'Joe's Cafe' Fringe review: 'A breath of fresh air'

From a review by Elizabeth Maupin in "Elizabeth Maupin on Theater" (May 23, 2011)

"If you hang out at Joe’s Cafe, you’re taking a relaxing visit to the past. Not the oldies-but-goodies kind of past, because several of Rupert Wates’ story songs take place in recent times. But a musical style of the past — specifically the era of 1960s folk music, which guitarist/singer Wates and singer Kellie Amend re-create in such an authentic way that you feel transported to a circa-1968 coffee-house in Harvard Square.

"Wates is a British-born songwriter who moved to the U.S. about five years ago; he has worked in jazz, but he’s so masterly on acoustic folk guitar that it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else. With Joe’s Cafe he has written more than a dozen songs telling the stories of ordinary Americans, most of whom have faced one trouble or another (war, the Dust Bowl, the fight for civil rights).

"Some are right out of the headlines (the story of a police shooting in Queens in 2006), and others are out of history books (the lovely, moving song about Maj. Robert Gould Shaw’s African-American regiment during the Civil War).

"Throughout, Amend’s light, shimmery voice may remind you of the young Judy Collins, and the sweet combination of that voice and Wates’ guitar draws any tension right out of you... The musicality in this little revue makes it a breath of fresh air among the din of the Fringe."

Remaining shows:
Wednesday May 25, 8:40 p.m.
Friday May 27, 5:15 p.m.
Saturday May 28, 6:50 p.m.

4 comments

  • Spensyr Mayfield

    Spensyr Mayfield

    I attended Joe's cafe at the Orlando Fringe Festival on Wednesday, May 25th. Let me start my comment by acknowledging that Wates and Amend are wildly talented musicians and performers. I found much of this show truly enjoyable, and I purchased a cd of the original production of this show on my way out the door. My only criticism is that Wates is presenting a show that succeeds not only from the energy generated by skilled musical talents, but also from the emotional tether Wates' "true" stories form to the audience. In truth, perhaps "based on a true story with more than a little artistic license taken in some cases" would be more...truthful. Nowhere was this more evident to me than in Wates' '50 shots' the song referenced in Ms. Maupin's review as "the story of a police shooting in Queens in 2006". At this point I will also acknowledge that I am the wife of a police officer who, until recently, was one of New York's finest. Therefore, you may feel free to take the following comments with a grain of salt...You won't get that kind of disclosure from Wates in Joe's Cafe. '50 shots' is Wates' dramatic adaptation of the incidents surrounding the shooting of Sean Bell in a strip club parking lot in 2006. I won't go into all the details, which are readily available on Google if anyone is interested, but I will say that Wates introduces the song as being about the shooting of an unarmed man that the undercover police had fingered as a drug dealer only because they "didn't like his face"...and that they later were too quick to fire upon Sean Bell because they "thought he had a gun". In Wates' version of the truth this is a tragically moving story of police brutality, made all the worse when Wates' lyrics reveal that it was Sean Bell's wedding day, and that at trial all the cops were let off...is there any justice in this world? Wates has left out the widely reported, and testified to, facts that Sean Bell was already behind the wheel of his vehicle, with the engine running when police asked him to turn off the car and show his hands. Sean Bell then attempted to flee in his vehicle- twice- before the officer, who Wates described as "too quick to shoot", opened fire on Bell through the rear window of the vehicle. Other officers arriving at the scene also opened fire. Here's the point...are 50 bullets in a man too many? Perhaps. But, Wates paints a picture of a well intentioned, unarmed, O.G. minding his own business, meandering in the parking lot after his bachelor party when he is brutally gunned down for no reason other than the idiot cops were trigger happy. That just wasn't the case. Further, Wates has written this "story" from the point of view from Sean Bell's fiancé and he implies at the end that she's got her own gun now and is plotting her own justice? What?! Vigilante Justice? No...In 2010 Bell's fiancé ran for city council in queens stating that the shooting of her fiancé made her realize there were problems out there that she felt she could help solve by political action...not by gunning down police officers. She didn't win that election but made a good showing in the election. I think Wates' story trivializes her story as well as demonizes the police. Please Mr. Wates...if you are going to tell a real-life story...tell the whole story...or else let the audience know that the story is only "based on" real-life stories. I found the edited and romanticized version of your "facts" in 50 Shots to be very disrespectful to law enforcement officers. If just one of my fellow audience member's feelings about the police were negatively influenced then I am disappointed in you at leading them there with half-truths and fabrications by telling them that "all the stories are true." In the end, my applause for Joe's Cafe as a show was just as enthusiastic as the next patron...however I chose to hold my applause after 50 Shots...and I'm glad it's not on the cd. A song like that may have its place on an album...just not on one you'd like to claim is telling the "truth".

    I attended Joe's cafe at the Orlando Fringe Festival on Wednesday, May 25th. Let me start my comment by acknowledging that Wates and Amend are wildly talented musicians and performers. I found much of this show truly enjoyable, and I purchased a cd of the original production of this show on my way out the door.

    My only criticism is that Wates is presenting a show that succeeds not only from the energy generated by skilled musical talents, but also from the emotional tether Wates' "true" stories form to the audience. In truth, perhaps "based on a true story with more than a little artistic license taken in some cases" would be more...truthful.

    Nowhere was this more evident to me than in Wates' '50 shots' the song referenced in Ms. Maupin's review as "the story of a police shooting in Queens in 2006". At this point I will also acknowledge that I am the wife of a police officer who, until recently, was one of New York's finest. Therefore, you may feel free to take the following comments with a grain of salt...You won't get that kind of disclosure from Wates in Joe's Cafe.

    '50 shots' is Wates' dramatic adaptation of the incidents surrounding the shooting of Sean Bell in a strip club parking lot in 2006. I won't go into all the details, which are readily available on Google if anyone is interested, but I will say that Wates introduces the song as being about the shooting of an unarmed man that the undercover police had fingered as a drug dealer only because they "didn't like his face"...and that they later were too quick to fire upon Sean Bell because they "thought he had a gun".
    In Wates' version of the truth this is a tragically moving story of police brutality, made all the worse when Wates' lyrics reveal that it was Sean Bell's wedding day, and that at trial all the cops were let off...is there any justice in this world?

    Wates has left out the widely reported, and testified to, facts that Sean Bell was already behind the wheel of his vehicle, with the engine running when police asked him to turn off the car and show his hands. Sean Bell then attempted to flee in his vehicle- twice- before the officer, who Wates described as "too quick to shoot", opened fire on Bell through the rear window of the vehicle. Other officers arriving at the scene also opened fire.

    Here's the point...are 50 bullets in a man too many? Perhaps. But, Wates paints a picture of a well intentioned, unarmed, O.G. minding his own business, meandering in the parking lot after his bachelor party when he is brutally gunned down for no reason other than the idiot cops were trigger happy. That just wasn't the case.

    Further, Wates has written this "story" from the point of view from Sean Bell's fiancé and he implies at the end that she's got her own gun now and is plotting her own justice? What?! Vigilante Justice? No...In 2010 Bell's fiancé ran for city council in queens stating that the shooting of her fiancé made her realize there were problems out there that she felt she could help solve by political action...not by gunning down police officers. She didn't win that election but made a good showing in the election. I think Wates' story trivializes her story as well as demonizes the police.

    Please Mr. Wates...if you are going to tell a real-life story...tell the whole story...or else let the audience know that the story is only "based on" real-life stories. I found the edited and romanticized version of your "facts" in 50 Shots to be very disrespectful to law enforcement officers. If just one of my fellow audience member's feelings about the police were negatively influenced then I am disappointed in you at leading them there with half-truths and fabrications by telling them that "all the stories are true."

    In the end, my applause for Joe's Cafe as a show was just as enthusiastic as the next patron...however I chose to hold my applause after 50 Shots...and I'm glad it's not on the cd. A song like that may have its place on an album...just not on one you'd like to claim is telling the "truth".

  • Rupert Wates

    Rupert Wates

    Ms Mayfield, Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. I much appreciate the time you took to express your feelings about JOE'S CAFE and about my song 'Fifty Shots'. I take your point that in the case of this song, my treatment of the original material, which you rightly identify as the shooting of Sean Bell, does not adhere to the strict truth of the events. As you say, I made considerable use of dramatic licence - much more, I should add, than in any of the other songs in the show (this in fact is one reason why the song does not feature on the CD). My defence is firstly that in writing a song, it's always neccessary to give a certain shape to the material. Secondly, I set out to tell the story as it might be told by someone close to the victim, whose version of events was bound to be partial, emotional, and distorted. I was not trying to present it as it would be reported by an impartial and objective witness. In the original version, however, the narrator of the song was not the victim's fiance, but an unnamed close friend (maybe one of his homeboys). For the performance at Orlando, Ms Amend and I decided to adapt the lyric so as to make the narrator the victim's bride-to-be. In doing so, and consequently depicting her as a vengeful vigilante, we have (as you suggest) moved perhaps a step too far from reality! In future performances we will try to redress this by restoring the narrator of the story to their original character. After all, it's possible to imagine that there are some people who knew Sean Bell, who feel as my fictional narrator does about the way he was killed. However, I'd like to assure you that as a New Yorkser myself (since 2007!) I have a great deal of respect for the men and women who carry out the difficult and dangerous job of policing its streets. My own feelings about them are not at all the same as the feelings of the 'speaker' of 'Fifty Shots'! With best wishes, Rupert Wates

    Ms Mayfield,
    Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. I much appreciate the time you took to express your feelings about JOE'S CAFE and about my song 'Fifty Shots'.
    I take your point that in the case of this song, my treatment of the original material, which you rightly identify as the shooting of Sean Bell, does not adhere to the strict truth of the events. As you say, I made considerable use of dramatic licence - much more, I should add, than in any of the other songs in the show (this in fact is one reason why the song does not feature on the CD).
    My defence is firstly that in writing a song, it's always neccessary to give a certain shape to the material. Secondly, I set out to tell the story as it might be told by someone close to the victim, whose version of events was bound to be partial, emotional, and distorted. I was not trying to present it as it would be reported by an impartial and objective witness. In the original version, however, the narrator of the song was not the victim's fiance, but an unnamed close friend (maybe one of his homeboys). For the performance at Orlando, Ms Amend and I decided to adapt the lyric so as to make the narrator the victim's bride-to-be. In doing so, and consequently depicting her as a vengeful vigilante, we have (as you suggest) moved perhaps a step too far from reality!
    In future performances we will try to redress this by restoring the narrator of the story to their original character. After all, it's possible to imagine that there are some people who knew Sean Bell, who feel as my fictional narrator does about the way he was killed. However, I'd like to assure you that as a New Yorkser myself (since 2007!) I have a great deal of respect for the men and women who carry out the difficult and dangerous job of policing its streets. My own feelings about them are not at all the same as the feelings of the 'speaker' of 'Fifty Shots'!
    With best wishes,
    Rupert Wates

  • Spensyr Mayfield

    Spensyr Mayfield

    Mr. Wates. I have a great respect for your integrity as an artist after reading your reply. When all is said and done your work is art, and good art generates thoughtful discussion. You can be sure that you have accomplished that with your Orlando run of Joe's Cafe. I wish you, and Ms. Amend continued success.

    Mr. Wates.
    I have a great respect for your integrity as an artist after reading your reply. When all is said and done your work is art, and good art generates thoughtful discussion. You can be sure that you have accomplished that with your Orlando run of Joe's Cafe. I wish you, and Ms. Amend continued success.

  • Rupert Wates

    Rupert Wates

    Ms Mayfield Many thanks for your kind wishes! I wish the same to you, and I sincerely hope you enjoy the CD. Very best Rupert Wates

    Ms Mayfield
    Many thanks for your kind wishes!
    I wish the same to you, and I sincerely hope you enjoy the CD.
    Very best
    Rupert Wates

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