Connecting to the Past

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It was about 15 years ago that Graham Sharp gathered a few musicians together to informally comprise the band Steep Canyon Rangers.

“We were just having fun and the one thing turned to another. Fifteen years later, we’ve done all these crazy things,” he said.

That informal meet-up has yielded a Grammy, 10 albums, multiple tours and yes, the occasional collaboration with actor and comedian Steve Martin.

Growing up, Sharp said he was a Deadhead and an admirer of Jerry Garcia. However in high school, one of his teachers introduced him to bluegrass musicians John Hartford and Norman Blake. In college he started playing the banjo, and Sharp still counts both musicians as two of his favorites.

In the early years of Steep Canyon Rangers, there was a period of copying first generation bluegrass songs until the band developed their own style full of energy and soul.

That style has earned the band two Grammy nominations and one win, not to mention various other nods and wins.

Their 2012 album, “Nobody Knows You,” won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. The year before, their collaboration with Martin, “Rare Bird Alert” was nominated. Not bad for a group of guys that just happened to start a band.

Sharpe said winning a Grammy was pretty much the last thing on his mind when he started making music.

“The year before we lost to Alison Krauss—and you can’t begrudge her for that,” he said.

“It’s a daytime award, it’s not televised. There’s no Lil Waynes or Taylor Swifts,” he continued. “But just the experience of being in that room, with the musicians you admire, it gives you a boost and reinforces the need to keep working on your craft.”

Meeting Martin, who first picked up the banjo when he was 17, was just another informal meeting, Sharpe said.

“I think it was a spaghetti dinner,” he said.

After clicking with the band, Martin invited them to tour and record an album. One of their first shows with the comedian was a 2009 recording of “Prairie Home Companion.” Together they’ve performed at Bonnaroo Music Festival, Austin City Limits and on “Late Show with David Letterman.”

“All the sudden we had this exposure,” Sharpe said. “We’ve had some crossover fans that have come back to a lot of places we played [with Steve]. And I think it has exposed more people to bluegrass music.”

Working with Martin has been a rare experience, Sharpe said.

“To see his creative mind at work is pretty amazing,” he said. “We were just in the studio for a day last week. Projects have slowed down, but we know we have too good of a thing to let it go too long.”

It’s an interesting time to play bluegrass, as a lot of groups are implementing elements of roots music into radio hits. Sharpe said he appreciates the influence Americana music has on modern music.

“There’s a reason why you’re hearing a lot of banjos and rootsy sounds,” he said. “Something in you clicks. It connects you to the past, maybe even the past of your region.”

As much as the band is rooted in the past, they also looks ahead. As a songwriter, Sharpe has written more than 30 Steep Canyon Rangers songs. And it’s the present, everyday life that he finds himself writing about.

“It’s about keeping your eyes open and seeing the small details,” he said. “Those lyrics are the ones that get stuck in people’s heads.”

Sharpe said it can be a bit surprising to see how popular bluegrass is all over the U.S.

However, the North Carolina-based band does have a special appreciation for their southern tour dates, including their Pensacola show, before they have to head north.

“We’re looking forward to the southern sunshine,” Sharpe said.

As seen in Independent News

Which Breakfast Club Character Are You?

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The brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess and the criminal are returning to theaters for Saturday detention.

It was 30 years ago that the John Hughes classic “The Breakfast Club” was first released. With a budget of $1 million and a cast including Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson and Farmer Ted himself—Anthony Michael Hall—the movie has sustained decades of rebroadcasts on TV and fans of all ages.

To celebrate the film’s re-release, we made this fun quiz to determine who your inner high school stereotype is.

• What is your closet staple?
A) Fingerless gloves, so people know who the leader of the gang is
B) A hoodie, which goes great under a letterman jacket
C) Leather boots, charged with dad’s credit card
D) A knitted sweater, picked out by mom from the boy’s department
E) A cross-body bag to carry all of your random “shit”

• What did you get for Christmas?
A) A carton of cigarettes
B) A new pair of wrestling shoes
C) Diamond earrings
D) A Texas Instruments graphing calculator
E) Head and Shoulders shampoo

• What’s your perfect Saturday?
A) Miraculously not getting detention
B) Practice the sport of the season in the morning and go to a house party that night
C) Shopping with friends and wearing your new outfit to said house party
D) Fly fishing with Dad
E) Stowaway at school and sit through detention

• Who’s your ideal partner?
A) Someone that won’t judge your social status
B) Someone who’s a little bit crazy and surprisingly beautiful
C) Someone your parent’s won’t approve of
D) Someone you met on a trip to Niagara Falls
E) Someone who takes notice of only you

• What’s in your lunchbox?
A) You don’t have a lunchbox
B) Just about everything from the fridge
C) Sushi
D) A well-balanced meal
E) Cap’n Crunch

 

●If you got mostly A’s….
You’re John “The Criminal” Bender
You might be a little rough around the edges, but you tell it like it is. And you know how to sneak out of the library, so you’re an asset to the friend group.

●If you got mostly B’s
You’re Andrew “The Athlete” Clark
Your need to always be No. 1 can be a bit stressful to be around, but you’re also a stand up guy (or girl). You’re not afraid to talk back to bullies, even if you were one at one time.

●If you got mostly C’s
You’re Claire “The Princess” Standish
You may have been a follower at one time, but you’re ultimately just as complicated as the rest of your peers. And when no one’s watching…you’re really generous.

●If you got mostly D’s
You’re Brian “The Brain” Johnson
You might be a little oblivious—and you can’t make a lamp—but you’re nice to everyone and always willing to help. And you’re a great author of letters.

●If you got mostly E’s
You’re Allison “The Basket Case” Reynolds
You are creative and uninhibited. You might be a bit of a klepto, but its all part of your charm. You also look great in a headband.

——————————–

Five things you probably didn’t know about “The Breakfast Club”
●The film’s poster—the one where the gang is all cuddled together with moody faces—was shot by Annie Leibovitz toward the end of the film’s shooting.
●John Hughes wrote the screenplay for the movie in only two days, July 4 and 5 1984. This was the second film he directed.
●The dandruff Allison shakes onto her drawing was actually parmesan cheese.
●The song “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds was written specifically for the movie.
●The title of the movie comes from a nickname for detention invented by staff and students at New Trier High School in Illinois, where Hughes’ friend’s son attended.

As seen in Independent News

‘Theatre on Speed’

It was six years ago that Renee Jordan first got her taste of the 24 Hour Theatre at Pensacola Little Theatre.

“It was chaotic and wonderful,” she said. “I was an actor and my character had a British accent. It was intense. It’s like theater on speed.”

The pressure cooker atmosphere didn’t scare Jordan away. In fact, she’s now the main coordinator for the semi-annual event.

“They call me the overlord,” she said.

For 24 Hour Theatre, a few dozen people come together to produce several short, original plays. When you factor in sleep—even though it comes in small amounts—it all comes together in less than 24 hours.

“We start with six writers and six directors,” Jordan said. “Most of the writers are connected with the West Florida Literary Federation, and I usually try to include about two or three veteran writers who have done 24 Hour Theatre before.”

The fun begins on Friday, March 20 with open auditions, which typically play off like an episode of “The Voice.” Acting hopefuls come in, get a quick headshot and do a cold read.

“We usually have about 35 to 40 people show up,” Jordan said. “Some of the directors and writers will fight over who they want, which is really funny to watch. But we always aim to cast everyone that shows up.”

All ages, talents, skills are welcome, although minors need to have parental supervision.

“We’ve had some come in as young as 7, which is fun because it gives writers more to play with. My 15-year-old daughter has done it too,” Jordan said. “We want a variety of people.”

The 24 Hour Theatre is a good, albeit, short introduction to the stage and with only one showtime, it’s not a huge commitment.

“It’s good for people who have thought about acting, but never did it. Maybe they did a play in high school,” Jordan said. “It’s a great way to get new people into the door.”

The production is also a chance for first-time directors to get a feel for that role. After Jordan’s first experience with 24 Hour Theatre, she was chosen to direct the next year, which was a whole new way of looking at the stage.
“Directors have to dictate what lights to use and what costumes to get,” she said. “It’s a great way to get a directing credit to your resume and it says a lot about anyone who’s willing to do it.”

Once actors are chosen and go home, the crunch time begins. Writers have just a handful of hours to finish a script before the actors come back the next morning to learn their lines before they perform inside the PLT courtroom.

“By 7:30 the next night it’s show time—the one and only time,” Jordan said.

Scripts are usually only a few pages and with so many actors, there typically aren’t a lot of lines to learn for each individual.

“The beautiful thing about it is that since these are all original plays nobody knows if you mess up,” she added.

Every year Jordan said she is impressed with the scripts she sees produced. Many are silly comedies, but there have been a few thrillers and mysteries. And because it is a Studio 400 Production, there are very few guidelines or script limitations, which leaves a lot of room for creativity.

“It’s the coolest thing. The characters are written specifically for you. Some of the most seasoned actors don’t ever get that treatment, ” she said. “It blows my mind each time. Luckily, we do recordings of each of the plays, which is something everyone can take home.”

Many PLT regulars came from the 24 Hour experience. Jordan said she normally sees about three to eight actors come back to audition for PLT stage productions.

“That always makes me happy, because this is the best theater home to make,” Jordan said. “An applause can be addiction. And I always try to keep this event fun. I tell everyone ‘If you’re not having fun, come find me and I’ll fix it.’”

While Jordan says the 24 Hour Theatre is a “high like no other” she does eventually come down after the chaos.

“Watching the shows in the back riser, I get my second wind,” she said. “But by Sunday, I’m a coma.”

As seen in Independent News

A Whole New World

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The last Ballet Pensacola performance of the season is set in a faraway land.

After a season of divas, artwork and a headless horseman, get ready for a version of “Aladdin” you’ve never seen before.

“What we have done is taken some of the elements from the Disney version—because you don’t want to disappoint the children—and created our own animal,” said Artistic Director Richard Steinert.

The ballet company’s production of “Aladdin” has been in the making for a while. Finally, all of the work will come together.

“We’ve been in pre-production for more than a year, so we’re ready to open,” Steinert said.

From the special effects to the vibrant costumes, Steinert counts this fairy tale re-telling as one of the biggest productions with the company since he started eight years ago.

“I always have a lot of ideas that float around, but I stuck with this one because I just knew this was going to be great—for young people as well as adults,” Steinert said.

The story of “Aladdin” has a history beyond the 1992 Disney animated film with its origin dating back to the 18th century. Told through the minds at hand at Ballet Pensacola, the story is given a modern twist.

“The costumes are relatively contemporary. Ballet Mistress Christine Duhon has gone all out with the colors and styling. It’s been fun to watch her design,” Steinert said. “The music is very techno and computer driven as opposed to orchestras.”

Steinert compares the performance with “The Nutcracker,” which borders the line of a play and a dance performance. The dancers are more than just that—they also have to act without any spoken word.

But Steinert said it’s not too hard of a challenge.

“Dance really is a universal language,” he said.

What you won’t find in the production is Aladdin’s monkey sidekick, Abu. Instead there’s comedic character, Akhdah. And there is no flamboyant genie, who was made a fan favorite after the late Robin Williams voiced the character in the Disney movie. In the ballet, there are two genies, a girl and a boy, who essentially act as narrators.

What you will find is plenty of comedy—a note to the audience, it’s OK to laugh—and a magic carpet courtesy of Production Designer Lance Brannon.

“Lance is ever the faithful guy,” Steinert said. “When I told him I need a magic carpet that dips and flies, he made it happen.”

Aladdin, played by soloist Ellis Endsley, provides a lot of the laughs. One scene that sticks out in Steinert’s mind is when Aladdin dresses up as woman to sneak into the palace and hilarity ensues.

“So often for me I have a pretty good idea of who I want for roles,” Steinert said. “Ellis is an experienced and very comfortable actor and he doesn’t take himself too seriously.”

Growing up in a musical theatre family and performing since he was 3, Endsley said he’s been waiting for this role for years. He continues to perform in regional theaters while dancing with Ballet Pensacola.

“I always wanted to play Aladdin,” he said. “When I was 8, I was in a production, but I played the magic carpet.”

Endsley said “Aladdin” has always been his favorite Disney film, and to bring the character to life for children is an exciting endeavor.

“He’s one of the most well-known characters,” Endsley said. “I feel like we have some similarities. I mean, except for the whole street-rat thing, but we both mean to do well and we’re lighthearted.”

Since joining the ballet last year, Endsley said he’s enjoyed learning about himself as a dancer and person through each performance including the current production.

“Richard has a very different way of choreographing,” he said. “He takes classical and contemporary and pushes their limits.”

And what would “Aladdin” be without a Princess Jasmine? For the role, Steinert cast principal dancer, Ya Meng Lin.

“She has a movement, a style and works with that unapproachable beauty without being haughty,” Steinert said.

It’s a perfect match since Lin and Endsley have danced together since Endsley first auditioned for the company and it began a close friendship.

“We’re super close,” he said. “So the chemistry isn’t forced in any way.”

As “Aladdin” closes the season on a high note, Steinert said he hopes to see new faces in the crowd.

“This is a ballet for everyone, your 3-year-old, your 15-year-old, parents and grandparents too,” he said. “I know it sounds corny, but it’s really just good, old-fashioned entertainment.”

As seen in Independent News 

Never Backing Down

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What some might struggle to do with two legs, Anita Fee can do with one.

Working with the U.S. Post Office in the north part of Okaloosa County for nearly 14 years, Fee has been stationed in various positions, but her favorite has been mail carrier.

After years of filling in when called, she was given her own route in December. And even with a disability she is one of the fastest carriers in her area.

“She’s probably in the top 10 percent for speed and accuracy,” said John Blair, postmaster at Crestview Post Office. “She’s amazing.”

‘You’re gonna do it this way’

A birth defect caused Fee to lose her right leg to amputation when she was 5. She counts her grandmother who raised her as giving her a strong will.

“When things were difficult, she wouldn’t let me give up,” Fee said. “She just told me ‘No, you’re gonna do it this way.’

“She was a real blessing.”

Fee got a prosthetic — required to apply for the mail carrier job – even though she had to get a bank loan for $13,000.

“They just looked at me when I told them what I needed the money for,” she recalled. “They said, ‘This man wants a loan for a boat, another wants a loan for a house and you want a loan for a leg?’ ”

But working in the field with the prosthetic, which is about 13 extra pounds, was too cumbersome. Instead, Fee said she is faster using her crutches.

And the prosthetic?

“It’s sitting in the closet,” she said.

From Merle to mail

Before Fee worked for the post office she was a “Merle girl” as she says, selling makeup at Merle Norman, a more sedentary job. She even thought about going to cosmetology school.

Living in Baker, Fee wanted a job that would be close to home and so she went the local post office.

“I just kept going in until one day they were hiring,” she said.

Fee found she liked the job and the people she came across every day.

She doesn’t need any special treatment. She uses her own vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee, which she had the console taken out of and replaced with a boater’s seat so she can easily slide across the vehicle.

To reach the mailboxes, she often uses an old mail hawk — a claw device to grab letters.

On her route Monday afternoon, Fee glides through her stops. On Campbell Street, she waves to passersby in the neighborhood.

One of the residents, Rebecca Frey usually meets Fee to grab her mail.

“I always have a package or two coming so when I hear her Jeep come up, I meet her at the mailbox,” she said. “I consider her a friend.”

Monday, Frey was waiting for a black dress to arrive. Before she even asks, Fee tells her it’s not in yet.

“I always try to be friendly,” Fee said. “I’m bringing their checks and medicines everyday. They trust me.”

Fee tries to keep track of her “customers” as she calls them. If the mail is piling up, she checks into it.

Once on a route in Holt, she noticed a house was smoking — inside was a pregnant woman taking a nap.

“She didn’t know her house was burning,” Fee said. “She lost everything, but she got out OK.”

Setting an example

Fee said she works hard to set an example for her 16-year-old grandson, who she raised from infancy after her son died. She has five more grandchildren she hopes to inspire.

“I want to show my grandson that he can take care of himself, that if you really try, you can live a descent life,” she said.

Wednesday, Fee will be honored with the Postmaster General Hero Award, which Blair nominated her for.

“I’ve been with the organization for 30 years and she’s the most amazing carrier I’ve ever come across,” he said. “You just have to watch her to know.”

From passing the official physical test to the tests she comes across everyday, Fee constantly proves that she’s just as capable as the rest of her co-workers.

“This job has been so important to me,” she said.

As seen in Northwest Florida Daily News

Stories from the Black Hawk Crash

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‘Patriots of the highest honor': Navarre church holds vigil for the fallen

Twelve candles were placed in front of the church at Navarre First Assembly of God.

Eleven represent the four aircrew and seven Marines who were involved in a helicopter crash near Eglin range site A-17, east of Navarre Bridge.

“The twelfth one represents God,” said Jon Skipper, senior pastor at Navarre First Assembly of God.

After news broke of the crash, Skipper went to his parents home, who live in the Riviera Beach neighborhood, where some of the wreckage was found. He witnessed remains and wreckage on the beach.

“It broke my heart,” he said.

In a step toward healing — not just himself, but the community — Skipper and his associate pastor, Trey Rose, set to put together a vigil to mourn the loss of the soldiers and Marines.

“We have a lot of our own that are going to war — leaving families behind — we want to stand in the gap when there are people hurting,” Rose said.

About 100 gathered in the church for the evening vigil Wednesday night, most from the Navarre community.

Travis Daniels, who is in the Armed Forces Reserves at Duke Field and is also a firefighter at Eglin Fire Station in Okaloosa Island sat towards the front with his wife, Katie.

“It could’ve happened to me,” Travis said. “I’ve done helicopter mission training…life is so fragile.”

The couple has never been to the particular church before, but when Katie read about the vigil on Facebook, she knew they had to go.

“We both come from military families,” she said. “The news hit extremely close to home.”

From their home on the sound in Navarre, they can hear training operations almost daily. Travis said he had just seen the Black Hawk helicopter Monday at work.

Members of the military — both retired and active — were a part of the vigil ceremony. There were songs and prayers as news reporters from across the country took photos and tapped away at their laptops.

Skipper said he wanted to leave people the message of hope.

“We’re all one nation under God,” he said. “Although we didn’t know them, they’re part of our family — this dinky, little town.”

“They’re patriots of the highest honor.”

As seen in Northwest Florida Daily News

A community shaken; Navarre residents react and help

To the outsider, it would seem that the Navarre community had gone back to normal after hearing of the crashed Black Hawk helicopter.

But at work, at lunch, at home, residents haven’t forgotten.

Wednesday night, while much of the community met at churches and the fishing pier for vigils, 17-year-old Jacob Feltman, a senior a Navarre High School came up with his own moving tribute.

Outside, in the driveway of his Holley by the Sea home he spelled out USA in tea light candles, placing a total of eleven candles on each side. He wanted to go to one of the vigils, but had to report to work at the Slippery Mermaid.

“I just went to WalMart and got the candles,” he said. “I wanted to show my support.”

“We wouldn’t be here without them (military).”

Feltman comes from an Air Force family, his dad is retired U.S. Air Force, his 21-year-old brother is currently serving and in July, he’ll be signing up.

Watching the news unfold on TV and just down the road, has been a little surreal for his mom, Traci.

“It’s scary,” she said. “But I’m proud of my husband and children.”

Outside the East River Smoke House Thursday afternoon, where yellow police tap prohibits individuals from getting close to the sound, one Navarre resident walked out with a Marine baseball cap on.

“One a marine, always a marine,” he said.

The man served for six years, fought in Vietnam and earned a brown star for his service. The news of losing 11 military men is “horrible,” he said.

Steve Hogan just retired from the Air Force in August after 52 years. The Black Hawk crash is the “most agonizing and depressing thing” he’s come across in some time, he said.

Watching the cars pass by from the Waffle House parking lot, he noted it’s surreal to see life continue as usual.

“I bet 90 percent of the world doesn’t even know what happened,” he said.
‘A common courtesy’

James Dabney, owner of the East River Smoke House, was contacted early Wednesday morning by Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office and advised to keep patrons off his back deck over looking the sound.

“I had heard reports of remains being brought in around the restaurant early that morning,” he said. “I knew there was an important reason.”

Located just west of the Navarre Park, which was closed all of Wednesday for search and rescue crews, the restaurant was one of the spots where wreckage and remains washed ashore.

Even as news media tried to use the restaurant as access for photo and video coverage, Dabney eschewed from his 15 minutes and closed the outdoor portion of his restaurant.

“If that were my son or daughter, I would hope somebody else would do the same thing,” he said. “It’s a common courtesy.”

As seen in Northwest Florida Daily News

Slow Food for Everyone

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Reports across all media link America’s problem with obesity to the high costs of a healthy diet. Dollar menus and drive thrus make it all too easy to make poor choices.

But healthy food isn’t as out of reach anymore thanks to a new program with Slow Food Gulf Coast.

Shoppers at the weekly Palafox Market can now use SNAP funds to purchase food items from farm vendors. The 50-year-old program, SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families, while also providing economic benefits to local communities.

As part of its efforts to provide easy access to healthy food and support local farmers, Slow Food Gulf Coast sees this as a win-win.

Volunteering at Palafox Market, where you can meet members of Slow Food Gulf Coast, board member Amanda Clonts sees the vast reach of SNAP funds.

“The clients are diverse—multi-generational families, college students, traditional families,” she said. “It’s nice to help families eat healthier and support local farmers.”

Not only are SNAP funds accepted at the Palafox Market, but through a grant with the Florida Organic Growers, Slow Food Gulf Coast will match up to $10 each week to be used specifically for fruits and vegetables.

“Throughout the month, that’s 40 extra dollars families can save,” noted board member Jenny Diamond.

One of the biggest obstacles for Slow Food is communication. Diamond said there’s a lot of people who could benefit from the SNAP program but have never heard of it.

Shopping at Palafox Market is another great way to promote healthy eating.

“Instead of going to the grocery store, you can come and talk to that people who are planting your food,” Diamond said. “They have some fascinating stories.”

“I think it’s exciting to see kids who aren’t used to eating fresh produce become exposed to all of these new things,” she continued. “It’s very interactive. Those using SNAP funds are given tokens and the kids always want to hold them. They become part of the shopping.”

The fun doesn’t stop at Palafox Market. You can also find fresh fruits and veggies at Flora Bama Farms and Ever’man. Every Wednesday, you can pick up goods at a small farmer’s market outside the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

As the winter season tapers off, Clonts suggests to look out for carrots, radishes and greens when shopping the markets.

“In the spring, you’ll want to grab strawberries, blackberries, cucumbers and peppers, which are huge and delicious in season,” she said. “In the summer, there are several farms in the region where you can go and pick strawberries.”

Slow Food Gulf Coast is a local chapter of a global grassroots organization with volunteers and supporters in 150 countries around the world.

But there’s always a need for help in the local area. The Gulf Coast chapter spans Baldwin to Walton County.

“We always need more people to be invested and support the farm-to-table concept,” Diamond said. “Stop by our booth one day and come say hello.”

As seen in Independent News