Frustration

Miracle on I-81

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We take multiple multi-week trips a year. The first two weeks of February happened to be one such trip. Before we left, the south got hit with the big ice storm. Northerners were making fun of people in Atlanta and Birmingham (even I recalled some locals panicking from 1/4″ of snow on a past Birmingham trip). That turned out to be an absurd reaction when actual photos and videos started flooding in.

On Wednesday (2/12/2014) we were in Birmingham (one of our regular stops on these trips). They were predicting a big snowstorm overnight. We were more than a bit worried, because we had plans to meet friends in Atlanta the next day for lunch, then head home (a two day journey). Atlanta was predicted to be hit even worse than Birmingham.

After saying goodnight to our godchildren we hunkered down in the hotel. Sure enough, the snow came in fast and furious, going from zero to a few inches really quickly. We let our Atlanta friends know that we’d make a final decision in the morning, but were leaning toward canceling.

Our car was buried in snow and the roads were pretty slick. Having heard that Atlanta was worse, we decided to head north rather than east. We left early, while people were being warned to stay off the roads (silly northerners!). We did fine getting out of Birmingham, but we had to travel super slowly, largely because of the over-caution that other drivers were exhibiting (we were completely fine with that, in non-New Yorker fashion…).

Once we were on I-59 north conditions remained bad, but there were so few cars/trucks on the road, that it was a pretty good ride. In fact, that ended up being true for all of I-59, then I-24, then I-40 and I-81 as well. We were making reasonably good time.

When we leave Birmingham early, we usually make it all the way to Winchester, VA for the night. It was clear we’d never be able to do that in these conditions, but it seemed we’d make it to Roanoke for sure.

As we were approaching exit 92 on I-81, we saw traffic was slowing to a crawl ahead of us. It seemed to still be moving, albeit very slowly. I considered getting out at exit 92, but the sign said “Service Road”, no town name, no route name. It seemed it could be a bad detour, if this was only a minor hiccup on I-81. So, foolishly, I decided to fight on.

A minute later, we were in a 100% standstill, about 1/2 a mile from exit 94, Pulaski. After about 20 minutes I shut the engine off. About 10 minutes later, we started to move, but that turned out to be only about 1/4 of a mile (still not close enough to see the exit ramp) and then I turned the engine off again.

We happened to be stopped in the right lane, staring at the on-ramp for exit 94. In the 30 minutes that we sat there, only one car came up the ramp. I kept thinking we were so darn close to being able to back down that ramp, but it could be hours before we could inch up enough to find out. Then Lois said the same thing and I told her I’d been thinking the same thing for the past 15 minutes, but I didn’t think we’d get the chance to find out.

All of a sudden, we see a guy get out of a car behind us, in shorts (it was 30 degrees out) and walk by our car to scout the situation. When he returned, he was looking directly at us, so I rolled down the window. He said if a few cars moved over a bit, including a truck reversing diagonally from the right lane to the left lane, he thought we might just be able to squeeze through on the shoulder to get to the on-ramp and back down. He stopped to talk to us because we were directly in front of him and he was curious whether we’d be game to try.

I told him if he could convince everyone else to shift around, I was certainly willing give it a go!

So, I fired up the engine, and went into the shoulder with him following me. We passed a couple of cars, who (I’m sure) thought we were jerks for going into the shoulder, but then I saw what he meant about the necessary ballet movements. There was a tractor-trailer that had switched lanes from the left to the right, but hadn’t completed the maneuver before he hit a wall of traffic.

The guy behind me went to speak with him about backing up to return to the left lane. The truck driver came to talk to us (super nice guy). He said he was willing to try, if the guy behind him would back up a bit. The guy behind us had already gone to speak to him (and the car behind him), and as we were talking to the truck driver, they were starting to inch backwards.

The truck then successfully reversed back into the left lane. Then the mini-van in front of him maneuvered to left-most edge of the right lane, to give us some more room to maneuver.

You can click on any of the images to see a larger size. I stripped out identifying marks on the truck and blurred license plates in the hopes of not getting any good Samaritans in trouble.

Truck

We were still a hundred feet from the entrance ramp with a big mound of snow blocking the shoulder right in front of us. There was a car carrier in front of the mini-van without the slightest hope of being able to budge even an inch. So close, yet so far.

But, I have 4-wheel drive (in a 14-year-old Ford Explorer, with 266K miles on it!) and I decided to try and make it over the snow mound. I gave it a few shots, but the wheels were spinning aimlessly each time. Luckily, I was able to reverse back into the shoulder each time. I have a feeling that a few dozen more tries might have gotten us over the hump. Thankfully, I didn’t have to find out the hard way.

Out of my side mirror, I noticed someone talking to the guy with the original plan. He was holding a shovel. Not a snow shovel, the kind of shovel that you would dig up a giant yard with (a man’s shovel). He walked in front of our car and starting shoveling a path without saying a word to us. It was surreal (and amazing and beautiful).

Shoveler

When he was done, I put the car into drive, and while my tires spun quite a bit, I made it over the remaining hump on the first attempt. Victory!

Here’s a shot of what we saw as we started backing down the entrance ramp.

Goodbye I-81

The rest of the story is not uninteresting (to me) but it has nothing to do with the miracle on I-81. We ended up spending the night in Christiansburg, VA, about 40 minutes south of Roanoke. We made it home the next day (Valentine’s Day, awwww) with a couple of minor incidents along the way.

I can’t begin to thank the many people who were willing to do some pretty odd things on a major highway to see if some adventurous souls could try some unsafe things in order to escape a multi-hour traffic jam. If any of you end up stumbling on this post, please do reach out.

For those who are interested in knowing more about the jam we were in, here’s an article that implies that it lasted through the night!

http://www.navbug.com/article91018187/pulaski_back_up_cleared_but_interstate_81_treacherous_in_many_areas.htm

Happy to be home, though we returned to over two feet of snow in NY. Of course, to us Northerners, that’s nothing. 😉

Abby Ahmad at The Living Room

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Abby Ahmad was at The Living Room last night. I only learned about the show a few days ago and immediately changed our plans (from doing nothing, we need some of those nights too every once in a while). Unfortunately, it was a 10pm start time, but you do what you have to do to see the people you want to see.

AbbyAhmadAcoustic

I’ve only seen Abby once before, performing three songs at Backscratch XVII. Here’s what I wrote about her that night:

Abby Ahmad was up next. Another first for me. Great voice, very interesting guitar play. I really liked her songs as well. In other words, someone I intend to go see doing a full set soon (she’s playing Rockwood on Thursday at 11pm, but that might be too late for me that night).

I was happy to follow through on that intention.

AbbyAhmadElectric

Again, Abby displayed an incredible voice. Again, her guitar play was quite interesting (she can definitely hold my interest as a solo artist). She’s also a very good songwriter. Again, she was accompanied by an excellent band. This time she even threw in two wonderful guests. Abby also played the piano on one number, very well.

AbbyAhmadPiano

Still, the set didn’t leave me with the feeling I expected. Some of the issues were out of Abby’s control (perhaps most), some were not (or at least I perceived them as somewhat controllable).

Before mentioning a few of those frustrations, let me heap some serious praise on the core band and the two guests. Left-to-right on the stage:

Sean Dixon on drums (once again, no good individual link). This was the fourth time we’ve seen Sean. It was also his best performance, largely because it was a full set of mostly rock, so he got to open it up more than in previous shows. The first time we saw him I mentioned that he’s particularly good on the cymbals. That was true again last night.

SeanDixon

Adam Minkoff on electric bass and light background vocals. Adam is one of our favorite bass players. He’s a very good singer and electric guitarist as well, but that’s not what he plays in Abby’s band. He also played the floor tom in one song (as he did the first time we saw Abby), but I’ll get to that later.

AdamMinkoff

Mark Marshall on electric guitar. We’ve seen Mark a couple of times now and his guitar play always impresses (though it’s often unconventional). He was quite good last night as well, but he used a few too many effects for my taste (mostly in closing out numbers in a fuzzy fashion). Like Adam above, he played a floor tom on one number.

MarkMarshall

Jason Crosby on grand piano. Jason joined Abby for two numbers. He took a couple of long leads and otherwise played amazingly. I’ll describe his play as wow, in order to be as accurate as I can be. When we walked out, Jason was standing at the bar. Lois walked over to him to tell him how awesome he was. I was much more articulate. I looked at him and said: “What she said!”.

JasonCrosby

In case you didn’t bother clicking through to his MySpace page, let me paste his bio in here for you. Look at who he’s played with, and you’ll understand my wow above. Of course, we experienced the wow, without having a clue as to who he’s been chosen to play with/by:

Over the last decade, Jason has been a member of Robert Randolph and the Family Band and the Susan Tedeschi Band, among others. Over the last few years, Crosby has played with Carlos Santana, Pete Seeger, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews in various configurations. His discography is equally as impressive with appearances on Anastasia’s multil-platinum hit “Freak of Nature” to Tedeschi’s Grammy Nominated “Wait for Me”, just to name a few. After 15 years of touring, Jason has recently returned to his native New York to write, record, and produce with many NYC artists, while keeping his overall focus on writing and recording his own music.

Morgan Cohen (no good individual link). Interestingly, I can’t find a good individual link for her under her maiden name either, even though she achieved quite a bit of fame as Morgan McOwen. In 2009 she was a contestant on Season 8 of American Idol, getting the Golden Ticket to Hollywood. She joined Abby to sing harmony (gorgeously) on two numbers. She definitely has a great voice, so it’s easy to see even three years later how she made it to American Idol.

MorganCohen

Back to Abby and some of the issues with the set. This was a much fuller band with Abby playing electric guitar on half of the numbers. She was excellent on the guitar, but with everything so much louder, it was harder to hear (or rather concentrate on) much of her lyrics. That’s a shame, because I’ve already mentioned that I think she’s a very good songwriter.

Many of the songs were new (no issue there). They were way more rock than I expected (also not an issue, just caught me by surprise). In fact, on the first two numbers, if I closed my eyes, I could have guessed that Grace Slick was singing Jefferson Airplane songs (just ones I hadn’t heard before).

So, why was the set frustrating?

It was scheduled to begin at 10pm. The band before didn’t stop playing until 10:20 and then had to tear down. Abby and her band, but mostly Abby and Mark took a long time to set up. I would rather wait it out and get it right (obviously), but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. Their set started at 10:40pm. Ouch.

Second, I am normally extremely impressed with the sound engineer (and system) at The Living Room. Last night was not their best, with volumes distorting at times and some of the sounds on the shrill side. That was exacerbated by the much louder rock set than the previous Rockwood numbers I had seen Abby play.

To add insult to injury, Mark’s amp acted up on him (I could still hear it, so I don’t think it completely blew out). That delayed a song quite a bit in the middle of the set. It wasn’t clear what they would do, until the next band scheduled offered up their amp. Day saved, but again, at the cost of discomfort and delay.

Abby joked that they are the “King, Queen and Court of technical difficulties” and that therefore this was just par for the course. I hope their luck improves.

Let’s end on a more positive note. The first time we saw Abby, I raved about her opening song (I didn’t know the name then). Adam didn’t play the bass, instead he drummed on a floor tom, with Sean Dixon using the rest of the drum kit. Last night they closed the show with that song (I think it’s Give It Up) and added even more of a flair with Mark Marshall also playing a floor tom, making for three drummers playing simultaneously. I loved it!

AdamMinkoffAbbyAhmadMarkMarshall

I will definitely go see Abby again, as soon as possible. Ironically, she’s playing tonight at Rockwood 1, with Mark, in a new blues/rock group that they are calling Fife and Drom. The show starts at 10pm. We’ll be at Joe’s Pub earlier and won’t be able to make this one. Next time!

Here is the set list:

SetList

The Book of Mormon on Broadway

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I’m a Scorpio, in practically every way. The most important way is that my birthday just recently passed. I love comedy in nearly every form. When we watch sitcoms on TV, and I laugh at everything truly groan-worthy, Lois always says: “You’re so easy!” It’s true, I am.

I don’t live under a rock (at least not any longer). I am aware that The Book of Mormon is the hottest ticket on Broadway (even hotter than my beloved Wicked). I was aware that it was by the creators of South Park. I was sure that it would be hysterical, irreverent and over-the-top (in particular in its use of foul language). I wanted to see it.

I knew that Lois couldn’t make it through the performance, so I never bothered to get tickets. Then Lois told me that I should get tickets for my birthday and take friends rather than her. Well, if I must (apparently, I must’ed, so I did). Winking smile

Three of us went last night. I went with an open mind, with no doubt that I would love it even more, without the guilt of thinking about Lois squirming in her seat next to me.

I was wrong. Not about everything. It is very funny (though not even close to hysterical or even consistent in the level of humor). It’s extremely irreverent, though not in the let’s poke fun at everything (but rather, let’s ridicule a group that isn’t likely to do/say anything in response). It’s over-the-top, but in making light of things that simply can’t be made light of (the very real, ongoing female genital mutilation in Africa is a non-stop riot in their opinion).

People laugh their heads off, even at those images. It feels to me like it’s more the shock value than an actual joke. When you see people around you laughing, and you’re at the hottest comedy for which you paid a small ransom to attend, you laugh too (or at least most people in the audience did).

To me, there were two separate shows (seamlessly integrated into one spectacle):

  1. A (very raw) comedy ridiculing every aspect of Mormonism. As a side dish, the plight of the poorest, most oppressed, AIDS stricken Ugandans is served up for our delight.
  2. A sendup (parody/skewering) of Broadway Musicals.

Let’s start with #2. I think The Book of Mormon nails it perfectly, in a funny way. Every single actor/singer is fantastic. The music is fine (nothing that I can remember even the next day, but it was all pleasant and professional throughout). The lyrics are often sophomoric, but they’re meant to be (or at least completely feel like that’s intentional). The dancers are very good and all of the exaggerated movements are precisely meant to parody the genre.

The sets are minimalistic on some level, but extremely creative. The transitions from one scene to another are simplistic, but work very well. In other words, the team that put this show together are incredible pros.

The female lead (character of Nabulungi) was a substitute last night (played by Asmeret Ghebremichael). She was amazing! That’s all the more impressive when I found out that the person she was subbing for, Nikki M. James, won the Tony for this role. If Nikki is better than Asmeret (and perhaps that’s true), I can only imagine how good she is!

The two male leads were perfect. Andrew Rannells reminded me of Jim Carrey at his best (physically as well as performance skills). Josh Gad was phenomenal.

To summarize, if #2 was the total target, then The Book of Mormon was as good as it gets.

The problem is that it was paired with #1. When I described it to Lois last night, she asked why they didn’t make up a religion, sprinkle in parts of every major belief system (including Mormonism)? Bingo (once again, Lois is typically more insightful than I am, even about things I’ve seen and she hasn’t!).

I’ve already said (twice) that the entire lighthearted treatment of the Ugandan people borders on the absurd (wow, Hadar, you finally get it, it’s supposed to be exaggerated to absurdity). Unfortunately, there’s no exaggeration, it’s happening, today, and it’s simply not funny.

How about Mormonism? Surely that’s fair game, right? Well, anything is fair game to the authors and that’s fine. They are equal opportunity skewerers. For that, I do applaud them (seriously), they’ve taken on some groups (at South Park) that got them heavily censored as well, so they don’t shy away from one group and only target another.

My problem is with the audiences (not just mine, but the ones who make this a runaway hit). First, let’s stipulate something that I had to check (I was not and obviously still am not an authority on Mormon doctrine). I looked on the official site of the Mormon Church where they describe the Book of Mormon on a single page. There is nothing in the show that contradicts what is on the official page.

In other words, the creators choose to present the material in a satirical manner, but from my perspective, they do not distort the teachings as far as I can tell. They deliver the words with a classic tongue-in-cheek and wink-wink nudge-nudge know-what-I-mean know-what-I-mean manner.

Does some of it sound unbelievable? Of course (to me!). But then are there any major religions that don’t have ample amount of hard-to-swallow stories that can’t be proven beyond the faith of their believers? If you’re not a disciple of the Judeo/Christian bible, do you really think the Garden of Eden existed and played out literally as the bible tells us? If you’re not a Muslim, do you believe that Muhammad memorized the Quran as told to him by an angel and then dictated to his followers from memory?

If you believe all of those things (or more importantly, any of those things), is the tale of Joseph Smith really so absurd? Yet, people have no trouble equating the beliefs of honest Mormons with raucous comedy. In fact, I would posit that in general Christians (of any ilk) are considered to be a fair target for any treatment in this country (unfairly and incorrectly, IMHO).

I further posit that if everything about this show were held constant, with the exception of swapping Mormonism for Islam, few (if any) would laugh at a single line, even devout atheists who think all religions are absurd. In fact, the show wouldn’t be made. On the off chance that I’m wrong about that, I’m sure it would close pretty quickly. In the end, some things aren’t funny (or aren’t allowed to be in our Politically Correct environment).

Thankfully, Mormons are a peaceful bunch who aren’t even likely to sue (unlike, say, Scientologists, when they are made fun of). So hey, let’s all take our best shot at Mormons, they’re obviously good sports!

It’s a funny thing about strongly held beliefs. Over time, they can change, either because they’re proven to be wrong, or because something else makes us rethink aspects of them.

The earth was flat, then it wasn’t (perhaps someday it will be again). Nothing can go faster than the speed of light, even in theory (except for warp speed in Star Trek). Oops, some neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light (man was Einstein a moron). Let’s not get started on our Food Pyramid (which minute of the day is it now, so I know which Pyramid to refer to?).

I started this out by mentioning that I’m a Scorpio. Well, am I? According to this article in Time Magazine (the most respected publication on our planet, can I get an amen?), I am no longer a Scorpio. In fact, Scorpio is now exactly a week-long phenomenon, and not a single person who was a Scorpio before is one now.

What? Is nothing sacred anymore? When you can’t trust your Zodiac Sign, it’s clearly an indication of end days, no?

I’ll finish this off by stating that it’s extremely rare that I agree with a review in The New York Times. Typically, when they love a show, I hate it. When they hate it, I at least enjoyed it, often loved it.

Ben Brantley wrote a very long and detailed review of The Book of Mormon in March 2011. I encourage you to read it fully. I think it’s actually very fair (at least 80% of it is), even though he’s clearly over-the-moon about the show. We don’t really differ in our description of most of it. We differ in the why of some parts (he loves it, and I believe that not everything that can be done should be done).

I still can’t wrap my head around some of his conclusions though:

Now you should probably know that this collaboration between the creators of television’s “South Park” (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and the composer of “Avenue Q” (Robert Lopez) is also blasphemous, scurrilous and more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak. But trust me when I tell you that its heart is as pure as that of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show.

That last line, really? Really? He spends way too much time trying to prove the connection (to the Sound of Music and the King and I). When you can point out to me in either of those how Rodgers and Hammerstein work in anything even remotely pure of heart as repeating a single line that starts with F U, dozens of times in a row, I’ll stand corrected.

He ends another string of paragraphs that I felt like quoting in their entirety with this line:

And it uses this vocabulary with a mixture of reverence and ridicule in which, I would say, reverence has the upper hand.

If you saw this show and thought that reverence had the upper hand, then I want to shake your hand for having the sunniest disposition of anyone I can imagine. To be fair, since most of you who have seen the show (and read the review) will want to pinpoint Brantley’s comment as referring purely to their reverence of the Broadway Musical Genre, and not to their reverence of Mormonism, a true quibble/debate is possible on that.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll conclude with what happened after the show. Like with Friday night’s performance of Wicked, we’re still in the Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (to repeat, twice a year, possibly lasting the entire year between the two times). The character of the shows comes through in the way they appeal for donations.

Wicked was represented by Glinda, who was charming in every way in making her appeal. The Book of Mormon was represented by Josh Gad, who was very funny, but at times downright vicious in his humor in trying to get people to donate. Aside from the mandatory F-bombs that he was required to throw (in particular at audience members who left while he was talking), he had to throw in the optional D-Bags to describe anyone who might not put money in the buckets. Nice!

I put money in the bucket last night as well, but I put four times more in the Wicked bucket. I’ll give Josh this. I might have put in zero, if he hadn’t pre-shamed me with the D-Bag comment, so mission accomplished Josh!

For the record, both of my friends loved the show, unconditionally. For the record, I love both of my friends just as much today as I did before I found that out. Winking smile

Carbon Leaf at Sullivan Hall

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Last night was our first time at Sullivan Hall. It was also our first time seeing Carbon Leaf. Both of those are thanks to our love of Delta Rae, who opened for Carbon Leaf.

I hadn’t listened to any of their music before the show, so I truly had no idea what to expect, other than a number of people told me that they’re really great. Having seen them, I don’t doubt it, but there was one reason (and one reason only!) that I don’t think last night’s show was an ideal one to be introduced to them. I’ll get to that below.

My categorization of them would be Celtic-tinged Rock. They reminded me (sonically) of The Proclaimers, a number of times (yes, I know they are Scottish, not Irish). Note the modifier tinged. Not every song has a Celtic feel to it.

They are all very talented and they’re tight as a group. Regardless of the music, it was a fun and interesting place to be. Sullivan Hall was packed. Capacity is listed at 345. I would guess they were a few short of a sellout, but not by much. Carbon Leaf has devoted fans who were singing along to every song, every word. At first, it surprised me, because I looked on stage and saw only one person singing, but I heard multiple voices. Then I looked around and everyone near me was singing along. Cool.

The band connects with the audience deeply. They love being on stage and playing for their fans. If they don’t, they should be Hollywood stars! Winking smile

After playing an electrified set for nearly 90 minutes, they brought out a single high-end acoustic mic to center stage. All five members gathered around the mic and played an acoustic number. That was a homage to their current CD, a 2-Disc Live Acoustic offering, with a bonus DVD (a bonus you pay for, as Barry joked: You get three for the price of three!). Smile

CarbonLeafAcoustic1CarbonLeafAcoustic2

Carter then switched from mandolin to banjo and they did another song with the same setup.

CarbonLeafAcoustic3CarbonLeafAcoustic4

Both acoustic songs were absolutely gorgeous. It overcame the problem (that I haven’t described yet) and made me truly realize their talent. They followed that with another rock number (electrified) to close out the set. Of course they were called back for an encore.

They returned without the acoustic mic but all gathered center stage again. This time they sang completely unplugged and un-mic’ed. The reason? They sang a song that the fans sang with them, out loud, so it didn’t matter whether you heard Barry singing lead. We might have been the only two people in the audience who didn’t sing (since we didn’t know the song).

In a could-have-been-uncomfortable moment, we happened to be standing dead center, at the stage (surprise!), so we were staring right into Barry’s eyes, meaning, he knew we weren’t singing. Hopefully, he didn’t take it personally. Winking smile

I have been streaming Carbon Leaf since I started writing, directly from their site (right at the top, just click to start). In an incredible twist (to me at least), the minute I started writing about the first song in the encore (the one I just described), it came on in the rotation, so now I can tell you the name: One Prairie Outpost. Another winner!

In fact, I haven’t heard a song I don’t like yet, which makes me feel much better about my second paragraph up top.

They followed that with another electrified number to close the show (like they closed the set before the encore).

I’ll mention each band member (as I always do), just not in my typical left-to-right order. I’ll finish with the problem.

Barry Privett on lead vocals, penny whistle and recorders, tambourine and shakers. Barry is the classic front man. He has a very nice voice, though it didn’t do anything special for me. There’s something that feels spiritual about him on stage. He acts out some of the lyrics and moves in a somewhat ethereal manner. At times, it seems like he’s in a bit of a trance. It all works (at least it did for me).

BarryPrivettSingingBarryPrivettMetalRecorder

PennyWhistleBarryPrivettPennyWhistle

Carter Gravatt on most things that have strings. Carter played multiple acoustic and electric guitars. He played a cello-like instrument that I’ve never seen before. He played a lot of mandolin (amplified and unplugged) and bouzouki (or a derivative). His banjo play in the unplugged segment was beautiful. Here’s his setup:

CarterGravattSetup

Here he is playing most of those instruments:

CarterGravattAcousticGuitarCarterGravattCello

Carter took a couple of seriously long leads on electric guitar, extremely tasty. Basically, he’s masterful on all of the instruments that he plays. He had a pedal steel guitar set up on stage, but I don’t think he played it. He also sang background vocals quite a bit.

CarterGravattElectricGuitarCarterGravattSinging

CarterGravattBouzoukiCarterGravattMandolin

Terry Clark on acoustic and electric guitars and the most prominent harmonies with Barry. Terry was quite good (a real crowd favorite), but for the most part, his guitar play takes a back seat to Carter’s leads (by design). In the two unplugged songs, he took some extremely tasty leads on the acoustic guitar (when Carter played mandolin and banjo respectively), so he showed off his chops.

TerryClarkAcousticTerryClarkElectricGuitar

Jason Neal on drums and background vocals. Jason did a terrific job throughout the set. His drums were energetic and interesting. On both unplugged numbers, he came out with a drum strapped around his neck and played with brushes to great effect.

JasonNealJasonNealDrums

JasonNealBrushesJasonNealSinging

Jon Markel on electric and upright bass and background vocals. John is an excellent bassist. I know that largely because of the two unplugged numbers. I also know it because on one number I watched him very closely on the upright, and his fingers were flying up and down the neck while his right hand was plucking the strings at a crazy-fast rate.

JonMarkelBlueElectricBassJonMarkelBlondElectricBass

That said, he was the problem last night. I can’t properly describe or explain how poorly (loudly) amp’ed the bass was. Practically every stroke of a bass string sounded like the kick drum (yes, I know the difference). It pounded me in the chest, shook the floor so that my feet and legs rattled.

Basically, it was a thump/buzz that deadened most of the other sounds. If I wasn’t as close to the stage, I might have missed some of Carter’s amazing leads. For me, being able to see a guitarist’s fingers really helps me pick out the guitar sound from rest, which I was able to do last night, barely.

The problem was twice as bad on the upright. I have never experienced an upright bass mic’ed louder than an electric. It was practically impossible to pick out separate notes. Every time Jon plucked a bass string (on the upright), it was the same as any other string on any other fret (I know there aren’t physical frets). It was just another strike of a kick drum. At least on the electric, I could often make out a specific note.

JonMarkelUprightBassJonMarkelUprightBassBow

To repeat, this has nothing to do with Jon’s skill, which was evident when he unplugged. This was a setup problem. The sound engineer probably had no control over it, but he could have still gotten word to the band that it was overwhelming so they could turn down the amp.

Of course, fans didn’t seem to mind (or even notice) and I totally get that. They knew every word (and every note), so they could hear things, because their brains filled in the parts that weren’t easy to hear separately. That’s why I said this wasn’t an ideal show to be introduced to Carbon Leaf.

In a miraculous saving grace, Carbon Leaf uses in-ear monitors, like our beloved Girlyman. Because of that, the sound engineer came out and flipped around the two center stage monitors (that had been used by Delta Rae), and pointed them directly at us (remember, we were standing at the stage, dead center). He told us that we would appreciate having the monitors facing us, so that we could hear the vocals better.

He was correct! I can assure you that I wouldn’t have heard Barry even for a second over the bass if not for this incredibly serendipitous turn of events.

I’ve now been listening for quite a while to Carbon Leaf streaming, and I continue to be impressed. Independent of my complaint about the bass, I enjoyed the show and am glad that we stayed, even though we were both exhausted. Here’s the set list from last night, many of those songs are available for free streaming on the Carbon Leaf site!

SetList

Dickey Betts at City Winery with Kristy Lee Opening

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Sometimes dreams do come true. Sometimes they don’t live up to expectations, but even then, the dream coming true is often enough reward. Such was the case last night, for me.

I grew up listening to what many people now call Classic Rock. There were so many great bands that I always feel stupid (rather just silly) saying So-and-so was the best, etc. Still, I often find myself using terms like favorite. A more accurate description would be one of my favorites, of which there were many.

Near the top of my list of bands (not necessarily in this order) were: The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, Santana, The Who, Yes, The Beatles.

As many great guitarists as they were/are (who can possibly count), back then, my three favorite rock guitarists were Carlos Santana, Steve Howe and Dickey Betts. This is as much for their individual skill and style as for my love of the songs that they branded on my heart/soul/mind.

The greatest concert I ever attended was on June 10th, 1973 at RFK Stadium. 12 hours, mostly music (the intermissions were refreshingly short). The New Riders of the Purple Sage opened the show from 12-2pm. The Grateful Dead played from 2-7pm. The Allman Brothers Band played from 7pm-midnight!

I’ve never seen Dickey Betts perform live since then (heck, what’s 38 years between friends). I’ve seen the new incarnation of the Allman Brothers twice at the Beacon Theater (more on that at the bottom). I’ve missed a few opportunities to catch Dickey Betts and Great Southern over the past years and was glad to finally snag three great seats for last night’s show at City Winery.

DickeyBettsGuitar

I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know whether it would be mostly new music written by Dickey and/or his band members (Great Southern), sprinkled with a few classics. I was blown away to find out that it was mostly Allman Brothers songs, many written by Dickey himself.

The good: awesome set selection, great individual performances, nostalgia heaven.

The disappointing: somewhat faded skills (still better than most guitarists), classic leads were often simplified (or not executed that well), vocals were nowhere near up to snuff (timing, hitting notes and some lost words).

To repeat, Dickey was great, but he’s lost a step or two. He’s a bit more hesitant and not quite as smooth, though on occasion, the full-blown magic is there to enjoy. He kept the peddle that he pressed to switch from rhythm yo lead about 4’ away from him. It seemed to be a chore whenever he wanted to switch, and often caused him to start the leads a few notes later than he might have liked.

DickeyBettsSinging

I know it’s obvious to blame the change on age, but Dickey is not much older than Dave Mason, who in my opinion is as brilliant on the guitar today as he ever was. Dave’s voice is still the same too. Good genes, clean living, or both, who knows.

Some words on the rest of the band, left-to-right on the stage:

Andy Aledort on electric guitar. Andy took quite a number of the leads (I’d guess roughly equal to the number Dickey took). He split them between normal and slide. He performed the dual leads with Dickey that are a signature of many Allman Brothers Band songs and did an excellent job.

AndyAledort

I have no qualms with his guitar play, other than he took took many liberties (for my taste) from some of the original leads. I know people believe that artists should be able to grow, or do whatever they feel, but Andy doesn’t have the excuse of being bored playing these numbers for 40 years, so I would have preferred to hear them played the way they were recorded originally.

AndyAledortSlide

Duane Betts on electric guitar. I can’t find a good individual link to Duane (though his name pops up a lot, including YouTube videos of him). He’s Dickey’s son. I didn’t know that (like I said, I had no idea what to expect). Dickey never introduced the band, so I only found out this morning. That said, Dickey was very generous in pointing to every member of the band when they did something exceptional, giving the crowd the go-ahead to show their appreciation. Still, I’m a big fan of introductions!

Duane provided a third guitar for some of the classic dual leads, making them triples. Those were extremely sweet! He also took center stage as the main lead guitarist at least four times, with two of them being pretty long leads. He’s clearly a very talented guitarist, though I didn’t feel like I was watching a young Dickey Betts. He too suffered from getting to the pedal a few seconds late when it was his turn to take a lead.

DuaneBetts

Pedro Arevalo on electric bass. Fast, clean, tasty, excellent. When the band returned after a long drum solo, Pedro and Dickey sparred a bit on the guitar and bass, which gave Pedro a great opportunity to show his stuff.

PedroAlevaroDickeyBettsPedroArevalo

Mike Kach on keyboards (organ and electronic) and vocals. Mike was superb on the keyboards (he used mostly a piano sound on the electronic keys, and either switched occasionally to an organ sound, or had an real organ keyboard below it, out of my sight). He was also the primary lead vocalist, a job he didn’t handle as well to my taste. He sang harmony on the numbers that Dickey sang lead.

MikeKach

Mike had a Greg Allman look to him, adding a touch of mock authenticity to the Allman Brothers sound. Winking smile

Sitting behind these guys (and perhaps more importantly, behind their wall of amps!), were two drummers. Each had a full drum kit. In between them, higher up on the stage, was a full bongo-style set.

FrankieLombardiJamesVarnado

Frankie Lombardi on drums, the bongo set (a bit) and harmony. Frankie was exceptional on the drums. So fast, so interesting. He took an incredibly long solo that was absolutely mesmerizing. He only played the bongo set a few times, but when he was there, he also sang some harmony while Dickey sang lead, making it 3-part with Mike.

FrankieLombardiFrankieLombardiDickeyBettsSinging

James Varnado on drums. James was exceptional as well and was incredibly well-matched with Frankie. He too took a very long solo and killed it. Their solos couldn’t have been more different, which was also a treat, since they came back-to-back. James had a masterful touch of very soft/subtle (but really fast) build-ups.

JamesVarnado

Before they took their individual solos, they played a long duo. They played together perfectly, but also often created a stereo effect of starting a drum riff on one end of the stage, and as the drummer made his way to the other side of his kit, the other one picked it up (flawlessly) and continued across his set. Beautiful!

That duo followed by the solos occurred toward the end of my favorite Allman Brothers Band song, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. The band walked off the stage leaving only the drummers. When the solos were over, Dickey and Pedro returned (mentioned above) followed by Andy, Duane and Mike. They then finished the song to rousing cheers.

I was blown away that they did In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. As much as I enjoyed it, it was the biggest disappointment in terms of living up to my expectations. I have listened to that song so many times over the past 40 years on the Live at the Filmore East album (one of the greatest albums of all time). Any note that’s out of place is jarring to me. Last night’s rendition wasn’t even close, though it was obviously recognizable as the same song.

That leads me to one final thing about the drums. The Allman Brothers Band has three full-time drummers/percussionists on stage at all times (and they typically add a fourth guest for some numbers). It’s such an integral part of their sound, giving such a huge bottom.

As extraordinary as last night’s drummers were, it wasn’t as obvious (or true to the ABB sound) during the songs. I’m guessing it’s because their kick drums were hidden behind a wall of Marshall amps. The drum play was slick, but the bottom just wasn’t there like at an ABB show.

I said up top that I would mention my recent ABB experiences. Those shows were great, but even though Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are amazing guitarists, they try to avoid being copycats of Duane and Dickey. That’s the part I don’t like. The drummers are still worth showing up for, and the bass player is one of the best.

After walking off the stage, the band returned for an encore. They played Rambling Man. A great choice to end the evening.

Lois went up to the stage to try and grab the set list. It was behind the monitors, taped to the floor. I couldn’t tell whether she couldn’t reach it, or whether she didn’t want to risk ripping it. She took a photo of it (upside down) just in case she couldn’t get the actual papers (two sheets).

SetListTapedToStage

Standing off to the right of the stage was a man who was equally anxious to get his hands on it. He asked James Varnado whether he could have it, and James said no and kept walking.

Lois asked Andy Aledort if she could have it. He hesitated and said he wasn’t sure, but then walked off.

Lois left the stage area and found the band tech (the back of his T-Shirt said “Tour Staff”). He was the guitar tech and coordinated pretty much everything that happened on the stage before and during the show. Lois asked him for the set list, and he obliged, after apologizing for having to do something for his brother first.

TourStaffHero

He delivered! Below is what I believe to be a master set list. They didn’t play all the songs on this list, but I think they were prepared to play any of them. They picked roughly 1/2 the songs on the list. There was a late show that night (because the Sunday show was canceled due to Hurricane Irene). Perhaps they played a very different set after we left.

DickeyBettsSetListPick

From memory, the one’s I’m sure they played last night (not in order): Les Brers in A Minor, Statesboro Blues, Blue Sky, One Way Out, Seven Turns, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Jessica, Rambling Man (probably a few more, though each song was pretty long).

In addition to giving Lois the set list, he also gave her a Dickey Betts guitar pick. Cool! Memorabilia is one thing we really like. Thanks again “Tour Staff” guy, we are forever in your debt! Smile

DickeyBettsPick

Kristy Lee opened the show. She’s a singer/songwriter from Mobile, AL. The people who showed up early enough (1/3 of the eventual crowd) were largely rude and talked quite loud. Thankfully, Kristy has a very powerful voice (speaking and singing) and as annoyed as I was at the talkers, I could hear every word Kristy spoke and sang.

KristyLee

She accompanied herself on acoustic guitar (mostly strumming, but very nicely). I liked everything about her: voice, songs, stage presence.

KristyLeeSinging

Jimbo Kurisko accompanied her on acoustic guitar. No good individual link, but you can easily find YouTube videos of him and Kristy. Jimbo was absolutely outstanding! His leads were fast (mostly finger picked) and he and Kristy have a great rapport. She highlighted him on every song (usually twice). She would throw it to him by saying “Sing it Jimbo”. Singing it, in this case, meant make the guitar sing, baby! He did! Smile

JimboKurisko

We got to City winery 75 minutes before Kristy went on. We and a friend of ours enjoyed a wonderful meal, good conversation, and most importantly, an amazing carafe of City Winery’s own Zinfandel. Incredibly delicious (the wine, that is).

Installing CrashPlan on a PogoPlug Pro

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There are critical updates embedded in this post, added on 9/3/2011, all preceded with Update:. You can apply those instructions separately if you’ve already completed the rest of this installation. Updates will be marked with End Update to allow for multi-paragraph updates. I will strike-through the parts that were replaced, so that you can safely ignore them if you’re going through this guide for the first time.

PogoPlug Pro is an amazing device (coupled with an amazing service). CrashPlan is an amazing piece of software (and also provides a fee-based amazing service). I’ve had both for a while and think very highly of them.

To solve a number of my own problems (not caused by either service!), I decided to investigate marrying them (the PogoPlug device, with the CrashPlan software). To be slightly more accurate, I wanted the device to perform an additional function (beyond backups). I wanted it to be my primary DLNA server.

Caution: none of what follows is supported by either company. You will be voiding your PogoPlug warranty and CrashPlan does not support this configuration of their Linux software. Proceed at your own risk!

My primary reason for installing CrashPlan on this device is to compensate for the pathetic upload speed provided by Time Warner, all of 485Kbps, shared with my wife, for normal Internet use, VoIP calls and backups. In other words, not really a useful real-time backup solution. Since we are often at other, very high-speed locations, I still believe that paying for the CrashPlan online backup service is the way to go (and gives me great comfort), but when I’m home, I wanted a local solution (that didn’t involve plugging in a hard drive to my laptop).

Since I was able to do this, successfully, the instructions can be found on the Net. Since it took me way longer to find the various pieces, let alone get them to work, than I felt it should have, I’m writing this (for myself, as well as for others who might give up more easily than I did). None of the credit goes to me, I’m just collecting the wisdom of others in one place, hopefully an easy one to find.

Update: All sections marked Update: that apply to Java and udev were courtesy of Ankit Mohan. Ankit used this guide to get CrashPlan running on his PogoPlug, then dug in a lot more than I did to solve the problems I described. I am indebted to him. End Update.

There are a number of Linux distributions available for the PogoPlug Pro (an ARM-based device). I chose Arch Linux because it was the most prominent one I found and because it has a very good reputation independent of the PogoPlug. The specific ARM implementation has it’s own site, which is where I started my odyssey.

After reading the overview on that page, I clicked on the Installation tab. The instructions there are extremely clear. The first time I followed them, the formatting of my external drive failed. I ended up formatting the drive while it was connected to a laptop running Linux, but all of the other instructions on that page worked. I will repeat them here, so that anyone who doesn’t want to link off of this page can simply follow all the way through.

You have to register your PogoPlug at my.pogoplug.com. This is required, even though we will shortly be disabling the service, since this is the only way to get SSH access to the device. You will be able to reverse the process, returning the device to a full PogoPlug in the future, should you desire that, but it’s not a dual-boot situation where you decide which version you want it to be.

Once you’ve enabled SSH on the device, you can set your own password. The username will be root. The default password for a PogoPlug Pro is ceadmin (as noted, you can change it via the website, or once you log in, with the passwd command. Change it!

One of the steps that they don’t cover is discovering the IP address of your PogoPlug, so that you can SSH to it. In a home environment, this is relatively easy (for the geeks among us). You login to your router, look at the list of attached devices and easily spot it.

I’m installing the software on a second device as I type along. I’m in an office environment and don’t have access to the router. There are hundreds of devices in the office. I had to write down the MAC address of the PogoPlug, go over to a system administrator and ask him to search the DHCP log files for that MAC address. He did and I found out the address that was assigned to it. Whew.

I successfully logged into the device, just to make sure it worked, while it was still an official PogoPlug. That step was optional, but comforting. Since the next step is to power down the device (which you can safely do by just pulling the power cord, especially if you have no hard drives attached yet), since I’m logged in as root, I typed /sbin/halt instead, to be a little safer. Wait 60 seconds (for added safety), then pull the power cord.

We’re going to install Arch Linux on an external drive. The only thing that will be changed on the PogoPlug itself is the boot sector, which will now point to the external drive (that’s what would need to be reversed to restore the PogoPlug functionality).

With the PogoPlug powered down, attach only the drive that you intend to install Arch Linux on. This way there will be no confusion or errors. Later on, if you want multiple drives attached (for backups and/or media files) it will be easy to add them. I am using a 2TB Fantom Drives to do my install.

Once the drive is attached (and turned on), plug the power cord back into the PogoPlug and wait for it to boot. Then SSH back on to it (the root password will be what you set it to, or ceadmin if you didn’t change it). The box is still running the PogoPlug software, with your drive attached to it.

Type: killall hbwd

That will stop the PogoPlug software from running on the box. We don’t want it to interfere with the installation of Arch Linux. You might have to wait a bit for the service to stop. If you want to check, type the following:

ps | grep hb

The only result should your grep process. Then, you can type:

/sbin/fdisk –l

The last line of output should start with /dev/sda1. That means your disk drive was found and has a partition on it (it’s likely formatted already). We are about to erase everything on the disk, so be absolutely sure that you want to continue with this adventure before doing that! If you’re ready, type:

/sbin/fdisk /dev/sda

That will bring up the fdisk program on the entire drive (sda as opposed to sda1 which is the first partition). You will now have a prompt that is directly from the fdisk program. We will type a number of one character commands. Right after you type the character and press enter, fdisk will go off and do what you asked it to.

Type: o

That will clear the partition table so that the disk will become unusable (for the moment). As you can see from the messages, nothing has been committed in stone as yet (very soon). This has modified an in-memory copy of the partition table.

Type: p (to verify the above, that there are now no partitions)

Type: n (press Enter, this will create a new partition)

Type: p (to make it a Primary partition. At this point, I’ll stop saying “Press Enter”, but you still have to!)

Type: 1 (to make this partition #1)

At the next two prompts (First and Last cylinders), just Press Enter to accept the defaults (you are making the entire disk available as the first and only partition).

Now comes the destructive part. This will actually wipe out any data you had on the disk (but still doesn’t modify the PogoPlug in any way!).

Type: w (this writes the partition table back out to the disk)

You are now back at the command line. If you’re a paranoid type (or just careful), you can verify that things worked by repeating the fdisk command and listing out the partition table, all in one shot:

/sbin/fdisk –l

This is the output on my system:

Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks  Id System
/dev/sda1               1      243201  1953512001  83 Linux

2TB, in one partition, marked for use by a Linux system. Now we need to actually create the filesystem, which in our case will be an ext3 one. This will require downloading some commands that will need to be executed. Here are the steps:

Type: sync (to flush any filesystem changes)

Type: cd /tmp (to change to a temporary, writable working directory)

Type: wget http://archlinuxarm.org/os/pogoplug/mke2fs (to retrieve the program mke2fs)

Type: chmod 755 mke2fs (to make it executable)

Type: ./mke2fs -j /dev/sda1 (the leading dot is critical. This will format the partition to an ext3 filesystem)

The above command can take quite a while, depending on the size of your external drive. This is the command that failed for me on my first PogoPlug, so I ended up having to detach the drive, connect it to a Linux laptop, perform the same exact command as above (which was already available, I didn’t need the wget part) and then reattach the drive to the PogoPlug.

Note: it failed for me again. I was able to format it using the built-in /sbin/mkfs.ext2 command (passing in the “-j” flag), but I didn’t trust that it was building a true ext3 filesystem (ext2 + journal). So, I disconnected the drive from the PogoPlug, attached it to a VirtualBox VM on my Win7 laptop, and formatted it there as a real ext3. Took forever, but it worked.

Whether the mke2fs command worked for you or whether you had to format the drive separately, like I had to on two separate installations, you’re now ready to install Arch Linux on the external drive. You should already (still) be in /tmp, but to make sure, feel free to type: cd /tmp

Type: wget http://archlinuxarm.org/os/oxnas/oxnas-install.sh (that retrieves the install script)

Type: chmod 755 oxnas-install.sh (this makes the script executable)

Type: ./oxnas-install.sh (this starts the script, which will send lots of messages to your terminal window. It also downloads the root filesystem image, which is roughly 129MB, so it can take a while if you don’t have a fast network connection.)

When it’s finally done (took between 5-10 minutes on a very high speed connection in the office), the output should look like this if it succeeded (at the very end):

#############################
## Looks good!
# Sync …
# Unmount
# Reboot to enter into Arch Linux ARM

Note the looks good! and then the instructions to reboot. That’s what we’re going to do next.

Type: /sbin/reboot (cross fingers!) Winking smile

This will immediately disconnect you from the terminal window you were in. You need to wait a few minutes for the orderly shutdown of the PogoPlug, followed by the booting up of Arch Linux ARM. You can watch the lights on your external drive to see when there is activity on it, indicating that the booting has begun. When the light settles down, the boot is complete.

We’re ready to log back in (this time to the new operating system), and the password has been changed to a new default one. The user is still root, but now so is the password (root), which you should change right away with the passwd command. It’s quite possible that the IP address of the box has changed during the reboot, so please verify the new (or existing) one, before SSH’ing back on.

If the IP address did not change, then you might have to remove the old key associated with it, or ssh might refuse to connect, thinking it’s a security violation. If you get the same IP address again, you may need to run the following command first (on your local machine, the one you are SSH’ing from):

Type: ssh-keygen -R 192.168.1.123 # (using your device’s IP, which won’t likely be 192.168.1.123)

The following First Steps page on the Arch Linux ARM Wiki explains the above, and gives you a number of other useful tips. I followed them religiously the first time through, but I changed the order a bit this time around and it saved a bit of typing (or I think it did).

Instead of going through the above, this time I updated all of the packages right away. I believe that it installed openntpd and updated the /etc/rc.conf file (one of the first steps that I performed manually the last time). You can do what I did, then check if openntpd is installed and running.

Type: pacman –Scc (clear out old packages. I said YES to the first, and NO to remove unused repositories)

Type: pacman –Syu (this will do a large update, first syncing the repositories, then updating all packages)

Now comes a crazy part. I say crazy because by the time you read this, perhaps the maintainers of Arch Linux ARM will have updated the repositories and this will no longer be necessary. Then people will think I’m an idiot, so be it, I’m putting it in here because it can’t hurt!

Type: pacman –Sy udev-compat (to fix a problem with udev + syslog-ng taking up 100% of your CPU)

The 100% cpu problem might be happening as you read this (if you’ve done the previous steps already). It might be filling up your disk in /var/log as well. We can check that in a minute (here’s the thread that helped me: there’s a typo in that thread, “sleep3” should be “sleep 3”), but first, let’s do a few more things and then reboot.

Update: Type pacman -Sfy udev-oxnas udev-automount (this fixes the udev problem noted above, now struck-through. I added the f option to pacman to force the removal of the bad udev, or udev-compat that you installed if you’ve already completed these instructions. You will have to say Y to the prompt to remove udev, which defaults to N.) End Update.

Let’s create a swapfile:

Type: dd if=/dev/zero of=/swapfile.img bs=1M count=1024 #for a 512MB swapfile, use count=512

Type: mkswap /swapfile.img (to turn the file we just created into a valid swapfile)

Type: swapon /swapfile.img (to see whether you get any errors, you shouldn’t)

Now we’ll edit /etc/rc.local (use your favorite editor, I use “vi”, you might prefer “nano”) to add exactly four one lines after the comments:

swapon /swapfile.img
kill $(pidof udevd)
sleep 3
udevd &

The first line turns the swap on after each reboot. The next three lines kill the bad udev (even after updating the udev-compat the process sometimes misbehaves at boot), then sleeps for three seconds and restarts udev, which makes it seem to behave correctly so far.

OK, time to reboot and see if we have a stable system:

Type: sync (flushes the memory to disk)

Type: reboot (you should lose your ssh connection right away)

Wait until the disk activity settles down a bit, then ssh back in.

Type: top (to see what processes are running. If udev and/or syslog-ng are at the top, something isn’t good)

Type: q (to exit top, whenever you’re done looking around)

You can follow any of the additional instructions for setting up a user, adding sudo, changing TimeZone settings, etc. All are linked from the First Steps above.

Since the reason I did this was to install DLNA, I’ll cover that first (it’s really short), then we’ll move on to the heavier CrashPlan setup. Skip the next few lines if you have no interest in DLNA.

Type: pacman -Sy minidlna jack (this names two packages, but will install something closer to 44, with dependencies)

You should edit the file /etc/minidlna.conf and change any variables (where the files are stored, where to store the DB, what you want to call your DLNA server, etc.). You can read the Wiki page (linked above) to see the more important entries.

Then add the word minidlna at the end of the DAEMONS= line, which should be at the bottom of the /etc/rc.conf file. This will auto-start the DLNA server every time the PogoPlug is booted. To start it right now, type: /etc/rc.d/minidlna start

Update: I discovered two things. 1) Many devices, e.g. Google TV and Sony Bravia TV, don’t show any of the files with a filetype of FLV. It turns out that if you simply rename the filetype to AVI (probably others), the files play fine (assuming they were encoded with H.264). 2) After you populate your media directory, run the following command and wait patiently: minidlna -R to force a build of the database. You probably want to kill all minidlna processes when this is done and start it again (minidlna alone on the command line is good enough). You can tail the minidlna.log file (in your database directory) to know when the database rebuild is done. End Update.

Whew. Finally ready for the very tricky and long installation of CrashPlan. This is not for the faint of heart, nor is it in any way supported by CrashPlan. It works for me (and obviously others), but you’ll have to be the judge as to whether the hassle is worth it for you.

Let’s start with crediting the place that got me unstuck, the CrashPlan support forums! Kudos to CrashPlan for allowing this type of discussion on their forums, even though they don’t support this configuration. Here’s the thread, but all of the interesting bits are in the long comment by Torbjorn. It was really hard for me to find, because I was searching for the word PogoPlug. This solved the problem for Sheeva (the baseline of the Pogo), but it’s not quite identical.

Type: pacman –Sy openjdk6 cpio (we need to get a working Java installed and CrashPlan will require the cpio package separately)

The next step (according to Torbjorn) is to download an ancient (2005) libjtux source package, apply a patch and compile it. He supplies a pointer to the source (amazingly, still available) and the patch file is available as an attachment to his comment. You can grab both from the the thread linked above. If you do, you will likely have to download a bunch of development packages (using pacman), starting with gcc.

Instead, I will attach the completed libjtux.so that I built (following those instructions), to save you time, effort and potential errors. I also just grabbed it from my first build and applied it to my second, for the same reasons.

Now we need to install CrashPlan itself by heading to the download page for Linux. I right-clicked on the download button (currently version 3.0.3, but the software auto-updates after the first install). I copied the link location. Back on the PogoPlug:

Type: wget http://download.crashplan.com/installs/linux/install/CrashPlan/CrashPlan_3.0.3_Linux.tgz (that should work, but starting at the http part, just paste in the link you copied if it’s newer than 3.0.3)

Type: cd /tmp

Type: tar –xzf WHEREVER_YOU_DOWNLOADED_THE_CRASHPLAN_FILE (which could be /tmp to simplify matters)

Type: cd CrashPlan-install

Type: ./install.sh (all of the defaults seem reasonable to me, though I did put my archives in another directory. You will need to page through the license file with the space bar and accept that as well. The init scripts on Arch are in /etc/rc.d, which is the other thing I changed from the default.)

When this is done, it will report that it has successfully started the CrashPlan service. It did not. That’s because we haven’t yet replaced the libjtux.so that comes with CrashPlan. The problem is that it was compiled with an Intel i386 architecture.

Type: cd /usr/local/crashplan

Type: mv libjtux.so libjtux.so-ORIGINAL (no real need to save it, other than to memorialize the changes we’re making)

Type: cp WHERE_YOU_DOWNLOADED/libjtux.so . (this copies my version from wherever you downloaded it, or you can right click my link above, and wget directly from my website to this directory)

Torjborn mentions editing a file to add jna.jar to it. I didn’t need to do that, and the directory he references doesn’t exist. I think it’s from a different installation of Java (for the original Sheeva) and not necessary when using the openjdk6 package.

Update: This next part solves the timing delays, apparently among a number of other issues that I wasn’t even aware of! Once again, thanks to Ankit for figuring this all out.

You will need the nss package installed. Mine was there after the major update above. If you don’t have it installed, type: pacman -Sy nss

The file that’s missing from openjdk, which is causing all of the problems with CrashPlan, is libjnidispatch.so. It’s part of the jna package (Java Native Access). You’ll have to download a Debian package and extract the file.

Select a location near you from this link: http://packages.debian.org/sid/armel/libjna-java/download. In the US, I chose this link directly: http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/pool/main/libj/libjna-java/libjna-java_3.2.7-4_armel.deb

Assuming you downloaded that file to /tmp, here are the commands to extract the file we’re interested in:

Type: cd /tmp

Type: ar vx libjna-java_3.2.7-4_armel.deb (this will extract three files, one of which contains the file we’re interested in)

Type: tar -xzf data.tar.gz (this will unpack the tar file, creating a series of directories in /tmp/usr)

First we need to create the target directory for this. Since mkdirs (make nested directories) doesn’t exist by default, we’ll execute a number of consecutive mkdir commands. Hint: you can hit up-arrow after each command and just append the next directory name in the series of mkdir commands.

Type: cd /usr/local/crashplan/lib

Type: mkdir com

Type: mkdir com/sun

Type: mkdir com/sun/jna

Type: mkdir com/sun/jna/linux-arm

Type: cp /tmp/usr/lib/jni/libjnidispatch.so com/sun/jna/linux-arm/ (now we have the file in the correct directory)

Type: cp -p jna-3.2.5.jar jna-3.2.5.jar-ORIGINAL (this isn’t strictly necessary. Aside from documenting our change, it allows us to recover from errors more easily)

Type: jar uf jna-3.2.5.jar com/sun/jna/linux-arm/libjnidispatch.so (this is the critical step, inserting the library into the jar file that CrashPlan uses. I’m not sure the com/sun/jna/linux-arm directory creation is necessary, but better safe than sorry)

It seems that in addition to solving the timing issues (long delays in starting up), this actually dispatches (duh) maintenance tasks like pruning, synchronizing, etc. It’s all good, but there is a side-effect (well worth it!) that the Java process now takes up a significant amount of CPU, even when backups aren’t active, since it appears to actively maintain the system. Previously, Java would consume 0% of the cpu when it wasn’t backing up.

End Update.

We’re ready to start CrashPlan (at least to see if it comes up and stays up). We can do it by hand, but I am going to add it to the DAEMONS list at the end of /etc/rc.conf (like we did with minidlna) and reboot the machine to ensure that it comes up on it’s own. The daemon name to add right after minidlna is crashplan (lower case).

Type: /sbin/reboot

If you did everything above correctly, when you log back in, there should be a java process running, with CrashPlan as the application. It can a few minutes to completely initialize. In that case, we’re done, right? Wrong! CrashPlan is indeed sitting there, waiting to go to work, but it needs to be configured to allow your machine(s) to start backing up to it. Under normal circumstances, this would be trivial to do, but since the PogoPlug is a headless server, we have to jump through a few final hoops.

Once again, CrashPlan support to the rescue (again, for a completely unsupported feature). If you want to understand the details, or are enough of a techy to prefer the theory, I urge you to just read the CrashPlan document and skip to the final section of this post. If you want fewer steps (and warnings) to follow, I’ll give you the bare necessary steps here.

They key is that on every machine that has CrashPlan installed, there are two programs: 1) the server that does all the work and 2) the GUI (graphical user interface) that connects to the server when launched, and allows you to configure and monitor the server process. On the PogoPlug, we only have #1. The good news is that the GUI speaks to the server over the network. By default, that network is local to the machine that the server is running on, but with some ssh magic (and a little editing of a configuration file), we can make that a remote connection.

All of the work is going to be done on your desktop or laptop, where you already (presumably) have CrashPlan running. This is likely the machine that you want to backup to the PogoPlug. Let’s just call it laptop so that it’s obvious it isn’t the PogoPlug.

On laptop, make sure that the CrashPlan GUI isn’t running. If it is, exit the application. Find the conf directory associated with CrashPlan on your system. On my Windows 7 x64 machine, it’s this directory: “c:\Program Files\CrashPlan\conf”. In that directory is a file called ui.properties. Edit that file. The following line is in that file: “#serviecPort=4243”. This line is commented (#), because 4243 is the default value. You can leave that line commented and add a line below it:

servicePort=4200

(You could also remove the comment and replace 4243 with 4200, but I recommend adding a new line.)

Save the file to disk. While still on laptop, open a terminal window and execute the following SSH command (if you’re using Putty to do this on Windows, rather than cygwin, I recommend reading the post back on the CrashPlan site).

ssh -L 4200:localhost:4243 user@192.168.5.71

In the above command, substitute your username (or root) where I put in “user” and the IP address of your PogoPlug where I put in the “192.168.5.71”. This command makes port 4200 on laptop magically redirect to port 4243 on the PogoPlug, which is where the CrashPlan server is listening by default already.

Now launch the CrashPlan GUI on laptop by double-clicking the icon (on Windows, it’s probably in your system tray). You should see a request to create a new CrashPlan account (free) or log in to an existing one. Since I already have one (and presumably you do too), just put in your email address and password. It took quite a while for it to log in and download the configuration, but it worked. I think when I first tried it on my first PogoPlug it actually timed out, but worked the second time.

Once that’s done, you can exit the GUI, as all of the defaults are exactly what we want/need. The only exception to that is if you want to let others (that aren’t part of your account) backup to your PogoPlug. Then you will need to write down the CODE to enable that (it’s toward the bottom of the front page on the GUI and also on a Settings tab).

You can now exit from the ssh session that was started above (Type: exit or hit Ctrl-d in that terminal window).

Once the GUI is shut down, edit the ui.properties file again and delete the extra line we added with “servicePort=4200” (or place the comment “#” back in front of it). Save the file.

Launch the GUI again. This time it will connect to the local CrashPlan server on laptop. Now click on Destinations (bottom left entry on the left-hand navigation). Then click on the icon labeled Computers in the center (the PogoPlug is a real computer!). Whatever you called your device should be in your list, no code necessary, since you should have used the same account on both machines. If you didn’t name your device, then Arch Linux ARM defaults your host name to alarm (get it? ArchLinuxARM?).

Now you’re truly done. If you have a large amount to backup, it could take a couple of days to complete the first backup, even though it’s on a LAN. It will also alternate between the various backup locations (including CrashPlan Central), which is one of the reasons it will be somewhat slowed down.

For reasons I can’t explain, it can take a very long time to start the initial backup, even if you pause the other locations. The GUI correctly communicates with the server instantly, since I can see the correct directory created on the PogoPlug, but the destination still shows up as unavailable for some period of time. Eventually, it gets going, and appears to be quite reliable from that point on.

Update: I struck out the previous paragraph since I’m hopeful that with the addition of libjnidispatch.so to the jna jar file, you won’t experience the long startup delay.

cp -p jna-3.2.5.jar jna-3.2.5.jar-ORIGINAL

Steff Leal at Rockwood Music Hall

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We were going to see the 8pm set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. We often check out the set before, to raise our chances of getting seats. This time, the artist we were going to see at 8pm was promoting the 7pm and 9pm sets. That raised my hopes that the 7pm would be good. I was wrong.

Steff Leal had quite a large crowd who cheered and clapped loudly after each song. So, my/our taste was different than the vast majority in the room.

SteffLealSteffLealPiano

Steff played a solo set accompanying herself on the grand piano. She has a nice voice (very pleasant). She plays the piano well enough. Her songs are basically pleasant as well. So, what’s the problem?

It’s a compounding of things more than any one thing. Because of that, the order I list the problems in is less important than the fact that they are all happening at the same time (often).

  • The vast majority of her piano play is staccato in nature. To exaggerate for effect (in other words, to make my point a bit too starkly), I felt like she’s often playing a more complicated version of chopsticks. Rarely is either hand playing an actual melody or complex chord.
  • While she hits every note pleasantly, her voice isn’t rich. That might not be an issue at all, except that the piano isn’t filling in any sustained sounds (see above), so her voice is often the only thing hanging in the air, and it doesn’t hang thickly enough.
  • Everyone makes mistakes when performing live (everyone). I wouldn’t mention it, except that she made multiple mistakes in practically every one of her original songs.
  • She played four covers. Perhaps she doesn’t have enough originals (which would be fine). Unfortunately, her choice of covers didn’t seem suited to her. She played Cee Lo’s infamous Forget You. That song requires a bit more chutzpah than Steff musters (IMHO). She played one rock cover (which escapes me as I type). Again, a poor choice for a solo piano player. Her Dylan cover was closest to being natural for her.

When she performed her own songs, I often thought “That’s an interesting concept or lyric” and felt that I would be drawn in any moment. Unfortunately, with one or two exceptions, most of those songs drifted off course both lyrically and melodically. The lyrics stopped flowing and felt forced and the melodies (or bridge) tried to include too many fancy things.

So, the difference in our opinion and the rest of the crowd can easily be chalked up to different taste. It’s also possible that it was largely a friendly crowd, meaning friends/family that came specifically to hear/support Steff. At least it felt like that to me.

I have suggestions to fix the above problems:

  • Find a writing partner. It can even be someone who comes in after the song is finished, to edit/polish the rough parts. Many of the seeds in the songs intrigued me. They can be fleshed out better.
  • Add at least one more instrument (it could be as simple as a bass player who will keep the underlying melody going when the piano is quiet).
  • Perhaps hire a vocal coach (I’m less sure of this one, but it’s possible that this could obviate the need for more instruments).
  • Practice significantly more, to lessen the obvious mistakes during the live sets.
  • Work on filling out the piano parts, no matter how much effort that entails.

In other words, I think Steff has the ingredients to do a good job. She just needs a better recipe to follow.

Is Rudeness a Necessary Evil?

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(Wow, I just finished writing and unsurprisingly, I created a monster. If you can’t make it through the entire post, I forgive you, but you might want to peek at the last few paragraphs for one proposed solution to the problem…)

There is a recurring theme in too many of my posts, rude audience members. At times, I want to edit those comments out, but then I remind myself that I want to remember what each experience was like. Unfortunately, more often than I care to recall, it’s a part of the evening that sticks with you.

The first time I ever mentioned it, I probably had a fantasy that all the rude people in the world would read that post, have an Ah Ha! moment, and enjoy the actual performances from that point on (allowing the rest of us to take our enjoyment up a notch as well). Guess what, it didn’t happen.

Then I rationalized: well, those people don’t read anyway, and if they did, would never associate my comments with their behavior.

Because I am hyper-sensitive to it, and because I write about it often enough, I have been trying to understand it better. I have no illusion that the problem can be solved (certainly not by me), but I am wondering whether it can be avoided in a specific, micro way, perhaps by creating a club where people like me can get the listening experience they desire.

Let’s survey a few forms of the problem (by no means exhaustive):

  1. Many different people in different parts of the venue talking loudly non-stop
  2. A single cluster of two of more people talking loudly
  3. Wait/Bar staff taking drink/food orders, occasionally creating noticeable disturbances during a song
  4. A single person, purposely creating a distraction

Some of the problems above are caused by, or exacerbated by particular venues. Sometimes it’s the style of the artist. Sometimes it’s the artist themselves (meaning, they are an opener that some portion of the audience simply doesn’t care to discover).

Fine, it’s a fact of life. But, is it understandable/explainable? Is it consistently the same roots underlying the various forms of rudeness? I think the answers are Yes and No, respectively.

Let’s take the venue out of the equation for a minute (we’ll analyze their role right after). Broadly speaking, there appear to be four categories of rude audience members:

  1. People who aren’t there for the music to begin with (or at best, are treating it like a background jukebox)
  2. People who are there for a different artist on the same night (before, and they’re hanging around to socialize, or after, and they’re killing time waiting for their act)
  3. People who are there for this artist, but only to support them, not listen to the music (a paid show that they know the artist badly wants/needs to fill up, etc.)
  4. People who are friends with the artist and want to be part of the scene, but don’t really care to hear the music

#1 is often a venue problem (not always), so I’ll deal with it later.

#2 is one of the toughest things. You can be a real fan of a particular artist and not care about music in general (or other artists’ fans!).

#3 makes you a good person on some level, your friend or an artist you like really needed your support and you bothered to show up, but somewhere, there’s a resentment. You want to ensure that you have a good time, rather than complete your original good deed the way it should be.

#4 this is one of the worst, but more often than I care to admit, it’s other artists (who certainly don’t want it to happen to them!). In their heads, I’ll bet they’re thinking “Well, I’ve heard so-and-so sing that song 2,798 times, and they completely understand why I’m not paying attention…” OK, let’s be honest, they’re really not thinking about their actions at all, I was just trying to be nice.

Continuing with #4, I believe that often these people show up because they know that the rest of their circle of friends (largely other artists) will be there (which is why I said “to be part of the scene”). The problem is that their friends, who might otherwise be quiet, rarely tell them to be quiet. They easily get pulled into the conversation, even if they feely badly about it. After all, being rude to someone who is on stage and busy feels more anonymous than telling a friend to be quiet, or step outside to talk.

The following will likely strike you as completely obvious. On some level, it always was to me as well, but recently it has struck me much more clearly. The thing that unites all of the above, explaining the majority of the individual rude behavior, is a Look at Me attitude. The disruptor wants (perhaps even needs) to make themselves the focus, the center of attention.

Some of you might think that’s ridiculous. If so, try to explain the following behavior to me. We’ll assume that a rude person is completely oblivious to the fact that they can be heard, or that anyone cares, because they think no one else is bothering to listen to the music either. Then that person get shushed by 80% of the people in the crowd, successfully (for the sake of argument, since it’s often not successful). 95% of the time, less than one verse later (often less than three words later), that person is talking loudly again.

They no longer have the illusion (or excuse) that no one noticed or cared about their disruption. It’s they (them?) that could care less about their behavior or its affect on others (especially the musicians on stage). Feel free to leave a comment correcting my conclusion.

See the bottom of this long post for a (somewhat sarcastic) proposal to stop this behavior! Smile

On to the venues.

Have you ever attended a Broadway show and heard people have loud conversations in the audience during the show? Surely there are some awful shows/performances that can’t hold some people’s interest. Surely there are some people attending in a group that haven’t seen each other in a while and have much to catch up on and little time to do it. Surely, some of the same people that never stop talking at a music venue attend such shows without opening their mouth on Broadway.

Why? Because it wouldn’t be tolerated. Ushers would warn you (probably only once) and then escort you out. The people around you wouldn’t hesitate to let you know it either, not in a quiet, anonymous shush that might occur at a music venue, but in a let’s meet in the alley way, indicative of the value they place on quiet in this setting.

You might think it’s a factor of the ticket price. I don’t think so. Students often get in cheaply on Broadway (and they are just the type of young people who chatter non-stop in the bar settings with live music). More importantly, many musical events that are paid shows, including some higher-priced tickets, include a full helping of chatter. The difference is that the venue tolerates it (as do the majority of the annoyed patrons).

I believe there are a few factors, but the first is the biggest issue, by far:

  1. Venues make the vast majority of their money on the drinks. The more people drink, the less inhibited they are, the louder they get. Since the venue makes more money as people continue ordering drinks, it’s not in their best interest to stop the behavior of the biggest drinkers. This will happen whether the show is ticketed or not.
  2. In a bar atmosphere, other audience members are less likely to forcefully try to get someone to quiet down. That’s probably smart, as there are significant safety issues with confronting loud drunks in these types of situations/places. While there is a bar at a Broadway theater, it serves before the show and at intermission. The dark separated seating changes the nature of the atmosphere. People don’t assume that a first fight will break out there.
  3. We all do so many things with music serving purely as a pleasant background. There are many venues where even live music serves this purpose, so some people may be desensitized or really unaware that it’s contextual. Still, for a ticketed show, it continues to boggle my mind that people can’t see the difference (think: symphony at Lincoln Center).
  4. Different venues have different structural problems (not just physical layouts, but rather whether they have back-to-back sets of unrelated artists, one show per night, multiple ticketed shows per night, etc.). Analyzing the pros and cons of each might yield some clue as to whether an ideal listening room could be created and be economically viable.
  5. NYC is unique in its density of venues and 7-day-a-week unlimited choice of musical events to attend (obvious exceptions: Austin, LA, Chicago and a few others). That creates different problems and potential solutions as well.

#1 isn’t an easily surmountable problem. People will buy drinks (often because they have to, with drink minimums per set, etc.) and there’s a ton of profit in each drink (necessarily so, to pay the rent, staff, taxes, and leave something left for the owner to eat as well). Once people drink, in an unstructured setting, thing become unpredictable, fast (or in the case of this topic, all too predictable).

It’s hard to blame a venue for not asking people to be quiet, then tossing them if they are repeat offenders. I have way less sympathy for a venue when a show is ticketed. They owe a duty to the other paying customers, to deliver an atmosphere conducive to actually enjoying something you’ve paid for. I get that it will still likely cut into their profits (short-term for sure, possibly long term), but I still think it’s incumbent on them to do it.

#2. I urge you to not be forceful with anyone you don’t know well. The possible results of a physical confrontation aren’t worth the potential enjoyment of the music. That’s why you won’t see me getting in anyone’s face in these situations. It’s not worth it, don’t do it!

If a shush won’t get the job done, and the venue won’t do it, let it go (or just write an encyclopedia-sized blog post about it, like I do). Winking smile

#3 feels like it could be solved by educating the talkers, but let’s be realistic, it just isn’t going to happen. The same person who wouldn’t talk in Lincoln Center for a string quartet (no words to miss), will happily talk loudly when a single folk singer is quietly strumming a guitar and singing the deepest lyrics you’ve ever heard. Hey, there are still a few of us left that care deeply about lyrics. We may be a dying breed, but we’re proud and we’re loud (no, wait, I guess we’re not really loud).

I’ll use #4 to talk about some of our favorite venues, even though many problems exist there as well. I can’t do justice to this topic in this post, as it would be double the already long one this has become. Perhaps some other time, especially if people let me know they have an interest in a “venues only” post.

Venues have both a physical structure (is there a bar in the listening room, is there a separate room for people to talk in, do they serve food in the listening room, is the room oddly shaped or does it have good and bad viewing spots) and a logical, business model structure (paid or free shows, single or multiple shows, related or random sets).

Rockwood Music Hall is one of our favorite places to hang out for a few reasons: many of the people we love play there often; for the most part the small (original) room is relatively quiet, or can be made so through peer pressure; they have a separate room behind the bar so talkers have a place to go if they want and still easily hear the music and return to see it when their chatting is done. Occasionally the talking gets out of hand and can’t be controlled, but the balance is still heavily weighted toward people who want to hear good music.

The biggest problem causing the talking in Rockwood 1 is that shows are always free (or close enough to always). There is a one drink minimum per night, not per set, so it can be a very cheap night out to enjoy (and discover) amazing music. 6pm until at least midnight on weekdays, with weekends starting at 3pm! A tip jar is passed around during each set. You don’t have to put anything in and the suggested donation is $5 per person (per audience member, not person on stage!) per set.

If you stay for multiple sets (as we often do) and are generous in your tipping (as we often are and I only say that to encourage anyone who can afford it to do so as well!), it can become an expensive night, pretty quickly. Meaning, free isn’t even close to being free, if you value music and want to see it continue to be created (and that’s just fine with me!). But, if you can’t afford it (and heaven knows many can’t!), you can sit there and sip one $3 drink all night, letting the tip jar pass you by (there’s something beautiful about that as well).

The fact that there can be a hard rock band on at 7pm, followed by a solo folk singer at 8pm, followed by a 6-piece bluegrass band, etc., makes it difficult for some people to stay quiet, if they don’t like as many genres as we do. This is made worse if they like the bands at 7 and 9, and have nowhere else to go at 8pm. Just hang around and ruin the 8pm band’s fans experience, why not?

So, the amazing people behind Rockwood Music Hall decided that they can do even better. Since the small room is often crowded, and the better known musicians need a bigger room to play, when the place next door became available, they purchased it (or leased it, I have no idea). They built a room that is twice as large, has a cool balcony, a better green room, more bathrooms, great sound system.

They did a magnificent job in getting everything they wanted right (and maximized every inch of space in the process). Unfortunately, ask nearly any musician who plays there regularly and they will tell you that it’s one of the rudest rooms you can play (all too often). Part of it is structural. As opposed to the smaller room, Stage 2 (as it’s called) has no separate room to chat in. You could walk 30 feet to the back room at Stage 1, but that feels like going to an entirely different venue, and of course, you can no longer hear the music you ostensibly came to hear.

But, because it’s a larger room, there’s also a strange sense of anonymity and distance from the musician. I bet that people just assume they can’t be heard. Even I want to exchange thoughts with someone every once in a while during a show. I whisper in their ear, not yell louder because the music just got a bit louder.

Bottom line, I think the single biggest problem at Stage 2 is that people often stay for more than one set, even though they are probably only interested in a specific set (before or after the one they end up non-stop talking through).

Joe’s Pub used to be our favorite club in NYC. Technically, it still is, though we haven’t been there since March 2nd, 2010, to see Ian Axel perform (so it’s hard to defend that as our favorite place). The main reason we don’t go there as often as we used to is that Joe’s has a different structural problem.

Every show at Joe’s is a paid show. I like that part a lot. Talkers are rarer there, but it does happen, and when it does, it’s 10x more annoying, because it’s actually unexpected. The problem is that Joe’s books a minimum of two shows a night (often three). They have to clear the audience out after each show, since the next one has separate tickets. That rushes each performer off the stage, even when the audience is totally mesmerized. It feels a bit like a conveyor belt in a factory (keep it moving buddy!). Sets tend to be short  (for a paid show, not in comparison to the expected short sets at Rockwood).

It’s hard for fans to connect with the artists after the show (if you like that sort of thing), because you’re clearly annoying the staff that needs to turn around the room for the next act. If you’re waiting outside for the next act, no matter how well you know the drill, it’s maddening that the doors open 10-15 minutes late, often just minutes before the show is scheduled to start. Let’s not forget it’s going to be a short show anyway, so every second counts. Also, Joe’s has great food, which you are now guaranteed to have to eat while the performance is taking place.

Does anyone get this right? BB King in Times Square gets close. They typically book a single show per night. It’s always paid. The doors open two hours before the show to accommodate a dinner crowd which can be finished and bussed before the performer hits the stage. By coming for dinner you are rewarded with better seats, as it’s first-come first-seated. Rarely is there talking during the show (except when rowdy fans scream to the performers on stage). The only downside (only in comparison with places like Rockwood) is that tickets are generally expensive, and the indie artists we love won’t get invited there (and might not be able to fill the very large room if they were).

Highline Ballroom is owned by the same people who own BB King (they also own the Blue Note). It can be great too (like BB King) but it’s not as consistent. Some shows are seated (and offer a similar experience to BB King), but many shows are standing only (which aren’t our favorite, though we’ve reluctantly attended more than our fair share recently because we won’t miss certain artists if we can help it). The biggest difference is that often people at Highline do talk during shows, seated ones as well. That just doesn’t happen at BB King.

What makes the difference between BB King and Highline, which are otherwise reasonably similar? First, they do sometimes book different types of acts. Specifically, Highline will book many of the NYC-based indie artists if they feel they are breaking out enough to get a good crowd (they often do!). Ironically, those shows end up attracting the talkers because it’s more about participating in the scene than listening to the person you’ve seen 100 times, or are best friends with…

The other difference rolls me into point #5 above. A large part of BB King’s audience is made up of tourists. Times Square is popular, many of the acts they book are well known, it’s a natural spot for a tourist to take in live music in NYC. If a tourist wanted to go chat in a bar, they wouldn’t go to BB King.

#5 is broader than that. In NYC, you can throw a pebble (please don’t) and hit a dozen bars or clubs nearly anywhere you stand. Why wander in to a live music event to have your drinks and conversation, when you can go into a pub? Well, live music is more fun, for sure, and you can tell people you saw so-and-so, even though all you did was see them, since you weren’t listening. But people often pay for tickets, so they didn’t just wander in.

So, I think the density and frequency of shows in NYC desensitizes people to the listening experience (at least some). Go to a city outside of NY (with some noted exceptions) and the experience is radically different. I’ll use one city as an example (since we’ve attended a number of shows there, but it’s by no means unique!).

We’ve seen a number of shows in Birmingham, AL. I think all of them were at Workplay. We like the club a lot! While you can see live music every night in Birmingham (or so I believe), there aren’t a lot of choices, and many nights it will be a hyper local band in a completely bar-scene atmosphere. Specifically, Workplay does not have a show every night. If you want to see original music played by proven bands, you’ll have to plan, you can’t just wander out on a given night and expect to have choices (you might not even have a single choice).

Therefore, it’s not necessarily the case that people who go to Workplay happen to be nicer than people who go to Rockwood. It’s just that nearly everyone there has not only made a choice to be there that night, they’ve planned for it and likely have looked forward to this night for weeks. They are likely to do their best to actually experience the show, rather than chat with their friends.

That makes these types of shows a special evening out, not just a hang-out that happens to have good music in the background.

OK, this is crazy long already, so I’ll wrap it up.

If money were no object (and never in my experience has that been the case, unfortunately), here’s what I would do:

Build a club with two levels (the upper one set back from the first floor). The first floor would be a real listening room (the bar area would be in a separate room, and wait staff would serve the listeners, as quietly as possible). Rather than tables (which waste space, even though they are ultra-convenient), I would either have chairs, or chairs with flip tops to set your drink on (like when you were a kid in school, thanks to my lovely wife for that creative suggestion!).

Shows would be clearly marked as listening events. The FAQ on the site would state that consistent talkers will be warned, then removed. That will be prominently listed before people enter the main room. If tickets are sold, it would be stated obviously during the purchase process.

The second room, offset perhaps 1/2 way back and up a level would be sound-proof. It would have a full glass wall facing the stage. It would have large screen TV’s showing what’s on stage for those not near the glass, or not facing it. There would be a high-quality sound system in that room so that people could hear the music live, but also scream at each over it, because that’s so much fun!

It’s true that we would probably not book bands whose fans need to dance during their shows. So be it. I would also never book a band again if it turned out that in general, their fans were unruly (as opposed to particular individuals).

In my fantasy world, the best artists (local and otherwise) would kill to play on that stage. Fans that otherwise don’t attend many shows would kill to come see this great music. Somehow, we’d find a way to pay the musicians (even if they were happy to play for free) and make enough money to keep the club going forever (no, wait, money wasn’t an object, so we’re not concerned with that aspect).

Since none of that is going to happen, here’s my alternate solution, which struck me during a show last week (and I mentioned it to one of the artists when the show was over):

Let’s all take a high quality camera with a super-bright flash with us to all shows. When someone talks out loud and refuses to stop after being shushed, we’ll take a photo of them (perhaps a dozen). If they complain, we’ll say: “Sorry, it seemed like you were dying to call attention to yourself and I was doing my best to accommodate you!”.

In either case, we’ll post that photo on a Wall of Shame! (both on the web and in the club.) The unnamed artist added a nice twist: “We’ll scan their photos and use a facial recognition program to stop them from entering the club in the future!”. Brilliant!

Abby Payne at Rockwood Music Hall

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We’ve seen Abby Payne once before, briefly, at a Benefit Concert. I had only good things to say about her (in particular, her keyboard skills). Still, since she was one of a cast of thousands and sang lead on only one song, I admit that her name didn’t register with me as someone I needed to keep track of.

AbbyPayne

Aside from wanting to follow certain people (OK, I won’t quibble if you call it stalking), I don’t have too much fear that we’ll miss out on a number of talented locals, because our friends (musicians and fans alike) know our taste well enough that they bother to point out shows we might not be aware of. Thanks all, for that!

In this case, it was none other than Chris Anderson, who we’ve seen perform a number of times this week alone, who mentioned that we wouldn’t want to miss Abby Payne, when I told him we were coming to see Chris Ayer at 8pm at Rockwood. She was up the set before Chris Ayer. That was good enough for me.

I won’t (or rather can’t!) classify Abby’s style/genre, as the set was incredibly wide-ranging. I’ll describe my two favorite numbers in a minute (they were near-polar opposites), but she had a number of songs I’d describe as more dissonant/experimental as well.

As I said above, Abby plays the keyboards really well. She also has a lovely voice, but it has a thin, laser-like quality at the highs, which doesn’t work well when mic’ed too high, something I’ll get to at the end.

AbbyPayneSinging

The two songs that totally captivated me came back-to-back. The first was an up-beat Country-like number that had me tapping and swaying throughout. That was immediately followed by a super mellow song, with two members of her band sitting out. I’m saving one of the more special things in that song for when I get to the band, which I’ll do right now.

Left-to-right on the stage:

Wil Farr on electric guitar and vocals (I might not have heard the name correctly, but if I did, I can’t find a good link). Will was very good on both. Unfortunately, his guitar was way too loud on most of the songs (even worse during sound check when it was only him playing). We were on the opposite side (near the door) and it was still relatively painful, largely because the amp was facing us, at ear level. Update: I now know he spells his name with 1 L, so I updated and found the correct link!

WillFarrGuitarWillFarrSinging

JP Schlegelmilch on keyboards (grand piano and electronic). I couldn’t see whether he sang on any of the songs, as Abby was directly between us. JP did a very nice job, but I admit to being surprised that Abby had an extra keyboard player, since that’s her primary instrument on stage. To be fair, on the numbers when he played the electronic keyboard, he had more of an organ sound while her keyboard was set closer to a piano sound.

JPSchlegelmilch

Chris Anderson on electric bass, vocals and ukulele. Say what? Ukulele? Yes! On the mellow song (mentioned above), both Will and JP took a break. Chris picked up a ukulele and played it so sweetly (not even the hint of the typical Hawaiian sound people associate with the uke). I realize it’s a stringed instrument, so I’m not shocked that Chris can play it. That said, it was more of his feel for the instrument that impressed me.

ChrisAndersonUkulele

I’ve also noted a number of times that Chris is starting to sing more. That continued very nicely with Abby. He sang harmony a lot, often with Will as well.

ChrisAndersonSinging

I would love to see Chris whip out the ukulele some night when he’s on stage with Ian Axel and have a little throwdown. Winking smile

Kenny Shaw on the drums. This was the fourth set we’ve seen Kenny play this week. Wait, it was the fourth set for Chris Anderson this week too (three of them had both in the same set). I used to think that I was the only stalking these guys, but now I think perhaps they are feeding me subliminal messages in my sleep to show up wherever they are.

KennyShaw

So, Kenny was great again, in particular on the other song I loved, the Country-like one. On that number, he used brushes, but was hitting them hard, for a just right sound/feel to match the song.

I mention the brushes to contrast the rest of the set (on the louder numbers). Kenny needed to hit pretty hard to match the sound coming out of the guitar. He did. Unfortunately, we were sitting 12 inches from the drum set and our heads were getting blown off.

That leads me back to my earlier point about Abby’s vocals (in particular, the high notes). The entire set (with few exceptions) was simply too loud. This is Rockwood 1, an extremely small venue. It’s simply not suited to cranking every instrument. Obviously, I blame the sound guy, but still, the band should try and do something about it, or book a different room.

Abby had to push to be heard, and her high notes were cutting like a knife. Clear (meaning, she hits every note), but I bet it sounds unbelievably better on her CDs. In an ironic twist, here’s what I had to say about Abby from the Benefit Concert:

The only issue is that it took Abby a bit to crank up the volume on her voice, which was necessary because she (and all of them) were competing with tons of instruments and other vocalists.

My humble apologies to myself, if Abby read that last post and decided to crank up the volume every time to compensate. Winking smile

The part that frustrates me is that at other times, the same sound person at the same venue will get a similarly equipped band playing at a much more reasonable level. That’s why I have no idea who to really blame. You’ll see an example of this fact two posts from now (which will be my last one of the day).

To Blog or not to Blog…

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Introduction and Caveats

My strong instinct was/is not to write this post. I often regret overruling my gut and I suspect this time won’t be different. This is a 100% opinion piece (obviously, every post is just my opinion, but this doesn’t even contain the normal factual parts like posting a set list, etc.). If you’re not interested in my personal rant, please tune out now, otherwise, your blood will just boil. Trust me.

I’ve mentioned many times that this blog is written just for me (and Lois) to help me/us remember what incredibly rich and rewarding lives we lead, knowing (from first-hand experience) how quickly memory can fade. That we also end up helping spread the word about many of the musicians that we love is a bonus, but it’s not the purpose.

While I’ve tried to be more positive than not in my musical posts, finding the good things to say, I’ve taken my shots when appropriate (this is the last time that I’ll repeat in this post: in my opinion). This won’t be one of those posts. I have no interest in being mean for the sake of being mean. I don’t need to rant just to get it off my chest. I want to mark this moment, and our feelings, so that we remember it (especially if it causes adjustments in our future behavior!). I have no illusion that it will change anyone’s behavior (other than possibly ours!).

I don’t believe that I’m a particularly naïve person (although that statement might actually prove how naïve I really am). I will say things below that will make me look extremely naïve, so be it. Rather than naïve, I believe I am ignorant of many things in the world (but aware of my ignorance in most cases). Specifically, I know that I have close to zero knowledge about the Music Industry. In fact, many things that seem obvious/intuitive to me about the music business end up being wrong when someone explains them to me.

I am not a music critic. Aside from knowing nothing about the music business, I know very little about music theory. I only know what I like, and on occasion, can articulate why I like it. People correct me here often enough not just on technical points, but when I misidentify someone on stage. I correct it as quickly as I can. I want to be accurate with facts, but I am not trying to review shows in the classical sense.

My final caveat before jumping in: we love music, live and recorded. We love many of the musicians we’ve come to know personally, both as artists and as people. I understand that some of the people I will mention in this post have equally rabid fans and loved ones, who will feel compelled to jump to their defense and call me an idiot, a hater and likely worse.

I get that there are a wide variety of tastes out there. I get that many people scratch their heads (or laugh) at the music that I think is amazing. This isn’t about specific musical taste (though some of the points will come off that way). My apologies in advance for offending anyone specifically. I’m trying to make some generic points, but I feel compelled to give some recent specific examples in making them.

What started this

Up until recently, I’ve posted about every single show we’ve attended, no exceptions. Even when I railed about a particular show, I tried to present a lot of positive things as well (at least why we chose to go, if I couldn’t find anything else nice to say). Needless to say, it led to a few venomous comments. I was impressed that we were able to engage in a meaningful dialog in most cases and come to a better understanding of each other’s positions. I hope that if this post starts off with hostile comments, that we can use it to better understand each other in the end as well.

In March, a musician wrote to me out of the clear blue to tell me that he read my blog about someone he had performed with at another time. He was letting me know that he had a show scheduled in NYC in April, inviting me to attend if I could. I asked the person he performed with if he thought I would like his music and he said I would. Lois and I made the effort to attend.

After the show, I had a hard time thinking of anything particularly nice to say. I also didn’t have anything negative to say that had a point to it. I just didn’t enjoy the set. It was simple. I wasn’t even annoyed that this artist was bold enough to market to a single person, that part still impressed me. It was the first time I didn’t write a post about a show we attended. If I didn’t mention it here, it’s easy to believe that at some point, we’ll forget we ever even attended…

I felt badly afterward that I edited myself. Other than writing a post to mark the occasion, and saying that I didn’t enjoy the set, I was too conscious of not wanting to hurt that artist’s feelings. Consider my statement above about not being a music critic. I didn’t feel the need to warn people to avoid this person’s shows. Even accounting for the fact that he has a lot of fans, the people that regularly read this blog might have more similar tastes to mine and want me to say who I don’t like, as much as who I do.

Last weekend it happened again. Someone reached out to me in an email, inviting me to her show this past Tuesday. It was one of the best notes I’ve read, completely professional and to the point. She told me why I should come (if I was available) in a very concise way. We bought tickets and attended the show.

Afterward, I had a ton of negative things to say. This time, many even (potentially) had a point. And yet, for only the second time, I decided not to blog. I felt badly again. I was compromising the purpose of this blog for the sake of sparing people’s feelings. That sounds noble, but it’s also a bit of a copout. Given how long-winded I am, the amount of effort that goes into each and every post is overwhelming (at least I have the time to do it). I was somewhat relieved that I had a rationalization for avoiding the effort, especially for a show I didn’t enjoy.

So, why am I writing now and mentioning both of those shows? Last night was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. We walked out of another totally unsatisfying show (that’s being kind) and our first instinct was to skip another blog again. Three times in three weeks? I felt that I at least had to say what it was that was making me not blog. Depending on how I feel after this post is out and see what kind of reactions it gets (if any!), I’ll decide how to deal with these types of shows in the future (they will happen, it’s inevitable given how often we attend live music).

Let’s start with the first post I skipped. The show wasn’t awful, it was just a waste of our time. But, it struck me deeply. This person drove from out of state to play this show. He had another band member with him. He had a small entourage (photographer friend, merch seller, etc.). Where did they play? A place we had never been to before: The National Underground. I think there are two rooms there. This show took place in the bar area, on the street level.

It was a small crowd. The room couldn’t handle a large crowd anyway, so my point isn’t that it wasn’t well attended. They didn’t pass around a tip jar either. So, it seemed to me that this person drove to NYC for the chance to pick up a handful of fans (whatever that means), and to possibly sell a little merch. There’s no way it could have covered the gas and tolls under the best of circumstances. If it was an extra stop along a tour, it’s a little easier to understand. Otherwise, I found myself wondering why does he bother?

But, perhaps the more burning question (which only became clearer to me after last night’s show), why did the venue book him? Is it so hard to find acts that can do a better job? In particular local acts who have at least a modest following who could bring business to the bar? Something felt broken to me about how these places get their lineups.

On to this past Tuesday. I have no need to try to hurt this specific artist’s feelings, so I won’t mention her by name. I also won’t mention the venue, because then it would be trivial to figure out which show we attended.

One of the things that she promoted to me in her email was interesting. She wanted to do something different in the indie scene. She intended to have all of her backup singers from her set perform individually in the round, as the opening set. I liked the idea. It’s not the only reason we attended, but it was a selling point. We love when artists highlight their band (including backup vocalists, etc.). This seemed a particularly good way to do it.

Guess what, that’s not what happened. There was no in the round at all. There were three opening acts (very traditional), each performing exactly five songs. Two of the acts were indeed part of her backup singers. The third wasn’t. One of her backup vocalists was ill. This person filled in for the ill person’s opening act, but a different person filled in for the ill person in the backup singers, even though the fill-in for the backups is quite a performer in her own right (we know, we’ve seen her multiple times).

OK, not the end of the world, just not as billed. But, while the large-ish room was reasonably empty for the openers, the people that were there did a helluva job sounding like 1,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. My heart cried out for the people on stage who could barely be heard even though they were amplified. I know, it happens (you’re saying). Yes, but this was supposed to be different.

If the headliner had meant what she wrote to me, she would have come out before the openers, explained what she was trying to accomplish (presumably, to highlight the amazing people she had chosen to back her up vocally), and asked her friends and fans to join her in enjoying some talent that they otherwise might not discover.

Nope, she just threw them to the wolves. Wolves that were there presumably because they have some connection (musically or personally) to her.

OK, so we’ve seen rude crowds before (perhaps not this bad), we knew we’d survive. Surely, the headliner was going to floor us. Bzzzt, nope again. There were highlights, to be sure, but they did not include the headliner.

Her band was really good. The drummer is amazing (we’ve seen him before), the lead guitarist was terrific on a number of leads (in particular the closing number). It turns out we’ve seen him once before supporting a solo artist and we were both blown away by him then as well! Then there’s the bass player. We saw him once before too, in one of the best sets we’ve ever experienced (OK, more me than Lois, as the style of music is more to my taste). At least, after the show, I got to tell the drummer and bassist about that magical set (they were both part of it). I can’t name them here, because again, I don’t want to make it too easy to figure out the name of the headliner.

All of the backup singers (five in total) had excellent voices. There was a string quintet on stage as well. They were all good too. While I wouldn’t tell you their names either, we were both annoyed that the headliner introduced her band by their full names, but the backup singers and quintet were introduced by first names only (so I don’t even know the names of the quintet players even if I wanted to promote them).

So what, we didn’t care for her music. So what, we didn’t care for the fact that she slighted 10 of the people on stage with her assuming people could try and figure out their last names on their own. So what that she didn’t do anything to help out the openers with her crowd. Is there anything else that annoyed us? Yes.

Her crowd was just as rude to her as they were to the openers, only in a different way. First, while it filled in more for her set, it was still not a well attended show (by any measure). She booked too large a room for her following. Her friends (I feel safe in calling them that, rather than her fans, as you’ll hopefully agree) came a bit closer to the stage (most were hanging near the bar when the openers were playing).

Between songs, they cat-called to her, yelling her name every few seconds, whistling, basically calling attention to themselves in as loud a manner as they could. The minute she started playing a song, most turned their backs to her and started talking to each other at the top of their lungs. I would have been more annoyed if the songs were better, but instead, it provided a whole different level of entertainment watching them outdo each other in currying favor between songs, while ignoring each song as judiciously as they could. See why I call them friends rather than fans?

So, on to last night. Here, I’m going to name names, at least some of them, because I have enough good things to say about them in general (not necessarily regarding last night) and because they have real fans (many of them) so there’s nothing I can say to really hurt their careers (which is the last thing I want to do to any aspiring artist).

I’ve heard about The Click Five many times, but had never seen them, nor really heard any of their music. I’ve seen the lead singer Kyle Patrick a couple of times, and was impressed each time. I’ve seen the bass player Ethan Mentzer as well and he’s terrific too. We are friendly with many of their musician friends, all of whom respect The Click Five tremendously.

For icing on the cake, one of the openers was Jesse Ruben. I’ve seen a full set of Jesse’s at Rockwood and really enjoyed it. Lois missed that show, so I was particularly interested in last night’s show because I thought she’d really like Jesse. There were three other opening acts in addition to Jesse and the venue was new to us: Rebel NYC.

The doors opened later than announced, and the line moved like molasses once they were opened. When we finally got inside we saw that the main room wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience for watching the show (to our taste). A long, narrow room with the stage at one end of the long side. Speakers all over the room (it was going to be loud) and flashing/strobing lights everywhere, with disco balls hanging from the ceiling (yes, multiple ones). There were a few benches/booths along the sides, most already taken.

At the far end of the room (opposite the stage) was a lounge area with leather couches. Since we knew we had at least a three-hour wait until The Click Five would come out, we decided to forego standing the entire time and we sat on a couch along the back wall, facing the stage. The most positive thing I can say about the evening is that the couch was incredibly comfortable (though even that got tiresome in hour three…).

While it’s easy to look up the three openers from last night that I am not going to mention by name, I really mean it when I say that I’m trying to make some generic points, but using specific examples to make them. In other words, I am not trying to put them down, as I’m sure that they too have some very rabid fans.

First point, not enough fans of headliners make the effort to honestly check out openers. There are many openers I don’t like either (last night qualifies), but I give them every single chance to win me over, until their set is over. I don’t use it as an excuse to make their job harder, just because I’m not enjoying it. Ultimately, my point is that most of the rude people don’t even give the opener’s 10-seconds of listening, so it’s not that they don’t like it, they don’t care enough to find out. In other words, not music lovers at all, just people who want to be part of the scene.

When the first band hit the stage, there were very few people in the audience. Part of that was due to how slowly the line was moving to be let in to begin with, coupled with the doors opening late. Still, that small crowd managed to be so loud, in the face of a blaringingly loud rock band, that it was an incredible thing to witness. Granted, we were as far away from the stage as you could be (and still be in sight of it), so we were closer to the noise-making than people standing next to the stage. Unfortunately, there were very few people next to the stage.

The next band had more members in it. While I didn’t enjoy their set either, their lead guitarist was excellent and the drummer was incredible. Here’s what amazed me though. Somehow, the crowd settled down for them. There was noise, to be sure, but there were enough fans of this band to have entire pockets of people actually paying attention. I was getting hopeful.

Then the next act came on (acoustic). I was particularly interested to see if the settling down would continue further given that this would be harder to hear with any noise. It also seemed that this person was better known. Not only did it get noisy again, it was way worse than before. It felt like there wasn’t a single quiet person in the place (of course that isn’t true, as Lois and I tried to listen as intently as we could).

To be fair (to the crowd, and to be honest with myself), I thought this person (solo for a few songs, then accompanied by one then two people at the end) was awful. The person who sang harmony with him didn’t hit a single note (really!). I am a sucker for harmony and this wasn’t it.

OK, I’ll circle back to my real problem with the openers in my summary. At least, the two acts I really came for were about to hit the stage, Jesse Ruben followed by The Click Five!

So, three bands performed without any technical glitches. Jesse hits the stage solo, with just an acoustic guitar, and they can’t get him set up. He was on the stage for over five minutes, then he left. He didn’t return for nearly fifteen minutes and when he did, they still couldn’t get his sound out (to his satisfaction). It took another 10 minutes. In other words, it took over 30 minutes for him to start his set after the intermission from the set before. A long night just got way longer than it needed to be. I have no idea why, I’m just complaining anyway…

Here’s where it gets weird (really Hadar?). The only place where people weren’t making noise consistently throughout the night was in the lounge area where we were sitting (15-20 people in total). I found it strange because it’s the most natural place to ignore the show. You’re sitting as far from the stage as possible, in a square of couches, with a wall between you and the standing audience. You could almost pretend you were somewhere else and there was some background music being piped in (albeit deafeningly loud).

Why is that weird? Because the people in the lounge were clearly there for Jesse and/or The Click Five. They hooted every time The Click Five were mentioned by an opening act. They hooted when Jesse came on the stage. The couple next to us were friends of Jesse (the guy was, and he introduced Jesse to his girlfriend during an earlier intermission).

When Jesse started playing, our lounge got loud. The group of eight girls that had chatted quietly started passing around phones (presumably sharing text’s or FB updates) and screaming at the top of their lungs in response. The two women immediately in front of us who spent the entire night texting (quietly), started doing the same thing (well, not screaming, but talking much more loudly). They were so not into the show, they picked this moment to ask the staff to take their pictures!

His friend and girlfriend chatted throughout his set. Quietly, but they didn’t pay attention to a single song, even though the girlfriend obviously hadn’t heard him before. I was quite surprised that they didn’t bother to get off the couch and move closer to the stage, for at least Jesse’s set. Hey, at least they supported him by buying tickets, right? Right, unless they were on the list

When Jesse started his last number, one of the eight girls screamed “I love this song!”. She then proceeded to scream to her friends throughout the rest of the song, not listening, nor allowing them to either.

So, from my perspective, how was Jesse’s set? Musically, excellent. He played five good songs, sang well, accompanied himself on the guitar well. I can only hope that enough people recognized the vast difference in talent that Jesse displayed compared with the earlier acts (in particular the other acoustic one).

However, at his Rockwood show, I was also impressed with Jesse’s ease on stage (his banter and connection with the crowd). Last night, he totally misread the nature of the crowd and the venue/room. He tried to take control with similar banter, and I honestly believe that he lost more people every time he opened his mouth.

As a general point, that I’ve mentioned once or twice before, performers, please, stop saying “How are you all doing tonight?”. It’s ridiculous on every level. In particular when you’re the fourth act on stage and the first three asked the same question, with effectively zero reaction from the crowd. It makes you lazy and appear to have not paid any attention to what went on before you.

The one impressive thing was that when Jesse was done, it took significantly less time to get The Click Five going (all five playing more sophisticated instruments than Jesse did) than it took to get Jesse going. Whew.

We stayed for three songs and left when they started playing a cover as the fourth. We liked their sound (so our leaving was not a knock on The Click Five). We were wiped out and in no mood to enjoy music. It was crazy loud (we often feel that the sound guy cranks the headliner just to ensure that they are the loudest act of the show). It wasn’t enjoyable, even though they are clearly wildly talented guys.

The noise level subsided a bit, which only made it all the more strange that the volume of the band got cranked to unreasonable levels. And their fans? Well, the eight girls who hooted every time their name was mentioned walked out during the second song. Huh? I know why we left, but them?

OK, I realize how crazy long the above is. I also realize it’s specific, not only to our tastes, but to a very limited number of shows. Lois would argue that the points I’m about to make now should have been made first, with the specifics supporting them. Because I felt badly not covering those shows, I wanted/needed to get the specifics off my chest, so they came first, even if that meant losing a lot of people before the generic points were even made…

Generic Points

Who decides on the opening acts? I’ve been told by bands that it varies. Sometimes the band is asked/allowed/required to choose the opener. Sometimes the venue dictates (or the promoter). Last night (and a number of times) the decisions made, make little sense.

Either the acts are mismatched to the headliner (then people like me wonder why the audience doesn’t pay attention) or they simply stink (I know how subjective that is). In my heart of hearts, I can’t imagine that top acts think highly of the acts that I think are horrible. Yet, they appear with them, names on the same marquee.

This industry is full of talent. Yet it’s still hard to discover good music in the swamp of bad. I feel it’s incumbent on both the venues (specifically the bookers) and the acts that have sway, to ensure that the openers at least have some reasonable talent. I know it’s not going to happen, but there’s so much good music that doesn’t get heard, that it’s a crime that awful groups get to play every night, at thousands of venues across the country.

Next, these shows aren’t festivals. Why did we need four openers last night? Is it to make people feel that they’re getting their money’s worth? If so, pick better acts. Even if that’s true, most are coming for the headliner. One of the reasons this happens (on Tuesday and Thursday this week for the shows we attended), is that the headliner either can’t, or isn’t interested in being on stage for over an hour. The “can’t” part would be true if they have a very small catalog.

Venues need to decide if they are a disco or a concert hall (even if it’s standing, with the intention of dancing/swaying to the music). One of the single most ridiculous things we encounter (worst of all at Rebel NYC!) is lights that flash at the audience. Rebel is the worst, because in addition to normal floodlights of all colors flashing in our eyes (during the performance), they had strobe lights (so bright they could land planes in fog with them) that could easily set off seizures. It’s crazy. We’re trying to watch the band on stage, and we’re blinded in the process. I simply can’t imagine the purpose, other than to enhance a drug high!

There are many more bars/clubs/discos in the country than music venues. This is even more true of paid music shows (meaning, where you have to buy a ticket in advance to get in). I simply can’t wrap my head around people who knowingly pay for a ticket to a music show, and then not only proceed to ignore every act (presumably including their reason for buying the ticket) but knowingly disturb everyone else’s ability to enjoy the show. I say “knowingly”, because even when they are forcefully shushed, they give a dirty look and continue to talk as loud as they can.

Why don’t those people who want to drink and socialize go to a bar/club/disco? I have a good friend who is a full-time musician. When I rant to him about this, he says: “Any musician who can’t deal with a rude audience better quit today. It’s simply a part of the job.” In other words, he’s excusing it (in my mind). Of course, he’s not, he’s accepting it. I wish we didn’t have to settle for that kind of behavior as the norm.

I’m going to stop now, or I’ll miss the show we are attending tonight. Hopefully, I’ll be back to my normal blog style tomorrow, having loved tonight’s show. Smile