Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tedeschi Trucks Tear Down HOB Boston

When we heard that Tedeschi Trucks Band would be playing the House Of Blues, we started salivating, knowing that this would be a heaping helping of wonderful sound.  I guess a lot of people thought so, because both nights sold out quickly and resale tickets were hard to come by.  We resold an extra we had, and it went in a matter of minutes.

Met Sarah at the HOB restaurant after cruising around the block and not finding a legal space (there were plenty of illegal ones), and ending up in the same old lot at the corner of Van Ness.  Sarah was able to get perhaps the last table in the restaurant and it was already a madhouse two hours before the Friday show, December 12th.  We got food and beer somehow, then got in what was already a long line for the people who had gotten entrees (and so early admission) at 6:45 or so ... the line for real admission was already almost up to Brookline Ave.

They let us in right at 7 and we were able to grab our customary place to the left of the stage ... and another beer/cider.  The HOB filled up really quickly and we were all totally pumped, some more juiced than others but what the hell, it was Friday night!

Soulive opened and really blew me away with some excellent blues-funk.  The band is drums, guitar, and keys, and they played a loud, spacey, bluesy, colorful set of instrumentals, including a riff on McCartney's Eleanor Rigby.  I was hanging on their every note and the crowd was too for their first number or so, then started gabbing and by the end of their set was almost as loud as they were.  Such is the fate for opening acts at HOB.

Then they changed the set to the traditional Tedeschi Trucks setup, and soon Derek, Susan, and the guys came out and proceeded to exceed my expectations.

I'd never seen Derek from so close and he was riveting, displaying mastery of technique and inspiration from both hands, particularly his right,  He played the top string-and-a-half with his thumb and the rest with his fingers, striking and caressing and plucking them like he was defusing a bomb or holding hands with a child or giving the other driver a few hand signals.  A musician can exude mastery of his instrument, and his mastery was comparable to what I'd seen from Garcia.

Susan was worth the price of admission herself and shone on several vocal parts.  Not to mention the other 9 people in the band, who all took their chances to prove that they were excellent musicians too.  It's amazing that a band that large has stuck together for so long ... I think their personnel is what it was when we first saw them in 2011.  I think they all know that they can do magic together and they like to do that.  Here's the set list:

Are You Ready
Made Up Mind
Do I Look Worried
Midnight in Harlem
Let Me Get By
Part of Me
Don't Miss Me
Idle Wind
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
Break In The Road
I Pity the Fool
Keep on Growing
The Storm

Night Time Is the Right Time
Palace of the King

The first four songs just blew the crowd away and we were putty in their hands after that.  Idle Wind was another highlight for me, and then they reconfigured for a couple of acoustic songs, starting with Derek doing acoustic slide and Susan wailing away on a fantastic arrangement of Lamps Trimmed and Burning.

No Anyday (I'd love to hear them do that again), but they covered Keep On Growing and the place was rocking so hard it was threatening to burst at the seams for that.  Short break before the encore, and then they brought out the Soulive guys for the second encore.  They were delighted, as were we!

Took a while for the place to empty out and we just mellowed a bit, being Friday night.  Then a convoluted ride home as Storrow Drive was jammed and we reversed direction.  Great night!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

DSO In Lowell!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, going to see Dark Star Orchestra is wonderful fun!  We’ve been to see them every time they’ve come to the Northeast over the past few years and this time they were playing in the big old Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Saturday December 6th.

We met Scott and Michelle at a just-opened bar in Lowell on a rainy evening after the first place we tried to meet was found to be packed.  Things were going on in Lowell that night (Riverhawks game?), and it was bustling.  After a quick burger we took off for the Auditorium, only to find that our print-at-home tickets had to be exchanged at the box office for “real” tickets instead of actually letting us in the door.  They need to join the 21st century.

Only missed the first few bars of the opening song though by the time we got in the third-full hall: “Well, well, well, you can never tell.”  They had taken all the seats from the floor, which was not what I’d been expecting.  But this meant that Dave and I could sidle up towards the stage (especially since the place was just beginning to fill up), while the three shorter people were content to stand behind the few rows of mezzanine seats.

The question at DSO shows is always what Dead/Garcia show are they reproducing … or are they doing an elective set?  Shakedown Street instantly knocked the early 70s (and 60s) out of contention (we’d been hoping for a 1974 show), but the rest of the first set was very satisfactory and by the end of it we had it narrowed down to later ’78 or (very) early ’79.  This was definitely Shakedown Street era:
  1. Shakedown Street
  2. Me and My Uncle >
  3. Big River
  4. Peggy-O
  5. Beat It On Down the Line
  6. Stagger Lee
  7. New Minglewood Blues
  8. Brown-Eyed Women
  9. From the Heart Of Me
  10. I Need a Miracle

The downstairs part of the Auditorium was filled by this point, and the balcony (that they opened at some point) was about half full.  Their bathrooms weren’t quite as funky as at the Capitol Theater, but were not modern!  There was some speculation as to the show in the men’s room and at the beer line, though several people I talked to called From the Heart Of Me, “France.”  Donna gets no respect from some people, even though Lisa had done a fine job with her best song.

Skip was playing that loping bass style from the late 70s, RobE was frailing away at the rhythm guitar like his life depended on it, and Jeff was almost literally exploding above everything when it came time to take the lead.  RobK and Dino were pounding the drums in incredible synchronization; they might have been my favorite part of the show except for RobB, who was just a delight.  He stuck to the electric piano, but played it with such panache and color it’s hard to believe that even on a good night, that the 1978/79 Keith could have come close.

Pretty long set break, but that had been a longer-than-expected first set.  They lined up for the second set and we were still a bit unsure as to whether this was an elective or not.  But then I called Scarlet and they ripped into that, and the rest of the set clinched the era:
  1. Scarlet Begonias >
  2. Fire On the Mountain
  3. Estimated Prophet >
  4. Eyes Of the World >
  5. Drums >
  6. Jam >
  7. Not Fade Away >
  8. Black Peter >
  9. Around and Around >
  10. Good Lovin’

This was great stuff, such fun!  Dave and I were back on the floor for the second set after visiting with the others at the break, and we got up to the fifth row or so from the stage, right in front of Skip (they were lined up with Jeff, RobE, Lisa, Skip, and RobB from left to right, true to that time period).

There’d been some pot-smoking on the floor during the first set, but the second set was just amazing.  It seemed like everyone around me had a pipe or pocket vaporizer out and the smoke almost obscured the stage a few times.  And all of this indoors!  Pretty extraordinary … and the most extraordinary thing about it was that I wasn’t knocked out by being around it.

The finished up with a crackling Good Lovin’ in the disco style, then came out soon for the encore.  RobB revealed to us in that the show was New Haven Coliseum, 1979-01-17, and RobE added a personal note, that he was there and it was a rescheduling of one originally scheduled for the previous Fall which had been cancelled because of Garcia having pneumonia … Dave had gotten the right month!  They then finished up with the proper encore, Casey Jones, and a filler of Sisters and Brothers (which the Dead never did, though the Garcia Band had of course).

What a rocking good time and what a great mellow song to send us off into the night!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Signature Sounds 20th, Sunday

They actually had two shows scheduled for Sunday and we would have loved to see both (Miss Tess and Lake Street Dive were closing), but we had to get back to work the next morning after a long Thanksgiving weekend and so had only gotten tickets for the Sunday afternoon show ... but this was not a bad lineup itself, to say the least!

We hung around the Quality Inn until they gently kicked us out at about 11:00, and then meandered into downtown Northampton, where we got a fine parking spot across from the theater on a sunny Sunday and proceeded to wander around a bit.  We edged past a line of young adults waiting for a seat at the Green Beans ... and noticed that one of the groups was Aoife, Brittany, Greg, and a manager from Crooked Still.  I did not disturb them, though Brittany and Greg looked fine about being recognized (Aoife was busy texting).

Had a fine lunch at the Toasted Owl, and then made it back to the theater right on time to see ... Twisted Pine again!  They set up on their plank of plywood and only did one song for us this time, but they are really good.  I asked Jim's wife at the merch table (Jim Olsen is the guru of Signature Sounds and was complimented by all the bands, as he should be) how they managed to sign them right under the noses of Compass Records (who sponsored Freshgrass)?

OK, first up was a band Sarah and I have seen many times and have an unreasoned devotion to, Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem.  They're all oozing talent, they're really mellow and eclectic, they play whatever they want and don't make a big deal of it, and they produce excellent music.  Mark Erelli joined them on lap steel.  They did their usual set, with Rani's new song about dropping her son off at school, a few sing-alongs, and then closed with I Want To Be Ready When Love Comes Back To Me.  This just cannot be beat.

Next up was the Sacred Shakers, and this was a very entertaining set too.  As I'm sure you know, the band consists of Eilen's 4-piece band and 4 other pieces: Daniel Kellar on fiddle, Greg Glassman on guitar and vocals, Daniel Fram on guitar and vocals, and Eric Royer on banjo.  One of the amusing things about their set was that they cover the gamut from light gospel to heavy gospel, and some of the artsy-fartsy types who were in attendance because this was an arts thing in Northampton were a bit confused by all this ... weren't they going to play something about peace and love rather than just Old Testament stories?  Luckily, they did not!  Eilen continued to move the bar up and up, as she had started to the night before, and she was just shimmying with gospel soul.  Jerry was not bad either, ripping off some great dark rock and roll leads between Royer's and Kellar's bluegrass parts.  And Jason Beek was marvelous on vocals.

Next up was the pièce de résistance, a Crooked Still reunion.  This world-class band had broken up for the individuals to pursue various projects back in 2012, and they'd been very successful.  We'd seen Aiofe O'Donovan play at Freshgrass, as well as seen fiddler Brittany Haas in her incredible trio with Kowert and Tice, and seen banjoist Greg Liszt leading his band at GRF, the Deadly Gentlemen.  But with the addition of Tristan Claridge on cello and Corey DiMario on double-bass they are so far over the top with talent it's incredible.  They did songs from throughout their career as well, including a funky Come On In My Kitchen, a note-perfect cover of Gillian's Orphan Girl, a beyond-soulful Look On and Cry, and a beautiful My Captain.  They closed with The Golden Vanity and then came back out with the crowd and led us all in Shady Grove.

Whoah!!!  What a (short and sweet) 24 hours of music it had been, and we only had a few hours of driving in the sudden late-November dark before we were back home.  Can't wait for the 25th!

Signature Sounds 20th, Saturday

Years ago I started noticing that I liked everything released on the new label Signature Sounds, and I started seeking out their stuff.  I remember one year going to the Signature Sounds tent at the Boston Folk Festival and asking them whom they'd just signed that I should hear.  They said, "Well, we've just signed a woman named Eilen Jewell."

And so when we heard at the Green River Festival this year that they'd be having a set of 20th anniversary concerts (we'd been to their 10th in the Somerville Theater), we were psyched.  We got tickets to two of the 4 shows, even though they were on Thanksgiving weekend, and arranged to stay in a hotel near Northampton in between.  Then Thanksgiving came and went and we headed out there on a beautiful late Fall Saturday, November 29th.

Went this way and that and checked into our hotel in Hadley, then found a quick Applebee's (the Comfort Inn didn't have the game!) and watched the Revolution beat the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference final.  That was done, and so we headed across the river into Northampton, found a parking place on the street, and then strolled over to the Academy of Music, a sweet old hall where Harry Houdini once entertained the crowds.

Here's who played that night:

Zoe Muth was up first and had a new guitar player and new bassist.  Pretty much all of her set was from her World of Strangers record, including the bittersweet Mama Needs a Margarita and the sublimely mellow Waltz Of the Wayward Wind.  Her guitarist tried to rock out a bit and I guess she's trying to be a bit of a show-person, but she's as down home as ever and as great.  For pure musicianship, this was possibly the best we'd seen her.

Next was the Sweetback Sisters and they were on fire as well.  Ryan Hommel opened on pedal steel and I wished he'd done a few more numbers on it.  Emily was being her hyper self and was dominant, quite a good night for her.  Zara knocked us over with a torch song, but it was Emily and their usual sly sense of humor that thrilled us.  And their costumes were just awful.

Barnstar! was up next and possibly put on the best show of the night.  They're a super-group of local bluegrass, including Mark Erelli, Taylor Amerding, and Jake Amerding, and they just filled the hall with powerful harmony.  We'd seen them at the GRF this past summer, and they were easily twice as good this time, they just nailed it.

It was break-time next and they dropped the ornate purple curtain, and we settled down for a bit.  BUT ... then they set up a plywood plank or something over the orchestra pit and Twisted Pine came out!  We'd seen this band of Berklee students at Freshgrass over the summer, and they are mightily impressive.  They squeezed in a 4-song set at the break on Saturday and showed that a) all 5 of them can balance around one mike on a piece of plywood better than you'd expect and b) they just keep getting better and better.

Break over, Heather Maloney came out and played a fantastic set herself, mostly solo but also with some of the other artists joining her at times.  Of course the highlight was her take on Joni's Woodstock, which you have to hear if you haven't.  She keeps getting better too, and switched between three very different-sounding acoustic guitars and a whole layer of filters.  Very technical and very entertaining stuff.

Winterpills was up next and they're just not at the same level as these other bands.  I took a stroll around during their set and bought a few CDs.

The final act was Eilen Jewell and she was a delight.  We'd last seen her back in February, when she was very pregnant and just playing one quick gig before retiring to Idaho to be a mother for a while.  Now she's ready to go back on the road, and the rest of her band is very ready too.  They played a flat opener and then Sea Of Tears, which is one of my favorites of theirs, and which Eilen didn't rip the way she has in the past.  But then she stepped to the mike and apologized!!!  I guess she thought herself that she'd been not that hot, and she said, "My mind is on a little face with a pacifier in it and probably a very wet diaper by now."  How sweet of her to apologize, and any parent could sympathize.  Then she got her act together and played a great set, delightfully getting better and better as the night went along.

They have a new studio record (as well as a new live one that I picked up at the merch table) which will be released in the Spring.  But they only played one song from it and for the rest cruised through all of her catalog, including several songs from her first, Boundary County.  I guess I've seen them better, but they're still getting back together and it was really great to see them.  They called everybody back out for their encore and did a Hank Williams hymn.

Quite a show!  Back to the car on a cold Fall night with the dregs of a Thanksgiving snowstorm piled up all around us, and then back to the hotel not too late.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dan Hicks Finally!

We got tickets to Dan Hicks at the Bull Run a while ago, front table of course.  Then he had to cancel twice(!), one time because he was being treated for cancer, which is a good excuse.  He finally showed up on November 14th and we were there waiting, as were a lot of other people.  I don't think I've ever seen that many tables squeezed into the Sawtelle Room, and they were all full.

Dan had his excellent backup Lickettes with him, Roberta and Daria, his excellent fiddler, Benito Cortez, and a new guitarist.  The show was as wonderful as ever, with the whole band doing their stuff.  Probably the high point of the show was a totally grooved-out Evening Wind, and then a totally spooky and weird Scare Myself, and later a rollicking Payday.  The low point was when Dan did Porter's Satisfied Mind solo and crashed and burned ... at this age his voice isn't really strong enough for him to do a ballad by himself ... but it was a good try.

We had a great time and I think the band did too ... and so did a lot of other people!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bromberg and Campbell At the Bull Run

This seemed like an odd (but intriguing) combination when we saw it advertised: David Bromberg and Larry (F.) Campbell at the Bull Run.  But then we realized that David Bromberg can play with anyone, and that this wasn't odd, it was exciting!  Tickets procured in the front row, we got more and more psyched for this, apparently along with a lot of other people, who sold the place out early.

So on Friday the 24th we headed over there after work, had another nice Bull Run dinner and beers, didn't run into Larry in the bathroom (though Dave had a sighting), and watched the place get packed.  Larry and David came on 30 minutes or so past advertised starting time, but this was understandable seeing as how frantic the place had gotten.

David was in a fine, talkative mood.  Who wouldn't be tickled playing with Larry?  And he told us about having played with Larry for years in backstage sessions between Dylan shows, etc.  He said that Bob had complained once that his band had more fun and played better with Bromberg than with him.  Oh well oh well!

And then Larry produced the tracks that David had done with Levon on his recent record, and they were determined after that to put out a whole record together and maybe get in some touring.  We're glad they did!

It's hard to characterize what they played beyond saying it was like a Bromberg record, a little of this and a little of that.  Larry was doing the multi-instrumentalist thing, alternating between two guitars (one of which had a large sound hole and a wonderful, low and rich sound), a mandolin, and a fiddle.  David picked his guitar like the world was ending and did the same to his mandolin once in a while.

And did Bromberg pick!  Larry is incredible, but his best runs only served to egg on David, whose fingers were absolutely dancing on the fretboard.  A big difference between them is that David is one of those players who hunkers down over his instrument and melds into it.  Larry holds his instruments like he's in a classroom so they can resonate with a pure sound.  David's sound is personal.

One of the early highlights of the show for me was when they slid into Willie's How Time Slips Away.  This is one of my all-time favorite songs and they just pulled it out of nowhere.  Of course David had to give it the Chicago blues ending, hitting the "in time you're going to pay" line that
Willie downplays, like that was the whole point of the song.  Well, maybe it is.

They played reels, blues, airs, and everything they could think of.  Far from having a setlist, they wrangled between each song about what they were going to tackle next, ending up alternating with songs they each chose.  Could either of them pick a song that the other one didn't know?  Maybe if we stayed about 10 times as long as we did.

After a long, long set (extended by Larry when David was ready to quit), they came out for an encore and played goddamn Turkey In the Straw!  Wonderful to end the night with such an old chestnut.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Geoff Muldaur In the Ballroom

As soon as we saw that Geoff Muldaur was playing the Ballroom at the Bull Run on Saturday 9/27, we got tickets.  This is such a nice room and we were really looking forward to seeing such a classic act (both in age and style) in that intimate setting.  No disappointment here.

Dad and Andrew were visiting, but we got out of the house at 6:00 and headed out to Shirley.  The place was mobbed when we got there, and there were drunk people dancing all over the place.  We parked across the bridge and headed in, finally escaping the mob and climbing upstairs where it was peaceful.

Muldaur started slowly (he had sound problems and we told him to just unplug dammit ... it's a small room) but ended up playing a great concert for all 25 of us in the Ballroom.  It was a madhouse there that night: a wedding, two concerts (a Beatles cover band was in the Sawtelle Room), and Saturday night bar/restaurant crowd.

Muldaur played a "Geoff Muldaur" model Martin excellently, except for two songs on which he plunked on a banjo with considerably less excellence but still assurance.  He did the stuff we wanted to hear, like Kitchen Door Blues (opener), My Tears Came Rolling, Drop Down Mama, Bobby Charles's (and Rick Danko co-writing, which I didn't know) Small Town Talk, and Find Blind Lemon, and also played lots of old blues tunes we'd never heard, introducing each with when he'd first heard it, often on Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music.

He played two 40-minute sets with a short break in between.  He's got such a wonderful voice, a one-of-a-kind.  Dave was by far the youngest one there (except for the sound guy), probably by at least 30 years.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Freshgrass 2014

You'd think that people who like to see music as much as we do would go to a lot of festivals.  But we don't.  But last year's Freshgrass had an awesome lineup and we almost went.  And when we saw the lineup for this year we were pushovers to go when MattW revealed that he had a timeshare condo 30 minutes South of North Adams.

They took their sweet time revealing what band would be playing what stage when.  And when they finally finished revealing, Rodney Crowell was missing, who was one of the top names IMO (he begged out to work on a movie or something).  They also had a lot stricter rules than other festivals, since they're on the grounds of an art museum.

But whatever, we were really psyched!  We took Friday Sept. 19 off from work and left home around 10.  We stopped at Shelburne Falls for a delicious lunch next to the sunny Bridge of Flowers, then continued to trundle out to North Adams, through Williamstown, and down South to Hancock.  There we met M&J just as they were coming out of the clubhouse with the keys, and trucked back down the hill to our pair of suites.  He had scored an "A" unit and a "B" unit and we had lots of room, balconies, TVs all over the place, fireplaces (they had a jacuzzi in in their bedroom), fully equipped kitchens, large bathrooms, and stuff.

We had a beer or two, drove back up to the clubhouse for a soak in the outdoor spa in the slightly chilly but beautiful Berkshire air, and then drove on back and prepped for the concert.  We were off!

And what an exhausting weekend it was!  Here's what I saw, not including the minor-league bands at the Courtyard C stage and the popup stages:


Michael Daves & Tony Trischka
  • They featured special guests Brittany Haas and Aoife O'Donovan.
  • They had us riveted at the first song, and then tore into "a murder ballad," Cold Rain and Snow; I didn't know this was a murder ballad (though I'd been hearing it for years) until they sang a verse I'd never heard ... that explained a lot.
  • It was the first act and already the surprise of the festival: Michael Daves is a phenom; you could count the fillings in his back teeth when he opened his mouth to sing, he took no prisoners.
Aoife O'Donovan
  • The soundboard guys had some problems all weekend, and they started with Aoife.
  • She wanted to open with a ballad from her album and feedback had to make her change plans on the fly; so she went into a Crooked Still rocker, and this worked out great!
  • She did her soft songs later and had the packed Courtyard D crowd in the palm of her hand, a great performance.
  • The sun was way set by the end of it and the temperature was dropping fast.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops
  • They're just not the same without Dom Flemons, not to mention original Drop, Justin Robinson.
  • And I also liked Layla McAlla and Adam Matta, who had brief stints with the band.
  • But Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins are still great, and they had added a new cello player and a bass and drums.
  • But ... this meant they weren't the ace band I expected them to be, especially when the cello and bass stepped on each other.
  • Oh well, the crowd in the courtyard (*beyond* packed now, it was almost frightening, and very cold by this point!) loved them and we left a bit early so we could grab places inside for...
The Duhks
  • The "late night" set is inside in a weird auditorium they have, and the Duhks were eagerly anticipated by everybody.
  • Again, I was disappointed that they were missing a key original member: Tanya Elizabeth.
  • They had filled her spot with a fine fiddler but Tanya had added so much to their vocal style and their funk.
  • But it was a fun show anyway, and they're a great addition to the eclectic lineup we realized they were going for; there are so many different kinds of bluegrass/roots and the festival ended up covering many of them.
  • We headed out before they quite finished, dodged some emergency vehicles convening on a crash on route 43 on the way back, and finally got to bed sometime between 12 and 1AM.

Woke up Saturday around 8 and were just about ready when D&T showed up and we all had an incredible breakfast of "everything" omelets prepared by Matt.  Then we scrambled to get all the stuff in the cars.  S&D and I left first, a little after 10, and grabbed a fine parking space and only had to wait in line for a minute before entering the venue.  It was another fine day and Andrew was at the Courtyard stage when I showed up!


The Deedle Deedle Dees

  • They were the first band up, at Courtyard D at 12:15.
  • They definitely played a distinctive style: children's bluegrass.
  • This meant they were kind of boring, unless you were into songs about Amelia Earhart, etc.
  • The highlight was when they did a song about the molasses flood in Boston and their lead singer jumped out into the crowd to lead the kids in a fun molasses simulation.
  • You had to see it to see it you know, but the most fun thing about their act was watching the kids respond ... really a great start to the day.

The Novel Ideas

  • They were up next at the field stage, where we'd set up a camp next to the soundboard.
  • They're a young, soft, country-folk, band with some nice sounds.
  • Talented people but not great songs ... I was beginning to think that the festival was starting slowly.
  • And then we gathered at the car for "gnoshes;" but I was dying to get back and soon did because next up was ...

Claire Lynch

  • Dave saw most of this too and was blown away.  Claire is a world class bluegrass musician and had a note-perfect band.
  • Her second song was her killer Dear Sister, which is one of the best folk-bluegrasss-oldtimey songs I've ever heard.
  • The estimable Mark Schatz was her bassist/multi-instrumentalist, and he delighted us all with a classic hambone.
  • For a climax of the set she did what everyone wanted: Jesse Winchester's That's What Makes You Strong, which had the field hanging on every note and got some handkerchiefs out for sure.

Haas Kowert Tice

  • Next up I ran back to the Courtyard and caught a bunch of the set from Brittany Haas (fiddle, Crooked Still alumna), Paul Kowert (bass, Punch Brothers alumnus), and Jordan Tice (guitar, Tony Trischka alumnus).
  • This was chamber bluegrass with a black belt ... perfect stuff.
  • As good as Haas is, the delight of the set was Kowert finger-picking and bowing the bass on what had suddenly become a brilliant summer day.
  • They did classics, new songs, and improvised jams ... one of those bands you could have watched all day; but...

Berklee All Stars

  • Ran back to the main stage (ok, there were beer and food breaks interspersed with all this) to see the Berklee bands.
  • They had three student bands do short sets, and I managed to catch all of them: Ellie Buckland and Isa Burke, High Rock Mountain, and then Twisted Pine.
  • They all showed incredible talent, but really playing bluegrass well as an ensemble can take a lot of practice.
  • Possibly the band of the festival (they won the talent competition, so will be back next year), was Twisted Pine, which is fronted by the majestic Adam Moore on bass and had some outstanding players, like an Asian mandolin player whom we wanted to hear more of.
  • But then it was *back* to the Courtyard for...

The Gibson Brothers

  • Yet another sub-genre of bluegrass: traditional bluegrass with brother harmonies.
  • These guys knew what they were doing and the crowd here was the older people who wanted to hear the trad stuff.
  • Their singing together is sublime and they were wearing matching suits ... just what you want.
  • Their set was fantastic, but just as they launched into their recent IBMA song of the year, Andrew and I scooped up our chairs and screwed for the main stage to see...

Alison Brown

  • Dave joined me up front for this one and he was still gushing about Claire, until he saw Alison that is.
  • She had a great band also, including her husband on bass and an excellent electric piano player; they played the finest jazz bluegrass and blew Dave's mind again ... this was possibly the band of the festival for him, he had never heard (let alone seen) a banjo played with such fluidity and perfection and producing such dynamic tones.
  • Alison brought out guests Darol Anger and Claire Lynch and later her road managers, who were kids about 11 and 7 and who brought the house down.
  • A train came by during her set, with classic Pullmans and people standing between cars to wave at us ... quite unexpected.
  • I ran into her husband/bass player on Sunday and thanked him profusely for that set, he was very gracious.
  • By then the sun was setting fast and it was time for ...

Sam Bush

  • Wait, how many different styles of bluegrass are there?  This was the best newgrass ... though "newgrass" is almost traditional by now.
  • Sam stuck to the mandolin and to his style, which meant he roamed around the stage and egged on the different players, then took the lead himself and out-did the fantastic run they'd just played.
  • The crowd loved this and was roaring with every new wave of frenetic sound to come up the hill from the stage in the suddenly dark evening.
  • They ended and we toweled off and realized we were exhausted already; but now it was time for ...

Railroad Earth

  • This is the finest jamgrass, another distinctive style.
  • They mellowed out perhaps a little too much at this point of the evening, but were all excellent players.
  • They were spread out over the stage, as far apart as possible, and each took a signal role in the sound, which was fascinating.
  • Would have loved to see their whole set, but we realized we had to pack up the chairs and bring them back to the cars (Andrew and D&T were long gone by this point) so we could grab places inside for the late show, which was...

The Infamous Stringdusters

  • OMG, yet another style: flashgrass!
  • They're great players but had a schtick, which was to play as fast and flashy as they could.
  • It was just a cascading series of instrumental breaks, each longer, louder, and more of a crescendo than the last, interrupted by a few tight vocal interludes.
  • One of the fun things was the curtain of lights they had, which focused around one player or the other when it was their turn to GO!
  • I was really exhausted by this point, almost asleep on my feet.  About halfway through the set I told the others I had to go and they agreed that they wouldn't mind getting out of there either.
  • It was a long, slow drive back to the condo, and we all staggered into bed again, some time between 12 and 1.

Couldn't believe it, but after a lousy sleep in a stifling room with a lumpy bed (ok, the condo wasn't perfect), I got up at 8AM again, ready for another day of music!  As is always the case, after settling into a place for two days it was a pain to get everything together and get out of there on short notice.  But we did and ended up hitting the road for the festival just a little after 10.

We had to park a bit farther away and were a bit later getting in the gates (there seemed to be a bigger crowd on Sunday), but we still had the chance to grab a great spot at the main stage.

And this meant I had a chance to tour the galleries!  I had seen their "boiler room" installation on Saturday, which is a literal boiler room, back from the days when coal and steam powered the mills that the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art currently occupies.  On Sunday I had time to see some of their other exhibits too, including massive installations by Teresita Fernández (and also some more intimate gold chrome paintings she'd done), and a panoply of spacey, runny oils by Darren Waterston.  Then the show started!


Salvation Alley String Band

  • The Courtyard D stage was first up again at 12:15 with a pretty much straight-ahead country act.
  • I caught a few numbers of their's; might have enjoyed them more but had to get out of there quickly for...

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper

  • This was yet another kind of bluegrass, where there's one virtuoso and everything is centered on getting to the point in the song where he plays the bejeezus out of his instrument.
  • The virtuoso here was Michael Cleveland, a blind fiddler whom we've seen play with the best bands around and outshine them all, and who's a perennial contender for fiddler of the year.
  • Dave was again up front with me for this, he had bought into the gospel of bluegrass and believed me when I told him he would be blown away again by this guy.  He was.

Darol Anger

  • Next up was some more academic bluegrass, from current Berklee faculty member, Darol Anger.
  • He had his family on stage with him for several numbers and proved to be an excellent band leader.
  • He's also a fantastic fiddler and his glue was essential ... in all, a great mid-afternoon, mellow set.

Hurray For the Riff Raff

  • Wandered around a bit and then found myself back in the Courtyard for a few tunes by Alynda Lee Segarra's band, which had been at the GRF this year.
  • Yet another style: folk/Americana bluegrass!
  • She's got a strong voice and was rocking the enthusiastic crowd in the courtyard, almost packed again at this point.
  • But I got out of there and back to the field for ...

Martha Redbone Roots Project

  • Martha's got a unique mix of blues, soul, and American Indian music.
  • You might call this "roots-grass" if looking for another name for the style.
  • The high point of her set was a long, throbbing cover of Johnny Cash's Drums, from his Bitter Tears record (recently re-recorded by Welch, Rawlings, etc.).
  • This had the crowd going wild; but back to the Courtyard now for...

Liam Ó Maonlaí

  • Hadn't heard this guy, who sang some excellent Irish folk.
  • The highlight of his set was a beautiful, ringing cover of the traditional Lakes of Pontchartrain, naturally done in a Paul Brady style.
  • The packed Courtyard became even more full as I stuck around for the next set.  What we were all waiting for was one of the real name acts of the festival...

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn

  • Béla and Abigail were delayed by the sound gremlins that had been around all weekend, but soldiered on.
  • They both had banjos of course, his with a huge body that was as resonant as Ó Maonlaí's bodhrán had been and her's as highly tuned as a banjo can get.
  • They played Béla's take on jazz bluegrass and Abigail's take on Chinese bluegrass, and then mixed the two and twisted us all around, and ended up somewhere totally delightful.
  • This had the absolutely jammed-in crowd gaping and roaring, but we (Sarah and Matt were with me) had to grab our chairs and struggle out of there suddenly in the middle of the set because we didn't want to miss...

The David Grisman Sextet (sometimes 7)

  • They were rocking on the field stage by the time we got there, and I eventually got down front and joined Dave, who was enthralled.
  • This was dawg-grass of the highest style, with covers of traditional songs, totally random jams, and Grisman songs from all eras, including Grateful Dawg!
  • Grisman brought out guests Darol Anger, Alison Brown and a guitar player from an earlier act who's name we missed.
  • This was music of the highest degree, purveyed by a musician of the highest pedigree, and up next was...

Emmylou Harris

  • She was the last act of the weekend and we were anticipating an incredible finale, but Emmylou unfortunately had a cold.
  • I was really disappointed because Matt had never seen her and was very, very psyched (we were both up front for the start of the set).
  • Emmy the veteran could not be faulted however, and several reviews I've read gushed about how great she was.
  • The fact was that though she was lacking in energy she laid down some great stuff, including One Of These Days (I've been lucky enough to see her do that song many times throughout the years), Luxury Liner, and of course Jesse's My Songbird.
  • Her old stand-by Byron House was on bass, and young Australian Jedd Hughes, was on lead and he shone as ever, including a lead on Luxury Liner that almost had Emmylou smiling ... she was obviously not feeling well.
  • The crowd shouted her back on stage for an encore, and she did a quick cover of Wheels.
  • Oh well, I've seen her many times and will see her again, I hope!

WOW ... time to get our things together and leave.  That had been 25 bands in the course of 2.5 days, plus food stalls, intense art, amateur pickers running all over the place, incredibly friendly staff (in all a great job by Freshgrass making us all feel welcome and happy), beer (Goose Island was my customary selection), and lots of happy people.  We had a few raindrops on Sunday and had suffered the cold on Friday evening, but there were also lengthy periods of blue sky and fantastic sunshine.  The weather generally held and it was as great as you'd want for a end-of-summer Berkshire weekend.

We made it back to the car and left by 8:00 or so with a long drive in front of us to get back East.  But it had been a wonderful weekend and we're already looking forward to doing it again next year!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jack White in the Bleacher Theater

We've all been very impressed by Jack White's last few records, and we were just saying that we had to go see him next time he came to town when ... we found out he was coming to town.  And not only that, but he was going to play the "Bleacher Theater" at Fenway.  For this they set up a stage on the visitor bullpen and open 6 or so sections of the bleachers and the grandstand.  We got tickets in row 40 of section 42 ... great angle but we would have liked to be about half that many rows up.  Oh well ... we were going to see Jack White at Fenway and were very excited!

The environs of Fenway were a madhouse as soon as I pulled off of Park Drive at about 5:15 and I was just able to get a spot in a corner of a closed-off Van Ness Street and a grid-locked Ipswich Street.  We met for dinner at Yard House on Brookline; good salads and great beer selection.  Then we boogied down to entrance C, paid an outrageous price for ballpark beer, and climbed up to our seats.  I was three rows directly behind the Ted Williams seat.

Olivia Jean opened at 6:30 and played some incredibly gnarly guitar and some great songs (including a cover of Shocking Blue's I'm Your Venus).  He band was fantastic too, and it was a beautiful setting, with the huge stage almost covering the vistor bullpen and the home bullpen invisible under all the trailers and out-buildings a real rock show requires.  The sun had about set by the time Olivia's act ended, and the bleachers were almost full soon after that.

It was such a fun concert for so many reasons, the drama, the song selection, the setting, the musical performances, the crowd, the stage set, and just about everything.  Take a look at the pictures on Jack's site (click on 2014-09-17, Fenway).  And I'll add some more specifics later ... have to get ready for Freshgrass!

Here's the setlist:

Just One Drink
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
High Ball Stepper
Hotel Yorba
Temporary Ground
I Cut Like a Buffalo
Top Yourself
Alone in My Home
John the Revelator (Blind Willie Johnson)
Rambling Man (Hank  Williams)
You Know That I Know (Hank Williams)
You Don't Know What Love Is
We're Going to Be Friends
Ballad of Hollis Brown (Bob Dylan)
Ball and a Biscuit

Icky Thump
Steady, As She Goes
Freedom at 21
Sixteen Saltines
The Hardest Button to Button
That Black Bat Licorice
Would You Fight for My Love?
Hello Operator
Seven Nation Army

OK, more details!

Jack played with the fantastic band he's been touring with lately, Lillie Mae Rische, Fats Kaplin, Daru Jones, Dominic Davis, and Ikey Owens.  They were introduced individually like they were baseball players, emerging from the little door in the left field scoreboard and running across the field to the stage.

Davis played the first half of the set on an electric, then switched to a chromed stand-up bass, that sounded excellent.  Fats did not play the theremin he had on stage, but played everything else: mainly pedal steel but also mandolin, fiddle, and who knows what, while wearing a suit and sporting a Fu Manchu.  Jones had his kit set up to the left of the stage and was an animal, pounding away with an energy we couldn't believe.  Owens wailed on the organ and also played the delicate piano parts that make Jack's recent songs so outstanding.

 And Lillie Mae was everything I'd anticipated too.  She sang the soulful backup, ripped off the searing fiddle runs, and looked really cool!  Jack jumped over to her mike and screamed into it with her on the choruses.  Fats picked up his fiddle at times and those two played unison swing to back up and take over some songs, while Jack watched them critically.

My favorite part of the show was when Jack marched over to the stand-up piano with a serious look on his face, slung his guitar back over his side, strummed a chord on the strings, and then started pounding away on the keys, staring downwards.  After a few bars he screamed, "Tell me who's that writing?" and then answered himself in the same breath, "John the Revelator!!!"  He sang a few rounds of that great traditional song, and then took us away with him on the piano, up and up and up.  Until finally he started crooning: "I love you baby, but you gotta understand, when the Lord made me he made a rambling man."  This was soulful Hank Williams on his birthday; this was roots music wailed into the Fenway Park night.  Jack did a shout-out to the great Hank after Ramblin' Man, and then did You Know That I Know as well.

So many songs had me almost giggling with delight.  He covered an obscure Dylan song.  He did You Don't Know What Love Is, which was the song I really wanted to hear but never expected him to play.  He did the great duets with Lillie, Temporary Ground and Alone In My Home.  He did I Cut Like a Buffalo, perhaps the best song from his brief Dead Weather foray.  And then he did Ball and a Biscuit, a song I love but really, really, never expected him to play.

We were ready for it to get cold, as it often does on a late summer Fenway night when the wind picks up.  But the temperature didn't really drop and the crowd was thick and writhing.  It was so comfortable in the bleachers, both environmentally and psychologically.  Almost all of the people were there to see the genius play, and we almost all knew the songs and were hanging on every note.  The 10% who were just there for a rock show were kind of freaked out by us fanatics, almost like at a Grateful Dead concert.

And I have to mention how fantastic the production was, because that's what really took the experience over the top.  The "bleacher theater" idea worked wonderfully, at least for the section we were in.  The sound was perfect.  They had rigged lights all over, but chiefly in three large light boxes that swiveled high over the stage.  They opened the curtains behind the stage, and the background was the beautiful greensward of Fenway.  They had pixel-perfect video screens to the left and right at our eye level (40th row), and though we could see the musicians fine I found myself watching the screens at times.  The camera work from the robots on stage and the telescoping lenses near the soundboard (one section directly to our right) was incredible, and they had two separate feeds on the two screens.

They played a long set and then bounced off stage.  We knew they were coming back for an encore, but what I wasn't ready for was a fucking 9 song encore!!!  This was really a second set.  They opened with Icky Thump for Dog's sake and did Freedom At 21 and That Black Bat Licorice.  We were just rolling with delight and laughing in ecstasy.  Finally they were done, and Jack regaled the crowd with his appreciation of our appreciation.  Beyond everything, this was a case of a musician letting it all hang out and walking that fine line, having it work totally, and feeding off the raves of the crowd.  This was a lot of fun for everybody.

Took a while for the bleachers to empty, but we and the people around us had nothing to complain about.  We'd just shared an incredible auditory and visual experience and wanted to keep it in our minds as long as we could.  Finally got out of there and it was just a few hundred feet to where I'd parked.  We were gone into the night but I think I'll remember Jack White at Fenway Park longer than a lot of things!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

AATW Runs Into Shirley

The summer music slow season is about over and the Fall schedule is about to descend on us, oh no!  First up was Asleep At the Wheel at the Bull Run on Thursday, 9/11.

AATW has been around since 1970 with a rotating cast around lead-man Ray Benson.  Ray has had his ups and downs over the years, but the band is back on top.  Nobody can do Western Swing the way they do.  Well ok, some people can, but AATW and Benson do it with an ease and a sense of fun that can't be equaled.

We were at the table at the left corner of the stage, and so had pretty good seats.  You've got to be up front for the Sawtelle Room because the floor isn't pitched and the stage is barely elevated.  Just before the band went on a rogue attendee asked if she could squeeze into our table and we said sure.  She asked and I told her I'd been listening to AATW for a long time, and she said probably not as long as her.  As it turned out, she's Ray's sister and is currently living on the Cape!

Ray has added some new personnel to the band, Emily Gimble on piano and vocals (Tommy Gimble's granddaughter) and Katie Holmes on fiddle and vocals.  Emily was off the charts fantastic.  Her piano chops were superlative and her vocals were flawless, including a lead on the classic blues tune, A Good Man Is Hard To Find.  Katie was pretty good, as well as Eddie Rivers on steel, David Miller on stand-up electric bass, and David Sanger on drums.  They also had a saxophonist/clarinetist (their producer perhaps? he alternated on soundboard) who we would have liked to hear a bit more.

Their mix was pretty muddy at first, but they eventually got used to the room and filled it well.  Benson was in a pretty expansive mood and was, as usual, incredible.  He's got one of the great voices, including power throughout an amazing range from upper baritone to the deepest bass.  They have an incredible repertoire to cover and tried to get to a bunch of those songs.  I was very glad to hear them do Faded Love, on which they did a couple of measures of "everyone play!" Dixieland, and also House Of Blue Lights and even Hot Rod Lincoln.

Dave liked it!  Not a bad drive back home and got to bed not too late.  Much more music to come soon!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ol' Brown Shoe on the Dock in Salem

Ol' Brown Shoe was playing on the deck of the Black Lobster in Salem on a sunny Sunday afternoon and that was not to be missed.

The tide was way out when we showed up for the 1:00 show at @1:30 (luckily they were just about to start), and the rivers were mostly gullies of mud.  The band played three long sets and were mostly excellent, though there were of course a few vocal flubs.  They had a BBQ (hamburgers and hot dogs) which was as good as could be expected, and the beer was cold.

Everyone there had an great time, ourselves included of course.  By the time they were done and we'd hobnobbed a bit, the tide was almost high with not a bit of mud in sight, and it was after 5:00.  A nice last part of the weekend!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Meet Up At Movies 2014

This year for Meet Up At the Movies the Dead organization arranged to show the made-for-TV film "Beat Show" from 1972-04-21 at Bremen, which was then in West Germany.  This was the latter part of the Europe 72 tour and the band were on top of their game to say the least.

Though they only showed the whole filming of the TV show (including bits left on the cutting room floor), this approached a successful documentary or memento in its own right.  Because the Dead were so relaxed, the feeling of the setting and their current goals came into focus better than if they just showed a performance (as in last year's Sunshine Daydream).

We went to the Fenway Regal 13 theaters after a fine meal at Yard House, both on Brookline Ave.  They were screening it in two theaters and the one we were assigned to was supposedly sold out, but there were a number of empty seats in it.  The film was fantastic and everyone had a good time, applauding and cheering.

In the bathroom afterwards the topic of conversation was what they'd do for a second set.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Green River Festival 2014, Sunday

As mentioned, most of our friends did not get tickets to Sunday, but we did!  We all three kind of forced ourselves to rise at a decent hour after being up late partying.  But how could we stay in bed when there was another beautiful summer day out there, a scrumptious Oxbow breakfast (this time with coffee), and more golf to play?

Dave and I enlisted Scott for golf and we had another vastly entertaining 6 holes.  There were some fine niblick shots, and we didn't run out of balls, though there was some danger of that.

Packed up as fast as possible after golf, refreshed water and other liquids, got the last few things out of the crannies of the room (you can settle into a hotel room dangerously fast), and hit the road for the festival while the others were still hanging out with languishing fervor (or something like that).  We got there about an hour later than we had Saturday and the line was extensive already.  There were possibly more people there Sunday than there had been Saturday.

The line started moving after not too long and even though several hundreds were admitted before us, we ended up with another fine space, about 10 feet in front of the soundboard, dead center.  It was already overcast and looked like rain (though rain hadn't been forecast last I checked), but this did not keep people away.  We did our Sunday-GRF morning routine of getting overpriced iced coffee and people-watching (there was a lot to watch).

Finally the first act came on, The Deadly Gentlemen.  They're a Boston band, formed by phenomenal banjo player Greg Liszt after he left Crooked Still.  Liszt is an incredible talent, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable set, though I missed some of it in the aforementioned pottie and food lines.  It was already a crowded festival!  I'm told that their cover of Cold Rain and Snow was incredible.

Whatever, it was down to the 4 Rivers stage next for another Boston band, Girls Guns and Glory.  This was another thoroughly enjoyable set that simultaneously showed some rawness in the band and showed their charm.  They played their excellent recent song, All the Way Up To Heaven, and did fun covers of Semi Truck and Chuck Berry's Sweet Little 16.  They also held off the rain; the sky was looking pretty scary at the start of their set but had calmed down a bit by the time they ended and we packed up and headed back uphill...

For the set of the weekend.  If you don't know Dave Alvin you ain't livin', and if you aren't familiar with the music he's made with brother Phil since the two of them got back together, you have to go hear this stuff now.  We'd told our son Dave about how good Alvin is, and he hadn't had time to catch up (GD fanaticism can be draining), but he was whacking me on the arm half-way through their first tune and saying, "Oh My God!!!!!"

The field was absolutely packed for the Alvins and people were standing and dancing halfway back to the soundboard.  This was another case where the festival people got it wrong: these guys were the headliners and the organizers thought Josh Ritter was?!?!?!  Phil has an incredible blues voice and Dave is just top notch.  Phil introduced him as the triple-threat: singer, songwriter, and guitar player, and boy is he good at all three.  And their voices melded the way brother's voices meld in heaven.  Incredible stuff.

They had Dave's band with them, and that's saying a lot: Lisa F. Pancratz (she did a drum solo that verged on TOO), Brad Fordham on his killer duo of basses, and Chris Miller playing the foil to Dave's guitar brilliance.  What did they do?  Well pretty much the whole Broonzy record, like Southern Flood Blues, All By Myself, Key To the Highway, Truckin' Little Woman, and the beyond-excellent Stuff They Call Money.  They finished up with Marie Marie and we were all (well, those of us with a pulse), in heaven.  We saw Mager a bit afterwards and he was still trying to calm down.  This was not only the set of the show, but one of those moments when you feel privileged for the glimpse into what a crack band of musicians can do.

Wow!  Time to decompress and eat a bit of Chinese vegetable wrap, the third year in a row one of our favorite food vendors has been there ... hope they don't get "upgraded" out next year.  Then we hit the road for downhill to see Barnstar! [sic].

We used to be devoted fans of Northern Lights back in the day, and we were eager to see Taylor and Jake's new band (though Jake's solo work in the meantime hasn't impressed me ... I'd lump him in with Josh Ritter and Ellis Paul), and Mark Erelli on lead guitar is no slouch.  We loved the few songs of their's we saw at the 4 Rivers stage before the sky that had been threatening rain all day finally let loose.

We made a quick decision to take off, and then finally ran into our friend GlennK and spouse, who have just had a milestone anniversary!  Rude of us to run away, but we wanted to get back to the main stage and stop things from getting wet, and then get out of there ... the World Cup final was being contested at that point and we wanted to get back home for the replay.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper was holding forth up on the top field, but we packed up quickly and exited.  In all, the GRF had a whole bunch of second-tier acts and was sonically not well organized.  I hope their new direction leads to a good place, but I for one will not be jumping on early-bird tickets next year.  For instance, we could have stayed home and seen the one "great" act they had at Sinclair for a lot less hassle.

Oh well, got home at a leisurely pace on route 2 and saw the World Cup final.  I bitch, but it was a lot of fun!!!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Green River Festival 2014, Saturday

There was a lot of hoo-ha leading up to this summer's Green River Festival.  To bulletize:

  • Signature Sounds took over the festival from the Franklin County C of C
  • Jim Olsen was still in charge, but there were some significant (to us concert-goers) changes
  • They were going to have a beer tent, so this meant more severe rules about "bring no alcohol"
  • They had decided they needed better food vendors so instituted rules about the size and style of coolers you could bring in(?!?)
  • They apparently decided they needed to cram more people in, and so instituted rules on the size of blankets you could bring
  • There was much teeth-gnashing about the new rules, us included of course; we didn't know how draconian they'd be about enforcing them and anticipated the worst
  • We bought early-bird tickets, but then they revealed their lineup like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls and it sucked!
  • OK, it didn't suck if you like pukey acts like Josh Ritter and Lucius, but the only world-class act IMO was Dave and Phil Alvin
  • There was some difficulty in getting reservations at the Oxbow (which had been so welcoming an experience last year), but we did and PaulK enlisted too
  • R&D were shut out on tickets when the festival sold out against all odds (but they were able to pick up scalped tickets)

Well, that may sum up the hoo-ha but it was really more extensive than that.  Rebellion and riots were plotted, and on top of that we got signals that we would have to wade through a wedding party when we finally made it to the Oxbow!  The good news was that Dave was coming this year, and he and Sarah and I made reservations for Friday too, though the others went for just Saturday night.

We met at West Concord after work and boogied on out West on a beautiful summer evening.  Things were looking good!  We stopped in Shelburne Falls and had to wait for 45 minutes or so to get a table at the West End Pub, but this gave us time to tour the Bridge of Flowers and take some deep breaths of western MA air.  It actually approached "chilly" that evening but that was fine with us, especially after last year.

Got to the Oxbow at 9 or 9:30 and were installed in room 20, a nice room with a couple of queen beds, a good air conditioner, a decent shower, and very few channels on the cable ... just as we expected.  What we didn't expect was that the pool was out of commission!  They had had a leak and the pool was drained.  We knew this would be a big deal to the kids, and so called Scott and then posted it to the email thread.  This was bad, but the stranger thing was that there was no sign of a wedding party after we'd been led to expect such!?!  Oh well, soon to bed.

Woke up and had some nice blueberry muffins in the help-yourself breakfast room, though they were low on coffee.  Dave and I grabbed the clubs and played a fun 6 holes on their "golf course."  They have no greens except for the places where they've put indoor-outdoor carpet (leave the natural greens, the carpet sucks!), the fairways were mowed pretty well but were very narrow, and the layout of the course did not go along with the signs on it.  But we could understand how much work it must be to even maintain the course to this level, and we had a great time, though we lost a good number of balls in the deep grass where it would be mowed on a normal American course.  We ended up both averaging a little over three strokes per hole.

Then throw stuff in the car and off to the concert!  We got in line on Colrain Street at about 10:45 and immediately realized that the people taking the shuttle bus into the site after parking in the free lot (as opposed to those of us in line, who had paid for nearer parking but couldn't get to it), would get in line first.  No big deal, but I grabbed the chairs and walked in so I could get in line, while Dave and Sarah took over the car.  They eventually got in when the lots opened at 11 and joined me in line for the wait until noon.  We early arrivers near the front of the line chose to wait in the shade, and that seemed to shape the direction of the eventual gargantuan line.

By noon the line stretched for miles, and people were still waiting to get in long after the first act went on.  They didn't do searching/measuring at the gate luckily, otherwise rebellion would have ensued.  I saw (and drank) plenty of items violating the rules throughout the weekend ... perhaps next year they'll crack down more but I think the "rules" are mostly there so that the festival can be licensed.  Anyway, we got in early and got our preferred seats, about 50 feet from the stage, center.

Waited a while and then the music started!  We were psyched.

First up was Paul Burch & The WPA Ballclub.  As it turned out, the ballclub was Fats Kaplin on fiddle (I had a brief chat with Fats later).  They were good.  But after a few songs we screwed down to the "Poet's Seat" stage because ...

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem were playing and we hadn't seen one of our favorite bands in too long.  They thought they were going to be doing a kid's show (this used to be the kids tent, the rules were askew) but most of the audience were adults, and so they played what they wanted to play!  This included Traveling Shoes, They All Asked For You, a beautiful new song by Rani written on the occasion of leaving her son at school for the first time, and of course I Want To Be Ready.  The whole tent was filled with devotees.  Putting them on the third stage early in the afternoon was one of the egregious programming mistakes made by the new administration IMO.  People were there to see them.

Next back up to the main stage for Poor Old Shine.  As happened several times during the crowded festival I missed a bunch of their set while waiting on line for potties and food, but I saw enough to really appreciate them.  They morphed onstage into their new group persona, Parsonsfield.  They're still finding their sound and thought they needed a break from their harder Americana sound to a folkier vibe.  Whatever, they were good.

Next was The Lone Bellow, and I was really looking forward to these guys.  They feature funky arrangements and beyond-great ensemble vocals.  I was even more impressed than I thought I'd be.  Their songs tell stories in a visceral style and these guys do not hesitate to sing as loud as they can.  And when they sing at the top levels of their ranges their voices merge extraordinarily.  This is a band that has to be heard to be believed.

Still hanging out at the main stage, with a little food, waiting for the line at the beer tent to die down (it never did, they need more taps).  The James Hunter Six was up next, a super-tight alt-blues band of limeys that was excruciatingly entertaining.  Hunter has great vocal style and though his act ran out of new things to do by the end of the set, this was not to be missed for those of us who'd never seen him before.

OK, time for Norah Jones.  She played with Puss N Boots, a trio with Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson.  Norah exudes star quality but has no ego and so was happy to share the stage.  Whatever, she couldn't help but dominate the set and we soon forgot that there were other people on the stage with her.  For me, one of the high points of the festival (perhaps the high point) was when she swayed back and forth with her bell-like Stratocaster and sang Cash's Cry Cry Cry.  This was akin to Elizabeth Cook stopping the festival two(?) years ago with her take on Hot Burrito #2.

Popped down to the Four Rivers Stage, which was set up where the dance tent used to be (great decision to have a stage rather than a tent), for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  I only saw a song or two by them, and then crawled on up to the main field through the crowd to get dinner and to see a few songs by Lucius, who were very forgettable: simple, loud bass and boring, overwrought vocal arrangements.

We hung around for a few songs by Trombone Shorty.  I'd looked forward to seeing him and he definitely showed some talent.  But what he showed was more stage presence than musicianship.  Great vocals when he got around to it and pretty good trombone when he stopped whirling it around and put it to his mouth.  Whatever, we were out of there early.

Got back to the 'Bow and we were the first ones there!  This gave us a chance for quick showers though to wash off the festival grit, the sunscreen, the bug spray, and even more festival grit.  Then the others showed up and we had too much fun, dragging our chairs into a circle on the "patio" outside the rooms and gabbing and gabbing while the beers and the margaritas flowed.  People finally started to fade and I ended up in bed before 1:30, though not by much.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Willie and Alison and Kacey

The traffic was brutal already and I was a little late to pick up Sarah at the 3:47 train at NoBillerica on a Friday night, June 20th.  The traffic continuing North on 495 was stopped, and so we went the other way through Nashua and Manchester and then finally Concord, through heavier traffic than I've ever seen in NH.  We finally got off the highway on routes 3 and 11 toward Winnepesaukee and it was bike week in New Hampshire!

What could we do?  We crawled through traffic on a beautiful day, the last day of Spring, admired the bikes and the scene successfully, and finally made it up over the rise and down the slope towards Gilford, with the mountains outlining the background against the blue early-evening sky.  We pulled into the surprisingly un-full parking lot, set up our chairs, and had some beers and sandwiches while we waited for the Willie Nelson at Meadowbrook concert to start!  The crowd was right behind us of course and the lot soon filled up.

After a bit we moseyed into the venue, looked at the hats for sale, grabbed a beer, watched the drone flying around, and then made out way to our excellent 14th row center seats during Kacey Musgraves's first song.

Kacey was great, and I was very impressed by her band.  The sound could have been louder for all of the acts to me, and this was particularly true for the opener.  But she played a lot of her hits (including Follow Your Arrow and Blowin' Smoke and of course the trailer park song) and mixed in some nice random country-folk, while her note-perfect band performed excellently.  In fact, that's the first word I would use to describe the whole night, "perfect."  None of the acts got a note wrong all night, but this was not a weak effort; they all performed perfectly while playing and singing aggressively as well.  There were a lot of jaw-dropping moments.

The roadies were rushing the opening act through their paces, thrusting the tuned instruments for the next song into their hands as soon as they hit the closing note of the last song.  One of the jaw-dropping moments (though hokey to some degree) was when Kacey and her band sang the a cappella encore, Happy Trails.  Besides Kacey (who was sporting print leggings), they all had quasi-Nudie suits on and for the encore they started the lights going on them!  Luckily, no one was electrocuted.

Time for another beer and a quick tour around the venue, which I hadn't really done before.  I went way up to the lawn section and it wasn't full at all, though the amphitheater itself was packed.  There were some very nice spots on the lawn and it could be a lot of fun for a mellow concert with some friends.  Made it back to my seat, and then AK&US came out and instantly the night became very un-mellow as we approached bluegrass heaven.

This was the classic lineup or course: Alison, Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Ron Block, and Barry Bales.  Their setlist had few surprises and there weren't any real cases of one of the performers dominating, but I have to say it was one of the best evenings of bluegrass I've ever seen.  I can't think of a better one.

They started off a bit slow, and then Dan stepped up and sang Peter Rowan's Dust Bowl Children and we all just went nuts.  This was a knowledgeable crowd, up front at least, and we all realized what an incredible performance we were seeing.  Besides the perfect vocals, Alison was routinely incredible on fiddle, Jerry was beyond world-class on dobro, Dan was miked perfectly on guitar, Barry was booming with the bluegrass bull fiddle, and Ron switched seamlessly between his leads on guitar and banjo.  This was great, great stuff.

If I could have written my dream AK&US setlist I would have picked a few other songs, but this was pretty good.  The one unexpected song of the night was actually one of the best, Sawing On the Strings, which was again, perfect.  Besides Dust Bowl, Dan sang The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn (one of the best of the night), and the totally expected Man Of Constant Sorrow.  Alison did the expected sweet songs like Let Me Touch You For a While and Baby Now That I've Found You, but also did some grittier songs like The Lucky One and Paper Airplane.  They also did a great, foot-stomping Choctaw Hayride featuring some hot fiddle.  Again, this may seem like a hackneyed setlist but My God you should have been there, it was awesome.

When they reached the end of their set they stood aside and bowed while the roadies hurriedly re-arranged the stage for the encore.  Then they came out and did 5 more perfect songs.  No shit.

Well, it was time for one last trip to the beer tent and then to settle down for Willie.  He came out with his son Lukas on guitar, another son on percussion (along with another percussionist), his "little sister" Bobbie on piano, a bassist, and some other instrumentation from time to time.  But no one in the crowd noticed.  Willie was beyond riveting, dominant, he was the show.

They opened with Whiskey River, and did not fucking stop all night.  Willie did some of the soul-wrenching songs I most wanted to hear, but then followed those up so quickly with another incredible song from his long career that we didn't even have time to wring out our handkerchiefs!  I'm still trying to recover from his going in one measure from Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away into Crazy!?!?!

And the dominant sound of the night was not his voice, but his guitar.  He motioned with his head to Lukas to keep it down when he tried to step up the pace, and he let Bobbie take over short parts of the songs with her honky-tonk piano, but then he would strum a few chords and pick a lead that carried us all away.  I couldn't imagine that an 81-year old guy could have such a quick left hand, like he was a combination of Johnnie Winter and Jimi Hendrix playing the country blues.

Willie got a little tired towards the end of the night and wasn't exactly moving quickly as he threw headbands into the crowd and thanked people for their drunken adulation.  But he finished up strong and then called everybody (and I mean everybody) out for Will the Circle Be Unbroken and then Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.  It was just a perfect night.

Got back to the car and waited until the jam started moving before Sarah got behind the wheel and drove back to Massachusetts.  Meadowbrook is not exactly close, but can be a lot of fun, especially when seeing a concert like the ones we've seen there recently.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Patty Griffin Rocks Boston HOB

Went to see Patty Griffin at the HOB – Boston on Tuesday, June 10th.  We met at Yard House with some difficulty because my phone had gone walkabout, but we had an excellent meal and some excellent fancy beers there, and then walked down an empty Van Ness Street in the still-slightly-chilly late Spring.  Luckily, the Red Sox were on the road.

They had seats at the HOB?!? … first time we’d experienced that.  We were in the first row and this was good because we had plenty of legroom, but we had to look way up to see the stage.  Of course, the sound was fantastic, even though we were way up front.  This is a specialty of the HOB, I’ve never heard them not get the mix right and fill the room from the get-go.

Parker Millsap opened and showed some excellent vocal talent.  He’s another of the current crop of Okie singer-songwriters and we were impressed, as was the audience, which usually treats openers at the HOB as roadkill.

Then Patty came on and was everything you’d hope she’d be.  I loved her setlist.  Highlights were that she opened with Ohio and Don’t Let Me Die In Florida from her latest record, did her cover of The Strange Man (one of my favorite gospel songs), and of course did Truth #2 and Top Of the World.  She killed them all, and all of us.  What a songwriter and what a performer!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Eddie Izzard in Heels

I hesitate to say "We're not comedy fans," but the fact of the matter is that we've never had any kind of inclination to go see a stand-up comic.  Eddie Izzard is way above your average stand-up comic though in our minds (this may be a laughable statement to a comedy aficionado ... what do we know?), and we were psyched to have a chance to see him in Boston, at the Wang Theater, on May 8th.

Though I bought tickets online as soon as I could, they were still back in row M right.  Not only was there a great response to this show, but he also announced two other dates after that and I believe sold them out too.  For anyone to sell out the Wang three nights in a row is pretty impressive.  So we were excited, as was everyone else who jammed into the Wang that Thursday night.  We'd had dinner at Jacob Wirth's as normal for a weekday theater district show.

But I was a mite disappointed.  He's done such radical humor in my mind, touching on the "funny" in all aspects of life, such as the Spanish Inquisition, American conservatives, British royalty, animal life on the savannah, the building of Stonehenge, Star Wars, and on and on.  A friend warned me that I might puke if I was unprepared for a comic who'd get me rolling.  But Eddie didn't get me rolling.

He came out in a posh (masculine) suit and heels and made me giggle a few times, though laugh-out-loud was nowhere to be seen.  He could have been miked better; I missed a lot of his asides.  The funniest parts of his act were when he reprised things he'd already done, like he did an excellent segue to his "Star Wars cafeteria" scenario.

The second set was better.  He really had the audience in the palm of his hand there, as he explored areas he hadn't before.  But there was nothing hysterical and the volume problems continued, though we were not far from the stage.  Oh well, maybe I'll find it funnier on tape.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Miss Tess Rocks Marblehead

More evidence that there's something very wrong: how come only 35 people came out to see Miss Tess and her newest band tear down the UU church in Marblehead??  OK, the traffic was even worse than on a normal Friday night (things get crazy on school vacation week), but besides that small point the stars were aligned and yet no one except a few delighted regulars saw one of the best young female blues singers I know.  And labeling her with a genre is misleading, her new album of covers (including one cover of herself) touches on Ted Hawkins, Randy Newman, Willie, Bonnie, Hank, and Neil Young.  Eclectic yes, but in addition her song on the record is as good as any of theirs.  And she proved that Friday night.

Emily Elbert opened and was pretty hot herself.  She's got great vocal and guitar technique (being a Berklee product), but needs to put the two together a bit better.  She's working hard at it and gave us a well-wrought, professional set, possibly one of the best opening sets I've seen at the Me and Thee Coffeehouse.

After a short break Miss Tess came out with "The Talkbacks," though the band has a new guitarist and bassist in Thomas Eaton and Jeremy McDonald, as well as long-time drummer Matt Meyer.  They were all excellent and I'd have to say that her band is much better than it was last summer.  McDonald alternated between standup and electric bass, and added some sweet baritone vocals.  Eaton played some hot rockabilly licks and this was what was missing to my ear ... Miss Tess did some great jazz-blues-torch stuff earlier in her career but her voice sounds best when she's rocking out and taking names.  I think this was the first drum kit I'd heard at the M&T and Meyer was just fantastic, he could have accompanied her well all by himself.

We were in the first row of course and had a bit of dialog with the band, who must have been dismayed by the small house but were nearing the end of a long tour and seemed to be enjoying a night without a lot of pressure.  They covered almost all of the new record, and then delved into some new songs and some old songs, which to my delight included Adeline, Don't Tell Mama, and People Come Here For Gold.  They encored with Darling Oh Darling and got a standing ovation from the small crowd.

Had a brief chat with Miss Tess and then took off for home after a long week.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bye Bye To Ganesh

Wednesday April 23

All good things come to an end, and this was the end of our Florida vacation.  We’re experienced enough travelers that we could do the final suitcase-stuffing and leaving-stuff-behind that needed to be done without too much trouble.  One last yummy Travelodge breakfast, loaded up on coffee, and then hit the road North on the start of Florida’s Turnpike in Homestead.

We had to leave behind some peanut butter, and I’d schemed to sneak outside in the middle of the night and rub it on Ganesh’s stomach.  I’m sure he would have *loved* it but I think I might have gotten arrested.  In any case, I slept too soundly and missed the opportunity.

It was yet another sunny day but this time we had the top up, and it’s probably good that we did because the turnpike got really full with noisy and crazy traffic quickly.  We stopped in Pembroke Pines to knock down the last beer, to fill up one last time, and to snap a few more pictures, and then braved the last few packed miles to the Fort Lauderdale airport, where we bid a sad farewell to Mustang Sally, who had been an excellent companion and ended up enjoying the trip a lot more than she thought she was going to.

Got some beers and some salads at the now-empty restaurant that had been overflowing when we passed through the Fort Lauderdale airport before, and then caught our planes North.  Air travel can be really not fun, and there were lots of little details not worth mentioning that made it even more tedious.  One good thing was having a short interlude at a Clearwater(!) brewpub in the Atlanta airport.

Made it back to Boston a bit before 9:00 and took a cab home as soon as we could.  Back to the 40’s and 50’s and the middle of a cold Spring, but what the heck, we’d had a great time!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Key West and Beyond!

Tuesday April 22

Back in the Winter I’d mentioned to my friend that we were going to Florida that Spring.  She asked what we were going to do and I told her some of our itinerary, and then said, “And we’ll probably have some time at the end, so we might do stuff like drive out to Key West.”  She gave me the double-take and said, “No, you *are* going to drive out to Key West, you *have* to do that!”

I was glad to hear that.  For years I’d looked at the map of Florida and wondered what it would be like to drive out that long causeway, miles and miles into the ocean.  Now was the time for us to find out!

I actually woke up a little early and we got to breakfast before it became crazy-busy.  The less said about the Travelodge breakfast the better, probably.  I’d realized we hadn’t brought any beach towels and I considered bringing one of the hotel’s towels, but that wouldn’t be cool and we needed to be cool here.  We stopped at a couple of places around Florida City to see if they had towels (every place had souvenirs, so we thought beach towels were not far away).  Sarah was in one place for a while so I figured she’d hit paydirt, and then she came out with tea towels and a sun-dress.  Oh well, there would be places on the way.

The last bit of route 1 South starts in Florida City, and it wasn’t long before we were blasting with the top down on another cool-but-heating-up-quickly morning, down the straight line towards Key Largo, over the marsh, the peninsulas, and then the start of the scattered islands.  “Blasting” is relative of course; we were leading the pack and so doing the speed limit, and the other cars were piling up behind us.  After a while I had to call the 10-car rule on myself and pulled over at Little Blackwater Sound so they could all get by.  I followed and *they* were doing the speed limit and now I was stuck at the end of the pack!  Oh well, that’s human nature and we had a long way to go.  Turned right at Key Largo and headed out the long path to the sea.

The Keys are divided up into 5 chunks: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, the Lower Keys, and Key West.  All of these actually include a lot of smaller islands.  For instance, “Marathon” is not only Marathon Key but also Pigeon Key, Knights Key, Boot Key, Vaca Key, etc.  The first for us was Key Largo (then Rodriguez Key, Tavernier, etc.) and this was pretty well settled.  We found a Dollar Store and got a beach towel, then crawled past massive stretches of construction and ritzy hidden enclaves for a long way.
Probably half the people who visit the Keys stop here and don’t go farther.  As you might imagine, the glaring signs for phony “safaris,” rotting water parks, broken-down airboat rides, tired t-shirt and shell stores, seafood restaurants that were probably pretty bad, etc. proliferated here.

But as we passed into Islamorada after @20 miles there was a definite change.  Unsettled bits of beach started to pop up and the causeway got narrower.  There were places where we could see Florida Bay on the right and the ocean on the left, and then the gaps between the Keys started up and we were definitely out there.

Things got even better as we approached Long Key State Park, in the town of Layton on the last bit of Islamorada.  We had this park on our list of sites to visit but realized that we’d better concentrate on getting out to the universally-recommended Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Keys if we wanted to get everything in that day.  It was here that the archipelago of Florida Bay to the North finally ended and we were officially out in the Gulf of Mexico.  We pulled over before the Long Key Viaduct, snapped a few pictures, and breathed the ocean air.  It was very strange: we were way out in the sea by now, but there was a busy highway balancing on the narrow islands that was just a hundred feet away from us at the most.  Loud, but still beautiful.

Got back in the Mustang and continued cruising, over the viaduct, past Duck Key, Curry Hammock State Park (where we also would have loved to stop), and then into and out of Marathon … more on Marathon later.  After that comes the Seven Mile Bridge.  I was a little nervous if I would freak out driving on a narrow road in the middle of miles of ocean, but the long bridge from Knights Key to Little Duck Key was a piece of cake … in fact it was even better than that!  The sky was blue, the sea was green, the clouds were white, a few boats moved slowly up the ocean on our left, the old, rotting causeway on our right was covered with comical birds and their droppings, and it was pretty noisy but spectacular!  We landed in the Lower Keys and soon turned off to the left into Bahia Honda State Park.

We had to wait in a line to get in, though it turned out we were a few hours ahead of the crowd.  All the other cars turned right toward the concessions and the campground, and we turned left, back to the East along the Atlantic shore.  A few miles later the route we were on diverged from route 1 enough that it became blessedly quiet, and finally there was the end of the road with a few pavilions with picnic tables, a low building with restrooms and showers, and the Silver Palm trail stretching out beyond that.  This was the place we had hoped to visit and it was even prettier than we’d imagined it.

It’s a little laughable to look at the brochures for this park; it seems pedestrian if you read about the details, but when you actually see it then you realize what an incredible place it is.  If you’re ever out in the Keys, go there.

First things first for us: we prepared our pack and then hit the Siler Palm trail.  The beach was pretty deserted at this point and maybe we could have taken advantage of that, but it never got very crowded that deep into the park while we were there.

The Silver Palms you see on the Lower Keys are threatened, because for years people have been digging them up and moving them to their gardens.  The State Park is protected of course, and we saw some lovely specimens of the tall trees.  We also saw Gumbo Limbo trees, Sea Grapes, Poisonwood, a huge orb weaver spider on her web, lots and lots of lichens, all three varieties of mangroves in one small area (black, red, and white), holes all over the place dug by land crabs, sea oats, lots and lots of birds, and many kinds of bushes,  The Silver Palm trail has informational signs every few feet it seems, and we read all of them.  It’s amazing that the undergrowth that we’d been remarking on all along was documented and turned out to be more kinds of different plants than we could imagine.  We saw everything from wild poinsettia to wild bamboo, all crowding around us as we wound through the woods on a suddenly hot, hot day.

The trail wound out to the beach a few times, and finally we returned to the parking lot.  The only others on the trail had been Europeans … where are all the Americans?  Oh there they were, suddenly crowding the beach a bit, though few of them really looked ugly.

It was time!  I changed into my suit and hit the calm water.  Went straight out from the shore into the Atlantic, a few hundred feet or so over sloping sand until it was well over my head, then out past a band of weeds growing on the bottom with transparent jellies hovering over them, and then out further over a vast expanse of sand, now about 20 feet deep and a couple of hundred yards or so off shore.  The water was so clear I had no hesitation about swimming underwater with my eyes open, swooping down to the bottom to pick up a handful of the coarse sand, and then rising up back towards the sun.  The water was so salty it made me tear and blink when I popped back up on the surface and tried to shake it off.

This was a wonderful experience for me.  I swam slowly back to shore, past a few snorkelers busily cruising up and down the beach, and past a small scattering of kids and parents enjoying the beach from a few yards into it.  One father was trying to teach his young daughter how to swim and was terrified when she’d pop off the kick-board and show him with a smile that she could swim on her own.  When he tried to demonstrate the right way, you could tell he really had no idea himself … his daughter had learned more about swimming in the sea in a few minutes than he had in a lifetime.

We sat at a picnic table in a pavilion and ate our daily peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that we had prepared that morning … the last of our loaf of bread.  Soon it was time for another quick swim, and then a fresh-water shower and to get saddled up to leave.  We still had many miles to go and the afternoon was getting on.

There’s suddenly lots of land when you get out to the Lower Keys and the Key Deer refuge (we were disappointed not to see one), and it was still @25 miles out to Key West.  But then we were suddenly close to the end, and the traffic, the buildings, and the confusion picked up like it had never been far away.  We had planned for this and turned left on A1A to skirt the downtown area.

There’s a beautiful park/beach/esplanade around the Southern coast of Key West, and we cruised on that for a while.  Suddenly there was nothing left to do but dive into the city, and we didn’t want to do that!  We made a sudden command decision and turned the fuck around.  We’d gone far enough into the ocean, perhaps a half mile and an endless stretch of tourists short of the official “point furthest South in the United States,” but that was close enough for us.

Cruised back up A1A and then we were on the road back.  I’d seen a coffee shop in the Saddlebunch Keys, and we stopped at Baby’s Coffee to load up on iced caffeine.  I ran into a guy from Worcester waiting for coffee.

One more person we wanted to visit … Sarah’s Internet friend Joe is one of the “Cornell hawk” people (long story), and is incongruously based in Marathon.  She’d been in touch with him off and on throughout the last few weeks about meeting up, and the timing was perfect!  We agreed to meet in his local bar, LazyDays on Marathon, and we got there a bit before he did.

What a beautiful place!  It was happy hour and the Clearwater beers were cold and cheap, they had incredible tuna sashimi (with real wasabi) and conch appetizers to die for, and the views from the bar out of Marathon Harbor were beyond fantastic.  They had slips at the bar for nautical visitors.  They had t-shirts saying, “I Wake Up Every Afternoon for Happy Hour.”

Joe is a retired finance guy who loves fishing and now works and recreates on boats out in the ocean, hunting mahi-mahi, sailfish, tuna, and a good time.  He and Sarah were really tickled to see each other, realizing that other virtual Cornell hawk friends would barely be able to believe that they’d finally met.  He showed us the boat at that dock that he worked on sometimes, and then brought us over to his harborside condo, where *his* boat was docked.  He told us tales about the Gulf Stream, what kind of fish they catch, and what kind of life he leads there.  I’ll have to admit that we were almost ready to pitch the workaday life overboard right there and sign on.

What a beautiful place, but we were finally ready to get back on the road around 6:00 or so … we had a long way to go.  The islands and the channels between them rolled by in reverse as we kept the top down, the speed at the limit (there were an incredible number of cops and cowboys on the road, see digression above), and the tunes cranked.  Finally we made it through the long haul of Key Largo, and turned left up to Florida City.

That’s when the really incredible stuff happened.  It was about 7:45 by then and we had a great view of the sun to our left, sinking into the horizon.  It exploded into spheres of color that shot through the whole sky and lit up the clouds, the birds, and the vast blue-gray spaces in shades of pink, purple, yellow, red, and orange.  We were shooting through it in a Mustang convertible, listening to Jerry and the boys turn up the volume and play the songs of ages.

OK, the straight road North through the swamp finally ended and Florida City started up, and we soon pulled into the Travelodge parking lot and Ganesh *knew* about all that we’d experienced.  Sarah was still pretty full from the late appetizer feast, but I was a bit peckish and so went for a sub at the very conveniently-placed Subway.

A French family was ordering from the guy working there, who was saddled with one of the thickest Southern accents I’ve ever heard.  There were some communication difficulties, especially when they were delighted to be asked to pick their rolls, but then puzzled when he told them that no, they could pick the kind but not the roll itself.  I managed to keep a straight face.

Watched a bit of TV and then to bed as soon as we could after a long, lovely day.