David Bowie, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy — titans of rock ‘n’ roll music, all connected by the iconic touches of legendary producer, arranger, and VersoFest 2024 keynote subject Tony Visconti.

Visconti will be in conversation for The Westport Library's third annual music and media festival on Saturday, April 6 at 1 pm, discussing his art and career as one of pop music’s longest working and most influential producers. This event is free and requires registration, tickets are available now via this link.

Beyond music, Visconti has created moments blooming into cultural movements (glam rock), art linked to collective memory in T. Rex’s “Get It On (Bang A Gong),” “Cosmic Dancer,” and “20th Century Boy” and Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World,” “Rebel Rebel,” and “Heroes.” Lifetime achievements, GRAMMY Awards, film and TV soundtracks, and many other honors celebrate Visconti’s production and arrangement vision, which also includes collaborations with Paul McCartney & Wings (for their famed Band on the Run album), U2, Bert Jansch, Angelique Kidjo, Luscious Jackson, Alejandro Escovedo, the Strawbs, Fall Out Boy, Gentle Giant, Mercury Rev, Sparks, Badfinger, The Moody Blues, The Alarm, Kristeen Young, and D-Generation. In addition, Visconti recently arranged the strings on New Haven musician and former Verso Studios Connecticut Music Oral History Podcast guest Kelly Reilly’s “Happiness Lasts.” 

Visconti and Bowie, wayback when

“Now in its third year, VersoFest 2024 is shaping up to be another impressive and inspiring weekend for creators and fans alike. Announcing the legendary Tony Visconti, who has been at the helm of countless cultural touchstones is a tremendous launch for our 2024 program,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. 

VersoFest 2024 is a four-day music festival and conference happening Thursday, April 4, through Sunday, April 7. VersoFest includes panels where experts share their perspective and vision. Intimate workshops provide creators the opportunity to deconstruct, improve, and hone their craft. Performances entertain and inspire.

Previous years have featured a diverse and eclectic mix of performers and subjects including the Smithereens, Sunflower Bean, Grand Wizzard Theodore (inventor of scratch DJing), producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Talking Heads, Dave Matthews Band), Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs), Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper), Miriam Linna (Norton Records, Kicks Books, Kicksville Radio), actor/producer Michael Jai White, Little Steven’s TeachRock Foundation, Connecticut Public, and many more.  

Visconti is currently touring the globe celebrating the release of the new 77-track box set Produced by Tony Visconti. Visconti told popular music blog Super Deluxe Edition, “This boxset covers five-and-a-half decades of my efforts in the art of making iconic recordings. Some of it is familiar and some will have a eureka moment, ‘I didn’t know Visconti produced that one!’” 

Oscar-nominated filmmaker and 32 Sounds Director Sam Green

Academy-Award nominated filmmaker Sam Green continually pushes the bounds of theatrical experience with live score/narrated documentaries like The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller with Yo La Tengo, A Thousand Thoughts with the Kronos Quartet, and Green’s defining tour de force, The Weather Underground, chronicling the rise and fall of the radical political organization.

On Friday, December 8, at 6:30 pm, the Lundberg Family Foundation Master Film Series welcomes Green’s latest Sundance and SXSW selected documentary, 32 Sounds. Green will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A with the audience. This event is free and requires registration.

32 Sounds is described as “a meditation on the power of sound to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception of the world around us.” In creation of a “wholly unique, sensory rich experience,” the film lives up to its promise. Each member of the audience is given their own set of headphones for a special immersive binaural audio experience (a kind of spatial sound technology that gives the listener a much clearer sense of space).

Ever the form and technology trailblazer, Green developed the film through a creative residency at MASS MOCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, with Stanford University, Arizona University, and NYU, among others, serving as film commission partners.

“Normally, we think of movies as a visual medium, and they are, to an extent. The sound is always seen as a second-class citizen,” Green told Seventh Row. “This movie was hard to make. It’s almost like that cliché of a sculptor who allows the sculpture to come out of the stone, which sounds corny, but there’s something to it. As you work the material, you start to realize why you’re drawn to this, and what it is that is getting to you. That takes a lot of time and struggle.”

The 32 Sounds filmmaking team includes, among others, Oscar-winning and five-time Oscar-nominated sound designer Mark Mangini, multi-talented composer JD Samson, and celebrated producer and Oscar nominee Josh Penn.

Mangini won his Oscars for Dune and Mad Max Fury Road and is also known for films like Blade Runner 2049, Star Treks I, IV, and V, The Fifth Element, and Gremlins.

Samson is best known as leader of the band MEN and for being one-third of the electronic-feminist-punk band and performance project, Le Tigre.

Penn has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, Outstanding Producer at the Producer’s Guild Awards, and has won a Peabody Award. He has premiered a dozen films at Sundance since 2012, garnering five awards from the festival. He has produced Beasts of the Southern Wild (Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Cannes Caméra d’Or, and four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture), Monsters and Men (Sundance Special Jury Prize), and the series Philly D.A. (Gotham and Peabody Award winner).

The Westport Library’s Lundberg Family Foundation Masters Film Series showcases films and filmmakers, celebrating contemporary masters, innovative new voices, and emerging artists. Previously the series debuted the Connecticut premiere of Larry Locke’s documentary, Heaven Stood Still: The Incarnations of Willy DeVille, followed by master class sessions.

L to R: The book cover for To Anyone Who Ever Asks, and a picture of the author, Howard Fishman

We are in the midst of a golden age of mid-century popular music, with expanded deluxe editions, lost albums, compilations, rediscovery, and reexamination. Enter Connie Converse.

Converse is redefining the narrative of singer-songwriter history, bridging the gap between traditional Americana (country, blues, folk, jazz, and gospel), the Great American Songbook, classical art song, and the singer-songwriter movement spurred on by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell—but Converse was doing it a decade before those figures arrived.

This revelatory subject is the focus of the inaugural Verso Book Club event, which welcomes author Howard Fishman, writer of the widely shared New York Times feature Before Dylan, There Was Connie Converse. Then She Vanished., and the critically acclaimed book, To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse.

The event is free and will take place at The Westport Library on Thursday, October 5, 7-9 pm, in Brooks Place (on the Library's main level). Registration is required.

Copies of To Anyone Who Ever Asks can be purchased through registration and at the event, where Fishman will be signing copies. The book is also available in The Westport Library catalog.

"Connie Converse was the ultimate cross-disciplinary innovator," said Fishman, "so I'm thrilled to be able to present a talk about her at a forward-thinking venue like The Westport Library/Verso Studios."

“With Verso Studios' vision to marry literature, music, and media, we welcome this inaugural Verso Book Club event as a forum for tri-state area writers and fans to see how writing and investigative journalism elevates and defines art," Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer said.

In the wave of reappraisal in Converse’s work, there are now more than 10 million streams and 80,000 monthly listeners of Converse’s songs on Spotify. Artists ranging from Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) and Big Thief to opera’s rising star Julia Bullock have covered her work.

To Anyone Who Ever Asks press release reads, “Fishman recounts what can be known about Converse’s life while offering readers insight into her work and why it was so far ahead of her time. The bizarre legend about Connie Converse that had become the prevailing narrative among those who had also discovered her music was that in 1974, at the age of fifty, she simply drove off one day and was never heard from again. Could this have been true? A dozen years of research, travel to the places she lived, immersion into the voluminous effects she left behind, and hundreds of interviews later (including many with her friends and family members), Fishman gives readers a compelling book.”

The Verso Book Club is a reading group engaging in discourse and discussion on new and classic books focusing on contemporary popular music, media, and culture, filmmaking, and artistic scenes. The Verso Book Club provides a forum for author talks on influence, craft, process, and approach. Author talks are recorded, archived, and promoted via the state-of-the-art Verso Studios.

Fishman is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, where he has published essays on music, film, theater, literature, travel, and culture. His essays have also appeared in Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, Artforum, San Francisco Chronicle, Mojo, The Village Voice, Jazziz, and Salmagundi. His play, A Star Has Burnt My Eye, was a New York Times “Critics Pick.”

As a performing songwriter and bandleader, Fishman has toured internationally as a headlining artist for more than two decades. He has released 11 albums to date, and is the producer of the album, Connie's Piano Songs: The Art Songs of Elizabeth "Connie" Converse.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal giving a speech at the Verso Records release party

United States Senator Richard Blumenthal recognized The Westport Library, Verso Studios, and their landmark compilation album, Verso Records, Volume One, in the Congressional Record of the Proceedings and Debates of the 118th Congress, First Session.

“This record is the product of collaboration among local artists and is the first of its kind issued by a public library," Blumenthal wrote. “This endeavor is an example of Westport at its best — the vision and vibrancy of the community and its commitment to artistic achievement, powering culture throughout the State of Connecticut.”

Blumenthal noted that The Westport Library has enriched the community as a leading innovator since 1886, citing the MakerSpace, Library of Things, Seed Library, Cafe and Store, and prized collection of artwork.

"These resources make The Westport Library one of the best libraries in all of America — a 'noisy library,' as its supporters say, and a true jewel of the community."

Verso Records, Volume One can be purchased on limited yellow vinyl and/or digitally via Bandcamp, or at a host of local independent record stores and shops, including Berlinetta Brewing, Best Video, Elm City Sounds, Redscroll Records, Static Era Records, The Telegraph, The Westport Book Shop, The Westport Library Store, and Vinyl Street Cafe.

On the heels of a wildly successful VersoFest 2023 event that featured jaw-dropping performances and knowledge shared from hip hop originators, Legends Beats and Grooves is returning to The Westport Library with another hip hop 50th anniversary afternoon featuring a panel discussion, Q&A session, and DJ performances.

This encore event will take place in the Library’s Trefz Forum on Sunday, July 23, from 3 to 6 pm. The event is free with registration.

"In a festival brimming with exceptional talent, The Legends Beats and Grooves Hip Hop 50th Anniversary was an absolute standout,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. "It was, without a doubt, one of the finest programs I've ever witnessed in a library. The combination of educational elements, an intergenerational community, and the electrifying blend of knowledge and pure fun created a truly magical experience."

Founded in 2013 by Gary of Gee’s Records and Jim Dennis, Legends Beats and Grooves highlights the artistry, history, and fundamentals of hip hop DJ culture. With a mission to galvanize community and educate upcoming generations, Legends Beats and Grooves events have been held from Philadelphia to Massachusetts with icons like Grand Wizzard Theodore, Tony Tone (Cold Crush Brothers), Rob Swift, Minsta Sinista & Boogie Blind (Executioners), DJ Grand Supreme (Lauryn Hill, Rakim), and many more.

“Hip hop is one of the dominating phenomena in our global culture,” said Gary of Gee’s Records and Legends Beats and Grooves. “Gees Records is honored to partner with Verso Studios and their advanced tech to present some of the true innovators of hip hop for education, understanding, and a real fun time.”

The panel discussion for the July 23 event features The Original Jazzy Jay, Cutmaster DJ Cool V, and Connecticut legends Doc. P. and DJ Slick Vic.

Jazzy Jay is a hip hop pioneer and legend serving as the first Technics/DMC DJ Hall of Fame inductee. Growing up in the burgeoning hip hop culture of 1970s Bronx, Jazzy J made his way DJing through the hip NYC clubs of Danceteria, the Ritz, Roxy, and Negril. Jazzy was a protégé of Kool DJ Red Alert and Afrika Bambaataa, becoming an early member of the (Bambaataa led) Universal Zulu Nation, a hip hop awareness group with the mission of sustaining the hip hop ideals of “peace, love, unity, and having fun.” 1984 was a banner year for Jazzy J with the release of the hip hop pioneering film Beat Street, starring Jazzy J alongside the late musician and activist Harry Belafonte. In that same year, Jazzy J teamed up with the now legendary producer Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, the Chicks) to create the foundation of Def Jam Records. The pair launched the early careers and recordings of LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy, helping popularize hip hop in mainstream culture. J went on to establish Jazzy Jay's Studio in the Bronx, where he produced early recordings by Diamond DFat JoeBrand NubianA Tribe Called Quest, and others.

For over three decades, Cutmaster DJ Cool V has served as a heavyweight hip hop producer and mixologist. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Cool V has played a part of numerous gold and platinum records by an array of artists, including Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, and Technotronic. Cool V is one of three DJs who are among the first to command the stage at the historical NAACP Awards. Live spinning credits include GRAMMY afterparties, OSCAR preparties, Will Smith movie premieres, the Magic Johnson Foundation, and more. At the event, Cool V will be selling and signing his book Cool V Never Sleeps chronicling “the good, bad, and ugly behind the making of the landmark album Biz Never Sleeps. The book also includes bonus treats for true Hip Hop fans all over the world.” 

The DJ performance portion is as equally impressive, led by Philadelphia innovator DJ Cash Money. The first DJ inducted into the Technics/DMC DJ Hall, DJ Cash Money is known in the industry as a DJ, turntablist, and producer. Cash Money is best known for his pioneering scratch techniques (Transformer Scratch, DJ Cash Money Turntable Style Position), lightning speed, and fierce musicality. Many techniques and styles created by DJ Cash Money have single-handedly revolutionized the technology for DJs as well as turntable design and manufacturing.

Philly-based DJ Doodles (above left) and Connecticut-based DMC World Finalist DJ Creative (above right) also join. The event is hosted by community organizer and DJ Terrible T. with Pzo P.

Hip hop icon, musician, producer, and artist, Dooley-O holds a signed copy of "Verso Records: Volume One"

Verso Records: Volume One, the debut album from Verso Studios at The Westport Library, got a proper introduction Saturday night, June 3, with 200+ fans packing the Library’s Trefz Forum to celebrate the first vinyl record ever recorded, produced, and released by a public library.

The album is now officially on sale, available at the Library Store, online via Bandcamp, through the Verso Records website, and soon at local record stores around the area. The bright yellow vinyl sells for $22 and includes a digital download. A $10 digital-only version is also available.

“I am thrilled to be celebrating this momentous achievement for Verso Studios,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “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.”

Harmer and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal kicked off the event, welcoming the attendees and emphasizing the historic nature of this can’t-miss event.

“This is an example of Westport at its best, Connecticut at its best,” Blumenthal said from the stage, standing in front of the Trefz Forum’s 18-foot videowall, cane in hand as the result of an injury he suffered earlier this year. “I grew up for a number of years in Westport, and there is a quality to the vision and vibrancy of this community, a commitment to artistic achievement and culture that helps power culture throughout the state of Connecticut. … I had surgery about seven weeks ago, but not even a broken leg could keep me away tonight.”

And with that, it was on to the music. Five of the bands featured on the album performed: Folk/Americana artist Kierstin Sieser (Middletown) kicked things off, followed by Lulu Lewis duo Dylan Hundley & Pablo Martin (NYC), indie rock mainstay Ports of Spain (New Haven), and hockey rockers The Zambonis (Bridgeport), with The Problem With Kids Today (New Haven) closing out the evening.

Remarks and introductions to the bands were made by a variety of emcees, including record artist Sheneta Nicole, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club — Frantz also wrote the liner notes for the record — and legendary drummer and Norton Records founder Miriam Linna, whose label covered the record release in advance of the celebration.

Other outlets to cover the release of the record include Pitchfork, the American Library Association, Yahoo News, The New Haven Independent, and CT Public/WNPR, to name just a few.

"A library with a record label? Shazaam!” wrote Linna. “It took a small town library to make the impossible happen. … Westport Library sets the trend. … Benjamin Franklin got the ball rolling over 200 years ago in the United States, and what a concept they are — vestibules of knowledge, free to everyone, growing with the people, for the people! And the people want vinyl records!”

Verso Records: Volume One 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 Library’s Verso Studios.

The record 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; and Alexandra Burnet & The Stable Six’s lush, ethereal, eight-piece arrangement of the meditative “You’re Okay,” plus many others. 

Danielle Capalbo from Daniprobably, Dooley-O, and Burnet were among the many local musicians in attendance to ring in the album Saturday night.

“It’s special to make a record in a library,” Capalbo said on the CT Public show Where We Live, “because you’re surrounded by ideas, surrounded by beautiful words, beautiful concepts. And The Westport Library is a uniquely beautiful space with wonderful, supportive people. … This is the most amplified I’ve ever felt as a musician in terms of the energy and excitement for the project, so kudos to The Westport Library for that.”

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.

Near the end of their set during the VersoFest 2023 kickoff concert, Sunflower Bean lead singer and bassist Julia Cumming posed a rhetorical question to the audience: “Did you know this isn’t the first time we’ve played in a library? But it wasn’t as cool as this library. This is the COOLEST library!”

For four days, The Westport Library was indeed the coolest library, playing host to its annual VersoFest — a celebration of music, media, and creativity featuring concerts, panel discussions, workshops, and so much more.

The festival truly had something for everyone, from the rollicking keynote conversation between renowned producer Steve Lillywhite and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Chris Frantz to the insightful Malloy Lecture in the Arts with artist and Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler to the emotional oral history interview with the legendary Miriam Linna and Beehive Queen Christine Ohlman.

And that is just a portion of all that was showcased at VersoFest 2023. The concerts with Sunflower Bean (Thursday), with DJ HYSTERICA opening, and the Smithereens featuring Marshall Crenshaw (Friday), with Amilia K Spicer opening and Linna serving as DJ, drew more than 750 people to the Library’s packed Trefz Forum. Hundreds more assembled over the weekend for panels ranging from rock fashion and rock photography to vinyl record collecting, podcasting and radio, and the business of music, culminating Sunday afternoon with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip hop in Connecticut that regularly brought the capacity crowd to its feet.

VersoFest also carved out space for a record fair featuring vendors from across the tri-state area as well as intimate workshop sessions on songwriting, screenwriting, photography, and TV and media production. There was also a hands-on TeachRock session utilizing a 1:4 replica of the Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound” PA system that entertained throughout the weekend with a steady diet of the Dead’s best.

In addition to the Wall of Sound, VersoFest’s other installation was a museum of Alice Cooper Group artifacts courtesy Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway, who closed out the festival with a showing of Live from the AstroTurf, the Alice Cooper Group reunion documentary.

In the Q&A following the documentary, Dunaway echoed Cumming’s words from three days’ prior, pointing to the Library’s forum, lit up for the evening show with a kaleidoscope of colored lights and decorated with Alice Cooper fans young and old, and said, “You call this a library, but this is WAY more than a library.”

Keynote Conversation: Steve Lillywhite with Chris Frantz
Malloy Lecture in the Arts: Richard Butler
Legends, Beats, and Grooves
Music Oral History: Miriam Linna with Christine Ohlman
Vinyl Record Panel Brunch
Rock Photography Panel
Rock Fashion Panel
Business of Music Panel
Live from the Astroturf Q&A


Photos: Chad Anderson of Chad Anderson Photography & Brendan Toller

VersoFest 2023 will feature two headlining concerts and an array of experts in the fields of music, media, and more, providing a multitude of opportunities to explore and create over a four-day immersive experience.

And if they play their cards right, attendees could leave with an autographed album to boot.

Some of VersoFest’s headliners and guests, including legendary producer Steve Lillywhite, Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler, and Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth, will be autographing copies of their vinyl records that will be up for giveaway and auction during the festival.

Two of those albums will be part of the VersoFest record giveaway. Festivalgoers can submit their entries for the giveaway starting with the March 30 kickoff concert featuring rising American rock band Sunflower Bean, with submissions open through the festival’s completion on Sunday April 2 — a day that will include a record fair, presented by Record Riots, from 11 am to 4 pm, and a vinyl record panel brunch featuring WPKN DJ Alec Cumming, producer Dooley-O, Kraftjerkz Records’ Kid Ginseng, WFUV DJ and House of Wax host Eric Holland, New Haven Independent arts reporter Karen Ponzio, and moderated by the Zambonis’ Dave Schneider.

Additionally, there will be a silent auction held Saturday and Sunday of the festival (April 1-2). Those in attendance will be given an opportunity to bid on a wide variety of signed albums associated with several of the festival’s speakers and guests. The highest bidder will receive the signed copy, with all proceeds going to support future VersoFest endeavors.

“This is a really cool opportunity to bring home some of the best vinyl albums produced in the last 50 years,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “Beyond that, these signed copies are collector’s items — a keepsake to enjoy for its own sake, to commemorate what we think will an unforgettable four days celebrating music, media, and creativity, and a unique way to raise money so we can bring this festival back to Westport and the tri-state area next year and again in the years to come.”

To learn more about this year’s festival, including to buy concert tickets and register for workshops, visit the VersoFest 203 landing page

Clockwise from top left: Kathy Soderholm, Tom Henske, Caroline Barney, and John Lanza

It’s an old adage, that many high school-age students can do advanced trigonometry but not balance a checkbook.

Tom Henske is out to change that.

On Sunday, March 26, Henske, Westport resident and a leader in the financial industry for nearly three decades, will bring his Total Cents program to the Library’s Trefz Forum for a talk, followed by a panel discussion with fellow experts. The goal: to help parents, grandparents, and guardians get comfortable with teaching their kids about money and the importance of finances.

The event, Raising Financially Savvy Kids with Tom Henske, will begin at 2 pm in the Library’s Trefz Forum. The event is free; registration is encouraged.

“It's fitting that The Westport Library jumped at the chance to bring financial literacy to the forefront of parents in our community,” said Henske. “Everyone sees the clear value and importance of developing good financial habits in our children. It's time for parents to take ownership of this part of their child's development, and that effort is going to start on March 26.

“My hope is that Westport becomes the epicenter for teaching parents how to talk to their kids about money, and in doing that, we will change the way our entire country addresses this important topic.”

Joining Henske in conversation will be Caroline Barney, author, inspirational speaker, and parent of two Staples High School students; John Lanza, author of The Art of Allowance and an expert of youth financial literacy; and Kathy Soderholm, former Wilton High School personal finance teacher and founder of The Good Bookkeeper, a full-service bookkeeping company specializing in nonprofit organizations.

[Related: See the Raising Financially Savvy Kids event listing for full bios on all the panelists.]

Henske's efforts with Total Cents include a book, It Makes Total Cents: 12 Conversations to Change Your Child’s Financial Future, published in 2022, and a podcast he developed in collaboration with the Library. Total Cents is also active on TikTok, with videos produced in collaboration with Total Cents interns from Staples High School.

“Tom’s knowledge and expertise is exceeded only by his passion for finance and teaching kids how to be responsible stewards of their own futures,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “Add that up and you have a session that promises to be informative, engaging, and fun. Plus, Tom brings with him an all-star panel well-versed on communicating to parents and with kids from the youngest ages. You won’t want to miss this event.”

Event information:

Raising Financially Savvy Kids with Tom Henske
Sunday, March 26, 2 pm
The Westport Library (20 Jesup Road)
Register here.

crossmenuchevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram