Franken fanatics pony up for Rep 

It took less than two days for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre to sell out Al Franken’s benefit appearance on Nov. 15. That’s no surprise; thanks to his political satire writings, his books and liberal radio show, Franken is a hot ticket anywhere, and there were only 400 or so seats (costing $50 to $150) for his visit here to benefit the Rep’s $10,000 Kaufman & Hart Prize for New American Comedy. But the Rep found a way to make a few more Franken fans happy, coming up with a Franken Watch Party at the Rep’s SecondStage on Nov. 15, where the audience can view the performance via a live video feed provided by the Dempsey Film Group. Tickets for the watch party are $50 and the price includes two drinks and light snacks. Call 378-0405 quickly, as these tickets are limited as well. The SecondStage is on the mezzanine level of the Rep’s building at 601 Main St. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Franken, a four-time Emmy Award winner, also will field questions from the audience. Opening the show is local humorist/singer Sharon Douglas, who will have some timely political material written for the event. The weekend took us all over central Arkansas for a wide range of art venues and a diverse selection of music. Starting Friday, we ventured to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on North Mississippi to hear the Arkansas Chamber Singers’ “Songs of Beauty Born of Grief.” No doubt much of our music — certainly the blues — has been born of trying circumstances. This impeccable singing group provided music sprung from the suffering of the Polish people in the Holocaust, of the American Civil War and of the Irish suffering in the 1800s at the hands of the English. The first half was devoted to the music of the Holocaust experience, made more heart-rending by the narrative (read by David and Teri Itkin) that told of almost unspeakable horrors in the concentration camps. Stephen Feldman’s rangy and often haunting cello complemented the voices. For the Civil War portion after intermission, Michael Carenbauer presented Walt Whitman’s poetry from his time as a field nurse, arranged for guitar and voice. Leave it to the Irish, even in terrible times, to come up with lighter ditties that the Chamber Singers performed in the last portion. From there, it was to a packed White Water Tavern for Mulehead’s final show, which after almost two hours eventually dissolved into some of the band’s favorite cover tunes. The foursome took requests from the throng filling the small open area in front of the stage and offered several cuts from the terrific final CD, “Finer Thing.” Go Fast’s Matt Floyd came to the rescue with his bass early on when Mulehead’s bassist broke a string, and during a brief interlude as Floyd fetched the bass, Mulehead frontman Kevin Kerby wrote a song on the spot. Saturday, we were part of a panel for the Open Screening portion of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, where aspiring documentarists brought five minutes of their work to be critiqued at Justiss Fine Art on Central Avenue. We learned from the four-hour session that the documentary world is going to be seeing more talent soon, including some from Arkansas. We were especially moved by a couple of shorts that were reflections about 9/11, including “Before,” a piece by Russellville-based music composer Hans Stiritz in which he pieced together old Super 8 films taken by his family as they traveled on airplanes, the payoff being a view of the World Trade Center’s twin towers as Stiritz’s powerful music rose to a crescendo. Young Philip Shafer of Little Rock also had an emotional short that juxtaposed 9/11 with a view of Little Rock in “A Moment in Knoop Park.” Then it was a quick run up from Hot Springs to Conway Saturday night to see the “rediscovered” soul and blues singer Howard Tate, who performed for free at Hendrix College’s Staples Auditorium at the conclusion of the school’s Founder’s Weekend. Tate’s style and range were reminiscent of Smoky Robinson and even Al Green, who surfaced as an R&B star five years after Tate’s “Get It While You Can” was released in 1967. Tate, who quit singing for nearly 30 years, hit all the high points of his debut album as well as his 2003 “Rediscovered” CD, whic was nominated for a Grammy Award. His band was stellar, featuring one of the best drummers we’ve seen, Ernest Carter. San Francisco-based Austin DeLone led the band from the keyboards and provided his own R&B stylings before Tate took stage. Mike Schermer on guitar, Tim Wager on bass and brass section were all top-notch, all gray-haired veterans of the blues scene. One could see why Bonnie Raitt and B.B. King were so moved to record Tate’s “Ain’t Nobody Home” — his version just rocked. Tate pleased the nearly three-quarters full auditorium with almost two hours of music, including three encores. Early on, several audience members began dancing in the side aisles, and one was moved to yell out every once in a while to Tate’s urgings, and no one cared.

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