On Stage: Saying goodbye to Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey

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By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ final edition comes to Philadelphia.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus, which will present its “Out of This World” production from February 16-20 at the Wells Fargo Center (Broad Street below Pattison Avenue, Philadelphia, tickets are available exclusively through WellsFargoCenterPhilly.com) has been around longer than anyone can remember – almost one-and-one-half centuries.

A 140-year tradition that combines the classics – extraordinary animal performances, captivating clown escapades and daring high-wire acts – with contemporary surprises and thrills to make the circus-going experience memorably unique and a family tradition handed down from generation to generation. With two independent units, Red and Blue. Ringling Bros. hosts millions of visitors every year.

So, it came as a shock to the entertainment world when the circus’ parent company Feld Entertainment issued the following release –

A message from Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, the producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® —

“After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® will hold its final performances in May of this year. Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.

Nearly 50 years ago, my father founded our company with the acquisition of Ringling Bros. The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me, which is why this was such a tough business decision to make. The decision was even more difficult because of the amazing fans that have become part of our extended circus family over the years, and we are extremely grateful to the millions of families who have made Ringling Bros. part of their lives for generations. We know Ringling Bros. isn’t only our family business, but also your family tradition.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents Circus XTREME will conclude its tour at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., on May 7, 2017, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents Out Of This World will conclude its tour at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21, 2017. We hope you will come to celebrate this American icon for one last time before our tours conclude.”

Hard as it is to believe, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus is soon to disappear.

If you’re a long-time fan or if you have children who have never experienced the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus, this is your last opportunity – snooze you lose.

The circus invites visitors to get ready to blast off on an intergalactic adventure for space-age family fun as the ultimate circus experience launches into the future with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents “Out Of This World.” Audiences will take the helm to join the Circus Space Fleet on a heroic quest of good versus evil that will let imaginations run wild with unexpected surprises and thrills at every turn. 

Through the lens of a magic telescope, “Out Of This World” transports audience members on an unforgettable journey as the circus Star Seeker battles to bring the most spectacular and talented performers back to Earth after years in outer space.

The lavish spectacle features gravity-defying acrobats, orbital aerialists, majestic animals, fearless daredevils and humorous clowns.

Video link for Ringling Bros. Circus — https://youtu.be/RJCI5ZXbmEo

Ringling’s “Out of This World” will run from February 16- 20 at the Wells Fargo Center. Ticket prices range from $15-$105.

While the death knell looms above the Wells Fargo Center on February 16, the ominous sounds of black metal will be filling the air at the Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com) when the venue hosts a twin bill featuring Black Anvil and Mayhem.

Black Anvil

Mayhem, a black metal band from Norway, will be performing its performing its “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” album in its entirety. Black Anvil, a black metal band from New York, will be introducing songs from its “As Was” album, which was just released in January on Relapse Records.

The band features: Paul Delaney  – Bass guitar, vocals (2007–present); Raeph Glicken  – Drums, vocals (2007–present); Travis Bacon – Electric guitar, vocals (2016-present); and Jeremy Sosville  – Electric guitar, vocals (2012–present).

Formed in 2007 in New York City, Black Anvil released its debut album “Time Insults the Mind” in September 2009 followed by “Triumvirate” in 2010 and “Hail Death” in 2014.

“As Was” is an album that is atmospheric and melodic without relenting on any of the ferocity the band is known for. It is more diverse, complex, and thought-provoking than anything the group has previously recorded.

“We started working on the album a little over a year ago,” said Delaney, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from a tour stop in Washington, D.C.

“We recorded at Menegroth in Queens and it was mixed and mastered in Sweden by Tore Stjerna at Necromorbus Studio in Stockholm. He’s just someone we knew would make the album sound like we wanted. We just left it in his hands.

“We did some overdubbing when we were recording. You do as much as you can live and then add whatever else it needs. This was the first time we used this studio and we were very happy with it.”

Delaney spoke of the differences the new album has from its predecessors.

“This album is a lot more refined,” said Delaney. “It came together differently. We just sort of trimmed the fat and made it come together. We knew where we wanted to go. We wanted to keep it a lot simpler and, at the same time, more musical. We wanted to be more creative and take more chances. And, there is a lot more singing on it.

“We did what we wanted and if some fans don’t like the direction we moved, the hell with them. At the end of the day, we’re happy with it. It was a huge success.

“We’re at the end of this tour and then we’ll start again soon. We’ll be touring most of the year. This whole cycle we’ll be playing new stuff and that’s fine.  I can’t say we’re a band that has hits or other sings that we must play.”

Video link for Black Anvil – https://youtu.be/Md7r0qu51KM.

The show at the TLA will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Reed Mathis

On February 16 in Philly, there will be a show with an entirely different vibe altogether at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com) featuring Reed Mathis & Electric Beethoven.

Reed Mathis & Electric Beethoven are out on a limited-run East Coast tour performing a series of “Resonance Field Tests.”  

The idea behind the “tests” (presented in the form of dance concerts) stems from the growing theory that Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphonies were encoded with eternal, healing, transcendent melodies meant to be reborn generation after generation, across both genre and cultural lines, as opposed to being stagnant museum pieces preserved lifelessly behind glass in seated and stuffy institutions.  

Reed Mathis & Electric Beethoven are taking this music back to the streets, performing ritualistic dance ceremonies with an emphasis on improvisation and groove exploration.  This allows Beethoven’s music to come alive again – on dance floors rather than in symphony halls.

Under Mathis’ leadership, the current Electric Beethoven – which is billed as the “world’s first CDM (“classical dance music”) band — features Jay Lane (Primus / Ratdog / Golden Gate Wingmen) on drums, Todd Stoops (RAQ, Rhythmatronix) on keys, and Clay Welch on guitar.

Mathis’ solo but star-studded double-album, “Beathoven,” (Royal Potato Family, Sept. 2015) features an impressive list of guests (including Page McConnell, Mike Gordon, Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, Robert Walter, Stanton Moore, Mike Dillon, and the Barr Brothers) supporting Mathis in a series of trios as they navigate their way through entire performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 and No. 6.  “Beathoven” will be available on vinyl and compact disc at these shows. 

Video link for Reed Mathis & Electric Beethoven — https://youtu.be/7c3stv0sGD8

The show at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.

While many, many theater fans and patrons of the arts in the Delaware Valley for years have enjoyed and appreciated Theatre Exile (1340 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, 215-218-4022, theatreexile.org.), the small theater in South Philadelphia still could be considered one of the city’s “hidden gems.”

Lost Girls

Founded in 1996 by Joe Canuso and Trish Kelly, Theatre Exile was created by a group of artists who wanted to follow different paths than the mainstream. Drawn to plays that explore the complexities of the human condition and contain a sense of true Philadelphia grit and passion, Exile has produced 64 full-scale productions, including 18 world premieres and 31 Philadelphia premieres.

It was the first Philadelphia organization to produce such noted playwrights as Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner Tracy Letts, Noah Haidle, Rona Munro, David Harrower, Annie Baker, Rajiv Joseph, Mike Bartlett, Sharr White and Lucas Hnath. Theatre Exile has received 87 Barrymore Award nominations, with 19 awards total.

Now, Theatre Exile is continuing its 20th anniversary season with the Philadelphia premiere of “Lost Girls” from February 16-March 12 at its Studio X. This hard-hitting drama is the story of three generations of women who struggle to rise above their limited prospects, in a world indifferent to their struggles, to prevent history from repeating itself.

The show is directed by Exile’s Founding Artistic Director Joe Canuso and features an ensemble cast with Catharine Slusar, Trevor William Fayle, Sean Bradley, Molly Ward, Amy Frear and Susanne Collins.

“We have a cast of six and it really is an ensemble piece,” said Ward, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon during a break between tech and a dress rehearsal. “My character is Maggie and it is more from her perspective.

“It’s set in the present time in Manchester, New Hampshire. It’s about one family – a blue collar New Hampshire family dealing with a missing teenage daughter during a blizzard.”

Filled with poignant passions, plot twists and dark humor, “Lost Girls” is both a tense family drama and a moving teenage love story. When Erica, their 16-year-old daughter, goes missing during a winter storm, Maggie and Lou—former high school sweethearts, now divorced—are forced to confront the legacy of their past decisions.

“When Erica is lost, we all come together at my mother’s house – my ex Lou. His wife Penny, my mother Linda and me,” said Ward. “We are dealing with the fact that we might have lost her.

“It’s a non-traditional family having to deal with each other. My mother is a fantastic comic matriarch – played by the fantastic Catharine Slusar. She is my grumpy, drunk mom and she’s a force to be reckoned with.

“She was a single mom and so am I. We’re two generations of unwed mothers. The show is about the struggle not to repeat mistakes our parents made. It’s a nice story about a family – about people trying to do the best they can.”

The play was written by John Pollono, an American playwright who also penned award-winning “Small Engine Repair.” The show is directed by Exile’s Founding Artistic Director Joe Canuso.

“I didn’t know anything about ‘Lost Girls,’ when I auditioned,” said Ward, a native of Mount Airy who just relocated to Philly after living in New York for 20 years. It was in New York right when I was leaving New York.

“I read it and it’s a meaty actor’s play. It’s an old-fashioned family play that is also dark and funny. It’s really plot-driven — and it flies by. It’s extremely well-paced. The script is a tight machine.”

Video link for Theatre Exile — https://youtu.be/evMxZpD9myE.

“Lost Girls” will run from February 22-March 12 at Theatre Exile. Tickets range from $10-$40. 

The 2017 Mardi Gras season has already started in New Orleans. The Krewes are out in force and the parades have begun all over town.

The New Orleans Suspects

Fortunately, area music fans don’t have to travel all the way to the Big Easy to get in a Mardi Gras mood and groove to the sounds of New Orleans because the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) is hosting the New Orleans Suspects on February 17.

The New Orleans Suspects have only been in existence for slightly more than seven years but they are so tight musically, it would be easy to assume that they’ve been making music together for decades.

The band features Charlie Wooton on bass (Royal Southern Brotherhood, Sonny Landreth, Bonerama), “Mean” Willie Green on drums (Neville Brothers), Jeff Watkins on saxophone (James Brown Band, Joss Stone Band), Jake Eckert on guitar and vocals (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) and CR Gruver on keyboards and vocals (Polytoxic, Outformation).

“We’re still home,” said Eckert, during a phone interview last week from his home in New Orleans. “Our gear heads out tomorrow and we fly to New York City on Thursday. We’ll do a short tour and then head home for Mardi Gras.

“Being home for Mardi Gras is very important to us. The carnival festivities kicked of last weekend and it just keeps ramping up. It lasts three weeks and each week gets progressively more intense. It’s a full family tradition. The kids even have off from school the last week before Mardi Gras.”

The band’s formation was very accidental. Hank Staples, the guy who runs the Maple Leaf (a popular New Orleans music club) occasionally had a band that doesn’t show up. So, he kept a list of New Orleans musicians who he could call at the last minute.

“We all live right around the Maple Leaf,” said Eckert “I was in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Willie was with the Nevilles and the Radiators were still in existence.

“Hank would call me whenever he needed a band at the last minute. We played a couple gigs together and people really enjoyed it. A few weeks later, Hank called again. Another few weeks later, he called again and said — can you put the usual suspects together to come play?”

The band began performing a couple times a month at the Maple Leaf and started hanging out at Eckert’s place while he was building his studio. Before long, they were developing their own sound.

It was a traditional sound within the realm of New Orleans funk — music like the early Meters, Earl King, Mardi Gras music, Professor Longhair, Dr. John and early Neville Brothers. Eckert also brought along a background in southern rock.

“As time went on, we started recording our first album — first as a demo and then it turned into a real album,” said Eckert. “That’s when we changed our name to the New Orleans Suspects. Then, we started hitting the road.

“The next crossroad was when we picked up Jeff Watkins. He’s a great saxophone player as well as an amazing engineer. He was the missing link.”

Watkins and Eckert produced and engineered the band’s latest album “Ouroboros.” They also did the mastering at Eckert’s studio, which won a Grammy two years ago for its work with the North African band Tinariwen.

According to the band’s press release –“Ouroboros,” the band’s third album, features fever-inducing funk, irresistible R&B rhythms, Longhair rhumbas, dancing-in-the-street second lines, jazzy soul-drenched horns, mind-melting swamp hoodoo, and feet-don’t-fail-me-now Carnivale music.

“We’re working on our new album now,” said Eckert. “The last one and this one are all originals. There is zydeco, straight-up New Orleans funk, Southern rock, Second Line tunes, a Mardi Gras Indian song and a song we made with Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett of Little Feat.

“The music has changed. At first, it was all these different styles come together. Now, it has its own sound. It’s a strange gumbo but the sum of the parts is really good.”

The Mardi Gras vibe will be in full force at the Ardmore Music Hall Friday night with sets by Bonerama and the New Orleans Suspects.

 “I love Mardi Gras,” said Eckert. “I’ve got a seven-year-old and it’s great for kids. What you see on TV with girls flashing their breasts on Bourbon Street and what actually happens are very different. Bourbon Street is for tourists.

“Uptown, where all the bands are from, it’s a family thing with colors, costumes and cotton candy. We’ll probably go to 10-12 parades. We’ll be playing at the Maple Leaf for Lundi Gras (February 27, the Monday before Mardi Gras). That’s still our home base.”

Video link for New Orleans Suspects — https://youtu.be/PQvHN49Vgks

The show at Ardmore, which also features Bonerama, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $

Other upcoming shows at Ardmore are Antibalas and Fresh Cut Orchestra on February 16, Splintered Sunlight on February 18, Maceo Parker with special guest Muscle Tough on February 19 and Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett from Little Feat with special guest Lupe Garu on February 22.

Fred Eaglesmith

Fred Eaglesmith, who will headline a show on February 17 at the Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com), has been singing songs and playing music for a long time.

He has been performing in the states and around the world for more than 42 years. Eaglesmith released his debut album “Fred Eaglesmith” in 1980 and just released his latest album “Standard” on January 27.

His bio offers this quick recap of his career as one of North America’s premier songwriters – “Start writing songs when you’re 10 years old. Grow up with poverty, agriculture, religion, and eight siblings. Run away from home. Hop freight trains. Start a business. Lose a business. Struggle to get any gig. Drive to Nashville with no money and pockets full of songs. Get a record deal. Lose a record deal. Win a Juno Award. Break down on the side of the road every day for days on end. Become a cult hero and amass a following of self-proclaimed “Fred Heads.” Tour relentlessly. Become everyone’s favorite. Becomes nobody’s favorite. Follow your gut. Smarten up. Don’t care what anybody thinks. Be fair. Be loyal no matter what. Keep going. Soften up. Give people a break. Expect nothing. Give everything. Keep going. Allow yourself to be happy. Find out who you are and deal with that. Don’t stay in fancy hotels. Write good songs.”

“I’ve made 21 or 22 albums in 37 years,” said Eaglesmith, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from a tour stop in Virginia.“I had a vision when I was a kid that the career I’m having was what would happen.

“At the end of the day, I did have sort of an idea that it would work out that way – me being an underground artist that gets some respect. At age 60. I’m very alive and vibrant – very on fire with a lot of creativity. I’m still on the road 200 days a year – and I’m still an alternative thinker.”

Eaglesmith is a veteran of the music industry and at the same time is about as far away from actually participating in today’s music industry as one could be. Never operating within anyone’s boundaries, he continues to set the standard for independent artists everywhere.

He tours endlessly – performing with his wife and musical partner Tif Ginn.

Ginn is a gutsy singer and a transcendent songwriter who has spent most of her life touring and playing music. Her impressive, sultry vocals and glorious harmonies with Eaglesmith, along with her multiple instrument additions to the show, result in a perfect partnership.

Eaglesmith’s new album “Standard” shows that he is as on target as ever.

“I put the material together over a long time,” said Eaglesmith.
“I get ideas and then try to get them to work. We cut the album at my home studio. We recorded it analog – and used a lot of tape.

“I wasn’t trying to find a theme. I just wanted to create something of interest. It has a loose feel but it was a very hard album to record. It came out pretty simple but it was a very difficult record to make – to make it believable. It wasn’t perfect in an era of perfect records.”

According to Eaglesmith, “The album is more narrative than musical. The vocals have not been re-tuned, either automatically or manually and sometimes they are a little sharp or flat. On some of the tracks you can hear the quiet hiss of reel-to reel-tape. It is a less than perfect album.”

Eaglesmith was well aware that many musicians sacrifice reality for perfection when making records – and that it was a path he did not want to follow.

“These days, you can fix everything but that’s not what I wanted,” said Eaglesmith. “It’s a hard decision because audiences are used to perfection.

“It’s hard to decide what to leave in and what to take out. I make pretty lo-fi records regularly. Anybody can make hi-fi records. These guys were singing these songs – and they were real.”

Video link for Fred Eaglesmith – https://youtu.be/8C2re3oG1y8?list=PL133D1F7173ECCD8A.

The show at Steel City

Tickets are $25 in advance and $28 day of show. The venue will also present Anna Spackman & Street Greek on February 18.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will host The Bryan Tuk Complex on February 16; Baloo and Brandon Mesen on February 17; All Good People – A Tribute to Yes on February 18; and Open Mic with guest host Wendell Woods on February 19.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Butter Queen Sister with Rev TJ McGlinchey on February 17 and John Flynn with Sarah Flynn on February 18.

The Keswick Theatre (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents “Adam Ant: Kings of The Wild Frontier LIVE 2017” on February 21.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will host Reverend Billy C. Wirtz & The Nighthawks on February 16; Chely Wright and Caroline Reese on February 17; Beatlemania Now on February 18; Peter Baron & The Thunderfarm on February 19; Rusted Root and the Greg Sover Band on February 21; and John Doe (of X) and Maxwell Hughes on February 22.

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