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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



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

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Columbus Does Good: Empowerbus helps close the employment gap

614now Staff



Aslyne Rodriguez is pitch perfect, though not necessarily in any sort of musical sense. Her passion for transportation innovation demands immediate attention in any room, and by the time she’s done making the case for bringing equity to employment through a tiny fleet of commuter buses, folks often find themselves singing the same tune.

But when she was handed the microphone at a gathering of stakeholders at Rev1 Ventures discussing the city’s ongoing efforts to increase economic inclusion, the set list suddenly changed. Instead of delivering her polished pitch on urban mobility to a capacity crowd, she was overcome by her own unlikely origin story. She reflected on her grandparents’ journey from Puerto Rico with only an elementary education, and welled up as she revealed her grandmother’s dream of opening a cake shop that never came to be. Raised near Youngstown, her parents both worked for the local school district—her mother a guidance counselor, her father a school bus mechanic. It was an early epiphany, realizing the parents of the kids who rode those same buses to school every day often struggled to get to work themselves, that would become the inspiration and driving force behind EmpowerBus.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

“That was a raw moment. Something came over me and I needed to tell that story,” confessed Rodriguez, founder of EmpowerBus. “There are communities with the desire to be entrepreneurs, but they don’t have the pathway. Not everyone can do a friends-and- family round of fundraising for their startup. I’m only one generation removed from coming here with limited education and not knowing the language.”

What started with a single 25-passenger bus that shuttled employees from the Morse Road corridor to New Albany has in two years pivoted to a more nimble 14-passenger model with routes throughout Central Ohio, including the recent addition of an autonomous shuttle service in the underserved neighborhood of Linden as part of the Smart Columbus initiative. It wasn’t a contract she pursued, but one that found her based on a reputation of earnest intentions in a community that can prove short on trust after decades of disappointment.

“We have been loved by the community in a way most companies aren’t. But we’re still very careful about how we use the term ‘social enterprise.’ People think, ‘Oh, you’re a nonprofit and you do good work.’ ‘No, we’re a for-profit business that wants to do good work,’” she explained. “In some circles of Columbus, social enterprises are still misunderstood. We want to grow our business, and take care of our people. It’s how we expand to serve more communities.”

Like most midsize cities, Columbus wasn’t created for cars, but evolved to rely on them almost exclusively. Half a century of urban flight only amplified our cultural dependency on single-occupancy vehicles. Recent years have seen an overdue disruption in transportation, from Uber and Lyft to scooters and self-driving vehicles. But depending on any of those to get to work, an internship, or a doctor’s appointment reliably is dicey at best and undeniably cost prohibitive. For those of more modest means, the transportation revolution is still leaving them behind, and the face of who is left out is changing.

“Everyday in America, 10,000 adults turn 65 years old. They all don’t need shared transportation, but they may be taking care of aging parents who do—and they could soon too, or may just want to opt out of driving,” she explained. “They call it the ‘Silver Tsunami’. But people are also moving back into cities, they want walkability and maybe don’t want to have or need a car.”

The dynamics of demographics are changing all around. A relatively recent return to city centers has actually reduced the pool of potential employees for companies with warehouses beyond suburbia. Bus routes tend to cover the hours and destinations of those heading into downtown, not out of it. It’s a gap EmpowerBus closes, often cutting travel times by municipal buses in half with fewer stops, and with routes and a scope that have both expanded to bring employees in rural Licking county closer to Columbus, as well as transport employees from the Southeast side to destinations in Delaware.

“How do we get people to a job that helps them advance their lives? Workforce is still a central conversation for us,” Rodriguez noted. “Maybe they are working a job they can walk to that pays them $10 an hour, but maybe with transportation they can get to a job that pays $17 an hour with benefits and a 401k? That’s a big deal; it changes their lives.”

Mobility means more than just transportation, and Rodriguez is the first to admit her ambitions are audacious. Recent partnerships with Spectrum and Accenture will introduce an educational component to EmpowerBus during the ride with tablets as teaching tools. Second-chance employment for those exiting incarceration combined with low unemployment create a catalyst for hiring that wouldn’t happen without access to locations that are desperate for workers, but often in areas where they are in short supply.

“Smart Columbus prompted a broader conversation about workforce transportation. A lot of companies created ‘mobility ambassadors’ to discuss opportunities they wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” she revealed. “We’re also a logistics hub with a lot of manufacturing and distribution that happens here, and the market is tight. Employers are more open now to second- chance employment than they have been in the past. But how do those potential employees get to a job that allows them to restart?”

As with any startup, the future is where the rubber hits the road. Helping prospective employers identify “opportunity zones” based on their current workforce, or simply reducing the demand and cost for employee parking, illustrate the balance of creative and comprehensive solutions the company can offer— more than just in Columbus. Invitations to expand to cities elsewhere in Ohio, as well as surrounding states, show just how far and wide word has spread about EmpowerBus, its founder, and her dream. Aslyne Rodriguez moves people.

“The next step for EmpowerBus is to fulfill everything we set out to do and see what that looks like at scale. Our goal is to deliver upward mobility for all by providing dignified, reliable, on-time transportation to work, education, and healthcare,” she explained. “Expanding into another city and just scraping by isn’t a strategy. We’re a startup that has bootstrapped it so far, and we have to decide if we’re going to go big or grow incrementally. But for now, we’re investing in our people and processes, so when the time comes to scale up, we’ll be ready.”

For more information on EmpowerBus, visit

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Former OSU player starts career as Columbus Firefighter

614now Staff



Former Buckeye and New Orleans Saints running back running back Antonio Pittman is trading the pads and helmet of the gridiron for a fire hose and a...different helmet in his new career, according to ABC6.

Having recently graduated from the Columbus Fire Academy, Pittman is now on his first week on the job at fire station 12 on the city's west side.

A native of Akron, Pittman played for Ohio State from 2004 to 2006, and was part of the number 1 ranked team that defeated number 2 Michigan 42-39 in the "Game of the Century."

Pittman was then drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but was forced to retire from the NFL following a persistent knee injury.

"My goal was just to play football and honestly, I did that. And the dream was to have a ten-year career and to retire at 32 years old and be off in the sunset and just living comfortably. But you know, plans change and in life, you have to adapt to the change," Pittman told ABC6.

"My goal was to one day give back to a community, a city that's given me so much. A city that changed my whole outlook on life as a kid growing up in Akron."

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The Rest Is History: Couples in Columbus share their stories of falling in love

Mitch Hooper



Illustration by Sarah Moore

If Hollywood would ever pick up a romantic comedy about a couple falling in love in Columbus, how would it look? Would it be an epic story ending in an intimate proposal on the Scioto Mile, or two strangers bumping into each other at the Varsity Club on game day?

Funny enough, both are very plausible.

This month, we wanted to answer the question: what do love stories in Columbus look like? And what we found is sometimes love stories don’t happen in Columbus; instead they happen because of Columbus. While some folks were high school sweethearts who rekindled the flame, others struck up conversation in countries far away just because they shared the same ZIP code. In part, where you’re from shapes who you are, and for these couples, the capital city holds a special spot in their hearts. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Rachel Grauer and Aaron Guilkey

Aaron and I first met in the early 2000s at Eli Pinney Elementary in Dublin. He was my first boyfriend in fourth grade and broke my heart on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, for the young folk). We didn’t speak a word to each other all of high school, thank you high school social hierarchy. I went on to OU and he to OSU. We reconnected after college while on a bar crawl in the Short North and the rest is history. We are getting married September 2020!

Lauren Sheridan and David Tripp

All of this is true: We met at a Clippers baseball game. It was a team outing for work. I worked with his mom and she was setting us up. This story is meant to be a complete disaster. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Our first o cial date was at 16-Bit, where we would take our engagement pictures over two years later. He lived in Arizona for 10 years before moving back to Columbus in 2016. It’s been fun reintroducing him to the city, especially our food and beer scene. I can’t imagine having these adventures with anyone else.

Misty and Erin Dickinson

We met at Rendezvous Hair Salon, where she is a hairstylist. Then we spent time together at Drauma at the Bluestone, followed by a night out for a Nina West show at Axis complete with dinner at Union and after party drinks at Macs. We were with my friends and I o ered to walk her to her car which had been towed because, well, Columbus. I stayed with her until we finally found her car at 3 a.m. We started hanging out a lot after that while we both swore we were “just friends”! Almost five years later and we are back in Columbus after a two year move to Tampa. We married (twice, but the story will be way over 100 words! Second time at LaNavona), and have a thousand Columbus stories. Columbus is our home. The place we love and always come back to. There is no place like it.

Kellie Anne and Carl Rainey

I moved to Columbus from LA in 2014 and met my now-husband a month after the move. We found out quickly that we were both California sports fans and went on our first date on Halloween. Lakers vs. Clippers was on the TV at the bar, so we made a bet and the loser had to pick up the tab. My Clippers beat his Lakers, so he had to pay up. We’ve been inseparable ever since. We got married March 23, 2019, and I’m so happy to call Columbus my forever home now!

Daniel Custer and Jenny Harris

I met Jenny on a wine cruise in Santorini, Greece. I saw her from across the pier before we boarded and knew I wanted to chat her up—she was gorgeous. She and her friends sat by me on the catamaran and we began telling one another where we were from. When it got to Jenny, she said she was from Columbus. I said, “Where?!” and she said “Grandview!” We spent the rest of the weekend together, along with the past three years.

Brittany and Ethan Monk

We met as employees at Scioto Country Club in UA. He was a broke server and I was a broke student working as a hostess. We spent many holidays away from family but with each other. We are complete opposites that were impossibly attracted to one another. We married and have 2 children. Still opposites—I work in clinical research and he is a musician and stay-at-home dad. We both have made Columbus our home!

Nicole Erdeljac and Andrew Crowell

We spent the day (separately) at the 2019 Memorial Tournament and were hanging out at the Bogey Inn afterwards. He was standing at the bar and I was behind him, waiting to be served. His friend kept accidentally hitting my shoulder while trying to reach over me to get his attention. I was visibly annoyed when he asked me to tap him. But, I did. We spent the rest of the night dancing to the live band and had our first date a week later at the Columbus Arts Fest, once again, dancing to the live sounds of Anderson East. The rest is history!

Tracie Lynn and Adam Douglas Keller

It was one month to the day after my mother had lost her battle to cancer in 2007. It was one of my favorite nights for being out in Columbus—Red, White, and Boom. After my sister’s and my friend’s group persistently encouraged us to go out for fireworks and time with friends, we agreed. We needed something light and fun. What could possibly come of that?

I’ll never forget the moment that I made eye contact with this handsome, tall and smiling man. He had happened to be out with a mutual friend of our group. We made small talk, listened to live bands, and, well—the rest is history. Nearly 13 years later, we now have two great kids, two dogs, and a rich, full life in Columbus. This is the city we met in, and the one we made a life in. I couldn’t ask for a better love story.

Rebecca Scha er and Peter Yeager

We met at Ledo’s, the first bar on our OSU senior bar crawl list. Flash forward 12 hours later at World of Beer, we bumped into each other again and he handed me a raw russet potato with his name and number written on it in Sharpie. Super weird and random but it did the trick. I called him my soul mate to his face that night. Last winter he took me around town. We stopped at both those bars, reminiscing about our time together. He asked me to be his wife in the middle of the same World of Beer where he gave me that first potato, hiding the ring in a large toy Mrs. Potato head. There’s no other way I would have liked the beginning of our story to go.

Victoria and Ryan Metzinger

I met my amazing husband in Columbus on a blind date set up by mutual friends (sounds very 1995, but it was actually 2011). He suggested a casual drink at Grandview Cafe and I upped the ante for dinner at Third & Hollywood. We continued to Spagio and ended at Grandview Cafe and the rest is history! Now, with two beautiful boys, our WiFi network will always be labeled “Third and Hollywood” as an ode to the perfect setting for a first date. We also visit the restaurant every year on our anniversary and it will never lose its luster.

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