Julie Merritt is a Panama City local and President of the St. Andrews Ukulele Orchestra.
When is the last time you sat around with a group of friends and played music and sang songs? Whether singing along with the radio, around a camp fire, or a night out on the town with friends singing along with your favorite band. The sheer joy of keeping company with good friends and belting out happy tunes makes for a memorable time.
Enter the ukulele; for the past 4 years a group of music lovers has met at Little Village once a month to play on their ukuleles and sing songs. The group in itself has grown from around 20 participants at that first meeting in November of 2013 to an active playing membership of around 80. Initially, we would bring our TV set and post the songs on the tube via laptop and we would play and sing along to some classic old tunes. To our surprise, the Ukulele Orchestra of St. Andrews has become a very active family of musicians that includes not only ukuleles, but trumpets, cellos, accordions, drums, vibra slaps and kazoos. It is truly an “orchestra”! As the group has grown in number and diversity of instruments, so has the range of musical interests ranging from classical ukulele tunes to rock and roll, blues, folk, and cabaret. The group now performs at venues across the Panhandle and has raised money through donations and tips to spread the love by providing ukuleles to local elementary schools, after school groups and the local library. To date, the group has provided ukes to five Bay County elementary schools, Girls Inc., and the Bay County Library – Panama City. The goal is to continue raising money and putting ukes in all of the local schools as well as to foster teaching and performance.
As the group continued to grow, and raise money, we decided to sponsor a ukulele festival. Several members had participated in workshops and festivals across the country and thought “Why not here?” The Strummin’ Man festival is planned for the second weekend in October at the St. Andrews Marina. This festival will bring internationally recognized ukulele talent from as far away as Hawaii and will include workshops, vendors, local and regional live performances and open mic opportunities for new and old strummers who are anxious to share their musical interests. October in St. Andrews is one of the best places to be on the planet and nothing will put a smile on your face like a ukulele. Come on down, bring the family and join in the fun!
Panama City POPS Orchestra explore the art and artistry of David Bowie
David Robert Jones was born in London on January 8, 1947. He died January 10, 2016 two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his twenty-fifth (and final) album, Blackstar. Better known to the world as David Bowie, he changed artistic personas – notably Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke – even more frequently than he changed his name. Along the way he bent the rules on gender identity decades before doing so became an acceptable part of everyday conversation.
He also bent the musical rules, continuously pushing popular music beyond its frontier boundaries, and in doing so became a highly influential artistic trailblazer (for example, he almost singlehandedly invented the Glam Rock genre). Despite the fluidity of his musical approach, he consistently infused his music with a level of sophistication and intellectual vigor otherwise too frequently lacking in pop music, always raising the bar for a musical genre constantly in danger of becoming frivolously banal and predictably imitative. His songwriting throughout decades displayed deeply introspective and philosophical expressions of a lifetime spent wrangling with his own spirituality, political evolution, sexuality and social attitudes (including towards race).
But his art extended well beyond the musical stage and recording studio as he brilliantly transferred his innate theatrical knack to acting roles both in front of the camera (most famously as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth) and in live theater, often playing mysterious villains, outcasts or, occasionally, himself in cameo appearances. He was also a critically acclaimed painter, focusing primarily on the human form (including a series of self-portraits) rendered in usually grotesque, boldly pigmented neoexpressionist daubs and swirls. He was also an obsessive collector of contemporary masters with a collection valued at over $12 million at the time of his death.
Not enough water has passed under the bridge to take a fully critical assessment of his cultural contribution, but it seems fair to venture a rash judgment by claiming he was the William Blake for our age. Iconoclastic, esoteric – seemingly perched, like his famous character in “Space Oddity,” miles above planet Earth, a perspective from which he was able to observe, yet still not fully rationalize, the quotidian comings-and-goings of his fellow mortals.
On January 8, the eve of the 70th birthday of this artistic genius, Panama City POPS Orchestra will present a season extra, “The Music of David Bowie.” Under the baton of Richard Carsey, the POPS will perform a musical tribute of David Bowie’s repertoire scored by the critically acclaimed Windborne Production Company, which has produced similar tributes to such iconic rock legends as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, The Doors, Queen, The Rolling Stones, U2, Journey and Michael Jackson.
The POPs will be joined at the Marina Civic Center at 7:30 by vocalist Brody Dolyniuk along with a full rock orchestra as they guide the audience on a musical odyssey spanning Bowie’s entire career, performing hits such as “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “China Girl” and “Under Pressure.” Tickets for what promises to be an unforgettable night start at $19.50 and are available online by visiting www.panamacitypops.org.
Panama City is on the cusp of becoming an artist’s and art lover’s mecca since establishing itself as a diverse and dynamic destination for both the performing and visual arts. “Panama City is on the rise as a destination for the arts, and we are thrilled to welcome visitors who come to experience our bustling arts scene in addition to the world-class water activities we have long been known for,” said Jennifer Vigil, President and CEO of Destination Panama City. “In the past, our culture has largely been guided by its proximity to the water, so our evolution as an artistic destination is the perfect complement.”
Downtown serves as Panama City’s art and theater district, anchored by the stage of the 1936 art deco Martin Theater, the 2,500-seat auditorium at the Marina Civic Center and the City Arts Co-Op, a 7,000-square-foot facility with performance and studio space. These venues host a range of events from local talent to international touring acts and Broadway performances.
The Panama City Center for the Arts provides cultural enrichment through a wide range of art courses including painting, sculpture and digital design. Each spring, The Centre and Bay Arts Alliance host the Bay Annual, a juried art contest and exhibition featuring the work of local artists residing in 16 Panhandle counties.
From Music Matters, a grassroots campaign credited with revitalizing the Panama City music scene, to the 200-person Ukulele Orchestra of St. Andrews, Panama City’s thriving music scene is experiencing a major breakthrough. In the Fall, downtown Panama City comes alive with light, sound and art during Public Eye SOAR, a digital projection art festival that transforms downtown’s streetscape with animations and films.