Friday, July 31, 2015

"PROBLEMS" by Bryce Willey (Guest Post)

by Bryce Willey
(Guest Post)

Bryce is a fascinating 16-
year-old writer and artist
who resides currently on
Florida's Space Coast. We
chat often on the phone
or via social media 
usually during the wee
hours. I find the pictures
he paints with his words
to be riveting. And I'm
honored to welcome him
on board officially as my
latest "Guest Contributor."



Push and pull — tug of war with my limbs.
Russian Roulette with my heart 
Scratch, scratch, blood drying tears  
pouring pain increasing.

My thoughts corroding my imagination 
the nail through the wrist, the razor cuts deep.

My depression is a cry 
a cry of fear, a cry for help.
Just one pick-me-up message
isn't gonna do it this time.
The blunt, the pipe, the needle meet my skin.

Preparing, overbearing, making excuses 
believing the lies, forsaken wounds laugh it off.

Who cares it's just a phase — 
God I hope it's just a phase.
I can't let go — why can't I let go.
Please God let me let it go. 
Let me end the pain, sorrow,
guilt, terror, the loneliness.

The horrors of yesterday and
the nightmares of tomorrow  
it's sickening my stomach. 

Screw everybody 
I've stopped crying and started smiling.
My smiles are an illusion, a magic trick.
You're the audience, cheering me on, I guess...

The show is sold-out.
And by sold-out, I mean, shut down.
I've stopped selling tickets 
I've just stopped.

I wanna get better, but I don't know how.
Why is the hardest thing to do in life, is survive?

-Bryce Willey
(July 2015)


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Monday, July 27, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: "Breaking the Cycle of Offense" by Larry Ollison

Breaking the 
Cycle of Offense
- Larry Ollison -
Harrison House Publishers

Brick Heck is a lovable 10-year-
old nerd, seen weekly on the
wildly popular network sitcom,
the middle. One of Brick's
quirkiest qualities is that he
always has his nose buried in a
book — completely oblivious to
his surroundings. Oddly, when
it comes to consuming books by
Larry Ollison, I'm the same way.

Ever-engaging, Dr. Larry Ollison cuts to the chase in short order unpacking his message in his typical no-nonsense, conversational style.

"No matter where you go in life, you can meet someone who is upset and offended," Ollison writes in the opening to one of his most relevant faith-based life guides, Breaking the Cycle of Offense. "A simple decision to let go (of offense) brings life," he continues. "Anyone willing to make the decision to release offense can live in complete freedom." Hmm, and so it begins...

"Although you cannot stop people
from being offensive, you can
prevent them from offending you."
-Larry Ollison

Ollison's primary message is clear, compelling and broken down simply — grasping "offense" can kill. We need only to release it, or better yet, never take hold of it. Offering unique analogies, he compares the grip with which we hold on to offense to being like a monkey, trapped by hunters in the jungle while clinging to a "bait stick." No matter what, even to its death, the monkey simply won't release the bait.

Once again, Ollison stands on oodles of Scriptures to not only make his points regarding offense, but to also offer heartfelt encouragement regarding — forgiveness. You can do it, through Christ!

"When Jesus hung on the cross, He made
a most amazing statement regarding
forgiveness, He said, 'Father, forgive
them, for they do not know what they
do.' If Jesus didn't hold anything against
the people who were responsible for
His death, certainly you can release
those who have offended you. Make
the decision to release hurt today.
Make today the day you get set free."
-Larry Ollison

I've had coffee with Larry Ollison
nearly every morning for a year!
This is the fourth book from Ollison that I've devoured in just the last year — usually during my daily, early morning Starbucks devotions time. And although I'm impressed constantly by his seemingly limitless Bible knowledge, I'm more impressed by the wisdom he possesses in not "preaching" and not talking down to, or over his readers. Heck, any author / pastor who can effectively point to dirty socks and having a beer as a means of conveying his message is MY kind of author / pastor.

"One reason the things of God are
misunderstood is because religious
people have complicated the Word
of God, making it difficult to follow."
-Larry Ollison

Larry Ollison continues to speak to me — from the heart and from the Word of God. He truly is that laid back guy wearing the Hawaiian shirt, sitting at the end of the bar who you look forward to having coffee with every morning. And for me, his books (this one in particular) make for very unique and personal "small group" experiences.

-Christopher Long 
(July 2015)

Larry Ollison:
Breaking the
Cycle of Offense
Get it HERE



C'MON! -

Thursday, July 16, 2015

RECORD REVIEW: Jule Vera "Friendly Enemies"

Jule Vera
Friendly Enemies
(Pure Noise Records)

I love it when a new band
makes the scene that exudes
"IT" factor  an indescribable,
yet undeniable quality that
screams, "we may be a side-
stage act on our first tour,
but we're about to become the
biggest band in the world."
In 3, 2, 1 — BOOM!

There I was, minding my own business, making my way from the Beatport stage to the corn dog concession during the July 5th Orlando, Florida date of this summer's Vans Warped Tour. And there they were, five fresh-faced youngins, sporting long hair and form-fitting fashions with low-strung electric guitars and swagger to spare — commanding the Kevin Says stage with all the cock rock confidence of a platinum-selling arena rock act. The intoxicating presence and angelic voice of the band's singer, Ansley Newman, hooked me, while the power of the band's impeccable songs reeled me in. Note to self: Remember Jule Vera. THIS band is gonna be HUGE!

(Orlando, FL - 7.5.15)
I acquired a copy of Friendly Enemies, the debut release from the Alabama-based combo in short order following their explosive Orlando performance. Oozing hypnotic melodies and engaging poetry, combined with enough catchy hooks and crunchy riffs to sink a mid-sized petroleum tanker, this eight-song collection is easily THE best record of 2015 thus far. And in my own personal headspace, it's the shiniest golden treasure I've discovered since Hoobastank's 2009 masterpiece, For(n)ever.

Produced by Mitch ParksFriendly Enemies kicks off with the alluring, "Chemical Machine." A delightful stylistic mixture of Fiona Apple and Tal & Acacia, Newman mesmerizes as she confesses seductively  "This love is radioactive. So much so, it'll keep us distracted. Feels like a chemical machine inside, burning for you and me." Doggonit man, that's good stuff!

Reality check — a band can be literally hemorrhaging "vibe" and "mystique" (and Jule Vera does), but if they ain't got songs, they ain't got jack. And it's that department in which Friendly Enemies delivers the biggest payoff. Simply put, "Light the Night" and "One Little String" are incredible songs well-written, infectious earworms with Buick-sized choruses that are as uplifting as any Praise and Worship powerhouse. Kudos to songwriting collaborators, Mitch Parks and Dustin Burnett.

Just a couple kids on a 
rampage made of love.
We're never getting caught,
don't care if it's dangerous.
Let's make this moment,
so big that we can't hold it.
With hearts so wild
it's scaring me.
(From "Light the Night")

Watch the video for "Light the Night."

Possessing all the compelling charm and heartfelt beauty of a Butch Walker staple, following a sexual reassignment procedure, "Scarlet Letter" is a delicate and elegant, piano-driven gemstone — "Save your roses and all your sweet talk. Boy, you must think you're so clever. But poisonous words give you away, like wearing a scarlet letter." Who writes songs like this anymore? Nobody! And that's what makes Jule Vera greater than any of today's cookie-cutter, comb-over collectives and filth-spewing, basketball jersey-wearing barf bands.

Reinforced by walls of glorious guitar work, the record's title track is heavy, a tad eerie, and proves that a band can have hooks, without compromising cred. Another chilling highlight, to be sure.

Hanging at the Warped Tour
with my new hero, Jule Vera
bassist William Stacey.
(Orlando, FL - 7.5.15)
In sum, Friendly Enemies proves that Jule Vera is, in fact, destined for greatness. That is, as long as they don't give into playing the "trash" card. Today's pop culture / music scene is far too noisy and over-crowed with desperate divas and egomaniacal muzos. If this band continues to stand together, protects their brand and stays the course, they WILL become the biggest band in the world. In 3, 2, 1 BOOM!

-Christopher Long
(July 2015)

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"SWING!" - An Award-Winning Broadway Musical Comes to Florida's Space Coast

It don't mean a thing
if it ain't got that...
July 17 - 19
King Center / Melbourne, FL

They've spent weeks
auditioning and rehearsing
— the best and brightest
up-and-coming actors
currently on Florida's
Space Coast. Now comes
the pay off — not only
for the dedicated cast,
but also for thousands
of hometown theatre
enthusiasts — like me.

Melbourne, Florida's King Center for the Performing Arts and the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse have once again teamed up to present the Annual Summer Musical Theatre Project. Over the last four seasons this successful and educational youth-based endeavor has brought such iconic, world-class productions as Oklahoma! and Hairspray to the King Center stage. And on Friday and Saturday, July 17th and 18th (7:30pm) and Sunday, July 19th (2pm), this year's talented troupe recreates the Tony Award-nominated musical, SWING!

Katie Davis (Cent. L) and John Dudley (Cent. R)
lead fellow cast members in a dress rehearsal
for the upcoming production of SWING!
(Photo courtesy of Tim Short, Florida Today)
I recently reconnected with John Dudley, one of the show's bright young stars, who was happy to offer a few personal insights regarding the upcoming production. "Swing! is an interesting show in the way that it never stops," commented the recent Rockledge High School graduate who will be joining the Fine Arts Department at Coastal North Carolina University this fall. "From start to finish, songs from the World War II era come one right after another," added the 19-year-old theatre veteran. "It's so lively, and since there really isn't a main character that is followed throughout the show, the ensemble is on, constantly dancing and singing to all of these well-known songs."

"It's a show that just
makes you feel good."
-John Dudley

SWING! - At the King Center - July 17-19
(Photo courtesy of Tim Short, Florida Today)
Hannah Crytzer has been performing in local theatre productions since she was 10. Now, at the ripe old age of 14, she appeared to be over the moon about her role in SWING! During our recent one-on-one conversation, the young actress echoed Dudley's enthusiasm, while also acknowledging the incredible amount of hard work that the 30-female and six-male cast members have invested over the last several weeks. A labor of love, to be sure.

"The artistic direction for the
program has far exceeded my
expectation. Not only does the
Summer Musical Theatre
Project culminate with exciting
entertainment, but the students
learn so much. The educational
value is priceless."
-Karen Wilson
(King Center Theatre for Youth Director)

SWING! - Tickets on sale NOW.
(Photo courtesy of Tim Short, Florida Today)
Touted as a song and dance extravaganza, complete with a LIVE onstage orchestra, SWING! celebrates timeless musical treasures from America's golden bygone era, including such classics as "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing)," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "G.I. Jive," "In the Mood," "Cry Me a River" and many others. Nearly-forgotten dance styles, including Jive, Swing, Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing and Hip Hop Swing will also certainly captivate this weekend's crowds. Two hours of non-stop entertainment is guaranteed for all — a tremendous way to support the arts, local youth and education. 

-Christopher Long
(July 2015)


Great seats still available.
Get your tickets NOW at:
(321) 242-2219
Box Office
Mon-Fri / Noon-6pm
Sat / Noon-4pm

Check out my other
Florida theatre features:
-The Sound of Music-
-Little Mermaid Jr.-

The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
Get it on Amazon.

Currently in development...

Thursday, July 9, 2015

CONCERT REVIEW: Vans Warped Tour - Orlando, FL (7.5.15)

Vans Warped Tour
Tinker Field / Orlando, Florida

Throngs of enthusiasts gathered
— the young, and the young at
heart. From far and wide they
traveled — each on a personal
mission  mission to rock.
Welcome to the Warped Tour.

In 1979, my mom drove me and my and blue-eyed blond surfer chick girlfriend from Satellite Beach to Orlando's famed Tangerine Bowl to experience the Florida World Music Festival. I was 16, and my gal was 15. In addition to headline performances from Aerosmith and Ted Nugent — two of the era's mightiest forces, the day-long event also featured live sets from such up-and-coming powerhouses as Cheap Trick and Blackfoot. From my Section 306 / Row 512 / Seat 13 perch, I was offered a bird's eye view of non-stop drug use, alcohol consumption and acts of disorderly behavior. Gross! Did I just step in puke? And by the end of the day, the two of us once wide-eyed kids were famished, sun-burnt and exhausted — overwhelmed by the sweet emotion of the 10-hour free-for-all.

Fast forward 36 years. Now known as the Citrus Bowl, I returned to the hallowed grounds as an adult, accompanying my 16-year-old niece and her teenage BF to what's become the most iconic annual traveling music festival in the country — the Vans Warped Tour. But unlike my mom all those years ago, I'd be providing more than mere taxi service in 2015 — I'd be actually attending the show. In fact, given that my dream girl, Ariel Bloomer, was scheduled to perform with her band, Icon for Hire, I wouldn't have missed this modern-day vomit fest for the world.

Apparently she's on the
Journey's stage @ 7pm.
I got a kick out of my niece's efforts to school me in rock concert decorum in the final days leading up to the July 5th show. Bless her little heart. Millennials may have given birth to Instagram technology, but it was my generation that authored the official Rock Concert 101 handbook, more than four decades ago. Don't stress, kid "old" Uncle Chris won't embarrass you — much!

We were welcomed to the venue at 10am on Sunday by blistering, sunny skies and sweltering temperatures already exceeding 90°. It was the ideal climate for a 10-hour outdoor cultural and musical celebration featuring live concert sets from nearly 100 of today's hottest chart-busters and the most promising up-and-comers currently jockeying for prominence on the ever-competitive U.S. rock scene — playing out in a field of dreams where the "peace and love" hippie vibe of the '60s and '70s would co-exist harmoniously alongside the "anti-establishment" punk mentality of the '80s and '90s  brought together under a super-calculated corporate umbrella. And so it begins.

Before the three of us could even wedge all six of our cheeks out from our white 2010 Toyota Corolla, we'd already been targeted by the first pitchman of the day — a seemingly well-intentioned young fella who identified himself in short order as a traveling monk who was "on the tour" and needed to hock his "literature" in order to make it to the next gig. From there, we'd navigate through a sea of other sales associates on our way from the parking lot, through the lower bowels of the Citrus Bowl and onto the open grounds of Tinker Field — primarily diligent band members fighting for fan recognition (and dollars) — peddling everything from their latest CDs to T-shirts, while advertising their set times and promoting personal perspectives. Their heartfelt passion was impressive, indeed.

Members of Stacked Like Pancakes
conveyed their power point message
effectively to Warped Tour early birds.
The most vital info of the day was
communicated to the masses by 11am... 
A mad rush to finish setting up all 100-plus merch booths ensued, even after the gates opened at 11am. It was "crunch time," as dedicated, sweat-drenched, tattoo-covered roadies with little hope of procuring a much-needed shower moved at "warped" speed  stacks of plastic tubs containing their wears balanced on dollies with bum wheels as they plowed through the pathless, grass-covered Tinker Field in a frantic, last-minute effort to set up shops in which to sell their swag and host one of the day's countless band meet-and-greets. Rock and roll, dude!

Upon procuring printed schedules that offered all the band show times and stage locations, my two teenage compadres and I agreed that we'd each pursue our own individual itineraries for the day. While my niece had her sights set on seeing As It Is, my personal agenda was focused solely on Icon for Hire — nothing else really mattered much to me. However, that perspective was about to change.

As a "creepy old dude" now free of any parental-type responsibility, I began to explore my surroundings — nine stages and all. By 11:15 I'd arrived at what would prove to be my personal Warped Tour destination of choice — the Hard Rock, Kevin Says stage. And it was there that I made an incredible discovery — Candy Hearts. The name alone, had me sold.

Wearing a super-fun summertime ensemble (black skorts with a spaghetti strap floral top), groovy pink shades and sporting fabulous, lavender-colored, cotton candy-like hair, I couldn't help but notice Candy Hearts frontchick, Mariel Loveland, as I approached the Kevin Says stage  moments prior to kicking-off the festival's first set of the morning. Simply put, I was hooked instantly. The songs (primarily culled from their current album All the Ways You Let Me Down) were all snappy, crunchy and extremely infectious, high-energy delights. Possessing undeniable, girl-next-door likability, Loveland connected throughout the band's 25-minute set — engaging fans with her song-related banter about coffee and "stupid boys." Recreating the authentic allure of such much-loved '90s pop / rock acts as The Cranberries and Veruca Salt, the four-piece New York-based combo was tight, energetic, and totally delivered the goods. And for my money, Matt Ferraro's animated, keep-it-in-the-pocket approach made him one of the coolest drummers on the day's roster. Musical highlights included "I Miss You," "Playing with Fire" and the show-closing, "Bad Idea." In a word, BRAVO!

An hour later, I returned to the Kevin Says stage just in time to catch an amazing set from Jule Vera.

Q: Who doesn't get excited about seeing a brash young band comprised of fresh-faced players sporting long hair, tight pants and low-strung guitars with snarls and swagger to spare?

A: Certainly not me! Better wedge my way up front for these kids.

Showcasing a slew of sophisticated selections from their newly released Friendly Enemies EP, this Alabama-based band has been generating significant industry buzz since first launching in 2013. Despite her undeniable youth, angelic lead vocalist Ansley Newman displayed the confidence of a seasoned pro as she connected with the crowd, while her bandmates commanded the stage like experienced arena rock veterans. In sum, Jule Vera delivered a superb, high-energy set. They've got great songs, and they look incredible. Barring any stupid future life choices, these kids could be unstoppable.

I spent much of the early afternoon sampling various entrees from the Warped Tour musical smorgasbord including a techno DJ sort of duo wearing crazy-looking "Scary Movie"-type masks, several rappers and a buttload of angst-filled, hard core / metal sound-a-likes who all say "fuck"  a lot. Ugh! I'd soon navigate back to my Kevin Says comfort zone. But not before catching one of the acts that had particularly piqued my interest. No, not Icon for Hire. There still were several more hours remaining before I'd experience my ultimate happy ending.

1:45 - MC Lars commandeers
the Beatport stage.
My favorite double-wide of the day.
Orlando's own Call to Start,
live on the Ernie Ball stage.
Through my in depth pre-show investigation of the official 2015 festival website, I was intrigued by a quirky-looking duo called Koo Koo Kanga Roo. More closely resembling two retired cast members from Reno 911! than typical Warped Tour punk rockers, I surmised that any act that's described as "The Happy Meal of music," would more than likely be worth checking out. Immediately upon my arrival at Tinker Field, I noticed the two "Roos," Bryan and Neil, parading around the grounds carrying enormous-sized cardboard cut-outs of their heads attached to the tops of what appeared to be ten-foot poles. Just beneath their respective likenesses were hand-printed signs reading, Koo Koo Kanga Roo Dance Party — 3:15 @ Beatport Stage. I informed my niece that these guys were seemingly creative geniuses, to which she fired back, "I think they're stupid." Shortly after passing through the gate, I made my way to the "Koo Koo" tent, where I was greeted personally by one of the Roos. "Are you coming to the dance party?" he inquired, with tremendous enthusiasm. "I wouldn't miss it," I replied. "Oh great," he added. "There's gonna be lots of fun and lots of smiles!" Uh, alrighty, then.

The Beatport stage was barren at 3:14, with the exception of a cheesy disco-style 10'x8' gold fringe-type curtain. Then, promptly at 3:15, Koo Koo Kanga Roo stormed the stage, and my life was forever changed. The show featured no live musicians — Bryan and Neil simply sang and danced to pre-recorded tracks. The pulsating, techno / disco / hip hop dance beats rarely stopped as the Minneapolis duo moved, grooved and delighted fans with selections from their current record, Whoopty Whoop  including such anthems as "Cat Party" and "Fanny Pack." At one point, Bryan and Neil leaped across the stage security barricade and into the mosh pit where they led throngs of sweaty screamo fans in a high-energy round of The Hokey Pokey. More difficult to describe than conveying a KISS concert experience to my cousin in 1979, Koo Koo Kanga Roo MUST be SEEN to be believed, and appreciated fully. Lot's of smiles, to be sure!

It was shaping up to be an overall epic concert experience. And in true Warped Tour fashion, "people watching" provided considerable additional bang for the buck. Open-minded, free-thinkers abounded particularly, perky young people sporting eye-catching T-shirts blazoned with with wacky slogans like the gal with the rainbow-colored crew cut and well-cultivated muffin top whose shirt read, "Fuck Your Faith" and the presumed Minecraft expert whose message to the masses was, "Satan Is My Animal Spirit." Oddly, I spotted ZERO Stryper T-shirts at this year's festival. 

My niece and her BF at
the 2015 Warped Tour.
Transit's Torre Cioffi performing on
one of this year's two Journey's stages.
I was also fortunate to discover New Jersey's Karma Killers performing a late afternoon set on the Ernie Ball stage. Hmm. Are those rain clouds rolling in? Falling stylistically somewhere between Tim Curry and Mick Jagger, frontman Micky James led his authentic, no nonsense rock and roll brigade through a barrage of choice cuts from the group's debut EP, Strange Therapy. Among the set's highlights was a rousing remake of the Ramones classic, "Rockaway Beach." Aw, crap! Those ARE rain clouds!

Karma Killers bassist, Mango,
performing on the Ernie Ball stage
Just minutes into the 5:30 As It Is set, came the official announcement over one of the Journey's sound systems — "Listen folks, we're gonna take a 15-minute break 'til the weather clears up." I turned around, looked to the north and saw the now ominous black storm clouds rolling in. And in no time, merch tents and sound equipment were being packed up, post haste — just as the sky opened up, the torrential downpour ensued and throngs of fans ran for cover. I guess those roadies finally got their well-deserved showers after all.  

I'm not sure whether or not the concert ever re-launched. By 6:15-ish it was still raining, with no end in sight. My compardes and I were spent, yet totally satisfied, and we saw little point in sticking around. I never did get to see Icon for Hire, but I did get to witness Koo Koo Kanga Roo. I guess every (storm) cloud does have a silver lining.

-Christopher Long
(July 2015)

The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

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