Clearwater, FL-On March 19 at the Clearwater Public Library, comic and gaming enthusiasts came together for the third annual Clearwater Comic Con. This was a free event for all who attended. There was a myriad of booths and activities that catered to many interests, such as comics, gaming and anime.
From Mar. 11 to Mar. 13, 2016, the Polar Ice House of Wake Forest in Wake Forest, North Carolina was home to The Inaugural Carolina Sled Hockey Classic.
The Carolina Sled Classic featured 50 disabled athletes from five different teams from throughout the southeast United States.
The teams featured in the photo essay are the Nashville Sled Preds and the Virginia Beach Hockey Club Sled Team. The game was dominated by the Sled Preds, who eventually went on to play in the championship game.
The Florida Strawberry Festival is the talk of the town in Plant City, but the talk of festival, is the “Make Your Own” Strawberry Shortcake booth. Whether you want cake or a biscuit, or little or a lot of whipped topping, Saint Clement Catholic Church gives visitors the chance to make their perfect shortcake.
Saint Clement’s booth is one of the three booths that sell shortcake on the festival grounds. The “Make Your Own” style is what makes the church’s booth stand out from the rest. With the help from parishioners and volunteers, the booth has been running for 43 years. The organization has two coordinators that make sure the project continues to be successful.
“I think it’s an astounding event and I love to be a part of it.”, said co-coordinator, Paul Hetrick.
Hetrick has been a coordinator for three years, but has volunteered since 1987. His hard work and dedication to the project would not be complete without his co-coordinator, Kevin McFaul and committee.
“The committee, it just makes this whole thing smooth. I mean there are just so many things going on. That are a part of this operation.”, Hetrick said. “And as coordinators, we are not necessarily checking up on them on a regular basis. They’re taking care of, because the people that are running them are autonomous.”
There are over a 150 volunteers that contribute to the success of the booth. The committee and volunteers spend many hours of their day preparing berries, washing buckets, and working the booth at the festival. Some volunteers, like Joseph Herrmann, have been helping out since the project first began.
“I’ve been here since the start. 43 years.”, Herrmann said. “And the first day we actually cut berries by hand with the prairie knives.”
Now, there are machines that cut and wash the berries, which makes the process easier.
Hetrick hopes that people visiting the festival not only get a delicious shortcake, but a friendly and welcoming experience.
The booth is running all 11 days of the festival. Tickets are four dollars and can be bought at eight different Publix locations beforehand.
USF has implemented a new Tobacco and Smoking Free Policy. Tobacco and smoking are now prohibited from the Tampa campus, which means that the university’s 24 designated smoking areas no longer exist.
“USF made this change because the university is committed to providing a healthy and safe environment for people to learn in and for people to work in,” USF media and public affairs manager, Adam Freeman, said. “By going tobacco and smoke free for the entire campus, we’re hoping to promote a healthy lifestyle and a lifestyle built around wellness for all members of the community.”
The policy went into effect Jan. 4 before the spring semester started. The university is aiming for the policy to be peer enforced. This can be done by asking people who are smoking to stop or by contacting the building manager nearest to where the smoking is taking place. Students caught smoking can be taken to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities to face disciplinary action. Staff and faculty can be brought before their supervisors. However, the consequences do not seem to be a deterrent.
“I think that it’s definitely a good idea, absolutely,” USF junior Nick Salsone said. “I see that a lot of people don’t follow the rules, but I think that they should.”
There are still plenty of people smoking on campus. The word “free” was scratched off of one of the tobacco and smoke free campus signs.
“I think if people want to smoke, they should be able to,” sophomore Madeline McKeever said. “People are going to do it regardless, so the signs don’t really stop anyone.”
USF’s St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses already have tobacco free policies. USF Tampa has been working towards a tobacco free campus for the past four years.
Social media has never been more prevalent in college and professional sports than it is today. At the University of South Florida, Mike Farrell is the man behind the computer screen.
“A lot of it is one, developing a voice for our social channels and then two creating content that’s going to engage our fanbase,” Farrell said.
As the Director of Digital Content, Farrell is in charge of churning out vines, tweets, pictures and more across all of USF Athletics’ social media platforms every day.
“One of the things we want to do and want to push is to create stuff that is engaging, stuff that people want to consume, share, retweet and help spread the brand,” Farrell said.
One of the most important days for any athletic department each year is National Signing Day. Student athletes from all over the country officially sign with the school of their choosing. The content created by Farrell and his team made waves on a national level, including an appearance on Yahoo! Sports Dr. Saturday blog.
“This year in particular we had a couple national organizations, blogs, write about some of the things that we did,” Farrell said. “It was a lot of hard work, a lot of people put in a lot, a lot of hours for what’s really just a glorified morning. But I do think that it pays dividends in the end.”
The work Farrell puts in on a daily basis is critical to the growing online presence that is USF Athletics.
“For a large subset of our fans, if you don’t have that presence, you’re irrelevant,” Senior Associate Director of Athletics Andrew Goodrich said.
Even though Farrell is fully focused on the day-to-day task of enhancing USF Athletics’ presence online, he doesn’t lose sight of the big picture.
“When one person leaves, somebody else can come in and there’s no drop,” Farrell said. “That’s the USF brand. That’s the USF Athletics brand. That’s the USF football brand. There’s no change. That needs to be a constant.”
For most college students, having a pet of their own would seem like a luxury, but the responsibility of animals mixed with a hectic class schedule could be overwhelming.
For Elizabeth Jernigan, however, her dog Carina was a necessity. Even with aspirations of physician assistant school and a seven-class course load, she can’t imagine doing it without Carina by her side. But perhaps that’s because without Carina, she really couldn’t do it.
After facing unexpected paralysis from the neck down due to her auto-immune disease in 2012, Elizabeth explained that she “needed someone to help [her] with basically everything.” After deciding that a personal aide wasn’t the ideal choice, she applied for a service animal through New Horizons Service Dogs, and waited six long months to get Carina.
Michele Reese has been a puppy raiser for service and guide dogs for several years and has raised over half a dozens dogs. She knows first hand how beneficial and therapeutic these animals can be to the human companions they’re placed with. “They don’t judge,” Reese said. “They love you for who you are, it doesn’t matter if you have a disability.”
Elizabeth has since come full circle in her illness, now able to play and run with Carina whenever she wants. It just goes to show the healing power of these service animals is an amazing thing and now the duo is able to bond on an all-new level, providing equal support for one another everyday.
Cathy Graham opened her small business- Copperfish Books and Gifts- about three years ago with the goal to sell books and become closer to the community. Previously unable to establish her store downtown, Copperfish Books and Gifts is finally making its move to her intended location.
“I opened the store because I wanted to do more than just work out of my garage and run around in different directions.” Graham said. “You know, kind of become part of the community.”
Originally, downtown was the ideal location where Graham wanted to open her store. She expects more customers upon the move to the more populated area of the small town.
“We’ve always wanted to be downtown, but there was never space available.” Graham said.
The winter season is especially important for small businesses to earn significant profit.
“There’s a summertime here in Florida, and in Southwest Florida summertime is quite slow,” said Jerry Presseller, director of the Downtown Merchants Association in Punta Gorda.
Even in its new location, the goals of Copperfish are the same: attract customers and become part of Punta Gorda’s small town community.
“That’s the fun thing about owning a business, relationship building. It’s nice in a small town too, because you get to know people and they become regulars,” Graham said.
According to the Copperfish website, the store will officially move to 103 W. Marion Avenue, Main Street, as of March 1, 2016. A grand opening event will be held at 10 a.m. on March 5th.
Blue and white jerseys converged on Channelside Plaza on Saturday night, as Tampa Bay Lightning fans hoped to witness the team extend its seven-game win streak.
After beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 21, the Lightning were looking to extend their streak against the division leading, and in-state rival, Florida Panthers.
The official watch party of the Lightning took place at Hablo Taco, a Mexican themed restaurant that sits in the shadows of Amalie Arena. Bartenders pour tequila into margarita bowls that rival Lord Stanley’s Cup in size; the bar even refers to the drink as “Stanley Cup’s cousin from south of the border.”
“This is all for the hockey team? I didn’t realize that it was so big down here,” said David Pearson, a tourist from Boston.
With easy access to and from the Tampa Cruise terminal, it’s just a quick trolley ride away from the downtown hotels. This makes it a common occurrence to run into a couple like David and Lisa Pearson from Boston, misplaced Bruins fans who quickly realized that they may have made a mistake in their venue selection.
What may have been overwhelming for a couple on vacation, was actually sparse showing from previous Lightning watch parties; a result of the Sticks of Fire missing from making their usual appearance at watch parties. The Sticks of Fire, a budding Lightning fan base, traveled with the team to Sunrise, FL, to support the players, leaving a noticeable absence.
The Pearsons quickly closed out their tab, making way for a young couple at the bar. Cody Gage and Parisee Wood, both of whom are Lightning fans who came out to their first watch party. While Wood was born and raised in Clearwater, she has never attended a single game, and hopes to rectify that this season.
“Living in Florida my whole life, I wasn’t really exposed to hockey while growing up,” Wood said. “With as good as they’ve been, I started to take notice, and now I can’t wait to watch them.”
It was up to in-game announcer Greg Wolf and the Bolt Brigade to hype the crowd; not really a hard thing to do when you’re giving away memorabilia signed by star players like Ondrej Palat and Brian Boyle. Even the Lightning mascot, Thunder Bug, made it out to the party.
Gage has followed the Lightning for the past four years, not too long after he decided to move from Vermont to Florida. Having left what is considered to be a typical hockey market for the likes of Tampa, he admitted to the market being untraditional.
“Of course it’s an untraditional hockey market. There’s no way that a native Floridian would know about the traditions of old hockey but that doesn’t matter,” Gage said. “That’s what teams like Tampa and Dallas bring to the table, an unorthodox and fresh point of view.”
With Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, all eyes have been on the Catholic Church, and while many people view him as the champion of social change, critics argue that when it comes to the role of women within the church they still have a long way to go.
One University of South Florida student is challenging these views by becoming the youngest female acolyte within the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Ashlie O’Brien didn’t grow up in a religious family.
“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be an alter server, but my parents were never very involved in the church so I wasn’t given that ministry opportunity,” O’Brien said.
Upon attending college, O’Brien decided to take matters into her own hands and began serving at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Temple Terrace. Within one year she had become the highest level of alter server within the church, a feat that takes many individuals years to accomplish.
“It all started with a single daily mass which is just one alter server doing the steps, wine, bible….things like that,” O’Brien said. “Then it turned into adoration, weddings, funerals and I just kept working my way up.”
Her passion for serving is continuing to push her to open more doors for women within the Catholic religion. For O’Brien, alter serving is something she wants to do “every day.”
After a four year hiatus, full of tragedies and blessings, Trecenia Foster and her boyfriend Anthony are finally back in Tampa. They marked their return by attending the Gasparilla parade and celebration on Saturday.
The couple embraced the memories they made at Gasparilla in the past, and were eager to make more.
“It was fantastic, the streets were filled with people who are celebrating together in unity and fun,” Foster said. “We also got to meet new people from all over the world who we became great friends with.”
Through the four years away from Gasparilla, the couple has had some major reproductive health concerns, which led to three miscarriages. The couple was still attempting to remain open and positive about this and Gasparilla has played a major role in that. It has helped them be able to cope and find comfort in being around others.
“We are pretty reserved and didn’t like being around people.” Foster said. “It (Gasparilla) has opened us up and allowed us to let loose and be open with the community around us.”
Gasparilla has impacted this couple in a positive way and has helped them feel more connected with people as a whole.
With Anthony being active duty in the Army, the couple has spent roughly four years out of the United States. They spent some time in Qatar, a country in the Middle East, which prevented them from attending Gasparilla. Upon returning to Tampa they had their first child.
“We welcomed our first daughter in 2004 after having three losses, we were finally blessed with her,” Foster said.
This year the couple dressed up in the same costumes that they wore four years ago and got a great reaction from the Gasparilla crowd. Anthony dressed up as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean and Foster as Sparrow’s partner. However there was one downfall in Foster’s opinion.
“We got stopped over 100 times for photos, I am so glad to be home,” Foster said. “That’s one thing that is annoying about dressing up, but it is fun,”
Overall the couple had a great time. This year they declined to be on floats, but maybe next year they’ll accept the offer.
“It was a blast, we were asked to go on floats too but declined,” Foster said.
For best friends Anna Bauduc and Aley Wojcik, Gasparilla is the beginning of a new tradition.
After meeting a few months ago, Bauduc and Wojcik have become inseparable. To honor their friendship, they’ve decided to start a tradition of attending Gasparilla every year together.
“I love traditions, so this was a no brainer,” Bauduc said. “We want our friendship to last no matter what and what better event to come to then Gasparilla?”
Their goal is to maintain contact throughout the years to come. Coming together for this event will keep their friendship alive.
“We all know that as we grow up, we lose some friends,” Wojcik said. “We’re doing this because we know Gasparilla will be around for a while and that gives us an event to come back to every year.”
They’ve heard about Gasparilla from their friends and siblings, but the amount of fun they’ve had was surprising to them.
“I was a bit skeptical about this whole thing,” Wojcik said. “This just seemed like a place where people come to get drunk and that’s not really my scene.”
She was happy to see how wonderful everyone around her was. Finding out that these people are friendly and are here to have a good time has made the event exceed her expectations.
“We met a guy who came all the way from New York,” Bauduc said. “He told us his parents used to come to Gasparilla ages ago and he wanted to see what all the hype was about.”
With around 200,000 people parading down Bayshore Boulevard, this year’s Gasparilla lived up to its reputation.
“It is pretty intense at first with all the people around you,” Wojcik said. “But once you get used to that and the beads start flying, it’s all fun.”
Bauduc and Wojcik spent the day chronicling their adventures through pictures. Bauduc jumped on Wojcik’s back at one point in excitement. They were both clearly enjoying their time at Gasparilla.
“Hopefully we’ll be here next year and the year after that,” Wojcik said. “Knowing my luck, something ridiculous will try and prevent me from coming.”
“The beginning of a tradition is always nerve-wracking,” Bauduc said. “But we hope we can continue doing this and maybe when we’re old and boring we have kids we can pass along the tradition to.”
Even though some people view Gasparilla as a holiday to make it an all day party Marilyn Pereira wasn’t convinced. Pereira decided to stay away from the madness at Bayshore Boulevard and work a double shift as a server at World of Beer on Saturday. To her there was not much of an appeal to attend the event. It was more important to her to make some money than see the parade.
“I didn’t request off for Gasparilla because I didn’t really even know what it was,” Pereira said. “I just moved here and I didn’t know Gasparilla was today until pretty much everyone I work with requested off.”
Sometimes called the Mardi Gras of Florida; the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates attracts thousands to Tampa every year. The parade takes over the streets of downtown for a majority of the day. People from all over Florida make the trip to celebrate, and most of them are dressed up like pirates.
Pereira worked all morning and through most of the evening. She said she saw an increase in customers during her second shift Saturday evening after the parade had ended.
She described large groups of people of all ages weighed down with beads and wearing fake black beards and hats with giant feathers. She seemed to find the outfits a little silly. Even though she made more money than she had originally expected, she decided it might be worth it to attend Gasparilla next year.
“Yeah I would go. It would’ve been fun to tag along with someone,” Pereira said. “Maybe next year.”
After taking a quiz on the basics of experimental design, USF sophomore Ashtyn Leep watched the teaching assistant explain the different parts of the microscopes they would be using for their biology lab late Saturday afternoon.
Leep was in her second class of the day, having spent the earlier part of the afternoon in a physics lab. While taking classes over the weekend would be less than preferable in any given week, Leep was particularly frustrated on this Saturday.
While she pulled on her white lab coat in the Interdisciplinary Sciences building, her friends were enjoying the general mayhem of the Gasparilla Pirate Fest on Bayshore Boulevard.
“I hosted a pre-gaming party for my friends, and I didn’t go to Gasparilla,” said Leep. “I’m so mad, I almost cried.”
Her plans to attend the parade were complicated last week when a classmate pointed out that event overlapped with her 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. labs. She remained hopeful that she might make it for a brief time, so she did not cancel the party. It became clear to Leep Saturday morning that it would be impossible to make the trip from the university area to South Tampa and be back in time for her classes.
“I got Taco Bell to make myself feel better,” said Leep.
Leep said friends from as far away as Boca Raton began their day imbibing at her house. Some even borrowed her clothes for the parade. She sat on the sideline, preparing to learn about the parts of a microscope instead of the art of bead catching.
“My friend’s dad is a doctor, so I was tempted to have him write me a doctor’s note,” she said. “But I didn’t.”
Freshman Shawna Miller said she has gone to Gasparilla with a big group of friends and family every year until this one – she was also stuck in the lab. Like Leep, she had to live vicariously through pictures and videos her friends posted on social media.
“All of my friends are on Snapchat,” said Miller. “They’ve got their beads on, and I’m in a biology lab.”
Leep still had a bit of fun ahead of her. Her friends planned to return to her house after the parade to continue celebrating Gasparilla – and they owed her some of their treasure.
“They got me beads,” Leep said. “Hopefully. I’ll be mad if they didn’t.”
At the beginning of the new year, the University of South Florida implemented a tobacco ban across campus. After nearly two months, however, the university is having trouble enforcing it.
“Any time you change policy, or you change anything, you’re gonna’ have a few people that are maybe resistant to change, or are not ready to change just yet,” said Adam Freeman, USF Media/Public Affairs manager.
There is no law enforcement involved or surveillance used. Instead, the policy is peer enforced. The idea is that students and faculty hold each other accountable.
“If you see somebody on campus smoking using tobacco, if you feel comfortable, you can approach them and simply tell them this is a tobacco and smoke free campus and politely ask them to stop,” Freeman said.
Students and staff at USF have not exactly jumped on board with this concept yet. Instead, smokers have been gathering in the places that were designated smoking areas and sparking up just as they have in the past.
For a student who wishes to peer enforce, the process involves first asking the smoker to stop. If that doesn’t work, then reporting the smoker to the nearest building manager is the next step. The building manager then could turn them in, subjecting the smoker to either the student code of conduct or disciplinary action, which depends on the position of the offender.
A protest was held Wednesday by several smokers, but USF is not budging on its tobacco policy.
The Tampa Bay area is host to various bands and artists throughout the year. No Clubs Media helps make the events possible by specializing in campaigns and social media.
No Clubs Media Marketing Director, Kristin Stigaard, is a part of a team that creates the shows for concertgoers.
“People don’t realize that we are the people that put on these shows because we don’t really market ourselves,” Stigaard said. “We market the shows.”
According to their website, No Clubs State Media is a promotional company that has brought iconic and original entertainers to the area for the past 25 years. They promote the shows through campaigns and social media.
State Theatre is one of the many venue halls that host the shows promotional companies put on.
“No Clubs is the kind of company where they book the up and coming bands and they keep booking them as they keep rising,” State Theatre Public Relations and Marketing Director Lucy Volpe said. “They start here at State Theatre and keep growing from there.”
Some of their more notable names include: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar and Carly Rae Jepsen.
“It’s kind of like a community when you’re in a concert setting and you’re singing along,” said Stigaard. “That’s what we do.”
Andrea Little and Hector Angus are not your typical college students. They are owners of a grocery store, 1 Apple Grocery.
The University of South Florida students put their money together to help a low-income neighborhood thrive in this “food desert.”
Phil Scott has been president of Black on Black Rhyme Tampa for the last three years. The poetry troop is the longest running in the Tampa area.
The troop assembles every third Friday of every month at Joffrey’s Coffee House. Their aim is to help the people in the poorer side of the community be able to express themselves in a healthy way.
When asked, “is it worth it,” Phil Scott answers, “Undoubtedly. From the neighborhood that I come from, it’s vital to our survival as a community, in order to have these outlets for us”.
Located at the corner of 8th and 15th street in downtown Ybor, Joffrey’s Coffee House hosts the Black on Black Rhyme shows every third Friday of each month.
Phil Scott is FAMU graduate, obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Music. He is currently the band director at Van Buren Middle School.
He says, “I didn’t choose Black on Black, Black on Black really chose me. It was kinda like they just welcomed me with open arms”.
Black on Black Rhyme Tampa show times are available on the Tampa Bay Poetry page on Facebook. Be sure to check out there show this Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m.
Carrollwood, FL- For some people, YMCA is a classic party song and dance, for many others, it’s a place called home.
Officially referred to as, “the Y” now, this nonprofit organization is still a place of comfort. Whether it be an after school program or a late night gym session after a long day at work, it’s a second home for some.
The Y defines themselves as a nonprofit organization like no other, with locations in 10,000 neighborhoods across the country.
In Carrollwood, the Bob Sierra Family YMCA underwent major renovations using money donated entirely by the public and parents of the children who spend their days there.
Through these generous donations, the Top Flight Gymnastics portion of the Y was built.
Inside these four big walls, children ages 2-17 spend time escaping the real world and its problems by entering a safe place with their friends.
Destiny Garcia is one of the many gymnasts at Top Flight. She uses her time there to escape from anything going on outside the gym.
“It means a lot to me because its very encouraging and it helps a lot of us get through many problems that we have,” Garcia said.
With their friends, these future gymnasts work hard. This place is more than a place to go when school lets out, it’s a second home.
“I’m here 24/7 from 3:30 to, I would have to 7 or 8:30, everyday, Monday through Friday including today, it’s a lot of work, it’s like either you commit or you don’t commit,” gymnast Emma Barton said.
The YMCA is committed to making sure kids like Emma will always have a place to call home.
To learn more about the Y, visit: www.ymca.net.
Along West Platt Street, people were profiting for different causes by offering parking spots in private properties.
Sherryl Cook, employment specialist at the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, was one of them. She started at the parking lot around 9:30 a.m.
The Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind is a non-profit organization that offers rehabilitation programs for persons who are blind or visually impaired.
“It usually picks up around one when the parade is going on,” Cook said.
The idea started 16 years ago when one of her coworkers discovered a group of homeless charging people for using their office parking lot during Gasparilla. They decided it would be a good idea create a fundraiser to collect donations to support the organization.
They agreed to a price match with other nearby parking lots to make it fair. This year they charged 20 dollars for each spot.
There were 50 spots, and Cook said she planned to be there until 2 p.m.
Cooks’ plans for the rest of the day were going home and resting after a long morning at the parking lot.
Henry Sutter, 57, was another Tampa resident who decided to make some profit out of Gasparilla.
Holding a “Best Parking” sign, Sutter started at 9 a.m. working at the parking lot with his wife Patty Sutter, who works as a legal attorney at the Business Law Group, P.A., a community association law firm.
They have done this before for collecting money and donating it to the Boys Scouts or churches. This year they did it if for their own profit.
“This is year is going to my daughter’s college car fund,” Henry Sutter said.
They had 35 spots. They charged 30 dollars per car.
“Once every two or three years, I’m here,” Henry Sutter said. “We rotate turns with other people from the law firm.”
The University of South Florida is more globally connected than ever before. This year, USF Education Abroad ushered in over a thousand international students. With 25 programs to choose from, more and more USF students are going overseas.
“We have grown in our diversity of programs and our diversity of students in participation, and we have also just simply grown in number of students we’re sending,” said James Pulos, the Associate Director of Education Abroad.
The Education Abroad office was not always the big program that it is today. Before the 1980’s, international programs were singularly organized by professors and staff. Over the decades, the independent programs unified to become what is known today as Education Abroad. Prior to this, the office was called Study Abroad. Before that it was International Programs, and earlier Travel Study.
Today, USF is sending and receiving students from all over the globe. This semester there are students from universities in England, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, and Spain.
International students choose USF for multiple reasons.
Danish exchange student, Aske H. Muller chose USF for the weather and academics. “I wanted to live in a warm place, and a nice climate so I looked up Florida and California. Actually, USF was my first priority. I didn’t know it before I started looking into it, but it just seemed like a cool university.”
The exchange experience is different for each student, but the ultimate reward is creating global citizens within USF.
“Watching a student return from that and say, in the most positive and life-changing way” Pulos said, in regards to his favorite part of working with Education Abroad. “I have been changed and transformed, and I will carry this experience with me not for the remainder of the summer, not for five years, but for the rest of my life.”
Rick Michel laughs as he recalls a conversation with his mother before singing Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young.”
At the age of seven, already dabbling into the world of impersonations, he asked his mother which of his impressions was her favorite.
While first requesting Paul Newman, his mother responded with, “How ‘bout Frank Sinatra?”
Michel, a Las Vegas singer, attributed this moment to the start of his career.
“I went down to the basement and got one of the old 33 and one-third albums out, it was Nelson Riddle’s “Sound for Swinging Lovers”, and I took the first cut and I put it on my Panasonic Reel to Reel that I got for my bar mitzvah,” Michel said in between songs at the Largo Cultural Center’s Tonne Playhouse. “Next thing you know, I’m doing Frank Sinatra.”
Michel has been an impersonator for more than 30 years, first as a stand-up comedian and now as a musician. Michel has had the opportunity to share the stage with many successful 1960’s and ‘70’s celebrities; including Rich Little, Mickey Rooney, John Byner and Sherman Hemsley.
“Forever Sinatra: A Tribute to Frank Sinatra” is different from the other comedic acts in his repertoire. He doesn’t pretend to be Sinatra, but rather pays tribute to his idol’s long and wonderful career.
“Nobody can fill his shoes, that’s why I call it an interpretation not an impersonation,” Michel said. “I’m emotionally drained after every show.”
Michel has had Frank Sinatra, President Gerald Ford, Tony Curtis, Bob Hope and Steve Allen in his audience. Meeting Frank Sinatra, he said, was the height of his career.
“There are a lot of moments where I have literally pinched myself,” Michel said. “His aura, I mean standing next to him I can see why women get weak at the knees.”
Michel’s goal is to touch upon all aspects of Sinatra’s life by choosing a variety of music that best represents his career.
In Sunday’s matinee performance, the audience was treated to Sinatra’s greatest hits, including “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Lady is a Tramp,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Strangers in the Night,” and “New York, New York.”
Almost every seat, in the Tonne Playhouse’s 466 seats, was sold as the audience routinely interrupted the performance with applause.
“It’s just like Ol’ Blue Eyes,” said B.A. Rand Marsters, a Canadian painter and musician in the audience. “I’m a big Sinatra fan and he does him justice.”
The audience responded especially well to the chemistry between Michel and the three other members of his band: Ray Von Rotz on Drums, Mark Neuenschwander on Bass and Stan Collins on the Piano. Michel doesn’t travel with a band, instead he picks up local musicians in the city where he is performing.
“It’s too expensive to travel with a band,” said Leslie Gregory, Michel’s wife of nine years. “You play so many cities, you know people and who contracts bands.”
The performance did not miss a beat once, in fact, the four of them were chatting on stage like old friends throughout most of the show.
“When you’re pros, it makes it easy,” Michel said.
Michel loves being able to bring the audience to a different time. Hearing people tell him if they close their eyes it’s like Sinatra was there is one of his favorite parts. He couldn’t imagine another career.
“It’s the music, it’s the passion, it’s the words,” Michel said. “I can feel the music through my soul.”