Anything goes with 'Rob's Discount Variety Show' in Fairfield
The FTC has given him the green light for "Rob's Discount Variety Show," which makes its debut this weekend and is scheduled to take place the third Sunday of every other month.
"We're going to have to build this and we know that," said Carlson, who noted he'll be initially competing with NFL games.
Carlson and the Benefit Street Band -- multi-instrumentalist Vin Pasternak and keyboard whiz Paul Payton -- will present a variety show with friends, including fire eater, juggler and contortionist Jared Rydelek, who he can fit his body through a tennis racquet, and Carla Ulbrich, a comedic singer-songwriter who bills herself as a "professional smart aleck."
"For some time we've been kicking around the idea of doing a variety show in the spirit of the Smothers Brothers or the old Carol Burnett show," said FTC Director Miles Marek. "We saw Rob and the Benefit Street Band last spring and felt that here was the sort of smart, versatile and grown-up entertainer we could build a show around."
Carlson himself has been in the entertainment business for more than 35 years.
A singer, songwriter, producer, comedian, lyricist and guitarist, he and a partner were signed to Polydor Records in the early 1970s and were managed by Tommy Mottola, the record company bigwig who would eventually marry Mariah Carey.
Carlson and Jon Gailmor's album Peaceable Kingdom -- Carlson wrote nine of the 10 songs -- was released internationally in 1974 and spawned the FM hit "Riding in Nantucket."
The duo would split up, but Carlson would stay in the business, including writing and singing "jingles" and "industrials" for such clients as the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, United Technologies, Mack Truck, Prudential, Sears and dozens of others. He also became a writer and producer for several radio stations in Connecticut, primarily WRKI in Danbury. Around the same time, he began contributing to the American Comedy Network, the premier syndicator of radio comedy.
In 1997, at the request of American Comedy Network, he began writing "Ramblin' Bob," a satirical song created each week in the style of Bob Dylan. He would do this for five years, writing 240 songs about the news of the week.
Carlson also was part of a trio called Modern Man, which went on to win Backstage magazine's "Bistro Award" in 2002 for Best Musical Comedy and the 2008 New York Nightlife Award for best comedy group in New York. Carlson also had a 10-year stint as a solo act at Westport's Grassroots Cafe.
But now his focus is Rob's Discount Variety Show. Carlson and the Benefit Street Band will perform new songs as well as some of the best stuff from Carlson's catalogue from his group work with Modern Man and his solo career, including "Abdul the Reluctant Martyr" -- a cartoon about a young man who is not too keen on a suicide mission -- and "Folk Music in the Nude." The latter song was inspired by gigs Carlson played at the Avalon Festival, a nude folk festival in West Virginia.
"The nudists got together ahead of time and asked me to keep my clothes on," joked Carlson, who added the lyrics he came up with went perfect with a Calypso-type tune he was crafting. One line goes: "There ain't nothing better than a weekend together singing folk music in the nude." Carlson played the festival twice, a few years apart. "It takes about 10 minutes to get used to talking to naked people," he said.
Some songs written by Carlson have more local inspiration, such as "A Dog on a Day," which is about walking a dog on the beach in Fairfield.
While Rob's Discount Variety Show will entertain the audience with many comedic songs, Carlson said there also will be a few original tunes that don't target the funny bone.
While comedy will make up the bulk of each show, no two shows will be alike. For instance, the February show will feature a group called the Cane Gang Project, of which Pasternak is a member. The members play antique instrument canes, including violin, various flutes and dulcimer ones.
Carlson, who is planning to have his variety show filmed, would love if it eventually could be picked up by a cable network.
"I'm looking at cable TV and see there's three shows about making cakes," he said. "If there's three shows about making cakes, then there's room for Rob's Discount Variety."
Tickets for Rob's Discount Variety Show are $17 and are available at http://fairfieldtheatre.org or at the FTC StageOne box office at 70 Sanford St.