Sunday, May 29, 2011

"The Smorgasbord" / May 27-28 / Haffa's and GG's Bubble Tea's Basements

What do you mean Baker Center is closed? They actually expect us to walk up that hill all weekend?

Memorial Day weekend turns Athens into somewhat of a ghost town. The University essentially shuts down, most of the student body goes home, and a tumbleweed can be seen making its lonesome journey down an abandoned Court Street—granted the tumbleweed is in the form of an empty natty box… but I digress.

There is one event Memorial Day weekend that the left behind (I thought the rapture was last weekend?) can look forward to: “The Smorgasbord.”

Smorgasbord Day 1:

“The Smorgasbord” kicked off at 7:30 Friday Night at Union Arts, a.k.a the Basement of Haffa’s Records, with a performance art piece.

Here I will choose to lift a phrase from Staff Writer Scott Smith: “I’ve never been equipped to interpret interpretive dance.” Nor have I, Scott, nor have I. And so I chose to sit that one out in what was left of the day’s sunshine while I waited for word that singer/songwriter/poet Dawn Parker would be taking the stage.

Now I’ve seen Parker read at Donkey Coffee’s Designated Space pretty regularly, and the girl is honestly one of the best writers I’ve ever encountered. People who are getting ready to leave will literally sit back down when Zach Fulton (emcee of DS and organizer of the Smorgasbord) calls her to the stage just to hear her work. That being said, I had no idea she could sing. She can. Beautifully. Between her poetic lyricism and heart-breakingly smooth vocals, her set was definitely one to remember—as was her interpretation of the Decemberists’ “The Crane Wife” with which she closed.

Following Dawn was a poetry-reading by Dan Moore. Moore, another frequenter of Donkey’s DS, gave a truly phenomenal performance. I’ve seen him read his work countless times but never with this much feeling, this much truth.

I took a break from the Smorgasbord and returned for Hannah Cook’s acoustic set. She played some great originals, particularly one about a recent camping trip, but her cover of Ben Kweller’s “Lizzy” stood out above all the rest. That girl needs to put that on youtube. Immediately. It would shame all of the other covers into submission within the first 30 seconds. Cook was joined midway through her set by two other musicians, a guitarist and pianist. They complimented her well and, despite breaks to tune, put on a lovey show. I hope to see more of them in the future.

Closing out the night was another poetry-reading, this time by Jesse Pyle. If you’ve never been to Union Art’s, imagine a basement under a record store with black walls and floor, minimal lighting, a chain-link fence, a few random balloons, and an assortment of college-aged hipster kids, well over half of whom are toting liquor in their purses/murses. Now, imagine a man in a suit who looks like he just stepped out of Harvard grad school circa 1964 reading in fluent Anglo-saxon and Italian.

I love this town.

Day 2:

The Smorgasbord reconvened Saturday at 7ish in the basement of GG’s Bubble Tea.

Opening up the night was poet Justin Carel. Carel is another poetic talent who frequents DS and, again, though I have seen him read before and always been impressed, there was just something about this particular performance that showed he was pulling out all the stops. Carel has an uncanny ability of mixing beat poetics, humor, social conscious themes, and devastating nostalgia into creations that leave a listener sometimes laughing, sometimes heartbroken, sometimes a little of both, but always enthralled. On top of that, he does improvisations with help from audience suggestions. How Carel can turn the suggestions of “socks” and “turtles” into an introspective piece on humanity is something beyond me. But thank god he can.

After Carel, was a set by 99₵ Dreamz. It was honestly his best show to date. His beats were perfectly in line with his vocals, there were no technical difficulties, and he brought bags of computer paper strips. The computer paper thing might seem strange to you. Clearly, you have no idea how fun it is to mosh in a pile of that stuff. Try it. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Okay, now you understand.

Jokes and stage antics aside, 99₵ Dreamz has some seriously bitingly clever lyrics. He passed judgment on the college hook-up culture with “I still had the nerve to call you the very next day/ despite knowing that you slept with him instead of just fucking me” on the track “Somewhere Near State Street.” He sent a heartwarming shout-out to his girlfriend, Danielle Wallette. He did a duet with his best friend Jeni Shaw—a girl with crazy pipes who needs to play out more. And he even wrote a new song about the rapture, probably his most impressive one yet which deals strongly with dystopic themes: “I was there when the world was supposed to end/ May 21, 2011/ All the college kids were outside drinking their beers/ Nothing changed here.”

I left the Smorgasbord soon after the 99₵ Dreamz set, but I did stay long enough to see a particularly endearing short film about the family that owns Souvlakis’, narrated by their 8 year old daughter.

I can think of no better way to spend Memorial Day in Athens than in dark basements with good friends, good music, and good poetry. These are our college years. This is our smorgasbord.

--Amanda Norris, Staff Writer

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