Gwangju Blog

‘The Ballad of Coward Jack’ Brings the Wild West to Gwangju

When it comes to Gwangju’s local music scene, Andrew Vlasblom is an inventive and hospitable cornerstone, who is just as valued here as he is well known. Over the last few months, I have seen him command his piano through mountains and valleys of rock ‘n roll, classical, blues, avant-garde, pop, and folk. However, he has recently announced that his newest endeavor will be a journey into the Wild West, featuring a hand-picked ensemble, to perform The Ballad of Coward Jack.

This full-length album is as fresh out of the oven as a piping hot apple pie. Vlasblom explains, “The creation of the album began when I was sitting in a café on April 1st of this year. I started writing a song called ‘Shot’ with a Wild West theme. When I showed the ensemble the lyrics and they approved, IMG_0570I got an idea to develop the concept into a full-length album. They readily agreed to the idea of performing it, and I wrote the lyrics and music for the album over the next two weeks with the idea of doing a show at Daein market on May 27th. Since then we’ve been rehearsing and getting ready for the show. It’s been a lot of fun.” With each member of the ensemble as a gifted performer in his or her own right, Vlasblom makes it look easy, “Luckily, I didn’t really have to think about it— I had already been regularly collaborating with each of them individually for almost a year, both in bands and at open mics. They were my only choices for the roles, as I wrote the songs with their voices and fiddle in mind. Ashley Johnson, Kaitlyn Wachter, and Laureline Claeys will be singing the parts of the three characters in the story, as well as many chorus bits together. Eden Jones and I will be supplying the accompanying music on the fiddle and piano. They are all incredibly talented, and their dedication to making music is inspiring.”

After hearing a sneak peak of the overture this weekend, the chemistry of Vlasblom and Jones is as graceful as it is fierce, with heavy steps full of heartache marching toward the horizon. But the most important question still remains— Who is Coward Jack? Vlasblom paints us a picture, “I see The Ballad of Coward Jack as a Western tale about revenge told in musical form. Coward Jack is the titular anti-hero of the story. He’s done some bad things in his past and, while he has changed his ways and tried to escape his old life, the time has come for him to pay the consequences. You can expect plenty of Wild West clichés: gun-slingin,’ train-chasin’, villain-hatin’ fun. There will be some recurring theme songs and choruses that will hopefully have the audience singing along.”



Eden Jones and Andrew Vlasblom. (Photo courtesy of Tae-Sang Park)

Although he has composed and performed for a wide range of genres, settings, and topics, the six-shooter, sarsaparilla feel of this album is certainly not uncharted territory for Vlasblom, “I’ve loved the Wild West since I was a kid. My favourite toys were cowboys and Wild West Lego sets. My family also watched a lot of Western movies, and we visited pioneer villages and the like, which I enjoyed. As an adult, my appreciation for the Wild West has deepened as I have enjoyed more mature fare: I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Once Upon a Time in the West, my favourite Western film, and also Deadwood, my favourite Western TV drama.”



Laureline Claeys

The sense of comradary among the ensemble members is a candid swirl of respect, inspiration, and shenanigans. Laureline Claeys sings the part of Heather, a young woman who has opened up a shop in the West to settle down with her husband. She describes the steady rehearsals nonchalantly and cracks jokes, but when asked about the depth of her experience explained, “Eden’s violin perfectly completes Andrew’s compositions, and the combination of the two instruments create a density in each piece. As you come to listen, you’ll discover music full of strength, virtuosity and emotions… What strikes me the most is the incredible creativity of Andrew, who wrote the music and the lyrics. He is extremely talented, always full of new ideas, and a natural born piano player. I sometimes call him, ‘the two-brained man.'”




(Left) Jones, Wachter, and Vlasblom in Jeju Island

Kaitlyn Wachter, who plays the part of Old John Red, sums up her experience,”This piece is different from anything I’ve done before, and every step has been packed full of surprises for me personally, so when it comes to audience expectations, I suppose they can expect to get caught up in a surprisingly emotional and gripping romp through the Wild West. Andrew and Eden’s instrumentation is breathtaking, and the lyrics are just fantastic. We’ve put a lot of ourselves into this project.”



Ashley Johnson

Rehearsals for the project have taken several twists and turns in such a short amount of time, but the group has navigated the situation swiftly. Jones informed me of their accompanying scenery for the most recent rehearsals, “We had to leave our old place, so we are temporarily meeting in a partially demolished building in an undisclosed location downtown. It’s sort of half-indoor, half-outdoor and has a Secret Garden feel to it. There are trees growing up from the
concrete floor and stuff and the walls are crumbling at the sides. Aside from the mosquitos, it’s pretty magical. The atmosphere fits the Western theme of the album well, I feel, and we’ve been having a grand old time practicing and goofing off back there.” Claeys jokes,”The main obstacle was the impossibility to drink anything else but OB beer, and the constant, round trip to the toilets that was giving rhythm to the rehearsals.”

With long rehearsals and recording this week still ahead, the group is working up a sweat, but also raring to go for their public debut. The first performance kicks off this Saturday, May 27th, at Open Space Dreamers in Daein Market starting at 9:00 P.M. Hang on to yer hats for a wild ride!

Scheduled Performances
May 27, 9:00 PM at Open Space Dreamers in Daein Market
June 24 at Loft 28
July 7 at Speakeasy (CD Release Party)
More performances TBA.

More music from Andrew Vlasblom available at:

(All photographs courtesy of Andrew Vlasblom, Eden Jones, Kaitlyn Wachter, Laureline Claeys, Ashley Johnson, and Tae Sang Park)

Same as it ever was

same as it ever was


Sometimes we find ourselves living in a shotgun shack, in another part of the world, behind the wheel of a large automobile, in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and we may ask ourselves, “how did I get here?” Such thoughts often accompany the day-to-day life of an expat in Gwangju. Often springing from a deeper questioning of our place in the world, we may find solace and comradely when hearing these feelings verbalized. However, even if never encountering David Byrne’s thoughts on the matter, we may still find ways to visual express paradoxical sentiments of feeling both placed yet out of place in the city we for now, call home.

Pictural expressions of being both comforted and alienated by our surroundings is a common theme for popular street photographers. Classic work by the likes of Robert Frank, Mary Ellen Mark or Daido Moriyama shows that photography is both a readiness to see the familiar with newly expectant eyes, yet also being at the right place at the right time. Many artists, poets, or cultural observers are likely scoff at this statement, and rightly so. For, they have learned from experience that the word “right” here is misleading. There is no “right” time which stands apart from other, less right moments of our day. In fact, the “rightness” of a moment is rather defined by our willingness to accept where we are, at this time and place. In doing so, the “right” time finds us where we stand. In such moments, we only do what we know how. For David Byrne, it was to put these curiosities to music and pen. For others, it may be to make the perfect omelet, or in the case of this photographer, to capture an unexpected moment on a nearby flower.

Having photography be my personal method of creative expression, I was glad to find the lil’ bugger in the flower above. His efforts were great as he (or she, if you prefer) navigated the landscape of monstrous petals and pollen around him. As I stood there with my medium format camera with macro lens and extension tube extended down towards the flower, I could not help be anthropomorphize the insect’s predicament. In short, the simple act of traversing the width of this flower seemed both alien, and as it should be. As David Byrne put it, despite where we find ourselves, there is indeed “water flowing underground.” As such, it is out of sight, yet always moving, going towards its preordained destination. Above ground, this city moves, and on my best days, me with it. It’s the same as it ever was. I can have comfort in that.


[Photo taken on Velvia 100 using a Bronica Sq-ai stacked with several extension tubes.]


(Photo & Text by Marty Miller)


What to Do This Weekend: Trivia, Watercolors, and a Spring House Party!

Hello Gwangju!

Looking for something to do this weekend? You’ve come to the right place! Let’s see what’s happening in Gwangju.

Thursday, May 18th

Courtesy of Speakeasy

Courtesy of Speakeasy

Trivia night is happening this Thursday, and it’s a great way to start your weekend! Get down to Speakeasy with your team (max. of 5 people), and put your trivial knowledge to the test. The cost is only 5,000 won per team member. Don’t have a team? That’s not a problem because you can always find a group to play with. The second place team gets their money back, and the first place team gets the rest. There’s also free shots for a perfect round. Sarah is your quiz master, and the Speakeasy staff is there to keep your glasses full. For more info, please go to the Facebook event page. Good luck!

Friday, May 19th

Courtesy of Loft 28

Courtesy of Loft 28

Do you like listening to local performers in a chill atmosphere? How about discovering new talent in our city? Well then, Loft 28 is the place to be for their Open Mic night. If you want to perform, all you have to do is bring your instrument and show up. Loft has their own mics, and sound system. Those who perform will also receive a free drink! You’ll also want to check out their menu of delicious food. It’s all homemade on the premises. The reviews I’ve heard have been great! Open Mic Night begins at 10:00 p.m. For more information, and directions to Loft 28, please go to their Facebook page.

Saturday, May 20th

Courtesy of Gwangju Art Class

Courtesy of Gwangju Art Class

This Saturday’s art class at the GIC will be about painting with watercolors. However, you won’t be using brushes . . . you’ll be using fruit! That’s right, you’ll be learning about different techniques using fruit. The class begins at 12:30 p.m., and there will be a short break at 2:00 p.m. The price is only 5,000 won, and since this is a special class, please let the teacher know you’ll be attending by the 19th. Who will be leading the class this weekend?  Áine Byrne is back after taking some time off to travel! For directions to the GIC, please go to their website. For more details about the class, please go to the Facebook event page here.

Photo courtesy of Gwangju Jeollanamdo KOTESOL.

Photo courtesy of Gwangju Jeollanamdo KOTESOL.

This Saturday the Gwangju-Jeonnam chapter of KOTESOL will be having their monthly meeting. They  welcome members, and non-members for an engaging afternoon of professional development. There will be a presentation from a local Gwangju teacher, and the second period will be a discussion facilitated by chapter VP Dr. David Shaffer. You’ll also get the chance to meet and network with fellow teachers. Meetings are held at Gwangju National University of Education, and you can click on this link for full information. You can also find out what’s going on by checking out their Facebook page. The meeting starts at 1:45, and the first presentation will begin shortly after 2 p.m.

Courtesy of Loft 28

Courtesy of Loft 28

Saturday night is always a great time to be out and about in Gwangju, so what are you waiting for? Start the night off with drinks, and great Mexican food at Tequilaz downtown. Their friendly staff will begin your night out on a good note. Check out their Facebook page if you need any more info. After you hit Tequilaz, stay downtown and head over to Speakjeasy. Great music being played, terrific drinks, and you can even play pool in the upstairs bar. For more details. check out their Facebook page. Finally, if you’re at the Chonnam backgate area, then  Loft 28 is where you’ll want to be for their Spring Fling House Party!  Of course there will be great music from the Loft DJs, special cocktails, and even Sangria.The party begins at 11 p.m., and for more info, see the photo above.

Sunday, May 21st

The GPP will be holding a script analysis workshop at the GIC from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. For more details, please go to their Facebook event page.

Get your tickets now for next Thursday’s standup comedy performance at Speakeasy! Tickets are available at the bar. Brian Aylward, an award winning comedian from Canada will be the headliner. Plus, Gwangju’s own Kelly Palmer Kim will be opening. For more info, go to Speakeasy’s Facebook page.

Essentials with JD # 279 **MAY 18TH SPECIAL DOCUMENTARY**

광주영어방송 ’37년의 비밀, 트라우마 유전’ 방송

GFN airs May 18 special documentary ‘A Memory Never Lost’



The Gwangju Foreign Language Network, GFN, will air a special documentary for the 37th anniversary of the May 18 Democratic Uprising.

The documentary, ’37년의 비밀, 트라우마 유전, A Memory Never Lost’ introduces how trauma is inherited by the next generation and how to treat these cases.

The first half of the show mainly deals with inherited trauma and the victims while the second half is dedicated specifically to the inherited trauma of the May 18 Democratic Uprising victims and how to treat their wounded hearts.


GFN seeks for ways to heal the inherited trauma from May 18 and suggests a notion for society to accept.

The documentary, ’37년의 비밀, 트라우마 유전, A Memory Never Lost’ will be aired on the 18th, tomorrow at 10am in Korean and at 7pm in English for an hour each.

For more information check



May events will also be happening in downtown areas with certain bus routes changed and you might also want to visit the 5.18 cemetary by taking bus 518.


People You Should Know in Gwangju…2017 Award Nominees

Hey all! This week I have the Michael Simning Community Builder’s Award Nominees. These are the people that have been nominated for this award a few words about them from their nominators.

Michael Simning

Michael Simning

Name: Vanessa Reid Kim, Vanessa’s kindness is only surpassed by her dedication to her family and community. Her passion for childbirth education extends past mere book knowledge and is almost tangible. Her judgement free encouragement has turned possible nightmarish situations into the most memorable and life changing experiences for the mothers of Gwangju.

Name: Dr.Soumitra Kundu, He has created Cricket team of Bangladeshi students, He organised several Bangladeshi national events, He joins most events as volunteer in Gwangju Events such as GIC Day, 무지게 다리 (Rainbow Bridge Festival)/ 5.18 Events / 세월호 운동/UCC(Universal Cultural Center) various events. The major intercultural organizations such as GIC ,Unesco, UCC and 5.18 foundation gets his helping hand for Gwangju Community activities.

Name: Sarah Hale President of Adopt a Child for Christmas – she basically did everything, from fundraising, to buying and wrapping presents, to delivering, to organizing Christmas parties. It has encouraged the expat community to give back to the Korean community through donations and Christmas presents for orphans.

Name: Rob Smith In addition to being a key member of the animal rescue operations in Gwangju there are several other ways that Rob has contributed to making Gwangju a better place for all of us. He is an admin for the Gwangju Facebook page… he has been part of the Adopt-a-child for Christmas effort every year for several years now as well, and is currently the treasurer of that effort. He is also a well known face around the city and always does what he can to make new members to the Gwangju community feel welcome. 

2015 Community Builders Award nominees

Name: Ryne Santos, Ryne is responsible for bringing Pecha Kucha to Gwangju. Though it’s still in the process of growing, Pecha Kucha has encouraged the Gwangju community to speak publicly about things they care about in an interactive and challenging way. Ryne is an all around cool guy who is one of those special types who can connect with literally anyone over just about anything. I couldn’t think of a better person to run something like Pecha Kucha.

Name: Lisa Crone, Lisa has organized rescues of animals and works hard to organize people to go out and help. She has brought people of the community together and built.bridges with the Korean community. I think she is a good example of how to be a caring person.

Name: Anastasia Traynin, Ana provides assistance and information through the Gwangju International Center. The Gwangju International Center is a vital part of the Gwangju community. Without it, things like the Gwangju Art Class and the Gwangju Performance Project would struggle to exist. Considering how dependent the Gwangju community can be on the Gwangju International Center, Ana has done a lot of great work by promoting the GIC while going above and beyond to take part in other community activities. She’s a pretty fantastic human being.

Name: Monique Dean Onyema, Monique has been an amazing co-president of the GPP, overseeing the theater company during some of its most challenging and well regarded community productions to date. Under Monique the GPP has furthered its transition from an amateur expat theater company to a prestigious non-profit arts organization. The shows have become more professional, budgets have become bigger, and the community has become more inclusive.

2016 Community Builders Award Finalists

2016 Community Builders Award Finalists