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Tuesday Watercooler (#ArtOutside)

8:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell


After a cold Saturday night, Sunday at Art Outside was mild and warm. It could still be chilly in the shade, but it was perfect weather for laying on soft grass in the sun and hearing some relaxing music.

One Sunday act which perfectly fit the bill was Hard Proof, an Afrobeat ensemble from Austin. From their website:

Locally produced and internationally-inspired, Hard Proof is an Austin-based collective that brings intense Afrobeats to the state of Texas. Hard Proof tightly fuses sounds from sub-Saharan Africa with adventurous jazz and deep funk to stimulate your brain and move your feet.

Their soothing African-inspired jam seemed to carry me off into another place — one more exotic and rhythmic than the everyday. Of course, I may have been paying more attention to the succession of gorgeous aerial silks performers who whirled in mid-air throughout their set and many others. The aerial dance rigs by the main stage are a wonderful enhancement to almost any performance.

Tonight’s musical selection is Hard Proof performing “Buffalo,” which is available on their album Hard Proof.

This is the last musical act I plan to highlight from Art Outside, but tomorrow I will share a memorable spoken word performer from the event.

Heard any good music lately? Share it in the comments.

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Monday Watercooler (#ArtOutside)

8:39 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell


Art Outside was a little too cold for me this year — late October weather in Texas is unpredictable, with many mild and warm nights interspersed with cold ones. I’m a wimp about winter, which is one of many reasons I’ve stayed here so long. I think I only made it through the weekend because six or seven of us piled into our friends’ Soul Pad (a teepee like structure) with a space heater on the coldest night when it dipped into the low 40s.

But with enough layers on and sufficiently entranced by a talented performer, I could forget about the chill for a little while — as if the music really warmed my spirit or some other part of me deep inside. A lot of late night cups of coffee helped too.

Garrett LeBeau on the Folk It Up Stage

Garrett LeBeau’s blues kept us warm on the Folk It Up stage at Art Outside.

One act that distracted me from the cold for a time was Garrett LeBeau. LeBeau was raised on the Wind River Indian Reservation and is a member of the Shoshone tribe and a self-taught musician.  From his website:

Garrett Lebeau is a natural player. New and old fans hear Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs, Al Green and J.J. Cale in his songs and vocals. His playing style veers from blues through rock, jazz into folk. They all find a home in the music of Garrett Lebeau.

This song,”Eyes on You” is available on Garrett LeBeau’s debut album, Rise to the Grind.

Heard any good music lately? Share it with me in the comments.

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Saturday Art: Phoenix by Sebastian Miles (#ArtOutside)

5:02 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell


In late September of 2011, I remember camping with some friends. We were celebrating Burning Man, the massive festival in the Nevada desert, at a Central Texas campground since we couldn’t make it to the big event. On the last day, I remember the skies filling up with smoke. Most of us assumed there was a fire nearby.

A rustic cabin bird feeder sits atop a charred pine log.

Phoenix in the Art Outside art gallery.

In reality, the fire was much further away and much larger than we realized. As we traveled back, we heard the real news — and that the fire had cost a camp mate almost all her worldly possessions. The Bastrop County Wildfires of 2011 were the most destructive wildfires in the history of Texas. They destroyed over 1,500 homes and caused millions in damage, and affected the lives of almost everyone in the Central Texas region — if you live here and weren’t touched directly, you probably know someone who was.

Two years after the fires went out, one artist displayed a memorial to them at Art Outside.

Sebastian Miles created “Phoenix” to honor the memory of those fires and the rebirth that followed. The piece is a small bird feeder in the shape of a charred rustic cabin, which sits atop a tall, similarly charred stump of pine. The story of its creation is intimately linked to the fires.

Miles owned properties in the region, but getting to them was difficult because of fires that sometimes raged across highways. His first attempt to reach one of his sites was rebuffed by state officials. Undeterred, he donned a respirator and climbed aboard his dirt bike and set off into the burning woods. On his journey, he spotted a burning cabin alone but for a pile of firewood stacked nearby.

When the fires died down, he returned to the location and collected the remains of the cabin. He milled the logs down to return them to a clean, golden pine and then built a scale replica of the original cabin in the shape of a bird feeder.

Then, in honor of the fiery birth of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, he burnt the structure again.

Its charred state also acts like a natural weather proofing, meaning in the future it could be installed outdoors and used as a functional bird feeder.

Healing from an event like this takes time. My friend still, today, goes looking for some object and then realizes it’s burned away. But life begins to return quickly to damaged places. The death of old growth allows us to take new paths and begin new undertakings — now, my friend is working toward a graduate degree in mental health.


Phoenix on its charred stump.

Phoenix is a working bird feeder. The re-burnt would provides natural weatherproofing.

Miles made several pieces based on the Bastrop fires, some of which were previously displayed at Jennifer Chenowith’s Fisterra Studio and featured in the East Austin Studio Tour. He was a little cagey about what he’s working on now and just said that he has several works in progress that he looks forward to displaying at future events.

Phoenix shows how tragedy can inspire art, and how sometimes the most moving pieces are intimately tied to a time, an event, and a location. For many of us who remember the fires, it was one of the most memorable parts of this year’s Art Outside.

Thursday Watercooler (#ArtOutside)

8:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell


Continuing my series of Watercoolers on the best music I heard at this year’s Art Outside

In 2013, Art Outside’s organizers extended the event with more music on Sunday, and allowed people to camp into Monday afternoon. Of course, most people still had to work that Monday, and the event dwindled down to just a few hundred stalwarts. There was a lovely feeling of intimacy to those last hours, with all of the event condensed together — though I know some people who showed up on Sunday were disappointed by the smaller scale.

Many of the remaining artists set up their work near the main stage, where the final acts would play, selling prints and engaging in live painting. For those who haven’t been to a concert recently — especially one influenced by electronic music culture — live painting during events has become popular enough that some artists receive their own billing on event announcements. It adds a pleasant visual element to an auditory experience, as you can watch a work of art take shape over the course of a few hours:

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Wednesday Watercooler (#ArtOutside)

8:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell


My next several watercoolers highlight some of my favorite musicians from this year’s Art Outside. I’ll be devoting longer coverage to some of the festival’s most interesting art in upcoming Saturday Art features.

Last year I shared a brief interview with Katie Gray. This time I was particularly taken by Sea Stars,  a duo combining Gray’s talents with the equally musical Kurt Baumann. About the band’s name they say:

The name ‘Sea Stars’ symbolizes the celestial (stars) and fluid (sea) rhythm of the heart and the sounds that stem from it.  Though the name is commonly confused with the popular ocean crustacean, Kurt and Katie are completely comfortable being associated with such a lovely little sea creature.

Sea Stars at Art Outside 2013

Sea Stars performed on Art Outside’s Folk It Up stage.

Sea Stars were the first act I caught. Someone had placed a beaten up, antique couch near the Folk It Up stage, and sitting with a camp mate while Gray’s beautiful vocals, supported by the pair on guitars, floated up through the lit trees of the stage’s clearing was a beautiful way to start my weekend. At the end of their set, I bought their new album The Unknown without hesitation.

Have you heard any good music lately?

Got questions or something on your mind? The Watercooler is an open conversation.

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Tuesday Watercooler (#ArtOutside)

8:50 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell


I just returned from Art Outside 2013. While my upcoming coverage will focus on the most interesting artworks I viewed at the festival, I wanted to share some great musicians I discovered (or encountered again) over the next few watercoolers.

Late Saturday night, as the temperature dropped into the 40s in the Texas hill country, I had the pleasure of standing by a warm fire in my warmest clothes as I heard the Paper Moon Shiners for the first time. Hailing from Austin, Texas, they combine the classical jazz vocals of Elena Antinelli with the guitar, vocals, and songwriting of Frank Meyer. Their repertoire combines original work along with classics like this selection, “Minnie the Moocher.” In this video they are joined by the Stanley Smith and Oliver Steck on clarinet and trumpet.

Paper Moon Shiners at Art Outside 2013

Frank Meyer and Elena Antinelli on the Folk It Up Stage at Art Outside 2013.

This band combines musical skill with a real sense of humor that had us laughing as well as moving to the tunes. You can hear more from the Paper Moon Shiners on their homepage. You might also enjoy browsing my Instagram for more photos of the event.

Heard any good music lately? What’s on your mind? The Watercooler is an open conversation.

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Saturday Art: Art Outside 2013 Preview

3:20 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Artwork by Judibeth Hunter

Art Outside’s new tea house features the artwork of Judibeth Hunter.

See Kit’s coverage of Art Outside 2012.

I return to Art Outside from October 18-21. This annual outdoor festival in Texas combines music with visual art and performance of many kinds.

Every year, artists from all over the world bring their works and their presence to Art Outside. From dancers to painters to new media makers – Art Outside is teeming with creativity of all forms.

Viewing artwork in nature changes our experience of both.

In addition to multiple music stages and daily classes and work shops, Art Outside creates an open air art gallery, complete with docents serving wine. There’s something unique, surreal and beautiful about camping but being able to step under a canopy into an elegant art gallery built beneath the sweeping branches of a tree. While we all have expectations about what ‘art’ means, experiencing it in this environment, mingled with live music and set in the midst of nature, forces the viewer to consider this form in a new way.

One addition to this year’s event is the Tea House, a relaxation space near the gallery. Hosted in a Bedouin tent made of wool, it features Saudi-style couches and rugs for lounging. Set apart from the vending and other spaces, it will be devoted to the comfort of Art Outside visitors.

Volunteers will offer tea service in the “Gongfu” style throughout the day. Tea House designer David McCully just returned from providing tea service in the Nevada desert at Burning Man, the massive outdoor arts gathering which is a major influence for Art Outside. The Tea House will feature the visionary artwork of Judibeth Hunter, whose liquid flowing lines and feminine forms should beautifully enhance the sensual, low-key atmosphere of this space.

Some other anticipated highlights of Art Outside 2013:

  • Stand-up comedy from the New Movement Theater, Austin’s popular improv conservatory.
  • Contributions from the artists at 18 Below, an organization devoted to cultivating the talents of teenagers.
  • Over 50 bands and musicians, including returning favorites like Katie Gray, Minor Mishap and Wino Vino.
  • A larger, longer festival running through Monday rather than ending on Sunday.

If you live in Texas or feel like experiencing some of the best creativity the state has to offer, check out Art Outside (also on Facebook) and be sure to say hello!

The Tea House in a Bedouin wool tent

Art Outside’s new Tea House, housed in a Bedouin tent. 

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Saturday Art: 999 Eyes Modern Freak Show (#ArtOutside)

1:08 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

What is normal? What does it mean to be a freak, by choice or by birth?

FREAK, n., A human oddity that has chosen to share, celebrate, and exploit his/her own genetic anomaly through performance. -999 Eyes

999 Eyes really caught my eye this year. I also attended Art Outside in 2011 and this modern freak show performed both years, but this time I looked at them in new ways. During the last 12 months, I’ve gotten increasingly involved with activism, sometimes around disability issues. Although I have a physical disability (fibromyalgia), it is what is called an ‘invisible disability‘ — unless I am using a cane that particular day, you probably can’t look at me and tell there’s anything different about me. As a person in my mid-thirties with a stylish cane, many even assume I am using the device for fashion rather than necessity. During the last year, my work in Occupy — and with our allies in ADAPT — has made me more acutely aware of the challenges people with all kinds of disabilities face in our society.

A colorfully dressed freak performs in front of a band.

Black Scorpion performs a stand-up routine set to music.

Much of modern disability activism is about giving the disabled not just the ability to survive, but the ability to live with dignity — to be respected, employable, able to live independently in their own homes and treated like human beings. The conventional image of the historic freak show does not necessarily fit with this ideal, suggesting that the people in these shows were exploited and objectified. Our cultural approach to the visibly different is often two-faced; look at Tod Browning’s infamous 1932 film Freaks, which on the one hand goes to lengths to show the humanity of its subjects while simultaneously turning them into objects of horror, especially during the film’s rainy finale.

A performer with neurofibromatosis

Peg-o the Leg-o, a performer with neurofibromatosis, educates the audience about his condition.

Yet what is exploitation when it comes to entertainment? A musician who is especially beautiful by conventional standards could be said to exploiting appearance in his career. 999 Eyes performer Vlad Vendetta and founder and musician Samantha X both made the argument to me that all performance is inherently exploitative – as indeed one can make the argument that all work is exploitative under capitalism. 999 Eyes was founded by its freaks, when musicians Dylan Blackthorn and Samantha X met future 999 Eyes costars like Jackie of All Trades (a.k.a. ‘the Human Tripod’) and Peg-o the Leg-o, the ‘Modern Elephant Man.’

A preserved two-headed calf

This two-headed calf is part of the 999 Eyes collection of oddities.

It continues as a freak-driven show. In addition to classic sideshow performances like sword swallowing, the freaks talk about their conditions, cracking jokes and opening minds. Ken “Peg-o” Pittman tells audiences how he is treated during his day to day life. Born with neurofibromatosis, he has been kicked out of pools and other public places for fear that the growths the condition causes are caused by contagious illness. When speaking to him and observing his interactions with fellow performers as well as spectators, it’s easy to speculate that his life at this sideshow, where people are encouraged to learn rather than fear, is far-more dignified. Are these freaks exploited when they run the show and use it to illuminate the uneducated?

A dictionary in the side show

A tongue-in-cheek entry in the sideshow tent. "It is called a dictionary, and it is used to dissect words in order to discover their spelling, meaning, usage, etc. It is closely related to the thesaurus and the dinosaurus."

Samantha X told the Winona Daily News:

She hopes the show changes people’s perceptions while it entertains. “I think it’s absolutely fascinating all the different ways people come out genetically.” Samantha said. “A freak is somebody blessed with nature’s art.”

Making this short film about 999 Eyes certainly challenged my preconceived ideas and brought to light some internalized ableism. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Find more from 999 Eyes at

Photos by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved.

Saturday Art: Bleep Labs’ Noise Explorer 5000 (#ArtOutside)

1:09 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More of the art of Art Outside 2012: Flam Chen New-Circus Troupe, the Web of Wishes 

Saturday afternoon at Art Outside 2012, electronic artist and musician Thomas Fang took me on a tour of the Noise Explorer 5000, an interactive sound installation. Created by Austin’s Bleep Labs, it features homemade electronic musical instruments combined with ‘circuit-bent’ classics from the 1980s — Casio keyboards, drum machines, and childhood ephemera like the Speak & Math.

Two Bleep Labs Noise Explorer Users play with the instruments

Thomas Fang (right) guides two users of the Bleep Labs Noise Explorer 5000.

The Noise Explorer can be used by up to two explorers at its side-by-side stations. The users listen on headphones and can mix the levels of individual instruments or warp the sounds with effects pedals. The results can be recorded and played back later. The DIY art of circuit-bending  — modifying existing electronic objects into quirky instruments and aural art —  has been growing in popularity, but Fang suggests that an installation like this lets new people gain hands-on experience of its possibilities.

Circuit-bent Touch & Tell instrument with a photo of Snoop Dogg added

Circuit-bent Touch & Tell instrument

One of Fang’s most well known installations is the Furby Youth Choir, where he skinned and altered the childhood toy to create a flock of undead furbys that chirped, babbled, and sang in shrill tones to each other. In the Noise Explorer, repurposed toys like this Touch & Tell beep and talk in otherworldly, glitched up voices.

A tiny blinking 'robot' like box, the Thingamagoop features a blinking LED and light sensor

The Bleep Labs' Thingamagoop

One of the stars of the Noise Explorer soundscape is the Thingamagoop. Unlike the circuit-bent devices, it is a homemade creation of Bleep Labs. An LED light hangs from a tentacle-like protrusion at the top of this whimsical synthesizer in a box. Its blinks fall upon the device’s light sensor, creating a panoply of weird sounds that the user controls with the many knobs and switches. The Thingamagoop’s output can even be used to control other instruments.

A user of the Bleep Labs collaborates with Thomas Fang

Thomas Fang (right) collaborates with a user of the Bleep Labs Sound Explorer 5000 at Art Outside 2012.

You can listen to and download recordings of the Noise Explorer 4000, a previous installation from Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival, or hear more from Thomas Fang on Soundcloud.

Find more from Bleep Labs at

Photos of Art Outside 2012 and the Bleep Labs’ Sound Explorer by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved. Creative Commons-licensed video by Kit O’Connell, with additional audio from the Bleep Labs Noise Explorer 4000 and Creative Commons-licensed photos by Jon Lebkowsky and Church of the Friendly Ghost.

Saturday Art: Flam Chen (#ArtOutside)

2:07 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Flam Chen is a ‘new circus’ troupe based out of Tucson, Arizona. They have their origins in Crash Worship, an anarchic performance troupe of the 80s and 90s which was heavily influential. Crash Worship inspired much of modern Burning Man culture and street performance groups like Extra-Action Marching Band, mentioned yesterday on myFDL. The new circus movement is booming right now, with aerial dance, burlesque, acrobatics (and ‘acro-yoga’), fire dancing and related arts more popular than they’ve been in decades.

Stilt-walking 'mantises' and two dancers around a fire

Flam Chen's Rites of Spring, Art Outside 2012 (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

Flam Chen combine modern dance, stilt walking, fire dancing, experimental theater and aerial dance with colorful costumes, modern projection technology and electronic music. They lead Tucson’s annual All Souls Procession, an annual participatory street festival. They expect 50,000 people to attend this year’s procession and 30,000 will participate in some way. This event trains new performers, then draws them into the streets for a weekend-long ‘Day of the Dead’ style festival.

New Stiltwalkers Take their First Steps

Flam Chen's Stiltwalking Workshop, Art Outside 2012 (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

The troupe performed twice at Art Outside 2012. On Friday night, they performed Rites Of Spring, which artistic director Nadia Hagen calls one of their seminal works. About every five years, the troupe revives and revises it for new audiences. This year’s combined fire, quadruped ‘stilt walkers’ dressed like insects, and even a gorgeous aerial silk performance. In keeping with their work at the Procession, they taught over 50 new stilt walkers their first steps during the course of the weekend.

A costumed stiltwalking woman in a balaclava

Flam Chen dancer at Art Outside 2012's Closing Ceremony (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

Flam Chen returned to close out Art Outside’s Sunday night. As the brilliant remixer Pumpkin finished a high-energy set, six members of Flam Chen appeared among the crowd wearing bright balaclavas, with the men’s woven masks looking like devils (or perhaps a Mexican Guy Fawkes). They cavorted, flipped, and danced then led the crowd into dancing with them. Finally, they encouraged the entire festival into a gigantic howling, ohm-chanting group hug.

Six colorful stiltwalkers in a circle

Flam Chen lead Art Outside 2012's Closing Ceremony (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

For more from Flam Chen, see

If you’re near Tucson, Arizona on November 2-4, be sure to check out the All Souls Procession.