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Thursday, August 16, 2018

After four decades, ‘newgrass’ pioneer Sam Bush remains as busy as ever

Sam Bush helped create an entire subgenre when he began his career in the early 1970s, combining his love of classic bluegrass with a yen toward more experimental, jazz-style improvisation to give birth to “newgrass.” Photo provided

Sam Bush is a master of the mandolin, and he’s pretty brilliant on fiddle and guitar, too. He helped create an entire subgenre when he began his career in the early 1970s, combining his love of classic bluegrass with a yen for more-experimental, jazz-style improvisation to give birth to “newgrass.” It’s a category that Bush and players like banjoist Bela Fleck, Dobro player Jerry Douglas, mandolin player Chris Thile, and bands like The Infamous Stringdusters have broken boundaries with for the past five decades.

But Bush can work just as easily within the mainstream, as well. In addition to his genre-bending solo albums (the most recent of which is 2016’s “Storyman”), Bush has played straight-ahead country with Alabama, bluegrass with Alison Krauss, rock with Steve Earle, folk with the late John Hartford, and much, much more. In fact, his credits as a sideman alone climb into the hundreds.

So you might wonder: What kind of music does a man who can play virtually everything under the sun actually listen to? Well, everything under the sun, pretty much.

“One of the things we’re listening to in the car right now is the Loretta Lynn collection on MCA Records,” Bush says. “It’s just incredible. I still like listening to John Hartford; it’s comforting music to me. I love [jazz-fusion guitarist] John McLaughlin, and another one of the things I’ve been listening to lately is a live record from the Montreux Jazz Festival of Miles Davis and Quincy Jones that’s one of the best records I’ve ever heard. Oh, and there’s a 1963 record by Muhammad Ali that I discovered called ‘I Am the Greatest.’ It’s an album of him reciting his poetry.”

Not that Bush, who will perform Friday at The Spinning Jenny in Greer with his band, actually has a lot of time to listen to music, because he’s typically too busy making it. When asked about his schedule, Bush says he’s mostly just doing some summer festival shows, but then he describes an itinerary that will make your head spin.

“At this moment, [I’m] going through the song-licensing process to get the music for a documentary about my career, called ‘Revival: The Sam Bush Story,’” Bush says. “And I’m still writing and compiling tunes for my next album. I just played my 44th consecutive Telluride Bluegrass Festival [an annual multiday event in Telluride, Colorado] and I also played the RockyGrass Festival. The night after my band played, I got to sit in with the Old and in the Way reunion with Peter Rowan and David Grisman, playing [the late bluegrass violinist] Vassar Clements’ parts, then the night after that I participated in Hot Rize’s 40th anniversary show. And I also played with the Steep Canyon Rangers.”

Basically your typical lazy summer, right?

The documentary has been an especially interesting project for Bush because it allowed him the rare opportunity to take a look back at his long, extremely busy career.

“It’s sometimes startling to look up and realize I’ve been doing this since 1970,” he says. “It’s pretty humbling and overwhelming. The great part is that I still get to do it. I’m still busy creating music.”

Bush says his many collaborations, both in the studio and on stage, allow him to return to his own projects with greater skills when it comes to leading his own ensemble.

“I think in order to be a good bandleader, you have to be a good support musician for other people,” he says. “I think that it’s a great situation to be able to step into a group. There’s nothing more fun to just sit in like I did with Steep Canyon Rangers or Hot Rize and blend in. They have great sounds, so it’s your responsibility to not detract from them. It helps me to play with others and find that rhythm.”

Sam Bush w/ The Blue Eyed Bettys
Where: The Spinning Jenny, 107 Cannon St., Greer
When: Friday, Aug. 10, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $32 adv., $38 door
Info: 864-469-6416, thespinningjennygreer.com

Clemson graduate named first African-American deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Vanessa Wyche, deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Photo Credit: NASA.

Vanessa Wyche, a graduate of Clemson University, has been named deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.

Wyche, 54, is the first African-American to hold the deputy director position at Johnson Space Center, according to a news release.

She will assist director Mark Geyer in leading the facility, which is home to a broad range of human spaceflight activities, including training and research.

“I am incredibly humbled to take on this role at JSC, and also excited to assist Mark with leading the home of human spaceflight,” Wyche said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the talented employees at JSC as we work toward our mission of taking humans farther into the solar system.”

Wyche, a South Carolina native, graduated from Clemson University in 1987 with both a bachelor of science degree in materials engineering and master of science degree in bioengineering, according to the release.

In 1989, after a brief stint with the Food and Drug Administration, Wyche joined NASA as a project engineer for the Space Life Sciences Directorate at JSC. She has since held several leadership positions, including acting director of Human Exploration Development Support and assistant center director.

Prior to her position as deputy director, Wyche served as the director of the Exploration Integration and Science Directorate. She previously served as acting deputy director of JSC from September 2017 to February 2018.

Wyche is the recipient of two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals and two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, according to the release.

“Vanessa has a deep background at JSC with significant program experience in almost all of the human spaceflight programs that have been hosted here,” Geyer said in a statement. “She is respected at NASA, has built agency-wide relationships throughout her nearly three-decade career and will serve JSC well as we continue to lead human space exploration in Houston.”

For more information, visit nasa.gov.

Future Chord: from a blog to a concert, booking, and management company

Pure Ghost will perform at this year's Future Chord Fest. Photo provided

When he was a student at Clemson University a few years back, Jeremy Theall searched for a way to get out the word about the Southeast’s music scene and the bands he loved. He initially channeled his passion for that music into a blog called Future Chord, in which he talked about the history and shows and various events in the lives of bands all over South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.

But after he got out of school, Theall felt the need to expand on that blog idea, and not just for altruistic reasons.

“I was writing about bands from the Southeast because local music was really important to me,” Theall says, “but after I graduated I realized I wanted to do something more worthwhile because I couldn’t really make a living writing about music.”

So over the past five years, Theall has turned Future Chord from a blog into a concert booking, promotion, and management company, with clients ranging from the electronic dance-music duo Carpoolparty to the psychedelic folk band Brother Oliver and the indie-rock quartet Daddy’s Beemer. At any given point in the past few years, Future Chord has offered management or promotional services to nearly two dozen bands around the region, on either a temporary or long-term basis.

One of the most noteworthy events Theall has created is Future Chord Fest, an annual multiband showcase that features both his own clients and bands from the area whose music Theall enjoys. The third annual edition of Future Chord Fest will kick off Friday night at Radio Room in Greenville, and it will feature Daddy’s Beemer alongside Pure Ghost, a Greenville band that specializes in massive, My Bloody Valentine-style guitar epics; the ethereal, atmospheric music of Austin’s Slow & Steady; the anthemic Upstate prog-rockers Tides in Transit; and the spaced-out, propulsive hip-hop of Asheville, N.C.’s Spaceman Jones & The Motherships, among others.

It also marks the festival’s shift from a one-day, jam-packed schedule to a two-night event, and its move from The Spinning Jenny in Greer to the Radio Room.

“A lot of the feedback I got the last two years was that it was too exhausting to have all the bands in one day,” Theall says. “I think people liked the music, but a lot of them would’ve preferred to have more time to come see the music over two nights.”

As for the move to the Radio Room, Theall says he was very happy with the way previous festivals went at The Spinning Jenny, but he was reluctant to have the event seem exclusively tied to one venue, plus the in-house kitchen and staff at the Radio Room made it a perfect fit.

“The Spinning Jenny was great to the festival for the first two years,” he says, “but I wanted to do it somewhere else this year so that people wouldn’t think it was an exclusive thing. Fortunately, I do a lot of shows at Radio Room already, and it was a little easier to get together because I didn’t have to get food trucks or vendors or worry about finding a door person or a sound person. That helps me focus on some other things that allow me to promote it and get people excited about coming out to the show.”

Ultimately, Theall says he’ll judge the third edition of Future Chord Fest a success not just if the Radio Room has a packed house (the first two years drew 300-plus people apiece), but by how the fans and bands are able to grow from it.

“I hope people leave with a new favorite band,” he says. “And I hope some of the bands will be able to network with one another and be able to play in other towns.”

Future Chord Fest, featuring Spaceman Jones & The Motherships, Kid Trails (of Toro Y Moi), Pure Ghost, Daddy’s Beemer, Slow & Steady, Gold Wave, Tides in Transit, Curfue, Finding Freedom, Deadwyler
Where: Radio Room, 110 Poinsett Highway 
When: Friday, Aug. 10, and Saturday, Aug. 11; 7:30 p.m. (both nights)
Tickets: $12 (single night), $20 (both nights)
Info: 864-609-4441, http://www.radioroomgreenville.com/

Greenville student featured on ‘The Tonight Show’


A student with the Greenville County School District was featured on a segment of Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” on Aug. 9.

Rising sixth-grader Elliana Trivett showcased her invention, called the Hula Drop Stop, on the show’s “Fallonventions” segment.

Trivett’s Hula Drop Stop is worn below the waist and keeps Hula Hoops from falling to the floor.

Trivett just finished fifth grade at the A.J. Whittenburg Elementary School of Engineering in Greenville.

“Fallonventions” showcases students from across the country with inventions solving real-world problems.

Trivett received a $5,000 check from “The Tonight Show” for her invention.

In prior episodes, students featured on the show have invented devices ranging from a mess-free dog bowl to glasses that provide real-time closed captions.

The segment will also appear on the “Fallonventions” YouTube channel at NBC.com/Fallonventions.

Plans for traffic-calming measures on McDaniel Avenue face uncertain future


Bids for traffic-calming measures designed to slow motorists on McDaniel Avenue have come in over budget, and the city is trying to figure out what to do.

The city had budgeted $100,000 for the project that included landscaped bump-outs and some restriping between Augusta Street and Crescent Avenue as well as some landscaped islands and restriping around Woodland Way and University Ridge. But bids came in at $160,000, said Greenville Public Works Director Mike Murphy.

The Alta Vista Neighborhood Association, which has been asking for traffic-calming measures on the street for the past three years, bought a radar gun and measured speeds over three days. Alta Vista Neighborhood Association President Curt Hall said the average speed was 41.5 mph, well over the 30 mph posted limit. They clocked some drivers going 60 mph.

Part of the problem is that the road is wide and straight. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, drivers travel about 9 mph faster for every additional 3 feet of road width.

Now, the city is re-evaluating the scope of work to see what can still be accomplished to slow traffic, said Allen Reid, traffic operations engineer for the city and project manager for the McDaniel project.

Reid said the city hasn’t decided on a new plan, but it will likely result in the project being rebid.

Speed humps can’t be installed because McDaniel is a state road, Murphy said.

Aloft Greenville Downtown partners with Lucky Pup Rescue SC

Tsunami, the current resident foster dog at Aloft Greenville Downtown.

Aloft Greenville Downtown just became even more pet-friendly than it already was.

Aloft Greenville Downtown announced a new partnership with Lucky Pup Rescue SC to welcome fosters as part of the existing program. The hotel, which allows pets to stay with owners in the rooms and enjoy the hotel amenities together, started a foster program in 2016 that brought in local rescue animals in hopes that a guest would take home the furry companion.

Since the program’s launch in 2016, the hotel has found homes for over 70 dogs.

“We are excited to partner with Lucky Pup Rescue SC as we continue to grow our foster dog program,” said Suzanne Lee, director of sales for Aloft Greenville Downtown. “In addition to helping more than 70 dogs find their forever homes, the program has been extremely well-received by hotel guests and locals. We look forward to building on this success with the team at Lucky Pup.”

Lucky Pup Rescue SC is a Greenville-based non-profit organization that rescues dogs from high-kill shelters, abusive or negligent homes, owner surrenders, or stray situations. The organization has an in-depth screening process that each individual must go through prior to adoption.

The fourth floor lobby has a custom-designed dog house where one foster animal can live while it is looking for its forever home, and getting some much needed attention along the way. The dog house was built by Tindall Architecture who partnered with Wilson Associates Real Estate to make the house a reality. Additionally, Paw Paws USA provides a custom collar and leash for each dog upon its adoption.

Aloft has several other partners including The Noble Dog Hotel, who provides grooming and training during each dog’s stay and a package of complimentary day care and boarding services upon adoption, and Paws & Claws who provides food and a gift card to the new owner.


The number of vegan options continues to grow in Greenville

Chef Adam Cooke has created a new vegan-friendly breakfast menu for Due South Coffee Roasters including Cashew Toast (superfood bread, raw cashew tahini butter, fresh peach, black pepper, mint). Photo by Will Crooks / Greenville Journal

Farm Fresh Fast owner Jonathan Willis found out the hard way just how passionate the Greenville Vegan Society members are about their chosen lifestyle.

But what could’ve turned into a very public and ongoing feud between local omnivores and vegans — those who avoid eating or using any animal products or byproducts — has actually had the opposite positive effect with Farm Fresh Fast’s hosting a recent vegan society meetup that resulted in more than 80 members showing up at the small, 30-seat restaurant.

It started on March 28 when Farm Fresh Fast posted an event on its Facebook page that advertised an upcoming painting and wine night. The painting happened to be of a pig, and the highlighted dinner ingredient of the night was pork provided by Providence Farm. The idea of painting a cute pig while snacking on pork ruffled some feathers.

A lively discussion with members of the vegan community about humanely raised versus conventionally raised pork and the benefits of using no animal products at all ensued. To his credit, Willis has left the thread intact for all to see on the Facebook page.

Willis, who frequently posts photos on Instagram of the pigs and other animals being raised for the Farm Fresh Fast menu, says the trickle-down effect from that event discussion was something he couldn’t have anticipated.

From Due South’s menu: Grapefruit Brûlée (figs, lavender, lime peel, cashew crumbles). Photo by Will Crooks / Greenville Journal

As a result, Willis met with members of the vegan society, including founder Tracy Weaver, to listen to their point of view, which gave him the chance to share his. It also helped him realize the vegan community in Greenville, though small, is vocal, has buying power, and will promote businesses that cater to their needs.

On April 23, Farm Fresh Fast launched a “No Kill” menu, completely free of animal products, in addition to its regular pork, chicken, and beef offerings. It quickly became popular with vegans and non-vegans alike.

“I wanted to be as progressive for them as I have been for the local sustainable farms,” he says.

The changing menu features grain bowls, stir-fry, meatless “chicken” wraps, Buddha bowls, a grits and meatless “meatballs” dish, and more, with ingredients sourced mainly from local farms along with vegan proteins that can fool meat-eaters.

Willis says sales from this menu now make up more than 50 percent of total sales in the restaurant, and many of those orders come from people who have not adopted a vegan diet or lifestyle. And that’s a major win for vegans, Weaver says, as educating the general public that vegan food can taste good is a priority.

“You’re not living a deprived life,” she says. “Your whole perspective changes.”

Two years ago when Weaver, a registered nurse, formed the Greenville Vegan Society, she knew only two other people locally who were like-minded.

“There’s just three of us in Greenville, so we’ll be friends,” she recalls thinking at the time.

The three of them banded together and created a Facebook group and planned dinners out. The group now has close to 800 members, all of whom aren’t vegan, Weaver says, but are sympathetic to their cause or seeking more information.

The group’s goal was simply to start the conversation about veganism and make their presence known to local restaurants, she says.

Due South’s menu also includes Avocado Toast with green apple. Photo by Will Crooks / Greenville Journal

“It would be so nice and be able to go out and not have to ask for accommodations,” Weaver says.

Many local restaurants, either in response to the Greenville Vegan Society’s requests or simply following dining trends, have added vegan options to their menus. For years, vegetarian options have been widely available, but finding restaurants with items that omit the use of animal by-products, such as eggs, dairy, and honey, has been tricky.

Other restaurants in town Weaver says have been especially accommodating are Generations Bistro, which is hosting a vegan wine dinner Aug. 22; LTO Burger Bar; Ji-Roz, which has vegan Thursdays; Chicora Alley; Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery; and Green Lettuce. Most recently, Due South Coffee Roasters has added a full menu of breakfast options, many of which are vegan because co-owner Patrick McInerney says there simply aren’t enough healthy, local options.

“Every day I hear about another restaurant,” Weaver says.

And when she does, expect to see a post on the Facebook group’s feed, asking the members to support the businesses making an effort.

“We want to show them that we’re going to support them,” she says.

She believes their supporting local businesses making these changes has helped the variety of options to grow significantly now that the demand has been established.

“We don’t have any completely vegan restaurants in Greenville,” she says. “The way we get there is supporting the ones with vegan options.”

Willis says he’s made it clear to Weaver and other members that Farm Fresh Fast will never be completely vegan, but he supports their choices and values their input as he continues to develop new menu items for the No Kill menu.

Weaver says the fact that he also draws meat-eaters in to the restaurant who then will try items off the vegan menu is likely better for the cause than if Farm Fresh Fast were completely vegan.

“I don’t think any have gone to the lengths that Jonathan does,” she says, acknowledging Willis’ continued efforts.

State swimming champ Team Greenville prepares to become privately run

Team Greenville swimmer Anna Havens Rice is one of four junior nationals qualifiers on the team. Photo by Mary Beth Lyons.

Team Greenville, a competitive swim team that just won its first state championship in 14 years, is preparing to become a privately run sports program.

For more than 25 years, Team Greenville has been managed by Greenville County, but starting with the 2019-20 swim season, the team will be run independently, according to team and county officials.

Team Greenville coach Karl Kozicki said that when the Greenville County Recreation District dissolved itself and became a Greenville County department five years ago, the county began moving in the direction of providing facilities for youth sports but not running them. Team Greenville was the last youth sport managed by the county, he said.

“The end user won’t see any difference,” said Greenville County spokesman Bob Mihalic, who said the vast majority of competitive sports operate as independent organizations here and all over the country.

Kozicki said the team has a committee looking at different structures, such as having an independent owner or a nonprofit with a parent board. The committee is examining the structure of other youth-sports organizations in the area that have separated from the county as well as other competitive swim teams across the country, said Shaun Beckish, Team Greenville booster club president.

Beckish said the financial impact of going independent is not yet known. “We’re just in the beginning stages,” she said, adding that one concern is that the coaches are now county employees. “We feel that there are more plusses than minuses. As we dive more into it, that may change. We feel really good the county gave us a year to transition.”

Being independent could help Team Greenville expand in the future, Beckish and Mihalic said. If the team wanted to start a satellite program that swims out of a different pool, it would be difficult if it were a county-managed program, Mihalic said. “This gives them the opportunity to grow,” he said.

Team Greenville has been growing. The team has 225 swimmers going into the 2018-19 season that begins Sept. 4, Kozicki said.

It is also becoming more successful, Beckish said. The team hosted the state short-course swim meet in March and came in second, beating Y Spartaquatics Swim Club, another program with Greenville County swimmers, Beckish said. Run under the umbrella of the YMCA of Greater Spartanburg, YSSC is a nonprofit affiliated with USA Swimming and National YMCA Swimming & Diving.

Team Greenville finished second in the short-course zone championship, as well. Short course utilizes a 25-yard pool.

Team Greenville won the 2018 long-course state championship in Columbia. Photo by Steve DePiero.

in late July, Team Greenville won the long-course (Olympic-sized pool) state championship, the team’s first championship in 14 years. The team won the boys’ title, the girls’ title, and the combined championship. Audra McSharry scored the most points for 15- to 18-year-old girls, while Jack Mezzagori had high points for the 13- to 14-year-old boys.

YSSC finished third in the boys’, girls’, and combined competition.

“[Team Greenville] is really building a strong culture based on hard work and swimming up to expectations,” Kozicki said. “Everyone is working together as a team.”

Four of Team Greenville’s swimmers qualified for the junior nationals: Anna Havens Rice, Riley Parker, Bruce Bannister, and Liam Walker.

“Team Greenville has such a great tradition and a strong tradition, and we don’t want to mess it up,” Beckish said. “We’re on a wave of momentum.”

Burying utility lines is a slow go in the city


The effort to bury utility lines in the city of Greenville continues to be slow-going, years after 2005’s crippling ice storm left thousands in the dark and cold for a week or more.

Under an agreement with Duke Energy and the city, the cost of line burial is shared. The city’s share comes from an increased franchise fee paid by Duke. That expense was passed on to customers, who have paid an average of $1 per month more on their electric bills since July 2008. The city sets aside about $1 million per year for burying utility lines. Duke matches it with about $500,000.

Eighty percent of the money goes to commercial projects. Twenty percent goes to a residential program that provides $1,500 to homeowners to bury the service line from the power pole to their house.

Greenville Mayor Knox White wants the city to bury utilities in and along the borders of Unity Park, the city’s new $40 million signature park in western downtown.

But the price tag for doing Welborn and Nassau streets, Hudson Street from West Washington Street to the Reedy River, and Mayberry Street is estimated at $9.15 million, nearly twice as much money as will be available in the fund on June 30, 2020, said Kai Nelson, director of the city’s Office of Management and Budget.

The City Council has said it will issue revenue bonds to pay for components eligible for tourism-related funding, provided the annual debt is no greater than $2 million per year for 20 years. Nelson did tell members of the City Council Committee on Planning and Development that $2 million a year would cover a bond issue of $27 million, about $7 million more than Council originally thought.

The city is currently burying lines on part of West Washington Street. Other projects that are being considered, but have had no money appropriated, are a relocation and pole consolidation on Laurens Road, another stretch of West Washington, and Williams Street. City officials said another project on Augusta Road is in jeopardy, as contractors are reluctant to bid because of the state Department of Transportation’s stringent encroachment requirements of working at night and extensive traffic-control measures.

On the residential side, 3,635 households have applied to have their lines buried since the inception of the program, and 1,585 have been completed.

Three residential group service conversions were completed — at Ridgeland Drive, Mount Vista, and McDaniel Heights — and two more are proposed — along East Avondale and Meyers Drive.

White said Duke Energy’s recently announced plans for $3 billion in infrastructure investment in South Carolina over 10 years – including more than $1 billion for targeted line burial — likely won’t help the city because the utility has targeted initial efforts in Spartanburg and in Greenville County.

Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said Duke’s goal is to bury thousands of miles of the most outage-prone, vegetated power lines on the grid in South Carolina. In 2018, it is starting with a few projects in the Upstate, primarily in Spartanburg County. He said the utility has identified many line segments throughout the state — including some in the city of Greenville — that it will target in years to come.

“This is not an initiative to improve aesthetics. It is solely based on data identifying the most outage-prone areas of our system that can benefit from going underground,” he said.

Mosier said the utility is evaluating areas in Greenville and Greenville County, but the analysis is not complete and the utility is not ready to share specific information. A timetable has not yet been established, he said.


Sound Bites: Jeff Hardy and Peroxwhy?gen; Chapter:Soul; and The Lackies

Saxophone player and band founder Calvin Johnson calls the music that his group Chapter: Soul makes “NOLA future funk." Photo provided

Tuesday, Aug. 14
Jeff Hardy and Peroxwhy?gen, with Something Clever, Seven Year Witch, and Solarist
The Firmament, 5 Market Point Drive
8 p.m.

Jeff Hardy typically spends most of his time being a WWE Superstar, traveling from town to town and performing gravity-defying feats in the ring. But his secret passion has always been music, and he’s made three albums of razor-edge, electronics-tinged hard rock with his band Peroxwhy?gen — pronounced peroxygen — since 2010. Not that making time for the band is easy. In fact, the release party for their most recent album, 2017’s “Precession Of The Equinoxes,” took place in Nashville after Hardy appeared on an episode of the WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.”

“With the WWE schedule, it’s almost impossible, but every once in a while I’m able to do a show,” Hardy says. “It’s going to be really cool to get back with the band again.”

In the meantime, Hardy says  his current WWE character, a face-painted, enigmatic figure, has helped him become a better frontman.

“I’ve recently started doing some in-ring promos and they give me some crazy stuff to try to memorize and put in my own words,” he says, “and it’s actually helped me to get in front of people and sing because I feel a lot more comfortable than I did five or six years ago. I can speak to the fans in between songs and tell jokes makes that connection.” —Vincent Harris

Saturday, Aug. 11
Chapter:Soul with Tray Dahl and The Jugtime Ragband
Gottrocks, 200 Eisenhower Drive 
8 p.m.

Saxophone player and band founder Calvin Johnson calls the music that his group Chapter:Soul makes “NOLA future funk,” and it’s difficult to think of a better hard-and-fast description. Over New Orleans-style horn-spiked soul, Johnson’s quartet mixes in modern-day R&B vocal hooks, jazzy time changes, and pop-music polish, but they never lose that relentlessly danceable Big Easy sense of groove.

It’s a stylistic range that allows them to work in everything from Kanye to Freddie Hubbard, and it’s delivered so confidently that it’s somewhat surprising to learn that Johnson was initially reluctant to leave his gig with the veteran New Orleans outfit the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to start his own project.

“There was most definitely some hesitation,” Johnson says with a laugh. “As an artist, you’re kind of scared when you have something new to say; you wonder how people are going to accept it. Are they going to take to it? Are they going to just remember you from the past or allow you to move on and do something new?”

But when it came to heading up his own group, Johnson could hardly have had better teachers than the Dirty Dozen. “They took me in and showed me the ropes from the bottom on up,” he says. “Everything from putting a band together to putting together a tour to doing publicity. They are true road warriors.” —Vincent Harris

Thursday, Aug. 9
The Lackies
Piedmont Natural Gas Downtown Alive, NOMA Square, 220 N. Main St.
5:30 p.m.

For years, Greenville’s The Lackies were on the rock band treadmill, playing their melodic, Beatlesque power-pop whenever they could and recording often. But as they tried to find a bigger audience for their catchy, guitar-heavy songs (primarily written by guitarists Matt Morgan and Jef Chandler and singer/bassist David Sims), a certain amount of burnout set in.

“Like anything you do over and over, the repetition makes it boring,” Morgan says. “You can lose sight of what’s important. You fall out of love with it or take it for granted.”

Now, with the band playing far fewer shows (usually just a handful per year), and the pressure of being a full-time band largely behind them, things are a lot more laid back.

“When we played before, we were making a go at getting on the road, releasing and selling new records and playing a lot of shows,” Morgan says. “Now it’s just a hell of a lot of fun. David and I have been in bands together since middle school, and some of these songs go back over 30 years. When we get together and play those songs now, it’s very special.” —Vincent Harris

Mill Village Farms is working to solve the food desert problem in the area

An example of a FoodShare Greenville box. Photo provided.

A local farm is working to bring fresh produce to the West Village and surrounding neighborhoods that otherwise don’t have ample access to fruits and vegetables. Mill Village Farms, under the umbrella of Mill Community Ministries, has started two programs to help.

The farm has launched a downtown produce cart — the Veggie Cart — and is working in its second season of FoodShare Greenville. The cart is strategically located at Richardson and McBee streets next to the Greenlink Bus Transfer Station, giving low-income bus-riders easy access. This placement stems from the fact that many low-income neighborhoods around downtown are in what the United States Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert.”

A food desert is defined by the USDA as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas … due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers.”

The effects of food deserts are most immediately felt by low-income individuals and families, who sometimes face a long bus ride to find healthy food options. Dan Weidenbenner, executive director of Mill Community Ministries, explained, “Folks over here [West Greenville] will shop for groceries at Spinx and maybe Family Dollar.” Weidenbenner’s mission through the Veggie Cart was to work with Greenlink to find a place where people are already coming and give them affordable access to healthy foods there.

The other program that Mill Village Farms introduced almost two years ago is FoodShare Greenville, a box program that works with nonprofits and medical clinics. The boxes have a large variety of fruits and vegetables and are available at about 12 nonprofit organizations and clinics in the area. Each box is valued at $20-25 and can be purchased for $15 in cash or $5 in EBT/SNAP, which allows many low-income individuals to afford a box each two-week cycle. Weidenbenner heard about a similar program in Columbia, and he and FoodShare coordinator Courtney Watson have worked together to bring it where it is today.

“The challenge for many of our families when doctors would tell them what they needed to be eating, it’s just not possible, it’s not a reality. This helps it to become a reality and part of a routine,” Weidenbenner said. The boxes are available every two weeks, and clients know to come pick up their boxes at their doctor’s office, church, or other organization.

Dorothy Kelly, a user of FoodShare Greenville since its inception, explained what an asset the boxes were to her after she became guardian to her three great-grandchildren. “The youngest was under two, and I had just retired. I had different plans,” she laughed. “I can just eat one meal a day and be on my way, but with three kids, I need to fix three meals a day. The only time I don’t have to do that is when they are at school, and that just takes one meal away.”

Kelly has always been an advocate of eating fruits and vegetables but knows they can be expensive and difficult to come by. “I like vegetables. The box yesterday had okra in it and I almost had a fit. It’s one of my favorites,” Kelly said. “The boxes have been a tremendous help to me. The one I picked up this week had a whole pineapple in it, which I could never usually afford.” Kelly not only takes a box for her and her great-grandchildren, but also delivers a box to a home-bound friend who rarely gets access to healthy produce outside of the FoodShare boxes.

Dr. Blakely Amati, director of Greenville Health System Center for Pediatric Medicine West, explained that they knew access to healthy food was an issue for their patients when they started formally screening them for social determinants of health. “They know what they are supposed to be doing, exercise and eating healthy,” she said, “but if you don’t have money to go get the fruits and vegetables or don’t have transportation, then it’s really just talking.” Amati found out about a similar program in Columbia around the same time that Weidenbenner started researching it in Greenville, and it all fell into place through their combined efforts.

The FoodShare program gives patients of the clinics and other individuals a tangible solution for an ongoing problem. “It has been so nice to have something that I can offer them that is real and they can take home from here and use with their families,” Amati said.

Next Artisphere sculpture will be installed in Village of West Greenville


When a new sculpture commissioned by Artisphere is installed in the Village of West Greenville next spring, it will be unlike any of the three other sculptures commissioned by one of the country’s top-ranked fine arts festivals.

Arizona artist Blessing Hancock’s “Spindle,” a stainless steel piece that will be internally illuminated and draws inspiration from the area’s textile heritage, will be the first Artisphere-commissioned sculpture outside of the festival’s downtown footprint. It will be installed in the Village’s plaza near the Community Journals office.

Artisphere aims to commission an original piece of public art every five years, said Executive Director Kerry Murphy.

A 10-sided, 18-foot-tall sculpture in the form of a faceted cotton spindle, the piece features words cut from the stainless steel sheets. Hancock attended the 2018 Artisphere to get suggestions for the words. When the sculpture is installed and illuminated, the words will project shadow patterns onto the surrounding area.

Ed Zeigler, the incoming Artisphere board president and a former city of Greenville Arts in Public Places Commission member, said Hancock has long been on his radar.

“For years, people have been talking about doing something under the Main Street bridge, so I started Googling ‘under-bridge sculptures’ and found these incredible chandeliers of large globes she made of bicycle parts that were inner lit and threw shadows on the underside of the bridge,” he said. “For years, I’ve been saying I’m going to get Blessing Hancock to Greenville someday.”

But Hancock wasn’t a shoo-in for the piece. Three artists submitted proposals to Artisphere. Murphy said Hancock’s Skyrim studio was the unanimous choice of the selection committee.

“My feeling was that this was a sculptural form that both referenced the past and the connection with the neighborhood and place, and related the idea that Greenville is very much a contemporary city and we’re moving ahead with the times,” said Joe Thompson, a member of the selection committee and the chairman of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. “It has meaning on different levels.”

Murphy said Artisphere has raised $87,500 out of the $125,000 it needs for the piece. The city will do the landscaping, she said.

Tucson, Ariz.-based sculptor Blessing Hancock attended the 2018 Artisphere to get public input into the commission she’s doing for the fine art festival’s 15th anniversary next year.

Who is Blessing Hancock?

Tucson, Ariz.-based Blessing Hancock believes in light’s ability to enliven a space.

She specializes in creating large-scale, interactive, illuminated, site-specific sculptures that are “born of place” and speak of the surrounding people and culture.

Her installations can be found around the world, including in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Alberta, Canada; Chengdu, China; and in 13 states.

She has degrees in sculpture and landscape architecture, training that gives her a unique perspective for public art.

To donate

To donate to the sculpture, contact Artisphere Executive Director Kerry Murphy at kerry@artisphere.org. For more information about the festival, go to www.artisphere.org.

Previous Artisphere public art installations

“Nexus of Light”

This sculpture by Wisconsin-based artist Dennis Heimbach marked the first Artisphere festival in 2005. The sculpture is installed in the traffic triangle at the intersection of South Main and Augusta streets.

“Paradigm Pathway”

South Carolina artist Stephen Kishel’s sculpture honors the late Buck A. Mickel’s love of the arts, not the man himself. The multi-plate contemporary sculpture is made of aluminum and painted the colors that make up the Artisphere logo. Installed in 2012, it is located at the back of the Peace Center on the Reedy River near the bridge.

“Ten Artispheres”

Pendleton artist John Acorn was commissioned to do a sculpture for Artisphere’s 10th anniversary in 2014. “Ten Artispheres” anchors the southwest corner of the Main Street bridge near RiverPlace. It contrasts his smoother “Orbital Trio” piece at NOMA Square.

Robert Randolph & The Family Band bring sacred steel to Zoo Tunes

Robert Randolph has spent much of the last two decades touring and recording with The Family Band (which includes his brother Marcus on drums and sister Lenesha on vocals). Photo provided

Drawing on the decades-old tradition of sacred steel music (the blending of pedal steel guitar with ecstatic gospel music), Robert Randolph is an absolute master of his instrument. He can manipulate the liquid mercury sound of a pedal steel to sound like the joyful cry of a human voice or the roar of a fully amped Les Paul. He’s spent much of the past two decades touring and recording with The Family Band (which includes his brother Marcus on drums and sister Lenesha on vocals), laying down his astonishing solos over stretched-out jam-rock, infectiously danceable funk and, on their most recent album, “Got Soul,” old-school R&B, garnering a legion of fans, critical acclaim, and three Grammy Award nominations.

Randolph and The Family Band will perform on Friday at the next edition of PNC Bank Zoo Tunes, a concert series that takes place inside The Greenville Zoo and has featured Bruce Hornsby, Jason Isbell, and, most recently, Shovels & Rope.

We spoke with Randolph about his early shows in Greenville, his musical roots in the church, and his next album.

You might not have played at the zoo before, but do you remember your past shows in Greenville?

Oh yeah, I remember playing the outdoor festival (Fall for Greenville) and The Handlebar. There’s a great vibe in Greenville; it’s a great musical city. The crowds are great, and my buddy Marcus King is from there, too.

Your live shows are so energetic and celebratory; is it difficult to translate that to a recording studio?

If you look at the musicians I love, like the Grateful Dead and artists like Stevie Wonder, the [Rolling] Stones, [Jimi] Hendrix, The Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, look at the way they are live, it’s always different from the recordings. That’s what makes the live experience one thing and recording another. You can try to make the recording with as much energy as you can, but it’s never the same as the live interaction you get with the fans, or the improvisation. Even as a kid growing up in church, the music was based off the energy of each other and connecting with spirit and taking it to another level.

Speaking of church, what was it that moved you about the sacred steel style?

For me, music was always a big part of who I was. It was kind of kept hidden in the American roots-music scene for 80 years, but there was always lap steel playing in our church. And all of the guys playing were my Albert Kings and Robert Johnsons. That’s what I knew. And then I started getting into all kinds of different music as a teenager, and that kind of led me down a different path of trying to meld the two worlds together and come into my own. It was a great feeling and wonderful experience.

You’ve been nominated for three Grammy awards and you’ve performed at the ceremony; what’s the Grammy-night experience like?

It’s just so much fun. You feel like you’re part of your musical peers, seeing so many different artists and performers. It just goes to show that we all appreciate each other, and we all appreciate the music that we made. It was really a good feeling, man. It’s kind of hard to explain what it feels like when you’re there; it’s like you’ve been accepted. We all make music and sing songs, but when that acceptance comes from the people there, it really feels like something special.

It’s been about a year since your last album, “Got Soul,” came out. What’s on the horizon as far as the next album goes?

We’re supposed to start recording in early October. We’ve got some producers lined up and we’re finalizing everything now. It’s going to be a really bluesy rock record, really organic. And we’ve already written like 30 songs. That’s the fun part about being on tour, is that everyone’s there with their musical ideas, you’re on the bus, there are no distractions, you’re up til 2 or 3 in the morning playing guitar and full of ideas. Those late-night drunken ideas are usually the best ones [laughs]!

PNC Bank Zoo Tunes Concert Series featuring Robert Randolph & The Family Band
When: Friday, Aug. 10, 7 p.m.
Where: Greenville Zoo, 150 Cleveland Park Drive
Tickets: $75, $125
Info: https://greenvillezoofoundation.org

Evanescence brings new interpretations to earlier songs at Heritage Park Amphitheater show

Evanescence's 2017 album "Synthesis" took songs from their first three albums and set them to a striking combination of orchestral arrangements and electronic effects. Photo provided

There’s always been a sort of dark, epic drama in the songs of Evanescence. Think of their first big hit, 2003’s “Bring Me To Life,” for example. Led by singer/keyboardist Amy Lee’s near-operatic vocal and an explosive, unforgettable chorus, the song was unlike anything else on modern rock radio at the time. And the follow-up single, “My Immortal,” was just as powerful, a surging ballad based around Lee’s voice and piano that sounded massive despite its stripped-down arrangement.

That sound has helped Evanescence sell more than 10 million albums in the U.S., and it’s won them two Grammy awards. It’s also a sound that lends itself to further exploration, and the band’s 2017 album “Synthesis” did just that, taking songs from their first three albums and setting them to a striking combination of orchestral arrangements and electronic effects. Rather than overloading these tracks, which were largely guitar-heavy hard-rockers the first time around, the new settings bring out the intense emotion in Lee’s delivery and shed new light on the band’s skillful songwriting.

The album was so well-received by fans that Evanescence has spent much of the past two years playing shows accompanied by local orchestras, and they’ll be bringing the “Synthesis” show to the Heritage Park Amphitheatre in Simpsonville on Tuesday, Aug. 14.

“I’m loving it,” Lee says of the orchestral performances. “I feel completely in my element now. I was nervous at first, but I’m very secure in it now and I feel the ability to explore that space.”

That initial nervousness sprung from the fact that Evanescence typically has time to try out only four songs with the orchestra before going onstage, meaning that everyone’s playing the vast majority of the set together for the first time in front of thousands of people.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Lee says, “because I always like to rehearse and be prepared and have the entire show down. But this doesn’t work that way. It’s something I would’ve been scared to commit to five or six years ago, but I’m so glad.”

The show also carries over the electronic percussion elements from the “Synthesis” album, which Lee says makes this different from the typical “rock band plays with orchestra” kind of show.

“We pulled the big drums and big rock element back and changed it completely,” she says. “It’s really based on the orchestra and electronic programming in the places there used to be a rock-band sound, so I don’t even know what other shows I would compare this to.”

For this tour, Evanescence will be accompanied by violinist Lindsey Stirling, who will open the show and share some stage time with Lee. Stirling, whose music blends classical influences with electronic dance music styles like dubstep, appears on “Hi-Lo,” a track from “Synthesis,” and Lee’s admiration for her is obvious.

“She’s this incredible violinist who can shred in the classical style, but she’s in the contemporary world,” Lee says. “It’s just amazing that we’re able to do this together; I think it’s going to be beautiful.”

Stirling is equally thrilled to be on this tour, largely because she’s been a fan of Evanescence for 17 of her 31 years.

“I had a poster of them up on my wall when I was in high school,” Stirling says. “Amy’s been an inspiration to me for years. Even when I started writing my own music, I kind of took a page from their book, because there was such a great use of contrast; this edgy rock sound combined with classical undertones, with this beautiful soaring voice over it. I’d never heard anything like it before. So when I started making my own music, they were a huge inspiration to me.”

Evanescence, w/ Lindsey Stirling
Where: Heritage Park Amphitheatre, 861 SE Main St., Simpsonville
When: Tuesday, Aug. 14, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $25-$99
Info: 864-296-6601, heritageparkamphitheatre.com

City works to manage changes as Village of West Greenville draws developers’ interests

The Village of West Greenville plaza will be extended to make room for a sculpture commissioned by Artisphere for its 15th anniversary. Branwood Street, see n on the right, has been made one way to make room for the statue and for sidewalks. Photo by Will Crooks.

A new statue and new businesses aren’t the only things coming to the Village of West Greenville — more public improvements and development regulations are likely on the way, as well.

The Village has received unprecedented development interest with more than a dozen businesses either opening or announcing plans since spring. The city of Greenville is trying to keep up with the transformation with new public improvements and additional zoning regulations.

Last week, the city made a one-way out of Branwood Avenue, which is one block off Pendleton Street, the Village’s main commercial road. The city plans to extend the Village’s plaza, which was made possible by closing a portion of Perry Avenue in front of the Community Journals office, The Anchorage restaurant, and Artisan Traders. The city plans to extend the plaza to make a home for a statue Artisphere has commissioned for its 15th anniversary.

The closure is part of a plan to make the Village more walkable and increase the number of parking spaces, said Tracy Ramseur, senior economic development project manager for the city. The extra lane would allow for sidewalks.

The city wants to work with developers of Poe West, a mixed-use project on the site that most recently housed Diversified Systems Inc., to install streetscape improvements and lighting in the front of the property. The city is considering having reverse-angle parking in front of Poe West because it is supposed to be safer, Ramseur said.

In addition, the city is considering an “overlay” zoning district for the Village’s main commercial district, Ramseur said. The new regulations could limit the height of buildings, city planning director Jay Graham has said. Currently, buildings can be four stories tall.

In addition, the city is considering lessening parking requirements for businesses in the Village. Currently, businesses are required to provide one parking spot for every 100 square feet of commercial space. A shopping center requires one for every 650 square feet, which city officials said might be more reasonable.

The overlay district could also possibly allow uses that are not currently allowed in the RDV (redevelopment) zoning classification, Ramseur said. One idea the city is considering is requiring the front third of a building be devoted to active uses so pedestrians don’t have to walk past buildings with drawn blinds, she said.

“We don’t think people in the Village want a huge restaurant or huge grocery store on Pendleton,” she said. “We think they want uses that are more like urban downtown buildings.”

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