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: 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.


PLAYING COLUMBUS: Bands to Watch – An Annotated Playlist

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Grunge Dad is one of Columbus Alive’s Bands to Watch.

Imagine: Columbus Alive just released their much anticipated lineup for their annual Bands to Watch concert, and the coffee shop conversation is relentless. The show – which will include Sarob, Grunge Dad, Akula, Souther, and Future Nuns – is this Saturday, but you don’t know any of the acts. What do you do? You can’t drop your hipper-than-thou act (you’ve been keeping that up for years), and your “support local artists” laptop sticker won’t mean anything if you need to ask all of your post-punk friends for input. But you don’t want to miss out on the show, either.

Fear not! School your friends and foes by reading up on our annotated playlist, your guide to navigating any of the niche convos sure to happen at Skully’s on Saturday night. And more: we’ve included five of our favorite up-and-coming locals, so you can not only go above-and-beyond to impress your roommates – you might find yourself investing further in Columbus’ varied music scene.


Sarob is a deeply introspective musician. His 2017 release, Seeing in the Dark, deftly combines piano, rap, and gorgeous vocals. Beyond the dazzle of the samples and sounds that Sarob pulls into his work, Seeing in the Dark highlights intentionally and emotionally impactful lyrics with skill.


Though Grunge Dad has been playing together for less than a year, their thoughtful, addictive first EP, I Feel Weird, seems timeless. It’s an EP’s casual coolness makes Grunge Dad come across as friends you’d like to have because of their mix of artistic drive and relaxed perspective. On I Feel Weird, vocalist Lisa Brokaw’s tone is flippant but intoxicating, driven forward by drummer Emma Headley and peppered with dizzying bass riffs by Marie Corbo.


Akula is made up of five life-long musicians – Chris Thompson, Jeff Martin, Scott Hyatt, Sergei Parfenov, and Ronnie Miller – and it shows in their ambitious debut EP. Though only four songs long, each of those songs is a marathon. But while the instrumentals are piled into melodic heavy rock, Jeff Martin’s vocals are surprisingly light. It’s a remarkably paced and balanced album: evidence of the years of craft put into its production.


The project of Carly Fratianne, Souther is influenced by Fratianne’s return to her home state of Ohio, as well as by her Americana and folk influences. Her debut Is For Lovers, is, as the first track suggests, brutally honest, but Fratianne doesn’t forgo attention to composition in pursuit of emotionality.


Future Nuns began and developed their group within Columbus’ DIY scene, and their scrappy approach to performance has served them well. The band frequently alters its line-up, as well as the instruments that individual members play. They’re magnetic, both on-stage and off.

Playing Columbus’ picks:


Being a multi-instrumental singer-songwriter and producer isn’t enough for Tatum Michelle Maura. She’s also an ever-present advocate for queer and trans folks in Columbus and regularly contributes to actions against police brutality. Her Facebook feed reads as a detailed and empathetic guide to the local music scene – Maura uplifts what seems like every new local release.

TTUM’s debut album, synthpop stunner Flwless Ruby, came out in October of 2017. Her latest release, however, is a slow-burning dance track she collaborated on with Maahikeee and Katskhi.


After a nearly 2-year hiatus, Cherry Chrome is back in the studio to record a new album. I’m stoked, and as soon as you hear the opening hook from the 2016 self-titled album, you will be too. It’s dreamy, well-placed music with a distinctive rock edge – and honestly, it’s also just catchy. All four members – Xenia Bleveans-Holm, Mick Martinez, Amina Adesiji, and David Holm – contribute vocals, building an eerie sound which nearly echoes against the group’s thick bass and drum lines.


“Our genre: what a cutoff t-shirt would sound like if it was music” reads a recent Facebook post by DIY locals Queer Kevin. It’s indicative of the general tone of the duo’s online presence. But Queer Kevin is a band to take seriously. Prolific both in their touring and musical output, Felix and Dylan release sprawling lo-fi songs with deeply impactful lyrics.


Sharon Udoh, who performs under the moniker Counterfeit Madison, has recieved much-deserved acclaim for her 2017 album, Opposable Thumbs. Still, I think she’s underrated. Udoh moves effortlessly between genres, her voice captivating throughout the classical, jazz, gospel, rock, and soul-inspired concoction that she has created on Opposable Thumbs. Udoh holds the great gift of being able to be funny, as well as beautiful in her art, and she wields it with impressive precision.


BLKGLD’s self-titled EP is art that makes you feel good about art. The smooth production on the album gives its mixture of stretched-out bass and guitar parts and poetry a mythic, almost underwater quality. It’s an album emblematic of the vast collaborative possibilities available within Columbus, as well as the talent and deft writing this city is filled with. Listening to BLKGLD feels like watching sun-glimmered water moving through the tide.