November, 2007:

Bill Cooley CDs

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In this post about Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub, I mentioned that I thought that Bill Cooley was possibly the best acoustic guitarist I have ever heard. I’m glad I said possibly, because only four days later, I saw California Guitar Trio at BB King, and as my post on that concert attests, all three of them are amazing as well. I haven’t changed my mind on Bill, I’m just glad I allowed for others to be in his league, by adding possibly. 😉

So, as I reported, I immediately ordered both of Bill’s CDs. I was lucky enough to have Bill himself respond to my email, and he informed me that his first CD, Unravel’d, was officially out of print. He offered to burn a copy for me, and he also had the original artwork for the CD cover, so I would be getting nearly the same experience as purchasing the original CD. (Yes, folks, I paid for that, so don’t think Bill is or should be giving anything away!).

I ordered two sets of each CD, so that we could give one away as a gift should the urge hit us.

Both CDs just showed up a little while ago, and I was like a kid at Christmas unwrapping them. Having the burned CD is an extra treat, because Bill hand wrote the title of the CD and his name, and on one of the two, it’s more like a signature, so I have a signed copy of his original CD, which I would not have had if I had bought a shrink-wrapped original. Cool!

The range of music on Unravel’d is impressive, and his playing is exceptional throughout. As the styles change, so do the variety of instruments that accompany him, including horns, flutes, harmonica, drums, etc. Bill picks, strums, uses a slide, sometimes all at once (no, I’m not kidding), and it’s simply gorgeous. I’ll be listening to this CD over and over, it’s a real treat!

The newer CD is A Turn In The Road. The first song Butter Fingers is really cool, and is a nice double entendre. Obviously, Bill is anthing but a Butter Fingers in the classical sense of that meaning. Of course, his fingers are as smooth and rich as butter, so that part applies. 😉

On the second track, Uno Tuno, there is both a really good electric guitar playing, as well as a superb acoustic one, so I’m not sure if the song is dubbed, and he plays both, or if someone is accompanying him on the electric guitar.

The third track, The Voice Of The Wind is in a more classical guitar style (and you know how much I love that!), accompanied only by violins (or some other strings, cello, etc.). OK, OK, I’ll stop describing each individual song.

Obviously, even though there were seven years between the release of these CDs, Bill didn’t lose his touch. A Turn In The Road is gorgeous as well!

According to Bill, his third CD will be coming out in 2008. I for one, can’t wait!

I checked the Tour Dates section of Bill’s site, and nothing in the near future can really be worked into our schedule. That said, one show in particular really intrigued me, and I’ll mention it here, since I have a number of buddies who live in Minneapolis.

Kathy Mattea (and therefore Bill!) are performing with the Minneapolis Orchestra on December 21st, in a Christmas Concert. Aside from an opportunity to see Bill live, this sounds like a special opportunity to see Kathy perform her magic as well. If you can be in Minneapolis on December 21st, you should lock in your tickets now! 🙂

Anyway, you just have to love it when you look forward to something as much as I was looking forward to getting Bill’s CDs, and not being disappointed when the day finally arrives! 🙂

New iPods = New Joy + New Headaches

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I have a good friend (let’s call him Ed, because that’s his real first name) who is perhaps the worlds best gift giver. I am embarrassed to admit how many amazing gifts he has given me over the years. I have reciprocated on rare occasion, and I’m sure that while my gifts pleased him somewhat, they more likely amused him as feeble attempts to give true pleasure.

Ed got me my first Blackberry, my first Sony Voice Recorder, Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Noise Canceling Headphones, my first GPS system (a high-end Garmin) and a few other really cool toys, all over the past eight years.

When he got me the GPS, he bought Lois a 30GB iPod (Video). I had a Creative Zen MP3 player at the time, and I was happy that Lois now had her own device. Lois isn’t much of a techie, so she didn’t really want to manage the iPod (meaning, run iTunes on her laptop, select music, sync, charge, etc.). Since loading iTunes on my laptop didn’t interfere with the Creative software that I was running, I was happy to manage Lois’ iPod for her.

So, I loaded all of our collective MP3’s on to the iPod, and we used it primarily in the car (on our extremely long drives) for both of us, but really, 90% of the time for Lois’ music. Away from the car, I’m the only one that used the iPod, primarily when I was taking my long exercise walks, because it was just a tad sleeker than my Zen.

This has worked out great, for years now, as between us, we only had 18GB filled out of the 30 on the machine, so there was no need to upgrade. Further, the battery is still holding a charge reasonably well.

Then, as I’ve reported twice already, on occasion, the iPod started freezing (nothing too terrible, but annoying nonetheless). When the new iPods became available at Sam’s Club, I started thinking hard about getting a new one. Then a good friend of mine asked me for advice as he was interested in getting his first iPod. Voila! I realized I could kill two birds with one stone. Get us a new iPod, and keep Ed’s karma alive by finding a very happy home for the old iPod.

On our next outing to Sam’s Club, I bought a new iPod Classic, 160GB. I still only have 18GB of music on it, but now I can also back up my hard drive (if necessary or desired), etc. Just more wiggle room. I couldn’t resist, and I bought an 8GB Nano as well. Man, it’s a crazy feat of engineering. Sweet little thing. It could never be my sole iPod, because 8GB just won’t cut it. But, for exercising and just running around, it’s more than enough, and I already love it to pieces.

So far, I’ve covered the New iPods = New Joy part of the title. On to the + New Headaches part now…

When Lois and I were driving to Peekskill on Saturday to see the David Bromberg concert, I took the Nano so that we could gear up in the car. I created a little playlist of Angel Band and Bromberg tunes. We were listening to them in the car, and when Angel Band songs switched to Bromberg, Lois asked me why I haven’t put on One Voice (Angel Band’s best song, where they cover The Wailin’ Jennys song). I knew that I did.

So, I skipped backwards, and sure enough, it was there, but didn’t play. The minute I selected the song, the next song in the playlist started playing. I tried to play the song straight from the album, but it skipped after showing the metadata there as well. OK, no big deal (I figured), it must have copied over weirdly.

The next day we made our usual long trek, and had the Classic in the car for entertainment. We tried to play One Voice on the Classic, and it wouldn’t play either! Seemed too coincidental that the same song didn’t sync correctly to two separate devices. Along the way, Lois tried to play Bring It On Home by Little Big Town, and it too wouldn’t play. So far, those are the only two songs that we’re sure don’t play, out of the 7080 songs on the Classic (no, we haven’t tried them all yet). 😉

So, yesterday, I fired up iTunes on the PC, and sure enough, those two songs play perfectly. Further, if I select those songs on the iPods themselves, but through iTunes on the PC, and play them, they both play. They are definitely playing from the iPod, and not from the PC hard drive (I’ve proven that much to myself). That means that the songs transferred correctly, but something in the library file that contains the metadata on the iPod simply can’t play those songs!

So, the next logical thing to do is to search the net. I was shocked to find so many people claiming to have exactly the same problem. The trouble is that nearly every post was from 2005, and involved iTunes 4.5+. There were many solutions proposed, some temporary, some permanent, each receiving mixed success with those who originally complained.

One semi-common denominator was that the skipped songs were often purchased songs, so they had some form of DRM associated with them. That’s not our case. 100% of our songs are ripped from our own CD collection. They are all ripped at 96kbps (I’m far from an audiophile, and the smaller disk space requirement is a good balance for me).

Anyway, lots more searching and trying unsuccessfully a few of the suggestions, and I decided to try a suggestion that someone claimed worked 100% of the time. Select the song in iTunes, click on the Advanced Menu, and click on Convert to MP3. Yes, it’s already in MP3 format, but hey, I tried it anyway. It made a new copy in the iTunes Music directory (remember, mine were ripped by Creative and stored elsewhere on the disk).

The resultant file was slightly larger than original, but not by much. The only horrible side-effect was that all ID3 tag information was lost. In my case, it was only two songs (so far), but if I end up discovering lots more problems (as many people in 2005 complained about), that fact alone might cause me to search for a better solution. Once converted, I moved the new file over the old file (so that all of my other players would still find it where it was), and resync’ed the iPods. Both songs now play perfectly.

Whew!

I’m holding my breath that it won’t happen to too many more songs. While easy to fix, it’s still a more painful process than it needs to be, given that I have to re-enter all of the ID3 tags by hand, and I don’t look forward to doing that too many times… It also can’t be fixed while on the go, as you have to be at the computer to convert and resync.

Perhaps some poor soul who searches for the same problem will stumble on this post, and save a little time and sanity in the process. My two reasons for writing this post are that (helping someone by chance) and memorializing the fact that Ed is indeed the world’s greatest gift giver!

Bromberg and Angel Band at Paramount Theater

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This past Saturday night, we went to see David Bromberg and Angel Band (David’s wife’s group) perform at the Paramount Theater in Peekskill, NY. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that David Bromberg is one of my all-time favorite live performers.

In September 2006, I saw him again at BB King in NYC for the first time in over 20 years. That night, we accidentally discovered Angel Band. We had never heard of them, and would have sat through any opening band to hear Bromberg. What a treat it turned out to be that Angel Band was not only his wife’s group, but that David and his band played all of the instruments in support of these three amazing female vocalists.

Ironically, another of my favorite groups (Jazz this time though), Spyro Gyra was playing the same night, just three miles from our house at Tarrytown Music Hall. I didn’t find out about the Spyro Gyra concert until after I had the tickets for the Bromberg concert, so it was too late. Given that we saw Bromberg twice in the past 14 months, I would have gone to see Spyro Gyra had I known about both at the same time.

The Paramount is a gorgeous old theater with very comfortable seats. We were in the ninth row, center orchestra, so we had excellent seats.

We own the one CD that Angel Band has out now, Beautiful Noise, and we like it a lot. They are releasing a new CD early next year, so we were expecting to hear some new material. Sure enough, at least 2/3’s of the show was different than the one we saw at BB King, which was a real treat. They sing so beautifully and powerfully, and the David Bromberg band would enhance any singer’s performance.

The first few songs that they played were awesome. While they took a while to get Nancy Josephson’s (David’s wife) microphone level correct, she was in particularly good voice, and was truly belting out her leads, amazingly. The other two women, Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber (their bios are here), are both wonderful as well!

The selection of songs they played in the middle had less oomph (to me), and while I wasn’t bored (at all), I wasn’t as moved or mesmerized either. They finished on a high note though. When they walked off the stage, Lois commented that she couldn’t believe that they didn’t play the song One Voice.

The first time we ever heard that song was Angel Band singing it at BB King in September 2006, and we have listened to it on the Beautiful Noise CD many times. We recently found out that the song was written by one of my new favorite bands, The Wailin’ Jennys, whom I’ve written about twice now, here and here.

Just as Lois was lamenting not hearing it, they came out for an encore, and lo and behold, played One Voice. It was great, but, not as good as the version on the CD, or the one we heard live that first time. I’m not complaining, just ‘splaining. Great, but not awesome.

The one low point in their performance, for me, was the introduction (in the form of a speech) of a new song written by Nancy Josephson. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, and caused me to write a separate blog entry complaining about it. I didn’t want to conflate the great music, with my feelings about the speech, so I separated the two. If you care to hear me rant about my feelings about performers lecturing their audience on politics, feel free to read it here.

After a 15 minute break, the David Bromberg Quartet took the stage. As much as the audience loved Angel Band (us included), it was as obvious at the Paramount as it was a year earlier at BB King, that the overwhelming majority of the crowd came out to see David do his thing. The one real surprise was that they switched bass players between sets (I don’t recall that happening at BB King, though I might just not remember it correctly).

David has a very large body of work to choose from, so you never really know what you’re going to hear when you see him live. At the show, he even said that he doesn’t typically have a set playlist for a given concert, but rather lets the band know in between songs what has tickled his fancy to play next. That’s very cool and likely pretty unusual.

Unfortunately (only for me!), his selection on Saturday bordered on the slightly more boring side to me. He played a few of his very famous songs, and they truly wailed on some of the songs that wouldn’t have been anywhere near as exciting on a CD, but, ultimately, I wasn’t blown away by Bromberg himself.

In fact, while he’s nowhere near over the hill, his fingers don’t quite listen to his mind like they used to. In this post about Kathy Mattea, I wrote about Bill Cooley, and the fact that he was likely the best acoustic guitarist I had ever heard. Right before I made that pronouncement, I described what a genius I thought Bromberg is with a guitar. He still is, just not as consistently perfect as he used to be. He misses notes, or perhaps more accurate, simply doesn’t execute what you can tell he was aiming for. That said, on occasion, he thrills like he used to, and it’s sheer bliss.

Still, Bromberg is one of the most fun (as in entertaining) performers you can imagine. When he plays the guitar, he produces facial expressions (and body contortions) aimed to mimic the style and emotion of what he’s playing on the guitar. It’s awesome. The crowd totally eats it up. It gives his guitar playing a sense of story telling that matches the lyrics of whatever song he’s playing. In other words, even though there are no words, you hear the words as he plays each individual lead.

One last thing about Bromberg’s guitar playing: it’s distinctive. In other words, he’s one of the rare guitarists where you can close your eyes, hear him play, and say “That’s Bromberg”. A few others are Jerry Garcia, Santana, Clapton, etc. They are all playing the same basic instrument, and yet, across hundreds of songs, you can still say instantly which one of them it is.

Playing along with David are the top three people listed on this page, Jeff Wisor, Butch Amiot and Bobby Tangrea. Lois is crazy about Bobby Tangrea as a musician (as am I), and we both love Jeff Wisor as well. Wisor is an amazing fiddler (who also plays the mandolin in a few songs), and Tangrea is an exceptional mandolin and guitar player, who plays the fiddle really well on a few songs as well.

Tangrea is a world-class mandolin player, but he is not nearly as good as Chris Thile (who many people believe is the best in the world), or even Ricky Skaggs (in my opinion), but take nothing away from him, you’ll love every minute if you get to see him. His guitar playing is a little better (to my tastes), but in Saturday’s selection of songs, he spent the vast majority of his time on the mandolin.

The highlight (to both Lois and me) of the Bromberg set was the instrumental number Yankee’s Revenge (from the CD Midnight on the Water). It’s a great song on the CD, but live, man, they just nailed it. In particular, Jeff Wisor was so brilliant on the fiddle and Bromberg made him (and Bobby Tangrea on the mandolin) take double-long solos. Yes, they were that good. The only thing missing was they didn’t use a picolo (or some sort of flute) live, which is done really well on the CD version.

Anyway, they came out for two (or three?) encores, with Angel Band as well, though Angel Band just sang very soft background, and was almost superfluous during the encores.

All-in-all, we had a great time. That said, while I’d see him/them again, I can tell already that I won’t be as anxious to catch him in the future as I was these past three times. That’s partly because of the tiresomeness of the political speeches, partly because his selection of songs can be a little too varied, and because as great as he still can be, he’s not as flawless as he used to be.

So, here comes the obligatory Girlyman mention. To try and pretend that it’s even slightly in context, I’ll simply say that I (as of this moment in time) can’t imagine not being excited to catch Girlyman in a live show! 🙂 I used to feel that way about Bromberg…

In fact, it occurs to me what the problem was (for me only!) with this performance at the Paramount, vs the Girlyman performance at both Highline Ballroom and Joe’s Pub:

At both Girlyman concerts (as with past Bromberg shows), I was so totally immersed in the music, that it was truly a zen-like experience. In Saturday’s show, I was aware of my surroundings, the people around me, etc. It was a great concert, but it wasn’t a magical, mystical journey like a Girlyman show is.

Wicked Business

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A friend of ours emailed us a link to an NPR interview with the producer of Wicked. Not only entertaining, but for me, extremely informative (lots of background and tidbits that I had no idea about). It’s well worth a listen, if you have any interest in Wicked at all.

Stream or download a podcast from KCRW here.

Breaking a Promise to Myself

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When I started blogging, nearly a year ago, I decided to avoid politics and business. I really wanted to blog about personal stuff (computers, food, music, poker, etc.). Aside from a minor comment or two about how certain performers use the stage to share their politics, I’ve resisted (sometimes mightily) from jumping in.

I’m about to go back on that decision, and I’m none too happy it. I seriously hope that I can avoid the inevitable slippery slope, and I certainly intend to try hard to do that.

If you know me, you probably think you know my politics, but you’re also likely as wrong as you might be somewhat correct. In fact, I think 99.999% of all politics and politicians is/are corrupt. I don’t mean that so many individual politicians are corrupt, and take bribes, etc. The entire system is skewed to selling out your principles if you hope to get anything done.

The only saving grace in all of this is that most legislation stalls, and that which gets through is usually watered down (and unfortunately laden with pork), so that the sheer inertia of our government is what keeps us from spiraling into hell.

Whew. Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to the real point of this post.

While the volume and proportion hasn’t been overwhelming (so far) at the concerts that Lois and I choose to go to, it annoys the hell out of both of us whenever any performer feels compelled to share their politics with the audience. Last I checked, we didn’t pay (darn good money in most cases!) to come to a political lecture in general, nor did we specifically anoint this performer as the know-it-all keeper of political knowledge.

To be clear, I don’t want a lecture that supports my beliefs either, so this has nothing to do with not wanting to hear a dissenting opinion. Of course, it’s rare (nowadays) with the majority of the groups that we see, and the fact that the venues are in and around NYC, that the lectures are anything but anti-Bush and anti-war. Wow, how clever, as we don’t get enough of that sentiment on TV.

Some are classy about it, but guess what, I don’t appreciate that either, though I’ll quickly admit that it’s a tad less painful than a rant. An example of class is Kathy Mattea. We loved her concert (which you can read about here). I can’t even recall the exact comment she made, but she dedicated one song to a polite, but clear anti-war sentiment. Like I said, classy, no rubbing it in anyone’s face, but the dig was still unmistakable.

A different form (and much less prevalent) of political agendas was Kathy specifically promoting Al Gore’s presentations on behalf of raising awareness for Global Warming. Again, not over the top.

One more example before I get to the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I also reported that we enjoyed seeing Treble at Joe’s Pub. This is hardly a well-known group with a platform or following, where you might expect (unfortunately) to hear any political opinions. While they didn’t give any speeches, they had a generally clever song that I assume they wrote (they don’t write many of their own songs), and in two of the verses, they are just plain ugly about President Bush. Wow, they’re just so darn accomplished that their opinions about politics deserve to stand the test of time by being burned into their CDs.

I don’t begrudge them their opinions, and as I said to Lois right after we heard the song, I’d much rather hear the opinions in the form of a song than in an actual speech, but still, give me a break, please.

OK, now the ice-breaker. As I’ve mentioned a number of times, David Bromberg is one of my all-time favorite performers, in particular live, but I have many of his CDs, and love most of them as well. Clearly, he grew up in the Viet Nam era, and the strong Folk singer culture (Dylan, Baez, Seeger, Bromberg 😉 etc.), so I get that he feels the need to speak out.

So, the first time I saw him in over two decades was last September (2006) which was before I started blogging. So, there was no individual post about him, though I summarized it in my uber getting back into live music post. We saw him again solo at Joe’s Pub.

In both performances, his encore was a speech, with background guitar. It annoyed the daylights out of Lois. She would have happily got up and left if I was willing, which I wasn’t. It annoyed me too, a lot, but the first time, I pointed out to Lois that at least, he truly was trying to communicate, rather than rant. Specifically, when he started speaking against the current administration, the majority of the crowd whooped it up. He immediately asked them to be silent (in other words, he didn’t use the opportunity for self-aggrandizement). He said: “I don’t need to reach those of you who agree with me, I need to speak calmly to those that disagree.”

They quieted down and respected him. I respected him as well, because most artists in his position prefer the applause than actually making an intelligent argument. I listened, so he got what he wanted. That said, it’s not what I paid for, and I was thankful that he waited for the encore, and didn’t waste a lot of show time lecturing me.

As noted above, he repeated the exact same act at Joe’s Pub. Oh well…

Last night, we went to see him again, at the Paramount Theater in Peekskill, NY. I will blog separately about the concert, and give all of the appropriate links in that post. As in the first show at BB King, Angel Band (his wife’s group, that David’s band backs up) opened the show.

We were (unfortunately) fully prepared to hear the same speech again at the end of the show. Most gratefully, we didn’t. But, we didn’t, because he didn’t need to. Instead, his wife, Nancy Josephson, used her microphone time when Angel Band was in the spotlight to tell a story about how she came to write an anti-war song. The speech came complete with her acting out the head banging on her kitchen counter that occurred (to her) and therefore inspired the song, when she first heard the term “the surge” on the radio.

The song itself is gorgeous (melodically, and harmony-wise). The words are interesting, if not quite as inspiring as Nancy would like us to believe. If there was no explanation at all, I would have appreciated the song, and the universality of the message. Essentially, the song is about mothers uniting against war, refusing to let their children participate. A nice message (if ultimately naive beyond description, though I’ll try anyway down below 😉 ). For me, by tying it specifically to “the surge”, it became embroiled in the current divisive politics that are destroying this amazing country!

My point is that as an ideal it’s fine to wish for a world that never saw another war. But, to shape the argument in a way that claims that no war is ever worth fighting, quickly loses me.

Since I can’t resist, I’ll point out two issues with the “can’t we all just love each other and resist all wars” messages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m adamantly anti-war (I even demonstrated at the age of 13 at Bryant Park against the Viet Nam war). That said, anti-war, at all costs, is too high a cost, and there’s ample proof of that.

First, let’s look at the brilliant Sally Field, who at the Emmys, made the astoundingly insightful claim (quoted exactly, as I just watched the clip again a second ago) “If mothers ruled the world, there would be no god-damned wars”. Ah, of course. It reminds me of watching 60 Minutes interviewing Palestinian mothers, who lamented (while crying to the cameras!) that they had only lost three sons as suicide bombers, and that their remaining two sons hadn’t yet given themselves to the glory of becoming a suicide bomber. Thanks Mom!

Second, let’s look at Nancy Josephson’s view that no mother should give up any child to war. I think there were a lot of Jews that behaved all-too-passively while being politely marched to the death camps. Surely (they thought), it can’t be worth fighting, we’re only giving up material things. Surely (they thought), there is not so great an evil in the world that could conceive of the final solution, so we don’t have to resort to violence.

The point is, there are things that are worth fighting for, as appalling as that notion is. It may very well be true that Iraq is not. For sure, both Lois and I strongly wish we had never gotten involved there, and we wish there was a way to get out that wouldn’t leave us worse off than we already are. But, to confuse and conflate a legitimate distaste for the current specific situation in Iraq, and try to push a naive message that no war is ever necessary, and our kids should all be flower children, is equally appalling to me, if not actually more so…

I’m done, except to beg all performers who are being paid by their audience to entertain, to stop pretending that your opinion is more important than mine. If your music itself is known to be political, that’s great, as I can easily self-select whether I want to hear it. But, if your music is inherently not political, then I shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of being lectured.

P.S. Note that this message isn’t being forced on you, you didn’t have to read it. It wasn’t presented to you as part of another activity that you chose to participate in, and therefore couldn’t avoid this little insert. Also, you weren’t charged for the privilege of reading my opinion, nor did I attempt to profit from you in any way, by running an Ad on this page, etc. This is a major difference from what we are subjected to as an audience in the above matters!

Another Sunday Poker Loss

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Here are my notes, nothing to add…

949 entrants, top 100 paid

Finally got to use one of my two previously won entries into
the weekly big one. As you (may) know, we’ve been busy the
past few weekends (all good stuff), and I haven’t been able
to play much online poker in general, and not at all in the
weekly big one…

We’ll see if the rust helps or hurts. 😉

Won one hand early, and was in 56th for a second. After a
few more hands, and a fold of both of my blinds, was down
to near 200th, so the above was meaningless…

Won a reasonable hand, and moved “up” to 158th, now slowly
drifting downwards again. After my win, one guy lost an
all-in with AK to A9, when the A9 hit the 9. He was pissed,
and called the other guy a “donk”. The very next hand, I had
77 in the small blind. The guy who was steaming went all-in
for his last 835 chips. I had 3100, and considered calling.
I decided to fold, since it is still very early. One guy
called him. Steamer had AQ, caller had KQ, neither hit, and
steamer doubled. I would have won, but think my fold was
correct (at least for my style of play…)

882 left, in 179th

Just had 88 in the BB. One guy min-raised, so I was looking
forward to making that call. The guy behind him raised to
nearly 8 times the BB, so I folded. So did the original
raiser, so he wasn’t min-raising AA. 🙂

Haven’t played a single hand in a while, so I’m drifting
downward in position, but not that much in chips…

788 left, in 268th

Made it to the first break! 🙂

699 left, in 356th (due to losing my blinds for 2 rounds)
594 left, in 370th (picked up the blinds twice)
474 left, in 340th

Made it to the second break! 🙂

Blinds are about to be a meaningful percentage of my stack,
so (unfortunately), I’m likely going to need to get out of
my normal comfort zone in terms of hand selection. Oh well,
luck be with me tonight! 🙂

After the break, picked up the blinds twice, and lost both
of my blinds twice, so I’m even on chips, but some other
people dropped out…

384 left, in 317th
289 left, in 275th (obviously, not too good)

This is just because others are passing me by. I still have
nearly all of my starting chips, but the average is more
than 3 times that, and the leaders have 10 times the chips
that I have. OUCH…

A desperate move is about to come, shortly, one way or
another. Still hoping to catch lucky at just the right
time. How’s that for skill in poker??? 😉

Just about out…

236 left, I’m in last place… 🙁

Finished in 228th. Never got it going tonight, even though I
“lasted” deep into the tourney…

Poker and Charity, a Great Combo

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We have really great friends (I’ve mentioned them a few times in past blogs) that live in Northern New Jersey, about 30 minutes from our house, across the Hudson River.

Both the husband and wife are very dedicated volunteers for the town’s ambulance service. They spend most of their spare time either on call, or working on the ambulance, etc. They studied real hard for a long time in order to be the best that they can be at this, and we’re extremely proud of how they give back to their community and make a real difference in the lives of their neighbors!

Two years ago, the ambulance corps started holding Texas Hold’Em Poker Tournaments as a way to raise funds. Our friends know that I’m a poker nut, and invited me to the first one. Of course, being the giving kind of person that I am, I had to accept. 😉

The tourney is held at the local American Legion building, and while completely loose and fun (with great deli food served as well), it’s also run reasonably professionally, and is an all-around blast. The one quirk is that they use an unusual (in fact, I’ve never heard of it before or after other than here) method of determining the final table.

The norm is that when there are 10 players (or how ever many a particular final table holds) left, that’s your final table. This tourney consolidates tables like all others, but only until there are five tables left. When that happens, each table plays until there are only two players left, and those two players have made the final table. If you make it, you wait until all of the rest of the tables whittle their way down to two, at which point the final table is seated.

This is unusual, because you can have one chip left with three people at your table, and if the other two go all-in, and the bigger stack wins, you are in the final table. That could happen, even while the other four tables are still full! I’ve contrived the above example a bit, but you get the point, it’s not necessarily fair, and definitely colors the strategy that one should use to make the final table. Since all players who make the final table get paid, it’s worth paying attention to this fact.

So, my first time out, I made it to the final five tables, and then made it to the final three at my table, at a point when there were only two tables left, with three players each. I was doing OK in terms of chip count, but was in third. I was the big blind, when I was dealt J3o. The button folded, and the small blind just called. The flop came J62 rainbow. Small blind checked, and I bet, he called. Turn brought a 9. Small blind checked, and I went all-in. He called. He had J6o, so he flopped two pair. I was drawing nearly dead. Only a 9 on the river would have given me a split, with no possibility of a win. No 9, and I was out, in 12th. So, I missed the money by two players.

In any event, I had a complete blast, and was looking forward to the next time around. That came a year later. This time, I again made it to the final five tables, and to the final three players at my table. This time, we were the last table left, so I was either making the final table, or I would finish in 11th, one better than last time, but out of the money again.

I was dealt JJ in the big blind. The small blind just called. I went all-in. He had me covered, but just barely, so if I won, I would be virtually guaranteed to make the final table. He had T7o. One of the stupidest calls in the history of poker, but hey, he was entitled to make that call. Flop came 256 rainbow, so I was crushing him. (Pre-flop, I was an 85% favorite to win. After the flop, I improved to a 93.6% favorite!)

The turn brought a 10. Now he had five outs (the remaining two 10’s, and the remaining three sevens). That dropped me to an 88.6% favorite. Of course, the river brought one of the two 10’s, and I was out, in eleventh! Ouch.

Again though, I had a blast. The next tourney was held six months later rather than a year later. Unfortunately, we had an unchangeable trip scheduled to Zope then, so I missed it.

Last night they held the fourth incarnation, and I was able to attend again. Before getting into some of the details, I need to digress for a minute. What? Hadar digress and be wordier than necessary to tell a simple tale? Please, say it ain’t so! Sorry, deal with it! 🙂

Back to the first night, early on, people were pointing to a guy in a green baseball cap, with reddish hair and a beard, and whispering that he was a semi-pro poker player. He was the guy who knocked me out when I had the J3 and he had the J6 from the above story. Indeed, he went on to win the tournament that night.

When I played in the second one, I didn’t end up at his table, but again, he made the final table, and I can’t recall for sure (because I left after I got knocked out), but I believe that my friends said he won again!

I missed the third one, but I think he made the final table again, not sure whether he won or not, but I’m reasonably sure he won at least two of the three, and definitely made the final table all three times. I only played with him that one time, but he’s definitely good. He mixes up his styles very well, so he’s extremely hard to read, and he’s generally very quiet at the table, generally playing very professionally.

You can start off with a little patience in these tourneys and try to get a sense of the playing styles at your table, but you can’t be patient for long. The tournament structure is very much the equivalent of a Turbo tournament online, in that the blinds escalate rapidly and dramatically. If they didn’t, people wouldn’t get out until the next day, which isn’t the purpose of a fund-raising event.

I started off slowly, but quickly got a read on the others, most of whom completely overplayed every single pair. Two people built up reasonably big stacks quickly at our table, while I hovered around even. The last hand before the break saw all but one player limp in to my big blind. I had TT and I raised to four times the big blind. Given how tight I had been playing, everyone folded, which was a great way to end the first session, and I was up 1/3 from my original chip count.

A few hands into the second session, I caught AA in the big blind. There were three limpers. Again I raised. This time, the original chip leader (who overplayed his pairs) called. The flop came 27J rainbow. By this time, he had frittered away his big chip lead, and I had more chips than him. I put him all-in, and he hesitated, but he had to call given the pot odds. He had AT, so I was crushing him. Of course, to spice it up, the turn brought a 10, so he could have caught a miracle 10 on the river to cripple me. He didn’t, and I had a very nice stack, and knocked out a player.

I’ll spare you the (exciting) details of a few more cool hands, but I ended up easily cruising to the final table this time. Of course, given the format, I had to wait over a half hour after making it, until the other tables finished.

We started with 3,500 in chips. I went to the final table with exactly 30,000 in chips. Sure enough, green cap guy was there again. He was seated immediately to my right, which was as good as I could have hoped for. He had roughly 50,000 chips. I was in the top four for sure, but perhaps even second, not really sure.

Since all but two players were unknown to me (green cap guy, and the one guy who was at my table when we both made it to the final table), I decided to start off very conservatively. As an example, I unhesitatingly folded KTc UTG. One guy played very aggressively on five of the first six hands, and won them all. It’s remotely possible that he had the goods each time, but more likely, he read that aggression works, and it certainly seemed to. The problem with over-aggression is that you only need to be wrong once, unless you have a massive chip lead.

After building his stack to easily second place (behind green cap guy, henceforth GCG), he got tangled in a hand with GCG. GCG limped, and Mr. Aggression raised. GCG thought for a minute, then moved all-in. Mr. Aggression called without hesitation, which given his hand, was a little surprising. When they turned over the cards, GCG had KK and Mr. Aggression had AT. Wow, all-in pre-flop against the chip leader, when you are calling, not betting, with AT. Clearly, he’s not a pro.

The K’s held up, and he was out, and GCG had a massive chip lead.

When we got down to three players, I was in second, but not by much over number three. I made one horrible mistake, pretty early on. I was in the small blind, with A6d. I limped (GCG limped on the button right before me.) The big blind raised to three times the BB. GCG folded, and I called. The flop brought 257 rainbow, and we both checked. The turn brought an A. I checked, and he went all-in. Of course, I knew with 100% certainty that I should fold, that he had a better A, or flopped a set, or the A gave him two pair, etc.

But, after thinking for too short a time, I decided that everything about his style and my previous tightness, could have also led him to bluff on the A, given that I limped and he raised pre-flop. So, I decided to try and take him out, and I called. Of course, he had AJ, and was crushing me. Ironically, the river was the remaining A, so I had trip A’s, and it wasn’t good enough. I was now completely crippled, with 6,000 chips left, and the blinds at 2,000 and 4,000.

I split the next hand with GCG so I had 9,000 chips when I became the big blind. I was dealt AQ and the other guy raised me, and I called. He had A9, and I won. Now I had 20,000 chips. The next hand I raised, and he re-raised all-in and I called. I had 22, and he had AQ. My deuces held up, and I had 44,000 chips. Sweet!

A few hands later, he went all-in on a complete bluff against CGC, who flopped three fours and slow played them. Now there were just two of us. GCG had a massive lead on me, but I doubled up on my first hand, giving me a fighting chance.

The tournament director, who dealt every hand at the final table, asked us if we wanted to split first and second place evenly (it was 12:45am by then, and we started at 7:45pm!). I told GCG that I would happily do whatever he wanted, because I felt it would be unfair given his chip lead for me to insist on the deal. He seemed to waver, but in the end, decided he’d like to play. I completely respect his decision!

About five hands later, I had T6c in the BB and he limped in. Flop came 346. He checked, I bet, he called. I should have immediately realized he had something, because he loves to slow play big hands. But, it was late, and I had top pair, etc… The turn was a 2, which was dangerous, because if he had a 5, I was drawing nearly dead (the best I could hope for would be a tie). He checked, and like a complete idiot, I went all-in instead of checking as well.

He insta-called. Not only did he have a 5, he had a 7 as well, so he flopped the nut straight, and I was drawing 100% dead on the turn. Tourney over, and the better player definitely won. He’s now won three out of four, or four out of four, so while he caught some lucky hands (like flopping the straight when I flopped top pair), he maximizes his opportunities, regardless of any luck!

We each put up $85. $35 of that went to the ambulance corps, and $50 was put in the prize pool (a little too generous on the part of the ambulance corps, if you ask me). In the past, they have averaged between 80-100 players, but the weather last night was awful, and a number of people bailed at the last minute (wimps!), so there were only 50 players.

First prize was $1,000, and second prize was $600. I was (obviously!) thrilled with the $600. Lois immediately asked me if I wanted to contribute back $100 to the corps, which I was thinking of doing exactly at the same moment (I told you, we are way too much alike!). We donated a $100 bill back, which they graciously tried to decline. We insisted, they relented, and all of us felt better about it!

Afterwards, Lois chatted briefly with GCG, whose name is Darren (sp?). He’s extremely nice. While he’s quiet at the table, he doesn’t have any of the bad boy persona that some others try to put on at the table. He’s a true champion and I have enormous respect for his game as well as his results!

Doing good, while having fun. It doesn’t get much better than that! 🙂

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

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Last night finally came, our long-awaited second live concert seeing Girlyman. They performed at the Highline Ballroom. We had never been there before, and only found about it from the Girlyman mailing list. It’s owned by the same people that own the Blue Note and BB King, both places that we love to see shows at, so we were certainly looking forward to the venue, aside from the obvious anticipation of seeing Girlyman again.

We went with a family of three, so there were five of us in total. We got there seven minutes before the doors were scheduled to open, and there were roughly 10 people on line ahead of us, so we knew we’d have our pick of tables to sit at (all three clubs are first come, first served).

As often is the case at BB King, the doors don’t typically open on time (at 6pm), and that’s really annoying to us. In this case, the doors opened at about 6:10pm, not too terrible. Inside, the club is really beautiful, perhaps the nicest of the three clubs. There is a spaciousness to the downstairs, with wider aisles and very nice tables. There is a cool-looking upstairs, but (unfortunately) Girlyman didn’t fill the place, so they didn’t seat anyone upstairs last night.

We grabbed a very nice table for six (there are at least 12 tables for six right in front the stage), and because they didn’t sell out, no one sat in our sixth seat, which worked out very nicely for us.

When we ordered drinks, I thought I was going to experience a mini-disaster, as the waitress told me that they didn’t have any “chocolate martinis”. Since both of the other clubs owned by the same people do (in fact, I discovered the “Nutty Angel”, my first ever chocolate martini at the Blue Note!), this was very surprising. She said she’d check with the bartender, and indeed came back and said, “Sorry, no chocolate martinis”. Ugh.

So, I ordered a regular martini (how droll), but asked for Belvedere Vodka (my favorite), which she also said she didn’t think they had. Another big ugh. A few minutes later, I notice the bartender walking across the room (nowhere near us), with what looked suspiciously like a chocolate martini. Apparently she was walking to find my waitress, with a chocolate martini, who was beaming when she was able to deliver it to me. Whew, evening saved! 😉

A little while later, we ordered dinner. The menu is a little more limited than either Blue Note or BB King (or Joe’s Pub for that matter), and more high-end in terms of prices. Still, it all sounded good. Our companions ordered the Filet Mignon (which the husband said was the best he’s ever had), and the mother and daughter each had mini-Kobe burgers, which they too liked, and which looked amazing.

I had Riverhead Salmon, which came 30 minutes after everyone else’s meal was out. I was not fussed, because I had ordered a side of fries which came out with the other meals, and which I got to savor on their own. Just as I was done, my salmon came out. It was extremely tasty, but full of bones, which I hate, so I won’t make that mistake there again, even though it was delicious.

OK, is it time for the music review? Yes indeedy. After we purchased the tickets, we were surprised to find out that Girlyman had an opening act. We were disappointed in that it meant potentially less stage time for them. On the other hand, it was encouraging that they were potentially a big enough draw to warrant an opening act (as in warm up group). The opening act was Garrison Starr.

I don’t want to spend too much time on her. She definitely has some talent. She’s an OK guitar player and she sings reasonably well. That said, she’s a one-woman hard-rock band, which is far from our cup of tea. Her guitar was painfully loud and screeching, and of course, she had to sing at the top of her lungs to be heard over it. Oh well. On rare occasions, she toned down the sound of her guitar, and her voice was more pleasant, and one could make out a few of her words, which weren’t that bad either. We’re not likely to check her out any further, but some of the crowd appeared to enjoy her music, and some might have even come out just to see her…

On to our main attraction, finally. 🙂 (Click on the image below to see a larger version.)

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

We hadn’t seen Girlyman since August 19th, 2007. Even though we constantly listen to their CDs, we were counting the days. They opened with On the Air, the first cut from the Little Star CD. Instant electricity. Crowd responds with significantly more applause than for Garrison, but that wasn’t a big surprise.

They played a a number of excellent songs, including one of my favorites, Sunday Morning Bird. Lois and I joked with each other that we’d have to go up on the stage and slap them silly if they didn’t perform each of our individual favorites. While I’m nuts about so many of their songs, I’m reasonably sure that my slight favorite is Hold It All At Bay, while Lois’ is without-a-doubt Through To Sunrise.

After a few more songs, they played Hold It All At Bay, so I was safe, but Lois was still waiting (breathlessly). As they neared the end of the show, they still hadn’t played hers. Then they asked the audience to yell out a song on request. We screamed Through To Sunrise at the top of our lungs. So did a few others, but many people shouted out random Girlyman songs, so we were nervous when they finally said, “Do it again, all together!”. So, again, we screamed Through To Sunrise.

After a pause, they said, well, we heard a few there, but this is the one we think we heard the most. They then played Viola. It’s a gorgeous song, which we both love, and were glad to hear, but we were also disappointed not to hear Through To Sunrise…

Right after they finished playing Viola, they said: “You know, we think we heard just as many ask for this, so we’ll play it too.” When Doris picked up the banjo, and Ty picked up the mandolin, I knew with 100% certainty, that they were about to play Lois’ song. Indeed, not only did they play it (brilliantly), but the crowd (led by us, of course!) 🙂 clapped the beat throughout the entire song (the only song that happened for the entire night!), as Girlyman themselves taught us to do at Joe’s Pub! It was awesome.

As Lois said to me afterwards, given that kind of crowd reaction, how can they ever not play that song?!?!?

They closed with Joyful Sign, the title cut of their latest album, and one of my top picks (among many top picks). 😉

The cheers were so great that they came out for three encores, and all were wonderful and fully appreciated by the crowd.

That was the overview. I have a drop of detail to add, but if you’ve lost interest already, you at least know they were brilliant, again, and can bail now…

Their song selection varied somewhat (of course, there were overlaps) from Joe’s Pub, so that was wonderful for us as well. In addition to just mixing up their repertoire, they also introduced three new songs. Each one of them had written one. All three were amazing. We literally can’t wait for the next CD, since we now know they have at least 25% of it completed. 🙂

Ty’s song was called The Saints Come Marching In (or very close to that), and it’s beautiful. Nate’s had “Easy” in the title, and I apologize for not remembering it. It was gorgeous. He played the acoustic guitar for it (something he does for less than a handful of songs each concert), and both women sang without instruments (something that rarely happens), and yet, the sound was soaring!

Doris’ song was the best of the three, so, of course, bonehead that I am, I can’t recall the title at all. 🙁 The harmonies on that song are so dramatic, and Doris belts out the lead in such a breath-taking manner, I can’t credibly describe it. The family we were with hadn’t seen them before, and the husband had only heard one or two songs in advance. He turned to me during the show and said that Doris was an amazing vocalist, and I have to concur completely.

We knew (from reading) that Doris is the harmonizing genius of the group, and obviously, we’ve throughly enjoyed her voice (and guitar/banjo/mandolin playing!), but she surpassed every expectation last night, every time she opened her mouth to sing. There was a raw power and clarity, and she was just generally amazing.

Nate was solid, and as entertaining as you can imagine. In fact, while I mentioned in the past that all three were engaging with the audience, they were even more so last night, telling stories, and having some (obviously) impromptu banter amongst themselves. They are thoroughly natural on the stage, and it is infectious.

On to Ty. I hesitated writing this, and as you can see, I’m burying it at the end of a long post, hoping that most people will have gotten bored and left already. That said, I pride myself on trying to share my real opinions, rather than just be a cheerleader, even when I so obviously want to just spread the word about Girlyman.

On some levels, Ty is my favorite in the group. She writes brilliant and moving songs. I really like her voice. She looks like she’s 20, is probably in her low 30’s, but if you listen to her voice on the CDs, there is a maturity that makes her sound older than that. The passion and emotion of her words comes through in her voice, in a very special way.

Last night, something was just off a drop with Ty. I don’t know if she had a cold (though her voice didn’t sound nasal) or if something else was up. Her usually extremely strong voice wavered a number of times (not cracked, more like a slight warble). More amazingly, she missed a few notes (not that many) on some harmonies. Most notably, during my favorite song, Hold It All At Bay.

In that song, Nate sings the first verse alone, and then sings the chorus alone. Ty sings the second verse alone, then the two of them sing the chorus together (in harmony). Doris sings the third verse alone, and then all three sing the chorus together in a haunting harmony that I can never (and don’t want to ever!) get out of my head. When Ty and Nate sang their part together, Ty missed the first two or three notes, and she smiled because she realized it right away.

I’m hoping that whatever was wrong last night, is transient. Even more so, I’m hoping that no one who has read this far, thinks that I was in any way disappointed with Girlyman’s performance last night, or even in Ty’s performance. The evening was completely magical, and both Lois and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more, and can’t wait to see them again.

Finally, Lois and I discussed in the car today that we both think that Girlyman is better than Simon and Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary. I know, heresy to many, and I can even understand that. Why then, are S&G and P,P&M so much better known (and commercially successful) than Girlyman? In my opinion, it’s an accident of timing. Back in the 60’s, the world was ready (and hungry) for the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, S&G, P,P&M, etc. Yes, rock and roll (in the form of The Beatles, etc.) was huge, but folks songs, and in particular the message delivered in the lyrics, were striking a generational chord.

Nowadays, there is (clearly) an audience for that kind of message, but it seems that in general, to be a big sensation, you have to deliver a different kind of sound, and it’s not all that likely that any kind of folk artist will achieve the kind of fame and success that Dylan did (and still does!). Too bad, as the world would be a better place if more people spent serious time listening to Girlyman!

October 2007 Poker Update

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October was not a good month economically. That said, I had an excellent month of winning qualifiers, including three in one week to the weekly big tourney, so it wasn’t all bad. I only got to use one in October, as we’ve been much busier on weekends than usual (if you read my non-poker posts, then you already know!). I won’t be playing this Sunday either, as it’s Girlyman night! 🙂

I thought I played reasonably well this month, with a few extremely notable exceptions (meaning, I got frustrated, and took some shots that were ill-advised). The majority of my losses came in the qualifier entries, meaning, even if I won the qualifier, the entire entry fee ends up counting as a loss.

My bottom line this month was down $239.89. Since the three seats that I won in the one week were worth $645, and I won other qualifiers (for roughly another $88), I far outstripped my entry fees, but my account is still down on the cash front.

Don’t cry for me (yet), as my account is still extremely healthy, and in the beginning of the month, actually hit an all-time high.

Not much else to report, other than that I haven’t played at all this week, which is marginally shocking. I’ve had a number of other things that I wanted to take care of, and while I could have snuck in a game or two, I didn’t want to keep being distracted by having to pay attention to the poker table, so I didn’t launch the software at all this week!