Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reflections on the Great Ice Storm

All of the photos in this post are available in a photo set on flickr, The Great Ice Storm. You can also click on any of them here to see a higher resolution version.

It Rained
It rained. On Thursday, December 11, 2008, it rained. We didn't pay it much attention. After all, it was just a steady rain. Oh, maybe there was the small observation that we haven't had much rain lately. But it was more a wet annoyance than anything else.

I went to dinner with a group from work that night. End of the year celebration and all that. We had a great time with food and drink, without giving the weather a second thought. When I neared home around 8 or 9pm I noticed the temperature was dropping, and some small branches were down on the back roads near my house. Didn't think much of it though. Just some crap in the road. Not all that unusual.

But the temperature continued to drop.

The lights flickered several times around 10pm. I knew what was coming. Well, I knew we would lose power; I really had no clue what was coming. No clue at all.

The power was still on when we went to bed around 11pm. Shortly after the trees started falling. No, falling isn't the right word. Shattering is more like it. SNAP. CRACK. A frightening sound, when a tree branch shatters under the weight of all that ice. Think of the sound of a baseball bat shattering upon impact with a fastball down the middle of the plate. Now amplify that up to the size of a tree.

Did the power go out before we started hearing trees shatter, or after? I don't know. The sequence is lost in the dreamy drifting in and out of sleep of that night. But I do know that the trees continued to shatter. All night long.

The World Is Ice
Morning comes. No power. Outside, ice. Everything is covered with ice.

Everything is covered in ice

The trees are bending to the ground in submission. And the world is oddly black and white, as if the ice has sucked the color out of everything.

Trees bending under the weight of ice

And destruction. Holy crap. There was a war, and the trees were bombed. Thirty, forty, fifty feet up they snapped and shattered.

Shattered trees
tree branch down

Many small trees didn't stand a chance.

small tree damaged
small tree damaged

It doesn't take a genius to understand that travel will be treacherous. Roads will be blocked.

Trees in the road
Travel at your own risk

There Is No Power
The numbers are old news by now. What was it, somewhere north of one million people without power in the five northeast states? In New Hampshire alone, almost 400,000 were without power. Even today, almost two weeks later, there are about 2,000 poor souls who haven't been restored. Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) reports that it has restrung more than 120 miles of power cable, replaced more than 250 broken poles, 16,000 fuses, and 1,500 transformers. They don't do that in an entire normal year, no less in a couple of days. But the numbers alone don't tell the story.

We started preparing that first day long before darkness took over. Emergency lanterns. Mag lights and other flashlights. Batteries. The emergency supply of water from the basement. The emergency one-burner butane cook stove. Inventory of easy to prepare food. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. And check. Surely the power will be back on soon, but these are the necessary steps you take when you lose power during winter in New England.

We ventured out in the afternoon. The Shaws grocery store in Derry was open and operating under emergency power. What an odd experience. A bare minimum of dim emergency lights. All of the open cold cases, normally stocked with milk and OJ and eggs and meat, are empty and dark; all of that stuff was evacuated to power-safe locations in the middle of the night. The freezer aisles are still stocked, but blocked off to prevent anyone from opening the case doors and letting the precious cold air out. The water aisle is pillaged, but we score some; without the ability to run our well pump, we are entirely dependent on our emergency supply. Tuna fish and canned soup are gold.

By 3pm we worry about the house getting cold. Our friend, Mark, is our lifeline. Mark heats with a woodstove, and he stockpiles wood on his property the way a squirrel prepares for a long winter. We can use our fireplace woodstove insert as an emergency heat source. It isn't nearly as good as an honest-to-goodness wooodstove, but it will keep the house out of the danger zone. After a trek to Mark's to bring home two recycling bins of wood, the stove is generating heat. Patti and I laugh when I go to plug in the woodstove fan power cord. D'oh! But soon the living room is above 60 degrees F.

Without the ability to circulate heat out of the woodstove via its fan, we burn wood at probably four or five times the normal rate. Mark is a trooper, though, and he keeps us supplied. We average two to three bins a day, with the living room hovering around 60. Rooms further away are down to 50. The basement is 45. The pipes won't freeze. We are thankful. Monitoring the temperature becomes a fundamental activity, particularly when the outside temperature drops into the mid-teens on Saturday night.

In all, we were without power for eight and a half days. They were exhausting days. Our supply of water, batteries, butane, and wood become our primary focus. We sleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor, near the woodstove. Sure as hell can't sleep on our now stone cold waterbed, much to the dismay of our cat.

The house is a wreck. Everything is dirty. Between the dirt from burning wood, and conservation of our bottled water supply, daily activity clean up is nowhere near normal. I wonder, what did the pioneers ever do without Clorox Wipes?

We may be running out of clean clothes, but showers at work are a blessing.

Our cat, GK, a creature of habit if there ever was one, is freaked. He has this look that says, "SRSLY, WTF?"

The tropical fish tank water temperature is well below the safe zone. The neon tetras are dead within three days, but Pleco the plecostomus hangs in. He's got a lot of body mass, and he appears to go into a state of semi-hibernation. We establish a pattern of filling the tea kettle with bottled Poland Springs water, heating it on the wood stove, and using it to bring the water temperature up a few degrees. We don't really know if it helps Pleco at all, but it makes us feel better.

We emptied both refrigerators, as well as the upright freezer, on Sunday afternoon. It started when we noticed a puddle of water under the fridge in the kitchen. Sh*t, there goes a whole bunch of food. But at least we have curbside garbage pickup, and tomorrow morning is garbage day. All three appliances are spic and span. Better to do it now, before it becomes a battle against rotting smell.

The sound of portable gas generators fill the neighborhood, but we don't have one. People wait in lines at Home Depot for daily shipments.

Eight long days of this. Sure, going to work helps. But we're distracted, and tired, and scattered.

Twitter Shines Brightly
Coming home after work at night was the most difficult. It would be all too easy to let depression get the better of you. You drive toward your home, seeing houses and neighborhoods brightly light with restored power. But as you near home it all goes dark, except for the dimmest of lights coming from houses with generators. You wander around the house with a headlamp and a flashlight, feeling like a stranger. It's your house, but it isn't home. (Credit for that last line goes to my friend Carolyn. Actually, her exact words were, "Impossible to explain being a refugee in your own home... you just want to go home, but you're already there, and it's not home." Exactly.)

Our twitter community kept us sane, though. Patti and I both have lightweight twitter clients on our smartphones, and the ability to stay in contact became far more important than I would have thought. Some of it was the solidarity (misery loves company?) among the many of us without power. We stayed in touch, and rejoiced when one of us was restored. We were warmed by invitations to come to friends' houses. We were touched by expressions of concern from those near and far. And we were able to shout out to the world; twitter became a cathartic outlet. I smile looking back at my twitter stream. Just a few posts:

Sunday night: have another guinness. throw some more wood in the stove. fall asleep reading in the dark, with cat on lap. my house. tonight.

Monday night: one of our 6 volt battery lanterns hit the too dim stage. OTOH, i scored D batteries today. we measure quality of life by batteries & water

Tuesday: PSNH told my neighbor "maybe Thurs, Fri, or Sat. But maybe next week." Translation: we dunno

Tuesday: Score! 2 butane fuel cartridges and 2 6 volt lantern batteries at Ace Hardware in Concord, MA. Living high on the hog tonight!

Wednesday morning: a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee and the morning paper bring a sense of normalcy

Wednesday night: I know! Let's sit in the dark and read by flashlight! <sarcasm>Again.</sarcasm>

Thursday: at first those PSNH restoration estimates seemed so full of progress and hope. now they just seem like taunts, don't they?

Friday morning: Day 8 begins. PSNH telling us there are only 30,000 customers to go does not bring joy. Where is my fricking power?

Friday afternoon: When I woke up this morning I wondered what would come first - restored power, or the snowstorm? Yea, you guessed it. The snowstorm is here

Friday night: Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is for MY FRICKING POWER TO BE RESTORED AGAIN. Yours truly, Tommy

Saturday morning: Day 9 of power outage hell begins. Oh boy, I can use snowblowing the driveway as a diversion from my other survival activities.

And then at 11:12am on Saturday: OMG OMG OMG!!!!! WE HAVE POWER!!!!!! WE HAVE POWER!!!!!!!!!!

Yea, so the week was hell. But on that first Friday morning I grabbed my camera and walked around. And what I was most attracted to was the beauty of the small, rather than the large. Some examples:









Some perspective is called for. My first thought here is that the region got lucky on that first Friday, because the temperature went up to the high 30s rather than the other way. Had the region gone into a deep freeze while all that ice was still in the trees, it would have been far worse; no question. But with higher temperatures on Friday, and the help of the sun, much of the ice melted and set the trees free. As bad as the ice storm and power outage was, New England dodged an even bigger bullet.

And next, really, all this only amounted to a week or so of inconvenience. Sure, we worried about freezing pipes. And chimney fires. And I understand there was at least one death because of carbon monoxide poisoning. And yes, some people had damage to their houses and cars from trees and branches falling into them. But for the vast majority of us in the region, it really amounted to a major pain in the ass. Nothing more.

Not like my former colleague and friend, Lucille, whose house in Biloxi, Mississippi was hit by Katrina. I remember her description of the first floor of her house. She said something like this: it was as if someone had filled the first floor with 6 feet of water...and then turned the blender on.

Or Ellen Isaacs in California. Her description of losing her house in the Ormsby Fire ("solving the mouse problem once and for all") in March 2008 puts our power outage in its rightfully puny perspective.

Within days, heck, within hours, of having our power restored we were back to normal - heat, lights, wireless network, cable, the works. But for Lucille, and Ellen, and thousands more, well, some of them are still putting the pieces back together. So I will count myself as inconvenienced for a week, but very fortunate.

But I sure as hell am getting a stand-by backup generator running on liquid propane. Never again!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Concert Review - David Bromberg @ Newburyport City Hall Auditorium

Wow. This was special. David Bromberg played a solo acoustic show last night at the Newburyport City Hall Auditorium. I have seen David play in all sort of configurations - with the David Bromberg Big Band, with the acoustic David Bromberg Quartet, with the Angel Band, and with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy in an acoustic Hot Tuna Bromberg format. But solo acoustic is a rarity and a special treat.

David Bromberg ticket stub, November 28, 2008
David Bromberg ticket stub, November 28, 2008
Like so many other supremely talented musicians, Bromberg isn't as well known as he should be. He plays an eclectic range of styles that mixes bluegrass, blues, folk, and rock in his own unique way. As a music major at Columbia University in the early to mid 60s, Bromberg was shaped by the Greenwich Village music scene of the time. He studied finger-picking blues guitar from the Reverend "Blind" Gary Davis by exchanging lessons for helping to lead the Reverend to his gigs; imagine being a human seeing eye dog for a blues guitar legend! Bromberg has been a sideman studio guitarist on literally hundreds of albums, including records by Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, and Carly Simon. He co-wrote one song, "The Holdup" with George Harrison, and has played with the likes of Jerry Garcia (who appeared on two of Bromberg's albums), Tom Rush, Vassar Clements, and more.

The Newburyport City Hall was built in 1851, and it includes an honest to goodness auditorium right in it. It's not ornate, but it does have surprisingly good acoustics. The sound was bright and clear with no noticeable echoes. The floor was set with folding chairs; I estimated about 250 chairs on the floor and probably another 100 or 150 seats in the balcony that ringed three sides of the hall.

You know those crystals that swell to one hundred times their size in water? Bromberg reminds me of that. I mean, when you look at the man you think nothing of him. In his own words you just see "an average, overweight, middle age, Jewish guy." But like those crystals in water, he swells to a hundred times his normal size on stage. He has a command of the stage, and a performing presence, that strikes awe. This is equally true when he is performing something slow and sad, such as "Watch Baby Fall" or rip roaring like his unique version of "Statesboro Blues."

We got the full range of Bromberg's styles during the 90-minute set. Some of it was Bromberg's own humor infused songs, including "Demon in Disguise", "Black and Tan", and "Tongue". His cover of Big Bill Broonzy's "Long Tall Mama" fits equally well in this category:

I got a long tall mama
She stands about seven foot nine
I got a long tall mama
She stands about seven foot nine
When it comes to making love she hollers
Lordy, Davey, take your time

We also got a good mix of the heartfelt, including a beautiful show version of Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" Bromberg's own "Watch Baby Fall" (there's a song that can make you cry), and Ian Tyson's "Summer Wages". The latter is a song that I consider signature Bromberg, even if it is a cover; his version is so fine he simply owns the song. He called Annie Raines up to the stage to accompany him on harmonica for a rare "Going to Germany", a World War I era song he was inspired to do because of the WWI memorial plaques lining the downstairs hallway in the city hall. Another treat was an instrumental "Over the Rainbow", as well as the show ending "Mr. Bojangles".
And we had our fill of the blues. From the traditional "Delia's Gone" (a song about the murder of fourteen-year-old Delia Green in Savannah in 1900), to Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen", the Reverend Gary Davis' "Maple Leaf Rag", and Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues."

Most of the set was solo Bromberg, but he did call his wife, Nancy Josephson, to the stage a little more than half way through his set, and she accompanied him on a standup electric bass and with harmony vocals. There were a few humorous moments between them when David started playing songs which she has never done before, but she was a trooper and it all went without a hitch.
I looked around on YouTube for something that would capture what Bromberg is like today, and this studio piece of him talking about the Reverend Gary Davis and then playing "Maple Leaf Rag" seemed to be the overall best to give you a sense of the man:

The opening act, Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, was a fantastic surprise. Although their names were familiar to me, I was not familiar with their music at all. Their acoustic blues floored the entire audience, with Paul playing a National Steel guitar and Annie on kick-ass harmonica, and both sharing vocal duties. Their thirty minute set ranged from Spider John Koerner's "Good Luck Child", to Scrapper Blackwell's "Trouble Blues", to their own infectious "Got To Fly" which included an audience call and response. More than a handful of us headed to the merchandise table to pick up their CDs at the break.

I was disappointed that I couldn't find a version of "Got To Fly" on YouTube, but here's a small snippet of Paul and Annie performing "Louise" that very much tells the tale:

The set list...

David Bromberg
Friday, November 28, 2008
City Hall Auditorium, Newburyport, MA

Demon In Disguise
Black and Tan
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
Try Me One More Time
Come On In My Kitchen
Delia's Gone
Maple Leaf Rag
Big Road Blues
Long Tall Mama
Levee Camp Moan
Watch Baby Fall

With Nancy Josephson on upright electric bass:
Don't Let Your Deal Go Down
Summer Wages
Who's Lovin' You Tonight
Dark Hollow
Going to Germany
Over the Rainbow (instrumental)

Encore 1 (solo):
Statesboro Blues

Encore 2 (w/ Nancy):
Mr. Bojangles

Opening Act
Paul Rishell & Annie Raines:
Custard Pie
Honey It Must Be Love
It'll Be Me / I'll Be Looking For You
Good Luck Child
You Been A Good Ol' Wagon
Trouble Blues
Got To Fly

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Concert Report - Janis Ian @ Tupelo Music Hall

Janis Ian at Tupelp Music Hall, November 20, 2008
Patti and I were back in our front row seats at Tupelo Music Hall this past Thursday night for an evening with Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Janis Ian.

For many in the audience, Janis is an icon and a legend and we greeted her warmly and paid rapt attention to her every word. Janis' concerts have a leisurely pace, and are as much about her stories as they are about the music. Three stories from Thursday night stood out for me.

The first was her recounting of the events surrounding her first hit single, "Society's Child" in the mid-1960s. This song is about an interracial romance between a white girl and her African American boyfriend, and the societal pressures that ensue from the girl's family, classmates, and teachers. Written when Janis was just 14 years old, it thrust her into the spotlight of the civil rights movement, and propelled her from playing 50 seat clubs to 1,500 seat halls almost overnight. She told of the controversy it generated in those racially turbulent times - a radio station in Atlanta was burned for playing it, and disc jockeys who played it were fired. And she told of hateful racial epithets being hurled at her as she sung the song, and her discovery of courage and the power of song to overcome hate and racism. Imagine a barely 5 foot tall Jewish teenager from New York mustering the courage to face bigotry and racism with lyrics and guitar (Janis mentioned the slogan written on Woody Guthrie's guitar: this machine kills fascists).

Come to my door, baby,
Face is clean and shining black as night
My mama went to answer
You know that you looked so fine
Now I could understand the tears and the shame
She called you "boy" instead of your name
When she wouldn't let you inside
When she turned and said
"But honey, he's not our kind."

Janis ended the first set with a long and well-practiced story of her mom. It built from the innocence of her mom's clumsy ways as a source of family humor, to the sober realization of the slow onset of multiple sclerosis as the real cause of mom's pratfalls, to the onset of depression and dementia. The description of her mom's last night left not a dry eye in the house, and was followed by "I Hear You Sing Again", a song that Janis finished based on unreleased Woody Guthrie lyrics:

If I could only hear my mother sing again
If I could close my eyes and hear your voice as then
All the friends and family
would sing along with me,
and set your spirit free
In my heart I hear you sing again
Every note as natural as then
and when I sing those songs
for family and friends,
in my heart I hear you sing again

The third story preceded the humorous "Married in London." Janis is openly gay, and she recounted getting married to her partner in Toronto, and the amazing feeling of being treated as "normal" for once in her life. As much as we were all crying when she spoke of her mother's death, we were all bursting with joy and pride to hear this story of love and committment.

We're married in London
but not in New York
Spain says we're kosher
The States say we're pork
We wed in Toronto
The judge said "Amen"
and when we got home
we were single again

One nice surprise was the slow treatment given to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Love Me Do." It's nice to hear such a familiar song given a well-done alternate delivery. We also were treated to, of course, Janis' most famous song - the 1975 Grammy award winning "At Seventeen." It's likely that if you have no idea who Janis is, you have heard this song:

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
and high school girls with clear skinned smiles
who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth
And those of us with ravaged faces
lacking in the social graces
desperately remained at home
inventing lovers on the phone
who called to say - come dance with me
and murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems at seventeen

Want to learn or hear more? Head over to the Free Music Downloads page on for some free MP3s; count Janis among the enlightened musicians who understand that freely sharing her music is the absolute best way to sell more music and concert tickets. And, as always, YouTube is our friend...

"When The Party's Over" is a song that you might recognize from some FM airplay:

Another interesting thing that YouTube allows is to compare Janis "back then" and Janis today. Try these:

Finally, how about a little humor? "Married in London":

Oh, the photo at the top of this post is mine. I have a few more that I took posted on flickr.

The set list:

Set 1:
Through The Years
When The Party's Over
Society's Child
From Me To You
Silly Habits
My Autobiography
I Hear You Sing Again (Woody Guthrie/Janis Ian)
Set 2:
Love Me Do (Lennon/McCartney)
Tea & Sympathy
Light a Light
Married in London
At Seventeen
Encore: Jesse

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Concert Report - John Gorka, Cliff Eberhardt, & Eliza Gilkyson @ Tupelo Music Hall

Humorously billing themselves as "Longing for Eliza", or even better yet, "Laugh Laugh Laugh" (see this if you don't get the reference), John Gorka, Cliff Eberhardt, and Eliza Gilkyson took to the Tupelo Music Hall stage last night. Once again Patti and I were sitting up front, not more than about 6-feet from John and Eliza, and maybe a whole 12 feet from Cliff!

John Gorka at Tupelo Music Hall, Nov. 15, 2008

We've seen all three of these Red House recording artists solo before, but tonight they were all on stage together in a songwriter's circle format. Unlike Cry Cry Cry, they stuck to their own songs with minimal backing vocals and guitar here and there helping each other out. The notable exceptions to this were the opening and closing numbers, both Gorka tunes, but executed as a trio, ala Cry Cry Cry. The energy and power of these two tunes made me wish for more of this, rather than the one at a time format; "Good Noise" indeed, as that closing song reminded us.

As with Cry Cry Cry a decade ago (has it been that long? wow.), you could feel how much these three artists were enjoying the company and companionship of each other. The solo artist gig must feel a bit lonely after a while, and sharing the road and stage for a change was clearly uplifting to all three. It was particularly interesting to see Eliza concentrating on John and Cliff's songs, learning parts and softly singing away from the microphone.

Eliza Gilkyson at Tupelo Music Hall, Nov. 15, 2008

The show was two sets, with the first lasting nearly 90 minutes and the second around an hour. Some of the length was due to the leisurely banter between the artists; there was no hurry, but the audience didn't mind.

Highlights? I was surprised by Gorka pulling out his classic "I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair" early in the first set; I expected this to show up more towards the end of the show. No complaints from me though, as "Stranger with Your Hair" and "Heart Upon Demand" are I think Gorka's two best songs ever; we didn't get the former though.

The best song sequence of the night was Gorka's "Writing in the Margins" followed by Eliza's beautiful "Jedidiah 1777." Gorka's song was inspired by a conversation he had with an Iraq war veteran. It is written from the perspective of a soldier, writing a letter to his loved one back home. Eliza's "Jedidiah 1777" is based on letters written by her ancestor, Brig. Gen. Jedidiah Huntington. Jedidiah fought in the Revolutionary War with George Washington, and participated in the dreadful Valley Forge winter encampment in 1777.

Cliff Eberhardt at Tupelo Music Hall, Nov. 15, 2008

As always, I encourage you to check out some YouTube samples if you aren't familiar with these three wonderful artists. Recommendations:

The photos above are mine, and you can see a few more that I took on Flickr.

The set list:

Set 1:
When She Kisses Me (Gorka)
The Party's Over (Eliza)
Money Don't Care for Me (Cliff)
I Saw A Stranger With Your Hair (Gorka)
Think About You (Eliza)
It's Home Everywhere I Go (Cliff)
Writing in the Margins (Gorka)
Jedidiah 1777 (Eliza)
Only in Heaven (Cliff)
Branching Out (Gorka)
He Waits for Me (Eliza)
The High Above and the Down Below (Cliff)
Set 2:
The Long Road (Cliff)
When You Walk On (Eliza)
Ignorance and Privilege (Gorka)
Love Slips Away (Cliff)
Mama's Got a Boyfriend (Eliza)
Mean Streak (Gorka)
Sugartown (Cliff)
Beautiful World (Eliza)
That's How Legends Are Made (Gorka)
That Kind of Love (Cliff)
Wildwood Spring (Eliza)
Good Noise (Gorka)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Concert Report - Rory Block @ Tupelo Music Hall

We were back at the Tupelo Music Hall last night for a nearly two-hour solo set by Rory Block, a master of the Mississippi Delta Country Blues style.

Rory Block at Tupelo Music Hall, November 14, 2008

Patti and I have seen Rory, oh I dunno, maybe five or six times going back to around 1990 or 1991. Each time I am struck by both her mastery of the acoustic blues, as well as her encyclopedic knowledge of the blues masters. She is a walking history book, telling tales of Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, and others. Some of this is first-hand knowledge, as she left home at the age of 15 to seek out and learn from the blues pioneers who were still alive. Her stories give insight into the men and the music. I never tire of hearing her compare and contrast the guitar styles of Robert Johnson and Son House, or of her demonstration of how to find the tuning for old country blues songs.

Patti and I were right up front at Table 3, and my seat couldn't have been but about six feet from her. I was so close that I was hesitant to take too many photos, but you can see how close I was from the photo at left, as well as three others I posted to Flickr.

As is typical of her shows, the set started with a bunch of Robert Johnson and Son House tunes. We also got our fair share of her own songs, including "Lovin' Whisky", "Like a Shotgun", and at fan request both "Silver Wings" and "Gypsie Boy." She told a wonderful story of Stevie Wonder singing on the latter tune on her 1986 I've Got a Rock in My Sock album. (Side note: David Bromberg and Taj Mahal also appear on that album.)

As with most artists these days, you can get a good feel for their live shows from YouTube. If you aren't familiar with Rory, here are a couple of clips to get you started:

The set list:

Crossroad Blues (Robert Johnson)
County Farm (Son House)
Me and the Devil (Robert Johnson)
Death Letter (Son House)
Preaching Blues (Son House)
Rambling on My Mind (Robert Johnson)
Lovin' Whiskey
Don't You Mind People Grinning In Your Face (Son House)
Like a Shotgun
I Be Bound (Muddy Waters)
From the Dust
Silver Wings
Gypsie Boy
Encore (a cappella): Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down (Claude Ely)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

City of Manchester Half Marathon - A Fine Box of Chocolates

As a runner, the Forrest Gump quote about life being like a box of chocolates resonates with me. When going out for a run, or starting a race, you never know what you're gonna get. Most of the time, of course, it is average. Sometimes it really sucks. And every once in a while, it is really, really special. For me, for today, the City of Manchester Half Marathon was one of those really, really special days. Far better than I could have dreamed.

Going in, I wasn't at all confident. A week ago I had a Charley horse type of cramp in my left foot, and I've been worried about the resulting soreness ever since (shhhh, don't tell Patti!). The higher my weekly mileage goes, the more I get unexpected cramps in my legs and feet. I am fairly certain I get enough potassium, so I suspect I'm not getting enough magnesium.

And then this morning, when I saw below freezing temperatures at 6am, I started to question my sanity. The weather forecast was for 34 degrees Fahrenheit at the 8:50am start time. "Ugh, I'm doing this why?"

I met up with Dan and Marty for the start. These two guys are even more nuts than I am - they're doing the full marathon. But we're compatible runners, and Marty and Dan decide to run with me despite my warning them that I was planning on running steady 7:50 miles for a 1:42:00 target finish time. Dan's pace in this same race a year ago averaged out to 8:17 miles, and Marty's averaged to 8:23. Using me as a "rabbit" for the first half of their marathon really didn't seem like a smart idea to me.

We were shivering at the starting line. The wind was whipping down Elm Street, and we were standing in shade. The loudspeakers played the slowest version of the national anthem known to exist, making the starting gun anticipation all that much worse. And then we were off...

I thought the first mile would be really slow. After all, we were mid-pack, and it takes a long time for the pack to thin out. The first quarter mile, in particular, felt like a shuffle. And so I was shocked (as were Dan and Marty) when we passed the Mile 1 clock at 7:44. Really? 7:44? How could that be? It felt so slow.

OK, I thought, let me just find that 7:50 pace. I'm usually good like that - I can find a pace and lock into it with little variance, often just plus-or-minus 5 seconds per mile. Mile 2 passed in 7:55. OK, not bad, maybe a tad slow. Then a 7:36 mile 3, despite the first half of that being all uphill; I swear Marty set the pace on that hill. But, woah, that was way faster than I expected. On the other hand, I felt great. This is a stroll.

And so it went. When I felt really strong after a 7:30 mile 8, I decided I could pick it up for the final 5 miles. I dropped Dan and Marty with a 7:18 mile 9; good to know those guys have some sense.

Me, Marty, and Dan at Mile 8; my smile is from Patti's cheering:
Me, Marty, and Dan at Mile 8

And the rest of my race went like a dream. Each of the last six miles was under 7:30, with an extra kick (somewhat gravity assisted) 6:53 mile 13. Runners dream of "negative splits" when they race - running the second half of a race faster than the first half. It is far easier said than done, but that was my box of chocolates today - a perfectly executed negative split half marathon.

My final finishing time: 1:39:39 (7:36 pace). I'm still waiting to hear how Marty and Dan made out; I'm predicting they paid the price for those first 8 miles.

All sorts of serious at fifty feet from the finishing line:
Fifty feet from the finishing line

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Catching Up On Concert Reports!

What? You thought maybe I stopped going to concerts? No, not likely. But with the general busy nature of the end of summer, vacation (two weeks motorcycling in the southeast U.S.!), and changing jobs (yikes! stress city!) I fell behind in my concert reports. Here's a quick catch up post, with a brief run through of the last four shows Patti and I attended. Probably no surprise, but all four of these shows were at our favorite local venue, Londonderry's own Tupelo Music Hall:

  • Suzanne Vega - Thursday, August 14, 2008
  • Arlo Guthrie - Monday, August 25, 2008
  • Hot Tuna - Sunday, September 7, 2008
  • Willy Porter - Saturday, October 26, 2008

Suzanne Vega
Suzanne was touring in a trio format, with bass and drums. They never got the sound quite right, or at least to my liking, as I would have preferred Suzanne's vocals more up front. Her lyrics are intricate and intense, and I prefer not to have to fight past the instruments to concentrate on them. It did get better towards the latter half of the show, though. Particular highlights include the ever fascinating "Queen and the Soldier" and the heart-breaking "Luka". There are excellent live versions of both of these songs up on YouTube; if you aren't familiar with Suzanne, I highly recommend you spending ten minutes to watch these two songs: "Queen and the Soldier" and "Luka".

Arlo Guthrie
Arlo was touring with his son, Abe, on keyboards, and grandson, Krishna, on drums. I can't help but think of the importance of the Guthrie family on American music whenever I see or hear Arlo - would Bob Dylan be possible without Woody Guthrie? And as important as Woody is to our musical heritage, Arlo himself is now a legend - from his performance at Woodstock ("Coming into Los Angeles"), to "Alice's Restaurant", to his hit with Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans", to his collaborations with Pete Seeger, and more. Arlo is humorous, and thoughtful, and in complete command of the stage and the audience, and every moment of his concerts is a special experience. I was particularly moved when they sung two of Woody's songs; right in front of me in flesh and spirit were four generations singing "This Land is Your Land" and "My Peace". I wonder, do they still teach "This Land is Your Land" in kindergarten in the U.S.?

Hot Tuna
From one musical legend to another. Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen are both in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as members of Jefferson Airplane. This year Jack and Jorma are celebrating fifty years of playing together; this is simply incredible. Fifty years! This was an acoustic Hot Tuna show, my favorite variant of Jack and Jorma, with Jack on bass, Jorma on acoustic guitar, and Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin. Like most shows at the Tupelo, Patti and I were right up front; I brought along a camera this night, and here's the view from our front row seats:

Hot Tuna at Tupelo Music Hall

Willy Porter
I was unfamiliar with Willy Porter, but Tupelo owner Scott Hayward has raved so much about his shows that we had to see him this time around. We weren't disappointed. Willy is often described as a "contemporary American folk musician" (Wikipedia), but that really doesn't do him justice. But he is hard to pin down. At times he reminded me very much of Martin Sexton (powerful vocals), at other times Todd Snider (slacker/stoner humor, perhaps?), and at other times I was struck by his guitar chops. Speaking of guitar, Willy played both a six-string and a nine-string; Nine-string? I'm used to see six- and twelve-strings, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a nine-string before. Willy clearly has a following - it was obvious that about half of the 200 or so people in the audience were big Willy fans. Highlights including a song made up on the spots that incorporated phrases suggested by the audience (such as basset hound, skin rash, foreign policy experience, and a bunch of others) and a 15-minute wild encore that can best be described as starting with "It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood" (you know, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood!) and then morphing it with an acid trip of a wild neighborhood story. Willy was joined on a few songs by Natalia Zuckerman, and wow, she's got a gorgeous voice. The opening act was Gerry Putnam and Tom Pirozzoli (aka, the Putnam-Pirozzoli Guitar Duo) doing incredibly intricate guitar instrumentals ranging from their own compositions, to Pat Metheny ("Jaco"), to Beethoven ("Ode to Joy").

OK, that's a quick run through. Set lists for the Vega, Guthrie, and Hot Tuna shows follow. Sorry, I didn't write the set list for Willy Porter.

Suzanne Vega
Tupelo Music Hall
August 14, 2008
Rock In This Pocket
Frank and Ava
Heroes Go Down
Pornographers Dream
Fat Man and Dancing Girl
Left of Center
Blood Makes Noise
Queen and the Soldier
Marlena on the Wall
Ludlow Street
Tom's Diner

Small Blue Things

Arlo Guthrie
Tupelo Music Hall
August 25, 2008
Set 1:
Chilling of the Evening
In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree
In My Darkest Hour
St. James Infirmary
Cornbread Song (Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee)
Keys to the Highway
Motorcycle Song
(Woodstock story)
Coming Into Los Angeles
Green Green Rocky Road
Set 2:
Alice's Restaurant (18 minutes!)
When a Soldier Makes It Home
In Times Like These
Highway in the Wind
(Steve Goodman story)
City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman; Arlo solo, on piano)
This Land is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)
(Arlo's "tuning arrows" story, prompted by audience)
(Story about Woody Guthrie writing songs)
My Peace (Woody Guthrie)

Hot Tuna
Tupelo Music Hall
September 7, 2008
Early Show (6:30pm)
Search My Heart
Tom Cat Blues
I See The Light
Heart Temporary
Hesitation Blues
Sea Child
Nashville Blues
Preaching On The Old Camp Ground
I'll Let You Know Before I Leave (instrumental)
How Long Blues
99 Year Blues
San Francisco Bay Blues
Encore: Embryonic Journey

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Garage Kitty

Garage Kitty (aka, GK) walking on "his" garage.

Garage Kitty walking on his garage

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Concert Report - Cowboy Junkies @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I saw the Cowboy Junkies at the Tupelo Music Hall on Sunday night, July 28. We had great seats - second row, not more than 20 feet from Margo Timmins in her center stage spot.

I whine about how much I miss the old Muse at the Grey Goose, the venue that became the Tupelo Music Hall when Meredith retired and sold the business to Scott Hayward. I miss Meredith. I miss the charm of the old Muse. But I have to give Scott credit. Being able to see bands like the Cowboy Junkies (and Bruce Cockburn, and Suzanne Vega, and Arlo Guthrie, and and and...) at the intimate listening room is a special and wonderful thing. Last night was no exception. You can tell how artists are appreciative of being able to play in such a small place, with fantastic acoustics, and with an attentive audience.

I cannot believe that I have NEVER seen the Cowboy Junkies before! Patti saw them play Tupelo last year, but I didn't go that night because I was sick and feeling horrible. I mean REALLY sick and horrible. For me to miss a concert, that's big time hurting.

To this day I can remember the moment the Cowboy Junkies came to my attention. They were interviewed on NPR by, I believe, Scott Simon, shortly after their landmark Trinity Session album was released. Stopped me dead in my tracks. If I remember correctly, Trinity Session was the very first compact disc album I ever bought! That had to be, what, 1988. And I didn't even own my own CD player at the time! I still have that very same CD too. Played it last night.

The concert was wonderful and intimate, and I was entranced by Margo's voice. Patti thought it was too loud, but it was just this side of too loud for me. But Patti says I'm deaf. (What? Can't hear ya.) The set was a good mix of songs from their latest album, At The End of Paths Taken, and old favorites - especially from Trinity Session. They played Richie Havens' Handouts in the Rain in preparation for next weeks Newport Folk Festival, as they will be sharing the stage with Richie. Margo is particularly nervous over that.

They also played three new songs in a row, Confessions of Georgia E, The Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun, and Angels in the Wilderness. Margo remarked that it was unusual to play so many new songs in one set, and she blamed it on Michael for making the set list.

The set lasted for just about two hours:

Brand New World
Lay It Down
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
Those Final Feet
I Don't Get It
Handouts In The Rain (Richie Havens)
Confessions of Georgia E
The Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun
Angels in the Wilderness
Bread and Wine
Someday Soon
My Wild Child
To Love Is To Bury
Highway Kind
Follower 2
Misguided Angel
Working on a Building

The opening act was spoken word artist Tim Mason. Well known in New England folk circles as the booking agent for the legendary Club Passim (and prior to that, The Old Vienna Kaffeehaus in Westboro, MA) Tim's poetry was a refreshing change for an opening act. His voice and delivery and humor and storytelling were spellbinding.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Concert Report - Ollabelle in Manchester, NH

Yikes, before too much time elapses, I need to do a quick write up of the Ollabelle concert on July 17th. It's been over a week now since I made that quick post on the night of the concert.

Ollabelle first came to our attention when they opened for Nanci Griffith in Boston a couple of years ago (note to self: go find that ticket stub). They were still relatively unknown at that point, with just their self-produced debut CD. They were still green and nervous and star-struck. Although they didn't realize it, they had the entire audience in the palm of their hands from the moment they started singing. During intermission I bought their CD and had Fiona sign the cover. When she looked at me she remarked, "I remember you. You're in the front row, right? I was so relieved to see someone enjoying us!" She signed the CD cover with "thank you for listening!"

They've come a long way since then.

Ollabelle is part roots music, part rock, part gospel, part urban. They take their name from Ola Belle Reed (1916-2002), a North Carolina folk/gospel/bluegrass singer and musician best known for the song High on a Mountain. Ollabelle is a collaborative partnership of five very talented musicians.

From left to right in the photo above:
Glenn Patscha - vocals, keyboards, accordion
Amy Helm - vocals, mandola
Fiona McBain - vocals, acoustic and electric guitars
Byron Isaacs - vocals, bass, dobro
Tony Leone - vocals, drums, percussion

On some songs you can close your eyes and swear that Ollabelle is channeling The Band, and I'm sure that's due in no small part to Amy. Note her last name. Yes, she is Levon Helm's daughter. A new mom, Amy was particularly attentive to babies and little kids in the audience. Here she is watching a grandmother strolling her grand kid:

Amy Helm
Amy Helm
Likewise, little girls in the family-oriented crowd seemed fascinated to see two women front and center on the stage:

This pic didn't come out as well as I'd like, but still I just love Fiona's smile:

Fiona McBain
Fiona McBain
Every single member of the band has a great voice. Fiona, though, has the ability to send shivers up my spine:

Fiona McBain
Fiona McBain

Their set was a mixture of songs from their first two albums, and some new (to me) covers. The traditional Ain't No More Cane was done in The Band's style. Fiona gave me chills on her vocal cover of Garcia and Hunter's Ripple, as well as on Elijah Rock.

Like every band nowadays, there's plenty to sample on YouTube. Here are some recommendations:
  • If you only have time to watch one video, watch this one of the rousing Before This Time. This showcases Amy's lead vocals, lots of hand clapping, and the entire band singing the chorus.
  • Wanna see what I mean by Fiona's ability to send chills? Then watch her sing Elijah Rock.
  • Does Ollabelle's's ability to channel The Band grab your attention? If so, then listen to Ain't No More Cane.
  • Like what you have heard so far? Then you must watch Get Back Temptation.
Ollabelle's set:

July 17, 2008
Veterans Park, Manchester, NH

Gone Today (Bryon Isaacs/Fiona McBain/Ollabelle)
John The Revelator (Traditional)
High on a Mountain (Olla Belle Reed)
Ripple (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter)
You're Gonna Miss Me (?)
Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos (Traditional)
Brotherly Love
Northern Star (Amy Helm/Byron Isaacs/Ollabelle)
Elijah Rock (Traditional)
Get Back Temptation (Glenn Patscha/Ollabelle)
Corrina (Taj Mahal/Jesse Ed Davis)
Riverside (Traditional)
Before This Time (Bessie Jones/Alan Lomax)
Encore: Brokedown Palace (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter)

The opening act was Mike Morris, and we quite enjoyed him. At times reminiscent of Ellis Paul, at other times his innovative guitar playing made us think of Michael Hedges. We will keep our eye out for him again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Ollabelle played a free concert (free!) tonight courtesy of Intown Manchester. This was the second in a series of four shows in their Thursday Night Live series. Each concert is held outdoors in Veterans Park. It was a beautiful night tonight, and several hundred people gathered in the park for the show.
Patti and I think this was the fourth time we have seen Ollabelle. We simply LOVE this band.

I brought along my camera and took a few shots early in the night. Here's just one of 'em. I'll post more pics, plus a concert review, in a day or two...


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Live Aid - July 13, 1985

Live Aid concert ticket, July 13, 1985
Live Aid concert ticket, July 13, 1985
Twenty-three years ago today I was in Philadelphia for the Live Aid concert. Live Aid continues to hold a very high position on my personal list of musical highlights. How could it not? There was a palpable excitement that hazy, hot, humid Saturday. For many of us, this was our generation's Woodstock. And we were doing it on a global basis, for an important cause, and with the entire fricking world watching live on TV. They say that there were some 1.5 billion people in 100 countries watching on TV.

We had to be there. For me and my friends, there was no question - we had to be at a musical event of this size, particularly since the U.S. portion of it was right here on the east coast. I'm pretty sure my friend, Scott, scored the tickets. I don't know how he did it, and I don't know how many he got. However it happened, we managed to gather a large circle of friends at Scott's house in Atlantic City on Friday, July 12th. There must have been twenty of us. Don't ask me how we kept the multi-car caravan together all the way from Atlantic City to the parking lots surrounding JFK Stadium. We managed. Somehow.

Ninety thousand of us gathered in JFK Stadium that day, and another 80 thousand at Wembley in London. The opening of the Philly show at something like eight o'clock in the morning is perfectly representative of the day: legendary promoter Bill Graham introducing actor Jack Nicholson, who in turn introduced Joan Baez. When's the last time you saw Bill Graham, Jack Nicholson, and Joan Baez in a single sentence? Joan started us off with Amazing Grace.

From there it was a full day of music. The concert in Philly didn't end until something like 11pm that night. There were so many acts, so many highlights. Crosby, Stills, and Nash fairly early in the day, and then later a Neil Young solo set, and then even later Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young! The Beach Boys. Santana. Clapton. The Led Zeppelin reunion, with Phil Collins playing drums. Mick Jagger and Tina Turner burning it up. Ron Wood and Keith Richards backup up Bob Dylan. Those are just a few of my personal highlights, but there was so much more - Black Sabbath, Run-DMC, REO Speedwagon, Judas Priest, George Thorogood, David Bowie, The Pretenders, The Cars, Madonna, Tom Petty, Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, and more.

Wow. I'm so glad I was there.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Smuttynose 5K, June 22, 2008


I always like looking for myself in race photos, and was pleased to find seven shots. None of them were really all that great, though. Certainly not great enough to shell out any money to PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITE (NAME REMOVED), but that's not meant to be a negative comment on their abilities. It is darn hard to get great race shots, particularly great shots of each runner in a field of over 700. The best of the seven of me, I think, was this one (PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITE COPYRIGHT ATTRIBUTION REMOVED):


This was taken about 100 feet from the end of the race. We're just about to turn the corner for the short, very steep, climb to the finish line. I might not look it, but at this point I can't wait for the race to be over. As described in the race results on Cool Running, this race was, uh, "challenging." It's not that the course was hilly or anything like that (well, except for the climb the last 75 feet), but it is more the 11am start time that caused the challenge. It was well over 80 degrees, a bit humid, and accompanied by an unrelenting sun. I started noticing it in mile 2, as there was no shade at all, and I could feel the heat bouncing up off the road. Oh how I wanted some shade.

Considering the heat, I was happy enough with my 22:25 finishing time, good for 70th overall, and 12th out of the 54 in my age division. This was the first race I've run since last fall's City of Manchester Half Marathon, which was just weeks before I went down with a stress fracture for the winter. And it was the first 5K I've done since the Durgin Memorial 5K in May, 2007, which put me out of action for several weeks with a pulled hamstring. At least I'm not injured now! (Hamstring is a little tight, but that's par for the course anymore. Getting old sucks.)

Concert Report - The Roches in Portsmouth, NH

The Roches, June 22, 2008

There is something magical about the vocal harmonies produced by siblings. Is it the genetics, or from a lifetime of singing together, or some combination of both? Ah, it doesn't matter, it just is. And for me, sisters Maggie, Terre and Suzzy (rhymes with "fuzzy") Roche are at the top of the family harmony heap. Known collectively as The Roches, they have been performing and releasing albums for more than 30 years, with a style uniquely their own.

Patti and I saw them play at the lovely Unitarian Universalist Church in Portsmouth, NH, last Sunday, June 22. Also known as the Stone Church, this church was built in 1824 to 1826. With an impressively high ceiling and a massive pipe organ behind the altar, it is the kind of space that just cannot be found in a modern building. Not to mention fantastic acoustics.

Unitarian Universalist Church, Portsmouth, NH
Unitarian Universalist Church, Portsmouth, NH

The Roches have a long history with Paul Simon, dating back to the early 70s when Maggie and Terre were backup singers on his There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973) album. Paul also produced Maggie and Terre's debut album, Seductive Reasoning, in 1975. More recently, all three sisters joined Paul for five nights of concerts in April during his month-long residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This recent experience is clearly still lingering, as they included three of Paul's songs in their hour and a half set. First up was the somewhat somber "Another Galaxy", then the humorous but metaphorical "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves", and then towards the end of the set the classic and oft covered "American Tune".

The concert started with "Gung Ho", a tornado of a song from their newest album, Moonswept. This was followed immediately with the crowd pleasing "We", one of their signature pieces. The very first song on their very first album as a trio, "We" is a catchy introduction to the group:

We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy
Maggie and Terre and Suzzy Roche
we don't give out our ages
and we don't give out our phone numbers
give out our phone numbers
sometimes our voices give out
but not our ages and our phone numbers

The crowd responded with delight at this well known favorite, and the prospect of hearing more of our favorite vocal harmonic acrobatics. There's a pretty decent clip of "We" performed at the 2006 Philly Folk Festival on YouTube. Go watch it.

"No Shoes", written by Paranoid Larry, is a new addition to their repertoire, but it is so classically "Roches" that it could easily be an old favorite. Once again, YouTube to the rescue.

Other standouts included the wonderful "Hammond Song", which may be the best showcase of their vocal harmony (YouTube clip from 1983), and "ing", with the chorus repeating the "ing" phrase as if their voices were hand bells (YouTube clip from 1991).

But the absolute highlight of the night was their classic a cappella version of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.. Their three-part arrangement of this is nothing short of stunning, particularly when sung in a church that is more than 150 years old. The audience gave a thunderous standing ovation in appreciation. If you don't view any of the YouTube clips I link, go and view at least this one from 1982. You won't be disappointed.

Since Patti and I were sitting in the first row, not more than 10 feet from the microphone stands, I was able to grab Suzzy's set list after the show. Here's a scan of it. (Yea, she mis-dated it as July! Must have been the hot weather.)

Roches set list, June 22, 2008

Gung Ho
Another Galaxy (Paul Simon)
The Long Lonely Road to Nowhere
Only You Know How
One Season
No Shoes (Paranoid Larry)
The Train
A Prayer (words by Bill Barbeau, music by Maggie)
Hammond Song
Pigs, Sheep and Wolves (Paul Simon)
September Eleventh at the Shambhala Center
Clothes Line Saga (Bob Dylan)
Hallelujah Chorus
American Tune (Paul Simon)
Jesus Shaves (Paranoid Larry)
Encore: Yakety Yak (The Coasters)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Concert Report - Vance Gilbert @ Kick Off Your Shoes

Patti and I met friends Nancy and Larry for the Vance Gilbert concert in Topsfield, MA last night. This was a house concert in the Kick off your Shoes house concert series.

I've been to hundreds of concerts (hmmm, I wonder what the real total number night be?) in venues large and small, but this was the first house concert I have ever attended. A house concert is exactly what the name implies - a concert in a private house. The Kick off your Shoes concerts are held in a nice house on a quiet side street in Topsfield. The concert itself was held in a large den room, with about 40 of us cozy (but not too crowded) in folding chairs. Close and intimate would be an apt description.

I'm always curious about the financial aspects of the music business, and last night was no exception. At house concerts, or at least this series, all ticket proceeds go directly to the performer. Vance did two shows - the early show starting at 7pm, and the late show probably starting at about 9:30pm. We were at the early show, which was sold out at just over 40 people. There were still some seats left for the late show, but it looked like about 30 tickets had been sold. Simple math for Vance's pay - 70 tickets at twenty bucks a pop, or $1,400.

Vance opened with Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come", which is on Vance's latest album. I found this particularly poignant, given the past week's significant political event (Obama clinching the Democratic nomination):

There were times when I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Vance didn't say anything about it (either the song or politics), other than saying "I think every concert should start with a Sam Cooke song, don't you?" after he finished singing it. But race cannot be avoided at a Vance Gilbert concert. After all, Vance is a black singer-songwriter in an overwhelmingly white genre. And Vance addresses it with humor, grace, and the very real insight that we are all the same, whether we be black, brown, white, or whatever.

Vance could easily be a professional comedian if he weren't such a gifted musician and songwriter, and he had us in stitches numerous times. One particular comic interlude had us both laughing and crying, as Vance talked about his dogs - including the highly recognizeable dog obsession with tennis balls, and the utter grief we feel over losing one of our four legged friends.

One the music front, Vance played two 45-minute sets for the early show, with much of the material coming from his soon-to-be-released new album. This album, to be called "Sounds Like..." is based on the "what if" concept of Vance writing songs which sound like they were written by others. Included are songs that Vance wrote in the style of Bruce Springsteen (in the Nebraska alubm style), Richard Thompson (a song about his dog!), Tom Waits, and others. Oh, one song was a mashup of Prince and John Haitt!

Early in the set he played a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" for Larry. I've heard him do this before, and just love the cover. He played "Unfamiliar Moon" from his latest album, followed by "Unforgiveable". From the way back machine, I remember he did "Taking It All To Tennessee", but not a whole lot of other of his older songs. He closed the early show with a cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You", much to the delight of Ashara, our host, who is a big Joni fan.

I don't have a full set list, as I forgot my set list notebook. :-(

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Concert Report - Bruce Cockburn @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I saw Bruce Cockburn (see also here) last night at our favorite local venue, the Tupelo Music Hall. This was, I think, the second time Bruce has played at Tupelo - the previous time being in September, 2006.

I first saw Bruce in the late 1980s, and have seen him at least a half dozen times or more. Mostly in mid-size venues, like the Capitol Theater in Concord, NH, or the Somerville Theater in Davis Square, Somerville, MA. But seeing him in Tupelo is special, because it is such a small venue. Patti and I were fortunate enough to secure seats in the second row, close to the center of the stage. Because of the way the seats and stage are in Tupelo, we were literally no more than 15 feet away from Bruce. I love being close enough to see individual guitar strings vibrate!

Most typical descriptions of Bruce probably call him a Canadian singer-songwriter, but that description is wholly inadequate without adding the clause "and totally frickin amazing guitarist." I put Bruce up there with the late, great Michael Hedges and Leo Kottke when it comes to my personal short list of acoustic guitar gods; although all three have vastly different styles, mind you.

Last night was an intimate, relaxed show with an adoring crowd and occasional good humored back and forth between the audience and performer. After one particularly mind-blowing song with some gorgeous guitar playing, a voice called out "hey Bruce, when are you going to learn to play that thing?" Much laughter all around, followed by Bruce's reply, "I'm trying. Believe me, I'm trying."

There are so many Cockburn songs I'd love to hear, but I have no complaints about his chosen set:

World of Wonders
Last Night of the World
See You Tomorrow
Don't Feel Your Touch
Night Train
Life Short, Call Now
Beautiful Creatures
Tibetan Side of Town
This is Baghdad
Put It In Your Heart
Wondering Where the Lions Are
If A Tree Falls
The End of All Rivers
Pacing the Cage
Tie Me at the Crossroads

"Wondering Where the Lions Are" was a natural highlight - for Bruce as well as for the crowd - because of the easy sing along nature of the song, and Bruce's encouragement of us to participate. He was clearly pleased with hearing us. See this YouTube video from the May 15th show at the Iron Horse Music Hall to get a really good idea of what it was like. (Although, we sang a whole lot better, and there were certainly NO talkers in the Tupelo audience - Tupelo prides itself on being a listening hall.)

The instrumental "The End of All Rivers" was particularly stunning. The same YouTube contributor also posted the May 15th version of this song. Go watch it to see just what I mean about Bruce being in rare company on guitar. (The video gets a better look at Bruce around 1 minute in. Play the whole song.)

The opener was Catherine MacLellan, a singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island. I really loved her voice, and will be on the lookout for her from now on in. Here's her setlist, although I'm not sure of some of the song titles:

Take a Break
Isabella's Song
At the Top of Those Hotel Stairs (?)
My Everything
It's Been a Long Time
Church Bell Blues

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In Memory of Cynthia Ice

Mary Beth reported on the passing of Cynthia Ice. Like MB, I want to take a moment to remember and honor our friend and colleague.

Cynthia Ice

Cynthia was one of a small handful of things that made working at the IBM/Lotus facility in Westford, MA something special. Cynthia was an accessibility expert and tester, but not just any accessibility expert. You realized this the moment you saw her walking down the hall with Cashmere, her seeing eye guide dog.

Having Cynthia on its staff said a lot about IBM/Lotus and its committment to accessibility. I can remember feeling fortunate on many occassions to be able to call or email Cynthia to get her input on design decisions.

I'm afraid that accessibility is a theoretical exercise in too many software development organizations. Those who manage, design, code, test, and write about software all too often have little, if any, interaction with users who need accessible accommodations. Seeing first-hand a user with a motor skill impairment, or a user who needs a screen reader to read her mail, brings the imperative to design and build accessible software home in a very real way. It's a moral imperative.

Cynthia was kind, and insightful, and yes humorous. In the comments on MB's blog post Brandon wrote this:

She never lost her sense of humor, even (especially?) when it came to disability. My favorite line of hers was while we were discussing how much people of various disabilities wanted a particular feature. At one point she said, "Quadriplegics would go to the mat for this issue...y'know, if they could."


Cynthia will be missed by many. Today I pause in her honor.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola, found here

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Light Switch Fail

I spotted this in the hallway at work. You can't make these things up.

Light Swtich Fail

Monday, May 12, 2008

Got Punctuation?

Like many, I delight in funny signs. These are often the result of misspellings or lack of punctuation. This example falls in the latter category, and was first spotted and admired by Paul. It is a handwritten sign on the second floor door for the handicapped elevator in the Colonial Inn in Edgartown, MA:

Do Not Slam Door Shut Gently
Do Not Slam Door Shut Gently
That sign is now three or four years old, and we delight in reading it literally every year: "Do not slam door shut gently." OK, we think, we will slam the door shut forcefully!

We by no means want to disparage the kind folks who run the Colonial Inn, for they are warm and wonderful and we go back there every year because they treat us so well. But we love the lack of punctuation on that little sign.

Zooming back a little, we can see a larger design issue:

Handicapped elevator

Notice the tennis ball on the string tether? No, that's not for some Golden Retriever's amusement. That's a door modification suggested by Paul when they first installed the handicapped elevator. See, if you are in a wheelchair and you need to open that door and get yourself into the elevator, the task is nearly impossible. You have to reach, pull the door, and back up all in a sequence that is easy for us able bodied people to not even think about. Paul's brilliant door modification allows him to pull the door open via the tennis ball, with his wheelchair already back out of the way of the opening door. Sorta makes me wonder if the elevator manufacturer did much user research.

I swear there is a consulting business to be had in handicapped access design in the hospitality industry. Traveling with Paul I've learned some of the most overlooked but important design points, like having clothes hanger rods in closets low enough for wheelchair access. Same with shower controls and shower heads. And light switch and phone access within easy reach of a handicapped person in bed, as they might not be able to reach over to the night stand like most of us can. All of these things are often overlooked in hotel room design for the handicapped. It's not just about adding a ramp and a wide door to the bathroom. I've learned all this only through Paul.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Concert Report - Steve Forbert @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I returned to our normal spot (table #4 - front and center) at the Tupelo Music Hall for last night's Steve Forbert concert.

Steve played for a bit more than an hour, with a stripped down sound consisting of his well-worn Martin guitar, harmonica, and boots tapping out rhythm on a square of plywood. For the first few songs Steve had a little battle going on with Tupelo owner Scott over the house lights. Scott initially had the lights off, but Steve wanted to see the audience. It took two or three songs for Scott to bring the lights up enough to satisfy Steve - he clearly feeds off of seeing his audience, hearing his audience, and getting the audience to participate with rhythm and filling vocals.

Steve's sets have a very loose structure, and he eagerly asked for requests early in the set. "Wild as the Wind", "Good Planets", "Laurel", "Mexico", and "Romeo's Tune" were all called out and worked into the set at one point or another.

Steve also mixed in two Jimmie Rodgers tunes, "Years Ago", and "Miss the Mississippi." Steve and Jimmie Rodgers are both natives of Meridian, Mississippi, and Steve's Any Old Time album is a tribute to the songs of Jimmie Rodgers.

News to me last night is word that country artist (star?) Keith Urban has a cover of Steve's "Romeo's Tune" on his new Greatest Hits CD. I don't really know much about Keith Urban, although I have of course heard of him. But I hope Steve gets a big chunk of royalty payments from the CD sales. "Romeo's Tune" is one of those songs which I can hear over and over and over and never tire of:

Meet me in the middle of the day
Let me hear you say everything's okay
Bring me Southern kisses from your room
Meet me in the middle of the night
Let me hear you say everything's alright
Let me smell the moon in your perfume
Oh, gods and years will rise and fall and there's always something more
Lost in talk I waste my time and it's all been said before
While further down behind the masquerade the tears are there
I don't ask for all that much -- I just want someone to care

If you have never heard "Romeo's Tune", go check out this live version by Steve from a concert in New Hope, PA last November. You can also easily find Steve's original 1979 version, as well as Keith Urban's version.

The opening act was Kate Klim, a Berklee College of Music alum now transplanted to Philadelphia. We've seen her open at the Tupelo at least once before, although I don't remember for whom. Kate played a short six-song set on the Tupelo's baby grand piano. Her voice reminds me a little bit of Lori McKenna

Set list...

Years Ago (aka Fifteen Years Ago Today)
Wild as the Wind (a tribute to Rick Danko)
Real Live Love
Hang On Again Till The Sun Shines (?)
Good Planets Are Hard To Find
Goin' Down To Laurel
My Stolen Identity
The Baghdad Dream
I Just Work Here
Miss the Mississippi and You
Sing It Again (?)
Baby, Don't
The American In Me
About a Dream
What Kinda Guy
Romeo's Tune
Thirty More Years
You Cannot Win (If You Do Not Play)
Opening Act - Kate Klim:
The Day's Gonna Come
Ripple (no, not the Grateful Dead song)
Skin My Knees
Tracing The Lines
Blue Sky Love

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ride Report: National MS Society "Ride the Vineyard"

This is a big thank you to all those who supported me in the National MS Society's "Ride the Vineyard" bike ride this past Saturday. Your support helped me exceed my goal and raise a total of $2,075 for MS research and local support programs. The event itself will likely top $300,000 once everything gets tallied up. Your support means a lot to me, and I cannot thank you enough.

Start of the ride
Start of the ride
"How was the ride?"

Picture a beautiful spring day on Martha's Vineyard. Deep blue skies. Bright sunshine warming your skin. A light breeze carrying the salty ocean smell. Nice image, isn't it? Keep that image in your mind, as that's the image I kept in mine while riding the 100-kilometers (62-miles) in the actual weather we had on Saturday: a steel gray sky, temperatures in the mid-40s, gusty winds, and on-and-off rain showers!

The weather kept the turnout smaller than normal. And I know that more than a few riders had had their share of cold and rain by the 40-mile mark, where they took a left to take them directly back to the finish line, rather than a right to take them to the final Katama-Edgartown-Oak Bluffs loop part of the ride. But I was riding for Paul, and I was riding because of your support, so I didn't cut any corners.

I was, though, happy to find Patti, and Paul and the warm van waiting for me at the finish line. Despite wanting to warm my feet up, we snapped a quick finish line photo. Paul's comment when he put his hand on my back was, "Oh, you're wetter than you look!"

Me and Paul after the ride
Me and Paul after the ride

Thanks again.

One more shot -- dirty bike:
Me and Paul after the ride