Why I love James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is one of my favorite authors. I love all his novels, especially the ones about Detective Dave Robicheaux, who solves crimes and observes all the vagaries and savagery of humanity in sweaty New Iberia, La. From "Neon Rain" to "Heaven’s Prisoners" to his latest, "The Glass Rainbow," Burke writes with feeling, passion and, yes, humor, telling stories about the darkest deeds imaginable. 

Reading his books is like taking the best creative writing class you ever imagined. Here’s an excerpt from "The Glass Rainbow," (Simon & Schuster, 2010) in which Robicheaux describes his best friend and former partner from his days on the New Orleans police force, private investigator Clete Purcel:

"Insatiability seemed to have been wired into his metabolism. He fought his hangovers with uppers and vodka and tomato juice and a celery stick in a tumbler of cushed ice, convinced himself that four fingers of Scotch sheathed in a glass of milk would not harm his liver, and clanked iron daily to compensate for the deep-fried softshell crabs and oyster po’boy sandwiches and gallons of gumbo he consumed on a weekly basis. His courage and his patriotism and his sense of personal honor and his loyalty to friends had no peer. I never knew a better and braver man. But threaded through all of his virtues was his abiding conviction that he was not worthy of a good woman’s love and that somehow his father, the milkman who had made his son kneel on grains of rice, always stood somewhere close by, his face knotted with disapproval.

"Clete was the libidinous trickster of folklore, the elephantine buffoon, the bane of the Mob and all misogynists and child molesters, the brain-scorched jarhead who talked with a dead mamasan on his fire escape, the nemesis of authority figures and anyone who sought power over others, a one-man demolition derby who had driven an earth-grader through the walls of a mobster’s palatial home on Lake Pontchartrain and systematically ground the entire building into rubble. Or at least that was the persona he created for the world to see. But in reality, Clete Purcel was a tragedy. His enemies were many: gangsters, vindictive cops, and insurance companies who wanted him off the board. Klansmen and neo-Nazis had tried to kill him. A stripper he had befriended dosed him with the clap. He had been shanked, shot, garroted and tortured. A United States congressman tried to have him sent to Angola. But all of the aforementioned were amateurs when it came to hurting Clete Purcel. Clete’s most dangerous adversary lived in his own breast."

This, the 18th book in the Robicheaux series, is about the murders of seven young women, mostly ignored because most of the victims are poor and black. "The Glass Rainbow" has just been released in hardcover; you can find it in your favorite bookstore or order it online.

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks N.D.

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Art Auction tonight


 "Another Fable About Waiting Patiently," 24" x 16", mixed media on board, Brett Lysne. Starting bid: $150.









If you’re trying to build an art collection, or if you’re just looking for a nice piece of art for that spot in your office, living room or guestroom that needs a little something — remember that tonight is the fifth annual Silent Art Auction Fundraiser at Third Street Gallery on Kittson in Grand Forks.

A preview of the art begins at 6 p.m. tonight (7/29) with food, wine and beer. Bidding will be from 7 to 9 p.m.

Amy Lyste and Rebecca Sefcovic Uglem, directors of the gallery, said they have pieces representing more than 25 artists and what they believe is their best auction to date.

For more info, call (701) 757-3333.

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks N.D.

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Boas and Bowties

Do you feel you just don’t have enough opportunities to wear your fancy cocktail dress and/or black tie attire? If so, the Greater Grand Forks Community Theater and Crimson Creek Players have a deal for you.

Tuesday night at 7 p.m., they’re sponsoring a "Boas and Bowties" reception at Empire Arts Center for the opening night of their season finale show, "The Producers." The event is free to everyone who has a ticket for the Tuesday night performance.

You can wear your finest attire and enjoy refreshments and a cash bar before the show. (I’m humming "Putting on the Ritz," even as I write this. I know — wrong Mel Brooks show.)

And, best of all, walk-up ticket buyers dressed in fine cocktail wear or black tie on Tuesday night will be eligible for discount tickets.

After the Tuesday night show, there will be an after party with the cast and crew in the Empire Arts Center gallery.

I’m excited about seeing "The Producers" in Grand Forks. Although I’ve never seen it on stage, I’ve heard wonderful things about it. And with this cast, it’s bound to be great.

"The Producers" will be on stage at the Empire at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Aug. 7 and Aug. 10 through Aug. 14.

Tickets: Adults, $18; students, senior citizens and military, $15; available in advance at Chester Fritz box office, (701) 777-4090.

The cast will feature Paul Vonasek (the foot-spelling Barfee in "Putnam County Spelling Bee") as Max and Matt Berdahl (the sock puppet speller from "Putnam County") as his accountant, Leo.

Other cast members: Haley Anne Boyd, Daniel Dutot, Justine Heim, and Daniel Walstad. The ensemble will feature Lori Boucher, Emily Burkland, Amy Driscoll, Tomas Grande, Michelle McCauley, Ken McGurran, Sue Moe, Cody Oss, Tyler Rood, Casey Smith, Daniel Wiebusch, Emily Wirkus.

The show is directed by Chris Berg and produced by Benjamin Klipfel.

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter at the Grand Forks Herald.

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Is massive student debt worth the degree?

When it comes to "must-see TV," public television is definitely on my short list. Yes, the Lawrence Welk tributes and Daniel O’Donnell concerts are a bit much, but too each his own, right?

"Frontline" is one of the programs that make public television the exciting, informative medium that it is. And now "Frontline" is promoting the sale of one of its most provacative programs.

"Is massive student debt worth the degree? ‘Frontline’ examines the business interests that Run for-profit higher education in eye-oepning new doc from PBS."

That’s a promo that’s bound to get your attention if you’re college-bound, or if you are getting ready to pay for someone’s college education.

Here’s the news release I received today about "College Inc."

"America is built on the principle that higher education is attainable by anyone with the passion to succeed – but does this ring true today?

"Viewers are invited to join the award-winning FRONTLINE investigative team as they put modern education to the test in ‘College, Inc.’ Set for release on July 20 from PBS, ‘College, Inc.’ examines the world of college and university education and asks if a degree is truly necessary even though it will often bring about massive student debt.

"Today, the business of higher education is booming — it’s a $400 billion industry fueled by taxpayer money. But what are students getting out of the deal?

"Critics say a worthless degree and a mountain of debt.

"Investors insist they’re innovators, widening access to education.

" FRONTLINE follows the money to uncover how Wall Street and a new breed of for-profit universities are transforming the way we think about college in America. A must-see documentary for educators and students alike, College, Inc. uncovers the truth behind higher education and the profit-hungry institutions that write the rules."

To order a copy of "College, Inc." or any other PBS titles, you can call (800) PLAY-PBS or visit shopPBS.org. To purchase DVDs with public performance rights, go to ShopPBS.org/education.



(Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter at the Grand Forks Herald.)

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Tonight at the North Dakota Museum of Art








(Above) "Small Goats," Olof Nordal

Tonight at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, there will be an opening reception for "Into the Tussock," an exhibit of works by seven conemporary artists from Iceland.

The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. and the special guest will be Hjalmer Hannesson, Iceland’s ambassador to the U.S. After his remarks at 6 p.m., four of the artists will talk about their work.

Then, at 7 p.m., the first concert in the museum’s Concerts in the Garden will begin, with music by the North River Ramblers. Admission will be $7 and free for children 12 and younger, and there will be grilled hamburgers and brats, as well as beer and wine, available for purchase.

Definitely an event to make time for. See you there.

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks N.D.


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Chance to spin the ‘Wheel’ comes to Fargo











Here’s some news I’m pretty sure will be quite exciting to a lot of folks who live in the Red River Valley and beyond.

The “Wheel of Fortune” Wheelmobile, the promotional vehicle for one of television’s most popular game shows, will be in Fargo Saturday and Sunday holding auditions for good game players who are energetic, enthusiastic and fun, says a news release that came my way today.

(Yes, "Wheel of Fortune" is the show that stars Pat Sajack and Vanna White, but they won’t be traveling with the Wheelmobile.)

Viewers who are interested in being a contestant on an upcoming episode are invited to attend. Each fan will have the opportunity to fill out an application, have his or her name drawn at random to play a simulated version of the game onstage, win unique prizes and be evaluated as a potential contestant for the broadcast version of the show.

The event will be from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Urban Plains Center, 5225 31st Ave. S. There is no charge for parking or admission to the Wheelmobile event. Parking will be available in the South lot located off of 32nd Avenue.

Staff members from the Wheel of Fortune promotions team will begin handing out applications one hour before each show begins. Searches will be held at noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., with each show lasting about an hour. Everyone who attends the event will be able to submit an application. Participants will be selected to come to the stage and audition via a random draw.

Harry Freidman, executive producer of “Wheel of Foture, said the Wheelmobile tour gave the show the opportunity to present local viewers with a personal experience with the show.

“It’s a way for us to thank our viewers for their long-term support, and for making the show No. 1,” Friedman said in a news release.

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter at the Grand Forks Herald.

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And the Dalmatians went to …

The Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre has announced its annual Dalmatian Awards, 24 awards in all ranging from best kiss to best production.

Nominations were generated by the staff of the theater group and the public was invited to vote. This year, about 150 ballots were submitted. The awards ceremony, June 3 at Fire Hall Theatre, was sponsored by the Community Theatre board of directors, the Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Toasted Frog.

And the awards went to:

Outstanding Newcomer: Heather Helgeson as Patti in “Kimberly Akimbo.”

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical: Michelle McCauley as Miss Hannigan in “Annie.’

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: Roger Dykstra as F.D.R. in “Annie.”

Best Supporting Actress in a Play: (tie) Sharon Bures as Debra in “Kimberly Akimbo and Wendy Swerdlow Pederson as Myrtle in “St. Bette’s.”

Best Supporting Actor in a Play: Ralph Swendseid as LeRoy in “The Bad Seed.”

Best Actress in a Musical: Ali Nicoli as Annie in “Annie.”

Best Actor in a Musical: Doug Chavis as Berger in “HAIR.”

Best Actress in a Play: Claire Thompson as Rhoda Penmark in :The Bad Seed.”

Best Actor in a Play: Pat DeMars as Buddy in “Kimberly Akimbo.”

Best Costume: Rhoda from “The Bad Seed,” designed by Amy Sanner.

Best Lighting Design: “Bat Boy: The Musical,” designed by Lindsay Escobar.

Best Set Design: “HAIR,” designed by Benjamin Klipfel, construction by Jeff Kinney, Jared Kinney and Jerry Lowe.

Best Dance Sequence: “Hard Knock Life,” from “Annie,” choreography by Jenny Morris.

Best Duo/Trio: “Black Boys /White Boys,” from “HAIR,” choreography by Laura Dvorak-Berry.

Best Group Number: “Let The Sun Shine In,” from HAIR, musical direction by Matt Strand, artistic direction by Chris Berg.

Best Vocal Solo: “Tomorrow,” sung by Ali Nicoli.

Best Onstage Duo: LeRoy and Rhoda, from “The Bad Seed,” played by Ralph Swendseid and Claire Thompson.

Best Couple: Genevra and Joshua Bradly from Bright Ideas, played by Marie Strinden and Todd Chrzanowski.

Best Kiss: Berger/Claude/Sheila, from “Hair,” played by Doug Chavis, Jared Kinney and Jesi Mullins.

Best Use of Pregnancy: Cast of “St. Bette’s.”

Best Director: Benjamin Klipfel for “The Bad Seed.”

Best Musical: “Hair,” directed by Chris Berg.

Best Play: “The Bad Seed,” directed by Benjamin Klipfel.

Outstanding production: “Annie.” This award is determined by vote of public, vote of staff, and the production’s ticket sales and net revenue).

GGFCT Board Spotlight Award: Pat Garry, for his dedication to theater and volunteerism to the organizations of Greater Grand Forks.

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks N.D.

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MTV awards recap

So this is what it’s come to. Sunday night TV is so bad that for a few minutes last night, I found myself watching the 2010 MTV Movie Awards. It was either that or a "Law and Order" marathon, and I have seen all the "L&Os" so many times that within two minutes of the opening "dong, dong" noise, I can tell you the whole plot of the upcoming episode.

There was one good thing on TV last night – from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. on FX — and that was a rerun of last week’s episode of "Justified" starring Timothy Olyphant. I love "Justified," with its great blend of rednecks, violence, religious nuts, explosions, meth labs, jaded women, and federal marshals. Recently, a charming, competent young salesman in one of the big box stores smiled as he told me he really didn’t care for "Justified" because, essentially, it was "the 21st century ‘Walker Texas Ranger.’" Guess where I will NOT be buying a new TV?



 Above: Timothy Olymphant, "Justified." Right: Chuck Norris, "Walker Texas Ranger." Similar hats does NOT equal similar shows.









 But I digress. According to a news release I received today, "MTV Generation" award winner Sandra Bullock locked lips with Scalrett Johansson. I missed that part, but I did see Hollywood Mega-Mogul Producer Les Grossman burning up the dance floor with Jennifer Lopez.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" dominated with five Golden Popcorns (the award looked like a giant bag of popcorn on a pedestal) including best movie.

The night was filled with funny film parodies as host Aziz Ansari inserted himself into scenes from “The Blind Side” and “Precious,” before being introduced by heartthrob Justin Bieber. Aziz also brought down the house when he channeled R. Kelly, performing a hilarious new “Avatar”-themed song in which he slammed British Petroleum, marking the latest installment of his ongoing parodies of the R&B star. See it here:


The “2010 MTV Movie Awards” welcomed the top names in Hollywood, music and TV with presenters that included Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, the cast of the upcoming film “Grown Ups” (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider), Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aubrey Plaza, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Zac Efron, Jonah Hill, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Steve Carell, Miranda Cosgrove, Shaun White, Vanessa Hudgens, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Russell Brand, Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Scarlett Johansson, Betty White, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, T.I., Jessica Alba, Michael Cera, Eva Mendes, Ed Helms and Kieran Culkin.

Here’s a list of the winners of the “2010 MTV Movie Awards” and, once you read some of the categories, I think you will agree that a proper, middle-aged lady as myself — albeit one who is not watching anything even CLOSE to "Walker Texas Ranger" — should not have to subject herself to something like this in the name of entertainment:

• “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” — Chris Weitz, Director; Wyck Godfrey and Karen Rosenfelt, Producers (Summit Entertainment)

• Robert Pattinson – “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” (Summit Entertainment)

• Kristen Stewart – “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” (Summit Entertainment)

• Anna Kendrick – “Up In The Air” (Paramount Pictures)

• Zach Galifianakis – “The Hangover” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

• Tom Felton – “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

• Beyoncé vs. Ali Larter – “Obsessed” (Screen Gems/Sony Pictures)

• Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson – “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” (Summit Entertainment)

• Ken Jeong – “The Hangover” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

• Amanda Seyfried – “Jennifer’s Body” (Twentieth Century Fox)

• Rain – “Ninja Assassin” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

• Robert Pattinson – “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” (Summit Entertainment)

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks N.D.

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Regional summer theater season opens June 3 in Thief River Falls

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and that means it’s time for summer theater. The Thief River Falls Arts Council production of "Talking With…" — playing at 7 p.m. June 3 and 4 — is the first show among the many, many great productions that will be on stage in our area this summer.

"Talking With…", by the way, will be presented in the theater at Northland Community & Technical College in Thief River Falls. Advance tickets are available at Kezar Music.

This is the 15th season of theater for Thief River Falls, Jean Larson of the Arts Council shared with me in a news release. Jane Anderson is directing "Talking With…" and the cast features Anderson and Alice Conwell, LoriAnn Walseth, Kathy Olson, Laura Brickson, Hannah Brickson, Michele Christensen, Sherry Knott and Judi Helgeland.

"Talking With…" by Jane Martin is a series of monologues by characters that include a snake handler, daughter, baton twirler, washed-up rodeo cowgirl, tattoed woman and an older woman, all talking about their experiences. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, there’s the mystery of "Jane Martin," which is a pen name for — well, apparently no one’s quite sure. Larson told me that many people believe Ms. Martin is actually Jon Jory, a professor at University of Washington School of Drama in Seattle, but Jory says he is not the author of Ms. Martin’s plays.

Here’s a list of other shows on tap this summer by area theater groups.

Fire Hall Theatre, Grand Forks (Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre & Crimson Creek)
June 15-19: “The Sweet Stuff,” Fire Hall Theatre, Grand Forks; www.ggfct.org/.
July 6-10, July 13-17: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Fire Hall Theatre.
Aug. 3-7, Aug. 10-14: “The Producers,” Empire Arts Center, Grand Forks.

Fort Totten (N.D.) Little Theatre
July 7-11, July 14-18, July 21-25, July 28-Aug. 1: “Guys & Dolls,” Fort Totten, N.D.; www.tottentrailinn.com/.

Frost Fire Theatre, Walhalla, N.D.
July 10-11, 14, 17-18, 21, 24, 25, 28, 31 and Aug. 1: “The Buddy Holly Story,” www.frostfiretheatre.com/; (701) 549-3600.

Paul Bunyan Planhouse, Bemidji
June 9-13, June 16-19: “Biloxi Blues,” Chief Theatre, Bemidji; www.PaulBunyanPlayhouse.com; (218) 751-7270.
June 23-27, June 30-July 3: “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”
July 7-11, July 14-17: “Bram Stoker’s Dracula." 
July 21-25, July 28-31: “The Boys Next Door.”
Aug 4-8, Aug. 11-14: “Gypsy."

Roseau, Minn.
July 7-11: “Godspell,” Roseau, Minn.; carole.awilson@gmail.com.
Aug. 4-8: “Brighton Beach Memoirs."

Straw Hat Players, Moorhead
June 8-11: “Nunsense,” Dille Center for the Arts, Minnesota State University Moorhead; www.mnstate.edu/strawhat/; (218) 477-2271.
June 15-18: “All Shook Up."

June 22-25, June 29-July 2: “Altar Boyz."

July 13-16: “The Tempest.” 
July 22-23, July 27-30: “The Music Man.”

Summer Performing Arts, Grand Forks
July 9-10: “Come Together,” a musical review, Empire Arts Center, Grand Forks; www/spacompany.org/; (701) 746-2411.
July 12-15: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” Grand Forks Central High School auditorium.
July 17-22: “Guys & Dolls,” Empire Arts Center.

Thief River Falls Arts Council
June 3-4: “Talking With…,” Northland Community & Technical College theater, Thief River Falls; www.trfcac.com.
June 16-18, June 23-26: “Kiss Me Kate."
July 28-30: “Leaving Iowa."

Thompson (N.D.) Summer Theatre
June 4-5: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s "Cinderella,” Empire Arts Center, Grand Forks; presented by Thompson (N.D.) Summer Theatre; (701) 599-2765.

Warroad Summer Theatre
June 17-20, June 24-27: “The Nerd,” Warroad (Minn.) Summer Theatre; warroadsummertheatre.com/.
July 8-11, July 15-18: “The Diviners." 

July 27-31: “The Popcorn Players Children’s Theatre,” Warroad (Minn.) Summer Theatre; warroadsummertheatre.com.

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks N.D.

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Nashville’s “Fringe” features Ashlee Hewitt

Ashlee Hewitt in "Fringe" magazine.











Ashlee Hewitt, singer/songwriter and soon to be starring as lead in the movie "Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale," is the subject of a feature story in Nashville’s "Fringe" magazine. "

Click on this link and go to page 43-44 to read about Ashlee.


Ashlee grew up on a farm near Lancaster, Minn., singing in church and at county fairs and similar events. A few years ago she moved to Nashville, Tenn., where she appeared on the TV show "Nashville Star" and finished as one of the finalists. She then was cast as the lead in "Elle," which is expected to be released in theaters later this year.

We’ll keep you posted on what’s happening with Ashlee, her movie and her career.

Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks N.D.

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