Category Archives: Personality

Hippodrome Family Says Goodbye to Rusty Salling

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Family, friends and colleagues shared heartwarming stories and humorous tales about the late Hippodrome actor during a Celebration of Life on the stage where he performed for 43 years.


In 35 years at UF, Dr. Albert Wehlberg taught more than 45,000 students in the School of Theatre and Dance. One of those students, a wiry youngster from Jacksonville by the name of Rusty Salling, entered his Stagecraft 1 classroom in September 1969 and never truly left the building.

Hippodrome artistic director Lauren Warhol Caldwell shares a story about Rusty Salling. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Hippodrome artistic director Lauren Warhol Caldwell shares a story about Rusty Salling. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

“He enjoyed class, but mostly when I dismissed class early,” Wehlberg said of his former pupil, who would go on to a long career in theatre.

“Technical theatre wasn’t his favorite subject,” Wehlberg said later. “In fact, he probably thought it was a pain in the ass because I made him work.”

But Wehlberg, now 79, came to admire his pupil’s work and said as much on Monday night during a Celebration of Life for Salling at the Hippodrome Theatre. About 200 people, including family, friends, fellow actors and admirers, attended the two-hour tribute on the mainstage where Salling performed for more than four decades.

“He did well,” Dr. Wehlberg said of Salling. “He always used to make a funny sound whenever I complimented him on a production. I don’t know where that sound came from!”

Wehlberg was one of more than a dozen speakers to share a story or two about Salling on a night that included some tears but mostly laughter for a man who was bigger than life on stage but otherwise a humble and private individual. Dan Jesse, a longtime friend of Salling, emceed the Celebration of Life.

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Local Author Showcase Strictly by the Book

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The Alachua County Library District is hosting an event on Saturday that shines the spotlight on a dozen area writers who have been published.

Hugh E. Suggs, with his wife of 35 years, Janet, in front of their Gainesville home. Photo by Raphael Michael/Gainesville Downtown)

Hugh E. Suggs and wife Janet in front of their Gainesville home. (Photo by Raphael Michael/Gainesville Downtown)

Hugh E. Suggs has performed many duties in his life to put food on the table for his family of six. He’s worked construction, laid down carpet, managed restaurants, sold cars, taught grade school and done landscaping work, among other things.

local authors showcaseBut not anymore. Now, Suggs is a writer.

Earlier this summer, the Gainesville resident self-published “Stepping on Cracks,” a creepy novel about a serial killer lurking around the University of Florida. Suggs is preparing to release two more books in the coming year — one containing poetry and the other a series of short stories based on his life.

“Writing is what I love to do,” Suggs said the other day from his home in the Duckpond neighborhood of downtown Gainesville.

On Saturday, Hughes will be one of 12 writers featured during the Local Author Showcase at the downtown Headquarters Library, 401 E. University Ave. The others are Stephen Smitherman, Theodore Josiha Haig, Sandra Gail Lambert, Caroline Anaya, Nancy Rankie Shelton, Stephanie Smith, Terri Depue, Sandra “Lee” Phillips, Glenn Vellekamp, Richard Gartree and Melinda Grimmage.

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For Savants of Soul, Future is Now

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The nine-piece Gainesville band returns to the Bo Diddley Community Plaza stage this week for a Free Fridays concert that is sure to be a crowd-pleasing event.

The Savants of Soul performing at Bo Diddley Plaza in February. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

The Savants of Soul warm up for Charles Bradley at Bo Diddley Plaza in February. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

The last time the Savants of Soul performed on the large outdoor stage at Bo Diddley Community Plaza, they opened for the legendary Charles Bradley in a memorable concert event in late February.

On a chilly winter evening, the band’s soulful music warmed up a spirited crowd of more than 2,000 people during the highlight of a special event known as Changeville.

“That was a really special night,” said Alex Klausner, drummer for the Savants of Soul. “I can’t even describe the thrill of getting the email inviting us to play that night. And Charles Bradley was one of the most gentle, warm-hearted people you’d ever want to meet.”

This week, the Savants of Soul are not a warmup act but rather the headliners at Bo Diddley Plaza for a Free Fridays Concert Series event from 8-10 p.m.

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SpinChill a Hot Topic for Reality TV

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The downtown startup will be featured on CNBC’s West Texas Investors Club this week. There will be a viewing party at Tall Paul’s Brewhouse on Wednesday night.

Trevor Abbott and SpinChill are ready for prime time!

On Wednesday night at 10, the Gainesville entrepreneur and his downtown-based company will be featured on the season finale of the CNBC reality series West Texas Investors Club.

Trevor Abbott

Trevor Abbott

During the hour-long episode, taped in March, Abbott and SpinChill co-founder Tyler Parker pitch their product to big-money Texas investors Mike “Rooster” McConaughey and Wayne “Butch” Gilliam. The goal, as in in the popular ABC series Shark Tank, is to convince the investors to buy a stake in the company.

SpinChill is a product that enables people to turn warm beverages ice cold in a single minute by spinning the cans in ice. (Bottles take a minute or two longer to chill.) The handheld spinning tool resembles a drill but with an attachment that clips onto the top of an aluminum can or a bottle.

“By spinning something in ice or a cold liquid, you’re increasing the heat transfer by 40 times the amount,” Abbott explained.

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Miller Tries Making Sense of Absurd

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A longtime fixture of Gainesville’s entertainment scene, Tom Miller will give an Artwalk performance with Alan Bushnell on Friday night at the Hardback Café. It’s titled “Sex, Religion, Fastfood.”

Tom Miller fixates on the mouth of Ted Cruz during the February Artwalk at the Hardback Café. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Tom Miller fixates on Ted Cruz’s mouth during a recent Artwalk at the Hardback Café. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

The great thing about Tom Miller is that you never know what Gainesville’s most unpredictable performance artist will be up to next.

Tom Miller during a contemplative moment outside Maude

Tom Miller during a contemplative moment outside Maude’s Side Car in the Sun Center.

Earlier this summer, he and a dedicated team of artist friends erected a sculpture about nothing smack dab in the middle of Bo Diddley Community Plaza. Two weeks later, they painstakingly reversed the process to remove the invisible three-dimensional piece.

In the spring, Miller undertook perhaps his most, shall we say, daring project to date by sitting in front of a large poster of Ted Cruz’s face and staring directly into the then-presidential candidate’s gaping mouth for two hours without breaking eye contact.

That was during an Artwalk event at the Hardback Café, and — we’re happy to report — he survived the traumatic ordeal!

On Friday night, Miller will be at it again, performing at the Hardback Café along with longtime friend Alan Bushnell in a collaboration titled “Sex, Religion, Fastfood.” The show, starting at 7 p.m., will feature artwork and musical performances by both men, and most likely a surprise or two.

The event will be one of the highlights of Artwalk Gainesville, the monthly self-guided tour of downtown galleries and art spaces. Most events are from 7-10 p.m. This month’s events include walking tours of the downtown murals as well as downtown public-art sculptures.

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Ricky Kendall Revival Includes the Healers

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Almost a year after releasing his second album, the Gainesville singer/songwriter appears on the Bo Diddley Plaza stage tonight alongside Michael Claytor, Sam Moss and his trusted band.

Ricky Kendall puts heart and soul into all of his music. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Singer/songwriter Ricky Kendall puts heart and soul into all of his music. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

All you need to know about singer/songwriter Ricky Kendall is that his latest project is a children’s album that comes directly from the heart.

Ricky Kendall: a self-portrait

Ricky Kendall: a self-portrait

The album, to be released later this year, will feature seven songs Kendall wrote with young patients at UF Health Shands, where he works as a musician-in-residence with the Arts in Medicine program.

“The themes in the album are very relatable to children and adults,” Kendall said. “I’ve tried to elevate the musical scope for the whole family.”

The album is funded by the family of a young girl who Kendall worked alongside in the hospital and who was undergoing a heart transplant.

Tonight, Kendall will take a break from his Arts in Medicine work to provide musical therapy for the Gainesville community in the form of a Free Fridays concert at Bo Diddley Community Plaza. Kendall will appear with his band, appropriately named the Healers, from 8-10 p.m.

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Puppet Wizard Ballard Honoring Jim Henson

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The Gainesville puppeteer and some friends are staging the Jim Henson Tribute Show tonight at Market Street Pub & Cabaret to raise funds for the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association.

Rachel Wayne holds Roberta, left, while Dan Ballard shows off his puppet Merka Lerka in front of the mural Ballard painted at The Midnight in downtown Gainesville. Photo by Gainesville downtown)

Rachel Wayne holds the pterodactyl Roberta, left, while Dan Ballard shows off his alien puppet Merka Lerka in front of the mural Ballard painted at The Midnight in downtown Gainesville. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Dan Ballard grew up watching The Muppet Show, Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth — basically any TV show or film created by the late, great puppeteer Jim Henson.

Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog

Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog

Henson’s creativity and genius had a profound effect on Ballard.

“He was my inspiration since I was 6 years old,” Ballard said. “He helped my imagination come to life.”

Ballard’s mother, Wanda, also provided encouragement. She started a puppet ministry at their church in Mobile, Alabama, when Dan was a toddler.

No wonder Ballard, 32, turned puppetry into a career and enjoys sharing his talents with the Gainesville community and beyond.

Tonight, Ballard and several other performers will display their theatrical skills during the Jim Henson Tribute Show at Market Street Pub & Cabaret, 112 SW 1st Ave. Doors open at 9 p.m. and the show starts at 10. Admission is $7.

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James Gish Gives His All as Toxie Newcomer

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The Arizona-based actor is the fresh new face of The Toxic Avenger, the hilarious musical comedy playing this summer at the Hippodrome Theatre. And in case you are wondering, the Gish name is not new to show business.

James Gish, as Toxie, and Maria Kerrigan, as Sarah, exchange some "Hot Toxic Love" during The Toxic Avenger. Photo by Michael A. Eaddy)

James Gish, as Toxie, and Maria Kerrigan, as Sarah, exchange some “Hot Toxic Love” during The Toxic Avenger. (Photo by Michael A. Eaddy)

By day, James D. Gish blends in well with other college students in Gainesville, lugging a backpack around town, working out at the gym and doing, you know, normal stuff. No one he passes on the street would ever suspect that by night, the tall, handsome 20-year-old transforms into a mutant superhero.

James Gish on the steps of the Hippodrome Theatre. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

James Gish on the front porch of the Hippodrome Theatre. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

And, yet, that has pretty much been Gish’s daily routine since taking over the title role in The Toxic Avenger, the musical comedy onstage this summer at the Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Gainesville.

“I’m having a blast!” Gish said with an All-American Boyish grin. “I love playing Toxie.”

Who wouldn’t? Except for that left eyeball dangling off his cheek and a guttural roar now and then, playing the Toxic Avenger is a sweet gig for a young actor making his professional stage debut. It’s also Gish’s very first theater job outside his home state of Arizona.

How the young man from Bullhead City (pop. 39,364) ended up on the professional stage in Gainesville in the summer of ’16 borders on the improbable.

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The Brainchild Behind Fest Does It All for the Fans

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Tony Weinbender started the annual punk rock festival in downtown Gainesville in 2002. This year’s event at the end of October — the 15th edition of Fest — will again draw bands and fans from around the U.S. and from around the globe.

Gainesvilles me-grown Less Than Jake will be one of the featured acts during Fest 15.

Gainesville’s home-grown Less Than Jake will be one of the featured acts during Fest 15.

For one long weekend each fall, Tony Weinbender has the punk-rock world at his fingertips. As organizer of the annual five-day music gathering known as Fest, he orchestrates hundreds of bands so that thousands of fans can have a blast the last week of October.

Tony Weinbender

Tony Weinbender

“My number one concern and priority is to create a festival I would want to attend and to think about the attendees above anything else,” Weinbender said. “I take a lot of pride in this thing. It’s my job. I want this to be fun for everyone.”

Weinbender is passionate about Fest, which celebrates its 15th year on Oct. 28-30 in downtown Gainesville. (There is also a Pre-Fest event Oct. 26-27 in Tampa’s Ybor City entertainment district.)

This year, the Fest 15 lineup will include 360 bands playing at a dozen or so downtown venues, as well as stand-up comedy and some pro wrestling thrown in for good measure. Best of all, Fest will return to renovated Bo Diddley Plaza to stage concerts for crowds of 5,000 or more.

We recently sat down with Weinbender at a corner table inside his favorite downtown haunt, Loosey’s, to better understand his love affair with Fest -– and with Gainesville.

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Electro Aerial Show Gets Off the Ground at Market Street

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The Market Street Pub & Cabaret hosts a show tonight that begins with bartenders serving beer and wine while suspended from the ceiling. The aerial artistry is the brainchild of Corey Souza, owner of S-Connection studio.

Aerialists for AscenDance perform on the trapeze.

Aerialists from AscenDance perform on the trapeze. (Allen Finley Photography)

When your parents warned you that nothing good can happen hanging around in bars, they obviously weren’t talking about the AscenDance aerial bartenders.

Corey Souza in her S-Connection studio Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Corey Souza in her S-Connection studio. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Tonight at Market Street Pub & Cabaret, 112 SW 1st Ave., the Gainesville-based performers will serve beer and wine while suspended from lyra, or aerial hoops. That is only a warmup for the Electro Aerial Show featuring a variety of circus-style acts.

“The aerial bartending is like eye candy that goes on throughout the night,” said Corey Souza, owner and artistic director of S-Connection Aerial Arts, the downtown Gainesville studio where the performers train.

The aerial bartending begins at 8 p.m., followed at 9:30 by a choreographed performance that will include aerialists on silks, lyra and poles. Jazzology will perform live music throughout the evening. The show has a $5 cover charge.

“We’ve had excellent crowds for our previous shows,” Souza said. “People are always warm and supportive, and we’re very grateful the Gainesville community has been accepting of our work.”

Souza will emcee and sing during the event, which will feature eight acrobats on apparatus anchored to rigging on Market Street Pub’s 14-foot-high ceilings.

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