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Archive for June, 2011

I remember Jim West as one of Tampa’s best guitarists back in the guitar heavy days of the late 1960s and ’70s.  Jim and I were also in a contest to see who was the skinniest, geekiest kid at King High School. I won.

Jim evenutally headed off to Los Angeles and found fame and lots of MTV time as “Weird Al” Yankovik’s guitarist. Check out Al’s early videos for the tall, skinny guy with a shock of black hair. That’s our boy.

Jim can play anything on the guitar – you have to when you’re covering the pop universe doing “Weird Al” parodies – but his passion is Hawaiian Slack Key guitar. When he’s not touring the world with Al and the boys, he’s playing that achingly beautiful music around the west coast and in Hawaii as Jim “Kimo” West.

Jim is in the area visiting family and is playing a rare homecoming concert tonight (June 30th) at 7:30 in our Side Door Cabaret. It’s part of our Side Door Summer series.

For more info, check out www.mypalladium.org or Jim’s website at www.jimkimowest.com/

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Normally I like to write about upcoming shows in this blog – since I can’t sell a ticket to something that’s already happened.

However, this past weekend deserves some virtual ink. We kicked off the Palladium’s Side Door Summer series with Sarasota Slim on Friday night and Kat Hefner’s band on Saturday and both nights were off-the-charts good. I knew both acts were top notch – that’s why I hired ’em – but they surpassed my expectations. You know a show is hot when the audience doesn’t wait until the end for the standing ovations – they just jump up in the middle of songs. 

Gene Hardage, aka Sarasota Slim, showed why he’s still one of the bay areas best guitar slingers and bandleaders. His rhythm section – drummer Steve Holcumb, Sugar Bear on bass – locked in some powerful grooves, allowing Slim and Josh Melms, to trade guitar licks and it was all lifted into the air by the Hammond B3 and piano work of Dave Friebolin – who has toured the world with some of Chicago’s best bluesmen.

Slim pulled out some dancable  tunes from his new CD – “Get Up, Get Down” – and paid homage to his influences – particularly Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix. When he pulled out his version of  Jimi’s “Star Spangled Banner” mid-way through the second set – everybody in the packed house was on their feet.

Saturday night was billed as jazz, but Kat Hefner and her brother, Stan, who brought in a B3 and knew how to use it, defied genres. Kat is a jazz singer, an R&B diva and beautiful woman who knows how to work the stage.  She brought down the house with an Aretha-worthy work up of Buffy Saint Marie’s folk tune – “Until It’s Time For Me To Go.” 

Butch Thomas, who has shared the stage with Sting and other musical greats, was a great addition on sax. Palladium favorites – Ron Gregg on drums and Vincent Sims on guitar – rounded it out in fine fashion. Kat’s show attracted some top local musicans who dropped in to listen – including John Lamb, Sasha Tuck and Stan Hunter. 

The show ended with Stan Heffner riffing on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

Did I mention that you should have been here?

Our Side Door Summer series continues this week with Jim West, bringing his Hawaiian slack key guitar sounds on Thursday, and the St. Pete Blues Allstars on Friday night.

 For tickets and more info visit www.mypalladium.org.

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We’ve been doing blues shows at the Palladium’s Side Door for almost three years now and somehow we’ve not presented the big daddy of Tampa Bay blues guitarists. But we’re making up for that this Friday when Sarasota Slim brings his full band and his new CD  – Get Up, Get Down – to the Side Door for a concert and CD release party.

The show is the kickoff of our Side Door Summer Celebration, which features great jazz and blues, and a lot more in our intimate Side Door Cabaret. For jazz fans, the summer season starts with vocalist Kat Hefner on Saturday night at 8.

If I’m guilty of procrastination in not getting Slim in here sooner, Slim is equally guilty when it comes to producing a new studio album.

“Yes, it’s the culmination of 10 years of foot-dragging,” said Gene Hardage, aka Sarasota Slim.

But the album was worth the wait. A batch of new Sarasota Slim songs, some great side men supporting him and Slim’s smokin’ hot guitar are molded into one nice package.

For Friday’s show, a lot of those side men will be on stage including Steve Holcumb on drums, Sugar Bear on bass, and the veteran keyboard player Dave Friebolin on piano and Hammond B3. Josh Melms, the guitarist who also appears on the album, will join Slim on stage.

“Josh, without a doubt, is one of the finest guitar players in the south. I don’t care who you are talking to or talking about. He’s a monster,” said Slim.

And Josh gets Slim’s guitar juices flowing when they appear together.

“I’m getting old and slow – but he’s 30 years old and he’s fired up. Which lights a fire under me. On a good day we both hit on eight cylinders. And this should be a good day.”

Expect to hear some great originals, along with some classic blues done Slim-style. And you’ll maybe get a taste of his new project – a band called The Melon Brothers. But that’s a story for another day.

Catch Sarasota Slim in the Side Door, Friday, June 24, at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information on the summer season visit www.mypalladium.org or call the Palladium box office at 727 822-3590.

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The weeks leading up to a St. Petersburg Opera opening night are always a wild time in our old theater. Stage hands build sets on the Hough Hall stage, singers warm up around the grand piano and the Stavros Room – normally home to our Side Door shows – turns into a sprawling costume shop and dressing room.

And because the show opening Friday night is Puccini’s Madama Butterfly there are lots of kimonos and white makeup added to the mix.

Among the musicians, singers, designers, staff and crew camping out for the final week is Todd Olson, the Producing Artistic Director of  American Stage. Todd is directing Butterfly, his third time working with SPO.

Getting a chance to tell the tragic story of Lt. Pinkerton and the geisha known as Butterfly, was what drew Todd to the project. That great story and the beautiful music.

“It is really a thrill to live in Puccini’s music these last few weeks, ” he told me.

Like American Stage, SPO productions are a mix of top local talent – both singing and in the chamber orchestra – and top flight national artists. Todd credits SPO Artistic Director Mark Sforzini for his devotion to that principle.

“Clearly Mark is devoted to local artists, he gives them lots of opportunities to play real roles, then he gets top talent from around the country. He brings all of these exceptional people together. It cross-pollinates with the local talent. I think that’s the way to do it,” he said.

One of those locals getting covered in operatic pollen is eight-year-old May Olson, Todd’s daughter, who is doing her first stage show ever. She plays Cio-Cio’s son, Dolore.

“I tried really hard to talk her out of it,” he told me. ” I know how much work it takes. Her character is on stage for 40 minutes.”

But May was captivated with opera while watching the recent SPO production of Johnny Schicchi at American Stage. And Todd got a DVD of the film version of Madame Butterfly and they watched it together.

But her biggest motivation may have been finding out what her father does every day.

“I want to see how you work Daddy,” she told him.

To see the result of Daddy’s hard work, and the work of the other singers, musicians, cast and crew, don’t miss Madama Butterfly. Shows are Friday and Tuesday at 7:30, and Sunday at 2.

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