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Jeff Spevak

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle. He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show. Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.

Water Street Music Hall, which had been the most-significant club on the local scene since the late 1980s, is rising from the ashes of discord once again. The two-headed entertainment center announced its return Wednesday afternoon with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the red brick, turn-of-the-last century old warehouse tucked away off of Andrews Street in the St. Paul Quarter.

Owner Peter Sewell explains that the extensive renovations are working alongside a repurposing of the two rooms, a restaurant called Jack’s on Water Street and the larger music venue side, Water Street 2020.

A re-branding of Water Street was essential. Sewell says the venue’s nights of bad economic management and hip-hop brawls are over.

David McClister / Futurebirdsmusic.com

This is the start. It’s like the opening moments of a“Star Trek” episode, where you know the new young guy in the blue shirt will be the one to die at the hands of an alien, before Captain Kirk works it out. Likewise, the editors at WXXI have shot down all of my suggestions, so you can help name this column. Until then, it’s called “Your Name Here.”

Bat McGrath died Tuesday night, in much the same way as he wrote and sang. With no drama, no fuss, quietly, at his mountainside home in Tennessee with his wife Tricia Cast, all on his terms.

A member of the Rochester Music Hall of Fame, the 73-year-old McGrath was diagnosed with cancer on Dec. 12. A suspicious colonoscopy result led to the discovery that the cancer had spread throughout his liver. With treatment, it was estimated McGrath might have another 1½ years to live. But these procedures would seriously compromise his quality of life, and McGrath and Cast made the difficult decision to decline treatments. A decision, they were told, that would leave McGrath with mere months to live.

He was a Southern black man who helped shape American music in the late 1920s. He moved to Rochester, gave up music and lived in obscurity for two decades before he was re-discovered during the mid-1960s blues and folk revival.

He resumed his career, touring and recording before his death. A few years ago, his life even inspired a musical.

That story is one we know well here in Rochester.

But I'm not talking about Son House, the iconic bluesman.

It is also Lesley Riddle's story.


With a blast of Trombone Shorty's horn, the Rochester International Jazz Festival roared to a satisfying close Saturday night.

Responding to a final day of gorgeous weather over its nine days, the fest drew an estimated 208,000 people, pretty much matching last year's total. 

This was only the second time in its 18-year history that the fest escaped rain. The only other time that happened was in 2007. So the gods were with us. "I made a few phone calls," festival co-producer John Nugent said.

Minding history

The centuries haven't been kind to humanity. There really isn't a lot we need to relive about the past. Except the music. 

Backed by an acoustic trio of guitar, bass and piano, Rochester International Jazz Festival favorite Catherine Russell overlooked no detail in mining the 1920s, 30s and 40s Friday night at two packed shows at Temple Building Theater. 

Playing in a band, it's tough work, as Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters made clear in their performance at Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Stage.

Old-school cynicism

What do you make of a romantic ballad that declares, "There's no true love, there's only routine?"

Yeah, nailed it.

The music-noir trio VickiKristinaBarcelona tames the beast with beauty.

The beast in question is the gruff, hardscrabble world of Tom Waits. The trio charmed the Rochester International Jazz Festival last year, returned to Rochester for a show in January at The Little Theatre, and was back at it Tuesday at Geva Theatre Center's Wilson Stage.

When a band climbs onstage, a trio wearing all black, you will soon discover one truth.

There are many shades of black.

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