Spotlight on Ohlone:
Chalkdust: a new kind of bailout

By Eric Dorman, Editor-in-chief.

Thursday, April 23, 2009—Reprinted from Monitor.

Gruop of 4 people playing ukuleles outside on Ohlone's campus. English Professor Mark Brosamer, right, along with Librarians K.G. Greenstein and Kathy Sparling and Mail Clerk Hal Griffin, warm up their ukuleles in preparation for Friday’s Chalkdust concert. —Photo by Eric Dorman.

Perhaps Obama’s stimulus package is slow in making its way into your life. Perhaps this late in the semester, you’re feeling the need for a personal recovery package. If so, Math and English Professors Jeff O’Connell and Mark Brosamer promise to deliver a change you can believe in with the annual Chalkdust and Friends benefit concert this Friday, a show that they guarantee to be part music, part comedy and yes, part stimulus.

“It’s the Mark and Jeff stimulus package,” explained O’Connell. “Well, [except that] there’s not going to be any money left over.”

The show, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Center’s NUMMI Theater, will feature YouTube artist and Ohlone student Shawn Megofna, Transfer Center Specialist Frances Fon and the “Ukulele Renegades” trio—Mail Room Clerk Hal Griffin and Librarians K.G. Greenstein and Kathy Sparling. Both O’Connell’s and Brosamer’s bands—“Volume Control” and “Animal 54,” respectively, as well as O’Connell’s dad, will also make guest appearances.

Although the posted ticket price for the show is $7, in the spirit of economic recovery, O’Connell and Brosamer disclosed that they have chosen to include a special promotional deal—one can obtain two tickets for $14. This “2 tickets for the price of 2 tickets” deal is available for a limited time only and must be expressly asked for at the box office, said O’Connell. He acknowledged that the special offer was likely to increase the size of the Chalkdust budget deficit, but said it was a measure that needed to be taken. “It’s all about the people,” explained O’Connell.

It’s debatable who the biggest name on Friday’s bill is, but there’s no question who has the most YouTube views. Megofna (www.youtube.com/user/SMegofna, www.myspace.com/shawnmegofna) has established a significant presence on the site, with dozens of videos and more than 200,000 channel views. These include not only hits such as Chris Brown’s “Forever” and “Hey There Delilah” (Plain White T’s), but also a number of original songs, accompanied on the ukulele, guitar and piano. He will be performing one such original, “Addicting,” at the show.

Brosamer discovered Megofna’s talent in an unusual setting—the English 101B class Megofna was taking from Brosamer at the time. After hearing Megofna sing for the class, Brosamer persuaded him to come be a part of the concert. “We’re exploiting his celebrity,” explained Brosamer.

Though without a YouTube presence the size of Megofna’s, another Chalkdust performer, Dan O’Connell, is no stranger to show business. He plays accordion with the Irish-themed band “The Skelligs” (official motto: “Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly”).

Closer to home are Ohlone’s own Ukulele Renegades, who will be performing alongside Brosamer, a recent “uke” convert. The Renegades date back to around the time of Chalkdust’s inception more than seven years ago, when Greenstein and Sparling ran into ukulele-wielding Griffin at a bookstore Hawaiian luau event. The three started practicing conjointly and have been performing together ever since.

Unable to completely satiate her ukulele-playing desire with the Renegades, Sparling is also a member of another band, Dodge’s Sundodgers. According to Sparling, the group is “a string band that plays music from the 1890s through the mid 1930s, featuring National Steel guitar, mandolins and ukuleles.” The band currently has a CD out, called “Under the Sun,” which is available on iTunes as well as other music outlets. To learn more about the Sundodgers, visit http://dodgessundodgers.com.

O’Connell and Brosamer declined to comment on the specifics of the night’s bill, preferring to leave it as a surprise, but revealed that among the featured songs will be Jason Mraz’s “Lucky,” with Fon and Brosamer teaming up on vocals, and a song Brosamer said was “specifically for people over [age] 60.” And, as always, Friday’s concert will be an eco-friendly event. “If you give us seven pieces of green, we will recycle them,” explained Brosamer. “We’ll return it to the economy,” O’Connell added.

Lest any prospective concert-goers receive the wrong impression, Brosamer took a moment to offer a disclaimer. Chalkdust is not, he said, a group that overburdens itself with aggregating the punctilios of perfection. “We play the wrong chords, we sing the wrong lyrics, we trip over microphone cords.”

“But it’s worth $7,” O’Connell finished.

For more information on Chalkdust, see the band’s MySpace page at www.myspace.com/chalkdustband.

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