Friday, December 15, 2017

Earliest Memory...

...of a Historical Event

I saw a question posed somewhere online, asking what's the earliest memory you have of a historical event?

I have some hazy memories of the apartment we lived in at Drexelbrook (and moved out of in the fall of '67 when I was 3), but that doesn't count. Thinking about historical events, I came up with two contenders.

I have a crystal clear memory of the Apollo 11 moon landing. That was the most exciting thing in the world to a 5-year-old boy in July 1969. I remember the rocket launch and the moon landing on July 20. We watched the lunar landing on TV at the river, and I was completely entranced. The next thing was Neil Armstrong walking on the moon - but that was many hours after the landing (which I think happened in the early evening), and I simply could not will myself to stay awake. I was so disappointed that I missed it.

But I have another clear memory, and Google tells me it was months before Apollo 11, on March 30, 1969. We had come home from somewhere, and my parents turned on the TV. Horses were pulling a cart, and on the cart was a box wrapped in an American flag. My mom explained that it was Eisenhower's funeral (commander of the Allied armies in WWII, and President of the U.S. 1952-60.) I watched for a few minutes, then lost interest and wandered away.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Strings

One of the best things about the holiday season is the music, and I was fortunate enough to be able to play in two Christmas events this weekend.

Friday night was a local company's annual charity event - a Christmas party for local underprivileged children. A friend of mine works for the company and is in change of the music for the evening, and he asked if I'd be interested in playing fiddle. Of course I was.

Darling Wife and a few ladies were recruited to sing. One rehearsal (and some intensive practice by myself here in the basement) and we were ready to go.

It went great and was a pleasure to be a part of. A lot of kids and their families came through. There was pizza and gifts and crafts and Santa - and festive music.



Moving from fiddle to string bass, this afternoon was the first of three holiday concerts by the concert band. We played at the local V.A. hospital, where we've played twice before this year.

It was fun and went well, and I think the patients appreciate the chance to listen to music for an hour. We'll play the concert again next Sunday in a local church, which should be an interesting acoustic challenge.

Here's a pic from my vantage point as the band warms up a few minutes before the concert began.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Tom Petty, RIP

I was shocked, as I think everyone was, by Tom Petty's recent passing. He was relatively young at 66, no apparent health issues, and had just finished a long 40th anniversary tour.

I wouldn't call myself a *fanatic* TP fan, but I've been a casual fan since 1978 or '79. I remember the last day of school (probably 8th grade, June 1978). A few of went to a friend's house, and we played some albums in the basement. An album that was new to me was Petty's second record, "You're Gonna Get It", and I loved the songs "I Need To Know" and "Listen To Her Heart".

He broke big the next year with "Damn The Torpedoes", which is an absolute classic. I can still listen to it beginning to end today. The following summer (1980), a few us went to see him in concert at the Spectrum. That was the only time I saw him live.

I lost interest in him as the 80's went on - he had some big MTV hits that didn't really do it for me. He continued to have radio hits, which I liked well enough. But never enough to buy a CD or go to a concert.

In the last few years, I've discovered some of his songs that I *really* love. "You Wreck Me" and "Mary Jane's Last Dance." Last summer, in Breakfall's latest bout of "we should add some new songs to our setlist", I suggested "You Wreck Me", and we've played it at a couple of gigs.

When I look up the chords to a Tom Petty song, my first reaction is usually, "wow, how simple." Which I mean as praise, not as a slight. Like CCR's John Fogerty, it just amazes me how they can take the most basic chords that you learn in your first months of playing, and make really interesting songs out of them.

As I've listened to more Tom Petty in the last few years, I continue to be impressed with lead guitarist Mike Campbell. He doesn't have a "guitar god" reputation, but he's just fantastic. He doesn't play pyrotechnics, he plays appropriate fills and leads for the song. When I listen to a song, or even more so, a live clip, I always try to pay attention to what he's doing, and it's usually interesting. (Also, his rig rundown is guitar porn at its finest.)

So he's gone at 66, and RIP. I didn't realize how many of his songs I hear all the time. Just a guy you took for granted would always be there.

Here's my favorite live clip, with a couple minute break in the middle featuring a killer Mike Campbell lead.

Friday, November 24, 2017

"In My World"

...or "Reasons Why I Love YouTube, part 1003"

One of my favorite songs, and one that I never really felt comfortable playing, is the Moody Blues "In My World". Gorgeous song, and the chords are easy. A-D-A7. But the switch is so quick and awkward with the first-position chords that I always felt like I missing something. That *can't* be how he actually plays it.

Tonight I was thinking about it, and I got the bright idea to see if there are any live clips of the song. There's just one - of Justin Hayward playing it solo on a 12-string guitar. Jackpot.

Ten seconds later, mystery pretty much solved. He goes up the neck.

Well goddamn. That never would have occurred to me.

Could I find a tab to verify the specifics? I could, here.

I'm not sure this is 100% accurate, but it's pretty close. Close enough for my purposes. I now feel like I can play the song - and we'll see what it sounds like with Darling Wife singing it.

God I love YouTube.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Folk Fest: Recap

(Almost three months have now passed since Fest, and life is rushing on while the blog has stayed dormant. This will either be the first in a  flurry of posts, or one pathetic trickle.... But here goes.)

Volunteering for the whole week (obviously) gave me a vastly different perspective. When the gates opened to the camping public on Thursday morning, I'd been working for for solid days, and my work was just about over. I was sad to have missed the land rush at 10am when the gates open.

From that point, I was able to enjoy Fest - music at the various stages all day, jamming into the wee hours. I had my guitar, mandolin, and fiddle with me, and played them all. Our site attracts some good musicians, and it was a pleasure to play with some very talented folks. We didn't lack for good food, good drink, and good friends.

The music on stages was maybe the best ever, top to bottom. The headliner names may not have blown the casual music fan away, but the quality was uniformly outstanding.The names you would recognize were great, and 100 artists that most people have never (and will never) hear of, were great. The biggest name was Graham Nash, who played with an electric guitarists accompanying him. I'll admit to being pleasantly surprised that he still has his voice (in his 70's). I could easily name 20 acts that I absolutely loved, but I'll just mention Sierra Hull (who's a *monster* mandolin player, singer, and songwriter - and in her early 20's...you can only shake your head) and local trio Ladybird.


After threatening to be a mud-fest, it wasn't...quite. Yes, the ground was soggy in most places, and downright gooey mud in spots, it wasn't the total mud-fest we've heard about in legend (and from YouTube clips.) But it was enough to keep Darling Wife, who has some mobility issues, away for about half of fest. Her absence meant that I didn't do as much late-night campground exploring as in other years, as that's something we did together. I mostly stayed at home at Buddha Shebang (which is no hardship.)

I did have one last bit of work to do. Sunday night at the close of the evening concert, we tore down the merch tent. What took 4+ days to set up came down in 3 hours of hard work. Then, post-midnight, it was back to camp for some toasts and some more jamming.


Monday morning was pack up and go home, which was a few more hours of hot sweaty work. I got home just in time for the solar eclipse, only I was so exhausted that I fell into bed and napped the afternoon away. Ah well, there will be more in my lifetime...won't there...?

Anyway, Folk Fest '17 is in the books as a complete success. Can't wait til next year!

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.