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Scene&Heard: A Last Chance Dose of JoAnna James

When JoAnna James begins to sing, you tend to hold your breath. She captures the attention of the crowd as she whispers her voice into motion, and soon she has drawn the room into her craft. Her voice carries you along as she powers into the chorus, and when she hits those notes…those notes, you only then notice that you hadn’t been breathing because you have to gasp.

I first heard JoAnna’s voice at the first Leonard Cohen Tribute at Soulful Space. She sang “Ballad of a Runaway Horse” and “Anthem” with masterful skill. That treat was repeated at the second encore performance at The Lyric on April 28. One of the highlights of the evening, JoAnna’s voice shifted easily from the slow, meditative sound of “Ballad” to the gypsy-like rhythm of “Anthem”, singing Cohen’s famous line, “that’s how the light gets in” with the spellbinding effect that certainly would make the late singer-songwriter proud.

Produced by Anita Courtney and Purple Carrots Productions, the Cohen tributes were both sell out performances that brought together a diverse array of local musicians to offer their personal tributes to the master. On April 28th, the doors of the theater were thrown open to ventilate the heat as JoAnna and the others joined in verses of “Hallelujah” that spilled out into the streets. JoAnna took the lead on the final verse and belted out a righteous final farewell to Leonard, bouncing her powerful voice off the walls of that historic theater with a stunning, goosebump-inducing crescendo.

Joanna James performing with Richard Young (bass) and Anna Hess (violin) at the original Leonard Cohen Tribute concert

JoAnna came into music as a young girl when her grandpa picked up a violin for $100 from a nun in Mankato, Minneosta, near her hometown of St. Paul. The middle of five kids, her siblings refused the instrument and Joanna was given the violin and lessons with a kind teacher she greatly admired.

Joining orchestra in high school, JoAnna happened upon the guitar, songwriters who played the likes of Lilith Fair, and a book of tablature for Nirvana Unplugged. By 14, she was playing a three-hour gig in a Wisconsin bookstore to a full house. From there, her career has taken her across the country several times over and brought her into songwriting collaboration with a variety of musicians and labels.

JoAnna cowrites and collaborates on songs with many, including Josh Grange, pedal steel player for Sheryl Crow, and Jessy Greene, who has toured with Foo Fighters and Pink, all friends from the “small Minnesota music scene.” She first hears the song, she says, and then finds different processes for integrating the lyrics and music. Inspired by “that” teacher, Mr. Hanlin, who taught her “the connection between music and poetry,” JoAnna is highly adaptive, whether meeting strict deadlines for toplining gigs or musing through a stream-of-consciousness for her own original songs.

Motivated by friendship and a sad but necessary goodbye, Anita and JoAnna are pairing up once more for a show featuring JoAnna before she leaves the bluegrass for the mountains of Colorado. Moving to be closer to family, the show on July 27th at First Presbyterian Church Chapel on North Mill will be JoAnna’s big send-off. She will be joined by several stellar local musicians including Anna Hess and Richard Young, who accompanied her at both Cohen tributes, and Lee Carroll on keys. Maggie Lander will join with backup vocals. The show will be a combination of musicians as well as covers and originals, some solo, some with accompaniment.

 “For me, to produce a show, it needs to meet 3 criteria,” says Anita Courtney of Purple Carrots Productions: “feature great musicians in an intimate setting that pays the musicians well.  JoAnna’s show checks all the boxes. The chapel is beautiful, has great acoustics and seats 100 people. I call JoAnna the ‘goosebump girl’. She gets inside a song, really tries to understand it, feel it and convey that to the listeners.”

Anita is very excited about the combination of musical talent that will be on stage with JoAnna for the show. “Lee Carroll’s stellar piano, Maggie Lander’s beautiful vocals and the professional and soulful string instrumentalists—Anna Hess on violin and Richard Young on bass—and I think we will all be gobsmacked.”

“Gobsmacked” was the compliment Anita received after the Cohen tributes, and she ensures an all-JoAnna James show will be equally effective. The intimate setting of the chapel, JoAnna’s powerfully subtle voice, and a cast of stellar musicians guarantee that she is right. JoAnna feels strongly the power music induces, and she hopes for that exchange on the 27th.

“My biggest hope is what I always hope for with a show…that some sort of cycle of exchange happens, cause that’s what music is, it’s this experience through time, and to share it with these people who are willing to give you their time and attention. I hope that people can walk away with some kind of good feeling and catharsis. That is my hope.”

Cara’s conversation with JoAnna:

Newsletter

UK Cafe: Why is There a University of Kentucky Themed Restaurant in Osaka, Japan?

There are more connections between Osaka, Japan and Kentucky than one might probably expect. Firstly, the University of Kentucky has a very close relationship with Osaka’s Kansai Gaidai University and has been sending students abroad there for decades. In addition to this academic connection, in 1985, following the victory of the Osaka-based underdogs of the Nippon League, the Hanshin Tigers, at the Japan baseball Championship Series, some rowdy Tigers fan removed a statue of Colonel Sanders from the front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and threw it in the Dotenburi Canal from Ebisu Bridge, as an effigy to Tigers’ foreign slugger, Randy Bass, who had helped carry the team.

This incident led to the “Curse of the Colonel”, which is believed to have caused an 18 year long losing streak, which was not broken until the statue was pulled out of the river in March 2009. The statue was still missing it’s glasses and left hand, but, nonetheless, the curse was broken and now all KFCs in Osaka have been ordered to bolt down their Colonel Sanders statues (especially when the team is playing well.)

Here is video of when they found the sunken statue.

While the connections are obviously there, most Kentuckians may only be aware of Osaka Japanese Restaurant in Lexington, but likely don’t realize that there are 3 University of Kentucky themed restaurants, all called UK Cafe, in Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures.

When most people around the world, and in Japan, hear “UK”, they likely think United Kingdom, but for the initiated Big Blue Nation fans, we undoubtedly think University of Kentucky every time. As a UK alumni and Wildcat fan, I decided to venture to western Japan to interview the owner of UK Cafe, Yoko Hirayama, who is from Osaka, and runs all 3 UK Cafe restaurants. She picked us up from Sakura Shukugawa Train Station on a rainy Tuesday in her Cadillac and told us her story.

In 1979, Hirayama’s husband went to the University of Kentucky for one year as an exchange student and was inspired by the American diner food that he had at student potluck parties. Initially, when he arrived, he didn’t speak English and was very timid. While he was here, he started playing billiards and, through that, met some friends. When he came back to Japan, to settle back into the Kansai area, he wanted to start a diner that had similar “American Size Power Food” for other university students in Osaka who were in need of late-night high calorie meals. He loved the University of Kentucky and thought about naming the restaurant Lexington Cafe, but he ultimately decided on UK Cafe and that was the beginning.

The first UK Cafe opened up in Eastern Osaka in 1980 and, now, there are three different UK Cafe restaurants, including the second Osaka shop, in Sakai Ohama Nishimachi, that opened in 1992. and the most recent shop, in Hyogo Prefecture, opening in 2010. The menu is based on the travel experiences of the Hirayamas and their trips to Kentucky and every state in the U.S., trying specialty foods that they discovered on the way. They arranged these items, like Denver Omelets, to fit the Japanese palate and quickly gathered a large following of people hungry for good food, for a cheap price, and lots of it. In fact, people constantly steal their handwritten menus because of the stories attached to each item.

The menu is divided between main dishes, salads & sandwiches, breakfast & lunch, burgers, spaghetti, & omelets, desserts, and drinks. There are bourbon cocktails and there is a UK Special Sandwich, which is made up of potatoes, country ham, and cheese. There is also an item on the menu called Super Soul, that is a spicy Gyu Motsu Korean dish connected to former WLAP-FM Lexington radio DJ, Billy Love. Initially, they were open all night, 365 days of the year, but lately, due to a shortage of personnel from 3-8AM, they’ve been closing for a few hours in the late morning.

Before her husband’s passing a few years ago, the couple visited Kentucky many times together and, when I asked Hirayama what her first impression of Kentucky was, she mentioned Kentucky’s beautiful farms and it’s unique fencing. The couple modeled the fencing in the front of the Hyogo Prefecture branch of the restaurant with the same type of Paddock Fence design motif. The couple also thought that Lexington was a beautiful university town that was very safe and peaceful and had a unique connection to Japan via Toyota and other Japanese businesses. The crowd at the restaurant is a mix of Japanese students, families,  and the occasional visitor from Kentucky. Hirayama told me that the UK Men’s Basketball team has visited the Higashi-Osaka branch of the restaurant.

The restaurant is decorated with UK Wildcat posters, tables with the Kentucky state flag on them, and tons of model cars all over the interior. There is even a set of JBL speakers that play Bob Marley, The Doobie Brothers, Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, and mostly southern classic rock. There is another special Kentucky item in the garage of the Hyogo restaurant, in the form of a 1963 Chevy Corvette Stingray split-window, which the couple bought in the US about 30 years ago and had it shipped to Japan. The car was her husband’s favorite car, and he dreamed of owning one since he was in elementary school. A rare site,  even in the states, 1963 was the only year that Chevrolet produced these Corvettes with the split window in the back.

Some of the other items on their menu include a dish called “Goodbye Donkey”, which is taking a jab at the generic Japanese burger chain restaurant, Bikkuri Donkey. There is also a dish called Mr. Trucker’s Sandwich, which is a huge cheeseburger with onion, ham, and pickles, dedicated to very large Union 76 truckers that the couple met everywhere.

My friend from Gunma, Chef Shinya Matsubara of Tokiwakan, told me that while he was a college student in Osaka, he often went to the Higashi-Osaka branch and ordered the Good Bye Nagoya, which is a piece of miso-katsu-sauce-covered sinewy meat atop a pile of fried rice. When he was reflecting on his time there, and how many interesting canned American beers that they used to have, Shinya remembered that the cafe was relaxed, affordable, and gave you a lot of food; the perfect place to power up for a busy Osakan university student. However, when I asked him if he was aware that the theme of the cafe was based on the University of Kentucky, he said, “Honestly, most people probably think it’s based on the United Kingdom, but I guess I was wondering, where are all the fish and chips?”

Check out my interview with UK Cafe Owner, Yoko Hirayama, with interpretation assistance from Junko Takahashi.

If you can’t make it to Japan, you can visit UK Cafe’s website at http://ukcafe.net

However, if you can make the trip, here is the information that you’ll need:

UK WILDCATS CAFE – The larger shop with the 1963 Corvette in Hyogo Prefecture
西宮武庫川店 (Nishinomiya Mukogawa Branch)
1-15-27 Tsunematsu
Amagasaki-Shi, Hyogo-Ken 661-0046
Hours: Open 365 days of the year from 9AM-3AM
Link to the Yelp page: Here

UK WILDCATS CAFE – Honten (the original Eastern Osaka shop)
高井田店(Higashi-Osaka Takaida Branch)
5-4-30 Takaida-Nishi, Higashi-Osaka-shi 577-0067
Hours: Open 365 days of the year from 10AM-4AM
Link to the Yelp page: Here

UK WILDCATS Cafe – Southern Osaka location
堺大浜店 (Sakai Ohama-Nishimachi Branch)
23 Ohama Nishimachi, Sakai-shi
Sakai-ku, Osaka-fu 590-0977
Hours: Open 365 days of the year from 9AM-Midnight

Also, if you are from Kentucky, why don’t you send them something nice? 🙂

Newsletter

CivicLex Is Live!

For the past two years UnderMain has been collaborating on a new civic engagement project, CivicLex. Initiated by the board of directors of ProgressLex (now evolved into the board for the new project), UnderMain has been proud to partner on the development and realization of CivicLex. The aim of CivicLex is to, “…to build a more civically engaged community by providing easier access to information and building stronger relationships between citizens and those that serve them.”

A major development milestone was reached this past week with the project’s online site going live. The website, civiclex.org, allows citizens of Lexington to explore vital local issues in depth in one online location, and provides resources to explore the issues in more depth and to engage with those issues and decision-makers more fully. For example, the website has a searchable feature to identify a citizen’s council member and has schedules of critical meetings related to the issues the site is covering. In doing so, CivicLex provides tools for people to navigate what can often seem to be byzantine and opaque civic and governance systems and processes.

CivicLex developed an excellent brief video to orient visitors to the project and the website.

In addition to its online presence, CivicLex, has opportunities for Lexingtonians to participate in live events concerning issues of local importance. Over the past few months project staff conducted a series of workshops concerning different sectors of the city’s budget, and the budgetary sector reports are included in the website’s resource hub. It is important to note that CivicLex is an ongoing project and will continue to roll out coverage of new issues on its issues hub and through live presentations, workshops, and other forms of civic engagement.

CivicLex is supported through grants by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, and donations from individuals from across Lexington. Access to the website is free and users are encouraged to subscribe to the newsletter and make one-time or monthly donations.

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“Pangaea” at City Gallery, Lexington


The exhibition Pangaea — now on view at City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington — brings together the disparate practices of Patrick Smith and Robert Morgan in a way that illuminates how the same ideas and impulses can permeate in different ways across both generations and media. Juxtaposed closely in this exhibition, the similarities ring out, making clear elements of both artists’ work that would likely be overlooked in the context of a solo show. As a show, Pangaea, therefore, functions in opposition to the supercontinent from which it gets its name; while the landmass dissipated creating cultural and ecological divisions that have marked humanity since our emergence as a species, the exhibition ultimately unites distinct individuals and shows the shared nature of their art and lives in so doing.  

Detail of Bob Morgan’s sculptural assemblages

One of the starkest distinctions between Morgan and Smith is how each man approaches art making. Morgan, a sculptor now in his 60s, has always identified as an artist. He has been making art out of found objects for as long as he can remember. Morgan’s practice has been consistent for decades, making assemblages that are complicated and congested amalgams of various items, ranging from goat horns and religious figurines to rubber snakes and car parts, all of which he covers with bright colored paint and patches of glitter. 

Smith, on the other hand, is a painter who came to art making relatively later in life, around the time he was an undergraduate at Transylvania University. Now in his 30s, his practice is still evolving, and he conceives of his practice as a direct reaction to his surroundings. For instance, his recent works — which consist of  small, intimate and hyperrealist portraits —simultaneously reflect the regional tradition of intimate craft practices with regard to their scale, while also working against the abstract tendencies that dominate both the painting practices taught in art schools in the area and the looser styles that characterize folk and outsider art in Appalachia more generally. As such, Smith’s practice is more informed by the particulars of time and space than Morgan’s, a notion that is further underscored by the generational differences between them. 

Various self portraits by Patick Smith

Yet despite these differences, Morgan and Smith’s works share a considerable amount in common. For example, both artists explore issues of queerness and sexual difference in their works. Patrick Smith’s work deals with elements of visible queerness and difference through his engagement with gender and sexuality as performance. His self-portraits, for instance, often play with elements of drag, with Smith appearing heavily made up and, at times, dressed in women’s clothing from various (sub) cultures. 

Self Portrait in black top, Patrick Smith

In these images, Smith never appears to be passing as a woman, per se, but rather complicates elements of masculinity by adopting women’s dress. For instance in one Self-Portrait, he appears in a sheet black top, with heavy black eyeliner, and pink lipstick, with his mouth pursed to a kiss. His face gazes directly out but his torso is slightly turned with one arm bent at the elbow and raised behind him and the other wrapping around his belly, adopting a pose often used by women models in fashion magazines. Though Smith has adopted feminine elements of dress and gesture, his gender performance is somewhat incomplete. His shaved head, muscular arms, and hint of a five o’clock shadow remind us that Smith is a man. As such, he is queering the conventions of gender performance, embracing elements of both masculinity and femininity in a way that celebrates deviation from heteronormative and patriarchal conventions of sex and gender.    

Moreover, for Smith, all of his portraits are performances. He often describes his sitters as “getting into character” and for his self-portraits Smith allows his appearance to be styled by various friends who collaborate with him. As such, these works are not emblematic of the subject’s lived experience, but rather illustrate how conventions of gender and sexuality are performed moment by moment. 

Installation shot, “Pangaea” at the Downtown Arts Center

The performative nature of Smith’s work stand in contrast to Morgan’s practice, which is largely derived from his personal history. Morgan, a gay man himself, has been a prominent figure within the LBGTQ community in Lexington for decades. He is widely known for his role as a caretaker having tended the sick and dying here during the A.I.D.S. epidemic in the 1980s and 90s and caring for the legacy of queer folk through his role as the founder of the Faulkner-Morgan Pagan Babies Archive. His art practice has been, as such, largely informed by both his lived experience in and his research of LGBTQ history; he notes that most of his works examine themes of “A.I.D.S., Insanity, Alcoholism, and Drug Addiction,” afflictions that have commonly plagued the queer community and further marginalized LGBTQ folk. 

Bob Morgan with sculptures

Morgan’s affinity for the marginalized manifests in the work he creates. His assemblages are made from piles of junk, objects whose intrinsic value has been lost or was never fully appreciated. Morgan collects these items and transforms them into something new, something with an aesthetic quality that is elevated and is meant to be seen, rather than to hide. That many of these assemblages of people whose experiences were similarly marginalized — like the teenaged drug addict that Morgan cared for and whose nightmare forms the basis of The Island of Lost Souls — and that Morgan himself has felt marginalized in similar ways imbues the sculptures with a particular kind of powerful resonance.

Religion, like queerness, is a theme that is explored in both Morgan’s and Smith’s work. As with his explorations of LGBTQ struggles, Morgan draws from his own religious upbringing in Catholic school as the basis of his work. Each of the seven works on display in this exhibition features an oversized vintage doll, which Morgan has posed and covered with various objects — often including devotional items like figurines of Jesus or religiously symbolic items like swords and snakes. To Morgan, decorating these figures  is reminiscent of the way that The Infant of Prague is dressed and put on display in the chapels of countless Catholic churches and schools, like the one Morgan attended as a child. Yet these sculptures aren’t simply Catholic in character. Some appear to have a more clearly Hindu iconography, like the allusion to Shiva in The Horned Toad, and others involve the hybridization of multiple religious traditions like in Pangaea. Morgan asserts that the appropriation of religious iconography is central to his practices, noting “I steal from every major culture,” and citing a particular predilection for Byzantine, Egyptian, Mayan, and Hindu traditions. 

The religious character of Smith’s work is more subtle. Some of his portraits employ elements of dress and gesture that are reminiscent of the long history of religious icons. For instance, the first painting of Armani, depicts the sitter with their head draped with a pale pink cloth, much like the veiling of the Virgin Mary in many Renaissance portraits of the Madonna. 

“Skull on Red”, Patrick Smith

Smith has also called upon religious symbolism in his depictions of skulls, both in portraits, like the one held by Pablo and on their own. Within Catholic imagery, skulls have often appeared at the base of crucifixion scenes to depict the connection between Adam, the first man created by God, and Jesus, his son. Similarly, skulls are prominent in Protestant imagery, specifically in the form of the Vanitas, a genre of still life that was popular in the Netherlands in the 16th  and 17th centuries, in which the skull serves as a reminder that material objects cannot transcend the mortal plane and thus faith and good works are essential for transitioning into the afterlife. 

Placed side by side, Smith’s and Morgan’s works balance each other out to create a fuller picture of each artists’ respective practice. The overt role of religion in Morgan’s work, for instance, helps to clearly draw out those elements at play within Smith’s. Conversely, the highly legible engagement with performative queerness in Smith’s hyper-realist portraits primes the viewer to read Morgan’s very symbolic assemblages more deeply. The result of this compilation of two different artists with two very distinct practices is ultimately a greater understanding of both artists’ work and the issues they explore. As such, Pangaea, on the whole, illuminates how the differences among artists and their work can ultimately reveal their overall similarities. 

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Arts Tasting Menu

A tasting of handcut cultural delicacies from Lexington and the region.

Back from vacation and plenty to see in the region!

Appetizer

Tightly Bound. M.S. Rezny Studio Gallery, Lexington.

An exhibition of seven fiber artist’s interpretations of the title opens on June 5th at the gallery. Inventive uses of materials offer the artists opportunities to riff off of the idea of binding fibers in surprising and illuminating ways. Thru July 21st.

Entree

Breaking The Mold: Investigating Gender At The Speed Art Museum. Speed Museum, Louisville.

This exhibition at the Speed explores issues of gender, power, race through artworks in the museum’s permanent collection and also some works on loan, including pieces from the Faulkner Morgan Archive in Lexington. Thru September 9th.

Kehinde Wiley, St. Louis IX King of France, 2016

Dessert

Terracotta Army: Legacy Of The First Emperor Of China. Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati.

Those famous terracotta warriors and related objects come to Cincinnati for this blockbuster exhibition. Objects dating from the eighth to the third centuries BCE trace Chinese history and culture in the Pre-Qin and Qin dynasty eras. Make sure to buy tickets ahead of time for this show. Thru August 12th.

Standing Archer, Qin Dynasty