November 23, 2014
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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.

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Delicious Bids

The chefs will be hard at work in the makeshift kitchen, but the key ingredient is you. The 2013 Evansville Signature Chefs Auction will take place on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 5:30 p.m. at the Scottish Rite, 203 Chestnut St.

The Chefs Auction is an annual event — this will be its 16th year — to raise money for the March of Dimes, which helps mothers have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies.

This year’s Ambassador Family is Jono, Jessica, and Taytum Connor of Vincennes, Ind. Taytum Connor was born at around 29 weeks during an emergency C-section. Ten weeks later, after various medical issues, she was discharged from the hospital on what should have been her due date.
The Nov. 7 event will allow the best chefs in southwest Indiana to prepare signature dishes for guests, who will also have an opportunity to socialize with other attendees. A live auction including unique epicurean experiences and items will cap off the evening.

Various dishes from Acropolis, Franco’s Catering, Just Rennie’s, Kanpai, Commonwealth Bar + Grill, Texas Roadhouse, Outback Steakhouse, Bar Louie, RiRa Irish Pub, and the Tin Fish in Newburgh will be available.

Open to the public, tickets are $50 per person, $100 per couple, or $1,075 for a corporate table of eight. Interested parties may purchase tickets by cash, check, or credit card.

For more information, contact Southwest Indiana Community Director Ashley Murray at 812-266-6005.

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Regifted

Christ The King’s 8th Annual Jingle Mingle Mart offers a unique experience for area shoppers with more than 60 vendors, from across the Tri-State, in one festive and convenient location. The vendors will showcase a unique array of clothing, jewelry, home and garden décor, gourmet food, artwork, and holiday items.

B.J. McHugh of Loveworn will be one of the vendors returning to this year’s Jingle Mart. Loveworn “reinvents and recycles” T-shirts into adorable skirts and scarves. This year is the 100th anniversary of the T-shirt and, in the past two years, McHugh, a popular exhibitor at the annual Broad Ripple Art Fair in Indianapolis, has recycled more than 10,000 T-shirts. She will have racks of ready-to-wear items, including Indiana University skirts just in time for football season. Customers can bring their own T-shirts to the Jingle Mart and McHugh will create a one-of-a-kind garment for them.

The Jingle Mingle Mart will take place at Christ The King School Friday, Nov. 8, from 5 to 9 p.m. An $8 entrance fee will include an evening of shopping, entertainment, complimentary food, and a silent auction. All proceeds from this fundraiser benefit Christ The King School’s PTO.

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In the Third Act

Previous owner of Evansville’s former gourmet food store A La Carte now earns applause as a creator of Back Alley Musicals
Ron Waite, a culinary artist turned theater producer, takes the director’s position at the RiverPark Center.

Thirty years in education, culminating with a stretch as a middle school principal, would leave most people with just enough stamina to lounge poolside or maybe play a weekly round of bridge. Not Ron Waite. The Owensboro, Ky., native, who many Evansvillians may recognize as the proprietor of the much-missed “A La Carte Food and Wine” on S. Green River Road, is still a man on fire, splitting his time in various volunteer positions and helping run Back Alley Musicals, the musical theatre company he helped establish in 2010.

Where did you learn to cook, and how did you make the transition from teaching to gourmet food shop owner and caterer?
I have always liked to cook. My mother and father were both fine cooks, but the art part of it is what I enjoy. In the early 1960s, as part of “The Great Society,” there was an initiative to teach mothers how to budget and buy and cook better food. We couldn’t get any takers, so it turned into an adult education class with me teaching gourmet cooking. We had a ball! I think it cost all of five dollars per person for the whole course, which was six classes. One night we did quiche — of course, that’s passé now, but at the time people didn’t know what it was! Anyway, in the midst of this, Jacques Pepin, who had been Charles DeGaulle’s personal chef, came to Louisville. I took a class with him, which led to me getting into a class with James Beard (American chef and food writer) at his home on 14th Street in the Village in New York City. Everybody there was someone, but me. In fact, one night, Julia and Paul Child came by to pick up Mr. Beard. (And, yes, she was very tall.) They were going to a big party at The Four Seasons to announce the opening of La Varenne, a new cooking school in Paris. I thought “I’d better get myself to France,” and eventually I did spend six weeks there one summer. It was wonderful. We made croissants out the wazoo.

What recipes do people ask you for the most?
They always want the Curry Chicken Salad, the Seelbach Salad, and the Waldorf Salad.

Do you give them the recipes?
Not really — I still kind of keep them in my personal file. If they say, “Does it have mustard?” or something, I’ll give them a yes or a no.

What was your first personal experience with musicals?
Well, when I was a child, we played “Show,” you know — but when I started teaching for the great sum of $2,300 a year, I got a $50 bonus for putting on a musical. So we did a musical a year at what was then Eastern Junior High School in Owensboro. When I started my master’s degree, we could take hours in whatever we wanted, so I took a lot of mine at Indiana University in the theater department. I thought it might help in putting on the shows, and it did, but it was also just a lot of fun.

What was the impetus for “BAM” (Back Alley Musicals)?
In the summer of 2010, some people did “The King and I” and it was such fun that the next summer, we said, “Why don’t we do a small musical?” so we did “The Taffetas,” which only has four characters. People loved it, and we sold out. So we set out to do four musicals and decided to sell season tickets. Our goal was to sell 50 and we sold 110. We started at the Healing America building, then moved to Pangea Café, and now we are on to the River Park Center. When we were at Healing America and were trying to come up with a name, somebody said, “Nobody’s going to find us on this back alley,” and there it was. So we’re not on the back alley anymore, but we’re keeping the name.

Why do you think there’s been such a response and turnout to BAM’s shows?
People love musicals. They make you feel good. Of course, they’re also the most expensive; not only do you have to pay for the rights to the show, but there’s also the orchestra. The sets are more elaborate. The demand on the actors is higher, too; they have to be able to sing, act, and dance … often all at the same time.

What do you love the most — the cooking or the music?
Well, I don’t like both at the same time! They’re both artistic endeavors. Musicals involve many people. Cooking is personal. You meet interesting people in both.

Okay, cliché but fun. You can invite five people — living or dead — to dinner. Who are they?
James Beard — he could carry on a conversation and he would appreciate the food; Carol Channing; Eartha Kitt (an actress best known for her role as “Catwoman” in the TV series “Batman”); Leonard Bernstein — he’s just a scoundrel! What a mess! And Marlene Dietrich — you gotta have a little trash along.  

For more information about Back Alley Musicals, call 270-925-4963 or visit backalleymusicals.com.

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Serving it to the Community

Macie Elliott

When the Women’s Hospital 2013 Classic takes place Monday, July 15, through Sunday, July 21, a local tennis player will likely get a lot of attention.

Macie Elliott graduated from Reitz Memorial High School and will attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas in the fall to play tennis. This will be her first year to compete in the main draw of the tournament.

Elliott won the girls Indiana state tennis singles tournament held at North Central High School in Indianapolis as a sophomore in June 2011. This year, Elliott and Brenna Wu won their doubles semifinal and championship matches at the Indiana High School Athletic Association state championship in Indianapolis on June 8.

“I was chosen as a wildcard, which they usually give to someone local,” Elliott says. “When I heard the news that I would get to compete, I was really excited to get out there and show my skills.”

This is the 15th year of the tournament, which benefits the newly opened Evansville Tennis Center. The United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit event helps young women, usually ages 18 to 23, trying to become professional tennis players obtain enough points to qualify for the next level.

“Macie is a very hard-working, committed young lady,” Anna Hazlett, manager of the Evansville Tennis Center says. “She always strives to be the best, whether it is in academics or tennis.”

The tournament offers competitors $10,000 in prize money split between winners and finalists.

Events will take place throughout the week, including a family day clinic on Saturday, July 20, from 9 to 10 a.m. On the final day of the competition, Lic’s Deli & Ice Cream will provide free strawberries and ice cream to everyone who attends.

The tournament will take place outside at Wesselman Tennis Center. If it rains, it will be held indoors at the new tennis facility located at 5428 Davis Lant Drive, which is on Green River Road near Evansville Day School.

Admission to the tournament and clinics is free all week.

The Women’s Hospital - Deaconess Health System is the title sponsor of the event.

For more information, visit USTA.com or evansvilletennis.net.