Sunday, March 25, 2012

Touching goodbye from legend of American music

     MELBOURNE, Fla.— Country music legend Glen Campbell thrilled his fans at the King Center for the Performing Arts with his career ending “Goodbye Tour.” This was no tearful goodbye, but rather a celebration for a beloved singer who exudes optimism and class.
     As Campbell took the stage wearing his signature rhinestone highlighted jacket, an inviting grin came to his face as the crowd began the first of many excited rounds of applause. Campbell’s on stage presence was the embodiment of confidence as he sang his tunes while gingerly strolling from each side of the stage reacting with fans as they sang along.

     Campbell’s music reflects a living time capsule from a simple period in American history. His low-key musical style connected with millions of fans leading to several awards including eight Academy of Country Music awards, nine Grammy awards and his lifetime achievement award and tribute this year.
     During the highlight of his music career, he was also given his own television comedy variety show called “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” This was a prime time show during a period when Americans had only a handful channels to choose from. For Campbell to star in a successful series when the airtime was so limited demonstrates the level of popularity of one of the most prolific entertainers of his day.
     “The television show was good family entertainment and had great music,” said audience member Alan Nitchman. Many families, especially in the South, would all gather around the only T.V. in the house, and watch Campbell’s show together.
     As Campbell continued to power through the upbeat show, his confidence and strong stage presence appeared completely natural and at ease. A momentary glimpse of the insidious Alzheimer’s disease was visible in between songs when signs occasionally were glimpsed of the tragic illness that is slowly stealing his mind.

     The signs of advanced level Alzheimers were clear to everyone a few songs into the performance due to small confusions by Campbell. He openly joked about his minor mistakes with an enthusiastic optimism that conveyed his bravery while confronting this condition publicly. Campbell would quip “Well, I make mistakes and I’m not perfect, but at least I will admit it.” This would ease the tension with joyful laughter and encouraging applause from his fans.
     Last year Campbell came out publicly with an admission that he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and has been for several years. His admission prompted this “Goodbye Tour,” because this
cureless and infamously mysterious condition erodes connections between his brain’s nerve cells and steals Campbell’s time on this earth.
     “We are so proud of Glen Campbell for coming out and telling America he has this disease,” said Joan Giovanni, a development manager from the Alzheimer’s Association, presenting information at the event. “It’s been so many years since we have had a national champion who's been inflicted that people can look to and relate to.” Several individuals at the show that night shared personal stories with Giovanni about family and friends facing Alzheimer's and coping with mental illness.
     When it comes to musical ability Campbell still shines as bright as ever. Just like the love for his family, Campbell’s love for music is fully expressed with great passion and fluidity. He can still sing pitch perfect high and low with a refined control and structured melodic progression. The quick picking solos he is well known for are as tight and refined as ever, brilliantly displayed during a thrilling duet of the song “Dueling Banjos” with his daughter Ashley Campbell. The crowd clapped along till the pace accelerated to a breakneck speed, all the while Campbell and daughter didn't miss a beat.
     The family support aspect is another poignant part of this farewell tour. Along with daughter Ashley on keyboards and banjo is Campbell’s sons Carl on drums and Shannon on guitar. Along with a few others in his band they sang backup vocals with fitting accompaniment giving a supportive family band atmosphere.
     Campbell continued to thrill the crowd as the show went on with enthusiastic cheers following each song. His main chart-topping hits were saved till near the end with the song “Wichita Lineman” from the multi-platinum selling album by the same name followed by Glen’s other hit, “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Fans cheered, sang along, and even danced around while hearing these classic crowd-pleasers. The appreciation was shown by the Melbourne audience who gave Campbell repeated standing ovations and long, boisterous rounds of applause.
     “I am just so pleased to finally see him perform live, and now I’m so grateful that I was able to see one of his final performances,” said audience member Kim Morgan. Many fans like Morgan traveled from miles from all around central and southeast Florida to see Campbell in Melbourne.
     A few dozen fans gathered after the show at the exit located at the side of the King Center for a chance to see and wave goodbye to Campbell’s tour bus as it left the venue. This shows the true dedication of his fans that will surely find solace in knowing they were able to see this accomplished man perform one last time. Nearing the end of this tour for Campbell and his family, its been a bittersweet long goodbye. Campbell showcasing his children is a fitting end for his career in music and focuses on what the future holds
for them.

By James Tutten
(Published: March 28, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 11.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stories of hunger inspire action in Central Florida

     The tragically elevating numbers of hungry familes in the Central Florida area reflect the true victims of a state hit hard by years of economic recession. Valencia College students are taking action against this problem and teaming up with the dedicated non-profit Second Harvest food bank of Central Florida.
     “We have changed our programming and the way we plan events,” said Zia Ur Rehman Ansari, Valencia Volunteers organizer . “We are doing more co-curricular pieces like this skill shop where we discuss particular social service needs in the community.”
     Part of the interactive portion of this event was volunteers gathering signatures on a new petition headed to members in the Florida State House and Senate. HB 531 works to reverse the budget cuts by the Florida Department of Children and Families for this year. And also wants to reduce and/or eliminate funding for the Challenge Grant and the Local Homeless Coalition Staffing Grants. These grants help to fund several programs that help less fortunate people develop life skills and break the cycle of poverty.
     The ultimate goal is to alleviate the rising poverty numbers seen not only in our local area but around the nation. The best tool used to help move an apathetic mind is sharing the personal stories negatively affecting the needy. Figures like “more than 732,000 Central Floridians are at the poverty level,” really grabbed the attention of those in attendance.
     This was all sharply presented by Jennifer Gibson, an events specialist, who spoke to students on behalf of her employer Second Harvest. “Hunger really is an issue that affects everyone, it doesn't discriminate on gender or ethnicity,” said Gibson.
     She shared examples of young children complaining to school nurses about feeling sick and lightheaded from hunger. These kids are often too embarrassed to ask for help, for fear of being singled out as a poor kid. Children that live at or below the poverty line frequently deal with hunger, and cases are seen when Friday’s meal at school was the last real meal for some some children when they returned to school on Monday morning.
     There was also a moving video presentation portraying the food centers working with families in our area. Actually seeing the poverty stricken people talk about the struggle and concerns they endure, struck an emotional chord with those in attendance. Hearing a mother cry, fearing of her children being malnourished is only one of the strong examples shared during this section.
     “I just wanted to get involved and learn more about helping the less fortunate people in my area,” said student volunteer Taleem Moncrease.
     Second Harvest works with its food distribution programs to pack and distribute meals and necessities to anyone who comes to them for help. There is also the ever rising concern of more people coming to receive help with less people able to make donations or volunteer their time.

By James Tutten

(Published: March 21, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 5.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Students sign grant funding petition headed to State Capital.

Adored comic Lewis Black attacks issues of today

     Irreverent comic Lewis Black brought his unique brand of impassioned political satire to the King Center for the Performing Arts on March 2.
     Black is currently roaming the nation with long time friend and fellow comedian John Bowman as part of the “Running on Empty” tour. He kicked off the Florida portion of his tour at the 2012 South Beach Comedy Festival in Miami, which premiered Will Ferrell’s newest comedy, “Casa de mi Padre,” which opens nationwide on March 16.
     “South Beach was fun,” said Black. “What’s great is I got to see some comics I really enjoy and don’t get to spend a lot of time with.”
     Black’s comedic style is no holds barred, and he is known for his wild rants about the general stupidity of people he observes in daily life, including but not limited to public figures involved with the political process on both sides of the aisle.
     “President Black 2012,” one fan shouted out, as Black started off his quick introduction and warning to his fans. The warning was if you don’t agree with his message, you are free to leave, because no one is making you sit through his show. He then shot down any idea of running for political office because, as he described it, both political parties in Washington are full of awful people he wants no part of.
     The current and former Republican candidates were given no chance to escape the wrath of Lewis Black. He named them out, one by one, and picked them apart for having extreme views, questionable pasts or just far out ideas.

     Mitt Romney is a “soulless elitist,” Newt Gingrich is a “disgusting womanizer,” and Rick Santorum is …. Rick Santorum.
     “He has a niche for showing what is wrong with America, and what he gets upset about isn’t worth anyone getting angry over,” said audience member Gareth Reynolds.
     The 63-year-old Black spent a lot of time pointing out the tremendous under-accomplishments of his generation, including a legacy of massive debt, endless wars, a polluted environment, and a broken system of government that no one believes in anymore, not to mention so called celebrities whose only claim to fame is being able to hang out and make stuff up that doesn’t make any sense.
     “I think Lewis Black is so incredibly funny, and I just love his political humor,” said audience member Kimberly Landrau.
     According to Black, one of the biggest issues his generation has failed on is the fact that marijuana is still illegal in America. He points out that it’s the largest selling cash crop in the nation, and if it was taxed and regulated we could, “..fix the national debt problem the old fashioned way, with a bake sale.”
     The overuse of modern technology in our daily lives was another hot button issue that Black ranted about. He generally raged on how complicated everything is with email, Facebook, Twitter and everything else in the fast-paced social media era. Black said he tries to embrace this new technology, but fails to understand the outright obsession with digital farms and social-less networking where eye contact is considered avant-garde.
     “Technology is one of those things you really have to live with,” said Black. “It makes you feel old if you get left behind, because it’s such a major part of this world.”
     After the show audience members were treated to an autograph and meet-and-greet session with Black. Fans posed for pictures and received Black’s signature on any number of collectible items that were sold at the venue.

     Lewis Black’s newest special “In God we Rust” is going to premiere at on March 17. He is also a frequent guest on the widely popular Daily Show on Comedy Central with his “Back in Black” segments.

By James Tutten

(Published: March 14, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 13.)

(All photos courtesy of Paul Hennessy)

Black meeting with fans after his performance in Melbourne.

Harlem Globetrotters still thrill fans young and old

     The Harlem Globetrotters have a long tradition of getting young kids excited about playing basketball and staying active in life. In addition to all of the activity is the message about the importance of having a good time.
      “We’re not here to teach important life lessons, we’re just here just to have some fun,” said Jimmy Blacklock, former player and Globetrotters head coach . “We’re not the role models; the parents are the role models, but we just try to exemplify how much fun sports can be.”
     Though it is understandable that children who focus on sports will face challenges and pressure later in life, the primary message here is that sports should always be fun first.
     Globie, the team’s lovable mascot, along with other Trotter team members kicked off a break-dancing exposition full of radical jumps and wild spin moves at the start of this event. This was a perfect start for a group that takes pride in classifying itself more with entertainment than sports, with choreographed basketball, skilled dancing and unpredictable mascot antics.
     The Globetrotters and their opponents, The International Elites, started with some brief warm-ups. The Trotters took center court for their individual introductions with moments of ball-spinning and trickery of every conceivable fashion. This was set to the team’s classic signature song, “Sweet Georgia Brown” with its catchy, whistled melody.
     “It’s great for the kids to come out with their family for a few hours and just have fun,” said Globetrotter Nathaniel “Big Easy” Lofton. Lofton acted as the voice of the team by wearing a microphone during the game, explaining why the referees need to lighten up and appealing to the audiance in various ways.
     Fans of exciting slam dunks, flamboyant behavior and deep shots on the basket were treated to that and much more. Fast-paced passing between ‘Trotters were often followed by high-flying dunks at every angle. Another unique addition were areas deep in the court that were worth four points when activated. This led to a score that quickly spread from one side to the other.
     “All three of my boys love basketball, and when I saw they were coming to town I had to bring them out,” said Mike Brown. Brown recounted how he loved the Globetrotters when he was a child. He said he was thrilled to now bring his family out to enjoy the experience.
     Fan interaction was a large portion of the entire event. Young fans were allowed onto the court to shoot free throws for team jerseys, as contests and comic routines were added to the diverse mix.
     “I wasn’t sure what to expect beforehand, but I absolutely loved the fan interaction with the show,” said audience member Ashley Miller. Miller and her family took part in a giant dance-off on the court before the game was even over.
     The Globetrotters stayed true to their near perfect record with a sizable win over their opponents. The final tally thrilled the scores of young fans that rushed to the ground floor of the UCF Arena to meet with and get autographs from their favorite Globetrotter players.
     This crowd-pleasing entertainment sports team has been beloved by countless numbers of fans during their more than 85 years of history. To follow the team and see when and where to see them perform next, go to their official website at

By James Tutten

(Published: March 14, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 15.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

The Trotters often clown around  throughout the game to keep fans on their feet.

Young fans line up after the game to get
free autographs on Trotters memorabilia.

Shooting hoops with robots for new scholarships

     The Florida regional engagement of the FIRST Robotics competition took control of the UCF Arena on March 10. Seemingly inspired by NBA All-Stars, the robots came out to shoot basketballs for points in this year’s ever evolving game.

     Robotic teams from around the nation and world have only had a few months to design and build their robots using the given parameters. Teams are based around high school students interested in science and engineering, led by mentors and technological advisers. Teams are also supported by a number of sponsors to help cover the high cost of building the robots and entrance fees into the regional competition.

     This year’s game, entitled “Rebound Rumble,” raises the challenge of scoring points by remotely shooting small basketballs into one of several hoops. Rounds start with a brief fully automated segment for per-positioned, fully loaded, and properly calibrated ‘bots,’ to attempt the equivalent of a free throw before the real action begins.

     Once the automated time is up, teams are allowed to remote control their creations in order to scoop up small basketballs and shoot them into several baskets on their side of the playing field. Changes in height and sizes vary the points earned by scoring goals, and more advanced robots piloted by skilled operators were able to make several successful points during each round.

     This challenge in scoring points is far different from the theme of last year’s game involving placing small inflatable rings onto raised hangers. Teams have to find a proper calibration and positioning to aim and fire projectiles at rapid succession.

     The end of each round has an optional bridge battle for earning extra points for the final team score. Robots fight for position on shifting platforms and have to work strategically to ensure if going for the bridge or scoring more points is worth the time allowed.

     As is customary, alliances are formed between teams of three robotic groups as they battle into later eliminating rounds of the competition. Through a long elimination process, teams have several chances to reach the final rounds, and everyone is ensured a fair opportunity to try and finish in top positions. It’s only after this complex robot bracketing that the final trophies are awarded and everyone rolls up their power cords to head home.

     This event also ends with a diverse award ceremony to encourage teamwork and creativity for robotic teams that don’t place in the top spots, and go on to the district competitions and final championship. Awarding those that don’t necessarily win helps to encourage a continued love for science and interest in technology.

     F.I.R.S.T (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is meant to inspire the youth for what the field of science and technology has to offer for future employment. Scholarship opportunities are another strong element of FIRST with 925 scholarships offering more than $14.7 million in aid this year.

     There are also additional benefits for college students that are returning members in the program that help as mentors for the new members to the robotic teams. Major corporations like Lockheed Martin, Walt Disney, and NASA help sponsor and look for potential employees throughout the entire program.

     “When I graduate, I plan to study physics and hopefully go on to graduate school,” said Andy Murray, a high school senior from Port St. Johns. “Everything I’ve learned here is totally applicable to what I’m interested in, and has really helped to inspire me.”

     The FIRST competition receives a lot of attention in Florida because the competition started in the Kennedy Space Center in 1992. NASA, the head supporter of this competition, has strong local ties to the Central Florida area. And with the future of space exploration focused more on semi-autonomous, unmanned exploration robots, groups working in this field have a real applicable use for this type of innovation.

     But the message is not solely focused on robotics, and many of those involved are just generally enthused about the future innovations of technology and science.

     “I’m looking to get involved with particle physics when I graduate, not really robotics,” said Jordan Gogolen, a junior at East Ridge High School. “I’ve made a lot of friends through my time with FIRST robotics, it’s really a great program all around.”

     Several of the best robotics teams from around the world will eventually compete in the FIRST championship at the end of April in St. Louis. For more information on this program and it’s many scholarship opportunities visit their web site at

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Team 'Bionic Tigers' scoring several points during the game.

High Tension bridge battles are a big point, ending each round of this wild robotic game.

Fashion show focused on 'Colors of Greatness'

     The inaugural “Colors of Greatness” fashion show was a cultural showcase for African-American heritage, supported by Valencia’s Bridges to Success program. By focusing on more than just fashion, those in attendance were treated to much more than just clothing.

     “We wanted to put on an event that was inspiring as well as entertaining,” said event coordinator, Andrey Alexander. The timing of the show honors the cultural additions of African-Americans and important figures of Black History Month such as Nelson Mandela.

     “Colors of Greatness” was attended in high numbers and had several models displaying everything from club attire to formal business-wear. The organizers also had different forms of artistic expression featured thought the event including dance groups, poetry, spoken word speeches and an acoustical musical performance. 

     “The spoken word was awesome; that’s a great way to get the word out and still entertain,” said audience member, Brianna Davis.

     The spoken word speech, written by Jason Alexander, was a fast paced assault on the devastating issue of AIDS and it’s effect on the family and the community. While going through detailed statistics on the disease, he would say something controversial then immediately sliding into a joke to break any tension.

     “I tend to have a message in my poems, have an overall theme and point out specific things that I’m talking about.” said Alexander. He is a graduate from FAMU, and wants to be a motivational speaker helping young students make better choices in life.

     Despite a critical failure in her microphone, psychology student, Khandy Graydon, touchingly performed “Killing Me Softly” on her acoustic guitar. Undaunted and unplugged, she didn’t skip a beat and the audience sang along softly in return with the catchy melody.

     “I just thought to myself, I’m not even going to use the mic, I’m just gonna sing,” said Graydon. She has performed live music at several venues over the past two years, including Club 57 West.  

     The fashion show then went underway with a wide array of brightly colored and practically designed styles from local vendors like “Created 4 Fashion” and “Chunky Fine,” that offers clothing designed to make a woman feel beautiful, no matter what size she is. Many in attendance were raving about the hot colored heels and other modern designer shoes featured along with the clothing.

     Another highlight of the fashion show was a showcase by Men’s Wearhouse of sharp and coordinated business attire for the young college graduate looking to enter the workforce. They presented darker and more formal patterns for a sharper look for a big job interview, and also a looser look, with more earth tones for casual business attire.

     “I loved the modeling, I want to be a model myself so I was watching everybody,” said physical therapy student, Mideline Daceus.

     After the models did their final walk and the show was over, John Stover, Bridges founder and manager,  presented event organizer Andrey Alexander with an award from the African-American cultural society for her actions, tying this event into cultural awareness with Black History Month.

     Bridges to Success supports any student looking for help with their education, no matter the ethnicity.

By James Tutten

(All photos courtesy of Christopher Correa / Valencia Voice)

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