December 28, 2014

Christmas 2014: Four Movies

I caught four movies over the holiday season (which gives you a sense of what my holidays were like) - this rainy morning is a good opportunity to review them. 

Awake: The Life of Yogananda
This one arrived at Real Art Ways on Dec 19th, and has been showing ever since. A successful run despite a private showing on Dec 12th that many of my yoga friends and peers attended. Really wonderful use of archival footage, stills, and audio to relate the history of one of the first yogis to come to the west.

The film was divided between more or less concrete history (dates, places, anecdotes) and some discussion of yoga philosophy, and how / why it resonated with this country in that time (1920's onward)

A spiritual community friend related how the connection to an historic figure (through the archival material) made it very powerful for her, and I agree. I've never really known too much of Yogananda, and have not read The Autobiography of a Yogi but probably worth a read....

The Tale of Princess Kaguya
I'm not a huge anime fan in general, but I rarely miss anything that Studio Ghibli puts out, and this one is magical. A tiny girl, found inside a bamboo stalk, and adopted by an old bamboo cutter and his wife who dote on their "princess", and with the aid of gold and fine cloth gifted by the bamboo, work to elevate her to royalty.

I was quietly sobbing by the end with the Beauty and Truth of it all. Anyone who has asked the question "Who Am I?" will want to see this one, it's pretty powerful.

Into the Woods
I'm not a huge musical theater nerd - but there's something about Sondheim that resonates (yeah, I can pretty much sing Sunday in the Park, or Song and Dance, all the way through). This one was pretty good - I've seen the play in community theater a few times so did not have a lot to compare the movie to, but I found the score, songs, and plot to be so familiar and comfortable, and none of the actors were really inappropriate.

The play itself is somewhat challenging (with the "happily ever after" moment seeming to be the place that the mainstream audience would have been happy to have walked out on) and the drama and complications of the latter third not so easily communicated or expostulated.

But still, a lovely musical and tuneful experience. Almost nobody could even attempt to replace Bernadette Peters as The Witch, but Meryl Streep was wonderful. The rest of the cast was also pretty sharp, although Johnny Depp seems to bring too much camp / costumed baggage with him to be taken seriously in any role these days.

My only regret was seeing it on Christmas Day - too many people in the theater, someone wearing perfume sitting nearby, and a movie companion who wanted to see a movie, but not really THIS movie. Might be worth sneaking out for a matinee alone so I can stew in the music in peace.

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
Finally, a wonderful documentary about the women's movement, circa 1966-1971, with an opening night post-film discussion with director Mary Dore. Loved this movie - for the subject, for the narrative technique (present day interviews intercut with archival footage, stills, etc. of the interviewees). The movie hits many of the historic events, puts these into context, and covers many of the major cities - Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington.

It was a large and friendly crowd at Real Art Ways, and there were audible sighs and smatterings of applause when key figures and events were brought to the fore (the publishing of Our Bodies, Our Selves, Shirley Chisholm, etc.) Like "Awake" - the use of archival footage was wonderful, so see these often careworn women (today) back when they were young, vital, angry, activists was immensely powerful and made it very real. 

Although reasonable short (90 minutes or so) the documentary packed in a lot - turning the spotlight on women of color, on the divisions between the more conservative NOW and the more radical Women's Lib, exploring the straight / queer divide, discussing the various causes and priorities (equal opportunity, equal pay, child care, reproductive rights, domestic abuse, rape, etc.) - with just a few nods to the present day movement (reproductive rights in Texas, slut walks)

Definitely a must-see....

December 26, 2014

2014 Recap

A little early, admittedly, but Christmas was kind of a bummer this year, so I decided that I needed a shot of personal affirmation, which reviewing the past year certainly does. I've linked in applicable blog posts / video / graphics as available.

Folk Music
2014 was a big year for live music. Leaving aside the juggernauts of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (my annual July retreat) and the New England Regional Folk Alliance conference (November, my first, and an amazing time), I saw (in general order):

The Yoga
A couple of years back one of my clients wrote a Linked In recommendation for me that included the amusing phrase "...Jude has developed a strong desire for the yoga...." and now I've infected others at the studio with the wording "...I'm here to do The Yoga...". 2014 was more of the same, teaching three regular classes a week, regular subbing, a monthly free intro class, as well as assisting the 2014 Teacher Training (my 5th year doing that)

My shoulders remain highly problematic (not helped whatsoever by all the extra weight I've been carrying), which keeps me out of a lot of my favorite power / flow classes; so yoga and I remain locked in a relationship best described as "It's Complicated"

Live Theater / Performance
One visit to Hartford Stage (Hamlet) and one to Theaterworks (Woody Sez) this year. I also got to Chion Wolf's "The Mouth" at Mark Twain House three times, went to see Mike Birbiglia in Boston (a distant friend tagged me for a trip north). And not really in the same category but a Colin McEnroe live show from NBMAA (Typewriter Exhibit) and The Colin McEnroe Show Fifth Anniversary party at the new Infinity Music Hall.

The Guinea Pigs and Making Music
We seemed to play fewer gigs this year but we ratcheted up the quality. Farmer's Markets (Billings Forge and Bozrah), MCC on Main (3 times), and Blue Back Square (1x) were augmented by a wonderful gig at the Manchester Band Shell and an "all originals" set at the Glastonbury Apple Fest. We also popped up in a CT Tourism ad for Hartford Hodge Podge that ran on CPTV for a while this summer.

In the personal performance realm, I stepped up to the mic at the UU East Coffeehouse a few times this year (thanks, Dan!), played bass for a few acts in the Camp Camp talent show, and led a Camp Camp lunchtime flash mob (Sweet Caroline) which was a lot of fun.

And in "sound engineer" mode, I ran the sound for Kirtan 3x as well as provided the sound for OM Street / Live Yoga on Lasalle for about 1000 yogis....

Film and Movies
Really, too many to even begin to list. I spent a lot of time over at Real Art Ways this year, and a few visits to Cinestudio - I caught a lot of the 2014 Oscar Nominees. I also snuck out to the local Rave Multiplex for weekday matinees when the spirit moved me. Highlights included the annual Oscar Nominated shorts (at Real Art Ways) as well as the Out Film Fest in may (I bought a festival pass, and went to a lot of the films)

Not a great year - between yoga commitments, summertime trips, and rain, I did not get out all that much, and missed a lot of the regular events (winter dinner, safety seminar, Plainville Balloon Fest). Nevertheless I did chase more than a few times, and flew at least once.

Home Repair and Renovation
Kind of a quiet year - I painted the back deck, I replaced my kitchen faucet, and replaced my kitchen floor tiles. I picked up and installed a home energy monitor (for personal and professional curiousity)

Not a good year, in the mortality department. My yoga teacher's mother Rita passed away this past year, as did Robert "Buck" Palter, father of my ex-partner Alex. We also lost Gil Dube, a long ago friend from the folk music world, and Laura Bupp, wife of my cousin Jeremy. I've thankfully not lost any aunts / uncles recently, but they are all getting up there and I expect we'll be saying goodbye to some in the coming years.

In Febuary, I assumed the role of condo association president (not that big a deal for a four unit association). I revamped my business website, got some new personal cards printed up (listing all my affiliations - yoga, ballooning, music, professional, social media), and started a new Residential Power and Energy blog

Went on a handful of hikes this year (mostly to the usual place) and spent quite a few hours walking the loop around Walnut Hill Park in New Britain (got to get back on that horse). I invested in, and installed, some new "street friendly" tires on my mountain bike - but have not really ridden much this past year.  also picked up a Fitbit which I use way too sporadically - but it's charged and ready to go in case of New Year's resolutions....

Finally, I snuck in one Red Sox game with camp friends, in May.

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 -

"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


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

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 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 -

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....

October 02, 2014

Robert M. Palter

Some sad news this morning; Robert Palter (known to many as Bob and to his family as Buck) passed away last evening. I was privileged to get to know him through my former partner, Alex - Buck was his father. They have lived near each other for as long as I have known them, after many years of living apart, and it's been sweet to get to know Buck through the years.

The bio from his magnum opus, The Duchess of Malfi's Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits, gives an overview of a full and varied life:
Born in Queens, New York, Robert Palter earned a degree in chemistry at Columbia University. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army, working on the Manhattan Project. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is currently Dana Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. A scholar with wide-ranging interests, Palter has throughout his academic career published on the philosophy and history of science as well as eighteenth-century intellectual history. He lives in New Britain, Connecticut.
He was a fascinating man, an intellectual who could be brusque especially when debating some subject of science or philosophy. He had an unusual medical condition, possibly Gustatory Sweating or Frey's Syndrome, resulting in sweating during a meal  - when I first met him, not knowing there was a physiological reason, I kept wanting to open a window or find a cooler restaurant. Going out to dinner with the Palter clan was often overwhelming, a lively (some would say raucous) mix of humor, intellectual debate, and a fair amount of raised voices. My "don't make a fuss, don't draw attention" attitude was always challenged by Buck and his offspring.

Buck was a passionate collector of literature and art, filling his small condo with books (over 10,000 volumes, reportedly), prints (he has multiple architectural flat files devoted to his collection) and sculpture (often primitive or along the lines of folk art). He remained active until has last days, eating out, visiting museums, art galleries, and performances. 

I have not seen Buck much over the past few years, but we did get out for dinner a few weeks back; and I have an unread copy of his book of short stories / essays, Twosomes, sitting on my "to be read" pile. I am grateful that the threads of our lives have intertwined, and sad today to say farewell.

Because there's not a lot of consolidated material about him (wikipedia entry, etc.) I thought I'd spend some time this morning pulling together his online life, in his honor and memory.

June 1960 - University of Chicago Press
Whitehead's Philosophy of Science 

1960, Philosophy of Science
Book Review:Frontiers in Science Edward Hutchings, Jr

1961, Noonday Press
Toward Modern Science, Volume I: Studies in Ancient and Medieval Science (Editor)

1961, Noonday Press
Toward Modern Science, Volume II (Editor)

1961, Ethics
Book Review:Theories of the Universe. Milton K. Munitz; From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Alexandre Koyre; Space, Time, and Creation. Milton K. Munitz

1964, Ethics
The Ethics of Extermination

1970, MIT Press
The Annus mirabilis of Sir Isaac Newton, 1666-1966

Nov 1984 - Science Magazine
Relativity and Other Issues (Review of Understanding Relativity, by Stanley Goldberg)

1994 - University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign, School of Chemical Sciences
Bulletin for the History of Chemistry
A Note on Joseph Black and the Smell of "Fixed Air" 

April 1995 - Hume Studies, Volume XXI, Number 1
Hume and Prejudice

April 1996 - UNC Press
Black Athena Revisited (Contributor, Edited By Mary R. Lefkowitz and Guy MacLean Rogers)

Dec 1, 2002 - University of South Carolina Press
The Duchess of Malfi's Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits - Amazon 

Review by Jacqueline M. Newman in Flavor and Fortune 

Nov 2, 2006 - The New York Review of Books
What Happened at Oak Ridge? 
Letter to the editor in response to Jeremy Bernstein's "The Secrets of the Bomb"  
2012, Monroe Publishing

Dec 11, 2014
Selected Essays - eBook

October 01, 2014

The Colin McEnroe Show 5th Anniversary Celebration

It was, let's be honest, a love fest.

Greater Hartford, sub-genre public radio nerd, turned out in force (sold out at 500) last night for the 5th anniversary celebration of the Colin McEnroe Show at the Hartford Infinity Music Hall. And I, who have been smitten with Colin throughout his radio career, was thrilled to be there. I've been self employed since 1995 and Colin has kept me company (via radio shows on WTIC and WNPR) through the past decades.

First, a note about the newish Infinity Music Hall. It's a beautiful space, and completely vibes the Norfolk Infinity Hall without feeling quite so snug (some would say claustrophobic). I think even the bathrooms have a similar decor and feel. I have not found my way there for a concert yet, but I'm really looking forward to it. My one regret was not traipsing upstairs to get a feel for the balcony seating.

Now, to the party. Loyal blog readers will note that I've been a Colin McEnroe fan for many years - going all the way back to his MORNING show on WTIC. (Remember all the Barbaras? The squids who ply Long Island Sound?) It was during that time I penned and performed the "Ballad of Colin McEnroe", with Jon Lewis a local folkie / open mic friend from Bristol. I was there for Colin's first departure from WTIC, and there when he returned to an afternoon drive-time slow with Bruce Stevens. I was there when they let Bruce go in October 2006 and when Colin left the station two years later.

I've witnessed Colin's WNPR career from teh start, sensing something was up in February 2009, live blogging the first show on August 31, 2009. And long before TCMS elevated Chion Wolf to minor diety status, I had her in my sights.

So, it was wonderful to see these talented and amazing folks celebrated and honored. So nice to see the WNPR folks behind the scenes, Grayson Hughes, the many guest hosts and panelists who have contributed and become beloved voices over the past few years.

And if things did drop off into a "Prairie Home Companion" level of sentimentality (by was of two sing-alongs), it was understandable and welcomed. I tease because I know Colin is not the world's biggest Garrison Keillor fan; had he donned red sneakers last night and sung a duet en bass, it would have been a total transition to the dark side....

Colin occasionally promotes a theory that as a culture, we celebrate things just as they are leaving or becoming obsolete. Hopefully, that's not the case here - TCMS is still on the air with perhaps it's best years ahead, and at 1 pm, I'll be listening. 

September 30, 2014

Jill of All Trades / Mistress of None

One of the things I have struggled with throughout my life is the rather scattershot (is using the term schizophrenic politically incorrect?) set of skills and interests I have cultivated. From earliest days (when my high school core competencies bounced from math and science to creative writing to music) to today (when "What do you do for work?" elicits of stream of consciousness that includes engineering, teaching yoga, social media, computer automation, writing, and music), I've never been particularly focused.

It is both a blessing as well as a curse. There's not much that crosses my path in terms of work or hobbies that I cannot apply some experience or competency to. On the other hand, there's something to be said for being "the writer", "the geek", "the performer", etc. and I've never applied myself to any single interest or skill long enough to be highly expert in any one thing.

Right now, I'm struggling with this broad set of interests and skills in several areas.

My professional / business website is an old and tired mess. Designed and assembled in the early 00's and last seriously updated in 2006, it does not reflect much of what I do for work these days, nor provide a winning and reassuring update to present or future clients. It's way overdue for a makeover (which I have started several times) but I struggle with it. I've grown tired of traveling and doing on-site troubleshooting work; a lot of what I do for money these days is distinctly non-engineering. How to fold all of that into a website without having to create and maintain multiple sites (electrical engineering, yoga, computer / marketing / social media)

Similarly, this blog has become a catch-all for my myriad interests and passions, including:
  • Folk and Acoustic music (playing and listening)
  • Sound reinforcement (audio toys and equipment, gigs)
  •  Local arts and culture
  • Home repair / energy conservation
  • Yoga
  • LGBT issues (I'm pretty light on this, but it sneaks in occasionally)
One thing I am doing right now is splitting out some of the more techie / geekie posts I've made here to a new Residential Power and Energy Blog
I've decided to start a blog focusing on electrical power and energy for residential and small commercial users - relying on half a lifetime of work in this field, and consolidating, integrating and updating documents, posts, and other material I've written and/or published over the past 30 years.
Hopefully, I can use my engineering training, experience, and interest to bridge the gap between the high end users (contractors, equipment manufacturers, energy engineers) and home-owners and small business owners.  I've got a long term eye on monetizing the blog, as well as perhaps leveraging it towards some freelance writing.

In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure out how to put my professional life out there in a way that is coherent, fresh, and not too off-putting to those looking for expertise in one particular area or skill. Wish me luck....

September 26, 2014

Efergy E2 Classic Energy Monitor

I recently picked up a small energy monitor for my home / condo, made by Efergy Technologies Limited. As I confessed via social media:
Just ordered a small energy monitor for the main condo panel. Call it 40% professional interest, 30% desire to be more energy efficient / save money, and 30% number and graph nerd.
In the professional interest department, I'm always looking at new / low cost ways to monitor, measure, quantify electricity and power. The price point here was minimal ($100). The functions and feature set (monitoring demand, wireless display that can be moved throughout the home, USB interface to access data and produce reports, software to facilitate all that) all looked great.

From an energy conservation / cost savings perspective, although I'm a single person in a small condo, I'm a bit of a nightmare in terms of electrical usage. My condo is all-electric (heat, stove & oven, water heater). Although cooling season is over, I have two small window A/C units (bedroom and basement office), a basement dehumidifier, and a basement space heater. Besides normal living usage, I work out of my house (so I'm in the basement office a lot) and I practice / teach yoga - my second bedroom is a dedicated practice room and when I practice, I generally crank the heat a bit.

Now, I've taken a lot of first steps to reduce my electrical usage - replaced almost all of my incandescent bulbs with CFL or LED, and replaced all of my baseboard thermostats with either digital units, or digital units with a timer. Digital thermostats = more consistent control (I'm not turning heat up or down based on "feel") as well as more even heating (they have triac controls that can turn heat up incrementally not simply ON / OFF like mechanical units). I keep my heat pretty low, 58F at night, 65F during the day, it's scheduled based on my life, and the thermostats make sure I never leave the heat cranked for more than a few hours. I'm pretty good at reprogramming the thermostats as needed. 

But enough about me - back to the Efergy energy monitor. It's arrived, been connected, and is doing it's job. Here's a quick review.

Technical Capabilities

Strictly speaking, the device is a CURRENT monitor. There are two clamp on current probes, but no voltage connection point - it calculates demand based on a fixed voltage, and presumably a unity power factor. Have not determined it it measures average current or true RMS at this point. It samples data on a 10 / 15 / 20 second rate. It's not super accurate, as a result, but it's "close enough" and certainly can provide a good comparative measure of energy usage over time.

It also has a third current probe "port" so can presumably monitor three phase power as well. It appears to be designed for a world market: 50/60 Hz, multiple nominal voltage settings, and multiple rate / tariff units.


The monitor was easy to install. Two clamp-on current probes (A) were connected to the mains coming in. I have a 100A panel, the probes appear to be sized for 200A maximum. The probes are not spring loaded, but use a nice little plastic latch / clip for secure connection, and since there is no voltage monitored, the vector / direction of the probe does not matter. I'm comfortable sticking my fingers in a live panel, but to be safe, kill the power before installation.

These are connected via a fixed cable to a transmitter (B) which is powered via 3 x AA batteries, or an optional DC supply. The company claims battery life of 8-10 months is typical for both transmitter and monitor.

The wireless display / monitoring unit (C) can be located anywhere convenient; I placed it atop the panel for the photo. It's powered via 3 x AAA batteries. The transmitter / monitor are linked via a simple push-button procedure. I had no problems getting them to talk. The expected range is 100 - 200 ft. although I found signal was sketchy up on the second floor. 

The past week I've had the wireless display sitting on my desk as I've worked, and have enjoyed (yeah, I'm an engineer, what do you want) watching the kW measurement track up and down as I work throughout the day. 

Monitor / Display Unit

The display for this device has some rudimentary information. There are three values available:
  • Energy Now (KW) 
  • Cost (per day) based on present energy ($)
  • CO2 (per day) based on present energy (KgCO2) 
In addition, the device displays all of these parameters as an Average (over the life of monitoring, with energy in KWHr) and History (scroll through a daily, weekly, or monthly tally of demand, cost, and CO2)

The device allows you to set up variable rate (single or multiple) in cost / kWHr, and a CO2 usage factor.

The display is pretty rudimentary; and if I were relying on that I'd probably check out the Efergy Elite True Power Meter (more sophisticated measurement, more advanced display, temp & humidity) but that  device does not have "in the box" communications capability to a PC, and I am all about the data.


The free to download software, elink, is pretty spiffy.  The basic HISTORY function displays demand on an hourly basis (per day), a daily basic (per month), or a monthly basis (per year)

Under the MANAGE function, the user can look at individual days, do a weekly comparison (for instance compare individual weekdays or weekday vs. weekend), as well as a month by month comparison.

Finally, there are some advanced options of tracking actual usage vs. planned usage, setting up complex utility tariff schedules (for those working with peak / off-peak billing) and adding multiple utilities (so one could presumably compare different rate schedules with actual historical demand data)


Last but not least, the software gives the option of generating a Daily or Monthly report - selecting a specific time period, and creating a PDF report. The "Add Stickie"feature is not all that intuitive or well documented, but from the main HISTORY page you can create comments on notable usage or patterns which would be great if one were creating a report for users, management, clients, etc.

The exported spreadsheet is pretty rudimentary: Date / Time / KWHr / Daily Max / Cost / Stickie Note(s). Including the Stickies is a nice touch. But really, the PDF report is pretty much all I might need.  

Using the Efergy Demand Meter

I can think of a lot of ways to use this device.

Professionally, it would make a great tool to do short and simple residential / small business demand audits. Hook it up, perhaps do some walking around turning things on and off and recording the demand, then leave it connected for a week and generate a report, with recommendations for savings.

As an end-user, I'd probably first characterize the household energy consumers. I'll be able to (over time) generate the cost (in electricity) for things like a load of laundry, a shower, a hot bath, and factor those in a bit. Might even consider replacing older / less efficient appliances. Same with cranking the heat for a yoga practice or fine-tuning the heat schedule and zoning. And although I've gone through the condo pretty well in terms of replacing incandescent bulbs and other energy hogs, perhaps I'll find something I've missed - most consumers who have been less fanatic than I will probably find a lot of room for improvement.

I can also watch the electrical demand on a real time basis, and if I've left something on (stove burner, iron, etc.) I should be able to spot that quickly.

Bottom line, really nice piece of technology - really well designed (hardware and software) and useful.

August 05, 2014

Falcon Ridge Folk Fest Emerging Artists - Merch Sales vs. Audience Survey

2007 Merchandise Leaders: Anthony da Costa, Lindsay Mac, Randall Williams, Vienna Teng, Joe Jencks

2007 Most Wanted: Anthony da Costa, Joe Crookston, Lindsay Mac, and Randall Williams

The three top sellers came back as "Most Wanted" artists, Joe Crookston finished 8th out of 24 in the merchandise sales

2008 Merchandise Leaders: Abi Tapia, Danny Schmidt, Anne Heaton, Amy Speace, Lucy Wainwright Roche

2008 Most Wanted: Abi Tapia, Amy Speace, Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, Lucy Wainwright Roche

Danny Schmidt and Anne Heaton sold the merch but missed out on Most Wanted, Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers placed sixth in merchandise sales - mostly because they sold out (67 pieces) of their CD at $5 each.

2009 Merchandise Leaders: The Brilliant Invention, Swing Caravan, Coyote Grace, John Elliott, Angelo M

2009 Most Wanted: chuck e costa, Swing Caravan, The Brilliant Invention

Coyote Grace, John Elliot, Angelo M missed Most Wanted spots; chuck e costa finished 8th in  merchandise sales

2010 Merchandise Leaders: Spuyten Duyvil, Barnaby Bright, Chris O Brien, John Wort Hannam, Shannon Wurst

2010 Most Wanted: Barnaby Bright, Chris O'Brien, Folkadelics, Spuyten Duyvil

Three for three (top merch sellers), Folkadelics came in 8th in merch sales. Another case of selling out $5 CDs (in this case, 45 pieces). Edit:  I've also been told (but do not recall nor have evidence) that John Wort Hannam was voted for a Most Wanted slot but turned it down. 

2011 Merchandise Leaders: Suzie Vinnick, Blair Bodine, ilyAIMY, Bulat Gafarov, Ellen Bukstel
2011 Most Wanted: Blair Bodine, ilyAIMY, Louise Mosrie, Pesky J Nixon

This seems to be the worst correlation year, with two Most Wanted placing out of the money - Louise Mosrie placed 6th in sales, Pesky J Nixon placed 10th, but being Falcon Ridge regulars, suspect there were a lot of folks who already were familiar with them / had previously purchased CDs

2012 Merchandise Leaders: Poor Old Shine, Burning Bridget Cleary, Gathering Time, Kate Klim, Honor Finnegan

2012 Most Wanted: Gathering Time, Poor Old Shine, The Yayas

Two for three. The Yayas placed 9th in merchandise sales.
2013 Merchandise Leaders:  Darlingside, Tall Heights, Connor Garvey, Boxcar Lilies, Roosevelt Dime

2013 Most Wanted: The Boxcar Lilies, Darlingside, Roosevelt Dime, Connor Garvey

Four for four.

Bottom line - out of 26 "Most Wanted" artists (from 2007 through 2013, 19 were also in the "Top Five" in terms of merchandise sales, 7 (averaging one per year) were audience favorites although did not place in the top five in terms of merchandise sales.

Some things that might skew the results / correlation:
  1. Many Emerging Artists do not bring a lot / enough merchandise.
  2. Some artists price their CDs low ($5 or $10) to encourage sales   
  3. Some artists only have one CD, others bring several.