December 16, 2014

The Nields: Wasn't That a Time

I've been a fan of The Nields (in various configurations and levels of amplification) for most of their 23 years - first seeing them in a funky little bar in Bristol, CT called The Common Ground. I was told to get my tissues out when I watched this, and being all jaded and cynical, I ignored this advice, to my own peril. For folks who have been along for most of the ride, it's a tear-jerker of a valentine.
I've supported their crowd-funding project for the next CD, titled "XVII" - and if you are a fan, you might want to also - http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/thenields



"Did you used to dance and bounce and sing with us?" - Guilty, on all counts, usually on a hillside in Hillsdale, NY. 

December 15, 2014

Dar Williams: The Honesty Room 20th Anniversary Tour

I made a last minute decision to trek up to Northampton, MA this past weekend to see Dar Williams on her "The Honesty Room" 20th anniversary tour. Dar (and opener, Jill Sobule, at least as much a draw for me) made a healthy dent in the Calvin theater, but there were plenty of seats left, including some higher priced Orchestra seats up front. I ponied up the bucks for a 5th row seat on the side, and was thrilled to be up close.

Dar and Jill getting ready to rock "Iowa" (with Bryn Roberts)
 Now, Dar and I go way back. We go back far enough that "The Honesty Room" was not out when I first encountered her - my first purchase was "All My Heroes are Dead" on cassette tape (!). In a 1996 Hartford Courant article entitled Dar Williams Finds Faith In Bristol Cafe, Roger Caitlin writes:
Every artist has a turning point, Dar Williams believes.

For her, it came one night at the Common Ground cafe in Bristol.

``I was going to quit,'' she recalls. ``I was going to get $100. Was it worth it to present my songs, my blood, sweat and tears before another crowd of beer and cigarettes?''

But something strange happened. ``I mentioned what inspired a song -- the Mafia in Middletown -- and heads turned around. People were listening.''

Sometimes, for a struggling folk artist, that's all you need.

``That gig gave me the faith,'' Williams said at a Connecticut Songwriters Association meeting in East Hartford recently. ``As a performer, that's what you need: The faith things are going to work out.''
Dar played the Common Ground many times, and I was at every one of those gigs. So yeah, we go back a ways. I bought "The Honesty Room" (the original Burning Field Music version) at Roaring Brook Nature Center, where Dar was a spotlight Open Mic performer, having not even risen to the level of head-liner yet, and she inscibed my copy "Thanks for listening....and for playing"

So this 20th Anniversary concert was a trip down memory lane, as Dar played each song from The Honesty Room, in order.
  1. When I Was a Boy
  2. Alleluia
  3. The Great Unknown
  4. When Sal's Burned Down
  5. The Babysitter's Here
  6. You're Aging Well
  7. Traveling Again (Traveling I)
  8. In Love But Not at Peace
  9. Mark Rothko Song
  10. This Is Not the House That Pain Built
  11. I Love, I Love (Traveling II)
Was quite lovely - songs that I had not heard Dar play in many, many years (although surely, having heard her play several dozen times, weighted towards the early years, I've heard them all at some point). A very sweet and generous trip back in time.

After the main event, Dar played a handful of other "oldies but goodies" - mostly from Mortal City: (As Cool As I Am, February, Iowa, The Christians and The Pagans). It was a hometown crowd for Dar (who lived in Northampton at the start of her career, and recorded THR in the area), with a special cameo by the young woman (then 5, now 25) whose "we both eat spinach, just sometimes, not all the time" tagged The Babysitter's Here recording.

And yes, not to forget Jill Sobule. I've seen Dar dozens of times; I've only seen Jill play live once (at the Inner Space in Hamden, not exactly Carnegie Hall) so it was wonderful to see her play to a big house on a large stage. She's quite wonderful - funny, talented, just the right amount of quirky and acerbic as befits someone who burst onto the music scene (with 1995's "I Kissed a Girl") and then never quite hit the top-40 the same way even as her musical career continued to be productive and creative. I've picked up several of her albums online that have gone into regular rotation, and will probably pick up a few more now that she has charmed me again. I did but her songbook this weekend and promised to hook her up with a steam train (she mentioned wanting to do a long train trip to write music).

I'd say that caps a pretty awesome year of music (which I will recap over the coming weeks) but you never know when and where I might find something awesome to go listen to between now and Dec 31.....

December 05, 2014

Website Redesign Fail: Real Art Ways

Dear Real Art Ways:

Please put your old website back up. The new one truly and verily sucks. I mean, it looks nice and all, but from a user experience perspective, it's nearly useless.

The ONE THING that I visit your website regularly to do is to find out movie showtimes. I'd go to your calendar page, which used to look like this:


And there, I'd easily see your film showtimes for the week, make some quick decisions about going to the movies, and perhaps even notice another upcoming event.

Flash forward to today - I visited your site to see what's playing - maybe catch a movie tonight. So here's the calendar page. And....I have no idea what is playing tonight.


There are four films listed as playing over Dec 5th, today's date, but no clue as to which films are playing today, nor what time said films are playing. So I dutifully click on Citizenfour (what I'm really interested in). There, on the far right, I see Dec 5th - No Screening. So I click back to the main page. How about Diplomacy then? Again, click, look, again, No Screening. Hit the back button. So now I am four clicks past where I used to be able to see the schedule, and I still have no idea what's playing. 

Turns out 4 clicks later, 8 clicks total, that Pelican Dreams is playing at 5:15 pm and Force Majeure is playing at 7:00 pm. 

Guess what, Real Art Ways? Your website is no longer useful to me. I will, in the future, be relying on Moviefone or Fandango or Yahoo to figure out what to see and when. 

That has two results that negatively impact Real Art Ways: 
  1. I'll be easily able to see what is playing at other area theaters, and might be lured away from your otherwise lovely arts center. 
  2. I will fail to see news about your live events, openings, special events, etc. that I suspect you would hope I would notice if I went to your site. 
I'm not being a bitch capriciously. I'm a member, I'm a fan, I regularly visit for movies, speakers, live events, arts openings, and social events - and I want you to continue to thrive. I will, no doubt, continue to visit often. But bad web design damages, and sometimes kills, businesses and organizations - even ones as good-hearted and progressive as yours.

Oh, and P.S. - Your site is not responsive, and all that hunting and clicking, annoying as it was on my desktop and tablet, is 10x as bad on my iPhone 5S. But you knew that, right? 

November 30, 2014

Jewmongous - Taller Than Jesus

I was sitting in the yoga studio lobby this weekend, lamenting the crass commercialism of Black Friday and the pervasive Christmas vibe in the air, and musing "I'm going into my cave until December 26th". One of our students, of Jewish background, quipped "Welcome to the tribe". Helluva big laugh. So in spite of my deeply rooted Roman Catholic bona fides (which have involved at various times, alter serving, 12 years of catholic school, folk mass musician, CCD teacher, lector, lay Eucharistic minister, a father who served in the Knights of Columbus and as a deacon, and a marriage officiated by a bishop), I feel emotionally ready to talk about one of my NERFA finds - Sean Altman, aka Jewmongous, and his album Taller Than Jesus. 


I stumbled across Sean / Jewmongous purely by accident. Sean was running around the NERFA conference in a blue tee shirt and suspenders, with an "S" emblazoned on his chest (a la Godspell) although the S was embedded into a Star of David. He had a quad showcase slot, in a room that my friend Kate Callahan was playing, and I had decided that night to park it and watch all the acts rather than wander around. So glad I did.

I'm all in a favor of a folk comedy / novelty act - going way back to Nancy Tucker, Jay Mankita, Fred Eglesmith, Christine Lavin, and Cheryl Wheeler (when she is not making me cry). Bring it on. But this seemed a little over the edge, a little too "in your face" and I was a bit reluctant. I think I even stood up and moved to the back of the room - intending to give him a little listen before I snuck out.

I need not have worried. Sean Altman is an accomplished sonrwriter, purportedly the "grandfather of modern a cappela" through his work with Rockappela, and songwriting credits ranging from PBS Kids shows, Schoolhouse Rock, and Wendy's commercials. No schlock here. 

As it was, I stood in the back and laughed my ass off through a short 15 minute set that included Taller Than Jesus (playing off John Lennon's "Bigger than Jesus" mis-step) and They Tried to Kill Us. I wandered off smiling and humming. the next day, I caught Sean in the NERFA lunch room, thanked him for his set, and reported my Saul like conversion - and he shoved a CD in my hands (I was very consciously not soliciting music all weekend, but the few times it came my way organically, I was happy to accept)

I've spent some time listening this weekend, and the mirth and delight have continued. Each of the tracks on Taller Than Jesus, rooted in the fine tradition of the parody song pioneered by Weird Al Yankovic (and for the record, I was listening to Weird Al via Dr. Demento on late night FM radio in the late 70's, while working the overnight shift at McDonald's, long before he had a label or sold a record). The overall theme is Jewishness - either specific to the religion, personal experience, or general cultural Jewishness.

But the interesting aspect of the disk is that each track spotlights a musical genre and nails it. "What the Hell is Simchas Torah?" is straight on modern klezmer, right out of Brooklyn hipsterdom. But then it gets weird in a way that brings a smile. "Today I Am a Man" is 50's Do--wop, "Christian Baby Blood" is an Irish bar band drinking song (think Dropkick Murphys), there are homages to western movie themes, big band, broadway, tango / latin, 60s surf rock. "Too Jew For You" vibes Elvis Costello's "Miracle Man", "Jew for Jesus" lifts an opening riff from "Do You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star?". The whole album is like an aural "find a word" puzzle or "Where's Waldo" - each resonance or echo brings a smile, and the "familiar but can't place it" numbers drive one mad searching for a musical reference or touchstone.

The writing is witty and smart, the musicianship is professional and well-crafted.

As a recovering Catholic, yoga teaching, agnostic with Zen leanings who is a little too anti-social to run off with the Universalist-Unitarians, I'm not really collecting Jewish humor albums. But I'm sure gonna share this with all my friends with the tribe!  

And Sean Altman, going forward, I'm a fan!

November 23, 2014

Mouths of Babes at Chestnut Tree Concerts

An unexpected treat last evening, trekking out to Oxford, CT for a house concert featuring Mouths of Babes

I say "unexpected" because I really did not know what to expect from Ty Greenstein (Girlyman) and Ingrid Elizabeth (Coyote Grace). I'm a Girlyman fan from way back, although to be honest I kind of embraced and enjoyed them as a group, and did not really parse their music individually.

Coyote Grace played the Falcon Ridge emerging artist showcase in 2009 (the micro-burst year) so for whatever reason (possibly collective PTSD, sorting out the merch trailer mess that year was kind of traumatic), they did not really catch my eye.

Seeing them was a real treat. Things I loved:
  • Great harmonies
  • Really fresh songs (Ty has been part of the Real Women / Real Songs project along with many of my faves, which has generated a few songs playes last evening
  • Diverse sound and instrumentation. Ty on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, and foot percussion, Ingrid on ukulele, U-Bass (she usually plays a stand-up bass), cajon, and harmonica. They even did a patty-cake number. No opportunity to get bored.
  • Ty and Ingrid - wonderful individuals and wonderful performers.
A little different from other Chestnut Tree Concerts in that they brought a small sound system and mic'd / plugged in. I can see the need (U-bass, foot percussion, electric guitar). Normally, I like to see what a group can do sans electronics (i.e. - Boxcar Lilies in April) - but the effects and amplification were judiciously applied; the sound was never problematic or intrusive. On a few numbers (a haunting electric guitar / echo, for instance) the electronics made the song work. 

Bottom Line: A wonderful evening and an opportunity to get to know a couple of artists I have perhaps let slip through the cracks, in terms of my musical attention. I picked up their new EP, Faith & Fumes, as well as the Coyote Grace disk Now Take Flight, an overdue bit of appreciative largesse from FRFF 2009.

November 22, 2014

The MOuTH @ Mark Twain House

One of my favorite arts / culture events in the region is the more or less bi-monthly spoken word / story event entitled "The MOuTH". A clear homage / dig at public radio's "The Moth" (which reportedly dissed Hartford's overture in terms of setting up a local Moth event), and very appropriately held at the Mark Twain House (Mr. Clemens loved a good story), I've been to most of "The MOuTH" evenings, and have even graced the stage (back in December 2013).

Hosted by the talented, and much loved Chion Wolf, with the imprimateur and able assistance of Twin House Director of Communications Jacques Lamarre, it represents the best of Hartford's creative class.


Last night was no exception, a nearly sell-out crowd, with wonderful stories (funny, dark, wistful, tentative) around the theme of "I Quit", a featured guest (Joey DeFrancesco, famous for his Joey Quits video and resultant website / social movement working for service worker rights), and a surprise performance by the Hartford Hot Several, featuring Ms. Wolf gleefully pounding on a fluorescent pink bucket along with a score of musicians of various levels of talent and costumery.



I will, of course, take a bow for prescience, having spotted Ms. Wolf on the media horizon way back in 2007-2008) - by dint of her Flickr page and photo junkets to the Plainville Balloon Fest, Bradley Airport (Airbus A380 Visit), and Hillary Clinton's campaign stop in town as well as her continuity work at WNPR (back before I realized it was all pre-recorded, I thought she might be living at the station on weekends). And I could swear, in a fit of semi-drunken over-sharing at Real Art Ways in the dark ages (between Colin's departure from WTIC and his arrival at WNPR), that I insisted he get Chion on board if he got a gig at WNPR, but I might be mistaken there.

In any case, Colin was present last night in spirit; the dude next to me was looking around hopefully and musing out loud to his seatmate that "Colin might be here", and one of the speakers dropped his name talking about her apartment, in a building here Colin used to reside. And although she gives mad props and huge gratitude to Colin for plucking her into the limelight, Chion stand firmly on her own two feet these days in terms of talent, celebrity, and passion.

Chion announced the dates, and themes, of "The MOuTH" for 2015, which I failed to record and can not seem to find online. But you can keep in touch via Facebook, as well as on the Mark Twain House events page. So happy this series will be an ongoing event.

November 18, 2014

Lighting the Stairs

A somewhat random home improvement post in betwixt and between NERFA updates and life updates.

The previous owner of my condo put up some basement walls that effectively blocked any light source from the stairway (a code violation, to be sure). I ignored the issue for a while, relying on a top of the stairs hallway lamp. Later on, I installed a small halogen "under counter" lamp on the wall, plugged into the switched basement lamp fixture, to light the stairs. But I never really loved that solution - the light was somewhat harsh, unidirectional, and blinding. When the light stopped working yesterday (fuse? bulb? not 100% sure...) I decided to replace rather than repair.

I took advantage of the seasonal holiday lights available at Lowe's  to buy a couple of strings of white rope lighting, which I fixed (using white plastic coax staples along the stair reads and along the ceiling / walls. The result is enough light to travel the stairs, without being too bright.

On the downside - the light along the stair tread really shows the collected dog hair; I will have to vacuum more regularly. And the whole thing is a little trailer park. But I'm good with that....

#NERFA 2014 (2 of 5): Conference Showcase Artists

I made a point to go to all of the conference showcase performances. A VERY brief synopsis of my thoughts and impressions, tweets in italics, and a note if they were Falcon Ridge emerging artists (because that gives me a personal connection).

Friday Night

David Amram - very inspiring, he left us with the directive to "Be Creative" - definitely got things off on the right foot.

Bobtown - Big fan in general, kind of obsessed with their version of Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper. Loved their set. 2013 Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist alum.



Claudia Schmidt - How have I missed her? Amazing voice, amazing talent and personality. Must dig a bit deeper into her music.

Cassie & Maggie MacDonald - First of many talents artists from Canada. Loved their energy, their talent, their music. And so nice to see some younger faces in the community. Hard not to love Cassie & Maggie MacDonald. Charming and talented. #NERFA

Guy Mendilow Ensemble - Reminds me a bit of Hugh Blumenfeld (story-teller, Israel connection) with a lot more world music diversity. Loved his set, loved his energy and creativity. 2008 Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist alum.

Harpeth Rising - Love women in harmony to start with, and their celtic slant on it was especially welcome. Harpeth Rising is hard to explain. In a very good way. #NERFA #quirky #delightful

Dave Gunning - More Canada. Totally engaging, great voice, songs, and presence. "It's just like the muppet show backstage" #davegunning #NERFA and "What shall I do with these hands of mine" #davegunning #nerfa #imabeliever



David Jacobs-Strain - I'm just gonna say that bluesy slide guitar hits me in the first chakra. #davidjacobs-strain #nerfa

Saturday Night

Shtreiml & Ismail Fencioglu - Interesting, world music-ish, not my cup of tea but enjoyable. Fun to watch Jodi the ASL intepreter kick back with foreign lyrics.

SONiA disappear fear - Never really picked up on disappear fear (despite many visits to Falcon Ridge), so SONiA kind of stood on her own for me. I liked, but not smitten, but I could see how she resonates with a certain audience.

Modern Man - Totally amusing, loved the musical inside jokes (like clipping a capo onto a harmonica to raise the key).

Burning Bridget Cleary - Big fans from Falcon Ridge (2012 Emerging Artists) and from a local CT Folk appearance, blogged here. Did a good job, and the ladies coming front of house (to dance) and then into the audience (at the finale) must have driven the sound and lighting crew nuts.

No Fuss & Feathers Road Show - Another FRFF crew (2006, 2011, and 2012 Emerging Artists along with many other visits), and also a CT Folk appearance, blogged here, and a house concert. Big fan musically and personally, they did well. A finale front of stage, no mics piece with just cajon accompaniment struck me thus: No Fuss and Feathers Road Show. Ballsy. It worked. #NERFA

Jory Nash - More Canada, more great. "Sings like Simon, looks like Garfunkel. Helluva laugh.

The Don Juans - Veteran singer-songwriters Don Henry and Jon Vezner (Falcon Ridge 2009) teamed up for this showcase slot. Got me crying with "Where've You Been" which Vezner penned for wife Kathy Mattea.

Tim Grimm Band - a family affair. With wife and sons in tow. Kind of disarming, physically (strap a guitar on Hank Hill). His song "King of the Folksingers" about his friend Ramblin' Jack Elliot seemed both Dylanesque and a less than gentle poke at the Jokerman

November 16, 2014

#NERFA 2014 (1 of 5): Conference Overview

Just back from the 2014 New England Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference, held at the Hudson Valley Resort & Spa, in Kerhonkson, New York (near New Paltz). Although I have been a folk fan for more than 25 years, a Falcon Ridge volunteer for 22, and a crew chief for the past 8 years, it was my first NERFA conference - and what an experience.

First, the facility. Although on first glance, the facility in the off season seems a little gone to seed; I'm sure it's a much different story in the summer, and I definitely warmed to it over the course of the weekend. I shared a room with a friend from Camp / Falcon Ridge, and our "lowest tier" accommodations (our choice, chosen for price and distance from the noisier spaces) were serviceable - a missing overhead lamp globe, a TV remote that did not work, a tiny bathroom, a thermostat hidden behind the TV console were all fairly minor issues. We survived. The price ($302 for three night, including meals) was perfectly reasonable.

And speaking of the meals - phenomenal. We were generally served two solid meals a day: 
  • Thursday - dinner
  • Friday - full breakfast  and dinner, with an afternoon happy hour with tables of appetizers and walk-around hors d'oeuvres
  • Saturday - continental breakfast, full brunch, and dinner
  • Sunday - continental breakfast, full lunch 
Buffet style with plenty of serving lines, some quality protein (chicken, fish, beef), yummy starches, and fresh veggies. Always some soup and salad, always a selection of desserts. Plenty of options for most guest; I did not hear a lot of complaints or concerns (vegetarian, gluten free, etc.)  Although I brought some snackage along, I did not need to dig too deeply into it.

The conference itself was also well run, generous, and welcoming. Each attendee got a nice name badge in a pouch that served as a place for money, business cards, a schedule, and artists cards. Everyone wore these throughout the conference which made for instant familiarity and point of contact.

In addition, registration gifted me with a NERFA napsack, a water bottle, a well produced conference book ( with all attendees' contact info), and (for first timers) a NERFA insulated lunch bag. Swag city....

The facility was 100% dedicated to the conference, which resulted in a kind of spilling over of music and conference material into every nook and corner.

Official conference bulletin boards spread throughout the lobby area were quickly covered in flyers, post-cards, and signs.  The ephemera and marketing quickly spread to other flat surfaces - window ledges, walls, hotel cabinets and decor, chair rails, etc. Several artists left CDs and download cards out for the taking, although most handed samples out to DJs, venues, etc. It was all a little overwhelming.

In addition, every common space was used at some point - as a meeting space, a rehearsal space, a song circle, or a jam session. There was an almost 24 x 7 bluegrass jam going on in the lobby; the only time it got quiet was right after sunrise, before breakfast. I caught a midnight lobby shot on Friday night - it was far busier most of the time.

There were five performance spaces - a large theater that held the entire conference (~800+), a smaller theater, a restaurant / bar, and two additional conference rooms set up for performance. And finally, there were a handful of more traditional conference rooms set up for workshops.

I've decided to blog separately about my conference experiences, including:
  • The festival showcase (two nights, eight artists per night, in the large Manhattan theater)
  • The "quad" showcases (two night, 20 artists per night in one of four performance spaces)
  • Miscellaneous artist encounters (Guerrilla showcases, and random listening opportunities)
  • Workshops
I'll make these linkable once the blog postings are up.

Finally, a few random conference / facility notes. There was, apparently, an indoor pool and jacuzzi, which I never did find or visit, despite bringing my swimsuit. There was morning yoga, taught by a musician / yogi Caroline Cotter - I brought up my yoga toys which meant there was plenty for folks who left their mats at home. There was a formal happy hour (two drink tickets supplied) and a small exhibit space.  And there was a free dental clinic for musicians (had to document a five year career) provided by MusiCares, which I thought was pretty awesome.

There was also an active mentoring program - folks could sign up for one-on-one mentoring on a variety of topic - performance, business, finances, marketing, booking, promoting, you name it. 

November 13, 2014

NERFA Bound

I'm heading out this morning to the New England Regional Folk Alliance conference, better known as NERFA. The conference is an "insider" event, for folk and acoustic musicians, promoters, agents, labels, and vendors. There's a small conference hall and workshops, but the main event is a pretty much non-stop series of showcase performances. I'm a NERFA virgin, so looking forward to an interesting weekend.

There are the main, featured showcases - a big deal for an artist since they pretty much have the rapt attention of the 800+ conference attendees. Next, there are four concurrent Quad showcases - smaller official events, but still a big deal. There are some semi-official showcases at other times (which I totally do not understand right now). And then there are the "guerrilla" showcases - organizations and individuals set up small "room concerts" in hotel rooms (either dedicated or their personal rooms) and the music goes on late into the evening. Or morning, as the case may be.

I'm there in no official capacity; but I have a lot of roots and tendrils embedding me in this community. My crew chief role at Falcon Ridge gives me a certain amount of visibility and clout (I've communicated with and checked in merch for many of the listed performers) - and although I have no specific responsibility at Falcon Ridge, I've been asked if I would be on the showcase selection committee in the past (and may be in the future)

I'm also playing with the idea of a small music series at the yoga studio - maybe 4x a year, with artists that have some connection to spiritual / holistic / healing. So I'm scouting out that. And I do a lot of work with the internet - emailing, social media, websites - which could translate to some form of artist management or support.

Finally, I am a musician, although I'm generally too shy to bring an instrument along - toying with tossing my acoustic bass in the car just in case. (figuring everyone and their mother will have a guitar along)

Should be a fun, relaxing weekend. I've very consciously not volunteered for anything; I'd like to just enjoy the music and the space for a change. However, when I noticed there was daily yoga, I contacted the teacher and asked if she needed props - and as a result I'm bringing up my yoga mats, blankets, blocks, and straps for community use. 

November 07, 2014

Upgrading my Phone

My contract came due and I took advantage of upgrading my phone from an iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5S. Do not really need (and kind of afraid I will break) a 6 - the 5S was $99 with a two year contract which is fine. I try really hard to stay in the technology trough immediately following the wave of teh "next new thing"

While i was at it I changed my plan; I had a grandfather'd unlimited data plan, but I've only been using 2GB / month, and that's in spite of my 4S wifi being broken since I upgrades to IOS 6. So....I'm guessing I'm safe with a 3GB plan. In any case, unlimited talk, text, etc. for $10 less a month.


Positively Center Street - Jordi Herold

Snuck over to Real Art Ways last night (third time this week) for a book reading and Q&A with Jordi Herold, founder of and long time booking agent for the Iron Horse, up in Northampton, MA. Apparently, Jordi and Wil K. Wilkins (Executive Director of real Art Ways) are long time friends and it was sweet to recognize the "building an alternative space in the middle of a cultural desert" vibe with each place. The Iron Horse has certainly contributed to, and changed, Northampton.

Although it's not been a regular haunt of mine, I've certainly visited the Iron Horse often enough in pursuit of folkies - I've seen Dar Williams, Cry Cry Cry, Chris Smither, The Nields, Catie Curtis, Meg Huthinson over the years. Probably a few others as well, long before this blog began. And I've watched the ads for the Iron Horse over the years in the late Hartford Advocate. It's no wonder that Jordi's co-author is David Sokol, Music Editor of the Valley Advocate over many of the years that Jordi owned and booked the club. 

Jordi's book, Positively Center Street: My 25 Years at the Iron Horse Music Hall 1979-2004,  is a wonderful scrapbook of his years at the club - a collection of short pieces, vignettes, and anecdotes, generously illustrated with newspaper ads, posters, postcards, cancelled checks, and all matter of ephemera. Jordi confessed that "he saved everything" and we reap the benefits of his collecting.

Noting the large number of local / folk music royalty in the small crowd (Susan Forbes Hanson, Ed McKeown, Stan Sullivan, and Dan Hincks, Owner of the Infinity Music Hall were in the crowd), Jordi confessed that although the Iron Horse hosted many singer-songwriters over the years, those artists were generally well behaved, polite, and reliable. The most memorable stories often came from other genres: blues, jazz, world music. Nevertheless, a quick flip through the book revealed a section on The Nields (long time Northampton artists in residence) and I am sure I will find many familiar faces once I dig in a bit.

Jordi spoke briefly, pulling four pieces from the book, doing a short interview with Wil Wilkins, and then taking some questions from the floor. One thing he did note was the cost of running things - he supported himself, but just barely when he ran the club, the odd contrast between moving in such hallowed company (the national musicians) and struggling to make ends meet, and how the new owners brought a new sensibility (raising the price of beer and sandwiches) in a way that he was unable to, because he was everyone's friend. I'm really looking forward to those sections of the book.

To throw a little scratch at the still printing Valley Advocate, their review: In a new memoir, the founder of Northampton’s Iron Horse talks about his 25-year run.

And one question I thought of, but did not ask last evening, was if Jordi had read Tracy Kidder's book Hometown, which the NY Times review headlines: How Hamp Became Noho - Tracy Kidder's new book chronicles the tensions between locals and newcomers in Northampton, Mass.

Might be worth rereading Hometown as I start to dig in to Positively Center Street....

November 06, 2014

Death, Take a Holiday

The Grim Reaper has been prowling around lately, and I'm getting a little tired of it.

A month ago, Robert M. Palter, more familiarly known as Buck, passed away. He was the father of my former partner Alex, and I've gotten to know him pretty well over the past 15 years through dinners, family events, and cultural outings. He was quite independent despite his 90 years, continuing to drive, visit museums, concerts, and art exhibits. He's left quite the project for his family to figure out what to do with a houseful of books (10,000+ volumes, reportedly), as well as a museum's worth of art (masks, marionettes, folk art, prints).  

A week ago, I learned of the passing of another old friend, Gilman (Gil) Dube, Sr.   I hung out with Gil back in the mid 90's, when I was frequenting Open Mics in Bristol, CT at the Common Ground (a divey bar on Rte. 6) and the Chunky Tomato (a small pizza shop on the site of what is now 457 Mason Jar . Gil seemed ancient in the 90's - an authentic folk voice.

I lost contact with the Open Mic crew over the years, although I ran into Gil a few times at the Friday night open mic at LaSalle Market & Deli in Collinsville. I knew he had moved to a convalescent home, and the lovely LaSalle Open Mic crew would go visit and bring the party to Gil - so very sweet of them.

Also last week, I learned of the death of a transwoman, Diane S. Frank. I've never met her, do not even know what she look like, but we've been hanging out on a message board, Helen Boyd's MHB Boards site for about a decade. She was active in the local Cleveland trans community. As someone who had not transitioned, and had worked to keep her male and female identities separate, there's not an obituary for "her" (there's one for "him" but I have no idea what "his" name was, although reportedly she was quite successful in her male life). Hopefully there will be some memorial or remembrance locally and perhaps online. I've let go of way too many trans friends without any real "goodbye"

Diane was a piece of work; and I'd be dishonest to say that we did not cross swords over the years over many things (my ex Alex used to say I was "Diane Franking" when I got deep in the weeds of theory or dispassionate analysis of something) - but we also shared a lot of similar ideas and philosophy with regard to trans suicide, visibility, outness. I shall miss her.

And finally, and most sad, is the loss of my friend and the mother of my teacher, Rita Ruzansky, last weekend. Rita lost her husband Marvin a few years back, and since then has been a fixture around West Hartford Yoga - often visiting the studio (where she would sit in the lobby and engage anyone who would stop to chat) and even when she was not there, present in many hearts and minds. Although she struggled with Alzheimer's disease, she remained present until her death - funny, kind, curious, proud of her daughter's work and community. I was fortunate to spend several meals / evenings with her and my teacher, over the past few months.

She was well loved and cared for by her daughters, her extended family, her caregivers, and her little dog, Sadie. It has been so humbling and bittersweet to watch this inevitable process unfold - as aging, decline, and death is faced with courage, with humility, with honesty, and with grace.

But yeah, death. Enough, already. Take the rest of the year off, in terms of my friends and family, please!

November 02, 2014

New Professional Website

I've been taking advantage of a lull in engineering work (my largest client is out of the country until November 10) to revamp my professional website, at powerlines.com

I've recently written about my struggle putting together a coherent professional and personal life (Jill of All Trades / Mistress of None) and also an attempt to pull together the disparate pieces of my non-engineering life into a somewhat coherent whole (New "Business" Card)in preparation for the NERFA Conference.

Much thanks to the folks at Miranda Creative, in Norwich, CT. I've been looking over their shoulder as they have developed a new website for the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat - I'm still managing content and social media, but I've learned enough about Wordpress just looking over their shoulder, working with the new site, to get my own website up and running.

I'm an early acquirer, in terms of the internet and the World Wide Web. I was dialing up BBS at 300 baud, using an Epson CP/M machine in the dark ages, spent a lot of time (and money) using Compu$erve and AOL, and picked up the powerlines.com domain long before corporate America realized the value of domain names. The Wayback Machine has archived the site back to July 1998, I've been hard coding HTML (picking up some javascript and PHP along the way) over the years. I missed the boat in terms of Dreamweaver and other WYSIWIG web editors, but mobile devices, tablets, and responsive design have finally driven me into the hands of Wordpress. 

October 29, 2014

New "Business" Card

I'm heading out to the New England Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference in a few weeks. It's a bit of a "fun junket" for me - I've got my foot in a several musical worlds:
  • The Guinea Pigs (musician)
  • Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (crew chief of performer merchandise sales) 
  • West Hartford Yoga (run the sound for kirtan and other events)
  • Scenic Root (concert and album reviews, on this blog)
But really, I'm not really there in any official capacity - just to hang out with sympatico folks, hear some good music, network, and relax.

Now, I've not been much of a business card / networking person for many years. I have had "professional" business cards for my engineering / consulting business for many years, and hand those out occasionally. But more often than not, it's not really appropriate.

I've also put together some "yoga" business cards, but really, I'm not selling myself as a yoga instructor / business most of the time - I'm part of the "West Hartford Yoga" collective. I rarely if ever use 'em.

And over the past few years, I've really struggled to define myself, my work, my life. I've got way too many irons in the fire to call myself an engineer, a yoga teacher, a musician, a blogger, a social media wonk, or any number of other careers / vocations. So here's what I've come up with:


I can see myself handing them out to folks I meet at NERFA, to yoga students, to Guinea Pigs fans and connections, to Falcon Ridge folks, even to balloon passengers.

Oddly, this feels like a big step. I feel like I've been hanging out on the periphery, staying out of sight, for many years. Time to let myself be seen, perhaps.

October 15, 2014

Flying While (possibly) Infected

CDC: U.S. health worker with Ebola should not have flown on commercial jet - CNNHealth.com

The second Dallas health care worker who was found to have the Ebola virus should not have boarded a commercial jet Monday, health officials say.
We happen to have a pretty extensive airline security / "no fly list", remnant from the so-called war on terror. Finally, a good use for it. I vote that anyone exposed to Ebola and under watch be placed on that no fly list until cleared by the CDC.

I'm not really the sort to panic about Ebola, but I'm also cognizant of the stupidity, selfishness, and privileged assholery of my fellow Americans.

Make it so....