Brant Lyon Installs Hydrogen Jukebox at Cornelia Street Café

April 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Brant Lyon on the origins, ingredients and secret futures of a new spoken word stalwart at Cornelia. 

How did you come to host this series at CSC? Had you done anything like this before? Why have it at Cornelia?

Cornelia Street Cafe has been for me a kind of launch pad and spiritual home for many of my own artistic projects since the mid-90s.  I started coming to read and hear colleagues at its famous Friday night open mike for poetry, and to participate in many other literary events, too.  The reading series I produce, “Hydrogen Jukebox,” pairs a live improvisatory band with open mike and featured poets, and seeks to create the spontaneous, risk-taking, unpredictable, and powerful synergy that comes of improvisation.

I began mining a deep creative vein when I began collaborating with The Ne’erdowells, who have been Hydro Juke’s rock/funk/punk/jazz/blues/whatever-the-moment-calls-for band for the past two years or so.  They (Davey Patterson, guitar; Jess Stewart, piano; Dave McKeon and Mary Noecker, bass; Ry Pilla, drums) are sensitive and inventive musicians with great chops who love working with poets; poets, in turn, love working with them.

Over the past five years or so, Hydrogen Jukebox experimented and developed in a number of venues in the East and West Villages, until it came to The Cornelia last year. Throughout the life of the series, I’ve sought to create an intimate yet lively “party” vibe, where poets can feel free to relax and experiment in a supportive and welcoming environment.

Corneila has a decades-long reputation for being a top-notch venue for music as well as for literary events. To have Hydro Juke happen here, then, became a natural choice. Oh, yes–there’s that beautiful baby grand on stage that Jess Stewart loves to tickle for the shows.

Tell us a little about the folks who’ll be reading this week. How did you meet them and what led you to book them for the series? 

I’m excited and pleased to present, in collaboration with the Romanian Cultural Institute of New York, The Romaniacs, an ensemble of Romanian-born poets: Saviana Stanescu (also a playwiright), Ioana Nicolaie, and New Yorker Sharon Mesmer.  It was my colleague Sharon who introduced them to me and recommended them to read at Hydrogen Jukebox.  This will be the first time for Ioana in the U.S., here  and at the PEN World Voices Festival taking place in NYC this week.

What makes for a good installment of Hydrogen Jukebox? Do you have any goals, plans, or wild dreams for future shows?

I know things are really coming together when a poet steps up to the mike, whispers a word or two to the band, and the worlds of spoken word and music collide, exploding on the tongue in what I call POEMusic. It’s all about the improvisation—the risk-taking and serendipity.  It’s powerful and unpredictable. I took inspiration and the series name, Hydrogen Jukebox, after all, from Allen Ginsberg’s culture-shifting epic poem, “Howl.” The Beats combined poetry with music, as have poets before and since. I have sought to stylistically bring it forward in my own way.  I seek to create a “party” atmosphere, where poets and band feel free to  play and invent. A successful show is when performers and audience alike have a good time. Plans for the future? An All Star Show in the Fall. Some other Hydro Juke surprises that I’m keeping under my hat for just now. You won’t have long to wait and see what they are.

HydroJuke returns Thursday, April 28th at 6pm. Reservations at at 212/989-9319. 


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