Wednesday, January 28, 2009

La Casbah culminates second-floor construction

To be published in The Racquette on January 30, 2009.

Downtown Potsdam’s unique Moroccan restaurant, La Casbah, will open its spacious second floor as soon as Valentine’s Day—exactly a year after the restaurant first opened its doors. Renovations to the former Masonic temple—turned dance studio—will transform the versatile space into a catering hall and club. The opening will also spark the presentation of some non-alcoholic all age events and open mic nights.

Partners Hassan Hmyene, Alex Bennani and Rida Bourhouat brought La Casbah to Potsdam in 2008 after several successful restaurant ventures elsewhere. The restaurant has not only grown in popularity because of its flavorful foods, but because of the live music that it hosts all weekend long. The co-owners’ passion about fostering live local music is clear. “I am going to bring [live] music back to this community no matter what it takes,” said Bennani. The room will be furnished with the proper sound equipment for all sorts of live music, and will be able to facilitate rehearsals, jam sessions and live shows.

“When I came to Potsdam and found this young generation and this talent on these campuses I said, ‘this is what I want to promote,’” revealed Bennani, “I love it, I really love it.” “The owners there [at La Casbah] are very appreciative of us and they are always trying to find ways to accommodate us,” said senior music education major Benton Sillick, who plays in several groups that perform at La Casbah. Opportunities for young musicians are endless at La Casbah. Sophomore music majors Max Howard and Nick Natalie sometimes perform jazz selections during dinner hours. “It is very refreshing for musicians to know the Casbah is so open to all different kinds of live music,” said saxophonist Natalie. Both musicians cited the fun atmosphere and great music as things that keep them coming back to La Casbah.

La Casbah began upstairs renovations in the summer of 2008 with KMA Construction. The plan for the spacious room consists of a stage, a large bar, and a mezzanine with a great view of the full room. The need for space is evidenced by the sheer number of local college students who “come and they practice and they have a good time and they bring the crowd and everybody has a good time,” asserted Bennani.

The focal point of the new room is a beautiful red-stained hardwood bar with copper accents. It is easily twice the size of its downstairs counterpart. The room will potentially have a capacity of over 200 persons—a number that will not be definite until Potsdam Village code enforcement officer, John Hill, inspects the finalized space. The Village of Potsdam has been instrumental in helping La Casbah carry out its expansion.

While the majority of events held at La Casbah will remain 21+, a select few will be open to a younger crowd. On those occasions, for the safety of the attendees and the restaurant’s credibility, the bar will be closed, and non-alcoholic refreshments will be served. “When there is an event where a good band is playing and underage (persons) want to come, we will definitely have a solution for it by… [either] separating or bracelets,” said co-owner Alex Bennani, “we would be able to control it, but we have got to be very organized for it and be sure that there is no way that underage (persons) will drink at La Casbah.”

The exciting new addition to La Casbah should be open to the public on or around February 14, 2009. Musicians and music lovers of all ages will benefit from the new space.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dance Music for people who Hate Dance Music

To be published in The Racquette on 1/30/2009.

Foot stomps, hand claps, synths and singalong choruses make up the signature sound that Matt and Kim have defined for themselves. Grand, named for a street in their hometown, Brooklyn, is no departure from this formula. They have created yet another CD of dance music for people who don’t like dance music. Matt Johnson (keyboards) and Kim Schifino (drums) share the vocals, but Matt’s unique voice almost always takes the lead. If the band has grown at all since their first album, it is through layering more things, such as acoustic piano and synthesized strings, which make the album much more full-bodied and satisfying.

The music is built on simple principles: driving backbeat and arpeggio-drenched keyboards. This simplicity makes it hard to dislike them, as they don’t ever do anything offensive. Still, they manage to mar the uncomplicated formula by taking some songs a bit too fast, leaving the listener gasping for air.

The opening track, “Daylight,” is a showstopper. The song is so catchy and easily relatable that they see fit to reprise it as the last track as well. By bookending the album in this way, they almost cancel out the utterly forgettable moments in the middle of the album. But, even on the less memorable tracks, there are still catchy melodies that will have you humming or singing along.

This is a great album to dance or work out to. You can download the single, “Daylight,” for free at The album doesn’t promise to stand up to multiple listens, but it is definitely something fun to turn on when your mood needs a boost.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Writing Songs

I'm curious. If you happen to stumble across this blog and you are a songwriter, where do you get inspiration, and how do you pull yourself out of a slump??

Thursday, January 01, 2009

didn't quite make it to 50 books this year

another year and i've fallen a bit short of my goal. still better than last year! i can think of a few books on this list that were a waste though...

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
2. Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut
3. Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield
4. The Witches by Roald Dahl
5. Mix Tape by Thurston Moore
6. Black Hole by Charles Burns
7. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
8. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
10. The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda
11. Papillon by Henri Charrière
12. The Collected Cloth by Jack Terricloth
13. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
14. Banco by Henri Charrière
15. New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye by Ronen Kauffman
16. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
17. The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green
18. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
19. How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggers
20. You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers
21. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
22. Naked by David Sedaris
23. Diary by Chuck Palahniuk
24. The Best American Nonrequired Reading [2007] edited by Dave Eggers
25. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
26. The Film Club by David Gilmour
27. The Best American Nonrequired Reading [2002] edited by Dave Eggers
28. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
29. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
30. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
31. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
32. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
33. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
34. Flash Fiction Forward anthology
35. The Best American Nonrequired Reading [2008] edited by Dave Eggers
36. The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett
37. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson