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Cherish The Ladies at Towne Crier Cafe

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Lois and I are very big fans of traditional Irish music. This should come as no surprise to those who know us (or regularly read this space), not because I write about Irish music a lot, but because we really love tons of roots music and there is a lot of Irish roots in that. πŸ˜‰

Six weeks ago I stumbled upon a notice that an all-female group called Cherish The Ladies was going to be playing at the Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling, NY. I had never heard of Cherish The Ladies (a major shame on me). I had also never been to Pawling, but at least I knew where it was. πŸ˜‰

I hopped on to YouTube and checked out a dozen videos of Cherish The Ladies. Each was better than the one before, I was instantly hooked, and after checking with Lois, I grabbed two tickets including dinner reservations. Last night finally came and we drove the 45 minutes from the house to Towne Crier Cafe. As is the current custom, I’ll review the show first, then circle back and describe the venue.

The Ladies came on stage at 9:11pm (11 minutes late). The crowd went completely nuts. Joanie Madden (one of the two founding members of the group) asked the crowd how many had seen the Ladies before and roughly 75% indicated yes.

Joanie plays all types of flutes and whistles. She came on stage with a cloth (canvas?) tube rolled up. She unrolled it on the table, and there were individual tube-like pockets, each housing a whistle or a flute of different types and lengths. I’d guess on the order of 20! It was like watching a master surgeon unroll their package of specialized scalpels.

I can assure you that she plays every single one of them with the same precision, cutting through to your soul with every breath and movement of her fingers. Awesome would be too mild a word to describe her musical talent.

Joanie Madden

Mary Coogan is the other co-founder. Last night she exclusively played the guitar (beautifully!), but I can see from her CDs (I’ll mention what we bought later on) that she also plays the banjo and mandolin.

Mary Coogan

Joanie and Mary formed Cherish The Ladies 23 years ago! That’s why I said shame on me for not having heard about them until now!

Roisin Dillon sat in the middle, playing a fiddle that was breathtaking the entire evening. I kid you not when I say that every time Roisin took a solo, the crowd burst into rhythmic clapping, keeping time with her amazing solos.

Roisin Dillon

Mirella Murray was next in line on the stage, playing the accordion. She too is awesome! In addition to winning the All-Ireland competition a number of years back, she teaches accordion and has had a number of her students win the competition. Either she’s a great talent scout or a great teacher. Most likely, both! πŸ™‚

Mirella Murray

Michelle Burke was spanking brand new to the group (hence no link). Amazingly enough, they only met Michelle two days earlier when they played in Cleveland. I don’t know whether Michelle sang with them that night, but she definitely sang with them the night before we saw them, in Buffalo, NY. She sent them a CD of her work, and clearly they liked what they heard.

Michelle Burke

Michelle sang lead (no instruments) on five or six songs. She was fantastic on every single one of them. Joanie sang harmony (all too briefly) on most of the songs, as she harmonizes beautifully with Michelle. Here’s hoping that now that they’ve met, they’ll get a chance to actually work up more harmonies together. πŸ™‚

Kathleen Boyle, sitting behind that row of five women, with her back to the crowd most of the night, played the piano, phenomenally. She’s not listed on the Cherish The Ladies web site, so I don’t know if she’s a regular with the group. Her MySpace page (linked to her name) has two gorgeous songs on it, but neither of them is her playing the piano. Last night she played a song from her new CD, about her parents returning home to Scotland, which was stunningly beautiful.

Kathleen Boyle

Last night was Kathleen’s (K.T.) birthday, and Joanie had a cake delivered on stage and we all sang Happy Birthday to her. πŸ™‚

Kathleen Boyle Birthday Cake

OK, on to the music. Cherish The Ladies are simply fantastic. Not a moment of boredom to be found all night. Their selection (very wide ranging!) was wonderful and while each of them is an incredible solo artist, together, they gel on every song.

Cherish The Ladies

In addition to playing very traditional songs (does a 400-year-old song count?) πŸ˜‰ they also play quite a number of newer (yet traditional sounding) numbers, many written by Joanie (she’s an extraordinary song-writer!). You can hear some of their stuff on their MySpace page. While I recommend that, seeing them live is a much bigger treat.

Perhaps you can get a touch of that flavor with the following YouTube Video of them. The video is long (12.5 minutes), but it also shows a nice range and solos from Joanie, Roisin and Mirella. It also ends with some step dancing, which we missed last night due to the very small stage at Towne Crier Cafe.

You can also hear more of Joanie’s stuff on her MySpace page.

If you were there last night, and didn’t clap along, or stomp your foot, or at least tap your toes or fingers, check your pulse! πŸ™‚

In addition to the awesome music, Joanie is masterful at working the crowd. She’s a bundle of energy and it emanates from her every action and word. She’s hysterical and a wonderful story teller as well. Every year, she and Mary host a week-long musical tour of Ireland. I truly hope that Lois and I can make the time in the very near future. This year it’s May 20-27th, and we definitely can’t make it. Perhaps next year!

During the second set Joanie brought her father up on the stage. He’s a life-long musician as well, and had a big band years ago. He plays the accordion. He wailed with them on at least three numbers. He was great, and everyone enjoyed having him up there, including the Ladies themselves. πŸ™‚

Joe Madden

They took a 25 minute break (announced as a 15 minute break, but they actually mingled in the crowd, and weren’t released to get back on stage). With a one-song encore (after a rousing standing ovation) that involved not leaving the stage (thankfully, since it’s so small it would have been a waste of time!), their total on-stage time was 2 hours (not including the intermission!). Very generous (if a little late for us old fogies).

Cherish The Ladies Standing Ovation

A very magical evening indeed!

On to the background and venue. I already mentioned that finding Cherish The Ladies and Towne Crier Cafe was accidental. Even though I made the reservations happily, as time passes, the normal discomfort sets in. What will the venue be like? Will the group disappoint? Will the show simply be too late for us?

You already know the answer to the second two questions. πŸ˜‰

You get to pick a wide range of dinner reservation times at Towne Crier. We’re quick eaters (too quick) so picking an early time is attractive to us only to secure better seats. The show was scheduled for 9pm, so I picked 7pm (way too early eating wise, but I hoped very good for seating). I could have picked 6pm, but that seemed crazy (at least I hoped so).

Leaving some extra time (having never been to Pawling) we ended up arriving at 6:40pm. The place was easy to find and the parking lot had plenty of spaces that early. It’s basically an upscale Mexican / Southwestern style restaurant (exactly the kind of food we like). The attitude of the staff was very warm and we felt very welcome immediately. We were seated nearly dead center in the room, very nice seats.

Towne Crier Cafe Logo

The dining room is a very open rectangle on two levels (the upper level is just a single step up). Most of the room is filled with dining tables. At the very back (on the upper level) there aren’t any table cloths, so it’s more of a bar seating area, but it’s still waiter service, no actual bar back there.

As opposed to other places where you eat dinner at a table and then watch the show, Towne Crier orients the majority of their tables on a diagonal (the stage is in the far left corner of the room) so that most seats have a decent view of the stage no matter which side of the table of you are on. In many other venues, one side of the table has to twist and contort to get a good view.

The room holds roughly 150 people seated. The food was fantastic. Service was good to begin with, but as the people kept pouring in, it got a little hectic. Never an attitude, but even though it seemed that they had enough staff, we were left unattended for a reasonably long period. It didn’t bug me, but I know people who it would bother, so I mention it as a potential warning.

Even though we sat down at 6:45pm, we didn’t finish dinner until nearly 8:20pm. The pacing is (or at least last night was) extremely slow. That’s fantastic for people who prefer very leisurely meals. We get a little fidgety in situations like that, but it worked out well given how early we showed up.

They bring out chips and spicy salsa for each table. They also include a few pieces of spicy cornbread. The salsa is extremely spicy, but also extremely tasty. I definitely ate too many chips, just to have something to scoop up some more of the salsa. The cornbread was heavenly.

When the show was over we rushed to the entrance where they were going to use a long counter (where the desserts were originally laid out) as the merch table. We were first on line, a line that grew reasonably long. The Ladies didn’t leave us hanging more than a minute or two (very welcome at 11:35pm!). We bought five CDs. Two of Cherish The Ladies, two of Mary Coogan, one with her Dad (now unfortunately deceased) and one with Kathy Ludlow performing Children’s music, and one solo CD of Joanie Madden.

We only made them sign one of them, The Best of Cherish The Ladies. Thanks to all of you, we promise to cherish it. πŸ™‚

Lois meant to buy their new CD as well, but didn’t grab it, and we were feeling guilty about holding up the line with a hand-written credit card order. We’ll be buying more of their stuff online, including the latest CD.

To repeat, a very magical evening (venue included!). We already have tickets to go back to Towne Crier on June 15th to see my favorite Jazz group, Acoustic Alchemy. If you can’t make it to Pawling that night, they are also playing the next night, June 16th at BB King in NYC.

Don’t forget (how could you?) that there are still 11 days left to win a free copy of a signed Girlyman Live CD! Enter the contest now and do your best to win the CD and spread the Girlyman love! πŸ™‚

Leo Kottke at Tarrytown Music Hall

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I’ve written quite a bit about acoustic guitarists in this space over the past year. In addition to listening to tons of acoustic guitar on my iPod, we have also seen quite a number of the current great ones live.

In my Acoustic Guitar Update post, I mentioned one of the current (and for a long time) greats, Leo Kottke. The preceding link goes directly to Leo’s Tour Date page. Here is a link to his bio on Wikipedia.

Last night he was playing at Tarrytown Music Hall. Very exciting for us since we live less than four miles away. We bought tickets in the 11th row, left orchestra, aisle and one in (similar to the seats we had for Joan Baez on Monday, with the exception that the Paramount Theater is larger than Tarrytown Music Hall).

Show time was 8pm. We got to the theater at 7:50pm and couldn’t believe how many people were strolling on Main Street. The weather was perfect (70 degrees) and people rightfully couldn’t resist being out and about. Even though Tarrytown is infinitely friendlier about street parking than Peekskill is (see my Joan Baez review for that complaint), given the number of people on the street, we were nervous that we might end up cutting it close to park and be seated.

Luck was wildly on our side, as we found a spot half a block from the theater and we were in our seats three minutes later. It was clear that the show wouldn’t start on time, but that’s been true the past two times we were at this beautiful theater as well…

Leo came out at 8:11pm to thunderous applause. While there were a reasonable number of empty seats, the place was nearly full, and it seemed that the majority of the people in the audience were there because they love Leo, not because it was an interesting local event.

Leo is famous both for his six and 12 string guitar playing. In fact, in my Acoustic Guitar Update post, I mentioned that his album called 6-and-12-String Guitar (released in 1969!) was on the 100 best acoustic guitar albums list at DigitalDreamDoor. I bought a copy (downloaded from Amazong.com MP3), it’s awesome.

He began with the 12 string guitar. He played a few songs before saying much. Then he started to tell some stories or introductions to some of the songs. He has a self-deprecating, soft-spoken style when speaking to the audience. At times, he seems to trail off not actually finishing a story, or even if he finishes it, the original point of telling it seems lost on the crowd.

Leo Kottke

While I own two of his CD’s, and love them both, I was not aware that he also sings (at times). He has a very deep voice. It’s pleasant, but I doubt anyone would go to see him just for his singing prowess. I think he sang four songs (max five) last night.

After nearly 40 minutes of 12 string guitar, he switched to a six string. He was magical on the six string guitar. The difference (last night) was breathtaking. I love the sound of a 12 string, so it’s not that I have a bias against it (I even used to own a 12 string in my teens). It could easily be his particular selection in the first set as I will note later on that he also dazzled when he returned to the 12 string.

Essentially, the selection in the first set bordered on repetitive. There was nothing wrong with any one song, but there wasn’t enough variety between them either, that it almost felt like a loop. When coupled with his trailing-off stories, there wasn’t as much energy in the room as one could have hoped for.

That all changed when he picked up the six string. To me, the tunes were livelier, and his fingers created a much cleaner sound as they flew around the frets. The 12 string has a gorgeous sound, and is really rich, but it’s a little harder to hear the crispness of his amazing leads with so many strings vibrating at the same time.

For the last song (before the encore) he returned to the 12 string guitar and played one of his famous numbers, Jack Fig. Here’s a YouTube video of him playing it (also on a 12-string guitar) from a very long time ago. As you can see, his fingers fly even on a 12 string, and he’s extremely crisp as well.

Leo Kottke Standing

When he came back out for the one-song encore, he also stuck with the 12 string, and was brilliant again on it. That’s why I am chalking up the first 40 minutes to selection rather than skill.

In total he was on stage for 100 minutes. As mentioned before, he spoke quite a bit, so it wasn’t all playing. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed his tales. I found him to be charming and quite amusing. I chuckled an awful lot of times. Many people did as well. That said, it was definitely not unanimous. A number of people were clearly uncomfortable with the amount of talking. A few occasionally yelled out Play when he paused for a breath during a long story.

Lois was in the second camp. She was unfamiliar with any of Leo’s music before last night, so the repetitiveness of the first set caught her off guard. Coupled with the banter, she was on the bored side. She too changed her mind when he picked up the six string. She didn’t enjoy the stories any more in the second half, but she at least was anxiously awaiting his next number, knowing that she would enjoy it when he got to it. πŸ˜‰

There’s little doubt that in general, the crowd loved the performance on balance, and there were a reasonable number of people who gave Leo a standing ovation (us included). Clearly, this type of show wasn’t for everyone, and it’s understandable. It’s somewhat difficult for a solo guitarist to hold the audience in the palm of his hand for nearly two hours. For many of us, Leo came close.

Joan Baez at Paramount Theater

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Last night Lois and I drove 30 minutes to Peekskill, NY to see Joan Baez at the Paramount Theater. How we came to see this show is itself a long story, delivered later in this post.

One of the biggest influences in my teen years was Bob Dylan. Not just the music, but more specifically, the lyrics. They were burned in my mind, even at the age of 13. I learned to play the guitar because of him. Of course, if you were a Dylan fan back then, the odds were pretty high that you were a fan of Joan Baez as well. Not only was I a fan, I was a very big fan!

Lois was preoccupied with extremely challenging life events during those years and didn’t pay attention to either Dylan or Baez beyond general awareness.

The last time I saw Joan Baez live before last night was on November 22nd, 1975 at Brandeis University when she appeared with Dylan as part of The Rolling Thunder Review tour. One of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, including Joan’s amazing performance.

I remembered the year, but had to look up the actual date. πŸ˜‰

The audience last night was full of people who adore, even revere Joan. You could feel the excitement and anticipation long before she came on stage. When she came out the place erupted with applause. She announced that she would be playing new songs as well as the songs you came to hear. πŸ™‚ She didn’t disappoint in that, playing beautiful new songs that will be on her upcoming album, as well as some of her fantastic hits.

For roughly half the show she was accompanied by her band.

Erik Della Penna played a variety of string instruments, all very well. He also sang harmony with Joan on some of the numbers. It took me a while to warm up to his playing, but in the end, I decided that he was just making sure to defer to Joan and not steal the spotlight. He’s quite accomplished and soulful.

Erik Della Penna

In addition to playing guitar, lap steel guitar and dobro, he also played a square guitar, roughly the size of a mandolin, that I’ve never seen before. Joan called it a Cigar Box Guitar, which I thought was a joke, but there’s a site for them, so it must be true. πŸ˜‰

Here is a picture of the Cigar Box Guitar, and one of Erik on the Lap Steel Guitar:

Cigar Box GuitarErik Della Penna Lap Steel Guitar

Dean Sharenow played the drums. While he kept perfect rhythm, he was obviously understated (purposely) for this kind of music. I have little doubt that he’s an accomplished drummer, but last night was not the type of show to bring out his talent. He sang vocals on a few numbers as well. Dean and Erik have their own band, separate from their work with Joan, called Kill Henry Sugar.

Dean Sharenow

Michael Duclos played bass. I have recently complained that as much as I have enjoyed numerous bass players over the past year, almost every time, they are simply too loud and overwhelm the rest of the band. Not so last night. Just as with Erik and Dean, both Michael and the sound engineer correctly chose to emphasize Joan, so Michael’s bass was solid the entire night, but significantly in the background, where it belonged.

Michael Duclos

During the first third of the show, when they were all on the stage together, they played most of the new stuff, sprinkled with recent stuff and perhaps two old favorites. She sang Christmas in Washington (from her Bowery Songs CD, released in 2005) written by Steve Earle. Steve is producing her new CD, and has written many of the songs on it. I’ll have more to say about Steve (and Joan) in my other section (now a regular feature in these posts), but for now, here’s a link to a YouTube video of Christmas in Washington with Joan and Steve performing together.

The second (or third) song of the evening was one of the old ones, With God On Our Side (by Bob Dylan). Quite a number of the songs Joan sang last night had God in them (perhaps 50%). Many are cynical about God (the Dylan song for example), but some are deeply spiritual (Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Amazing Grace). It’s an interesting mix, and I’m not clear if she’s attempting to communicate a specific message or not.

After this part of the show was over, the band left the stage leaving Joan on her own. She went into a lot more of her traditional songs here, mostly accompanying herself on the guitar, but with an occasional a cappella song thrown in as well. As good as the parts with the band were, it was more special, magical, to see her perform on her own. She certainly held the crowd in the palm of her hand throughout her solo set.

Among the favorites, she performed her ultra-famous Diamonds In Rust. I already mentioned one of the a cappella numbers above in a different context, Swing Low Sweet Chariot. She encouraged the audience to sing along during various verses of that, and they willingly obliged (I can’t explain it, but I didn’t sing along at all last night, even to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, one of my favorites…).

She played solo for roughly half of the show. The band then returned for a few more numbers, including Dylan’s Love Is Just A Four Letter Word. After saying goodnight, and taking their bows (in a group hug), they returned for a three song encore. After the first two songs, the band left the stage again, and Joan finished the evening with her signature a cappella Amazing Grace, which the crowd belted out with her.

She received a standing ovation before they left the stage the first time, and again at the end of the encore, including the entire audience standing throughout Amazing Grace. Like I said in the intro, she was adored and revered, and the crowd wanted to make sure she knew it. Here’s a photo of everyone singing Amazing Grace with Joan, all the while standing:

Joan Baez Amazing Grace

She was on the stage for a total of 100 minutes including the encore. While we all could have listened to her for hours longer, the show was an appropriate and appreciated length.

Here are a few photos of Joan, with and without guitar. One of the reasons that I’m including a number of similar shots is that the background lighting at the Paramount Theater is very nicely done to set various moods. If you look at some of the other photos included here, you’ll see a variety of scenes and colors, with many more that I am not posting:

Joan BaezJoan Baez 2Joan Baez GuitarJoan Baez Guitar 2

That’s the end of the general review of the evening. As always, I have lots more to say (I know, I have too much to say, always). Some of this is on the negative side, some on the more nostalgic side, and some mere speculation. So, if you don’t know me, or don’t care about my opinions, this is an excellent time to click away…

I recently wrote about a spate of concert cancellations due to illness. In that post, I forgot to mention another cancellation that I had previously written about. We had tickets to see The Mammals at Tarrytown Music Hall (last October I think) and they too canceled a week before the show, but not due to illness I believe.

In the above post, I mentioned that the only cancellation that we did not have tickets to was Joan Baez. There were a number of reasons why we didn’t end up buying tickets in advance to that show, but the primary one was that we were scheduled to be at Zope that week (March 31st). If you read this space regularly, you know that we ran back that weekend to see Girlyman at Joe’s Pub on the 30th, but we did indeed return to VA the very next morning.

We were supposed to be at Zope from last Wed through this week as well, but for the first time in a very long time ended up canceling our own trip (also not due to illness). Once the trip was canceled, I decided to check out the status of Joan’s rescheduled show (exactly two weeks after the postponed one), and lo and behold, there were a reasonable number of tickets left. The original show was sold out, so clearly, some people simply couldn’t make the new date and returned their tickets for a refund.

Lucky for us, unlucky for the original ticket buyers. We got two seats in the 10th row, left orchestra, aisle and one in. Superb seats. The show was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm. We’ve been to the Paramount Theater once before, to see David Bromberg and the Angel Band so we knew the lay of the land, and how long it would take to get there from the house (roughly 30 minutes).

We left at 6:35pm and got to the theater at 7:05pm. The police had the entire block of the theater cordoned off (from every approach). This was quite surprising. I realize Joan Baez is a big star, but David Bromberg also sold out the place (as I’m sure many others do), and he didn’t get similar treatment. Who knows the reasoning, but it wasn’t a good sign.

It turns out that the town (Peekskill) isn’t all that friendly to visitors (tourists). It’s a quaint river town, which should be in the business of attracting tourists and making them feel welcome, but just try to park in any of the dozens of empty spots on the street. Oops, don’t, unless you want a ticket. Signs all over the place saying that you need a permit to park on the street. You’d think that on a night when someone like Joan Baez is in town, they’d put up signs waiving that, but alas, no.

Even the municipal garage has two tiers of parking, one requiring permits, the other meters. Who knew I needed to show up with tons of change in my pocket to attend a local concert. We weren’t thrilled with the entire ordeal, but still made it in plenty of time to pick up our tickets at Will Call and get seated.

At 7:20pm (when we were in our seats), it was obvious that the show would not start on time. The main reason is that the hall was still half empty, with tons of people still hanging around outside. At 7:31 they made the usual announcements, so they were trying to get the show back on schedule, but the house lights were still on, and perhaps 20% of the hall was still unfilled.

At 7:40pm the house lights went off, the crowd went nuts, and Joan came on the stage. There were still quite a number of seats empty, and people were still trickling in, but at least we weren’t waiting for the last person to show up before beginning. Across the aisle from us, in the 10th row center orchestra, there were five empty seats in a row. This fact will become important (to us) shortly.

After each song, the ushers would quickly guide a few more people to their seats. After the third or fourth song (past 7:50pm) the two people who had the seats immediately to Lois’ left squeezed by us. The man proceeded to whip out his Treo, and sat there for at least 10 full minutes with the light shining brightly, working the phone (email, sms, who knows?).

It was annoying the hell out of us. Lois asked if we could move across the aisle. I hate doing that, because I would hate having to move back (in shame, as if we were trying to get away with anything), but it seemed safe at nearly 8pm. It worked out fine, as we darted across the aisle between songs, and weren’t bothered the rest of the night. Why come to a show 20 minutes late, not pay any attention and annoy everyone seated near you? Stay home and use your full computer. We’ll all be happier for it…

I mentioned earlier that I was a huge Joan Baez fan while Lois was less familiar with her stuff. As such, Lois enjoyed the show last night tremendously, having no previous reference point. I thoroughly enjoyed the show as well, but less for musical reasons. There was a tremendous sense of history for me, not just in experiencing Joan live again, but in hearing her tell some very moving stories (she told a few about Martin Luther King, someone she actively marched with and supported in a number of ways!).

Musically, her voice is still excellent, perhaps even better than most touring artists, but it’s really a shadow of what it once was. It’s likely that this is a temporary anomaly, caused by her recent illness (forcing the previous cancellation), as she specifically said that she had lost her voice, regained part of it, then regained some more. She didn’t put a timeline on that though, so it might have had nothing to do with the illness, and she might not be regaining any more, even if she gets healthier.

The good news is that she’s well aware of the changes in her voice, and even joked about it (in the middle of a song!). She no longer tries to hit certain notes, simplifying the vocal arrangement of some of the more challenging songs. I have no problem with that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a little sad and disappointing. She also lost her place a number of times on the lyrics, laughed it off and continued on very professionally in each case. She joked about that too, quite cleverly, so last night clearly wasn’t the first time that’s happened to her.

I’m truly hoping (for her sake, and for her fans’ sake) that her voice will get stronger as she gets better (assuming she hasn’t fully recovered). The most striking thing to me is not that her voice isn’t clear, or gorgeous (it is!), but rather that she seems apprehensive about pushing her voice, even though at times during the night, when she did, she was able to hit the note, or deliver the power that she was looking for.

Joan is 67 years old. To me, she looks much older, and seems a bit on the frail side. If you look at the YouTube video that I linked above, of Christmas in Washington, which was filmed less than four years ago, she looked 20 years younger (to me). While she is as graceful and lovely as you could wish, I couldn’t help feeling badly that age (or health) is catching up with her more quickly than her young years deserve.

Of course, you can listen to her CDs to hear the difference in the strength and range of her voice. Still, it’s possible that even that is due to the wonders of a recording studio rather than the rawness of a live performance. So, through the magic of the Internet, if you’re interested, you can hear Joan do a number of songs (most of which she performed last night!) from the last concert from The Rolling Thunder Review, taped at Madison Square Garden on December 8th, 1975!

You have to register to hear it, but it’s free, and the sound quality is excellent! Her voice back then, in a live performance, is not even comparable to her voice last night, even though it was delightful to listen to her last night as well! Here’s the link to the 1975 concert. Click on PLAY THIS CONCERT under the image of the ticket stub to start the stream.

Here’s a cute story, and one which is relevant to our Girlyman experiences as well. If you listened to the above concert, you may have noticed that Joan complains (in a British accent!) that she needed help tuning her guitar! Last night, she joked that she used to have trouble tuning her guitar, but now they have these devices that help you tune them. So now she has trouble tuning her guitars, with the help of the new devices. πŸ˜‰

Until recently, I didn’t have a clue as to why all of the guitarists looked down at the stage while they tuned. More interesting was that I didn’t understand how they could hear what they were tuning, as there was often other stuff going on at the time (If you’ve ever seen Nate in action while the Girlyman ladies tune, you’d understand). πŸ˜‰ Well, the device must show red and green lights for each string in tune or not (my guess, but I’d be surprised if I were way off).

Anyway, here’s a picture of her tuning last night. πŸ™‚

Joan Baez Tuning

I can’t resist sharing this photo. To me, Joan seems to be channeling Hillary Clinton:

Joan Baez Channels Hillary Clinton

Finally, politics. If you read this space, you know how I feel about politics mixing with entertainment. Perhaps that was an unconscious reason why I didn’t rush to buy tickets the first time around. There was no doubt in my mind that Joan (being a life-long activist) would definitely be political during the show. In the end, I decided that I was willing to sit through it for any number of reasons, including that she’s such a spiritually deep and caring woman, that it would unlikely be a hate-filled lecture. I was right, sort-of.

As for speech making, she only made two politically-oriented ones during the evening. The first was to say that George Bush was her personal PR machine. With him in the White House, her kind of music was in demand (not necessarily her exact words, but pretty close). If true, I wonder whether her career will come to a grinding halt if/when Obama takes the White House.

The second was a rousing endorsement of Obama himself. Her exact words were “Wait until we have a statesman back in the White House!” Okey dokey then, I guess we’ll see… Like I said above, it didn’t annoy me (though it could have, had I not anticipated it completely). As opposed to the anger with which most entertainers deliver their anti-Bush rhetoric, Joan is soft-spoken, gentle, and just trying to make a point…

That brings me to the music itself. Certainly, Dylan’s music had it’s fair share of anti-war songs (including the one she played early on). However, since she teamed up with Steve Earle years ago, she has plenty more fodder for that now. Steve is a wonderful songwriter, both lyrics and music, but he’s a very angry liberal at heart. Listen carefully to the words of Christmas in Washington in the video, or read the words here.

It’s a Bush hater’s anthem. That said, it’s delivered in a soft song, with beautiful music, and powerful lyrics (whether misguided or not!). I much prefer to get my political drubbing that way. At least it comes without the crowd whooping it up during the message and is thought provoking. So thought provoking that I am choosing to propagate his message so that you can decide for yourself whether you agree or not.

Here’s another song that’s beautiful, message laden, but a tad too vague or complicated for me (message-wise). It’s called Jerusalem, and is also by Steve Earle. Here’s a YouTube video of Joan singing it (with Erik Dell Penna) in Austria in 2007. You can read the lyrics here. It’s possible (I really hope even likely!) that this is a generic plea for peace on all sides of the Middle East conflict, or even all war in general (after all, lots of us are descendants of Abraham, not just Jews).

Unfortunately, I fear that this isn’t the true intent of the song, and he certainly doesn’t make any attempt to communicate more clearly. To me, it comes across like Jews/Israelis are the only aggressors in this ongoing conflict, and if only they could learn to lay down their swords, we’d all be better off. I realize that this is a defensive reaction, and I realize that many people have no sympathy for any Jew, and tons of sympathy for every Palestinian, but to blame this all on the Israelis/Jews is at best naive, and at worst disingenuous.

I know I’m not alone in my reaction/interpretation, as the current first comment on the video linked above (might not be the first one when you click on it!) is:

Ah Joan, I love this song. Let’s hope that Israel will be able to lay down its swords forever when that country feels safe from attacks on all surrounding Arab countries.

All-in-all, a very enjoyable as well as thought provoking evening. I reiterate my hope that Joan is still recovering and will get stronger soon. We’d see her again, I’m sure, at least to have a better sense of her well being.

Girlyman was already mentioned in a roundabout context above. Here is a very direct one! In 2003, Girlyman won the folk/singer-songwriter category in the 3rd Annual Independent Music Awards. One of the judges in that competition was none other than Joan Baez! πŸ™‚

So, having mentioned Girlyman in a real context now, let’s jump to a different context. You know what’s coming, but this is even more important for those of you who don’t know! We’re half-way through the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. Enter now to win a free signed copy of the new Girlyman Live CD!

The Wailin’ Jennys at Joe’s Pub

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Last night finally came, our third time seeing The Wailin’ Jennys live, but our first time seeing them at our favorite place, Joe’s Pub. The last time we saw them was their last show of 2007, at Gravity Lounge in Charlotesville, VA, covered in this post.

The Wailin\' Jennys

Unfortunately, there were quite a number of frustrations last night (though nothing really horrible). I’ll save those for the end.

Last night, the Jennys voices were as awesome as always. Their harmonies are so tight and gorgeous. All of them are excellent musicians and were on last night as well. Jeremy Penner (the one boy Jenny) is an amazing fiddler (I’ve written about him a number of times already) as well as a wonderful mandolin player (though last night I believe he only played the mandolin on one number, possibly two).

Jeremy Penner

They were funny and personable (as always) and even had a few new tales (which was refreshing). There’s something very pure about all four of their faces, and there’s a spirit in them (which shines through) and mirrors their songs / philosophy on life. Simply put, they are a joy to be around!

Their sound engineer has a terrific ear. The balance is perfect, and you can easily concentrate on any one of their voices or instruments, and pick it out clearly. No one sound overwhelms any others, and no one sound gets lost in the whole of the others. It doesn’t hurt that Joe’s has wonderful acoustics in general, but we’ve also been there were the sound was messed up (due to the sound board person, not the venue).

The crowd couldn’t have been more loving and appreciative of the show and the clapping was thunderous and long after every single number. On the songs we were encouraged to sing along, many did, and did it well. πŸ™‚

They sang a few of our favorites (not nearly all!) including Glory Bound. They saved One Voice for the one-song encore, and the crowd sang the last verse with them. Gorgeous!

Here are some more individual shots:

Ruth MoodyNicky MehtaHeather Masse

I could praise them more, but it would be repetitious from the above and previous posts. Instead, I’ll switch gears to some of the frustrations with the evening (including some with the Jennys themselves, heaven forbid!).

If you are the type of fan who believes that other fans should never criticize the artist, you will definitely want to click away this very second, seriously!

I went into last night ranking the Jennys as my second favorite group behind Girlyman. This has been my consistent feeling since the first time I saw the Jennys live at Tarrytown Music Hall on September 29th, 2007, covered in this post. I came out of last night with them firmly entrenched in #2, so nothing that I’m about to say on the negative side affected that.

First, a very high percentage of the early shows at Joe’s start at 7pm. Some start at 6:30 and some start at 7:30. I didn’t pay attention before we got on line (we were third and fourth person on line last night, just like for Tim O’Brien the week before), but it turned out that the Jennys had a 7:30pm start time last night.

That’s already a black mark (but I don’t know who to apply that mark to, the Jennys or Joe’s!). Why? Because 99% of the time, there is a 9:30pm show, no matter what time the earlier show starts, so there is a hard stop for the early show at roughly 8:45pm, including the encore. So, while waiting on line at 5:45pm, we already knew that at most, including encore and banter, the ladies and Jeremy would only be on stage for a max of 75 minutes. πŸ™

It’s possible that Joe’s asked them to start later, but I can’t think of a reason why, since they still opened the doors at 6pm (well, actually 6:10 last night), so they had to staff the place, etc. as if the show started earlier.

They came out at 7:33pm. OK, only three minutes late, who could possibly complain? Me. πŸ˜‰ I know it’s only three minutes, but it was a scheduled late start anyway, with a hard deadline on the back end, so at least give us every possible second of bliss when it’s under your control.

The encore ended at 8:47pm, so 74 minutes in total. Unfortunately, as is often the case, stuff happens during a live performance. During the second song, Heather’s bass amplification went dead. She realized it right away, as did most of the people sitting near us (and therefore I assume most of the people in the audience did as well). She was a pro, and kept strumming her heart out, though no one could hear a note.

When the song was over, lots of fiddling around with the electronics ensued, including Jeremy coming over to help, and the sound engineer coming down as well. One of the marks of a good live show is the performer’s ability to handle these kinds of situations with class and humor (listen to Postcards from Mexico on the new Girlyman Live CD for a perfect example!). The Jennys qualified last night, as the mood remained lighthearted with Ruth and Nicky bantering with the crowd while the work was ongoing.

Here are two shots of the fiddling around. The first is a little blurry, but you can see Ruth entertaining the crowd while the rest of them try to fix the problem. The second doesn’t include Ruth, but is a little clearer view of the fixit crew. πŸ˜‰

Fixing Heather Masse\'s Sound ProblemsMore Fixing Heather Masse\'s Sound Problems

My only point in mentioning it (though it was no one’s fault!) was that it stole another few precious moments from listening to them perform. That one goes in the frustration category, not the don’t do that again one.

This next set of complaints is ultimately my biggest one (as a single grouping). The context needs to be set, or I will most definitely annoy every other fan (I’ll likely annoy them anyway, but perhaps I can blunt the counter-attacks slightly). What I am about to complain about is a relative complaint. On an absolute basis, even these complaints are about an otherwise nearly blissful exprerience compared to most other music!

Please re-read that before you chop my head off (but feel free to comment here and take a whack at me anyway). I believe that at their worst, the Jennys are near blissful! Got it? Good!

So, what does it mean to say at their worst? Essentially, it means playing songs that are relatively uninteresting (as songs in and of themselves), when they have a repertoire that has so many more richly deserving songs. To be fair, even the most boring song that they play is absolutely, stunningly beautifully delivered. In those instances, their voices just become phenomenal instruments, because the words are completely boring and can easily be tuned out (unfortunately).

Another unfortunate thing in this exact vein is that it isn’t one single song. It’s also not one single show. We’ve seen them three times now, on two different tours, and every time, they’ve played Bring Me Little Water Sylvie. To repeat, their harmonies are stunning on the song. Even their facial expressions while they sing it are wonderful (they get lost in the song). But, in the end, the song itself is just one long repetition of boring words. This is one example, there are more.

I know that many bands (including our beloved Girlyman!) love to do covers that are meaningful to them. Some try to be ultra-true to the original, some like to show how they arranged a favorite to make it their own. So, I’m not generically complaining that the Jennys choose to play any covers rather than just their material, but rather that they aren’t picking the right covers. In my opinion.

Also, only in particular to last night, when you know you’re going to be on for significantly less time than usual, ditch the covers (or at least most of them), and play your bigger hits for your fans.

I have a theory as to why they do the Bring Me Water Sylvie like numbers. I could be wrong, obviously, but I think it’s because they want to highlight the amazing talent that Heather Masse has (and she most definitely has it, in spades). A very noble ideal, indeed. Unfortunately, while the talent shows through, in all of them, even in those songs, there’s no reason not to shine the talent on more interesting songs.

So, why not allow Heather to fill in for Annabelle, and sing the lead on songs like Firecracker and Apocalypse Lullaby, which suit her voice perfectly?

OK, I’ve gone on enough on that topic. Let me wrap that up by saying that the crowd (and we too!) absolutely loved the show, and we heartily gave them a standing ovation before and after the encore, so read the above with that in mind. I want the Jennys to connect even better than they already do (which sounds harder than it is).

On the high crimes and misdemeanors front, this is the first time that we’ve seen them that Ruth didn’t sing Heaven When We’re Home. It’s one of the greatest songs in history, so yes, I rank it as a crime not to get to see her do it again (and again, and again…).

On to a frustration with Joe’s. I complained last week that they made Tim O’Brien and Caroline Herring sell their own CDs in the tiny entranceway in the front after their show, rather than at the typical full-blown merch table in the back. I assumed that it was something special going on that night only.

Last night, it happened again. Worse, at least Tim and Caroline were out there selling and signing their own CDs. The Jennys had other people selling the CDs, and I doubt all four of them could have fit in the space to sign anyway. Very disappointing.

This is made worse by the fact that the Jennys over-price their CDs at the shows. They charge $20 for each of their full CDs (Firecracker and 40 Days). They are cheaper online. There are two reasons to pay the $20 and not complain: you get their signature, you support the group.

If they aren’t going to sign (perhaps not their fault, if Joe’s has a new policy), then paying the premium is purely a support the group thing. We chose to do that, but I can’t say it left a good taste. We own both CDs already (obviously), and have bought five more copies (three Firecracker and two 40 Days) as gifts for others in the past.

Last night we brought both of our copies to get signed, with the intention of buying two more to give as gifts. Even though we couldn’t get ours signed, we still paid the premium for two more (obviously, also unsigned) to give as gifts, to support the band, and we also bought the solo CD by Ruth for ourselves. I’m happy to support them, but Girlyman used to sell Joyful Sign for $20 at live shows, and now sells it for $15, and the Jennys should follow suit. This week we’ll be buying yet another two copies online, as gifts as well.

To put it into perspective, the show itself cost $18 last night. That means that for a show, which lasted longer than the CD (which is already nearly two years old for the newer one), was cheaper than the CD. That just doesn’t feel right (though I’m not complaining about the price of the show). πŸ˜‰

OK, aside from the fact that I need to again plug the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest (enter early and often, and definitely check out the new entry from this morning, it’s hysterical!), I want to take this opportunity to do a small comparison of Girlyman to the Jennys.

The Jennys are awesome. Girlyman are awesome. No need to go further, except that I always end up ranking Girlyman higher than the Jennys. Why? For one, Girlyman has twice as much original material, so they are more prolific in their writing. The Jennys original stuff is fantastic, I just wish they wrote more new material.

Some of the Jennys original stuff is thin in content. The songs are beautifully arranged and sung, but at times it feels like the lyrics are built around a single clever line, which just repeats. It’s not egregious, and there’s probably a Girlyman song or two that this could be said of, but in general, there’s more of a consistent depth to the Girlyman lyrics.

Also, while Girlyman does covers in their live shows, it’s rarely more than three in a show. The Jennys have less original content, but they play a smaller percentage of it anyway, choosing to do a significant number of covers. I don’t get that part (that’s independent of my critique of the particular covers noted above!). One of the points is that a Jennys show is more predictable than a Girlyman one.

There’s no doubt that the predictability of a Jennys show is predictably wonderful, but still, very little variation in the three times we’ve seen them (except for this one leaving out stuff due to time constraints).

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for, the food part. Once again, I had the extraordinary Tuna steak, and it lived up to my previous ravings. Unfortunately, as I noted in my Candy Dulfer review, I skipped the fries and the chocolate martini again (Lois was proud of me, so I guess it was somewhat worth it) πŸ˜‰ so I continue to be (temporarily) virtuous.

Candy Dulfer at BB King

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I’ve known for a few weeks that Candy Dulfer would be playing last night at BB King. As much as I like her music, I didn’t purchase tickets in advance for two reasons: I thought we might be up at the house over the weekend and Lois isn’t that big of a Jazz fan (yet).

When we went to see Dave Mason this past Friday at BB King and the show was canceled, we already knew we’d be in town over the weekend (all of this previously reported here and here). I asked Lois how she felt about coming back to see Candy and she was fine with that, so we bought two tickets on Friday.

I own each of Candy’s first two studio CDs, Saxuality (released in 1990) and Sax-a-Go-Go (released in 1993). I got each of them when they first came out, so I’ve been a fan for a very long time. One of the reasons I don’t own more of her stuff, and don’t listen to either of those two CDs all that often, is that in addition to being a brilliant smooth jazz artist (which is my favorite form of jazz), she’s also a world-class funky jazz artist (words and music), which is more of a mix of hip hop and rock.

Even on those early CDs, there’s a mix, and I’m nuts about the smooth jazz pieces, but I found (in the past) the funky stuff a little too repetitive (not bad, just not as creative).

True to form, last night, Candy and band played both smooth jazz and funk. They were literally amazing at both. Seeing the funk done live is dramatically different than listening to it on a CD. It’s fun (ahhhh, perhaps that’s where the term funky comes from) πŸ˜‰ and more visual when you see them play with the song. For the record, I still much prefer the smooth jazz stuff.

She played a bunch of stuff from her new CD (released in 2007) Candy Store. Late in the show, she started what appeared to be an impromptu discussion with the audience about requests, without actually ever using the word request. Lots of stuff was shouted out, but Candy said that she was surprised not to have heard the “L” song, and the crowd went nuts, knowing she was talking about her early hit Lily Was Here.

She played it right then (how could she not after that reaction?). Here’s a YouTube Video of her playing it with Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) a long time ago. The version on the video is classic smooth jazz. While last night’s version was awesome, it was much more funk/rock, including the lead guitar being hard electric, not the acoustic version played by Dave Stewart in the video.

Her band is amazing.

Regular keyboardist and vocalist, Chance Howard. Actually, Candy’s band had two keyboardists last night, and Chance plays more of a synthesizer (to my ears). The first time he played a solo, it sounded more like a flute than a piano. He sings well, and the two of them harmonize during the show.

Chance Howard

Kirk Johnson is the drummer. He also sings backup vocals (Chance also sings lead). He is incredible! In addition to just keeping a tremendous beat the entire night, with all of the appropriate smooth jazz rolls and symbol play, he took one solo very early on that was stupendous. One thing you can never experience on a CD are the visual tricks which always delight the crowd. I described some pretty incredible ones performed by Kentric Morris, Najee’s drummer in this post.

Kirk did two things (one of which I hadn’t seen before). During his solo, he kept flipping one of the drumsticks in the air, of course never missing a single beat in a fast-paced romp. I’ve seen it before, but it’s cool nonetheless. Then he lifted his right leg up in the air, and put it straight out over the drums, and continued playing at a frantic pace, without missing a beat. The crowd ate it up.

Kevin Walker on bass, was new to the band, only with them for a week! I didn’t know that until the end of the show when Candy mentioned it. It would have been hard to guess, as he was flawless the entire night. She also gave him two solos that rocked the house. He’s fast and interesting. My only complaint about nearly all bass players in these lives shows is that their instrument overwhelms the others. It literally shakes the house on every note in every song (as does the bass drum). Still, he’s amazing.

Kevin Walker

The other keyboard player is Thomas Bank. He’s also excellent, but to be fair, unless he was taking a solo (only two or three last night), he can barely be heard over the rest of the instruments. He had a Macbook Pro sitting next to him, so perhaps I didn’t hear him because he was checking email rather than playing out loud. πŸ˜‰

Thomas Bank

Finally, the lead guitarist Ulco Bed. He’s excellent as well, playing mellow smooth jazz really well, and then taking some super full-blown rock leads that were awesome.

Ulco Bed and Candy Dulfer

Candy Dulfer was mind-bogglingly good on the sax, but there was no surprise in that. She also sang a bunch more than I expected. The other day I noted that Tim O’Brien played fiddle while singing (solo) and that it looked funny (but sounded great). Candy couldn’t sing and play the sax at the same time, proving that she’s human after all. πŸ˜‰

Candy Dulfer SingingCandy Dulfer on the Sax

Lois totally disagrees with me, but Candy’s face is a dead ringer for Courtney Thorne-Smith to me. πŸ˜‰

Toward the end, she played the sax accompanied just by Kirk on the drums. It was long and stunning. She was perfect on the sax, but Kirk lit up the joint. She had her back to the audience facing Kirk the entire time, and the spotlight was on him. It was way more interesting than just a drum solo (even though I’m a sucker for a good drum solo), but there was little doubt that the focus of that long segment was the drums. Perfect!

Kirk Johnson and Candy Dulfer

Kevin’s face reminded me of Michael Jordan. πŸ˜‰

We had a fantastic time. The only downside of the evening was that the music was deafeningly loud. It was also balanced perfectly, and clean, so it was purely a volume problem, not a distortion one, etc. My ears weren’t really ringing, exactly, but there’s little doubt that there was a real effect.

Last November, we saw Girlyman at the Highline Ballroom. Opening for them was Garrison Starr, a solo performer who also plays too loud (in my opinion). That night, we brought a family as our guests, which included a 4-year-old girl (she loves Girlyman!). The person working the door saw her and offered us a pair of ear plugs, warning us that she might very well need them!

Lois loved the idea, and has since bought a bunch of pairs to take to shows just in case. Last night was the first time she felt the need to use them. Thankfully, she had them. I know (not just because she told me so) πŸ˜‰ that she would have insisted that we leave if she didn’t have them! She loved the show, but was only able to tolerate it because she had the plugs in the entire night!

She might have needed them no matter where we sat, but last night we sat at the stage. Also, since we were on the far right side we were right in front of a bunch of the speakers and amplifiers, which didn’t help with the volume problem. Here’s a shot of me hugging the stage, looking at Candy play the sax.

Hadar watching Candy Dulfer

As I wrote on Saturday, I started my regular exercise routine this weekend. Yesterday included walking up and down 30 flights of stairs in our building. I prefer the long walks outside, but I didn’t have the time yesterday, and the stairs really cram a lot of sweat and elevated heart rate into a shorter workout.

We walked over the to show, and on the way, Lois made it clear that she would prefer (I’m being polite here) that I not have my usual Lucille (BB King’s version of a chocolate martini), and that I not have fries either. Bummer! I had club soda, and a Caesar Salad with Grilled Shrimp on it. Tasty, but not the same.

There are benefits to eating healthy. The meal cost much less. I had zero gastric distress. The liquor didn’t add to my usual exhaustion (because there was no liquor).

The downside is that I didn’t help prop up the economy, though I over-tipped our excellent waitress, partially out of guilt for what she would have gotten had I been eating my usual there. πŸ˜‰

We walked home and chatted about the show the entire way. We were both still feeling the energy.

Tonight we’re seeing The Wailin’ Jennys at Joe’s Pub. I have written about them many times in the past, and will most definitely write again tomorrow. You can’t imagine how excited I am to see them at Joe’s!

Finally, as always, here’s a link to the current month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. Enter early and often, and win a signed copy of the new Live CD. It’s an awesome CD, and the contest is for a good cause, creating more awareness for this brilliant group! πŸ™‚

Sweet Bitters at Pete’s Candy Store

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Recently, I’ve written about a new group called Sweet Bitters (here’s their MySpace page). That story ended up being more focused on the place (Pete’s Candy Store) and their customer service, but ultimately, it was about discovering Sweet Bitters through my love of Girlyman.

I really wanted to make it to hear them last night. A bunch of things conspired against that. At the top of the list is our normal irresistible urge to spend the weekends at the house rather than the city. Luckily, we’ve been having some problems on our deck in the city, and Lois preferred to stay in the city over the weekend in order to take care of it. (Obviously, the lucky part was staying in the city, not having problems on our deck.) πŸ˜‰

Given the experience communicating with Pete’s, the only reason to go there was to catch Sweet Bitters, but that was motivation enough. Not knowing anything about the neighborhood, we decided to drive. We got there reasonably quickly, even with a little more traffic than expected. We walked into Pete’s at 8:04pm, the show was scheduled to start at 9pm.

One of the reasons to show up early was the complete lack of guidance from Pete’s. They did nothing to even describe the size of the room, etc. Walking in the front door answered all of our questions. Pete’s is a neighborhood bar. You could see that on the other side of the room, there was a hallway that led to the room where the music would be, but you couldn’t tell how big it was.

When we walked in to that room, it was empty. Very small room, skinny, and a little long. Roughly 24 chairs, with room for another dozen or so standing if everyone was willing to be cozy. Definitely the smallest place we’ve ever seen music in. It was empty. Again, nice job on Pete’s part, considering that unless a local star is playing there, I doubt it ever fills up more than hour before the show. That’s all they needed to communicate.

We took the first two seats near the stage and settled in. Five minutes later three people came in toting instruments. It wasn’t hard to guess that these were the Sweet Bitters ladies (Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir) plus a helper. We chatted with them while they set up. Lovely women, and the helper is Nina’s boyfriend Craig (my assumption, but I’ll do a triple-take if I’m wrong) πŸ˜‰ is a great guy as well.

While they were unpacking we saw that they had CDs for sale. This is a sampler CD with four songs on it, the same four songs available on their MySpace page. Since I know I like all four of those songs already, I bought a CD (yes, signed by both of them) in advance, so that I wouldn’t be wasting their time after the show when hopefully others would be lining up to buy the CD.

They then did a short sound check (we were the only ones still in the room at the time). The sound was great. Here’s a photo of them with me giving the thumb’s up after the sound check. Since Lois was right beside me, I apologize to Sharon and Nina that my head overwhelms the shot:

Sweet Bitters Sound Check

Craig and I went to the bar and brought back libations for ourselves and the ladies (Sharon and Nina stuck to water before the show). Shortly thereafter, still early, a few more people wandered in. By 9pm the room was nearly full. Let’s call it roughly 20 people there for the show.

Sweet Bitters did 10 songs (so clearly, they have more material than just the sampler CD, good!). Both Sharon and Nina are songwriters, and of the 10 songs, five were written by each of them. Sharon plays guitar (as can be seen in the photo above) and Nina plays the electric piano/organ (also seen above), but on a number of the songs, she also plays the guitar. Both are talented musicians. Both have lovely voices, and their harmonies are rich, interesting and anything but vanilla.

When they declared the show over, we all wanted them to play more. They hesitated, because the artist scheduled to be on next (Alice Lee) was in the audience and ready to go on. Alice signaled to them to play another song. Very generous of Alice, and we all appreciated it greatly! They sang one more song, which was also excellent.

As much as I would really have liked to hang around and listen to Alice Lee, both Lois and I were thoroughly exhausted. In addition, our garage closes for the night at midnight, so we had a secondary excuse. We waved goodbye to Sharon and Nina and headed home.

A completely fun and satisfying evening, with the extra special gift of getting to chat with them for quite a while, in a relaxed atmosphere, before enjoying their lovely music.

Their next confirmed date is May 30th, 2008 at Bar4 in Park Slope. Go see them (the show is free, just like last night!). Perhaps some day, they’ll open for Girlyman, just like We’re About 9 is doing at some of the shows on their current tour. πŸ™‚

On a potentially (hopefully) serendipitous note, Craig works for a software company that might have a product that we could (eventually) use at Zope. If that ends up working out, this evening could turn into a business success rather than just a pleasure success. We’ll see, as we’ll be following up with Craig this week.

We also got to meet Sharon’s fiance, a very nice guy. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there early enough for us to spend quality time with him, so other than being a really sweet guy, we know nothing about him.

While I’d do it anyway, and you all know that by now, tying in Girlyman into this post is natural, since I only discovered Sweet Bitters through Girlyman alerts. With that, let’s do our regular dance this month, which is promoting the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest going on now, in a browser near you!

Update: I forgot to mention this morning that when I ripped the CD, iTunes (via Gracenote) didn’t recognize it. I typed in all of the info and updated Gracenote, so anyone who rips it after I did it will have the pleasant surprise of seeing the correct ID3 tag info filled in automatically. πŸ™‚

Exercise Season Begins

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I am ashamed to admit that today was my first official exercise of the year. In fact, probably in six months! πŸ™

In July 2001, I had my first physical in forever (thanks for forcing me Lois!). I was way overweight and my cholesterol was high. The doctor wanted to put me on Lipitor immediately, and I decided to try diet and exercise first.

I went on a traditional low-fat diet, and started exercising regularly (I hadn’t purposely exercised in nearly 20 years!). Within a few months, I lost 30 pounds and my cholesterol dropped a bunch. Sounds good, and it was, except that I was starving all the time between meals.

One of the guys at Zope started Atkins when I was well into my diet. I was jealous at the things he was eating (while losing weight!), but Lois wouldn’t let me switch, because she was afraid it was unsafe. I ended up hitting a plateau and was maintaining the weight loss, while remaining hungry, unable to lose more. Ugh.

Then Lois read an article by a Duke professor. Our godson was Duke at the time, so she was paying attention to lots of Duke news. They performed a very large study and found Atkins to be relatively safe, with larger weight loss with the weight staying off longer as well. I was in. πŸ˜‰

When I switched to Atkins, I was instantly in love. I was stuffed beyond description, all the time. I had to force myself to eat according to the Atkins schedule, and I was still losing weight! At the peak of my weight loss, I was down a total of 68 pounds! I bounced off the bottom, but held pretty steady at down 56 pounds (which was fine!).

On rare occasions, I would get a little jealous about some of the things I couldn’t eat (notably bread), but overall, I was really happy. Then I went to the doctor again, and my cholesterol was sky high (much higher than the original reading that caused him to worry). This is counter to the general theory of Atkins, but there’s always an exception to the rule, and I was one of them. πŸ™

He told me to get off of Atkins instantly. I did. In the beginning, I drifted up a few pounds, but was able to maintain the new weight reasonably easily, while enjoying a whole new range of food. Ironically, I hadn’t missed rice at all, and didn’t miss potatoes as much as I thought I would, but now rice was like chocolate cake to me!

After weeks of not gaining too much weight, I foolishly started adding things, like, oh, say, chocolate cake. πŸ™

Even then, I only drifted up a few more pounds, and maintained there (for a long stretch), so of course, I continued to indulge (on occasion, but according to Lois, too many occasions).

Now for the real problem. When our schedule was hyper-busy last fall, and the weather turned ugly for a long period of time, I simply stopped exercising. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop eating. I kept drifting up. At the worst, I was down only 42 pounds from the 2001 weigh in. Enough is enough!

So, back to exercise season. My favorite form of exercise is a very long (brisk) walk around Manhattan. I walk from the apartment to the FDR drive, then walk up the drive to 96th street, then across to Central Park, then through the park down to 60th, then down Park Ave, back to the apartment. It’s roughly 8.25 miles and takes me between 2 hours and 2.25 hours.

The reason I added official in italics above, is that last Sunday, when we had our young guest (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not a regular reader) πŸ˜‰ he wanted to play basketball. It was cold, and I wasn’t happy about it, but I’m a soft touch for kids. So, we went to play. He insisted on playing one-on-one, full court, and kicked my butt 50-12 (two points a basket). After we went to the park for other stuff, we came back and ended up in a half court game (he was dismayed, but other people took half the court after we started), and he only beat be me 20-18.

Either way, I ended up running around quite a bit, which was real exercise, but not my normal format. It left my legs sore the next day, which is how I knew it was real. πŸ˜‰

Today was just perfect weather. Cool, crisp, but sunny. I went in shorts and a T-Shirt, which was perfect in the sun, and ever-so-slightly cold in the shade, which overall was just right.

It worked out for another reason. Many of our friends participated today in the Richmond, VA 10K run/walk (probably more than a dozen friends, perhaps more than 20!). It made me feel that I was in some kind of sympathetic rhythm with them. They got rained on slightly, so I had the better of it weather-wise, but they had a good time and so did I.

I listened to my iPod Nano the entire way, to (guess what) Girlyman! I haven’t had a chance to copy over the new Live CD to the Nano (of course it lives on the iPod Classic) so I listened to 40 of the 44 Girlyman songs on the Nano.

That means all of Joyful Sign, Little Star, the five live bootlegs of the new songs from Club Passim, and all but the last four songs from Remember Who I Am. I listened to the last four after my shower. πŸ™‚

That lead in is perfect for my month-long advertisement of the Girlyman Live CD Contest. Enter soon (and often) and win a CD. More importantly, do it so that other people discover them! Thanks!

Dave Mason Get Well

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We were headed to see Dave Mason at BB King last night. (No links in this post.) I even Twittered about it, so it had to be official. πŸ˜‰

We got to BB’s a few minutes after the door was supposed to open, and were quite surprised (pleased?) to see that there was no line outside. We walked straight downstairs, and the place was significantly emptier than we expected (figuring that Dave likely sold out the place).

The poor guy at the door has to tell us that Dave called in sick at 1pm. πŸ™

To make it up, they are putting on a free show with a cover band that does lots of Yes stuff (and some other covers I don’t recall). I love Yes, so we figure we’ll stay (I’m also starving and I like the food at BB’s).

Before we go in, I go to the box office and buy tickets to four additional shows that we want to see there (including three nights in a row later in April!). We try to get a refund for the Dave Mason tickets, but can’t, because we bought them through Ticketmaster. Oh well, a small hassle, but not a big deal…

We sit down at a good table, and get ready to order drinks and dinner. Given the chaos of the day, the band was on the stage working on the sound check (obviously, they didn’t have much notice to get there). It was painfully loud. I looked over at Lois and asked if she wanted to leave. There was no hesitation in her response.

It wasn’t a complete loss. While we took the bus over, we walked home (a little exercise never hurt anyone, or at least doesn’t often hurt people) πŸ˜‰ and we got to pick up tickets (without all of the wonderful convenience charges of Ticketmaster).

We ended up having dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, right across the street from the apartment. Obviously, we had no reservations and the place is almost always packed. We walked in at exactly 6:45pm. The guy told us he could put us in a booth (that easily handles six people), if we promised to be out by 8:30pm. I laughed pretty hard (he knows us, so I wasn’t insulting him). I told him we’d be out by 7:30pm! πŸ˜‰

They put another couple in the same booth a minute later, but we each had enough privacy. We were out of there at 7:23pm, so we could have taken a little more time. πŸ˜‰

Awesome food (Seafood Enchiladas for me) and a perfect Frozen Margarita (as always).

All-in-all, a very pleasant evening, though not even close to what we originally expected.

Go with the flow, or as Dave Mason himself says:

Let it go, let it go, let it flow live a river
Let it go, let it go, let it flow through you

πŸ™‚

P.S. There seem to be a rash of these cancellations due to illness lately. We had tickets to Dolly Parton at Radio City Music Hall on March 7th, and that tour got canceled. Already rescheduled for May 1, and we’re going (same tickets, same seats). Joan Baez canceled this past Monday from the Paramount Theater (we weren’t going) and has already rescheduled. Allman Brothers Band also canceled their Beacon Theater Dates (we have tickets, and are awaiting announcement of the new dates), and now Dave Mason.

All of you, please, Get Well Soon! πŸ™‚

CSS Hack Added

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When I upgraded to WordPress 2.5 I articulated a few UI problems on my site. Here’s the relevant section:

  1. The Sociable plugin is once again formatting the bullets in a block list, rather than inline. This can be fixed with my own css (as I’ve done in the past), but I have no idea what broke in the upgrade…
  2. TinyMCE (in WP2.5) won’t allow me to display the link editor (AJAX form). It comes up blank. I am posting this from IE until I figure that out. Not cool, but also not stuck…
  3. This ordered list is not showing the numbers in IE7, but is in Firefox. πŸ™

#1 above turned out to be simple. There was a checkbox that I needed to set in the Sociable options to apply the sociable.css file. This was either a new option that I didn’t need to set before upgrading both the plugin and WordPress, or something in the upgrade to WordPress coupled with a deactivate/activate of the plugin caused that setting to be lost.

#2 auto-corrected itself. I’ll guess that the next time I restarted Firefox it just worked, and I panicked prematurely.

#3 was the real thorny problem, and is the subject of this post.

It’s likely that this bug existed for a few weeks before I upgraded to WordPress 2.5. Most certainly, it is not related in any way to WordPress at all (any version).

When I installed the SandPress theme (based on the Sandbox Theme Template) which is linked in the footer of every page on this site (unless you’re reading this in the future, and I’ve changed my theme again) πŸ˜‰ I decided to tweak it (which was a CSS change only).

One of the things that I did was remove the attribute “list-style-position:inside”. I hate the fact that ordered lists that span multiple lines have text under the number. It not only looks bad (IMHO) it makes it less readable. By removing the “inside”, I got the default of “outside” (without specifying it), and I immediately tested in Firefox (my default browser), and it worked correctly, and I was done.

When I upgraded to WordPress 2.5 I did it on my laptop first. I just happened to test in IE first, and noticed that I have no numbers on any ordered list. I tried a number of things but couldn’t get it to work. I thought that it was something related to the WP 2.5 upgrade, so I needed to decide whether I’d just live with it temporarily, or back off the upgrade. I decided to live with it.

It altered my behavior. In a recent post, I really wanted an ordered list, but I hated the look in IE without the numbers, so reluctantly turned it into a bulleted list. πŸ™

Earlier this week I finally took some time to track it down. That included installing an IE development addon which does what the Firefox DOM Inspector does. I had assumed that in IE, the problem was the “list-style-type” wasn’t being set to decimal. I was wrong. It was correctly set to decimal! I was truly stumped. I tried a number of other things, and then gave up.

Today, it occurred to me that there’s no way that the original SandPress theme was broken this badly. So, I switched (on my laptop) to the untweaked SandPress theme, and voila, IE showed ordered lists with numbers. Good. Now I did a diff on the original style.css file with my tweaked version. The difference was obvious, namely the inclusion in the original file of the attribute “list-style-position:inside”, which I had removed.

So, it appears that the designer of SandPress knew that IE7 couldn’t correctly render “list-style-position:outside” (whether explicitly set, or defaulted). So, he threw up his hands and set it to inside, and lived with it. I totally understand that decision, but for me, I wouldn’t be happy with seeing it this way in Firefox.

So, I did a quick search and found this blog showing a variety of CSS hacks. Here’s the relevant section on targeting IE7:

Target Internet Explorer 7:
[className=”actualClassName”] { … }

In case you aren’t familiar, you can either target or filter specific browsers. Targeting means that the rest of the line will only apply to that particular browser. Filtering means that the rest of the line will not apply to the specific browser.

In this case, I wanted the default to be outside for all browsers, but for IE7 to be inside. That meant targeting IE7 with the inside clause.

It worked perfectly. Now, ordered lists look like I want them to in Firefox, and look poor (to me) in IE7, but at least have numbers. Whew.

Back in business. πŸ™‚

Tim O’Brien at Joe’s Pub

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Last night we went to see Tim O’Brien perform at Joe’s Pub.

Before I get to the show, I need to correct one (possible) mis-statement in yesterday’s long post about Kathy Mattea. Near the end of that post, I said the following:

Kathy is playing at the Barns again tonight. Ironically, we’re headed (in a few minutes) back to Joe’s Pub, to see Tim O’Brien. Tim writes amazing songs, a number of them have become big hits for Kathy. So, we’ll continue to think about Kathy, Bill, Eamonn and David as we enjoy Tim tonight! :-)

Most of that is true, but I can’t verify this specific part:

a number of them have become big hits for Kathy.

Kathy spoke about Tim warmly, that she loves to sing harmonies with Tim and his sister Mollie, and she links to his site from hers. That said, I had assumed that because they sang Battle Hymn of Love together (and hit the charts with it) that he wrote it. Google searches seem to contradict that (though I found one site that listed him as the writer of the song).

Lois has been a (theoretical) fan of Tim’s ever since that song came out, but neither of us really knew his music (as a solo artist) at all. We had no idea what to expect last night. There was an opening act before him, but I’ll get to that after I cover Tim.

Tim came on the stage at 7:08pm. Before he stepped out, there were four instruments lined up on the stage (not unlike the photo I posted of Girlyman’s instruments sitting on the same stage three days earlier). There was a guitar, a banjo, a fiddle and a bouzouki (which looked exactly like a 12-string guitar to me). Both Lois and I assumed that he had a band with him.

Nope. Tim played all of the instruments during the course of the show (one at a time, of course). πŸ˜‰

Here are four photos of him, one with each instrument. Sorry, but the quality of at least three of them is pretty bad. Lighting at Joe’s conspires against high quality photos in general, but last night’s came out worse:

Tim O\'Brien on GuitarTim O\'Brien on Bouzouki

Tim O\'Brien on FiddleTim O\'Brien on Banjo

He’s an extremely self-effacing character/performer, but yet is in complete control of the rhythm of the performance. He is extremely funny, without telling many jokes. Here’s one example (of many):

He was about to play a sad song, and mentioned that D-Minor was the saddest key of all, as proven by This Is Spinal Tap. Therefore, he was going to play this song in C-Minor, to make it a little less sad… πŸ˜‰

Lois has never seen the movie This Is Spinal Tap, so she didn’t get the reference, but I laughed my head off (silently, of course). πŸ˜‰

With the exception of a few whimsical songs (which we thoroughly enjoyed!), his lyrics show an incredible depth and intelligence, in helping the rest of us understand the human condition. They vary over a wide array of topics, with recurring themes about love. The love part is one of the reasons that I assumed he wrote Battle Hymn of Love.

He has an excellent voice with a wide range. He is an excellent musician as well, on all four of the aforementioned instruments (I’ve read that he plays the mandolin as well, but he didn’t last night). Of the four instruments, the one that he didn’t come across as strong on was the banjo (one of my favorite instruments), but he’s no slouch on that one either.

Early in the evening, he played something on the guitar that prompted Lois to lean over and ask me what I thought of his talent relative to Bill Cooley. I couldn’t control myself, and I started laughing (thankfully, not loud enough to disturb anyone, at least I hope not!). Seriously, at that point in the concert, Tim’s playing seemed fine to me, but to compare him to Bill was funny.

That said, over the course of the evening, he played a number of songs that stretched his guitar playing considerably, including switching to a variety of styles, and he really nailed them all. I don’t amend my laughter at the comparison at all (Bill’s in a league with very few others), but Tim isn’t just a journeyman guitarist, he’s really excellent!

His fiddle playing is quite strong as well. I find it funny (not in a bad way) to watch a solo artist sing a song and accompany themselves on the fiddle. There’s something simply odd about it. I think it’s my own misconception that to play the fiddle well you have to concentrate so hard that you probably couldn’t also sing at the same time. I’m obviously wrong, at least in Tim’s case. He only played one instrumental during the show, and that was on the fiddle.

There’s no doubt that my other statement in yesterdays blog is definitely true, that he’s an amazing songwriter. He’s also prolific. On his site, there are 14 CDs by him, three more with his sister, quite a number more with bands he likely played in (sorry, no time to research too deeply now). Clearly, he has lots to say, because these aren’t instrumentals. At the show, we bought the latest CD, Chameleon, of which many songs in the show were from.

He left the stage on what seemed a tad on the early side. The crowd was applauding wildly when he came back out for an encore. Instead of doing just one song, he did a four-song encore, which ended up making his total time on the stage reasonable at one hour and 24 minutes.

We really enjoyed the show, and would happily go see Tim again!

Opening for Tim was Caroline Herring. I knew from Joe’s site that she would be opening, and I listened to one clip of her in advance, and knew that we would enjoy her music. It was probably listed correctly and I didn’t pay attention, but she came on the stage at 6:30pm. I was putting a forkful of their fantastic Tuna steak in my mouth, when people started clapping (I was facing slightly away from the stage at the time).

I thought “Hey, they can’t be clapping for me taking yet another mouth-watering taste of this Tuna, can they?” πŸ˜‰

I swung around and saw that Caroline just stepped onto the stage. I’m not happy about still having to eat while the performer is on stage, it’s at best a tad distracting only to the eater, and at worst distracting to others, including the performer! But, I love early shows (normally, we’re just old folk, but last night, we were also working on less than four hours of sleep), so I was quite happy about this surprise.

Caroline is good, and we enjoyed her solo act (she accompanies herself on the guitar). That said, we also didn’t find it to be anything particularly special, and I’m sure we wouldn’t rush out to see her again. If she was opening for someone else that we liked, we would be happy to see her again.

She definitely had some fans there who came to see her. One couple who was sitting one table up from us left after Caroline was done, so they were happy to pay the full freight for Tim O’Brien, just to see Caroline Herring. Good for her!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Joe’s Pub is our favorite concert venue. When we go just the two of us, we reserve the same table for two every time (and as reported before, only got bumped from that table once, after being told we had it). When we go with four people, we also reserve the same table for four each time, and have never been bumped from that table.

Last night, we had our usual table reserved. We were the third and fourth people through the door and they sent us to a different table. When we asked, we were told that even though they reserve a specific table, it’s not a guarantee. Well, we realize that, but exactly what makes them change it? Anyway, when he saw the disappointment on our face, and perhaps realized that we come pretty darn often, he told the hostess to take us to our table. Whew. It was marginally frustrating to begin with, but kudos to Joe’s for doing the right thing for incredibly loyal customers! πŸ™‚

The food was great (as always). I know from past experience that there are two bartenders at Joe’s. They disagree on the proper ingredients in a Chocolate Martini. There are numerous variations on the theme, and all are correct (to my taste buds!) πŸ˜‰ so they are both right. Still, they’re different. 95% of the time I (without requesting it) get the one who is more right (to my taste), because s/he puts in some Bailey’s Irish Creme to top off the martini. That makes it perfect, instead of just awesome. πŸ˜‰

On Sunday, when we were there for Girlyman, I had the other bartender, because I got a dark chocolate martini. It was great, so I’m not complaining, even though I drew the short straw. Last night, all was right with the world again, since my drink showed up with the Bailey’s, right where it belonged. πŸ™‚

In my post about Canal Room (where we saw the awesome Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea) I railed about the lack of common courtesy that some people exhibit when they insist on having a loud conversation during a performance. Last night was nowhere near as bad, but two people (I’m pretty sure one was a guy and the other a gal, but they were directly behind me so it was hard to see) insisted on speaking to each other at the top of their lungs (of course, the music was interfering with their conversation), at least five times.

Folks, I just don’t understand this. At Canal Room, I had the impression that they were more on a date than there for the music. Last night stumped me, as the same couple did something else that was slightly less annoying, but annoying nonetheless. On the songs where they didn’t scream at each other (lovingly) πŸ˜‰ they clapped as loud as thunder, at inappropriate times, in the middle of the song. Perhaps they were just catching up with the clapping that they missed during their earlier conversations…

Even otherwise nice people, who are clearly fans, can get caught up in this lunacy! The table to our immediate right was a table for four. There were two couples seated there (boys on one side, girls on the other), and I’m 99% sure they had never met before. The couple immediately to my right (I was practically rubbing shoulders with the woman) were clearly big music fans (possibly Caroline and/or Tim fans specifically). They both clapped enthusiastically after each number, but the woman was a screamer (hey, settle down!).

At some point in the evening, the two couples started chatting a bit. I heard them discussing politics, but none of the individual comments. Now that they bonded, in the middle of one of Tim’s songs, the woman further away from me turned to the woman next to me and started chatting, loudly. Even though the woman next to me was a fan, I guess she didn’t want to be rude to her new friend, so she engaged in a song-long conversation, at quite a loud level. Thankfully, this only happened during one song. I still don’t get it…

We decided half way through the show that we were going to buy the new Chameleon CD. I handed Lois $20 (it cost $15) because she’s more nimble than me, and she was going to sprint to the merch table so we could get out quicker. I’d meet her there, but saunter over.

When the show was over, Lois was gone. The merch table is normally (heretofore always?!?) behind the stage, next to the coat check room. It’s in a fairly large and wide hallway, so even when a lot of fans line up, it’s usually not that hard to maneuver around there. Last night, as I was going through the narrow passageway that connects the show room to that back hallway, I saw Lois walking with and chatting with Tim O’Brien himself, carrying a small suitcase.

This seemed very odd to me. My first thought was that he was running outside to have a smoke before going back to sign CDs. I was wrong. For whatever reason, Joe’s didn’t want, or couldn’t accommodate the merch table in the back (perhaps the needs of the next act precluded having fans in the back). So, they made Tim and Caroline sell their own merch right at the front door. That’s one of the tiniest entrance ways I’ve ever seen, and many people just wanted to leave, so at best, it was confusing.

We also got the sense that they were (subtly or otherwise) trying to rush Tim and Caroline to get it over with, even though it hadn’t even started yet! In any event, it wasn’t a happy situation. Luckily for us, since Lois snagged Tim on the way to the front, she got to buy the first CD from him. I already told you that he’s a smart guy. Here’s one example. He had already removed the shrink-wrap off of all of the CDs, since most people want them signed, and therefore have to take the time to rip off the shrink-wrap anyway. Kudos Tim!

We were home by 8:55pm which was a real blessing given our state of exhaustion. Lois was zonked out 30 minutes later, and I finally called it quits by 10:15pm. Going to see Dave Mason tomorrow night, but tonight we get a break. Yippee! (or not…)

For the next month, I’ll conclude every post with the reminder that there’s still time to try and win a copy of the new Girlyman Live CD. I’m running a contest to win a signed copy all month!