Black Swamp Arts Festival

Local acts at home on art festival’s Main Stage

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent Media In celebrating its 25th year, the Black Swamp Arts Festival is putting local talent center stage. Each day this weekend, a local act will open up on the Main Stage. Opening up the festival on Friday (Sept. 8) will be Matt Truman Ego Trip with a show at 5 p.m. Saturday, the BiGBand BG kicks things off at noon followed by Toledo bluesman Bobby G at 1:20. (Read profile. ). And Tom Gorman returns for his 25th year on Sunday. Truman’s no stranger to the festival. In recent years it’s been his children who have been involved, including performing with the Horizon Youth Theatre. “The kids love it.” But in the festival’s early years, a teen-aged Truman performed. In 1995 it was with the Jinkies on the Community Commons Stage, and then a couple years later he was on the Main Stage with Jackie-O. The details of those long-ago gigs are faint, except he remembers with Jackie-O playing with the sun in their faces. Not a common situation for a bar band. Truman is a veteran of the local music scene. Growing up outside of Pemberville he and his brother Ted were involved in various groups that played on the Bowling Green scene. Truman started playing saxophone in fifth grade band and guitar about the same time. Early on they played in various garage bands. They even had a dual-well cassette player which they used to record. “That’s when you realize it’s easier to be an original band than a cover band,” he said “That way you don’t have to play things above your ability.” He’s stuck to original music ever since. Music just came easily to him. “I just always had an affinity for it. It seemed easier to me than anything else.” Truman started playing all-ages shows at Good Times, then moves to Howard’s Club H. He left town for a few years, first to Cleveland and then to California. He never really hooked up with the music scenes there. Everyone was too serious about it, he said. Sick and tired of everything being hard, he came back home. He remembers coming to the festival soon after he got back to Bowling Green. A favorite band Tom Tom Club was headlining. One of the side benefits of returning to the area was reconnecting with music, first with the T-Shirts and now with Matt Truman Ego Trip. He’s joined in the band by his brother, Zak Durst, bass, Dan Johnson, guitar, Kaela Thomas, keyboards, and Derek Wright, drums. “Most people think we’re kind of hard rock,” he said. But also funk, and there’s elements of hippie jam bands. “Melting pot rock ’n’ roll,” is how he described it. “I guess we’ve toned it down enough to play in the middle of town in the middle of the day.” Truman said he wants to set a party mood for the festival. “We do have a subliminally political element but we want people to dance to the message. … We want to be an inclusive and positive force.” On Saturday Truman, his brother, and Thomas will play a set at 1:15 on the Acoustic Stage. “We play a lot in the living room,” he said, “so we’re just bringing the living room to the festival….


Pizza sales at Black Swamp Fest benefit Humane Society

From WOOD COUNTY HUMANE SOCIETY For anyone who enjoys the arts, pizza, and animals there is a perfect opportunity to engage in all three this coming weekend. September 8th – 10th Wood County Humane Society will be running the Pisanello’s Pizza booth at the Black Swamp Arts Festival in downtown Bowling Green, Ohio. All of the proceeds will benefit Wood County Humane Society. The Black Swamp Arts Festival (BSAF) is an annual, top rated event that showcases art and music. There are over 150 booths selected by a juried panel. As with most festivals and fairs food and drink bring the experience full circle. The BSAF focuses on this portion with a food and beer garden. The Pisanello’s Pizza Booth will be in this area located near the center stage. Please join us in this fun event, grab a bit to eat, listen to the live entertainment, and help our animals. The WCHS, located in Bowling Green, Ohio, is a private, non-profit managed admission shelter providing care for homeless and abused pets and investigating cruelty complaints in Wood County. The organization receives no funding from government organizations, The United Way, or national humane organizations, instead relying on earned revenue and the generosity of individual donors and businesses to fund our programs such as Safe Haven and food assistance programs, spay/neuter transport, and educational presentations. The WCHS provides care for hundreds of animals each year—from dogs and cats, to horses, goats, and pocket pets. All animals admitted into our adoption program are housed and cared for as long as it takes to find their fur-ever home. For more information on adopting and/or volunteering, see: http://www.woodcountyhumanesociety.org.


After year of photographic success, Bell sidelined

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Black Swamp Arts Festival played a pivotal role in launching Jan Bell’s photographic career. In 2003, the long-time graphic designer for WBGU-TV had returned to photography. He had accumulated enough work that he decided to apply to enter the juried show. Bell was accepted, and then on the festival weekend, the judges returned and awarded him best of show honors. It was his first art fair. Since then he’s put up his tent, assembled his street gallery, greeted customers, taken it all down and moved on, on dozens of times. More importantly, he’s traveled thousands of miles on photographic adventures to national and provincial parks here and in Canada living in a camper, hiking with 40 pounds of equipment, and waiting for days for the right light on the right subject. When he won the top award so early in his career, one woman warned him about the dangers of such early success. Bell has not rested on his laurels. His work has been accepted in many shows and received numerous honors, and has continued to evolve. These past 12 months have been especially notable. One photograph, “Distant Island,” an image from Lake Superior was juried into nine exhibitions. “That’s crazy wild,” he said. Then it won first place in one of those shows the Allegany National Photography Exhibition in Cumberland, Maryland, as well as an honorable mention at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey, Michigan in April. Then three works were included in a photo exhibit highlighting images of National Parks at the same gallery. The exhibit was being held in conjunction with a show of photographs by Ansel Adams, Bell’s idol. “Three Sea Stacks” won best of show and “Agave” won an honorable mention. Bell also got to work with Alan Ross, the only person with permission to print from a select set of Adams’ negatives. “Three Sea Stacks” came from what turned out to be a three-month residency at Olympic National Park in Washington. He ended up waiting out a spell of historically bad weather that closed the park for four days. For four days he waited out the storm in a recreational vehicle storage unit. Those four days were the worst, but the weather was consistently bad. “I was in rain all day long.” Still he worked. He trekked along the Pacific Coast in search of images that he could turn into striking art with a depth of emotion. His stay was funded by a M. Reichmann Luminous Landscape grant. Bell learned right before he left that Michael Reichmann had died of cancer. “I felt I had to work especially hard.” That meant staying on well into December to complete what he wanted to do. “I need to live in a location to understand it.” That and other commitments have kept him from participating in the Black Swamp show since 2014, and that was after a five-year absence. On the advice of his wife, Carol, he’d decided to return for the festival’s 25th year. Before then he and Carol decided they’d go on vacation. That included traveling up to Petoskey so she could see the exhibits at the Crooked Tree Center. As Bell was getting his trailer ready to go, he tweaked his back. Nothing to stop an…


Nikki Hill ready to rock the Black Swamp Arts Festival to the end

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Nikki Hill is no stranger to Bowling Green. Since she and her husband, guitarist Matt Hill, first hit the road as a duo in 2012, they’ve stopped here twice. Once for a show at Grounds for Thought, just as they were pulling their band together and then in 2014 in prime time Friday on the Main Stage at the Black Swamp Arts Festival. Unfortunately, the festival audience just got a taste of her sound, as she was upstaged by a storm. What listeners missed was a sound that mixes soul with hard rock and taste of classic rhythm ‘n’ blues, all built on a gospel foundation. Hill got her start as a child in North Carolina singing in church choir. “That’s about the best training you can get. It’s a great place to develop your voice,” she said before her 2014 festival performance. She also experimented with punk and even old-time music. She didn’t intend to become a professional musician. She was working as a physical trainer. But her husband a professional musician heard something special in her voice, something they could share with a broader audience. That’s exactly what they’ve endeavored to do since 2012. Since her festival show, Hill has released her second recording “Heavy Heart, Hard Fists” in 2015. The recording is another stop on Hill’s evolution as a songwriter. That’ll be on display when Hill closes out the festival on the Main Stage Sunday, Sept. 10, at 3:30 p.m. Cole Christensen who co-chairs the festival’s Performing Arts committee said they were happy to book her. ”We always like to end with a bang.” BG Independent connected with Hill through email to get an update on what’s been shaking in her career since that rainy night in 2014. Do you have any memories of your performance at the Black Swamp Arts Festal in 2014?  What was your impression of the event? All I really remember is the rain! Our set was cut super short, which was a bummer. Everyone was so kind and seemed excited to hear us. I’m hoping we’re luckier with the weather this time. We have played in Bowling Green before and I remember everyone being cool and the vibe being relaxed and very interested and enthusiastic about the bands that come through. How has your music evolved over the past three years? Can you talk a bit about your process? What inspires your songs? I’m hoping I’m becoming a better songwriter. I started to steer away on my second record of writing completely about love and hardships, so I’m just trying to continue to develop to write about different things. I try to write often, even if it’s not with a song in mind. Then I can revisit it and see how the words can turn into song. I’m inspired by my own life of course, and then just observing life around me, what’s going on in the moment, how it makes me feel, or how it makes other people feel. Has your backup band changed much? Who will be with you on this show? It has changed a bit! I really think everyone will enjoy this crew. They sound so, so good and push me to sound better. Matt Hill on guitar, I just added a…


Birds of Chicago come home to roost at Black Swamp Arts Festival

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News JT Nero seems to have his head in the clouds when it comes to bands. He used to lead a band called JT and the Clouds, and that has morphed into Birds of Chicago. The music that band produces, though, is firmly rooted on land, an earthy sound that emerges from the fertile soil of the American musical landscape, gospel, folk, country, and more. And his songs are given voice by Allison Russell, who possesses a voice more than equal to the task of inhabiting the songs’ varied terrains. They’ve dubbed their sound “secular gospel,” and the tag fits. The music is redolent of the spirit and the streets. It has its shadows and foreboding, lightened by moments of joy. Local music lovers will get a chance to experience the sound when the Birds of Chicago alight at the Black Swamp Arts Festival for two sets on Saturday, Sept. 9. The Chicago-based band will perform at 1:30 p.m. show on the Family Stage before moving over the Main Stage for a 4:30 p.m. set. Nero said the festival has been on his radar for a number of years. That’s not surprising. Raised in Toledo, he started playing at venues in Bowling Green in the 1990s with The Rivermen. He moved to San Francisco. That’s where he first met Russell, who was based in Vancouver, British Columbia, through mutual friends on the music scene. Russell was working with her band Po’ Girl. After Nero moved to Chicago, they remained in touch. JT and the Clouds would host them in the city hooking them up with venues and sharing the bill. Nero and Russell are now married, as well as being musical collaborators. “I really found myself writing more and more songs where I heard Allie’s voice. She’s a singer on a different level. There’s a thrill in writing for her voice,” Nero said. “We were making more and more excuses to do things together. It wasn’t until 2012 we really had to carve out space and time for our own thing.” The Birds of Chicago came together with Russell and the core of The Clouds. Nero said though Russell would like to work with Po’ Girl again at some point, “we’re all in on this Birds of Chicago project for the immediate future.” “From the first time we sang together, we both had a kind of buzzer go off in our brains,” Nero said. “There something particularly compelling about how our voices felt together.” There’s a mystery about what two voices may blend well.  “You know it when you hear it.” And they both hear that special element in their voices. “It’s something that neither of us is interested in turning away from.” Russell, he said, has the ability to belt with real “bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll muscle” but also to croon with subtlety “and to know instinctively which approach is best.” They saw “a visceral response” their music. “That galvanized early and it confirmed that our decision as right one.” The Birds of Chicago have produced three CDs, the most recent “Real Midnight” from last year. There’s another, “Love in Wartime,” in the works for release in 2018. Nero said they’ll perform songs from it at the festival. Nero, 45, started writing poetry when…


The Hiders emerge from “batcave” to rock out at Black Swamp Arts Festival

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Hiders are really something of homebodies. When asked about the band’s touring, founder William Alletzhauser said “we haven’t been touring a lot lately.” Families, day jobs, businesses, and other musical commitments makes hitting the road problematic. “We temper our expectations in that department.” Instead they work their home scene in Cincinnati, and continue to produce recordings on their own studio, “the batcave,” that are heard around the world. “For us it’s more about the adventure of writing and recording. That’s what’s most exciting.” So getting a chance to see The Hiders at the Black Swamp Arts Festival should be a treat for music lovers. The Hiders will play on the Main Stage Friday, Sept. 8, at 6:30 p.m. before heading down to Howard’s Club H for an after-hours show. Alletzhauser said labeling the band has proved tricky, given it has elements of folk and psychedelia, mixed with country and classic rock, telling dark stories from the Americana underbelly. To Alletzhauser that all just means The Hiders is a rock band, true to what that meant in the 1970s, not that the band sees itself as a throwback. Rather it’s a contemporary amalgamation of Alletzhauser’s musical history. That goes back to getting a hand-me-down guitar that his older sister decided she didn’t want. As a teenager in the 1980s, Alletzhauser go involved in Cincy’s burgeoning hard core scene. “We liked the idea having a band,” he said. That meant writing their own songs. He continued writing as he moved from band to band, culminating with Ass Ponys, an alt country outfit that toured nationally. When the band broke up, Alletzhauser decided he wanted a band that played his music. He was a little late to the game, he said, being in his mid-30s. “I was always a side guy and I decided just finally I had to do it.” He’d always written and did the occasional solo show, now he wanted a band to bring that book to life. “Mainly I just wanted a broader sound.” The Hiders got started with informal jamming with musicians moving in and out. One key piece of the puzzle came with vocalist Beth Harris joining early on.  Alletzhauser met her during a local production of “Hedwig and the Angry Itch” in 2000. She played Yitzhak, and Alletzhauser was in the pit band. The musical has an authentic rock score, he said. So when he was setting out to form a band, Harris seemed a natural edition as a complementary voice. She grew up singing with her bluegrass loving family, and those roots inform her work with The Hiders more than musical theater. The band will be a six piece for its Main Stage performance, and five piece for the midnight show – one member has to make it to a solo show. Alletzhauser and Harris, who adds some auxiliary keyboards, percussion, and melodica, are backed by bass, drums, guitar and keyboards. Harris, he said, “has been the one constant in the band.” “It’s kind of easy for her to find a voice within the tunes I was writing,” he said. And she can make anyone sound good. “People mention the way we blend. Well, that’s mostly her. I’ve become a better singer singing with her. We listen to…


Whitehorse rides into arts fest for Sunday sets

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland started out as musical collaborators playing in bands together and working on each other’s projects. “Our relationship was strictly professional … for weeks,” Doucet quipped. “Our relationship was very close, very intimate early on. We found each other.” That was about 14 years ago, and now Doucet is talking on the telephone with their 3-year-old son in the background. He wants a boat ride, Doucet said. For years, Doucet and McClelland continued on their separate careers as solo artists and “hired guns,” though they worked together as much as they could. Then six years ago, tired of their schedules pulling them apart, they formed Whitehorse, a musical act informed both by their long musical and personal relationship Whitehorse will perform at the Black Swamp Arts Festival, Sunday Sept. 11, at 12:30 p.m. on the Main Stage and then at 2:45 as the penultimate act on the Family Stage. Reflecting on those early years, Doucet said “our musical lives were very confused.” They were including each other so much in their own bands that when their schedules didn’t allow them to play together, their fans would ask where the missing party was. They also toured together with fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan. Doucet had been backing the star for a while. As McLachlan’s backup singers came and went, he suggested he knew someone. “She rolled her eyes and told me: ‘I’m not hiring your girlfriend,’” Doucet recalls. Then a backup singer left just as McLachlan was heading off on a short tour with Pete Seeger. She relented. McClelland joined the band for the tour. After the first show, Doucet said, McLachlan “came to me in tears. … ‘I never felt so supported by another singer,’ she said.” That was no surprise to Doucet. McClelland has “the ability to ghost another singer … to be sensitive and supporting … like nothing I’ve heard in another singer.” Those harmonies are central to Whitehorse. Though the band expands for some gigs, at the Black Swamp festival, they will perform as a duo. Just their voices, and Doucet’s electric guitar and McClelland’s acoustic. They’ve used loops in the past, he said, but now favor a sparer sound. Once they took the leap to create Whitehorse, they wondered why they hadn’t done this before. “For me personally, my music benefits so much for having her around.” Both being married and singing to each other, and about each other, are forms of intimacy. “It’s an interesting existence.” They’ve gotten to know each other in a way that may take other couples 40 years. Each has a personal style and influences. McClelland has been inspired by other Canadian singer-songwriters, and favors a pop folk style. Doucet has deep roots in country and blues colored by the songwriters he heard while growing up – Neil Young, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman and Willie Nelson. “I was pretty deep in that mind set.” He said McClelland would “pretend to sing the blues and country,” taking a stab at sounding like Patsy Cline or Etta James. But while she would “mock” her own efforts, Doucet heard something “so legitimate, genuine, and sincere.” That was a sound he wanted to integrate into Whitehorse. Now they are drawing other influences, such as…


Black Swamp Arts Festival puts out call for volunteers

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Black Swamp Arts Festival needs a village. That’s what it takes to stage the annual weekend event. It’s been that way for the festival’s 25 years. “It takes everybody,” said Wynn Perry, volunteer coordinator for the festival. The festival draws on a cross section of the community – professionals, retirees, service clubs, churches, school clubs, university students, and more. “They all volunteer.” The Black Swamp Arts Festival will be presented Friday, Sept. 8 through Sunday, Sept. 10 this year, in downtown Bowling Green. None of the concerts, art show or youth activities happen without willing bodies. The festival uses about 1,000 volunteers on the weekend itself – the all-volunteer committee that organizes it works throughout the year. That’s the sweat equity that’s invested into putting on a community-wide party. With the festival less than a month away, organizers are in serious need of people to sign up, Perry said. Volunteers are needed throughout the festival from Friday morning to help set up the stage and beer garden area to helping get the downtown back to normal on late Sunday afternoon. On Saturday morning volunteers on the dawn patrol help transform Main Street into a vibrant art fair, as more than 150 artists, plus university students, set up booths. In between, help is needed selling tickets, merchandise, beverages, picking up trash, helping kids create art, and monitoring the stage and beer garden area. “Volunteers are a vital part of the Festival,” Todd Ahrens, who chairs the festival committee, wrote in a statement.  From set up Friday morning to take down on Sunday evening, about 1,000 volunteers support activities to make the Festival run smoothly. “We are still in need of volunteers this year in a number of areas and are hoping the community will rally to pick up one or more of the shifts available.” Most shifts last two to three hours. People can sign up at: www.blackswampfest.org. Clcik the Volunteer link at the top of the page. Volunteers are needed throughout, the weekend but Perry is particularly concerned with Youth Arts, which uses about 300 volunteers, and gate monitors. The gate monitors make sure that alcoholic beverages stay within the confines of the beer garden, and check that those carrying them have the bracelets indicating their IDs have been checked. This year, gate monitors will have a shaded seat to sit in while they perform their duties. Those duties are essential to make sure the festival is operating within the constraints of its liquor license. “Be part of the fun,” Perry said. “People usually do have fun.” Volunteer signup continues throughout the weekend. Those wishing can see what’s needed at the volunteer check-in table at the main entrance to the Main Stage area. “As we prepare to celebrate our 25th anniversary,” Ahrens said, “we appreciate how much the Bowling Green community supports the arts and are especially grateful to the volunteers who help make it happen.”    


Molsky’s Mountain Drifters to take the sound of the Appalachians to new heights at Black Swamp Arts Festival

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News When Bruce Molsky first dug into old-time mountain music, he was a college dropout. He’d gone off to Cornell to be an architect and instead he ended up washing dishes in the bar and grille that hosted old-time music sessions. Having started playing folk music in his native New York, he joined in. “The old-time music really resonated with me,” Molsky said in a recent telephone interview. “It still does.” Some 40 years later, the 62-year-old fiddler, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist has formed Molsky’s Mountain Drifters with two musicians half his age, but with the same devotion to that evocative mountain sound. Alisson de Groot, who plays claw hammer banjo, and Stash Wyslouch, guitar, are college graduates. Both attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Molsky, describes himself as “primarily an ear player,” teaches in the Roots Music Department. Now it’s Molsky’s turn to pass on all he learned from the old-timers he jammed with. Molsky’s Mountain Drifters will play two sets at the Black Swamp Arts Festival, Sunday, Sept.10. They’ll perform on the Main Stage at 2 p.m. followed by a 4 p.m. show on the acoustic stage. Molsky said he’s looking forward to coming to Bowling Green. “I like those kind of festivals that have the public walking around going from place to place and enjoying the town.” The social aspect of the music is part of what attracted him. “As a folk musician you better be the kind of person who enjoys meeting new people,” he said. Growing up in the Bronx, he listened to the radio since he was “in single digits.” When he was 12 his sister gave him a Doc Watson record and a book of Beatles music. “The Doc Watson record just hit a nerve,” he said. While the music was “virtuosic and very complex,” there was also something “simple and accessible about it. I could do that.” When he was in his teens, he got caught up in the social scene. “A lot of people were strumming guitars and singing songs.” When he went Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, he discovered a circle of musicians who loved southern Appalachian music. They included some of his earliest mentors. After a time back in New York where he participated in large scale jams with the Red Clay Ramblers from North Carolina. Then Molsky moved to the Shenandoah Valley where he stayed for five years. He moved to Atlanta, and then in the Washington D.C. area, “shooting distance from all the mountain communities I was close to.” Throughout those years he worked “grown up” jobs as a mechanical engineer. That didn’t keep him from earning plaudits from others. Mother Jones magazine wrote: “Molsky is easily one of the nation’s most talented fiddlers…he transports you … geographically, historically, and most of all emotionally” Fiddler Mark O’Connor praised his “mystical awareness of how to bring out the new in something that is old.” He now lives with his wife Audrey, in Beacon, NY, in the Hudson River Valley, north of New York City. The Mountain Drifters is the first band he’s led. Though he’s had decades of collaborating with others, “I’ve never fronted band myself where the musical focus is based on what I do. So that’s exciting for me.”…


Antibalas to bring surging rhythms of Afrobeat to the Black Swamp Arts Festival

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Martin Perna, founder of the Afro-beat ensemble Antibalas, likes company. “Community is really important to me,” he said in a recent telephone interview. Whether it’s “connecting people as a leader, a facilitator, or just a participant, what we’re able to achieve together is way bigger than any individual could do.” That holds especially true for Afrobeat, an amalgamation of jazz, soul, psychedelic rock, African highlife, and traditional chants and rhythms. The cast of a dozen musicians allows the songs to expand to 20 to 30 minutes. “It allows for the development of a complex story,” Perna said. A pop song may be a tweet, but an Antibalas song with its surging cross-rhythms and jubilant horns is “an in-depth article,” even a novel. That’s evident on the group’s forthcoming album “Where the Gods Are in Peace,” a throbbing exploration of myths for our time. Antibalas will mark the release of the album, which hits the streets Sept. 15, with a show at the Black Swamp Arts Festival, Saturday, Sept. 9 at 10 p.m. Percussionist and charter member Duke Amayo said he’s excited about the show and the tour because the album speaks about solutions to some of the problems the world is facing rather than just talking about the problems. The band’s publicity says of the album: “Through its battle cry of resistance against exploitation and displacement, Antibalas’ long-form compositions investigate oppression in 1800s America that eerily mirror the current state of the country. Three explosive original arrangements cultivate an urgent call to heal a broken system.” “What we try to do in the music is imagine solutions,” Perna said. “Talking about the same problems in the same way is not going to get us anywhere.” Perna said that meeting Amayo was one of the catalysts for bringing Antibalas together 20 years ago in Brooklyn. Perna, who plays saxophones and flute, had tight circle of friends from his career in music that included a stint with the Dap Kings, the band that accompanied Sharon Jones. When Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti died in 1997, Perna was concerned the music would die with him. Perna had first heard the sound through samples used in hip hop. He connected both with the music’s groove and its call for social justice. He drew on his connections to enlist musicians interested in exploring the Afrobeat as well as some who had years of experience playing it. Pulling that many musicians together who had the skill to carry it off was not easy, but worth it. It was a mission, Amayo said. Those early years formed a foundation, and a structure worth maintaining. “Once you get that calling, it’s going to be a lifetime of work. … We’ll pass it on. The things we are fighting for are about our life. This is our lifetime’s work.” “Afrobeat,” Perna said, “is very holistic music. It offers possibilities for the body, the mind, and the spirit. It has that balance – music you can have a physical experience, a musical experience, a spiritual experience, and an intellectual kind of conscientious, critical experience to it.” That the band is sharing this multidimensional experience with “multigenerational audience is really exciting,” Perna said. The variety of ages tends to make people more “present” in the moment,…


Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers ready to plug into the energy at the Black Swamp Arts Festival

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News To celebrate the 25th year of the Black Swamp Arts Festival, the performance arts committee wanted to bring back some favorite performers from years past. Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers certainly fill that bill. The band played town several times including sets at the 2010 and 2011 festivals that had listeners buzzing. That feeling is mutual. “I love Bowling Green,” Dopsie said in a telephone interview. “The people, the town, the atmosphere, I mean it’s like New Orleans part 2. It’s awesome.” That’s high praise coming from zydeco royalty. Dopsie is the younger son of zydeco legend Alton Rubin, who performed as Rockin’ Dopsie. His sons have adopted the “Dopsie” moniker as their own. Dwayne Dopsie’s other brothers also perform keeping their father’s old band alive. Dwayne Dopsie literally learned accordion and zydeco at his father’s feet. His father would be at home, having gotten off the road, and would be cleaning his instrument getting ready for the next show. “He always taught me,” Dopsie said. “‘I want you to play it the right way.’ … One thing he always showed me is zydeco is not what you hear, it’s what you feel.” This set him up on his future course.  “This is what I want to do. I wanted to follow my father’s footsteps because I always heard it.” But he doesn’t replicate his father’s music. “I probably have a little more aggressive style.” The young Dopsie had the advantage of hearing not just his father’s music, but that of Clifton Chenier as well as the sounds his own contemporaries are making. The elder Dopsie had his own father’s traditional style to build on. “I incorporate that love and passion for the music.” Those sources all play out in a Hellraisers’ set. There are originals, traditional tunes, and covers of music by the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Dopsie said he remembers the Black Swamp Arts Festival really getting into his band’s rendition of a Jerry Lee Lewis classic. The tune was familiar but had the Hellraisers’ distinct twist and energy. That’s part of the enduring appeal of live performance. “More people are gravitating toward people actually playing music,” he said. A listener can go to a club and listen to a DJ spinning discs, but “you will never get the real effect of watching a musician playing. Showmanship, he said, is “engaging with the crowd and making them feel like they’re part of the show, making them feel like this is where they need to be.” Putting on that kind of show demands energy of the performers. Dopsie said they imbibe in “no evil substances, no alcohol. We take nothing to enhance our energy, just the love of the music and seeing people’s reaction to the artistry they’re hearing. That’s what creates our energy.” That energy will be on display in Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers’ two sets at the festival. They will headline the show on Friday, Sept, 10, at 10 p.m., and on Saturday, Sept. 9, they’ll play at 4 p.m. on the Family Stage before moving their gear into Howard’s Club H where they’ll play an after-hours show starting about  midnight.      


Isaac Smith returns to hometown festival as reigning Best of Show winner

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News When he was growing up in Bowling Green, Isaac Smith created his share of macaroni masterpieces in the Youth Arts area of the Black Swamp Arts Festival. He also liked wandering through the crowd and visiting the art booths. It didn’t occur to him that the day would come that he’d be one of those artists. That he would be displaying and selling his own highly detailed and realistic pen and ink drawings, and his artwork would named Best of Show. Smith, a 2011 graduate of Bowling Green High School, returns next month to the Black Swamp Arts Festival’s juried art show to be held Sept. 9 and 10 on Main Street in downtown Bowling Green. The festival begins with music on the Main Stage Friday, Sept. 8 at 5 p.m. Last year was Smith’s second at the festival. He had exhibited in 2015 in the Wood County Invitational Show. In awarding him Best of Show honors, festival juror Brandon Briggs praised the artist’s “penetrating vision” Smith, Briggs said, was able to pick up on subtle details in his subject matter that most other observers would miss. “That takes not only time and patience, but a certain amount of heart. … Most people are willing to go as far as good enough. You’re a real artist if you’re willing to go ‘good enough is not good enough. I’m going to take it farther.’” Smith said f drawing: “I enjoy the long process, and the patience it takes.” Even as a child he spend more time on drawing than other kids. “At the beginning of high school, it just clicked, and I realized this is what I want to do,” Smith said during a recent interview. He took the four year sequence at the high school culminating in the senior project. Then he attended the Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University in Michigan, graduating in 2016. He remembers visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan, during ArtPrize and deciding he wanted to go there because here was a place that appreciated art. The art school was also a manageable size, about as many people as BG high. In both high school and college, he was encouraged to branch out to try other forms, and each has lessons to teach, he said. In particular at Kendall, he did some abstract paintings. That forced him to rely on the composition, and the interrelationship between elements to create a successful piece, concepts he applies to drawing. Smith always returns to his pencils and pens. “People think of drawing as a starting point. It doesn’t have to be a starting point you can take drawing as far as you want to go.” And he can take it wherever he goes, always carrying a sketchbook. Smith snaps photographs as possible subjects, and they sit waiting on a file on his desktop. Smith likes drawing people. One of his early prize-winning pieces was of a street fiddler in Italy. He’s also drawn his family members. Of late though he’s turned his attention to landscapes and urban scenes. “Those scenes are more accessible to everybody,” he said. Starting with the blank piece of paper, Smith begins drawing the lines. With an urban scene in particular, figuring out the angles and perspective…


Blind Boys of Alabama brings sound rooted deep in the American soul to Black Swamp Arts Festival

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Blind Boys of Alabama are ready to pull listeners up by their roots at the Black Swamp Arts Festival. The festival has always celebrated American roots music in its 25 years. But no other act can match the depth of the roots of the Blind Boys of Alabama. The band got its start as the Happy Land Jubilee Singers in 1938 at the Talladega Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Alabama, and has been sharing the uplift of gospel music ever since. They quit school to tour and later were renamed the Five Blind Boys of Alabama as a way to gin up competition with a similar group that was dubbed the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. The band scored its first hit with “I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine” in 1948. Starting when he was 9, lead singer Jimmy Carter has been along on the entire journey. (Another founder Clarence Fountain records with the ensemble but is unable to tour.) The Blind Boys of Alabama will perform on the Main Stage of the Black Swamp Arts Festival, Saturday, Sept.9, at 8 p.m. Over the years, the rhythms underneath those tight five-part harmonies have evolved, integrating funk, soul, blues, even rap. The vocals, though, have remained true to the band’s roots, said long-time member Ricky McKinnie. “Our voices are what make us the Blind Boys,” he said. “The Blind Boys believe in good harmony. As long as we can keep the harmony as tight as it is, the better off we are.” McKinnie, who sings second tenor and occasionally plays drums, started working with the band about 40 years ago and has been a member for 29 years. Other members of the group are Ben Moore, baritone, Paul Beasley, tenor, and music director Joey Williams, guitar and vocals. “He’s the only sighted member of the group,” McKinnie noted. The Blind Boys first broke into the mainstream when they performed in the musical “The Gospel at Colonus” in the 1980s. That exposed them to a wider audience and new collaborators from a variety of genres. “We found out that what’s from the heart, reaches the heart,” McKinnie said. “So we try to reach the soul of a person. We don’t come to preach to people, we come to sing. We hope that our singing can make them feel good. We sing feel good music.” While “we learn to change with the times,” he said, “The only thing that has changed is the style. … The words are still the same … because the word will forever stand.” McKinnie said that the group will sing “any song that brings a strong message. We sing message music.” It doesn’t matter if Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt, Curtis Mayfield, Peter Gabriel, or Tom Waits wrote. “All these people brought music that has a strong message. … There’s a great need for those songs today.” But those more contemporary message songs will be mixed with such traditional favorites as “Amazing Grace,” “Look Where You Brought Me From,” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” “It’s not a Blind Boys set without some traditional gospel,” McKinnie said “We sing traditional songs because that’s where we come from, that’s the basis of our longevity.” He sees the Blind Boys continuing…


Black Swamp Arts Festival’s juried art show celebrates continued excellence in its 25th year

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News For the Black Swamp Arts Festival’s juried art show the 25th year celebration is pretty much business as usual. That means working to maintain its standing in the Sunshine Artist magazine’s listing of top art shows. Last year the festival was ranked 70th on the journal’s Top 100 Classic and Contemporary Show list. That’s about where the festival has ranked in the 15 years or so that, it has broken onto the list. Those rankings are based on artists’ average sales which are something shy of $3,000. The 25th Black Swamp Arts Festival will be presented Friday, Sept. 8 through Sunday, Sept.10, with the art shows presents Saturday and Sunday. For more details, visit: http://www.blackswampfest.org/. Brenda Baker, who chairs the festival’s visual arts committee, said she would like to think the milestone year has attracted a few more artists to apply. As it was the jurors Kathy Buszkiewicz and Brandon Briggs reviewed 222 applications to fill the 112 booth spaces on Main Street in downtown Bowling Green. Six award winners from last year have committed to returning. That includes best of show winner Isaac Smith. Baker said that 18, or 12.5 percent, of the artists are in their first Black Swamp Arts Festival. “That’s pretty high.” Another 15 percent have been regulars for at least that past five years. The rest are in or out depending on the judgement of the jurors. Buszkiewicz wrote in an email: “Having judged this show in the past, this time I have seen some good returning artists’ applications. There also seems to be some new applicants to the show this year which have helped to add to the diversity of types of artwork present.” One gauge of heightened excitement around the festival, Baker said, is that more of those who were placed on the waiting list have reached out to make sure they’ll get a spot if one becomes available. However, accepted artists have confirmed they will attend earlier and at a higher rate, Baker said. The juried art show will feature “a broader range of styles, from very somber realism to whimsical multimedia pieces,” Baker said. “There’s something that would appeal to anyone no matter what their tastes are. That seems even more the case this year.” “It did seem that the entries for good glass work and painting were more limited than in the past and that of jewelry, ceramics, and photography and digital arts were abundant,” Buszkiewicz said. This year the jurors had another element to consider when making their decisions. In the past, artists were asked, using the ZAPPlication software, to submit five slides, four of their work and one of their booth setup. This year the festival asked for a sixth slide that shows the work in progress. This is part of the festival’s continuing effort to make sure those artists at the show created the work they are selling. “We really want to give the business opportunity to artists and creator and support the art culture on the whole,” Baker said. Buszkiewicz noted: “My aim in judging was to keep the quality of the work high so that the public is exposed to good one-of-a-kind and production work. That in itself helps to keep the appreciation of artists’ work, creativity and effort…


Bobby G brings taste of Delta blues to Howard’s

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Robert Gray first got hooked on the blues listening to sound standing outside the juke joint in his native Winterville, Mississippi. He and his friends didn’t have the money to get in so they absorbed the sounds that wafted from the homespun club. “We just loved what was going on,” he said, “so we would try to sing, just walking down the road singing. That’s when I first got it.” That was years before Robert Gray began Bobby G, the blues singer. Bobby G, now 73, will perform Saturday, July 15, at 7 p.m. at Howard’s Club H in downtown Bowling Green with Curtis Grant Jr. and the Midnight Rockers. Cover charge is $5. Bobby G will also perform Saturday, Sept. 9, at the Black Swamp Arts Festival. The performance celebrates the release of “Still Sanding” on Third Street Cigar Records. This is the bluesman’s first full-length album, and it’s giving the world – it’s charting in Italy, Australia, and elsewhere – its first taste of Bobby G. John Henry, a local blues impesario said, the bluesman is “a treasure.” Because Gray stayed around home, raised two children with his wife, and didn’t go out on the road and experience the hardships and bad habits that so often entails, “he’s well preserved.” His voice is clear, with a sweet high range, though he can growl when the tune demands it. That’s all on display on “Still Standing,” a set of originals written by Johnny Rawls. Before all this could transpire and he could take that love of the blues to the stage, he needed a change of location. Growing up in Mississippi, Gray said, it was like time stood still. You did what your parents did who were doing what their parents did. “I remember being a young guy, about 13 or 14, and I was out in the cotton fields and as far as I could look was cotton,” he said. “Looked like the cotton went up to the sky, and the sky came down to the cotton, and I was thinking: ‘Lord, is there anything else for me?’” He’d been in those fields since he was 6 and putting cotton into his mother’s bag. Then his uncle came visiting from up north, from Toledo. Gray didn’t know anything about Toledo except it wasn’t Mississippi. He asked his uncle if he could go back with him. He waited that day, until his uncle’s car arrived, kicking up a cloud of dust on the way. He was 15. Not that life was easy in Ohio. He worked in restaurants, and then started doing general labor, and then construction. Henry noted that he’s never played in Bowling Green, but he has worked here. He was on a crew that helped build Harshman Quadrangle. Eventually he was hired as “a garbage man” for the city of Toledo, and then was a heavy equipment operator. Gray first took the stage in 1972 at the High Note Club sitting in with the Creation of Soul. He remembered the night not going well. He didn’t know how to work the crowd nor work with the band. But the leader liked what he heard and help nurture his talent. “Before you knew it, we were working all over Toledo,” he…