here beneath the blue

My Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.

big hairy audacious goal spider

The first time I did it, I was 11 years old. The local SPCA shelter was low on money and was forced to euthanize the overflow of puppies and kitties. It just about broke my heart. Something had to be done. So, we put on a show.

I envisioned a vaudeville extravaganza with corny skits, music, and written-out parts for the available cast — my two sisters and a couple of our best friends. Even our flea-ridden, mangy collie Kingboy would have a walk-on role.

We canvassed the neighborhood, selling flimsy paper tickets for 75 cents each that Dad had photocopied at work, baked cookies and made lemonade. We hung up a clothesline and pinned old tablecloths on it. Any available fold-up chairs were wrangled from the neighbors and lined up hopefully in our garage.

After one whole week of rehearsal — largely consisting of me telling everyone what to do and pitching fits when they WOULD NOT follow my directions — we were ready for the hoards of Harvey Road theatergoers.

And you know what? They came: mothers, fathers, squalling toddlers — even that new black family down the street (exotic for Grand Island) we’d welcomed with a cake. Everyone came with money in their pockets expecting fun, but knowing they were supporting something larger than themselves.

They clapped and listened appreciatively to our overwrought dramas in that hot, fly filled garage. They bought the overpriced brownies and Kool-Aid because five raggedy kids and a reluctant dog wanted to do something big and help something worthy.

I’m doing it again. I’ve put together a crack team of musicians and we’ve recorded a wonderful CD. We’re going to release it at a big party for a really great cause — The Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP). And boy, are they audacious too. They believe that with education and service they can grow and bring healthy food to the West Side of Buffalo.

The tickets aren’t cheap ($20 presale), but all of the proceeds and a percentage of the CD sales will go to MAP. We’d like to buy them a walk in cooler for their fresh, locally-grown produce.

Please join us on Friday, March 28 at 7:00pm at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Buffalo. We’ve upgraded the cookies and lemonade to wine, desserts and appetizers. Instead of five awkward kids you’ll see some of Buffalo’s best jazz musicians. Kingboy the collie won’t be there, but if you’ll come, we promise you one hell of a show.

 

Finding a blue sky in Buffalo.

Painting by Phil Durgan

Painting by Phil Durgan

Can we agree that this Buffalo winter has been a real bummer? Misery for most, heaven for some, what we haven’t seen are many blue sky days. This has made the shooting of my album cover, “Here Beneath the Blue,” a near impossibility.

I had pictured me standing, relaxed arms wide open, under a brilliant, clear blue sky. However, glamour shots in 20° weather with icy howling winds don’t portray the laid back vibe I’m shooting for. Streaming eyes, nose and flailing hair might be fine for a metal band, not classic jazz.

Friends suggested Photoshopping me into an idyllic background — dependent only on a good shot and mad editing skills. While I’m at it, why not copy/paste a 20 lb. slimmer body on me, put a margarita in my hand, a nearby pool boy applying sunscreen and call it a day?

No, desperate times lead to desperate measures. Somehow, I’d create my own blue sky; that is to say, hire an artist to paint a blue sky behind me while I posed happily beneath it. Luckily, I know a few wonderful painters and was able to line up the talented abstract artist, Phil Durgan to be my performance painter. I supplied him with a thumbnail sketch of my vision and we were on our way!

What to wear for my cover — sexy, vulnerable, spiritual or slinky? Ask an expert. Last night I met with BFF and style maven Pamela Sieracki who shopped my closet for five potentially awesome outfits. She combined fabrics and colors like the designer she is and advised me against my own “What Not To Wear” disasters.

Mari McNeil outfits

In two days, the photo shoot will be a coordination effort worthy of D-day: first, my hair will be cut and styled by Michele Ruffino of R Salon. Then, my face will be painted, troweled, and airbrushed by Hollywood makeup artist, Dani Weiser. Next, it’s off to the indoor loft apartment/French bistro owned by the generous Paul and Sandra Wilkins. It has the distressed brick look I’m hoping for, plus lots of natural light. Phil will arrive on site with his partially finished canvas and painting supplies to set up a live backdrop to my posing.

Then, it’s time for my photographer, Marc Murphy, to work his magic with existing light and my thoroughly natural, hey-I-look-this-good-everyday, appearance. If all goes as planned, I’ll look happy and open — here beneath the blue.

Just like in real life, when blue skies in Buffalo are not cooperating, we create our own.