Monday, October 7, 2013

No Frills to release “Running with Buffalo” by Michael Farrell

(Note: This is the press release sent out by publisher No Frills Buffalo last week. Follow the noted links with any questions or concerns.)  

The thrill of post-college possibilities. The loyalty of childhood friendship. The pain of necessary transitions, and unexpected answers that could ease a life of uncertainty. These are some of the elements explored in Michael Farrell’s first novel, Running with Buffalo, set for release by No Frills Buffalo.
The Buffalo-set story’s narrative is delivered by Joseph Cahan, a 2001 college graduate who wants to thrive aside his Irish family and life-long friends who live for football, stout and Fender solos. Full of expectations and idealism fueled by rock music lyrics, Joseph’s goal in life is to become a writer who documents the hilarious and exciting adventures of his post-college life. But, in the months that follow his graduation, dooming complacency, lack of professional opportunity and lingering love alter his path. Delivered as a humorous and heartfelt testimonial about life's fearsome complexities, unanticipated changes, and the simple truths that could quell the intensity of it all, Running with Buffalo is about the uneven search to find a place to call home—and the simple answers that could sooth the journey.
Born in Buffalo and raised in Hamburg, author Michael Farrell graduated from Frontier High School and St. Bonaventure University before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Massachusetts-located Pine Manor College’s Solstice Program in 2010. His work has appeared in the Buffalo NewsBuffalo Spree MagazineBuffalo RisingBusiness First, Block Club Magazine and the Boston Herald, where he worked as a reporter from 2004 to 2011. He now serves as an adjunct English and communication arts professor at SUNY Erie Community College in Buffalo, and can be found on his website at
Books published by No Frills Buffalo can be purchased online at,,, and No Frills Buffalo titles can also be found in Western New York bookstores, including Talking Leaves; Dog Ears Bookstore; The Second Reader; Monkey See, Monkey Do; Lift Bridge Books in Brockport; and Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca.
No Frills Buffalo is currently accepting submissions from writers interested in being published. For more information, please visit or email You can also follow No Frills Buffalo on Facebook at for frequent updates.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

From Forrest to Fundraiser: The Endorsed Evolution of Tom Hanks Day

Ten years ago, Michigan native Kevin Turk was not an international fundraiser.

He was just your everyday Western Michigan University student, one with a great group of friends, a comfortable couch, and some free time between classes. Then, on an April Fools’ Day that called for rum and a cinematic run through reconstructed history, Turk’s semi-charmed life got a little more interesting.

"My friend looks at me and says, 'Dude, do you want to watch some Tom Hanks movies and drink?' And I thought that sounded like a good time, so we started drinking rum and Dr. Pepper, and we popped in Forrest Gump."

The many faces of Tom Hanks.
Thus began the first official Tom Hanks Day, an event that’s graduated from its bender beginnings and has morphed into a hybrid celebration of the one-time bosom buddy—and fundraiser for Hanks's chosen charity, Lifeline Energy. One look inside the event’s 10th installment—hosted on April 13th by adjoined Chicago bars Headquarters Beercade and Uncle Fatty’s Rum Resort—would reveal the enamorment of a few frighteningly devoted, albeit altruistic, Hanks fanatics. But, according to Turk, that’s not exactly the case.  

"I can't say we picked Hanks because we knew what an awesome guy he'd turn out to be. And none of us are die-hard fans of his,” said Turk, a Chicago resident who works on an experiential marketing team for Groupon. “We just loved Forrest Gump and a bunch of his other movies."

Turns out they’re not the only ones. On a sunny spring afternoon in Chicago, hundreds of fans of such cinematic classics as Splash, Apollo 13 and Bachelor Party checked in for an afternoon of Hanks-related revelry. Cast Away-themed t-shirts were sold at the door; green Tom Hanks Day cozies accommodated the event’s Goose Island canned beer special. Attendees posed for photos behind masks of Hanks characters, and friends gathered under flat-screen projections of the shirtless Hollywood icon and a slobbering Dogue de Bordeaux in Turner & Hooch. There was even a group dressed as players from A League of Their Own, complete with a drunken Jimmy Dugan. The influence of Hanks’s career was omnipresent—even inside Uncle Fattey’s bathroom. When a patron walked in and knocked on a stall door, the voice from inside replied with a Forrest Gump quote.

“Seat’s taken.”

Hanks fans pay tribute to A League of Their Own.
Ridiculous? Sure. Fanatical? Maybe. Awesome? Absolutely. Hundreds of people gathering under the flag of Tom Hanks, arguably the most universally loved and respected actor of his generation. Hundreds of young adults hoisting cocktails under the neighborhood disputes of Ray Peterson (The ‘Burbs) and growing pains of Josh Baskin (Big). Hundreds of fans who’d even adjusted the popular “Ole’” soccer chant to accommodate the actor’s name. (Tom—Hanks, Tom-Hanks-Tom-Hanks-Tom-Hanks! Tom—Hanks, To-om—Hanks!) Even in the early years, Turk and his college friends knew they'd created a truly original event—and thought Hanks should know about it.

"My friend and I started emailing someone we thought was Tom Hanks's brother,” said Turk of mails sent in 2006, after the event had moved from WMU to Chicago. “Then, I get an email from someone claiming to be Tom's assistant. She said Tom had heard of the event and wanted to donate merchandise for the day. I'm pretty cynical, so at first I didn't believe the mail.  I even sent a response mail that read, 'If this is one of my friends, stop f---ing with me. But, if this is legit, please call me."    

Minutes later, he received a call from Hanks's assistant—who was not f---ing with him.

"She told me that Tom loved the idea and wanted to send us a bunch of stuff for the event. So I said, great, tell him to send whatever he wants."

So he did. First, Hanks sent Turk and friends a typewritten letter. Then, he sent signed movie posters and DVDs. He sent one of the Wilson volleyballs from Cast Away and props from That Thing You Do. He even sent signed replications of jerseys pressed for his 50th birthday baseball stadium road trip, a traveling bash that involved such celebrants as Billy Crystal. One year, he even sent a 20-pound slab of homemade bologna, shipped in a giant cooler with its recipe. Turk was overwhelmed. Though he and his friends ate the bologna (which was delicious), they decided to repay the rest of Hanks’s ridiculous generosity by turning their Joe Versus the Volcano-inspired Kalamazoo kegger into a legitimate charity event.

"As soon as his assistant reached out, I just realized that Hanks is super awesome,” he said. “He was going to send us all this stuff, so we decided to turn this event into a fundraiser and raise money for whatever charity Tom wanted us to support."

This charity turned out to be Lifeline Energy, an education-driven initiative focused on sub-Saharan Africa that boasts Hanks as its international ambassador. With this redirected focus, Turk began to generate revenue from the day’s t-shirt and beer sales, as well as a raffle conducted with Hanks’s generous donations. These proceeds are now directed annually to Lifeline, with donations totaling into the tens of thousands of dollars since 2008. Exposure for the event through Jimmy Kimmel Live, CNN and Time Magazine has also drawn direct donations to the charity through online or independent contributions. Also, in a few instances, Hanks has personally matched the amount raised through his day’s Goose Island-sponsored celebration. Such collaboration from the actor has not only impressed the event’s originators, but inspired them to keep the party going year after year.

Tom Hanks superfan, ready to party.
"The reason this is still going strong is because Hanks is such a genuine guy,” said Turk. “He cares about people and gives back. He's not an egotistical person at all, and we try to replicate that with these events. Those (good intentions) are why this event continues."

And, it’s started to branch out. Along with stateside appearances in Cleveland and Portland, Tom Hanks Day has now become International Tom Hanks Day, with annual observation in Toronto, Ontario. This year also saw the day’s first acknowledgement in Taiwan—on a boat, and with official event t-shirts for about 75 people, according to Turk. Still, what once operated under serendipitous western  Michigan weather (sunny days that Turk and friends would refer to as a “Tom Hanks miracle”) has now found its long-term home in Chicago, with official acknowledgement and revelers like Dawn Wilson, a 27-year-old stage manager of Saturday Night Live feeder troupe, Second City.

"When I first started coming to this, I assumed it was some festival of drunkeness. But, when I realized it was all to support some awesome cause, I thought, yeah, I can support that," said Wilson, who’s attended two Tom Hanks Day events. "This is an event to cater to my age demographic. There's beer and a party, but there's also an underlying cause. That's why people are here."

And that’s why Turk hopes people keep coming. What started as a couple of dudes hoovering spiked DP while Jenny and Forrest danced to Skynard has matured into a legitimate opportunity to boost those in need of financial aid and education. It’s a ridiculous transition, but one that’s now rolled forth for a decade. Back when they were still hosting Tom Hanks Day on April Fools’ Day, Turk responded to Hanks’s aforementioned Smith Corona communication with the following message:

With your help, April 1st will no longer be known for tomfoolery, but rather Tom Hanks.

And for The Money Pit. And Saving Private Ryan. And, for the most creative, Captain Morgan-influenced charity idea ever endorsed by a two-time Oscar winner.   

(Author's note: This entry was finished while listening to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder, featured in the Tom Hanks classic You’ve Got Mail.)

(Final note: If you'd like to aid the efforts of Lifeline Energy, please visit their website for donation information and instruction.)

Friday, April 5, 2013

A New Wedding Song

Aside from John Mayer, I’m not sure a whole lot of musicians set out to purposely write a song to be used at your wedding.

I doubt The Edge planned his heaven’s echo guitar solo on “All I Want Is You” with someone’s nuptials in mind, and it’s unlikely Eric Clapton took pause from another day’s heroin daze and mumbled to himself, “Wonderful Tonight is going to be a bloody smash at weddings.” And, I find it impossible to believe that David Gray designed his entire catalogue around the possibility that couple after couple would harvest his chords for their first dance as a married match.

(Note: “Babylon” is not about your love. It’s a beautiful song about Gray’s emotional realizations after inhaling a load of beers. Listen to the lyrics, dammit.)

But, sometimes a song can embody more than it’s meant to embody. It can soundtrack a moment or symbolize a feeling. It can say words we can’t find or elicit emotions we didn’t know we had. Or, in the case of the upcoming onslaught of spring and summer weddings, it can communicate the meaning of a formal, romantic moment in front of family, friends and caterers.

A New Life” by Jim James is one of these songs, and it’s destined to become the next big wedding song—albeit unintentionally. Off his eclectic 2013 release Regions of Light and Sound of God, it’s a gorgeous and inventive arrangement of acoustic guitar, percussion and strings, strumming listeners through a sublime lead-in before transitioning into an emotional, marching cacophony. Without any vocals, it could be absorbed as a sonic embodiment of advancing emotions toward the realization of love. But, lucky for future brides and grooms, its locomotive progression is supported by the following lyrics:

Jim James's Regions of Light and Sound of God
Hey, open the door
I want a new life
Hey, and here’s what’s more
I want a new life, a new life
Babe, let’s get one thing clear
There’s much more star dust when you’re near
I think I’m really being sincere
I want a new life, a new life
With you 

Perfect. If you’re like me, you pick apart wedding song communication like a reverse rotation of The White Album. A wedding song's lyrics earn the most confirmation or confusion from alert guests. A couple borrows an artist’s words to describe their own thoughts and feelings while isolated on a dance floor. Choose a song with a direct, simplistic message of love, devotion and transition and you’re golden. Mistakenly select one about sexual liberation (Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”) or banging groupies (Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”) and you're swaying amid horrified aunts, uncles and coworkers. Rest assured, James comes direct, providing an unambiguous message for couples entering into commitment.      

Can’t you see a perfect picture
You and me
But you know, it won’t come easy
And what’s more 
It’s worth looking for

After the lyrics, there are length and pace to consider. My unproven theories on this topic include the following: If the song’s too short, the couple isn't truly invested in their choice. If it’s too long, they’re totally inconsiderate of their guests. If it’s too fast, they’re acting too casual on what’s supposed to be the most important day of their lives. If it’s too slow and/or sexual, they’re overcompensating for something—or simply accentuating their constructed fairytale for those willing to buy in. And, if they go with Journey’s “Faithfully,” they’re simply ripping off my high school’s senior prom. (Note: This song was not new at the time of the prom, which made its choice as the evening's theme song incredibly pathetic.) 

“A New Life” provides a diversified opportunity for adventurous new couples. It runs a little long at 4:22, but its change of pace at the 1:26 mark allows for the always popular “you thought this song was slow, but we’ve fooled you” transition. The bride can kick off her shoes, the groom can work off his crippling anxiety, and guests will be spared of watching another couple’s uncomfortable PDA’s under Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful To Me.” As an added bonus, the wedding party or whole reception can be invited to the floor amid James's impassioned howl to share in the stomp that rolls the song to its end. What could ensue would be a scene worthy of a YouTube clip and a videographer’s fee—which would seem like a bargain for the first time in history.

And isn't this vibrant display of happiness and elation what love's supposed to look like? Isn't this the euphoria a wedding day is supposed to elicit? It isn't about the perfect dress or the most extravagant cake. It isn't about the most picturesque hall, all-you-can-drink Jameson or seafood wrapped in bacon. It's about two people excited and prepared to start a new life together, one surrounded by family, friends and music. Seems like such a decision should be celebrated in the type of collective fashion James's track is ideally suited to soundtrack.  

Like I noted at the start of this, I doubt most credible musicians purposely carve out songs to be used for your wedding. Jeff Tweedy didn’t record “One By One” for my sister’s event, and Bob Dylan didn’t write “If Not For You” for mine. I’m fairly certain Jim James didn’t write “A New Life” to be used by anonymous couples inside the Hotel Lafayette’s ballroom. But here it is, there for the taking on your wedding day.  

Babe, open the door
And start you new life,
Oh, your new life
Babe, on to the shore
And start your new life
Your new life, with me.

A new life for you. A new wedding song for everyone. Your move, John Mayer.

(Author’s note: This entry was finished while listening to “While You Were Sleeping” by Elvis Perkins—but I did listen to “A New Life” roughly 17 times while writing the bulk of this post.)    

Thursday, March 14, 2013

First Ward Marches Forward

"The story of the Old First Ward is not finished; it remains to be written by future generations.”
-Timothy Bohen, Against the Grain

As a Buffalo gateway—as well as home to one of the city’s two St. Patrick’s Day parades—it’s hard to believe that any area resident would have no idea how to find the riverfront enclave known as the 
Old First Ward. But, during his five years of work on his first book Against the Grain, Buffalo author Timothy Bohen regularly encountered such confusion.

“When I mentioned (my book’s topic) to people who didn’t have roots in the Ward, their first question was always, ‘Where exactly is the First Ward?”

A passing survey of the aforementioned individuals may yield Ward knowledge results of “Irish,” “grain elevators” or “free Sabres parking.” But these people have never walked down O’Connell Avenue or Mackinaw Street; they’ve never found Sunday mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help or a can of Genny Double Bock at Cook’s. They haven’t inhaled a Mazurek’s pastry heart or split a Carbone’s chicken finger pizza. And, unless they’re the masochistic type, they’ve never toured the neighborhood at a plodding, wind-restricted shuffle during the annual emerald slog known as the 
Shamrock Run.

But Bohen didn’t enter into half a decade cataloging the Ward’s historical relevance for Against the Grain because he knew it’d be a hot read. He did it because, initially, he was unfamiliar with the origins of his Irish surname (Bohane). But, the deeper he dug into the neighborhood of his ancestors, the more certain he was that the neighborhood’s story needed to be told to those unaware of its tremendous international significance.

“The story of wanting to know more about the First Ward started to overtake my concerns about the spelling of my last name,” said Bohen, nursing a Guinness under a Shane MacGowan 
serenade last month inside Gene McCarthy’s Tavern, a Ward institution. “I didn’t get answers on the spelling until several years after starting this journey.”

It’s proved a journey worth taking. Over the 258 pages of Bohen’s stirring march through Ward history, he takes readers through an exhausting amount of significant institutions, individuals and achievements, ones fueled by an immigrant population entrusted with managing lucrative waterfront commerce and building a lakefront city into a national economic power. 

Against the Grain author Timothy Bohen
“A lot of the treasures that we have in Buffalo—whether architecture treasures or some of the other identifiable features—came from the wealth generated in the First Ward,” said Bohen. “Many of Delaware Avenue’s fortunes were made from the First Ward and the waterfront, and without its role in the region’s history, this region would be radically different.”
As would the rest of the country. Grain elevators now used for inventive art festivals and prospective rock-climbing venues once housed the bulk of America’s grain. Ward residents walked down streets like Hamburg, Alabama and Vincennes to find shovels and fill Lake Erie vessels, ones tasked with shipping this essential ingredient across the country.

“This area played an integral part in not only feeding this country, but feeding the world,” said Bohen. “Being on the eastern end of Lake Erie, it was responsible for handling grain that was later made into cereal or dough for pizzas in New York City. It was all done right here in the First Ward, whether it was the milling of the grain or its shipment.”

But this information is just a piece of the First Ward’s significance to the region and, in particular, its Irish Americans. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find the neighborhood once housed one of America’s top five Irish immigrant populations, earning the constant guidance of Catholic leader John Timon, and earning Buffalo visits from such Irish independence advocates as Eamon DeValera and, more recently, Gerry Adams. On their trips into Western New York, they found the Ward, backdrop of the Labor Strike of 1899, violent and deadly railroad strikes of 1877 and 1892, and land once home to Michael Quinn’s Tavern, which hosted planning stages of the infamous Fenian raid on Canada in 1866. Also, the first Buffalo St. Patrick’s Day Parade? In the First Ward, and organized by tavern owner Quinn.

“I don’t think locals or people across the country have any idea of how important of an Irish center this once was,” said Bohen. “It was always on a short list of cities that Irish independence leaders would visit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

When they’d visit, they traveled the same streets of historical figures who once called the First Ward home. Go one way and they’d find residences of Bishop Timon and the Sisters of Mercy, both essential shepherds of the community; go another and they’d find addresses belonging to Michael Shea and D’Arcy McGee, both namesakes of two current downtown entertainment venues. Boxing legend Jimmy Slattery prepped for eventual Madison Square Garden bouts on Ward streets; mayoral legend Jimmy Griffin rehearsed for years of Buffalo political scrapes inside now shuttered bars like Leahy's. And, raised in a house on Michigan Street, World War hero and O.S.S. founder Major General William Donovan grew up to be arguably the most significant Buffalonian ever, a fact Bohen is quick to note.

“What’s mind-boggling to me is the lack of honor (Buffalo has) paid to General William Donovan,” he said. “There was the Donovan State Building now being converted to One Canalside, so that’s gone. Then, there was talk about having his name on the new federal courthouse, but that didn’t come to fruition. This is a character that, in any other city would have a bridge or turnpike named after him. There would at least be a major monument in his honor. Historically, he’s the most important Buffalonian to come out of the 20th century.”

And maybe there will soon be proper respect shown to all the events and individuals that made the Old First Ward worthy of Bohen’s engaging and illuminating offering. Maybe there will soon be long-overdue attention paid to the neighborhood’s historical relevance—and the devoted residents who’ve kept it alive—by those who don’t know nearly enough about either. Renaming the Ohio Street Bridge the General William Donovan Bridge would be a start, and moving the city’s Irish Famine Memorial (soon to be made more clandestine by Ellicott Development’s mammoth Carlo project) to the Ward would be another. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s planned $11 million complete street conversion of Ohio Street—which will connect Canalside to the Outer Harbor—provides the opportunity for a litany of historical markers, as well as for eventually naming the reconstructed thoroughfare for the most significant modern First Ward resident, Peg Overdorf.

“She’s probably done more over the past two decades for the Ward and the Valley than anyone,” said Bohen. “She’s got a lot of help behind her, but she’s the one with the vision and dogged spirit that ultimately gets things done.”

Overdorf’s devoted vision now welcomes First Ward visitors off Michigan with Riverfest Park, and lures kayakers through the Buffalo River’s Elevator Alley to Mutual Riverfront Park and the Waterfront Memories and More Museum. Aided by the tireless efforts of loyal neighborhood residents, the momentum continues. Two weeks ago, over 5,600 Under-Armored lunatics descended on the Ward to conquer the terrain (five miles) and temperatures (mid-20s) of the Shamrock Run, now in its 34th year. The Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association Boathouse has plans for a new facility near the Ohio Basin Inlet; riverfront housing has been discussed for the collapsed Erie Freight House; the Ohio and Michigan Street bridges have plans to be illuminated; and uniting historical signage for Buffalo’s Industrial Heritage Trail is on the way. And, don’t forget about this Saturday’s parade. With more than 100 marching units scheduled to find South Park Avenue, it plans to be the largest St. Patrick’s installment since the event was resurrected 20 years ago.

All these developments join the interest in Bohen’s work as reasons to believe the Ward’s days of inadequate appreciation are approaching a thankful end.

“When I started this project, I didn’t see all of the synergy and development happening in the First Ward. In the year I finished the project, I found two new parks, the museum, and even a focus (from the ECHDC) on lighting up the city’s grain elevators. None of this has anything to do with my book, but if the history detailed in my book leads to future historical endeavors, then that will be a great thing.”

(Author's note: This report was finished while listening to "Streams of Whiskey" by The Pogues)