REVIEW: Jason Isbell @ The Township Auditorium

img_0048 By: Kyle Petersen

When Jason Isbell took the stage at the Township Auditorium this past Sunday, I wanted to tell you that it felt a little weird, mixed with a little sense of triumph. As if this was the apotheosis of the hard-touring rock ‘n’ roll musician done good, a story that countless musicians toiling in tour vans day in and day out could look up to and aspire to. I wish I could say that.

But the reality is, over the last few years Isbell seems to have matured seamlessly from seedy 300-person rock clubs to stately 3,000 seater auditoriums, and it felt surprisingly inevitable. Four years into sobriety and three years removed from the breakthrough success of 2013’s Southeastern, Isbell looked trim and dapper on stage, carrying himself with the air of a consummate, perhaps even slightly bored, professional. That’s not to say that the performance wasn’t amazing—after all, he is undisputedly one of the preeminent songwriters of his generation, with the kind of hotshot guitar skills and booming, soulful voice that would allow him to get away with songs as tenth as good. As he generally does these days, Isbell opened with a salvo of electric rock songs (including the old Drive-by Trucker Southern rock staple “Decoration Day” and the 2016 Americana Music Awards “Song of the Year” winner “24 Frames”) before switching to acoustic guitar and diving deep into his last two more songwriting-oriented efforts. The fact that the set is loaded with stunners (“Speed Trap Town,” “Cover Me Up,” “Alabama Pines”) helps, along with the fact that Isbell is at this point adept at balancing the more somber acoustic tunes with more sprightly ones like “Codeine” or “If It Takes a Lifetime.”


Still, there were relatively few moments or features that genuinely stuck out thanks to the unerring professional consistency. One notable element for sure, though, was the elegant, top-notch staging and lighting, a new feature for longtime Isbell fans. Backed by pseudo-stained glass windows and often bathed in multiple spotlights when he stepped out to take a solo, there was an element of grandeur to the proceedings which felt wholly new. Another great moment was the knowing inclusion of “Palmetto Rose,” a welcome nod to the audience with its South Carolina subject matter. And, ever so slightly, the genuine joy the bandleader seemed to take in the ostentatious stage interplay he had briefly with keyboard/accordionist Derry DeBorja on "Codeine" and then, later, with guitarist (and SC native) Sadler Vaden during a staged-but-electrifying guitar duel. That latter moment, which took place during an extended take on the gnarly and riveting “Never Gonna Change,” felt like the most significant addition to the band’s live show and allowed them to end the regular set with a bang.

Perhaps the most telling moment, though, was when Isbell brought opener (and contemporary) Josh Ritter out during the encore to cover John Prine’s “Storm Windows.” Isbell briefly mentioned that he used to pay to go to Ritter’s show rather than bringing him on tour, an oblique reference to his newfound stature, but really it was the cover choice itself, along with the “Prine/Isbell” campaign ticket shirts at the merch table, that suggested the songwriter’s intended route in the coming decades. Having arrived at the upper echelon of the music world on his own terms and on the strength of his artistry, Isbell clearly intends to stay on that level with the consistency and persistence of his 70-year-old forbear.

And, judging by Sunday night's show, that shouldn't be a problem.

An Interview with J. Henry Fair about his exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art

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Photographing coastlines from airplane windows, photographer J. Henry Fair aims to broaden people’s awareness of both the allure of our coastal areas and the environmental degradation that has occurred, and continues to occur, to our beaches, marshes, wetlands, and waterways. His latest exhibition, entitled Eyes on the Edge, currently on display at the Columbia Museum of Art through October 23rd, accomplishes just this, captivating viewers with artistry and technical expertise, while at the same time inspiring awareness of the fragile environmental conditions.

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Photo: Coastal Wetlands Meet the Ocean, 2 July, 2015, J. Henry Fair, Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, SC, 2016, Color photograph.

Composed of large-scale photographs of the South Carolina coast, all of which display rich colors and detailed clarity, Fair’s aerial shots reveal the beauty of the natural landscape. At the same time, his photos document the detrimental and intrusive effects of human-made developments, seen, for example, in the form of high-rise condos jutting out into the ocean past the edge of the dunes and tide-lines, with golf courses buttressed against it; cookie-cutter subdivisions squeezed tightly together; and geometrically-dizzying views of rows upon rows of automobiles, RV campers, and beach umbrellas galore. Complex coastal topographies, composed of various inlet formations, resemble root and vein-like structures expanding into tree-type shapes and alien landscapes. Ultimately, they serve as foils to the human-made constructions, intermingling in both apparent and dangerous ways.

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Photo: Ocean Undermines Beachfront Condominiums, 16 April, 2016, J. Henry Fair, Isle of Palms, SC, 2016, Color photograph

Eyes on the Edge reveals to viewers in South Carolina what Fair eventually aims to document along the entire coastline of the United States – the precarious and vulnerable interspersion of the oftentimes destructive encroachment of human development on the naturally-formed landscapes and waterways of our country, and how, unfortunately, that balancing act is well on its way to tipping the scales much too far toward the side of irreversible damage to the splendor and geography of Mother Nature.

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Photo: Morning Beachgoers, 2 July, 2015, J. Henry Fair, Myrtle Beach, SC, 2016, Color photograph.

A visit to this photographic exhibit offers eye-opening views and rarely seen perspectives of familiar coastal locations and landscapes. Perhaps more importantly, it reinforces and reminds viewers that we must strive to protect and conserve what remains of the natural world before it is too late, and that while development may be beneficial at times, it is imperative to remain cognizant and respectful of the need for a harmonious relationship between nature and humankind.

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Photo: St. Helena Sound Wetlands, 13 October, 2015, J. Henry Fair, Beaufort, SC, 2016, Color photograph.

In the following interview, J. Henry Fair offers insight into his artistic and environmental work.

How did your interest in photography begin? Did you always aspire to be a professional photographer?

I stole my father’s old Kodak Retina as soon as I could figure out how to use it, and started photographing the same things I’m doing now: people, machines, icons. I like to tell myself that I have figured a few more things out since then.

Please explain your photographic process behind the creation of the exhibit Eyes on the Edge.

I start with an idea of what images I want to make, then I go look for them, which involves hiring a plane and pilot, and plotting the ideal time for the light and the tide for this project. The pictures were made with a medium format camera for maximum detail on the prints, which are photographic “c” prints, done by a lab in Frankfurt.

What initiated your passion for environmentalism?

I have always had a deep concern for the environment and our heedless abuse of these systems that provide us with free air and water. That and my fascination with the beauty of machines (as a pinnacle of human achievement) led me to try to create images that would provoke thought about the impacts of our consumer society.

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Photo: New Cars Queued for Loading onto Transport Ship, 16 April, 2016, J. Henry Fair, Charleston, SC, 2016, Color photograph.

Does your concern for environmental issues always go hand-in-hand with your photography? Would you describe yourself as an environmental photographer?

My pictures are always about subjects that concern people, whether that be environment, racism, gun control.

Is photography your primary artistic medium?

I do some film as well as photography, and the presentation of image and science is starting to become for me its own artistic medium.

What do you expect or hope viewers to take away from this exhibit?

I hope my pictures will help people realize the power they have as consumers. Everything that we purchase has a hidden cost to our planetary life support systems that is usually not included in the purchase price. Our situation is dire, but we can all affect it by changing our buying habits, which will force the producers to change their methods, and by demanding that our governments enact regulations to protect our children.

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Photo: Yellow Haze Over City of Charleston with Industry in Foreground, 9 October, 2015, J. Henry Fair, Charleston, SC, 2016, Color photograph.

Is there a certain piece in Eyes on the Edge that you find particularly compelling in terms of artistry and/or environmental issues?

Each of the pieces in the show tells an important story about an aspect of the Carolina coast. My favorites are the inlet on Edisto Island and the three rivers entering St Helena Sound.

Where else can people view your work?

The next show in the USA is a group show about climate change at the University of Denver in the spring. But my website is

Do you have any future projects in-store that you would like to tell Jasper readers about? Will your emphasis remain primarily on photographing coastal areas only?

I will continue to photograph the coasts of the USA, and actually just did Maine. Another project on my mind is slavery and racism.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers and environmental activists?

My advice for aspiring photographers would be to get a real job. It’s too hard to be an artist. If one must do it, one should enroll in a good art school. Environmentalists I would suggest to think small and local and focus on something for which one has a passion.

Did any unusual or interesting experiences occur during your aerial photography sessions?

The process begins with a lot of research: the nature of the industry, environmental impact of their practices, different operators and locations. Then it’s a matter of logistics. Once, with a pilot from Alabama, on a trip to explore the lower Mississippi River, we had landed at a small airfield to warm up, hit the head, and begin. After takeoff, I asked if it was safe to open the window, and proceeded, only to have it come free in my hands. As this was a push/pull plane, there was a prop behind us, and the aileron. Had I released the window (in the 100 mph airstream) the results might have been problematic.

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Photo: Wetlands in Long Brow Plantation, 14 October, 2015, J. Henry Fair, Green Pond, SC, 2016, Color photograph.

For exhibit info, please visit:

For more information about Fair’s work, please visit:

REVIEW: Kimi Maeda's Ephemera Trilogy at the Trustus Side Door Theatre

Homecoming By: Kyle Petersen

Ephemera (noun):

  1. things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time.
  2. items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.

"The year the law of gravity was abolished the moon wandered away. In the excitement we didn't notice that the Nakashimas disappeared. You had to hold on tight or things floated off. I suppose they never really put down solid roots."  –Kimi Maeda

It’s difficult to leave a performance of Kimi Maeda’s Ephemera Trilogy, which runs through May 7th in the Trustus Side Door Theatre, without your head buzzing with questions. What is the relationship between storytelling and art, art and memory, memory and identity, identity and truth?

Maeda is not offering up answers, of course, but is certainly providing provocative new ways of tackling these questions. Her work is deeply invested in interrogating the act of storytelling itself, of how we come to know ourselves through creative expression, with all of its messy contours and murky revelations. Using stories of her parents (and, perhaps more to the point, the stories they have told her) as logical guideposts to understanding herself, Maeda’s work is grounded in sorting through the thorny reality that the telling of a story is an ephemeral act and, yet, also the fundamental way we come to make sense of our memories and ourselves as people. Each section of Ephemera, which was developed over a period of six years, employs a different stunning and innovative method of telling a story, each of which foregrounds its storytelling artifice while at the same time reaching for something that feels true, that feels real, in the process.

In the first part of Ephemera, “Homecoming,” Maeda uses a flashlight to bring paper cutouts to life as she ponders questions about her parent’s homes as well as the kind of fables and myths we all tell about home, what it’s supposed to say about who we are. The idea is that how we think about home is a kind of storytelling in and of itself. Maeda is both fascinated and distrustful of these questions, and you can sense that lack of sureness in both the pre-recorded narrative and the ever-so-slight shake of the flashlight as she moves across and through the miniature tableaux and brings it to life. This story doesn’t, can’t, exist without Maeda there, providing that thin light and fragile movement necessary to make sense of this piece of visual art. This phenomenon is something that occurs in each of the sections, a kind of implicit recognition that how both viewer and artist are being swayed and prodded by a distinct viewpoint, one that only exists in precisely this way in this one particular moment in time. Each performance, then, is a reminder of both the power of storytelling and its ephemeral, magical nature.

The second section, “The Crane Wife,” has Maeda performing elegantly wrought shadow puppetry as she weaves together the story of her mom coming to America from Japan with an old Japanese folktale. Framed by (real?) historical letters that Maeda pens and reads aloud in real-time, the interpretation of the crane wife tale she tells becomes intertwined with how the artist understands her Japanese-American identity. Maeda renders it lovingly. She also ponders the story’s intrinsic message about sacrifice and feminism, testing what identifications she has with the story and the limits to which it can function as a genuine link to her Japanese heritage. That a folktale like “The Crane Wife” is endlessly told and retold, revised and reshaped, makes such tests of authenticity quite fraught. Yet this particular version will always have meaning for Maeda and her mother, will structure their identities and how they understand themselves. It’s an ancient practice of making new.

The final section, “Bend,” uses archival footage of Maeda’s father, suffering from dementia, and the famous Japanese sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, both of whom were assigned to the same Japanese internment camp in 1942 -1943. This footage and audio, which often features Maeda talking with her father about the past, is juxtaposed and blended with live sand drawings of figures and places, memories and fragments that are constantly erased, literally disappearing as Maeda draws over or sweeps them away with a broom the last image to make way for the next one. The idea of Maeda’s father, who is clearly a man of extraordinary intellect, warmth, and ambition having to grapple with his own shifting sands of memory makes this method of storytelling particularly significant and brings home the reality of the ephemeral nature of both memory and art.

These are by necessity brief and incomplete descriptions of what goes told through the incredibly innovative and evocative visual language that Maeda uses, but what’s even more difficult to translate is the sheer creativity at the heart of it all. The way she uses light and crumbled papers to conjure up a fire, the way layers of design and shadow move us through airports and palaces and soar us through the sky or into the interior of phone lines in “Homecoming.” The casual virtuosity of the shadow puppet illustrations of “The Crane Wife” that feel more keenly alive than any picture book. And perhaps most profoundly, the unusual framing and living transitions that exist over the course of one of her many sand drawings, each of which is remarkable in each distinct moment. It’s wholly distinct and different from simply watching a painter paint or an illustrator draw. I can’t help but think about a performance like this in spiritual and ritual terms, of finding some solace, some beauty, and some redemption in these symbolic and repetitive acts. Ritual is something that keeps tradition alive even as it changes, that gives us new spins on ancient questions, and that remind us all that all creative acts are storytelling ones, each with their fair share of an older narrative inextricably grafted to a new thread.  

To that end, art-as-ritual, or storytelling-as-ritual, or perhaps even storytelling-as-truth, feels at the heart of Maeda’s trilogy. Our stories are who we are. Even if there is something lost in translation, there is also something invented, something new, something you.   

And I can’t say that everything I pulled out of her Ephemera Trilogy is what Maeda necessarily intended. But I can without qualification say that such a rich, nuanced, and simply extraordinary piece of artwork is a treasure that contains multitudes and is very much worth spending your time with.

On Gender by Ed Madden (as He Prepares Tess Demint for the Vista Queen Stage)

IMG_8102 “You learn a lot in drag.” – Panti Bliss/ Rory O’Neill, A Woman in the Making (2014)


Last Monday I published a poem online at the Good Men Project, a website devoted to rethinking masculinity—“Translations,” a poem about gender and race and how we like to put people in boxes.  I had been teaching creative writing to some young writers last fall, I was still thinking about the Confederate battle flag and the Black Lives Matter movement, and I had been asked to write a poem for a transgender remembrance ceremony and the GLBTQ student organization’s “lavender graduation” ceremony.  It all came together in this prose poem, maybe more essay—in the old sense of trying out something, thinking through something—than poem.  (I am deeply grateful to my student Caleb for talking with me about non-binary identification—his words are the heart of the poem.)


I’ve been thinking a lot about gender, as I prepare for my performance in Vista Queen this coming Monday, because gender is very much in the air, in the cultural conversation—from Trump’s misogyny to Hillary’s candidacy.

On March 24, North Carolina passed a law that has been called “the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country.”  It undoes all local nondiscrimination laws and specifically excludes gay, lesbian, and transgender people from legal protections.

Ironically, International Trans Day of Visibility was celebrated just a week later, on March 31.

Now Senator Lee Bright of Roebuck has proposed similar legislation for South Carolina.


Before I entered, I asked my colleagues in Women’s and Gender Studies if it was okay for me to enter.  They said sure.  One said don’t do it—not because she objected, she just said, “You’re already too busy and beleaguered.”  Well, true.

But I asked because drag can be risky business when you work in gender studies.

On the one hand, drag is a central example in the work of theorist Judith Butler and celebrated by folks influenced by that work.  Drag, they say, makes visible that all gender identity is a performance, a repetition of acts and styles and embodied tropes of how we fit—or don’t fit—into the binary gender system: male/female.  (Yes, there’s a Wikipedia page on this.)

But, on the other hand, I suppose there’s that old gay tradition of female impersonation that tends toward misogyny rather than subversion or understanding.  For example, see this really smart essay from a Stanford student which notes, “if drag is to be subversive, then it must challenge or undermine systems or institutions that oppress those performing.”  Yes, I think, as I work on Tess DeMint’s script.  That is, the subversion mustn’t simply reinforce the powers that be, but question them.

I think about those old “womanless weddings” often held in rural Southern churches and segregated high schools in the 1940s and 1950s—often connected, as Brock Thompson notes in The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South, to blackface minstrelsy as well. These performances were popular across Arkansas and the South, and, as Thompson points out, had more appeal (and played a more essential function in enforcing behavior) in communities where the racial and class divides were stark.

I think about the fact that, according to Chris Bull and John Gallagher’s Perfect Enemies, an analysis of anti-gay politics, that one of the most effective and prevalent tropes of anti-gay organizing in the 1990s was a male teacher in drag.

The Stanford student also says that “as drag becomes more and more a mainstay of our culture, it is important for those partaking in it—queer or not—to be mindful of and question the origins and implications of the personas we perform.”


Over spring break I read the biography of Panti Bliss, the extraordinary Irish drag queen, featured in the recent documentary The Queen of Ireland.  I’ve had the extraordinary pleasure of seeing Panti perform several times when I’ve been over in Ireland—even once attending the low-key and lovely Monday night “Make-and-Do-Do” craft nights at Pantibar, where she assigns a craft project and a bunch of grown men do their best with craft sticks and pipe-cleaners and marla (Irish for Playdoh).  I think our assignment that night was something Brazilian.  Laughter, community, friendship—all of it with the soundtrack of the hilarious Panti and the deeply nostalgic primary classroom smell of Playdoh.

I’ve been thinking about Panti as I work on Tess, about what drag can and can’t do. If you don’t know Panti, you should watch her speech—her noble call—on a Dublin theatre stag about homophobia.  Yes, I’m raising money for an institution that I love, a theatre that has in its very mission statement: “Our success will be measured by our commitment to collaboration and innovation, while our impact will be measured by the creation of a more diverse and vibrant Columbia.”

A more diverse and vibrant Columbia.


Tess has been writing a few little limericks in preparation for the performance, just in case she has occasion to recite a poem or two.  While most of them are about herself, as they should be, there’s this one she wrote this morning:

A not very Bright man named Lee wants to police who can and can’t pee. But trans is no crime, so let’s say, no not this time, and fight Mr. Bright’s bigotry.


I’m a 52-year-old (yes, really) man who has never done drag (yes, really)—unless you count the bearded college student in a bathrobe who lip-synched “You Can’t Hurry Love” with 3 friends at a church retreat (I don’t).

Panti says in her recently released autobiography A Woman in the Making that, if you can’t quite achieve beauty, you can certainly achieve interesting.

Maybe Vista Queen isn’t supposed to be political, but when I slip on my heels and try to walk and move through the world in shoes that slow me down and make me conscious of my body in ways I’ve never been conscious of my body, I think otherwise.  I think about the annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes march against rape and sexual assault, the local event hosted by Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands to be held next Thursday, April 14.  (Register here before Sunday!)

I’m still tinkering with my act.  It will be an evening of people doing deeply uncomfortable and outrageous things for a theatre they love.  I hope it’s interesting.  I hope it’s subversive.  I hope it raises lots of money for Trustus.  Mostly I hope I can stay upright on those heels.

You can donate to Tess DeMint online at Trustus, or at her GoFundMe page.  It’s for a great theatre, a good cause.

As Panti says, You learn a lot in drag.

Exclusive: South Carolina Filmmakers Chris White & Emily Reach-White Premiere Teaser for New Project

UNB_Teaser_Vimeo-Cover by: Wade Sellers

Greenville filmmaker Chris White likes to keep busy. White, along with his wife and filmmaking partner Emily Reach-White, were fresh of their city-by-city filmmaking tour of their award winning feature film Cinema Purgatorio when they decided to move full speed ahead with their current production. “As my wife Emily and I wait to secure funding for our next feature, we thought it’d be fun to make a series of short films with our family, friends, and favorite collaborators” says White. The result is Unbecoming, a five-film anthology shot over the summer of 2015. The teaser premieres online today.

The project navigates an assortment of narratives that revolve around themes of personal devolution and change. They include a retired U.S. Senator with a dark secret, an in-school suspension that leads to a teacher with a captive audience of one, two lost souls’ unlikely meeting at a roadside diner, the stomach-churning memory of True Love lost, and a father’s last will and testament passed on via workshop mixtape.

White began raising funds for Unbecoming through an Indie Go-Go campaign in June of 2015. On June 22nd of 2015 the film was fully funded. “There is no commercial objective with Unbecoming,” he explains. “It was meant to be a playground to try an artistic endeavor, but there were still expenses. The Indiegogo campaign was a way for me to go to friends and long time supporters of my work and ask for their support and let me play with this idea.”

Additionally, White had a growing desire to work with veteran actors on a project. “I had worked with a number of known actors on other people’s projects but not my own. You realize why these actor’s have and continue to work—because they are really good at their craft.” As a result, Chris and Emily reached out two to veteran actors who they had previous relationships with.


The film stars Andy Warhol discovery Patti D’Arbanville, who got her start career in the art pop pioneer’s Flesh and L’Amour. Her long career features a mix of television and film credits that include Modern Problems, Real Genius, Miami Vice and Woody Allen’s Celebrity. Starring with D’Arbanville is Michael Forest. Forest may be remembered as the Greek god Apollo in the Star Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonis?” His 60 year film and television career spans such notable projects as The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Amarcord and Cast Away.

Chris and Emily had a previous relationship with D’Arbanville, so they approached her about starring in the film during a visit to North Carolina. Forest was a tougher get, as he had largely been retired from television and film, only visiting fan conventions for his Star Trek connection, although he did take a recent turn appearing in Vic Mignogna’s Star Trek Continues series. “I had met Michael while working on Star Trek Continues” says White of the connection. “He was interested in the project but wanted to be talked into it.” Additional cast includes Aaron Belz, Teri Parker Lewis, Bill Mazzella and Lilly Nelson. All five films were shot and produced within a short drive of the White’s home in Greenville.

Unbecoming’s theatrical premiere is Sunday, April 3rd at the wonderfully historic Tryon Theater in Tryon, North Carolina. Future screenings will be announced as they are scheduled.


UNBECOMING \ Teaser from Paris MTN Scout on Vimeo.

To buy tickets to the Tryon premiere:


Darling Dilettante Does Politics: Cory Alpert 2016

12549026_10206164677129510_1117567439076405965_n by: Haley Sprankle

The University of South Carolina’s student body elections take place today, and it’s no surprise that local actor and arts enthusiast Cory Alpert’s name would come up.

Throughout the community, Alpert has be involved in a myriad of different large-scale projects from spearheading the SC Flood Relief movement within hours of the crisis to helping run and organize events like Famously Hot New Year. He’s been seen working on and backstage at Trustus Theatre, and is even a graduate of their Apprentice Company.

So why does a college election matter to Columbia?

Often, there seems to be a disconnect between the community of Columbia and the university environment. As a student, I’ve found that my peers on campus rarely know about the arts community and all it has to offer, while I’ve also found that my peers in Columbia are rarely aware of the work the students are putting out there.

That’s where Alpert comes in.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with the student body presidential candidate to get his thoughts on how he can better serve the students, the community, and how he can bridge the gap between the two.

Q: What makes you different from the other candidates?


Alpert: Unlike the other candidates, I’ve put forward a platform and a vision for USC that will help move us into the 21st century. My plan is realistic and pragmatic, with an understanding of the limitations of student government. We aren’t promising a fix to parking (which would require a change in state law), and we’re focusing on making USC a more inclusive place. I’ve shown this community my work ethic, and I’ve shown that I know how to get results. I don’t issue empty promises. A lot of that goes back to the community that raised me. I grew up in the Columbia arts community, and that’s become a formative part of who I am. We were taught to dream big and how to find ways to make those dreams a reality. We were taught to love each other unconditionally, even when someone makes a mistake. To me, that’s what we should have in a leader. How do you plan to connect the community of Columbia to the student community of USC?

Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some incredible leaders around the city. I’ve come to believe that USC deserves to have a stronger relationship with the city, and students ought to have access to the incredible resources that we have to offer. I am always disappointed when I don’t see students filling our local theatres, or coming to events on Main Street, or eating at some of the wonderful restaurants in town. That’s something that I think we can fix. The biggest problem is awareness. By partnering with businesses and leveraging the visibility of student government, I’ll be encouraging students to go experience what Columbia has on offer. I’ll also be working with these businesses to make sure they’re coming on campus - that they are reaching out to students. This is about working, not waiting. My administration will be working to make sure that students have access to the career opportunities, leaders, resources, and events that our city has.

What issues do you feel are most important to our campus?

I think there’s a general sense that we’ve had enough talk on campus. There are groups and individuals who are trying to find ways to make this campus better, and they’re being met with a brick wall. We deserve to have leaders who aren’t full of talk. Whether it’s the clear race issues on campus that are arising every year, or the issue of being inclusive for our trans siblings on campus, or even the issues that Student Government has no power over like parking and wifi, students feel like their words are stuck in an echo chamber. It’s time that we have leadership on campus that works collaboratively to make sure that this campus is a better place every day.

You've talked about lowering tuition--how do you plan to actually lobby for and go through with that?

My plan calls for a reduced cost of attendance, and we’ll be working for something called open educational resources. Tuition is set by the state, and it would take something akin to an act of God to reduce that. But one thing that we can feasibly tackle are the cost of textbooks on this campus. After being introduced to OERs, I got really excited and wanted to learn more. Then, my campaign team and I spent a few weeks meeting with OER repositories and doing our research about how they’ve been implemented across the country. What we’ve found is that the average student at USC pays $1,008 per year on textbooks. That skyrockets to $1,500 per semester for freshmen. These costs hit minority and first-generation students the hardest. However, OERs, which are textbooks written by some of the top faculty in the country and used at our peer institutions, can help drive those costs down. While $500 per semester may not seem like much, that’s money that we’re saving students and allowing them to be successful without breaking the bank. The biggest roadblock to their implementation is simply awareness. So we’ll be doing what UMass Amherst did when they saved students over $1 million when they implemented OERs, by sitting down with faculty and academic administration to convince them to switch over to these resources. After a few conversations already, professors at USC are excited about these resources and want to make sure their students have the chance to be successful regardless of their income level. All it takes are a few leaders willing and able to do the work to make the switch a reality.

What are your biggest hopes for this student body if you're president?

At the end of the day, it comes down to having a culture at USC that’s better than when we found it. It’s about being a part of a team that works to make USC a more inclusive and supportive place every single day. I want to leave office and have people feel that they can change this campus for the better. I’m in a really fortunate position, because I don’t need to bolster my resume with this office, so I’m in a great position to work with students and make sure that they can do something great. Student Government ought to work for the students, and it ought to dream big for where we should be. Rather than trying to fix problems that student government has no control over, I’m presenting a vision of a USC that works for every student, and allows them to be successful throughout their lives because of their time on our campus.



As a long time friend and fellow advocate of both my school and city, I’ll be voting for Cory today. Let’s start now and change this school for the better!

Check out Cory Alpert's campaign video here.

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Film Review: Steve Jobs - by Wade Sellers

Michael Fassbender as the Apple Computers co-founder in Danny Boyle's new film Steve Jobs. by Film Editor Wade Sellers

There was a time that being allowed to see backstage at a concert, movie set or a performer’s personal life for those not in the entertainment industry was a magical and special moment. Just hearing the words “behind-the-scenes” brought chills. We were getting to see the “real” life behind the show. Now, it is a marketing must-do. The magical, never-seen moments don’t exist anymore. A tour of a home is a promotional tool, footage of models changing or dancers stretching part of the marketing package. Every live concert event offers, at an insanely steep cost, the opportunity to take part in this exclusive backstage, one-on-one experience.

Since the death of Steve Jobs, there have been many fictional and non-fictional attempts to offer the world a glimpse behind-the-scenes of his life. Many books and movies that offer us a look at the “real” world and history of a man who was the leader of late 20th century cultural and technological change. So when Danny Boyle read Aaron Sorkin’s brilliantly written script Steve Jobs, he must have experienced simultaneous ecstasy and panic at the chance to tell this story of Jobs’ life.

Sorkin loves dialogue. His career highlights such as The West Wing, A Few Good Men, and The Social Network are known in most casual conversations as really good television and film. But each has a lot of dialogue. A lot of words are an actor’s dream and sometimes a director’s nightmare. These Sorkin scripts had directors who knew how to wrap their creative arms around Sorkin’s words, keep it focused, understand its cadence and let the actors have their fun. Danny Boyle wraps his experienced and well-versed arms around Sorkin’s screenplay and delivers a solid film from what on the page must seem dangerously close theater. Boyle’s personal bridge of experience in theater and filmmaking is the film’s greatest strength.

The film takes place in three acts. Each act directly precedes three product launches that Jobs was responsible for; the Mac (1984), NEXT (1988), and the iMac (1998). These three vignettes are blocked backstage, behind the curtains of the venue each product is being launched in. There is constant movement backstage. Stress is high and each movement and line delivery of the actors is kinetic.  We feel the energy and movement as if we are there at each venue. Each act is filmed with cameras that are appropriate for the time; heavy grained film stock, cleaner film stock and digital. It is a choice by Boyle that seems a bit self-gratuitous. The transitions between each act are separated by appropriate historical news clips and voice overs that hurriedly transition us from the previous year to the present. This is not the most original of creative options, but at least it wasn’t a spinning clock. The real directorial strength comes from Boyle’s willingness to trust a certain playfulness with his cast.

Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Inglorious Basterds) takes on the role of Jobs. He embraces all of the characteristics that we have been told about Jobs—the lack of empathy, the narcissism, the incredible creative focus—and mixes them with his own interpretation of the man. Jobs was a very visible person. His speech and mannerisms are well-known and Fassbender has no interest in mimicry. Always at his side throughout the film is Kate Winslet (Titanic, Revolutionary Road) playing Job’s confidant Joanna Hoffman. It is the perfect role for Winslet, taking full advantage of her talent for dialect and maturity as actor, as evidenced in the film’s final act with her matriarchal ultimatum to Jobs. Winslet stands out in a crowded field of talent. A narrative thread binding each act is the appearance of Job’s daughter Lisa and her mother backstage during each launch. Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardin play Lisa at the ages of four, eight and nineteen, with each young actress capably taking on the character’s growth. This narrative is an interesting choice for the film. The tepid relationship he has with his daughter seems to exist as a manifestation of Job’s struggle with his own adoption, to humanize him. Early on Jobs denies that he is her father, but the relationship grows over the course of the film to suggest that Lisa has been Job’s muse throughout. That Jobs’ inspiration for each of the devices he designed were in parallel with Lisa’s own growth, finally ending with Jobs looking at her before the iMac launch and stating that he “will put 500-1000 songs in her pocket,” replacing the worn Walkman she has been listening to the entire film. Jeff Daniels stands out as the former handpicked-by-Jobs Apple CEO John Sculley. Daniels (The Newsroom, Dumb and Dumber), just seems to get Sorkin’s words. His talents have always been underrated because he is natural and inviting, no matter the temperament and compass of the character he plays. Seth Rogan takes on the role of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. This must be the hardest role to cast in recent history because no actor I have seen in any the Wozniak portrayals has been inviting.

Steve Jobs is an original look into three small moments in the life of a worldwide cultural icon.  One can imagine that it must be much easier to portray someone as powerful and wealthy as Jobs as a complete narcissist without fear of direct litigation. When he is on, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is a gift, and he is dead on in Steve Jobs. In the end, the problem is not with the film. It is an overwhelmingly entertaining and stylistic biography that touts an incredibly talented cast and helmed by one of a few directors who could capably tell this story. But when the lights come up after our tour behind the curtain, it doesn’t seem as special because we have been allowed behind this curtain too many times already.

Steve Jobs plays at the Nickelodeon Theater today through October 29th. Showtimes and tickets can be found at

Rosewood Arts Festival, After the Rain, Celebrates 5th Year This Sunday, Oct. 25th

Tom Hall & the Plowboys performing at Rosewood Arts Festival by: Jasper Intern Jake Margle

After a necessary rain check, the Rosewood Arts Festival will be back at Rockaway’s this Sunday, October 25. Hurricane Joaquin may have put a damper on spirits, but with the return of the sun comes Columbia’s much-loved, family-friendly arts festival, back for its fifth year and better than ever.

This year’s festival will have all of the familiar elements that made past festivals such a hit. With around 100 artists booth expected to fill the Rockaway’s parking lot, there is sure to be an eclectic mix of work to view and purchase, all the while keeping the intimate feel that has put the Rosewood Arts Festival at the top of local arts supporter’s favorite annual events.

New for this year is a literary section set to feature 15 authors, including the work of Robert Ariail, a prominent political cartoonist whose work is featured regularly in The State.

The festival makes good on its promise to features artwork of all types. This year the Columbia Children’s Theatre will be performing Pinocchio, sure to keep those performing arts lovers in the crowd happy.

Festival regular and Lexington local “Abstract” Alexandra will be returning once again with her unique brand of contemporary paintings and sculptures. She’s been featured in the festival since its first year and is pleased to see it stick to its roots while also growing.

“I love how every year they get new collectors and performances to come,” she said. “There’s always something new to see.”

In five years the festival has grown steadily out of the single parking lot behind Rockaway’s, where they had just a few booths and one stage. The growth has been far from explosive, but Festival Director Arik Bjorn thinks that its small size is part of the allure.

“The point of the festival has always been to be a family-friendly, pro-artist, pro-patron festival,” Bjorn said. “We’ve got a community that really likes art. We’ve got Shandon right over here and other neighborhoods that really aid in that community feel.”

Patrons and artists alike benefit from the intimacy of the event. Entering a booth in the festival only costs the artist $30, less than half of what other festivals charge. The public pays nothing to enter, an aspect that Bjorn thinks inspires more people to attend and may increase the likelihood that they will purchase a piece.

“They do a very good job at organizing,” Alexandra said. “Artists, we’re marathon runners. We have to create the art and then set up this little retail outlet and fix that up, we do so much work already. Arik and all the volunteers pick up any slack and offer so much help, and that means a lot to the artist.”

The question on everyone’s mind is, will the festival expand past its current state?

“Oh no, it will always be here,” Bjorn said. There are plans to make room for more booths in the surrounding areas, but Rockaway’s will always be its home.

“We do this so artists can showcase their wares and make it worth their while,” Bjorn said. “We’re very content right now just to grow at the speed that we are.”

Jasper Goes to Hopscotch, 2015 Edition

Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved. In some ways, returning to Raleigh for Hopscotch 2015 felt like catching up with an old friend. This was the festival’s sixth year, and Jasper’s fourth year attending, so much of what the astoundingly dynamic and eclectic festival offered felt comforting, familiar. The convergence of noise artists and rappers, EDM ravers and folkies, metalheads and indie rock tastemakers is what makes this festival tick, with the diversity of its booking and venues locations (ranging from the seedy dive of Slim’s to the posh intimacy of Fletcher Opera House to the, well, festival-esque City Plaza) giving it the kind of distinct character and vibe such undertakings count on.

Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

While talking about the event from year to year is always going to center on a few things focused primarily on the music itself. How did the headliners fare? Godspeed You! Black Emperor delivered a predictably swollen, cinematic head trip of a set that was a welcome counterpart to the opening night’s rain; TV on the Radio proved to be a phenomenal live band adept at bringing art rock to the masses; and Dwight Yoakam was a straight shooter who lets his songs bring the heat.

Thomas didn't like Mr. Yoakam's photography policy. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

Who blew the roofs off? Phil Cook & Friends at Fletcher felt like a celebration of everything that makes Hopscotch great as they played his new solo LP Southland Mission from start to finish (check out the amazing video our photographer Thomas Hammond shot below); Working with a dramatically different sets of tools, Lincoln Theater headliners Battles and Pusha T closed out Friday and Saturday nights respectively by putting on workshops on how to own the stage when compared to just about anybody; and Waxahatchee’s  last minute solo set proved just how entrancing some simple, heartbreaking songs and a voice can be.



What new discoveries had us buzzing? The haunting collection of traditional folk tunes by Jake Xerxes Fussell’s debut on Paradise of Bachelors is destined to end up on my year-end favorites list, and I’ll eat my shoe if Raleigh’s electro-R&B act Boulevards and/or upcoming rapper Ace Henderson aren’t making waves nationally by the end of 2016.

Mac McCaughan w/ The Flesh Wounds (moonlighting as the Non-Believers), another highlight from this year's festival. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

But part of what makes Hopscotch great is also what stays mostly the same—the day party traditions that range from the Trekky Records-centered lineups on Saturdays at Pour House to the noisy, avante-garde acts that fill Friday afternoon at King’s, the sprawling outdoor markets and official Hopscotch block parties, and the wonderful vendors and venues in Raleigh that team up to make the festival great from year to year.

Say Brother performing at the outdoor stage at Legends. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

What made this year especially memorable for South Carolina attendees, and what will hopefully be added to the list of traditions, is the collaboration between Stereofly, SceneSC, and Free Times that led to two day parties on Thursday and Friday that brought the first significant South Carolina presence to the festival since its inception.

While there have been some token inclusions from the Palmetto State in recent years—acts like Shovels & Rope, Say Brother, and Brian Robert’s Company have all been played official sets in the past, and Keath Mead got an early slot at Tir Na Nog this year—the bounty of North Carolina acts and the dearth of folks from our own music community has always given us pause, particularly when those NC acts benefit from national coverage of Hopscotch. This year was a welcome change.

JKutchma. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

Settling into the cool, dimly lit confines of Deep South on Thursday for an imitate, story-laden set from JKutchma followed by the haunting songs of She Returns from War and the electrifying country-rock of Say Brother at their sloshy best, even with their mid-afternoon start, was a great start to the festival; even better was the sprawling eclecticism of Friday’s day party at Legends Nightclub. Packed to the gills with mostly-SC acts, highlights included a grand opening from Charleston’s The High Divers, a classic rock-minded indie rock act with impeccable harmonies and a debut LP out 10/9, a fiery, mathy set from recent Post-Echo signees Art Contest, who recently moved from Columbia to Athens, GA, and a seasoned performance the Justin Osborne-led alt-country act Susto, which has been touring hard in recent months, including some opening slots for Band of Horses, Iron & Wine, and Moon Taxi. Recent Jasper centerfold Danny Joe Machado’s performance was another standout, provided a fascinating window into how an unfamiliar audience dealt with the acerbic persona The Restoration has created as a solo act.

The High Divers. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

More than any one performer, though, what struck me the most about these day parties was a sense of pride in South Carolina, as well as a rare sense of home community in a Hopscotch world where Jasper has always felt like an outsider before. Whereas in prior years “hopping” from set to set would be the norm for day parties as much as it is for the evening sets, we were happy to camp out at Legends all day on Friday, content to revel in our hometown riches before taking in the official schedule.

We can’t praise the folks and bands who put this on enough. It can be hard to see or sense forward movement for a scene, but those few hours on Thursday and Friday felt like something.

Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.


Below are some selected photos from the festival by Thomas Hammond:

Show Alert: Capital City Playboys CD Release This Saturday, September 26th at Art Bar

Playboys pic On Saturday, September 26, local lounge-rock trio the Capital City Playboys will release their first full-length LP, Bad Bad Man. The album’s lead single and title track is a kinetic burst of ominous, surf and blues-influenced rock and roll based around clean guitar lines and tight, unflashy rhythms. With guitarist Mary Fort’s deep-bellied croon leading the charge, one is almost reminded of Glenn Danzig and his early work with fuzzy doom-punkers the Misfits. The unrelenting gloom in his voice makes for an interesting contrast with the waves you can almost hear crashing somewhere in the background. This song belongs over the opening credits of a Tarantino flick. Don’t believe me? Just listen here. -Music Editor Michael Spawn


Jasper Magazine September 2015 Release Party: The Music

  artbarWe've got a great evening of music to celebrate the release of our new magazine that covers, among other things, giants of modernism like Georgia O'Keeffe, crazy wigs made by some talented folk working at Trustus, dystopian depictions of mutant hogs conjured up by Julia Elliott, and the worst local musician of all time, that asshole Danny Joe.

Come out tonight, September 17th, to the Art Bar to check out the new magazine, socialize, and hear some great local tunes. Here's some of what we've said before about the acts playing, along with links to their music:

Pray for Triangle Zero

"...the heavily reverbed melancholy and hazy melodies he writes are well within the lineage of chillwave, even as he tends towards busier productions and more urgent tempos than would be the norm. He also incorporates some lovely R&B-inflected moments, like on 'Her Bath Salts' and 'Easy, Girl,' which win him easy comparisons to Toro y Moi.

Those tunes are undeniably likeable, but the best stuff here is when Sams is tinkering on the edges of that signature style, when he tries out a more laconic delivery on the bustling 'Ferris Wheeler' or veers into The Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips territory on 'Call Out Your Name.'" -Kyle Petersen, Jasper Magazine May 2015

Post-Timey String Band

"A duo composed of vocalist/guitarist/kazoo player Kelly McLachlan and multi-instrumentalist Sean Thomson, PTSB are more Gillian Welch & David Rawlings than She & Him, with a love of the most time-worn idioms of classic folk and blues songs and a blazing authenticity to support their claim as a “string band.”

The songs themselves range from lonesome country to ramshackle blues, but McLachlan’s voice is best suited to wrenching the nuance out of individual syllables in the most simplistic of country ballads or sad-eyed blues songs. Here, “I Do” and “Tightrope” serve as the best showcases, although “Blues for Charley” and “Lauren’s Song” are the best examples of the group’s songwriting prowess." - Kyle Petersen, Jasper Magazine May 2013

Marshall Brown

"...Within these fifteen tracks, we find Brown fully embracing and perfecting the anything-goes Neverland pop he began courting on 2013’s Through Vivaldian Colored Glasses. Describing any song or album as ‘Beatle-esque’ runs the very real risk of embarrassing all parties concerned—the artist, the listener, Paul, Yoko, etc. (Ringo would likely remain ambivalent)—but sometimes it’s just the most accurate possible description for a piece of artful pop music, so I’m using it now in what I hope is the best possible way. Second Childhood is the sound of Sergeant Pepper diving headlong into the toybox and treating every discovery like the treasure it is. It’s Marshall Brown being himself completely, while making no bones about his influences and how he can twist them to suit his needs." -Michael Spawn, Jasper Magazine September 2015

Danny Joe Machado

"He’s an asshole musician with delusions of grandeur." - Daniel Machado on his alter-ego Danny Joe Machado, Jasper Magazine September 2015

Do I Sound Gay?: A Q&A w/ documentary filmmaker David Thorpe

Director David Thorpe seeks advice from vocal coaches, linguists, historians, friends,  strangers, celebrities and others in order to better understand his voice. "Where does my 'gay voice' come from?" he asks. Photo Courtesy of ThinkThorpe by: Wade Sellers and Jake Margle

Writer and filmmaker David Thorpe’s feature documentary Do I Sound Gay? has been gaining steam since its screening at the Toronto Film Festival. A graduate of Irmo High School and now living and working in New York City, Thorpe has put together an entertaining and poignant film about cultural perceptions and stereotypes. Enlisting the help of recognizable names in the gay community (i.e. Dan Savage), close friends, family, and interviews with random people on streets from Paris to New York, Thorpe examines people thoughts on the male gay voice, a subject born from insecurities about his own. Jasper sat down to talk with Thorpe before his film begins its run at The Nickelodeon on September 10th.

Jasper: How did the initial concept for the film begin?

DT: I really had this lightning bolt moment, where I realized that the voices of my own community were really alienating me and persecuting me. It was flash point for alienation that I was feeling at the time about being gay, you know? It made me wonder, why are some gay men the way they are, why do we all talk like this? Is it something society forced on us or is it who we really are? Even scarier or more strange was wondering about myself and, “did I sound like this?” I think I knew, I kind of did at times. So I wondered, why did I sound like this? Why didn’t I like it? It was just this hurricane of emotion about my voice. And this emotion about my voice all came in the form of questions about voice and I think there’s a perfectly good reason for that, which is that, for a lot of gay men our voices are our “tell.” We feel like it is what, for lack of a better phrase, gives us away.

Jasper: You are a writer, correct?

DT: I was a journalist doing mainly lifestyle journalism but also a fair amount of gay-related journalism. Then I was a communications director for five years prior to making the film, at a large AIDS organization in New York City. That’s where I was able to do a lot of creative activism in trying to get media attention and political attention around AIDS issues which had kind of fallen off the map. In many ways, it prepared me to work out this story about my voice. Because in a lot of ways I think the film is a form of creative, funny activism around a serious topic.

Jasper: Had you ever approached filmmaking before?

DT: Yeah, I had dabbled in film for sure. You know even in Do I Sound Gay?, you see clips from a public access show that I did with friends, in which I put in way too much time and energy. So, I knew that I loved film, but I had such a love for writing that it wasn’t the fullest idea that came to mind. I was gonna write a book about the gay voice, but the deeper I went into it the more I realized that it would only make sense to [make a film].

Jasper: How long was the filmmaking process?

DT: It was sort of between 4 and 5 years depending on where you start and depending on what you call the end.

Jasper: Did you kind of have a loose outline of what you were trying to achieve?

DT: Oh God no. We did not have an outline or a plan. The project kind of unspooled in a really kind of organic way over the years. You know, from just sort of a topic that I felt I needed to explore to just kind of shooting and exploring ideas, to kind of the trailer. It all kind of organically layered on top of itself as more people heard about the project and there seemed to be deeper and deeper interest in seeing it made. Which includes everything from my investors, to the Kickstarter which had like 2,000 individual backers and raised $120,000. I would never have dreamed that in the beginning. that I was going make a feature independent doc-film that was going to have a national profile in the media and with critics. I think it’s much better that I didn’t know that going into it because it might have been too scary. I might have been more calculating than I should have. The project was really kind of a genuine expression of a first-time filmmaker.

Jasper: Was there a point when you were making the film that you realized that a lot of people were reacting in an electric way?

DT: Yeah, I mean very early on I saw the power of the question alone, “do I sound gay?” Because 10 out 10 people that I would talk to about the stereotype of the gay voice suddenly would light up and tell me what they thought it was, or that they had always wondered what it was, or they talked about their own voices, gay and non-gay people alike, so I always knew that the topic was very resonant with people, and that was very exciting and among the reasons I felt compelled to keep going. We did many, many rough-cut screenings over the course of a year and, you know, we did our homework, and we knew from those screenings a lot of people were finding the film very thought-provoking and compelling regardless of whether or not they were gay.

Jasper: What were some of your friend’s reactions when you first told them about making the film?

DT: (laughs) Well I think my friends and family were taken back. I think they were really surprised to hear that I didn’t like my voice, that I still had issues about being gay or sounding gay. And, you know, it was something I had never spoken about with them, but, you know, certainly my gay friends, as taken back as they might have been by the idea of going to a voice coach. All of them right away knew exactly what I was feeling in terms of internalized homophobia, and shame, and my self-consciousness. There was always, I think, a lot of empathy from gay people. And, you know, at the beginning of this I really didn’t know how gay audiences would react, and I was fearful that I would be criticized for airing dirty laundry, for talking about shame. Instead, it seemed like, by and large and overwhelmingly, gay audiences find the film a useful way of opening up that conversation. That being gay or being a minority or frankly, being an individual is, for a lot of people, definitely a challenge. That sometimes we’re better at being another.

Jasper: One of the strongest moments in your film is meeting the young man who was being beat up in class for the sound of his voice.

DT: I read about the assault online. It made national news and headlines around the country as a lot of these vicious attacks do. What I kept reading in interviews was that his voice always played a role in his getting bullied, and that really jumped out at me. So I reached out to him. I spent a day with them and got to know them. And I have stayed in touch with them, last I heard from his mom is that he’s doing well. I think a lot of people found that scene very touching and very telling about how dangerous it can be to make yourself visible or, in this case, audible, as gay or feminine.

Jasper: Did your point of view, or focus, change as you got deeper into making the film?

DT: I kind of understood how I got from A to B but maybe not how I got from A to B to C to D to E to F to G and so forth. I always knew my sense of where we would end up once I had done all the shooting and actually lived the experience of the journey. But I think there was so much more between A and Z that I didn’t clearly know or understand and that’s what the film is, is all that stuff in the middle.

Jasper: Having a wide positive response like this, does it validate any of the questions you were asking when you began making the film?

DT: Yeah, this was always a very personal project that I was going to complete regardless of the form that took. Whether it was watching it in my living room or sort of a large feature film. I was gonna do it no matter what. But it is gravy, it is the cherry on top when it turned out that what I wanted to do and say and explore resonated with so many people. And it does give you confidence you know, like, “Hey maybe what I have to say is something a lot of other people would be interested in hearing.”

Jasper: How do you find this message resonating with the people and the groups and communities that it’s been playing in?

DT: With every Q&A that I’ve done, and I’ve done a lot at this point, there are always a lot of questions for me but there are always a lot of people who share stories from their own lives: gay people, women, people of color. And they talk about their own perceived flaws and how they have or haven’t gotten past them. One of the most ratifying things for me is that the film seems to prompt people to think about themselves and maybe embrace perceived flaws or have a sense of, “Hey! Everybody has insecurities,” and you can reach out to family and you can reach out to friends and try to grow and move forward.


Do I Sound Gay? runs at The Nickelodeon from September 11th through September 17th. Director David Thorpe will be present and participate in a live talk back after the September 13th screening.

Community Talk: Jam Room Music Festival 2015, with Tracie Broom on Headliner Blonde Redhead

My 20-year Love Affair with Blonde Redhead, Jam Room Music Festival Headliner And why I screamed out loud when they were announced

By Tracie Broom


I’m in a magical long-term relationship that is continuing to roll strong, thanks to the Jam Room Music Festival. While friends know that I connected with my super-wonderful partner Scott at the 2014 festival, resulting in a really rather phenomenal LTR, I’m actually talking about my two-decade love affair with this year’s JRMF headliner band, Blonde Redhead.

Before getting into music nerd territory, I’d like to go ahead and lay down my top 5 reasons why Oct. 3 on Main Street in Columbia, S.C. is going to be amazing:

  1. It is a miracle that a band of the international stature and coolness of Blonde Redhead is playing in Columbia, S.C. – at a free festival, no less. I cannot overstate this.
  2. It’s their only Southeast gig on this tour. Total booking coup! (That in mind, if you are a fan, consider donating what you would have spent on gas and hotel to the nonprofit Jam Room Music Festival. I did, and it feels GREAT.)
  3. They are the best, and most consistently excellent, live band I’ve ever seen. Like many of you, I have seen tonzzzz of great bands, so this is a pretty big deal. They combine technical virtuosity with a dreamy, melodic, and very modern sound based in the math rock and post-punk electro-indie thing of the early 2000s, now transmogrified into the kind of highly-produced, creamy-but-ultra-cool music you can listen to while working on the computer or cleaning the house. Live, they kill it all.
  4. The JRMF is the best festival in the Midlands for combo of high-quality indie bands, very chill street scene, and the fun of running into a frillion people you know and like very much from various eras throughout your life here.
  5. The organizers don’t do it for the money; they do it because they love music and they love their community. This is powerful juju and it works.

I first heard about Blonde Redhead when I was an undergrad at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. A Brooklyn-based band, they were playing in the basement of WestCo dorm. I wish I could remember more about the show, but suffice to say that it was during their noise-ish days, probably 1994, the year they formed and released their self-titled debut, or maybe 1995 when they released La Mia Vita Violenta. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the show, but I went on to follow them throughout my years living in San Francisco, seeing them just about every time they performed live between 1997 and 2009, which was only maybe five times.


A Blonde Redhead show was a rare treat, even in a major market like SF.

Japanese singer/guitarist Kazu Makino is not only the definition of the term “hauntingly beautiful” and wears the most remarkable designer outfits, but the Milanese twin brothers, Amedeo and Simone Pace (guitar and drums, respectively) are wildly salt-and-pepper handsome. They make quite an impression hitting the stage. Then they start playing one of their rolling, wistful yet badass songs, she takes the mic, closes her eyes, starts swaying, and then unleashes the most ethereal singing voice in all of the indie music world, breathy yet unconcerned: the perfect formula. The whole audience tends to be transfixed at this point, having fallen in love with all three of them.

Which brings me to a fun fact: Kazu and Amedeo’s romantic relationship.

From Stereogum, who explains it best:

“The real heart-swelling moment [of the album Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons] comes from ‘This Is Not.’ Makino and Amedeo's romantic relationship is not a band secret and it gives them a palpable chemistry during their live performances, but you can hear it in her voice with this song. Lyrically straightforward, she describes the silver linings of a failed courtship in a love letter to both Pace twins: "She left everything/ traveled to the other side of the world … a series of meaningless movements/ And then by chance she met/ You and your brother/ The moment she saw you/ She knew you were made for her."

I mean, it’s pretty compelling stuff.

I remember when Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons – my favorite of all of their albums – was released in 2000. It was the height of the dot com era in San Francisco, I had extra cash from reviewing cell phones for CNET, and I’d already gotten to see the band live at Bottom of the Hill once, maybe twice. I want to say that I nabbed that record from Napster, as well as a live recording at Bottom of the Hill at one of the shows I attended – I still have it and love it when it comes up in my iTunes shuffle. (I have since paid full price for all of their subsequent albums; it took a year or two for me to grasp that illegal download portals were killing artists more than they were killing “the Man.”) I get excited whenever they release a new album, such as the most recent, 2014’s Barragan.

My top 10 Blonde Redhead songs to look up and give a listen:

  1. This is Not,” Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, 2000
  2. Elephant Woman,” Misery is a Butterfly, 2004
  3. In Particular,” Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, 2000
  4. Falling Man,” Misery is a Butterfly, 2004
  5. Missile,” In an Expression of the Inexpressible, 1998
  6. I Still Get Rocks Off” (their breakout hit), La Mia Vita Violenta, 1995
  7. My Impure Hair,” 23, 2007
  8. Futurism vs. Passeism,” Fake Can Be Just As Good, 1997
  9. Dripping,” Barragan, 2014
  10. Penultimo,” Barragan, 2014

I could go on and on about Blonde Redhead and their history, or you can just Google them and discover for yourself what an enormously huge deal they are internationally and in the States.

I screamed out loud when Jam Room Music Festival founder Jay Matheson announced them as this year’s headliner at a festival kickoff party at The Whig this summer. Tears followed. Kind-of accidentally made a scene. I don’t really get hysterical in public, because I am supposed to be all grown up and such, but it was just such an exciting shock that somehow, quite magically, these guys had landed one of the rarest birds in indie rock royalty, ever.

Let’s go see this band together! They will play the final set of the Jam Room Music Festival on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Main and Hampton Streets in downtown Columbia, S.C. Free! There will be good beer by The Whig, bike valet by the Cola Town Bicycle Co-op, progressive local food vendors and more.

You can check out the rest of the lineup and donate funds to the nonprofit Jam Room Music Festival at


South Carolina State Museum's Carolina Makers Exhibit Features Instrument Makers from Columbia

Carolina Makers by: Erika Ryan

The SC State Museum’s newest exhibit, Carolina Makers, opened April 18th, and it features South Carolina makers that specialize in everything from metal working to clothing designers to instrument crafters. The exhibit is free with general admission or museum membership--tickets can be purchased here.

Jasper got the chance to talk to the only two Columbia-based instrument makers featured in the exhibit, Damir Horvat and Greg Alexander, about their background in the field, their specialties, and what it means to take part in this art exhibition.

Jasper: How long have you been building instruments, and what got you into the business?

 Damir Horvat: I make string instruments — violins, violas, cellos, and bows — and I restore them.  What got me into the business is that I’m a third generation violin and bow maker — both my father and grandfather used to do it. It’s hard to say how long I’ve been doing it, but I can probably say for the last 18 to 20 years.

Greg Alexander: I started making guitars about seven years ago. I was 21 at the time, and my dad was a furniture builder. I had these books called Foxfire books — they’re basically books about simple living styles in the Appalachian mountains back in the day, and there’s a blueprint for a banjo, so I started to build that banjo. With all the tools I had, I was able to make it much nicer. Then I got an apprenticeship with a guy in Charlotte named Ari Lehtela, and he’s been making guitars for 20 or 30 years. I had an apprenticeship with him for three years, then I moved here and I’ve had a job here for about four years now.

Jasper: How are handmade instruments better than factory made ones? Do they produce better sounds?

Damir Horvat: They produce better sounds and they’re custom made to the specific needs of the customers. If the customer orders the instrument looks and type of sound, and I can deliver exactly what the customer wants.

Greg Alexander: Absolutely. It depends, but like what I built for the museum were electric guitars, and you’re definitely going to have differences in that just because of the wood quality. The wood is especially important with an acoustic instrument, there’s no question that a handmade instrument would knock out a factory made one every single time. They’re going to choose cheap wood, and the wood is the only thing getting you the tonal quality. If you don’t pay attention to the wood when you’re working with it, you’re not going to have a quality instrument, basically.

Jasper: How long does it take you to build an instrument and what is the process like? What materials do you use?

Damir Horvat: The materials we use in instrument making are three very specific woods: maple, for the back and ribs; spruce, for top; ebony, for the accessories and the fingerboard. And it takes about two to three months (to make a violin), but a cello takes longer: about six months.

Greg Alexander: Well, it depends — but the electric guitar I just built for the museum took me about two months. It takes about six months for an acoustic instrument. But, this isn’t necessarily what I do with all my time—I’m also a student and I do other things—so I just get to it when I can. I have a different approach for both, because if I’m doing an acoustic instrument, I’m going to follow a traditional blueprint that’s maybe 100 years old, but if I’m building an electric instrument, I’m probably going to design from scratch myself and be as creative as I can.

Jasper: Can you describe a personalized instrument you’ve made for someone?

Damir Horvat: Well, for example, right now I’m making a violin that’s going to have a lot of Celtic motifs, and this is for a person that loves Irish music. It’s hard to describe, but people usually bring me a picture and tell me, “I want my instrument to look like this,” and I usually make it identical to the picture. But as far as the sound goes, they can decide whether they want a darker or brighter sound, and it can also be custom tailored for the player.

Greg Alexander: The guy I mentioned, Ari Lehtela, he has an acute interest in eastern music and eastern instruments, and he basically approaches his building as a hybrid between east and west, with the six-string guitars as the western model, and sitar or any of those types of eastern instruments, he’ll sort of blend them together. He’ll take different tuning and temperament with different scales… and he’ll blend the two together, and that’s definitely come out in my building too. The guitar I just built for the museum is a seven-string, fretless guitar and the bridge that the strings sit on is modeled after a sitar bridge.

Jasper: What kind of an asset are handmade instruments in a local arts community?

Damir Horvat: Well, it’s an art, so you could ask the same thing to a painter or sculptor, but instruments are different from that because local musicians are able to utilize my services and use my instruments as well as restore their own instruments, because part of my business is the restoration and preservation of historical instruments. So, local musicians from throughout South Carolina and surrounding states come to me to upkeep their old instruments or ask me to make a new one for them.

Jasper: What does it mean for you and your career to be featured in an exhibit like Carolina Makers?

Damir Horvat: It’s an honor — it’s a chance to display my work to the public. I’m hoping to increase the understanding about instrument making just by people looking at the instruments, and also people possibly calling to inquire about making instruments for them, or simply calling to ask about the instrument making process. It’s not only a display of my own work, but also I’m hoping to raise awareness about what makes a handmade instrument different from a factory instrument, and there is quite a bit of difference there that hopefully people will notice — and if not, they can ask me about it.

Greg Alexander: It’s an honor, honestly. I’ve been doing this for seven years, and most of the guys that are in the exhibit and get recognized have been doing this for decades. It took a lot of hard work on their behalf. I guess this has given me the confidence to continue.


Call for Submissions: The Vistovka Transporte Project, an Indie Grits Installation

273cd4_ae72c3345b6145828901f093b29f9e70 by: Abby Davis

Vistovka Transporte is a community driven arts installation coming to Indie Grits this year.  The project will use advertisements and public service announcements from the perspective of the city to illustrate how the people of Columbia view the future of public transportation.

Matt Tenebaum, the main brain behind Vistovka Transporte, says “It’s goal is to bring together these ideas under this year’s Indie Grits theme of future perfect and explore how people imagine an ideal Columbia, whether tomorrow or deep into a potential future.”

Borne from conversations with Andy Smith, executive director of the Nickelodeon, about doing a community-centered project that engaged with the festival’s theme, “Future Perfect,” the two eventually settled on the Vistoka Transporte idea. “We wanted a project that could get the community involved in the theme but also be a little satirical,” Tenebaum says. “When we discussed our mutual stories about biking and walking around Columbia, the idea to do the project about transportation began.”

The advertisements will be dispersed throughout the entire festival and placed in a way to make them look like natural advertisements done by the city. “We seek authenticity to both build the illusion that they are real and catch attention to the ideas they represent,” says Tenebaum.  A social media campaign will run simultaneously, serving both to draw attention to the ads and to explain the story behind them and the artists’ ideas for the future.

“Watching people think about issues or ideas that they feel strong about and then putting them into artistic form is a fascinating process,” Tenebaum continues. “Focusing that process towards a single subject reveals ideals and aspirations from many different people and paints its own picture of the community.  People want the city to be better; they aspire to live somewhere that has the things they want rather than just leave to somewhere that already has them.  They care, and for that reason I can’t wait to see what they have to say about their future perfect city.”

Submissions can be sent in through the website, or to  Images need to be submitted as a jpg at a minimum of 300 dpi and cannot contain nudity or profanity.  Other than that, however, the project is open to a wide array of possibilities.  A sample list of potential subjects includes: “new or potential bike lanes, buses and bus routes, highway expansion, light rail, ride sharing programs, passenger tail lines, airport development and international terminal creation, super sonic air transportation, magnetic levitation trains, extra-orbital flights, space elevators, space ports, lunar travel, flights across the solar system, and interstellar travel.”

“One of the things I hope for the Vistovka to accomplish for the community is to draw those ideas into the fore.  The quality of them doesn’t matter in the face of simply putting them out there as inspiration for more,” concludes Tenebaum. “In many ways, the Vistovka really is just a textbook brainstorming session using Indie Grits as a white board.”

Review: John Mellencamp at the Township Auditorium

720x405-20140922_mellencamp_x1401 For most of the 24 hours leading up to John “Cougar” Mellencamp’s performance last Tuesday at the Township Auditorium, I made jokes about his name change. You would think that the joke would be stale, given that now-legendary rock and roller dropped the manager-demanded stage moniker in 1991. But, somehow, it still seemed to suggest some critical distance, as if, even if I liked Mellencamp’s songs, I still recognized them as the fluffier, commercially friendly flip side of the alt-country underground that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In truth, such a critical distance isn’t really necessary. Yes, Mellencamp had some rather dominant pop hits (“Hurt So Good,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “R.O.CK. in the U.S.A” among them) that felt like water-downed Springsteen, ready to be force-fed to an eager nation in the wake of Born in the USA’s mammoth sales, even if some of them preceded that blockbuster. But, by and large, Mellencamp wrote some of the best straight-forward roots-rockers of all-time, full of elegant small town details and genuine populist fervor, over the course of his career, and he's continued to write and record solid records, with 2014’s Plain Spoken greeted with critical if not commercial acclaim. Yes, he can come off as a poor man’s Springsteen, but really what he does is strip a lot of the excess from The Boss’s approach, writing with a keen sense of detail and little wasted in his spare lyrics. He arranges his songs similarly, balancing acoustic guitar and fiddle against understated electric guitars and organ with little in the way of soloing bombast or orchestral pretension. And I’ll be damned if the chorus to “Jack & Diane” isn’t the most perfect catchy-bleak-honest sentiment of any heartland rocker I’ve ever heard, Bruce be damned.

Plus, the whole Springsteen thing has probably followed him around enough as it is. If anything, generations of Americana singer/songwriters since the 1980s owe more to Mellencamp than he ever owed to his Jersey counterpart. Seriously, listen to folks like Ryan Bingham or Chris Knight and tell me they aren’t just pale imitations when you compare them to the real thing.

So how was the show you ask? Pretty good. Mellencamp opened with a couple of tunes from Plain Spoken as if to prove his songwriting hasn’t lost his step and each was full of his characteristic populist anger and cynical regret. He then proceeded to move smoothly between big hits and deeper cuts, keeping the crowd happy without devolving into pure nostalgia. His solid backing band was as unflashy as his recordings, with only violinist Miriam Sturm truly stepping out and showing off virtuosic chops. And although he was in fine vocal form throughout the evening, punctuating most every song with an energetic yelp or a holler, he seemed mostly bemused, as if he’s a cantankerous-yet-energetic young grandpa who is surprised to find himself surrounded by grandchildren given what a gruff he’s been throughout much of his life. The only time he addressed the crowd directly was to speak vaguely of history and aging, warning that “time is the only critic without an agenda” and delivering a cryptic parable about eating your eggs. It all felt vaguely like a performance Michael Keaton might riff on, Birdman-style, in the next few years.

While the hits might seem the obvious highlights (the acoustic “Jack & Diane,” replete with a gentle chiding of the karaoke crowd for prematurely jumping to the chorus, was genuinely moving), my favorite moments were on newer introspective ballads like “Longest Days” and “The Isolation of Mister” where Mellencamp’s weathered voice and wizened perspective were perfectly matched with the jaundiced philosophy of his earlier material. The other big surprise was when he went into full on Tom Waits-mode, playing up the cragginess of his voice as he sauntered around on stage with maniacal glee on bluesy romps like “The Full Catastrophe of Life.”

At the end of the day, a few people with me were still a bit bummed about some missed hits, but a set featuring “Small Town,” “Pink Houses,” “Cherry Bomb,” “The Authority Song,” and “Rain on the Scarecrow” can hardly be faulted for not giving the crowd what they wanted. For myself, I was just glad to see a legend who was still vital and creating new music while finding a comfortable way to please his audience and put on a good show. As we’ve too often seen, a 60-something rocker can do far, far worse. –Kyle Petersen

Revived Magazine Auntie Bellum Provides an Outlet for Southern Women to Speak Once Again

11051829_1793328944224801_2662040046559740819_n by Kirby Knowlton

Thirty years ago, there was a magazine for South Carolina women and their art, ideas, experiences, and concerns. This magazine was called Auntie Bellum and was first published in 1977. The founding editors wrote in the inaugural pages that “this kind of publication is long overdue. Women here have lacked some necessary tools for examining what experiences they have in common with those of other women.”

Today, Auntie Bellum is being revived by a new group of Columbia women. Though the original magazine only ran for four issues, it featured women of all different backgrounds and covered many different subjects. Auntie Bellum was a place for artists, activists, hair stylists, and beauty queens to write about everything from women’s history to health, politics to poetry. Meeghan Kane, the new editor, aims to pay homage to the original publication and grow a community for southern women.

“Like the original,” says Kane, “we’d like to focus on arts and culture, politics and health.” The magazine wants to show particular attention to the issues of domestic violence and reproductive rights, especially how they are being debated in the South Carolina State House. As a safe space for women to talk about all subjects, Auntie Bellum will “publish survivors’ stories from a broad range of experiences, including rape and assault, and struggles with sexual orientation, harassment, and discrimination,” says Kane. Auntie Bellum is looking for article-length content about any subject pertaining to southern women, including “the music and art they’re creating, the jokes they’re telling, and the stands they’re taking.” Not to leave the original publication in the past, the magazine also to include a great deal of southern women’s history.

Auntie Bellum is as necessary a resource for women today as in 1977. The original issues give evidence that there were more abortion clinics open back then than there are today. “Equal pay, sexual harassment, and domestic violence are all, unbelievably, still hotly debated topics,” says Kane. Auntie Bellum’s mission is to amplify voices who have the ideas and will to bring about changing the inequalities still affecting southern women. Kane hopes to include podcasts, photography, videos, and art in the publication and its website, “to get a bunch of women involved, and give us a broader reach and a longer run.”

The magazine will have a website up in early April, and plans on having its first print issue by the end of the year. The women involved are Meeghan Kane, Roxy Lenzo, Heather Green, Courtney Phillips, Sara Kennedy, Jenni Brennison, Brittany Braddock, Karla Turner, and Betty Benns. Auntie Bellum aims to be an inclusive publication, inviting anyone to speak who has a story to tell, regardless of age, gender, or sexuality.

For more information about Auntie Bellum, check out their Facebook page at or email them at

In Jasper Vol. 3, No. 4: Record Reviews - Release the Dog's Out for Justice

"This young indie rock trio’s debut LP can be a little rough around the edges (it was recorded and mixed entirely in the member’s various abodes), but it’s hard to deny how fun and engaging these tunes are. Pulling from their favorite college rock bands like Dinosaur Jr and Pavement, Release the Dog blaze through their intricate tunes with a carefree urgency, matching understated vocals to ferocious guitar riffs and winding solos with aplomb. In fact, most of the fun of this record is the sheer exuberance of the group’s fresh-faced arrangements. On the downside, there sonic consistency can be a little overbearing over the course of the album’s run time, I problem that has also plagued some of J. Mascis and company’s middle-period efforts. Fortunately, Release the Dog also has tunes like “Back to the Wind” which reveal the more earnest singer/songwriter side that the louder tunes can often mask that also have the added bonus of providing a breather for an excellent record whose run time can feel a little long. It also, perhaps, suggests how good these guys are at focused songwriting when they put their minds to it, suggesting that the best is yet to come." –Kyle Petersen

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In Jasper Vol. 3, No. 4: Record Reviews - Sheem One & Jorai's Success

"Success marks the first collaboration between local MCs Sheem One and Jorai Williams, and the title is a fitting one. The common theme uniting the record’s 19 tracks is the pursuit of one’s dreams and the internal and external conflicts that can threaten to interfere when the dreamer insists on writing the rules. There are also fluid meditations on women (“Ole Girl,” “Your Love), the joys and struggles of fatherhood (“I Ain’t Got Time,” “Push”), and day-to-day tasks like balancing the checkbook (“Fly”). But Sheem and Jorai never stray too far lyrically from their shared belief that real, honest success can’t come from anything but intuition, and hard work doesn’t stop for anything except tucking in the kids. The most striking thing about Success is how unrelenting the album is in its commitment to positivity. These guys are for real. They dote on their women. They don’t use swear words. They don’t smoke weed. They’re critical of the hero worship that can negatively influence young fans (“If rappers are your heroes then they’re failin’ ya/ If you’re locked behind bars they ain’t bailin’ ya”) and, indeed, there’s no trace of the braggadocio and self-involved opulence that permeates so much of mainstream hip-hop. Philosophically, Sheem and Jorai are more in line with artists like Dead Prez, but without the militancy and adoration for conspiracy theories.

Both guys possess laidback, conversational rapping styles that push the lyrics front and center, and there isn’t any doubt that the message, for them, is everything. And the music is likewise low-key, jibing easily with their alternately confessional and motivational sermons without ever sounding passive or phoned-in. Female backup singers, non-intrusive beats, and soul-infused hooks are all over the place, recalling the East Coast sound that dominated much of ‘90s hip-hop. And that’s another part of Success’s appeal—the love these guys have for the Palmetto state, and Columbia in particular, is in plain evidence. They namedrop everything from churches they grew up attending to specific streets they hung out on as kids.

It’s hard to find fault in an album this earnest, not that it would matter if you did. They aren’t the least bit vague in the assuredness that their cause is right and proper, and I’m in no position to disagree. I haven’t heard either of their work without the other, but Success is proof that a shared vision between two original talents, along with a pay-the-car-insurance-or-die-trying attitude, can yield something unique and worthwhile. You should be rooting for ‘em." – Michael Spawn

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