Sunday, October 30, 2016

Phil Once Again, Armonk part 2

Woke up in the Armonk La Quinta after a nice sleep.  Breakfast was open until 10 that morning and we sure didn't want to miss that (sarcasm intended)!  The place was pretty full, probably mostly with business-people who spent Friday on the job but left early to get back to Podunk (not Armonk).  A bunch of stragglers remained however: a mish-mosh of families on their way to somewhere, elderly folks on their way to somewhere else, and partiers like us who were just stopping in for a spell.

We all hit up the lobby for an American motel breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, make-your-own waffles, and catch as can pastries (good blueberry muffins actually).  We sat in the back room, thankfully far away from the blaring FoxTV station, along with a Mexican family and a couple of young black guys who bitched half-heartedly about ho's and then probably went back to their suburban homes.  Have you been to America?

OK, time to re-gather in the hotel room and it wasn't long before we were all ready to focus on the excursion we'd planned, to the Butler Sanctuary, just North of Armonk in Mt. Kisco (which is a town).  It's so rare to see them in the wild and we were psyched.

Jumped in the car and pulled into the Sanctuary parking lot not too long after that on another lovely Fall day, with a few dark clouds in a mixed overcast, a nippy-but-warm-feeling-inside Fall glow, hints of a languorous idyll hiding among the rocks, and the musty and moldy but bright smell of a full-lunged Autumn day in the woods.

The Butler Sanctuary is right off 684 and was noisy at the parking lot, but straight-away we climbed right up to the hawk observation platform, high above the highway, where we could see Long Island Sound in the distance to the South and a trio of predators circling to the East.  We amateur-observed a bit and talked to a couple of late-season official observers; we were far away from the highway and what it represented with just a short climb.  We then went downhill and uphill and downhill and uphill past a few dog-hikers and jeez, we loved the place.  The light and the mix of trees (ash, beech, oak, and maple, with a few pines and other sorts) were so refreshing and the rock outcroppings, the stone walls, and the roll of the land were just incredible.  This place is highly recommended. 

We didn't go for the longest walk around the perimeter trails that we had considered, for several reasons,  This place is a bit more challenging than you'd think because of the frequency of elevation changes ... you're rarely *not* going up or down.  And we weren't as equipped as we might have been for such a woodsy walk.  And anyway, we were well aware that in a few hours we'd be dancing all night, and that was really the point of this goddamn expedition, not trying to catch a glimpse of butlers whisking around silver tea sets!!

Got back to the parking lot after a really fun time, and then headed into Mt. Kisco itself to seek out the Mt. Kisco Diner we'd seen mentioned on signs.  Turned out it was in the middle of a charming North Westchester town and we got seats after a bit of a wait, and got some VERY large dishes: Chef's Salad, Portabella Grill, and Aruba Wrap.  Sarah and Dave got fancy drinks too.  We had a fine time there but had to leave the deep-fried green beans behind.  Maybe we'll go back there another time when we're looking for good, pricey, American food with a bit of high-calorie whimsy and a suburban ambiance.  They actually have a burger served between two grilled cheese sandwiches!?!

OK, back to the Armonk hotel, a bit of catching up with the internet, and then we were off once more to Port Chester to see Jay Blakesberg's show at Garcia's.  Jay, of course, is one of the pre-eminent photographic documentarians of the Grateful Dead and other rock artists.  We were running a bit late and the Church parking lot was not open to us hoi-polloi (turned out they were having a function that night), but we found a great spot on the street and soon settled into folding chairs at Garcia's (with adult beverages) in plenty of time for Jay's slides.

Garcia's is the Capitol Theater's side-bar, which is open at times that the Theater itself isn't and functions alongside the Theater, sometimes as an overflow for the crowds there.  They have their own functions too, and we'd seen that Blakesberg would be presenting a slide-show of his photographs there in the afternoon before the P&F show.  Jay walked around nervously in a paisley shirt, but seemed to figure all was ok eventually, and settled into his stool on their small stage.

This was another great time!  Jay's done some fantastic rock photography over a long career, and in his rambling, rapid show frames his iconic pictures in his own experiences, including some poignant seventies-teenager moments and some brushes with larger-than-life (they wish) characters like Tom Waits and Bill Murray.  About 50 of us were sitting in rows of folding chairs listening to this, and the crowd gradually filled in around the edges as the show went on.  Two surprising things were that GD crowds are generally 60-70% male, but the audience at this event was predominantly female.  Also, when Jay asked, "Who here was at Fare Thee Well?" well over 50% of the hands went up.  I guess we profiled ourselves there.

One fun thing was that Phil and Friends launched into their soundcheck in the middle of the slide presentation.  Jay said to the audience, "Want me to go ask Phil to turn it down a bit??"  I was so focused on the slides that I didn't pay a lot of attention to what they were playing, but one song you could not help but hear was Nicki Bluhm singing the Jefferson Airplane's Somebody To Love.  

Great time and got out of there just in at the right moment to escape the forming crowd and to walk up the few blocks to Kiosko, where we had another delicious, quiet and private meal.  Fed the meter (well, the parking ticket dispenser) on the way back, and then figured we might as well go in.  They sure searched me thoroughly this time (ok, no cavity inspection) and they made me discard a couple of un-documented tabs of ibuprofen that I had in my pocket.  The interior doors weren't open yet so we had plenty of time to kill and we hung out back in Garcia's, where Jay and his paisley shirt were still holding court,  Would have liked to talk with him, but he was busy entertaining paying customers.

Before we knew it, it was time for the Saturday show in the Capitol!

We had seats a few rows back and a few seats to the right of where we'd been on Friday.  The crowd was late-arriving and we had plenty of time to detour to the smoking area (where I met a guy from Scroon Lake), drink some beer, and watch the pre-show.  It soon became apparent that, not only were lots of people in costume, but lots of people were already very fucked up, and they got more fucked up as the night went along.  Didn't see any puking, but saw a few people fall down in ways that had to hurt, saw a few people who had no idea where they were, and got bumped into by a number of fellow concert-goers (I was on the aisle).

At one point someone danced or staggered too crazily and launched a beer all over the woman standing in the aisle next to me, getting my right side too.  But the worst was the people who were on their phones!  We were listening to a fucking concert, sitting in (or trying to stand at) $100 seats, and some idiots spent most of the show on their phones.  A woman near me actually tried to stream a video *with sound* while the music was going on.  She soon gave it up with a disgusted look.  A trio two rows in front of me leaned together and gabbed about some Facebook thread they were participating in, all the while waving their phones around and showering us all with the bright light.

And really just as bad was the fact that all this added up to us feeling cramped and uncomfortable in the theater we had had so many good times in.  OK, we could deal with that and a rock-n-roll concert is a rock-n-roll concert.  But we had to keep looking around us to see who would fall on us next, and this was not the loosey-goosey mellow good time we'd had Friday night.  The music was really just as good, but forgive me if I don't gush about the experience as much.

OK, complaining over!  Luther had moved next to Nicki in the middle of the stage and Scott took the spot between him and Jason.  They came out at about the same time they had the night before and the crowd roared.  They were as well rehearsed as any P&F band, and instantly launched into another excellent opener.  We were off!

Jack Straw
I'm a King Bee
High Time
Big Railroad Blues
Bird Song
Somebody To Love
Feel Like a Stranger

  • Nicki was certainly feeling it that night.  She had a hippie gown on instead of the blue jeans look and proceeded to belt out the blues all night.  First up was a duet with Scott on Jack Straw, with Phil taking a verse too.  She wasn't really a convincing Shannon, but whatever.
  • Time for more blues and Luther sang a gleeful King Bee, probably more faithful to the original Slim Harpo 50's version than to Pigpen.
  • Barry got settled down at the pedal steel next and Phil was anxiously getting the band ready.  We watched for a second and agreed, they were about to attempt High Time, without Jerry!  They really did an excellent job on this, though there were a few missed cues.  Very good cover of a great early Dead song.
  • Barry stayed on the pedal steel more for most of that first set, and he and Scott next led the guys through a fast, upbeat version of Big RR Blues.  Dave had commented about not being able to hear Jason at times on Friday, but on Saturday he was dominant on a lot of songs, rocking his organ lead here.
  • This time they didn't stop ... they just kind of wound down from the country blues, Phil the bandleader made sure they had everything just perfect, and they gently rolled into the Bird Song of death.  This was a highlight of the weekend shows to our ears.  Nicki was as excellent as she was all night, and the song had exactly the right feel ... floating but in pain.
  • OK, time for a rocker.  We'd heard Somebody To Love in soundcheck and when they lit into it, everyone on the stage was instantly having as much fun, or more, than anyone in the audience.  Nicki got the lungs going here and they crunched right through the Airplane classic.
  • Then it was Scott's turn and he was Feeling Like a Stranger!  This is a showstopper for him and we were glad that Phil set him up to do it.  Very nice first set closer.

Well, the only thing to do was sit down and let the wasted people filter out a bit.  There was a guy passed out across the aisle from me, but that kept him quiet.  Started down to the smoking area with Dave after a bit, but from the top of the stairs I could see it was a mosh pit down at the bottom, and I bagged.  Got a beer successfully at the upstairs bar, even though I had another drunk guy hanging over my shoulder and yelling endearments at the bartendress while I tried to order.  Then back to the seats to mellow out for a bit.  I think the band realized that they had to keep things moving and they came out after one of the shortest set breaks ever.  Dave made it back just in time for...

Walking Blues
In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
New Speedway Boogie
The Wheel
Terrapin Station
In the Midnight Hour

  • You know, we've heard Deal before, including at three of the four Dead & Company shows we've been to.  But it's a great song and they did a nice arrangement of it, Nicki sliding along right through it.
  • They didn't bring Bobby out for Walking Blues, but did a fine cover anyway, or maybe in spite of that.  Luther was feeling it here and led the guys on a long outro jam, into...
  • Most people didn't recognize this right away, but I did with the first sliding notes.  Elizabeth Reed is one of the best songs ever in my mind and these guys didn't nail it like the ABB used to, but who could?  They did a very nice job though and the Cap crowd was delighted.  Some reviewers think this was the most unexpected song of the weekend, but I've always thought this would be right in Luther's wheelhouse and he and Scott really wrung some of the deepest soul out of it, wailing away on twin guitars while Phil and John and Jason thundered in the background.  This was one of the pinnacles of the weekend!
  • They funked from that right into the groove of Speedway, and Nicki came back out and helped nail the vocals.  This maybe wasn't the most soulful Speedway, but was very well played by the whole band.  And I realized, this was the fifth of the eight songs on Workingman's that they played that weekend!  Can't argue with that.
  • They wound down and Phil instantly started up the cadence of Wheel, another of the most excellently played songs of the weekend.  Dave observed that they did a lot of tracks from first Garcia too.  The crowd tried to get into this but was a little bit off key by that point.
  • The musical surprise of the evening for me was Barry Sless.  I'd been wishing after the Friday show that he'd just stick to pedal steel, but he had his electric out and was fantastic on it.  As Dave said, he did all the little Garcia parts that help make GD songs so great, and this allowed Scott and Luther free rein to add their own personalities to the songs.  As with the best P&F combos, they showed potential as well as polish.
  • Same juncture in the second set that I talked about last night, when they lit into Help.  Would they wind it down now after that Jerry ballad, or would they take it higher?  They took it to Terrapin Station, and this sure was a fine one.  The three guitars wound around and around that baroque theme and the old man nailed the vocals (with Nicki's and Scott's help), preaching to us about the spiral light of Venus until there was a tear in everyone's eye.  Good ol' Phil.
  • Tight little Midnight Hour to close, though Luther kind of blew the lines.  Oh well, you can't play the blues if you get all the words right I guess.

Yeeha!  This had been such a great experience, but I had to admit to myself that it would be great to get out of that hot and wasted crowd.  Phil came out for his donor rap after a bit of a long break.  I hope this won't be the last one I hear live.  Then they lined up and I called it: Music, sung by Scott and Nicki.

In my mind, one of the things that makes The Music Never Stopped such a great song is the quasi-descant, the "Donna part."  Brent, John Mayer, and others have had their shot at it, but what this really needs is a rocking chick singer letting it all hang out.  And that's what Nicki did here, just belting out the "There's a band out on the highway" and the "Keep on dancing through to daylight" lines.  This was a marvelous end to a marvelous weekend!

We needed a little water and a little rest before struggling out of the theater, but the Cap has a nice flow to it, and the crowd soon thinned out enough for us to exit.  We'd had another great time there and though this night was a little difficult, we won't hesitate to show up again the next time Phil's there with an amazing band.  How lucky are we to have seen those concerts?

So no butler sightings, that would have made the weekend too perfect.  Got back up the street to the car, twisted around to the highway, and got back to Armonk pretty quickly for another good night's sleep after a long day of having fun.

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