Under the Spotlight with Chelsea Takami

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It could be said perseverance was the shining star of 2020 in a time when almost all in the live entertainment business seemed lost. Nevertheless, one musician is looking forward in 2021, and her focus is not just on rising above the times but in setting her sights on taking her career to the next level.

Long Island musician Chelsea Takami was stopped in her tracks just like countless others when everything shut down.  Years of work and dedication to her music and her career were all thrown into the unknown.  Her phone became her only stage for a period of time, and even though she had done livestreams regularly for years before the pandemic, she said it was only then that she started to think outside the box to be able to continue to earn a living through her music.

“I lost every single gig; 100 percent of my income-gone, and I didn’t qualify for unemployment,” she said.

With a professional career spanning the past decade, the Westbury, N.Y., native has performed her self-described, “moodfully,” indie-pop songs of original work and covers throughout New York and across the country singing and playing her guitar with any opportunity that arises.  From Broadway Joe’s in Albany, N.Y., where Chelsea said she received her first paid gig after graduating college from SUNY Albany years ago, all the way to July 2019, when she opened for Chris Isaak at The Paramount in Huntington, N.Y., Chelsea has seemed unstoppable.

With her entire life built upon her music, Chelsea said not only did she suffer a huge hit to her livelihood when everything shut down, but she said she suffered emotionally as well, deeply feeling the loss from being surrounded by people every day to having little to no human contact.  It was during this time, she said she continued playing livestreams not only to keep hers and her fans’ spirits up, but as a new way to bring in income when she began using a virtual tip jar for the first time ever.

“I was living alone at that point, so I was pretty isolated,” she said.

Although she said the virtual tip jars didn’t amount to much, at the end of the month it was enough money to put food on her table.  In addition to livestreams and virtual tip jars to try and make ends meet, Chelsea started selling arts and crafts, and created “Takamigrams,” hand-made cards by Chelsea designed with inspirational words and uplifting bright water colors, as well as personalized video-grams that fans can purchase for themselves, or as a gift featuring Chelsea singing their song of choice.  For Chelsea, she said through it all being able to help others create memories of a lifetime, especially during such challenging times, with her “Takamigrams” is where she has found the greatest reward.

However difficult the times may be, Chelsea, who is the daughter of world-renowned martial arts Shotokan Master Toyotaro Miyazaki, has a strong foundation of strength and perseverance.  She studied martial arts with her father growing up and holds a black belt, but while she appreciates her family legacy for all she has learned, she said she was always more passionate about music and began playing piano as young child.  Chelsea learned to play the flute in elementary school before eventually picking up the guitar at the age of 14, and simultaneously, she said the moment she started playing guitar, singing and songwriting naturally followed suit.

“I am passionate about music like he is passionate about karate.  I have his spirit, his tenacity, his devotion and his love for performing,” she said, speaking of her father.

As things opened back up, Chelsea said her first real gig came this past June when she made her return to Huntington and played outside at The Paramount.  The very next week she said she was asked back, and before she knew it, she was offered a residency to play every Sunday during the month of July.  Chelsea’s weekly residency has continued every Sunday to date at The Paramount’s Spotlight Art Bar and carries through the month of January. 

While she has played The Founders Room at The Paramount for the past few years, she said it has been during the time of her current residency where the staff at the venue have become like family to her; mutually supporting each other in their dark times.

“It’s been a blessing.  There have been weeks where that was my only gig, but it’s been the gig that I can rely on,” she said.

Focusing on what’s to come, the 31-year-old singer/songwriter who seems to never stop, has continued to make productive use of her time and talent by additionally creating new original music with fellow friend and musician, Danny Dakota under the duo, Dakotakami.  Dakotakami has recently released three new songs to Spotify, and Chelsea said they are hoping to put more music out as time goes on.  As for her solo work, Chelsea said she has been recording a ton of new work and has three acoustic songs ready to be released and another one on the way.  She is currently working at a studio in Brooklyn on what she calls, “more produced” music opposed to her acoustic tracks and said she hopes to come out of the session with a three-song EP.

Chelsea said her big-picture goal right now is to start paving the way for a possible college tour and bigger type concerts whenever the day comes for things to open back up.  Although she said she is not sure how she is going to do that at this point, Chelsea said she just keeps reminding herself what her mom always tells her by saying, “Whatever you focus on expands.”  With that in mind, she continues work on her immediate goal of completing a new promotional video.

“I am ready for it, where I don’t think I was ready before now,” she said.

Chelsea will be performing at Spotlight this Sunday, January 17 at 3 p.m. and you can catch her at Village Idiot in Lake Grove, N.Y., along with Danny Dakota on January 22 at 6 p.m.  Visit www.spotlightny.com for reservations and more information about dining.  For information on additional performances, visit www.chelseatakami.com or follow Chelsea on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.  To keep up to date with Dakotakami, find them on Instagram @dakotakami.

Photos courtesy: Chelsea Takami & Kate Fox

Becoming Mrs. Claus

By Amy Nicole Tangel

When it comes to helping others and having a career in public service, this year has been especially trying for many. But keeping her spirit alive this season through the eyes of Mrs. Claus has given one woman an opportunity to find her way through all the year’s challenges.

Elvira (pronounced “Elveera”) Elovaglio-Duncan, 61, has dedicated her life to serving others for more than 30 years.  Living in East Islip, N.Y., with her husband and her children, who she says are all four-legged, Elvira said she came upon the idea to start entertaining people about five years ago as Mrs. Claus.  She said she simply started asking people if they needed a Mrs. Claus for the holidays and finally one day, her long-time hairdresser told her to come down to her shop in East Islip to greet customers shopping in the Sonny & Dew skin care boutique in the Tresses & Colours salon.

Born and raised in Smithtown, Elvira said she grew up as a self-proclaimed thespian and loved to learn about all walks of life. She attended Suffolk County Community College and upon graduating, she continued on at Stony Brook University graduating with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and a master’s degree in labor relations.

“It’s in my blood.  That’s why I am Mrs. Claus today.  I get my little theater bug,” she said.

Elvira’s late mother sewed two costumes for her; one for indoor events and a heavier lined one for cold-outdoor days.  Now that her mother is gone, Elvira said the sentiment of it all is “really special.”  Dressed in full costume, the trained prop master in Elvira comes through in her handmade, “Naughty and Nice,” book filled with candy canes, her festive wreath, and her one-of-a-kind shoes to match, decorated with ice cream sundaes on top.

“This pandemic has hit a lot of people very badly, and in many ways.  I safeguard people; the people that want to be safeguarded,” she said.

After graduating college, Elvira went on to work in human resources and then worked in the affirmative action field for 15 years where she said she met her husband, and decided it was time to combine her dreams of working in Manhattan and helping others. Elvira then went to work for a company called, Just One Break; an organization helping disabled people find work.

“I just love to give people jobs.  I see them differently than other people do.  I can put that square peg in the round hole, and I think it has to do with my theater training,” she said.

Elvira’s passion for the stage generally led her to focus primarily on the behind the scenes with props and scenery, but she said she would get the acting bug from time to time and always had to fulfill that passion when it arose.  

Over the years, Elvira said she dabbled with community theater in the city, but as her career of public service progressed, her stage became the job fairs she hosted under her role as a director in the field.  The first time she planned an event, Elvira said she knew just how to maximize the auditorium and would have as many as a thousand people in attendance.

For Elvira, she said pandemic positives for her as a counselor have come in multiple ways.  While currently working remotely for Urban League of Westchester, Inc., in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Elvira said she has turned lemons into lemonade and has made a deeper connection with those she counsels by being able to talk to them from the comfort of her home in a quieter setting.  In addition to making a deeper connection with those she counsels, she said she is most fulfilled by those who truly have wanted to be helped. 

Most recently, she said her proudest moment came when she was able to not only help a person receiving assistance recover financially, but also helped put that client on the road to recovery from substance abuse.  Elvira said to be able to guide a person to the right path, and go from struggling to make ends meet, to getting sober is why she does what she does.

“I can take someone who thinks of themselves very low, and all-of-a-sudden show them how they can do it,” she said.

While Elvira makes the most of helping others from home, she said she lately has been keeping the spirit of Mrs. Claus alive during such a difficult time through her creativity.  Not only does she make Mrs. Claus pins out of seashells which she sells, but Elvira said she loves embroidery work and has been teaching herself how to quilt to pass the time. 

Although there haven’t been many opportunities to share her Christmas joy this year, Elvira said she is counting her blessings and hoping for a better new year ahead.  Believing like a true Mrs. Claus, Elvira said she lives her life trying to do at least one nice thing every day and encourages others to do the same; making the world a better place.

You can visit Sonny & Dew and Tresses & Colours at their new Oakdale, N.Y., location, or shop online at www.sonnyndew.com.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Keeping tradition alive in 2020

By Amy Nicole Tangel

In the days leading up to a Thanksgiving holiday where not much seems to remain the same, I began to think about what past traditions have been most special to me, and how I could carry them on in spirit this year.  The first to come to mind was how I start my Thanksgiving celebrations; watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

Heading into the 94th season, the parade will kick-off in unprecedented fashion, but the show will go on for viewers to watch exclusively from home.  Live broadcasting by NBC will remain as always from 34th Street, but for television only as the procession of floats, balloons and performances are all being pre-recorded at various times throughout the days leading up to and including Thanksgiving Day. 

Since I was a child, I have always loved watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a tradition I have passed on to my own children which is still carried on today.  I remember as a child, my brother and I waking up Thanksgiving morning bright-eyed and ready to watch the parade just a few minutes before the 9 a.m. start time as to not miss the grand opening.  We would sit on the floor with the greatest anticipation of what was to come; giant balloons, floats, marching bands, musical performances, and the biggest moment of all—the arrival of Santa.

Fast forward to present day, and the parade that I have loved all my life is still here this year when so many other things are not.  I am grateful the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade did not give up and was innovative in creating a plan to safely keep the annual tradition alive.  I am thankful for all the people who have worked and volunteered their time and care to do something to bring joy to not only New Yorkers, but across the entire nation when it is so desperately needed.  This year’s parade is not just about bringing smiles to faces, but about giving people hope to keep marching forward in a time with so much fear.

In a recent press release commencing the kickoff of this year’s parade, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade executive producer Susan Tercero said thanks to partnerships with the city, state of New York, agency partners and a resilient team, they have been working together to keep America entertained safely from the comfort of their homes this Thanksgiving.  While it may look different in execution, she said the Macy’s Parade invites viewers to share the celebration on television and experience all the dazzle, whimsy and world-class performances that make it so special.

“Our safely reimagined broadcast will continue that cherished tradition, as viewers nationwide celebrate together bringing a much-needed sense of normalcy to our lives,” she said.

Looking forward to the tradition of seeing the larger-than-life balloons as I do every year, I was surprised and delighted to learn not only will balloons still float in this year’s broadcast, but two new balloons will make their first appearance this year.  The Boss Baby from “The Boss Baby: Family Business” by DreamWorks Animation and Red Titan from “Ryan’s World” by Sunlight Entertainment and Pocket Watch will make their grand debut on Thursday morning.

With a total of 12 giant character balloons floating this year, classic balloon characters like my all-time favorite Snoopy is keeping tradition alive and will make a milestone 41st flight; the most of any balloon characters.  Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide honors the 2018 50th anniversary of the moon landing and future space missions.  According to the kickoff press release, the new balloons will not be handled by the 80 to 100 people required to float each one but will instead rely on innovation using specialty vehicles helping to safely reduce the number of people needed to float the balloons.

Carrying on the theme of first-time appearances, four new floats will also debut this year. They include Christmas in Town Square by Lifetime; inspired by a scene from a holiday film, Big Turkey Spectacular by Jennie-O, Her Future is Stem-Sational by Olay; inspiring females to pursue their dreams in careers such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and Tom & Jerry’s Tourist Trap by Warner Bros. Pictures to commemorate the upcoming 2021 film, “Tom & Jerry.” With 19 floats in total, performers such as Pentatonix, Lauren Alaina, Ally Brooke, Brett Young, Sofia Carson and KeKe Palmer are all scheduled for performances on floats throughout the parade.

The greatest moments of the parade for myself right next to watching Santa riding his sleigh into Herald Square are the Broadway performances.  Growing up I began performing at a young age and dreamed of being on Broadway one day.  Year after year, every time I would watch the performances in the parade I would fill with tears of inspiration and excitement, but this year I am preparing for more tears than any parade before when I hear the heartbeat of Broadway for the first time since the pause. 

The best of Broadway musicals will once again shine bright in this year’s parade with cast performances of “Hamilton,” “Jagged Little Pill,” “Mean Girls,” “Ain’t Too Proud-The Life and Times of The Temptations” and by the beloved New York staple, “Radio City Rockettes.”  Star appearances of the parade include performers such Dolly Parton, Patti Labelle, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, and Matthew Morrison.  The entertainment continues with marching bands such as The West Point Marching Band and the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums.

Macy’s is working with local and state government to ensure health and safety is the highest priority across the board.  In addition to modifying the parade to avoid gathering crowds, Macy’s has put a comprehensive health and wellness plan into effect across all areas of production.  All participants will be tested for COVID and undergo wellness checks before participating in the parade.  Performers will be appropriately socially distanced and there are no participants under the age of 18.  In addition to wearing face coverings and social distancing, the overall number of participants have been reduced by 88 percent according to Macy’s Safety Precautions guidelines.

“For nearly 100 years the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has served as a milestone celebration that brings joy to millions of families nationwide and kicks off the holidays with unparalleled spectacle,” Tercero said.

While I have always dreamed of going to the parade in person one day, the truth is I have had plenty of opportunities over the years, but I have never felt like I was missing anything by watching at home while cooking a turkey.  This year I will continue to enjoy the parade from home as I always have before and be ever more thankful for all those who have worked to try and bring a morning of joy to our homes this day of Thanksgiving.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will air Thursday, Nov. 26 from 9 a.m. to Noon on NBC and Telemundo in all time zones hosted by The TODAY Show’s Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker.  In addition, the parade will be streamed live at 9 a.m. as well as on YouTube, Twitter and Yahoo as part of, Verizon Live: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, hosted by Mario Lopez. For more information on the parade and to download printable parade-themed activities for kids visit, www.macys.com/parade.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade New Balloons Preview

Photo/Video credit: Macy’s, Inc.

Turning Tragedy into Saving Lives and Serving Others

By Amy Nicole Tangel

The survivor of a horrific boating accident that killed her young daughter 15 years ago, has, through incredible strength and perseverance, become a leader across Long Island using her strong voice to advocate for boating safety.

Gina Lieneck, who has made it her life’s mission to make positive changes concerning boating safety, saw her hard work pay off when Brianna’s Law went into effect in New York State on January 1, 2020. After years of tears and tireless hours of work by the Deer Park, N.Y., resident, new requirements for boat operators may prevent what happened to her daughter from ever happening again.

Under Brianna’s Law, which was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on August 6, 2019, all boaters operating a power boat; including sail boats with auxiliary power must complete a boating safety course.  According to the law, all operators of power boats are required to take the course by 2025.

Prior to this, boating faced limited regulations. “There’s not many laws to boating. Not even a reckless boating ticket; nothing,” Lieneck said.

It was the summer of 2005, when Gina and her 11-year-old daughter Brianna were enjoying a day of boating with the family when she said a boat came crashing into their boat full-throttle outside of Bayshore, N.Y., on the Great South Bay.  The out-of-control boat ripped off their boat canopy which collapsed on Brianna and killed her.  Gina also suffered serious physical trauma from the accident and was devastated to find out days later from a visiting doctor, who didn’t know she was Brianna’s mother, that her daughter had passed away.

The men occupying the boat that hit Gina’s had spent the day on Fire Island attending a company party when they decided to take a personal boat home instead of taking the ferry. Gina said the vessel of four dropped off one passenger in Patchogue, and then blindly made their way towards them.  She said the boaters were lost in the bay for two hours prior to the accident. Alcohol was on their breath, but due to the lack of Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) laws, the blood alcohol level of the operator was not tested until six hours had passed and charges could not be upheld.

For Gina, Brianna’s Law is just the beginning of what she has set out to accomplish.  Gina said she has been haunted by reliving the night on the boat right before the accident when she said Brianna kept asking her if she could come sit by her and nudging her like most 11-year-old girls do. Gina refused to let Brianna sit by her fearing for her safety.  Thinking she was being a protective mother, Gina argued with Brianna, and the last words she spoke to her daughter were stern words to go sit down. She has vowed to not stop until BWI has stricter consequences, and she said she has promised Brianna she will never give up. 

“I am not done yet, because there are many more laws to be passed,” she said.

During the first two years following her daughter’s passing, Gina said she became reclusive and was stuck between two worlds.  She said she couldn’t go to work, could barely make it through the day, and had a hard time being a parent emotionally to her older daughter while being overridden by grief.  The day came though, when Gina said she woke up one morning and told herself it was time to get back to work.  She wanted to make things right for her daughter who was still here and decided to take action.

She opened her own business, Breezy’s Field of Dreams, an indoor sporting facility and, she said she worked a part-time job at BOCES which helped her grow and learn to be social again.  Ultimately, she said getting back to work taught her it was okay to smile.  Gina said she realized she had a lot to smile for. She had her daughter Danyelle, and she was going to make things right by talking to and supporting other families who had gone through similar tragedies.

“A lot of families reach out to me that have lost children and I tell them, ‘Don’t make the same mistake I did; you have other children.’  I try and take my learning experience and help other families that are feeling this way,” she said.

While Gina said it has been hard to bring anything to the floor of the New York State Senate this session with COVID, and things have had to be temporarily set aside, she has continued to move forward doing what she has done for years by working to help those in need in her community and across the island. 

In 2018, Gina was a Community Service Award Recipient in the Town of Babylon’s 29th Annual Women’s History Month Program, and in 2019, Gina was honored as one of 18 receiving the Suffolk County Women of Distinction award as well as being named County-Wide Woman of Distinction.  Gina has most recently been selected as a 2020 Woman of Distinction honoree by long-time supporter Senator Phil Boyle. 

Gina said she never imagined in her life she would receive a woman of distinction award and her focus has been on simply being grateful for the communities that have been lifting her up from the beginning.  There were days she said she remembers when she just kept falling, and the good people of her community kept lifting her and her family back up.

“On my darkest days and my family’s darkest days the community was here to help us, so I feel like I need to pay it forward,” she said.

Paying forward this holiday season, Gina is busily working on her annual Thanksgiving food drive collecting items for dinners and collaborating with friends and members of her community to sponsor families for meals in need.  For the past 14 years, Gina has held an annual holiday toy drive in memory of Brianna.  Last year, she said she collected almost 300 toys for children in need and has set a goal to double that this year.  In a letter written by Gina to commence this year’s toy drive she wrote, “There’s no better feeling in the world than knowing that we all helped put a smile on so many children’s faces Christmas morning.”

At the end of the day, Gina said she often thinks about what Brianna would be like today.  It brings her to tears to think about the milestones that will never be, but she fondly remembers how her daughter was “a character” and said she made her presence known everywhere she went, especially when she routinely walked on the softball field asking everyone, “How are you doing?

“She made her mark here.  In her 11 short years, she made sure she let everyone know who she was,” Gina said.

For more information on how to donate to the Brianna Lieneck Annual Memorial Toy Drive please call Gina at 631-872-9764.

The Becoming of The Barefoot Fiddler

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Stories of musicians and their struggles to keep the music alive during the pandemic are countless, but as the fog starts to lift, glimpses of hope are shining through and a fiddler player in Nashville is not only persevering in her career, she is carrying on a family legacy.

Fiddle player Merna Lewis was born into a family of women who were pioneers in paving a path for female musicians playing instruments long before she was born.  With new-found time on her hands, Merna has turned to her ancestry to learn more about her family tree and has in-turn found stories of profound women in music history. 

Growing up in Monte Vista, Colorado, Merna started playing fiddle at age seven under the instruction of her aunt Bettie, an accomplished fiddle player who began giving her lessons.  For Merna’s aunt, her mother and her mom’s sisters, it was a family requirement for the children to learn to play an instrument, and in keeping that tradition she grew up playing the fiddle and learning from her family band known as, The Bowen String Band.

Years later, Merna is using her experiences as a musician and her family history as tools to inspire future generations and pass the baton by sharing her story.  Merna said that while she was growing up she knew what she was doing was special, but she also knew she was not like other kids and it was the female musicians who she especially looked up to who welcomed her into their circles when she was young and encouraged her to keep going.

“I want kids to know it’s a cool thing they are doing (playing an instrument).  It’s okay to be different; It’s okay to play music, and if it is something they really love, to keep pursuing it,” she said.

Merna’s great grandmother and namesake, Merna played piano, and Merna’s grandmother Marie played violin.  Merna said her grandmother was “a little virtuoso” at the age of four who eventually attended Julliard and taught lessons to people in high society such as the daughters of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the children of Irving Berlin.  Although her grandmother passed years before Merna was born, Merna said she has been learning more about her grandmother’s life and legacy every chance she gets.

During junior high, Merna said she became involved in school activities and put fiddle playing on the backburner to an extent until she turned 14 and her aunt Bettie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Merna’s aunt turned to her and asked for her help to take over her students’ lessons while she went through her treatments.  In turn, Merna stepped-up and took over teaching a roster of 40 students per week all while going to school.  In addition to her teaching students and going to school, Merna’s aunt was also teaching her how to play songs with bands she was in, so when she became too sick to play Merna would be able to also fill-in on stage.

“She was teaching me how to play, ‘Amarillo by Morning,’ ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia,’ and ‘Fiddle in the Band,’ so when I was 14, at night I was in the bars on the weekends playing with these bands; that’s where I got introduced to that and I fell in love with it,” she said.

Sadly, her aunt lost her battle with breast cancer, but Merna continued to grow and build on everything her aunt had taught her as she went through her high school years and continued playing with bands.  Merna would travel two hours each way for certain gigs and said she was able to experience more than many musicians her age thanks to the people who played with her who protected her and always kept a close eye on her.  Merna’s parents accompanied her on any performances close to home, and she said her father loved to dance, so it was a perfect opportunity for him to have fun.  She played regularly at Harold Dean’s Saddle Saloon in Pueblo, Colorado, and said not only did the lead singer of the band she played with and his wife keep things in check on stage, they were also the owners of the establishment, so regulars were well aware and looked after a young Merna when she traveled with the band.

“People there knew, don’t mess with Merna,” she said.

When she was about 17 years old, Merna said she had a poignant moment in her life when she was listening to an interview on the radio with country music artist Lee Ann Womack and learned the singer attended college to study music in Levelland, Texas, at South Plains College Bluegrass and Country Music Program; the only of its kind in the country.  Merna said she knew right then that was the only school for her.  She applied to that school only and was all-in.  She was accepted and drove to Texas to begin the next phase in following her family tradition.

It was during her time in college when she became known as “The Barefoot Fiddler.” While playing at a club in Amarillo, Texas, when she was with a band called, Copperhead, Merna said she recalled wearing horribly uncomfortable shoes, so she kicked them off.  A regular follower of the band came up to the front of the stage with a cardboard sign that said, “You have pretty feet!” She said ever since that moment it stuck, and she is more comfortable playing barefoot, especially when she is in a recording session or onstage with someone she admires; leaving her feeling more grounded.

“I only play with shoes on if it’s highly inappropriate to be barefoot, if it’s really a cold stage, or a cold outdoor gig.  I’m currently looking for a shoe that I can wear that protects the bottom of my feet, but doesn’t show on the top,” she said.

Before even finishing college, a once in a lifetime moment came when she played alongside LeAnn Rimes during the 2002 Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day Half-time show at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. Following that, upon her graduation from college in 2003, Merna moved directly to Nashville from Texas and never looked back.  A couple of months before her permanent move, she visited Nashville and played for the first time at the historical landmark, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.  She said a friend of hers was playing there and helped her get her foot in the door, but it was a time where you couldn’t just walk in and people would hire you, so she auditioned and then sat in with the band where they decided how good you were. Only then you would get calls to play after you passed the tests, she said.

Merna has been getting calls ever since as news of her talent spread through word of mouth.  She still plays at Tootsie’s and also plays regularly on Nashville’s downtown Broadway at Rippy’s Honky Tonk, Honky Tonk Central and Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk Rock N’ Roll Steakhouse.  Over the years she has played with countless musicians such as Tanya Tucker and Trent Willmon, performed on the Emeril Live show, and played the Grand Ole Opry stage alongside 105 fellow artists for a tribute to American bluegrass artist Ralph Stanley, which she recalls as one of the highlights of her career. 

“When I finally moved, I was the classic story.  I threw everything I owned in the back of my truck and drove to Nashville,” she said.

Of all of the places playing the fiddle has taken her over the years, Merna said the most meaningful and memorable times for her were when she toured in 2005-2006 with a group that played for troops overseas through The Armed Forces Entertainment Program (AFE) and United Service Organizations (USO). Merna traveled to various countries and said the troops are the best people to play for, because of the genuine appreciation they all had for the music and for the bands being there to play. She said she is so grateful to have traveled and for the opportunities she had to give back and say thank you through her talent.

“They ate it up.  You can feel the emotion, the excitement and the release too, and that in itself is the reward,” she said.

Merna said she has never been inspired to do much solo work and has played with so many people she respects that she said she just wants to collaborate with them in jam sessions and see where it goes in case she ever does sit down to create new solo work; however, with the current pandemic, Merna said she has been exploring ways to think outside of the box creatively.

This year, Merna re-released a recording she made in her early teens titled, “Fiddlin Favorites Re-Released,” and she plans to re-release another recording of cover tunes and traditional songs recorded with the family band before her aunt Bettie passed away.  She also has a Christmas recording on the horizon which she has been wanting to do for years and has promised her followers it will happen one day. But in the meantime, she said she just wants to play with the band.

“I’ve never really been inspired to be a solo artist.  I love being onstage and supporting other people,” she said.

Since the shutdown, Merna has tried to look at the blessings in disguise.  She said it has forced her to slow down and be even more thankful for all she has.  Before the pandemic, she said she was just going with the flow, living everyday with expectation she was going to be able to get up every morning and go onstage.  When faced with the idea of not being able to play onstage, Merna was forced to look at things from a different perspective, and that’s when she began doing more research about her grandmother Marie and what it meant for her to be a female violinist in her time and how it carried through generations leading up to her.

The now 38-year-old musician said she has been grateful for little gigs here and there and has been doing livestreams that kept her going when everything was completely shut down.  Through Merna’s livestreams she said she has been moved to see how much they have been helping people on the other side of the screen. Many people have reached out to her to thank her for playing for them in such difficult times.

While things continue to re-open slowly across the country, Merna said she is seeing a pick-up in business, but it is nowhere near where it was.  Setting her sights on the future, Merna said there are so many opportunities ahead for her to still experience.  Until that day comes, she said she is grateful for how hard the establishments are working to keep their doors open in safe and clean environments and in turn allowing Merna to be able to work as well. 

Currently, Merna can be found playing regularly at Nudie’s Honky Tonk and she is working on creating a more regular livestream schedule for fans to follow.  When she is not playing on Broadway, she said she is just a homebody who enjoys helping her musician husband with his Ebay business and often goes with him to estate sales, yard sales and thrift stores.  Even after accomplishing so much, she said she still has big dreams like any other artist and hopes the day will come when she gets to play on the opry itself. As she waits for the moment to happen, she said she hopes she finally hears a song she played when she turns on the radio some day.

Until then, as Merna noted, she has, “lots of things to strive for and lots of things to still do.”

To catch Merna’s livestreams and to keep up on all happenings with The Barefoot Fiddler, follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or visit www.thebarefootfiddler.com.

Photos courtesy Merna Lewis.

90’s Fashion Icon Ivy Supersonic Vindicated in “Sqrat” Trademark Battle

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Many people know of the famous pink feather hat worn by Pamela Anderson at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, but many don’t know the designer behind the hat, a true artist at her core, and now Ivy “Supersonic” Silberstein is setting the record straight after her recent settlement with Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Blue Sky Studios, Inc., over a character, she said she created, was stolen for use in the popular family film, Ice Age.

A battle lasting over 20 years recently ended for the artist/fashion designer when she and said companies, both acquired by Disney in March 2019, came to terms this past December, and although she cannot speak of specific details of the settlement, she is moving forward and putting her fight for justice to rest by finally obtaining the final trademark rights to bring her character, “Sqrat,”(known in the Ice Age films as “Scrat”), to life in the way she has always envisioned.

“This is remarkable.  Disney didn’t steal it, but it’s like they are running around with stolen merchandise.  It’s like if you bought the Louis Vuitton bag off the street, you knew it was stolen, you know what’s real and you have a fake one,” she said.

According to an article in Forbes magazine in 2016, the original Ice Age movie had grossed $383 million worldwide.  This amount reflects only the earnings for the first film and doesn’t account for the hundreds of millions earned on each film in the series of Ice Age movies that followed.  In a story that has more twists and turns than the yellow brick road, Ivy has been on a path seeking justice for over two decades taking her fight to court and the streets petitioning the world to hear her truth.

It all began in 1999 when Ivy said one day she was walking in the park in NYC and she saw this creature that looked like a combination of a squirrel and a rat.  She said she thought to herself, “What is this a sqrat?,” and watched it as it climbed up the tree until she got stuck to the sky seeing a vision of an animated character that was going to make millions.

With the momentum of being in the height of her career as a fashion designer of feathered hats and party planner to the stars along with her I.B.I.V Jeans’ appearance on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) to her credit, and legal help from her late father, attorney Jerome Silberstein, Ivy said she immediately went into action to bring this character to life and started pitching to everyone she knew in the entertainment business. 

The character was taking life in print promotions and making news across the country when Ivy appeared in a segment with Jeanne Moos February 29, 2000 on CNN where they reported in headlines, “Move over Mickey, here comes Sqrat.”

Steve Azzara, renowned photographer, author and founder of 247 Ink Magazine; a tattoo lifestyle magazine with 77 million views in five years, and co-founder of the new Azzara Magazine, said he remembers seeing Ivy’s Sqrat posters and banners at events in 1999 and how happy she was when one of the banners made it on CNN.  Steve, who is president and editor-in-chief of both of his publications, also remembers her going to Los Angeles to show Fox her character, and said he was outraged when he saw Ice Age hit the theaters with their version of her Sqrat with not one credit to Ivy.

“After that, I voluntarily shot all of her campaigns in her fight against Fox. Even if you look at it like she got screwed; they made billions of dollars with that character.  At some point after fighting it for so many years they could have given her even $5 million to go away, but instead they used that negative publicity as positive publicity for their movies and they should really be ashamed of what they did to her,” he said.

People in the entertainment industry who worked with the 53-year-old entrepreneur on Sqrat’s development years ago, like Matt Sternberg,  who was working as vice president of Market Development at Universal Music Group in 1999 when he first met Ivy, are speaking out in her defense and have supported her claim to trademark rights of Sqrat.  Matt said he first met Ivy when he was tasked by his company to come up with ways to leverage the internet and broadband on behalf of their artists.  When he first saw the Ice Age movie a few years later, he said he was astounded to see Sqrat.

“I came up with the idea to illustrate Ivy as a cartoon character that would interview our artists both as a cartoon and in real life. She told me all about her idea for Sqrat, and Sqrat was prominently featured in my pitch to senior execs. While we did commission a brilliant illustration of her, the project never got off the ground,” he said.

Ivy is grateful for the support of those who have stayed true to her and now that the case is closed, she said she truly wants to set the record straight.  In November of 2019, Matt and Ivy’s former boyfriend Mike Anderson, who was a live event producer hired by Fox Family in 1999, were subpoenaed to court and both spoke over the phone on her behalf to defense attorneys.  Following the conversations, Ivy said everyone’s depositions were canceled. 

On June 10, 1999, Mike, who said he worked for Fox Family for a few years, but wasn’t internal to them, said he brought Ivy along with him to the Jacob Javitz Center to attend a licensing show he produced and to network with people in the industry.  He said he was just hoping she would have a good time, but Ivy ended up making the most of the moment and a lasting impression with Sqrat amongst those in attendance, and earned herself free publicity that movie studios had paid millions for that week of the show.

“I brought Ivy into the licensing show at the Javitz center with the hopes that she would just have a good time and maybe meet a few people.  By the end of the night the entire community was talking about Sqrat!,” he said.

Throughout the court battle, Ivy has maintained her belief that media billionaire Rupert Murdoch, who was the owner of Fox and Blue Sky at the time, knew Sqrat was her character from the beginning and allowed it to be used without her permission.  Ivy said she attended a party at Rupert’s while she was promoting Sqrat and pitched her work to executives in attendance, specifically to, award-winning composer and television producer best-known for his co-creation of Power Rangers, Shuki Levy.  She said she went as far as distributing a script and trailer throughout Fox Family.   

Ivy said even though she is vindicated by the final settlement and thrilled to have obtained the Sqrat trademark she has been hoping for this past July, she still feels like she didn’t have a chance to fight fair in court, because she just didn’t have the money anymore or power to fight such a dominant force.  Ivy was not awarded a monetary settlement, and in spite of years of pleading publicly for the truth and countless personal accounts in her defense, at the end of the day documentation is everything.

“They (Fox) thought they could steal it, because I had a problem with my trademark and a problem with my copyright, so I had two problems which legally they felt I couldn’t sue,” she said.

In an article published by Soo Theatre News in November 2009, Michael J. Wilson, screenwriter and creator of Ice Age, claimed his daughter gave him the idea for the movie’s “Scrat” and helped him with the pitch.  He said she came up with the character, came up with the pitch and coined the name.  Ice Age was released on March 12, 2002 and Ivy created her Sqrat in 1999.  There is no public information available to confirm the age of his daughter to compare with the timeline of character creation, but even if it is just an ironic coincidence it could draw reason for question.

In a court document dated March 3, 2008 filed in New York, United States District Judge Richard J. Holwell indicated the following prior to his conclusion in a previous lawsuit against Fox Entertainment Group, Inc.:

“Plaintiff’s (Ivy) claim was not baseless, however, for as the Court noted, had plaintiff sufficiently commercialized her creation she may well have been entitled to protection.”

Although Ivy is infamous for wearing her heart on her sleeve and letting everyone know exactly how she feels, at the root of Ivy, beneath the word “justice” tattooed across her chest, lies a dedicated and passionate artist who just wants the truth to be known.  A turning point recently came in her life creatively, when she said she suffered back to back losses of loved ones in her family and turned to her spirituality as she began painting through her grief and praying for healing.  Her process went from painting to photographing the paintings to finding through her photographs a paranormal art which she describes as something that has just taken a life of its own.

As Ivy’s life would seem to have it, she has built on what she created once again, and morphed one piece into the next when she premiered her new documentary, Ivy’s Paranormal.  The film closely takes a look at her paintings and discusses the images appearing in her photographs which seem to have messages from beyond.  The film is produced by documentary cinematographer Bryan Sarkinen and made its official premiere at Great Neck’s Squire Theater on November 20, 2019.  The film first showed at The Cutting Room International Short Film Festival October 19, 2019 winning Best Short Documentary.

“God is behind these paintings.  The spirit is speaking through me in what I see,” she said.

For the time being, Ivy is waiting it out like many others artists living in New York and hoping when everything opens back up she will find the right people to help her finally bring Sqrat to new life, but she is ready for conversations to start happening now.

You can follow Ivy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up on upcoming events and for more information about Sqrat.  Watch Ivy’s 2000 CNN interview with Jeanne Moos here: https://youtu.be/83j05-eiaXQ

Photos courtesy Ivy Silberstein and Steve Azzara Feature Photo: Charlie Salidino

Skin Care Artisan Creates Natural Products to Heal Hands

Amy Nicole Tangel

Pictured left, Sonny & Dew Owner, Louise Polite

While washing our hands is essential to health and safety, the potentially painful result of dry and cracked skin can be an issue.  Sonny & Dew, a natural skin care company on Long Island, is coming to the rescue with its all-natural handmade solutions for your hand sanitizing and moisturizing relief.

Owner and Artisan, Louise Polite, 51, created Sonny & Dew in 2013, and only seven years later, has won the title of Bethpage Best of LI in Skin Care from 2017-2019.  Located in East Islip, in the 2020 Bethpage Best of LI Hair Salon, Tresses & Colours, Sonny & Dew skin care products create a spa-like experience for clients when they walk in.   Although their doors are shut temporarily for in-person service, like many other businesses deemed non-essential here on Long Island, Louise is working from home to continue to provide skin care for her clients and shipping products to their homes.

“Now, everyone’s hands are taking a hit,” she said.

In 1996, Louise opened Tresses & Colours with her late father-in-law, and after he passed away, she decided to start a skin care line to pay tribute to him. Using his and his wife’s nicknames, Sonny & Dew was created.  With more than two decades of salon and client expertise, Louise is passionate about providing her services to clients who need skin and hair care.

“I like to think that I can change the way people feel about themselves by sometimes just the slightest change.  If you look good, you feel good,” she said.

The Day at the Beach Collection, Sonny & Dew’s most popular scent, includes a moisturizing body butter made of soothing ingredients such as shea butter, an all-natural handmade soap and shower gel.  The Unscented Hand Sanitizer & Day at the Beach Handwash Kit is available for $22.50 and Louise said is hands down Sonny & Dew’s top seller right now.  Next in line offered to help heal hands, is the Dry Hands Kit which includes items such as a moisturizing hand wash and a magic stick (solid moisturizer). 

Another way Sonny & Dew offers to lift their clients’ skin and spirits while they are staying at home, is with their At-Home Staycation Spa Kit that comes from the Day at the Beach Collection.  It includes two bath bombs, face and body scrub, moisturizing body butter and a triple butter soap that are paired together to culminate in the most relaxing and refreshing escape.

Jennifer Budveit, of Islip Terrace, has been a client of Louise’s for more than thirty years and said Day at the Beach and Perk Me Up are her favorites. She said everything Louise puts her mind to is done with style, grace and passion.  Budveit said she believes Louise’s ability to gain the trust of her clients and build an authentic rapport with them is why whenever she is looking to try something new, people are on board with her. 

“It has been amazing to watch Louise, Tresses & Colours and now Sonny & Dew thrive. Louise is an entrepreneur who truly cares about her clients, listens to what they are looking for, and is always striving to do more; it is part of the secret sauce to her overall success,” Budveit said.

Sonny & Dew recommends when using the Magic Stick to generously coat your hands at bedtime and if possible to put gloves on to even further improve results.  Esthetician and Make-Up artist, Christine Daino, owner of Total Glam NY in Bellport specializes in skin care providing high-end skin care treatments.  Daino said if one is suffering from excessively dry hands she highly recommends putting a heavy layer of moisturizer on your hands before bed and putting gloves on, sleeping with them on and removing them in the morning. 

“Your hands and cuticles will be a lot softer and hydrated.  Gloves will help with penetrating the product a little deeper.  If your hands are cracking, use Aquaphor in those areas.  For excessively dry cuticles apply cuticle oil,” she said.

Currently, Louise is working on creating a Healthcare Professional Kit to give back to the courageous and selfless medical professionals working tirelessly during the crisis.  When all is said and done she said she wants to be able to say thank you and help lift people back up.  “For what they are doing now, they deserve it,” she said.

As a special promotion for readers, Sonny & Dew is offering 30% off your entire order with promo code: healinghands when you shop at www.sonnyndew.com.  To keep up to date with events, pop-up shops at Tanger Outlets and all things Sonny & Dew, follow them on Facebook.

*Photos courtesy of Sonny & Dew

90’s Fashion Icon Ivy Supersonic Vindicated in “Sqrat” Trademark Battle

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Many people know of the famous pink feather hat worn by Pamela Anderson at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, but many don’t know the designer behind the hat, a true artist at her core, and now Ivy “Supersonic” Silberstein is setting the record straight after her recent settlement with Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Blue Sky Studios, Inc., over a character, she said she created, was stolen for use in the popular family film, Ice Age.

A battle lasting over 20 years recently ended for the artist/fashion designer when she and said companies, both acquired by Disney in March 2019, came to terms this past December, and although she cannot speak of specific details of the settlement, she is moving forward and putting her fight for justice to rest by finally obtaining the final trademark rights to bring her character, “Sqrat,”(known in the Ice Age films as “Scrat”), to life in the way she has always envisioned.

“This is remarkable.  Disney didn’t steal it, but it’s like they are running around with stolen merchandise.  It’s like if you bought the Louis Vuitton bag off the street, you knew it was stolen, you know what’s real and you have a fake one,” she said.

According to an article in Forbes magazine in 2016, the original Ice Age movie had grossed $383 million worldwide.  This amount reflects only the earnings for the first film and doesn’t account for the hundreds of millions earned on each film in the series of Ice Age movies that followed.  In a story that has more twists and turns than the yellow brick road, Ivy has been on a path seeking justice for over two decades taking her fight to court and the streets petitioning the world to hear her truth.

It all began in 1999 when Ivy said one day she was walking in the park in NYC and she saw this creature that looked like a combination of a squirrel and a rat.  She said she thought to herself, “What is this a sqrat?,” and watched it as it climbed up the tree until she got stuck to the sky seeing a vision of an animated character that was going to make millions.

With the momentum of being in the height of her career as a fashion designer of feathered hats and party planner to the stars along with her I.B.I.V Jeans’ appearance on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) to her credit, and legal help from her late father, attorney Jerome Silberstein, Ivy said she immediately went into action to bring this character to life and started pitching to everyone she knew in the entertainment business. 

The character was taking life in print promotions and making news across the country when Ivy appeared in a segment with Jeanne Moos February 29, 2000 on CNN where they reported in headlines, “Move over Mickey, here comes Sqrat.”

Steve Azzara, renowned photographer, author and founder of 247 Ink Magazine; a tattoo lifestyle magazine with 77 million views in five years, and co-founder of the new Azzara Magazine, said he remembers seeing Ivy’s Sqrat posters and banners at events in 1999 and how happy she was when one of the banners made it on CNN.  Steve, who is president and editor-in-chief of both of his publications, also remembers her going to Los Angeles to show Fox her character, and said he was outraged when he saw Ice Age hit the theaters with their version of her Sqrat with not one credit to Ivy.

“After that, I voluntarily shot all of her campaigns in her fight against Fox. Even if you look at it like she got screwed; they made billions of dollars with that character.  At some point after fighting it for so many years they could have given her even $5 million to go away, but instead they used that negative publicity as positive publicity for their movies and they should really be ashamed of what they did to her,” he said.

People in the entertainment industry who worked with the 53-year-old entrepreneur on Sqrat’s development years ago, like Matt Sternberg,  who was working as vice president of Market Development at Universal Music Group in 1999 when he first met Ivy, are speaking out in her defense and have supported her claim to trademark rights of Sqrat.  Matt said he first met Ivy when he was tasked by his company to come up with ways to leverage the internet and broadband on behalf of their artists.  When he first saw the Ice Age movie a few years later, he said he was astounded to see Sqrat.

“I came up with the idea to illustrate Ivy as a cartoon character that would interview our artists both as a cartoon and in real life. She told me all about her idea for Sqrat, and Sqrat was prominently featured in my pitch to senior execs. While we did commission a brilliant illustration of her, the project never got off the ground,” he said.

Ivy is grateful for the support of those who have stayed true to her and now that the case is closed, she said she truly wants to set the record straight.  In November of 2019, Matt and Ivy’s former boyfriend Mike Anderson, who was a live event producer hired by Fox Family in 1999, were subpoenaed to court and both spoke over the phone on her behalf to defense attorneys.  Following the conversations, Ivy said everyone’s depositions were canceled. 

On June 10, 1999, Mike, who said he worked for Fox Family for a few years, but wasn’t internal to them, said he brought Ivy along with him to the Jacob Javitz Center to attend a licensing show he produced and to network with people in the industry.  He said he was just hoping she would have a good time, but Ivy ended up making the most of the moment and a lasting impression with Sqrat amongst those in attendance, and earned herself free publicity that movie studios had paid millions for that week of the show.

“I brought Ivy into the licensing show at the Javitz center with the hopes that she would just have a good time and maybe meet a few people.  By the end of the night the entire community was talking about Sqrat!,” he said.

Throughout the court battle, Ivy has maintained her belief that media billionaire Rupert Murdoch, who was the owner of Fox and Blue Sky at the time, knew Sqrat was her character from the beginning and allowed it to be used without her permission.  Ivy said she attended a party at Rupert’s while she was promoting Sqrat and pitched her work to executives in attendance, specifically to, award-winning composer and television producer best-known for his co-creation of Power Rangers, Shuki Levy.  She said she went as far as distributing a script and trailer throughout Fox Family.   

Ivy said even though she is vindicated by the final settlement and thrilled to have obtained the Sqrat trademark she has been hoping for this past July, she still feels like she didn’t have a chance to fight fair in court, because she just didn’t have the money anymore or power to fight such a dominant force.  Ivy was not awarded a monetary settlement, and in spite of years of pleading publicly for the truth and countless personal accounts in her defense, at the end of the day documentation is everything.

“They (Fox) thought they could steal it, because I had a problem with my trademark and a problem with my copyright, so I had two problems which legally they felt I couldn’t sue,” she said.

In an article published by Soo Theatre News in November 2009, Michael J. Wilson, screenwriter and creator of Ice Age, claimed his daughter gave him the idea for the movie’s “Scrat” and helped him with the pitch.  He said she came up with the character, came up with the pitch and coined the name.  Ice Age was released on March 12, 2002 and Ivy created her Sqrat in 1999.  There is no public information available to confirm the age of his daughter to compare with the timeline of character creation, but even if it is just an ironic coincidence it could draw reason for question.

In a court document dated March 3, 2008 filed in New York, United States District Judge Richard J. Holwell indicated the following prior to his conclusion in a previous lawsuit against Fox Entertainment Group, Inc.:

“Plaintiff’s (Ivy) claim was not baseless, however, for as the Court noted, had plaintiff sufficiently commercialized her creation she may well have been entitled to protection.”

Although Ivy is infamous for wearing her heart on her sleeve and letting everyone know exactly how she feels, at the root of Ivy, beneath the word “justice” tattooed across her chest, lies a dedicated and passionate artist who just wants the truth to be known.  A turning point recently came in her life creatively, when she said she suffered back to back losses of loved ones in her family and turned to her spirituality as she began painting through her grief and praying for healing.  Her process went from painting to photographing the paintings to finding through her photographs a paranormal art which she describes as something that has just taken a life of its own.

As Ivy’s life would seem to have it, she has built on what she created once again, and morphed one piece into the next when she premiered her new documentary, Ivy’s Paranormal.  The film closely takes a look at her paintings and discusses the images appearing in her photographs which seem to have messages from beyond.  The film is produced by documentary cinematographer Bryan Sarkinen and made its official premiere at Great Neck’s Squire Theater on November 20, 2019.  The film first showed at The Cutting Room International Short Film Festival October 19, 2019 winning Best Short Documentary.

“God is behind these paintings.  The spirit is speaking through me in what I see,” she said.

For the time being, Ivy is waiting it out like many others artists living in New York and hoping when everything opens back up she will find the right people to help her finally bring Sqrat to new life, but she is ready for conversations to start happening now.

You can follow Ivy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up on upcoming events and for more information about Sqrat.  Watch Ivy’s 2000 CNN interview with Jeanne Moos here: https://youtu.be/83j05-eiaXQ

Photos courtesy Ivy Silberstein and Steve Azzara Feature Photo: Charlie Salidino

Reinventing the Wheel: Where the hope lies for Music promoter

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Musicians and the venues they call home are in an unprecedented battle to keep establishments alive while the stages are dark.   But many in the music community say they are finding their hands tied as they desperately seek ways to stay alive.

If the only hope lies in the unity of the music community, music could seemingly live on forever.  In spite of the times, Adam Craig Ellis, promoter and director of marketing at The Paramount in Huntington, N.Y., and his team are giving it their all to utilize the space the best they can to generate revenue until things can fully reopen.

Attached to The Paramount is Spotlight, an art bar, and now restaurant, supporting local artists and musicians where Adam’s new focus as promoter has been reinventing operations since they re-opened in the early summer, after only having initially opened its doors in September 2019.  From the middle of March to the end of June, the Spotlight was closed, and now it has seemingly been a lifeline for The Paramount and some of its staff.

“We were only operating for a couple months before we had to shut everything down,” Adam said.

Being the person responsible for providing entertainment in a time where it barely exists in an essential world has left Adam worried for himself and for fellow colleagues about what the future lies.  During a time when everything was completely shut down, Adam said even though he enjoyed the temporary break from the stress and the pace, he just worked to try and make things better for what’s to come.

With a career spanning 25 years, Adam started out his career doing promotions and marketing for arena football in Florida working for various companies, eventually landing with the Tampa Bay Rays as promotions assistant for a season in 1999. He made his way to New York in 2001, working as promoter for Feld Entertainment, best known for its production of, Disney on Ice.  A couple years later, he signed on with Nassau Coliseum as director of marketing for six and a half years before taking on The Paramount, which he has called home since 2011.

“It’s been quite a ride, and unfortunately now there’s pretty much nothing left of the industry,” he said.

With local venues like Revolution in Amityville, N.Y., recently shutting their doors for good as a direct result of the pandemic, losses are being felt across the board.  Performers and staff of venues across Long Island and throughout the country, including Adam, have taken action by petitioning Congress to help save their stages and their livelihoods.  The #SaveOurStagesAct and the #RestartAct have simultaneously been initiated by the National Independent Venue Association pleading for financial assistance from the federal government to be able to re-open.

Adam said, “If you look at all of Broadway to every trade show, convention, arena, stadium, performer, hot dog vendor, and ticket taker it is something not too many people put too much thought into right now, because it’s not essential and nothing about it is, but to some people it’s their entire lives.”

“It is an opportunity out there for those of us in the industry that have been affected by this to rally around some sort of cause that will be an ability, for at least the venue owners, to recoup some of the expenses that they’ve lost,” he said.

Throughout the summer, Adam brought weekly live music to Spotlight, utilizing a safe and socially-distanced space by opening the restaurant to the street and expanding what he had to work with.  The calendar was filled with events such as live music every Sunday in July and August with singer, Chelsea Takami, Audition-Night-at-Spotlight; a chance for a local Long Island musician to win a spot playing outside under The Paramount Marquee, and special discount days to dine as a way of giving back to support First Responders, Industry and Essential workers in the community.

Adam said the different themes have become an opportunity for he and his staff to become creative with the calendar with fun things to keep them excited and entertained while they wait for the stage at The Paramount to re-open.

With a seating capacity of 1,573, The Paramount is smaller in comparison to arenas and stadiums waiting to re-open, but all the more fragile in how much it can withstand with the doors remaining closed for an indefinite period of time.  Looking at the glass half full, Adam is optimistic in the idea that, because of their smaller nature they will be among the first to re-open, but it then becomes about financially being able to do it.

Although it is too early to tell, Adam said he foresees one of the primary changes to The Paramount upon reopening being the elimination of general admission.  Everyone will have to remain seated, but having previously had regular evenings of comedy shows, boxing, and seated acoustic shows, Adam has confidence in their ability to configure safe, socially-distanced shows moving forward and said furthermore, “they have to.”

“The GA floor with a thousand people on it, moshing, the dancing, the jumping, the sweating; We’re a long way away from that coming back,” he said.

Looking towards the future, Adam said the reality is a lot of people in the industry have had to rethink their careers, but he is just trying to stay hopeful and stick with it taking it all one day at a time. 

For more information about upcoming events at Spotlight, visit http://www.spotlightny.com, and to keep up to date with future happenings at The Paramount go to http://www.paramountny.com.

Photos courtesy of Adam Craig Ellis & Kate Fox

A Window to the Soul

By Amy Nicole Tangel

While summer is coming to a close and we go forward into the next chapter of the new unknown, for many artists it is a very dark time, but through it all humanity is resilient and there is a light shining bright in one musician who has turned his time off-stage into an opportunity to help others.

By day, Frank Junior Guertin has worked as an IT Specialist for Nassau County for the past 27 years, but for the rest of the time he is a father and member of Long Island Rock band, Craving Strange.  As one of the original members for the past 13 years, other than a brief hiatus while raising his son, the 46-year-old guitarist has been a foundation of the band on lead guitar.  Most recently, he has taken his found time during the shutdown to not only make new music with the band, but to start his own blog, Frank Junior: Pages of My Life; sharing some of the most painful and intimate details of his life with readers in hopes of giving insight and support to those need.

“It’s just a window into me; who I am, what I have been through,” he said.

Sitting in the Craving Strange studio in Amityville, N.Y., Frank sat back to talk about what he describes as a bumpy road in life; from his childhood to his passion for music, his life with addiction and the gift of sobriety, topped off by his love for his son and how it all led up to his recent mission to pay forward. 

Frank, remembers third grade being a lonely time for him and having no friends.  Attending Catholic school during a time when all the kids on the playground were playing kickball and baseball, left Frank, who was the only one in his class listening to KISS and Led Zeppelin, sitting on the sidelines by himself.

“For years, I was just shunned away.  I had to figure out, as a child, how to take care of me…at an early age, it’s just what I had to do,” he said.

Frank always loved music and at 4-years-old he said he first felt drawn to guitars when his older sister started taking lessons.  He would beg the instructor to let him hold the guitar after every lesson and the instructor would encourage him, so when Frank turned five, he was finally able to begin taking lessons.  Beginning with lessons from Lou Capic, Frank went all-in learning how to play guitar and at the age of fourteen he first taught with Al Pitrelli, best known for his work with Megadeth, Alice Cooper and Trans-Siberian Orchestra at Focus II Guitar Center- New York Music Emporium in Bellmore.

At 16-years-old, Frank experienced a tragedy no child should ever have to face when he came home from school and found his father passed away in the basement from an aneurysm. In Frank’s eyes his father was his mentor, the rock of the family and his best friend.  He was left devastated and haunted by the memory of not only having to be the one to tell his mother, but the entire family turned to him to bring everyone together, and he said it was too much pressure to take.  Frank had never even experienced death in his young life before his father’s passing, and it turned his world upside down.  Frank ultimately turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with his pain.  Before his father’s passing, Frank said he never even thought about drugs or alcohol and that life was good; he felt safe. 

“I was alone raising myself.  My brother and sister split, my family members moved away.  I was alone, so I then dove into the wrong things, because I had such pain; I didn’t know how to cope with pain,” he said.

As much as Frank hopes readers will be validated in their own life struggles by reading about his heartbreaks, he seeks to spread positivity and hope to inspire people with his stories of sobriety which he credits in large part to the birth of his son.  The day Frank found out he was going to have a son he was also given the alarming news his unborn son had Gastroschisis, a birth defect in which the intestines grow outside of abdominal wall, and there was a high chance he wouldn’t survive. 

Frank made the decision the minute he found out he was going to be a father to stop all drinking and drugs immediately, did a two-week detox in his house and began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings.  He would go during lunch breaks, at night, weekends and Sunday mornings where he found a men’s meeting he just gravitated to, and eventually became his home group.

“I never stopped.  I went every day,” he said.

When Frank’s son was born, the baby underwent surgery to correct the defect and Frank said he was told the baby would probably be in an incubator for months, but miraculously his son was home in three weeks and has never had a stomach issue ever again.  Although there are some special needs, they go through them together, and  Frank said his now, 15-year-old son Frankie who has recently followed in his father’s footsteps and picked up the guitar, is the strong one, a true warrior and his inspiration.

“Everything my father taught me I instilled on him, and he’s brought it back home,” he said.

The blog is not about the follows or the likes for Frank who will celebrate 15 years of sobriety this upcoming February 2, but the connection he makes with people by sharing his stories.  He said right now with all the negative, the anger and the fear in people’s minds, it turns into situations, so for his blog to be a place for people to learn how to face problems and come out of them for the better, it’s a win.

“I love helping people.  I do.  What matters is who we are inside and the love we give each other,” he said.

As for the music in Frank’s life, Craving Strange has been in the studio separately and now together throughout the pandemic.  While live shows are on hold, they have been live streaming from time to time, including a recent performance for News 12, and have just finished recording three new songs with the first titled, “Rise” being released this upcoming October.

To read Frank’s blog visit, www.frankjuniorpagesofmylife.rocks and to keep up with all happenings Craving Strange, you can follow them on  Instagram, Facebook, www.craingstrange.net, and watch live YouTube content on www.youtube.com/cravingstrange.

Photos courtesy of Frank Junior Guertin