By Amanda Main and Stacey Eidson
In an homage to its first year in 2008, the Westobou Festival extended this year from five days to nearly two weeks of arts and entertainment for its 10th anniversary. Among the offerings, spanning from Oct. 3 to 14, were An Evening with Chris Robinson Brotherhood at Sky City; Westobou Central on the Augusta Common (complete with live music, film screenings and a Ferris wheel); actor and comedian Kevin Hart on two nights at the Bell Auditorium; yoga at the Westobou Gallery; soul singer/songwriter Allen Stone at the Imperial Theatre, and much, much more.
Two of the highlights during the festival were the screening of “Athens, Ga. – Inside/Out” with a special performance by Pylon Reenactment Society and Hillary-Marie’s Sole Music Collective with special guest Wycliffe Gordon, both on different nights at Augusta University’s Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre.
Film, Pylon Reenactment Society bring rich musical past to life
The night of Oct. 6 saw a must-attend event for anyone who’s ever enjoyed live music in Athens, Ga.
The night started off with a Q&A session hosted by Augusta University Department of Communications Assistant Professor Matthew Buzzell. He described the film “Athens, Ga. – Inside/Out as a “beautiful time capsule” and discussed having seen the film at a screening in Los Angeles before a packed house of millennials, who loved it. The discussion included several key figures, such as producer Bill Cody, two members of Pylon and others.
The 1987 film opens with William Orten Carlton speaking about the music there at that time. He’s better known as Ort in the Athens scene, and he also was present at the Augusta Q&A discussion. Athens became a music mecca in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s with acts such as the B-52s, R.E.M., Love Tractor, Pylon, Kilkenny Cats and more — they are seen in the film with concert footage and interviews. The film also includes footage of several residents in Athens, with one memorable moment featuring man who runs a local barbecue joint recounting a band called the “The Asshole Surfers” (referring to the Butthole Surfers) coming to Athens.
Near the end of the film is R.E.M. performing a haunting, hard-to-get-out-of-your-head rendition of “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers.
When the film was over, the screen went up and punk/alternative band Pylon Reenactment Society was set up on the stage and immediately began playing. The band is headed by Vanessa Briscoe Hay, the singer of the original Pylon, which had disbanded for the first time by the time “Athens, Ga. – Inside/Out” came out in 1987. (They were active from 1979-’83, 1989-’92/’93, and again from 2004 until their guitarist Randy Bewley died in 2009.) Hay formed Pylon Reenactment Society a few years ago, with other musicians from Athens. The band, who performed strictly Pylon songs in Augusta, are working toward creating new songs in the spirit of Pylon.
During the concert, just after seeing the film, it was easy to imagine one was watching a Pylon show back in the ‘80s, and trying to imagine what it was like in Athens at the time.
About 20 people headed down to the area in front of the stage to dance, and at one point, Hay invited them up to the stage to dance and get on the microphone to sing “Woo, woo!” during their song “M-Train.”
Also during the live show, Pylon’s bass player Michael Lachowski got on stage to perform a couple of his old songs with them.
Hay described the feeling of being able to play her old band’s songs for people as amazing.
“it’s really a good group of players that I have,” she said. “They all really respect and love Pylon. And we just have a lot of fun, and every now and then, I get that feeling — and I had it in Augusta, too — where I just feel like I’m a part of everything. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s almost like you’re outside of yourself, you become a part of the music. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to experience that. And I think the audience, when they’re dancing, sometimes they get that feeling, too, that they’re a part of the music.”
She said the last time she had played in Augusta was with Pylon in about 1980 or ’81, and she said she enjoyed exploring the town again, making a stop at the James Brown statue, and also revisiting Pyramid Music, a record store that has been on Broad Street for decades.
Pylon Reenactment Society had an EP called “Part Time Punks Session” digitally released the same day as their Augusta show, and it will be available on vinyl Oct. 20. The EP was made as a recording of six Pylon songs last December for the show “Part Time Punks” on a radio station in Los Angeles. Also, what could be considered a sequel to “Athens, Ga. – Inside/Out” is being worked on now, a film with the working title of “Athens, Ga. – 30 Years On.”
Visit pylonreenactmentsociety.com to find out more.
Dancer Hillary-Marie creates a beautiful VIBE
Hillary-Marie, one of the most accomplished tap dance artists in this country, graced the stage at the Maxwell Theatre last week alongside jazz trombonist and local legend Wycliffe Gordon, and the results were a night filled with high energy and excitement.
Through her dance production, Hillary-Marie proved to the audience that music, dance and emotion in the right atmosphere can create a universal energy felt by all in the room.
The show called VIBE combined four dancers and four musicians on one stage in an outstanding performance that freely flowed in and out of choreography and improvisation.
Ever since she began her dance career at the early age of 5, Hillary-Marie has crafted her skills and truly believes that artists are the messengers of the world.
And she knows her craft.
From 2007 until 2013, Hillary-Marie was mentored by and assistant to the vaudeville legend Dr. Harold “Stumpy” Cromer, half of the world-famous duet of “Stump & Stumpy,” who shared bill with some of the greatest singers in the world including Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
She is also an award-winning, internationally acclaimed soloist and founder of the world-class Jersey Tap Fest in New Jersey.
While watching VIBE, the audience couldn’t help but be spiritually and emotionally lifted by the music and dance.
Ironically, Hillary-Marie kindly thanked the Augusta audience for attending her show because she told them she was humbled by the opportunity to be able to share her gift with them.
But the Augusta audience members were the lucky ones. They were honored to watch such a unique and inspiring show that captured her love of tap as a cherished American art form.
This was actually the first time in the past 10 years of Westobou that a tap performance was featured during the festival.
Hillary-Marie and the three other incredible dancers of Sole Music Collective — Yoshiko Hida, Corey Hutchins and Liberty Styles — used tap and pure movement to bring the stage alive.
Wycliffe Gordon, who grew up in the Augusta area, is always a fan favorite, and he was recently named “Trombonist of the Year” for the 10th time by the Jazz Journalists Association.
Gordon took the stage with drummer Andrew Atkinson, keyboardist Enoch Smith and bassist Gabriel Vivas, and the band perfectly played off the dancers, using call and repeat patterns that mesmerized the audience.
By combining tap dance choreography and improvisation with live music collaboration, Hillary-Marie and her dancers became unique storytellers throughout the night’s performance. They brought to life modern-day tap and rhythm into a musical dance odyssey.
Following the performance, Hillary-Marie described working with her dancers and Wycliffe Gordon and his fellow musicians as the “dream team.”
“Thankful to share time and make music with these beautiful artists,” she stated on her Facebook page after the show. “So much love.”