Acoustic Alchemy

Acoustic Alchemy at Birchmere

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Last night was our third time seeing Acoustic Alchemy perform, first time at Birchmere. It was also our third Birchmere show in the past eight days! There were also three of us in our party. Three was a lucky number last night. 🙂

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Our last Acoustic Alchemy show was awesome, and fully covered in this post. I’ve been trying pretty hard lately not to repeat myself too much, so if you want lots of details, please read that post, it really all applies to last night’s show.

They were incredible last night, to a person. The differences were more related to the venue. Birchmere is big (seats 650) and typically produces a better sound than most clubs that we attend. They played a wide selection last night, including a couple of songs from their first CD and sprinklings throughout their catalog (I own all 15 of their CDs!).

I would guesstimate that there were 400+ people in attendance last night. The crowd was made up of huge Jazz lovers, and specifically Acoustic Alchemy lovers. We were sitting four seats from the stage, dead center, and the people around us (who were on line for an hour to get those seats) were super fans.

There were multiple spontaneous standing ovations after particularly amazing guitar solos (mostly from Greg Carmichael). He deserved every one. His partner, Miles Gilderdale, is equally mesmerizing, with a completely different style (night and day different).

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In a heart-breaking moment, Miles told the crowd (many of whom knew) that the band lost someone very dear to all of them over the summer. It was the daughter of the drummer Greg Grainger, Dianne, 24 years old! She was also the niece of the bassist Gary Grainger and the fiancée of the keyboard player, Fred White. Obviously, close friends of Greg and Miles as well. Truly tragic! Miles was choking back serious tears while talking about an upcoming benefit for Dianne.

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We have seen quite a number of great opening acts, sometimes even discovering a new life-long passion (The Paper Raincoat is a recent example). That said, it’s sometimes hit-or-miss as to whether they’re even complementary to the headliner, or good on their own. When they’re good, it adds value to the ticket price. When they’re bad, it drags the evening out, often bringing down your mood even before your beloved band hits the stage.

This week, at two separate shows at Birchmere, the opening bands were outstanding in every respect (Po’ Girl last Sunday, and Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson on Wednesday). Still, when we showed up last night and saw that there would be no opening act, we were thrilled.

First, no gamble on the quality. Second, it was Sunday night, with a work day to follow. Third, we had a one hour drive back to the hotel after the show. All of that meant that a shorter evening was welcome.

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Acoustic Alchemy played for just under two hours, including a two-song encore. The food was excellent (as it always is at Birchmere), and we brought one very special guest with us, who made our evening all the more wonderful (thanks for coming along!). 🙂

Wonderful Weekend Wedding

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Heretofore, whenever I saw the letters WWW, I inevitably thought World Wide Web. From now on, when I see WWW, I’ll think Wonderful Weekend Wedding!

We have incredible godchildren who’ve brought many blessings into our lives. Among these is the wide circle of wonderful people attracted to them, who’ve become life-long friends of theirs. We’ve had the privilege and pleasure of meeting many of their friends, and in a number of cases, becoming their life-long friends independent of our godchildren.

One of the very special people who came into our lives this way is our godson’s college roommate. When he graduated, he moved to NYC and has been here for more than five years now. Let’s call him Neal.

On January 18th, 2009, we had a lovely lunch with him at our favorite Mexican restaurant, for the express purpose of meeting someone very special to him. We’ll call her Maggie. We loved her immediately, as everyone who ever meets her has and will.

(All photos in this blog can be clicked on to see a larger version.)

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In the summer, they told us that we should leave 10/17/2009 open for a possible wedding date. We were thrilled, and would have made any date they picked, but I turned to Lois and I said, “Man, if only they had picked 10/10/2009, it would be a tad more convenient for our crazy travel schedule up and down I95.” Of course, we never said anything to them.

A few weeks later, they wrote to say that the date was going to be 10/10/2009, and they hoped that the change wouldn’t be a problem for us. Sweet! 🙂

Aside from the scheduling convenience, 10/10 is such an auspicious day in our lives for weddings. Lois’ parents were married on 10/10. Both of her mom’s siblings (a brother and sister) were married on 10/10 (different years for all three). The CEO of our first portfolio company, who we are still close friends with all these years later, was also married on 10/10. All of those marriages were strong and long, as this one is sure to be!

We were also invited to the rehearsal on Friday afternoon, the rehearsal dinner Friday evening, and a breakfast send-off on Sunday morning, hence the appropriate WWW moniker for this wedding!

One last pre-wedding story. In June, we brought 17 people to join us at a Girlyman concert at the Highline Ballroom. I blogged about that night here, and ended with the following two paragraphs:

I have to conclude with an incredible small world story. One of the couples that attended last night was married last year on 08/08/08 (I blogged about that wedding too). Another couple that attended last night is getting married this year, on 10/10. They had never met before last night.

In introducing themselves, and getting to know each other a bit, they discovered that the pastor that married the 08/08/08 couple will be marrying the 10/10/09 couple as well. That this tidbit is true is strange and cool enough. That they would separately be invited by us, chat to each other, and figure that out so quickly is a little other-worldly to me. 🙂

The wedding was held in Trinity Church in Princeton, NJ (where Maggie’s parents live). The rehearsal was wonderful, lighthearted and informative. Their minister is a very special man, and while he kept everyone focused on the task at hand, it was done lovingly, with good humor.

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The flower girl practiced her glide down the aisle in a red wagon, pulled by the maid of honor:

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Before settling on that, other configurations were tried. Here’s one that was scrubbed after a test run down the aisle:

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Afterward, we attended the rehearsal dinner with roughly 40 people, in a private room at a local Chinese restaurant, Sunny Garden. We sat at four round tables for 10, with a large Lazy Susan in the center of each, making it easy and fun to share a wonderful meal, with excellent company all around.

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We met a number of Neal and Maggie’s friends and family at the rehearsal and got to meet more at the dinner. It was as warm and inviting an atmosphere as one could hope for, and the circle of friends got wider, quickly. Inevitable given how we all love Neal and Maggie!

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The wedding was at 2pm on Saturday. We got there early, so we could sit close up to the action. The ceremony was beautiful. Maggie underscored her exquisite taste by having elegant bridesmaid’s dresses, something I understand is unusual. 😉

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While we knew the minister would be inspiring from the wedding we attended the previous year, he still managed to surprise us in a major way. The one question I never asked Neal or Maggie is how they knew the minister. Since Maggie grew up in NJ, and he’s based in NJ, I just assumed the connection was through her.

Well, I was wrong! The minister told how he met Neal when he was in high school, and how they became friends because of what an extraordinary person Neal is. No, the surprise for me wasn’t that Neal is an extraordinary person, of that, we were already sure. The surprise was how far back their relationship went, and how it began.

I’m sure (partially from experience) that the minister gives great advice to all couples who are about to be married. Still, I have a feeling that knowing Neal as well as he does, for so long, the moving speech he gave them wasn’t just a boilerplate one. It was great advice, that all married couples should heed.

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No, I won’t repeat it here, because I don’t want to cut into the minister’s royalties or be sued for divulging trade secrets. 😉

We had a one in five chance of getting David as our usher. That’s exactly what happened. Here he is, about to seat us:

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More photos from the gorgeous ceremony:

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After the ceremony we headed back to the hotel to relax before the 5pm reception. A little while later, David called to ask if I could return to the church and shuttle some people back to the hotel. I was happy to do it, and ended up bringing back Neal’s sister (a bridesmaid herself), the maid of honor and David.

We then met David out front and headed off to the reception. The hors d’oeuvres were amazing (though I’m told I missed the best of them, which is hard to believe). I was also (virtually) forced to drink some lovely champagne, only because I noticed that they were serving them in my all-time favorite champagne glasses. 😉

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We watched a slide show of pictures of Neal and Maggie side-by-side in similar poses and outfits, from birth through high school. It was a hoot and incredibly creative. Following that were professional photos of them that were stunning. In a nice surprise, we saw that two photos that Lois took of them, one from the first time we met Maggie, and another from the concert I mentioned above, were included in the mix!

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More opportunities to meet new friends and catch up with old ones:

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Then we were off to the main dining hall. Great toasts by the maid of honor and the best man. A wonderful DJ, who played an eclectic mix of music while we dined, all at an appropriate volume to permit people to converse. The mix even included Acoustic Alchemy, one of my all-time favorite groups, that we are likely going to see for the third time this coming Sunday!

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The food was incredible. The service was impeccable, yet delivered with a zesty personality. Everyone at our table bonded with our primary server. If she could have joined us as a guest at the table, we would have welcomed it!

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There were a number of babies at the reception, including two at our table, and they were the focus of some wonderful memories that will be with us forever.

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Once the meal was over, the dancing commenced, and the DJ kicked it into another gear. The youngsters danced their hearts out. I’m never surprised when women dance well, but I admit to always being surprised when I see a man dance well. Color me purple, because at least a half a dozen guys there impressed the heck out of me!

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Neal’s sister took pity on me and tried to get me to dance. I’m proud that I stood my ground, and resisted. Lois wasn’t as strong-willed as me, and she ended up dancing one dance with David. 🙂

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The traditional cake cutting:

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After dessert and coffee, and plenty more non-stop dancing, we all bid the happy couple good night, and left for the hotel ourselves.

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Their Just Married car, with balloons streaming in the night air from behind, passed us on the highway! We drove Neal’s brother and his girlfriend back to the hotel. The girlfriend said “I think Maggie just waved to us!”. Sure enough, she was right. The next morning Neal asked us if we saw Maggie wave. 🙂

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Simply a perfect day/evening. The next morning we joined the bride and groom for a farewell buffet breakfast that was also outstanding. Eight of us then took a nice stroll around the Princeton campus. Afterward we met the newlyweds at the train station, where they came to say goodbye to the California contingent that was boarding the train back to Newark Airport.

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David and his friend took off in one car, and we left in ours, with the four of us heading straight to Alexandria, VA to see a Girlyman concert that night. As exhausted as we were, it was a fitting way to top off an already perfect weekend.

Neal and Maggie, have a extraordinary life (we know you will), but make sure to share as much of it as you can with the rest of us. You are both a joy to be around individually, and even more so when you’re together.

Thanks for including us in this most wonderful of celebrations!

Acoustic Alchemy at Towne Crier Cafe

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Last night we saw Acoustic Alchemy at Towne Crier Cafe, the same place that we saw Cherish The Ladies at back in April.

I’ve only seen Acoustic Alchemy live once before, in 2006 at the Blue Note in NYC, but they’ve been my favorite Jazz group for a very long time. I owned 14 of their CDs (none of them being a Greatest Hits variety), until I bought last year’s CD This Way last night (signed, of course). 🙂

Aside from being an all-around music lover, I’m a guitar nut and I’ve written about many awesome guitar players. One of of the things that makes Acoustic Alchemy special is that they have two awesome guitar players, who complement each other and blend their sounds deliciously well together. They also produce (consistently, for 21 years!) very melodic music, putting them at the forefront of the Smooth Jazz style.

They were at the very top of their game last night. Aside from their obvious, extraordinary talent (that is always there), Towne Crier is a special place (in general), and special to them (in particular). They have played there a number of times, and in fact are returning there for another show this coming Sunday, June 22nd. Don’t miss it if you’re anywhere in the NY area.

Tonight (probably too late if you didn’t know already) they are playing at BB King in NYC. The show tonight benefits Pancreatic Cancer Research, so if you can make it, in addition to hearing a fabulous show, you will be doing your part for a very worthy cause!

Here’s a shot of them all on stage together. Unfortunately, Greg Grainger was tucked in behind his drum set, way in the back, under the Towne Crier Cafe sign, and was invisible from Lois’ angle:

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Greg Carmichael is one of the two original founders of the group. 21 years later, his fingers still fly up and down a Nylon string acoustic guitar. He produces such a clean gorgeous sound, and has a generally wonderful (and generous) spirit on stage. He’s a joy to watch and listen to. The other co-founder, Nick Webb, sadly passed away from Pancreatic Cancer in 1998. He too was an extraordinary musician. You can read a moving tribute to Nick and their last collaboration together.

Greg Carmichael

Miles Gilderdale replaced Nick Webb as Greg’s partner. He had played with the band previous to being elevated to the co-lead position. He plays both Steel string acoustic and electric guitars. In addition to his amazing guitar playing, he has a fantastic stage presence, and had the crowd in stitches (and at the edge of their seats) when he introduced the amazing band one-by-one during the second set.

Here are two shots of Miles, one on acoustic guitar and the other with him holding his electric guitar and speaking to the audience:

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Fred White played keyboards. I can’t say enough about this guy. His fingers fly on the keyboard, producing both pure piano sounds as well as funky electronic organ ones. He took a number of exceptional leads, but he’s also incredible when he plays background to the guitars. The reason I put background in italics is that he often shadows their phenomenal guitar leads on the organ, so that even his background playing is stunning.

Fred White

Greg Grainger played the drums. He’s a great Jazz drummer, who has been playing with Acoustic Alchemy (and others) for a very long time. Back in the 80’s, he also played drums for Whitney Houston (in her prime), so he’s been at the top of his game forever, and continued that tradition last night.

Greg introduced his older brother, Gary Grainger to the group a while back. As mentioned above, Lois had no view of Greg. She passed the camera to me for one shot, and I snapped one of Greg, but he’s partially obscured by his own cymbal. In the second shot, Lois snapped him while he was getting up to join the others in a bow, so it too isn’t a great shot. Sorry Greg!

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Gary Grainger played the electric bass (five string, named after him!). I don’t know where to begin. He’s mesmerizing. Basically, while most bass players (even great ones) lay down solid but straight-forward bottoms to anchor the sound, they reserve any flying fingers for the rare solo that they are accorded. Not so with Gary. He’s essentially playing a beautiful melody all night long, complementing the lead (whether it’s guitars of keyboards) in more of a harmony than just support.

His fingers are in constant motion (both hands) and he is playing a song within a song. Simply gorgeous. His smile also lights up the room (as you can see on any number of YouTube videos of him). He’s played with many greats (you can read a partial bio in the link above about the Bass named after him).

Here are two shots of Gary. One playing the bass and the other with Gary both playing the bass and scatting at the same time:

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Anyway, to round it out, all of them are extraordinary musicians, who play together tightly and generously, covering a selection of music that is simply beautiful on so many levels.

They played roughly half of the songs on the current CD (This Way, released in 2007). They also played some of the great oldies (including the title cut from their first CD: Red Dust and Spanish Lace).

The crowd was comprised of Acoustic Alchemy lovers. They couldn’t have been more appreciative of the performance, and gave long and vigorous ovations after each and every song. No wonder Acoustic Alchemy likes coming to Towne Crier!

They came out at 8:06pm (for an 8pm announced show). They played 54 minutes in the first set and left the stage at 9pm. They returned at 9:17 and played until slightly past 10pm. After leaving the stage for two minutes, they returned for a thrilling one-song encore. Total time on stage, including the encore, just under two hours. Absolutely fantastic!

We had a 6:30 dinner reservation for the 8pm show. We arrived at 6:20 and were seated at a very nice table for two. Folks, I mentioned it before when I wrote about Cherish The Ladies, this restaurant is really terrific. Before we even sat down, my mouth was watering for the little jalapeno pepper corn bread that comes with the chips in the basket. It didn’t disappoint! The chips are served with a fantastic chicken salsa.

Last time, we each had soup (I had carrot ginger and Lois had black bean). This time I went for a Caesar Salad as an appetizer. Lois tasted it (more than once) 😉 and declared it to be the best Caesar Salad she’s ever had. I loved it, but nothing is ever likely to top my regular Caesar Salads at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, clearly produced by the staff selling their souls in return for making perfect Caesar Salads! 🙂

Lois had a salad as her main dish (and loved it) and I had one of the many specials of the day, Chicken and Shrimp Jumbalaya. Wow, it was mouth watering, with just the right amount of spice for flavor and heat. Towne Crier is famous for their desserts, but we couldn’t have stuffed it down our throats even if we wanted to, so discovering whether they taste as good as they look will have to wait for another day.

The drive there was about 44 minutes, and about 40 minutes back, so not too bad all around. We did wait around for a bit after the show, to get the CD that we purchased there signed by both Greg Carmichael and Gary Grainger (the others hadn’t come out yet, and we were too tired to hang around much longer).

We had a fantastic night, and can’t wait to see Acoustic Alchemy again, or see anyone else that we we like at Towne Crier. Unfortunately, we will not be around next Sunday, or we could accomplish both tasks simultaneously! 🙂

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. 😉

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. 😉

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! 🙂

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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?) 😉 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! 🙂

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. 🙂

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. 😉

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. 🙂

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! 🙂

California Guitar Trio at BB King

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If you don’t know how we came to see California Guitar Trio (CGT), you didn’t read my previous post.

Last night was a typical evening for us at BB King’s. We had excellent seats, and thoroughly enjoyed our meals, including a fabulous chocolate martini for me too. Yummy.

CGT is three guitarists who are each individually amazing, but together, are mind-bogglingly good! Paul Richards (whose diary mentions BB King and he posts some really good photos of the group as well), Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya. Each of them (by default) has a very different sound for their amplified acoustic guitars, so you can close you eyes and still distinguish which one of them is playing.

As Paul’s diary notes, last night they had Tony Levin sitting in with them. Paul congratulated Tony for winning Bass Players Magazine award for Best Bass Player just the night before! If you read the string of bands that Tony has played with in the first paragraph of this entry, including many of my favorite groups, you won’t be surprised! He is amazing, and he sat in for the majority of the numbers they played.

While there is a similarity to Acoustic Alchemy, which drew me to wanting to hear them, they really aren’t all that similar. Acoustic Alchemy is all Jazz, all the time. They are also more than just guitars (though that’s their calling card!), as they have many more instruments accompanying them. They also tend to be more consistent in being melodic.

CGT is more creative in some ways (in this sense Acoustic Alchemy is more commercial). They also play many more styles of music. Without changing guitars, but definitely by changing the electronics on the amplifiers, they perform hard rock, classical, jazz, etc., and all of the styles, brilliantly. In addition, they are just plain fun when they are performing, and it’s contagious.

They played their own arrangement of Beethoven’s Pastoral, gorgeous beyond description. They also did a version of Beethoven’s Fifth, which was funky, and really cool.

In addition to the different default sounds that they each produce, they also all play in different styles. Individually, each style is fantastic. Blended, it’s simply unreal (in the good sense). 😉

When they said “Thanks and goodnight”, the crowd went crazy (us included) and all instantly shot up in the air for a standing ovation. We all stood until they came back out. They played one terrific song, and then said that they would finally play the single most requested guitar song in history, that they never used to play.

They then proceeded to play Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd (those of you who read my post about Treble, will now understand the small world nature of hearing two different groups, on the same day, in different venues, covering two of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s famous songs, one a cappella, and one only instrumental!).

They started out playing it in a funky reggae style. It was cute and fun, but as my regular readers already know, I’m not typically crazy for fooling around with classics. However, after building up the momentum, they hit their electronics, and wailed as brilliantly (on acoustic guitars!) as the original version by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Simply amazing, and they brought the house down.

So, now they say goodnight again, and the crowd gives them another rousing standing ovation. They unplug their guitars, and start to head off again, when they stop, and Paul says that we should all be extremely quiet, as they are going to try another experiment. He tells us that all three of their guitars are really soft-sounding, so we’ll have to huddle up because they are going to play one final song, unplugged.

They stepped out to the very edge of the stage, and played Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Lead guitar replaced the voice. You really had to listen closely, but it was one of the most gorgeous and amazing things I’ve ever heard. Mystical, magical, perfect, etc. At least once, we all missed a few notes when they did something clever, and most of the crowd couldn’t help but chuckle together.

Now, if you thought that was the end of the amazement, you were wrong. 😉

They then announce that they’ve been recording the concert live, in real-time, and that they have a high-speed CD duplicator there, and that if we want, we can wait 10-15 minutes, and purchase a CD of tonight’s show. Of course, we (and most of the crowd!) couldn’t resist such an offer.

I bought ours after a brief wait on a long line (I was near the front, thankfully), and bought four additional CD’s. Three were CGT and the fourth was Bert Lams doing Bach Preludes on the Steel Guitar (recall that I recently mentioned that classical guitar is my favorite!). I’ve listened to a little of Bert’s CD today, and it’s fantastic! All three of them signed our Live CD.

A night we will never forget, with a group that I now count way up among my favorites!

P.S. The obligatory mention of Girlyman isn’t as easy in this post, given that I wove it in so politically correctly in the last one. I even forgot to put it in last night, even though I tagged the post with Girlyman. I’m adding this mention after the fact. Whew…

Rediscovering Live Music

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Sorry folks, this is likely gonna be another long one. It’s 5:30pm on a Sunday, and I’m relaxing in the hotel down near Zope, and this is what I feel like doing at the moment…

From my mid-teens until my early twenties, I was a fanatic for going to live concerts. I went to a variety of shows, but by far it was mostly rock or folk. Among my favorites back then were Dylan, David Bromberg, The Greatful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Santana, etc.

The greatest concert I ever attended was a 12 hour affair. My friends and I drove from NYC to Washington, D.C. for a concert at RFK Stadium. I was 16, and only had a learner’s permit (this will become important later in the story). 😉 At noon, the warm-up group came on, The New Riders of the Purple Sage. They played for 2 hours, and were excellent. At 2pm, The Greatful Dead came on, and played for 5 hours. At 7pm, The Allman Brothers Band came on, and played for another 5 hours.

Both the Dead and the Allman Brothers were awesome. Hard to pick between them that day, but perhaps (just perhaps), the Brothers outdid them a bit. Of course, since they got to go last, it could simply have been that their stuff was still ringing in our ears all the way home. 🙂

Anyway, when we left (hitting the parking lot at 12:30am), the driver (the only female in our group) was too tired to drive at all. So were the other two. I felt fine, but wasn’t legally allowed to drive at night, without an adult, and oh yeah, I had never driven on a highway either! 😉

Suffice it to say, it was quite an experience for me, and a drive that normally takes 4+ hours took a little more than 3.

I can still remember my last live concert (of that era) like it was yesterday. I got two tickets to see David Bromberg at Town Hall. First row in the Balcony. I was incredibly excited. I had seen Bromberg live 5 times before, and each one was better than the one before. He’s a magical live performer who really connects with the audience.

Much to my surprise (and chagrin), the audience was mostly teeny boppers. I was all of (perhaps) 23, so I was truly mature… It seemed to me that I was the only person in the audience who had ever heard of Bromberg, and came to actually see him specifically. The rest seemed to be out for the evening, hanging with their friends. They never stopped talking (loudly) even for a second. At least twice, Bromberg stopped playing in the middle of a song (I had never seen something like that ever before) and practically begged the audience to be quiet. They didn’t comply… 🙁

I decided that night to stop going to see live music…

That pretty much held true until nearly 15 years later. The Greatful Dead were playing Madison Square Garden, and I was able to get two tickets in the fifth row center as part of a charity thing. I wanted to do it both because I was crazy about the Dead, and because I wanted to share this kind of experience with Lois, who had never seen a band like the Dead play live.

We were grossly disappointed. Everyone stood the entire evening, and Lois could barely see the stage even standing on her seat (and we were 5 rows back!). The selection of music was a little strange as well, and they played the shortest concert I’ve ever seen them do, in the 5 times I’ve seen them live. Oh well, my admonition not to go to live concerts seemed safely back on…

I think the only exception to that rule was an evening at a Jazz Club in NYC (Birdland) to see Stanley Jordan. If you don’t know him, he plays an amazing style of guitar whereby he taps on the strings on the frets, rather than ever picking or strumming. He creates quite unique sounds, and is a fantastic performer. I enjoyed the evening. That night was more about an evening out with friends, including dinner, rather than the concert being a real destination.

Then it all changed (albeit a little more slowly to begin with) 😉

On January 17th, 2003, our godson (who was a junior at Duke at the time) came for a long weekend with some of his friends from school. Lois is a master planner and goes out of her way to try and pack as many interesting things to do whenever people come to visit. Our godson played the trumpet in the Duke marching band so Lois looked around to see if any famous trumpet players were in town. Indeed, Arturo Sandoval was playing at the Blue Note.

I think there were 7 of us there for the show, and we had dinner beforehand, and totally enjoyed the show. As much as I love jazz (and I really do!), Arturo’s style isn’t necessarily my favorite, but seeing him perform live was still a wonderful experience. In December 2003, our godson returned with a nearly identical set of friends for an encore (I think there was one swap in the group). We went back to the Blue Note, and saw Jane Monheit. Wow, can this lady sing. I got in trouble on this trip because we got to the club a little later than usual, and had the worst seats in the house (which aren’t that bad!), but Lois still hasn’t forgiven me, over three years later…

From that point on, we went occasionally to the Blue Note, either by ourselves, or when someone was visiting from out of town, and once even went with local friends (if you can believe that). 🙂 Among the people we saw there (I can’t remember them all) were Bob James (writer of the theme song from the TV show Taxi), Maynard Ferguson (twice, unfortunately now deceased), Acoustic Alchemy (probably my favorite jazz group!), Chuck Mangione (was my favorite for a long time, and is still amazing live) and probably another one or two.

This was over a period of three years, which is why I said above that it built slowly at first. Last September, it hit a fevered pitch, as we broadened our venues beyond the Blue Note. I started actively searching for tour dates for some of my favorite groups, and immediately found out that David Bromberg was playing at BB King Blues Club. We had never been there. The show was awesome, and included an hour of a group called Angel Band (which is three women who sing harmonies like angels, including David’s wife Nancy Josephson).

Since then, we’ve been to BB King’s many times. We’ve seen a wide variety of shows there, including the following groups: Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby (who tour and record together now, which we didn’t know in advance. They were awesome.), Shawn Colvin, Paul Thorn (he opened for Ricky and Bruce, and was a delightful surprise), Quicksilver Messenger Service (they were boring), Jefferson Starship (used to be a favorite, but they’re over the hill, were awful, and we left early!), The Commitments (from the movie of the same name), Yama Bandit (unannounced opening group for The Commitments), Sunday Gospel Brunch (tons of fun!), perhaps one or two others…

We also discovered a fantastic small club in NYC called Joe’s Pub. The first group we saw there is one of my recent favorites, The Duhks. Then we saw Master McCarthy and Fools for April with our godchildren. Finally, we saw David Bromberg solo there. A great treat!

We saw Dave Koz at the Beacon Theater on Valentine’s Day. It was an amazing show, even though the acoustics were horrible! He had two special guests that played most of the evening with him and his band. David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. David Benoit is one of the great jazz pianists. Lois is now one of his biggest fans. I had never heard of Jonathan Butler before. He’s a South African singer and guitarist. He blew me away. Anita Baker was supposed to be a special guest, but she got snowed in and couldn’t make it. Koz got his buddy Be Be Winans to step in at the last minute. Be Be sings “The Dance” on the Koz album of the same name, and is one of our favorites. It was a special treat to see him sing that song live!

Last week we saw Chris Thile and his new band The Tensions Mountain Boys at Zankel Hall, which is part of Carnegie Hall. Chris is considered by some to be the world’s greatest mandolin player. We used to think his last name was pronounced “teal”, but it turns out it’s “theely”, who knew. After recording a few albums on his own, he was the lead person in Nickel Creek (one of my favorite groups), before forming this group. Zankel Hall is under ground at Carnegie Hall, and perhaps the best acoustical venue we’ve ever been in.

That pretty much catches you up on what we’ve done. We have two more shows coming up in the next month. On April 3rd, we were supposed to see The Allman Brothers Band together at the Beacon Theater. Two weeks ago, we were having dinner with two of our favorite people, and we realized that the guy was a big Allman Brothers fan. Lois isn’t (simply because she hasn’t listened to them much, not because she actively dislikes them), and we offered up her ticket to him. Instead, Lois and his wife are now scheduled to see Abigal Washburn and Bethany Yarrow + Rufus Cappadocia at Joe’s Pub. We found out about Abigail Washburn when we were seeing Yama Bandit at BB King, and the person next to us (who was friends with the Yama Bandit band) told us how great Abigail is.

Finally, friends of ours who got dizzy when we recounted the above to them over sushi, surprised us a few weeks back and told us that they bought four tickets to see Harry Connick Jr. at Radio City Music Hall on April 21st (inspired by us). We’re looking forward to that show as well. 🙂

Whew! Done at 8:10pm…