but succeeds. Emmy award-winning actress Holland Taylor is perhaps best known for playing Charlie Sheen's mother on the show "Two and a Half Men," and has the chops to capture the soul of Ann. Besides, if she could tolerate ol' Mr. Tiger Blood Adonis himself, Holland has to be forged of steel herself. A veteran of the theater since the 1960s, Taylor has graced many Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. Skilled in both comedy and drama, she also made the leap into television and film. First noted for her role in the 1980s sitcom "Bosom Buddies" with Tom Hanks, she has parlayed that recognition with roles in "The Lot," "Ally McBeal," "The Practice," "ER," and "Monk."

Over the last few years, Taylor spent her spare time working on this play about Governor Richards, and has appeared in different venues throughout Texas. She's demonstrated the conviction and courage of Governor Richards with her commitment before ever stepping foot on stage. But it's a gamble that appears to have paid off, since the actress has enjoyed wide acclaim for this performance. Forget Sheen, people. Holland Taylor is winning.

This marks Taylor's first appearance of the play in Austin, and it's fitting that her show surfaces at The Paramount Theatre, where Richards herself spent so much of her time. Ann promises to be a fitting tribute to a larger-than-life persona. But, hey, we're in Texas. That's just how we like it.

The final show of the 2010/2011 Paramount Season, Holland Taylor as Ann is performed Wednesday, May 4th through Friday May 6th at 8:00 p.m. There are shows also on: Saturday, May 7th at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, May 8th at 2:00 p.m. Come celebrate a Texan icon and see another fine season ride off into the sunset.

April 29, 2011

P.S.- A Paramount/Stateside Affair. April 28, 2011

It was a Thursday night. Why not go to a party? There was one planned at The Paramount and its sister, the State Theatre. Called "P.S." (the initials of the theaters), it was a celebration involving a very special theme dear to my heart. One that has allowed folks like me to write blogs and share our voices to anyone who wants to digest what I have to say.

In short, the theme of the evening was networks.

No, not this kind of network. No one is mad as hell here...

Wait, not this network, either. But I'm pretty sure many are mad as hell about that specific one...

No, we're talking about social networks.

Okay, that's closer, but not so litigious.

It was a bash for bloggers, tweeters, and other social networkers. And it was all free with a mere RSVP. Partners in crime included: Gowalla, Austin Eavesdropper, Glitoris, Hey Cupcake!, Kohana Coffee, and Alison Narro Photography. The goal, as stated on the Paramount website, declared: "P.S. is about celebrating secrets, rebirths, interactivity, cupcakes and Austin’s affinity for free drinks."

Yes, indeed.
I got there at 6:30 and proceeded to the State Theatre. Now known as The Stateside Theatre at The Paramount, it was the starting point for all festivities. I was sure to check-in on Gowalla, and stood in line for my "personalized Paramount card," made for those who submitted the RSVP with their networking information. As I waited in line, friendly faces were passing out a free gift, a travel coffee mug with The Paramount Theatre logo. Oh, but what's this? As I open it up I find a lovely little surprise, a free sample of Kohana, a coffee brand from here in Austin. Très nice.

Yet the pleasant surprises did not end there; not by a long shot. Alison Narro photography was also on hand at Stateside snapping portraits of patrons. I got to the front of the check-in queue and was elated to see that I was not presented with a mere card. Instead, I received a badge, professionally created and complete with a crimson lanyard. Name and internet information printed on the front, exclusive deals printed on the back.

After socializing and partaking of free drinks, I moseyed on over to The Paramount next door. Outside was a Hey Cupcake! trailer, open for business. Something about the sight of that trailer just made me smile. Austin's a hell of a place to call home, and if the city strives to "keep austin weird," count me in.

Entering the Paramount lobby, I was sure to check in on Gowalla once again. More crowds meant more socializing. There was a nice leisurely atmosphere, with many sitting inside the auditorium visiting with one another. Others (who had not been into the theatre before) were clearly in awe of the breathtaking majesty of the place. I ventured upstairs and climbed all the way to the top. There I awaited a tour of the projectionist's booth. For a movie buff like me, that's where the magic happens. I've been dying to see it since last summer's film series, and today was finally the day.

I won't lie, I was fascinated to be in a projectionist booth that was nearly a century old. I was curious, yet deathly afraid to touch anything. Projectionist John Stewart (no, not of "The Daily Show") was a friendly and informative host, answering any and all questions the group had for him. As I took photographs, I felt a distinct sense of history that my DVD and BluRay collection will never possess.

After my tour, everyone gathered in the Paramount lobby to hear special announcements and witnes the awarding of door prizes. Tolly Moseley of Austin Eavesdropper expressed gratitude to the Paramount staff for involving her in the event. Paramount Web Marketing Associate Nick Barbieri took the mic and also warmly received the crowd. But then, something unexpected happened. Nick was talking about how The Paramount recognized the importance of social media and said that this party was partially inspired by an individual as well as the blogosphere at large. I was snapping away with my camera when he announced that person was me. It was a slow process to comprehend as I realized what was being said. My goodness, was I just recognized for the blogs? Were all eyes really trained on me? Humbly I made my way to Nick and the Paramount gang. I was given a gift bag of appreciation, and I waved at the masses in the lobby. It was a surreal but warm feeling, and I felt so honored and touched. I hate to blow my own horn (I really really try to avoid doing so), but this merit was just too significant and touching to not mention. Thanks, guys.

Ah, but the show went on.

Jesse Trussell, Paramount Film Programmer, took the mic and announced plans for the 2011 Classic Summer Film Series. He teased about several titles, and revealed that the kick-off party would have a very special guest: writer/director Peter Bogdonavich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon). Brooklyn Henson, Associate Director of Marketing, mentioned highlights of the upcoming 2011/12 season, whetting my appetite for future Paramount experiences. And General Manager Assistant Nicholas Saenz ignited the crowd with grand plans for the revitalized Stateside Theatre.

Needless to say, after all of that information, there was plenty to buzz about. The party continued on, and everyone was fluttering about like the social (networking) butterflies we were. Music was provided by Glitoris, which kept up a vibrancy to augment the accessible sugary sweets and alcohol. It was an amazing night I didn't want to end. After all the fun experiences, the accolades, and the new friends I made... it really was an affair to remember.

April 17, 2011

Coming Soon: David Sedaris

He's an unassuming fellow, the kind of man you could pass on the street and not take notice of. Perhaps he greets you with his voice, which comes across as reedy yet deliberate. There is a distinction beyond that high vocal pitch, a modesty that you could easily discern. Maybe you smile and continue on your way, none the wiser to the personality you just walked away from. But what a mistake that would be. This man may appear as a run-of-mill (or even meek) kind of guy, but he is one of America's best humorists. He is a satirist with a talent for prose and gifted with razor-sharp sardonic wit that cements him as one of the funniest men in America. He's David Sedaris, and he's returning to Austin as part of The Paramount Season Series.

The most treasured assets for any writer is an observant eye and a clear voice honed to illustrate that to be shared. Some may write in much the same fashion as an artist tackles a blank canvas, developing their work in broad, bold strokes. Humor, however, is often found in the particulars. Sedaris is capable of painting with the small strokes of a comedian. But what makes him so great is that he can use these niceties of life to capture our attention, and then transform them into a mirror for our modern society to gaze into. For David, the devil is in the details.

A bestselling author of story collections and essays, Sedaris is also a staple on the radio waves, particularly This American Life. In fact, it was Life's host Ira Glass who discovered David reading his diary and gave him his first shot on the air. The real breakthrough came in 1992, when Sedaris appeared on National Public Radio and read "SantaLand Diaries," a true story of David's time working at a Macy's department store as one of Santa's elves. His essays have been published in Esquire and The New Yorker magazines. Since then, his collections of autobiographical musings and sardonic lamentations have garnered widespread acclaim and a fanbase of many loyal readers and listeners. He was even named Time magazine's "Humorist of the Year" for 2001. Of course, I have a feeling David may find that distinction dubious at best, since Time magazine ranks below the 6th grade reading level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. But dont let that scare you off. Sedaris is very much the genuine article, and will never be found in the library next to any Stephanie Meyer book.

His work is usually self-effacing and personal, yet universal in its appeal. David's tongue-in-cheek style also accommodates a sharp wit, which he uses to skewer his subject matter and serve up like a kabob. While his manner is often mocking, it never loses its accessibility; always remaining natural in its delivery. Not content to merely shake things up, he often slices society's conventions like a knife through butter. His brilliance, tempered with his cool-as-a-cucumber attitude, make David Sedaris the most insightful and gifted satirist since Jonathan Swift. Whether you read his collections or listen to him, the laughs from his biting humor is infectious.

I know I could go on and on, but I don't want to bore you with my appeal for smart humor. It's just refreshing to find laughs that aren't boorish or dependent on potty humor. Often it is too easy solicit laughs with fart jokes and bodily functions, and those laughs always feel tiresome and cheap. Luckily we have humorists like David to stay clear of the scatological chuckles, no?

Well... I stand corrected. Stadium Pal. Just. Wow. I'm speechless. Urine jokes or no, that was brilliant.

The following is also a favorite of mine. Particularly apropos of the current season. Happy Easter, everyone!

A fine line exists between the ludicrous and the funny, but David balances both like a Chinese acrobat. There's nothing run-of-the-mill about being able to do that. It's not easy to point out the absurdities in times like this, and American culture can often be as gaudy and lurid as the Merry Ol' Land of Oz. I, for one, am grateful for David Sedaris for pointing out all the wonderful nuances that make life silly and wonderful. But more importantly, for keeping us laughing as the wizard is revealed from behind the curtain.

David Sedaris will be performing at The Long Center (as part of The Paramount Season Series) on Monday, April 25th at 8:00 p.m.

April 11, 2011

Coming Soon: Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps

Oooh, now here's something you don't see everyday. What do you say to a mashup of Alfred Hitchcock and... comedy? This isn't a late April Fools joke, I assure you. A combination of such genres sounds interesting, to say the least. The result of such an unorthodox pairing is "The 39 Steps," a play that recreates the classic Hitchcock film with a unique twist.

I know what you're thinking, you skeptic. Mashups of differing breeds rarely work. For every genius mix like peanut butter and chocolate, there are several hundred failures. Examples of things that don't go well together: fish and cheese, breakfast cereal served in orange juice, or logic and government. Alas, there must be a breakthrough every so often. After all, someone had to break that ceiling to find the edible parts of fugu, right? It appears "The 39 Steps" is one such innovation, and you don't even have to risk eating toxic blowfish to enjoy it.

A two-time Tony award winning show, "The 39 Steps" is an adaptation of the 1935 espionage film. The twist, as mentioned earlier, is that only four actors portray over 140 roles. Yes, you read that correctly. Filled with frenzied costume changes and references to other Hitchcock films played for laughs, the production has become a funny love letter to the Master of Suspense himself.

Ah, but this not a mere wacky romp on stage. The play has credentials. Debuting in 2005 in London and Broadway in 2008, it garnered wide success and acclaim. It received London's prestigious Lawrence Olivier award (for Best Comedy), and won two Tonys and a Drama Desk award here in the States.

Curious yet? I thought so. Here's a little glimpse:

The master of suspense with a Monty Python-esque spin? Count me in. Who knew Hitchcock and silliness would go hand-in-hand? I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise, since the great British director gave us decades of source material to mine (and even parody). It's a rare opportunity to see a director of thrillers enjoyed in a fresh new way. Let's face it, others of the genre will never approach the level of Sir Alfred. In 50 years, no one is likely to mix farce with the cinema of Brian De Palma. And M. Night Shyamalan? Let's just say I'd rather try fugu.

So if you're ready for a fresh and fun new spin on classic Hitchcock, feel free to join us for "The 39 Steps." Inspired by the original Master of Suspense, the laughs are sure to been more silly than macabre. It's a mad concoction that not only works, it will leave you in stitches.

Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps dials M for Mockery at The Paramount Theatre on Tuesday, April 12th at 8:00 p.m.

April 7, 2011

Coming Soon: Leo Kottke

Spring has brought a new wave of energy for most of us here in Austin. I see more people bustling around, and everyone has an increased sense of go, Go, GO! Now, I have nothing against being active or the buzz of social electricity, but it never hurts to slow things down a beat. To quote Elvis, is "too much not enough?" This year's South by Southwest has sparked debate here in Austin: Has it gotten larger than necessary? This year's SXSW was bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before. I mean, a make-shift Apple store on Congress offering iPad 2s like Willy Wonka's golden tickets? Kanye and Jay-Z playing at the closing of the festival? Is that keeping Austin weird (in a good way)? For your consideration, Lady Gaga was also in town this week. Whoa. Perhaps things have gone a bit whirlwind and out of hand. Post-SXSW, the city seems to be coming down off of a giant sugar-high, like the Great Cornholio.

To that, I can only say "settle down, Beavis." Now take a deep breath, people. Let's take some time and unplug for a while.

And heck, if we are going to unplug, we might as well go acoustic. Austin's still a live music mecca, after all. Coming to The Paramount is Leo Kottke, a master of the acoustic guitar. It seems in this Guitar Hero/Rock Band video game saturated era, everyone thinks they're a guru of the guitar (or of shiny colorful buttons); but Leo is a genuine virtuoso.

Learning music at a young age as his family moved from state to state (12 different ones during his childhood), Kottke first dabbled with the violin and trombone. Succumbing to the influence of Mississippi delta blues (particularly John Hurt), he finally settled on the guitar. And that's lucky for us; we all have enjoying his talent ever since.

Just as impressive as his prodigious talent is Leo's perseverance. Constantly battling hearing loss since his younger days, the 1980s also saw Kottke struggle with a painful bout of tendonitis. As a result of the tendon inflammation, he had to retrain himself on how to play the guitar. Nevertheless, he maintains his unorthodox finger picking style that creates a very distinct sound, particularly when playing the 12-string guitar.

Wait. Let me repeat that. 12 string guitar. To me, that's absolutely mindblowing. I love good music, but must confess to a complete void of musical talent myself. I can't even handle those colored buttons on the musical video games. That's right, I'm a true Guitar Zero. In spite of this (or perhaps because of it), I appreciate musical artistry all the more.

Here's a sample of some of his mesmerizing work. The way he works the strings and that slide is like something from another world. It's just... wow.

And if you think there's no way he can even come close to that level at his age. Guess again.

Oh, or how about this one. A partnership with Chet Atkins covering one of my all-time favorite guitar instrumentals. And, hey! Doesn't that host seem familiar?

As an added bonus, Kottke will be performing with Austin's adopted singer/songwriter Amy Cook. I first heard her as the opening act of Chris Isaak's show in October. She's been a favorite of mine ever since and has entered heavy rotation in my playlists. With Cook as an opening act, it promises to be an entertaining evening for guitar lovers. It will be a performance that promises to cleanse our palates and remind us that unplugged is more than okay.

This strumming legend has more talent in his fingers than most others possess in their entire bodies. I gotta admit, it sounds very exciting. I just gotta keep telling myself, "settle down, Beavis. Settle down."

Leo Kottke performs at The Paramount on Saturday, April 9th at 8:00 p.m.

March 20, 2011

Coming Soon: Bernadette Peters

The next act coming to The Paramount makes me want to become one of The Four Tops. That way I can belt out lyrics to one of their hits with unbridled joy. You know what song I'm talking about...


Bernadette Peters is a true multimedia icon. She's a five pointed star: award-winning stage performer, television personality, recording artist, successful film actress and published children's book author. This is what a multi-talented star really looks like; not like those artificially-flavored cross-platform "stars" of today. Sure, Will Smith may have gotten jiggy with it, ruled Bel Air, and battled aliens with Tommy Lee Jones, but I don't recall him appearing on stage at any time. Heck, all he's done lately is inundate us with his children, who practice karate and whip their hair around. Ok, but what about Jennifer Lopez, you may ask? To that I counter with a stout "ha!" J-Lo? Please. She may have played Selena, but was never considerably well-regarded as a pop star. More recently, that diva can't even sustain the ratings of "American Idol."

By comparison, Bernadette's talent is as pure as cane sugar. In a career that has spanned over 50 years thus far, she has won acclaim in nearly every major arena of the performing arts. Starting at age 9, she had joined the second national tour of "Gypsy" at the ripe old age of 13. Over the next few years she added singing to her repertoire and firmly established a stage career for herself, finally making her Broadway debut in 1967. She eventually left the stage for other pursuits, but returned years later and won acclaim for "On the Town" (the revival), "Sunday in the Park with George," "Into the Woods," and many others.

In the early 1970s Peters blossomed in television and film. She made appearances on variety programming like "Sonny and Cher" and "The Carol Burnett Show." Bernadette was even Emmy nominated for guest stints on "The Muppet Show" (ha! forget you, Cee-Lo Green). Her appearances have dotted the landscape of television over the last few decades, so chances are great that you've seen her in something. Even if you don't know her beautiful face, you can always recognize that distinctive voice.

Her vocal styles were not just limited to the stage, however. Since 1980, Peters has released six solo albums and a number of singles as well. Not merely comprised of show tunes, they display an impressive vocal range and willingness to test herself in the waters of different musical genres. Not surprisingly, all garnered her wide acclaim and is a resultant three-time Grammy nominee.

An avid animal activist, Peters also supports her cause by writing children's books and donating the proceeds to charity. They feature a variety of animals in uplifting stories for young readers. In addition, the books contain CDs with accompanying narration, lullabies, and songs. To children and adults alike, these are treasures. If there's one thing Bernadette demonstrates time and again, it's that you can never overextend yourself if you place your heart and soul into everything you do.

Although she's appeared on film in many different roles and has worked with the likes of Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen, there is one movie that strikes above all others. My unabashed love for Ms. Peters was naturally spawned from my exposure to her at a tender age. For me, that first experience was in the highly underrated comedic gem, The Jerk. It's a film I revisit every few years, and not just for laughs. Yes, I love the zany and moronic antics of Steve Martin, but I treasure the sweet (yet still hilarious) moments provided by Bernadette. Take for instance, this. It's my favorite scene:

Wasn't that just silly yet perfectly endearing? Plus, it had Steve on the banjo! Sweet as honeysuckle on a vine.

Years later, my love for Ms. Peter would be rekindled when I got the opportunity to see her perform live. In the summer of 1993 during a trip to New York City, I saw her and Martin Short in a Broadway production of "The Goodbye Girl." Needless to say, she was fantastic. And I've remained a fan ever since.

Chances are, you won't need the refresher like I did. When she takes the stage here in Austin, you'll likely love her from the moment you hear her (if you don't already). At that point, you can join me as we pay homage by exclaiming her name in joy. You know, like one of The Four Tops.

Ms. Bernadette Peters performs at The Paramount Theatre on Friday, March 25th at 8:00 p.m.

March 10, 2011

Review: Ed Asner

Walking into the auditorium was akin to stepping into a time machine. 1930s-era radio tunes were playing, and the vintage beauty of The Paramount Theatre amplified this illusion. If not for the soft glow of people on the cell phones, one would never know what year it was. An anticipation was building as we knew showtime was approaching, and the buzz of seating patrons was growing. He, after all, is a man with a reputation that far precedes his entrance into a room. A legend in his own time, with a strong personality that seems far bigger than the corporal vessel to which he is confined.

At that moment, I realized that statement could apply to both the man performing that night or the role portrayed. Franklin Roosevelt was an incredibly powerful President, but was crippled by his battle with polio. He never let that get in his way, and projected strength while helping our country back on our feet. Similarly Ed Asner, now in his eighth decade, refuses to slow down. Although showing signs of age, not one spark of his power or energy can be diffused. Asner may be older and more frail, but I assure you his voice hasn't lost one bit of its power.

A one man show, FDR is an account of Roosevelt's years in office told from a memoir point of view. As Roosevelt, Asner would address the audience, and then at certain points would retreat into the setting behind him on stage, dressed to represent the Oval Office. At that point, the story would become reenactments of key moments in FDR's life and administration. Conversations transpire with invisible characters, but it never felt forced or awkward. The transitions were seamless and, despite no visual cues or lighting changes during these shifts, there was never a sense of confusion on the part of the audience.

It was fascinating to watch, like diary entries come to life. The entire production developed on stage like a memoir. Despite having a lone performer on stage, one could easily determine the tone and supporting characters that Asner was "playing" against. The narration had the right tone of hubris one would expect from a man who constantly defied odds and prevailed.

What was most impressive, you ask? The emotion. Often subtle, the power of Asner's performance hinted that for all of Roosevelt's pomp and acheivement, he was still a mortal man. We could diagnose the erosion of the Oval Office on FDR's relationships. I often caught glimpses of how distant Eleanor and Franklin had become. You could detect a hint of loneliness in the performance. After all, it can't be easy to be a leader of the free world when everyone thinks you're a socialist and running the country into the ground by virtue of big government. Isn't that right, Barack I mean, Franklin?

I know what you're thinking. Asner is not the ideal man to match the physical depiction of FDR. Personally, I always picture Roosevelt as long and sickly (probably based solely on the famous photo of him, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta). Ed may be short and stocky, but his age and demeanor fostered a balance of power and frailty that capture FDR's essence. What I'm trying to articulate is: Asner may not have looked the part, but I can think of no one better to embody the spirit of the 32nd President of the United States.

Not that the night was all heavy drama. There was plenty of mirth sprinkled throughout, amplified by that notorious glint in Asner's eye. Many of his monologues to the audience had humorous anecdotes. A memorable story involved regular poker games at the White House, hosted by Roosevelt. One night, a guest was General Dwight Eisenhower, who was honored and humbled to be playing poker with the President. Ike won 20 dollars that night, and wanted FDR to autograph it so he could keep it as a momento. The President quipped, "if all you want is a signature give me the 20 dollar bill back and I'll write you a check." Classic.

One could tell that Asner, a life long liberal political activist, had a blast taking shots at Republicans while in character. Heck, I'm willing to wager that poking fun at Conservatives was part of the allure for Asner to tackle the role in the first place. The digs were never mean-spirited, but were a cocktail of equal parts respect and pity. There was a particular fondness for Republican Wendall Willkie, his opponent in the 1940 Presidential election. Despite a venomous campaign, FDR lamented to the audience, "I liked Willkie, just not the company he kept."

Regardless of your own political affiliation, the evening was far from polarizing. If anything, reminded us that the course of history is shaped by flesh and blood people. We may see them now as statues of granite and marble, but they were human like us when at their best and the worst. The lasting memory that night was easily the most powerful scene. It is Dec 7, 1941, and the tranquility of Roosevelt's morning is interrupted by a historic phone call. When he took the call that notified him about Pearl Harbor, it was like the air was sucked out of the place. Everyone in the theatre was holding their breath, each imagining the terrible dialogue on the other end of the phone. When he finally hangs up and slumps in disbelief, we feel everything: the anger, the pain, and the weight of the world on his shoulders. We all were left in respectful awe, every one of us with a lump in our throat.

That emotion that evening was palpable, and only afterwards did I realize it was crafted solely out of one man on that stage. The show was a precious gift to behold, and came courtesy of one of the most talented veteran actors working today. That, dear friends, is what a legend truly is. Stepping out of that virtual time capsule back into a 21st century night, I held greater appreciation for both FDR and for Ed Asner. He's not only timeless, but also a national treasure; an actor as iconic as Mount Rushmore.