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Mushroomhead; Vicki McCrone; The Smoking Popes; South by Southwest

All that's missing are Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow. A Footloose-esque drama is playing out in Streetsboro, since theatrical metal band Mushroomhead was booked to headline an April 24 show at the high school to benefit WSTB/88.9-FM, the school's student radio station.

Last Friday afternoon, about a hundred Streetsboro High School students protested the cancellation of the show at City Hall. Streetsboro Mayor Sally Henzel is citing safety reasons for the cancellation, but event organizer and WSTB Promotions Director Mike Kuhstos breathlessly accuses the mayor of caving to pressure from area religious leaders. "We went through every route we had to go through," he says. "We went to the police chief, the fire chief, the school board."

Kuhstos says he got clearance from the appropriate suits and badges, but the mayor wouldn't sign the necessary permit, and now the police chief is squawking. "All of these concerns," Kuhstos says, "are coming out now instead of December," when the show was presented to the school board.

Kuhstos, who is 24, says that he has done everything he can to make certain the event, Spring Mosh '99, runs safely and smoothly. He's hired security, bought insurance, and capped ticket sales at 1,500, even though he was told the high school gym could hold 2,000. (Mayor Henzel wanted the number dropped to 800, which Kuhstos says is unacceptable.) What irks Kuhstos is that high school students can see Mushroomhead in a bar, but "we're bringing them to a place where there is no alcohol ...It's something for the kids to do and keep them interested, so they're not in the streets and partying in hotels."

Two pastors (one in Streetsboro, one in Aurora) and Phil Chalmers, a local man who warns of the dangers of secular rock music at churches around the country, complained to the school board about the Mushroomhead concert. The board stood by its decision to permit the station to hold the concert. Kuhstos says the religious leaders got to Henzel, adding that they're "trying to shock the community."

Isn't that what Mushroomhead does?
"Um . . . yes," Kuhstos says. The band, he says, did agree to tone down its act: no nudity, no onstage crowd participation.

Tuesday night, Streetsboro High students were planning to protest Henzel's decision at the Streetsboro City Council meeting. To her credit, the mayor did speak to students at Friday's rally for 45 minutes. Some protestors vowed to run her out of office when her term is up in the fall and they are of voting age. (Monday, Henzel did not return Scene phone calls.)

Funny how these things always work out the same way: Kids want to rock. Adults get frightened. Kids are told they can't rock. Kids dedicate themselves to the cause, showing remarkable organizational skills. Adults look silly, out-of-touch, paranoid. Adults relent. Or they don't, and the kids get angrier.

And the band laughs heartily as waves of publicity come crashing in.

*****
Vicki McCrone says that she's "kind of a geek." But geeks, as they move through life, start to realize the spoils of nerdiness. McCrone, who grew up in Lyndhurst, released her first full-length CD last month on a label based in San Francisco, where she now lives. She's keeping her day job in computer marketing.

McCrone, who last week took a working vacation to promote the CD in Cleveland, is a pop artist any parent could be proud of. While attending Brush High School, she sang with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the church choir, and played tennis competitively. Her mother was a professional singer, but McCrone graduated with a marketing degree from Miami University in 1985. "She recognized how difficult singing was and pushed me toward business," McCrone says of her mother.

McCrone thought about studying music at Oberlin, but figured that she might have trouble paying the bills with a piano or voice degree. After college McCrone sold Lanier dictation equipment. In 1994 she moved to San Francisco for the computer job. The record's title, Blessed With a Curse, is an expression of the satisfaction she derives from writing and singing, and the reality of food, clothing, and shelter. "Sometimes it feels like a blessing," she says. "Sometimes it feels like a curse."

McCrone says that she's been writing songs since she was five years old. Her touch is light. Blessed With a Curse's pleasant, keyboard-driven pop stroll makes Sheryl Crow sound like Black Oak Arkansas. It was recorded in London, Nashville, Chicago, and San Francisco; guest musicians included drummer Matt Walker (who has worked with Smashing Pumpkins), bass player Richard Patterson (Boz Scaggs, Luther Vandross), and harmonica player Howard Levy. Says McCrone of Levy: "He's such a legend. That I could share music with someone like that is so great."

*****
The Smoking Popes were scheduled to play the Grog Shop March 20. It won't happen. The band broke up after frontman Josh Caterer declared his allegiance to Jesus. "I'll basically continue to write pop songs," Caterer told the Chicago Reader, "but they're all going to be about the gospel."

According to the Reader, Caterer got hip to Christianity a few years ago. He decided to leave the secular music world after watching the young people react to the Popes at a concert last summer. "I asked myself, 'What am I saying to them? What am I giving them?' and I realized the only thing I could give them that would be of any value would be Jesus Christ."

An all-covers record the Popes cut before Caterer enlisted in the God Squad is in limbo. Caterer plans to make an acoustically played EP of gospel tunes, while the rest of the band hopes to release a collection of early Popes singles.

*****
Four more Ohio bands/artists are scheduled to perform at the March 17-20 South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas: singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur (Akron), spoken-word artist Ray McNiece (Willoughby), the Eric Jeradi Band, and Guided by Voices (Dayton). As mentioned here previously, Hillbilly Idol, Poplolly, Tim Easton, and the Tigerlilies will also represent the Buckeye State at the booze-and-croon conference ...Doors tribute band Moonlight Drive celebrates its eighteenth anniversary March 6 at the Flying Machine. Singer Bill Pettijohn has outlasted the original Doors by ten years ...Dumpster Chameleon will record its March 6 set at the Grog Shop for a CD release. The band opens for Chicago pop-rockers Dovetail Joint ...Jeannine St. Clair, formerly of Cherry Bomb, debuts her aggressive hard rock band at Peabody's DownUnder March 10.

More by David W. Martin

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