The SpotLight

Story G. E. Light

Ray and Carrie Holliday Hamilton paid their way through school (Mississippi State and The W, respectively) by working at Anthony’s Good Food Market in West Point. Six years ago, the young couple achieved a lifelong dream by becoming the owners. Originally from Ocean Springs, chef Ray is a third-generation restaurateur. They set about making Anthony’s their own, while retaining its essential character, hoping to create a reputation that reaches beyond the Golden Triangle. Much more Mississippi-related art adorns its brick walls. They’ve really invested in quality with respect to seafood — through Ray’s familial Gulf Coast connections, as well as new purveyors as far flung as Atlanta, Alaska, and Colorado — and they’ve brought back a popular feature, Blues Nights, rebranded as Midweek Mojo. Originally a Saturday feature that outgrew the restaurant, they’ve settled on live Americana with a blues focus on Wednesdays from 7ish to close. The weekly event features well-known local acts as well as the occasional national headliner; recently Terry “Harmonica” Bean played a gig before embarking on a European tour.

On this particular Wednesday, I sat expectantly under the intense two-dimensional gaze of Hubert Sumlin soloing at a Howlin’ Wolf Festival after-party at Waverly Waters back in 2008 and half a dozen of Vinnie C.’s lovely cigar box guitars. Having polished off my favorite appetizer, BBQ-style crawfish tails, I was digging into a medium-rare 14-ounce angus ribeye topped with bayou butter and green onions, when The Cedar Creek Ramblers took the stage. This CCR is a new age bluegrass band with Hard Luck Chuck on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Larry Wallace on banjo and vocals, Mark Tribble on upright bass and vocals, and tonight, Steve Butler on fiddle (at least seven guys share the fiddle spot depending on the gig’s location). Chuck plays in or fronts a handful of bands and was in the first live act I ever saw in Starkvegas, the late David C. Trio, which was actually a quartet, of course. Larry is the group’s senior member, having toured for more than a decade with King of Bluegrass Jimmy Martin. “Retired” from the road, he remains busy writing his autobiography and a banjo instructional manual and DVD, teaching lessons on guitar, banjo and mandolin, and picking with various groups. The band puts a bluegrass spin on a wide variety of music. Tonight they ran the gamut from Hank Sr.’s zydeco-inflected “Jambalaya” to The Doobie’s “Funky Dixieland” to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” to non-traditional fare like The White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba.” A big favorite, especially with the octogenarian crowd of Learning in Retirement folks from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, whose tour of the Pine Belt had brought them to Anthony’s after a day at Waverly Mansion, was George Jones’ “The Race is On.”

DATELINE: CAMELOT 932 AD.  Starkville High’s fantastic production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” featured a series of successfully minimalist sets, right down to The Really Inexpensive Forest™. The pit orchestra, ably conducted by Joel Barron, played beautifully for such young performers (well, except for the one ringer: Armstrong Middle School music teacher and professional touring saxophonist, Doug Thomas). The two leads had strong voices and acted their parts well. Steve Jones brought a clueless yet nobly arrogant charm to King Arthur reminiscent of the late Graham Chapman. Kathleen Ritter‘s Patsy showed off her coconut sound-effect skills and got significantly more lines than Terry Gilliam’s portrayal of same.

Every Broadway musical has one show-stopping number often by a below-the-title actor. In “Kiss Me Kate,” it’s “Brush up Your Shakespeare”; here it was “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” featuring Akash Shaunak as Sir Robin and ensemble. Standouts among the ensemble cast were solid Vinny Brocato (Sir Belvedere of the Bright Scarlet Plume, a most excellent fisch schlapping Finland-er, and Arms Monk), leggy Liz Jones (who puts on the mantle of Ann Miller in roles varying from vamp to nun to unrolling travel backdrop), and cheerful Eli Dailey (tumbler, dancing Finland-er, dancing dead body, dancing minstrel, and Brother Maynard of the Holy Hand Grenade instructions). Kudos to Jessica Price for having the guts to take this one on. But where, oh where, were the llamas?

Columbus Girlchoir celebrated its 10th anniversary with a free concert at The W’s Kossen Auditorium, featuring the world premiere of J.D. Frizzell’s new composition, “Miracles.” Founding Director Dr. Cherry Dunn says the group’s mission is two-fold: 1) “a commitment to performing traditional music with understanding and excellence,” while 2) ”offering … the opportunity to develop friendships with girls from varied backgrounds and build self-esteem and self-discipline through hard work and dedication.”

Frizzell, Director of Fine Arts and Vocal Music at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, set Elizabeth Rooney’s poem to music, presenting the first true low alto parts we heard that evening, plus an extended and haunting moving final phrase on the word “small.” He has further ties to the Girlchoir as his wife, Emily, was a charter member of the group in 2004. The Junior Girlchoir (fourth through seventh grades) sang a delightful medley from “The Sound of Music,” but the highlight of their set was Andrea Ramsey’s “Grow, Little Tree” with its canon-like repeats. The Senior Girlchoir (eighth to twelfth grades) returned for a second set highlighted by David Maddux’s serious nonsense song, “Tching-Tchinga-Ryah,” which conveys the idea “that in every human soul there is a built-in mechanism that somehow reaches out to seek The Divine,” and on a lighter note, their version of Kristen Chenoweth’s signature tune, “Taylor, the Latte Boy,” with a fine first solo by Reed Hairston.


G.E.’s TOP 10 LIVE MUSIC VENUES IN THE TRIANGLE

1. Rick’s Café Americain, Main Stage — The one place in the area you can see live music with professional lighting on stage with professional sound work by J Dee McKay.

2. Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern, Del Rendon Stage — Good live music basically every night of the week, often featuring the best in established and up-and-coming local artists but occasionally national or regional acts like Afroman, The Unknown Hinson, Alvin Youngblood Hart or Cary Hudson in an intimate setting.

3. Anthony’s Good Food Market, 3rd Room Bar — Live music only two nights a week. You really want to catch the Midweek Mojo Wednesdays until closing at 10.  A rotating list of bands and solo artists cover rock, country and blues. Especially look for Flathead Ford, Hardluck Chuck/Cedar Creek Ramblers, Bill Cooke & Kannawermz.

4. The Columbus Riverwalk — A seasonal-only venue, but a great place to see a free show every other Thursday evening in May and June.

5. The W’s Poindexter Hall, Connie Sill Kossen Auditorium — Great newly renovated venue with professional lighting and a nice, if smallish, stage. I’ve seen everything there from an indie rock show (The Persians in an early formulation) to the Provincetown Players’ “Autumn Song.”

6. Columbus Arts Council, Omnova Theater — This 85-seat theater holds concerts as  part of the CAC’s programming — Peter Bradley Adams, Jimbo Mathus, Caroline Herring and even songwriting legend Dan Penn have graced their stage. More recently they had a fantastic show featuring the history of Latin music in the Americas through time with a stellar crew of local musicians. 

7. MSU’s McComas Hall, McComas Theater — I’ve seen everything from a journey through Africa’s varied musical cultures with Bob Damm to a live taping of NPR’s “From the Top.” The acoustics aren’t great, but most of the seats have good views — even those in the balcony. We’ll wait and see how the newly renovated Lee Hall’s Bettersworth Auditorium really functions when Merle Haggard takes the stage this fall.

8. Central Station Grill — The music happens at most twice a month here on set weekend nights. Best place to catch a 30 Fingers gig, while drinkin’ and noshin’.

9. Old Venice Pizza, Burgundy Room — It can be a bit crowded, but still a fun place to see a band crammed into the front window area.

10. Mary Holmes College Auditorium/GymIt only happens once a year but on the Friday of Labor Day weekend … what a show: Richard Ramsey’s annual Howlin’ Wolf Memorial Blues Festival in West Point. Hard to beat an indoor, air-conditioned venue.