Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

ArtHop focus: Neil Chowdhury ‘Burdens and Dreams’ at Corridor 2122

In Thursday’s Life section I highlight the work of Neil Chowdhury, who joined the Fresno State art department this academic year to teach photography. His new show at Corridor 2122, “Burdens and Desires,” is a vibrant and thoughtful exercise in which Chowdhury unpacks his relationship to India, land of his father’s birth. Here’s an extended interview.

You’re new this academic year at Fresno State.  Introduce yourself to the Fresno arts community.

I’m new to Fresno, but not to teaching and making art, or to being new. My parents moved with me frequently when I was a child. I was born in England, but immigrated to Canada and then the US while still an infant. Since then I’ve lived all over the country. I think that having to adapt constantly to new environments and cultures really helped me to become more observant of my surroundings, and inspired my use of photography as a tool to understand the new worlds in which I found myself. I moved here this August with my wife Sacha to teach photography at Fresno State University. We are both thrilled to live in a place where we can enjoy sunshine all year round. Our timing was fortunate, as we just managed to escape the worst winter on record in Syracuse, our previous home. I’m excited to discover that in addition to warm weather, Fresno also offers a vibrant cultural and art scene that’s much more lively than I expected for a city of this size. We’ve both felt very welcomed by the creative community here so far!

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‘Prince Farming’ ready to make up his mind

The latest ABC  search for love in front of millions of people comes to an end Monday, March 9, when the man known as “Prince Farming,” Chris Soules, will make his decision on “The Bachelor.”

The field has been narrowed to Becca and Whitney. It will be revealed whether one of them is about to be whisked off to Arlington, Iowa or Soules will fail to find true love (or at least as true as it can be on a reality TV show).

I had a chance to chat with Soules in January during a party thrown by ABC. He says he was willing to put himself through the public spectacle because the idea of being the Bachelor seemed like a good way to have some fun.

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Opening tonight: ‘Guys & Dolls’

The national tour of the classic musical “Guys & Dolls” is making a two-night stop at the Saroyan Theatre. I got the chance to interview Todd Berkich, who plays Nicely-Nicely Johnson. From my story in Tuesday’s Life section

Todd Berkich isn’t rockin’ the boat. When you play Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the national tour of “Guys & Dolls,” which shimmies into the Saroyan Theatre on Wednesday, March 4, for a two-night run, you get the chance to sing one of the show’s great songs: “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” Because that song is so well-known for exploding into a trademark gospel-style frenzy of vocals, you don’t want to mess with it too much.

The show plays 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 5.

Rogue Roundup for Wednesday, March 4

We’ll kick off our daily Rogue Roundup with a rave. Beehiver Rick Bentley writes:

The awards are in, and in the category of best performance by two Canadians and a New Yorker managing to mash together 87 winners of Oscars for Best Picture into one hilarious performance, the top honor goes to “Best Picture.”

The theory of everything behind the show is that Jon Paterson, Tara Travis and Kurt Fitzpatrick salute all 87 films that have won Best Picture, from “Wings” to “Birdman” (including a moment you won’t ever be able to unsee). The imitation game they play to portray stars of the movies would work from “Selma” to “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

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Rogue Roundup for Tuesday, March 3

Pictured: Rogue Street signs popped up on Olive Avenue this year. Photo credit: Bethany Clough.

One thing that’s caught some attention this year are the street signs that have popped up around the Tower. The signs point the direction to the various Rogue venues. They’re cool frankly, and people are talking about them. Bethany Clough snapped this photo and says “I’ve heard Fresno Ideaworks gets the credit for the signs, but haven’t been able to identify who specifically made them. One Instagram user, @chaubui7, had this to say about them: ‘We should keep such signs permanently around town — They pique your interest and would be great for tourism.’ ”

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Rogue Roundup for Monday, March 2

Pictured: Members of Megill & Company perform “Sleep Cycles Dream State” at Cal Arts Academy/Severance. Photo credit: Victor DesRoches.

Funny thing about the first weekend of the Rogue Festival: You can wander into shows so sparsely attended that there are less than 100 toes in the audience. And you can land in a sold-out venue.

That’s what happened to me on Saturday: When I saw “Still Shopping for God” in a 12:30 p.m. show at The Voice Shop, it was packed with a boisterous, giving audience. I went to Eliza’s Gibson’s “And Now, No Flip Flops,” the show immediately following at 2 p.m. at the same venue, and there was just a handful of folks in the audience. (It’s a very well-done show that deserves a much bigger crowd, by the way.)

The Rogue’s Heather Parish reports that the number of sold-out performances during the first weekend was higher this year than usual. She expects the numbers to grow next weekend, so get to shows 30 minutes prior to showtime or purchase online to guarantee seats.

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Matt Black: an intense and highly talented photographer

If you missed Sunday’s paper, you missed my long profile starting on the front page about Exeter photographer Matt Black, whose latest national honor was Time magazine’s designation as the 2014 Instagram Photographer of the Year. 

Photographer Craig Kohlruss and I got the chance to spend some quality time with Matt. It’s not just a story about a talented photographer, but one about a part of this Valley that many of us never see: the vastness of our agricultural infrastructure, the endemic poverty, the lives of farmworkers, the startling real-world effects of drought. It’s rare for an arts profile to make the Sunday front page, and I hope you can carve out some time to read it.

‘House of Cards’ Season 3: Oh, what a twisted season opener

I couldn’t wait for Season 3 of “House of Cards” to start streaming on Netflix. Neither could my Beehive colleague Traci Arbios. We aren’t binge watchers — not enough hours in the day, and, besides, I like to deal out my “Cards” slowly so I can stretch the experience. Both of us only caught the first episode over the past weekend. (Spoiler alert: Don’t read this if you’re still catching up with the first and second seasons, or, obviously, the first episode of Season 3.)

DONALD: Any thought that the new President Underwood would turn “House of Cards” into a “West Wing”-style White House drama filled with the buoyant minutiae of daily governing went out the window with the first episode of the third season. If anything, the show turned even darker than ever. I actually shuddered a couple of times. Were you surprised, Traci, at how much time we spent in the first episode with the struggling-for-life Doug Stamper (played by the amazing Michael Kelly), who at the end of last season had his head bashed in with a brick by Rachel?

TRACI: I think it’s safe to say that not a single item on my expected list showed up in the first episode; instead, several completely unanticipated moments punched me in the face. First off, yes; I was stunned to see Stamper alive. There’s no spoiler here– Stamper appears in the opening shots. Another surprise? Actually, a twofer: 1) Stephen Colbert interviewing a clearly 2) uncomfortable Underwood. When do we ever see Underwood uncomfortable? Question for you: What do you think of Claire Underwood’s foray into politics?

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Win tickets to the Australian Bee Gees

Pop quiz: How deep is your love for the Bee Gees?

Answer that in the comments section of this post and you’ll be entered to win tickets to see The Australian Bee Gees (a tribute to the brothers Gibb).

The multimedia touring concert show stops 7:30 p.m. March 12 at the Saroyan Theatre. The Beehive will give away several pairs of tickets this week (and next week, too. So stayed tuned). You have until 5 p.m. Friday March 6 to enter this round of the contest. Winners will be notified by email and must be able to pick the tickets up at the Fresno Bee office (1626 E. St.) during normal business hours.

While the Bee Gees (Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb) are most often linked to disco (thank you “Saturday Night Fever”), the Australian-by-way-of-England group formed in 1958 and already had a successful career in the rock scene in the late ’60s. That success continued well into the 2000s with the deaths of Maurice (in 2003) and Robin (in 2012). Today, the band ranks among the Beatles, Paul McCartney, Elvis and Michael Jackson as one of the best-selling recording artist of all time. They are part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more than 2,500 artists have recorded covers of their songs.

The Australian Bee Gees celebrate the band’s full career, playing selections from its early days (“To Love Somebody”), the disco era (“Stayin’ Alive”) and beyond. The band also does a weekend residency at the Excalibur Casino in Las Vegas.

Watch a trailer for the show (and get the complete contest rules) on the jump.

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Rogue Roundup for Sunday, March 1

Welcome to Day 3 of the 2015 Rogue Festival. And thanks for finding these festival roundups back here on the Beehive, which has stopped its two-day technological tantrum. (Fingers crossed.) Here is where you can read recaps of Day 1 and Day 2.

We’ve got just two words for you: Haydell Sisters.

Get your tickets now. Thanks to advance online Rogue ticketing, you can do just that.

My Beehive colleague Kathy Mahan and I both saw “The Famous Haydell Sisters Comeback Tour” Saturday night at the Voice Shop, and we agree that it is 1) hilarious; 2) imaginative; 3) extremely well sung; and 4) bawdier than a drunken “South Park” writers brainstorming session. (Ah, so many words rhyme with “rube.”) The Rogue buzz for the show is already red-hot, and it’s easy to see why: With its “Spinal Tap”-style mockumentary format diving into the psyche of a former hit musical group, sisters Maybelle (Sadie Bowman) and Mattie (Donna Kay Yarborough) entertain with wildly entertaining satirical country music songs when they aren’t working through sibling rivalry. Prepare to laugh a lot.

More Rogue buzz

Kathy writes:

– After seeing Les Kurkendaal’s “A One Way Ticket To Crazy Town” I wanted to give his mom three cheers. She sounds like a great lady. Crazy Town is a sweet, funny and poignant show. Kurkendaal is charming and an engaging storyteller.  

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Dean Winters faces ‘Battle’ after health scare

Dean Winters has become a familiar face on television from his insurance commercials as the character of “Mayhem” to his new starring role in the CBS series “Battle Creek.”

Not bad for a guy who died almost six years ago.

Winters woke up on June 18, 2009 with a bad fever. He decided to try and sleep it away. But, he woke the next day to see that his entire body was gray because of  a bacterial infection. On his way to the hospital, his heart stooped for two and a half minutes.

The paramedics brought him back. That was the start of a three-week stay in the intensive care unit.

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Leonard Nimoy leaves lasting legacy

Other than Gene Roddenberry, no one meant more to the “Star Trek” franchise than Leonard Nimoy. His passing leaves a black hole in the “Star Trek” universe that will never close.

It wasn’t the bravado that William Shatner and Chris Pine brought to the show. It wasn’t the comic relief supplied by James Doohan and Simon Pegg. It was the Nimoy’s stoic performance as Spock that served as the tent pole for the series. Without his logical views on the world, the series would have been just a standard action offering. Spock was a true original.

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Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

Aside from keeping up-to-date on a couple of runaway llamas

1. Rogue Festival
Fresno’s very own fringe festival. The weirdest two weeks of the year.

2. Mike Epps
That’s racist.

3. Fresno Tattoo Convention
There are several tattoos I would get if I weren’t afraid of needles/pain/commitment.

4. Fly Fishing on The Fulton Mall
One day, ex-mayor Alan Autry will have his river downtown.

5. San Joaquin Valley Jazz Festival
Featuring flutist/MC Katise. He did the jazz-flute music in “Anchorman.”

And a bonus five weekend concerts picks:

1. Ledisi
2. Big Harp
3. Dale Stewart Group
4. Mali Music
5. The Bronx

For more music-specific events, check out my weekly BANDGEEEK update.

A chat with ‘Iris’

Here’s a great theater option for families: Fresno City College is opening what sounds like a charming play suitable for third graders and older.  “Still Life with Iris” is set in a fantasy world named Nocturno, where if you lose your coat you don’t know who you are because you’ve lost your memories.

I caught up with Olivia Stemler, who plays the title role, via email.

Question: What is the play about?

Answer: “Still Life with Iris” follows the story of a little girl on her quest to find home. She is joined by two friends, a pirate named Annabel Lee and young Mozart, as they search to reclaim her stolen memories.

How old is your character? Was playing someone this young a challenge? Did you do anything special to prepare?

This was such a fun process! But also a challenge. Iris is 11 years old, so it was definitely a stretch. I did a lot of heavy observing and pulled a lot of inspiration from children I interact with on a daily basis. Kids are so free and uninhibited in the way they think and interact with the world, I tried to incorporate that into my performance as much as possible.

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Terrence Howard faces fears to do ‘Empire’

It’s a good thing Terrence Howard overcame his fears about being in the new FOX series “Empire.” Had he passed on the show, Howard would have missed out on being part of the biggest phenomenon of this TV season.

“Empire,” the story of a family involved in the music industry, has attracted more viewers each week since it launched in January.

What scared Howard was how his character treated people including a scene where he throws a child into a garbage can. That’s not the kind of action that will earn any points toward “Father of the Year” voting.

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BANDGEEK!: Light Thieves, Ledisi and Robert DeLong

It’s the start of a weird two weeks here in Fresno. I mean that in the best possible way.

If you’re into the Rogue Festival, I mean really into doing it right, you won’t have time for much else.

I’ve gone ahead and collected the week’s concerts and musical happening anyway. Here they are in another BANDGEEEEK roundup.


  • Light Thieves.
    W/Fatty Cakes & the Puff Pastries, DJ Aesop and Midwest Moms. At Fulton 55. 9 p.m. $8-$12. (Flier link)

  • The Notones.
    Residency at the Oly. W/Butler Park. At Audie’s Olympic. 9 p.m. Free. (Flier link)

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    Fresno State flies flags at half-staff today for Philip Levine

    Ever since the Feb. 14 passing of famed poet Philip Levine, I’ve been receiving calls and emails asking for details on funeral services. The short answer: No services have been announced, and there is no clear indication from the family that there will be any. From my update in today’s Fresno Bee:

    The Fresno literary scene has been in something of a limbo since Levine’s death, with many people wondering about funeral services. None have been announced, and word at the university is that it appears there won’t be any.

    When reached Wednesday, poet Peter Everwine, a close friend of the family, said to his knowledge there’s been no plan for a memorial at this time. “I think something may happen in the future, but Fran (Levine’s wife) has just not gotten settled enough to think about what lies ahead.”

    Meanwhile, Fresno State moved ahead today by honoring Levine by putting the university’s flags at half-staff. Officials hope to pay public tribute with a ceremony or celebration marking his life i the Levine family so chooses.

    A growing list of remembrances about Levine from around the world can be found on the university’s creative writing program blog.

    Pictured: Philip Levine in a 2012 photo with Vida Samiian, former dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. Bee photo / Mark Crosse

    Opening tonight:’Always a Bridesmaid’

    Good Company Players offers another in a series of titles at the 2nd Space Theatre from the playwriting trio of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. Their “Always a Bridesmaid” is described thusly:

    On prom night, four young friends swear to be in each others’ weddings, no matter what. 30 years — and numerous weddings later — the well-beaten path to true love could not get any crazier. Faithful to their promise, the four friends repeatedly ride the ‘marry-go-round’, in spite of fistfights at the altar, runaway brides and, of course, horrendous bridesmaid dresses. For richer-for-poorer, in-sickness-and-in-health, these aging debutantes are determined to help each other find happiness-ever-after.

    Jones, Hope and Wooten authored such past 2nd Space productions as “The Red Velvet Cake War” and “The Dixie Swim Club.”

    It runs through April 19.

    Fresno loves its barbecue, here’s one more restaurant serving it

    I feel like all I write about lately is barbecue restaurants opening. Here’s one more. The latest Dickey’s Barbecue Pit opens in Clovis Thursday in a former Blockbuster at Herndon and Fowler avenues near Vons. This is the small, quick-service Texas-style barbecue joint (that means no tri-tip) that also has restaurants in the El Paseo shopping center, Tulare, Hanford, Visalia and Porterville.

    In what Dickey’s folks are calling a “three day party,” they’ll be gift card giveaways on Thursday, a visit from “Mr. Dickey” as they call the chairman on Friday complete with $2 pulled pork sandwiches (that’s one at right), and more giveaways on Saturday.

    If you’re burned out on Dickey’s, here’s some other happening barbecue restaurants in town:

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    Margot Robbie wins over ‘Focus’ producers

    Will Smith was convinced Margot Robbie wasn’t interested in playing the female lead in his new movie, “Focus,” when she arrived at the audition. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, her hair had not been done and she was dressed like a beach bum.

    And yet, she got the role. The film opens Friday, Feb. 27.

    The reason the stunning blonde, who was the subject of so much chatter when she was on the red carpet for the recent Academy Awards because of how good she looked, was in such a state was that she had made a trip halfway around the globe to tryout for the part of the female con artist.

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    Fashawn releases “The Ecology” documentary

    Fashawn is in the midst of a full-on media storm (at least locally) for the release of his Mass Appeal Records debut. “The Ecology” is in stores today, though a ton of local fans showed up last night to pick the album up early (and get autographs and see an in-store performance).

    Mass Appeal released “The Ecology,” a 17-minute documentary in conjunction with the album. Directed by filmmaker Punit Dhesi (who is a freakin’ awesome local talent in his own right), the documentary traces Fashawn’s story, growing from kid in child protective services to an aspiring rapper to releasing his first major album.

    Watch the video. This is the kind of work that is coming out of Fresno. We should all be proud.

    Watch VANish, hear Sahab

    Today is the release of the Danny Trejo’s straight-to-DVD-film “VANish.” The film, which Screen Rant calls “Reservoir Dogs” meets “Buried,” is the debut from writer/director Bryan Bockbrader and takes place completely inside a kidnapper’s van (which you could probably surmise from the name).

    Of local note: the film’s opening sequence features music from electronic musician/singer/producer Sahab. Click through the jump to see a quick video from the film screening earlier this month.

    You’ll remember Sahab released his second album “Kittysiclosis,” in November. The guys over at the Spanspek blog compared it to Kanye West’s “808s” and “Heartbreak.”

    You can catch the singer next Thursday (March 5) at Audie’s Olympic Tavern with guests Mike G and Left Brain (of Odd Future fame). It’ll be a Sahabratory Experience.

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    Latest ‘Dancing with the Stars’ lineup revealed

    The 10th anniversary cast for “Dancing with the Stars” is the usual collection of semi-celebrities. They will get their first chance to dance when the ABC competition series returns at 8 p.m. March 16.

    Here are the early odds for the lalest lineup:

    Singer/actor Riker Lynch partnered with Allison Holker. (3-1)

    Olympian Nastia Liukin partnered with Derek Hough. (4-1)

    Disabled veteran Noah Galloway partnered with Sharna Burgess. (10-1)

    “Hunger Games” star Willow Shields partnered with Mark Ballas. (12-1)

    Carl’s Jr. model Charlotte McKinney partnered with Keo Motsepe. (15-1)

    Actress Rumer Willis partnered with Valentin Chmerkovskiy. (18-1)

    Producer/performer Redfoo partnered with Emma Slater. (18-1)

    Gridder Michael Sam partnered with Peta Murgatroyd. (18-1)

    Actress/author Suzanne Somers partnered with Tony Dovolani. (20-1)

    “Shark Tank” star Robert Herjavec partnered with Kym Johnson. (20-1)

    Singer Patti LaBelle partnered with Artem Chigvintsev. (25-1)

    TONIGHT: Fashawn in-store performance at Rasputin Music

    I’ve written a lot about Fashawn in the last year, which makes sense, seeing as the Fresno rapper’s career has been on an upward trajectory since it was announced he would be signing with the legendary MC Nas to his “Boy Meets World” follow up on Mass Appeal Records (home to Nas, Run the Jewels and others).

    That album, “The Ecology,” was released on iTunes last week and will be available in stores and the like tomorrow.

    But Fresno fans will get the first crack, 6 p.m. tonight at Rasputin Music. Physical copies of the album will be for sale and Fashwan will be doing an in-store performance. This is your chance to see him in town before he leaves on tour.

    There will also be food trucks, a skate demo and others suprise-y kind of stuff. Before you head out, read all about Fashawn in this piece, which ran in Sunday’s paper.