April 06, 2014

The Boxcar Lilies at Chestnut Tree Concerts

Traveled over to Oxford, CT last evening for a house concert with The Boxcar Lilies.

I've seen "the Lilies" before, as emerging artists at last year's Falcon Ridge Folk Festival; they will return to main stage next year as part of the Most Wanted Song Swap. A well deserved election, in my opinion; their newest CD Sugar Shack was one of my emerging artist purchases (I usually pick up 3-4 of the emerging artists recordings each year) and has been a welcome addition to my music rotation.

But it's always a treat to see a full set by an emerging artist, even more so in a smaller or intimate space, and Chestnut Tree Concerts, a house concert series, is as intimate as it gets!

The Lilies each have a unique, and distinctive personality and energy. Dark haired Katie Clarke seems cut from traditional "singer songwriter" cloth; writing personal songs and singing / playing with confidence - though when she picked up the banjo her urban affect fell away a little. Fair haired Stephanie Marshall, the groups described "Rock Lily" traded off on guitar, shaker, and washboard, and seemed the most eager to jump in and harmonize. And in the middle (in terms of both hair color and stage plot), Jenny Goodspeed, provided wonderful instrumental diversity (guitar, bass, uke).

The Lilies are perhaps best know for vocal harmonies, and they had that in spades last evening. Although they played acoustically (except for the bass) they filled the space with sound and mixed themselves perfectly. In this era of effects pedals, vocal reverb and compression, and using amplification to reach out and grab the audience, an acoustic trio who can rock a room without a PA system is such a treat.

With a healthy mix of originals and covers, there was a lot to like - Katie and Jenny split most of the writing duties, with covers by Neil Young, Dave Carter, Townes Van Zandt, Stephanie Marshall / Dave Weber. The songs range from up tempo, bluegrass inspired harmony showcases, and more personal tunes with harmonies mixed in judiciously.

The Boxcar Lilies: Katie Clarke, Jenny Goodspeed, and Stephanie Marshall
House Concert means up close and personal, no sound system, and difficult lighting. But what a great show!
So, yeah, I'm a fan. Looking forward to hearing more from The Boxcar Lilies from the main stage at this year's Falcon Ridge, as well as mixing in at the workshop stage. And looking forward to seeing what unexpected delights the Emerging Artist showcase will uncover this year! 

March 27, 2014

NPR Pet Peeve

It's a minor thing, and perhaps only irksome to the NPR addict, but it makes me cranky when a particular topic, individual, author make the rounds on NPR (and often bleed over to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report). It gets kind of repetitive.

Today's example: Bob Mankoff, on Fresh Air on Monday to shill his new book How About Never? Is Never Good For You? Three days later, he's popping up on The Colin McEnroe Show (along with many others) for a more free-form discussion about getting cartoons published (or not) in the New Yorker.

As least there's a bit of introspection or self-awareness, as TCMS page notes "Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, has been all over the media this week...." - and I am sure the publicists of these authors and celebs make a point of hitting all the usual outlets. But I can be pretty sure that when I hear about a person, book, or topic on Fresh Air, I'll likely hear about it again via On The Media, Studio 360, On Being, RadioLab, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or one of the local WNPR shows (The Colin McEnroe Show or Where We Live).

March 18, 2014

Self-reminder: You Are Handy

I had a dream a few nights back - I was back in my house in Watebury, which had fallen on hard times - windows warped and not closing, floors damaged. As I woke, part of my "rooted in the present" mind reminded me of the storm windows I had installed at that house. I could not really afford replacement windows (many window, very large), but I removed and discarded the removable storms / screens, stripped and repainted the sills, and installed new triple track storm windows throughout the house. I count 10 large windows downstairs, and 4 smaller windows upstairs. It was a pretty big project - done by hand (with the aid of a heat gun to strip the old paint)

That reminded me of all the home repair / infrastructure upgrade projects I have completed over the years at that place:
  •  Upgraded electrical panel from an old screw-fuse panel (I think there were 6 total fuses, including two for the dryer) to a 200 Amp breaker panel. The electrical inspector was impressed by my workmanship (and could tell I did it, because I put service loops in all the wires as they entered the breakers)
  •  Ran a hot water line over to the washing machine
  • Installed 240 VAC electric heater baseboards on the second floor
  • Replaced the gas hot water heater
  • Built a bulkhead door (admittedly, this was kind of a horror)
  • Replaced front storm door
  • Installed three motion lights (after we got broken into early in my time there)
So yeah. I'm handy.

I was reminded of this yesterday - my iPhone (an older 4S model that is in good condition, meets my needs, and is perfectly serviceable) went from 30% charge to OFF in about 15 seconds. I've had it a while; time for a new battery. And my first thought was to go to the local indie geek store to get it done. But then I thought "you're a geek, you can do this" and indeed, for about $20 one can get a new battery and a toolkit to make the replacement, with plenty of online help via youtube and other places.

 Replacement battery and toolkit are en route, probably show up tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes....

March 16, 2014

Dining Alone

I live in New Britain, not too far from the Berlin Turnpike. My "neighborhood" is mostly north of my home; working in West Hartford, my band rehearses in Manchester, arts and socializing in Hartford. So I spend a lot of time driving along the retail ghetto of the Berlin Turnpike.

One thing I have noted as I drive along that road are the many restaurants - restaurants I have not dined in since I've moved to New Britain. Because dining out is not something that one does alone. It's a recurring source of bitterness and angst in my life as I make my way north or south several times a week - just last night I stopped by Lowe's to pick up some stuff, and noted that the Lowe's parking lot was filled with overflow from three adjacent restaurants on a busy Saturday night. The list includes:
  • Plaza Azteca
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Ming Palace
  • TGI Fridays
  • Chili's
  • Bertucci's
  • Bonefish Grill
  •  Ruth's Chris Steak House
  • Joey Garlic's
  • Cavo's
  • Puerto Vallerta
  • Tunxis Grill
  • Elaine's
  • Makris Diner
I do go to Panera Bread often, but always alone and almost always take it to go - I've often looked out at those dining in, with dining companions, and thought that doing that, just once, would be a real treat.

Being single, living without a circle of friends that might call up and say "let's grab a bit" now and then, sucks.

March 11, 2014

Birthday Blues

It's harder and harder to ignore ones birthday in this era of social media and big data.

I've pulled my birthdate off Facebook and removed it from the yoga studio system, and that has been pretty effective in years past, but this year Linked In notified my contacts, and that bled over to Facebook pretty quickly. In addition, the camp calendar prints our birthdays. So although I was somewhat mysterious about the actual date, the word got out. It's been bouncing around since Friday, and as late as last evening, when I was acknowledging the event at the studio, people were assuming I was being disingenuous. 

See the thing is, my birthday was (and geenrally is) not all that different from any other day. Yesterday was no different - taught yoga, worked, practiced yoga, ate two meals alone (one not so healthy, one healthy). I did treat myself to a carrot cake cupcake but even that's not all that unusual. No cards, no cake, no presents, no family, no friends, no celebration.

So you will excuse me if I am less than effusive at the Facebook wishes for a birthday that is spectacular, monumental, or any other approbatory sentiment. Because that's not how my life is; and the more social and cultural promotion that comes my way to have that sort of birthday, the more painful and depressing the reality is.

I'm grateful for this life, I am happy to acknowledge the date. But the faux and surfacey "have a great day" aspect of birthday wishes (as heartfelt and well intended as they are) is just not a good fit for me; I do not have the sort of community or social circle to celebrate with.

At my age, birthdays are a bit like watching an altimeter pass through a 1000 foot rotation after one has jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. You notice the dial spinning but it's kind of hard to celebrate the ground approaching at terminal velocity....

March 08, 2014

Burning Bridget Cleary at First Friday

I trekked down to New Haven last night to see the group Burning Bridget Cleary at CT Folk's First Friday concert, continuing my side project of seeing Falcon Ridge Folk Fest Emerging Artists in featured concerts.

I loved the short set the group played at Falcon Ridge, from what I heard from the merch trailer, sufficiently to buy their two CDs for myself and for Zippy, my folk-fest dog-sitter who is a big fan of celtic music (via WWUH's Celtic Airs and associated concerts). When I saw they were coming to town, I scooped up three tickets, for me, Zippy, and our friend Pat, an Irish emigre who resides in a convalescent home, and for whom a concert trip is a real treat.

And what a treat, for all of us. Burning Bridget Cleary is a foursome consisting of two fiddle / vocalists (Rose Baldino and Deirde Lockman), a guitarist (Lou Baldino, Rose's father) and a percussionist (Peter Trezzi). It's really the Rose and Dierdre show - and I'll get to them - but a first shout out to the men who provide such a solid frame for the vocals and fiddles. Peter coaxed many different sounds from his djembe, using finger, palms, knuckles, and brushes - abetted by a floor tambourine and a few small cymbals. Lou's guitar playing is deceptively simple and clean - and a very judicious effects pedal set-up (never intrusive) let him play a bit of bottom string bass that at times sounded like a bodhran. At no time did the men step on the delicate flowers of fiddle and vocals, and at no time did they fail to provide just the right level of backing that often seemed to come from more than two musicians.

And now to the women. Rose seems the leader, and her auburn pixie cut, bright eyes, and big smile make her the perfect front for a celtic group. She played up the allure, at one point asking for the names of  "three men who want to marry me" to include in a song. Charming and delightful. Dierdre is a great match - they are an amazing tag team in terms of vocal harmonies, amd fiddling lines that intertwine and balance. Each of them took a turn at center stage with solo fiddle pieces. I'm not enough of a fiddle aficionado to know what roles each plays in the music, but they seemed to trade riffs and parts easily and seamlessly throughout. At the finale, both women moved through the audience (freed by wireless fiddle pick-ups) and ended up standing on chairs and trading riffs over our heads.

The group plays more traditional reels, jogs, airs than I expected, along with a good balance of vocal pieces (some traditional, some modern). A delightful surprise was Richard Shindell's "On a Sea of Fleur de Lis" which they played a bit more uptempo - I prefer Shindell's somewhat more wistful and soft version, but it was great to hear another take on it. Rose noted that "Richard is playing nearby this evening (at the Kate)....but thanks for coming to see us". And when they started Jay Unger's Ashoken Farewll, a tune that's been ingrained through multiple viewings of Ken Burns' Civil War, well, it was awesome. Rose and her dad started, both playing so simply and cleanly that the audience was perforce brought to rapt attention, and Dierdre picking up a counter line mid-way through the tune. I do not think I've ever heard that song played so beautifully. Both Fleur de Lis and Ashoken are on their "newish" CD Pressed for Time which for some reason I had not picked up for myself at Falcon Ridge. That's been rectified.

CT Folk once more shone (shined? excelled?) with a successful First Friday concert - the large audience forced them to "take the tables out" (I was a little disappointed, I do like the coffeehouse / cabaret feel of the space with tables, but success has its price!). It was CT Folk Executive Director Alice-Anne Harwood's last official concert, and we can only hope the board finds someone to fill her shoes in this active and exciting folk music organization.

A bit of a haul for me - my driving circuit from New Britain - Hartford - Windsor- New Haven - Windsor - Hartford - New Britain to fetch Zippy and Pat made for a long evening. But with such delightful music in the center of all that driving, it was worthwhile!

March 03, 2014

Not Quite Getting the Concept

This one came across my social media stream this morning:
Hey Friends! We have two sweet concerts this weekend. Is anyone available to hang few flyers out of town? We got some special ones made up by Acme Foundation
First off, I saw your post. I was curious enough to click through to your page to see what the "special concerts" are. Of course, there is no mention of the concerts on your timeline, and no "Events" set up for these special concerts. Trying hard to be friendly, helpful, and less than snarky, I commented:
You'd have to hang fewer flyers if you told us about the concerts via social media
Because, seriously - all you'd need to do is mention the performers, dates, and times in your "please hang flyers" post and you'd kill two birds with one stone. I saw the post, I was curious - social media did it's job. But having baited your line, there was nothing to draw me in. And do set up some events for these concerts - and maybe folks might see that, comment, say they are going, share to their contacts.

It's nice to hang flyers, but it's pricey (labor to design, cost to print, labor to distribute) and social media is a lot less expensive. This particular entity has a respectable 2700 "likes" - and Monday is certainly not too soon (might even be a little too late) to crank up the social media engine.

Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry in Southbury

I took a few hours out of my Sunday afternoon to trek down to the VFW Hall in Southbury for a concert by Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry. They played at the inaugural Blues Cafe, founded by George Martin.

Although she was not at Falcon Ridge last year, I've seen Tracy fairly recently (CT Folk, First Friday) but she was solo then. Adding Jim Henry, who fits so well musically with Tracy, was like seeing a completely different show. Not better, per se, but a little looser, with a more rockin' and bluesy selection of songs.

Tracy did a lot of Dave Carter's "greatest hits" (as usual) which were lovely and welcome, and accentuated with Jim's bluesy leads and harmonies. Jim played "Vincent White Lightning" (on Tracy's borrowed guitar and with a strap way too high, and he was awesome, with Tracy doing a great job on rhythm and harmonies) as well as an original dedicated to his daughter Ruby. They closed with the "eco-gospel anthem" Gentle Arms of Eden and played a single encore "Pancho and Lefty" before Tracy skedaddled to beat the snowstorm back to her home in PA.

But the best part of the afternoon, in my opinion, was a trio of songs that Tracy has written as part of Cary Cooper's (love her, just saying)  Real Women, Real Songs project. A collection of women artists are challenged to write a song a week, based on a prompt, throughout 2014. Tracy's been active in the group and played three songs - the Week 1 prompt (vulnerable), Week 5 prompt (satisfied) and the Week 6 prompt (puzzled). I really enjoyed the songs live (adding Jim just made them growl) but was surprised to see how well done they are on Youtube. Here's the Week 1 song.

Tracy has been tending Dave Carter's legacy for a decade now, and it's such a delight to see her pushing herself musically. I almost felt as loving and protective of her as I did of the young Dar Williams, schlepping around new England with a pre-Honesty Room box of cassettes. Although Tracy really needs no such coddling - she's such a professional musician and has been working with amazing songs for many years - so I'm sure amzing songwriting is deep in her bones at this point.

She entered the project with some hesitancy (a song a week, seriously? that's a lot!) but from what I have seen of Cary Cooper (in the Falcon Ridge merch trailer and out in the world) she's a force of nature, not to be denied. So let's give Cary an "assist" for these lovely songs!

Wish I could say I loved the venue - I did not. It was kind of a "house concert grown large" - most of the audience sat at tables arranged schoolroom style (so they were quite distant from the band, and sometimes seemed more into their pasta). That did leave the front two rows of regular seating free for late-comers like me (I was front row center). However, I struggled to stay present with the music due to other guests. The two women to my left (Tracy groupies, based on their tee shirts) took a lot of photos - one with an iPad (which requires one to hold it 2 feet in front of you to see the image) and the other with a large smart-phone with flash. Let's just ban flash photos and iPads used as cameras from here on in, OK?

In addition, the distaff half of a couple across the aisle, (who played the open mike, and not particularly noteworthy) talked throughout the set. Sorry honey, your talent is not 1% of that needed to excuse talking through Tracy's set. Also, your guitar (with butterfly motif) is cheesy.  I'm generally pretty charitable towards Open Mic participants, but come on, just because you are the star of your small town folk community does not mean you can talk through the headliner, and especially not seated in the front row.

Finally, the sound system, while technically adequate, did not sound as it it had been set up. It was positioned behind the performers (no attempt to have someone run it) and not tweaked or adjusted at all (judging by the visibly flat EQ sliders). Tracy's vocal reverb was a little much to start - not sure if they tweaked it down or I got used to it. Tracy and Jim swap out instruments a bit (Tracy had two guitars and her violin, Jim played electric, mandolin, and and Tracy's guitar) - I'd have felt a little better had the mixing console been off to the side and somebody had stepped up to it once in a while to adjust something for each song.

March 01, 2014

Catie Curtis and Tall Heights at The Iron Horse

Catie Curtis, with Liz Barnez
April 17, 1993. That's the first time I saw and heard Catie Curtis, playing the beloved bookstore / cafe Reader's Feast, on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford. No, I do not possess a photographic memory*; I just know how to dig through the internets to find stuff, and some old folk music listserv postings contained the date. I picked up her CD From Years to Hours (1991) that night. In the ensuing years, I've added Truth from Lies (1995) and My Shirt Looks Good on You (2001) to my CD rack, and my iTunes collection includes Long Night Moon (2006), Sweet Life (2008), Hello, Stranger (2009), and A Catie Curtis Christmas (2012).

I'm somewhat surprised at how much of her music I've bought over the years; she's an artist who sneaks up on you as her music wraps itself around your head and your heart. It's hard to queue one of her albums up without encountering a "so familiar that you forget where you heard it" song.

The point is, Catie has been on my radar a long time. And while I am sure I've seen her at Falcon Ridge over the years and perhaps at other fests and venues, it's been a long, long time since I got a real concert in a small space, and it was delightful. Mad props to Amy Putnam (photographer, stained glass artist, and blogger over at Freelance Folkie) for coordinating a get-together of camp friends.

First off, to paraphrase Dar Williams, Catie is aging well. She remains youthful and vibrant; she could be resting on her laurels, playing a greatest-hits kind of show to an aging but appreciative crowd. But instead she brought forth a lot of songs from her new album, Flying Dream, most co-written with Kristen Hall which were delightful. Check Amy's Freelance Folkie blog for a set-list; I happen to know Amy fastidiously records set-lists from all of the many folk shows she attends.  Picked up a physical copy last night, and listening as I write, and it's as much a treat in the studio version as it was live.

Along for the ride last night was Liz Barnez, a singer songwriter with New Orleans roots. Liz was a great sidekick / foil for Catie, contributing wonderful harmonies, cajon percussion, and stepping up to play one of her own songs, If I Had a Gun, a thematic mash-up of the Dixie Chick's Goodbye Earl and Fred Eaglesmith's Time to Get a Gun which was a direct and dark line in the sand regarding domestic violence.  She's got a great voice and great stage presence. Hope she gets to open up for Catie now and then on tour; would have loved to have heard more from her.  Catie was loose and funny throughout the set, improvising various sing-along and whistle-along parts, and Liz kept right up with her, sometimes egging Catie on. 

Tall Heights - Paul Wright and Tim Harrington
Opening up for Catie was the duo Tall Heights, who played this past year's Falcon Ridge emerging artist showcase. I've been a bit obsessed with getting to see Falcon Ridge showcase artists in smaller venues (the fest is just a taste, and I'm mostly getting to listen from the doorway of the merch trailer) and so I was thrilled to see that they were opening up for Catie. They did not disappoint, beautiful songs, great harmonies, and that lovely cello that was bowed conventionally as well as played like a bass.

There are a lot of women doing group harmonies out there in the folk world, but the men are a little less common, and these two really shine in that department. Was thinking of youthful Simon & Garfunkle a little as they played, as well as to Dar William's first album, with the haunting cello playing by Gideon Freudmann.

Some years, I pick up as many of the Emerging Artist's most recent works pre-fest, and listen in the month before the fest - but did not get that done this past year. there were some pretty awesome groups in the showcase last year, so Tall Heights kind of slipped under the radar. Remedied that last night, picking up their entire catalog (special live show price of $20) and getting a good earful this morning. It's lovely, sweet, and warm.

I know I'm referencing Dar three times in this piece, but "...February was so long, that it lasted in to March..." is a pretty apt description of this cold and snowy winter - so an evening in the warmth of good music, good friends, and good food and drink was welcomed. Could not have asked for better!

* However, if you do wish to poke around the Reader's Feast ephemera and archives, they have found their way to the CCSU GLBTQ collections.

February 15, 2014

Mike Birbiglia in Boston

Traveled up the the Wilbur Theater last evening to see Mike Birbiglia in concert.

 Not my usual stomping grounds, but a friend from a long-ago mindfulness series, who has remained a connection through the magic of a few common friends and Facebook, had picked up tickets before she realized it was Valentine's Day and her usual concert buddies would be doing coupled things. So she reached out, and I am so glad she did.

Not sure I've ever been to a large venue "comedian" concert - the CT Forum does not quite count, perhaps some comic nights at a bar. In some ways very much like a concert (I could swear I've been to the Wilbur in my youth, maybe to see Pretenders or Cheap Trick or somebody back in the day, although a lot of these halls look the same) in some ways a bit less crazy and loud. Lot of women in the crowd, I think a tribute to Mr. Birbiglia's audience as well as the date.

I got familiar with Mike Birbiglia mostly through This American Life (follow the link for a page of all his contributions), his book and movie Sleepwalk with Me, and the 2009 TAL livecast Return to the Scene of the Crime. Last night, I realized our roots are similar (Catholic school, he grew up in Shrewsbury MA, near my alma mater Worcester Polytechnic Institute). Topics included yoga(!), laties vs. earlies, religion. Mike brought forth a few self-effacing "inappropriate performance" stories, including a Muppet TV show (his first word was a swear), a baseball writer's dinner (he failed to notice the honoree was blind and tried to shake his hand, then got an attitude when the guy ignored him), a christian school (he riffed on Jesus, the socialist Jew, returning, who, as he noted "are not high up on most Christians' list of favorite people")

It was a great evening, although I was not perhaps laughing hysterically, my face hurt from smiling. Opening up form Mr. Birbiglia was comedian Jon Fisch who did a good job, mining the "single guy" thing with funny stories abouttoo many meals at his favorite sushi place, his nieces, his lack of hair.

And so nice to get out of my "rut" - Thea, my friend, is lovely, creative, and engaged in life (singing, art, etc.) - and it was fun to just hang out, chat, ride the "T" in from Riverside, and hit the big(ger) city.

February 12, 2014

Madame President

I was called to a meeting of my condo association last week, and, as I expected, I was elected president of the association.

Truthfully, it's not that big a deal - we're a small (four unit) building, each of us is an officer, things roll around. Kate, the outgoing president, is moving to a new place in Newington and renting her unit out, the other two owners are an older retired woman who had a mild stroke (she's OK, but not great in the memory department) and a young single guy who is not really that interested. So....it's me.

Not that hard a job really - we have a handful of regular expenses: insurance, water & sewer, a small shared electric service. We have a few regular maintenance tasks - lawn care in the summer (I've been doing it) and snow removal in the winter (seems to be kind of ad hoc at this point). And the seasonal stuff, power washing, trimming trees and bushes, etc.

Along with my responsibilities, I was handed a meticulously balanced checkbook (I have not kept a personal check register in many years), and an antique accordian-fold file (about the size of a microwave oven). My first official duty was to run down to Staples for a plastic file box replacement, some hanging folders, and a PAID stamp (no particular reason, what's the point of being president if you do not get to stamp stuff).

I spent this evening going through the falling apart accordian folder to see what we have. Water and electric bills going back over a decade. Checking account statements for close to 20 years, ranging from Fleet, Bank of America, Webster, and Farmington. 15 years of insurance documents (State Farm and Travelers) including a roof leaking problem in 2006 that was probably ice dam related, and I've thought about it this year as well. Federal tax forms, state of CT incorporation stuff, some old legal documents, and small piles of snowplow, landscape, and maintenance records.

We're not a very progressive association - the condo fees are very low (agreeably so for all concerned) and we're not making a lot of major repairs or upgrades. The bank balance seems healthy. So for now, it's stay the course.

I have some geekery to set up - Kate emailed me a very old and barely useful spreadsheet of expenses / income (I can do much better), she's been keeping the record of condo fee payment in a chart that is one step above crayon. I see in the archives that a past president did an annual budget projection that I'd like to resurrect, and I'd like to send out a periodic condo association letter to keep folks updated.  

I'd love to do some things this summer - trim the trees, create a bricked garbage / recycling can area (presently some plywood on the ground), perhaps repave the parking lot and add a few spaces (presently 6 spaces for four units, I and the guy on the end get one space, would be nice to have two)

I've been coasting for a few years now in terms of "adult responsibilities" - time to step up again! 

February 09, 2014

Oscar Nominated Shorts - Documentary

I got out to see all three of the "Oscar Nominated Shorts" shows at Real Art Ways this year. Plenty of time to see these before Oscar night.... visit the official Academy Awards site for a list of the films, trailers, and movie websites. I'm putting these in order presented.

CaveDigger / Jeffrey Karoff
Amazing story of a man whose passion is to dig beautiful, artistic caves into the sandstone of New Mexico. Amazing for both his creations and his story (many of his caves were commissions)

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall / Edgar Barens
A amazingly sensitive portrait of an embattled, alcoholic WWII vet, imprisoned for life for killing the drug dealer who supplied his son (who killed himself as a teenager), during his past days in prison hospice. A very difficult film (more tissues) but quite stunning for it's compassionate portrayal of this man, his estranged but loyal son, and the other prisoners who staff the prison hospice.

Facing Fear / Jason Cohen
Not part of the showing, but here's the trailer.

Karama Has No Walls / Sara Ishaq
Not part of the showing, but here's the trailer. 

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life / Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed
Not part of the showing, here's the trailer. 


Oscar Nominated Short Films - Live Action

I got out to see all three of the "Oscar Nominated Shorts" shows at Real Art Ways this year. Plenty of time to see these before Oscar night.... visit the official Academy Awards site for a list of the films, trailers, and movie websites. I'm putting these in order presented.

Helium / Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson

A lovely little story about a sick young boy in hospital, and a story-telling janitor. Helium is the place the janitor makes up when the boy complains that heaven (where folks are telling him he will be going to) sounds boring. Charming, in every way, really creative in both concept and the fictional land of Helium. My vote for the Oscar because I am a sucker for sick kids and a little magic. Also, pass the tissues.


The Voorman Problem / Mark Gill and Baldwin Li
Kind of a one note joke / sci-fi kind of thing about a prisoner who may or may not be a God. Why yes, that is Martin Freeman (The Hobbit (Bilbo) / Sherlock (Watson) as the assuredly human protaganist. Was short and amusing, reminded me a little of 2011's "God of Love" (which won) although a much more compact and punchy piece.

Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) / Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras
A terrifying slice of life as a woman with two older kids attempts to flee her abusive husband, with the aid of her fellow workers and supervisers at a department store. The abuse is hinted at and uncovered slowly, by the end, I was on the edge of my seat. Really powerful stuff that totally communicates the helplessness and terror of a woman and family in that situation.

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me) / Esteban Crespo
Kids in war zones are good fodder for both documentaries and live action shorts. This one was also terrifying (with good reason) and also a bit of a tear-jerker. Three aid workers travel into a war zone to rescue child soldiers. They come across a band of child soldiers with sobering results. But at the end, perhaps a little redemption. Triggering on a lot of levels, so be warned.

Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) / Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari
Goofy, swell, funny. A real life family who can't seem to get it together, but end up having a good time together nonetheless. Combine Roseanne with Vicar of Dibley. Loved it.

Oscar Nominated Short Films - Animated

I got out to see all three of the "Oscar Nominated Shorts" shows at Real Art Ways this year. Plenty of time to see these before Oscar night.... visit the official Acadamy Awards site for a list of the films, trailers, and movie websites. And oh yeah, the "hosts" of the show, an animated ostrich and giraffe (Clive and Martin) were hilarious. Perfect transitions between films!

First, the animated shorts:

Feral / Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden
Very conceptual, artistic film of a young boy lost among wolves, found and "civilized", and returned to the wold. Lovely, beautiful music, although kind of thin theme.

Get a Horse! / Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim
A Disney feature based on an old Mickey Mouse B/W short, with Mickey's nemesis Peg Leg Pete, wherein the B/W characters breakout into the color, wide screen world, and do battle with those still in the B/W small screen film. Quite cute and clever, although the Disney animation stuff always feels a little too corporate and save for my taste. I saw this before Frozen, in 3D....

Mr. Hublot / Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares
A fascinating dystopia / steam and cyberpunk feel to this charming movie. Very creative story-telling, characters (Mr. Hublot seems a little OCD in a charming kind of way), and a highly imagined world. This one is my pick for the Oscar. 

Possessions / Shuhei Morita
Remember when I asked for a Miyazaki-ish snowman in Disney's Frozen?  Well, here it is. A tinkerer / traveler stumbles upon a haunted hut in the woods. Imaginative, colorful, sweet and dark as the same time. I loved it for a lot of reasons, just felt Mr. Hublot was a little more inventive.

Room on the Broom / Max Lang and Jan Lachauer
Highly charming in the vein of (and by the creators of) 2009's The Gruffalo and based on the book of the same name.  It was very sweet, and funny, done in a claymation-ish style. I liked this a lot (the music was a big plus also) but again it seemed (to me) a little too well designed and implemented.

February 03, 2014

Battery Recycling

I tend to use, accumulate, and collect a lot of batteries.

Part of that is vocation and hobbies:
  • I own a case full of mostly battery powered test equipment for my engineering business. 
  • I play music semi-professionally, with the need to replace batteries in guitars, foot-pedals, portable recorders. 
  • I crew for (and occasionally ride in) hot air balloons, so often burn through a set of AA batteries as I take 30-40 digital photos during a morning flight
  • I spend a week each year at a folk festival, and another at a summer camp
  • I tend to collect and horde the batteries used a the yoga center (wireless headsets) because I know they are not getting recycled there. 
In addition, I have the usual assortment of consumer battery needs - remote controls, smoke detectors, portable radios, flashlights. I try not to overuse batteries, but they do add up.

And I do *not* want to simply toss them away. In the past I have taken them to Whole Foods, but I get to that store so infrequently (I joke that I almost never go north of New Britain Avenue in West Hartford) and I do not want to bring in 10 pounds of expired batteries.

So looking around the web,  I found this company - Battery Solutions. For a not insignificant price, you can purchase an iRecycle Kit - fill the box (or tub) with batteries, ship it off (pre-paid) and they are out of your hair and presumably not going to a landfill.

I love the business model, although I'd love to see some form of government support or grant money used to fund this (pretty sure most consumers would not choose to internalize the costs of disposing of batteries the way I will, and just throw them out)

One of my pet "make the world a better place" back burner projects is to set up a battery recycling service - placing recycling bins or tubs at likely locations and collecting the batteries periodically, either for free (if there is money to be made from the recycling) or at a nominal cost.

But in the meantime, I'll spread the word about these folks...

Falcon Ridge Merch Trailer Awards

We came up with these categories last year, (mostly) tongue in cheek. File this under "we laugh because otherwise we'd be pulling our hair out" as we spend our vacation time toiling away in the service of folk music.

Most Organized: Some artist just have the merch thing down - packed well, nice display, tee shirts rolled up and sorted by size and type. Even if there's a lot of merch, it's not hard to count in and count out. Tracy Grammer wins this award, most years - she's a pro! The Grand Slambovians (with merch person extraordinaire Cindy) are also in the running.

Optimist Award (Emerging Artist): Every year somebody brings a full case (300+) or CDs when we suggest perhaps 50-100 max. It's not really a fair award (sometimes artists finish up a CD specifically with the fest in mind and have it drop shipped) but it just seems so hopeful. Although every year, some emerging artist brings 10-20 pieces, sells those out in a flash, and could have sold much more.

B.O.T. (Bin o' Tees) Award: Every year, somebody shows up with 5 or 6 plastic tubs filled with tee shirts: unfolded, uncounted, unsorted, random. We end up counting in (by hand) 200-300 shirts, and counting them out after the fest - a huge commitment of time and energy for a small crew. We are (of course) filled with resentment. Last year, if I recall correctly, I spent an afternoon mid-fest rolling and rubber-banding one artist's tees as a form of festival Metta (loving kindness) because I realized I was sending out all sorts of crappy vibes to this particular artist solely on the basis of their merch, and wanted to even out my karma.

Artists we love figure out a way to control tee-shirts. We've seen them rolled and banded with rubber bands or hair ties. We've seen them folded and placed in zip-lock bags. Just something so that we can count them quickly and accurately, and aren't stuck straightening up the mess from your last gig.

Dan Navarro Suitcase Award: We love Dan to pieces, but one year he showed up with a huge soft sided suitcase filled with CDs. It looked as if someone had opened the suitcase at the end of the merch table at his last gig, just swept all the CDs into the suitcase, and closed it up. Everything mixed and  jumbled, he as amused and bemused by it as we were. We tease Dan about it when he brings his smiling face back to merch land (and for the record, it only happened once). Every year somebody shows up with a merch collection that looks like it got packed from across the room with a slingshot, and we flash back to that moment we opened Dan's suitcase and thought "What the what?"

Creative (non-musical) Merch Award: Folks put a logo on just about anything, and we like to recognize that. Spuyten Duyvil is pretty good with this (can cozies, flasks, bottle openers, etc.) - but we've had also had water misters, lighters, frisbees, matches, coasters, you name it.

I'm Special Award: Most often it's someone not appearing or performing at the fest who wheedles their way into the merch tent (I'm pretty watchful, but stuff gets past me, or people go over my head). No, you do not get to sell your CDs in the tent just because you were an emerging artist in 2003 or have been a volunteer since 1995. We have to track, count, carry back and forth to the trailers, and assume liability for stolen merch, and we're only going to do that for performer's actually playing the fest. And if you do sneak or wheedle your way into the tent, know that checking you out having sold nothing during the fest kind of makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Karma, bitch! 

Dregs Award: Sometimes artists show up with a merch selection that looks like they cleaned out their trunk - one of this, two of that, a handful of another. Kind of get the feeling that bringing merch to sell was kind of an after-thought. And often we're telling people "sorry, that's all she brought to sell" throughout the weekend. You are missing sales!

Display Over-Achiever Award: Some artists really put a lot of thought and effort into their merch displays, with lights, suitcases, racks, posters, etc. Every year we are duly impressed, and note other artists looking on with envy and perhaps planning their own future merchandising.   

Granola Award: Eco friendly packaging or merch. It will be a long time before someone beats Poor Old Shine with their CD cases made from recycled / reused cereal boxes, gleaned from the U-Conn cafeteria. Folks were frantically pawing through the stack of CDs to find a cereal box (inside) that they liked.

Late Arrival Award: Invariably, someone shows up five minutes before their set, throws the merch at us, and runs to the stage. Often patrons have been asking for their stuff all weekend. After their set, the artists run back to the merch tent, intent in checking-out (having sold almost nothing, because their fans were all listening to them play). Artists - we're more than happy to have you ship stuff ahead of time so it's out and available for sale from the festival start, and if you leave early, we're happy to keep a small pile of your stuff all weekend and ship it back after. No need to lose sales....

Merch? What Merch? Award: It's hard to believe but some artists show up without merch. Sometimes it's a national act who just can't be bothered. Sometimes people just forget or do not realize that there are 1000's of music fans here with vacation money waiting to be spent. Their spot in the merch tent (carefully laid out pre-fest) is sadly empty all weekend.

Down to Earth Award: You might be a major celebrity or minor musical god(dess) but you treat the folks in the cheap seats well. Amazing how accessible, real, and human most of the folk performers are, but some really do stand out.There are a couple of well known, national audience folkies who never fail to greet me and give me a hug when I see them at other fests or gigs, that's very sweet.

My People Handle That Award: Conversely, there are some artists / performers you will never see in or near the merch area.  It's just off their radar, they have managers or merch coordinators to do that.

Festival Virgin Award: Every year somebody (emerging artists, but sometimes mains stage or dance stage acts) show up with a wide-eyed "we're not in Kansas, anymore" look at the size and scope of our little fest. We try to make them feel at home and help them find their way around. 

Tootsie Roll Enthusiast Award: Merch trailer all-around good guy Lance brings a big jar of Tootsie Rolls every year (which we try hard to keep the ants out of) and invariably some performer makes a stop in every few hours for a fix. It's quite charming. 

We're in the Band Award: We're generally happy to put out merch for side musicians, solo efforts, but some groups end up with 15-20 titles for side musicians, compilations, side projects, etc. You could stock a small music store....

P.I.T.A. Award: We don't really like giving this one out (and often it's bestowed affectionately). But if an artist returns to the merch area 4-5 times to add or remove merch, changes the prices 3 times, set's up convoluted sales special (buy two CDs and get a tee-shirt free) takes stuff out of the tent without telling anyone, grabs merch to give away while signing, moves their stuff to a better location (we put things out alphabetically), etc. they are in the running.

Putting in Time Award: We once watched an artist (OK, it was Susan Werner) spend 2.5 hours in the signing area, taking time to talk to every fan, putting folks on the guest list for upcoming concerts, handing out free CDs, and not leaving until everybody got seen. Kind of unbelievable and inspiring to watch.  

Falcon Ridge - Most Wanted Artists 2014

Falcon Ridge recently announced the winners of the 2013 Emerging Artist Showcase "Most Wanted" (based on audience survey and appeal), to be featured in the 2014 festival. 
1 - THE BOXCAR LILIES and DARLINGSIDE tied for FIRST place, with over 28% of the votes cast.

2 - ROOSEVELT DIME - garnering exactly 24% of the votes

3 - CONNOR GARVEY - with over 23% and nearly a tie for second place

A tie is less than 1/2 of one percent apart, or 1-3 votes out of several hundred. This year nearly 2000 audience members filled out surveys, 905 of them voted in the showcase portion.
Three of the selected Most Wanted artists are "groups", just one is a solo artist. The festival chooses three Most Wanted artists, but more often than not of late (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013) goes with four if things are close. Can't say I argue much with the choices - although I rarely vote in the audience poll, I voted with my debit card last summer and picked up CDs from Boxcar Lilies, Roosevelt Dime, and Darlingside.

This caused me to ponder whether "groups" (duos, trios, etc.) might have a bit of an advantage in the audience survey (my guess was that they do). And since I am the mistress of the festival merchandise (which gives me no special knowledge or pull, but it does mean I have complete records going back a few years), I decided to do a little audit. Please note that my evaluation of an artist as a solo as compared to a group are based on artist name and memory; some of the "solo artists" may have appeared on stage with side musicians giving them more of a group feel but if they are billed as an individual, that's how they went. 

Here's the record for the past few years:

2007 Most Wanted: Anthony da Costa, Joe Crookston, Lindsay Mac, and Randall Williams
0 of 5 groups made it into the most wanted, 4 of 19 solo artists

2008 Most Wanted: Abi Tapia, Amy Speace, Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, Lucy Wainwright Roche
1 of 3 groups made it into the most wanted, 3 of 21 solo artists

2009 Most Wanted: chuck e costa, Swing Caravan, The Brilliant Invention
2 of 8 groups made it into the most wanted, 1 of 16 solo artists

2010 Most Wanted: Barnaby Bright, Chris O'Brien, Folkadelics, Spuyten Duyvil
3 of 6 groups made it into the most wanted, 1 of 18 solo artists

2011 Most Wanted: Blair Bodine, ilyAIMY, Louise Mosrie, Pesky J Nixon
2 of 8 groups made it into the most wanted, 2 of 16 solo artists

2012 Most Wanted: Gathering Time, Poor Old Shine, The Yayas
3 of 8 groups made it into the most wanted, 0 of 16 solo artists

2013 Most Wanted: The Boxcar Lilies, Darlingside, Roosevelt Dime, Conor Garvey
3 of 11 groups made it into the most wanted, 1 of 13 solo artists

I think I got everyone, if I missed any "four most wanted" years, let me know. (Thanks, Ellen, I did miss Louise Mosrie in 2011, and thanks Jake, for reminding me about The Folkadelics in 2010)  Now, how does that look graphically? At the risk of being called the Nate Silver of folk festivals....

24 Emerging Artists per year, with a trend towards a higher percentage of "groups" as compared to the traditional singer-songwriter / solo artist. A low of 3 groups (2008) and a high of 11 groups (2013)
The Most Wanted Artists show a clear trend towards groups, with 2007 being the last year with no groups, averaging one solo artist since 2009. (two in 2011, none in 2012). Also of interest, 5 of the past 7 years there have been 4 "Most Wanted" artists, rather than the 3 expected. 

So you want to be a Most Wanted returning artist? Get yourself a band, because since 2009, the odds of coming back as a solo artist have been mostly under 10%, while the odds of returning as part of a group are 25% or higher.

I'm not trying to stir things up (well, maybe a little) - just trying to point out that the "most wanted" survey mechanism (audience surveys) tends to favor the louder, brighter groups, with harmonies, multi-instrumentals, etc. that might lead to a higher appeal from the hillside, as compared to the solo performer. I personally consider it an "apples and oranges" kind of thing, there's a different audience, level of appeal, etc. And yes, I've a little skin in the game - the "Most Wanted" stage slots I've really enjoyed over the years consisted of 3-4 solo performers swapping tunes (and perhaps working together instrumentally and through harmony) - they often tour together pre-fest and kind of grow together a bit. Groups tend to be a little more self-contained as a unit (vocally, instrumentally) and as great as it is to see them play the main stage, I'd rather they did a solo set rather than a song swap format.

I (personally, and I wield no particular power here other than the power to count 100s of tee shirts tossed into bins) think it would be a good thing to split the competition into group and solo categories, and perhaps choose two from each. Because looking over the past many years, I see a ton of really good singer-songwriters who did not make the "audience cut" and perhaps should get some recognition.

Although, as has been pointed out on Facebook, a lot of the "solo artists" do bring along side musicians so the line between group and solo artist gets pretty blurry. Perhaps if you bring your own side musicians, you might need to compete in the group category. Not a great deal, IMHO, since an ensemble that has been playing and singing together for a while can be pretty tough to top.

As with anything, your opinion, and mileage, may vary....

January 30, 2014

Facebook Invites (How Not To)

I recently posted the following to my Facebook timeline:
Facebook folks, if you are using your personal account to promote your business or services, send out mass INVITES to events and workshops to your entire friend list, etc. I am probably going to unfriend you. You need to set up a separate business page and direct your solicitations and invites to folks who have specifically LIKED your business, rather than to every single person you know.

I don't mind an occasional update on what is going on, but my INVITE list is often filled with invites to events I have no interest in from folks I rarely if ever see that are pretty much the Facebook equivalent of SPAM.
Despite this, one of the main offenders on my friends list proceeded to send out a spammish INVITE just this morning. And was summarily unfriended.

I look upon invites from the perspective of "what if everyone behaved that way". I have 580 Facebook friends. Not bragging; it's just that I move through many communities - yoga, music, arts, local, history, glbt, etc. and a few in particular (yoga teacher training, GLBT summer camp, and the Falcon Ridge folk festival) tend to be "meet lots of people" places. Mind you, that 580 is a conservative number of "friends" - I have a fairly rigid "if we've never met in 3D, we're not friends" policy, I almost never make friend requests (but also rarely turn them down), and I have a "one friend connection per person" policy for folks who have multiple facebook identities.

Now, if every one of those folks used Facebook to promote a business, hobby, group, or cause with a handful of events or activities per month, I'd be looking at 1000-2000 "invites" per month. Declining Facebook invites would become a full time job, and I'd no doubt miss a lot of events and invites that I want to see in the "noise" of the unwanted solicitations.

We're not talking about a party here - but rather things like a weekly meditation class, or a monthly reiki training. Hey, I teach yoga. I could, I imagine INVITE all 580 of my friends to each of the three yoga classes I teach weekly, every one of the dozens or so Guinea Pig gigs we play. But no, because that's abusing the system.

Learn how to use the technology, folks. Set up a business page for your business, and send out invites to those who have specifically LIKED the page and expressed interest (and no, accepting a friend request is not an acceptance to get dozens of event invites). Create events for your activities, but instead of inviting 100s of people to each event (and forcing them to decline through gritted teeth of resentment) just post it to your personal and/or business timeline - folks will see it.

And if you are active in a cause, be mindful of flooding your timeline with posts about rescue animals or queer rights or politics or whatever. While nowhere near as intrusive as excessive invites, my "friends" list has several dozen people who I effectively ignore (using the Facebook tools) because of one too many "URGENT PIT BULL RESCUE" post or whatever. Love animals, my pup is a rescue, but I really do not want to weed through 20 such posts on my timeline each day.

Doing the social media dance, whether you are using it for personal or professional purposes, is walking a tightrope between "out of sight, out of mind" (under utilizing the platform) and "annoying your fans" (resulting in "unlikes" and "unfriending") 

My Left Hand

A very vivid and remembered dream last night.

I dreamed I was at a party or function at the home of Dan, my fellow guitarist from The Guinea Pigs. During the party, there was a yoga class, taught by Ana Forrest (of all people; I've practiced with her a few times in the past but she's not really that present in my life right now) in the middle of the street (it was a cul-de-sac, in the dream). Somewhere in the practice, I attempted handstand (not a pose I do unsupported) and folded over or injured my left hand.

Flash forward to the next day; my hand injury has taken the form of slicing away significant parts of my four fingers - the index finger and pinky were pared down to the knuckle, the other fingers had more remaining but still pretty bad. The injuries had healed (no blood) and I was back talking to Dan and his wife Nancy about it (had they noticed this yesterday? Had I bled in their house? Did they find the remnants of my fingers?). I remember telling them not to worry about a lawsuit; I was not that type of person and besides it had happened in the street, not in their house.

And I remember having a deep sadness because the injury meant I would never play the guitar or bass again, and that it would impact my ability to teach and practice yoga.

At that moment, I woke up. The dream was so vivid and real that I immediately went to my left hand, found it to be intact, and was filled with a deep joy and happiness.

The whole thing reminded me of a zen story or parable I have heard, paraphrased here.

A man's child dies, yet he is strangely calm and unmoved by this.

When asked about it, he says "Last night, I dreamed I had four fine children, loving each of them as much as if they were my only child. When I awoke this morning, I realized it was a dream, and my dream children were gone."

"Do I mourn for this one child, or for these four children?"
A lesson dream perhaps. To be thankful for something as small as fingers. And that this body, this life, is on loan, and to enjoy it and use it wisely while it is in my care....

January 29, 2014

My Drinking Problem

No, I am not about to talk about addiction and recovery.A lot of folks in my life do not drink (either by choice or by commitment) and I've certainly spent some time in various flavors of twelve step circles. And I do not mean to make light of those in recovery or to minimalize the impact of alcohol on the lives of those who drink, and those family and friends impacted by alcoholism.

It's just that I'm not a very good drinker. It's not that I'm a sloppy drunk, nor that I am inexperienced, it's just that whatever combination of innate aptitude, preference, and proclivity go into the making of an alcohol aficionado, I don't have the right stuff. My facebook feed is filled with martini gatherings, creative and colorful cocktails, girls nights out, boys nights out, holiday parties, etc. and I just do not get it.

When I do drink, it's beer - usually something upmarket, and mostly because it's kind of controllable - it's hard for me to drink too many without having to spend the entire evening in the bathroom. As the saying goes, most recently quoted by Bruce Dern's character in Nebraska, "you don't buy a beer, you rent it". I might have 2-3 over the course of an evening, on a really wild night. Back in the (college, young adulthood) I guess I'd drink myself silly now and then, but insofar as alcoholism might require a genetic predisposition, I was favored without that particular genetic code. If I was slated for alcoholism, I would have fallen down that particular path in college. 

Somewhere along the line I picked up a bottle of gin and vodka with an eye to summerish cocktails - gin and tonics, cranberry and vodka. I dragged both bottles up the the folk fest, I actually made myself a drink a few times over the long hot summer, but the gin bottle is 3/4 full and the vodka bottle is maybe 1/2 full. I picked up a 1/2 pint (which ages me, I know it's really 200 ml, a transition that occurred when I was in college and working at a package store) of peppermint schnappes for post shoveling and holiday nipping - and was somewhat chagrined to realize that I do not own a shot glass. (I used a cold medicine measured cap to pour myself a shot  several times). That bottle still has 50 mL or so left - I bought another the last snowstorm which remains sealed. I am tempted by the sickly sweet, not so serious hard liquor of peach brandy or the like. I'm curious about wintery drinks - cinnamon whisky, a hot toddy, etc. But I'll probably remain just that.

Part of it may be social, physiological and economic - I do not really have much of a social circle so not a lot of opportunity to go out for drinkees, hang out with friends. I'm also pretty cheap, so the thought of spending $10 for a mixed drink or a glass of wine is just not on my radar. And finally, my liver, which has processed over a decade of oral estrogen, is just not really happy to get a solid night's worth of alcohol to deal with. I'm at an age where a hangover is just not worth it. 

So yeah, I'm not much of a drinker. And I'm kind of envious of those of you who seem to do it with class and style...