Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Taking Care Of Business

Twelve years ago, my then-husband and perpetual best friend, Jesse Turner, managed the “model department” of an international architecture firm in Baltimore, Maryland. Over almost a decade Jesse employed hundreds of creative, artistic teens, college students and young musicians who helped him build amazing scale renditions of multi-million dollar shopping centers and mixed-use developments slated for construction all over the world. Indeed, one of Jesse’s fondest memories is of demonstrating to the Abu Dhabi crown prince how to manipulate by remote control the sophisticated lighting scheme Jesse had designed for a model his team constructed of the Al-Ain Wildlife Preserve and Resort, a world-class depiction of plants and animals representing desert life on five continents, to be constructed in the arid foothills of the Jebel Hafeet mountains of Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates.  In May, 2007, one of those young employees, Mike Bull, had the opportunity to travel to the Saudi Arabian peninsula with Jesse to help teach an Arabian crew how to re-assemble Jesse's 2,000 pound model, built to 1/1000 scale. Six Federal Express trucks carrying twelve custom-made crates were required to deliver the model to the Baltimore-Washington International airport for its flight overseas.

Jesse looks on (left of center with
hands clasped) after demonstrating
his model to the Crown Prince
Jesse designed an elaborate lighting
system for this model of a resort and
zoo in the United Arab Emirates
Lots of talented students from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and other institutions of higher learning around Baltimore became part-time employees of Jesse during those years, and a vast circle of talented artists and musicians soon found themselves assisting in the construction of Jesse’s elaborate productions when they weren’t attending to their studies or music. Such was the case with J. Roddy Walston, lead vocalist, guitarist and pianist for a band he started in 2002 in his native Cleveland, Tennessee, J. Roddy Walston & The Business.  

In 2004, when J.Rod’s girlfriend, Sarah Hershman, was accepted into the Peabody Conservatory of Music to study opera, the band relocated to Baltimore.  Both J.Rod and his fellow guitarist and vocalist, Billy Gordon, took jobs building models with Jesse when they weren’t rehearsing or playing gigs.  It seems so long ago now.  Sarah is now J. Rod’s wife. The band has just released their third album, Essential Tremors, and has hit the big time, touring with The Black Keys and playing at festivals nationwide, from Lollapalooza to Bonnaroo.  

Recently, J.Rod and his band played at Rams Head Live, a popular live-music venue in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I’d never had an opportunity to see the group perform in person, although J.Rod had made several attempts to get me to come.  After attending one of my pumpkin-carving parties many years ago, J.Rod sent me a handwritten invitation to see one of his shows, noting with wry humor that since I always issued written invitations to my annual soiree that perhaps I was awaiting a written invitation from him.  What a thoughtful gesture!

Joley King, third from left, worked with
Jesse before becoming a talented
interior designer 
The stars finally aligned Friday night and I was able to see these skilled musicians do what they have become famous for, present rollicking rock and roll that whips a fanatic audience into a frenzy every time they take the stage.  
We ran into my friends, Frank and
Dawn at Rams Head Live Friday night

I chose my favorite rock and roll denim for this momentous occasion; rust-colored, heavily embroidered and studded boot-cut jeans by BrazilRoxx, which I purchased on a family ski trip earlier this year.  The September evening was warm and humid, so I chose a gauzy, sleeveless, high-low blouse by Forever 21, decorated with metal studs across the front placket.  I added chandelier earrings and a cascading necklace of amber glass beads from Fire & Ice Jewelers of Baltimore and pulled on my most comfortable heels; sturdy, beaded platform sandals by BCBGeneration.

Alex Fine, who used to work with
Jesse, plays lead guitar for Thee
Lexington Arrows, which opened for
J.Rod and his band at Rams Head Live
The venue was packed when Jesse handed his car keys to the parking attendant.  Before we even got to the door of Rams Head Live, we ran into two people Jesse used to employ.  Joley King, who worked with Jesse in his model department and has since become a successful interior designer, was there to see J.Rod with three of her girlfriends. Joley’s design career has taken off. She recently received rave reviews for re-designing the 13th Floor, a stylish restaurant in Baltimore’s historic Belvedere Hotel.  A few minutes after our reunion with Joley, we ran into B.J. Hart, who also worked on a model with Jesse back in the day.

Once inside the venue, we had barely found seats before I spied good friends of mine, NASA physicist Frank Morgan, who serves with me on the board of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc., the Friends group for a local wildland preserve near my home in Baltimore County, Maryland, and his girlfriend and fellow NASA employee, Dawn Turney (see Frank's 50th Birthday).  Like so many others, Frank and Dawn were there to see the frenetic show for which J.Rod and his band members have become so well known.

With beer in hand, I awaited
my chance to rock out with
J.Roddy Walston & The Business
Before we heard the headliners, however, we were treated to the rocking sounds of another local group, Thee Lexington Arrows, whose lead guitarist, Alex Fine (Alex Fine Illustration), also worked in Jesse’s model department, as did his lovely wife, Chloe Elswick.  Alex has gone on to enjoy a successful career as an illustrator.  His work has been published in the New York Observer and the Washington Post. And while working at a model-making company Jesse started after leaving the architecture firm in 2008, Chloe spent some time at my request creating beautiful graphic abbreviations of the master logo for Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area. Talented people, all.

From my comfortable seat in the
balcony, I had a perfect view of
the band on the stage below
J.Rod’s musical style has been likened to a fusion of AC/DC and Jerry Lee Lewis. I agree.  The capacity crowd went wild when J.Roddy Walston & The Business took the stage and the audience remained in a state of frenzy for the rest of the show.  From my birds-eye view on a balcony overlooking the rostrum, it seemed the capacity crowd never stopped moving, singing along with the band on every song. 

After the show, Jesse and I met J.Rod and the rest of the group back stage for a beer. Success has been very good for J.Rod.  His music is creative and powerful and it is clear that J.Rod and his gang are having a rocking good time in front of their adoring fans.  In an interview the band gave for NPR’s Weekend Edition this past Sunday morning, J.Rod described his southern roots and the collaborative, musical relationship he and his opera-singing wife, Sarah, enjoy despite the divergent expressions of their shared musical passion.

After the show I shared a beer backstage
 with, from left, Billy Gordon, Mike Bull,
and J. Roddy Walston 
Creativity in every form is celebrated by all who belong to this imaginative circle of friends. Jesse and I stand proudly to the side now, reveling in having been members of a circle of such widely diverse talents who all came together to share model-making as a common denominator for a time in their lives.