On the Impact of the Contemporary Arts Center’s Departing Director, Raphaela Platow

By STEVE ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / JULY 6, 2021

Raphaela Platow Photograph By Tina Gutierrez Arts Photography 60ca36a537079Raphaela PlatowPHOTO: TINA GUTIERREZ ARTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Raphaela Platow, who recently announced her departure after 14 years as director of the Contemporary Arts Center to lead Louisville’s Speed Art Museum, did some of her finest work during the coronavirus pandemic.

This may sound a little strange, as the CAC — like all museums — struggled during 2020 and into this year with the pandemic. It closed for several months when COVID-19 first arrived, and then again for several weeks in December and early January when there were fears of a resurgence. That upended public awareness for an interest in the CAC’s exhibits, including at least one show that was a big deal: the first major U.S. exhibition of work by the Portuguese street artist Vhils. I wish I could tell people what they missed, but I was more or less staying home, too. 

During that time, Platow began writing her “Director’s Dispatch,” a column delivered via email to museum members. Platow’s missives not only were good, but also unusual. They were deeply personal, sometimes viscerally so, in communicating how she was processing the challenges of 2020-21 and in how contemporary art could help her with that. I found them enlightening and often moving.

An example is from her April 2021 Director’s Dispatch, about her participation in one of the events at CAC’s performance festival “This Time Tomorrow,” which returned in truncated form this year after a 2020 cancellation. She had attended artist Kate McIntosh’s installation Worktable, which encouraged visitors to smash and break objects and then try to mend them. Platow noted that she chose a small yellow porcelain bird on a white tray, slammed it with a hammer and then worked to repair the harm.

“Destruction and renewal are at the core of McIntosh’s work, and last year epitomized mourning and catharsis for me as we are now one year into the devastating COVID pandemic, racial tensions and social upheaval,” Platow wrote.

“Worktable powerfully shed light for me on how little it takes to destroy and how much time, effort, creativity and resources it takes to build anew,” she continued. “However, the process of rebuilding offers space and opportunity, not just for fixing what has been broken, but to tap into our imagination to envision something better and more useful for our future world. To imagine something not just as it was, or ‘normally’ is, but as it might be — that is the path of true change and the only pathway to a better tomorrow.” 

Even the way Platow started this particular newsletter seemed surprisingly forthcoming: “We are back — with caution, we are back. In spite of an incredible loss in revenue, the CAC is back, coming off our performance festival, This Time Tomorrow, and a building full of new exhibitions.” 

Being able to get these dispatches made CAC membership worth having during the roughly one-and-a-half years I’ve gone without visiting the building (The CAC is putting the collection of newsletters up on its website soon).

Platow arrived at the CAC after serving as chief curator and acting director of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum and as international curator at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. She also has held museum positions in Munich and Berlin in her native country Germany. Her résumé states that she has written extensively about contemporary art, too.

The CAC’s Zaha Hadid-designed building was but four years old when Platow arrived, and figuring out how to use it best was part of her job. During her tenure here there was a 400% increase in attendance and a doubling of the museum’s annual operating budget, The Art Newspaper reports.

As the CAC’s director (officially the Alice & Harris Weston Director), Platow presided over some wonderful shows, sometimes working with now-departed curators Justine Ludwig and Steven Matijcio (I retired as CityBeat Arts Editor in 2018 and am not familiar with the input of current senior curator Amora Antilla). 

Some of these exhibits brought to town the work of larger-than-art-world celebrities like Patti Smith, Shepard Fairey, Swoon, JR, Mark Mothersbaugh and the late Keith Haring. The CAC also hosted powerful exhibits by artists who were known within the contemporary art world but not so much outside of it — Tara Donovan, Ugo Rondinone, Glenn Brown, Do Ho Suh, Maria Lassnig, Daniel Arsham, Glenn Kaino, Anne Lindberg and more. 

If I had to pick the most important show presented under Platow’s leadership, it would be 2019-20’s Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott. It gave a timely overview as well as an understanding of the demanding work of this Black painter, who died in 2009. Platow organized this traveling retrospective that had its first stop at the CAC, and she should be proud of the national attention it received.

The CAC under Platow championed local artists, and at least two of them had especially impactful shows. One, Mark de Jong’s Swing House, highlighted an already existing re-invention of a Camp Washington house into a kind of indoor playground. And Shinji Turner-Yamamoto’s Hanging Garden at Mount Adams’ then-abandoned Holy Cross Church featured a live tree surviving atop a dead one, their balancing act seeming to defy nature even while being part of it. 

It will be interesting to see how the CAC evolves after Platow. Its current deputy director, Marcus Margerum, will serve as interim director. 

At the Speed, Platow will move to an encyclopedic collecting museum which, in recent years, has completed a multi-year project that included renovation of its 1927 Neoclassical building and construction of a new, Modernist North Building. The Speed, too, has shown dedication to presenting politically, socially and environmentally relevant Contemporary art (including cinema). Earlier this year, it presented a show of Black artists responding to last year’s police killing of Louisville medical worker Breonna Taylor. Additionally, it will share ownership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture of a portrait of Taylor by Amy Sherald, who also painted First Lady Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery. 

Looking ahead, the Speed has an August show featuring a recently acquired portfolio by the late Ralph Eugene Meatyard — one of Kentucky’s most important photographers — which includes images taken at Red River Gorge in 1967 to raise support for its then-threatened preservation. And coming in October is an exhibit called Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art. It sounds like quite an interesting museum.

Platow’s last day at CAC will be July 9. She will start in Louisville on Aug. 30.

Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org.

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The Evolution of War Memorial Design

(Given the ongoing interest in the subject of memorials, I am posting this July 28, 2010 story from Cincinnati CityBeat about the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans in Columbus, Indiana. It was constructed in 1997 and incorporates a lot of the new ideas about memorials that are now prevalent.)The Evolution of War Memorial Design. It deserves wider attention. — SR)

BY STEVEN ROSEN / July 28, 2012 / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT

A couple Saturdays ago, I went on an Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati-sponsored excursion to Columbus, Ind., a city just 90 minutes away that has developed an international reputation for its Modernist architecture.

Besides the buildings, I was particularly moved by the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans in the city’s downtown. Constructed in 1997, it smartly reflects lessons learned about veterans’/war memorials in the years since Maya Lin’s landmark Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington in 1982. Further, it is the work of architects.

As it turns out, a Cincinnati native, Maryann Thompson, designed Columbus’ memorial with her then-husband and partner, Charles Rose, after winning a competition. Now based in Cambridge, where she has her own firm and is an adjunct professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, she grew up in Wyoming and, after her parents moved to Indian Hill when she was in 10th grade, graduated from Seven Hills School.

She was a finalist for the Art Academy’s redesign of an old Over-the-Rhine structure into its school and has been contacted by Playhouse in the Park about a (now-apparently stalled) expansion, but this is her closest project.

The memorial features 25 limestone pillars arranged close enough together in courthouse square to form a kind of stone grove— a sanctuary — that envelopes you once inside. The purpose was to remember the 156 county veterans who died during 20th-century wars as a new century was about to begin.

The veterans’ names are part of the memorial. But what is so emotionally powerful is that the pillars have been carved with passages from the letters and journals the soldiers sent home, sometimes just days before their death. Or, in some cases, it features military notices to a family about a son missing or killed in action. This is a silent memorial, a remembrance of the deceased, but it also approximates a living, oral history. You can hear those soldiers talking as you read their letters home.

Though a spiritual cousin, this differs from Lin’s Vietnam memorial in not making the architecture so subtly part of the landscape. But Thompson and Rose are not seeking to fill up space with ostentatious monumentality and outdated heroic figuration, a trait of older war memorials. Rather, they take advantage of verticality to tell stories and infuse the limestone with humanity.

When Lin (a native of Athens, Ohio, by the way) finished her Vietnam Memorial in 1982, it was a real game-changer. Non-representational in nature, it consists of a black-granite wall containing the names of those veterans who died. Certainly after the disastrous Vietnam War a new kind of memorial was needed. By the 1980s, we sensed the modern war experience is at least as much about loss and remembrance as victory. Lin’s work captured that. And nothing has happened since to change that view. After her accomplishment — and the powerfully enthusiastic public response to it, especially from Vietnam veterans — more traditional representational-realism statuary no longer rang very true. (Regrettably, not everyone learned that lesson. An unfortunate example is the circle of life-size soldiers that are part of Blue Ash’s literal-minded and excessive 1991 Bicentennial Veterans Memorial.)

Coincidentally, on the bus trip home from Columbus a movie played about the making of Lin’s Vietnam memorial. It told how the process wasn’t easy for her — those afraid of change or who feared her wall might be disrespectful fought hard and won some changes. But history was on her side and you can see that, on a smaller scale, in the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans. It’s worth a visit to Columbus in its own right.

Visionary Cincinnati Gallerist Carl Solway Championed the Revolutionary and Was Devoted to the Art of Living

A prestigious art dealer and great Cincinnatian, Solway wanted to work with the best artists possible, preferably on big projects, to joyfully elevate our culture. His impact will live on.

106457628101585207175935412816357006169782563OCarl Solway passed away on June 25, 2020PHOTO: FACEBOOK.COM/CARLSOLWAYGALLERY

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN /CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / JULY 6, 2020

Seeing and talking to Carl Solway, who died on June 25 at age 85, were visits to a wise elder. His knowledge about Contemporary art and its ability to change a person for the better came from having had his own life changed by his experiences with some of the most important artists of his (and our) time.

I quickly learned, writing about art for CityBeat starting in 2007, that not only was he a good source for any story, but he also often had first-hand experiences with the subjects of my stories. It wasn’t long before I was sometimes selecting stories because Solway knew the artist.

And I was also doing stories that involved the imaginative ideas that Solway had had for improving our city and region through art. He thought big! For instance, when his Carl Solway Gallery in the West End had its Thanks: 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2012 (he opened his first gallery, Flair, with his first wife Gail in 1962), I was taken by a striking but odd 1990 drawing by Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen, “The Colossal Soap on the Ohio River.”

Near it was “The Soap at Baton Rouge,” a cast resin worn bar of soap, part of a 250-edition multiple that Solway and Oldenburg produced in 1990. Asking Solway about these unearthed the quixotic tale of how he and Oldenburg — one of our greatest living artists, known for his large public sculptures of utilitarian objects (his wife died in 2009) — proposed to Procter & Gamble floating a perhaps-inflatable version of a giant soap bar down the Ohio River to celebrate Ivory soap’s 1979 centennial.

“I said to Claes that it would be great to do some public art around it,” Solway said then. “What about the idea of doing a 400-foot inflatable bar of Ivory soap? You make a big inflatable balloon-like structure that you can blow up. It wouldn’t actually be real soap.”

It would, he explained, sit atop a barge that could guide it.

The idea didn’t get far beyond the two, but Solway tried again in 1983 after Christo wrapped 11 islands in Florida’s Biscayne Bay. And he couldn’t help but make a new pitch for it during our interview in 2012.

“It would be fantastic if that could finally happen,” Solway said. “And now would be the time, following all the attention from the (then-fresh Cincinnati-staged) World Choir Games, to do something like this.”

That was what made Solway so special. He combined visionary ideas with a non-parochial, non-defensive civic pride that sought to joyfully elevate our culture. He wanted to work with the best artists possible, preferably on big projects, and he wanted to help the city by doing so.

As result of being a prestigious art dealer and one of some 180 members (in just 30 cities) of the Art Dealers Association of America, he had quick, easy access to those artists. For the story about the “Colossal Soap,” he provided me with a contact email for Oldenburg, who quickly replied to my inquiry: “To answer your question, if someone would have come up with the money and means to create the giant ‘Soap’ or its balloon double, of course Coosje and I would have responded, and given it a try. The impossible was always an inspiration to us.”

Another time, I discovered Solway had artwork by a 1960s Pop artist, the late Bob Stanley, whom I owned a print by but knew little about. The print was of an unidentified female singing group, and I had long wondered who it was. I told him that and within a few days he forwarded me an email from Stanley’s widow, Marylin, identifying it as The Shirelles and part of a set of Rock & Roll prints created in 1965. It’s now in our dining room, and I know who it is when people ask.

Solway was a charismatic speaker; he was supportively professorial. He talked about Contemporary art with a relaxed smile and in an inviting, narratively unfolding way that was just plain friendly. As a result, he was very convincing.

For instance, in 1985 Solway arranged for the Cincinnati Art Museum to commission Andy Warhol to create a portrait of Pete Rose, because the Red was about to break Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record. But neither man, Rose nor Warhol, knew the other — it’s said neither even knew who the other was — and it was hard to get Rose to go to Warhol’s New York studio to have a reference photograph taken. As a result, Warhol based his portrait on an existing newspaper image by Cincinnati photographer Gordon Baer, and presented his finished work like four large baseball cards.

I had not been predisposed to like the result much; there didn’t seem much artist-subject connection to the project. But in 2010, as part of the portrait’s 25th anniversary, I heard Solway explain why this is a significant artwork for Warhol. He had a gift for being able to emphasize what he believed was significant about a particular Contemporary artist or artwork.

“It was so brilliant of Andy to make it into a baseball card,” he said. “And that’s so interesting because baseball cards are collectible and negotiable. So it was a statement about the commercialization of art, just like his soup cans are about the commercialization of branding.”

He made me see it a different way.

There is much else about Solway’s career and life that is memorable. He worked with such major names in Contemporary art (and creative thinking) as Buckminster Fuller, Richard Hamilton, Nam June Paik and, of course, Oldenburg. He advocated for more and better public art in Cincinnati — with Jack Boulton, starting a late-1960s mural project, Urban Walls.

And while, like all gallerists, he operated a business and thus tried to sell its art, he did so with quality exhibitions. He also took pride in supporting women artists, including four who became MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipients: Judy Pfaff, Ann Hamilton, Aminah Robinson and Joan Snyder.

Pat Steir, another distinguished artist, presented a transcendent gallery show in 2008 — abstracted, Asian-influenced paintings of waterfalls. (The Cincinnati Art Museum bought one.) In 2010, when she returned to Cincinnati for a Contemporary Arts Center show, I had the chance to talk to her about Solway.

“Carl goes deep into the art he works with,” she said. “He cares about the people, too — the art and the people as one. He goes for the groundbreaking, not the ordinary — I think that’s his true obsession. He’s a great person and a great friend.”

I use the term Contemporary art to mean art of our time, often work by living artists attuned to changes in Post-World War II America. Solway once called the Pop artists, Minimalists and Conceptualists “my generation.” Yet he had started off emphasizing prints by Modern Masters, good but safe art for a developing regional market. He changed direction after meeting John Cage, the man he considered “the 20th century’s greatest artist.”

That’s kind of a remarkable statement, since Cage is primarily known as an avant-garde composer, although one influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s radical conceptualism. Cage’s most famous work is “4’ 33,” representing the amount of time that a musician “plays” an instrument by making no intentional sound whatsoever. It makes you hear music, or the lack of it, in a totally new way.

In the 1967-68 school year, Cincinnati arts patrons Alice and Harris Weston sponsored Cage’s stay at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music as a composer-in-residence. And Cage would visit Solway’s Flair gallery and play chess with him.

“We became friends,” Solway said in a 2010 CityBeat story that I wrote, and from which I have repurposed excerpts for this remembrance. “And John said to me one day, ‘What are you doing, showing all these people who are dead? Why aren’t you working with artists of your own times? Come to New York and I’ll introduce you to some of my friends.’ ”

At the same time, Alice Weston suggested Cage try his hand at visual art. Cage agreed — although he had never done it before — and Solway ended up publishing Cage’s “Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel,” a limited-edition tribute to the recently deceased Duchamp. It’s an important work, now in the collection of many art museums, including Cincinnati’s, because it so imaginatively encapsulates Cage’s belief in the liberating role of chance in art…and life.

Working off the fact the Chinese I Ching contains 64 hexagrams (oracular statements), Cage rolled dice and used the I Ching to devise an artwork that — in complete-set form — contained 64 silk-screened Plexiglas pieces, or “plexigrams,” with individualized word fragments and images. Solway published Cage’s “Marcel” in an edition of roughly 125 “objects.” (A single object contained eight plexigrams and two lithographs.)

“That was a life-transformative experience for me, both in terms of my personal life and in terms of my career,” Solway said. “It was a wonderful project. I traveled all over Europe trying to sell it — (the objects) were selling for $200 apiece in those days.”

In the 1970s, the Carl Solway Gallery replaced Flair, he and his first wife divorced, and second wife Elizabeth (Lizi) became his gallery administrator for many years. At the time of his death, they had been married 42 years.

It is a bit strange to write about the importance of a career devoted to “art of the living” while knowing that refers to many who are now deceased. Now, Carl Solway is one of them. (His son Michael will continue operating the gallery.) But the fact that what once was so new is becoming history doesn’t diminish its importance. The art he championed was revolutionary, and everything new grows from it.

I hope everyone realizes just how great a Cincinnatian Carl Solway was. His impact will live on.

Happenings 50 Years (+) Time Ago: The Night the Yardbirds Played My High School Prom

 

The_Yardbirds_(1998)_-_Rock_and_Roll_Hall_of_Fame_handprints_(2014_photograph)

BY TIM VONDERBRINK/ ONE SHOT MAGAZINE, WINTER, 1987

(This story by Tim VonderBrink originally ran in One Shot, a fanzine I published in the 1980s, with the headline “Happenings 20 Years Time Ago.” I am publishing it on my blog, with his permission, because interest in the event only grows stronger with time and he frequently gets asked about it. The May, 2020 issue of Cincinnati Magazine has a superb story about it by Lisa Murtha, a detailed and fascinating oral history of the event. The photo is from Wikimedia Commons, which maintains freely usable media files.)

 

 

IT WAS PROM NIGHT, 1968. Boutonnieres, corsages, tuxedos, the works. Guys shaving their peach-fuzzed faces, adjusting their cummerbunds and climbing into their dads’ cars to pick up their girl friends, or maybe someone they’d only talked to on the phone.

It was a prom night, in most ways like any other, except this was Cincinnati St. Xavier High School’s Junior Senior Prom. And this was the Yardbirds.

That’s right. A British-Invasion band more experimental than any of its time, one that nurtured three of rock’s most influential guitarists and who had destroyed their guitars onstage in the movie Blow-Up, played at my prom.

While most of us at St. X were thrilled (and fairly incredulous) when the prom plans were announced, the choice was not universally hailed. The Yardbirds cost $2,500 – a pittance by today’s standards, but quite a chunk of change compared with the $200-$300 that would fetch most local bands. So tickets would cost more. And after all, the critics cried, how can you slow-dance to the Yardbirds?

Tickets cost $18 (hacking off those who didn’t really care for the Yardbirds), and the usually separate junior and senior proms were made one event (hacking off the seniors) at Cincinnati’s convention center.

The Yardbirds’ amazing career had passed its peak by 1968. Hits like ‘For Your Love’, ‘Heart Full of Soul’ and ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ were part of a pyrotechnic past when Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page sharpened their skills and did some of their most influential guitar work. Shortly after their prom appearance, the Yardbirds would be no more. Perhaps we had something to do with that.

The Yardbirds were not the first choice of the prom committee. In fact, desperation had a bit of a hand in it.

Prom coordinator Rip Pelley says Cream had originally been hired, but the supergroup trio of Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker failed to pass a popularity contest.

A Jesuit priest at St. X asked ten students if they would pay $18-20 if Cream were to play the prom. Eight of them not only said no, but confessed they’d never heard of Cream – still a few months away from hitting the American charts with ‘Sunshine of Your Love’. So Cream was out.

Next came the Grass Roots, a more mainstream pop band best known for ‘Midnight Confessions’ and ‘Let’s Live For Today’. They were signed on and tickets were sold with the Grass Roots as headliners until 30 days before the prom, when the manager called to say they would have to cancel.

But the manager said he could line up the Yardbirds, who were filming a TV spot in Cleveland the night before the prom. It was too late for popularity contests. The Yardbirds it would be.

The first clue the group had that they were playing a prom is when Pelley met the group at the airport in his tuxedo. “Jimmy Page thought it was hysterical,” Pelley says.

After the more traditional dance band (hired to appease those who wanted their prom to be a bit more like the ones their parents told them about) had sauntered through the last ballad, the Yardbirds took the stage.

Looking scruffy, rebellious and nothing like a prom band, the Yardbirds soared through their classics as if they were playing to a crowd of thousands. If they were amused by the tuxedoes and formal gowns they looked out on, they showed it only with a few knowing glances between songs. These guys were pros.

While Keith Relf’s harmonica propelled ‘Smokestack Lightning’, the prom crowd stood and stared. Should we dance? The music demanded it but the gowns forbade it. At last, everyone just sat on the floor and gawked at the celebrities that somehow had been lured to a high-school dance in Cincinnati.

‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down,’ ‘Ha Ha Said the Clown’ – they played them all while we just sat and stared. In the middle of one unfamiliar song, Jimmy Page stroked his guitar with a violin bow. The sound was unearthly but quite lyrical. The song, ‘Dazed and Confused,’ would soon appear on an album by a group that Page would first call the New Yardbirds, then Led Zeppelin.

After two 45-minute sets of high-energy electric rock, the Yardbirds bade everyone good night and even thanked us for allowing them to play.

A bit dazed and confused ourselves, we filed out of the convention center, buzzing about the performance.

Pelley, now vice-president of marketing for Allied Artists, a new record label in California whose first release was Luis Cardenas’ ‘Runaway’ remake, has only praise for the Jesuits who, however grudgingly, allowed the Yardbirds to play. “After all, they let it happen,” he says.

Most of those who had wanted a “regular” prom band hadn’t changed their minds after prom night, but even they knew they’d have a story to impress friends with in years to come.

And, come to think of it, the Yardbirds might have felt the same way!

© Tim VonderBrink, 1987

Over the Rhine’s ‘Blood Oranges in the Snow’: A Memorable Holiday Album

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BY STEVEN ROSEN

CINCINNATI CITYBEAT/2014/citybeat.com

With Blood Oranges in the Snow, Over the Rhine treats the Christmas album as a major artistic statement that questions the holiday’s celebratory nature as much as it acknowledges it.

The married duo of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, augmented by other musicians, will perform songs from the new album Saturday at Taft Theatre. Lily & Madeleine will open. This will be Over the Rhine’s 16th straight holiday show at the Taft, but this one’s a little different because of the new album. (They have recorded two previous Christmas records.) Longtime Cincinnati residents, they now live on Nowhere Farm in rural Highland County.

Typical of Over the Rhine, this new album has acoustic-oriented material with gently powerful melodies and sensitively introspective lead vocals, most but not all by Bergquist. But Blood Oranges can’t just be described as a typical Christmas album.

Not when the songs include the likes of Detweiler’s “My Father’s Body” (about Christmas Eve being the right time to visit his father’s grave) and “First Snowfall” (which begins with a description of “ragged and rusty” Christmas decorations and later references “two stray dogs runnin’ in Newport, Ky.”) The album also has a cover of Kim Taylor’s “Snowbirds,” about escaping winter, and Merle Haggard’s aching tale of working-class hardship, “If We Make It Through December.” The surface of Blood Oranges reflects great beauty, but melancholy ripples and rumbles underneath.

“Karin at one point while we were making this leaned over to me and said, ‘I think we’ve stumbled onto a new kind of music called Reality Christmas,’” Detweiler said, by phone from Cleveland before a recent show there.

“I think one aspect of that would be that losing a loved one or losing a job or any of these difficulties we deal with all year round doesn’t really go away during the holidays.

“And those of us who grew up with the Christmas story were taught that something amazingly redemptive happened with the birth of Jesus. Angels were singing, there was good news, peace was coming to earth, this tiny child was somehow going to break the cycle of violence to which we’re so addicted.

“When we kind of look at that ancient dream and the reality of where we are today, the distance between the two can seem like a wound too deep to heal, too wide to bridge,” he continued.

“I think a lot of our songs live in that distance, that tension between the two. Who doesn’t want to believe peace can come to earth and these wrongs put right and forgiveness would trump retaliation? But we’re not there.”

Still, Christmas does bring hope – if not for religious reasons, then because of the weather. December brings the possibility of a purifying snowfall, which occurs in the song “First Snowfall” when the flakes fall on a weary, downtrodden city. A city like Cincinnati.

“I lived right on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine for 10 years, right across the street from where Kaldi’s (coffee house) eventually started,” Detweiler recalled. “It could get a little dingy down there in December back in the day – trash blowing around in the street, lots of characters hanging out drinking out of brown paper bags.

“It seemed like there were a number of years when I lived in this little third-story apartment where the first big snowfall of the year was pretty significant and it seemed like it always started after dark. So it would come down and you’d see each one of the streetlights become its own snow globe. All of a sudden the city started going quiet and it always felt like something a little sacred was happening. To me, it always felt like a fresh start.”

The song’s reference to stray dogs in Newport comes from a the photograph that Michael Wilson — the Cincinnatian whose work has been featured on Over the Rhine album covers — took for the Replacements’ 1990 All Shook Down.

“That was one of the first Michael Wilson photographs I saw in his basement when I met him and was starting this band,” Detweiler said. “That seemed to embody something important to us. We’ve been haunted by that image for years and I was glad to finally get it into a song.”

After a quarter century as a musical act (sometimes with additional members), big changes are looming for Over the Rhine in 2015. “No way we can repeat those 25 years of touring and recording moving forward. So I think we need to reinvent or perish,” Detweiler said. “We’ve decided we need a creative home base. We are restoring a 140-year-old barn on another farm nearby. Nowhere Else will be second property.”

Somewhat modeled on what the late Levon Helm did in Woodstock by using a barn on his property for a series of Midnight Ramble concerts with guest musicians, Detweiler plans to convert that barn into a 150-200-seat concert/recording venue and with 12-15 shows per year featuring the duo and invited guests. Near to Nowhere Farm, the Nowhere Else property is in Clinton County.

“We’ll selectively begin introducing some of the amazing people we’ve met over the years, like Jack Henderson or Kim Taylor or Joe Henry or someone like Buddy Miller,” Detweiler said.

Work is set to get underway soon and be finished by the end of May. On May 24 and 25, Over the Rhine is staging special barn-raising concerts for fans – tickets are $100 per person with information available at www.overtherhine.com. Over the Rhine has previously turned to fans to fund its last three albums, The Long Surrender, Meet Me at the Edge of the World and Blood Oranges.

“Our fans have stepped forward and together we have learned we can make significant projects together,” Detweiler said. “We’re going to take this to the next level and really collaborate on building this barn together.

“We’ll see if we’re crazy. If it ends up not working at all, we’ll be selling two farms and moving back to the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine. But we might not be able to afford that now.”

Last Living Member of the Original Temptations Otis Williams Reflects on Broadway Success and the Group’s Enduring Legacy

 CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / JUL 24, 2019? 11 AM

MUSIC10724Otis Williams Photo Chyna PhotographyOtis Williams of The Temptations/PHOTO: CHYNA PHOTOGRAPHY

 

THE WORLD OF legacy Soul, Rock and Pop musicians — sometimes called “oldies acts” — rarely overlaps with the cutting-edge of contemporary popular culture. These acts have their own circuit, their own show-biz niche, often appealing to nostalgic fans that want to thank them for the hit records of the past.

On one level, the Friday, July 26 show featuring The Temptations (and The Righteous Brothers) at PNC Pavilion fits the above description. The Temptations were an integral part of Detroit’s Motown Records at its zenith, when the label combined Soul music with Rock awareness to become “the sound of Young America.” From 1964 through 1973, the dynamic vocal group had an unstoppable string of now-classic hits — “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” “I Wish it Would Rain,” “Cloud Nine,” “Just My Imagination,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and many more. Their live shows also had exciting dance moves and stylish outfits.

But at the same time that the current Temptations — centered around 77-year-old baritone singer Otis Williams, the last surviving member of the original quintet — are on tour, a much younger version of the group is exciting Broadway theatergoers in the new, much-talked-about musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. Opening in March to immediate crowds, it went on to receive 12 Tony nominations (winning one for choreography) and be hailed as the best musical of its kind since Jersey Boys (about The Four Seasons). It will begin a 50-city national tour in July 2020.

The musical is based on Williams’ 1988 memoir Temptations, which tells the story of the group’s career — both triumphant and tragic — through his eyes and thoughts (Williams is played on Broadway by Derrick Baskin).

“I think the history we have is so rich, with not only having hit songs and great choreography but the things we have gone through,” Williams says. “When you sit and read about it, then you think it should be told on Broadway. Luckily for us, we were able to get the right producers… to really make it happen, and they got the right people together to make this Broadway play.”

Ain’t Too Proud also is about Detroit in the 1960s, when international success came to African-American-owned Motown and its sound but also when a 1967 riot devastated that great American city. As actor Baskin’s Otis Williams says in the musical, “Outside, the world was exploding. And inside, so were we.”

Williams today well remembers living through the 1967 Detroit rioting.

“You cannot help but realize and understand that at that point in time, it was just a hotbed of unrest, even though a lot of great music was coming out of Detroit by way of Motown,” he says. “It was rough to live through seeing our city being torn apart.”

Ain’t Too Proud has non-stop hits, and also a modernized version of the famously hip, jubilant Temptations-style dance choreography devised by the late choreographer Cholly Atkins. But it also has tragedy — the original group’s two primary lead singers, falsetto Eddie Kendricks and the deeper-voiced David Ruffin, left amid discontent and group division, and Ruffin later died from drug use. A third member of the original five, Paul Williams, committed suicide; the fourth, Melvin Franklin, was weakened by chronic illness before dying in 1995. (Kendricks died in 1992.)

Dennis Edwards, the singer brought in to replace Ruffin and share vocals with the others for the group’s “psychedelic Soul” string of rhythmically propulsive, lyrically provocative hits of 1968-1972 (“Cloud Nine,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”), died last year, having left the Williams-led Temptations earlier. He is also portrayed in the musical.

Before getting to Broadway, Ain’t Too Proud had residencies in several cities, starting with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California. That’s when Williams realized the story’s deep impact.

“During intermission in Berkeley, when we were just getting it into shape, a young lady came up to me and said, ‘How do you feel about having your life portrayed up there onstage?’ ” Williams says. “I said I was close to tears. She said it was the same thing for her. Every step along the way, people who saw it said, ‘Your story is just as strong as your music.’ ”

The road to Broadway for Ain’t Too Proud started in the mid-’80s, when Marilyn Ducksworth — an executive with G.P. Putnam’s Sons publishing — visited the group backstage in New York.

“She said, ‘I was sent here because we think you would make great copy,’ ” Williams says. “I said, ‘What’s great copy?’ She said, ‘We’d like to do a book about you and The Temptations.’ You could have tipped me over with a feather if I would have believed I would have this kind of rich history.”

After the book, which Williams wrote with Patricia Romanowski, came out, there was a 1998 NBC miniseries based on it. Williams long has wanted to see a Broadway musical, but had to wait until after Motown: The Musical, based on a memoir by label founder Berry Gordy, was produced in 2013.

Now, while Williams hopes for an Ain’t Too Proud movie, he’s still touring with his current Temptations. (To date, there have been a total of 26 members of the group.)

“We’re coming up on our 60th anniversary,” Williams says. “People say they want the Temptations to be around forever. I say, ‘If I’m 80, you still expect us to come out?’ They say, ‘Yes sir, we still love seeing you guys move.’ Wow, I never would have imagined I would be told that at 80 people would still want to see us out there doing those steps. It’s a wonderful way of being loved.”


The Temptations perform with The Righteous Brothers July 26 at Riverbend’s PNC Pavilion. Tickets/info: riverbend.org

Last Living Member of the Original Temptations Otis Williams Reflects on Broadway Success and the Group’s Enduring Legacy

 CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / JUL 24, 2019? 11 AM

MUSIC10724Otis Williams Photo Chyna PhotographyOtis Williams of The Temptations/PHOTO: CHYNA PHOTOGRAPHY

 

THE WORLD OF legacy Soul, Rock and Pop musicians — sometimes called “oldies acts” — rarely overlaps with the cutting-edge of contemporary popular culture. These acts have their own circuit, their own show-biz niche, often appealing to nostalgic fans that want to thank them for the hit records of the past.

On one level, the Friday, July 26 show featuring The Temptations (and The Righteous Brothers) at PNC Pavilion fits the above description. The Temptations were an integral part of Detroit’s Motown Records at its zenith, when the label combined Soul music with Rock awareness to become “the sound of Young America.” From 1964 through 1973, the dynamic vocal group had an unstoppable string of now-classic hits — “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” “I Wish it Would Rain,” “Cloud Nine,” “Just My Imagination,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and many more. Their live shows also had exciting dance moves and stylish outfits.

But at the same time that the current Temptations — centered around 77-year-old baritone singer Otis Williams, the last surviving member of the original quintet — are on tour, a much younger version of the group is exciting Broadway theatergoers in the new, much-talked-about musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. Opening in March to immediate crowds, it went on to receive 12 Tony nominations (winning one for choreography) and be hailed as the best musical of its kind since Jersey Boys (about The Four Seasons). It will begin a 50-city national tour in July 2020.

The musical is based on Williams’ 1988 memoir Temptations, which tells the story of the group’s career — both triumphant and tragic — through his eyes and thoughts (Williams is played on Broadway by Derrick Baskin).

“I think the history we have is so rich, with not only having hit songs and great choreography but the things we have gone through,” Williams says. “When you sit and read about it, then you think it should be told on Broadway. Luckily for us, we were able to get the right producers… to really make it happen, and they got the right people together to make this Broadway play.”

Ain’t Too Proud also is about Detroit in the 1960s, when international success came to African-American-owned Motown and its sound but also when a 1967 riot devastated that great American city. As actor Baskin’s Otis Williams says in the musical, “Outside, the world was exploding. And inside, so were we.”

Williams today well remembers living through the 1967 Detroit rioting.

“You cannot help but realize and understand that at that point in time, it was just a hotbed of unrest, even though a lot of great music was coming out of Detroit by way of Motown,” he says. “It was rough to live through seeing our city being torn apart.”

Ain’t Too Proud has non-stop hits, and also a modernized version of the famously hip, jubilant Temptations-style dance choreography devised by the late choreographer Cholly Atkins. But it also has tragedy — the original group’s two primary lead singers, falsetto Eddie Kendricks and the deeper-voiced David Ruffin, left amid discontent and group division, and Ruffin later died from drug use. A third member of the original five, Paul Williams, committed suicide; the fourth, Melvin Franklin, was weakened by chronic illness before dying in 1995. (Kendricks died in 1992.)

Dennis Edwards, the singer brought in to replace Ruffin and share vocals with the others for the group’s “psychedelic Soul” string of rhythmically propulsive, lyrically provocative hits of 1968-1972 (“Cloud Nine,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”), died last year, having left the Williams-led Temptations earlier. He is also portrayed in the musical.

Before getting to Broadway, Ain’t Too Proud had residencies in several cities, starting with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California. That’s when Williams realized the story’s deep impact.

“During intermission in Berkeley, when we were just getting it into shape, a young lady came up to me and said, ‘How do you feel about having your life portrayed up there onstage?’ ” Williams says. “I said I was close to tears. She said it was the same thing for her. Every step along the way, people who saw it said, ‘Your story is just as strong as your music.’ ”

The road to Broadway for Ain’t Too Proud started in the mid-’80s, when Marilyn Ducksworth — an executive with G.P. Putnam’s Sons publishing — visited the group backstage in New York.

“She said, ‘I was sent here because we think you would make great copy,’ ” Williams says. “I said, ‘What’s great copy?’ She said, ‘We’d like to do a book about you and The Temptations.’ You could have tipped me over with a feather if I would have believed I would have this kind of rich history.”

After the book, which Williams wrote with Patricia Romanowski, came out, there was a 1998 NBC miniseries based on it. Williams long has wanted to see a Broadway musical, but had to wait until after Motown: The Musical, based on a memoir by label founder Berry Gordy, was produced in 2013.

Now, while Williams hopes for an Ain’t Too Proud movie, he’s still touring with his current Temptations. (To date, there have been a total of 26 members of the group.)

“We’re coming up on our 60th anniversary,” Williams says. “People say they want the Temptations to be around forever. I say, ‘If I’m 80, you still expect us to come out?’ They say, ‘Yes sir, we still love seeing you guys move.’ Wow, I never would have imagined I would be told that at 80 people would still want to see us out there doing those steps. It’s a wonderful way of being loved.”


The Temptations perform with The Righteous Brothers July 26 at Riverbend’s PNC Pavilion. Tickets/info: riverbend.org

Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin pay tribute to the Folk Blues masters they bonded over on ‘Downey to Lubbock’

Gilmore talks about his early creative and professional development and his Alvin collaboration ahead of the duo’s show Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Southgate House Revival

STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT /SEPT. 4, 2018

MUSIC10905Dave Alvin(left)And Jimmie Dale Gilmore Photo Tim Reese PhotographyaveAlvin (left) and Jimmie Dale GilmorePHOTO: TIM REESE PHOTOGRAPHY

This was an unconventional interview with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, to say the least. When we connected via phone, he was in a physical rehab center in Lubbock, Texas to visit his 91-year-old mother, Mary, who was recovering from a broken hip. Our talk was interrupted several times so he could say something to encourage her, or because doctors and a speech therapist came in to check on her progress and talk to him. For the final portion of the interview, Gilmore was reached in a Lubbock Best Buy, where he had gone to get a charger for his much-used cell phone.

Through it all, the Grammy-nominated Gilmore remained upbeat and enthusiastic about his ongoing tour with Dave Alvin, the new album that accompanies it and his love of music. A native of Lubbock in the flatlands of West Texas, he has successfully applied his distinctly gentle, unusually wavering voice to Country, Blues, Folk and Rock long before there was a name — Americana — for his style. Before that term was coined, you could call just him — as he sings on the new album’s rumbling title song, “Downey to Lubbock” — “a hippie Country singer.”

He still is just that, actually, his long flowing hair now gray and white.

“It really is a tongue-in-cheek thing, because the word ‘hippie’ to me was meant to denigrate anybody who acted weird,” he says. “It came to be a euphemism for anybody not a complete conformist. It always has kind of irked me, but at the same time it did come to refer to the people I identified with. I was particularly strange for a Country singer.”

Gilmore and Alvin — the Grammy-winning Americana singer/songwriter and sizzling guitarist known for being a co-founder of the 1980s band The Blasters — got the idea for the album when touring together for a few 2017 dates in the Southwest.


“We both assumed it would be a song swap, but immediately we discovered we knew a bunch of stuff (to play) together,” Gilmore says. “Very quickly, we started doing every show together. I’d play rhythm guitar and he’d play lead. And Dave got me back into playing harmonica, which I hadn’t done in 30 years.”

The two realized they had a shared history. Both used to attend concerts at Los Angeles’ Ash Grove music club, which lasted from 1958-73 and presented such Folk and Blues masters as Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Bukka White. Alvin was raised in Downey, Calif., so it’s understandable that he would hang out in nearby L.A. But how did a quintessential Texas flatlander get there?

“I figured with the kind of music I was into, that (California) was the place for it,” he explains. “I was already married and with a baby daughter when we moved out in 1965, and that was really the heyday of Folk Blues. That’s when I started making music on my own. My first professional gig was in San Diego while I was living in Los Angeles. Back then, I played every Saturday night for a period. I think I made about $16, but it was big time to me.”

Downey to Lubbock, which the two co-produced in a studio with assisting musicians, reflects their shared love for the artists they saw there — or would have wanted to. They do Brownie and Ruth McGhee’s “Walk On,” Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Buddy Brown’s Blues” and a 1928 classic by Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band, “Stealin’, Stealin.’” There are also songs by more recent Folk/Country troubadours who have passed on — Steve Young’s “Silverlake,” John Stewart’s “July, You’re a Woman” and Chris Gaffney’s “The Gardens.”

Additionally, Gilmore sings a raucous tune from the days when high-adrenaline R&B was just beginning to turn into Rock & Roll, Lloyd Price’s 1952 “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”

“That’s New Orleans music; that could be considered one of the first Rock & Roll songs,” Gilmore says. “Doing it with Dave, I have the feeling we got the original feeling of it along with a modern treatment.”

There are also two songs that have quite a bite — “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” Woody Guthrie and Martin Hoffman’s protest song about Mexican migrant workers who die in a plane crash while being sent home from the U.S., and The Youngbloods’ 1969 Folk Rock hit “Get Together,” a wistfully hopeful look ahead to better, more peaceful times than the tumultuous 1960s. Gilmore sings the lead on both songs.

“Dave introduces those by saying they are both timeless and timely,” Gilmore says.

Gilmore has long been performing the oft-recorded “Deportee” — he first heard Joan Baez do it. “When we were doing this recording, Dave said he’d (first) listened to about 100 recordings of it, and then he said, ‘Wait a minute, Jimmie already has his own take on it, we’ll just do it the way he does it.’ ”


The pair has been closing their shows with “Get Together.” A longtime fan, Gilmore believes Youngbloods lead singer Jesse Colin Young sang it beautifully.

“The meaning of the song is so apropos to these times,” he says. “And I love music that’s able to reflect that.”

While Gilmore has had a successful solo recording career, he is especially highly regarded for being a member, with fellow Texas songwriters Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, of the proto-Americana band The Flatlanders, which recorded an obscure and virtually unreleased — but very prescient — 1972 album. The band didn’t last long as a going concern. But as their solo careers progressed, Rounder Records re-released the album in 1991 under the name More a Legend than a Band. Since 2002, The Flatlanders have released three albums of new recordings, and they tour together occasionally.

The last Flatlanders’ album of new material came out in 2009, so they once again can be considered more a legend than a band. But maybe not for much longer.

“We still do the one-off concerts,” Gilmore says. “And we’ve already started talking about doing another project. With us, starting to talk about it means it’s still several years down the road. But we’re still all best friends.”


Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin perform Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Southgate House Revival. Tickets/more info: southgatehouse.com.

Cincinnati Unites to Celebrate Music Institution King Records’ Crucial Legacy while also Considering its Future Potential

September marks the sixth-annual King Records Month and the label’s 75th anniversary

By STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / AUG 21, 2018 
 

Cover0822King Records Building HB2The King Records building in EvanstonPHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

It may not be as big an event as BLINK Cincinnati or Oktoberfest yet, but the annual King Records Month is rapidly becoming a genuine festival. In fact, in its sixth year it can no longer even be contained in a single month, as the events are becoming as numerous as the number of hit recordings made by King’s greatest star, James Brown, or the number of classic songs first recorded by King artists — like Little Willie John’s 1956 version of “Fever,” later covered successfully by Peggy Lee.

King Records Month is supposed to occur in September — it was September 1943 when King founder and Cincinnati native Syd Nathan recorded the first songs by Country singers Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis to be released by his new record company, which went on to be a pioneer in the development of Rock & Roll by bringing Country and R&B together. King was based on Brewster Avenue in Evanston, in buildings still  Cover0822King Records Building HB5King Records markerPHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

there but not in good condition.

This year the celebrating of the “month” starts early — next Saturday in fact, with the first Celebrate the King: The Gala, a ticketed event at Over-the-Rhine’s Memorial Hall with special guests, live music and the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards to key figures in King’s history: the late Henry Glover, an A&R executive and producer who was an early black executive in the recording industry, plus important King musicians Bootsy Collins, Philip Paul and Otis Williams. The design company We Have Become Vikings is organizing the event; its co-founder Jason Snell did some King-related design work for projections on the exterior wall of downtown’s St. Xavier Church during 2017’s massively successful BLINK Cincinnati.

“The idea for the gala started over beers with two people active in (the King Studios project),” Snell says. “I’d just be sitting there and go, ‘What? That happened? No.’ Just being a fan of the music coming out of here and not really knowing a tenth of what hap King0822Bootsy Collins Photo We Have Become VikingsA King Records poster honoring Bootsy CollinsART: WE HAVE BECOME VIKINGS

happened… it gives me goosebumps.”

King Records Month activities also continue well past September with two high-profile events. On Oct. 25, the Cincinnati Preservation Association is bringing in Terry Stewart — the former director of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — to speak at its 23rd Annual Fall Forum Luncheon on the importance of preserving King’s legacy.

At CityBeat’s 2008 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards’ tribute to King, Stewart came to town and famously said at the event, “There’s not a more important piece of real estate in musical history than the building over there on Brewster. If you folks don’t remember and preserve it, shame on you.”

At the urging of board member Margaret Valentine, Cincinnati Preservation decided to focus this year’s lecture on King, a break from broader topics of the recent past.

After that, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park debuts the long-awaited world premiere of KJ Sanchez’s play, Cincinnati King, on Nov. 3, which has been in development for five years as she researched the label’s history and its impact on the community. (The play runs at the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Theatre through Dec. 23.)

September itself is packed with programming, from a serious panel discussion Sept. 5 at the Mercantile Library on Syd Nathan’s place in music history to the goofy fun of “The World’s Largest Twist Dance” on Sept. 7 at Great American Ball Park, following the end of a Cincinnati Reds’ game and before fireworks. King artist Hank Ballard had the first recording of “The Twist” in 1959, although it wasn’t until Chubby Checker covered it in 1960 that it became a massive hit and enduring pop culture touchstone. (See here for more events happening during King Records Month and beyond.)

Structural Security

King Recording1966Retouched Color(1)A retouched 1966 photo of the King Records studio in EvanstonPHOTO: PROVIDED

All this is remarkable, when you consider that King Records lost its founder way back in 1968, when Nathan died, closed its Cincinnati studio/offices on Brewster in 1971 and essentially disappeared from the city’s consciousness after a Nashville company bought its assets. It’s been a long, slow process to make Cincinnatians aware.

But neither the increase in the breadth and duration of events nor the easy peg of a 75-year anniversary is the only reason why this year’s annual King Records celebration/observation is so much bigger than the past five.

In April, Cincinnati City Council approved a land swap with the existing owner of the former studio property in Evanston, who had been threatening demolition. The city had made the space a historic landmark in 2015. The transaction was completed this summer, and the city now owns King’s old studio/office at 1532-36 Brewster Ave. That means that the owners of King Records’ home are the citizens of Cincinnati, and they can now begin to plan for using the site to honor the past and possibly play a part in the community’s future. (Another part of the King property, 1538-40 Brewster, which held some of the manufacturing facilities such as record pressing, is still in private hands.)

“It is now an important public asset,” says Greg Koehler, economic development supervisor with the city. “We just hit this milestone of finally getting control over the original recording studio. Now we can talk seriously about getting this big project to happen. It’s a big lift — like a small-scale version of Music Hall or Union Terminal.”

Elliott Ruther, a co-founder of the nonprofit Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation that advocated for saving the building, says, “Here’s a truly significant spot where culture was created that had an impact on the world.”

People involved in King preservation efforts say that it isn’t just its contribution to American music that merits its remembrance. Owner Nathan was way ahead of the rest of society in running an integrated business. As Darren Blase, a co-owner of Shake It Records who studied King Records as an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati, explains: “(King) had an integrated baseball team within the company, but when they played in the greater industrial league, they had to break into a black and a white team.”

Before efforts can start on the restoration of the King site, it first needs to be protected structurally due to the wear of time and the elements. KING0822Jack White(King Artist Bootsy Collins,King Artist Otis Williams,Jack White,Mayor John Cranley,Evanston Council President Anzora Adkins,King Artist Philip Paul)Photo Courtesy Of Third Man Records And David SwansonL to R: King artists Bootsy Collins and Otis Williams with Jack White, Mayor John Cranley, Evanston Council President Anzora Adkins and fellow King musician Philip Paul at the original Evanston building.PHOTO: COURTESY OF THIRD MAN RECORDS AND DAVID SWANSON

“Short term, we hope to get a new roof on it before the end of year,” the city’s Koehler says. “It’s essentially missing half a roof. It’s been deteriorating; it’s essentially in abandoned condition.”

He says such roof repair will cost approximately $500,000 and will include new rafters and carpentry to support the roof. The building also needs some asbestos mitigation.

“That means you won’t be able to grow vegetables inside the building because it has a complete roof on it,” jokes Tim Riordan, the secretary-treasurer of King Studios, a nonprofit with the stated goal of exposing and energizing King’s legacy while also supporting efforts to spur revitalization in Evanston.

Riordan might have some useful contacts in that regard — he is a former Cincinnati assistant city manager and former Dayton city manager.

To work with the city on long-term plans, four nonprofit community groups that have been involved in King preservation efforts have formed a steering committee to make recommendations. Besides King Studios and Cincinnati USA Music Heritage, Evanston Community Council and the Bootsy Collins Foundation are involved. They are considering forming a new nonprofit organization that could conceivably be in charge of creating a new use for the site and supervising a fundraising campaign.

Concurrently, Cincinnati Preservation has been coordinating work on an application to get the site on the United States Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. That could help with funding — both the federal and state governments provide sizeable tax credits for the restoration of historic properties.

Paul Muller, Cincinnati Preservation’s executive director, says that kind of funding already has been used for work on such public entities as Music Hall, Union Terminal and Memorial Hall. That the King site may not be their architectural equal doesn’t matter, he says.

“Preservation is about much more than bricks and mortar,” he says. “It’s about the lives of people who create things. (Historic buildings) become useful marks for people to tell our cultural history and how we came to be as a society.”

Once and Future King

King Rendering P5A rendering of the renovated buildingPHOTO: PROVIDED

The initial steps being taken are about keeping the King building structurally secure. But the ultimate goals being discussed for the space are about much more than keeping King alive in an empty, worn-but-architecturally-sound memorial.

“Long-term demands a pretty extensive renovation of the building,” Koehler says. “That gets into things like a museum, historic artifacts on display, a studio, community space. That gets into the millions of dollars. That’s really what a lot of people in the community want to see happen in the long run, and I do believe it’s doable.”

Because the vision of what King should be is still in the early stages, Koehler says concrete fundraising efforts aren’t in place yet. But he says the plan for King to be something living and breathing in the community of Evanston is more than notional, because all four of the nonprofit stakeholders “have coalesced around that vision.”

“This would be a public memorial that we think would have a pretty significant national and international audience, as well as a local one,” Koehler says. “And there are some significant national and international recording stars interested in this and may help with fundraising at some point. And there’s a target list of major foundations as well.’’

There are some early conceptual designs that were done at King Studios’ request, but are not meant to be final. SHP Leading Design, a Norwood firm whose executive vice president, Thomas Fernandez, sits on King Studios’ board and is also on the steering committee, earlier created renderings of a building that show space for exhibits, performances, an airy room with tables and chairs and a wall lined with old King vinyl albums. There’s also a draft of a reimagined Brewster Avenue between King and Montgomery Road in Evanston that shows it turned into a colorful walking King

King Rendering P18A Brewster Avenue renderingPHOTO: PROVIDED

timeline, with historic markers on the side. Earlier, King Studios had pursued plans for a complex on Montgomery Road, in the business heart of Evanston.

“The idea in a perfect world is to still have a facility on Montgomery that’s a welcome center, maybe a record store and gift shop, and then take a cart down Brewster or walk to the original building,” says Chris Schadler, a board member of King Studios.

There is also much feeling that a revived King Records building should serve residents of Evanston, especially students, by offering music education and being a source of community pride.

There is another concern. Some feel that if and when the King site gets its second life with a museum component, it shouldn’t be a “top-down” one that solely interprets the company’s history through the eyes of the movers and shakers who owned it. There needs to be a “people’s history,” one that honors and respects all the musicians and other workers who helped create what King became.

To that end, Kent Butts — vice chair of both King Studios and the new steering committee — is trying to keep those musicians and employees still alive (or surviving family members) aware of what’s happening as the King revival grows.

“Many of them didn’t have a clue; they thought it was over with King,” Butts says. “I want to get the legacy individuals — mostly families of artists — to understand there is something here and that we’re thinking about them. It needs to be understood for history’s sake what their father or mother did for king.”

Butts has a personal stake in this — his father, Otis Williams, recorded one of King’s greatest hits, the R&B/Doo-wop smash “Hearts of Stone,” with the Charms in 1954, and still performs.

Philip Paul, a King Studios board member who became a session drummer at King in the 1950s, also believes respect must be paid to the label’s forgotten musicians. He keeps a list of lesser-known King musicians he doesn’t want to see forgotten, such as session guitarist Freddie Jordan.

“If we couldn’t get the chord changes together, they’d send for Freddie Jordan and he’d put it together,” Paul says in praise of the musician. “I promised his wife that if I got an opportunity, I’d make sure he would be honored.”

While all this is going on, national and international interest continues to grow as more is learned about the early and influential Country and R&B records that came out of King. A string of visiting Rock musicians have paid their respects in recent years — Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Jack White, Billy Gibbons and more.

“We’ve always said, and there is tons of evidence to support it, that King can sustain a claim to being the birthplace of Rock & Roll,” Schadler says. “I’ve always said there should be billboards on Interstate 71 and 75 that say, ‘Welcome to Cincinnati, the Birthplace of Rock & Roll.’ ”

That may happen soon.

Cincinnati organization reclaims, celebrates and activates urban passageways for pedestrians

Allies for Alleys

BY STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / JULY 26, 2017

Cover0719Alley Preservation HB21

 

Christian Huelsman enjoys wearing a T-shirt with a back designed to look like a roll call of stops on a Rock band’s North American tour, only instead of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Toronto, etc., these names are decidedly unfamiliar to most of us: Colby Alley, Nagel Alley, Manchester Avenue, Renner Street, Unnamed Alley Steps, Saint Joe Street, South Wendell Alley, Rice Street Steps, Sharp Alley, Glanker Street, Goose Alley, Eton Place.

Closer inspection of the shirt reveals that it is commemorating the 2015 Eton Place Alley Festival, a 2.1-mile walking tour and activation of “street haunts and alley jaunts” hidden in Cincinnati. You may well have missed the event, held in Mount Auburn and Over-the-Rhine. But if Huelsman — co-founder of the 6-year-old organization Spring in Our Steps, which has received nonprofit status — has his say, you’ll be hearing much more about such spaces in the years ahead. Especially the alleys, most of which are brick-lined. Cincinnati has slightly more than 500, according to his research.

Huelsman has a dream for alleys to become urban spaces that are as beautiful and cherished as our parks. This is pretty radical — many of us see them as often gritty, littered, bad-smelling and sometimes dangerous places to get through as quickly as possible and only if you must. But he expresses that dream so poetically, with such effusive romanticism, that you want to succumb. Here’s the passionate cri de coeur, the declaration of love, that he wrote on social media several years ago for South Wendell Alley in Mount Auburn, the subject of an early and difficult cleanup by Spring in Our Steps:

“This place remains my sanctuary, symbolic of every turn, U-turn and detour my heart has taken over nearly four years. It has cajoled more sweat to drip from my body, inflicted more nicks and cuts, prompted more palpitations from my chambers and awarded more tears of joy than even the mostly six years it took to finish my degree. But it’s all a journey. I can’t imagine my life without this space, this alley and all it represents…”

The degree Huelsman mentions is an undergraduate degree in urban planning from University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. As for the arduous cleanup, which among other things uncovered the near-secret existence of an overgrown public stairway, he wrote, “I’ve done it for nothing but I’ve done it for everything: to survive and thrive.”

Spring in Our Steps is a small organization with just four board members, including Huelsman. (A fifth position is open.) It was founded in 2011 by him and Pam Sattler. For its alley and stairway cleanups, it has relied on volunteers. For current income, which it has used for community events, it has relied on a $10,000 grant from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation.

But its advocacy of the emotional bond between contemporary Cincinnatians and our public alleys, many of which date to the 19th century and have outlived their original purpose of providing a rear service entrance for buildings, has struck a chord.

“Their value is in the historic granite curbs and the bricks,” says Jules Michael Rosen, Spring in Our Steps board member. “They’re just as much a historic asset as the buildings are downtown.” (Though Rosen believes public stairways — another of the organization’s focuses — hold more promise than alleys as urban pedestrian thoroughfares.)

That belief in alleys as a great civic resource has support from the city, too. “Alleys are certainly public assets, and by their nature and role in Cincinnati’s fabric, a historic asset,” says Michael Moore, director of the Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE), via email. “They are called out in (a section) of the Cincinnati Municipal Code and their use and/or restoration requires review on a case-by-case basis.”

As a result of that city support, on a recent Friday afternoon Huelsman attended the dedication of a new, long-percolating cooperative project between DOTE and Spring in Our Steps. Wearing that distinctive T-shirt, he arrived at the foot of the Main Street Steps to meet a small group of others.

This project is the Stairway & Alley Signage Project, involving the placement of 12 concrete bollards, with aluminum sign panels, along eight pedestrian gateways on the hillside between Mount Auburn and Over-the-Rhine. DOTE’s Moore says this $20,000 project was chosen because the steps, especially, can help get neighborhood students to Rothenberg Academy, a public school. But they’re for everyone. Once all are in place, some intersections whose locations would test the best Cincinnati Uber drivers or postal carriers, such as the junction where Peete Street, Peete Alley and the Peete Street Steps all meet, will have identification signs that also say, “Pathway cleared by Spring in Our Steps.”

“(That) means we have adopted them per our maintenance agreement,” Huelsman says. “We have agreed to host regular cleanup events to ensure regular surface maintenance (trash pickup, weeding, etc.) of these spaces … so that they continue to be viable, safer pedestrian connections in the community.”

Remarkably, Huelsman had come in for the event from Minneapolis, where he’s been working for the past year as a community livability specialist for that city’s downtown improvement district, as well as being a member of Minneapolis’ Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He has stayed active in Spring in Our Steps despite his distance and activities out of town, organizing local events, planning the signage and posting about city alleys on social media.

“Christian has done an incredible job of managing things, even from Minneapolis,” says Spring in Our Steps co-founder Sattler. She’s been less active in recent years, but attended the signage project’s dedication.

“There’s been more awareness from the city that there are people paying attention to these spaces,” she says. “There’s definitely a stronger connection with the city, just knowing there are people paying attention to these spaces and that they do matter.”

Huelsman’s larger vision is to see public acceptance for a concept called “living alleys,” which serve the public-at-large rather than just being where businesses get deliveries or load products.

“In a living alley, it’s about how people interact with the space, whether they are making use of it for leisure or brunch/lunch activities,” he says. “It’s about bringing in elements that attract people.”

This may sound counterintuitive, since cities already have open streets and sidewalks, plazas and parks as focal points for human activity. Urban alleys — narrow and often lined with buildings that create shadows and feel enclosing — are generally little used or, worse, used for such nefarious activities as public urination.

But Huelsman believes they have great potential if made more accessible and inviting for pedestrian use and activity. “There is a natural human inclination to go where people feel secure and feel they have full visibility of their environment,” he says. “A person’s interaction with a space, when their back is to a wall, creates a sense of control over the experience. So the enclosure of an alley works for the purpose of creating comfort. It allows people to feel they have full scope of what their surroundings are.”

The trick, he says, is to recreate the alley “as a focal point for human activity.” (Also, he points out, to the extent that cars use alleys, they tend to be driven at much slower speeds than on streets. Thus, they are less of a threat to pedestrians than thoroughfares.)

This is a transformation that’s not going to come without challenges, as a walk along the Stairway & Alley Signage Project route reveals. As Peete Street starts to turn into the much narrower Peete Alley at one end, the terrain begins to get rugged and a little bit weird. Graffiti on a chunk of rock points to “free hugs” awaiting adventurous urban explorers willing to go off-road. As the alley portion begins, there are a couple buildings, at least one of which looks vacant. Unnerving graffiti can be seen, like “If $ Is the Foot.”

Worse, it looks like the alley’s rare surface of 19th-century cobblestone pavement — it’s one of the city’s few cobblestone alleys — has been removed. Perhaps someone came back to this remote spot with a large vehicle, possibly to do some construction work, Huelsman suggests; there’s also a dumpster placed in the area. Spring in Our Steps had spent three years cleaning up this space, highlighting the cobblestone.

“We put a lot of time and energy into it,” Huelsman says. “But it’s hard to keep people accountable when it’s not being cared for or there’s nobody there to care for it.”

This is a problem elsewhere, too. Even Huelsman’s beloved South Wendell Alley has gotten overgrown again. (On a subsequent visit along Peete Street and Peete Alley by CityBeat photographer Hailey Bollinger, the dumpster and possibly some of the graffiti were gone.)

Amazingly, as we stand around this area and bemoan the visible destruction, a young man comes seemingly out of nowhere, nonchalantly walking up a pathway that doesn’t even seem to exist but is where the alley subtly bends, tightens and continues downward to Vine Street. He is carrying a bag with some purchased items and walks right past our small group without stopping. “If it’s an available pathway, people are going to use it,” Huelsman says.

Spring in Our Steps realizes they need to organize residents of the areas where it works to maintain their alleys and steps. “Engagement with residents, not just in the immediate communities of these spaces but also with volunteers in general, has been a huge struggle for us,” Sattler says.

But there are other people and organizations standing up for our alleys. Sometimes literally. Margy Waller, an Over-the-Rhine resident and community activist, almost got arrested last summer trying to protect quiet Adrian Alley from damage.

“I was working at home early in the morning and heard a loud noise coming from the alley behind my house,” she says. “I looked out my window and saw there was a big piece of equipment drilling through the bricks. So I went to see what was going on and it was a contractor for the city’s Water Works — they needed to get into the line underneath the alley. I asked them to stop because I was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to be drilling through historic bricks.”

She is right on this — DOTE’s Moore says his department’s 2016 Street Restoration Manual demands that “methods and materials used in making the permanent restoration shall match the existing pavement or surface conditions or be replaced as directed by the DOTE Inspector.” But it took Waller awhile to get that point through to the contractor, who wanted to keep working. She took action to protect the bricks.

“Eventually, I stepped in front of the machine onto the bricks so they had to stop,” she says.

A more artful example of Over-the-Rhine alley revival occurred last year when ArtWorks and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful collaborated on 14 mini murals along alleys between Main and Sycamore streets, south of Liberty Street. Called New Lines, this program included the alleys Goetz, Plough, Cogswell, Enon and Bland. “It was both to increase pedestrian use and access and to decrease blight and litter and make people feel safe so they could walk through alleys,” says Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s Marissa Reed.

New homeowners — and new residents of Cincinnati — are discovering the pleasure of neighborhood alleys. There’s a good example in Northside, where a network of them sometimes crisscrosses its streets. Some are in good shape and access garages behind homes; others are overgrown and tough to navigate. Some folks might see them as a nuisance, a detriment to privacy, but Kelly Johnson and husband Chris Kerns saw them as a real plus when they moved from a “cookie-cutter” Northern Kentucky subdivision into a custom-built home on Fergus Street between Lingo Street and Chase Avenue. (There are two new homes on the street so far.)

Cover0726Kelly Johnson HB5Recent Northside arrival Kelly Johnson sweeps Pope Alley, adjacent to her home.PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

They are right at the intersection of Gray and Pope alleys; the entrance to their garage is on Gray and the couple has started sweeping their portion of Pope. They are out to revive their small segments of Northside’s alley grid.

“One of the features we really liked was the idea of keeping the alleys,” Johnson says. “We walked those alleys to different places around Northside when we were first thinking of building here. We loved that they connected to the main drag of Hamilton Avenue. It’s such a lovely walk along Pope Alley, though there are definitely some spots that need to be cleaned up. And I feel like I can walk the dog without having to worry about cars. We’ve considered the idea of keeping our alley looking good all the way to Hamilton.”

The opposite of alley revival is alley removal — and it does happen. DOTE’s Moore says the city has turned down requests to vacate, sell or privatize portions of alleys, as in a request by Chatfield College to take a portion of Kemp Alley in Over-the-Rhine. But, if there’s a compelling reason, as in a developer’s recent request for a portion of downtown’s alley-sized Bowen Street for a planned Kroger grocery and residential tower, the city might agree.

“Vacation and sale of an alley is not common, but the city probably averages two requests per year and approximately five or six requests for leases each year,” Moore says. “However, not all of these requests are granted.”

Huelsman and Spring in Our Steps would just as soon see none granted. “The sale of alleys to private interests eliminates options for pedestrians and opportunities to develop the city in more dynamic ways,” he says. “The leasing and gating of alleys only provide a short-term safety solution. Alleys should remain public and receive the same amenities we consider in making our streets and sidewalks safer and more desirable.”

The next Spring in Our Steps community event occurs Friday, beginning at 6 p.m., and Huelsman will be back from Minneapolis for it. It’s called the Dead End Film Festival and will also have some music, “lawn” bowling and other activities, in a very surprising and even eerie locale. It’s where two Over-the-Rhine alleys, Coral and Drum, meet to form a “T” between Main and Clay streets, just north of East 13th Street. Coral between Drum and East 13th can be a little gamey — during a visit with Huelsman, a syringe and socks lay on a curb near the brick pavement, which had been painted a light blue. There was trash near a garage door that faced the alley. But beyond that — behind a fenced-off and gated dead-end portion of Coral — was a more picturesque, kinder and gentler stretch of alley. There was what seemed to be an oasis, where trees grew in the right-of-way. And someone, Banksy-style, had stenciled two white tulips on a building wall. Spring in Our Steps has gotten access beyond the padlocked fence and on Friday night will project short films in this space. It’s possible the dead-end portion of Coral might someday become Spring in Our Steps Park.

“Over the years, we’ve cleaned up that space behind the gate tremendously,” Huelsman says. “It used to be covered in tall weeds, beer bottles and all sorts of siding had been disposed there. We really take ownership of the space and continue to improve upon transgressions of the past.”

All Cincinnati alleys should have such dedicated champions. But perhaps, with Spring in Our Steps, they all do.


SPRING IN OUR STEPS presents the Dead End Film Festival Friday at Coral and Drum alleys in Over-the-Rhine. More info: springinoursteps.com.
PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

Ten Interesting Alleys

Christian Huelsman, co-founder and executive director of Spring in Our Steps, finds these 10 Cincinnati alleys especially interesting.

Colby Alley (Over-the-Rhine)

An extensive granite block alley with a view of Rhinegeist (formerly a Christian Moerlein bottling plant) that runs behind structures from the former Moerlein empire and ends at the foot of the old Jackson Brewery/Metal Blast Building. From Eton Place to West McMicken Avenue.

Combs Alley (Camp Washington) 

Zigzags and angles of settled brick that weave through Camp Washington’s well-loved northern half, from Valley Park and the World War I Doughboy statue to the interstate. From Bates Alley to Massachusetts Avenue.

Corn Alley (West End)

A rare exhibition of cobblestone paving terminating at the rear of the historic Lafayette-Bloom School building. From Freeman Avenue to its eastern terminus.

Fortview Alley Steps (Mount Adams)

A picturesque alley stairway featuring two beautiful homes with exclusive access via steps. From Hill Street to Fortview Place.

Goetz Alley (Over-the-Rhine)

Spanning nearly the full depth of OTR south of Liberty Street and running parallel to Main Street, it offers an intimate neighborhood experience with a window into the city’s lush hillsides. From Michael Bany Way to Liberty.

Pope Alley (Northside)

A popular walking route beginning with a piazza at the business corridor and running to the Northside Children’s Playground. From Hamilton Avenue to Fergus Street.

Schorr Alley (Clifton Heights)

The lengthiest known alley without intersecting streets, it climbs steadily from the original commercial core in Clifton Heights to today’s bustling business district near the University of Cincinnati. From Warner Street to West McMillan Street.

Sharp Alley (Over-the-Rhine)

An inclined walking route with an identity crisis, it starts as a brick alley, continues with granite paving near the former Hudepohl Brewery and flows onward as an alley stairway. From Back Street to Mulberry Street.

South Wendell Alley (Mount Auburn)

From the former estate of beer baron Christian Moerlein, it travels past the dwarfing stone retaining wall and wilderness along its length and ends at a long-closed public stairway. From Mulberry Street to St. Joe Alley.

Weaver Alley (Downtown)

A nearly three-block stretch beginning at Doerr Alley that crawls under a sky bridge at The Phoenix, passes by a mix of historic and contemporary buildings along Garfield Place and goes to Plum Street and the front steps of City Hall.