Blogger: PalladiumPaul, St. Petersburg

Editor's note: 83 Degrees periodically publishes examples of blogs that reflect the insights of thought leaders in the Tampa Bay region. Meet PalladiumPaul, a blogger better known as Paul Wilborn, a St. Petersburg-based cabaret performer as well as executive director of the Palladium Theater. Below is his latest post. Suggest other Tampa Bay bloggers that we should consider for publication in 83 Degrees by emailing

People talk about the arts reaching a critical mass in St. Petersburg. I think it has passed that stage. The selection of arts and performances -- along with new restaurants and clubs -- has moved past mass to massive. Keeping up can be downright staggering for a middle-aged arts patron and theater director.

Exhibit A -- One weekend in July, a month when Florida used to be taking an arts siesta. Let's take it day by day.

Thursday: So much was happening I had to start early, catching a Thursday night preview performance of "Uncle Bends,'' Bob Devin Jones' powerful, funny and ultimately tasty, one man show at the Studio@620. As Bob morphed from one African-American character to the next, he prepared a feast of beans and rice and fed the sold-out house at the end.

Friday: The evening started with a crowded opening at Florida Craftsmen gallery, curated by Jorge Vidal, and featuring some great glass work by Catherine Woods, a nationally recognized artist based in St. Pete, and others. I rushed from there to the Palladium to introduce jazz drummer Ronnie Burrage who was playing for our Side Door Summer series. Ronnie, who played drums with Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers and many others, likes to push the boundaries. He did that on stage and on screens around the stage, a University of South Florida's graphic design class, under the direction of Neil Matthiessen, created live video projections to accompany the music.

After Ronnie's set, my wife Eugenie and I hit the streets of downtown. We grabbed some fresh pasta at Moscato's, a brand new spot on Central. Along with homemade pastas, they serve up live jazz on weekends. After the late dinner, we caught sets by two other groups that have played the Palladium's Side Door. Guitar slinger Sarasota Slim was holding court at Ruby's Elixer and pianist Tony Castellano and his trio were in the front window of the Central Avenue Oyster Bar.

The music kept going, with Central feeling a little like early 1990s Ybor City in Tampa – before the mega bars poured low–priced booze over all the creativity. When we fled around midnight, people were still clamoring for parking places.

Saturday: That afternoon I raced down First Avenue North to freeFall Theatre for one of the final showings of the music Man of La Mancha. freeFall is the new kid on the theater block and they are quickly building a winner.

For this re-imagined La Mancha audience members sat on pews, wing backs and dining room chairs spread around the stark, prison-like set. As an industrial garage door clanked open the audience found themselves in the middle of the play within a play. My favorite seats were in the back of a pickup truck that held some of the band members and actors. Director Eric Davis' potent vision for the musical really worked on multiple levels. Hope you had a chance to see it.

Then it was back to the Palladium for Damon Fowler's rockin' blues show in a completely sold-out Side Door. If you haven't seen Damon in that setting you've missed a lot. The Side Door is a listening room with a dance floor. It's not a typical blues bar with 12 TVs going and lots of noise.

In the Side Door setting, this Tampa-born guitarist and singer is able to take the dynamics up and down. He is at his best, I think, when he' s playing with quiet intensity.  If you missed him, stay tuned, he'll be back soon.

Sunday: And finally, as the weekend wound down, I watched the Rays battle the Red Sox, until after midnight. It was 16 innings of a pitcher's duel. The Rays hit repeated shots to the warning track but couldn't hit one out. We stumbled out after midnight and friends stayed until what became a rather bitter end.

But what a weekend and what a town. And I missed shows at American Stage and fashion at the Art Pool and countless other great stuff. And I just about missed my alarm on Monday morning. Come to think of it, I'm still tired.

Paul Wilborn is executive director of the Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College. Read the latest on his blog at Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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