Thursday, March 29, 2012

Words: Wisdom

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. --Ira Glass

Smart guy. Smart glasses. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sounds: Scythian

Good music cannot wait 7 days. Or even 2 days.

Scythian, from right here in DC, was the very first band I saw at ShamrockFest 2012.  Before I saw them play, I saw them set up. There were the usual instruments; a drum kit, an assortment of guitars, but then it got interesting, out came a banjo, a mandolin, an accordion, then not one, not two, but three fiddles. Seeing this instrumentation I knew that this could either be really good or really really bad.  Verdict: not just really good, but face melting good. Scythian’s energy was immediate and explosive the minute they started playing their beautiful musical hybrid of Celtic, Gypsy, and American folk, with a side of rock n’roll.

You read that right, Celtic and Gypsy, a band after my own heart and East vs. West (European) bloodlines. Music that illustrates, in surround sound, that polkas and jigs have a lot more in common than not.  Dueling fiddles, button boxes, stomping, clapping,  rhythm that starts in your toes and explodes out of the hairs on your head, elements of a deeper, older, common music that part of me wants to believe was the way people communicate before we settled for spoken language.  
One of the key elements of folk music, whether it American, world, or whatever, is that it is, well, FOLK music. The audience is another member of the band. No need to quietly sit in your chairs here. Clapping, hooting and hollering, and dancing are not only encouraged, but vital to success of the music. Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care. The boys of Scythian with their contagious smiles and absorbing music welcomed and embraced each and every member of the crowd as one of their own.
At the helm of the band are the Fedoryka brothers: Alexander (violin, mandolin) and Danylo (guitar/accordion), sons of Ukrainian immigrants and both classically trained musicians with impressive and established individual musical resumes. Alexander also spent time busking in Ireland intertwining the music of his Eastern European heritage with the intoxicating music of the Celts. I know that I have mentioned the street musicians in Ireland ad nauseum, but over there, street performing is almost an art form, a rite of passage if you will. 
Joining the brothers on their roadshow is Josef Crosby (violin,bass), Ben-David Warner (banjo, violin, guitar), and Andrew Toy on drums.

It was hard to find a video clip of their current line-up, the one I saw, but after all these words, you need to hear them for yourself:

Scythian is currently working on a new album and playing at every Irish Festival this side of the Mississippi. The next time they will be in area is at the Annapolis Irish Festival on July 14th. You should probably put that on your calendar now. In pen. To see their full tour schedule or learn how to help with their new album, dance on over to their website.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Song of the Week: The Mighty Regis

Editor's Note: ShamrockFest reviews continue, and will probably for the next couple days. A couple events got canceled this week which I am taking as a message from the universe that I should stay home and do laundry and consume large amounts of hot and sour soup. Never fear, all music I mention is still awesome and this gentlewoman hits the road again next week. MO, you are on notice. 
You want to know how great The Mighty Regis is? They blew me away during their ShamrockFest set and at any given time during that set, I could only see 1/3 of the band. I was on the far, far right side of the crowd leaning and lurching and inching to see them through a small window of opportunity between the wall of festival goers, security folks and stage equipment. And against normal festival protocol where bands are held to a strict set/stage time, and because of the demands of the crowd, The Mighty Regis played an encore. But before the encore was their brawling, energetic, drunken Irish-sing-a-long of a set. And all the energy of the music spilled out over the crowd, until not a single person could bear to stand still but had to move to the music, jumping, clapping, stomping.

The mixing and mingling of traditional music and let’s call it, modern music, is not a new thing. Music is ever evolving. But keeping the old while embracing the new seems even more prevalent in cultures where music is more than entertainment, where it is the glue of civilization and survival. Take my Irish kin. We sing the history of our people. Sure, there are books and words and maybe a mark of punctuation or two, but to know the Irish, you must know their music. You can’t have one without the other.  So it makes sense that when the younger generation is ready to add their own verse to this collective ballad, they sing in their own voice, which might be a little different, maybe a little louder, maybe a little faster, than that of their forefathers. But it’s still the same story: love, work, heartache, family, and friends and since we are talking about the Irish, whiskey.

And all this gets us back to the Mighty Regis, hailing from California, adding their own stories of what it’s like to be American with Irish blood raging, holding onto the traditions of the past without sacrificing who you are in the present.  

So raise your glass and have a listen:

The above song, "Walking Around Lucky", just so happens to be a free download on their bandcamp page. They are on tour through the end of the month, be sure to catch them if you happen to be in their path of destruction.

*Image from The Mighty Regis website

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sounds: Dropkick Murphys @ DC ShamrockFest 2012 (RFK Stadium)

This is the concert that I wasn't going to go to, but did.

I so needed this.

Earlier in the week I attended a rather disappointing concert. I am undecided about writing about that concert  or even really mentioning the band because I still believe that they are a good band. But the show, meh. I didn't feel anything. There was no connection with the audience. They pretty much came on stage, ran through their set list and left, hardly any banter, or really anything.  My heart didn't swell up and almost explode when they played my favorite song. I mean, they sounded fine, but c'mon, I could of been home just listening to their album for all it really was.

On drive home I was frustrated in my usual dramatic way; isn't live music the cheese in my macaroni and cheese? Aren't live shows where, like the beach, I feel most my true self? Why didn't I feel anything? Was it the band? Bands are allowed to have bad nights. Was it crowd? The crowd, ha.  I totally filled my quota for the year of guys wearing skinny jeans that night. Hey fellas, please stop. Just stop it. Was it me?  

I came home from the show and immediately bought a ticket for ShamrockFest. If I was coming down with some sort of live music influenza (oh the drama!), I knew I needed some strong medicine,  like The Dropkick Murphys.

I had heard this festival promoted on the radio for awhile, but had pretty much decided not to go. There are pros and cons to music festivals. Pro: you get to see a large number of bands for a relatively inexpensive ticket, con: large crowds means that if you really want to see a big name or headling band you basically have to mark out your spot early and stand in that spot for a good couple of hours if you want a decent view of the stage. More and more as I get older I turn into a curmudgeon when it comes to music festivals: I'm too old, my back hurts, it might rain, the kids of today, arghhhhh.

But I am so glad that I talked that old curmudgeon into going yesterday, it was one of the best festivals I have been to in awhile. I did go early to get a good spot. This spot:

With this view:
Don't worry, the pictures do get better. 

And from this spot I could see two of the four stages. I ended up seeing 7 bands between the two stages and all of them were so good. The minute the first band started to play, my heart felt like it grew three sizes.  It was a St. Patrick's Day festival so all the music was so themed, from traditional Irish music (Gaelic Storm) to a wonderful mix of Irish and Eastern European gypsy music (Scythian) to good old (Irish) American punk rock (The Mighty Regis). Oh punk rock kid of my soul, I'm glad that you got to come out and play too. And maybe the greatest thing was that all the bands seem so happy to be there. Their excitement led to the crowd's excitement, which led to a happy connection between the two groups, this is the way live music should be, band from Tuesday night! (Why yes, I am shaking my fist in the air right now.)

I'm planing on writing about a couple of the other bands throughout this next week so let's just get down to business and talk about DKM. Yeah, I know, finally. 

I happen to be standing by a couple of kids (16-17 yrs old) in the crowd who were seeing DKM for the first time and they were OMG excited. It was quite adorable until they started to freak out about the crowd  surfing during one of the earlier bands. I had to cautioned them that it's going to get worse. If you want to be up front for DKM, you are going to have to absorb a lot of the crowd. As we got to talking they asked how many times I have seen DKM, and I replied with my usual, "Oh, a bunch of times." To say that I have seen them at least once a year for the last 14 years kinda makes me sound like I need to be featured on a TLC reality show. But they have always been a touring band, touring to cities that I just so happened to live in. They have easily become one of my favorite live bands, not only because of their music, which is pretty fantastic, but also the connection that they have established between themselves and their fans.  And that is why I keep coming back. There is definitely a sense of community at their shows. Every show they thank the crowd for making it possible for them to play music for a living. Every show they make an effort to let every person in the crowd know that they are wanted, that they have a place there. They are pretty established as a band these days; Bruce Springsteen did guest vocals on their last album, their music is featured in movies, but still they work hard to put on a good show every night. I think I'll be a supporter for awhile. 

Their set last night was fantastic. They played a well blended set of songs from all their past albums, the banter was great. And there I was front row, on my tippy toes singing with my eyes closed to each and every song. I so needed this. 

Pictures were taken with my point and click, from a drunken mob. Somebody's elbow was always poking me in the ribs, someone was always stepping my foot, crowd surfers were surfing over head and I wouldn't have changed a thing. 

Fourteen years and counting. At least this time I didn't have to break down a door. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Local Travels: Reston Kabob

Fun word to say:

Ridiculously fun thing to eat:

Thank you Reston Kabob for existing, serving your food on red trays, and allowing me to eat with my hands in public without all the stares. And I am pretty sure the secret ingredient in the yogurt sauce is unicorn tears. So good.  

And thank you T for the recommendation!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Song of the Week: The Boss + Friends

Notice, I said THE Boss, and not my boss. My boss however, could probably pull off a song or two, I mean, he did break out some Bob Dylan lyrics a couple of weeks ago. But this song is from Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen. I don't even have to write a fluffy paragraph about how awesome this song is, I merely have to list the performers:
(in basically the order they sing in)
Bruce Springsteen
Joe Ely
Alejandro Escovedo
The Low Anthem
Arcade Fire
Tom Morello
And what would all these fine people be singing? That would be Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."

This Land is Your Land (SXSW) from Backstreets on Vimeo.

Like I said, awesome. Bruce was the keynote speaker at SXSW this year, aka where all the hipsters were while you were working hard in your cubicle last week. I'm not bitter or anything. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Currently Reading: Mary Oliver

---The Journey----
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

----Mary Oliver

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Favorite Things: Setting the Table

I love having people over for a shared meal. The meals where you pull out the fancy serving dishes, and make sure the silverware matches, and just sit around talking and eating and talking and eating.

I am not a big fan of corned beef and cabbage, sorry Irish fore folk. So instead of having people over for a St. Patrick's dinner, I had a brunch, or second breakfast, if you will.

Potatoes where there. So were soda bread and bacon. From across the sea, imported Irish cheese and butter came. And a special appearance was made by shortbread filled with pistachios, white chocolate and dried apricots, green, white and orange, the Irish flag, my friends. And to not let things get too serious,  Yoda came too.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sounds: Chieftains @ The Kennedy Center

As expected, the Chieftains were pretty amazing last night.
I've decided that I want a pipe and drum band to follow me around. People will ask, "Why do you have a pipe and drum band following you around?" And then my pipers will proceed to drown out people that ask ridiculous questions. This could come in very handy at work. My little band would wear kilts, except on casual Fridays where they could wear whatever they want, even jeans. I would be such a nice band leader. 

If you have ever been to the Kennedy Center you know that in the programs are printed a list of "Golden Rules" for visitors. The whole chorister section, where I was seated, broke Rule #7: Thou shalt not talk, or hum, or sing along, or beat time with a body part. We sang along, we clapped, we hollered when appropriate, and we never stop stomping our feet to the music. Rebels are we. They played for about 2 hours, most of that in what I like to call hootenanny style, showcasing each member's individual talents, along with their super powers playing together as a band. I also really like to use the word hootenanny

As the line up tends to change, last night we had the privillege of seeing and hearing:
Paddy Moloney, Tim Whistle, Uilleann Pipes
Kevin Conneff, Bodhran, Vocals
Matt Molloy, Flute
Sean Keane, Fiddle
Jon Pilatke, Fiddle, Dancer
Triona Marshall, Harp, Keyboard
Jeff White, Guitar, Vocals
Deanie Richardson, Fiddle, Mandolin
Alyth McCommack, Vocals
Cara Bulter, Dancer
Nathan Pilatzke, Dancer

Special Guests:
Cady Coleman, a NASA astronaut who last year, borrowed a tin whistle from Paddy and an 100 year Irish flute from Matt Molloy, and played then from the International Space. She returned the instruments to the band last night and played a couple of songs with them. Her zero gravity flute skills can be seen in this video on the NASA website.

The Rockville High School Pipe and Drum Band. Amazing, and I was happy to see a couple of girls in the band!

Favorite Photos: Ireland

Just a few  photos from my Ireland adventures, or at least the adventures I want the blog reading public to know about. It's been almost 2 years since I went and came back, but as James Joyce said, "When I die  Dublin will be written on my heart."

 Beware of the Risen People!

 Cliffs of Moher + Galway

Friday, March 16, 2012

Music On Repeat

I usually try not to have a gaggle of music posts in a row.  I'm not ready to turn this little space of the Internet into a full on music blog. I really don't feel a need to define it at all.  But I sit here in my kitchen with the back door open, a cool breezing drifting in, the hum of the dishwasher in the background, trying to think of something profound to say that doesn't involve a song or a band or concert.


Nothing comes.

You see, music has been keeping me alive this week. It's been a hard week. I try not to dwell on it, because that would make one boring read. Blogging is still such a new media form that it is sometimes hard to find a balance between talking about how super fun awesome my life is, and the days when life isn't so super or fun or awesome. That kind of makes my life sound a little manic, but it's  not that bad, it's just, well, life.  But no matter my temperament, music seems to always be my constant. It's there to pull me out of myself, and the awkward situations that I find myself in, or in some cases, have created for myself. It's also there to celebrate with a joyous chorus or two when the universe is smiling. It's like music is this deeper language, something that communicates to the soul when plain old talky words just aren't enough. 


Here is some music.

These two songs have been looping for most of the day on whatever device is turned on and in front of me at the moment. And they both happen to be by guys named Bryan with "Y."

Bryan John Appleby is from Seattle. He plays guitar. He wears a hat. He walks on the beach. His songs are so delicate that I always feel like they are on the brink of teaching me some wonderful bit of wisdom, if only I would stop and be still and listen for  minute. 

Pull&Bear Heritage presents "The words of the revelator" a song by Bryan John Appleby from Pull&Bear on Vimeo.

And then there is Bryan McPherson from the Bay Area, via Boston. He also plays the guitar, and sometimes the harmonica, and sometimes keyboard instruments? He does not wear a hat. I wrote about him way back in January, his music still blows me away every time I hear it. There is such an intensity in his voice that pulls you into not just every song, but every word of every song.  
His new album, American Boy / American Girl, comes out on April 17 and is available for pre-order through bandcamp

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

More Irish Music: The Fighting Jamesons

One more Irish tune. Don’t worry, this won’t turn into another Hipster Christmas overload.

I have been trying to tune my ear to more local music. It helps me to remember that DC is a lovely town on days where it seems that the rudest people in the world have united and are purposely trying to make my life hard. On especially difficult days you might hear me muttering through clinched teeth, “cherry blossoms . . . .blue bucks . . . National Gallery . . .”

So with local music on my radar I was pleased as punch to see the almost local, Fighting Jamesons, from Norfolk, on the marque at The State Theater.  Pleased as punch, until I realized that they were playing this Friday night. They have the misfortune of playing in the DC area the same night as the Chieftains. Did I mention that The Fighting Jamesons are a Celtic influenced band playing traditional songs  with modern rambleshackleness? Think Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, The Tossers, The Young Dubliners, you get the picture- lots of songs about whiskey.   Even though they might draw a slightly younger crowd than their musical forefathers, it is still a little unfortunate in the scheduling department. I have been wanting to not only check them out live, but also check out the State Theater, in my self-made quest to check all local venues. Maybe next time. Because there has got to be a next time, they are at least from this coast. (Yeah, I said it, take that, all the west coast bands that never cross the Mississippi). Tickets are still available for their show on Friday. 12 bucks. 

Post Script: This song, "Drunken Sailor," will get stuck in head, and singing it under your breath may or may not be appropriate during staff meetings. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Song of the Week: The Chieftains

So. . . .  St. Patrick’s Day is this weekend.  Americans have somehow turned a religious holiday into  a day of debauchery. Go us. We aren’t called a superpower for nothing.  But because I do have Irish heritage in my family tree, and because I kinda ran away to Ireland a couple of years ago, and because I don’t partake of libations, I have to class up my March 17th festivities. I feel I owe Ireland a little bit more respect.

No matter where I am in my gypsy travels, I try to attend a musical performance around St. Patrick’s Day since I believe that music is the heart of the Irish culture. When my sister lived in Boston, I would go up there and attend one of the big Dropkick Murphys brouhahas. I was tempted to go this year, but then Boston and I had a lovers’ spat. I have been lucky enough to see other great Irish and Irish-American bands in other cities along my rambles.  This year, however, may just take the cake or blood pudding as it be.  On Friday, I will be onstage with the Chieftains during the DC stop of their 50thAnniversary tour.  Ok, technically, I will be up in the choristers seats behind them, but also technically, that’s still on the stage.

The Chieftains was founded by Paddy Moloney in 1962 and has been accredited for bringing traditional Irish music to an international audience. To say that they are a respected and influential band is like calling the Rocky Mountains ant hills.  Earlier this year the album Voice of Ages was released. This is a great collaborative project bringing together the Chieftains and (modern? current? popular? indie?) performers such as The Punch Brothers (coming to DC April 27!), The Decemberists, Bon Iver, and The Low Anthem among others.  I think it is pretty safe to say that a great deal of Irish music is about storytelling, ok, well maybe that’s all music. I love the idea of the older wiser generation passing down their stories, their songs to the youngsters who will hopefully do the same when they are the old wise ones. A beautiful circle.

Trailer for Voice of Ages, narrated by Paddy himself: 

Another favorite (older) Chieftains collaboration is "The Foggy Dew" with Sinead O’Conner. This is probably a favorite due to brainwashing by DKM who play it over the house speakers right before they come on stage. The song tells of the Easter Uprising of 1916 and has both the beauty and fierceness of the Irish people and culture.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Grand Adventure

Sometimes you just have to get out of the city and  drive until you hear a banjo and see wild turkeys and baby lambs.

Sometimes you just have to drive 3 ½ hours (each way) and stand in line for an hour for real fresh and real delicious maple donuts.

Sometimes you just have to get swallowed up by the smell of real maple syrup straight from real maple trees.

This past weekend a friend and I drove down to Highland County  Virginia, which isn’t just in the country, It’s in the coun-try.  The drive snaked it’s way past Shenandoah and through the George Washington National Forest. We saw classic red barns and 17, 3987 cows. We drove up mountains and down mountains and along swirly country roads.  We ended up at a small town Maple Festival where we found a banjo player in a hallway, a cranky cop and the longest donut line I have ever seen .

The story of the donuts told through pictures:
 And so it begins . . . 

 End of the line

 Almost there!
 The line behind us is finally longer than the line in front of us
 Sometimes smug people would eat their donuts in front of the people still standing in line.
 Peeking into the window watching the donuts being made

 After waiting in line for an hour, victory was ours!

We also drove to a sugar camp to see how maple syrup is made:

The Puffenbarger Sugar Camp prides itself in being above the old school bucket process.

Holes in the trees are drilled and plugged with tubing which brings the sap into the fancy machines which removes the water from the sap using reverse osmosis (science!). One of the owners of the camp was super excited to turn on the machine and let us take pictures of the process.

 The sap is then boiled down into syrup. The smell was pretty intoxicating. I will never, ever, ever eat fake syrup again.

And by road trip protocol, the ride home included a stirring sing-a-long version of The Duke of Earl. We totally owned that song.

It was one of the most random Saturdays that I have had in a while, a day where you just keep driving until you figure out where you are. A much needed day, completely opposite of every other day.