Frustration

Lost and Found Karma

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In 2000, my most trusted device was my Blackberry. This was before Blackberrys were also cell phones. This was only an email device. It was perfect for my needs, and I loved it.

I went on a trip to San Francisco and I knew before I left that my belt clip was very loose. I ignored the danger and paid the price. After crossing a very large street I got into a cab and when I arrived at my hotel, I realized that the Blackberry was gone. I had dropped it on that street and didn’t notice.

I prayed that it was crushed by a car rather than picked up by a malicious stranger. This was a primitive device that couldn’t be remotely wiped, etc.

I fired up my laptop in the hotel and emailed my device, on the off chance that a good Samaritan picked it up. Unfortunately for me, we were leaving at the crack of dawn and couldn’t change that.

A few (tense) hours later, I received an email from a young man who said he had my Blackberry, that he was out for the evening and that he would drop it at the front desk on his way home. He did, at 2:30am, and I had it back in my loving hands when we checked out of the hotel at 6am.

I called him and asked him what I could get him, and after being unsuccessful at getting Giants tickets (they were sold out on the dates he could go), I got him a gift certificate to Amazon. We were both delighted with the result.

Last night we had dinner at our favorite restaurant, The Peking Duck House. Two of our friends from Richmond, VA were in town for the weekend with their friends. We met their friends for the first time in front of the restaurant.

After saying hello, the first words out of my new friend’s mouth (we already love our friends’ friends, they are amazing people) was “I hear you’re technical” to which I answered “Correct”. He handed me an iPhone and told me that his wife discovered it on the back seat of the cab that they came in. He wanted to know if I could figure out who it belonged to.

I’m a Motorola Droid person now (a fanatic in fact) and prior to that had a variety of Palm Treo devices for eight years, so I know zero about the iPhone. I have to admit that as lovely as the interface is, it wasn’t obvious what I should look for to determine its owner.

I immediately found the person’s phone number, but that was useless, as it would have rung the phone that was in our hands. The phone was not in service and I didn’t try to figure out how to turn that back on, largely because it was nearly out of battery.

We did what seemed like a clever idea and called a number that the phone had called a few hours earlier. Unfortunately, the person on the other end had no idea who called them at 4:12pm, and asked us to call back from the actual iPhone, in the hopes that the contact name/photo would pop up for them and they’d know. See above for why we didn’t do that.

I then opened the email program and looked at the To: field (I figured out I had to press the little details link on the top right) to see who the emails were addressed to. Bingo!

I then used my Droid to email the person from our table. Less than five minutes later I got a reply with a request to call. I did, and we arranged for him to pick up his phone with my doorman later that night.

He asked if he could bring me a bottle of wine and I told him the above story (a shorter version) and said that he should bring me nothing, as I finally felt that I paid off my Karmic debt to the universe’s Lost and Found box.

This afternoon I returned from a long walk in the city to see that he didn’t heed my request. There was a lovely bottle of wine waiting for me. I appreciate it as much as my young friend appreciated the Amazon gift certificate!

Of course, I feel a little guilty. While I did figure out whose phone it was, and did make the connection and the handoff, I’m not the one who actually found the phone. If my new friend wants the wine, I will gladly give it to him as he was the actual good Samaritan in this tale. Perhaps we’ll find the time to drink it together before they all head back to Richmond. 🙂

Girlyman at Southern Cafe

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Another night, another Girlyman concert. This one was in Charlottesville, at the relatively new The Southern Cafe. This used to be Gravity Lounge. It changed hands and was gutted on the inside.

Last night was the final show in the current East Coast tour for Girlyman. I can only imagine how exhausted they were. Thankfully, none of that was projected on the audience, as they performed with incredible energy over two sets.

All of the praise I heaped on them for the show the previous night applied last night. They varied the set list a lot, with at least half of the songs swapped from the night before. Their banter was almost 100% fresh. One of the reasons that this is almost always true for Girlyman is that they feed off the crowd’s reactions. They might start with a seed that they have in mind, or have used in a previous show, but each audience will take them in a completely different direction.

DorisMuramatsu

There were more, and longer tuning songs last night. Not because Ty and Doris had more trouble tuning, but because they got stuck (in the best sense) on a particular theme/interplay and drove a truck through it at every opportunity.

NateBorofsky

Girlyman audiences are among the best, at every venue, on a consistent basis. They are true fans who make unreal noise between songs, and are reverently quiet during songs. That’s all you can hope for.

TyGreensteinMandolin

They played a 45-minute set and took a break to sign merch and mingle with the audience (exactly like they did the night before at Jammin’ Java). They returned for a 70-minute set including a three song encore.

JJJones

The first song in the encore was the Girlyman Benediction. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen them do it live, and it was fantastic (as it always is). In addition to their normal antics during the song (e.g., Doris does the belly-rubbing and head-patting motions at one point), adding JJ Jones to the mix (the newest Girlyman) was hysterical. She was balancing drumsticks and water bottles, making it very hard to look anywhere else to see what the rest of them were doing. 🙂

JJJonesBalancingDrumSticks JJJonesWaterBottle

Next they played the other encore favorite, Son of a Preacher Man, which has also been a while since we’ve seen it. They closed the show with the amazing a cappella number, Up to the Sea (from the new CD) like they did the night before.

GirlymanACappella

After the show Nate signed their latest CD for our friends. Lois bought one of their Everything’s Easy T-Shirts (for me, since they were out of her size).

NateBorofskySigningCD NateBorofskyWithFans

ModelingMyT-Shirt

Opening the show was Andy Moore. We missed the beginning of Andy’s set (my rant about that will come in a minute) but caught her last two numbers. She has a beautiful voice and accompanies herself well on an acoustic guitar. Very moving lyrics.

AndyMoore

Lois made up for our guilt of missing her entire set by buying two of her CDs, so we now have a chance to get to know her music better. We also spend a lot of time in Richmond, where she’s based, so we might get to catch one of her shows there.

The Southern Cafe is still relatively new, so it’s important to cut them some slack while they get their sea legs. On the other hand, I’ll still rant a bit in the hopes of sparing someone else what happened to us, and encouraging The Southern to get it together a bit more quickly than they seem to be.

The show was listed for 8pm, with doors opening at 7pm. We wrote in advance because the website is one of the things that hasn’t quite gotten fleshed out yet. They wrote back saying that the opening act would come on at 8pm, with Girlyman hitting the stage at around 8:30pm.

We arrived at 6:20pm, and our guests arrived at 6:30, exactly when we asked them to. The doors to the cafe were already open (very welcome, since it was drizzling outside). We tried multiple times to order dinner, and each time were politely told that they wouldn’t be taking orders until roughly 7pm (fine, that’s when the doors were officially supposed to open).

They did indeed take our order at 7pm. Even though it’s traditional southern style comfort food (I had an amazing pulled pork sandwich with equally amazing sides of mac ‘n cheese and slaw), it took forever to come out. The good news is that the food is good enough so that you should go there for lunch or dinner even if you’re not interested in the music.

Unfortunately, while eating our food (which got to the table at around 7:35), we heard some applause. We ignored it while we ate, but then Lois got curious. She went to check it out, and it turns out that Andy Moore came on at 7:30. No announcement was made in the cafe part that we were sitting in. We wolfed down the rest of the food and caught the end of her set.

Summary: The Southern Cafe is going to be a great venue for both food and music once they get their act together. You should still attend now, because the overall evening was fantastic, but, be aware that things might not be perfectly smooth, or as advertised, for the time being.

NginX and WordPress OpenID Plugin

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I normally have super powers when it comes to persevering through annoying technical problems. On rare occasions, Kryptonite appears out of nowhere and strips me of those powers.

This blog is powered by WordPress.org software. I use a variety of plugins to make my life a bit easier. One of my favorites is the OpenID WordPress Plugin. I’ve been using it since it first came out and I’m very happy with it.

Because I was using it from the beginning, I lived through a few rough upgrades (not complaining, just explaining). The problems always got sorted out quickly.

Back in June 2008 (yes, a long time ago), I switched from Apache to NginX and have never looked back. The trickiest part of switching a WordPress site (especially WordPress MU, even more so with BuddyPress installed!) is converting the Rewrite Rules that are typically stored in a .htaccess file into nginx syntax.

While I got my initial attempt to work, I’ve grown way more comfortable and familiar with nginx over the past year, and I’ve tweaked my rewrite rules quite a bit.

Along the way, there were numerous updates of the OpenID Plugin as well. Most times things just kept working. Once, OpenID stopped working, and I tried to track it down. I gave up pretty quickly because I had seen that behavior before with an individual update of the plugin. Sure enough, the next update got me working again.

Then at some point, it stopped again. At this point I had conditioned myself to ignore it, and I went back to logging in with a password (something I really prefer not to do). This lasted for months. At some point, the plugin got updated at least twice, and things still didn’t work for me. Now I was getting annoyed.

I stopped trying to use OpenID. Two days ago I tried again, I can’t explain why. I got a strange Google Toolbar redirect error message. I did a search, and someone was complaining about something that looked similar, but had nothing to do with WordPress. A Google employee responded to him that he should temporarily disable the Toolbar (in Firefox) and see if the problem went away.

I decided to try that and instead of a strange Google error, I simply got a 404. What? A simple 404 couldn’t be the plugin’s fault. Time to dig in (finally).

I turned on nginx debugging and tried to log in. I was shocked when I saw that the error had nothing to do with the plugin. Instead, my nginx rules weren’t even calling in to PHP to let the plugin do its work.

Without a doubt, I had an error in one of my rewrite rules in nginx. There’s a possibility that at some point, the plugin changed the way it redirects, so that it was a combination of a new URL coming back to me (that I wasn’t catching correctly) or simply one of my changes in nginx, without the plugin doing anything different.

I added a new rule and was able to log in (for the first time in over six months!) via OpenID.

In this case, I let my own normal persistence fade, because I incorrectly assumed that the problem was contained in the plugin. Shame on me!

Girlyman at Birchmere

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Last night was our 13th time seeing Girlyman live. The last time we saw them was the only time we took no guests. Last night, we set a new record (previously 19 at Highline Ballroom). Including us, we purchased 26 tickets for last night’s show. Two of our expected guests missed their flight in Chicago, so only 24 of us showed up. That worked out, since we sat at two tables for 12, right up against the stage.

Since I’ve written about Girlyman endlessly, I’ll make this one very short (ha, you say!). Last night was the last show on their East Coast CD Release Tour. I think they played 11 out of 12 consecutive nights. Given that, the change of weather, the various colder northern states they played in (we saw them on the opening night of this tour, in Norfolk, CT, and it was 40 degrees that night), it wasn’t a surprise that both Ty and Nate had pretty bad colds. 🙁

DorisMuramatsu TyGreenstein NateBorofsky

The show was still generally excellent, as excusing a slightly sub-par performance was easy to do. The crowd gave them rousing ovations for every song. The banter was top notch, so their brains weren’t foggy, it was just their throats that were froggy. 😉

They played a long and well-balanced set (songs from the new album, but also songs from the early ones). They were on stage for roughly 100 minutes, including the encore.

I don’t begrudge Girlyman their political views, but Nate couldn’t resist taking a shot at the Bush Years when introducing the song True Enough (a somewhat tongue-in-cheek homage to Obama). I’m just curious as to when Obama supporters will start owning this nation’s problems. It’s so easy to only blame the past, and I’m sure it’s fun. Until you own the problem, you can’t and won’t fix it. Time to follow your most favorite advocacy group, and Move On!

Opening for Girlyman on this tour (with the exception of Joe’s Pub) was Po’ Girl. They were very good at Infinity Hall when we saw them on September 30th. That night, they played a 30 minute set. Last night, they were better, in fact, significantly better. They played a 45 minute set, and while they repeated a few songs (two or three I think), there were a number of new (to us) ones in the mix, and they were all really good.

PoGirl BenSidelinger JJJones

While we knew what to expect, none of our guests did. I was overwhelmed (in the most positive sense) by the spontaneous reaction of all of those around me to how awesome they thought Po’ Girl was. The two couples sitting immediately near me both went out and bought a Po’ Girl CD (one during intermission, they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it) and the other one after the show. I think others in our group also bought CDs (both Po’ Girl and Girlyman) after the show.

Everyone thanked us after the show and told us how much they enjoyed it. I’m sure that the entire experience delivered that feeling. The food was excellent (as it always is at the Birchmere), and a number of people commented to me how surprised they were at that (clearly first timers there).

More than half of our party saw Girlyman before (at least once), so they could factor the colds out and still know how awesome Girlyman is (and can be), but I felt a little bad for the first timers, who didn’t quite get to experience the real magic of Girlyman, even though it was still a really good show!

A bunch of shots of a portion of our our gang:

Birchmere11 Birchmere1 Birchmere2 Birchmere3 Birchmere5 Birchmere6 Birchmere7 Birchmere8 Birchmere9

Phony Political Arguments

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

Background

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

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

Our Friends

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

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

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

The Problem

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

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

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

My Personal View

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

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

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

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

Ideals

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

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

Double Standard

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

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

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

Phony Political Arguments

Finally, what this post is really about!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you stopped beating your wife?

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

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

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

Summary

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

Thought exercise for the people who put up the status message

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

What about non-health care deaths?

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

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…

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.

Breakfast

Breakfast

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!

Yonder Mountain String Band at Tarrytown Music Hall

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We live near Tarrytown Music Hall and we’ve been to six shows there since we discovered it (we were very late to the party). We are on the mailing list, so we get notifications of upcoming shows. A couple of months ago I noticed that Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB) would be playing there (last night). The name evoked Bluegrass, which we love, and listening to their music (available right on their website) convinced me that we would like them a lot.

This won’t be a typical post for me following a concert. So, I need to get the good out first, before I start my rant.

All four members of YMSB are talented. All are professional musicians and they sing reasonably well (nothing special). The guitarist, Adam Aijala, is the one standout musician (excellent flat-picker, though not in the league of some others that I have covered here). I know that fans of YMSB will argue that Jeff Austin is great on the mandolin. He’s good, perhaps very good at times, but he’s actually not even close to special compared to quite a number of current mandolin stars.

Their music is very good, all around, and I’m sure that owning their CDs would be enjoyable from the first listen, and consistently so thereafter.

OK, time for their fans (very rabid ones indeed) to turn away. The rest of this post will be a train wreck from their perspective (understandably), and they should look away.

Here’s the nicest thing I can say about the show last night:

Live, YMSB is a Bluegrass version of a Grateful Dead Jam Band wannabe.

That’s not meant as an insult to the Grateful Dead (who’ve been near the top of my favorites list for 40 years!), nor of the Jam Band experience. Even the wannabe tag isn’t meant to be an insult (OK, it was definitely a shot), because they’re very good, and their fans adore them (in fact, exactly like many Dead Heads love the Dead!).

But, context matters (at least to me), and Tarrytown Music Hall isn’t exactly known for being an indoors Woodstock. You wouldn’t have known that last night.

The one thing that is all too typical of Tarrytown Music Hall (TTM) events (and I’ve made this complaint a number of times) is that they never start on time. The show was called for 8pm. I had no doubt it would not start then. At 7:50, there were perhaps 50 people in the hall (it can seat 840!). At 8:05 there were about 150 people there. At 8:18, when the band wandered on the stage, there were probably 400+, and shortly thereafter, there were over 600, I’m reasonably sure.

The point is that TTM couldn’t start the shows on time if they wanted to, because the majority of the regulars know that it’s stupid to show up on time, since the seats are assigned (no advantage to being early), and you’ll just end up sitting and waiting… It’s really rude to people who might have plans later on, or long drives home, etc. TTM needs to figure out a way to spread the word that shows will start on time, even if the audience is empty!

The vast majority of the audience last night were giant fans of YMSB and knew exactly what to expect. The couple in the row in front of us (to our left) were about to see them for the 18th time!

So, what did they know that we didn’t? First, that 90% of the audience would stand for the entire concert, and sway (not really dance), like people do at Grateful Dead concerts. This wasn’t an outdoor festival. Not only are specific seats assigned, the ones that are closer to the stage cost more. We paid for fifth row dead-center seats, but we might as well have paid for last row balcony seats.

Immediately in front of us were two couples that were in their 70’s or 80’s, and had no idea what they were in for either. They stood for roughly 1/2 of the show (at least the part we stayed for), and were clearly extremely uncomfortable for having to do so, just to get a glimpse of the action on stage.

All of that would be somewhat acceptable, if this was an adoring crowd who was mesmerized by the music. Nope, this was a party (and not the kind I’ve covered for a Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban concert). This was a literal party. In fact, here’s a direct quote from the YMSB website (that I wish I had read more carefully before buying the tickets):

“We love that people come to see us,” Johnston points out. “Everyone appreciates good music. Some people want to go to a recital and some people want to party.”

Too bad if you are in the want to go to a recital category. There’s no way that this could ever be the case for a YMSB concert, so the above quote should have been slightly different.

Still, I said above it would be OK if the crowd were adoring. Instead, the four people immediately behind us talked at the top of their lungs, all night long, about their friends who were dating each other, not about the band. And yet, the men (we think not their dates) were fans, as on occasion, they sang along, so they clearly knew the words to some of the songs. The girls’ voices were grating, and made it very hard to hear the words to many of the songs.

Next, the two leaders of the band, Jeff Austin (on mandolin) and Ben Kaufmann (on bass) have a great rapport with the crowd, and are very comfortable bantering and telling stories. Are any of them good? Who knows.

The second either of them opens their mouth, a few dozen morons start shouting, whistling, and generally whooping it up (in an apparent drunk/drugged stupor), and the voices on stage are instantly drowned out. That’s a shame, as I like banter and connecting with the performers in addition to just enjoying the music.

Even if that didn’t happen, there was another problem preventing the clear understanding of the voices on stage last night. Typically, the sound system and acoustics at TTM are top notch. Last night was beyond awful. I’m not even sure that the band was using the TTM speakers, possibly only using their own amps (even for the voices) on stage.

The biggest problem (by far) was the volume on all of the microphones. The vocals were at 50-66% the volume of the instruments. When they sang, making out the words was difficult, and harmonies might have been there, but you would never know that.

The banjo, guitar and mandolin were clear and at good volume levels. The bass was disgustingly loud (and regular readers here know that I love a good bass, so it’s not that I don’t appreciate the instrument). Aside from shaking the floor on every strum of the bass, it was so loud that it hummed (as in feedback) and overwhelmed the voices and other instruments all too often.

I have no idea whether this was because YMSB’s own sound person was just one of the worst (we’ve experienced a few bad sound engineers) or whether this was the fault of TTM (which normally nails sound!).

The audience didn’t seem to notice, let alone care. Like I noted above, they were there for a party. I was thinking to myself that if the band slipped off the stage, and put on a live CD in the background, few would have noticed.

Could there be an explanation? Perhaps. One of their songs is about smoking marijuana, and while they sang it, a bunch of people near the stage were clearly smoking it. That’s not so unexpected outdoors, or when seeing an Allman Brothers concert at the Beacon Theater, but at TTM, for a somewhat Bluegrass type show? Totally unexpected. No, I’m not a prude when it comes to this kind of stuff, just surprised at the context.

I must be running out of complaints, no? No. I’ll probably lose interest in typing before I’m actually done complaining. 😉

Next up, for the first time (reminder: this was our seventh show at TTM), no one came out to introduce the band. They just wandered on stage, and after talking for three minutes, started playing. No problem, but after the fact, it made us think that TTM wanted to distance themselves from the band. But, if that’s true, why invite them to begin with?

You might think I’m joking about TTM wanting to distance themselves, but I’m not. Ben Kaufmann made a big deal about that very fact. He told a story (that I strained to hear) that they played a theater the night before and would likely not be invited back, and he predicted the same would be true for TTM. I hope he’s right. Actually, I don’t care, as I know better than to go again…

Why did he think they wouldn’t be invited back? First, he said “They had no idea what they were getting themselves into!”. Ha ha, that’s a good one on them (the theater owners/bookers)! But, he was more specific. He said that at the theater, there was a special section called Gold Circle Seating, where he believed rich people with season’s tickets sat (the implication, never said, is that these idiots came because they owned the seats, not because they had any interest in the show).

He made fun of a gentleman who was wearing an ascot, and who left the show in disgust, complaining to management that he had no view from his special seat. Ben thought it was hysterical that he expected a normal show from YMSB. Lest you think I don’t have a sense of humor, or that I actually believe that there was a person wearing an ascot, you should know that I took the story figuratively.

I think it’s wonderful that they are successful, and have such a huge and loyal fan base. What I don’t understand is the joy Ben takes in alienating potential fans. People who buy season’s tickets (or people like us, who specifically bought tickets for this show!), need to be included, drawn in, not made fun of. I’m gonna guess that the rich guy is less likely to download an illegal copy of their music (should he become a fan), but perhaps YMSB eschews money as well.

I’m running out of steam, so I’ll just add one additional rant, aimed both at YMSB and TTM, equally.

Tickets at TTM are expensive in general. The same exact group costs dramatically more at TTM than they do just 30 miles south when they play in NYC. One example: we’re seeing Dave Mason at TTM tonight. We paid $126 for two tickets (including fees). When we saw him at BB King in NYC last year, it cost us $80, and a few months earlier, in NJ, cost us $60 to see Dave.

Well, TTM is a non-profit, and doesn’t have a show every night, so I guess that they charge a premium to keep up this beautiful and historic theater. We aren’t too annoyed to support that. Especially, if it means a bigger cut for the performers. Of course, at 840 seats, it also has a significantly larger capacity than many of the clubs we frequent in NYC, so there’s a double effect of potentially putting a lot more money in the artist’s hands. Good.

Except when the artist shoves it in the face of the patrons, making fun of people who can actually afford to pay for a ticket, and have some expectation of what it means to have a certain seat reserved for them.

Last night, we paid $86 for two tickets. I’ll bet that there are few shows a year where YMSB commands this high a ticket price, especially in a venue this large.

When intermission came (75 minutes into the show), we were thrilled to have the ability (and the excuse) to get up, without having to push and shove through the crowd, and we happily went home. I applaud YMSB for putting on a very long show (many shows are only 75 minutes in total), and clearly, they were going to give at least another hour, but we’d had enough.

Summary: they have talent, and the music is good. The sound was beyond awful, they were smug and obnoxious and the crowd was mostly there to feel good about themselves, rather than enjoy the actual performance.

theSet NYC at Le Poisson Rouge

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A month ago, I posted about a wonderful weekend that included catching Altar Boyz at New World Stages. As a result (I assume) I received an email from Pim, a member of the team that founded theSet NYC.

theSet NYC is a great idea. Collect a group of talented performers and promote a show featuring a bunch of them on the same night. The idea is to give these people an alternative to the grind of a pure open mic night. Pim used to do standup comedy (and might again in the future), so he was well aware of the difficulties of getting the appropriate breaks.

For the performers, it typically means a slightly longer set (roughly 15 minutes each) and a (hopefully) friendlier crowd. For the audience, it typically means a (slightly) more vetted group of performers (no one who just mustered up the courage five minutes ago to get up on the stage), and also a friendlier atmosphere (not oriented toward heckling, etc.).

theSet NYC aims to put on a show once a month. They use a number of venues, one of which is the lounge at New World Stages, which is how I guess Pim ended up finding me.

One of Pim’s roles is blogger outreach. Once he connected with me via email, he invited me to attend their next show, which was last night, at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR), in the Gallery Bar (downstairs, they also have a more traditional club upstairs). The show fit with our schedule, so we decided to attend.

Pim

Pim

Most of the shows have been free to date (including last night), though there’s no guarantee of that in the future. We arrived at 7pm (the show started at 8pm) because we intended to eat (and drink) at Gallery Bar first.

You can check out the menu to see the eclectic range of food and drink offered there. Lois had the Edamame. She raved non-stop while she was eating them. I had the Spicy Tuna Roll (absolutely incredible), and the Sloppy Kobe Joes. Folks, I do believe that this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Not quite a hamburger (because it’s not pressed together in a patty, since it’s a sloppy joe), and with a sauce that’s spicy (not hot, flavorful!) and fantastic.

If theSet NYC did nothing else for us, it introduced us to a place that we will return to for the food alone, no doubt! In addition, the lovely bartender made me a perfect Chocolate Martini. Thanks!

Gallery Bar Bartender

Gallery Bar Bartender

On to the show. Lois asked me to cover the performers in the order that we liked them, rather than in the order that they appeared. Seems fair enough to me, so here goes (I think we are in basic agreement on the order, but I’m not double checking with her, so technically, this is my personal order):

Evon Campbell was the most consistently funny of the comedians (which dominated last night’s show). He has a very relaxed style which relaxes the audience. He is then easily able to catch the audience off guard with very clever jokes that aren’t easy to predict (the best kind). Here’s a three minute video of him from a previous theSet NYC show (he didn’t repeat a single line from this clip last night!).

Evon Campbell

Evon Campbell

Arthur Carlson had the most professional delivery of the group last night. Here’s a clip of a bit he did last night as well. He was more in control of the audience than the rest, and appeared more comfortable and self-assured on stage than the rest. I’ll have a more general note at the end, in which I’ll have some more to say about Arthur.

Arthur Carlson

Arthur Carlson

Kai Raziq hosted the evening. He didn’t actually do any specific routines, but his style on stage was engaging, and we all chuckled at nearly everything he said, even though he wasn’t telling any jokes per se.

Kai Raziq

Kai Raziq

Alec Sobel held his own reasonably well. He too has a professional quality to his delivery. Here is a link to a five minute video that will give you a good sense of his style and genre. At the bottom of the page is a link to a different video that is a little less adult in nature (not much, but perhaps a little cursing removed).

Alec Sobel

Alec Sobel

Matt Rittberg was close behind Alec in my opinion. While he too has a pretty good command of the stage, he relied a bit too much on sexual jokes, and isn’t quite expert enough to walk that kind of tight rope. Here is a page with a variety of videos of Matt’s routines which includes stuff the seems cleverer than most of the material he did last night.

Matt Rittberg

Matt Rittberg

I’m going to present the next two performers (the only musical ones last night) in the order that Lois preferred them. For my taste, I would swap them, but I’ll predict and respect Lois’ choice.

Adontay sang two songs last night. The first was a cappella and we both enjoyed it more than we thought we would when he first started. Adontay has a very nice voice, and the song was pretty good too. Unfortunately, he didn’t carry that through to the second number. In that one, he had a soundtrack (played off of a laptop). The song wasn’t as good (in our opinion) and was a little too long. When the soundtrack ended, he continued a cappella, and to our ears, rambled off key and out of tune. He has a lot of talent, but he needs significantly more polish and practice.

Adontay

Adontay

Stephanie Carlin sang and played acoustic guitar. I think she has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well enough, and has a reasonable amount of stage presence. Unfortunately, neither of us was drawn to her two original songs. They brought her back on stage at the end because two of the scheduled performers didn’t show up, and we somewhat preferred the two covers she did then (a medley of Hit the Road Jack and Moondance). The raw talent (at least in the voice) is most definitely there, but the performance and musical selection isn’t our personal cup of tea.

Stephanie Carlin

Stephanie Carlin

Ranked last in both of our opinions, but opening the show (which made for a tense few minutes when we thought the rest of the night would be like this) was April Brucker. Her delivery last night was completely flat (close to zero energy). She started with very crude sexual jokes about her roommate, and then brought out the roommate (from a suitcase), a puppet called May.

April Brucker

April Brucker

April describes herself as an Inappropriate Ventriloquist. That’s an incredibly apt description. She’s a reasonably talented ventriloquist, and she’s beyond inappropriate. I’m sure that the college boys laugh like hell at that kind of shock you humor.

I can’t reconcile her lack of energy last night with this video. In the video, she has tremendous energy, but the same crude humor. At the four minute mark, she introduces May, so you can get a sense of that part of the act last night as well.

I have explained in a number of posts how much I love comedy (and laughing) in all forms, even crude ones. Lois isn’t as forgiving of pure crudeness, which she (correctly) equates with comic laziness. In other words, it’s easier to get a laugh by shocking your audience (especially if you’re female) than by actually being clever.

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all time, and he never resorts to cursing. He doesn’t resort to much sexual innuendo either, and when he does, it’s high level enough to be acceptable even if kids are in the room.

If I wasn’t sitting with Lois, and analyzing in my head the fact that a crude joke probably just rubbed her the wrong way, I would enjoy the crudeness a bit more myself. Still, fundamentally, I agree with her that it’s a cheap way to get a laugh.

That said, I mentioned above that I would circle back to Arthur Carlson. He had two routines that were 100% sexual in nature. One was actually gross (if you attempted to visualize it). Yet, I laughed like hell at both (even the gross one), and even Lois chuckled at the gross one, and liked the other one a lot.

There were three things that made us/Lois react differently to Arthur’s sexual jokes than to most other such references:

  1. His delivery is so professional that you’re listening to a true joke teller, not someone just trying to deliver a crude one-liner.
  2. Both jokes were very inventive. The punch lines weren’t predictable, so it wasn’t shock value that made you laugh, it was the imagery and the comedic absurdity of what he was saying.
  3. It was a change of pace for him. Since he was able to tell a bunch of clean jokes too, telling a clever sexual joke caught the audience more off guard than when they are coming at you one after another.

While this isn’t really Lois’ idea of a perfect night out, we both had a really good time, and would recommend catching a theSet NYC show to anyone who is interested in seeing fresh talent, in good quantity, in reasonably contained sets (in case any one performer isn’t to your liking), in a very pleasant and supportive atmosphere. If it’s in the Gallery Bar at Le Poisson Rouge, then we can recommend the food and drink very highly as well!

Thanks again to Pim for reaching out, and to Leo (the producer of the show) for making it happen!

Leo

Leo

Thank You ABC

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I find it ironic that on the same night that ABC is about to air a White House exclusive promo, something which I think borders on a wrong-headed move (understandable, predictable, but still wrong-headed), I am about to praise them for something completely different.

The fact that I am about to praise ABC is surprising for another reason, namely that I think we’re down to watching only one show on a regular basis on that network: Lost. I’ll come back to Lost later on, even though I’ve written about it separately in the past.

Last season (shortened by the brilliant Writers Strike) we watched two additional shows religiously on ABC: Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies. We watched both religiously this season as well, until they were both unceremoniously dumped, mid-season (along with Dirty Sexy Money, which we’ve never seen).

We both loved Eli Stone (though it took Lois three episodes to come to that, while I loved it from the first scene). We looked forward to every new episode, and were never disappointed.

I liked Pushing Daisies way more than Lois did, and I’m thankful that she humored me and didn’t make me feel guilty about wasting her time when I eagerly watched it each week. The cartoonish colors were brilliant and lush (solidifying the fantasy feel of the show), and the dialogue had cracker-jack fast quips that always had me in stitches. The writing was in the style of the West Wing and Studio 60 (no wonder Kristin Chenoweth signed up).

I wasn’t surprised that Pushing Daisies was canceled. I was surprised that Eli Stone was. I was shocked that both were canceled without warning, mid-season. Both were serials where important plot-lines unfolded each week (as opposed to episodic shows, like Law and Order).

At best, you’re leaving extremely loyal viewers with a dangling, highly unsatisfying ending. At worst, you’re cutting off a promising show because it didn’t perform quickly enough, which could be short-sighted, given the rough start each show had during the previous Writers Strike shortened season.

I totally get that it’s a business, and they have the right and the experience to do exactly what they did. I also get that none of the three shows that they canceled were topping the charts. I also know that ABC wasn’t promoting the shows all that hard either, and certainly didn’t give them a chance to grow a base. But, again, it’s their decision.

So, after that long-winded (typical) introduction, why I am thanking and praising ABC today?

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Pushing Daisies was set to record an episode on my DVR (from my season pass) on a Saturday! I hadn’t seen a single commercial announcing its comeback, nor seen anything online either, so I assumed that they were running repeats (after all, none of the networks are noted for airing first-run shows on Saturday any longer). Stupidly, I deleted the recording from the queue!

Yesterday, Lois was reading a magazine, and she said to me “Did you know that last week they aired the Series Finale of Pushing Daisies on TV?” Oops! I logged on to ABC and saw that not only was the finale available, it was the third (and last) new episode since the series was canceled.

So, I was sort-of glad I had deleted the recording on the DVR, because I would watched it without knowing that there were two additional episodes leading up to it.

In the unbelievably typical whacky world of TV networks foray into online streaming, only the last two episodes were available on ABC. The first of the trilogy was already gone from their site. I was able to find it instantly on another site, in poorer quality, but with zero commercials.

After watching that episode, we watched the last two on ABC, in 720p HD. The quality was awesome. I’ve mentioned in the past that Lois is rabid about avoiding commercials. Even she didn’t complain about the maximum of one 30-second commercial in each break. ABC is notorious for inserting more commercial breaks into their online programming than the other networks (Hulu, which features both NBC and Fox, shows dramatically fewer commercials per show).

Even so, I was glad to watch the commercials, because ABC was delivering value to me, and this was my desired form of payment. That made it all the more bizarre that they removed the first of the episodes. Given the choice, I would have gladly watched commercials for that one as well, but instead, they drove me to another site where they derived zero revenue from me, instead of the few pennies they otherwise would have earned.

However, here’s the kicker to the story. By getting me to visit ABC at all (in this case through the magazine article), I noticed that they were offering a streaming episode of Eli Stone that was new as well! It turns out that this is the first of the final four episodes of that show. We watched that too, and loved the episode, and can see that they too will wrap up the series to our satisfaction, now that they have the chance to do so.

Hadar, is there a point to all of this ranting? Yes, there is. First, this took nearly zero effort on the part of ABC, as the shows were already shot and in the can (as they say). Putting them online is a matter of decision making, not really a matter of scheduling them for broadcast where ratings and revenue come into play.

But, ABC didn’t really make money off of you Hadar (you say). Perhaps, but not necessarily true! First, for Eli Stone, since there are three episodes left, I have now set my DVR to tape them on TV. 70% of Americans still don’t have a DVR, so there will be plenty of people watching Eli Stone (Saturday night at 10pm!) with ABC hopefully making more money than they do with normal filler programming on that night.

As for Pushing Daisies, both Lois and I found the wrap-up of the series satisfying. Lois turned to me after the finale and said “You should buy the DVD of this season”. I said “You don’t even like the show!”. She said “I really liked the way they ended it, and I wouldn’t mind owning it!”. So, if we decide to, we’ll be buying both seasons (to have all of the episodes). I can guarantee that we would never have purchased either season the way it was previously ended.

I said I would come back to Lost, so here goes. Lois and I never watched Lost when it first came out. We weren’t even tempted. After the second season, David and Wes bought us a gift of the first two seasons DVDs. We got hooked. We bought Season Three on DVD the second it was available. We watched Season Four on TV, but also bought two copies of the DVDs when the season was over, one for us, and one for David. We’ll buy Season Five as well, and Season Six next year.

The point is, fans can be created after the fact with all of the time-shifting, social networking, word-of-mouth, gifting, etc. When shows are cut off prematurely, they’ll never get a chance to participate in that ecosystem.

For the past two years, one of our favorite shows has been Chuck on NBC. It too was practically canceled, until enough fans online saved it at least for part of next season. I’m hoping that decision will pay off for NBC, because we’re definitely looking forward to seeing more episodes. At least Chuck ended with a proper season finale, which was engaging enough to have been satisfying as a series finale as well, if it needed to be.

By the way, even though we watched every episode of Chuck every week, we also bought two copies of each season’s DVDs. So, we fast-forwarded through the commercials, but we still sent in our cash…

Anyway, thanks again to ABC for making the remaining episodes of Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money (which had more fans than the first two, not including us) available, both on TV, and online!