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Flipping for the Whigs
This year the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards is proud to induct The Afghan Whigs into our Hall of Fame. Forming in the late 1980s in Cincinnati, the Whigs became the first band from outside of the Northwest to be signed to SubPop, when the label was a hip underground indie label and before all of the Grunge "hype."
The Cincinnati original "Alternative" music scene was juiced by the Whigs' success -- even more so when they moved on to the majors (first Elektra, now Columbia). Though most of them wouldn't admit it, the Whigs gave other bands hope that just because they were "from Cincinnati" didn't mean they’d never get out of here and that people might actually listen.
These days, most of the members don't live in the Queen City, but to us they'll always be "from Cincinnati." (See CityBeat's interview with lead singer Greg Dulli from Oct. 8, 1998).
With the Oct. 27, 1998 release of 1965 on Columbia, the band seems poised for further success. Here's various reviews and news items about the group as they are today:
• The Whigs' American tour for 1965 began in New York City on Nov. 4 when they played at the CMJ festival. Don't expect it to end anytime soon. The group is not taking an opening act out on the jaunt, instead billing the night "An Evening with The Afghan Whigs" and putting on marathon sets.
• As always, the band's live show is drawing critical praise. Concert Direct said of the band's CMJ performance: "They played each tune with an intensity that was truly inspired." And Rolling Stone On Line reviewed the group's Toronto show, saying, "The band simultaneously made that tired old phrase (The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World) seem meaningful again and highlighted why it has fallen into disrepair. Simply put, most of the competition just ain't good enough."
• The group's album has also garnered its fair share of positive press in most of the main music magazines. Entertainment Weekly gave 1965 an A and said, "(Dulli) is one of rock's finest lyricists."
• Dulli has remained busy outside of the Whigs as well, though it's certainly where his focus currently lies. He had a role in the Denis Leary film Monument Ave., completed a side project called the Twilight Singers (an album is due out next year) and is helping develop a film version of the Anne Imbrie book, Spoken in Darkness. He's also recorded "Yin For Yang (Dixie Peach Promenade)" for an album tribute to the music of Alexander "Skip" Spence.
• The Whigs are also participating in several other tribute albums. They'll do "Nighttime" for an upcoming Big Star salute, "Woman" for a John Lennon tribute and "Lost in the Supermarket" for a Clash tribute.
• John Curley continues to help operate his Ultrasuede Studios in Cincinnati, providing all types of local acts an opportunity to get their stuff on tape. And guitarist Ric McCollum, who now lives in Minneapolis, composed and recorded a soundtrack for the old D.W. Griffith film Broken Blossoms.
NOTE: The Afghan Whigs broke up in February 2001.
The Showboat Must Go On
Floating theaters once steamed their way up and down America's waterways. Pulling ashore in a city or a small town with a cast of actors and a ready-made stage, these "show boats" were the only way many Americans in the last century got to see professional stage performers. Those on board were colorful -- and sometimes shady -- characters, as evidenced in Jerome Kern's Show Boat, the 1927 musical that preserves the memory of these venues.
Here in Cincinnati, we have a more tangible reminder: the Showboat Majestic. At 140 feet, it's nowhere near the size of the Cotton Blossom portrayed in Show Boat, but today it represents one of the last links to that colorful tradition.
Permanently moored at Cincinnati's Public Landing, the Majestic presents shows from early spring to late fall, wrapping up with a holiday musical, this year titled All that Glitters (Dec. 4-13).
If you've never seen a show on the "boat" -- that's what most of its familiars affectionately call it -- you've missed a uniquely Cincinnati experience. You board via a metal gangplank. The rear deck has a small snack bar, and from that area you enter a tiny theater space. Seating capacity is 233; the balcony is no longer in use, except for musicians and technicians. The stage is similarly minute (18 feet by 24 feet), with nothing like wings or backstage space.
While there's been a bit of modernizing, the theater's interior still retains much of the frilly woodwork associated with American riverboats. When a barge goes by, you can feel the wake. And in the summer, when the Reds hit a home run, performances usually have to stop for a minute until the fireworks are over.
The Majestic was built in 1923 by Capt. Thomas Jefferson Reynolds for $7,000. It was the last of such boats to be built, and since 1962 it's been the sole survivor of its kind.
From 1923 until the late 1950s, the Majestic traveled up and down the Ohio, stopping at small towns, blasting its calliope to attract attention for its performances. Starting in 1948, Hiram College and Kent State University from northeastern Ohio used the Majestic as a summer stock theater for their students. Reynolds continued to plan the route and guide the overall activities.
From 1959 to 1967, Indiana University owned the Majestic. In 1959, shortly after selling it to the university, Reynolds died on board. Kevin Kline was one of the young performers.
"I stoked the furnace for the calliope," Kline has recalled.
In 1965, the Safety at Sea Act barred wooden-hulled vessels such as the Majestic from transporting passengers, so the show boat was moored on the Ohio River's bank in Jeffersonville, Ind.
The City of Cincinnati purchased the Majestic in 1967 and leased it to the University of Cincinnati, which used it for the next 20 years as a summer theater for musical theater, comedy and drama. In 1969, a metal hull was fitted over the original wooden hull, keeping the Majestic afloat in a more permanent manner.
In 1990, the Cincinnati Recreation Commission began to operate the Majestic. Tim Perrino is the manager, and he's proud of the 2,300 subscribers who patronize their productions.
While the Majestic is no longer part of a formal training program, Perrino notes, "We get a lot of young people who get their first professional experience with us. The boat also offers a nice niche for people who've grown up and have regular jobs who still like to do theater."
Perrino also contracts with community theaters for certain shows.
"They get to showcase talent," he says, "and we can combine our audience with theirs."
Perrino splits the box office with such groups, paying them 60 percent of the show’s income. It's this kind of community outreach and pleasant entertainment that continues the long-standing tradition of theater that Captain Reynolds had in mind when he built the Majestic back in 1923.
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