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Barbershop Quintet

The foremost fear of many musicians is failing to fill a room, and rightly so. The club circuit is cutthroat, and light ticket sales and lackluster turnout can easily kill a band’s future before it even begins. Empty seats are hardly a concern at the most exclusive live music venue in Columbus, where the audiences [...]
J.R. McMillan

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The foremost fear of many musicians is failing to fill a room, and rightly so. The club circuit is cutthroat, and light ticket sales and lackluster turnout can easily kill a band’s future before it even begins.

Empty seats are hardly a concern at the most exclusive live music venue in Columbus, where the audiences rarely outnumber
the performers and it’s typically standing room only.

That’s because it’s not a basement bar or small stage. It’s a barbershop.

Jim Morris might surprise you as the proprietor of a place called The Mug & Brush. With his wavy white mane and robust beard, he looks more like someone who hasn’t seen the inside of a barbershop in a while, not the owner of one. (Two in fact, between the original in the Old North neighborhood between campus and Clintonville, and now an equally quaint second location in Gahanna.)

But as the creator of an indie music series shot on a shoestring that has acts lining up to get in, his relaxed locks and attitude are entirely on brand.

“We started with a couple of prototype sessions with The Floorwalkers and Nick D’ and the Believers. Even before that, I’d asked just about every video and sound guy who came through the shop about the project,” Morris recalled. “I’d cut Keith’s hair for about ten years, but hadn’t seen him recently because he was growing his hair long. He stopped by and I told him about the idea. That’s how I finally hooked up with the crew.”

Keith Hanlon is exactly what you’d expect from a seasoned sound guy. As a producer and audio engineer, he’s as adept at booking the bands as he is running the board in a recording studio that’s far more complex than just a warm old room with high ceilings. Hanlon is the right mix of affable and technical, intent on isolating each performer’s voice and instrument with assuring precision, despite the hodgepodge of textures and street traffic.

“The biggest issue I have is bleed onto the vocal mics. It depends on how loud the drummer is,” Hanlon quipped, himself a drummer. “As we’ve progressed, we’ve gone from a pieced together PA system for monitors to a decent USB mixer and enough equipment accumulated along the way to create a studio feel that still sounds live.”

“I’d cut Keith’s hair for about ten years, but hadn’t seen him recently because he was growing his hair long. He stopped by and I told him about the idea. That’s how I finally hooked up with the crew.”

“It began with a few friends and bands we knew, like Birdshack and Righteous Buck. They agreed sight unseen, it was a leap of faith,” Morris revealed. “They didn’t know the crew or exactly what it was all about, but they said, ‘We’re in’ anyway. Within six months, bands were calling us.”

Though The Mug & Brush Sessions is a music series, don’t mistake it for a podcast. It’s decidedly cinematic, with multiple cameras and a balance of shots that never looks or sounds sanitized or slick. With angles and close ups as high and tight as a hipster haircut, it’s raw and refined at the same time.

“We do several takes, but we don’t intercut. Sometimes you’ll pick up something only one person will notice,” Hanlon explained. “You may see it on the performer’s face, but we’ll just let it go and use another shot. I’d rather have an imperfect performance than lose
the magic.”

Getting a big sound out of a small space isn’t easy on either side of board. Bands used to playing for hundreds, perhaps thousands, also have to scale down their performance to the intimate surroundings. Engineering can also prove imperfect, amplified by the occasional OS update with unintended consequences.

“Things break down, and an update can render a piece of equipment useless. Doc Robinson had eight performers, the most we’ve ever had in the shop. I could still use the mixer, I just couldn’t record from it,” Hanlon explained. He ended up cobbling a couple of pieces of equipment together to manage the monitors and capture the recording, syncing the 10-channel session afterward. “It was the only way we could do it. Sometimes, you just have to make it work.”

Though there is a bent toward indie rock and Americana, there are definitely no limits on genre. From local folks who have earned audiences beyond Columbus, like Lydia Loveless and Josh Krajcik, to the EDM of Damn the Witch Siren and spunk rock darlings Cherry Chrome.

“I’d like to see more of the less frequent genres we’ve had, like Blueprint and Dominique Larue,” Morris recalled. “We also had a chamber music string quartet once, Carpe Diem.”

“We try to book acts with musical diversity and diversity in general. I’d love to have a Somali or Latino group, something you won’t find outside those communities,” Hanlon followed.

“We’re creating an archive of the Columbus music scene we hope will still be relevant decades from now. But that wasn’t exactly our original intent. We just wanted to feature local musicians in a new way.”

As a Midwest crossroads, their relationship with Natalie’s, proximity to the Newport, and pipeline from Nashville has also yielded some unexpected acts for The Mug & Brush Sessions.

“We’ve had Peter Case, and Califone, and Greg Trooper, though there are so many local acts, we really don’t have to look outside Columbus,” noted Hanlon. “I’d love to get Michael Hurley. He’s always playing at Nelsonville Music Festival and up at Natalie’s.”

Beyond the bands, the real genius of the show is how scalable and shareable it is. Shot on the same DSLR platform favored by independent filmmakers, it feels authentic without being claustrophobic. Hosted on YouTube instead of some hyper-restrictive or homespun solution, it’s easy to send to a friend with a click. For many bands, it’s become a measure of credibility or a professional milestone, like the local equivalent of an appearance on Austin City Limits or MTV Unplugged.

It’s also just as easy to watch it on a television screen as a smartphone or computer. Performances also hold up on even bigger screens, occasionally featured at Mojoflo’s Music Video Mondays at the Gateway Film Center. The stripped-down style of the sessions actually succeeds where most music videos fail, transporting the audience to a live performance, as though they’re sitting right there in a barber chair between Jim and Keith, taking it all in.

“We’re creating an archive of the Columbus music scene we hope will still be relevant decades from now. But that wasn’t exactly our original intent. We just wanted to feature local musicians in a new way,” Morris noted. “When we started, I hoped we might make it to 100 episodes. But now that we’re five years in, who knows. Maybe we can make it to ten?”

For a complete archive of The Mug & Brush Sessions, visit themugandbrushsessions.com

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Community

Cedar Point, Kings Island are suing to get you back

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It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Columbus Zoo & Aquarium are allowed to re-open but Cedar Point and Kings Island have been snubbed in Gov. Mike DeWine’s most recent announcement that Ohio’s entertainment venues were allowed to re-open.

After being left out of the party, Cedar Point, Kalahari Resort and Kings Island sued the director of the Ohio Department of Health Thursday, arguing that Dr. Amy Acton doesn’t have the authority to keep the state’s amusement parks and waterparks shut down and in doing so is violating the park’s rights.

The lawsuit was brought by attorney Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law. The county health departments for both parks were also named in the lawsuit.

No word yet from the Ohio Department of Health as to when, or if, either amusement park will be allowed to open in June.

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Arts & Culture

See what’s re-opening: Entertainment venues get June 10 go-ahead

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Who would’ve thought that people would be getting excited about a roller skating rink reopening in 2020?

As far as keeping ourselves entertained, Gov. Mike DeWine blessed the state with wonderful news on Thursday. DeWine announced that certain entertainment facilities would be able to reopen under certain health and safety restrictions starting June 10.

Skate Zone 71 has already reopened as of today, but there’s still a handful of entertainment venues who have had to hold off on letting people back in until next Wednesday.

Those venues include:

  • Aquariums
  • Art galleries
  • Country clubs
  • Ice skating rinks
  • Indoor family entertainment centers
  • Indoor sports facilities
  • Laser tag facilities
  • Movie theaters (indoor)
  • Museums
  • Playgrounds (outdoor)
  • Public recreation centers
  • Roller skating rinks
  • Social clubs
  • Trampoline parks
  • Zoos

Below are a few we know are re-opening next week. Check back for more next week!

  • Otherworld  — The immersive art installation that took Columbus by storm in 2019 is set to return on June 11, according to the venue’s webpage. Otherworld will be operating at a capacity of one visitor per 160 square feet, or around 20 percent of the regular admittance.
  • The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomes back members beginning on June 12, 13, and 14, and all guests starting on June 15. The Zoo will be open daily from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., and all Zoo visits (including for Members) will require a dated, timed ticket to help ensure that social distancing and other precautions are followed appropriately.
  • Skate 71 is gearing up for re-opening, according to its Facebook page. It’s currently selling tickets for Adult Night Skating on June 11. Buy them here.
  • The Chiller is also prepping for re-opening and has been selling passes for various sessions since June 1. You can learn more about grabbing some time at the rink here.
  • Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will reopen its operations to visitors on Saturday, June 13. The reopening includes all of the Conservatory's interior biomes and outdoor gardens, filled with colorful summer horticulture displays and topiaries. Visitors will also be able to enjoy the annual Bonsai exhibition and the Conservatory’s entire collection of Dale Chihuly glass artwork.
     
    For more information and updates on the Conservatory, please visit fpconservatory.org or follow the Conservatory on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
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Community

Updated hours for North Market as first Farmers’ Market of the season opens Saturday

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Get excited Columbus foodies - this Saturday marks the beginning of North Market’s Farmers’ Market season! The Farmers’ Market will tantalize your taste buds every Saturday this summer through October, from 8 a.m. until noon at the North Market outdoor plaza at 59 Spruce Street.

During the coronavirus pandemic, North Market provided customers with fresh pick-up bundles. Now they’ve updated their operating hours to give consumers who want to shop again a chance to pick their own culinary delights.

"The hope is that a gradual reopening will strike a balance between the desire to serve the public and still respect the very real health concerns still shared by merchants, public, and staff," said Rick Harrison Wolfe, North Market's executive director, in a press release Thursday.

The updated hours, which will go into effect this Sat., June 6, are as follows:

  • Monday - Tuesday: closed
  • Wednesday - Friday, Sunday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Saturday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

All of those in attendance will have to observe the following guidelines as outlined in a press release by North Market:

  • North Market's mask requirement that applies to indoor merchants and guests will also apply to all outdoor vendors and guests.
  • Access to each farmers' market booth will be limited. Markings on ground will indicate this requirement and will show the distance required between people. Only one person/group traveling together may be in each box at a time.
  • Several farms and vendors will offer contact-free shopping and pre-orders. North Market asks that guests pre-order and plan out shopping trips when possible. This helps keep crowds to a minimum and lines moving smoothly.
  • Farms and vendors will provide hand sanitizer for guest use.
  • North Market farms and vendors are committed to helping prevent the spread of illness by washing hands frequently, covering coughs/sneezes, staying home when sick, and avoiding exposure to others who are sick. We ask that all guests follow the same protocols and do not visit North Market or the Farmers' Market if feeling ill.
  • North Market farms and vendors will continue to strictly follow all local public health guidelines, safety protocols, and best practices.

If you’re interested in which merchants will be open on what days, North Market has been dedicated to providing you with that information during the pandemic. You can find the list, which is updated daily, here.

Although there are still limitations on indoor seating, outdoor seating on the porch and the farmers’ market plaza are currently available.

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