Update No. 2: The Ampersand Kickstarter campaign has met its $20,000 goal. Earlier this week, the couple behind the effort said that if the campaign reached the $10,000 mark, “the remainder will be taken care of.” It did and it was. The ice cream shop will open in May. The couple is already installing equipment and working on the space. You can track their progress on the Ampersand Facebook page.
Update: The folks behind Amerpsand have signed a lease to take over the P*DE*Q space across from Fresno High and next to Dusty Buns restaurant. Click here for a pic. The Bennetts plan to open in May. And they say they have the money to open whether or not the Kickstarter succeeds.
The Tower District needs an ice cream shop. At least that’s what Jeff and Amelia Bennett say and they’ve embarked on a campaign to make it happen. The Tower residents make their own ice cream and have started a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to get the money to open an ice cream shop. Regardless of whether they meet their goal or not, they say they plan to open a shop in or near Tower. Here’s their video about it:
Tim Kasher is back on tour with his band Cursive, and doesn’t see it being particularly different from when he was doing it rather full time back in the early 2000s.
The band is older, sure, but its members are kind of an anomaly, in that they haven’t started families or had kids.
“At this juncture in our lives, in our careers, it’s totally the same,” says Kasher, in town tonight for a show at Strummer’s with the Philadelphia band Beach Slang and Omaha’s Twinsmith, which will release its sophomore album on Saddle Creek in May.
The fans have changed some, Kasher says.
“When you’ve been doing it for awhile, you play through generations,” he says.
Because under the right circumstances, when the theatrical stars align and the ingredients come together to spark the right kind of live-performance magic, opera can soar higher and louder.
The “new” Fresno Grand Opera — a partnership with Modesto’s Townsend Opera — had an auspicious debut Sunday afternoon at the Saroyan Theatre with a searing production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The direction by Brad Dalton, considered the world’s foremost stage director of Andre Previn’s 1995 adaptation of the classic Tennessee Williams play, upped the emotional ante. And a powerhouse performance in the leading role of Blanche DuBois by Carrie Hennessey — whose acting prowess brought to life a character of riveting complexity — made me pause and consider anew this well-known tale and what it has to say about women, loss and the way that life can simply unravel.
If the internet could jump up and down with excitement, it’d be doing it over news that Castillo’s Mexican Restaurant is coming to the Tower District. Castillo’s announced plans to open at 568 E. Olive Ave. (which used to be Rousseau and Frankie’s 568, next to Bourbon & Taps). The family is shooting for a March 7 opening date. You can follow their progress and see the comments of excited customers on this Facebook page or its grand opening page.
Technically, this is a return to the Tower District for the family. Patriarch Kino Castillo once had a restaurant in what sounds like what is now the Million Elephant space. It’s been closed for well over a decade. Anyone remember it?
If the Castillo name brings to mind other restaurants, that’s because there are more. So, feel free to sketch a family tree while I pass along what Gino Castillo, 51 Aces bass player and son of Kino, explained to me. His dad Gino opened Castillo’s Mexican on Ventura Avenue, which is still open but has been handed down to other family members. He recently sold the Castillo’s at 4386 W. Shaw Ave. near Costco. He then opened Casa Castillo, a smaller restaurant at 3628 W. Shaw Ave. At one point, there was another at Blackstone and Shields. “He actually tried to retire like three or four times,” Gino says. “People keep offering him restaurants and he keeps opening them up.”
The arena event features everyone’s favorite Marvel superheros including Thor, Captain American, Wolverine and the Hulk in an all-out HULK-SMASH battle royal against Red Skull, Madame Hydra, Loki, Electro and more.
This is big-screen action in real time; with aerial stunts, pyrotechnics and movie-style special effects that utilize the entire arena floor, plus some multilevel aerial fighting. Seeing Captain America slug it out with Red Skull might be worth the price of admission alone.
You can see all the action 7 p.m. April 3, 11 a.m. or 3 and 7 p.m. April 4, 2 p.m. April 5 and 6 p.m. April 6.
Tickets for the show are $23-$78 and go on sale 10 a.m. Feb. 19 at the SMC box office, select Save Mart Supermarkets,at (800) 745-3000 or online at ticketmaster.com.
Click through to the jump to catch a video of Marvel Universe.
ORIGINAL POST: Philip Levine wasn’t born in Fresno, but the Detroit native — whose poetry smelled of the sweat of hard work, the fecundity of the earth and the grease of the factory — let the city get into his nostrils. And his heart. The Pulitzer Prize winner and former United States poet laureate died in Fresno on Saturday, Feb. 14, at the age of 87. The cause was pancreatic cancer, The New York Times reported.
When the poet came to Fresno State in 1958, the university didn’t even have a creative writing department. He helped make the poetry program nationally known, teaching there for more than 30 years, and was named a professor emeritus.
While he would go on to teach part-time at some of the most prestigious universities in the land, including New York University, Columbia University, Princeton University and the University of California at Berkeley, Levine always returned to Fresno, where he split time between a home there and in Brooklyn.
Levine wrote more than 21 collections of poetry, and in 1995 received the Pulitzer Prize for “The Simple Truth.” He won the National Book Award in 1991 for “What Work Is” and in 1980 for “Ashes: Poems New and Old.”
Critics have called him “a large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland” for his emphasis in his poems on the lives of factory workers trapped by poverty and the drudgery of the assembly line. Joyce Carol Oates once called him “a visionary of our dense, troubled, mysterious time.”
In 2011, he was named poet laureate of the United States (officially the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry), a title that came with few official duties but much distinction. There was one more major poetry honor to come: the Wallace Stevens Award in 2013, which is given annually to recognize “outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.”
When I last interviewed Levine, in 2011, to talk about his poet-laureate honor, he told me that two things stood out to him about his career:
The single greatest reward was the writing of the stuff itself, the poetry. And the second biggest one had to do with my students, mainly here at Fresno State. I had some amazing students here who went on to wonderful careers as poets. Many became very good friends of mine.
Those noted names include Larry Levis, Gary Soto, Roberta Spear, Sherley Williams, Ernesto Trejo, Luis Omar Salinas and Lawson Inada.
C.G. Hanzlicek, who for 15 years headed the Fresno Poets’ Association, in a 2009 interview called Levine the “fire-starter” of a vibrant Fresno poetry scene.
There’s no “America the Beautiful” on the program, but the Fresno Philharmonic’s intriguing new concert “From the New World” has a bit of a patriotic bent to it. All three pieces on the program were written by European composers who spent a chunk of time working in and inspired by the United States — and each of the three works premiered in this country. The best known, Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, which premiered in New York in 1893, swells with so much golden optimism and fervor for this country that you can practically see the gleaming Manhattan skyscrapers towering in the sun, perched on the edge of a country overflowing with wide open spaces, vast resources and boundless optimism.
The other two pieces on the program, Bohuslav Martinu’s Symphony No. 6 and Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Paganini,” might be a little harder at first to fit into the intellectually stimulating concert theme from music director Theodore Kuchar. But I could appreciate and revel in the American connections, particularly in the Martinu. I loved this piece at the Friday evening opening concert at Shaghoian Hall. Martinu was a Czech composer who fled first to France and then to the U.S. because of war. It is a tangled flurry of a piece at times, but somewhere within the bombast there is a brightness to it — a patter of optimism — that suggested to me a newly dawning day on fresh earth far from strife. The turmoil in the piece is balanced with tenderness, and the sensitivity with which Kuchar coaxed the orchestra made it seem warm and enveloping.
After nearly a year of no one in the position, the Fresno Art Museum has a new executive director: Michele Ellis Pracy, who brings 25 years of museum experience to the job. She most recently was director of the Ojai Valley Museum in Ojai, where during a five-year tenure she brought a “small-town” museum up to the level of an accreditation-worthy institution, she said.
It’s a huge weekend for classical music fans in Fresno. Both the Fresno Grand Opera and Fresno Philharmonic are performing: the Phil for three performances (Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinee); the opera for one performance (Sunday matinee).
The amazing thing is that these two institutions — which haven’t exactly been BFFs over the years — are actually cooperating. From Friday’s 7 section:
In a spirit of cooperation, Fresno Philharmonic Sunday ticket holders can exchange their tickets at no charge for Friday or Saturday’s performance. Also, people who have purchased tickets to either Fresno Grand Opera’s “Streetcar Named Desire” or the Fresno Philharmonic’s “New World” can purchase tickets to the other organization’s performance this weekend at a discount (20% off single ticket prices).
“Both the Fresno Philharmonic and Fresno Grand Opera want to make sure that music lovers have every opportunity to attend both of these events this weekend,” says Stephen Wilson, executive director of the orchestra.
I have two fun previews in Friday’s 7 section: I talk with Carrie Hennessey, who plays Blanche in Fresno Grand Opera’s “Streetcar”; and the Fresno Philharmonic’s Theodore Kuchar, who chats about his “From the New World” concert.
I’ve arranged this weekend to see both productions: the orchestra tonight, and the opera on Sunday. Still to come that day: my column on Fresno Grand Opera’s new direction.
———————————————- Pictured: Dan Klempson as Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Jon Stewart announced on Tuesday that he would be stepping down as the host of The Daily Show, the satirical news program he’s been hosting since 1999.
I have made the Daily Show part of my routine for long while and feel I am a better, more informed person because of it.
Stewart’s departure from the show (on the heels of Brian Williams suspension from NBC news), raises questions about the state of current news media and many have (jokingly and not-so-much) suggested the two simply switch jobs. Others have pointed out that even doing satire (and maybe because of it), Stewart is a more reliable source for accurate, nuanced information than any cable or network news host.
One of Fresno’s quirkiest and most-loved stores is closing, but there’s news of a lots of openings in the works too. Here’s a rundown on what’s happening the shopping and eating world in Fresno and Clovis.
Closing: Kwirkworld. The River Park store known for novelties such as stick-on hipster mustaches and socks that say “bacon” is closing. Owner Kirk Psenner is returning to selling real estate. He said Wednesday: “When I look at the economic picture, it’s the difference between just skating by and going back to my passion that I was hugely successful at.” You can see the full story here and read the announcement Kwirkworld posted on its Facebook page here. The store will close sometime in March and is already having a sale.
Possibly opening:Hobby Lobby. The craft retailer that makes headlines for other things confirmed it is looking to open in Fresno. “We are actively looking for a location in Fresno but nothing has been signed as of yet,” says spokesman Vince Parker of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.
In Thursday’s Life section I offer a special “mid-week” column: a conversation with former Visalian Betsy Wolfe, who in recent years has been building strong name recognition as a musical-theater actress on Broadway. (She headlines a benefit performance on Friday, Feb. 13, at the Visalia Fox Theatre.) I first saw Wolfe perform many, many years ago (in 2004) in a semi-professional staging in Visalia of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I was lukewarm about the production but raved about Wolfe, who I described as having “the potential to be a professional musical-comedy star”:
Wolfe, cast as the Narrator in the oft-performed Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, charged through opening night with confidence and charisma. Tall and self-assured, with a powerful voice and adept comic timing, Wolfe managed to dole out even the silliest and campiest moments in this cheery bit of musical-theater fluff with genuine warmth. She’s a natural.
In 2006, I interviewed Wolfe in San Francisco when she was starring in the West Coast premiere of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” I kick off my Thursday column with that meeting, and then fill you in on her Broadway career, which has taken a stellar turn in recent years.
Here are some tidbits that I didn’t have room for in my column:
Of everything that took place at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards ceremony, the only thing people are talking about two days later is Kanye West’s interruption fake-out and subsequent back-stage rant, where he slammed Record-of-the-Year winner Beck because he isn’t Beyonce, or something.
The stunts was in the worse kind of taste. It makes Kayne look like an attention-starved kid (who is getting just that) and the Grammy show seem a bit mickey mouse (with no disrespect to Disney corp).
Can anyone just storm the stage like that? Is Kanye the only one who’s ever had the gall to try? Twice?
In case you missed it, Ooh de Lolli closed at the end of December and coffee shop Cafe Van Ness has opened in its place already. (And P*DE*Q Corner has a new tenant too, with the Ampersand folks planning to open an ice cream shop there.) Ooh de Lolli owner Donna Mott has agreed to supply her savory goodies to the Mia Cuppa coffee shop (formerly the Revue) in the Tower District. She’ll be stocking their cases with salads, sandwiches — including the cashew chicken salad sandwich — spinach puffs (at right), egg fritatas, scones and her “power packed bars.” The “ever popular breakfast pudding” with avocado, banana, cocoa, chia seeds and sweetened agave nectar will be there too. All of this will be alongside other food providers, including Fresno Bagel and La Boulangerie.
In my Sunday Spotlight column I griped about my most recent encounter with the Saroyan Theatre. I focused on two issues: a 40%-plus increase in parking fees on Jan. 1 and a new house lighting system that is downright ugly.
Above, you’ll see two photos that didn’t make it into the print edition because of space. They come from Efficiency Energy, the Denver-based company that recently installed a new lighting system throughout the Fresno Convention Center. The top is the “before” pic and the bottom the “after.” It might look like a dramatic improvement in terms of overall brightness and coverage, but consider what Fresno City College lighting and sound designer Christopher Boltz told me after seeing the photos:
Those “before” pics are of a poorly maintained lighting system, Boltz says. “In almost all of the ‘before’ pictures there are burned-out fixtures, fixtures lamped with a non-matching lamp color-wise, and some of them (seeing the bad spread of light) lamped with an incorrect lamp so that it does not spread properly.” The “after” pictures seem to be improvements when it comes to overall coverage, but, Boltz says, “I would love to compare them with how the original systems looked when first installed.”
My main beef is with the “color” of the lights of the new system. They cast a bluish, harsh tone. Lighting designer Randy Garabedian, who engineered the lighting system 10 years ago at the Saroyan — and who is irked that the theater’s management didn’t seem to consult local experts before making big changes — speculates that the wrong color temperature was used. They needed to be “warmer.”
At a recent event, I sat across the table from another avowed crafter. I don’t exactly recall how that fact was initially revealed (my guess is right after she told me her name), but I do recall one very big topic in the ensuing 2-hour long conversation. (As some may know, if you get a crafter talking, you can’t easily get them to un-talk.)
What really started a fire in her conversational belly was when I inquired if she owned a die-cutting machine. Apparently I’d accidentally thrown down a gauntlet. Eyes twinkling, my companion slowly leaned across the table toward me and confidently replied, “Eight.” I was stunned.
It was an innocent question. But the truth is, just about every hardcore crafter either has, or truly lusts after, a die-cutting machine.
Currently the Canadian folk trio — Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse — are in band mode. They will be doing three to four shows a month through May.
“The rest of the time if for our own projects,” and families, says Metha, is advance of the band’s performance tonight at the Tower Theatre.
The band took time off when Metha had her twins and again so Masse could start her family and hasn’t released new material since 2011′s “Bright Morning Stars” (which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass charts).
Its members have not been idle. Masse released an album of jazz standards in 2013, the same year Moody released her second solo record. Mehta is current working on a new solo album. It will be her second.
“I don’t think any one band can sustain a creative person,” Metha says.
The Wailin’ Jennys is just one outlet.
“It’s a perfect combination,” Metha says. “We can appreciate the collaboration.”
UPDATED: I love live play readings. To me, they’re like a super-special version of listening to a book-on-CD in your car. It’s exciting that StageWorks Fresno and The New Ensemble are partnering in Sunday afternoon’s installment of the popular Hot Off the Stages play reading series. The title: “A Month in the Country” by Ivan Turgenev.
When I originally put up this post at about noon today, a different title was planned: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which is a hot title on Broadway right now. But things didn’t go as planned. The rights to perform the reading were rescinded at the last minute, forcing StageWorks and The New Ensemble to scramble.
They came up with an intriguing replacement. “A Month in the Country” is currently playing to rave reviews at the Classic Stage Company in New York City (starring “Game of Thrones’” Peter Dinklage and “Orange is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling). From StageWorks/New Ensemble:
Our informally staged reading of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY will feature the talents of Joel Abels, Chris Carsten, Tessa Cavaletto, Hayley Galbraith, Miguel Gastelum, Mitchell Lam Hau, Amalie Larsen, Terry Lewis, Jennifer Goettsch, Dillon Morgan and Heather Parish (as the servants!), who have all gamely stayed on for the ride!
Turgenev’s masterpiece chronicles the comic and erotic turmoil that befalls an otherwise quiet country estate when a handsome young tutor arrives to teach Natalya Petrovna’s young son. Soon Natalya is interested in a tutelage of another kind, much to the consternation of her husband and her long suffering friend, Rakitin, who is hopelessly and secretly smitten with her. It’s a beautlly nuanced meditation on the nature of unrequited love.
The play we originally scheduled, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” is a terrific piece that we hope will make its way to audiences in the Central Valley soon.
The reading is 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium. Admission is free.
It’s something that every theater person hopes and longs for: the out-of-the-blue phone call (or in this case a social-media message) with a juicy job offer.
That happened to Fresno’s Julian Perez, well known to audiences as an actor from shows at Roosevelt School of the Arts, Good Company Players and Fresno State. He was surprised to be contacted by big-band singer and crooner Brian Evans, who asked if Perez could choreograph his new music video starring none other than the orange-haired comedian Carrot Top.
Perez has extensive acting and dance experience, but his choreography experience up to this new job had been limited. He choreographed “Sweet Dreams” in 2012 at Roosevelt, and “The Music Man” in 2014 for CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre.
We caught up with Perez via Facebook to talk about the video shoot, which took place at Universal Studios Hollywood. The music video, featuring Evans’ new original song “Creature,” used the set of The Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho.”
Question: It sounds like this job just seemed to fall out of the sky for you. Walk us through what that was like.
Answer: It was very surreal. Brian Evans saw a video of some choreo I did and sought me out social media. When he messaged me on Twitter I didn’t know who he was, but after we talked and Skyped I knew it was the real deal.
I think most people have heard of Carrot Top, but I don’t know much about Brian Evans. Of course, I’m old. What can you tell us about him and the song “Creature”?
Brian is an extremely talented individual. He has a hit song called “At Fenway” which was inducted into the major league baseball hall of fame. He is extremely kind and humble. He has some major projects lined up ahead for this upcoming year.
Restaurants are doing such innovative stuff with their menus lately, especially with appetizers. That’s a category that seems to attract a lot of creativity, plus it usually has lots of tasty fried stuff. I’ve seen kimchi fries at Little Leaf Bar, fried pickles at Westwoods, fries with jalapeno popper dip at the newly opened Bulldog Burger Bistro, and apparently the Vintage Press in Visalia is known for its wild mushrooms cooked in a cognac cream sauce and served on puff pastry.
So it got me thinking, what’s your favorite appetizer to get at a Fresno-area restaurant? Is it something new and different? Or is it an old standby, say, french fries, that are just really delicious? Whether fancy or down home, at an independently owned place or a chain restaurant, doesn’t matter, just let me know in the comments. This part is key though: tell me why you like it so much. We may feature a few beloved dishes in a story for print.
Newsweek recently stirred the pot with a cover image and story about “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women.” The story is about the guy-in-a-hoodie “frat boy” (some say “rapey”) culture in the tech industry where women are a minority. It’s a heck of a read, with details about the sexist jokes and sexual harassment women face, along with the difficulty in getting funding for their startup companies.
In the aftermath of that piece, a couple of women in Fresno are metaphorically waving their hands and saying, “Hey, ladies in tech, come over here.”
Fresno doesn’t have that bro culture, they say. “It’s night and day,” says Irma Olguin, who has worked in Silicon Valley and here. She’s the co-founder of Bitwise Industries, a company that’s a focal point of Fresno’s small but growing tech industry. She says things are different here. Of the 50+ people who work fulltime in the Bitwise building for more than two dozen tech companies, about 40% are women. That’s a vast improvement on Silicon Valley’s gender breakdown and Google, for example, where 17% of its tech sector employees are women.