Best of LI Beauty Salon Expands in New Location

By Amy Nicole Tangel

As the perseverance of local businesses continues to grow, a sign of better times ahead can be seen  in the recent expansion of one Long Island beauty salon, and for the creator behind it all, it has been 25 years in the making.

Best of LI 2021 winner for best hair salon two years in a row, Tresses & Colours, has recently moved to a new location for the first time since they opened their doors 24 years ago on Carleton Avenue in East Islip, N.Y.  Now approaching their 25th anniversary August 1, they have re-located on Montauk Highway in Oakdale, N.Y., and owner Louise Polite, said she couldn’t be happier with the growth in business in spite of the times.

“It has been good.  It has been really good.  We have lots of new customers from the area, and we also get quite a few from Best of LI,” she said.

Louise said the recent move has also been an expansion of not only Tresses & Colours, but her handmade skin care company, Sonny & Dew is also growing.  Just a few months in from her recent grand opening, Louise has already launched a new facial line with Sonny & Dew, brought in new artists, and added more chairs.

The new all-natural facial line includes appropriately named products such as “Bye Bye Puffy Eye” and “Liquid Lift,” along with moisturizers and serums to help skin look and feel healthy.  In addition, Louise said the oatmeal scrub cleanser she created is phenomenal and one of her most underrated products. 

Sonny & Dew’s Day at the Beach Collection is still “hands down her number one seller,” but she said she is also excited about her new hand lotion line that is bakery inspired.  As for hair products, Louise creates those as well, and one of her best sellers is her handmade, Tea Tree Scalp Scrub.  In Louise’s experience and with her expertise, she said some of the mass-produced tea tree products that you see are too diluted. She said she believes the good stuff is very hard to get, so she decided to make her own. 

“If you have a dry scalp, it is excellent.  You take a little bit before you wet your hair in the shower, you take maybe the size of a quarter and you exfoliate your scalp,” she said.

Across Long Island, the work of Tresses & Colours and Sonny & Dew continues to be recognized.  In addition to being Best of LI winners, Louise and her companies were recently highlighted in an interview on LI radio station WALK 97.5 with The Anna & Raven Show and were featured in a box-opening video of Sonny & Dew products by Barstool Sports founder, Dave Portnoy.  Louise said having Dave do a video opening one of her boxes was a very exciting moment, and she continues to get orders from that plug to this day.

Amidst all the growth, Louise said she continues to be focused on balancing her business by being committed to paying it forward, and to supporting others in her community.  When Covid hit, she said she wanted to give back to the nurses who were on the front lines, so she started sending hand lotions as a thank you to nurses at hospitals.  Nurses from Syosset, the former Southside now South Shore University Hospital, North Shore University Hospital, and NYU Winthrop Hospital received packages from Louise.

Most recently, Louise gave back to the nurses at Stony Brook University Hospital with Day at the Beach hand lotions and free haircuts.  In response, Louise has received countless pictures and posts from nurses all over who have shared their appreciation for the thoughts and care.  Louise said her goal is to continue to pay forward to the nurses and first responders any chance she can.  She said even though things seem to be getting better, the nurses are still there helping others and should not be forgotten once the dust settles.

“It seems to me like everybody has forgotten about them at this point,” she said.

As part of her recent relocation and expansion, Louise has brought on outside artists to provide services such as facials, permanent makeup, microblading, lifts and tints, and brow lamination.  Clients can book an appointment with a fully licensed esthetician and a permanent makeup artist to receive any of these services.  Despite the pandemic, Louise said she never stopped working and moving forward with her salon, but there is still a lot of work she wants to do.

One of those goals is being able to return to fairs with her products.  In the beginning of the shutdown, Louise said she enjoyed the break of the weekly grind, but now she is deeply missing the in-person connection with her customers.

“Once they pick-up, I will be at the fairs again.  Without a doubt, either I will be there, or one of my girls will be there, but Sonny & Dew will be back at the fairs,” she said.

A big worry for Louise, she said, is the fear that people have developed a habit of going onto Amazon and having everything the next day; and she said she worries that those customers won’t come back.  Especially for the crafters and handmade people like her, Louise said those artists really need people to come back.

“I am hoping that people are not so in tune to buying online now that they don’t come out to support,” she said.

Setting worries aside, Louise said she is grateful to her customers wherever they come from.  While new customers have been a breath of fresh air to the business, Louise said it is her repeat customers who have been the most rewarding.  Louise takes pride in being there for her client’s needs and if there ever is a question, she said all someone has to do is call her, and she will gladly help any client find just the right product for their individual needs.  For her returning customers, she said they know her products by heart now.

“I don’t have to show them anything anymore.  They just walk-in and pick out what they find,” she said.

To learn more about Tresses & Colours and the services they provide, you can visit  Sonny & Dew is located inside Tresses & Colours at 1227 Montauk Highway in Oakdale where you can shop in-person, or online at  To book an appointment for hair styling or any other service, call 631-581-9369.

‘Kindness is power’ with The Dog Chick

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Throughout the pandemic people have been rapidly leaving cities and moving to suburbs to live more of the “simple life,” and with that new life many are adopting dogs for the first time. One woman who has dedicated her life to training dogs across Long Island is now at the forefront of what’s to come in training dogs in a new world.

When Charlene (Charli) Sorrentino was a little girl growing up in Rego Park, Queens, she said she was the kid who was always daydreaming out the window during class and paying close attention to everything that was happening outside.  She said she knew early on she wanted to dedicate her life to dogs especially, but she just didn’t know how.

“Family parties, I was sitting with the dog or the cat.  That was me; I just had something,” she said.

In 1986, Charlene moved to Long Island and that is when she said she took her first course in dog training at a behavior center for dogs in NYC.  They offered a course on dog behavior that was the clicking point, and from that moment she realized she wanted to build her life and career upon training dogs.  At the time dog training was not mainstream, so Charlene said she started out small and as time went on over the years her work became widely used across Long Island.

While Charlene was busy raising her daughter, she said she always had anywhere from three to five dogs and offered her services to people in the neighborhood, just because it was something she loved to do.  Her husband at the time was an equipment manager for the NY Mets who provided a comfortable living for the family, and she said while he always encouraged her to just enjoy being a stay-at-home mom, that was something she couldn’t do.

During this time is when Charlene, known to many as “The Dog Chick” today, said she started working with friends and family pets and began earning her first income, but she still felt she wanted to do so much more.  Before dog training became more mainstream, Charlene said she would read every book on dog training she could find, but she felt everything she read was punitive.

“You learn a lot experience wise, but you have to have that formal education to balance it,” she said.

Soon after she began training in her neighborhood, Charlene learned of a school in Queens, The Academy of Canine Education, and enrolled in a 16-week dog training program.  For Charlene, she said the experience was an eye-opener and she quickly came to realize she did not like the methodology of the “force” based mindset of training she was receiving.  She knew, then, it was not how she wanted to train.

For Charlene, who has been in her Huntington, N.Y., location since 2014, and built her training today based on 17 years specializing in positive reinforcement, it was educating herself through the positive- based practices and instructional tools of veterinarian, researcher and teacher, Dr.  Ian Dunbar, whom she said changed her life and inspired the methodology of training dogs she uses to this day.

“He’s fantastic, and he came up with the saying, ‘shelter dogs aren’t born that way.’  Meaning, all of them are born as puppies, it’s what we do to them and with them; that’s why my thing is, ‘kindness is power,’” she said.

Charlene, who said she is led by instinct, believes the only way to train a dog to do what you want them to is to get on a level of their understanding and said, “No can be your warning word just like the sound ‘uh-oh,’ or snap your fingers and then comes ‘leave it’.”

That is when, Charlene said, you have to teach them what to leave it actually means.  Otherwise, she said they are just not going to get it. However, she said never to push them beyond their comfort zone when teaching your dog anything new, especially if they are afraid.

“Small, small, small.  Baby steps,” she said.

Even though Charlene said she is personally afraid of planes and flying, being able to actually go to MacArthur Airport in Islip, N.Y., to train dogs how to fly is one of those moments where she feels in awe of the work she is able to do and the impact of how training these dogs is changing people’s lives for the better.  For Charlene, she said the ultimate goal in behavior training is when she can help make a fearful dog to at least feel more comfortable.

“Of course, you always reach for the stars and you may not get that, but if you can keep a dog in the home…it’s really about saving them,” she said.

Charlene has stood in court to defend dogs and has testified to stand-up for the rights of the voiceless, because she said trainers like herself follow a bite scale written by Dunbar with the belief that “a bite is not just a bite,” and somewhere along the line there were warning signs given by the dog that were missed.

“Dogs bite with intent,” she said.

Education is key with Charlene, who has made it her mission to educate whenever the opportunity arises, and until everything was halted by COVID, she had even begun teaching lessons at a grade school in Whitestone, N.Y. After training two dogs to be therapy dogs for the school, Charlene said she was invited regularly to come to the school to teach kids about what to do and not to do with dogs.  She said she attended career days, as well, and gave the kids visual demonstrations to see the dogs reactions.  Charlene said teaching children from early on how to properly treat a dog is key to instilling the proper learned behaviors that will stick with them throughout life.

“I know through education I can offer the next generation at least the right way to do it, so that’s a goal of mine,” she said.

Charlene said in the dog training world, trainers are a dime a dozen these days thanks to shows like, “The Dog Whisperer,” so for her it is a priority to advocate the real importance of a formal education.  She is an official mentor for The Animal Behavior College and CATCH Canine Trainers Academy, and she said she has written articles to help educate other dog trainers and pet owners alike.

“We are not regulated, that’s what the positive reinforcement world is pushing for; to get regulations in this business,” she said. 

With education in mind, Charlene said she has seen a surge in business with families staying home and becoming first-time pet owners.  She said when last summer rolled around she became busier than usual, and began offering virtual lessons through video and text when it could not be done in person to do whatever she could to help her families feel like they were all in it together.

On the flipside of more people staying home, Charlene said what she is seeing a spike in now is separation anxiety with new pets, who were adopted during quarantine, and with people now returning to work many dogs are being left home alone for the first time ever.  She said calls are beginning to roll in from people who are coming home from work to find the dog has eaten their couch, for example, and are now turning to her for help.

In addition to separation anxiety, Charlene is also concerned about dogs who were used to very active lives becoming unsocialized, and she fears this is a behavior in dogs that is only going to increase.  While Charlene works hard to help every family and pet in need no matter what the reason, she said the true focus of her work is behavior and she is bracing herself for what’s to come as things open back up.

At the end of the day, Charlene said she hasn’t advertised in years and all of her work comes through word of mouth.  However, with the times changing, Charlene like many others began to think forward during the shutdown and said she finally was able to get her website complete making her more accessible virtually.  The website is full of many resources and information about all of the services she provides.

No matter what the dog’s stage in life or issue it may be having, from puppy, to a blind or deaf dog, a companion to an elderly person, or a service dog for a veteran, Charlene said the softest spot in her heart is for dogs who have been surrendered.

“My focus is to work with the ones that people surrender.  To bring them to a point where they can live a happy life; that’s where my heart is,” she said.

Charlene said ultimately she is grateful to make a living doing what she loves, but would be doing it anyway even if she didn’t and will continue to help any dog she can for the all of the days of her life.

“If I had to do this and not make a penny off it, I would still do it,” she said.

To learn more about Charlene and the services she provides, please visit

Photo Credit: Charles Salidino

A Rockstar in the Midst

By Amy Nicole Tangel

People say, ‘It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish,’ and for one rocker vocalist who was diagnosed with cancer over a decade ago, there has been no stopping him from rising above and moving forward with life, music and gratitude.

Long Island native and metal rock band Holy Mother front man, Mike Tirelli, has recently reunited with the band after a 17-year-hiatus releasing their new album, ‘Face This Burn,’ and he said he is ready to get back to life from the pandemic, on the road touring and to really being able to live life again after recovering from his battle with stage three stomach cancer.

“I have definitely been fortunate. I can say that,” he said.

Holy Mother was founded by Mike and drummer, James Harris who released the self-titled debut album in 1995 with the late bassist, Randy Coven (known for working with the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai), and guitarist Spike Francis.  Today’s band includes the two founding members Mike and James, alongside new bandmate and New York native bassist, Russell Pzutto of Dee Snider’s band and former understudy for Twisted Sister bassist Mark “The Animal’ Mendoza,” and guitarist, Greg Giordano.

The band has a total of seven albums released to date with most of their early success coming from playing large festivals in Europe, including Wacken Open Air; one of the largest annual heavy metal festivals held in Germany for over 30 years, but Holy Mother has not been Mike’s only claim to fame.  His list of collaborations is extensive, and Mike said he is always writing. “I write every day,” he said.

Writing everyday is exactly how the reunion of Holy Mother organically came to be in 2020, when Mike said it occurred to him all of the new music he was writing back and forth with fellow band member James was something they really needed to put down, so he simply decided it was time to reach out to a few labels. “Face This Burn” was released last month under Massacre/AFM Records and is co-produced with Mike by, Kane Churko, renowned producer to artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Disturbed and Five Finger Death Punch.

“Every aspect of the whole album, the writing, the continuity that’s on the album; we have traditional songs-we have everything for everybody as far as fans go,” he said.

The singer/songwriter said he always loved music from a young age, but it was in his teens when he really got into playing in bands and at clubs.  Raised in a family of police officers, with his father and brothers all members of the NYPD, Mike was encouraged to take the same path, but he said his true passion was always with music.

“My father always wanted me, you know, to follow in his footsteps. My brothers did, and you know what?  It was a lot more appetizing to be into music,” he said.

Talent with Mike growing up was not just in the form of vocals, but he said he was also an athlete.  Mike said he played football and baseball, but it was baseball where he really went places and even earned a try-out with the N.Y. Yankees when he was just 18 years old.  Although it was a moment Mike said he will never forget, he said his heart wasn’t into it like it was for having a career in music.  Mike said he was grateful for the opportunity and it was an amazing feeling walking into the stadium, but he went into it with an injury and he is also a Mets fan, so he laughed it off as being for the best he didn’t join the team.

“And, I am a Met fan by the way, so if they would have signed me, I would have said, ‘No, I am going to the Mets,’” he said.

Aside from Holy Mother, Mike has been the longtime lead singer for the German rock band, Messiah’s Kiss since 2002.  Mike said he joined Messiah’s Kiss (previously known as Repression), after the band had pursued him from their interest in Holy Mother and kept sending him demos asking him to sing for the band.  He said he kept listening to what they were sending and thought to himself, they were really good and he needed a change of pace, so he joined the band. They were signed immediately and he has been with the band ever since.

“They went from a local German band to this National act,” he said. 

In the middle of it all, back in the U.S., Mike also joined the American rock band, Riot, in 2005, and toured with them for three years until he received his cancer diagnosis.  Mike was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2008 and fought courageously for two years undergoing chemotherapy and a gastrectomy; the complete removal of the stomach. 

It hasn’t been an easy process Mike said, but he is not allowing his battle with cancer to define his life. In fact, Mike was still doing his last treatments of chemo in 2009, when he joined the cast of, “Rockstar: The Tribute,” a Las Vegas rock tribute show where he played the role of David Coverdale of Whitesnake.  He said even though he wasn’t feeling one hundred percent during his time in Vegas, he was so passionate about getting out there again and because the show was well-received he said being a part of the cast was a highlight of his career. 

Mike said it’s a learning process everyday juggling how to eat enough small meals and manage his new normal dietary life, but he has worked hard to find balance and is grateful for the miracle he received; often reflecting on how his biggest vocal inspiration, Ronnie James Dio lost his own battle to the very same cancer in 2010. 

“The chemo was probably one of the hardest things I had to deal with.  That almost killed me,” he said.

Thankfully, today Mike has been living a cancer-free and full life in Patchogue, N.Y., with his wife Janet and two children for the past 12 years, and said he just lives simply.  Mike said he has been very proud to watch his 13-year-old daughter, Violet begin to grow musically singing and playing keys, and she can even be heard singing on a track of the new album. 

When Mike is not on the road, he said he has been grateful to have also supported himself and his family locally for years working at the tuxedo shop, Rico’s Clothing, in Center Moriches, N.Y., and Sidhal Industries, a janitorial supply company, based in Hempstead, N.Y.  Mike said the people at Rico’s have been like family to him and the owners at Sidhal have been a great support to Mike and his career.

While Mike said he enjoys his day to day work, music will always be number one and he cannot wait to get back out on the road.  In the meantime, “Face This Burn” has three videos out including the title track with three more on the way in the works, but for Mike he said the most important thing for Holy Mother, like every other band patiently waiting, is to get touring again.

Once things open up, it seems like Mike will be everywhere.  Not only does Mike have touring with Holy Mother on the horizon and new music in the works for Messiah’s Kiss, he also is gearing up for the local music scene to open back up as well.  On the home front, Mike can be found performing with the eight-piece band, Entourage, at weddings, parties and events around New York and singing in the Whitesnake tribute band, Almost Whitesnake.

Until live shows are fully-up and running, you can check out Holy Mother’s three new “Face This Burn” videos on YouTube, and you can also find Mike on the YouTube show, “Band Geek,” featuring Richie Castellano of Blue Oyster Cult, where Mike sings three cover songs from Whitesnake, Black Sabbath and Mr. Big.

To keep up with all things Mike Tirelli and all his musical endeavors, you can find him on Facebook @miketirellimusician and Instagram @mike_tirelli_musician.

Long Island Simple Syrup Business Soars to New Heights

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Stories of new found artistic creativity and emerging business ventures have been a silver lining amidst the pandemic and have also been a surprising life-changing reality for many people who simply “tried something new,” and one Long Island woman’s new simple syrup business has rapidly become a local household name.

Last March, Christine Eifert of Northport, N.Y., was left empty-handed when everything shut down and her lifelong bartending career was put on hold. Being a full-time working mom of two teenage sons, Christine started immediately thinking outside of the box as she wondered how she was going to keep a roof over her head and put food on the table when the idea of creating her new  business, Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrups, came to mind.

Almost one year later, what started out as small batches of flavors being delivered to family and friends on their doorsteps has turned into Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrups being found in restaurants and farmers’ markets. With the list of locations growing, Christine said she has much more in store for the new year.

“I definitely didn’t think it would go this far.  I give a lot of my thanks to the help of my friends and the bartending community all across God’s creation, and for the productive mind to stay afloat during the pandemic,” she said.

Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrups are now being served in establishments such as Harbor Harvest on Long Island and Norwalk, Connecticut, and The Founder’s Room at The Paramount in Huntington, N.Y.  After spending the entire summer with the Northport Farmers’ Market in Huntington, Christine had to think outside of the box once again when fall came around and the outdoor market ended for the season, but in her true fashion she didn’t let a lack of locations to sell her syrups stop her; she simply set-up a tent in her front yard.  Not only did she have people with cars parked up and down her street for her syrups every week, she invited a few other local vendors as well, and once again she found a way to keep going.

“If I didn’t do it, I would be screwed.  I went from eight shifts a week bartending to nothing to now two,” she said.

With a career in bartending Christine said she has left no stone unturned in her mission of getting her syrups into every location she possibly can.  When the holidays came and the weather became too cold to sell her syrups outside, Christine showed her heart once again when she created another successful opportunity not only for herself, but for her other local vendor friends by initiating the concept of the Holiday Market held at Spotlight NY Art bar and restaurant at The Paramount this past season.  In addition to inspiring the event, Christine said the market itself was a huge success and opened doors to get her syrups into the hands of countless people.

“I have to keep moving forward.  It’s fun and I like it,” she said.

Christine is still making syrups in her kitchen, but the time has come, she said, to begin to explore kitchens outside of her home to keep up with the ever-growing demand.  Almost one year later, Christine is making syrups every day in the same pots she started with and said she just has too many flavors now to keep making with the space she has.  With almost 30 flavors to choose from, Christine said she finds a way to make it work to keep up with orders and it is an exciting time for the business, but she is ready to take it to the next level.     

“If I make a batch, I will make a lot extra and then I will push that,” she said.

Every weekend in August and the beginning of September Christine said she will be taking her syrups on the road with a car show tour making various stops throughout New England. In the fall, she will be bringing her syrups to a sci-fi horror show in upstate New York, and she is hoping to possibly get in on the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly weekend in Las Vegas, NV. 

Christine said she is currently working on a website and is creating a system to begin accepting online orders.  Packages of Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrups are available for every holiday or occasion and she said people have been requesting syrups for party favors as well.  In addition to the syrups, Christine also has merchandise such as hoodies and shirts with Blondie’s logo available for purchase, and she said she is constantly adding something new to her growing inventory of syrup flavors. 

“I have Bacon Bad, I have a pickle one; that’s a good new one.  I just started making an elderberry one, everyone keeps asking for that.  I already have syrups lined up for Easter,” she said.

Tonight, Christine will be appearing on the YouTube show, Cocktails & Contours hosted by Bella Noche at 8 p.m., where she will be mixing up some cocktails with her syrups and giving viewers some tips on the best ways to enjoy different flavors.  To follow Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrups and to inquire about placing an order you can contact Christine through Facebook and Instagram @blondiesnotsosimplesyrups.

Holiday Driveway Demo with Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrups

Staying Vintage with LI Rapper Edward “JJ” Jones

By Amy Nicole Tangel

From the day Long Island rapper Edward “JJ” Jones began his career he said it has been a mission to make music his life, while always staying true to himself and trying to help others. Even with all the challenges faced in 2020, he has continued to be an evolving artist with new projects on the way.

In the past two decades, JJ has worked non-stop releasing more than a dozen records and his list of artist collaborations is countless.  His first release came in October 2009 with the title, “Welcome to Lindenhurst,” which pays tribute to his roots. His CD was first sold at Looney Tunes in West Babylon, N.Y. where you can still pick up copies of his work today.  His most recent release, “The Untitled” came along in October 2020, and he is not stopping there as he is already in the studio working on his next album.  JJ said even after all these years, he will never forget the most amazing feeling walking into Looney Tunes and seeing his CD’s right there.

“That kind of catapulted everything that I created for myself, which was to have that CD in that store,” he said.

Not only has JJ’s life been led to higher ground through his music career and his solo success along with his group LethillWeapon, he has also become an entrepreneur creating his own clothing line which he meaningfully named, Stay Vintage.  JJ describes Stay Vintage as a clothing line inspired to be who you are that started with just a thought to make a shirt and hopes that people would like it. Six years later, Stay Vintage, has become a collection of t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, mouse pads, masks, stickers and even hand sanitizers.  JJ said he is always working with different colors and styles to keep coming up with new designs, all the while he admits being in disbelief it has turned into something bigger than his music.

“It’s more than a name. It’s a way of life,” he said.

Through it all JJ said from the very beginning he always knew he wanted to use his gift of music for good and to pay forward through work with charity.  In the span of his career, JJ said he has hosted many events, some big and some small, but they are all equally important to him. Supporting him for many years and giving him a stage to call home to perform on, and an outlet for his charitable work was the now former, Revolution Bar and Music Hall in Amityville, N.Y.

“I truly believe in giving back when you can.  I was a foster kid, I barely had stuff.  People gave to me when in need,” he said.

At an early age in JJ’s life he was dealt with the unthinkable when he was taken away from everything he knew and placed into foster care.  Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1978, JJ lived with his mom and dad until he was eight years old, when he said one day, he watched helplessly as his parents became entangled in a violent domestic dispute.  From that moment, JJ’s life was altered forever, and he went to live with his grandmother.  His mother could no longer care for him and JJ said after the day his parents became estranged, he never saw his father ever again.

During his time with his grandma,  JJ said he was a good kid who just played his video games and never caused her any trouble, but he said she developed cancer and could no longer care for him, so she told him she had to place him in foster care.  JJ’s life was flipped upside down once again and he said, although he was lucky enough to have eventually found a great foster dad and loving family, his grandmother lost her battle with cancer and JJ suffered yet again, another great loss.

“The only one that ever really took care of me was my grandmother, but she was sick with cancer.  She was a food prep lady in Brooklyn.  She was always working, and she was sick,” he said.

Today at 42-years-old, JJ thrives and said he has been blessed with an entire community of people who gave him a little bit here and there along the way to help him rise above.  JJ proclaims he lives his life with his heart on his sleeve and while he said it is a blessing and a curse, it fuels his music.  He said when people say that his lyrics are a type of therapy, he tells them it’s not therapy; it’s just his life.

“I have ideas in my head, but a lot of times the music brings it out or something happens to where I write about it,” he said.

While JJ continues to wait for things to open back up, he is currently in the beginning stages of writing a book about his journey as a rapper with detailed accounts of his writing process, break downs of songs, how he got to where he is today, and how he is passionate about helping other up and coming artists as a mentor.  In the yet untitled book, JJ sheds depth to his creative process and describes how he just lets the music flow constantly, even in his sleep.

He wrote, “This would happen through the years with most of my albums even way back in the day. I would fall asleep and wake up with a verse done in my head; ending up on a song when I thought it wouldn’t.”

In the meantime, JJ is busy working on yet another album release and preparing for his spring line for Stay Vintage.  To keep up with JJ Jones find him on Facebook and Instagram @iamjjjones.  For more information on the Stay Vintage clothing line you can find Stay Vintage Collection by Edward JJ Jones on Facebook and on Instagram @stayvintageofficial.

Photos courtesy Edward “JJ” Jones

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 for reservations and more information about dining.  For information on additional performances, visit 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

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,

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

Photos courtesy Merna Lewis.