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.