Thursday, December 15, 2016

Calling Dr. Bombay! Actor Bernard Fox dies at age 89

Well, there goes another piece of my childhood, thank you very much. When the news came today of the passing of Bernard Fox, at age 89, as social media flooded in, I didn't feel the need to read all the stories that described his career. Instead, I reflected on the fact that I knew Bernard Fox primarily as Dr. Bombay from a childhood favorite TV series, Bewitched. And as it is a Thursday evening tonight, some five decades ago, chances were excellent that I'd be tuning in to ABC to catch my favorite show. This was in a day and time when children did their homework right after school and had time left for some prime-time viewing for however late our parents would give us time to do so.

TV was filled with fantasy shows that were entertaining, when the entire family could sit in front of the screen without exception. Quaker Oats sponsored Bewitched and all it took for me to hear was "Nothing is better for thee than me" to know it was a Quaker Oats cereal commercial and it was time for Bewitched. Or, in the beginning of the show, back in a day when all we had was black and white TV, and glad to have that, you'd see the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery appearing immediately before the broadcast saying, "Stay tuned for Bewitched, next, in color!" Her beautiful northeastern accent lilted out as she pronounced the word "color" and you knew unmistakably that she was a classic example of the acting schools of exquisite enunciation.

From 1964-1972, I was a faithful viewe,r along with 5 or 6 million others of you, who loved the show for a myriad of reasons. Those of us who were bona fide fans saw every episosde from 1964-1972, and were happy for summer reruns to keep us all on even keel year-round. "Sam" represented a strong woman with a superpower and a tempered way of using it to make things better for others. Her husband Darrin, whether Dick York or Dick Sargent, continually disapproved of her power, but she could find a way around their fussiness and in 24 minutes of scripted dialog, she'd outfox her earthling husband and have her own way. For a little girl, that made a big impression on me. I could twitch my nose perfectly (if I may brag on a noncommerical talent) and it seemed to amuse the grownups around me. Similarly I could fold my arms and blink like Jeannie, once again a noncommercial talent, but it kept me out of trouble, frankly, and that was a good thing.

Thank heavens I was born into a generation where women could do science if they chose to. Two of my favorite mentors in science and thermodynamics (again, fun at parties), never once questioned why I was a woman who wanted to study science. They thought everyone should want to study science. And yet, I truly recall my longtime high school career goal was to be a television director, with a microbiology minor (as my plan B). Early high school microbiology studies consisted of washing infinite numbers of test tubes. Well, I was pretty good at mixing various chemicals (safely) in an attempt to make our porcelain kitchen sink shine its best ever!! My mother encouraged my love of chemistry and she was very happy to have a child who volunteered to do dishes and clean sinks!

All this to say, I laugh at why I have to go look up the 'other' stuff and can instead readily quote lines of dialog at will from Bewitched. You say, "Bernard Fox," and I immediately reply, "Dr. Bombay, calling Dr. Bombay, emergency, come right away!!" and that's all it would take for the sound effect to ring out and Bernard, if he doesn't mind my familiarity, would pop in instantly to help Samantha with whatever witchlike ailment she had. Dr. Bombay was a warlock but no one ever described him that way.

There was no such thing as a Harry Potter or a Hogwarts, although now I recall the uproar about J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, which caused children to want to read it all the more. Such a brilliant trick to get children to read something, anything, in a day and time when they're trained to stare at a little screen with a game on it so Mommy won't freak out with their impatience.

It wasn't that long ago that we were in bookstores, holding onto precious brand new copies of our books, selected carefully, deliberately, with relish, having saved up for weeks to own a new book. Or, to carefully cradle the library books we were checking out in the world of making requests to borrow items of value and offering a promise of safe return. We took that very seriously as kids, as I think about it. Check your purse or backpack. Do you see a pen that's in there that's not yours and wonder how it got there? Somewhere along the way, we stopped taking so seriously the promise to return something we borrowed briefly, undamaged. Now if you've seen me today, no, you don't have my pen, nor do I have yours. I'm just saying, promises to return are not as heavily weighed on our minds, unless we've made a contract or agreement to supply x to receive y.

It only takes a moment to envision the perturbed, harassed and slightly grizzled face of Dr. Bombay, whose promise to his patients was to appear, truly, whenever you called on him because you needed him, and him alone, to cure what ailed you. It only took one visit. He didn't need to run any fancy tests. He was, in fact, an omniscient internal medicine specialist. A detective, if you will, and his intuition told him what was wrong with Samantha and how she could fix it. The ailments Sam came down with were pretty funny and the side effects of those illnesses were not scary. In fact they were funny. And, she was always cured in every show and she'd return back the next week, good as new. That's a lovely view of life. Life, illness, countered by Dr. Bombay, recovery, flourishing, joyful existence. Rinse. Repeat.

Three times this past week, I've said to friends and clients alike, "As Darrin Stephens' mother, Phyllis, would say to her husband, "Frank, I think I'm getting one of my sick headaches, we'd better go home," and I'm positive that all three times I have used this example, I've confused the heck out of whomever I was talking to. Yet, the phrase made perfect sense (to me) and was appropriate for the situation in which I was expressing complete disgust at circumstances beyond my control.

Control. That's another reason we loved Bewitched. Sam had no mood swings, breakdowns where she just couldn't take being a witch any longer, or hiding the fact from poor Gladys Kravitz any longer. Sam had control of her life and was always the victor when things got rough for Darrin in the world of McMann and Tate. That we never saw McMann or knew his first name was entirely unimportant. The catch phrases from Bewitched are as ingrained in my head and they pop out at some of the most humorous of times. "Oh my stars!" "Wellllll!" with the lilting voice, and Darrin's "Musn't twitch" dictate to Tabitha, his daughter. "Frank, I think I'm getting one of my sick headaches. We'd better go home" just made sense.

Larry Tate's ongoing threats to Darrin regarding his job being on the line each week to do the impossible always being countered with "You son of a gun, ya!" whenever Darrin/Durwood/Darwin came through...and those beautiful blue eyes of David White's and his trademark moustache would both gleam on screen. Yes, I know that cousin Serena was played by Pandora Spocks, the Elizabeth Montgomery humorous touch referring to Pandora's Box...and it was fun to see Elizabeth/Pandora pick up an electric guitar one episode and play and sing and be very un-Samantha-like.

Considering why I can retain memories of so many of the assorted guest stars, many of whom made regular appearances in entirely different character roles taught me not to hold fast to seeing any one person in a one-dimensional way. Just as Dick York and Dick Sargent could be acceptable to me, in equal fashion as Darrin, so too could Gladys Kravitz be portrayed equally well by Alice Pearce and Sandra Gould, two names I don't have to Google...they're just there stuck in my brain. Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur and the great Marion Lorne as Aunt Clara (pronounced 'ont Clahrah' the way we were always raised to pronounce 'aunt' until we met Ain't Bee on The Andy Griffith Show) all depends on where you heard it first. Same with a rowt 44 drink at Sonic for happy hour or root 44 drink at Sonic.

After considerable reflection one day on a recent long car drive, I finally reconciled why it was that I can remember the cast and probably the producer and director names on Bewitched was because my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Eargle, handed me back my math paper and made me erase the name I'd written at the top and said, "Young lady, you take that name off of there this minute and put the right name on there!" "And be quick about it." Well, I was only 8 years old and I didn't see what all the dad-gum fuss was about. That day and that time of the day for whatever reason, I felt like Samantha Stephens and that's the name I put on my paper before turning it in. Dawn Lee was busy. Samantha was taking the test. So what?

That was probably the first time in my memory that righteous indignation welled up inside me and I (almost) rebelled at removing Sam's name. It was written out, neatly, in nice cursive writing, where I'd make my two "S"'s look pretty darned good, thank you very much. But the rules were the rules. And Mrs. Eargle's rules were irrefutable, irreversible and downright irritating. Needless to say, she was not my favorite teacher, nor was I beloved to her as a pupil because of my tendency to even break one of her precious rules. I think my defiance turned inward and I refused to let go any knowledge of the program, its cast, crew, plots, guests, theme song, or variations in show openings over the years. I clung to my knowledge of that show to the point today that I can simply see the name Bernard Fox, and in a millisecond I'm back in 4th grade. So for that, I am most thankful for my memories of childhood, anchored if you will by the comforting boundaries of a delightful show of fiction, fantasy, and familiarity. I felt that way about many, many shows, of course, and found that I can still sing virtually any TV theme song on request. Again, fun at parties.

I remember teaching Physical Chemistry (PChem) lab during grad school days and, while conducting educational laboratory learning for my juniors and seniors in PChem lab, I'd be wearing my white lab coat with the Mr. Bill applique on the back. You remember Mr. Bill, right? "Oh noooooooooooo!" That was how we felt about PChem lab reports for which all of us would pull grueling all-nighters writing up those tedious lab reports that were 38 pages long (handwritten, on notebook paper, thank you very much). And, for long experiments that took 3 hours to complete, we had to do something to break the monotony. So, TV theme songs it was!!

We did them all. From the theme song to Gilligan's Island, to The Brady Bunch, The Real McCoys, on and on and on, we did all the greatest hits of our very young lives, with perfect recall. Our lab sounded good as we had the best time coping with the fact that you only got a one-hour credit for all those weeks of grueling labs and the reports that went with them. My supervisors didn't object (Mrs. Eargle still would not approve! Nor, by the way, would Mrs. Kim) and my students learned to put their best efforts into a crummy one-hour credit class because I told them that one day they'd realize that their bosses would pay great attention to how they treated the details of seemingly the most tedious of tasks while simultaneously accomplishing other work of derring-do with equal aplomb.

Sonny Bono wrote a song (yes, you knew I'd invoke my Sonny and Cher knowledge) "It's the Little Things," (It's the little things that mean a lot; it's what you are and not what you've got..." Call my name and I'll come running, look at me and the clouds start sunning, hold my hand and you've got me going..."). Bottom line: It's the little things that mean a lot.

Yes, all Samantha had to do was call the name of Dr. Bombay and he'd come running. He'd pop into the kitchen or living room in full costume or regalia fresh from a new award he was in the midst of receiving. And yet, he never resented being called upon. It was his duty to come when she'd called in need. If ever there was a lesson about friendship between people and how to treat others, it was being the unquestioned responder, when a friend or loved one is in trouble. Be a person of your word. Be a person of modesty. Do good without expecting accolades. Do good and be quiet about it. Be a person who gives back what they borrow. Do without expecting in return. And always, always, keep your sense of humor about you, because life is simply too short to live it otherwise.

At 89 years old, Bernard Fox had lived a good life, was an actor respected for far more than one role he played for a fixed time on TV. And yet, simply to read his name in any reference is guaranteed to return a smile to my face if there wasn't one there already. Thanks, Bernard Fox, for being inspirational. Actors play roles, but the best actors create lasting impressions and bring us great sources of fun to watch. Thanks Dr. Bombay, for always being there when Samantha called.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Project Unity and aloft Hotel Score Hat Trick in College Station’s Social Hot Spot

About a month ago, the Brazos Valley hosted one of the most amazing social events of the year, July 20th to be exact. So, why does it take this long to write a ‘little something’ about it? One reason. I wanted to actually monitor and measure the real impact of the ‘Live at Aloft Benefiting Project Unity’ event on the organization that it was designed to benefit—Project Unity.

This community is very philanthropic, and for every great cause that has an extravaganza come its way, many times you see the initial focus and attention and coverage on the organization is magnificent, and the event appears to be a magical night. But then… the minute the cameras are off, the organization is completely forgotten.

“Would this be the case with Project Unity?” was my initial hypothesis. Fast answer: Just the opposite. Today, Project Unity is on the minds and in the hearts of more people than the organization could have even hoped to attract. And it all started at Aloft, in College Station.

Thanks to generous-minded people, the Brazos Valley community is enriched daily, even when it overflows with good causes and multiple nonprofits. And, most of them have some special event in the course of a year’s time that is designed to help support the organization for the rest of the year, actually making the operational budget so the group can write grants and seek funding for the course of the year, ultimately growing and thriving and becoming self-sustaining. Well, that’s the goal at least. But, the cost of things keeps going up and sometimes funding sources that you could count on like clockwork….disappear.

Were you part of the swelling crowd of Brazos Valley residents who flowed in and out of the lobby of College Station’s Aloft Hotel Wednesday night, staying to meet and greet the community’s most ardent, active forces in behalf of children and parents, better known as Project Unity? If you were, you had a major league great time at the inaugural “Live @ Aloft” benefiting Project Unity. And, if you missed notice of the event, then you missed KBTX's Rusty Surette's on camera interview with Judy and Wienkie LeUnes. With respect to both of the adults there, it was Wienkie who had his own name on his own chiron graphic "Wienkie LeUnes." Rusty is a great community-minded add to the station, and he's fully Wienkie-approved.

Now if you weren’t among the hundreds of people there, you missed out on the hat trick––the excitement and buzz as the come-and-go flow saw Jeannie McGuire, Founder and President of Project Unity, teamed up with Judy LeUnes, Bryan-College Station’s most gifted volunteer and promotions expert and a little brown dog named Wienkie LeUnes, Project Unity’s Life Enrichment Coordinator—the triumvirate team that scored three goals in the game in one night. That’s one. More on the hat trick later.

The goal was to establish a signature “Friendraiser,” for the (formerly) low-key nonprofit, so people could learn what it was that Project Unity does, and why they should consider joining Club 365, to pledge and give $1 every day to accomplish tasks that everyone talks about doing, but only a few are willing to do. More on the organizational mission later. First, let’s talk about the party that founder Jeannie McGuire had always dreamed of in her heart but had no idea would happen!

Who Was There?

Better question: Who wasn’t there? Starting at 5:30 p.m., hundreds of people came in the first wave of the folks entering Aloft’s parking lot, where they were treated to a fabulous Sno-Cone, perfect for the Texas heat. Smiling as they came in, then Katie Watson, Project Unity’s newest development intern took your photo and welcomed you on behalf of the nonprofit.

Next, from Aloft, Dezi Nguyen greeted you and put her hospitality manage know-how to work immediately, making every single person in the room at home within an instant. Never before has any hotel representative made it her personal mission to introduce complete strangers to each other and get them in conversation. All new, fresh ideas in hosting events. Others should take notes.

Now before things got started, Judy LeUnes and her team arrived at Aloft to get everything all set and Aloft’s Joseph Kennedy had a private room set aside for…Wienkie!! Wienkie’s key card was handed to his mom, and when they entered, there was a place for his crate, a lovely water bowl and a little sack of treats saying “Welcome Wienkie!” a-l-o-f-t knows the V-I-Ps, just saying.

Project Unity Board Members and Staff were everywhere, and this is really the first time they have been together not in a giant staff meeting, and the joy in seeing Bobby Williamson (Spirit of Texas) and wife Gina, Mike Bowers (Property Offers Today), Danielle Fifer (BB&T), and more being recognized by the community members…the reason the large group was assembled

Better Business Bureau head honcho, Bill McGuire, was there (and even managed to snag his wife Jeannie for a dance to the classic and cool sounds of the Christopher Crow Band).

Linda Harvell took a turn in a photo with Wienkie. Brandy Burkhalter Norris, Sheree Boegner, Kathy Niemeyer Savell, Katy Pruitt, Hugh Stearns, then Ricky Gonzales took time out to come by, as did Jason Cornelius (Prosperity Bank), Brian Blake (TAMU) and more.

If You Don't Know About Texas A&M and Hockey...Here's Why You Should

In fact, one of the community’s more recent stellar personalities to be on the volunteer scene is Jason King, a former advertising and marketing executive who relocated to Texas A&M as the Assistant Coach of Texas A&M Ice Hockey Team. No, you read it right. Yes, those of us who love Texas A&M athletics don’t know everything going on around Aggieland! The town’s best-kept secret might just have to relinquish that title, as we are now blessed with another exciting and dynamic sport to cheer on our student athletes.

To get you started, learn important hockey phrases like “changing on the fly,” “a breakaway,” understand what a “shoulder check” is and what a “drop pass” is. Think you’re good on ice skates? Well, maybe you are and maybe you aren’t but if you can’t do a “power stop,” then stay on the porch with the little dogs until you can skate out with the big ones. When children in our community learn from the finest instructors and can be inspired by the special guests Coach King can bring in to talk with them, the sky is simply the limit. Project Unity and Aloft started that dialog, and that’s just one example of networking among friends here can be about.

Now, imagine the potential for inspiring young children from underserved families with new, exciting goals of athletic prowess, and we caught up with Danielle Fifer, who is a founding member of the Bubba Moore Memorial Group, who continues each and every year to make possible tremendous philanthropy in Bubba’s honor and memory. Nothing could have made him happier, I daresay than to see his family and his community flourishing so beautifully. He gave full-page ads in, and front-page covers on, TV Facts to local nonprofits in need, as though they were water flowing freely from a faucet, rather than $1,000 gifts in kind that they were, simply because of his heart the size of Texas.

Here’s How This Magnificent Night Came To Be:

LeUnes is Project Unity’s Director of Development & Communications, and is on a first-name basis with virtually everyone in town, plus their dogs and cats—not kidding, especially dogs. Think: Jefferson Award winner founds Wienerfest—Bra Art—et al., same Judy LeUnes. The dynamic do-gooder assembled all of her friends, a dynamic, diverse community of movers and shakers together—in support of Jeannie McGuire’s simple wish—that the nonprofit she founded 20 years ago might not be the community’s best-kept secret any longer. So, what is Project Unity? Just wait. A few introductions are in order first.

McGuire is a beautiful, gifted woman (inside and out) with a heart of gold, a soul full of love for children and parents, and an indefatigable spirit. Together, Jeannie and Ella McGruder have (quietly) been blazing a path across the Brazos Valley, building a team of gifted social workers and volunteers who help keep children safe. Importantly, they educate parents on how to keep families together, safe from abuse. And, they care for and about local HIV/Aids patients.

Through educational programs they offer, parents do not berate their children, they embrace step-children into blended families, and they transform families through building communications skills. Ella is a local “You’re the Tops” honoree, devoted wife, mother, church member and social worker. Her title has been Director of Programs at Project Unity, but she’s actually Jeannie’s spiritual twin, co-captain visionary, and has been from the get-go.

More on projects, but there’s a new team member to fall in love with.

There is this little brown dog, who’s become a social media and TV favorite: Wienkie LeUnes. Before you consider devaluing Wienkie’s role in this effort, and smiling, saying “Oh, isn’t that cute…” here’s a fact. Judy LeUnes’ advocacy for fur babies in the Brazos Valley is a given. But just as she took her beloved dog, “Hey, Dude! LeUnes” to school with her every day when she was a teacher, and he had his job there, Wienkie is following the path blazed by Hey, Dude! (Note: to the right is Sheree Boegner and Wienkie)

Naturally, Judy took her Chihuahua to work immediately at Project Unity s but know that this was not a for-pretend cutesy little gimmick. Far from it. Wienkie has earned his title “Life Enrichment Coordinator.” Wienkie sends out important updates and messages on Facebook, and he’s been on KBTX with his Mom and Aloft’s Joseph Kennedy. What was the amazing hat trick this triumvirate pulled off? Keep reading.

The Projects of Project Unity

In going back to the very beginning of Project Unity, Jeannie and Ella have had a phenomenal team to work with, including Michelle Bouldin and San Juanita Quintero who have been there in the 20-year time frame, and you would never know they were there unless you were the clients being served. They literally go around the Brazos Valley every day, looking for parents who need parenting skills among neighborhoods where the children need to come first in their parents’ lives.

Because grants that Project Unity receives are generous in nature but almost ridiculous in statistics reporting the division of work falls to the team on the ground and the folks on the computers in data entry try hard to keep up with the whirlwind of Michelle and San Juanita.

It’s not only amazing that they have been there as long as they have, Michelle commutes to and from Houston because she believes so much in Jeannie, Ella, and their impact they have on children. It’s really a family. In fact, when Michelle went into labor with one of her children, Jeannie and Ella were on each side of her holding her hand. #Family. We the public don’t know this, don’t see this, should know this, should see this. It’s simply phenomenal.

Diana Gaytan, Family Support Facilitator, is very excited about her work out of the Beck Street Location for Project Unity, Here’s the basic rundown on what it is that Project Unity Does.

Slowdown for the Low-down (with thanks to the late Maxine Messenger of the Houston Chronicle, for allowing me to borrow one of her signature phrases, at least this once)

It takes a tremendously committed Board of Directors to know all the employees, all of the initiatives, see the results of every grant that Jeannie is writing at her office or late, late into the evening at home. The grant requests never end and there’s a stark reality that this observer sees that may not be immediately clear to others.

But, Joseph Kennedy had thrown open the doors wide to welcome at Aloft because when Judy LeUnes says “There’s a need,” then Joseph joins in with “We’re in,” and that is how Judy rolls in the Brazos Valley, continuing to spread love, understanding, education and a little brown dog, who’s the hit of every event he attends.

With a focus on families, on parenting, on prevention of child abuse through educating parents, great programs that provide safe harbor and supervised visitation for parents to have safe access to their children for a few hours each week while they try and put their lives back together.

In the exciting and ever-expanding world of Project Unity—Jeannie McGuire’s dream that attained an all-new visibility, one she’d never dreamed of before, some 20 years later , that hat trick was accomplished by one woman, Judy LeUnes, who invited everyone she knew and loved in town over to Aloft Hotel for the party of the summer. And they all came.

Every single one of Judy’s volunteer groups that the Jefferson Award winner has ever championed, has ever garnered support for, in all of her community do-gooding over the years—showed up, stayed, shared, and stayed some more. It was the party that simply no one wanted to leave. And Aloft’s penultimate host with the most—Joseph Kennedy—smiled and said, “Stay as long as you want. It’s why we are here.”

How Can You Support Project Unity?

Two ways are possible to support this magnificent organization: a) with an initial gift in any denomination, whether a first-time gift, as many were given that night at the Aloft celebration, by joining Club 365, where you commit $1.00/day to the organization (and they’ll even set it up where you can bill your credit card, monthly or yearly, earning miles and points for your philanthropy). Check out and see what tremendous things they do with your dollars, and note where Project Unity was awarded the Daily Point of Light Award by President George H. W. Bush in 2001. Quietest nonprofit in town never had the chance to be bragged on for all it does before. Judy LeUnes is changing the “best kept secret in town” image….par excellence.

Or, you can donate items on their wish list (call them to find out what they need. Currently, Judy LeUnes would love a real conference table and chairs for their conference room as they are “making do” with something that someone’s brother’s cousin’s neighbor didn’t need. Just sayin’.

There’s a Community Partnership Board with over 65 people “from across housing, employment, faith-based entities, and basic needs” who come together to help people in our community.

Volunteers for the Safe Harbour Program are cherished and needed, as they are the nonrelative adults who supervise children whose noncustodial parents still want to see them and there needs to be a ‘safe harbour’ for the two to meet. Imagine you have a loved one with a parent who dearly loves their child or children, but it’s not good for them to be at the home of the other parent.

Did you know that there are 500 children and parents every year right here in our community who can see their parent under the very safest conditions and still give and receive love and affirmation to one another. Conditions are very specific and the volunteers are very safe as are all parties concerned. As a Project Unity representative to explain the specifics. One very neat thing is that BB&T adopted Safe Harbour as their “Lighthouse Project,” and not only was there financial support—BB&T employees gave up Saturday mornings for two-hour shifts to the tune of 220 hours of service.

Again, these community partners don’t do it for the acclaim or the brownie points with the corporate bosses. They do it because eyeball-to-eyeball, they care about children first in this community. That’s first-class philanthropy.

Another project is called TFTS—of course it is, but what is it? It is Texas Families Together and Safe. Parents of children 3-9 are in one group and those of children 9-17 are in another group. Project Unity teaches parents how to raise their children, how to deal with children’s acting out behavior, tantrums, refusal to adhere to house rules, and one of the biggest success stories is for parents with children by previous marriages to come together in a home and be shared-parent step-parents with everyone included ‘in.’

Rather than my family or your family it is ‘our family.’ Helping children do homework does not mean doing their algebra for them, as if that is even possible in this day and time, right? It does mean being aware of free tutoring, of public library resources and offerings, and other ways of helping your children to succeed, even changing their attitudes about school entirely. It’s just lives they change at Project Unity, every day of the week.

Now What Happened at the Party?

A brand new world opened up for Project Unity. The loving but somewhat shy leader/founder of the group met, like, a million people, and remembered all their names because she has that kind of mind. Plus when you walk in the door, there’s a little Xeroxed thank-you for coming message from Wienkie, signed with his paw print. If you wanted to make an initial donation coming in, there was an easy-to-find, no pressure place to do it. Or, some folks came at the invitation of board members and then were shuttled over to meet with Judy, Director of Development and Communications for it. Wienkie LeUnes, as cohost, was given VIP treatment upon his arrival earlier that day at Aloft. There was nothing cutesy about it.

Aloft’s Joseph Kennedy gave Wienkie his own guest room, with a special place for his little carrier/crate and he had a bowl of water waiting, as well as special little puppy treats in a bag, embossed with “Welcome, Wienkie!” He was there to do a job, but like every man who works a room with gusto, he needed a place to rest, refresh and prepare for reappearances.

He donned his formal attire, a little tuxedo, for the evening and frankly, once Judy brought him out into the crowd, the fight was on to be next in line to have pictures taken in front of an ingenious step-and-repeat banner with (you guessed it!) “Project Unity’s” name and logo on it. Have any idea how many hundreds of photos went viral across Facebook? Judy didn’t win the community’s Jefferson Award without skills, folks! Brilliant marketing.

Wienkie took rests between throngs of people fussing over him, and yet, he seemed entirely at bliss, unperturbed by the rock band playing upbeat, happy tunes with folks dancing close by. Then again he’s not an only dog. He comes from a current family of rescue pups that Arnold LeUnes and Judy LeUnes and roll call goes something like this: Lilly, B, Remy, Charlie, Wienkie, and Darth…..”Darthhhh….Darth Vader where are you?” You see, Darth Vader LeUnes is still learning a few rules of the road, but he’s so darned cute that his learning period for forgiveness continues to be extended. He may have to sweep up Project Unity headquarters one day but for now, he’s just well…Darth.

Money came in for Project Unity with gusto that night, but more importantly, each person there became and ambassador for spreading the word about the organization that does so much, with so little, and never has had the kind of advocate before that the whirlwind that is Judy does for the group. With Katie Watson and David Rogers (pictured here with friends) spent a few weeks interning with Judy, well that was like releasing even more inspiration into the universe. Inspiration is all it takes, combined with training, to create exciting transformations in lives every day.

Now, since that time, what has happened for Project Unity? Let’s take a look. Wienkie did a prompt video thank-you to all his friends, then a massive photo album was published online on Facebook. Follow them here and please click “Like” on the page as that will help them get grants as they continue to increase public awareness for @ProjectUnityBCS.

New members of Club 365 were signed up that night, with checks and credit card gifts completed online, boom! Wienkie encouraged folks to become Unity Partners and the next week, Project Unity went to Carver Elementary School in Bryan to recruit more families for parenting classes (Sanjuanita and Michelle, the dynamic duo on the move again). Then there was talk of a Downtown Bryan event to potentially benefit Project Unity. As that continues to develop, that’s one tremendous result of what great things people can do for you, once they know about you.

Deborah Cowman of The Brazos Valley Museum was kind enough to donate tickets to the “Wish Upon a Butterfly” release event for Project Unity families they serve “who would not ordinarily be able to afford to go to the museum” to attend. Imagine the looks of wonder on children’s faces when they see a museum, history, exciting exhibits, displays, and butterflies. It just causes them to dream and want to become researchers, explorers, adventurers, archeologists, or just to see beauty wherever it abounds. #Lifechanging through simple, thoughtful gifts, once people know who and where you are.

Days later, the College Station Men’s Wearhouse conducted a National Suit Drive for Project Unity and donated some prime men’s clothing to the group—when you don’t have a job, you don’t have a wardrobe for the job, and forget all those speeches about “Dress for the job you want.” With the blink of an eye, Men’s Wearhouse filled an important need. Hmm, wonder where they heard about it? Well, it’s “word of mouth” and sharing good news.

Then, speaking of a heart of gold and a spirit to match, Steve Ellis, currently a Los Angeles-based actor, but always a popular DJ and social scene king whenever he's back in town to visit, arrived to lend Project Unity his support. (Left: Steve Ellis and Dawn Lee Wakefield)

It was truly a night where friends saw friends they have not seen in ages, who all came together because of a dream a gifted and talented visionary had to serve children and families in Bryan-College Station. Jeannie is being honored by the Girl Scouts of Central Texas, on Thursday, Sept. 1 as a Woman of Distinction in the Brazos Valley, at the beautiful Miramont Country Club in Bryan. A most fitting tribute indeed as Jeannie is definitely a wonderful role model for young girls to grow up and do something really big! If they dream it, they can do it.

So, you see how children, ice hockey and Bubba’s dreams might intersect? That would be your second hat trick. Well, yes, technically, it’s actually “when one player scores three consecutive goals in a single game and then everyone in the crowd celebrates by throwing their hats onto the ice,” but in our example it’s where Project Unity brought all these dynamic community leaders together in the single arena of Joseph Kennedy’s domain, Aloft in College Station. Let’s walk things back a moment and reflect.

A Personal Story

Two months ago I was over in Project Unity’s headquarters offices, visiting with Judy LeUnes, Katie Watson, and David Rogers about a particular topic, and this wonderful woman enters the offices in nondescript fashion and she asks if it’s the right place to donate ‘some clothing’ in good condition for people to use who need to have professional attire. Jeannie and Ella were out of the office at meetings at the COG and Beck Street, respectively, but Judy immediately jumped up from her chair, motioned for Katie and David to follow and in five minutes’ time, they had one of the most extensive and fabulous group of women’s clothes that would make them feel “as good as” work colleagues who could afford to shop for nice things.

No one has money for clothes when you don’t have money to feed your children. So when people are quick to say, “Well, get a job and work,” they don’t understand that to get that job where a uniform is not issued, it takes this to make that happen. It was amazing to see philanthropy in action and motion. Wienkie supervised the process quietly from his perch as Life Enrichment Specialist, and I’d swear that little dog was smiling.

What Happened After The Event? Amazing Things

The team over at KAGS-TV, where Shannon Madlock keeps her eyes and ears open for all good things happening in town, did a story on the donation from Men’s Wearhouse, and now, people know one more thing to do with clothing where it can really help.

Then four days later, Judy and Wienkie had the Project Unity team over with the Brazos Valley Bombers, competing with other nonprofits for a share of the proceeds from the game that night. You could get in by “paying what you wanted” and put it in the organization’s jar as a gift. Wienkie was back on the job, in a maroon baseball jersey no less.

People, this is serious business, and Wienkie has a real job and he works harder than a lot of folks I’ve seen in much harder conditions. You try working a crowd in 100°F heat and not wimping out. Not this guy. He’s “all in,” and so is his mom. Check out their Facebook page to see that Wienkie had a sweet love letter drawn for him by a young fan.

But wait, there’s more! Judy, the pied piper of relevance, had the team downtown, becoming the newest member of the Downtown Bryan Association. Their Beck Street operations are, hello, downtown, and what wonderful ambassadors they are for the community. Then he sat in front of a banner advertising, which in full disclosure, I’m a member of, because everyone who knows me knows that I have no power in me to say ‘no’ to the dog, mine or anyone else’s.

Seriously, Jeannie hand-delivered my packet of information from Judy and even though I thought I knew what Project Unity was all about, clearly I had not a clue of the depth and breadth this organization makes its impact on. It’s all about goodness, love, sharing, caring, and taking care of children.

Finally, two weeks ago, the A&M student newspaper, The Battalion, caught wind of what Wienkie was up to and reporter Ana Sevilla conducted an interview with him. Result was clear as a bell today as Wienkie wound up in the back-to-school fall edition of The Battalion.

But that’s not all, last week, a dear person, Anna Perkinson, won two tickets to the A&M vs. UCLA home football opener at the BCS Chamber Business After Hours (yes, Judy is an Ambassador of the BCS Chamber, as if you had to ask!) and she donated the tickets to Project Unity! Bidding is on until August 31st, so it’s a tax deduction to ‘win’ this prize.

Late last Friday, the Bryan College Station Optimist Club made a major donation to Project Unity (presented at a Bombers game) for “school supplies for the students in the Snook ISD.” Is that not phenomenal?

But wait, there's more. Judy, wearing her Project Unity name tag and taking seriously the organization's new membership in the Downtown Bryan Association, got angry when she read The Eagle and learned of a downtown restaurant, Ms. Helen's Cafe, that had been burglarized five times and was facing closure, simply because the food had been stolen, too. Judy made about five phone calls, one of which was to Jason Cornelius at Prosperity Bank, and got things rolling. Understand that when Judy LeUnes is on a mission, you'd best get high and behind her or get run over because either way, you're going to be seeing great things happen.

Just this past Saturday, the badge-wearing Judy was downtown at Blackwater Draw Brewing Company, who supported donors for Ms. Helen's Cafe's owner in gift cards to local grocers including Readfield Meats, cash, checks for the cause. The owner of a local security company donated a system and installed it himself, in between his paying clients, to help assure safety and videography for all would-be perps to know better. No, it was not a direct Project Unity event, but LeUnes carries her name with her and identity for the group, everywhere she goes, 24/7. And she brings Wienkie right along with her. If you're not enthused, invigorated, and ready to join in Project Unity's great endeavors in this community, then just watch one of Wienkie's speeches and your cold, cold heart will melt and the ink will flow onto your checkbook. It's just the right thing to do.

Now, if corporations and local business owners see this excitement and buzz and understand the reality of what it costs to keep this tremendous organization going each year, then Judy and Wienkie can make time available in their schedules to receive your gifts. Check them out on the web and on Facebook. Call them and ask questions.

Or, do what I did, and the next time they offer you a chance to bring your pet to work at their offices, show up with your pup and learn what goes on there. There’s water and dog treats, and playmates for your pups. Mine even did the unthinkable and he was loved, not scolded. Unconditional love for children and fur babies alike.

Once you walk in their doors, you will be a willing and joyful ambassador of what happens in our community, thanks to Project Unity. Frankly, it’s one of the most exciting nonprofit organizations in town, and they’re just getting started in sharing the good news. If you’ve lost count of how many hat tricks happened as a result of July 20th’s “Live at Aloft” event for Project Unity, you really can’t count because the goodness that will continue to flow from building friends first, before asking for funds, goes a long, long way to cultivating long-term support.

All gifts are welcome, from $10 to $1,000, to whatever you can pledge and give. Statewide funding agencies see both kinds of numbers as valuable in reviewing the grant proposals that Jeannie has the patience and foresight to complete. Yes, one month after the inaugural event, Project Unity is alive and thriving here, and Wienkie will thank you personally, once he’s awakened from his well-deserved nap, working hard as he has during the (pardon me) dog days of summer. Special thanks to Katie Watson for all the photos shared here so generously.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

California Musicians Fill Santa Monica’s McCabe’s Guitars (Sunday, 7/31) Raising Money for Double Lung Transplant for Owen Shelly (Stepson of Classic Rock Legend Chad Stuart)

July 28, 2016 marked the 63rd day that Owen Shelly, of Wood River Valley, Idaho, had been in ICU, in a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, awaiting this day—one in which he’d receive a double lung transplant to save his life. All of his life, Owen had been fighting pulmonary hypertension, specifically a disease called “Pulmonary Capillary Hemangiomatosis (PCH), which had already claimed the life of his younger brother, Tyler, as well as his grandmother. In addition, doctors have diagnosed Owen with heart failure, so the lung transplant is meant as the hopeful solution to resolve both conditions.

Prior to being sidelined him from his career in April this year, Owen had worked at Idaho’s State Department of Health and Welfare, as a service coordinator for the infant/toddler program, according to his biography listed on a donation web site established by his friends at New Covenant Church, in Twin Falls, Idaho, where he, his wife Lindsey, live with their three young children: Tiler (6), Lionel (4), and Lucy (2).

A goal of $100,000 was set as what was considered as the minimum reasonable funds required for Owen’s family to relocate for one year while trying to provide a normal life for a family with three young children. As the donation web site notes, there are so many things that insurance doesn’t cover, including “relocation expenses, insurance premiums, transplant aftercare, and medications.”

Does that goal for a fund-raiser seem daunting? It certainly is, for all of us as we try to imagine how in the world we could ever try and raise that money while undergoing healthcare challenges. Enter the angels, bringing music as their gift to help Owen’s fund grow.

Owen is the stepson of Chad Stuart, of classic rock music icons Chad & Jeremy, known for songs such as “A Summer Song,” “Yesterday’s Gone,” “Willow Weep for Me,” and “Distant Shores”—the soundtrack of the 60s for so many of us among the Baby Boomers. Because of the respect that the duo has garnered through the years, many people responded to the call when Stuart’s friend, Keith Putney.

Putney produces concert tours and has everyone’s contact info on his phone at the touch of a button. One of the first calls made was to Espie and Bob Riskin, owners of McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. Anyone who loves guitars has been to this store more times than they’re willing to admit, so people know the way there for certain. (Want to know more about McCabe’s? Check out this month’s Acoustic Guitar Magazine and catch up).

One of the most special things about a community of talented, caring professional musicians is that whenever they are called on to share their time and talents for an important cause, they don’t hesitate before saying “Count me in!” Sunday, July 31, marks the date for a very special fund-raiser in Santa Monica, CA. So, as found on Chad & Jeremy’s Facebook page, what happens starting at 8:00 p.m. at McCabe’s is a giant collective of talent, music, and love coming together to help.

Just some of the artists who are donating their time to help raise money for Owen Shelly and his family to accomplish the coming year of healing and thriving include: Coco Dolenz, Rosemary Butler, John Wicks and the Records, Billy J. Kramer, John Claude Gummoe of the Cascades, and Andrew Sandoval, plus Terry Sylvester, with more music from other talents you’ll know and love.

Let’s start with magic vocals of Coco Dolenz and Rosemary Butler.

Coco is currently a featured guest on tour with The Monkees’ Tour crossing the United States and into Australia and New Zealand before year’s end. Yes, she’s related to Micky, his sister in fact, but she has her own identity thank you very much. Coco is a tremendous vocalist whose range is powerful and handles multiple genres with ease. Further creative artist, an intellectual with a tremendous sense of humor, and an ordained minister with a long history of helping people.
Rosemary Butler is a greatly respected touring and recording vocalist, who has sung for Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne to name a few artists.

John Wicks and The Records will be bringing their talents to the McCabe’s scene. Keith Putney keeps them busy on tour and they have an active recording career as well. You may know The Records for “Starry Eyes” or “Teenarama” and they opened for The Cars, Robert Palmer, Elvis Costello and more.

These performers with great hearts have much in common. For example, Rosemary and John were both part of the California Saga fundraiser at the El Rey Theatre in June; and both Rosemary and Coco will be headlining their own shows at the hottest club in Westlake Village, Bogie’s, next month (Coco on Aug. 7, Rosemary on Aug 27).

Billy J. Kramer is celebrating 50 years as a performer. He’s best known for “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” “I’ll Keep You Satisfied,” “From a Window,” and “I Call Your Name.” The Liverpool native shared a manager, Brian Epstein, with The Beatles and they also shared many successful tours together.

Jean Claude Gummoe (left) wrote the ultra-popular “Rhythm of the Rain,” a major hit with his group The Cascades and it is said that it was the “third-largest selling record in the world in 1963.”

Terry Sylvester (below) is best known as a member of The Hollies and he continues to tour actively in both the United States and England, bringing his guitar and witty banter to audiences.

And that’s not all. More performers are coming in support of Owen Shelly in respect for his brave fight against pulmonary hypertension.

If you’re going: McCabe’s Guitar Shop 3101 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405

Tickets: $30 each available here

Parking tips for patrons here

Whether or not you can attend Sunday’s concert in person, please consider making a gift in any amount to support this husband, father, and social worker who just wants to get back to full strength and return to helping children and parents at the Idaho State Department of Health and Welfare. Donate here and help them make their goal of $100,000 as quickly as possible. Thanks again to McCabe’s Guitar Shop for hosting this very special evening and to all the performers and producer Keith Putney for bringing everyone together. Start the music off with your gift and begin your week on a very special note.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Steve Ellis, former College Station actor, lands spot in two Honda Summer Clearance commercials

Former College Station resident, Steve Ellis (far right), is included in two national Honda TV Commerical features for Honda Fit and Honda CR-V models, sings Go-Go's song, "Head over Heels."(Photo credit: Screen grab from YouTube)

This morning checking the Facebook News Feed, there's an "oh, by the way" mention of a new commercial spot for Steve Ellis, as though these things happen everyday. de rigeur for a Monday. Except it's not. I've written about Honda commercials before, because their ad agency is brilliant at using beloved music (often 30+ years old) to evoke great music memories to promote feelings of love for a car. You associate the music you love with the Honda they love, and presto, it's a match made in Heaven, right? It worked well enough in a series of holiday-timed Happy Honda Days spots with the music and face of Michael Bolton. Often with national television commercials, they can be gateways for more opportunities in an acting career that many just dream about.

Many in College Station and Bryan know Steve Ellis--mostly by voice, whether it was from Candy 95 where he did guest stints on the radio whenever he was back in town. Or, if you're in the younger crowd, you'll know Ellis' voice--live from the DJ booth in the many Northgate clubs where he has a standing invitation to guest, whenever he's back. But today, there's two national commercials that include Steve singing "Head over Heels" (a favorite Go-Go's song) amidst stardust and a dream sequence as Honda lovers focus on their 2016 Honda Fit and 2016 Honda CR-V in the Honda Summer Clearance Event. And yet, a very modest Steve Ellis said 'nothing' to anyone, about this national commercial debut as recently as two weeks ago, when he was back in Bryan-College Station to join family and friends.

When Steve Ellis decided to pursue acting as his primary career goal, before he set off for Los Angeles, he took the important first step of seeking the wisdom and counsel of Nikki Pederson, talent agency owner and queen of honest opinions. He went through Nikki's program and then, with her blessing, relocated to Southern California, with opportunities to participate in further workshops run by trusted coaches. Steve also had solid access to multiple talent agents, several of whom were interested, and some who led Steve to auditioning opportunities. Ellis did stand-up comedy (that he wrote) in the usual LA clubs, mostly just to entertain others, as he studied the more serious aspects of script writing. He kept night-owl hours, while honing his craft in workshops but he never gave up. He's already had his first writer's showcase in California as well. That's another secret to success: diversity. Be everything they need to the business, for the business, to help further your opportunities.

It's fun to turn on the TV and see young people whom you've had the privilege of watching since they were 5 years old grow up to be actors on national TV. But, the reality of making it in the California entertainment industry is that no matter how talented you are, breaks don't always come your way. It's the difference between sticking with it and working even harder, even when breaks are flowing others' way, it seems. It's the not giving up part that takes the journey from endless to endlessly joyful (e.g., dessert with friends, right).

That's the part of the journey that most don't see--the day after day that you get dressed, appear early and prepared, with head shots and resumes in hand, and wait for hours for a five-minute window to show what you've got to a group of people who scrutinize people all day long. They don't know the exhilaration of a callback, only to have that hope dashed after a second (or third) table reading and then find out that you have to "wait some more." Work hard, show up, and stay up...focusing on the positive is another key ingredient that determines whether or not you can actually make it. And, respect the talents of others who are working beside you to catch breaks for their dreams to come true as well.

Seven happy actors are featured in this group photo from "Honda Summer Clearance Days" commercials--any one of them could be the next big commercial find (Flo from Progressive, Mayhem from Allstate, Jake from State Farm, J.K. Simmons from "We are Farmers" to "Whiplash"), so stay tuned. Click here to watch the video (Screen grab from YouTube)

What's unique about Steve, to those of us who know him well, is that he acts, he can sing, his oratory and flexibility with voices is singularly special. Plus, he's got a natural sense of humor that makes him a pleasure to be around. He's a Southern gentleman to boot, but with encouragement, he can shift on a dime--going from Optimus Prime to a Hanna-Barbera or Disney character--even channeling Rick Ross if he has to. So, you never know what roles will call him toward one path or the other. He has wisely used his spare time working at his craft, and he's been reading for several commercial spots that require his multiple voice talents, competing with professional voice artists who have been at their craft for over 40 years.

He's about to crack through that market very soon, many believe. He can do any voice, from Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), to movie trailers, magically nailing "In a World..." by the late Don LaFontaine. So a simple conversation will often have you in stitches when he effortlessly shifts between voices. He's equally talented behind the microphone as in front of a camera, which should serve him well in days to come.

Congratulations to Steve Ellis and the other actors and singers featured in this commercial. It's time to celebrate, Happy Honda Days to all this summer. Watch Steve's (and Honda's) second commercial below.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Restless Heart Delivers Transcendent Memories for Fourth of July in Bryan, Texas

The “night Restless Heart came to town” is a phrase that will be on the lips of so many residents of the Brazos Valley for weeks to come, thanks to their appearance at the Lakeside Icehouse in Bryan on Saturday, July 2. Barry Ivins and his team have long been lauded for bringing the best in Brazos Valley live music to the scenic vista. The rustic picnic tables and plastic chairs came complete with a down-home, back porch feeling, but this time he served up an especially grand surprise to start off the Fourth of July weekend. Plus, area lakeside campers (independently) threw in a few major fireworks of their own to light up the night.

The Wes Nickson Band opened the show promptly at 8:30 p.m. (don’t you love it when entertainment begins, as advertised, on time?). There were plenty of food and drink stations around because the Texas evening weather promised plenty of heat, and more of the same all night long. But once the sun set over the lake, a gentle breeze took hold in the air and Wes’ clear, strong vocals showed that he and his band were a most professional opening act destined to become headliners, probably faster than they even currently realize. The audience listened appreciatively to the band that calls New Braunfels home. RDM Audio’s James Haislet had perfect sound settings for everyone to truly enjoy the evening.

After a superfast band changeover (everything going right on a Saturday night), Restless Heart took the stage. Their tour manager had been working in the Texas heat to make sure everything was absolutely perfect and it was. What John Dittrich, Greg Jennings, Paul Gregg, Dave Innis, and Larry Stewart brought to the table last night was the history of 25 chart hits, six of which were consecutive #1 songs, five RIAA Gold albums, multiple Grammy nominations, CMA nominations and being named Top Vocal Group by the Academy of Country Music.

Now, forget the statistics and just consider that from the time the band kicked off the first song, couples began moving right on to the dance floor and didn’t leave the entire time. True to Bryan-College Station style, you saw fathers dancing with young daughters, some little cherubs scooting across the dance floor before the grownups all got out there to mess things up for them, and then you had solid gold couples who’d been married 40+ years doing some serious “boot scooting” entirely oblivious to the fact that the place was packed with every table (reserved and otherwise) filled.

With 33 years’ worth of playing and recording, these gentlemen performed with such pleasant synchronicity that you truly believed they regarded one another as highly offstage as they do onstage, another true element of value.

Larry Stewart is a lead vocalist who plays a mean acoustic guitar and he is the primary motivator to get the audience to sing along (everyone knew all the words and he knew they wanted to sing, so he encouraged it) and when to dance and when to take time out to sing a beloved RH tune, “Long Lost Friend,” just for one couple celebrating a wedding anniversary (the dance floor cleared for them) to have a special moment that night. That’s show business and that’s exactly what they delivered, precious memories all night long.

Dave Innis plays tremendous keyboards and sings; seems the only thing he can’t do, per Larry, is dance. But he can keep his real job, and he is a great songwriter, as actually are all the band members.

Paul Gregg is a bass-playing fool, that is he makes it look so easy but he’s fooling—he’s just that good that he makes it look easy, but he’s a machine. And, he sings as well, and the harmonies these players have are really exceptional and tight, exactly what you’d expect after 30+ years of music.

Greg Jennings is an old soul in a band of gently aging young men; his favorite song is “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” but when he plays lead guitar and sings, you’d pay to hear him sing anything he chose to. He’s played with Vince Gill’s band before so he is right at home with Restless Heart.

Singing drummers are definitely a fan favorite, and John Dittrich fills the bill in both cases. Not only is he proficient on his beloved Pearl drums with preferred Pro-Mark sticks, he sings lead on several songs, including “When She Cries."

This is the best thing about Restless Heart—everyone has a specialty and chance to be showcased on lead, sans egos, just great camaraderie and good times and better music for all to enjoy. They performed virtually every hit you’d want to hear, “When She Cries,” “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” “That Rock Won’t Roll,” “Fast Movin’ Train,” “You Can Depend on Me,” and more.

Two very special segments of the concert included a medley of greatest hits for all the headline artists who’d included Restless Heart as their opening act over the years when they were first breaking onto the scene. The brilliant montage of memories reminded you that even though they looked extremely young, they were seasoned recording and touring veterans who simply didn’t look weary for the wear, not one bit.

Then, the highlight of the evening was the performance of “Wichita Lineman,” and they dedicated the brilliant Jimmy Webb composition to Glen Campbell, who first made the song famous (see video).

There was no need for autotune, filters, sweetners or any other artificial secret sauce at the sound board; the voices of Restless Heart filled the air and the dancers filled every available space on the wood-constructed dance floor. Buy the single of “Wichita Lineman” online as you’re going to want to keep this one.

And as occasional fireworks were seen in the sky behind the lake, all was right with the world, a perfect way to begin the Independence Day holiday weekend in the Brazos Valley.

Check their tour schedule to see that they’re en route next to Prince Edward Island, then to Utah, then to Missouri, Mississippi, and back to east Texas and Colorado (and that’s just July). Look for them to return close by, in Caldwell, on September 24 at the Burleson County Fair, among other venues. Special thanks to Lakeside Icehouse in Bryan for bringing Restless Heart here.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Van Wilks Birthday bash 2016 highlights perfect Austin night at Threadgill's

A perfect Blue Moon night in the heart of the Live Music Capitol of the World set the stage for the Van Wilks birthday bash at Threadgill's World Headquarters on May 21. With a clear view of Mars, Van celebrated another trip around the sun, Austin blues style, making it all one grand party night. Taking the stage, Wilks commanded the crowd’s instant attention, doing so with southern charm and major skills.

As the audience stood and swayed, or remained in place and kept time nodding their heads up and down, others held hands with their soulmates and remembered the first times they’d loved live music Austin-style. Still other longtime Van fans danced (and danced) like no one was watching, but it was all good as everyone has their own way of appreciating the live concert experience.

Others just smiled back at those next to them, drinking in every moment of the music, in genteel revelry among friends. The diverse crowd had one thing in common above all else—they acknowledged that “their Van” was as grand as always, perhaps better than ever, not just another of his nights to shine. It was, after all, his birthday and for most, it wasn’t their first Birthday Bash to attend either.

Wilks doesn’t have to be billed as Austin’s Favorite Guitarist, because everyone already knows he is, for both electric and acoustic guitars. Whether his distinction by the Austin Chronicle as a member of their Texas Music Hall of Fame, or being voted for yet another new title, Van Wilks is straightforward all about the music. It’s his job and he sets the world on fire every time he goes to work. He keeps his hat on his head and his mind on the music, another aspect of his demeanor as admirable as his sheer talent.

In the photo above here, see how many of these multitalented musicians, poets, legends and kings of Texas this 'n' that you can name. True Texans can name 'em all. True music lovers can name them all. If you score about 75% of them, then you really love your music. If less than 75%, you really need to get out more and here more live music. Austin is calling you. Can't you just hear the whistle of the train a-blowin'?

What’s especially cool is that live music fans, old and new, find Van’s guitar playing as eloquent as the way he tells stories in his songs, complete with a perfect voice for a storyteller. It didn’t matter last night whether you could name every song from his rich nine-CD catalog (and sing along) or whether it was a first time for some to hear Van playing live, birthday enthusiasts fully appreciated the essence of what it meant to be schooled in the blues.

It’s most fitting that Van was on the cover of April’s “Buddy Magazine”; a few guests found a spare copy or two in Threadgill’s newspaper display for patrons. Legends flow in and among the bands and gigs and players that were (and are) part of Van's rich history to date. Accolades don't overwhelm him as he cares only about the music. Wilks and has held the title of “Best Blues-Rock Band” four consecutive years in Austin, as noted by the Austin Chronicle Music Poll, it’s always about playing with the best musicians who love the genre as much as he does, including Charlie Fountain on drums and Dave Ray on bass. Together they’re just perfect. Pictured below is the lovely Lisa North, music and PR specialist, who keeps folks in the know about many fine Austin-based artists.

Wilks opened with “Strange Girl” from his ninth and best, latest CD, “21st Century Blues,” a must-have album, if you don’t have it already. “Golddigger” was another crowd favorite that kept the fans at total attention. At the end of the song, Van said, “You know it’s my birthday, you don’t have to be quiet here,” and then the crowd let out an appreciative roar into the Austin night.

Phone videos were launched, selfies to prove that people had actually been there were flying, and the crowd flowed gently around between old friends, new friends, and the generously placed bar areas. The perfect Austin evening weather was another present to Van, as earlier in the day, central and east Texas had high winds, hail, and ridiculously wild weather mid-afternoon. But it was clear 21st century skies, full moon, and Travis County’s finest music backyard in time for the party. Standards, originals, covers and more of the best music played on to a crowd that was filled with people who really didn't want it to end.

Speaking of the CD “21st Century Blues,” you can catch San Antonio native and Grammy winner/songwriter Christopher Cross and Austin treasure Malford Milligan as guests on the track, “She Makes Me Crazy,” (written by Cross). Another distinctive track on “21st Century Blues” is “Drive By Lover,” co-written by Van and Billy F. Gibbons, member of a little Texas band called ZZ Top. Yes, it’s the same Mr. Gibbons who so respects Van Wilks that, years ago, he gifted with a custom guitar with Van’s name logo engraved in the guitar neck. Try and follow that gift! You can’t.

Typical of a man who is at the top of his game, Van also generously embraced newer talent to Austin's scene, The Cuckoos, who opened for their good friend's birthday. First listen to the hauntingly good vocalist, true that you could think Jim Morrison was alive and well in Kenneth Frost. The Brothers North excelled also on original music, highlighted by funky bassist Devin North and scary-good guitarist Dave North, and rounded out with a solid Aaron Primeaux on drums.

The Cuckoos are catching fire quickly in Austin’s live music scene and with good reason. Their original music also shows great promise, and their version of “When Doves Cry” did Prince proud last night as well. Frost introduced the song succinctly with, “Y’all get ready for this!” Solid crowd favorites, start paying attention now so you can say later that “you knew them when.” They’re in the recording studio now.

As a special guest, Tommy Shannon came on stage celebrate Van's birthday with bass so smokin' hot that --together with Van's guitar genius made for, well, Double Trouble on “Keep Your Bird In the Cage and Your Monkey on a Chain,” another Wilks’ live favorite. Tommy and Van go way back, to say the least. Last night Van talked of a time that they played together in an early band. Van said, “Tommy and I toured all over the place, even in some silly places like ice skating rinks or hockey arenas, pretty fun days, and then he joined another band….”

Shannon may have played with Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Rick Derringer, for example, but when he played last night with Van, you felt like you were back in high school. Their music made you feel young again, possibly like the first time you heard these songs. These days you can catch The Tommy Shannon Blues Band most Wednesdays at Antone’s Night Club.

Van has been playing popular acoustic sets pre-show at Austin’s One World Theatre, so just don’t forget about his skills as an acoustic player, too. In the next month you’ll find him in downtown Houston, downtown Shiner, back in Austin, and on the boardwalk at Kemah. Check his web site for gig info. Treat yourself to a copy of 21st Century Blues and if you order from his web site, he’ll autograph before his team sends them out.

When Van has a birthday, we all get to celebrate. Mark your calendars for next year because if you miss it, you really will get the blues.

Crowds will show up anytime Van is there but the b-day bash was special. Amateur video captured fun of those who danced "like no one was watching" among hundreds just happy to be part of the groove. Happy birthday Van, & thanks for the music.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fans of ‘The Good Wife’ Get Exciting News: Spinoff Announced for CBS All Access

Viewers only thought they said "Farewell forever" to certain characters from "The Good Wife." A spinoff series is slated with Christine Baranski and Cush Jumbo for Spring 2017 for CBS All Access channel. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Just ten days after CBS Sunday night prime time fans said goodbye to Alicia and Peter Florrick, and all of their friends and slightly wacky family members, most television viewers might have thought that was the last word on the characters created by the inventive minds of Robert and Michelle King. But it wasn’t. Too many great stories to tell and too talented an ensemble cast to really let that be the last word on the subject. On May 18, Michael Ausiello of TV Line reported that CBS announced the Spring 2017 launch of an official “Good Wife” spinoff.

So far the unnamed show will star Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart) and Cush Jumbo (Lucca Quinn). Set to launch in Spring 2017, the timeframe for the show picks up one year after the “last slap” Diane applied to Alicia. However, don’t look for it on prime time quite yet. You’ll be able to watch it on CBS All Access, which is the most brilliant strategic move the network can use to get viewers to pay $5.99 per month for more content. Surely, the show will build viewership for a while and then make the move back to prime time on Sunday nights.

The talented and versatile Christine Baranski portrayed the self-assured and creative Diane Lockhart so well that her return will be welcome on whatever frequency CBS chooses to launch the show. Fans will be left to guess what happened in the year following the parent series’ finale but that should make for great follow-up stories for the next year.

Cush Jumbo played attorney Lucca Quinn and easily assumed the role of Alicia’s first true best friend that she’d had in, conceivably, the entire life of the show. Working in the trenches of intake with Alicia, Lucca offered wise counsel, thorough research, and true caring for the well-being of her friend. Last October, Chris Harnick of “E News” went so far as to name Ms. Jumbo “the fan who became its breakout star.”

There was a major talent team in place for all seven seasons of “The Good Wife,” and “series creators Michelle and Robert King” chose Phil Alden Robinson to be the series’ first named Executive Producer. It will be fun to speculate if viewers will see others from the law firm formerly known as Lockhart et al. (too many variations of the partner names to list) will appear, whether as guests or regular characters, but it’s probably a safe bet that they will.

Nice to see there’s new life breathed into the “Good Wife” and it’s even better that CBS didn’t make viewers wait more than 10 days before issuing encouraging news. One more thing the network did was the brilliant move to give faithful viewers the opportunity to watch a successful launch of Michael Weatherly’s new show, “Bull,” based on the real-life jury selection practice of now-famous psychologist and motivational expert, Dr. Phil McGraw.

The network cradled “Bull” in the rocking chair between “NCIS” and “NCIS: New Orleans,” really showing Weatherly, and his fans, all the love (thank you Les Moonves, but watch how they'll change his time slot after 6 weeks and I predict it will be to Thursday nights to see how it 'really' does wihtout the Bellisario-McGill-Glasberg-Harmon-born cushion). Now, it’s a safe bet that once the show is on a safe trajectory, they’ll move it to another night, much as they do with “The Big Bang Theory” as the eternal power lead-in, but not at first. That’s really sort of brilliant, don’t you think? Network programming strategy is not for beginners. Stay tuned for more information as it develops.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Seven years is a long time in TV life. Still, "The Good Wife" is gone too soon. (Jeff Neumann, Courtesy of CBS, used with permission.)

If you’ve been one of the millions who, for seven seasons now, have followed along the story of Alicia Florrick, mother, attorney and “good wife,” then on May 8, you could finally close the covers on the virtual book you were reading, put it on the table next to your chair, and perhaps replenish your wine glass. Her story was completely wrapped up, sort of, into a grand finale. You knew what she’d been through and you saw where she was headed.

Or, you could have thrown the empty wine glass straight into the fireplace, smashing it into shards and shreds representative of the completed puzzle that no longer had any missing pieces. With this ending of “The Good Wife,” CBS has just had sledgehammer taken and a gaping hole knocked into the anchor wall of their Sunday night programming.

The devastating emptiness on Sunday night wasn’t a shock; it was programmatic and anticipated. And, so it began as it ended, “The Good Wife”—tonight, it all came to a close with a slap, one that brought tears as a growth cycle in life came ‘round to complete itself. The first slap that brought the show to life was when Alicia slapped Peter, right after having stood by his side when he was convicted the first time.

And a lot of things happened in the past seven seasons. The growth of law firms, the growth of attorneys’ careers, and life, love, death, and law all were bent, broken, twisted, faded, and rediscovered all flowed and ebbed for 165 episodes.

Immediately after the end of tonight’s finale, a quick trip over to the CBS show web site provided a great video from Michelle and Robert King, who offered their insider perspective on tonight’s finale. “We started with this feeling that it should begin with a slap and end with a slap.”

And it did, reflecting “the transition of the character of accountability and power attained” by Alicia Florrick over seven years of this show. Juliana Margulies is the only actress who could have brought Alicia to life properly. Similarly, Christine Baranski is a brilliant character actress who is concurrently portraying Dr. Leonard Hofstadter’s mother, on another CBS show, “The Big Bang Theory,” but that’s just a measure of her versatility. She can do anything. You could say similar things about each of the major character actors who ensured the storytelling would truly come to life. Matt Czuchry was able to remind you there was character life in Cary Agos with far greater depth than Logan Huntzberger, a character he is reprising after much fan demand over at the long-awaited "Gilmore Girls" reboot.

But, back to Alicia. “The victim becomes the victimizer,” offered the Kings. Alicia starts out as the insecure, undetected victim of her husband’s larger-than-life scandal. Privacy dies, peace of mind flies out the window, and her husband is off to jail. She gets to go to try and find a job. She does, and she finds Will Gardner.

Then the middle happened. So, final question posed and answered: “What is the next stage for Alicia’s life?” The Kings offered that Alicia was definitely not going back to support Peter; she was searching for Jason as she was strolling up (and back down) the hallway, encouraged by the virtual memory of Will Gardner to go on and move forward for the sake of her happiness.

The Kings explained, “If Peter had gone to prison, Alicia would have been tied to him forever, and to save her daughter…Alicia would be considered collateral damage staying with Peter, and so, too, would Grace be considered the same (Zach's character was brushed off in a weird way last week, out of sight, out of mind). So, Alicia’s decision came down to saving Grace, literally. Diane Lockhart had to be the collateral damage this time. Curt McVey (Gary Cole) was key to the prosecution and the defense, but the information that came out on the witness stand destroyed the relationship between Curt and Diane, and then between Diane and Alicia, irreparably. Alicia didn’t hold the knife, but she was the one who instructed Lucca to cross-examine him and essentially destroy his credibility. Hence, the genesis of the final slap.

Who does Alicia end up with? They said, "It’s clear she is going after Jason. We wanted it to be a little ambiguous. Three things in her life, Peter (weighted down with concerns, she's the good girl who likes to take care of others), Jason (representing weightlessness, giving her property on Mars. Not a person to take things seriously), and Will Gardner (we were fortunate to get Josh Charles back). He’s fantasy, the love that got away." That's their story and it's appears to this writer that they'd written the end of the story just about as quickly as they'd dreamed up the beginning, likely over a bottle of wine, since at least one bottle would make an appearance per episode.

The Kings offered that lessons Alicia learned included: “…Zealously represent your client, despite what the truth is…As Alicia has changed, she’s gained great strength, great confidence, done wonderful things for her clients and her family.” One curious observation: where were Jackie Florrick (Mary Beth Peil) and Veronica Loy (Stockard Channing) in the courtroom audience? Two of the most versatile character actresses in the show portfolio were missing; oh well, it was just a one-hour finale, but still you'd think they'd be there with lines or furrowed brows. They'd shown up before, for far less good reason.

The master storytellers offered sincere and repeated thanks to the fans and then they thanked CBS, in the same sentence, "because they both allowed us to tell a complicated story."

As the final cameras position themselves for the very end of the very end, Alicia Florrick finds herself walking down a kitchen hallway toward her future. Josh Charles’s character, Will Gardner, reappearing tonight was poignant, relevant, and not the least bit cloying. It was, in fact, quite sweet and fit right into what Robert King described as the trinity of people in Alicia’s life. It was actually a triune-pronged fire of decisions she had to walk through between Peter, Will, and Jason in her growth phase, was it not?

As Michelle said, “We hope that you can feel for that ending, that ending that is emotional and still embraces what Alicia’s future will be. I hope you have had even half as much fun as we’ve had.” We have.

And now what’s ahead for next year? Tea Leoni’s “Madam Secretary” may have to be retitled, “Madam Vice President,” and Sherlock Holmes will have to deal with the dull, deceptive relatives. Aw, who cares? “The Good Wife” is over, and the new brainchild from the Kings, “Brain Dead,” certainly doesn’t promise to fill that "Good Wife" gap. It's new, it's supposed to be a "comic thriller." That notwithstanding, we’ll give it the old CBS try, just for good measure.

Thanks to Robert and Michelle King for great writing, colorful characters, sassy dialogue and thanks to Mark Saks for casting, which was literally superb. Every character was brought to life by a brilliant contingent of actors. And how about our running series of “interesting” judges? “In my opinion,” they were the most fun of every episode. That, and the number of times Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox) and Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker) were the characters you loved to detest added another layer of incredulity weaving in and out of the focused and directed law firm with the ever-changing name.

It’s been a solid run for all 156 episodes, and the creators were the ones to pull the plug rather than the network, so there’s that. We’ll all just be sitting here waiting for 1,000 days until you write us a reunion episode, and then we’ll call it even. Sound fair? The series had, at one time, at least nine executive producers: co-creators Michelle and Robert King, Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott (2009–2012), David W. Zuker, Brooke Kennedy and Ted Humphrey, along with Leonard Dick, Keith Eisner, for over 100 episodes each.

Even actor Julianna Margulies became a producer in 2011, and was credited for 98 episodes. Yet, there are 20 more people who served as producers in some abbreviated, but relevant capacity. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of people worked to make these seven seasons happen. Then, there’s the sterling group of actors who took characters on paper and brought them to life, as only they could. Many will be forever tagged with their character’s name when someone recognizes them in public, for a while anyway.

So, whether you’re refilling your wine glass or sweeping up glass shards from the fireplace, the end is the end is the end. Go to "The Good Wife" web site on and hear from the Kings for yourself. You'll be glad you did. To borrow a line from Edward R. Murrow, “Good night, and good luck, ‘Good Wife’ and thanks so much, Robert and Michelle King.” It’s been a grand ride.