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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

Clintonville shop earns “America’s Best” award

614now Staff

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Clintonville's Johnny Velo Bikes has been named one of the top bike shops in the nation according to an industry source.

Johnny Velo Bikes has received an America’s Best Bike Shop award from the National Bike Dealers Association (NBDA). The shop is among only six in Ohio to earn the distinction.

“It's an honor to be recognized as one of the best bike shops out of more 4,000 shops in the country," owner John Robinson said in a statement. "We've only been in business for two years, but we've worked very hard to create a professional and friendly atmosphere for our customers."

The NBDA's America's Best Bike Shops program identifies and rewards bicycle stores in North America against the highest performance standards in the industry. The awards are issued based on an application and secret shopper process, with shops scored on layout and design, staff and management, training, marketing, and community involvement.

Contact John Robinson at 614-333-0012 or [email protected] for all your bike-related needs. For details on the shop, visit www.johnyyvelobikes.com.

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Arts & Culture

Maker’s Space: Kato Mitchell

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Following an initial disastrous experience with attempting to refurbish a personal pair of sneakers with acrylic paint years ago, a friend noticed Mitchell’s persistence, aiding him to perfect his craft. Though he began with primarily focusing on restoring his friends’ worn-down sneakers, Mitchell’s business, Work The Custom, has expanded to designing apparel in any range.

Just months after being highlighted as cleat designer for Braxton Miller’s Charg1ng summer football camp in Dayton, Mitchell’s clientele has accrued some big names in the sports world, and he has no intention of stopping. (614) caught up with Mitchell to learn more about Work The Custom, and his hope for reconstructing apparel in Columbus and beyond.

(614): When did you decide to transition from football to design?
KM: I’ve always had a passion for drawing and art, [but] I just lost my vision when I took actual art classes and didn’t like what we were doing. After college, I didn’t get any NFL calls, [and] I was trying to figure out what else I would love to do every day, and fell back in love with art.

What was your leap from “this thing I do” to the thing to do? How do you promote your work? After I realized how many people wanted to show who they really are with art, and I was someone who could help do that, that was my ironing point. I promote my work through Instagram and Facebook for the most part, but I do go to sneaker events from time-to-time to pass out business cards.

Is this your primary gig, side gig or hobby? How did it come to be?
It’s my side gig for the moment, but trying to grow and learn to make it my full-time career. I had a pair of shoes that were beat up and didn’t want to buy more so I painted them, but one of my friends taught me the game and how to prosper from it.

What life changes do you feel have propelled your work? How have your customizations evolved? Playing football for a place like Ohio State and doing work for Buckeyes in the NFL and for the OSU football team has helped grow my work faster and further. My customs have evolved just by me growing up and seeing different things, learning different things, practicing everyday, and being able to adapt.

Do you have a specific audience that you want to appeal to?
I want my work to be for everyone. My work can range from baby shoes to youth high school players of all sports, to walls of homeowners and businesses, to shoes for pro athletes.

What ingredients come together to make Columbus a fertile ground for makers, designers and creatives? Columbus is a growing market and very friendly. It has new businesses starting every week and everyone is trying to help everyone else.

What’s your six-word creative story?

Work The Custom is coming fast!

To get in contact with Mitchell, or to see more designs, follow him on Instagram at @katowork19.

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Sports

Twitter Reacts: Bucks score #1 spot in first official playoff rankings

Mike Thomas

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The first official rankings for the 2019 College Football Playoff were announced yesterday, and the Buckeyes have landed at the top of the pile. The ranking marks the first time the Buckeyes have held the #1 spot since the inception of the playoff system.

Needless to say, social media is abuzz with reactions to this historic moment for Ryan Day's squad. Enjoy this roundup of reactions to the announcement from around Twitterverse, and Go Bucks!

https://twitter.com/11W/status/1191906549750489088
https://twitter.com/BarstoolOSU/status/1191906673960652800
https://twitter.com/lawschoollex/status/1191909159815524353
https://twitter.com/CaliBuckeyeGuy/status/1191906878181105664
https://twitter.com/ESPNCFB/status/1191906381999353856
https://twitter.com/ArrogantBuckeye/status/1191907918691622913
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