Daily: Joe Mauer sighting

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

 Joe Mauer’s putt stopped inches from the hole on No. 18 at Northland Country Club. The Minnesota Twins star took a gimme.
“Someone should tend the flag for him,” a woman remarked from the veranda.
Mauer, a four-time American League all-star and 2009 AL
Most Valuable Player, has spent part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star break in Duluth. The Minnesota native, who grew up in St. Paul, said Tuesday it’s his first trip to the area.
Mauer made his comments Tuesday evening in an impromptu media moment as he finished a round with a woman he would identify only as his girlfriend. Buzz around town suggested the woman was a schoolmate of Mauer’s at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul and also had attended the University of Minnesota Duluth, but Mauer would not confirm that.
He also did not discuss his performance on the greens.
“I didn’t try to keep score,” Mauer said. “I’m just trying to relax. Trying to lay low. I guess that didn’t work out too well.”
The local Twitter contingent posted Mauer sightings starting with Burrito Union, where he had stopped for lunch (he had two chicken tacos, according to the staff). He was allegedly spotted at a handful of locations: Portland Malt Shoppe, Sir Benedict’s, Hawk’s Ridge.
Word spread quickly that Mauer was at Northland Country Club. About a dozen teenage boys, the course’s staff members, ejected trespassers from the parking lot and along the course. They had kicked out about 20 people, mostly boys and a few girls, they said. But that didn’t mean they weren’t a little giddy about catching a glimpse of the athlete.
Bag boy Zach McKinnon worked up a little ditty about it, which got equal parts laughs and groans from his friends:
“Here at Northland, it’s not amateur hour, it’s Mauer hour.”
“We’re just going to act a little normal and get some autographs hopefully,” McKinnon added.
Michael O’Connor, whose father Joe O’Connor is the pro at the private course, admitted it probably isn’t the most fair thing in the world, but he got to shake Mauer’s hand.
“He’s a Minnesota boy,” Michael O’Connor said. “Humble, great guy. He was wearing his golf glove when we shook hands.”
By the time Mauer got to No. 17, pockets of gawkers had gathered. Women from around the state playing in the Northland Women’s Invitational hung out on the veranda with cameras aimed in Mauer’s direction.
“We came off on the 18th hole and he was teeing off,” said Robin Stewart, a golfer from the Twin Cities area. “It was good. I heard some guys from the pro shop saying Oh, that was a beautiful fade.'”
Paige Bromen was on the driving range with Mauer, who was getting a lot of attention.
“I just let him do his thing,” she said. “I was working out my own kinks.”
After No. 18, Mauer’s girlfriend drove off with the cart. He walked up the grass toward media and fans wearing a light blue and white mesh baseball cap, sunglasses, a white collared shirt, khaki shorts and Nike shoes.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said of the crowd and cameras.
Mauer said he doesn’t golf much and when he does it’s in Florida. He said he liked the different elevations of Northland Country Club. He took some photographs on the course with his Nikon.
He greeted fans, signed autographs and posed for photographs.
“I’m shaking,” said Amy Loftsuen.
“We were just eating dinner,” she said making air quotes around the words “eating dinner.” This was no coincidence: She and her friend Alix Hyduke had heard Mauer was at the club.
Kyle Chmielecki, a caddy, just happened to be wearing his Twins cap and got it signed.
“I’m never washing my hand again because Joe Mauer shook it,” he said.

This story ran in the July 13, 2011 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Music review: Trace Adkins concert

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Trace Adkins doesn’t write his own songs. He doesn’t move much on stage. He had a guitar that he didn’t hold much, and when he did he just fiddled.
But the country singer has a amassed a collection of hit songs – keg-glass and heck-raising tunes and nostalgia soundtracks – that fans in sleeveless shirts, cowboy hats and calf-high boots want to whoop to. He also has a body like a roadhouse bouncer and a voice so deep it sounds like a record being played a setting too slow.
The star who busted into the scene in the mid-1990s played a
90-minute show for about 3,200 fans on about the best summer night one could ask for at Bayfront Festival Park.
Adkins opened the show with “Whoop a Man’s Ass,” standing center stage in tight black jeans, a tight blue shirt and a black cowboy hat with a long ponytail hanging down his back. While he sang, videos for his songs – some that
appeared on the likes of CMT, some that seemed special to the tour – played on a screen behind him. His band was pushed to the back and sides of the stage.
On “Marry for Money” and “Chrome,” he showed off his growl, hitting bassoon-level depths.
“You’re Gonna Miss This” drew the most amateur video, with tons of cell phones trained on the singer as he sang the slow carpe diem ballad.
He sang “Just Fishin’,” the first single from the album “Proud to be Here,” which comes out on Tuesday. He pointed at the screen and told the audience that his young daughter stars in the heart-tugger about a daddy and his little girl.
Adkins hit his peak toward the end of the show with a cover from the song “How Long,” a hit from the 1970s by Ace. He took his hat off, let his hair down, and rather than stoic guy manning the door seemed taken with the lyrics, his arms raised, pitching forward and back.
. He stayed in that mood for “One in a Million,” a song made popular by Lou Rawls.
In an interview last week, Adkins attributed the longevity of his career to surrounding himself by people who really know what they are doing.
He’s also got good instincts. Adkins closed the show with the C&W response to “Baby Got Back.”
“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” was introduced as a love song, included strobe lights and had the audience on their feet and singing the chorus.
He sang “Dirty White Boy” for his encore, which didn’t quite match the fervor of “Badonkadonk.”
Relative newbie Glen Templeton opened, a Nashville singer who has made inroads with his ability to channel Conway Twitty. Twitty’s relatives approached Templeton about playing the country legend in a traveling musical a few years ago. Templeton included a mini montage in his hourlong set, taking his vocals a little lower and ramping up his growl for bits of “Slow Hand” and “Don’t Take it Away.”
Templeton, a Cobain-blond in mirrored sunglasses, played Southern rock songs from his debut studio album “GT.” He mixed in an eclectic handful of covers, including “Interstate Love Song,” which worked, “Every Rose Has its Thorn,” which worked better, and Sublime’s “Santaria,” which was clunky and sounded more like a favored song for shower karaoke.

This review ran in the July 30, 2011 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.


Music review: Willie Nelson concert

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

After Willie Nelson had surgery for carpal tunnel a few years ago, his doctor told him to go home and shut up, the gray-braided country music icon told his audience Saturday night at Bayfront Festival Park.
“So I wrote this song,” he said, leading into “Superman” – a song about trying to do more than he can and learning that he ain’t Clark Kent’s alter ego.
The old man didn’t make much of a case for himself. Nelson ripped through about 30 songs – one bleeding immediately into another with rarely any chatter – during a 90-minute set that ended with him calling out “Thank y’all” and leaving at the back of the stage.

   OK, so maybe Superman would have had an encore. How about Superman-ish? After all, on Friday night the 78-year-old was on the stage at We Fest near Detroit Lakes, Minn., and he’s got five more shows this week.
Nelson took the stage unceremoniously. All of a sudden he was just there, a short figure dressed in a black cowboy hat, black shirt and black pants with a red, white and blue guitar strap. His signature hair braided to just below his collarbone, shorter than in years past. Recordings of his songs had been playing in the park before the show started, and kicked in again afterward.
He stayed true to the Willie-isms that fans have come to expect with his shows: Opening with “Whiskey River,” a Texas flag as his backdrop, tossing red bandanas into the crowd and trying on the cowboy hats that were tossed on stage. He pointed at the audience and he pointed at the sky and occasionally broke out into a big grin.
Nelson took plenty of solos on his guitar, ripping away at it like there was something hidden inside.
He filled the middle of the set with a string of hits: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again” and “Always on My Mind.”
Nelson didn’t seem to have a target demographic among the estimated 7,000 people who were at the show. There were baby boomers on up and Gen X on down.
There were glowing hula hoops and children dancing. There were barefoot women in long skirts spinning in the grass and plenty of bandanas knotted around heads. Some fans sat on blankets or chairs while others pushed against white barriers in a pack.
Nelson closed the show with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I Saw the Light,” which his band continued to play long after he was likely tucked into his tour bus.
Minneapolis band 4onthefloor opened in the early evening, playing about an hourlong set of bluesy music defined by four bass drums.
They were followed by hometown-bred Trampled by Turtles, who finally played a show where no one had to be turned away at the door. The speedgrass band’s past two concerts here have sold out.
Fans at stage left were distracted midway through the hourlong set when a decidedly Willie-looking tour bus, airbrushed with a cowboy theme, rolled into the parking lot behind the stage.
After closing with  fan-favorite “Wait so Long,” Trampled by Turtles answered the call for an encore with “Codeine.”

This review ran in the August 11, 2011 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.


Feature: Gabe Mayfield, local actor

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Gabe Mayfield knows what it takes to get into the head of a blood-thirsty alien plant bent on world domination. It takes studying cartoons and listening to Motown. It requires Southern slang and a touch of James Brown.
The local actor plays the voice of the vicious plant Audrey II for the fourth time in his 11-year acting career in a production of “Little Shop of Horrors” that opens at 7:30 p.m. today at the Play Ground.
The musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is the story of a nerdy orphan named Seymour who works in a forgotten plant shop in a rundown neighborhood. He’s got a crush on a woman named Audrey and he’s got a plant named Audrey II that thrives on human blood, which helps it grow larger and attracts attention to the shop.
Then Audrey II’s thirst gets too huge to handle.
Mayfield’s first theater role was Audrey II in a 2000 production at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He was tapped by longtime drama professor and director John Munsell for the part.
The young actor drew comparisons to Levi Stubbs, a baritone from the Four Tops, who was the voice of the plant in the 1980s film adaptation.
And some audience members thought Munsell was pulling a scam.
“Someone actually accused me of using the soundtrack to the Broadway musical just for Gabe’s songs because it was so obviously just a great voice,” Munsell said.
Mayfield landed the role again in 2005 in a production at the Duluth Playhouse directed by Linda Bruning. A News Tribune reviewer said the actor deserved kudos for “his soulful interpretation.”
When Munsell was asked to
direct “Little Shop of Horrors”
for the Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota last summer, he told theater staff to cancel the search for Audrey II.
“I said, Don’t bother to cast anybody,'” Munsell said. He brought in Mayfield to reprise the role.
The show at the Play Ground was initiated by a group of friends, stage regulars who hand-picked fellow actors and then brought in Michelle Juntunen to direct her first musical. Mayfield has added plenty of ideas on execution, knowing the musical completely.
“He came into the first read-through and didn’t even have a script,” she said.
Mayfield has pushed the show in a darker horror direction, less campy. He said he tries to keep his character classic and true to the film version, adding a little Ray Charles to the mix, including a Southern slang accent. He has listened to the Temptations, James Brown and the exaggerated cartoon-style of Mother Brain from “Captain Nintendo.”
“I’m working on making the lines fit and sound more real than before,” he said. “I try to add levels to the dialogue.”
After this show, Mayfield plans to sit out a few rounds of local theater. Last season included parts in the Playhouse’s “Chicago,” Lyric Opera of the North’s production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and Renegade Theater Company’s “Parade.”
But he’s not necessarily done with “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Mayfield said he would like to direct it professionally and he would like to play Audrey II in a remake of the film. He would also like to play the part of the dentist. This is, after all, his favorite show.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s like all musicals wrapped up into one. You’ve got everything. The best part is that it takes music from the Motown era, they use some rock ‘n’ and roll and things like that. It’s mainly the music I love the most.”
Meanwhile, Munsell might be the maker of the plant, but he said he doesn’t know if he wants to see this version of Audrey II.
“I don’t know that I want anything but the memory of the last time I saw him,” he said. “It was absolutely perfect.”

This story ran in the August 11, 2011 edition of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.


Daily: Great White and Loverboy

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

    The truth of being a band that ruled MTV in the 1980s: No
modern-day fan is going to be satisfied at a concert until they hear “Working for the Weekend.”
Not a problem, according to Loverboy’s guitar player Paul Dean.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said in a phone interview from Canada. “It’s the little song that could. It doesn’t quit. It’s amazing. I remember the first time we played it live. We opened the third (set) with Working for the Weekend’ and everyone was standing up and the place came alive. We knew at that moment that this tune was going to do something.”
The Canadian band headlines the Buffalo Valley Music Festival, a two-day outdoor event that starts with country tribute bands on Friday and switches to rock cover bands on Saturday. The festival closes with two real deals – Great White and Loverboy.
Michael Lardie of Great White said the classic tracks from the 1980s and ’90s are the reason they initially drew fans – and they have to respect that. Of course Great White is going to play “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” Each night at each venue is a unique experience, and he said they keep that in mind when they play it for the millionth time.
“Some bands might make the mistake of saying Here’s one of our hits and here’s 12 songs off our new record,'” he said. “The fans made you have the career by buying the records. If I went out and bought an artist’s records throughout the years and they didn’t play the biggest song, I would find that somehow offensive.”
The bands are both in the middle of heavy summer tour – which seems to indicate there is still a call for an old-school arena rock band fronted by red leather pants and a bluesy group that adopted the hair band image. Unlike the musicians, the fans are getting younger.
“I always say we get babies to blue hairs, and we always have,” Dean said. “Maybe it’s because of our increased Web presence. I love playing to the kids. They have the power. I love seeing the fist in the air. That turns my crank.”
Lardie said they have hard-core fans who have been hanging around for 25-30 years. Now they’ve introduced their kids to the band.
“They’re singing the lyrics and verses,” Lardie said. “That’s the greatest compliment we can receive. They’re handing down music to their kids.”
Loverboy gained popularity in the early 1980s with “Working for the Weekend,” “Loving Every Minute of It” and “Turn Me Loose.” The band is fronted by singer Mike Reno and the lineup has stayed untouched – except for the loss of bassist Scott Smith who died in a boating accident off the coast of San Francisco in 2000.
Dean said each band member is a good politician – and that is how they’ve managed to stick together.
“You’ve got to be,” he said. “It’s like being married to four guys for 35 years. You’ve got to compromise. You put the five of us together on stage and it’s a lot of fun.”
They released the song “Heartbreaker” earlier this year, a single that Dean said fans are digging when they play it live. There have been times when a new single hasn’t been well received.
Great White is a Los Angeles-bred band second-best known for the single “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” A version of the band was playing the night of the 2003 nightclub fire at The Station in Rhode Island where 100 people died, including a musician. Lead singer Jack Russell is currently on hiatus with health problems. Jani Lane, the former Warrant front man who died last week, was singing with Great White for a stint in 2010.
Terry Ilous of XYZ has taken over as lead singer in the interim, and is getting kudos from his new bandmates.
“He’s got a fantastic Jeff Keith-David Coverdale,” Lardie said. “Edgy and bluesy. He’s putting his own personality into it. He’s not just aping what Jack does.”
Dean said there has been a sudden resurgence of interest in Loverboy that he attributes partly to the band’s marketing team. They’ve had songs in commercials and songs parodied on “Saturday Night Live,” and last season the NBC TV show “30 Rock” did a Loverboy-themed joke in which it was revealed that the character Pete used to be a member of the band.
“I was really happy with that, it was a huge honor. I’m a huge fan of that show,” he said. “To be connected with those guys is amazing.”

This story ran in the August 18, 2011 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.



Review: ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls

When Jeannette Walls’ memoir opens, she has left her Park Avenue home and is en route to a party when she sees her mother dumpster diving. She’s not surprised. Still, it’s a buzz kill and she skips the soiree. Later she will meet her mother for lunch. Ask her if she needs anything.

Her mother’s response: Electrolysis.

The Glass Castle is Walls’ story, told in episodic bursts, of growing up under the guardianship of eccentrics. Her father, Rex Walls, is a smart guy, creative, whose big ideas are trumped by booze. Her mother, Rose Mary, is a self-described adventure addict. She’s an artist and prone to depression and can’t help loving that Rex Walls. She’s licensed to teach, but can’t commit to the classroom. The family, including Jeannette, her old sister Lori, and younger brother Brian, spend the early years on the lam. Busting out of small desert towns in the cover of night. Doing the “Rex Walls skeedattle” which means bringing along just one favorite keepsake and sometimes sleeping in the car.

The kids are still elementary school aged when try to count how many places they have lived and guesstimate 12 after trying to figure out what it means to “live” somewhere. Does it have to include a house? Do they have to be there a certain number of days?

Money is scarcer than running water. Food is pilfered from garbage cans in the school bathroom. Roofs have holes. Roaches and other animal life are not dissuaded from sharing their living space. When Jeannette rolls out of the moving car or burns herself to the point of needing skin grafts, the events are treated about as lightly as when they toss their cat out of the car to lighten their load as nomads.

And then there is Rex, in a moment of sweetness, taking each kid one by one to look at the sky and pick out a star to keep as their own. Merry Christmas. And there is Rose Mary, bringing home stacks of library books and self-teaching the kids to a degree that when they enter public schools they are way ahead of their peers. Rex loses another job.

Eventually at the end of their rope, the family heads to Rex’s hometown of Welch, West Virginia where they first live with a surly alcoholic grandmother who fondles Brian and an uncle who tries to fondle Jeannette (In both situations, her parents shrug off the incidents as no harm-no foul-life lessons).

As Jeannette gets older and her family’s lifestyle comes into focus, she takes charge. She fashions her own set of braces, knowing that they can’t afford orthodontia. She gets a job. She finds an after school oasis. Things don’t necessarily change at Chez Walls. But she does come to understand that it doesn’t have to be like this forever.

These stories — and there are many — are more outrageous than Orphan Annie trying to outrun those hoodwinkers. Walls’ memoir is told in this straight-forward no frills, journalistic style that clearly states the facts but offers no commentary, blame, or judgement. You see Rex Walls removing road stones from her forehead, winning back the favor of the daughter who spent hours alongside the road wondering if her family even knew she fell out of the car. It’s sometimes physically uncomfortable to read. It’s good, though, in that gawker way of watching a shit show when you know the shit show turns out okay in the end. An obvious and not obvious comparison would be Mary Karr, women with mucky upbringings. But Karr is a writer-writer, while Walls is more of a storyteller with a super interesting story to tell.

This review was originally posted on Minnesota Reads.

Review: ‘The Man in the Rockefeller Suit’ by Mark Seal

Before the advent of Facebook stalking, there was a precocious teen named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter who lit out of a small German town and made for the United States in the guise of an exchange student. He gave his name an American makeover, and studied Thurston Howell III’s upper-class accent. He coaxed an unassuming Wisconsinite into a quickie green card marriage, then oozed his way into the Rolodex of the rich widows of San Marino, California.

Journalist Mark Seal has written an account of the man’s ascent through society — helped along by eventually adopting the name Clark Rockefeller — in a true crime account The Man in the Rockefeller Suit that traces three decades, a handful of aliases, and eventual kidnapping and unrelated murder charges. Seal travels to Rockefeller’s former haunts and interviews about 200 one-time neighbors and friends, a group that is divided between chatting freely about the brilliant sociopath and those who are still angry about falling for his con. Seal also uses statements made in court by Rockefeller’s ex-wife, a smart woman who footed the family’s financials for nearly ten years without suspecting anything was amiss.

The story starts near the end when Rockefeller — now going by Chip Smith — kidnaps his young daughter, Snooks, during one of his three days a year of visitation. He knocks out the social worker tasked with making sure Snooks isn’t kidnapped. Then he dupes a friend into driving the duo to the airport and they jet off for a new life, less assuming than the previous. Then the story doubles back to the roots of young Gerhartsreiter, a wily kid with big dreams.

The book is divided into two sections. The first covers Rockefeller’s early years in the United States, working his way across the country and faking a career in the movie biz. He settles down for awhile in California and earns puppy-dog like acceptance in social circles. Along the way he has cultivated a depth of knowledge in exactly the kinds of things rich people like to talk about. His dress and mannerisms suggest a pure bred and at this point his name suggests links to English royalty. The first half ends with him leaving town in a truck that belonged to acquaintances who have gone missing.

In the second half, he has reinvented himself again as a film producer trying on a stint on Wall Street. He starts with the churches attended by society folk and then weasels his way into parties and job titles and eventually a wife with a pretty sweet earning potential.

The entire story is a wonder — enough so that the Lifetime Movie Network took on their own version of the tale that played a year ago. The first half is pretty repetitious, reiterating that people were drawn to the con man, especially women, and that he was smarter than smart. Things really ramp up once he heads out east and takes on the Rockefeller name. The bullshit is bolder. The eccentricities are more eccentric. But the questions loom larger and Seal leaves plenty of them unanswered: How does this man cultivate a collection of fraudulent art pieces that are good enough to fool true art aficionados? How were these elaborate lies, which were seemingly researched and plotted and layered to avoid detection, concocted? And once it was revealed that her husband was not who he said, why didn’t his wife do anything with the information beyond getting custody and spiriting the tot off to London?

Also: Seal does this curious thing of suddenly putting himself and his reporting into the story, which comes across a little rinky dink. He would be better as an invisible reporter relaying the deets.

This review was originally posted on Minnesota Reads.