Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Facebook photo of the day: Primetime TV debut edition

Actor Miles Gaston Villanueva made quite an impression during his years in Fresno State’s theater department — and it appears as if he’s soon to be noticed nationally as well:


He writes on Facebook:

My Primetime TV debut is coming to you NEXT WEEK! Believe it or not, my debut will come as a Double Feature: with BONES on Monday, April 14th, and NCIS on Tuesday, April 15th! Wild, eh??? I’m THRILLED to share these episodes with you, as I had the most thrilling, joyful, and unforgettable time on set with each team of creators. It was… INSPIRING! Please spread the word, check your local listings, and tune in!

My favorite performance by Villanueva: He made a terrific Officer Lockstock in Fresno State’s 2008 production of “Urinetown.”

Early prep work helped Sebastian Stan with new ‘Captain America’ film

FZ-30189_RSebastian Stan didn’t have to do as much research for his role in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” as he did before portraying Bucky Barnes in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” It wasn’t until filming started on “Winter Soldier” that the Romanian actor fully realized how much all of the time he spent with the Marvel Comics building the background he used to play his role in “First Avenger” was setting up his performance for the sequel.

Read more

Burgers and personality served up at Caruthers’ Brown Bag Burger Bar


Hiding behind the window is the most charming order-taker ever, Maria (pronounced Ma-RI-ah).

This new burger joint is a little far afield — it’s in Caruthers — but it’s got some Fresno back story. The Brown Bag Burger Bar is the latest project by the people behind The Painted Table, the busy catering company that operates out of the former Daily Planet next to Tower Theatre. The burger bar is a little, low-key place with a bar to sit at that opens up to the outdoors.

You can read all about the colorful characters — charmer Maria and Caruthers native Rod Hansen – in today’s column, but let’s focus on the food here. The restaurants serves all kinds of burgers wrapped in brown paper with inventive names and toppings.

– The Roy Rogers burger has onion rings on it, with a “coka cola” barcecue sauce (yes, it has Coke in it).

– The Frito Yacht is like a Frito boat, but with salad and chili atop the Fritos.

– Milkshakes are popular here, including the “Rod special,” which has real chocolate, banana and peanut butter in it.

The restaurant sells sandwiches and hot dogs too. Burgers can be made with gluten-free buns or vegetarian patties. They get pretty busy on weekdays, so you may want to call in your order ahead of time. It’s open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

TONIGHT: Fauxchella w/ ZZ Ward

zzwardThere are moments when it’s hard for ZZ Ward to fathom her own success — like say, the three days this summer she’ll be opening for guitar god Eric Clapton, or playing Red Rocks Amphitheater with Amos Lee this August. Or, this weekend’s slot at the Coachella Festival.

“There are days when everything feels like such a big deal,” says Ward, the 27-year old blues R&B hip-hop singer, who has worked with guys like Asher Roth, Kendrick Lamar and Pete Rock. Her debut “Til the Casket Drops,” was released in 2012 on Hollywood Records. Her free “Eleven Roses,” mix-tape feature interpretations tracks by Lamar along with Childish Gambino and Tyler, the Creator.

Most days though, there’s just not time for that kind of thinking, Ward says.
“I still feel like I’m trying to do it,” she says. “I’m always too busy trying to do a good job with things.”

Read more

Food news: So many good things to eat!


Photo courtesy of Mabel’s Kitchen

The food news keeps pouring in. Here’s what you need to know this week.

Mabel’s Kitchen, the lunchtime and bierock spot that reopened at 2134 Kern Street recently, will be open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. this Friday. Normally, the restaurant is just open for lunch, but owner Susan Valiant is hoping to catch some customers who can’t make it there during the week. Susan — who says she misses seeing kids around — hopes dinner will be a family-friendly affair. It may also be a dinner option for folks who are going to see “Wicked” that day or going to the Grizzlies home opener. The regular menu and bierocks will be available.

Gazebo Gardens food truck nights are now happening every Friday as well as Saturdays. The Saturday event has gotten so busy that they’ve expanded it. There’s live music, craft beer and an all-around fun community vibe. Food trucks including Dusty Buns, Casa de Tamales tapas, Benaddiction and others are there. My February column about the Saturday night event is here.

Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt is coming to Fresno, a retail broker confirms. The chain will be opening in the new Marketplace at El Paseo on Herndon Avenue near Highway 99. It could be a while — as in, a year — before it opens though.

Read more

Rose McGowan loves playing tough role

Crackle TCA PresentationRose McGowan — who “Charmed” her way into a TV career — has joined the cast of the Crackle series “Chosen.” You can see her work starting April 15 when the six new episodes are made available through the on-line network.

The first two seasons of “Chosen” followed the Mitchell family and Jacob Orr as their lives were changed when they received mysterious boxes forcing them to kill – or else. Now dealing with the consequences of his choice, Jacob (Chad Michael Murray) seeks redemption by trying to free Ellie (Caitlin Carmichael) from the game. this puts him on a direct collision course with a very deadly hunter (McGowan).

The series shoots very fast — a big difference from when McGowan was working on “Charmed.” But, the speed doesn’t bother the actress because she has appeared in so many independent movies that often shoot quickly because of small budgets.

Read more

TONIGHT: Fauxchella w/ Bear Hands

Note: It’s Fauxchella season, the time of year when the area gets flooded (relatively speaking) with Coachella Festival performers.

BearHandsBy the end of month, New York post-punk band Bear Hands will have played two of the nation’s best-known (and most hyped) music events — Austin, TX’ SXSW (which took place in March) and the sold-out Coachella Festival, which kicks off this weekend in Indio, Calif.

While the events may seem similar in scope (both are great primer for reading the pulse on the hippest new bands), its Coachella that will give the band members a chance to relax and be fans. “South by Southwest is a scramble. It’s a competition to get noticed. It’s messy and its hectic,” says Bear Hands’ guitarist Ted Feldman.

Read more

Bud Elliott will leave KSEE anchor chair in May

Bud Elliott announced tonight (April 7) that he’s retiring after 23 years with KSEE24. His last day as anchor for the local NBC affiliate’s newscasts is scheduled for May 23.

“I’ve been honored to deliver the news to Central Valley viewers for more than two decades. My career with KSEE24 has given me the opportunity to meet and work with incredible people,” Bud Elliott says in a statement announcing his retirement. “Now, I’m looking forward to spending quality time with my family, including a brand new grandson in Sacramento, and focusing on some recently discovered health issues.”

Read more

Introducing: The Grizzly Egg

I’m proud to debut what could be the snack of the century: The Grizzly Egg. No, bears did not start laying eggs, rather this is a flavorful invention that will be available for the first time at the Fresno Grizzlies home opener Friday. It’s a cream cheese-filled deviled egg, wrapped in bacon, baked and drizzled in buffalo sauce.


It’s one of many new dishes the Grizzlies are debuting Friday, and you can read more about them on Wednesday’s food page. But the Grizzly Egg is the star of the show. Food and ag reporter Bob Rodriguez and I tasted tested the egg for you (aren’t we sweet?) and we’re happy to report that it is indeed yummy. It combines bacon with the tang of buffalo sauce and the sweetness of cream cheese.

Starting Friday you can get four of these eggs for $7. The Grizzly Egg’s creation was a team effort. Several behind-the-scenes folks tinkered to come up with the final recipe (and apparently one experimentation involved a fire in someone’s kitchen). For the record, they tried deep frying the entire thing, but it just didn’t taste as good.

Green light bonanza on Shaw Avenue?


I’m a little sheepish to admit this, but there are times over the years when I’ve actually hated a street.

The object of my loathing: North Angus Street, between Fresno and First streets as you travel along Shaw Avenue to the north of Fashion Fair Mall. I drive this stretch of Shaw a lot, and I swear that every single time — every time! — I hit a red light. Just as I’m picking up speed from the Fresno Street intersection, I have to slam on my brakes and watch departing mall-goers toodle out of the parking lot.

Well, as Bee reporter George Hostetter tells us, my blood pressure should get a reprieve. The city’s Public Works Department recently finished the synchronization of traffic signals along a stretch of Shaw Avenue:

In the old days, it was stop-go pretty much all the way. Obey the speed limit now and you’ll see a lot fewer red lights.

“The signals are now working as a system,” Public Works Director Scott Mozier says. “This addresses a big frustration.”

I’ve already noticed green-light bliss traveling along Shaw between Palm Avenue and Highway 99, particularly at off-peak hours, after the first phase of the traffic sync project kicked in. Now I’m looking forward to driving farther east. The first time I sail by the dreaded Angus on a green, I will turn and say, “See ya, suck-ah.”

Read more

Bikini baristas facing Clovis backlash

BOTTOMSSaturday’s story about Bottom’s Up Espresso — a drive-thru coffee joint with scantily clad “bikini baristas” — is the top story on The Fresno Bee’s website. A Clovis woman who lives near the Peach and Shaw avenues kiosk wants the workers to cover up and is circulating a petition to get the Clovis City Council involved. A video taken at the business is below (maybe a smidge NSFW, but it’s not over the top).

People have plenty to say about Bottom’s Up. They seem to fall into two camps. The first are outraged, including a commenter who said this: “… if you can’t buy coffee without making it about sex then there’s something wrong with your perverted minds … .”

In the other corner are the eye rollers who point out that the women are wearing just as much (or as little) as you’d see at the beach or at Hooters. As another commenter said: “Pretty simple, If you are offended don’t go to the business.”

Read more

Facebook photo of the day: ‘Wicked’ edition


Kara Lindsay made her debut last Wednesday as “Wicked’s” Glinda in Fresno — and I thought she was terrific. It’s no surprise considering her sterling Broadway credentials. She originated the leading female role of Katherine in the Disney musical hit “Newsies,” playing the part for nearly two years.

Fresno’s Emily Estep became a big fan of Lindsay after seeing “Newsies” in New York, where she waited outside the stage door to meet Lindsay. Emily got to repeat the experience in Fresno after the Sunday evening performance of “Wicked” at the Saroyan, above. Her mother, well-known Fresno community theater actress Shannah Estep, writes on Facebook:

Ever since we saw Newsies in New York Emily has been fixated on Kara and her alter ego Katherine. She couldn’t wait until the end of the show just so she could go to the stage door! Let’s just say that whole thing is a lot easier to do here in Fresno!

After the jump: the “Newsies” stage door photo.

Read more

Tour announcement: Theresa Caputo Live

caputoTheresa Caputo is your typical Long Island wife and mom, only she can communicate with the dead and has her own reality TV show — TLC’s “Long Island Medium.”

Caputo, who has been a practicing medium for 10 years, certified by the Forever-Family Foundation, brings her live show “The Experience,” to the Save Mart Center June 4. She will conduct interactive readings with audience members and share stories about her life and her unique gifts.

Caputo’s first book titled “There’s More to Life Than This” was released in October and debuted at No. 2 on the NY Times Best Seller List. “Long Island Medium” is in its fourth season on TLC.

Read more

Tour announcement: “Jesus Christ Superstar” arena spectacular

jesusThere is irony at the center of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” arena spectacular, a touring version of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking rock musical, which makes a 50 + city run this summer. The show stops at the Save Mart Center July 16.

The cast is chock full of rock, pop and R&B heavy weights, including Brandon Boyd, from the rock band Incubus; NSYNC’ JC Chasez; Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child and (in a totally shocking bit of casting) Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon).

It’s Jesus Christ surrounded by superstars.

Read more

Changes in store for The Roadhouse bar

roadhouseTo some folks, this place will always be Sheri’s Roadhouse. It actually hasn’t been called that for a while and it got new owners again recently. The Roadhouse is what it’s now called, though you may know it as the biker bar (I can call it a biker bar if there’s motorcycles on their Facebook page picture, right?) at 20023 Auberry Road.

Anyway, Wade and Rhonda Haines bought the place recently and are planning some changes. New signs are going up and lots of painting is happening. They’re improving the outside back area by adding gas fire pits and a bar. Expect a lot more entertainment, including live music and car and motorcycle shows.  And a limited bar menu — think hot wings and nachos — is in the works too.

“We’re trying to make it much more of a destination spot,” Wade Haines says. He hopes customers of Table Mountain will stop by on their way to or from the casino, along with other folks.

Mickey Rooney was memorable interview

ROONEYA question I’m often asked is who has been the toughest celebrity to interview. Not to speak ill of the dead, but the answer is always Mickey Rooney. The passing of the 93-year-old Hollywood legend on Sunday made me think about the multiple times I interviewed him and the one chat that remains one of the toughest ever.

The assignment was to do a telephone interview with Rooney to talk about a performance in November 1999 that he was doing at the Tower Theatre with Jan Rooney – his wife at the time – called “The Night Time Classics.”

Read more

CONCERT REVIEW: Wu Man and the Fresno Philharmonic


The celebrated musician Wu Man on Friday introduced the pipa, the lute-like ancient Chinese instrument, to the Fresno Philharmonic audience.

It was exhilarating.

There are those, I’m sure, who would tend to steer away from a concert like this — Chinese music is just too “weird.” But I strongly encourage people with that avoidance mindset to take a chance and broaden their horizons. Wu Man’s performance of Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa was a mesmerizing and joyful romp encompassing two musical cultures. Beyond Ms. Wu’s polished expertise, it was almost as fun watching the members of the orchestra stray beyond their own comfort levels, joining enthusiastically in a performance that included stomping, plucking, tapping and vocalizing. The customary cool orchestral detachment melted away, giving us something that hinted at the primal.

What’s more, all this takes place in the intimate Shaghoian Hall, where you’re close enough to the musicians to really feel the impact. You have two more chances to experience this unforgettable concert, one of my favorite all-time Fresno Philharmonic experiences: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. (My only regret about Friday’s event that there wasn’t a bigger crowd.)

Read more

TONIGHT: Ghosts in Pocket

ghostsEverything you need to know about Ghosts in Pocket can be gleaned from the “About” section on the band’s Facebook page.

Don’t take that the wrong way. The description is a beautifully written piece of prose that had me wanting to be 20-something again so I could enjoy them properly. The Southern California indie-rockers play tonight at Visalia’s Cellar door. I did an email back and forth with singer Keith Beshwate.

Start with the basics: Who does what in the band? How long have you been playing and how did the band come together?

I play guitar, keyboard and lead vocals. Zach Mullen plays guitar, Nick Hartman plays bass and they both step up to the mic every once in a while. It’d be rude to say Chris Pulley plays drums; he is a drummer. For now it’s a pretty standard unit, but we’re trying to add a couple members of the synth and horn variety. We’ve been playing since early 2011, but I think the moment we knew we were a band: Our first show at the West Palms Conservatory Pancake Dinner. Literally performing for elementary children strung out on maple syrup screaming for “Mr. Hartman” speaks for itself.

Tell me about the band’s name.

It’s actually a concept from Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, as horrifically pretentious as that sounds. It’s the idea that your past is always with you, serving as a constant reminder, and is a lot closer than you think. Plus, skeletons in the closet just sounds like an awful band name. But mostly I feel like it suits us well, and makes for a lot very interesting interpretational typos (I’ve taken to adding the tagline of “plural, not possessive” during our shows, but it doesn’t seem to be sticking).

Read more

Lots of classical music this weekend


Wow, what a weekend for classical music in Fresno.

For the first time in its history, the Fresno Philharmonic will play a piece by a Chinese composer — Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa. And it will feature the world’s most foremost player of the instrument: Wu Man. Don’t miss my interview with her in Friday’s 7 section. This “East Meets West” concert also features two beloved Beethoven symphonies. The orchestra performs Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Shaghoian Hall.

Keyboard Concerts brings yet another famed pianist to the Fresno State Concert Hall: the British musician Stephen Hough. He will play a program Friday night that includes rarely performed pieces by Schoenberg, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Bruckner, as well as works by Brahms and the monumental Sonata by Liszt. Fun fact: Hough will appear on “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor on April 12.

Fresno’s Michael Krikorian, pictured above, who at age 12 began studying with Fresno State piano professor Andreas Werz, is now a graduate student in piano performance at Manhattan School of Music studying with Arkady Aronov. He returns for a hometown concert Sunday at the Fresno State Concert Hall sponsored by the Orpheus chamber music ensemble.

 The choral ensembles of College of the Sequoias, Fresno City College and Porterville College and Reedley College perform 3 p.m. Sunday at the Fresno City College Old Administration Building Auditorium. More than 180 singers and a small orchestra will perform Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” Tickets are $5.


Wicked NY

Could any first-act finale have more visual and emotional punch than the extravagantly beautiful final two minutes of “Wicked”? At intermission of Thursday’s press-night performance at the Saroyan Theatre, I Tweeted that I wanted to hug the lighting designer.

Not to spoil anything for those who haven’t yet experienced this gorgeously produced and emotionally soaring Broadway show, but the song “Defying Gravity” turns light into something that seems tangible and material, with volume and substance — illumination with weight and heft, as substantial and big as a mountain. Plus: that last, gorgeous blackout, punctuated by a final split-second fadeout on the face of the defiantly green Wicked Witch of the West — the timing is exquisite, the rush of light and dark all encompassing.

I’ve seen “Wicked” three times now, and I swoon at this moment each time. The only other comparison I can draw in terms of the power of theater is the first-act finale of the (old) version of “Les Miserables,” with that last rippling fadeout to black on the big red waving flag. It is supremely satisfying to be in the presence of such confident visual precision. (In movies today, special effects are lavished upon our eyeballs so unrelentingly and with such visual digital sophistication that it can all seem rather ho-hum. But to witness live the stagecraft of a show like “Wicked” remains awe-inducing.)

When the national tour of “Wicked” first played in Fresno in 2011, I noted how it simply upped the ante for all other touring shows that come through the Saroyan. It’s Broadway quality. (With near New York prices to match, of course.) The second visit of the tour, which opened Wednesday, has maintained that high standard in every regard. “Wicked” is still wicked good.

Read more

Mike Judge reboots his ‘Silicon Valley’ days

JUDGEThere’s really nothing funny when my computer makes a noise like a weed wacker. But, the center for all computer glory is the target for comedy in the new series, “Silicon Valley,” from Mike Judge, the man behind “King of the Hill.” It launches at 10 p.m. April 6 on HBO and the first season will run eight episodes.

Judge knows the Silicon Valley region of northern California intimately as he worked there in the late ‘80s. He started with a company that tested automatic systems for the F-18 and then went to a company that made high-def screens. His last job was with a company that focused on bass and guitar amps.

His time there gave him an interesting perspective on those who work in Silicon Valley.

Read more

Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

5things4-4-14Aside from pulling out that gigantic Stetson we know you have stashed in the closet …

1. Fresno Tattoo Convention
So, you can start your collection. Or hang out with the likes of Oliver Peck and Permanent Mark. As a bonus, the VIP after party features High On Fire.

2. Loft Hop
Another Fresno “hop.” OK. This of is for those interested in the mass of housing and/or loft spaces that keep popping up downtown (specifically in the uptown/cultural arts/mural district).
3. James Garner’s Tribute to Johnny Cash
Hanford Native James Garner is the man in black. I wonder if he’d recreate this picture for me.
4. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier
In my video games days, I played a fair amount of “Marvel Vs. Capcom.” I always played Captain America. I called him “Cap’ Ap’,” even though it doesn’t really make sense as an abbreviation of the name. Point is, Captain America is awesome.

5. Bici Vida
Bicycles! W/Pedal Junkies, Critical Mass Fresno and the Fresno Bike Party. There’s music and stuff, too.

The Beehive Interview: Andrew Hernandez


The Fresno State Opera Theatre, under the direction of Anthony Radford, on Saturday and Sunday offers the premiere of “The Secret of Luca,” a new opera by Evan Mack and Joshua McGuire. One of the cast members if Andrew Hernandez, who as a bass at 29 is finally beginning to mature into his voice. He will be going in the fall to one of the best graduate music programs for low voices. I feature him in an interview in Friday’s 7 section; here’s the extended version.

What is the show about?

Luca is released from prison after 40 years for a crime he didn’t commit and is returning to his home town. Suspicious villagers wonder why he has returned and set about trying to figure out why he would willingly go to prison. As the opera unfolds we learn Luca’s secret.

Tell us about your role in the show.

I am playing the police chief. He is is a gritty cop and is suspicious of change, especially when it comes to outsiders. He walks with a limp and his music is very rhythmic and angular.

What has it been like working with the opera’s creative team?

It’s been great to work with both Evan Mack and Joshua McGuire here in Fresno for the past week. When you have a question it is a real treat to ask the composer or librettist for an answer. In some cases Evan would tailor the roles to fit the singers in the ensemble. For example, the role of Lauretta, played by Maelyn de Fede, was originally written for a mezzo soprano, but Maelyn is a soprano. So he re-wrote the role to fit her voice. During rehearsal Dr. Radford would at times text the composer asking questions and Evan would text back changes here and there if we requested them. Evan skyped in for one rehearsal which was really cool.

Read more

Throwback Thursday: Fresno City water dept.

Fresno’s first waterworks, pictured in this Fresno Bee archive photo said to be taken before 1888 on Fresno Street between Broadway and J Street (Now Fulton). The caption states that the waterworks was one of the utilities which Dr. Lewis Leach helped to pioneer in Fresno.

Also in the caption, however, the following was taken from a hand-written note:

Fresno City Water Department photograph, taken in 1922 or 1923.
(Hand-written note.) Fresno water works of forty years ago, located on the alley facing Fresno Street between Fulton, Broadway, then known as J & I Streets, and owned and built by George McCullough. The site is now occupied by the Mattei building. The pioneer wooden water tower supplied the town with water for forty years, when the water works was moved to O & Fresno Streets in 1888. After the old water works had been abandoned, Joe Giardina leased the ground floor for a fish & poultry market until the Mattei Bldg. was erected.

I’m guessing this note accompanied another photo, probably of the current Fresno Water Tower structure that stands at Fresno and O Streets today. Either way, another cool historical photo from The Bee archive.

Bandgeek!: Bear Hands, the Brother Weiss and a tribute to Johnny Cash

4-4-14While the majority of your friends are out watching “Wicked,” you’d rather be out at a bar somewhere, listening to some low-down dirty rock and roll. Or any of the dozen of other music options happening this weekend (and into next week). Here’s your music roundup known as BANDGEEEEEK!


Read more