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?