The Year in Review

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2017 was a lively year for the arts in Tacoma. We bid farewell to some old friends and we started off on some new endeavours. Our annual events, like the Tacoma Studio Tour, are still going strong. Tacoma is lucky to have a diverse and vibrant art scene, thanks to the participation of its citizens. Here is a review of some of Tacoma Weekly’s arts coverage of 2017.

  1. Cheech and Chong get everyone rolling at Commencement Bay Cannibis

While customers can find most anything cannabis-related at Commencement Bay Cannabis (CBC), 5402 Pacific Hwy. E. in Fife, they won’t find any Maui Waui with some Labrador in it. Instead, on Saturday, July 22, Commencement Bay Cannabis presented something way more enticing. The elaborate pot shop had attracted Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong for a meet and greet event before the pair would present their comedy show live at Emerald Queen Casino later that night.

The Grammy Award–winning comedy duo — who made the gargantuan Labrador joint famous in a scene where Cheech’s dog ate his marijuana so he waited for days to get it all back — was so popular that the line of fans stretched from inside the cannabis shop at the budtender’s counter, through the front of the store, past the security guards and back outside. Then, as soon as one person had gleaned their sought-after handshake and autograph, more than an ounce of new fans would step in line to take that person’s place. Judging by the laughing, nearly everything that came out of either comedian’s mouth sounded funny to the fans.

Following a quick visit to the Puyallup Tribe’s Salish Cancer Center, in the same building that houses the Tribe’s Medicine Creek Analytics cannabis testing lab, the highly adored duo arrived at CBC in a retro ride, the familiar vintage green VW van driven and owned by Chairman of the Puyallup Tribe Bill Sterud. Soon as the side door slid open, fans began cheering and Chong was the first to step out but the character who told a movie cop that his name was “Pedro De Pacas, man, that’s my name” was also quickly encircled and the duo became separated by their eager devotees.

“It was a really fun experience. I’ve long been an admirer of their sense of humor,” Chairman Sterud said of Cheech and Chong’s visit. “I learned how normal they are — really laid back guys. The store looked great, the staff was happy and they put on a killer show at the Showroom.”

Just as the chairman is a vocal and staunch supporter of cannabis as medicine for a host of ills, so too are Cheech and Chong. “They seem to be on a journey to spread word about cannabis being a medicine so the trip to the Salish Cancer Center was very interesting to them and they very much enjoyed their visit to the cannabis store.”

2. Remembering a local legend (tw-Sept. 15)

The City of Destiny lost one of its living legends last week. Teddy Haggarty, artist, musician, actor, poet, philosopher and salesman, died last week reportedly due to complications after hip surgery. He was 64 years old.

Tributes to Haggarty have been running thick on his Facebook page and elsewhere. I wish to pay my own tribute, though there are many who knew him far better than I. I claim no more than an acquaintance with the man. I’ve had a handful of conversations with him and was able to observe him on multiple occasions. I was also privy to some of the “Teddy Lore,” stories about Haggarty that were currency in some of the social circles in which I moved for a time.

I have also experienced a fair share of Haggarty through the medium of his art. Over the years, I have seen a good quantity of his work and have experienced the way in which it can grow on you. The more you see, the more you come to appreciate his gifts as a visual artist. He had a stock of images that he would repeat in endless combinations and variations like a kind of visual music. Mermaids would frolic with unicorns. Valentine hearts and birds and airplanes would fill the air. He liked pictures of islands and circus arenas, plump snakes and happy-snappy alligators.

Many had their Teddy encounters in the various dive bars that he inhabited. For years, he would be there with a big sketch pad and an assortment of pens, markers, crayons and color pencils. He would draw pictures of his fellow patrons and then tear the finished drawing out of the sketch pad and give it freely to the person who’d knowingly or unknowingly sat for a portrait.

3. Tacoma bids farewell to Northwest rock legend John ‘Buck’ Ormsby (tw-march 31)

John “Buck” Ormsby was among the most pivotal figures in the development of Northwest rock n’ roll, first as a member of seminal Tacoma garage-rock bands Little Bill & The Bluenotes and the Fabulous Wailers, then as co-owner of Etiquette Records which released the first rock version of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie,” among the most iconic recordings in rock history.

So Ormsby’s passing on Oct. 29, his 75th birthday, was especially jarring to Tacoma’s music community. He died from injuries sustained during a fall while in Mexico, where he had gone to seek cancer treatment; and on Sunday, March 26, fans, friends and family members descended on the Temple Theatre to give him a proper sendoff.

Paying tribute were several luminaries of early Northwest rock, everyone from the Ad Ventures — featuring Don Wilson of The Ventures, Tacoma’s most commercially successful band — to Merrilee Rush, who brought the house down with a set-ending performance of “Angel of the Morning,” the song that made her a superstar in 1968.

Many dedicated songs to Ormsby and shared stories about how he had inspired them. Bluenotes band mate “Little” Bill Engelhart launched his set with “I Love an Angel” which, in 1959, became Tacoma’s first hit of the rock era. He followed with a cross-section of Ray Charles classics recalling the days when, as teenagers, he and Ormsby would sneak into Lacey’s Evergreen Ballroom to catch Charles, Little Richard, James Brown and other heroes.

4. Comedy legend cedric the entertainer to bring new material to tacoma (tw-june 16)

Cedric the Entertainer (born Cedric Kyles) has been a comedic force since the early ‘90s, from hosting BET’s “Comic View” to being anointed one of “The Original Kings of Comedy” by Spike Lee’s  concert film in 2000, to starring as the lovably cranky Eddie in Ice Cube’s “Barbershop” films.

“He one of the O.G.s, one of the all-time greats,” Cube (né O’Shea Jackson) declares in the intro to “Live from the Ville,” last year’s Netflix special.

The Entertainer will be back in town next week to headline Tacoma Comedy Club on June 23 and 24, and last week he took a few minutes to discuss his new set and the controversies surrounding a couple of his peers. But first …

Tacoma Weekly: Let’s get this out of the way. I’ve got a little bone to pick with you.

Cedric: Ohhhh s—.

TW: I got excited when your special was called “Live from the Ville,” but you went to the wrong Ville. I’m from Louisville.

Cedric: (He laughs.) I grew up in a small town called Caruthersville, Missouri. My dad lives in Memphis, so Nashville ended up being a place I thought he could get to the best. But the whole idea was I wanted to be in a “ville.” Louisville is always awesome, though. That’s a good town.

5. Underground comics icon Bagge talks life in Tacoma, new Zora Neale Hurston biography (tw-march 24)

Popular underground comic artist Peter Bagge is probably best known for “Hate.” The series — first published by Seattle’s Fantagraphics Books in 1990 — follows the adventures of Buddy Bradley, basically an avatar of Bagge, lampooning hipster culture during the grunge era along the way.

Much has changed since then: Bagge and his wife recently moved from Seattle to Tacoma; and much of his creative energy these days is spent paying homage to notable women who rebelled against social norms of the early 20th Century. He’ll sign copies of “Fire!!: The Zora Neale Hurston Story,” his biography of the influential author and folklorist, at 4 p.m., April 1 at King’s Books, 218 St. Helens Ave. The event is free; www.kingsbookstore.com for further details.

Recently, Tacoma Weekly met up with Bagge in Proctor to talk about Hurston, his passion for libertarianism and what lured him down Interstate-5 in the first place.

6. McGraw and Hill thrill with return of Soul 2 Soul tour (tw-june 2)

Welcome back, Faith Hill! Tim McGraw, the singer’s husband, has swung through the area a few times in recent years, including a stop at last summer’s Washington State Fair; but before country’s reigning power couple returned to the Tacoma Dome with its new Soul 2 Soul tour on Saturday, May 27, nearly a decade had passed since local fans had gotten to see Hill live.

The current tour is the sequel to the couple’s original Soul 2 Soul trek, which visited the T-Dome in June 2007, en route to becoming the highest grossing country tour in history with 1.1 million tickets sold. There were notable differences in their setup right off the bat: they have abandoned the “in-the-round” format from a decade ago, with the stage in the center of the arena, a highly underrated but pricey configuration. Still, their setup was fairly spectacular, with a captivating laser show and close-ups and other visuals projected onto an IMAX-sized screen behind them. (That screen might have been the year’s biggest had U2 not broken the record earlier in the month at CenturyLink Field.)

7. Members of Heart’s classic lineup to rock Freedom Fair with new band (tw-june 30)

If bassist Steve Fossen hadn’t played Tacoma as a teen, he might not be famous for playing in a band called the Army.

“We played around for about a year,” he said, recalling the Kenmore quartet he formed in 1967 with high school friends Don Wilhelm, Ray Shaefer and Roger Fisher. “We were playing a club in Tacoma, and they said because it was so close to Fort Lewis, they didn’t want a band called the Army playing there. So we had to change our name. I believe it (the club) was called the Hi-Hat.”

Fossen and company changed their name to White Heart in the fall of 1968, a reference to Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “Tales of the White Heart.” And who knows what butterfly-wing chain reaction that sent rippling through rock’s time lines? In reality, White Heart shortened their name to Heart, then briefly switched to Hocus Pocus, and then back to Heart again en route to becoming one of the most popular Northwest rock bands of all time.

8. New public artwork of Prairie Line Trail to be celebrated during Tacoma Arts Month (tw-oct. 13)

One of the highlights of Tacoma Arts Month will be a celebration and forum on the new Prairie Line Trail, which will add five great new public works of art to our civic collection. The two events run back to back on Thursday, Oct. 19. A “Walking Celebration” of the trail, beginning at 4:30 p.m., will be followed by a panel discussion hosted by the Tacoma Art Museum at 6 p.m.

The Prairie Line Trail is a mile-long park that has been in the works for a number of years now and is at last nearing completion. It will link the University and Brewery districts, the waterfront and downtown into one trail system. The mile-long stretch snaking roughly parallel to Pacific Avenue will be filled with historical information and public art, all of which deals with the history of this length of track which, once upon a time, made Tacoma the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

9. Destiny City Film Festival coming to Blue Mouse (tw-aug. 18)

The fourth annual Destiny City Film Festival is just around the corner. During the weekend of Aug. 25-27, the Blue Mouse Theatre will become a beehive of activity as film fans, celluloid aficionados and silver screen fanatics of all stripes will nestle into their seats with tubs of popcorn, boxes of candy and cups of soda pop to feast upon the magical sustenance that is cinema. Feature length and long-form movies will be sequenced amid clusters of short films. There will be animation, documentaries, dramas and comedies. The films come from all over the world. These are films that seek to make their impact on the viewer through storytelling rather than through the short-lived stimulation of glitzy effects or through prurient titillation. There is sure to be at least a little something for everyone and a whole lot for most of us.

The festival opens at 7 p.m. on a Friday evening (Aug. 25) with “Wash Up” (85 min.), a redemption story about a failed NHL star who returns to his small hometown for a fresh start. Following that is “Eliza Sherman’s Revenge” (80 min.), a Los Angeles-made supernatural comedy. The filmmaker will be on hand for a post-show Q&A session.

10. Tacoma Arts Month: Celebrate Tacoma Arts and Culture in October (tw-Sept. 29)

October 2017 marks the 16th anniversary of Tacoma Arts Month — a community celebration of the arts that includes hundreds of community-hosted arts and culture events, exhibits and workshops for all ages taking place throughout the month. Programming includes music, theater and dance performances, hands-on experiences, visual art exhibits, film screenings, literary readings, lectures, cultural events and workshops. All events are open to the public and many activities are free.

“We benefit immeasurably from the rich and vibrant arts of the city,” said Tacoma Arts Commission Chair Mike Sweney. “Tacoma artists and arts organizations entertain, provoke, move, educate, and beautify our world; they make us human and they are a powerful economic force. It is fantastic to put a spotlight on the arts this October and recognize how extremely fortunate we are to have them in our daily lives.”

11. Museum of Glass ready to launch third annual Fire and Ice Festival (tw-nov. 10)

The iconic, tilted cone of Tacoma’s Museum of Glass is to become the hub of holiday warmth and activity as the museum’s annual Fire and Ice Festival begins to heat up next week. Beginning Nov. 16, MOG will kick off its third edition of the annual event, which consists of a schedule of wintery and holiday-themed events that continue all the way to New Year’s Eve. There will be plenty of activities, performances and demonstrations to participate in and enjoy. A number of guest artists will circulate through the museum’s Hot Shop, including Nancy Callan, who will be busy creating her signature “Snow People.” (Callan will be the artist in residence beginning Dec. 15.) Winter is one of the best times to pay a visit to the Museum of Glass. The Hot Shop provides pleasant warmth as one sits and watches the team of skilled artisans working molten glass into objects of light-catching splendor.

12. Lakewood Playhouse brings the razzle and dazzle of ‘Rocky Horror’ to the stage (tw-jan. 13)

Lakewood Playhouse continues its 78th season with a production of Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show,” a zany, gender-bending, genera-blending spectacle that most of us are familiar with from the cult movie phenomenon that has been around since it bubbled up out of New York City in the 1970s. Lakewood Playhouse director Alan Wilkie is a self-professed “Rocky Horror” addict, having frequented the midnight showings that took place at Seattle’s Neptune Theater.

Mingling the musical genera with the aesthetic of B-grade horror and science fiction movies, “Rocky Horror” tells the tale of a chaste (stodgy), newly engaged couple — Brad (Jake Atwood) and Janet (Jenna McRill) — that get stranded on a dark and rainy night and go to a weird castle to use the phone. There they encounter a hedonistic group of characters that exist without any kind of sexual boundaries. Representing the kind of stock, “Leave it to Beaver” type of characters from 50s and 60s television shows — the kind where married couples sleep in separate, twin beds —
Brad and Janet are plunged into a sexual free-for-all that exemplifies the loosening of mores that was happening at the height of the sexual revolution. (The process was gaining steam until the specter of AIDS threw a wet towel on things in the 1980s.)

13. Disney’s The Little Mermaid’: Take a ride to the bottom of the sea with tmp (tw-July 14)

Tacoma Musical Playhouse brings its 23rd season to a close with a bright and bubbly, beautifully-performed production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.” Directed and choreographed by Jon Douglas Rake, the TMP production combines superb performances, eye-catching costumes and marvelous stage effects to create a show that is visually dazzling, musically delicious and heartwarming.

Say what you will about Disney, the entertainment company knows all about how to impact an audience with just the right mix of humor, suspense and a grand, cathartic crescendo at the end. Unless you’re a barnacle-encrusted cynic or are so sophisticated that you’ve somehow managed to mummify your heart, the Disney-crafted characters, story and music always get through. You can’t help but be moved by the Disney formula. It’s almost a biological reflex — provided that the theatrical troupe performing the musical can pull it off reasonably well.

On that score, TMP comes through with flying colors. The performers in this production are so good that they carry the audience into their magical, underwater kingdom with ease. You can lay back on a bubble and let the story wash over you. The costumes and effects are so dazzling, the music so strong and the dance numbers so adroit that the show bobs swiftly along. The audience is left to drift happily along on its magical tide.

14. Symphony Tacoma to feature violin soloist Kristin Lee (tw-feb. 17)

Award-winning violinist Kristin Lee — a rising star in the world of classical music — will make her debut with Symphony Tacoma next week. Lee will be a soloist during “Classics III: Mozart & Tchaikovsky,” a program that will begin at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25, at Gig Harbor’s Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 26, at Broadway Center’s Rialto Theater.

The shows will mark Lee’s fourth time collaborating with conductor and Symphony Tacoma Musical Director Sarah Ioannides in a relatively short span. Ioannides first became enamored with Lee’s playing in 2015, the year she had won a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant; and she hired her to perform Jean Sibelius’ “Violin Concerto, op. 47” with South Carolina’s Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra, which she also directs.

However, a serendipitous turn of events would find them sharing another far away stage weeks before that performance: Both had been hired to appear in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic that October with the National Symphony Orchestra.

15. OLD AND NEW AGAIN: REOPENED AIRPORT TAVERN ADDS TO RESURGENT SOUTH TACOMA WAY (tw-may 5)

Opening a new bar may be hard work, but at least Dan Rankin could skip the odious process of coming up with a name. For the better part of a century, Tacomans have known the space at 5406 South Tacoma Way (built in 1927) as the Airport Tavern.

“Naming a business is almost the hardest part,” Rankin joked as he gave a tour of the venue he bought last year with his wife, Jessica, and their business partner, Matt Church. They have been open for business since April 7.

“It’s always been the Airport,” he said. “Whether it was a sports a bar or whether it was a gay bar or whether it was a speakeasy, it’s always been this name. The sign is what caught my eye when we were rolling around and looking for places.”

The vintage signage remains, as recognizable a landmark as any in South Tacoma. The bar inside, however, has gotten a substantial makeover. Aeronautic imagery abounds, from red sheet metal that underscores the room’s hangar aesthetic to the World War 2 bomber mural that dominates the north wall and remote control airplanes that dangle from the ceiling. “This place was pretty well trashed when we got into it,” Rankin said. “So slapping a coat of paint on the walls wasn’t going to cure our problems. We really had to dig in and get our hands dirty. The first three months we were in respirators.”

16. Titus tackles Trump, partisanship and more with new “Amerigeddon” material (tw-june 9)

Comedian Christopher Titus doesn’t normally dwell on politics; but as he was developing his latest standup routine, not even he could resist the cornucopia of comedic possibilities that is the Trump Administration.

“It was called ‘America … Really?’” Titus said recently, explaining his new set’s theme. “Three months in, it’s now called ‘Amerigeddon,’ because that seems like where we’re going. We’re at the beginning of a Stephen King novel right now.”

Titus will bring his new material to Tacoma Comedy Club for five big sets, from June 15 to 17, and here is some of what he had to say about its inspirations, upcoming projects and recent controversies involving fellow comedians Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher.

Tacoma Weekly: I saw you talking to Jim Norton recently about doing your first overtly political set, which usually isn’t your thing. What pushed you in that direction?

ı: How can you turn away from the bright, orange carpet fire that’s currently running the country? On a daily basis, there’s two major f-ups that literally would have taken down any other president — on a daily basis! So how can you not turn toward it?

The reason I really got into it was I don’t like when Americans hate each other, and this last election we really got bad. Families were breaking up over Thanksgiving dinner.

17. WITNESS TO WARTIME’: ART    EXHIBIT PRESENTS VIVID PORTRAYAL OF LIFE IN NORTHWEST INTERNMENT CAMPS (tw-sept. 22)

Artists have a number of functions. They chan-nel the zeitgeist of a given time and place, they are sensitive observers and social crit-ics. For historians, one of the most important functions of the artist is visual record-keeper.

Using their picture making skills to document their experiences as individuals and as members of a community, art-ists preserve details of events and archive them for future generations. (Think of the debt that we owe to ancient Egyptian tomb painters for much of our knowledge of their civilization.)

The Washington State History Museum just unveiled a show that highlights the latter role of the artist as docu-mentarian. Called “Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii,” the show is bursting with an abundance of work by Fujii (1891-1964), a Seattle-based artist of Japanese ancestry. Coming to Seattle from Hiroshima in 1906 at age 15, he later established a fish market and was an artist who took up Western media and modes of work-ing. Fujii had embarked on a promising career as an artist before it was disrupted by his internment in the domestic concentration camps of the Western United States where some 110,000 Japanese-born residents and Japanese-Americans U.S. citizens were incarcerated during the Second World War.

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