The Weekender (Feb. 28, 2014)

Oscar clap

This weekend brings the biggest night of the year for movie buffs, the 86th Academy Awards.

The West Virginia International Film Festival is hosting an Oscars watch party this Sunday at Little India, with free refreshments, live music, a best- and worst-dressed fashion competition, trivia and more. Admission is $10.

On Saturday, country blues artist Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is performing at the West Virginia Culture Center theater.

Click here to read my story about this young man with a passion for old, old music. You can also read my blog post about the issue of authenticity in modern old-timey music.

Tickets for Blind Boy Paxton are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students, and can be purchased at the door or in advance at or by calling 304-415-4668.

Here’s some more happenings around town this weekend:

  • From the Future are playing Saturday night at the Boulevard Tavern.
  • This week at the Empty Glass, Black Mountain Revival, Sheldon Vance and Travis Egnor and the Horse Traders will perform Friday night. David and Valerie Mayfield will perform on Saturday night. Shows begin at 9 p.m.
  • Brad Paisley is coming to the Charleston Civic Center at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Go to and 1-800-745-3000.
  • West Virginia Symphony Orchestra will present its Mary Price Ratrie Legacy Concert at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Clay Center. The concert will feature Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)” and “Violin Concerto,” performed with guest violinist Korbinian Altenberger. Tickets are available at or 304-561-3570.
  • On Sunday, FOOTMAD will present a pre-St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Session at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 520 Kanawha Boulevard West. Guests can bring an instrument to play, or just enjoy traditional Irish music. The event runs from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
  • Rachel Burge and Blue Dawning are playing Saturday at the Mountaineer Opry House in Milton. Doors open at 5 p.m., show begins at 7:30 p.m.

Godzilla vs. Mega Expectations

It’s difficult to make a good film when a force of nature is the main character. Just look at “The Day After Tomorrow.” Eesh. But it certainly helps when your force of nature is beloved by millions around the world.

Godzilla, everyone’s favorite destruction enthusiast, returns to theaters in May. Here’s the newly-released trailer!

Some fans of “Cloverfield” and “Pacific Rim” may be saying “Been there, done that,” but that mindset could be a bit off the mark. Sure, monster movies are prevalent these days, but the new Godzilla’s approach appears to be rooted in one of the genre’s more intriguing tales – the original 1954 “Gojira,” which was a dark parable about the consequences of using nuclear weapons.

Godzilla, or Gojira in the beginning, started as one big metaphor for nature’s wrath. Somewhere along the way, he also took on the role of charming defender of Earth. I enjoy both styles, but I certainly see the inherent problem for modern adaptations – you just can’t make everyone happy. The 1998 “Godzilla” starring Matthew Broderick tried and failed to do just that. To the filmmakers’ credit, they tried pretty hard.

“Ferris Bueller’s Godzilla Adventure,” as I like to call it, incorporated elements from many of the Japanese films, including the dark origin story, cautionary lesson, campy, goofy fun and even mysteriously conceived offspring. There were plenty of inside jokes, nostalgic callbacks, and explosive set pieces. It was an impressive production. It also sucked. The film was terribly miscast (except for Jean Reno, of course), too punny for its own good and reinvented the giant lizard too much for hardcore fans. Roland Emmerich, the director, even admitted he never liked the original Godzilla movies and only agreed to make a reboot if he could take several liberties with the mythology.

Luckily, in all of the areas where the 1998 film failed, the 2014 film seems destined to succeed. Here are some of the reasons the new movie might not be terrible:

Yeah, those helicopters are going to accomplish a lot.

The cast: Golden Globe and multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, Oscar nominees Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe, and rising stars Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. On paper, this is a solid cast. Having Bryan Cranston, an actor known for both comedic and dramatic roles, at the center of it also allows the movie some emotional range. Another good sign: no “Simpsons” voice actors. The 1998 film famously features three of them.

The director: Gareth Edwards has a light film resume. The 2010 film “Monsters” is the only movie he directed before “Godzilla.” It’s good, though! “Monsters” follows a man and woman trying really hard to avoid giant octopus aliens that have made Earth their home away from home. While the octopus things are definitely an important plot point, they don’t actually factor in much to the central story. The movie’s intimate direction keeps a human focus with the camera close to the two leads the whole time. When the aliens do show up, it’s a big moment, literally and figuratively, because most of the movie is on a smaller scale. This is exactly the kind of approach a modern monster movie needs. Plus, Edwards has worked closely with Toho Co., Ltd., the company behind Godzilla and Mothra movies, to make sure everything turned out right.

The monsters: Besides Big G, at least two other monsters have been rumored to appear in the film. The trailer confirms this, showing brief glimpses of a bug creature and a flying creature (Rodan??). A fight among these brutes is almost a given. Though many of Toho’s monsters, including Godzilla, started their city-crushin’ careers as solo artists, monster battles eventually became a staple of the films. Godzilla should be feared and admired all at once – just like nature – and multiple monsters provide a perfect vehicle for this. The new design and roar for Godzilla are also welcome throwbacks after the weirdness of 1998’s Iguanazilla. Since the new film is marking the 60th anniversary of the franchise, it should be celebrating everything that makes Godzilla iconic, not reinventing the wheel. Luckily, it looks to be on the right path.

Of course, there are still plenty of reasons to worry. Gareth Edwards is a newbie director given a pile of cash. Can he really rein in the urge to fill the screen with explosions and rubble that would bury the story and characters? Few big budget directors have that restraint. Also, the new trailer seems a little cliche-ridden. The Golden Gate Bridge and Statue of Liberty destroyed again? Really? The statue shown in the trailer is actually a replica in Las Vegas, not New York, but its half-mauled exterior is still eye roll-worthy.

Can a modern Godzilla movie really be good? We’ll find out this May. Until then, I’ll be waiting with bated, possibly radioactive breath.


Authenticity and the modern ‘old-timey’ artist

BlindBoyPaxton1Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is a living, breathing contradiction.

He’s young — only a few years above drinking age — but he sounds ancient. Many of the songs he sings are more than a hundred years old. The youngest songs in his repertoire are old enough to draw Social Security.

Paxton was raised in south central Los Angeles, a neighborhood known more for gangster rap than old-timey folk.

And yet, he talks like the Deep South. Maybe that’s because his family relocated to California from Louisiana.  Maybe he’s talking this way on purpose, because it sounds more authentic for someone who plays his style of music.

Like many in the folk tradition, authenticity is goal #1 for Paxton. “The only thing I could do to the song is make it worse,” he told me for a story in today’s Daily Mail.

And yet, how authentic is Paxton?

He has lived most of his life in the 21st century, but chooses to sing (and play, and dress, and talk) like someone from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His promo pictures were shot with a tintype camera, for goodness sakes.

Now, let me play devil’s advocate with myself.

Does any of that really matter? Every artist tries to cultivate an onstage persona, in some way or another. They’re all playing characters. If the music is good — and Paxton’s music is very good — how much does the wrapping paper really matter?

Paxton plays this Saturday at the West Virginia Culture Center theater, as part of FOODMAD’s 2013-2014 concert series. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for senior, $10 for students and kids under 13 get in free. You can purchase them at the door, or by visiting or calling 304-415-4668.

The Weekender (Feb. 21, 2014)

Gov't MuleYou’d better let your soul shine. Gov’t Mule is coming to the Clay Center on Saturday. The show begins at 8 p.m., and there are still tickets available.

The band is touring in support of its new record, “Shout,” which is a concept album unlike any other I’ve seen.

It’s a two-disc effort, but each of the discs contain the same songs. The only difference is on disc two, the lead vocals are handled by a variety of guest stars, from classic rockers like Doctor John and Steve Winwood to modern music favorites Ben Harper, Grace Potter, Dave Matthews and more.

Here’s some more stories from this week’s Life sections to help you plan your weekend:

  • If you’re in the mood for a road trip The Spring, a new vegetarian restaurant in Lewisburg, is now open all day on Saturday. The place is gaining in popularity with locals, and hopes to eventually be much more than a restaurant. Read more about The Spring here.
  • Chef Paco is back in town. This former Bridge Road Bistro and Stonewall Resort chef has returned to the Mountain State after running a successful gourmet smokehouse in New Mexico. He’s bringing some of those flavors to his new job as executive chef at the Berry Hills Country Club.
  • The Empty Glass is hosting Brandi Good and the Seventh Sun tonight at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the East End bar is throwing a Gov’t Mule after party with Blistered Nifkin and Travis Egnor and the Horse Traders. That begins at 11 p.m.
  • Also Saturday, local gypsy-rock band Qiet will host an Affordable Care Act enrollment party at the Bluegrass Kitchen. Starts at 9 p.m. Cover ranges from $10 for general public, $8 with health card and $5 if uninsured and willing to look at insurance options. (Click here to read my recent story about Qiet and their new album.)
  • KR-3 are playing the Boulevard Tavern on Friday night with Ouralias. InFormation will play there on Saturday night with local band The Company Stores.
  • Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out will perform Saturday at the Mountaineer Opry House in Milton. The show starts at 7:30 p.m, doors open at 5 p.m. and tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $5 for children.
  • In the mood for a play? The Limelight Theatre Company’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” comes to the WVSU Capitol Theater on Summers Street tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

And here’s one more thing before you go, music fans: Charleston could soon have its own independent, low-power Americana station. “Roots Town Radio” received its FCC license this week and hopes to launch by late summer or fall.

Update: Melissa Etheridge coming to the Clay Center

UPDATE (Feb. 18, 10:05 a.m.) – Etheridge’s stop is part of her “This is ME Solo” tour. She’ll play songs new and old all by herself,  switching between acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica and piano.

Melissa EtheridgeJust announced from our friends at the Clay Center, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge is coming to Charleston Thursday, April 17.

Etheridge, known for her early 1990s hits like “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One,” has recently been promoting her song “Uprising of Love” as a protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Presale tickets will be available Wednesday, Feb. 19. Tickets go on sale to the general public. Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. on You can also call 304-561-3570.

The Weekender (Feb. 14, 2014)

vdayHappy Valentine’s Day, everybody.

If you just realized you’ve forgotten to get dinner reservations, check out our tips from local chefs for preparing Valentine’s dinner at home.

Pull it off, and your sweetheart will think you planned it all along.

If you can’t pull it off, earn your way out of the dog house with a trip to Sarah’s Bakery on Bridge Road. They’ve finally brought croissant doughnuts to West Virginia. (Just don’t call them “cronuts,” or the inventor will hit you with a cease and desist letter. I speak from experience.)

Anyway, here’s what’s happening this weekend around Charleston:

If you have an event you’d like to see included in future editions of The Weekender, please drop a note to I’ll do my best to include you.

Have a good weekend!

WVU president schools us all on bow ties

Last month I interviewed interim West Virginia University president/bow tie enthusiast E. Gordon Gee about his trademark neckwear. Gee, who has been wearing bow ties since he was a lad, promised me he would make a how-to video for those of us stuck in the world of half-Windsors and four-in-the-hand knots.  Now he’s delivered on that promise.

Click below to watch the president of West Virginia’s flagship university teach you how to correctly knot a bow tie.

This is why I love the Internet.