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Counterfeit Madison: Musician/Chef/Teacher

Stepping into Brothers Drake Meadery on a busy Friday is a unique experience for those more conditioned to the usual beer halls of Columbus. For one, it’s almost annoyingly clean and polished. The bathrooms here are gender neutral. There’s an overwhelming sweetness in the air as candles provide most of the light, and it’s the [...]
Kevin J. Elliott



Stepping into Brothers Drake Meadery on a busy Friday is a unique experience for those more conditioned to the usual beer halls of Columbus. For one, it’s almost annoyingly clean and polished. The bathrooms here are gender neutral. There’s an overwhelming sweetness in the air as candles provide most of the light, and it’s the perfect environment for Sharon Udoh, who is playing solo tonight under her pseudonym Counterfeit Madison. Banging on her keyboard with the intensity of a concert pianist, she simultaneously injects a slice of funk and soul to the proceedings, all of which takes a backseat to Udoh’s devastatingly beautiful voice. As I walk in, she sounds like Nina Simone channeling Jeff Buckley with a dirty mouth—there are an amusing amount of “motherf*ckers” being hurled into the microphone.

With Udoh there’s never a compromise.


Photo by Chris Casella

It’s that relentless passion and boundary-pushing drive that has made her a welcome anomaly on Columbus stages in the past few years since she arrived on the scene. In any guise, be it as a member of both The APES and The DewDroppers, or sitting in with Andrew Graham or Maria Levitov, she soon becomes the center of attention. But as I found out in our lengthy interview weeks later at the same bar, it’s certainly not ego that has awoken her vibrant musical spirit. Quite the opposite. As we talk about everything but music—the topics veer between race, religion, immigration, and education—I contend that Udoh is a product of the whimsical, if sometimes frustrating, world into which she’s immersed herself. Forget about breaking the mold. For Udoh, there never was a mold.

In an interview this year you said, “The reason I’m not a 32-year-old woman in a straightjacket is because I play music.” Is that something you can elaborate upon? I am a black gay woman in America, and this world is not made for a black gay woman. It’s not made for blacks, gays, or women. I’m not saying I feel oppressed by that every day—it’s just a fact. I also am, according to the Myers-Briggs personality test, an INFJ, which is an “introverted, intuitive, feeling, judger.” That type makes up only 3 percent of the population. On top of that I’m a first-generation American. On top of that I have synesthesia [a condition in which the stimulation of one sense triggers another]. On top of that I have perfect pitch. It’s like I’m a pretty unique person, but on top of all that, I spent 25 years in church that repressed me terribly. So I just have to process and grow out of a lot, and music has been with me the entire time and has really taught me about who I am.

Have the last 12 months, in which it appears you are more confident than ever with your musical persona, changed your thoughts on that sentiment? Are you more comfortable? I’m always more comfortable and less comfortable because I’m always changing. For example, the gay part of my life is only six months old, so I’m just now trying to figure that out. Everything seems unfamiliar for me. The last five years of my life I just keep on stumbling into experiences. I was a kitchen manager who never went to culinary school, a teacher without a day of training, a church accompanist who never went to music school. It’s like I do all these things I’m not supposed to be doing. When I think of how privileged I am to be doing all of these things, it makes me want to kill myself. I can’t believe that I’m doing all of these things. But the reason I’m not insane is all because of music…though I do actually believe I’m insane.

For the next 10 minutes or so there’s a long back and forth about the origins of Udoh’s sound and how she arrived at such a polyglot of musical genres, tones, rhythms, and vocal cadences. The topic returns to her upbringing and her earliest days “training” at church. Music has always been in the family and in Udoh’s life. By the age of three, she was adopting into her style what she learned from watching her mother and sister practice on a Casio T-57. At six, she went through the advanced “pedagogy” of music-learning, winding through classical and jazz, and ending up as a soloist at her “Pentacostol-ish, non-denominational” church every Sunday for the next two decades. Her talent, though, never left the sanctuary of those walls in that entire span. The move to start playing with others in the secular world of bars and coffee shops was a freeing moment.

Were you writing your own songs from the beginning? I wrote songs about Jesus and shit. They were kind of corny, but I really remember that was when I developed my sense of harmony and melody. They’re just little ditties, but they were heavily modeled after stuff I was doing in church.

So when did you finally make the decision to step out of church in Cincinnati and play in a club? Was that something that was frowned upon? Even though a lot of that place almost scarred me for life, playing at church really gave me a really honest perspective on music. For so many years I was playing for God and with people. There’s a very communal aspect to that. It’s not “me versus you,” instead it’s more “us.” I’ve been coming out little by little with my own name on the Internet because I now have a church community that supports me.

And when you did arrive in Columbus, being indoctrinated in this music scene, did you ever encounter any discrimination or hardships considering what you were doing on stage was so different from the average stream of white-guy indie rock? There’s something about me that makes dudes ignore the fact that I’m a girl, and it’s not something I concern myself with.  I’m not screaming, “Hey see me as a girl.” A lot of times guys will make weird dude jokes at me and I have to remind them. It’s just really sweet here actually. I love white dudes. I love having brothers.

You’re in so many different bands and collaborating with so many different people it’s hard to keep track. Do you ever think that you spread yourself thin or is it more rewarding to work with others? There are weekends here when I don’t play a show. If I was doing that I would be spreading myself thin. But it’s more rewarding definitely. I need all of those things in my life. There’s just something so bombastic about playing with The Dewdroppers, something so tribal and raw about The APES, and something so funky about Andrew Graham, and then there’s something so unabashedly myself about my own project.

I feel like, at least for me, there was a learning curve when appreciating what you do as a musician. What you do live is not typical and is on an emotional level few are ready to witness. How did you arrive playing the type of music you play? There’s something that happened to me on the night of April 27, of 2013 when shit got real.

Udoh checks the calendar on her phone to verify the date and then takes an unusually long pause where I’m imagining she’s playing back a photographic memory to relive exactly what happened. In a eureka moment she finally yells out…

I know what happened.

Let me tell you what happened. So I grew up a Christian and I still am a Christian. I say that Christianity is my default, but I’m not that person who is sitting around praying for all of my friends to be saved. As a Christian person, when you grow up, you develop this sense that you have to be nice to everyone because you are supposed to have that light in you. Something happened inside of me that told me I don’t want to have to always try to be the nicest person. I’d rather try to be the most genuine person instead. Sometimes that means I’m a total bitch, sometimes it means I feel insane. Whatever that means, I want that to be genuine. When I made that shift, my music started to change, because it was this real, raw display of what was actually going on inside of me. I feel that’s why my music is the meat of the chicken. There’s absolutely no pretense. I gave myself no permission to ever pretend again—with anything in my life. I’ve never thought about that until just now. Something turned on in me and it has never turned off. I don’t want to be nice—I want to be genuine.

When I ask about goals beyond the present, Udoh seems bent to get out on the road like many musicians in Columbus, but most of all she wants to focus on being an educator. Since accepting a job with the Arts and College Preparatory Academy, where she works as an after-school mentor teaching piano and voice, she has realized her one true calling. It’s not so much sharing her gift with students—that’s a given—but more a desire to reach out to kids going through the same issues that confronted Udoh in her youth. Our interview takes place the night after the decision in Ferguson, and we all know how that turned out. The conversation turns to a rhapsody Udoh unleashed on her Facebook page that morning about the results, and in typical Udoh fashion, she debates both sides but ends her whole tirade with the line, “Can one hope? I’ll hope until I die.”

What was it like talking with your students today about what happened in Ferguson? I’ve been trying to tell a lot of kids—a lot of black kids at my school—that you can choose to be bitter about how this world wasn’t made for you, or since this world wasn’t made for you, you can make your own world and invite people into it. That’s what I’ve chosen to do. So I have this world where pure expression is key. There’s all this music that I really love and can’t live without. I’m always going to express [myself] like an African woman in America. I like that I’m indefinable; it allows me to go in any direction I want and allows others to take me to different places. It’s whatever I feel at the moment. I can’t ever concentrate on just one thing. I want to absorb it all. It’s hard to keep focus, but it’s a wild ride.

Catch Counterfeit Madison January 30 at Rumba Café (2507 Summit St.)

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Scream Team: Behind-the-scenes look at local haunting industry

Mike Thomas



Like many a fiend of silver screen fame, the origins of Kelly Collins’ career in terror involve some teens, a campground, and a fateful ride into the deep, dark woods.

Thirty-eight years ago, Collins was general manager at a campground. Every Saturday at noon, he’d hook up a wagon to a tractor and treat the young campers to a hayride through the woods. The route Collins followed circled around an old oak tree, before turning around and coming back to the start. One Saturday, some mischievous teens sprang out from behind the tree, giving quite a scare to the unsuspecting wagoneers. All of the children screamed in surprise—then they laughed.

Kelly Collins (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This gave Collins an idea. To spice up his little hayride, he would arrange for the teens to act out the same routine the next Saturday— but this time, he’d up the ante by giving them rubber masks to wear. His plan was set in motion, and this time, the startled youngsters on the wagon cried all the way back to the campground.

“That was a bad idea, but it got me thinking...Why don’t we have a hayride at night and call it the ‘Spooky Hayride?’ ” Collins recalls. By fine-tuning the balance between fear and fun, Collins’ new enterprise was a success, and would set him on the path to a lifelong career in the haunted house business, or “haunting” as it’s known to its practitioners.

Early in his career, Collins became a key figure in the Central Ohio scream scene. After his haunted hayride, he spent a couple of seasons overseeing the Hallowscream event at the now- defunct Wyandot Lake. It was there that he was approached by Ken Schnacke, General Manager and President of the Columbus Clippers baseball team, who tapped Collins to create and lead the “Terror Park” event that was held at Cooper Stadium for a decade.

When the Clippers made the move to Huntington Park, the Terror Park event was shelved. Collins set out again on his own, founding the Scareatorium: a haunted house attraction occupying a 40,000-square-foot space in a northeast Columbus strip mall.

Over the next decade, the Scareatorium would serve as a hub for haunters, attracting and nurturing some of the city’s top talents in the field. From actors, makeup artists, set designers and people who just appreciate a good scare, the group that grew from Collins’ enterprise came together over buckets of blood and latex viscera, but now enjoy the valuable connection of a genuine community.

A longtime compatriot of Collins, Keith Newsome was one of the creative minds behind Terror Park and the Scareatorium. Though he specializes in visual effects design and fabrication, Newsome’s talents in haunting are wide-ranging. Since retiring from 13th Floor, Newsome has remained a vital member of the community, teaching classes on topics ranging from makeup application to mask making and performance.

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This season, he’s lending his skills to an attraction in Lancaster, Ohio titled “A True American Haunt: Birth of a Nightmare.” The house is set up in the Miller Building, a “poor house” originally built in 1828, which event promoters suggest may in fact be haunted. According to Newsome, the building is classified as one of the top-10 haunted houses in the United States, and was recently filmed for an upcoming episode of The Travel Channel show Destination Fear.

“It’s actually a haunted place. I don’t believe in that crap...I do now,” says Newsome. “There’s something in that place. I don’t go on the third or fourth floor anymore.”

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Whether patrons can expect to encounter bona fide spirits along with latex-clad actors in this haunt remains to be seen, but whatever the case, the event serves an important purpose. All proceeds from this haunt will benefit Habitat for Humanity’s plan to revitalize the historic Miller Building, and to help build housing for local veterans.

The charitable angle for this event comes as no surprise in an industry that at times seems like an extended family. People attracted to haunting come from every imaginable background, but are united by a common passion.

“I’ve had people who are financial managers of huge companies, down to people who are almost homeless,” says Newsome. “The cool part about it is that we treat everybody equally. When you walk in, you’re automatically family.”

One member of Newsome’s haunt family is Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, an artist who has turned a passion for body art and makeup into a year-round career.

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Gonzalez’s first foray into the industry came while volunteering with her eldest daughters at a home haunt. Stepping up to fill the need for a makeup artist, Gonzalez gleaned what she could from YouTube videos. Her tool kit at that time consisted of, as she calls it, “that really crappy makeup you get at Kroger around Halloween.”

After encouragement from her peers at smaller attractions, Gonzalez eventually made her way to the Scareatorium, where she met Newsome. Newsome introduced her to higher-quality, water-based makeup, and she went on to mentor under the more experienced effects artist for two years.

Photo: Brian Kaiser

Today, Gonzalez is the owner of Aftershock Art, a thriving face painting and body art company that operates year-round. She’s also found a healthy sideline doing moulage—the art of creating realistic, simulated injuries on actors during training exercises for the military and first responders.

Like her mentor, Gonzalez sees the past support and encouragement from members of the haunt community as a foundation of the success she now enjoys.

“It’s something that we’re all passionate about, so once you find your niche in that community, it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your religion is, what your sexual orientation is—you have that weird background, and you have a family for life,” Gonzalez explains.

While basking in the warm embrace of your fellow ghoul is reason enough to keep some hooked on this line of work, there’s another essential element that unifies all haunters: the love of the scare.

“I fell in love. I didn’t know you could have so much fun scaring people,” says Ashley Shilling, another former employee of Collins from the Sacreatorium days who today serves as general manager of the 13th Floor Haunt.

Ashley Shilling (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

“Being an actor is a huge stress relief,” Shilling explains. “Getting to scare people kicks in your endorphins, especially if you can make a big man that looks very intimidating scream like a little girl—that’s a lot of fun. At the end of the night, you’re just relaxed.”

Whether drawn to a sense of community that can sometimes be hard to find in the world at large, or simply in it for the thrill of scaring people, the haunting industry has an undeniable pull for those that find their way into its spooky ranks. Even retired industry veteran Collins is unable to fully step away from the work, and is gearing up for his first season as manager of a Spirit Halloween supply store in Newark, Ohio.

“When you scare people, and they scream and run away from you, it’s a great way to let out pent-up frustration,” Collins says. “You could have the worst day in the world, and within a few minutes of working at the haunted house, you feel so much better. It’s a great tension reliever.”

In professional haunting, one person’s fear is another’s bliss.

For more information on the 13th Floor Haunt and other haunted houses happening in October, click here.

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Photo Gallery: HighBall Halloween

614now Staff



HighBall Halloween is the nation’s most elaborate costume party. Staged in the Art & Soul of Columbus, the annual event bridges runway style with the culture of the Short North Arts District.

Much like in years past, the city turned out in full force and full costume to celebrate fashion, fall, and fun with host Nina West.

Here's a look at some of the best looks of HighBall 2019:

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I Love My Job: CBJ national anthem singer Leo Welsh

Regina Fox



Every day, people all around Columbus drive/ride/walk to their jobs, eager to contribute their passion and talent to the city. This series aims to highlight those people and give them a platform to spread their love for their careers. Welcome to I Love My Job.

You may not know his face (depending on your seats), but you definitely know his name: LEO! Longtime Columbus Blue Jackets national anthem singer Leo Welsh has been stealing the hearts of hockey-goers at Nationwide Arena with his impressive pipes and passion for the game since 2003.

Here is why he loves his job so much:

614: What do you love most about your job? 

LW: The thing I love most about my position with the CBJ is being such a fan and being part of the game experience. It is a total thrill every single time. 

614: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

LW: The most challenging part would have to be maintaining my health during the winter. Hard to sing well when you aren’t feeling your best. 

614: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

LW: The most rewarding aspect is when I am singing and I can see young people singing along to our National Anthem.

614: What’s the best story you have from your time with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

LW: So many great stories and interactions with fans and our military honorees. Most recently the playoffs from last year strand out. The CBJ had a World War II veteran on the ice with me every night. These men were all special and excited the crowd and made it very easy for me to be focused on honoring our country. Several were arm in arm with me and singing along to our National Anthem, very special moments. 

614: Who has been the most influential mentor in your career so far?

LW: I have had many great teachers and mentors. Maestro William Boggs stands out. He is one of the reasons I moved to Columbus following graduation from Ohio University. He offered me a job with Opera Columbus. He was critical when he needed to be, demanded preparation from his singers and was supportive by offering examples and best practices at all times. Truly a great mentor.

Leo will be leading players and fans in the national anthem this Friday as the Blue Jackets open their season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena. Puck drops at 7pm.

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