Been wondering what Disaster Kenz is up to these days? Well, she has been writing a shit ton of music! Please check out her band Strange Heavy where she keeps it sultry and rocking with her man, and you can also enjoy this solo set of her on original vocals and cello.
Imagine it's summer. The air is hot but not too sticky, a few puffy clouds give way to an endless plateau of blue sky, and you're in a car next to someone you love. A lot. Moving at high speeds with no destination, the windows are down and you feel like a bird. Young again. The road itself. You feel a little bit like a song.
This scene is what Perry City NY's country folk band Laila Belle evokes from the first moment you push play. As alt as traditional country can get, Laila Belle weaves beautiful melodies and harmonies, sophisticated yet relatable lyrics, and dreamy instrumentation into a self titled debut album that even Jeff Tweedy or Joan Baez could get stuck on repeat. Led by badass country couple Amy and Ward Puryear, this twelve song disc of all original music seems to have been carried from the heavens by larks. But Laila Belle's inception was not without strife.
Amy Puryear, formerly Glicklich, studied music education at Ithaca College. She fell in love with the area, as many people do, and stayed beyond her schoolwork to invest in the music scene. The Finger Lakes region is no stranger to good music. Old Crow Medicine Show, Donna the Buffalo, and Richie Stearns all hail from the fields and hills surrounding Ithaca, NY, and have grown up playing music together and with Ward Puryear, songwriter and guitarist with Laila Belle. Amy performed solo vocals and guitar for years, including recording an album with hundreds of children in Guatemala. Amy and Ward met and fell in love amidst the music and have been notably involved with the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance, a growing family affair. Although Amy's greatest passion is singing, she took several years off to raise a family with Ward, a sacrifice so many conscious musician mothers have to make.
When Amy and Ward decided it was time to focus on music again, they dove right into arranging songs and a band. Jason Shegogue, electric and lap steel guitarist, filled out the core of Laila Belle, initially called The Double EE.
Although early receptions of the band were positive, they've struggled to hold onto additional band members. A bass player moved away, one drummer wasn't the right fit, another drummer was too invested in a different band, and so on and so on. At least five years, two failed studio sessions, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears later, the Puryears had no album, and maybe no more chances to make it.
Fast forward to 2015, and Amy made a decision. It was now or never. It was music or not. It was her dream, or it wasn't. The Puryears had connections to Fleetwood Shack, the Nashville studio belonging to Bill Reynolds (of Band of Horses fame). Amy launched a thoughtful and aggressive crowdfunding campaign, and with the help of that money, plus grandma watching their boy, Amy and Ward took Jason down to Nashville. Reynolds stepped in on bass and Dana Billings of Big Mean Sound Machine took to the drums. The Double EE got a new name, and the world got a new record. Laila Belle was born.
I got the wind in my sails, but it just died down.
Thus begins Laila Belle. The band, the album, the next step in a long journey of sharing stories of the road, love, loss, and music. Listen to On Down the Line when you need to get out of your chair and dance with your sweetie, or Nothin' when you feel melancholy because he broke your heart. Songbird will make you melt into the floor of your kitchen, while Cochise County will get you daydreaming about shuffling the border sands of the southwest. Lilting vocals, sweet acoustics, and ethereal guitar glissandos will carry you for fifty minutes of pure honey. Whichever song you choose, it will take you somewhere.
Just like where Laila Belle is going.
Check out www.lailabelle.com to stay in the loop.
In a rapidly homogenizing nation of chain restaurants, big box stores, and utterly characterless office buildings, one woman is fighting to keep the country interesting.
Beth Lennon, a.k.a. Mod Betty, seeks out authentic vintage places that are going the way of the dodo bird (or, more accurately, the Watusi), and brings attention to them on her web site, Retro Roadmap. Lennon is a champion for mom and pop operations, drive-in movie theatres, soda fountains, kitschy roadside attractions, and any classic place that’s in danger of disappearing from the landscape.
Retro Roadmap isn't just a site that leads you to cool vintage places. Although she does give shout outs to locations her readers suggest—these are indicated as “Retro Roadmap Reader Recommendations”—Lennon personally vets every locale she blogs about and gives it her stamp of approval. Beyond that, she pins her Retro Roadworthy spots on the interactive map she’s created that’s not only fun and easy to use; it’s the central nervous system of her site.
Driving through a part of the country you've never been and you’re hungry? Don’t stop at the first famous burger joint you see; click on the map and discover that there’s an awesome family-owned diner right down the road! You get to experience something new and fun—not to mention probably delicious—and your dollars are actually keeping the place in business. Plus, Lennon says, it helps you learn your geography!
So what led Lennon to start Retro Roadmap in 2009?
First of all, she’s always loved to drive around and photograph the cool places she stumbles upon. As an art history major and photography minor at the University of Massachusetts, Lennon’s first big project was creating a book of photographs she took of defunct drive-in movie theatres.
Second, Lennon loves to share her finds, and the internet provided the perfect outlet to reach the largest audience possible. She recalls being disappointed that there was no resource for locating authentic vintage places while traveling to parts unknown several years ago. Lennon found that niche and filled it.
Third, and perhaps most important, is the big picture of preservation. Lennon’s trying to save these places from being bought out by yet another chain store or leveled for new luxury condos.
Frankly, I got tired of hearing people online bitch and moan about vintage places going out of business, but then they admitted they had not gone to the place in years. To me that was bull, because maybe they closed because everyone was too lazy to go! So I decided to make Retro Roadmap so there would be no excuses. Here's the info of where the place is, here's why you should go. Here's me going there! So while I do lament when cool old places close, I also know that if someone asked me, ‘Well, did you do anything to try and prevent that?’ I could say yes! I go to places like that, I spend my money there, and I do my best to encourage, inform, push, meet up, and get other people to do the same. If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
Lennon is nothing if not passionate. I got to see that passion in action when I spent a day Retro Roadmapping with her and trust me when I say nothing’s better for a gal trying to beat the winter blues. Her energy outshines the sun; her enthusiasm warms the soul; and her zeal for discovering Retro Roadmap-worthy spots transports you from a winter of discontent to the merry month of May…complete with a tiki bar. (More on the tiki bar later.)
We began our dreary January Saturday with a hearty breakfast at Daddypops diner in Hatboro, PA. This is precisely the kind of place that Lennon features on Retro Roadmap: a small, stainless steel diner built in the ‘50s, complete with vintage barbershop stools. No trendy, faux-retro menu here; this is the real deal and the low prices and utter lack of pretension reflects that.
Suitably nourished, we spent the rest of the day exploring Hatboro and finding several gems hidden within including two thrift stores, an old school bakery, and a crazy place called Joys & Toys, which has toys, games, and a bunch of whozits and whatzits galore stacked to the ceiling.
The sheer volume of stuff packed into this tiny store is overwhelming but it didn’t take Lennon long to find some Jerry Blavat records.
Lennon doesn’t just talk the retro talk; she walks the retro walk…and dances the retro dance. She takes classes to learn the Chez Vous, the South Street, the Wagner Walk, and other ‘60s line dances that are alive and well at the parties Blavat (the Geator with the Heater!) continues to host. (Full disclosure: Lennon talked me into joining the line dancing classes with her and they really are a lot of fun!)
The home she shares with her Retro Roadhusband, musician Cliff Hillis is an ode to mid-century modern living both inside and out (including their beautifully restored vintage camper), and lovingly referred to as “The Hacienda.” It’s nestled in the heart of Phoenixville, PA, a funky little town that’s home to an enclave of other cool and creative types the Retro Roadcouple has befriended.
Phoenixville itself is Retro Roadmap-worthy: it’s home to the historic Colonial Theatre, where the 1958 Steve McQueen cult classic The Blob was filmed. Every year, the Colonial celebrates the film with the very popular Blobfest, a three-day extravaganza which includes screenings of The Blob and a re-enactment of the famous scene of moviegoers running out of the theatre in fear.
Yes, Lennon has truly found her home.
But it was a long road to get here. It included taking a leap of faith to move from Boston to a sleepy beach town in southern Delaware (they call it “Slower Lower” for a reason) to be closer to her future husband. “Yeah, why don’t I move to a beach in a state that I really don’t know and date a dubious musician? That sounds brilliant!” To be clear, there is actually NOTHING dubious about Hillis. Regardless, Lennon notes for the record: “Mom, we didn't move in together. I had my own place!”
After a few years, however, Lennon felt restless with a string of unfulfilling jobs and no outlet for her creativity, pre-Retro Roadmap.
“My sister and I used to talk about the concept of ‘blooming where you’re planted,’ and we fully believe in that. However, the thing is it’s really hard to bloom when you’re planted in sand."
Lennon and Hillis took another leap of faith when they followed their instincts and moved to Phoenixville, a community in which they are now thoroughly entrenched. They support the town by patronizing its many shops and restaurants (“Every Friday is ‘Foresta’s Friday.’ I shop at the local market instead of Acme or Wegman’s. They won’t miss my 30 bucks,” says Lennon); Hillis often plays gigs at Steel City Coffeehouse; and Lennon has scheduled events for her readers at places like the Colonial Theatre. She’s organized several events for her readers on her site and has recently begun using the Meetup app to facilitate the process, which has been very successful.
In fact, remember how I said there’d be more on the tiki bar? Well, Lennon has created and will host a Vintage Tiki Weekend at the fabulous Caribbean Motel in Wildwood, NJ in May. She pitched the idea to the owners of the mid-century modern motel, and they loved it.
“You know what you do to help preserve mid-century modern America? You go to Wildwood, New Jersey, and you stay in a motel, and you have tiki cocktails and you dance to ‘60s music, and you meet people who are also into that stuff. Like, how much more fun can history be?”
Her readers agree. All 30 rooms blocked out for this weekend sold out in just 10 days.
Lennon’s latest project is her Kickstarter-funded videos. She’s just completed her 7th episode and her subjects include a root beer stand, a drive-in movie theatre, and New York City’s Donohue’s Steak House, family-owned-and-operated since 1950. Lennon also wrote about Donahue’s for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an organization fighting the good fight and for whom she is a frequent contributor.
With the help of friend and filmmaker Rob Waters and his production company, W Films, Retro Roadmap has reached a wider audience. Lennon sees the purpose of these videos as providing education, entertainment, and the importance of preservation. She dubs it edutainment.
I want it to be entertaining, but I also want it to be motivating. I just don’t want people to be on their Barcalounger flipping through channels and going, ‘Okay, that place is great… LIKE!’ And they think they've actually done something. I’m trying to get people to realize two things: One - yes - these places are great, and two - they’re not going to survive if all you do is hit ‘like’ on Facebook. You need to go out there and you need to spend some time and money there. I want to empower the individual to feel like they can do something to effect change, and realize they can have fun doing it!"
Lennon is an enthusiast, a cheerleader, and a connector. It’s understandable that she got her moniker when a sassy friend urged her not to resist the dreaded nickname, pointing out that she clearly wasn’t just a “Betty,” she is a “Mod Betty.” She embraced it even more when she came across The Betty Book: A Celebration of Capable Kind o' Gal, boasting that “these can-do types love whipping life's little problems as much as they adore beating egg whites.”
Although I’m not sure Lennon adores beating egg whites, she definitely adores whipping life’s problems; especially those relating to the blandification of America. One of Lennon’s life goals is to travel the entire country to see what all 50 have to offer and stick at least one Retro Roadmap pin in every state.
“Why bother traveling if every place looks the same?" Lennon muses. "People go to Rome to see the coliseum. People will come from around the world to see America if there’s something worth seeing.”