Bill Cooley

Kaki King at Turning Point Cafe

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Last night we saw Kaki King at Turning Point Cafe in Piermont, NY.

On October 24, 2007, we saw Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub in NYC. Accompanying her that night on guitar, as he has been for roughly 18 years, was Bill Cooley. When I reviewed that show I stated that I thought Bill Cooley was possibly the best acoustic guitarist I had seen.

My friend Eric Sink commented that he thought Phil Keaggy was probably the best he’d seen, but he mentioned some others, including Kaki King, who he practically dared me to listen to. πŸ˜‰ Here’s his exact quote (in a comment to a different post I made about Phil Keaggy):

Or if you’re quite daring, have you listened to any of Kaki King’s stuff?

So, given that I respect Eric so much on every level, I had to check her out (and Michael Hedges, whom he recommended as well). I liked Kaki King alot, though there’s little doubt that she’s not a mainstream artist on any level.

Last night was the first opportunity I had to see her live, and I jumped at the chance. I had never been to Turning Point Cafe, but I knew it was a small place. In fact, it seats roughly 63 people. We had awesome seats and were roughly eight feet from Kaki, dead center.

From the many YouTube videos that I’ve watched of her (and the two CDs that I own), I knew that she plays with a full band (and plays multiple instruments herself) as well as just solo guitar (her forte). I figured that in a club this small, she was likely to play solo, and indeed, that’s what she did.

She announced at the beginning that she was experimenting with getting back to her roots of solo guitar, without any vocal accompaniment either! She was hitting up a number of clubs that booked her back in the early days, in order to share the intimacy of that experience with the people who were fans of that style of music.

Here’s a photo to show you how good our seats were, and how intimate the entire experience was:

Kaki King

Kaki King

She didn’t disappoint whatsoever. Aside from being quieter than usual (at least according to her) πŸ˜‰ she is a lovely, thoughtful person. Her guitar virtuosity is exemplary, but her selection can be quite brooding, even angry at times. Like I mentioned above, and like Eric hinted at, this music is not for everyone.

We invited good friends to join us, even though I knew that neither they, nor Lois, would find this kind of music entertaining. That said, seeing Kaki King perform (and you can get a really good sense if you watch her YouTube videos) is as much a wonderful performance art experience, as it is a musical one. She’s a wizard on the guitar.

Here’s a photo of her using both hands on the frets. She creates some incredible sounds when she does this, and both sets of fingers seem to fly independently (but in sonic coordination!). In addition, it’s special for both of us, because we’re Wicked and Wizard of Oz freaks, and she’s obviously wearing the Ruby Red Slippers, so she’s Dorothy to us. πŸ˜‰

Kaki King Wizardry

Kaki King Wizardry

We live 20 minutes from Piermont (on the other side of the Hudson River). Our friends live in Northvale, NJ, 10 minutes from Piermont (further from us). We went for an early dinner at their house, and then we followed them to Piermont. We arrived at around 6:15pm (doors open at 6pm) and ordered some drinks. The show was called for 7pm, but Kaki came out at exactly 7:15pm.

She played straight through to 8:35pm, with the only pauses being tuning. She (and many other current guitar masters) use a variety of non-standard (perhaps they are standard now!) tunings, and they switch them often for different songs. Here’s a fuzzy picture (sorry) that shows her tuning, but also shows one of her original guitars, that she recorded her first CD on (she closed the show with the last cut from that CD):

Kaki King Tuning

Kaki King Tuning

As I suspected, none of the three people that came with me (Lois included) were enamored of the particular selection or style of music (though each found at least one song that resonated with them). That said, I hope they all had a nice time nonetheless, and appreciated how talented this woman is. I think they did. πŸ™‚

I would definitely go see her again live, with or without a full band, but I would likely only bring along Lois next time. πŸ™‚

Last night was the first of four concerts in a row for us. So, when we got home (around 9pm), we packed up the car and headed to the city (the next three shows are all in NYC). Expect updates on each one over the next three days.

Tim O’Brien at Joe’s Pub

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

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

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

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

a number of them have become big hits for Kathy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathy Mattea at Wolftrap

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Last night we saw Kathy Mattea for the second time on her Coal tour (that’s the name of her new CD). The previous time was at Joe’s Pub on October 24th, 2007 covered in this post. We both thoroughly enjoyed that show, as you can see for yourself if you clicked on that post.

To me personally, the most important nugget in that review was my statement that:

Bill Cooley is possibly the greatest acoustic guitarist I have ever heard!

I’ve been following him closely ever since (and have written about him and his CDs a number of times). Here are two links for Bill Cooley, one being his new MySpace page. When he let me know about his new MySpace page, I blogged about it. During that first visit to his new page, I saw that he was going to be at the Barns at Wolftrap with Kathy on April 1st and 2nd, 2008. We already had tickets to see Girlyman there (which was to be our first time at Wolftrap) on March 26th, 2008.

I told Lois that I would be happy to pass. I think Kathy is wonderful, but the Coal stuff, while extremely interesting and moving (she delivers it with all the emotion due such a project!), is heavy stuff, and hearing it again live wasn’t a priority.

Lois is a long-time fan of Kathy’s, and I would have been thrilled to go there if Lois really wanted to see it again. I shouldn’t have been surprised by Lois’ (unselfish) answer. She said “Bill Cooley is your favorite guitarist, how can you pass up an opportunity to see him?”

OK, that cinched it, we grabbed two tickets, unfortunately, in the balcony, since Kathy is a big name that fills seats quickly. At the time we bought the tickets, we had no idea whether that was going to be nose-bleed territory, or good seats. Also at the time, we were scheduled to be down at Zope for two weeks (the week before during the Girlyman show, and then this week).

If you read this space regularly, you know that got turned upside down with our unplanned trip to back to NYC to see Girlyman again on Sunday March 30th, 2008, covered in this post. That meant running back to VA to see Kathy. We had to drop our young guest off anyway, so it wasn’t a chore.

When we saw Girlyman, we saw that the balcony seats weren’t that far. Lois noticed that they were plastic, while the chairs in the main area are like padded dining room chairs. At least we knew what we’d be in for last night, a week in advance.

OK, finally, the show, followed by tons of background info (trust me, it will be worth reading the background if you like connectedness stories).

Kathy came on the stage just with Bill at 8:03. That was already exciting (for me). πŸ˜‰ She sang a slow ballad without her guitar, with only Bill accompanying her. After that song, the other two members of the band came on stage. Eamonn O’Rourke and David Spicher. Here’s what I wrote about Eamonn in the Joe’s Pub post, and there’s no need to change a word:

Eamonn O’Rourke is an outstanding mandolin player. His fiddle playing is even better. In the past few years, I’ve seen some amazing fiddle work. While I wouldn’t say that Eamonn is the best (like I did for Bill Cooley above), he certainly isn’t far from it. He also sings harmonies with Kathy.

David Spicher plays the upright bass and is new to the band. He was absolutely outstanding! Like Eamonn, he sang harmonies with Kathy (more on that later). Here’s David’s bio from the above link:

David Spicher (bass & vocals) The son of session fiddle king Buddy Spicher, David’s performed with Crystal Gayle, Merle Haggard, Pam Tillis, the Jerry Douglas Band, polka queen Lynn Marie, the Nashville Symphony, and his own Nashville Swing Band.

They can now safely add Kathy Mattea to the above string of stars that David has played with. πŸ™‚

The new Coal CD was released yesterday, so last night was the first chance for anyone to buy it. Kathy talked about the release as a birthing process, so she intended to change things up on this special day from previous nights on the tour. At Joe’s Pub, she intermixed the mostly Coal songs with a smattering of her hits. Last night, she announced that the first set would be the hits part, with Coal coming in one long shot after an intermission.

This was a crowd well familiar with Kathy’s hits. One wonders whether they come there to really discover the Coal stuff, to simply support the new effort, or secretly hoping that Kathy will do enough of the hits to make it great, regardless of how they respond to Coal. The first set didn’t disappoint even for a second. She was great on the hits, and the crowd loved every second of it.

Roughly four songs into the set, she asked if there were any requests. The Barns have phenomenal acoustics, so you could hear the individual requests quite clearly, even in the balcony! People screamed out so many different titles. After a bunch were screamed out, someone yelled out another, and many of the people in our section starting murmuring to each other (not loud enough for Kathy to hear) “Yes, that’s a good one.”

All the while, Lois was trying to get me to yell out Asking Us To Dance. I didn’t do it, and I could tell she was disappointed in me. I don’t recall hearing anyone else yell it out either, so that meant that we could only hope it would be played later in the set, by design, rather than by request.

A minute later Kathy had decided what she was going to play. She turned to the bass player, and said “You’ve never heard this one before, so just fake it in C”. πŸ˜‰

Then she started playing Asking Us To Dance! I have written before that Lois is Always Right (search if you want to read it, it pains me to link to it so many times) πŸ˜‰ but what I am not sure I’ve ever mentioned in public before is that Lois also conjures people and things by simply speaking about them out loud. No, I’m not kidding! Perhaps that’s why we have such an affinity to Wicked! πŸ˜‰

To repeat, the rest of the set was spectacular as well, and the band is scary good, as individuals and as a group. Of course, Bill nails every single guitar riff, the subtle ones, and the scary fast ones as well.

Here’s an admission that I hope will be taken in the spirit it is intended (meaning, this has nothing to do with Kathy’s abilities!). On occasion, without trying or thinking about it, I realize that I’m concentrating on Bill’s playing, and Kathy’s voice becomes the background accompaniment to this extraordinary guitar playing. Again, that’s not to say that Kathy isn’t an amazing headliner, she truly is.

This is possible because Kathy is extremely generous in giving Bill so many opportunities to shine. I am willing to swear on a stack of bibles that she looks over at Bill with the same awe that I do, every time he takes a solo. They’ve been playing together for 18 years, and she’s no slouch on the guitar herself, so if I’m right, it’s a beautiful thing to see that she appreciates him now as much (if not more!) than she did in the beginning.

In addition, Bill arranges much of their music (he arranged the Christmas Tour and worked with Kathy on the Coal album as well). In other words, in addition to being a genius on the guitar, he’s also an amazing musician from a theory point of view as well.

The first set lasted 55 minutes. After a 15 minute intermission, they came out for the Coal set. As Kathy herself jokes, it’s quite depressing. It’s historically important to never forget the stories and times that these songs are about, but that doesn’t make it any more lighthearted. It’s beautiful stuff, extremely evocative, but it’s not something I’d want to listen to constantly.

Ironically, it’s in this set that Eamonn really wailed on some fiddle playing. You have to blink really rapidly to make sure it’s possible to move your fingers and the bow that fast and make such gorgeous sounds at the same time. Wow.

They finished with the same instrumental (the only instrumental of the night) that they did at Joe’s Pub, including Kathy playing on the penny whistle (or piccolo, or tiny flute, who knows?). I am crazy about that song. I could swear it’s something either Nickel Creek or Chris Thile plays too, but I’m not really sure. Simply brilliant.

They left the stage at 10:20pm, which made for two hours of playing (not including the intermission). A very generous show! I’m extremely glad we went. That said, as much as I loved the show (and I did!), it’s the rest of the story, coming up right now (to a browser near you), that really made the evening special!

I said I’d mention the harmonies. They are pleasant (and professional) enough, but very sparse (only during choruses) and both Eamonn and David seem to sing the same notes (meaning, two-part harmony, not three). Bill doesn’t even have a mic, so he doesn’t sing on stage. After seeing Girlyman twice in the last week, the harmonies last night felt gratuitous. Nothing wrong with them, but hard to call them harmonies in comparison…

OK, now is the part of the post that I most enjoy writing, and I hope I don’t lose you along the way.

When I first posted the above-referenced announcement of Bill Cooley’s MySpace page, I got a lovely comment on my blog from a complete stranger, Willa Shaffer. After replying to her comment, I visited her MySpace page. As a result of that, and another page of hers that I visited, we exchanged a few emails directly.

She is a very big Kathy Mattea fan and saw my Bill Cooley news via a Google alert. Since she has been to many Kathy concerts, she knows the band well too, including Bill. She’s a big fan of Bill’s as well! Great! She let me know that she would be at the same show we would be at, and that she had seats in the first row, so coupled with her photo on MySpace, I should be able to find her easily. Cool. After a few more emails, we stopped communicating until a week ago, when we confirmed that we would try and get together.

As an homage to Willa, let me provide a link to another of her favorite artists. She feels similarly about Krista Detor as Lois and I feel about Girlyman. Meaning, not only does she love Krista, but she really works hard to make sure others discover her. Here’s my small attempt to help her on her mission!

We got to the Barns at 7:15 and bought both the Coal CD as well as a John Vezner CD (that’s Kathy’s husband, who is an amazing songwriter, who Lois really loves). There was a sign at the merch table saying that Kathy would be out to sign CDs after the show. It was our intention to get on line and get both CDs signed.

We went in to the Barn (theater) at 7:40 and took our seats in the balcony. It seemed further away from the stage than the view from our fifth row seats made it appear the week before. On the other hand, the plastic seats were surprisingly more comfortable than the padded ones on the floor. We looked for Willa, but she had let me know in advance that she couldn’t make it early, so we decided to wait for the intermission or after the show.

At 7:45pm, both Lois and I noticed that Bill came on the stage to set up his guitars. He was alone on the stage. Lois encouraged me to go down and say hello. We were very far away, and I didn’t know if he’d still be there after I climbed down the stairs and made my way to the stage, but Lois insisted, so I dutifully went. I indeed got to shake his hand. He remembered that I was from NY (which was cool in itself!), and thanked me for coming. We agreed to connect after the show. Here’s a grainy photo that Lois took of that encounter from the balcony:

Hadar and Bill Cooley at the Stage

Yes folks, that’s my honking bald spot. Nothing more to see here, keep moving along…

At intermission, Lois told me to go down and look for Willa. Given my mental image of her (with reasonably light hair color being the key, since we could only see the back of people’s heads!), I declined, since I had no likely suspects. Lois went instead. After standing there for a few minutes, and asking one woman (who declined to accept being called Willa), Lois was about to head back.

At that point, the real Willa stopped her and asked if her name was Lois? Haha. Thank goodness I sent Willa a link with our pictures in it as well, so she recognized Lois from that! From the balcony, Willa’s hair looked jet black. It wasn’t.

Willa mentioned to Lois that there were four empty seats in the row behind them. Lois asked the usherette whether we could move down from the balcony and she said yes. Cool. So, for the second half of the show, we were in the second row, in the exact same seats that we were in three rows further back for Girlyman! While it would have been great to sit in those seats for the entire show, I have to admit that having both perspectives during the same show was quite interesting.

After the show, we got on line and waited to get our CDs signed. I was also waiting for Bill to come out. After a while, Willa joined us and said that Bill almost never comes out, and that I should go back to the stage to catch him while he was packing his guitars. I hesitated, and didn’t go. After a few more minutes, I decided to hit the men’s room before our long drive back to NY.

When I came out, Bill was standing there with Lois and Willa. Willa was so kind to have gone back and asked Bill to come out! Thanks Willa!

We chatted briefly with Bill and Lois took this photo of us together:

Hadar and Bill Cooley

By this time, it was getting late, and we were going to push through all the way back to NY, so reluctantly, we bailed on meeting Kathy. Bill signed our CDs, so it wasn’t a loss. πŸ™‚

Willa informed me later that Kathy got caught up with a group of her former Music Teachers, and ended up coming out much later than she usually does. Great for her, and slightly bad luck for us. We’ll catch her next time!

I noticed as we were leaving that people were surrounding Bill and asking for autographs. He had admitted to me during our chat that he rarely comes out. He should, as Willa told me today that people continued to surround him long after we left. We’re not alone in understanding that this man has more talent in his 10 fingers than most people have in their entire bodies! πŸ™‚

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

We got home (to the house) at 3am. We slept for three hours and 40 minutes, and got up and drove to the city. Now we’re off.

Today, we exchanged a ton of emails with Willa. She’s a hoot, and writes fantastically, and we are so glad to have made a new life-long friend. Have I mentioned how much I love the Internet? If not, let me say I love the Internet! πŸ™‚

Don’t forget, we have a Girlyman Live CD Contest going on. One entry so far, and it’s a very good one! πŸ™‚

Girlyman at Wolftrap

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Last night finally came, thankfully! We’ve been waiting (not so patiently!) since November 4th, 2007 to see Girlyman live again. That’s 143 days, in a row (if you can believe that). Somehow, we survived, but I’m not sure how!

Continuing with the new tradition, I’ll cover the concert first, then circle back and share lots more stuff from the day. That will allow people who only care about their Girlyman Fix to bail out after this part.

This was our first time at the Barns at Wolftrap. It won’t be our last. Not just because the place is simply fantastic, but we just so happen to have tickets for this coming Tuesday night (April 1st, 2008) to see Kathy Mattea (and of course, accompanying her, the amazing Bill Cooley!).

We had four seats in the fifth row, left center stage. Excellent! Opening for Girlyman was a group called We’re About 9. I have quite a bit to say about them, but I’ll save it for the section immediately following Girlyman, before the rest of my shtick, since this post is really about Girlyman.

Girlyman came on stage at exactly 9pm. It’s hard to describe the joy and excitement that was evident in the entire crowd. There might have been a reasonable number of newbies in the audience, but even the vast majority of those have either heard the band before (CD, streaming, etc.) or were there with friends who are die-hard groupies.

In fact, the two people we brought were seeing Girlyman for the first time live, but each have separate copies of Joyful Sign (gifts from us) even though they are a married couple. πŸ˜‰

The band feels the love immediately, and reflects it back. These are not jaded people who take the love for granted, even though they absolutely should expect it at this point! It’s heartwarming.

They open the show with the same song that they opened the Highline Ballroom show with (that was our last time, on November 4th, 2007), On The Air (the first cut on the Little Star CD). Unfortunately, for the first time ever (OK, we’ve only seen them live twice before) πŸ˜‰ they actually take liberty with the song and do it somewhat differently than the CD version.

It was OK, but not as good. Sorry folks, I have to call it like I see it. Many might disagree (perhaps everyone except for me), but while very nice, it wasn’t as good. I was immediately nervous. If this was going to be a night of complete experimentation, I would probably be somewhat disappointed. Not the least of which is that one minute before they came on, I leaned over to my friend and said “Wait until they come out, it’s complete magic!”.

I’ve written about this before, in a different (but somewhat analogous) situation (about the lead performers in Wicked the Musical). I can understand how an artist can be bored doing the same thing every night for years on end. They want to grow, stretch, etc. In the case of Girlyman, for me (I realize this obviously isn’t true for them), it shouldn’t apply. Here’s why:

  • They actually don’t tour as much as other road bands (e.g., The Wailin’ Jennys)
  • They have more material than a single show, so they can mix it up
  • They have quite a lot of new material, so they are experimenting!
  • While they’ve been around a while (7+ years?), it’s hardly an eternity…

So, I say that their fans (a constantly expanding group, especially if I have anything to do about it!), are hardly sick of the current versions.

Whew. Onward. The fear passed quickly, as they only fooled around with one other song, more about that later.

While everything was beautiful, even from the beginning, to my ear, it took a while for their voices to warm up, get stronger, and gel together as wonderfully as we’ve come to expect. That’s not so much of a complaint as a surprising observation. They dazzled last year from the first note at both Joe’s Pub and the Highline, and the acoustics at the Barns were good.

Once they got rolling (not too long into the set), they were spectacular (you better not be surprised!). πŸ™‚

They always have an amazing stage presence, rapport with the crowd, and banter (between them, and separately aimed toward the audience). Last night took it to new heights. Seriously, they were so on, I’m not sure people would have stoned them if they didn’t play a single song! OK, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but not as much as you might think.

When they talk to the crowd, you feel like you’re at a family reunion, sharing laughs and catching up with relatives, people who you deeply care about, and want to hear about, even though you have mostly separate lives the rest of the year!

They had a phenomenal mini-set of fun stuff. Sorry, but I don’t like to ruin these kinds of surprises for those that have tickets to see them on this tour. What’s really cool is that while the songs are fun, they still share all of the musical qualities that we’ve all come to expect from Girlyman, great musicianship, great voices, and impeccable harmonies. If you get that, and get to laugh out loud at the same time, who can complain? πŸ™‚

All three of them were on top of their game yesterday. Ty actually spent a bit more time on the guitar (she’s excellent!) than she has before. The new material is a real hit. They have a new Live CD coming out this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready last night. Thankfully, it will be available when we see them again this coming Sunday, in NYC. Yippee!

Time to pick one last bone with the band. Their politics are reasonably obvious. No problem, we all have our own politics (of some sort or another), whether we make it obvious or not. In the case of Girlyman, its often laudable. For example, I learned more about biodiesel (the good and the bad!) from Nate and Ty’s separate blog posts than I had previously known. I admire their effort and caring to do the right thing!

That said, I’ve written before that I don’t pay for musical entertainment with the expectation to be lectured to on politics (by either side!). Having seen Girlyman twice before, I had no reason to expect that to happen (as it hadn’t happened at Joe’s or Highline). It didn’t really happen last night either (meaning, no lecture, no speech, etc.).

But, during the intro to Through To Sunrise (Lois’ favorite song of theirs!), Ty couldn’t resist saying that she partially wrote the song looking forward to the end of the Bush Presidency. The crowd ate it up, giving her a rousing ovation. That’s all she said, hardly a lecture. Also, hardly necessary.

I’m not writing this in support of Bush, or the Presidency in general. I’m writing this because it’s odd, that a group that writes so deeply and passionately about love and other subjects, should find the need to take open slaps at anyone, including someone who they obviously disagree with politically.

I’d actually go further. I found it to be pandering (to the audience!). It’s a guaranteed laugh and clap getter, in most venues. To me, it’s a cheap laugh, especially given that one way or another, he’s out in less than a year. It’s no longer wishful thinking on the part of his detractors.

Sorry to drone on, but I need to put a fine point on it. Earlier in the show, in a more light-hearted romp on the current crop of candidates, Ty made it clear that she believes in Obama (at least it was clear to me). Until Obama got dragged into the mud relatively recently, his rhetoric lectured us on being united, not divided. No one with a public megaphone needs to take cheap shots at the opposition (though they all do…).

Sorry. It’s off my chest now. Do I love Girlyman (or Ty) any less? Not a single drop. It wasn’t egregious, didn’t show me a dark side I was previously unaware of. It was just unnecessary.

The other disappointing thing about Through To Sunrise is that it was the only other song last night that they heavily experimented with. It too was fine, but not even close to the standard that Lois and I are nuts about. Oh well.

Everything else was perfect! πŸ˜‰ Including a one and a half song encore (with a fun surprise). Girlyman was on stage for 105 minutes. Very nice!

We loved it, in every way, so the amount of words dedicated to the negative stuff shouldn’t be used to judge the overall effect of the evening. Our friends loved it as well!

We really wanted to hang around and finally say hello to the group, but our friends had a very early flight out of Dulles and we wanted to drop them off at their airport hotel as quickly as possible. Hopefully, we’ll rectify this on Sunday at Joe’s Pub.

OK, that’s the end of the Girlyman section, and you can safely stop reading if that’s the only reason you landed here. Next is We’re about 9.

Whenever I buy tickets to see a headliner that I’m in love with, I get a twinge when I see an opening act announced that I’ve never heard of. There are two reasons:

  1. The group might stink (which can affect the crowd too, possibly spilling into the headliner’s vibe)
  2. The headliner might simply play a short set (perhaps much shorter!) especially when the venue has hard time deadlines

When I saw that We’re About 9 was opening for Girlyman, I went to their music page and listened to the songs available there. I liked them instantly, so #1 could be scratched off the list. Just as Girlyman was complementary when opening for the Indigo Girls, We’re About 9 was going to be complementary to Girlyman.

I’ve already reported that Girlyman was on stage for 105 minutes, so #2 turned out to be nothing to worry about this time either.

From their website, We’re About 9 has three members. When we were reading the program waiting for the show to start, we noticed that the full page ad showing the group, only had two people in the picture. The Bio on the next page talked about all three. We remarked that it seemed strange. They never mentioned the third person the entire night, even though only two of them performed last night (Brian Gundersdorf and Katie Graybeal).

It’s hard to describe them succinctly (of course, it’s hard for me to do anything succinctly). πŸ˜‰

They are old-style folk meisters, with very nice harmonies, and excellent musicianship. Brian is very good on the guitar, and Katie is excellent on the bass (and on the one song that she played the guitar). They both have good voices.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Bob Dylan, especially in my youth. Brian reminds me of him in some ways. There is a depth to most of their lyrics that can be insightful and instructive. His voice isn’t gravelly like Dylan, but it has an earthy quality, passion, and driving nature that is still reminiscent of Dylan.

On the other hand, some of their songs are incredibly playful (not that this wasn’t the case for Dylan as well!). But, even the playful songs are rich and complicated in their lyrics. At their heart, they are story tellers, sometimes with a deep message, sometimes a playful one, but almost always with a story.

Many of their lyrics are also sophisticated. By that, I meant that you have to listen very closely to get the meaning, as well as sometimes just to understand the actual words. Some of their songs cram so many words into a stanza of music, that you wonder not only how they can remember all the words, but how they can sing them in synchronized harmony without missing a note, breath or word. It’s extremely impressive!

I could go on, but I’ll end by simply saying that they were a hit with the four of us, and Lois went and bought two of their CDs during the intermission (signed, of course). πŸ™‚ They have more CDs, and after I listened to both today (Engine and Paperdust::Stardust), I am sure I will be buying more of their music (I think they have six CDs out, but I’m not sure).

They are not playing with Girlyman this Sunday at Joe’s, but they are playing in a number of other future dates with them. There was a cool surprise during the We’re About 9 set, but I won’t ruin it, in case they repeat it in future shows.

They were on for 38 minutes. As much as I enjoyed it, it made me a little worried that Girlyman wouldn’t be on for as long as I would want them to be, but it all worked out (as reported above).

OK, if you came just for the music, leave now. The rest is about everything yesterday leading up to the concert. πŸ™‚

We bought last night’s tickets a long time ago. We bought four tickets, in the hopes of bringing our friends from Richmond, but knowing that if they couldn’t make it, we’d have no trouble enticing other people to discover the wonders of Girlyman.

Our Richmond friends committed right away, so we were set. The original plan was that they would drive to Fredericksburg (where we often work) and we’d drive up together to Vienna, VA. A week ago, those plans changed. They needed to fly out early this morning from Dulles to CA. They got to Fredericksburg via car service, and we drove them to the show, and as reported above, dropped them afterwards at an airport hotel.

In between, we had dinner in Vienna. We would have been happy to have sandwiches at the bar at the Barns. They don’t open their doors until an hour before show time (7pm last night), but we were in the neighborhood by 6pm. So, I asked the GPS to highlight nearby restaurants. It generated a large list, but we decided to go simple, and headed for a local TGI Friday’s.

When we arrived, we didn’t see it. We asked a group of people relaxing outside in the gorgeous 75 degree weather where it was. They laughed and said it was long gone. Oh well. Right there was another choice that the GPS had shown, Hunan Lion. We went in there instead.

Fantastic food, fantastic value (prices), fantastic atmosphere, great service, zero complaints! The only thing that made me feel bad (and always does) is that the place was relatively empty. The staff still went out of their way to enhance everyone’s experience by spreading out the guests widely in what is a very large restaurant. We appreciated the comfort and privacy, but it made the place feel even emptier than it really was.

Hunan Lion in Vienna, VA is highly recommended.

When we got to the Barns, at 7:05pm, we had coffee and cookies in the bar. Yummy, and bodes well for the sandwiches, which Lois and I will likely do for dinner this coming Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, someone I worked with for many years at UBS stopped by the office to visit. When he was at UBS, he worked in our London office (he relocated from VA just for the job). His family fell in love with the UK, and when the stint at UBS ended, they moved back to VA for a few years, but really missed the UK. Roughly five years ago, they moved back, and he runs his own software company there.

I hadn’t seen him since he moved, and we had a very leisurely lunch together, and had a great time catching up. Thanks for making the drive down Chris, it was great to see you! πŸ™‚

Tomorrow, we head back to NYC. We’ll be seeing Girlyman again on Sunday night at Joe’s Pub. We head back down on Monday, and have Kathy Mattea back at the Barns on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we’re back at Joe’s Pub to see Tim O’Brien, so we have an insane travel schedule ahead of us, but all for good and fun reasons, so we promise not to complain. πŸ™‚

Dave Mason at Blend

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Last night we saw Dave Mason play at Blend in Ridgewood, NJ.

Some things about last night were perfect, others far from it. Since I acquiesced to Lois when similar problems occurred at Canal Room in NYC (covered in this post), I’ll do it again, and cover the music (the perfect part!) first, so you can ignore all the peeves later on.

I have loved Dave Mason from the very start (I was a fan of Traffic, as well as the Dave Mason Band, forever). I still actively listen to both bands on my iPod. Lois doesn’t know Traffic, and until recently, didn’t know Dave Mason well either (though some of his stuff is so famous that she knew it, but didn’t know whose song it was).

When I noticed that Dave was playing at Blend (more details on that in the negative section), I played one of his albums for her in the car, so she too was excited to see them last night.

There are five guys in the band. I linked to the band section of the site above, rather than to the home page (which doesn’t seem to be particularly up-to-date). You can certainly read the bios on that site better than I can summarize them here, but I want to mention at least something about each member of the band.

In their order on the stage, left-to-right:

  • John (Johnne) Sambataro played both acoustic and electric guitars. He was fantastic. When it was his turn to wail, wail he did, leaving the crowd in a frenzy. But, he’s no hog, as he supported the entire band when that was more appropriate.
  • Bill Mason played the organ (electric piano). He was solid the entire night. On a few numbers, Dave turned it over to Bill for long solos. He was incredible on all of them. Like Johnne above, he brought down the house whenever the spotlight was on him.
  • Alvino Bennett played the drums. Super solid, perfect rhythm all night, just the right amount of flare. They never gave him a real solo, so I don’t know how he cooks when it’s all about him, but I have no doubt that he can cook. His sense of timing is exceptional. My only complaint is that he’s a little too unselfish, a little too the glue that keeps the band together. Suffice it to say, a great drummer!
  • Alex Drizos played bass. Basically, everything that I said about Alvino above regarding the drums applies to Alex on the bass. So solid it was wonderful to watch and feel the bass lines that he was laying down. Nothing flashy, ever, but always there to keep the bottom perfectly with the entire band.

Both Johnne and Alex sang incredible harmony with Dave all night. Bill sang on at least one number that I noticed, but certainly not many.

Here are photos of the band, sorry about the quality:

Johnne Sambataro and Bill MasonAlvino BennettAlex Drizos

On to the star, Dave Mason himself. I was a tad nervous going in for three reasons:

  1. Would he still have it? (If you recall, I briefly mentioned how awful the Jefferson Starship were in my uber-post on rediscovering live music.)
  2. Would he play the old big hits, or just do new stuff (and if the latter, was his new stuff any good)?
  3. Even if he played the old stuff, and even if he was flawless, would he play them the way I expected to hear them, or would he tinker too much?

I have definitive answers to all of my questions (and perhaps yours) coming up right now! πŸ™‚

Dave Mason is awesome. That answers #1 above. His voice is excellent (as always), and he can hit the full range of notes required to make his hits come alive, which is not unimpressive, since there are some pretty high notes in a number those songs. Whew!

His fingers still fly on the guitar. He doesn’t miss any notes, and he’s as soulful on some of the leads, while rocking the house down on others. Quiet when appropriate, driving at other times. A master of the guitar. On a number of his big hits, he played a 12-string guitar, and the sound of that is just wonderful as well.

Here’s Dave on the 12 string guitar:

Dave Mason on the 12 string guitar

On to #2. The answer is both! He played quite a number of his giant hits, opening the show with World in Changes and Let It Go, Let if Flow. During the night, he also played All Along the Watchtower, Every Woman, We Just Disagree and a couple of other favorites. He also played the title cut from the first Traffic album!

But, I said both above! He also played new tunes that I have never heard. They were awesome! While I would have been wildly disappointed to not hear any of the oldies, I have to admit, if he only played new stuff, and it was as good as the (at least three) numbers that he played last night, I still would have considered the show to be fantastic!

Finally, #3 above. If you watch any TV, you may know the slogan for Simply Orange (it’s an orange juice company). Their slogan is: 100% Unfooled Around With! That should be Dave’s motto with regard to playing the crowd favorites. He couldn’t have delivered better. Whew! πŸ™‚

Dave was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. That was based on his being part of Traffic. For my money, he could be inducted again, just for good measure, on the basis of his Dave Mason Band work, including his new stuff!

Two of his new numbers were played relatively early in the show, and both were electric numbers. Here’s a YouTube video of one of them (from a previous show, well done, but much cooler last night). He only plays a drop of guitar on that number (but still beautifully), and it doesn’t stretch his vocal capabilities, but it’s such a fun song! The catch-phrase line is: Ain’t Your Legs Tired Baby, ‘Cause You Keep On Runnin’ Through My Mind! πŸ˜‰

As a group, they are extremely tight. No one ever overwhelms the others and the sound engineer keeps the relative volumes correct throughout. His name is Chris Curtis.

They played for 75 minutes, then left the stage (extremely briefly) for the obligatory encore. When they came back out it was just Dave and Johnne with acoustic guitars only. They played another new number that was gorgeous! Then the entire band rejoined, and they played Dave’s money song, Feelin’ Alright. They jammed it perfectly with Dave and Johnne playing lead guitars that reminded me of some of the great guitar duels performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Total time on stage was almost exactly 90 minutes. It left me with a strong taste for more, but it was completely satisfying at the same time! Bravo Dave, Johnne, Bill, Alvino and Alex, you were simply awesome!

They’re playing on April 4th, 2008 at BB King. I’m only telling you this because I just grabbed two tickets, so I’m no longer worried about him selling out (last night’s show was sold out). You are now forewarned that if you don’t go see Dave, you’re missing out on a great show! πŸ˜‰

OK, this post is already long, but has only been positive. I have a ton of negative things to say about last night, and it won’t be short either, so this post will be horribly long when it’s all said and done. Please feel free to stop reading if you only want to bask in the glory that is the Dave Mason Band, as they were truly as good as it gets…

<Rant>

As you already know, last night turned into YAAWTEW (Yet Another All’s Well That Ends Well) evening. While I can’t complain about the end, and therefore the experience in its entirety, there is plenty to complain about along the way. πŸ™

I had never heard of Blend before. They use at least two separate tickets agents, TicketWeb and Ticketmaster. I have accounts with both, and one of them must have shared my email with Blend. I don’t mind that. A month ago, I got an email from Blend promoting a specific show. I never heard of the band, and I didn’t particularly care to discover them (we have an insane schedule as it stands).

But, I quickly scoured the list of upcoming acts, and noticed that Dave Mason was playing there on March 6th, 2008! Wow, I thought that it would be cool if we could swing it. Unfortunately, at first blush, it wasn’t looking all that likely. We were scheduled to be in VA that day. It was also likely that we would be heading home that day, but I couldn’t be sure a month in advance, so I sat on the email, but left it visible in my inbox to annoyingly remind me each day.

After two weeks, we were about to leave for VA, and I realized that if we wanted to do it, we could swing it. I asked Lois. As noted above, she wasn’t really familiar with Dave’s music, but she’s a genius, and realized that I was more excited than a casual “Hey, do you want to see some band I used to listen to?”

She encouraged me to get tickets. As I noted in my recent post on Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater, I get nervous going to new venues, in particular when they are first-come first-served type of places. If you read that post (or have ever been to a show at Birchmere!), then you know that my fears regarding Birchmere were 100% unfounded, as the place is nearly perfect in all respects!

What’s the opposite of Birchmere? Blend! πŸ™

We called two weeks in advance, to ask some standard questions (OK, Lois called, at my request, to get my standard questions answered). πŸ˜‰ She asked if they serve dinner, they said yes. She asked if it was in the room where the show was held, they said yes, but that they also serve dinner in a more formal dining room. Lois asked again (I heard it with my own ears!) whether we could eat in our seats in the theater where the show would be, and again, she was told yes.

She was told that the doors open at 7pm for the show. The rest of the rooms (bar and restaurant) open closer to 4pm I think, so if we showed up really early, we could eat first I think. But, we were planning on leaving from Zope, so we would be driving straight from VA, and likely getting there at around 6:30pm.

For many reasons, we decided to leave on Wed from VA and head home. We got out later than we had planned, and arrived home at 10pm. We worked all day and left for the show at around 5:45pm. We got to Blend at 6:25. I dropped Lois at the door so that she could pick up our tickets (they were held at Will Call) and get on line for the 7pm opening.

After circling to find parking, I walked in the front door at 6:35. Lois was nowhere to be found. I had to wait for a number of people to be seated in the restaurant (including Jay Gold, if you know who that is!). Then I got to ask about Lois. They had no idea who I was talking about, but told me I was welcome to walk around and look for her…

I did, and I spotted her in the restaurant sitting alone at a table. I was surprised, to say the least. She told me that they informed her at the door that they would not be serving in the show room. It was now 6:45. We were more interested in good seats than in dinner, but I was pretty hungry nonetheless. When the waitress came by to ask if we wanted drinks, we told her that we were still trying to decide what to do.

We made one mistake which I am truly sorry for, and that is that we stood the entire time. While we weren’t directly in anyone’s way, the mere fact that we didn’t sit at our table was already a distraction to the rest of the diners. It also caused more of the staff to pay attention to us (which part of the reason why we didn’t sit).

Another hostess came over to ask what the problem was. We explained, and she asked “Who told you that they would serve dinner downstairs?”. Huh? So, either we’re liars, or you’re going to spank the person who gave us the bad information? Either way, you aren’t close to solving the problem. We explained our situation again, and she said she needed to check further and left.

A minute later, the manager came by. We explained (again). He said “Of course they are serving dinner downstairs, you’re welcome to just eat there!”. Lois was satisfied, but I said “Great, but that’s not what the hostess said.” Oh oh. You could see him turn white as a ghost, and he immediately backtracked and said “Uh, wait, let me check.”

He left, and Lois left with him. A few minutes later, a woman named Lori (sp?) came over to talk to me. She was marginally prickly, but I could understand, as we were borderline causing a scene (just from the traffic at our table). I explained our situation (again). She said that there was no food being served downstairs, but that occasionally, they do, when there is no separate seating and standing areas.

I told her that we called and asked specifically for this show and were told that they would be serving. Clearly, she thought I was lying. Again, wonderful customer service. Now it got weird…

I told her that all we cared about was getting good seats downstairs. I told her that my wife wasn’t really that hungry, and that she was willing to wait on the line for the doors to open at 7pm, and that I would order and eat here at the table, problem solved!

Amazingly, she says to me “What makes you think the doors open at 7pm? The doors open whenever the artist, in this case Dave, is in the mood to play!” Huh? Did the person we called also get that part wrong? Are the show times as listed on the site just guesses? If the artist wants to start playing at 6:30pm is that OK too, or just late starts are acceptable? This was getting surreal.

At that moment, Lois returned, in a reasonable huff. That was unfortunate, because Lori clearly had a hair trigger as well, and Lois was as close to that mood as possible. She told me to go with her, that indeed they were serving food downstairs. Lori lost her cool. She said “Maam, I’m the owner, and I’m telling you that they aren’t serving food downstairs!”. Lois said “I was just down there, and people are eating, and the bartender told me that I was welcome to come in and order!”

The fireworks started for real now. Lori called someone else over and told them to go downstairs and make sure the door was locked! Very nice touch! She then explained that the food was being served to the band, not the public. When Lois again said that the bartender told her she could come and eat, Lori said that we were welcome to eat standing at the bar, but not until the doors opened for the public, which would be very uncomfortable.

When she saw how amazed we were to be treated this way (by an owner no less!), she offered to refund our money. We politely declined. We walked out of the restaurant, and went around the corner to a Quiznos. This was my first time in one, and I had a very nice Mesquite Chicken sandwich on toasted whole wheat. We were back in the place by 7:05pm!

We went downstairs to pick up our tickets. There were already roughly 20 people ahead of us crowding the door (which was indeed locked!). We were given green paper wristbands, signifying that we had seats (not specific ones, just that we were allowed to sit in a chair). Standing room only people had orange paper wristbands. We were crowded in like cattle, in a tiny area, waiting for the doors to open. People were piling down the stairs to get on the line. This couldn’t end well…

It got extremely hot down there. Lori showed up and announced that she would turn off the heat, and I think she did, but it didn’t get cool, it just stopped getting hotter. The doors didn’t open until nearly 7:35pm.

When we walked in, we saw that there were roughly eight or nine rows of chairs tightly packed together, and then open space from the last row to the door. We could have gotten aisle seats in the first few rows, but I grabbed two seats in the fourth row, dead center. So far, so good. The seats were hard plastic, and were reasonably uncomfortable to sit on for hours, but that was hardly the low point in the evening.

The temperature in the room was close to absolute zero! While I only had a T-Shirt on, I also (cleverly) declined to check my coat in the sauna area, so I was able to get comfortable quickly. A number of people commented to me that I was indeed a very smart guy to bring a parka-like coat to the show. πŸ˜‰ Over the course of the evening, it got marginally warmer. I never took my coat off, but during the encore, I was mildly on the warm side…

So, I was prepared for the show to start late, after all, nothing in this place was as advertised, so why would I expect 8pm to be a firm time. A little to my surprise, someone came on the stage at 8:09, perhaps to announce Dave?

Nope. The person came on to announce an unlisted warm-up group. Well, group is a stretch. Two people, both locals that play in the upstairs bar at least twice a month. Nikki Armstrong and Dave Fields. Nikki is a blues singer, and Dave is blues singer/guitarist/producer.

Dave’s guitar (an acoustic one) wasn’t mic’ed correctly, so that delayed the show. While they were trying to sort that out, Nikki was freezing on the stage, and she was wearing a coat! They gave up (thankfully, reasonably quickly) and Dave switched to an electric guitar, which worked.

As I’ve mentioned before, not communicating effective and correctly with your customers is not a great strategy. These people were not listed on the site. Aside from the surprise angle, their music wasn’t a great match for an act like Dave either.

They played six songs. Most of the people that were seated were polite. We were quiet during the songs, and clapped after each one. The people who were standing completely ignored Nikki and Dave. They couldn’t have talked louder if you egged them on to try. Honestly, I can’t even blame them. No one came to see them, and there was nothing about their music which was compelling enough to grab our attention.

Basically, they have some talent (certainly tons more than I have, so who am I to talk?). But, they are more like a lounge act (in my opinion), that is expected to be there in the background, for some people to focus on a bit here and a bit there, but for others to continue to converse while the background music fills the room.

Dave plays the guitar respectably, but considering the string of simply amazing guitarists that we’ve seen in the past six months (Bill Cooley, Joe Don Rooney, Keith Urban, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Craig D’Andrea, etc. – all linked in the tags section of the post), it was a disappointment.

In general, it was a time-waster and a disappointment. Of course, at that point, we were wondering whether this was just par for the course for Blend, and whether we should have taken the refund. The show was sold out, so offering us the refund wasn’t all that generous (it certainly was offered with derision, not apology), because Lori could have sold those tickets five seconds later.

They left the stage at 8:45pm. I assumed that Dave would be on at 9pm. All of the equipment was already fully set up. Wrong again. They came on the stage at 9:12pm.

You already know that from that second onwards, it was a perfect evening. Of course, we didn’t get home until 11:30pm (yup, we’re old folk, so that’s late), when we could have been home by 10:30 if they had put Dave on at 8pm…

The only good news (not counting the concert itself) about Blend is that they didn’t get a dime of our money, even though we started out wanting to support the place. We wanted to have dinner there, but I ended up eating at Quiznos. I wanted to drink there, but ended up happily passing (even though waitresses were serving people drinks from the bar at the seats). I simply was happy not to give them any more of my money, even if it meant missing out on a chocolate martini. πŸ˜‰

</rant>

Bill Cooley Now More Accessible

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I am very happy to announce that Bill Cooley now has a MySpace page. I have raved about Bill ever since seeing him live with Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub.

The only problem was that spreading the word about how great this guy is was difficult, because his CDs weren’t as easy to purchase (or listen to online) as some of the other people that I’ve been writing about lately.

Some of that just changed, and hopefully more will as Bill gets closer to delivering his next CD sometime this year.

On the MySpace page (linked above), you can hear four tracks from his existing CDs. They are all beautiful. As opposed to the Candyrat guys (who are all awesome as well), Bill has a much wider range of styles, including playing with other instruments accompanying him rather than just pure guitar (which I also love, but variety is nice too) πŸ˜‰ and Bill is a master of all the styles he plays!

On a personal note, I was really happy to see the MySpace page, because I saw his upcoming concert schedule. On April 1st and 2nd, he’s playing with Kathy Mattea (the Coal tour) at the Barns at Wolftrap.

We’ve never been there before, but people say it’s one of the best places to see a concert. We have tickets to see Girlyman there on March 26th already (we’re experiencing withdrawal as we haven’t seen Girlyman live since November 4th). Given that we’ll already be in VA that week, I just snagged tickets to the April 1st show for Lois and me. Yippee, a chance to see Kathy and Bill live again!

Phil Keaggy Beyond Nature

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In this post, I mentioned that I intended to buy Beyond Nature and Freehand – Acoustic Sketches II by Phil Keaggy. Then, in this post, I explained how I was going to get it, namely, in a bundle from philkeaggy.com (including a repeat of Acoustic Sketches, which I had previously purchased as a download from Amazon.com).

It took a long time for those CDs to arrive, but due to our travel schedule, it’s possible that they were sitting here waiting patiently for over two weeks. I finally got to unwrap them and listen to both Beyond Nature, and Freehand – Acoustic Sketches II.

Both are excellent albums, and Beyond Nature is likely better (at least on first listen). Thanks to those who recommended it, including Bill Cooley and DigitalDreamDoor’s top 100 Acoustic Guitar Albums List.

As mentioned in the previous post, I now have a shrink-wrapped CD of Acoustic Sketches by Phil Keaggy. Even though that’s higher quality than the download I purchased from Amazon.com, I am going to give away the CD to one lucky friend.

If you’re reading this, know me personally, like Acoustic Guitar music and are interested in owning this CD, don’t hesitate to let me know (publicly as a comment, or privately in an email, IM or phone call). I haven’t decided whether I’ll give it to the first person that asks, or whether I’ll give everyone a few days, and see whether something else prompts the decision (proximity for ease of handoff, need, level of begging, etc.). πŸ˜‰

For the moment, I’m done collecting Phil Keaggy music. I like it a lot, but I’ve accumulated so much new acoustic guitar music in the past two months, that I’m close to done in general (at least for a while), not just with Phil. That will be the subject of a different post, in the next few days.

I feel a flurry of posts coming on over the weekend…

Acoustic Guitar Update

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This is another long post, so bail now, while you can, or grab a cup of coffee (to keep you awake). πŸ˜‰ Actually, the post itself isn’t insanely long, but if you watch each of the videos that I’ve linked it, the entire trip will take a while…

I’ve gone on and on in a number of posts about my long-time love for acoustic guitar music, and my recent discovery of some masters of the genre. I could link to those posts, but if you have an interest, it’s simple enough to type the word “acoustic” in the search box and see the titles and decide for yourself.

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week, begging to be set free. I was waiting for one of two things to happen before writing it. Neither has happened, but a third (unexpected) event occurred last night, finally pushing me over the edge to get this on paper. πŸ˜‰

This new adventure was officially kicked off when I saw Bill Cooley live accompanying Kathy Mattea. I wrote that he might be the best acoustic guitarist I’d ever heard. Eric Sink commented that those were fighting words (not really!) πŸ˜‰ and pointed me to Phil Keaggy. When I reviewed The Master and The Musician by Phil Keaggy, Eric commented that I should check out Michael Hedges and possibly (only if I dare!) Kaki King.

Like I’ve said before, anyone who doesn’t pay attention when Eric Sink speaks is likely a dummy. I try hard not to be a dummy (not always successful), so I checked both of them out. What, exactly, does that mean?

When I was growing up, one discovered music mostly on the radio. Word of mouth was probably second, but then the circle of mouths was relatively small. Third was TV, with shows like Ed Sullivan showcasing some musical group every week. All of that is different today. I’ve had a specific post about Pandora and Last.fm rattling around in my head for months now, and I’ll birth that sometime in the next few weeks (and therefore ignore it for now).

Today, with the Internet (you’ve heard of it, right?), one can purposely or accidentally discover music to the extent that one cares, with extremely little effort and time invested, with little risk of purchasing music that will eventually disappoint. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of sites to listen to music on, but for me, the two juiciest targets are MySpace and YouTube.

An incredible number of bands have MySpace pages, with the vast majority of those offering at least four songs for immediate streaming. If someone mentions a band to you, see if they are on MySpace, and check out whether you like their music or not. For my personal quintessential example (no surprise to anyone who has visited here before), I learned in 30 seconds that I would love Girlyman from their MySpace page.

All that said, lately, I am much more hooked on YouTube. It has boggled my mind how many clips (many of them of reasonabe quality) are available for an amazing number of artists. Since I love live music, YouTube gives much more of a feel of the performance in addition to just the music. With some of the incredible styles that today’s acoustic guitarists have, the video is much more powerful (to me) than just listening to the music.

So, after watching quite a number of YouTube videos (I’ll link at least one to each artist’s name in the coming paragraphs), I have purchased a bunch of new albums, mostly downloaded on Amazon’s MP3 service, with the rest on real CDs.

Following Eric’s advice, I ordered two Michael Hedges CDs. He’s not available for download on Amazon πŸ™ so I have to wait for them to show up. Since his CDs haven’t shown up yet, he was one of the reasons that I was waiting on this post.

Also following Eric’s advice, I checked out Kaki King. He was correct, as some of her stuff is out there. Still, even that stuff, when seen, is amazing. The rest of her music is gorgeous. I downloaded both of her albums that were available on Amazon. I can’t tell you how hard it was to boil her down to two videos for this paragraph. The selection is very broad, and most of them are truly entertaining. Check her out!

Bill Cooley himself (yes, he’s kind enough to respond when I email him!) suggested that I check out Phil Keaggy’s Beyond Nature CD. It wasn’t available for download at Amazon (though many others are, including Acoustic Sketches, which I’ve downloaded and really enjoy). I had intended to purchase Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II from Amazon, but on PhilKeaggy.com they had a special bundle.

Three CD’s, Beyond Nature, Acoustic Sketches, and Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II, for a very good price. Unfortunately, I already bought Acoustic Sketches. I bought the bundle anyway, since Beyond Nature was only available on that site, and the price was great, and I’ll give Acoustic Sketches as a gift to some lucky person! πŸ™‚ They haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t review Beyond Nature. That was reason number two for holding off on this post…

On Phil’s site, they mentioned that Beyond Nature was ranked #3 on the DigitalDreamDoor list of the 100 Greatest Acoustic Guitar Albums. In addition, Acoustic Sketches and Freehand are both in the top 100 as well (hence, their idea for the bundle!).

On that list, in number one is Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges. Cool, it’s one of the two of his that I ordered. Number two is 6 & 12 String Guitar by Leo Kottke. I remembered at that moment that I had a CD of his that I hadn’t listened to in 20 years, and hadn’t ripped on to my iPod. I ran downstairs and found it immediately (my CDs are filed alphabetically), it’s called Guitar Music from 1981, and it’s fantastic. I also downloaded 6 & 12 String Guitar from Amazon. Also fantastic!

So, while I owned Leo Kottke already, without the list at DigitalDreamDoor, I wouldn’t have looked for it. I then noticed that the guy in number five, Adrian Legg, had three other top 100 albums listed. I bought two of his albums on Amazon Downloads as well.

What prompted me to finally write this post when I’m still waiting for the Michael Hedges and Phil Keaggy CDs? Yesterday evening, Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation, the portfolio company that I spend the majority of my time with/on) IM’ed me this video of Andy Mckee. It’s the first time he’s recommended any music to me, so, to humor him, I bought all three of Andy Mckee’s albums that were available on Amazon Downloads. πŸ˜‰

I wasn’t a very careful consumer though. While I think Andy is wonderful, there are four songs that are on both his Art Of Motion and Dreamcatcher albums, so I now own two copies of each of those…

Whew, I think that’s most of what’s been screaming in my head on this topic. One last thing though. I need to contact Bill Cooley one last time in 2007, and ask him (or beg him) to put his music up for sale at Amazon.com, and iTunes as well. It’s very hard to promote him to others when it’s difficult to buy his stuff online. At the very least, his new album (coming sometime in 2008) better be available for download! Now, if I could twist his arm to put up a YouTube video or two… πŸ˜‰

Phil Keaggy CD Arrives

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On October 25th, 2007, I posted my impressions from the night before’s Kathy Mattea concert at Joe’s Pub. In that post, I highlighted my amazement at Bill Cooley’s guitar playing, stating that he was possibly the best acoustic guitar player I had ever heard.

That led to a comment by Eric Sink that he would likely disagree, based on his belief that Phil Keaggy was probably the best that he’s ever heard. Eric is rarely wrong, trust me on this one folks! Given the way he phrased his comment, he can’t really be wrong in this particular instance, no matter what I say here. Of course, I too phrased my observation as “probably”, giving myself some wiggle room. πŸ˜‰

So, after hearing such praise from Eric, I went to Amazon.com and searched for Phil Keaggy. Yowzer! Tons of albums. In fact, I think he has over 50 solo albums! How to choose. So, I sampled the free 30 seconds that Amazon permits on roughly 20 songs, spread across four CDs. Some songs grabbed me in that brief listen, some didn’t. Unfortunately, on each of the CDs, at least one song didn’t, so I couldn’t settle on a specific CD to buy to get to know Phil.

So, I got on to the Phil Keaggy site (linked above), and found out that he was about to release a 30 year anniversary edition of one of his more famous albums, The Master & The Musician. If one pre-ordered on the site, it would come signed by Phil. Cool. I did. That was roughly six weeks ago, and today, the CD arrived (actually, a double CD).

If you’ve read this space before, you know I love classical guitar the most (though I’m really a guitar nut in general). The very first song grabbed me (Pilgrim’s Flight), so I was instantly happy with my purchase. Clearly, Phil is a master (though in this particular album, he means to be equated to “The Musician”, I’m sure). πŸ˜‰

While the rest of the album is in general excellent, some of the cuts are strange, or even borderline boring. Wherever there is guitar playing, it’s flawless, so this isn’t a commentary on Phil’s abilities as a performer, but more so on either his writing or selecting, etc.

There are a number of other songs that are great, but some of the short ones (thankfully, they’re short!), are at best, silly (e.g., Mouthpiece).

So, how does it compare to Bill Cooley’s CDs? I wrote about them here. Obviously, I enjoyed the Bill Cooley CDs more. To be clear, I think they are (in general) better songs, which highlight his guitar playing, surrounded by complementary instruments.

Phil Keaggy is an amazing guitarist, and I don’t want to try and split hairs on which one of them has better technique, etc. For now, while I will definitely listen to most of the songs on The Master & The Musician many times (skipping the rest!), I will definitely listen to Bill Cooley more, and can’t wait for his new CD to hit my iPod sometime in 2008.

If anyone (Eric, hint, hint) wants to recommend one specific Phil Keaggy CD that I should try that you think will give me more of a thrill than this one, I’m happy to invest in at least one more.

Summary: Phil Keaggy is a brilliant guitarist, and like always, I have no reason to doubt anything that Eric Sink says. But, if I could only listen to one of them, I’d choose Bill Cooley. Thankfully, I can listen to both, even if I weight my listening more toward Bill. πŸ˜‰

Bill Cooley CDs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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