Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Folk Fest: Volunteering

Folk Fest '17 is now a couple of weeks past, and I'll try to summarize it as best I can. I already mentioned that I was volunteering this year for the first time, which meant going to unload trucks and get things set up on Saturday, and then come to stay on Sunday.

The campground opens on Thursday and the music starts on Friday, and the prior Sunday is the earliest anyone is allowed in the campground. Many people (including me and the friends I was joining) pick their volunteer jobs specifically because those jobs require Sunday arrival. I've mentioned every year that the various campsites are crazily elaborate (Buddha Shebang is "elaborate", not "crazy elaborate.") I now know how that's done - they arrive on Sunday and drive pickup trucks full of gear (and pianos, pool tables, lifeguard stands, etc.) to their site.

That was all of Sunday. I waited in line for my volunteer badge, then waited in line in my car to be let into the campground. Most years, you can drive right to your site. This year, the ground was soggy, so you could only drive on certain areas. For us, that meant parking about one hundred yards away and humping our gear for the last bit. By the time we'd unloaded and set up our site, had a hoagie and a couple of beers for dinner, and played a little music, we were ready to crawl into our tents and crash.

Monday through Thursday were work days. I was on a work crew of maybe 15 people to set up the merchandise tent. The big "circus tent" had already been set up, and we had to assemble and arrange the shelves and tables, close it off with netting, put up fans and lights - and try to get everything as level as possible on what's a farmer's field for the other 51 weeks of the year. It wasn't backbreaking, but it *was* just plain hard work. There was beer and music with friends every night, and I'm not complaining.

My biggest take-away was seeing the absolutely boggling amount of volunteer effort that goes into making Fest happen. And without that, Fest *doesn't* happen. Our group was just the Merch Tent. If you came for the day, you'd think "ok, they're selling t-shirts and coffee mugs in there", and never give it another thought. But a whole team of people worked for four solid days to make that happen. And there were other teams for every stage, teams for grounds, camping, parking, electrical, sound, etc., etc. Someone told me there were about 2,000 volunteers in all.

I mentioned that we couldn't drive to our site on Sunday because of wet ground. It then rained hard overnight on Monday and again on Tuesday. That turned parts of the wet ground into a mucky quagmire, and I started hearing the term "mud-fest", which apparently is legendary among longtime Fest-goers. Wednesday and Thursday were sunny, and the ground dried some - though many places were still boggy. The long term forecast changed every day. Sometimes it called for rain on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Other days the forecast was sun.

Darling Wife (due to arrive for the start of Fest on Thursday) would have the option to bail from a mud-fest. But I was committed to be there until move-out on Monday (which a mud-fest could make into a full-blown nightmare.)

(To be continued)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Folk Fest Prep

It's August, which means the Philadelphia Folk Fest is imminent. This is exciting for a few reasons.

First of all, the lineup is great. There are a couple of big names, which of course is great. But I'm most excited about how deep the lineup is. There are a *lot* of performers I'm really excited to see.

Second, camping with Buddha Shebang will be fun, as always. We've been to a couple of planning meetings (a good excuse to get together for a few beers), and we will eat like kings again. The jamming will be great, and I'm planning to bring a guitar, a mandolin, and a fiddle.

But what's different this year is that I'm volunteering. A couple of my friends and campmates have been volunteering for years, and I asked last year if they needed help. They said they probably would, and this summer they've guided me through the sign-up process. Fest is Thursday-Sunday, but setup starts this Sunday, and I'll be there for all of it.

What will I be doing? What's involved? I have a hazy (at best) idea. I'll just be there as unskilled labor. I'm not handy, and am unlikely to solve any tricky mechanical problems with a McGyver solution, but "move that pile of stuff from there to over there" is suited to my skill set.

As always, weather is the question looming over everything. But there's nothing we can do about it except keep our fingers crossed.

Eastern Shore Bike Ride, 7/30/17

A week ago Sunday, with no commitments and a beautiful weather forecast, I loaded my bike into the car and took off for the river. I wanted to look at the progress on the house, and I wanted to take a good long bike ride.

The house is coming along great - seeing an actual structure instead of plans on paper was a little shocking, and it's both bigger and taller than I'd imagined. I looked around and had a nice chat with neighbor Steve. Then it was time to saddle up and hit the road.

I left around 10:30am, and the day was perfect - bright sun, not too hot or humid. I did a similar but longer loop than my June 22 ride. I rode straight through to Chesterville, then east on Rt. 290, crossing Rt. 301 into Millington. Then south to Sudlersville, back to Crumpton, back across the Chester River into Kent County, then west to Chestertown, and Rt. 213 to home. (Map below.)

This is one of my favorite Eastern shore rides. The weather stayed perfect, and I felt great. Almost too good - I felt like I was riding faster than I expected, which I took to mean that the wind was at my back, and I'd pay the price at some point. But I continued feeling good. Until I reached Chestertown and started north-east on 213. Then it felt like a hurricane was blowing straight into my face.

The last 10 miles was just a struggle, not made easier since I'd been pedaling for 3+ hours and 40+ miles. I limped back into Kentmore Park and rested on a bench with a bottle of Gatorade. Looking at the GPS app on my phone, I saw that I'd cycled just over 49 miles. There was no way I wasn't getting to 50, so I finished my Gatorade and rode to the end of the road before coming back to the house.

Total miles: 50.5
Elapsed time: 4:00

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Telecaster Mods

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I've been playing a lot of electric guitar. I thought it would be a good idea to have the Telecaster set up, as that hasn't been done since I bought it used. There wasn't anything specifically "wrong" with it, but having a tech give it a good look can't hurt.

I know a guy who does setups and repairs, and we talked about made-in-Mexico Telecasters. I asked if he thought a new set up pickups would improve the sound (as online research suggested it would), and he enthusiastically agreed. We discussed various options, and I ordered a set of Fender Pure Vintage Telecaster Pickups from Amazon.

When the Amazon package arrived, I took it and the guitar to my guy, and three days later it was done. He installed the pickups, checked all the wiring and electronics, and made some minor adjustments to the action and intonation. It plays and sounds like a dream.

Darling Wife said something to the effect of, "But you're not playing electric guitar *with* anyone."

To which I can only think, "Challenge accepted."

Monday, July 31, 2017

Introducing Calvin

There's been talk in the house about getting a kitten or second cat. We love our Avery to death and wondered if he'd like company. Plus we just like cats.

Younger Daughter volunteers at the shelter where we got Ave, and she's been telling about us about some of the cats and kittens that she's certain would be the most perfect fit for us. Cutting to the chase, Darling Wife went to the shelter on Saturday and brought home an 8-week-old orange kitten named Clementine. Who's a boy.

He made himself at home immediately, doing everything you would hope and expect a kitten to do. Play with everything, be cute and snuggly, and be even more cute. Within a few hours, he'd gotten used to his food and water bowls, scratching post, and litter box.

After much discussion yesterday, he's now officially named Calvin. We're keeping him isolated in Sarah's room for a few days, and then we'll gradually introduce him to Ave. The two cats are very much aware of each others' presence.

And did I mention cute? He's killing us, in the best way.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Aikido Training

...or "Changing the Blog Subtitle"

I just noticed my blog's subtitle for the first time in a while.
Musings on aikido training, hiking and nature activities, music, etc.
There haven't been any musings on aikido training in a while, because I've stopped training. There are a few reasons, but it boils down to this: I can't teach without traning. I'm nowhere near the level where I can spend most of my aikido time teaching. I have to train under senior teachers.

There are teachers within a couple hours drive who are simply amazing who would be more than happy to teach me. Men and women who still seem like real-life wizards to me, even though I (kinda) understand what they're doing. But I would have to commit to getting there regularly, and that doesn't seem possible right now.

I'm so grateful for my years (about 20?) in aikido. It changed me in fundamental ways, all for the better. I met a lot of good people, made some great friends.

I'll never say never. I love aikido. But life would have to change before that would be possible. So I'll change the subtitle soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Two Good Rides

One of the reasons I mentioned for getting a bicycle is the great network of bike trails that have been built in the area recently. Some are new, some existed when I biked 20 years ago (more on that below), and efforts have been made to extend and connect the existing trails. I took advantage of that over the recent holiday weekend and got out for two long-ish rides, both starting from Valley Forge National Park.

Perkiomen Trail, 7/2
This beautiful trail goes from Valley Forge to Green Lane, following the Perkiomen Creek. Finding a way to get the trail through Collegeville had to be tricky, but they manage it with only a few brief periods of feeling like you're on a road in town. Just about all of the rest feels like a pretty, quiet, creekside ride.

I went as far as Schwenksville, not far from the site of the Folk Fest. Darling Wife suggests I can just bike to Fest from now on. Not sure about that....

Distance: 31.8 miles
Elapsed Time: 2:57:57

Schuylkill River Trail, 7/4
Then on the holiday I started from the same place, but took the Schuylkill River Trail toward Manayunk and Phildelphia. This was a trip down memory lane, as most of this trail existed when I lived in Norristown 20+ years ago and did most of my biking. I would ride from my home to the trail, and then ride pieces of it. My goal this day was to go at least to Manayunk, and maybe all the way to Fairmount Park/Boathouse Row.

I passed through Norristown and Conshohocken (side note: watching DW's reaction to seeing "Schuylkill", "Conshohocken", "Perkiomen", and other fun Pennsylvania place names never gets old), and was pleased to see that it's an unbroken river trail now. Back in the day it wasn't, and dumped you onto the streets of Norristown for a bit.

Some of the post-industrial wasteland of Conshohocken remains (like the abandoned hulk of the old Alan Wood Steel plant), but most of Conshy is astoundingly resurrected. I worked there from '84-'86 and '87-'90, and the riverside was all abandoned factories and warehouses. Now it's all new development - businesses, apartments. I knew it had changed, but to see it close up was astonishing.

After passing Spring Mill station (where I waited for trains countless times), you pass into what feels like wilderness - at least if you ignore the sound of traffic from the Schuylkill Expressway on the other side of the river. The river is close on your right and it feels downright pastoral. Then you cross the border into the city of Philadelphia, pass onto the Manayunk Canal path, and right into downtown Manayunk. I stopped for a water break and saw a sign that said 5 miles to Boathouse Row. I know that path like the back of my hand from the many times I biked from Penn campus through Fairmount Park to the Wissahickon (which sometimes goes by the Canadian pronunciations of "Wissahixon" or "Wixahixon".)

I thought about it, but decided that would be a ride for another day - maybe leaving from Conshohocken instead of VF. I rode back, did a loop around Valley Forge Park, and discovered that July Fourth festivities were in full swing. I drank a Gatorade while watching Ben Franklin give a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Fun morning.

Distance: 35.2 miles
Elapsed Time: 3:00:17

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kent County Bike Ride, 6/22/17

I mentioned that I now have a bicycle and that I had last week off from work. On the Tuesday, I went out for a morning ride on the Chester Valley Trail. It was a beautiful cool sunny morning, and I had a blast. I always loved riding, and it felt great to be pedaling again. So I thought about a more ambitious ride, and quickly decided on a ride at the river.

First, I wanted to see the progress (if any) on the house rebuild, and second, it's my favorite place to ride. Thursday was free, the forecast was good, and Darling Wife wanted to ride down with me (not to cycle, to visit with her friend KB who lives full-time in Kentmore.)

We enjoyed the drive on a beautiful day, meandering down through the back roads of Chester County, then the back roads of Cecil and Kent Counties. Arriving at the river, we were a little disappointed that framing had not started - though the foundation was complete and ready for framing.

Crossing the Chester River at Crumpton
It was a little before noon when I saddled up and hit the road. My tentative plan was to do one of my favorite loops - 444 straight across 213 to Chesterville, cross the Chester River at Crumpton, make a right on 544, and follow it until it hits 213 south of Chestertown, then 213N back to 444. That's somewhere over 30 miles, and seemed like a ride I could do. And if I couldn't, for whatever reason, I'd have a cell phone with me and could ask DW for a bail-out.

The ride went exactly as planned. The day was sunny and hot - probably low 90's - but not humid. I knew I was getting a lot of sun, even being heavily sun-screened. But it felt great - great to be pedaling through the pretty rural countryside, great to feel the sun and breeze, great to experience the smells and the sounds.

My legs weren't a problem at all. I felt great during the ride, and (surprisingly) didn't stiffen up later or the next day. I did try to shift positions regularly, as I did start to feel the beginnings of some numbness in both my butt and my hands.

As I came out of Chestertown heading for home, I contemplated making the ride longer. I could make a left on 297 and go up to Worton and Kent County H.S. Or I could take 561 to Still Pond and through to Betterton. But in the end, I decided that I'd had enough sun, and that it was already a good long ride.

It was a blast, and I can't wait to do more like it.

Total miles: 34.5
Elapsed time: 2:53

Friday, June 30, 2017

Music Misc Updates

There's so much going on I don't know where to begin. I each of these points could easily be its own post, but at the rate I'm blogging, I'd better summarize things in one post.

Concert Band
This continues to be more fun than I would have believed. I like everything about it - I like the people, I like the music, I love playing the upright, and we're gigging regularly at community events and old folks homes. Brother Chris is becoming pretty well-known among the band as my helper, and he gets a greeting and a hug from DM at every gig.

We gig now and again, including tonight. We've added some new songs, including two from an album I just about ground into dust in the late 70's, but had never had the pleasure of playing before.

We've picked up an additional place to play. Our Mother's Day afternoon gig outside on the patio was a big success, and we've been asked to come back once a month.

Acoustic Duo
Darling Wife and I are still playing, and we played two songs at Bud's most recent open mic. Great fun.

Instruments kind of go in cycles for me, and I'm on a big guitar focus now. Fiddle has taken a back seat for the moment, and even the upright bass (unless I'm getting ready for a gig.) I'm playing a *lot* of guitar, both acoustic and electric (which had lagged for a while.) I really can't play enough, and I feel like my playing has made a real leap. Of course it could be only in my mind, but it's self-reinforcing - you feel like you're making progress, so you want to play more, etc.

Joe Bonamassa

I've become a big fan of guitarist Joe Bonamassa. If you like guitar, what's not to like - the man is a virtuoso player. I'll say I'm not exactly a huge fan of his music - it's good, but it doesn't set me on fire. If you go onto YouTube and look at his live performances, you'll see jaw-dropping playing. But what I really like are the videos of him talking about guitar and about his gear. He seems like a personable nerdy guy who's obsessed with guitar playing and guitars and gear.

A YouTube clip I've watched a few times is "Welcome To Nerdville: Inside Joe Bonamassa's Museum and Vintage Guitar Collection." Yes, he calls his house Nerdville. And as for his collection - holy smokes. Here's a classic quote at the 9:33 mark:
Hi, my name is Joe, and I'm a guitar addict. This is what happens when addiction coupled with a modicum of success in the music business meets and there's no authority figure to say "no" and "please stop."
I also enjoy his Instagram account a lot. Pictures and short video clips of whatever guitar he's playing at the moment, pics from his travels, etc. Again, just a personable and real guy who loves guitars.

My kind of guy.