Audio Description

Ever see headsets at the theater and wonder what they're for? Instead of a low- or no-sighted patron having to rely on their companion to tell them what's going on onstage, trained describers watch the show live from a special booth and briefly state what they see. It's an art called Audio Description (that I've previously written about), and it's a way for people with low or no vision to enjoy theatrical events.

About six months ago the Straz Center for the Performing Arts (formerly Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center) received a grant to bring in a seasoned trainer to teach a handful of locals all about Audio Description. Though AD does not yet have an official certification
process, many people are working towards one and professional standards have been in place for years - such as not talking over the actor's lines, using six words or less, etc.

I was among the first class to be schooled, trained on Fiddler on the Roof and Stomp. Although Stomp had no lines to step on, it presented another challenge: which actions do you describe when there are so many?

Luckily, I was well prepared. For my audition, my husband had recommended that I practice the "Make 'Em Laugh" scene from Singing in the Rain. Overwhelmed at first, I think I did pretty well.

Describing is more than showing up the day of the performance to do the play-by-play. We watch the show at least once to take notes on anything seen on stage, from the lights and sets and costumes to the eye color of the actors. These "preshow notes" are then read 30 minutes before curtain time and again during intermission, so it's important for those who come to a show for AD to be in their seats early.

Below is the description I gave for the Queen of Hearts in the current production of "Wonderland."
Karen Mason plays Mrs. Everheart and the Queen of Hearts. Both characters are the same age, 40 years old, 5’2 tall, with brassy red hair. The Queen of Hearts wears her hair in a braid that loops above her head in the shape of a heart. In the middle of her head is a small platinum heart-shaped crown. She has bangs on her forehead, pale, snowy skin and thin lips painted bright red. She wears oversized light gray pointy glasses with round lenses. Her asymetrical V-neck knee length dress is black and white and styled after a Queen of Hearts playing card, with a large letter “Q” on each thigh and various sized hearts and other symbols all over the bodice. On the left side of her chest she wears a hand-shaped brooch that’s holding a fake black and white flower that extends from her dress. The shoulders have full frilly white ruffles the size of extra large bouquets, lined with black trim. A smaller, similar bouquet is on her navel like a belt. Below it, on the right side, the dress fans out like a spiral staircase and spills down the back of her legs to her ankles into a stiff train. She wears elbow-length gloves on each hand, one white, one black, and a thick black and white striped choker around her neck. On her legs she wears transparent black hosiery and tall black platform heels on her feet, with red hearts on the toe.

Though all the senses can be aroused at the theater, thanks to Audio Description nothing has to be left out for anyone who can't actually see the show.

The next AD show at the Straz is South Pacific on January 16th.


Fifty-Two Friends

For Josh Sullivan, 2009 isn't just the end of a decade, it's the end of a year-long adventure called Fifty-Two Friends. The Saginaw, MI native (and one of my dear friends) moved to St. Pete about 10 years ago, but hasn't done much traveling since. Last year Josh decided he "needed to get out and do something for a change," so he took an idea - to see the country and inspire himself into doing more of his art - on the road. With the help of friends and social networking sites, he planned to stay in a new town with a new or old (or a soon-to-be) friend for each week of the year. Here's some of his art, and a Q&A we did recently via email (edited for space/time).

Q: What was it like to carry your life around in a back pack for a year?

A: I left with about five bags that were filled with three weeks worth of clothes, tons of art supplies, paper for ‘zines, and a bunch of other random things. Along the way, I’ve sent a batch of packages back to St. Pete to keep my backpacks as light as possible.

It isn’t the worst thing to be living out of a couple bags for the majority of the trip but I can’t wait until I can start wearing some different clothes. My shoes fell apart at one point and I had to glue them back together.

Q: What was the hardest thing about traveling?

A: I had two trips that were 1,400 miles each, which translated into roughly 34-hour bus rides. For 27 of the weeks, I rode to the next city by bus and was probably on around 60 different buses. I arrived by train for two of the weeks and then the rest of the trip I was able to get to the next city because of gracious friends of mine who were willing to help out.

It wasn’t so bad going by bus, though, because I was getting to see some of the most random spots in the country. I always looked at everything, no matter how cumbersome or nerve-racking, as part of the adventure. This really helped me gain some incredible patience. For certain other places, I didn’t want to leave because I was enjoying my stay so much or I wanted to spend more time with my friends and a week just wasn’t enough.

I honestly thought traveling would be a lot harder than it was. If I could pull off half of the trip without any money, then I can just imagine how far I’d be able to go if I saved up for a while.

Q: What was it like not to have a "real job" for a year? Has your art benefited or suffered?

A: It was absolutely incredible. One of my big goals with the trip was to a break away from having a real job but now it’s something I long for extremely at this point. I’m looking forward to finally having a regular paycheck and benefits again. I loved it because many of the days I was able to sleep in, which didn’t happen too often back home, and I was able to go at my own pace.

On the other side of things, I’ve worked harder than I ever have before (even at a real job) because of “Fifty-Two Friends.” There was so much involved with getting the weeks booked and I didn’t have the trip completely booked until just before Week #40. I was going crazy trying to keep up on everything and it really was more than a full-time job. From the inception of me planning to do this, to working on getting the weeks straightened out, to actually doing the trip, and then all of the forthcoming work I have on ‘zines and editing video and possibly working on a book, I will have probably spent around three or four years on this.

Q: What are some of the weird places you've been to on your trip? Most obscure? Your new favorites?

A: Durand, WI was the smallest place I stayed in population-wise at about 1,900 people. My friend I stayed with [in Uvalde, TX] kept saying that he didn’t think I’d like it there since it was a smaller town and I ended up loving it. It was about an hour southwest of San Antonio and about an hour from the border with Mexico. I felt like I was in a whole different place and it was a nice week where I got to relax and get a lot of work done, too.

I really wanted to go see Marquette, MI, which is the largest city in the Upper Peninsula, but still only has about 20,000 people. I grew up in MI but barely scratched the surface of experience anything that was in the U.P. Presque Isle, ME was pretty great because I had wanted to go to Maine and then I had an offer, which happened to be almost at the very top of the state, only ten miles from the Canadian border. I made sure to spend my last day there riding a bike to the border and back just so I could say that I did it.

Almost all of the cities I stayed in were new to me so that provided a clean slate when it came to not really having a clear idea of where I would go when I got there. I’ve ended up at a goat farm in Jim Falls, WI, a bourbon distillery in Versailles, KY, the tops of two mountains at sunset, and a bunch of other locations over this past year. I couldn’t believe so many of my friends were so spread out in the country and that I got to see most of them. I love that I called it “Fifty-Two Friends” because friendship was definitely the main theme of the trip, with seeing old friends and making a lot of new ones, too.

Q: Was there any place you wanted to go to but couldn't make happen?

A: I was trying to get something lined up in Philadelphia, Baltimore, upstate New York, and Montana or Wyoming. I can probably make a list of 52 people who I wasn’t able to stay with but had said I could at some point. A lot of things came up over the year, with people moving or losing their jobs and things weren’t conducive for me coming to stay.

The good thing is that even though I didn’t get to stay in some of the places I wanted to, I got to see most of them so I now have a better idea of what to expect from there when I do end up getting the chance to experience more of it. I didn’t get to see nine states on this trip so I’m thinking of doing a trip at some point where I go and explore those ones. I’d like to see the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas or Mt. Rushmore but I’m glad that I didn’t on this trip because I still have so much more exploring to do in the U.S.

Q: What do you miss about home?

A: I miss my mom, my friends, and my cats. It took traveling all over the country to make me realize that I need to spend more time with everyone back home. I’ve got some of my best friends all within a very small area of each other of St. Pete and it would seem like I’d never go and see them because I thought I always had so much work to do. Besides surprising my mom when I get back, I’m probably going to grab my cats and squeeze the hell out of them. They’re my companions and have been there for me at some of my lowest points. I think about them constantly and I can’t wait to see them.

Now that I’ve been back in Florida for a couple weeks, I realized that I actually have missed the warm, gross weather. I missed palm trees and those crazy lizards who love to lay out on the sidewalks. St. Pete is my favorite city in the state and I can’t wait to get back there. I’m looking forward to watching my DVD’s and listening to my record collection, too.

Q: Any towns you'd be eager to trade in for St Pete?

A: I can honestly say that almost every place that I ended up staying at on the trip, I could see myself living there. I almost didn’t leave New York City and it was my most favorite place on the trip. I had never been there before and I fell in love with it immediately. I loved all of the people and the commotion and everything was new and exciting at every turn. I was only going to be there for two weeks but I was lucky enough to turn that into four weeks after scoring another stay in Brooklyn and also getting an apartment sitting gig in Manhattan. I want to go back there and meet more people and do art that feeds off of the life of the city.

I can say the same for Chicago and I’ve always been super enamored with it because of the music scene and the art scene. Most of my favorite bands and a lot of my favorite comic artists are from Chicago. I was happy that I got to spend a day riding a bike around and seeing a lot of the places that I had always heard about. Some of my other favorites include: Burlington, VT; Asheville, NC; Lexington, KY; Marquette, MI; and Portland, OR.

Q: Did you succeed in your goal of getting 52 friends/places?

A: I only had to get a hotel once on the whole trip and that was because I wanted to go to Roslyn, WA, where they filmed my favorite show “Northern Exposure”. The closest place the Greyhound stopped to Roslyn was in Ellensburg, about 30 miles east. I got off the bus and didn’t know what to do so I walked across the street to a hotel, which was still two miles outside of town. I did end up meeting some great people there and a new friend ended up taking me to see Roslyn after 14 years of wanting to see it.

I also stayed with some people for more than one week because of particular stays falling through and I had offers from some friends saying they wouldn’t mind having me for longer. With everyone’s roommates and significant others, I ended up staying with around 100 different people. There were a few months at a time where I ended up buying bus tickets for places and not having the stays confirmed. When that happened, sometimes I would get a place lined up only a night or two before I arrived in town and I got to have a great week with a new friend I met on that way, too.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: I ran out of money around the halfway point and I thought I would have had to throw in the towel, which I was ok with. I initially thought that I’d only make it two weeks before having to go back to St. Pete. But, people would buy little pieces of art here and there and other people would donate money just so I could continue on with my adventure. I heard from people I hadn’t talked to in years and they would say things such as they just wanted to do whatever they could to help. If anyone ever visits me in St. Pete, it will be a lot of fun showing them around my own backyard. I hope I’ll get to see some of the people who let me stay with them during “Fifty-Two Friends”

I put off doing the ‘zines that were supposed to accompany each week of the trip so I get to spend 2010 working on those and eventually there will be 52 issues chronicling my adventure. I’m really looking forward to doing some new comics in those books and starting to work more autobiographical strips into my repertoire. I’m hoping to continue this adventure on a trip around the world at some point. I have this crazy idea of seeing every country and meeting as many people as possible. I want to hear their stories and experience a part of their lives.

My Aim is True

A year ago I discovered the holidays anew: odd work hours prevented me from going to Florida's East Coast to enjoy it with my family, and I was without a special someone here in Tampa to share all the little things that I love about Christmas. But I found a friend who was recently single, and we decided to spend it together.
Watching cartoons and Francis the Talking Mule.

It wasn't what I would have planned myself, but I was happy. A week later we had a platonic New Year's Eve date, and I think for the first time in my life I wasn't longing for anything I didn't already have. What an empowering feeling...and Ronny and I were married just a few months later.
The traditions we now have are what we make up along the way.

Like our pink palm Christmas tree.

This morning we subbed from Glen Hatchell on 88.5's Monday Morning Show. Our playlist is below, and you can listen to the show online in the archives for the next week.

Dr. John Litanie Des Saints Goin' Back To New Orleans
Youngbloods Grizzly Bear Get Together
Johnny Mercer & Margaret Whiting Baby, It's Cold Outside Mistletoe & Merriment
Roy Zimmerman Jingle Bell Iraq Peacenick
set break
SUGAR PIE DESANTO Soulful Dress Decade Of Chicago Blues
Warren Zevon Searchin' For A Heart Mr. Bad Example
The Beach Boys Little Saint Nick Mistletoe & merriment
Steppin' In It Mr. President Simple Tunes
WMNF News Headlines
Van Dyke Parks Bing Crosby Discover America
Staple Singers Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas
Incredible String Band A Very Cellular Song The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
The Uniques Please Come Home For Christmas Cool Yule
Peggy Lee Winter Wonderland Mistletoe & Merriment
Dean Martin Jingle Bells Mistletoe & Merriment
Trashmen Surfin' Bird
Laurel & Hardy Shine On Harvest Moon Trail Of The Lonesome Pines
Chuck Prophet Leave the Window Open Let Freedom Ring
NPR News Headlines
Bob Dylan Silver Bells Christmas In The Heart
Shorty Long Devil With A Blue Dress On
NANCY APPLE Creole Boy With A Spanish Guitar Shine
The Drifters White Christmas Cool Yule
Toots Hibbert Hard To Handle
Nellie McKay Sentimental Journey Normal as Blueberry Pie
Ike & Tina Turner Merry Christmas, Baby Cool Yule
WMNF News Headlines
Screamin' Jay Hawkins I Love Paris VOODOO JIVE
Ed Byrnes Yulesville Cool Yule
Tommy Ridgley Looped
Ryan Adams Oh My Sweet Carolina Heartbreaker
Lori Karpay Capitol Hill The Poet Lori Ate
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Mystery Man Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The Rubber Band Last Xmas
The Ronettes I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus A Christmas Gift For You
The Ventures Sleigh Ride Cool Yule
NPR News Headlines
Tim Dawe Little Boy Blue Penrod
Rock Bottom Hank Ballard Stole My Date
Louis Armstrong & The All Stars Christmas Night In Harlem Swingin' Christmas
Robbie Fulks I Push Right Over South Mouth
Tick Tocks Gonna Get You Yet
KT Tunstall Under The Weather Eye To The Telescope
Terry Clarke 1953
WMNF News Headlines
Ray Charles Winter Wonderland Spirit Of Christmas
Taj Mahal Six Days On The Road Giant Step
Ramsay Midwood Hobo Man
Five For Fighting Silent Night


What's Big and Red and Gives Christmas Cheer?

If you spend any amount of time going north on Florida Avenue in Tampa for the last three months of the year, you know it's not Santa, but the ginormous Metropolitan Ministries holiday center tent. Since I've never been inside, I decided to see it for myself. Community relations manager Ana Mendez was my guide.

On Friday, December 11th, the holiday center opens for business. Pre-registered families already qualified for services will get to "shop" for two toys per child and groceries from the huge Metro Market, a makeshift grocery store located in the tent. With the help of dedicated volunteers, 1000 families will enter the tent daily until Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, more volunteers (who began signing up for these coveted spots back in September) will feed Christmas dinner to those who would otherwise have gone without.

Ana Mendez with volunteer Kit Carson

"We've got serving down to a science. We feed 100 families every 15 minutes."

In addition to the folks who visit the holiday center for assistance, Metro Ministries provides 47 community partners toys and holiday food. These days, there is always a need for food donations, and the most urgent need for toys is for teenaged boys and girls.
MP3 players, makeup, or "anything you'd buy for yourself or a friend," is what Ana tells youth interested in holding gift drives for their less fortunate peers.

"This is Barbie central," Ana said when we entered the part of the tent designated as a toy store. The shelves were labeled for age and gender. Toys overflowed the girls and boys pre-teen and infant sections, but were barren when it came to the 12-17 year olds.

Last year 26,000 people in Tampa Bay were served by Metropolitan Ministries and their partners.
This year, the number is projected to be 29,000. The need is great, but the volunteer requests keep coming in, too. And while Christmas Day is pretty much booked up (there may still be a need for traffic managers to guide vehicles and families in and out of the tent), the need continues year round.


Can't Get This on Corporate Radio

I spent the weekend with lots of friends and friendly acquaintances: my forthcoming birthday brought a few people over for brunch, followed by a couple of neighborhood Christmas parties. Then this morning Ronny, Bev and I sat in for Jennifer Hollowell on the ND Hour, oh favorite-est of shows of mine on WMNF.

We only had a days' notice to throw the show together, but Ronny burned some excellent Christmas and do-gooder tunes off the old iMac. On the way into the radio station, driving up Florida Ave., we listened to the CD of music. Just before Chip Taylor's "Michael's Song" started, we passed through downtown. I noticed some homeless folks still sitting in doorways, their overnight resting places and haven from last nights' cold.

Nothing to me is more disheartening than wanting to help but not knowing how. Then the Chip Taylor song came on, perfect timing, as we passed the crowd gathered around the Salvation Army building, then Metropolitan Ministries.

"Michael's Song" was going to be the last song of our show today, suddenly more important to me than even playing John Lennon (He died on the 8th, my birthday...what stupid irony.), but our burned CD skipped 10 seconds into the Taylor song, so it barely got over the air. I thought I'd share this awesome song and story with the blogosphere instead.

Here's the rest of the playlist:

Artist Track Album/CD
Huey "Piano" Smith & the Clowns Silent Night Cool Yule
Frank Turner Photosynthesis Love Ire and Song
Nancy Apple Creole Boy With A Spanish Guitar Shine
Bazza I'll Be Home For Christmas Christmas News
Amazing Rhythm Aces King Of The Cowboys Stacked Deck
Emmylou Harris Sweetheart Of The Rodeo Songbird
Johnny Cash Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream Live At Madison Square Garden
Bob Dylan Here Comes Santa Claus Christmas In The Heart
Beau Brummels You Tell Me Why Beau Brummels
benny joy I Never Want To See You Again Love Zone
John Lennon Happy Xmas New York City
Butch Hancock If You Were a Bluebird Eats Away The Night
Audrey Auld Pub With No Beer Australia


The Real Music City

I assume that Austin and Nashville each have more musicians per capita than Tampa, but quality outdid quantity once again this weekend.

Jeremy Gloff's CD release party for his 16th collection, 21st Century Love Songs, shook up the Magnum Opus art show Saturday night at the Ritz in Ybor.

Judy Tampa and her Bunko Squad had their release party for Tainted the following night at the lovely Springs Theatre, with music and magic by My Little Trotsky and Harry Hayward, respectively. (Full disclosure, my Ronny played on both CD's.)

Before we headed over to the Springs, we stopped into the new Seminole Heights establishment, Ella's Folk Art Cafe, just down the street. Rebekah Pulley was playing and we can't ever get enough of her. It was great seeing a venue made for live, original music packing in the locals who came to listen and enjoy it, not just to drink and drown it out.

For a weekend at least, good music flourished around Tampa, and this season looks promising. I snagged a brief (by no means complete) concert report from Jennifer and Bev at WMNF's ND Hour (9-10 a.m. @

11/17 Awesome New Republic, Crowbar

11/19 Song writers night at Tre Amici @ the Bunker

11/19 Ronny Elliott @ Sloppy Pelican

11/19 Roy Zimmerman with Grant Peeples
@ Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa (UU Dome)

11/19 Shawn Kyle @ 5 art Gallery 906 N. Armenia Ave, 210

11/20 Eilen Jewell/Sarah Borges at Skippers

11/20 Geri X, Pat Macdonald (Timbuk3) & Margot West at New World Brewery

11/20 Mustard Plug, The Toasters, Voodoo Glow Skulls at Crowbar

11/21 The Revival Tour in-studio on The Saturday Asylum 2 p.m. on 88.5 WMNF

11/21 Revival Tour 8:00 PM at State Theatre in St Pete

11/21 My Little Trotsky and November Foxtrot Whiskey @ Cafe Hey, 1540 N. Franklin St.

11/21 Poetry ’n Lotion, Jim Morey & Infinite Groove Orchestra at New World Brewery

11/22 GeriX Ella’s Folk Art Cafe, 5119 N. Nebraska Ave

For more local show listings, the Saturday Asylum (Saturdays from 2-4 p.m. on WMNF) has a nice, long concert report at 3 p.m.

Thanks to Jeremy Gloff & Khalid Hameed for the photos.


Key Wested

After nearly 31 years of (sporadically) living in Florida, it's always astounded me that I have never been to the Keys. Until last week that is, when Ronny and I headed down to Fantasy Fest for our belated honeymoon. Ronny's been numerous times, and he booked us at the Eden House, one of his favorite reasons for returning to Key West time and again.

Our small television-less room (various sized rooms and suites fit a myriad of budgets) was not just a comfy place to lay our heads, but also gave this do-gooder comfort because of its Green Lodging designation. It's nice to know that one doesn't have to leave their environmentalism at home when they head away for vacation.

Almost every morning we sat on the front porch or poolside to read The Citizen, a flourishing little paper that uses first names in some of its headlines and carries Nicholas Kristof's column.

We ate A LOT (mm, and drank even more), mostly at Pepe's, but we also loved The Cafe, which was darling, vegetarian, and unfortunately for them, mostly uncrowded. I kick myself for not getting a photo of the key lime pie at Blue Heaven, with what must have been five inches of meringue on top. But life is short and dessert must be consumed as soon as possible.

Eventually though, I was tired of not cooking for us so I hit Fausto's for fresh baked ciabatta, goat cheese, and hummus - a quick meal for two under $15. The cheapest of the trip, but one of the yummiest.

On our first day there we rode the touristy Conch train, and got around for the rest of the week by foot and bicycle. I couldn't get enough of the neighborhoods and the houses large and small.
Hemingway's was pretty quintessential, but we liked his cats (43 in all, each descended from Hemingway's six-toed kitty Snowball) even more than the fancy digs.

Fantasy Fest itself reminded me of a cross between Seattle's Solstice Parade and Pinocchio's Pleasure Island. I have a lot more photos of the outrageous costumes, but enough debauchery already. (Not that there's any shortage of pics around the web.)


The Cost of Growing Old in America

Howard Gleckman is a journalist who has covered health policy for the last ten years. Currently, he's a columnist for Kaiser Health News and a fellow at the Urban Institute. Earlier this year he wrote an article for AARP's Bulletin magazine on adding long-term care to the health care debate. Also this year he wrote Caring for Our Parents, an engaging book that provides a holistic look at the aged and frail (yeah, I'm talking about Medicaid here, not just the people it supposedly serves). I chatted with him earlier this week.

First, a quick Medicare/caid rundown: Medicare is the goverment's health insurance plan for persons aged 65 and over. Medicaid was designed for poor women and children, people with (designated) disabilities, and those few folks in need of long-term care. Both were created by Congress in the 1960's. Gleckman explained why long-term care is consuming more and more of Medicaid:
"In the 60's, Congress drew an artificial line between long-term care and medical care. For the most part, health care reform is focused on insurance and acute care. Not chronic and LTC. Congress is still in that box. It's not two different issues for families."

As Caring for Our Parents highlights, long-term care insurance is so expensive and plagued with all the same problems as health insurance (pre-existing conditions and the like) that several of the big companies selling it have gotten out of the business. Yet, countries like Germany, France and Japan (you know, the ones with decent health coverage for all their citizens) rely on government long-term care insurance - and their populations are almost twice as old as ours. The late Senator Edward Kennedy introduced the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act as a possible solution.
"It would be the first time a government program would help people finance long-term care needs," Gleckman said.

93-year old Natalie was among those featured in the book. A three-time widow who was left very well off, she lived at a nonprofit assisted living facility, then later moved to its nursing home unit. Over a period of just a few years, she used up half a million dollars and ended up on Medicaid. Because she outlived her money, spending $16,000 some months just on her care, now she lives among the impoverished, sharing a room in that same nursing home. Isn't that the opposite of the American Dream?

"While there's an urban myth about people hiding money to get on Medicaid, the truth is most don't have it. Natalie had half a million. You get dementia, you spend all your money," Gleckman said.

According to Gleckman, 1/3 of those 65+ will not need any long-term care before they die. But 2/3 of those will need some to varying degrees, from an extra pair of hands to help with activities of daily living like dressing, cooking and cleaning, to those who can't do anything for themselves and require skilled nursing care. Often times, those who need just a little help end up in nursing homes because Medicaid in some states doesn't pay for adult day care or home health care.

Currently 1.4 million people are in nursing homes. Another 1 million are in group homes, and the biggest group, 7.5 million, are getting long-term care at home, with lots of the help provided at no or low cost by family and friends (perhaps one of the places the government saves the most money right now). Less than 10% have long-term care insurance.


Things Not Normally Heard on the Radio

Inspired music and informative public affairs not propelled by PR firms and a broken music/media industry...Which is why community and public radio are priceless. Of course, it's not free, so throw your favorite station a bone every once in while to keep its lights on and transmitter running.

Ronny and I subbed for the alt-country ND Hour this morning on WMNF. Check it out in the archives for the next week. Here's the playlist:

Hank Penny Bloodshot Eyes Hillbilly Be-Bop
Bob Dylan Boogie Woogie Country Girl Til The Night Is Gone
Sam Baker Mennonite Cotton
Conner Oberst I Don't Want To Die
Cowboy Jack Clement Ballad Of A Teenage Queen
Kris Kristofferson Let The Walls Come Down Closer To The Bone
Don Gibson Sea Of Heartbreak RCA Country Legends
Doug Sahm Get A Life Get A Life
Tom Russell Criminology Blood And Candle Smoke
Iris Dement Gospel Ship Lifeline
Jesse Winchester That's What Makes You Strong
Wes McGhee Train Time Wes McGhee
Ramsay Midwood Hobo Man
Woody Guthrie Bad Repetation My Dusty Road


Everybody Loves Jules II

Jules played his own benefit show last weekend at the Whistle Stop Bar & Grill in Safety Harbor. Sick with cancer, his health insurance premium doubled, though they didn't drop him. (Does that make him a best case scenario?) His son Joe, 25, has been working with Jules as a mortgage lender since he graduated from USF in '06. (Jules takes the apps, Joe does the rest.)

Last Saturday, Joe chatted with me about his dad and the tough financial times.
"It got scary when we realized we couldn't meet our end...what are you gonna do? Keep the lights on or make sure the health insurance is paid?"

Below is a short video I produced of the benefit show, including the interview with Joe. (It'll also be available on Vimeo later tonight.)

Ronny Elliott and avid WMNF
volunteer Bert Gunthner

Kathy Stafford


Everyone Loves Jules

Jules is a new friend, but from what I know of him so far, there isn't anyone who knows him who doesn't love him. He's fighting a tough fight right now.

I saw him play a few weeks ago at Deep Carnivale. His song, Mrs. Lincoln, stayed with me for days. Here's a few lines:
So, you wonder if there’s more to life than this.
And you wish someone would tell you what that is.
Each day you just take it on the chin without blinkin’
Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln.

Please join us in support.



Barbara Perfetti has one of my favorite work success stories. The Palm Harbour resident was a corporate number cruncher for over 20 years, and in 2005, with a couple of friends, she started a small online publishing company - romance books for literary types. She turned a profit in the first year of business, then opened a second business, an online bookstore, All Romance eBooks.

She sold the publishing company in 2008, expanded ARe into OmniLit, an e-book store that sells all genres. It became the largest independent, female-owned, digital bookstore in the world. (Amazon is their largest competitor.)

With lower financial entry barriers, publishers can take risks on new authors that before would never have stood a chance of landing a contract from one of the paper publishers. And topics no longer have to appeal to the masses - niche books are doing great, even when they only appeal to a small segment of the society and that's helping to promote a feeling of acceptance in what used to be viewed as outcast subcultures (gay romance, for instance, is a huge seller in eBooks but hard to find in the brick and mortar bookstores). And having a global community to appeal to is breaking down barriers between countries and cultures, helping people from all over the world find common ground with others they would never have known existed.

Lots of people in the world of journalism, writing, and publishing are scared by the overhaul of their industries due to advancing technology, but others, including Barb, love what it's doing for the environment.

ePub is great for the physical environment - no more cutting down trees or powering factories to bind books. No more shipping fuel costs. And no more unsold books being destroyed at alarming rates. On average, half of the books shipped to brick and mortar bookstores end up as "returns" (which means in dumpsters with the covers torn off), I was horrified at the waste the print book industry generates. Digital books not only save the trees used to make their sold/returned print equivalents, they save the manufacturing and shipping pollutants. There's no question that enjoying the latest 'how to' book, magazine, newspaper or bestselling novel in digital format is better for the environment.

She also co-founded GoGreen Read e, which is devoted to the eReading community.The OmniLit/ARe newsletter also keeps up on all the news with the latest eReaders (the devices) and software.


Hippie Do-gooders: the Spirit of the original Woodstock

Spencer Hinkle has lived in Portland for 30 years, but the Tampa native is currently in town for a visit. Last night he played the Globe with his old Duckbutter buddies, an impromptu reunion show that brought together many folks who haven't been in the same room in 40 years. (Facebook doesn't count.)

On his way over to the East Coast, he made a stop in New Orleans where his project, Cities Building Cities, is giving a Katrina-damaged home new life.

WMNF programmer Jeanne Holton, who used to sneak out her bedroom window as a preteen to catch Duckbutter shows, hosted Spencer and former band mate Ronny Elliott this morning on her show (available online in the WMNF archives). Between Spencer's story on New Orleans, and a PSA Jeanne read for the Coddington Benefit Concert, it turned out to be a very do-gooder show.

The Coddington Benefit, btw, is for a Marian Coddington, a local mom (and wife of St. Pete Times Photojournalist Stephen Coddington) who suffered a brain aneurysm which caused four hemorrhages in less than a month. Her insurance has reached its max out, denying further coverage for her recovery, and Stephen is both sole caregiver of his wife and single parent to their 4- and 7-year olds.

Schedule of performers at Skipper's Smokehouse Benefit for the Coddington Family - Sunday Aug. 23

4:00-4:30 Lara Cerri and Dan DeGregory w/ special guests Carol Blair and Amy Wimmer Schwarb

4:40-5:10 Wendy and Don Morris w/special guest

5:25-5:45 The ReKorders (w/ Demorris Lee)

6:00- 6:30 September Penn

6:45-7:25 Uncle John's Band

7:40-8:20 Ocean Road (w/ Dave Scheiber)

8:30-9:10 The Deadliners (w/ Eric Deggans & Kerry O'Reilly)

9:25-9:45 Car Bomb Driver (w/Dave Reeder)

9:55-10:15 Super Secret Best Friends (Stephanie Hayes, Emily Nipps, Alex Zayas)

10:25-10:55 The Unitards (Rob Farley, Chris Tisch, Ron Matus and Edmund Fountain)


Health Care: An Issue of Humanity, not Politics

Two years ago I wrote about a few uninsured folks for Creative Loafing. The story included my own: when I was 19 and out of college for a semester (unable to pay tuition), I was dropped from my dad's health insurance policy. Then tore my achilles tendon. Less than a year later I was back in school and insured again, but because of the pre-existing condition, I was allotted only one month of physical therapy to "fix" the scarred-over injury.

After college, instead of pursuing my drive to create media full-time in Seattle (notoriously low paying entry level work, even then), I got a job with a corporate bank processing loans. I cried everyday, trapped in that office for a year and a half. It was the excellent health insurance that kept me there - they paid for eight months of physical therapy despite the pre-existing status. (They also paid for the mental health counseling it took for me to face that office for so long).

I'm not complaining about hard work. I can and have always worked hard. I am creative, intelligent and good at so many things, although processing loans sure wasn't one of them. (The worst part of the job for me was not understanding why the management allowed loans to go to people who barely made more than their mortgage payment...we all see where that got us.)

At 25, I declared bankruptcy to free myself from the debt I acquired from being young, reckless and injured (those co-pays added up). This allowed me to finally quit the job, move to Tampa in with mom, and find work I loved. That first year I was an AmeriCorps volunteer, and a couple years later I found my way into the editorial assistant seat at CL. Life was good at last!

Sadly though, it didn't last long. As a part time employee at the paper, I made around $1000 a month, several hundred more depending on the number of stories I had published. I had been uninsured for a year, and when I started having stomach probs, I bought my own health insurance through United. $140 a month, with a $2500 deductible. The week after my Sicko story came out, I sprained my the ankle of my "good" leg and was on crutches for a couple of months. Naturally I spent almost all of the $2500 that year, on top of the monthly premium. I picked up other p/t work wherever I could, working as a teacher in a special needs public school and then as an on-air instructor at HCC's student radio station. Working over 60 hours a week to pay my medical bills burnt out that energetic 29-year-old. I fled to a friend's in DE, found a great paying corporate job in D.C. - that I left after six weeks because I couldn't let myself get stuck in that corporate rut again. (The job was as soul-less for a journalist as my former bank job: building a database of journalists as the country's newspapers consolidated/died. Aye yi yi.)

My choices weren't always the best ones, but the system is set up to encourage failure. No one in American should have to endure pain every day. I personally have spent too much yet received so little. I still carry the pain of that first injury 10 years ago. We shouldn't have to cling to corporations for our well being, because they will never care about us. As office cynical workers everywhere are fond of saying, "It's not my job."

Rep. Kathy Castor is holding a town hall meeting to hear your health care story.

Where: Children’s Board in Tampa
1002 East Palm Avenue (near Nebraska and 7th Ave)
When: Thursday, August 6th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Folks are encouraged to get there early and be prepared to learn more about the proposed healthcare plan and to speak up for their rights.


Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists

The Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists, or TBABJ, is an active group that "strives to help ensure diversity in area media and accurate, balanced coverage of communities of color while serving as a resource for both established and aspiring communicators of African decent."

President (and St. Pete Times TV/media critic) Eric Deggans:

The TBABJ and its national parent, the NABJ, were founded on the belief that once journalists of color succeed, they have an obligation to reach back and help those behind them.

So we have banded together to create training programs, job fairs, scholarship programs, cultural awareness training and more, to help the industry diversify itself and cover all communities better. The techniques and networking that we have pioneered winds up helping journalists of all ethnicities, who learn from our example and are welcome to participate in our organizations.

Volunteering with NABJ is just a way of paying back those who came before me and blazed a trail so my journey would be easier. With any luck, I've helped firm up ground so those behind me can have an even easier time.

By the way, according to the website (powered by the media reform group Free Press) racial and ethnic minorities make up 34% population but own only 7.7% of full-power radio stations and 3.15% of TV stations. Something to think about.

If you're interested in getting involved with the TBABJ, now is the time. With the NABJ conference coming to Tampa from August 5th-9th, there's plenty of prep to do this weekend. Contact membership chair Camille C. Spencer at 248.760.7561 or visit the website at:



Tribeca ColorSalon's Creative Director Brandon Wagner is a man who cares about carcinogens, that is, keeping them out of his salon. "The salon industry is not exactly eco-friendly," he said, talking about the link between sulfates and parabens to breast cancer. (Coincidentally, as I drove to Tribeca last Thursday, I was listening to Nena Baker talk about her book The Body Toxic on WMNF.)

"Color is 95% water. Pigment itself is not dangerous." They don't use ammonia, and even the bleach they used to clean with has been replaced with vinegar and baking soda, in addition to all-natural cleaners, like soap nuts instead of laundry detergent ("You don't need fabric softener!"). Reusable gloves have replaced disposable, and the plastic drinking straws they once used were switched to paper - and those will soon be traded for fully biodegradable straws made of corn syrup. To cut down on paper waste, they've gone digital, utilize dry erase boards, and will soon have Dyson Airblade hand dryers to eliminate paper towel usage.

The uber-renewable resource, hair, is sent to Matter of Trust, a company that constructs mats to clean up oil spills.

Being good often comes with a price. "All the stuff costs more upfront," Brandon said. In addition, he shells out to pay for recycling. The business isn't struggling (they're opening a second location, Becky, in Ybor this fall), and he thinks Mother Earth and Tribeca's clientele and stylists are worth it.

"Are people changing their ways? I don't know. The idea is that the clients see our efforts, go home, and do it too. It's part of our message."

Oh, and on the 4th Thursday of every month, Khris Rantz's mobile Galaxy Ecowash offers ecofriendly car washing to Tribeca staff and customers. "Get your hair done and vehicle cleaned at the same time." The Korean steam method uses just about a gallon of water per vehicle. His next scheduled appearance at Tribeca is August 27th, but check out his website for more info.



While layoffs and high unemployment make life rough for us working (or wanting to work) folk, there's plenty of people unable to take care of themselves at all, at any given time. Services in place to help the neediest are struggling with "across the board cuts to Florida's most vulnerable citizens - seniors and kids." So said Michelle Cyr, Advocacy Program Coordinator for AARP Florida last week at an open house in St. Pete.

Below, Cyr wrote about the issues the AARP is currently taking on.

The severe downturn in the economy and the rapidly-rising cost of health care in America may be putting your retirement security at risk. AARP staff and volunteers are working with President Obama and Congress to generate the relief Americans need. Whether it’s fighting for affordable health care, lower prescription drug prices, or strengthening Social Security, our goal is to make issues that affect you a priority for our leaders. By taking a stand together, we will have the legislative strength necessary to fight for real and meaningful change. For more information about what AARP is doing in Florida visit or call 1-866-595-7678.

AARP can help those 50+ train & find a job, get free tax help, and more. They're currently seeking volunteer advocates (spokespeople on issues such as long term care, predatory mortgage lending, and Social Security), and Health Action Now volunteers.


Woodyfest II

When junior high school history teacher Mike Nave, a native of Pryor, Oklahoma, taught in his hometown, he gave two entire weeks to Woody Guthrie. The grand finale was a surprise visit by Mary Jo Edgmon, Woody's sister. In the spring of '98, she connected him with Sharon Jones of Okemah, who wanted to start a festival in town for Woody. By July, the first festival was held.

"This year was one of the better ones," said Nave (pictured above with Wanda Jackson and husband Wendell Goodman, at a pre-festival concert in Tulsa). He said he didn't notice any decrease in turnout, despite the economy. It is a free festival after all. Volunteerism, however, was down. Nave, now based in Texas, had lined up a few students to help out but they bailed at the last minute.

Alex Elliott, in his sixth year of volunteering at the festival, picked up the slack. And the equipment when the house band or any other performer needed an extra pair of hands. A college senior from the same hometown as Nave, Elliott insists he's not a folk music fan, listing other reasons he keeps coming back: "Sam Baker, Ronny Elliott, and Rob McNurlin." He also likes the spirit of the festival, which is exactly what Mike Nave looks for in his volunteers.

Log onto the festival website for more info & to get involved at next year's festival.

2/3 of the Burns Sisters with Annie Guthrie. On left, Nancy Apple and Ronny Elliott give toothy grins.

Photos courtesy of Nancy Apple and her trusty iPhone.


88.5 WMNF

I was new to Tampa in the spring of 2005 and quickly found WMNF on the radio dial. Ready to get involved, I emailed Carrie Core, who was then the brand new volunteer coordinator. She called me back in 15 minutes, and by the end of the week I was in the station for the first time. Since then, I've done a little of everything: manned outreach tables at events, ticket taker at shows, producer, editor, reporter, early morning DJ & sub. The time I've been able to give the station as a volunteer has waxed and waned over the years, but it remains an important part of my life (and not just because I met my husband there ;)

Here's a few words from Carrie herself:

WMNF volunteers are the heart and soul of this radio station. We wouldn't and couldn't exist without them. Volunteers do everything from stuffing envelopes to hosting radio shows. If you truly desire a multicultural environment, you will find it here at the station. Our volunteers are a reflection of the variety of shows that we have on the air. So if you are a student who needs to spice up your resume, or need the community service hours for your Bright Futures Scholarship, if you
are retired or presently out of work with some hours to spare, you might want to check us out.

In other WMNF news, from Development Director Laura Taylor (via the WMNF website): WMNF is honoring Vicki Santa, our longtime and late station manager, who was the main force behind our new radio station building.

We are naming our main air-studio in her memory. On July 21st, WMNF will dedicate the Vicki Santa Memorial Studio beginning at 6pm with a live studio performance from Sonia of the group Disappear Fear. Mary Glenney of the Women's Show will emcee the concert. Sonia will also appear with Amy Snider on Sonic Detour between 4 and 6 pm. From 7 to 9pm, Ed Greene and the Freak Show will feature the naming ceremony and dedicate the entire program to Vicki.

Those who want to see Sonia will be seated on a first-come basis. The whole community is invited to our station for a potluck from 6 to 9pm. More at 813-238-8001.


Woodyfest I

Woody Guthrie’s hometown is at least 70 miles from anywhere. Last Wednesday, we drove in early from Tulsa. Ronny’s first gig was at 11 a.m. at the Colonial Park nursing home. Three other musicians played three other nursing homes as part of festival outreach.

In downtown Okemah that evening, SONiA kicked the festival wide open at the Crystal Theatre. Not your average folkie, she’s the perfect act for those who come hungry from small and/or conservative towns ravenous for like-mindedness and a Guthrie flavored family reunion. SONiA sang about peace, love, and soldiers from Viet Nam to Iraq (“Me Too”); and individual Americans who stand up for all of us (“Who’s So Scared”). One of her most poignant songs, “By My Silence,” was adapted from the WWII Pastor Martin Niemoller poem: “I didn’t know what it meant/By my silence I gave my consent.”

SONiA’s encore was a bluesy number, and she said she’s currently at work on a blues album. Next week, on July 21st, she’ll perform in Tampa at WMNF for the celebration of the life of her friend (and ours) Vicki Santa, the late station manager.

Jonatha Brooke completed the night playing much from her latest album, a collection of Guthrie songs, entitled “The Works.” Her songs are sexy and romantic, and quite a few listeners were taken by Brooke, but my camp felt her songs definitely fell short of Mermaid Avenue. Then again, most albums will.

The next afternoon at the Brick Street CafĂ©, Red Dirt singer-songwriter Monica Taylor played “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” and “If I Were a Carpenter” as well as her originals.

Randy Crouch, the fiddlin’ master, followed, packing the dusty basement. David Amram accompanied on Indian flutes and the French horn (not to be outdone, Crouch grabbed his Bud bottle and blew). Randy fiddled the blues, “Okalahoma Hills” and wrapped with the “William Tell Overture.”

Jimmy LaFave, along with the house band (which backed up many of the artists throughout the festival), closed the afternoon show with a tribute to Bob Childers, a festival regular who passed away last Spring.

Loss was an undercurrent of the week. Just over a month ago, festival founder Sharon Jones also passed away. But that just made the importance of this ego-free, family festival shine brighter.


Can You Hear Me Now?

A few summers ago before I got involved on the air at WMNF as a DJ and reporter, I'd trek up to USF once a week to sit in a little booth for an hour to read magazines, tv listings, and other local publications aloud. My recorded reading was then broadcast out to special radios in the homes of the visually impaired.

Earlier this summer, I received an email from the same folks I worked with at WUSF, telling me about TBPAC's new service for the blind - audio description. I applied and endured lots of training to get the skill down just right. SPT's reporter John Fleming followed us around during our training and reported on it here.


Is There Any News in Your News?

Even back to the days of Ed Murrow, television news had a rep for being lame, uninformative, and tainted by advertisers. Local news at worst can be harmful (does that half hour of crime and punishment really convey what your town is like?), and national news irrelevant (more Michael Jackson, anyone?). But recently I've come to love the NBC Nightly News w/ Brian Williams, especially their Making a Difference segment, which highlights do-gooders in this current hard economic climate.


Closing Night

Jimmy LaFave opened this morning's festivities with "Oklahoma Hills" at Mary Jo's Pancake Breakfast. His voice and that song are one of my favorite combinations. LaFave and the ensemble cast closed the night singing "This Land is Your Land." Both songs can easily make me misty eyed, but it was the sight beyond backstage - the crowd standing and singing along -that moved me most today.

The official end of the festival is tomorrow at noon, the Hoot for Huntington's hootenanny, at the Crystal Theatre. But outside my hotel room door and down in the parking lot, I can hear music wafting up already. It's the unofficial end, when the musicians stay up all night playing and saying good bye to their festival family. 'Til next year.



A couple of years ago, Ronny Elliott, one of my favorite Tampa do-gooders, told me about the annual Woody Guthrie festival in Okemah, Oklahoma. A music festival with a message that hasn't gone corporate, and remains free? I've always wanted to go. (Che Guevara may have been on a Gap t-shirt, but as far as I know, those capitalists haven't touched least one good thing about having a festival in the desert in the middle of the summer.)

I got a slight taste of the festival in March, when the Ribbon of Highway played Tampa Theatre. On Tuesday morning, Ronny and I left Tampa for Oklahoma. But first I asked him to write a few words about what the festival & the man mean to him.

I never cared all that much about Woody Guthrie. He was mostly just the guy that gave us Bob Dylan. I remember Martin Mull's quote, " Folk music. Remember when that crap almost caught on!" I suppose that in my own snooty fashion folk music was some kind of social phenomena for white guys who just didn't have all that much soul.

Of course I came to appreciate Woody's music and philosophies more over the years but it was never gonna bump Chuck Berry or Elvis or Big Joe Turner from their thrones in my heart.

Then I was invited to play the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma some five or six years back. The power of the music just overwhelmed me. By my second visit I was a true convert. I believe that was the year that I looked around and found myself standing onstage with Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Arlo Guthrie and lots of other folks, singing as loud as we could, with the entire audience singing along. " This land was made for you and me." I looked out at the first few rows and I could see tears streaming down cheeks. Mine, too. I never thought I liked that damned song. I thought it was corny. Guess it was just over my head. I get it now. I never get tired of that song.

I bide my time for eleven months a year waiting for July and Woodyfest.


I saw On the Waterfront for the first time last week, a day or two before Karl Malden died. Father Barry's monologue about the waterfront being his church reminded me of the whole good vs. evil thing, and despite changing times, we're no more far ahead or behind than we were back when those words were written.

In the character of Edie I found more hope, with her quote: "Shouldn't everybody care about everybody else?"


I was sitting in the Starbucks at TGH the other day when I spied what I thought was among the quintessential American scenes. A middle aged lady with an armload of McDonald's came in for her morning joe, and when she attempted to exit with both hands full, she was unable to pull down the handle to open the door.

Meanwhile, a young doctor brisked by the windows and doors of the cafe, paying more attention to his hand held device than to where he was walking. After he was out of view, he came back a second later to get the door for her. She thanked him, calling him sir, and he smiled. Then they scurried off their separate ways.