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St. Pete Bar Hopping Chronicle. NYE 2013

The evening kicked off with me politely declining all of the normal and traditional invitations from my friends—food, frolic and frivolity, doused with plenty of libations to keep the night fully-lubricated and in motion. I had a plan—something that’s been tugging at me to do, and last night was the right time to do it. I robed myself in festive attire and committed to bar hopping down Central Ave, just what was in an easy walking distance from my downtown apartment, stopping short of slithering around on the high ticket Beach Drive locale.

Early in the evening, I stopped for a small bite at Ricky P’s before I embarked on my adventure, where the bartender is always friendly, cheeky and warm. But, the crowd around the bar was not the usual set of eclectic masses whom I have come to expect, haphazardly sitting in the round, trading stories of bad plays and worse lovers. Instead, a group of young men crowded there, flexing their wisdom of “life experiences,” because they, of course, know it all at the ripe age of 26. Funny how we knew so much more then than we will ever know again. The good news is that if you ever need the answer to a daunting life question—you can always resort to hypnosis, because certainly, your 26-year-old self knows the score!

Photo: Nye emerald barSo, I ate, and then I prepared to take on the night. I knew that I would be writing, and I contemplated which tools I was going to bring along: my trusty notebook and pen? My small tablet computer? No—just my phone. I decided to chronicle the occasion via Facebook status updates, just taking note of observations and winding thoughts and how those all tangled up in my brain. Then, off I went to the first stop on my list—The Emerald Bar.

At the Emerald, I knew I’d be visiting the seedier side of St. Pete drinkeries, and I was looking forward to it. This is where professional drunks, the restaurant crowd and all those who just like a good sip of alcohol without frills and pretense settle in. Here people watching was elevated to an art last night, and the tunes melded with the scene in a disturbing but alluring amnesiac scattered recollection. Salt n’ Peppa was resurrected through the Juke Box in its nostalgic glory: “Don’t know how you do the voo doo that you do… Shoop.”

Between what was securely planted in place, followed by what poured in the door was a garden of regulars, drunkards and escapees from the Beach Drive scene—a mixture of weeds in a lot. A single stand of multicolored holiday lights and a fat guy in a cardboard Happy New Year hat sparkled in the dark landscape… “Oh baby you got what I need…” blared in the background.

A brief stumble next door, and I felt like Alice going through the looking glass. Things could not have been more different if these bars were on other ends of the globe. I found myself in a techy, not-quite trendy, trying to be a concept but not committed to it, Photo: Nye saki bombbecause that would be lame, so we’re just here… vibe. I’m at the Sake Bomb. There’s no liquor here to adorn their shelves, so they’ve displayed beer bottles in an underwhelming fashion.

A smaller, younger set of loiterers have congregated here, jamming to 80s new wave, which is oh so Not New. Collectively, they are decidedly much more sober than the hanger-outers next door. And far less entertaining. I intended to blow the joint as soon as possible, and possible occurred right after I finished my beverage. The youngish, horny mid-rent crowd didn’t intrigue me at all, possibly because that sort-of described me. So, I chugged my tasty Stella Cidre and bounced. But, wait! Just before I roam along to the next watering hole down the street, it happened! Seated at a table outside the Sake Bomb is an older man preaching the 12 steps of sobriety to four younger people, fully engaged in the topic over a bucket of beer! Noteworthy people-watching—score!

Oh, Cycle Brewing… you are everything I’ve come to expect from St. Pete’s string of craft beer joints. While I am partial to The Ale and the Witch, I stopped there last night, so tonight, you’re on the map. At Cycle Brewing there was a livelier, more animated, younish crowd. A very cool thing about the atmosphere created by the people here is that each grouping of beer drinkers is fully engaged in energetic conversation. Eves dropping tells tales of traveling plans and experiences, strange loves, troubled relationships and goals for the New Year, whilst somewhat cranky about the one soon to pass.

Photo: Nye cycle brewThe groupings were a cultural construct of couples, friends and small crowds. Like tended to be with like, representing minimal age diversity—lots of 30-somethings with a few older and younger mixed in. One would do well to go quantity surveying here—it wouldn’t be challenging, and it might be a bit dull, but so is the concept of quantity surveying. It was heartwarming to see  familiar face, though–here’s to a brilliant New Year, Frank Wells!

While strolling down Central Ave to my next watering hole I made a startling auditory observation—really bad live music! May I insert a plea to local eateries to please use a little discretion when choosing live entertainment: scaring your customers with off key tunes, featuring weird playlists is not good for anyone. Please stop it and hire wisely. We have very talented musicians in town. Book the best talent early, and don’t hand the mic and the amp over to your special niece.

“Take me away from here. Tell me about someplace else,” she said.

He said, “We’re always someplace else. Wherever you want to be.”

That gorgeous conversation I passed by was soon interrupted by St. Pete’s finest waking up a homeless man on a bench. The guy was a little combative, and his smart-assed mouth nearly got him arrested. I was hoping he wouldn’t end up bringing in the New Year at the 49th Street Hilton. Quickly the guy got ahold of himself and moved along as instructed without incident. Be cool, St. Pete!

Photo: Big crowd, cover charge, low key performance. First show I saw here was Betty Fox and she killed the venue, people dancing, blues rocking, and I became a groupie of sorts. Ethers Betty rocking tonight, I wonder.I wandered off of Central Ave. just for a minute to check out a spot that has great personal meaning to me: Ruby’s Elixir. When I quit my job and went freelance full time, it took me a while to realize how free I really was from the tyranny of nonprofit grant writing. Unless you’ve been there, don’t mock me. It can be life-consuming, and yes, my particular brand of pathology made it much worse than it needed to be. Anyway, that’s not the point… when I finally claimed my freedom and took ownership of it, I was here, drinking gin at Ruby’s. Here I was again at Ruby’s Elixir on NYE to find a big crowd, cover charge and a low key performance. The first show I saw at Ruby’s was Betty Fox and the Dirty Bastards (AKA The Betty Fox Band), and she stormed the tiny venue! I was lured there by the powerful sound of her meticulously tuned voice, rocking blues like nothing I’d ever heard! People dancing spellbound by the music and her presence, and I became a groupie of sorts. Where’s Betty rocking tonight, I wondered? Anyway, I strolled back onto Central.

Crowley’s Downtown seems to have been brought to you by a GAP commercial. Clean-cut, or rather an antiseptic version of a downtown dive (read: The Emerald). The patrons donned a higher-rent, near hipsters appearance tossing in a casual older affluent congestion of bodies, squeezing by one another in the doorway. Outside its doors, the street shots down Central are far more colorful than what’s on the inside of the joints. Early intoxication has made several pedestrians directionally challenged while Suite Six neighbors quickly shuffle their trendy clientele past the roped entry. There’s usually more affect than fun found behind those doors, I’ve learned through experience, so I didn’t bother to enter.

The sidewalk was so thick with people at one point, I decided that I’d either have to wait patiently for a clearing to be on my way our just charge through NYC style. Since I’m not usually fond of touching strangers, I waited for a clearing. I passed by the Oyster Bar, which does indeed have fabulous oysters and featured a cool guy with a guitar playing familiar tunes, and I decided then that I wanted to end my night there. I passed it up and would circle back as I had more bar hopping to do!

Photo: The breakfast bar! Bar hopping #5The breakfast bar! Mastry’s… A walk by Mastery’s in the a.m. will delight you with scenes of early morning drunkenness. If you care to imbibe yourself, you’ll find a quiet, mumbling welcome. By night, breakfast drinkers are forced to mingle with loud younger people who claim the space as their watering hole. Imposters! It belongs to the breakfast drinkers. You are merely visitors who lay out heavy change. As for NYE, I sat at the very crowded bar where a frantic bartender poured then spilled my Diet Coke all over the counter—the good news is that I got a free Diet Coke (which would have cost me the same as a beer), but the bad news is I had to drink it crammed next to a good looking fellow who reeked of rotten salami and stale wine. I drank my soda quickly!

Once I emerge from Mastry’s our hero appears from the streets. Thank goodness!! I have been instructed by a man in an SUV and a bull horn to: “Repent sinners! This is your wake up call! Time to get right with God.” Gladly, sir. Let me just finish my bar hopping first mmmmkay?

Next stop: The Pelican Pub—a momentous occasion for me. “This is not the Pelican Pub I knew from my childhood!” I exclaimed with sadness in my head. Yes, my childhood. Okay, let me explain…

My dad, he drank. A lot. He also was a prolific visual artist—a painter. Murals and commissioned works from designers, mostly. Some of his work can still be seen around town such as the lobby in the Bayfront Tower, but this story isn’t about art. It’s about the Pelican Pub. Back in the day (early 80s), The Pelican Pub defined dive bar, but with a twist. Occasionally, you’d find the Yacht Club set slumming at there, and my dad was no exception. In fact, I think he actually started the trend, bringing his fellow Club members over for a drink or many. Anyway, where dad went, I went. As a child, I vividly recall the smells of stale beer and piss from the back of the pub, wafting in from the alley. It had this wood bar with photos of regulars polyurethaned into the surface. There even was a photo of me sitting on Santa’s lap there… maybe at age eight. Thankfully for my dad, my mom’s sense of humor was twisted enough to find it amusing… Following about 6 months from her initial rage-filled eruption, touting one of many soliloquies she presented to my father on his irresponsibility, their standing in the community, what it means to raise a child, and whatnot. I think she had the script carefully blocked and memorized, fully prepared for an impromptu performance anywhere any time. No matter, I always had fun there, knew the bartenders and owners through Dad, along with several of the regulars such as “Tom the sail maker.”

And now… I found that it wasn’t the same place at all. The Pelican Pub has not even a fraction of the character that it had. It’s been cleaned, and it appears so have its guests. It’s good for a walk-through, a drink and to jolt some old memories, like the time I was hungry, so dad took me across the street for a Slim Jim at a convenience store, because it was protein and perhaps healthier than bar pretzels. Oh don’t worry… he wasn’t malnourishing me. Later that night we had dinner at the Yacht Club. We had to eat there often because he never had any money. True story. Oh, the irony of my childhood…

Then it was time to start heading back to the Oyster Bar for me to bring in the New Year. I wanted a plate of oysters and hoped to meet a few cool folks and engage in a bit of lively conversation, which I almost always do sitting at the bar there. I guess if there was a bar that attracts people I most gravitate towards—it’s the Oyster Bar. Casual but headed towards the upper-scale without the pretense and social-climbing urchins too often clamoring around the Beach Drive spots. At the Oyster Bar, I usually find intelligent, engaging, delightful company there along with tasty food and good drinks.

What I experienced there was more perfect than I had hoped for. I planted myself on the only stool left vacant at the bar, and I was seated between two friendly chaps. On the left side was John, and on the right, well, we’ll just call him smiley, because he had this cool beaming smile. Smiley had a date with him, who also was a friendly lass, but they had other plans to bring in the New Year, so they were just finishing up their drink and soon left for their final event. John and I talked a while. He told me about his kids, his condo, where he’s lived, how he should be dead after being run over by a tractor… look you can’t make this stuff up. We talked about art, the changing St. Pete, culture and dreams. Eventually we were invited to dance with a small group—played with balloons and such, then started chatting with a whole other small crowd nearby that were Coast Guard families and a really fun couple on the other side of me. Eventually I ended up bathed in spilled Champaign… twice! While talking about art, goals and dreams. We toasted to the New Year, made lots of noise and smiled, kissed and laughed together as we welcomed in 2014.

That’s my city, and I love her. Thank you, St. Petersburg. Here’s to a magical, dream-making 2014!

Gloria Steinem: Transcript of her speech in St. Petersburg, FL 10/20/2012

Transcript of Gloria Steinem’s speech

Saturday, October 20, 2012 at Jannus Live, St. Petersburg, Florida

I Am Choice presents “GOTV Unplugged: Rally Our Way Forward with Gloria Steinem

Do what Democracy demands. And, that is to make change from the bottom up. It is a lie that it comes from the top down. No. That’s what they want us to think—to dis-empower us. No, it comes from us. Like a tree, it comes from the bottom up.

Mitt Romey is the most undemocratic, anti-equality, authoritarian, extremist candidate I have ever seen, and there is the most distance between what he says and what he does.

He has the nerve to say he is for job creation. His entire career has been job elimination. He is not even willing to say he is for equal pay. And it happens that equal pay for women of all races is the greatest economic stimulus this country could ever have.

Equal pay, and I mean for equal work, would put $200 billion more into the economy every year. That means about $137 for every white woman per pay check—something like $300 for every woman of color who are doubly discriminated against. And you know that those women are not going to put that money into a Cayman Islands bank account—they are going to spend that money, and that is going to create jobs.

And he has the nerve, the nerve, and I have never seen anything like it, even in the Eisenhower era, anybody who refused to say they were for equal pay. Even if they didn’t do anything about it, they at least said they were for equal pay, and [Romney] refuses to support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is crucial to gaining equal pay.

[Romney] has pledged, on the Republic Party platform, to go around the Supreme Court, and achieve the human life Amendment to the Constitution, which would declare the fertilized egg to be a person.

I would like to say that neither the corporation nor the fertilized egg is a person. Pregnant women do not have two votes.

By declaring the fertilized egg to be a person, he would effectively nationalize women’s bodies throughout our child-bearing years. We would be legally restrained for all nine months of our pregnancy if there were reasonable cause to believe we might damage the fertilized egg. And indeed this is already going on with women who are drug addicted. Who really have no options, and yet there is more concern about their pregnancy than there is about them and getting free from drugs on their own.

It would give the government the right to legally search our wombs. To see if we were pregnant or not and if you think that’s impossible, think about the trans-vaginal probe that is legalized rape.

This is the most extreme, anti-equality candidate that has ever existed.

I hope and believe in my heart and in my knowledge that there are many, many, many Republicans that want to free the Republican Party from these crazed extremists that Romney represents.

The great centrist Republican Party needs to come back. In fact Nixon supported the Equal Rights Amendment. Goldwater supported reproductive freedom and Planned Parenthood. Bush supported and Reagan supported immigrant rights. None of them could get nominated by this extremist party now. The fact that we have so many independent is mainly because people have fled the Republican Party.

So I just want to say to all, and I hope you will say to your Republican friends, first of all, I apologize for all the old Democrats who came and took over your party. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed it began, because the old racist Democrats left the Democratic Party and started taking over the Republican Party. Think about Jesse Helms, right? Think about all the racist Democrats. They left and started to take over the Republican Party. And this trend has continued with fundamentalist churches that used to be either a-political or Democratic in the south, they have taken over the levers of power of the Republican Party so that there is almost nothing in its platform that most Republicans support.

It is so dangerous to have one of our two great Parties controlled by extremists. It is incredibly dangerous, because when we naturally are not 100 percent happy with one group, we just vote for the other one without understanding that we are voting against ourselves.

So if there are any Republicans here, I personally apologize for the authoritarian crazy Democrats that took your party over.

And the only way to get rid of them is to not only to win this election but to win it big… winning it big is incredibly important in Florida. So it cannot be “fudged” around the edges. In 2000, the morning after the presidential election between Bush and Gore, I was accidentally speaking at Palm Beach County Community College—it was just a college lecture that had been booked, you know, I don’t know how long before. There were 706 people in that auditorium. All we knew was that there needed to be a recount, that the result hadn’t been announced yet.

And as people stood up to say what had happened to them, one by one they were saying, ‘Oh that happened to me too; I didn’t know that I voted for Buchannan… ‘ Out of 706 people, about 100 had either been unable to vote at all, though they went to the polls, or they were unable to vote for the people they wanted to vote for. In one auditorium. You know, statewide, what did that mean? And if it had not been for one vote on the Supreme Court, you would have had a recount, and [Al] Gore would have been President of the United States.

There would have been much better environmental policies. There wouldn’t have been a war in Iraq. There wouldn’t have been an abstinence-only, government-enforced sex education policy that has given us the highest rate of unwanted pregnancies in the whole world. There wouldn’t have been a transfer of wealth from government to private hands that has never been matched in human history. There wouldn’t have been a move from a CEO that eared about 30 times the average to a CEO that earned 1,000 times the average. I mean, if you ever think that your vote doesn’t count, just think what happened all because of a theoretical 536 votes in Florida.

This voting day is the one day of our lives and on Earth and I have to say we owe this to people in the world whose lives are dictated by US policy, too, but this is the one day on Earth where the least powerful equal the most powerful.

I hope that however you can, you will make sure that from now until voting day, you make sure people are not only going to vote, take 10 people with you, take 100 people with you—make it a party. Sit with people’s kids so they can vote. And they are not only going to vote, they are going to fight to vote. If we can’t vote, we are going to sit there until we can vote. We are not going to take no for an answer. We are going to get rid of these crazed extremists who do not represent the majority even of their own party.

So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here today. I know you don’t need any outsiders to tell you this, us outsiders are just like excuses for you to come together and discover you didn’t need us in the first place. But… be sure that you make your own lives better today. Look around, see people you don’t know, introduce yourself, say what you care about. If you’re here, you share values, you share interests, you’ll meet a new friend a new colleague, you’ll get a new job a new love affair, who knows.

And remember that when you make other people’s lives better, you make your own better.

Some guest writing I’ve been doing in the ‘Burg

It’s true – I’ve been a brief stand-in at the iLovetheBurg blog. For three weeks only (I’m into my third week now), I’ve been lending a hand with some copy layout and uploads and even some writing. About the writing…

I did not get a byline for stories or credit for photos published here, and that’s fair because I also didn’t complain about some of the editing (*whistles uncomfortably*). A few abrupt slice and dices with a heavy editing hand make for occasional grammatically awkward reads at times, but the stories still seem to be intact.

Anyway, here are the links for the work so far.

1) Fit2Run is the first major retail store to open in downtown in quite some time–coming in August. I interviewed the owner and the soon-to-be store manager. And, I really did mean that part about the clumsy editing–see both versions of the copy for Fit2Run article for an example:

2) The Chattaway. Here’s a great piece about an old Florida burger joint. My dad used to take me here a lot when I was a kid. Great memories, and it was so much fun to relive the history of this amazing St. Pete landmark. I wrote the copy, and the photographs were taken by local poet and photographer R. MonaLeza – she had her first Chattaburger that day!

3) City Cycle Tours recently closed up shop. Why? Will they come back? Will they refund deposits to customers? St. Pete City Councilmember Karl Nurse spoke a little about it as did a representative of PedalPub–an operation similar to City Cycle Tours in downtown St. Pete. To be fair, this article was written the day they closed their doors–I have no idea if they’ve made any attempts to settle obligations to customers or communicated with them since.

4) Beak’s Old Florida — I discovered whilst hanging out at another of my favorite joints, The Queens Head Eurobar, located across the street. Anyway, both places are a sight to behold, indeed. Here’s a peek into Beaks (I plan to cover Queens Head Saturday). I wrote the copy and took the photos on this one.

I’ll have a few more before I leave, following my three week tour of duty. I’ll include those on a separate post once I close out this gig. Meanwhile, happy trails!

Update: Looks like this gig is gonna last beyond 3 weeks – at least through the summer…

First Pier public input meeting to be held this evening at the Coliseum 7:00 p.m.

The Lens, pier design

The City of St. Petersburg is moving forward with the Lens design for the new St. Petersburg Pier, although Mayor Foster has set a deadline for organizers of voteonthepier.com. They must collect nearly 16,000 petitions by June 11th for the issue to go on the November ballot for a public vote. Recently the group reported that they had upwards of 14,000 petitions and climbing. 

Meanwhile, city officials are forging ahead with their plans for a new Pier. This includes hosting four meetings in June to gather input to refine the Lens concept. The first meeting will be held Thursday, June 7 at 6 p.m. at The Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N.

City Council voted on May 17 to enter into an agreement with Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc. for design and construction of the new St. Petersburg Pier. Other meeting dates/locations include June 12 at Enoch Davis Center, June 14 at J.W. Cate Recreation Center, and June 19 at Lake Vista Recreation Center. All meetings begin at 6 p.m.

St. Pete’s GREEN tint

Do you know all about the GREEN efforts in St. Petersburg, Florida?

Recently, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster along with the St. Petersburg City Council have been hosting public budget summits to offer the community an opportunity to speak up on what they consider top priorities to help address the city’s budget deficit. Overwhelmingly, people have expressed that they would prefer to pay more versus having services cut in the city—though they also would like some assurance that the city is using its funding as efficiently as possible in the process.

To this end, several community members expressed that they think the city needs to have a stronger focus on “going green” to not only help the environment but also to help cut energy costs for the city. Foster quickly interjected that St. Petersburg has many green initiatives; that the city has accomplished a lot with plans to do more.

And, on May 29th, the city held a ribbon cutting ceremony at The Coliseum (one of 21 city facilities) to recognize the successful completion of the city’s most recent green energy-saving investments.

New solar panels for water heater systems, HVAC systems, chiller plant replacements, and lighting retrofits were installed at the Coliseum and City Hall. It is reported that these green changes will save $22,117 annually in energy costs.

The May 29th ceremony was an opportunity for the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials, along with representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy and local contractors to gather, recognizing the completion of projects valued at $2.38 million.

The funding source for the energy saving projects, which began in 2010, was the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG), administered by the U.S. Department of Energy and available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

The City of St. Petersburg reports that over the years, the city has partnered with more than 25 local contractors, small businesses, nonprofit organizations and professional consultants to complete the city’s list of green initiative projects. Some of these projects include:

  • Jordan School renovation
  • Water Resources Administration building
  • LED Traffic Signal conversions
  • USF-SP and Progress Energy solar energy system
  • 13 Fire Station upgrades
  • Hybrid fleet and E-Z GO utility vehicles
  • 2,300 acres of public parks system
  • Water Conservation efforts
  • Earth-Friendly Recycling program
  • 10 Electric Vehicle Charging Stations installed downtown

As Florida’s first green city, St. Petersburg continues to be a pioneer in its commitment to living green. In 2007, the city received its green designation and in 2008, the city adopted an Executive Order to focus on specific program areas, including:

  • Reporting of financial and emission reductions
  • Meeting LEED standards for large new construction or renovation projects undertaken by the city
  • Using alternative fuels
  • Converting street lighting system to more energy efficient systems
  • Developing and implementing a prototype solar project

More information on St. Petersburg’s green initiative can be found at: www.stpete.org/green.

 

The Wilson Van–rocking philanthropy in the ‘burg

Photo credit: Les Bartholf

Too often philanthropy is thought of as ‘that thing rich people do.’ With charity balls and writing big checks to planned giving—please remember us in your will. And certainly, these big gifts and large donors are enormously important to keep needed and wanted services afloat in our community. Philanthropy really is giving that comes from the heart, and it manifests in many forms. It’s about giving of yourself in large and small ways whatever talents or resources you may have and directing it in a way that benefits others, a cause and your community. This past weekend, three brothers—Paul, Mark and Patrick Wilson did just that.

Memorial Day weekend, Van Wilson, I mean: The Wilson Van took the stage by storm at St. Petersburg’s State Theatre, which resulted in raising $30,000 of unrestricted funds for Southeastern Guide Dog’s program Paws for Patriots. What might come as a surprise to many—it did to me—is that the government does not provide guide dogs or any funding for guide dogs to military personnel who are blinded in the line of duty.

So, as it should be, community steps in where government does not. The end result of this benefit was not just a bunch of guys on stage rocking the ‘burg, but the real take-away from this concert is the knowledge that an additional six blinded military personnel or veterans will soon be able to partner up with his or her own guide dog to help them rock ‘n’ roll through life.

Rewinding to the beginning, the whole story started a few years ago as Mark Wilson, news anchor at Fox13, was about to celebrate his 40th birthday. As the story goes, brothers Paul and Patrick Wilson were trying to plan a party for their aging sibling, and they had an idea—to find a band that would let Mark go up on stage and play a few Van Halen tunes with them. You know, just something fun to do.

Says the oldest brother, Paul: Patrick was to check with Mark to see what songs he knows and to report back. According to Paul, Patrick called him back saying, “Uhh… I think I screwed up. He says he knows them all. And so instead of him playing with a band, we could form our own band for the night.”

Or something like that, which then turned into a succession of annual benefit concerts, selling tickets for charity that went from raising just a few thousand dollars to a total of $30,000 for this most recent event. Ambitious, this Van Wilson trio. Oh, and about the name…

Fans couldn’t help but notice a conspicuous last-minute name change for the band–switching up the formerly known Van Wilson to The Wilson Van. The reason, says Patrick Wilson via Twitter to a fan asking a similar question, “Van Wilson was too darn obvious [since we cover a lot of Van Halen songs]. Not even sure who gave it to us. The Wilson Van has a little more… hoomer.”

When I asked Paul Wilson if the brothers even had a van, inquiring into the name change myself, he talked in more esoteric terms than his sibling, “Scribe Daphne, circular thoughts not literal musings. High sweeping arcs.” My high sweeping arch, then, envisions a “Crazy Train” with a little less crazy, swapping out the train for a van, and that’s The Wilson Van. All abooooard!

So, let me introduce you to The Wilson Van, virtually. Pictured at the top from left to right—Lt. Colonel Kathy Champion (Paws for Patriots beneficiary), Paul Wilson, Former Navy medics Eric Kallal (Paws for Patriots beneficiary), Corporal Mike Jernigan (Paws for Patriots beneficiary), Patrick Wilson, Bill Malik, Matt Stocke, Mark Wilson in front left and Tom Overbey front lower right.

These are the band members along with honored guests for the evening—local recipients of guide dogs from the Paws for Patriots program. At one point during the concert Kallal joined band members playing bass guitar for a roaring performance of Bon Jovi’s “Have a Nice Day.”

“That was the highlight of the night for me,” said Mark who played lead guitar throughout the event. “I was really moved when I first talked to Eric, and he told me that he was practicing his guitar.” Kallal said that he uses music to help channel his energy, and Mark reports that Kallal did not hesitate to agree to join the band on stage with a song—the energy for that performance was palpable.

As successful as the night was by anyone’s standards, the work that goes into pulling something like this off is incredible, and the Wilson brothers each have rather demanding day jobs—often night-time too, plus family responsibilities. In short—they have no spare time.

Case in point, Mark happens to be an Emmy Award-winning journalist/anchor with Fox 13 News; Paul is a local advertising mogul; and Patrick is an Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe nominated actor—seen often on film, TV and Broadway. So, how did these guys find time to do this?

According to Mark, much of it happened organically, but taking a little extra time was key. This event was unique in that the brothers took three months to plan, while previous events were pulled together in a matter of weeks.

The selection of the benefit was an obvious choice for Mark as he kept learning more and more about the work of this organization randomly in his personal life. First, he heard about it from a Paws for Patriots recipient, Jernigan, whom Mark and his family knew through church. Then, Mark’s daughter, Logan, came back from a field trip “puppy hugging” at Southeasten Guide Dogs, and he heard more about the organization.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Mark. “We knew we wanted to do something to benefit the military, because we already had the date set for Memorial Day weekend.” Then, the benefit side of the event took off.

According to Mark, Beverly Young, wife of Congressman C.W. Bill Young, was instrumental in helping Mark connect with the local veterans who are program participants. This part was the catalyst, bringing the cause to life to the public—seeing these men and woman on stage with their dogs and hearing their stories kept the meaning of the event in focus throughout the night.

As if the charity part wasn’t enough, with a concert, band members need to practice, preferably together. Moreover, the Wilson brothers wrote and performed four original songs, and Patrick had to remain between New York and New Jersey until the final hour. They only had one in-person rehearsal the Friday before the show. How does that work? Technology.

Enter the age of apps. Yes, apps. Patrick wrote an entire song entitled “Heal You,” using the “Garage Band” app on his iPad, banging on cups in lieu of drums while he was on location in his trailer. He sent his creation to Mark who duplicated it with real instruments to create a demo for the rest of the band to learn the song.

Everything else went similarly. Mark would send lyrics and such using Voice Memo on his iPhone, usually from his car, and the band even practiced via Skype. Anyone familiar with Skype knows about the delay inherent with the program, so the band practiced with their drummer, Patrick, appearing on a computer screen and adjusting to a constant one-second delay.

Said Patrick, “Eric [the Paws for Patriots recipient] playing bass with us was a metaphor for the whole show. It represented the most important thing—the injured military and how you just go on. In a much smaller way, that’s how the whole show was. The band played 16 songs, including four originals, with very little practice. You just have to keep going forward. It’s gonna happen. And everyone there wants to have a good time.”

The Wilson brothers did not do this alone, however. While the music was totally on their shoulders with the help of a few other musicians, they give heartfelt thanks and credit to family, friends and other big hearts in the community who gave generously with time, talent, moral support and donations, including those for a live and silent auction.

Specifically, Michael Moorefield, a representative for Brown Foreman Wine & Spirits, helped gain a Jack Daniels sponsorship for the cause, which donated liquor—a significant cost-savings and additional revenue stream for the event.

Another star donation was a collaborative effort spearheaded by Mark Wilson. This is a gorgeous 2011 Gibson USA-made Les Paul I electric guitar, customized with a graphic by Declan Flynn, clear coat by Professional Auto Body in St. Petersburg, and the truss rod cover was hand designed and donated by Bill Nichols at nicholsonlay.com. To see a photo of this rockin’ work of art, CLICK HERE.

The Wilson family spent the rest of their holiday weekend together, mostly gathered at their parents’ house, John and Mary K. Wilson.

“Actually, the charity helped bring the family together,” said Patrick. “Two uncles of ours are vets, and this charity meant a lot to them. Grandfathers on both sides of our family were military—in fact, most of the men in our family were military until our generation. We all have great admiration and respect for our military. This cause meant a lot to all of us.”

First published on SaintPetersBlog: http://saintpetersblog.com/2012/06/the-wilson-vans-philanthropy-rocks-the-burg/

UPDATE: Podcast of my internet radio interview with Paul Wilson on Write At Five on www.rhinoonair.com, talking about the creative process and the upcoming benefit concert: http://rhinoonair.com/?p=1920

‘Lens’ design contract approved by St. Petersburg City Council–New Pier

The ‘Lens’ – City of St. Petersburg

Below is my Twitter feed from yesterday’s St. Petersburg City Council meeting about the Pier issue, using “Storify.”

  1. DaphneSt
    #stpete All council members vote yes on Pier resolution except for W. Newton. Motion passes.
    Thu, May 17 2012 19:24:06
  2. The ‘Lens’ design contract was therefore approved by council.
  3. DaphneSt
    #stpete Councilmember Curran “it’s easy to sign a petition-it’s difficult 2get involved” We want a project integrated in the com & downtown
    Thu, May 17 2012 19:21:18
  4. Councilmember Curran is making a case for public involvement versus criticism. She defended the ‘Lens’ design that was criticized by some in the audience as “not traditional-looking enough for downtown,” and cited the Dali Museum structure and its success and the forward-thinking design that the inverted pyramid was in its time. She also stressed that the new Pier is to be a project integrated in the community and downtown. Curran also conceded that the city needed to have done a much better job in communicating with and educating the public throughout the process, from beginning to now.
  5. DaphneSt
    #stpete Pier issue–Newton says that no one who wants to continue their political career will go against 16,000 votes. Re: #voteonthepier
    Thu, May 17 2012 19:15:22
  6. DaphneSt
    #stpete Councilmember W Newton “I’m definately not voting for this. If the people can’t vote, Wengay ain’t voting.” Tweeting on Pier meeting
    Thu, May 17 2012 19:12:02
  7. DaphneSt
    #stpete Councilmember Gerdes says he will vote to put the Pier on a public ballot if petitions meet threshold though not legally obligated
    Thu, May 17 2012 18:50:29
  8. DaphneSt
    #stpete petitions will not obligate city to bring Pier issue to popular vote by law.
    Thu, May 17 2012 18:44:37
  9. It appears that voteonthepier.org may obtain 16,000 petition signatures they are working to collect to have an opportunity for a public vote on the Pier. Based on a question by Councilmember Nurse, he was informed that legally, regardless of the number of signatures obtained, the city is not obligated to bring the issue to a public vote. Note: Most councilmembers agreed that if this number of signatures is obtained, they would make arrangements for a public vote regardless of legal requirements to do so.
  10. DaphneSt
    #stpete Councilmember Nurse- “Pier will either be torn down or it will fall down. Not even safe for garbage trucks. It’s coming down.”
    Thu, May 17 2012 18:43:20
  11. DaphneSt
    #stpete Councilmember Danner “The Pier has never been about history; it has always been about the future” Ref: Million Dollar Pier current
    Thu, May 17 2012 18:35:32
  12. DaphneSt
    #stpete Councilmember Kennedy not convinced design team is committed to project due to a contract clause that’s causing concern for $800,000
    Thu, May 17 2012 18:24:32
  13. Councilmember Kennedy expressed concerns that were also echoed in a lighter fashion by Councilmember Kornell about a particular clause allowing the architect/builder to pull out of the contract. After greater explanation, concerns were alleviated and confidence in the commitment of the architect/builder were restored.
  14. DaphneSt
    W. Newton Lens not the best idea & motion Nov vote: “I will not vote on something unless the people can vote.” Motion w/o 2nd dies. #stpete
    Thu, May 17 2012 18:17:45
  15. Councilmember Newton motioned to open the decision to allow for a public vote on the Pier and place this on the November ballot. No one on the council seconded the motion. The motion died.
  16. DaphneSt
    Lens Public presentation to be held in weeks at Coliseum St. Pete from developers. Details of event still under dev Tweeting from #stpete
    Thu, May 17 2012 18:06:13
  17. This presentation is coming too late to help gain the public trust and garner support for the ‘Lens.’ Recommend a streaming video of this presentation along with TV coverage to help reduce barriers to the information and allow for on-line questions submissions prior to the event.
  18. DaphneSt
    Seems like #stpete really should put The Pier issue up for public vote. That’s been said before, I know. Tweeting from City Council meeting
    Thu, May 17 2012 17:52:27

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