Calming Miranda: The Many Talents of Colleen Ballinger

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In 2009, a YouTuber calling herself Miranda uploaded a video called “Free Voice Lesson.”

In it, a heavily-made up woman in a shabby-looking room stares earnestly into a camera and announces her intention to provide expert and pricey vocal instruction to whomever can be persuaded to pay based on a forthcoming “free voice lesson.”

For anyone with a modicum of human sympathy, the video is painful to watch. Miranda can’t sing but is utterly assured of her virtuosity.

“Free Voice Lesson” seems an unlikely launching pad for a comedic empire, but an empire answering to that description was launched.

Miranda, who goes by the full name Miranda Sings, will perform a show at the Embassy Theatre on Sept. 15.

“Free Voice Lesson” is an example of a genre of satirical YouTube video that aims to incite the haters with the plausibility of its utter incompetence.

Miranda Sings is the alter ego of Colleen Ballinger, who was a highly capable musical theater performer at Disneyland when she posted “Free Voice Lesson.”

She has said that she was motivated initially by a sturdy trend in the era of televised singing competitions: People who can’t sing pursuing singing stardom.

She told the Huffington Post in 2010 that she parodied people seeking fame on YouTube because she didn’t think anyone could get famous using YouTube.

“I was terrified when it went viral,” she said, “because I didn’t know what to do with it.”

In the beginning, Miranda Sings was a fairly realistic character. But Ballinger has since hyperbolized Miranda’s personality. These days, Miranda is no less preposterous than Martin Short’s Ed Grimley or Paul Reubens’ Pee Wee Herman.

Despite the character’s outlandishness, people still get confused, according to Miranda fan Haylee Ellison, a student at Carroll High School.

“A lot of people don’t know she’s a character,” Ellison said. “They think she’s an actual person who is just being rude.”

Ellison said Miranda is “a representation of people who think very highly of themselves and don’t care about other people.”

“She is the queen,” she said. “That’s what she calls herself and that’s what her fans call her. She’s very vain. But Colleen herself is super nice and amazing.”

Taylor Jaxtheimer, daughter of Three Rivers Festival chief Jack Hammer, said she appreciates Miranda’s anything-for-a-laugh ethos.

“She has no shame,” she said. “It’s worth it to watch because she is such a ham.”

Part of the character’s appeal, Jaxtheimer said, can be chalked up to a certain guilelessness. Miranda may say and do awful things at times, but her childlike nature robs viewers of the usual indignation.

“The whole thing is that she’s very innocent,” she said. “She doesn’t know when she’s making jokes. She makes a lot of innuendos and double entendres but her persona doesn’t know that they are funny or inappropriate.”

Ellison said she wasn’t sure Miranda wasn’t real until she stumbled upon the videos that Ballinger posts as herself under the PsychoSoprano tag.

“I was like, ‘Thank goodness that is not a real person,’” she said. “‘Because that would be so sad. I would feel so bad for them.’”

When people realize how different Miranda Sings and Colleen Ballinger are, Ellison said, it just makes Miranda funnier.

“After I realized she wasn’t real,” she said, “I spent the next month to two months basically going through and watching every single video she’d made.”

Rumor has it that Ballinger will make one or more appearances as herself during Miranda’s live show (one should expect a performance of her popular song about internet trolls, “Reading Mean Comments”).

And those who can’t make the live show will be able to sample Miranda’s wares in October when Netflix’ debuts a series based on the character called, “Haters Back Off.”

Ballinger told the MLive Media Group in 2012 that she feels immensely lucky for the turn her career has taken.

“I can travel the world and be a goofball and make people laugh,” she said. “It’s kind of ironic to be making a living doing what I was told (in college) not to do.”

She knows such fame can be ephemeral.

“I live every day like this could be the last one, like people could be over this tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t know when it’s going to end. I would totally understand and I’d move on to something else.”

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Fort Forward: More Middle Waves

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(This is my second column on the Middle Waves music festival, published in the print version of Whatzup on Sept. 1)

Festivals are organized by committees, but not many festivals feel the need to engage the services of a vibes committee.

The Middle Waves Music Festival, happening September 16 and 17 at Headwaters Park East and West, has a vibes committee.

It is the vibes committee’s job, according to festival co-organizer Matt Kelley, to make sure the festival gives off the right vibes.

“You know, you have all the usual stuff: logistics and booking and marketing,” he said. “But it was like, ‘Who’s helping this thing have a personality that is distinctly ours?’ That’s what they’re charged with.”

It’s a fair bet that no Fort Wayne event has ever before radiated Middle Waves’ vibes. Middle Waves is a music festival the likes of which Fort Wayne has never seen nor heard.

It could put Fort Wayne “on the map” — a map drawn annually by people who are willing to drive to other states and other time zones for the opportunity to spend several days listening to a live mix tape and basking in vibes.

Middle Waves is what is known as a “destination music festival.” It’s what used to be known to Jack Webb’s counterculture adversaries on “Dragnet” as “a happening.”

People come for the music, of course, but the music is secondary to the ambience, the gist, the camaraderie, the élan.

The vibe.

“Many people in Fort Wayne travel distances large and small to attend destination music festivals,” Kelley said. “The thing you get to experience is the community you’re in. These festivals have a vibe unto themselves. Also…I don’t want to say they’re genre-less. They are curated. But the fact that you can see Kendrick Lamar followed by Radiohead followed by the Avett Brothers and nobody moves…that’s just something that we don’t really see at the festivals that exist right now in Fort Wayne.”

Kelley, who owns the design and marketing firm, One Lucky Guitar, said destination festivals like Middle Waves can’t be marketed like music festivals where a single genre is the theme.

“We have to market the experience,” he said. “And that you might hear Americana and then hip hop and then psychedelic rock and that’s OK. We’re excited about that fact that it will push Fort Wayne out of its comfort zone a little bit in a good way. We want to wake up the next day and say, ‘We did that and we’re cool enough for it.’”

Wondering if we are cool enough for things is a stigma Fort Wayne residents have suffered for decades. But the stigma may be on the wane.

Kelley said he was jogging with a friend of his this summer and his friend wondered aloud if he was cool enough for Middle Waves.

Kelley’s message to his friend and the entire city is: “Yes. You’re cool enough.”

As of last weekend, the festival line-up had been fully announced and it features psychedelic garage rock (Jeff the Brotherhood), post-grunge (Bully), alternative hip-hop (Oddisee), electronic dance music (Tanlines), jazz rap (Sidewalk Chalk), jangle pop (Best Coast) and indie hip-hop (Doomtree).

Local acts will be mixed in throughout, Kelley said.

The news that the Flaming Lips would be headlining the festival generated more shock and astonishment on social media than a string of tornado warnings.

Fort Wayne has hosted popular bands and it has hosted cool bands, but it may never before have hosted a band this popular and cool.

All of this entertainment will occur throughout a Headwaters Park that has been transformed into its own small city: Middlewavesburgh.

And Kelley said he is already hearing from promoters who want to discuss Middle Waves 2017.

“They’re like, ‘What are you doing next year?’ he said. “They’re already planning that far out. They’re presenting options to us, ideas. It’s exciting to think that we’ll have even more options next year.”

Alt-Right Goes To The Movies!

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Like a lot of people, I’d never heard the term “alt-right movement” until two weeks ago when Hillary Clinton mentioned it in a speech.

But after reading about it, I realized that I was well-acquainted with disciples of this movement, owing to my participation in movie-related forums and comments sections.

You aren’t going to find the front line of the alt-right movement at the polls. Instead, you will find it at the multiplex.

These are the guys who insist that they aren’t racist or sexist, really, but believe that armageddon is nigh whenever a traditionally white character is played by a black actor or a traditionally male character is played by female actor.

And when a black, female actor occupies space in a movie that these guys think should be reserved for a white, male actor…they get apoplectic.

They act like normal people do when their house is on fire but the fire truck hasn’t arrived yet. You could catch rabies from reading their comments on these matters.

These are the sort of people who think Leslie Jones is more to blame for the fact that Bill Murray will never star in another “Ghostbusters” movie than Bill Murray is to blame for the fact that Bill Murray will never star in another “Ghostbusters” movie.

Blaming Leslie Jones for the lack of elderly, white and male comedians in the rebooted “Ghostbusters” franchise is like blaming Obama for the lack of penguins in Death Valley, it seems to me.

Which is not to suggest that Breibart wouldn’t accuse Obama of penguincide if it cared at all about perfunctory animal murder.

To reiterate: These people who think Leslie Jones exemplifies all that is wrong with the world and that male-driven action films exemplify everything that’s right insist they aren’t racist or sexist. Some of them see themselves as protectors of a definition of cinematic integrity that defies definition. Others see themselves as soldiers fighting shadowy culture defilers.

Among their many cherished conspiracy theories is that critical consensus is often achieved through bribery.

Whenever a movie about men with superpowers or supergadgets receives a preponderance of bad reviews or an action movie with too many women in it receives a preponderance of good reviews, these fellows laugh (bitterly) at the notion that these poolings of opinion could have happened serendipitously.

It is much easier for them to believe that the critics were paid off by some corporate entity or that all these critics got together beforehand and, in the interests of preserving snobbery or advancing so-called “pussification,” agreed to denigrate, en masse, unassailably great superhero cinema.

Given that most of the movie critics who once wielded real influence in Hollywood have either died or been demoted, I find it hard to believe that studios would spend a dime bribing the bloggers and recent J-school grads who do that job now.

I think it’s obvious to most clear-eyed and clear-headed people that superhero movies are the only guaranteed moneymakers in Hollywood at the moment. Hollywood would put a superhero in every movie if it could get away with it. Anthony Hopkins would be playing omnipotent, flying butlers if Hollywood had its way.

Despite such self-evident and inarguable truths, these guys truly do seem to believe that the superhero genre is imperiled, that it is on the verge of being banished utterly in the interest of feminizing men by indoctrinating them with high culture and strong female characters.

I wish I were kidding.

The aforementioned term “pussification” and its variants have been used against me. It refers, presumably, to the process by which a man is turned into a “pussy.”

“Mangina” is another one, as in male vagina.

Because I enjoyed the new “Ghostbusters” and because I don’t require my female action heroes to fight crime while dressed as lingerie models and dominatrices, I am repeatedly told that I must possess a mangina.

And I always reply, “Of course I have a mangina! I am proud of it. It is all manjazzled out. So bright is my manjazzling that it would blind your piggy, little eyes.”

Playground taunts like these are the exclusive purview of men whose sense of their own manhood is built on the shakiest of foundations. If you are employing such epithets and if they work on you, then you really do have something to worry about.

If you are the sort of man who entreats other men to “grow a pair” on social media several times a day, you should probably ask yourself why you have such an inordinate interest in other men’s pairs.

If all this sounds confusing to you, I know what you mean. Arguing logically with these guys is like trying to comb your hair with egg beaters.

But perhaps the preceding gobbledegook can serve as a preface of sorts to understanding why these guys hate Leslie Jones so vehemently and particularly.

Of all the things they find egregious about the “Ghostbusters” reboot, Jones is the most egregious.

And I’ll tell you why: She’s this blunt, unbridled, self-confident and successful black actress who makes no apologies, explicit or implied, for who she is.

Her existence triggers them. They need a safe space for their racism and sexism and she refuses to create one.

They think that they’re owed a world in which actresses are always the window dressing and never the window.

Even as they attack Jones with racist jibes that were old when Lincoln was president, they behave as if they are the injured parties.

Some of them may even believe it.

They’re gargantuan boys who failed to outgrow dumb ideas and were subsequently encouraged by slightly more clever man-children to turn those dumb ideas into a life philosophy.

They’ve been told by people like Milo Yiannopoulos that trolling, which is essentially blaming strangers for your comprehensive and interminable failures, can be a force for good in society.

It’s unmitigated horseshit.

As movements go, alt-right most closely resembles the bowel variety.

Long May It Run

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Sarah Payne grew up in Auburn, so the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival loomed large in her young life.

Four years ago, after a stint managing Riverfest at IPFW, Payne was put in charge of the ACD Fest as its executive director.

“It was kind of like a coming home,” she said.

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival launched in 1956, which makes it thirteen years older than the biggest festival in Auburn’s municipal neighbor to the north, the Three Rivers Festival.

This year’s 60th Anniversary ACD Fest starts with a wine tasting on August 27 and concludes with a cocktail reception on September 4.

Managing events like these is tricky. You have to please the people for whom the festival is a beloved, venerable tradition and you have to make new fans as well.

“It definitely is a balancing act,” Payne said. “When I started with the festival a couple of years ago, we even ended up reevaluating our mission statement.”

Payne said the festival shifted its focus from pleasing current automotive enthusiasts to fostering future ones.

“We literally have strong festival supporters who pass away ever year,” she said. “So how do you get newer generations involved in something that is for many financially out of reach?”

One way is to add flashy new events like the Fast & Fabulous show, which debuted last year.

Any resemblance to real movie franchises, filming or wrapped, is purely delightful.

Fast & Fabulous features exotic and luxury cars that can’t be seen anywhere else.

“Last year, our goal was the have 25 cars come,” she said, “and we ended up with 50. It was awesome. It was just spectacular. They were just amazing cars. And partnering those with having these old cars downtown was just amazing. After the festival, I heard so many compliments. That night really was the first time in a long time that this younger crowd – teenagers, twentysomethings – were really interested in checking out the cars. I feel like we really hit the nail on the head with that event.”

Payne said she thinks they may see as many as 100 cars at the Fast & Fabulous event this year.

One of the goals with the festival going forward, she said, is to get a message out to people who are not necessarily obsessive about classic cars that the festival has a lot to offer them.

“Cars are the stars of the show, obviously,” Payne said. “But we want to make sure that people recognize that, even if you aren’t necessarily a car enthusiast, there’s a lot to do.

“I remember this old commercial for Indiana Beach: ‘There’s more than corn in Indiana,” she said. “Well we’re kind of branding ourselves as: ‘There’s more than cars in Auburn.’”

This year’s festival will feature auctions, a flea market, a parade, a swap meet, a wine tasting, a gala ball, a pancake breakfast, a formal dinner, a speakeasy, a pageant, numerous concerts and food trucks, an ice cream social and many other happenings.

The ACD Festival is one of those unique events that is composed of official and peripheral fun. The automotive enthusiasts who show up participate in official events and throw their own shindigs as well.

Payne said festival attendance is 100,000 and calls that a conservative estimate. She said as many as 700 or 800 vintage and collectible cars will be on display during the Friday Downtown Cruise-In on September 2.

Roughly 5000 cars will be featured at the festival in various contexts, she said.

Attendees and participants come from across the globe, Payne said.

When one considers that 100,000 people annually descend on a city with a permanent population of about 12,000, it does not seem as if there’d be much room for growth.

But Payne said she thinks there is space to expand a bit.

“We want to do it in such a way that we make sure we can accommodate,” she said. “We laugh: Our hotels in Auburn tend to fill up a year in advance. But what we’re finding is that there are hotels on the north side of Fort Wayne, Kendallville and Angola that can really benefit from the festival. So I don’t think we’re at capacity.”

Attendance can grow, she said, but what organizers are really hoping to do is to increase the festival’s demographic reach.

“I’m not an automotive enthusiast myself,” she said, “but I am an Auburn enthusiast. And so if I can instill what this festival means to our community in others here; hopefully, we have a fighting chance to get our kids and, hopefully, their kids to care and keep it alive.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Devil is in the Details

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Charlie Daniels first went on tour around 1971 and he may still be on the very same tour.

That’s hyperbole but the man has always worked hard.

He’ll turn 80 years old in October but he still takes a stage somewhere in the world about half the nights of a year.

In a phone interview, Daniels said his love of music is the reason for his force of will.

“I just love what I do and God has blessed me with the energy to do it,” he said. “If I didn’t enjoy it, it would aggravate me to death.”

Daniels performs at the Foellinger Theatre on September 1.

To people who can’t believe his stamina, Daniels jokes that he only works a couple of hours a day.

“When you only work a couple of hours a day,” he said, “you’d better make the most of them.”

Even though he was fitted with a pacemaker a few years back, Daniels said music still makes him leap out of bed in the morning.

Daniels came into national prominence in 1979 with the hit, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” surely one of the greatest story songs and one of the greatest crossover songs in the history of country music.

It was constructed one day during a jam session from phrases that had been rattling around in Daniels’ head: “Oh, hell’s broke loose in Georgia,” “Fire on the mountains” and “rosin up the bow,” among them.

They are all from a poem by Stephen Vincent Benet called “The Mountain Whippoorwill” about a fiddle contest without the diabolical implications of the resulting song.

He and his band have surely played it thousands of times, but Daniels said he never tires of revisiting it or any of his hits.

“The reason is that I always get a fresh chance to play better tonight than I did last night,” he said. “I haven’t done anything perfect yet.”

Daniels said he has never understood performers who seem resentful and combative during concerts.

“There’s really no downside to entertaining people,” he said. “If they like what you’re doing, you should like what you’re doing.”

Touring can be hard on the touring musician’s family, but Daniels said his wife and son have always accepted the trappings of his chosen profession.

“My family always understood what I am trying to do and were willing to go along with it,” he said. “As soon as my son started college, I outfitted a bus so my wife could be with me.

“We’ve been traveling together ever since,” Daniels said. “I’d quit if my wife were not with me. I’d hang it up. We have an adventure every day.”

It was about 50 years ago that Daniels drove a clunker to Nashville with a wife, baby and $20.

One of his first major gigs was playing electric bass for Bob Dylan on his controversial “Nashville Skyline” album.

Dylan subsequently hired him to play on “Self Portrait” and “New Morning” as well.

The music business has had its up and downs since then (mostly downs), but Daniels is fairly insulated from all that thanks to his loyal following.

Daniels releases new music (including a recent collection of acoustic Dylan covers) on his own label, “Blue Hat Records.”

“It’s a good situation,” he said. “I’ve been at this a long time and I didn’t want to be under some record company where I can’t operate the way I want to, where I can’t pick my own songs and musicians, where some A&R guy is trying to tell me what to sound like. I want to sound like me.”

Daniels said the Dylan album was inspired by some work his band did for the AMC show “Hell on Wheels.” They were restricted to playing period instruments – all pre-1900 – and the music they made sounded so good to them that they decided to come up with an excuse to keep playing it, or something very much like it. Thus, the Dylan album.

Daniels lives and records far enough away from Nashville to be estranged from the Nashville “scene.”

“We’re out in the country,” he said. “Our offices are out there. Everything is in the country. I love Nashville. But what goes on in Nashville has very little to do with what we do and the way we want to do it.”

Daniels said he doesn’t listen to enough contemporary country radio to weigh in with an opinion on it.

But he does observe that the system seems designed to discourage rather than encourage multitalented individuals like Zac Brown from forging ahead.

Daniels intends to keep forging ahead. The only thing that would convince him to retire would be physical limitations.

“I’d have to live to 150-years-old to get to all the ideas I have,” he said. “I am never short of ideas. I don’t ever want to do a bad show, however. I don’t move around as fast as I used to but music still loves me and I can move around pretty good for a senior citizen. But I have way too much respect for the music industry to stay after the fruit is past ripe. If I ever felt like I was not giving people their money’s worth, I’d stop.”