On Stage: More options this weekend for live entertainment

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Ian Bagg

There is a Jamaican restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City called Chephas’ Hot Spot. Run by Rastaman Cephas Gilbert, it features delightful and authentic food dished from the island. What it doesn’t have is a menu. 

The meals all include fresh vegetables of the day along with beans and rice. There are no choices.  

The only choice Cephas offers is meat or fish. There is a chalk board on the wall that lists one meat item (maybe curried goat, oxtail or jerk chicken) and one fish item (maybe escovitch red snapper or fish stew). 

When diners arrive at the restaurant, Cephas seats them and asks just one question – meat or fish. 

Music fans and people in our area looking for entertainment by national acts face similarly limited choices – maybe a standup show at a comedy club or a limited-seating concert at the Sellersville Theater. 

There is very little from which to choose. 

Surprisingly, there are several choices on the schedule over the next few days. The calendar of upcoming shows features an internationally acclaimed comedian, an original funk/jam band and a talented magician/comedian. 

The internationally acclaimed comedian is Ian Bagg, who will be in Philly for a series of five shows from February 4-6 at Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com). 

Bagg is a comedian from western Canada who has become one of the best standups in North America and is especially respected for his ability to work the crowd.

“I’ve been doing comedy for a long time – but I didn’t buy my first microphone until last July,” said Bagg, during a phone interview Tuesday from his home in Long Beach, California. “Doing comedy was always something I wanted to do even before I went to university.

“One night, I went to an open mic at the Vancouver Punch Line. It was a contest. I didn’t win but the manager said he liked what I did and asked me to come back.

“So, I practiced and practiced. All my jokes were written on my hand, but I got nervous and sweated them off. I do remember doing an impression of a fish. And I talked about my last name.”

Most comedians will tell you that being onstage is addictive – like the comedy world’s version of heroin (unlike musicians’ version of heroin which is usually white or brown powder).

“I got immediately addicted,” said Bagg. “I started doing open mics right away. I did comedy wherever I could.

“Pat Bullard (a legendary Canadian television writer and comedian) came to town and saw me perform. He told me – you’re really funny…promise me that you’ll get out of Canada as soon as possible.

“I put all my effort into trying to get to America – and I lucked out. It’s not easy for Canadians to make it in America.”

This is an established fact.

There are bands who are huge in Canada and virtually unknown in the states. The Tragically Hip regularly sold out 25,000 seat venues all across Canada and never really got off the ground in America. The list also includes FM, Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, Nash the Slash and plenty more.

Bagg was born in a little town approximately 750 miles north of Vancouver — Terrace, British Columbia. Terrace has a link to Philadelphia.

“Joe and Jimmy Watson, who played for the Flyers’ Stanley Cup teams, were from the area,” said Bagg. “I played hockey when I was younger and went to Joe and Jimmy Watson’s hockey camp.”

While bringing his love of comedy and hockey together, Bagg has performed multiple collaborative NHL Alumni shows for teams such as the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Bagg has also been featured on the History Channel, the Food Network and the Biography Channel. His most recent one-hour specials are “Ian Bagg: Getting to F**king Know You” that airs on Showtime and “Conversations”, available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

In 1996, Bagg moved to New York City and became a regular at the Comic Strip and the Comedy Cellar in New York and immediately ended up doing three appearances on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” In 2000, Bagg made his move to Los Angeles.

“One of my influences was Jonathan Winters,” said Bagg. “Other influences were Sam Kinison, Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby. I like Sam and Eddie for their irreverence and Cosby for his ability to paint a picture. But I’m certainly not a fan of Cosby now.”

Bagg has appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” He has two half-hour specials on Comedy Central and HBO. Additionally, Bagg fought his way to a Top 5 finish on a recent season of “Last Comic Standing.”

Bagg is also an actor and writer, known for “The Life Coach” (2005), “Cradle Will Rock” (1999) and “Save the Mavericks” (2005). It did take him a little while to find his true self as a comedian.

“Like any comic, after four or five years, I wasn’t influenced anymore,” said Bagg. “Ian’s style was coming out.

“I like to consider myself the same person onstage as I am offstage. There are certain things I’ll say or do in either situation.

“As far as conversation, it’s wherever it goes. No matter what the audience is like, you can always find a way to go. My show is like hanging around with your friends.”

Video link for Ian Bagg — https://youtu.be/xoqNVm9DyRE

Shows at the Helium Comedy Club are scheduled for February 4 at 8 p.m., February 5 and 6 at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. each night. 

Tickets, which are not sold individually because of capacity restrictions and social distancing, are $52 for a two-person table or $104 for a four-person table. 

John Westford and his wife/stage assistant Sarah

The talented magician/comedian is John Westford who will headline a show called “A Magical Evening with John Westford” at Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) on February 6. 

“This is what I do full-time,” said Westford, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from his home in Newport, Pennsylvania.

“I’m a magician and a comedian – but I’ve had very little work during the COVID-19 pandemic. This upcoming show is my first in-person show since March 3. I had a show schedule for the Sellersville Theater in April and that was my second show to fall to the pandemic.”

For Westford, his career as a magician sprang from a very simple beginning.

“Like most kids, I had a magic kit,” said Westford. “When I was a kid, I was in Ocean City, Maryland with my family. At the beach, I saw a guy do a sleight-of-hand trick and he wouldn’t tell me how he did it. So, I taught myself how to do it.”

When Westford went back and showed the guy that he had figured out how to do the trick, the guy directed him to study under Craig Diamond.

“I learned magic from a magician here in this area,” said Westford. “I was 12 years old and he produced ‘The World of Illusions’ at my school.”

That magician was Craig Diamond.

Diamond graduated from Newport High School in 1977. His CV includes performing for Ronald Reagan at the White House, Roger Moore aboard a cruise ship and Prince Albert II of Monaco. While still a student at Newport High, Diamond had his own show called “The World of Illusions.”

“He set up shop as a high school student,” said Westford. “He was producing the show and then we did it together. When I’d come home from college, I’d do a show here on the main stage at the high school.”

Westford attended Millersville University after graduating from Newport High.

“I did a lot of comedy when I was at Millersville,” said Westford. “Students could reserve blocks of time in the student union and I’d perform there. I also was doing corporate shows and banquets.

“After college, I got a job at the State Senate as a messenger. After a while, I left and went to work in a show at King’s Dominion in Virginia – five shows a day, five days a week.”

In the ’90s, Westford entered Nabisco’s nationwide talent search and was selected from thousands of magicians nationwide to perform live on stage with Harry Blackstone, Jr. in Atlantic City.

That led to national bookings, television appearances and, following in the footsteps of his mentor (Diamond) as a hot act in the world of cruise ship entertainment.

“Working cruise ships was fun,” said Westford. “Then, the recession hit in 2008 and I was put off a ship in Rome with no work.”

Westford got his feet back on the ground and returned to Perry County. 2008 was also the year he got married – gaining a wife and a stage assistant. His wife Susan was later named “Assistant of the Year” by the Magician’s Alliance of Eastern States.

“I corrupted her with all this stuff,” said Westford. “But she was a cheerleader and track star at West Perry High School, so she’s used to entertaining crowds.

“My magic routines are sleight-of-hand magic, comedy parlor magic and large stage illusions. I have about eight stage illusions including cutting in half, trunk, escape and fire cage.”

Unlike most of the shows at the Sellersville Theater lately, this show will not be available via Livestream.  “A Magical Evening with John Westford” will be in-person only. The show will also feature an opening music set by Ted Holman and Michael Cullin from the Armadillos.

Video link for John Westford —https://youtu.be/kdgaVJPbee4.

“A Magical Evening with John Westford” at Sellersville Theater will start at 7:30 p.m. on February 6. Tickets are $21.50.

The Tribe

The original funk/jam band with a show on the horizon is The Tribe – the band featured in Sellersville Theater’s Soundbooth Sessions on February 9. The show at the venue will be a meeting at the halfway point for the band’s members – one of whom lives in Philadelphia while the rest reside in Wilkes-Barre. 

Guitarist Andrew Sauter, a Wilkes-Barre native and Temple University grad, lives in Philly’s Mount Airy section. Other band members are Jordan Ramirez (vocals), Chris Langan (drums), Carl Krupa (alto sax, flue, tenor sax), Michael Wintermute (bass) and Angelo Miraglia (keyboards).

“The current line-up has been together since 2020 when Carl and Angelo joined,” said Sauter. “The band has existed since 2018.”

Ramirez, who had played in Wilkes-Barre area bands (including Half Dollar and Fake Fight), decided to put his own group together – a band that blended soul, R&B, jazz, funk, and hip-hop.

“We were all strangers,” said Sauter. “Jordan reached out to us on Facebook. We rehearsed twice and played a show a week later. We played so well together having had just limited rehearsals.”

It’s always tough to get things rolling when starting a new band. Trying to move ahead during a pandemic-related shutdown is an almost insurmountable task.

“This last year was a morale-breaker for everyone – and for us,” said Sauter. “We were going to do the South Street Festival, which would have been huge for us. Then, I remember it being April and stuff coming down. I haven’t felt the need to book a gig for months.”

Lack of live shows didn’t keep the band from moving forward. The sextet recorded its debut album, “Language!,” over the last few months and released it independently on December 30.

“It was all recorded at home with our own equipment,” said Sauter. “We did get together once during the summer. We got together at a venue in the Poconos called Mountain Sky and recorded some songs while we were camping.

“The rest of the songs were recorded with each of us doing tracks on our own and then Jordan doing all the production in his home studio. The final mixing was done by mid-November.

“There are 10 tracks – all originals. We’ve got three singles from it. ‘Red Flag’ and ‘Bomba’ came out in October and ‘Highlights’ will be out in February.

“We’ll play the full album in our live shows. It’s hip-hop, R&B and funk and also a lot of throwback to early 2000 R&B and pop songs. The constant is grooves – drum and bass lines that are interesting.”

Video link for The Tribe — https://youtu.be/GGC0smUFvzU.

The show at Sellersville on February 9, which will also be available via Livestream, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for live audience and for Livestream.

Other shows this month at the Sellersville Theater are Romeo Delight on February 5, Gabe Stillman on February 12, Ben Arnold & Band on February 13, Tony Sands in “Sinatra the Musical” on February 14, Michael Borowski on February 16 (snow reschedule from February 2), AM Radio on February 19 and 20, Adam Monaco on February 23, and King Solomon Hicks on February 26.

Live music will be presented in the upcoming week at several local venues.

Pat & Cole

Kennett Brewing Company (109 South Broad Street, Kennett Square, kennettbrewingcompany.com) will host Pat & Cole on February 6.

Cedar Hollow Inn Restaurant and Bar (2455 Yellow Springs Road, Malvern, www.cedarhollowinn.com) will present Samantha Seider on February 7 and Sunshine Jones on February 9.

The Bridgeport Ribhouse (1049 Ford Street, Bridgeport, www.ribhouse.net) will present Whiskey Logic on February 6, Vik Raolji on February 6, Eddie Kurek on February 12, Old School on February 13, and Catullus on February 20. The schedule also features performances by Brian Quinn & Danny Beissel on February 10, 17 and 24 and March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will host Mike Kropp on February 6. 

Creekside Sports Bar & Grille (765 N Lewis Road, Royersford, http://www.creeksidesportsbar.com/) will present Junkyard Band on February 6. 

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