Here Comes That Rainbow Again

There are weeks when the news contains stories that force you to shake your head in disbelief.  However, this isn’t all there is.  Newscasts don’t lead with “Another plane took off from National Airport this morning.”  Bad news sells, and the loss of civility and the misbehavior of powerful individuals are serious issues today.

But there are kindnesses and civility all around us as well, if we’ll look for them.

As I’ve been thinking of how I can move more intentionally to respond to our times, a song has been stuck in my head.  Kris Kristofferson wrote the song, which was inspired by the lunch counter scene in Chapter 15 of John Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl novel Grapes of Wrath.  Kristofferson was born in Texas during the 1930s, and mentioned that he read Steinbeck’s book in high school or college (probably the latter, since he was a Pomona College graduate, just like our Claire!) Years later, he was reminded of the scene and wrote this work which Johnny Cash, who also made a recording of it, said might be his favorite song by any writer of our time.

In the intro to this video, Kristofferson says, “I kind of wrote it with John Steinbeck…only he was dead at the time.”

It is a simple song, with the following lyrics:

The scene was a small roadside café
The waitress was sweeping the floor
Two truck drivers drinking their coffee
And two Okie kids by the door

“How much are them candies?” They asked her
“How much have you got?” She replied
“We’ve only a penny between us”
“Them’s two for a penny,” She lied.

Chorus
And the daylight grew heavy with thunder
With the smell of rain on the wind
Ain’t it just like a human
Here comes that rainbow again

One truck driver called to the waitress
After the kids went outside
“Them candies ain’t two for a penny”
“So what’s it to you,” she replied

In silence they finished their coffee
And got up and nodded goodbye
She called, “Hey, you left too much money”
“So what’s it to you,” they replied

And the daylight…(Chorus)

Let’s do our best, in these times, to be good to one another.

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from Home: The Silver Spring Day Off Edition

Bikes in Silver Spring

The flowering of bicycles in downtown Silver Spring

If you don’t read anything else in this post, go to the bottom and watch the last video.  Morgan James is beautiful and has a wonderful voice, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off the Tambourine Man.  He’ll bring you up, no matter how down you are.  And you’ll thank me for it.

Now, on to the rest of the post.

I seldom take a weekday off where I’m at home in Silver Spring.  Yet after working about 20 weekends in a row (perhaps I exaggerate), I decided to take today off and make it  a three-day weekend.  It was interesting to be around downtown Silver Spring and see the following:

Bikes are sprouting up everywhere one looks. First it was the Capital Bikeshare stations that arrived in downtown.  But in the last month, we’ve been inundated with the new dockless bikes, and today was the first time I walked around town and had the sense that they are EVERYWHERE!  (At least if you walk around the condo/apartment heavy downtown.)  They look beautiful (especially the LimeBike), but it will be interesting to see how they stand up to the winter in the capital region.  Nonetheless, I was standing next to the NOAA building and was able to capture in one glance a transportation planner or urbanist’s dream scene:  shiny new Metro trains rolling into the Silver Spring station, bus after bus pulling out of the transportation center, pedestrians, bicyclists, and—of course—cars (and more cars).

Coffee shops are everywhere. Where there are bicycles and canyons of condos and apartments (say, along East West Highway downtown), there will be coffee shops.  When you have the largest concentration of Ethiopian residents in the metro region, you can also be pretty certain that it will be good coffee. While we have the standard chains, Silver Spring has some terrific independent shops.  Today, while out walking, I went to Kefa Cafe (one of the city’s institutions) for a morning coffee and chat with Abebe. Always a pleasure.  In the afternoon, I strolled up to the Bump ‘n Grind, along the aforementioned East West Highway condo canyon.  There was a class underway in one portion of this hip shop, which is also a vinyl record store.  Ah…the Revenge of Analog!

The Fillmore

The Fillmore, Silver Spring

Finally!  The Fillmore has an act I recognize!  Ever since The Fillmore opened in downtown Silver Spring, I’ve been waiting for an act that I recognize.  I get that this isn’t a venue for folks my age (yes, I was hoping for the Birchmere North), but it would be nice to see a name on the marquee every now and then that I recognize.  I’m just not that into “Death from Above” or “Elevation Worship.”

Well, it finally happened.

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is coming to the Fillmore on November 26th!  Not familiar with Postmodern Jukebox? Well, neither was I until a few months ago when I stumbled across their fantastic video of All About That Bass.  At 31 million (and counting) views, they have a ways to go to get to Meghan Trainor’s 2 billion views (can that be right?!)  But I prefer the Postmodern Jukebox version.

The home page for Postmodern Jukebox describes their work as “Gramophone Music in a Smartphone World” and that’s a perfect description.  If you’re like me, you’ll get sucked into their wonderful videos (and then the spinoffs of their wonderful musicians, like singer Morgan James, who does a terrific version of the Beatles Come Together with a great trash can drummer.  You have to watch it to believe it.)

So last night, I found Morgan James singing I Really Don’t Care with Postmodern Jukebox.  As wonderful as she is, you won’t be able to take your eyes of The Tambourine Guy.  Trust me…you want to watch this one!

If I knew that Morgan James AND The Tambourine would be part of the show in Silver Spring, I would be there!

Nice day in downtown.

More to come…

DJB

The Preferred Pre-Inaugural Concert

Lovett Hiatt Tickets

My ticket in the nose bleed section at Strathmore

Earlier this evening, I joined a full house at Strathmore Music Hall as we made our choice for a different  pre-inaugural concert from that on the national mall.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt are two of the best songwriters and (especially in Lovett’s case) song interpreters in the Americana field.  The beautiful sound and setting at Strathmore was perfect for their two-and-one-half hour acoustic set on Thursday evening.

They played their hits.  They played unrecorded new songs.  They bantered.  They played songs by other songwriters. And they did it with such ease and obvious affection for each other that the time flew by.

Hiatt’s voice is getting older and doesn’t hit the notes like he once did.  But that really didn’t matter in this setting.

Here’s a video of a tune they played tonight, Lovett’s “She’s Not Lady.”  Enjoy!

More to come…

DJB

Not My Average Radio Interview

Macon musical history

A bit of Macon musical history

Folks in Macon, Georgia, take their musical roots seriously.  (Think Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, Little Richard.)  So on Friday morning when I was booked for an interview on WNEX, The Creek – a new Macon radio station featuring Southern roots music and local issues – I assumed it would be different from the local NPR stations where I normally find myself talking about preservation.

I was right.  And (with the possible exception of my time on the Honolulu public radio station), it turned out to be much more fun than my average NPR radio interview!

We were in town to launch our National Treasures campaign for the Ocmulgee National Monument.  Lands affiliated with the Ocmulgee National Monument have been home to Native Americans for more than 17,000 years.  However, over recent decades the places with ties to the site have been threatened by urban sprawl, the subdivision of forested tracts, and ownership fragmentation. The National Trust and our partners are seeking to re-designate the monument as a historical park, expand the current boundaries, and study ways to protect related areas in the river corridor.

So I showed up at The Creek’s studio (which looked something like a well-loved fraternity house) on Friday morning with a colleague and the president of the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative.  We met Brad Evans, one of the owners, who asked a couple of questions to prep before we went on the air and indicated that they would play a tune halfway through the interview.  It came out that I was a John Prine fan, and Brad said, “What would you like to hear?”  I responded that I thought Paradise was a good cautionary tale for those who don’t take preservation seriously.  So we go into the interview, have a great conversation about why this place matters, and then Brad queues up the song by asking if Paradise was a good tune?  “Absolutely” I replied, and that familiar voice came across the speakers.

“When I was a child my family would travel, down to western Kentucky where my parents were born…”

While the song was playing, Brad asked what else we might discuss when we came back, and I suggested that we spend a bit of time talking about other National Treasure campaigns. I mentioned that I thought listeners to The Creek might enjoy our work on Nashville’s Studio A and Music Row.

Chris Stapleton - Traveller

Chris Stapleton – Traveller

So as John Prine wrapped up singing of Paradise being “five miles away from wherever I am,” we began to talk about the Music Row campaign on the air.  I noted that Studio A was not only the place where hundreds of country music classics had been recorded, but that Chris Stapleton’s Grammy award-winning album Traveller was made there after the studio was saved.  I suggested that had it been recorded anywhere else, this classic country album would have sounded different.  When it comes to recording studios – as with much else in life – place matters.

Brad wrapped up the interview and then told his audience that he had some Chris Stapleton lined up next.  I responded, “Man, you are good!” and he replied “I’m a pro – if you don’t believe me, just ask me.”  We laughed, and then away went Chris Stapleton with “Nobody to Blame.”

Oh man…if I ever get to do a preservation interview again when I can call on John Prine and Chris Stapleton for help, then you’ll know for certain I’ve died and gone to heaven.

More to come…

DJB

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

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

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