November 13, 2015

NERFA - Day One

First day at NERFA (my second) under my belt.

I got up here a bit late (3:30 pm) - was intending to hit the road by noon, but got out a little late, and stopped multiple times en route (lunch, gas, grocery, and coffee), and it was a grey and rainy day which slowed the drive (especially over the mountain). Still, I got here in daylight and the weather cleared a bit for unpacking the car and the yoga toys. 

A CT registered car followed me over the mountain, turned out to be my Falcon Ridge friends Paul and Barbara, who I greeted in the parking lot. First of a bunch of friends from the festival and the local folk world I found yesterday - Anne and Bub from Falcon Ridge, Nancy (one of our merch tent crew who I did not initially remember), Barbara from CT Folk, Ethan and Jake from Pesky J. Nixon, Falcon Ridge mainstay Brad Yoder (the only artist I've actually played with, by dint of Ben's Silly Songs written for the volunteer open mic), local fave Kate Callahan (back for her second year, after have a quad showcase last year), and Ira and Julia Levin (aka The Levins) who had a well deserved DJ Spotlight slot this year. It feels a little more like "family" this year which is nice.

I settled in to my hotel room (roomie arrives today, a Canadian singer songwriter named Bobby Dove whose internet footprint brings to mind a young KD Lang) and rearranged the deck chairs (the room had a clear "bed wedged in the corner" feel and I wanted to give my roomie space, a desk, etc. so I pushed shit all over). It's a step up from last year, but not a BIG step up....

Last year the DJ Favorite's showcase was a bit too crowded - they seemed to have more seating this year so I was able to sit and listen through most of it - missed a few artists for bathroom and beverage breaks.

Some notables (in no particular order):

Mt. Thelonius - Interesting jazz/folk fusion, novel way they used folk instruments. Not really my cup of tea but I appreciated something different.

Davey O - Kind of omni-present here at NERFA and in the folk world in general, first time I got to sit and listen. Enjoyable, sweet.

Kirsten Maxwell - Had a sort of early Dar Williams vibe (think "As Cool As I Am") - I really liked her energy, playing, singing.

The Levins - What's to say? Dear, sweet, talented people, dare I say friends. Their songs and harmonies make me want to cry and melt this crusty soul.

Evie Laden Band - Has she played Falcon Ridge? If so, how have I missed her. Just amazing claw-hammer banjo with a couple of sidemen. She turned an old folk standard"Your Face" on it's head and charmed with her prelude about having Peggy Seeger listen to it. LOVED her lots.....

Caroline Cotter - My NERFA yoga teacher and a sweet woman (with a bump upon her head, she ought to cover Suzanne Vega's song Gypsy this weekend) - and pretty damn poised to come out with an a capella sing-along. She had the goods to carry it off.

Meghan Cary - A FRFF Emerging Artist, glad to hear her outside of the fest. A ton of energy and a strong performer. I picked up her latest CD after fest so it will get a fresh listen.

Fendrick & Peck - Unplugged duo using a single mic; they were funny as hell (vibing Burns & Allen) and talented too - definitely want to hear / see more of them. My only complaint, they were a little far from the mic so there was a slight feedback bubble forming throughout their performance.

Annika Bennett - the NYU freshman who wowed Falcon Ridgeas an Emerging Artist, and has continued that here at NERFA.

Rik Barron - Extra credit for going last. A journeyman who was charming and solid - I was not really expecting much but he won me over. He played two quick ones and said goodbye, when the moderator told him he had more time he came back with a solid song. Well played, getting an encore in the DJ set :)

I did not do much in the way of guerilla's (as evidenced by my sitting in the lobby blogging this morning) but I snuck up to Cup of Joe #2 (Joe Virga) for a few songs by my friend Kate Callahan (she and Joe did a kind of song swap) and a nlovely surprised, David Massengill followed up. David was so sweet (no surprise there) and despite speaking about arthritis that has impacted his dulcimer playing, looks to be in good health and spirits.

Interesting, two of the artists I covered back when I did Open Mics (and we're talking 20 years ago here) - David Massengill (#1 in America) and Kate McDonnell (Ordinary Man) are both at NERFA this year. I hope to chat a bit with them both before the weekend is out.

The quiet of the lobby is kind of refreshing - the energy of this conference is a bit overwhelming, with so many people looking to make contacts, be seen and heard, catch up with old friends. I'm giving myself some time for quiet, for stillness, in the middle of this music whirlwind.

November 10, 2015

NERFA and Me - Round II

I'm headed back to NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance) this week, an annual "industry conference" designed to connect folk and acoustic musicians with venues, DJs, promoters, managers, and service providers.

I go ostensibly as part of my "crew chief" role at Falcon Ridge (I get to meet and work with so many of these musicians each year) but mostly I go because I'm too damn busy during Falcon Ridge to actually site out front and listen to the music, so this is myself reward.

The conference itself is a bit overwhelming - rather than doing full concerts, musicians are showcased on two nights - with a large auditorium show (five+ acts) followed by the "quads", four simultaneous showcases in breakout rooms, with another five acts. So there are 50 musicians / bands in official showcases, plus a handful of other formal showcases.

In addition to that bountiful harvest, there are daytime workshops on music industry, targeted at performers, managers, venues, etc. (always something interesting), and a chance to mix and mingle with other folkies.

And then there are the informal, or guerrilla showcases. Many attendees choose to convert their hotel rooms into small concert venues late at night or during off peak hours, and musicians roam the halls, instruments in hand, to play 10 or 15 minutes to intimate audiences. Needless to say, a lot of magic goes down as musicians sit in with others, play unusual songs, etc. I confess to just tasting the guerrillas last year - we'll see how long I last this year. Even if the late night showcases don't work, there are song circles and jam sessions that sprout up throughout the weekend, in every available space and nook.

In addition to all this, it's a fine get-away weekend for me (who rarely / ever takes time off or a vacation) - there are ample and diverse meals included in the room & board price (an opportunity to eat well and reasonably healthy), there is morning yoga (courtesy of musician Caroline Cotter, and your truly, who is bringing along her stock of mats, blankets, and props), and there the usual resort hotel amenities (pool, exercise room, etc.) if I wish to partake of them.

Looking forward to my second year!

August 31, 2015

Om Street Follow-up

Two bits of video footage from the Om Street event, this past July.


First, a time-lapse video of the entire class, as captured from the roof of the Elbow Room. Since I suggested that the still photographer see if he could get in to the Elbow Room for the first Om Street event, and suggested a time-lapse video for this one, I take partial credit, although Breck McNab set it up and created the wonderful video.

And second, a drone video which really gives some idea of the scale of the event - the time-lapse video is impressive but there's a certain collapsing of the depth of field and length of the space that the drone footage makes evident. You can even see me, right side of the still frame above, working the sound board.

It's kind of cool to be in the middle of, and integral to, this sort of event. Although there's a small part of me that would love to assist and/or practice.

August 17, 2015

Camp Camp Farewell Farewell

After four years of spending a week in August in the woods of Maine at an LGBT summer camp, called Camp Camp, I've decided to take a year off.

Camp is doing some organizational / management things that have resulted in the annual fees increasing significantly, even for staff members. While I could certainly make it happen if I were highly motivated, I'm not highly motivated. I've become pretty ambivalent about the experience, I'll try to flesh that out a little here.

First off, an internal problem. I have this tendency of getting involved / embedded into an organization or event in such a way that I'm not so much enjoying the event as I am working. Camp has become that way for me - I do almost no formal activities, the evening stuff seems like an effort, and between official and unofficial responsibilities: teaching yoga, rainbow group leader, talent show set-up - it felt more like a job. If I were getting more back, I guess I'd feel OK about that, but more and more I felt like I was putting in time, trying hard, serving others, not getting too much back.

On some level, that's an "It's not you, it's me" kind of thing - increasingly I've felt myself having a "stranger in a strange land" experience, feeling as if I move through, observe, serve this human species without actually being a member. I guess I've come to accept this feeling of alienation and separateness in the mainstream world; I take the moments of connection where I can find them. But to have that experience in a queer ghetto like camp is particularly difficult and painful.

Added to that is an increasing sensitivity and awareness of the difficulty of negotiating what is predominantly a G/L camp as a transwoman. While there is a "gender free" cabin (that, for the most part, is not occupied by transfolk), all of the out transwomen at camp have ended up in the same cabin in a way that has increasingly felt ghetto-izing and exclusionary. While I've never experienced trans-exclusionary-rad-fem (TERF) attitudes at camp, there are the occasional MWMF shirts and hats visible, and my own suspicions that the egregious / outspoken TERFs are just the tip of a much larger iceberg of lesbian women who don't see transwomen as women.

Last year, a camper of color made some waves with regard to a tea dance outfit (a rough approximation of drag geisha) and a talent show outfit (an afro wig, glasses, dashiki that was supposed to be hippie chic, but was perhaps somewhat colonizing of african american fashion). I was not too involved or invested in that discussion, but it kind of hit me square in the face how she was empowered / entitled to her discomfort with these encroaches, while as a transwoman, I'm sitting in a camp filled with nontrans men doing drag, and kind of sitting on my own discomfort / difficulty. Blackface (however mild) - bad. Transface - no big deal.

Finally, with the increase in cost, I felt that there would be a continued and increasing skewing of the camp population towards men (more money) - although I know camp is not really a "dating and mating" experience, its still nice to have that possibility. Between coupled women (many) and fewer women, well, the odds are growing increasingly long. Again, moving through the straight world, I've kind of grown accustomed to spending time alone, not having a lot of support or relationship opportunities  - but spending a week at a relatively "target rich environment" such as camp and feeling similarly uncoupled and ineligible is particularly painful. 

So - no camp for me, this year, this year for sure and possibly into the future. I'd rather spend the time and money at something that I get more out of (such as the NERFA conference).

July 26, 2015

Om Street 2015: From the Soundboard

Om Street: Yoga on LaSalle went off yesterday without a hitch.

About 1,800 Gather In West Hartford For Outdoor Yoga (Hartford Courant)

‘Om Street’ Draws More Than 1,700 Yogis (


You can actually see me in this photo, I'm the orange dot in the front / left, at the sound board. 
Once again, I was in the middle of it all, setting up and running the sound system for the event.

I've been involved in this event from the very start.
Aug 6, 2011: A few days back I started sniffing around to be sure Barb could connect her wireless headset to the sound system. I was a little shaky on the sound system Lululemon had rented (a battery powered PA from Taylor Rental, never did get the power or model) so I decided to bring the studio kirtan sound system. It rocked all the way to the back rows.

And we've grown the tech each year as the event has grown. Last year I set up a zoned PA system (a second satellite PA, 200' down the road, with a delay line to match the sound from the main system). This year, we added a third PA (and a second delay line) and I convinced the band (the talented Craig Norton and Co. / Hands on Drumming) to let me mix them through the board. (in previous years, they ran a PA and I took a feed into the mains)

Green: Road Closed Off / Blue: Stages / Red: Speakers / Yellow: Audio Table
It's a bit of a challenge - I was out on LaSalle Road at 5:30 am (for an 8:00 am event) and it was all I could do to get it set up. It helped that I pre-staged a lot; putting together a board with power, mixer and delay units for the satellite PAs (see right) and setting up and testing the entire system at the studio on Friday night. Even with all that, I had some issues with the speaker cables (bad cables and/or bad connectors) but it all got fixed.

Today is a recovery day; even though there was help on hand from the studio, I still did a lot of the lifting, cabling, and clean-up myself - it's quicker to coil a 100' cable the right way myself, rather than have someone else do it and then have to redo it at home, and I had 400' of XLR, 600' of power, and 300' of speaker cable to deal with. I'm 54 here - doing sound for this sort of thing is a task for  younger legs, shoulders, feet and back!

Glad it's over, glad the weather cooperated, glad there were no significant technical problems. And thank to the Twitter, a bit of feedback live from the event.

July 22, 2015

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2015 - Merch Tent Prep

Even though my near focus is on Om Street: Yoga on LaSalle (and the three sound systems, 600' of power cord, 400' of audio cable, and multiple mixers, delay boxes, wireless headsets, and mics that I need to cobble together to make it all work), I spent a good chunk of today immersed in preparation for the 2015 edition of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.

Checked off my to-do list in the past couple of days:
  1. Finalized the 2015 pre-fest spreadsheet (researched and input most of the artists' CDs), printed out all pages, and created the three binders we need to make it work
  2. Printed out 6 copies of the schedule (yellow paper this year, I had a pile of it lying around) and laminated same for the merch tent / trailer
  3. Printed out table cards for all artists
  4. Purchased (24) 5"x7" plastic sign holders and made placeholder signs and download card signs for these  
  5. Ordered the little removable colored dots we use to color code / price merch
  6. Checked out the old printer (still going strong, since 2007) and replaced the ink cartridges (need to buy a couple of spares tomorrow)
  7. Checked 3-hole punch paper (1.5 reams should be enough)
  8. Booted up the laptop and updated software / virus protection, and loaded up the 2015 spreadsheet
  9. Unpacked and repacked the merch trailer bin
New for 2015:
  • The placeholder (no merch yet) / download cards (available at cashier) signs 
  • LED lights (I'm always a little nervous about the site electrical, plus the LEDs will be less hot if it's a hot / humid year
  • A new desk lamp that has been sitting in my office for a few years unopened, I'll donate it to the fest and that will free up the one we've been using

July 08, 2015

Project Saturn Window Regulator 2015

It started off innocently enough. I had two worn tires on my 2007 Saturn Ion (I am rather notorious about not rotating tires, so the front ones wear out much more quickly than then rear) so I went to Town Fair Tire yesterday morning to purchase new ones. All went smoothly, but when I went to drive away, the driver's side window was stuck down - the motor engaged, but all I got was a clicking noise that communicated "off the track" (a bit of an anachronism, turns out) or "gears slipping".

So I had a window stuck down, intermittent rain in the forecast, and no way to lock the car. When I got home, I dug around online to find out how to take the interior door trim off, in order to at least pull the window up, and found this gem.

Easy enough; I gathered the tools and proceeded. The interior moisture barrier was a bit of a challenge (glued on, removing it involved more tearing than I'd prefer) but all good. But this really did not give me sufficient access to the window to either manually raise it, or so see what was going on. So I decided to remove the exterior plastic door panel, also with the aid of a Youtube video (albeit a much more coarse and in some ways amusing one)

Fortunately, I have a full collection (several different sets in fact) of star and security bits, so the door panel was not a big challenge. The result, a somewhat freakish looking driver's side door that was nevertheless fully driveable.

Once apart, I was able to raise the window (about 1/2 way up, the gears engaged, and the power window kicked in), and although there was a bit of a sliding bolt adjustment on one of the support bars, I could not seem to improve the situation.

However, while I was Googling around for door removal information, I had stumbled upon door removal instructions published by Dorman Products, a company that makes the window motor / regulator assembly. They were very clear, copiously illustrated, and I realized that I was almost 1/2 way to the point of replacing this part myself, if I could find the part.

So I dug around online, found a "parts finder" at Advance Auto Parts, and within 10 minutes had purchased the part online, and was 30 minutes away from picking it up in downtown New Britain. My one mistake was not shopping around online (turns out I could have gotten the part for much less) but perhaps not within 30 minutes, and I do not think I wanted to drive around for a day or two with the door disassembled (parts were all over the front floor, the cup holders, and the back seat) for too long.

The actual replacement also went well, the Dorman Products instruction se4t I found was most helpful, as was yet another Youtube video (which turned out to be the master video that the door removal one above was clipped from)


I remain somewhat curious about the whole "left vs. right" issue - since the window regulator is not side specific, I assume it's mounted "backwards" in the passenger side door, but I'm not prepared to pull the door apart to find out. 

The regulator went in fairly easily; a little challenge to unclip the window from the old device and reseat it in the new device. Nothing got broken (those little plastic clips are notoriously easy to mangle, not to mention the big piece of glass), there were no parts left over, and I impressed myself by having everything I needed, tool wise (including Gaffer's Tape to hold the window in place during the repair). The Facebook video link below will have to suffice until I get the Vine-ish video of the window going up and down uploaded. 

My Facebook feed was somewhat engaged: 
  • Wow you're very handy (to which I replied "Poor more like it. Also self employed so I have time to mess around.")
  • Impressive
  • Nice job, just saved hundreds of $ 
So yeah, mischief managed, thanks in no small part to the information afforded me by Google, Youtube, and the Internet, and the content providers therein.   

June 29, 2015

No Job is Finished....

...until the paperwork is done.

I underwent a little change of identity back in 2003, before this blog started up. And though it rarely rises to the surface, I'm also not particular shy or closeted - it's just not on the front burner these days. I don't experience the same levels of discrimination or struggle that many members of Identity Trans do, so I'd just as soon step aside to permit other voices, other experiences to be heard, especially those less privileged and in more need of protection, legislation, assistance, or support.*

Now, part of transitioning is dealing with paperwork - things like state ID (driver's license, legal name change, birth certificate), federal ID (passport, social security, IRS), and the myriad of other places (credit cards, business affiliations, banks, insurance, employment) which keep track of names and/or gender. And most of this stuff I dealt with back in 2003-4, when it was all kinda fresh.

A legal name change and CT driver's license were pretty easy, even back in '03. Social Security and Passport required some sort of confirmation surgery, back in the day, and I was privileged enough, and chose to undergo that sort of surgery, so also not too much of a big deal. But I was unfortunate enough to be born in New York City (St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, now a VA Extended Care Facility) and well, the City of New York was, for many years, a b*tch when it came to birth certificate changes.

Even for someone as privileged as I, the hoops needed to get a birth certificate amended were significant - a post-surgical psych exam, for instance (what would they do if I failed?), a post-surgical physical exam as well, both by NY State Certified docs. I have a file folder full of rejected applications from back in the day, and I simply gave up.

To be honest, it has not been that big a deal. With congruent state ID (driver's license) and federal ID (passport and social security), I have never needed my birth certificate for anything. If I had, I was also not particularly shy about disclosing my history (via my birth certificate and name change documents). So I've just never bothered. In fact, I've had a little bit of perverse pride in not getting it done, having grown up reading Orwell's 1984 and the Ministry of Truth. I lived 40 years under one name and gender, and it feels a little disingenuous to be effacing or rubbing out that part of my life. 

However, I've recently been on a "getting crap done" tear in my life - long dormant projects like cleaning, organizing, tossing, engaging. One of those was a corporate pension (I vested back in the 90s and so I'll get a little check every month when I retire) and they lost track of me (and never got word of my transition) so as I put together the paperwork for them, I looked into the NYC birth certificate amendment procedures. I know they've lightened up considerably (no longer requiring confirming surgery for instance). And although there are still some small hoops to jump through (a medical professional affidavit) it's minimal.

So I spent some time this afternoon collecting all the pieces - the affidavit from my doctor came in, and although it's probably not all required, I sent an original name change document (I got a bunch of them back in 2003 and have hung on to them), copies of my present documentation (passport and state ID), my NYC birth certificate, even my St. Albans Naval Hospital birth certificate with my footprints and fingerprints, time of birth (4:55 am, sorry Mom), birth weight (7 lbs. 4 oz.)

What does it mean? Who knows. In some ways, my lack of urgency to get this done reflects my privilege as a person who does not struggle with gender these days, whose gender is by and large recognized, honored, unquestioned, and who can live comfortable with a certain level of openness. So in a weird sort of way, putting the final nail in the coffin of my former identity gives me solidarity with those that are not so privileged, for whom a congruent birth certificate might be a matter of life or death. 

It will be in the mail tomorrow.  Be interesting to see how long it will take to come back, and if it will go through smoothly or if I will have one more rejection letter to add to the file.....

Edit: And the new birth certificate was delivered to me on Thursday, July 23 (very speedy service) along with an almost effusive cover letter inviting me to participate in a trans health / needs survey. What a difference a decade makes.....

* One (of several) reasons that I'm not a fan of Caitlyn Jenner's public transition, but that's another story, and one that I probably will not blog about. 

June 24, 2015

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival - 2015 Emerging Artists

Just released; I'll be plugging in links as I get the chance!

1 - Annika - Blauvelt NY
2 - Bernice Lewis - Williamstown MA
3 - Camela Widad - Mechanicsburg PA
4 - Chasing June - Rockaway NJ
5 - Dan Weber - Vancouver WA
6 - Gina Forsyth - New Orleans LA
7 - Jay Hitt - Butler PA
8 - Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers - Fayetteville NY
9 - Jessy Tomsko - Astoria NY
10 - Josh Brooks - Vergennes VT
11- Katie Dahl - Baileys Harbor WI
12 - Katrin - Brookline MA
13 - Liz & the Family Tree - NYC
14 - Mare Wakefield & Nomad - Nashville TN
15 - Mark Allen Berube -Brooklyn NY
16 - Mason Porter - Honey Brook PA
17 - Matt Harlan - Houston TX
18 - Meg Braun - Nashville TN
19 - Meghan Cary with Analog Gypsies - Erdenheim PA
20 - Mya Byrne - NYC
21 - Neptune's Car - Sutton MA
22 - Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes -Jersey City NJ
23 - Skout - NYC
24 - Teresa Storch - Longmont CO

June 21, 2015

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2015

Six weekends from now, I'll be finishing up a long week of camping, music, working (crew chief duties), friends, and fun at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. It will not be too long before I start to load up the performer merch spreadsheet, send out emails to all the performers and/or managers, and start to collect and organize my camping supplies, food and beverages, and my portable office to run the merch trailer.

I happened to pop by the Performers Page yesterday to refresh my memory about who will be there (and who will not) and I'm starting to get a little excited about the fest.

Old Faves: Wonderful to have Brother Sun coming back, they are really a "three-for" because each member of the group (Greg Greenway, Pat Wictor, and Joe Jencks) brings individual energy to the fest and the stages. Speaking of Pat Wictor, his "Most-Wanted" (if I recall correctly) partner Ellis will also be back this year - she's not been back in a while. Susan Werner has become more regular recently, a welcome addition. Nerissa & Katrina Nields (if they weren't coming, it would be news). The Grand Slambovians. June Rich (saw her at FRFF many years back, and not since). Jay Mankita (a long ago fave who has also resurfaced in the past few years).

Most Wanted: Caitlin Canty, Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, and Hayley Reardon (stepping in for Tumbling Bones, who will not make it in 2015) will be back this year, rising to the top of the polls from last year's Emerging Artist field. But mention to previous "Most Wanted" artists Ellis, Pat Wictor, Roosevelt Dime, ilyAIMY, and Pesky J. Nixon - all of whom are "home grown" emerging artists now coming back to main stage gigs. One thing I love about Falcon Ridge is the Emerging Artist showcase - in some ways the 24 artists who play short sets each year become my "bucket list" of artists to see in featured spots throughout the musical year.

New for 2015: Garnet Rogers, Judy Collins, Martyn Joseph (not really new, he visited a few years back, and I became a big fan, so welcome back!)

There are always "yeah, but....." artists out there - my FRFF core has been artists like Gorka, Larkin, Brown, Morrissey, Shindell, Kaplansky, Dar Williams, and well, they are getting older (or are no longer with us) and are perhaps a little rich for what has always been a bit of a struggling festival. I get to see them enough. Just being on a hillside in Hillsdale, with friends and music and sun (and rain) is generally sufficient....

June 16, 2015

Le Morte du Paper Files

When I started my consulting practice way back in 1995 (coming up on the 20th anniversary in December), I mirrored my corporate office / consulting practice for my home office / small business. When I last worked in corporate America (Philips Medical Systems), email was a new phenomena - I guess I had an email account, but it was mostly an in-house thing - the web was pretty thin, and most everything I did was via US mail and hard-copies.

A good part of my job at Philips was collecting information for obscure bits of technology, products, or technical solutions that I would reference, reproduce, and distribute as needed to international contacts, field service engineers, and management. So when I started my business, I found a used filing cabinet, and filled it with folders, like the one I left in my corporate office.

I had a lot of file folder categories:
  • Medical imaging OEMs (my primary client base) 
  • Tools and test equipment manufacturers (I used, and consulted on, various meters, loggers, and other test equipment)
  • Power conditioning technologies and specific manufacturers (things like surge suppressors, UPS systems, voltage regulators, transformers, and filters) 
  • Customer projects (perhaps 20-30 projects for my principal clients, over many years)
  • Business projects - advertising, marketing, registration, professional organizations, etc.
  • Personal files - credit, utilities, financial, insurance, etc.
It's been a good file cabinet - rugged, roller bearings, solid. Also, heavy as hell - I've moved it 4 times (Waterbury home office to Newington office space to Hartford home office to Newington office space to New Britain home office) plus a few trips up and down the stairs in Waterbury as my office moved. But somewhere along the line I did a paper purge; the files have been sitting empty for years, and it's been opened in recent memory only to search for art / office supplies in the single drawer I used to store my office supplies. So today was the day I decided to ditch the filing cabinet.

I pulled out 220 mainly empty file folders from the drawers: 
  • 111 Dark Green
  • 66 Tan 
  • 20 Red
  • 14 Blue
  • 9 extra wide / thick Dark Green
There's am 8" stack of mostly personal files (bills, insurance, etc. from 2006-2007 that somehow escaped disposal / filing in my annual tax boxes; I'll go through those at some point.  And there were a matching number of folder tags, which I removed from the folders, and am tasked with removing the slide-in labels.

I've got the cabinet up on Craigs List (Free!) and it will probably be gone tomorrow - I'll give away the hanging files and tabs as well if anyone will have them.

End of an era, I guess.  It's been a little bit nostalgic going through this today; old clients, old projects, an age when I was not sure what type of paying work I would find so I collected everything and anything. An age when a technical inquiry would involve a phone call, and result in a few faxed pages copied from a manual, or a thick envelope in the mail with the latest catalog. Today, it's all up and online, or perhaps an email and a PDF document away.

June 08, 2015

Social Media Rules: Facebook Edition

Rule 1: If you use your personal Facebook account to run your business, I will probably hide your feed. I'm happy that you are third level black belt Reiki or whatever you are, but if I have not specifically "liked" your business page, I really do not want it in my feed.

Rule 1A: If your personal Facebook page is a nonstop diatribe for or against anything - shelter dogs, politics, rights, activism, etc. I will also probably hide your page. I know the planet is warming, I know there are a lot of shelter dogs looking for homes, I know what the major political parties stand for.

Rule 2: If you do a spam mass invite to your event, class, workshop, etc. to your entire friends list, hiding you will not protect me. I'm going to unfriend you. If I want to know about your workshops, classes, gigs, etc. I will "like" your business page.

I'm not being too much of a crank here - my logic goes like this: I have (at the moment) nearly 700 Facebook friends. If every one of them acted like you do (mass invites) I'd be swamped with events - spending time every day declining things and probably losing track of things I *do* want to attend. You are decreasing the quality of my Facebook experience. Buh-bye.

I cut folks slack - a lot of slack, really, and am happy to get personal invites from people and for things I've shown some interest in, have "liked", occur 1-2 times a year, etc. But there are folks I've never met in person, inviting to things I'd never go to, on a weekly basis. And that's a no-no. 

May 29, 2015

Spring Cleaning

I have spent a good part of the last month "holed up".

May started with a bang - a spate of teaching (5 classes / 4 days), a long evening of teacher training video review, and then whoosh, off to North Carolina for a family reunion / graduation (my niece graduated from UNC-Wilmington). Ever since, I've been off my game.

I've had a hard time pinning it down - some light-headedness / vertigo / fatigue that might be food related, might be something I picked up on the plane, might be anything. Since it came along the same time as our first wave of hot / humid summery weather, it kept me out of the studio and off my mat except for some home practice. That morphed into a sore throat a few days ago, and has since evolved into a full blown sinus event (sneezing, headache, post-nasal drip) which I am increasingly thinking might be allergies. I always seem to get a spring time "cold" but it's never been this debilitating; apparently one of the side effects of global warming is an increase in the duration and severity of pollen season (due to higher CO2), making things more miserable for allergy sufferers and perhaps pushing some of us into full blown attacks.

As annoying as this phase of things it, at least it feels like stuff is moving out.

So the past month has been a pretty reclusive time - I've not felt up to socializing, have hardly hit the studio at all. I've done a few social things - a Red Sox game last weekend, dinner with friends, some band rehearsal - but in general I'm hunkered down.

That has not been a bad thing, though; I've been going on a cleaning spree; kitchen, bathrooms, living room, bedroom, yoga room, basement / office area. Some of the harbingers of "this is not a drill" spring cleaning include:
  • Purge the fridge
  • Cleaning out the hidden basement areas: office, tool area, the storage closet, laundry area
  • Completing my season clothing transition well before memorial day
  • Recycling multiple bags of clothing; giving away some tech (a small TV and an antenna) that have been sitting for years unused. 
  • Working on living room carpet stains (Elo is pretty good about pee and poop, but he does puke now and then, and also never misses an opportunity to grab food off the counter and drag it into the living room for a little party) - and I'm not all that careful about dragging stuff in on my shoes.  
I could, technically, have friends over to visit. Not that this is likely, but it COULD happen.

Heading into a teacher training weekend; which ought to be challenging (giving the present state of my body, allergies, and sinuses) but I'm a very reluctant drug taker - I've only recently started to dose with alka-seltzer cold meds, and night-time cough/cold syrup (I awoke dazed but apparently well-rested this morning), and I'm going to venture out to CVS for some of the new fangled allergy meds that I've never taken before.

At least it's silent weekend at teacher training, so I'll be able to rest my voice (not demanded for the staff, but I like to honor the silence as much as possible). And hopefully, with the weekend behind me, and pollen abating, I'll get my sorry butt back into the world. 

May 22, 2015

Lawn Mower Saga: Gas vs. Electric

I live in a small (4 unit) condo that has a very low monthly fee, and a bit of a do-it-yourself ethos among the residents.

My first year here, the lawn care (previously handled by the guy I bought the condo from, who had been the long time association president) was arranged by the new president, mostly cousins or acquaintances. The lawn was often over-grown, and when it got cut, it was somewhat cursory.

My second year, I volunteered to cut the grass for a nominal fee, just to keep it somewhat under control. I'm a fan of the "broken windows" theory of crime prevention, and the sketchy lawn care was, I feared spreading to a general degradation of the condo value and safety. I got a few bucks per cut, although the president was a little concerned I was cutting too often; I told her just pay me whatever per month and I'd take care of it - and have over the years assumed general responsibility for the outdoors (cutting the grass, trimming, picking up litter, patching potholes). I used a beater gas mower that belonged to the association.

Last year, after five years, the old mower died, and rather than get it fixed, I invested in a low cost ($200) Troy Bilt mower, which I used last year, and which sat behind the unit (as did its predecessor) all winter. Last week, after I cut the lawn, the mower disappeared. I suspect somebody saw the old mower (which I had finally put out to the curb for town pick-up / junkers a week before) and realized there was probably a newish mower around back, and walked off with it.

Called the cops, filed a report, even had the model and engine serial number, but it's gone. Not worth filing an insurance claim (what with deductibles).

After sitting on the decision for a week, I finally went out and bought a new mower. I decided I would not leave the new mower sitting out unprotected; it either had to be locked up or brought in (to my basement, also my office). Not wanting to bring gas into the condo, I decided to go with an electric lawnmower; picking up a Kobalt 13A, 21" mower ($179) and a 100' extension cord. I did a small test cut today to (a) see how the mower worked, and (b) ensure that the cord could reach the entire condo. Looks good on both counts.

In general, the mower is very similar to the old gas model. A bit lighter than the gas mower (positive) but the need to work with / around the cord is a bit of a pain. The mower is a three way (mulcher / bagger / side exit) so no problems there. Although it feels like a lot less power and gets bogged down in thick grass, it seems to cut fine; I suspect moving slowly, cutting in thin strips, and keeping the blade sharp will be important.

And while I made this purchase for completely practical / pragmatic reasons (deciding that the hassle of a corded mower and bringing it in was less than the hassle of locking up a gas mower), there's an ecological upside as well. I've always known gas mowers to be problematic, in terms of pollution, but never really looked too deeply. Per National Geographic:
In 2009, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that an hour of gas-powered lawn mowing produces as much pollution as four hours of driving a car. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also recognized the alarming amount of pollution generated by lawn mowers. In 2008, the EPA created rules to enforce manufacturers of lawn mowers and weed whackers to cut smog-forming emissions from their products by at least 35 percent starting in 2011.
So after a lifetime of using a regular old gas mower, I am now an electric mower. We'll see how it works, long term.

April 23, 2015

Timexpo Museum to Close: Social Media Fail

The local news has disclosed that the Timexpo Museum in Waterbury is planning to close.
Low attendance at the museum, located at the Brass Mills Commons shopping center, was the reason for the closure, according to Timex.
I'd like to offer a more fundamental reason: Failure to engage via social media. 

Visiting the Timexpo Museum website, one finds the obligatory social media buttons at the bottom: Facebook, Twitter,  Email, Google-plus, and might think "Oh, yeah, they are doing social media...." But really, some webmaster or marketing consultant put those there (lipstick on a pig, so to speak) because clicking through any of those creates a Facebook post about the site or a Tweet link - but there's little evidence that Timexpo has embraced social media.

Their Yelp Page (4 reviews, 3 stars average) remains unclaimed. So too their Trip Advisor Page (32 reviews, 4.5 stars average).

There is a Facebook Page (not linked from their website Facebook button) - it was set up in Sept 2014 (too little, too late), they've posted less than a dozen times since then, with no serious social engagement (2 reviews, 131 likes, 196 check-ins). There is no Twitter account. Nothing on Instagram. There is an events page, but no blog or news page, no press page, no mailing list. There has been no real attempt to engage fans, visitors, the media, etc.  

It's probably too late for the Timexpo Museum - decisions have been made; plans are in the works. It's too bad, because it's got great location and visibility (who among us has not seen and are familiar with the Easter Island statue along I-84 in Waterbury) and really, time is a pretty ripe concept for social media riffing and event planning (time travel, steam-punk, the new Apple Watch, all come to mind)

But it might not be too late for your small / local business, arts group, tourism destination, community group, or cause. Get on the Social Media bandwagon, now!

April 22, 2015

The Levins at Milford Arts Council / Performance Coffeehouse

I headed out of town (or at least, a little further afield than normal) for a performance by The Levins, at Milford Arts Council's Performance Coffeehouse.

I first encountered Ira and Julia (The Levins) at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival last summer; they were one of the Emerging Artists. As has been my habit, I picked up the latest album (in digital format) for as many of the Emerging Artists as I could, pre-fest, and their My Friend Hafiz album (based on the poetry of the 14th century Persian mystic) really resonated. I subsequently contributed to their crowd-sourced new album, Trust, and have been patiently waiting for them to come to town.

Their music, as recorded and compiled, hit me right in the nexus of yoga teacher, enlightenment intensive attendee, spiritual seeker: positive, thoughtful, searching, expansive. Both My Friend Hafiz and Trust show up regularly in my "pre-class, set the mood" music rotation for yoga classes. 

So I was pretty much ready to enjoy the show, expecting a few hours of gentle, spiritual music with wonderful harmonies.

But oh, so surprising, these Levins. There was romance; unlike many musical couples, the affection, nay, love these two carry for each other is palpable and transmitted through their songs and performance, with very sweet love songs. There was humor - a rollicking ode to Charles Dickens; a nod to ethnic folk (More Yiddish!), there were beloved kids songs I have not heard in years, there were some standards. Ira in particular, seems like he might take a crack at just about any topic as a song-writer and any song as a performer, and they individually and collectively have the chops to pull it off.

They are, quite simply, a delightful addition to my folk music family, and I'm a professed fan (and possibly stalker, depending on how many shows I catch them at in the coming months)

They're playing the upcoming Hartfolk Festival on May 30 (alas, I shall be at yoga teacher training all weekend, sad because pretty much everyone on the bill are artists I have seen and love), but also Kripalu on May 2 and a house concert on  May 22. And (can we actually be thinking this far ahead?) opening for Brother Sun at the Sounding Board on Sept 26 (making that a "can't miss" night). Visit their website for their touring dates - they work a lot!

The Milford Art's Council's Performance Coffeehouse is also a little gem. Not that well attended (most of the house seemed to be regulars) and with a roster for 2014-2015 that is pretty much unknown to me. The space is an old Metro-North station, with a very high ceiling and formal stage - suited for small plays, cabaret, etc. The sound was very good (I believe The Levins brought their own) and the lighting was two cuts above the typical folk show.

April 15, 2015

The Age of Miracles and Wonders

I've been in audio geek mode the past week or so.

The Guinea Pigs sound system lost a monitor amplifier at our last gig - one of two ancient amps that Dan trucks around, and I volunteered to pick up a solid-state replacement that could feed both mains and monitors. I'm slowly building up my own PA system (having previously purchased a mixer, snake, monitor speakers, and accessories), so added a 500W / Channel solid state amplifier at low cost, and a wooden rack to mount it in. I feel very professional.

That got me thinking about Om Street: Yoga on LaSalle Road - I'm the audio engineer in charge, and have been running a "two amplifier" system there for a few years (with digital delay to control echoes for the satellite system, 200' down the road). So while I was prepping and messing with the new amp, I picked up some way too inexpensive (seemingly) speaker cables: 2 x 30' Speakon-to-1/2" ($12.50 per) and 2 x 15' 1/4"-to-1/4" ($12 per) and some 1/4" couplers - which will give me some additional flexibility when setting things up this July. The cables came in today and I spent some time unwrapping them, marking them (I use blue tape on the ends of my cables, and blue velcro ties), and stowing them in the gack bags and bins. 

And while I was at it, I picked up an old audio engineers bible, The Sound Reinforcement Handbook by Gary Davis. (which apparently you can download for free online at PDF Shack - not sure if that's legit or not, but with a 1988 printing date, I am sure they've made their money by now. I'd just as soon have it in print, old school like.

A lot of what's in the handbook will be, I am sure old hat to me, but there are a few things I'd like to learn more about - compression, tone control for various instruments (drums, guitars, voice), speaker placement, etc. I've picked up some stuff over the years; as a musician with electric guitars and basses, as a utility and computer geek at various corporate productions. But always more to learn.

As I lay on the couch reading this afternoon, I thought about how many fun toys I have at my fingertips, in my arsenal these days. I've got a portable o-scope that interfaces with a laptop. I've got a signal generator, both a hardware version and an app on my phone. I've got a kicking audio signal analyzer for my iPad. I can set up a sound system throw some pink noise in, and tweak the tone for the room. I have amazing tech for very little money that would have cost 10's of thousands back in the late 70's / early 80's.

I thought back to my 8th grade self, who wanted very much to mess around with this stuff. How I would love to jump back in time with all my toys and help that little kid with a science fair project. I thought about my college self, getting a EE degree in analog design, running around Worcester county recording marimbas to characterize the frequency content and envelope the better to synthesize the instrument. I was minoring in music, mucking around with an ARP 2600 and a four-track recorder when I could get my hands on it. Having fun.

I never did much with music out of school - the Carter / Reagan recession was in full swing, the cool companies like Bose were not hiring, and I was happy to get my first job that led me down the power quality road. And it was not too many years later that digital sound came along and blew analog synthesizers out of the water. 

But here I am, 30+ years down the road, and whatever fire was there is still burning. I'll probably never be much more than an audio hobbyist, but it gives me great joy to have the right tools, the right knowledge, the experience to put a decent system together. Back to the couch, to geek out. Watch out world!

April 04, 2015

Atari: Game Over

I spent the morning unexpectedly entralled by Atari: Game Over (2014), streaming now on Netflix, and also available in pieces on Youtube. 

The Atari 2600 gaming console game out in 1977; I was 16 years old. I spent many hours in the local arcade (Framingham's Fun and Games, first opened in '74, and still around in an evolved form). And though my gaming days were relatively short-lived (the last game console I've owned was a Colecovision; I never really stayed involved as the industry morphed through PC, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Xbox, etc.), as a young soon-to-be engineer who spent some time in college and in the workplace hard-coding micro-processors, Atari video games were still my first taste of geekery. My family owned a 2600; my younger brother Kevin (now a programmer / database geek himself) had an Atari 400 computer (with that membrane keyboard).

The documentary is kind of remarkable. It orbits two stories: an individual obsessed with the urban legend that millions of Atari game cartridges of ET: The Extraterristrial were buried in an Alamagordo, NM landfill. And the programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, who created the ET videogame in five weeks at the behest of Atari management, trying to leverage a $22M investment in the game rights before the Xmas season.  When ET tanked (it was reportedly too difficult to play), Howard's career, and the first videogame bubble led by Atari, burst.

The film is technically excellent - interweaving these two stories, abetted by interviews with many of the key players - Warner Brothers executives, Nolan Bushnell of Atari, Atari programmers, and other public figures who have been touched by the games. There's a little bit of playfulness around "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (the movie, and also a successful 2600 game also designed by Warshaw) - comparing the search for the buried games to the search for the lost ark, and a very familiar closing shot....

When the urban archeologists finally get close to finding video game evidence, the dig has become a happening, with video game fans, Warshaw, and others flocking to the desert landfill site. And watching Warshaw (now a psychotherapist) get choked up, first as he visits the site of the Atari headquarters for the first time in 30 years, and then at the landfill, was quite moving.

March 14, 2015

Holding Space

This is such an amazing blog posting from Heather Platt: What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well

I've been assisting at the yoga studio teacher training for the past six years - we're two months into the class of 2015. And during that time, I've heard the term "holding space" for ones students; I've been told that I "hold space" well, I've witnessed miraculous transformations and transitions through the "holding space" of my teacher, Barbara, the training she has developed, and the staff she has gathered around her.

But the concept of holding space has always been somewhat fuzzy or amorphous - what I have picked up over the years has been through role modeling, watching and learning, and perhaps some innate or natural tendencies / habits. So this posting and list are a wonderful attempt to quantify this important skill.

A few thoughts based on this list, from my own experiences:
  1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
    One of the biggest issues in yoga communities is the guru-student relationship, how that is often abused, and how it sometimes stunts the growth of the student who cannot hear his/her own voice over the admonitions and instructions of the teacher.
  2. Give people only as much information as they can handle.
    "You can't handle the truth!" - how often we come across students whose struggle and root cause may seem perfectly clear (to us) and are tempted to share that with them, or push them in a certain path or direction - it takes a lot of internal strength and wisdom to let them figure it out on their own.
  3. Don’t take their power away.
    It's always kind of terrifying when folks who I have known as "teacher trainees" begin to blossom into their own power - that "you are not worthy" voice within me calls out and it would be so easy to cut them down to assure that I keep my place in the order of things. How many gurus or teachers, afraid of losing their own power, keep their students pot bound and dependent.
  4. Keep your own ego out of it.
    On the surface, there's that "I am so freaking amazing" vibe that some of us seem to exude from our pores. But down deeper, there's our own struggle, grief, fragility that can get in the way of being of service. It's a weird trick - to be solid and real, authentically ourselves, and yet to not present our students with our own rough edges for them to get caught on or cling to. 
  5. Make them feel safe enough to fail.
    First and foremost, by being honest about our own failures and limitations. By presenting challenges and goals that are attainable, but not assured. And by making the journey the goal, not the destination.
  6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
    "We have no right to take another out of denial" - one of our training mantras. If someone asks, answer with gentleness and consideration. But taking inventory of another's issues or struggle, suggesting cures or resolutions that are unsolicited, or having a library of platitudes or rote answers is not helpful.
  7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
    We have a saying around our studio "losing it on the mat" - every so often, one of us (and it has surely happened to me) will just start to weep, or be overcome with exhaustion, or pull down into child's pose. In the training program, we're often stepping in to lead another trainee away, who may be offering tissues or contact or trying to make someone smile to assuage their own discomfort with anger, with grief, with pain. Sitting with an individual who is releasing deep emotion, without trying to fix it, or make it better, or making it look good, is perhaps the most important thing I do.
  8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
    My teacher has so much wisdom and so much life lessons learned - and to this day I marvel that I (who ignore a lot of what she says, and sit in my own struggle so often) am valued by her, am given an opportunity to contribute.  

February 13, 2015

Office Clean Up: Fax Line and Spam

For whatever reason, this was a good week to do some clean-up and tech organizing.

First off, my fax line. Way back in 2007, I noted the way my professional need for a dedicated fax line had changed (I was renting space in an office building at the time). Nevertheless, when I set up my New Britain home office in 2009, I opted in for a second landline in the place to be used as a fax line.

Somewhere along the line, I gave up that second line (probably about the time my Comcast TV / Internet / Phone bill started to hit the pain threshold and I bought a digital television), I cut the video cable and probably let go of that second phone line.

Not wanting to lose the cachet of a dedicated fax line, I signed up for a digital fax service, OnlineFaxes to be specific. For $36 bucks a month I get a dedicated, 860 fax number, and 25 free pages per month. I almost never receive any faxes, but I at least have the capability.

Today I *finally* got my in-office tech up to speed - plugged my all-in-one printer / scanner / fax into my voice phone circuit (so I could send a hard-copy fax if I needed to), set up the header to reflect the "new" digital fax number, and programmed the fax machine to pick up "after" my landline goes to voice mail (which is to say, never)

Faxes are all but dead, I know, but it's nice to have the capability.

On the spam front, I spent some time trying to shovel sand against the sea of spam. I've owned my domain since the dawn of the internet, and have been using my primary email address since 2001 or thereabouts. So I get a *lot* of unwanted email. And while a pile of that is clearly spam that is not going to change regardless of my actions, a second pile is stuff that I have deliberately or inadvertently opted-in to over the years. It's not that big a deal on my dedicated computer - I have spam filters, junk filters, folder filters to move stuff around and my in-box is traditionally a dozen or so emails a day. But on my phone or tablet - well, there are 100s of emails every day to scroll through. 

So this week I set out to thin the email herd a little bit. I sorted my SPAM / JUNK folder by sender, and for anything that looked like opt-in email (SPAM comes in 1-2 day waves, opt-in stuff comes pretty consistently) I chose to either accept it (setting a filter to dump it into a semi-organized / useful folder, such as "electrical newsletters" or "consumer" or "musical" for places I do frequent) or to unsubscribe.

It's a huge task (over a decade of not really paying attention) but I think I'm making some inroads. the work continues....

February 12, 2015

Dream Log: Long Island, Dad, Yoga

Last night's short dream. I was inside an older house that was (apparently) recently purchased by my parents; it was kind of empty in that "not yet moved in" kind of way. It was located on Long Island, right off the Whitestone Bridge entrance, and I recalled thinking "Dad's moving home" (Dad passed away in 1979). Neither of my parents was in the dream though or in the house, just me and Elo, my dog. I walked around the house, the doors and windows were mostly open. I think the kitchen door had been left open overnight.

I took Elo out on a leash; he chased a squirrel who seemed a little too unafraid, not used to a dog in its yard. A couple of neighborhood dogs came around to check out the new arrival, and I was concerned about Elo getting into a fight with one of them.

Then, I ran into a young yoga teacher who was talking about her iPad; think she was teaching classes online or something, and I did not have much to say to her. And then an older yoga teacher came by who commented "I see you're addicted to sugar" and I replied "I see you're not very yogic" and she smiled and I got the feeling we were going to be friends. 

February 07, 2015

David Wilcox and Patty Larkin at The Iron Horse

Old friends. That's what David Wilcox and Patty Larkin are, in my folk / acoustic / singer-songwriter fandom. Way back in the early 90's, I found them both; pretty sure there was a cassette tape dub of Wilcox's How Did You Find Me Here in my "pre-CD" collection, courtesy of a former partner. Both Patty and David were featured on the root document in my folk / acoustic journey,"On a Winter's Night" which also introduced me to John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, Christine Lavin, Bill Morrissey, and others. And I've seen them both multiple times, at Falcon Ridge, other folk fests, and in solo concerts and coffeehouses.

Wilcox was more of an earlier fave - I covered "Eye of the Hurricane" years ago on the open mic circuit; his creative tunings and capo use were my first introduction to those techniques. I've got his earlier works on CD, and downloaded a handful of his mid-career albums via eMusic. Patty's strong songwriting and musicianship has kept me engaged throughout the ensuing years; I have early and late stuff downloaded, the middle career is all CD. Come to think of it, I think I covered her version of "The Letter" back in my open mic days as well.

I was not planning to go (I've got tix for the Nields CD release party at the Iron Horse this evening, two trips north is a stretch for me), but my friend Amy, who does Patty's website, got a couple of comp tickets, so along I went. So happy I got the opportunity.

Patty, and then David, each played a short solo set, that included many faves (David quipped about getting "Eye of the Hurricane" out of the way). Although I've seen Patty many times over the years, I've never been close enough to really watch her hands, and I was fascinated by her right hand technique and the way she just pulls so much sound - bass, mids, highs - distinctly and simultaneously out of a single instrument.

I've mostly loved her song-writing over the years, although the "Patty Larkin is an amazing guitarist" meme has been out there all along. I think I have not fully appreciated how amazing until tonight. Mostly playing acoustic, she did pick up a Strat for one piece that she augmented with a bow - although truthfully she needs neither an electric guitar nor other props to impress and engage.

David is an amazing guitarist in his own right (as Patty quipped "I'm playing this brand guitar because it's the one David was playing back in the day") but while Patty is a force of nature, who plays with such ferocity and authority that she barely needs a sound system, David is a craftsman who draws the listener in with the subtlest of notes and lyrics. We're leaning in to get it all, and he's quietly offering what he has.

David in particular, seemed impish and playful all evening. After their solo sets, they took the stage together in a sort of "round robin / song swap" format that each has participated in at Falcon Ridge. Patty was a bit more formal, playing favorite songs that she felt drawn to (including one of my faves, Me and That Train). But David was kind of a trip - taking cues from Patty's songs or stories to advise his own song choices, folding pieces of Patty's dialogue into a song coda. He was listening intently as Patty played, and often he heard something that made him whisper "yes!" or shake his head at the language.

At one point, he asked the audience to dig up some some lyrics for a song that Patty's last song brought to mind (but that he could not fully remember) - 2008's Captain Wanker. After running through the verse once or twice (and letting us watch as he searched for one tricky chord), he started the song, calling out for the first line of each subsequent verse, and obviously amused at each verse as if he were hearing it for the first time. It was performance art, hilarious, endearing, hard to resist.

They each played solo (although each injected a little bit of harmony, some lead, a little slide guitar on Patty's part). Although they ostensibly dueted on "The Cranes, which David contributed to for Patty's "25" project, it was mostly Patty with some quiet harmonies by David.

For an encore, they came back with an unexpected blast from the near past ' Jean Rohe's Arise! Arise! - which David touted from the stage, and led as a sing-along. (David played, Patty held the lyrics, Jude yelped and tweeted to Ms. Rohe)

Being a new convert to the cult of Jean Rohe myself (having just seen her a few weeks back), I was thrilled to have her song brought forth to what was perhaps a more conservative, old-school folk crowd.

Delightful evening of music with some old friends. And headed back this evening for what I imagine will be a bit more of a raucous love fest with The Nields.

January 29, 2015

Jay Mankita and Jean Rohe at Unity House Concerts

I trekked north to Springfield a few weeks back for a concert at a new (to me) venue - Unity House Concerts at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield. Long time favorite Jay Mankita shared the bill with FRFF Emerging Artist Jean Rohe, who brought along sideman Liam Robinson.

The concert series is both old and new - a longtime uNi Coffeehouse Series run at the church by Ed Brown ceased operation in June after a 29 year (!) run, and Joshua Farber, a longtime fixture / friend from Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, blogger at Cover Lay Down, and house concert promoter has taken up the reins. This was the second Unity House Concert promoted show at the UUS of Greater Springfield.  

The venue is lovely and seems healthy - long time volunteers in attendance, a big crowd that skewed somewhat older, a high-ceiling'd rectangular space with lots of modernish stained glass, and a good selection of beverages and home-made baked goods. Talking with Josh before the show, he indicated that the uNi Coffee House, albeit successful with a local crowd, had not embraced the younger singer-songwriter and folk artists and audiences, and had not really marketed much outside of the local area (I'm good evidence of that, 20+ years as a regular and somewhat adventurous folk fan, and I've never been to the series nor even been aware of it). Josh is seeking to maintain connection to the veterans (performers and audiences) while introducing new artists. This double-bill was a good example of that. 

First Jay Mankita. I was introduced to Jay and his music close to 20 years ago at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. If I recall correctly, he and Nancy Tucker were a one-two punch of humor that year, I adored his whimsy, his conscientious songs. He was a bit of an overgrown kid with baseball cap askew and a guitar slung over his shoulder. I particularly loved "From a Dog's Stance", a parody of Julie Gold's "From a Distance"

Jay has aged a bit since then (haven't we all) - but retains his boyish energy and charm. He had some technical issues (a buzz in the PA system and/or his guitar, and a sprained thumb later in the set) but got some laughs out of the resulting mic stand gyrations, played a good set of funny and more serious music, and was well received.

Jean Rohe (with side player Liam Robinson) was more of an unknown to me - she was a Falcon Ridge emerging artist last year (and I recently learned she'll be returning as a Most Wanted artist) but she slipped under my radar last year. Silly me - she was pretty much amazing in this small, two person set.

I've been pondering why she slipped past me last July. I have made it a habit over the past few years to purchase (via the most recent works of as many of the emerging artists as I can find and listen pre and post fest (in 2014, I got 20 of 24), but looking back, she must not have had anything there because I did not get her music. And, playing as part of an ensemble (the "End of the World Show") she may have gotten a bit lost in the mix for me; I've got a bit on an internal bias against emerging artist groups because they tend to be over-represented in terms of "most wanted" by dint of (I think) their energy and volume. I'd rather see the showcase be more solo artist / small groups, but that's another issue.

In any case, Jean Rohe, by herself and with a single side player, blew me away. She's got a beautiful voice, wonderful song-writing, and a great stage presence. I picked up two of her CDs, 2013's Jean Rohe and the End of the World Show (which has to win some folk award for most interesting / entertaining packaging and design) and what appears to be a home-published re-release of 2008's Lead Me Home. 

Listening to her albums, she's got a lot of different energies and sounds - from spanish language songs that sound latin / salsa (5 of 9 songs on her first CD are in spanish), to more quieter folk songs. Her "National Anthem: Arise, Arise" linked above, is pretty amazing, as are many of her other quieter songs. I confess to being brought to tears at least once during the evening.

All in all, a real win of an evening. I do not get to see Josh enough, so good excuse to travel north. The venue is just over the MA border, about the same travel time as New Haven from me - so wonderful to have yet another space to go hear live music. And as wonderful as it was to see Jay Mankita again, "discovering" Jean Rohe (for the second time, albeit) was wonderful; and gets me excited for the 2015 "most wanted" song swap at Falcon Ridge!

January 22, 2015

Writing on the (Yelp) Wall

In yesterday's Hartford Courant: Jojo's Coffee To Close At Month's End

If you can't get past the Courant's new paywall, the story is (mostly) a "...local business driven away by the economy and a big bad corporation..." (in this case, a new, nearby Panera)
The past few months for the Pratt Street coffee shop have not been good. It has lost money for the first time since it opened about 15 years ago. At the end of this month, he said, the shop will close.

"The last six months have been the toughest for us businesswise," said Sze, 56, standing next to the giant red coffee roaster, occasionally picking at the beans.
But buried deep in the article, some more fundamental truth:
He said for the hundreds if not thousands of insurance workers nearby, only a few darken his door. "A good amount of them come out and want something fast, and our setup is not designed for that."
Visiting the Jo-Jo's business page at Yelp provides ample evidence of this. Some snippets from many reviews:
  • "I have been loyal and loving. I have been forgiving, even though they have one very rude barista. Recently, it's been closed for no posted reason on days when they say they will be open."
  • "Hours read: 9am to 3pm on Sunday. I drove here on a Sunday obliviously expecting the place to be open. It was closed! Post your hours correctly!"
  • "When you have one person to act as cashier, barista, and general helper, you're going to get lines (check), slow service (check) and then rude service (check)"
  • "Rude, brash service at the register when asking about breakfast sandwichs with eggs.  Lady pointed up near the roof like I was stupid and I almost just walked out yet hunger can make you tolerate such."
  • "I've been here several times and had great service. Today was terrible, the cook was rude, the cashier was rude. Made us feel unwelcome. I will most likely not come back."
  • "I wanted to love Jojo's so much, and time and time again I have not been able to. Hands down, the biggest issue with Jojo's is the timing of it's service." 
And it's not like this is a new issue. I visited in October 2012, and in my Yelp review, wrote:
As I stood in a short (3-4 people) line, I watched as 5-6 people came in, stood in line for a bit, and left. I can just see a corporate coffee place coming in and kicking butt with the location - which would be a pity on a "local business" basis but probably a boon for those wanting a cup of coffee on a Sunday afternoon. 
Back in 2008, I wrote about The Romance of Small and Old Things and spoke of another beloved Hartford coffeehouse, La Paloma Sabanera.
Hartford recently lost a mini-landmark, La Paloma Sabanera. And it was a good place: great coffee, great people, a commitment to the neighborhood, a central gathering place for many communities. But it was not making money. And as a small business owner, I know that if you do not have income, you can't pay the rent, the heating bills, the cost of goods sold. It's just a matter of time before one runs out of money or energy, and has to close shop. But oh how romantic! How special a place! Would the shop have been any less special had it focused more on it's bottom line and less on the greater good? Perhaps. But it might also have remained open, to fight again.
I've only visited Jo-Jo's a few times over the years, and have never had a wonderful customer experience - and I'm probably batting about 0.500 when it comes to actually walking out with something to drink (as opposed to walking out empty handed because I did not have the time to wait). Multiply that by the "...hundreds, if not thousands..." of potential customers that Jo-Jo's has disappointed or turned away over the years, and you get the idea that this failure is less about Hartford, less about chains, and more about an inability to recognize the customers' needs and/or an unwillingness to meet them. 

January 10, 2015

Folk Friday at CT Folk: Lara Herscovitch and Kristen Graves

In what may be turning into a tradition, I wandered down to New Haven last evening for the first Folk Friday concert of 2015, featuring Kristen Graves and Lara Herscovitch. I really did not have any expectations - I knew both artists were CT State Troubadours (Lara in 2009-10, Kristen at present) and I'm sure I've run across Lara here and there (most recently, in a spoken word piece at The MOuTH at the Mark Twain House), but I did not really know what to expect.

Instead of the traditional, "two artists, one opens, one closes, and they do a few songs together", or the less common but still engaging "multiple artists in the round" format, Lara and Kristen have been actively practicing, and working together. Their preparation, reportedly handing each other their respective catalogs and inviting the other to "pick some songs we can do together", seemed a recipe for creativity and the unexpected. Lara confessed "that's a song I never do" (one that Kristen chose) and I imagine the whole of their performance was quite different than the sum of their individual performances.

It must be said - these two are an unusual pairing.  Lara is a cat person, and Kristen a dog person (for one), but I have a hard time coming up with two musicians who are seemingly more different. Kristen has the warm and fuzzy feeling of that first grade teacher who got down on the carpet and sang Pete Seeger songs; her crunchy hippie roots are not far from the surface. Lara is sharp as a tack (and wickedly funny) in a New York City kind of way, and seems like she could be lobbying the state legislature instead of playing folk music. Although she's not really that similar musically, I kept thinking of Lucy Kaplansky as I watched her sing and perform - polished, confidant, talented.

But both musicians are a lot deeper and more complex than my initial impressions. Lara brought an African chant / round she learned while visiting the continent, as well as a totally goofy C-O-N-N-E-C-T-I-C-U-T chant to the party (following Kristen's more staid "troubadour" song entry). Kristen dropped a few names (Yarrow, Seeger) without sounding pretentious, has a more wry but totally subversive sense of humor, borrowed a Uke for one song (seemingly on a whim), and wandered off stage for a bit to listen to one of her songs on Youtube because she forgot the chords.  There was a "what the heck will they do next?" feel to the evening that was totally engaging and fun.

Together, they were pretty wonderful. As they worked through their songs together, each stepped back to let the other shine, and their harmonies were a lot more lush and polished than one might expect from a "two solo artists sharing the stage" performance. I went in with a "I'll probably buy one CD, let's see who impresses me...." attitude, and walked out with one from each of them (Lara's 2009 "Through a Frozen Midnight Sky" and Kristen's 2014 "Now Ain't the Time for Tears"). I was not familiar enough with their music to note particular performances, but I'm pretty sure I'll be a lot more familiar the next time I hear them (and there WILL be a next time, pretty sure)

Lara has earned a little extra attention. She related a story about an encounter with a Boston blogger / DJ who refused to promote her show because she was not "folk enough" (told as a prelude to a song entitled "Folk You" or some such). And I kind of get that - there's a certain segment of the folk world that insists on sing-alongs, traditional tunes, and a willingness to pull up a log at a campfire on the drop of a hat. Lara seems like she might not want to be too far from a blow-dryer or curling iron for the folk fest camping experience to really resonate. And when she played the John Jenning's tweaked "Mississippi Lullaby" (from her more recent "Four Wise Monkeys") I could hear that Mary Chapin Carpenter drive and arrangement, and could almost hear her shining with a bass, drummer, and lead guitarist with a telecaster or a dobro.

All that being said, Lara and Kristen ended with "This Little Light of Mine", aided by Robert Messore (cajon) and Mark Zaretsky (harp) and you do not get more folk than that.

I'll be keeping an eye out for them, together and as solo performers. Neither has hit the Emerging Artist stage at Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, and both of them would be welcome additions, in my opinion.

CT State Troubadours indeed. Wonderful local music!