A Downtown Lifestyle – Sparky’s Finest

A downtown tradition

Ice cream – a passion of many that provides not only a delightfully creamy treat but also an added unwanted couple of pounds. Though unhealthy, many can’t resist the deliciousness that ice cream provides.

The first ice cream parlor in America was established in 1776 and Columbia’s downtown ice cream shop, Sparky’s, has come a long way since then. Today, many more flavors and choices make for an even more exciting trip for ice cream lovers.

This local shop that is loved by many is only a small representation of what makes Columbia so comfortable. Inside, many workers spend their days making, selling, promoting and devouring the delicious homemade flavors of desire that so many people consider to be a trademark of this town.

Elizabeth Hughes, a Sparky’s employee, sits at the counter with her head in her hands, awaiting the next customer to come by and satisfy their cravings with a smooth fruity scoop or dark, rich cone.

Her stained apron, tattooed arms and wide smile welcome you into the store letting you know that when you leave, you’ll be happier than when you came in. Her kind nature and welcoming eyes are a direct indication that Sparky’s is as good as everyone makes it seem. Add her personality to a red bull shake, banana split or waffle cone full of sticky blueberry muffin ice cream, your day is complete.

An ice cream artist

Hughes has grown up in Columbia and is well aware of the extraordinary experience Sparky’s gives your taste buds. Most of her time is spent downtown at Sparky’s or her second job at Ingredient or just anywhere around Ninth Street hanging out with friends.

Elizabeth has worked at Sparky’s for roughly four months, enjoying just about every minute.

“It’s the most fun job I’ve ever had,” Hughes said. “I get to hang out and eat ice cream, it’s not that bad. And the people that work here are pretty awesome.”

There are many positive aspects to working at an ice cream shop, one of which being the obvious – ice cream galore – however, Hughes’ decision for Sparky’s is pretty present and clear.

“A lot of my friends work here,” Hughes said. “That’s pretty much the main reason. The environment is my favorite part. Being here is pretty relaxed and it’s just easy to be at work.”

The environment is pretty relaxed. Sitting in a corner observing a lazy fall afternoon, one can see that it’s going to be a slow day. Customers occasionally drop in for a bowl of raspberry sorbet or a waffle cone full of upside down peanut butter brownie.

A typical day in the life of an ice cream maker is pretty much the same as any other job, with the exception of being able to make delicious ice cream.

“I’m an ice cream maker,” Hughes said. “ I come in and open and get everything set up. I make ice cream and in between I help customers and keep the shop in tact and stocked.”

According to Hughes, making ice cream is actually a lot easier than it might sound. All it takes is to mix a couple of ingredients together and suddenly you have the delicious delicacy of chai-flavored ice cream ready to be served.

“The only secret really is that it’s a lot easier than it looks,” she said. “Ice cream is surprisingly simple and really fun but there are some complexities. There are just a couple little tricks to get everything right. We make it all here, so if you see a flavor and you wonder how it tastes, it probably tastes just like it sounds.”

There are some downsides to working in such a gooey environment.

“Ice cream is messy,” Hughes said. “We end up mopping a lot. As much that ends up on kid’s faces also ends up on the floor, but that’s just a part of the job.”

Though she only works two days a week at Sparky’s, she holds down another job just down the street.

“I also work at Ingredient,” Hughes said. “I live downtown and I have a permanent schedule here so I pretty much know when I’m going to work and it’s pretty flexible.”

Downtown seems to consume the life of Hughes’.

“I hang out downtown a lot,” Hughes said. “I usually either go to Ragtag or Shakespeare’s. Most of my friends work downtown as well.”

Admiration from peers

Hughes’ coworkers are pretty fond of her as well. Augustine Accurso and Ratko Radojcic have both only known Hughes for the short amount of time that she has worked at Sparky’s but they already have a pretty positive attitude toward her.

“She’s a very good worker,” Accurso said. “She listens to authority really well, which is really important. She does her job, knows what she needs to do, gets it done and does it well.”

When it comes to describing Hughes as a person and coworker, both feel the same.

“I would say she’s a really sweet girl,” Radojcic said. “She’s funny and generous.”

“She’s sweet and has an easygoing temperament,” Accurso said. “She’s enjoyable, pleasant and creative. I like that about her.”

It took a while for Radojcic to get to know Elizabeth well enough to feel that she’s such a good person. Not only attitudes dictate the way you feel about someone, but also so does the environment and the area in which you meet.

“Most of the shift it’s only like two people working,” Radojcic said. “So all the interactions is a lot more personal and easier to get to know people. You work with the same people week in and week out. I don’t think there are necessarily those types of traits that come out as a whole in the store. It kind of comes down more to the relationships that you have with who you work with.”

Crazy visitors

Occasionally, Sparky’s receives a couple of customers who are looking for more than ice cream.

“At night we get a lot of homeless that come in and try to talk to us,” Hughes said. “They tried to take out our trash once, in hopes of getting tips, but they usually leave us alone.”

Other late night customers sometimes can’t seem to leave on their own. When you stick around late enough to watch them close, you understand.

“We’re open pretty late so drunk people come in sometimes,” Hughes said. “We stopped letting them come in if we’re closed so that they don’t pass out in the bathroom – that’s happened before.”

Colorful tastes

Sparky’s is known for its multiple flavors that are out of the ordinary for the ice cream industry, such as carrot cake, lavender and honey, and jalapeno chocolate. Even with many to choose from, Hughes has her favorites.

“It changes because we don’t have the same stuff all the time,” she said. “My two favorites of the ones we usually have are chai or peppermint chip.”

There are always a select couple flavors that customers enjoy more than the rest.

“I’d say that the cookies ‘n cream or the cake batter are the most popular,” Hughes said.

Rain or shine

Sparky’s sees customers throughout the whole year.

“It obviously slows down in the winter but in the summer there isn’t a whole lot of downtime,” Hughes said.

No matter the weather, you can bet you’ll see Elizabeth with her short blonde hair and tattoos sitting at the counter awaiting a new customer to serve.

Colbie Caillat to get ‘bubbly’ in Columbia

The singer-songwriter will perform Sept. 30 at The Blue Note.

By Megan Suddarth

Published Sept. 30, 2011

Prepare for a laid-back, “bubbly” Friday night with Colbie Caillat. The down-to-earth singer is coming to The Blue Note with a guitar in her hand and flip flops on her feet – well, maybe not so much with flips flops. This cool, fall Missouri weather is a bit of a change from her native Hawaii roots.

Performing in Columbia is a bit of a change from what Caillat is used to. Madison Square Garden, among others, is quite large compared to the unique college town vibe of The Blue Note.

“College towns are always so warm and more personal than huge cities,” Caillat says in an email. “And college audiences really know my music, so they make me feel at home.”

Caillat’s latest album, “All of You,” was released worldwide July 12. This third album is a more candid account of who Caillat really is and it openly explores the relationships in her life.

“I think this album is a very honest album,” Caillat says. “This new album is a more settled me. I am comfortable with my success and exploring all my feelings and those of friends and family. My music has always explored relationships, but I think that this album does it even more and more openly.”

Baring her soul in her new album made Caillat a little nervous about how it would be received.

“Sometimes, a song like ‘Shadow’ is very specifically about a friend, and others are more an amalgamation of my own and other people’s experiences,” Caillat says. “And when a song is very personal to a friend, I’m always a little nervous about playing it for them.”

Alhough touring can be quite stressful, Caillat does as much as possible to keep herself grounded so she doesn’t turn into a diva on tour.

“I am in touch with friends and family all the time, so that keeps me grounded,” Caillat says. “My friends from high school and elementary school are still my best friends.”

When she’s not touring, Caillat uses home remedies to prevent herself from letting success go to her head.

“When I’m home I like to chill out, exercise, hike with my dog and my boyfriend, and I spend a lot of time with my sister and her husband,” Caillat says. “I think that keeps me pretty normal.”

Despite her success, Caillat still promotes keeping the planet safe and healthy.

“Whether it’s leaving garbage on the beach, or throwing things out a window or not taking care of your pet, or eating too much meat, everything has a rippling effect on our planet,” Caillat says. “I wish people took the time to consider the effect of their actions.”

Caillat supports a number of organizations and thinks its important to get involved.

“I want to encourage all my fans to take an active role in their communities and in the causes that concern them,” Caillat says. “I support Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Society of the US (and) Surfrider Foundation. So, think about what is important to you now and in the future and volunteer.”

If you miss Colbie Caillat at The Blue Note this weekend, no worries. You can still get your fix by watching her perform “It’s My Party” on Playboy Club on Oct. 3 on NBC as Leslie Gore, an actual performer for the club in the 1960s.

Tommy and the High Pilots land in Columbia

The band will play Aug. 22 at Mojo’s

By Megan Suddarth

Published Aug. 22, 2011

Home is close yet so far away for the men of Tommy and the High Pilots. They’ve been touring the country for the past two months–rocking crowds and gaining fans with their upbeat rhythms and clever lyrics.

“We’ve been on the road for about two months,” lead singer Tom Cantillon says. “We’re in the last week and a half before we head back out to Cali.”

Although touring and selling out shows seem to be time-consuming, this talented foursome still somehow finds time to sit down and produce more awe-inducing melodies. The band is planning on releasing a new album in the near future.

“We’re working on a bunch of new songs,” Cantillon says. “The hope is that when we’re home for a little bit in September we flush out as many songs as we can. The hope is that by the end of the year we have enough songs recorded that we can start really talking about how we’re going to make the next record.”

Finding time to write those songs is a bit difficult when you’re on a schedule like theirs, but not impossible.

“I’ve been writing as much as I can,” Cantillon says. “But creativity suffers a little bit on the road because you’re so busy. When I get good song ideas and I don’t have another outlet I just call my phone and I’ll just be singing the melody into my phone, which is pretty funny when you’re walking around a mall.”

Many fans may consider “Where to Start” from their EP, American Riviera, their best song yet, but a young up-and-comer may give it a run for its money.

“I think ‘Where to Start’ is one of our best songs,” Cantillon says. “But we have this new song, ‘Young and Hungry’ that blows it out of the water. For me, personally, if every song I write isn’t better than the last one, then I scrap it.”

Not only are they working on new songs, but also a new music video. A video for their song, “The Limit,” from American Riviera is currently in production.

“We’ve already filmed the bulk of the video,” Cantillon says. “We have the whole storyline, and actually Matt Palermo wrote out the storyline. We just need a little bit more footage with the actors.”

All the hard work and effort the guys have put forth has paid off.

“We just found out that Sawhorse Sessions charted on Billboard,” Cantillon says of their latest EP. “We’re in the Heatseekers chart and we’re in the top 200 records this week. It took me a second to digest that – it was pretty cool.”

Through hectic days and crazy nights, the boys still take time to enjoy the little things in life.

“I have a fresh plate of hash browns waiting for me inside,” Cantillon says. “It’s my favorite thing in the world, I could eat hash browns all day.”

Ludo presents Space Dracula’s Basketball Expo

The band will play Aug. 7 at The Blue Note.

By Megan Suddarth

Published Aug. 6, 2011

Do you love that final frontier some people call space? What about blood-sucking vampires? Or even just a good ole game of basketball? Then Ludo’s tour, Space Dracula’s Basketball Expo, is one show you have to see.

“We’re very excited to be back in Columbia,” Moog player Tim Convy says. “It’s one of our favorite places to play and it’s going to be the last night of our tour, so it should be an even larger party.”

The theme has Ludo’s bizarre yet original signature scribbled all over it, but one might wonder how the idea came about.

“We’ve done themes in the past and we liked it, and we don’t have any new music out for this tour so we knew we wanted to have some sort of theme,” Convy says. “A couple of crazy, random ideas were thrown out and then we landed on space, basketball and Dracula.”

Only a few special cities have the privilege of seeing all three themes combined for the show as opposed to just one. Columbia happens to be one of those special cities.

“We knew we wanted to do all three in our biggest cities,” Convy says. “St. Louis, Columbia, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago get all three.”

Dressing up for this show is part of the packaged deal that is Space Dracula’s Basketball Expo. Band members wear costumes for each theme – and costumes for these themes will really turn heads.

“I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t pick a favorite based on my comfort level on stage,” Convy says. “I like what we wear on the space nights, I think we look the coolest.”

Although downtime is rare for this out-of-the-ordinary tour, the men of Ludo still find time to live out their basketball-themed nights by shooting some hoops.

“We do play a little basketball,” Convy says. “We’re traveling with a full-size basketball hoop that we bring on stage so every now, and then we’ll set it up in either the venue or parking lot and shoot some hoops.”

So break out of your own comfort level and come dressed up in your craziest space-Dracula-basketball costume to enjoy a rockin’ night.

“We expect people to dress up,” Convy says. “It definitely makes it more fun if everybody comes and looks like an idiot. So you should show up dressed up and ready to sing along.”

Tommy and the High Pilots have little time for play

The band will play Feb. 24 at Mojo’s.

By Megan Suddarth

Published Feb. 22, 2011

Although downtime is rare for Tommy and the High Pilots, the members take time to relish in the small things.

“I’m just standing here watching my boys play pool,” lead singer Tommy Cantillon said. “They’re a good-looking bunch.”

It’s been a long and exciting ride for the members of Tommy and the High Pilots. Since their last appearance in Columbia, they’ve been working nonstop.

“We’ve been writing a bunch of songs,” Cantillon said. “We’ve been staying on the road and working on new stuff. While we’re in St. Louis, we’ll be recording an acoustic EP, which will serve as an in-between album for the kids with American Riviera.”

Taking a break doesn’t seem to be a frequent occurrence for these guys — even during the holiday season.

“We don’t ever break,” Cantillon said. “From the road, yes, but from the band, no. Over the holidays we booked the next tour. I try to write songs every day, which can take a long time. When you get as much time as you need, then that’s what we use that time for.”

The release of the band’s newest album American Riviera has been a huge success.

“We’ve taken a step up,” Cantillon said. “When we put out our first record, we weren’t correlated with Ludo, but we’re very fortunate to be incestuous with them — in a positive way. We hadn’t gotten to be under that umbrella with them until this release.”

The new EP can be expected sometime in March.

“It’ll pretty much be an acoustic album,” Cantillon said. “We’re totally working on this album and we want to put out this in-between album. We want to introduce and show people what we’re into. We want to show people the folksier side of the band.”

Touring with the same people for months at a time can be stressing and at times sickening, but that’s not the case for The High Pilots.

“We’ve been touring for so long that our relationships are really positive,” Cantillon said. “Everything totally falls into place accidentally, everything meshes. We sometimes take 20-hour drives and you really get a lot of time to figure out the personality of every person and to find out who they are.”

Sometimes, their relationship is a little more than just a brotherhood.

“It’s really like having a bunch of girlfriends,” Cantillon said. “You go down a different road to make sure very person is happy. Everyone gets to put their own two cents into everything. We’re a really tight unit. If there’s any dust between any of us, it settles so fast.”

Tommy and the High Pilots – 5 out of 5 stars

Posted to Arts & Entertainment by Megan Suddarth at 12:00 a.m., Dec. 7, 2010

Competition is tough in the music industry, especially for up-and-coming bands. However, you wouldn’t suspect Tommy and the High Pilots is a lesser-known, up-and-coming band. Its high level of enthusiasm and exciting on-stage shows would make you wonder why everyone doesn’t have all of this band’s songs on their iPods.

The band’s performance Dec. 1 at Mojo’s was definitely impressive. There was never a lack of passion in any of the band members on stage. From an eager opening filled with the love of what they do, to an ending that would fulfill any music fan’s expectations, Tommy and the High Pilots put on a spectacular show.

Songs such as “Motorbike” show the creativity and funny side of the band. Who couldn’t love and enjoy a song about a beloved motorcycle? “Round and Round” is also a great song about a couple that breaks up and gets back together so many times they become known for that. With many more songs to get the audience pumped, there’s never a dull moment when the band is on stage.

The genuine enjoyment that is derived from this band performing is enough to make any person in the audience get up and start dancing to every tune, which inevitably resulted during the show. These guys have a pure love of music and that’s obvious to the audience. For the fans, seeing such an animated performance is uplifting and can even cure the attitude of a downer.

Overall, this was a performance that won’t soon be forgotten and that needs to occur much more often. This fun-loving band would impress even the most depressed of people. Anyone that enjoys great music and a great, genuine band needs to check these guys out next time they come around.

Tommy & The High Pilots reach new heights

The band will perform at Mojo’s on Wednesday.

By Megan Suddarth

Published Nov. 30, 2010

With an ever-growing fan base, Tommy & The High Pilots are touring the country promoting their EP, American Riviera. Lead singer Tom Cantillon formed Tommy & The High Pilots after the crumble of his previous band, Holden.

“We’ve gone through a lot of different trials and tribulations,” Cantillon said. “The thing that I learned from Holden was what didn’t work and what did work. I think that whole morale of this gang is a lot more positive.”

The members of Tommy & The High Pilots have a close past. Three out of four of them grew up together in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“My little brother’s in the band,” Cantillon said. “It was pretty easy to get him involved —- I’ve known him for a while. Steve, our bass player, I’ve known him since I was like in sixth grade and we played in different bands together.

Another member of the band is Matt Palermo, formerly of the St. Louis band Ludo.

“I was in a band way back and we used to tour around with Ludo,” Cantillon said. “I stayed in contact with him and we wound up kidnapping him for a little bit.”

Together, the High Pilots take on a new, collective form when performing.

“We take on the Tommy & The High Pilots form when we’re on stage,” Cantillon said. “We’re not just Tommy, Mike, Steve and Matt. There’s a whole different energy and something else going on and we just ride with it.”

The stage is the ultimate playground for the High Pilots to express themselves.

“I always tell the other guys to take caution because I don’t know if I’m going to swing around,” Cantillon said. “If you come up on stage while I’m in the middle of a song I might accidentally kill you with my guitar because once I get up there I’m possessed.”

For the band, the interaction with an anticipating crowd is the most pleasing aspect to performing.

“(Performing) is the best representation of our band,” Cantillon said. “There is so much energy and we love trading energy with the crowd. You always want to leave them at the edge of their seat, but you can’t plan what’s going to happen.”

And no matter where the High Pilots are, the songs continue to flow from the pen, whether on the East Coast or the West. But Santa Barbara has the band’s heart -— and its lyrics.

“’Where to Start’ was written in New York and was based on what I experienced there,” Cantillon said. “Going from one place to the next brings inspiration. But most of our songs are based in Santa Barbara. We grew up there and it’s a huge part of who we are. It’s a very special place to us.”

Fans of Tommy & The High Pilots can expect much more from this up-and-coming band.

“We’re on the road through Christmas,” Cantillon said. “We’re always writing, all the time. As soon as it makes sense, we’ll be in the studio again. Then, right after the New Year, we’re going to try to get right back out on the road.”