January 26, 2015
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Icing the Competition

Aurora's Midwest Gingerbread House Competition works to end homelessness
Cameron Tinker of Tinker’s Bakery in Lexington, Ky., was the first place winner in the professional category.

It’s that time of the year when the smell of cookies fills the air, confectioners sugar mimics freshly fallen snow, caramel syrups windows, and royal icing serves as brick and mortar. Aurora Inc.’s third annual Midwest Gingerbread House Competition fundraiser is just around the corner.

This innovative and exciting event on Dec. 7 is expected to feature about 70 gingerbread house-building teams from all over the Midwest that will compete in three divisions: professional, amateur, and youth. Aurora’s goal is to end homelessness in Evansville.

“It is great to be able to take part in this event for such a great cause in the Evansville community,” says Cameron Tinker, owner of Tinker’s Cake Shop in Lexington, Ky., and the 2012 professional division winner. “I think it’s awesome every year to see other professionals, amateurs, and kids getting together to have fun making these gingerbread houses and to raise money to prevent homelessness in the area.”

Local celebrity judges and emcees will help with the event, which will include entertainment acts, a silent auction, and gingerbread activities for all.

“I really enjoy the competition,” says Jessica Marcrum, a competitor in the youth division. “Last year, we won the People’s Choice Award and … hope that people enjoy our entry for this year just as much.”

The fundraiser has been very successful in the past couple years. In 2012, sponsors, competitors, and guests helped raise nearly $39,000 for Aurora’s cause.

Dianna Thorsen, Tonna Seibert, and Linda Mercer, the 2012 amateur division winners, say the event is loads of fun and involves tons of royal icing and a mountain of gingerbread. They had never before taken part in a competition but found it to be challenging and a learning experience.

For more information about Aurora Inc. and the Gingerbread House Competition, call 812-428-3246 or visit auroraevansville.org.

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Down to a Tea

The historic 1905 Beaux Arts home of Kay Cox at 408 SE Riverside Drive is the setting for the annual Evansville Museum Guild’s “‘Tis the Season Tea,” Dec. 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Guests to the Harris & Shopbell-built home can enjoy the view across the street – at the nearly complete expansion of the Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science, which benefits from the funds raised at the annual holiday tea.

“The ‘Tis the Season Tea is an opportunity for the members of the Evansville Museum Guild and community to gather in a beautiful and festive setting,” says co-chair, Tara Stanley.

The holiday event features light refreshments and an auction showcasing the tablescapes on display from local designers. Tickets are $40 each.

“The house will be wonderfully decorated, and it will be only the second time it has been open since it was renovated,” Stanley says.

This year’s gathering will honor the Wright family, through sisters-in-law Ann Wright Tornatta and Marianna Soaper Wright, says Stanley. For years, the family has served as a generous benefactor and has created programs like a local high school art show honoring the talents of youth.

“Women and men have enjoyed the many beautiful homes that have hosted the tea throughout the years,” Stanley adds. “It is a great way to enjoy the holiday season.”

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Acting Up

Under the big top with a bear trainer
Tepa Hall works in the ring with one of the bears from her "Castle's Performing Bears" act, which she performs with her husband.

At age 6, Tepa Hall, now a resident of northeast Texas, climbed a 20-foot pole that was no more than two inches in diameter. That pole stood precariously balanced on the right shoulder of her father, who was in the center of a three-ring circus. Hall flipped, twisted, did handstands, and more for the crowd of thousands.

Now, Hall has children who dazzle the audience in the circus, and, like her father, she hasn’t stopped performing, either. At the Evansville Hadi Shrine Circus, which starts on Thanksgiving, Hall won’t be defying gravity anymore — but she will be taming a wild beast — a bear.

These flips and things were what we had watched our parents do, so it became commonplace.

Yet I am scared before every performance. But that’s what keeps me safe. It keeps me on my toes.

When I hit the ring and perform, the importance of the performance and how it comes across to an audience overrides the fear.

Everyone sees the completed professional show, and everything just runs smoothly. But the performers in the back might watch an act while holding their breaths. Like if we’re seeing the high-wire act performers and there’s no net beneath them, it’s just beautiful. The audience might not get the seriousness of the risks involved because it’s performed so flawlessly.

This is not something we do with strangers. That’s why we considered ourselves family. You have to get to that level of trust with another performer.

It’s familiarity. It’s knowing without thinking what the other person is going to do.

My husband James and I will be the ones with the performing bears. These bears ride bicycles and walk on balls.

Because we grew up in and were surrounded by the circus environment, my husband fell in love with bears. If you’re a child in the circus and an act interests you, you ask the performer how you can help. It’s a great teaching environment.

We had to get the bears when they were cubs. That’s how we fostered a relationship with them. Again, it’s all about trust.

They are European brown bears, Zuzu and Putter.

My first year at the Hadi Shrine Circus in Evansville was 1981. And I’ve performed in Evansville many, many times, including the 75th anniversary of the Hadi Shrine Circus in Evansville and in 2011 when the circus moved from Roberts Stadium to the Ford Center. But this is the 80th anniversary of the circus in the city, and we knew we wanted to be a part of it.

For more information about the Hadi Shrine Circus, visit hadishrinecircus.com.

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Crooning Cowboys

Becoming the highest-ranking vocal group in the history of America’s Got Talent in 2009 was just the beginning for The Texas Tenors. Marcus Collins, John Hagen, and JC Fisher have entertained audiences at more than 500 concerts around the globe with their country, gospel, classical, and Broadway styles. Although The Texas Tenors did not win the grand prize — they finished fourth — the crooning cowboys made an impression.

Each member of the group is uniquely talented, but they come together as a trio known for its humor, country charm, and beautiful vocals. The Texas Tenors often partner with large orchestras, including The Houston Symphony, the Cleveland Pops, The Phoenix Symphony, and the Prague Philharmonic — and for 60 shows a year, the musicians make The Starlite Theatre in Branson, Mo., their home.

The Texas Tenors bring their Deep in the Heart of Christmas Live show to Jasper, Ind., on Dec. 8, when the Jasper Community Arts Commission hosts the trio in its Performers Series at the Jasper Arts Center. Two days later, the trio will release its second album, “You Should Dream.” The album’s title track was written by a Fayetteville, Ga., school teacher Dana Lamb, who told her hometown newspaper, The Citizen: “They (The Texas Tenors) have a soft spot for educators because all of their parents were teachers. They thought the song was so inspirational because teachers encourage their students to dream; that is what teachers do,” she says.

“You Should Dream” is recorded with a 65-piece orchestra and also is the title of a PBS special to air Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m. on WNIN-TV.

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Super Bowl to Center Stage

Former Indianapolis Colts tight end to sing in Owensboro

From catching passes from football legend Peyton Manning to entertaining thousands alongside Grammy-nominated Jim Brickman, Ben Utecht has achieved both of his childhood dreams in the last decade.

Often referred to as a real-life “Glee” character, the 32-year-old Rochester, Minn., native has excelled both on the football field and in the arts. On Dec. 15, Utecht will perform as part of the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops-Masterworks Series from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at RiverPark Center.

Utecht played tight end football for the Division 1 University of Minnesota Gophers from 2000 to 2003. He become acquainted with Tony Dungy, former head coach for the Indianapolis Colts and an alumnus of the University of Minnesota. “He was a Gopher just like I was,” Utecht says of Dungy, who played there from 1973 to 1976. Utecht had the honor of introducing Dungy as a speaker at the Athletes in Action banquet just a couple of months before the NFL draft. Utecht laughs at the memory, as he had lightheartedly joked to the crowd that he expected Dungy to pick him up in the draft. “Us alumni have to stick together,” Utecht recalls having said to Dungy.

Despite being one of the top tight ends in the 2003 draft, Utecht’s chances were reduced after an injury his senior year. But when the free agent market opened up, he got a call from Dungy and was off to Indiana to don the Indianapolis Colts blue.

Utecht was a member of the 2007 team to take the Super Bowl XLI title. He says life in the NFL was somewhat normal, as he continued to play the sport he had been familiar with since the third grade. “On the other hand, you have to pinch yourself realizing how blessed you are to play with such great talents,” he says. In 2008, Utecht signed an offer with the Cincinnati Bengals. This was an exciting transition for him and his wife, Karyn, who were married in 2006. But Utecht unfortunately suffered his fifth concussion in training camp. The injury was so serious he was forced to end his football career. Yet Utecht knew there were brighter roads ahead.

As a pastor’s son, Utecht says he grew up in a diverse home with a strong emphasis on religion, athletics, and the arts. His mother is a vocalist who would sing at church. Utecht excelled in football, hockey, and track as a three-sport athlete, but he participated in even more choirs than sports teams. That made for a trying high school experience, he says. “It’s difficult for kids trying to bridge the gap between athletics and the arts,” Utecht says.

“The rushes are so incredibly similar and different, but collectively they have one thing in common, and that is that I love to do them both,” Utecht says. “As a man, one thing I truly long for is to have a purpose and to be relevant in this life."

He offers this advice to students struggling to balance their interests: “Never compromise your heart. Sink your heels into what you truly love and run after what you believe in. You will be successful in those areas and you will gain respect from others.”

After releasing his first self-titled album in 2006 under Stylos Records, Utecht had many opportunities to advance his singing career even while he was continuing to play professional football. After moving to Nashville in 2009, he landed a spot on tour with songwriter and pianist Jim Brickman in 2011. Utecht says the 32-city tour allowed him to mature on stage. His new album, which includes personal songs revealing the “true Ben,” is expected to be completed by the end of this year. In the future, Utecht hopes to apply his passion for music to his advocacy for the American Brain Foundation. The brain injuries he suffered from his concussions drive Utecht to share his story and to make more people aware of traumatic brain injuries.

According to Nicholas Palmer, music director of the Owensboro Symphony, the Holiday Pops is one of the symphony’s most popular concerts of the year and will include traditional and popular holiday music as well as a sing-along.

“Ben has a lot of charisma and is an excellent singer, so he was the natural choice to perform in Owensboro,” Palmer says. He believes Utecht, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn., with his wife and three daughters, will have a rapport with the audience. “I am hoping he will bring his Super Bowl ring as well,” he says.

For more information and to purchase tickets for Owensboro Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops concert call 270-684-0661 or visit theoso.com

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Solo Venture

Evansville native Philip Lawrence comes from a family of musicians.

Apart, Philip Lawrence and Bruno Mars were broke, struggling musicians. Together, they are an unstoppable force defining the way today’s pop music sounds.

As part of the song-writing and producing trio The Smeezingtons, Lawrence, Mars, and Ari Levine have crafted numerous Billboard hits such as rapper Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” rapper B.O.B.’s “Nothin’ On You,” and pop singer Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You.”

It’s been that way ever since Lawrence, an Evansville native, met Mars in 2006. That’s when music critics began attaching every buzzword-worthy adjective to them. They’ve been celebrated for their hot beats and smartly crafted No. 1 singles such as “Grenade,” “Just the Way You Are,” and “Locked Out of Heaven,” all chart toppers crooned by Mars.

But what’s been critical to Lawrence’s success has been his Evansville roots — and his musically entrenched family. His mother, Cheryl, was the director of the Sounds of Grace touring church choir for 35 years, his father, Philip Sr., was a radio deejay for WJPS in the 1970s, and his second cousins, Gina Moore and Joan Moore-Mobley, make up The Browne Sisters, arguably the most iconic Evansville R&B and blues band.

The never-better Lawrence, a 1992 Memorial High School graduate, has released his first solo album, Letters I Never Sent, and he’ll take the stage Sept. 14 at the Victory Theatre for his first performance showcasing his work. Joining him will be The Browne Sisters, and his brother and sister, Shane and DeVonna, a gospel duo known as The Lawrences. It’s a carefully curated cast of the musicians who have shaped Lawrence’s life.

Still feeling unprepared for the knockout concert? Then just turn your radios on — and up.

For three weeks, I counted every time I heard a Bruno Mars song on the radio. The grand total: 137. That’s insane, right?
No way! My business manager would be happy to hear that.

What were your first memories of music?
My dad, a deejay, had crates and crates of records lying around the house, everything from the Eagles to Stevie Wonder. That has influenced me a lot with what I am doing with Bruno because we are all over the place, too, sometimes.

You tweeted recently that you fulfilled your dream of selling out the Staples Center. At what point in your career did you think that dream would be a reality?
At the risk of sounding narcissistic, I think I always had belief in myself. I’ve always felt like I’ve had something to offer when it came to music.

There were a lot of times along the way when I didn’t know how it would happen, but I was always positive that I could do something great.

Surely you had at least one moment of doubt.
There was a period that we were so broke that I talked to Bruno about moving back from Los Angeles to Orlando where I had once had a gig at Disney World, to save up some money.

But my family had been supportive through my whole career. My mom and dad have a perfect match of practicality and “follow your dreams.”

Do you write your best songs with Mars?
I think so. At the risk of sounding cliché, we complete each other in that sense.

What I remember most from the first time I met Bruno in late 2006 at a recording session a mutual friend had invited us to was the joking around. Our personalities jelled really well. That, beyond our musical talents, has kept us together this whole time. Because we’re buds. We’ve discovered that we are at our best when the atmosphere is fun, loud, and loose. That enables us to be more creative.

What will surprise people about your solo album?
I think people have associated me so much with Bruno, and they might assume I do the same style of music on my own.

So they might be surprised to hear my rock and folk influences. I’ve listened to and loved that music for a long time, from Billy Joel to Lenny Kravitz to Seal. I’ve always liked the sound of my voice singing those kinds of songs, and my songwriting style is at ease with that style as well.

What’s the key to telling a story through a song?
Songs are like a movie, but you only have three and a half minutes to have it make sense. So, first, you have to be passionate about it. Because if you are, you’ll look for the things that captivate an audience. What captivates are songs that come from an honest place, and people relate to honesty.

How did writing music for your album compare to writing for Mars’ work?
There are constraints in the pop world on what you can talk about and what it should sound like for radio stations to even play it.

For my album, I wanted to take the exact opposite approach. I just wanted to be honest, and like we were just talking about, tell stories.

It was a cathartic experience for me to hear myself sing again. When I wrote these songs, I was in “Bruno world” heavy. I loved it. We were making him a star and making music we loved.

But I just wanted to find my own voice. So to my luxury, I didn’t have to worry about what a radio station would think. That helped me tell these honest stories.

For more information about Philip Lawrence’s new album, visit store.warnermusic.com/letters-i-never-sent-digital-album.html.

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Healing Art

Glass sculpture evokes powers of water, energy, and color
Brook Forrest White Jr. with the installation "Mind, Body, & Soul" — “Body” is orange to purple. Photo by Matthew Gotth Olsen.

Patients at the brand-new Owensboro Health Regional Hospital have been treated to a show this summer in the courtyard outside the cafeteria in the back of the hospital. Since around mid-July, they’ve been able to watch Louisville, Ky., glass artist and Owensboro native Brook Forrest White Jr. assemble his latest — and probably biggest — work of art.

White’s latest installation is privately funded and is entitled “Mind, Body & Soul.” It is three sculptures functioning together as a single work, drawing on “the concepts of water, movement, and color and their role in the human healing process,” according to one of the work’s descriptive plaques. White contracted with a metal artist in Louisville, Bryan Holden, to construct the metal framework of the sculptures, and White’s studio, Flame Run Glass Studio and Gallery in Louisville, began in January to craft the nearly 1,000 separate glass pieces that have now been individually fastened to the metal frames. The piece, which is 17 feet tall and five feet wide, is essentially complete.

Initially, White planned to display something in the man-made pond on the hospital grounds that is visible from the courtyard, but that proved to be impractical. Yet he chose to keep water as the central concept of the piece.

Two of the sculptures resemble waves, their curving frames directing their energy toward the third sculpture in the center, which resembles a plume of water bursting upward. The waves represent the mind and body and are symbolic of energy and emotion, White explains, while the plume of “water” represents the soul. And while the pieces are meant to evoke the idea of water, White did not limit the palette to blues and greens, though many shades of both are present. He included deep purples, delicate lavenders, and fiery reds and oranges.

White is no stranger to creating installation pieces for hospitals — he has installations at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville as well as Deaconess Gateway Hospital in Newburgh, among others (He was featured in the March/April 2006 issue of Evansville Living magazine for his Gateway installation). The Owensboro Health project is especially meaningful for him. His mother and grandmother were both nurses at the former Owensboro-Daviess County Hospital and he grew up (and his mother still resides) virtually a stone’s throw away from the site of the new hospital. He says working in glass has yielded many blessings and this experience in particular has been “humbling.” He adds that a woman posted on the studio’s Facebook page that she had been watching from her father’s hospital room for over a week as the work progressed on the sculpture and that it had made a difficult experience much better. “That single-handedly validated what we were trying to accomplish,” he says.

For more information about Brook Forrest White Jr., visit the Facebook page for Flame Run Glass Studio, flamerun.com, or call the studio at 502-584-5353.

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Fostering Design

Visitors to Dallas and Susan Foster’s home and gardens in Vincennes, Ind., on Sept. 21 will be treated to the landscape designers’ signature mosaic of landscape color and texture.

Landscapes by Dallas Foster is partnering with Evansville Living to host “A Day at Hawthorn Winds,” an exclusive tour of Dallas and Susan Foster’s personal landscape. The tour benefits the Knox County Humane Society and will be held in Vincennes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST). Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Entrance for children 12 and under is free.

The Fosters’ personal residence, a showplace for the company’s landscape values, features eight acres of gently contoured lawn and woodlands. A pond surrounded by 12 ornamental Winter King Hawthorn trees defines the landscape for which the homestead was named. The Fosters have hosted prior tours at Hawthorn Winds, and again this year visitors will have the opportunity to explore the many destinations within the landscape, to talk with Dallas and Susan Foster and their knowledgeable staff, and to enjoy snacks and beverages.

The Acropolis Restaurant will serve finger foods, and Gigi’s Cupcakes will offer desserts. Companies serving beverages will be Oliver Winery, Dad’s Root Beer, and Hedinger Beverage Distributing Co. T.R.U. Event Rental will provide places to rest and gather.

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When In Rome

Local cafe and art gallery offers an offbeat entertainment and dining experience
As a painter, Todd Huber wanted to create a welcome creative space for other artists and musicians.

Have you ever heard of the Roman Emperor Pupienus Maximus? Todd Huber, owner of PG café and art gallery, had never heard of him, either, until he started demolition on PG’s building at 1418 W. Franklin St.

“We didn’t have a name yet, and when we were doing demolition, we found this wallpaper that had Roman emperors on it,” he says. “One of the names was ‘Pupienus Maximus.’”

Pupienus Maximus reigned as co-emperor of Rome with Balbinus from April 22 to July 29 in 238 A.D. He and Balbinus were assassinated on the same day by soldiers of the Praetorian Guard.

Huber decided to name the café PG, as in Pupienus’ glove. Huber says it’s not known if Pupienus actually had a glove, but he likes the idea of “developing a weird story. It’s about creating a legendary myth” and being inspired as a result of someone else’s inspiration.

A native of the West Side, Huber graduated from Reitz High School in 1999 before moving to Bloomington, Boston, California, and Oregon. It was in Oregon that Huber had the idea of opening a café and art gallery.

“My girlfriend, Kate Horvath, and I were looking at starting a place in Portland, but my brother, who owns Tin Man, was going to demolish the PG building for a parking lot, so we decided to come back,” says Huber. “We thought this was the perfect spot so we were going to make this building work for us.”

“I grew up here, and as a kid there was basically nowhere to hang out on Franklin Street,” says Huber. “We want to be the place that attracts both younger and older generations.”

After starting demolition in March 2012, PG opened its doors on March 15 of this year. The goal is to put on one to three events each weekend, ranging from art shows to live bands and even some open mic nights. Huber wants the customer to experience something that’s comfortable and enjoyable, where people can come sit down and work or just hang out.

“We want people to focus on doing something they wouldn’t do at other bars or galleries,” says Huber. So far, there have been four experimental open mic nights. These have allowed participants to produce video art, electronic music, and other kinds of art.

Besides offering entertainment, PG also serves food and beer, wine, homemade sodas, and coffee. All of its meals are made from scratch and are “as socially and environmentally responsible as possible,” says Horvath, the kitchen manager. She is self-taught in the culinary arts.

The lunch menu changes almost daily, but the breakfast menu will usually stay the same, consisting of omelets, hash browns, waffles, and more. Lunches always offer a soup, pasta, and a salad as well as other often-changing options, too. The smoked salmon has been a popular item and the grilled cheese with jalapeno poppers is quickly becoming a favorite.

Overall, PG hopes to encourage experimentation in Evansville.

“We try to be different,” says Huber. “Our art is something that you won’t find at other galleries.”

PG also has plans to expand in the near future. A second floor of the building will need to be made handicap accessible before it can be used during opening hours.

“Eventually, we would like to have little PG’s all over town, a little empire,” Huber laughs.

For more information about PG, call 402-4445 or visit pgeville.com.

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Colour of Humanity

He was a child refugee. Now Derreck Kayongo is considered a fearless visionary. And on Friday, Oct. 11, he will be the keynote speaker at the Evansville African-American Museum’s fifth annual Colour of Humanity Gala.

Kayongo and his wife, Sarah, started their own non-governmental organization, The Global Soap Project, which repurposes partially used soap from hotels into new soap for needy populations. So far, the organization has donated more than half a million bars of soap to more than 20 countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Swaziland, Kenya, and Ghana.

The Colour of Humanity Gala will raise funds to continue the educational programs and support the exhibits of the African-American Museum. It will also support the museum’s general operating expenses. The evening will include cocktails at 6 p.m., dinner, dancing, and a live auction with 10 items.

“The auction items are unique and distinct experiences,” says Nancy Drake, who co-chairs the gala along with Kevin Wells. “The dinner on Oct. 11, we call that our Signature Soul Food Buffet. Everybody loves that buffet.”

The theme for this year’s gala is “The Color Purple,” and it will be held at the Tropicana Executive Conference Center, 421 NW Riverside Drive. Individual tickets are $125 and table sponsorships range from $1,500 to $5,000. Tickets are available for purchase through the museum. If you cannot attend the event, the museum is also accepting donations.