Tuesday, March 19, 2019

More Sisters, At City Winery Boston

We were recovering from a *long* weekend of music down in Port Chester, but we had another concert to go to!  Luther Dickinson and Sisters Of the Strawberry Moon, fresh from opening for (and accompanying) Phil Lesh in Port Chester were going to be playing at City Winery Boston that Monday night (3/18) and we had tickets.

Went home after work, had dinner there, and then Sarah and I slipped into the city and parked in her garage.  The Celtics had just started and there were some frantic last-minute parkers as we walked down to the North End.

We had seats up in the front tables, over on the right side.  We tried to order beer but they were out of their only good one, so I had a cheap Naragansett.  They get very bad grades at City winery for food and drink; maybe the expensive wine is ok but who knows?

Soon the band came out and we were delighted to see that Grahame Lesh was still with them, on bass.  Drew Lindsay had a grand piano (probably the same one we saw Holly Bowling play last time we were there) and he was very present in the sound, which hadn’t been the case when we saw them Saturday.

They played pretty much the same setlist as they had on Saturday, highlighted by a great version of Luther’s Prayer For Peace.  While Amy was tuning up her mandolin for one of her leads I said (we were so close, shouting was not necessary), “Brokedown Palace!”  She thought I may have been kidding and said, “We played that the other day!”  I said, “I know, I was there.”  Damn Deadheads.  Anyway, I didn’t really expect them to play it and they didn’t.  Grahame had a mike for harmonies but didn’t do a vocal lead.

They closed with Alright Alright with Allison jumping around like Kokopelli with a clarinet … she and JT were right in front of us.  And then for an encore they did their American Flowers, dedicated to Jimmy LaFave, and got us all to sing along.

Short night but lots of fun!  We were home and in bed by 10:30 or so.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

More Phil's Birthday; 2019 part 3

As mentioned in yesterday's post, it was another mellow morning in the La Quinta of blogging and internetting after a textbook hotel breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, sugary blueberry muffins, and strangely flavored coffee.  So we were psyched, and figured we just had to get out after we were done to get some exercise and/or see the sights.  The pre-show on Saturday was Jay Blakesburg's photo trip (which we'd seen) followed by more Deadgrass (which we'd seen), so our schedule was wide open that March 16th afternoon.

The decision, not a hard one, was to go back to the Butler Sanctuary, just a few miles North of there.  We'd been there back in the past, and it's really a wonderful place.  It was a beautiful day with large, high fluffy clouds blowing past quickly through a blue, blue sky.  It was warm when you were in the sun and out of the wind, but could get quite chilly if you lingered in a shady spot which the wind had insinuated, and you realized that there were still freezing clumps of snow around that would last until well into the eventual Spring.  We didn't go there though, we went out the Red Trail and back on the Blue (more on that later), through an impossibly hilly and turbulent landscape that must have been livestock farms in the past but now featured majestic ashes, tough oaks, ephemeral maples, and luminescent beeches.  The farmers had also left a network of narrow and high stone walls, apparently meant to delineate plots and/or fence in livestock rather than being middens of agricultural discards.

We saw absolutely no wildlife though, except for a few people with their dogs, and a few birds, very high up in the sky.  Perhaps there were a few chirps in the branches, though it might have been trees rubbing against each other in the gusty breeze.  But no chipmunks or squirrels, no insects, no toads or salamanders, just the healthy forest and rocks, and the lichens and fungi growing on them.  This is a beautiful place of hidden dells, hollows, and swamps.  Most of the trees you see are deciduous, but there are pockets of grand conifers in there too.  The most impressive to me were some old, huge ashes that were barely paying any attention to winter ... it was just a season.  One fallen tree had at least 150 rings.

The trails were alternately icy and muddy, but we were making good headway.  Back on the Blue Trail though we got a little too enthusiastic and overshot our return on the Red Trail, even when Dave warned us.  We ended up walking way downhill towards the Byram Lake Reservoir, and then had to struggle way back uphill to get back to the parking lot.  In all, a great hike.

OK, back to the hotel and time to get in a decent nap.  Then it was off to the concert after getting a cup of coffee or two.  Parked in the same lot behind Kiosko under a definitely bulging moon, and trundled on in for another Mexican dinner.

As discussed in earlier posts, we may be loco to go back to Kiosko all the time, or we may not be.  They serve great food and have a very large menu, so it's not like we're eating the same thing every time we go there.  But we take our trips to see P&F seriously, and we value our observations of the music and the experience of it.  To a certain degree, you want to set a routine, a baseline for observations, and eating dinner at Kiosko is part of it.  We know what to expect there and it's comforting, and this is part of the routine of going to the Cap and hearing a concert.  How we evaluate the concert should not be pre-judged or affected by the dinner we had just before it.

So there we three judges were, lining up to get into the Cap after another Kiosko dinner that couldn't be beat, feeling totally normal.  And what a normal!  Just in time I remembered that I didn't want to get busted by the Cap security people for having ibuprofen in my pocket, and ducked around the corner to swallow the last two tabs that were in there.  Jeez, drugs can be so complicated.

We barely turned an ear to what was going on in Garcia's, and just meandered on up the ornate staircase, and into the balcony area.  Our seats were on the left that night, row F, and as it turned out, Lorien was sitting in exactly that row, across the aisle.  We had pretty good neighbors that night, though the guy to my right had a big cane and was barely mobile (but knew how to wave his cane around, alarmingly).  Oh well.

There was an opening act, and they came on right after 8.  Phil had mixed it up a little for his third show of the stand and Luther Dickinson was replacing John Scofield, though the other players were the same (and in the same spots).  I'm not even going to start trying to think about whether that was an upgrade or a downgrade.  They're very different players, but are both world class musicians with distinct styles.  Dickinson also sings, very well, and so might edge a few points out ahead for that, but Scofield has a better beard.

Anyway, Luther's latest band is Sisters Of the Strawberry Moon, with Amy Helm and Birds of Chicago (several other players also appeared on their recent album, that had been in the can for three years).  Who knows if this is a one-tour thing or a lasting partnership, but let me just say that when we read they were going to appear with Phil, that was the end of any thought of us not attending that weekend's celebration.  I mean, Amy Helm and Allison Russell with Luther Dickinson playing some funky guitar?  Sign me up!

And there they were, with the other half of Birds, JT Nero, on guitar, and with a proto-Bird, Drew Lindsay (JT's brother), on piano.  And they were excellent.  The highlight of their set may have been Luther's Song For Peace or JT and Allison's Alright Alright, including of course some wonderful clarinet.  Here's what their setlist said, though I don't think they did all these songs:

Real Midnight
Mojo
Breathing
You're Not Alone
Try
How Glad I Am
Prayer for Peace
Gloryland
Alright, Alright

I think a lot of Capitol denizens weren't ready for this.  One guy in the bathroom groused, "What's up with the opening act to a Phil show?"  But his outrage was a minority view and people everywhere were gushing about them, how could you not gush about Allison?

OK, their gear was cleared away pretty quickly.  Grahame had sat in with them on bass, played through his father's rig (I can imagine the conversation between them and the threats of withheld allowance).  He was excellent, and this brought the delightful sight of Levon's daughter, pounding away on the drums and singing right next to Phil's offspring on bass, the two of them holding down the beat and grinning at each other.  Luther's a second-generation musician himself.

But now Grahame was back on guitar and they lit into a wonderful first set.  Perhaps I'll eventually feel this was a better show than Thursday's ... which is very high praise.  It was hard to evaluate at that level at the time, but in any case, it was a sterling finale to the stand.  Phil had led the band through a couple of adventurous sets on Thursday, which worked like a charm.  And then he'd put the same band through a more straight-up show on Friday.  On Saturday it was time for him to step back a bit and let the opening act, Luther, Benmont, and Jackie shine, before taking it over at the end.  And that's not to mention his delightful female singers!

Anyway, here's the first set (see Dave's blog for more details on the songs):

Deal
Operator
High Time
I'm a King Bee
Tennessee Jed
Brokedown Palace
Sugaree

Deal is thrown into GD sets all the time, but every once in a while stands out, and this was one of those times; it was a perfect warm-up for this particular assortment of guitar sounds.  And Operator is becoming a sine qua non in a Phil set, especially with the sly kind of vocal Luther can give it.

After these two openers they played one of the most amazing High Times I’ve ever seen/heard.  Jackie again brought his own style to it but toned it down … he was singing about being low and wanting to be high.  And Luther’s atmospheric guitar brought some amazing sounds and textures, naturally abetted by Phil.  This was just jaw-droppingly good and though some crowds would have been made restless by the slow pace, this crowd was riveted.

Luther then did his thing on I’m a King Bee, and Jackie did his on Tennessee Jed, with the dual Lesh backup shining again and the jam at the end another nifty guitar showcase.

Then the level of excellence took another quantum leap.  We’d been wondering WTF Amy was … we thought she was going to be part of the Saturday ensemble and couldn’t believe she wasn’t out there for Tennessee Jed (which her Dad had recorded, with her backup).  But there was a vacant vocal mike and she sidled up to that, leading a star-struck Allison Russell by the hand, who lined up at Jackie’s mike.  Grahame stepped up to his mike also, and started off the song: an amazing rendition of Brokedown Palace with him taking the lead and the women taking us into the stratosphere.  You’ve gotta see this.

Wow!  Our minds were totally blown by that and I barely even noticed another great Sugaree, which closed the set.

Time for the last setbreak of our wonderful trip to the Phil/Port Chester Island.  It was definitely warm in there at that point, though not stifling like Friday night.  I took one last trip to the upstairs bar for another (local) Captain Lawrence Hop Commander and one last excursion to the beyond-funky upstairs bathroom.  No trip to the smoking areas was necessary for me that weekend, navigating the crowds upstairs were enough.  But luckily Dave had his vape pen, which I inspected closely a time or two.

We discussed the first set a bit.  At that point we realized we might eventually consider this to be as good as Thursday’s concert had been, which was hard to imagine, but could be.  Alternately they could still fall flat on their faces in the second set!  Actually, I don’t think Phil would have let them do this.  And then they came out and performed …

Viola Lee Blues
Jack Straw
Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)
Truckin’
China Doll
Terrapin Station
Morning Dew

Oh geez, how am I going to describe this set that again, meant so much to me?  How about a few bullet points:
  • The over/under on whether a P&F band (or any current GD band) will play Viola Lee is pretty low.  You won't get rich betting on that.  But this song never fails to deliver and somehow is both a cathartic sing-along and a vehicle for the deepest jamming.  They did some pretty deep jamming here, but they had a long set in front of them and so didn't dwell.
  • Beautiful transition from the funky end of Viola Lee into what's become the customary, long, mellow intro into Jack Straw.  Grahame/Shannon started the vocal interplay and Jackie took the Bobby part.
  • As you might imagine, Dave and I had been goading each other to come up with setlists for the stand, and mine always started and ended with Caution, especially knowing that Luther would be there for one of the nights.  Sure enough, deep into the second set and here it was!  Luther has his own way of mumbling the blues, and if we didn't know the story we might have been puzzled about why he ended up with a mojo hand, but that's Luther for you (in fact, he has a current song called Mojo).
  • It had occurred to me Saturday morning that they were going to play Truckin' on Saturday night and so they did.  Phil wrote it you know (well, along with the rest of the band).  This was a quick and breezy take, a respite from the seriousness of the rest of the set.
  • And then the level got upped even more!!  Benmont so far hadn't uttered a syllable and then suddenly he was playing a beautiful introduction to China Doll and then singing it to rival Oteil.  His piano part on this superseded genre and the song was arranged as a duet between that and a strident Phil Lesh bass part that played around it.  And on top of it was lovely singing with a world-weary voice.  The other guys contributed too, but at a lower volume level and the ensemble sound filled the hall.  This was one of the most perfect songs of the night.
  • Then a beautiful Terrapin featuring struck in steel guitar parts from Jackie and Luther, and the top-level vocals we'd been hearing all weekend.  Grahame started singing about that bitch throwing her fan into the fire and expecting the military to get it back for her.  But when it came to the meat of the song, the Lesh Brothers took over.  From "Since the end is never told" to the very end, the pair sang in unison with Benmont wandering all around them (and Jackie contributing the high part when he could).  Wow!
  • And I hate to repeat myself, but then they upped the musical level even fucking more!  Dew is always a possibility when it comes to P&F, and this time Amy and Allison came back out for it.  It occurred to me when hearing Larry and Teresa sing this with Phil several years ago that it could be done as a call and response (as they did Peggy-O that day), and that's what Grahame and the women did.  Amy and Allison sang in incredible harmony the questioning part about what was going on, asking why they couldn't walk out in the morning dew.  And Grahame answered them with the detachment and panache that you need in a nuclear disaster, I guess.
Well, perhaps I'm not taking this as seriously as I should.  That was an incredibly performed, emotion-laden, and meaningful second set.  And as before, my eyes and my ears kept on turning back to Phil, even when Allison Russell was leaving her heart on the stage.  To see him singing, "The spiral light of Venus rising first and shining best," diving into the netherworld (and beyond) with Viola Lee, marvelling about what a long strange trip this had been, dropping bombs on Dew, and so forth, was what we were there for and might become only memory at any point.  We were living it at that moment though.

OK, the experience was almost over and I wasn't about to sit down.  I stood and waited for Phil to come back out, and he gave the most stumbling, repetitive, easily distracted old-man, heartfelt donor rap ever.  He was overcome by the emotion of the moment also and was perhaps a little embarrassed by this, but then it was time for the encore and he stuck his ear-plugs back in with glee.  Good old Phil.

Amy and Allison came back out and they cruised through a classic Midnight Hour.  One thing I'd noted was that they stuck to the Grateful Dead songbook all weekend.  The only songs before this night that were not GD-penned were Public Domain songs (or Minglewood), and then this night they went a little farther afield with King Bee, Morning Dew, and Midnight Hour, but these are still solidly in the GD canon.  No Dylan, Furthur songs, or semi-country for that stand.

And speaking of the GD canon, everyone stayed on-stage at the end of that song and scratched their asses, and then Luther started up the real closer: Turn On Your Love Light.  Another short, perfect version of a classic Dead song, like the guys (and ladies) had been doing all weekend.

They got to the end, put down their instruments, gathered at center stage, and bowed to us.  They started drifting off and though Phil was immediately involved as ever with the careful dismantling of his rig, suddenly he disappeared!  I looked around and he had just then remembered his responsibilities as band-leader apparently.  He rushed after Amy and the star-struck Allison, who were gabbing at the back of the stage.  Phil thanked them respectfully and then hugged them.  Perhaps all of us old guys will have opportunities to be as gracious.

What else is there to say?  The Capitol guys screwed up for once and had us all line up to go down the wrong staircase because of fire laws or something.  But soon we were back out on Westchester Avenue under a now almost-oval moon, and then back in the lot behind Kiosko, and then driving away.  Lorien declined a ride back to her hotel that night, and we had a quick trip North, up the few miles to Armonk.

Was this my favorite time at the Cap?  Maybe.  We'll see what happens next, because that's what music is all about.

Here's a link to Sarah's pictures, including lots of shots of the ethereal trio of Grahame, Amy, and Allison.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

More Phil's Birthday; 2019 part 2

Another beautiful Armonk day right now (no kidding, blue sky and big fluffy clouds, around 50, almost Spring!) after a Phil & Friends concert the night before (3/15, his 79th birthday).  Definitely not as good as Thursday night, but still an experience not to be missed.

It was forecast to be a rainy, gloomy day yesterday but turned out to be almost partly sunny.  After a bit of a late sleep and just catching breakfast, we sat in the room and blogged and internetted, through a lunch break with the sandwiches and beer in the frig.  Then we packed up for the movies!  Seeing as it was supposed to be a bad day for being outside, we figured we'd take the opportunity to stay inside and see the newly released Captain Marvel movie, at the big theater in downtown Port Chester.

Left around 1:45 for a 2:15 showing, and parked in the same lot behind Kiosko after a quick trip down Westchester Avenue.  Longer walk than expected (especially since we passed it by at first), and so we were a bit late, but because of that missed just a possible few of the interminable trailers.  We all enjoyed the movie  ... you should see it.  Good plot and some very good set-pieces and lines ("I'll give you $50 if you turn yourself into a praying mantis.")

Then went looking for a cup of coffee as we were all tired, me especially.  I could have used a nap.  But there were no dedicated coffee shops in the area as far as we could see (chain or otherwise), and so after a brief fly-by of Shakedown Corner we headed up to Kiosko and started with a cup of coffee there.  David's friend Lorien showed up soon after that and we all had another Kiosko dinner that couldn't be beat and talked about Dead and stuff.

Left around 6:40 and went right down to and in the Capitol.  I was anxious to see the pre-show band in Garcia's, Deadgrass.  I have to say that I was a little unimpressed by them, due to several factors such as that they were playing a horrible version of Mississippi Half-Step when we got there (they got better) and the crowd was already oppressive.  It was clear from the get-go that this was not a mellow Thursday crowd, this was a Friday crowd out to let loose at the end of the week and the volume and jostling level were already approaching my limit.

Deadgrass was a fun band, but very spotty.  Some great banjo runs and some nice lead guitar work, but I'm definitely not rushing back to see them tonight.  They were making some headway when they finally played a real bluegrass song (Midnight Moonlight) after dabbling with Half-Step, Deal, etc.  But then they couldn't really get over the hump.  I'm a tough crowd I guess.

We got out of there around 7:30 and settled into our seats pretty far over to the right of the balcony, just one row farther back than Thursday night but seemingly much farther away.

I need to keep this short as if I went into as much detail as yesterday, I probably wouldn't get finished before we have to go back today.  And the show really didn't equal the level set Thursday night.  They played a bunch of meh songs throughout the night, even though the second set was by and large fantastic.  But the first set was a grab-bag of songs without much cohesion and the large-crowd ambiance didn't help much.  The sound also wasn't quite as crisp as it had been Thursday, probably because we weren't in the perfect spot in the theater that we were at before.

Whatever, it was still a vastly entertaining first set (see Dave's blog for more details on the songs):

Liberty
Casey Jones
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Loser
New Minglewood Blues
West L.A. Fadeaway
Bertha

Liberty and Casey Jones (especially) were played with no mistakes, though little dynamism.  They sure got the crowd settled in though, which may have been their point.  Jackie Greene was back to his exceptional lead blues vocals on Loser and Minglewood.  They set a pattern here that really worked well in the second set, where he would sing and the Lesh Brothers (as I called them, Grahame's and Phil's voices worked together so well it was almost like a bluegrass "brothers band") backed him up, sometimes taking over the song like the pair of Grahame and Jackie had done on Thursday from Phil.

Then back to meh with West L.A.  I was psyched when they lit into Bertha, since Grahame can kill this song, but that was a little pedestrian itself.  Maybe I was just crabby and should have been put down for a nap earlier, but I know Dave agrees that it was not an "on" first set in any way, and I think most Deadheads would too.

Set break was another fun interlude.  It was pouring outside and I hung out for a while near the upper fire escape door, where there was at least a little ventilation.  I think had gotten up near 60 that afternoon, and the usher told me that when they'd arrived that day the heat was on and they were still trying to cool the place down when the show was ready to start.  It has *hot* in there with a packed, rowdy crowd.  Lorien's seat was in the back row and right under a heating vent that was stuck on but fixed right before the concert started.  The heat definitely added to the overall thick atmosphere we'd been experiencing.

But then the guys came out and just pushed that aside with an excellent second set (though still in second place to Thursday's).  First of all was Phil being serenaded with Happy Birthday while Pete Shapiro and Jill Lesh presented him with a cake, which looked just like it came out of the poster (which came first, the cake or the picture of a cake?)  Then:

Playing In the Band
Shakedown Street
Playing In the Band
Help On the Way
Slipknot!
Mountains Of the Moon
Unbroken Chain
He's Gone
The Other One
New Speedway Boogie

Right off the bat, the playing from everybody on stage was upped a notch.  And I don't know what it was (maybe it was the vape pen), but suddenly the sound was kind of "fixed" and I was back to hearing all the instruments well.  Playing and Shakedown were quite the treat as the opening songs of the set, and they were done tightly and excellently.  Scofield was back to saying, "You want me to take the lead?  Ok, hold on to your hats!"  Grahame also ripped off some leads himself, continuing his excellent recent guitar playing.

But the highlights were probably Benmont Tench, who I didn't mention as much as I should have for the Thursday concert, but seemed to have gotten entirely comfortable playing Phil's music in his band, and was startlingly good on organ and also grand piano (though this was never miked right).  AND again, the vocals.  Jackie was set free to release his inner Jackie Greene on Shakedown (etc.) by the rock-solid backup of the Lesh Brothers.  And the two rocked our world on Unbroken, singing many of the verses in unison, like they'd just written it.

And then it went on and on!  Jackie did a great He's Gone with Grahame and Phil on backup, but then they were almost back to meh with TOO (imagine a meh TOO, Phil stumbled on the first verse!).  Back up to the heights with a rocking, bluesy arrangement of Speedway (with teases of Smokestack Lightnin', Spoonful, One Kind Favor, and another one we didn't quite catch), but then it was time to bring a long and solid second set to an end.

We were pretty exhausted by then.  David had had to sit for some of Mountains (not a great version) and Sarah was nodding.  But we finished the last of the water we'd brought in and were back up for the long Donor Rap and then another great encore.

The crowd couldn't contain themselves and had been attempting an NFA chant during the break.  But then the band lit into the real thing and it was excellent.  Great arrangement of Not Fade Away, and Jackie stretched it out and out, egging on the crowd to sing and clap.

And then they stayed on stage, scratching their asses and wondering why they were still there.  Oh well, might as well finish up with Ripple!  Again, this was a rocking, bluesy arrangement as opposed to the folkie thing it usually is, and Phil actually turned in an excellent lead vocal on it.  And as cynical as I may be, the very sight of Phil F. Lesh closing a concert by singing the stuffing out of a song like Ripple....  Well, if it didn't bring a tear to my eye that was because of hydration issues, not lack of emotion.

Let it be known, there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

Big group hug after that!  They had done some great things in the last couple of nights and it was time to go home.  Well maybe not, Grahame and Jackie hung out at the back of the stage until we were out of there, jabbering away like teenagers.

We walked back up Westchester Avenue to the lot behind Kiosko under a now just-past-halfway-filled moon.  Luckily the rain had stopped by then, though the streets were still glistening under the lights.  Gave Lorien a ride home to her hotel and then hopped back onto 287 for the quick ride to 684 and back to Armonk.

Oh boy, almost time for another concert!

Here's a link to Sarah's pictures, including a ghostly Stealie that appeared on our bathroom mirror.

Friday, March 15, 2019

More Phil's Birthday; 2019 part 1

It seems to happen this way all the time: we had a pretty good cadence going, popping down to Port Chester to see Phil on his birthday and/or Halloween stands at the Capitol Theater.  And then we kind of let one slide, then another, and before we knew it we hadn't been down there in a long time!  The fact of the matter is that we've seen some great Phil & Friends ensembles and the last couple hadn't been perfect, so that contributed to us opting to skip.  But we were hoping for another great lineup this year and they sure announced one.  So we got tickets as soon as they went on sale for all three nights of the stand (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, March 14-16) and booked rooms at our regular "luxury" hotel in Armonk.

I've been experiencing a lot of tension lately between work taking a lot of mindspace and my Dad's health and needed support taking concentration.  So I was very happy to load up the car with sandwiches, beer, clothes, books, whatever it takes, and to hit that dusty, care-free Armonk trail on an in-and-out but seasonably warm Thursday, the start of the last week of Winter.  It was Pi Day!

We picked up Dave in Quincy and then backed up to the beginning of the Pike in downtown Boston, then quickly West and Southwest on the highway.  We stopped to eat a convenient sandwich at a slovenly picnic area near the Connecticut line, and then motored full speed down to Armonk, arriving at the shop-worn La Quinta right around 3:00.  As referred to earlier, the sun was in and out, glaringly lighting the bare trees and melting banks of dirty snow, the muddy forest floor showing through when it surrounded the highway, but still without a hint of Spring life.  That'll be changing soon.

Moved our stuff into our second floor room and stowed it like the experienced travelers we are.  There was time to hang out for a mellow hour or so, and then we hit the road again for Port Chester, parking in the municipal lot behind Kiosko.  Went right in there for an excellent, leisurely, early dinner, and then headed down the hill to the Cap.

There were two attractions leading to the line we joined outside of the theater at 6:20 or so (the small Shakedown Corner was dismissed with a glance).  The doors were opening at 6:30 and most of the people in line had GA-floor tickets and were bound to grab spaces in the Phil Zone or as close to it as they could get.  But what we and some others were there for was that there was going to be a pre-show gig in Garcia's, the Capitol's bar, by Jesse Bardwell and the Free Union, with Grahame Lesh and Elliott Peck (with Nathan Graham on drums and Joe Cirotti on lead electric guitar)!

Grabbed a spot by the soundboard, grabbed a couple of beers and ciders, and enjoyed an excellent set while the crowd swelled alarmingly.  Jesse is an Americana singer-songwriter type who meshes very well with the country vibe Elliott (on acoustic) and Grahame (on electric bass) can bring.  Elliott also sang a couple of her songs to my delight.  And they stopped the show with Ring Of Fire, a couple of tunes after Elliott's Highway Song:

So meet me on a highway 
somewhere between Roanoke and Baltimore 
We can sing some tunes like Johnny and June 
and make the most of this time together 
Meet me on a highway 
where the river meets the Mason Dixon Line 
Climb on your bus write a song that we can sing 
to them sweethearts together 

We pushed our way out of there as they started their last song and made our way into the ornate Cap and up the stairs.  Dave had earlier bought the poster for the night, which is psychedelic.  The Thursday show apparently wasn't sold out, though it was pretty full in the balcony.  We were about dead center, in the fourth row, not bad at all!  They weren't painting the alcoves with film loops, as they have in other years, but they had huge projections of the poster for the whole stand (as opposed to the one for the night ... merchandising you know), which is a delightful motif of a terrapin which is kind of a tent and kind of a world unto itself, and kind of a parade balloon, being shepherded along by six dancing bears.  Pretty good!  And I should mention that throughout the show they splashed some wonderful, colorful patterns on the lovely Cap interior dome.  They can do a light show really well in that room.

I haven't mentioned the ensemble that had piqued our interest.  On Thursday they had Phil on electric bass, John Scofield to his right (as we faced the stage) on electric guitar, Jackie Greene and then Grahame Lesh on guitars in the center of the stage, John Molo on drums behind them, and then Benmont Tench on the full keyboard/organ/Leslie setup to the far left.  And they were excellent.

Really, I gush and gush, but this was a fantastic concert.  Here I am the next morning on a gloomy day in Armonk after another styrofoam hotel breakfast, looking out on bleak trees and an endless parking lot, and just the smallest recollection of what we experienced last night thrills me.

We were pretty thrilled in real time too.  As with other amazing concerts I've seen, I was trying to hold on to and appreciate the moment all through it, especially at certain junctures (like when Phil sang the last set of codas to Box Of Rain and I was trying as hard as I could to experience and preserve the moment, knowing I might never see him do this again).  But at the same time I was aware of the nature of music and of time, and that it's the liquid, moving aspect of both that makes them delightful, makes them exist.  I mean, the Star may be Dark, but it's moving at a speed we can't really fathom and that's what makes it so fascinating.

Well anyway, the guys came out a little late because of a late-arriving crowd (many people coming right from work, probably).  And they played an amazing first set (see Dave's blog for more details on the songs):

Mason's Children
Mr. Charlie
Bird Song
Scarlet Begonias
Eyes of the World
So Many Roads
U.S. Blues

Right from the start they were on!  So many things about the concert were excellent, and top of the list was the incredible sound in the Cap.  It might have been partly because we were in a perfect spot in the middle of the space, but it was one of those nights when I could hear and see every note from every player on stage.  They were all playing excellently, but possibly number two on my list of great things about the concert was Phil's playing, which was as good as it gets.  I'd call him riveting, but he's more than that.  He can make you float like a great bass player, but still comes up with that amazing, shocking Phil power and dynamism.  Several times he was leading me along by the hand and then surprised me with volume, reverb, scariness, emotion, speed, and/or virtuosity.  Several times, one in particular, he left me breathless and laughing.

Another aspect of the show worth mentioning was the vocals.  Jackie, Grahame, and Phil all split the leads pretty equally, and all were in fine voice.  As I've said before, I'm an adherent of the widely held notion that Grateful Dead music, as old as it is, has an incredible amount of depth that people haven't explored to its limits.  An example is JRAD, who the night before had opened their second set with Man Smart Woman Smarter into The Eleven(!!!).  But P&F out-JRADed JRAD last night, like a gauntlet had been laid down.  The first sign of this was Jackie's singing on Mr. Charlie, which was equal parts homage to Pigpen, true blues, and true Jackie Greene, who has his own unique inflection.

And Jackie's vocal lead on So Many Roads was another example, making us teary-eyed with the remembrance of Jerry later in life singing it, but at the same time bringing his own interpretation to the song.  And I should mention Grahame's playing, on his huge country Gibson.  He naturally falls into the Bob Weir role in any band he plays in, leading the rhythm of the song and deferring endlessly to the other players while maintaining a standard of excellence and pace.  Several times after Scofield had taken a lead and Greene had taken a lead, and Scofield had taken another and then looked across the stage like, "Who's next?"  Then Jackie and Benmont would look at Grahame like, "Go for it big guy!"  And Grahame would take a measure or two and send it right back to them.  This was charming but perhaps Grahame should have taken the bull by the horns more than he did.  Oh well, he's young!

And I haven't even mentioned Eyes Of the World!  I mean, talk about doing something new with an old song that we've heard (and adored) a million times.  They had just played an excellent, tidy Scarlet Begonias when they jammed and emerged into Eyes, and just made the theater ring with a tight, juicy, perfectly sized Eyes.  Grahame took the lead (he pronounced "nuthatch" with precision), and then the boys thundered through the changes.  He stepped up again for the next few verses when they were just about to go off the edge into free-form jazz and brought us back to the song's country sensibility.

Jeez, I was wondering how they were going to end that set.  Our minds were blown but then they let us regain our composure by closing with another neat and tidy sing-along, U.S. Blues.  Ack!  I screwed out right away at the end of the set and was getting another beer and cider while people were still wondering how to wipe the smile off their faces and get to the bathroom or something.  Then I got back to our seats and tried to deal with my own smile.  That set alone had been more than worth the long drive, the expenses of the weekend, and the hassles of the crowd.  And there was lots more to come.

Pretty long set break, but I timed it well, finished the beer and some conversations with the people around me (my neighbor had seen Weir and Wolf Bros the night before and wasn't ready to hear any criticism of them), and then hit the funky upstairs bathroom in plenty of time to be back in the seats and a little bored by the time they came out for the second set.

It has been a pretty long (though only 7-song) first set followed by a pretty long set break, and people were already beginning to wonder what kind of shape they'd be in for work tomorrow.  We were on vacation so had no sympathy ... play all night!  And then they did.  They opened with:

Dark Star
Box of Rain
Wharf Rat
Box of Rain
Franklin's Tower
Uncle John's Band
St. Stephen
Let It Grow
The Wheel
I Know You Rider

Dave and I debated this a bit.  I feel that properly the first sequence was Dark Star jam > Dark Star > jam > Box Of Rain > Wharf Rat > Box Of Rain.  But Dave hates calling things "jams" when they could be seen as parts of a specific song.  I feel the opening jam (which Dave called very quickly as Dark Star) should definitely be rolled into the song on the eternal tape label.  But after Dark Star they went into a jam that was so unique it even seemed to surprise them, like "What are we playing now??"  Should this be its own track?  Well, let's let time tell.  This was such a wonderful jam I can see them trying to re-capture it.

And at the same time I have no idea what to say about the Box Of Rain/Wharf Rat medley, and I also could rhapsodize about it until Armonk is no more.  I mean, Phil's bass holding up his song about his father's passing, his stepping up to the mike and beautiful singing of those lines that touched on sorrow and family bonds and the idea of carrying on, and his band's incredible pace and melody.  And then Jackie stepping up to the mike in the middle of it himself and all of a sudden we realized that they'd arrived at Wharf Rat and Jackie was singing it with a fresh quality in a fresh octave.  This is another song that I've heard a million times and wondered how much was left in it, and then a Jackie Greene sings it with a Phil Lesh backing him up and you think, "OMG, I've never heard this song before!"  And then they jammed and jammed and I wondered what was going to happen next and then boom, we were back in Box Of Rain and approaching that amazing ending.

And then they kept on going!  Another case of out-JRADing JRAD: they suddenly were playing the last few measures of Slipknot! from a standing start, and then they jumped into Franklin's Tower with a full head of steam and with both feet (well, with all 12 ... at least).  And the following UJB was amazing too.  As mentioned, I found the vocals last night to be top-notch and one of the best things about this ensemble was how Grahame's and Jackie's voices supported each other when they did dual harmony.  They had gotten to the point where they could sing really, really loud and yet be totally in synch with each other.  And they shone on UJB like you wouldn't believe, Phil singing the supposed lead (e.g., starting with "It's the same story the crow told me") and then the two backup singers taking over the verse.

And then the set went on and on and on.  Seriously, this was a *long* second set.  I kept on thinking they were going to wind it up here, or here, or here.  And they kept on rolling out those songs and playing the shit out of them.  One definite criticism you could make was that they could have used a bit more practice on some of the songs they did later in the second set, like they were a little disjointed at times on St. Stephen (which featured a pretty fresh jam itself) and Let It Grow.  And The Wheel failed to take off ... maybe they were getting tired themselves, though they sure seemed to be enjoying things.  They wanted to play all night too!

But then they finished up with a song they all knew, I Know You Rider, and we were back to perfect.  Wow, what a show!!!  Really, as great as lots of P&F shows I've seen have been, that one might be at the top of the list ... at least for today.  My balcony neighbor (who's also going to Friday and Saturday) agreed.  "Phew!" he said, "They sure set the bar high with this one!"  We'll see what they do for their next trick, but there were things about this show that absolutely could not be equalled.

Time for the donor rap, which was a heartfelt as always.  Phil mentioned a recent, unfortunately passed donor, Chub, before going into his standard talk about Cody.  Got to side with Phil on this, even when he tricked us all into promising him our organs.  And we'd realized during the break that we were well past midnight and it was now his 79th birthday!  An off-key but sincere chorus of Happy Birthday broke out.  And then the band played another easy sing-along everyone knew to close the night, Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad to send us all on our way.  By then a lot of the people who had to work the next day had taken off to beat traffic, and we had plenty of room for dancing up in the balcony.

What fun!  Made our way out of there and back to the lot behind Kiosko, and then hit the road back to Armonk.  Short drive under the misty half-moon and we were back.  Drank lots of water in the car and had another sandwich when we got back to the room.  It had been 8 hours since dinner!  And again, there was going to be lots more to come.

Here's a link to Sarah's pictures.  Note the poster for the entire stand with terrified bears trying to run away before a gigantic terrapin crushes them.




Sunday, January 6, 2019

Popa Chubby in Na Tick

Great friend Dave Keyes is always doing something, and this time it was accompanying the Popa Chubby Band at The Center For the Arts in Natick.  Great friend Barb got tickets for everyone: Al, Fud, Pam, Walter, Leslie, and me and Sarah.  Great friend EJ called me the day before and he made plans to meet us all for dinner at Dah Mee in the center of town.  Dave showed up too, as well as some other FODs.

It was a rainy, unseasonably warm early January night, and we all had a great dinner and lots of talking.  EJ bought the drinks and distributed Christmas presents.  By the time we got over to the theater the opener was on, but we all huddled in the lobby with some drinks and talked and talked some more, so never heard him/her.

Barb had bought most of the second row and we all filed in just as the band was about to start.  Dave was wearing a vintage Fine Lines t-shirt from the old band, and of course had a handsome jacket on over that and his trademark leather Scally cap.  Popa Chubby was looking like ... well, Popa Chubby, and he did not hesitate for longer than it took to mis-pronounce "Na Tick" and to get everyone's nerves on edge before he was blasting the blues on his beat-up old Strat.


He had a bass player and drummer, and they were a tight unit.  He usually plays as a trio but this time he had the ineffable Dave Keyes on electric piano, and that piano was sounding great.  Dave could get an edgy organ sound out of it as well as a bright piano sound, and everything in between.  And Popa Chubby seemed to be feeling it that night and was burning up the fret-board with a strong left hand.  He was not only limber and imaginative, he was incredible at bending notes and emoting ... he made that guitar squeal.  We'd seen him once before but as Walter said, that night he was pissed off at the sound guy.  This night everything was just exactly perfect and he was on fire.

He did a great Hendrix-y cover of Hey Joe (as opposed to a bluegrass-y or folk-y cover) early in the one, long set, did some of his best songs like Angel On My Shoulder and Sweet Goddess Of Love and Beer, a supremely-paced, lyrical cover of Same Old Blues (by Nix/Russell/Dunn), did a huge medley of Hey Bo Diddly/Who Do You Love/Not Fade Away, and later a great Stones medley of NYC Blues 1977 Till/Sympathy For the Devil.  And he encored with a beautiful and long Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

In between Dave sang a couple of songs and had a great duel with Popa Chubby, with Dave singing a measure and then Popa trying to out-do him with a measure of guitar.  Neither of them really had the advantage, though Popa could have probably kept it up until Dave's voice wore out!

We hung out and talked some more after the show, until suddenly we realized we were the only audience members left and better get going before they kicked us out.  One last picture and then goodbye to everyone (EJ had had to take off earlier).  Out into the Na Tick night to our car and a pretty quick drive back home.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

TTB Again At the Orpheum

Tedeschi Trucks Band is too good, and we've seen them too many times.  Wouldn't we be tempting Fate to damn us if we saw them once more?  And worse than that, they were playing the Orpheum again and we hate the Orpheum!  When we saw they were playing another three-night stand there right at the beginning of December 2018 (third year in a row) we decided not to tempt the powers.  We'd miss it this time.  Yeah.

But then right at the end of November I realized that one of the current greatest bands in the world would soon be playing in our fucking back yard and we had to go see them ... wouldn't we also be damned if we missed them?  I looked online and there was a little pocket of seats in the balcony available for the Saturday night show (though the rest of the theater was sold out) and after hurried emails with the family I grabbed them.

December 1 was a Saturday and we met at a packed Kinsale in Government Center (football games and a birthday party and LOTS of 20-somethings) for a decent meal and then walked the few blocks over the Freedom Trail to Hamilton Place.  We've had an incredibly rainy and chilly Fall in Boston but we actually were not drenched and shivering that evening.  No chance of seeing stars though.  Fine and easy security check this time and when we pushed inside, we turned right up the stairs to the balcony and we were in a better world!

Now I'm not saying that all of a sudden I like the Orpheum, but the upstairs is a lot better than the downstairs.  I don't know if I'd ever been in the balcony there and it was great!  Good bathroom access, good bar access, good sight lines (unless you were off to the side), and the sound was good too.  Still not the best theater, but the "old Boston" aspect of it was really pretty entertaining itself.  Their plasterwork and painting was from the same school as what you see in the (ex) Music Hall or the Schubert.  The artwork was graceful, beautiful and incomprehensible at times, but tired and the paint was peeling in a few spots, but isn't that just like life?

But anyway, we were about to see TTB!  The crowd was late as usual on a Saturday but the band came on anyway and lined up as they always do: Kofi Burbridge at his large keyboards/Leslie rig on the left, Tim LeFebvre a step behind him, the rock-solid firm of J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell center back (already exchanging snares even before the first song!), Derek and Susan in front with a wood pier between their speaker setups, and on the right the huge riser with Mark Rivers, Mike Mattison, and Alicia Chakour on top and Kebbi Williams, Ephraim Owens, and Elizabeth Lea in front.  Just seeing them line up in front of you is a thrill!

Another excellent, excellent concert by TTB.  We were immediately glad we came and I thought several times that I would have kicked myself hard to have missed this.  This was (as in Boston last year) their last show of the year and they let it all hang out.  Here's the first set:

Sitting in Limbo (Jimmy Cliff)
Don't Know What It Means
The Letter (The Box Tops)
Part of Me
It's So Heavy
Leaving Trunk (Sleepy John Estes)
Key to the Highway (Charles Segar)
Idle Wind

As I've said before when blogging, I don't want to go on about this, but it was a fantastic experience.  Four covers of some of the best songs ever (all new to me except for Highway) and an assortment of their best songs, including the infectious Don't Know What It Means.  Dave and I stood up at first but many people behind us yelled and the sight lines were fine if I sat down, so I did.  But I was boogieing in my seat so hard that I would have fallen out of the balcony if there weren't others packed around me (actually, the seat to my left was empty, luckily).  I wanted to dance!

An oddity was that Tim was substituted for for three songs (two, then Tim back, then one more) by a bass player with long hair, who was great himself.  What was up with that?

Derek was just spectacular and everyone on stage was at the top of their game.  Johnson and Greenwell were just amazing, Alicia melted her mike with some of her lines, and Kebbi did his dancing thing with the sax.  I won't go on, but this was nothing less than a continuous musical orgasm.

Ack!  The set had to end sometime and at least it ended with the stately Idle Wind.  And as opposed to if we'd been in the orchestra area, we had a mellow half-time: sitting and calming down for a bit, then getting in the leisurely line for the men's just off of the exit, and then in the beer line, where the vendor I'd talked to the first time wanted to talk to me again like I was an old customer (which I was).  Such a difference from downstairs.  If we ever go here again (like, next December!?!), you know where we'll be.

And then they came out for the second set and were even more perfect, if perhaps with a tad less energy:

I Walk On Gilded Splinters (Dr. John)
Little Martha (see below) / Midnight in Harlem
Laugh About It
I Want More
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever (Four Tops)
Get Out of My Life, Woman (Allen Toussaint)
Angel From Montgomery / Sugaree (don't need to credit these!)
The Storm
Whipping Post (or this)

OMG!!  We were just calming down from Gilded Splinters when Derek played Little Martha and then led us into Harlem.  And we were rocking to the oldies with Susan when she got serious and sang to us about being an old woman named after her mother, and then invoked Sugaree.  And then it built up and built up into The Storm and they finally busted out of it, and then Tim laid down the signature bass line and the theater almost exploded with the intensity, and the band went right into the reprise with everyone in the fucking audience right on the cue with Susan: "Sometimes I FEEL ... like I'm tied, to the WHIPPING POST!!!"

How could anything be better than that?  I have no idea.  We were out of breath and just looking around, clapping and shouting, while the band gave us little waves and walked off stage.  Luckily not too long before they came back for a double encore:

Going, Going, Gone (Bob Dylan)
More and More (Little Milton)

Probably the best thing about the show was the amazing, surprising, excellent covers they did, including the tightest, big band The Letter you can imagine, and a Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever that had everyone bawling with joy.  When they finally left the stage (after Susan's thanks to her home town) it took us more than a few moments to regain our equilibrium.

Parted from Dave in the beautiful upstairs lobby so he could rush off to the T and then made our way downstairs, skirting the exhausted mob struggling out of the orchestra area.  Back out on Hamilton and we made a beeline for the Common.  We wanted to see the Nova Scotia Christmas tree, and it was as lovely as ever.  We were there for a marriage proposal and acceptance, just to our left ... so sweet!  We circled the tree slowly and told a few people, "Yes, this is the Nova Scotia Christmas tree, look at the plaque to read abut the story."  We knew they'd never believe us.

Back up the Hill after that and a pretty quick drive home.  I hope TTB comes back next year!



Saturday, December 1, 2018

Rosanne Cash At The Cabot

I've been following Rosanne Cash since the late 70s.  I'm not even going to start on her pedigree or talent.  And I'd never seen her play!  She seems to rarely perform in the Northeast.  So when she announced a date at The Cabot in Beverly (Thursday, November 29) it was another case of not hesitating more than a second.  Apparently that hesitation cost us some good seats (maybe there was a pre-sale??), but we still grabbed great ones, second row balcony center.  We were very psyched to go see her, and The Cabot was packed.

Both of us worked at home that day and then took off in what was basically plenty of time to get out to the North Shore.  But even so we had to wade through oodles of traffic, finally ending up in our favorite restaurant in Salem, Gulu-Gulu, a couple of hours before the show was going to start.  This gave us time for a nice leisurely hang, trying their cheese board and crepes and eclectic beers (I had a saison and a barleywine by Idle Hands).

Got over to Beverly after that and parked in our normal space.  The night was already getting windy and chilly, as many nights this Fall have been, but we got in easily and up to our seats to settle in.  Mark Erelli was the opening act and he was as good as we've seen him.  He opened with three new songs, and then did his great By Degrees, which he's recently re-recorded with Rosanne, Anaïs Mitchell, and a cast of millions of real Americans.  You should check it out.

Erelli is a very interesting artist to my mind, a local musician who's written some great songs and shown incredible talent.  But he also can be a boring solo folk guitarist when he puts his mind to it.  We saw a little bit of both on Thursday and in all he was exactly what we'd expected.  He only did a couple of other songs after the show-stopper of By Degrees, a short first set with only 7(?) songs, but whatever.

Then they took longer than they might setting up Rosanne, and finally her band came out (Kevin Barry on lead guitar!) and launched into A Feather's Not a Bird.  Rosanne came out a moment later and started singing, engulfing us in the waves of her voice.  You could call her an alto, you could call her a country mega-hit musician, you could call her a folkie with a guitar (she played guitar on every song except the opener), and you'd just be scratching the surface.  She has as many facets as any musician, and she and her band (husband and composer John Leventhal on the other guitar) showed us a good number of them in her 2-hour set.

Wow, she was as cool as I'd imagined, and as in charge of her act as you'd want to see.  Leventhal was a little too loud and a little too brash at times, but Rosanne gently reminded him over and over that not only was she the main act, she was the conductor.  She calmed him down and got Kevin to turn up when it was needed with a look and a gesture or two.  And she hyped up her drummer, keyboardist, and bass player (who were adequate, in descending order of talent IMO).

But who cares who was on stage with her, the inadequacies of The Cabot's sound system (particularly bad with the challenging voice of Erelli), or the heritage she comes from with her father and first husband ... the amazing thing was her riveting voice.  Here are a few songs she played, mixing mostly tracks from her fantastic last three records:

A Feather's Not a Bird
She Remembers Everything
Long Black Veil
The Only Thing Worth Fighting For
The Sunken Lands
Modern Blue
I'm Movin' On
Money Road
Blue Moon With Heartache (she introduced it as her earliest song, written when she was 14)
The Undiscovered Country
When the Master Calls the Roll

But the song of the night was a cover, her version of Ode To Billie Joe.  This was a tour de force like you can't believe!  The only sound throughout the theater was the sound of dentures dropping out of gaping mouths, astonished at the sound (it was a mature audience).  I've listened to these words many times and I have a good idea what they mean, to me that is.  As she said after we'd all toweled off, "Forty years later and we're still wondering what the heck they were throwing off that bridge, now *that's* a good song!"

And she closed her long set with her earliest mega-hit, Seven Year Ache!  Oh Dog ... I'd been waiting to see and hear her sing this for almost 40 years, and it was as catchy and meaty as I'd imagined.  I can still see her cover picture on that record.

She came back out for an encore with the embarrassed Mark Erelli.  She said she's asked him if he knew this song and of course he did, and of course he sang a few beautiful verses to 500 Miles.  But she took the other verses and left him in the dust.

That was it, we had been blessed by Rosanne Cash and felt a lot better for it.  The cranky crowd finally made it down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk in the cold evening.  Back to our car quickly and a smooth ride home, in bed by 11:30 or so on a Thursday, not bad.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Can LSD Get Better?

Ack!!  The fantastic Lake Street Dive (LSD you know) has been riding that peak, and their latest record, Free Yourself Up, is just another monster (though not as good as Side Pony IMO, past their peak??).  It features their new keyboard player, Akie Bermiss, and has some of their strongest songs.  It includes their first non-personal-relations song, Shame Shame Shame, which is huge IMO.

But I love Lake Street Dive, as boring boy-girl drama as they might express, and we got tickets immediately when they announced a November 17th show at the Wang Center.  And we got pretty good ones without breaking the bank, 7th row of the mezzanine/balcony, center!

There were ticket complications, and we were complicit.  They announced that at the door they'd just swipe the credit card you'd used to purchase tickets.  But our complications were that Dave had bought tickets with my credit card and that that credit card was now defunct.  No joy calling the box office, so after showing up down in Quincy and helping to install Christmas-computer gear, we headed for the Theater District through the dangerously-swelling early Saturday-evening traffic in Boston.

Parked at the garage on Charles in Park Square and then got the ticket situation straightened out tout suite with the friendly (at that time) people in the Wang Center Box Office.  It was still just a little after 5 and we had to get dinner ... and this was a problem!  We stopped into four or five restaurants in the area and they basically all told us that they were booked until 8 ... when the first show was going to start.  That's the Theater District for you, don't expect us to work on your schedule, you will work on our schedule and love it.  And as we'd driven up there from the expressway we'd seen that Jacob Wirth's, the second oldest restaurant in Boston, was currently dark!  I hope they get back open soon ... and that they clean their bathrooms.

So we headed back up Tremont in the direction of the Hill, but then Dave took us off on a side street, seeking an obscure Mexican restaurant.  And we found it, Fajitas and Ritas [sic] in a fold between Chinatown and Downtown Crossing.  We got a seat there right away and had some fine beers and some ok quesadillas, and a chicken burrito with guacamole.  Sorry to say, I forget what (non-home made) green sauce they had, but I loved it.

Jeez, time seemed slow but then caught up and it was time to go!  Wended our way back down Mason ('s Children) Street and Head Place (no lie!) towards Tremont and Boylston and then re-entered the Theater District.  There was a small area for us to catch our breath, get out of the wind, and light up the one-hitter after we'd made it the few blocks over to near the Wang entrance.  Talked to some Wilbur personnel there and asked them if all the dead balloons on the sidewalk were because of a birthday party?  They knew we were kidding, this was the detritus of the dentist convention last night.

Anyway, time to go in, and we were way early in a way.  We had gone to will-call and gotten the tickets we'd straightened out before, and then joined a line close by the doors.  In the meantime the crowd surged around the entrance and the staff got nervous.  They knew that when they "opened the gates" then a large number of the people would not get in smoothly, because of situations like ours, which we'd already fixed.  And it was just like that.  In fact, when we went in they at first tried to deny us because they weren't supposed to be accepting paper tickets, like what had just been issued to us by the box office!

Everyone got in eventually, but this was not smooth and it took an extra hour or more to get the majority of people seated.  There must be a better way of deterring scalpers.  Anyway, there we were in our excellent balcony seats and we realized that that couldn't be LSD's setup, there was going to be an opening act!  And Jalen N'Gonda went on on schedule, though to a bunch of empty seats, a fantastic opening act for LSD.

He had a bass player and a drummer and entertained us with beautifully-crafted song after beautifully-crafted song.  A large number of us were paying attention, we were waiting for the fucking crowd to get to their seats and we peering around them frantically, trying not to let his spell get broken.  And we sure let him know we appreciated his act.  He owned his own sound like you want a big-league act to do, and at the same time with his high but rangy vocals and ready-to-squeal guitar he was very much in the soul-funk-blues tradition.  This was a great set, though he kept it short so they could have plenty of time to set up LSD.

The 4-piece (now 5) came out and played perhaps the best concert I've heard from them.  I've seen LSD many times, in many different settings, and they always excel (except for Mike Olson on trumpet).  We'd seen them in the HOB and I thought that was perhaps as good as it gets sonically, but they sure had the Wang Center resounding to their confections.  Can they get better than this?  I was just giggling inside to the sound, it was wonderful.

Mike Calabrese is always amazing and on this night he was three times as good as normal.  You could say the same thing about Bridget Kearney.  She only had one or two short solos but she dominated the string end of the spectrum, and with MikeC they were riveting themselves, especially when they harmonized behind Rachael.

And Mike Olson was incredible on guitar, fuzzing out his amp and playing with a rock-solid beat you rarely hear from him.  He was strangely not in the vocal mix as much as usual, perhaps to give Akie a chance to fill that niche.  I don't like his trumpet playing but he concentrated on guitar instead.

Rachael was being Rachael, in a billowy skirt.  But hang on, she was extraordinary too!  She just exuded an incredible energy, grooving to all four instruments around her and then topping them with her phrasing, volume, and emotion.  She is an incredible singer and as good as her band is, she's the one when they play.  And play they all did ... as I say, this was perhaps the best I've ever heard them.

Here's their one long set:

You Are Free
You Go Down Smooth
Red Light Kisses
Baby, Don't Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts
Better Than
Bobby Trilogy: Bobby Tanqueray / Spectacular Failure / Doesn't Even Matter Now
Darryl
Hang On
I Can Change
You're Still the One (Shania Twain)
Got Me Fooled
Seventeen
Call Off Your Dogs
Musta Been Something
Shame, Shame, Shame
Bad Self Portraits
Good Kisser

Encore:
Strangers (The Kinks)
Dude
I Want You Back (Michael Jackson)

Well dressed and well behaved crowd, but there were a good number of hoots and hollers as the night went on, and most of us stood up for the long encore.  Great night of music and then they and we were gone to the wind.  Not as crazy a Theater District scene that night (though crazier than average) but we got over to the parking garage, said goodbye to Dave as he struck off for the T, and then barely got out of Boston through the crazies.  Back about about the same time as Friday night, two incredible concerts this weekend!


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Weir and Wolf Bros, Boston

We'd go see Bob Weir play with anyone.  Well, maybe not Drumpf.  But he was touring with a three-piece called "Bob Weir and Wolf Bros," him with Don Was on bass and Jay Lane on drums, and we had to go see them.  This was going to be an unknown quantity for us, however.  We've seen Jay Lane and he's great, but we weren't sure where this trio thing was going to go with Don Was, who's done some great stuff throughout his career but wasn't the first person you'd think of when you speculated who might sound great "with the Dead."

So we only got tickets to one of their gigs at the Boch-Wang-Citi-whatever theater in Boston, that I'll always think of as the Boston Music Hall, on Friday November 16th.  Presale/Ticketmaster sucks and we somehow ended up in the last row of the balcony, but that turned out great.  I think both nights ended up selling out.  It was sure packed even back in the hinterlands of the balcony on that Friday, and I think everyone there had a good time.

We'd seen large chunks of several of the Wolf Bros gigs on webcast, and had formed opinions about the band before we saw them live.  The impression that they weren't as full of possibilities and magic as Bobby & Phil or (e.g.) Furthur held true, and it's not debatable that Lane is a monster rhythm player and that Was can get a solid tone from his bass and not make mistakes.  But the most significant thing when we saw them live was that they truly were "Bob Weir and a couple of guys."

Weir just dominated the soundscape with an entire evening of fantastically-Weird guitar playing (first few songs on acoustic and then mostly his walnut guitar) and a lot of flawless Bobby vocals.  He didn't start drooling on us, or do a lot of jumping up and down, but his singing was spot-on.  A couple of vocal highlights were his uplifting verses on Easy To Slip and his serious funkiness on Speedway.  Also see below.

And the stage setup, at least the musical setup they fell into time after time, emphasized the fact that this was a BOB WEIR show.  He seemed to own most of the stage with his large oriental rug and his amps and guitars.  Was had a pretty huge speaker/monitor setup himself, but would end up backing up close to Jay's drums most songs, and the two of them would have the hawk-eyes on Weir, sometimes nodding their heads in unison, constantly aware of what he wanted to do next.

They had another, smaller rug and a mike stand set up to Bobby's right side, and we'd been speculating who would guest (there have been many guests on this tour), but no one appeared.  Possibly another musician was scheduled, but then was caused to cancel by the snow/ice storm we'd just had up and down the East Coast.  But after a while we were fine with the fact that there wasn't a guest.  This was Bobby's show and we were there to dig that.

So there we were up in our top-row-left seats, not too far away from where I sat back in 1973, after Sarah and I met Dave in her garage after both working at home that day (snow in the morning and then rain all day).  We bopped down to Kinsale for dinner and then it wasn't too far of a walk down Tremont to the Theater District, which was already pretty crowded (Boz Scaggs at the Wilbur that night, etc.).

The crowd was not late-arriving and the show got started without a lot of delay.  The threesome came out and lit into it with no big drama.  This was the Grateful Dead after all.  And the first song was one we three had talked about over the last few days, specifically the cover that Ratdog did in Boston, four years ago.  Here's the setlist:

Set 1:
Easy to Slip
Friend of the Devil
Me and Bobby McGee
She Belongs to Me
Lay My Lily Down
West L.A. Fadeaway
Lost Sailor >
Saint of Circumstance

We were delighted by the opener, as mentioned, and loved FOTD, which he of course he did as a cowboy song rather than as a funky blues.  Then the song I've been waiting for for so long that I'd forgotten I was waiting for it: Bobby singing gently to us that there was nothing left to lose, after that mistake in Salinas that is.

OMG, I have to take a moment here and mention how basic to my love of music Me and Bobby McGee is.  Back at 17 (see tomorrow's concert), I knew Janis's cover of that great Kristofferson song well of course, but when I heard the Dead do it on Skull and Roses my mind was bent permanently.  I've always been a country music fan at heart.  I'd never seen it performed by a Dead band (not counting DSO), and this was pretty spectacular.  No Lesh, but Lane was doing a pretty good Billy and Bobby was doing what he does best.

Then a monumental Dylan song to calm us all down, great musicianship here, and then some more Bobby greatness with one of the best, tragic songs from his cowboy album, Lay My Lily Down.  West L.A. mellowed us back down ... this had a long, long, intro.  And then Sailor/Saint.  I have to admit that I missed the middle of this fantastic Bobby creation for a bathroom/beer break.  Of course, I remembered the sage words of a fellow bathroom-breaker back when we saw Furthur in that theater and Bobby had started singing Black Peter.  This was a little like that.  And I had a chance to find the one beer outlet that had Sierra Nevada left!

It was an interesting first set.  I had enjoyed it wildly, but it was strange.  I commented to Dave at the end of the night that it was "Dead karaoke."  Bob's a great musician, I've watched him for years and want to see him more, and his "Wolf Bros" trio was very successful musically.  But I couldn't help thinking about what might have been as much as I was invested in what was happening in real time.

Was was solid but no Phil.  Lane was great but was filling a role rather than thinking about what he could do.  And as good as Bob was at coloring the whole guitar soundscape, I could still imagine another guitar.  And it was Garcia's guitar, playing around him, ripping the world apart when he took the chance, and laughing at Bob's excellence and naiveté.  And of course Jeff Chimenti would have been good too!

Whatever, we were having a fine time up in the top of the balcony.  We were standing up of course, but didn't really need to, we had an un-unobstructed view of the stage.  And the sound was pretty impressive for being that far back!  There was some whirling going on in the top-balcony lobby behind us and Sarah joined it a few times.  There was very little usher presence up there and so we all hung out.  The one down-side was that it was a long, steep climb.

Time for the second set and they came out and started up while I was still straggling back uphill:

Set 2:
Peggy-O
Tennessee Jed
Scarlet Begonias >
New Speedway Boogie >
I Need a Miracle
Stella Blue
Not Fade Away

This set actually seemed shorter to us than the first set had been, and it was not as full of high spots.  As mentioned, Bob was at the top of his game for Speedway, and he really was fantastic on vocals for the three preceding songs, though he didn't nail us to the wall on these.  Miracle was what you'd expect, but Stella Blue was him back to being pretty perfect.  He was strumming that walnut guitar, pulling up newly-invented chords out of thin air, and singing with power and right on key, like an excellent vocalist should at the end of the night, not letting any emotional twist go untwisted.  This was a wonderful ballad introducing the end of the night.

Geez, did he get audience participation for NFA and then for the encore (Touch of Grey)!  I'm a little jaded (my fault), and had my coat on by the middle of the encore ... dah-de-dah, we will not fade away in the grey today.  But the audience loved it and was rocking until the last note.  The band did a little group bow and a little namaste, and then were gone, as were we ... we had a long downhill trek ahead of us, immediately that is.

Out on the sidewalk the rain was pretty much gone but the dentist's convention was going strong.  Can't Trump do something about this?

Tremont and Stuart was a huge clusterfuck at that time of a Friday night, and the fact that two corners of the intersection were under construction and that the dentists had taken over reality added to the confusion.  We ended up going way around the block, over to Charles Street, and approached the Common from over at the Edgar Allen Poe statue.  Wow, you didn't think there was that much uphill work in the Common, but we finally made it way back up to the top.

Dave grabbed his stuff and screwed for the T and we got out of town pretty quickly ourselves, and were back home at not too long after midnight on a Friday.




Monday, November 12, 2018

Jim Lauderdale Makes Shirley

It's happened before and I hope it'll happen again:  The Bull Run announced a great act and I called right away and got tickets at the front table.  This time is was the incredible Jim Lauderdale, a musician that no one should miss.  So we were very psyched when we showed up there on a Sunday, November 11th, as was everyone at our packed table and the 20 or so tables around it.

Unfortunately, that was it!  The Sawtelle Room is never at its best on a Sunday night, but it was shocking how small the crowd was for a veteran Nashville singer-songwriter who's authored more hits than you can sic a dog on.  Oh well, this made it a very "intimate" performance and that's what the Bull Run excels at.

The opener was Martin and Kelly (Jilly Martin and Ryan Brooks Kelly), and they were really very professional (they were on the back stairs, waiting to rush on, while I took a quick bathroom break).  They had a great mix of covers ("I know this song!") and originals, and they had some distinctive elements, like her rhythm guitar, some of her lead vocals (nice range), and some of his harmonies.  Kelly could be criticized for too often going flat or losing the emotional thread of the song while he was taking the lead ... could use a good producer.  But they climaxed the set with their potential hit, Gonna Kiss You, and they possibly aren't that far from a breakthrough in the modern country world.

Another interlude and of course a bunch of us middle-aged guys rushed downstairs for another bathroom break.  Jim (who'd visited our table in mufti earlier) was down there in his country finery (a purple suit with yin/yang designs) and I asked him if he minded if I took a piss before his show.  He told me no, that I'd have to get back up there and hold it in.  You can guess which way I went.

Jim came on eventually and seemed in fine voice (he'd had a cold earlier in the week) and spirits and he was as incredible as ever.  He played a set of 4 or so songs from his new record, including Time Flies and Where the Cars Go By Fast (which could use some more verses!).  He also did a couple from London Southern and a couple that will be on the record he plans to release in the Spring (!!! how prolific *is* this guy??).

He asked for requests and we were ready ... pretty much.  One woman asked him for "That Martian song" and he was thrown for a loop, then figured she must mean Planet Of Love and he played that.

I asked for Like Him and he did that, and then Lost In the Lonesome Pines (perhaps the song of the night) from the Ralph Stanley collaborations (my line when a woman asked for a Stanley song was, "Yeah like Like Him").  Another person requested Whisper and that's one of my favorite songs of his too.  He did a sing-along of Headed For the Hills from his collaborations with Robert Hunter.  He did Forgive and Forget and Halfway Down (made famous by Patty Loveless).  And then he closed with The King Of Broken Hearts and encored with the Buddy and Jim song, Hole In My Head!

Very fun night and he was done by 10 on the dot so we got home not too late for a Sunday.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Back In Lowell With DSO

We hadn't seen DSO in well over a year.  And though we had a busy Fall schedule, we figured we just *had* to go see them again at their stop in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on November 9th.  As I've said many times, they're always so much fun.  I have to admit though, that this concert wasn't as fun as I'd been anticipating ... with high expectations and such.  But it was still pretty good!

Memories of the last time we saw them in Lowell were still fresh (rain, pot), and it was a dark rainy night once again.  I got up to Lowell early so as to beat the traffic, or at least get a head start on it.  Sarah and Dave took the train up from work and then walked over to join me at Thirsty First, a bar/restaurant we'd found on the web.  They have an excellent beer selection there and I sampled a few while waiting.  Also made a few friends at the bar.  They were as friendly as you might expect a bunch of youngsters to be (including the owner), and may not have even noticed that I was a lot older.  I told them about the DSO concert that night and they were all dying to go to it (as had been some friends at work), though none made it there (except for me!).  Could have stayed in that place for a while.

Had some quick grilled cheeses with fries when Sarah and Dave got there.  Dropped stuff at the car in the parking garage and then crossed over the swirling canals and Concord River on the way to the Auditorium.  Went right in and it was only half full at the peak of the concert, if you count the large balcony.  We staked out seats (at 258 degrees or so) in the few rows on the rim of the big open floor, and Sarah stayed there while Dave and I crept up close to the stage.

We had read that Jeff would be playing Garcia's Wolf guitar that night and that they'd decided not to do a GD set but to re-create a show at which Wolf would have appeared.  And they did this with their usual creativity: a "1973" show for the first set and then a "1978" show for the second set.
Here it is:

Set One:
Greatest Story Ever Told
Cold Rain And Snow
Beat It On Down The Line
Here Comes Sunshine
Let Me Sing Your Blues Away
Black-Throated Wind
Brown Eyed Women
You Ain't Woman Enough
Bird Song
Weather Report Suite

Set Two:
Scarlet Begonias >
Fire On The Mountain
Samson And Delilah
If I Had The World To Give
Saint Stephen >
Drums >
Space >
Not Fade Away >
Stella Blue >
Saint Stephen >
Not Fade Away

Encore: Werewolves Of London

We had a great time as usual, including some good and puzzling crowd interactions.  The DSO fan world is sui generis.  But I was perhaps in a critical mood.  Jeff hadn't been living up to my (high!) expectations the last few times we'd seen them and I was hoping he'd bounce back.  But he didn't seize the opportunity to lead the band with Wolf.  It was still Rob Eaton's band, though Rob Barraco of course showed his quality.  So it was a bit of a non-surprising night ... the same old thing from DSO.

Lisa deserves a mention of course, with a great backing vocal on the opening Greatest Story and a sizzling Woman Enough.  Also fine playing from the drummers and Skip.  You have to be impressed by the technical ability of this band and their unified creative vision.  I wanted Jeff to rip off one of those incendiary, surprising Garcia leads, but he was too busy watching everybody else, particularly Eaton.

Oh well, had a fine time on a rocking Friday night, as did everyone else there!  We were told that the show was going to end at 11:30 and they may have stretched this a bit.  We were doing fine but when they encored with the sing-songy Werewolves we got our coats on and were out the door onto the wet street as the last verse was being sung.  Back over the swirling waters and then a pretty quick and rainy drive home.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Elizabeth Cook At the Bull Run

After dropping Dave in Quincy, drove out to the Bull Run for yet another fine concert on Sunday night, October 22.  This was Elizabeth Cook, and we hadn’t seen her since a couple of virtual decades in her career ago, since she was performing in a rock band with her husband.  She’s since divorced, etc. and was actually playing solo acoustic, which turned out to be excellent!

The big surprise when we got to Table 73 was that Star (and new husband) was there, an old friend from a couple of jobs ago.  Our table soon filled up but in all the room was just a little over half full.

Caleb Caudle opened with an absolutely incredible guitar, an old Gibson hollow-body walnut electric.  It sounded amazing and his voice complimented it as well.  His songs had some great, mellow hooks in them and he was way above average for an opening act on a slow Sunday.  He did mostly originals but included a Leon Russell cover and commented that “Liz” had told him that if he just went all white at once he’d look exactly like Leon Russell.  Couldn’t get that image out of my mind, she was right!

Then “Liz” came on, on the arm of her guitar tech, probably so she wouldn’t trip over all the wires in the dark, and wearing a rabbit-fur coat and studded pink boots.  She opened with the chestnut, Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You, and did songs from all over the “Americana” portion of her career.

El Camino wasn’t rocking like it did when she did it electric, but she did a great Rock and Roll Man solo acoustic, and covered a number of songs from Welder and Exodus Of Venus.  She also did a bunch she hadn’t recorded yet and was working out on us, a couple of them still needing some work and a couple just about done.  She says she’s going into the studio soon and from the sound of these new songs, I’m going to like the record.

It was a short set of short songs on a Sunday, but her wise-cracking and her stories were as good as ever.  One of her new songs (Half Hanged Mary) may have some accuracy (it came from a Margaret Atwood poem) but she accompanies it with much nonsense (“Imagine having a Daddy named Increase … sounds like an asshole”).  And it appears her Mommy and Daddy used to play in a band with Florida Man!

One of her best lines was (r.e. her and Todd Snider), “We did *not* puke in the garbage cans!”  And she encored with Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be a Woman and then was off to her next gig.  She’s an excellent songwriter and performer, and I hope she’s still got a long career in front of her.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Seven and a Half States

Ack!  Woke up on Sunday the 7th and it was the last day of our excellent vacation.  We'd had a great time and realized we'd been kind of pushing the envelope, as is evident in the day we just experienced in Washington, in which we saw 16 things, some of them requiring a lot of inspection.  So we'd discussed taking it easier on our last day.

It was a last-minute off-the-wall kind of thing, but we realized seeing Theodore Roosevelt Island would be just what the doctor ordered.  We had to get SarahP and Jim to Dulles in the middle of the afternoon, and SarahE and I hoped to get as far North as possible after that, perhaps all the way home to Massachusetts.  We'd considered going back to the Mall and trying to find a parking space downtown, or leaving the car in its hotel parking lot and taking the Metro somewhere, then coming back to the hotel and getting the car in early afternoon.  But both seemed ambitious and possibly anxiety-inducing, which we did not want on our last day.  When we looked at the map we realized the island was right there, and it made a lot of sense to just have a mellow urban-park experience and have plenty of time to get out to Dulles without rushing.

I'd never been to Theodore Roosevelt Island, but had seen it many times, driving over the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and from the Georgetown side.  Supposedly there was a family expedition there once, but I must have been out of town.  The first challenge though, was how to get there!?!  On Saturday Google Maps had told me to do some fancy footwork on Arlington parkways and I could approach the parking lot that way, but on Sunday morning it told me that because of street closings (more work on the Arlington Memorial Bridge) and the Army 10 Miler, I should go over the Roosevelt Bridge into Foggy Bottom, pull a U-turn at 20th St, and go back over the Bridge to the G.W. Parkway North.

Breakfast first.  All four of us went over to Ledo's Pizza and had the standard diner breakfast, that we had to wait a long, long time for.  There was only one staff person there and she had to take orders, cook, do dishes, and collect money at the same time, which was taking her forever because the place was suddenly very popular that morning.  Fortunately, she didn't yell at us and we decided that if we were going to have a mellow day, maybe a strung-out breakfast was part of the deal.  Anyway, Jim and I exited early and had the packing just about done by the time Sarah and Sarah returned.

Bumped the heavy suitcases downstairs and loaded up the car for the last time on this trip, and slowly pulled out of our coveted spot at the hotel.  Just as with The George Washington Grand, this hotel had advertised free on-site parking for guests but in reality had a parking lot that was nowhere near big enough to host all the guest cars.  We had barely snagged a spot when we pulled in on Friday and were loath to leave it.  But farewell to the Red Lion, farewell to Dark Star Park soon after that, and then we miraculously followed the convoluted path Google Maps had told me about, dashing into DC and back out, and then a few minutes later grabbing a spot at the busy public parking lot serving the Island and other recreational sites along the Potomac's Western side.


Roosevelt Island is in the middle of the Potomac, not very far at all from the center of the city.  It has a good number of trails, and most of them radiate from the Roosevelt Memorial itself, which we weren't interested in.  Instead we decided quickly to go counter-clockwise, as far from the vortex at the center of the Island as we could.  At first, this was a little crowded and there were signs telling us that we did *not* want to go on the Swamp Trail as it was a mass of mud from recent floods.  But after we looped under the Bridge we decided to risk it and took that right turn, towards the Swamp Trail, and we had a delightful, pretty isolated walk for the next couple of hours.


This ecosystem was perhaps more different from what a fresh-water estuary in New England would be (the Potomac in Washington fluctuates with the tides, but is entirely fresh water) than the Shenandoah Ridge had been from highlands in New England.  The reeds seemed similar but the edges of the island were populated with thick stands of swamp oaks, some growing to incredible thicknesses, though most of them were topped off by storms.  And the most distinctive thing was the pines, which were a variety we'd never seen before.


Birds rustled through the underbrush and sometimes flew out into the open.  At one observation deck in the middle of the swamp in the island's nether-land we saw a Blue Heron, an egret, and a large fresh-water snail.  At the North end of the island we made our way through the oak forest out to the muddy edge, right across the river from what used to be the Port of Georgetown.  It now featured college boathouses, sheltering under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, probably for Georgetown University and GWU.  The river was full of kayaks.


Coming around the head of the island we saw some great, worn river rocks, and then suddenly a family of four white-tailed deer.  The last quarter of the trail was actually very, very muddy but we made it, and we all scraped off our boots before tramping back over the pedestrian bridge to the parking lot.


A great last hike, a natural experience though we were in the middle of the city!  Our timing was perfect and we were right where we expected to be when we expected to be.  Scraped off some last mud, loaded ourselves up, and then headed out to Reston Virginia.  The traffic had already gotten intense and though we could have taken the George Washington Parkway all the way up the river to the Beltway and gotten out to the Dulles Access Road that way, Google Maps had a better idea and had us go cross-country through Arlington.  I'm sure it knew what it was doing because the Washington Beltway never seems to not be in a state of gridlock.


Reston is now a pretty big town, but was just a small planned community back in the 70s, leading to Dulles and the mysterious CIA enclaves out in the horse farms of Northern Virginia.  Everything there is built up at this point and well signed, and they're building the Metro out to Dulles.  SarahE had found a promising-looking restaurant on a lake out that way ... we wanted a nice place on the way to the airport.

We pulled into a mall parking lot and spied the Cafesano we were looking for, a relatively small spot in the sprawling mall.  The day had turned as hot as any day we'd experienced on our trip, and the sun was bright in a cloudless sky.  We went in and ordered at the counter, but quickly decided not to eat on their patio since the sun was burning down and the only spots in the shade were taken.  But we had a fine meal inside, and treasured the moment of a last lunch.  I had a chicken pesto panini, which was excellent, and SarahE had a chicken kabob.  We toured the "lake" for a bit afterwards, but it was kind of a joke.


We still had plenty of time, but had a longer road than expected to go out to Dulles.  The Dulles Access Road (a.k.a. Route 267) is a very strange superhighway.  It's got an inner section that apparently only let you enter or exit in Washington and in Dulles back when it was mainly a CIA conduit.  That center of the highway is now what you're directed to if you're not going locally.  It's paralleled on both sides by another part of the road, which allows local access and charges tolls, though the center doesn't.

Anyway, saw some of those distinctive airport buildings after a bit and the typical road in, with long lists of airlines, confusing departure and arrivals signs, and cars rushing by.  The curb at the terminal that hosted British Airways was a chaos of cars pulling up in the middle of nowhere, busses and limos, and cops whistling at everybody and threatening tickets if you stopped for longer than 10 seconds.  Just like an airport!


We were able to get close to the curb and get out Sarah and Jim's suitcases.  Very sad to hug goodbye after such a wonderful trip.  We'd traveled together before and been delighted at how compatible we were.  I was afraid that as we'd gotten older we might have drifted away from this a bit, but it turned out that we'd possibly gotten more compatible as traveling companions.  Or at least we were able to communicate well, to sense each other's moods and inclinations, and be willing to adapt to each other.  It may have helped not having young children along, not that our children are not delightful ... we would have loved to have them along, but the group of just us four was perfect for the kinds of decisions you need to make when traveling.

Waved goodbye and promised to be in touch, and then Sarah and I got on the long road.  It was 2:45 when we pulled away, and we had six more states to get to that day.  We'd already been to the half (the District of Columbia) and Virginia.  Next up was Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  Google told us cheerfully that we'd make it back in 7:44, but we knew that was a too-rosy picture and that this figure would increase very soon.  And it did, Google freaking out at traffic on the Beltway and then leading us around through Northern Fairfax County before we got on and crawled up into Maryland.  Traffic was thick but moving, we were going as fast as we could in the left lane, and we were determined to make it back ... no more cheap hotels for us!


I'll spare the details of that long trip, except for a few highlights.  At one point in Northern Maryland, approaching the bridge over the Susquehanna, traffic went from 80 to 0 in a few short yards.  We lost some tread on the tires there (the ABS worked fine) and I was hugging the center divider so the car behind us didn't crash into us ... he had to weave into the other lane.  In Delaware we stopped for gas and to get sandwiches that we'd eat for dinner somewhere. In Northern New Jersey they announced that there were suddenly eight crashes in the George Washington Bridge area.  The option is to go over to the Garden State Parkway but there were crashes on the Southern bit of that too, so Google led us through some side roads (Route 3 in Rutherford and up Route 17), but when we got to the Garden State they had had more crashes and we crawled for the next hour up out of NJ and over the Tappan Zee.  At least we could eat our sandwiches while we crawled!  We had another almost-accident on the Saw Mill Parkway in New York, I still can't believe that these cars cut us off at 80 on a twisting Parkway and we didn't hit them.  And then there were three separate lane drops for (needed) construction in Western Connecticut that led to long delays.

Somehow we got back to Massachusetts and the Pike and though I was definitely tired I felt at that point that I could make it home.  I drove all vacation.  We finally got back to 495, back to 128, back to Winn Street, and back home, pulling into the driveway at a little before midnight.  In all, the trip from Dulles took just over nine hours, though (as Sarah said) 24 of them were spent in New Jersey.  Didn't unpack the car that night, but read a bit and had a snack so we could calm down from the drive, then had a long sleep in my own bed.

This was a distinctive vacation.  I'd wanted to take a trip to see Shenandoah, perhaps other parts of Virginia and Maryland, and DC for a long time, and was excited that it finally came to pass.  Our trip was shaded by many spectres, political, cultural, and medical, and was very strange because of that.  This was not a care-free week in the woods.  But we had some of the best times in recent memory in the woods and in the city and even on the highway, and it was wonderful to share these experiences with Sally and Jim!