Monday, May 18, 2015

Almost Circumnavigation of Grape Island

Everything was pointing toward Plum Island Sound on Sunday the 17th, and I followed the pointers towards the sea.  I've only been blogging about a few of my kayak trips lately, but this was one I should mention.

I've had my Wilderness Systems Pungo 14 (named Ruby) since late last summer, and I'd been dying to really get her out and go through her paces.  The tide was right, the wind was forecast to be perfect (more on that), and it was a beautiful, sunny mid-Spring day, well before most boats hit the water.

We drove out to Great Neck, Ipswich, arriving just after 10AM.  The fog was drifting in from the ocean and shrouded everything mysteriously.  I knew that Plum Island was over there however, and started up quickly, right across the mouth of the Sound, letting the ripping incoming tide toss us around and force us to the North.

Rounded the point with the (most recently) abandoned house on that Eastern shore, and the tide was perfect an hour before change-over for me to attempt a circumnavigation of Grape Island.  There were the largest ospreys I've ever seen (including one flying close overhead with a fish), cormorants, gulls, ducks, swifts, and eventually a few snowy egrets and white herons.  There were acres and acres and acres of salt marsh just starting to swell with grass.  I wandered in and out among the sunken hummocks of mud and thought I had picked the right path to get around.

Grape Island was beautiful with sudden massive bushes of lilacs, thick stands of maple and pine, and the muddy-rocky shoreline you'll see on a tidal island in the Northeast.  Unfortunately, it was swamped with invasive bittersweet, and even the tallest pines were draped in it.

Couldn't make it all the way around and so backed up to my starting point and got swept in the last bits of the incoming tide up the Western side of Plum Island.  I was paddling away and Ruby was cruising, going faster and faster with the strengthening Southeast wind.  This was perhaps going to be a problem: the forecast had been for "5-7 knots from the Northwest, becoming calm by afternoon."  What we experienced was totally the opposite.

Ruby and I eventually turned about when the maintenance barns for Parker River Refuge came into sight, and headed directly back for Grape Island, cutting across the winding channel and almost directly into the stiffening wind.  Only a handful of boats were out that sunny Sunday, and we all knew how to be courteous to each other.  Ruby sure showed her pace here, as we just ate up that distance and kept true to the line, backed by the steadily increasing outbound tide.

Paused for a short snack stop at the Northern end of Grape Island, and then drifted the few miles back to the beach at Great Neck, pushed by the powerful tide.  It was a little more than 3 hours in all, but I could have stayed out there for a while, what a beautiful day and what a great kayak!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jorma Solo at the Bull Run

Jorma Kaukonen has recently issued what could be his best solo record, which is saying a lot since others he's done have been so excellent.  Ain't In No Hurry was produced by Larry Campbell and has Larry, Teresa, Jack, and Barry all over it ... the usual suspects.  His schedule is all over the place (including coming to the area with Jack, Larry, and Teresa in 6 weeks, which we're going to miss!), but he stopped by the Bull Run for a solo concert on Friday, May 15th.

We didn't get the dead-center front table but were two to the left of that, and got there early enough to grab the seats fronting the stage.  After we enjoyed another nice Bull Run dinner, Jorma came on with his off-yellow flannel shirt, his silver hair, his butcher's hands, and his library of excellent songs.  He's one of my favorite songwriters.

Jorma played one set and had the packed house just drooling, hanging on his every syllable.  You could have heard a pin drop at times and at other times people throughout the room screamed in delight.  He was as Southern-Ohio folksy as ever, engaging in a little conversation with the fans, playing Death Don't Have No Mercy for B.B. King (who had just passed away), and telling a funny story about Jack Casady at his estate on the Isle of Jersey.

We would have loved to have seen a band with Jorma, but we knew we were going to be in for an evening of concentrated excellence with him solo, and we sure were.  He took his time, he wasn't in no hurry, and he knocked every one of these songs out of the park with his beautiful voice (in better form than I'd ever heard it), and his awesome guitar.  I may be remembering the order wrong and/or missing a couple, but here's what he played:

True Religion
The Other Side Of the Mountain
Ain't In No Hurry
Death Don't Have No Mercy
Hesitation Blues
Barbecue King
In My Dreams
Come Back Baby
Where There's Two There's Trouble
I Am the Light Of This World
Good Shepherd
How Long Blues
Bar Room Crystal Ball
Water Song
Know You Rider
Never Happen No More

Jorma stayed on the same acoustic with nylon strings all night (with thumb-pick and fingers), but switched to a ringing one with steel strings and a wide fret board for Bar Room Crystal Ball (top of my desired list for the night) and Water Song (only one of the best songs ever).

He referred to playing at the Dear Jerry extravaganza in Maryland the night before (he did Sugaree on electric, we heard it on the web) and said that he'd wanted to play the next song, but was told that he couldn't.  Then he launched into Know You Rider and killed it of course.  Probably wouldn't have been fitting for him to do a song at a Jerry tribute that he always (debatably) played better than Garcia.

There were several outbursts and standing ovations throughout the night, including me after Death Don't Have No Mercy, which was just incredible.  We rang the place with some of the loudest applause I've ever heard there when he moved to finish, but after standing away from his chair for a bit, nodding and smiling, he came back and did Never Happen No More for us.  Some people still wouldn't quit, begging for a second encore, but Jorma had enjoyed himself and was now done.  He'd been in Maryland the night before and had to be in Manhattan the next night.  I hope to be as active in my 70s!

What top-notch music and what a great way to spend a mid-Spring Friday night.

Pictures here!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Alpine Valley, 1989-07-19

We’ve been going to the Grateful Dead “Meet-up At the Movies” the last few years, and it’s always been in August.  But they suddenly announced the next one back at the end of March, with not much time to get ready.  What was going on?  It must be that this video release (1989-07-19, East Troy, WI (Alpine Valley Music Theatre)) was holding up plans for other “50th birthday” releases, so they wanted to get it out of the way.  I think it likely that this one will be released commercially sometime after the live event.

But anyway, seeing the last few movies in theaters has been a lot of fun, so we went ahead and got tickets to this one, on May 4th at the Lowell Showcase Cinemas.

I met Dave and Sarah at the train station, we had a great dinner sitting on the sidewalk of Fuse Bistro on Palmer Street (a warm/hot day at last!!!), a couple of fancy beers, and then booked on over to the theater, where the Deadheads were definitely convening and getting ready for a movie.  The theater itself was only a quarter full, but we all had a great time, with everybody applauding desultorily and a few dancing in front of the screen and in the aisles.

We were a bit familiar with the show since the “Downhill From Here” video is from the show two days before at Alpine Valley, and for some reason includes the last 3 songs from the first set of the 19th!?!  The question was if they’d be reprised in this film or what.  And the whole stand is fantastic, considered by many to be one of the best of that period, which no less an authority than Bobby says is the peak of their career.  Phil had selected the first song of the second set (Box Of Rain) for his From the Phil Zone record.  So we were psyched.

We got great seats, and the sound was very good; I could have used a little more volume in all, and a bit more of Phil in the mix but I’d say it was better than the last two Dead movies we’d seen in theaters.  The lighting and production values were very good; they had a consistently dark, back-lit look that was easy on the eyes and set a great mood.  The credit sequences were nice and simple, no need to gild the lily here.  But the camera work was a little bizarre and got tiresome.  It seemed they had no more imagination than to zoom in, zoom out, pan right, and pan left … over and over.  Their close-ups were way too close (we don’t need to be able to count the blotches on Jerry’s face), and when they panned it seemed to have no purpose at all other than to do something with the camera.  During Space the cameras couldn't figure out where to focus, so zoomed in on Billy's abandoned drum set, then zoomed out, then zoomed in, then zoomed out, ad nauseum.

Besides those technical details though, it was a fantastic experience … we were there for the music and it was beyond excellent.  We came away saying the same thing the experts had said, that the first set was ridiculously awesome and the second set, though it had its not-great stretches (TOO was just not the same in 1989 as compared to what it had been in 1969), was pretty awesome itself.  Highlights for me were some excellent guitar work on Mama Tried > Mexicali, a stunning Althea, and Morning Dew in the second set.  Other great moments were the ensemble singing on Box Of Rain (though at other times the singing was not far above average), Garcia’s leads on Foolish Heart, possibly the best West L.A. I’ve ever heard, and of course the following Desolation Row and Deal.  These last 3 are the ones that are on Downhill From Here and were mostly shown with different camera angles, though some were literal repeats.

Here’s the setlist:

Set 1
Hell In A Bucket
Mama Tried >
Mexicali Blues
Victim Or The Crime >
West L.A. Fadeaway
Desolation Row >

Set 2
Box Of Rain >
Foolish Heart >
Looks Like Rain
Terrapin Station >
Drums >
Space >
The Other One >
The Wheel >
Morning Dew

Turn On Your Love Light

Closed with an uninspired 80's Lovelight, and then we all applauded, whooped it up, and took off for home.  It was suddenly another Monday night with a long work week ahead, but we were all smiling because for a few hours we’d just been back in 1989 with the Grateful Dead!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tom and the Rose Of Roscrae

We were way overdue to see one of my top musicians, Tom Russell, and we heard he’d be at Club Passim for the first stop of the tour to promote his new record.  The record (The Rose of Roscrae) came out a few weeks before the concert and is fantastic.  It’s an Irish-western-traditional-modern folk opera on two CDs that has everyone in the world singing on it, in all different styles … exactly what you’d expect from the great Tom Russell at this stage of his career, but better!

We met at On the Border as always on Wednesday April 29th, and then trickled across the street to Passim in time for a nice dinner from their new menu.  Cousin Kate was there, as was Dave Palmatier, who had interviewed Tom on WUMB that afternoon, but it was not a full house.  Tom was accompanied by Thad Beckman, and came out wearing all black (including his cowboy hat) and a white scarf.  The hat and scarf soon were discarded and Tom and Thad ripped it up seriously.

After opening with a bit of Carrick Fergus to set the stage, they dove into Hair Trigger Heart and had the audience singing along raucously very soon.  Tom has a way of rambling and had a lot of explaining to do, to set the songs for the audience who weren't already familiar with the opera (I’d read the libretto so knew it very well, and heard that afternoon's interview).

In the first set Tom covered all the strong tracks you'd expect him to cover from the record, including Johnny Behind-the-Deuce, I Talk to God, He wasn't a Bad Kid, and Tularosa.  He also did what I consider the best song on the record, the Ian Tyson co-write When the Wolves No Longer Sing.  We were at table 10 and so could be easily seen from the stage and Tom seemed to know that I knew that he was going to sing Wolves,  This was his first introduction to The Committee (except for 8 years ago of course).  He and Thad closed with a bang with Tonight We Ride.

Kind of a "what you'd expect" concert so far, though what you expect from Tom is supreme excellence.  But they came out for the second set and broke the mold with a vengeance.  Tom started off with a bit of Ragland Road (as he had with Carrick Fergus last set), but then left the new record behind and delved into the last phase of his career with St. Olav's Gate (ok, three phases ago), East of Woodstock West of Vietnam, the amazing, amazing Guadalupe, Nina Simone, and Stealing Electricity.  He also had Thad do a track from his most recent record.

OK, time for the greatest hits part of the show.  Tom was as talkative as ever; he did Navajo Rug with all the "ai-ai-ais" you could handle and then gave Blue Wing an extended introduction, including mentioning that it had won "best Tom Russell song ever."  I shouted out that I'd voted for Bowl Of Red (I actually went for Blue Wing too of course, it's possibly the best song ever written), and he laughed and said that he wrote that back in the 40s!  He asked for a closer and someone came up with the wonderful suggestion of Let the Credits Roll, which he played extremely well.

I talked with Tom after the show and related the story of The Committee.  I remembered it as 4-5 years ago but when I got home I realized it was more like eight years ago!  Another wonderful night with one of the best musicians around, and I hope he has great luck on this and future tours, and with his new record.

Pictures here!