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My Gift Is My Song

Todd Alsup and Jon Richardson Photo: Keith Long

by Steve Desroches

It’s hot and sunny in Provincetown. A perfect summer day really, with a subtle breeze sweeping from the harbor into the courtyard of a West End “floater,” one of those homes that many years ago was put on a barge to move it from Long Point to its current location and make it easily identifiable by the blue plaques featuring a house with squiggly lines representing water beneath it. Jon Richardson and Todd Alsup are talking about how their last show went, their fast-paced concert Elton & Billy: Greatest Hits Live each Tuesday night by the pool at the Crown and Anchor. These two men, primarily known for their popular piano man gigs until the pandemic shut them down, marvel at the complexities of the music of these two musical giants. But Richardson has a confession.

“I know this sounds really gay and at the same time lame, but it’s when I saw Moulin Rouge that I heard my first Elton John song,” he says.

“Shut up,” laughs Alsup. “That movie came out in, what, 2000, 2001? How old were you?”

“Twelve,” says Richardson. “And I didn’t know all the songs were covers. I thought ‘Wow! Who wrote this? The music is amazing.’ But then the audience started to sing along at parts and I was like, ‘How do they all know this song?’ I just loved it. When Ewan McGregor sang ‘Your Song’ I was just blown away. That’s when I learned who Elton John was.”

Jon Richardson and Todd Alsup. Photo: Keith Long

Alsup, still laughing, shakes his head and gives Richardson playful side eye, followed by a few Little House on the Prairie jokes, a good-natured ribbing referring to Richardson’s Minnesota childhood. But the North Star State also gave us Prince and Bob Dylan, so all is good. Alsup grew up outside of Detroit, and Motown is hard to compete with when it comes to hometown pride and musical legacies. However, since this past winter the two have immersed themselves in a self-taught master class in Billy Joel and Elton John, the collective works of whom they have long been acquainted with.

“I have, or had, a steady gig at the Redeye Grill in New York and am constantly bombarded with requests for their songs,” says Alsup. “There’s one guy who is a big tipper and he’ll drop in a twenty to hear ‘Rocket Man’ or “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.’ We both realized that we so often play their music that we each could do a full set of just them.”

With their collective experience playing the music of the original piano man and Sir Elton, Richardson and Alsup began to brainstorm on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, just after the New Year, and started rehearsals upon their return to Provincetown, giving neighbors in the West End sneak peek shows. It was fabulous as in the quiet of a Provincetown winter, you can be as loud as you like. Putting together a set list proved to be more daunting than they thought as the two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have 82 number one hits combined in the United States. But there was another issue. It’s easy to take for granted considering how ubiquitous the music of Billy Joel and Elton John is and what a enormous part of pop culture they occupy, but the songs of each artist are incredibly complicated, musically. When playing in a piano bar competing with laughter and barroom noise, it’s easy to cover up a mistake or fudge a part of which they’re not certain. But they challenged themselves to learn the 32 songs in the show properly.

Jon Richardson and Todd Alsup. Photo: Keith Long

“We decided that we were going to do this show really right, as hard is it would be,” says Richardson. “We decided the music would come first.”

That being said, they were also clear from the beginning that this wouldn’t be an impersonation or tribute show, but rather a music box concert where they could show off their own musical chops. Whether it was learning “Uptown Girl” or “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” the two agree that the genius in the work is the apparent simplicity. But it’s the challenging chord structure that is the magic, and if they skipped it to make it easier on themselves audiences would notice for sure.

“It’s a hard show for sure,” says Alsup. “It’s a very hard show. It’s a lot of athletic singing. We both were just saying that we are as tired after this 55-minute show as we are after we do three or four hours playing a piano bar. This show is like a collapsed star. We are definitely riding a high when we’re done.”

It wasn’t just the music that has completely enchanted Alsup and Richardson, but also the lyrics, teaching both, who write original music, about songwriting. The juxtaposition of the straight forward workings of Joel with the more poetic and metaphorical work of long-time John collaborator and lyricist Bernie Taupin is a compare and contrast study in musical storytelling. When Joel sings “I’m gonna try for an uptown girl, She’s been living in her white bread world, As long as anyone with hot blood can, And now she’s looking for a downtown man,” you know exactly what he’s talking about says, Alsup. But when John sings, “And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time, ‘Till touch down brings me round again to find, I’m not the man they think I am at home, Oh no I’m a rocket man,” the mind contemplates and then interprets for itself, adds Richardson. But both musicians are incredible storytellers despite this big difference.

The show has been a bona fide hit this pandemic summer, as it is as fun as it is an evening of great music. And pre-COVID-19 plans included an after party where audience members could hang out in the Crown’s Dive Bar where Richardson and Alsup would play all the B-sides of Joel and John they didn’t include in the stage show, and they hope to do so in the future, once indoor entertainment is allowed again. It’s certain that between now and next summer Alsup and Richardson will continue to pound the keys in the West End, perfecting each note written by these masters.

“I’m a different musician after this experience,” says Richardson. “I look at their music completely differently now. How much these two influenced music and culture is inspiring. People mark different points of their lives by their music. People say to us, ‘Oh, that song reminds me of high school or my wedding.’ It reminds you how powerful music can be.”

Elton & Billy: Greatest Hits Live featuring Jon Richardson and Todd Alsup is every Tuesday through September 8 at 9 p.m. Poolside at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St., Provincetown. Tickets ($25/$35) are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. For more information call 508.487.1430.

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REVIEW: Our TRUE Story

Photo: Steven Peters, SmokeSygnals

A Look at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum’s Wampanoag Exhibition

by Rebecca Alvin

Top Image: Photo: Steven Peters, SmokeSygnals

In the past few months Native Americans have been in the news a lot. In July 2020 a District Court judge ordered the temporary shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline pending environmental review after several years of protest going back to the Obama presidency. Around the same time, the Supreme Court ruled that about a third of Oklahoma is actually tribal land, divided amongst several tribes per a treaty that had been violated over 150 years ago. And recently the Washington Redskins football team has said it is planning to finally take seriously complaints about its team name, which is an offensive slur against Native Americans. While we’re nowhere near the kind of reconciliation and reparations needed, it feels like we’re in an important moment for the rights of indigenous people in America.

It seems symbolic that this is coming in 2020, at the same time as we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival in the so-called “New World.” It’s things like that—the very language we use to describe those events, the lens through which we collectively look at it, whether or own ancestors came here on the Mayflower or not—these are the elements that a new exhibition at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum address by presenting an alternative perspective to the dominate one, that of the Wampanoag.

Our Story replaces the Museum’s former exhibit, created in 1971, which depicted the events of 1620 very narrowly, with no regard for the complexity of the interactions between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag and historically inaccurate murals that did little to foster understanding about what truly happened and the multiple perspectives that exist about it. Our Story is meant to be a permanent exhibition, not just for the Provincetown 400 commemoration. It was designed by a Mashpee-based creative agency SmokeSygnals, owned and run by mother and son, Paula and Steven Peters, members of the Wampanoag Tribe.

When you enter the exhibition space, you are greeted by a sign welcoming you to Our Story, subtitled “The complicated relationship of the Indigenous Wampanoag and the Mayflower Pilgrims,” an apt description of what you’re about to grapple with in this exhibition that includes artifacts, interactive touchscreens, video reenactments, and large panels describing key events of the story. But it doesn’t just begin with the 1620 arrival of the Pilgrims. Our Story offers greater context by beginning more than a decade earlier and detailing the events leading up to it so that by the time the Pilgrims arrive, we understand how the Wampanoag people felt about European “visitors” who had by then proven themselves untrustworthy, routinely kidnapping Native Americans and selling them into slavery. The impact of such horrific and tragic practices went beyond the specific individuals kidnapped, traumatizing whole families and communities by taking from them their best warriors, best hunters and providers, their leaders, fathers, sons, and husbands.

Photo: Rebecca M. Alvin

Looking at the exhibition’s goals of both righting the wrongs of the previous permanent exhibition and presenting greater context around the interactions that took place in 1620, Our Story is a success because it subverts the dominant narrative by immediately adopting the perspective of the indigenous people already here when the Pilgrims arrived. Simply by beginning here instead of in Europe, where the story usually begins, we are placed in the shoes of the first Americans and identify with them as fellow Americans whose land was invaded, rather than identifying with European interlopers. And so from that standpoint, we enter the exhibition and learn the deeper history of our nation. We can’t help asking ourselves how things might have been different if the Pilgrims and the settlers and explorers that came before them had been open-minded enough to learn from the Native Americans, instead of insisting on bringing with them the very ideas and practices that made them want to leave Europe in the first place. The intolerance and self-righteousness of the Pilgrims prevented two cultures from communicating and growing.

At the same time, Our Story explores why that happened and how both the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims found each other curious and even incorrect. One element of this cultural divide that is particularly interesting is the role of women in their respective societies. While in the Wampanoag world, women could be and were leaders of their communities and tribes, for the Pilgrims, such a notion was baffling. One section of the exhibition details how significant this was when Pilgrims needed to deal with female Wampanoag leaders such as Awashonks, Chief of the nearby Sakonnet tribe. They simply could not wrap their heads around such a notion and instead negotiated with male leaders for access to land and resources those male leaders did not have any domain over rather than speaking respectfully and seriously with Awashonks.

The story is a tragic one but it adds much needed depth to the story of the Pilgrims’ arrival in America, adding many details and names and concepts that visitors to the Provincetown Museum may find new and even challenging to their long-held beliefs about what happened 400 years ago. It is by no means the end of the conversation. It is the beginning of a challenge to let go of our willful ignorance and open our eyes to difficult truths that we must face head on in order to overcome them and right the wrongs just as the Museum has corrected its own past mistakes.

Our Story: The Early Days of the Wampanoag Tribe and the Pilgrims Who Followed is on view as a permanent exhibition at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, 1 High Pole Hill Rd., Provincetown. For more information and for details on the Museum’s COVID-19 related policies and procedures for timed tickets, etc., call 508.487.1310 or visit pilgrim-monument.org.

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Glitter Bomb! The Lasting Legacy of the Cockettes

Cockette Wally Photo: Fayette Hauser

by Steve Desroches

Just like glitter, the Cockettes are everywhere, and forever. While the sparkle was spilled 50 years ago in San Francisco, the influence of the hippie, psychedelic drag performance troupe went worldwide, visible to this day, including on the stages and streets of Provincetown. It all began in Haight-Ashbury at the Kaliflower Commune in 1969 when George Edgerly Harris III, who by then was known as Hibiscus, formed the first incarnation of the Cockettes, a multiracial theater company featuring members of a variety of genders and sexual orientations, all bathing in glamour and LSD. Making their debut at the Palace Theater in North Beach on New Year’s Eve, the Cockettes quickly became counterculture heroes in San Francisco, and in the process sparked a revolution that would introduce the hippie movement to the LGBT world at large, challenging any norm or sense of establishment that came their way. Quite literally, the world would never be the same.

In celebration of the golden anniversary of the Cockettes, founding member Fayette Hauser published The Cockettes: Acid Drag & Sexual Anarchy, a lush, detailed account of those wild, trippy days. From 1969 to 1972 the Cockettes didn’t just capture lightning in a bottle; they were the lightning. Any time they performed at the Palace Theater, or their guerilla street shows that popped up everywhere from Golden Gate Park to Grace Cathedral on Christmas Eve 1970, the hippie glitterati would assemble in a wild communion. What at first glance may have appeared to be an unruly theatrical bacchanalia, was, in reality, a committed ensemble eager to push the boundaries of performance to revolutionary peaks. There was an ethos and a vision, one that wasn’t hindered by their frequent use of LSD, but inspired by the mind expansion they experienced. As outrageous and fun as it was, it also was in earnest.

Fayette Hauser

“San Francisco at the time was a sophisticated place,” says Hauser, from her home in Los Angeles. “It was very intellectual and so were the Cockettes. People came from all kind of backgrounds, and we were examining and questioning everything. I came from an art history background. And what we were doing was the next level of high art. It’s why I stayed.”

Shows like Tinsel Tarts In A Hot Coma, Hollywood Babylon, and Pearls Over Shanghai packed the house and quickly drew the attention of celebrity, with Truman Capote and Janis Joplin in the audience, and mainstream media landing the Cockettes in the pages of Rolling Stone and Esquire. No one had seen anything like it before. The staging, the performance style, the sets, costumes, and makeup; all of it was so fresh and exciting. A Cockettes show was so electrifying that the energy would shoot off the stage and bounce back capturing the power produced by the audience on its way. It was a shared experience, scripted in its way, but open to riding the crest of the moment. And then there was the glitter! So much glitter!

Word of the Cockettes spread far and wide, especially quickly in the underground press as well as those newspapers and magazine covering the counterculture and the burgeoning gay liberation movement. Also at the same time, filmmaker John Waters’ movies were making their way out of his beloved Baltimore and finding early success in two locations: San Francisco and Provincetown. Hauser recalls the Cockettes going to see Multiple Maniacs, Waters’ 1970 shocker, which she thought was the most fabulous film ever made. Kismet quickly took over as Waters, who by then had spent nearly a decade in Provincetown, headed to San Francisco that winter and soon made his way to see the Cockettes.

“There was just nothing like them before,” says Waters, from San Francisco where he is on a virtual tour for his own book Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. “They were a little too hippie-ish for us. We were kind of punk before there was such a thing. But what they did was so unexpected. Gay hippies?! Here’s this gay hippie with glitter in his beard, when gay guys didn’t have beards before the clones, and he’s reading from Lenin.”

Sylvester, who would become the breakout star of the Cockettes. Photo: Fayette Hauser

Soon some of the Dreamlanders, the repertory cast of Waters’ films, followed, including Cookie Mueller, Mink Stole, and Divine. All had been living in Provincetown, where there was a vague awareness of the Cockettes. But the Cockettes were already very aware of the Dreamlanders and greeted Divine with a ceremony fit for royalty. They invited Divine to appear in their show Journey to the Center of Uranus, where she turned the song “A Crab On Uranus Means You’re Loved” into a showstopper. That she was dressed like a giant crab in a flaming red dress made it all the better.

Waters notes that the first real sign of the Cockettes’ influence was on fashion. Before them, gay people were “kind of square,” says Waters. But in Provincetown, where in the 1970s gender and sexuality were as fluid as in San Francisco, hippie drag caught on quickly. Cookie Mueller in particular really adapted the Cockettes’ look to her own aesthetic, as did rock stars like Janis Joplin and David Bowie. At that time in Provincetown, people spent all day putting together their look for that night, says Waters. After hours everyone met on the benches outside of Town Hall, says Waters, much the way they do outside of Spiritus, in a congregation where the lines of gender and sexuality washed away in a hippie sea of denim, long hair, and glitter.

Fifty years on, historians and academics continue to explore the contributions made by the Cockettes, ranging from pop culture to rock and roll to fashion to theater to film to politics, as well as LGBT representation. And clearly looking at the cabaret scene in Provincetown over the past 50 years, the Cockettes’ influence continues to be here in abundance. The 2002 documentary The Cockettes and subsequent books by surviving members like Hauser continue to introduce the wild bunch to new generations. Much has changed over the past five decades, including a surprising narrowness of drag, completely counter to the Cockettes pioneering sashay into history. Everyone, regardless of gender, did drag. Today seems more rigid and uptight than those nights at the Palace Theater.

“Somehow the modern queens think when it comes to drag it’s just for the guys,” says Hauser. “The thing we were doing was breaking down barriers, tearing down hang-ups. Labels didn’t matter. We were doing high drag. It’s a fluid, natural version of yourself, a higher version of yourself. It wasn’t limited to just one thing. Why would you want to have a binary view of drag? It’s so boring.”

The Cockettes: Acid Drag & Sexual Anarchy is available wherever books are sold. Support your local bookseller. For a signed copied and more information on the Cockettes and Fayette Hauser visit fayettehauser.com or thecockettes.net. The Films website is www.cockettes.com

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Ghost Images

Brooklyn Bridge (2002)

by Rebecca M. Alvin

The muted, blue-gray images of the late Arthur Cohen are recognizable anywhere. Throughout a career of more than 50 years, his style and artistic concerns with light, composition, and time have remained consistent. His paintings were often works-in-progress for months or years, as he went back over them, refining them to more accurately reflect his view of his subjects.

“Arthur essentially never left anything alone,” says Jim Bakker, owner of Bakker Gallery, which represents Cohen’s Estate now and currently features him in both a live and virtual exhibition through August 22. “If he pulled out a painting and he was looking at it, and there was something he thought was off, sometimes you’ll see on the back it was started in 1985 and went to 1987, and a lot of it was that he just couldn’t let go of his paintings.”

Even the actual subjects of his paintings are places and iconic structures he returns to again and again. For example, the Brooklyn Bridge. Cohen, a native New Yorker from the Bronx, returned repeatedly to this bridge, often depicting it through compositional devices that use it as a frame for its surroundings.

Likewise, Cohen, who painted in Provincetown and New York equally for over 50 years, painted the Bay, MacMillan Wharf, and the Long Point Lighthouse over and over again. Each painting utilizes the same characteristic palette of blues and grays and greens, that overall subdued tonal quality, and yet there are subtle and essential differences, particularly with regard to light, that ever-changing aspect of any scene.

“I wanted to use a couple of examples where he constantly went back to the same subject,” says Spencer Keasey, managing director of the Gallery and also the curator of this show. The Gallery mounts a solo exhibition of his work just about every year, but this is the first time Keasey has curated it, and he points out a couple of differences.

“None of them have really been in a show before. Some of them I pulled out of the Estate just this spring, so a lot have not even been seen, period, by the public… But this is the first time these have been put together in this way, and I tried to separate it into his two lives,” Keasey explains as he points out the flow of paintings on the wall, one side with New York paintings and the other side paintings of Provincetown, highlighting the central placement of Bus in Provincetown, giving the whole assembly a narrative arc.

While the subject matter is often revisited, Cohen brings a fresh perspective each time, as exemplified by two paintings in the show of the World Trade Center towers, one painted in 1983 and the other in November 2001, when of course, the towers were no longer there, but remained in his consciousness.

“He talked about ghost images. So he would create images that he could keep from memory or the initial piece that he put onto a painting, and then come back and paint over it and sometimes it wasn’t even the same subject or object. But I like this idea of the ghost images,” says Keasey, gesturing toward those World Trade Center paintings as a perfect example.

Aside from temporal context, Cohen’s perspective shifts also with the light and the texture of built up layers of paint, palette knife scratches, and his consciously limited palette. His paintings of MacMillan Pier are interesting because the larger shapes in the foreground are painted as big blocks of their muted color, and then off in the distance, the wharfhouse, the lighthouse, the small structures are painted with the tiniest details, in contrast to how we ordinarily see things. It’s as though the smallest object in the painting is actually the focal point.

Just as New York City and Provincetown are intrinsically linked, yet entirely different environments, Cohen’s paintings of each seem to be part of the same conversation. This can be seen plainly comparing Long Point (2000) with NYC Harbor from Battery Park (year unknown). The former depicts the very tip of Provincetown extending out across the bay, as seen from the shore, while the latter show a view of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor with nearly identical composition, as though they were actually meant as companion pieces depicting the two places he lived.

Bakker has shown Cohen’s work since 1992, when the artist approached him about representation, even as he was already being shown at numerous galleries in Provincetown and in New York. “I first met Arthur when I had my gallery on Newbury Street [in Boston] and he sent me a copy of Provincetown Arts magazine back in 1996 when we had

the back cover of the magazine. And there was a list of Provincetown painters. He sent a thing: ‘Who’s missing?’” Bakker recalls with a laugh. After that they began showing his work little by little.

Cohen’s images speak to many and they are well loved both locally and in the larger art enclaves, with work included in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to name a few. He was a Guggenheim Award recipient in 1981 and also received accolades and awards from many other institutions. But his appeal in Provincetown is often tied to his authenticity, both as a person many people knew and loved and as an artist who never wavered from that singular vision.

Arthur Cohen: New York to Provincetown is on view through August 22 at Bakker Gallery, 359 Commercial St., Provincetown, as well as online at bakkerproject.com. For more information, visit the website or call 508.413.9757.

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A Show of Support: The Provincetown Performing Arts Fund Helps Out

Jon Richardson, João Pedro Santos, Qya Cristál, Harrison Fish, and Jonathan Hawkins

by Steve Desroches

Provincetown takes care of its own. Throughout the town’s history that’s been the takeaway. When the chips are down, the community turns out to help those in need. And despite the toxicity of social media pages that may make one think that’s no longer the case, the caring, communal soul of Provincetown is still very much intact. Often those expressions that illustrate the concern for the town are done quietly and with little notice, but they are there. People just don’t make a show of it. However, the latest example of the special nature of Provincetown’s generosity and kindness is quite literally a spectacle, and a fabulous one at that.

The moment it was certain there would be no indoor entertainment this summer in Provincetown could have registered on the Richter scale. Cabaret and theater are vital, not just to the culture of the town, but to its economy. A time of high anxiety already, those who work in the large entertainment sector of Provincetown immediately began to look past summer and question how they would survive the off-season without the normal seasonal income and nowhere else to take gigs to supplement the loss. That’s when entertainers Jonathan Hawkins and Jon Richardson, who themselves lost significant income, saw an opportunity to help those in what is already a high-risk vocation. So in April they created the Provincetown Performing Arts Fund (PPAF), which seeks to provide economic relief to theater and cabaret professionals of all types who are out of work or struggling due to loss of income as the pandemic continues.

“So often in Provincetown, entertainers do benefits to help others,” says Hawkins. “Now many entertainers may be applying for help themselves. It was clear we needed to create some sort of relief fund for these people who give so much to the town and are part of something that is so special and important. Provincetown has become an entertainment destination. We need to help the people who make it so.”

Qya Cristál

The PPAF partnered with the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, a Hyannis-based arts agency that for the past 20 years has supported the arts in Barnstable County. The PPAF, with the support of the Provincetown-based Palette Fund, raises money that the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod manages and will distribute. Grants of up to $500 will be available to qualifying applicants who work in the performing arts, both on stage and in technical and other ancillary professions. Applicants must either be a year-round resident of Provincetown or have worked in the performing arts in town for at least three full seasons as well as show urgent financial need. Both the PPAF and the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod have selection committees in place and will work together when giving out grants.

The current goal is to raise $15,000. As of early August they’ve raised $5,295. While private donations have come in, the majority of funds have come through the weekly benefit shows each Thursday, poolside at the Crown and Anchor. Each week features a revolving host of performers presenting a show in which 100 percent of the ticket revenue goes to the fund. The benefit shows have been a big hit, especially the drag legend trio presented on August 6, where Miss Richfield 1981, Varla Jean Merman, and Dina Martina joined forces in perhaps a once in a lifetime event, complemented by a show-stopping number by Qya Cristal and Hawkins and Richardson. It also signaled a coming together of entertainment venues as Miss Richfield performs her outdoor show at the Pilgrim House and Varla Jean normally performs at the Art House, which like the Post Office Cabaret, is closed for the season. In times of crisis, competition gives way to cooperation, something that in post-pandemic Provincetown is most welcome and beneficial to the community at large.

While it’s hard to see now, there will be an end to this pandemic, and the PPAF plans to evolve when the time comes. It takes a lot of hard work to become a seasonal headliner in Provincetown, and with the high cost of living on the Outer Cape and the fickle nature of the entertainment business, it can be hard for young and new acts to break into the cabaret scene. Those new and fresh voices are vital to a robust and dynamic arts community. As such, the PPAF will explore ways it can help those artists to continue to come to Provincetown to become part of what is increasingly known throughout the country as a place with a unique and distinct artistic voice, not just on the canvas and the written word, but on the stage, too.

Dina Martina

“On any given night in a summer there are 25 to 30 shows to choose from,” says Hawkins. “It’s become one of the town’s biggest draws. The entertainment you can see in Provincetown, the assembly of the type of artists that come here is a unique community. We have to support it to ensure its survival.”

A Benefit for the Provincetown Performing Arts Fund runs Poolside at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. every Thursday at 7 p.m. through September 10. Tickets ($35 VIP/$25 general admission) are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. For more information call 508.487.1430. For more information, to make a donation or to apply for a grant from the Provincetown Performing Arts Fund, visit provincetownperformingartsfund.com. For more information on the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod visit artsfoundation.org.

Performance Schedule:

August 13, September 3 and 10:
Jonathan Hawkins, Qya Cristál, Jon Richardson with João Pedro Santos and Harrison Fish

August 20:
John Cameron Mitchell, Bitch, and Jonathan Hawkins

August 27:
Zoë Lewis and the Social Distancers featuring Roxanne Layton, Jonathan Hawkins, Qya Cristál, and the Gorgeous Cigarette Girl.

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Art’s Dune Tours

If you’ve never been on a dune tour, you’re missing out on a whole other Provincetown. Since 1946 Art’s Dune Tours has taken locals and visitors alike into the wilds of the Province Lands within the Cape Cod National Seashore. It’s, in short, a trip to a spectacular and breathtaking part of Provincetown. The King of the Dunes, Art Costa began this beloved Provincetown tradition taking tourists out to the Province Lands in his 1936 Ford Woody. He even ferried Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway out to the dunes for the filming of The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968. Now owned and operated by Art’s son Rob, the Costa family has taken tens of thousands of people from all over the world to this most amazing natural resource. Due to the pandemic Art’s Dune Tours have adopted a long list of public health protocols for a safer experience, including requiring face masks, complete sanitization of each truck after each trip, and only booking a truck for one party at a time. In this stressful time of high anxiety a trip out to the Province Lands does wonders for the spirit and the soul!

Art’s Dune Tours
4 Standish St.
800.894.1951
artsdunetours.com

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August 13, 2020

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The Romance of Summer: Donnelly & Richardson’s The Gift & The Rock

by Rebecca M. Alvin

“I don’t know how people do radio, where you talk and you don’t know if people are laughing or not,” says Peter Donnelly, one half of the performing duo Donnelly & Richardson. We’re talking about the past few months when musicians and other performers had to resort to virtual shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, eliminating that certain energy that is only created live, onstage with an audience in real life. But beginning Friday, July 31, at the Crown & Anchor, Donnelly & Richardson will kick off a weekly live show with the release party for their new CD The Gift & The Rock.

Although the duo may be livestreaming their shows again later in the season or in the fall, the live connection is an important one for a performer. “We’re so relieved to get back in front of an audience,” Donnelly says. Jon Richardson concurs, saying, “Being onstage with Peter, and our relationships with the audiences that we were building in Ptown, that was something I missed dreadfully. And I didn’t realize it until it didn’t really exist anymore.”

Donnelly and Richardson met on the street here in town when a mutual friend suggested they might want to connect since they were both musicians and songwriters. Donnelly has been performing in Provincetown for three decades and has recorded three CDs on his own, as well as performing and recording with other musicians (he also works for Provincetown Magazine). Richardson came to Provincetown in 2017 and started out as a piano bar musician here after receiving a master’s degree in musicology from the New England Conservatory and working as a business consultant in Boston for a time. They both liked playing the Everly Brothers, according to Richardson, and their musical relationship grew from there.

They recorded a CD of Christmas songs together last year, but The Gift and the Rock is really the first CD they’ve recorded as a songwriting team. That concept of being a songwriting team is something the two have been working on, noting that in reality it isn’t what you think of, where two writers literally write together, in one room, at the same time, bouncing ideas off of one another. Instead, it’s more like an ongoing workshop; each writer will come up with something on his own and then bring it to the other for feedback, which then informs the final creation. And in some cases, knowing each other’s strengths alters the way a song is written. For example, Donnelly says since they have gotten together he’s hearing things differently. “Jon sings a lot of the harmonies, so I actually start to write now for the harmonies,” says Donnelly. He adds that he’s also tried to write with a swing style a la “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” for Richardson, who is delighted by this, saying, “The Andrews Sisters is my ideal sound.”

Although the songs on this CD were written at all different times by two different people who didn’t write them to go together on an album necessarily, there is a certain romantic element that links them: romantic in the sense of being in love, but also the romance of nostalgia. For example, Donnelly’s song “Rockin’ Robin” is about a radio show and references the works of other musicians heard on the radio decades ago. It’s a fun song that conjures up images of youth and summer, and the luxury of just listening to pop music and enjoying it. This album, Donnelly says, was made with an awareness that it would be released in the summer, and so together with that nostalgia and Richardson’s romantic love songs, the overall vibe is light and open. Even a song like “Morning Birds,” with its bittersweet lyrics and harmonies never gets bogged down in any heaviness. The album art itself, created by legendary artist Peter Hutchinson, with its floral imagery and handwritten text in the background lends a poetic air to the collection, with a celebration of the blossoming Earth in summer. The collection of songs has emotional depth and range, but always with an uplift.

Donnelly and Richardson each bring something different to the CD, even as it is a cohesive album. Thinking about Richardson’s style in these particular songs, Donnelly says, “he was on like a Hank Williams jag. So they’re in that style and they’re mournful, country poetic. And he likes to just let his voice whine a bit, it’s like a midnight train singer.” Richardson agrees and says Donnelly’s diverse musical inclinations, ranging from folk (the popular “Raccoon Peggy and Raccoon Pam,” which has never been recorded before) to the more jazz inspired September Moon, which he says, “has a Cape Cod samba feel to it,” adds a different dimension. “[Peter] is more and more interested in rhythms, like different rhythmic styles, whereas I think my songwriting, especially with this, is just coming from a place of trying to get to know the guitar a lot better and feeling more comfortable playing it in the Hank Williams style.”

Richardson’s songs, such as “Still Waiting” and “Make Believe” definitely add an old-style country feel to the album, which is a nice variation, while his “Mighty Mississippi” feels solidly folk, in a Simon & Garfunkel way. In their live shows, they often play covers, much of the time choosing works by female songwriters like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Kacey Musgraves. The pair is drawn to these songs for a variety of reasons.

“They’re so feisty and strong,” Donnelly says. “And they’re so well done.”

And, Richardson adds, “It’s nice as two gay guys, we get to sing the right pronouns because these women were singing about their problems with men.”

Crown & Anchor presents Sunset Sessions, featuring Peter Donnelly & Jon Richardson, poolside, every Friday at 7 p.m. through the summer at 247 Commercial St., Provincetown. Friday, July 31, will be a special CD release party/concert for the new CD The Gift & The Rock. All shows are outside with social distancing. For tickets and information call 508.487.1430 or visit onlyatthecrown.com. Music can be heard and purchased at Bandcamp.com: #Donnelly and Richardson.

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The Way It Used To Was: Selections from the Van Dereck Collection at PAAM

Napi Van Dereck

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Napi Van Dereck

If ever Napi Van Dereck struck up a conversation with you at his eponymous restaurant and you listened to his tales of Provincetown over the years, you may have heard him say “the way it used to was” to describe the town of yesteryear. Napi loved to tell stories, and he was good at it. He could paint such a vivid picture of the Provincetown of his childhood in the 1930s and the preceding decades that the imagery he created with his words rivaled the famous art collection he assembled over the years and hung in rotation in the dining rooms of his Freeman Street restaurant.

His death on Christmas Day last year at the age of 87 struck the town hard. He was one of those figures who was such an integral and consistent part of the community, as well as a serious interpreter of Provincetown’s history, the town felt knocked off its axis after he died. In a town where transience is the norm, losing someone with such deep roots and knowledge compounded the loss. But Van Dereck left behind a marvelous legacy, one that extends beyond those with memories of his stories: his art collection.

Clamdiggers – William Averbach Levy

At about 300 pieces the Napi and Helen Van Dereck collection is widely considered to be one of the most impressive private collections of Provincetown art. And an exhibition featuring over 40 works is on display at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), curated by executive director Christine McCarthy.

Annually McCarthy curates a Director’s Choice show at the East End museum, and traditionally she features contemporary women artists, though not exclusively. McCarthy notes Van Dereck had an impeccable eye and, in particular, a keen interest in artists who at times went ignored and whose work was unappreciated. With that collector’s ethos, Van Dereck became a champion of many women artists who were part of the art colony over the years, and that’s reflected in Director’s Choice: In Memoriam: Napi Van Dereck up at PAAM, now through September 13.

“You could see how his mind worked as a collector,” says McCarthy walking through the front gallery wearing a white mask featuring the PAAM logo in the museum’s signature saffron. “He honed in on what he really liked; historic scenes of Provincetown. He was very specific in the kind of work he collected. As a collection it tells a story. There’s a narrative. It’s Napi. He was a storyteller, and that’s exactly what these are. These paintings are stories.”

Figures and Dog – Ada Gilmore

The show is as much an art exhibition as it is a history lesson. Frequent diners at Napi’s will recognize some of the works immediately, like a trio of oil paintings done by Nancy Maybin Ferguson (1872 – 1967) with imagery of Provincetown from a variety of familiar vantage points. Though the paintings are undated, they have the strange juxtaposition of clearly being from a different time period and yet the scenes of town are instantly known and could have been painted yesterday. Lucy L’Engle’s (1898 – 1978) Clammdiggers captures both an integral occupation and a beloved tradition on the Outer Cape while Mary Tannahill’s (1863 – 1951) Eight Nudes on a Provincetown Pier is a snapshot of the free spirited freedom native to the town. And a painting signed by an unknown artist S. Mathy is a stunner. Titled View of Red Inn, 1897, the imagery of that West End neighborhood is completely different than now, but the spirit of Provincetown shines through. The breathtaking Horse and Carriage on Nickerson Street, done in 1902 by George Elmer Brown (1871 – 1949), captures the shadows of summer shade with the late day sparkling light on a busy harbor eliciting the hiss of a hot August day. This grouping of paintings tells so much about part of the artistic heritage as well as historic snapshot of Provincetown in the early 20th century. As a collection it’s as if Van Dereck left behind a detailed account of Provincetown history.

“He had an encyclopedic brain,” says McCarthy. “He knew everything that was in the collection. If the painting was of a wharf that no longer exists, he knew where it was. He knew it all.”

Over the years Van Dereck and McCarthy had many conversations over meals at Napi’s. And he and his wife Helen have been very generous to PAAM, donating multiple pieces of work, some of which are part of a concurrent exhibit Harbor to Bay from the Permanent Collection, with art that features Provincetown Harbor or Cape Cod Bay. It makes this exhibition more personal in that McCarthy and PAAM are honoring a beloved supporter and a good friend. Helen, along with Jim Bakker and Bill Evaul, provided significant assistance in assembling this show and in giving McCarthy the ability to really view the collection in its entirety, and enormity. As McCarthy explored the collection, alone, in the storage unit protecting the work, she could hear echoes of Napi. She adds she thinks that he would be quite pleased with the exhibition. But there is of course the question on most everyone’s mind: what’s going to happen to the collection.

Clamdiggers – Lucy L’Engle

“I do believe the collection will eventually end up at PAAM,” says McCarthy. “To keep the collection together and in Provincetown; I think it’s what Napi wanted. We can give it the home it deserves. He believed in the art colony and he loved this town.”

Director’s Choice: In Memoriam: Napi Van Dereck is on exhibition at PAAM, 460 Commercial St., Provincetown, through September 13. In keeping with health and safety protocols a reservation for a specific time to visit the museum is required. The museum is open Thursday through Sunday, with five time slots available (the first being reserved for those 60 and older or in a high risk group). Admission is $12.50 and while still free for members, a reservation is required. Masks are mandatory when inside the museum. To make a reservation call 508.487.1750. For more information visit paam.org.

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En Plein Air Drag: Provincetown’s Drag Scene Goes Outdoors

by Steve Desroches

Varla Jean Merman strips off her drag hazmat suit and mask once she finds her spot on the stage poolside at the Crown and Anchor, which is a solid 25 feet from the first row of guests, all of whom are seated according to their reservation and are six feet or more from the nearest audience members in their own group as a refreshing summer breeze sweeps off Provincetown Harbor. As with everything these days, the choreography is different—an unfamiliar order to a town known for its devil-may-care ways. It’s hard to shake the surrealism of this summer in Provincetown. Most every element of what makes a season in Provincetown has been affected in a major way, with some missing altogether. But Provincetown isn’t just adaptable, it’s gritty and tough. It may not be apparent to the audience this night at the Crown and Anchor, but to put that show on was an enormous undertaking, a nimble, Herculean effort to shift operations to adjust to the uncertain times we are living in. Seeing Varla bounce out on stage under her signature, big ginger wig brought a soothing sense of some sort of normalcy as well as much needed laughs.

Dina Martina Photo: David Belisle

The approval of outdoor shows in Provincetown is more important than just providing entertainment and giving a shot of revenue to businesses dealing with an unprecedented crisis. Live performance is vital to Provincetown’s culture, every bit as much as an artist painting on canvas or a poet hammering out a stanza. In a brief moment of solemnity, Varla explains to the sold-out audience exactly what an evening of en plein air drag means.

“Guys, I’m being totally serious now when I tell you there is no city in the world like Provincetown for us performers,” says Merman, who stops to take a sip from her cosmopolitan. “I mean it. Nowhere. There’s nowhere in the world that supports entertainers like myself the way that Provincetown does. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be on stage tonight outside with all of you.”

And then Varla playfully and dramatically swats at a phantom mosquito (in actuality, the outdoor shows are surprisingly bug free!). Just down Commercial Street at the Pilgrim House, the only other venue in town that has the space to meet health and safety protocols for outdoor shows, Miss Richfield 1981 yells from far, far away, “I’m grateful, grateful, grateful! I am so grateful! Make sure that in Provincetown Magazine it says how grateful I am. Grateful I tell you!”

Varla Jean Merman

Like Varla, Miss Richfield has turned this enormous challenge into a golden opportunity. It’s incredibly difficult to connect with an audience that is so far away, and in turn, the camaraderie an audience usually feels can be hard to garner when everyone is at a distance. But it all works, as Provincetown performers like Varla and Miss Richfield are supremely talented and professional. The absurdities that may come at them during a show in the best of times, like a drunken heckler or a technical snafu, have shifted to a helicopter flying over or a loud motorcycle. “Oh, it’s past 9, that must be the lesbians heading out of town,” quips Miss Richfield after waiting a few moments to be heard over the passing motorcycles. And then she pops into the refrain of the infernally optimistic Leslie Gore pop song “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” screaming “Everything’s fine!” as an added comedic, panicked refrain. She then dips her head down, and says “We’ll get through these strange times together.”

If art in part acts as an interpreter, there is no performer perhaps better equipped for strange days than Dina Martina. Provincetown is a lifeline to those artists who don’t easily fit in elsewhere. Audiences here aren’t just ready for anything, they expect the outrageous, be it Varla taking a kerplunk in the pool at the Crown or Miss Richfield barrel-assing into the parking lot on her scooter and then getting caught in a bush. So when Dina Martina comes spinning out singing “COVID’s in the air” to the tune of the 1970’s hit “Love is in the Air” in a fetching green and gold caftan, all quickly feels right in the universe. With the world as it is, the wonderful absurdity and the intelligent grotesqueness of it all is calming. Stories about earthquake clowns and the awful day Hostess halted production of Twinkies help put into perspective the real headlines of the day. How? Who knows? But they do. And Dina Martina makes much more sense than the Grand Guignol horror show coming out of the White House.

Provincetown  has weathered global emergencies before. Not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, Provincetown plunged into inky darkness each night under a blackout order, necessary to keep the coastline safe as Nazi submarines lurked close to shore (and were seen in the Cape Cod Canal). During the war, tourism declined and the town feared the worst as the possibility of an invasion or bombardment was very real. But art continued, as did shows, with audiences entering venues through a set of heavy drapery leading to a dimly lit room. An escape is necessary, especially in times of great strife, uncertainty, and high anxiety. Like the blackout years, Provincetown has pivoted once again, as have audiences who at all three shows were cooperative, compliant, and extra effusive to make sure the applause carried over the socially distant gap to the stage. As frightening as the times are, they are also extraordinary. We’ll never forget them. Seeing these shows, entering the venue wearing masks and playing a pandemic hopscotch on the “Xs” on the ground, and sitting under night sky as drag superstars like Varla, Miss Richfield, and Dina entertain is a uniquely Provincetown affair.

Dina Martina and Varla Jean Merman each perform at the Crown & Anchor, 247 Commercial St. For tickets, schedules, and information call 508.487.1430 or visit onlyatthecrown.com. Miss Richfield 1981 performs at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St. For tickets, schedules, and information call 508.487.6424 or visit pilgrimhouseptown.com.

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