Kool Kat of the Week: Sizzlin’ Dames Aflame Alum Josette Pimenta Gets Swanky and Shakes a Tail Feather While Singin’ For Her Life

Posted on: Dec 16th, 2014 By:

by Rex Reverb,9 poster Josette 12-18-14 show
Contributing Writer

Get entertained this Thursday, December 18, at Atlanta’s Jungle Club by our Kool Kat of the Week and one of Atlanta’s new young singers, Josette Pimenta (often just “Josette” or “Josette P”) during her and her co-headliner, Christy Clark’s Sing for Your Life performance at 8 pm! A noted dancer with several local Atlanta dance troupes (including the Dames Aflame), Josette combines cabaret, burlesque and high-energy dance with a powerful voice to create her own unique brand of entertainment. Josette will be doing at least five numbers at her upcoming show, which is part of the Sing for Your Life competition, where she’s a judge this year. Josette‘s shows are always full of surprises, and ATLRetro readers will get the chance to experience her unique rendition of Peggy Lee‘s song, “Black Coffee.” More information about the show can be found here.

For those too young to remember Peggy Lee, she might be best known today as the singing voice for Jessica Rabbit. For those who haven’t seen Josette perform, imagine Jessica Rabbit combined with Cher, along with another classic cartoon character, RED HOT RIDING HOOD from the ‘40s.

Josette’s tale is like something out of a movie. She was told as a child that she didn’t have a good voice and couldn’t sing, causing her to shy away from singing in public for almost a decade, but now suddenly has a singing career. Although Josette is only 23-years old, this diminutive dynamo brings fresh energy and excitement–and more than a touch of burlesque and cabaret–to songs ranging from retro classics to recent hits to her own compositions.

Before diving into Josette‘s story, check out her rendition of Peggy Lee’s “Coffee” here!

Josette wanted to be a performer since she was a small child. She remembers at age five, jumping on her parent’s coffee table in her underwear, putting on a show by singing at the top of her lungs like her idol, Cher. Her parents, grandmother (who’d been a vocalist with a band) and uncles filled the house with music from many eras, and Josette began a passion for retro music that continues to this day. Josette also loved to dance and becoming a singer/dancer became her main goal in life. Her supportive parents helped her begin dance lessons at age 9, but she soon faced her first obstacle.

"Black Coffee"

“Black Coffee”

Josette‘s ballet teacher took the youngster aside after class, and told her while it was clear she loved to dance, “you’re never going to be a dancer.” That was a hard thing for a child to hear, but she managed to get past it, and continue her dance training.

Josette never had voice lessons or vocal training, but when she was around 12, she took a class in musical theater. During one of her first classes, when all of the students were singing, the teacher singled her out, saying “Josette, can you just stop singing? You’re a lot louder than everyone else and you just don’t sound good.”

Such criticism, in front of the whole class, really stung the young Josette. She took it to mean that she didn’t have a good voice and couldn’t sing. It crushed her dream of becoming a singer/dancer like Cher, and for years afterward, she “shied away from singing.” For Josette, there was no chorus, no high school musical, no Glee Club, no singing lessons. She only sang at home with her family or close friends, or in the privacy of her own room. Instead, she focused on her dancing, working hard to pursue her scaled-down dream of becoming a (non-singing) professional dancer.

In high school, Josette experienced mostly success, but also some bullying, on the Dance Team.   She was so focused on her goal of becoming a performer after high school that she really didn’t have a back-up plan. She taught dance for a year, then became a bartender, to have the flexible schedule needed for dance auditions.

She first landed a spot with Davina and the Harlots, the local burlesque group with a flair for comedy, at which Josette also excelled. Josette then auditioned for the Dames Aflame, one of America’s premiere burlesque/cabaret groups, and was thrilled to be accepted. Josette‘s first public performance with the Dames Aflame took place at Trader Vics Atlanta in August, 2011, supporting the great “Big Mike Geier (See his Kool Kat feature here) and Tongo Hiti. The rookie Josette was joined by long-time Dames Aflame veteran Shockaboom, whose Polynesian dance performances at Trader Vic’s are legendary.

"Married to Medicine"

“Married to Medicine”Polynesian dance performances are legendary.

Josette wasn’t content to merely put on a good show, but worked hard to make sure that everyone had a great time. Shockaboom always goes all out for Mike’s finale, and I was surprised to see Josette keeping up with Shockaboom’s Samba-like gyrations, shake-for-shake and shimmy-for-shimmy.

Josette‘s performances with the Dames Aflame, and Davina and the Harlots, averaged only two or three per month (including a few seconds on Bravo’s MARRIED TO MEDICINE, shown in the accompanying photo). So Josette continued to audition for full-time, professional dance roles, in touring Broadway shows, cruise ship shows, and major theme parks. Sometimes, the auditions would go really well, but she would never get a call back–perhaps because Josette was only 5′ 2″, while most Broadway-type dancers are at least 5′ 7″ (the minimum height to even audition for a group like the Rockettes).

Away from those auditions, Josette gradually tried singing in public again. It had been nine years since she’d had her singing aspirations crushed, but once or twice a year she would work a comedy or novelty song into a burlesque skit, usually with a group or another singer.

By the fall of 2012, she’d sung a song in public less than a handful of times. When dared by fellow dancer Sarah Blackman to enter a new singing competition, Sing for your Life, Josette–perhaps helped by the bottle of wine they were sharing–said “sure, why not?” The next day, she realized she had less than 24-hours to pick a song, figure out how to perform it, film it and submit the tape by the contest deadline.

Josette had her mother tape her singing “Half Breed” by Cher, and gave it a comedy/novelty treatment by performing it on a rocking horse. Still plagued by doubt over her singing ability, she almost didn’t submit the tape, but finally entered at the last minute with no expectation of success. To Josette’s surprise, she made it into the contest. She performed “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse at Sing for Your Life‘s live auditions held at Atlanta’s Jungle Club. Halfway through the song, the judges told her to stop singing and summoned her to come down off the stage. Worried about what would come next, Josette was relieved when they asked her to sing a standard. Drawing on her love of retro music, she sang “Almost Like Being in Love” by Nat King Cole, and made it into the final 12 contestants.

"Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend"

“Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”

For the first week of the 12-week long competition, she chose “Someone to Watch Over Me” by George and Ira Gershwin. Josette planned an arrangement that showed her range in the middle of the song, and even though it was cut for time at the last minute, Josette advanced to next week’s round.

Josette began hoping she might have a future as a singer. Though she lacked the vocal training or singing experience of most of the other singers, from her dozens of dance recitals, she knew how to put on a show.

Week Two’s theme was “Divas” and Josette chose the “ultimate diva,” Marilyn Monroe. Josette planned to sing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in an elaborate production. She’d sing the preamble while wearing a coat, then–when the main part of the song began–she’d drop the coat to reveal a sexy, jeweled costume. Josette planned to sing all over the stage and even go down the steep stairs into the audience. Despite all her planning, a huge problem arose once she began performing the song in front of the audience in the actual competition. She was so new to singing, that she didn’t know how to make sure the microphone was turned on!

The Jungle Club is a huge, warehouse-like space, so even her powerful voice could barely be heard past the first few rows. For most of those in the audience, she was almost inaudible, and not even as loud as a phone ringing. Finally, just after Josette dropped her coat to reveal her sexy costume, a sound technician went onto the stage to turn on her microphone, but her problems weren’t over. When the song started to replay from the beginning, Josette had to break character, explaining to the DJ that she wanted to resume where the song had originally stopped. The curtain even started to close on her, before someone pulled it back. Then, more agonizing seconds ticked by, as she stood in silence on stage, while the DJ tried to re-cue her music.

Many amateurs would have panicked at that point, but Josette’s dance training made her comfortable on stage. She slipped back into character, vamping for time until the music was finally ready. Still, Josette faced a daunting task: To avoid being the contestant sent home that night. She had only two minutes left of her song to impress the audience and the judges. A lifetime of hopes and dreams came down to those two minutes.

And then it happened! She started off good, becoming very good in a few more seconds. Soon, the amateur singer was performing the song as if she were a seasoned professional who’d sung it dozens of times. With the powerful delivery of a Broadway star, Josette unleashed a decade of pent-up singing talent in an amazingly confident performance. For the final note, her voice soared, as she sang longer and with more power than she

"I'm a Fool to Want You"

“I’m a Fool to Want You”

ever had before. It was as if she was determined to give the audience and judges something to remember instead of her microphone problems. And she did! See her performance here, which blurs the line between cabaret, burlesque and Broadway.

Needless to say, Josette advanced to the competition’s next round. It was as if that final powerful note had pierced her own personal sound barrier, because from that point on, she could seemingly sing anything. Her next song was an even more elaborate production of “Roxie” from CHICAGO, complete with two back-up dancers. Josette, the young woman who’d never sung in a musical, looked like an experienced pro.

For Week Seven, she chose “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, rendering an even more elaborately choreographed production, again with back-up dancers. But this time, the audience voted Josette down, into the bottom two. Whatever the reason, Josette found herself Singing for her Life against the other low-rated contestant (like Josette, also an excellent singer). Josette barely survived, and advanced to the next round.

As if determined to show that she could win on her voice alone, the next week Josette sang Pink’sGlitter in the Air” while seated. Using her body, hands and facial expressions, she still delivered an incredible vocal performance. In the coming weeks, she showed her increasing versatility (and growing confidence) by giving good performances of songs by Billy Joel, Pat Benatar and Willie Nelson.

"Black Coffee"

“Black Coffee”

In Week 10, she took the art of burlesque and cabaret to a new level, by singing the Billie Holiday classic “I’m A Fool to Want You” in a unique way. Not only did she not dance, she again didn’t even stand up! And near the end of the song–well, you’ll have to see for yourself. Take a peek at Josette’s rendition here.

Finally, it was down to Week 12, the final week, when Josette faced off against only one other contestant, Amber Renee. Each had to perform three songs, and for Josette‘s final song of the competition, she made a very unlikely choice: “Black Coffee” by Peggy Lee. In addition to being very obscure for most of the audience, it’s definitely a “downer” song and not an obvious crowd pleaser.

But she trusted her instincts. It was one of her favorite songs to perform alone in her room, in the not-too-distant past when she was afraid to sing in public. She always envisioned herself performing it in a sultry way, in a suitably lurid setting inspired by old movies and pulp covers she saw on the internet.

In her introduction to “Black Coffee”, the strain of the twelve grueling weeks of intense competition is evident. She knew all of her recently-revived hopes and dreams were riding on the outcome of that night’s performance. There was a cash prize, but more importantly for her, the first prize also included a producer and studio time to actually record three songs, plus a life solo show of her singing.

Josette found a way to make an obscure, downer of a song, the hit of the evening. You have to see her performance of “Black Coffee” for yourself. The effect on the audience was electric. I’ve studied burlesque for 25 years, and I’ve never seen a performance like that. Is it burlesque? Is it cabaret? I don’t know, but the audience loved it!

Still, Amber Renee was a formidable rival, and suspense filled the room as the last judge voted. When judge Barry Brandon finally announced that Josette had won the competition, she doubled over with emotion and burst into tears. Josette sobbed into the arms of her coach Michael Robinson, and she couldn’t have been more emotional or grateful if she’d won a million dollars or American Idol.

Josette told me that from the start, she hadn’t expected to win, and after three very stressful months, she couldn’t believe she’d actually prevailed. After regaining her composure, she tried to say a few words, telling the audience how she came to enter the contest. But when Josette started trying to explain about being told as a child that she couldn’t sing, she started to break down. Pulling herself together, she started to thank everyone, but broke down again. Pulling herself together again, she went out into the audience and gave a heartfelt, emotional thanks (and often a hug) to everyone she recognized or who came up to congratulate her.

Josette hadn’t just won a singing contest. She’d finally achieved the first step in a dream that had been shattered and shelved almost 10 years earlier.

But there was one final twist to her story, one that even Josette hadn’t seen coming. Impressed during the competition when a few contestants sang their own original songs, Josette wondered: Could she write her own songs as well?

"Here Kitty Kitty"

“Here Kitty Kitty”

Collaborating with Atlanta songwriter J. L. Rodriguez, Josette began writing her very first pop song. They worked on the musical parts together (since she doesn’t play an instrument or read music), and she wrote the lyrics, having been inspired by a drawing of cat women a fellow Harlots alum had created. Top local producer, Thomas Cary Walker Jr., pitched in and in October 2013, Josette‘s first single, “Here Kitty Kitty,” was released on iTunes.

Josette gave the first full performance of her very first song in front of 10,000 people at Piedmont Park, during Atlanta’s LGBT Pride Festival. This was a full production, with four professional backup dancers, great lighting and Josette on the huge Jumbotron screen next to the massive stage. As she admitted to the audience after the song, she was nervous when she first came out. But she quickly settled down and was soon delivering a powerhouse performance, singing and dancing all over the stage.

Remember Shockaboom‘s finale with Tongo Hiti at Trader Vics, that Josette emulated the first time she danced there for the Dames Aflame? What seemed like a Samba move to me a few years ago had another name by last fall: Twerking. On the big stage at Piedmont Park, Josette had taken what she learned from Shockaboom to a whole new level and was light-years beyond Miley Cyrus. The already-cheering crowd started to roar, and when Josette whipped her long hair around to the sound of a whip being cracked, 10,000 people went wild. Catch a video of the wild scene here!

At the end of the number, Josette paused to catch her breath and look out over the cheering crowd. Seeing 10,000 people cheering for her singing, her dancing, and her first song–less than a year after entering the singing contest–was like the improbable ending to an old Hollywood move.

Sing For Your Life Competition

Sing For Your Life Competition

While Josette is the living embodiment of Red Hot Riding Hood on stage and says she just naturally tends to dance in a sexy fashion, off stage she’s very much a down-to-earth, girl-next-door type, a kind and sensitive person. Instead of talking about becoming a star, she talks about being creative, the joy of seeing her artistic vision fulfilled, and how great she feels when she’s entertained (and surprised) an audience. Luckily, she’s got a very supportive network of people helping her, including parents, a large extended family, boyfriend, friends and fellow performers.

Josette continues to dance with the Dames Aflame, and on December 20, she’ll be performing with them as a dancer in “Big Mike” Geier’s Kingsized Holida Jubilee extravaganza at the Variety Playhouse. This past year, Josette has focused primarily on her dancing, after joining two additional dance troupes–the BELLES (from Belles Organics) and THE CHERRY BOMBS. The Cherry Bombs will be joining her for a performance at Josette‘s big December 18 show at the Jungle Club. That show marks a return to singing for the busy Josette, and she plans to get back into the recording studio in the new year.

Photos copyright 2012-2014 Whitney Fields Photography. Some have been cropped from their original appearance.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Lola LeSoleil Talks Feathers, Fun and Frolic at Southern Fried Burlesque Festival 2014

Posted on: Mar 19th, 2014 By:

Lola LeSoleil. Photo credit: Your Mojo by Jojo.

The Southern Fried Burlesque Festival is back for its fourth sizzling year March 20-23, bringing the best performers from all over the world to Atlanta for a weekend full of burlesque classes, panels and performances  at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria.  Founded and presented by Syrens of the South Productions, it’s not just bringing a high standard of burlesque entertainment to the city but also getting Southern performers noticed on the national scene.

One of these is Lola LeSoleil, who won the crown of Southern Fried Festival Queen 2013 in last year’s pageant competition. Lola will be giving a special farewell performance on Saturday night before this year’s queen receives her crown, but in the last year, she’s come a long way, baby. It’s our royal pleasure therefore to declare her Kool Kat of the Week and find out more about what she’s been up, her plans for the future and what she’s looking forward to the most about Southern Fried 2014!

How did you get started in burlesque? 

In 2001, my mom and I went to Las Vegas. While there we saw Gladys Knight, Charo– in all of her “Coochi-Coochi” glory – and the signature JUBILEE show at Bally’s. JUBILEE is the quintessential glamorous Las Vegas floor show  – huge feather headdresses; elegant, statuesque ladies dripping in rhinestones; and lighted staircases. I was in love and realized come hell or high water, I needed a big feathery headdress. And sequins. And rhinestones.

It took a few more years before I saw a few burlesque shows in Atlanta – Big City Burlesque, Dames Aflame – and realized this art was in my city! I just needed a way in. After detouring to pole dance class and a one-off burlesque choreography class, I attended a Blast Off Burlesque show with a friend who introduced me to Talloolah Love -at the time of Syrens of the South [Read our Kool Kat profile of Talloolah here]. They offered a burlesque class series. I couldn’t get my butt to class fast enough.

Lola LeSoieil. Photo credit: Derek Jackson

Is there a story behind the name Lola LeSoleil?

Burlesque names can be a challenge. I wanted a name to reflect my abundant energy and honored who I am, but also paid tribute to beauty icons I grew up with. LeSoleil is my heat, my sun. Lola was for Lola Falana who was a black actress and entertainer in the 1970s, and who also appeared on THE MUPPET SHOW.

Who are a few of your role models in burlesque, both classic and from the burlesque revival, and why?

To be honest, Carol Burnett was my first comedic variety role model. She was silly, endearing, dynamic and versatile. I didn’t really know conventional burlesque tease artists until I started taking classes and began  research. Toni Elling and Jean Idelle are two special ladies whom I’m delighted to have met, and their lives as entertainers resonate with me and I have immense respect for them. Contemporary artists share my Gen X/Y perspective on balancing art and work and creativity. It’d take more space than I have here to name them, but suffice to say I’m delighted to have perfomed with and for revivalists whose opinions mean a lot to me.

A few years ago, you were interviewed about being an African American performer in the burlesque revival. Traditionally there haven’t been as many but at least on Atlanta stages, I’ve been seeing more. Can you talk a little about why this has been so and do you see a change or not?

Having more faces that look like mine in the burlesque revival I believe comes down to exposure to the art, and a desire to participate. The burlesque community in Atlanta is welcoming and supportive of everyone’s artistic journey. The change is gradual, and what I’ve seen is encouraging!

Lola LeSoleil. Photo Credit: Marc Turnley

What did winning the Miss Southern Fried Burlesque crown mean to you, and how has it affected your career over the past year? 

The joke of my winning Southern Fried Burlesque Queen was that my third time was the charm. I competed in 2011 and 2012 winning awards, but not the BIG one. Turns out there were a lot of people who were excited to see a nerdy/fandom-inspired act win a burlesque pageant title. I had the opportunity to be invited to perform in cities I may otherwise not have. It’s been a damn fine year!

Without giving away any big spoilers, can you give us a little tease about your farewell performance?

If I told you, I’d have to exterminate you.

Are you teaching any classes at SFBF?

In year’s past I’ve taught, but this year at SFBF, you’ll see me volunteering and being a student because I heartily believe there’s always room to improve as an artist. And I like helping.

What else are you looking forward to personally about SFBF?

I am really excited to have my Beginning Burlesque Choreography class perform in the Newcomer’s Showcase on Thursday night! And of course, I’m abuzz to see friends I’ve met at other festivals and shows come in to town for a gigantic glittery weekend! It’s like the start of “Burlesque Summer Camp” season.

What’s next for you?

I’m fortunate to be performing at the first Nerdlesque Festival in New York in a few weeks, and I’m opening my travel horizons to other festivals and events outside the South. Windy City [Burlesque Fest], here I come! I’m really looking forward to teaching more at  The Atlanta School of Burlesque.

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about Lola LeSoleil?

Follow your strengths as a performer, but don’t limit yourself. Take all the classes. Learn anything/everything and don’t allow yourself to stagnate. As long as you have breath in your body, you can improve.

To read ATLRetro’s preview of the Fourth Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, click here.

 

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Happy Birthday, Elvis! Big Mike Geier’s Top Five Picks for Songs Elvis Would Have Covered Had He Lived

Posted on: Jan 5th, 2012 By:
Elvis Presley was born on Jan. 8, 1935, and while it’s a big unnerving to think about the King of Rock n Roll as a 76-year-old, wouldn’t it have been just grand if he was still enjoying a recording and concert career into the ’70s, ’80s and today? A big part of the fun at the Elvis Royale, the spectacular annual Vegas-style birthday celebration thrown by KingSized and the Dames Aflame, isn’t Big Mike Geier crooning the same old hits but having some fun by speculating “W.W .E.D.?” with audience members submitting requests for song s that they think Elvis would have covered. The band selects their favorite of these requests and plays them as the show’s encore. In honor of this year’s show Sat. Jan. 7 at the Variety Playhouse (doors 7:30 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m.), ATLRetro asked Big Mike to recall some of the best “W.W.E.D.?” selections from previous Elvis Royale shows:

 

1. “Thunder Road” and “Born To Run” (Bruce Springsteen)
No doubt Elvis would have been a Bruce Springsteen fan with his triumphant lyrics for the blue collar rebel.

 

2. “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen)
We’re pretty sure Elvis would have been drawn to the dramatic lyrics and gospel appeal.

 

3. “Under Pressure” (Queen and David Bowie)
Elvis constantly struggled with the pressures of celebrity and also seemed to have compassion for the have-nots.

 

4. “My Heart Will Go On” (Celine Dion)
Elvis loved the melodramatic Broadway tunes, and this theme from TITANIC is just such a tear-jerker.

 

5. “Do You Realize?” (Flaming Lips)
It would have been great to hear Elvis interpret this tune in a recording produced by Rick Rubin a la Johnny Cash’s AMERICAN RECORDINGS.

 

Which songs will Big Mike and the Kingsized crew perform for the “W.W.E.D.?” encore this Saturday?  You’ll just have to come to the show to find out.  Better get your ticket in advance, though.  With this being Big Mike’s last Kingsized performance before he leaves for his residency in Seattle (he is performing in Teatro ZinZanni’s CALIENTE show from February through June), it looks like the show is going to sell out in advance. Get your advance tickets here.
All photos courtesy of KingSized and the Dames Aflame. Photo credit: Emily Butler. 

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Really Retro: Why MonkeyZuma Dubs Charles Darwin the Original King of the Swingers and Other Survival Tips for an Island Adventure Martinis & IMAX

Posted on: Sep 29th, 2011 By:

OK, Charles Darwin doesn’t look like all that swinging a guy with that big bushy beard and Victorian suit, but DARWIN, a new special exhibition which just opened last weekend and runs through Jan. 1, 2012 at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, reveals more than a few surprises about the 19th century naturalist who took a five-year sea voyage of discovery on the HMS Beagle and turned the scientific world upside-down with his theory of evolution. For example, his grandfather’s own radical writings helped inspire Mary Shelley to write FRANKENSTEIN, both his mother and wife hailed from the Wedgewood family of pottery fame, he got his stint on the HMS Beagle because Captain FitzRoy wanted “not just a naturalist but a gentleman,” on that trip he rode with gauchos in Patagonia and his letters home included such colorful language as describing an area “red-hot with spiders.” Excuse us, but eek!

Darwin’s most famous stop, of course, was the Galapagos Islands and the entire journey was an adventure, so it seems only fitting that Martinis & IMAX on Friday Sept. 30 has the theme of Island Adventure. Explore the exhibit, follow in Darwin’s footsteps via IMAX to GALAPAGOS, sip on a Galapagos Gimlet and strike a natural or unnatural pose at the Darwin Dress-Up Photo Booth. The evening’s ship of fun is captained by “Big Mike” Geier and notorious Atlanta tiki band Tongo Hiti. His crew inevitably includes some of the most glamorous gals you’d ever want to encounter on a jungle island – the Dames Aflame, featuring Atlanta’s closest connection to the missing link, MonkeyZuma.

We can only imagine what Darwin would have thought of that legendary simian-sapien, but you don’t have to imagine what MonkeyZuma thinks of old man Charles because, well, we asked her…

Are you the missing link, or what’s the origin of your species?

MonkeyZuma is half girl, half monkey-girl.

What do Charles Darwin and evolution mean to you personally?

Zuma loves Charles Darwin because he was known for bridging the gap between humans and animals.  He was the original king of the swingers, a jungle V.I.P.! His evolution theory means that someday, we’re going to have little bitty, really pointy fingers and thumbs so we can all clickity-clickity lickity-splickity on our smartphones and iPads and miniature-microwaves.

What do you hope to learn from the Darwin exhibition?

Zuma wonders: boxers or briefs?  Since he was a naturalist, probably neither!

What special plans do you have to get creative at this week’s Martinis & IMAX (with a little help from Kingsized and Dames Aflame, of course)?

MonkeyZuma never makes any plans. She is barely controlled chaos and will most likely be found sticking her finger in your nachos or knockin’ back several of Fernbank’s signature Pineapple Mojitos while Dames Aflame’s own Shockaboom and Chico teach all the local natives some exotic Island dances to the Tongo Hiti soundtrack.  It’s best not to look Zuma in the eye if she is approaching. Just bring some extra cash and buy the sexy simian some booze.  She’ll let ya “huele” her “dedo” and then be on her way, to destroy someone else’s date night.

All photos courtesy of Dames Aflame.

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Weekend Update, Aug. 12-14, 2011

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2011 By:

Friday, August 12

Hear some great garage rock and rockabilly, pose with a pin-up girl, see burlesque acts, win raffle prizes and support a great animal charity at Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls Presents: Dog Days of Summer! starting at 8 p.m. at The Basement beneath Graveyard Tavern. Check out our first-ever Kool Kitten interview with April 2001 Pinups for Pitbulls Calendar model Brook Bolen here. Performers include ’60s girl group revivalists The F’n Heartbreaks (of which Brook is a bandmember) and The Hot Rod Walt Trio (read our Kool Kat interview with Hot Rod Walt here); local burlesque stars Talloolah Love, Barbalicious and Sadie Hawkins of Blast-Off Burlesque, and Pinups for Pitbulls charity-founder Little Darling herself!

It’s another honky tonk rockabilly Friday at Star Bar with Caroline & the RamblersVillain Family and The Serenaders. It’s also always good news to hear about a too-rare Subsonics show, so we’re happy to report Buffi Aguero & Co. will be garage-rockin’ it out at The Earl tonight with Carnivores and Howlies. Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers are at Classic Chastain. Swing to jazz, earthy blues and a little rock n roll by vocalist Gwen Hughes and her band The Retro Jazz Kats at Callanwolde Jazz on the Lawn tonight. Catch an IMAX movie and dance to blues, jazz and a slight bit of funk courtesy of Derryl Rivers & the Flying Circus at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX.  Recent Kool Kat Julea Thomerson and the BareKnuckle Betties plays The Five Spot with Midnight Revival and Silent Coyote. And CineProv pokes good-natured fun at THE ROCKETEER at Relapse Theatre.

Saturday August 13

Yet another clone-worthy day and night in Retro Atlanta. It’s almost impossible to pick just one of the vintage wonderland of activities tonight. First, the good news is a couple of things are in the afternoon. Kids and their parents are in for tricks and treats as the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte teaches a Monster Make-Up Class at Main Street School of Art at 1 p.m. Learn how to turn your kid and you into a werewolf or zombie using classic monster movie make-up techniques from realistic bruises and oozing wounds to deathly ghoulish faces and how to apply latex and hair.

Meanwhile over at The Plaza Theatre, see Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood classic Western THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. as it was meant to be seen in glorious widescreen 35 mm. The movie is the last and best part of Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy, which the Plaza has been screening throughout the summer. Hurray for AM1690 for sponsoring! Be sure to hang around, come early or just stop by The Plaza at 6:35 p.m., too, for COMING SOON TO A THEATRE NEAR YOU!, 35 min. of rare 35 mm trailers from Plaza Manager Ben Ruder‘s private collection. Admission for the latter is free, but donations to support the nonprofit theatre are encouraged.

The Derby Strikes Back as the Atlanta Rollergirls‘ four teams face-off in their annual play-offs. The Apocalypstix battle the Toxic Shocks at 5 p.m. while theDenim Demons get one more shot against the undefeated Sake Tukas at 7:30 p.m. Both bouts, as always, are at the Yaarab Shrine Center on Ponce, and advance tickets are recommended for these sure-to-sell-out matches. Arrive early to browse the cool vendors.

The King may have passed away from this earth on Aug. 16, 1977, but oh, does his spirit live on in ELVIS ROYALE, an annual Vegas-style multimedia extravaganza staged by KingSized and the Dames Aflame at Variety Playhouse. Hear the one-and-only Big Mike Geier sing songs from every point in Elvis’s career and experience the glittery Cavalcade of Elvis during the fabulous finale. Read our Kool Kat exclusive interview with Big Mike here.

BURLESQUE WITH A HITCH, the latest in Mon Cherie‘s Va-Va-Voom series at Masquerade, celebrates the genius of film director Alfred Hitchcock with each act based on a different film by the master. Alabaster JuJu stars, with master of suspense and mystery Miss Mason hosting, and the all-star line-up of performers includes Sadie HawkinsRebecca DeShon (Hoop Essence)Stormy Knight, Fonda Lingue, Evil Sarah, The Chameleon Queen, magician Chad SanbornKatarina Laveaux (Birmingham, AL), Nicolette Tesla (Charlotte, NC), and Peachz de Vine (Greensboro, NC). Before and after, DJ 313 spins alternative dance, Allison Kellar offers body-painting, and there’s also a RAWKIN’ RAFFLE with lots of vintage-inspired vendors donating prizes. Cover is a bargain 5 bucks, and doors open at 9 p.m. In suspense about what’s happening? Click here for a sneak preview of this Spellbound affair from Chad Sanborn.

It’s Man Day at Twain’s starting with first-come-first-serve manly tattoos at noon, but the main event gets rolling at 5 p.m. with a night of live music, manly competitions (examples include Handyman Challenge and Best Beer Gut), aerial dance performances by Blast-Off Burlesque‘s Sadie Hawkins, boob cupcakes by Sugar Dolls, the Wheel of Destiny and much more.

And that’s not to mention Big Bad Voodoo Daddy swinging with theAtlanta Symphony Orchestra at Verizon Wireless AmphitheatrePsycho

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

DeVilles rockabilly it up at the world-famous Dixie Tavern in Marietta. Little Joey’s Big Band is at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Blues pianist extraordinaire Ike Stubblefield plays Northside Tavern. And of course, DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno late into the wee hours.

Sunday August 14

Chickens and Pigs plays blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The EarlThe Whiskey Gentry bring their misfit country-to-punk twang to the Park Tavern Unplugged in the Park series at Piedmont Park. Tony Bryant reps four generations of Georgia blues at Fat Matt’s. And the Michael Hutchence-less INXS brings back the ’80s at Chastain Park Amphitheatre.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Shakin’ It Up with “Big Mike” Geier on His Burning Love for Elvis and Other Musical Matters

Posted on: Aug 11th, 2011 By:

"Big Mike" Geier don't need no jumpsuit to celebrate Elvis. Serenading the audience during last year's ELVIS ROYALE. Photo Credit: Laura Newman.

Over the past 14 years, Kingsized’s Elvis Presley tribute show has grown from a family affair at the Star Bar into ELVIS ROYALE, an always sold-out Vegas-style multimedia Retro extravaganza with a 15-piece orchestra and glamorous glittery dancing girls, aka the Dames Aflame, at Variety Playhouse. Forget Elvis impersonators. “Big Mike” Geier don’t need no jumpsuit—his deep baritone voice, wide smile and signature charisma are more than enough to rival the stage presence of the undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, that is with that signature Geier twist. You’ll hear all the Presley hits with a sense of homage and humor, and some surprises along the way that Big Mike believes Elvis woulda sung had his life not been tragically cut short in 1977.

If you’re from Atlanta, skip on to the questions. If you’re new here or not from here, Big Mike has been big in Atlanta’s Retro revival scene since before we even knew we had one, and that’s not just because he’s six-foot-eight. He started performing in Richmond, Virginia, fronting the Useless Playboys, in 1989. That “swing noir” band attracted a national following and toured with Reverend Horton Heat, Southern Culture on the Skids and El Vez. But the Playboys also used to play here at the Star Bar so often it was hard to know he didn’t live here.

Mike Geier and wife Shannon Newton of the lovely Dames Aflame. Photo credit: David Stuart.

Then Big Mike came to Atlanta in 1995 to host the city’s first full neo-burlesque show, Go-Go and Torchy’s Taboo Revue, and he never left. Instead, he launched Kingsized—arguably Atlanta’s  best known and most popular swing band. In 2004, he started a Polynesian pop lounge band, Tongo Hiti, who are now Thurs. night regulars at Trader Vic’s downtown. Along the way he hooked up with burlesque troupe, Dames Aflame, led by his wife Shannon Newton. And that’s not to mention a slew of side projects, such as voiceover and music work for Cartoon Network and Puddles Pity Party, a cabaret clown act that recently toured with AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE LIVE.

So what do Big Mike, Kingsized and the Dames have in store at this year’s ELVIS ROYALE. Heck, let’s ask him…

You moved to Atlanta in 1995 at a very pivotal time for the Retro revival here. Obviously the opportunities have grown immensely here for performers who embrace a vintage style, but do you ever miss those more pioneering days? And do you have a favorite memory you’d like to share with those readers who were too young or moved here later?

I miss being able to fill up my 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville for $21. Gas was $1 a gallon! My favorite memory would be filling up my 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville for $21, then driving out past The Starlight Drive-In to Rio Vista for mountains of fried catfish and sweet tea with my super hot girlfriend who is now my super hot wife.

Can you talk a bit about the Elvis Royale’s humble origins and how it grew into the Vegas-style multimedia extravaganza it is today?

Imagine 350 people crammed in the Star Bar. It’s August and 80 degrees at 10 p.m. Everyone is chain-smoking and guzzling Rolling Rock. PBR’s ironic comeback is just beginning. The Grace Vault is where ya go to pay your respects to the King, among other things. Tim Lathrop used to perform the séance at midnight. The show didn’t even start until 11 o’clock. I had to move the show or else it would have killed me.

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Glitz, Glamour and Girls, Girls, Girls: The Southern-Fried Experience

Posted on: Apr 13th, 2011 By:

As tickets go on sale for next year’s Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, Atlanta burlesque maven Talloolah Love looks back on an absolutely fabulous first year…

I have to give my eyes a rest, as I may develop rhinestone cataracts after seeing such an array of magnificent, world class acts as graced the stage March 10-13 for the first-ever Atlanta burlesque convention: The Southern Fried Burlesque Festival. Plenty of articles have been put out there about the two gals behind the event. Masterminds and inner puppeteers, Ursula Undress and Katherine Lashe, were certainly exercised to the extreme as they worked their little tail feathers off to put this show on, and boy, didn’t it show! The vendors room alone could have struck you blind for all the fabulous glitter, rhinestones and color. As someone who has been to many festivals all over the country, ATLRetro asked me to share my experience as a spectator with a sweet nod and smooch to everyone behind the event who volunteered and assisted in their own ways to make it all happen.

Lydia DeCarllo

I arrived Friday night, just before doors. The moment I came in, the fabulous Lydia DeCarllo, the international sensation from Vancouver, swept me up. Now that’s my kind of welcome wagon! We chatted about her trip in and about how she’s been since we last saw each other at the Texas Burlesque Festival. Derek Jackson, Atlanta photographer and avid burlesque advocate, arrived soon after along with world-famous Rick DeLaup, founder of the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. I took a quick jog over to the bar, as I am quite familiar with the Decatur Holiday Inn and Convention Center, which has been newly renovated and also is the home of TribalCon, a national bellydance convention I try to attend every year. The bar was literally dripping with burlesque stars, but the most fabulous in attendance at that moment as Ms. Torchy Taboo, Atlanta’s own burlesque Godfather. She held court there as only she can, a moment I so sorely missed out on because there was so little time to commiserate before the first big show began.

Talloolah Love and Derek Jackson

I took my seat in the VIP section with Rick and Derek and used my commemorative Jo Boobs pen to take notes on the festival’s first all-star show. My only disappointment was that when Derek invited me to sit VIP, my vision of it would be some kind of small gift bag or at the very least drink tickets for the conveniently located hotel bars in the ballroom. But not this year. Happily the bar’s prices were so reasonable it wasn’t as big of a deal as it could have been had the event been held in Atlanta. Still, if I were to critique the VIP experience for its price, a small gift of appreciation would have been nice and usually expected at most festivals.  All of this, though, was again mitigated by the national celebrities who came to chew the fat with us, like Atlanta’s own Mike Geier, the evening’s emcee, and Margaret Cho, along with the cast of DROP DEAD DIVA.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Time-Traveling with Torchy Taboo to the Roots of the Neo-Burlesque Revival in Atlanta

Posted on: Mar 10th, 2011 By:

Ask anyone in Atlanta’s neo-burlesque scene who started it here, and one name inevitably comes up— Eve “Torchy Taboo” Warren. She’s been dubbed the “Godfather of Atlanta Burlesque” and nothing seems more natural than her hosting the Dirty South Burlesque Showcase, a late-night cabaret on Saturday night for some of the best regional performers, one of several star-studded performance events at this weekend’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest [read ATLRetro’s preview here].

With all the burlesque troupes and production companies performing here now, it’s hard to imagine that just 16 years ago, none of that existed. While Atlanta was home to one of the nation’s largest collections of adult entertainment venues, those venues had long ago left behind any appreciation of the art of the tease. Among all the stagnant bump and grind for big bucks, however, one dancer had a dream.

This red-haired 5-foot-nothing Rita Hayworth lookalike never had been an ordinary stripper. When she wasn’t dancing, she was vagabonding across Europe, performing at drag shows at The Sports Page, studying art history, sipping Polynesian cocktails, waxing poetically about corndogs and jitterbugging to rockabilly bands at the Star Bar. That’s how I met her in 1995 through my friend “Go-Go” Max Bernardi, another Star Bar regular and a singer, painter and performance artist whose artwork and acts were often seen at 800 East, an Inman Park warehouse that at the time was a haven for the city’s alternative creative scene.

The cast of Go-Go and Torchy's Taboo Revue including Eve "Torchy Taboo" Warren, "Go-Go Max" Bernardi, Wanda Baker, Tim Monteith, Ivy Godiva, Dave Olsen and the Queen Bee. Photo credit: April Stevens

Together, Eve and Max cooked up this crazy idea to put on a tribute to the burlesque variety shows of the mid-20th century which they would come to call GO-GO AND TORCHY’S TABOO REVUE. It took place at the Catch City Club, next to Center Stage in Midtown, on October 14-15, 1995, and included many top players in Atlanta’s burgeoning rockabilly, lounge and performance art scene. Useless Playboys former front man “Big Mike” Geier even returned to Atlanta from Richmond, Va., to emcee. Later on he’d found some band called Kingsized and perform with a neo-burlesque company called Dames Aflame, which incidentally also was founded by Torchy Taboo. Another reason why it’s only fittin’ that Big Mike will be hosting and the Dames Aflame are special guests at the FreeRange Burlesque Show Friday night at Southern Fried.

“Go-Go” Max Bernardi clowns in her cowboy boots before her Taboo Revue opening number as Cleopatra.

Kelly Hogan (The Jody Grind, Rock*A*Teens), Wanda Baker (Bleu Velveeta) and Dave Olsen (Atlanta rockabilly swing icons The Lost Continentals) sang solo numbers, and almost every number was performed live by a seven-member lounge band, featuring Olson and other members of The Lost Continentals. Dashing up-and-coming illusionist, Christopher Tracy, provided magic, and Ivy Godiva, the weekly guest star of the then-infamous Go-Go Rama dances at the Star Bar, delivered laughs as his ravishingly redneck assistant, as well as a red-hot striptease to a revved-up rockabilly version of Dion and the Belmonts’ “Ruby Baby.” Puppeteer Tim Monteith boogied woogied as all three Andrews Sisters; he still regularly performs at Syrens of the South and other local shows and is competing in the first annual Southern Fried Burlesque Pageant earlier on Saturday night. In an artistic interlude, modern dancers Anik Keuller and Sonya Sconiers re-interpreted the Greek myth of Persephone without removing a stitch. And a certain ATLRetro writer/editor danced and sang as a 1920s art deco Bumble Bee Queen, with Bee-ettes “Saasha Foo” Wilson, hostess to many of 800 East’s zany variety shows, and her friend and fellow disco dancer Faith Farley.

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This Week in Retro Atlanta March 7-13

Posted on: Mar 7th, 2011 By:

Wow, there’s a lot flying and frying this week Retro-wise in Atlanta from Phoenix Flies to Southern Fried Burlesque Fest to a host of pop and rock performers who got their start in the ’80s. Here’s your weekly guide to where and why to get out…

Monday March 7

Atlanta Preservation Center continues its annual The Phoenix Flies: A Celebration of Living Landmarks, so-named after the iconic symbol of Atlanta—the mythical bird that burns and is reborn similar to the city post-Civil War. The event which runs through March 20 offers a chance to take its neighborhood historical walking tours for free, as well as experience additional behind-the-scenes peeks inside Atlanta’s most famous buildings of eras gone by. Today’s tours include The Temple synagogue (1930), designed by legendary Atlanta architect Philip Trammel Shutze at 10:30 AM; the Gothic revival Peachtree Christian Church (1925) at noon; and Grant Park at 5 PM. Reservations are recommended. After dark, Joe Gransden & his smokin’ 16-piece orchestra present another Big Band Night of jazz at Café 290, featuring Sinatra, Bennett, Basie and Joe’s originals. Blues chanteuse Francine Reed is back at Cafe CircaNorthside Tavern hosts a Blues Jam.

Tuesday March 8

Phoenix Flies features the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center (AHC), site of lavish parties in the 1920s and ’30s; other AHC facilities such as the 1840 Tullie Smith Farm and Cherokee Garden Library and Kenan Research Center, which both house rare photos and documents of Atlanta history; neoclassic First Church of Christ, Scientist (cornerstone laid 1903); Hinman Home (1896), now Stonehurst Place Bed & Breakfast; Midtown’s The Castle; a general Historic Midtown tour; and Wimbish House (1906), one of the last remaining homes on Peachtree Street’s once posh Mansion Row now the headquarters of Atlanta Women’s Club.

Splatter Cinema presents 1980s vampire classic NEAR DARK at 9:30 PM. Read Mark Arson’s Retro Revue to see why you shouldn’t miss this hard-edged horror Western directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow and starring Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton. Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. Fedora Blues plays Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack. Atlanta’s notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins the best ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland.

Wednesday March 9

Phoenix Flies tours the Fabulous Fox Theatre and offers a rare peek inside The Herndon Home, a beautiful 1910 mansion built by Atlanta’s first African-American millionaire Alonzo Herndon which has many eclectic aspects thanks also to his drama teacher wife Adrienne who would put on theater productions occasionally on the roof.

Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at The Glenwood. Catch Joe Gransden every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. The Hollidays bring on the blues at Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM. Cover band ’80s Band of Destiny is in the Atlanta Room at Smith’s Olde Bar.

Thursday March 10

Stonehenge Mansion, one of today's Phoenix Flies tours.

Another busy day for Phoenix Flies including tours of Fox Theatre; early Edgewood-Candler Park; Unseen Underground exploring parts of the old railway lines and viaduct system not usually open to public view; Burns Club (1910), a replica of Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birth home with Burns poetry reading; City Hall; Stonehenge Mansion & Sanctuary, a Gothic mansion in Druid Hills built as a residence but now houses St. John’s Lutheran Church; and the Georgia Capitol.

The first annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest kicks off with the Atlanta premiere of award-winning documentary DIRTY MARTINI & THE NEW BURLESQUE, with a Q&A afterwards with director Gary Beeber and Neo-Burlesque Revival superstar Dirty Martini, at the Holiday Inn & Conference Center in Decatur. Be sure to read our fest preview here. Chickens and Pigs play Pho Truc in Clarkston from 8-10 PM. Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologne at Aurum Lounge.  Breeze Kings and Chicken Shack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.

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ATLRetro Weekend Update, Feb. 10-13, 2011

Posted on: Feb 10th, 2011 By:

Vampires, Vietnamese food & rockabilly, va-va-voom and vintage soul at the Star Bar, Valentine’s weekend promises plenty to do for lovers and anti-lovers…

Thursday Feb. 10

The Atlanta Ballet put the vampire into Valentine’s a few years ago with its seductive performance of DRACULA. Now it’s the Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra’s turn to go blood red with HAUS VON DRACUL, PART 1, an original rock opera by veterans of Atlanta’s underground music scene, opening tonight at 7 Stages Theatre in Little 5 Points and playing through Sun. Feb. 13. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out ATLRetro’s preview with Chris Love, aka Jonathan Harker here.

Also, Ghost Riders Car Club celebrates Vietnamese New Year with classic ’50s honkytonk and rockabilly every Thursday in February at Pho Truc in Clarkston. For a taste, see last week’s KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK with guitarist Spike Fullerton. Or listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s.

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