Tag Archives: Soulful Space

Arts

Scene&Heard: Justin Wells at Soulful Space

I’m fascinated by space.  Not NASA space necessarily, although the cosmic unknown is certainly worth thinking about.  No, I’m talking about a more general space – our space.  The space around us and my favorite – the space between us.  The spaces we create say a lot about who we are, our values, our philosophies, and our experiences.  Some people like big, industrial, empty spaces and some like small, cozy and cluttered. Some cover the walls with a story while others prefer a blank canvas. Some choose color, some choose white. There are spaces filled with light and there are dark spaces. We each create our space and when we’re lucky enough, we get to share it with each other.

Some people prefer to keep their space to themselves, and that’s okay. Not me. I like the messy, unpredictable, often disappointing yet more often exhilarating experience of the other.  It’s the greatest mystery: your experience.  I’ll never be able to have it and therefor it makes me insatiably curious.  I want to know your story. I want to be there when you’re doing the thing you love, no matter what it is and I want to hear why you love it.  This is my favorite space to be in; watching someone do what they love and having the honor of getting to know the hows and whys behind the process.  It is endlessly exciting.

A space that is dripping in history, where sound echoes between the walls, where silence has a weight and clarity of thought is effortless – we can call that a soulful space.  This type of space re-minds the occupant. It brings the physical brain and body in contact with the celestial mind. It connects the self to the collective.  These spaces exist all around us of course, but they are often overlooked and under-appreciated.   Lexington is lucky for many reasons, one of which is that we have a man among us who has set out to cultivate and promote this kind of space.  Shawn Gannon has worked hard over the years to create the Soulful Space experience and his efforts have not been wasted. 

Justin Wells | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

Set to the backdrop of the charming and peaceful Good Shepherd church on Main Street, the Soulful Space experience brings the community together in a unique way. Part spiritual, part rock and roll (if you can separate the two), and wholly soulful, Gannon’s creation has a feel all it’s own.

On October 26, 2017 Gannon and his crew created a space that was both spellbinding and sobering.  The show featured Justin Wells, with an opening by some of Lexington’s most talented literary thinkers, Erik Reece among them. The evening was a benefit for the Kentucky Writers and Artists for Reforestation group.    

In pews we sat as the poets and then Wells filled the church with melody and contemplation. It was a sweet evening for me as my mother was in town, visiting from New Orleans.  So I sat next to my mom in a church – there’s a first for everything after all, and we shared a beautiful evening.  It was a beautiful evening for the obvious reasons, some of which I’ve come to expect from Soulful Space – the music, the company, the space – but the unexpected beauty came as I sat in a pew and cried, my feet tap-tap-tapping the whole time. The night, for whatever the reason, dissolved my defenses and made space for a profound sense of loss. 

Soulful Space founder Shawn Gannon | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

When Gannon stepped on to the stage and read the opening Wendell Berry poem, a tradition that has historically been carried out by Brian Cole, the beloved Good Shepherd rector who recently left his post for another calling, you could hear the quiver in his voice.  An entire community has had to grieve, accept and deal with Cole’s departure and, according to several accounts, it has not been easy.

The now Bishop Cole (Diocese of East Tennessee) is one of those rare people who allows you to be just as you are in his company.  No judgement, no pretense. He is cool and serious … mostly he’s cool. And he will be missed.  I recently heard a definition for compassion that I love: suffering together. The Good Shepherd community has suffered a loss. But they have done it together and they continue on together.

When the poets got up to read their selections, each one carried with it a knowledge and a loss.  A loss of physical space, a loss of the sacred. As good poetry does, some of the prose left me with more questions than answers.  Mainly, the questions lingered, what can I do? How can I help? Poetry – has a reduction effect on me.  It takes all my ingredients and boils out the unnecessary water and air, leaving me with a flavor only achieved by loss.  Not all losses are bad.  The loss of the unnecessary, for example. The loss of ego, of greed, of selfishness, in some moments – of self all together, loss of mine, loss of judgement and defiance – all positive losses.  The words spoken that night begged for a loss of apathy. The poets invited a resistance to my comfort and the space provided an assurance that it was a worth accepting. 

As Wells got up and began to tune his guitar, I was brought back to a few weeks ago at The Burl when he and a handful of some of Kentucky’s most treasured local talent performed a tribute to the late Tom Petty. It was a special night with tears and sing alongs and shouting and dancing.  At one point I was head banging to a Petty cover performed by Mojothunder, a fairly new, albeit unfairly talented group of young and handsome musicians. Losing our heroes can be a difficult undertaking.  We take them for granted, don’t you think? And although their talents or wisdom or words will always live in our hearts and through our speakers, it is a small comfort. 

When the world is busy sanding us down, the distraction of music, especially music that reminds us of simpler times, is sometimes the only thing that reminds us who we are. The only thing that can bring us right back to the space we live in. It takes us out of our minds with the right mixture of sound and feeling just long enough to remind us that we are here. Right here. In this space.  Tom Petty was one of my heroes and Justin Wells and the other musicians did an amazing job honoring his life that night at The Burl.

Justin Wells | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

If you’ve ever heard Justin sing, you can imagine that hearing him in church is quite a powerful experience.  He is, himself a powerful experience.  His presence is equal parts intimidating and soothing. Standing at well over 6 feet and some considerable amount of inches, he is a giant man with a giant talent. Wells wails. He does so with a power that summons both the angels and the demons on to the dance floor. And on this night, he did it in a church.  His a cappella song brought tears to my eyes as I thought about how much he must have been enjoying the experience.  During his finale, the women in his life – his two daughters and his wife, made their way up to the stage and were dancing and holding hands.

On a night when Wells provided what he does every time he performs – a talent born from truth, a passion pulled from pain and an honesty honed by loss, it was clear where his heart lives. With twirly dresses and ribbons, the loss of a fast and furious rock star lifestyle gave birth to a gentle and beautiful family.  A family filled with laughter, love and lyrics.  All eyes, including his, turned to these three women and he smiled as he sang the last notes of the evening.

Justin Wells | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

During every loss in my life, music has been there to help and heal me. It has put words to things my experience prevents me from saying.  It has literally saved my life.  It is the best and the bravest thing. My mom taught me how to appreciate music.  Listening to The Bee Gees or Fats Domino on her record player in New Orleans, she used to scoop me up, twirl me around and belt the lyrics into the night.  Music has always been the way my soul communicates.  An on this night, sitting next to the woman who taught me how to do that, in a soulful space, I cried.  I cried over all that I have lost and I cried over all that I have gained as a result. Sometimes life is so damn confusing and beautiful, tears and music are the only responses I have.  And for them, I am grateful.

I go to many shows and I love them all, but there is only one Soulful Space experience in Lexington.  I encourage you to check it out as soon and as often as you can.  On November 11th, the Soulful Space community enjoyed the much anticipated Leonard Cohen tribute. Veteran’s day was a fitting date to celebrate the freedom that Cohen’s songs have brought to so many.

Follow the Soulful Space Facebook page for upcoming performances. This is not an event. It’s an experience. It’s the best kind of experience: an organic one that allows you to feel deeply, listen without distraction and be still in knowing that you are right where you need to be.

After all, what feels better than the loss of wanting things to be different?

Justin Wells | Photo by Unsung Hero Media

Arts

Origins Jazz Series to Kick Off at Tee Dee’s

True affection and passion are too often relegated to the land of the romantic, but it also manifests in simpler ways – if you know where to look.

Consider, for instance, three men – Eli Uttal-Veroff, Brandon Scott Coleman, and Marlin McKay – standing around a couple of bins of jazz on vinyl in the corner of Wild Fig bookstore in a manner more akin to ten-year-olds poring over a vintage comic book collection. The three marvel over the selection, pulling items willy-nilly and talking in excited tones about the finds. Coleman recites lists of the players and their pedigrees, while McKay can’t believe the number of albums he hasn’t even seen yet.

Here they are, three adults with respectable musical careers of their own, unable to contain their joy at a couple possible new additions to what must be staggering record collections.

l to r: Grundy, McKay, Uttal-Veroff, Coleman

This potent blend of respect and adoration borders on worship, and it’s exactly that mix of enthusiasm and affection for the genre that they now hope to impart to the Lexington community through the Origins Jazz Series, a new, year-round series of jazz concerts in local venues.

“When people say, ‘I don’t like jazz,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I haven’t heard the right kind of jazz,’” says Uttal-Veroff, providing a sort of unofficial thesis for the series, which aims to provide local access to multiple forms of jazz as it expands.

Uttal-Veroff credits local Lexington community leaders and current co-collaborators Richard Young (CivicLex), Donald Mason (Lyric Theatre), and Shawn Gannon (Soulful Space) for the spark that led to the series. (UnderMain is also a sponsor.) If those names sound familiar, they should – so many moving parts in Lexington revolve around those folks. They have planted the seed, and Uttal-Veroff, along with Co-Organizer Chester Grundy, members Coleman, McKay and others, have taken it and run with it.

Coleman frames the problem simply: “Growing up as a musician in Kentucky, in Pikeville, it was really hard to find jazz.”

Indeed, much of the conversation centers on the irony that there is arguably no more American form of music that exists, yet access to jazz in America seems increasingly limited.

“It’s a truly American art form. It’s several different styles of music that could only intersect here,” says Uttal-Veroff. The discussion then turns to the overwhelming reception each has received when performing out of the country. Coleman notes the royalties he receives from Spotify are strictly from foreign listeners who can’t get enough.

“The irony is that the music is revered and respected worldwide,” says Grundy. “Everywhere except here, you know, the place of its origins.”

The Origins Jazz Series kicks off at Tee Dee’s Blues Club on October 7th at 7:30 p.m. with a performance by Noah Preminger & Brandon Coleman Trio.

Preminger, 30, was the winner of Downbeat Magazine’s critics poll for “Rising Star on Tenor Saxophone,” and has been described as “ecstatic” and “incantory” by the New York Times. 

Jazz as an art form is hard to come by locally, the Origins organizers note, especially for younger musicians finding their way in the genre. In America, the music has failed to command the stature it, by rights, should lay claim to, and most jazz performances still take place in bars or clubs where entrance is forbidden to anyone not of legal drinking age. This prevents younger players from seeing the genre come alive before them, and it could stifle the development of jazz in generations coming up.

The Origins Jazz Series solves this problem by creating shows in all-ages venues, accessible to anyone with a love for the music.

“You can’t grow musicality in a vacuum,” says Coleman. “Bringing these national-level artists and letting them see that and having those up close and personal experiences with them is going to be super, super valuable.”

“Part of the excitement and kind of the nobility of doing something like this is connecting Americans with their own cultural traditions,” says Grundy.

The time for such a venture is now, according to all assembled.

“We have the venues, we have the musicians,” says Uttal-Veroff. “Now we need to bring these things together.”

Exposure to national, regional and local artists is not the only impetus for the series. It’s the notion that there’s an element of live performance that can’t be replicated in a recording. It’s not enough just to listen to the albums – the music has to be experienced directly.

“There are so many things that are aesthetically pleasing about going out to see a live performance,” said McKay, who takes a moment to reflect that so much of benefit of live music comes from seeing the musicians live in the moment, as opposed to the canned and overly-perfected nature of recordings. “The beauty comes in the imperfection, and not really kind of adhering to any preconceived notions about what it should be.”

Uttal-Veroff points out that every single performance is a personal experience that is unique that particular audience, something that no one else in the world will get to experience. McKay agrees:

“To see the passion, the intellect, and all the training and everything come to fruition in one moment that everybody can see…it’s kind of like being on the other side of a famous magic trick and seeing how it all gets put together and still being amazed.”

Enthusiasm for the craft is one thing, but where the Origin Jazz Series earns extra credibility points is in both its partnership with the Xavier University Jazz Series and the person of Chester Grundy, who will be co-organizer of the series.

Grundy created and successfully ran the Spotlight Jazz Series at UK for over three decades. It was the longest-running on-campus jazz series on any college campus in the United States. The series brought to Lexington such luminaries as Sarah Vaughan, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie and more. When Grundy speaks on the “power of the shared cultural experience,” he brings decades of firsthand witness to bear.

“I truly believe there are elements of this music…there are things that can be evoked that can contribute to community-building,” said Grundy. “It’s wonderful to think that the music is in good hands.”

Tickets for the series’ inaugural October 7th performance of the Noah Preminger & Brandon Coleman Trio at Tee Dee’s are $15. $2 from every ticket sold will be donated to combat the opioid epidemic.

Arts

A Legendary Love

What is that thing?  The thing that people have when people say they have “that thing?”

Who knows? Charisma maybe? Self-confidence? Perhaps.  An amalgamation of  more illusive things?

Whatever it is, Reva and Andrew English have it.  In spades.  They are both local musicians. Andrew is the front man for Englishman, and Reva is a singer, songwriter and mean string picker in a few different groups.

Englishman takes you to a place that reveals a glimpse of yourself in an unexpected and honest way … the way really beautiful music does.  And then, just before you get scared of what you’ll find, a melody … a guitar riff, a surprise; something gets your toe a tapping again … pulling you back and reminding you that it’s all ok.  His music pushes you, through detailed and brilliant images to ask the big questions.  It invites you to confront the more uncomfortable parts of humanity.  To stand in front of the mirror – naked.

We accept the invitation because of the way it is presented; honestly, with character and dripping in grace.  Andrew’s music is a perfect reflection of who he is as a man.  It’s no wonder that long before they met, mutual friends were trying to push him and Reva together.

That would’ve never worked though.  Reva can’t be pushed to do anything.  Not anymore at least.  Nope, it was going to have to be a natural process, something that would unfold as naturally as a flower in spring, and equally remarkable.

Even on stage, perhaps especially on stage, Reva’s organic sound is intoxicating.  There is absolutely nothing forced about this woman.  Once her faucet was turned on and she felt free to be herself, the talent just poured out.  And it keeps pouring.  Reva has her hands in several musical endeavors in this town and is associated by proxy to more.

Lately, she’s focused primarily on two of those projects.  Whether Reva is picking and singing in Small Batch or Italian Beaches, her perfect blend of moxy and humility is enough to make you crave more.  Her stage presence is both intimidating and comforting and her musical choices reflect that.  I have felt giddy at the possibilities of this life and moved to tears by its injustice many times during her songs.

She is, above all else, a professional.  The passion for her craft is reflected in the intricacies of each nuanced lyric and chord.  When you listen to Reva’s music, it is remarkably well executed and thought-out while maintaining an easy and effortless sound.  I imagine her muse to be a reflection of a hybrid between the Buddha and Patti Smith – simply complicated.  During a song, it is not uncommon to watch her wail into the rafters in one verse, only to sooth the crowd over with a gentle melody in the next.  Her talent is abundant and her endless projects are proof that her light can never be snuffed out again.

And certainly, not on Andrew’s watch.

The two of them have recently embarked on a joint project – parenthood.  Their son, Friend (a family name), is the perfect mixture of them both.

He’s not the tickle-tickle kind of baby.  He’s serious about this life already.  At the ripe old age of seven months, Friend is right at home on the couch with the grown-ups and can often be seen at one of his parent’s shows be-bopping around in his tiny headphones, almost certainly concocting kind and constructive thoughts about it all.  At the family table, you might be tempted to wait for him to ask someone to pass the biscuits and gravy.

That’s how I found them on a Saturday morning when I went for the interview. They, with a close family friend, were sitting around the table in the kitchen of the cozy and bright home they gutted and are renovating together.  After they were done eating, we moved into the living room that is comfortable, eclectic, and littered with musical instruments and toys.

There were a thousand questions I had, but more than anything, I wanted to know about what exists in the space between them.

They described it as safety.  This was one of my favorite interactions:

Reva: “I get scared a lot, I freak out, I think everything is going to come crashing down.”

Andrew: “I’m there to say that it will.”

Reva: “Yeah, it’s like when Andrew says it, I’m like okay, that’s okay.  He puts it in perspective.”

They were both laughing. That’s how they are: realistic and supportive.  Andrew said that the backbone of their relationship is about understanding that the work they both do is important, respecting that and cultivating a safe space for it to flourish.

They also described their connection as easy.  The ease comes from a thread that has been woven in and throughout their lives.

Andrew: “We have a common goal, or mission or whatever.  It’s not about success or money … it’s about being a useful human in a community.”

When I asked them what it was like when they knew this was it, that they were inextricably in love, Andrew shrugged and said: “It’s nice when the character traits you have always had become character traits that are useful for someone else.  It’s just like, wow, okay … that works.  We fit.”

Of course I was curious about the product of this love, little Friend, and how his arrival had impacted their lives.  At one point, Reva’s brown eyes welled up with tears and she recollected being pregnant.

“You know, it was never hard being pregnant … it wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but I didn’t need to complain about it.  It just wasn’t hard.  My life used to be either hard or painful.  When it wasn’t painful, it was hard.  It hasn’t been like that since I found Andrew.”

Andrew reached his arm around her and she nestled on his shoulder.  Then they told me about what it was like when they found out they were pregnant.

“Well, I was going to a friend’s house for something and was on my way to pick up some beer,” Reva said, “something in me said, ‘ummm, you don’t need beer,’ so I got a pregnancy test instead. It was positive … wow, I haven’t thought about this since it happened.”

“Me either,” Andrew grinned.

“And I think I had just come in from a run, remember that Andrew? … I was all sweaty and drinking a glass of water when you walked in the door …”

“Yeah … I remember.”

“I put the glass down and said, I’m pregnant. And Andrew was just like ‘okay, so this is happening.’”

“Well yeah,” Andrew jumped in “but I think if you’d gotten me early in the morning or something I wouldn’t have been as cool about it … I’m just not like that in the morning …”

“That’s not true,” Reva said, “you’re fine in the morning.”

“Yeah well, I may have been a little more confused about the whole thing … at that point though, it was just like, ‘well, okay … this is happening.”

And so it happened, their lives led them to each other, their togetherness led to love, the love made a human and that human made them a family.   A brief moment in time, a blink really, a glimpse into all of the beauty that exists in this world on one sofa in downtown Lexington.

image2

As I sat in the 70s style armchair, across from that sofa while Andrew balanced Friend on his head and Reva was snuggled up close, it occurred to me that I was in the presence of greatness.  Even though we don’t get to know if people are legends while they’re living, it’s clear that what these two have together is worthy of the term.

It’s a legendary love.

If you want to catch them both together, they are playing Soulful Space on August 27, at Good Shepherd Church.  Englishman will open for Small Batch starting at 7:00pm.  Click here for tickets.