Sunflower Bean

From the stages of Glastonbury, Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Reading, and Leeds, as well as a recent sell-out at New York City’s Terminal 5, Sunflower Bean will open VersoFest 2023 at The Westport Library.

The Brooklyn-based band will take the stage for an intimate kickoff concert at the state-of-the-art Verso Studios Trefz Forum venue on Thursday, March 30, at 7 pm. DJ HYSTERICA will serve as the in-house DJ for the evening.

The festival will continue on Friday evening featuring headlining act The Smithereens featuring Marshall Crenshaw, with Amilia K Spicer kicking off the evening and the legendary Miriam Linna serving as DJ. A full slate of programs and workshops round out VersoFest 2023 on Saturday and Sunday, with famed producer Steve Lillywhite delivering the keynote Saturday afternoon.

VersoFest is a multi-day music and media festival/conference born out of Verso Studios at The Westport Library. Verso Studios is a library branch of the 21st century focusing on multimedia programming and commercial services as well as educational and content creation opportunities.

“Sunflower Bean is a prime example of a young band making their name through accessible media, blurring and fusing artforms and worlds, striving to make the world a better place through their art and activism,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “In 2023, Sunflower Bean exemplifies the virtues and aspirations of Verso Studios and The Westport Library. This is a magical pairing tying the local to the global, micro to macro.”

Sunflower Bean frontperson, New York City-raised singer-songwriter Julia Cumming, arrives at her dad's adopted home base of Fairfield County hot off the band’s headlining presence at South by Southwest 2023. Recently, Sunflower Bean’s Headful of Sugar was named #41 of Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of 2022, and Consequence of Sound proudly referred to the band as “one of the most consistent and beloved staples of the scene.”

Cumming (bass, lead vocals), Nick Kivlen (guitars, backing vocals), and Olive Faber (drums) formed Sunflower Bean in early 2013, “made up of young people staring down a terrifying future and finding camaraderie in the eclectic rock ‘n’ roll aesthetics.”

Their 2014 College Music Journal Music Marathon performance received press from (among others) Jon Pareles of The New York Times, who described their sound as “… what might have happened if psychedelia had emerged after punk and the Police rather than before."

The band has toured extensively with artists as disparate as Beck, Cage the Elephant, Interpol, Courtney Barnett, The Pixies, The Kills, DIIV, Courtney Barnett, and Wolf Alice.

Outside music, Cumming programs events through her project Anger Can Be Power, inspiring young people, particularly women, into concrete political action.

She is also active in fashion, with Yves Saint Laurent Creative Director Hedi Slimane having signed Cumming to an exclusive modeling contract. Cumming has been frequently cited as “Hedi’s muse.” Her career has expanded to modeling for top, au courant designers like Anna SuiElsa SchiaparelliMax MaraRochas and Fausto Puglisi, as well as global campaigns for H&M and Diesel.

Cumming is an active member in the Model Alliance, a group that advocates for the enforcement of existing child labor and contract laws, promotes equal opportunity, and fosters a culture of accountability in the fashion industry.

Cumming is the daughter of Cynthia Harden and Alec Cumming, the latter a familiar Fairfield County presence at 89.5 WPKN FM with his Snap Crackle POP! radio shows and frequent vinyl DJ sets at Berlinetta Brewing.

Joining Sunflower Bean for the evening is DJ HYSTERICA, who has been igniting DJ decks throughout the tri-state area with her selections of 60s psych, garage, glam, power pop, ye-ye, greasy R&B, new wave, dark wave, and punk. This extends to HYSTERICA's weekly Monday 3 pm Some Weird Sin show on WFMU's Sheena's Jungle Room and monthly Rock 'n' Roll Radio show on WHUS.

Tickets for Thursday night’s show are $25 in advance and available via Eventbrite. All VersoFest 2023 concerts are co-produced with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

DJ HYSTERICA
The Smithereens with Marshall Crenshaw

The Smithereens, the famed American rock band with a string of hits running from the 1980s into the 2000s, will headline Friday night’s VersoFest concert slot at The Westport Library on March 31 at 7 pm. Singer/songwriter and new wave pioneer Marshall Crenshaw takes the role of Smithereen lead vocals for the night.

Americana musician Amilia K Spicer opens the evening fresh off rave reviews from NPR, Popdose, and No Depression, and the legendary Miriam Linna DJs the night with 45s from one of the most-revered record collections in the world.

VersoFest is a multi-day music and media festival/conference born out of Verso Studios at The Westport Library. Verso Studios is a library branch of the 21st century focusing on multimedia programming and commercial services as well as educational and content creation opportunities. The festival opens Thursday, March 30, and will continue with a full slate of programs and workshops Saturday and Sunday, April 1-2, with famed producer Steve Lillywhite delivering the keynote Saturday afternoon.

“This is a remarkable collection of talented artists to be joining us in one evening,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “The Smithereens are an institution, Amilia is a rising star, and Miriam is one of music’s leading lights. That they’re all coming to the Library to perform is a testament to the enduring power of music in our community and the continued growth of VersoFest in its second year.”

Founded in New Jersey in 1980, The Smithereens have been creating electrifying, original rock ‘n’ roll for 42 years. Jim Babjak (guitar), Dennis Diken (drums), and Mike Mesaros (bass) grew up together in Carteret, and lead singer, the late Pat DiNizio, hailed from Scotch Plains. The Smithereens formed their take-no-prisoners, East Coast roots-rock sound inspired by a well of rock ‘n’ roll predecessors including Buddy Holly, The Who, Nick Lowe, and The Move.

The Smithereens’ fame escalated in the late 1980s and 1990s with hits like “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “A Girl Like You,” and “Only a Memory,” and the band was in heavy rotation on MTV and appeared on The Tonight Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and Saturday Night Live. Over the course of 17 albums and 2,500+ live shows, The Smithereens have performed on stages coast to coast from the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles to Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, and internationally from Europe to Australia. Tourmates have included Tom Petty, Squeeze, The Pretenders, Lou Reed, and Ramones, among others.

After the 2017 passing of DiNizio, the surviving members decided to persevere and carry on their shared musical legacy, showcasing guest vocalists Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms and singer/songwriter Crenshaw. 

Miriam Linna (L) and Amilia K Spicer (photo credit: Virginia Conesa)

Spicer, who hails from Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, describes her Americana/folk rock style as “red-dirt noir, evoking majestic vistas — and shadowy mysteries.” Her 2017 album Wow and Flutter featured contributions from bassist Daryl Johnson (Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan), keyboardists Rami Jaffee (Wallflowers/Foo Fighters) and Mike Finnigan (Bonnie Raitt/Taj Mahal), pedal steel player Eric Heywood (Son Volt), and guitarists Tony Gilkyson (X, Lone Justice) and Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams). PopDose said of Spicer’s offering, “Wow and Flutter certainly makes it worth the wait for longtime admirers; it’s also a compelling entry point for new fans and one of the best albums, any genre, of the past decade.”

Linna is a founding member of the Cramps, co-founder with her late husband Billy Miller of leading primitive/garage/punk/R&B label Norton Records and hip pocket paperback publisher Kicks Books, as well as the mastermind of Kicksville Radio. On Sunday, April 2, Linna will be the subject of VersoFest’s Music Oral History program, moderated by Beehive Queen and SNL singer Christine Ohlman.

Tickets for Friday night’s show are $40 in advance and available via Eventbrite. All VersoFest 2023 concerts are co-produced with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.


The Westport Museum for History & Culture is teaming up with Verso Studios at The Westport Library for a new community partnership podcast, Buried in Our Past, focusing on the histories all around us that have been lost to time.

Surprising, exciting, and sometimes peculiar, the series shares research unearthed by Westport Museum that offers a new way of looking at the past and rethinking the present.

The podcast is recorded at The Westport Library’s Verso Studios, with new episodes coming out monthly and available on the Library’s YouTube channel and podcast platforms Apple and Spotify.

“We are always looking for new ways to get people excited about history,” said Ramin Ganeshram, executive director of Westport Museum. “Working with the Library's spectacular Verso Studios to produce Buried in Our Past allows Westport Museum to reach audiences in a new way, which we hope will whet the appetite for more.”

The debut episode, available now, features the true story of the first Thanksgiving with guest Greg Porretta, a Julliard-trained actor and Westport Museum board member.

“We’re very excited to welcome Westport Museum as a vital community organization working with our Verso Studios to engage listeners on fascinating historical topics,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “Buried in Our Past is an excellent and natural concept met with our technical expertise and creative guidance. It’s continually thrilling to see Verso Studios’ mission to serve an inclusive, future-forward cultural and learning center come to fruition.”

For more about Verso Studios community partnership podcasts, visit our webpage and check out our playlist on YouTube. Click here to learn more about Westport Museum.

Continuing Verso Studios’ education initiative, the Fairfield County-based organization LiveGirl will co-host a nine-week Leadership Lab for high school girls, grades 9-12, at The Westport Library. Sessions start on October 3 and run each Monday through December 14. The program is free, with pre-registration required.

Founded in 2014, LiveGirl is a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization that strives to build confident, inclusive leaders. Its mission is “to prepare the next generation of diverse, brave female leaders with the skills, community, and connections so that all girls may thrive and make a positive impact on the world. LiveGirl’s vision is to contribute to a world free from both gender and racial inequality.”

Utilizing the state-of-the-art Verso Studios media facilities at the Library, the LiveGirl Leadership Lab will focus on creative arts empowerment, multimedia expression, and training. Participants will foster their storytelling skills and be exposed to multiple creative channels such as video, music, and podcast production.

“Our girls have stories to tell that are worth hearing about,” said LiveGirl Program Director Shamare Holmes. “Partnering with Verso introduces LiveGirl’s Leadership Lab participants to practical media channels they can navigate to share their narratives in ways that are relative to the culture. This opportunity will also provide transferable skills that can help further their cause throughout high school, college, and/or the workplace. Our girls are truly looking forward to finding their ‘Lab Language.’”

“As an organization committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion, as well as engaging the next generation, I’m beyond excited that Verso Studios is partnering with LiveGirl,” Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer said. “We envisioned that Verso Studios user base would be limitless in multimedia training and learning. This Leadership Lab represents Verso and the Westport Library team executing on that vision to deliver a program we think will be of great value to the community.”

This Leadership Lab will feature frequent Verso Studios collaborator and patron Sheneta Walker, who will serve in a mentor capacity to the group.

Register for the LiveGirl collaboration with The Westport Library by clicking here. While the program is free, spots are limited.

Famed keyboardist and noted producer and radio host Mark Naftalin is bringing his talents to The Westport Library as part of a new series of blues concerts to be held monthly, starting in September.

Mark Naftalin's Blue Sunday kicks off on Sunday, September 18, from 3 to 5 pm, presented by The Westport Library and Verso Studios. It will be hosted by Naftalin, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer who rose to fame as the keyboardist with the influential Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

The Blue Sunday kickoff will feature singing guitarists Chance Browne (The Twinkies, Hi and Lois artist), Chris “Otis” Cross (Otis and the Hurricanes) and Paul Gabriel (Blue In The Face, Paul Gabriel Blues Band, Connecticut Blues Society Lifetime Achievement Award); singing harmonicists Manny Foglio (Manny and the Mojomatics) and Mark Zaretsky (Cobalt Rhythm Kings); bassist David Anastasia (Mojomatics, Walter Lewis Blues Trio, The Zero Boys); percussionists Matt Moadel (Mystic Bowie, Fuzz On It, The David Morgan Trio, Portal) and Barry Urich (Blue In The Face, Jose Feliciano); accordionist-pianist-vocalist Smokin’ Joe Najmy (Otis and the Hurricanes, Mill River Band); sax master Crispin Cioe (Albert Collins, James Cotton, Uptown Horns, Cracked Ice); washboard wizard Washboard Slim (Washboard Slim & The Blue Lights); and Naftalin on piano.  

Pathbreakers in the 1960s blues boom, the inter-racial Butterfield Band opened doors for blues masters like B.B. King and Muddy Waters, and Naftalin went on to record and/or perform with a host of blues stars, including Michael Bloomfield, James Cotton, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Percy Mayfield, Carla Thomas, Irma Thomas, Otis Rush, Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner, and many others. In 2015 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. 

Living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area, Naftalin produced more than 1,300 blues radio broadcasts on three FM stations, in addition and more than 30 blues festivals. His Blue Sunday at The Westport Library is a nod to his Blue Monday Party, a weekly blues show and dance in the Bay Area (1979-83) that featured more than 60 blues artists and groups and was the scene of 86 live radio broadcasts and three TV specials. 

In 2002, Mark and his wife, Ellen, moved to Westport, which is Ellen's hometown. His monthly broadcast, The Mark Naftalin Show, is now in its seventh year on Bridgeport's WPKN (89.5 FM, streaming world-wide at wpkn.org). 

Mark says he is “pleased as punch” to be collaborating with The Westport Library and Verso Studios on a blues series.

Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer said, “Blue Sunday capitalizes on the success of Verso Studios music and media festival VersoFest and the adventurous Chris Frantz Presents Emerging Musicians series. The Westport Library is honored to be working with yet another storied Westport creative resident as we build upon our mutual legacies.”

The events are free, but registration is required via this link.

L to R: Frank Critelli, The Sawtelles

The Westport Farmers’ Market and Verso Studios are teaming up to bring some of the best original Connecticut talent to the 10 am to 2 pm music performance slot. 

With Verso Studios curating, Local Bands Show host and singer/songwriter/troubadour Frank Critelli (New Haven) and Friends will be playing Thursday, September 1. The Sawtelles follow October 13 with their sparse and intricately arranged pop.

“It is super exciting to host our neighbors from The Westport Library’s Verso Studios at the market,” Westport Farmers’ Market Director Lori Cochran-Dougall said. “We are mutually such big fans of one another that this seems like a natural fit.”

“Going to the he Westport Farmers’ Market is such a quintessential part of the Westport experience,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “That the Library and Verso Studios can be part of that is really cool for us, and we hope fun for everyone who visits.”

Thomas Henske stands at the Verso Studios mixing board with Westport Library Sound Studios Manager Travis Bell. (Photo credit: Jerri Graham)
Tom Henske (right) in Verso Studios with Westport Library Sound Studios Manager Travis Bell. (Photo credit: Jerri Graham)

A financial advisor for 27 years and Westport resident for 20 years, Tom Henske knows his way around his field and his town. It was thinking about the two in tandem that brought him to a realization that has set him on a new path — and launched his latest endeavor.

“Westport is an affluent community,” said Henske, “and my concern was that the shoemakers’ kids were not going to have the right shoes! I needed to teach my kids about money, or at least get them thinking about it. I went looking for material to teach my son and there was nothing out there. It only took me years and years later, but finally, with the help of The Westport Library, we were able to create this amazing project together.”

That project is Total Cents, a 12-part Verso Studios Community Partnership Podcast that delivers advice and discussion points on financial literacy for teens. Each episode tackles key concepts in digestible 6- to 12-minute segments. Season One topics include insurance, money safety, legal documents, investing, saving, spending, the value of a dollar, and charitable giving.

[Related: Total Cents Podcast, Season One]

“It’s really a health and wellness podcast when you think about it,” Henske said. “One of the most important things for your kids to learn before they go to college is learning the basic jargon around money terms. If they don’t, they will be forever behind. They’ll start their first job out of college and won’t enroll in a retirement plan or get the right type of health insurance. All these are habits that need to be learned and practiced.

“The people who are financially successful have good habits, just like anything in life — it could be good eating habits, good exercising habits — it’s just having good money habits.”

Each podcast is reinforced by funny and topical TikTok videos appealing to teens, conversation guides for parents, and anecdotes from Henske’s forthcoming book (It Makes Total Cents: 12 Conversations to Change Your Child’s Future).

Henske acknowledges that the series has some stealth teaching components that may end up helping parents realize their own financial futures while they educate the next generation. He hopes grown-up conversations around money can help galvanize and advance other generational discussion on other potentially difficult topics.

As for Henske’s experience at Verso Studios, the longtime financial advisor and first-time podcaster said that “it was daunting for me at first to walk into the recording studio, which looks like NASA mission control. But the beauty of working with The Westport Library on this project is that Verso Studios made it really easy for me. They coached me along the way. What makes this project so special is that it’s not just one person; it’s collaborative. The experience could not have been better.”

***

For more information on the Verso Studios Community Partnership Podcast initiative, contact [email protected].

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