Zappadan, Day Eight. December 11, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death, music.
Tags: Burnt Weenie Sandwich, Charlie Rose, Frank Zappa, freedom of speech, hypocrisy, Pat Robertson, theocracy, zappadan
As we keep the flame alive during Frank’s absence, there’s plenty of material out there (yeah, He built that!) to choose from.
I’ll start with tonight’s dinner, a humble meal inspired by the 1970 album of the same name:
Now, that in itself would be a paltry tribute to man who spent his adult life making music which will survive him by centuries, and defending Freedom of Speech from the Theocratic Crunge we here in America call “The Right.” So here is Frank speaking Truth to Power on CBS’ Nightwatch in 1988, as was his daily wont.
Frank Zappa tells Charlie Rose what he thinks:
Frank’s disdain for the Main$tream Media was always thick enough to cut with an axe, but here he treats Charlie Rose with more deference than he showed the troglodytes he ate whole on Crossfire in 1986 (6:16, “I love it when you froth like that ,” he says to dim-witted gasbag John Lofton.)
More music and words from Frank will be forthcoming as we hold the fort in His absence.
Amherst Block Party! September 18, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death, music, Politics and Society.
Tags: Amherst block party, Amherst MA, bungee bouncing, craft vendors, food, human statues, jugglers, Lux Deluxe, Medusa, Ned King, puppies, Rusty Belle, stilt walkers, The Pub, wagon rides, yo-yo
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The First Annual Amherst Block Party happened this past week, and I went down river to get a few shots of the action.
Now, I’m a Hilltown Boy, and don’t spend much time down in the civilized world, but I’ve lately been been tuned in to the activities which draw people to our Western Mass towns. Country fairs and communal events offer a window into life here in the hinterlands, and spreading the word means supporting local businesses, so I’m more than happy to put considerable time into it.
Amherst and Northampton are our local foci for college life, with Northampton being substantially tonier and more expensive (think: Smith College,) and Amherst voicing the Vox Populi of the state-run UMass at Amherst.
Being a product of a brown-collar upbringing and a UMass education, I have a soft spot for the latter.
At any rate, this First Annual Block Party was fun, despite the bumps and potholes intrinsic to any “firsts.”
I arrived in the evening as things were just ramping up, and toured the place. There were vendors:
…and people with puppies:
as well as street performers. Stilt-walkers:
There were wagon rides with big-ass horses:
…and spectacularly capable yo-yo experts:
I spent way too much time watching this magician spin time and space into a fabulous fable. Thanks, Guy.
Somewhere along the way, the light left the land, and the electric artifice took over.
Now, since this was a First Annual Event, I’ll forgive them if they used billion-watt construction lighting. It was painfully harsh, as witness this soft fuzzy poodle rendered in an acid wash:
Every shot became problematic as the night went on, with a slight change of angle essential to tease out each shot in this low-probability situation.
Still, there I was, so I pressed on.
Jugglers played the sidewalk:
…and roped bystanders into risking their noses for a photo op:
This guy’s girlfriend giggled delightedly, though I wasn’t entirely sure who she was rooting for…
Bands occupied a tent on the common down by Triangle Street, including Rusty Belle, with a great singer:
…and guitarist, her husband if I’m understanding things:
They tour regularly in the Greater East, and I highly recommend you go if they come to your town.
Meanwhile, The Pub grilled sliders over a roadside fire:
…as kids defied gravity at the Bungee-Bounce:
…and Medusa painted wash-off tattoos on injudicious children:
The night (or at least my part of it) ended with Lux Deluxe performing down at the band tent:
The audience was totally rapt:
…and for good reason: this quintet totally got me off, with a high energy set of rockin’ originals, tight instrumentation and the class act vocals of Ned King, talented far beyond what his earthly tenure might suggest:
Watch for these folks, and keep Ned’s name in mind. You’ll doubtless be hearing more from him/them.
All in all, this was a great night out, and it’s bound to get even better as it repeats itself into the future.
Green River Festival: The Sunday / Bum’s Rush Edition! July 26, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
Tags: Brown Bird, C. J. Chenier, Chris Smither, Darlingside, Elizabeth Cook, Gordon Gano, green river festival, Greenfield MA, Happy Hempsters, hot-air ballooning, Lee Fields, live music, Martin Simpson, Ozomatli, Richard Thompson, Rubblebucket, Sunday
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This isn’t going to do the great musicians at Sunday’s event justice, but I’m falling behind in my other obligations, so it will be what it is.
The day started off with a misty 5:30am sunrise:
Eric played the bagpipes, the balloons went up, and then I took a nap in the shade of my car.
Hey, two and a half hours of sleep just hadn’t recharged me from Saturday.
I woke an hour or so later to the sound checks happening at both the upper and lower stages. This sound crew was good, and put a lot of time and effort into getting it right:
By noon the line at the gate stretched way away around the parking lots, with people of all ages enduring the heat to get a good spot:
At least there was a breeze!
Promptly at noon (Saturday had been delayed a bit,) the gates opened and the masses streamed in. They were barely getting seated when the music began with one man and a guitar. If anyone expected this to be a throw-away opening act, they were soon to be wonderfully disappointed; Martin Simpson played and sang passionately and powerfully, turning his beautiful acoustic guitar into what sounded like a whole band, with luscious bass notes and complex chording underlaying spectacular slide playing:
I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with his music, but his blend of traditional and original British folk gems blew me away, and I’m certain I wasn’t alone in feeling that way!
OK, next (“Bum’s Rush,” remember?) came Elizabeth Cook, trilling deceptively pretty country songs in a Dolly Parton voice (though without the accessories:)
I say “deceptively pretty” because she wasted no time getting down and dirty, making it clear that an unfaithful man had better not be her unfaithful man, and standing up for the “fairer sex” with songs like, “Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be a Woman.” The ladies loved it and sang along, while their hubbies mouthed the words and looked a wee bit nervous…
Anyway, she was great fun, but I missed the end of her act, instead heading down to the lower stage to catch a bit of local wonders Darlingside, a Valley quintet including mandolin, fiddle, guitar, electric cello and drums:
I’m glad to have caught them; their interplay was brilliant, creating an uncategorizable blend of folk, rock and classical elements with a great energy:
Nice stuff, and as they’re local, I hope to hear them again soon!
Onward and upward:
At the main stage, local legend Chris Smither was just getting started, playing with his band The Motivators (he’s usually a solo act, doing commendable percussion with his feet!) Chris’ is an act you shouldn’t miss if he comes your way:
Amazing guitar playing, distinctive vocals and the ability to turn a phrase in a way which is at once unique and shockingly true – no cliches here, just honest answers to questions you didn’t know to ask!
His band was new to me, except for guitar virtuoso David Goodrich, who had impressed me at a previous show:
It was all good, melding bluesey tunes with beautiful vocal harmonies and an impish sense of humor. Kudos, Mr. Smither!
The Meat of the Sunday Meal came next…
I mean, Holy Cow!
If you never heard one man play three guitar parts while singing his black heart out, you should have been there. This guy’s been doing what he does for a very long time, and it shows – exquisitely crafted stories of being wrong and losing love and ruining his life, told with burning pathos, powered by this One Man Guitar Army:
If a lifetime of hard living, serious addictions and losing the love of his life have tempered his abilities, I can’t imagine to what heights he might have soared with his full faculties.
But then again, the stories he wrings from his bones and serves up with a twinkle of wry humor might not come out the way they do, and his loss is our great gain:
The crowd ate it up, roaring for more, singing along and pushing him to a brief encore (my throat still hurts!)
By the time Mr. Thompson had had his way with us, we were all exhausted and hungry; pity the poor Winter Pills, who played next to a sea of people who tried to be enthusiastic, but really needed a breather. A lot of people took this opportunity to avail themselves of the excellent (and groovy) food vendors:
That shot taken before the gates opened; after Richard Thompson I couldn’t get near it!
Sunday was a fail for me getting to all of the bands, all of the time, so I’ll just apologize to Lee Fields, C. J. Chenier, Gordon Gano, Brown Bird, and all of the fine acts in the Meltdown Tent. After Saturday’s marathon and the 4am start, I just wanted to kick back a bit and enjoy some of this great music.
The crowd got revved up again for Rubblebucket, a really strong jam/funk outfit from Brooklyn, New York. Their sound merges the jam-band energy of Phish with a spectacularly fine horn and horn-bop duo who traded their ‘bones for vocal renditions of great horn arrangements; they chased one of the most unique guitar players I’ve ever had the pleasure of heaingr all over the musical map, and provided pumping lyrical counterpoints to the astonishing high-energy vocals of singer Kalmia Traver:
Set this all to challenging and totally atypical rhythms, fill the spaces with effervescent synth and stir, or rather dance yourself into a frenzy. My face hurt from smiling, they were that good!
…But sadly, they were a nightmare to photograph from out in the audience – between their frenetic movements and the streamers blowing from every mic stand, auto focus was out of the question, and the shallow depth of field on my 400mm lens was far from optimal for the job. Sorry folks.
The show wrapped up with Ozomatli, an LA band known for powering dance raves through the roof of any room. They had a head start with this fired-up audience, and even though their urban funk sensibilities aren’t our usual hill-town fare, they totally nailed it, with a line-up of four drummer/percussionists:
(…that one’s for the Ladies )
…powering another killer horn section and fabulous guitar player to rave speed and beyond.
I did my usual vanishing act when they started to peak, choosing once again to hit the road before it got choked to a standstill by thousands of wired drivers all trying to be the first out of the lot.
So that’s it, folks. Two days of great music and food, a beautiful balloon ride, and four posts worth of typos which I’ll find long after you do! I’m not proof-reading anything tonight – my “bum’s rush” wrap-up has taken me ’till 1:30 am!
Green River BALLOON Festival! (Part 3) July 24, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure, music.
Tags: 2012, bagpiper, ballooning, Canon 16-35mm f/3.5L lens, Eric Goodchild, green river festival, hot air balloons, Jonathan Niccum, Paul Sena, Worthington Ballooning
When the Green River Festival began 26 years ago, it was largely a hot-air ballooning event with a few musical acts hired to entertain those gathered to see that spectacle.
Sadly, by this year’s event, the balloons seem to be little more than an afterthought.
That’s not to say anything less than respectful about the event as a music festival, but rather to lament the diminution of the magic which is evoked when one sees these beautiful behemoths floating incongruously off into the blue July sky.
I made it part of my mission to document this year’s ballooning, at the cost of missing some of the music; hey, there’s only one of me!
Anyway, the balloonists pull into town on Saturday afternoon, staking out their staging turf in the lower field, waiting for the air to cool and thicken, and for the evening breezes to (hopefully) begin to stir.
This is the first year I took the time to watch the process literally unfold:
The spread-out balloons are attached to their baskets, then partially filled with large fans. The field becomes a rippling sea of color:
Ground crews pull fabric outward as the envelope inflates:
…button up baffles and attach tag lines:
When the balloons are inflated enough, propane burners are fired up. It’s a dramatic moment – here pilot/owner Jonathan Niccum fires up Day Dreamer:
…and the field comes alive with the magic!
Pilots and riders pile in, the engines fire again, and up they go! Some stick around, giving “tethered” rides for small money:
..while others cast off their lines and float elegantly away, going wherever the winds take them:
But don’t cry, Dorothy – they’ll be back before nightfall. After all, they wouldn’t want to miss the 9pm Balloon Glow!
It’s beautiful, and gets a lot of “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” from the appreciative crowd.
The next morning is another opportunity for sailing off into the dawn air. Local piper Eric Goodchild set the mood as the sun breached the horizon:
…and the process begins again, crews and pilots working, watching the weather, wishing for just a wee bit of wind. Balloon Coordinator and Master Pilot Paul Sena went about his work efficiently, the result of many years of honing his skills:
…hooking up tanks, testing his engine:
When the whole thing came together, lightly dancing on the dewy grass, Paul smiled and called to me, “Hop in!”
I didn’t make him say it twice!!
…and we were off!
Children ran to pick up a shower of Worthington Ballooning business cards (that be Paul’s gig) as we gained altitude, chasing the early departed:
…chased by those just cutting themselves loose:
What an amazing experience it was to be floating soundlessly, watching the Earth recede, rising over the valley farms:
…floating past forests and fields:
…surrounded by beauty:
Paul’s piloting was masterful as he checked the altimeter with each puff of breeze, mapping the varying air currents in his mind, then rising or falling to catch a breeze going his way:
There’s a quiet camaraderie among the folks who float over the dawning day, a shared peace tempered with the cautions which accompany any such endeavors, and I was thankful to be sharing it:
Paul “boxed” the valley, moving around the area at different heights, taking cues about wind direction from our fellow travelers as I marveled at the broad horizon:
…and then gently descended to the festival grounds, landing (with a helping tug from his ground crew) right where he wanted to be for the final photo-op of our flight:
After the work of packing the balloons away, the pilots and crew assembled in the First Aid tent to carry on an age-old tradition, sharing a bottle of Champagne with the land-owners where you happen to come down:
…which, they gleefully noted, was US!
So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Thanks to Jonathan Niccum for putting in a good word with Paul, to Paul Sena of Worthington Ballooning for his generosity and skill, to Joe for hopping out and giving us that last bit of momentum to enable the spiffy parking job…
…start ckickin’ them heels together, Joe…
…and to my Sweet Sixteen, my Canon 16-35mm L-Series lens for delivering the goods.
Next up, if I can stand another day of sitting in front of my ‘puterbox: Sunday’s musical line-up. I promise to be brief, on account MY BUTT IS GETTING SORE!!!
Green River Festival 2012, Part 2. July 24, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
Tags: Arlo, Charles Bradley, Green River Festival. Los Lobos, hula hooping, JD McPherson, Los Lobos, the Sweetback Sisters, Woody Guthrie
The music at the GRF just kept going, with three stages crankin’ it out the whole time. I ran like a mad fool to cover it all, but largely settled on the main stage performers to put these posts together.
After Lake Street Drive had mopped the lawn with us, JD McPherson had the unenviable job of getting us all back down to earth, then launching us back into the stratosphere.
Which he did, with passion and conviction, and we loved it:
He was accompanied by a wild bassist who slapped the piss out of his tool and really made the act special:
Cool to the Nth Degree:
Nice stuff. If you see the name at a local venue, GO. That is all.
Up stage, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires changed the pace, lending a Funkin’ Soul vibe which sat precipitously near the edge of the pseudo-eclectic palettes of the hill-towners who made up the bulk of the audience:
He totally nailed what he was here to hammer, and if the post of Hardest Working Man In Show Business is open (and it currently is,) Mr Bradley has my vote. Dance moves, mic-tricks and a deeply passionate delivery bowled me and a lot of other folks over:
It was obvious that he’d had a big bowl of James Brown for breakfast, and we appreciated that, but it was a big stretch from the banjo and mandolin meat and potatoes which have traditionally adorned our Green River table. Perhaps a gig at The Calvin would deliver an audience which had come for just that, and they wouldn’t have to switch gears to be on his page.
Charles Bradley deserves that, and I’m going to lobby for it.
A bit later, The Sweetback Sisters wowed the crowd with a more locally bred mix of electric and acoustic guitar and fiddle:
They kicked butt, with a set of blazing instrumentals and knee-weakening vocal harmonies:
I caught a number of excellent acts on the camera which I’m going to gloss over; sorry, folks, you were all excellent, but time is money (or, in my case, sleep) and you’ll have to come back to get your 15 minutes.
Far above the level of neglectable, however, was the Rebirth Brass Band, a NOLA outfit with creds that would choke this post. Suffice it to say that they’re widely recognized as being at the top of the Brass Band parade, and did themselves proud in our humble venue:
Outside the tent, the festival undulated onward, with a beautiful woman flowing her hoop in a heart-stopping, slow-motion vision:
Really, this was mesmerizing, like watching water flow.
And on the little slope above the lower stage, a chubby puppy rolled down through the crisping grass with glee:
It was a warm and fuzzy afternoon, but the evening was about to get hotter…
Los Lobos took the main stage, and blew the doors off the half-their-age acts which had wowed us up to this point:
The band was cooking, and put a big check-mark in the Dust-Farters’ column. Kids, DON’T try this ’till you hit 50, or you might hurt yourselves!
Guitar player Cesar Rosas owned the day, nonchalantly laying down riffs which would have given a younger man a hernia:
Sax and keyboard player Steve Berlin played the field of his many talents:
…and leading the way, frontman/guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire David Hidalgo schooled the world in How It’s Done when you’ve done it for decades. Here he cranks out Kiko and the Lavender Moon, perhaps the most magically soulful song to reach the broader masses in decades:
The rest of the band was spectacular in their contributions, and I’m passing them by at my moral peril. Every one of them was excellent beyond measure.
But I’m NOT moving on without offering kudos to their drummer, who closed the set with one of the most amazing drum solos I’ve seen in four decades of paying attention:
I was knocked down on my knees. Thank you, gentlemen.
The night ended with a Guthrie Family Reunion, on the precise 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth.
It’s hard to quantify what Woody Guthrie means to America. His take on the world was so clear-eyed, his words so incisive, that he might never be equaled as an observer of What America Is.
And his son Arlo gets that. He’s the living incarnation of hid Dad’s legacy, as well as being an artist in his own right, who deserves to be viewed not in the shadow of his father, but in the light of his own creative muses.
Arlo Guthrie, closing the show on Saturday night:
I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t stay for all of Arlo’s set; I needed to get out of the traffic and into bed in order to be back at this venue before 5am.
But that’s another post.
Green River Festival 2012, Part 1. July 20, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
Tags: 2012, David Wax Museum, green river festival, Greenfield MA, hula hoops, Lake Street Drive, music festivals, Pokey Lafarge, Rachael Price, Sarah Lee Guthrie, schwing!, Shenandoah, Woody Guthrie
Whoa. This is going to be a monumental set of posts, with photos culled from nearly a thousand shots taken.
I know, this is a cross I constructed for myself to carry, but the opportunity to try lots of photographic ideas and techniques made me run my ass off for two days, elbowing old ladies out of the way and kneeing little children to get to the money-shots…
The Green River Festival began as a balloon festival with a little music, and has evolved into one of the Northeast’s premier summer music festivals, with hot air balloons as an aside.
To balloonists, this is a palpable loss.
But if you love live music, this event is still worthy of a spot on your calendar, and I’d like to suggest that you look forward to 2013 – my 2012 “early-bird” tickets cost me $60 for the weekend, compared to the at-the-gate price of $75/day.
Well, this year there was WAY too much music and humanity to document in a single post, so I’ll expect to spread it out over three or four posts.
Saturday kicked off with folks setting up camp down by the stage:
…and the opening act of Sarah Lee Guthrie, totally winning over a crowd who came for the headliners:
This past Saturday was Woodie Guthrie’s 100th birthday anniversary, and his son Arlo would close this day’s events with a Guthrie Family Reunion, including grand-daughter Sarah Lee.
At any rate, Sarah Lee was excellent, and easy on the eyes as well:
She’d later return for the evening’s Main Event with her Dad Arlo:
…but that was much later.
Next up was Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three, a roots music outfit which slipped the novelty noose with virtuosic playing, fun material and a compelling delivery:
…not to mention the best pompadour I’ve seen since they took Pee Wee away in cuffs:
Pokey gave it his all:
…as did his harmonica/washboard player:
They took the crowd back to the ’50s Midwest, which seemed appropriate for the Guthrie theme, and the audience loved it:
Next up was the David Wax Museum, another mix of Americana and modern sass. David played the pants off of a ukulale and a little acoustic guitar and sang with conviction:
…assisted by a helluva fiddle player:
…who also stroked the jawbone of an ass to spectacular effect.
…and a concertina (I think) player who had it happenin’:
I’m going to apologize right here for not getting the bass player, who hung back in the shadows, and the drummer, who was buried behind his cymbals.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.
At any rate, they rocked the crowd, which was by now stretching off into the distance:
There was a lot going on here – three stages of music, arts and crafts vendors, children’s activities, and great food prepared by a slew of excellent local restaurants.
And Hula Hooping provided by Shenandoah, a local woman who teaches the art:
If you’ve never considered hooping to be an “art,” you should see what she does with that lucky thing.
(‘Scuse me while I open a couple of windows…)
…ok, where was I?
Oh, yeah, at the Green River Festival!
The next performers on the Main Stage were Lake Street Drive, a quartet with its genesis at the New England Conservatory of Music, where trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olson assembled the line-up and declared them A Band, then spent the next several years searching for their present sound:
I didn’t make the journey with them, but if this is the destination, I have to believe it was well worth the wait.
Mr. McDuck also played commendable electric guitar, but spent the great majority of the set on trumpet:
…which totally blew me away. Thanks, Mike.
Drummer Mike Calabrese made magic with a simple kit, never standing out but always standing in, singing and playing with a level of class which denied the band’s simple structure:
Layer onto that the extraordinary upright bass playing and wonderful vocal harmonies of Bridget Kearney:
…and something quite unexpected happened – the nimble bass, sensual trumpet and two harmonizing voices created a richly textured tapestry onto which was laid the powerfully evocative vocals of Ms. Rachael Price:
Oh. My. God.
I can’t remember when I was last so blown away by a singer, one who knew just how to fondle a ballad, then send a soul song soaring! If you’ve never heard the name, join the club, but expect to hear it more in the future.
Plus, she’s got that, how you say, look:
Between the 90 degree heat and the hormones, I was, well…smitten.
People, Hot Tip of the Whole Post: LAKE STREET DRIVE.
All of this was happening on the Main Stage, with two other stages honking simultaneously, and I haven’t even got to the Big Names! Obviously, I’ll need to move it along if you’re ever going to hear the whole tale.
But it was all so good…
*A photographers’ note:
In the past I’ve liked the stage-side look of photos taken looking up at musicians with a 50mm or shorter lense; they have an immediacy which curls a viewer’s fingers around the lip of the stage. But they aren’t always flattering to the performers, especially if big hips and a tiny head aren’t what you’re gunning for.
So this time ’round I spent a lot less time lying on the ground amidst stomping dancers (though you’ll probably see a few of those) and a lot more time backed off, with my 400mm Gizmo on a mono-pod, sometimes with a 2X tele-extender. The results are most apparent in the face-shots, which I’m seeing as both intimate and artsy.
I hope you’ll agree.
Arch Guitar. May 31, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
Tags: arch guitar, Canon 24mm f3.5L TS-E II lens, Elliot, Elliot. tilt-shift photography, farmers' market, Northampton MA, Peter Blanchette, street entertainers, Tuesday market
At Northanpton’s Tuesday Market this past week I was delighted to find that they had entertainment. Not John and Mary singing folks songs, but Peter Blanchette playing his own creation, the Arch Guitar.
Now, if you’ve been reading for any while you know I’m an old softy, so I’ll just admit to crying in public. This was some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard, and certainly the most beautiful music I’ve heard from three feet away.
Mr. Blanchette is world renowned, and on the brink of flying off to Europe for another widely anticipated tour. And if you’re selling out classical guitar venues in Spain, you might just be considered to have made it.
I asked permission, then stepped around the bowl where people were dropping change and dollar bills to get these shots:
This creation of his, the Arch Guitar, is the sweetest monster I’ve ever seen, with eleven strings and a fretboard you could launch planes off of:
This man is a genius, pure and simple. Know his face:
…and, if you have three minutes, hear his genius:
I spent longer than this dialing in these photos, but given the entertainment, I wasn’t in a hurry.
Again, Elliot delivered, hand-held and unfiltered.
Great good luck to Peter on his upcoming tour.
And thanks to Elliot for his hard work, and to YOU, my readers, for humoring my divergences into things which are hard to categorize.