Do It Today: Ride on the Titanic

Whatever floats your boat

Nov. 25, 2008

Whatever floats your boat

If you would like to live out your DiCaprio meets Winslet fantasies today you may want to head over to G. WIZ and check out Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. The exhibit features real artifacts found on the ocean floor from the famous 1912 shipwreck and focuses on the human stories behind the 2,228 passengers that were on board. The exhibition has been viewed by 20 million people worldwide and includes re-created cabins, an iceberg display and a number of authentic artifacts. You even receive a replica boarding pass of a Titanic passenger when you enter the exhibit. How cool is that? That’s iceberg cool.

CL’s First Look: Clothesline

“I would love to start a screenprinting business and design my own T-shirts, but these damn screenprinting machines cost so much money! What will I ever do? I know… I’ll just MacGyver one together out of homemade material and set it up above our new shop at 537 South Pineapple Ave.” This was the thought process of Austin Kowal and Evan Ekasala when they developed the business model for their newest venture, Clothesline Tees. The two 20-somethings are coming out with some wicked designs that they are limiting to one-per-shirt-size right now. They’ve only been in the screenprinting business for a little over three months, but they are already getting the hang of it —  the shirts look sweet.

I’m hanging out at the shop today to find out more: Keep checking back to get the full scoop, or just pick up next week’s issue. It’s the cover, bitches.

 

Music feature: Take five classical musicians, throw in some Led Zeppelin and Radiohead and, voilà, you’ve got Sybarite5

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May 10, 2010

FOX FORCE FIVE: Angela Pickett (viola), Louis Levitt (double bass), Laura Metcalf (cello), Sami Merdinian (violin) and Sarah Whitney (violin), from left to right

Sybarite5
9 p.m. Fri., May 14, The Hub Incubator, 1421 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, pay what you want; 8:30 p.m. Sat., May 15 and 2:30 p.m. Sun., May 16, Holley Hall, Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, $10-$100,brownpapertickets.com/event/99543, 513-543-1981 or sybarite5.org/upcoming.htm.

Sarasota native Louis Levitt fielded some nasty emails following last year’s inaugural Sybarite5 performance at Holley Hall. The Herald-Tribune had printed an incorrect start time for the quintet’s one-night show, causing a line of concert-goers to form hours before the doors opened, unaware that it was already sold out. This year Levitt decided to make it up to folks who missed out, by offering three opportunities to see the group: a Friday night show at The Hub and Saturday and Sunday performances at Holley Hall.

The popularity of Sybarite5 comes from their unique mixing of genres, juxtaposing works by well-known classical composers with the music of popular modern bands. “For me as a classical musician and a creative artist, I want to play music that I like and that I think is good,” says Levitt. “If that music is written by Mozart and Dvorák or if it’s written by Led Zeppelin and Radiohead, then I don’t care. I want to play music that I want to hear.”

The composition of the quintet allows them to make these crossovers work. “We have incredible flexibility with this group because we’ve got two violins, viola, cello and double bass,” says Levitt. “The double bass really allows the ensemble to pivot between musical genres more easily than a regular string quartet. Double bass is found in every genre of music. No matters what it is, there’s always a bass player.”

Levitt began his classical music experience in the youth orchestra program while attending Pine View, and later joined the youth program at the Sarasota Orchestra. “When I was at Pine View there was a great music director named Ken Bowermeister and it was one of the best programs in the state,” says Levitt. “Then in high school I studied privately with John Miller, who’s the principal bass in the orchestra here. Without that training there was no way I would have ever been exposed to or had the capability to actually become a professional classical musician. I think it speaks volumes for the culture of Sarasota. It’s not something that can happen anywhere.”

While studying double bass at the Cincinnati Conservatory, a professor invited Levitt to the Aspen Music Festival for their annual summer program. It was here that he made the connections that would soon lead to the formation of Sybarite5. “A bunch of us wanted to make some money so we went out on the streets of Aspen busking and the same group of us came back to play year after year,” he says. “We found that we really liked what we were doing and eventually we all kind of ended up in New York and said, ‘Hey, do you want to do this seriously?’”

The group started Sybarite5 as a nonprofit in order to help bring music to schools. They still head to Aspen every summer to play over 30 free outreach concerts. As part of this year’s stint in Sarasota they are spending this week performing for students at Pine View, Booker High School and the Sarasota Music Academy. “We’re able to connect with [students] by playing music they like, but having it rooted in classical music,” says Levitt.

Sybarite5 is also connecting with local schools through Friday’s event at The Hub: New Music Idol. New College asked their composition students to write one-minute pieces for the group to perform, and there will be a panel of local celebrity judges who will critique the pieces. At the end a live audience text vote will decided the champion. The winning work will be performed at Sybarite’s gala concerts Saturday and Sunday.

It’s not just the music that is fresh at Sybarite5 shows. The group tries to get around longstanding traditions they feel have held back classical music. “We try to break down the boundaries between the audience and the performers,” says Levitt. “Sometimes in classical music that’s a bit of an invisible wall. You have to dress a certain way and you have to clap at a certain time. We encourage people to clap whenever they want.” Sybarite is partnering with Showcase Designs, a Florida-based home staging and redesign company, to convert Holley Hall and The Hub into a living room, complete with couches and tables spread around the room and on stage. Levitt says the shows will have “an MTV Unplugged feel.”

As far as the musical concept behind Sybarite5, Levitt says the idea came on a whim: “It actually started out as a joke. We were playing a concert in Aspen and somebody screamed from the audience, ‘Hey, play some Zeppelin!’ I just kind of took the challenge. … Zeppelin’s like the Beethoven of rock.”

The Radiohead tunes came about after the group started the Radiohead Remix Project. “We actively commission composers to do new works for us that are based on Radiohead pieces,” says Levitt. “With Radiohead music, a lot of the sounds are created electronically. So we have a really unique challenge, which is how do we make that sound on our instruments without making it electronic? In the end what we’d really like to do is just commission a work from Radiohead and have them collaborate with us and write something for a string quintet.”

Looking into the future Sybarite5 plans to attract new listeners with an even broader spectrum of genres, pulling songs from avant-garde artists and even the ’90s grunge scene. “I think a Björk suite is on the way,” says Levitt. “She’s classically trained and she does all of her own arrangements for all of the orchestra stuff. I think it’d be really cool to collaborate with someone like that. … I want to play some Pearl Jam. What’s wrong with us doing some ‘Even Flow’ or ‘Porch’? Those are good songs.”

“For me it’s really exciting as someone who grew up in Sarasota to come back here and share the music that I play all around the world that wouldn’t be possible unless I was from Sarasota,” Levitt continues. “This is the type of thing that I would do in New York City, where people are open to anything. I’m doing it in Sarasota because people here are open to anything.”

Photo by Brian David Braun

The City: Rock the Line

Nov. 19, 2008

Austin Kowal holds up a plain gray T-shirt and ponders it like a blank canvas. He strategically places it on the wooden palette and smoothes the wrinkles. He lowers a metal-framed screen like a copy machine lid down on to the shirt, stopping just short so he could eyeball where the design would land. He spoons a glob of thick, black ink onto the screen and scrapes some of it over the design. He lifts the screen and the shirt bears the perfectly stenciled image.

His art is ready to wear.

 

Kowal, 23, is part of a group of local artists who have taken their passion and put it on the line, literally. He and his partner Evan Ekasala, 19, are the owner and manager of Clothesline, a screen-printing shop that makes T-shirts designed by local artists. They only print one of each design on every shirt size, so no two shirts are exactly alike.

The shop is still a work in progress, but the quality of the printing is top notch. You would never guess that only four months ago the two bought their first screen-printing starter kit for $80. “Right at the same time we were learning to screen print I was like, ‘Let’s open a shop,’” says Kowal. “Everything kind of spiraled and fit into place.”

After getting comfortable with the starter kit, the pair began pricing screen-printing machines. They couldn’t find anything under $1,000, so they decided to make their own. They bought a DVD online that explained the construction. “We kept searching for the right one; they all looked so janky,” says Kowal. With help from a woodworking friend, they slapped some wood and screws together and built their own machine. Their screen-printing operation was underway.

Kowal’s mom, Denise, has owned the Harold Square building that houses the shop in Burns Court for 25 years. She had used the retail space at 537 South Pineapple Avenue for a handmade jewelry store that Kowal helped manage. “It was hard in our economy,” Austin says. “Not a lot of people are splurging on jewelry right now.”

Not a lot of people are splurging, period, right now. In 2008, a number of small, independent Sarasota shops and restaurants have gone under. Metro, the Boathouse, Boogie Woogie, the list goes on.

Kowal ignored the negative signs and decided to use his mom’s space for his new screen-printing shop. He and Ekasala set up their DIY contraption in the upstairs apartment and started printing T-shirts.

The two believe their business will be successful because of its originality. “It’s very creative. I’m constantly changing up inventory. Nothing’s going to get stale,” says Kowal. “I’m always bringing in new people that make a lot of different things.” They plan to sell glass-blown items, handmade jewelry and other accessories created by local artists. They are starting to accept designs for T-shirts and provide a little compensation. “It’s not going to make anybody a million dollars. You just get people wearing your stuff. There is nothing better than somebody buying your art.”

 

Location set, the next order of business for Kowal and Ekasala was coming up with a name. The latter suggested Clothesline. “It wasn’t really a new or creative name, but what we put into Clothesline is creative,” says Kowal. “There’s no stores that show their shirts on clotheslines and have a website out with clotheslines. We just added to the whole image of the clothesline.” To complete the shop’s image they tagged graffiti on the walls. Kowal tagged one wall and their friend Dave Troxler — Ringling School graduate and fellow shirt designer — tagged a cityscape on the other. They attached an upside-down umbrella clothesline to the ceiling and the store was ready for business.

There was only one little problem – they didn’t have any inventory. “Everything was set up,” says Kowal. “I got my bank accounts, my merchant accounts, my business licenses. I just needed some inventory.” Everything with the printing process was on a trial and error basis. They had trouble at first with seams because the bumps would create gaps in the ink. They discovered how to swipe things in different directions to make a solid print. The night before their shop opened, the two young entrepreneurs stayed up late making screens and printing T-shirts.

Each member of the Clothesline crew has a different style. “Mine varies,” says Kowal. “I’ll go from stuff that is very abstract to character designs, and then a lot of intricate, fine-line stuff.” Kowal comes from an artistic background. His grandfather, Dennis Kowal, is a local sculptor who has taught art all over the country. He has pieces behind the Van Wezel, in front of the Chamber of Commerce and at other public spots around town.

Ekasala is more focused on graphic design. “First and foremost, I’m a photographer,” he says. “Like that one,” he points to a navy shirt with a design high up on the left breast, “I took a picture of an artichoke, ran it through Photoshop, traced it on my screen and made a graphic out of it.” Kowal’s wife Becky designs the women’s shirts. Their two Chihuahuas — Mac and Cheese — inspired one of her designs.

The group lists designers like Obey, Johnny Cupcakes, Upper Playground, Karmaloop and Digital Gravel as influences on their clothes line. They only buy ink in white, black and the primary colors. In other words, even if you convince them to reprint a design in your size, the color mix will be slightly different.

It’s that commitment to individuality that sets Clothesline apart from the chains. But what else would you expect from a couple kids who built their own screen-printing machine from scratch? All in all, Kowal and Ekasala spent less than $1,000 to get their business up and running — that’s less than the cost of one pre-made screen-printing machine. DIY, sure. But it’s also just good business sense.

A lot of Sarasota’s independent shops have struggled this year, but Clothesline — with its one-of-a-kind styles and bear-hug-tight budget — just might buck the trend.

 

2010 Summer Guide: Siesta Key

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Escape from Earth with a parasailing excursion

As the bright yellow 31-foot powerboat dubbed “Smile High” is lowered into the water at Siesta Key Marina a dozen eager faces look on with anticipation. The assembled group is composed of a family with two small children, two couples in their early 20s and another in their early 90s. As one of the only U.S. Coast Guard inspected vessels in the area, Siesta Key Parasailing is the only company around that can accommodate a group this large on one boat.

We make our way north up the intercoastal and enter the Gulf of Mexico through the pass between Lido and Siesta Keys, encountering waving fishermen beached on sandbars along the way. Captain Ken MeGahee points out some of the more expensive real estate along the north Siesta shore as our crewman, Kurt, prepares the complex lines of the parasailing rig off the back of the boat. Once we hit open waters, a push of the throttle sends the sail airborne, like a huge smiley face balloon tethered off our stern.

The first couple gets harnessed in and seated on the back platform. MeGahee accelerates and they gently float into the sky. The chute appears to get smaller as 1,200 feet of line is reeled out. He slows the boat to let them descend, pointing out how the rig acts much like a regular parachute. When my turn comes around I’m paired up with Fred Clark, who happens to be celebrating his 92nd birthday. Clark is MeGahee’s new record for the oldest person he’s flown.

We slowly drift away from the water to spectacular views of Siesta Key looking south toward Point of Rocks. The hum of the engine gets fainter as we rise and by the time we reach the pinnacle we hear nothing but a quiet breeze. Gazing out across the wide-open coastline I note familiar Sarasota landmarks. There’s no doubt in my mind, at this moment I’ve got the best view in town.

Here is a list of the places that can’t be missed on Siesta Key:

SIESTA KEY BEACH 5118 Ocean Blvd., Sarasota, 861-5000 or siestakeychamber.com. Siesta Key is a long-time contender for most beautiful white-sand beach on the planet. One of the premier places to snorkel on the entire Gulf Coast is at Point of Rocks on the south end of Siesta Key Main Beach. A drum circle is held there every Sunday around sunset.

SIESTA KEY BIKE AND KAYAK 1224 Old Stickney Point Road, Sarasota, 346-0891 or siestakeybikeandkayak.com.Whether it’s scooters, bikes, kayaks or skim boards, this shop has everything needed to get you in motion, with guided kayak tours to boot. If you’re just looking to chill, they’ve got beach chairs too.

SIESTA KEY OYSTER BAR 5238 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 346-5443 or skob.com. SKOB is a long-time Siesta Key staple that’s a popular hangout for locals. Serving up standard bar and Floribbean fare, it keeps the wood and surf theme common to other village pubs, but here it feels a little more natural.

DAIQUIRI DECK 5250 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-8697 or daiquirideck.com. If you like fried fish sandwiches and long rows of alcoholic slurpee machines, Daiquiri Deck is your spot. The owners recently closed neighboring Speakeasy, expanded the Deck and added an extensive raw bar menu.

GILLIGAN’S ISLAND BAR AND GRILL 5253 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 346-8122 or gilligansislandbar.com. With a usual lineup of bar food and boat drinks, this lively nightspot has live music most nights of the week wih ladies night on Wednesdays and a blues jam on Sundays.

THE BEACH CLUB 5151 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-6311 or beachclubsiestakey.com. This is the spring break-style party bar where everyone always winds up at the end of the night. If you can’t take someone home from The Beach Club, you’re not trying.

TURTLES 8875 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, 346-2207 or turtlesrestaurant.com. Way down on the southernmost section of the island, Turtles is a casual joint that serves bar items and fresh seafood across from Turtle Beach.

BIG OLAF 5208 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-9392. For decades, this ice cream shop has provided cold treats to overheated locals and tourists, with decadent ice cream piled into Olaf’s trademark waffle cones.

CAPTAIN CURT’S 1200 Old Stickney Point Road, Siesta Key, 349-3885 or captaincurts.com. Award-winning clam chowder, live music and big plates of steamed seafood with sides of butter highlight this casual spot near the south bridge.

BLASÉ CAFÉ 5263 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-9822 or theblasecafe.com. This funky spot serves an array of interesting appetizers focused on seaside seafood, along with standard modern American fine dining entrées. The $5 burger is the best deal on the island.

2010 Summer Guide: Anna Maria Island

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Bradenton Beach’s Historic Bridge Street offers paradise without all those pesky tourists

Some of us big city folk down here in Sarasota have a tendency to think of Anna Maria Island as just another gorgeous string of beaches leading up to the mouth of Tampa Bay. But far from your average tourist traps like Siesta and Lido Keys, AMI is actually a collection of quaint small town communities, each with their own distinct character and history. Genuine “Old Florida” is truly alive and well in areas like Bradenton Beach’s Historic Bridge Street.

In 1967, the original wooden bridge connecting Cortez Village to AMI was converted to the Historic Bridge Street Pier, now a popular local fishing spot and home to Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant. A westward walk from the pier toward the roundabout at Gulf Drive reveals Bridge Street’s array of arty boutiques, like Bridge Street Bizarre, The Hive Creations and Art Attack, and an uber-funky coffee shop called The Back Alley. The Drift In is a local’s bar with a Cheers atmosphere where everyone knows your name and is quick to ask if they don’t.

The best way to experience this unique area is a stay at BridgeWalk Resort. The family-owned complex adorned with traditional Key West-style architecture features 28 massive rooms ornamented with old black and whites depicting beach goers from yesteryear. Living room-sized balconies overlook Bridge Street and a reservation gets you a free round of putt-putt in the lush tropical settings of The Fish Hole Adventure Golf across the street.

The third floor patio of the resort’s restaurant, The Sun House, offers beautifully presented seafood picked hours earlier from the very waters you look down upon. Every night sunset brings a ring of the gong and guests are treated to complimentary “green flash shooters” as the servers sing “You Are My Sunshine.” Imagine the powdery white sands of Siesta Key, minus the pasty white tourists, add amusing locals living the authentic “Old Florida” lifestyle, and you have Historic Bridge Street.

Here is a list of every place you have to check out on Anna Maria Island:

Katie Pierola Sunset Park 2200 block of Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach. This gulf side park features authentic chickee huts. Chickee, the Seminole word for “house,” is a style of architecture that involves palmetto thatched roofs over over a bald cypress log frame.

Holmes Beach City of Holmes Beach, 5801 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, 708-5800. This beach town occupies the central section of Anna Maria Island and is the largest of the three island communities, with three miles of white sand beaches.

Anna Maria Beach City of Anna Maria, 10005 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, 708-6130. The northernmost city of Anna Maria Island is a world-renowned wedding destination with a wide, usually quiet beach at the very northern tip.

Sandbar 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria, 778-0444, sandbar.groupersandwich.com. One of the most popular dining spots on the island, Sandbar has tables set right in the sand for your wondering toes to dig in.

Feeling Swell 9903 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, 896-7879, feelingswellsurfbar.com. A way laid-back beach bar with a surfing theme offering an outdoor patio and live entertainment most nights of the week.

Rod & Reel 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, 788-1885. This Anna Maria pier is a nice spot to pick up a killer mahi mahi sandwich and trade your best fishing stories. Enjoy the views of Tampa Bay while stocking up on live bait shrimp.

D.Coy Ducks 5410 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-5888, myspace.com/dcoyducks. D.Coy Ducks is the live music hub of Holmes Beach and they also offer dominoes and Texas Hold-em tournaments throughout the week.

Ginny & Jane E’s Cafe 9807 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, 778-3170, annamariacafe.com. You can check your email, buy an outdoor seating arrangement, and nosh on incredible fresh baked goods all in one convenient stop.

Island Trader 5336 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-5909. This quirky gift shop offers every pirate and beach-themed item under the sun. Anything and everything you need for the beach you’ll find here.

West Coast Surf Shop 3902 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-1001, westcoastsurfshop.com/shop. Claiming to be the “oldest surf shop in Florida,” the West Coast Surf Shop opened in 1963 and offers everything a surfer could want.