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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Big Bad VooDoo Daddy Casts a Spell on Westport Crowd

Big Bad VooDoo Daddy Casts a Spell on Westport Crowd
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Spontaneous dancing, bold and brassy notes and a sophisticated vibe characterized the evening Sunday as Big Bad VooDoo Daddy laid down some hot jive for a cool crowd at Westport’s Levitt Pavilion.

Sponsored by RBC Wealth Management, the event, which helps fund the entire season of 57 installments of free entertainment at the facility, attracted over 300 people who came to relax in sports chairs, sip a little wine and beer and just unwind for a little while.

As a thank-you to RBC and other significant program donors, the evening featured a pre-concert reception under a white tent near the front entry of the pavilion grounds. There, In Good Taste Catering and Matsusushi offered V.I.P.s wine and finger foods.

“We have a long-term relationship with the Levitt Pavilion,” said Paul Teoh, owner of Matsusushi at 33 Jesup Road. “This is a great opportunity for the community, and for our business as we are walking distance from the pavilion. It’s a mutually satisfying collaboration.”

Christina Negrin, owner of In Good Taste, said her business had been helping the Levitt out for over 10 years. “This is a wonderful resource for families and the surrounding community,” she said, echoing Teoh.

There were a number of BBVD fans on hand and they bubbled with excitement. “This is my third time seeing them,” said Drew Gleeman, of Fairfield. “The last time was last summer in Stamford. They put on a great live show and are always fun to see… and this is an ideal setting.”

A Levitt Pavilion veteran, Westporter Michael Ferry said, “I have a couple Big Bad VooDoo Daddy CDs. I like the genre. The swing, jump, blues. It’s gonna get people moving,” he predicted.

Westporter Bill Heery was particularly enthusiastic. “I first heard one of their live albums, about five years ago, and became a fan. “They’re a bunch of young guys doing big band swing,” he said. “Their sound is hard to explain. It gets you jumpin.’”

Mark Mantione, attending with his wife Anne Marie, of Greenwich, said he had seen the band three or four times before. “They play a very unique type of funk jazz,” he said. “They’re inserting some culture into suburbia. I’m always crying the blues when there’s no live music, having come from New York like we have.”

The band’s merchandising manager, Mike McGowan, had an inside perspective to share. “They’ve been together for 18 years, and still have all the original players – nine total in the band,” he said. “They do 125 to 150 shows per year. This is our third stop in Connecticut in the past week. Connecticut audiences are great. This is our first time at the Levitt Pavilion.”

On a background note, McGowan added, “Back when swing came back big in the late 90s -- the band’s hey day – they played the half time show at the Super Bowl. I’ve been in this business for 27 years. They’re the best to work with. Everybody clicks and we have a great time on the road.”

Levitt’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Carly Walsh, had the honor of unleashing BBVD on the gathering, encouraging, “Let out your inner swinger for America’s favorite little big band, Big Bad VooDoo Daddy!”

There followed classic swing beats like Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” as well as selections like “Let It Roll” and “The Devil’s Dance” from a new album, the band’s ninth. The notes curled around the crowd and, as forecast, brought revelers young and old to their feet to boogie the evening away.

Annual Picnic Offers Old-Fashioned Fun

Annual Picnic Offers 
Old-Fashioned Fun:
St. Anthony of Padua event has something for everyone
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to

Fairfield, CT – Their prayers for good weather were answered – maybe a little too well as parishioners sought out shelter from the hot sun early Sunday afternoon.

The St. Anthony of Padua Annual Picnic, at 149 South Pine Creek Road, had returned, offering live music, dancing, children’s games, a bake sale, tag sale and food. A portion of the proceeds is donated to purchase back-to-school clothes and backpacks for children of Merton House, a soup kitchen in Bridgeport.

Providing some background about the popular event, co-chairperson Sue Cart explained, “The church was a Franciscan parish initially and the event began with them over 40 years ago. It has grown each year. Today, we have over 200 volunteers and draw about 3,000 visitors… and we offer some of the best strawberry shortcake in Fairfield County.”

Besides the shortcake, food onsite included hot dogs, hamburgers, clams, homemade pierogies, stuffed cabbage, lobster dinners, beer and wine.

A new feature this year, The Patrick Project: Books for Babies, gives visitors the opportunity to purchase and donate a book to Yale’s Newborn I.C.U. to make a difference in the lives of hospitalized children and their families.

Cart’s fellow co-chair, Jeremy Redgate, developer Leo Redgate’s brother, described the event as “a community builder, very family oriented, an old-fashioned picnic.”

One of the families taking it all in was the McCarthy’s of Fairfield. “We’ve been coming to the picnic since 2002,” said Kyle McCarthy. The mom of three added, “We love Father John (Paran) and, no matter what, this always seems to be the hottest, sunniest day – someone joked that it’s because of all the prayers. The shortcake and games are the highlights for us.”

Parishioner Gene Scoran’s favorite part of the picnic was the lobster. “This is the only place that serves a good lobster dinner for a very cheap price ($12, with corn, cole slaw and potato salad),” he said.

Scoran recalled past picnics. “I was born in this parish and have attended the event almost every year,” he said. “Where the current church is there was a hall that used to be the original church, and there they had plays and activities. Today, from this event, the church makes more money in one day than many other churches over two to three days. The picnic is very popular and a good family experience.”

Point to Point Swim a Compo Community Anchor

Point to Point Swim a Compo Community Anchor
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – You might say the competitors lapped up the challenge: to swim a mile-long course beginning and returning to the shoreline of Compo Beach.

That was the aim early Sunday morning when approximately 175 people registered for the 33rd Annual Point to Point Compo Beach Swim. Conducted as it has been since inception near the landmark cannons, the Westport / Weston Family Y-sponsored event attracted participants ranging from age 10 to 73 and offered imprinted glass mugs as prizes for the top three finishers in 14 different age classifications. The fastest finishers by gender -- Trevor Healy, 22, with a time of 15:15 and Molly Loftus, 16, at 17:09 – were also called out.

The current iteration of the race was created in 1979 by Bob Knoeble, the former Senior Director of Aquatics at the Y. “It was just for fun initially,” said Jackie Tumminia, the current Senior Director of Aquatics, “but then turned into a fundraiser just last year, benefiting the whole community.”

The race features three heats, with roughly 60 swimmers per heat. Swim caps – light blue, white and yellow – identify the heats. Participants are required to circle two buoys placed about a half mile offshore. There are no eligibility requirements with regard to time or ability. “If you’ve got the gumption, you’re in,” said VP of Y Operations David Cohen.

Rob Reeves, the Y’s CEO, said the swim was one of the few fundraising events the non-profit produces that allows the organization to reach out to the public. “It puts a face to the Y and attracts many people from the community as both swimmers and spectators,” he said.

Reeves added that the Y’s program has produced an incredible crop of swimmers over the years, including current star Nathaniel Boley, 16. “He’s an example of one of our most dedicated swimmers,” Reeves said. “He’s a true water rat who has participated in our programming since he was six months old.”

Boley swam in the Point to Point for the first time last year. “It’s a good chance for kids in the Y swim program to have some fun and do something different,” Boley said.

Fellow “rat” and female race winner Loftus, said, “We rats have a close connection because we understand what everybody goes through. We spend up to five hours together every day. We work really hard in the program. This event allows us to have a little more fun. That’s not to say we won’t try to beat each other. But it’s not an obligation.”

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, 72-year-old Westporter Larry Weisman, said, “My wife Mary-Lou, who’s 73, and I, have been doing this for 17 years. We look forward to, well, really, just finishing. By the time I come in, the winner is already in, showered and dressed! The usual winning time is about 18 minutes, I think – I finish in about 45 minutes. This is a big community thing and grows every year. When I first swam it, there was just one heat, now there are three. It’s great fun with a lot of camaraderie. Ten to 15 swimmers here are competitive; the rest of us are just trying to survive.”

Another “old-timer” was Mike Laux, 69. His recollections of the race harkened back to 1970, when the event began as the Cross Harbor Swim. “It ran like that for three to four years. You went to Longshore, got on a boat to Cokenoe Island and you swam back, about a mile. The event dropped for a while due to risks and boat traffic, then Bob Knoeble reinstated it. I’ve been swimming this event the whole time. It’s a Westport tradition and people come from all over to participate.”

Falling right in the middle-age range, P.J. Clyne, 45, of Fairfield, said the race is a great warm-up to the Swim Across the Sound. He has participated in both races for the past seven years. “I first got involved in competitive swimming when a Fairfield Y friend couldn’t compete due to a shoulder injury and I became a stand-in. Swimming is a good, low-impact sport to keep you in shape all year.”

The only concern Westporter Sam Leaf had about competing was a Man o’ War seen floating near the finish area. “In years past, there’s been a lot of jellyfish. Hopefully not this year,” he said.

Continuing a family tradition but this year swimming for a much more sobering purpose was Simsbury resident Paul Epstein, 62, a former Westporter who was a lifeguard at Compo back in 1963. “I’m swimming in honor of my daughter Serena, who took her life last Friday after leaving the Institute of Living treatment program. She was only 27. She used to come here with me to the meets.”

Post-race, as all the swimmers milled about, dried off and chattered about the challenge, race winner Healy, a New Canaan resident, said, “I saw a bunch of good swimmers out there. I thought I’d need to try hard. I worked hard to beat them. I was right with the guy who finished in second (Boley) until the last buoy. I usually wait until that time to put in the kick and sprint to the finish.”

Vintage Garden… A Mom’s Lifelong Dream

Vintage Garden… A Mom’s Lifelong Dream:
Brick Walk retailer a one-stop for gift giving
By Mike Lauterborn
(posted to 7/14)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – An entrepreneurial spirit and interest in gift items and cut flowers has entrenched a busy Fairfield mother of three boys in one of the hottest retail complexes in town.

Kathy Lee, owner of Vintage Garden at 1189 Post Road in the Brick Walk Promenade, grew up in Westport and worked in retail bakeries in high school. Senior year found her at Greens Farms Bookstore, which incorporated a bakery.

“It was a wonderful environment, with books, gifts, baked goods and catering – a great business recipe,” Lee said. “I kept the scenario in the back of my mind.”

Lee went off to the University of Southern California to pursue business and entrepreneurship, ultimately landing in Boston in 1989. There, she started in accounting, then managed the flower/gift shop. “I had a great mentor there – the director of the gift shop – who took me to trade shows and showed me the ropes.”

In 1994, she returned to Westport to work in floral management at Hay Day / Bertucci’s. “I didn’t know a lot about flowers, but two women on staff – Fairfielders Maureen Ringel and Phyllis Hartkopf – guided me along,” she said. “The place was like a farmstand. We sold individual flowers and custom created floral arrangements. I really gained a passion for cut flowers and gardening.”

She remained at Hay Day until 1999, when her first child was born. “I stayed home to raise my children, but always knew I would fulfill my dream of opening my own shop.”

Lee kept track of retail space openings as child two and child three arrived, until she became aware of the creation of the Brick Walk center, and inquired about availability in January 2009. “Three weeks later, I was signing a 10-year lease,” she said, adding, “Kudos have to go to the Kleban family (the developer / property owner) for making it very easy for me to open up during an unstable economy.”

Lee worked with Ken Kleban’s architect and construction managers to build out the space. “I was very happy with the result,” she said. “We opened May 1, 2009. The reception from the community was tremendous. We heard from shoppers, ‘Fairfield needed a store like this, we’re happy with the mix of stores and I feel like I can get a beautiful gift for any occasion at affordable prices.’”

Regarding her inventory, Lee said, “I pick all the things I love – fresh-cut flowers, plants, decorative containers, jewelry, personal accessories, picture frames, candles and seasonal items. Beach-themed items are very popular all year round. We carry baby items, like blankets, too. Much of our inventory can be personalized.”

As to the demographic the store attracts, Lee said, “We’re definitely geared to women shoppers, and we seem to be the go-to place for hostess gifts. Generally women are buying for other women. In fact, females of all ages enjoy the shop. A favorite moment for me is when a little girl comes in and says, ‘This is my favorite store.’ I see myself in them, at the same age.”

Lee said Vintage Garden is a community friend. “We try to give back and collaborate with other small businesses, especially within this complex as we can draw shoppers as a whole and provide a wide spectrum of products and services to meet their needs,” she said. “It’s worth noting that the majority of businesses in Brick Walk are women. There’s a unique sisterhood here, and together we participate in annual concerts, a farmer’s market and Christmas stroll, all within the complex.”

Reflecting on her achievements, Lee said, “It’s not easy trying to juggle a family and business, but I think it’s important to show my boys I can fulfill my dream and still be the mom they want me to be.”