Monday, August 18, 2014

Adventures in Audio #4: Hot August Music Festival

Continuing on my quest to catch live music at 50 different venues:

The Baltimore, MD area Hot August Music Festival tuned 22 this year and has grown from being held in a backyard barn into a must anticipated hootenanny that  fills the Oregon Ridge Park with multigenerational and genre smashing music fans.  And I, being of part of that crowd, sweating under the  warm August  sun and hollering under the night sky, had a great time, but maybe it didn’t click entirely why until the drive home.
On that drive, I was listening to Jazz Inspired on whatever public radio station I could get to come in on the BW Parkway. Host Judy Carmichael was interviewing musician  Gene Casey and asked him how and why we can get kids involved in with jazz.  And to paraphrase, Gene first said that kids like to dance, all kids love to dance, they just can't help it. And second, in our insecure world, with so much upheaval, kids and most people are attracted to and seek things that have roots, something that is rooted in tradition and rooted in real. So much of popular entertainment these days is artificial, disposable and shallow, reality tv is the prime example of this, that there is almost a hunger for deeper things. I just love everything about that idea, and this very real need to seek music that has deep roots. 
All Roots music, whether it be jazz or folk or bluegrass, has the old soul feeling, traditions that have been playing long before you or I were born.  And in which much of our modern American music is built upon, even that newfangled rock and roll. Many of us fight and claw away at finding the next new thing, to stay on the edge of the everything shiny, and beat those hipsters at their own game,  but as  our hands reach and grasp forward to the future and what’s next, our feet, and maybe some bits of our hearts, are planted in the past, to the music that feels  solid beneath our feet, that grounds and anchors us during the storms in our own lives, and also connects us to all the other souls, past and present, that have also sought shelter in the shadow of  gritty vocals, and the 12 bar blues.
And that is why I had such a great time at the music festival on Saturday. My life has had it share of upheaval lately, and I need some roots.  At its heart, Hot August, is a roots festival, this year it was very heavy handed towards bluegrass, but it is also not afraid to be progressive . Roots music, although built on a foundation on tradition, is not about staying the past. It is not about exclusively playing and covering the songs and artists of yester years. It is adding new voices and stories, to be nourished from those roots, but growing in our own crooked ways.

A few of my favorite festival highlights:
This was the first time that I have seen the Baltimore based Bosley play, but I do believe that I had a huge smile on my face during the entire set. With a nod to soul music and crooners of years gone by,  singer and band leader Bosley Brown not only howled,  through a pretty ferocious set list in a good, cool cat, daddy-o fashion , but he also had blue suede shoes and was not afraid to use them . . . to dance, jump and jive his way across the stage.  The energy of the band was electric and contiguous. And you have to get it up to the band who, with the exception of the backup singers, were in full suits, at high noon, in August, in the Mid-Atlantic. They didn’t sweat, they shined.

Houndmouth hailing from the Indiana-Kentucky line is just about the perfect storm of a band for me; their music will break your heart into a million pieces in the most beautiful way possible.  Raw and intense storytelling  vocals shared between all members of the band and backed by the music itself, that dances on the line between quiet and folksome and shaking your wild soul.

At many festivals, bands, even headliners, will have shortened sets, some just 45 minutes. This is to maximize the amount of bands you can pack into a day. But such short sets can lead some groups to speed through their time, giving their audience a condensed analogy of their music. But for the Hot August Festival , the wise organizers gave all the bands pretty hefty play times, ranging from 90 to 120 minutes. This allows the bands, the time to not only develop a relationship with the audience, but also play a large numbers of their songs , or in the case of the relatively new Houndmouth, ALL their songs, and a few new ones and a cover or two. I was so impressed by their set that I found myself actually taking notes, jotting down a snip of a lyric or two that struck me, or noting that I need to send this song or that song to a friend because I know it would become their new favorite song.  Caring and sharing, that is what the music community is all about. 

Nickel Creek
The members of Nickel Creek have been making sweet music off and one together for 25 years, exploding on the music scene as a trio of preteens.  A family band from the start, brother and sister, Sara and Sean Watkins, and Chris Thile, whose father played standup bass in the early years, grew up mixing traditional music with the excitement and creativity of their youth   In 2003, they won a Grammy for best contemporary folk album, and in 2007 they decided to venture off separately and work on new musical projects.  Seeing them reunited once again makes you feel that you are part of some great family reunion. 

The chemistry on stage was so gracefully and comfortable.  I also noticed how they used the stage and the space on that stage, playing close together one minute, far apart the next, playing off the energy of each other. Talented way beyond what you think should be allowed, they also drew the audience in with their charm, wit and undeniable joy.  At one point, you start to think that maybe Chris Thile sold his soul to devil, for when he plays that mandolin of his, he becomes so engaged and entranced that you have to believe that you are witnessing something supernatural.  

There was a moment in the middle of the set that they lost power. They stepped off stage and played completely acoustic for a song, and the large crowd fell silent in awe.

Old Crow Medicine Show
I recommend seeing Old Crow to everyone, everyone.  Even to those folks who, I or they, think they aren’t into the bluegrass-old timey country-dueling fiddles-thing.  Their shows are so fun and before you know it, you are down and clapping your hands raw, and  throwing around words and phrases like 'hootenanny' and 'burning down the barn.' 

They’ve grown a bit since I’ve seen them last, adding a new, very enthusiastic , band member, a drum set and a piano, so I don’t know if they can still be referred to as a that little string band, especially, now that they are the newest members of the Grand Old Opry.  No, they aren’t that little band anymore, but there is still a sense of authenticity with them, and it all goes back to the feeling of being rooted in something deeper.  

Their music and especially seeing them live reminds me of my  forefathers who came to this country long ago with little or nothing to their names. Their lives were humble and at many times very bleak, but during the darkness moments or even in joyous ones, they would pull out their simple music instruments, their banjos and fiddles and if they had nothing, they would stomp their feet in perfect time and rhyme.  And their voices would ring out with songs of their old lives and countries and their new lives and new hopes.  And some of that same blood still sloshes through my veins, and it still aches to find solace and joy in music and to be part of and join my own voice into a story that is bigger than I am. 

This song is not from their newest album, but it is a song that I played 567849 times as I drove my life back to Virginia this spring. I also love the random tourist in the white shirt in the back of the video. He's like, "What is happening? I got no time for this, I'm leaving. Wait, they're good. I'll stay, I guess."

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday. But the bitter sweetness of music festivals is that you know that in a day or two, this festival will become just another notch in all bands’ touring schedules and the sweaty and goofy grinned crowd will just blend into the blur of all the other crowds, but for one split second, that one last meaningful smile and wave as they leave the stage, you know, maybe just for that instant, that we are all in this together.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Adventures in Audio #3: Justin Trawick and The Common Good at the US Botanical Garden

Continuing on my quest to catch live music at 50 different venues:

One of the wonderful things about summer in DC, or really all year around in DC, is that there are frequent opportunities for fantastic culture and entertainment, and many times these opportunities are of little cost or free. A little bit ago,  I stopped by the U.S. Botanical  Garden after work , kicked off my workin' shoes and sat in the grass on a lovely mild summer evening  and was treated to the bluegrass sounds of local crooners Justin Trawick and The Common Good. 

The U.S. Botanical Gardens was originally the brain child of our horticulture loving  Founding Fathers, namely George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who proposed a national garden to grow and showcase a wide variety of plants for the good of the American people. And though it took a bit to be established, our nation's Botanical Garden has been open to the public since 1850 and at its current location, across the street from the U.S. Capitol since 1933. In fact, the Garden is considered to be part of the Capitol Complex, because the House of the People, need a nice garden too.  Not only are there beautiful and wild plants that parade our captivating and complex natural world, but  the Garden also hosts an array of events, from cooking and canning classes to concerts.

 It is a popular pastime  to think about what our Founding Fathers would think about our modern times. And most of all that is just guessing, but their establishment of the Botanical Garden is a testament  that they wanted the American people to be a curious, smart people, engaged with the world around us, thorns, blossoms and all. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bits & Pieces

**Langhorne Slim and Seth Avett singing one of my favorite songs together? That's like a million angel high fives (30 Rock reference, like I even have to explain).

**During the slower time in August at work, some people will bring their dogs into the office.  I love this. These furry faces are so happy to see you and act like you are the most amazing person ever if you pet them, and then you start to think, hey, I AM pretty amazing.  And I think they legitimately bring down stress levels in the office. They are all well behaved canines, it’s not like we have packs of wild animals roaming the halls. Well, ok, we do, but those aren’t dogs, those are summer interns.

**I rotate the food blogs that I read pretty regularly since it seems like these type of blogs get stuck in trendy ruts, oh look, another donut recipe.  Either that or I find myself spending too much money on over indulgent ingredients.  But taking a more simple approach to online feasts of plenty  has yielded some fantastic recipe finds:

This burrito bowl from The First Mess, is sure to stay on heavy rotation at the (oh heck, I haven’t named my new evil genius pad/lair,yet). It may seem simple, grilled veg+ beans and  rice, but it is the cilantro lime dressing that bumps it up to a wow. I had some sauce left over so I marinated some chickpeas in it and then roasted them, super good. 
I made these life changing crackers from My New Roots, to take with me to work to snack on for  little bursts of focused energy throughout  my long days. Sure, you spend a little extra time at the bulk food bins at the grocery getting all the nuts and seeds, but I found it worth it. I made the rosemary/garlic  option, and not only did they fill my apartment with wonderful  herby smells, but they are just super good, especially with hummus and  smashed avocado.

**I am so hip and high tech now that I often Skype with family and friends. It makes me feel like I’m living in the second Back to Future movie with all our video phones and what not. I’m still waiting on my hover board, (and flying car—thanks for the LIES George Jetson).  I often get asked about the print that is on the wall behind the onscreen me:

I fell in love with the print when I first it on Wit and Whistle. Unfortunately,  shortly after discovering it, the letterpress shop closed out. However, a little while ago I discovered that the same company still sells on Etsy under the name Church of Type. Undead score! After ordering, the print came quick, the quality is fantastic and I am pretty sure it ups the cool points of my little old flat, like tenfold. It's been very dramatic getting things up on my walls and I am super happy this made the cut. It fits my classy, yet still eclectic POV.

And lets face it, I am an apocalypse girl and have been since days of yore, watching Mad Max with my Dad and having Sunday School teachers try to scare me into being good with terrifying stories of the end of the days.  And it is not even the gruesomeness of zombies or mass destruction that interests me, but all the ethical questions that arise when civilization breaks down.  I could write a whole lot of about this kind of stuff, but then people will remind me its not very lady like to talk of such things, and others will remind me that no1curr. But then I’ll just cross those suckers off the list of people the will benefit from my solar powered days of destruction pie shop. I’ve gots dreams people, dreams.  

**I started to make my own cleaning supplies.  Wow, I should’ve had a more exciting lead in. Cleaning! Supplies! Boom! Pop! Bam!  I don’t know exactly why I decided to be all Holly Hobby lately, maybe I am bored, or more earth friendly or my super sensitive skin has been freaking out or that I am cheap. Maybe a combo of all those things.  I use the recipes/formulas from I Heart Organizing, (scroll about half way down the post), and have found them to work very well.   Tips of the trade: I usually only use the essential oils for my once a month deep cleaning days, and not for my day to day clean ups, since those little bottles can be expensive. I got the oils and castile soap all at Wegmans, which I found to be just as good quality wise, and a little cheaper than buying them online. However, essential oils are the newest or at least most popular MLM thing going right now, so at this very second one of your Facebook friends is probably updating their status about how life changing essential oils are, so if you want to join the cult, there is always that route.

** My new favorite Instagram account to follow is that of the author Jasper Fforde. He lives in Wales (my land of dreams!)  and his gorgeous photos make me melt into  a pool of jealousy and envy. Seriously, having a beach cottage in Northern Wales and eating sticky toffee pudding every day is on my for real retirement plan. 

**Favorite auto correct of the week: in a text this week I started to type “loneliness” (so emo, I know) and  auto correct filled in “looney salts,” and I kept it, because, hey, maybe my phone has a way better version of my current story than I do.

Last two are reasons why I love DC and DC loves me:

**Ryan Adams, who I have testified about here, is having his record release party for his new album here in DC at the 9:30 Club! I am very excited about this. I’ve been keeping my eye on his tour schedule and holding my breath, rocking back and forth in the corner telling myself that he has to come to DC, he has to come to DC. And sometimes the Universe answers ridiculous prayers. And then sometimes it don’t , like when you insist to the moon and all the stars that the only thing that will make a bad day better would be if someone would  bring you pistachio gelato. And you wait and wait, and then give up and go get your own gelato, only to be disappointed that Target gelato tastes nothing like the gelato from that lovely little place just across the bridge in Florence, Italy. Actually, it's kind of gross. Anyone what a container of gelato and bitterness?  So moral of the story: do pray for good music, don’t pray for frozen treats.  

**Native Foods Cafe, a vegan fast-casual restaurant, has just announced that their first location on the East Coast is going to be in DC opening up at the end of September! My eating habits (which are usually too boring to talk about) are becoming more and more in the plant based realm, which usually requires doing a little menu research before going out to eat, which usually is no big deal, especially in a foodie town like DC. But having a new place that doesn’t require homework before stepping into the door?  Sweet heavens to Betsy.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Adventures in Audio #2: Yo-Yo Ma @ Wolf Trap

Continuing on my quest to catch live music at 50 different venues:
 Wolf Trap is a National Park and a Performing Arts Center, so you know what means: Park Rangers in their cute little hats and stellar performances.  In fact, it the only National Park dedicated to the performing arts. Wolf Trap was found by the late Catherine Filene Dodd Shouse through a donation of 100 acres of her Virginia farmland to the U.S. Government, as well as funds for construction of a 6,800 seat indoor/outdoor theatre. The gift was accepted by an Act of Congress in 1966 and Wolf Trap’s larger venue, the Filene Center, opened in 1971. In 1981, Mrs. Shouse also donated the land and funds for an indoor Theatre constructed of two adjunct 18th-century barns, each moved from upstate New York and rebuilt on their present sites.  Mrs. Shouse purchased the land in 1930 and kept the  historical name of Wolf Trap Farm, nodding to the problems  wolves have caused settlers on that land since the 1600s. At one time in very distant past, small rewards were given for trapped or killed wolves, hence Wolf Trap. 
Along with covered seating, the theater also has a large lawn area were patrons are encouraged to spread out blankets and bring a picnic dinner. And this snacking under the stars while being serenaded by world class music has become a summer tradition for many area folk. The performance that I was able to catch this year couldn’t have better: The National Symphony Orchestra with special guest, world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. After a brief and light rain, that left us with damp shoes huddled under umbrellas and rain ponchos, the evening opened up into a cool and delightful twilight I haven’t been an audience member to many symphony orchestras, so I can’t compare this one to that one, but I every time I have seen the The National Symphony Orchestra, I have been left in awe and with goose pimples.  The conductor for the night was Virginia native, Thomas Wilkins, who was just named the principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and he very engaging and charming with the audience. And then there was Yo-Yo Ma. Whenever I see a much acclaimed performer, there is often that little thought that maybe they aren't as good as the hype. It would be keen of me to learn to ignore this thought, it is always wrong. Mr. Ma was amazing. He just didn't play the cello, he made it sing, clear and bright and with such emotion that I doubted it could ever be an just a piece of wood and strings.  And even from our faraway lawn seats, I could see and feel the happiness and joy that Yo-Yo got from playing the music.   After playing the program with the orchestra, he came back out and treated the audience to a solo performance, that shook the heavens and stars. Leaving early, is never worth it. I will soon forgot about being stuck in the parking lot trying to exit for an hour (c'mon people get it together!), but that night of music is now inventoried and catalogued in the dusty old card cataloged in my head,  under Musical Performances; Classical; Amazing. 
When introducing him, the conductor referred to Yo-Yo Ma as a friend to music. I love that. Indeed, he is a friend to music, making it, sharing it, finding joy in it. And that night, I decided that is a title that I want to strive for, a friend of music.  

I couldn't found a clip of Yo-Yo Ma at Wolf Trap, so here he is on Sesame Street, you know, where all folks of my generation got our first tastes and feasts of culture:

  Yo-Yo Ma with The National Symphony Orchestra @ Wolf Trap, VA
(August 2, 2012):
Overture to Candide (Leonard Bernstein)
Suite from Candide  (Leonard Bernstein)
Suite No. 1 from Peer Gynt, Op. 46  (Edvard Grieg)
          Morning Mood
          Ase's Death
          Anitra's Dance
          In the Hall of the Mountain King
Concerto in B minor for Cello  and Orchestra, Op. 104  (Antonin Dvirak)
        Adagio ma non troppo
        Finale: Allegro moderato
History of Wolf Trap from their website.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Inspiration

"I think it's brave to try to be happy."
--Vivian, Pushing Daisies 
(I miss that show! Man, I need some pie.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Adventures in Audio: 1: Hessismore @ The Kennedy Center

I had a conversation with a fine friend a couple of weeks ago and they asked me that I have done since being back in the D(dot) C(dot), and in a moment of panic, I realized that I haven't done anything.  Well, except setting up house, starting a new job, perfectly timing my commute, figuring out the trick to actually get the washing machine to work, calling Comcast at least once a week (fun!), pricing coconut milk at ALL the grocery stores (FYI, Trader Joe's is the cheapest, by at least a quarter) . . . 


One of the reasons why I came back to this area was because of well, the area. I love this place and all the wild and wonderful (sorry WV) things to do and see and become. And it is about time I get going and doing stuff. And then like a lightbulb shinning in closet full of cobwebs,  came the bright idea of trying to see live music at 50 different venues. Why not?  We all have to have goals, right? Might as well make those tangible goals instead of, “one day I might,” or “it might be cool if I . . .”  goals. And music adds a depth to my life that makes me feel whole, so lets start there too.  It could take me months, it could take me years. But now, Hey, Hey, I’m girl with a list, and I find a little bit of happiness in that.  And in the little while since I have taken action on this moment of enlightenment, and have been going about actively looking for opportunities to catch a tune or two, I found myself excited about once again opening my life up to, well, life. 

Adventures in Audio #1: Hessismore @ The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC
The idea for a National Cultural Center was born in the late 1950’s and was championed by both President Eisenhower and President Kennedy. After the assassination of JFK, it was decided that the new cultural center would be named after him and serve as a “living memorial,” to the late president who was a dedicated advocate of the arts. Opened in 1971, The Kennedy Center has helped Washington DC become a national stage and attract and entice some of the world’s most prestigious and exciting performances.

But the Kennedy Center isn’t only about red carpets and expensive box seats, although the Center does have fanciness  in loads and levels. One of the initiatives of the Center is to provide “Performing Arts for Everyone,”  and they exemplify  this mission by  providing free public concerts every day of the year. Theses performances on the Millennium Stage ranged from local, national and international acts and surveys the wide ocean of the musical genres.

Recently, I had a co-worker from my last job in Missouri come a- touring the DC area with her family and we met up at the Kennedy Center  to enjoy one of the Millennium Stage concerts. Hashtag: Culture.  On stage that evening was Hessismore (Hess is More), a seven-piece live orchestra based in New York, led by Danish musician Mikkel Hess. Hess has long been a contributor and collaborated to the fields of dance, film, theater, and even provided the music for a ballet that premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in 2011.  Lately he has focused on Hessismore, which has the sound of free form jazz played in very hip European discotheque. Don’t worry, I stayed seated, I am not sure the world is ready for 90% of my dance moves, I am not sure I am even ready for 90% of my dance moves.  A few songs, well, frankly, I had no idea what was going on. But, I think that is the power and loveliness of music. Everyone has the right to tell and share their stories however they so please; in a whisper or a scream, solo with a single instrument or not instrument at all, or filling the stage with all the people and all the instruments.  I have found that listening to and experiencing music outside of my day to day familiars, helps me expand my love for music and storytelling and appreciate more the rich cultural experiences of this little marble of an earth and all my fellow wanderers.  So, I may not have completely understood every song that night, I did completely appreciate them, and the passion, talent and stories behind them.

You can check out The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage free concert schedule here.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sunday Inspiration

We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange.  As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.

--Carson McCullers