Ace of Cups Bring Hippie-Era Medicine to the Modern World with Sing Your Dreams

Photo Credit: Jay Blakesberg

Psychedelic rock band Ace of Cups has been around since 1967. They’ve opened for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Band, toured with Jefferson Airplane, and collaborated with the Grateful Dead. And yet until two years ago, they had not released an album. The reason? They’re one of the first all-female rock bands in history.

“We didn’t get offered a record deal in the old days,” says Denise Kaufman, who provides vocals, guitar, and harmonica for the band. “We never had a chance to take our music to the studio and record. There were no other all-female bands recording, so I don’t think at the time the labels considered us commercial.”

Because of this, the band was known mainly for its live performances — until 2003, when British label Big Beat Records asked them for old rehearsal and performance tapes and compiled them into the album It’s Bad for You but Buy It. “That was the first time basically anybody who wasn’t [a fan] in the ’60s heard us,” Kaufman remembers. After that, their music captured the attention of George Wallace, head of High Moon Records, who approached them to record an album. They released their first previously unrecorded album, Ace of Cups, in 2018, and on September 18, they’re releasing their second, Sing Your Dreams.

Sing Your Dreams contains a mix of songs the band recently wrote and new recordings of old ones, including one Kaufman wrote back when she was 18, “Boy, What’ll You Do Then.” In a song ahead of its time, over energetic harmonica, she sings about refusing to be monogamous with a partner: “I like to run around, have my fun/Don’t try and tell me you’re the only one/’cause if I leave you boy, what’ll you do then.”

Even with band members sharing writing duties across different songs, much of the album centers on themes of women’s empowerment. Their latest single, a cover of blues musician Keb Mo’s “Put a Woman in Charge,” was released on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment alongside a lyric video celebrating women’s suffrage. The lyrics, sung passionately by the group’s newest member Dallis Craft over heavy guitar riffs, make a plea for listening to women: “The time has come/We got to turn this world around/Call the mothers, call the daughters/We need the sisters of mercy now.”

The album’s lead single “Jai Ma” is completely different genre-wise, giving off tropical, spiritual vibes with joyful Latin hand drums, electric bass, and Afropop guitar. Inspired by kirtan, a chanting style of Vedic origin, Kaufman sings in defense of Eve and other traditionally demonized feminine archetypes, giving the listener permission to “come closer to your heart’s delight.”

“In different traditions — Buddhism, Hindu, certainly Christian traditions — there are threads of it that are demeaning to women, to the feminine,” she says. “So that song was to reclaim intimacy and sensuality and juice.”

Some of the music paints a picture of a specific time and place. “Waller Street Blues,” for instance, was the first song the band ever wrote together, inspired by a San Francisco street two of the members resided on. In a call-and-response style, they sing in harmonies about being left without water and electricity, unable to pay rent, “paranoid and very stoned.”

Other songs on the album are more universal. On “Sister Ruth,” they call for greater compassion throughout the world, and in “Made for Love,” they reflect on “the essential threads that connect all beings,” as Kaufman puts it. Overall, she says, the goal of the album is “reminding ourselves and others we were made for love.” It’s a mission clearly inspired by the hippie era, but it’s more relevant than ever today.

Kaufman, who currently resides on Kauai, often gets asked how the music industry has changed since she got started. She usually answers that she doesn’t know because she wasn’t really a part of it — but that’s quickly changing. Despite getting off to a late start releasing albums, Ace of Cups is on track to be prolific in this regard, with another album on the way next year. “We have a lot of material; we have a lot to write and a lot to play, so I guess you could say we’re making up for lost time,” says Kaufman.

“Just by who we are, we stand for women not being sidelined at any age in life,” she adds. “Nobody makes Eric Clapton retire and Mick Jagger retire the way we want to make women crawl under a rock and disappear, not just in music but in so many fields — business or theater or film. So, we are taking a stand for people doing what they love throughout the course of their lifetime, as long as they can. The songs we sing are hopefully borne of a wisdom you can gain living a lifetime, and those voices need to be heard in our culture.”

Follow Ace of Cups on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Flyover Fest 2018

All photos by Kaiya Gordon

Over the past eight and a half months I’ve spent living in and writing about Columbus, I’ve been introduced to so many crevices of the city’s arts and music scene, each one as remarkable and needed as the last. Columbus houses long-term open mic nights, hip-hop collectives and labels, jazz improvisers, experimental electronic musicians and DJs, publishing houses and presses (both well-known and new), a DIY scene that draws touring acts from around the country, locally-own galleries, and ever-expanding dance companies. It is, in relative terms, a small city; one in which even the most illustrious artists can be seen in intimate venues with dirt-cheap well drinks. In Columbus, I can see slam champion Rachel Wiley at a small burlesque bar; award-winning writers Hanif Abdurraqib and Kaveh Akbar in a black box theater; rising star Nnamdi Ogbonnaya on a stage almost floor-level; I can go to a book fair hosting emerging neighborhood library projects alongside punk cornerstone Don Giovanni Records. And–for better or worse–in Columbus I can (and will) run into people I know at each and every one of those events: teachers, colleagues, co-organizers, classmates, and friends.

Last weekend, at Columbus’ Flyover Fest, I did all of those things–all of the events, the socializing, the book buying, and more–within a two-block radius. The Fest, which was started last year by Two Dollar Radio, a local book-publisher and film producer, is held in a smattering of independent bars and venues, as well as in the Wexner Center for the Arts on OSU’s campus. Stages are shared by both community and touring artists, and at the heart of the fest is an interdisciplinary approach to the city’s art-making scene. I was excited by the varied bills, which never stuck to one genre or aesthetic, and which, though long, always felt worth staying through. Crowds were casual and light-hearted; unlike so many of the shows I go to, I was never pushed, or hit on, or yelled at, or spilled upon. It was nice.

The moments when I felt most held, most inspired, came while watching performances by local musicians. Sharon Udoh of Counterfeit Madison, who played at the Ace of Cups on Friday night, continues to be one of the most joyous and talented performers I’ve ever seen, able to simultaneously play an almost impossibly electrified keyboard, breeze through a technically challenging vocal performance, and recklessly manipulate her body onstage. While Udoh flipped her keyboard from its stand, continuing to play it even as it dropped across her body, my friend turned to me, amazed. “I can’t believe how much control she has,” he said.

Equally exciting was Sarob’s performance at Spacebar on Saturday night. The rapper was sandwiched between local band WYD and hip-hop pillar Open Mike Eagle, who Sarob repeatedly cited as an inspiration and icon. Sarob is young, but looms large during his performances, engaging willfully with the crowd as he dances and jumps between the stage and the floor. His songs move between soul and verse; even when he raps too fast to catch all of the words, the delivery is sharp enough to sting, smartly, like a slapped ruler. Like Udoh, Sarob plays at local shows frequently, and, like Udoh, he’s worth seeing at every possible opportunity.

Check out my photos from Flyover Fest to see more of my favorite moments:






PLAYING COLUMBUS: The Sidekicks Tease New LP With “Twin’s Twist”

Weeks ago, I teared up while hearing Columbus poet Hanif Abdurraqib read an essay about a Columbus pop-punk band. That band was not The Sidekicks, but as I listen to The Sidekicks’ latest single, “Twin’s Twist,” I can’t help but recall the essay. I am stirred, settled memories of trauma, pain, joy, ecstaticism (the whole of life) lifting like silt in water. This is just to say that engaging with art – like engaging with life! – is messy and difficult. Despite pop punk’s genre-wide problems and violence, I am drawn to it; nothing unravels me quite like pop punk does, nothing forces me into emotion quite like pop punk does, and nothing, truly, makes me want to punch my fist in the air like pop punk does.

Columbus’ music scene is rich with this music and legacy, and The Sidekicks have the unusual position of being both tied to the building of that legacy, and continuing to benefit from and challenge it with contemporary releases. They’re a prolific band: initiated in 2005, the band relocated from Cleveland to Columbus in 2012, creating and sharing three full-length albums in the meantime. Now they’ve announced the release of Happiness Hours, and if their first single is any indication, the rest of the album will hold both the sour and the sweet – both the pull towards joy, and the frustration that comes after it. “The lemon rind can reek in the summer heat / but then seem so sweet later on,” sings Steve Ciolek, halfway through “Twin’s Twist.” At the end of the song, that image of a sweet and rotten rind is further complicated: “Good morning boring town,” Ciolek sings, “we’re putting on your crown / and singing you Happy Birthday / and force feeding you meringue.”

One lyric points towards the possibility of extricating sweetness from decay; the other implies violence inflicted by sugar, by happiness, by the possibilities of “crowns.” The sound, though it sticks to bouncy guitar riffs, seems to facilitate the challenges and emotionality in the lyrics. Before their third release, much was made of The Sidekicks’ drift towards pop, rather than punk. But why shy away from pop? The music’s buoyancy, its suggestion of dancing and movement, carves out a relationship with the listener one couldn’t get with punk’s abrasion.

Happiness Hours, produced by John Agnello, will be released on Epitaph records on May 18th. One day later, on May 19th, The Sidekicks will play a release show at Ace of Cups, supported by fellow locals Kizzy Hall. That night, I hope to open myself up to both bands, lifted by the growth in their music, as well as whatever it stirs within me. I’m looking forward to the rest of Happiness Hours; to continued engagement with music; and to the possibilities of pop punk in Columbus.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Saintseneca Returns to Their Roots

Columbus’ Saintseneca has grown a lot since their start in 2007. But when they returned to Columbus on tour, playing two sold-out nights at Ace of Cups, it was clear that their hometown base hasn’t budged.

Joined by two other burgeoning local acts – Counterfeit Madison and Connections –Saintseneca’s show last Friday night was packed wall to wall with clearly joyful fans. And the joy was for good reason: along with buoyant performances by all three bands, the night was filled with affirmations of Columbus’ local music scene. Acts gave frequent shout outs to each other – and Ace of Cups’ sound engineer, Nick – often expressing disbelief at the luck they had in playing alongside their colleagues. Selling out a local bill on a larger stage doesn’t happen often (let alone twice) and it felt good to witness.

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all photos by Kaiya Gordon.

By the time Saintseneca took the stage, the crowd had thickened and warmed, and they poured themselves into the front of the room to press closely to the band. It was an impressive set-up – four of the five touring musicians lined up next to each other at the front of the stage, each of them with a full row of pedals and synths. They looked like a team. And when the band, at once, burst into play, the coiled energy that they had built together paid off in a big way.

Though the show felt, energetically, like a homecoming, the band itself continues to grow and change. Saintseneca released two new singles in 2017, which they played on Friday alongside their classics. The band also played material from a forthcoming album, which they’ve said is expected in 2018. But all of this material is compelling for the same reasons that the four-track, self-titled 2009 EP that started it all was – the musical complexity and depth, paired with sharply tuned songwriting, feels at once plaintative and deft.

The set itself was varied in composition: singer-songwriter Zac Little took the stage alone for several songs (while the rest of the band sat criss-crossed on the stage and watched, a move that I found very endearing), and the members often switched instruments. Twice, the band invited flautists Lesley and Laetitia onto the stage to play alongside them. With the flutes’ notes bouncing against the fullness of Saintseneca’s string selection, and wafting up to the high ceilings of the bar, the whole space felt transformed into a place of reverence.

Sharon Udoh of Counterfeit Madison expressed a similar sentiment during her set. “I live seven minutes away from here,” Udoh said to the audience, “and I want to talk about the privilege we have of watching Saintseneca perform.” She continued: “I grew up in church, and last night watching Saintseneca was one of the most religious experiences I’ve had.”

Udoh’s performance, too, was remarkable in its fervor. Each song from Counterfeit Madison’s debut feels intensely crafted, as though many different musical threads were woven tightly together to make songs which spring forth with energy. That energy is only further intensified onstage. Udoh and her band screamed, smiled, and laughed; Udoh’s physical presence on the stage was very much a part of her performance too. As she sang, Udoh flung her microphone onto the ground, picked up her keyboard to play it sideways, and at one point, threw her body into the crowd to finish the performance while writing on the ground.

If Counterfeit Madison’s performance was punk in its inhibition, it was also sweetly sentimental. “Bitches,” Udoh announced to the audience at one point, “I’m a queen. But Connections and Saintseneca are heroes, and I’m really proud to be around them.” Taking a step back and surveying the audience, Udoh continued: “I need to stop before I start crying.” It was a sentiment that many others in the audience, I think, echoed. By the end of the night, I would have been surprised if no tears had been shed.



Whether you think Columbus is as cold as I do (@ me, midwesterners) or not, shorter days and darker skies can drag at anyone’s energy. And for those estranged from family or friends, this time of year is especially hard.

If the holiday festivities are draining you, fear not! Check out our Playing Columbus-approved activity guide to have *actual* fun and beat the Christmas blues. In true testament to Columbus’ burgeoning music and art scene, we’ve chosen something to do for each day this week. Grab a cocoa, strap into a sled, and find something new.

Thursday, 12/21

The Columbus Queer Open Mic featuring Tatum Michelle Maura of TTUM

Wild Goose Creative’s last open mic of 2017 will feature TTUM, the musical project of Tatum Margot, a Columbus-based multi-instrumentalist, singer, song-writer, and producer. Margot’s first electronic album, Flawless Ruby, came out in October of 2017. Along with TTUM’s performance, the community is invited to bring art, music, poetry, comedy, and story-telling to share. Sign up for a 5 minute slot at the door to bring your act onstage.

8PM, 2491 Summit St., Columbus OH

Suggested donation $5

Friday, 12/22

Jingle Jam Skate

This event is clearly marketed towards children, but I love ice skating, and I love glow sticks. Plus – it’s early! Skate to some holiday tunes in the early evening, with plenty of time to catch a later event.

7pm, Skate Zone 71

$8 (this includes skate rental *and* a glowstick!)

Saturday, 12/23

Nina West Christmas Pageant

This Saturday, local drag superstar Nina West will present her “sassiest, singiest series ever” at the Gateway. The event begins with a mixer, and is followed by a sing-along program featuring West’s comedy and performances by the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus.

4:30pm mixer, 6pm show, Gateway Film Center

$20, including a $5 donation to Kaleidoscope Youth Center

Sunday, 12/24

Christmas Eve Karaoke

Honestly…who could miss this? Excess Karaoke is hosting their weekly Sunday karaoke at Ace of Cups (that means you get to perform on a real stage!) immediately after the 9th annual “gathering of people not celebrating xmas.” Ugly sweaters are optional.

10pm – 2am, Ace of Cups

FREE 21+

Monday, 12/25

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982) in 35mm

Well, my Gateway-employee roommate isn’t happy the film center is open on Christmas, but you might be! Check out their showing of Roger Waters’ 1982 film The Wall, showing in its original 35mm.

9:30pm, Gateway Film Center


Tuesday, 12/26

Jazz Jam

If you’re wiped out from the holiday festivities, recharge at Park Street Tavern’s Tuesday Jazz Jam, which features both their own house band and rotating local musicians.

8:30pm Park Street Tavern

FREE, 21+

Wednesday, 12/27

Sad Boyz “Sad Years Eve”

Dance to pop punk, emo, hardcore and alternative all night long at Skully’s to ring in the new year. If you’d like to get the night started early, head to Bodega from 6pm-9pm; $1 of every PBR purchased will be donated to mental health advocacy and suicide prevention organizations.

Skully’s Music Diner

FREE before 10pm, $5 after 10pm, 21+

Thursday, 12/28

Co-release show with Maza Blaska and Sweet Teeth


Local bands Maza Blaska and Sweet Teeth are both celebrating new releases on Thursday night at Ace of Cups. They’ll be joined by another Columbus favorite, Corbezzolo.

8pm, Ace of Cups

$5, 18+

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Kizzy Hall & Diet Cig @ Ace of Cups

All photos by Kaiya Gordon

“Y’all Ohioans know how to do rock bands in a way the rest of the country is trying to catch up to,” said Caleb Cordes of Sinai Vessel on Sunday night at the Ace of Cups. The band was following Columbus’ own Kizzy Hall, who opened the show with a fast-paced set that, yes, did reek of rock-and-roll.

It was clear that the crowd took pride in their Ohioan roots, cheering as Cordes gave his shout-out, and dancing with vigor throughout the night. As the night opened, hometown fans crowded the stage to sing Kizzy Hall’s lyrics back to the band, taking selfies and, later, collecting set-lists.

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Kizzy Hall

When headliners Diet Cig finally took the stage, Ace of Cups was vibrating with enthusiasm.

“I feel like Ohio gets a bad rap,” said singer Alex Luciano, as she opened the set. “But every time we’re out here, I [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][think] this is the best place in the world.” She continued: “We’ve played at the Ace of Cups a few times and each time has been dreamy…y’all are so nice and cool here, and good looking, and punk!”

Diet Cig is notorious for their high-powered live performances, and though Luciano was hindered by a torn ACL, the duo still played with force. On drums, Noah Bowman is unassuming but relentless, driving Luciano’s guitar riffs to their peaks. And Luciano, regardless of dancing ability, is magnetic onstage. As she sways, twists, winks, dips, and–of course–makes her signature high-kick, it’s hard not to look on with glee.

“Raise your hand if your crush is here,” said Alex, at the beginning of  “Maid of the Mist.” “During this quiet song you can look at them and wink. Or, if you can’t wink…blink twice.” Later in the set, during what Luciano called the “makeout interlude,” she said: “if you blinked at someone earlier, now is the time to kiss them.”

Though critics of Diet Cig find fault in the band’s saccharine qualities, I found it moving to be in a space where I could trust the musicians onstage to go to bat for each other, and for the crowd.

“A lot of times women, and queer folks, and trans folks, and non-binary folks get told that their voice doesn’t matter,” said Luciano at the end of their performance. “But it does matter. Thank you for coming and for taking up space here.”

Luciano also thanked survivors of sexual assault, saying, “It’s a radical act to be out at a show right now.”

Space, or lack of it, is a constant theme in Diet Cig’s work, and while I think it is all too easy to step on somebody else’s toes in the name of taking space, without considering the ways that one is structurally set-up to inhabit that space already, watching Luciano move freely around the stage is joyful. And I am grateful for the attention that the duo pays to creating a “safer space” at their shows.

Standing in the crowd, relieved to be done with the pressured social niceties that come with Thanksgiving, and thankful to be watching a band that is always so entirely themselves, I felt prepared to take on the world for the first time in a week.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Jay Som @ Ace of Cups

Jay Som has had a big year. Since Polyvinyl picked up the project – conceived and led by Oakland’s Melina Duterte – in 2016, Duterte has released a second full-length album (Everybody Works), toured nationally, played a tiny desk concert at NPR, and received extensive coverage by major media outlets. In other words, Jay Som has outgrown Duterte’s Bay Area bedroom.

At the Ace of Cups last Sunday, Jay Som played a set which drew from both the old (“I Think You’re Alright,” an enduring hit for the band, was first released in 2015) and the new (a video for “The Bus Song,” directed by Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner, was only released a few weeks ago). It’s probable that I’ve seen the band play live more times than anybody else in Sunday night’s crowd. And it was interesting to encounter Jay Som in Columbus, especially because this might be the last time I hear Duterte play for a while – she and her bandmates are moving to LA in a few weeks, and I’m staying in Columbus for the next few years.

Much has been made of Jay Som’s success in regards to the Bay Area music scene. Duterte is young, Philipinx, gay, and hard-working. She stands within the intersections of identities which are often pushed out of the music industry. But it’s these identities which should, frankly, be populating the Bay Area’s stages more often – POC, especially black folks, make up far more of the East Bay’s demographic than is represented within artistic spaces. As is the case everywhere, DIY and other music spaces in San Francisco and Oakland often prioritize white artists on their bills, making room for loud, cis, white punk boys before creating space for queer folks, women, and people of color.

So it’s encouraging to see Duterte carving a place for herself in the music industry. Encouraging too is seeing artists like her blow up: Kehlani, Xiomara, and Spelling, to name a few, have all made waves far beyond Oakland and San Francisco in the past few years. And Duterte has certainly earned her success. Both Turn Into and Everybody Works are carefully considered, lushly arranged albums. Duterte’s vocals, attention to lyricism, and weaving melodies are remarkable in their precision and vitality.

When performing, Duterte and her band – the bulk of which she grew up with in Brentwood, CA – animate the songs with long diversions into musical riffs. They’ve all known each other a long time, and it shows in their comfort onstage. But that comfort comes with the potential cost of excluding listeners. “There’s nothing I like less than seeing white men jam onstage,” a friend told me during the show, referring to Duterte’s bandmates. That frustration seems to be tension with Jay Som’s success as a Bay Area band. If we are to understand Jay Som as Duterte’s project – and Duterte certainly crafts her records alone – how should we evaluate the musicians that accompany her on tour? Does the backing presence of white, cis men not make an impact on the audience, just as Duterte does?


Jay Som was joined on Sunday by didi, another band intrinsically rooted within its musical community. At this point in their career, didi is a Columbus staple, regularly playing shows with other locals, as well as opening for queercore favorites like Aye Nako and Sad13. The band’s self-titled album, which was released in 2015, is dynamic and well-considered, weighing squealing guitars and sleepy vocals against steady melodies and bass lines.

Like Duterte, didi is vocal about making space for themselves where they can, and are open about the struggles POC and trans folks face booking shows in DIY communities. As well as being accomplished musicians, they’re significant advocates for themselves and others in Columbus.

It’s important to evaluate music within the context of its community. But how do we gain enough access to musicians to make those value judgements? In other words, am I, a recent Ohio transplant, truly able to place a band like didi within the historical and social contexts of the Columbus music scene in the same way I can with Jay Som? How does that change my approach to seeing either band live?

At the end of the show on Sunday, I watched as crowd members lined up to talk to Duterte. Some posed for a picture. Others milled about, finishing drinks or buying merch. It’s striking how much trust we each must have, in each other, and in the musicians onstage, to fill a music venue. To enter any space of entertainment is to re-negotiate the safety of your body in a crowd. That negotiation has higher stakes for some than others, just as being visible onstage is riskier for systematically marginalized folks than it is for those in power. We all take up space in different ways.