Willy Deville, musical polymath and subject of "Heaven Stood Still." Photo by Duana LeMay.

From Todd Haynes' groundbreaking Velvet Underground documentary to Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein’s acclaimed The U.S. and the Holocaust to JIB Productions popular Short Cuts program (featuring selections from Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW), Verso Studios and The Westport Library are fast becoming a regional film hub for Fairfield County, the State of Connecticut, and the tri-state area.

Formally tying all of these emerging elements together is the May 19 launch of the Lundberg Family Foundation Masters Film Series, featuring the Connecticut premiere of a rising new documentary, Heaven Stood Still: The Incarnations of Willy DeVille, directed by Connecticut native Larry Locke.

The film event is free with registration, with doors at 6:30 pm and the film screening at 7 pm.

The Westport Library’s Lundberg Family Foundation Masters Film Series will showcase films and filmmakers, celebrating contemporary masters, innovative new voices, and emerging artists. This series provides an experiential and community-forward cinema experience, acting as a bridge between emerging independent production and established innovation. Special film screenings are coupled with master class sessions that educate and inspire on modes of production and storytelling craft, as well as technical, philosophical, and historical aspects.

The Trefz Forum, an ideal space for film. A recent snap from VersoFest 2023's screening of filmmaker Steve Gaddis's "Alice Cooper: Live from the AstroTurf."

“We thank the Lundberg Family Foundation for supporting and igniting an engaging series that builds up Connecticut’s dynamic film community," said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “This is an exciting endeavor that showcases the strength of Verso Studios facilities with our 18-foot HD screen and concert-grade sound system. If you haven’t caught a film screening, now is the time to come out. The series also lends itself to the mission of Verso University: Audiences will get insider perspective and philosophy from an eclectic mix of filmmakers that will prove to be invaluable.”

Fusing a trailblazing film series with a trailblazing artist, Heaven Stood Still chronicles the American singer, Stamford, Connecticut-born Willy DeVille, who leapt out of the 1970s CBGB punk scene in New York City with his band Mink DeVille. Deville traversed to New Orleans as soul singer, blossoming into the premier voice of American roots music on the continent of Europe for more than three decades.

“Being a part of the inaugural Lundberg Family Foundation Masters Film Series, bringing Willy back home to Connecticut, it means everything,” says Heaven Stood Still Director Larry Locke (pictured above, next to the film poster). “As rock legend Peter Wolf says about Willy’s performance, ‘It’s atomic. It’s huge. And it always stays with you.’ You will never forget Willy DeVille." 

"Heaven Stood Still," production still of interview subject, and "Stand By Me" soul pioneer Ben E. King.

Heaven Stood Still features Westport locals Chris Frantz and Crispin Cioe, who star in the film. Cioe also serves as a producer. Heaven Stood Still has enjoyed a propelling and impressive start, with a series of sold-out screenings across Europe and a sold-out, star-studded New York City premiere just months ago.

After the screening, there will be a Q&A with the filmmakers, including Locke, writers Nick Flynn and John Eskow, Frantz, Cioe, along with Willy's niece, Marlene O'Brien DeVille.

Master classes, led by Locke, will follow, on June 14 and 21, entitled, "Finding the Best Story to Tell Your Story." Both will be held from 2 to 3 pm in Brooks Place, on the Library's main level. The class will focus on techniques to convert a film concept into a compelling documentary story. Attendees will be shown examples in current films and also participate in the development process for a new film currently in pre-production.

The beautiful, bright yellow, limited edition vinyl LP of Verso Records: Volume One has arrived — and it’s time to celebrate the artists, conspirators, and community that has brought forth the first vinyl record ever to be recorded, produced, and released by a public library.

Saturday, June 3, marks the official release of the album, which culls 12 live tracks from Connecticut and tri-state area artists, recorded by Audio Studios Manager and in-house sound engineer Travis Bell at The Westport Library’s Verso Studios.

The Library will be celebrating the occasion with a record release party, to be held at 7 pm in the Trefz Forum, featuring live performances from four of the bands and artists represented on the album. Registration can be found here.

The release party is free and open to the public. There is also a $25 ticket option that includes a copy of Verso Records, Volume One and a free drink. For those without a record player, a digital copy of the album will also be available for $10.

Verso Records, Volume One features a diverse array of talent across all genres (rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, hip hop, folk, indie) heralding the oft-unsung heroes of the region. Standout tracks include indie-rock band Daniprobably’s “Cowboy,” produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Peter Katis (Interpol, The National, Kurt Vile, Sharon Von Etten); futuristic hip-hop from MIGHTYMOONCHEW with “Jus Bcuz,” produced by influential hip-hop icon Dooley-O; Alexandra Burnet & The Stable Six’s lush, ethereal, eight-piece arrangement of the meditative “You’re Okay,” and many others.

The album is currently available for pre-order at versorecords.westportlibrary.org. Preorders can be picked up at the release party, or they will be shipped starting June 5.

“The fruits of our grand vision and tireless labor are here,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “I am thrilled to be celebrating this momentous achievement for Verso Studios. This is a historic snapshot of the current Connecticut and tri-state area music scene. This album is eclectic, powerful, fun, and shows the world what community and vision can do when we band together.”

The night will be punctuated by a social listening party and live music by returning Verso rockers The Problem With Kids Today (New Haven), indie rock mainstay Ports of Spain (New Haven), Lulu Lewis duo Dylan Hundley & Pablo Martin (NYC), and dreamy folk/americana artist Kierstin Sieser (Middletown), backed by a few familiar faces.

Many of the Verso Records, Volume One artists, bands, and crew will be in attendance, as well as many Verso-related artists and VersoFest talent.

A new spring/summer is on the horizon, and with it comes a new podcast for Verso Studios with familiar Westport Writing Workshop leaders, Patricia Dunn and Tessa Smith McGovern.

Go Ahead, Write Something “is for writers who want motivation and the deep-down truths about getting published, and how to find joy in writing and sharing your work with the world.”

The official podcast launch begins this month with five episodes available via traditional podcast aggregators, including Dunn and Smith McGovern’s StoryFest 2023 discussion with bestselling fantasy author Naomi Novik. Go Ahead, Write Something will have monthly offerings with guests scheduled through September of this year.

Recently, Verso Studios Marketing Manager Brendan Toller caught up with Verso’s latest podcasters:

Toller: Give us some background on your own writing paths.  

Dunn and Smith McGovern: We have both been writing since childhood and teaching writing for over 20 years. We are both published authors. It took a lot of hard work to get there, and it still continues to. We had to face a lot of rejections along the way, but an important thing that kept us going was working with other writers, reading their stories, hearing them speak. None of us are "just" writers. We play many roles: caretakers, parents, partners, working at other jobs to help pay the bills, but knowing we are not alone is what makes all the difference.

Tell us about your new podcast.

This podcast is for readers and aspiring writers who want to hear the voices of published authors, some of them bestsellers with multiple books, others debuting authors, talking about their work and their journeys to publication. We hope to help aspiring writers, and even established ones, through the sharing of stories by authors, to inspire them and let them know they belong to a bigger community of writers who are cheering them on.

You both teach and lead writing groups. This podcast seems like a fitting extension to reach a wider audience using Verso Studios? Talk about your experience with Verso.

It's been a dream! The state-of-the-art studio is incredible, as is the incredible sound engineer and director Travis Bell, whose expertise, guidance, and personal touch makes everything come together. Recording the podcast is the highlight of our month.

We know from experience that the path to publication is often filled with roadblocks and U-turns and there will be a lot of rejections along the way. When it comes to getting your work published, you need the BIG T. We don't just mean talent, we mean tenacity. If you hang in there, and keep going in spite of the rejection, you can get your work out there. It's not easy, what writers do. It takes an incredible amount of hard work, and even then, there are no guarantees. But we know that if you hang in there, it can happen. You don't need to do this alone.

Who are some of the guests we can expect? 

We have bestselling authors like Naomi Novik, as well as first-time novelists. 

Naomi Novik, Patricia Dunn, and Tessa Smith McGovern at StoryFest 2022. This conversation comprises "Go Ahead and Write Something" podcast episode two.

Why do writers need a dialogue about craft?

Writing a story, a novel, a screenplay, is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You have a lot of pieces in front of you, and you have to figure out, by trial and error, where to place them to end up with a full picture. 

Making a story work is a similar process. Though we don't always have the picture on the box to show us where we are going, we do have the pieces at our disposal: the elements of craft, dialogue, plot, character, tension, drama, structure, building a scene — the list goes on. Yes, we can learn craft from books, and there are many great ones out there, but by dialoging with other writers, getting feedback and giving feedback, we can save a lot of time and spare ourselves from a good deal of frustration. Instead of knocking all the puzzle pieces onto the floor because we feel stuck, we can lean on craft and other writers to help us put together the pieces, to write the story we want to write, and hopefully others will want to read.

From Sunflower Bean to the Smithereens, Alice Cooper costumes to evolving androgynous rock fashion, hip hop’s 50th anniversary to primitive garage rock, VersoFest 2023 returns for its second year, March 30 through April 2, celebrating music, media, and creativity in Connecticut, the tri-state area, and beyond.

An extension of Verso Studios at The Westport Library, VersoFest is a media festival and conference where experts share their perspective and vision; where intimate workshops provide creators the opportunity to deconstruct, improve, and hone their craft; and that features performances that entertain and inspire.

“Our state-of-the-art media facility Verso Studios grew out of The Westport Library Makerspace, with a vision to engage a broader audience in media production and educational events,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “VersoFest is our call to the community to be immersed in some of the greatest local and global multimedia talent. We are developing a special space and significant driver for our creative and business communities in the region.”

Sunflower Bean, featuring Fairfield County frequenter Julia Cumming (left)

Last year’s inaugural festival welcomed more than 2,300 visitors over three days of concerts, panels, and workshops. 2023 raises the bar with New York City’s Sunflower Bean kicking off the festival in concert on Thursday, March 30, hot off the band’s headlining presence at South by Southwest.

The Smithereens featuring Marshall Crenshaw

The Smithereens featuring Marshall Crenshaw follow on Friday night with Americana opener Amilia K Spicer and the legendary Miriam Linna serving as vinyl DJ.

Saturday and Sunday provide the panel and workshop programming — and then some. Highlights include the Steve Lillywhite Keynote Conversation with Chris Frantz, Saturday at 1 pm. Lillywhite is a lauded record producer whose credits include the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, U2, the Psychedelic Furs, XTC, Morrissey, the Pogues, Dave Matthews Band, Guster, Phish, the Killers, and many more.

Earlier in the day, Deadheads and gearheads of all ages can enjoy a course presented by Steven Van Zandt’s educational foundation, TeachRock, on the Grateful Dead’s 1974, three-story, 28,800-watt hot-rodded PA system, “The Wall of Sound.” In addition, Anthony Coscia’s stunning 1:4 scale model recreation of the PA will be on display as a VersoFest installation in the Trefz Forum space, playing music intermittently throughout the course of the festival.

Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, as snapped by photographer Katie Settel

Come Saturday afternoon, author and journalist Rachel Felder will host a panel entitled, Evolving Rock Fashion: From Marianne Faithfull, to Debbie Harry, to Lizzo, with three fashion experts. Katie Settel, the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater’s in-house photographer, will share a master class taking workshop participants through her journey, influences, and technique. Continuing in the photography realm, artist Dylan Hundley (Lulu Lewis) moderates a photography panel with Fairfield County natives Settel and Michael Friedman, and New York City's Julia Gorton and Lynn Goldsmith (who currently has a landmark art/IP case at the Supreme Court).

Richard Butler

Saturday night will feature the rescheduled Malloy Lecture in the Arts, featuring renowned artist and Psychedlic Furs frontman Richard Butler in conversation with Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Frantz (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club).

Sunday features an all-day inaugural VersoFest Record Fair presented by Record Riots, with a handful of vinyl dealers wheeling and dealing in the library hub space.

Who drummed it best? At CBGB with Tommy Ramone (left) and Miriam Linna (right). Photos by Godlis.

Norton Records co-founder Miriam Linna is the subject of VersoFest’s Music Oral History with Beehive Queen and SNL singer, Christine Ohlman. Linna is a pioneering and guiding force in rock ‘n’ roll as 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 mastermind of Kicksville Radio, dedicated to 24/7 broadcasting of the lost heroes of rock n' roll. Ohlman’s stunning Joshie Jo Armstead music oral history was attended by tri-state area rock ‘n’ roll glitterati, and highly regarded as one of VersoFest 2022’s best offerings.

Linna will also host a very special table of goods at the record fair, including rare and never-before-seen Norton and Kicks memorabilia.

Gee's Records and Terrible Tee gearing up for VersoFest 2023's Connecticut Hip Hop 50th Anniversary Celebration

Early Sunday evening (5 pm), Connecticut celebrates the 50th anniversary of the advent of hip hop with a Legends Beats and Grooves block featuring scratch DJ demonstrations and discussion from the originator of the scratch, DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore, DJ Grandmaster Supreme (Lauryn Hill), DJ Ragoza, Tony Tone (Cold Crush Brothers), HOT 93.7’s DJ Billy Busch, hosted by Terrible Tee, with special performances.

Live At The AstroTurf hits the screen Sunday night.

Alice Cooper fans get a two-fer with the mini-museum exhibition of Alice Cooper Group costumes, stage props, instruments, unpublished photos, and more in Dr. Dreary’s Snakes! Museum of Alice Cooper Artifacts on Saturday and Sunday, plus a special screening of the documentary Live from the Astroturf featuring a Q&A and book signing (Snakes! Guillontines! Electric Chairs!) with original Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway that will conclude Sunday's programming. The film chronicles the surprise 2015 reunion of the original Alice Cooper Group at independent record store, Good Records, in Dallas. Record store owner and reunion conduit Chris Penn will also be in attendance.

Prior to the official festival, Dunaway's super group, Blue Coupe (featuring Joe & Albert Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult), play a VersoFest fundraiser, Friday, March 10, with support from DJ B The T Sr.

The full schedule for VersoFest 2023 is available here.

Food trucks will be on site Saturday (The Steak Truck) and Sunday (Walrus Alley) in the library parking lot to supplement the many offerings of the Library Café.

All concerts and workshops are ticketed events; Dr. Dreary’s Snakes! Museum will also require a ticket for entry. (See all registration and ticket links here.) Panels and keynotes are free and open to all ages. A cash bar with wine, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks will be available all four nights of the festival. All VersoFest 2023 concerts are co-produced with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. A selection of events will be recorded by Verso Studios Crew Call and available on-demand at a later date.

Ed. Note: Story updated March 1 adding the Malloy Lecture in the Arts to Saturday night.

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, 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.

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. Marc Miller of Kicksville Radio's "Crashing The Party" will also be in DJ tow.

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 is a singer/songwriter who was raised in rural Pennsylvania and lives in Los Angeles, with a haunting, husky voice and an Americana folk/rock style "that evokes 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.”

Joining Spicer in a duo format is Chris Masterson, longtime member of Steve Earle's band the Dukes. Masterson performs and records with his wife Eleanor Whitmore; together, this twosome make inspired albums of their own emotionally vivid, deeply humanistic songs. The duo's fourth set of original compositions is the appropriately titled No Time for Love Songs.

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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