December 24, 2013

Old Friends

Friday night, I snuck up to Northampton to see Dar Williams and Lucy Wainwright Roche at the Iron Horse. I was not really planning to head up (my usual Modus Operandi) but a Facebook friend who happens to run merch for Dar posted a "Who am I going to see at the concert?" post and that prodded me out of my pre-weekend lethargy, and off I went. As I listened to Dar, I realized that this is the fourth time I've seen her play in the past year - last year's Middnight on Main in Middletown, the Iron Horse (right around this time, I forget exactly when), Falcon Ridge, and now this show.

Dar and I go way back. I ran across her back in '92, before The Honesty Room was released in fact, as she was tooling around New England with her guitar and a box of cassette tapes. Yes, I do own a copy of "All My Heroes are Dead" on cassette....

My first encounter was somewhat problematic. A friend (oh, OK, to be honest, my ex) was coming back east from Los Angeles, and was looking for a place to play, I approached graham, the owner of a slimy bar in Bristol called The Common Ground that ran a Sunday evening folk series and a Monday evening open mic. Graham, seeing the dollar signs of a homecoming concert, said sure and offered a date. What I did not know was that he had already booked that date to a musician named Dar Williams, who got bumped to opener.

My ex did well that night - filled the bar up with her family and friends. Graham did well, with a full bar on a Sunday night. And I'd like to think Dar did well - playing a short set to a full room (instead of the handful of folks she'd draw on other occasions at the bar), selling some merch, and picking up one very devoted fan (me).

I became a Dar Williams fan that night. That led me to see her at the Common Ground on other occasions (often to a smallish crowd that made me feel bad if I needed to leave at the break) and other New England coffeehouse venues. I particularly remember one gig at a little coffeehouse in East Hampton where she broke a guitar string and had no spares - thankfully another musician, John Scott, had a guitar in his car and lent it to Dar. For many years (until recently, in fact) Dar seemed to be quite a nervous guitar player on stage, I'd sit on the edge of my seat praying for a successful first few songs until she settled in. She was always the kid sister I was rooting for to do well.

I was there at Roaring Brook Nature Center for an Open Mic where Dar debuted "The Honesty Room" - she was the "featured performer"  (not quite a headliner) and she signed my copy "Thanks for listening....and for playing". Ironically, one of the songs I did that night was the Roches "Face Down at Folk City" (also, John Gorka's "The Gypsy Life")

And yes, I was at the WWUH Holiday benefit for which Dar wrote "Christians and the Pagans", the Nields wrote "Merry Christmas, Mr Jones" and my local faves High Blumenfeld and Margo Hennebach performed. 

I was active on the "Dar List" email list, visited (but did not camp with) the Dar Camp group at Falcon Ridge, was there for the first time the Falcon Ridge hillside lit up for "Iowa" (not cell phones, back in the day, but real lighters and flashlights)

Over the years, as Dar has grown into a mature and successful artist, I kind of stepped back. I still loved her music and bought it all, but she was playing larger and more expensive venues, and I kind of felt like she no longer needed me in the audience. So it's been lovely to reconnect with her and her music.

Now, Lucy Wainwright Roche. She was a Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist back in 2008 and returned as a Most Wanted artist in 2009. (to be honest, I was shocked it was that long ago). But I've been a fan of music by women named Roche (Suzzy is Lucy's mom) for 30+ years. It was 1980 or thereabouts when I stumbled across a review of The Roches first trio album in Rolling Stone - my musical tastes at the time ran along the Springsteen / Neil Young / Cars axis (although I was dabbling in Lou Reed and Jonathon Richman), so these three funky, folkie, NYC folk-punk women was a real change of pace. I was smitten by their cover photo, their harmonics, their humor. Been a huge fan ever since.

I've seen the Roches live a handful of time (most notably, front row center at the Tarrytown Town Hall). In the "music collection" department, in terms of how much of an artist's catalog I own, I'd have to rank Dar #1, Springsteen #2, and The Roches #2. So yeah, big Roches fan. And in the ensuing years, I've also picked up a fondness for Loudon Wainwright, Lucy's father. So yeah, Lucy is worth a trip, anytime!

Lucy and Dar were both in good voice and good humor. I particularly loved Lucy (having only caught her in short sets at Falcon Ridge in the past) and her "not quite as seasoned a perfomer as Dar" was charming and authentic. Dar's set and performace was not much different from last time I saw her at Iron Horse - she's such a mature and polished performer these days that it's hard to be quite so thrilled and smitten as when she was a bit more of a wild card. But still, wonderful to see her and hear her.

December 09, 2013

Local New Britain

Dug in a little deeper to New Britain CT (my home town) this weekend.

1) Visited the New Britain Museum of American Art  (or NBMAA) - primarily to see the Maurice Sendak exhibit, but also to become a member. I live in this fair city, might as well support some of the local arts organizations. There was also an opening (Hawaiian art) and a Kwanzaa celebration - so plenty of music and food. The Sendak exhibit was lovely - and when I think of him I recall his last Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross and cry a little.

2) Dropped by the New Britain YMCA to hand in my Groupon (6 months membershio for $99) - I was a member a while back and enjoyed the pool 1-2 times a week, hoping to get back on that particular horse starting this week. I love swimming; it seems to be good for my shoulders, and then I can get a nice soak in the jacuzzi. And might even find my way back onto the racquetball court or some of the cardio machines.

3) Packed up two cases of empty bottles to return to Avery's Beverages (still in the car though, they are not open Sunday or Monday) - the bottles have been hanging around since summer, waiting for me to finish up the last strays. I'll probably pick up a case of adult mixer soda's (their Orange Dry is particularly good, as is the Lime soda) in case I feel like a little holiday cocktail. I do not drink a lot of soda, so do not mind spending a bit more for local and unusual flavors.

Other New Britain hotspots and organizations I need to explore a bit more: Trinity-on-Main (a local church transformed into an arts space), Hole-in-the-Wall Theater, and the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance.

December 08, 2013

Francis Dunnery House Concert

Not what I expected. Not what I expected at all.

My friend Andrea (and her husband Charlie) hosted a social weekend - a blow out holiday party last night (mostly her neighbors and co-workers, a handful of friends from the yoga world, and the local indie fave Little Ugly, who reportedly got shut down early by the WH cops....). Today, she had invited me over for a house concert with a "singer-songwriter and story-teller", by the name of Francis Dunnery.

Now, having been a folkie (fan, musician, festival crew) for nearly 25 years, I figured I was in for some old chestnuts, some New England story-telling, something a little rustic, a little crunchy, a little earnest. You know - the meat and potatoes of every open mic and coffeehouse from Maine to Philly. I've listened politely to scores of such performers over the years, and I'm always happy to pick out a gem of a song from an evening, or rarer, discover an artist that I'd want to listen to again.

Well, I figured wrong. Francis Dunnery is not that kind of musician. Rather, he is a spiritual seeker and wise man who spent a few years fronting the art-prog-blues-fusion band It Bites, before hitting the wall of hedonistic rock n' roll lifestyle, and changing his life.

His Wikipedia page is seeded with words that resonate - addiction, recovery (not that unusual, given the music business), but then horse whisperer, carpentry, astrology, Jungian psychology. Francis Dunnery has done a hell of a lot of work.And it shows. His house concert this evening is accurately described by him (as quoted by Wikipedia) as: 
"(showing up) as a friend — you can't show up as a rock dude or something — and it’s just me and my acoustic guitar, no amplification, singing my songs and holding a 90-minute lecture on the human condition. I sing songs and tell stories of my life. It’s not a party; it’s more like going to church, but church with swearing!... (There is) an exchange of energy that I call a 'jacuzzi'. At the end of 90 minutes, everybody has dropped their ego. They don't even realise that has happened, but they have gradually taken off their clothes and gone into that energetic jacuzzi together. Something like that is a lot harder to achieve in a rock music arena."
And yeah, it was all that and more. By the end of the evening, we were talking deep yoga concepts - letting go of ego, being in the present moment. It was as if someone stepped out of an enlightenment intensive and happened to pick up a guitar on the way home. Here's a sample of today:

So impressed, I picked up three disks (which he barely seemed to want to take money for) - 2001's "Man", 2013's "Frankenstein Monster" and a 2008 DVD (recorded in 2001 or thereabouts) called "In the Garden of Mystic Lovers" I'm looking forward to spending some time listening and watching.....

Did I expect to get my spirit buzzed up this evening? No, I did not - I was probably going to spend the evening on the couch or cleaning bathrooms, but for Andrea's text this afternoon. But I did go. And it was pretty inspiring, pretty enlightening, pretty wonderful. 

December 07, 2013

Burger Prank Foiled

 The preliminary version (pretty much as told, with some things I forgot) at last night's edition of "The Mouth" at the Mark Twain House.  Thanks to Chion Wolf and Jacques Lamarre for hosting. The theme of last night's story-telling was "I Fought the Law: Encounters with law Enforcement".

An ironic twist - as I sat down, the story-teller sitting next to me, leaned over and whispered "That would not happen to be Marian High School, would it?" - turns out he grew up in Framingham and graduated from North High School in 1978. Small world!

In February of 1979, the band A Taste of Honey won the Best New artist Grammy Award on the strength of their hit “Boogie Oogie Oogie”.

In March of that year, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant melted down. In April, my father passed away after many years of struggling with cardio-vascular disease.

In June, I graduated from high school, and in August of that year – I was arrested.

But it all started with the Grammy Awards. “A Taste of Honey” had won the Best New Artist award that year, grabbing it away from our beloved favorites “The Cars”.   My friend Jim, the bass player of our high school basement rock band, with aspirations of making radical art, concocted a bit of social and cultural protest for this offense. We’d spray paint a Rolling Stones tongue, along with the tag “CARS REVENGE” on the billboard of radio station KISS 108, the local disco station whose advertising featured a pair of lips. The billboard he had identified was up three stories, on a factory alongside, and clearly visible from, the Massachusetts Turnpike.

So one night, a hand-picked group of friends drove in to Boston. We were able to get into the factory parking lot easily enough, and the building was designed in such a way that the three stories could be climbed one floor at a time. We each had been assigned our jobs – Jim did the painting, football lineman Kevin hoisted Jim on his shoulders, Mike (with his 70’s era Dodge Charger that you could sit five across) drove, one of the local track stars climbed the building and threw down a rope for the others. I think my job was to be nervous about it all and keep an eye out for the cops.

A lot could have gone wrong (not the least of which was Jim or Kevin falling off the sign) but nothing did – and we succeeded that night in our mission. No cops.

That evening gave birth to “The Maneuvers” – our code word for going out at night with an eye to making some sort of mild vandalism or mischief. I don’t remember all of the things we did that year – some were I am sure directed at or designed to impress classmates or fast food coworkers - although I do remember breaking into the Framingham State College gymnasium, and stealing a large plywood hand painted sign that said “The Pit” - the nickname for their student section – in order to place it atop the covered patio of the smoking area of my catholic high school, known somewhat less officially as “The Pit”. 

Now, that summer, we had graduated from high school and were heading out for college, and decided to enjoy one more evening of mischief. The goal that night was street signs – so we set out in Jim’s family ranch wagon, a cooler full of beer in the “hole” in the way back. We grabbed a lot of signs that night – we got our names, the names of friends. We had it down to a science – a rubber mallet, one of us climbed up on another’s back and gave the sign a couple of whacks – and it was off. We stowed the signs in the “way back” hole, and continued on.

Jim had a bigger catch in mind that night – we were going to grab a “Now Entering Framingham” sign. And we did indeed – this time with the aid of a ratchet set (there were a lot of mounting bolts) and a bit more time. We put that in the back of the wagon and set off back for Jim’s house. En route, we passed an “A frame” sign outside of a local burger joint, and one of us (possibly me, although it might have been any of us) suggested we swipe that sign and put it in front of the local McDonald’s, where a couple of us worked that year.

So after dropping the big sign off (but still with the street signs and beer in the hole), we headed back for the burger sign. Should be a piece of cake, park, swipe, drive away.

Unbeknownst to us, the Framingham Police were staking out the bank nearby. And, as one of the cops later reported, they noticed us and said “what the BLEEP are those kids up to?” Within seconds, we were busted.

Now, we were all “good kids” from the local catholic high school, and we were scared to death – we answered the cops questions, we were polite and suitably cowed. Well, except for Jim, who started to get mouthy with the cops. When the cops asked for help pulling the sign out of the car, Jim resisted “get it out yourself”, but I hissed “get over there” thinking about the storage hole full of purloined street signs, and the cooler full of beer, that I did *not* want the cops finding. As I remember it, the cooler was an inch taller than the storage home, and the door did not close fully. Even though I was not driving and it was not my car, I was also the only 18 year old (the legal drinking age back then) in a car full of 17 year olds, and all I could think of was 5 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor charge.

But, the cops never checked the car, we put the sign back, and they let us park Jim’s car in the restaurant lot while they took us to the station.

Here’s what I remember from the arrest:

  1.  I was wearing a red I SURVIVED THREE MILE ISLAND tee shirt. The nuclear accident had happened that March; my father had died that April. So when my family went down to Lancaster PA to bury Dad, I somehow managed to pick up a tee shirt. Somewhere in the bowels of the Framingham PD is a booking photo of me with this dumb shirt.
  2. The cop taking my fingerprints was making small talk, and when he found out I was going to Worcester Polytechnic Institute that fall, was all excited because his brother went there, and I really ought to look him up if I need anything. Um, how about if you just let me go right now?
  3. Jim seemed to enjoy the experience, swinging on the bars in his cell, and castigating the cops for taking his shoelaces and belt “I’m gonna hang myself over a sign? Come on!?”

Amazingly, we did not have to call out parents - we called a friend who had gotten paid that day and had enough cash to bail us out; we had to go to court the next day. I remember standing at my mom’s bedside that next morning “Mom….I need to talk to you about something”. Here she is, a widow less than four months, and already her kids are starting the long slide towards juvenile delinquency, starting with her oldest.

And to our great fortune, one of our party that night (who I’ll call J. Worthington Smythe III, not his real name which was a hell of a lot more ostentatious) was destined for Holy Cross, ROTC, law school, the bar and with any luck a career in politics, and had a father who had taken the same route. An arrest record on J. Worthington’s permanent file would NOT do – so J. Worthington II got the charges dropped to a misdemeanor, gtot the case nolo’d and had the records sealed – we had to pay a fine but no conviction record. Although to be honest, I’ve told some version of the story in job interviews. It’s the sort of “show me you have character” story that works in the engineering field.
And that weekend, in small, page 16 news tidbit about 2 column inches long, we made the paper: BURGER PRANK FOILED, with all of our names (and our college destinations!)  Jim cut it out, and taped it up in his bedroom. I would not be surprised if he still has it…

December 03, 2013

Makers Monday - Buying Local Art

One of my local holiday traditions has been to shop local artists and craftspersons. I've been a bit more active this year, with visits to several Hartford spaces (Artspace and The Dirt Salon) during Open Studio, the Holiday Artisan Marketplace (via the Connecticut State of Makers) at Waterbury City Hall, and a more regular visit to Wesleyan Potters

At Artspace, I picked up a couple of holiday gifts (which I will not share here), along with a delightful bowl made by Colleen Colabella from Towers of Hope & Pottery Creations, from East Granby. Most of her work involves small towers - but I sussed out this bowl - loved the raised pattern on the outside - organic, kind of china-like, and signaling a lightness or translucence.

Not on the web that I can find, but she's worth finding at local shows and fairs.

At the State of Makers Holiday Artisan Marketplace, I found some yummy jams, concocted by Omnomnom Jams and Jellies - I've been enjoying their Monkey Mayhem (banana, pineapple, cocoanut, I think) on my morning  and also picked up a jar of Pretty Peach. They are just getting started (and could use nice labels on their jars!) but a fun and affordable treat!

Also at the Waterbury event, I found some nice earrings, created by Kate Stephen Jewelry - I'm always looking for something fun and funky and these resonated - being an electrical engineer, it's fun to find something copper.

And, I bought a lovely and funky decorated shirt for a fashionable friend. 

Finally, at Wesleyan Potters, I found a few lovely pieces. I'm a big fan of the birds of late, especially once I realized they are the modern dinosaurs, and the Great Blue Heron is perhaps one of the best reminders of that. Walking my dog at a local farm, a heron swooped overhead (a mere 10'-20' high) and I felt that primitive, mammalian fear that was perhaps implanted in my DNA eons ago when my tiny ancestors were prey for flying pterodactyls. So this photo, by Tom Flynn, of a heron in flight, was perfect.

My friend Amy is a stained glass artist (you can view her work and shop at Singing Whale Stained Glass)  - so I am always looking at stained glass. I found this fused glass fish (not sure of artist) - I liked the rainbow / chakra colors, I'm a Pisces, and one of the images or concepts of the divine that have come to me through Enlightenment Intensive work over the years was  of a fish. So yeah, great for my yoga space.

Finally, this vase (artist unknown) spoke to me - it's solid and somewhat primative with it's figuring that feels reminiscent of hieroglyphs or cunieform. No idea why I like what I like, but I liked this enough to purchase it.