As a Supernatural fan, I'm pretty fortunate. I live within driving distance of Los Angeles and the local Supernatural cast members like to create cool opportunities for us to come together. I have attended a book reading by Misha Collins, an album release party by Louden Swain, and a charity walk with Lauren Tom and Osric Chau. I am deeply appreciative of those opportunities. That being said, I don’t drive out to Los Angeles on weeknights. Jesus Christ could show up in Culver City on a Monday doing a water walking demonstration and I’d be like…meh. I’ll watch the livestream. However, last night was an exception. Last night’s was Briana Buckmaster’s first solo show in support of her first album, Begin.
Briana plays Sheriff Donna Hanscum on Supernatural and is one of the driving forces behind the Wayward AF fan movement. Wayward AF is a movement that encourages fans (women fans in particular have championed the movement) to value themselves, express themselves, and work towards their dreams. So I wanted to be there when Briana made one of her dreams come true. So after work, I made the trek to The Hotel Café in Hollywood. Spending the evening with Briana onstage and my Supernatural family in the audience turned out to be a great decision. I rode out sleepiness the next day at work with a smile on my face.
Let’s start with Briana’s stage presence. If you have never met Briana, here’s the best way I can describe it:
Briana Buckmaster is the kind of woman that reminds you of your lady queerness. She walks into the room, and you’re like…oh right. I’m super queer. Brianna has confident, comfortable in her own skin, grownass woman swagger. Combine that with her huge heart and irreverent sense of humor, and you have a potent combination of outrageously sexy. When my straight sister saw Briana for the first time at a Supernatural convention, she messaged me something like “Holy Lord I’m in love with Briana Buckmaster. Wait am I gay?” To this day if you bring it up she'll wax poetic about how Brianna looked in jeans.
If you only know Briana as Donna Hanscum, it might take you by surprise at first. Donna Hanscum is an endearingly sweet, brave, and goofy character, but she was not meant to be sexy. That is evident in her first episode in season 9, called The Purge. When we meet Donna, her confidence has just taken a hit. She is still smarting from being dumped by a boyfriend who was critical of her weight. She runs into the boys at a spa where she is taking part in a weight loss program. Now, Briana is a very thin woman by our mortal standards, but you know, Hollywood. Fast forward to season 13 in the Wayward Sisters episode, the show has let some of that sexy badassery shine through. When Sheriff Hanscum pulls up in her pickup truck to save the day in jeans and a pony tail carrying a cache of weapons, a wink, and a smile, gay women everywhere swooned.
But regardless of what you have seen on screen, nothing really prepares you for full strength Briana. She’s a force of nature. That makes her a charismatic stage presence, which served her live show beautifully. But what about her voice? Singing one or two songs sporadically at Supernatural conventions is one thing. Doing an entire set and being able to carry the show is another thing. Briana, with a little help from her friends, did just that. Briana has a bluesy voice that is powerful and vulnerable. She calls it a ‘whiskey voice’. Think Alannah Myles crossed with Bonnie Raitt. I’m no Rolling Stone reviewer, but they would probably categorize her as ‘blue eyed soul’.
Briana opened with the scorching, “Do I Move You”, which was originally written and performed by Nina Simone. Bold move. Nina Simone is one of the greatest musical artists of our time, and there is risk inherent in covering someone like that. We’ve all seen singing competitions where perfectly talented singers try an iconic song by an iconic performer and it ends up feeling like karaoke. Briana avoided that pitfall by not trying to copy Nina Simone. She tweaked the song and made it her own. She pulled the straps of her blouse off of her shoulders to riotous applause, and poured her entire self into a mischievous and spirited version of the song. It was a great choice to warm up the crowd.
From there, the show was consistently engaging and filled with songs that reached out and grabbed you. Better Than That, written by Suzanne Santo, was one of the standouts of the night. It was the kind of song that makes you ache and remember falling in love. During that entire number, the audience was eating out of the palm of Briana’s hand.
Olive Branch, a duet written by and performed with Rob Benedict, was another special one. Rob plays the prophet Chuck / God on Supernatural. He is a musician’s musician, having performed for over twenty years with his indie rock band Louden Swain. He can write, arrange, produce, play multiple instruments, sing his ass off, and perform like a boss. He is the real deal, and Olive Branch is a folksy, catchy as hell song. We were all stomping our feet and having a great time.
Briana did another duet later, but this time with Jason Manns. Jason is a solo artist, member of Station Breaks, and producer of Briana’s album. Briana explained onstage that she had felt the album needed a nineties power ballad duet. And that is what Have a Little Faith in Me was, which means it was a soaring crowd pleaser.
Another noteworthy performance was “How Will I Know”, originally performed by Whitney Houston. Again, when you cover legends like Whitney Houston and Nina Simone, it is critical that you don’t try to copy their arrangements or styles. Briana’s arrangement of “How Will I Know” was a yearning ballad. It was bittersweet and moving, and did its own wonderful thing.
And rounding it all off was the delight of being in an audience that is happy to be there together. Notable Supernatural family that came out to support Briana included Kim Rhodes, Ruthie O’Connell, Gil McKinney, and Bobo Berens. It was heartwarming to see the friendships that have formed among the cast members. It also felt good that our fandom has played such a critical part in something this special.
I think it is safe to say that Briana’s album was born at Supernatural conventions. Supernatural conventions typically consist of two nights of music: karaoke night on Friday, and a Louden Swain concert on a Saturday. Cast members show up to sing with the fans on Fridays and to sing with Louden Swain on Saturdays. Our riotous support has resulted in several cast members saying that they have recaptured or refocused on their love of music. Also, they get to share their love of music with each other and meet the experienced and kind musicians of Louden Swain. Undoubtedly the enthusiastic fan support of Briana’s singing paired with Rob Benedict/Louden Swain’s generosity of spirit, encouraged Briana to record an album. She started a Kickstarter to support the album and it was funded in twenty hours. It eventually took in over double its original goal of $20k. We all got to accomplish something beautiful together. What could be better than that?
The last song featured Briana with Station Breaks singing a rousing rendition of the Beatles ‘Come Together’. People all over the dark bar had arms around one another and were shouting the lyrics together. It was a sweet moment and the perfect way to end the night. I know we have a lot more to look forward to from Briana as a singer. I for one, can’t wait. And if you have a chance to see her live, you won't regret it. You can buy her album ‘Begin’ on cdbaby, itunes, amazon, and pretty much everywhere else you buy your music. You can find Briana on twitter here.
And to talk fandom with me, join me on my closed Facebook group for Supernatural and Wayward Sisters fans or catch me on the podcast, Geeky Girls Night In. I’m also on twitter shouting about Supernatural among other geeky stuff.
Blackwelder 2164 is a rollicking, sci-fi adventure, with a brilliantly drawn, lovable (and reprehensible) cast of characters. It is set in a time where warring countries on Earth have been forced to unite in the face of an alien threat. Blackwelder refers to Spencer Blackwelder, a disciplined, sharp shooting sergeant in the Allied Earth Forces.
The book starts off with a bang and keeps up a steady pace throughout. In the first chapter, the reader is dropped right in the middle of action, as Blackwelder’s squadron from the warship AES Barack has been sent to check out an abandoned alien craft. The mission does not go as planned and the stakes are life or death. In the second chapter, the reader learns that Blackwelder’s personal life has not gone to plan either, and he is grappling with a painful decision with no easy solution in sight.
By the end of the second chapter, I was already rooting for Blackwelder. He is clearly a good man and a great soldier. However, he has made choices in his personal life that have led to heartbreak and put his cherished friendships in jeopardy. He has fallen in love with one of his best friends. Due to the small detail of his friend being engaged, paired with the homophobia of his commanding officer, he feels completely trapped and miserably guilty. He decides to essentially run from his problems and requests to be transferred to a remote planet called Triton. Triton is a planet likely to be the target of a first wave of alien attacks, and the soldiers there are woefully unprepared.
Blackwelder’s request is granted and he takes up the responsibility of training soldiers on Triton. He quickly finds out there are many more layers to this war than he had imagined. As a top soldier on a prized warship, he was shielded from most rumors and secrets. But on Triton, he begins to see complexity to the war. Perhaps earth wasn’t so blameless and perhaps an insurgent terrorist group posed more of a threat than he previously thought. Moreover, a suspicious sabotage leads to a terrifying malfunction in the training arena. As the mysteries pile on, and the stakes rise and rise in the face of an alien invasion, Blackwelder meets a man (a badass, gorgeous, well-connected ambassador with a heart of gold) who helps him move on much more quickly than he thought possible. Triton is just full of surprises.
Blackwelder 2164 delivers heart stopping sci-fi space battles, government intrigue, spies, action, humor, and feels. Also, bonus sexy scenes and romance! I also appreciated that this is a story about a gay man of color, written by a gay man of color. When people write protagonists that reflect themselves, there is an easy authenticity that makes the story more absorbing. In fact, all the characters reflect respect for a diverse spectrum of cultures. And I was delighted as I kept meeting women characters who were written with love and style. A book set in the military with a male protagonist could easily fall into the trap of forgetting women soldiers exist or tokenizing them. But this book has women soldiers and they are written with character, personality, and depth. It is sad how refreshing it is to read a genre book that actually acknowledges that earth is a diverse place.
I highly recommend Blackwelder 2164 for your 2018 reading list. It's a fast, fun, intriguing read. In fact, I hope it gets a sequel. Blackwelder 2164 does end with a resolution to the first battle, so thankfully no cliff-hanger. But earth’s scheming and secrets that Blackwelder uncovered would make a fantastic act 2.
You will have more fun in Star Wars: The Last Jedi than you knew was humanly possible. There are scenes so striking, innovative, and flat out magical that you will nearly fall out of your seat. You will gape. You will cheer. You just might cry.
Megafans will debate for years about character arcs, continuity, and whether porgs are adorable or nah. But what cannot be denied is that The Last Jedi is visually stunning, massively entertaining, and almost never takes the predictable route.
This crop of Star Wars movies has the unenviable task of pulling off the near impossible: honor the past while creating the future. Change is hard. Launching the next generation of heroes and making space for them is crucial, but honoring the deep love that fans have for the original heroes is equally as important. The Last Jedi did both.
Our beloved heroes, Luke and Leia, are still leading the rebellion and bringing hope to the galaxy. They still know how to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Our iconic villain, Darth Vader, still casts a looming shadow even in his absence. Yet it is clear that the power of the force is not owned by anyone or anything. The Jedi religion is not shackled to any physical place. Good and evil are choices, not destiny, and we all get to make choices, no matter our family tree.
The Last Jedi also succeeds making the Star Wars universe more nuanced and complex, even while delivering crowd-pleasing scene after crowd-pleasing scene. In The Last Jedi, heroes can make mistakes. Legends can have crises of faith. Things that are shiny can be grotesque upon closer inspection. And the girl who fixes the pipes can have a hero inside of her you just haven’t met yet.
The plotlines are equally innovative. There are numerous times I thought I knew what was coming, and The Last Jedi surprised me.
A forty year old franchise that can still surprise you is pulling off something special.
At its heart, Star Wars is an epic, timeless story. Truly valuable stories are living, breathing things that we pass down to our children and grandchildren. When we hoard them and encase them in carbonite, they become more suited for museum display. The surprises and innovations of The Last Jedi ensured that Star Wars is a story that will inspire generations to come.
Still dubious? Stand in my sensible-yet-attractive middle-aged pumps for a second. Let’s go on a journey to 1999. Picture being an overjoyed young adult camping out for a Star Wars prequel--the first in fifteen years. Imagine squeezing into a movie theater with breathless anticipation. The projector turns on and The Phantom Menace appears on the screen. Imagine a void where the soul and charm of Star Wars was supposed to be. Picture acting so wooden you want to feel something but you just don’t. Then you see Jar-Jar Binks. Yikes. What you are picturing is the experience of being fed an aggressively mediocre sci-fi movie dressed in a Star Wars suit. If you didn’t experience that, count your blessings.
I was born the year before Star Wars premiered. I have lived long enough to see great Star Wars movies being made again. These movies have introduced wildly endearing new heroes like Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose. They are movies packed with talented people acting their asses off, and with chemistry that sparks off of the screen.
You don’t even have to imagine that last part. Just go see The Last Jedi, and experience it for yourself.
Yes, I am channeling Bryan Adams, so what?
I am stuck in the 90s. This is a known fact to my family and friends. When I found out the Theme song to Portlandia included the lyrics “The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,” I started looking for jobs and a house in Portland. They are my peeps!
Sadly though, I never made it to Portland, though I plan on visiting someday. My husband keeps asking me “Why on earth do you want to visit Portland?” I just scream “THE DREAM OF THE 90s IS THERE, DO YOU NEED ANY OTHER REASON!?” He goes back to his computer and rolls his eyes. Hater.
As part of my 90s loving, I tend to listen to a lot of music from my teenagedom/young adulthood. A lot of Nsync, and R&B, back when it was great. All of my music is on my phone, and nowadays, ear buds come standard with phones. Here is a little secret. I can’t stand ear buds. No offence to them, but my ear holes are tiny or something, and they just fall out. My husband, noticing my sad predicament got me some bigger headphones. While I do love these things, I can’t really wear them in the office. Could you imagine me looking like this showing up to fix your computer?
Plus I spend roughly 80% of my day on the phone. So no, headphones would not work.
My husband to the rescue again.
While this thing may look like a Pokeball (which is what I call it), It is in fact a Bluetooth speaker by DBest of London.
This little thing is great. It fits in the palm of my hand, so it is unobtrusive. I sit it on my desk, hear a little *blorp* noise, and know my phone is connected. I am enjoying tunes and podcasts all day with this thing. It charges by USB, so If I am worried that it is going to die, I charge it the night before I go to work. This thing has a lot of battery power however. The most I used it without charging was two weeks straight for 8 hour days.
It does have it’s drawbacks. If I pause whatever I am listening to, leave the range of the speaker, and then come back, it does not automatically connect. I either have to turn it off and turn it back on or turn off the Bluetooth on my phone and turn it back on. It also have little crevices that are hard to keep clean. I am not the tidiest person in the world (read: Messy Marvin), but I do take a Q-tip around it every once in a while.
It comes with it’s own little velvet pouch (LIKE A MINI CROWN ROYAL BAG Y’ALL!) and a USB/audio plug in adapter, just in case you don’t want to use the Bluetooth. I keep the adapter in the pouch along with the speaker when not in use and stick it in my purse. It takes up hardly any space. I love the fact that I can take it anywhere.
I loved it and raved about it so much that my husband asked for one for Christmas, and ended up getting a non Bluetooth one on accident. Oops. He’s still quite pleased with it.
So, tell me, what little gadget do you rave about to people? Is it something I would like?
**This is totally not a paid advertisement. DBest of London has no clue who I am. If they did I may fan girl out, and they would pelt me with speakers to make me go away. This was a gift from my husband. WE share the same bank account, so you know, I paid for it too. There you go FTC.**