On Thursday, Dec. 28, The Second Floor played host to an event celebrating the release of a double EP by Jacksonville's Gabe Darling (Robi Rütenberg, they/them) - a songwriter, musician and audio engineer. The album artwork for The Sky's a Woman and Broken Teeth, and the backdrop aesthetics were created by artist Lily Kuonen.
The night began with a reading by Laura Chow Reeve. For her, 2017 was a significant year, bringing some life changes, including a move from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, and national recognition for her literary talents. She was a recipient of the 2017 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and her short story, 1,000-Year-Old Ghosts, was narrated by television personality LeVar Burton in his appropriately named podcast, LeVar Burton Reads.
Reeve read an excerpt from a new short story, which drew inspiration from her life in Northeast Florida. The story touched on her life as an Asian American, her first hurricane experience, and her employment at Sun-Ray Cinema. And although new to the region, she is proving to be a strong voice among Jacksonville's literary artists.
Yvette Angelique, a veteran of Jacksonville's poetry scene, was the next performer of the evening. She read from her debut book of essays, Complicated Truths: Emerging as Leader of a Whole Life. Her essay highlighted the dynamics that surround our personal identities, subject to the roles we play within our families, our communities, and society as a whole. Angelique's work challenges us to examine how we see ourselves in contrast to how others see us and dares to ask: 'Are we living a life out of duty or are we unapologetically pursuing our inner desires?'
The evening culminated with a performance by Darling. The singer was joined by a full band: cellist Naarah Strokosch, bassoonist Anthony Anurca, drummer Summer Wood and bassist Quinn Mellon. Rütenberg led the band with enchanting vocals while rotating among a variety of stringed and percussion instruments.
Darling performed to a full crowd. Dreamy notes filled the venue, wrapping audience members in a feeling of intimacy. It's events like these that prompt one to be deeply present in the moment, realizing that these experiences, and the people and places that make them possible, are truly special and ought to be cherished.
Writer James Joyce describes an artistic epiphany as an experience that moves an audience to neither try to possess, criticize, nor reject a piece of art; but instead, moves an audience to purely behold the art in its form. Joyce expressed that such an epiphany prompts a piece of art to be viewed first as an individual piece and then perceived as a part of a greater whole, creating a harmonious rhythm of relationships. For this audience member, one such aesthetic arrest occurred when Gabe Darling performed "The Sky's a Woman", the title track on one of the two EPs released that evening. Rütenberg's voice washed over me, causing a tingle in my head that then crept down my neck. I looked around the room in that moment, and reflected on how truly special Jacksonville's arts and cultural sector is.
Those interested in purchasing The Sky's a Women or Broken Teeth can contact Rütenberg via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Gabe Darling on Facebook (@therealgabedarling) and Instagram (@gabedarling).