Long Hot Summer Days

This seemed like an appropriate tune to feature on a weekend when the temperatures have approached 100 degrees, and the heat index is off the charts.

I’ve loved Sara Watkins’ version of this John Hartford tune since she released it on a solo album.  Here she plays it with her old band mates from Nickel Creek.

Sara Watkins

Sara Watkins at Red Wing Roots Festival 2015

If you want to hear Sara play this by herself, with a little Hartford-like foot-tapping rhythm thrown in, take a look here.

Enjoy…and stay cool.

More to come…

DJB

Rainbows, Moon Shots, and Wild Walk-Offs

Nats Rainbow

Rainbow at Nats Stadium – proving it is a beautiful evening for baseball

In the past eight days I’ve been to Nats Park three times.  And each game has been wacky and wonderful, in its own way.

I wrote about the “Rainbow” game in the title last Sunday, when my friend Dolores McDonagh and I watched Tanner Roark (our #4 starter) pitch masterfully for eight shutout innings, and Stephen Drew (remember that name) come in and smash three doubles to contribute to the win.  So what does Drew do for an encore?  Immediately catches some sort of flu and is out of action for six straight days.  (But keep remembering that name.)

I also took one of my older score books to the game last Saturday.  In looking through that book at the clinching game in 2012 (for the division title), and some other 2014 games, it brought back good memories of even-numbered years for this ball club.  A nice start to the week.

On Wednesday, Andrew and I met at Nats Park after work to catch the Nats vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Since our Claire has moved to LA, she has gone over to the dark side, so we promised to troll her from the game.

And it didn’t take long for the Nats to strike – and for us to get in our gloating texts to Claire.

In the first inning, Bryce Harper hit a tater that almost landed in the Navy Yard.  He scorched a home run into the far upper deck down the right field line that got everyone excited.  It was the first of four home runs in what was an 8-1 Nats rout of the Dodgers.

But surprisingly, Harper’s moon shot wasn’t the most exciting play of the game.

That honor belonged to Trea Turner, who stole home when Danny Espinosa was caught in a run down between first and second.  Turner inched down the line and then turned on the afterburners.  The park went wild.

Andrew and I almost went hoarse from chanting N-A-T-S Nats! Nats! Nats! Woo!!  (We do sit in section 313.)  Gio even pitched well and got the win.  It was the club’s first win since last Saturday, my last day in the park.  Maybe I was on to something.

So when I arrived at Nats Park last evening on the hottest day of the summer (heat index somewhere north of 100 degrees), and with the Nats having lost on Thursday and Friday, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My friend Rich Turner joined me and I brought along another old score book that I had “semi-retired” because it wasn’t very good at recording wins.

Score Book getting ready to go to the trash

(By the way, I did rescue this from the trash…which enabled me to use it last evening.)

Mad Max Scherzer pitched another masterful game, with 10 swinging strikeouts against the Padres in seven innings – striking out the side in his final inning. His only flaw (natch) was giving up a 2-run homer in the first. But the Nats offense went missing for much of the game, with Bryce Harper having an especially difficult game.  I turned to a fellow fan who was scoring the game in the 8th and said that at least Bryce couldn’t get the third out in this inning – since he was up second in the order.  (Bryce had made the final out in his first three plate appearances, each time with men on base.)

After Jonathan Papelbon escaped a ninth-inning mess of his own making (natch), the bottom of the 9th arrived with the bottom third of the order in line to hit.  Luckily, that includes Anthony Rendon, who lashed a solid single to put the winning run on base with no outs.  Danny Espinosa struck out (reverting to his former bad habits).  Next Stephen Drew (remember that name) – available for the first time in six games due to that flu – pinch-hit in Papelbon’s spot.  All he did was mash a triple off the wall between center and right, bringing a streaking Rendon home with the walk-off win.

Three-for-three.  What a wacky, wonderful week.

Do the Nationals want to give me free season tickets?  I have the score book to vouch for my good luck!

Score book walk-off

Score Book for the walk-off

Go Nats!

More to come…

DJB

It’s a Beautiful Day for Baseball

Baseball(Editor’s Note:  Before I begin this post, I want to wish my sister Debbie Brown Crocker a wonderful 60th birthday today.  She’s the best.  Period.  Debbie has a wonderful spirit – just like our Mom – and holds the family together in ways large and small now that both our parents have passed away.  Have a great day, Debbie.  Love you – DJB.  Now, back to the regularly scheduled entry into the More to Come… online journal.)

Just before the beginning of each Nationals baseball game, the announcer booms, “It’s a beautiful day for baseball.”  It doesn’t matter if it is 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity.  Or if you’ve just endured a 71 minute rain delay, as was the case last evening at the old ballpark.  Our Nats take the “any day at the ballpark is a great day” approach to life.  And hey, I’ll buy it.

Last evening, our home field announcer may have even known what he was talking about.  After a severe thunderstorm (we had hail in Silver Spring), the air cleared out, the humidity dropped, a slight breeze kicked in, and…it was beautiful.

Oh, and we had a fantastic double rainbow to enjoy for about 15 minutes over the right field/first base stands.

See, even God is a baseball fan.  She loves it and wanted to add her handiwork last evening.

Nats Rainbow

Rainbow at Nats Stadium – proving it is a beautiful evening for baseball

I haven’t written much about the Nats this year, because – frankly – I haven’t wanted to jinx them.  They snuck in a bit under the radar (if that’s possible for a team that has won its division two years out of the past four).  The Cubs and Mets were all the rage.  The Cubs are good, but wake me up when they win something.  And hey, I told you last year that the Mets were going to rue the day (year) they burned out all those promising young arms.  If you want the exact quote, here’s what I wrote during Game 1 of last year’s World Series:

Let me see, where have I heard, “This is a talented young team with a great pitching staff who will be good for a long, long time”?  Oh yeah, that would be the Nationals.  Be careful, Mets.  Stuff happens.

But the Nats have played more consistently than the Cubs, and yes indeed stuff has happened to the Mets.  No gloating…it was just as plain as the nose on your face.

Last evening was a perfect example of why the Nats are doing so well.  Their #4 starter – Tanner Roark – just pitched 8-plus innings of 5-hit shutout baseball, and the bullpen did its job in the 9th.  Daniel Murphy – the MVP of the first half in all of baseball in my opinion – is nursing a sore leg, so his replacement – Stephen Drew – only comes in and hits three doubles.  Zimmerman is out (again) with an injury, and his replacement – Clint Robinson – is mashing the ball.  Only a diving catch by the stellar Pirates outfield kept him from breaking open the game earlier in the evening.  Danny Espinosa is finally playing the position he was made for, and his hitting and aggressiveness on the base paths have been something to behold.  Anthony Rendon, who has been so-so this year, clobbered a home run.  All-Star Wilson Ramos should start doing Lasik surgery commercials.  If Bryce ever starts playing like BRYCE, watch out.  Strasburg and Roark have stifled a red-hot Pirates team, and today they get to face Scherzer (just another National League All-Star).  This is fun.

But remember, it is only July.  Things can happen.  Injuries definitely happen.  (We’re only a Ramos trip to the DL to having José Lobatón – of the .191 batting average – behind the plate every day.)  So I’ll enjoy what we have now, and see what happens.

Anyway, I have two games this week – one with Andrew to see the Dodgers.  (We’re going to troll our Dodgers fan Claire during the game!)

It’s a beautiful day for baseball!  Indeed!

Go Nats!

More to come…

DJB

Red Wing Roots Music Festival 2016 (Or “Thank God for Sierra Hull”)

Sierra Hull

Sierra Hull at Red Wing Roots Music Festival – July 8, 2016

Everybody experiences growing pains.  Even music festivals.

2016 was the fourth year for the Red Wings Roots Music Festival held in the beautiful Natural Chimneys Park in Mt. Solon, Virginia.  Hosted by the Steel Wheels, this regional Americana and roots music gathering in the Shenandoah Valley has been eclectic from the beginning, and not all the musical acts have been of the same quality.  But the festival had maintained a nice balance between audiences that were there to party and have a good time and for those who came to listen to some of the country’s best acoustic musicians. (Chris Thile, Sam Bush, I’m With Her, Tim O’Brien, Jon Jorgenson, Claire Lynch, Sarah Jarosz, Del McCoury, and Darrell Scott all showed up over the first three years.)

But with the ominous warning on the front page of this year’s festival guide that there would be more “plugged in and turned up” bands, a shift was clearly underway.  Friday’s lineup confirmed that approach…and the balance between the different audience shifted.  Not for the better.

I can take electric guitars and drums with my roots music, but the result better be worth it.  We arrived on Friday in time to catch the end of what appeared to be an energetic set from Front Country, with spirited vocals from Melody Walker.  Our real goal was to hear the full set of mandolin phenom turned thoughtful adult musician Sierra Hull.

Sierra Hull at Red Wing 2016

Sierra Hull with Justin Moses at Red Wing 2016

I’ve heard Hull play over the years at Merlefest, beginning in her mid-teens, and she always had the chops to play amazing bluegrass and traditional music. She was the first bluegrass musician to win a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music.  Her first album post-Berklee hinted at some new directions, but it wasn’t until the recently released Weighted Mind (produced by Bela Fleck) that she came into her own and broke away from the “I can play incredibly fast and clean bluegrass” camp.

At Red Wing on Friday, she and bassist Ethan Jodziewicz (recommended by no less a talent than Edgar Meyer) displayed her stripped down music, often featuring just the mandolin or octave mandolin and bass in songs and tunes both beautiful and complex.  The duo was expanded on about a third of the set to include dobro and banjo player Justin Moses, which allowed Hull to showcase more of her traditional chops (on the tune “Bombshell” for instance, which closed out the set).  Her “Black River” video is a great example of the direction of her new work.

Hull’s 75 minute set was the highlight on Friday, which was otherwise filled with forgettable music (with the exception of Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens).  The biggest disappointment was The Steep Canyon Rangers, who have left their smartly crafted bluegrass songs to become a noisy party jam band.  Too loud, too much smoke, too many flashing lights, too much dancing around the stage by the fiddle player.  Please.

So expectations were low for Saturday.  Thankfully, the musicians more than beat that low bar.

Don Flemons

Don Flemons at Red Wing 2016

First up was Don Flemons.  A founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Flemons was the consummate old-time entertainer in the style of Uncle Dave Macon and other pre-WWII acts.  His work digs…

…deeply into ragtime, Piedmont blues, spirituals, southern folk music, string band music, jug band music, fife and drum music, and ballads idioms with showmanship and humor, reinterpreting the music to suit 21st century audiences.

He had the crowd in the palm of his hand after the first song and never let up.

Don Flemons at Red Wing 2016

Don Flemons wows the crowd with his brand of old-time music

So that was a satisfying start to what ended up being a very nice day of music.

The next true revelation was Mipso, a North Carolina tradition-based band that writes and sings very smart songs with contemporary themes.  Mipso’s four members – Jacob Sharp (mandolin), Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (bass), and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle) – sing beautiful harmonies around intricate tunes and rhythms.

Mipso 2016

Mipso at Red Wing 2016

In both theme and temperament, the (band’s recent) album finds an interplay between the sunrise and the twilight – a tug-of-war that’s itself an old-time tradition. From “Eliza,” a lively waltz-time romp, to “Bad Penny,” a surrealist dream sequence with an Abe Lincoln cameo, the album revels in the seesaw spectrum of experience and memory, where technicolor carnival hues blend with grown-up sadness and the whispers of ghosts. Mipso’s color palette, like its soundscape, is radically inclusive.

“We come from a place where traditional music is a living, changing thing,” fiddle player Libby Rodenbough said. “So we feel like having an ear for all kinds of stuff is not only true to ourselves, it’s a nod to the tradition.”

Take a listen to “Bad Penny” and you’ll get a feel for the dark Southern Americana where this band – playing music that sounds like the 1920s and 1930s but with themes as relevant as today’s headlines – resides.  (And to keep the surreal vibe going, it is recorded in a Colorado canibas factory.)

 

 

Chris Smither

Chris Smither

 

Tony Furtado

Tony Furtado at Red Wing 2016

The rest of the day’s music continued at this high level.  Chris Smither combined wonderful fingerstyle guitar with well-written songs (and a beautiful cover of “Sitting on Top of the World”).  Multi-instrumentalist Tony Furtado – supported by mandolinist extraordinaire Matt Flinner – had the crowd in awe of his instrumental talents, especially on slide guitar.  And finally, the host for the festival – The Steel Wheels – put on their usual high energy show and added a few friends to the mix.

Hull and Moses

Sierra Hull and Justin Moses trade dobro and octave mandolin licks at Red Wing 2016

We headed out satisfied, thanks to Saturday’s wonderful music (and Sierra Hull’s beautiful set on Friday).  Let’s hope that for the 5th Red Wing Roots Festival next July, we’ll see fewer plugged in bands and more of the incredibly talented acoustic  musicians who have made this such a wonderful way to spend a summer weekend.

More to come…

DJB

Gratitude Turns What We Have Into ENOUGH

Kefa Cafe

Kefa Cafe in Silver Spring, MD

Among the institutions in our community of Silver Spring, few are beloved as much as a small coffee shop run by two sisters who left Ethiopia in the 1980s to escape violence and political upheaval.  Lene and Abeba Tsegaye – with the help of their brother – established Kefa Café in 1996.  In a recent Washington Post article celebrating the reopening of the shop after a fire, Lena said the two sisters,

“…wanted their independent coffee shop to be a place where people talked to each other, not just another cafe where people buried their noses in laptops.” There is no WiFi at Kefa, named for the southwestern Ethiopia province where, the 9th-century legend goes, a goat herder named Kaldi saw his animals become so energized after eating coffee beans they couldn’t sleep.  “There is a history about coffee,” Abeba said. “It’s not just about getting caffeinated. People make big decisions around coffee.”

The title comes from a sign they recently posted in their window, in celebration of their 20th anniversary in Silver Spring.  I love that thought: Gratitude turns what we have into enough.  These two sisters – who endured 200-mile treks across deserts and waist-high grass to escape political violence, entry into a new country as immigrants, and a fire that closed their shop for months – have taught so many of us who know them well or on just a casual basis about what gratitude really means.

They also posted another sign with a quote about gratitude from an inspirational writer:

“When we become more fully aware that our success is due in large measure to the loyalty, helpfulness, and encouragement we have received from others, our desire grows to pass on similar gifts.  Gratitude spurs us on to prove ourselves worthy of what others have done for us.  The spirit of gratitude is a powerful energizer.” – Wilferd A. Peterson

Gratitude is more than simply saying thank you, but that’s a good place to start.

Abeba at Kefa Cafe

Abeba’s welcoming smile at Kefa Cafe

Thanks to Lene and Abeba for being you. Thanks for a country that welcomes others to its shores to share in its freedom and bounty. Thanks, as well, to each of you, dear readers, for your interest and support.  Have a wonderful July 4th weekend.

More to come…

DJB

Acoustic Music is Alive and Well

Christ Thile

Chris Thile of The Punch Brothers at Red Wing 2015

“When you go to heaven and hear singing, it will sound like these three women.”

So opined Chris Thile after the Americana trio I’m With Her finished a short yet moving set in the first half of an incredible three hours of music last evening at the Kennedy Center.  The concert hall’s acoustics were ringing all evening as the sold out crowd not only enjoyed the beautiful harmonies from I’m With Her’s Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, but also the instrumental talents and music-making of mandolinist extraordinaire Thile and the Punch Brothers, along with Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyers, virtuosi of the banjo and upright bass respectively.

The Kennedy’s Center policy against photography leaves me using old photos from other concerts, but that hardly matters. The music was the focus last evening.

Thile was invited to curate a four-day American Acoustic Music Festival, and Friday evening’s show was clearly the headliner.  The Punch Brothers  opened the first half of the show with a tight set capped by the raucous Rye Whiskey.  I’m With Her followed, with a beautiful set of tunes with interwoven harmonies that belied the fact that this group hasn’t played together for much of this year. Finally Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyers closed out the first half of the show by demonstrating the musicality, technique, and compositional skills that made them the trailblazers they are in this genre. (And yes, there were jokes throughout the evening about first playing with people when they were eight.)

 

Bela Fleck

Bela Fleck, performing at Merlefest, 2012

The generous 90-minute second half featured collaborations among all the musicians, and that was when the magic was really made.  Fleck joined the Punch Brothers to kick off that half with one of Bela’s tunes from the influential 1980s album Drive, featuring the first of numerous delicious twin banjo romps between Fleck and the incredible Noam Pikelny.

Punch Brothers

Noam Pikelny

Virtually every tune in the second half was a highlight, beginning with Meyer and Fleck joining the Punch Brothers to play Blue Men of the Sahara, their composition from Strength in Numbers: The Telluride Sessions – an album that helped transform acoustic string music in the 1980s. O’Donovan and Jarousz took turns singing striking leads with the Punch Brothers. Fleck and Gabe Witcher played a wonderful banjo/fiddle duet in honor of Dr. Ralph Stanley – the last of the original triumvirate of bluegrass (Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs) – who passed away the night before.  (That led Pikelny to quip that Stanley’s death led to the crash of the entire world economic order.)

Watkins, Jarosz, and O'Donovan

Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan at Red Wing Roots Music Festival on July 11, 2015

As the night came to a close, Sara Watkins led the entire crew in the first of several encores – John Hartford’s Long Hot Summer Days. Three tunes – and many more moments of high musicianship and amazing technique later – Chris Thile and his friends left everyone satisfied.

And I’ll leave you with a John Hiatt tune – Crossing Muddy Water – that was played last evening by I’m With Her.  Enjoy!

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road (The Celebrity Sighting – Obscure Music – Edition)

Aoife O'Donovan at Red Wing

Aoife O’Donovan

I have been on the road forever it seems.  So here are a few “Observations from the road…” posts which are – as always advertised – quirky and perhaps not ready for prime time.  You’ve been warned.

Celebrity Stalking:  True story.  As I was walking through National Airport earlier this afternoon following a flight back from Chicago, I noticed two young ladies carrying cases for a guitar and mandolin.  I had been focused on getting something for a late lunch before rushing to the office, but my brain did engage to the point where I said to myself, “That sure looked like Aoife O’Donovan – and I bet that was Sarah Jarosz with her.”

At this point you may be asking yourself, just who are Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz?

Well, for music lovers who veer away from the Taylor Swift variety of music, they are two-thirds of one of the most terrific – yet widely unheralded – music groups today:  I’m With Her. (And no, they are not connected to the Hillary Clinton campaign.  They’ve had the name for a couple of years.)  Sara Watkins – known to most as the female fiddle player and singer in Nickel Creek – is the third member of the group, and they gave a terrific performance last year at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival.

I quickly turned into the celebrity stalker, following them down the escalator towards ground transportation.  As they were headed into the women’s restroom (I’m not making this up), I called out “Ladies!”  Aoife, who was trailing, turned back, and I caught up and said, “I’m so looking forward to your Kennedy Center concert tomorrow night.”

Jarosz and O'Donovan

Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan at Red Wing 2015

She smiled and asked if I was on her flight.  I told her no, that I had just seen the two of them walking through the airport and wanted to let her know how much I enjoyed her music.  We exchanged pleasantries for 30 seconds or so, then I turned to catch my cab.  I refrained from saying that her “Oh Mama!” is the first song on my playlist about half the mornings when I listen to music while walking or exercising.

When I was a barmaid you were my mead
When I was a brave knight you were my steed
When I was so lonesome I wanted to cry
you came to me in the night…
You cried oh mama sing me a love song
pour me some bourbon and lay me down low
and ooh baby my poor heart is breaking
I feel the ground shaking right under my feet just put me to sleep

I’m With Her is playing with Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, plus Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer on Friday evening at the Kennedy Center.  I’ve had my tickets for weeks.  Should be a terrific show.

The Humidity Tour (or perhaps The Whiskey Tour):  In the past two weeks I’ve traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, Houston, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois – with a couple of brief stints in Washington thrown in the middle. Just about every one of those cities experienced major thunderstorms or otherwise violent weather while I was there. One of my colleagues quipped that I was on “The Humidity Tour!”  After about 145% humidity in Houston on Tuesday (only a slight exaggeration), I agree.  Perhaps some band would like to take up that for the name of their next jaunt around the South.

I’ve also been fortunate to find a few good bourbon bars while on this tour.  The best was probably Husk in Charleston (thanks to colleague Greg Kidwell for the recommendation).  Edgar’s Proof and Provision at the Georgian Terrace Hotel (across from the Fox Theatre) in Atlanta wasn’t bad. And while Andrew and Candice made plans to take me to Jack Rose here in DC for Father’s Day, a freak power outage changed those plans.  We’re scheduled to return on this coming Sunday, and with 2,687 bottles of whiskey on the wall, I can’t wait!

A Walk-Off for #20:  While in Houston, I took advantage of an Astros home stand to visit number 20 of the 30 Major League Baseball ballparks in my quest to see them all.  Minute Maid Park is a relatively new park in downtown Houston (and surprisingly urban in feel) with a retractable roof and excellent sightlines for baseball.  (That roof was needed on Tuesday evening.  Did I mention the humidity?)

Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park – Now two-thirds of the way through my MLB ballparks quest!

The Astros were playing the LA Angels – the second time I’ve seen these two teams in the last three weeks.  But where all the fireworks happened in the first inning in Anaheim (with back-to-back jacks by Trout and Pujols), this time the Astros waited until the bottom of the ninth to load the bases and then get a walk-off, two-run single.  It was a great night of baseball, and now I’m two-thirds of the way through my bucket list of MLB ballparks.

To celebrate, let’s pour a bourbon and wrap this up with Aoife’s acoustic version of “Oh Mama!”

More to come…

DJB

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