Your Online Guide to the Arts in the Brazos Valley

Photos and articles by one of the Brazos Valley's leading artists... guiding you to great art and entertainment opportunities. For a blog about Brazos Valley Music History, Click HERE:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Christmas Treat at La Casita

Diners at La Casita Mexican Restaurant were lucky to enjoy great food and the best of local entertainment Friday night. It was a Mexi-Christmas moment for Navasota and a special treat to anyone paying attention, as two of Navasota's most decorated entertainers gave a music fiesta with a little help from their friends...

Misslette the Singing Cowgirl and Tubie Pushee put on a tight little show, offering variety and musical virtuosity.
Misslette and Tubie have joined up before to entertain their devoted fans at Navasota's most popular eating tradition. Both award-winning and often nominated musicians, their music was a great gift from La Casita to their clientele.
 Tubie lays it down.
Singer-songwriter Tubie Pushee has released four blues-rock albums and established himself as the top guitar song-smith in the Brazos Valley, not only producing great songs but helping many guitarists sharpen their skills as well. Tubie is always a big supporter of whatever is going on locally, ready to lend his talents. He is always there when we need a lift.
Misslette sings, plays guitar and lends her passionate harmonica to Tubie's blues.
Misslette The Singing Cowgirl is a worthy counterpart, just as community-minded, and an accomplished musician and singer, able to deliver up equally professional cover songs, in country, blues, jazz and  western. Together they cover all the bases!
After many years of bringing tasty Tex-Mex food to the Brazos Valley, La Casita Restaurant is as popular as ever. Thanks to them, there was country, rock and a little blues to nod along with as the enchiladas and margaritas went down.
IN ADDITION, on hand to salt the mix was songwriter Mitch White who offered some of his latest "grunge" rock originals. They are excellent. And Misslette's sister Suzonne, played an authentic bowed psaltry, fashioned from cherry wood. Suzonne is a  classically trained musician, and sang some Christmas classics. I can say with some confidence, Navasota has never heard such accomplished and diverse artistry in any of its various venues.

Misslette and sister Suzonne. All the Caillouet kids are musicians... and good ones.
Last but not least, these incredible, talented and qualified entertainers invited me to sing a few songs, and gave me my Christmas, to get to sing with them backing me up. If you love to sing, you might be able to imagine how thrilling that would be. If not... well, you'll just have to take my word for it. What a way to top off the year... a golden evening to remember with these precious friends. Thanks to La Casita for providing another chapter to "It's a Wonderful Life"!
Merry Christmas.  If you have not given yourself a similar memory, it's not too late. BUT YOU HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!

Monday, November 4, 2013

DOWNTOWN BRYAN: An Alignment of Stars in the Basement…

of the La Salle Hotel!

Downstairs ... in the Brazos Room.
On the first Sunday evening of every month, Bryan’s top music performers congregate at the bottom of the La Salle Hotel for a jazz jam to die for…  and it is free.  As you take the elevator to the basement you ask yourself, how good can it be, hidden in the bowels of an ancient hotel on a Sunday night? But seven years worth of musical bonding keeps bringing Bryan-College Station’s most devoted music fans back to the basement for their jazz fix.  You quickly realize why!

 Visiting for the first time, veteran performer Misslette Caillouett brought her guitar but read the outstanding sound and set it down... she would just be happy to get to sing with such an All Star band.  “These guys are MONSTERS!” She beamed.
Greg Tivis needs four hands to keep up with all of his jazz.
That may have been true, but these monsters brought nothing but pure joy to their audience, who helped transform the lively La Salle Hotel Brazos Room into a 1940’s nightclub. Led by the multi-talented Greg Tivis at the keyboard, mostly local musicians offer up a diverse show of Jazz styles from dixieland to swing to cha cha, with the precision of professionals who know each other-  and the music through years of such revelry.

local music patriarchs Richard Phelps and Jay Brakefield contributed early on... on cornet and clarinet respectively...

And a welcome sight, Hannah Ridgeway, a well-received young female vocalist brought her fresh approach to some jazz classics… some spicy "cha cha" and had the rare thrill of singing with such an inspiring collection of musicians. There is hope for the next generation!

A member of the audience, John Leonard breaks into spontaneous dance at the beginning of "Walkin' Stick."

There were THREE very good sax players, who kept the audience clapping from solo to solo as if it was a High School graduation ceremony. It seems everyone is a multi-tasker…  Tivis will tickle the keys on his keyboard and then suddenly join the brass with his cornet…
Ralph Moncivais on flute
Ralph Moncivais, leader of the RAZZ Band, started with lovely flute riffs and then pulled out his tenor sax and brought down the house with it. And they were just getting warmed up.  Richard Kent is a wonderful clarinetist, but he too cannot resist his saxophone.  And once you hear him play, you will not be able to resist him.
 Richard Kent tearing it up on sax... with Greg Tivis at keyboard, Steve Carr on bass, Randy Watkins on drums, Ken Appelt playing accoustic guitar, Kevin Duff on electric guitar,  and Ralph Moncivais also on sax...

Known more professionally for her country and western performances, it turns out Misslette cut her teeth on jazz and confesses that it is dear to her heart. Manny Lopez of the Texas Twisters helps out on bass.
I recognized drummer Randy Watkins, who took a little break and was able to give me a heads up, when he learned DON POPE, an acknowledged virtuoso on piccolo and flute, and one great soprano sax player from Conroe, had just arrived…  Randy  promised it would be good... and I have learned to trust his judgment about music... What a show!  Paul Fridrich filled in on drums and brought out his big guns...

Greg Tivis explained that he had fewer musicians this time... but we still celebrated the "best of the the best, in these parts." And that was no brag, as they say, just fact. This alignment of stars was pure serendipity, one that he might not have been able to arrange except under rare circumstances.

Don Pope drops by... Some of the best things in life are free... And in this case, the best of the best!

Pure, unrestricted joy... in the basement... Who knew? This monthly event is a well hidden jewel, but YOU CAN DISCOVER IT FOR YOURSELF...

Next month's theme: New Orleans Christmas!

But you have to get out of the house!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Consider this a sampler...

Thanks for stopping by. This blog is just a proposal for the present. A local television station is enlarging its presence here in Bryan - College Station and has discussed with me the possibility of covering the art and entertainment news in the Brazos Valley. I have even gotten in front of the camera a little and developed this blog as a sampler of what and how I envision the coverage. 

Hopefully I will come on board the crew at ABC40 soon... But for now we wait for them to catch up with me and build their new station and get it all up and running!  

{If you like this news approach, let them know!}


The warm, sexy light on the ten musicians in the orchestra add constant flair to this production at The Theater Company, as they offer up impeccable sound tracks. Nannette Pope seen here at piano, and John McNally to the far right at percussion.
Not exactly behind the scenes at The Theater Company in Bryan are the fascinating bells and whistles which make this venue a top flight experience.

Just completed are a pair of revolving stages, which sometimes spin simultaneously as dancers race into a whirlpool of color and action... I had to ask if them if they ever fall on their keesters...

They do.

But perhaps my favorite thing in the world of entertainment is the orchestra pit... where professional musicians add essential flow and punctuation to every scene. There is no pit.. so the orchestra is placed on the front right... and you can sit right next to them and watch every note as it fires the audience and players.

I was especially pleased to see my friend John McNally on the drums... His finesse is exceeded only by his quiet, gentle manner. And Randy Russell, a sometime visitor to our Friday jam, on bass! Russell also helped build those incredible turntables.

There is something energizing about the excitement of live music when combined with live entertainment... kind of like Texas High School football... but with less bruises.

The Theater Company Orchestra. Another reason to get out of the house!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Lanterns" sheds light on legends' potential


Lanterns and Legends was well attended on its last day. It proved to be a great fit for Navasota. Everyone was talking about "next year"  before the first one was complete. That kind of enthusiasm is hard to muster in places like Navasota where so much is going on, and so much has been tried.

You know it's a winner when you sell a bunch of tickets and everyone is smiling at the end of the day. And I think they will be smiling about this event from now on.

Earlene Rainey was so cute in her peach dress, I had to stick in another shot of her in the daylight.

"Looking back, I would not have changed a thing," sighs Jane Levy (Teri Gerst) about her life with Myer Levy.

And looking back... that goes for this event as well. The planning and execution was as good as it gets for a first time event. The QUALITY was there. And these shots I took are priceless! This is a perfect attraction for Navasota to get behind and propel as a major autumn people mover, as well as an opportunity to tell the story of the town.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lanterns and Legends: Art and tradition born in the Navasota cemetery

The first Lanterns and Legends living history event has been a resounding success, blessed by vigorous attendance, perfect weather and inspiration from Navasota's rich heritage.

The Navasota Theater Alliance, Co-Directed by Earlene Rainey and Mavis Anderson, shaped a poignant event around the magnificent surroundings at Oakland Cemetery, a historic Victorian era burial ground draped by great moss-laden oaks as old as the souls buried among their roots.

Earlene Rainey makes a very convincing portrayal of a southern belle who lost almost everything and everyone during the difficult era of the Civil War and the Yellow Fever epidemics afterwards.

It does not take much effort to imagine the compelling impact this backdrop offers, combined with authentically garbed characters who come out of the darkness to shed wonderful light on their lives and times.

Steve Haley does a great La Salle.

The ubiquitous Steve Haley, so often the clutch hitter for the NTA team, once again comes through with an inspired interpretation of the wandering ghost of  Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle, the French hero killed by his men while hiking across Texas. Legend has it he was buried in an unmarked grave, and the ghost of La Salle finds comfort among the other European adventurers buried in nearby Navasota.

Mayor Bert Miller becomes Texas' first itinerant Methodist missionary, Martin Ruter, who died on mission.

This is the best of living history as it makes a thoughtful tribute to many of Navasota's intrepid pioneers. This year the theme was travellers who ended up in Navasota, from the ill-fated explorer La Salle to the original town founder Judge Nolan, both of whom are met as they search the cemetery for their graves, never to be found. 

Teri Gerst
Teri Gerst delivers the heartbreaking testimony of Jane Levy, the longsuffering wife of Navasota's most prominent Jewish merchant, Meyer Levy. Her saga provokes a new found respect for what our ancestors did to establish civilization in the wilderness. 

My neighbor Steve Gochenour played the part of Judge Nolan, the man who first camped at the crossroads he called Nolanville... "I can't find my grave!"

German born emigrant Ferdinand Brosig (Gary Anderson) explains his philosophy of retail business. His family left Germany to escape the ravages of war only to end up fighting in the American Civil War.

A doctor, a mother and housewife, a Methodist missionary, a merchant, a mechanic, even a famous blues singer are found at dusk, contemplating their graves, and trying to explain or rationalize their lives and their deaths. 

Oscar Coe was a car mechanic and hotel operator. He has a mysterious story about a long cool woman in a black dress...
Several brought their struggles from Europe, others from other states. All died too soon. Eight souls who rest in our history reach from the grave to connect with passers by, making an extraordinary leap to remind us of their trials and accomplishments.

Bluesman Mance Lipscomb, played by his grandson Jimmy Lipscomb, tells how he changed his name to Emancipation, and played his way into the hearts of music lovers all over the world. He may have been famous but he still had to work hard to support his huge family... as a farmer and lumberman and finally as a performer.
Spooky? Heck yea, it was great! But the characters make their point. The struggle of life is about work, faith and relationships. 

Dr. Kilpatrick tells of horrors and heroism on the frontier during the Yellow Fever epidemics.
And if we are wise, our struggle includes seeking and learning from those who have gone before. Many thanks to the NTA and congratulations for the beginning of a long-awaited tradition with heart, that reminds us of who we are... or can be.

Young Frankenstein: If you have a funny bone in your body...

Roger Pine looms over his fellow players as the monster. He actually dances in those platform shoes!

Howls and screams (of laughter) dominated the spectral atmosphere when Young Frankenstein opened for a limited engagement Friday night in Bryan. Now a regular at The Theater Company, Christopher Rogers plays the straight man among a cast of lovable creeps. A modern-day, kinder-gentler Dr. Frankenstein, he is called back to Transylvania to settle family affairs, only to fall into the same snares as his legendary namesake, THE Dr. Frankenstein.

The rest of the cast is made up of hilarious caricatures, who make great fun out of the Frankenstein legend as they sing, dance and brawl with very respectable artistry, and more importantly a genuine and infectious spirit of fun.

 Christopher Rogers plays Dr. Frankenstein. And that is Fronkinsteen!

Mel Brooks' adaptation of his 1974 cinematic spoof by the same name found a worthy channel of his comic genius in director Randy Wilson, who continues to epitomize my favorite definition of great art; that which requires the least to achieve the most profound results. After twenty years of directing local theater in the Brazos Valley, Wilson seems to prove effortlessly that it does not take huge budgets and high dollar celebrities to produce excellent theater. All it takes is unwavering commitment and willing talent, guided by masterful vision, a combination rare in this world but flowing like a fountain at TTC.

But do not be lured into a trance by my hypnotic accolades... this is adult humor and not a show for the kiddos. If naughty humor offends you, this is not for you. This production is as suggestive, ribald and dirty-minded as Mel Brooks designed it to be- and with hilarious results that he would be proud of.

Adrienne Dobson cutely exudes all that is evil as Elizabeth.

The craftsman-like rendering of this comedy yielded several noteworthy performances and I am forced to limit myself to comment only on a few... Adrienne Dobson is as precious as she is convincing as Elizabeth, a spoiled, contemptible, self-absorbed user, and I decided early that she should be the one destined to be dismembered by the legendary Frankenstein's monster. But in Mel Brook's twisted universe, far more perverse rewards awaited Dr. Frankenstein's frivolous fiance. She maintained her confident narcissism throughout, with the enviable zeal of a mindless teenager. 

Frau Blucher (Cynthia Bradford) ends a scene with a masterful and evocative pose.

Equally unsettling was Cynthia Bradford's version of Frau Blucher, with her evil laughter and hungry fingers, so outrageous were her sexploits that nearby stallions uncontrollably whinny with enthusiasm, at the mention of her name. Bradford cooks her brew with the finesse of a veteran performer, every pose articulated to evoke suspense. Her background in dance continues to reap its rewards.

Igor lights up the monster... and the stage. A poor picture taken by me of a glorious performance by Kent Walters.
But my favorite, hands down was Kent Walters, who gave a truly stellar performance as Igor, the devoted half-witted ghoul, who drops and destroys the superior brain obtained for the monster and replaces it with another... not so great specimen. Walters is so fun to watch, the only thing I can compare him to is the weird spasmodic squirrels who terrorize the cartoon movie Ice Age. Both of them. His expressions, delivery, mannerisms, all come from some place beyond mere script or direction. Walters IS Igor. If he does not love this part, it certainly loves him.

Favorite part? When after Dr. Frankenstein brings the monster to life, he gets throttled within an inch of his life... No good deed goes unpunished.

There is too much to try to write... too bad if you cannot get to see this one... Young Frankenstein was a typical showcase of the surprising reservoir of talent which, with Wilson's skill, consistently brings Broadway to Bryan.

Oh! And the time when the blind hermit pours hot soup on the monster's lap... AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHHH... I'm still chuckling... Good job to all concerned.  


Friday, October 25, 2013

A Goldmine of Guitar Nuggets at Navasota River Halls

Dan Miller, publisher of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, shares his gift with ready musicians.

Members of the Sounds of Nashville gave a guitar clinic in the "Owl's Loft" at Navasota River Halls Friday, Oct 18th... and some of the area's most talented musicians came to learn how to improve their guitar and mandolin skills.

Three notorious gunslingers, Tim May, Dan Miller and Brad Davis share over one hundred years of performing experience between them.

Voted the "Top Instrumentalist in Nashville," Tim May is also a gifted instructor... For instance, he uses the word "chicken" as a chord change clue rather than complicated technical jargon. That kind of nomenclature keeps you smiling.

Plantersville's own Bill Mock, a country singer who just recorded his new CD with the legendary Johnny Bush, took advantage of this rare opportunity to sharpen his guitar skills.

Forgive this artistic observation.. but this scene struck me as amazingly reminiscent of the famous painting of the Texas signors of the Declaration of Independence... and THAT was what this clinic was all about... giving guitarists the "independence," or the skills to improvise and play along in any jam, independent of memorization.

Show me that one more time...

The trick was getting in the right key, then closely mimicking the cadence of the lyrics with your notes, whatever the sequence of chords... an ingenious technique discovered by the bluegrass master Tony Rice.

Golden Beginnings at Navasota River Halls

[I started my career as an arts/entertainment correspondent for ABC40 Bryan-College Station by covering this story, which is very close to my heart. It was a golden beginning for me and Navasota River Halls, and sweet fruit borne over years of preparation... as history was made in the Brazos Valley...]
Entering Navasota River Halls is like walking into the most extravagant western imagination...

Michael Havens, owner of this grandiose new music venue, had to be pleased with this maiden voyage as his flagship set sail under a full moon with a stellar line-up of entertainment. A grand concept seven years in the making, his 16,000 square foot facility will become a Brazos Valley landmark, sure to give visitors their fix for smoke-free Texas-styled entertainment. I could wax on... but I'll let the pictures and captions tell the story. But for over a hundred delighted music fans, it was a night to store forever in their file for "favorite places," and a place to go back to as often as possible.

Front and center were the Sounds of Nashville, a.k.a. Dan Miller, Brad Davis and Tim May. 

It would take some of the best musicians in Nashville such as these to be able to match this stunning new venue... and stand the competition with the awesome surroundings. They held up mighty fine.

This was a monumental, multiple epiphany for Navasota, Texas. Happy local folks the expectant music world finally got to see and experience Haven's vision after watching construction on the edge of town for seven years; The bluegrass community got to discover a fabulous new venue for their genre as The Sounds of Nashville brought their guitar virtuosity to the Brazos Valley.

Younger members of the Armstrong family join the show for the finale.

 Almost everyone was glowing with smiles of real joy for the excellent, golden beginnings of what is sure to become a Texas legacy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Living it Up!

Marsha Ball in Navasota
That's what this blog is about. You live in one of the greatest communities in North America, so live it up! I have been asked by ABC40 to create a blog just for you, as you search the Internet for ideas about things to do. Lucky me! There are tons of opportunities, besides our amazing sports venues, and from now on you will have no excuse for missing out.

If I do my job, you will find it irresistible to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!