Bettye LaVette: MIM, Phoenix 7 November 2018

by Carene Lydia Lopez on November 9, 2018

One of the things I was hoping to do during my Phoenix trip was to visit the Musical Instrument Museum, which I was not able to do. But in looking at the site, I saw that they have concerts and I bought tickets for An Intimate Evening with Betty LaVette Featuring Evan Mercer on Keyboards. Her name sounded familiar and they listed soul, R&B, and funk and I thought it would be something that my sister Denise and I would enjoy. I found out that Bettye LaVette has numerous Grammy-nominated albums, had her first hit at 16yo, has had a 57-year career (so far), and is known for her unique covers. She has covered everyone from The Beatles to The Black Keys and currently has an album of Bob Dylan covers.

I took the bus to the museum, which is only ten minutes from my sister’s house by car but about 45 minutes away by bus. It was a 10- to15-minute walk to the bus stop and then a 20-minute wait for the bus (they run every half-hour). The bus driver was very friendly and told everyone “Have a nice day!” as they got off the bus. The bus stop was right across the street from the museum. It was also in the middle of nowhere.

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There was an open field behind the bus stop and another across the street from the museum. The plants around the museum were very pretty and so was the sunset. My plan had been to walk around the area for an hour or so until Denise could meet me and we would go into the show. Instead I walked one block and it was getting dark, so I sat right outside the museum entrance.

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Looking west:

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Looking east:

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A bird in a cactus:

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The auditorium in the museum was small and comfortable. They had the widest seats I think I have ever sat in. We had the less expensive tickets but were still close to the stage.

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Mercer came out first and then LaVette. Mercer was playing piano and electric keyboards and was brilliant. LaVette sat in front of the mic and they started with “Lover, Come Back to Me” and the very bluesy “Your Key Don’t Fit No More.” You can tell that her voice is not what it used to be but she still sings with passion and she still sings full out.

Usually she travels with a full band but this tour is a look at her career, while she is promoting the new cd and her autobiography, “A Woman Like Me.” She sang that song also, which is the title of one of her other cds. Things Have Changed is the Dylan cover cd. She sang “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” and “Emotionally Yours” from that cd. LaVette said that it was difficult to figure out how to sing some of Dylan’s songs because he does not tell you how he is feeling in his songs. You have to figure it out from the lyrics and sometimes she could not wrap her head around it. But she worked at it. And based on what we heard, she did a terrific job of it. “Emotionally Yours” hit you right in the gut.

LaVette said that if we had seen her in the past we know that she is usually dancing across the stage and never stopping. But it was nice to sit and see all our faces so clearly. Mercer is in her band and younger than her youngest grandchild.

She did several songs that had been given to her by female Nashville songwriters. She said those women know how to write.

LaVette was born in Muskegon, Michigan. In 1946, there was segregation and blacks who wanted to drink would go to her parents’ house where they served corn liquor and had a jukebox in the living room. Her father liked gospel and R&B and her mother liked country and pop. Her teenage sister liked the current hits. By 18 months old, LaVette had learned all the songs on the jukebox and they would stand her on top of it and she would lift her dress and roll her stomach up and then down the music and sing along. One of the songs has the lyrics (cannot find the title and I forgot the artist’s name, who only had this one hit) “it’s hard to believe it hurts to be in love.” Imagine an 18-month-old singing that. Walking off the stage, she did the camel walk dance, which is the dance associated with that song (at the time every song had a dance).

She was raised in Detroit and had her first hit at age 16, “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man.” She wanted to be on American Bandstand because all her neighbors, who had hit records were on the show. When she sang the song (again – imagine a 16yo singing that song – the audience started laughing with the first line), she ended it with not singing the last line but moving her hips around as a lovin’ man would do. And apparently that is why Dick Clark did not want her on American Bandstand.

Other songs included were The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity?”

For six years she starred on Broadway in Bubbling Brown Sugar. This was when the AIDS epidemic first hit and she lost many people. For the Janet Reno produced cd she sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” which she performed for us and it was heartbreaking. Reno won a Grammy for America in Song.

In reading about LaVette, I see that her name is familiar to me for two reasons. She sang at the Kennedy Center Honors for Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend (“Love, Reign O’er Me”) and she had a hit disco song, “Doin’ the Best I Can,” which I remember very well. If you go on her site, you will see the incredible range of songs that she has recorded.

Her encore song was “Worthy” written by one of the Nashville artists that she loves so much. Bettye LaVette is definitely worthy.

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Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: Scottsdale 6 November 2018

by Carene Lydia Lopez on November 8, 2018

During my trip to Phoenix, my sister Denise had suggested that I check out Old Town Scottsdale and when I researched it I found the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art was there and both exhibits looked good to me. So I figured how to contact Lyft via my laptop and went to the museum.

The first exhibit was NKame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón (1967-1999). Ayón was in many group shows and solo shows around the world before she shot herself in 1999. She was scheduled to be in three shows in 1999 and her works made it there even if she did not. While you walk around the gallery, you can hear her speaking in Spanish, which is from a video playing in the next room. A lot of her prints are very big but she would use regular sheets of paper and join them together rather than making one big print. Some thought this was because of shortages in Cuba but she did it that way so she would have more control. The style of printmaking she used is collography, where a collage is made from different materials, ink added, and then put through a printing press. There was a video showing Ayón creating one of the pieces in the gallery. After watching the process, I ran over to the piece to see the result again.

Her work mostly centers on the religion Abakuá, which is a secret society (NKame means “greetings” or “praise”) restricted to men. Ayón added a feminist edge to the stories she told via her prints. It is one of several Afro-Cuban religions (this one from southeastern Nigeria) and Ayón made the decision to focus on Abakuá because so many artists have already focused on Yoruba and Congo. There is a story that she told in another video and a similar story told in one of the exhibit labels. As Ayón tells it, the Princess Sikán (the only female in Abakuá stories) goes to the river to fetch water. She places the gourd in the river and waits for it to fill up. Unbeknownst to her, the magic fish flows into the gourd. The fish has the voice of an ancestor and gives power to whoever hears it. While carrying the gourd on her head, she hears the sound and does not know what it is. It frightens her and she drops the gourd. In the meantime, the witch doctor has a mirror that keeps track of the magical fish in the river and sees that it is gone. He sends two assassins to kill whoever has captured the fish. They find Sikán and use snakes to kill her. The witch doctor thinks that maybe the voice of the fish (dead because it was out of the water) has traveled to Sikán and they skin her in hopes of capturing the voice. But like the voice of the fish, Sikán’s voice is muffled. They use animal skins for their drums instead. In the museum label, the witch doctor has told Sikán’s parents about the magical fish and has sworn them to secrecy. The fish brings peace to whichever tribe has control of it. Sikán tells her lover, who is the prince of a neighboring tribe with which her tribe is at war with, and the enemy takes the fish. Sikán is killed for revealing the secret. To recreate the sound of the fish, they use goatskins for their drums.

I found the work to be very spiritual. Most of her pieces are in black, white, and gray but there are some earlier pieces in color.

Here is “La cena,” (“The Dinner”) which depicts an Abakuá ritual (initiation banquet called Iriampó) but also makes you think of “The Last Supper.” Like all Afro-Cuban religions, the African rites are mixed in with Christian rites. The original was in color and then she made one with some color, which is a mirror image of the final version in black and white. All three were on display.

“Sin título (Sikán con chivo)” (“Untitled (Sikán with Goat)”) Although goats would be common in the religious imagery for this religion, Ayón rarely used it.

“Nlloro” (“Weeping”) depicts another Abakuá ritual but contains a cross and looks like people weeping over Christ’s body. Ayón was an atheist.

“Pa’ que quieras por siempre” (“To Make You Love Me Forever”) was being shown at the Venice Biennale in 1993. Ayón and her father had to travel by bicycle 30 km to get to the airport. Her father did not make the plane on time but the piece got to Venice one hour before the opening.

“The Consecration” was a huge triptych in the middle of the gallery.

“Perfidia” (“Perfidy”) is considered one of her greatest works.

I could have spent hours in there just staring at these prints. Experiencing them was spiritual for me. Emotions leaped off the prints and into my heart and soul.

The other exhibit was a double one – Double Agents: Carla Fernández and Pedro Reyes. Both envision an alternative future. Fernández does ethical fashion. She buys textiles from communities throughout Mexico to keep the traditions alive and to give the woman a living, so they do not have to move to the cities to work.

Besides some mannequins wearing her clothing and two videos showing the women at work creating the textiles, there were photographs of models wearing the clothing. Next to each was a saying – first in an indigenous language, then in Spanish, and then in English. “It is bad to comb your hair at night because it is said that your mother will die.” “You should not eat the first tortilla that comes off the griddle or you will become very talkative, saying bad things about other people.”

If you go to her site, you see the photos along with the sayings just like below.

Reyes’ “Disarmed (Mechanized)” built eight instruments using the remnants of weapons collected and destroyed by the Mexican army. My favorite was the xylophone. The hammers came down on different sized rifle barrels. All the instruments played intermittently by themselves, so you never knew when you were going to hear sounds coming out of them as you walked around. A companion video project is “Amendment to Amendment” that invited people to rewrite the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

Also in the room was a huge poster that named all the indigenous people of North, Central, South America, and the Caribbean – all in the shape of the continents and islands. They had smaller poster to take for free and I am going to frame mine.

The building itself looks new and they have a small courtyard with chairs that are like art pieces and James Turrell’s “Skyspace,” where you can sit and see the sky above and you see the sunset on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

This is a wonderful little museum.

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Lucero: Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix 5 November 2018

November 8, 2018

After a day in Sedona (visiting my sister who lives in Phoenix) we headed back to Phoenix and the Crescent Ballroom to see Lucero. The Crescent Ballroom has a restaurant/bar in the front and upstairs – Cocina 10. The venue is in what looks to be part financial district and part hipster central for Phoenix. […]

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Lucero: Warsaw 12 October 2018

October 17, 2018

My boys were back in town playing at a new (for me) venue. The Warsaw in Greenpoint is a walk from the L but close to the G. On the way there I realized that I had forgotten the print out of my receipt or ticket. Usually I buy will call, so I figured my […]

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Leo Kottke: City Winery 11 October 2018

October 16, 2018

As I mentioned, the first two weeks of October in NYC is crazy if you want to take advantage of the great things happening. I attended all five programs for Fall for Dance, six events for the New Yorker Festival the first weekend, and three sites for Open House New York on the second weekend. […]

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Fall for Dance: Program 2: NY City Center 3 October 2018

October 5, 2018

Back to New York City Center and the second night of Fall for Dance. Our teacher for the pre-show dance lesson was Amy Young from the faculty (and former dancer) of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She was very enthusiastic and very encouraging. We started with warm-ups and then she taught us moves that would […]

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Fall for Dance: Program 1: New York City Center 2 October 2018

October 5, 2018

It’s fall! And that means Fall for Dance, the New Yorker Festival, and Open House New York. All the same October weekend. It does not look like I will make it to any OHNY locations this year but I will be seeing all five FFD programs and will be attending several NYFest events. The first […]

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Cory Branan: The Studio at Opry City Stage 18 September 2018

September 28, 2018

Cory Branan tweeted about a show in New Haven, so I knew he either just played NYC or was about to. Turned out he was going to play Opry City Stage, a Times Square theme restaurant. As a New Yorker, I avoid Times Square themed restaurants. Only Cory could make me go inside. The first […]

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Taíno: A Symposium in Conversation with the Movement: NMAI 8 September 2018

September 25, 2018

Thanks to a heads-up by meli, I was able to attend an all-day symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian in NYC that is related to their current exhibit, Taíno: Native Heritage and Identity in the Caribbean, which is running until October 2019 and I hope to visit the actual exhibit soon. The […]

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New York Latino Film Festival: The Wall 25 August 2018

August 27, 2018

Another film in the New York Latino Film Festival, The Wall, started as a in internet project – The Wall – an in-depth examination of Donald Trump’s border wall by USA Today Network. It was the brainchild of the former editor-in-chief at the Arizona Republic, who is now the editor-in-chief of USA Today, Nicole Carroll. […]

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