An Exclusive Homecoming: Multi-million-dollar renovations at UMass’ McGuirk Stadium don’t include ADA compliance

This Saturday, Sept. 27, the UMass football team returns to play a home game at McGuirk Stadium for the first time in three years, since making the jump to upper-division college football—a move that necessitated an upgrade to its on-campus facilities. All home games over the past two seasons, and the first two this year, have been played at New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s Gillette Stadium, nearly 100 miles away in Foxboro.

Maroon-clad fans cheering on their team will likely notice several aspects of the stadium’s estimated $34.5 million facelift. For example, located a few yards beyond the north end zone, the new 55,000-square-foot Performance Center includes locker rooms, rehabilitation services, and training facilities, as well as film rooms and offices for coaches. New turf replaces the old field, which was laid out in 2006. And a new press box with instant-replay capabilities rises over the stands to the west.

Astute observers may also notice that, oddly enough, neither the Performance Center nor the press box actually touch the existing stadium. The renovations were done this way, UMass spokesperson Edward Blaguszewski told the Advocate, to avoid having to comply with the American Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

If the renovations don’t touch the existing structure, said Blaguszewski, “it doesn’t trigger the immediate need” to update the entire stadium, which was originally built in 1964.

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Ten Pin Alley

Rolling with the pros in Northampton.

Just two paltry gutterball throws into my first string, I was already feeling the twinges of a strained hamstring. Not exactly the triumphant return to the bowling alley I had been hoping for.

At the far end of the lane, the pin setting machine lifted all ten pins and swept away none—for none had been knocked down—moving me unceremoniously to the second frame. I slunk back to the empty bench and attempted to appear as inconspicuous as possible—an unlikely proposition given that the bowling alley attendant had placed me at the lane just inside the entrance.

Sitting gingerly on the plastic bench, I began stretching my right arm in a manner I hoped would dispel the doubts of any bowlers glancing at the flatscreen television currently broadcasting my ineptitude. For good measure, I stretched out my other arm as well.

A couple of lanes to my right, at the far end of the alley, two kids bowled with a woman who appeared to be their mother. To my left, two gentlemen who were far better bowlers than I seemed to be doing their best not to scoff in my direction. Beyond them, a skinny guy with glasses and a 5-o’clock shadow was bowling alone.

The other end of the alley, by contrast, was filled with league bowlers, rolling on the first night of their fall season at Spare Time Northampton. Their efforts filled with the alley with communal laughter, strenuous concentration, shouts of support, and the rhythmic clunk of balls hitting the hardwood—followed by the apparently inevitable crash of 10 pins yielding to strike after strike.

My arms now effectively stretched out (or my stalling technique having run its course), I grabbed the green 12-pound ball I had been using and positioned my feet—clad in rented bowling shoes—back onto my lane. Passing the ball from left hand to right, I raised it up to my chin, took a deep breath, and tried to ignore the gutters waiting gluttonously on either side of the lane. Continue reading

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Jet Engines, by Amy McCarley, and Frost, by Daphne Lee Martin

This weekend, Amy McCarley and Daphne Lee Martin perform at Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton in support of their new albums, Jet Engines and Frost, respectively.

“Everybody Wants To,” the first track from Alabama alt-country artist McCarley’s Jet Engines, begins with a philosophical inquiry into the nature of individuality and universality. She states that there are certain desires shared by everyone, then sings in her low alto: “Well I’m not everybody/ I’m just me/ But I am one body/ and anyone can see/ Everybody needs to believe in something/ And everybody is no different from me.”

McCarley plays acoustic guitar on all 10 of the album’s tracks. Her harmonica work lends an especially relaxed mood throughout, as does the guitar playing of George Bradfute, who sits in with his electric on “Smart Man,” and his slide on “Head Out of Town.”

After listening to McCarley, Martin’s indie offering Frost sounds especially synthesized—not in a bad way—with William James Readey using his keyboards to do an impressive impression of a samchillian tip tip tip cheeepeeeee. (The space age-sounding samchillian is a keyboard MIDI controller designed by Leon Guenbaum, who plays it so effectively in guitarist Vernon Reid’s band Masque.)

Frost begins with “Little Birds,” which is full of samchillian-esque sounds, before segueing into “The Book of Love,” the album’s only cover. The Magnetic Fields tune has also been covered by Peter Gabriel. The middle three tracks—”Make It Rain,” “More Flies With Honey,” and “Smile at Perfect Strangers”—show Martin’s jazzy blues side. “Five Points,” the eighth and final song, is an upbeat, electronica instrumental.

Ohio native and schooner veteran Martin sings and plays electric and acoustic guitar, banjo, flute, and other “sounds,” the album’s inside cover notes. Beneath the CD hold there is a stenciled quote: “Treat a queen like a whore and a whore like a queen,” which Mickey Doyle offered in Boardwalk Empire, just as Frank had in Alien 3.

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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Savage Imagination, by Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa

Sometimes there’s nothing better than listening to a familiar song, artist, or particular instrumentation. Other times, however, one’s ears want to be surprised. Savage Imagination, the second album by Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa, provides that sort of experience.

The beginning 30 seconds of the album’s first single “She He Feel See” brings to mind a lost single The Chipmunks might have recorded in the mid-’80s using a small-sized Casio keyboard. But the longer the electronic drum beats, synthesizers, guitar licks, and soprano vocals loop together, the more appealing the at-first incongruous combination becomes. By the time the song slips out of its back-and-forth modal chord structure to what might be called the intermediary bridge portion, I was wholeheartedly intrigued. A minute later, as Wong’s guitar established a new progression more reflective of the surf music he enjoyed growing up in Hawaii, and Minekawa layered a simple, repetitive line over that, I was hooked. When the song abortively ended 3 minutes later, the remaining silence felt stunning.

Wong is best known for his guitar work with Ponytail, while Minekawa gained fame in the ’90s on the Shibuya-kei scene. In 2013, the two collaborated for the first time on Tropical Circle.

On Savage Imagination, Minekawa employs Japanese puns to sings about human consciousness, quantum physics, and flying above a desert. All of which seem like ideal subject matter to juxtapose with their music.

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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Running Away to the Circus School

The New England Center for Circus Arts makes Brattleboro, Vermont a circus mecca.

A moment after the woman at the reception desk hollers up to announce my arrival, Elsie Smith descends the office’s spiral staircase and welcomes me to the New England Center for Circus Arts. Handing over a few brochures, she highlights various events at their Circus Workshop Weekend, Aug.8-10. Classes offered include Intro to Partner Acrobatics 101, Somatics for Athletes, Flying Trapeze Intensive, Chinese Pole, and Aerial Fabric: Using Height. A performance called a Bootcamp Show will be staged at the Main Studio here at the Cotton Mill Studio in Brattleboro. A second show by visiting circus company FAQ Troupe can be seen in the gymnasium of the Austine School for the Deaf, located across town.

“Through a mix of circus, dance and theatre,” the FAQ Troupe brochure reads, “We Don’t Need Another Hero is a courageous journey of shedding away our alter egos to unveil our fragility and vulnerability as human beings.”

As I gather together the already-overwhelming information, Smith mentions that this month marks the 40th anniversary of Phillip Petite’s tightrope walk across New York City’s Twin Towers, and that local students are reading his book, which became the inspiration for the 2008 documentary Man On Wire.

“Patrick Tobin—who was actually a wire student of mine at Circus Smirkus when he was just 12 years old—is now in his last year at the National Circus School in Montreal, and on tour this summer with the FAQ Circus Collective,” explains Smith. “Because he was in town, we connected him with the kids from the Brattleboro Area Middle School, so they were able to come ask him questions, see him perform, and get up close to the apparatus.”

After I take off my shoes, Smith—who is already barefooted—brings me on a quick tour of the school’s space. In the main studio, next to the office, a few pre-teen girls are practicing. One of them is secured to a wire and jumps and spins in a somersaulting motion over and over again, checking in each time with a teacher who pulls at the wire to further levitate the student. Another girl holds herself in a split while standing on her head. In the corner, a younger student works with a hula hoop.

In a second, smaller room down the hall are several post-teen students. A few stretch together on a mat. Another dangles on an aerial fabric hanging from the ceiling. Two juggle, one passing the clubs to the other before lifting her up on his shoulders, all while she continues to twirl the clubs. At the far end of the room, a large window provides a nice view of the Connecticut River, slowly meandering southward towards Massachusetts.

Overall, it doesn’t seem like there’s that much going on. And the space—a few rooms in an old mill building down a small road from the high school and next to a lumber yard—seem underwhelming as well. But this is the circus, and things aren’t always what they seem.

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Structuring The Unstructured: An Adventure Playground for Northampton?

When I arrive at the Florence Organic Community Gardens, Pandora Redwin is standing a couple feet off the ground, balancing on a wooden post and tending to a tarp that stretches out over her. Next to the tarp structure, several smoothed logs stretch out in a circle. The logs rise from a center and are attached by nails to other short logs that have been secured into the ground. Across the tree stumps from the tarp structure is a teepee-like object covered in bean stalks. On the other side of the circle is a structure built of interconnected wooden branches, several of them pointed and flimsy-looking. Next to that, three juggling pins lie on the ground. The ground is covered with wood chips.

Redwin had suggested we talk here, at this playground she built at the community gardens (she is on the board of Grow Food Northampton). The term “playground,” however, may not be the best descriptor, as I explained to my seven-year-old a few days later.

“Is there a slide?” he asked.

“No,” I answered.

“Are there swings?”

“No.”

“Are there monkey bars?”

“No.”

“But it’s still a playground.”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

Redwin steps down, and we take shelter from the hot summer sun under the tarp.

“It’s a little oxymoronic,” she admits, “building a structure to have unstructured play. But this is an intermediary step.”

At two events this summer—the first at Look Park in late June, the second on the courthouse lawn in downtown Northampton in late July—Redwin has hosted Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds in the hope of building support for her developing nonprofit The Play Workshop. She is also the staffing coordinator and instructor for Adventure In Adventure Out, and has a two-year-old at home.

Redwin admits she is already busy enough, but says she feels a certain sense of urgency because a style of children’s play so common a generation ago is being lost: “There’s this shrinking window where parents still remember playing stick ball or kick the can.”

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Steaming Up A Phantasy: Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band Headlines the Springfield Armory’s Steampunk Musical Extravagaza

In September, 1859, a British man named Joshua Abraham Norton stepped out of the offices of the San Francisco Bulletin and declared himself Emperor of the United States of America. He later added the title Protector of Mexico.

It was the first of many proclamations Emperor Norton would make over the next several years, as he walked the streets of San Francisco in his trademark military uniform complete with plumed hat and sword worn at his side.

Despite having no actual political or military power, Emperor Norton nevertheless gained quite a bit of fame. Mark Twain modeled the character The Dauphin in his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after Norton, and is said to have written an epitaph for Lazarus, one of Norton’s dogs. The Emperor was also Robert Louis Stevenson’ inspiration for a character in the novel The Wrecker, and has since appeared—in one incarnation or another—in works by Christopher Moore and Neil Gaiman.

Norton’s funeral procession in 1880 was witnessed by 30,000 people who lined the streets of San Francisco. He was laid to rest in Masonic Cemetery. In 1934, however, his remains were transferred to Woodlawn Cemetery in nearby Colma. There his gravestone reads “Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.” In 1970 he was named a patron saint of Discordianism.

“Every age has its peculiar folly,” Emperor Norton supposedly declared, “some scheme, project or phantasy into which it plunges, spurred on either by the love of gain, the necessity of excitement, or the mere force of imitation.”

This weekend, Boston-based avant-garde gypsy steamfunk vaudevillian circus jazz troupe Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band headlines the Springfield Armory’s Steampunk Musical Extravaganza, held to coincide with the park’s special exhibit Steampunk Springfield Armory: Reimagining Our Nation’s Weaponry. Eli August and The Abandoned Buildings and other friends of the New England Steampunk Meetup are also expected to perform. Admission is free.

Aug. 16, 12-5 p.m., Springfield Armory National Historic Site, One Armory Sq., Springfield, (413) 734-8551, nps.gov/spar.

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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