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Monday, May 8, 2017

Painted On My Heart

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The Cult to perform at The Strand on May 25

On April 4, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council held its first Critical Mass Performing Arts Showcase since its new black box space in Central ArtStation was completed. It’s a terrific and much-needed space, but the venue for this multidisciplinary event isn’t as important as what the artists bring to the table.

That was a bounty of talent and tough decisions for the adjudicator.

The 10 acts ranged from storytelling and classical guitar to spoken word and rock band – but given that it was an opportunity for performing artists to win $2,000 to apply to a full show in August, it was disappointing that there wasn’t representation of theater, dance or chamber music.

The evening began with the “arts collective and experimental music” outfit Tchai, which took on the form of a jam band, showing influences of funk and jazz, with an emphasis on percussion. One of the percussion stations included metal that might have been found at a junkyard as drums. At one point, bandleader Robert Trudeau handed out broom handles – cut nunchuck size – for audience members to participate in the noise-making, sounding like clip-clopping horses. Would a full show be one long jam session?

Four solo instrumentalists were on the program. Elizabeth O’Bannon, concertmaster of the South Arkansas Symphony and assistant concertmaster of the Shreveport Symphony, performed an original composition on an electric violin, using echo and other new age effects. If she’s going to venture into electronic music, better command of the electronic components will be needed.

John Gillespie performed a short work on a portable pipe organ, wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask; the music sounded like early, 8-bit video game pinging. Stephanie Jackson impressively transcribed Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for classical guitar, which had the audience singing along on all those parts you might belt out in your car. Michael Futreal makes his own dulcimers, and his skill with the intricate strings is awe-inspiring.

Storyteller and writer M. L. Dumars told a personal tale of her late grandmother’s garden, of the patience, tenacity and love she put into “green growing things.” Sparked by one photograph, which was shown on a large screen, the sentimental story evoked striking imagery, but more contact with the audience would have been welcome.

The duo of keyboardist and songwriter Alan Dyson and poet David Lewis – billed as Dyson/Lewis combining Dyson’s sexually charged lyrics with Lewis’ political verse (“It’s not too late to throw the rascals out”) – was the showcase’s most unique performance.

Co-Op Mode, with talented musicians inspired by anime and video game music, showing jazz training, closed the show on a high note.

The Joanitones, which calls their genre “folk love,” was my second favorite act of the showcase. Vocalist Joanie Nerrettig’s voice ranges from an oaky whisper reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins to the vocal affectations of Chrissie Hynde. Considering how tight the band sounded – Steve Benton on bass, Lane Bayliss on percussion and Kyle Martin on lap, slide and lead guitar – it was jaw-dropping to find out that this was their first public performance together. Their original songs “Whale,” “Louisiana Landscape” and “Wine Is a Miracle” were terrific; this band should have no problem booking concert venues and festivals.

In the end, the prize was awarded to spoken-word artist and writer Poetic X. He performed “Keep Hope Alive,” which speaks of the political moment and the call to fight and resist. The thought behind each word and punctuation mark is evident in his rhythmic, natural performance. His word play is exquisite. I look forward to seeing his full showcase – which could include other performers, musicians and DJs – at this same space in August. Even an evening with him alone should be memorable.

Mark Lowry is co-founder of TheaterJones.com, an online performing arts magazine based in Dallas/Fort Worth, and now serves as its editor-in-chief as well as the CEO of Cloudbusting Media Inc. He has written for the Dallas Observer, Dallas Morning News, FW Weeky, Auditoria, Love Wins Texas, Arts and Culture, and other publications, and is a frequent contributor to the Star-Telegram, DFW.com and Dallas Voice.

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