Month: December 2019

Saturday Soundtrack: Joe Bonamassa

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I was listening to a live performance by blues guitarist  Joe Bonamassa from Madison, Wisconsin, on the SiriusXM B.B. King’s Bluesville channel. In between songs, Bonamassa recounted a story from the band’s current tour, noting that they had recently found themselves with a rare couple of days off while staying in nearby Chicago. Instead of going to their customary Days Inn, the band decided to treat themselves to two nights at the Four Seasons. Bonamassa said the accommodations were just what you’d expect from a luxury, four-star hotel, with the only downside being the 1200 “yuppies” who were attending a financial convention in the hotel. He ran into a group of these young, well-paid professionals at the elevator, and with his “street person” appearance and guitar case in hand, he became an instant target for a bully who clearly had more money than brains. Here’s how Bonamassa told of the interaction: Yuppie Bully: “Hi. What’s in the case?” Bonamassa: “‘It’s a guitar,’ I replied. ‘I wasn’t going to tell him that …

Naming Rights and Bowl Games

Welcome to the 2019-20 college football bowl game season! Try to contain your excitement. The only college football bowl game I ever attended was back in 1968 when Terry Bradshaw and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs beat the Akron Zips (now there’s a great sports team name!) 33-13, in a cold and sparsely attended Grantland Rice Bowl in my hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In fact, it was the last Grantland Rice Bowl played there, as the sponsors moved the game to Baton Rouge the following year. I vaguely remember getting free tickets as a member of the 8th grade football team (yes, that was my one and only foray into the sport) and going with some friends. We knew that Bradshaw was good, but we may have paid more attention (and kept our ticket stubs) had we known that Bradshaw would be the #1 selection in the NFL draft the following year and go on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period. As for the bowl’s name, Grantland …

Saturday Soundtrack: Sierra Hull

Sierra Hull has been playing music professionally since before she reached her teens. Her debut on the Grand Ole Opry came at age 10, she brought her exceptional mandolin skills to Carnegie Hall at age 12, had her first deal with Rounder Records at age 13, and at age 17 became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music. As a 20-year-old, Hull played the White House. The way I best remember how young she was when she burst on the music scene is from her performance at the Merlefest music festival in 2012. When introducing the band, she noted that the bass player was a good musician, but he was also “the only one of us old enough to rent a van.” I’ve heard Hull play over the years at both the Merlefest and Red Wing festivals, and she’s always had the chops to play amazing bluegrass and traditional music. Her first album post-Berklee hinted at new directions, but it wasn’t until 2017’s Weighted Mind (produced by …

Seeking hope

Regrets and grief can plague us at any time of the year. But for some individuals, the holidays are a time when regrets are easy to recall and often hard to dismiss. At this time when people around us appear happy and full of joy, grief can suddenly arise in our souls. For too many, the darkness of the coming winter takes on personal overtones. We may have lost a loved one and feel that emptiness deep in our being. Broken relationships or health challenges can be exacerbated in a season when society calls out for gaiety. Those seeking employment see the over-the-top consumerism of the holidays while they wonder where they’ll find next month’s rent. Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses can lead to an increase in suffering and grief because of the dissonance between one’s life and what one sees out in community. I’ll be the first to admit that I can struggle to get past the regrets in my life. Likewise, I find that grief is an all-too-familiar response to the sorrows …

Saturday Soundtrack: Kate Rusby

It was about 15 years ago when I first heard the beautiful vocals of English folksinger and songwriter Kate Rusby. I was walking through a small shop in the U.K., and the album that was playing on the shop’s sound system was her 2003 offering, Underneath the Stars. I walked out—with a copy of the CD in my bag—as a new fan, and I’ve been enjoying Rusby’s forward-looking traditional folk stylings ever since. Late last month, Rusby released a new album of Christmas music, Holly Head, which features tunes ranging from the traditional Lu Lay to the quirky Hippo for Christmas to Christina Rossetti’s classic Bleak Mid-Winter (Yorkshire). For non-seasonal offerings, check out her 2019 performance of Benjamin Bowmaneer at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. In addition to her vocal stylings, Rusby is also an excellent songwriter. Her work is covered by other artists, such as the international vocal group VOCES8 with their beautiful arrangement of Underneath the Stars. (VOCES8’s recent holiday concert in Georgetown was the subject of an earlier post this month.) From her breakout recordings in 1999 all the way …

The Importance of Being Interesting

Writer, editor, writing coach, France aficionado, and family friend Janet Hulstrand produced a delightful little book earlier this year entitled Demystifying the French: How to Love Them and Make Them Love You. Having just finished this advice manual for travelers and others interested in living more successfully with the French, I found Janet’s take on how to understand these sometimes curious, somewhat frustrating, occasionally mystifying, but always interesting people to be delightful, informative, and useful all at once. I also found that Janet had—either on purpose or unwittingly, I’m not sure which—captured some wonderful life lessons from her observations about the country she’s now observed and come to love as a visitor and resident for some 40 years. The book is written as if you are sitting by the fireplace with a wonderful French wine and a good friend who is giving you a crash course before you venture out on your first trip to France. Janet’s writing is clear and, as one reviewer put it, “breezy and digestible.” She begins with five essential tips for “even …