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Adam Who Can

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Adam Cayton-Holland seems cool, calm and collected when we meet up. Pretty funny for a guy with the website domain name adamisfreakingoutrightnow.com. But really, everything involving this guy is pretty funny. Or more like really funny. His stand up comedy career has him pretty busy, headlining in comedy clubs and universities all over the country. He has performed on Conan and the Pete Holmes show, he’s won Comedy Centrals’ At Midnight, and he is currently writing the first season of a new TruTv comedy series Those Who Can’t with his live and sketch comedy group the Grawlix.

I guess I’d be freaking out too.

PULP// Last year, you were chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Colorado Rockies game. How did that come about?

Adam Cayton-Holland//  Twitter. And luck. I’m a giant Rockies fan. I’ve had season tickets for so many years now. So, they let me throw out the first pitch at a game in 2014, but I had been trying since the 2013 season. So I tried for a solid half season, getting at them online, and then during the off season I really ratcheted it up. All said and done, I probably harassed them for a solid nine, ten months. I was very proactive. Once it happened, it all snowballed very fast. Also, a lot of prominent sports writers got on social media after an article in the Denver Post came out about me wanting to.

And, the Rockies are so terrible now, they probably just figured “This guy WANTS to do it. Just let him, c’mon. He’s a superfan!”

What pitch did you throw?

I was really thinking about it, and I basically have two pitches. A fastball, and a knuckle ball that I’ve worked for a long time on. But I’m not going going to throw a knuckle ball like an idiot. You get one opportunity. So I threw it straight down the center of the plate. With the heat. #1.

Did it hit the strike zone? Be honest.

Here’s the honest answer. It was low. But it was right over the plate, and it didn’t skip in the dirt. You would’ve swung after it for sure.

How many years have you been doing stand up comedy?

Eleven. Eleven years now.

What do you still like about doing it after so many years?

I don’t know, man. I’m think I’m just addicted. I write a lot, I do a lot of scripts and I’ve done other serious writing too. But I think I love the immediacy of it. And anyone who tells you they don’t do it for the attention is lying. I do like that. You just get that immediate gratification. Also, I like to look at it as a mathematical equation. It’s a satisfying feeling to get a bit right. Sometimes it’s not working, so you tweak this, change that and all of a sudden A-HA! People are laughing. It’s awesome that a guy that never liked math feels satisfied by figuring that out.

I know you don’t seem to have very much of it,  but what do you do in your spare time?

I really like bird watching. I like baseball a lot.

Last year, you and the Nix Bros (Denver based filmmakers) did a series of ads for the John Hickenlooper campaign. Was it hard to be funny in the constraints of a campaign ad?

Sort of. We had to pitch a bunch of ideas. We had 16 different ideas, and they pretty much rejected them left and right. But luckily, Hickenlooper has a really great sense of humor. He was a natural on set. But it was hard to try and find a middle ground because we wanted to kind of push it way further, but they were always like “hey dude, we’re running for office here.”

It seems like you all hit a great middle ground. They were campaign ads that didn’t feel like campaign ads.

Thanks. That’s the one thing everyone involved wanted. We wanted them to just be kind of weird and funny.

So you’re putting out a new album here soon. Tell me a little about it.

Yes, it is called Backyards. It comes out April 10.

Where did you record it?

It was at a place called the Comedy Attic in Bloomington, Indiana. It’s a really great club. I think it came out great, and I’m pretty proud of it. Plus, I got a poster artist from LA, a guy named Dave Kloc that does all the Meltdown (LA comedy show) posters to do the artwork for it. Which was great! I’m a big fan of his, I love his work, and that tickles me endlessly to reach out to people you like and then have them say that they like your stuff too. It’s great.

Esquire recently called you one of the “25 Comics to Know”.  Did they contact you about that, or was it more of a surprise?

I love that, because they actually also called me that back in 2012. Which is still awesome, I’ll take that anytime. But it’s like 2-3 years later, and I don’t know how much longer I can keep riding on that wave.

But in this issue, they had what they call comedy tastemakers tell them who to look out for, and they asked (Talking Dead/ At Midnight host) Chris Hardwick and mentioned my name. Me and Chris are real cool, I’ve known him for a long time, and somehow I ended up in their magazine. But I don’t know.

So on your podcast My Dining Room Table, you talk with other comedians and musicians and even business people about success, and what their version of “making it” in their fields is to them. What’s your version of “making it”?

That’s a good question. I really think there are several ways. Being happy, whatever that means to you personally. I never want to have people telling me what to do. I don’t want a job with a boss.

For me, a big part of happiness is controlling where I go and what I do. So the fact that we get to write our own TV show now is such a huge part of feeling like a success.

Speaking of that, congrats on selling your show “Those Who Can’t”. Fantastic news. How has the experience been so far working with TruTv?

It has been really awesome so far. During the pilot filming, they left us alone. The execs at TruTv flew out, and then the day before filming they told us “We’re flying back to New York. You guys obviously don’t need us here (on set). Do your thing. And we had heard horror stories about networks having too many hands in the pot. But they’ve really been very cool with everything. They even let us bring out the Nix Bros. Really right now it’s so far so good.

You’ve had a bit of a one sided feud with Arby’s over Twitter. It’s hilarious and I love it. But why Arby’s?

I don’t know. I guess I was just bored and I think Arby’s is disgusting. So I was just kind of “let’s see how far we can take this’’. And a couple times the corporate people (from Arby’s) DM’ed me and asked very politely to stop. They’re so nice, too. Just the nicest company, but I just think they’re gross.

So I got blocked by them, and then recently for some reason they unblocked me. So I just really went ballistic on them. But now, they didn’t block me and I think are just ignoring me, like “let’s just ignore this brat”.

What do you like about working out of Colorado, when there’s always a draw for comedians and writers to go out to the coasts?

Honestly, at this point I like it because it differentiates me and us from those areas. And I get to be at live at home, Get to have a real life, and not just chase fame all the time. I like that we’re bucking the trend too, and that we get to have lives outside of stand up comedy.

Also, I was a writer first and still consider myself a writer. And a writing manta is “Write What You Know”. Well this is what I know. I’m a guy from Denver, Colorado. This is my viewpoint.

I really like the filmmaker Alexander Payne. He’s done all those Nebraska films, like Election and Nebraska and About Schmidt . I read an interview with him, and someone asked him “Why don’t you shoot a movie in New York?”and he’s like “I’m not from New York. Spike Lee can do that. What could I say better about that city. I’m from Nebraska.” And I thought “That makes so much sense.

What is the term for bird watching again?

Ornithology.

Sweet.

 

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The Last Watchman: The lost story of Colorado’s worst train wreck

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The only reminder of one of the worst train wrecks in Colorado history is a weathered post with a small white sign that stands sentinel at the edge of an unassuming arroyo. It is cracked, and wrapped in barbed wire so you must stand very close to make out the fading words. “This historical marker is a tribute to author-historian Dow Helmers (1906-1976), author of THE TRAGEDY AT EDEN the story of Colorado’s most disastrous train wreck… ’” it begins.

In 1904, dirt roads may have been the main mode of travel, but they made going long distances impractical and often unpleasant, so the idea that a train could smoothly and quickly get you to your destination seemed an attractive choice for the regular traveler to take advantage of the special weekend rates.

The arroyo today. It was near bushes that probably looked a lot like this that Mayfield found the deceased Engineer Hinman after more searching. Many others were not as lucky to have been found. The Gartlands from Denver suffered profound losses. Kate Gartland and 4 of her 5 children were on the train. None survived and 9-year-old Walter was never found. (C.D. Prescott)

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary on that Sunday the 7th of August in 1904. A few scattered rain showers and even cloudbursts were often expected that time of year. The passenger train from Denver to Pueblo was running on schedule and ticket holders were gathering on the platform for their return trip home from their weekend jaunts.

The train was the No. 12 that had just made the trip from St. Louis to Pueblo where it picked up the dining car from the last southbound train and headed to Denver where it would be stocked, cleaned and staffed in preparation for the trip to Pueblo. Now that it would be heading south, it was redubbed the No. 11.

The No. 11 had seven cars including the engine. There was also a baggage car, a coach car, a chair car, two Pullman sleepers and the dining car. The well-regarded Henry Hinman would be the Engineer and his fireman would be David Mayfield. Both men were from Denver.

Passengers boarded and the No. 11 left the Denver station for its date with destiny on time at 5pm. It was in Colorado Springs that Hinman was given a bulletin order to use caution and watch for standing water. At least 50 more passengers also boarded. Many were headed for Pueblo but there were others that would be continuing on to further destinations.

Leaving the station about 5 minutes after the scheduled departure, Hinman carefully followed his orders and would eventually be running at least 15 minutes late. They were due in Pueblo at 8:15pm but were crossing Bridge 110-B over Hogan’s Gulch at almost 8:20pm at no more than 20 miles per hour.

The engine swayed to the sound of cracking timbers as Hinman eased the throttle forward hoping to quickly get to solid ground. The front had just reached the bank when it suddenly stopped, lurched backwards and began to slide into the churning waters below.

A panicked Mayfield managed to jump clear of the falling engine but after being struck by a timber from the bridge, he was washed downstream just far enough that when he crawled ashore, he was still able to see the train’s headlight shining into the sky. After searching and yelling for Hinman, to no avail, he made his way to the Eden Station for help.

Passengers that got out to investigate were immediately stunned to find that the engine, baggage, coach (smoker), and chair cars were gone. The bridge wasn’t simply empty as it was immediately apparent that it had also met the same fate. It was only the automatic air brakes that had kept the remaining cars from following suit.

Being the heaviest, the engine sank like a stone but the other three missing cars and their inhabitants tumbled in the rushing waters towards Fountain Creek. The angry waters smashed through glass and took lives quickly as they violently twisted the cars in an ultimate test of their very structure.

It was in this act of destruction that a few lucky survivors managed to find their escape. John Killin had to hold his breath as the car filled with water and it rolled with the current. He had just broken a window when the car collided with something and a large piece of the roof tore away.

Using the new exit, he was able to get out of the car and attempt a swim to shore. He was struck by a railroad tie and grabbed it for use as a floatation device. Falling from it a few times, he managed to find it again until he reached water shallow enough to wade to shore. Later, he would display the tie in his Pueblo store as he credited it to saving his life.

Henry Gilbert and Tony Fisher also managed to navigate their escape and the treacherous waters to find their way to shore where they met and immediately received medical attention. Rescue efforts started immediately as the water had already begun to recede and the first relief train took the survivors and the passengers from the remaining section of the train to Pueblo.

Men with lanterns rushed to try to find any other survivors. They lit fires along the shore for heat and light, but the searchers would have to wait for dawn before any real progress was made. Their rescue mission quickly became one of recovery and while they found most, they didn’t find everyone.

Word spread quickly that there had been an accident and it drew crowds wanting to help in the rescue efforts. It also brought looters that were willing to hunt for any bodies but only to relieve them of anything that they might be carrying of value. The macabre also arrived to spread blankets to picnic nearby as they watched the rescuers like they were attending a theater production.

The engine proved to be harder to recover than had been anticipated. The crane from Pueblo couldn’t handle the weight so a replacement from Salida had to be retrieved and that would take a little time. The bents from the new bridge were put in place while the engine still remained engulfed in the mud below.

The final death count had been 96. It would have been 97 if they had included Tony Fisher who survived the wreck but would die almost a month later from tetanus on September 1st from injuries related to the crash and his time in the water. The bridge was in place in time for the passenger train to run on schedule the next day.

At least 80 square miles of land used to drain through that arroyo but a better understanding of engineering and drainage improvements has changed that. Now water rarely flows through the dry ditch that was Hogan’s Gulch and when the sign was erected it wasn’t even called that anymore. It had been changed to Porter’s Draw as arroyos are usually named for the landowner.

Aside from what is left of the sign, there are no visible remnants of that fateful night. Even the replacement bridge has given way to the newer stronger, sleeker version to the east. The Eden train station has been moved and was used as a personal residence for a bit. Only the sign remains, but local lore claims that on cloudy nights, the lights from long gone lanterns bob in the distance along the banks searching for the lost to at last bring them home.

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Soul mates: An interview with Colorado’s in/Planes

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I feel the need to take a quick second to clear something up—I watched the band in/PLANES get married. Not for this article, mind you; the ceremony was years ago. I have been friends with musical and otherwise soulmates Inaiah Lujan and Desirae Garcia for over a decade at this point (due in no small part I’m sure to our mutual enthusiasm and passion for local music). As a result, I have had the opportunity to bear witness as not only their music but also relationship has burst and bloomed into multiple amazing endeavors. Whether it was their passionate and spirited take on Dustbowl-era Americana as members of folk revivalists the Haunted Windchimes or the wonderfully intimate lo-fi solo albums the both of them have released over the years, these two have a continually impressive musical output and a charm that I have always been excited to delve into. Hell, they even played in my basement once upon a time.

But none of them have struck me quite the same way as in/PLANES has. “Radio Wave,” their first full-length offering via Denver indie record label GROUPHUG, is something altogether different; something wondrously unique. It could be their voices. THOSE voices—honeyed and harmonious—especially whilst entwined in the duets that frequent the songs of in/PLANES. It could be the melodies they create—a riding-high blend of 50’s sha-la-la doo-wop, 60’s sunshine pop and indie-birthed soul—that feels distinctly pop without the trappings of sounding glossy or over-produced. Where tons of modern indie acts are ready to make a loud racket, in/PLANES instead opts to let the grooves play out sparsely and intimately, with inviting musicianship and vocal performances that envelop the space surrounding them. Whether live in concert or in the car, the music of in/PLANES holds on tightly and never lets go.

PULP: It’s weird trying to formally interview you guys; being friends makes it weird to ask you questions in a regular way.

Inaiah Lujan (guitar/vocals): That’s okay.

Desirae Garcia (bass guitar/vocals): We’ll be semi-formal.

IL: Business casual. (laughs)

I did do some research though, and I realized that in/PLANES has been around for longer than I remembered. But this new album is your first full length?

IL: Yeah. This is our first formal release that isn’t an EP. And also first physical release. There is some intention with that. You know that we are champions of analog stuff; Cassette tapes are my first love; I grew up making mixtapes. And CD’s have always felt pointless to me, but for so long we played the game because you used to HAVE to have CD’s on the merch table. But this band has been pretty vocal about our disdain for CD’s; “Radio Wave” is only going to be available on cassette. You’ll get a digital download with purchase of the tape.

Speaking of which, what does the name “Radio Wave” mean in regard to the band?

DG: It’s a line from the song “Why Didn’t You,” a song that is actually not on the record. (laughs). But it’s the very first in/PLANES song we ever wrote. We wrote that song, and it felt like it was part of a totally different project; it felt different than anything we were doing. So maybe it’s a nod to the beginning of the project. We like to think of the song as kind of a breadcrumb to where we are at now.

IL: The benefit of this band is getting to take our time with things; to be more intentional. So now we have been releasing stuff retroactively. The EP we released just last month is stuff we had recorded from our apartment; “Radio Wave” is stuff we put together with Adam Hawkins from Right Heel Music and our drummer Carl Sorensen, and we already have another album in the works.

For me, it also has dual meaning; in/PLANES seems to always create this kind of duality. “Radio Wave” also musically reminds me of when people were only listening to the radio. It kind of plays to idea of this vintage-pop genre we’re kind of going with.

DG: That’s also the music that this record is really inspired by.

IL: The EP feels like kind of a sampler or mixtape for what we’re all about, but this full length is more focused; a little more of that classic pop sound. It’s a fitting title for sure.

DG: Also it’s 1,000,000% love songs; which is bad and good. (laughs)

When you wrote “Why Didn’t You,” did it feel like a song intentionally for a new project?

IL: I think it just presented itself that way; I had been toying around with some chords, and I had been trying to write a song and I didn’t know where to start with melody or lyrics, so I had Desi help me out and it came together really quickly.

In doing so, we realized that we hadn’t collaborated in that way with just the two of us since the beginning of the Haunted Windchimes. At that point, the ‘Chimes had already become four contributing songwriters and had developed a strong formula; in that way it felt like not exactly a departure, but something new that we could try and explore on our own.

DG: It came out really naturally and organically. And it didn’t fit anywhere, either with the ‘Chimes songs or solo songs.

Do you feel like fans of the ‘Chimes and your solo efforts are following you down this path?

IL: I think so. We are all taking a break with the ‘Chimes for now, but we haven’t officially announced that to our fans, so sometimes we’ll get messages asking where we’ve been and why haven’t they heard any news about the band. So maybe some people are a little resistant to it. I don’t know.

DG: It sounds different enough so that some people aren’t going to be into it, which is okay. The other day, someone left a comment on the Windchimes Facebook page asking about us, and another person commented back saying “you should check out in/PLANES and (Haunted Windchimes member Mike Clark’s) the River Arkansas” and the first person commented back “We just like ‘Chimes’ style music,” which is okay! You don’t have to follow us everywhere.

IL: The great thing about being an artist and a musician is the ability to shift gears and follow rabbits down different holes. And with in/PLANES, we’re already trying to get out of our own box and comfort zone. But the common thread that ties it all is that we write all of the songs together, and we wear our influences on our sleeves.

So if you had to explain what you think in/PLANES sounds like, what would you say?

DG: That is my least favorite question, because it’s so hard to explain. The shortcut i usually go for is throwback, vintage pop with some rock tendencies. And if they’re listening after that, then I’ll just keep talking until they walk away, because it’s so difficult to answer.

But like to go with vintage-pop, because if someone says rock & roll, I don’t feel attached to that. We write pop music; all the formulas, the lack of formulas…

IL: It does feel like something you would turn on the radio and hear in the 50’ or 60’s to me, but our modern influences still sneak in; we’re both big fans of hip-hop and country music, and it all gets in one way or another.

DG: Digital drums are where we lose a lot of people. They’re like “WHAT? Is that a digital drum?” And I’m like, “Yup, it is.” (laughs) It’s those 808 beats.

The electronics are really subtle in your songs though.

IL: I think so too. I think we just want to be able to write a song without putting it in a box, you know? But at the same time, making sure to trim all of the fat; which may be contradictory.

We’re not trying to write complex songs. I don’t like to have any rules, but I do like to set limitations on myself; almost like limiting your color pallette if you’re a painter.

DG: Not to be pigeonholed, but also maintain some cohesion. Present yourself in a way people can understand. I don’t like to tell people what genre of music we are, but it is helpful for us; it makes us more focused.

IL: Knowing where the line or limitation is and knowing how far we can push it over causes a tension we like to work under. It’s good tension.

DG: You can’t put me in a box—only I can put me in a box!

“Radio Wave” from in/PLANES is out 5/3 on cassette via GROUPHUG records, with a slew of release shows and a digital release to come soon thereafter. For full dates and info, head to inPlanes.com

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The Exotic Strangeness of the Americas on display at CS Fine Arts Center

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This month the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center premiers a modest collection of Haitian paintings and sculptures titled, “The Art of Haiti: Loas, History, and Memory.” Though the exhibit suffers from some organizational problems, it still provides a fascinating look into a country whose rich culture and fiercely independent people belie its difficult past.

Haiti: land of fire and land of mountains. The first black republic in the world and the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is a country of extremes, colorful, noisy, in-your-face and uncompromising. That unsinkable spirit is reflected in its unique art, which is famous all over the world for its vibrance, joy, energy, and creativity.

The FAC’s “Art of Haiti” touches upon three common themes in Haitian art: voodoo (the “loas” mentioned in the title, which are voodoo spirits), historical scenes, and scenes of daily life around the island. There are paintings, sculptures, multimedia pieces, and installations, but unfortunately no prayer flags, which are probably the most popular Haitian art form currently on the market.

Strangely, The Art of Haiti works backwards from the most recent and modern art, ending with examples of artists who helped jump-start the Haitian Renaissance. Therefore it’s best to go against the flow set out by the curators and start the exhibit in the last gallery, gradually working your way back towards the beginning.

The Haitian Art Renaissance began in the mid-1940s, when an American watercolorist named Dewitt Peters opened a gallery, the Centre d’Art, in Port-au-Prince. What set Peters’ gallery apart was his collection of artists, which included both formally trained and self-taught, or “naïve,” painters.

It was these untrained artists who eventually became famous all over the world for their unique painting style. Like Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Haitian naïve painting captures daily life and events using simple lines, vivid colors, and flattened, patterned backgrounds. The charm and exuberance of these works feels at once very non-Western, and yet very accessible. The style appeals to a vast array of artists and collectors, from André Breton to Jonathan Demme.

You can see several pieces by some of the most famous Haitian Renaissance painters at the FAC (although the superstar of the bunch, Hector Hippolite, is not represented). Wilson Bigaud’s “Gede at the Graveyard,” and Antoine Obin’s “La Viste,” are perfect examples of scenes of daily life. Both Obin and Bigaud are able to tell a whole story in one non-narrative scene, contrasting a dark subject (death) with bright colors and a ton of movement and visual interest; or balancing a happy subject (a visit) with a softer palate and simplified, linear composition.

Michel Obin’s “Battle at the Ravine at Couleuvres,” meanwhile, is a visually complex history painting depicting a scene from the brutal slave rebellion that led to the nation of Haiti. His use of patterning in the trees and fields is particularly outstanding. That same technique and tradition is continued with a contemporary twist in the works of Tessa Mars, on the wall catty-corner to Obin’s piece.

Also of note in this gallery are the metal sculptures placed in the corners of the room. These represent a unique Haitian art form, first popularized by George Liautaud in the 1950s, where artists hammer out old oil drums to create loas figures and crosses for graves.

The Haitian Renaissance artists like Hippolite and Philomé Obin didn’t follow a particular school or style of art. Instead, they creatively searched for ways to express themselves and their culture. Today some contemporary artists adhere to their “naïve,” linear, and hand-painted style, while others–called the moderns–reject the Cap-Haitien style of painting in favor of the art schools and styles of the US and Europe. Nevertheless, the work of the moderns has the same vibrancy of color, historicism, voodoo influence, and vitality that can be found in the art of the naïves.

One of these artists, seen in the next gallery down, is Edouard Duval-Carrié. His multimedia series called Memory Windows uses layers of colored glass and resin, along with images and objects, to create kaleidoscopic pieces that are like puzzle boxes of Haitian history and culture. “Memory Window #1,” for example, has portraits of Haiti’s native Taíno people decimated by disease after Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola. These portraits also include Toussaint L’Ouverture, the revolutionary general who’s considered the father of Haiti, who is kind of like the Haitian version of George Washington. Up close the Memory Windows reward viewers with details and surprises; farther back they take on the appearance of organic forms, like split cells or skulls.

Another modern artist with numerous pieces in The Art of Haiti is Ralph Allen. Although born in Haiti, he emigrated to New York at a relatively young age to escape the reign of Haiti’s Duvalier dictators, “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc.” Much of Allen’s work addresses the terror of the Duvalier years and the ongoing political, social, and environmental problems in Haiti. His pieces are lyrical, blending images together in a flowing pattern that pulls viewers in like a visual maze. Sometimes the effect is sensuous, as with “Mistress Erzuile;” at other times it conveys violence or horror.

Although laid out somewhat confusingly and in desperate need of better signage, “The Art of Haiti: Loas, History, and Memory” provides a good introduction to the art and creativity of this unique country and the indomitable spirit of the people who live there.

The Art of Haiti will be at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center February 10-May 20, 2018. For more information please visit www.csfineartscenter.org.

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