On Stage: Downingtown’s Haas brings his comedy home

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Chris Haas

Chris Haas is coming back home – at least for a few days.

Haas, who now lives in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles, graduated from Downingtown High in 2005. On November 3, Haas is returning to Chester County to perform a live comedy show.

On Saturday evening, Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295http://www.kennettflash.org) will present “The Chris Haas Comedy Show: Blind & Brown.” Haas is both blind (almost) and brown (almost).

“I was born in Asuncion, Paraguay,” said Haas, during a phone interview this week from his home in southern California.

“I was adopted when I was one year old. My parents were white and lived in Pennsylvania. So, I feel authentically white. Growing up in Pennsylvania during my early years, I stood out and looked different.

“Now, I’m in L.A. I feel authentically white with music theater. But, I’m brown. All the folks in my neighborhood who are brown speak Spanish and I don’t speak a word of it. Ironically, my girlfriend, who is snowy white, is fluent in Spanish.”

That’s the “brown” part. The “blind” part is more serious. Haas has keratoconus.

Keratoconus is a disorder of the eye which results in progressive thinning of the cornea.  Usually both eyes are affected. The underlying mechanism involves changes of the cornea to a cone shape. Initially the condition can typically be corrected with glasses or soft contact lenses. In a small number of people scarring of the cornea occurs and a corneal transplantation is required.

“I have five per cent of my vision in my left eye and 25-30 per cent in my right eye,” said Haas, who performed in shows at Exton’s Barley Sheaf Theater when he was a kid. “I’ve already had some surgery done and I have three more surgeries coming.”

Haas is a comedian, writer, director, actor and playwright. He has performed at The Comedy Store, Flappers & The HaHa Comedy Club. His original play “To All The Lights In The Windows” is being produced this winter at The Loft Ensemble in Los Angeles. Chris is also in pre-production on his original feature film “Kill The Detectives.”

“When I went to school at Downingtown, I was at East first and then spent junior and senior year at West,” said Haas. “My dad Tom Haas taught English at Downingtown High from 1973-2009.

“After I graduated, I went to Castleton University in Vermont. I stayed in Vermont for a year, spent a few years in Pennsylvania and then had another year in Vermont. Then, I decided it was time to get out of the East. I moved to L.A. in 2011. I worked at musical theater for children and directed shows for kids. I also worked as an educator with one-on-one teaching.

“The last two years have been really bad with my keratoconus. My eyesight is really bad. Because of the condition and the surgeries, I don’t spend much time outside. Instead, I’ve hunkered down and worked on my writing. I just wrote a pilot for a show about a photojournalist and it is being shopped around to cable stations.

“Also, Jared Bonner, a buddy I had in sixth grade in Downingtown, is in the movie industry here. He hired me to write a comedy film about two brothers in the porn industry who want to make a porn film version of ‘Hamilton.’

“I also have a new play called ‘To all the Lights in the Window’ that’s going up this winter. I first started doing stand-up trying to get money together to do a feature film.

“I started doing free-verse poetry about four years ago and that poetry took on a comedic edge. My comedy career started very slow. It’s very difficult to do. But, I like it because it’s an art form where I don’t have to change anything for someone else if I don’t want to.”

Video link for Chris Haas – https://youtu.be/gGiosXH_IxE.

The show at Kennett Flash, which also features Marc Huppman, Mallory Leonard, Steph Termini & host Melissa Kirkpatrick, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at Kennett Flash are Andrew Lipke & The Azrael String Quartet on November 2 and “Open Mic with guest host Sam Kwietniak” on November 4.

Mother Feather

The wait is finally over for the New York-based band Mother Feather and its legion of fans. More than two years have gone by since the rocking quintet released its eponymous debut album on Metal Blade records.

To celebrate the album’s arrival, the band known for its in-your-face live shows, will play a Philly album release show this Friday at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-739-9684, www.johnnybrendas.com). The band will also have hometown release show December 6 at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory.

“The album officially drops Thursday at midnight,” said frontwoman Ann Courtney, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her home in Brooklyn. “Right now, I’m getting ready to prep about 8,000 t-shirts. We have some new styles – and some new hats – in stock.”

The album will be a mixture old tracks that have been around for a while and tracks which were recently written.

“We started playing some of the songs from the record as early as 2010,” said Courtney. “Others, we started with in 2017. The majority were written at the end of 2016 when we came home from the Warped Tour.

“I wrote most of the music for the album after the presidential election. I locked myself away. I was too depressed to go outside.

“When it was time to record the album, we worked with producer Joshua Valleau. We recorded the album at his studio, The Glass Wall. We also cut some tracks at Mission Sound. Both studios are here in Brooklyn.

“We hunkered down and completed the bulk of the writing in fall of 2016. After doing the Warped Tour, we knew we had to make an album. The bulk of the recording was done in the spring of 2017 during a concentrated three-month period.”

The album is just the second full-length in the nine-year history of Mother Feather, a quintet that features Elizabeth Carena (Vocals, Keyboards), Chris Foley (Guitar), Gunnar Olsen (Drums), Seth Ondracek (Bass) and Courtney (Vocals).

“We formed in the summer of 2009 and did our first show in early 2010,” said Courtney. “Three-fifths of that lineup is still in the group. Gunnar has been with us since almost the beginning and Seth joined a year ago.

“Initially, we released two EPs on our own – ‘Mother Feather’ and ‘Living Breathing.’ When Metal Blade found out about us, they signed us in 2015. They took the songs from the two EPs and added a few more to have enough to release the ‘Mother Feather’ album.”

The band has evolved and matured sonically and lyrically since its formative days.

“The new album is exuberant, but it also goes to some sad and dark places,” said Courtney. “There is a lot more color there – a broader emotional palette. We expanded what Mother Feather is.”

Video link for Mother Feather – https://youtu.be/zUv4U8ZaJxM.

The show at Johnny Brenda’s, which also features West Philadelphia Orchestra and OOLALA, will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Other upcoming shows at Johnny Brenda’s are Mothers, Mega Bog, and Arthur on November 3, Ian Sweet, Young Jesus, and Sean Henry on November 6, and The Blow andKarima Walker on November 7.

On November 2, music fans who head to the Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com) for a concert by PRETTYMUCH should plan on getting there early enough to catch the opening act.

Gunnar Gehl

The show will feature the Philadelphia debut of new teen pop singer, Gunnar Gehl. The singer from southern California has just gotten started but is already taking the music industry by storm. He has amassed more than 200K followers on Instagram without even a single release of music.

Although music has been an obsession for Gehl since sitting down at age seven at his grandfather’s piano and effortlessly playing by ear what he just heard, the 17-year-old Newport Beach, California, high school junior only decided to pursue playing and writing seriously in 2017.

“In high school, I always had a fear of letting people know I sang,” said Gehl, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from a tour stop in Orlando, Florida.

“In high school, people can be very judgmental. Then, I reached a point where I decided to go ahead with my singing. Two years ago, I put a cover of a John Mayer song on social media and it did well.”

Heartened by the internet response, Gehl proceeded to post his own original songs onto Instagram, receiving 30,000 plays instantaneously. Now, Gehl has put the rest of his life on hold to pursue his musical career. While he now numbers more than 172,000 Instagram followers, Gehl insists amassing likes and views is secondary to working on his craft.

“We’ve been writing for the last six months,” said Gehl. “I made a trip to Nashville to record the song ‘Ocean Blue.’ It came out in October. It’s a great song. My next single – ‘Out of My Mind’ — is another great song. It will be out in about two weeks.”

Gehl is in the process of realizing a number of “firsts.”

“The first show on this tour was my first live show,” said Gehl. “This is also my first time to travel to the East Coast – except when I came to Philadelphia and New York on a class trip.”

Fortunately, Gehl has enough songs ready to full his 30-minute opening set.

“On my set list for this tour are six original songs and a cover of four pieces of songs,” said Gehl. “I have about six more originals I haven’t sung for anybody.

“Our plan after this tour is to get back in the studio for a while and then go out on the road again. I’m already finding fans that are coming to these shows to hear me play. And, PRETTYMUCH’s fans are coming over too.”

Video link for Gunnar Gehl – https://youtu.be/8yb2CzulP6c.

The show at the Theatre of the Living Arts, which has PRETTYMUCH as the headliner, will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $28.

Other upcoming shows at the TLA are Sabrina Claudio on November 3, Elle King on November 4, Queen Naija on November 5, Kiiara on November 6 and St. Lucia on November 7.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Megan Slankard and Alex Wong on November 3.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110http://chaplinslive.com) will present Janet Gardner (of Vixen), Mantis, Dog Bite Money, Stella and the Voodoo Fish on November 3.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389www.ardmoremusic.com) will host Chris Robinson Brotherhood on November 2 and 3, and The Orb on November 4.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547www.burlapandbean.com) will present Antje Duvekot with Brianna Lane on November 2.

An Evening with The Hooters

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650www.keswicktheatre.com) presents “An Evening with The Hooters” on November 2 and 3 and Gordon Lightfoot on November 4.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808www.st94.com) presents Rhonda Vincent & The Rage on November 3, Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore on November 4, and George Winston on November 7.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) will host Kathleen Madigan on November 2 and Wanda Sykes on November 4.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) will host Adam Ezra Group on November 2, Jim Lauderdale on November 3, and Dawn Landes and Chris Stills on November 7.

The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) will present The Rhythm Doctors on November 3.

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