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Side Gigs

Musicians are a mixed bag of misfits. That’s not intended as an insult—it’s actually the highest compliment. From open mic acoustic to street corner soul, musicians cross all socioeconomic strata and do what most only dare to dream while singing in the shower or playing drums on their steering wheel. They breathe art into the [...]
J.R. McMillan



Musicians are a mixed bag of misfits. That’s not intended as an insult—it’s actually the highest compliment.

From open mic acoustic to street corner soul, musicians cross all socioeconomic strata and do what most only dare to dream while singing in the shower or playing drums on their steering wheel. They breathe art into the air that surrounds us, and fearlessly face ridicule in real time. Despite the long hours and low wages, musicians are the shared pulse of the human experience.

Sure, pop stars and singing celebrities make it all look glamorous. But in reality, the average working musician just refilled your water glass, fixed your email, or changed your oil. That’s because making it as a full-time musician doesn’t happen overnight (if ever) and many aspiring folk singers, guitar heroes, and metal heads can only afford to moonlight as musicians by working as waitresses, tech support, or auto mechanics while the sun shines.

Music may be their passion, but in some cases it is just a side gig.

But what happens when it’s the other way around—when music is a full-time commitment, but outside passions fill the off hours instead with equal measure? Do professional musicians also have side gigs?

Amid the rigors of rehearsals and performances, I interviewed three Columbus Symphony Orchestra musicians about their side gigs. And it turns out, their extracurricular endeavors are as unique and enthralling as the overtures and interludes they play.

Mike Buccicone’s music career started from scratch more so than most, with a violin handmade just for him by his grandfather.

“My grandfather emigrated from Hungary and settled in Campbell, Ohio. He played the violin in small ethnic community bands in the area,” explained Buccicone. “He worked in a machine shop in the steel mills of Youngstown. When he retired, he began making violins by hand using his knowledge of tools and machining.”

His grandfather spent winters in California and summers in Ohio. When Buccicone was seven, he received his first violin, and his first lesson from the master and mentor who made it.

“When he stayed with us in Ohio, he would spend his time carving out the necks of the violins in those summers. In California, he would build the bodies,” Buccicone noted. “He presented violins to most of my cousins, but I was the only one who stuck with it.”

Buccicone’s studies at the University of Cincinnati led to his first job with the Arkansas Symphony in Little Rock. Faculty contacts made at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lakes, Michigan eventually landed him a position at Michigan State. That’s where he met George Hardesty, founder and first conductor of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.

But the violin isn’t Buccicone’s only passion with soft curves and a shiny finish. He’s also the president of the 928 Buckeye LandSharks, a close group of owners and enthusiasts united in their love of the luxury line Porsche.

“In the mid ‘80s, I had a neighbor whose brother-in-law had an early model.  He took me for a ride in it and I was totally blown away,” Buccicone revealed. “Unfortunately, as these cars aged, they became very expensive to repair.  Many were abandoned in a barn or garage and degraded to the point no one would spend the money to fix them.”

Now, he and his fellow LandSharks rely on an orchestra of experience, expertise, and spare parts to keep them running.

“It’s the attention to detail of the music and what we call detailing just before a car show or CSO performance,” Buccicone explained, comparing his two obsessions. “I never think of Wagner and the Ride of the Valkyries, but like to play Rush’s ‘Red Barchetta’ on a driving tour.”

About the only time you’re likely to find Russ Gill with both feet planted firmly is standing next to his double bass. Otherwise, he’s probably out running another marathon.

No really, Gill has run 124 marathons—including 43 consecutive Boston Marathons.

He may have been a bona fide early adopter of the nation’s running craze, but not so much with the bass. Gill didn’t start until the seventh grade, which is well past the average for most professional musicians.

“I was pretty tall and I remember him saying that a bass performance job would be much less competitive than a violin or cello job,” Gill confessed, having been introduced to the instrument by his first piano teacher. “I started running about the same time I started playing bass, so I’ve been doing both forever.”

“I love teaching piano because—to me, anyway—it’s a very easy instrument to play well,” he commented, noting that he still enjoys teaching piano in addition to his work with the CSO and a rigorous running ritual. “Simple formula: play the right notes, play the right rhythm, and voila! You’re a good pianist. I don’t know which I enjoy more.”

“I feel just as fulfilled after playing my best in a concert as I feel after I’ve given a marathon my best effort.”

Gill came to Columbus as the CSO’s first full-time bass player in 1978 by way of the Syracuse Symphony, where he’d been since graduating from the Eastman School of Music.

He’s also not the only runner in their ranks. “I know several classical musicians who are marathoners. Certainly, one of the connections is the dedication it takes to run 26-mile races and the effort it takes to get into a top symphony orchestra.”

But Gill is also a man apart. The philanthropic thread that ties his tireless feats together is almost unrivaled.

“I’ve carried a Christmas tree for arthritis, run marathons for leukemia and lymphoma, and done 65-mile runs for multiple sclerosis. I’ve raised over $550,000 for five different charities,” he reflected. “It took me 32 years to climb a million steps for cystic fibrosis. We had a small ceremony in the lobby of the Rhodes Tower when I reached that milestone.”

That’s putting it modestly for a guy who’s been in the Guinness Book of World Records—three times.

It’s a rare kid who sets out to be an oboist or play the English horn, but Bob Royse is that kid.

“I started playing the cello in school, in Rocky River, Ohio where I grew up. You know, it looked cool,” Royse admitted. “But I always liked the sound of the oboe, especially the English horn—the haunting quality.”

“Plus, I had a friend who played the oboe when I was a kid. I thought it was cool watching him fiddle around with all of his knives and reeds. That was obviously very naïve on my part, because that’s been the bane of my existence ever since,” he admitted with the chuckle of an inside joke.

For woodwind players, a good reed determines and defines their tone, pitch, and response. Even the best reeds may only last a few performances, so crafting each by hand easily becomes a lifelong labor of art and obsession.

His high school years at Interlochen Arts Academy in Traverse City, Michigan were transformative, demanding a collegiate level of commitment, even before attending the Cleveland Institute of Music.

“I got on that track when I was quite young. I was well-focused, but maybe not well-rounded. I was really into it,” he noted emphatically.

Symphony positions throughout the Midwest led to a three-year stint as principal oboe in Cape Town, South Africa. That’s where his passion for photography was born.

“I found myself transported by Africa, drawn to the wildlife,” Royse said. “I came home to visit my parents in Cleveland, and there was an audition with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra—so I took it.”

That was nearly three decades ago, and Royse has been here ever since.

“When I moved back to Ohio, it was birds that fascinated me and they continue to do so,” Royse explained. “I find their songs fascinating as well. I can walk around and identify birds by their song, then look for the most likely place to find and photograph them.”

That keen ear and philosophy of fidelity bind both of his passions.

“When a composer writes something beautiful, your job is to interpret it as beautifully as possible,” Royse explained. “As a photographer, when I’m presented with something beautiful, I look at the background, the light, the color, the detail—then I try to make it as beautiful as it is in nature.”

To see all three in action at their day jobs, visit

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Arts & Culture

Q&A: Columbus artist Mandi Caskey wants to bring us together




Photo by John Thorne

Context plays one of the most important roles in our understanding of art. For instance, if you saw the unveiling of Columbus artist Mandi Caskey’s latest masterpiece, you’d probably equate the message to the daily protests that have been held in Columbus over the past week.

When the mural on the abandoned highway overpass near Scioto Audubon Metro Park was started, that wasn’t the case. It was a message meant to distract us from the hardships that COVID-19 flooded our lives with.

Now, to some people, the mural’s message, which stretches over 400 feet, takes on a new meaning.

(614) caught up with Caskey to find out the inspiration behind the piece and how she feels about subjectiveness in art. Check out a brief Q&A below and some incredible aerial footage from photographer/videographer John Thorne.

Obviously a project this big can't be tackled alone. Who all helped bring this idea to life?

This project was originally an idea that I wanted to do secretly aka illegally, but my business partner came up with a better idea. And that was to get other artists involved and pay them during the stay-at-home order. 

The whole time we honestly didn’t think we would be able to get approval on all the permits we needed, but thanks to Lori Baudro, over a month and a half we got permission and permits from the Department of Public Service, ODOT, and the Arts Commission. We were honestly in shock. 

When it came down to businesses, we started working with Tim Cousino, who’s an architect. He figured out all the measurements we needed. From there we had to get our hands dirty and clean the surface of the bridge, which had five 9-foot around dirt piles that we shoveled off.

Once the surface was prepped and ready to go, we had Jacob Bench come out. He’s an engineer that helped translate all of Tim’s measurements. The project would have been 10 times more difficult without him! 

Through the process, we slowly grew the team. David Greenzalis is my partner in crime so he was there from the beginning. Katie Bench, Hawke Trackler, Lisa Celesta, Ariel Peguero, Chris Blain, Patrick Cardwell, Eric Terranova, Sam Rex, and Justin Paul, who has taken the amazing footage everyone has seen. All of these people are passionate, hardworking, and just awesome to be around. I was excited when we all came together. 

From what I've read, it seems like your idea for this was green-lit very quickly and easily. Why do you think people responded to the idea in your message so strongly?

There’s a combination of reasons everything moved so quickly (in terms of government) ha-ha. Part of it was the fact people were at home; they wanted something to get excited about. This was a project people could easily get geeked out about: 400-foot long mural on the bridge that has been abandoned for 10-plus years! I think they just wanted to see if it could happen. Also, the bridge will be torn down in a year or so; this means the mural doesn’t need any upkeep. The fact it was temporary made it an easy Yes for people. Still in shock this all worked out so smoothly.

What roadblocks did you run into during the process of creating the mural?

A big roadblock that no one could help was the weather. Man, was it a beast to work with. When we first started prepping the bridge, it was raining and around 40 degrees outside. We were in coats with gloves for half of the project. Then it rains for almost two weeks straight, which pushed back any painting we wanted to do. The days when we did get to work was easily 95 and scorching! We were all burnt to a crisp! It was stressful but fun working with this crazy Ohio weather.

How do you think art helps people during times of unrest and uncertainty like we're in right now?

Art is truly the bridge between thoughtful conversations and action (pun intended). Public art specifically can be the most impactful since it’s meant to be viewed by everyone. There’s no fee to look at it, no dress code, no need for art knowledge, just acceptance and appreciation are necessary. 

Art in general helps people look outside of their own personal bubbles. We can see into someone else’s mind for a split second and become apart of the art and experience. I think we forget that art is a living representation of us, but I hope through this unsure time we start to remember why humans started painting in the first place.

I think there's something to be said about how the mural was made on the basis of the coronavirus pandemic and bringing people together and now it can take on the meaning of the social change that needs to happen in this world. What are your thoughts on that?

Originally the mural was made because I personally felt alone and knew so many other people were feeling the same way during the stay-at-home orders. Once the project actually started to become a real thing, “we are stronger together” became more about the people who were working together; so many different types of backgrounds and artists. People from different periods in my personal life, all coming together and making something epic. 

When it was all said and done, the words are made for everyone, from any background, race, gender, far and wide. It’s a message that I hope makes people know I’m with them, that no matter the craziness in the world, someone’s got your back.


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Arts & Culture

Columbus artists employed to paint boarded-up downtown for #ArtUnitesCbus




The Columbus arts community has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to trying to unite and inspire during tumultuous times. One of the latest efforts from visual artists around the area includes CAPA and Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) latest partnership, #ArtUnitesCbus.

“When I do these projects, I try to remember to have fun and enjoy my loved ones. Even though it’s a bad time, there’s always room for love,” visual artist Hakim Callwood said.

The creative venture will exist to employ around 20 Columbus visuals artists. Their job will be to paint murals in place of the broken windows at the Ohio Theater and GCAC office. 

The art installations are expected to be finished by the end of the week.

“#ArtUnitesCbus is just one small way the arts community is trying to help. These murals are not the answer, simply a message that we ALL can, and must, help heal our community,” said Tom Katzenmeyer, President & CEO of the Arts Council, in a GCAC press release on Monday

Now more than ever is an extremely important time to give our community artists a platform. 

“The Columbus artists are more of a family than I think people understand,” Callwood said. “Whether we all talking every day or hanging out together; it doesn’t matter. When there’s times of need we always use our talents to support.” 

Check out the progress of their murals below.

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Arts & Culture

Weekend Roundup: 5/29 – 5/31




With Ohio slowly starting to fully reopen, initial in-person gatherings have trickled into our news feeds.

Below are a few things you can check out over the weekend if you’ve been itching to leave your house and are capable of following COVID-19 guidelines.


Fair Food Weekend @ Oakland Nursery

One of the most disappointing summertime cancellations was the axing of the Ohio State Fair. For those still wanting to get their elephant ears or deep-fried oreo fix, Chester Foods will be bringing a pop-up food truck to the Oakland Nursery. Corn dogs, funnel cakes, fried oreos, fresh-cut fries, and lemonade shake-ups will all be on the menu. Fair food will be set up on both Friday and Saturday.

Time: 12 p.m. - 8 p.m. | Address: 4261 W. Dublin Granville Rd.


Sonic The Hedgehog/Jumanji: The Next Level and The Hunt/The Invisible Man @ South Drive-In

With movie theaters in Ohio still closing their doors, the drive-in revival has been sweeping the state, nation, and world. Once drive-ins were given the go-ahead by DeWine, South Drive-In began to provide the double feature experience to eager moviegoers. Admission is $9.50 on Friday/Saturday and $7.50 on Sunday for those 12+, $2 for ages 5-11, and free for those under 4.

The showings for this weekend are as follows: 

Screen 1:

  • 9:05 p.m. Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)
  • 10:53 p.m. Jumanji: The Next Level (PG-13)
  • 12:56 a.m. Sonic The Hedgehog (Friday/Saturday only) 

Screen 2:

  • 9:25 p.m. The Hunt (R)
  • 11:05 p.m. The Invisible Man (R)
  • 1:09 a.m. The Hunt (Friday/Saturday only)

Check out the South Drive-In website to see what social distancing guidelines need to be followed.

Time: Arrive 1-2 hours prior to first showing | Address: 3050 S. High St.


Reggae on the Patio @ Skully’s Music-Diner

If you’re in search of a relaxing Sunday, look no further than Skully’s. The music venue/bar will be opening its patio for those to have socially distance hangs, drinks, and wings. Skully’s will be setting the mood perfectly for a chill Sunday by spinning reggae music all night long. Get yourself out of the house and go catch some island vibes.

Time: 7 p.m. - 2 a.m. | Address: 1151 N. High St.

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