A Bigger Fish to Fry

B-Sides attends a local radio station's Lenten fish fry, explores why a local jazz TV program didn't get off the ground and recommends this week's primo download

Mar 22, 2006 at 4:00 am
Lent is a seemingly contradictory time in the Catholic church, starting with Ash Wednesday mass. The scripture readings implore the faithful to fast and give alms in secret — and then the congregation receives a very visible, very public marking of dark-as-Sharpies ashes across their foreheads. Likewise, Fridays during Lent are supposed to be prayerful days of meat-free fasting and abstinence — but are better known for their social, beer-laden fish fries.

In fact, for classic-rock station KHITS [96.3 FM], Fridays during Lent mean broadcasting from church halls filled with bags of candy, desserts, commemorative "Fish Fry World Tour 2006" T-shirts — and beer?

"It's a loophole in our rules, I think," says St. Margaret Mary Alacoque parishioner Dave Reed from behind the bar in his church's cafeteria. KHITS DJ and practicing Catholic Mark Klose agrees: "When you ask the priest if they are going to have beer available, he says, 'Of course we have beer, it's a Catholic parish.' You know, there's beer and there's bingo and there's fish. Otherwise we don't show up."

So, naturally, four years ago KHITS' first live Lenten broadcast was on Good Friday — one of the most somber days in the Catholic liturgical year. After that, says Klose, phone calls, faxes and e-mails started pouring into the station, all from churchgoers wanting to host a remote in their parishes — thus creating a St. Louis phenomenon he puts on par with JD Blackfoot. "This is St. Louis," Klose says. "A gal came in here earlier and said her daughter moved to Los Angeles and said she couldn't find any fish fries. She even went online and couldn't find any. So we gave her a shirt to send to her daughter."

On this night in early Lent, KHITS is broadcasting from St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in south St. Louis county, a place Klose calls a "hot bed" of fish-fry activity. "Most of these fish fries will average about a thousand people. All the people who are working are parishioners — a lot of them are older. They are working their butts off. They're hauling it, and Sparky [co-host Jennifer Sparks] and I were laughing, thinking, 'Someone's gonna die. Someone's going to stroke out in the middle of a fish fry.'"

Beer guy Dave Reed estimates that by the middle of the broadcast at 4 p.m., 170 dinners had already been served; having the KHITS crew around increases the crowd exponentially. "Normally they do 700 or so, but they're expecting to double that tonight," Reed says.

Though Klose drew the line at wheeling a slot machine inside the church to give away prizes, there weren't any qualms about playing ZZ Top's "Pearl Necklace" — an ode to, uh, body jewelry.

So any logical connection between classic rock and fish fries? "Not a stinkin' thing," says Klose. "If you can think of something, let me know."

Catch up with the next KHITS Fish Fry at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood on Friday, March 24. The station will broadcast live from 2 to 6 p.m. Information about future fries can be found at www.k-hits.com /promotions/fishfry.aspx.
— Kristie McClanahan

TV Party
Remember the old saying that the job's not done until the paperwork is finished? If aspiring TV producers Valerie Tichacek and Owen Woodard had heeded that advice, you might already be seeing their series, Jazz @ Cookie's, on area cable systems. But after spending more than a year completing thirteen half-hour episodes of the program — which features live performances by St. Louis-based jazz musicians — Tichacek and Woodard were stopped just a few days short of the series' scheduled premiere in February by a missing insurance form.

It all started in late 2004, when Tichacek (a singer who fronts her own jazz group and performs with the Original Knights of Swing) was approached by fellow Webster University alumnus Woodard with the idea of doing a locally produced jazz TV show. Although the original concept was for Tichacek and her band to be on-camera subjects, she wound up signing on as host and co-producer, too.

Borrowed video equipment in hand, Tichacek and Woodard approached Harold and Cookie Whitfield, proprietors of Cookie's Jazz and More, about using their Webster Groves club as a location. The Whitfields agreed, and production began in January 2005. Over the next three months, the producers and their volunteer crew taped performances by Kim Portnoy, Hard Bop Heritage, Jeanne Trevor, Cheri Evans, Tom Byrne, SL Son and several others. After months of editing and assembling the footage, by year's end they had a finished product and went to Charter Cable with the idea of airing it on a public-access channel.

But because a for-profit business was featured in the title, Charter determined that the program didn't meet the criteria for public access. Instead, the company offered reduced-price "leased access" time on another channel. Woodard and Tichacek were able to scrape together money to pay for the airtime, but they couldn't come up with the mandatory $1,000,000 in liability coverage in time for the premiere date. Temporarily thwarted, they're now trying to raise more cash to pay for the insurance while also considering alternatives — including renaming the show and recutting the footage to meet public-access standards, or streaming programs over the Internet. Whatever happens next, Tichacek is determined to make sure that their labor of love will be seen, "even if I have to go set up a VCR at the public library." You can follow their progress and see a trailer for the series at www.jazzatcookies.com.
— Dean C. Minderman

Hip-hop lost one of its most innovative artists last month. To pay homage, therootslive.com has posted a tribute to the late James Yancey, better known as J Dilla. In addition to its extensive archive of free downloadable shows from the Roots and ?uestlove, the site offers MP3s of exclusive live material from Yancey, including his performance with Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf and Mos Def at the 2004 Montreux Jazz Festival. Also worth a right-click is an unreleased version of Dilla's "Workinonit" from his last album, Donuts, which features the Roots' Black Thought and Dice Raw on the mic.

— Andy Vihstadt