This was supposed to be the year that Meow Wolf became so integral to popular culture that, in the words of one of its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it would be well on its way to becoming a “provider of themed entertainment and creative experiences on the level that people think of Disney, Universal and Marvel.”
And on March 8, as I spent a Sunday afternoon in the company’s Santa Fe, N.M., exhibition space, that boast didn’t seem so far-fetched.
Crouching down in one of Meow Wolf’s byzantine rooms I entered what appeared to a doorway and found myself in the back seat of a van-like contraption that seemed to have been willed into existence by the creator of some long lost TV show. The handles and knobs appeared to have been lifted from a black-and-white sci-fi serial and the steering wheel, inaccessible to any human without a ladder, sat motionless even as I watched a horizon rush by through a windshield that stood perpendicular to the ground.
To sit in this strange vehicle was to essentially lie back, and lie back I did, probably for a good 20 minutes, looking out beyond the dashboard onto a screen that aimed to mimic the sensation of gliding through a supernova. The effect wasn’t fancy — a naysayer could write it off as a glorified screensaver — but Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return isn’t throwing down a high-art gauntlet so much as it is extending an invitation.
Meow Wolf’s theater-like set seeks to envelope us as if in a fairy tale, using modern life not as a cause to escape but as a jumping-off point. I finally left the vehicle and began exploring neon forests and intergalactic travel agencies, eventually settling into a trailer in what seemed like a backyard campground.
A family soon joined me. “Are you waiting for the fortune teller?” one of them asked. I didn’t know there would be a fortune teller, so I decided to linger. “Will you let us know if she shows up?” the woman asked. I agreed to the request, although I knew finding this family would likely be impossible amid glowing prehistoric bones, TV-laden corridors and even a Chinatown-inspired district. Still, past encounters that can become future run-ins seemed entirely plausible in this dream factory.
Alas, the fortune teller never arrived. No matter. The future we were about to enter — when COVID-19 pandemic fears would soon grip the nation — wasn’t fit for simple predictions.
In the coming days, the NBA, MLB and cultural institutions such as Disneyland would be forced to deal with the realities of COVID-19. Meow Wolf too would see its plans derailed. By the end of the week, House of Eternal Return, Meow Wolf’s indoor playground for adults and families, would close — and as of this writing, the touch-heavy attraction remains shuttered. So far, the company has laid off or furloughed more than 200 of its staff, a cut that amounts to about 56% of Meow Wolf’s workforce.
The pandemic has also delayed the expansion of Meow Wolf properties planned for Denver, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., the latter two of which the company now says are “still actively being considered” but had no updates on timing. Up first, however, is an ambitious 52,000-square-foot multistory exhibit just a few minutes from the Las Vegas Strip that was supposed to open before the end of the year. Given that its Santa Fe outpost draws about 500,000 visitors per year, Meow Wolf’s growth was set to remake immersive entertainment into a new kind of theme park with the argument that art and design — and not intellectual property — is what draws an audience.
Meow Wolf is a leader in the emerging world of themed, environmental storytelling that places an emphasis on the active participation of guests — in other words, play — and its work bridges the underground and the mainstream, posing fresh questions on how we experience everything from gallery spaces to theme parks to immersive theater.
Battered but not beaten, Meow Wolf, which received a Paycheck Protection Program loan for $5 million to $10 million, still has a pulse. Work continues on its Las Vegas project, which will bring Meow Wolf closer to Los Angeles via a retail and entertainment facility dubbed Area15. Meow Wolf is the anchor tenant — Los Angeles distillery Lost Spirits, which bridges fantasy and rum, is another intended occupant — and while Meow Wolf now doesn’t plan to open there until early 2021, provided the pandemic cooperates, of course, Area15 will begin a soft launch this fall that will allow visitors to see what Meow Wolf has planned.
What they will see is Meow Wolf’s most ambitious, risk-taking and suddenly brazenly topical endeavor yet: the grocery store-inspired Omega Mart.
It’s a concept Meow Wolf has toyed with in the past, but not on this supermarket-size scale, and certainly not during a pandemic, when the very idea of a grocery store has taken on significantly more weight. Like the suburban home that opens the House of Eternal Return, where a path through a fridge leads to otherworldly, black-lighted forests, the Omega Mart will prod guests into fantastical areas — think worlds inspired by the Painted Desert, as one potential example — only with more overt themes tackling American consumerism and corporate responsibility.
Creating a walk-through experience that felt more of the moment was a Meow Wolf goal, even if it’s one with mops that morph into snake-like creatures that ooze radioactive colors (also be wary beyond the mart of robots with computer monitor-like heads, as they appear to have some questionable intentions).
Sitting in his Santa Fe office in early March, Meow Wolf’s cofounder, Corvas Brinkerhoff, executive creative director of the Las Vegas space, was keen to talk about the grand vision for Las Vegas, which includes everything from cards equipped with radio-frequency identification technology to a deeper embrace of game-inspired, exploratory techniques.
“There is a very central environmental stewardship and corporate stewardship theme in the show,” Brinkerhoff said. “I’m really excited about it. What is the responsibility of these huge corporations to all of us, to the planet? We’re talking about that in a big way. And there’s a big theme of resistance, of empowerment, of people on the outside that are saying, ‘Hey, we need to fix all of this.’ They’re taking things into their own hands and resisting the impact of these corporations. You start with satire, and then you go deeper.”
Such themes, especially those topics of rebellion, have taken on a greater role since that March interview, as the pandemic has been joined by ongoing nationwide protests and a general cultural reassessment. Grocery stores have been remade into places of tension in how we shop, what we shop for and how we compensate the recently recognized essential workers who make up their workforces. As Meow Wolf’s cofounder and Omega Mart architect, Emily Montoya, said last week, now more than ever we are confronted with every purchase choice, cleaning and inspecting anything we bring into our homes, and questioning the political leanings of the corporations we support.
The Omega Mart is a reflection of Montoya’s absurdist-meets-whimsical sense of humor. Staff, in a shift for Meow Wolf, will be in character, and the space will intermingle purchasable products with art. A cereal aisle, for instance, will contain a mix of installations and for-purchase goods.
Take home, perhaps, a box of Corn of Plenty, a nonedible “forever cereal” made of plastic bits. The box will contain plenty of lawyer-mandated warnings, as well as the acknowledgement that should you eat the plastic, “it will likely pass somewhat uneventfully through your digestive system, like an estimated 5 grams of plastic already does” on a weekly basis. While the Omega Mart is just the entry to multiple areas filled with floor-to-ceiling art, such text is indicative of the method behind Meow Wolf’s madness.
It also shows that as Meow Wolf grows — Denver is the company’s post-Las Vegas destination — and becomes more explicit in declaring itself fantastical, family entertainment, it’s also trying to retain some of its rebellious, question-the-world attitude. The company’s goals are clear. “It’s themed entertainment,” said Spencer Olsen, art director of Meow Wolf Las Vegas. And yet, he adds, “internally, the creative team refers to it as an art exhibit.”
Such a statement is only contradictory to those who gatekeep, playing into long-held cultural assumptions that the wonder that surrounds and comforts us — the wildly colorful designs of Meow Wolf or the exquisite narratives of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square — are somehow lesser for appealing first to emotional rather than intellectual impulses.
Meow Wolf may not erase those boundaries or change the mind of a skeptic, but consider it an unspoken long-term goal.
“What we’re doing is a social experiment,” Montoya said. “It’s our responsibility as artists to respond to the world that we’re living in. I think more and more, we can’t sit back and fall into escapism. We have to find a way to ask questions about the world that we’re living in as we continue to blur the line between reality and unreality. It’s an ongoing, very experimental thing. It’s not about being so afraid to fail and being so afraid to say something that you end up not saying anything.”
Meow Wolf’s beginnings have been told so often that the company even has its own self-serving, myth-shaping film to serve as an explainer. The 2018 “Meow Wolf: Origin Story” documents, with bias, the company’s rise from a scrappy, punk rock-like art collective in 2008 to an “experience economy” corporation that in one round of funding, according to an SEC report filed in May 2019, had raised $158 million. On its board is Winston Fisher, part of the New York-based real estate developer family that runs the firm Fisher Brothers. He is also the developer of the Las Vegas Area15 project.
Certainly, the pandemic is stressing Meow Wolf’s founders. Asked what will happen if the Las Vegas locale and Meow Wolf’s Santa Fe space cannot open until well into next year, Brinkerhoff said, “I don’t know what business can survive if this shutdown goes on for a year or two.” Run that sentiment by Fisher, and the grimace was apparent even on Zoom, as he noted that Meow Wolf “is in a position to survive. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel this financially, but they’re positioned to survive through this.”
Meow Wolf has long defied doubters and exceeded expectations, even growing at a pace its founders couldn’t always maintain. While the lack of a formal business structure could be part of Meow Wolf’s charm — the aforementioned fortune teller I was told about in Santa Fe is a local resident, who, while on the payroll, sets her own schedule and is not a Meow Wolf character — the company’s laissez faire early approach has led to some labor-related legal entanglements that more standard business formalities probably could have avoided. Last year, the company’s cofounder, Vince Kadlubek, stepped aside to make way for a three-pronged chief executive team that includes Disney, Lucasfilm and financial veterans.
Now the stuff of oft-cited Meow Wolf legend, its first full year of operations in 2017 brought close to half a million visitors to the House of Eternal Return. The space, constructed famously in an abandoned bowling alley after a $3-million investment from Santa Fe local and “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin, builds on the group’s penchant for explorable art. Earlier projects were, for outsiders paying close attention, presenting an alternate, contemporary art world take on modern, theme park-like environments, though this wasn’t Meow Wolf’s specified design intent.
See the 73-foot ramshackle sea-faring vessel that was the Due Return, only instead of Disneyland’s romanticized Sailing Ship Columbia history, there were alien, spacey environments filled with colorful fungi. Or Glitteropolis, an exhibit that’s as sparkly as it sounds, with random objects transformed into miniature villages as pleasing to the eye as It’s a Small World.
Thus, it was no great leap that the House of Eternal Return would be celebrated alongside Shanghai Disneyland with an award in 2017 by the Themed Entertainment Assn., although Brinkerhoff said he believed the initial emails from the industry group were spam. Lessons from the industry have helped define Meow Wolf’s way forward, and not just because a robot animatronic is destined for the Las Vegas exhibit.
“The greatest depth of an experience we can create is an emotional one, and that’s story,” Brinkerhoff said. “That’s how we connect with each other as human beings. So we want to use that. Las Vegas is a generational leap from what you see here in Santa Fe, in terms of storytelling. It’s richer, more dense and more complex. The ways that the story unfolds is through this dense web of narrative vehicles.”
The pulpy sci-fi narrative of the House of Eternal Return, having to deal with the mysterious disappearance of a family and the arrival of portals that lead to dreamlike dimensions, is largely contained in the two-story home itself. In Las Vegas, the Omega Mart will be a jumping-off point to a tale that’s spread throughout the venue. Once inside, you may hear of shoppers who have disappeared, or simply spend your time perusing the more than 100 products Meow Wolf is creating for the store.
Some will be interactive, such as a display of “Canmel’s Sop” cans that can shape-shift, and others will be grotesque, such as carved meat sculptures. The aesthetic will be bright, colorful and full of distractions, with influences ranging from 99 Cents Only Stores, Andy Warhol, childhood cartoons and some retro monster movie aesthetics, as the fresh seafood is a crustacean-meets-mollusk mash-up. You’ll be invited to play, as a stay-at-home camping log, the Tubular Fire Boomstick, will boast a bevy of nature simulation effects.
There’s plenty of silliness, such as vitamin supplements for office drones (Sit Longer, Blink Less), as well as a janitorial closet that isn’t what it seems. Pre-pandemic, Montoya spoke of the grocery store as possessing just the right amount of absurdity and mundanity. “You are confronted with this cacophony of voices that are telling you to do things. ‘Don’t buy this. Buy this.’ There’s this weird freedom of choice that’s inviting you to redefine your identity based on what you buy. This one says organic, but this one says organic non-GMO, but that one is cheaper, but am I just paying for a brand? Then you’re missing the bigger picture — someone is walking into a portal right behind you.”
Both Brinkerhoff and Montoya describe the Las Vegas space as something akin to an open-world video game, although there is never a clear end. Brinkerhoff envisions 15-step puzzles that will lead visitors on escape room-like scavenger hunts through the entire venue, as well as an internal phone system with numbers that are hidden or must be decoded. But the Omega Mart section alone, complete with a pharmacy (Read: Booze), a floral section and mirage-like effects, not to mention surreal products, should provide a day’s worth of content, from custom-made art by Las Vegas locals to fake-but-not-fake merchandise you can bring home.
“We’re trying to create the sense that you are an avatar, like your physical body,” said Brinkerhoff, adding that guests to Omega Mart will be given an RFID card that declares them employees of the store. While the hope is that the latter can be used for environmental interactions, Meow Wolf wants visitors to view themselves as players, and thus is assigning them roles.
“That’s what’s exciting for me,” Brinkerhoff added, “to borrow ideas from video games, but give people the experience in their bodies.”
Long-term, Jim Ward, one of Meow Wolf’s three chief executives, along with Ali Rubinstein and Carl Christensen, talks of an accompanying app, one that can turn Meow Wolf’s physical spaces, as well as our homes, into a giant alternate reality game that continually feeds the Meow Wolf universe. An app is also planned as a solution for transforming some of Meow Wolf’s high-touch exhibits into socially distant experiences.
Meow Wolf’s bigger, more established competitors have also been embracing the app game model. Universal’s vision for Nintendo in its theme parks is to create a giant play space, and Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge was envisioned as a platform, one embellished with a mobile video game, in-character staff and rides that nod to immersive theater and video games.
If there’s one simple difference, however, Meow Wolf’s narratives constantly raise questions. “Being in a kind of a game, the whole idea is discovery,” said Montoya, noting that Meow Wolf is content for its exhibits to not answer any questions. The open-ended nature of Meow Wolf is its appeal.
“You’re right in that the big corporations — the Disneys and the Universals of the world — are shifting,” says Rubinstein, who came to Meow Wolf after two decades at Walt Disney Imagineering.
“Galaxy’s Edge is an example of that, but I do not believe those companies are looking at any land or attraction they design in a way that can be experienced entirely differently by any guest. There is always a narrative through-line. Even though they may have multiple access points and multiple experience in a given land, there is still predictability. There is a planned narrative and a planned experience that a guest will have. There is very little predictability in a Meow Wolf exhibition.”
And yet what inspired me to linger so long in the House of Eternal Return wasn’t to crack the code of some of its puzzles or even to take in all its art. For as outlandish as people describe Meow Wolf, it never felt less than comforting.
When we discover the writings of the fictional family that is said to have disappeared from the house, we encounter drama, fears and insecurities that mirror our own. But in this setting, the twinkling, goofy-weird exhibits of Meow Wolf read as a celebration of flaws, a world of wonder that tells us weirdness is not only OK but also vital.
For all the talk of consumerism and corporate responsibility in its upcoming art, it’s worth noting that Meow Wolf isn’t compared to the likes of Disney just because it’s making themed entertainment. It’s home to a bunch of optimistic fools.
“I really hope that this can be a source of hope for people, that this can give people something to look forward to,” Brinkerhoff said a few weeks into the pandemic. “This isn’t forever. There’s still beautiful, amazing, bizarre, psychedelic and otherworldly things happening. I think we’re in this interesting moment where it feels like time has stopped, and it’s helpful to have something on the horizon.
“This is a dark moment,” he adds, “but we will get through this.”
Simon fraser, Senior Vice President of International at XB Net, discusses how XB Net is taking the sting out of protracted integration processes for sportsbook operators.
Backed by 1/ST Technology, Fraser walks us through the ways that XB Net is helping bettors to engage in all aspects of horse racing, before explaining how the company plans to use the Breeders’ Cup to broaden North American racing’s international reach.
SBC Americas: For those that might not know, can you tell us a little bit about XB Net? What’s the story behind the company and which markets are you targeting?
SF: XB Net provides a comprehensive North American racing service to international gaming operators across both fixed-odds and pool betting. The service covers the popular codes of thoroughbred, quarter-horse, harness and greyhound racing. Our key markets currently include the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.
We manage the rights and distribute this premium content (data, odds, live broadcast and video streaming) on behalf of a broad progressive portfolio of global partners, allowing them to deploy ground-breaking technologies to attract and educate new audiences.
We’re lucky enough to be backed by a true powerhouse in 1/ST Group, whose consumer-facing brand forms a world-class technology, entertainment, and real estate development company with thoroughbred horse racing wagering at its heart – anchored by best-in-breed horse racing operations at the company’s premier racetracks, including (to name but a few): Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park – home of the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series; Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course – site of the legendary Preakness Stakes.
And now the stateside stage is set for this year’s flagship finale at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships (5-6 November) in Del Mar. It all represents 1/ST’s continued movement towards redefining thoroughbred horse racing for a modern audience, and optimizing the ecosystem that drives it.
As a result, we can draw from an unrivalled network of over 60 North American tracks which account for over 75% of U.S. racing, opening the door to many of the planet’s most prestigious horse races.
SBC Americas: How is XB Net ensuring that it stands out from the competition?
SF: That aforementioned deep well of resources and racetracks isn’t a bad place to start from when you’re trying to positively delineate XB Net from the competition. And as a basic premise, we are planning to work with our partners across the globe to increase the awareness of North American horse racing, both as an exciting sport and as a high-quality betting medium.
By harnessing low-latency feeds from more than 2,500 meetings, showcasing over 25,000 races per year, North American racing is steadily accruing more global viewers and bettors, especially after a spell in which the pandemic has badly disrupted, if not decimated, so many events on the typical sporting calendar. While many of those sports have since recovered from the treatment table, North American racing – which mostly continued unaffected during the outbreak – has largely retained its enlarged audience share.
In the UK, some of that success and enduring retention can be attributed to the popular nightly pictures on Sky Sports Racing, whose friendly, informative GFN was instructive in “home-schooling” many new viewers to North American racing during the lockdowns.
Accordingly, with many heads having been turned by North American racing, the sport is now pulling up a comfortable seat in their wider entertainment choices. Particularly considering the nature of its rapid-cycling events, which conveniently fill the recreational gaps for drop-in audiences who might like a bet. Providing the right content at the right time remains so important, wherever you stick your pin on the international map.
XB Net’s steady stream of short-form premium content captures eyeballs and improves digital hang-time, allowing our partners to engage untapped audiences, deliver 24/7 horse racing, and also guard against any unforeseen impediments to the global sporting calendar.
SBC Americas: Tell us about your EasyGate™ products. How are they eliminating the complexity of North American racing?
SF: EasyGate is a breakthrough multitote technology and software architecture, providing structured race content, betting pathways and secure track video streams to our partners. Long story short, EasyGate navigates an intuitive path through the complexity of North American racing (from streaming formats to different data sources and their multivariate components), and also simplifies access to other content from other countries.
We give operators everything they need to succeed and take the sting out of protracted integration processes – just plug in and go, whatever the channel.
SBC Americas: Tote betting, and arguably horse racing in general, across the UK has had a tricky few years. How is XB Net making sure that racing is still the ‘product of choice’ for your partners?
SF: Our ability to present North American racing as a fixed-odds product allows us to take advantage of the UK market where Tote betting will always be a marginal betting product. Elsewhere, innovation around in-running betting can really allow horse racing to catch-up on any lost ground and reconsolidate its market position.
The complex variables of horse racing have meant this sport, for so long the retention backbone of many operators, hadn’t previously been able to seize the opportunities that other sports have secured with in-play. After all, nowadays, betting products must smoothly transition from pre-play to in-play, which is why operators must employ the latest trading tools and reactive in-play odds to attract modern-day audiences.
XB Net has now successfully trialed a ground-breaking feed that couples the Starting Price with the best of automated trading via Total Performance Data’s (TPD) astonishing array of consequential in-running analytics, including stride length, stride frequency and sectional timings enabled by saddle-cloth GPS tracking. These variables are accordingly harvested in-play by TPD’s machine-learning trading tools whose algorithms train themselves on race pace for precise pricing that delivers a distinct step-change in live fixed-odds wagering.
SBC Americas: How does your company help bolster revenue and support sometimes struggling traditional racetracks?
SF: I’d take issue with the word struggling. On the US side of the pond, the prize money at most tracks is very positive and betting turnover is up significantly. As a core technology in the wider arsenal of 1/ST and 1/ST Technology, XB Net is part of a broader company wide goal to sustain a successful business model while ensuring all stakeholders who work in the industry are cared for and supported.
That means delivering a fresh and holistic racing experience for the fans which captures the entertainment proclivities of every age group at the racetrack, especially the younger generation that is coming through. We are embracing this challenge and opportunity (sometimes two sides of the same coin!) at every touchpoint we have with our customers.
Just take our recent efforts with Historical Horse Racing (HHR) and how these terminals can provide workarounds for their local racetracks, increasing revenues where slots aren’t legal. As a result, HHR games can bolster revenues at traditional racetracks through direct new gaming revenue for operators who are directly tied to horse racing.
We also pay back a percentage to each host racetrack for every single wager placed, using each respective track’s historical races. This is akin to the simulcast live horse racing host-fee structures, in addition to paying horse racing industry stakeholders for the requisite historical race information data (e.g. Equibase).
At the tracks, our teams are working to modernize the horse racing experience, leveraging technology to bring an on-demand, digital experience to our customers. Ultimately, we’re targeting a growing audience looking for quick-fire action and engaging gameplay experiences driven by end-user thinking and the best interfaces that support that. Providing opportunities for consumers to engage in all aspects of horse racing – from live racetrack visits to simulcast viewing, online wagering and mobile – is the best way to grow our sport in a modern world.
SBC Americas: XB Net holds the international distribution rights for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup. In what ways is this agreement helping to broaden North American racing’s international reach?
SF: Self-evidently, our three-year contract extension with the Breeders’ Cup was a welcome endorsement of our team’s efforts over the past few years. The agreement comprises worldwide broadcast and video-streaming distribution rights from the Breeders’ Cup whose 2021 renewal, consisting of 14 Championship races and over $31 million in prize money and awards, is fast-approaching (5-6 November) at Del Mar racetrack in California next month. Del Mar is one of my favourite venues in all of sport, and its most common epithet of “where the surf meets the turf” tells you what sets it apart.
When the standard-bearer for elite North American racing selects you to further broaden the international reach of its world-class festival, you must be doing something right, and I’m pleased to say that sports fans and bettors around the globe can look forward to even more coverage of the World Championships.
You’re even seeing a suite of domestic host broadcasters (for example Sky Sports Racing and ITV in the UK) broadcasting all 14 races this year, which is ideal for growing the sport. Of course, the increasingly international make-up of these fields, bringing the best horses together from all around the world, only adds to the allure and transcendent appeal of the Breeders’ Cup for global audiences.
SBC Americas: And how will you help optimise and increase the returns to North American racing following what has undoubtedly been a challenging economic period?
SF: For us, it’s all about expanding markets and coverage, coupled with enhancements to our cutting-edge technologies. We’ve already launched in India, while we also have new Tote and fixed-odds roll-outs set for Asia and Africa.
Regarding the race tracks themselves, the more we can add to the service, the better-value our proposition will inherently become through sheer economies of scale. Again, we can return these cost advantages to the tracks. That even applies in Australia, where we’ve recently agreed a deal to add thoroughbred racing from the principal racing state of Victoria to our service which runs off the same infrastructure. We’re thrilled to be able to add more world-class contests for our partners, with the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival already capturing players’ imaginations.
As for what’s under the hood, we’re always refining and fine-tuning, despite having some of the most durable and trusted tech around. For instance, we actually just classified our pari-mutuel totalisator and fixed-odds wagering platform as a “legacy” product.
Instead, we’re replacing it with a next-gen wagering platform that will play a key role as 1/ST Technology continues to deliver on our vision to build upon the strengths of our current gambling platform while also extending its capabilities (e.g. quickly adding new bet types) – increasing speed to market, enhanced support of our customers’ needs, and unlocking the ability to efficiently onboard new consumers via verticals such as sports betting, esports, and other emerging opportunities. In short, it will allow us to react to the market with peerless agility.
The Majesty of Rock set to perform at First Friday Seminole
SEMINOLE — The Majesty of Rock, one of Florida’s most prestigious bands, will salute the music of Journey and Styx at First Friday Seminole, on Friday, Nov. 5, 6 to 9 p.m., on the main street in front of Studio Movie Grill at Seminole City Center, 11201 Park Blvd. N., Seminole.
Sponsored by Seminole City Center and The Rotary Club of Seminole Lake, this will be the final First Friday Seminole of 2021. The event will feature a variety of Seminole City Center merchants, food, prizes, and games, as well as a special concert by The Majesty of Rock. Attendees are asked to bring their own chairs. Coolers are not allowed. Vendors other than Seminole City Center tenants are not permitted.
The Majesty of Rock features the voice of John D’Agostino, coupled with the exceptional musical talents of four equally sophisticated and experienced musicians. That combination soon propelled the group to become one of the premier Journey reverence bands of our time. The band strives to re-create the exact sounds and nuances of Journey. Their passion for authenticity and attention to detail go a long way toward ensuring that the audience feels like they’re at a real Journey concert.
While the band has enjoyed performing the music of Journey, front man John D’Agostino also loves another American super group: Styx. Turns out the rest of the band are huge Styx fans, too. So, they began adding some of Styx’s best tunes to their already expansive repertoire of Journey material.
CWP to stage ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
TAMPA — Carrollwood Players Theatre will present its production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang, running Oct. 15-30, at the theater, 4333 Gunn Highway, Tampa.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play.
Middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia share a home, where they bicker and complain about the circumstances of their lives. When Marsha, their movie-star sister, swoops in with her new boy toy, Spike, old resentments flare up, eventually leading to threats and chaos. Contributing to the excitement are a sassy maid who can predict the future, and a lovely young aspiring actress who can’t. Audiences will discover why Durang is lauded as the master of mining the absurdities of human folly.
Presented with the support of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, this production will be directed by Alicia Spiegel.
“‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ is not exactly a well-known show, and the title can be a bit hard to remember … but audiences won’t soon forget the hilarious storyline,” Spiegel said. “I think everyone will relate to the family/relationship dynamics in this modern comedy laced with emotional baggage and heartfelt moments.”
The cast features Kenneth Grace as Vanya, Se’a Ryan as Sonia, Kari Velguth as Marsha, Jason Goetluck as Spike, Pauline Lara as Nina, and Stephanie Russell Krebs as Cassandra.
“Our cast has been perfecting their characters for almost a year a half since we were supposed to put this show on in April 2020 before the world changed,” Spiegel continued. “Luckily, CWP has decided to put it on this season and we are very ready to entertain audiences. They will be treated to sibling rivalry, a sexy young man barely wearing anything, a clairvoyant housekeeper whose predictions can’t be trusted, and a sweet girl next door who doesn’t know what she’s in for.”
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service Inc., New York.
Carrollwood Players offers a limited number of free tickets to every performance for low-income families receiving Florida SNAP benefits. For more information, visit carrollwoodplayers.org/theatreforall/.
Syd Entel Galleries to present Borowski glass exhibition
SAFETY HARBOR — An opening reception for a new glass exhibition by the world-famous Glass Studio Borowski will take place Friday, Nov. 12, 4 to 7 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 13, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Syd Entel Galleries and Susan Benjamin Glass Etc., 247 Main St., Safety Harbor.
The Borowski’s “Odd Birds Walk of Fame,” a tribute to 20th century celebrities in glass, will run through Nov. 27. The show is open to the public. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, call 727-725-1808 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Borowski is one of the leading modern glass studios worldwide. Stani Jan Borowski transforms the iconic Fat Gonzo light object into the wildly successful Odd Bird Series. The Odd Bird series has continued to grow into a collection of 22 famous celebrities from the world of art, music, media and science. These hand-blown glass creations are a work of art, unique and distinctive. All are wildly imaginative with recognizable characteristics of the many famous characters, such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Elton John, Micheal Jackson, and Marilyn Monroe.
In addition to the Odd Bird Series, the gallery will have on hand a huge selection of work from the Borowski art objects, studio line and outdoor collection.
Cool Art Shop presents artisan holiday ornament tree
DUNEDIN — The Professional Association of Visual Artists will celebrate the upcoming holiday season with the annual Holiday Ornament Tree featuring handcrafted artisan ornaments, holiday décor, small gift items, and holiday greeting cards by various PAVA fine art and fine craft artists.
The tree is on display at The Cool Art Shop, 1240 County Road 1, Dunedin, in the Independence Plaza Square, through Thursday, Dec. 23. An open house reception will take place Friday, Oct. 15, 6 to 8 p.m., at the shop.
In addition to the Holiday Ornament Tree, The Cool Art Shop also displays and sells PAVA’s artists’ artwork which is comprised of an impressive collection of both visual and functional art for sale in both 2D and 3D mediums including painting, ceramics, photography, mixed media, drawing, pastels, sculpture, and jewelry in all price points. The artwork is rotated on a 6- to 8-week basis to keep the artwork fresh and new. Shop hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
PAVA is a nonprofit organization run by volunteer artists to serve local artisans and support the arts community in the Tampa Bay area. It provides exhibition, education and grant opportunities for its members. Additionally, PAVA supports local art centers, and is a local sponsor of the Pinellas County Regional National Scholastic Art Awards where scholarships are provided to students for art instruction. Visit www.pava-artists.org.
Mat Kearney concert canceled
CLEARWATER — The Mat Kearney concert scheduled at the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre on Wednesday, Nov. 3, has been canceled.
ST. PETERSBURG — Creative Clay presents “Celebrating Disability Employment Awareness,” October’s virtual exhibit, featuring artwork by Creative Clay’s member artists who actively create, market and sell their work. The exhitib opened Oct. 9.
This new exhibit coincides with National Disability Employment Awareness Month. According to the United States Department of Labor, the theme this year is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” which reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Creative Clay promotes inclusion by empowering its artists to create art that is exhibited in its Good Folk Gallery, exhibited throughout the community and online, and market themselves as working artists. Many of Creative Clay’s member artists engage in training for potential employment. Creative Clay’s artists receive commission on all works sold.
NDEAM is held each October to commemorate the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy. Employers, community organizations, state and local governments, advocacy groups and schools participate in celebrating NDEAM through events and activities centered around the theme of America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.
Creative Clay’s Virtual Gallery also includes the artwork of many of Creative Clay’s member artists. All artwork is for sale through our online gallery at creativeclay.org.
St. Pete Arts Alliance awards to help young artists
ST. PETERSBURG — Awards received from the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s Funding Futures Program allowed 14 talented Pinellas County students to attend an arts camp this summer.
These students aspire to be musicians, actors, dancers, writers or visual artists. Creative Clay, American Stage, St. Pete MAD and others nominated creative, aspiring at-risk and/or low income students to attend their arts programs for the summer while parents of these students filled out applications showing artistic and financial need.
St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s Funding Futures programs are dedicated to helping students nurture their creative interests and develop their expressive talent by providing funding to eligible students and connecting them to local after school arts programs or summer arts camps.
“It’s not just about the art for these students,” said Tracy Kennard, associate director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. “It’s about gaining confidence, understanding collaboration and feeling compassionate towards others and how the simple act of learning new artistic traits, can teach skills that are the building blocks of a promising future in any industry.”
The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s Funding Futures Student Award program is designed to identify and encourage talented at-risk and/or low income emerging artists, ages 10-17 in Pinellas County seeking St. Petersburg programs in the categories of dance, music, jazz, voice, theater, digital arts, photography, cinematic arts, literary or visual arts. Funding Futures is open to all talented artists regardless of ethnic, social or economic background, or ability/disability.
Major funding sources from Tampa Bay Times Employee Matching Gifts, Suncoast Credit Union Foundation, and the Jacarlene Family Foundation have helped build the Funding Futures Grant Program for the past six years. For information on supporting this program, visit stpeteartsalliance.org/donate.
Livingston Taylor, Tom Chapin concert rescheduled
CLEARWATER — Due to a scheduling conflict, Livingston Taylor and Tom Chapin have rescheduled their concert at the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre.
Tickets purchased for the concert on Friday, April 1, will be honored on the new date, Sunday, April 3, at 8 p.m. Tickets, starting at $29, are on sale now. Visit www.RuthEckerdHall.com.
Sinbad show postponed
CLEARWATER — The Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre recently announced stand-up comedian Sinbad has postponed his upcoming performance scheduled for Saturday, April 16, at 8 p.m.
Tickets will be honored on the new date to be announced soon. For more information, visit www.RuthEckerdHall.com.
Steep Canyon Rangers reschedule Capitol Theatre show
CLEARWATER — The Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre recently announced that the Steep Canyon Rangers concert originally scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m., has been rescheduled.
Tickets will be honored on the new date Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at 8 p.m. Tickets, starting at $25, are on sale now. Visit www.RuthEckerdHall.com.
DUNEDIN — The Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association recently announced the lineup for this year’s Dunedin Wines the Blues event, set for Saturday, Nov. 13, noon to 11 p.m., on Main Street in downtown Dunedin.
The 30th annual Dunedin Wines the Blues will offer attendees an opportunity to walk around the downtown area businesses, shop, eat, and browse a selection of street vendors. This year’s festival will present three stages of nonstop blues, with live music performances beginning at 2 p.m.
VIP tickets are on sale and include unlimited drinks and food as well as access to the VIP lounge area with couches, tables, stage views, big screens and VIP-only desserts and signature drinks. The VIP tent is open from 5 to 11 p.m. VIP tickets cost $125. For tickets, visit www.winestheblues.com.
Following is the music lineup for this year’s Dunedin Wines the Blues event:
2 to 3:15 p.m. — Selwyn Birchwood
3:45 to 5 p.m. — Beth Mckee Funky Time Band
5:30 to 6:45 p.m. — Johnny Rawls Band
7:15 to 8:45 p.m. — Damon Fowler
9:15 to 10:45 p.m. — Vanessa Collier
2 to 3:15 p.m. — Ellie Lee Band
3:45 to 5 p.m. — Steve Arvey
5:30 to 7 p.m. — Alex Lopez
7:30 to 9 p.m. — Sarasota Slim
East SBS Stage
2 to 3:15 p.m. — Trey Wanvig
3:45 to 5 p.m. — T Bone Hamilton
5:30 to 7 p.m. — Brian Leneschmidt Band
7:30 to 9 p.m. — Dottie Kelly Band
Performers and show times are subject to change without notice. For information, visit www.winestheblues.com.
Author releases new book, announces book signings
Reedy Press recently announced the release of “Tampa Bay Scavenger,” by Joshua Ginsberg.
You might think you know Tampa Bay, maybe even the weird, wonderful, and obscure parts of it, but get ready to take your exploring in an innovative and interactive new direction. With “Tampa Bay Scavenger,” you’ll embark on a gamified experience in the Tampa Bay area, complete with over three hundred clues to solve spanning seven counties.
From museums to natural wonders, historical markers, bars and restaurants, sports stadiums, and public artworks, you’re bound to discover something new and unexpected. Be the first one to solve all the riddles, take the whole family out on an adventure, or just find a creative excursion for a few hours as you unlock the hidden face of the Tampa Bay area.
Ginsberg — an author and local explorer — brings years of research and a poet’s sensibility to each of his carefully outlined quests. Follow along with the website www.tbscavenger.com and the #TBScavenger Facebook group for a truly interactive experience. It just might be the most elaborate and ambitious scavenger hunt that Tampa Bay has ever seen.
“Tampa Bay Scavenger” is available wherever books are sold.
Ginsberg will host several book signing events in the coming weeks. Book signings are free and open to the public. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. The author will take part in the following book signings:
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2 to 5 p.m., at Cueni Brewing Company, 945 Huntley Ave., Dunedin
Saturday, Oct. 23, 5 to 8 p.m., at Bastet Brewing, 1951 E. Adamo Drive, Tampa
Saturday, Oct. 30, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Clearwater Historical Society, 610 S. Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater
Studio 1212 to launch new exhibition
DUNEDIN — An opening reception for “What a Relief” will take place Sunday, Oct. 17, noon to 3 p.m., at Studio 1212 Art Gallery, 234 Monroe St., Dunedin.
Participating artists will be on hand. Light refreshments will be served. The exhibit will run through Nov. 28. Studio 1212 is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit the gallery’s online store at studio1212.org.
Gulfport venue to present Amazing Acro-cats show
GULFPORT — The Amazing Acro-cats will perform four shows, running Friday through Sunday, Oct. 22-24, at the Catherine A. Hickman Theatre, 5501 27th Ave. S., Gulfport.
The Amazing Acro-cats — featuring Tuna and the Rock Cats — are a troupe of rescued house cats. This one-of-a-kind, two-hour long “purrformance” features talented felines roll on balls, ride skateboards, jump through hoops, and more.
The finale is the only all-cat band in the entire world: Tuna and the Rock Cats. The current band lineup features St. Clawed on guitar, Bowie on drums, Nue on keyboard, Ahi on woodblocks, Albacore on cowbell, Roux on trumpet, and Oz on saxophone. There is even a chicken named Cluck Norris rockin’ the tambourine.
Featured on the Netflix docu-series “Cat People,” Tuna and the Rock Cats have also appeared alongside Stephen Colbert on his late night show, as well as PBS and Animal Planet.
Murals coming to two Pinellas Trail tunnels
LARGO — Creative Pinellas and Pinellas County Public Works have partnered to bring four new murals by Pinellas County artists to the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail tunnels at U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs and Alternate U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor.
The artists’ mural designs for each tunnel face have been inspired by public surveys and meetings that were part of the artist selection process that occurred this summer and revealed a community that enjoys the sunshine and outdoor life, and appreciates the scenic landscape filled with Florida native plants and wildlife. The locations for the murals were selected as part of the Pinellas County Public Works Graffiti Abatement Art Program.
“Creative Pinellas is proud to be part of this multi-mural project on the Pinellas Trail,” said Barbara St. Clair, CEO of Creative Pinellas. “It is an opportunity to not only assist in Pinellas County’s effort to combat graffiti, it also brings talented Pinellas County artists in to create pieces that will engage the trail users in a new way. The new murals will add to the identity of the Pinellas Trail as a destination location in Pinellas County.”
The Palm Harbor location, just north of Wall Springs Park, will feature Taylor Smith’s design “Wetland Herons” that includes two great blue herons with an organic color scheme meant to highlight the beauty of Florida’s coastal wetlands on the south tunnel face, while the north tunnel face design by Yhali Ilan, “Island People,” celebrates the coastal lifestyle in North Pinellas through the use of vibrant plant life, people enjoying the beaches, and water related activities.
The Tarpon Springs location, just north of Live Oak Street, will include the design “Sun Tribute” created by Daniel Barojas (a.k.a. R5, Rope5) on the west tunnel face. The design is a stylized representation of the sun, an essential part of Florida lifestyle. Ricardo Delgado’s (Reda3sb) design “Birds and Flowers” also incorporates the sun, setting into the sea, vibrant flowers and tropical birds, to celebrate nature and Florida life on the east tunnel face.
The Pinellas Trail Mural program is a partnership between Creative Pinellas and the County with goals of defeating graffiti, building excitement and interest, and fostering community beautification projects. Since the beginning of the program, local artists have completed two murals in Palm Harbor and one along the Pinellas Trail overpass in Largo.
“Extending the graffiti abatement program to the Pinellas Trail exemplifies the County’s strategic plan goals to invest in our transportation infrastructure, maximize partner relationships and support a vibrant community,” said Tom Washburn, Pinellas County Public Works Transportation Division Director. “We are pleased to partner with Creative Pinellas and the Florida Department of Transportation in this effort to improve the quality of life for our residents and visitors.”
Artists will be working over the coming weeks and through mid-October. Both locations will remain accessible for trail users while the artists work.
Cracker Country to presents annual Tall Tales of Old Florida
TAMPA — Tall Tales of Old Florida will be presented Saturday, Oct. 23, beginning at 6:45 p.m., at Cracker Country, a living history museum found at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. Hwy. 301 N., Tampa.
Each walking tour will last 60 minutes. This event is recommended for ages 6 and older. Admission is $14 per person and includes a snack. An advance purchase price of $12 per person is available through Oct. 17. Tickets are sold in time blocks. Tickets and more information available at www.crackercountry.org.
Attendees will explore Tampa’s 19th century living history museum by night. Along the way, they will meet storytellers who will spin wild yarns about a few of Florida’s unexplained oddities. A little scary, a little funny and always family friendly, the Tall Tales tour is a Florida history adventure by lantern light.
Cracker Country is a living history museum that represents aspects of home life, commerce and transportation as it was in many rural Florida communities at the end of the 19th century. During the Tall Tales of Old Florida tour, “tellers” will share uniquely Florida stories about skunk apes, misbehaving trains, cow hunting giants and other legendary creatures. Guests will also enjoy a magic lantern show, featuring a turn-of-the-20th-century projection technology that led to the birth of the film industry.
Guests are invited to come early and enjoy Victorian games and activities before their tour begins. Afterward, have a complimentary snack and do some holiday shopping in the General Store.
Chic Décor & Artisan Market set
SAFETY HARBOR — The Fall Chic Décor & Artisan Market will take place Sunday, Oct. 10, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 411 Main Street, Safety Harbor.
The Chic Décor & Artisan Market is returning to its home location in Safety Harbor.
This unique hybrid market highlights some of the best home décor artists, vintage pickers, and indie artisans in the Tampa Bay area. The Fall Chic Décor & Artisan Market will feature over 120 local décor artisans, vintage treasures, and furniture featuring assorted styles like coastal chic, farmhouse, shabby chic, cottage glam, and industrial. There also will be food vendors and live entertainment.
Parking and admission are free.
L.O.L. Surprise! Live show rescheduled
CLEARWATER — L.O.L. Surprise! Live scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 20, at Ruth Eckerd Hall, has been rescheduled.
L.O.L. Surprise! fans in Clearwater will be able to rock out in real life when the all-new hologram concert tour crisscrosses the United States and makes a stop at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday, May 5, at 6 p.m. Tickets purchased for the Oct. 20 performance will be honored on the new date. Tickets, starting at $28.75, are on sale now. Visit www.RuthEckerdHall.com.
St. Pete Arts Alliance to present Second Saturday ArtWalk
ST. PETERSBURG — The Central Arts District, EDGE District, Grand Central District, Warehouse Arts District, Uptown Arts District and downtown Waterfront District will united to celebrate “ARTober” for the St. Petersburg Second Saturday ArtWalk, set for Saturday, Oct. 9, 5 to 9 p.m.
ArtWalk is opening night as some 40 galleries and studios premiere new works, with artists and demos on-site. It’s impossible to take in the entire ArtWalk in one night. Attendees should plan to drive, walk, or take the trolleys to visit the districts of their choice — or utilize the free Downtown Looper, which will run every 15 minutes.
TAMPA — Amalie Arena recently announced that the “Legendz of the Streetz” Tour has been rescheduled.
Originally set for Sunday, Oct. 17, the show will now be presented Friday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. All tickets bought will be honored for the rescheduled date. The tour will feature hip-hop heavyweights Rick Ross, Jeezy, Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz. Tickets, starting at $50, are on sale now. Visit Ticketmaster.com.