Remembering Doc Watson

Doc Watson at Merlefest 25 in 2012I know when I’ve been inspired by a performer or a piece of music…I change the strings on my guitars. Since hearing a wonderful Tim O’Brien remembrance of the late Doc Watson, I’ve got brand new strings on two of my guitars.  It’s that good.

Friday evenings I’ll often ramble through YouTube videos, starting with a musician I enjoy and seeing where the recommendations take me.  More times than not, I will find a video or two that opens up a new perspective on a well-known performer.  Such was the case last evening.

I’ve always enjoyed Tim O’Brien, seeing him live most recently at this summer’s Red Wing Roots Festival.  But until I heard this video from a 2012 Kennedy Center performance, I didn’t know that Doc was his musical hero – although the news wasn’t much of a shock.  I believe it was Bill Clinton who said – when giving Doc the National Medal of Arts award – that every baby boomer who picked up an acoustic guitar tried, at some point, to emulate Doc’s playing.

In this 13 minute “Talking Doc Watson Deep River Blues,” O’Brien expands on a blog post he wrote for his website all the while playing the signature Delmore Brothers’ Deep River Blues that Doc made his own.  O’Brien – a wonderful songwriter – packs whimsy and wisdom into this story of stopping by Doc’s house a few months before Doc died.  It is another take on Doc’s amazing legacy.

And I totally get the desire to sit down and talk with Doc for an afternoon – a desire that O’Brien acted upon even in the face of a North Carolina snowstorm.  Several years ago, a former colleague (who thankfully was a colleague for only a short period of time), asked me that stupid parlor game question of “Who would you like to have for dinner if you could pick anyone in the world or in history?”  I know the correct answers are ones like Thomas Jefferson, Nelson Mandela, and then you have to throw in an unexpected one that shows how clever and sophisticated you are.  Well, the first name out of my mouth was Doc Watson, because it was true.  She scoffed, but I’m sorry that I never had a chance to talk to Doc and tell him that he was a hero of mine as well.

So pull up a chair and enjoy Tim O’Brien’s remembrance of the day he decided to act and reach out to a musical hero.

More to come…


Play Ball…and Bring Along the Puck

White Sox and Blackhawks Scarf U.S. Cellular Field rises like an impenetrable fortress alongside the Dan Ryan expressway in South Side Chicago as fans walk over from the L train station.  After spending time at neighborhood friendly PNC Park, Coors Field, Wrigley Field, the new Busch Stadium, and AT&T Park in the past couple of years, I was reminded last evening that not all stadium architects and planners were thinking “retro is good” in the early 1990s – that is, unless you think the era we should pine for requires our designers to emulate the outside of Tropicana Field.

To be fair, U.S. Cellular Field (then known as the “new” Comiskey Park) opened in 1991 a year before Baltimore opened the beautiful Camden Yards in 1992 and turned stadium design both backwards and forward at the same time.  But they still play baseball in both of them, and I’ve even seen a good game in Oakland.  So enough, already.  Play ball!

Last evening I crossed the halfway point in my quest to visit all 30 major league baseball stadiums with a visit to U.S. Cellular Field to see the home-standing Chicago White Sox take on the division leading Detroit Tigers.  And, as the title and lead picture suggest, it was Chicago Blackhawks Night at the ballpark.  The Stanley Cup champions brought some hockey sensibilities to a crowd that I suspect doesn’t need much encouragement in that area.  This is a heavy metal type of stadium and fan base.

But the entire price of admission was worth it to hear Jim Cornelison – the singer for the Chicago Blackhawks – perform the National Anthem while the entire stadium stomped and cheered throughout the song.  Unbelievable!

White Sox National Anthem 091013

(And if you don’t believe me, check out his performance last year from a Blackhawks/Red Wings game in the video below.  If we’re going to have an unsingable national anthem, then this is how it should be sung…by professionals!)

The game itself was about what you would expect from a division-leading team with a hobbled but still potent potential back-to-back Triple Crown winner, and the last team in the division, now 24.5 games back and playing out the string.  Final score:  9-1 Tigers. That MVP candidate, Miguel Cabrera, didn’t do a lot last evening, going 0-5 and only once taking a shot that was caught up against the wall in right field.  But his running mate Prince Fielder was hitting rockets all night, going 4-5 including a bullet that screamed out of the park in a heartbeat in the third.  He may be rotund (they play behind him at first, which generates a lot of “run Prince run” catcalls), but Fielder has some pop in that bat.

Unfortunately the White Sox played a bit like the Keystone Cops.  I was sitting on the first base side and had perfect views of 3 of the 4 errors – two on easy throws that got away from third baseman Conor Gillaspie (he made another fielding error late in the game to hit the trifecta), and one on a muffed catch by Paul Konerko when Gillaspie made a good throw.  (Perhaps he was surprised.)  Adam Dunn’s night reminded me of why I was glad when the Nationals didn’t resign him a couple of years ago.

But that’s baseball.  Sometimes you win.  Sometimes you lose.  Sometimes it rains.  With a steamy 90 degree temperature at the start of the game, some of the crowd of a little more than 19,000 might have appreciated some rain.  And as is typical in these cities that are so close and where the rivalries go back decades, there were many Detroit fans among those 19,000 last evening.

It was a fun night.  Anytime you get to ride the L in Chicago (Purple Line from Evanston down to the Red Line, which has been rerouted a bit while they do repairs…are all Red Lines in need of repairs?) with the great people of that wonderful city, then take in a night at the ballpark, it is time well spent.

Thanks Chicago…and don’t forget to stand for the National Anthem!

More to come…


White Sox vs Tigers

Labor Day Grab Bag

Claire digs in at Founding FarmersWhat do empty nesting, Keith Olbermann, a day at the pool, good food, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler have in common?  They are all part of this Labor Day grab bag of (relatively) quick observations – because it is still summer and I don’t want to work too hard writing long blog posts!

Hopes for Year 3 of Empty Nesting:  As of 6 a.m. on Saturday, our third year of “empty nesting” officially began.  Candice and I took Claire to the airport for her flight to California.  Andrew went back to school about 10 days ago (even though – as you can see below – he is also managing to fit in things not school-related). My hope is that Empty Nesting: Year 3 will be the first “normal” one, following our health problems of the first year and the rehab-focused Year 2.  After extensive rehabilitation and a few months of myofascial release, Candice is walking – and feeling – better than she has in five years.  In fact, she’s so positive about myofascial release that she turned Claire into a believer and I go on Monday for my first session. We may all be skipping around the house later this year!

But permit me one last reflection before ENY3 begins in force. This summer was perhaps the last where both children will be home for the entire three months, if the current plans for study abroad come through next year. As I’ve written recently, it was great having Andrew and Claire (and their many friends) home this year. (A mother told us that the second year of empty nesting was the “bed-and-breakfast” year when the children are home and their friends from college all come to DC for the summer.  That was certainly our experience…and we loved it.)  With twins and friends in tow we went to baseball games (my passion, not the twins, but they indulged me). We ate prodigious amounts of good food…up to the night before Claire took off for school.  Some great finds this year:  Eleven and Deluca’s Diner in Pittsburgh; Kapnos, Mike Isabella’s new Greek restaurant in DC; Acqua Al 2 with its great Italian food just steps from Eastern Market; the food trucks at the NoMa film festival; and Pho14, the Vietnamese restaurant in Adams Morgan.  We also visited (and revisited) many old favorites, from Surfside in Glover Park, to Jackie’s in Silver Spring to Dolci Gelati in Takoma Park. It was also fun to have the twins pick out restaurants this summer.  Andrew included four ethnic restaurants as his staycation contribution, and Claire took us to one of her favorites – Founding Farmers – so she could enjoy the red velvet pancakes shown at the top of the post. We also followed Andrew and Claire’s lead in just getting out and enjoying the city.  As you can see below, Andrew has carried this forward upon his return to Providence.  He sent the following photograph this weekend from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  The inside family joke is that Andrew has a poster of this Degas painting, Race Horses at Longchamp, in his room.

Andrew and Degas in Boston 083113

While we enjoyed our first couple of years of empty nesting, this summer was a wonderful reminder of why we love being around the twins…especially as they grow into adulthood.

Now, on to the grab bag…

“Day-to-Day” with Keith Olbermann: I have always enjoyed Olbermann’s unique – many would say skewed – perspective on life.  I was a fan of his early SportsCenter days on ESPN, and I also was a regular viewer of his stimulating – and tumultuous – stint on MSNBC.  So I was pleased when ESPN signed him for a return gig that began in late August.  My first chance to see his new show was last Tuesday, and he didn’t disappoint.  Case in point: during the sports highlights he duly noted that an injured player was “day-to-day.”  Then, with just the right pause, he added, “But aren’t we all?”  I was in a hotel room and laughed out loud.  Priceless.

Saying So-Long to the Pool:  I’ve written before about how our neighborhood pool has been a wonderful part of our family’s summer life for many years.  Now that we’re no longer involved with the swim team, I seldom go.  (This year, I’ve been twice and both times involved food!)  Claire and Andrew taught swim lessons again this summer, and Candice still enjoys the occasional afternoon around the pool with a good book and the opportunity to take a refreshing dip to cool down.  But I still relish the Labor Day tradition of saying so-long and was thrilled when the pool hosted a pork barbecue cook-out on Saturday.  Candice called some long-time friends and the four of us enjoyed a couple of hours sharing stories, good food, and the sunshine.  Summer weekends are made for slower rhythms – if we’re smart enough to follow.

Things to Read:  As a country, we are destroying the concept of a public good.  I wrote about that in a recent blog post on The Unwinding. And in today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof takes direct aim at a government that is allowing the trashing of our public lands.  Kristof’s best line?

What our ancestors were able to create when we were a poor country, we are unable to sustain even now that we are rich. That’s not because of resources. It’s because they were visionaries, and we are blind.

Well worth the read.

The Nats Have a Pulse:  When the Nationals finally start playing well, win 8 of 10, sweep the Marlins, and have their fan base excited about the possibility of meaningful September baseball, they lay two big eggs against the woeful Mets.  Both Friday and Saturday games were painful, for different reasons.  And Sunday looked to be more of the same.  But they woke up in the 8th, scored 3, and salvaged a game out of the series.  Yes, they gained a game in the wild card race…but they are at 6 1/2 games out which is exactly where they were when the weekend started.  Had they swept this series, they would be 4 1/2 out…and we’d really be excited.  So I’ll keep watching, but I don’t hold out much hope.

The Butler…or Beginning our Oscar Watch:  Regular readers know that Candice and I have taken to watching all the Best Picture nominees before the Academy Awards ceremony.  The first year we made the decision to do this about six weeks before the show…and we had to catch several movies on the computer screen as opposed to the big screen.  Last year we were prepared and kept an eye out for the movies that were generating Oscar buzz as they were released.  That worked out well, so we’ve started to pay attention to this year’s films.  In that spirit, we went to see Lee Daniels’ The Butler tonight, and both thought it was a strong movie and a certain Oscar contender.

Forest Whitaker is a terrific actor and did a great job with the character of Cecil Gaines – the White House butler based upon the real-life story of Eugene Allen.  Oprah Winfrey was great as Cecil’s wife Gloria – I felt she owned that part.  None of the “presidents” resembled their historical characters, but despite how much that bugged the Washington Post, it really didn’t matter and it certainly doesn’t affect the movie.  (To see a different take on the movie than the bad Post review, read A.O. Scott’s piece in the New York Times.)  Jane Fonda, in a cameo as Nancy Reagan, of all people, showed she really can act.

The movie weaves together the story of the civil rights movement in broad strokes and personal stories. I’m of an age that I don’t remember the 1950s, but by the 1960s I was aware of what was happening around me in the South – at places like the Woolworth’s counter in nearby Nashville, where a sit-in is depicted in the movie. And unfortunately, the hatred and violence shown in The Butler ring all too true.  When people today speak of how we’ve changed and no longer need enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, they have selective amnesia about the past and selective vision about how much of that history of racism in America still remains.  The line in the movie that really stuck with me was when Cecil takes Gloria back to see the sharecropper cabin his family lived in when picking cotton on a southern plantation.  The emotionally difficult first scene took place here and permeates the rest of the movie.  Cecil’s powerful remembrance is along the line of, “Americans will condemn concentration camps, and yet we had these concentration camps for more than 200 years.”

The stain of racism is America’s original sin.  The Butler – dedicated to those who marched and fought to help erase that stain – is well worth seeing.  And on this Labor Day, it is also important to remember those black men and women who labored as domestic servants: butlers, maids, Pullman porters.  We forget that our labor force has always included African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and immigrants of every stripe.  The Butler reminds us – as we stand in an era where the powerful often denigrates labor – that these individuals also made their invaluable contribution, working with pride and dignity.

More to come…