In Celebration of Elizabeth

Elizabeth  McClung and DJB at Belle Grove 072613(I don’t often use More to Come… for work-related posts, but last Friday evening at the National Trust we celebrated the retirement of a dear friend – Elizabeth McClung – and I wanted to share my admiration for this stalwart of preservation.  I was privileged to speak at Elizabeth’s retirement celebration.  The following are my remarks.)

Leadership comes in many forms.  We all know of the alpha male, Type A personalities who are celebrated as leaders on Wall Street and in the halls of Congress.  These are the types who bark out orders and expect others to follow.

These are the “born leaders” – or so they say.

But there is another type of leadership that is – to my mind – much more effective.  It generally comes from people who learn to be leaders, rather than assume they know it all from birth.  I put more stock in these types of leaders in part because I am reminded of the tale of a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village not unlike nearby Strasburg.  They walked by an old man sitting beside a fence and in a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, “Were any great men or women born in this village?”  “Nope” the old man replied.  “Only babies.”

This other type of leadership is – to paraphrase Jim Rohn – resolute, but not rude.  Humble, but not timid.  Proud, but not arrogant.  Humorous, but without folly.

I want to use my few minutes today to talk about an extraordinary leader who exemplifies these qualities:  our friend and colleague Elizabeth McClung.

Elizabeth and I joined the National Trust just months apart from each other in 1996, and we shared a common connection through our preservation work in the valley town of Staunton, Virginia.

I didn’t know Elizabeth exceptionally well when we were in Staunton, but I have come to know – and admire – her after 17 years of truly effective leadership here at Belle Grove.

Elizabeth is a leader who sees opportunity where others see challenges.  When she arrived at Belle Grove and found the financial systems and computer infrastructure “a little short of adequate” she didn’t balk or complain.  She made her typical light-hearted comment – “We were the mule train on the information highway” – and then set about to fix the problem.

When development threatened the view shed, Elizabeth didn’t fret.  She picked up the phone and spoke with my boss at the time – Richard Moe – and with me and others at the National Trust and told us of her plan for raising the money and buying the land.  At the Trust, we didn’t say yes to every site director who came with a big idea, but in Elizabeth we knew we had a partner – and a leader – who could deliver.

Later, Elizabeth called me with this hare-brained scheme to help birth a National Park like no other…a National Park where the Park Service didn’t own the land!  It was unconventional, but Elizabeth and her colleagues knew that this was just the type of park that was needed here in the Shenandoah Valley and she was certain that Belle Grove could be the lynchpin to making it happen.

She was right of course, and over the course of what seemed like 25 years (but was really only ten) she never gave up, always collaborating with others, always leading in her quiet, humorous, but oh-so-effective way.  And we now celebrate the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park and the stories it tells of our nation’s history.

There are so many ways I could describe Elizabeth’s leadership, but I went to see a number of my colleagues at the National Trust and said, “If you had one word you could use to describe Elizabeth, what would it be?”  And the words just poured out.  Words like:

  •  Joyful
  • Warm
  • Enthusiastic
  • Gracious
  • Collaborative
  •  Visionary
  • Songstress (This had something to do with a ribald, hillbilly West Virginia song that she learned from her family and sang one evening at a site director’s meeting.  I am sure that alcohol was involved!)

I also heard the words:

  • Giving
  • Committed
  • Optimistic

These all describe the Elizabeth I know and have loved working with for 17 years.  But that optimism is the value she brings that I want to remember most about her as she heads into retirement.  Elizabeth can look at any situation and find the path forward…the good in the person…the way to get everyone to make the right choice.

Our National Trust president, Stephanie Meeks, could not be with us today, but she asked me to make a special presentation on her behalf.  It is the President’s Award, and I’ll ask Elizabeth to join me while I read the citation.

In recognition of her nearly 17 years of service as the Executive Director of Belle Grove, Inc., the National Trust honors Elizabeth McClung for her unwavering leadership and enthusiastic embrace of collaboration at our important National Trust Historic Site in Middletown, Virginia.  Under Elizabeth’s guidance, Belle Grove tripled the size of its holdings and entered into a partnership with the National Park Service; achieved great success in fundraising; and firmly established Belle Grove as a community, state, and national treasure.  We will always be grateful for her effusive optimism, well-known throughout the Shenandoah Valley and by her colleagues across the nation, as well as for her extraordinary commitment to Belle Grove and the National Trust.  For these accomplishments and many more, we join the Belle Grove Family in offering Elizabeth McClung our deepest affection and thanks.  Signed:  Stephanie K. Meeks, President

Max DePree is the retired CEO of the furniture and design pacesetter Herman Miller, and through the years I’ve come to appreciate his definition of leadership.  DePree says:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

Elizabeth has always been willing to recognize and define reality.  She always says thank you.  And she is the epitome of the servant leader.

Elizabeth, thank you for being such a terrific leader, colleague, and friend.  And all the best wishes in your retirement from all your friends and colleagues at the National Trust.

More to come…

DJB

Summer Reading 2013: Part 1

The Forest UnseenIt is that time of year again, dear readers, where I have finished a couple of books on my summer reading list and pass along thoughts and recommendations.

First up is the best natural history/science book I’ve read in years.  Now that’s a low bar, because I don’t usually read natural history/science books.  But in this case, with the reviews in, my reading habits don’t really matter as others use the same accolades.

A colleague, who also happens to be an alumnus of The University of the South,  recommended Sewanee professor David George Haskell’s The Forest Unseen:  A Year’s Watch in NatureEver since I finished the book I’ve been meaning to thank George for the suggestion.  This is a gem of a little book.

Haskell’s work is a meditation of a year’s worth of observation on a small patch of old growth forest near Sewanee in Tennessee.  Several reviewers commented that the book is both very modern and very old-fashioned, and I had the same reactions.  As a modern-trained biologist, Haskell’s knowledge of science touches on all the current themes.  Yet he also sounds like the naturalists from the 19th century who were explaining the vast American continent to a new nation.

Haskell’s frame is to visit the same patch of forest throughout the course of one year and to write essays about his observations on specific days.  On May 25th a mosquito lands on his hand and he lets her probe his skin.  He describes what the mosquito does as she hits a blood vessel, what happens to the mosquito as she flies away, and heads into an explanation of malaria that includes the tidbit that the forest is here for the mosquito because it has been protected by the university, which was established – in part – because of malaria.

Like many of the older universities in the East, the school is located on a plateau, away from the swamps the breed malaria and yellow fever.  The cool temperatures and relative freedom of the Tennessee hills from mosquitoes made them an ideal place to send the offspring of the southern gentry. The school  year ran through the summer, allowing students to escape the heat and disease of the cities.

This little excerpt is just a small sample of the way Haskell looks at one part of nature and expands its reach throughout nature and humanity.  But it doesn’t really give a taste of the poetic nature of this book.  How many biologists would write, “When laughing children chase after fireflies, they are not pursuing beetles but catching wonder….” and make you believe that they believe it.  Haskell does, and he goes on to add,

When wonder matures, it peels back experience to seek deeper layers of marvel below.  This is science’s highest purpose.  And the firefly’s story is rich in hidden wonder.  The beetle’s flash invites admiration for evolution’s ability to cobble together a masterpiece from unremarkable raw materials:  the lantern at the tip of the firefly’s abdomen is made from standard-issue insect materials but assembled in such a way that the insect become a glowing forest sprite.

Haskell loves nature, but not at the expense of humanity.  Finding golf balls that have been misplayed from a nearby course into the woods leads to a longer meditation on man’s place in the world.  Instead of removing the golf balls and “tidying” up nature, he decides to leave them.

The impulse to purify might fail on a second, deeper level.  Human artifacts are not stains imposed on nature.  Such a view drives a wedge between humanity and the rest of the community of life. A golf ball is the manifestation of the mind of a clever, playful African primate. This primate loves to invent games to test its physical and mental skill.  Generally, these games are played on carefully reconstructed replicas of the savanna from which the ape came and for which its subconscious still hankers. The clever primate belongs in this world. Maybe the primate’s productions do also….To love nature and to hate humanity is illogical. Humanity is part of the whole. To truly love the world is also to love human ingenuity and playfulness. Nature does not need to be cleansed of human artifacts to be beautiful or coherent. Yes, we should be less greedy, untidy, wasteful, and shortsighted. But let us not turn responsibility into self-hatred. Our biggest failing is, after all, lack of compassion for the world. Including ourselves.

On Christmas Eve, as his year in the forest is nearing an end, Haskell explains what he has done and why.  As is expected by this time, it is thoughtful, lucid, and respectful prose.

This year I have tried to put down scientific tools and to listen: to come to nature without a hypothesis, without a scheme for data extraction, with a lesson plan to convey answers to students, without machines and probes. I have glimpsed how rich science is but simultaneously how limited in scope and in spirit. It is unfortunate that the practice of listening generally has no place in the formal training of scientists.  In this absence, science needlessly fails. We are poorer for this, and possibly more hurtful. What Christmas Eve gifts might a listening culture give its forests?

…My experience of animals is richer for knowing their stories, and science is a powerful way to deepen this understanding….all stories are partly wrapped in fiction – the fiction of simplifying assumptions, of cultural myopia and of storytellers’ pride.  I learn to revel in the stories but not to mistake them for the bright, ineffable nature of the world.

This is a wonderful book.  Read it yourself.  Give it to someone you love.  You’ll both be thankful.

More to come…

DJB

Red Wing Swings

John Jorgenson at Red Wing Festival 2013The sun broke through on Day 2 of the inaugural Red Wing Roots Music Festival just as John Jorgenson hit the stage.

Somewhere, Django Reinhardt was smiling.

Jorgenson’s quintet – channeling the Hot Club of France – displayed an amazing level of musicianship while having a great time in the process as one of the headliners at the Shenandoah Valley’s first Red Wing Roots Music Festival.  Now some may ask how jazz fits into the Americana roots music pantheon, but the European string jazz of Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli from the 1930s had a direct and transformative impact on roots musicians from David Grisman, to Saturday evening’s headliner Sam Bush, to fiddler extraordinaire Mark O’Connor, to mandolin phenom Chris Thile.

Jorgenson’s quintet got to show their chops on Mediterranean Blues, a song written by a Vietnamese-born composer who grew up in England and now lives in Amsterdam.  Every solo was inventive and exhilarating – which is just as true about the songs in Jorgenson’s entire set.

Ana Egge with Sarah Siskind and Members of TSW at Red Wing Festival 2013

Saturday’s music began for us with Staunton native Nathan Moore’s performance on the main stage.  We knew the Moore family a bit when we lived in the Valley, so it was great to hear this young and impressive singer-songwriter who has already won a Telluride Troubadour Award.  His Get Me Off the Chain was dedicated to all the folks (like me) who are not on Facebook. Moore’s songwriting, to quote a friend from Staunton, is seriously good. Ana Egge (photo above, with Sarah Siskind and members of The Steel Wheels) was another new find for us.  Her Hole in Your Halo was just one of a full set of smart songs.

Brooklyn-based Pearl & the Beard were easily the most unique band of the weekend.  Their website description of “three voices, one cello, one guitar, one glockenspiel, one melodica, several drums, one accordion, ninety-six teeth, and one soul” is pretty accurate.  This was one band that Candice and I were still talking about on the ride home on Sunday.

Eilen Jewell at Red Wing Festival 2013

Eilen Jewell, the Queen of the Minor Key, has a fine honky-tonk voice that worked well on Loretta Lynn’s Give Me a Lift.  Her original Bang, Bang, Bang with the tale of Cupid at a Texas gun show really showcased her alt-country sensibilities.

That little cupid, he’s a real sharp shooter
I don’t believe he’s got an arrow and bow
People all think he just couldn’t be cuter
But I saw him down at the gun show

He appeared to be about two years of age
A really freaky thing to see
He was bragging about his sawed-off six gauge
Hidden right up his tattered sleeve

I asked him if the gun had a sight
How can you hit your mark that way
Little cupid, he just laughed outright
He said I don’t take aim I just bang bang bang
I don’t take aim I just bang bang bang

He fired off a few hot rounds
Right into the sorry crowd
No blood, no gore, no one hit the ground
They all just fell in love
With whoever they happened to be around

It’s funny, till it happens to you
But be sure you stay well out of his way
Love is careless, random and cruel
He don’t take aim he just —
He don’t take aim he just bang bang bang

He don’t take aim he just bang bang bang
He don’t take aim he just bang. Bang. Bang

Well worth a listen.

Steel Wheels on the Main Stage at Red Wing Festival 2013

After a break for supper, we were ready for the main stage set of the host band, The Steel Wheels.  I wondered if I would tire of the group after three performances in three days, but they wear well.  The set was familiar, but the musicianship and energy on their big night as hosts more than carried the day.  The light rain that came and went throughout the evening mostly stayed away during their set, and the crowd was definitely not going to let a little moisture dampen their spirits.

Trent Wagler of The Steel Wheels at Red Wing Festival 2013Earlier in the day a white-haired fellow a couple of years older than me, in a New York Yankees cap and a Tony Rice t-shirt, walked up and said, “I don’t like your hat, but I like that shirt.”  I, of course, had on my Washington Nationals cap and a Sam Bush Band t-shirt.  So I looked him over and said, “The feeling is mutual.”  We laughed, and he said, “Are you prepared to stay awhile?  The last time I saw Sam he played late into the night.” I allowed as how that was my experience as well and off we went – just your two, typical Sam Bush fans.

Sam Bush at Red Wing Festival 2013

It took over 30 minutes for the band set-up, and a number of the festival-goers who came for The Steel Wheels abandoned ship as the light rain continued.  Sam isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (Candice isn’t a fan), but I’ve loved Sammy’s energy, chops, wicked sense of humor, and musical sensibilities since I first saw him in Nashville one summer evening in the early 1970s at the old Exit/In with the first incarnation of The Newgrass Revival (yes, Ebo was playing bass that night) with special guest Vassar Clements.  I had never seen such energy and rock sensibilities fused with bluegrass chops on acoustic instruments, and I became a lifelong fan.

Scott Vestal at Red Wing Festival 2013

Sam opened with the Delmore BrothersFreight Train Boogie – which surprised me a bit until at the end of the tune when he said it was in memory of Doc Watson. Doc single-handedly kept the memory of Alton and Rabon alive through the years, and Freight Train Boogie is considered by some the first rock-n-roll song. Sam was a long-time occasional sideman for Doc, and one of my last full-length concerts I heard Doc play was when he and Sam played the Birchmere a few years ago.

Casey Jones he was a mighty man
But now he’s resting in the promised land
The kind of music he could understand
Was an eight wheel driver under his command

He made the freight train boogie
All the time
He made the freight train boogie
As he rolled down the line


Sam Bush plays Red Wing Festival 2013

Sam’s set included old favorites (Riding That Bluegrass Train; One Love) and “a song by a band that never played this venue” (I’ve Just Seen a Face). Even in the rain, the energy and musicianship were there in abundance.

Gospel Time at Natural Chimneys Park

By Sunday morning when we returned, the sky was blue and the crowd gathered next to the Natural Chimneys that give the park its name was ready for some gospel with the Steel Wheels.  The group and a few friends helped get us all ready for the festival’s final day.

Robin and Linda Williams at Red Wing Roots Festival 2013

The band we most wanted to see on Sunday was long-time Shenandoah Valley (and Prairie Home Companion) favorites Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group.  Robin was recovering from a recent fall and cracked ribs, but he hung in there with the rest of the group and helped put out their own brand of Americana.  (Robin and Linda were Americana before there was an Americana.)  Linda’s voice is still powerful, the two still harmonize like songbirds, and they continue to write terrific songs (like Rolling and Rambling:  The Death of Hank Williams).  Their recent trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville led them to write a song to two of the more iconic instruments in country music:  Maybelle’s Guitar and Monroe’s Mandolin. Forty years into their act (and marriage), Robin and Linda still have a playful sense of humor that – as Garrison Keillor says – is all you need for a good time.

So to go out with that good vibe from a wonderful inaugural Red Wing Roots Music Festival, here are two videos of Robin and Linda: the first from PHC – with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Stuart Duncan as their backing band – singing Rolling and Rambling on New Year’s Eve.  Then enjoy Maybelle’s Guitar and Monroe’s Mandolin.

Long live Red Wing!

More to come…

DJB

Red Wing Takes Flight

Del McCoury Closes Out Day One at Red WingWell, that certainly was a promising start.

Day 1 of the 1st Annual Red Wing Roots Music Festival promised a talented and spirited mix of the roots and branches of American music.  And in spite of gloomy skies and the occasional (and thankfully brief) rain shower, this brand new festival – located deep in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley – pretty much delivered.

The festival is the brainchild of an energetic, talented, and amazingly entrepreneurial (for a bunch of roots music players) band The Steel Wheels, fronted by one of the great voices in Americana music, Trent Wagler.  Candice and I arrived back in our old Valley stomping grounds (we lived for 15 years in nearby Staunton, Virginia) after the soggy drive down from Washington just in time to walk in on the 4 p.m. set of the hosts under the tent at the Carolina Old Time Family Stage.  And given the weather, could The Steel Wheels really begin this festival with any song other than their iconic Rain in the Valley?

This was the song that turned heads at Merlefest 25, and the Red Wing crowd – made up of the band’s many loyal fans and taking up every square inch of the huge tented area – exploded when Wagner took his cymbal stick (or whatever you call that thing he slams on the floor to set the beat) and was joined by Eric Brubaker, Jay Lapp, and Brian Dickel around a single mic for some amazing four-part harmony singing.

The Steel Wheels Kick Off Red Wing 2013

The hosts had a spirited hour-long set, with old favorites (Cluck ‘Ole Hen) and songs from the new album No More Rain. If you haven’t heard The Steel Wheels – on either record or live – both are highly recommended.  This is a terrific band.

The Steel Wheels Sing at Red Wing 2013

When The Steel Wheels finished rockin’ the final number (and Candice turned to me as said, “That feels like a song you end the festival on!” and not just the first of three shows they’ll have this weekend), we scooted across beautiful Natural Chimneys Park to the main stage to hear one of my favorites – the Claire Lynch Band. Claire is one of the originals in bluegrass music and gifted with one of the most beautiful and expressive voices on the scene today.

Claire Lynch and Matt Wingate

Claire is as unpretentious a performer as you’ll see on stage.  (At one point after the group was fumbling around a bit to get itself organized, she turned to the audience and said, “Let us know if we’re getting too slick for you.” Claire’s the antidote to the Dailey and Vincents of the bluegrass world – and in my book that’s a good thing.)  But her songwriting is superb (check out the beautiful Dear Sisters – the title tune from her new album – which is taken from letters written by Civil War soldiers before the Battle of Stones River in my hometown of Murfreesboro). And her band is killer (Matt Wingate’s take on Sting’s She’s Too Good for Me is a highlight). And that voice can do just about anything…from the lick-and-a-promise gospel of Children of Abraham, to the swing of Who Knows What Tomorrow Will Bring, to the hard-core bluegrass of the Osborne Brothers’ Be Alright Tomorrow.  After her too-fast hour-long set, I renewed acquaintances with Claire (my cousin Hershey produced the first Front Porch String Band album and wrote one of her festival favorite songs) and picked up my own signed copy of Dear Sisters. That’s what good festivals are supposed to provide – plenty of space and time for these amazing performers to have a “shake and howdy” with their fans.

Tim O'Brien at Red Wing Roots Festival 2013

In fact, the first person I heard use the shake and howdy turn-of-phrase was the festival’s next performer, multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien.  Performing solo at Red Wing, O’Brien can still sound like a full band as he displays his impressive chops on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle.  But as impressive an instrumentalist and singer as he is, songwriting is where O’Brien really shines in my book.  He worked in originals throughout the set, along with great traditional tunes such the gospel number Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning that he recorded with Darrell Scott several years back.  But his encore is among my favorite tunes of all time, the beautiful Like I Used to Do. 

There was a time when we’d be the last to leave
Watching the sun come up while everyone fell asleep
The music was always loud and I’d smoke and drink too much
Until I’d fall in your arms and into your lovin’ touch
Now as the years roll by, time has reeled me in
I’ve slowed down a notch or two from the way things were then

Those old ways of mine, I’ve left them behind
Those crazy days are through
The only thing I still do like I used to do
Is carry this torch for you…

Simply beautiful.

At the 7 and 8 o’clock hours, we caught a couple of performers that were new to me.  Gregory Alan Isakov had a strong show on the main stage, followed by a loud…but not necessarily to my taste…performance by the band Yarn.  That gave us some time to eat dinner, catch up with long-time friends from Staunton, and buy my raffle ticket. (Yes, I will win that beautiful Huss & Dalton guitar.) And when 9 p.m. rolled around, we were back in our chairs for the kickoff show of the summer reunion tour of The Duhks.

The Duhks at Red Wing Roots Festival 2013

I first heard this Canadian band – in the original incarnation – several years ago at Merlefest.  I’ve heard them off-and-on through the years, and while always strong, this particular line-up has always been a favorite.  Singer Jessee Havey has a voice that fits this energetic and innovative group, and last evening they had the crowd clamoring for more from the traditional jigs all the way through to Death Came a Knockin’. Percussionist Scott Senior adds an especially non-traditional beat to this neo-trad band.  Great show!

Scott Senior of The Dhuks

By 10:30 p.m., the moisture in the air was heavy, but that didn’t faze the wonderful hair – or terrific spirit – of bluegrass master Del McCoury.

Del McCoury at Red Wing Roots Festival 2013

Playing with sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo), Del’s voice sounded a little tired but classic nonetheless.  (A tired Del McCoury beats about 99% of the lead singers in traditional bluegrass on their best days.) Candice had never seen Del’s act, and when he opened his mouth to speak, she turned to me and said, “He sounds like your dad!” which I took as a favorable comparison, since she loves Tom Brown.

Ronnie McCoury at Red Wing Roots Festival 2013

Rob McCoury and Jason Carter at Red Wing Roots Festival 2013

The best place to watch a Del McCoury Band show is up-close and right in front.  There you get the interplay of the musicians – like a finely tuned machine – working that single mic.  Del mugs for the crowd, a fact which is lost in the back rows, and the sound washes over you like a rippling mountain stream.  When Del answered a request and played Richard Thompson’s classic 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, I knew that Day 1 of the first Red Wing Roots Music Festival had been appropriately christened by the master.

I said that Like I Used to Do was a favorite of mine, so I’ll take us out of Day 1 with an old video of the tune featuring a much younger Tim O’Brien (along with much younger versions of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jerry Douglas, and Mark O’Connor).  Enjoy!

More to come…

DJB

How College Students Can Lead to a Wonderful Holiday Weekend

Baseball Prospectus at Politics and ProseWhen a colleague asked about our plans for the upcoming holiday weekend, I told her that Andrew and Claire each had friends from college who were in town and would be staying with us.  I assumed our role was “To stay out of the way.”

Thankfully, I was wrong.  Jason, Jordi, Jackie, Kelsey, Claire, and Andrew were delightful guests and hosts, sharing some of their time with us and also giving Candice and me the space to enjoy our weekend with each other.

We began with our “traditional” July 4th celebrations – and all the twins’ friends joined us (rather enthusiastically, I think).  While the Takoma Park July 4th parade didn’t have quite the pizzazz of a presidential year (I miss the “Mutts for Mitt” floats with dog puppets on top of cars and there wasn’t anything to reach the level of last year’s “precision grill team”), we still had a great time laughing at the floats and enjoying the world music you always hear at our little slice of Haight-Ashbury here in DC.  Afterwards, it was off to our neighborhood pool for the July 4th cookout.  It was my first time at the pool this year, but not the last time for the weekend.  We enjoyed catching up with old friends while the kids all hit the water on a very hot and sunny day.

Claire's July 4th in 2013Afterwards, Claire, Andrew, and their friends all took off to watch the fireworks on the mall with other friends from college – Andrew from the waterfront in Georgetown, and Claire from a roof at George Washington University (see photo of her great vantage point). After dropping them off, Candice and I found one of the few restaurants open on July 4th (a Mexican restaurant) and ate dinner…which we immediately wished we had skipped.  The resulting heartburn put us both on the couch for the evening to watch the fireworks at home.

By Friday we’d recovered and generally had a leisurely day of rest, exercise at the gym, and an early dinner with Jordi and Andrew.  Candice had noted that the Bethesda Big Train – one of our local wooden bat league teams – had a home game that night, and we made the decision to head out for a night of small-town baseball.  As I’ve written before, we love the feel of these league games, so we joined a sell-out crowd of 700+ at Shirley Povich Field for a terrific night of baseball and a tight, 3-2 Big Train win over the Rockville Express.  Both teams wiggled out of bases-loaded jams with less than two outs on a night where pitching and defense were a priority.  As we walked back to the car, I opined that this was the best baseball I had seen all season.  (The Nats are still hovering around .500, although they are just starting to get healthy.)

Saturday morning began bright and early, as Andrew had a singing “gig” at Franklin Knolls.  The team rep had asked if he would sing the National Anthem before the swim meet where the graduating seniors would be recognized.  The four of us went (we let our guests sleep in) and we all had a great time catching up with more old friends from swim team days past.  We even set a dinner date for later in the summer with a family we enjoy but don’t get to see that often.

Then last evening was the icing on the cake of a very rich weekend.  Candice had noticed that the stat geeks from Baseball Prospectus were going to be speaking at Politics and Prose on Saturday.  We went early, I had a seat near the front, and I wallowed in 90 minutes of OPS, “bat missing” pitching prospects, and “five tool” players.  As you can see from the picture at the top, these guys aren’t pretty, but they are smart (and Candice would add “opinionated”). As one P&P regular put it, these guys are the Nate Silver of baseball.  And since Silver started as a stat geek in the sports world, the analogy is apt.  Important points from the BP guys:  they haven’t given up on the Nats this year, they don’t think Harp is as good as Mike Trout (and they think that the O’s Manny Machado, who turned 21 yesterday, will soon be added to that list of phenoms), and most of them are picking the Cardinals and Tigers for the World Series.  Candice and I came home and brought out the steamed crabs we’d picked up late in the afternoon for a good old-fashioned Maryland crab feast with Jason and Claire, followed by a trip to Dolci Gelati in Takoma Park to cleanse our palettes.

Today will be for relaxing, catching up, our 5:30 service at St. Albans, and then dinner with Jordi, Andrew, and Claire.  But I was reminded once again of how much I enjoy being with our children when – after dropping Jason off for the bus ride back to NYC – Claire and I enjoyed a Starbucks and the ride home talking about life.  When the subject dipped into the environment, Claire spoke passionately about why corn-fed cattle made no sense from an environmental, animal rights, or health care perspective and she went into all the reasons to feed cows grass – which they can actually digest without the use of chemicals!  I was reminded of the “Grass is Good” sign at our friend Julie’s wonderful Evensong Farm which – when placed next to the bluegrass band featuring Julie’s dad Tom Gray and the late Mike Auldridge, had a terrific double meaning.

Off to a busy four days this week before Candice and I leave on Friday for three days of “Good Grass” at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival near Staunton.

Happy Independence Day holiday everyone!

More to come…

DJB

Bluegrass in the Barn 101010 019