Category Archives: Beyond Levitt

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Top row (L to R): Joanie Leeds, The Baylor Project, Poncho Sanchez, Sarah Jarosz, Fantastic Negrito. Middle row (L to R): The Okee Dokee Brothers, Ruthie Foster, Devon Gilfillian, Maren Morris, Black Violin. Bottom row (L to R): Mavis Staples, North Mississippi Allstars, Lucinda Williams, Billy Strings, Sierra Hull.

Earlier today, The Recording Academy announced its full list of 2021 GRAMMY Award nominees, giving artists and professionals across the music industry cause for celebration during a challenging year. We’re especially thrilled to congratulate the 27 nominees who’ve performed on Levitt stages across the country! Ranging from Latin, pop, country, jazz and more, these talented performers have captured the attention of critics and audiences around the globe, from blues sensation North Mississippi Allstars who have graced Levitt Shell Memphis to country duo, Brothers Osborne. Check out the nominees below and catch the ceremony on January 31, 2021.  
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Across the country, the pandemic has brought a halt to music venue operations with 90% of them in danger of closing permanently if they don’t receive government assistance. Beloved venues and iconic musical landmarks from the Boulder Theater in Colorado to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and the Belly Up in San Diego, are at risk of closing their doors for good due to COVID restrictions.

In response, the independent venue community has been hard at work to keep the sector afloat. Earlier this year, Independent Venue Week and the nation’s top independent music venues formed the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) to help #SaveOurStages across the nation by bringing attention to the plight of their sector and call for emergency assistance. And this week, they’re shining the light on their cause even more through Independent Venue Week, happening now through October 30! Enjoy a diverse array of livestream performances and panel discussions with artists and music industry professionals that highlight the breadth of creative, community-building opportunities that independent music venues provide across the country. From Danielle Durack’s poignant indie-pop performance on October 25 to Jinx Jones soothing blues performance on October 28, artists of all backgrounds and genres are showing up to support this valuable cause. If you didn’t have a chance to tune in, make sure to check out previous and upcoming events on independentvenueweek.com.

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Throughout our nation’s history, art has played a valuable role in propelling social justice movements forward while inspiring hope and celebrating our shared humanity. From Women’s Suffrage to Civil Rights to the United Farm Workers to Black Lives Matter, artists of all disciplines have amplified causes that give voice to marginalized groups and reveal systems of injustice to inspire positive change. Music, murals, graphic posters, political cartoons, spoken word and other forms of artistic expression have created spaces that bring awareness to social causes and build community. Today we’re sharing some of the inspiring ways art has become a tool for activism and the way it has helped shape social movements in the U.S.

Reshaping perceptions of women’s suffrage through posters and cartoons

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“Bugler Girl” by Caroline Watts (1908)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which secured a woman’s right to vote in the U.S. The campaign for women’s suffrage began in the early 1900s and involved the efforts of countless women, including female artists and cartoonists who advanced the suffrage agenda by conveying a collective narrative through their art. The movement’s bold banners, posters and political cartoons helped challenge the prevailing view of the times that a woman’s place was exclusively in the home. Posters were a relatively new form of mass communication and became an effective tool to deliver the movement’s messages to the masses. The allegorical bugler, calling her “troops” to battle in this 1908 “Women’s Suffrage March and Mass-Meeting” poster by British illustrator Caroline Watts, shows how strong female imagery was used to call together women who were ready to challenge the status quo. Watts first created her iconic “Bugler Girl” poster to promote the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies’ June demonstrations in London. This illustration was such a success, it was selected to become the logo of the British newspaper The Suffragette and was later borrowed by the women’s suffrage movement here in the U.S. Used to promote the National American Suffrage Association’s March 3, 1913 parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., Watts’ memorable poster helped mobilize over 5,000 suffragettes in the nation’s capital.

Allender PC67: September 1920, No Caption. ["Victory."]

“Victory” by Nina Allender (1920)

Political cartoons published in newspapers and magazines were another accessible form of artistic expression that are credited with advancing the goals of suffragists during this era. The Kansas-based artist, cartoonist and women’s rights activist Nina Allender created political cartoons to counter anti-suffrage propaganda that depicted suffragists as unfeminine, undesirable and bitter. Allender instead created drawings with political satire that portrayed suffragists as young, bright and active women who were part of a new, hopeful generation unafraid to challenge authority. From 1914-27, she created nearly 300 political cartoons that helped reshape the view of women and suffragettes among both the public and the media, with perhaps the most famous being “Victory,” the popular 1920 cartoon showing a woman flying a victory banner in celebration of the passage of the 19th amendment. 

Empowering art of freedom during the Civil Rights movement
The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which aimed to end our nation’s institutionalized discrimination, segregation and violence toward Black people, called for equal rights and protections under the law. This era’s surge of activism was marked by non-violent protests and acts of targeted civil disobedience, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides and the Greensboro Woolworth Sit-Ins. The movement also ushered in a massive wave of artistic expression to communicate the issues and ideals of the movement. Artists like Jacob Lawrence, Mahalia Jackson and David Hammons created powerful paintings, music and sculptures that amplified the movement’s fight for equality. For example, Lawrence’s celebrated 1962 painting “Soldiers and Students” depicts a group of Black students accompanied by three armed guards, surrounded by a group of angry protesters attempting to block their entry into a school. The painting poignantly captures the determination and courage of Black students trying to exercise their right to a fair and equal education. Continue reading

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The penultimate performance of the 2020 Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series kicks off tonight! Co-presented by CREATE Portage County, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series, this live broadcast stars Minneapolis-based emcee Nur-D, whose lyrics span playful topics like geek culture and pro wrestling as well as complex social issues like racism and toxic masculinity. “He brings a wide perspective to his art,” says Greg Wright, executive director of CREATE. “Nur-D’s desire to make people re-think aspects of hip-hop music brings a layer to our programming we haven’t had before.” The show starts at 7pm ET / 4pm PT — catch the live stream on Facebook, or watch it over at levittamp.org/virtual at any time!

Re-framing the story of small-town living
Stevens Point is a small town in Central Wisconsin home to about 25,000 people. Located along a three-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River, the land, which belonged to the Menomonie people for over 14,000 years, became a vital stopping point for logging industry workers after European settlers colonized the area in the 1800s. As industrialization emerged in Wisconsin, paper mills and other logging-adjacent businesses flourished along the river, and Stevens Point, officially incorporated in 1868, eventually expanded into one of the region’s most robust communities.

An 1878 map of Stevens Point, WI

An 1878 map of Stevens Point, WI

Today, the town is known for its many local breweries, vibrant green spaces, strong arts scene, and emerging tech sector. The University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point, recognized statewide for its top-tier environmental science and fine arts programs, brings nearly 10,000 students to town each year and further invigorates community life with a wealth of activities.

While many other small communities in the region have experienced steep declines in both population and prosperity in recent decades, Stevens Point remains somewhat of an outlier. With a healthy economy and steadily increasing number of residents, the town has taken on an identity as a trendsetting, mold-breaking model for what life in a small Midwestern community can be. Diversity is also on the rise in Stevens Point, with frequent cross-cultural festivities celebrating the town’s Hmong and Latinx communities. Even so, the success of Stevens Point has mostly flown under the radar, and according to Wright, one of the goals of the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series has been to raise the town’s profile. “We really wanted to get the word out about our community,” says Wright. “People who are looking for a smaller place that feels more progressive, more vibrant, they can find that here. We can prove that it’s possible to live in a small community without sacrificing quality of life.”

Making community-wide investments to create change
CREATE Portage County, launched in 2015, exists to better the lives of community residents through investments in arts, culture and creativity. Placemaking and public art projects are a major component of the nonprofit’s work, as well as programs designed to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and connections between community members. Back in 2016, after one of CREATE’s board members interned at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the nonprofit presenter of the Levitt AMP Sheboygan Music Series, the idea to bring a Levitt AMP series to Stevens Point began to take shape. “We saw the Levitt AMP grant as an opportunity to both add some live music into our vibrant arts scene and get our name on the map,” says Wright. “We wanted to reframe the story around small towns and show that they can thrive in the 21st century if they invest in creativity.” With buy-in from the City of Stevens Point, as the parks and recreation department would be pivotal to presenting the outdoor music series, CREATE applied for a Levitt AMP grant in 2016 and presented the first ever Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series the following summer.

The view from above of Pfiffner Pioneer Park

The view from above of Pfiffner Pioneer Park

Providing a stunning view of both the Wisconsin River and downtown Stevens Point, the picturesque Pfiffner Pioneer Park was a clear choice of venue for the series. The park houses a band shell that was constructed in 1977 as a centennial project, though outside of a handful of performances from local acts each year, the facility saw relatively little use. Through a Levitt AMP series, organizers sought to realize the full potential of this space while bringing in a diverse array of artists that the community may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. The park is also easily accessible to residents across the city, with downtown Stevens Point within walking distance and the university just down the road, and reachable by just about all modes of transportation — a series of trails brings concertgoers to the park on foot or by bike, and a recently installed dock even allows residents to float over on boats. The park itself sits within the “Nortside” neighborhood, historically home to working class Polish immigrants, which has seen a resurgence in recent years spurred in part by the success of the series.

Wright describes a growing audience at Levitt AMP concerts each summer, with some performances drawing audiences of over 1,000. By booking college musicians as opening acts and intermission shows, an increasing number of attendees are students, helping to bridge the town and gown divide within the community. In addition to the music, CREATE has fostered a festival atmosphere on the lawn on concert nights that’s also become a platform for local businesses. “We bring arts activities, kids activities, good food, locally produced beverages…it’s a really relaxed and fun environment,” says Wright.

Overall, Wright believes the concert series has not only engaged the community and elevated the Stevens Point arts scene, but has also opened the door for profound growth within the community. “People are trusting in that culture change as a result of having a positive experience on the Levitt lawn,” says Wright. “We’ve been able to leverage that to make long-term, community-wide investments in inclusivity, in diversity, in creativity.”

Joyous scenes from the lawn at Levitt AMP Stevens Point

Joyous scenes from the lawn at Levitt AMP Stevens Point

Keeping the community safe and connected
In March, as the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic began to sink in, CREATE Portage County quickly sprang into action to help keep the community safe. Utilizing the 3D printing facility at the organization’s IDEA center, CREATE began producing plastic face shields for medical workers, first responders, in-home care workers, and other frontline personnel. Word quickly spread through the town, and residents who owned personal 3D printers joined the effort, while partnerships with local manufacturers Worth Company and Gamber-Johnson helped expedite the assembly process. “At our peak, we had 23 printers running, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” recalls Wright. “We just cranked out as many as we could.” Through this community-wide effort, CREATE produced over 4,000 face shields, providing a critical boost to hospitals and clinics at a time when personal protective equipment was still in short supply. The project had a global impact as well — after sharing the schematics online, Wright learned that people in the UK, Japan and Germany were 3D-printing the same locally-designed face shields to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

Health workers at Ascension St. Michaels Hospital in Stevens Point wear face shields 3D-printed by CREATE

Health workers at Ascension St. Michaels Hospital in Stevens Point wear face shields 3D-printed by CREATE

In addition to helping the community stay physically protected from the virus, CREATE is also working to combat COVID-related loneliness. “One of our biggest concerns right now is the mental health toll of COVID-19,” says Wright. “Right now, it’s so important for people to still have access to social connectedness.” Following the success of several one-off concert livestreams in the spring, CREATE made the decision to bring the 2020 Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series fully online this summer. The series, which is funded in part through a Levitt AMP Bridge Grant, began in July and includes seven live-streamed concerts, including tonight’s performance from Nur-D. Participants are encouraged to watch the performances outdoors in small, socially-distanced groups, bringing the spirit of Levitt concerts out of Pfiffner Pioneer Park and into the community. “You can take your speakers outside, bring your close friends and family, wear masks, order takeout, and create a mini Levitt lawn right at home!” says Wright.

Another goal of this year’s series is to provide paid performance opportunities for musicians who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. According to Wright, some of the artists booked for the 2020 Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series hadn’t played a single show, virtual or otherwise, since March, with one artist reporting upwards of 100 of their concerts having been canceled. “We really wanted to make sure we honored our contracts and paid musicians,” says Wright. “It was important to us to do our part to support the arts economy.”

Minneapolis-based rapper Nur-D in action

Minneapolis-based rapper Nur-D in action

Wright is especially excited for tonight’s concert with Nur-D, whose unique perspective and left-field lyricism are already making huge waves in the Midwest hip-hop scene. Originally from the Bronx and based out of the Twin Cities, Nur-D first stepped into the rap arena in 2018, and has since earned accolades such as the #1 spot on City Pages’ “Picked to Click” list. Sporting superhero sweatshirts, bowties and thick, square-rimmed glasses, Nur-D is a striking performer with an arsenal of hilarious and insightful rhymes at his disposal. “He’s a really intersectional performer,” describes Wright. “We’ve had hip-hop artists every year of our series, but the specific messaging in his music really fits the goals of Levitt AMP.” Catch Nur-D in action tonight as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, and experience the rest of the series over at levittamp.org/virtual!

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Legion Lake Park in Houston, Miss., the future site of the Levitt AMP Houston Music Series

The Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series continues tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT with a dynamic performance by husband and wife Americana/folk-indie duo Amy LaVere and Will Sexton, co-presented by the team behind the Levitt AMP Houston Music Series. No strangers to Levitt, LaVere and Sexton have graced the iconic Levitt Shell Memphis stage in their hometown multiple times. Recorded at the artists’ home, about two hours from Houston, Miss., tonight’s virtual concert will treat audiences to an intimate, eclectic and captivating evening of vocals, upright bass and guitar. Tune in at levittamp.org/virtual! Continue reading

Woonsocket's River Island Art Park before and during the 2018 Levitt AMP Woonsocket Music Series

Woonsocket’s River Island Art Park before and during the 2018 Levitt AMP Woonsocket Music Series

Friday night is almost upon us, and so is another virtual Levitt AMP concert! Co-presented by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley (NWBRV), tonight’s show is set to be a genre-spanning musical spectrum—headlined by Dominican-American salsa star EhShawnee, the concert also features acclaimed indigenous artist Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson, renowned djembe drummer Sidy Maiga, and treasured Rhode Island big band Steve Smith and the Naked Truth. This stacked lineup of local talent is sure to bring the rich array of Rhode Island’s music scene to the digital stage with style—watch from anywhere tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT at levittamp.org/virtual!

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The view from the stage at the AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Vantage point from the stage at the AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Tonight, as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, experience an all-new show from indie roots group The Woodshedders, co-presented by West Virginia’s Jefferson County Parks and Recreation (JCPRC)! Dedicated to promoting health, well-being and the environment, JCPRC is a nonprofit component of the Jefferson County government and will present the Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction Music Series next summer. For tonight’s virtual concert, the series’ organizers are excited to present a home-grown band whose sound captures the unique spirit and flavor of their community. The Woodshedders blend vintage rock, honky-tonk, and Appalachian roots music to create an upbeat and modern take on the region’s musical traditions. “They have a real West Virginia feel to them when they play,” says Becki Zaglifa, JCPRC’s public relations specialist. Known for their fun, danceable live shows, The Woodshedders are a mainstay of the D.C. area music scene and have four albums of original music under their belts. Their performance for the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series was recorded live earlier this year at Chord B Brewing Company, and airs tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT. Tune in from anywhere at levittamp.org/virtual! 

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The "Y-Block" in downtown Springfield before and during the Levitt AMP series

The “Y-Block” in downtown Springfield before and during the 2019 Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series

Tonight, experience an all-new virtual concert from harmony-driven acoustic folk trio The Deep Hollow as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series! The show is co-presented by Downtown Springfield Heritage Foundation in partnership with Downtown Springfield, Inc. and Springfield Area Arts Council, the nonprofits behind the Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series. Known in their native Springfield and beyond for their raw, sparse and powerful take on traditional Americana, The Deep Hollow are a Midwestern sensation with a rapidly rising profile. Tune in tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT at levittamp.org/virtual!

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Coal Avenue in Downtown Gallup, New Mexico. Photo courtesy: Cayla Nimmo

Coal Avenue in Downtown Gallup, New Mexico. Photo courtesy: Cayla Nimmo

Tonight, Southwestern Blues-rocker and Navajo Nation artist Levi Platero performs an all-new livestream virtual concert as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series! Co-presented by Gallup MainStreet Arts & Cultural District, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Gallup Music Series, Platero is known for his captivating guitar acrobatics and stirring blues originals. Having earned a national following, Platero has a special connection to Gallup as he was born and raised in the neighboring Navajo Nation tribal land. Be sure to tune in tonight at 8pm ET/5pm PT at http://levittamp.org/virtual!

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With summer break well underway for families across the country and the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the way we work, play, gather and travel, many of us are having to rethink our travel plans. Whether travel plans have shifted or you’re just looking for some family-friendly virtual travel to add to your itinerary this season, we’ve got you covered! Although you might physically be staying local, museums and tourist attractions across the globe are offering virtual opportunities to explore the world with family and friends this summer. Here’s a list of virtual experiences packed with fun (and educational!) virtual adventures for all ages:

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