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.