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Across the Universe

The world has reached the point where, after a tough day at work, you can’t pull up a barstool and unwind with an expertly made Negroni cocktail without feeling like it’s an act that puts your friends and family in danger.

Not since the coronavirus pandemic, “when the world changed,” Chuck Cerankosky says.

“But we’re all still here. The bars are still here, we’re struggling to survive. We’re trying to navigate through this forest of precautions and guidelines and morality.”

The Spring Chickens had a gig last week. It was the first live-music performance I’d attended since mid-March.

That’s quite a stretch of home quarantine for someone who is usually out three or four or five evenings a week. Maybe attending shows, or eating dinner at a restaurant or a friend’s house, or wandering over to a neighbor’s house with my dog. 

It’s nothing but the best for The Empty Hearts when the band goes off in search of inspiration. As Andy Babiuk tells it, there was this one night …

“I was backstage at a Stones show, hanging out with Mick Jagger,” Babiuk says, “and he goes, ‘Hey Andy, I have this song that I think would really work for The Empty Hearts.’ And he literally like, sang the whole song to me.”

Alas, it was, literally, a dream gig.

“And so I got up and I hummed the song into my iPhone and went back to bed,” Babiuk says. “Had I not done that, I would have never remembered it.”

The music is perhaps unlike anything you have heard. Or maybe it is like many things you've heard.

It is "Fountain," the debut album by Lyra Pramuk. Music that flows and explodes out of the classical and electronica realms. A droning, oscillating, leaping, humming. Machine-manipulated vocalizations with the influence of African rhythms dart with electricity and land somewhere between Gregorian chants and the poetry of Laurie Anderson songs.

As next month’s KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival recalibrates for the new reality -- the event will be presented virtually -- the performers are having to rethink what Darren Stevenson calls “the canvas on which we create.”

The film is black and white, as was the issue. The camera work is a little jittery, as were the times. A Black man -- he looks to be in his mid-20s -- is talking about the relationship between the police and Black youths.

“They got feelings, we got feelings, they should consider that. I mean, if you get clubbed upside the head, man, it hurts. They should know that, if they get clubbed upside the head, that’s gonna hurt. You know what I mean?”

The problem with our new reality is, we can’t see it from where we are now.

The new reality, of course, is COVID-19. The numbers -- more than 600,000 dead worldwide, more than 140,000 dead in the United states -- tell us the virus is not a conspiracy theory. Science tells us it’s not going to simply disappear.

Abby Feldman's life has come full circle. After a comedy career that has taken her from Manhattan to Brazil to just within reach of the dark bat wings of the Kremlin, she's now waiting out the coronavirus pandemic in her childhood bedroom in Pittsford. Where her mother, she says, "keeps my supply of avocados replenished."

"It took a pandemic to appreciate this small town that I come from."

How did we get to the point that singing is considered to be a dangerous act?

That's where we are, in this era of COVID-19. Last week, the nation was reopening bars, restaurants, churches, music venues. Now, more than half the states in the country are pulling back from their premature announcements that the coronavirus pandemic is over, and life may now return to normal.

"Miss Juneteenth" is one of the current virtual offerings at The Little Theatre, part of the Black Cinema Series. It's about a single mom, Turquoise Jones, a former Miss Juneteenth winner, preparing her rebellious teenage daughter to follow in her footsteps and compete in the pageant.

"One message is pride, one message is teaching history," Richard McCollough says.

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