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Take the A Train: From Manhattan (Transfer) to the Bronx (Wanderers) Pawleys festival is on track

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

The 24th annual Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art is about to commence. Founded by the late philanthropist Dr. Lee Minton, the festival’s goal is to provide the community with a noteworthy cultural happening.

“People come here from all over this country and the world to live,” said Gretchen Downer, chairman of the festival board. “These people ending up here have been used to cultural events in their former cities. We want to provide an opportunity for a cultural outing here.”

Each season the lineup of music and art varies, with The Manhattan Transfer as this year’s headliner. “They are our big draw,” Downer explained. “So many people remember them over the years. They do a wonderful variety of music with beautiful four part harmonies.”

The festival kicked off with the Seaside Palette, bringing visual artists to Georgetown over the weekend. Art will also be featured on Saturday during the fifth annual Chalk Walk Under the Oaks, this year held in conjunction with the Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival at Huntington Beach State Park.

The Italian tradition of street painting dates to the 16th century when artists would travel from town to town for religious festivals and transform the streets and public squares into temporary galleries for their works. The chalk creations concocted by community artists will grace the sidewalks of Atalaya, the former winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington.

All of the other festival activities take place under a performance tent at the Reserve Golf Club.

“I’m most excited about a brand new event held on the last day of festival,” Downer said.

The Sunday Seaside Showcase will be a free concert with donations taken to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.

“We are bringing some of the area’s finest musicians and vocalists who are from Georgetown and Horry or Williamsburg county. We have so much talent that comes from other areas, New York, California, or where ever. It’s time for us to single out some of our finest in the local neighborhood. We’ll have a variety of music, from country to bluegrass to jazz and rock and roll, even an impromptu jazz sessions blending everyone’s artistry.”

Among performers slated to perform are Latitude, The Fourclosures, jazz saxophonist Dan O’Reilly, guitarist Greg Van Allen, singer Rachel Ayers Tipton and the Pawleys Island Concert Band.

It will close out the festival Oct. 12 from 3 to 7 p.m.

Sandwiched in between the Seaside Palette and the Sunday Seaside Showcase is an artistic mix certain to please: the Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass, the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (a benefit for Teach My People), singer Ken Lavigne, the Swingle Singers, Annie Moses Band and the Bronx Wanderers.

Tickets are available online at pawleysmusic.com, the Chocolate & Coffee House at the Litchfield Exchange or by phone at 626-8911.

Manhattan Transfer | Oct. 3, 7 p.m.

The Manhattan Transfer has a lot of music left in them, declared Cheryl Bentyne, the newest member of the legendary quartet. “There’s so much out there for four voices, which lends itself to a wide variety of music from country to R&B to do-wop to jazz to Brazilian.”

Tim Hauser originally formed The Manhattan Transfer in 1969. Hauser, a former Madison Avenue marketing executive, paid his bills by driving a New York City cab while aspiring to form a harmony vocal quartet that could authentically embrace varied musical styles, and still create something wholly unique in the field of American popular song. He named the group the Manhattan Transfer taken from the John Dos Passos 1925 novel, referring to the group’s origins.

The current lineup of the Manhattan Transfer dates back to 1978, when Bentyne joined founder Hauser and singers Alan Paul and Janis Siegel.

“After 34 years, I still find it challenging, trying to keep our music fresh, working with new material, reworking old material and changing our set list,” said Bentyne from her home in Los Angeles.

Over the years, the group has recorded dozens of albums and received eight Grammy Awards. At one point, they were easily the most popular jazz vocal group of their era. In 1998, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

When the foursome comes to Pawleys Island, they will perform an overview of their work, starting with their earlier music and songs people grew up with and want to hear – like “Java Jive” and “Tuxedo Junction” – and their Grammy winning songs that appeal to everybody.

There are not many four part harmony groups around these days, according to Bentyne. “We think we have a bigger purpose here, trying to keep vocal groups alive and encouraging younger groups. Individually and as a group we do workshops and master classes all over the world teaching the art form of vocal harmony singing.”

Career highlights for the foursome include singing for three presidents and a pope, performing with Ella Fitzgerald and doing studio work with Tony Bennett.

“And winning our first Grammy in 1980,” said Bentyne. “But we want to continue creating highlights. We’re so grateful our fans are still out there.”

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Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass | Oct. 4, 7 p.m.

Rodney Mack, founder of the Philadelphia Big Brass, said it’s not so much talent that makes him one of the top trumpet players in the world. “It’s about hard work. I used to spend five hours a day practicing,” he said. “They say it takes 10,000 hours.”

Mack headlines “Brothers on the Battlefield,” the latest production of the Philadelphia Big Brass band featuring a wide range of music from the Civil War through the Civil Rights era, tied together with narration which includes dramatic readings from Civil War letters and inspirational readings of Martin Luther King’s words, and interspersed with multi-media images of the music that influenced America. It includes well known works like “When the Saints Go Marching In,” music from “West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein, memorable tunes by Glenn Miller like “String of Pearls” and “In the Mood”, and marches by John Philip Sousa.

“I try to include music that people are familiar with, Harry James and some Elvis and 60’s music, and marches. It’s a concert with narration, but music is at its center,” Mack said from his home in Philadelphia.

He’s accompanied on stage by a diverse group of top brass musicians – including two trumpets, French horn, trombone and a tuba – plus piano. The players have appeared on the world’s most prominent stages and performed with such groups as the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Baltimore Symphony, the São Paolo State Symphony Orchestra, the Imani Winds, Canadian Brass, Empire Brass, Dallas Brass and Boston Brass.

Mack, 36, hails from New Orleans where he started playing trumpet at age 6. He studied classical trumpet with Wynton Marsalis, who is Mack’s cousin. He adopted Philadelphia as a youth when he went there to study at the Curtis Institute of Music.

The trumpet prodigy won a fellowship to perform at the Tanglewood Music Center. “I was practicing back stage when this man, who was backstage also and listening to me, came up and said, “that’s the best trumpet playing I’ve ever heard.”

The man was Leonard Bernstein.

“I was just a kid and I didn’t even know who he was, but he took me on stage and introduced me to 5,000 people,” Mack said.

Brass music is beloved by all, Mack said because “it’s tradition in this country. Think of John Philip Sousa, even further back than that. It’s part of our heritage.”

The group is eager to visit Pawleys Island and playing under a tent is never a problem, Mack said. “Brass is meant to be played outside. Most instruments can’t take it, but brass is durable. It’s used to being on the battlefield.”

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N.C. Youth Tap Ensemble | Oct. 5, 3 p.m.

The recent resurgence of tap dancing has the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble hoofing their way throughout the U.S. and the world.

The company has toured or collaborated with the Greensboro Symphony, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mallarme Chamber Players, and the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra, among others.

The newly energized art form will be showcased by this highly professional ensemble during Pawleys Island Festival of Music and Art in a performance to benefit Teach My People, the Christian after-school program.

It’s not just their tapping that will astound. Their percussive dance styles also include a repertoire of South African dance, traditional soft shoe, clogging and body beating (using the body as a musical instrument). About 15 dancers from the 40 member company, ages 8 to 18, will present the intricate dance routines.

Gene Medler, 66, founded the company and is its artistic director.

Medler wasn’t bitten by the dance bug until age 28, when he became entranced by the combination of movement, rhythm, and sound. “I grew up as an athlete playing baseball and running track and fencing at North Carolina,” he said by phone from his home in Chapel Hill. “Then I got into theater a little bit and from theater got into dance and fell in love with the whole dance world. It was like playing an instrument and dancing at the same time.”

Medler studied dance locally and in New York and attended dance festival workshops throughout the United States. He eventually moved from dance performance to teaching. He is on the faculty at The Ballet School of Chapel Hill and has taught master classes at the St. Louis Tap Festival, the American Dance Festival, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Tap City in New York City, the Saratov Music Conservatory in Russia, Tap Encontro in Rio de Janeiro, The Hot Shoe Show in Vienna, Feet Beat in Helsinki and the Internationales Steptanz-Festival in Berlin. Medler has also taught at the Broadway Dance Center in New York.

He formed the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble in 1982, hoping to offer his students more opportunities to perform and to expand his own teaching and choreography. “I was teaching at a local studio and had a class that had five guys and five girls and they were really fantastic dancers. They wanted something more than a recital, so I said, ‘Let’s start a company.’ We started out bad, and then got good.”

Many of his dance alumni have gone on to Broadway and beyond.

Dancers must audition before a panel of judges to join the ensemble. Auditions for younger dancers is not as demanding technically, Medler said, because at 8 years old there’s only so much you can know. “We just look at the potential and performance skills, things that can blossom at an early age. For the older ones, once they hit 12 years old, it’s difficult to get into the ensemble because the dancing is quite sophisticated, so you have to have a certain skill level. If you come in too old, by the time you learn the repertory, you graduate. Better we invest in the 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds than teenagers, who leave us after graduating from high school.”

Mentoring young dancers is a pleasure that comes with growing pains – “More than I want to count,” he said – but Medler said dance is an uplifting and healthy form of self expression and creativity. “Dance enriches their lives and those they perform for,” he said.

Innovative choreography is a hallmark of the ensemble. Expect jazz dancing to tunes like “Route 66” and “Blue Skies.” “And we do the Irish jig to ‘St Patrick’s Day in the Morning,’ plus some ethnic stuff and some obscure eclectic, quirky stuff. It’s a very fast moving family show. If you don’t like one dance, just wait a minute for the next one,” Medler said.

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Ken Lavigne | Oct. 8, 7 p.m.

Most people wait to be invited to perform at Carnegie Hall. Not tenor Ken Lavigne. He dares to dream.

“I wanted to make sure it got done,” he said. “It was my goal. You never know what curve life might throw at you. I figured if this is going to happen it’s up to me to make it happen.”

So in 2009, Lavigne rented Carnegie Hall and hired the 51-member New York Pops. With help from a series of fundraisers, he footed the $200,000 bill for two hours on the legendary New York stage. The event drew 1,200 people and received three standing ovations

He brings his show “The Road to Carnegie Hall” to the Pawleys Island Music Festival.

Turns out his Carnegie Hall appearance was just the tip of the iceberg. The real adventure was the months leading up to the concert. “That’s what I chronicle in my show. I tell the story of my journey through songs, little vignettes and stories about my life on and off the stage leading up to the Carnegie Hall performance.

“Even more than that, the hours I spent fundraising and practicing for my appearance there, I grew as a performer and my confidence and ability grew,” he said.

Lavigne, 40, was born into a non-musical, blue collar family in Chemainus, British Columbia. He started singing in the cradle. His mother nurtured his talent by providing lessons in voice, piano and theater. “She made sure I practiced,” Lavigne said, “Practice is what gets you to Carnegie Hall.”

His first noteworthy appearance on stage was at age 9, playing the lead in a community theater production of the musical “Oliver.” He began singing opera professionally after studying music at the University of Victoria.

He takes his music seriously, but not himself. On stage, joined by piano, guitar, bass, drums and violin he charms his way into the hearts of his audience. His program consists of ballads, show tunes and classical crossover hits in the style of Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban. He performs about 40 concerts a year.

In addition to his solo performances he often sings with symphony orchestras and enjoys touring with assorted opera companies. He counts a recent appearance with the San Francisco Opera Guild singing with soprano Deborah Voight as a career highlight. He was also quite flattered to be asked to perform for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.

During his festival appearance expect to hear the versatility of a tenor’s ability across a repertoire that will include a few of his own compositions, an Elvis and Bob Dylan inspired moment and a sprinkling of Italian opera classis. “I give everyone a brief translation. They will feel the emotion. No one will feel intimidated,” he said.

It’s no surprise that the father of three continues to dream. “I don’t want to stop at Carnegie Hall. I have my eyes set on singing at the Sydney Opera House in Australia someday. I’m committed to that idea. And I’d love to perform on Broadway. I know musical theater is where I belong eventually,” Lavigne said.

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Swingle Singers | Oct.9, 7 p.m.

The Swingle Singers want to grab you by the heart.

“The voice can reach emotional places no other instrument can,” said Edward Randell, one of the seven vocalists comprising the ensemble coming to the Pawleys Island Music Festival from their base in London.

Put together five Brits, one Canadian and an American from Tennessee, ages 25 to 40, and what do you get? A unique, modern vocal potpourri, known for innovative, jazz-inflected a cappela performances of everything from Bach to the Beatles

Ward Swingle – born in Mobile, Ala., and a Cincinnati Conservatory graduate – formed the original group in 1962 in France, where it earned acclaim and a Grammy by applying scat singing to the works of Bach.

When they disbanded in 1973, he moved to London and recruited all new members. Swingle worked with the group until he left for the United States in 1985, where he then spent a decade lecturing and guest conducting. During that time he continued to direct The Swingle Singers as they explored the music of Dvorák, Lennon, Mancini, Bizet, Rodgers and Hart, Debussy, George Butterworth and Gerald Finzi on albums such as “Pretty Ringtime,” “Notability,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Screen Tested.”

Swingle, 86, now lives in semi-retirement near Paris and acts as the group’s “cherished” music adviser, Randell said.

So after 50 years, what is the program like for what its founder calls “Swingle Singing”?

“It’s a varied one,” Randell said, “including many of the new original songs we’ve been writing, some of our favorite British songwriters, and some old favorites from the Swingles’ earlier years.”

The current repertoire includes a Turkish folk song from the Swingles’ 2013 album “Weather To Fly”; “After The Storm’, a beautiful Mumford & Sons arrangement; Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango”; Ward Swingle’s classic arrangement of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” plus some new songs of their own.

Every sound in the show (including drums and bass) is made live on stage with the voice. “These days we also use some looping technology which is a great way to build more layered arrangements, by singing a phrase and having it play on a loop while we sing another part,” Randell said.

He sings bass. Other members of the group are sopranos Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson and Sara Brimer, alto Clare Wheeler, tenors Oliver Griffiths and Christopher Jay and baritone Kevin Fox.

An eclectic song list and a global schedule make for some interesting experiences.

“Last November we sang at a gala dinner on an artificial beach in Dubai’s Palm resort,” Randell said. “The wind was blowing our hair everywhere, the desserts were served on fast-melting ice sculptures, and we were sharing a bill with Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child. That was a strange evening.”

The Pawleys Island festival is among 11 stops in a U.S. tour that starts Saturday in Florida.

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Annie Moses Band | Oct. 10, 7 p.m.

The Annie Moses Band is a talented ensemble of songwriters, singers, and musicians, who combine an innovative sound with technical skill and exhilarating showmanship.

It’s a family affair. Dad is musical director and plays piano. The kids, ages 16 to 30, play strings.

The result: Rhapsody in Bluegrass, a panorama of America and her music blending folk and classical music and featuring favorites from Copland to Gershwin, from folk and roots music to Appalachian bluegrass and jazz.

From Nashville, member Annie Wolaver explained, “People will hear tunes they have heard before, but in a unique and very avant guarde style. Things like ‘Summertime’ and ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ but reinvented into something very original.”

“My parents Bill and Robin Wolaver are award-winning songwriters and they had six children who make up the band – plus the addition of a rhythm section and back-up vocalists,” said Wolaver. “My parents started us very young and were very focused. My mother in particular invested a huge amount of time on our musical development. We moved all over the United States to be with the best teachers. When I was 15 we moved to the New York area so my brothers and I could study at the Julliard in their pre-college program.”

Music came easy to the six siblings. “My parents had this idea to develop our music in our early years. They think if you hit your teenage years and would like to do something serious with music professionally, you are not developed enough to do that,” Wolaver said. “My parents prepared us early to become professional musicians. We studied when we were young and honed our craft and by 15 and 16 we all had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do with the music.”

Twelve years ago the siblings formed the Annie Moses Band, with a nod to their lineage, they named it after their great-grandmother Annie Moses, a field worker. The group has recorded 12 albums, five live DVDs, and performed in hundreds of venues across the United States, averaging 90 concerts a year.

In 2012, the band debuted at Carnegie Hall and The Grand Ole Opry. “That was a huge thrill, said Wolaver. “And it shows how diverse we are.”

The future brings new artistic challenges to this talented clan. “We are moving into concerts collaborating with various symphonies, which is very exciting because when we began this journey we were very much in the classical world.”

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The Bronx Wanderers | Oct. 11, 7 p.m.

Vinny Adinolfi spent most of his life producing records. Although he always wanted to sing himself, he never made it. Until now.

“I’m having the time of my life,” he said from his home in New Jersey.

Eleven years ago Adinolfi formed The Bronx Wanderers with his two sons, Vinny “The Kid” and Nicky “Stix,” who were then 11 and 14 years old. He was out of work and needed something to do. The idea and the name was suggested by a friend, the actor Chazz Palminteri.

He started slow.

“I told the boys to be patient. We’ll take it one step at a time,” Adinolfi said. “At first we did restaurants and things, and the better they got I’d call someone to take us to the next level. And then finally I decided the kids are finally getting there. It took a while for us to be ready for prime time, but now they carry me.”

As the oldest member of the Bronx Wanderers, Yo Vinny Adinolfi, 56, said he now plays with “a bunch of kids all in their 20s.” He’s the old guy. The father praises his boys’ talents. “This wouldn’t have worked if the kids hadn’t been so good. People come see us because they get to see family, which is a great thing. They also get to see a record executive who never made it in front of the camera and is now on stage.”

As a youngster growing up in the Bronx, Adinolfi sang along with the music playing on the record player, he said. In college, he took lessons from an opera singer. “She didn’t teach me how to sing, she taught me how to breathe,” he said. “You either have the gift or you don’t, but you must know proper breathing.”

In his early years in the record business, Adinolfi produced albums by The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, The Turtles and Dion. Now he’s singing their songs.

The Bronx Wanderers showcase all the greatest rock ’n’ roll hits from the 50 to the 70s, from Frankie Avalon to The Beatles.

The group welcomes toe-tapping, clapping and dancing in the aisles, appropriate headliners for the festival’s one performance that invites the audience bring their dinner and sit at tables.

“My boys play all the different instruments, piano, guitar, violin, drums. It’s a good gimmick. I didn’t know if we could make a living at this and never thought it would get to this level,” Adinolfi said. “I always wanted to be a performer and now I’m doing it. I’d like to think that this is where I’m supposed to be.”

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