ArtsScene, June 6
In early 2007, TJ Deeter, publisher of Localist magazine, started an after-school hip-hop program aimed at kids ages 13 to 17. Deeter was hardly an obvious candidate to teach kids about hip-hop. Long the booker for White Water Tavern, the white 30-something has spent a good chunk of his adulthood promoting and performing with local dance, indie and punk acts. But Deeter is nothing if not an infectiously enthusiastic and skilled organizer (he’s also, full disclosure, a good friend), and he managed to recruit dozens of local DJs, rappers, graffiti artists and dancers to help him steer the three-month class. The nine enrollees got the full scope of the elements of hip-hop. Sessions focused on the arts of MCing, DJing, hip-hop dance and graffiti and detailed the foundations of the culture and the business side of the craft.
As the class wound down, the seven that decided to focus on MCing (two choose to concentrate on dance) went into the studio with Dat Heat production’s G-Sizz to record an album, all composed of beats made by Dat Heat and 607, who served also as a frequent instructor. Several weeks later Blockade, as the class named itself, celebrated the end of its term and the release of its self-titled debut with a concert at the ArtScene.
For those who can’t shake visions of Kriss Kross when they think teen rap, today’s young folk haven’t known a time before hip-hop wasn’t a dominant cultural force (Max Farrell, who performs as Maxx, told me, nonchalantly, that he’d been rapping since he was in third grade); there’s nothing even remotely cartoonish about Blockade.
The group’s debut was decidedly polished. All performed over just the backing track (not over backing raps as many, if not most, performers do the world round), working through nearly all of the nine songs on the album. The rappers — 7 Duce, Lil J.D., JDubb, Yung Joe and Yung LS — always made themselves heard, worked in internal rhymes, preened for cameras and demonstrated a stage presence that far belied their age. “The Crank It Up,” Blockade’s dance song, was one of the night’s highlights. Identical twin dancers the Youngstars (Will and Mitchell), dressed in white mime make-up and hoodies, demonstrated the dance — a kind of upper-arm cranking motion was the central element — before breaking down into an extended dance-off that was as acrobatic as anything in “Rize.” Later, the group slowed it down with “Post ’n’ Chill,” their entree into the slow jam that finds 13-year-old Patrick Green, A.K.A Yung L.S., rapping, “We gonna be together ’til we make dust.” Blockade’s title track, which the group saved for the end of the night, is infectious enough to be on the radio (G-Sizz’s honking, ridiculously catchy beat doesn’t hurt). A freestyle session featuring students and instructors capped off the night and ended with Deeter, mic in hand, trying to give a farewell, but getting harassed by just about everyone in the building to rap a little. “I’m behind the scenes,” he said, several times, before he repeated it with the beat and added, “I’m not too mean.” The crowd went, “Ooooh!!”
The Blockade CD is available at Boulevard Bread Company in the River Market. Deeter plans to do the class next year as well. Those interested in enrolling or supporting the program can email him at email@example.com.
— Lindsey Millar
Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony, Eureka Springs
Opera in the Ozarks opened its 57th season last weekend with Puccini’s popular “Madama Butterfly” on Friday and American composer Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah” on Saturday. Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” is the season’s third offering.
Written in the 1950s and freely adapted from the Biblical story of Susannah and the Elders, Floyd’s musical drama is the least known of the three works. Set in the Tennessee mountains in the early 20th century, “Susannah” is the story of a pretty young girl, “goin’ on 19,” who lives with her older brother, Sam. The girl’s beauty and her brother’s lifestyle — “He just hunts an’ traps an’ fishes all day an’ is allers drunk at night” — cause talk in the community.
The story opens with a summer night’s gathering in the New Hope Valley churchyard. The young folks enjoy square dancing while the church elders and their wives discuss an upcoming revival. Olin Blitch, the revival preacher, appears and introduces himself, then joins the dancers, contriving to get Susannah for his partner.
The following day the elders are out looking for a “baptism crick.” Finding one on Sam and Susannah’s property, they surprise the young girl bathing, “exposin’ herself in plain view ... a shameful sight to behold.” That evening, when Susannah — unaware of what has happened — shows up at a church potluck, one of the elders tells her, “You ain’t welcome here.”
In the chain of events that follows, Susannah and Sam become increasingly marginalized and victimized. And while the story is no more tragic than that of, for instance, “Madama Butterfly,” the American 20th-century setting brings it much closer to home.
But the beauty and accessibility of the music more than compensate for the dark quality of the story. From the toe-tapping fiddler’s tune in the square dance scene to Sam’s folksy “Jaybird Song” to the authentic-sounding revival hymns, the music engages the audience with its familiarity.
On opening night, the role of Susannah was sung by soprano Katie Doxzon; Sam, by tenor Ben Gulley; and Olin Blitch by baritone Ken Weber. Gulley, who resembles the late film actor John Candy, was the apparent audience favorite. A fourth cast member, tenor Kyle Stegall, was also good as Little Bat, Susannah’s mentally challenged admirer.
In addition to singing solo parts, the four elders and their wives also make up two quartets. Competently led by Dixie Roberts, the elders’ wives included Jennifer Weber, Erin Sura and Shannon Peters; the four sang exceptionally well in ensemble. Among the elders, sung by Andrew Jamison, Caleb Lester, Jason Slayden and Joseph Mikolaj, Lester was a standout.
The night of the June 23 performance, the orchestra seemed a bit under-rehearsed. But there are six additional performances of “Susannah,” on June 29 and July 2, 6, 9, 13, and 19. All roles are double- and triple-cast, so an audience at any of these performances may see different performers than the ones named in this review.
— Helen M. Austin