Entries from blogs tagged with “Kansas”

Autism is no joke to comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us

Asperger’s Are Us has a few requests for audience members in advance of the Boston-based comedy troupe’s Aug. 5 performance at the Lawrence Arts Center.

First and foremost, don’t expect to see the guys – that would be Noah Britton, Jack Hanke, New Michael Ingemi and Ethan Finlan, all of whom are openly autistic — poking fun at their condition or using the show as a lofty platform for autism awareness.

And also: bring snacks. Canned goods, cereal, Pepsi and bananas are all on the guys’ wish list.

"‘Cause in RV parks, the only food available is whatever you can hunt from the slower people staying in the RV park,” jokes Britton, the self-described “old man” of the group.

From left: Ethan Finlan, New Michael Ingemi, Jack Hanke and Noah Britton make up the comedy troupe Asperger's Are Us. The comedians, all of whom are openly autistic, will perform Aug. 5 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., at 7:30 p.m., followed up a Q-and-A session.

From left: Ethan Finlan, New Michael Ingemi, Jack Hanke and Noah Britton make up the comedy troupe Asperger's Are Us. The comedians, all of whom are openly autistic, will perform Aug. 5 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., at 7:30 p.m., followed up a Q-and-A session.

Britton has been tasked with RV maintenance — a daunting task, as the 30-year-old pre-used vehicle has taken to breaking down quite a few times already — during the troupe’s cross-country summer tour. He’s about a decade older than his fellow performers and friends, whom he met 11 years ago as a counselor at a summer camp (Hanke, Ingemi and Finlan were all campers) for kids with Asperger’s.

The age gap doesn’t matter much to the guys, who all share the same quirky, absurdist sense of humor (anticipate that, plus plenty of word play, at the Lawrence show) and a disorder that so often makes socializing and communicating a challenge.

“When I met them, I desperately needed to meet other Aspies. I hadn’t known about my own diagnosis long, and I was like, ‘I need to find somewhere where I can find my own people,’” recalls Britton. “You know, you spend your whole life (having Asperger’s) and are like, ‘What? I’ve never even met anyone who speaks the same language as me,’ and then you do, and it doesn’t even matter if they’re 12. You’re so psyched.”

Since 2010, the friends (aside from Britton, they’re all in their twenties and in college, though academics have been put on hold for the moment) have performed as Asperger’s Are Us, though this summer’s tour is their biggest foray into the national comedy scene yet.

Their biggest break may arrive in the form of a documentary, also called “Asperger’s Are Us,” executive produced by Mark Duplass. The film, which debuted to a warm reception at the South By Southwest festival in Austin earlier this year, is slated to hit Netflix in the fall.

Growing up, Hanke used humor as a “shield” in social situations. It was his way of “making people like me” and finding likeminded friends – a hobby, he says, that has now become a career, oddly enough.

“In the small scale, it feels normal. We’re used to touring by now, somewhat,” Hanke says of the group’s recent successes. “But I guess in the big sense, I still have a hard time believing that this is our life right now. It’s utterly unlike anything I expected to be doing at 23.”

At the moment, that entails anything from spelunking in Ohio to gigging at such prestigious venues as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. That’s life on the road, and so far, audiences have been receptive to the Asperger’s Are Us brand of humor.

Mainly, the guys are there to make each other laugh — their influences include Monty Python, Andy Kaufman and Steven Wright — but if audiences find it funny too, well, the more the merrier. A one-on-one conversation, Hanke explains, is harder to navigate for a person with Asperger’s than performing to an impersonal auditorium packed with row after row of anonymous faces.

As much as the group prefers to shy away from an ambassador role, they don’t mind talking about Asperger’s with those who are genuinely curious. After every show, the troupe does a Q-and-A session with the audience, fielding questions from parents and teachers and others looking to better understand autism.

“Honestly, if someone wants to hire us to do some kind of educational lecture, we will, but we’re very happy to just be funny on stage and appeal to people who have similar senses of humor,” Britton says, “And that’s really, I think, what every comedian wants.”

Catch Asperger's Are Us at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. Tickets cost $10, and can be purchased at the Arts Center ticket office or at www.lawrenceartscenter.org.

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Vintage Players to perform annual ‘Senior Moments’ Saturday at Theatre Lawrence

The retirees-turned-thespians of Theatre Lawrence’s Vintage Players call it “An Evening of Senior Moments,” but, as members of the group will attest, the annual comedy performance is more than colonoscopy jokes and predictable bits about failing memory.

“It’s funny,” Vintage Players director Mary Ann Saunders says of that particular brand of comedy. “But at the end of the day, it’s sort of depressing.”

“Senior Moments,” she says, is more about the kind of idiosyncrasies and human foibles we all experience, even those of us yet to experience the worst of the aging process. This year’s production — a mix of one-liners, “old vaudeville jokes” and improvised skits, from the minds of Vintage Players themselves or outside scribes — will be staged at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. The performance is free, but a suggested donation of $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous) is appreciated.

From left, Judith Scheff and Chuck Mosley perform a scene driving a make believe automobile as Jerry Morton pretends to be a officer giving a ticket to the pair during a Vintage Players performance at Vermont Towers, 1101 Vermont St., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The comedy troupe is staging its annual "An Evening of Senior Moments" show Saturday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive.

From left, Judith Scheff and Chuck Mosley perform a scene driving a make believe automobile as Jerry Morton pretends to be a officer giving a ticket to the pair during a Vintage Players performance at Vermont Towers, 1101 Vermont St., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The comedy troupe is staging its annual "An Evening of Senior Moments" show Saturday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. by Richard Gwin

A Theatre Lawrence staple since 2002, the comedy troupe performs regularly at area nursing homes and schools, including Cordley and Deerfield Elementary, where the actors share fairy tales with second graders through re-enactment. The idea, particularly with audiences who are older and often not as active as they once were, is to lift spirits and challenge preconceived notions of senior citizens.

“It lets us entertain them, because they’re confined and some of them are in ill health,” says longtime Vintage Players member Jane Robshaw. “And to see older people, that we’re still out there and performing. I’m 74 and I’m still going.”

Over the years, Saunders has seen Players come and go. Some are more active in the summer months after vacationing outside of Lawrence during the winter. Others, tasked with caring for sick loved ones, might not make every meeting, but find themselves healed — at least momentarily — when they do.

“We read new materials and share stories and laugh at each other quite a bit,” Saunders says, recounting anecdotes from fellow members with chronically sick loved ones. “I think there’s a lot of therapy in laughing. Good therapy.”

But mainly, she says, it’s about having fun. The mission statement of the Vintage Players quite literally is “Just have fun.” And that they do.

Saturday’s iteration of “Senior Moments” (Vintage Players never performs the same show twice in a row, as Saunders prefers to review new scripts and devise new material every year) will make use of the upcoming summer Olympics, bits inspired by “The Ellen Degeneres Show” and other topical elements.

And even though there’s more than a sprinkling of retiree-centric comedy involved, Saunders hopes the show will have a broad appeal.

“Some of the humor is based on the fact that we can’t hear as well or see as well, but there’s an awful lot of stuff in the world that’s funny no matter at what age you’re experiencing it,” she says. “You can find humor in just about everything, and I’m a firm believer that there’s not much out there that you can’t laugh at.”

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A block-by-block guide to the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale

With nearly 100 local businesses slated to participate Thursday, July 21, the 57th annual Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale is again expected to draw at least 10,000 savvy shoppers over the course of the day — that'd be sunup to sundown, or roughly 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

While Massachusetts Street, particularly the stretch between the 600 and 1000 blocks, tends to attract the biggest crowds, bargain hunters would be remiss to not venture off the beaten path, says Sally Zogry, director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. Venues located a little farther down Massachusetts Street — or just off it — boast their fair share of treasures, too.

Also, “Just because a business is not outside does not mean they’re not participating,” Zogry advises.

Among her tips: Dress for the weather, stop by the cooling stations to keep hydrated, visit the portable toilets at the breezeways in the 700 and 800 blocks of Massachusetts Street if you need to, and bring a buddy — “it’s more fun,” Zogry says. Those arriving early in the morning may have more merchandise to choose from, but often the best deals are found later in the evening.

Shoppers check out the deals at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St., during the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale, Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Shoppers check out the deals at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St., during the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale, Thursday, July 16, 2015. by Richard Gwin

“There’s a little something for everyone,” she says. “If you’re somebody who wants to get the $5 deal, you can get it. You can outfit your whole house, your closet, your dog or cat.”

Or, forget about the shopping (at least momentarily) and stop by the Journal-World’s booth at the corner of Ninth and Massachusetts streets for Town Talk Live with managing editor Chad Lawhorn (there will also be gift card giveaways, to further entice you) from 8 to 11 a.m.

In the meantime, we’ve compiled a short-ish rundown of a handful of the many businesses (because there are really too many to mention here) participating in the sale this year. We’ve also pointed out where to cool off, find food and get your face painted. Good luck, shoppers!


600 Block

Waxman Candles, 609 Massachusetts St.

Take a respite from the heat (you won’t find goods on the sidewalk here, for obvious reasons) inside Waxman Candles, where all votive candles are marked down to $1.10. Various candle holders and other odds and ends will also be on sale.

The Raven Book Store, 6 E. Seventh St.

Enjoy a 12-percent discount on everything inside the shop, plus markdowns on some greeting cards — 25 cents each or five for a dollar.


700 Block

Ruff House Art, 729 Massachusetts St.

Load up on discounted stationery essentials such as greeting cards, envelopes, cardstock and gift wrap at the letterpress shop, which is also slashing prices by 10 percent storewide.

Dusty Bookshelf, 708 Massachusetts St.

Everything’s marked down inside the shop (employees are keeping things hush-hush on specifics for now) and out, where sidewalk shoppers can snatch up books at $2 or less a pop.

Made, 737 Massachusetts St.

Browse through Made’s inventory of gift-y (and often locally made or local-centric) items — which include jewelry, prints, flatware and other home goods — all at 10-percent off. Also, keep an eye out for deeper cuts on select products around the store.

Cooling station: Take a load off at the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Massachusetts St.


800 Block

Fortuity, 809 Massachusetts St.

Cash-strapped fashionistas, pay heed: Starting at 5 a.m., the trendy boutique will offer racks of clothing with some items marked down to $5. Special giveaways, extra discounts and other surprises will be offered throughout the day.

Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St.

Sunflower is historically one of the busiest locales as far as bang-for-your-buck deals go, and this year’s sale is no exception: All past-season inventory — including winter clothing, shoes and accessories — will be marked down by at least 50 percent. All other items, i.e. bikes and summer gear, will be discounted 10 percent.

Love Garden, 822 Massachusetts St.

It’s a music lover’s paradise at the downtown emporium of all things cool, where shoppers can peruse 10-percent-off new CDs and LPs, 30-percent-off used CDs and hundreds of $1 records. The store is also selling limited-edition Love Garden tank tops in honor of the Sidewalk Sale.

Cooling station: Escape from the heat at TCBY, 845 Massachusetts St., and Pickleman’s Gourmet Café, where free cookies will also be handed out, at 818 Massachusetts St.

Refreshments: Air Summer Sno will be selling shaved ice to hungry shoppers in front of the law offices at 808 Massachusetts St. toward the end of the day.


900 Block

Yarn Barn, 930 Massachusetts St.

Stock up on overstock and newly discontinued yarn, plus a few sample garments, for 35- to 50-percent-off. Then get to work on that scarf idea you saved on Pinterest ages ago, because winter is coming.

Weavers, 901 Massachusetts St.

You’ll find pretty much any and everything marked down at the department store, from clothing to home wares. Some noteworthy deals include Weavers’ inventory of high-end Wusthof knives, which will start at $5.99 for the paring variety, as well as unspecified (but steep, Weavers assures us) markdowns on linens and Fiestaware. Also enjoy up to half-off all luggage, 50- to 60-percent cuts in women’s shoes, accessories, sunglasses and jewelry, and hundreds of dresses and in-season women’s sportswear for $9.99 and up. In the men’s section, look out for deals on Bill’s Khakis shorts and long-sleeved shirts.

The Toy Store, 936 Massachusetts St.

Enjoy markdowns of 20- to 50-percent-off at the Toy Store, where you’ll find a large offering of discounted doll furniture, books and Playmobil products in particular.

Refreshments: Fuel up at the Mad Greek, 907 Massachusetts St., where employees will be selling coffee and pastries in the morning hours. Also, check out the food hub at the U.S. Bank Plaza, 900 Massachusetts St., where La Familia Café & Cantina, Fine Thyme Food and Chocolate Moonshine Co. will be selling everything from breakfast burritos to fudge for hungry passersby.

Amusements: Get your face painted (for fun, or because you’re looking to intimidate your fellow shoppers with a little war paint) at Aunt Nancy’s Face Art, 944 Massachusetts St. Also, take a dance break at the U.S. Bank plaza (900 Massachusetts St.) with Jami Amber Lynne during the Brown Bag concert from noon to 1 p.m.


1000 and 1100 Blocks

Urban Outfitters, 1013 Massachusetts St.

Take 50 percent off (or 55 percent, if you’ve got the Urban Outfitters app) all sale items in the hipster haven, which includes men’s and women’s clothing, shoes and accessories.

Cooling stations: Rest up at the Granada Theater, 1020 Massachusetts St., and the Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.

Refreshments: ManaBar tea lounge, 1111 Massachusetts St., will be parked outside with hand-squeezed lemonade and iced tea (including locally brewed kombucha) for sale.

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Tour of Lawrence returns this weekend with an estimated 750 cyclists rolling into town

More than 750 cyclists are expected to roll into town (we’ll try to keep the bicycle jokes to a minimum here) when the eighth annual Tour of Lawrence kicks off Friday.

The three-day event, sanctioned by USA Cycling, is presented by U.S. Bank and made possible by eXplore Lawrence. It is slated to draw upwards of 7,000 spectators as athletes compete in street sprints and races, both of the circuit and criterium variety, in locations across Lawrence.

“It’s matured over the years through word of mouth,” says event organizer Bob Sanner, who alternately describes his title as “head trash collector” of the races. “From the first several Tours of Lawrence, it was people coming through and seeing if Lawrence knew anything about hosting or organizing a cycling event. We’re into year eight, and I think it’s been demonstrated that, yes, we do.”

Cyclists competing in the men's pro race speed around a corner during the Tour of Lawrence downtown criterium Sunday, June 28, 2015.

Cyclists competing in the men's pro race speed around a corner during the Tour of Lawrence downtown criterium Sunday, June 28, 2015. by John Young

The city of Lawrence, he says, provides a perfect backdrop for the tour, which this year includes venues such as the Haskell Indian Nations University campus and the Historic Breezedale District. Downtown Lawrence also plays a vital role, with the stretch of Vermont Street between Seventh and Ninth streets hosting street sprints, the tour’s first official event, Friday at 6:30 p.m.

From 6:30 to 10 p.m. that night, Tour of Lawrence will host a free kids’ zone in the nearby area of Eighth Street between Vermont and Kentucky streets. The fun includes a bounce house, inflatable games, food and drinks — though refreshments will cost you extra — and, once the race ends, live music from Wichita-based alt-country rockers Split Lip Rayfield in a free street party for cyclists and spectators alike.

Saturday’s races through the Haskell campus and Breezedale neighborhood begin at 9 a.m., while Sunday kicks off perhaps the biggest day of the tour with criterium races at 9 a.m. The course starts and ends at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets, with some of the top names in competitive cycling whirring past spectators on a track looping the blocks between Seventh and 10th streets.

Little ones are invited to get in on the action, too — aside from the return of the kids’ zone from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday on Eighth Street between Vermont and Massachusetts streets, young cyclists will have the chance to compete in a free kids’ race that day at 11 a.m. Mandatory registration will take place between 9:30 and 10:45 a.m. on Ninth Street between Vermont and Massachusetts streets, and helmets are required.

Prizes include a Tour of Lawrence medal for the first 300 participants, coupons for downtown businesses such as TCBY and Ingredient, and the opportunity to win one of three $100 gift certificates to Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop.

Sunday also marks the return of Ad Astra Running Mass Street Mile footrace from 7 to 8 a.m. The event (registration is capped at 200 participants) includes categories for adults and kids.

Event organizers will be on hand throughout the races with water and pop-up tents to provide protection from the sun, Sanner says, though he’s hoping the projected forecast of slightly cooler temps (mid-80s for the weekend, as of press time) holds up.

And even if you’re not necessarily a cycling fan, you’re likely to encounter — and safely negotiate with, ideally — cyclists on the street this weekend, Sanner says.

Bottom line: respect one another and the rules of the road.

“I would encourage motorists to have an even greater awareness of what’s happening around them, and maybe take a second look before they turn or cross an intersection,” Sanner says. “These riders who are coming in have spent a lot of hours and have ridden a lot of miles on the highways and on the streets, so they’re very attune and aware of their surroundings.”

For more information, including a full schedule of events, visit www.touroflawrence.com.

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Lawrence cook takes home top prize, scholarship at national culinary competition

Zach Frieling was sweating, his body wracked with nerves as the results began to roll in at last month’s SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky.

He remembers the “shock” that came with the news that he’d won first place in the conference’s culinary arts competition, and also the pride in his supporters’ faces — his family, including a teary-eyed Mom, was in attendance, as were his instructors and coach.

“It was the best moment of my life, probably,” recalls Frieling, who works as line manager at downtown Lawrence’s popular Limestone Pizza. “I’m just glad I could make them all happy.”

Zach Frieling, line manager at Limestone Pizza, prepares pizzas at the 814 Massachusetts St. eatery. Frieling won first place in the culinary arts competition last month at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky.

Zach Frieling, line manager at Limestone Pizza, prepares pizzas at the 814 Massachusetts St. eatery. Frieling won first place in the culinary arts competition last month at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky. by Richard Gwin

Frieling, 21, represented the state of Kansas and took home the gold medal at the competition, which pitted young chefs from across the nation against each other in a “Chopped”-esque contest designed to test organization, knife skills, cooking techniques, creative presentation, food safety, quality and flavor.

A spring 2016 graduate of Flint Hills Technical College, Frieling was asked by his alma mater to participate in the preliminary state competition held in Kansas City earlier this year while still a student. At the national cook-off in Louisville, he competed with college students for the top prize, which gave each aspiring chef a mystery basket with which to craft a four-course menu the night before the competition.

Frieling’s chopped romaine salad with apple slaw and bacon-almond brittle, pureed green lentil soup, mushroom-stuffed chicken ballotine and braised foreshank ultimately earned him the top prize.

He thinks the soup probably helped push him over the top — “I was the only one that did a pureed soup,” Frieling says. “We couldn’t use electronic equipment at all, so I had to puree it the old-fashioned way of putting it through a strainer and mashing it through.”

Aside from the shiny gold medal, Frieling’s prize package also includes a full-tuition scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. His mother, “crying again,” discovered a folder from the prestigious culinary school tucked away in a swag bag after returning to their Louisville hotel. Frieling had won seventh place in the national SkillsUSA competition last year, but never “anything like this before,” he now recalls of the moment.

“That,” he says, “is what I’m going to do next.”

For now, the young chef is trying to stay humble. Most in his position would set their sights on opening a restaurant, Frieling included, but he knows himself well enough to realize it’ll be a while before he’s “at that point.”

Frieling, who is quick to point out that he’s still “only 21,” credits longtime supporters like Limestone co-owner and executive chef Rick Martin for his success. Frieling’s enjoyed learning from industry professionals and hopes to continue.

“I’ve had a lot of great mentors, especially Chef Rick,” he says. “I’ve known him for almost six years now, and that guy has given me so much. I’m so happy to show him that it wasn’t for nothing.”

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10 Questions with Benjamin Farmer and Joni Alexander of Alchemy Coffee & Bake House

In this week's installment of 10 Questions, which turned out to be nine because this reporter evidently cannot count, Alchemy Coffee & Bake House co-owners Benjamin Farmer and Joni Alexander chat about their recent Best of Lawrence honor (first place in the competitive "best coffee shop" category), their "Portlandia"-style peers and the food world's next big trend.

Here's a condensed and edited version of our conversation with the pair, who are partners in business and in life. Really — they're engaged to be married this fall, capping off a big year of expansion for Alchemy, 1901 Massachusetts St., which now distributes its mega-popular cold brew to about 40 retailers in the Kansas City area. You can also catch Farmer and Alexander this month at KC's Chipotle Cultivate Festival.

Alchemy Coffee and Bake House owners Benjamin Farmer, right, and Joni Alexander pose at their shop, 1901 Massachusetts St., in June 2016.

Alchemy Coffee and Bake House owners Benjamin Farmer, right, and Joni Alexander pose at their shop, 1901 Massachusetts St., in June 2016.

Congrats on the Best of Lawrence win. How’s it feel?

Joni: We were both very surprised, but super grateful and thankful, really. I mean, it’s the customers and the community that are supporting us. We have a lot of people in here who tell us, “Congratulations on Best of Lawrence,” and we just spin it right back around and say, “Actually, thank you, because you’re supporting us, and this is our dream.” We’re really happy. Like, super happy, but feeling super humbled about it. We work really, really hard, so it’s nice to see the fruits of that labor.

Benjamin: It feels shocking to me because we’ve only been here three years, we’re off the beaten path and I kind of feel like the underdog in a lot of ways. Still, even now, it’s just like, “How did we … ?”

Your coffee-making process takes about four minutes, during which there’s a perfect window for a short conversation, which seems at odds with our culture’s fixation on consuming things as quickly as possible with as little human interaction as possible. Was that a mission of yours when you started Alchemy, to foster communication and community?

Benjamin: I feel like it’s become, especially in the last five years, almost cliché to say all that. At the same time, there’s a reason for that. But it was part of the motivation for me doing a coffee shop, to have a place for social interaction. We do provide something that I think there’s a shortage of. We’ve always maintained that, yeah, if you want conversation we’ll give it to you. If you want a quick cup of coffee and then get out of here, we’ll give you that as well.

I was interviewing Radiolab co-host Jab Abumrad a while back in advance of the Free State Festival, and he was talking about how the relationship between our desire for quick, cheap, satisfying content and the simultaneous rise of high-quality TV shows, which could also apply to the artisanal or “craft” movement in food and drink. Is this something you’re seeing in the dining world?

Benjamin: That’s something I see a lot of places. I don’t think that’s something we experience here a whole lot, though we do experience that at times, where people are like, “I want this really good pour-over and I want it now.” But really, overall, at least on the coffee shop side, that’s pretty rare. Generally, they understand — especially since they see us hustling, standing over there making the coffee — it’s pretty rare that somebody actually gets rude with us and says, “Where’s my coffee?”

Joni: I think the impatience comes from if they’re standing in line too long. If you’re already being helped, you’ll stand there for 10 minutes if you know somebody’s working on something for you. But it’s when you’re waiting in line and you’re not the one being helped and nobody’s acknowledging it that that’s when the frustration happens. But I think we do pretty good here. That’s what we tell all our employees — just acknowledge the person when they walk in the door … that way, they know you know they’re there. In general, across the board, in a huge community sort of way, people just want to be acknowledged.

Benjamin: In the coffee shop scene that we’re in — the style of, for lack of a better term, “Portlandia” — it can get lost and messed up. We train our employees how to handle situations with customers, so that way we’re not creating a potential situation where the customer’s getting ignored or standing there for 15 minutes not getting acknowledged.

Speaking of “Portlandia,” do you see anything in today’s coffee culture or the encompassing artisanal culture that you just can’t help rolling your eyes at? Have we gone too far in some ways?

Joni: When I hear people say, like, “We handpicked the wheat that was rolled in my grandpa’s backyard,” it’s just like, seriously? It’s over the top.

But there is great value in knowing where your products come from. It’s just such a catchphrase now. People are latched onto that, and they write about it, and then they become so focused on where they get their ingredients, maybe even more than the ingredients themselves — that’s where I get annoyed. They’re like, high-fiving themselves behind the counter, but it’s like, "What did you do?" You made a terrible cup of coffee or terrible piece of whatever.

Or when it’s so extravagantly expensive that people can’t afford it. We’ve got high-end, quality stuff, and we really put time and effort into it, but you have to do it at a price that’s affordable for everybody. That’s the point, you know? But I feel like the more artisan things become, the more out-of-reach they become for the rest of society. And we’re trying to not do that.

Benjamin: That’s what I struggled with initially. I was like, "Do I do $3.25? Do I do $3.50? $3.75?" Really, I need to be doing $3.75, but the average Lawrencian probably feels way more comfortable with $3.25.

Joni: We (think about) that all the time with food, too. It’s like, this biscuit sandwich could be $10 if we were downtown, but how often when we go out do I want to spend $10 on a breakfast sandwich? I don’t. I want to spend $6 to $8, and it better be amazing.

Where do you think the cutoff is between downtown and the sort of more residential, less swanky part of Massachusetts Street?

Benjamin: I don’t know. I think in most people’s minds, it’s somewhere between 11th and 12th (streets). I don’t think we’re necessarily getting hurt by being out here. I mean, yeah, we would probably see more passersby. It would be a different crowd, though. That’s why I tell people, I don’t ever want to leave this neighborhood. I love it. It’s good people and it’s more laid back, but we’ve still got high traffic.

Joni, you were a model before Alchemy, and I know Benjamin was a diesel mechanic, among other things, before getting into the coffee business. How do the skills from your old jobs apply here?

Joni: I traveled pretty constantly for years, modeling. The best thing I got out of that career was being around insanely different people of all different kinds of cultures. Plus all the castings — I’ve been on probably 5,000 castings or something insane like that. It takes a lot to surprise me or shock me, really, because I’ve seen the gamut of all kinds of stuff. And that’s great, though, when you’re dealing with people. I can talk to any person in any kind of situation. That’s why we have a big window into the bakery — people can come up and talk to me and I can make something particular for them. Some people have dietary issues, so I’ll ask them, “What works for you?” Next week, come back and I’ll have something for you.

Benjamin: I did about everything from retail to tree trimming to FedEx trucks to mechanic jobs to carpentry jobs to hardware stores. I mean, I’d worked in restaurants, but I didn’t have a whole lot of barista experience starting this, which sounds counterintuitive. What got me working for myself was tree trimming and doing concrete — doing my own contracting. That gave me enough of a business background.

You’ve got a pretty intricate setup here. How do you explain your process to skeptics or people who are mystified by it all?

Joni: We get those people pretty regularly, who are super uncomfortable and unfamiliar with our (operation), because we don’t have menus and we don’t have pricing on menus, which makes people uncomfortable because they’re used to that. Literally, if you just smile at somebody and say, “Hey, how’s it going?” then everything drops and they’re human, right there with you.

When the pour-over thing started here, nobody else was really doing it. And people were either really into it or really annoyed by it. It was polarizing. And now it’s just like old hat. People walk in and are like, “What beans do you have today?”

Do you have any predictions for the next big trends in the food or coffee world?

Joni: Everything’s a pendulum swing, right? So, it was like, mom and pop, then the '80s and '90s hit and everything went fast food and commercialized and computerized. And I feel like we’re at the height now of that swing back to community-based stuff, which is basically how I bake and how the coffee is, too. I love to do cupcakes and cookies and wedding cakes and pies and all these other things, but a simpler version. What I see happening on the food side of things, and I think it’s going to gain momentum, is that it’s going to keep that basic feel but it’s going to become about quality and not so much about the paragraph of what they did to it (the dish). So, it’s not going to be about 10 things in the sauce, but three things in the sauce, and that sauce is going to be really good.

You guys have two young kids at home. Have they gotten into coffee yet?

Joni: Oh, no. Not yet. They’re 5 and 6. They’re into the sweets, though.

Benjamin: They like to come around here and mess with the cups and fill up the bean jars occasionally, but we haven’t put them to work too much yet. A couple years, maybe.

In lieu of a 10th question, we're including a few of Farmer's and Alexander's favorite places to grab a bite around town. Cheers!

— Limestone Pizza, 814 Massachusetts St.

— Yokohama Sushi Japanese Restaurant, 811 New Hampshire St. and 1730 W. 23rd St.

— Wa Japanese Restaurant, 740 Massachusetts St.

— India Palace, 129 E. 10th St.


Previous installments of '10 Questions'

Matt Hyde of 715 and Ladybird Diner

Taco Zone's Brad Shanks

Fork to Fender's Eric Ireland

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Free State Festival proves popular again; next year’s fest to focus on global-local connections

Anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people flocked to Lawrence’s Free State Festival events, according to estimates from festival organizers, putting this year’s numbers roughly in the same range as 2015 figures.

Still, it’s an imprecise tally, said festival director and ideas programming coordinator Sarah Bishop, who hopes to have more detailed analysis when results from this year’s survey (it’s distributed to festival attendees) become available later this summer.

The 2016 Free State Festival, which was held June 20 through June 25 in various venues across downtown Lawrence and the city’s Cultural Arts District, drew its biggest numbers at June 25’s free Public Enemy concert outside the Lawrence Arts Center. At final count, approximately 8,500 people attended the show, surpassing the crowd at last year’s free performance by George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic by about 500.

Public Enemy's Flavor Flav points out to the crowd during a free concert Saturday evening, June 25, 2016, as part of the Free State Festival.

Public Enemy's Flavor Flav points out to the crowd during a free concert Saturday evening, June 25, 2016, as part of the Free State Festival. by John Young

“We were really excited to see so many people from out of town coming in for both Public Enemy and Kris Kristofferson,” Bishop said. “It really drew people from a wide swath surrounding the area.”

Fans traveled from as far away as Connecticut, Maryland and even Canada for the Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter’s June 22 concert, she noted. The sold-out concert filled Liberty Hall, where Kristofferson celebrated his 80th birthday the same night with a cake from downtown Lawrence’s Ladybird Diner.

Other festival highlights included June 24’s evening of free live music outside the Lawrence Arts Center (Bishop estimates an attendance of about 2,000) and Monday’s stand-up performance by “Lady Dynamite” star Maria Bamford, whose sold-out gig packed Liberty Hall.

Even free events, like the weeklong “The Art of Conversation” programming at the Watkins Museum of History, did surprisingly well, Bishop said. The talks aligned with this year’s festival theme of activism through art, each day dealing with contemporary topics such as gender and sexuality, health policy, race and law enforcement, and the politics of water.

“People were really engaged and enthusiastic,” Bishop said. “It was really nice to see residents connecting in that way and having great conversations about these important political, social and cultural issues.”

While the festival has focused on Kansas history and culture in the past, the 2017 and 2018 editions will ask “audiences to think about how the global and local connect,” as per a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for Arts to “take the festival to an international level,” Bishop said.

The 2017 festival, which will most likely fall amid June’s Final Friday, will tentatively have a Mexican emphasis, with issues like immigration — and the growing number of immigrants arriving in Kansas each year — being especially timely now, Bishop said.

“We’re thinking about the ways in which Lawrence connects with Mexico, the ways in which Mexican culture manifests here in Lawrence, Kansas, and the really interesting art that’s being (created) in Mexico,” she said. Bishop also plans to include more educational outreach programs in 2017, ideally working with students at Centro Hispano to produce bilingual films.

This year’s festival initially received $60,000 from the City of Lawrence, falling short of the $100,000 requested by festival organizers, but later picked up an additional $7,375 from the city’s transient guest tax (that’s the 6 percent tax charged on all overnight hotel stays in Lawrence) grant program.

Bishop hopes this year’s high attendance, particularly of those visiting from outside Lawrence, will help convince potential funders of the festival’s financial viability. Just as important: “putting Lawrence on the map as a creative hub,” she said.

Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said she had yet to see any detailed information on the 2016 festival’s impact on downtown businesses, but that the event consistently “does wonderful things” for the local economy.

Folks often “rediscover” downtown Lawrence at the Free State Festival, she said.

“I would venture to guess people spent money downtown, whether it’s a bottle of water or an expensive meal or an outfit they’re buying for the event,” Zogry said. “It really does bring people down here who maybe don’t come downtown as often, if they’re living across town or in Eudora or Baldwin City or Topeka or even Kansas City.”

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Taco Zone files plans to add outdoor seating

If you’re a fan of Taco Zone and eating al fresco, here’s a bit of news that might whet your appetite (get it?) for both.

Brad Shanks, co-owner of the popular downtown eatery at 13 E. Eighth St., has filed plans to install a railing “with a built-in shelf” for food and drinks around the storefront. The design, which is still being processed by the city's planning department, would increase dining space by six or seven seats, says Shanks.

“We just have a really small spot, so we thought this was a good way to add a few seats,” he says. “Our customers were asking for it, so we were finally like, 'Let’s get it done.’”

Taco Zone’s interior totals about 900 square feet, with about “half of that” dedicated to dining. And then there’s the added benefit of marketing that comes with outdoor seating — “I think people sitting outside with sunglasses, drinking margaritas and eating tacos, is better than having a sign,” Shanks says.

If all goes to plan, Taco Zone customers should be able to do just that by late July or early August, he says. In the meantime, here’s a link to the site plan, if you’re curious.

Taco Zone, 13 E. Eighth St.

Taco Zone, 13 E. Eighth St. by Nick Gerik

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Radiolab co-host Jad Abumrad on journalism, the fury of Terry Gross fans and what makes ‘messy’ stories worth telling

The creative process, according to "Radiolab" co-host Jad Abumrad, is marked with uncertainty. Whether that creative queasiness — “gut churn,” he calls it — helps or hinders the operation is the inquiry at the center of Abumrad’s multimedia presentation of the same name, coming to Lawrence this weekend as part of the Free State Festival.

“In many ways, the talk — my life, actually — has been in some sense a study of that phenomenon,” says Abumrad, chatting over the phone from New York City, the town where even the most celebrated public radio personalities can remain incognito. (More on that later.)

Here, in an edited and condensed version of his interview with the Journal-World, the onetime MacArthur Fellow ("Radiolab," which he co-hosts with Robert Krulwich from New York City’s WNYC studios, now reaches more than 500 public radio stations across the country) shares stories from his days as a cub reporter, the fury of Terry Gross fans and what makes the “messy” stories of life worth telling.

“Gut Churn” is slated for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St.

Jad Abumrad

Jad Abumrad

You grew up in Nashville as the child of Lebanese immigrants, and you’ve talked in the past about how this created a sense of not fully belonging here in the U.S. or in Lebanon. How did that experience inform your work as a journalist?

It’s funny — when you are not quite American and not quite Lebanese, or whatever hyphenated identity you find yourself to be, you’re kind of not either. And so it felt important for me to be something that was a third thing and not either. Becoming a journalist was kind of like that thing for me. It was like, here’s this third thing I can be where I can actually ask questions about the first two things. And if I look at all the work I’ve done in my life, it’s actually not about science — I mean, people label the show in various ways that don’t feel right to me — but it’s actually about two different cultures, two different spirits, crashing into each other. I think anyone who is an immigrant feels that (way) — you’re somehow of a place that you’re not really of, and you’re in a place that you’re not really in, and so you are somehow the collision between these two cultures, and that’s the story I do every single day.

You actually got your start not in journalism but as a film composer. How did you learn the ropes?

I sort of stumbled into it. I went to school for creative writing and music, and I got out of school and was trying to do both. I got to this point where I realized that I don’t seem to be good at either of these things. And my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, was like, “Well, you could do radio. It’s sort of the middle ground between the two things you’re doing.” So I got involved at a radio station. I got hooked very quickly. I got into it more for the craft, and I didn’t know the first thing about journalism.

I was volunteering at a radio station down the street from where I’m now sitting called WBAI. The first day I show up, the news director, who’s about to have a sex change — and I didn’t know (about it) — has just suddenly disappeared, and suddenly I’m there and there’s no one to teach me, and somebody just hands me a recorder. They’re like, “Go out and record this protest at City Hall.” So, I did this awful 12-minute piece of people rah-rah-ing about who the (expletive) knows what. But WBAI was so crazy at that moment that, literally, I walked in there and I was on the air not that day, maybe, but the next day. There was no barrier. I literally started figuring it out as I went. Basic stuff like, "How do I ask a question so that I get an answer I can use? And how do I create conversation between two different voices?"

It was very disorganized — I didn’t have anyone who was mentoring me in journalism. Honestly, I feel like I’ve only really been a good journalist in the last three or four years. I feel like, "OK, I can kind of deal with almost any scenario right now." I would’ve blown a lot of money but saved myself a lot of time had I gone to J School.

What’s happened within those three or four years, do you think, that’s taken you to the next level?

Maybe in 2011 or 2012, I kind of got fed up a little bit (with "Radiolab"). We were just doing this story where we’d talk to somebody who was really smart, and he or she would paint a picture of some imaginary thing and then we’d make it. And I just kind of felt like, “I’m sitting on my (expletive) in front of Pro Tools all day long, not actually having experiences.” The show works in a certain way, but it needs to be messier. It needs to be more engaged in the world. Like, I’m tired of these very clean, expansive studio conversations that lead you to that very predictable moment. As much as I love all that, I got tired of it.

I wanted to start looking into the messiness of human beings living in a messy world, while still focusing on the complexities of life, which is ultimately why I feel I have a job. That’s what I feel I’ve been put here to do. Long story short, we began to do stories that were maybe more about politics, more about cultures clashing, things that get lost in translation. That forced me into a situation where I almost felt like I had to start over. Doing a lot of science reporting puts you in a position of having to get really good at technical writing and you’ve got to figure out a way to explain things to people, but it can be a very limited journalistic space. When you’re dealing with people who are sometimes traumatized or sometimes yelling at you, there’s a different set of skills that are involved, and I learned all that stuff.

We just did a huge investigation into the global surrogacy market, and that’s a situation where every radioactive issue was there in one story, you know? Like, LGBT issues were there, race was there, cultural imperialism was there. And as a journalist, I have to wade through all that, and it’s demanded more of me. We’ve gone through enough of those hard stories where I feel like I’ve gotten my feet under me as a journalist. And I like that. Every story feels like it’s harder than I’m able to do right now, and yet, we do it, and I feel a little bit bigger at the end of it.

There’s been a crazy surge in podcasts over the last few years, thanks to shows like yours and “Serial,” to name one recent example. What does this say about the way we’re consuming media and stories now?

I don’t know. Here’s my sort of idealistic answer, which I’m not sure I buy, but I’ll just say it: We want everything at once, you know? And our tastes and our predilections exist as a series of paradoxes. Like, we want (stuff) that’s small and sugary and sound bitey and vapid. We want that. I want that. I want stuff that’s stupid, as much as I think I’m a smart person. But the more dumb stuff I want, the more stuff I want that’s challenging and long and rich and complicated. I feel like the shorter my attention span gets, the longer my attention span gets. And I see that in the world — everybody wants everything.

And so in some sense, the poles are pulling against each other. Stuff is getting stupider at the very moment it’s getting smarter, and in some way I can’t articulate to you right now, I feel like they’re related. The trends toward stupidity and toward brilliance seem to be related to me. I’ll work that out at some point and give you a better answer.

NPR has a very niche fandom. Any strange encounters with fans you’d like to share?

I saw somebody had a tattoo of my name on their shoulder, and I was like, “OK, that’s weird.” Kind of flattering but a little creepy, you know? And then I saw my name on a bathroom wall once. But that’s as strange as it gets.

I spend most of my life in this tiny room interacting with pretty much no one except my staff, so most of the time I have no idea what the outside world is doing or thinking about what we’re up to. I definitely don’t get on social media anymore, just because life’s too short — at least not for getting feedback — so I’m usually pretty oblivious. And also, people in New York just keep it so cool, you know? Even if they recognize you, they would never let you know.

As someone who listens to a lot of "Radiolab," it seems like each of those episodes must take a long time to produce. What’s that process like? And how much time does it take to produce an hour-long episode?

I would say maybe anywhere from six months to two years. Most of what we’re doing these days is actually on the podcast. It’s not one-hour shows anymore; it’s 40-minute pieces of one kind or another. And even those take us a year. But, you know, from the moment someone has the idea until the moment it hits the air, it doesn’t ever seem to happen faster than six months. And it’s not like six months of solid work. You’ve got the idea, you’re scheduling interviews, you’re doing second and third and fourth rounds of interviews, then you’re going through endless edits trying to get the story shape to work, and there’s a way in which that process never lasts anything shorter than six months. And you’re working on 20 of those at once. Maybe each of the producers has three or four they’re working on, and so we’re doing edits throughout the week on each of these different stories, and one of them will kind of go on the shelf on the while because maybe something fell through, but then maybe something will happen in the world and we’re like, “Oh, we should bring that piece back,” and we yank it off the shelf.

"Radiolab" has been on the air for about 15 years now. In that time, it’s been critically lauded for its experimental use of sound and music. But when it premiered, did you get that universal praise? Was there any sort of pushback from the old guard of radio?

Oh yeah, definitely pushback. When we debuted, it started out at 8 p.m. on the AM frequency here in New York, which for various technical reasons, nobody listens to (at that hour). Nobody. So I was in this kind of desert for a long time, which was, looking back on it, a good thing. I needed to be in that desert where I was ignored so I could learn a few things.

At our first home on FM, which is where the audience was, the program director put us at, I think, 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, for a week. He did this because Terry Gross was going on vacation. She takes a vacation once a year or whatever, and in that time, they just run re-runs. And so he’s thinking, “Rather than re-runs, we’ll just put this new show on.” So, they put us on, and people in Terry Town were pissed. They hated it. The listener services people send you these Excel spreadsheets of every single call that comes in, good or bad. And they sent us this Excel spreadsheet, and I naively thought, “Oh, we’re beautiful. People will think we’re beautiful.” And I remember opening this Excel spreadsheet up, and it was just pages and pages and pages of (criticism). Category 1 was like, “Where is Terry Gross? What have you done with Terry Gross?” And the other category was like, “Where is Terry Gross, and who the (expletive) are these guys?” In that, there were a lot of the criticisms that we still get, frankly, which are, “Quit editing 10,000 things together at once. Just tell the story. Why do you have to put all the sounds in?” That criticism was very, very loud at the beginning.

I think listening habits and styles have changed, and now I don’t think we sound that experimental anymore. I think there are a lot of people who are doing stuff probably taking it even farther than us. Like, "Love + Radio" — if you hear an average, run-of-the-mill episode of theirs, they’re doing (stuff) that is like, “Wow, you can do that? You’re allowed to do that?” I feel like we could be better, or more experimental.

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Fiesta to celebrate Mexican culture, food this weekend

In some ways, St. John’s Mexican Fiesta isn’t unlike La Yarda, says fiesta publicity chair and longtime St. John parishioner Jacinta Hoyt.

The community of Mexican railroad workers that sprang up 90 years ago in East Lawrence is long gone (the patch of small, brick homes was washed away in the flood of 1951), but its memory lives on through Hoyt, whose immigrant grandparents settled in La Yarda way back when, and the many Lawrencians who share her Mexican heritage.

“La Yarda was like one big family. These families would come together and have communal meals and do all sorts of things together.” At St. John, she says, “We’re still able to get together every summer and put on the fiesta.”

This summer’s fiesta, slated for 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, promises the same authentic Mexican food, live music, dancing and family fun that have been mainstays at the well-attended church fundraiser since its inception 36 years ago.

More than 200, Hoyt included, make up this year’s efforts, says fiesta chairman Frank Lemus. Many claim Mexican descent (St. John still has a large Hispanic congregation, Hoyt notes, with Spanish-speaking Mass being offered every Sunday) while many others do not. Some volunteers are not even parishioners at St. John but enjoy helping out anyway, Lemus says.

Proceeds from the event, which annually generates about $35,000, go toward St. John Catholic School’s Spanish language program, maintenance projects at the church and a scholarship program for local Mexican-American students.

From left, Judy Romero, Bertha Bermudez and Val Howland spread some rice out to cool to be used to make sopa in preparation for this weekend’s annual St. John’s Mexican Fiesta. The fiesta will be held from 6-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Kentucky St.

From left, Judy Romero, Bertha Bermudez and Val Howland spread some rice out to cool to be used to make sopa in preparation for this weekend’s annual St. John’s Mexican Fiesta. The fiesta will be held from 6-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Kentucky St. by Richard Gwin

Thousands — it’s hard to predict how many exactly, though some estimates in recent years have counted as many as 10,000 — are expected to attend this weekend’s fiesta, which this year is being promoted under the Free State Festival roster of events.

“For me, it’s seeing the people gather and have a good time,” Lemus says. “I always compare it to a big barbecue in our backyard at St. John.”

Among the attractions: carnival games and a bounce house for kids, the St. John’s Fiesta Dancers, and live music from Mariachi Girasol, Grupo Picante and more. And then there’s the food, with an estimated 800 tostadas, 2,000 tamales and 3,000 burritos being churned out in advance of the event by St. John volunteers.

Because of the labor involved, enchiladas will only be offered Saturday night, says Lemus, who advises folks to arrive earlier in the evening (food usually sells out by 10 p.m.) if they’re eyeing a specific dish.

Returning this year is the fiesta’s new-and-improved La Yarda display. Last year, shortly before the 2015 fiesta, the Douglas County Commission awarded St. John a $16,400 grant to refurbish the display, which includes photos and texts detailing the history of Mexican-American Lawrence families like Hoyt’s.

With any luck, her own children — they’re still very young — will lend a hand in future fiestas. For now, they’re just excited to revel in the fun of it, she says.

“It’s important for people, especially for me and my family and future generations, to just remember where they come from,” says Hoyt, who served as project manager on the La Yarda exhibit. “Lawrence is a very diverse place and this is just a piece of it. It’s important to recognize and remember it.”

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Lawrence Libations: Rose lemonade at Aladdin Cafe

Lawrence Libations revisits an old summer standby this week, with a Middle Eastern twist on lemonade at Aladdin Cafe.

The addition of rose water — which itself has been marketed as a good-for-you “beauty drink” as of late in the Western world, apparently showing up in the aisles of upscale supermarkets and New York City juice bars, in addition to centuries of Middle Eastern culinary tradition — results in a very sweet, very odd flavor (in a good way) that’s difficult to describe. I guess “it tastes like rose petals” would be the appropriate answer.

Mixed with lemonade, it makes for an extremely invigorating (this stuff will wake you up if you're feeling sleepy) thirst-quencher. The Aladdin Café menu also promises saffron blossoms along with the rose water — we couldn’t find any blossoms in our drink, aside from a few flecks of the bright orange spice floating among the ice cubes. Still, pretty extravagant for a regular ol’ Monday afternoon in Lawrence.

Rose lemonade at Aladdin Cafe, 1021 Massachusetts St.

Rose lemonade at Aladdin Cafe, 1021 Massachusetts St. by Joanna Hlavacek

The hard stuff: no alcohol in this one

Where it’s served: Aladdin Café, 1021 Massachusetts St.

What it costs: $2.99

Other libations at this location: Notably, the Turkish coffee, if you’re looking to fully commit to the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean theme

— Drink up. Stay classy. Don’t forget to tip your bartender. And let us know if you want to suggest a libation for this feature — email jhlavacek@ljworld.com or Tweet her at Twitter.com/hlavacekjoanna. Cheers.

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Van Go to celebrate young artists, successful endowment campaign at Saturday’s What Floats Your Boat

Emily Laughlin was only 12 when she first learned of Van Go Inc., the social service agency that provides arts-based job training to at-risk teens and young adults in Douglas County. She wasn’t yet old enough to take part in the program, but Laughlin, now 19, remembers the “beautiful” bench Van Go apprentice artists created in memory of her late mother, who had recently died from breast cancer.

She’s not sure if the bench — it was adorned with a pink ribbon, the symbol for breast cancer awareness — remains at the cancer ward of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where it originally sat. Nearly a decade later, though, Laughlin is sure of herself and the career path she’s embarking on with the help of Van Go.

“I found that I really enjoy it and that I’m good at it,” the aspiring art therapist says of metalsmithing, one of the many previously untapped talents she’s discovered in her time at Van Go. “It’s also made me realize what I want to give to the world and the future.”

Laughlin is one of many young artists whose work will be auctioned at Saturday’s 13th annual What Floats Your Boat. Slated for 7 to 11 p.m. at Clinton Lake Marina, the event is Van Go’s biggest fundraiser of the year, with proceeds — the goal is $80,000 this time around — going toward job-training programs for youths as well as operational costs for “keeping the lights on, the doors open and the phones on,” says Van Go development director Eliza Nichols.

“It’s not the most glamorous thing to fundraise for, but somebody has to do it,” she says. “It’s fairly easy to find funders to pay for art supplies or food, but the building itself — we have to be creative in our approach to that.”

Maya Frazier, 15, of Lawrence, holds up a large patio umbrella as she shows it to the crowd gathered during Van Go's annual What Floats Your Boat fundraiser Saturday, June 20, 2015, at the Clinton Lake State Park marina.

Maya Frazier, 15, of Lawrence, holds up a large patio umbrella as she shows it to the crowd gathered during Van Go's annual What Floats Your Boat fundraiser Saturday, June 20, 2015, at the Clinton Lake State Park marina. by John Young

This year’s “approach” includes about a dozen pieces crafted by Van Go’s apprentice artists, who range in age from 14 to 24. As in previous iterations of the event, much of Saturday’s auction will be devoted to upcycled outdoor furniture painted in “retro” shades like turquoise, lime green and bright orange. Local artists Dave VanHee, Kristin Moreland and Stacey Lamb — along with Van Go apprentice artist Jordan Wittbrod are also pitching in with their colorful “art bikes,” another from years past.

The event — which will treat partygoers to dinner by Ingredient and McGonigle’s, live jazz by Blueprint and dancing under the stars with DJ Johnny Quest — will also celebrate the successful completion of Van Go’s two-year, $750,000 endowment campaign. The agency recently surpassed its goal with an extra $15,000 in tow.

“We’re really thrilled with the community support, and feel grateful and so humbled that the community supports Van Go,” Nichols says of the campaign. “It will allow us to be around for a long time.”

The money will go toward a safety net in case of emergency or sudden grant cuts, says Nichols, to ensure opportunities for young artists like Laughlin for years to come.

She’s shadowing an art therapy intern (it’s an internship within an internship, she jokes) at Van Go this summer, and will take her first steps toward an art therapy degree at Johnson County Community College in the fall.

“I didn’t believe I could,” she says of imagining an artistic career for herself back in high school. “They’ve boosted my confidence and made it seem possible for me to do that.”

Tickets for What Floats Your Boat range from $87.50 all the way up to $700, for a table of eight. They can be purchased at www.van-go.org or by calling 842-3797.

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Beyond Bamford: Free State Festival highlights

Monday brings the arrival of this year's Free State Festival and its fully stocked lineup of music, art, film and ideas. Among the many attractions: "Lady Dynamite" star Maria Bamford (you can read our interview with her here), Radiolab co-founder Jad Abumrad, film screenings galore and a solo acoustic show from Grammy winner (and birthday boy!) Kris Kristofferson.

We've rounded up a few of the many noteworthy Free State Fest happenings here, but you can always peruse the full schedule at www.freestatefestival.org.


Monday

“CLOUD”

"CLOUD"

"CLOUD"

This interactive sculpture, constructed from 6,000 incandescent light bulbs by Canadian artists and collaborators Caitlind r.c. Brown & Wayne Garrett, utilizes pull string switches and everyday domestic light bulbs, “re-imagining their potential to catalyze collaborative moments and create an enveloping, experimental environment.”

It’s interactive, too: Viewers work together as a collective to animate “lightning” on the surface of the sculpture in “impromptu collaborations,” turning the entire cloud on and off.

The artists will be on hand to discuss their work during a free INSIGHT Art Talk from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Lawrence Arts Center’s black box theater. The exhibition itself opens at the end of the talk and will remain at the Arts Center through June 25.


Tuesday

“Chi-Raq”

"Chi-Raq"

"Chi-Raq"

If you missed last year’s critically acclaimed musical satire about gun violence in Chicago, here’s your chance to see it on the big screen.

Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Spike Lee and co-written by Lawrence's own Kevin Willmott (the filmmaker is also an associate professor of film and media studies at Kansas University), “Chi-Raq” is a modern adaptation of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata,” in which the women of Greece hold a sex strike in the hopes of ending the Peloponnesian War.

Tuesday’s screening, slated for 8 to 10:30 p.m., will also include the short film “Juvenile Justice: The Road to Reform.” Tickets are $8.


Wednesday

An Evening with Kris Kristofferson

Singer Kris Kristofferson performs on stage during the 16th Annual GRAMMY Foundation Legacy Concert "A Song Is Born," on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Paul a. Hebert/Invision/AP)

Singer Kris Kristofferson performs on stage during the 16th Annual GRAMMY Foundation Legacy Concert "A Song Is Born," on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Paul a. Hebert/Invision/AP)

The Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter rings in his 80th birthday Wednesday from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. in a sold-out solo acoustic show at Liberty Hall.

Miss out on tickets? Catch “Uncle Howard,” Aaron Brookner’s tribute to his late uncle (director Howard Brookner’s body of work, buried for 30 years in the bunker belonging to Beat Generation icon and one-time Lawrencian William S. Burroughs, finally gets its due), at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Lawrence Arts Center main stage. Tickets are $8.


Thursday

A Journal-World-adjacent activity kicks off the docket Thursday: “Telling Stories that Matter: Journalism in the New Media World” from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. at the Cider Gallery.

Featuring Roy Wenzl of the Wichita Eagle, Jeremy Schwartz of the Austin American-Statesman, Kate Mather of the Los Angeles Times and the Journal-World’s own Karen Dillon, this panel “takes on hard questions to prophesy what investigate reporters and their readers have in store” in today’s (and tomorrow’s, perhaps) media landscape of “sound bites, social media and free online news sites with less-than-stellar reporting credentials.” Journal-World managing editor Chad Lawhorn moderates.

"Telling Stories that Matter: Journalism in the New Media World"

"Telling Stories that Matter: Journalism in the New Media World"

Next up: Patricia Lockwood, the poet who the New York Times Magazine once dubbed “The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas,” gives her hometown a sneak peek of her new memoir, "Priestdaddy," from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Arts Center’s large gallery. The reading will be followed by an audience Q&A and book signing, with copies of Lockwood’s latest poetry collection being sold by the Raven Book Store.

Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood


Friday

Outdoor Music: The Americans and more!

The Americans

The Americans

LA-based rock-and-rollers The Americans (claims to fame include gigs on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and the first dance at Reese Witherspoon’s wedding) headline an evening of free live music from 5 to 11 p.m. outside the Lawrence Arts Center.

The group, whose sound boasts “deep roots in traditional American music,” take the stage at 9 p.m. following the 6 p.m. screening of “American Epic,” the new documentary executive-produced by T Bone Burnett, Jack White and Robert Redford.

Other acts include 40 Watt Dreams at 5 p.m., Little Soldier Singers at 6 p.m., Katy Guillen at 6:45 p.m., Arthur Dodge at 8 p.m. and Son Venezuela at 10:15 p.m.


Saturday

Saturday promises two festival headliners amid an already-packed schedule. First up (in an anachronistic sort of way) is Radiolab co-founder and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Jad Abumrad, presenting his multi-media talk, “Gut Churn” at Liberty Hall. Slated for 7 to 8:30 p.m., this “engaging” presentation delves into the anxieties of the creative process, and will be followed by a Q&A. Tickets cost $25.

Jad Abumrad

Jad Abumrad

Elsewhere in downtown Lawrence, hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy (featuring Chuck D and Flavor Flav) will perform a free concert on the Lawrence Arts Center’s outdoor stage from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., and if last year’s free George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic concert is any indication, the crowd will be packed.

Chuck D, left, Flavor Flav, center, and Professor Griff, right, of Public Enemy perform during their induction at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Nokia Theatre on Thursday, April 18, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)

Chuck D, left, Flavor Flav, center, and Professor Griff, right, of Public Enemy perform during their induction at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Nokia Theatre on Thursday, April 18, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)

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Free State Festival headliner Maria Bamford on getting older, saying no and the many endearing qualities of pugs

In her critically acclaimed, semi-autobiographical Netflix series "Lady Dynamite," comedian Maria Bamford mines her very real struggles with mental illness (the Minnesota native checked herself into a psych ward a few years back after being diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, and subsequently checked out, at least partly, from Hollywood) for very quirky, very frenetic, at times very poignant laughs.

On Monday, she'll stop by Lawrence for a co-headlining appearance at the Free State Festival. Slated for 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., "An Evening with Maria Bamford" entails a stand-up performance by the funny lady in question, followed by a short film screening and Q&A.

Here, in an edited and condensed version of our interview with Bamford, the "Lady Dynamite" star and executive producer shares her thoughts on getting older, saying no and the many endearing qualities of pugs.

Maria Bamford is the star and executive producer of Netflix's critically acclaimed comedy series "Lady Dynamite." The comedian co-headlines this month's Free State Festival, and will perform her signature stand-up in "An Evening with Maria Bamford" Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St.

Maria Bamford is the star and executive producer of Netflix's critically acclaimed comedy series "Lady Dynamite." The comedian co-headlines this month's Free State Festival, and will perform her signature stand-up in "An Evening with Maria Bamford" Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St.

Your show is very upfront about your experience with mental illness. Do you think “Lady Dynamite,” and other current shows tackling mental illness, would have been possible a generation ago? Are we undergoing some sort of shift that’s allowed a show like yours to be produced and be successful?

I think there’s been a huge shift in terms of hearing so many more people talking about it. I felt relatively comfortable talking about it. So many different shows are addressing different parts of it, whether it’s PTSD or OCD or bipolar. I haven’t seen a show featuring schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia, but I can’t wait until that’s addressed. A main character with schizophrenia would be wonderful.

Your parents, or fictionalized versions of them, get a lot of screen time on “Lady Dynamite.” How do they feel about the show?

My parents called me after they’d seen most of it, and they just loved it and were really excited. I think my dad had some friends at the lake watch it and had sort of a party, which I think had been a mistake (laughs), because it’s not for everybody. But I know they’re very proud. My sister is very proud of it and thinks that it’s great. They were all just very happy for me. Obviously I couldn’t have done that show or any other stand-up or whatever without their support and love. I’m so grateful that this happened now in my life, because I have so much unconditional love around me that even if it was just a giant flop, it would have been OK.

The show does a great job of capturing this sort of quintessential Midwestern-ness, from your omnipresent politeness and cheery attitude to your dad taking you to the Dairy Queen for a pick-me-up after a rough day. But you actually spent your hospitalization in LA and not in your real-life hometown of Duluth, unlike what we see in the show. Why make that change in setting?

I didn’t do all the heavy lifting in the writing of the show, but I think it was more interesting to go back to Duluth and have this feeling of a different space to go into entirely. In real life, it was more complicated. I also wanted to be among friends — my friends are very important to me — so my parents came to visit me in LA when I was hospitalized rather than me going there. But there are some great mental health facilities in my hometown. They have a great psychiatric facility for kids, which I’m sure I would have taken part of when I was a kid. But when I was there, I think there were just nuns. And I would go sit on the couch and talk to a nun, which can be therapeutic in its own way.

Your character seems to really be living under the thumb of her own passivity and tendency to be overly polite in all situations — including one in which a therapy leader is unsuccessfully baiting her to get angry during a game of badminton — which I recognized as an issue that a lot of women in particular struggle with. Is that something you’ve experienced personally, this compulsion to always please and be polite?

I think it was definitely an observation of the writers. I, of course, like to think of myself as this direct, confident person, and it was funny to see the reflection of probably more of what I really am. I’m definitely passive aggressive. My husband’s from Philadelphia, and it’s funny how he’ll just say how he feels about something, and it’ll take me a few days to say, “Hey!” Or I’ll just kind of dance around it.

My dad sent me to a Dale Carnegie course when I was 16, and one of the primary (tenets) was “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain — compliment.” My father also told me, “If you want a man to love you, just listen.” What I interpreted that as is “Don’t talk, and always be positive,” which is so funny because my mom is not like that. My mom is a megaphone (laughs).

One thing I was concerned about in the portrayal of the hospitalization was that it would be realistic. Playing a game — like, that could never happen in a psych ward. There aren’t a lot of planned activities. If there are, they’re super depressing. They’re like, “We can have a dance class, but we all have to stay seated in our chairs.” What!? I was feeling bad before, but now you’re going to play REO Speedwagon, and I can’t stand up? (laughs)

That's weird. You’d think they’d be very encouraging about movement in alleviating depression…

Nope. I think, at least from what I could tell, it was a legal issue. There weren’t enough people to watch everybody, and maybe the disparity of ages of everybody in the ward. It was literally insanity, and very funny, in retrospect.

I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the awful but hilarious jobs that your character takes on despite some very serious misgivings — like, for example, a cartoon about Sea World produced by Bill Cosby, or “Lock Up a Broad,” the game show where women are literally caged until they apologize for their alleged transgressions. Do any of these come from real job offers you’ve received?

I have a very champagne problem of getting all these job offers. And I’m so grateful to have job offers, and also, I think, having the work ethic or the willingness to earn, like, “OK, yes, get out there. Hustle!” This is what it’s about — you do a job and be of service and be pleasant. But then what happened in terms of when I got the job (as the “Crazy Target Lady” in a series of ads in 2010) for Target, I realized the job itself was really fun, but I couldn’t disconnect myself from what I was saying, which is basically encouraging people to buy enormous amounts of consumer goods that they don’t necessarily need or want.

The joke on the show was “Nobody says no.” Now, I’ve turned down and will continue to turn down commercial jobs, just because I know myself. Which is really a lot of (the reason) why commercials pay so much, is because there’s sort of a gag going on criticizing anything about the corporation. And any employee can tell you that about working for a corporation — you’re paid to be a part of the team. But now I don’t take those jobs because I know that it will affect me emotionally. I know I’ll start to feel bad if it isn’t something I believe in.

Your character makes this remark in the very first episode about “what a great late-in-life opportunity” her new show is for her — you’re 45, not old at all — along with some other jokes about not having kids at her age because it’s too dangerous. How does it feel finding all this success at this point in your life?

It feels great. There’s no pressure. I don’t feel that thing I felt when I was younger of like, “Oh, this is going to make me or break me,” or “This is the be all end all.” I think that’s one gift of getting older — you just keep going. There’s highs and lows, and there’s another day. It’s been really fun just to enjoy it and pay off our house and prepare for retirement in an “Abundant Now.” We’re doing a lot of affirmations in our family (laughs).

Your dog Bert is also a character on the show, which is funny because the first time I remember seeing you was during a bit on “Kroll Show,” where you also played a woman who was really, really into pugs. What is it about these little dogs that you’re so drawn to?

They’re super affectionate, pugs. Although those pugs on the show are professional, so they weren’t as affectionate because they were always working. But my unprofessional dogs at home are just so loving and so soft and don’t need any exercise, for the most part. It’s also a nice reflection of, you know, when you think, “What am I like?” And I hope I’m like this. I hope I’m slightly adorable and useless.

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Off the Beaten Plate: Purple yam ice cream at Zen Zero

This month’s Off the Beaten Plate is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach — although in my world, a “feast” probably entails more than two scoops of creamy, dreamy lavender-hued ice cream, but Zen Zero knows what’s best for me and gave me the standard size, thankfully.

If you’re intimidated by the fact that this ice cream counts a purple tuber (it’s called ube, and it’s a species of yam commonly found in Filipino desserts) as a main ingredient, don’t be.

Many recipes use frozen, grated yam, and at Zen Zero, you can definitely find tiny chunks of it folded into each scoop. It’s subtly sweet (less sweet than Thanksgiving-style candied yams) and has an almost buttery taste with slight floral notes, which makes for a refreshing dessert on a hot summer day.

(Look at me using “note” like I know what that even means. Does anyone, really?)

Purple yam ice cream at Zen Zero, 811 Massachusetts St.

Purple yam ice cream at Zen Zero, 811 Massachusetts St. by Joanna Hlavacek

Where to get it: Zen Zero, 811 Massachusetts St.

What you'll pay: $3.99 for two scoops

Try it with: Heat up — and clear out those sinuses, bro — with one of Zen Zero's many curry dishes, then cool down with ~funky~ purple ice cream. (I opted for the panang curry this time around.)

Also on the menu: Mostly Thai noodle dishes, soups, salads and curries, with a few Nepalese, Tibetan, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese plates — many of them vegetarian — thrown in for good measure.

— Off The Beaten Plate highlights some of the more exotic, oddly named or inventively concocted dishes from local menus. Know of an offbeat item we should check out? Email reporter Joanna Hlavacek at jhlavacek@ljworld.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/HlavacekJoanna.

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Plans for big GoFourth! celebration canceled, but new group plans smaller July 4 festival; fireworks display still set

A rebranded and expanded Fourth of July celebration planned for next month’s holiday has been canceled, but a handful of Lawrence residents are stepping in to save the city’s Independence Day festivities.

As the Journal-World reported back in April, the “bigger, better” community party and fireworks show had been rechristened as the GoFourth! Festival — and moved from Watson Park to Burcham Park to make room for a larger kids zone area, more vendors, a beer garden and more robust musical offerings — by longtime Lawrence Busker Festival organizer Richard Renner.

When the celebration didn’t receive the public and private funds needed to stage a “well-marketed and well-produced event” earlier this month, Renner decided to cancel, he told the Journal-World Monday.

That’s about when Ryan Shaughnessy took on the task of organizing a new community celebration in its place. For about a week now, Shaughnessy’s company, Fine Thyme Food, has been working with the Lawrence-based advertising agency Pix Ninja Studio on Kaw-Boom, which will still take place from 4 to 11 p.m. July 4 at Burcham Park.

Ryan Shaughnessy took on the task of organizing a new community celebration in place of previous Independence Day celebrations. Kaw-Boom will take place from 4 to 11 p.m. July 4, 2016 at Burcham Park, 200 Indiana St.

Ryan Shaughnessy took on the task of organizing a new community celebration in place of previous Independence Day celebrations. Kaw-Boom will take place from 4 to 11 p.m. July 4, 2016 at Burcham Park, 200 Indiana St.

The event will be smaller in scale than Go Fourth, Shaughnessy says, but will still feature the Lawrence Jaycees’ traditional fireworks display starting at about 9:45 p.m.

“We’ve almost got it all together,” says Shaughnessy, who says the process has been “daunting” so far. “We’re trying to save the Fourth of July. This is not an event for us to make money on. This is an event for us to bring the community together and have a good time.”

So far, he and fellow organizers have secured three bands (they’re hoping for a few more), six food trucks and three cold-food vendors. Free State Brewing Co. will also be selling beer at the event. It’s part of the pared-down lineup (“music, beer, food and good times,” is how Shaughnessy describes it) that is doing without the classic car cruise, bounce houses and expanded fireworks display on the roster for Go Fourth.

Instead, Shaughnessy hopes to bring in a few face painters, balloon artists and local buskers. There’s also the idea of an interactive art project for kids hosted by Theatre Lawrence, but nothing’s concrete yet.

The GoFourth! Festival sought $19,200 in funding from the city’s transient guest tax program, which is funded through the special tax hotel patrons pay, for the proposed fireworks display. Ultimately, the city decided to provide $5,000 instead, an amount consistent with what the city has provided to the fireworks show in the past, said Megan Gilliland, communications manager for the city of Lawrence.

A GoFundMe page was created to raise the needed contributions by June 1, but ended up producing only $240 out of its $5,000 goal.

The city has since transferred the $5,000 allocated for the GoFourth fireworks display to the Kaw-Boom project. The Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau is also offering shuttles from the downtown area to Burcham Park for the festival, a $1,200 commitment made several months ago, Gilliland notes.

“They’re going above and beyond to make sure this happens,” Shaughnessy said.

As for Renner’s plans, GoFourth! 2017 isn’t off the table.

“I’d be happy to try again,” he said. “I’ll start earlier and hopefully we’ll get the funding together in advance."


In other area happenings:

The Eudora United Methodist Church, 2084 North 1300 Road, is hosting a drive-in movie night from 8 to 11 p.m. Friday.

Gates open at 7 p.m., followed by "Looney Tunes" cartoons at 8:15 p.m. and the main event, last year’s blockbuster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” projected onto a 9-by-16-foot screen at 8:45 p.m. The church is asking for a $5 per-vehicle “free-will offering.”

Attractions also include a “car show” for kids (with trophies being awarded to the best cardboard car or truck) and concessions — think traditional drive-in fare like hotdogs, popcorn, giant pretzels, chips, soda and candy.

Bring blankets and lawn chairs, but please leave the booze at home (church’s orders here, not mine). Activities will be moved inside in the eminent threat of rain. Call Eudora United Methodist Church at 542-3200 for more information.

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Thomas Frank on the evolving Democratic Party, Hillary’s Midwestern roots and Kansas’ enduring ‘populist streak’

Critically acclaimed author, Mission Hills native and Kansas University alumnus — Thomas Frank took the Republican Party to task in books like “The Wrecking Crew” and “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”. On Wednesday, more than a decade after Frank’s bestselling account of the rise of conservatism in his once-progressive home state first hit bookshelves, he’ll revisit his old stomping grounds to discuss his newest work, “Listen, Liberal.”

In it, Frank analyzes the failures of his own party, the Democrats, and how, by his argument, the once pro-labor “Party of the People” has abandoned the working class in favor of the elite professional class.

He’ll chat about the book (and sign copies) from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Lawrence’s Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St. The event, brought to you by the Lawrence Public Library as an appetizer of sorts to this month’s upcoming Free State Festival, will be free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Kansas native, Kansas University alumnus and New York Times bestselling author Thomas Frank will stop by Lawrence's Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to talk about his new book, "Listen, Liberal," as part of this month's Free State Festival. The Lawrence Public Library is sponsoring the event, which is free and open to the public.

Kansas native, Kansas University alumnus and New York Times bestselling author Thomas Frank will stop by Lawrence's Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to talk about his new book, "Listen, Liberal," as part of this month's Free State Festival. The Lawrence Public Library is sponsoring the event, which is free and open to the public.

You write at length about the professional class in the book. It’s a class that you grew up in and, having gone on to earn a PhD and living in the Washington, D.C., area, still belong to.

Oh yeah, I’m completely surrounded by it (laughs).

Exactly. So, for those who maybe aren’t familiar with that term, could you describe just who these “professional” people are?

They tend to be very neat and clean (laughs). They tend to be people with advanced degrees. It’s affluent, white-collar workers. They generally don’t think of themselves as a class, like the working class or business class or something like that. They think of themselves as “the talented.” They are where they are because they’re so smart. And smart is a word you hear a lot among these people. It tends to be their ultimate term of approbation. When they really like something, that’s the word they use to describe it. Or when they really like a person — they’re “smart,” or alternately “brilliant.”

Right, or “sharp.”

Yeah, but that’s pretty Midwestern, though (laughs). Look, one of the things I realized while writing “Listen, Liberal” is that you could fill a set of encyclopedias with observations about this social group. These are the people who write our books. This is the group that everything in our society is written for, this is who the audience is, this is who consumes cultural products. And what’s funny is that you start to consider them as their own class — as a sociological class rather than just as, you know, high-achieving people — your understanding of them changes a lot. And also your understanding of our politics.

You look at President Obama’s inner circle of advisers, these very high-achieving people, almost all of whom went to a very small number of colleges of graduate schools, most of them Harvard. He thinks he’s choosing the very best and the very brightest, and getting the very best advice there is. And when he came into office, I was in full agreement with that strategy. But since then, it has become clear that when you fill an administration with all of these people who come from the same background that they actually are acting on behalf of members of this class. They’re not just doing their best for us as a nation — they are acting on behalf of their social cohorts. And once you figure that out, all sorts of other things follow.

Such as?

I think all future historians are going to wonder why Obama dealt with the Wall Street banks in the way he did. That’s the big mystery of his presidency. He’s elected to do one thing, and he does the opposite. Why did he do that? Why did he choose that course? Once you throw in this understanding of his advisers as representatives of this class, it all becomes clear. Because these people look at the Wall Street bankers, the investment bankers, the hedge fund managers that they are supposed to be getting tough with — they look at these people and say, “These are our peers.They’re good people. They made one mistake, you know? Let them off the hook.”

So, you have an administration that was incapable of getting tough with people at the top, but had no hesitation in prosecuting people at the bottom.

I wanted to talk a bit about how you’ve explored the history of the Democratic Party as “The Party of the People,” which is a sort of unofficial motto that you’ve said goes back to the days of Jefferson and Jackson. How does the Democratic Party of Jackson or Jefferson differ from the Democratic Party of today?

It’s evolved in many different ways over the years, and in a lot of ways, it’s evolved for the better. I mean, the party of Jefferson and Jackson — these are two people who really believed in democracy, but not for everybody. They were both slave owners, and the Democratic Party was deeply implicated in that. Thankfully, they’ve (the Democrats) put that behind them. But beginning in the 1930s or even before that, they were identified as the party of labor, of working people, and especially of the middle class.

I’m old enough — I’m 51 now — to remember when protecting the middle class was this kind of sacred duty for Democrats. You know, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter — this is what they lived to do. And today, we read in the paper that the middle class in this country is shrinking, not growing, and that for many people, a majority of the American public, the recession has not ended; it’s still going. A lot of people are never going to get the standard of living back that they had before the recession. This is shocking stuff. If headlines like that had come out in the 1970s, it would have been enormous. This would be the worst possible development. And this is the kind of thing when Democrats would have swung into action. They would have known what to do. But today, they don’t.

You watch Hillary Clinton talk about it, and the answer’s always the same: education. Everybody needs to go back to school, or something like that. We need more innovation. That’s what they say. And it is not an answer. It’s not a solution. It’s a way of evading the question. It’s a way of rationalizing what’s happened.

Now that Hillary’s the presumptive Democratic nominee, do you think she’ll make much of an effort to bring those working class voters who may have left the party and are now leaning more toward Trump, back into the fold?

Well, she should, because that’s obviously Trump’s strength. Trump is the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” phenomenon on an enormous scale. But the Democratic reaction to that book was to basically blow it off and ignore what I was saying and to deny what was happening. The leadership faction of the Democratic Party — the group here in Washington that basically gets listened to — have a different theory on politics. Their theory is incredibly simple, and you’ve probably heard it a million times in your life: The voters that you have to reach out to are the moderates — the swing voters who are in between two parties. You have to reach out to them, and the way you do that is by moving to the right. So, once you’ve got the nomination locked down, a Democrat, anyway, has to pivot to the right and win those voters who are in the middle.

But that’s actually not where we are these days. The swing voters are not these people in between the two parties. It’s this white, working class group that is deeply embittered and angry, and is watching their way of life drain away. The way that Democrats reach out to these people is not by moving to the right but by embracing sort of New Deal programs and New Deal solutions that were the reason these people once voted for Democrats in the first place. But — and I’ve been saying this for a long time — you cannot persuade Democrats of this. It is impossible. I have tried and tried and tried. They don't want to hear it.

You’ve been a supporter of the Bernie Sanders campaign throughout the election. Even though it seems very unlikely that he’ll win the nomination at this point, do you think his system-bucking campaign will ultimately create lasting change?

There’s a really important point that he has made, which is that you can run a presidential campaign without the backing of a billionaire, without the backing of big money. Sanders has shown that in fact it’s possible, and that is a huge development.

Now, whether he’s able to transform his campaign into a movement that somehow persists within the Democratic Party remains to be seen. I hope he does. I would like to see that. And I assume there will be another Sanders in four years, (though) I think Hillary will probably be elected president. There will also be another Trump. And that’s kind of frightening. So, ultimately, Hillary might turn out to be this great success and turn the economic situation around and build the middle class and bring back good jobs. I mean, maybe she could do it. Wouldn’t that be great? But I don’t think she can.

Were you surprised to see Bernie win by such a wide margin in the Kansas caucus earlier this year?

Not really. Kansas has a real populist streak to it. It’s the kind of place that would warm to a guy like Bernie, if they hear him. Bernie’s problem was getting his message out, and there’s a lot of places that just weren’t receptive or weren’t interested. But Kansas is the sort of place where, deep down, there is that kind of populist sentiment.

And it hasn’t died out despite everything?

Well, I mean, it became a movement of the right. It’s everywhere now, but the conservatives in Kansas — I mean, the ones that I interviewed way back 12 years ago — are the inheritors of this populist mantle. Though they themselves probably don’t know it, and they certainly wouldn’t agree with the old-time Populists on a lot of issues, they certainly understand the world in the same way as “the little guy versus power.”

Going back to our talk about Bernie’s turnout in the Kansas caucus, Cruz also beat Trump by a fairly wide margin. Will those Cruz supporters stand by Trump come November?

Oh, I don’t know. When I was a kid, there was this real animosity or antagonism between Kansas and New York City. They were like opposite poles on some kind of cosmic spectrum. A lot of it came from sports, because the Royals were always playing the Yankees in the playoffs and were forever losing to them. But it was deeper than that, too, of course.

Trump is not a Kansas type. He’s not the kind of person that people in Kansas go for, but at the same time, the idea of Kansas going for a Democrat seems really hard to ... it will not happen, let’s put it that way (laughs).

Especially not for Hillary?

You know, Hillary has this very interesting Midwestern life story. She comes from the ‘burbs in Chicago. If you really listen closely to her, she has a distinct northern Midwest accent. But she never plays up that part of her life story. She never talks about it. She never tries to humanize herself that way. I’m not saying that she could win Kansas — of course, that seems impossible — but she could certainly make herself more human to Midwestern voters if she wanted to.

Why do you think that is, that we rarely hear about that aspect of her life?

She thinks of herself in different terms. She is a professional woman. This is who she is. It’s very important to her.

Hillary is in some ways the perfect kind of Democrat that I’m describing in “Listen, Liberal.” She has no understanding of the problems of working people. She might say the right thing from time to time because she’s been told to say it, or she’s figured it out somehow, but it’s not instinctive to her. Her natural understanding of the problems people are facing is, the problems that women have rising in the professions. What is her candidacy about? She always says it’s about breaking down artificial barriers that stop people from rising in life as high as their talents will take them. It’s about people not being stopped by racism or sexism but instead rising as high as their talents will take them. It’s what she believes in above everything else.

How do you think history will look back on Obama’s presidency, when all’s said and done?

He has achieved some very big things. Obamacare was big and the Dodd-Frank (Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act) was pretty big. I also think that, unlike so many other politicians, his charm has never really worn off. Being hopeful about Obama and then being disappointed by him is really what led me to write this book. But even as I say that, I still like the guy. I’d still like to have a beer with him, you know, like they’re always talking about (laughs).

The problem is that our admiration for the guy as a person gets in the way of our assessment of him as a historical actor, and it also really messes with the way Democrats think about him. The party will basically not tolerate any criticism of him. They’re in some ways dragged down by the hope of 2008, that they can’t allow themselves to see where he went wrong and that he made mistakes, because they want to think that he’s great. And he’s pretty damn good, let me say that. No, he hasn’t been a great president. But we are captive of our longing for him to be a great president, and so we find it very difficult to admit the truth about him to ourselves. I’m speaking of liberals here. Conservatives think he’s some kind of devil figure, which I just don’t understand (laughs).

I do think that ultimately the failings of his administration — a lot of them — are his responsibility. Those failures belong to him — not to Eric Holder, not to Tim Geithner, not to Larry Summers, but ultimately to him.

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Bluegrass, family fun on the docket for Saturday’s Blues and Grass by the River

Lawrence is a town that loves its bluegrass. John Gallup, a local event promoter with 20 years of experience and a resume that includes the popular, now-defunct Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival, can vouch for that.

“We’ve just had such good music in this town over the last 25, 30 years. It’s been a staple in Lawrence,” Gallup says.

And he’s betting Lawrence’s bluegrass faithful will turn up in droves, if all goes to plan, at this weekend’s aptly named Blues and Grass by the River. Slated for 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, the festival will host performances by a half-dozen local and regional acts — among them Lawrence’s all-female blues-y outfit Sugar Britches, the bluegrass-rock hybrid jams of the Denver-based Oakhurst, and Columbia, Mo.’s Delta Sol Revival — throughout the day at downtown’s Burcham Park.

Bluegrass will be the main event at Blues and Grass, naturally, but even those not keen on the genre should find something to appreciate at the festival, says Gallup, who anticipates an attendance of between 3,000 and 5,000. Also among the attractions: bounce houses, face painting, cotton candy and Sno Cones for the kids, plus food trucks and vendors galore — and cold beer for the adults.

Blues and Grass by the River is the second event organized under the umbrella of Lawrence Community Fest, the brainchild of Gallup and his wife, Nicole Stinger. The first, last summer’s Reggae by the River, drew about 2,000 visitors to Burcham Park, raising more than 3,000 pounds of donated food for Just Food.

Gallup hopes to top that number at Blues and Grass, which is asking guests to bring canned food items (the suggested donation is two cans, though folks can also make monetary donations if they choose) for admittance to the event.

“I just wanted an event in town where we could collect canned foods and give to charities while offering people a fun festival,” Gallup says of Lawrence Community Fest’s origins. “It’s hard to find full entertainment for the whole family. We wanted to offer a place where you could bring your kids and your dog and have a great day.”

Four-legged friends are also welcome at the festival, it should be noted. A refreshment station for dogs (drinks and treats) will be provided to festival attendees and their pets.

Lawn chairs, blankets and such are also encouraged. Gallup wants folks to make a day of it. Like Reggae by the River, which returns to Burcham Park Aug. 20, he’d like to make Blues and Grass an annual event.

“If you’re living in Lawrence, grab a couple cans of food and come on down,” Gallup says. “If you don’t really care about the music, come for the giving and stay for the fun.”

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Library’s summer reading program underway; kickoff party slated for June 4

School may be out for the summer, but the Lawrence Public Library isn’t about to let our brain muscles go soft.

The library’s 75th annual summer reading program launched on Thursday, just as Lawrence schools let out for summer vacation, with the theme of “Exercise Your Mind — READ!”

“If you keep yourself engaged during the summer, when you come back to school in the fall, there’s no ground lost,” says Kathleen Morgan, director of development and strategic partnerships at the library, citing studies about summertime learning loss among children.

As part of the program, children, teens and adults throughout Lawrence will be encouraged to track their reading activity all summer, either by books finished (12 for kids and teens; five for adults) or by hours spent (30 total for all involved). Prizes are awarded to those who reach their reading goals by Aug. 19.

In keeping with this year’s theme, an official “Library Olympics” kickoff party is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 4, at the library, 707 Vermont St. Games, crafts and other family-friendly activities — including minigolf and putting lessons from the pros at Eagle Bend Golf Course and the Lawrence Country Club — fill the roster.

“Obviously reading is brain exercise, but we’re mixing reading with physical exercise as well, so a lot of the programs have that flavor to them,” Morgan says.

Among this season’s fitness-skewed activities: Fitness Fridays (in which instructors from local gyms will lead free workouts on the library lawn every week), “super walker and historian” Henry Fortunato’s “Hike Through History” program and Burroughs Creek Trail tour, and free one-month passes to area gyms.

The library’s J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired “Walking to Rivendell” program encourages participants to track walking, running and cycling this summer on a map of Middle Earth; prizes await the determined Hobbits (or whatever) who make it all the way to the elfin city of Rivendell. So far, more than 300 people have signed up, says Morgan.

Library staffers have a few book recommendations relating to themes of strength and endurance, but reading of all sorts — that includes magazines, newspapers (ahem), even cereal boxes — is encouraged, Morgan says.

“Our whole goal is to get people to read and enjoy reading. It’s one of those things that I’ve always said, and I told this to my kids — good readers are always successful,” she says. “I have no doubt in my mind about that. If you read, you’ll do well in life.”

Last year, about 4,000 people finished the reading program. This year, the library is shooting for 4,500.

For more information, including a complete schedule of events and a reading log, visit www.lawrencepubliclibrary.org or stop by any service desk at the Lawrence Public Library.

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Busker Fest to go on this weekend, rain or shine

With the recent rainy conditions — and chance of thunderstorms — expected to continue through the weekend, some Busker Fest faithful might be worried about the status of the popular outdoor event, slated for Friday through Sunday in downtown Lawrence.

Well, the show must go on, as they say. Or, as longtime festival organizer Richard Renner puts it, “We’re gonna do this thing one way or another.”

“The forecast keeps changing, and I hate that. If you can’t trust the weather, who(m) can you trust?” he jokes. “We’re going to be ready for the rain. If it starts up, we’ll stop to go have a beer, and when it stops, we’ll start up again.”

Mariel Reynolds, of Kansas City, Mo., hangs upside down, suspended above New Hampshire St. in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, as she performs with the aerial performance group Voler - Thieves of Flight while spectators watch as part of the annual Lawrence Busker Festival, Sunday, May 31, 2015.

Mariel Reynolds, of Kansas City, Mo., hangs upside down, suspended above New Hampshire St. in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, as she performs with the aerial performance group Voler - Thieves of Flight while spectators watch as part of the annual Lawrence Busker Festival, Sunday, May 31, 2015. by John Young

As of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service predicted a 50-percent chance of showers and thunderstorms for the Lawrence area, with those odds dropping to 40 and 30 percent, respectively, each of the following nights.

Still, Renner’s optimistic about this year’s Lawrence Busker Fest. The ninth annual street-performer showcase is expected to attract anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 spectators to downtown Lawrence over the Memorial Day weekend.

The fun officially begins Friday at 5 p.m. or shortly thereafter, when the first acts — among them “acrobatic nerd” Adorkable Derek, strongwoman Mama Lou and “yo-yo pro” Blake Freeman — hit the streets.

Also on this weekend’s lineup: fire dancers Tricks of the Light, festival returner Pogo Fred’s “extreme pogo tricks,” acrobatic juggler Cate Great, Canadian comedic juggling duo The Bang Bang Boys, comic contortionist Jonathan Burns (“if you can imagine Napoleon Dynamite as a contortionist, you can imagine what Jonathan Burns is like,” Renner says) and many more.

If you’re looking for something a little less inherently wacky, there’s always Poetry Alley in the breezeway adjacent to the Lawrence Antique Mall at 830 Massachusetts St. or the musicians’ pitch at 1020 Massachusetts St.

In the spirit of keeping Lawrence weird, Busker Fest is partnering for the second year with the popular Art Tougeau Parade. The annual display of wacky wheeled art (past creations have included Renner’s own ReCycle Cycle, a convertible-turned-movable-skatepark and even a flying saucer) begins Friday with the Final Friday Art Tougeau Street pARTy (attractions include live music, a few Busker Fest acts, food and drinks, children’s activities galore and, of course, the crazy rides themselves) from 5 to 10 p.m. in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

The Art Tougeau parade starts at noon Saturday in front of the Lawrence Arts Center before making a loop through downtown Lawrence.

The Art Tougeau parade starts at noon Saturday in front of the Lawrence Arts Center before making a loop through downtown Lawrence.

Registration for the main event is slated for 10 a.m. Saturday, also at the Arts Center, while the parade itself kicks off at noon. The route will start at the Arts Center before rolling south to 11th Street, turning right onto Massachusetts Street and continuing north for four blocks, turning right onto Seventh Street for one block and then right once more onto New Hampshire St., ending its run back in front of the Arts Center at 940 New Hampshire St.

Unlike last year, Renner’s sitting out on juggling both the Busker Fest and Art Tougeau, for which he passed the reigns to longtime parade participant and friend Pat Slimmer.

Busker Fest keeps him busy enough. And, with the 2017 Busker Fest being the 10th incarnation of the event, Renner’s already thinking about next year. He promises “something dramatic.”

“I just took it year by year,” Renner recalls. “After each year, I just sat down with the people I worked with and did a quick assessment. ‘Was it worth it?’ ‘Should we do it again?’ And every year, it’s been worth it.”

Check out www.lawrencebuskerfest.com for a complete schedule and map.

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