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The Players PUBLISHER: Tom Price ASSOC. PUBLISHER: Janna Rodriguez CONTENT EDITOR: Theresa Hong PHOTO EDITOR: Theresa Hong

Tigers & Daggers

New record store opens, hopes to build on growing vinyl community. Page 8

Faces of Rachel

Playhouse vet, Rachel Rodrigues takes on new role in “Rent.” Page 14

WEB GURU: Kenneth Nelson DISTRIBUTION: Donna Nelson CONTRIBUTING WRITERS & EDITORS: Amber Kirby, Montse Reyes, Nathan Quevedo and Theresa Hong. CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER: Dan Hong, Montse Reyes

The Cover COVER: Next

Harmed Brothers

Oregon band returns to Merced in November with Willy Tea.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Dan Hong (youbiquicast) MODEL: Lexie Pivirotto-Britton

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The DLM looks at young creatives breaking onto the scene. Page 20

Prime Pick

Issue 49 Volume 4

Don’t miss the Art Hop’s 5-year anniversary celebration! Page 34

SUBSCRIBE Would you like to get 12 issues of the Downtown Life Magazine delivered to your house for just $25? You will receive Merced County’s premier entertainment, culture and event publication right in your mailbox along with a host of gifts from the DLM and deals from local sponsors and advertisers.




Find Us WEBSITE: FACEBOOK: TWITTER: EMAIL: ADVERTISING: 209-568-6363 EDITORIAL: 209-777-6176 SNAIL MAIL: PO BOX 1604 Merced CA, 95341

7 PAGE SEVEN Where am I? If you can describe where this area of Downtown Merced is, email your answer to and you could win a prize from a Downtown businesss.

September Issue answers

Tip Sudoku of the p 5 Ca 7 Puzzle Set #C5588 Level: Challenging

Fill in the grid so that every row, column and 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 through 9

The Partisan celebrated its 6-year anniversary the first week of October with a celebration that featured performances by Joey NoKnows and the Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit. Also, The Art Hop celebrates 5 years on Oct. 17 with another great Downtown art walk scheduled. Do you know a person or an organization who deserves at Tip of the Cap? Send us your tips to



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The Art Hop Wings of Hope Feed the Arts, Feed the Community Restaurant And Pub Crawl

Merced Art Hop When: 5-9 p.m. Oct. 17 Where: Arts Center Cost: Free Info: The film, “Marquee Lights” will debut at the Multicultural Arts Center during the Art Hop.

Local filmmakers to debut film at Art Hop A film born under the marquee lights of the Merced Theatre, will come full circle on Oct. 17 at the Merced Art Hop. “Marquee Lights,”a short film that explores the life of two young homeless women, was written, produced and directed by a trio of local filmmakers —Jason Ryder and Heather and Julie Strong. The film will make its local debut at the Multicultural Arts Center during the Art Hop, which takes place from 5 to 9 p.m.

on Oct. 17. “We wanted to try and create a film project and shoot something that we can finish,” says Ryder. “Anybody can shoot, but we wanted to start something we could finish and work with the resources we have. “We were sitting outside Coffee Bandits and we saw the marquee lights at the Merced Theatre.” The trio thought that brightly-lit marquee provided a stark contrast to the reality that surrounds it — homeless ness.

“We just had this image of a homeless girl sitting on a bench looking up at the marquee lights,” says Julie. Ryder wrote the script and the filmmakers and the team developed a unique idea — to have Julie and Jason each direct their own version of the story and reversing the roles of the two main characters. The Art Hop’s 5-year anniversary event runs from 5 to 9 p.m. all throughout Downtown Merced. Visit, to find out more details.

Tile projects aims to help VCC For many, October represents a time where an individual is free to dress like monsters, goblins and other scary creatures. Many others, however, sadly live with monsters every day of their lives. October is National Domestic Abuse Awareness month. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma and sometimes death. Domestic violence also knows no gender, race, creed or socioeconomic status – victims and their abusers come from all walks of life. To increase awareness and also raise money for Merced County’s Valley Crisis Center (VCC), artist Monika Modest has created “Wings of Hope and Grace,” an all-inclusive art project encouraging the Merced community to donate $10 to create an exquisite clay butterfly. These butterflies will be displayed in Downtown Merced throughout October with 100% of the proceeds going to the VCC. “Very often, people think $10 can’t

Photo by Dan Hong Monica Modest, creator of the Wings of Hope fundraiser that is benefiting the Valley Crisis Center.

accomplish much,” Modest explains. “But with this, people can donate while at the same time create their own butterfly that they can keep after the display comes down.” So far this unique and good-for-the-soul fundraiser has raised $7,500, just $3,500 shy of her goal of $10,000. It’s not too late to participate. Create your own butterfly at Roger Wyan’s Photography Studio, 1812 Canal Street on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 1 to 3 p.m.

Toy show to raise funds for food bank Kevin Eno, owner of Broke Toys, a local supplier of indie toys, is raising money for the Merced Food Bank with a unique silent auction event featuring numerous noted toy artists. The event, he says, will feature works by Big C, Frank Montano, Joe Flow, Reymond Apodaca, Rob Hernandez, Jason Wright, iROC and Jamie Lee Rios Cortez. Feed the Arts, Feed the Community will take place from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 22 at Pinnochio’s Restaurant.

Locals featured at Arts Center A new gallery exhibit at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, opening October 17, 2013, will feature a combination of established and emerging local artists with work by Rafael Barajas, Oscar Torres, and a retrospective by local photographer Roger Wyan. An opening reception is scheduled for Oct. 17 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The Merced Multicultural Arts Center. Roger Wyan’s photography retrospective, “Upon Reflection”, represents nearly 30 years of work from his years as a newspaper photographer through his present day documentary portrait projects, fine art iPhone imagery, and studio portraiture. Rafael Barajas’s exhibit, “Oil Paintings: A Muse Meant,” is an exercise in the cultivation of extreme patience and stillness. “By staying quiet and observing changes in the process of painting one can allow archetypal information to surface subconsciously,” says Barajas of his work. Oscar Torres’s exhibit, “#MyJourney,” is about life, friendship, loss and love. A collection of deeply personal pieces that act as an uncensored glimpse into Torres’s past, it showcases the beautiful, dark and sometimes surprising places life can lead a person.

For a complete listing of events in Merced visit 10

Pinnochio’s Restaurant One of more than a dozen restaurants participating in the DLM Restaurant and Pub Crawl.

DLM Restaurant and Pub Crawl


he inaugural DLM Restaurant and Pub Crawl is a fun and tasty way to support the arts community.

Delectable downtown food, craft beer and cocktails are the main attraction. The best part is just $20 gets you a passport with part of the proceeds supporting Playhouse Merced and the Merced County Arts Council (MCAC). With the finest Downtown restaurants, pubs and bars participating, foodies will be in culinary heaven. The event, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 25, begins in Bob Hart Square at 5 p.m. Individuals can purchase tickets online or at the event, and check in at the DLM table. Each person will receive an official DLM Restaurant & Pub Crawl Passport with a list of participating establishments. Your mission is to sample all of the deliciousness downtown has to offer. After each stop, be sure to get your passport stamped by the establishment. Complete the mission and return your passport to the DLM table and you will be entered to win a valuable Downtown Merced goodie bag. To buy tickets online, go to You can also buy tickets at Playhouse Merced and MCAC, as well as the day of the event at the DLM booth.

Serving fresh and natural meals for breakfast and lunch


Homemade Organic Granola, Fruit and Yogurt Breakfast



Open for Breakfast and Lunch Monday-Saturday


516 W. 18th Street, Merced THEDLM.COM


Photo by Montse Reyes Travis Strang (left) and Damian Pantoja opened Tigers & Daggers in September in Downtown Merced. They carry vinyl and cassettes.

Tigers & Daggers Words by Montse Reyes


utdated methods of music listening, like vinyl and cassette tapes, have evolved into a niche interest. It’s reserved for those individuals who opt away from the convenience and low cost of digital downloads, preferring to spend time and money scouring through bins for that one sought after records. Damian Pantoja and Travis Strang are those sort of individuals. The pair are co-owners of a new independent record label turned record shop, Tigers & Daggers, located in Downtown Merced. Strang and Pantoja grew up in the punk scene, going to shows, playing in 12

bands (both separately and together) and buying records since they were teenagers. Both were employed at Strawberry Alarm Clock for a number of years, where Strang served as manager. It was during their time there that they began to kick around the idea of opening their own record

shop. Pantoja already had an independent record label by the same name where he released cassettes for hiphop artists like Antwon, City of Thieves, Shadowrunners and San Francisco based shoegaze band, Whirr. Once they decided to make the business a reality and adopt the same name as

Pantoja’s label, the shop came together smoothly thanks to much help from Pantoja and Strang’s friends and family. Within three months, the shelves were built and the walls were painted and plastered with flyers for old punk shows. Virtually most of the inventory they opened with came from Strang and Pantoja’s personal collections. The shop was open on August 29 with a packed house and free show for the grand opening, featuring shoegaze bands Whirr and Nothing. The pair agree it’s the timeless nature of vinyl that adds to both it’s attraction and staying power. As long as independent bands and DIY artists are around, vinyl will be too. “It’s something physical you can hold and see while it’s playing. I know mp3s probably sell way better but you don’t get that connection to the release when you just hit play and don’t have artwork to look at or liner notes to read.” Pantoja attributes records and cassettes as a thing for eclectic collectors. While records may be about listeners connecting to music on a level that CDs and mp3s don’t quite allow for, cassettes are a bit different. “I think the reason cassettes are so big is because a lot of people our age who grew up on cassettes find that nostalgic.” The price point certainly adds to the appeal as well, since one can find a full album on a cassette for

Photo by Montse Reyes Tigers & Daggers is constantly added stock of records and cassettes. You can follow their updates on Instagram.

almost half the price of a CD. Undoubtedly, some might wonder whether a strong enough market exists in Merced for a shop like Tigers & Daggers to stick around. To those people, Pantoja and Strang say they need only look one place — the Internet. “If they don’t want to spend money here, that’s fine, that’s cool,” Pantoja explains. “We still have friends and people online who want to buy our collection.” The shop makes use of an online, user-built music database called Discogs. Through Discogs, both small businesses and individuals can build a catalog of CD’s, records and cassettes and list them for sale for others all over the world to browse. “A lot of independent record shops like ourselves have used it to not only get their name out but to move product,” says Pantoja. “It

lets people know you are a physical store.” The shop also relies heavily on social media sites to attract customers, by frequently posting updates of new and used merchandise that makes its way into the shop. The system is simple and works exceedingly well. In the morning they’ll post photos of their newest bunch of records and tapes and by the end of the day there’s usually someone who saw something they like and went in to pick it up. Pantoja sees the business as an outlet for people. “It definitely forms friendships with people. It’s a place to find like-minded people to possibly start a band, to possibly start their own independent label, to possibly get together to put on shows.” You can visit Tigers & Daggers Records at 621 W. Main St on MondaysSaturdays from 11 to 7p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

The Jump visit for an expanded story and more about Tigers & Daggers. THEDLM.COM


The Many Faces of Rachel Words by Jim Kocher


f Rachel Rodrigues had it her way; she would eat, breathe and sleep nothing but musical theater. In fact, if it weren’t for those pesky things in life like food, shelter and transportation, the 25 year old actress and singer, laughingly says she might just find herself like Mimi, the latest character she portrays in Playhouse Merced’s current production of “RENT.”

“RENT” at Playhouse Merced October 18 – November 3 For more information and tickets, go to 14

The Tony award-winning musical tells the story of a group of impovershed young artists who strive to work and create in New York City’s Lower East Side. Trouble is, Mimi works as a stripper, is just weeks away from being evicted from her apartment and has just recently contracted the AIDS virus. “Well, okay, that’s going too far,” admits Rodrigues. “In my fantasy, I would be wandering the streets of Downtown Merced,” she says, “and singing show tunes at the top of my lungs.” Rodrigues made her debut at Playhouse Merced in 2010 in the Neil Simon comedy ‘Rumors.” Over the past several seasons, Rachel has taken on numerous characters on the Playhouse Merced stage. There’s Glinda

the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” a young factory girl in “Parade,” a wife of the King in “The King and I” and Judy Bernly, the nervous and unsure office worker in“9 to 5: the Musical,” most recently sweet and naive Cosette in “Les Miserables” and her role in Rent. While rehearsing “RENT” which opens at Playhouse Merced October 18, Rachel Rodrigues spoke to DLM. DLM: From the sweet and naïve Cosette in “Les Misérables” to the worldly-wise Mimi in “RENT.” That’s quite a jump. Rachel: Right? Mimi has been kind of fascinating. She’s a drug addict and she. . . “dances” at a club. DLM: Dances? Rachel: Okay, she’s a stripper. . . (laughs) DLM: That was fast. Rachel: Well, Mimi calls herself a dancer. (laughs) We recently had a long debate at rehearsal about whether or not she’s a go-go dancer. DLM: So which is it? Rachel: She’s a stripper. DLM: How do you prepare for a role like that? Rachel: I’m trying to get in shape, since she is a starving, drug addict with AIDS. DLM: How do you do that? Rachel: Just watching what I eat. I’ve been spending a lot of mirror time with myself also. DLM: Mirror time? Rachel: Mirror time is me practicing all the dancing I do when no one’s around, but in front of a mirror, so I can see what looks sexy or pretty and when it’s just awkward.

The Jump visit for an expanded interview and more information about Rodrigues and Playhouse Merced’s “Rent.” THEDLM.COM


Contributed Photo The Harmed Brothers will perform at the Partisan on Nov. 1 with Willy Tea.

The Harmed Brothers Words by Nathan Quevedo


eartache is real. It’s the kind of pain that can upturn someone’s world and create an inner sadness that seems like it will never end. The bright side is that heartache does end, and once someone’s past it, there’s an allure of hope and promise of a new beginning. Ray Vietti and Alex Salcido know how this cycle works and catalogued it on their 16

new album. The two musicians head up The Harmed Brothers — an Oregon-based indie grass band that releases its third album “Better Days” on Oct. 15. “I’m takin’ some time off, just breathing.

We’ve been on tour since two February’s ago,” Vietti says in a phone interview. Vietti, who is 31, grew up in Missouri and formed a band in North Carolina in his 20s. In 2009, Vietti met Salcido, who was in a band called Termite Dog. “We’ve been doing this for a while … with me and Alex this is going on five years,” he says. And in those five years, The Harmed Brothers have played across the country on multiple tours. “We did Whispering Beard folks festival last summer and we had a blast out there,” Vietti says. “We played with a lot of great people.” However, he says his favorite festival is right up the road in Oakdale and Knights Ferry. “Sheatherfest was the best. Willy’s always bringing in a great family of musicians,” he says, referring to Willy Tea Taylor, founder of the festival and a driving force in The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit. “We love it and have so many great friends there.” Unlike a majority of folk musicians,

Vietti didn’t grow up with musicians around him. “Personally, I didn’t have a musical family at all,” he says. “It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I got a guitar. … I basically sat around on a couch and beat around on it until it sounded good. I never took a lesson.” He says he doesn’t even use a pen and paper when he’s writing songs. “I know that Alex’s first instrument was the piano … that guy can play anything you put in his hands,” he says laughing. Often compared to The Avett Brothers and Justin Townes Earle, Vietti says The Harmed Brothers are indie grass, a cross between several genres. “What we call it is indie grass. For so long people have said ‘it’s this or it’s that’ … we’re not a country band or a rock band,” he says. “We are definitely in essence folk singers, but when you throw the drums and the bass in there and the energy, it just kinda becomes its own thing.” The new album has more arrangements and shows Vietti and Salcido at their best. THEDLM.COM


“What we call it is indie grass. For so long people have said ‘it’s this or it’s that’ … we’re not a country band or a rock band,” he says. “We are definitely in essence folk singers, but when you throw the drums and the bass in there and the energy, it just kinda becomes its own thing.” — Ray Vietti “There’s definitely more instrumentation (on ‘Better Days’). Our first record was just Alex and myself. On the next record, we wanted to add more instruments,” he says. “This time, we wanted to slowly add more stuff in. We’ve added just a few little things, nothing major. The songwriting is better at all parts. I think Alex and I are at our best right now. “This whole record started off of one song. You go


through things in life, like a break up … these songs are about stuff like that.” He adds. He says despite the difficulties of a breakup and the heartache and pain it causes, the allure of hope when someone gets past it makes the process bearable. “Things are gonna be great, things are gonna be fine. … We’re The Harmed Brothers — it’s always gonna be a little bit sad,” he

says jokingly. The band embarks on a 20-date tour that will start in Portland and end in Missouri starting Oct. 16. “We’re super excited about the new record and we hope our fans are as excited as we are about it,” he says. “It’s definitely the best thing we’ve done yet.” Check out The Harmed Brothers with Willy Tea Taylor at The Partisan on Nov. 1.


Each year the DLM profiles young creatives on the verge of breaking through in Merced. They are screen writers, musicians, bloggers and actresses. They are the next.

Matt Robinson Words by Tom Price Photo by Dan Hong 20


att Robinson talks with the punchy charisma and quick humor of a character in a Quentin Tarantino film. Even sitting at a table in a Downtown pub over a piece of cake, there’s a sort of rhythm to our conversation, filled with dramatic pauses and bursts of laughter.

makes you feel like you can do it too.” And Robinson has. He finished his first script during his senior year at and he has never stopped. He is constantly writing, some work is for public consumption, others are for himself personally. Robinson says much of his early work had a certain Tarantino feel, but gradually gravitated toward where he is today — writing about

allows himself to chase the idea in his head without forcing a format or style. He says his breakthrough came at the age of 19, when he wrote an animated short about a girl going through a sexual identity crisis who is whale watching with her family. A giant whale approaches their boat and the people scatter for cover, but the girl stares in amazement. The beast, he says then submerges just

“The most exciting things in films are ideas. Glengary Glen Ross is a high octane action film to me because it is men talking and it is thick with ideas.”

This is his natural state. And unlike Mr. Pink or Vincent Vega, Robinson’s charming soliloquies are authentic and heartfelt. A screen writer in the middle of producing his first independent film, Robinson, is himself an intriguing character who has focused his future to creating intriguing characters. “I had a habit growing up watching movies and imagining what the script looked like,” says Robinson, who got his hands on a script of “Pulp Fiction” in high school. “It was a really fun read. Tarantino is so casual. The dialog is word for word in the script, it’s very conversational. When you read that as a young man it

big ideas. “The most exciting things in films are ideas,” he says. “Glengary Glen Ross is a high octane action film to me because it is men talking and it is thick with ideas.” He likes films you can watch 200 times and catch something new every time. “I don’t know what happens to your brain when you are challenged, but there is some sort of Serotonin burst,” he says. “The gears start moving and it feels good.” His quest for the big idea, he says, has given him a unique style of dialogue in his work. He says he removes all constraints when he is writing and

before colliding with the boat and goes underneath and peers up through a glass floor at the girl and sees her for who she truly is. “That’s when I made the transition to ideas,” he says. “I don’t have a lot of brainstorming pages. Everything I write starts on Page 1 sort of. If it’s in my head long enough it will end up on the page.” Robinson, who is a bartender at Downtown’s 17th Street Public House, says his mind is constantly at work. “When you are writing you aren’t actually writing you are just transcribing,” he says. “You are like a courtroom stenographer THEDLM.COM


southwest chicken salad


kind of putting down what you wrote in your head when you were mopping the floors or plunging the toilet.” Robinson’s work is almost solely autobiographical, sometimes it is plain view other times it is abstract. “Writing is the perfect therapy, the perfect mask,” he says. “I’m putting it on faith that other people out there are going to feel what I feel and I’m going to cast out a line out there. I’m putting on the page emotions that are familiar to me that I can’t talk to people about, but I can put it in a story and there’s deniability.” He says the screen plays he regards as the work that set him on his current path were written when he moved to Pacifica a few years aback. “I moved out there and I didn’t have very many friends, so I wrote a lot,” he says. “That was the work that really got noticed when I came back.” Brett Fox and Kat Veloz, two local filmmakers took notice of one of his scripts and while it wasn’t produced, Robinson says the fact that they took it seriously lit a fire. He says he continued to write whenever possible and get it into as many hands as possible. One script born out of an idea he had with his friend Ben Davidson, ended up in the hands of Jordan Cowman, a local

promoter and arts activist. He took it to Dan Hong, a local videographer and before long they were talking about a full-scale production of a short film. The untitled script is about a day in the life of a young woman who has an addiction problem and has cheated on her boyfriend who has a rare psychological disorder called Capgras. The disorder causes him to think the people in his life have been replaced by actors. And he is getting out of the institution tomorrow and she needs to clean everything up in her life before he returns. Stylistically he says it’s written like a crime film where no crime occurs. There will be stark lighting and dark shadows and heavy dialogue. “If this film comes out great it’s because I stumbled upon a cast of incredibly talented people,” he says. They’ve casted the leads in the film — Tina de Leon and Joe Hypes. Robinson says the pair were dynamic in their auditions and the early test shots have been impressive. “This is a no-frills indie film and the acting has to be on point for it to be interesting,” he says. “And they are perfect.” Robinson says his immediate ambitions are simple — continue to write scripts and make films that he, and hopefully you, find interesting.

Lexie Pivirotto-Britton Words by Theresa Hong Photo by Dan Hong



Lexie Pivirotto-Britton With long auburn hair and thoughtful, deep brown eyes, Lexie Pivirotto-Britton looks like a modern-day musical fairytale princess – a heroine that trades the pink gown and high heels for jeans and boots, frowning upon the damsel in distress syndrome that defined the princess’ of not so long ago. This attitude, combined with talent and a powerful, but pure and beautiful voice, has resulted in playing two of the most

while possessing features that many talented performers lack – grace, humility and kindness. You can’t help but like her – and those that really know her can’t help but love – and respect – her. Pivirotto-Britton says she’s longed to be a performer ever since falling in love with Rogers and Hammerstein musicals as a child. “I remember being a very young kid and watching these musicals, reenacting and singing my favorite scenes – they were a huge part of my childhood,” she says. “The singing, the acting, the costumes – all of

“Oh my God – when I first found out Playhouse was producing ‘Les Mis,’ I was so excited ... I was introduced to it at eight-years old and became obsessed. It was the first live show I saw. I had the concept album, the live recording, the anniversary album — I even broke some of my CDs listening to them over and over again.” iconic female heroines of all time – Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Fantine in “Les Miserables.” Both Playhouse Merced productions, Pivirotto-Britton has received acclaim from theater patrons, fellow actors and directors for her commitment not only to herself to bring everything she can to the role she plays, but also her commitment to those around her. “Lexie has one of the best voices I have heard on stage – unique, powerful and beautiful – she is a complete professional,” says Playhouse Merced Artistic Director Rob Hypes. “She works hard in whatever role is given to her and is always wanting advice on how to make it better – the show comes first to her and she’ll do whatever it takes to make it better.” Full of charisma without the sometimes over-the-top traits associated with the word, Pivirotto-Britton brims with talent 24

this made me want to be a performer and sing.” Despite this strong desire and her many talents, nerves almost prevented her from auditioning for her Playhouse Merced breakout role of Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” “I had done a show at Playhouse when I was 18 right before I went to college – it was ‘Crazy for You,’” she says. “But this was completely different – such a powerful role with really big expectations behind it – I was really nervous.” In fact, she says, “The night before the auditions I almost talked myself out of auditioning. I was like, ‘You haven’t done a musical before’ and playing every other excuse in my mind. But I knew if I didn’t do it – at least try – I would regret it for the rest of my life.” She auditioned and was awarded the role

of Mary Magdalene, a role she played peppered with traits of her own – humility, kindness and grace. “I really wanted to make her kind and strong in a quiet way without having anyone feel sorry for her,” she explains. “It was important for me to make her strong, but in a soft way, if that makes sense.” After “Jesus Christ Superstar,” she decided to work behind the scenes on a show, taking on the role of stage manager for “West Side Story.” After the show wrapped, she had her mind – and voice – set on a show that she says shaped her whole concept of what live musical theater should be. “Oh my God – when I first found out Playhouse was producing ‘Les Mis,’ I was so excited,” she says. “I was introduced to it at eight-years old and became obsessed. It was the first live show I saw. I had the concept album, the live recording, the anniversary album – I even broke some of my CDs listening to them over and over again.” After several auditions, she was thrilled to learn she had won the role of Fantine. “It was so wonderful working with Rob and Joel (Joel Scott-Shade, Playhouse musical director for “Les Mis”) again, and the cast and crew were just amazing,” she says. Pivirotto-Britton says playing Fantine, another unlikely heroine, was an honor. “When I was little, I just wanted to be in it, and then you get a little older

and I think all girls familiar with the show identify with Eponine. But, the older I got, the more I realized Fantine was a role I not only wanted to do – but could do,” she says. “It’s such a maledriven show and to be able to play any of the female roles was an honor.” So, what’s next for this young, rising star? More school, she says. With a BA in vocal studies from CSU East Bay, Pivirotto-Britton has returned to school – this time obtaining her master’s in school psychology. “I love to sing and if I could do it all of the time, I absolutely would,” she says. “But, the older I get, the more I realize I also want to give back. My mom’s a school psychologist as was my grandfather – my whole family is in education – so I really wanted to help the kids that needed it the most.” Although she says she most definitely would enjoy performing outside of Merced, she likes the fact she’s a part of Merced’s growing arts community. “I’d love to keep performing and I’ll definitely keep singing,” she says. “My real love is jazz and my dream would be to perform in a band close to home, but for the time being, I am so happy to have become part of Playhouse – not just because of performing, but because of all of the wonderful people I’ve met there – it really is like a family and I feel so lucky to have so much support.” THEDLM.COM


Dante Johnson 26

Words by Amber Kirby Photo by Dan Hong


s the Mainzer lay dying, a new musician was birthed onto the scene. Dante Johnson began playing piano in his grandmother Dolores’ pallor. Over time he moved from woodwinds to mallets and was tempered and tried by the amazing (now retired) Greg Christiansen at Golden Valley High School. This 23-year-old, Louis Armstrong Jazz Award-wining drummer, recently recorded with Allison Rush and Moon Trent, was the drummer for The Chente Show, is a staple percussionist at Plsayhouse Merced, teaches at Gottschalk’s Music, studies music under Mark Doiel at Merced College and somehow, plays in four bands. In a landscape of drummers that keep time, this non-typical, jazz and electronic inspired percussionist, is willing to rewrite the rules. 
I recently sat down for a conversation with him at 17th Street Pub to find out a bit about this next big musician. AK: I’m told that you’re all over Merced, playing in every nook and cranny, is this so? DJ: I’m very fortunate! It’s always exciting to play in Merced’s designated venues but the most electric performances usually come out of playing in an alley or an apiary out in the country somewhere.
 AK: I want to know about your kit, did you name it? Do you insist on a certain rug? Do you have an arsenal of sticks? DJ: (Laughs) I use Pearl Drums, Zildjian cymbals, and Vic Firth sticks. One of my favorite parts of my set is the rug that goes under it. It’s Persian and I found it draped over the fence of an abandoned house. AK: Speaking of drum arsenals, Terry Bozzio — egomaniac or utter genius? DJ: Terry Bozzio is probably both but the fact that he was able to stay up with Zappa defines his genius more than anything.

AK: I understand that you helped coach the Golden Valley high School Drum-line to a Championship? DJ: Lines win championships because of excellent group effort. I wasn’t even the head drum coach in that affair. That honor goes to Daniel and Nicole Valenzuela. . . and Cody Leverette who was an awesome section leader. 
 AK: You teach at Gottschalk’s downtown? How young do you recommend the kids start? DJ: I teach some very young people at Gottschalk’s. I don’t think there really is an age floor for learning an instrument. AK: A drummer for four bands! Does any one hold your heart? DJ: They all do. The groups I have a hand in starting are Wormholes and Shelter Skelter. Wormholes is a band I’ve formed with my friends from College and Shelter Skelter includes some well known theater people. I also recently joined Feeling Gravity’s Pull and I support Kairu during his touring shows. AK: So have you toured much then? Or do you plan to go out any time soon? DJ: Most of the time I’m in Merced and really haven’t kicked my feet on a tour so much. I have big plans though. I’m currently writing my own tunes on the side of these groups and have no idea how to present these songs. Except for being percussion-heavy they also have bleak melodies and little pop-sensibility. AK: What music are you currently inspired by? DJ: I’m heavily inspired right now by the artist Marnie Stern, the band Battles, and the French composer Olivier Messiaen. These artists give a sense of playfulness yet aggression through their rhythms. AK: Sandy West, John Bonham, Sheila Escovedo, Pete Best, Teresa Taylor, Animal, Kieth Moon, Palmolive, Neil Pert, Moe Tucker, THEDLM.COM


This 23-year-old, Louis Armstrong Jazz Award-wining drummer, recently recorded with Allison Rush and Moon Trent, was the drummer for The Chente Show, is a staple percussionist at Plsayhouse Merced, teaches at Gottschalk’s Music, studies music under Mark Doiel at Merced College and somehow, plays in four bands Georgia Hubley, Phil Collins, Janet Weiss, Mitch Mitchell, Carmen ‘Raya’ Alonso, Kate Schellenbach, Gina Schock, Rick Stokes and Dave Lomardo are stranded on a desert island (all in their prime) in some post-apocalyptic-Mad-Maxian game of survivor — who wins and why? What happens to everyone else? Who dies? DJ: (Laughs) Good question! My favorites on that list would probably be the dead ones. The people who know subtly very well would die first, whereas the macho drummers who think they’re the best would survive. I recently just “got” The Velvet Underground by focusing solely on Moe Tucker’s drumming. Dave Lombardo, Neil Peart, would probably form the cannibal society. Rick Stokes and Kate Schellenbach would form an ultra-cool democracy of survivors. Animal can’t die in this scenario. He’s like the Hurley of the group.

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Michelle Oliver THEDLM.COM


Michelle Oliver Words by Tom Price Photo by Dan Hong 30

“I was always that kid that wanted to look nice and enjoyed putting together outfits. I’m considered different because I believe you can have style and still be conservative.”


t’s hard to standout as a member of the new media. The internet is a vast and endless abyss of blogs and musings about everything from coffee culture to designer dog clothes. Somehow, amongst all the clutter and noise on the World Wide Web, Turlock’s Michelle Oliver has managed to get noticed and is parlaying her love for fashion into a blossoming project. She is the creator of the blog Graceful Glamour Girl (www. and within one year of her first post, she was tabbed by Lucky Magazine as a contributor. “I was always that kid that wanted to look nice and enjoyed putting together outfits. I’m considered different because I believe you can have style and still be conservative,” says Oliver, who first started blogging as a member of the college newspaper at Stanislaus State. “My goal is to help young girls feel better with themselves and to realize they don’t have to be a model on the runway to feel comfortable.” The blog primarily

features Oliver trying on clothes from local boutiques, providing makeup tips and hairstyles. Her mother shoots the photographs and helps create the scenes for the photographs. “My whole family is really supportive,” says Oliver, 24. “My mom is the backdrop queen!” Her most recent posts feature clothing from local boutiques Helen and Louise and Christina’s along with several brands like Miss Me, Kut from the Kloth and Zoa. She says she thinks her success comes from her true love for fashion. “A lot of people start these blogs because they want free clothes or products,” says Oliver. “The brands want you to have passion because they have passion about the clothes they make.” She says she first learned how to build relationships with brands after attending a conference in April, where they encouraged writers to reach out and connect with companies who are see blogs as a marketing avenue. She says that advice is what truely kickstarted the blog. On Oct. 21, Oliver will get her chance to raise her profile in the blogosphere,

as Lucky Magazine handpicked her to be a part of a group of contributors invited to participate in a two-day conference in New York City. The Lucky Fabb (fashion and beauty bloggers conference) will feature panel discussions on how to promote your blog and build partnerships. Oliver says she will also be attending sessions around design houses in New York. Her readers can follow her on her journey in New York by staying in touch with her blog or checking out her images on Instagram or Twitter (@ gracefulglamourgirl). Despite the rising popularity of her site, which is monetized and is gaining readership every day, she says she chooses to keep it simple for now. “It’s still just my hobby,” she says. “I’m not ready to turn it into work and I’m happy with that.” She recently graduated from Stanislaus State with a degree in public relations. There’s no surprise that she says she hopes to find a job in marketing or PR in the fashion industry. “Who knows?” she says. “Mabe I can be a fashion writer for Lucky Magazine or Vogue.” THEDLM.COM




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DLM (October)  

October issue of the Merced arts, music and culture publication.

DLM (October)  

October issue of the Merced arts, music and culture publication.