October, 2008:

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Another day, another CMA Song Writer Series concert at Joe’s Pub! πŸ˜‰

Seriously, in addition to this being our seventh such show, it was also our second night in a row. The only repeat performer was the host, Bob DiPiero.

I will have some things to say a little later on that will feel less flattering than I’ve been about previous shows, but it’s truly not meant to be that, so I feel the need to start off with a bottom line first: this show was excellent, and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!

Sitting left-to-right on the stage with a shot of all of them first:

CMA Writers Series 20081030

CMA Writers Series 20081030

Jonathan Singleton was a newcomer for us. In addition to not having seen him live before, we hadn’t heard of him. But, we did know one of his big hits, Watching Airplanes which was cut by Gary Allan. Jonathan was probably the strongest guitar player from last night’s bunch, and he has a nice voice as well. He put on a good show in general and we enjoyed him, though his songs haven’t gotten to us like many of the previous performers in this series. He’s solid, if unspectacular.

Jonathan Singleton

Jonathan Singleton

Bob DiPiero couldn’t be exactly in the middle, since there were four people on stage last night instead of the more typical five. πŸ˜‰ I’ve noted in the past (including in yesterday’s post) that Bob typically plays the same five giant hits at each show. Interestingly, and thankfully, that changed last night (perhaps he’s reading these posts). πŸ˜‰

He opened the show with one of the usual numbers, The Church On Cumberland Road. But, when it came around to him again, he picked a song that he hadn’t played in a while at Joe’s (I’m not sure he ever played it while we were in attendance). Then the next time around, someone from the crowd yelled out “Play Blue Clear Sky”. He told us a really long and funny story about how George Strait came to cut the song. Here’s a much shorter version of the story.

On his next turn, he also sang something that he normally doesn’t play, but then finished up the show with another of his standards. He was funny all night, and kept the crowd entertained with his stories and music.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Chris Wallin was next in line. We had seen him before in this format. It was his first time at Joe’s Pub (last night was his second), and it was our first time at the CMA Song Writers Series (though we’ve beaten him in between). I wrote about what a great writer Chris is the last time we saw him. He’s phenomenal. He has a sonorous voice (rich and deep), but he has trouble keeping from drifting off key. It doesn’t bother us at all, but he’s one where I’m not surprised he’s not a full-time performer (as opposed to Hillary Lindsey from the night before!).

Chris was as warm and funny last night as he was the first time we saw him. He seems like the kind of person I would love to hang out with.

Chris Wallin

Chris Wallin

Rodney Clawson was on the far right. We didn’t know his name but certainly recognized a number of his hits. Included among them last night were Sweet Southern Comfort (cut by Buddy Jewell), a song I really love. He also performed Lost In This Moment (cut by Big and Rich). He has a long list of hits cut by major stars.

As a performer, he’s completely solid, but also not of the caliber of the performers from the previous night. He comes across as a terrific guy, and there’s simply no doubt that he’s a prolific and wonderful songwriter.

Rodney Clawson

Rodney Clawson

No encore last night (I’ll explain in a second), but they were still on the stage for nearly two hours (probably 10 minutes shorter than the night before). Like I said at the beginning, an excellent show. Here’s another shot of all of them together on stage:

CMA Writers Series 20081030-2

CMA Writers Series 20081030-2

Now for some color about last night. On Tuesday, the show was effectively a sold out performance (I counted two empty seats, but I bet they were sold, but the people just didn’t show up). This is typical of all of the CMA Song Writers Series shows. In addition, not only do they sell out every show, but they also have the longest lines awaiting the opening of the doors, always.

The only show at Joe’s Pub that we’ve ever attended where we had to stand throughout was our first CMA event (the one where we first saw Chris Wallin). Clearly, there is a very loyal fan base for these shows.

That said, last night was the least attended show we’ve been at for any artist at Joe’s Pub. I estimate that the place was roughly 1/2 full (perhaps 75 people). They seated the audience throughout the club, spaced out nicely, so that it didn’t really feel empty at all, just a little roomier than usual. In addition, the audience loved the performance (entusiastically), so there was a decent energy and applause in the room for every song.

For that reason, I believe that DiPiero made the right call not to do an encore, but to simply stay on stage the same amount of time, and gracefully and graciously exit. When the place is full, it’s very hard to avoid an encore, because enough people start a clapping (and possibly standing ovation) fest, that it becomes infectious. Last night, I suspect it would have fizzled, so they didn’t risk the embarrassment.

I choose to highlight this to make a different point. One of the running jokes on stage at these events is that of being surprised at the number of Hillbillies in NYC. This is true to some extent. After all, these shows sell out every time (until last night).

And yet, NYC was unable to sustain a single country music radio station. The one station we had (and it was a good one), folded years ago (perhaps as many as 10, though I’m not sure). If you don’t have XM Radio in NYC, you don’t get Country Radio. So, on a number of occasions after one of these concerts, Lois has commented to me that this was proof that there are real Country fans in NYC.

True. In fact, when Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban all sell out Madison Square Garden, and you can see that all of the fans know every word to every song (meaning, they aren’t there just to see a star that they haven’t heard of), and Martina McBride and Dolly Parton sell out Radio City Music Hall, clearly, there are 10’s of thousands of Country fans in NYC.

Still, when CMA chooses to put on back-to-back shows at a small venue like Joe’s Pub, the drop-off from one night to the next was jarring. I don’t think the economy suffered that much more one day later. I think that the regular sellouts at Joe’s come from a core crowd, with a number of them unable or unwilling to make that commitment on consecutive days.

When DiPiero asked the audience last night how many people had attended a previous showing in this series, I’d say that 80% raised their hands. When he just mentioned that they had been there the night before, roughly 60% of the audience whooped it up indicating that they had been there for that show too (we recognized a few people on the line before the show).

So, as much as we loved the opportunity to see this series on back-to-back nights, I think they do better when they space them out. That won’t be a problem for the next show, which was just scheduled for March 19th, 2009. That’s a little too much time between shows for our taste, but hey, you can’t have it all! πŸ™‚

Rock-N-Sake

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There are a group of businessmen that I’m very friendly with that happen to also be investors in my fund. For the past two years we’ve spent a considerable amount of time together, because we served on the board of a small company. Unfortunately, with everything turning sour earlier this year, we all recently resigned from the board and I don’t get to see them as often as I would like.

For the past two years, one of them has been raving to me about a restaurant in Port Washington, NY (Long Island) called Rock-N-Sake. It was opened by a chef who had a successful restaurant in New Orleans, that was wiped out by hurricane Katrina.

My friend was so impressed with the food and the atmosphere at the Port Washington restaurant, that he worked with the chef to open one in Manhattan, backed by the group of investors mentioned above.

The restaurant opened recently, and is already getting rave reviews.

After one aborted attempt, I finally had the opportunity to eat there for lunch yesterday, with four of the five members of this investment group.

First, the bottom line: Wow!

Here’s a little more detail, but the Wow should suffice to get you into this place if you are remotely in the vicinity. Basically, it’s a very hip-looking place (beautifully appointed and laid out), with a very up-tempo sound and feel (including flat-panel TVs at the bar).

The food is Cajun-inspired (recall, the original was started in New Orleans) Japanese, not just sushi, but they do sushi to perfection.

I like practically everything in a good sushi place, so I decided to place my order in the hands of the guy who originally discovered this restaurant in Port Washington. He basically doubled his order to accommodate me.

First, the chef sent out a complimentary appetizer (I was, after all, with the partial owners of the place). It was noodles in a peanut and mango sauce. I won’t be able to do it justice, but I was secretly glad that two of the guys didn’t bother to taste it, so there was more for me. It was incredible.

Then another guy forced me to eat a tempura shrimp that was drizzled all over with a tangy wasabe sauce. Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do, and I obliged. Superb.

The next delicacy was two skewers of cooked Tuna steak. Not little shish-kebab pieces, but reasonable-sized tuna steaks on a skewer. It was completely delectable, essentially melting in my mouth. The was followed by two square pieces of Chilean Sea Bass on skewers as well. They looked like large, square scallops. They too melted in my mouth. Fantastic.

Then came a large bowl of fish soup, another fantastic dish. That was followed by a very large crab-cake-like mixture of cooked salmon and crab. We split that. It had a hint of crispiness at the edges, but was also super delicate. The salmon and crab mixed together was another phenomenal combination.

We topped it off with a Hawaiian Roll. This is shrimp tempura, with avocado, cream cheese, mango, and one or two other goodies. Yummy.

Two of the other guys had more traiditional sushi platters. Traditional isn’t necessarily the right word, as they were varied and looked really good, but they had raw fish on them, which wasn’t the case for my meal yesterday.

Every single bite that went into my mouth was heavenly. Even though the location isn’t the most convenient for me, and even though I’m crazy about the sushi restaurant right across the street from our apartment, I will definitely do whatever I can to make it over to Rock-N-Sake whenever I possibly can.

Well done!

P.S. On the way out the door, they told me that I had to go to the restroom, if I didn’t have to go. I opened the door, and saw that there is a projection TV in the ceiling, projecting the image on the floor, oriented for the benefit of people that have to sit. A little wacky, but apparently, when a big game is on the tube at night, it’s a pretty popular feature. πŸ˜‰

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our sixth time attending the CMA Song Writers Series at Joe’s Pub. Tonight will be our seventh. πŸ˜‰

We’ve enjoyed every single rendition, including last night. As I’ve written before, the performance abilities of the multitude of writers can be quite varied. Some are quite raw, while a few are close to professional-level performers. Last time, we missed a real professional, Josh Turner, who only appeared in the 9:30pm show, while we attended the 6:30 one.

Last night, we didn’t miss out. Joining the regularly scheduled writers was Craig Morgan, a superstar in his own right (both as a writer and as a performer). Just this past week, he was inducted as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry!

Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

CMA Song Writers 20081029

CMA Song Writers 20081029

Mike Rogers is the head of Craig Morgan’s band, playing a number of instruments (normally). Last night, he was there to play guitar with Craig (though he took some incredible leads when supporting some of the others on the stage as well). Mike’s guitar playing is star quality (after all, that’s what he does for a living, as he’s not the typical songwriter that appears in these shows). In addition, his harmonies with Craig were simply outstanding.

Mike Rogers

Mike Rogers

Craig Morgan was in town doing the Today Show on NBC in the morning. Lucky for all of us, since he would normally be a solo headliner in a much larger venue than Joe’s Pub. His voice is silky smooth, with tremendous range. He’s delightful interacting with the crowd, and there was zero sense of a swelled head, given his recent induction into the Grand Ole Opry, or his otherwise considerable stardom compared to the rest of the people he shared the stage with.

Oh, and did I mention, he’s a great songwriter, and therefore fully deserves to share the stage purely as a songwriter? I already mentioned Mike Rogers above, but the fact that Craig brought Mike along made for a super-professional performance whenever it was Craig’s turn. The two of them sing beautifully together, and Mike is a superb guitarist.

Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan

Bob DiPiero held court in the middle, as he always does. He’s a natural, and always has the crowd (and the rest of the writers) in stiches throughout the show. Since he’s at every show, some of the schtick is a little repetitious. That said, it’s delivered perfectly, and the crowd eats it up every time, so we enjoy it over and over as well.

Likewise, while Bob has a large repertoire to select from, he has a handful of mega-hits, and he plays the same five songs at every show. Again, it’s possibe that he would be skinned alive by the crowd if he didn’t play them, so I completely understand. We too tap and clap along each time, because they are great songs.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Hillary Lindsey was the one female on stage last night. She defines the enigma that is the music business to us. Her songwriting is incredible, both alone and in collaboration with others. While her guitar playing is weak (but acceptable), her voice is as good as it gets, and her performance (sharing the true emotion of various parts of the songs) was as good as it gets as well. So, why is she not a superstar performer in her own right?

I don’t know the answer to these kinds of mysteries. Carrie Underwood (who is an extraordinary performer) doesn’t play an instrument on stage. She simply has a stunning voice. So does Hillary. Carrie is gorgeous (that doesn’t hurt when you want to draw a crowd). Hillary is extremely attractive as well, and clearly didn’t have (or need!) a team of stylists and makeup artists to prepare her for this show. Perhaps she’s simply not interested in being a full-time performer. I wish I knew the answers to these types of questions…

She added wonderful harmonies to songs that the other writers sang, making her overall contribution to last night’s show outstanding!

Hillary Lindsey Brett James

Hillary Lindsey Brett James

Brett James sat on the far-right of the stage. He too has an excellent voice, plays the guitar reasonably well, and has a terrific stage presence. He too is a prolific songwriter with a number of top hits to his credit. He too writes well alone and in collaboration. What was particularly interesting is that he specifically collaborates with Hillary Lindsey, many times, for many years.

They co-wrote Jesus Take The Wheel, Carrie Underwood’s first smash hit! On his Wikipedia page, you can see a number of other great songs he’s written (or co-written), including Blessed (with Hillary Lindsey) and Who I Am (with Jessica Andrews, who made the song a #1 hit).

What made last night a treat, is that since Hillary and Brett co-wrote a number of the songs each performed, they were able to sing stunning harmonies on them as well (Jesus Take The Wheel was but one example).

Brett James

Brett James

So, while we’ve truly enjoyed every show, and are looking forward to tonight’s performance as well, last night was definitely special, in particular due to Craig Morgan and Hillary Lindsey! Thanks to all five performers for making last night very memorable!

They were on stage for just under two hours including a rousing one-song encore. After the show, Lois sprinted to the back to tell Hillary how much she enjoyed and was moved by her performance (and songs in general). She snapped this photo of Hillary while waiting patiently, and then indeed got to share her thoughts directly with Hillary.

Hillary Lindsey

Hillary Lindsey

Colin Powell is So Bold

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Colin Powell has endorsed Barack Obama. I didn’t see the interview on TV, nor have I read the full transcript, though I’ve seen a bunch of quotes on both TV and on the net. I wanted to write about my first impressions the next day, but got distracted. Today, Maureen Dowd wrote another of her holier-than-thou missives in The NY Times, and it reminded me to get my thoughts out.

First, how unbelievably bold and brave of Colin Powell to endorse Obama two weeks before a practically inevitable victory. If he could only have waited until the day after, so he could be really sure, it would even have been better. I know, I know, better late than never…

Next, while I have enormous respect (or had, at least) for General Powell, that doesn’t negate the fact that his personal judgement hasn’t been exactly spot-on in the past two decades!

First, he strenuously objected to finishing the job in Iraq in 1991, and Bush senior acquiesced to him. It’s possible (perhaps even likely) that none of the current mess (not just the obviously flawed Iraq war!) would ever have come to pass if Powell had not been so insistent back then.

He was then instrumental in shifting sentiment against Iraq when he presented the case for WMD at the U.N. People trusted Powell, and Bush junior was given the power to attack. One of two things have to be correct here:

  1. Powell believed every word that he said.
  2. Powell knowingly exaggerated to make the administration’s case.

If #1 is correct, then Powell should be as vilified by the people (Maureen Dowd included) who are so quick to praise him now. After all, they bristle at the thought that Bush/Chaney could have really believed there was a real threat of WMD at the time. It would appear that when you agree with them, you’re a genius. When you disagree, you’re an evil fool. If there was a single person who was most responsible for us going into the Iraq War, it’s Powell.

If #2 is correct, shame on him, and shame on him for ever opening his mouth in public again.

Obviously, I believe #1 is correct, and that he honorably presented the facts as the entire administration believed them to be at the time. Rewriting history to suit one’s needs is another sad fact of life in general, not just political life.

On to a few of the observations made by Dowd:

But what sent him over the edge and made him realize he had to speak out was when he opened his New Yorker three weeks ago and saw a picture of a mother pressing her head against the gravestone of her son, a 20-year-old soldier who had been killed in Iraq. On the headstone were engraved his name, Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, his awards β€” the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star β€” and a crescent and a star to denote his Islamic faith.

Wow, convenient timing. I am sure that every day before that he was this close to endorsing Obama, but for this last straw. Was there no way for Powell to speak on behalf of American Muslims, indeed Muslims the world over, for the past few years, without endorsing either candidate? No, apparently not. Obama is somehow qualified to be President, because others are painting Muslims as bad, and hinting that Obama is one of them. Wow again.

In a gratifying β€œhave you no sense of decency, Sir and Madam?” moment, Colin Powell went on β€œMeet the Press” on Sunday and talked about Khan, and the unseemly ways John McCain and Palin have been polarizing the country to try to get elected. It was a tonic to hear someone push back so clearly on ugly innuendo.

Of course it was gratifying. It gratifies Maureen Dowd when a Republican (is he still?) pushes back so clearly on ugly innuendo. Woe betide the Democrat who might point out that the Obama campaign, and the various 527 outfits like MoveOn.org do equally insiduous things, innuendo and all.

Let me be clear: I think that Dowd (and others) are 100% correct when they bemoan the ugliness that is the Republican attack machine against Obama. I have written about that in the past. It disgusts me thoroughly. But, the Democratic machine is just as ugly (in every single way) as the Republican machine, but that never raises the ire of someone like Dowd, unless it’s Hillary’s campaign doing it against Obama.

In other words, it’s only ugly when it’s against your candidate, not becuase the tactic itself is just plain ugly, no matter who uses it.

No wait, I spoke too soon. In the very next paragraph, Dowd indeed calls out the Obama campaign!

Even the Obama campaign has shied away from Muslims. The candidate has gone to synagogues but no mosques, and the campaign was embarrassed when it turned out that two young women in headscarves had not been allowed to stand behind Obama during a speech in Detroit because aides did not want them in the TV shot.

Ah, close, but no cigar. The Obama campaign shied away, but the McCain campaign uses ugly innuendo. Oh well, at least she tried to throw a bone toward fairness.

She closes her piece with the following quote from Powell:

β€œExperience is helpful,” he says, β€œbut it is judgment that matters.”

Correct. Unfortunately, Powell lacks judgment himself, so we’re back to square one…

Selling the Presidency

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Yesterday, The NY Times had an article discussing the size of the ad budgets of both campaigns. Regardless of the statistics provided in that article, it crystalized for me something I had been feeling for a long while, but couldn’t articulate, even to myself.

The purpose of ads is to sell something to us. It is not meant to educate us, even though marketers would love to spin it that way.

Unfortunately, the Presidency shouldn’t be sold, it should be earned. While I can rationalize the need for smaller elections to use ads, when many of us haven’t even heard a candidate’s name before, let alone their position on an issue, that simply isn’t (or shouldn’t be!) the case for the Presidential candidates.

These days, they get nearly unlimited air time, ink in major newspapers, too many blog posts, etc. Then, even if you missed any of that, it’s all available to watch again, 24/7, on YouTube, etc. Therefore, it’s not fair to say that they need a targeted way to get their message out.

Like it or not, the spin-meisters are getting paid to influence us, in tried and true ways, affecting even those of us who believe we are immune to advertising. Obama is Miller-Lite and McCain is Bud-Light (yes, they spell lite differently, because someone studied the effect on our psychies!). This is just very sad to me.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a positive or negative ad, it’s just wrong. Madison Avenue puts out negative ads as well:

This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?

Translation:

This is your wallet. This is your wallet after my opponent becomes President. Any questions?

Here’s what I would like to see, as completely ridiculous as the idea is.

For the Presidency only (if it works, we can consider extending it to other high-profile races), permit zero ads, from anyone! That means no 527 ads, no party ads, no campaign ads, none, period. No issue ads either.

Second, no candidate should be permitted to point out the negatives of the other. We have plenty of places to read that kind of reporting, even if we don’t want it. Candidates should be forced to talk only about what they will do as President. Don’t draw the contrast, leave that one task to my personal brain.

If a candidate says anything about his opponent (positive or negative) at a rally, it should simply never be run on TV (network or cable). Tell me what you will do for me, not what the other guy won’t do for me!

Obviously, this will never happen. At least now you know how I would like it to be…

Girlyman at Birchmere

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This time around, we only had to wait a day to see Girlyman again. I’m glad to say we made it. πŸ˜‰

While Gravity Lounge is a small, intimate place, Birchmere is cavernous. The other difference is that Gravity Lounge is concert style seating (everyone facing the stage) and Birchmere is dining table style (most people have a shoulder facing the stage and need to twist to have a full stage view).

Birchmere can seat 650 people. Given the economic hard times, and the generic fact that Girlyman’s style of music (Alt-Folk/Pop) doesn’t typically draw gigantic crowds (though it most definitely should!), I was marginally worried that the place might feel a bit empty.

I should have had more faith (after all, they sold out the Barns at Wolftrap in March, a nearby venue that seats 400!). We sat right up against the stage, so it was a little hard to gauge an accurate count (though I tried). My best guess is that there were at least 350 people there, possibly 400+. That generated the same feel as a sold out house, because there are many tables that are way off to the sides, and the entire center section (the bulk) had very few empty seats.

The show had a similar feel to the night before. However, as I expected (and was delighted to be correct), Girlyman mixed it up enough to keep it fresh even for the few of us (possibly just Lois and me?) that saw them on consecutive nights. The set list had at least three additions to it, and the one song that was on the set list the night before, but wasn’t played (James Dean) was done last night.

In addition, the requests that they played last night were different, so there were at least a half dozen different numbers. The tuning songs were different too, but there were actually fewer of them both nights than usual. I ascribe that to there being more new material, which might not require as many drastic re-tunings of the guitars/banjo/mandolin as the older stuff. Here’s a photo of a tuning song:

Girlyman Tuning Song

Girlyman Tuning Song

The music was fantastic (the acoustics at the Birchmere are wonderful). Their banter (and general stage presence) was perfect as well. In fact, playing to a significantly larger crowd can make the banter more difficult, since comedic tastes can be that much more varied, and there’s a slight reduction in intimacy. That wasn’t a problem, as the crowd universally and uniformly ate up every bit of the act, which fed the energy on the stage.

It’s hard (if not impossible) to describe a song. Lois really wants me try, so here goes. πŸ™‚

One of their newer songs is Everything’s Easy (it’s on their new/current Live CD). It’s a great song in general, but also very special. Each of them sings one verse alone. Nate starts, then Ty sings a different melody. Doris sings a dramatically different melody (alone as well, the first time). Then, after blending together a bit, and starting to build in volume (and passion), they sing simultaneously (in harmony), but each singing their own verse.

Not only are they singing wildly different words, they are singing entirely different tunes (as opposed to singing in a normal harmony, where you are mostly just offset from the main melody). It’s stunning. The focus that they each need to maintain is incredible, but we shouldn’t care if it’s hard for them, we should care whether the result is sonically gorgeous. It is, in every way. Bravo!

If you’re interested in checking it out, go to their MySpace page, and the second song (at least as of this writing) is Everything’s Easy. Enjoy!

When they got to the request section (they do that at every show), I yelled (twice, at the top of my lungs) Hold It All At Bay. I was only five feet away from Doris, perhaps 10 from Ty, so I know they heard me. Unfortunately, lots of other people yelled out lots of other song requests, and I don’t think I heard any other requests for Hold It All At Bay.

I love so many of their songs so much, that it somehow feels silly to say “My favorite song of theirs is Hold It All At Bay”. And yet, I can say it with no caveat or hesitation. While there may be two dozen close seconds, from the first second I heard that song, it remains the most played song on my iPod, and it moves me (lyrically and musically) each and every time I listen to it.

I hadn’t heard them sing it live in a while, and I fully expected to miss out again last night. While I might never be sure, I want to believe that they chose to give me a personal gift when they decided to play Hold It All At Bay for the first request. They couldn’t have played it better! Thank you Girlyman! πŸ™‚

Since they knew that they didn’t pick the most called for song, they were kind enough (and connected enough with their audience) to select another song for a request after that as well.

They closed the show with Joyful Sign. When they returned for the encore (as the result of a standing ovation) they played Nate’s new song (the one I didn’t know the title of in yesterday’s post). I think he didn’t mention the title last night either, but he did give the same cute intro. Lois and I are calling the song “My Eyes Get Misty” until we hear differently. They skipped the typical Girlyman Benediction song (which I love) and went straight to their stock closing number Son Of A Preacher Man (which they nail, every time!).

In total, they were on stage for 110 minutes. This was fantastic. It wasn’t just the extra five minutes over the night before, but they also came on later due to the opening act (different from the night before) being on stage significantly longer.

Girlyman

Girlyman

The opening act last night was Chelsea Lee (we didn’t know there would be one until we showed up). She came out at 7:30pm accompanied by Todd Wright on guitar (and harmony). Chelsea has a stunning voice, truly extraordinary. Todd is a good rhythm guitarist, whose voice complements Chelsea’s on their harmonies, perfectly. Unfortunately, since she’s the star, and they’re not officially a duo, he doesn’t sing nearly enough with her. Not that her voice isn’t amazing all by itself (it most definitely is), but their blended voices are even better.

Chelsea Lee

Chelsea Lee

As spectacular as Chelsea’s voice is, her material (mostly, if not all written by her) doesn’t live up to the same standard. It’s actually reasonably repetitive, both in general feel/sound, as well as brooding theme. She would do better playing in a real Blues Club (in my opinion) than in a place like the Birchmere. She’s a cross between Blues and Jazz. While Todd’s guitar playing complemented her really well, I couldn’t help but think that if there was a soulful grand piano accompanying her, in a blues club setting, she might have come across more authentically.

Todd did something that perhaps other musicians do regularly on stage, but I am generally unaware of the technique. Because we sat so close to him, I was able to see it clearly (this time). On one number, he clicked a switch with his sneaker on a board full of switches. Apparently, that started recording what he was playing. After a few bars, he clicked another switch and the previous recording started playing back in a loop. He literally took his hands off the guitar, but the sound kept coming out of the Birchmere speakers accompanying Chelsea.

Then, after a few seconds, he played a little lead guitar, supported by his own strumming, which he had just recorded live. After a few more bars of that, he eased back into strumming along with the recording, and when that was sync’ed up correctly, he turned off the recording and was back to strumming live only. It was an interesting and cool experience, which might be going on more often on stage than I previously realized.

Todd Wright

Todd Wright

Regarding Chelsea again, one more nit to pick. She’s not really comfortable on the stage. She’s not awkward either, just not comfy. She’s not leading/controlling the crowd in any way, she’s just settling herself down between numbers, building up the courage and focus to perform the next one. Last night’s crowd was extremely respectful of her, and clapped generously, so it ended up being fine. I could easily see her losing control of a crowd if she opened for someone other than Girlyman, who draws wonderful people wherever they perform.

She joked (awkwardly) a few times about how old the crowd was. When she was hawking her CD, she babbled about how we (the audience) were likely too old to be users of MySpace (uh huh). She and Todd spent a good deal of time teasing each other (including about the difference in their ages). Still, we didn’t know how old she was (if you already checked the link I gave above, the next paragraph will be anti-climactic for you).

I tried to guess her age, and figured something between 21-25. It turns out she’s 17! Wow. That certainly explains the lack of stage presence (not that 17-year-olds can’t have it, as Taylor Swift clearly demonstrates). She’ll likely get there. Hopefully it won’t take too long.

As talented as she is (vocally), she was still just an opening act, with the vast majority of the people in the crowd breathlessly awaiting Girlyman’s appearance on stage. In my opinion, Birchmere gave her too much stage time. She was on for 55 minutes. That’s long, even for a well-known opening act. Given that most of her songs have a very similar sound/feel, it dragged a bit, and a true Girlyfan would have to wonder whether it was eating into Girlyman’s time.

You already know the answer to that. Thankfully, Girlyman gave us every drop of value for our money. Whew!

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that Lois and I brought ten friends to see Girlyman at Gravity Lounge. Last night, we brought 13 people from Zope Corporation (including some family members). We drove three of them up with us and got there at 4:25pm (doors open at 5pm) to pick up our tickets and get a number to be seated early. I had asked the rest of the gang to be there no later than 5:45pm (the doors to the concert hall open at 6pm when they call people in for dinner in the order that they picked up their tickets).

Here are our car guests:

Zope Guys

Zope Guys

I was amazed (and really appreciative) when every single person in our party was there by 5:40pm. We were number five to be called in. However, since we had 15 people, we couldn’t sit together center stage. We chose two tables at the left edge of the stage and split our group. Each table could seat 12, but we put seven at one table and eight at the next.

Here’s the gang that sat at the first table:

Zope Table 1

Zope Table 1

And, table number two:

Zope Table 2

Zope Table 2

The food at Birchmere is Southern-style Comfort food, and they do it really well. I had the Pulled Pork sandwich. When I went over to the other table to survey what they had ordered, I said that my pulled pork was fanastic but greasy. Our CTO pointed out that I used the word but incorrectly in that sentence. He was right, and I corrected it to “my pulled pork sandwich was fanastic and greasy”. πŸ˜‰

Everyone seemed to like their food, and it all looked great. A number of us had decadent desserts as well (I succumbed), but we had to do what needed to be done…

Of the 13 people we brought along, only two had seen Girlyman before. While it’s hard to know whether people are being polite, our group all said that they thoroughly enjoyed the show. One of the guys said that while he liked the music, he loved all of the non-music parts (which are significant in any Girlyman show).

Interestingly enough, most of them were not as kind (polite) about Chelsea’s performance. While the majority did praise her voice, they found little else to compliment. When asked what she thought, one person actually answered “I wasn’t paying that much attention…”. I didn’t love it, but I think I enjoyed it more than most (if not all) of them did.

After the show, seven of us waited in line to say hi to Girlyman. I got to thank them directly for playing Hold It All At Bay, and tell them how perfectly they did it. We took a customary photo with them, which included the youngest member of our group as well. She was a last-minute substitute when her dad got caught in a business trip and she joined her mom (who works at Zope). Ironically, it is the mom and the little one who had seen Girlyman before in NYC (nearly a year ago).

Girlyman and Us

Girlyman and Us

As with the previous night at Gravity Lounge, we ordered a copy of last night’s live show and I’m sure we’ll do the same at Joe’s Pub. Yes, we’re seeing them again on November 5th! πŸ™‚

We talked about the show with our three car guests for the next hour on the ride back to Fredericksburg. For us, it was a perfect evening. We hope our guests enjoyed it at least 10% as much as we did. πŸ™‚

Update: The little one’s mom just emailed us a great picture of Girlyman with her daughter. Here it is:

Little One Girlyman

Little One Girlyman

Girlyman at Gravity Lounge

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Last night we (finally) saw Girlyman again (fifth time for us). It was a long dry spell, lasting exactly 200 days in between shows. During that time, we saw 27 other live shows (all blogged about). If you are a complete masochist, you can see all of those, including a few other music-related but not live-show related posts, at this link.

While the vast majority of the past 27 live shows were awesome, in every respect, there’s something more magical about an evening spent with Girlyman. You have to experience it to understand that, even if you love their CDs.

Not only was last night no exception, it was particularly special, because the venue (Gravity Lounge in Charlottesville, VA) is a very special place to see this kind of group. We’ve been there once before to see The Wailin’ Jennys, and that evening was magical as well.

Gravity Lounge is ultra-intimate. The stage is raised roughly a foot off the seating area, so you’re not craning your neck to look up at the performers. The worst seat in the house isn’t bad, and 80% of the seats are fantastic.

Girlyman has a large repertoire of songs, and we love nearly every one of them, so going to a show will always yield surprises and some (extremely minor) disappointments, given that they simply can’t play everything we’d want to hear. In addition, they are continually writing new songs (all fantastic) and arranging new covers, so the pool of available numbers keeps growing.

They recently started a video blog (low-res version available on YouTube, hi-res version available on Vimeo). You can also video podcast them at iTunes. In those video blogs, you can hear snippets of two new songs and one complete new cover. Last night, they performed the full version of all three.

Easy Bake Ovens hooked me even in the video (as short as it was, from the first video blog). The song is perfect for their soaring harmonies, and the lyrics are fun and insightful as well. They performed it flawlessly last night. They performed Tell Me The Reason (which Doris lip-sync’s on the most recent clip, labeled Video Blog, Part 2). Gorgeous!

Sandwiched in between Part 1 and Part 2, is a video labeled Islands In The Stream, their new cover. The song was made famous by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, but was actually written by the Bee Gees (Lois and I were quite surprised at that, but Wikipedia confirms it). We’ve always liked the song, and there’s nothing wrong with Girlyman’s arrangement, but in my opinion, it was the weakest song of the night (not weak, just weaker than any of the others), and I would personally have preferred them to substitute any of their other songs.

At the very end of the show, they played another new one by Nate. Unfortunately, it isn’t in a video yet, and wasn’t on the printed set list (which we snagged), and I don’t recall the title. Another big winner though, so we (and the rest of you) will need to be on the lookout for the name. πŸ™‚

Speaking of the set list, there was only one song that they planned to play that they didn’t (James Dean). In addition to playing two requests, they also played at least two additional songs that weren’t on the set list. A very generous show indeed!

Of course, they also played many crowd favorites (Joyful Sign, Through To Sunrise, Kittery Tide, Postcards From Mexico, Somwhere Different Now, Storms Were Mine, and quite a number of others!). Speaking of the audience, the overwhelming majority of them were clearly super Girlyfans. The energy in the room was electric and the rapport between Girlyman and the audience was seamless and relaxed.

Ty added a snare drum to her customary djembe. Two of us (I was one of them) simultaneously teased her about not bringing along her collander highhat. You’ll have to watch the first video blog to understand the reference…

After a standing ovation, they returned for their signature encore: Girlyman Benediction and Son Of A Preacher Man. Wonderful! They were on stage for roughly 105 minutes. Given that they had an opening act, the show was long, and satisfying.

Here’s the only picture Lois snapped of them together on the stage. Given that we were in the front row, center, and they were spread out, all other shots have only one or two of them together:

Girlyman

Girlyman

Speaking of opening acts, Nervous But Excited opened for Girlyman last night. The group consists of Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver. Both talented singer/songwriters who harmonize well together (though not as often as they could). They performed five or six numbers. All were good, but they don’t produce the kind of sound Girlyman does, so there was anticipation of the real show, even though they were good.

They ended with Smaller Taller. You can hear that (and a bunch of other tracks from their live CD) here. It was the coolest/best of their stuff, but to repeat, all of their stuff was pretty good. On this last song, Girlyman joined them on the stage. Musically, it was an unecessary addition since they had the audience sing the chorus with them, canceling out the wonderful Girlyman harmonies. But, Nate performed special duties during the song, so it was a blast from that perspective, but you had to be there to appreciate it, so I won’t even describe it. πŸ˜‰

They were on for exactly 30 enjoyable minutes.

As you may know, I’m on a personal mission to increase awareness of this simply amazing group (this == Girlyman). One way to do that is to make sure that people actually see them live (the fastest way to fall in love with them). Toward that end, Lois and I invited 10 Richmond based friends to join us (we were coming from Zope in Fredericksburg). The place only seats about 150 (max), so we would be roughly 10% of the crowd, all by ourselves. πŸ˜‰

Of the 10 friends that we invited, two had seen them before (with us) at the Barns at Wolftrap. That made eight newbies, though half of them have received a Girlyman CD from us in advance well.

We arrived at 5:50pm, thinking that the doors would open at 6pm (which is what they did for the Jennys). When we got there, the door was open, with no one on line, so we walked right in. Girlyman was in the middle of their sound check, and no patrons were there yet. That was a very cool experience for us because the sound checks are off limits to customers, nearly 100% of the time. 10 minutes later, six more people from our group arrived, and with all of the hugging and catching up, the owner of Gravity Lounge realized he should never have left the door open, and he kicked us out. Oh well, at least we were still first in line.

Here’s a shot of them during the sound check. You can also get a good sense of the setup of the room, given that it was empty:

Girlyman Sound Check

Girlyman Sound Check

At 6:30 he opened the door and we went back in and snagged seats in the front and second rows. Lois and I sat front and center, and couldn’t have loved our seats or the show any more! We ordered dinner at the club as well. The food took forever to come out of the kitchen, but was superb and very value priced. The chef came out to apologize to Lois (her food came out dead last, by a long measure). It turns out it was her first night working there. So, she’s not fast, but she’s really good.

Because we were so early, we got to schmooze a bit with each of the Girlypeople, separately. That was a real treat. One of the innovations at this show (and apparently all of them on this tour) is that they record the entire show, and offer the CD for sale afterwards. I have written about this before, when we purchased the CD for a live show of California Guitar Trio at BB King. This is slightly different. Girlyman doesn’t burn the CDs on the spot (like CGT did), but mails them to you later. We trust them, and are looking forward to our CD in a few weeks.

Here’s a shot of Doris and me, proving the above schmoozing claim: πŸ˜‰

Doris and Hadar

Doris and Hadar

After saying our goodbyes (to our friends, and later to Girlyman), we didn’t need to feel badly about how long it would take us to see them again. We’re heading in exactly the opposite direction from Fredericksburg tonight, to Alexandria, VA, to see them at the Birchmere. Tonight, we’re bringing 13 people with us (total of 15), and again only two of those have seen them before (with us). So, we continue to do our part in spreading the word.

Now, the rest of you, get on the stick and spread the word!!! πŸ™‚

We Get What We Deserve

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This is a collection of random (but thematically related) thoughts, so it’s likely to ramble on for a while.

We get what we deserve! This sounds harsh, especially given that sometimes bad things happen to good people, but it’s still true, even if we can’t understand why those things happen. It’s even more true collectively, to groups of people (including entire societies) than it is to individuals (even though it’s still true there as well).

This is a distant cousin to the old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it! They’re not identical, because we always get what we deserve, even when we didn’t wish for anything, or got the opposite of our wish…

The point of this post is to explain why Barack Obama will definitely be our next President, and why we all deserve that to be the case, like it or not.

So, without further ado, here are some things that some prominent politicians have gotten (or are about to get), that they fully deserve(d), and that we as citizens, have gotten and deserved.

Nixon deserved to be thrown out (perhaps my least controversial comment).

The country was appalled, and over-reacted, selecting a complete Washington outsider, in electing Jimmy Carter. We got exactly what we deserved, namely the worst President in modern history (for me, that even includes George W. Bush, though at least grant me that aside from Bush, there’s no close second!). Could no one see it coming? Did we need a candidate who lusted in his heart? Really? How quaint and revelatory…

In my opinion, he’s also by far the worst ex-President that we’ve had in recent memory. I would forgive his behavior, if I thought he had Alzheimer’s, but unfortunately, he’s just continuing to show his true colors. And no, it doesn’t matter that he personally does “good works” by building houses (though I applaud that mightily). You simply can’t trade a good deed against an evil one and hope to be even. It just doesn’t work that way.

George H.W. Bush was pretty popular after the first Gulf War. As the economy started to deteriorate in the last year of his Presidency, he thought he could ignore it and coast on his past laurels. He got exactly what he deserved, and lost.

We got Bill Clinton (with the added bonus of Hillary), and fully deserved that too! No signs (neon or otherwise!) of his indiscretions. It was all lies and swift boating (even though that term hadn’t been coined yet). If you read this column regularly, then you know that I actually think Clinton was a very effective President (which makes him a good one), but that was through no fault of his own.

Largely because of the mess of a co-President in Hillary (Health Care-Gate), Republicans swept Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years! The Clintons deserved that. Only because Bill Clinton is at heart a pragmatist (which I give him enormous credit for) and he had other distractions to amuse himself with (which I give him no credit for), did he end up being an effective President, by accomplishing a fair amount in conjunction with Congressional Republicans.

Given that, you’d think that Al Gore would have been a shoe-in to win the Presidency in 2000. Unfortunately, because of Clinton’s dalliances, enough people in the country wanted a change, any change (sound eerily familiar to the current situation?). Worse, Gore decided to distance himself from Clinton, trying to win over some of those change-wanters, but in the process, probably lost just enough staunch Clinton supporters to lose the election (there are an absolutely astonishing number of people who still pine for the good old Clinton days, but that’s a topic for another post).

Gore deserved to lose and the country deserved to get George W. Bush.

Bush inherited a post-Internet-bubble recession, then got socked with 9/11. Did we deserve to get attacked on 9/11? Many people say so, even here in the US. Did Bush reverse his entire No Nation Building rhetoric from that moment on? Absolutely. Does he deserve his current popularity ratings as a result? Absolutely.

So, why did he win re-election in 2004? Because so many Democrats were so sick of Bush, that they just had to pick the most opposite candidate that they possibly could. I’m not sure there was a worse candidate available at the time than John Kerry. Even he barely lost, and should have won. Still, when you over-react, and don’t behave rationally, you get what you deserve. All of the Bush-bashing liberals, got exactly what they deserved, another Bush term.

I believe that any of the other top primary candidates in 2004 (other than perhaps Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich) would have easily beaten Bush had they been the nominee of their party. Personally, I was surprised that the Democrats didn’t go more heartily for Gephardt. He would have crushed Bush in my opinion.

Did Bush understand the serendipity of his re-election? Did he understand the magnitude of the hatred many had for him (even people who voted for him!)? No. He made some cosmetic changes (anyone still remember Rumsfeld?) but basically stayed the same course. The result? A sweeping reversal in Congress in 2006. Did Bush deserve that? Sure! Did the Republican Congress deserve to be kicked in the butt? Sure!

Did we deserve to get a do-nothing Congress, with a lower approval rating than the President (can you even believe that?!?)? Yes! We allowed Bush to stay the course, by putting in a bunch of Bush-haters, who wasted more time arguing about impeachment, than putting together hard-nosed bills that the President would have had a hard time vetoing. Even if he did, if they were well-thought-out bills, enough Republicans would have been forced to vote with the Democrats to over-ride any veto.

For all of their anti-Bush rhetoric, whenever it counted most, Congress voted with him, including on this current Bailout bill. We deserve them, and they deserved to have Bush as their leader!

Many Republicans were sick of Bush as well. Not in the same way that Democrats are, but sick is sick, and they over-reacted in their way, and overwhelmingly nominated the most unlikely of the group of candidates, John McCain. They deserve what they got, as the Democrats deserved what they got in Kerry in 2004.

What happened to the front-runners? Let’s pick on one only, Rudy Guiliani. He ran possibly the most arrogant campaign in the history of Presidential politics, sitting on the sidelines until he was anointed in Florida. Oops, it didn’t work out that way, and he deserved exactly what he got.

On the other side, Hillary had analogous (but differently manifested) hubris to Rudy. She too thought that she was the chosen one, and didn’t have to worry about caucus states and grass roots efforts. Yet, without those efforts, she blew through one of the largest war chests in history. What was she spending all that money on? She was blind-sided by the coming Obama storm, and deserved to be.

Rather than rehashing all of the ins and outs of the Democratic primary battles, and the various accusations of racial politics, I’ll simply say that both Obama and Clinton deserved what they got in their bitter battle. He couldn’t put her away, time and time again. She couldn’t sustain her comeback enough to overcome his early lead, but couldn’t put the good of their party ahead of her personal ambitions (like Mitt Romney did, even though he was crushing Huckabee for second at the time he bowed out).

Largely because of Clinton fighting to the bitter end, McCain resurged in the polls. He didn’t need to attack Obama, Clinton and her supporters were doing a fine job. McCain got to spend very little money, and continued to gather momentum.

Obama could have chosen Clinton as his running mate, and this race would likely have been over a long time ago. No, he couldn’t bring himself to do it, for many reasons. He got exactly what he deserved as a result, a much tougher, uglier battle than he expected. Still, by the Democratic Convention, it appeared that all would be forgiven (mostly) within the party itself, and Obama would be fully supported.

McCain decided that he had to gamble on his VP pick (did he really need to? probably not given Obama’s pick in Biden, but he decided he should!). If he wins the election (still an extremely remote possibility), his pick will have been brilliant, whether you like Sarah Palin or not. However, since it seems extremely likely that McCain will lose, and possibly by a very large margin, he will have gotten exactly what he deserved for choosing Palin.

For two candidates who both claimed to be different, reformers, wanting to shake up Washington, set a bi-partisan tone, this is every bit the nasty, disgusting, hate-filled campaign on both sides that every other Presidential election devolves into. It’s not working for either side, and both candidates deserve to be unmasked for the hypocrites that they are. For one of them, it won’t matter (unless you consider losing a Presidential election as mattering), πŸ˜‰ but for the other one, he will be damaged (in terms of credibility) as the new President, already having been seen for what he really is, rather than for his lofty rhetoric…

So, why is the gap widening between Obama and McCain? Not because of the ads. McCain is shooting himself in the heart (rather than just the foot), in showing zero leadership nor consistency on the critical issues of our time. He’s in full-blown panic, throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks.

Obama is being what he always is. Cagey, shifty, uncommitted, not responsible for any of his past actions or our current problems. Still promising change, for the sake of change. When your opponent is disintegrating all on his own, you need not do any more than be patient.

Our next President will be Barack Obama, and we will deserve him, exactly as we have deserved every President we got at the time we elected him (in this case, to me, another Jimmy Carter). I pray that his Presidency will be less disastrous, but I’m not hopeful of that. He too will have both houses of Congress to splash around in the pool with. As I discussed in an ancient post, he will be the puppet of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

I will be voting for John McCain, even though I have little respect for his current campaign. For me, it will at least be a tiny check-and-balance against a growing Democratic Congressional majority. He will be like Bill Clinton, as he has proven time and time again that he can compromise with the Democrats (more so than practically any other Republican in recent history!). So, if Congress sends him reasonable bills, he will be sure to sign them into law (as Clinton did in the second half of the 90’s). But, if they send him ridiculous bills, I am equally sure that he will veto them.

The Democrats (led by Reid, Pelosi, and soon Obama), badly want to finish off the class warfare that they can’t seem to get away from. If they implement their plans (which perhaps they will be slowed down in doing because of the current financial meltdown), they will destroy this economy beyond repair. They claim to not want job growth (like Bush delivered for six years until Democrats took hold of Congress!). They want high paying, high quality job growth only. Good for them, we all want that. But, taxing corporations and rich people (who create these types of jobs) is not the way to go. Unfortunately, we’re all about learn that lesson together…

Welcome our new President. We will (unfortunately) most richly deserve him.

I am not a hardware guy

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Repeating the title, I am not a hardware guy. I also have fat fingers, and my hands aren’t all that steady. I would never even consider soldering anything, etc.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am the tech support guy for many people, including our cul-de-sac neighbors, who we are very friendly with.

Last night, the teenage daughter called to say that her laptop lid was broken, and the replacement parts had arrived that day from Dell. I told her that I’d come over this morning to take a look.

Previously, the keycap for the “`” key (where the shift of that is “~”) broke off. It didn’t just fall off, the clips broke so the key couldn’t be put back. Kids don’t tend to use that key much (programmers do) and you could still press the flat part to produce the right keystroke, so I advised them to leave it alone.

Since they were ordering a new laptop lid, they also ordered a new keyboard.

When I showed up this morning, I saw that the hinge for the left hand side of the display was broken off. They told me that the night before, the laptop actually sparked. I could see that the cable connecting the LCD to the motherboard was slightly frayed, which is probably what sparked. This was out of my league, but I knew I was still better equipped than they were.

So, the LCD itself was fine (other than the possibility that the frayed cable was useless), but the lid that it was attached to was broken. That’s the part they bought, plus the keyboard. Ironically, you have to completely remove the keyboard to fix the display panel, so I was going to be killing two birds with one stone anyway.

I used the mom’s laptop to log in to Dell’s site, because, unbelievable as this sounds, no instructions come with the spare parts. The online manuals are excellent though, and I was able to follow the hundreds of steps necessary to take everything apart.

In no particular order, and in no attempt to be comprehensive, here’s what I had to do:

  • open the mini-card housing and detach the antennas for the mini-WiFi card
  • remove tons of screws
  • pop off the hinge above the keyboard
  • remove the keyboard
  • detach the cable for the webcam and microphone
  • detach the cable for the display
  • detach the ground cable
  • remove the display bezel
  • remove the LCD display from the housing
  • remove the webcam and microphone from the housing

After tossing the old housing and keyboard, reverse all of the above steps, first putting some tape over the frayed part of the LCD cable. The toughest part was getting the keyboard ribbon plugged back in and locked into place.

I could not believe it when the laptop booted up and the LCD worked perfectly. The laptop looks brand new. I guess I’m now officially a hardware guy. πŸ˜‰

Table2CSS is Cool

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Two days ago, I wrote about a website that I was working on for a new friend. I mentioned that it was written a while ago, optimized for 800×600. It was rigidly coded, with very complex nested tables, with multi-column and multi-row spans, with absolute positioning, with image backgrounds in each cell, stitching together the desired look.

In the end, it appears to be one cohesive image on the back of any given page. That’s great if you don’t want/need to change anything. But, the second you want to introduce a new element on the page, it becomes maddening at best, and impossible at worst (without working on the actual background images to incorporate your new layout!).

I still haven’t pointed anyone to what site I’m talking about, but that might happen as soon as next week, we’ll see… In the meantime, I’m still just talking theory.

We wanted to embed a YouTube video of one of his most popular songs directly on the home page. In addition, we wanted to incorporate the new PayPal button (referred to in the previous post) on the home page as well, since most of the people who currently visit the site want to buy his CD rather than just poke around (trust me, we know that to be the case).

I tried modifying the tables to accomplish that quite a number of times. Each time, I broke the layout in one way or another, usually in a manner that was simply not acceptable.

Since I had no intention of redoing the entire site yet, and I didn’t want the home page to be jarringly different than the rest of the pages (which weren’t about to change), I was stuck. I decided to search for a conversion tool which would take a table-based design and turn it into a CSS-based one.

I found a great tutorial from someone who did a very complex site by hand, and I appreciate the effort he undertook to share that with the rest of us (and I’ll link to it to share the love). But, I had no interest or intention of doing this by hand.

I then found a site called Table2CSS that sold a tool that does exactly what I wanted. They supplied a trial version (that’s marginally crippled). I installed the trial, converted the home page, and it looked identical to the table version. Perfect!

Even though that was the only page that I needed/intended to convert for the moment, obviating the need for me to purchase the product, I decided that the author more than earned the $40 (OK, $39.95) πŸ˜‰ that he was asking for the program, given that he saved me a ton of time already.

Before I continue, I need to point out that there are many articles on the net that claim (rightly so!) that this is a stupid thing to do (or even want to do), as the resulting CSS is absurd at best, basically mimicking each and every table cell in a ridiculous manner. I agree 100%, so I don’t want any reader to think that I endorse this as a wholesale (or default) approach to converting and then maintaining a site (or even a page) using this technique.

That said, I had a singular mission in mind, to achieve a short-term goal, and this tool was perfect for me. I did indeed purchase the product!

Here’s what it allowed me to do. I wanted to embed a YouTube video and the PayPal button (as noted above). Unfortunately, even though I could have used CSS to place the YouTube after the tables were rendered (avoiding having to touch the tables), the embedded video was larger than the blank area avilable on the home page, and spilled (covering) into a number of other areas (keep in mind that this was an 800×600 layout!).

Because the table cells spanned multiple rows and columns, it was extremely difficult to change the size of any cell without breaking the layout horribly. Also, because the cells had images associated with them, that added extra pain.

Even though the CSS layout was as rigid, and absolute, there was no concept of spanning any longer. Each original cell was now a div, taking up as much room as it required. This alone, along with the ability to easily decide when an image should be repeated (because I was growing a cell) or not (because the image wasn’t a simple background gradient) was a big win.

I was able to reposition the cells using pure CSS quite easily. I had to add a repeat for some images, and create one new image as a filler (by cropping an existing image to fit a hole that I created). I was then able to add just two new divs, and two new CSS blocks, one for the video and the other for the PayPal button.

The new home page looks identical to the old one, except for those additions. I don’t love the general look-and-feel of the site (so I’m not praising it, nor my ability to manipulate it), but I accomplished my goal exactly as I had hoped, with significantly less pain than it would have taken without Table2CSS.

So, thanks again Table2CSS for saving me a lot of grief, or more accurately, for enabling me to accomplish a task I would have otherwise foresaken, for sure! πŸ™‚