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InnerVision

Sam Shepherd and Genene Blackwell didn’t come into this world together. But they’ve navigated much of their lives since then as an inseparable pair. Both born prematurely and with significant visual impairments, the duo were in the same NICU at the same time, began preschool together, started piano lessons together, rode the same bus, marched [...]
Aaron Wetli

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Sam Shepherd and Genene Blackwell didn’t come into this world together.

But they’ve navigated much of their lives since then as an inseparable pair.

Both born prematurely and with significant visual impairments, the duo were in the same NICU at the same time, began preschool together, started piano lessons together, rode the same bus, marched together in the world’s only blind marching band, graduated together, and would eventually collaborate with their band InnerVision. They are as intertwined as two individuals can be, and like Adams and Jefferson or Bird and Magic, it is impossible to tell one of their stories without telling the other.

For those unfamiliar, Innervisions (1973) is also the name of arguably the most famous and critically-acclaimed album of Stevie Wonder’s career. Naming their band in the vein of this album makes sense as Sam and Genene share their love of funk, soul, rock, and jazz with Wonder, along with their visual impairments.

Trying to make a living in Columbus as a musician has enough hurdles, but try adding being blind to the mix. It’s not like Sam or Genene can drive, and public transportation in this city —especially pertaining to those with disabilities—is sorely lacking. With the help of grandparents and parents, who double as managers, the duo have been playing the summer festival circuit. They’ve been making appearances in Columbus and beyond at Plum Run Winery (Grove City), Buckeye Lake Winery (Thornville), Tucci’s (Dublin). Mudflats (Galena), and Notes (Downtown).

Their long-term goals are humble. Sam stands firmly in practicality. He wants to build a life upon his craft.

“I want to make enough to pay the bills and make a living,” he said.

Genene’s response is closer to the heart. She wants to “bring joy to people’s hearts through my music,” she said. Those may be the least pretentious statements made by any musician. In the history of the world. Ever.

I was lucky enough to recently watch an InnerVision show at Oliver’s, a hidden gem of a downtown restaurant, where live blues is performed on Friday and Saturday nights. I asked the duo if they get butterflies before live performances. But Sam takes it in stride.

”Sometimes not being able to see the crowd is good for stage fright,” he said.

Well played, sir. Well played.

The dimly lit and intimate venue and motif was perfect for the duo as they seamlessly transitioned between blues, jazz, soul, rock, and pop covers. They touched on all the standards: “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Unchain My Heart,” “Hound Dog,” and “Summertime.” The crowd, along with the waitstaff and bartenders, were bewitched with InnerVision’s musical chops and entertained by Sam’s witty banter with audience members.

To put it bluntly, InnerVision is a well-oiled machine. Genene rocks the keys and Sam, who handles most of the vocals, jumps between guitar, bongos, trombone, and harmonica. InnerVision isn’t a couple of acoustic frat bros fumbling through a local open mic night; they are musical prodigies who take no prisoners and kill the audience with kindness.

And I don’t think the term prodigy is hyperbolic as both musicians can hear a piece of music once or twice and have it mastered (instrument, lyrics, vocals) within 30 minutes. Their only assistance is the occasional YouTube tutorial or bouncing ideas off each other.

When asked to name their favorite artists, Genene is decisive:

“Adele and Alicia Keys. Those two are the best.”

Sam is a little more traditional with favorites such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Sam Cooke, and Aaron Neville. The influence of classics come from his dad; his soul comes from inside.

However, in true InnerVision fashion, the duo put their own touches on contemporary hits. When you catch them live, ask them to perform their stripped-down, bluesy version of the Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” This cover alone is worth the price of admission.

Despite their visual impairments, Sam and Genene are like many other 27 year-olds and enjoy going to the gym, checking social media, listening to music and watching superhero movies. Unlike other 27 year-olds, their lives are significantly impacted by their disabilities, but not so much that they are giving up their dream of playing live music for a living.

What exactly can be attributed to InnerVision’s seamless on stage chemistry? Maybe it is their cosmic connection and the fact that they have known each other for the entirety of their 27 years? Maybe it’s the fact that they are brother and sister in every way except biologically? Maybe they share a bond that only persons with disabilities can share?

What I do know is that you should go see them live. Sam and Genene don’t need your pity or charity. They, like all Columbus musicians, need your attention, social media likes and cover charges. Actually, just go ahead and book them for the next event you are hosting. You will get three hours of world class musicianship from two people who are making their way by letting their inner lights shine. •

You can catch multiple InnerVision shows this month, from Worthington to Gahanna to Lewis Center. For more, visit innervisionmusic.com.

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Arts & Culture

What’s Open: Venues slowly start to roll out live music

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When it was announced in mid-May that wedding venues and banquet halls would reopen at the beginning of June, the next question became: When will music venues be next?

Although the rollout has been slow and will be gradual, Columbus venues and attractions that regularly house live music are making their comeback. When the high-spirited, good-feeling cover band Popgun graced the Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen on May 27, many people’s greatest fears of being robbed of live music for the rest of the year were eased maybe a little.

The only way for us to get currently get down to live music is to sit down, which is a fair trade-off given the times.

Check out a few Columbus venues that are set to reopen or have reopened under strict coronavirus guidelines.

  • The Forum Columbus -- The Forum welcomed back live music on May 29 with a tabled RSVP DJ showcase. For this event, guests were required to come in groups of no more than 10, be seated six feet apart from other groups, and remain seated unless you have to use the restroom. There are no future events planned as of this publishing.
  • 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. It’s unclear when the next time Otherworld will host live music, but this is a giant step in the right direction in terms of venue re-openings.
  • South Drive-In -- It’s not a venue in Columbus that traditionally holds music, but it’s become one and may stay one for the time being. Viral DJ Marc Rebillet will be bringing his sold-out drive-in show to the South Drive-In on June 14. With these types of performances popping up all around the country and the South Drive-In owner getting plenty of event requests, we will hopefully be seeing more shows of this nature in the warmer months.
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Community

Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Community

Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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