This Sunday finds the historic Hobart Art Theater (230 Main St.) in downtown Hobart, hosting its first ever Songwriters Circle. This columnist is serving as the unique event's moderator, a first for me as well.
Sunday's Songwriters Circle for Critters is an all-ages fundraising event benefiting Humane Society of Northwest Indiana in Gary. Four notable Chicagoland songwriters will be together on stage for the duration of the event, taking turns performing original songs, telling the song's back story and fielding a few short questions from me.
Those writers are blues recording artist Ivy Ford, R&B artist Robby Celestin, Americana flat-pick guitarist Eric Lambert, and genre-crossing "American Idol" semi-finalist Leslie Hunt. All four are animal lovers, happily donating their time and talents as a means to giving back and making a difference through music. "Music can often be an instrument of healing and this is one of those times," said Lambert. "If playing my music can help make life better for an animal in need, then that's a blessing."
"Songwriter circles are a lot of fun for the participating performers and the audience," said Celestin. "It gives the audience a peek behind the creative curtain in regards to how songs are written, and they see and hear the writers interact with each other about their music and their respective creative process. It's not a traditional concert, but there will be a lot of music featured and it's for a great cause, to help homeless and abused animals in the care of the Humane Society of Northwest Indiana."
Celestin performed at the White House during the Clinton administration and is best remembered locally as the former frontman for NWI group TimePeace, or as current front man for the Chicago-based Final Say show band. He also has his own self-named group for his original music. When live performances stopped in 2020, Celestin focused on his own writing and recording projects, trickling out songs digitally, with a full album planned for 2022. More: robbycelestin.com.
After years on the road as a member of bands like The Laughing Gnomes, Heartsfield and The Henhouse Prowlers, along with releasing his own solo albums, Eric Lambert has also been focusing on fine-tuning the art of songwriting during the COVID shutdown. He recently finished recording new album, "Beating The Odds," with engineer/producer John Carpenter at Thunderclap Studios with a July 2021 release date. More: ericlambert.com.
A semi-finalist on season six of ABC-TV's hit series, "American Idol," Leslie Hunt has four solo albums under her belt, fronts the progressive alt-rock group District 97, and is a part of Jim Peterik's World Stage all-star project. The stylistically versatile Hunt has been writing and recording during the COVID lockdown and has a new 7-song EP ("Ascend") coming in late June, with its companion EP ("Descend") slated for September 2021. More: lesliehuntmusic.com.
Ivy Ford began singing pop covers, but soon after fell in love with the Blues. Ford's sassy and commanding presence even got compliments from Buddy Guy himself, after the young firebrand guitarist/vocalist played at his iconic Chicago blues club, Legends. Ford was ranked in the Top 40 on the "International Blues Challenge," and has released two albums of original music, with another coming this year. More: ivyfordmusic.com.
Tickets: $12 advance/$15 at door. Available at brickartlive.com, with physical tickets at: Humane Society NWI (1600 Melton Road) in Gary, Brickhouse Bar & Grill (230 Main St.), and both Record Bin locations (218 Main St.) in Hobart and (1601 Franklin St.) in Michigan City. "There will be a couple of cool surprises during the event's 20-minute intermission segment," added Celestin.
Special songwriter-themed door prizes helping the fundraising will include handwritten lyrics for the #1 1970 Ides of March song "Vehicle" hand-signed by Grammy Award winner Jim Peterik; hand-signed lyrics from songwriter James Holvay of his Top 5 1967 Buckinghams' hit single, "Kind of a Drag"; a Paul Rodgers hand-signed copy of the hardback book "BAD COMPANY: Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy"; and a concert DVD ("From Chili with Love") hand-signed by legendary Grand Funk songwriter, singer, guitarist Mark Farner.
CP's Bulldog Park Summer Series begins
The Crown Point Summer Concert Series kicks off today at Bulldog Park Pavilion Stage (183 S. West St.) in Crown Point. Today's 4-8 p.m. event is tied-in with Crown Point's weekly Afternoon Classic Car Cruise.
Chad Clifford of The Crawpuppies performs acoustically first and is followed at 5:30 p.m. by Soundz of Santana. Admission is free for all ages. Blankets and lawn chairs are recommended. Food vendors and a cash bar provided, so no outside food and beverages allowed.
Other upcoming series concerts are: Chad Burton with The Robby Celestin Band (June 17), Jack Whittle with Derek Caruso & The Blues Fuse (July 1), Frank Ruvoli, Mr. Funnyman and Echoes of Pompeii (July 16), and Triway with The MegaBeatles (July 17). Full schedule and more info at: crownpoint.in.gov/476/Summer-Concert-Series.
Frank Caruso's light lives on in sons
My deepest condolences to the family of longtime Region musician Frank Joseph Caruso, who died May 28 after a lengthy illness. Most with a long tenure in the NWI music scene crossed paths with Frank over the years, whether at gigs of his own or those of his sons, Derek and Trevor Caruso.
When his boys recently made guest appearances on my radio programs, their Pops made sure to tune in from his hospital bed and listened with pride as they spoke about and played music live on air.
Frank had good reason to be proud, for those two young men clearly carry on not only his musical gene and passion for music, but also his strong moral compass and desire to help others.
Trevor's heartfelt Facebook post summed up Frank best... "(Our) Dad ran sound, drove the van, booked the gigs, loaded and unloaded the gear all for free for every gig. He did it all for US. Best Dad ever. (He) taught us the meaning of helping others, sharing, generosity, and a love for music. When he wasn't working a full time job, he was coaching (our) teams in sports. He was selfless. He gave up his time and energy so me and Derek could thrive."
Frank Caruso is gone, but his light lives on in our NWI community and on local stages through his sons. Rest in Peace Frank Caruso!
• The free, all ages, weekly Friday Cruise In happens this Friday at Valparaiso Harley-Davidson (1151 W. U.S. 30) with a performance by Ernie Givens & The White Lies Band. Admission is free, but donations for local charities are appreciated. Beer garden and food booths on site. More: hdvalpo.com.
• Leroy's Hot Stuff (333 West U.S. 20) in Porter welcomes live blues by The Gerry Hundt Trio on Friday at 7 p.m., then on Saturday it's the party rock of NAWTY at 8 p.m. Sunday's weekly Blues Jam Night is hosted by Corey Dennison from 7-10 p.m. More: leroyshotstuff.com or 219-926-6211.
• It's been a while since eclectic bluesman Lazer Lloyd has played in Northwest Indiana, but the guitarist is back to perform an intimate 7 p.m. performance at The Bankquet (101 E. Main St.) in downtown Griffith on June 7, featuring the fiery original blues rock songs he's famous for, a smattering newer acoustic love tunes from his latest "Tomorrow Never Comes" album and a few custom treatments of cover songs. Tickets: $10 with a cash bar. More: lazerlloyd.live.
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