What I Learned from 3 Musicians in Their Underwear

The Skivvies, Atlanta, Westside Cultural Arts Center, West Midtown, Chappuis, Fay Gold, art gallery, Actor's Express, Broadway Bares, musicians playing almost naked

In Atlanta Saturday night. Yes, they did “It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here.”

So there we were Saturday night, watching a buff young man in nothing but tiny briefs and a curvaceous blonde woman wearing only a Victoria’s Secret bra and panties. He was singing “Love to Love You, Baby” and playing the glockenspiel while she accompanied him on the cello.

This was sometime after the Rhianna tune but before the Carole King number.

Just another fund-raiser in Atlanta? Or a chance to see three essential truths of communications and business brought together by two hot, young Broadway performers who sing and play their barely covered butts off?

The Skivvies, Atlanta, Westside Cultural Arts Center, West Midtown, Chappuis, Fay Gold, art gallery, Actor's Express, Broadway Bares, musicians playing almost naked

In People magazine

They call themselves The Skivvies. From their website:

The Skivvies are Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley, award-winning NYC singer/actor/musicians performing stripped down arrangements of eclectic covers and eccentric originals. Not only is the music stripped down – cello, ukulele, glockenspiel, melodica – but the Skivvies literally strip down to their underwear to perform. The Wall Street Journal calls them “smart, sophisticated…ingenious,” and Out Magazine says, “The Skivvies have managed to carve out a niche that we never knew needed to exist: part Weird Al-parody and part sexy burlesque…and unusual explosion of satire and sultry.”

The duo (along with a percussionist — older, rounder, in boxer shorts) played a benefit for Actor’s Express at the Westside Cultural Arts Center in West Midtown. In other words, an audience used to a high level of performing excellence. And the group delivered so well and definitively that you had to wonder: What’s up with the underwear thing?

And that’s where we get to the three lessons I mentioned before.

  1. Sex sells. No kidding, right? Because who would pay to watch a couple of unattractive Broadway babies in their drawers?
  2. You Gotta Have a Gimmick if you wanna get a hand. Says so in a showtune, right?
  3. Build your brand. “The Skivvies” brand covers the gimmick and the music, and it’s cute and memorable and gently naughty, like the act itself.

There might be a fourth lesson, as well. The Skivvies play fast – mashing up songs, sometimes playing just enough for the audience to recognize one before zipping off to another, usually connected by a theme (generally sexual, some unprintable). A friend pointed out the lesson for today’s communicators and marketers: Don’t take too long. Nobody has time or the attention span. Hit the high note, flash the abs and move on fast.

OK, a fifth lesson: Get back to Pilates.


 

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3 Top Reasons Atlanta Loves OutKast and This Weekend’s Concerts (VIDEO, PICS)

OutKast, Atlanta, hip hop, duo, reunion

My friend Madkin Kelly shared a couple of pics and the video below from Saturday night. He loved the “ridiculous” huge crowd. “So many bodies squished together, friends of all colors celebrating the love of music!”

VIDEO AS OUTKAST TAKES THE STAGE SATURDAY NIGHT

“Lend me some sugar — I am your neighbor!”

OutKast, Atlanta, reunion, Andre, Big Boi, downtown Atlanta

Big Boi and Andre

Atlanta loves OutKast, and the superstar hip-hop duo’s three-night stand downtown is proving it.

Crowds packed Centennial Olympic Park on Friday and Saturday nights, and more will for the last show tonight, Sunday, Sept. 28. Hometown rappers André “André 3000″ Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton have been on a reunion tour this summer, the first time fans have had the chance to see them play songs from their landmark CD “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.” It came out 11 years ago, sold millions and and won the Grammy for Album of the Year.

OutKast, Atlanta, Centennial Olympic Park, downtown, reunion, Sonia Murray

Early crowd before the show. Madkin says, “Favorite moment was the start of the show, with them coming out with ‘Bombs over Baghdad.’ So much energy and excitement from the crowd,” he said.

Tonight might be the last show for them. The weekend’s appearances, called “ATLast” after “ATLiens,” one of their earlier records, aren’t even listed on the tour T-shirt.

sonia murray, atlanta, outkast, hip hop, duo ,reunion, concert downtown

Sonia Murray

I couldn’t make it, so I asked hip-hop expert and friend Sonia Murray to share some thoughts, which she did after attending Friday and Saturday. She’ll be there again tonight. Sonia was a music writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for many years, where she covered Atlanta’s emerging (now dominant) hip-hop scene. She’s now with V-103 The People’s Station.

Her Top 3 reasons why this was more than just a concert.

1. It’s probably never going to happen again. “I really do believe that this will be the last time we see them together.” The duo formed when Benjamin and Patton were in high school. They were stars as teen-agers and living legends now in their 30s, with Benjamin looking to movie roles, including Jimi Hendrix.

2. “People didn’t get to see them during their highlight period, since they didn’t tour to promote (“Speakerboxxx/The Love Below”),” she said. So it’s the first time audiences saw Andre do “Hey Ya!” or Big Boi on “The Way You Move.”

3. The location. “It’s Atlanta — and it’s not just Atlanta, it’s right in the center of Atlanta. They remarked about how great it was (from the stage). The venue itself is really spectacular, especially to bring a hometown act to. They even had the ferris wheel lit up.”

Sonia says that when Outkast was getting started, rap artists didn’t want to associate themselves with Atlanta. The genre was dominated by the East and West coast factions. OutKast changed that, with songs calling out local streets, neighborhoods and high schools.

“They were immediately and proudly Atlanta,” she said “And I think that’s why people have always been so proud of them.”


 

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Photo Tour: Why You Must Check Out Atlanta’s Thriving West Midtown Now

Scroll over a pic for caption; click to make it bigger. More pics below.

Atlanta, West Midtown, Westside, Bacchanalia, Actor's Express, King Plow Arts Center, Marietta, Northside, Jeni's, Star Provisions

Bacchanalia’s a focal point.

Like all great cities, Atlanta is a collection of great, distinct neighborhoods.

West Midtown (or Westside) has exploded over the last several years into one of the most vibrant and engaging around town. West of Midtown across the I-75/I-85 Connector is home to hundreds of new apartments, stylish boutiques, trendy restaurants and nightclubs, art galleries and performance venues. They populate the area around anchors like Atlantic Station, Ikea, Georgia Tech and the railroad tracks that don’t so much cut through the area as give it earthy character to balance all the fab renovations.

Atlanta, Westside, West Midtown, Star Provisions, Bacchanalia, Jeni's Ice Cream, JCT Kitchen, Walton Westside, Jonathan Adler, Miller Union, Westside Cultural Arts Center, Tweeds, Bartaco, Atlanta Humane Society, Urban Grind, Bocado, Peroni, Antico, Miller Union

Plenty of coffee shops have popped up, including Urban Grind.

Some of my favorites spots in the city are there: Yeah! Burger; Jeni’s Ice Cream; Actor’s Express theater; Nebo digital marketing agency; West Egg eatery; Room & Board; Taqueria del Sol (except for that tiresome lunchtime line out the door); and all the old-school furniture and decor shops that were there even before the place got hot. More are in the photos below.

The neighborhood shows its richly funky roots, swapping sometimes on the same block — industrial/warehouse; and high-tech, with a college touch (Georgia Tech); and high-end/smartly offbeat. West Midtown rewards exploration, so get out of the car and walk around, off Marietta and Northside, and see what you can find.

And eat. And drink.

Fun stuff.

Atlanta, Westside, West Midtown, Star Provisions, Bacchanalia, Jeni's Ice Cream, JCT Kitchen, Walton Westside, Jonathan Adler, Miller Union, Westside Cultural Arts Center, Tweeds, Bartaco, Atlanta Humane Society, Urban Grind, Bocado, Peroni, Antico, Miller Union

Atlanta or Southern California? Lunch at Bartaco. Scroll down for more pics.

Mouse over a pic for the caption. Click on a pic to make it bigger.

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Forget Atlanta Traffic: My Life Is So Much Better Working Close to Home

Atlanta, traffic, snowmaggedon, snowstorm, ice storm, I-285, I-75, I-85, the connector, Ga. 400

The worst of the worst — when a little snow shut down the city. OK, it’s usually not this bad, right? But still… Sometimes it felt like it.

My daily world is much smaller than it used to be, and I couldn’t be happier for one reason:

Traffic.

For more than six years, I fought the 9-to-5 rush from my intown Atlanta home to my suburban job every morning (30-45 minutes) and every evening (up to 90 minutes). It was the most mind-boggling, frustrating, maddening ritual I’ve ever endured – and everyone in this town knows what I mean. (Heck, so does anyone in any city, I suppose, but trust me: Atlanta’s worse.)

Atlanta, the Varsity, north avenue

Hey, y’all.

Now I work on North Avenue, the same street where I live less than 3 miles away. It’s so close that I’m home in 10 minutes. I can even scoot home for lunch, which I do sometimes, feeling as free as a kid in school.

It’s so close I could ride my bike – and I will someday, just as soon as I get comfortable with the new dangers traffic poses to bicycle commuters.

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It’s so close I could even walk, if it’s not too hot out and I don’t mind arriving a little sweaty.

With work so close to home, I now have everything I need nearby – not only my job, but shops, restaurants, a dry cleaner, a gym, bike trails, a Publix and a movie theater. My own Mayberry in the big city.

Atlanta, traffic, map

And I never have to look at this.

Just the daily gift of two hours back into my life is a tremendous blessing. I can’t tell you how good it simply feels to be without the psychological and, yes, physical stress of being stuck on Ga. 400 or I-85 – knowing there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

  • I can snooze a little later in the mornings and I can make – and keep – appointments in the evening.
  • I can go to the gym or see a friend for dinner or a movie.
  • I can even – shhhh! – take a little catnap after the workday.
  • I’m saving money on gas and wear-and-tear on my car.
  • My blood pressure is closer to where it should be.
  • And when I see friends complaining about the schlep home from the Perimeter on Facebook or Twitter, I say a little prayer of gratitude — and I am not even kidding.

Traffic in metro Atlanta is hell, right?

But it’s nothing at all in my little world.


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Telling Stories to Connect and Find Your Way

EARLIER: Actor’s Express presents an enduring ‘Liaisons’

storiespicMy parents required my three sisters and me to attend Sunday school and church every week until we turned 12. They weren’t particularly religious, but they told us later that they primarily wanted us to “know the stories” — of the Bible and Moses and Jesus — that are so woven into our culture and collective consciousness.

Later, I decided to become a writer because I found that telling stories connected me to other people — those I wrote about and those who read what I wrote. I didn’t realize then how starved I was for that connection and how important storytelling would become to my identity and my place in the world.

I’m thinking about this right now as Shane Snow of Contently is presenting on the power of storytelling at the Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland.

Those thoughts lined up for me listening to Shane share observations like, “Stories help us build relationships and feel connected.”

It’s all lined up for me before. But amid talk about case studies and ROI and Instagram campaigns, I’m again grateful for the lifelong connections and identity I’ve received through stories.

Shane Snow, Contently, Content Marketing World, Content Marketing, Cleveland, conference, Joe Pulizzi, brand journalism, storytelling, Jay Croft, Atlanta, storycroft

Shane showed this slide, a photo from his office. (I Instagrammed it at the top.)


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Re-telling a Classic Story in Sexy Style at Atlanta’s Actor’s Express

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Actor's Express, Atlanta, theater, Dangerous Liaisons

At Actor’s Express in Atlanta

I saw a play Saturday night in Atlanta, the premiere of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” at Actor’s Express. It’s a rockin’ good time for the most part, but what struck me most is that this story has been told so many times in so many ways — and it’s still just as juicy.

The tale of sexual politics, cruelty and manipulation set in pre-revolution France started as a novel in 1782. It then became a play and an Oscar-winning movie, “Dangerous Liaisons,” and then another big-time movie, “Valmont,” by an Oscar-winning director. And there was even a teen knockoff in the ’90s called “Cruel Intentions,” with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and a very young Reese Witherspoon.

Rich, mean, sexy people doing nasty things to each other and the innocents around them… juicy dialog ripe for actors to tear into… What’s not to love? Did “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” set the template for soap operas? Maybe not, but it’s easy to see why storytellers in various media keep going back to it, and Actor’s Express handles it admirably. So go and have a fun time at the theater.

Or at least join me in renting “Dangerous Liaisons,” which I haven’t seen in ages.

While I was at the show, I missed the Atlanta BeltLine’s Lantern Parade. I would’ve gone otherwise and I’m sorry I missed it. But here is a great roundup from the great Maria Saporta that does what I would’ve tried to do, but lots better.

And while we’re sharing cool blog posts about cool weekend events in Atlanta, check out this nifty replay in GIFs of the Falcons nail-biter over the Saints from Breslanta.com.


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Remember Robin Williams with a Crowd at Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre Tribute

The Birdcage, Robin Williams, death, suicide, depression, addiction, gay, homosexual, comedy, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Mike Nichols, Miami, remake, comedy, Plaza Theatre, Film Tribute, Atlanta

The Plaza, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave, N.E. (404) 873-1939

Fans of Joan Rivers have YouTube to catch clips of the comedienne, who died Thursday at 81. So do Robin Williams lovers — who also have the Oscar winner’s rich movie legacy to enjoy. And in Atlanta, The Plaza Theatre is offering four of the late comic’s movies right now, along with a couple of unrelated classics always worthy of a spot on the marquee: “Pulp Fiction” and “Stop Making Sense.”

I love “The Fisher King,” which I saw just once in its original 1991 release, and “The Birdcage,” which has grown more familiar as a staple of cable TV for the last decade. The Plaza also is showing “Jumanji,” one of Williams’s family pictures, and “Hook,” with an all-star cast directed by Steven Spielberg.

The Birdcage, Robin Williams, death, suicide, depression, addiction, gay, homosexual, comedy, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Mike Nichols, Miami, remake, comedy, Jeff Bridges, The Fisher King, Mercedes RuehlThe Birdcage, Robin Williams, death, suicide, depression, addiction, gay, homosexual, comedy, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Mike Nichols, Miami, remake, comedyMovies are almost always better viewed on the big screen with crowds. And both “The Fisher King” and “The Birdcage” are full-on movies by major directors — gloriously visual and sweepingly emotional. At a time when Williams’s fans are still mourning his recent suicide, what better way to come together and celebrate his genius? YouTube is fine for some things, but only some.

In Atlanta, The Plaza is one of several theaters that regular give us chances to see older movies, and I’m thankful for all of them. Here’s an earlier piece that includes highlights from recent schedules of some around town. I hope we get more heading into the holiday season.

All of the venues, plus Netflix, TMC and Videodrome, helped me catch up on my classics over the summer.  I’m so glad I got to see these, which I hadn’t just a few months ago:

  • “Sullivan’s Travels”
  • “A Face in the Crowd”
  • “The Searchers”
  • “A Hard Day’s Night”
  • “It Happened One Night”
  • “The Best Years of Our Lives”
  • “Touch of Evil”

That’s a good group. My DVR holds a few more, and “The 400 Blows” has arrived from Netflix. So I’m ready for football season.

And a trip or two to The Plaza.


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The Week in Review: Thanks for a Record Number of Page Views!

storycroft, page views, engagement, blog, Atlanta, John Rocker, Survivor, Truman Capote, Positive Challenge

Thanks for helping me end the summer with a bang!

I want to thank subscribers to this blog for their support over the last eight months. With your help, storycroft.com got more page views on Friday than on any other day. And on Sunday, we came this close to setting another record.

Why the excitement? First, I jumped on a breaking story that’s relevant to my premise. Then I worked the system hard while staying true to that premise.

Early in the week, I had two posts — about finishing my Positive Challenge and about great quotes from Truman Capote — that drew a good but unremarkable amount of page views and engagement. But right after I posted about Capote, news came that “Survivor” was adding controversial ex-baseball player John Rocker to its cast of castaways. I had to weigh in — and I got some of the Internet traffic driven by Rocker and the show.

I decided to build on it by re-linking some older posts to referral sites where I had posted them before, like reddit.com and stumbleupon.com, and I was stunned by the tidal wave of page views that came from them a few months after their first run. (Thanks, Sophie… and Josh, The Run Commuter… and the King of Pops… and Ponce City Market…) I also sought out other discussion boards about Rocker and other topics in my posts, and that got me referrals from large, commercial sites.

Just as important, engagement was high on the blog and on my social media pages. Readers were clicking through photo galleries. And on links and images at the bottom of posts. And retweeting and sharing posts on Twitter and Facebook. Anybody can lure in one-timers with click bait. But that doesn’t interest me. At some point, we have to focus on improving engagement at least as much as page views.

Oh, I want new readers, of course. But I also hope anyone who visits storycroft.com will come in and sit a spell, as we say down South. To click on another story, leave a comment, recommend it on social media.

You know: Have a conversation — and tell a story.

If you enjoyed this post or anything on storycroft.com, please subscribe at the top of the right column. And ask a friend to do the same. Thanks! 


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John Rocker on ‘Survivor’ — Good Luck with the ‘Outwit’ Part

John Rocker, CBS, Survivor, reality TV, Braves, baseball, closer, Jeff Probst

John Rocker when he was a closer for the Atlanta Braves

Say it ain’t so, Jeff Probst.

You’re not really putting mean ole John Rocker on “Survivor,” are you? Not on one of my favorite shows for so many years now – shoot, almost as far back as Rocker’s flash-in-the-spotlight 15 minutes of fame.

I worked at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution then. All of us in Atlanta remember the big lunk for being a big jerk while a closer for the Braves, particularly in that infamous Sports Illustrated article, where he said nasty things about gays, immigrants, minorities, New Yorkers and, gosh, just about everybody.

And after that, I wrote about him a time or two when, even outside of the limelight, he found a way to be obnoxious, particularly to gays.

When I was in the media, I never got to meet him, although I have seen him in person. He is, without a doubt, one of the most physically beautiful men I’ve ever seen. And talk about a powerful masculine presence… He’s huge, built, aggressive, obnoxious and used to commanding attention. You know the type – loves how attractive and intimidating he usually is, probably asserts himself when he doesn’t get the attention he’s used to.

Jeff Probst, Survivor, CBS, reality TV, John Rocker

Jeff Probst, host and true “Survivor” stud

There’s often some guy like that on “Survivor,” which pits castaways in a competition that is part physical, part survival and part social. “Outlast, Outplay, Outwit.”

Outwit. Ha.

The Rocker types never last long. Too physically threatening, too socially divisive and tone deaf… and, well, usually not the smartest in the bunch.

“Survivor” has had pro athletes on previous seasons, most of them way more famous and accomplished than Rocker, who had a few years of notoriety before his obnoxiousness eclipsed his gifts as a closer. Future Hall of Famer Jeff Kent was on a few seasons ago and most of the other contestants had no idea of his wealth and stature. So maybe Rocker can coast under the radar.

Given his long track record, though, I’m guessing we’re in for a whole new round of reasons to hate him or laugh at him when the season starts Sept. 24.

He probably won’t last three episodes. But I’ll be watching every minute.

Got me, Probst.

John Rocker, CBS, Survivor, gay couple, baseball, braves, atlanta

Rocker and his girlfriend, top row left, join a gay couple and some racial minorities (uh-oh!) on the coming season of “Survivor.”

If you enjoyed this post or anything on storycroft.com, please subscribe at the top of the right rail. And ask a friend to do the same. Thanks!


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9 Times Truman Capote Inspired Me to Reach for the ‘Inner Music that Words Make’

Truman Capote, journalism, writer, "In Cold Blood," "Music for Chameleons," "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Capote in the “In Cold Blood” years

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Truman Capote’s death. He was just 59, but the decades of drinking and drugging made him look much older and pathetic when you’d see him on The Johnny Carson Show, silly and chatting away in that nasal, high-pitched voice.

That’s all I knew of him until I was old enough to discover his talent as a writer and aim to emulate it – or, at least, a lot of it. I wanted to become a journalist, and Capote was one of the generation of great American writers to merge a poet’s precision with a reporter’s eye – and a novelist’s sweep, most successfully, of course, with “In Cold Blood.”

That book showed reportage as art. And one of his later books, “Music for Chameleons,” further jazzed me with Capote’s first-person tenderness and uniquely vivid descriptions.

To celebrate the great words Capote left, here are nine segments and quotes that have stuck with me over the decades. And if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and read “In Cold Blood,” “Music for Chameleons” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (and no, the Audrey Hepburn movie doesn’t count).


1. “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”


2. “You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…. the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is.”

~ Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”


 

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Music for Chameleons, journalist, writing, writer

His masterwork

3. “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’ ”

~ The opening of “In Cold Blood”


4. “I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

~ Perry Smith from “In Cold Blood”


5. “… he called after her as she disappeared down the path, a pretty girl in a hurry, her smooth hair swinging, shining – just such a young woman as Nancy might have been. Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”

~ The closing lines of “In Cold Blood”


Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, In Cold Blood, Beautiful Child, Music for Chameleons

Capote with Marilyn Monroe

6. Marilyn: Remember, I said if anybody ever asked you what I was like, what Marilyn Monroe was really like—well, how would you answer them? (Her tone was teaseful, mocking, yet earnest, too: she wanted an honest reply.) I bet you’d tell them I was a slob. A banana split.

TC: Of course. But I’d also say…

(The light was leaving. She seemed to fade with it, blend with the sky and clouds, recede beyond them. I wanted to lift my voice louder than the seagulls’ cries and call her back: Marilyn! Marilyn, why did everything have to turn out the way it did? Why does life have to be so rotten?)

TC: I’d say…

Marilyn: I can’t hear you.

TC: I’d say you are a beautiful child.

~ from his memoir of Marilyn Monroe in “Music for Chameleons”


7. “She sounds like banana tastes.”

~ from a profile of a cleaning woman in “Music for Chameleons”


8. “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”

~ from “Answered Prayers — The Unfinished Novel”


9.”That’s not writing; that’s typing.”

Capote about “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac


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