Monday, December 27, 2010

The Current-Feature Story January 2011

Richie Havens

Remember that song from the early 90s by Cracker, the one with the line “What the world needs now is another folk singer/Like I need a hole in the head”? I always assumed that line was about Jewel, even though the song in which it appears was released a few years before anyone had heard of Jewel. Turns out I was wrong. It’s actually about every so-called “folk” singer who came after Richie Havens. And for you younger readers who are wondering just who the heck Richie Havens is, well, he’s a folk singer, dummies. And more than that, Richie Havens is exactly what you picture when you think of a folk singer. Strumming his acoustic guitar so hard you think he must be mad at it. Singing songs about freedom and the devastation of war and violence and poverty and ignorance. Opening Woodstock.

Sure, you knew that Jimi Hendrix was the last artist to perform at Woodstock (and you may have known that the next to last artist was Sha Na Na, but that’s neither here nor there), but you probably didn’t know that the first was an at the time unknown folk singer named Richie Havens. It was his appearance at the legendary music festival, and in the subsequent film, that catapulted Havens into the consciousness of a worldwide audience, and set the stage for a varied career that has included nearly 30 albums, film and stage acting roles, political and environmental activism and the ability to sport so many turquoise rings and bone and bead necklaces that he resembles a hippie Mr. T. And this January, Richie Havens is coming to Fort Smith, AR.

I don’t have the space to lay out Richie Havens’ entire list of achievements, so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you it’s impressive. Instead, I’ll give you a few reasons why you should make the trip to For t Smith to check out the show.

First off, there’s a chance you could meet the president. Okay, maybe not the current president, but still. You see, Richie Havens performed at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton back in 1992. Chances are they’re still pals. President Clinton is from Arkansas. The show’s in Arkansas. I’m not saying it’s gonna happen, I’m just telling you there’s a chance.

Secondly, you’ll have a rare opportunity to hear Bob Dylan songs performed live and be able to actually understand the words. Richie Havens has a reputation as a premier interpreter of Dylan songs, and he’s even released an album of Dylan covers. He has a clear, strong, soulful voice. Bob Dylan has a voice made for, um, song writing.

Lastly, the Dalai Lama is a huge fan. A few years back, His Holiness The Dalai Lama requested Havens sing his songs “Lives in the Balance” and “Freedom” at a performance in Los Angeles. This Dalai Lama is 75 years old and the 14th incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, which means he’s an enlightened being who has been reincarnated 13 times previously, which means he’s seen a lot of cool bands and artists over the years, which means he knows a good folk singer when he hears one. And he thinks Richie Havens is pretty cool. The Dalai Lama knows what Cracker knows. Once there’s a Richie Havens, the world doesn’t really need another folk singer.

Don’t miss your opportunity to become enlightened just like the Dalai Lama when Richie Havens plays the Second Street Live Theater in beautiful Fort Smith on Wednesday, January 12 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at The Second Street Live Theater is located at 101 North Second Avenue in Fort Smith.

The Current-Feature Story December 2010

The Dead Kenny G's

I’ve gotta be totally honest with you. Before receiving this month’s assignment, I had never heard of The Dead Kenny G’s. Aside from a few YouTube videos, there’s very little online about the band, aside from their own no-frills website (which has no bio) and a run of the mill MySpace page (which has a one paragraph bio). Their music isn’t on Grooveshark. They have no entry on Wikipedia. Not cool, internet.

However, being the creative artist that I am, I managed, through exhaustive research and limitless imagination, to piece together a highly possible rendering of the story of how this talented group of musicians came together to form The Dead Kenny G’s, much like Aaron Sorkin did in writing The Social Network. To make the following seem more cinematic, imagine Michael Cera in the role of Skerik (yes, Skerik. That’s what he wants to be called, so that’s what I’m calling him. If you have to know his real name, Google him.), and one of the guys from The Backstreet Boys in the role of Mike Dillon. The following is based on true events.

Skerik: Hi, my name’s Skerik. I play saxophone and keyboards. I’ve played with all sorts of cool artists, like Roger Waters, Pearl Jam and Bonnie Raitt. I love me some Coltrane. But I can’t stand Kenny G.

Mike Dillon: Your name’s Skerik?

Skerik: Yes. That’s what I like to be called.

Mike Dillon: Hi, Skerik. I’m Mike Dillon. I totally hear ya about Kenny G. I play the drums and all sorts of other instruments. I also sing on some occasions. I’m really into Mike Watt, even though when he sings it sounds like he’s in physical pain. I’ve played with cool people too, like Ani DiFranco. I’m getting ready to work with Les Claypool from Primus. His new band is called Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade. You should join too.

Skerik: You won’t believe this, but I’m already in that band. I can’t wait to play together. And then after we’ve played together in that band for a while, maybe we can tour together in a series of subsequent bands playing different varieties of music. Perhaps our newfound partnership can culminate in the formation of an acid-jazz fusion type combo, something totally not like what Kenny G does.

Mike Dillon: That sounds great. We could even add a little punk rock flavor, kind of like The Dead Kennedys. Hey, that gives me a great idea for a band name. How does The Dead Kenny G’s grab you?

Skerik: You’re reading my mind, man. Here’s another idea. How about after we’ve been together as The Dead Kenny G’s for a while, we bring in some new members, like, for touring and stuff? Maybe my buddy Brad Hauser on bass and Brian Haas from Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey on keyboards.

Mike Dillon: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey? They’re from Oklahoma. I’ve always wanted to visit. Maybe Brian can tell us what it’s like.

Skerik: Maybe someday we can even go there.

End Scene.

From the research I was able to do, I’m pretty sure that’s basically how The Dead Kenny G’s came into existence. And that cliffhanger at the end, where Skerik is left with his hope of one day visiting Oklahoma as the screen fades to black? Spoiler alert. It has a happy ending. Twice.

The Dead Kenny G’s (featuring Brian Haas of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) come to Currentland in support of their album Bewildered Herd on Friday, Dec. 3 at The Deli in Norman, Saturday, Dec. 4 at Eclipse in Tulsa and Sunday, Dec. 5 at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, AR. For complete tour information go online to You can also pick up a copy of Bewildered Herd on iTunes.

The Current-Feature Story November 2010

Cheech & Chong

Upon receipt of this month’s writing assignment, I could only smile. It would seem that my initial foray into the Green Living section had been a wild success, so much so that I was entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of writing about those pioneers of green living, Cheech & Chong.

I know, I know, Cheech & Chong aren’t famous for the same type of green-living that we here at The Current are talking about. Except for those guys in the smoke-filled van outside the Christmas party a couple of years ago. But judging by their shared affinity for the bounties of this great earth, my guess is Cheech & Chong would look on our own Green Living section with approval.

The problem with writing about legendary performers, and Cheech & Chong, who will be performing in Tulsa on Nov. 18, are absolutely comedy legends, is that pretty much everything one may want to know about them has been written. Everyone knows Cheech & Chong, right? Well, as Lee Corso might say, not so fast my friend.

Most people probably think of one thing when they think of Cheech & Chong: marijuana. As a duo, their love of pot has served as the basis for most of their comedy, whether it’s their stand-up act, movies, stand-up act or movies. Actually, they may be most famous for a novelty song, “Santa Claus and His Old Lady”, that can be heard every Christmas. And I mean heard, as in over and over. Indeed, it was their comedy albums back in the 70s and 80s that put these two on the map, and like most of their other work as a duo, the comedy relied heavily on the pot references. But is it fair to define these two solely by their love of marijuana? Not even close.

Did you know Tommy Chong, (the “Chong” half of the duo) was once a successful online businessman? Well, to be fair, that online business, Chong’s Glass, distributed marijuana-related paraphernalia, but he was quite successful at it.

Did you know Tommy Chong is also a political dissident who chose a stint in prison on trumped-up federal charges so that his wife and business partners could avoid jail time? I mean, in the interest of full disclosure, he was convicted of conspiring to distribute drug paraphernalia, marijuana bongs, across state lines, for which he served nine months in federal prison (and which also led to his writing The I Chong: Meditations From the Joint, which became a bestseller).

Did you know that Tommy Chong is a tireless political and social activist? Of course, you can probably guess what cause he’s chosen to support. If you can’t, it’s marijuana legalization. Think about the tax revenue!

Did you know that Cheech & Chong are professional wrestlers? Okay, that one’s not really true at all, but they did serve as guest hosts back in March when WWE Raw came to Oklahoma City. And while they didn’t actually get in the ring because they happened to be too high from the “magic cereal” that Hornswoggle fed them, causing them to mistake William Regal for Eve Torres and Chris Masters for Kelly Kelly, which led to them ordering the two into a diva pajama pillow fight as they watched intently from their ringside recliners, they did seem to enjoy themselves. Seriously, I didn’t make any of that up.

The truth is, Tommy Chong has made the reformation of marijuana laws a major focus in his life, and even when the two parted ways in the early eighties, Chong continued to perform his comedy, both as a solo act and with his wife, Shelby, a successful comedian herself. Through it all, including the stint in prison, Chong continued, and continues, on his quest to see the legalization of marijuana. Richard “Cheech” Marin? He went mainstream.

Remember that TV show about the plane crash survivors and polar bears and time travel and good versus evil and the Korean mafia and baby stealing and moving islands and plenty of other nonsense that I can’t think of right now called Lost. Cheech was on that. He was also on Nash Bridges and Grey’s Anatomy. And in plenty of movies like Tin Cup and everything Robert Rodriguez has ever done. But a couple years ago, Cheech decided it was time to return to the dark side. Or the green side. In 2008, Cheech & Chong got the band back together (literally, they play songs and everything) and embarked on the Cheech & Chong Light Up America/Canada Tour, their first in over 20 years.

And with the success of that tour, the iconic duo is doing it all over again, again, with the follow-up Cheech & Chong: Get It Legal Tour. Do your part to go green by coming out when they bring the fun to the Tulsa Convention Center on Thursday, Nov. 18. Shelby Chong will be opening. Doors open at 7pm and show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $41.50, $51.50 and $61.50 and can be purchased at You can find everything Cheech & Chong related at

The Current-Feature Story September 2010

Lewis Black

You know the type. We’ve all had to listen to him. The jerk-off in the bar with the liberal arts degree (me) who acts like he’s smarter than everyone else (still me) because he’s heard idiotic “facts” and can’t wait to recite them to a receptive group of slightly intoxicated friends or acquaintances who have had just enough to drink to accept what I’m (he’s) saying without question. Usually it’s something like “you know, statistics show that more people would prefer death to public speaking” or “It’s a scientific fact that a single six month old panda cub contains enough nutritional elements to sustain an entire Ethiopian village for six years“.

But what ‘s interesting is that most people would consider the former statement to be somewhat plausible. The truth is, it’s generally regarded as fact, and most people would be very hesitant to argue any different, because, as scary as it sounds, two or more other people may be listening. I first heard a reference to this “fact” in one of Jerry Seinfeld’s old routines, where after referencing the study that yielded the findings, he ascertained that at any given funeral, more people would rather be in the coffin than deliver the eulogy.

So why are we so afraid of public speaking? My guess is because we’re afraid of being laughed at. It seems like a pretty sound reason. But it’s a reason that begs an additional question: Why in the world would anyone want to be a stand-up comedian? And I won’t even get into the fact that a comedian is at least partly responsible for the preceding rambling paragraphs. Or all the ensuing ones.

And so I’ll get to the point. Lewis Black is a comedian. He’s maybe not as well known as a guy like Seinfeld, who even your grandma knows, but most other people do, especially the cool kids. And one of the things I find most interesting about Lewis Black is that he seems, in his act at least, to be like one of the majority of folks who aren’t exactly comfortable with getting up in public and saying something. It’s not that he seems like he’d rather be dead, but more like he isn’t entirely happy to have people laughing at him. It seems to make him a little uncomfortable. And more than a little angry.

Yes, Lewis Black does come across as a bit angry. Maybe it’s because his job entails doing something that, for most people, is worse than death. But for those of us familiar with Black’s onstage persona, be it through his countless appearances on The Daily Show, his numerous Comedy Central stand-up specials, the TV or movie roles, his History Channel hosting gigs or his books, Black’s anger is more than just an act. It’s a reflection, not only of the ridiculous society we live in, but our own reactions to it.

And those reactions, while exaggerated, have proven to be so spot on that Black has become one of America’s most popular comedians, authenticated by his selection as Top Male Stand-Up at the 2001 American Comedy Awards, and, at least in the eyes of this writer, by his frequent skewering of Fox News parasite, Glenn Beck. Take that, Larry the Cable Guy.

Of course, there’s always fun to be had at the Osage Million Dollar Elm, so even if you can’t make out to see Lewis Black there will be plenty of other opportunities for entertainment seekers in September, whatever your tastes may be. For you bikers, both the authentic ones and the posers, every Saturday is Bike Night. And every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night brings great live music, with September’s lineup including Steve Lidell, Tuff Profit, Mike Black, The Crowe Band and the Vance Orange Project.

And I haven’t even mentioned the real reason everyone loves The Osage Million Dollar Elm, that being the chance to win big bucks, which calls to mind the lyrics to a great old Uncle Tupelo song, “I can’t forget the sound/Cause it’s here to stay/The sound of people chasing money/And money…getting away.” But really, you’re probably due to hit it big.

And even if you’re not, you’ll want to come out and see Lewis Black do things scarier than death when he performs on Friday, Sep. 17 at 7:00pm. Tickets are $40 and are on sale now and can be purchased online at or, where you can also find a full calendar of upcoming events and show times for all the aforementioned musical acts. The Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino is located at 951 W 36th Street North in Tulsa.