A 35-YEAR-OLD MAGICIAN NAMED DUSTIN TAVELLA pulled off his greatest trick Wednesday night, making the rest of the contestants disappear and walking off with a million-dollar check as the grand winner of this season’s television spectacle America’s Got Talent.
It wasn’t the outcome a lot of Oregonians were hoping for. Portland had two top talents in the fray: the gutsy singer Storm Large, who had a great ride before bowing out in the quarterfinals, and the marvelous vocalist Jimmie Herrod, who made it all the way to last night’s finals. As sporting events go, it was a little like losing game seven of the World Series: OK, the other team won. But if you hadn’t been terrific, you wouldn’t have been there in the first place. Deep congratulations to Herrod and Large, and welcome back home.
The sports analogy is appropriate. Casting a talent show as a contest is both a bit strange and very American – Ed Sullivan in overdrive, jacking up a variety show with a distorting supercharge of competition. I don’t ordinarily tune in to performance-as-sporting-event shows of the America’s Got Talent sort. And yet, I eagerly followed the adventures of Herrod and Large as they rose above the formula and shone like the stars they are. After each round I sought out the videos of their performances, and watched with a little glow of satisfaction. Home-team pride is one thing. Home-team pride when the home team truly delivers the goods is, well, pretty darned cool.
So let’s appreciate Herrod and Large for what they are: genuinely talented and accomplished artists who bring the originality of their own personalities, tonality and phrasing to the songs they sing, and who offer insight and deep pleasure to their audiences. Herrod’s truly stellar upper register opens up and soars, imbuing such standards as Tomorrow (from the musical Annie), What a Wonderful World, and Pink’s Glitter in the Air with anchored lightness, playfulness, and surprise. Large delivered gorgeous versions of a-ha’s Take on Me and Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me, and a slow, sultry, stunning rendition of the classic I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Both Herrod and Storm have distinctive and beautiful instruments. Perhaps more importantly, both have superb control over their instruments. They’re grownup performers – their craftsmanship is superb. It’s no surprise that both have performed with the impeccable big band Pink Martini, or that Large has performed Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins with the Oregon Symphony and other orchestras across the country. She and Herrod are very far from one-trick ponies.
The spectacle’s over. Now, let’s settle in for the pleasures of two great, continuing careers.
A TRIBUTE TO SHIRLEY NANETTE. As it happens, the Elevate Unity benefit concert series honors Nanette, another legendary Portland singer, this Friday, Sept. 17, at the Pearl District bar and restaurant Botanist. Nanette, whose music is rooted in jazz, has also sung frequently with the Oregon Symphony and other symphonic orchestras. She’s acted in such shows as The Colored Museum and Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp. And, like Herrod and Large, she’s a veteran of the national TV talent-show game, winning the first Star Search competition on NBC in 1983. The terrific Portland-based jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore and the Chris Brown Quintet will be on Friday’s program.
In from the edge: TBA contemporary fest opens
PICA’S 2021 TBA FESTIVAL. “TBA” stands for time-based art – dance, theater, performance art, other sorts of performance defined by real time and real space – but for years this prominent showpiece of contemporary and experimental work by national, international, and local artists has also included visual art, film, and literary events. The focus is more on contemporary and out-of-the-mainstream, in whatever forms they might take. This year’s festival, which will be a combination of live and streamed events, opens today – Thursday, Sept. 16 – and continues through Oct. 3. A mini-squadron of ArtsWatch writers will be dropping in on the action and filing reports throughout the festival: Keep an eye on our home page to catch their stories as they appear.
More music: On choirs and (p)reviews
SHARING FAITH IN THE TRANSCENDENT POWER OF EXQUISITE CHORAL LITERATURE. As it turns out, television contests aren’t the complete story: The whole world’s got talent, and deep musical history. Daryl Browne continues her investigation of Oregon and Northwest choral music with this look at the superb ensembles Cappella Romana and Cantores in Ecclesia, and how each has dealt in its own way with the difficulties of pandemic shutdowns. It’s also a story of fascinating personal interconnections, and of abiding love and respect for the choral masterworks of the past, which both choirs believe remain vital in the present.
WEEKLY (P)REVIEWS: SE VE LA VIDA. In his newest round of looks ahead at and behind music in Oregon, Robert Ham talks with Latin alternative star Mon Laferte, who’s performing tonight (Thursday, Sept. 16) at the Roseland in Portland, and takes a look back on recent shows by The Milk Carton Kids at the Aladdin and Marisa Anderson & William Tyler at Mississippi Studios.
Baby, you can drive our car: A new cultural license
127: LICENSE TO THRILL. Seventeen years after artist Kelly Kievit’s rosy-hued abstract design was introduced to the state’s drivers as Oregon’s first cultural license plate, there’s a new plate in town. Designed by Eugene artist Liza Mana Burns, it’s a brilliantly colored landscape containing 127 micro-drawings – each symbolizing a specific aspect of Oregon culture. Not sure what they stand for? The Oregon Cultural Trust website includes a link to an interactive key map that includes all 127 images, with pop-up explanations of what they stand for and why they’re there. You can have fun exploring it, and learn a lot, too. The new plates will be available Oct. 1, and proceeds from their sale will go to the Cultural Trust, which in turn will pass them along to cultural, historic, and tribal projects throughout the state.
At the movies: Three tales about people
FILMWATCH WEEKLY: AMERICAN LIVES, FROM PAULI MURRAY TO TAMMY FAYE BAKKER TO THE “BLUE BAYOU.” Marc Mohan takes a look at a trio of new releases that dive into the lives of some fascinating people. My Name Is Pauli Murray introduces us to the little-known yet pivotal civil rights figure whose activism began in the 1940s – and who led a nonbinary life at a time when it was particularly difficult to do so. The Eyes of Tammy Faye looks at the often tawdry world of televangelism and gives a surprisingly sympathetic view of Tammy Faye Bakker, reaching beyond the cartoonish popular impression of the wife of the eventually disgraced Jim Bakker. And Blue Bayou dramatizes the dilemma of a Korean-born adoptee who’s lived in Louisiana since he was 3 yars old and finds himself, as an adult, facing deportation.
Farm art, book fair, 9/11 poem & a solo stage show
YAMHILL COUNTY: WOMEN, AGRICULTURE, DIVERSITY. David Bates takes a look at what’s happening in Willamette Valley wine country and discovers a lot: Oregon State University’s annual Art About Agriculture exhibit, which has taken up residence at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, along with a solo exhibition by Portland artist Yolanda Valdés-Rementería; Mexican multidisciplinary art at McMinnville’s Linfield University; a printmaking show by Phyllice Bradner at McMinnville’s Currents Gallery; and a little theater at Linfield and McMinnville’s Gallery Theater.
TALKING BOOKS AT THE BEACH. On the Oregon coast, the Florence Festival of Books opens its latest chapter this weekend, and Lori Tobias (who’ll be there with a couple of her own books) talks with festival co-founder Judy Fleagle about a festival that’s been turning pages now for 10 years.
WOUND: A POEM FOR SEPT. 11. On the twentieth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, we republished Portland writer Leanne Grabel’s poem Wound, which she wrote two days after the attacks, and which still holds a sad and beautiful power.
THE CANCER MONOLOGUES. Bennett Campbell Ferguson reviews Triangle’s production of the solo show The Body of the World, by Eve Ensler, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues. In it, Ensler comes to grips dramatically with her own uterine cancer. “Like Ensler, star Raissa Fleming and director Donald Horn are masters of merging disparate moods and tones—they guide us through wrenching laughs and agonizing confessions with grace and gumption that mostly makes up for the play’s underwritten passages,” Ferguson writes.
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