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MC Shoehorn: Reviews and Press

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Buskerfest 2008 - Toronto

This year’s Saturday night Afterdark Buskerfest party was without a doubt the best one I’ve visited to date. Of particular interest was a percussion and saxophone artist named Shoehorn. This one-man show somehow digitally converted his tap dancing into keyboard solos or drum beats and combined it with masterfully played saxophone as well as more traditional percussion to create a masterpiece of live musical entertainment. The beats this guy was able to generate with nothing more than his two feet were incredible. He was sold out of CDs, but I’ll check to see if he has a MySpace page when I get home. Either way the live experience was indescribable, and if any of you had the chance to check out the closing day of Buskerfest 2008 I’d love to hear what you thought of it.
Eye Witness: Buskerfest
August 25, 2008

Buskers are a hard group to peg down. They fall somewhere between
artist and circus performer, with a little panhandler added to the
mix. Acts come in all sorts,
but you have to be pretty damn entertaining if you want your audience
to dig deep for the change in their pockets. And when it's good, it's
very very entertaining. Enter BuskerFest, a yearly celebration that
brings top-shelf street theatre from around the world to Front
Street. Toronto Notes took in the closing night gala performance and
reported back on the wonders that it beheld.

BEST COORDINATION
Playing the saxophone is difficult enough; I still have nightmares
about grade-school band recitals. Playing the saxophone while running
laps in front of the crowd, as Michael "Shoehorn" Conley did, must be
really difficult. Playing the saxophone while at the same time tap
dancing, Conley's finale, is pretty amazing.

BEST B-BOYING
Real hip hop, as they say, is street, so the breakdance-busker
crossover seems an obvious one. BuskerFest featured two crews,
Conkrete Stylez and Pulp who came together for the gala performance
with musical accompaniment from Sick Sound Syndrome, five beatboxers
who sound just like your stereo. Standing out amid the spinning limbs
was Robert Muraine, aka Mr. Fantastic, of Pulp, who you might
remember from a commericial for the very street Ikea. His popping
marries the robot with circus contortionism. The man can bend over
backwards until his head is touching the ground. And he does it to the beat.


BEST PERFORMER
Any slacker can escape from a straight jacket, but if you want to
make it as a busker, you need something more ­ you need showmanship,
a little razzle dazzle. Rob Williams picked out an assistant from the
audience to help him into the straight jacket, then blindfolded him
and told him to fall backwards, trust exercise style, in 45 seconds,
by which point he would be out of the restraints and read to catch
him. Williams was out of the jacket by 35. By zero, he was wearing a
wig, a fake mustache and a leather S&M getup and was ready to catch
the rather surprised assistant.

BEST MISTAKE
For the grand finale of the show, Alakazam, three-time winner of this
years People's Choice Award, climbed up to the top of a 12-foot pool.
His partner Space Cowboy, a fellow Aussie, got on top of a really
really tall unicycle. Then they got some juggling pins, lit those
pins on fire and proceeded to throw them at each other. A little
ho-hum perhaps. Maybe if they were using flaming swords. But then
they starting dropping pins, much to the chagrin of the people
underneath helping to hold Alakazam's poll up, with ropes.
first impressions

Friday, November 04, 2005
The Oregonian

"SHOEHORN": Tap dancer and saxophonist Michael "Shoehorn" Conley brings fresh meaning to the term New Age vaudeville. He's a magnetic orchestra of one, a charismatic tapper of tunes, a funky beat-rap poet, a soulful hornist and a dazzling dancer.

His performance last weekend in Vancouver's Arts Equity Inc. Main Street Theatre thrilled a medium-size, responsive audience. What's great is that Conley, who calls New Orleans the city that shaped his performance skills, is well-versed in the harmonica style of Sonny Terry and names Gene Kelly and John Coltrane as other sources of inspiration, so he's honoring and emulating traditions before him and at the same time using them to create his own new bag.

His musical inventions include a device wherein tap shoes meet a platform and create synthesized music; as the tap threads the backbeat across a tune, the sax or clarinet takes care of the melody. Conley is dancing out the music. He seems to have an unending well of energy to blend with his creativity, which also is inspired by global sounds. Still, a little less than two hours without a story is just about enough for a satisfying evening, and Conley quits while he's ahead. Invigorating stuff.

Portland resident Conley toured Russia in April 2002 with an all-star cast of tap dancers, including Savion Glover, Brenda Buffalino and Jason Samuels-Smith, performing in a series of concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg for the Tapparade 2002 Festival. He appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Artbeat" in 2004.

Continues 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Nov. 11-12; 2 p.m. Nov. 13; 8 p.m. Nov. 25-26 and Dec. 2-3; 7 p.m. Dec. 4; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8; 8 p.m. Dec. 9-10 and 16-17; 7 p.m. Dec. 18; 8 p.m. Dec. 30. Arts Equity Inc./The Main Street Theatre, 606 Main St., Vancouver. $18-$24. 360-695-3770 or www.shoehornmusic.com.

-- Holly Johnson Special to the Oregonian

©2005 The Oregonian
"A Dance Company and Orchestra in One" is the tagline for the new one-man show featuring Michael "Shoehorn" Conley, produced by Arts Equity. While this grandiose moniker may sound like it promises something like the time your older brother cut a hole in a cardboard box and pretended he was in the TV, it isn't.The shtick as it were, is the famed ability of Conley to simultaneously tap dance and play the saxophone. Yes, that's right, Conley taps and plays the sax at the same time, and he does both very well indeed.
The show running at the Main Street Theatre through December is two acts comprised of roughly 16 pieces total, lasting an average of two to four minutes each with one intermission. The first act flew by, and left the audience obviously waiting for more to come. The second act, while quality, wasn't quite on the same energetic level as the first. But this aspect will definitely vary between performances so don't let it stop
you from attending.
Conley is a Portland resident, but his music is a direct product of the New Orleans street performance scene, with the added spice of Conley's Midwest roots and his travels through Europe and Southeast Asia. The varied musical styles invoked run the gamut from jazz standards and swing compositions to works with Latin and even Southeast Asian influences
(including instruments unfamiliar to Western audiences). From it's street performance lineage comes a vaudevillian quality, especially in pieces like the " one man drum circle". you might expect that with all these colorful variations in genre, Conley has left behind mastery of essential musical skillls, but an impeccaqble sense of time and rhythm follow him throughout this cornucopia of style. His tap, which could have easily stuck out like a sore thumb, was an interesting and integrated component, building throughout as a fluid percussion accent to his music. A MIDI tap percussion kit, a sort of synthesized drum kit for the tap artist, aided Conley in his versatility.
Arts Equity is well suited to host a one-man show like Shoehorn. the set and lighting were considered and appropriate highlights to the show. As a side note, I highly suggest attending the "champagne opening" for future shows, which has drinks and light snacks for both the over-and-below 21 set and is well worth the extra cost. Not to mention the added energy and excitement of a full opening night house.
Michael Conley's work is fundamentally autobiographical in character, and his personal philosophy of life can't be separated from his music. at his best, he's sincerely confessional and infectiously upbeat. At his worst, he's overly idealistic and slightly preachy, but his consistent self-deprecating humor reveals an acute sense of artistic self-awareness and renders any off notes inoffensive. At the core Shoehorn's creative effect is a thoughtful synthesis of instruments and styles. To break the rules right, you have to know what they are in the first place, and Conley clearly does.
Steven Walling - Vanguard (Nov 9, 2005)
Shoehorn VonTap Trio
[JAZZ-DANCE] Michael "Shoehorn" Conley will not only sing for his supper, he will tap dance, play saxophone, xylophone, and harmonica-maybe even all at once. Both an exceptional entertainer and a serious artist, Shoehorn's synthesized the juba-lent complexities of jazz and tap--mind-melding with both Honi Coles with John Coltrane--creating an utterly engaging blend of bebop toughness and fluid, feets-don't-fail-me-now panache. Having performed in clubs, festivals, and concert halls on four continents (everywhere from the Brisbane World Expo to the  Scappoose City Hall Sauerkraut Festival), the riff-time-stepping Conley rarely fails to deliver. Add in a trio of bassist Skip Elliott Bowman, and the great Gordon Lee, on piano,  and you can't go wrong. TIM DUROCHE (Willamette Week)
Some reviews of Shoehorn:
"The man they call Shoehorn not only plays the alto sax amazingly well, he also does some expert tap-dancing as he plays. That's some serious multi-tasking." The Oregonian -5/31/02

"Miraculous...a dance company and orchestra in one."
Boston Globe

"...amazing marriage of dancing and saxophone playing." ChicagoTribune

" an amusing routine with a serious message..."
Christian Science Monitor

"impeccably tight and controlled dancing ... mean alto saxophone..." Boston Herald

"Es un gran artista"
flamenco master- Ramon De los Reyes

"covering the boards with a sheet of sound..."
Boston Phoenix

" A sound to behold"
Twin Falls Times-News
Various, Quoted - Various News Organs (Mar 1, 2005)
FRIDAY 3/10

SHOEHORN, ARTIS THE SPOONMAN

(Blue Monk, 3341 SE Belmont) Imagine spending your entire life becoming so skilled at hitting yourself with kitchen utensils that a popular grunge band writes a song about you, making you internationally renowned. Thanks to that one little Soundgarden song, you now are able to nurture a kind of career around hitting yourself with utensils, even as the actual band has faded into obscurity. And now imagine that tonight you are hitting yourself with utensils on the same stage as Shoehorn, a man who tap dances and plays saxophone... at the same time! If you can imagine all that, keep it all in your head without swooning, then you can imagine the life of Artis the Spoonman, and it is grand indeed.
JUSTIN W. SANDERS - Portland Mercury
Mr. Shoehorn gave 4 outstanding performances in our libraries in the Summer 2012. He really got the
kids involved and they all had fun trying his funky instruments, especially his very unusual tap dancing
platform! He adapted very well to all our different audiences, big and small, young and old, all applauded
his show. Thank you Michael!

Nathalie Johnston
Klamath County Library
Nathalie Johnston - Klamath Library (Jan 20, 2012)
On Tue, February 14, 2012 2:00 pm, Gwenn McGill wrote:
Hi Michael!
I want to take a moment to thank you for ALL of your hard work on
Saturday! Your energy, talent and efforts helped to make the Randall
Children's Hospital public opening event so special and memorable for all
who attended. While I didn't have the opportunity to spend much time with you, I heard
wonderful things about you - and the tremendous talent that you brought to
the event. You are definitely appreciated - as was the kid's jam session! :)
(It was great seeing your girls there as well!)
In the mean time, please know how grateful we all are and I look forward
to the next opportunity when we can work with one another.
Gwenn McGill
Gwenn McGill Special Events
Portland, OR
Gwenn McGill - Appreciation (Feb 18, 2012)