Its 25th anniversary approaching in October, Ruth Eckerd Hall has changed quite a bit over the years, and some critics have complained that the venue doesnt hold up its end with regard to high-art performances not enough opera, touring classical soloists, dance, etc. And while those arguments have some merit, the 2,200-seater has become a vital hub of popular entertainment, the place to see top bands and comics in a comfortable setting with impeccable acoustics. Under the programming aegis of Bobby Rossi, REH has staged Steely Dan, Return to Forever, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison and countless other top-tier pop acts. And its not just stuff geared toward baby-boomers: Good Charlotte, O.A.R. and other groups make stops at the venue. In a time when arts patronage and government support is shaky, REH has done whats necessary to remain vital: bring in top-notch entertainment appealing to a variety of tastes, balanced with a modicum of highbrow programming, and try to pack the house as often as possible. Rossi and company have also initiated Ruth Eckerd Hall on the Road, which produces shows at Tampa Theatre (Shelby Lynne), at Tampa Bay Rays games (L.L. Cool J) and elsewhere. 1111 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater, 727-791-7400, rutheckerdhall.com
Last winter, Toby Bonar issued the full-length Deeper Roots, a fine accomplishment that displays his songwriting/singing talents and striking acoustic guitar and National Steel work. Bonars fluid picking harks back to the likes of country blues greats like Mississippi John Hurt, but with a freshness that speaks to a contemporary young mans myriad interests. myspace.com/tobybonar
Playing a complicated cop in Stageworks production of Lobby Hero, DuMouchel gave the sort of riveting performance you only get to see every few years. DuMouchels Bill-the-Policeman was ultra-macho, ultra-slick, more or less committed to a moral life (except where sex was concerned), and exceedingly conscious of the figure he cut with his adoring public and his anxious policewoman partner (and lover) Dawn. As played by DuMouchel, Bill was a hero and a liar and a violent man who somehow eschewed violence. Every move he made suggested bottled-up rage, desire, danger; and there were moments when it seemed like the small stage of the Shimberg Playhouse couldnt survive all this unexpressed energy. Unfortunately for theater lovers, most of the Dunedin-based DuMouchels acting is done for television and film; but maybe if were lucky, hell grace one of our stages again in the near future.
Scott dominated the stage in August Wilsons Gem of the Ocean at American Stage, easily convincing us that yes, she was 285 years old, and no, age hadnt diminished her authority moral and emotional one bit. Gem was all about Ester, and about Citizen Barlow (Leonard Williams), who had committed some terrible crime and who came to her to have his soul washed. Mesmerizing him and us, Ester informed him that what he really needed was a mystical voyage to the mysterious City of Bones and then proceeded to take him and us on that journey. Tough and tender, wise and patient, Scott played Aunt Ester as if she were powerful enough to carry the whole suffering world on her shoulders and still have a few good words about compassion and tolerance. Acting like hers quivers the spine and warms the heart.
Weeks before the old Tampa Museum of Art building met with the wrecking ball, Avant Garde, the museums young professionals group, pulled off a coup that will go down in local arts history. Convincing the TMAs board of trustees to approve a dramatic send-off for the beleaguered waterfront structure, Avant Garde culled work from dozens of local artists and filled the museums galleries including those that once housed ancient Greek vases with contemporary art; even the buildings exterior got a makeover courtesy of graffiti artists Bask and Tes One. With bands inside and out and an elaborate video installation featuring toasts to the museum from Bay area politicians and arts leaders, Retro Perspectives set the bar scarily high for future art parties.
Jenkins is about to start his 10th year as Jobsite Theaters artistic director, and its about time that he was recognized for the major contribution hes made to the artistic life in the Tampa Bay area. In a city that eats fledgling theater companies for breakfast, Jenkins managed to turn Jobsite from an unlikely, underfunded pipe dream into a veteran, much-beloved regional resource. Starting at Ybor Citys tiny Silver Meteor Gallery, he overcame erratic programming and the desertion of key actors to make Jobsite the dependably professional resident company of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. He had faith in a central group of actors and designers who have, over time, become first-rate, and he has overseen some of the most innovative, daring programming of any theater company in the Bay area. This year was not Jobsites best, but who else would have dared to stage Strindbergs A Dream Play, David Mamets Boston Marriage or the bizarre Gorey Stories? It takes vision, pluck and luck to make a theater company successful, and Jenkins has it all. The local arts world wouldnt be the same without him.
Shes one of those supremely talented artists who for one reason or another (or a million) cannot achieve real career traction. Shelby Lynnes local debut concert (as far as we can reckon) was produced by Ruth Eckerd Hall as part of its On the Road series, and drew about 500 people to the 1,400-seat Tampa Theatre. No matter. Lynne, backed by a four-piece band, took a little while to get untracked, but once she started into songs from this years Dusty Springfield tribute CD, Just a Little Lovin, she transformed the venue into her living room. This was not about spectacle; it was about communicating stories and feelings through song. Lynne, who possesses astonishing pipes, calibrated her emotions throughout, so that each time she would cut loose and belt, it had more impact. At other times, she had you leaning in to listen. When a woman came down front to dance, Shelby really perked up. Let me have your purse, honey, Shelby drawled, itll be easier to dance. In short order, a group of folks gathered in front of the stage (she grabbed a guys wallet and went through it); some of them were slow dancing. A special moment. It looked like Shelby thought so, too. Heres to hoping she wont be a stranger.
Weve seen Pearl Jam when they were absolutely transcendent, as in their Bay area debut at Jannus Landing in the early-1990s. And weve seen Pearl Jam a little detached. This year we saw Pearl Jam rejuvenated. The band played on a no-frills stage for two intense, cathartic hours. Eddie Vedder, who can be a brooder, really looked like he was having fun drinking periodically from a bottle of wine, he was a little silly, a lot loquacious but more than that, the best rock vocalist of his generation sang with extraordinary power, uncanny range and absolute conviction. The four instrumentalists (along with Vedder, who played some guitar), having been together so long, intuitively find that balance between tight and loose. The venue was big, but the connection was total. The show is available in various recorded formats through pearljam.com. We have a copy; its a terrific memento.
Radiohead mesmerized a nearly sold-out crowd of 17,000 on May 6, at Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa, with an edgy sonic and visual presentation unlike anything being offered on the current concert circuit. Long, narrow LED light columns changed colors with every song, and a wall of giant screens behind the band alternated between showing close-ups of the musicians and trippy visuals, which surely enhanced the experience of those attendees walking around with pupils the size of pancakes. Frontman Thom Yorke played acoustic guitar, numerous electric guitars, a drum kit and upright piano during the two-hour performance. Beat-heavy rave explosions like Idioteque were offset with such mellow, serpentine meditations as the deep-sea exploration Weird Fishes and the OK Computer standout Airbag, making for a progressive and wildly satisfying concert. For a complete review of the concert and photos see, the May 7 post at tampacalling.com