September, 2009:

To Fifty Years More

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Note: this post is guest-blogged by my lovely (and incredible) wife, Lois. 🙂

We received this invitation in early August (from the wife of the man in whose honor the event would be held):

50YearInvitation

……….and attended yesterday.

What an incredible celebration to honor the life of our extraordinary friend and his accomplishments.

But no less, we honored the journey this couple has taken as so kind and generous friends, parents, siblings, children to their parents, and hard-working, contributing people. Near the start of the festivities, the wife introduced every person in the room, extolling their accomplishments and how the connections came to be. So she made certain there were no strangers in that room. We are able to reach out easily to this great extended clan.

Wonderful tributes were presented to the honoree: by his wife; by his mentor/boss and finally by his professor….all of whom are steadfast friends traveling through life with them.

Speech1 Speech2 Speech3 Speech4

The wife was my resident advisor freshman year of college. That I’m still part of her journey with her husband, children, grandchildren, my husband – is part of the magic of Life and fills me with gratitude and joy!

LoisHostess

She and I sat in a room some many years ago when her first child was about to be born. She asked me to play the guitar, and a few hours later, her son entered this world. You may draw your own conclusions about the impact of those songs. 🙂

Her husband – as she – is the kindest, smartest, funniest, most spiritual and joyful of people. They embrace others far and wide and make a positive difference in all the lives they touch. They care about ‘their own’. But ‘their own’ extends to the widest of communities.

ProudGrandpa

They travel the world, have amazing adventures, and yet most important of all to them are family and friends. They brought me along from age 17 when we first met, through to now, helping me with some of the difficult times I endured, and celebrating the joyful ones.

They each had milestone birthdays…..he last year, she last week. It would not surprise anyone to think they’d celebrated 35 (him) and 30 (her). With their boundless energy and excitement in life, it is our hope we will be celebrating with them long into the next fifty years. We love you!

Back to me! 🙂

We apologize in advance for the graininess of some of the pictures, and for the impromptu poses some of the guests were caught in. Lois avoided the flash most of the night, and tried to get candid shots throughout, so treat these more to get a feel of a wonderful evening, rather than portraits. Each photo can be clicked on to see a larger image.

Normally, I make clicked images open in a new window/tab. I didn’t do that here, so if you click on any image to see a larger one, you’ll need to use the back button to return to the post:

Andy FatherSon FlowersMenu Friends1 Friends2 Friends3 Friends4 Friends5 Friends6 Friends7 Friends8 HonoreeHadar HonoreeLoisHadar Jay JustinHadar Twins

Sierra Hull in Madison Square Park

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I started blogging nearly three years ago, purely to keep a journal as we were growing older. Memories fade and blur over time, and this seemed like a good place to document the happenings of our lives.

It’s grown a bit since then in a number of ways, but mostly, due to some incredible connections we’ve made with strangers (some of whom we’ve since met in real life, others where the relationship remains virtual). It has also exposed us to unimaginable enjoyment in the discovery of amazing musicians.

One such virtual connection is someone who has commented a number of times on my posts, signing his comments “alandb”. Nearly every time he leaves a comment, I learn something interesting and more importantly, useful.

A few days ago, he commented on my blog about Red Molly and The Nields, and he told me that Sierra Hull (one of our favorites) was playing a free show at Madison Square Park on Saturday (yesterday). We had plans in NJ at 5:30pm (a separate blog on that following this one), but couldn’t resist seeing Sierra again. Thanks alandb!

I covered Sierra extensively in my post about the Richmond City Slickers concert including her amazing band, Highway 111. Everything that I said about them in that post, still stands.

They played for an exquisite one hour yesterday, and then were rushing to make their flight at LaGuardia, since they originally thought they were supposed to be on an hour earlier. I hope they made it!

When we saw her in Richmond it was Lois’ birthday, and the concert was a surprise for her. At the time, Sierra was just 17-years-old. To make yesterday just a little more special, Sierra was still  just 17, but that’s no longer true today! So, we didn’t catch her on her birthday, but pretty darn close.

Sierra was her brilliant self. Mind-boggling mandolin playing, superb guitar picking, wonderful voice, bubbly personality, in total control of the show!

Sierra Hull and Highway 111

Sierra Hull and Highway 111

Clay Hess was outstanding on the guitar (he’s an exceptional flat picker), and he sang lead and great harmony with Sierra as well.

Clay Hess and Jacob Eller

Clay Hess and Jacob Eller

Corey Walker was incredible on the banjo. He also played guitar (one number) and dobro (on two numbers I think). He too sings beautifully. Yesterday, it was only harmony with Sierra and Clay, no leads.

Corey Walker

Corey Walker

Jacob Eller was superb on the upright bass. While he didn’t sing, he spent a reasonable amount of time entertaining the crowd at the mic, telling funny stories and introducing two songs.

Jacob Eller

Jacob Eller

We own a copy of Sierra’s Secret CD (thanks again to our good friend Chris for gifting that to us, and introducing us to Sierra!). At the show, we bought a copy of Sierra’s first CD, Angel  Mountain, which she put out when she was 10-years-old! Yes, 10! While she continues to grow as an artist, what makes that CD very special (we listened to it this morning) is that it’s entirely instrumental (I assume that at 10, she didn’t have the confidence in her voice yet, or it hadn’t developed enough). It’s such a treat to hear her play that much more mandolin!

After the show, even though they were necessarily rushing around, Lois got Sierra to sign the Angel Mountain CD, and I got to snap another picture of them together, to go with the wonderful picture of them that was taken on Lois’ birthday in Richmond.

Sierra Hull and Lois

Sierra Hull and Lois

Lois and Sierra Hull

Lois and Sierra Hull

Kelleigh McKenzie opened the show for Sierra Hull and Highway 111. She’s a singer/songwriter indie folk musician. She plays the guitar and banjo extremely well. She has a wonderful voice, very crisp, hitting all notes very clearly. She writes interesting lyrics about a wide variety of topics.

Kelleigh McKenzie

Kelleigh McKenzie

All of that means that I should have loved her performance. Unfortunately, I didn’t. She’s extremely talented, and I’m sure a large proportion of the crowd totally appreciated her. I appreciated the individual talents, but I never felt enveloped by the whole experience (with one exception, noted below). Something seemed to be missing.

She has a great stage presence. In fact, on at least two songs, her lead-in explanation of the upcoming song was much more interesting than the song. I was really interested to hear both songs, expecting the cool story to unfold further in the song, but both didn’t live up to the intro.

She played one song that negates everything I said above. She wrote it for her husband for their wedding. It’s called Wife is not a Four Letter Word. Very cute, well delivered, including another well-told introduction.

Personally, I wouldn’t seek her out again, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing her again if she was opening for someone I want to see. I’m perplexed by why I didn’t like her more, I know that I should have!

We drove in from the house just for this show. We got a legal parking spot across the street from the park. I expected to stand for the entire show, but they have the bandstand set up beautifully, including plenty of seats. There was an excellent turnout, with many people who raised their hands claiming to be first-timers at this free-concert series in the park. A great audience, who fully appreciated both artists, with a large percentage of people there having seen Sierra before!

Amy Rivard and Alex Berger at Waltz Astoria

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We attend a lot of live music. Just this week, we saw Red Molly and The Nields at Joe’s Pub on Sunday. On Monday we attended a Livestrong Fundraiser. On Wednesday we saw Wicked (for the 8th time!). Last night was supposed to be downtime, to recharge the batteries for an even more packed series of shows, some of which involve reasonably long drives to attend.

The best laid plans… On Monday, at the Fundraiser, we saw 11 performers (covered in this post). They were all terrific, but two of the standouts were Amy Rivard and Alex Berger. Alex is about to return to the UK for a number of months, so we thought that would be our last opportunity to see him for a while. The next day, Alex let me know that Amy and he had arranged for an impromptu show at a cafe in Astoria (Queens) called Waltz-Astoria.

One more opportunity to catch Alex before he left was reason enough to go, but if you read my previous post, then you know that we were both mesmerized by Amy’s performance on Monday, so the thought of not attending was ridiculous.

The show was scheduled for 8pm, and we got there at 7:30. That gave us some quality time to chat with Alex and Amy before the show started.

Alex Berger and Amy Rivard

Alex Berger and Amy Rivard

We had an extremely pleasant surprise when Shannon and Jason walked in as well (the Livestrong Fundraiser was organized by them!). We didn’t get a chance to meet them on Monday, so it was a treat to chat with them in a relaxed atmosphere last night.

Amy sang a number of classics last night, including Dream a Little Dream, Ain’t Misbehaving, etc. She also did Taylor the Latte Boy, which is what captivated us on Monday.

Amy Rivard

Amy Rivard

Lois and I have no doubt that we (and many of you!) will be seeing Amy on Broadway in the not-too-distant future. She’s a star, in every respect. It’s just a matter of time until someone who casts for Broadway will be thanking their lucky stars that they crossed paths with Amy! You heard it here folks!

After every few songs by Amy, all accompanied deliciously on a grand piano by Alex, Amy stepped aside and gave the stage over to Alex, who sang two songs solo at a time, before Amy returned.

Alex Berger

Alex Berger

Alex was incredible, including debuting a song he recently completed co-writing with Nate Campany (who was not there last night). The song was fantastic. You should definitely click on Nate’s name above, because the song that starts playing is excellent, and the video is incredibly creative (pay attention to the fades, in and out). 🙂

Now, we have to start following Nate as well. Our burden just grows every single day. Boo hoo for us… 😉

The show was terrific, start to finish. But, the evening was delightful beyond the wonderful music. Most of the shows we attend are structured, with little interaction between strangers in the audience, or any kind of quality time to chat with the performers.

Last night, with Waltz-Astoria being a normal cafe, that happens to spotlight musicians and comedians regularly at night, the atmosphere was completely different.

We stayed roughly one hour after the show ended, talking with Shannon, Jason (her husband), Alex, Amy, a friend of Amy’s (Liz), but mostly, we got know another Jason (Whitfield), also a friend of Amy’s. Really great guy, and we look forward to meeting his fiancée soon (not just because she’s a Rockette!). 😉

Jason Whitfield and Amy Rivard

Jason Whitfield and Amy Rivard

We had a lot of laughs, learned a bunch of interesting things from and about a number of interesting people, and got to hear two amazing performers. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course, it was a little bit better than I described though. Here’s the link to the Waltz-Astoria Menu. You don’t need to click through, I’ll copy the description of their Carrot Cake:

One slice of our famous carrot is enough to share with a friend, or.. not. The cream cheese frosting is to die for!

An extremely accurate description. It was more than enough to share, and even though I offered some to Liz, she politely declined, so I got to experience the “or.. not” part. I gained a couple of pounds (seriously), but it was worth it! 🙂

We were back up at the house by 11:15pm, still talking about what a great night out it was. Missing out on a chance to just relax, turned out just fine! Thanks everyone for making it such a special evening!

Wicked Again

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Yes, last night, we were Wicked again (oh, I mean we saw Wicked again). 😉

It was our eighth time (yes, we love it that much). We were taken by our wonderful goddaughter and her wonderful husband, dinner included (more on that after a quick review of the show). Thanks!

There was a brief time when Wicked was the live performance that we had seen more than any other. That’s long past, as we’re in double digits for Girlyman and the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub, so, I think that Laura and Chris felt that they needed to help us jumpstart the official catch-up race.

The last time we saw Wicked, here’s what I wrote. As you can see, I can be pretty picky about the leads (Glinda and Elphaba). Even when I’m disappointed in one or the other, I still love the show overall, but I definitely go each time with a little nervousness.

A friend of ours went a few months ago alone, and raved about the two leads. She’s a huge Wicked fan, but only from the CD, having never seen the show. So, I was very encouraged, but I was also afraid that she didn’t have a frame of reference. After hearing her rave, I looked up the leads on YouTube, and I too was impressed (most of the YouTube videos for the people I was disappointed in clearly pointed out their inability to perform the role as intended!).

The same women were in the show last night, so my expectations were high.

Playing the part of Glinda was Erin Mackey. Dee Roscioli played Elphaba. OK, you can stop holding your breath now, both of these ladies are spectacular, in every respect. Amazing voices, terrific acting, perfect comedic timing, etc.

Lois felt that Dee was the best Elphaba we’ve seen live (we never saw Idina). I wouldn’t argue hard, but if she wasn’t the best, she was a coin flip away from Eden Espinosa.

I was completely blown away by Erin Mackey. Her range was unbelievable, hitting the highest highs effortlessly (at least it appeared effortless), holding those notes as long as she liked. Her comedic timing and acting was flawless.

With all that, I declare her tied as the best Glinda we’ve seen, since I can’t find a single flaw in any of the four performances we saw Kate Reinders in, nor the two times we saw Annaleigh Ashford. That means we’ve had better luck with the Glinda role, as seven of eight performances were flawless. Either the Elphaba role is much harder, or they don’t cast as carefully for Elphaba…

Anyway, last night was another magical performance, and as long as these two are in the starring roles, we’ll be delighted to go back again with any of our friends who are curious as to what drives us mad about this show!

Oh, I should mentioned that our tickets were fourth row, dead center orchestra. Holy cow, you could see beads of sweat on their foreheads if you cared to look that carefully. 😉

Wicked Cast

Wicked Cast

Before the show, we met Laura and Chris at a restaurant that they chose, that none of us had been to before. It’s a chain called Ted’s Montana Grill that just recently opened it’s first location in NYC.

I hadn’t done any research (other than checking out the menu online) before showing up there. We got there a minute before Laura, and were seated at a table for four. Seated opposite Lois, with his back to her, was a distinguished looking gentleman.

A minute later, he stood up, and Lois, involuntarily, said “You’re Ted Turner!” (yes, out loud). He said “Yes, thanks for stopping by Ted’s!”. Ah, so that’s the Ted in Ted’s Montana Grill! 🙂

Here’s what he looked like to us when we first sat down:

Ted Turner

Ted Turner

We had an excellent meal there (I had the New Mexico Burger, highly recommended!). The only complaint in our group was that some of the dishes were salted a little too heavily.

At the end of our meal, Ted came by and asked what we thought of it, and he got four thumbs up. 🙂

They are trying to be very green as well, which is laudable, and they don’t sacrifice any of the experience you might otherwise expect in order to achieve that. Again, kudos to Ted and the entire organization there.

After the show, the four of us strolled back to the apartment, amongst the chaos that is NYC during the UN General Assembly week. It was a perfect evening, from the minute we sat down in the restaurant, until the minute we set foot back in the apartment.

Thanks again to Laura and Chris for conceiving and executing (and treating) a night that we will never forget! 🙂

Livestrong Cancer Fundraiser

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Music can uplift, connect, and at times, even heal. Last night, we got to experience all three facets, working in unison, and it was a beautiful thing!

While we have attended a large number of shows over the past six years, it was only recently (April 2009 to be exact) that we noticed (and were happily pulled into) the incredibly vibrant indie music scene in NYC.

It all began with The Paper Raincoat. Through them, we’ve heard about a number of other local artists, and visited venues we hadn’t been to before. Through ambeR Rubarth (one of the members of The Paper Raincoat) we met Alex Berger (at first, virtually, then in person, at a Paper Raincoat show at Rockwood Music Hall).

We missed getting to see Alex in two consecutive shows. He told me he was playing at a Livestrong Fundraiser for a friend of his, Shannon Black, who is a cancer survivor, raising money for Livestrong, preparing to run in the NYC Marathon. It was such a great cause that we had no hesitation in committing to attend.

First, before telling you about last night, click on Shannon’s name above, and find the link to donate to her fundraiser. You’ll feel a lot better about reading the rest of this post, and enjoying the show you missed, vicariously!

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

There were 11 performers last night. Nine of them are listed on the page linked to Shannon’s name above (I’ll repeat them all here, but still, click on that page to donate!). With the exception of Alex doing a one-song encore, all but one of the other performers played two songs.

I’m trying to get the order of the performers correct, but since I didn’t write anything down, apologies if I accidentally swap any of them.

Alex Berger opened the show. He sang and played the electric keyboards. Wow! I’d be happy to just listen to Alex play the keyboards, he’s excellent! But, he also writes wonderful songs, and has a really good voice, so he’s the complete package, end to end. Shannon shamed him into adding one last song to close the show. Thanks Shannon, and thanks Alex, for that!

Alex Berger

Alex Berger

Libbie Schrader sang and played electric keyboards. She plays the keyboards very well, and has a very powerful voice. As Libbie described her style to us before the show started, she’s more of a Pop person (Rock/Pop really), so soloing in a small space with just keyboards, probably isn’t the best spot for her. She has a ton of talent, but probably better suited to a larger venue with more pieces in the band (which she usually has).

Lois didn’t get a good shot of Libbie on the stage, but she got a great one of Libbie and Alex before the show started!

Libbie Schrader and Alex Berger

Libbie Schrader and Alex Berger

Deena Goodman and Dov Rosenblatt were on together. Deena sang and Dov played guitar and sang. Both have exceptional voices, blending beautifully, and Dov is an excellent guitarist. The first song was co-written by them. The second song was recently written by Dov (stunningly beautiful!), and he taught the harmony to Deena right before the show started. Folks, while Deena stumbled once or twice (understandably), she really knocked the ball out of the park in terms of enhancing an already gorgeous song. Bravo!

Deena Goodman

Deena Goodman

Dov Rosenblatt

Dov Rosenblatt

Will Knox sang and played guitar. Will’s guitar picking was superb. His voice and songs matched. Absolutely wonderful performance. He has quite a humble persona for someone with this much talent.

Will Knox

Will Knox

Martin Rivas sang and played guitar. Alex introduced him as his personal favorite. I was impressed by Martin (Lois more so than me), but I’d need to listen to him a lot more to understand why Alex feels the way he does, even compared to a number of the other performers last night. Martin has a very strong voice, and perhaps I was distracted that the only time the sound guy (who donated the equipment and his time for the event!) didn’t get it perfect was on Martin’s voice, which was a little too loud.

Martin Rivas

Martin Rivas

Amy Rivard sang, accompanied by Alex Berger on the keyboards. Before I begin, let me take a deep breath, and say Oh My God! Seriously, Amy has such an extraordinary voice. Alex was worried that Amy might be late, because she was singing the National Anthem at the NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden last night. Holy cow, I can only imagine how awesome that must have been!

Amy Rivard

Amy Rivard

Amy has a Broadway style and quality voice. In fact, I would love to see her in Wicked! (We’re going again tomorrow night, 8th time, so if she could arrange to get into the cast by then, I’d appreciate it!) 😉 Kristin Chenoweth is one of our all-time favorite performers (song, stage, TV, comedy, everything!).

Kristin is one of many who covered a song called Taylor the Latte Boy (here’s the YouTube video, watch it!). That’s the song Amy did last night. Amy nailed the song in every way. Not just the voice, but the mannerisms, etc. (though she’s not quite as accomplished in that regard as Kristin is). Of course, Alex accompanied her to perfection (even though he needed Shannon’s husband, Jason, to hold the sheet music for him, and turn the pages). 🙂

Alex Berger, Amy Rivard and Jason Black

Alex Berger, Amy Rivard and Jason Black

The only disappointment was that Amy played only one song, though at least she played it to perfection! We have to start stalking Amy for future performances!

Kyle Patrick sang and played guitar. Kyle wasn’t listed on the Facebook page. He is the lead singer for a group called The Click Five. Aside from making the girls swoon with his looks, Kyle is an incredible singer, and plays the guitar well too. After his first number, he said he was going to play a brand new one. It turns out that he played the new song from The Click Five, called I QUIT! I QUIT! I QUIT!

Kyle Patrick

Kyle Patrick

Great song (both when he did it solo, and by the full group). In the middle of the song, Kyle popped a guitar string. He was a trooper, and just kept playing (he really didn’t miss a beat!). However, Martin Rivas was even faster. He dashed to the side of the stage, got his guitar out of his bag, and handed it to Kyle in a smooth motion (looping the strap over Kyle’s head as he handed him the guitar and took away Kyle’s!). It was great, and showed a lot of class on Martin’s part!

The shot below looks blurry. It’s not, it is truly capturing the speed with which Martin was moving. 😉

Kyle Patrick and Martin Rivas

Kyle Patrick and Martin Rivas

Shira Goldberg sang and played the electric guitar (all others were acoustic). Shira semi-joked that she was asked (as was everyone else) to play uplifting or happy songs, but that she hadn’t yet written any. 🙂 She sings beautifully, and plays the guitar quite well, but she really wasn’t kidding, her songs are deep bluesy numbers, slow, sad tales. Very talented, but perhaps not perfectly suited to last nights venue or cause.

Shira Goldberg

Shira Goldberg

Lynette Belardo sang. Yes, sang, with zero accompaniment. That’s a very hard, and brave thing to do. Of course, if you have a voice like Lynette, you can pull it off, and she certainly did. Lovely. The first song was a spiritual (very appropriate for the evening). Obviously, a very talented woman, given that most of the credits I spotted on the Net were dancing related!

Lynette Belardo

Lynette Belardo

Michelle Citrin sang and played guitar. She was the other person who wasn’t listed on the Facebook page. Another amazing voice, accompanied by excellent guitar skills. The surprising thing is that she’s tiny, and yet, such a big powerful voice. She had the entire crowd (OK, not including me) belting out some Bob Marley verses with her on one of her numbers. Superb!

Michelle Citrin

Michelle Citrin

I already mentioned that Alex closed the show. We immediately said goodnight and headed home (it was late for us old fogies). We had a wonderful night, discovered another slew of amazing local musicians, and supported a good cause, and some very inspirational people. Very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a small part of last night!

Red Molly and The Nields at Joe’s Pub

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Last night I finally got to scratch an itch that I’ve had since April 5th, 2008! That’s the night that we first saw Sweet Bitters live. I covered that show in this post, but as you can see, in the comments, Sharon suggested that I check out Red Molly. The minute I heard their stuff (you can hit the Play button on the top right of their site) I knew I would love their show.

We had a failed attempt to see them that month (as I noted in the comments), and since then, I’ve actively searched for opportunities, but scheduling kept conspiring against us. Until last night, finally!

As a bonus, another group that I’m pretty sure I heard about through Sweet Bitters (but I wouldn’t swear to it), The Nields, were opening for Red Molly.

Red Molly were awesome, in every respect. They opened the show with an a capella number, showing off their amazing voices, individually, and collectively (in glorious harmonies). They also closed the show with an a cappella encore, again, sending shivers down our spines.

Red Molly consists of three very talented ladies. Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Abbie Gardner sings, plays dobro and acoustic guitar. She sings like an angel, usually taking the highest part in the harmonies, but she sang quite a bit of lead as well. She’s an excellent dobro player (no one is in Jerry Douglas’ league, so don’t ask!). She plays the guitar well too. She also wrote at least one of the songs they played last night (Red Molly does more covers than originals), and it was excellent. Abbie was also very funny and engaging on the stage.

Abbie Gardner

Abbie Gardner

Laurie MacAllister sang, played the banjo, acoustic guitar, and acoustic bass. Laurie has an incredible voice, plays the banjo, guitar and bass well. I’d never seen this style of acoustic bass before. It looks exactly like a normal guitar, but it only has four strings, and sounds like an upright bass.

Laurie MacAllister

Laurie MacAllister

Carolann Solebello sang, played the acoustic guitar and acoustic bass. Carol also has an incredible voice, carrying the lower range for the group. She’s also a talented guitar player, and handled the bass with aplomb as well. Of the three, Carolann is probably a little more animated on stage, but all three are extremely warm.

Carolann Solebello

Carolann Solebello

They played for roughly 50 minutes, including the encore, and every note was a joy. After the show, we bought one of their CDs, and Lois got Abbie to sign it. 🙂

Red Molly

Red Molly

The Nields are two sisters, Nerissa and Katryna. Nerissa sings and plays the acoustic guitar. Katryna sings. Both have lovely voices, and they sing beautifully together. Nerissa plays the guitar well, and accompaniment and arrangements are traditional folk style (like Peter, Paul and Mary, etc.), which is one of my all-time favorite genres.

Katryna Nields

Katryna Nields

Nerissa Nields

Nerissa Nields

They are both very warm and engaging with the audience. Katryna told a very long story (very well), and Nerissa took over at the end to make some corrections (remember, they’re sisters!) 😉 and it was funny and worth the break from the music (not that any break would be necessary when these two are on stage!).

We bought their CD too after the show, and Lois got both of them to sign it. I’m in the process of loading both the Red Molly and The Nields CDs onto my iPod as I type this, and we look forward to many listens in the months to come.

Thanks to both Red Molly and The Nields for exceeding our very big expectations after such a long wait to finally get to see them perform live!

Richmond CenterStage

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The inaugural meeting of the CenterStage Foundation (organized to raise money for this amazing project) was held on September 11th, 2001. In an unplanned tribute to that meeting, a black-tie affair unofficially opening the Carpenter Theater to donors and dignitaries, was held on September 11, 2009.

The official grand opening of Richmond CenterStage was yesterday, September 12th, 2009, and what an opening it was! There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the afternoon, followed by a spectacular performance at night, including all nine resident performing groups.

For an excellent article covering the opening, including a video of a few of the highlights of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, read the coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

So, how did two life-long New Yorkers end up at both the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the grand opening performance? Simple, our closest friends are life-long Richmonders. Bob Mooney is the Vice Chairman of the CenterStage Foundation. He was instrumental, along with hundreds of other civic and artistic minded Richmonders, in working tirelessly, for eight years, to see this project to fruition.

There were five speakers at the podium before the actual ribbon cutting. Jim Ukrop (Chairman of the CenterStage Foundation), Dwight Jones (Mayor of Richmond), Tim Kaine (Governor of Virginia), Kathy Graziano (City Council Representative in Richmond) and Grant Mudge (Artistic Director for Richmond Shakespeare). All were rightfully bursting with pride over the birth of this wonderful Performing Arts center.

This was our first glimpse of the Mayor. Lois and I left extremely impressed with his presence and message. CenterStage is playing a small but important role in a sweeping revitalization of downtown Richmond, and we have faith that Mayor Jones is an excellent person to lead that transformation.

Note: All photos in this post can be clicked on to see larger versions.

Before and after pictures of the ribbon cutting ceremony:

Before Ribbon Cutting

Before Ribbon Cutting

After Ribbon Cutting

After Ribbon Cutting

As the ribbon was cut, dozens (perhaps as many as 200?) of the performers from the various resident companies burst through the doors, in what could only be described as a Mardi Gras style procession. The Jazz Band was incredible (leading the way), and all of the performers, in full regalia, mesmerized the crowd with their grace and infectuous smiles.

Processional

Processional

Confetti then showered down on the crowd:

Confetti

Confetti

After the ceremony, everyone was invited to explore the entire CenterStage complex, including the Carpenter Theater, Rhythm Hall and the Libby Gottwald Community Playhouse. We were blown away by everything we saw. What was more amazing than our own reactions were the spontaneous gasps, oohs and ahs that were involuntarily uttered by practically everyone that walked into any of the spaces (most notably the Carpenter Theater and the Donors Lounge).

Carpenter Theater

Carpenter Theater

To top that off, there was such an incredible spirit of belonging (being a part of this magical place), that after finishing the gasps, strangers started talking to each other and gushing about the place. It was extraordinary!

After grabbing a quick dinner at home, we returned to the Carpenter Theater for the grand opening show. We arrived shortly after 7pm for an 8pm curtain. The place was buzzing with a ton of people there already. The Carpenter Theater seats 1,736 people, and it was sold out last night! That would be impressive any night, but was even more impressive considering that NASCAR was in Richmond on Saturday! A local hero won that race, so it was a big weekend all around for Richmond!

While the show was spectacular in general, what made it magical (a word heard very often on both Friday and Saturday nights at the Carpenter) was the eclectic mix of genres performed, and the ability to sample a smorgasbord of art forms in one sitting. Sheer genius. Kudos to the people who envisioned it and executed their vision to perfection.

Here’s a concrete example from me personally (I’m sure there were hundreds of analogous experiences, but perhaps with a different collection of likes and misconceptions). Prior to last night, it would have been difficult for someone to get me to attend the Ballet or the Opera. I had strong conceptions of what an evening at either would entail.

While the selection from La Boheme for the Opera piece didn’t change my mind on that, I was shocked at how much I was immersed in the Richmond Ballet performance (which was the finale of the evening). They performed Windows (Final Section), a ballet choreographed by the founding Artistic Director of the Richmond Ballet, Stoner Winslett (now in her 30th year in that position!).

Windows Richmond Ballet

Windows Richmond Ballet

The Richmond Symphony (who were incredible all night long) accompanied the Ballet playing an original work commissioned for this piece. The music was exceptional, and it restored my faith that brilliant classical pieces continue to be created now, even though they are creatively different than the masters of a few centuries ago.

I could fill a few more pages covering each of the performances in detail, but instead, I’ll conclude this portion by calling out one additional extraordinary musician, who also mesmerized me with his play.

Amadou Kouyate played the 21-string Kora. He performed with the Elegba Folklore Society who presented an excerpt from Marketplace Suite. All of the dancers and percussionists in the Elegba performance were excellent. Still, I can’t help but highlight Amadou directly. His fingers seemed to be barely moving, yet the richness of sound that came out of the Kora was beautiful and mind-boggling. It was a long piece, and he kept up his level of play throughout. Amazing!

Here’s a YouTube video of him singing (he did not sing last night). Aside from the fact that I like the song, it shows a number of people playing a Kora. In the video, most are sitting down. You also see someone playing the Kora while standing up, which is how Amadou played it last night.

After the show was over, all of the performers, the three people who conducted the Symphony throughout the evening, and the hosts, Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid all came out on stage for a group bow:

Performers at Richmond CenterStage Opening

Performers at Richmond CenterStage Opening

As we were walking up the aisle, we bumped into a good friend of ours that we hadn’t seen in a while. We chatted briefly, and as we were parting company, I heard our names called out from roughly 20 rows away. It was another couple whom we haven’t seen in a while. Here’s a shot of me with them standing in front of the amazing Donors Wall at CenterStage:

Friends at the CenterStage Donors Wall

Friends at the CenterStage Donors Wall

We then walked over to the after party. It was a wonderful scene, with most of the performers milling about (no longer dressed in costume) and quite a number of the patrons as well. The food (and drink) were exceptional, and we got to chat with a few people.

For me, the highlight was speaking to Stoner Winslett about the ballet piece. Lois got her to sign our program. Cool!

Hadar and Stoner Winslett

Hadar and Stoner Winslett

Stoner told me that the Richmond Ballet is coming to the Joyce Theater in NYC this spring (April  6th to the 11th, 2010). We are going to do our best to see that show. See, it is possible to open a mind, even mine! 😉

Then Lois chatted with the incredible hosts of the entire evening, Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid. While both had well-known TV careers, they have continued their artistic careers, and have supported new ones, through their VA-based production company.

Bob and Tim Reid

Bob and Tim Reid

Both of them were charming and gracious and also both signed our program! Score!

Earlier in the day, Lois pulled off another little coup, and got all of the major players in the ribbon-cutting ceremony to sign the afternoon’s program. Way to go Lois! 🙂

Ribbon Cutting Program

Ribbon Cutting Program

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Wed night was our 11th CMA Songwriters Series show at Joe’s Pub. It won’t be our last, we already have tickets for the November 5th show.

We were supposed to be at Zope this week, and were planning on missing this show. As I’ve noted before, on occasion, the show scores a major Country star, who also happens to be a serious songwriter (that’s a requirement!), and this show was scheduled to have Chuck Wicks in that role!

He’s a serious talent, but the fact that he’s a serious hottie probably weighed in Lois’ desire to postpone our trip south by a few days. Of course, Lois is no dummy, so instead of even hinting at that, she said to me that perhaps Chuck’s girlfriend, Julianne Hough might show up.

Chuck Wicks Closeup

Chuck Wicks Closeup

Well, I don’t stare at stunningly beautiful, talented women, so the prospect of sitting next to Julianne Hough wasn’t even slightly interesting to me, but I did agree to stick around for Lois. 😉

There were four songwriters on the stage, with two additional people supporting Chuck (not atypical when a touring star shows up, though it’s usually only one supporter). Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

Chuck Wicks played guitar and sang, and told some funny stories as well. He has an incredible voice, and sings every song with a real passion. He’s a very good songwriter as well, including the song we discovered him through, Stealing Cinderella, which he played to the crowd’s delight. He’s as personable and natural on stage as you could hope for in a performer.

Chuck Wicks

Chuck Wicks

Backing him up, both playing acoustic guitar, both singing harmony, beautifully, were two men named Jack (they never said their last names). They are half of Chuck’s band. I had to work too hard to figure out their names, but finally got it. Stars like Chuck should really do a better job of highlighting their band members on their website (he’s not unique, many don’t bother!).

Jack Sizemore sat behind Chuck, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. He was the primary background vocalist, but the other Jack sang a bunch too. Jack is very good on the guitar, and he sings wonderfully.

Jack Sizemore

Jack Sizemore

Jack Kincaid sat behind Chuck, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. He played smoking leads on the acoustic guitar, and when he sang, it was wonderful as well. The three of their voices blend so well together, it was a real treat that they decided to attend the show with Chuck!

Jack Kincaid

Jack Kincaid

He’s such a consummate guitarist, that after a few bars of other people’s songs, he started throwing in great leads on them as well. Unfortunately, Bob DiPiero cracked a joke about having to chip in to pay him (it was definitely a joke), and Jack Kincaid didn’t seem sure it was a joke, and he stopped doing it. 🙁

Bob DiPiero played guitar and sang. He was his usual gregarious self, and entertained the crowd all night.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Marv Green played the guitar and sang. An excellent songwriter who has an excellent voice as well. Extremely relaxed with the crowd as well, telling a number of stories throughout the set. Thoroughly enjoyed all of his numbers.

Marv Green

Marv Green

Ashley Gorley played the guitar, electric keyboards and sang. Ashley is excellent on the keyboards, decent on the guitar and has a decent voice as well. Middle of the road in terms of the typical singer/songwriter that comes through these shows. That said, he’s in the top portion of the list as far as being a great songwriter. He’s got exactly what it takes, writing and collaborating on quite a number of giant hits. Lois was particularly blown away by Ashley!

Ashley Gorley

Ashley Gorley

Another fantastic night at a CMA show at Joe’s Pub. Already looking forward to the next one. 🙂

Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall

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ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong are two of the hardest working musicians in NYC’s vibrant indie music scene. Each has a number of projects going on simultaneously. They also regularly guest star at local shows with other indie rising stars.

The Paper Raincoat is their collaboration project, an ingenious concept, telling a long-running story (a novel), unfolding song after song. Of course, each song stands alone superbly on its own, making their music all the more delicious.

Paper Raincoat

Paper Raincoat

For those who missed it, I first wrote about The Paper Raincoat in April. More recently, I wrote about ambeR Rubarth’s CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub.

The Paper Raincoat is also having a CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub, on October 6th, at 9:30pm. We already have tickets, and I urge you to get yours soon, as there is little doubt that the show will sell out, and that it will be fantastic!

With that background, it should come as no surprise to find that ambeR and Alex joined in a new project last night, debuting at Rockwood Music Hall, called Cardboard Bikini. It was billed as a super secret show!

Before you rush around the web, spending too much time figuring out that this was a wonderful tongue-in-cheek play on Paper (Cardboard) Raincoat (Bikini), I’ll spare you the trouble, by sharing my perspective on why they did this at the end of the post (I have zero insight from them, just my speculation).

We’d never been to Rockwood Music Hall before, and were curious to check it out, as a number of people we like show up there regularly. It turns out that it’s a teeny tiny bar a few doors in on Allen Street, off of Houston Street. I chuckled when I got inside, at the Music Hall moniker…

All shows at Rockwood are free, and the vast majority last an hour. One drink minimum per person is required, and for some shows, a tip bucket is passed around at the end (last night included, most people donated, along with us).

Joining ambeR and Alex last night was Adam Christgau on drums, just as he did at the Canal Room show where we discovered them. Just like at that show, Adam was awesome last night. I am always impressed when a drummer can play it just right for the size of the room they’re in, and given the teeny size of Rockwood, Adam managed a very large sound, without ever stepping on ambeR or Alex.

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

Rockwood was packed to the gills. Roughly 20-25 people were seated at a handful of tables near the stage, and another 50-80 were packed in like sardines standing and enjoying the music. Lois was lucky (due to a number of selfless, kind people) to get the seat immediately in front of the stage, right in the center, between ambeR and Alex! I stood for the entire show, and enjoyed every second of it (except for the standing part). 😉

They opened the show with two of their hits, Brooklyn Blurs and Sympathetic Vibrations (two songs we can’t get enough of!). They played a few other songs that we’re familiar with, but in the middle of the set, they debuted (at least for us) a couple of songs that were fantastic. This included a song called Right Angles, where both Alex and ambeR play the grand piano simultaneously, meaning, four handed! Wonderful!

Alex Amber One Piano

Alex Amber One Piano

They closed the show with the same two numbers that they closed Canal Room with, and we can only hope that they do it again at Joe’s Pub, because they bring the house down every time. On the first one, all three end up drumming on Adam’s drum set at the same time. It’s incredible. At Canal Room, Lois was the designated tambourine player. Last night, a wonderful NYC musician named Adam Levy (I covered him in the ambeR post) had the honor.

Adam is pictured in the front here, with the tambourine in his hand:

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

The Famous Tambourine

The Famous Tambourine

They finished up with an a capella number, including Adam, which is a joy to experience. Quite a transition from pure drumming, to pure singing (well, not so pure, as they use their bodies for percussion to accompany the a capella singing, and I’ll say no more, just go see them!). 🙂

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

The only disappointment was that setting up on the tiny stage required more maneuvering than normal, and it took them longer to finish the setup than they anticipated. So, instead of the show starting at 10pm as scheduled, they started playing at 10:25pm. They played over their 11pm limit (by 11 minutes), to make up a bit of it, but otherwise, an amazing evening.

Now, my speculation as to why the show was billed as Cardboard Bikini, not Paper Raincoat (to repeat my caveat, this is only my opinion, I have no idea whether this is correct or not!):

  1. The official CD Release Party is October 6th, and they wanted a way to test out some of the new material live, in anticipation of the Joe’s Pub show, without the pressure of formally debuting it as Paper Raincoat.
  2. Rockwood Music Hall is so small, and Paper Raincoat has a very nice following (as do ambeR and Alex separately), that if they had announced a formal show, lots of people would have been disappointed to not even be able to fit. While they not-so-secretly announced it to their Twitter/Facebook/MySpace followers, at least people who checked out the Rockwood web site, or follow other concert update sites, might have skipped a show by the unknown band Cardboard Bikini. (A good reason for you to follow them on Twitter/Facebook/MySpace!)
  3. They have a great sense of humor, and the whole concept of a top-secret, not-so-secret show, with a clever name, appealed to them for no other reason.
  4. All of the above.
  5. None of the above.

Come see them at Joe’s Pub on October 6th, and buy the new CD there (you won’t regret it). Also, consider signing up for the mailing list and getting the announcement for pre-orders. That’s always a great way to support a band that you like! Hope to see you there!

P.S. Standing right behind me for the entire set was Greg Holden, another excellent artist who is about to start a long tour with the wonderful Ingrid Michaelson. I really want to catch him live, soon. I wouldn’t have recognized him. He said to someone else that Adam Christgau is his drummer too, so I asked Adam after the show who it was, and he told me it was Greg. Cool! 🙂

Phony Political Arguments

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I already regret starting this post. If I said everything I feel like saying, I’d be typing for a few days…

Background

I am sick of both parties, and 95% of all politicians. I voted for John McCain (in principle only, since I understand that my vote in NY for a Republican Presidential candidate is 100% meaningless). I think McCain was the worst of the Rep candidates, and would have been an ineffective President. Still, I thought that the additional check and balance from an overwhelmingly Democrat controlled congress would have been better than the alternative.

While I believed (and still do) that Barack Obama was mesmerizing people with empty words (Hope and Change), I would gladly have voted for him if the congress were overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans, because McCain would not have been an effective check on them!

Our Friends

The majority of our friends are Democrats, mostly very Liberal as well. They all voted for Obama not just because he was the Dem candidate, but because they felt that they were voting for America’s messiah.

We don’t choose our friends lightly. Ask them, they’ll tell you that we are fiercely loyal friends, who are there in times of need, and there to share in all of life’s joys and challenges, in whatever way we possibly can.

We respect each and every one of our friends, in particular their intelligence. The vast majority of them are also extremely kind people, filled with compassion for others, passion for many things, and interesting in many ways to boot. (We picked them for a reason, right?)

The Problem

That the country is divided politically is no surprise, and certainly doesn’t warrant a blog post. That otherwise very intelligent people, who have great affection and respect for each other (meaning, not random strangers), can’t even acknowledge differing opinions, let alone understand them, is the real cancer in our current society.

For eight years, the anti-Bush rhetoric was beyond the pale. No, I’m not defending everything Bush did, and I think on some levels he was an awful President (see, someone who votes for a guy can actually think that his guy wasn’t flawless). Any kind of public protest was covered as heroic. Anyone who said that they were Bush supporters (or generically supporters of the President of the USA) were vilified and demonized.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t that we all don’t agree to support one guy (or gal), one party, etc. The problem is that for most people, the passion and belief runs so deeply that they can’t stop themselves from ascribing the worst thoughts and characteristics regarding people on the other side.

My Personal View

Since I know so many people who still support Obama with every bone in their body, and I still love and respect those people (in so many ways), I never (ever) think that they are stupid. I never ascribe bad motivations to their support and belief. In fact, I admire the reason for their beliefs.

They have ideals. They want to see the world be a better place, for all people. Wonderful. Me too. I’ll get back to this theme shortly.

Unfortunately, most Conservatives don’t get that benefit of the doubt from the other side, often from their friends either! We are usually considered stupid or heartless or greedy, often all three. We want to keep everyone else down, while hoarding more and more for ourselves, even if somehow, we’re otherwise good or decent people (only a minor conundrum).

There are vicious extremists on both sides, so please don’t tell me why you hate so-and-so right winger (or so-and-so left winger). I’m talking about regular folks, my friends and yours, on both sides of the political spectrum. People that we know, first hand, to be good people.

Ideals

Ideals are ultimate goals. That makes them very worthy of reaching for, but they are rarely attainable, regardless of the cost. The world is very complex, and for every action, there’s a reaction, and an infinite set of consequences. Rarely can we even anticipate the consequences, let alone manage or contain them. That’s a fact of life.

Ignoring the potential consequences for the sake of the ideal doesn’t make one a bad person, or even stupid, it just makes them unrealistic, possibly bordering on naive. That’s the worst I can say about the people that I love, that still fully support this administration, and continue to demonize those that oppose it.

Double Standard

The single biggest problem we have in our debates is the intellectual dishonesty. We all want our side to win so badly, that we’ve been trained not to give an inch in any discussion. This is most evident in watching the pundits on any news show.

Dem strategists can’t find a single flaw in anything that’s being proposed at the moment, as everything is clearly being gummed up by belligerent Reps. Of course one year ago, they couldn’t find a single good thing to say about the Bush administration.

Rep strategists would rather be waterboarded than say a positive thing about Obama. Of course, a year ago, they couldn’t admit that anything the Bush administration was doing was wrong or bad for the country either.

Phony Political Arguments

Finally, what this post is really about!

I have been biting my tongue for many months, for many reasons. I finally broke down because of the current social networking gimmick (yes folks, it’s a gimmick, whether you want to believe it or not!) that’s going around at the moment.

In the past 24 hours, at least seven of my Facebook friends (some are very dear and close friends, a couple are just acquaintances) have put the following up as their status:

thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day

Really? How noble of you all. What makes this a phony political argument is that it implies that anyone who doesn’t make this claim is a bad person, who wants people to die or at least go broke. In fact, those bad people want to laugh at the dead and broke people for being losers…

To repeat, I think that every one of my friends who posted this, believes it deeply, with all their heart. I applaud that. I too wish that the above statement would come true.

OK, now let’s reconnect with the real world, and spend a few minutes thinking about how we might achieve that? More importantly, let’s even spend 10 seconds asking whether the currently proposed health care bills even strive to deliver that? If they did, would Obama have had to say “perhaps you should just take a painkiller”?

I have no interest in twisting Obama’s words, nor even ascribing ill motives to them. He was being realistic, and saying that we can’t solve every problem (in this case, in the health care arena). His specific response revolved around the cost of doing so, but that’s not really the point. The point is that we can’t do it all, and solve it all (often because of cost, and often because we just can’t control the universe).

Still, doesn’t his response violate the oath that all of these Facebook statuses and Tweets are proclaiming? Has Obama sold them out? Worse, perhaps the woman in the video had the adequate health insurance. Should she have been allowed to die because she had insurance? At least it wouldn’t violate the wonderful oath that those that can’t afford insurance shouldn’t be allowed to die.

The person who thought up this status was just too darn clever. It’s nearly as clever as the oldie but goodie:

Have you stopped beating your wife?

So, when I see my friends putting it up, it makes me a bit sad. None of your friends thought you were a cruel, thoughtless person, who didn’t want others to receive adequate health care. Seriously, we know you’re a good person.

But, you felt it necessary to make the statement, to goad others, and to expose those who are evil and don’t want that, whether you were conscious or not about why you decided to join the crowd.

Were you astroturfed into doing it? No way, only Conservatives, who voice criticism at a town hall meeting are dupes and are easily manipulated (poor bastards). You chose to put this status up, all by yourself. Good for you!

Summary

We’ll all get along a lot better, and perhaps make more progress as a country, if we start discussing issues, along with the consequences of any particular solution, rather than impugning each others motives or intelligence, and refusing to admit that most politicians are not out to help all of us out.

Thought exercise for the people who put up the status message

Is it only people in the US that you put this status up for, or should no one globally die because they can’t afford health care? What would you give up to make that happen? If you gave it up, would you be able to make it happen? If everyone in the world gave up those things that you would give up, would we be able to deliver adequate health care to all who need it world-wide?

What about non-health care deaths?

Roughly 45,000 people die in an automobile accident in the US, each year! Do you ever speed? Have you ever taken a drink and then driven your car? If everyone in the US stopped driving, forever, we would reduce those deaths to zero, permanently, overnight. Would you participate in such a noble exercise? Would you put that up as your Facebook status?