Dining

The Vanity Belles at Watercolor Cafe

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The Vanity Belles opened for Rebecca Haviland at Watercolor Café in Larchmont last night. Rebecca Haviland plays at Watercooler regularly, but we’ve not been able to make any of her previous shows. That we were finally able to get there on a night when The Vanity Belles (TVB) were opening was doubly delicious.

TheVanityBelles

We’ve seen two full sets by TVB (plus a number of guest appearances). Both sets were at Arlene’s Grocery, with a full band. Both were more rock in terms of the overall sound, even though TVB never lose their country roots. Here’s the post covering the most recent show.

Last night was amazing, because it was a dramatically stripped down set. No electronic keyboards, no drums, no electric guitar. I never doubted whether their voices would hold up, but the songs themselves would obviously be judged differently.

CarrieWellingSingingCameronMitchellJessiRaeWaltz

I am thrilled (but not surprised) to report that when you write great songs, and deliver them through two incredible, angelic voices, you don’t really need much else. That they were supported by top musicians playing on acoustic instruments was icing on the cake. They probably could have thrilled me a cappella as well.

CarrieWellingCameronMitchellJessiRaeWaltz

The bottom line, TVB can play arenas with the full band and keep the place rocking, or they can play the most intimate club, with a small ensemble (or just themselves!), and have that audience realize that nothing was sacrificed in stripping down the sound.

On one song, Bottle, Jessi Rae Waltz (1/2 of TVB) took to the upright piano and Carrie Welling (the other 1/2) played the acoustic guitar. The other two members of the band didn’t join in until the song was well underway. That’s the reason I say that they could perform just themselves, a cappella or accompanied by the piano and guitar.

CarrieWellingCameronMitchellJessiRaeWaltzPiano

Speaking of the band, let’s name them, left-to-right:

Cameron Mitchell on acoustic guitar. Cameron was really good at both previous shows, but a bit overshadowed by the rest of the band on his acoustic (he also played some electric). Last night, his acoustic guitar was easily heard on every note and amazingly, he hit all of the right ones. Smile The guitar was a perfect accompaniment to the ladies vocals. Cameron also co-wrote at least one of the songs performed last night.

CameronMitchell

We also got to spend some time with Cameron (Cam) after the show and I can assure you he’s one of the nicest people you could have the pleasure of meeting.

Chris Anderson on upright bass. Unless you’re a newcomer here, I don’t need to tell you how great Chris is in general, on every set. Any set that has fewer instruments makes the bass pop even more, easily differentiating the greats from the goods. Chris is great and really enhanced TVB’s sound.

ChrisAnderson

Rebecca Haviland was a special guest on the first two numbers, then the last few as well, playing the upright piano. As much as I love Rebecca’s own songs (more on that in the next post), I don’t really get enough of her keyboard play, which is actually the first instrument I ever saw her play. So, this was a real treat to hear her on a real piano, in such an intimate place. Thanks TVB for having Rebecca join you!

You can see Rebecca’s back in a photo above. For good photos of Rebecca, look in my next post about her set. Smile

As if amazing music delivered by incredible musicians wouldn’t have been enough, this was our first trip to Watercooler Café and there’s no way it will be our last. The food was fantastic. I had the Baked Eggplant with a Three Cheese Spinach and Mushroom stuffing for an appetizer (OMG) and Wasabi-Sesame Crusted Tuna for the main dish (holy moly).

That we also got to spend it with two other couples, that we weren’t sure would be there, turned it into a festive and interesting evening, independent of the music.

CarrieWellingEdithKevinHadarEdith

The staff at Watercooler were all delightful and funny, making us feel completely at home.

Wicked Continues to Rule

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On the 11th month, of the 11th year, (7 days after the 11th day), there is but one thing to do: See Wicked for the 11th time! Smile

We had friends in from out of town. We’ve been targeting one of them for three years now to see Wicked with us and we finally made it happen last night.

I’ve written about each other performance, so I won’t go into specific show details. Feel free to search for “Wicked” up top and find the other 10 write-ups.

Instead, I’ll just briefly review the performances of the main characters and explain an insight I had last night.

I always worry about the two leads (usually, unnecessarily). I typically check them out before buying tickets. Since we didn’t have leeway this time, I just bought without looking them up.

Both were new to us, which is exciting and frightening at the same time.

Jackie Burns as Elphaba. Jackie was nearly flawless. You can’t expect, nor even hope for flawless, so I was completely happy/satisfied with her performance.

Jackie’s acting was fantastic. I noticed a few nuances that I had either missed in earlier performances, or that Jackie brought a fresh take on. Her voice is extraordinary.

My nits were in a few of the harmonies and a tiny amount of styling (singing a song reasonably different than the original cast album version).

Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda. Chandra was fantastic, though a bit less flawless than Jackie. I was still completely happy with the performance.

Chandra’s acting was equal to Jackie’s. Her comedic timing and physical gestures were up there with the best Glinda’s we’ve seen, while never being too over-the-top (they’re supposed be somewhat over-the-top, by design).

She has a stunning voice, but it’s not completely consistent across all ranges. For the most part, the harmonies with Jackie were great, but there were a few notable exceptions, which I also counted against Jackie (in my mind).

In particular, the big finale with both of them, For Good, caused them a bit of a problem (probably unrecognizable to a first-timer). This song often seems to cause a problem. I don’t know if it’s trickier than the rest or whether they’re exhausted and it’s difficult to keep up the concentration and energy by then.

To be clear, it was still excellent, but with meaningfully noticeable issues.

They are paired well and I’d happily seem them again.

The rest of the cast was excellent with one very minor exception. Fiyero was a substitute last night (Constantine Rousouli). He was delightful throughout. The exception was in the forest scene with Elphaba where they sing together sitting on the stage. He struggled a bit when he was singing his solo parts and a bit when he sang harmony with Jackie.

Now my insight. I know that practically everyone who knows me thinks I’m crazy to have seen Wicked as often as I have. I would bet that the people that have seen it with me, even the ones who loved it, think that the most (meaning, they can’t imagine wanting to see it 11 times).

That wasn’t the insight. Winking smile

The insight is that the more often I see it, the easier it is to soak in the total majesty (and occasionally notice new things, which happens every time), because I know every note and every word. The point is that I don’t have to sit on the edge of my seat hoping to catch the next clever line (spoken or sung). I enjoy them (like they’re second nature), but can concentrate on anything else I want without missing the joke, the melody, the harmony, etc.

The first time around, you have to really pay attention to the dialog and the singing, so closely, or you will miss a key piece of the story, or a hysterical pun/joke.

OK, so it’s not deep, but it’s still accurate.

After the bows (to a standing ovation when Chandra and Jackie came out), the entire cast stayed on stage.

WickedStandingOvation

Chandra came forward and announced that this was one of the two times a year that all of Broadway raises money for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS.

ChandraLeeSchwartzAIDSAnnouncementWickedCastBroadwayCares

I gave money (as I always do) when we walked out. Our schedule must be predicable, because this is at least the 6th time in our 11 trips that it’s been one of the two times a year. I’m now suspicious that the two times are the first 180 days, and the second 180 days, or the two times are whenever Hadar is in the theater. Winking smile

Before the show, five of us ate at Bar Americain which is just two blocks from the theater. Everything about our meal was great. The food (appetizers, entrees and desserts), the company and the service. In fact, the banter and helpful recommendations from our waitress were a key part of the enjoyment.

That said, I’m not sure if I can explain why it wouldn’t be at the top of my list to return to (I don’t have a single complaint about any aspect of the evening!). Just a feeling that some other places that I’ve been to leave me more excited to return. Plus, there are the thousands of places I’ve never tried before either…

Girlyman and Coyote Grace at The Barns at Wolf Trap

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It’s been a little over six months since we’ve seen Girlyman in concert. Any longer than that and I start to twitch. Those of you who know me know I am unabashed in saying that they are my favorite group. For me, that’s quite a statement given how much live music we see (and love!) and how long they’ve held first place (4.25 years and counting!).

Seeing them perform at The Barns at Wolf Trap is always a joy. The place is gorgeous, the acoustics wonderful and the 400-seat venue is always full of people who love them as much as I do (many are more vocal at the performance than I am, so you might mistakenly believe that they love them more). Winking smile

Here are shots of each (so that you know who’s who) taken after the show:

DorisMuramatsuNateBorofskyTyGreenstein

NateBorofskyHadarTyGreenstein

We didn’t spot JJ after the show, but here’s a photo of her on stage:

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So, why are they so special?

  • All three songwriters (I’m unaware of whether JJ Jones, the drummer, writes any songs), Ty, Doris and Nate are amazing on their own. They often collaborate (probably after one has gotten a song a certain distance) and produce even better efforts (one example is Easy Bake Ovens).
  • Collectively, their body of work is quite large for a group that’s only been together for 10 years (five CDs and counting, with the sixth already in pre-order). I think one of the reasons is that they all write great songs, so they have three times the output that a group might have when they have a lead creative.
  • They produce exquisite albums that can be listened to non-stop on repeat. I have no doubt that this will be true of the new one, Supernova, when it comes out in a few months. You can pre-order yours now (we did, come join us).
    PreorderSupernova
  • Their harmonies are mind-bogglingly beautiful. This actually has little to do with their voices (more on that below) and everything to do with their genius at arranging songs, in particular harmonies. They even teach classes on harmony (sounds like a Master Class to me!).
  • Their live shows are a treat, for their humanity, personality and laugh-out-loud extemporaneous humor. Of course it’s about the live music as well, often because you get to hear brand new songs that will be on forthcoming albums (not necessarily the next one!).

Here’s the set list. It’s sprinkled with brand new songs (a couple we had never heard before, plus two world debuts that no one had heard before!), new-ish songs (which will be on Supernova), old favorites (including the first song off the first album!), requests, etc. It’s one of the highlights of any Girlyman show, knowing in advance that they will surprise you, given the size of their catalog (the two-song encore is not listed):

GirlymanSetList

It also included Hold It All at Bay, my favorite Girlyman song for at least three years running. On some levels, it’s probably still my favorite, but I’m also obsessed with Could Have Guessed (which they didn’t play last night).

TyGreensteinNateBorofsky

Coyote Grace opened the show (you’ll have to read way down to get to that section). I mention them here because they spent a considerable amount of time on stage with Girlyman, individually and collectively. Here’s a shot of Doris, with Ingrid playing the bass (she’s excellent) behind her:

DorisMuramatsuIngridElizabeth

The most notable song (for me) was Everything’s Easy.

It’s an amazing song on a number of levels. As gorgeous as the production is on their latest CD (of the same title), I was much more used to the faster version that I’d heard live many times, which was recorded live, on Somewhere Different Now. So, I love the CD version for it’s quality, but still long to hear it sped up a bit.

Last night they did the slow version, but with a huge twist. Each of the three Coyote Grace people paired up with the Girlyman singers (JJ is reasonably silent during the shows, her drums speak for themselves!). Ingrid shared a mic with Nate, Michael with Ty and Joe with Doris.

The parts that Nate, Ty and Doris do solo (always), were now done in harmony (with the corresponding member of Coyote Grace at the same mic). That was beautiful enough. But, this song builds to two-part, then three-part harmony, with each part singing entirely different words/melodies.

Keep that last part, but add in that each different set of lyrics/melodies is itself being sung in harmony, having six voices sing three different parts, and you have something that I feel feeble in trying to describe. In this case, the slow version was (perhaps more) appropriate, since it made it much easier to shift focus between the three parts and the six different voices.

If you don’t want to read anything negative (even a hint), please stop now, the above should (hopefully) satisfy you.

For those that are reading on, but don’t know me, I’ll give my standard disclaimer that I blog to capture how I felt about each performance. At my age, memory fades fast, and this allows me to recall each show with clarity. I am not a music critic (even a bit, nor do I pretend to be). If others discover music that I love and also enjoy it, that’s a bonus.

We see a lot of shows in NY and VA. In VA, it’s often easier to organize larger groups to see shows together. That’s what happens when we see Girlyman, as I’ve been on a mission to spread their gospel since I first saw them in August 2007. Last night, we had a group of 10 at the Barns. Four of those had never seen Girlyman before.

Last night was our 20th time (give or take one) seeing Girlyman live. I’ve written one negative review, when both Ty and Nate were extremely sick and simply couldn’t deliver their typical performance. The other four in our group last night had all been to that one off show (for two of them, their only Girlyman experience).

Without being overly negative, here’s the difference between most Girlyman shows and last night: most Girlyman shows are magic, start-to-finish. Last night (and a very few others) have numerous magical moments, interspersed with too much thinking (referring to me, not being lost in the moment).

Part of my personal problem comes from the fact that we’re constantly introducing new people to the group. That makes me try to hear each show with new ears (ooh, how Zen of me!). Winking smile I try to anticipate how a newcomer would react, so that I don’t get defensive if they don’t understand instantly how awesome Girlyman is.

The problem is that given the heavy toll that the past year has taken on them (Doris was diagnosed with Leukemia almost exactly a year ago), it’s understandable that they don’t always deliver a peak performance, on every song (like they used to). For non-fans, Doris has responded extraordinarily well to the medicine (which she has to take daily) and is now in remission (or for you medical nerds, in full molecular response). That’s awesome. Still, the toll (on all of them!) has been exacted and it will likely take time to get (somewhat) beyond it.

For me, the manifestation comes in the harmonies (and even some solo leads) not being delivered as cleanly as they are on the albums (or were in most previous live shows). At other times it’s the rhythm of the show itself. Even though they were hysterical last night, there were only two tuning songs. If you’re a fan, you know what that means to us.

I’ll digress for a second and say that they opened the encore with a very funny bit, which culminated in the girls cajoling Nate into singing a parody song. The title: Undeterred. The homophone of that (not in the strictest sense, since it’s actually two words): Undy turd. Suffice it to say that it is a silly song filled with normal conversational words that all aim to project the image of the homophone, rather than the previously spelled out version.

I was wiping tears away during the song, I was laughing so hard. It was literally uncontrollable (bordering on embarrassing).

Not to belabor the original point, but rather to put it to bed, their delivery isn’t always perfect. No real fan of Girlyman cares. I bet many don’t notice (because they’re enraptured), but when I pull myself out of the moment to analyze the sound, I recognize the difference.

Do I care? No! I can’t wait to see them again on November 13th, at Joe’s Pub, where it all began for me in August 2007!

Finally, on to the opener. We’d heard amazing things about Coyote Grace. They’ve opened for Girlyman on a number of tours now, but the two shows that we saw in April were the only ones where Coyote Grace didn’t appear (Birchmere and The Southern Café).

Coyote Grace began as a duo (Joe Stevens and Ingrid Elizabeth, I only know that from their website). Michael Connolly joined them to form the current incarnation.

All three are extremely talented, vocally and instrumentally. They’re also all very comfy on stage and are often funny.

Unfortunately, even though it’s exactly my type of music, I didn’t really connect with them in any meaningful way. The sound of nearly every song was lovely, so they can certainly perform to a high level. But, the lyrics often felt forced to me.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about a singer/songwriter who I felt suffered from writing too directly about her personal feelings/experiences. We’ve all had those feelings, but her lyrics were so direct that I felt disconnected from them. A number of times, I felt the same thing about Coyote Grace.

I love song introductions. Often, it makes me appreciate a gorgeous lyric which could be interpreted a number of ways (which is one of the things that makes it a great lyric) in a very specific way (allowing me to connect specifically with the artist, independent of the song). The reverse was true last night a couple of times.

Coyote Grace introduced some songs in a very personal way (so far so good), but then sang lyrics that were laser-like targets of the intro. In other words, I couldn’t have easily misunderstood the lyrics in that context only. So, the songs themselves were not generically moving (to me).

The only other issue I had was that while Joe has a very nice voice (reasonably distinct characteristics), he doesn’t sing with much power. Ingrid has an amazing voice (truly), and can sing with power, but when she sings with Joe (which is way more often than the few times that Michael joins in), she tones it down to match Joe. That’s cool, except that in a 400-person venue, a little more power is called for (IMO).

JoeStevensIngridElizabeth

They are all talented multi-instrumentalists, but Michael Connolly tops the list. He played mandolin, fiddle, accordion, piano, upright bass and probably a few more that I am just forgetting. All extremely well! He sings well too.

MichaelConnolly

Still, that’s not what I will remember most about him. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that he’s the spitting image of Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld). That Michael was very funny, facial expressions as well as some lines, only reinforced that for me.

Coyote Grace kicked off the show by having JJ drum for them (wonderfully!). They later invited Ty up to play the cajon (first time I recall seeing Ty play one). Then they brought them all out for at least two numbers, including a spiritual (written by their friends, Ma Muse) which they mostly snap to (and clap to in the faster parts), in a more a cappella feel. Stunning.

Here are all of them (except for JJ) in one shot, singing a different song:

GirlymanJoinsCoyoteGrace

I listened to the streaming music on the Coyote Grace site today, for more than 30 minutes. I liked the sound a lot, but I was easily able to work on other things (meaning, again, the lyrics didn’t pull me in). Listen for yourself, you’ll likely feel very differently.

Here’s their set list along with a page from the program with last night’s entry:

CoyoteGraceSetList

During intermission, I stood at my seat just to stretch. When I looked toward the back, I instantly recognized someone I’ve only seen once in my life. Five rows behind us was Owen Danoff, who we saw perform in NYC a few weeks back. He was there with a friend, celebrating his birthday. Here’s what I wrote about him. As you can see, I’m a big fan, including being able to pick him out in a crowd. Smile

HadarOwenDanoffFriend

In a much smaller world story, when Lois slipped past me (also during intermission), she stopped in her tracks and looked at the person two to my right in our own row and said: “Are you?” and he replied “Yes.” Smile

It was another Girlyman fan, John Dickerson. I briefly met John at two other Girlyman shows, but had spoken to him on the phone before ever meeting him. John wrote a series of articles on risk taking. One of those was about Girlyman, and the risks of being an indie music group in our times. John interviewed me for that article. His wife sat between us. It made me feel like our group of 10 was really 12. Winking smile

Before heading to the Barns, eight of us had an amazing meal at P.F. Chang’s in McLean. We made Stacey pose with our server. Winking smile

StaceyPFChangs

Here are the rest of us right before the show. The ghost is taking the picture, which is why there are only nine of us visible.

AllOfUs

Informal Vacations

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The last formal vacation that Lois and I took was in 1995, our only trip to Hawaii. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of fun times in amazing places, but nearly every one of them was on an international business trip for me. I consider our current vacations informal. They typically consist of very long drives south to visit my parents and our godson and his wife. Lois works non-stop, in the car, in the hotels and in the homes of the people we visit. I loaf and enjoy myself thoroughly, so it’s more of a vacation for me.

We just completed one and this is a brief documentation of it.

First stop was visiting my folks in Florida. 95 degrees and broiling every day, right after the heat broke up north, was a bit of a shock. It was nice to put on shorts and sandals again, but it would’ve been even nicer if the air conditioner in our car actually worked when it was hot outside. For the record, our car is 11 years old and has 225,000 miles on it (did I mention we drive long distances on all of our informal vacations?).

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I hope I have my Dad’s appetite when I’m 85!

DadEatingCake

From Florida, we drove to Atlanta. We visited three sets of friends, all centered around wonderful meals. We got in late-ish and wandered out of our hotel in search of frozen yogurt. The person at the front desk didn’t think there were any within walking distance so we just headed out. One block away was a Ted’s Montana Grill (not exactly frozen yogurt), but we had a great meal at one in NYC when our goddaughter and her husband took us there. We decided to take serendipitous advantage and have a much bigger meal than planned, just the two of us.

The next day, first of our three social meals, lunch with a friend who worked with Lois before I met her, so while I know her for nearly 30 years, Lois knows her even longer. Three of her four children were able to join us too (children, as in adults!). The fact that the fourth couldn’t make it was OK, as she is a twin, so we just looked at the other twin twice as long to pretend that the missing kid was there too. Winking smile

HadarBeckyLizTeresaPaul

We ate at 5 Seasons Brewing Company. We had a delicious, leisurely lunch, served by one of the nicest waiters (we prodded one of the girls to consider dating him afterward, but he doesn’t know that). Such a great time catching up and swapping stories. We’ve seen the girls a couple of times in the past few years (in NYC), but we haven’t seen the boy (man!) in much longer, so that was a very special treat. After lunch they all had to run back to work. We miss them all already!

That night we had dinner with a couple who insisted on cooking. We had our first taste of Portobello mushroom burgers. OMG, one of the best things I’ve eaten, including toasted buns and I believe a home-made aioli sauce (it was definitely home-made, possibly not aioli). I can’t believe Lois missed taking a photo of the burgers.

It was our first time at their house. In addition to being completely inviting in every way, it’s absolutely gorgeous (often a hard combination to achieve). We ate outdoors, in a screen-enclosed, covered porch. The steady rain was welcome rather than a nuisance (until we had to walk back to our car).

The next morning we met another couple for brunch at Sun in My Belly. We had eaten there once before, so we knew how much we’d like the food (we were correct). The more important part was meeting our friends. We hadn’t seen them since April and that meeting was all too brief. Great conversation, great food, more time (but always too little). Perfect way to cap off our brief stop in Atlanta.

We headed to Birmingham directly from Sun in My Belly. Our godson was married in March (this year) and we were going to pick up a portrait of his wife from the wedding photographer to hang in our apartment. We had a little adventure meeting him at a McDonald’s, don’t ask. Thankfully, the portrait is so gorgeous that it was worth the Keystone Cops coordination.

After checking into the hotel and catching up on some business, we headed over to their house to hang out with Rebecca a bit. David was working in the hospital. When he was done he called and we agreed to meet at Davenport’s Pizza Palace for dinner (halfway for each of us).

DavidRebecca

I have never had pizza served like that, cut into small rectangles all the way through the very large pie, so that it was easy to handle every bite (most pieces were two or three bites worth). That it was delicious as well was a big bonus. Winking smile

I tried to order seltzer/club soda (honestly, I have witnesses), but they didn’t have any, so I was forced to drink beer. Rebecca drove us there, and David drove me back, so it was a good time to be in a seltzer-less place.

After dinner we headed over to Yogurt Mountain for a refreshing dessert.

HadarRebeccaDavidYogurtMountain

On the drive back to their place, David and I had very manly discussions. I’m sure the girls had very girlie ones, so no gender stereotypes were harmed during the return trip. Winking smile

We just recently finished watching all five seasons of Friday Night Lights and totally loved the show. In a wild small-world story, one of the producers and directors of the show was my best friend in high school. We lost contact shortly after and his participation in the show had nothing to do with our watching it or our enjoyment of it. Still, I was proud of the job he did.

We gave the DVDs for all five seasons to David and Rebecca and after pizza watched the first two episodes with them (yes, we picked up nuances that we missed the first time around now that we knew where the stories were heading!). We then headed back to the hotel to crash.

The next morning we returned to their house. Rebecca’s parents, along with her brother and his girlfriend came over as well. The eight of us caravanned to Irondale, AL. The Irondale Café is the place known as The Whistle Stop in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. That’s where we ate lunch. Yes, we had the Fried Green Tomatoes! My meal was excellent. Thanks to the parents for treating all of us!

FriedOkraFriedGreenTomatoesAshleyTim

HadarRebeccaHadarCharlie

Since Lois is constantly taking photos, Charlie decided to duel with her when he noticed her lining up a shot:

DuelingPhotographers

It also happened to be The Whistle Stop Festival that weekend, so we spent the next two hours wandering around the various tents/booths on a gorgeous day. Lois and I spent a good amount of time listening to a trio called The Tame Dogs, an acoustic subset of The Rescue Dogs Band (their domain just expired, so I linked to their Reverb Nation page instead). They were very good.

TheTameDogs

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There was also a classic car exhibit:

ClassicCarsTimDavidHadarRollsRoyce

ClassicBentley

We said our (temporary) goodbyes and headed back to David and Rebecca’s for some more Friday Night Lights and the Alabama/Arkansas game (Roll Tide Roll). I rooted David’s Incredible 2 and put on a custom ROM. David has been on Android for nearly two years, but this is the first time he’s had root and a custom ROM. We’ll see how he likes it.

The day before, we were told firmly (but nicely) by Rebecca that dinner on Saturday was on them (no ifs ands or buts). In order to guarantee that, she wouldn’t even tell us where we were going, so that Lois (being the sneaky person she is) wouldn’t be able to call in advance and arrange to pay (secretly).

We met Rebecca’s parents at The Veranda on Highland. It felt like it was mostly a seafood restaurant, but for whatever reason, I was in the mood for the Filet Mignon. It was one of the most incredible steaks I’ve had (and I’ve had many). Melted in my mouth and the mashed potatoes were equally delicious. Everyone else raved about theirs (scallops, shrimp and grits and fish of the day).

David paid and we didn’t interfere. Thanks David and Rebecca! This was the first time I experienced table-side credit card swiping (not Square, a real portable swiper). David was able to press a button to select a pre-defined tip percentage, and he signed on the reader as well. A built-in printer spat out the receipt. A very efficient system, where your credit card is never out of your sight. Slick.

CharlieRebeccaCarolynDavid

After picking up my computer we headed back to the hotel for another crash. The next morning Lois went to Church with David and Rebecca while I stayed in their house. They called when they were done and I met them for an exceptional lunch at Genghis Grill. Pick out your own stuff, season it yourself, have a professional stir-fry it for you. Fresh and delicious.

Next door is a brand new Red Mango (frozen yogurt), so we had to repeat the refreshing dessert ritual from Friday night. Smile

DavidRebeccaRedMango

We spent roughly 1/2 an hour back at their house sharing some new music with them and then hit the road mid-afternoon. Of course, we miss them already!

I’m sitting at my desk working (OK, I’m blogging, but I’ll be working again shortly). Another informal vacation in the books. Another winning one (they all are!).

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at Jammin Java

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Another night, another stop on the Intergalactic Tour of the Universe and Beyond Tour. It wasn’t originally meant to be, but when the Universe (and Beyond!) wants something, it makes it happen.

Two years ago, Richmond CenterStage opened with a big gala celebration. I covered one of the nights. Last night was a big anniversary celebration, with Patti LaBelle as the headliner. We had tickets and were committed to attending a very long time ago.

On June 30th, I saw the following tweet:

JamnJavaDoorGal
I know what can make a few smile, especially @linds047 – 9/10 -Ian Axel + Bess Rogers + Allie Moss http://bit.ly/kE5gyC

So, even though we knew about this show 10 weeks out, we also knew there was no way we could attend. A few weeks ago, my friend told me that I’d have to wear a suit to attend the Patti LaBelle show. If you know me, you can probably guess what my body language involuntarily portrayed. I was going to do it, but I didn’t need to be happy about it.

Earlier this week, he called me (we were still in NY) and said that he knew some people who would really appreciate getting their hands on our tickets. Obviously, he would be delighted if we really wanted to attend, but essentially, he was letting me off the hook (he knows me for 29.5 years, so the suit reaction wasn’t a surprise to him). It took us all of two minutes to conclude that the tickets were better used by the local Richmonders.

Suddenly, going to Jammin’ Java to see another round of the Intergalactic Tour was a reality. If you’re wondering whether we had even one second’s hesitation about seeing them for a fourth time in five days, you’ve never met us or read my tiny corner of the Internet.

As with all shows, there’s enough of a twist to make them worth showing up to. That was true last night too, even though two of the twists weren’t so positive. The overall show/experience was great, so I am not (really) complaining.

There was a late show scheduled for 10pm (different group) so the start time for this show was moved up to 7pm (that part, us old folks like, especially since we had a 2.5 hour round-trip drive to get to/from the venue). I assumed our folks would play until at least 9pm, and then the hustle would begin to clear the place.

I was wrong. They were told that they had to be off the stage by 8:30pm sharp! There wasn’t even a chance to cajole an encore. The second the set was over, the lights came on and the house music started playing.

On the flip side (a very positive flip side at that!), the crowd got to line-up and connect with the artists for quite a long time (so people were not hustled out at 8:30). I haven’t seen that long a line at a merch table in quite a while (separate from the long line of people waiting to hi, or get some of that merch signed!). Lindsie (of yesterday’s post’s fame) was working the merch table. A very valiant effort!

The other positive flip side is that there were no breaks between the the sets of the three performers. Each took exactly 30 minutes. While that probably cut roughly 10-15 minutes off what each has been doing on this tour, saving the 10-15 minutes between sets was actually quite pleasant (to me at least). The fact that we were back in the hotel room shortly after 10pm was a very pleasant side-effect of the early ending.

Allie Moss kicked it off, with the full band, playing Passerby, which included everyone singing at the end (everyone = Bess Rogers, Ian Axel, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson). Ian then left the stage, returning once more to play with Allie with the others taking a beak. They played Prisoner of Hope. I think that was the first time they played it where we were in attendance (though I haven’t grabbed set lists this week, so I could be remembering it incorrectly).

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With the exception of another solo song (or two?), Bess sang harmony with Allie (perfectly) and Adam and Chris did their always amazing jobs on the drums and electric bass respectively.

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Allie seemed dramatically healthier than the night before, thank goodness. Otherwise, she took great pains to avoid talking about feeling poorly.

When her 30 minutes was up, she and Bess simply traded spots. Bess introduced herself by saying: “You may remember me from earlier in the night when I was standing over there.” Smile

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Bess had Allie sing harmony on most of her songs too (again, perfectly). Adam and Chris were on each of those numbers as well. She also played some solo numbers, including In My Life on the ukulele.

She finished up her set by inviting Ian to join the rest of them in performing Anchor (the single from her upcoming CD, where In My Life is the B Side).

After about 10 seconds of confusion as to whether they would take a break before Ian started, they decided against a break. Good decision!

Ian sat down (he was already on stage) and started playing Leave Me Alone! He played the same set from the night before, but had to toss a few songs due to the time constraint. So, no Amory. He played Say Something on the keyboards (reverting from the previous night’s ukulele version). It was awesome, so even though I (slightly) prefer the ukulele version, I’ll take it any way Ian wants to deliver it.

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Chad Vaccarino came out for the second half of Ian’s set to very loud cheers and applause. He was joined on the first number by Allie Moss. They sang Shorty Don’t Wait, with Ian on the ukulele (the only song Ian played on the uke, as opposed to three consecutive numbers the night before). Adam played acoustic guitar on Shorty.

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Of course they nailed it. When Chad sang, the whoops were exactly as you hear them in NYC. In other places, I am 100% sure that people feel the urge, but they probably think it’s impolite (and in general/theory, it is), but when it’s Chad, it’s such a natural reaction, and so expected in NYC (and now in DC as well), that you just have to let out the joy (otherwise, it would be like a holding in a sneeze, i.e., not good for you). Smile

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Allie does a fantastic job singing the second verse on the lead, bringing a similar style/emotion to the song that Chad does. The chorus and ending are three-part harmony (with Ian joining Chad and Allie) that simply forces a smile on your face.

Ian and Chad also played Rockstar (such a great song) and closed it out with This is the New Year.

We got to say hi/goodbye to everyone except for Chris Anderson (who I think was loading the equipment onto the van) and Allie (I simply didn’t see her in the dark). We will not be seeing them again on this tour (a single tear streaked down my cheek as I typed that).

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Thanks to all of them: Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino, Bess Rogers, Allie Moss, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson for making this week unbelievably special for us. We’ll never forget it! Smile

Now for the second negative. The sound guy just couldn’t get the vocal levels right. For much of the night, they were too bright/loud. Eventually, I either got used to it, or he woke up a bit and toned it down. The sound booth was roughly 10 rows directly behind me, so I can’t imagine he was hearing it much differently than I was. It’s one of the mysteries of live show engineering that feels destined to elude my understanding forever…

We normally eat at Jammin’ Java when we see a show there. The food is excellent and we look forward to it. Last night we were having dinner with a friend and we were interested in something more leisurely, quiet, with a bit more choice. I did a search nearby in Google and found a dozen restaurants listed within 1000 feet of Jammin’ Java (apparently, that little strip mall is restaurant heaven).

I chose Café Renaissance, which is around the corner of the same block of stores that Jammin’ Java is in. The first few reviews I read were some of the most praise-worthy I had ever seen, describing the service as unparalleled and food excellent. Then I read some real slams as well. Then I read some people slamming the slammers. So, it didn’t seem to be a slam dunk, but we decided to try it anyway.

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I’m officially slamming the slammers as well. We had a great meal and were treated like kings (and a queen). I could complain that they were a bit over-solicitous, but that would only be true because we were time-constrained to make it to Jammin’ Java by showtime. Otherwise, their attention and conversation were delightful and welcome.

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It’s not cheap (if you go for the full treatment, which we did, of appetizer and wine), but I thought it was more than worth the price. I am absolutely sure that we will dine there again. We did buy two large lattes and one large coffee at Jammin’ Java. Partially out of guilt about not spending the money for dinner there, but mostly because they live up to having Java in their name! Smile

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at The Falcon

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We love surprising musicians by showing up in places they’d never expect us. It’s way more fun when the venue is new to us and everything we read makes us think it will be a favorite, instantly. Such was the case last night.

Having just seen Ian Axel the night before (Tuesday) at Bowery Ballroom, he didn’t expect to see us two hours north of there the next night. Allie Moss was at Bowery Ballroom as well, singing on more than 1/2 of Rosi Golan’s CD Release Show. Bess Rogers joined Rosi and Allie to close the show, so we were actually seeing every performer for a second night in a row.

The venues couldn’t be more different. The night out at Bowery Ballroom was fantastic (you can read about the three sets here, here and here). Even so, The Falcon (last night’s venue) is so much more to our liking on every level. I’ll tell you why after I cover the music.

I’m reverting back to my normal style of covering the performers in reverse order.

Ian Axel got to return to a real grand piano. He’s been playing electronic keyboards and even a mock baby grand (looked like a grand, but was actually electronic at the Beacon Theatre). You can see its effect on Ian. He brightens up and is infused with even more energy (if that’s possible) when his fingers connect with ivory, rather than plastic.

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He set a different tone immediately. At Bowery Ballroom, Ian opened with Gone (a slow, emotional song). He played it last night too (fairly early), but opened with Leave Me Alone! It was fantastic, for two reasons: 1) It’s a great song and Ian and the band nailed it, and 2) The audience surprised the heck out of me!

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Here’s what I wrote about that song the night before (Chris refers to the bass player):

Hearing that song in NYC is so different than anywhere else. In NYC, such a large proportion of the crowd knows the cool clapping part (and has Chris to make sure they know when to do it, not that we don’t). In other places, there are a few lonely clappers who typically give up quickly.

My hubris was smacked down the very next night. Most of the people in the audience last night clapped correctly, immediately (in other words, they knew the song!). More importantly, three guys in the second row clapped it even when no one else ever does (it was appropriate from a percussion point of view, but it’s not in spots where the band expects it). They kept it up until the song was over. That’s commitment folks. Strike my comments from the night before!

Ian played most of the set accompanied by two band members (they didn’t travel with a guitar player):

Adam Christgau on drums, acoustic guitar and background vocals. Having seen Adam play the night before, it was impressive to see him shift gears and play some of the same songs with substantially more subtlety, matching the venue’s acoustics and size very appropriately. He did a very nice job on the acoustic guitar as well (something we only discovered he could play the night before).

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We met Adam’s mother at the show. She showed us a photo of Adam playing the drums at 3-years-old. It was one of the cutest photos we’ve ever seen. She was willing to send us a copy, but Adam insisted against it. So, I’m hereby considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to bribe his mom to ignore him, so we can release that photo into the wild (where it belongs!). Winking smile

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and background vocals. Like Adam, Chris was also more subdued at The Falcon. Also like Adam, there was a sophistication to his play that made it no less interesting than the night before. I’m always impressed by how professional Chris is. We see him so often, it amazes me how consistent he is.

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Ian played Say Something solo. He introduced the song and seemed a bit more emotional to me than he is at most shows. In fact, The Falcon seemed to bring out a bit more talkativeness in general (from the other performers as well) and that’s always a plus for me.

Chad Vaccarino, Ian’s primary writing partner, joined for a number of songs. The first, Shorty Don’t Wait, also had Allie Moss joining in, with Adam switching to the acoustic guitar. Chad sang lead on all but one verse, where Allie took over the mic. Allie, Chad and Ian shared the mic to sing the chorus and Ian played the ukulele. Shorty is one of my favorite songs and they delivered another winning performance.

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One of the songs that Chad and Ian performed was Rockstar, sure to be one of the bigger hits off their next CD (no, they haven’t started recording it yet, sigh…). When they opened for Five for Fighting in CT, they introduced a twist to the song. They morphed it into Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, then back to finish Rockstar.

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In CT, it was awesome. They did a longer version of Tiny Dancer. But, it wasn’t the smoothest transition in or out of Rockstar. At Bowery Ballroom and again last night, the transitions in/out were so seamless (really, perfect), that you would swear Elton John collaborated with them on Rockstar and Tiny Dancer.

I mentioned that to Ian after the Bowery Ballroom show, but I forgot to mention it in the post. I’m grateful to him for repeating the seamlessness last night, so I had a chance to correct my omission. Winking smile

They killed This is the New Year (do they ever not?). This was also the best example of Adam changing up the drums (quite dramatically) from the night before.

Ian had to come back for an encore (yes, had to) and he and Chad did You’ll Be OK. When they finished, everyone in the room gave them a standing ovation. No hesitations in people standing up. Great way to end the evening.

Bess Rogers was up before Ian. Adam and Chris backed her up for most of the set (though she did play solo acoustic guitar as well as ukulele). Allie Moss sang harmony on many of the numbers and played glockenspiel on at least one. The two of them sound so good (I guess it doesn’t hurt that they are forced to spend so much time together).

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Ian played piano on at least one number.

Bess played some songs from her upcoming CD (already recorded thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign). It should be out in October (fingers crossed). She also played a few off of her EP Bess Rogers Presents Bess Rogers.

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It was all excellent, but I have to say that she totally blew me away (and I suspect everyone else) when she switched to the ukulele, gave an introduction and then played, In My Life, by The Beatles. Wow. Not only did she sing it wonderfully, she went for it and played the fast instrumental part (played on the piano on Rubber Soul) on the ukulele and nailed it.

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Aside from the music, Bess is just hysterical. Possibly NC-17 (not quite R), but it works for me. She’s smart and quick-witted. What else can you ask for? Nothing, that’s right!

Allie Moss opened the adult portion of the evening (you’ll understand that comment in a minute). I already mentioned above how great she sounded singing with Ian and Bess. I also linked to the post praising her performance singing with Rosi Golan.

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Let me add now that in addition to clearly having an excellent voice (and playing the guitar really well), she’s also a very good songwriter. She opened the show with Passerby. It’s a song inspired by the feeling we all have about other drivers (inducing the desire for road rage). One of the phrases that struck me:

Would I have grace for you
And you for me

Amen, let’s just all do it, have grace for each other, in all situations! She also sang the title cut from her CD, Late Bloomer, among others (we didn’t grab any set lists, so I can’t rattle off all the songs). Bess sang harmony on a few numbers and played ukulele on the opener. She also played glockenspiel on one number. Adam and Chris supported Allie on a good portion of the set as well.

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Ian played piano during Allie’s first number. I can’t recall whether he returned during her set.

Opening the show were two girls (yes, girls, not women or ladies), The Knox Sisters. They will soon be 13 and 11 (Hailey and Samantha). Don’t worry, their parents were there as well.

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Hailey played the guitar and sang all of the leads. Samantha played the cajon and dejembe and sang harmony on a song she wrote!

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One of the songs they performed is the (current) default song on their YouTube Channel (Doorbell). It’s a year old, but is a reasonable representation of their performance last night. Hailey’s voice has matured further (IMO).

They received rousing applause after each song (from me as well) and were called back for an encore. I enjoyed their set, so I wasn’t just being polite, but I have to wonder whether everyone else felt that much more impressed than I was.

They are extremely impressive for their age, no doubt, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they make it, eventually, if they continue to work hard. That said, they aren’t really phenoms (in the child-prodigy sense). I wasn’t experiencing an 11-year-old Chris Thile, or a 10-year-old Sierra Hull, etc.

Allie, Bess and Ian all gushed over them, repeatedly. Whether they were being nice (supportive), or whether they saw something in these girls that I didn’t (being performers themselves), it was a very nice thing to do.

Lois bought a bunch of merch after the show. I look forward to listening to Allie’s Late Bloomer CD. We also bought a single from Bess’ upcoming CD. I think Bess said that the B-side is In My Life. We were driving all day today, so I haven’t had a chance to load it and find out if my wish will come true (that I heard correctly!).

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We bought a couple of T-Shirts (you can never have enough). Smile

OK, let’s wrap this up with some words about the venue itself.

The Falcon is simply an extraordinary place. It seats roughly 100 people. The first two rows are traditional seats. The rest of the room is tables that normally would seat four, but they orient the entire room toward the music. No one sits with their back to the stage or on the sides of the tables. That meant that the two of us shared that table for four, both sitting on one end together, facing the stage. Perfect!

Every person in the place (wait staff, owner Tony Falco, bartenders, bus-people, sound person) was happy, helpful, energetic and took their job seriously, doing it well.

The food was outstanding. I would go back for the food, even if there wasn’t music (it’s an hour’s drive from our house).

All of the above is great, but we showed up for the music. That’s where The Falcon shines even more. The acoustics were fantastic, in particular, the vocals (and kids, Allie, Bess, Ian and Chad are first and foremost about the vocals!). I was sitting in the stereo sweet spot (as if this was my living room and I got to design my own perfect sitting area).

The sound guy (he looked like a kid himself) was very active. I noticed a few times that if someone’s mic wasn’t just right (from the audience’s perspective), it was adjusted quickly. I often marvel at other places where the sound is awful and I think: is the sound guy in the restroom? He can’t be listening to what I’m listening to.

We’ll be back at the Falcon, no doubt. Here’s a great overview photo of the room.

Another Amazing Weekend

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This was our third consecutive weekend hosting out-of-town visitors. Since the last two were fantastic, the bar was set high for this one. Don’t worry, we cleared it.

When our friends (parents of our godchildren and our closest friends for nearly 30 years!) asked whether this weekend would be a good one for them to come up from VA, the automatic answer was of course! The only (minor) complication was our unmovable commitment to attending four sets of music on Saturday night.

I’ve already written about the music separately, but since this is a post about the entire weekend, I’ll link them here again. Rebecca Haviland: covered here. Matt Simons: covered here. Sierra Noble: covered here. Chris Ayer: covered here.

We had a small scare before everything got rolling. Our friends called from the airport to say that there was a mechanical problem on the plane. While it was (theoretically) simple to fix, they didn’t know how long it would take the mechanic to show up. There was a chance that they wouldn’t even get out that night (Friday, July 1st).

That’s exactly how the first of these three weekends began, with David and Rebecca (their son and daughter-in-law) not getting out until the next morning! This case turned out differently. Not 15 minutes later they called back to say they were boarding. I’m guessing the mechanic was on a smoke break. Winking smile

Shortly after they arrived at the apartment, nine of us (counting a 2-year-old as a full person) Winking smile walked up to the Peking Duck House for dinner. It’s been a while since we’ve been there (a minor crime against humanity). We had been talking about our need to correct that for the past two weeks, so this worked out perfectly.

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The meal was perfect. I never doubted it would be, but I report it here for the record.

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Given our music-filled night, we decided that Saturday would be a day of rest for us (conserving our energy). The parents, their daughter and son-in-law went to the Doughnut Plant (the site currently lists a Lower East Side address only, but there is one at 220 W. 23rd St. as well, which is where they went). Afterward, they walked the Highline Park.

They headed over to Broadway to see How to Succeed in Business. All four of them said it was terrific and they were sure both of us would love it. Something to add to the list. Smile

The six of us had a wonderful dinner at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant). In a complete shock, we bumped into a few good friends who were dining there outside. We were seated inside (our choice) on the other side of the window from them. Even though our chats with them were brief (before our meal and after theirs), it was a special delight.

After nearly falling asleep (due to the amazing frozen margaritas), I somehow gathered myself for the epic night of music and easily made it all the way through! I don’t know what the others did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they didn’t fight the feeling of sleep and succumbed to it. Winking smile

On Sunday morning the four of them attended Church services at Redeemer. They spent some time at the Cooper Hewitt Museum then returned to the apartment to relax a bit. This week is both our and Laura and Chris’ anniversaries. We decided to celebrate at the Old Homestead steakhouse. All six of us couldn’t stop raving about the meal afterward. At least three (perhaps as many as five) counted this meal (and therefore this restaurant) as their favorite steakhouse meal (that includes Lois saying that her Lobster was the best she’s ever had).

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I loved my meal (thoroughly), but I admitted (out loud) that The Palm is still my favorite. I promise not to complain or hesitate to return to the Old Homestead though, should anyone suggest it again. Smile

After dinner, we all wanted (and needed) to walk off the calories (please don’t make me estimate the full damage). We walked the super-long block from the restaurant to the 14th Street entrance to the Highline Park. This was my first time seeing it in person. We walked from 14th St. until the end, currently 30th St. It’s spectacular. I highly recommend making the effort to get there, whether you’re a New Yorker or an out-of-towner here on a visit.

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We collapsed when we got back to the apartment (well, at least Lois and I collapsed, the others may have gone dancing for all I know).

On Monday morning (the venerable July 4th), Chris and I went for a long walk. When we’re in the city, I typically take long walks for exercise. For me, that means somewhere between five and eight miles, depending on my mood and my schedule. I do it 2-3 times a week, if I have the time. Amazingly, blogging is often the cause of me not having the time to walk. The things we do for our readers… Winking smile

Few of you who read this know Chris. He served six years in the Navy and remains in amazing shape by regularly working out. My only hesitation in walking with him, ever, is that he can keep up a grueling pace forever. He can walk backward, faster than I walk forward, and keep it up seemingly forever as well. I negotiated through an intermediary (Laura) that he would drop the drill-sergeant routine this time.

When we got to the Brooklyn Bridge (typically as far as I’d walk), that marked the 3.9 mile point. That would be just under an eight mile walk if we turned around. Chris looked at me and asked if I’d walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him it had been over 30 years since I’d done that, but I was game. Instead, he suggested we just keep trucking further from the apartment. It had been a year since I’d done the loop I knew we were now committing to, but I (happily) agreed.

We continued south, past the Seaport, on to the Staten Island Ferry, where we headed north up the west side. At 34th Street we started the long trek over to the east side. When we arrived at the apartment, Chris was fresh as a daisy. I was a puddle of sweat who dreamt only of removing my sneakers from my feet. Total distance: 11.36 miles (I wear a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch that they all bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago). Total time was 3:14, but that included a stop in the World Financial Center to check out the progress at Ground Zero.

After a nice lunch out (Euro Diner if you’re keeping score) we veg’ed out all afternoon (I might have even slept a bit, shhh). All of that was to prepare for attending a July 4th party.

Up until three years ago, we used to host an annual 4th of July party on our deck. We had pretty good views of the Macy’s Fireworks when they had them on East River. This is the third year in a row that they were on the Hudson instead and we had no plans to fight the crowds to try and see them.

On Friday, we received an invitation to a party that claimed to have a spectacular view of the fireworks. Under normal circumstances, we would have said yes in a heartbeat, but we would have been adding four strangers to the party list, which felt wrong on our part. I politely declined, explaining why.

In a I’m not taking No for an answer reply, our host told us to bring our guests along. I only had one No in me, so this time I said Yes! We negotiated on what we could bring and settled on Sushi.

What a great plan, until we found out that our go-to Sushi restaurant was closed all weekend. Our backup Sushi place (also exceptional) was going to be closed on Monday as well. In a twist of fate (actually two twists), the first place was clearly marked as being closed all weekend. The backup place hadn’t updated their sign, so when Lois went in, she thought they’d be open on Monday.

Hiroshi Sushi is across the street from our apartment. I filled in our order before Lois walked over. When she started to say what time she wanted the order ready by, she found out that they were closed on Monday. As she was turning to leave, the person she was talking to called her back.

He told her that he remembered us from years earlier when we used to come in all the time with Lois’ mother to their former Japanese Restaurant (a few doors down, now closed for probably eight years!). He was our waiter many of those times. He asked Lois if he could call the owner (and head chef), who was also involved in the other restaurant, to ask if he’d come in just to prepare this order.

20 minutes later he called us and said that the owner would happily do this for us. Wow, we were so grateful. The order was ready to be picked up at exactly 5pm (as promised) and was fantastic (as evidenced by the oohs and aahs of the partiers). I couldn’t resist trying something called “peanut and avocado roll”. Yummy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We also brought a white pizza (for those who might not like Sushi). I had the first two slices (and didn’t notice if anyone else did). Man, that was really good too. Finally, we brought a gigantic fresh fruit salad that was seemingly bottomless, but it got completely devoured (or so I heard), so it apparently had a bottom after all. That too was a big hit.

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On to the actual party (I have a tough time not talking or thinking about food though). Winking smile

When we first arrived at our friend’s apartment we were blown away by the view. But, he lives in a one bedroom (very high up) and we wondered how everyone would get to enjoy the fireworks while being crowded like sardines in the living room. Ah, I’m so naïve at times. That was never the plan.

There was a friend of our friend, who lived 15 floors down (still quite high!). He has a much larger apartment, but more importantly, a massive deck, facing the Hudson River. The two of them decided to combine their parties. In an additional act of generosity, the second host (the friend of our friend), allowed an entire party of his next door neighbors to attend the viewing of the fireworks on his deck, when they were done with their meal (and drinking) on their adjacent (but not facing the river!) deck.

I don’t need to describe the view or the fireworks to you. All of the photos above were taken by Lois, on her compact camera. She took a ton of photos last night too, but I don’t need to share them.

Our friend (Bob) from VA is a semi-professional photographer (with professional equipment). He set up his Nikon on a tripod and captured stunning photos. His daughter (Laura) is following in his footsteps. A few of her shots are included with his. Here’s a representative sample (I’m not compressing these photos, for those of you who want the full effect).

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Followed by the calm after the storm:

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Our friend (let’s call him Host #1) made two pitchers of exotic drinks. The first was green, looked like slime, and was called Key Lime Martini. The second was blue (and frothy) and had Blue Curacao, some coconut stuff and other secret ingredients. I tried the Key Lime first. It was amazing, but one sip was nearly lethal. I am putting my name on a list for when it’s time for me to go, this is the way I’d like to end it all. While I know at least two people who loved it, but purposely didn’t finish theirs (for fear of expiring), I was brave and downed my entire glass.

I later moved on to the Blue mixture. It tasted even better. So much so that I had a second glass (don’t tell Lois!). It didn’t feel as lethal, but for all I know, that’s part of it’s secret. I heard many people raving about this concoction (actually both). Our Host #1 can definitely fall back on Mixologist if his primary profession hits a brick wall. Wow!

Host #2 is a fascinating person who couldn’t have been kinder or more generous (as noted above). In fact, we met many friends of Host #1, each one was a complete delight to converse with. Without a doubt, we’ll be following up with a number of them!

We had to walk a number of blocks before finding the first of the two cabs that got us home and a bit further for the second one.

An absolutely incredible ending to an incredible weekend. I’m no longer annoyed that the fireworks have moved to the west side. I’ll need to be nice to Host #1 for the entire year, just in case Macy’s decides to do it there again next year. It will be hard to keep up the façade, but I’ll do my best. Winking smile

Thank you for including all six of us. It’s a night we’ll never forget!

Chris Ayer at a House Concert

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This was a weekend extravaganza hosting our godson (David) and his wife (Rebecca). In addition to seeing Wicked earlier in the day (covered in this post), we wanted to take them to see some live music in NYC. Our core group consisted of 10 people, which could present logistical problems with finding the right show to accommodate us and still allow for the socializing before/after the show that we desired.

It occurred to me that even though we are loath to put on a house concert in general (logistics, weather, etc.), since we could constrain the group to be reasonably small, we might try to pull off a little miracle this time around. I was hoping for a solo, guitar-wielding singer/songwriter, so that we could easily move it indoors if the weather turned nasty (we planned this a month ago).

We love a lot of singer/songwriters that are based in NYC. With no offense to any others, Chris Ayer was at the top of our list. He’s the first one we asked, and the last, since he said he was available. Smile

Let me (now) apologize to all of our friends, especially those who are also huge Chris Ayer fans, for not inviting you. Since this weekend was about our godson, and his sister (our goddaughter, Laura) lives in the same building as we do, we restricted the guest list to their friends only (and us, of course). There were 16 audience members.

Since the evening was about socializing as well (David and Rebecca live in Birmingham, so none of us gets to see them as often as we’d like), we invited people to come at 6pm, with music slated to begin a little after 8pm. The original invitation said “Sushi” for dinner, but we knew that a few people don’t eat Sushi. A couple of diligent husbands pointed out that their pregnant wives couldn’t eat Sushi either. One of those pregnant wives delivered the night before (and stood us up for the show, can you believe it?)!

Congratulations to Laura and Jason! Smile

The day before, Wes, Jacklyn and I walked to see Super 8 (I might be one of only three people in America to think the movie is entertaining, but really stupid). On our way over, it poured so hard that we (and roughly 50 other people) had to stop (even though we had umbrellas) under some construction scaffolding for nearly 10 minutes, to avoid the feeling of taking a full bath in our clothes.

When we arrived back at the apartment, I noticed a giant rainbow and Lois snagged these photos (the rainbow disappeared within a few minutes!). It turns out that the rainbow appeared nearly coincident with the birth of Laura and Jason’s daughter. How awesome is that?

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Don’t worry about us, we still had two remaining pregnant women in attendance, so I think our quota was still met. Winking smile

There was plenty of other food to eat, and general merriment took place from 6pm onward.

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We were thankful that Chris arrived early enough to taste some of the Sushi as well. I also cornered him and fired off a bunch of my imponderable questions about music, including asking him whether he buys lefty guitars, or plays upside-down, etc. Thanks for being a good sport Chris and answering all of my questions patiently. Smile

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Shortly after 8pm, we pushed one of the tables out of the way (yes, our deck is a veritable furniture store) to make a nice spot for Chris to play in.

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Chris had his traditional set list written out on his arm (and my traditional photos showing you his and our views):

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After Chris played a few numbers, he asked whether anyone had requests. Lois fired off a few (including some older ones). He agreed to play one of her current favorites (she has dozens), Snake Skin Heart. After playing a second request from her, my competitive juices were flowing and I weighed in with Hiding Places (a new one that we love) and Stranded (which was on his set list already).

When I introduced Chris (before the music started), I mentioned that I think of him as a modern-day James Taylor whereas Lois thinks of him as a modern-day Paul Simon. At one point, Chris asked if anyone wanted to hear any covers. Naturally, some Paul Simon songs were called out. He played The Boxer (beautifully!), then Kathy’s Song (wow!). Again, my competitive juices could not be controlled. I called out for any James Taylor song. He performed Fire and Rain (perfect choice!).

After the show, one of Laura’s friends (who I met for the first time last night) came up to me and said: “Chris’ James Taylor cover was spectacular, but I have to side with Lois in comparing him more to Paul Simon. I wonder whether we won’t soon all be calling him our modern-day Paul Simon!”. OK, uncle! Smile

When Chris returned to playing his own numbers, both Lois and I were about to ask for Say What You Mean (independently, we only found that out after the show when comparing notes). Before we could get it out, Chris started introducing it. It’s about his Grandfather, which we knew, but the story that inspired it was new to us and incredibly touching.

While introducing it, he mentioned that his grandfather was in the Navy at Pearl Harbor. The person sitting closest to Chris during the show was Laura’s husband, also named Chris. Our Chris was in the Navy for six years and it didn’t seem accidental to me that he ended up being serenaded to that closely on this song (and obviously the rest of the songs).

Lois had asked (at least three times) whether Chris was going to do Roy G. Biv. He answered yes every time. I guess she wanted to make sure he wouldn’t forget. Winking smile He didn’t. He closed with an absolutely fantastic rendition of it. He introduced it, and nearly every song last night with some background or context about the song (I love that part of live shows!). Even though we’ve seen Chris many times, most of the backgrounds we heard last night were new to us, and I enjoyed every single one.

After the show we opened it up to questions of Chris and there were some really good ones. A few examples: co-writing vs writing alone, how long it takes to write a typical song, which comes first, melody or lyrics, etc.

Most of the people (including Chris) hung around to chat afterward, eating some dessert and the most incredible fresh fruit you can imagine (I’m still in a bit of a fruit coma over how good it was). We did allow the pregnant ladies to head out and get off their feet. We’re nice like that (sometimes). Winking smile

I’d be lying to you if I said I could adequately describe how incredible the entire evening was, music, conversation, food, fellowship.

I’ll finish by throwing in bonus coverage from today. Winking smile

If you know David, you know that his entire life revolves around Meatballs (ha, those of you who don’t know him think I’m exaggerating for effect). Winking smile How could we have him up to NYC and not take him to The Meatball Shop? We couldn’t and we didn’t! The core 10 of us headed down there shortly after it opened at noon today. We took over the tiny corner at the end of the bar (with most of us standing) and had an absolutely amazing lunch, including the obligatory ice-cream cookie sandwiches for dessert.

The kids went on for a very long walk, heading from the Lower East Side to the new Highline Park. Us old folk returned to the apartment, which is how I found the time to finish today’s posts. Smile

Jesse Terry, Michael Logen and Carley Tanchon at a House Concert

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For people who see live music as often as we do, I’m still amazed that it’s only been eight months since our first-ever house concert. We’ve been to a reasonable number of them since. Last night brought us full circle. We attended a concert at the same house that kicked it off, with the same headliner, with two other artists.

I’m normally very long winded (for the newcomers here, it’s because I write purely for myself, to remember the events in detail). Today, since I’ve written about all three performers (Jesse most of all), I’ll be briefer about them. You can click through above to see more about Jesse from the last house concert, or the links below for my coverage of Michael and Carley. You’re welcome! Smile

Jesse Terry was spectacular (again). In addition to selecting (and performing) a great set, he was on fire with his banter (quick and witty). He dedicated two songs to our amazing hostess. He dedicated another to a therapist in the room (a deeply moving song called Silver Hills, that melted everyone’s heart when Jesse introduced it). He dedicated another to Lois (I think just because he knew he could make her cry, he’s cruel that way!). Winking smile

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Jesse made reference to a video shot in Vanuatu. He mentioned that it’s the last documented case of cannibalism (we found out later it was roughly 25 years ago). None of the people in the video look like they were involved in that incident, but you never know, so be careful (especially of the one guy who dances behind Jesse, looking a little too happy!). The woman in the pink dress is now Jesse’s wife (not yet when the video was shot) and the woman in the straw hat, bikini top and shorts is Carley, another of the performers last night:

Ain’t No Tellin by Jesse Terry

Here’s Jesse telling the story about the video:

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And the lovely ladies who appear in the video:

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And the effect the story had on Carley!

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Michael Logen alternated songs with Jesse (like he did the only other time we’ve seen him). This time it was only acoustic guitar (he played the grand piano as well at Rockwood). I’ll repeat that Jesse was right when he said we’d love Michael, we do!

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Michael has a wonderful voice, plays the guitar and harmonica beautifully, and writes excellent songs, many of which are very moving. We were happy to buy his CD last night, Things I Failed to Mention (we ran out too quickly after the Rockwood show), so now we’ll get to hear them over and over.

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At Rockwood, Michael harmonized with Jesse on Noise (a song they co-wrote), while accompanying him on the piano. Last night, he also harmonized (beautifully) and accompanied Jesse on the guitar. In fact, Michael added a bit of harmony to a few of Jesse’s songs last night (and Jesse returned the favor once or twice). I was sitting less than two feet from Michael, so I could hear every note, but Lois asked him to sing his harmonies louder, because they were so well done!

Carley Tanchon opened the show. We had a tiny taste of Carley, singing harmony with Jesse on one song at The Bitter End. Then we finally got to see her goods at her CD Release Show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. That was a full band, all-out Rock ‘N Roll show.

Last night was solo with acoustic guitar. Still, everything I said about her in that show applies. Aside from the generic fact that Carley has a stunning voice, it’s a bit hard to imagine a better fitting voice for a house concert. No microphone? No problem! Her voice projects so clearly and cleanly. She has such power, but there’s no yelling about it.

CarleyTanchonPerforming

Jesse called Carley up to sing harmony on Ain’t No Tellin (the video above). Of course, the harmony was gorgeous.

They closed the show by calling Carley back up again and all three (but mostly Jesse and Carley) sang To Love Somebody by the Bee Gees. Of course they nailed it, but more interestingly, nearly everyone sang the chorus with them, quite well.

Excluding an intermission, they played for three hours (or a bit more!). It was by far the longest house concert we’ve seen. It was awesome, but made for a very late night, since we still had to drive back to Manhattan from Long Island.

Here are a few photos from before and after the show:

CarleyTanchonJesseTerryJesseTerryHadarHadarMichaelLogen

Now that I’ve gotten the music out of the way, let’s get to real point of last night, eating our hostess’ food! Ah, you think I jest, but I don’t! Last year’s meal was one of the best home cooked meals I’ve had. I’ll admit (now) that I was bit nervous if the second time around would live up to my own memories and expectations.

OurAmazingHosts

No need to worry! There was an even bigger choice, so there were a few dishes I didn’t get to taste, but everything I ate (which was a lot of variety) was simply amazing. Pasta Puttanesca, Beet Salad, Rigatoni with meat sauce, Meatballs, Tandoori Chicken, Indian-spiced Chickpeas (cooked, not a salad), Bean Dip with Chips, Homemade Breads (made by a male guest!).

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Every bite was excellent, but I still can’t get the taste of the meatballs out of my head. If my godson had been there, I don’t think they could have gotten him to leave. Winking smile

The reason I didn’t eat everything (I skipped the Poached Salmon, Asparagus Salad, Grilled Chicken, Basmati Rice, Veggie Wraps and a few other dishes) is because last year I was too full to enjoy the incredible desserts. Since I am occasionally capable of learning from my mistakes, I saved room.

While trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid stares from Lois, I did indeed indulge in a number of desserts during intermission and after the show. They were all amazing, but I have to shout out to the chocolate covered strawberries (OMG) and the blond-mini-kisses covered pretzels. Desserts were provided by a variety of guests, so a special thank you to all of you!

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Merry, you outdid yourself! So, now I’m already nervous about the next house concert and what you will serve to delight me (that’s why you’re doing these shows, right?). Smile

The Southern Wedding

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One of the major events in being a godparent is seeing your godchild get married. Nearly three years ago we got our first taste when Laura married Chris (captured in this post). This past Saturday, her brother (David) completed this stage by marrying the most wonderful woman (Rebecca) we could have imagined for him.

We arrived in Birmingham, AL late Monday. The festivities began in earnest on Tuesday morning, when we helped David’s parents move the remaining belongings from his apartment to his bride-to-be’s home. The ladies packed and scrubbed, the men hauled and drove. The next morning we sat in the new home waiting for the cable guy (he was only five minutes late, but that was five minutes after the full allotted time). In other words, a zesty start. Winking smile

On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings we had wonderful meals with the groom, his parents and his future in-laws. That’s more like it! Smile

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(All photos in the post can be clicked on for larger versions that will open in a separate tab/window. A few of them are courtesy of another wedding guest, Maggie, who took great shots with a better camera. I didn’t ask permission before snagging them, so I hope Maggie is OK with it, or doesn’t see this blog…) Winking smile

Thursday became more wedding-y. I picked up my tux (yes, it was a big deal, those of you who know me, are either smiling or shaking your head in disbelief while reading that). Not just a tux, one with tails!

After that, it was off to the bachelor party. If you’re easily offended, you might want to skip ahead now. Just kidding! David is a devout Christian, as was everyone in the entire wedding party, so no one needed to worry about any possible debauchery with this crowd. One of those times that the bride could concentrate on her night out with the gals, without wondering what was happening across town.

We started off the evening with bowling. If you know me, you know that’s right up my alley (I know, but I couldn’t resist, sorry!). Eight of us bowled two games each.

AboutToBowl

Not to brag, but to remember this years later, I started off my second game with four consecutive strikes. It devolved from there, but I still ended up with a 185. The photo below shows the name Bob next to that score. Bob left after the first game to pick up another reveler and asked me to bowl for him. When he returned, I had just finished up the fourth frame. He took over my game on the second lane and kindly let me play out his.

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We then headed over to Buffalo Wild Wings, picking up a few more people who couldn’t make it over in time for bowling. We watched ACC Basketball while drinking some beer (that’s as wild as it got) and enjoying an excellent meal (my first time at a BWW, I’d happily return).

After that we headed back to the hotel and played poker for a couple of hours in the breakfast area. We got to greet more wedding guests as they arrived late into the night. Speaking of late arrivals, the groom’s sister and her husband were delayed getting out of NYC and arrived after 3am!

Anyone that wasn’t part of the bachelor or bachelorette night out was invited for a meal at the bride’s parents’ home. On Friday, the bride’s father called the groom’s father and told him to bring people over for leftovers (the gals were having a bride and bridesmaids tea). I knew that the bride’s mom was an excellent cook and baker already (we’ve had quite a number of meals there), but her leftover chicken salad (with red grapes in it) still took me completely by surprise (straight out of the fridge). Wow!

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Here are some photos from the tea:

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We were supposed to be at the church at 5pm for the rehearsal. I have come to trust my GPS. It rarely lets me down. It didn’t this time either. It took me exactly where I told it to. Unfortunately, I punched in the wrong address (a different church). Oops, operator error. Still, even after fighting traffic from the wrong church to the correct one, we walked in the door at precisely 5pm. Whew.

One example of the lighthearted spirit during the rehearsal. When they were practicing placing the rings, there was more fumbling than exchanging. The Pastor, Dr. Dennis W. Foust (who is the doppleganger for Bill Engvall, in my opinion) said to David: “It feels like this is your first time”. Perfect! Smile

The bride’s family is very large (she has four siblings, three of whom are married, each with at least two children). Most of the kids (ages 2+) were part of the ceremony (ring bearers, flower girls, junior bridesmaid). During the rehearsal, one of the two-year-old boys was told to go up the stairs and stand in a certain position. He declared, loudly, that he didn’t want to go up there, because he didn’t want to get married! Winking smile

On to the rehearsal dinner. At some weddings this is a very small gathering, restricted to the wedding party only. Even if this one were restricted to that subset, it would have been a large party. Since everyone on the groom’s side was an out-of-towner, with his family hailing from Richmond, VA and Lincoln, NE, The Preserve (the very special place where the rehearsal dinner was hosted) was at capacity, 100 people!

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Everything about the dinner was fantastic (the food, prepared by “Chef Bob”), the wine (brought by the groom’s dad from Richmond) and the company. After the meal, they projected a slide show with music. The photos were of David and Rebecca from babies all the way through to couple-hood. The families submitted the photos. The presentation was put together by Laura (David’s sister) and her husband Chris.

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Laura selected perfect songs to accompany every stage of each of David and Rebecca’s lives. This culminated in a huge surprise for us when we heard the song she picked for David and Rebecca coming together (photos of the two of them over the past 18 months). Our own Ian Axel’s We Are. Here are a few of the lyrics, to give you a sense of why I think her choice was perfect:

I’ll believe in you if you believe in me

We are the lucky ones

I won’t let you down (repeated 16 times!)

Sounds just about right to me. If every married couple took those three lines to heart there would be no divorce!

After that, speeches from some of the bridesmaids and groomsmen (including the dad, who was also the Best Man!). With each speech came humor, love, celebration and some added understanding of how/why both David and Rebecca are so special (individually and as a couple).

That was followed by Rebecca and David giving speeches of their own, both extremely moving. The Dad led us in a toast and we called the night before the big day over.

The week started out with horrible weather: heavy rain (and cold) punctuating Tuesday and Wednesday. In fact, on Wednesday evening, the rain was so hard, it felt like a portent of end-of-days to me (or at least the return of the need for an Ark). Thursday was dry but cold. Friday was very nice, but still a tad on the chilly side.

Saturday, the big day, was extraordinary. Low 70’s, sunny, crisp, perfect. Someone was smiling on our happy couple!

After gathering for breakfast in the hotel, various groups of people went off to explore the city (Botanical Gardens, Vulcan Park, Civil Rights Museum). The boys (lots of ‘em) went to the park and burned off their nervous energy.

Breakfast

Lois and I met up with them and most of their wives for lunch, at one of my favorite BBQ places, Jim ‘N Nicks (this was my fourth location, many more to try). Not including babies (at least three), there were 18 of us at lunch. Another winning meal in a week full of them.

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Barely time to clean up and get dressed for the wedding party to get to the church for photos. For the groomsmen and ushers (and me), it was mostly a game of hurry up and wait. The Duke game was on. David and a number of his groomsmen are Duke graduates. Tim (a groomsman and brother of the bride) performed yeoman’s duty and got a PC in the music room hooked up to a giant screen and streamed the game on ESPN3.com. Yay! Duke won (of course!).

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Lois snuck some photos of her own, before we gathered for the professional photo shoot:

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Since there were very few posed photos of the groomsmen, I won’t have trouble selecting one:

Groomsmen

After the photo session people started streaming in. As I mentioned, the bride has a very big family. Also, since she was getting married in the church that the family has been attending for decades, the guest list was very large. When everyone was seated it was time for the seating of the Grandparents and Parents. As godparents, we were the first to walk down the aisle (hence my wearing of the tails!). After us came the parents, followed by Rebecca’s one remaining grandmother.

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I mentioned above that Rebecca is one of five siblings. Actually, she is one of six, but the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, passed away nearly 21 years ago. In an extremely moving tribute to her loving memory, one of Rebecca’s sisters walked down the aisle, up the stairs in the center and lit a candle next to a bouquet of flowers. Amazing Grace was played on the horn to commemorate her short time on earth.

Everyone in Rebecca’s family plays a brass instrument (amazingly well). Including the parents, there are two trumpet players and five horn players (that’s the politically correct name for what used to be called the French Horn). To honor the love of brass instruments, there were two brass quintets, one on each side of the church (10 brass instruments in all, for those of you who didn’t feel like doing the math yourselves). Rebecca’s brother Tim (of the Duke fame above) performed double duty. He played the horn with the quintet on the left and also stood for the ceremony as one of the groomsmen (very busy day for Tim!).

The brass quintets were awesome in playing Canzona Per Sonare No. 2 by Giovanni Gabrieli as the Processional began.

The Bridal Processional was equally incredible. First, because she’s a stunning woman (not just a stunning bride), judge for yourself from the accompanying photos. Second, because the quintets continued to impress with Canzon Duodecimi Toni also by Gabrieli.

When the entire wedding party was in place the Reverend (Dr. Foust) greeted them and the congregation. After that, there were two Scripture Readings, one by Rebecca’s sister-in-law and the other by Laura.

The Marriage Vows were led by Dr. Foust. The Exchange of Rings was led by David’s uncle, a Reverend from Richmond, Dr. James Colvin. David and Rebecca then lit the Unity Candle.

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Reverend Colvin led us all in prayer followed by both Reverends simultaneously pronouncing David and Rebecca husband and wife, instructing them: “You may now Kiss your Spouse!” (that was a new one for me, I like it!). Since we were first in, we were last out in the Recessional.

The wedding party and families stayed at the church for additional photos while everyone else proceeded to the reception. We joined them all for a terrific celebration.

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For those of you who know us, you know that Lois and I attend a wee bit more than our fair share of live music. Over the years, we’ve dragged many guests along with us (some kicking and screaming), including our godchildren and their spouses. When we heard that Laura chose one of Ian Axel’s songs (someone we introduced her to) it was obviously gratifying.

Apparently, we had a musical effect on David as well. For the mother/son dance, he selected a song by another of our favorite artists, Vienna Teng. They danced to Harbor, another perfect choice (in my opinion). A few select lyrics (in case you require proof!): Winking smile

The light in me will guide you home

All I want is to be your harbor

You’ve got a journey to make

There’s your horizon to chase

So go far beyond where we stand

No matter the distance I’m holding your hand

Seriously, can a mother say anything more beautiful and meaningful to her son on the day she’s letting him go? I didn’t think so!

The father/daughter dance was to Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman. Another perfect choice. Unfortunately, we can’t take credit for that one. Winking smile

Both of those dances were serious affairs. When David and Rebecca danced their first dance (Feels Like Home by Chantal Kreviazuk), a much more lighthearted moment was created. Prancing on to the dance floor was a 2.5-year-old from Richmond, who just wanted to dance with the happy couple. The first photo shows them noticing something low, approaching them. Then David appears to be high fiving her in the second photo, before she was coaxed back to her parents. Precious!

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The rest of the evening was filled with music by a jazz quartet. The female sax player was incredible as was the electric guitarist.

JazzQuartet

There were two absolutely incredible cakes, one for the bride and one for the groom. That made for two cake-cutting photo ops. Since the cakes were on opposite sides of the room, it enhanced the chance that guests would catch at least one. I caught both.

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I also caught the photo op (Lois didn’t, so I don’t have a photo to attach) with the person who introduced David and Rebecca. If she ever stops wanting to be a doctor (at least I believe she is), she can probably make a living as a matchmaker!

In a shocking turn of events, while the cakes were being cut, a group of hoodlums were vandalizing the couple’s car outside. It turns out that some good samaritans caught it all on camera, so the police shouldn’t have too much trouble bringing them to justice! Smile

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Hoodlums

We all lined up outside to send the happy couple off on their well-deserved honeymoon. May they enjoy it at least a drop as much as the rest of us enjoyed sharing the last few days with them!

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A few straggler photos:

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