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Omaha blues man Hector Anchondo riding high

August 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Omaha blues man Hector Anchondo riding high

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the August 2018 Reader (www.thereader.com)

Blues singer-songwriter-guitarist Hector Anchondo has paid the price to live the dream. Calling Omaha home for two decades, he led his Hector Anchondo Band to the 2016 International Blues Challenge finals in Memphis after reaching the semis a year earlier.

In 2017, their Roll the Dice album charted worldwide and the group won Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards recognition for Best Blues.

After years working odd jobs to supplement his music earnings, Anchondo, 38, now supports his family doing what he loves  He also gives back to the adopted hometown that nurtured him as founder of In the Market for Blues festival. Twenty-eight bands will gig at eight Old Market venues Saturday, August 4. His band hits the stage at midnight at T. Henrey’s Pub. A jam session follows.

Things are golden for Anchondo. He’s getting married, He’s becoming a father a second time. He’s written songs for a new album (his eighth). His tour rides are in a 2016 Ford Transit 350 XLT, not the beaters he used to drive. But he was reminded of the fragility of it all last April when the night before a tour was to commence, severe stomach pains landed him at University Hospital. Surgeons removed his gallbladder.

Once through the health crisis, there were crushing medical care costs for which he had no insurance, Anchondo could see it all slipping away. But the Omaha Blues Society held a fundraiser concert at Chrome Lounge and friends launched a YouCaring campaign. He’s healed now and can pay his bills.

Speaking to The Reader from Aspen, Colorado, where he solo toured last month, Anchondo reflected on the journey that’s taken him from his Missouri Ozark hill country origins to this Great Plains base and beyond.

He took up guitar at 16 while living on his family’s farm. He’d never played an instrument before, though he did sing in choir. It was passion at first lick.

“It was like a flip switched on. I took it very serious from the start. I’ve always been about the craft of it,” he said.

He recalls a guitar solo in a Guns N’ Roses video sealing the deal.

“I was like, That is what I’m going to do, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

He grew up influenced by Los Tigres del Norte, traditional American roots sounds, soaring Jimi Hendrix blues riffs and ’90s grunge-hip hop beats.

“I always liked the blues. It’s the emotional expression when you’re on stage – the personality part of it. You can really be yourself.”

Carlos Santana was another “big influence.”

“I had an immediate connection through our Hispanic background. His Latin grooves caught me right away and I’ve been hooked ever since.

“Eric Clapton was also a big influence. especially his acoustic MTV unplugged album. I could not stop listening to it. Learning the songs was a complete joy.”

He gigged in Missouri before moving to Omaha, where he had family, to try making it in a bigger market.

“There was a lot of not playing music out live because I was starting from scratch. I didn’t know where to begin. Then I started hitting every open mic in town. I would go to those every week without fail. I started meeting other musicians. It was a real tight-knit community.”

 

Stage Right became a second home.

“It was a lot of fun. It was a very nice, accepting, open atmosphere. I also started my own weekly gig at Caffeine Dreams.”

He slept on couches and floors and worked McDonald’s to get by. On stage, veteran players noticed his talent.

“A lot of older musicians came up to me and told me to never stop – that I had a good thing going, I was very fortunate to have lots of encouragement.”

The natural worked to hone his intuitive gifts.

“Sometimes I would practice the same riff or part for hours upon hours until I got it right.”

His pursuit of mastery attracted other artists and he formed a popular band, Anchondo, with some of them. Live performing gigs beckoned and local stations gave their music airplay, especially “She Devil.”

“We were doing a lot of great touring and getting festivals, playing some auditoriums in the Midwest – but barely making any money. We were living dirt poor. Any money I’ve ever made I’ve always invested back into music.”

He’s spared no expense with guitars. Despite having a Fender Strat and a Dobro Resonator (anonymously left on his doorstep), his go-to is a Delaney Austin.

“It was hand-made special for me. The sound quality, the playability, the jumbo frets, the sustain, I could go on and on. Plus, it feels good to be a Delaney-endorsed artist.”

Things were looking up. Then the recession hit and bookings fizzled.

“it just killed us. We stopped playing. I had to do a lot of soul searching, like, Is this when I hang it up?”

Tired of dishwasher, check-out clerk and construction jobs to make ends meet, he recommitted to his dream.

“I just couldn’t stop being a musician.”

He formed a new band, wrote dozens of songs and released the well-received EPs Kicking Up Dust and Young Guns with blues as his new calling card.

He strategically entered his band in the Nebraska Blues Challenge. After losing the first two years, they won the next two, thus qualifying for the international event down South. He describes that hyped stage in the nation’s blues mecca “a game-changer.”

“It meant getting in front of the blues worlds eye. It was a huge learning experience, too, watching other bands that competed.”

He entered “uncharted waters” by hiring L.A.-based radio promoter-record publicist Frank Roszak to get Roll the Dice heard.

“I knew that was the right move to make,” Anchondo said. “I knew I had to strike while the iron was still hot. It was a complete success. I finally had an album being played all over the world. We got some serious exposure out of that. It was a dream come true and something I’d been working for my entire career.”

Meanwhile. he’s trying to enrichen the area blues scene with the In the Market fest – now in year four.

“Every year it’s grown and this year is going to kick a lot of ass,” he said. “All the bands are outstanding.”

He credits E3 Entertainment and the Blues Society for “doing the majority of the work to make the festival happen.”

He said the Blues Society and its BluesEd program “have really grown the Omaha music scene.” His drummer, Khaugman Winfield, is a BluesEd alum.

Anchondo appreciates the Blues Society coming to his aid last spring following emergency surgery.

“It was absolutely wonderful of them. So many people rallied together and helped out. My mind is still blown by all the love and support.”

He’s performing again in Omaha at Baxter Arena September 14 and The Waiting Room November 21.

“I anticipate continuing to be based out of Omaha and keep going with business as usual. Omaha has been such a great and wonderful springboard for my music career.”

He’s been down this road too long to know that “making it” doesn’t ever mean being home free.

“There’s still lots of struggles and sacrificing, but I have a very full life with my family and getting to play music professionally. It’s my full-time job. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Except maybe time.

“I’m trying to set this next album up to where I have a lot more time to perfect certain things and to invest more in my guitar and my vocals.”

Follow at hectoranchondo.com.

Visit http://www.InTheMarketForBlues.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

 

Omahans put spin on Stephen King’s “The Shining’ – Jason Levering leads stage adaptation of horror classic to benefit Benson Theatre Project

March 17, 2014 2 comments

Jason Levering and a group of fellow Omahans has proven just cheeky enough to adapt Stephen King’s The Shining to the stage.  The world premiere of their efforts is March 21 and 22 at the Sokol Auditorium in three performances to benefit the Benson Theatre Project, a nonprofit is primed to purchase and restore a vintage vaudeville and movie house in Omaha’s Benson business district.  Business Theatre Project executive director Amy Ryan says, “My confidence in Jason Levering and his ability to put on a quality production influenced my decision to sign off, along with the other project leaders.” I asked her if she has any trepidation in hanging a fundraiser on a premiere, never-before-staged work, even if it is adapted from a mega popular novel whose title everyone knows and whose author is a brand unto himself. “It’s a tall order, no doubt.  Certainly there were many factors and risks to be considered, but in the end we decided that it was a unique and viable way to raise funds and showcase Omaha’s local talent.”  Levering is also artistic director of the Benson Theatre Project.  What follows is my upcoming story in The Reader (www.thereader.com) about the adaptation, which st least based on the legendary status of the source material and its author has given this production a very high curiosity factor.  For my article I interviewed Levering about various aspects of the project.

 

Omahans put spin on Stephen King’s “The Shining”

Jason Levering leads stage adaptation of horror classic to benefit Benson Theatre Project

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Credit Omaha writer-director Jason Levering for possessing the temerity to not only consider adapting Stephen King’s meta horror novel The Shining to the stage but to follow through and actually get the master’s approval. Now he’s only hours away from seeing the adaptation he and Aaron Sailors wrote make its world premiere.

The Shining, A Play, has a three-show run March 21 and 22 at Sokol Auditorium, 2234 South 13th St., the old-line South Omaha space known for live music concerts, not full-blown dramatic theatricals. Make no mistake, this will be a big, effects-laden production commensurate with the sprawling, supernatural-laced source material.

The show’s a fundraiser for the Benson Theatre Project. Levering is artistic director of the nonprofit, which needs $250,000 to purchase the former Benson vaudeville and movie house at 6054 Maple St. before renovation work can begin. It’s adjacent to the Pizza Shoppe and PS Collective, whose owner, Amy Ryan, is the project’s executive director. Ryan, a community advocate and arts supporter, goes way back with Levering, who’s also co-founder of the Omaha Film Festival.

An Aurora, Neb., native, Levering’s worked on short films. He and Sailors are collaborating on a feature film adaptation of short stories from author Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake collection. That project’s on hold while Chaon works on the Starz series Most Wanted. Levering’s s stage credits include acting in the Blue Barn Theatre’s Round Midnight series and adapting Oscar Wilde fairy tales at The Rose theater.

What made him think of reworking what many consider a horror masterpiece? It starts with him being “a huge Stephen King fan.” Then there’s the fact the claustrophobic story largely unfolds in one location, the Overlook Hotel, which lends itself well to stage presentation. Finally, there’s The Shining franchise of the popular novel as well as successful film and television treatments, not to mention the built-in brand that the title and King’s own name bring to any adaptation.

“The genesis started during the 2013 Omaha Gives campaign that raised some money for the theater,” Levering says. “Afterwards we talked about doing our own production as a fundraiser and how while we don’t have our own theater troupe we know enough people that we could try and put something together.

“We didn’t want it to be something that had already been done here. We wanted it to be something special, that is our own. But we also wanted it to be something recognizable. I suggested doing a stage adaptation of a popular book that hasn’t been adapted yet. I naturally fixed on The Shining. We all thought it was a great idea.”

That left the not so small matter of getting the famous author to bestow his blessing on the endeavor.

“You have to get permission from Mr. King for something like that,” says Levering, who made the overture to the agency, Paradigm, that represents the legend.

The go-ahead came easier and quicker than Levering imagined.

“Mr. King read our proposal and he was very interested in what we were doing with the Benson Theatre project and he gave us a limited option to adapt The Shining to stage.”

King also retained the right of approval over the script, the director (Levering) and the cast.

 

 

Jason Levering
Levering next dived deep into the book and into the lore surrounding its inception and he discovered a reason why his instinct to adapt it as a play may have resonated with King.

“In my research I found out Mr. King originally conceived it as a five-act play and then he eventually turned it into a novel.”

Levering’s careful study of the book reintroduced him to the story’s great set-up. Jack and Wendy Torrance and their boy Danny become stranded in a haunted mountain hotel in a winter storm. Danny’s extrasensory gift makes him the target of evil spirits who prey on him through his weak father, intent on forever imprisoning the family there.

“It kind of has everything. The other thing it has going for it is these fantastic characters, Jack especially. He’s written as a good man, a recovered alcoholic with some anger issues but doing his damnedest to pull his family back together. To go from that point where there’s all this hope when they first move into the Overlook to the end where he’s literally trying to kill his family it’s such an incredible journey.”

Distilling the heart of the story took Levering and Sailors some time.

“We went through the book together. Aaron broke it down into an outline so we could figure out the main beats of each scene – what we really needed to capture that was essential. We worked from that outline as we were writing the script. He took Act III, I took Act I, and we started working forward.”

They finished the remaining acts together.

“As we wrote we sent pages back and forth, editing and polishing  each other’s work. We sent pages to another writer friend, Krissy Hamm, an associate producer on the show, and she gave us notes. It really helped to have that third person looking at it.”

Levering says he and Sailors abided by one operating principle.

“We both wanted to be very faithful to the book. A lot of the dialogue is pulled straight from the book. There’s only a few points where the dialogue was changed or something was added so that the scene would play well on stage. For the most part though the dialogue is pretty much Mr. King’s words.”

Other things are being done to make certain story elements live on stage. For example, newspaper accounts Jack reads silently to himself in the novel are projected on a screen. Flashbacks play out on the side while the main action occurs stage center. Creative ways were found to bring the Overlook’s topiary animals to life. Levering is intent on making the physical experience as visceral as possible for the audience and thus, William Castle-style, action and sound will happen throughout the auditorium, including the balcony.

Lighting and sound effects will cast a dark, malevolent mood.

 

 

 

 

Levering consulted Omaha theater veteran Kevin Lawler and brought in veteran scenic designer Kit Gough to help realize the horror.

“I want it to be immersive. I want to give the audience the feeling they really may not go home. I want them to feel they’re sitting in the middle of the Overlook Hotel as it comes to life. From the time you walk in the door it’ll be like you’ve entered the Overlook.”

Levering had his own scary encounter with the work.

“My hardest challenge was the moment the hotel takes over Jack. I was excited to write it but I was also terrified of it because that scene is where his character shifts and becomes the monster. He’s in the Colorado Room and basically the hotel has come to life. Lloyd the bartender manifests and pours him a martini. That scene was difficult for me to write because it’s at that point he turns on his family and I honest to God had nightmares of wanting to hurt my wife and kids, even though I never would.

“The idea someone could turn like that is frightening. It was actually the last scene I wrote. It was the worst for me. I’m also an actor and so method-style I poured myself a martini and drank it while writing. I wanted to feel what he was going through.”

Levering feels “honored” and “thankful” King approved “the direction we’re taking.” The cast is headed by Marc Erickson as Jack, Levering’s son Christopher as Danny and Christina Rohling as Wendy.

An invitation’s been extended King, so don’t be surprised if you spot the king of horror among the throng.

Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

For tickets, visit theshiningomaha.com. For more about the restoration project, visit bensontheatre.org.

 

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