Arts Cafe Mystic goes ‘big-time’ for last show of season

Cover image of  "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI" by Betty Medsger
Cover image of "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI" by Betty Medsger

As the 20th season of the Arts Cafe Mystic draws to a close, let it be said that Christie Williams, the organization's artistic director, is not afraid to throw a conceptual curve in terms of headliners.

The series, of course, is known primarily for an ongoing and estimable lineup of world-class poets. Too, the occasional novelist has dropped by - as when Wally Lamb read in 2012 - but Williams scored an amazing coup for Friday's springtime finale. Renowned investigative journalist Betty Medsger will appear, and it could not be more timely.

Medsger's new book, "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI," about leftist radicals who, in 1971, broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office during in hopes of derailing the Vietnam War and uncovered far more than they'd bargained for - is receiving massive and adulatory press.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post are just a few major publications that have covered "The Burglary," both through reviews and interviews with the author.

"Yes, Betty Medsger is unusual for us," Williams says. "We've never featured a distinguished journalist before, and never anything like her big-time book - which is both journalism and history. What makes this an appropriate challenge for our audience is the very high quality of her writing and the urgent importance of her book's subject. It's a story and a moment in history that points straight to the current controversy over Edward Snowden and the NSA."

Williams' allusion to Snowden refers to the fact that, amongst the papers and information stolen in the titular burglary, was data about "Cointelpro" - a massive program of illegal dirty tricks to help the bureau "expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize" organizations that director J. Edgar Hoover deigned subversive.

Also appearing tonight is the fine folk-pop duo The Sea The Sea. There's always a musical component to the Arts Cafe Mystic programs, and Williams likes the dynamic and possibilities.

"We rarely seek out music to complement the spoken-word artists we present, "Williams says. "In fact, we like the music to be a dramatic shift - even an antithesis - in tone and tempo. I'm betting The Sea The Sea, with close harmonies and accomplished songwriting, will delight our audience."

That the Arts Cafe Mystic concludes its 20th anniversary with this unique program makes Williams proud to reflect back on an entire year's worth of guests.

"This season has been special," Williams says, "and what could be more special that to present shows featuring Coleman Barks and Edward Hirsch, two of the greatest American poets?"

He lists the artists who appeared over the course of the year and describes moments such as a spontaneous collaboration between Barks and cellist David Darling.

He says, "These things happen at the Arts Cafe because the artists are willing to take risks - especially in an intimate setting for a generous audience."

There's no rest for Williams, of course, and he wouldn't have it any other way. On May 31 at New London's Garde Arts Center, the Arts Cafe presents its 3rd annual Gala for the Muse, a benefit to help facilitate the opening, next fall, of Season 21. The Mystic Horns will provide music, and the $50 cover includes open bar and hors d'oeuvres and desserts provided by the likes of Bravo Bravo, the Oyster House, Go Fish and the Daniel Packer Inn.

"It's a night of partying and dancing. No poetry, no seriousness," Williams says. "That's something completely different!"



Who: Investigative journalist Betty Medsger with folk-pop band The Sea The Sea

What: The Arts Cafe Mystic

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where The Mystic Arts Center, 9 Water St., Mystic

How much: $10, students under 21 free

For more information: (860) 912-2444

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