Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Every day, Cindy Chaffin proves herself the biggest music nut in town by slaving over her Web site, www.texasgigs.com. She summarizes dozens of local music articles, posts countless concert recommendations and babbles on and on about her favorite (and even not-so-favorite) bands. We know the woman isn't making much (if any) money running the site in her spare time, so it's even more astounding that she takes the time every week to set up live concert broadcasts from all over town. Hailey's, Club Dada, Barley House, the What? Bar--Chaffin has hit 'em all with her portable recording gear, helping homebodies enjoy some great shows and rebroadcasting the goods for concertgoers who want a memento the next day. Sure, podcasts have a certain anti-establishment charm, but if you want a downloadable alternative to radio, Chaffin's bootlegging hobby has everybody else in Dallas beat.
Edie Brickell is still shooting at the stars
She was just 14 years old when the very first issues of the Dallas Observer showed up in the lobby of her favorite movie theater. Back then, Edie Brickell was still a couple of years away from enrolling at the Booker T. Washington School for Performing and Visual Arts, where she had planned to study painting and drawing. At the time, her circle of friends was relatively small. "I was too shy to interact with people at the time, and visual art was really the best way for me to express myself," she explains.
Her teenage years were spent delivering pizza ("Gosh, what was that place at Mockingbird and Greenville around the corner from Campisi's? I can't even remember the name of it now."), working the box office at the Granada Theater (where she returned to headline a solo show last year) and waiting tables at the Dixie House in Lakewood. She erupts in laughter as she remembers that the latter proved to be the most dangerous. "I had to quit 'cause I was gettin' a big ol' butt from standin' around on break eatin' all those delicious dinner rolls."
At the time, Brickell had no idea that popular music would become her profession. She developed a distinctive style of painting at a young age; close friends would anxiously await her delicately drawn personalized birthday cards every year, and her funky sense of aesthetic would later drive the art direction for the New Bohemians album cover artwork.
By now, most have heard the story of how she downed a shot of Jack Daniel's at the old 500 Café and then climbed onstage with a bunch of schoolmates for an improvised jam session. She had never been behind a microphone, had never been onstage, never even held aspirations of being a professional musician. But there she was, in front of an outdoor patio filled with her closest friends, stepping into a storybook future that would eventually find her opening for Bob Dylan, appearing in Oliver Stone's film Born on the Fourth of July, collaborating musically with artists such as Jerry Garcia, Barry White and Dr. John and, most important, starting a family with Paul Simon.
Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians had two major label releases during the early '90s--the platinum Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars and its introspective follow-up, Ghost of a Dog. The group had a top 10 hit ("What I Am"), appeared on Saturday Night Live (where she met Simon) and toured the world before she ultimately chose spending time with her children over making music full time.
Still, she has never set her music aside for good. Her first solo album, Picture Perfect Morning, which was produced by Simon and Roy Halee, was released in 1994. Longtime New Bohemians fans were caught a little off guard by the succinct arrangements and polished sound, but the record seemed to connect with a more mature "adult contemporary" audience. Because of her commitment to her family, she didn't tour extensively to promote the album, and Geffen Records seemed at a loss on how best to promote the work. After eventually severing ties with the label, she continued writing songs and studying the guitar but chose not to solicit another major label record deal in the meantime.
In 1999, Brickell invited the original members of New Bohemians and local producer/engineer David Castell up to Montauk, Long Island, to try to recapture some of that original improvisational magic. The result was the self-released The Live Montauk Sessions, which included an early version of "Rush Around," a song that would later be the first single from her 2003 solo album Volcano. The Montauk album satisfied the loyal fans who had been with Brickell and the band since the beginning but never reached the vast audience that had embraced the first two New Bo's albums. Still, the group continued to perform on occasion, including a number of benefit shows and a handful of amazing "reunion" shows in Deep Ellum.
Amazingly, given all the twists and turns of her "accidental" career, Brickell has always maintained her humility and sharp sense of humor. Creatively, she also seems to have shifted into overdrive once again, with three different projects moving forward at once. Brickell has written and recorded a follow-up to Volcano, with Charlie Sexton producing and local musicians Carter Albrecht and David Monsey contributing. This new solo record, however, might have to wait, as she has also been writing and recording with the original members of New Bohemians once again, this time in Brooklyn with Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain producer Bryce Goggin. She sounds excited as she explains how this all came about.
"Well, first of all, I met Bryce through Paul's son Harper, who I have been collaborating with, too. Harper's great. He's got Paul's ear, you know, so he hears everything. He really understands melody and harmony and texture. And Harper introduced me to Bryce, who has worked with Phish and Pavement and a few other jam bands...and a light just went off. I just knew that after all these years, this was the guy who could really capture what the New Bohemians are all about. I really wanted to re-create that old sound that we had live during the early days. So I've been working with Bryce on both projects, this new thing with Harper and the next New Bohemians record."
The next solo record with Charlie Sexton might have to simmer on the back burner for a few more months. "I love working with Charlie, and we recorded quite a bit of stuff with the band from my last tour, but the first time we actually sat down and listened to it, it hadn't been mixed, it was kinda rough. I really like the songs, but it just hadn't really been produced. Then not too long ago Charlie went in and did some new mixes, and now it sounds great. But I'm just so excited about this stuff the New Bohemians just did with Bryce that the solo stuff might have to wait for just a little while."
Her family is still top priority, of course. Shortly after 9/11, they moved from a tense and fractured Manhattan to the Connecticut countryside, where the kids can play on a Slip-n-Slide during the summer, and everybody can make as much noise as they want. These days, Brickell is also becoming an exceptional jazz-influenced guitarist. She has been studying the piano and is reading far more than she ever had before.
It is rather hard to imagine how a shy kid from East Dallas went from delivering pizza in an old yellow pick-up truck to living a life that few of us could dream of. Even harder to imagine is how a gifted artist like Edie Brickell could do all of this without becoming a pretentious diva or a blatant parody of herself. She's still grounded, she can still pass for a 25-year-old and is so well-adjusted mentally that you have to wonder how she does it. To borrow the simple theme from her biggest hit single, what she is is what she is. --Jeff Liles
Is there no infantile icon that adults can't infuse with a brooding sense of horror? Clowns were kind of freaky to begin with, dolls will never recover from Chucky and every amusement park that Scooby Doo ever came across was abandoned and haunted. But teddy bears? How do you mess with fuzzy, cuddly teddy bears? By making a giant, 10-ton mega-teddy out of cold, immutable granite, that's how. And let's throw in some companions in attitudes of carefree play but wearing that same inscrutable, stony glare that says, "I'd crush you and everyone you love if I had the chance to fall on you." Sure, the workmanship is stunning. Sure, the surroundings are lush and green. But just try and walk past without looking over your shoulder. Hey, wasn't his arm at his side a second ago?
Medici is, as every uptown scenester knows, just exclusive enough to be called exclusive, but not exclusive enough that a pretty big rack or a pretty big wallet won't get you in. We know because, well, we've been there, and we are not classy broads, despite what you may have been led to believe. This didn't seem to matter to the sea of middle-aged advertising execs, building contractors and PR guys who practically lined up to buy us very dirty martinis. By the end of the night, we were grinding with Uncle John over in the VIP section, the velvet rope disappearing before our very eyes. Bleary-eyed and hungover, we woke up the next morning with several business cards stuffed in our purse and the number of an Indiana Pacer point guard added to our cell. And we haven't had to pay for dinner since.
Some jazz clubs in Dallas offer live music on the weekends; most of the better ones serve it up every night. But New Amsterdam, a coffee house in Exposition Park, beats the competition even though it hosts live jazz only on Mondays. Still, there's more than a quality-to-quantity ratio involved in this one. To us, jazz isn't about pristine tablecloths, expensive martinis and a bunch of old farts sitting around and ignoring the music. The best jazz is the stuff made in dark, casual clubs like New Amsterdam, where local players as hot as Shelley Carroll and (on occasion) Earl Harvin set up on the floor in front of the bathrooms and improvise some of the best bop-era jazz in town. On occasion, the tunes get rough--after all, the floor is open to all brass-wielders--but cheap martinis, lounge seating and a chill atmosphere make up for the occasional weak sax solo. Readers' Pick
Sambuca Uptown 2120 McKinney Ave. 214-744-0820
Grandpa ran every Saturday at the lake? Grandmother fed the ducks? Now you can recognize loved ones or honor special occasions by donating money for the Celebration Tree Grove at White Rock Lake, recently approved by the city of Dallas and the White Rock Lake Task Force. Donations to an endowment fund established by For the Love of the Lake will go to plant native trees, starting with some large trees that will give the area a special, secluded feeling. Eventually the grove will include walking paths and a courtyard with benches. For a donation of $1,000 or more, a plaque with Granddad's name will be mounted on a commemorative structure built in the style of the lake's Civilian Conservation Corps-style rock buildings and walls. Don't stop at recognizing your human relations. Your black lab loved the lake, too. For $1,000, you get the plaque and someone else's beloved companion gets more trees to sniff.
We're about to make a disclosure that has nearly cost us a few friendships. When it comes to beer, we love a good bottle of Grolsch. We truly enjoy Stella Artois from the tap. Occasionally, we'll go with some breed of Chimay. We heart Boddingtons. Cheers to Harp and Fat Tire. Dear, sweet Pyramid Apricot. Good ol' Guinness. Give us a Snakebite, and we'll show you strength through the inevitable hangover because, well, it was probably worth it. They are very tasty. Priest's Collars, Black Velvets, even Car Bombs. Point is, we've been told that one person shouldn't enjoy all of these varying types of beer. Arguments have ensued. "You can't love Grolsch and Boddingtons! Who loves Grolsch anyway?" But whatever. We do, and thankfully we have a haven when we walk through the doors of the Old Monk. The Monk's beer list reads like an international who's who with prices from budget to scandalous. Luckily, no matter which personality of ours is drinking on any given evening, the Monk keeps our pint glass full with draught or bottle brews from Belgium, Germany, Holland, Great Britain, the States, Canada, Czech Republic, Jamaica and Mexico. Pair a pint with some frites or Guinness beef stew and the experience is nothing short of world-class.
The Ginger Man 2718 Boll St. 214-754-8771
Ever since most of us on staff caved in and bought iPods, we haven't bothered with local radio stations to get our music fix, and in the past year, the corporate-owned frequencies haven't done much to change our minds. But that doesn't mean our antennae go unused. Rather, we keep the radio tuned to The Ticket on 1310 AM. And we're definitely not alone. It seems like everyone around town talks about the sports talk shows that run throughout the day, even women and non-sports fans. The biggest reason for the wide appeal has to be drive-time show The Hardline, where Mike, Greggo, Danny and Snake (yes, just "Snake") spend more time on topics like Six Feet Under, tomboys, local music and "jarring" than sports, even though their sports commentary is second to none. Still, the 7 p.m. rundown of the station's best segments from the previous day is proof that the entire Ticket schedule is getting it right, whether by delivering the most incisive sports talk in town or by playing games of "Gay, Not Gay." Once you become a P1, you won't switch your radio back to music stations, either.
The nonprofit Writer's Garret has as its stated mission the education and development of readers, writers and audiences. It stages writing workshops, panel discussions, peer critiques, contests and movie screenings. But the organization's two-year-old Writer's Studio Series, hosted by KERA at Theatre Three, takes the top prize. This year, the series brought best-selling literary stars Margaret Drabble, James Ellroy, Umberto Eco and Walter Mosley to Sunday night readings. KERA radio host Glenn Mitchell interviewed each author, who then read from one of his or her books and answered questions from the audience. Each two-hour session was taped and later played on NPR affiliates. The programs are fascinating, unpredictable and sometimes infuriating, as when politically incorrect and always controversial Ellroy told the audience that John F. Kennedy "got what he deserved." Authors scheduled this fall include Bret Easton Ellis (his new one is Lunar Park), Joan Didion (The Year of Magical Thinking) and Scott Turow. With all the lawyers who want to be writers in town, better get your ticket early for Turow, attorney and author of Presumed Innocent and other novels.
The Landing looks like a rec room from the 1970s; think of the basement in That '70s Show or any scene from Freaks and Geeks where people drank, got high or made out. There are a few tables, a handful of booths, one couch, a pool table, Golden Tee, a jukebox and a long bar in a narrow space. On the weekends, it's crowded like a high school party in a John Hughes movie. And that makes the Landing the best place to go after work. On early weekdays, you can hold court at one of the big round tables, feed dollar after dollar into the jukebox (it's one of the best in town with everything from Etta James to the Clash, the Old 97's to Elvis Costello), order a burger or some loaded cheese fries (also some of the best in town) and actually hear people talk while sharing a pitcher of Shiner.
White Rock Lake offers more than bike and running paths. For years, the Bath House Cultural Center on the eastern shore of the lake has been a little powerhouse of art, theater, history and music. Built in 1930, the art deco building is tiny but boasts a 120-seat theater, two galleries, a darkroom and other spaces for activities including yoga classes, jazz concerts and dance workshops. It also houses a small but fascinating museum about the creation and history of the lake. (Did you know people could swim in White Rock until 1953? It was closed to bathers due to "drought, polio and racial tensions.") The galleries showcase regional artists, often those who live and work in the lake area.
On a good day at the dog park, you'll meet dozens of dogs of various breeds and, sometimes, dozens of breeds in one dog. Not a dog owner? White Rock Lake Dog Park is a great place to "window shop" for your next pal; you can see how spectacularly tall (and drooly) a great Dane is or how mind-numbingly adorable a 4-month-old basset hound puppy can be. Good-weather Saturday afternoons seem to be the time to encounter the highest volume of canines, especially since this summer's renovation.