Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall

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

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

Paper Raincoat

Paper Raincoat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

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

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

Alex Amber One Piano

Alex Amber One Piano

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

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

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

The Famous Tambourine

The Famous Tambourine

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

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

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

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

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

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

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

Phony Political Arguments

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


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

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

Our Friends

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

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

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

The Problem

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

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

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

My Personal View

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

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

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

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


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

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

Double Standard

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

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

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

Phony Political Arguments

Finally, what this post is really about!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you stopped beating your wife?

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

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

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


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

Thought exercise for the people who put up the status message

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

What about non-health care deaths?

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

ambeR Rubarth at Joe’s Pub

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I am being respectful, and writing ambeR Rubarth the way she capitalizes it herself, so no, I didn’t make a mistake. 🙂 She is soon to release a new CD, Good Mystery, and last night had a CD Release party show at Joe’s Pub in NYC, which we attended. You can hear some of the songs from that CD and a few from her previous work at her MySpace page.

In addition to her solo career, ambeR is also part of a duo called The Paper Raincoat. I wrote about them extensively when we accidentally discovered them opening for Colin Hay at the Canal Room. We were extremely impressed with both ambeR and Alex Wong (the other half of The Paper Raincoat).

Right after that show, I friended both of them on MySpace, as well as The Paper Raincoat. I’ve since followed both ambeR and The Paper Raincoat on Twitter: @ambeRRubarth and @Paper_Raincoat respectively. As a result, I saw a Tweet that ambeR was releasing a new solo CD. I was aware that The Paper Raincoat is also releasing a much anticipated CD, and now I know that their release party will be at Joe’s Pub, on October 6th at 9:30pm, and we bought tickets to that last night!

We pre-ordered the new CD (in a Collector’s Edition!) immediately, and bought tickets to the show. We knew there would be surprise guests, but we didn’t realize just how many.

OK, the intro has already been too long. So,  I have to skip to the bottom line first, before I lose all of you, and then I’ll add a lot more detail.

Last night’s show was one of the best concerts we’ve ever attended!

Read that again, especially if you know us. We attend a ton of live shows, so it’s not like we just went gaga because we finally saw someone perform in person!

To make the above statement even more amazing (to me), ambeR (and friends) were on stage for just about an hour (not a very long show by any measure), and yet, it was completely satisfying, in every regard. Of course, I would have loved another hour or two (or three, or four), but I didn’t feel let down in any way whatsoever.

On to the specifics of the show. For the most part, ambeR had three people supporting her throughout most of the show. Tony Maceli on bass, Austin Nevins on electric guitar and Billy Hawn on drums. I’ll cover them all after I gush some more about ambeR.

First and foremost, ambeR Rubarth is a superb songwriter. On any level that you want to take that statement. Her lyrics are moving, clever, authentic, wonderful. Her melodies are varied, interesting, lovely, terrific.

Her guitar playing is excellent (she could do a solo show, accompanying herself on the guitar, and we would be completely satisfied). She is an incredible pianist (again, she could perform a solo show, accompanying herself just on the piano, and we would be completely satisfied).

ambeR Rubarth Guitar

ambeR Rubarth Guitar

ambeR Rubarth Piano

ambeR Rubarth Piano

And yet, with many people on the stage at the same time, the arrangements were fantastic, complex, harmonious, subtle, effective, etc. ambeR arranged the entire show, except for the part that Threeds participated in, which they arranged. Add producing/arranging to the long list of strengths/talents that she possesses.

Finally, her voice. It’s lovely, with good range, and excellent delivery of the appropriate emotion at the appropriate time. She can be wistful, soulful, smokey, vulnerable, flirty, bluesy, jazzy, rock ‘n rolly and certainly, fully folksy. And, given her songwriting talents, she most certainly exercised all of the above during her set.

Tony Maceli was spectacular on the upright bass, playing a number of styles, including using a bow, and even slapping with the bow to achieve a sound I wasn’t used to hearing with a bass. He also played the electric bass on at least one number. He’s a star!

Austin Nevins was solid all night. I suspect he’s better than I realize, as he played more of a supporting role. He was very good, a perfect fit of what was expected of him last night, just not flashy enough for me to really get a sense of how good he is when he lets loose.

Billy Hawn was wonderful on the drums (including Djembe). He was tucked in the far right corner, diagonally opposite us, so I couldn’t see him except for a glimpse now and again, but his beat was excellent, and he never overwhelmed the mostly mellow sound throughout the show.

It doesn’t end there. ambeR promised a bunch of surprise guests and she delivered. I already mentioned Alex Wong, who joined on the first song, and then on a few more toward the end, including the encore.

Amber Rubarth and Alex Wong

Amber Rubarth and Alex Wong

Opening the show was a trio called Threeds. I’ll come back to them later. For now, I want to mention that all three of them came back on stage to play with ambeR during her second number, and they were great (as was the song, and the arrangement that included Threeds!). For two other numbers, Katie Scheele of Threeds joined alone. They/she added a wonderful dimension to ambeR’s set.

Paul Brill joined to sing harmony on one number. Very nice.

Austin Nevins - Amber Rubarth - Paul Brill - Tony Maceli

Austin Nevins - Amber Rubarth - Paul Brill - Tony Maceli

Vienna Teng joined for a stunningly beautiful version of In the Creases. Alex Wong, who co-wrote the song with ambeR before they formed The Paper Raincoat, joined as well. The three took turns singing lead (Alex kicked it off), and all three harmonized together. Vienna played the piano (her specialty).

Vienna Teng

Vienna Teng

Ironically, the night before, Vienna Teng was the headliner at the Highline Ballroom. We’ve never seen her live. I discovered her through The Paper Raincoat, and really wanted to see her perform. I tried to rearrange our schedule to make it there on Thursday, but couldn’t pull off the minor miracle. I was so happy to get to see and hear her (however briefly) last night, as I now know I need to go out of my way to ensure I see one of her full shows!

Rosi Golan joined to sing with ambeR on two numbers (including the encore). I admit that I simply couldn’t hear her differentiated from the rest of the sounds (she only sang harmony, never lead), so I don’t have an opinion. Sorry!

Adam Levy (pronounced Levee) closed the show with ambeR, just the two of them, performing a song they co-wrote. Lovely. Adam is a good guitarist, and has a very good voice as well. He also returned to sing during the encore.

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy

Chel O’Reilly joined for the encore, to sing along with the all-star cast. I couldn’t make out her voice individually either, so nothing really to report. Sorry.

Austin Nevins - Chel O'Reilly - Adam levy - Rosi Golan - Tony Maceli - Alex Wong

Austin Nevins - Chel O'Reilly - Adam levy - Rosi Golan - Tony Maceli - Alex Wong

Simply a stunning show, all around. Kudos to everyone involved, in particular, the extremely talented ambeR Rubarth!

Threeds opened the show, and played a varied 20-minute set. Threeds is three oboists, Kathy Halvorson, Mark Snyder and Katie Scheele. In addition to the oboe, Katie also played the English Horn. I was impressed by the breadth of styles they covered in such a short set, all extremely well done. They are very tight together, and their music delighted the crowd.



It was an incredible treat to have them come back on stage with ambeR and have them add such richness to the otherwise rich sound that ambeR and her crew and guests produced!

Thank you all for an evening we will never forget!

In addition to the performers all putting on such a great show, last night was one of the best audiences we’ve been part of. Bravo to all of you as well! 🙂

Forty Years or One Day?

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This was a very big year for two of our dearest friends. In fact, the past 40 days alone have seen a number of milestones and celebrations.

The wife just had a big birthday (had a zero at the end), their first grandchild turned one, the husband had a birthday, and to cap it off, they just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary!

For her birthday, the husband and their kids pulled off a fantastic surprise party in Richmond. More than 100 people were there to share in the festivities, including Lois and me. You would think that this would be enough, and for most husbands, it would be.

But, this is no ordinary couple. Everyone who knows them, loves them, no exceptions. That’s true of them as individuals, and as a couple. That would be extraordinary (and it is), except that it’s topped by their love for each other. That’s why I titled this post Forty Years or One Day?

If you met them today, you might think that they met recently and fell madly in love and you are getting to witness that wonderful (typically all-too-short) period when a couple’s love is so obvious, and explodes all around, because it can’t be contained.

So, while they make sure to show their love each and every day, they also enjoy making a big deal out of milestones (not just big ones). 40 years of marriage certainly qualifies as a milestone, and as a big one at that.

The husband decided to to craft a surprise trip to NY for his bride. Our first hint (which I missed, completely, even after the fact) was a Direct Message (DM) via Twitter, from their son, asking me for the address of The Peking Duck House (our favorite restaurant in NYC).  I replied immediately, and didn’t think about it.

Minutes later, Lois got an email from the husband, asking the same thing, but also explaining why, and inviting us to join them for dinner (this past Sunday). We were scheduled to be at Zope this week, but we cut our trip short and returned to be a part of this incredible experience.

The Duck House was just one part of the surprise trip. I’ll cover the rest in a sec. But first, it occurred to us that while the husband was doing all of the surprising, we might help pull off a bit of a surprise for him as well. Lois reached out to both of his kids and invited them to come up and be at the Duck House to surprise both of them as well.

Both couples had commitments for that night, but the son was able to shift his. Unfortunately, the daughter’s commitment involved five other couples, and was impossible to move.

The adventure began this past Sunday (their actual anniversary day). When they awoke, he told her that she needed to pack a bag, but he wouldn’t tell her where they were going. When they got to the airport in Richmond, he still didn’t tell her, so it wasn’t until they were at the gate that she new it was NYC.

When they landed, they went straight to the hotel. From there, he took her shopping for a new engagement ring. After ring shopping, he took her to see Wicked on Broadway. After the show, he suggested they eat at their favorite NY restaurant, the Duck House. Obviously, she didn’t resist.

Now we need to catch up a bit with the parallel story. Roughly the same time that the happy couple was heading to the airport in Richmond, their son, daughter-in-law and grandchild were doing the same thing. Luckily (and semi-accidentally!), they were on a different airline, flying in to a different airport in NYC.

We picked up the kids at LaGuardia and headed to our apartment. We had a wonderful lunch with Laura and Chris as well (who had also been invited on that first day to join for dinner).

When the folks were at Wicked, the kids went to their hotel and arranged to have a hand-written, wonderful gift, from both of their children, placed into their room. They also arranged for Champagne and Strawberries to be delivered later that night to the room. Awesome!

While they were out, we got to play proxy grandparents. Lois fed the baby, and I put her down for a nap. Hadar, what did you put a one-year-old on/in to sleep safely? I’m glad you asked! A week earlier, Lois and I borrowed a crib from a friend of ours, and dropped it off at the apartment on our way to Zope. I set it up the night before our friends came to town, so we were all prepared, Mickey Mouse bedding included! 🙂

Feeding Time

Feeding Time

The Crib

The Crib

Shortly before 6pm, we all headed up to the Duck House. The happy couple arrived via bicycle rickshaw about 10 minutes later. What an incredible surprise. Of course, the mom started crying (but that wasn’t a surprise to us, which is why I said of course). 😉 The dad was surprised too, which was the whole point! Don’t believe me that the mom cried? Here you go:

Mama Crying

Mama Crying

One other person there was surprised. The baby was so happy to see grandma, as you can plainly see:

Surprised Both Ways

Surprised Both Ways

Earlier, Lois and daughter-in-law bought a fantastic cake and had the appropriate Happy Anniversary decorated on top. Yummy.

Aside from (understandably) missing their daughter, one other couple was missing from the festivities. Laura’s folks, who introduced us to this wonderful family, and introduced us to the Duck House as well! They were in South Africa finishing up a long and well earned vacation.

Does that distance stop our crowd? Nope! Even though it was 1:30am in South Africa, the husband (correctly) insisted that we get them to join the celebration in real-time. So, he pulled out his blackberry, and called South Africa. He put the blackberry on speaker phone, and we all had a long and wonderful conversation with our missing friends. Hopefully, they fell back asleep. 😉

We had our typically amazing meal. Here are all of us (minus Lois, the photographer) outside:

All of Us

All of Us

We all walked back to our apartment and relaxed and laughed and caught up on our deck. We encouraged the couple to leave a little earlier than they otherwise might have, because we all knew that there were more surprises awaiting them in the room. 🙂

The rest of us stayed up way too late, but had a great time, so the only complaint is how tired we still feel, days later…

The next morning we had a great breakfast on the deck with the kids.

Deck Breakfast

Deck Breakfast

Later that morning, they went to meet their folks to help finalize the ring selection. They then had lunch together and then headed over to FAO Schwartz for story time for the baby. From there, the folks headed to the airport, and back to Richmond.

The kids had a later flight, so they returned to the apartment. After relaxing a bit, we took over the proxy grandparent duties again, and guarded over the baby while she took a long nap (NYC is very tiring, at all ages!), and the parents got to explore the city a bit. At 6pm they got in a car and headed for the airport.

A whirlwind, but an absolutely wonderful one. We are blessed to be a part of their extended family and were thrilled to be able to arrange our schedule to fully participate.

The baby captured how we all felt about the occasion:

Smiling Baby

Smiling Baby

Want to know what we think of the bride? Lois and I wrote the lyrics to this song (music and vocals by Jack Kapanka) and her daughter and son-in-law put together this amazing slide show to go with the song:

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our 10th show in the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub. It won’t be our last. 🙂

Last night’s show was awesome, among the best we’ve seen.

There were only four performers last night (which has happened before, typically there are five), but there were five people on stage (I’ll explain shortly).

Doing my usual left-to-right recap:

Keith Follese sang, played the electric keyboards and acoustic guitar. Keith is a fantastic songwriter, penning a large number of hits, getting big applause every time he started one of his songs. He also debuted a song that hasn’t been picked up yet, and from the audience response, someone should, and soon!

Keith Follese

Keith Follese

Keith is wonderful on the keyboards, and good on the guitar. I don’t know if he ever had a good voice, but if he did, he lost it a while ago. He sings on key, so there was nothing wrong with it, but he’s more in the mold of the songwriters where you don’t wonder why he isn’t performing his own material.

For one number, he was joined on stage by his wife, Adrienne Follese (a songwriter herself). It was her birthday. They sang a duet. She has a lovely voice, and a sweet personality. No disrespect to Keith, but it would have been interesting to have Adrienne sing his/their songs with him accompanying her.

Adrienne Follese

Adrienne Follese

Bob DiPiero sang and played the guitar. He’s the host, and only regular performer at each show. He was on last night (as he is on most nights), doing a great job with his songs, and with the crowd banter as well.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Billy Currington sang and played acoustic guitar. This is one of those rare treats, when a real star performer (who happens to also be a top-notch songwriter!) attends the show. Billy has the current #1 Country hit, People are Crazy (it’s a really fun video as well).

Billy Currington

Billy Currington snapping a photo of the audience

Billy has a great voice, and plays rhythm guitar very well. I mentioned above that I would explain that there were five people on stage. Tucked in the right corner of the stage, behind the four performers, was Doug Collins (I’m pretty sure I heard the name correctly, but I can’t find any links to him!), who was there to support Billy Currington.

This is the same type of setup that occurred when Craig Morgan was at the CMA show last October, and he brought Mike Rogers along with him. Doug played fantastic leads all night (invisible to us, obscured by Billy), and sang harmonies with Billy on most songs as well.

Lois snapped this one photo of Doug while he was tuning up, which was the only time we could see him. It’s dark, and I adjusted it, and it’s still bad, but this is all I can offer up now. Sorry:

Doug Collins

Doug Collins

They were very polished together (as were Craig and Mike), which in addition to their generally better performing skills, raises the ante a bit more for the lonely singer/songwriter who performs at these shows. The only difference was that Mike sat right alongside Craig Morgan for that. I think it would have been a nice touch to have Doug sit next to Billy, but it wasn’t my call. 😉

Jason Sellers sang and played acoustic guitar. He has an excellent voice, writes great songs, plays the guitar well, and gives a good performance all around. He’s also a story-teller by nature, and was extremely comfortable with the crowd. For those of you who are Country trivia types, his ex-wife is Lee Ann Womack!

Jason Sellers

Jason Sellers

They went around a bunch of times, each singing a song and telling a story (that’s the usual format). When they left the stage, it wasn’t clear whether they would come back. While there have been encores at most shows, sometimes, only Bob and perhaps on other returns. Last night, all five came back on the stage and performed another round, much to the delight of the entire crowd (the place was bursting at the seems).

They were on stage for almost exactly two hours. Two wonderful hours. We are currently scheduled to be out of town the next time they are set to show up at Joe’s Pub, but we’re seriously considering trying to change some things around to be able to continue our attendance at this extremely satisfying series.

Toward the end of the show, Keith Follese shared some excellent personal news with us. I already mentioned that his wife was there, and that it was her birthday. After she left the stage, she ended up sitting two tables to our left. At her table was their daughter, whom Keith introduced as a basketball player.

But, DiPiero prompted him to mention that a third generation of Follese’s were now officially in the music business (Keith is second generation). Keith then told us that both of his boys (ages 22 and 17) are in a band with other famous kids.

The band is Hot Chelle Rae. Keith’s kids are: Ryan Keith Follese and Jamie Follese. The other band members are: Nash Overstreet (son of Paul Overstreet, a longtime favorite of ours) and Ian Keaggy (son of the great Phil Keaggy, whom I was late discovering, but now count as a favorite as well!). They were in NJ opening for David Cook!

Was it all great? The show was, with no disappointments whatsoever. We had incredible seats (they gave away our normal table to someone who was a guest of one of the performers, even though we confirmed it last week). But, there was a row of people immediately behind us that were close to the rudest, loudest bunch of people we’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting next to.

When that happens, and I’ve written about it before, it’s almost always someone who isn’t a fan to begin with. They’re either on a date, and happened to randomly select a show to impress their date, or they’re along for the ride with friends, and don’t care to show respect to anyone around them, the performers included.

Last night was different, a first for us. The people behind us were obviously big Country music fans. For the few minutes that they stopped talking, they knew every word to every song from all of the performers. I was beyond impressed with their breadth. But, that didn’t stop them from talking nearly non-stop, at the top of their lungs.

The microphones on stage were set pretty loud last night (good quality, but high volume). Even so, when these people were screaming (without the aid of a mic), it was louder than the singer at that moment. They were sitting 10 feet from the stage, so there’s no way the performers weren’t aware of the distraction, and no amount of shushing from us or the people around them could slow them down.

I don’t get what the attraction is for paying to see someone you obviously admire enough to memorize their songs, and then interrupt them with your personal chatter, at top volume. I hope I never understand that, and I hope it annoys me every time it happens, because I don’t want to be callous to the effect it must have on the performers…

Earl Klugh and Bob James at Blue Note

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Earl Klugh is my favorite solo jazz guitarist, and has been for 30 years! Bob James is my favorite solo jazz pianist, and has been, for nearly as long! I’ve seen each of them perform (separately) at the Blue Note, but last night, finally got to see them play together, for the 30th anniversary of the release of their album One on One (I own three of their collaborative CDs).

When we saw Earl at the Blue Note, I covered it extensively, including a very long and detailed back-story (how I discovered Earl, how I tried to get Lois to see Earl for our first date, etc.). If you haven’t read it, I personally recommend it. 😉

Since this was a collaboration last night, there were fewer supporting players on stage with them. Earl brought along his normal bass player, Al Turner, and his drummer, Ron Otis, both of whom were with him the last time we saw them. Both keyboard players were absent, naturally, since Bob James is such a master at the keyboards. The horn player (the great Lenny Price) wasn’t there either.

Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

Bob James played the piano (a grand), but it had to have electronic components, because he had cool sounding organ sounds on some numbers. He was beyond brilliant last night. Practically every time he took a solo he received a rousing ovation. Half way through most solos, you could feel people dying to clap to let him know how much they were enjoying his play.

Bob James

Bob James

Earl Klugh was superb, but for the most part, took shorter leads than Bob did, which made people miss opportunities for applause, because they didn’t expect him to pass off the lead so quickly. Don’t misunderstand, he got plenty of applause, and most of the songs were his compositions (fabulous set selection last night!), but he wasn’t as highlighted as Bob James was.

Earl Klugh

Earl Klugh

Al Turner was fabulous all night (mostly on the electric bass, but on two songs, on an upright bass as well). Toward the end of the song Angela (the theme from the TV show Taxi, written by Bob James), Al took a smokin’ bass solo that rocked the house. People were applauding wildly long before he was done, which is cool, and he appreciated it, but it also means you’re missing part of the solo.

Al Turner

Al Turner

Ron Otis was incredible all night. A soft but inspirational touch all night. Even though it was soft (appropriately), his hands were flying, keeping an extremely up-tempo beat for Bob and Earl to dance around.

Ron Otis

Ron Otis

During the encore, Ron took a long solo, or rather, a long duel, with Bob on the piano. Ron would take a solo, then Bob would do something dazzling on the piano, and when he stopped, Ron would counter with a drum solo to match what Bob did on the piano. They kept it up for a few minutes, and it was awesome (both of them). Great way to close a great show!

In total, they were on stage for 80 minutes (they never left the stage to play the one song encore, which would take too long at the Blue Note).

Last night I had the Grilled Salmon (I usually have the steak there), and it was perfection. I haven’t been highlighting the food aspect of many of these clubs lately, but I feel compelled to do so now. I believe that Lois enjoyed her chopped salad nearly as much as I enjoyed my meal. 😉

Jeffrey Steele at Joe’s Pub

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Last night we saw Jeffrey Steele (and band) at Joe’s Pub. If you’re used to Twitter, and only have patience to read one paragraph, then let me describe his show in one word: Wow!

We’ve had it on our list to catch a Jeffrey Steele show for a while now (if you read to the bottom, you’ll find out why). He was in NYC in March, but we were out of town. When I found out he was going to be back now, I jumped on the opportunity immediately.

Jeffrey Steele is one of the giants in Country Music songwriting. Many top artists have cut his songs, including Rascal Flatts, Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, Tim McGraw, etc. I’ve written numerous times about our love for the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub (in fact, we have another show there tomorrow night).

We knew we’d enjoy Jeffrey Steele from that angle alone (meaning, seeing a songwriter that has written many songs that we already love), but we had no idea what kind of a show he puts on himself.

Jeffrey Steele is a great singer, and an even better guitar player (blazing electric leads, in Country style, as well as true Rock tradition). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that he’s an exceptional piano player! He also played a bit of harmonica last night. I looked at the credits on one of his albums, and he plays many more instruments, I’m sure all equally well. Mind-boggling!

Jeffrey Steele Guitar

Jeffrey Steele Guitar

Jeffrey Steele Piano

Jeffrey Steele Piano

Jeffrey Steele Harmonica

Jeffrey Steele Harmonica

Stevie Cirkvencic played lead guitar. He’s incredible. Since Jeffrey Steele is himself a great guitarist, for Stevie to make the cut and take leads away from Jeffrey, says all you need to know about Jeffrey’s respect for Stevie’s play (more on that in a bit).

Stevie Cirkvencic

Stevie Cirkvencic

Stevie looked to me to be a dead ringer for Kenny Chesney (under his cowboy hat), and I was suspicious that Kenny was just sitting in with Jeffrey for a laugh. 😉

Tommy MacDonald played the bass. He too was incredible. Jeffrey Steele’s brand of music (even the slow songs) requires a ton of energy, and the bass needs to be interesting and constant, to keep up, and Tommy “Mac” is a perfect complement to Jeffrey and Stevie.

Tommy McDonald

Tommy McDonald

Tom Hambridge on the drums, was also perfect all night. He was the only one who occasionally sang harmony with Jeffrey, though for most of the evening, Jeffrey sang solo. His nickname is “The Hammer”.

Tom Hambridge

Tom Hambridge

The four of them are awesome. In addition to playing some (not enough time to make a serious dent) of Jeffrey’s big hits, they also throw in some classic rock (at times, in the middle of a Jeffrey Steele song, at other times, on it’s own). They played a little bit of Country Joe and the Fish, The Who and ZZ Top!

The point is that they are both a top Country group, and an all-out top-notch Rock group. Basically, whatever they want to be, they deliver!

Here’s the quote that Lois said as we walked out:

Steele: A force of nature with a volcanic yet spiritual soul

We’ve been to Joe’s Pub more times than I can count. For the most part, the sound is very good, though on occasion, not so much. Last night, Jeffrey Steele thanked someone named Steve on sound. I’m glad he called him out, because that guy is a genius on the sound board.

This was flat-out hard rock, and yet, while everything was plenty loud, it was perfectly balanced (you could hear every note on the guitar, piano and bass), and all at a level that made it enjoyable, rather than head-splitting. Bravo!

They were on stage for 110 minutes of bliss. That’s just about the maximum you can squeeze out at Joe’s Pub for a 7pm start, given that there is another show at 9:30pm.

Most headliners call out their band members names at some point in the show, usually toward the very end. Jeffrey Steele is an exception, willingly, happily, joyously sharing the spotlight with his band. After the second number of the evening, he introduced each band member. He repeated their names multiple times during the show, and called them out whenever they were highlighted in a song. We loved every second of it, and all three of them deserved the recognition!

The only distraction that I had during the show is that Jeffrey Steele is the doppelganger for a good friend of mine (also a famous guy in his own right), Dick Hardt. If Dick had Jeffrey’s hair, they could be twins. 😉

If Dick were a rock star, I truly believe that his style and personality on the stage would be very similar to Jeffrey’s. Of course, Dick is a rock star, just in a different industry. 😉

I started blogging purely to document our experiences (most of them wonderful) right after they happen, so that as we age, we will have easy access to these memories. I could have done that in a journal, without making it public in a blog, but others (most notably Rob Page, CEO of Zope Corporation) hounded me to keep it public.

I’m very happy I did. Mostly, because of some amazing personal connections we’ve made through this blog. One such connection is a woman who runs a management company in Nashville (I’ll update this post with her name, and a link, if she says it’s OK).

We’ve met her once IRL (in real life) already, and correspond on a semi-regular basis. During one of those exchanges, she told us that we simply had to see Jeffrey Steele live. She knew that we (Lois in particular) love to see singer/songwriters, and she knew Jeffrey would blow us away. She was right! Thanks!

We can’t wait to see Jeffrey Steele, and Stevie, Tommy and Tom, as soon as practical. Wow!

Another theSetNYC Show

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Three weeks ago, we attended our first theSet NYC show, documented here. While the show was a little choppy, we really liked the place, Le Poisson Rouge (specifically, the Gallery Bar). We think the people behind theSet are wonderful, and we believe in their vision for showcasing upcoming talent.

So, when I saw that they had another show scheduled in the same place last night, and I knew that it was our only free night in an 11-day run of social commitments (all fun, so don’t feel badly for us), instead of using the one night off to collapse (a very tempting choice), I really wanted to support their efforts.

Oh, and the fact that the Kobe Sliders (Sloppy Joe’s) and Spicy Tuna Roll (and the Edamame for Lois) were beckoning to me, didn’t hurt either. 😉

While there was a nice crowd the first time we attended (July 6th), it was a holiday weekend (duh) so I shouldn’t have been surprised (pleasantly!) that there were probably nearly twice as many people last night. It will still comfortable in the space, but it was much closer to a practical limit than the first time.

There were also more performers last night (nine in total), but again, the host Kai Raziq (the only repeat from the last show) kept things moving along very nicely.

Since I’ll cover each artist separately, in at least one paragraph, this will be another long post. For those who are more interested in my overall impression of the night, and theSet NYC in general, I’ll get that out of the way now, so you can skip the individual comments, and my summary.

To repeat from my intro above, I really like what theSet NYC is doing. We thoroughly enjoyed last night’s show (more than the first one), even though there were definitely some lulls in the action (low points).

It’s not fair to judge or criticize any of the performers by the same standard you’d use if you went to see a full set by a professional comedian or singer, especially one you’d pay top-dollar for. The point of these shows is to see up-and-coming talent, hear something fresh (hopefully), and watch people try to hone their craft.

So, bottom line, a very entertaining evening that we’ll be sure to repeat again!

Last general note about theSet. They go out of their way to create a safe atmosphere for the performers. We love that! It’s OK not to like a performer or their material. It’s not OK to heckle them, be rude in other ways, disrupt their performance, or ruin other people’s opportunity to enjoy a routine you might not be enjoying. Bravo for that!

Normally, we put up at least one photo of each performer. For whatever reason, every picture Lois took last night came out so dark, that I decided not to post any, since each performer is  linked and you can see a ton of information about them (including photos). Sorry.

Last night there were seven comedians and two singers. I’ll cover the comedians first, in a block, in the order that we liked them (like last time), then the singers (so don’t assume that all seven comedians were better than either singer).

Harrison Greenbaum closed the show, but we both considered him the most consistently funny and polished. Tons of self-deprecating humor. Very comfortable delivery. Interacts with the audience well. He clearly already performs at a professional level.

He finished the show with a magic trick that was clever, engaging, funny, and left the crowd laughing hard (and a little amazed) as they walked out. theSet was correct to put him up last!

Dan Nainan bills himself as a 100% clean comedian. Lois prefers that greatly. I don’t mind stooping to a lower level, if the muck ads comedic value. Most often it doesn’t, so I admire Dan (and the likes of Jerry Seinfeld) who have to work a little harder to make us laugh, without having the shock value to work with.

For the most part, Dan was terrific. Like Harrison, he’s already a pro, no doubt. The difference in the ease in delivering the lines between a pro and an amateur is painfully obvious.

He took one trip off the rails (in our opinion only, as the audience was going crazy for it, so keep that in mind!). He did a George Bush imitation. He had it down pretty well, and the few lines were funny enough. But, because he’s an easy (and in our opinion a tired) target, Dan continued too long. Making fun of different words that Bush flubbed isn’t a new joke, so after a few, that’s enough.

He had an opportunity to be let off the hook. One of the security walkie talkies interrupted him in mid-routine, and he stopped to comment on it. Then he said “Where was I?”, and after a pause, jumped right back into the Bush routine.

As opposed to Harrison, to us, that meant Dan peaked earlier, and ended on a weaker note, which isn’t the way to leave your audience. Still, we’d happily go see him again. He’s funny, and has an excellent delivery!

Sam Morril has a completely self-deprecating style. For the most part, his material is fresh and funny. On occasion, his delivery is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes, total comfort to great effect, at other times, reasonably awkward. Even in the awkward moments, you can see the content peek through, but if Sam raises his game just a bit, he has what it takes material-wise.

Sean Donnelly was very different than Sam, but essentially as good overall. Lois’ instinct was to list him above Sam, barely, and mine was to list Sam first, barely. Sean opened the show, which can be brutal or great. You don’t have to be better than anyone else, yet, but you also don’t have a warmed-up crowd, and you have no clues as to what they like and don’t like.

From that perspective, Sean did an excellent job. He too is very comfortable on the stage, and has a quality delivery for the most part. Like Sam, a few times, he lost focus and had a little trouble getting back on track. He’s not afraid to engage the audience, and was reasonably adept at it.

For the most part, his routine was quite clean. So, when he launched into one vulgar joke, he got a little more mileage out of the f-word, since he hadn’t used it yet. The joke itself was reasonably funny. Ironically, while his use of the f-word was in context, and not gratuitous, it was also totally unnecessary.

There were many other words that would have substituted well (I think better), and added euphemistic color to the joke. Oh well, I don’t write ‘em, I just judge ‘em. 😉

Nore Davis is an inventive, comfortable comedian, who loses his way a little too easily. I’ll give two specific examples in a minute, but first I’ll make the generic point. Nore’s delivery is terrific. He has command of the crowd, and has a smooth delivery that was consistent. His content is pretty funny. So, what’s the problem?

When he came on stage, he had that quality that immediately grabs your attention. When he started his routine, he (and we) realized that there was a ton of reverb left on the mic, since he followed a singer. The person handling the sound (Pim, filling in for Leo) had stepped away, so Nore was on his own.

While waiting for Pim to return, he made a very funny, and very vulgar ad-lib (about feeling like he was trapped in a cavernous vagina). It was funny, so I’m fine with that. But, he couldn’t help himself (in my opinion), and he pushed the joke too far, and ended up saying and doing some over-the-top crude things to keep that one clever (and quick!) line alive…

One more example. He told an excellent joke about getting a portable CD player for his birthday (the very last one every sold, and he told that part really well too!). He said that everyone made fun of him because he could only carry around 12 songs at a time, all from the same artist. Even grandma laughed at him, telling him that she had 15,000 songs on her new iHear hearing aid!

Funny, right? Indeed! And, his delivery was flawless. We were laughing our heads off, until he couldn’t stop himself from immediately saying “what a bitch!”. He then cursed grandma a bit more. Bottom line, that is for shock value only, hearing someone calling their grandma a bitch. It didn’t add a single thing to the already wildly successful joke!

Anyway, not to beat it to death, but he overuses that specific word, along with other (potentially) equally offensive ones. Yes, yes, it makes me sound like a prude, but like I said already, the vagina ad-lib was hilarious (until he pushed it too far).

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Nore Davis become a very big name in comedy in the years to come (even if he doesn’t change his act), but, if he finds a slightly cleaner style, I’ll bet his appeal will be that much broader.

Brandon Greenspan has some clever material, buried in a consistently poor delivery. His style is self-deprecating, so it’s possible that he tries intentionally for a specific delivery style (like Woody Allen does, or Steven Wright), but in my opinion, it isn’t working (or it isn’t deliberate). He simply comes across as not self confident, and easily distracted on the stage.

Both he and the next comic had to refer to their notes a few times. That’s really not a big deal, but we’re talking about 7-10 minute sets here, which isn’t all that much to memorize, so either he/they aren’t working hard enough to prepare, or they’re overly nervous (I’ll have a bit more to say about that in my summary).

To repeat, I think he’s a clever guy, with some interesting comedic insights, which felt fresh (so he’s writing interesting material at home), but he needs lots of practice delivering it. For that, shows like last night are perfect. I would see him again, willingly, so I don’t want you to read this and think it was hard to take.

Scout Durwood was not originally listed on the schedule for last night’s show. On the other hand, two other comics were listed that didn’t show, so getting Scout at the last minute was good for their lineup, timing-wise. Unfortunately, as you see her listed last on our list, she didn’t add too much to the comedy…

I would have listed her above Brandon, but Lois felt more strongly about the order than I did, so I swapped them (like I did in the last review when Lois felt strongly about one of the comics).

Like Sam above, her delivery is inconsistent. On some jokes, she’s a complete pro (delivery-wise). On some, she comes across as a rank amateur. She too needed to consult her cheat sheet. Again, no biggie, but she looked at her sheet before telling a single joke! Really? Couldn’t she have snuck a peek right before stepping on the stage?

She told a few funny jokes, and quite a number that just lay there. She has the style to be a lot funnier, if she works on her consistency, but I don’t know whether she has enough material to fill more than these 10-minute slots.

On to the singers, then a summary.

Sarah Nisch sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. She did two numbers, both originals. She has a really good voice. Both songs were good (though both of us vastly preferred the second one, which Sarah described as a bit more uplifting, rather than the first, which she described as wrist-slitting inducing). 😉

Sarah plays the guitar reasonably enough (mostly strumming, straightforwardly), but, oddly enough, it didn’t work for me at all in terms of accompanying her voice and lyrics. In other words, her guitar playing was more of a distraction.

Still, she’s a talented singer/songwriter, and I’m sure Lois and I would be happy to catch her again at one of these shows.

Jamie Alimorad sang, backed by a CD playing through the speakers. Before I cover the performance, I want to compliment Jamie’s stage presence. Since Leo wasn’t there to operate the laptop and the sound system, there was quite a bit of trouble getting the background CD to start, and when it did, it was a whisper in the background. Jamie never lost his cool, and even though he isn’t a comedian, he handled himself and the situation well, and kept the crowd relaxed and interested.

Unfortunately, I don’t have all that much else to say that is very complimentary. He has a pleasant enough voice, but he did two covers, starting with Bryan Adams Summer of 69. If his voice were spectacular, OK. But, everything about his performance was more Karaoke than professional singer. Good Karaoke, to be sure, but compared to all of the other original works (Sarah included), it felt completely out of place. Sorry Jamie…

I realize that many (most?) who get this far will simply label me/us as prudes, and say that we simply don’t get the humor in raunchy jokes. If you knew me, you’d know how ridiculous that is, but I totally get how I’m coming off.

One of my all-time favorite comedians is Buddy Hackett (I can recite dozens of his jokes verbatim, including some very long routines). They are mostly filthy (dick jokes, etc.). Not only do the jokes kill me each time I hear them, I love telling them, so I have no trouble delivering those words. But, they are integral to the jokes, not gratuitous.

A number of the comedians we’ve seen at the two theSet shows used their words as crutches. What happens in that situation is that the audience is focused on the crutch, not the joke, or the person. If a person walks into the room on actual crutches, you’re less likely to remember other things about them, because it steals your focus. The same is true in comedy.

So, while I’m but one voice, I’ll continue to hammer away to these very talented up-and-coming comedians, that they need to hone their craft better by concentrating on the actual joke, not on using vulgarity for the pure shock value of it. Follow my advice or not, it’s your careers. 😉

As for theSet, one of the things that the host (Kai Raziq) has done at both shows (repeatedly) is attempt to get anyone from the audience to come on stage and tell a joke, a story, anything. His point is that it’s harder than it looks, even for 30 seconds, and of course, he’s right!

In the first show, no one took him up on the offer, even though he tried hard. Last night, no one took the bait either, for the first few times that he tried to get someone on the stage. Then finally, one woman got up for 30 seconds. She had no idea what to do, but turned it into an amusing physical bit. We all appreciated her courage and effort nonetheless.

I don’t really have a need, nor even an interest to try that out, but out of curiosity, one of these days, I might just have to find out how awful/hard it is to stand up there, and perhaps I’ll be a bit less harsh on the real comedians after I do that. 😉

Everything’s Easy by Girlyman

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Who doesn’t know that Girlyman is our favorite group yet? Come on, raise your hand.

With the production of their new CD, Everything’s Easy, Girlyman tried something different: asking their fans to help them buy a top-notch microphone for their vocals. We joined many other Girlyfans and pitched in to get them that mic!

So, can you buy this CD yet? No. It will be available in late August, 2009. Do I have a copy yet? Yes. Am I special? No. You too could have had it, especially if you follow me on Twitter, where I urged people to pre-order a copy.

The pre-order was at a premium price, but came with a lovingly signed copy of the CD, and helped the band directly, so fans should have been happy to pay a bit more, to get it early, and support the band.

According to Ty’s blog post last week, over 1,000 fans pre-ordered, which is music to my ears!

I have had my hands on the CD for nearly a week. I have listened to it eight times. I didn’t want anything that I wrote here to be based on a single first impression listen.

One word to describe the new CD: Gorgeous!

Lois’ needed to one up me, so she decided to double the number of words she used to describe the CD: Soulful…Intimate!

There are so many dimensions to personally grade a song and/or a CD, and I’ll cover a few of them here. First, when it’s an artist you are a fan of, you can ask yourself if it’s similar or different from their previous work.

Neither is inherently good or bad. If it’s similar, some fans will be bored, others will be over the moon. If it’s different, some fans will be angry, others will be over the moon. Of course, if it’s too different, it’s not inconceivable to lose a majority of your fans, but possibly pick up another whole group who like the new genre.

So, how do I grade this CD in that respect? Similar: Yes. In a number of ways (especially the important ones). Amazing harmonies, brilliant lyrics, wonderful melodies, superb production.

Different: Yes. In a number of ways (mostly good). First, there are studio versions of three songs that were actually debuted on their last CD, Somewhere Different Now (a Live CD). There is a song called Hudson, where Ty sings without Doris and Nate.

Perhaps the biggest difference (to me) is the mood of the CD. On all of the previous efforts (four, not including the many CDs we have from their live performances, which are priceless to me!) there is a wide mix of songs. Ballads sit side-by-side with very up-beat numbers (causing people to label them as Folk/Pop, since without the Pop, it’s hard for some to peg them as just Folk).

The only song on this CD that truly qualifies as perky (to me) is My Eyes Get Misty (a song we have loved for over ninth months, having seen them perform it many times!). True Enough is a very happy song, but still retains a relatively mellow sound.

Even the title song, Everything’s Easy, which is a happier song, with a little bit of an up-tempo feel on the Live CD, has been slowed down dramatically on this studio version.

It’s nearly one minute longer, due entirely to the pace. It’s gorgeous, but if you’re used to other version (and what fan wouldn’t be?), then it might take some getting used to (which is why I wanted to listen many times before writing this!).

Another dimension: new vs familiar. If you’ve never seen Girlyman live, and never heard one of their recent concert CDs (not counting Somewhere Different Now Live), then only the three songs from that Live CD will be familiar. Everything else is brand-spanking-new material.

Of course, if you’re like us, and follow them around like puppy dogs, then you will have heard some of the songs in one show or another. For us, here’s the count:

Total number of songs on the CD: 15.

Number released on a previous CD: 3 (Everything’s Easy, Somewhere Different Now and Storms Were Mine).

Number we’ve heard in concert: 9 (several were debuted at the recent Highline Ballroom show, so even if you’ve seen them before, the odds of you having heard nine of the songs isn’t likely).

Number we never heard before: 3 (whew, the math happened to work out!).

There isn’t a weak song on this CD. But, you better be in the mood to be moved! To repeat Lois’ characterization above, it’s a very Soulful, Intimate CD, both lyrics and sound, with a lush feel.

I’d describe this CD as making you feel Swept Away rather than Swept Up. The music and lyrics drape and carry you with them, to another place.

If you are a Girlyman fan, I’ll be shocked if you don’t love the CD. If you’re a newbie, it will depend on what brought you to this one.

Personally, I am thrilled to have my name associated with Everything’s Easy. Well done Girlyman! 🙂

Disclaimer: We are listed as Executive Producers (EP) on this CD but had nothing to do with the creative part of the CD, nor were we EPs in the sense of helping with the business (distribution, etc.). But, in our small way, we helped get it made.

We participated in the production of this CD in the form of a donation, and we have zero financial relationship with Girlyman. We don’t derive any money from sales of the CDs.

Wonderful Weekend

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We’re in NYC for an unusually long stretch. We’re at the halfway point, and it will be hard to top last week, but we won’t stop trying. 🙂

We returned from VA on Tuesday to one night of solitude. Our extravaganza started on Wednesday. Since we had been away, I got back on the exercise track by taking a seven mile walk by myself.

At 4pm, friends of ours who were passing through arrived to spend the night. After catching up a bit on the deck (in perfect weather), we walked up to the Peking Duck House for a wonderful meal. We waddled back, taking a tour of Grand Central (including the amazing Food Market), and after schmoozing a bit more, collapsed.

The next morning, I took another long walk with our friends, this time roughly six miles. They (correctly) shamed me into getting a new pair of sneakers when they heard me tell Lois that I had not forgotten to stuff some tissues into my socks to stop my sneakers from cutting my heels. I am now the proud owner of a new pair of New Balance, purchased at Modell’s (Gotta Go to Mo’s!). 🙂

In the afternoon, we dropped our friends off uptown and headed straight to LaGuardia to pick up David. Since it had started raining reasonably hard, and his flight was delayed, we parked the car in the garage (highly unusual for us), and we relaxed at the food court, where we had excellent coffees from Coffee Beanery. I watched a bunch of The Onion video podcasts on my iPod (laughing my head off non-stop), while Lois browsed at Borders.

Rain At La Guardia

Rain At La Guardia

David was only an hour delayed, and even though it was still raining, we made great time back to the city. We ran across the street and had a terrific Mexican meal at El Rio Grande. Afterward, Laura and Chris came up to catch up with David.

On Friday, David had lunch out with his college roommate, and Laura (who took a half day off) planned to take another long walk with me. Just as we were about to leave, David texted me that he could be back in 10 minutes if we could wait. We did, happily, and the three of us did the full 8+ mile walk, on yet another glorious day.

Friends of David and Laura (and us as well, though we’re their parents’ ages) were flying up from Richmond, scheduled to arrive at 3:30pm. When a flight attendant was unable to make it on time, they were delayed awaiting a replacement who was flying in from Cincinnati! We had tickets to the Blue Note Jazz Club that evening, and they ended up having to meet us there straight from the airport (putting their luggage in the coat room).

It all worked out fine, and they got there in plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely meal with us. Chris joined us a bit later, due to work, work, work…

Group At BB King

Group At BB King

We saw Charlie Haden (a great bassist). He was playing six consecutive nights at the Blue Note in an Invitation Series with a different guest performer each night. On Friday night, Kenny Barron was the guest, an amazing piano player. The two of them played together, and each took a number of long solos for 70 minutes. It was a slightly short show for the Blue Note.

The air-conditioning seemed to be off only during the show (it came on seconds after the show ended) and they were working so hard on the stage, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the heat caused them to cut it short just a bit. A lovely evening of good food, great company and excellent music.

When we returned to the apartment, the old folks hit the sack, and the youth stayed up (who knows how long?). Before I said goodnight, Chris asked if I wanted to walk in the morning. That would have made four days in a row for me (something I hadn’t attempted as yet), and being the macho machine that I am, I said yes.

I was a bit late (sorry Chris), and met him downstairs at 8:19am. We did the full 8+ miles, at a faster pace than most of my group walks (in fact, we shaved 24 minutes off of the average group walk time, and only six minutes longer than my best time ever). Chris kept me on a crisp and steady pace. Thanks!

While I was off walking with Chris, our guests enjoyed breakfast on the deck.



After a shower, the boys (David, Chris, Clint and I) headed to the new Yankee Stadium to catch the game against the Oakland A’s. This was collectively our first time at the new stadium. In my opinion, it’s awesome. Nice job Yanks!

The Boys

The Boys

Too many food choices to articulate, so I’ll just say what we selected. Chris had the Pizza from Famiglia, which was not exceptional, but not bad either. The rest of us had Philly Cheesesteaks from Carl’s. Pretty good, but I’m not sure I would call it Best in Manhattan (as the web site claims). Not that I know of a better cheesesteak in Manhattan, just that it was good, not amazing. 🙂

Three of us had a $10 beer (which included a plastic commemorative cup, valued at $1).

We fried in the sun for an hour (and I have the sunburn to prove it, especially on my knees). Once the sun passed, the breeze made the rest of the day delightful. Unfortunately, I continue to be a curse on local sports teams. The Yankees had an eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday. They made it exciting, almost pulling it out in the ninth inning.

Last year (at the old stadium), they lost when I showed up. The year before, the Mets lost when I attended a game. My new retirement plan will be to charge both the Yankees and the Mets to keep me away from the stadiums. I should be able to make a good living, since they play 162 home games between them. 😉

Laura and Sally Ann had a mini-spa afternoon followed by Vietnamese food, while Lois slaved away at her computer.

The Girls

The Girls

When we got back to the apartment, another round of showers was in order due to the aforementioned frying in the sun. Then we walked up to the Duck House, where David’s college roommate and his fiancée joined us for dinner (nine of us in total). We had an absolutely spectacular meal. With that many people, we get to order that many more dishes, and therefore more tastes, than with the four of us who attended on Wednesday night.

Duck House Dishes

Duck House Dishes

Group At Duck House

Group At Duck House

Again, the old folks headed home, and early to bed. The youth headed to see Harry Potter 6, and told us the next morning that they thoroughly enjoyed it!

On Sunday morning, the youth all attended Church Services at Redeemer. Lois and I headed to BB King and waited on line for them to join us. The same nine people who ate the night before at the Duck House now gathered to see the world famous Harlem Gospel Choir over a wonderful brunch at BB King. It was our second time, but the other seven were experiencing it for the first time.

It’s hard to describe the show, unless you’ve been to a revival service, in which case it wouldn’t be hard to describe it all! 😉 Awesome music (both the singing and the band), with wonderful spirituality, including forcing participation by the entire crowd.

Crowd Participation

Crowd Participation

Only the infirm didn’t stand (at least at some point during the show) and clap and dance along. As much as we enjoyed our first time, this one was substantially better, so we’re doubly glad we suggested this activity for the group.

At each show, a group of people is invited on the stage (I won’t tell you why, so you can be surprised if you ever see it), and one of the people in our group ended up on the stage. See if you can spot her (hint, hint). 🙂

One Of Us On Stage

One Of Us On Stage

After the show, Lois bought one of their CDs, and got it signed by all seven of the singers, plus the founder of the Harlem Gospel Choir. We also made a separate donation to their ministry.

We walked back to the apartment and relaxed while watching the Yankees win on TV. I’m awaiting my royalty check for not attending the game yesterday. At the same time, I finally caught up on the weekend’s email and Twitter stream, having not logged on at all on Saturday (a very rare occurrence for me!).

The youth headed across the street for a superb Sushi meal at Hane Sushi. Just as they finished up, the heavens opened up, and we all waited out the thunderstorm. The second it let up, all of us (except for Lois) walked nine blocks to Berry Wild (only Laura and Chris had been there before). Everyone loved theirs, including me. I had Banana and Coffee yogurt, with shredded coconut on top. Yummy!

When we got back, our Richmond friends headed out to JFK. Their flight ended up being delayed by the continuing storms, but they did arrive in Richmond safe and sound, shortly at 2am! 🙁

The rest of us watched a DVD of the 1989 movie The Dream Team. Wes sent it to us as a gift a few weeks back, so we were looking forward to watching it. It starts off a bit slowly (or perhaps awkwardly is more apt), but, it builds, cleverly, and while it’s kooky or corny, I have to admit that I laughed out loud quite a bit. Definitely an enjoyable evening.

David had a 6am flight back, so alarms were set for 4:25am, and Lois and I didn’t get much sleep. David has already landed safely, so the weekend extravaganza is now officially over, but we’re both wiped like the party is still going on. 😉

While we don’t have company staying with us any longer, we do have plans for the next six consecutive nights (alone for the first four, then with other people on Friday and Saturday), before we finally get to completely collapse!