On Stage: Celebrating 13 years of Better Than Bacon

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Better Than Bacon

The weekend’s attractive line-up of live entertainment starts early this weekend with a local comedy favorite in West Chester, a prog rock band in Kennett Square and an unusual circus in Bensalem.

Better Than Bacon is coming back to Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) on June 27.
Better Than Bacon Improv is a short form improv comedy troupe based in West Chester. BTB performs short skits and games based on audience suggestions, often inviting audience members on stage.

Improv comedy is a one-time only performance without scripts or nets. What audiences experience in one show will never be seen again. The spontaneity of improv makes improvisational comedy one of the most challenging forms of comedy.
BTB’s current troupe members hail from all over the Philly suburbs including Malvern, Exton, West Chester, Kennett Square, Wilmington and Phoenixville. The troupe’s artistic backgrounds include improv, acting, stand-up comedy, and music.
The cast includes comedians Lauren Henry, Bob Curran, Jack Dibeler, Brett Heller, Lauren Burawski, Sarah Hennessey, Susan Price, Greg Faber, Dan Freed, David James and Kevin O’Connell.
“We’ve been together professionally since 2011,” said Henry, during a phone interview Monday from her home in West Chester.
“We all live in Chester County except for a few in Swarthmore and Wilmington.
“It started with a bunch of us meeting at Chester County Night School in West Chester. We got to be friends, took classes and picked up more people. We decided to start our own troupe and found a director. The committed people stayed.
“We had our first gig at Kennett Flash in June 2011. We have regular dates at Uptown, Kennett Flash and Media Arts Council. We play mostly in Chester County and northern and central Delaware. We don’t play Philly because of territorial turf wars.”
In a fashion similar to the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” the members of the troupe make up every single word and perform every single action completely on-the-spot…and it’s all driven by audience suggestions. Every show is a brand-new experience.
“We have 15-16 games in a show,” said Henry, who graduated from York College with a degree in radio and television communication. “It’s like ‘Whose Line Is It?” We call one of the sketches ‘the guessing game.’”
Even though the shows are improv shows, BTB still spends a lot of time and effort rehearsing.
“We still rehearse after all these years,” said Henry. “We get together every week for about two hours. Uptown allows us to practice at their place.
“Everything we do in our shows is spontaneous. It’s a very interactive show. Everything we do is based on audience suggestion.”
Video link for Better Than Bacon – https://youtu.be/Y5sem4ZDsl4.
The show at the Uptown will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.
Joe Deninzon began his career as a recording artist with a solo release, “Electric Blue,” in 1998 on Wilbert’s Blues Records. Right from the start, he was a busy musician
Now, a quarter of a century later, Deninzon is still very busy – maybe busier than he’s ever been.
Deninzon is currently a founding member of the band Stratospheerius and, since May 2023, the violin player for rock legends Kansas.
On June 27, Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius will headline a show at Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, kennettflash.org)
Stratospheerius is an American progressive rock band based in New York City. The band is led by electric violinist Joe Deninzon, who also plays the mandolin and serves as the band’s lead vocalist.
Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius’ set will feature some of the band’s well-known older material, as well as new music from their upcoming studio album, “Impostor!to be released on 7D Media (City Hall distribution) this October. New songs include “Outrage Olympics” and “Voodoo Vortex,” “Storm Surge,” and the title track, “Impostor!” Old favorites are planned, notably songs from the band’s recent double CD/DVD-Blu ray box set, “Behind the Curtain (Live at ProgStock)”: “The Prism,” “Game of Chicken,” “One Foot in The Next World,” and “Behind the Curtain.”
Deninzon is the new violinist with legendary rockers Kansas, now on tour celebrating their 50th anniversary. He has played violin for the Who, Bruce Springsteen, 50Cent, Sheryl Crow, and as the concertmaster for Renaissance.
Other members of Stratospheerius are drummer Jason Gianni, guitarist Michelangelo Quirinale and bassist Paul Ranieri.
The band took a break as Deninzon and bassist Bob Bowen teamed up with guitarist Steve Benson in 2010 as the Joe Deninzon Trio to record the acoustic jazz album, “Exuberance.” In 2011, Deninzon joined the faculty of the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp.
Despite numerous personnel changes, Deninzon kept Stratospheerius alive – and stayed very busy.
“I did 38 shows with Kansas since June,” said Deninzon, during a phone interview last year from his home in Old Tappan, New Jersey.
Kansas is on a break. I have a few shows with Stratospheerius – and we’re finishing the next album.
After creating the SonicVoyageFest Tour, Stratospheerius performed in Chicago’s Progtoberfest 2017, and at ProgStock in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Stratospheerius plays a style of music that defies categorization — a blend of straight-up rock, jazz, folk, fusion, prog-rock and funk. Deninzon describes the band’s sound as “psychojazz trip funk.”
Deninzon & Stratospheerius released their most recent album, “Guilty of Innocence,” in 2017.
“Guilty of Innocence” highlights include a reimagined cover of muse’s “Hysteria,” a 12-minute prog epic titled “Soul Food” and “Dream Diary Cadenza,” a solo electric violin extravaganza by Deninzon.
“Making this album was a long process,” said Deninzon. “We had a new approach. Usually, we’d get 10 or more songs together and book a studio. This time, we did one of two songs at a time and released them as singles.
“And we revisited stuff from 2014 and tweaked it. It was cost-effective – a single here and there. Also, it allowed us to make each song the best it could be.”
“We let it evolve naturally. The only real challenge was to make the album sound cohesive – and it does. Nowadays, people expect you to come up with new stuff all the time. But, as a musician, you want your music to be good – and that takes time.”
Deninzon, who plays a special seven-string Trident electric violin known as The Viper, has a diverse music background and a long history with his band Stratospheerius.
“I’ve had the band for quite a while now — in a lot of configurations,” said Deninzon. “I recorded my first CD when I was in Cleveland. It was called ‘Electric/Blue’, and it was a jazz fusion album. Over the years, I wanted to go in a more rock direction.
“When I moved to New York, I formed the Joe Deninzon Band and it later became Stratospheerius. I’ve always loved rock and folk music. Back then, I had two things going — playing guitar and singing in coffee shops and playing jazz music with my band.”
Deninzon had diverse influences.
“I looked at artists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Popper — bands that were instrumentally great and were fronted by a vocalist,” said Deninzon, who was born in St. Petersburg (Russia) and moved to Cleveland when he was a boy and his father landed a position as violinist for the Cleveland Orchestra.
“I was also influenced by progressive rock bands from the 1970s such as Yes, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson.
“I’m a big rock fan — always have been. I studied jazz in college, but rock is what I wanted to play. Vocals are important. We have a lot of instrumentals but 70 per cent of our songs feature vocals. With all the different genres, I was finding my way over the years.”
“Stratospheerius has grown into a progressive rock band — a progressive rock band with cool vocals,” said Deninzon. “Our stuff has gotten more structured. But I also like the element of freedom. I never play a song the same way twice.”
The show at Kennett Flash, which has Tim Motzer as the opening act, will start at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $25
Other upcoming shows at Kennett Flash are Sug on June 29 and Buffalo Nicholson June 30.
The intriguing new production Paranormal Cirque (https://paranormalcirque.com), which is intended for a mature audience, is touching down at several locations over the next six weeks – Lancaster (June 20-23), Bensalem (June 27-30), Whitehall (July 4-7), Pottstown (July 18-21 and Dover, Delaware (July 25-28).
This weekend, the circus will set up at Park City Center, which is located at 142 Park City Center in Lancaster.
Paranormal Cirque will expose audiences to a unique creation of combined theatre, circus, and cabaret with a new European style flare.
This innovative horror story, which is presented in true circus style under a Big Top tent, features different shades of sexy and an incomparable storyline. Audiences likely will find it difficult to separate reality from illusion at this show as they fall into a parallel world and end up surrounded by monstrous creatures with hidden talents.
Currently, Paranormal Cirque has three tours running – Paranormal Cirque, Paranormal Cirque II and Paranormal Cirque III. The tour visiting our area is Paranormal Cirque III
Paranormal Cirque’s “Clown Castle” (also known as the Big Top) presents a mesmerizing effect while hosting a two-hour hypnotizing and enchanted show.
A careful casting selection has united the best artists from all over the world.
Under this Clown Castle, the black and red big top tent, there are aerial acrobats, illusionists, freaks, mysterious creatures and all the elements that make one think of a “normal” circus – but this one is not “normal.”
A new show with breathtaking implications always poised between fun and the most uninhibited fear that will transport you to a dark world inhabited by creatures with incredible circus art abilities. A crazy yet fun fusion between circus, theatre, and cabaret in perfect harmony with the evolution of a show that brings you back to when we dream … and when we had nightmares and fantasies.
Video link for Paranormal Cirque — https://youtu.be/locxFnh5UR8.
One of the more interesting shows this weekend should be the concert by the Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha. The quartet, which is based in Kyiv (Kiev), will perform on June 28 as part of the 2024 Concerts Under the Stars series in King of Prussia, which has returned for its 38th season.
Presented and produced by Rising Sun Presents, the team behind the Philly suburbs’ premier music venues Ardmore Music Hall and 118 North in Wayne, the summer-long series will again take place at the scenic Upper Merion Township Building Park (175 West Valley Forge Road, King of Prussia, www.concertsunderthestarskop.com) and will include a mix of ticketed and free concerts.
The veteran foursome includes Marko Halanevych (vocal, goblet drum, tabla, didgeridoo, harmonica, accordion, cajón), Olena Tsybulska (vocal, percussion instrument),Iryna Kovalenko (vocal, djembe, flute, buhay, piano, ukulele) and Nina Harenetska (vocal, cello). All of the members are graduates of the Kyiv National University of Culture and Arts.
The group’s name derives from Ukrainian verbs Давати and Брати, meaning “give” and “take.” DakhaBrakha is world-music quartet that blends elements of sound and soul to create what it calls Ukrainian “ethnic chaos.”
“A lot of our songs can be traced back to pre-Christian times,” said Halanevych, during an interview through an interpreter the last time DakhaBrakha played Delaware.
“Every song has a traditional source – traditional lyrics about nature and harvest and things like that. Some songs get changed from traditional through unusual arrangements and some do not change much at all.”
DakhaBrakha was created in 2004 at the Kyiv Center of Contemporary Art “DAKH” by the avant-garde theatre director – Vladyslav Troitskiy. Theatre work has left its mark on the band. In addition to experimenting with Ukrainian folk music, DakhaBrakha has added rhythms from around the world in its music.
The band’s discography includes “На добраніч” (2005), “Ягудки” (2007),”На межі” (2009), “Light” (2010), “Хмелева project” (2012) and “Шлях” (2016). DakhaBrakha also has three soundtracks to its credit – “Bitter Harvest” (2017 film, Canada), “Mavka. The Forest Song” (2016, Ukraine) and “Fargo” (2017, TV series, United States).
Accompanied by Indian, Arabic, African, Russian and Australian traditional instrumentation, the Slavic foursome’s powerful and uncompromising vocal range creates a trans-national sound rooted in Ukrainian culture.
DakhaBrakha’s three female vocalists have spent many summers traveling around Ukraine’s villages collecting songs and learning from elder women in remote areas. Like these village tradition-bearers, they have spent years singing together, a fact that resonates in the beautifully close, effortlessly blended sound of their voices.
“The core of our music is Ukrainian folk music,” said Halanevych. “And, we try to mix in other styles of music – different styles of folk music. We like different styles of music – especially world music.
“We also like classical 20th-century minimalist music like that of Philip Glass. That style of music had also influenced us a lot. The methods of minimalism helped us with our approach to traditional folk music. But, the main element is always the Ukrainian folk tradition.”
Video link for DakhaBrakha — https://youtu.be/1a5ktK5xTkY.
The show at Upper Merion, which has Native Harrow as the opening act will start at 7 p.m.
On June 28, the spotlight at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, www.worldcafelive.com) will be on Johns (not the Philly mutant word “Jawns”).
The show on Friday night will feature, as the name implies, two Johns – Johnny Never and John Colgan-Davis, the front man for the Dukes of Destiny. The duo features John Colgan-Davis and Johnny Never.
According to Colgan-Davis, “I do want to take this opportunity to remind folks of this Friday night’s appearance of The Two Johns and The Dukes of Destiny at The World Café. I am super-excited about this gig. It is a special night in a special place, and we hope to see you all there.”
The Dukes of Destiny, who have been treating fans to live performances of top-flight blues and soul music for almost three decades, are back in action with a lineup built around John Colgan-Davis (harmonica, vocals) and AC Steel (guitar, vocals).
In 1985, five young, local musicians got together and began playing old blues songs in a rambling three-story house in Philadelphia. They decided to take the act on the road as The Dukes of Destiny, a name they got from a matchbook cover urging the reader to “Be the Captain of Your Own Destiny.”
At first, The Dukes of Destiny played house parties in Germantown, generating interest by word of mouth. A gig at the now-defunct Taker’s Café in Germantown launched their public career, and 30 years later, they are still playing some of the hottest, most danceable blues and old school soul in the Philadelphia area. Today The Dukes of Destiny reign as Philadelphia’s longest-lived and best loved blues act.
There have been changes in the act: guitarists left and came back, bass and sax players moved and or left the band, and sadly, singer and founder Steve Brown died in March of 2000. But the approach and commitment of the band has remained constant for 30 years, resulting in a band with a unique tightness and an original approach to the music.
With a mix of powerful original songs and unique arrangements of blues standards, The Dukes of Destiny continue to grow and develop as they share their music through countless live performances and recordings.
The current line-up also features Hammond organ ace Glenn Bickel, drummer Michael Rourke, and organist Ray Adler.
A few years ago, the Dukes’ lineup went through a major change when vocalist Aryl Wolters retired from the band. As a result, Colgan-Davis had a dual role with the Dukes.
“Now that Arlyn is gone, I’m doing the majority of the singing,” said Colgan-Davis. “I was singing before Arlyn so now it’s back to the roots.
In addition to performing at most of the clubs in the Tri-State area, the Dukes of Destiny have performed at the Pocono Blues Festival, the Waterfront Jam at Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing, the State Street Blues Stroll in Media, the Bucks County R’n’B Picnic, the New Jersey Folk Festival and the Longwood Gardens Summer Concert Series.
“For the past few years, we’ve had great years,” said Colgan-Davis back in 2019. “We played places we had never played before – like the Philadelphia Folk Festival. We also played places we really love like The Kennett Flash and the West Grove Friends Meeting.
“We played the Phoenixville Blues Festival and the Paoli Blues Festival. We really love playing The Kennett Flash. And we love our Chester County crowd.”
Audiences that like to get out of their seats and dance are a big part of the Dukes of Destiny live experience.
“We get all kinds of dancers at our shows,” said Colgan-Davis. “We’ve been playing a lot more festivals. We’re back on the festival circuit. I love playing festivals for a couple reasons. You get a whole bunch of people playing together. That takes me back to the 60s and the be-ins back then.
“Sun Ra had said the message that music is the healing force of the universe, and you feel that at festivals. And kids get to hear real music played by real people. With a band like us that plays off the crowd, a festival show is a real exciting thing.”
Colgan-Davis’s introduction to the blues came when he was in high school at Central High in Philadelphia and saw the Stones performing with Howling Wolf on the “Shindig” TV show. Howlin’ Wolf, whose real name was Chester Burnett, was an American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player who was one of the premier Chicago bluesmen.
“When I saw Howlin’ Wolf on that TV show, I jumped up and said — this is what I want to do,” said Colgan-Davis. “I started playing blues when I was 16. My dad gave me a grab bag for my birthday and a harmonica was in it.
“I started listening to blues records a lot — players like Muddy Waters and James Cotton. I was really into Chicago blues of the 1950s and 1960s when I started. Then, I got into guys like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. One of the first bands I played in was a Philly blues band called Sweet Stavin’ Chain.”
Sweet Stavin’ Chain were a white blues group with horns led by the late, great Danny Starobin on guitar.
A while later, the Dukes of Destiny became the main musical vehicle for Colgan-Davis. At first, they played house parties in Germantown, generating word of mouth interest. A gig at the now-defunct Taker’s Cafe in Germantown launched their public career.
“The Dukes got together in the mid-1980s,” said Colgan-Davis. “Steve Brown started the band, and it began with that gig at Taker’s Café. Steve died of pancreatic cancer in 2000 and I’ve been the leader ever since. Steve has always been in my mind. We did a tribute concert to him a few years ago and we still do some of his favorites in our set.
“We have a whole range of music in what we can play — everything from Chicago blues to old-school soul. What’s great about the Dukes is that we’re a band. We use each other’s strengths.”
Video link for the Dukes of Destiny – https://youtu.be/j5fM0sugB5w.
East Coast bluesman Johnny Never has a mission to deliver pure, unadulterated vintage blues to those who already love the blues as well as those who have never heard it. Whether solo or with accompaniment, Never has energized audiences in Northern Maryland, Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey from small bars and restaurants to music halls such as the MAC Concert Series, The Mainstay, the Kennett Flash and Jamie’s House of Music.
Never, who has also performed in a variety of music festivals, delivers his take on the blues as a solo performer as well as with a duo and a trio.
Often referred to by blues enthusiasts as “the real deal,” Never pays homage to, but does not mimic, the vast array of original bluesmen that gave birth to the genre more than a century ago. He is known for his covers of artists like Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton.
His original compositions possess the qualities of the genuine article, delivered through deft finger-style guitar work and a voice that reeks of authenticity.
These qualities have earned him recognition by blues and folk music societies from Memphis to Philadelphia. In 2014, Johnny was a quarterfinalist in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
Colgan-Davis, harmonica and vocals, started playing the harmonica in local blues and folk clubs back in the late 1960s while he was still a high school student. He played and recorded with Philadelphia singer-guitarist Jesse Graves and played with Bonnie Raitt when she lived in Philadelphia in the early 1970s.
Through Raitt, he had the opportunity to meet and play with Mississippi Fred McDowell, Arthur Crudup, Buddy Guy, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, and others. He has also jammed with James Cotton, John Hammond, Charlie Musselwhite, John Lee Hooker, Bill Dicey, and Louisiana Red.
For a long time, the two Philly area blues aces were aware of each other and their talents. A few years ago, their paths came together.
“About four years ago, Johnny and I were at the same gig and started talking,” said Colgan-Davis. “We started hanging out together. Then, I sat in with him at a mini-festival but I can’t remember where. It was somewhere out in the country. He also had a bass player with him – Dave Young who since has moved to Colorado.”
In a prior phone interview, Never said, “John is a great harmonica player. I’ve been playing blues for decades and had a parting of ways with my previous harmonica player. I called John up to see what would happen.”
Colgan-Davis said, “For the past few years, we’ve been playing as The Two Johns. Our first real show was at Hummingbird on Mars in Wilmington.
“I love playing acoustic again. There are things you can do as an acoustic harp player that you can’t do with a loud band.
“Johnny is a very good picker and a great slide player. He’s also a great Piedmont Blues player.”
Colgan-Davis and the harmonica have a long history together.
“With The Two Johns, we play a couple songs I played in high school – including Son House’s ‘Death Letter Blues.’ We play a lot of Piedmont Blues, ragtime and some 1920s jazz ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’,’ a Fats Waller song. We do things I haven’t found a way to do with the Dukes of Destiny.”
Never said, “Music is about feel. When you play with somebody, you need to make sure you can connect with the feel. John’s playing works very well with old blues – especially Piedmont style. I play guitar almost exclusively acoustic. Early blues didn’t have electric guitar.
“I got attracted to early acoustic blues as a young person. It was a slow evolution. As a teenager, I heard recordings by Charley Patton and Son House. It hit me – and really stuck with me. When I was in my late 30s and early 40s, I really started working at it.”
With regard to The Two Johns, you have Never and Colgan-Davis.
With regard to Never, you actually have three Johns – Johnny Never which is the stage name for John Carleton and John Dorchester, the artist’s real name.
John Dorchester is a multi-discipline artist/creator who grew up in West Chester and attended West Chester Henderson before graduating from Westtown School.
As an adolescent, he had a keen interest in landscape painting and filmmaking — studying painting with Nantucket artist, Warren Krebs, and filmmaking with Earl Fowler, whose famous brother, Jim, made nature films for Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.”
Video link for Johnny Never – https://youtu.be/ny2EmfXYMR0.
The show at the World Café Live will start at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25

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