Archive for: February 2015

Gospel Brunch: Not Your Usual Cup o’ Joe



Gospel Brunch

By Claire Bontempo, Natalia Fonseca, James Grandberry, Britny Eubank and Shannon Price

High ceilings and sunlight creeping in through stained-glass windows. People milling about before the service starts, shaking hands with the preacher. A joyous choir belting out hymns while the congregation taps their toes and nods their heads.

These “gospel church” images are not too far removed from what one might find at Strange Brew Lounge Side on a Sunday morning.

Jon Dee Graham and the rest of the band members play for a good cause. Apart from donating money to the Austin Food Bank, the Purgatory Players also help the SIMS Foundation, which provides affordable mental health care for Austin musicians.

Jon Dee Graham and the rest of the band members play for a good cause. Apart from donating money to the Austin Food Bank, the Purgatory Players also help the SIMS Foundation, which provides affordable mental health care for Austin musicians.

At Strange Brew’s “Gospel Brunch,” a free event held every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., people ranging from knee-high youngsters to white-haired older folks sit around tables and in fold-out chairs below a peaked ceiling. They face a low stage at the front of the room, chatting merrily, sipping coffee and snacking on pastries and breakfast tacos. Up on the platform, Strange Brew’s resident Purgatory Players, a revolving-door collection of local musicians, perform sets of folksy songs they describe as “gospel music for nondenominational folk.”

The Purgatory Players have been livening up Sunday brunches at Strange Brew for the past three years. Coffee, breakfast tacos, and gospel music brought in the largest crowd so far on this particular day.

The Purgatory Players have been livening up Sunday brunches at Strange Brew for the past three years. Coffee, breakfast tacos, and gospel music brought in the largest crowd so far on this particular day.

Their songs have roots in traditional gospel, but their focus is not so explicitly religious. And that is something some patrons really enjoy.

“I think their description’s very good–sort of gospel,” said Christy Hutton, a Strange Brew visitor from Colorado who, with her husband, has now attended two Gospel Brunches. “I like it because it’s not like some of the newer churches that have the guitar and stuff. The music is awful. And this is like real music. This is great.”

Sandy Coe, a regular Gospel Brunch attendant, agrees with Hutton.

A regular attendant and fan of the gospel brunches, Sandy Coe feels the music. She said that this is the perfect start to her week.

A regular attendant and fan of the gospel brunches, Sandy Coe feels the music. She said that this is the perfect start to her week.

“I think they compare quite beautifully [to traditional gospel music]. I think a lot of people leave here feeling the spirit and it’s through the music,” said Coe.

Coe elaborated further, saying the brunch is a way for her to start her week off right.

“It’s kind-of like a church feeling for me,” said Coe. “I just see everybody’s great moods and it sets me off in a good way.”

 

Ben Bochner, a new-to-Austin musician who jammed with the Purgatory Players for the first time recently, expressed a similar sentiment.

"Scrappy" Jud Newcomb (left) and Ben Bochner, who played for the first time. The band invited four different guest musicians that day.

“Scrappy” Jud Newcomb (left) and Ben Bochner, who played for the first time. The band invited four different guest musicians that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This is real community and real church for me,” said Bochner, adding, “It’s the best of church. It’s the filet mignon of church.”

The brunch itself–and the Players partnership with it–has been going on for nearly three years, according to long-time member “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb. Newcomb said the arrangement began when Jeff Plankenhorn, a founder of the brunch, called him up with the idea.

“He wanted to do just an old, like R&B-based gospel band because it’s just so much fun to play that kind of music,” said Newcomb. “And I had been in a band called the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers that did basically the same things as this, but we would give the money to four different local charities each year. But he called me and he said, ‘hey do you want to do this old-time gospel band?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’d be great. Why don’t we give the money to a charity or a local nonprofit?”

The band tip jar serves philanthropic purposes. Every Monday, a member of the band drives up to the Austin Food Bank to deliver some help.

The band tip jar serves philanthropic purposes. Every Monday, a member of the band drives up to the Austin Food Bank to deliver some help.

At first, the Players tried to donate their earnings to different groups each week, but they eventually settled on regularly donating to the Austin Food Bank. Each week, a collection bucket makes its rounds and brunch-goers chip in what they choose. Strange Brew contributes as well, donating a dollar off every mimosa sold to the food bank. Then sometime later in the week, a member of the Players takes the money to the Food Bank.

 

During the concert, Katharine Flynn passes around the band tip jar. These offerings go to the Austin Food Bank.

Additionally, every March, the Players and Strange Brew raise money for the SIMS Foundation, which helps to provide affordable mental health services to Austin musicians.

Newcomb says that the philanthropy of the event is something he thinks motivates people to attend and might even contribute to some visitors’ feelings of fellowship.

 

 

"Scrappy" Jud Newcomb (left) and Jon Dee Graham engage in conversation during the show. They bring humor and laughter to the audience.

“Scrappy” Jud Newcomb (left) and Jon Dee Graham engage in conversation during the show. They bring humor and laughter to the audience.

 

“A lot of people come here because it’s fun and it’s a very clear way to do something for other people,” said Newcomb. “Like, you know like, ‘ok, I put $5 in here,’ there’s not really any question as to ‘I wonder how much of this is going to administrative costs’ or whatever. You know that one of us is going to drive it to the food bank tomorrow morning and give it to them. And, yeah, I guess there is that kind-of fellowship feeling of like, ‘let’s all just have fun and do something nice at the same time.’”

Strange Brew is not your typical coffee shop. Besides getting a cup of joe, you can get an array of musical performances.

Strange Brew is not your typical coffee shop. Besides getting a cup of joe, you can get an array of musical performances.

 

For many, the brunch is an event they not only enjoy, but intend to return to. Coe said she comes as frequently as she can and has for a couple of years. Even the Huttons think they will be coming back to the brunch the next time they are in Austin.

 

“We make our flight later to go back home, so we can come here,” said Hutton.

The crowd cheers and claps to the array of guest musicians. Quick, catchy songs to deep, calming tunes make up the playlist.

The crowd cheers and claps to the array of guest musicians. Quick, catchy songs to deep, calming tunes make up the playlist.

Edible Encounters

Written By: Taylor Turner

Audio By: Samantha Rivera and Megan Breckenridge

The wine is poured and the glass glistens from the smiles of the strangers sitting besides you and across from you. Vegan meatballs lay before you elegantly presented in a bowl garnished with Parmesan cheese and parsley. Welcome to the private winter dinner of a girl who loves to cook.

Reigning from the city of Philadelphia, bartender and foodie Kathy Flocco-McMaster’s food palette is as exotic as the places she’s traveled to.

Kathy has been involved and invested in food for years. With no prior professional training, and a handful of classes under her belt, she has turned a hobby and enjoyment of exquisite food into an experience.

“I used to take people on vacations and tours to meet new chefs and try new recipes,” Kathy said.

When Philadelphia native Andrea reached out to Kathy to expand her specialty, their series of Skype conversations bread Kathy into a host for EatWith, sharing her creativity with the food world.

“They contacted me, they found me through meet up sites and saw my bio somehow,” Kathy expressed.

Many who know Kathy may describe her as an adventurous free-spirit, so it’s no surprise that she would take on the new and intriguing challenge of cooking and planning meals for complete strangers with an equally healthy curiosity for trying new meals.

EatWith is a new dining experience that brings strangers together in homes across the world.  EatWith hosts are passionate food lovers with skillsets ranging from the professionally trained five-starred chefs to beginners in the kitchen. EatWith vets hosts all over the world, which consist of home visits, and a demo of what future dinners will be like. 4 percent of applicants are approved to set their menus on the company’s site.

“I do it because I love it. I do not need a big restaurant,” Kathy said.

Like Kathy, according to EatWith press, EatWith hosts share a passion for preparing amazing meals and a love for welcoming people into their homes. Guests look forward to gathering around the table with others in experiencing creative, substantial and handmade meals entrepreneurs have to offer. Often times, many will decide to revisit the chef, eventually creating life-long friendships.

Ingredients

Kathy accommodates all of her guests and tailors meals for vegetarians and vegans. She sets her menu using her freshest homegrown ingredients — including asparagus, celery and oregano — to prepare a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Kathy has now hosted 5 dinners since being approved by EatWith in September 2014.

“I want people to walk away happy to meet other like-minded peeps, to be sure that the experience they paid for was worth it and to be completely blown away by my food, home and hospitality,” Kathy said.

Saturday Routines

Between meal preparation, cooking and serving, Kathy’s complete dining experience takes about 4 to 5 hours of hard work and elbow grease. She is on her feet a majority of the day and gets some assistance from her husband. On average her meals cost about $250 to create. She charges $45 a person and hosts once a month, serving no more than 12 people at one time in order to guarantee a pleasant and unique experience for guests.

“I get really nice people,” Kathy said, “everybody that I have had has been really nice and they are so cool.”

Plans for the future

Kathy believes the hardest part about being a host with EatWith is exposure. Currently, she is the only approved applicant in Austin and draws an older crowd to her dinners. Kathy says it is a challenge to ask older adults to tweet, instagram or facebook her dinners to further open her home and kitchen to the Austin area. She is currently seeking out help with expanding her circle of visitors and hopes to bring forth improvements to the Eatwith experience both in person and online. For now, Kathy plans to continue hosting her monthly dinners and expanding the food connoisseur experience from the comfort of her home.

“I have been a bartender for so long, so I do not know where I am going to go with this, maybe go into private events,” Kathy said, “but I really like it so we will see how far this takes me.”

UT Nears Water Conservation Goal

By Anderson Boyd, Mackenzie Drake and Kylie Fitzpatrick

DSC_1483

Cooling station number five at UT uses reclaimed water to remove rejected heat from the buildings on campus.

When Markus Hogue taps his iPad, the ground moves.

Eight sprinklers shoot from the manicured lawn of the Belo Media Center, spraying water in a semi-circle over the verdant grass.

Hogue, irrigation and water conservation coordinator for University Facilities Services, taps the glass screen again, and the sprinklers disappear, leaving only wet spots on the surrounding concrete as evidence of their existence.

The iPad is connected to a central computer accessible from anywhere on campus, and acts as a mobile command hub for Hogue. It is part of a large-scale irrigation system overhaul that has reduced its water usage by 66 percent, Hogue said.

“We’re saving the University $800,000 a year,” Hogue said. “We’re hoping to save [water] at a hundred million gallons a year [as well].”

This irrigation overhaul is a main reason University Facilities Services is nearing a 20 percent reduction in water and energy usage, a goal originally set for a 2020 completion. Announced in 2012, the goal sits at about 80 percent completed, according to Patrick Mazur, technical staff associate for Energy and Resource Conservation.

DSC_1262

Patrick Mazur points out cooling towers and retrofitted buildings around the UT campus.

Because the project uses 2009 as a baseline year for comparisons, Mazur said a plumbing retrofit of education and general, or E&G, buildings done on campus and at the J.J. Pickle Research Center in 2008 does not officially count toward the project. Data supplied by Facilities Services shows an estimated $2.5 million saved from the plumbing retrofit, which saw 2,220 low-flow toilets and 592 china fixtures installed between 2008 and 2009.

Mazur said Facilities Services only retrofitted E&G buildings because other departments such as University Athletics and Division of Housing and Food Services operate as their own autonomous entities, known as auxiliary enterprises. This means they have their own budgets and receive their own bills for water and energy usage from the University power plant. Mazur compared it to running a hotel.

“They really have more of an incentive, quite frankly, to use less [water and energy] because they get billed, just like you would at your house,” Mazur said. “Since they pay directly for their water usage it’s in their best interest to keep things minimized.”

The University buys 95 percent of its water from the City of Austin Water Utility, with the other five percent recovered through French drains in landscaped areas and through collecting condensation off of air handlers in the cooling stations. Mazur said there is some talk of harvesting rainwater from campus roofs to further reduce water used for irrigation, but only the Belo Media Center, Student Activity Center, Kinsolving and Jester West dormitories and the Biomedical Engineering building currently have useable collection tanks.

DSC_1562

The sprinklers are connected to Hogue’s iPad, and can be turned on and off remotely from anywhere on campus.

Utilities and Energy Management, responsible for maintaining the University power plant and cooling stations, uses about 50 percent of the water on campus. Ryan Thompson, maintenance manager for Utilities and Energy Management, said the department uses reclaimed water supplied by the city in their cooling stations because it is a quarter of the price of potable water, which saves the University money in the long term.

“These [cooling towers] are the biggest water users on campus, so our goal was to use the city’s reclaimed water which is a cheaper less energy intensive water source,” Thompson said. “It saves us the money and its more sustainable in the long run for the community.”

Mazur said there is no immediate conservation project as of right now. Current conservation efforts include buying new laboratory equipment such as vacuum pumps and pipette cleaners that better conserve water, since science labs and related buildings consume more water and energy than non-science buildings.

DSC_1502

Reclaimed water is supplied by the City of Austin and is a fourth of the cost of potable water.

The University produces its own chilled water, steam and electricity, according to Mazur. It even sits on its own power grid, which can be used as backup in case the city’s main grid fails.

“We are completely autonomous from the city of Austin. The water is the only thing we don’t make on campus, with the exception of the recovered water,” Mazur said. “But we want to be good stewards and not waste unnecessarily. It costs us, it costs money to buy that water; it’s foolish to let it go down the drain.”

Improv on the Rise at UT

By: Jacob Kerr, Judy Hong, Becca Gamache & Carola Guerrero De León

(Austin, Texas) – It’s a Friday night on the UT campus, and a group of students are huddled up together outside a class auditorium. With an audience already building up inside, the group heads to the front of the room. They are ready to perform and entertain.

They look at each other before announcing the show has started. They have no scripts or any idea of what they will do next. This is UT’s growing improv scene, which has developed over the past 12 years in a city that has become a live comedy stronghold.
Known for being the “live music capital of the world,” Austin is also home to a thriving comedy scene. Venues such as Esther’s Follies, the Hideout Theatre, the Capitol City Comedy Club, Coldtowne Theater, the New Movement and the Velveeta Room hold shows and classes every week.

The UT campus is also home to two student troupes: Gigglepants and SNAFU.

While the groups both perform on Friday nights, they specialize in different types of improv – Gigglepants does short form and SNAFU does long form.

Taylor Wingfield shocks the audience and Gigglepants team by taking a skit to a surprising turn.  Photo by Becca Gamache

Taylor Wingfield shocks the audience and Gigglepants team by taking a skit to a surprising turn.
Photo by Becca Gamache

Short form is made up of a series of games in which a referee outlines the rules and chooses a winner.

“Short form improv is very digestible for an audience to just come in and laugh at,” says Gigglepants member Jon Cozart, who is also known for his popular YouTube channel.“Kids who grew up watching ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’ – that’s perfect for what we do.”

Long form is more open and broad. Starting with a suggestion from the audience, the group develops an improv scenario that builds as it happens.

“In long form, what you’re trying to do is find the game in the scene,” says Daniel Abramson, SNAFU member and radio-television-film senior. “You’re given a blank canvas.”

Regardless of the format, Abramson claims that the secret to any successful improv show is for the performers to keep their minds blank. “You shouldn’t have anything in your mind,” Abramson says. “The moment you have anything in your mind, you’re already ruined.”


Read more

Saving the Honeybee: Central Texas Bee Rescue

Words By Garrett Callahan, Video By Jewel Sharp, and Photos By Skyler Wendler

DSC_0780(Austin, Texas) – The steady hum of buzzing honeybees fills the stagnant afternoon air. A slight breeze rustles through the enclosed pontoon boat hull, where the bees have established their home. The owner of the boat decided to take an animal-friendly alternative to insect extermination.

 Suffering with a bee issue for more than a year, Jason Ewing found a solution to his problem in no other place than his company newsletter.

Earlier this year, the Wheatsville Co-Op, a community-owned food cooperative in Austin where Ewing is a package supervisor, started carrying honey from the Central Texas Bee Rescue (CTBR), which led him to the safe extraction of his backyard bee hive.

“I definitely didn’t want to hurt the bees or poison them in any way,” Ewing said. “I don’t know all the details about it, but I do know there are some issues with the bees these days. I figured having a right way to remove bees was really cool, so I gave them a call and here we are.”

 

The CTBR, a subsection of the American Honeybee Protection Agency, works to provide an extermination alternative for landowners dealing with beehives on their property. Instead of killing the bees, CTBR finds second homes for them in order to revitalize their wildlife and produce honey that is later sold to grocery stores, such as Wheatsville.IMG_6440

The bee population, which is responsible for over $15 million in increased crop value each year, has dramatically declined in recent decades. Since the 1940s, the number of managed bee colonies has fallen from 5 million to about 2.5 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That is the reason CTBR was created.

Walter Schumacher, known as “the Bee Czar” founded the American Honeybee Protection Agency in 2006 after getting the idea from his former job. Schumacher, who used to be a chef at the now-closed Alice’s Restaurant in Austin, heard a customer talking about the idea and quickly went into the business. While his partner, “Hippie Dave” quit just days into the business, Schumacher has stayed on since.

“I have a nine year old son,” said Gypsy, one of the workers that extracted Ewing’s hive. “I would not like to think that one day he has to read about the honeybee or tell his kids about the honeybee because we didn’t take care of them.”

DSC_0820

The extraction process is simple.

 One or two workers from the  CTBR dress in head-to-toe  bee suits. Once they locate  the beehive, a smoker sits  nearby to stop the  communication between the  queen and worker bees. Next,  they package the  honeycombs in wood boxes  while vacuuming the bees  into the makeshift hive,  where they stay until they get  to their next property.

Any left over honeycomb is put into buckets to take to the bees’ next home or given to the landowners as a fresh souvenir.

“[The process] is exciting, you never know what you are going to get,” said Gypsy, who has been working with CTBR for over a year. “You never know where they are at, how many there are, if they are Africanized, if you’re going to have to double suit. It’s always exciting.”

DSC_0699The properties where the bees are taken vary depending on availability and space. CTBR reaches out to any potential landowners willing to create a honey co-op or use their property as a “bee haven.”

One acre of land allows the availability to hold eight beehives, but landowners with over 25 acres can home more than 1.5 million bees. These larger bee properties, known as honey co-ops, can produce up to 1,000 pounds of honey a year and its sales are split between the property owner and CTBR.

The organization has even put hives on top of the W Hotel and The Circuit of the Americas Racetrack in Austin.

Since CTBR is a non-profit organization, it works on a donation basis only. The suggested donation for each extraction is $125, but free services are available for low-income families.

IMG_6434

In the end, the bees’ honey will most likely find its way to a grocery store or restaurant, where more people, like Ewing, can find out about the CTBR mission and the future of endangered honeybees.

“The honeybee is the insect responsible for pollinating over one-third of our world’s food supply,” the CTBR’s mission states. “Thus, efforts are needed to protect them on every level.”