Exhibit Honors 20th Anniversary of St. Louis Artist’s Death

A 20th Anniversary Memorial exhibition honoring local artist Nate McClain will be displayed September 8th and 9th at St. Louis ArtWorks on 5959 Delmar Boulevard in the Loop East. Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain features over 50 works by McClain including his award-winning Arnolfini Pasta Portrait, original paintings, vibrant portraits, and engaging still lifes. In addition, the exhibition will be supported by archival material including smaller works, Kodak National Honors photographs, and his first published piece at age 4.

Arnolfini Pasta Portrait
Arnolfini Pasta Portrait

Nate McClain was an emerging artist who tragically passed away at age 24 from a Mississippi River drowning accident in 1997. Born in Granite City IL, Nate was an only child and became a published artist at age 4 when his Happy Birthday Card was sold nationally by Hello Studio’s. He pursued art with a passion winning student contests and earning a Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State). His mother passed away from cancer in 1993 which had a profound impact on him as she was also an artist and his biggest advocate. After college, he lived in the Washington Avenue ArtLofts in St. Louis as a freelancer being commissioned for a 9-foot mural of Ozzie Smith for his retirement from baseball. Nate was offered a Head Art Director position around the time of his passing.

Ozzie Smith Retires
Ozzie Smith Retires

Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain is the first major retrospective to broadly examine McClain’s legacy in honor of the 20th Anniversary of his tragic passing. The exhibit was crowdfunded via the Arts and Education Council’s stARTup-StL Crowdfunding platform and organized by the Nate McClain Gallery in association with over twenty private collectors from the St. Louis area, Kansas City, Charleston S.C., Portland, Chicago, and New York City.

Painting the Town
Painting the Town

“This rare event celebrates the life of our dear friend and encourages rediscovery by viewing his works up close and in person, not online,” said Kristopher Barks, curator of the digital Nate McClain Gallery. “Nate was my best friend since preschool and his sudden passing shocked everyone who knew him. For the past twenty years, his loyal friends and family have kept his memory alive thru his online gallery and even saved one of his 16-foot murals from demolition. These passionate fans made this exhibit possible so a wider audience can share in Nate’s legacy.”

Self Portrait by Nate McClain
Self Portrait by Nate McClain

Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain opening reception is Friday, September 8th at 7 p.m. followed by an exhibition on Saturday, September 9th from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Reception and exhibit are free and open to the public at St. Louis ArtWorks, 5959 Delmar.

Article by Kristopher Barks, Curator

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WF&P Steam Railway Just Keeps Chugging Along

Each Sunday from May to October, the Wabash, Frisco and Pacific Association operates a 12 inch gauge steam locomotive passenger train thru the forest of Glencoe, Missouri. Don’t be fooled, these are no little “toy” trains by any means, these locomotives are actual fuel burning engines that are powered by steam.

Mike Lorance grew up in the area and, like so many other locals, never paid much attention to the “WF&P RR” signs that would appear at Highway 109 and Old State Road on Sunday mornings. Years later he ended up buying a home on Old State Road and, in 1989 at the request of his son, the pair went to check out the mystery railroad.

engine

Lorance had always had a fascination with steam engines, and on his first visit to the club quickly became captivated by these mechanical curiosities. He says, “the steam engines are the reason that most of the guys join.” His son’s interest waned after a month or so, but 28 years later Mike is still a member. He serves on the Board of Governors, is the group’s Treasurer, handles public relations, and holds a handful of other unofficial titles with a variety of responsibilities.

The WF&P was originally established in 1939 at Brown Road and Natural Bridge near Lambert Field. With one steam locomotive, 30 acres of land and one mile of track, the railway operated for a couple of decades until airport expansion compelled the group to move out to Glencoe. The current site has been in operation since 1961.

RRcrossing

The railroad is stationed near the western end of the Al Foster Memorial Trail, part of the Meramec Greenway project in Wildwood. A large parking area directly adjoins the train depot and ticket station, where riders can embark on a two mile, 30 minute journey along the Meramec River. Following the call of “All aboard!,” passengers take a short ride through the train yard and quickly plunge into a lush canopy of greenery and natural beauty.

The group currently owns ten steam locomotives and three diesels, with several in the yard being machined completely on site by members. Everyone who works on the railroad is a volunteer, from the ticket attendant to the engineer, to the mechanics who meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays to do service and maintenance on the engines, train cars and tracks. There are currently 24 active volunteers working as engineers, signalmen and linemen for the railway.

conductor

The trains carry between 13,000 and 14,000 passengers a year, with visitors coming as far away as India, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. While children ride free, a small donation of $4 per adult is requested for each ticket and provides funding to preserve and expand the railway. Lorance points out that “funding is obtained purely through the ticket booth. We don’t get any grants or anything, it’s completely supported by the people that ride the train.”

Recent floods in 2015 and 2017 hit record levels in West County and put the railway and depot under approximately 12 feet of water. According to Lorance there was “no track damage, but lots of clean up.” Realizing that the Meramec will undoubtedly rise again in future, the group continually seeks new ways to upgrade and protect their buildings and electrical systems. In addition to protecting the existing line, the group is currently laying new track up to Rock Hollow and the infamous Zombie Hill. The new track will provide an escape route for the locomotives when the waters rise again.

trackThe railway is open on Sundays, May thru October, from 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with trains leaving approximately every 30 minutes. Sodas, water, snacks and souvenirs are available for purchase at the station. The train is available for special bookings on Wednesdays and Saturdays by calling 314-401-1687.

When asked what message he’d like to relay to the public about the WF&P, Lorance says, “Come out and ride us and support us, help keep us going, that’s the biggest thing. We think we have something unique.”

Indeed they do.

Trains, Jazz, Blues: Old Webster Festival Has It All

21573150885_7ae72820da_o.jpgOne of the more unusual aspects of the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival has got to be the trains.

Amtrak passenger trains—and freight trains—chug through Webster Groves with some regularity. The tracks are mere feet from the back of the stages, but neither the performers nor the audience seem to mind. It’s just another quirk of this longstanding late summer music festival.

On Saturday, September 16, Old Webster Groves will be hosting the festival for the 18th year. The line-up features some of the best local jazz, blues, funk, rock, and soul musicians.

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Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers.

Perennial favorite Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers will play at 1:20 p.m. on the Webster University Stage on Gore Avenue. The Grooveliners, Marquise Knox and the Webster University Faculty Band follow.

“Our fans have been vocal about their favorite performers from previous years,” said Brian Ward, musical director for the festival.“We’re bringing a few back, showcasing some new acts, and giving an authentic sample of our region’s original musical artform.

“We’ll finish with one of our favorite party bands: The Funky Butt Brass Band,” Ward said.

The festival offers two stages, just a block apart. That’s enough separation to avoid noise bleed. It also gives the audience a chance to choose the acts that appeal most to them.

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CarolBeth True will offer tips to music students at a free workshop preceding this year’s festival.

Another feature of this year’s festival is unique: There will be a free music workshop from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at the Webster Groves Concert Hall, 103 E. Lockwood Ave. Students of all ages will receive instruction and musical inspiration from three Webster Groves music scholars: Willem von Hombracht, CarolBeth True and Debbie Lennon.

St. Louis Scottish Games and Cultural Festival

You’ve just got to love a festival where the scotch tasting begins at 9:30 am. Maybe that’s just me. But if you too like a full-day of whisky and log throwing, we have the place for you.

bagpipesThe Scottish Games and Cultural Festival will be held again in Chesterfield, close to the Spirit of St. Louis Airport, on September 29 and 30. The festival kicks off Friday at 4 p.m. and there’s a rush to get into the thick of things with a sheepdog demonstration at 4:15 p.m.! Dusk brings the Torchlight Ceremony and the calling of the clans; I looked at the represented clans for 2016 and did not find a listing or tartan for Edwards, but I’ll fall in with Clan Murray of Athole, just on principle.

oxHonestly, I’m in the dark about many of the activities but will list them here in case your knowledge of Scottish games and fun surpasses mine.

Friday – Sept. 29, 2017

  • 4pm: Gates Open to the Public
  • 4:15pm: Sheepdog Demonstration (Not sure what they’re demonstrating, but it’s at least possible that it’s cooking utensils)
  • 4-5:30pm: Athletics Demonstrations (Somebody’s going to throw a huge log, you can bet.)
  • 5:40pm: Opening Ceremonies Begin
  • 5:45pm: Folk Concert with Jil Chambless, Scooter Muse & John Taylor
  • Dusk: Torchlight Ceremony
  • 8pm: Laphroaig Celtic Rock Concert
  • ~10pm: Friday events end

athletics

Saturday – Sept. 30, 2017

Throughout Saturday

  • Scottish athletic competitions including the world-famous caber toss (Oh yeah!)
  • Highland dancing demonstrations
  • Scotch tasting
  • Piping, drumming and massed pipebands
  • Folk music
  • Celtic rock music
  • Sheep herding demonstrations
  • Scottish and American food and beverages (No word from the Haggis Tent thus far)
  • Children’s Activities (Does NOT include scotch)

I just don’t see how this day can be missed! It has everything!

If you agree, the tickets are available online at Scottish Festival Tickets or at the gate. For more information visit www.stlouis-scottishgames.com.

Photos courtesy of Mark Sutherland.

From YouTube to Reality TV: The Many Personalities of Libbie Higgins

(WARNING – Videos in this article are rated PG-13.)

When Libbie Higgins was a little girl she dreamed of growing up to be a great comedian, but as she confesses “life got in the way.” Plagued by a terrible case of stage fright, she never dared audition for any of the high school plays that she so dearly wanted to be in. Libbie grew up, got a job and got married, and like so many dreamers often do, put her reverie on the back burner. Little did she know that fame was waiting for her in the new millennium.

Libbie, a resident of St. John, is an honest to goodness “Viral Internet Personality” with a fan base of well over 100,000 people. Her video entitled “Woman Rages Over Extra McRib” became a viral hit near the end of 2015 and, to this day, provides fodder for a lively topic of discussion on many online forums.

How does someone become a viral video sensation?

“In 2008 I started to do online broadcasting on Justin.tv.” says Libbie. “There was a chat room, and you could broadcast and people would watch. I would do a “show” and I would do different characters.” The first character to emerge on those broadcasts was Trixie Higgins, “who was essentially me with a wig on,” reveals Libbie. “That’s where I created Claudette, the neck brace lady.”

Claudette Higgins, aka @TheNeckbrace, is a church-going Southern lady who wears a padded foam cervical collar, collects disability checks and is a monster fan of the band New Kids on the Block (NKOTB). When asked how Claudette obtained her neck injury, Libbie says “Supposedly, she was riding one of those mobility scooters (at Walmart) and she hit an end cap and all of the Suave shampoo fell on her. It hurt her neck and she has a “pending lawsuit,” so she has to wear the neck brace at all times. I just love the absurdity of it. It’s so ridiculous.”

Claudette Higgins
Claudette Higgins – aka @TheNeckbrace

The rising popularity of YouTube around the same time convinced Libbie to begin posting her videos on that platform as well. It was this move that began to push Claudette into the limelight and brought her to the attention of NKOTB and their fan base, known as “The Blockheads.”

“As a 14 year old I loved them so much,” says Libbie, “and back then you couldn’t get close to them. I would have given anything just to be in the same room with them, and now I literally know them, which is nuts!”

She continues, “so, when the New Kids had their reunion in 2008-9, I got on Twitter. Celebrities were really accessible then, so they would tweet you back. Then Donnie Wahlberg had this contest to make a video to one of their songs, and I ended up winning it. I was winning the popular vote (online) up until the last couple hours, and then a ballroom dancer won, but Donnie liked my video so much that he created his own category called “Donnie’s Picks,” so that I could also be a winner.”

The video in reference is called “Dirty Dancing,” and features Claudette and her “son” Cletus re-enacting the famous dance scene from the movie of the same name. “The prize was me and some other girls got to go to Donnie Wahlberg’s house and make a video with him. Still at the time though, I had such bad anxiety that I couldn’t even really talk to him and I just wanted to go home.”

Her introduction to Wahlberg was a god-send, as he would often re-post Claudette’s videos on his personal social media account, driving other fans to view her videos. Libbie admits, “I have a lot of fans in the Blockhead Universe, so Claudette’s kind of famous in that realm.”

In 2015, another NKOTB contest brought Claudette’s talents front and center again when she served as a “ring girl” for the group’s performance in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “They had a contest for ring girls for that tour because it was a boxing theme, and I thought ‘I wanna do that!’ So I made a video of ‘I wanna be a ring girl’ and then they let me do it! I’ve discovered that if you want to do something, just put it out there and often times it will happen. They (NKOTB) have always been really good to me.”

The New Kids were not finished with Claudette however, and later in 2015 she was chosen to be a cast member on the reality TV show “Rock This Boat,” which documented the annual fan cruise held in the Caribbean by NKOTB. Although she was now a member of the cast, Libbie was still expected to pay her own way and this posed a hardship. Fans of the group, also now fans of Claudette’s videos, created a GoFundMe account where hundreds of people donated to pay for Libbie’s cruise.

“If you’ve ever wondered if a reality show is grueling? I have never worked so hard!,” confesses Libbie.

Libbie Higgins

The series prominently featured Libbie and her sister Leigh, their antics aboard ship and their interactions with the New Kids. Near the end of the cruise, Claudette was given the opportunity to do a six minute standup routine for all of the people who had donated money for her passage. The performance was a hit and Claudette was forever linked to the lore of NKOTB.

Although Claudette has garnered a lion’s share of the fame from her deluge of fans, other characters appear regularly in Libbie’s videos; Mathilde Barnstool and Holly Moore who are reporters for iReport News, Donna Carol, a licensed clinical sex therapist, Nancy Graceful and the earlier mentioned Trixie.

And then there’s Carla …

In 2012 a new service named Vine hit the internet and featured short six second videos on a loop. The allotted time was perfect for delivering one-liners in character, and this is where Libbie birthed her most famous creation to date … Carla Higgins.

Carla Higgins

Carla is brash, has a very foul mouth, is incredibly sexual, self-confident and sports one of the largest mullets known to mankind. Claudette brought Libbie to the attention of her childhood idols and their niche fan base, but Carla became a firestorm in 2015 when she released the “McScuse Me” video. The performance is truly one of the funniest viral videos you will ever see, and at press time has in excess of 4.5 million views. What made this video even funnier is that the world at large assumed that Carla’s rant was by a real person, which propelled it into the limelight and onto the front pages of dozens of well-known news websites.

New fans began subscribing to Libbie’s social media accounts and watching her videos in droves. Since her “McScuse Me” video went viral, Carla has appeared as a guest on podcasts hosted by Jenny McCarthy (wife of New Kid Donnie Wahlberg,) and Shaquille O’Neal. Invitations continue to pour in for Carla, which is overwhelming to Libbie, who says “I have these two parallel lives going on, there’s Claudette and the New Kids, and then there’s Carla and the real world. It’s bizarre.”

Almost two years after the initial release of the “McScuse Me” video, Carla’s fame continues to rise and is evident in that at least a dozen online websites offer “McScuse Me” t-shirts for sale. Imgflip.com provides a “McScuse Me” Meme Generator, MobiRingtones.net offers a “McScuse Me” ringtone, and #cooterpunch became a popular hashtag on Twitter.

Unfortunately, Libbie does not receive a penny from any of these outlets.

Most telling of Libbie’s viral success is that the McDonald’s on Dorsett in Maryland Heights, the location of Carla’s ire in the “McScuse Me” video, confirms that they still receive more than 100 calls a day asking for “Charlene,” the catalyst of Libbie’s story. The manager of that location, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted that these calls are quite a disruption to their daily routine and advised that efforts are underway to try and trace and dissuade the callers.

Libbie travels with a bag in her car that contains her wigs and props, so that when inspiration hits she is ready to produce a new video on the spot. Free from the hassles of a traveling entourage or crew, Libbie is the sole writer, producer, director, cameraman and actor in her videos. “That’s how it is all of the time,” she says, “I’m most comfortable when I’m by myself.”

Libbie’s characters are larger than life, however the woman under the wig is somewhat reserved, introspective and incredibly modest. After her divorce four years ago, Libbie decided that it was time to finally chase her dream of pursuing a comedic career and advises “that’s when I started doing stand-up. It was like ‘I gotta do it now, it’s now or never.’”

Still plagued with self-doubt, Libbie discloses, “I have major stage fright, like bad, to the point that it makes me ill.” Luckily, all of that worry subsides the minute that her foot hits the stage. Her dream goal is to move to Los Angeles and become a full time stand-up comic.

Although stand-up is still relatively new to her, Libby has been a member of the Improv Shop since 2015. She asserts that “the Improv Shop is kind of my church, because it’s where I always end up at the end of the night, and everybody that I love is there. It’s like the most comfortable place I go.” She also concedes, “I used to prefer stand-up over improv, but now I prefer improv over stand-up, because you don’t have to prepare for improv … you just show up!”

New opportunities continue to find Libbie. In early August she opened for Tom Green at Helium Comedy Club and starred in the recently released short film “Carla and the Dolls.” Regarding the latter, she explains “it was written by a friend of mine from the Improv Shop, his name is Brandon Rice, and he always makes really weird, dark videos, so I said ‘I want to be a part of this!’”

Upon being presented with a new blonde wig from a fan, Libbie holds the wig in the air, strokes it lovingly and proclaims “Oh … my … god! This is like giving me diamonds! It’s gorgeous!” You can literally see the gears grinding away in her brain as she contemplates the new persona. “Whenever I get a wig I have to try and think, ‘What kind of person would inhabit this … what kind of accent would they have?”

The answer to this question is something only Libbie knows, and while her fans eagerly await her next creation, we also know that it won’t be long before she joins the ranks of St. Louis’ other top comedic talents, including Cedric the Entertainer, Kathleen Madigan, Redd Foxx and, perhaps one of the greatest female comedians of all time, Phyllis Diller.

No one is more shocked at these successes than Libbie herself. Humbly, she exclaims how amazing it is to have such a devoted fan base, while at the same time she realizes that “it’s ridiculous … it’s insane!”

One final note, if you ever find yourself dining at the McDonald’s on Dorsett, be sure to tell them that “Carla sent ya!” (Disclaimer – this publication does not, in any way, endorse “cooter-punching.”)

Links to Libbie Higgins’ social media pages: