Girlyman

October 2007 Poker Update

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October was not a good month economically. That said, I had an excellent month of winning qualifiers, including three in one week to the weekly big tourney, so it wasn’t all bad. I only got to use one in October, as we’ve been much busier on weekends than usual (if you read my non-poker posts, then you already know!). I won’t be playing this Sunday either, as it’s Girlyman night! πŸ™‚

I thought I played reasonably well this month, with a few extremely notable exceptions (meaning, I got frustrated, and took some shots that were ill-advised). The majority of my losses came in the qualifier entries, meaning, even if I won the qualifier, the entire entry fee ends up counting as a loss.

My bottom line this month was down $239.89. Since the three seats that I won in the one week were worth $645, and I won other qualifiers (for roughly another $88), I far outstripped my entry fees, but my account is still down on the cash front.

Don’t cry for me (yet), as my account is still extremely healthy, and in the beginning of the month, actually hit an all-time high.

Not much else to report, other than that I haven’t played at all this week, which is marginally shocking. I’ve had a number of other things that I wanted to take care of, and while I could have snuck in a game or two, I didn’t want to keep being distracted by having to pay attention to the poker table, so I didn’t launch the software at all this week!

California Guitar Trio at BB King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, if you thought that was the end of the amazement, you were wrong. πŸ˜‰

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

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

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

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

Treble at Joes Pub

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When we saw Charlie Daniels Band on Saturday, October 20th, 2007 at BB King, I noticed that the following Sunday (8 days later), a group called California Guitar Trio (CGT) would be playing at BB’s. I didn’t link any of the above, because this posting isn’t really about any of them, but they’re responsible for this post… πŸ™‚

I had never heard about CGT, so I looked them up on the web, and listened to some samples. They reminded me a lot of Acoustic Alchemy (my favorite Jazz group), so I had an interest in seeing them live. That said, we were planning on coming up to the house for the weekend, after finishing up our long-lost friends week.

I mentioned this to Lois, and she suggested that we get the tickets, and either spend the weekend in NYC, or come in and return on Sunday. I was reluctant, but Lois pressed me to get the tickets. So, when we walked to Wicked on Tuesday, we stopped in at BB King’s, and bought tickets for Sunday night.

The next day, Lois firmly decided that we would spend the weekend in NYC. Once that was decided, I remembered that I noticed something intriguing in the Joe’s Pub newsletter. They had a Sunday Brunch concert with an all-female a cappella group named Treble. While we were waiting on line to see Kathy Mattea the next day, I ran in and bought two tickets to see Treble for Sunday at noon.

This was our first time for brunch at Joe’s Pub. They do a very nice job, as they do for dinner as well. We each had different paninis, and both enjoyed them.

Finally, the music. Treble is nine women who sing a cappella. They rotate the lead singer in most songs. The remaining women either harmonize (on occasion) with the lead, or create sounds that mimic different instruments (including drums, bass, horns, cymbals, etc.).

They are very talented. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. That said, we were left feeling that they could be so much more than they actually are. There are a number of problems (all in our opinion, obviously):

  • They are too egalitarian. While they all sing very well, a number of them are simply not lead material. It’s socially nice that they give each of them a whirl at the mic, but in the end, they aren’t doing the group a favor.
  • Their selection for the performance could stand improvement. I’ll have a little more to say on this subject below.
  • Their arrangements could also stand some improvement in a number of cases. This is highly related to the next point, which is perhaps the most important complaint (of ours).
  • They spend way too much energy (and talent!) mimicking instruments (in particular drums and cymbals). There is way too little actual harmony, for such talented a group of singers, and so many of them to boot!

Backing up for a second, Joe’s Pub was somewhere between 1/2 to 2/3’s full. We were both reasonably impressed that a group like this could draw that much of a crowd (even though Joe’s is a very small venue) on a Sunday at noon. That said, we had the overwhelming sense that we were either the only, or two of a handful of people who weren’t specifically friends or family of the members of the group.

We had no problem with that, but we’re pointing it out to say that it would have been really hard for a group like this to get a nice-sized crowd for a Sunday brunch concert.

We weren’t going to buy their CD (which they were selling there) for a few reasons which I won’t mention. But, there was one song that they did, Time, which simply blew us away. It turns out that it’s a song by Chantal Kreviazuk. We didn’t know that until we looked it up today. Lois went up to talk to the person selling the CD, and in the end, decided to buy it.

We’re very glad we did. In addition to a stunning recording of Time, there are a number of nice tracks on the CD that they didn’t do in the live show. That’s one of the reasons that I mentioned that their selection wasn’t that great at the show, clearly, they have better material.

Basically, they need to decide what they want to be when they grow up. πŸ˜‰

This time, the Girlyman reference will be really easy to work in. They should pay Doris Muramatsu whatever she would demand in order to create harmonies for them. She’s a certifiable genius, and we can’t even imagine what she could do with more than the three voices that she arranges with Girlyman. It’s OK if on occasion, they show off their ability to mimic instruments, but if they highlighted their harmonies, they could be something extremely special!

I’m too lazy to listen to them all now (sorry), but there is one song on the album that has very little instrumentation and it’s very beautiful.

At the other end of the spectrum, if they don’t want specialized harmonies, they should spend a lot of time listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and go for that kind of sound. Both Doris and the Choir came to my mind while I was listening to Treble.

While driving home late last night, Lois says to me (unprompted): “You know, Treble should hire Doris to write their harmonies for them!”. I told her that I already intended to write that, and that she was stealing my line. To which she replied: “Or, they should study the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!”. Ouch, we are way too similar. Frightening actually…

So, if you like a cappella, and perhaps even enjoy the mimicking of instruments with human voices, you should really enjoy their CD immensely. We’re glad we saw them, and glad we bought the CD, but really hope that they decide to become more professional and make it as a result.

Finally, one of the better songs that they performed was Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd (it’s not on the album). This will only become slightly interesting if you read my next post on CGT. πŸ˜‰

Kathy Mattea at Joes Pub

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Last night, Lois and I saw Kathy Mattea perform at Joe’s Pub. It was a minor odyssey to make it all happen…

Since we regularly frequent Joe’s Pub (as loyal readers already know), I read their regular email newsletter reasonably carefully, to spot performers that we already know, as well as attempt to discover ones we might enjoy.

A few weeks back, while we were at Zope, I noticed that Kathy Mattea was scheduled to be there on October 24th, 2007. This was a very exciting discovery. She is one of Lois’ all-time favorites. Through her, we also discovered Ceili Rain (she did fabulous covers of both Love Travels and That’s All the Lumber You Sent).

I instantly got on the site and tried to order tickets. Unfortunately, they were sold out. Lois called a few hours later when the box office opened, and they said that they best we could hope for was to call the day of the performance, and see if they released any tickets that were being held for the band, etc. Bummer…

Kathy was a certifiable Country music superstar for a very long time. In the past 2+ years, she seemed to disappear (at least somewhat) from the scene. It was mildly surprising to me that she was playing a venue as small as Joe’s Pub, and therefore not surprising that she sold it out in minutes. In her hey day, I imagine she could have easily sold out Radio City Music Hall, like Martina McBride did. It turns out, she is doing a new project to bring back songs of the coal miners, with an album coming out in January, that she’s touring to promote and work on at the moment.

Two weeks ago, I checked the web site again on a whim. There was one ticket available! I immediately offered Lois that I would snag it, and she could go without me. I would have been thrilled for her to see Kathy, even if I had to miss it. She wasn’t interested. But, she immediately called Joe’s Pub, and told them how often we come, etc., and could they possibly see it in their hearts to release one more ticket?

They got a manager on the phone, they looked up my name and saw how often we come, and he told Lois that he would authorize another ticket, but that we would have to stand at the bar, no seats and no dinner. Obviously, we said yes right away, and they took our info over the phone. I checked the web site a minute later, and they were showing as sold out again, so they definitely have their act together systems-wise…

A few days later, Lois called to ask whether it was possible that dinner reservations might open up (as the one ticket did). They said that it wasn’t likely, but that we should call back a few days before the show. She did, and they said that she should call back the day of the show. She did, and they said that they couldn’t release a reservation, but if we showed up really early, they could practically guarantee that we’d be seated for dinner.

We did, and they did, so everyone ended up happy. We had excellent seats, and had an amazing dinner (they always do a good job!). I had a perfect chocolate martini as well. πŸ™‚ We were seated at a table for four, so we ended up chatted with a very nice couple who were seated next to us. They ordered dishes I never tasted there, and both raved about their meals as well. The woman’s steak looked outstanding!

On to the music. Well first, Kathy simply looked amazing. Whatever she was doing while she wasn’t climbing the Country charts, definitely agrees with her physically. πŸ™‚

Kathy’s voice isn’t in the same league as Martina McBride, or even Alison Krauss for that matter (obviously, all in my own opinion, no need to publicly disagree with me on this). That said, she’s still amazing. Her voice is powerful, emotive and moving. Her song selection is outstanding, and she’s a wonderful guitarist. Half of the show was the new coal project, and half were previous hits (which she encouraged the crowd to sign along during the chorus, and they/we happily obliged).

She had a three-member band playing with her. Bill Cooley on acoustic guitar. Dave Roe on the upright bass. Eamonn O’Rourke on the fiddle and mandolin (unfortunately, a quick search doesn’t reveal any web site dedicated to this amazing musician!). All three are amazing enough to deserve their own mentions independent of Kathy.

I am a guitar-loving nut. I like all styles of guitar, from classical through to screaming rock. While classical is probably my favorite, a close second is someone who can do wonders with an acoustic guitar. Among my favorites forever has been David Bromberg. The man is a genius with an acoustic guitar. That said, he isn’t the cleanest guitar player, as on occasion, in his attempts to dazzle (which he achieves so many times), he can even (gasp) miss a note (no, say it ain’t so!).

The above was meant to put the next statement into context:

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

There, I’m on the record with a very bold statement (as in bold font at the very least). πŸ˜‰

I’m not sure I can describe exactly why, though I tried to last night when Lois asked me why I felt that way. His fingers are so fast it’s almost unbelievable. He plays in a variety of styles. His leads are so clean and clear. He’s one of the few guitarists where you don’t hear the transitional screeches of the strings as his hands slide up and down the neck. He plays brilliantly both softly (when he’s accompanying Kathy as the solo instrument), and when he has to pound it out with all of the instruments going full bore. He’s been touring with Kathy since 1990. She’s crazy if she ever lets him go. Simply brilliant!

Dave Roe is a top-notch bass player. In addition to normal bass playing, he plays a style that includes slapping the body of the bass with his palm, while strumming the strings with his fingers, creating the sounds that a drum might make (they had no drummer on the stage last night), making for a wonderful sound coming from one instrument. He’s truly gifted, and sings harmonies with Kathy as well.

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

The following three photos aren’t very good (at all), but they’ll give you a sense. The first is Kathy Mattea, with Bill Cooley in the background, obscured by her guitar. The second is them again, with Bill’s face finally recognizable. The last is Eamonn O’Rourke and Dave Roe. Fuzzy, yes, but you can at least make them all out (I hope). Click on any of the images to see a larger version:

Kathy Mattea Kathy Mattea and Bill Cooley Eamonn O'Rourke and Dave Roe

Anyway, a truly outstanding band, to complement a truly outstanding performer in Kathy. She has a wonderful stage presence, and connects deeply with the audience.

She came out for an encore and did two songs. The first was her alone, no instruments. Wow. Another song from the coal project, and her vocal power was overwhelming (in the most positive way that statement can be taken!). The second number was completely instrumental, an Irish-style jig. Kathy played both her normal guitar, but also broke out two penny-whistles. Man, she’s very talented, and can play that whistle beautifully. We left on an ultra-high note.

On another topic, management chided me for not mentioning Girlyman in my CDB post on Sunday. They weren’t going to take any punitive action (this time), until Wes commented on the blog, and they realized that they were looking weak in public. So, they are now insisting that I put in a solid mention of Girlyman, or risk losing my blogging privileges.

The above qualifies, for sure, but I’ll just remind you all that we’re only 10 days away from seeing Girlyman live again, on Sunday November 4th, at the Highline Ballroom. If you’re in NYC on November 4th, and you don’t go to see Girlyman live, shame on you! πŸ˜‰

One final Girlyman connection, that is definitely related to the opening theme in this post. The only reason we discovered Girlyman to begin with was because of Joe’s Pub. We had an opening in a blockbuster weekend, and the first place I checked was Joe’s Pub, and through luck (or more likely serendipity, our theme for this week!), Girlyman was playing there that night. πŸ™‚

The Wailin’ Jennys CDs

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After seeing The Wailin’ Jennys perform last Saturday night at Tarrytown Music Hall, I informed you all that I’d be buying their CDs. I ordered the two full-length CDs from Amazon.com on Monday. Their current one is Firecracker, and the older one is 40 Days. I paid $13.99 for each, but the links I just posted show them at $17.98, so you might prefer to search around for a better price.

That said, I love Amazon.com. The vast majority of things that I buy online are from Amazon.com, Buy.com and eCost.com. In addition to the Jennys CDs, I purchased the latest Rascal Flatts CD (Still Feels Good) and Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby CD (Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby).

I struggled (for the first time) whether to pay for expedited shipping, because I wanted to play the Jenny’s CDs for my friends who we are visiting with this weekend. In the end, I decided that it could wait, and I opted for the free shipping. The site estimated that it would ship on October 8th (next Monday). I got the CDs today. That’s 3 days after I ordered them, with free shipping. Did I mention that I love Amazon.com? Well, if I didn’t, then let me say so now: I love Amazon.com! πŸ™‚

On to the CDs. I just listened to both of them. Since the Jennys played for nearly two hours on Saturday, they covered the majority of both of these CDs, so many of the songs were already familiar. The CDs are luscious and gorgeous, as was their live performance. Just like I previously reported, these are the ultimate stress busters.

The only thing from that previous post that I would like to amend is my analysis of One Voice as sung by the Jennys and Angel Band. I reported that I was more used to the Angel Band version, but that I would likely grow to prefer the Jennys version. Now I’m not so sure. The Jennys version is gorgeous, without a single thing to complain about. In fact, it’s 34 seconds longer than the Angel Band’s version, and my only complaint about the Angel Band version is that it’s too short.

Having just listened to both versions 4 times each, I am still leaning (ever so slightly) to the Angel Band version. They choose to sing the lyrics with more power. The Jennys almost whisper the song (stunningly so, it’s not a complaint), and I like the power. Angel Band also sings it ever so slightly more up-tempo (which I think largely accounts for the 34 second differential), and that’s sort-of nice too. So, two great versions to pick from, depending on your mood. πŸ˜‰

All that said, I’d pay some good money to hear Girlyman do a version. I have little doubt that I’d prefer it instantly. I hope to find out one day! πŸ™‚

Don’t forget, you can listen to Girlyman for free here. πŸ™‚

The Wailin’ Jennys are Wonderful

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Last night, Lois and I went to see The Wailin’ Jennys at Tarrytown Music Hall. We don’t own any of their CD’s, and weren’t familiar with their music. So, what made us go see them?

I’ve written a number of times about how much I love to see David Bromberg perform live. In the past year, we’ve seen him twice, once at BB King’s, with his full band, where they also backed up his wife’s band, Angel Band, and once solo at Joe’s Pub.

During the BB King’s concert, someone sitting next to us told us that Bromberg grew up near Tarrytown, NY, and that he tries to play at Tarrytown Music Hall once a year. We live 3+ miles from there, and didn’t realize that there was a regular live music scene there. It got me started checking their web site, and indeed, they have some top performers coming there, albeit not that regularly.

I noticed that The Wailin’ Jennys (or just “The Jennys” as they refer to themselves) were scheduled for last night, and that the site was promoting them as the most popular show of 2006. I listened to a few short clips on the web, and bought the tickets. It was our first time at the Tarrytown Music Hall.

Previously, I’ve written that the best acoustics that we’ve experienced was at Zankel Hall, which is part of Carnegie Hall. That’s probably still true. That said, Tarrytown Music Hall is a pretty close second, which is pretty incredible, because it’s obviously a very old, Broadway style theater, with the numbers worn off of most of the seats, etc. It doesn’t look like it would carry the music as purely as it does, but indeed, it does!

Opening for the Jennys was an unannounced duo. Actually, the performer was Anthony da Costa, who brought along a friend (Oliver Hill) of his creating a duo/duet on stage. Anthony is 16 years old, yes, that’s right, 16! He’s a folk singer. Excellent voice, pretty darn good folk guitarist as well. Unfortunately, a little too precocious for our tastes on the stage. He has a very good stage presence, and the crowd loved him, so we were in a very tiny minority (possibly of size two!). Anyway, he definitely has talent, so I understand why they booked him, and perhaps he will grow into the role as he graduates from High School. πŸ˜‰

Now for the Jennys. You can read their bios, both for the group, as well as the three ladies (who now tour with a guy as well, though he doesn’t sing) here, where they do a better job than I can in summarizing their backgrounds.

They sing together so beautifully, it’s hard to describe. Each has a spectacular voice individually as well. To boot, all three are extremely accomplished musicians (as you can read in their bios as well), trading off multiple instruments during the show (well, Ruth and Nicky do, while Heather plays a mean bass all night long). They are wonderful when they interact with the audience as well, warm, witty, engaging, interesting, etc.

Of course, now we need to go out and buy all of their CDs. The concert ended late, so we were too tired to hang around and buy them there at the theater.

Having mentioned the Angel Band above, and in at least two previous posts, I think I mentioned in one of them that our favorite song by them is “One Voice”. Last night, when the Jennys returned for their encore, they gave an introduction explaining how they (Ruth) came to write “Once Voice”, and then they sang it (to perfection, of course!). We were blown away that a song that we loved so much was written by a group we didn’t know, but had just enjoyed so thoroughly all evening.

We’ve listened to the Angel Band version so many times, so it is stuck in our heads as the correct version. So, while a little bit of the Jennys version was slightly different, ultimately, we both agreed that it was a little richer, and it would only takes us a few more listens before we would likely prefer it dramatically. No knock on the Angel Band, who sing that song amazingly well!

Then, for the finale (second song in the encore), the Jennys sang their third a capella song of the evening (the first two were extraordinary), but this time, without any microphones either. The three of them just stepped out onto center stage, and sang like the angels that they are. Wow!

Anyway, both the Jennys, and Tarrytown Music Hall are highly recommended!

OK, on to the obvious question: “So, three people singing stunning harmonies, are you over Girlyman yet, and if not, are the Jennys as good?” (inquiring minds want to know, and, my contract with this site requires me to mention Girlyman, as readers of my previous Suzy Boggus post will recall). πŸ˜‰

For many people, the answer might be yes, but for Lois and I, the answer is no. I’ll speak for myself only (Lois has a slightly different take, but falls in the same direction). The Jennys are amazing, nothing short of it. But, their music (to me) is soothing, almost hypnotic. I was so relaxed (almost mesmerized) during most of their songs. That’s an incredible feeling, and I’ll turn to their CDs (which I will buy this week) when I want/need that feeling.

Girlyman, who are much more minimalistic in their instrumentation, elicit a much more active firing of neurons in my brain. I can’t help but sing along, tap my feet, tap the steering wheel, tap on anything in sight, etc. It’s a more visceral, perhaps even primal connection to the music. Both Lois and I felt that the Jennys could easily achieve that (they most certainly have the talent, in spades), but that’s not the kind of songs they write (or at least not the ones they chose to perform last night).

Take nothing away from them, they are firmly on my favorite groups list now, but Girlyman is still ahead of them on the list. πŸ™‚

Suzy Boggus at Joes Pub

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We have very good friends who we get together with in NYC regularly. Both couples have crazy schedules, so we try really hard to make it work whenever we can. We had suggested Thursday, September 20th for a get-together. They responded that the wife couldn’t make it that week, but the husband could. We agreed, since they were away for all of August in France, and we missed them and wanted to hear about the trip.

Then, 10 days ago, they said that if we could move it to Friday the 21st, they could both make it. Done! But, on the same day that we agreed to do that, I got my normal email newsletter from Joe’s Pub, and much to my surprise, one of our favorite artists, Suzy Boggus, was going to be there on the 21st. We immediately bought 4 tickets online.

We ended up reserving the exact same table that we’ve been at every time we’ve been there with 4 people in total, smack flush up against the stage, right in the middle of the stage. I had the same seat, meal, and drinks, that I had when we saw Girlyman there on August 19th.

Starting with the meal, I had the Seared Tuna. A giant portion, served on top of artichoke hearts, done to perfection (every time). Of course, I had to have a chocolate martini as well, also always prepared correctly at Joe’s Pub.

Suzy and her band came on at 7:35pm. She was great. The one thing that surprised both Lois and I is that she writes most of her own songs, but last night chose to play at least 4 (perhaps 5?) covers. They were good songs, and she did them really well, but still, some of our favorites got left on the floor.

Perhaps our favorite is her song Cinderella from the album Something Up My Sleeve. We spotted their play sheet on the stage floor, and Cinderella was on it, second from last song (more accurately, last song before the encore song). Unfortunately, the show likely ran a few minutes longer than timed, or started a few minutes later, and the only song that got cut from the playlist was Cinderella.

Right before the encore, Lois asked Suzy to play Cinderella. She leaned over to Lois and said: “Maybe I can play it for you privately later on…” Oh well…

Anyway, another lovely evening at Joe’s Pub, and another one of our favorites that we can now check off our list as having seen them perform live. πŸ™‚

I you want to hear some of Suzy’s songs for free, here is her Myspace page. Ironically, at least 3 of the 4 songs currently available there are covers, not her own. She played two of them (maybe even 3?) last night…

Finally, according to the new Terms of Service instituted roughly a month ago by the management of this site, I am required to include an obligatory link to the Girlyman Myspace page whenever a post mentions anything about music. πŸ˜‰

On a Girlyman Mission

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There, I said it, I’m not embarrassed to be a Girlyman Groupie. πŸ™‚

I’ve previously written about my accidental discovery of this wonderful group. If you didn’t read it, you don’t need to bother, as I’ll summarize much of what I said there here, and provide the more important of the links here as well.

First and foremost, I’m about to rave about this group. I realize how subjective music appreciation can be, so before you continue reading here (assuming you’ve never heard of them and aren’t sure whether your tastes are like mine), I strongly suggest that you take a break and listen to the full length, free, streaming songs that they have on their Myspace page. There are typically 5 songs available there. At the moment, Joyful Sign (the title cut of their latest CD) starts streaming immediately. If you listen to exactly 40 seconds of the song, and don’t love it, you can safely skip the rest of this post.

Many reviewers have written eloquently about Girlyman, comparing them to a modern-day, three voice Simon and Garfunkel, or perhaps more aptly Peter, Paul and Mary. Those are fine comparisons, and I wouldn’t disagree, and I certainly loved (and still do!) both of those groups from my early days of listening to music. That said, Girlyman is more than that. Aside from their wonderful lyrics (many deeply soulful songs), and their stunning harmonies (which they utilize more effectively than the above two groups, IMHO), they also play many different styles of music.

I guess that from reading most of the reviews, one would tend to try and classify them as a Folk group. They certainly play a lot of Folk music, so it’s not a misnomer. That said, they also play some damn good Pop as well, except that by design, their instrumentation is lean (and clean), so they don’t necessarily produce the typical bigger sounds expected in a Pop group. They have a number of songs that are classically Bluegrass. A few songs that are wonderful Country as well.

They produce the different styles in part by switching instruments (e.g., bring the Banjo and/or Mandolin in for a Bluegrass sound), but actually more by controlling the nature, volume and type of harmonies that they sing in order to shift to another style. In other words, rather than having a much bigger band sound (like Rascal Flatts for example, one of our favorites, and another group that harmonizes amazingly), they choose to use their harmonies as pure instruments, creating the same feelings, but not the same big band sound.

I certainly hope that they will make it big, they richly deserve it, and the world could stand to discover them. That said, I know how tough it is (statistically) for any group to make it (now more than ever, with the accelerating death of the traditional Music Company business), and in particular with this more quiet, contemplative style of music. So, I feel like I’m on a personal mission to ensure that as many people are exposed to Girlyman, so that they can make their own decision.

I previously reported that we purchased two of their CD’s at their concert at Joe’s Pub in NYC. They were Joyful Sign (their latest) and Remember Who I Am (their first). As mentioned, our godson got the band to sign Joyful Sign to us, and we’ll treasure that forever. πŸ™‚

In order to spread the word, and support the band in the most direct way possible, we just bought 11 more CDs from the site linked above (in both album titles). We bought 5 copies of Joyful Sign, 2 copies of Little Star (the one CD we didn’t have yet), 2 copies of Remember Who I Am, 1 copy of Shadow of a Habit (the album by the two women in Girlyman, before Girlyman was formed, when they were called The Garden Verge) and one copy of Never Enough Time (a solo album by Nate Borofsky, before he, Ty and Doris formed Girlyman). We’re giving out copies of Joyful Sign to some of our friends this weekend, and we’re excited to directly share their music in this way.

I have a lot more listening to do (and I’ve done a lot already), but here’s my current take on ranking the CDs (this is on the assumption that you end up being interested, but aren’t crazy like us, so you don’t go out and buy them all). πŸ˜‰

Joyful Sign, simply fantastic. A number of styles, all done extremely well, with soaring harmonies and melodies that will grab you by the throat. Warning: some of the songs stick in my head in ways that I can’t get out, even if I want to, so if you listen to the CD a few times, be prepared to find yourself uncontrollably humming, whistling, etc., some of the tunes. You’ve been warned!

Remember Who I Am. A close second.

Shadow of a Habit. This is the one with just the women, who were known as The Garden Verge then. This is a somewhat more mellow sound, but their harmonies are nearly as amazing, even though there are only two of them.

Little Star. This is by no means a weak album, but it doesn’t have the overall oomph that Joyful Sign or Remember Who I Am have.

Never Enough Time. A very nice album as well. There is some beautiful harmony on it as well, but it’s more of a solo effort. I don’t know (because I didn’t research it), whether it’s Ty (or Doris) singing with him, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it is.

Here’s what I find interesting about the above. If I fell in love with Remember Who I Am when it first came out, I might have been disappointed in Little Star (no, it’s not a bad CD, just not as strong). This might have led me to believe that they were running out of creativity, etc. Thankfully, I heard Joyful Sign first, their third CD, and it is amazing. So, whatever caused a slight dip in between the strong beginning and the current acceleration of their talent, I can still appreciate as a strong album on its own, even if not up to the new standard they set with Joyful Sign.

Aside from bringing an excellent voice to the group (both as soloist and harmonizer), Nate brings a little more up-beat-ness to the musical variety of Girlyman. Some of the more interesting sounds are noticeable on his solo album, which has a little more tempo to it than some of the Garden Verge stuff.

The blend of their respective music, voices, writing talent, etc., is absolutely wonderful.

So, even though we just saw them recently, we found out (through their mailing list) that they are coming back to NYC to the Highline Ballroom on November 4th. We were scheduled to leave for Virginia that day, but changed our plans now to be there. We bought a couple of extra tickets and we’re taking some friends to the show to spread the fever. πŸ˜‰

I noticed that they were playing next week in Minneapolis, and immediately wrote to two of my friends there suggesting that they take in the show. Hopefully, they will, and will report back enthusiastically.

For the rest of you, Girlyman seems to be touring all over the place this fall, and I strongly recommend that you check their schedule and see if you can catch them in person.

Hope to see you all at a show in the near future, and if you can’t make it, buy a ton of their CDs. πŸ™‚

A very Wicked Sunday :-)

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If you read my last post, you know that the highlight of yesterday was going to see Wicked for our fifth time. In addition to that specific highlight, the day turned out to be spectacular in a number of other ways. Therefore, this post will likely be very long, and I apologize if you’re only tuning in to hear what we thought of the two leads in Wicked. You can either search or skim to find out the $64k answer to that question. πŸ˜‰

Amazingly enough, I have checked off every single category that I have previously used in this one post. Well, it’s only amazing because there is something about each category in this post. Clearly, I could just check them all off every time if I felt like it. πŸ˜‰

We debated going in on Saturday night, but that decision ended up being made for us when I won a free entry into the nightly 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo tourney, which I played in the house. Since we’re less than a week away from the monthly poker update, I’ll just say that I came 10th (they paid the top 10 only), so it was a “good” result, but economically, far from first place (first was 15 times larger than the prize I won!). Also, because of Wicked on Sunday, this was going to be the fourth straight week that I would not be around to even try and play in the big Sunday weekly tourney. OK, that accounts for the Poker and Gambling categories being in this one.

When we woke up on Sunday, we both checked email on our Treos, and neither of us turned on our laptops. When we got home, we didn’t turn them on either. That made yesterday one of the only days in recent memory when we were in NY, didn’t have company, and both of use chose not to log on the entire day. Not sure it ever happened before, but if so, it’s a rarity. That also meant that there was no poker played yesterday, which is also unusual for a day in NY without company, but not as rare as not logging on. So, this qualifies as being in the Computers, Poker and Gambling categories.

We drove in on the early side, straight to the apartment. On the way, we listened to the latest CD from Girlyman (previously reviewed here) Joyful Sign, and loved it the entire way in. Shortly after arriving at the apartment, I went on my 8+ mile walk around the city. The weather was nearly perfect. 100% cloud cover (the sun didn’t even peek out for a second), and not too hot or too humid. Ten degrees cooler and it would have been perfect. My typical time (average would be a misnomer here) is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Yesterday it took me only 2 hours and 5 minutes, so the cool weather helped. Of course, I listened to my iPod the entire way, and it didn’t freeze this time, adding to the nice day. This qualifies for adding Music as a category, and of course, the entire post qualifies for Personal.

After a shower, we relaxed and watch Friday night’s episode of Monk (on the DVR). We always love Monk, but this episode was weak in comparison to most. We still enjoyed it, but aside from sharing with you what we did the entire day, it also qualified as one of only two things during the day that also correctly put this post into the Frustration category.

We debated what to do about lunch. Both of us were hungry enough to do a big meal, but after the gorging that we did last weekend, we were both glad to have slowed down this week (amazingly, I lost all of the weight I gained last weekend!). So, we also didn’t want to go too crazy. We finally decided to go to the Palm, across from the theater, but not over do it. Yeah, right. πŸ˜‰

We got to the theater, picked up our tickets at the Will Call, and crossed the street, only to find out that the Palm doesn’t open for lunch on Sundays. Perhaps they don’t open for dinner either, but a passerby told us they did, so they might. Marginally disappointed, we decided to find another restaurant. I spotted an Applebees 1/2 a block away on Broadway and 50th. We decided to head there. Serendipitously, when we got to the corner, I spotted the other Ruby Foos on the corner of Broadway and 49th. I previously blogged about how great Ruby Foos is, though I’ve only eaten at the uptown one before. Clearly, we both felt that we were meant to eat there. πŸ™‚

The menu is identical to the uptown location, and the decor is as well. The building itself uptown is two floors, so the layout inside is much more opulent, but there’s nothing wrong with this location. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals. That’s not entirely true. Lois actually didn’t like the filler and sauce for her main dish, but we so enjoyed the calamari appetizer, that eating just the grilled shrimp and scallops off of the top of her dish was good enough. This paragraph qualifies for the Food and Dining categories.

At the end of the meal, our waitress asked us if we were going to see a show. When we told her it was Wicked, she said that she was really interested in seeing it, because whenever her sister comes to visit her in NYC, she goes. Her sister has seen it five times, but our waitress was working each time, and hasn’t gotten to go yet. Omens anyone? I mentioned to the waitress that we were about to catch up to her sister. πŸ™‚

We strolled over to the theater, and were blown away by how good our seats were. It turns out that EE is actually the 4th row, not the 5th, as the AA row is only right and left orchestra. Essentially, the real orchestra is in row AA. πŸ˜‰

Of course, the omen of EE (5-5) for our fifth time, wasn’t lost on me. πŸ˜‰

We knew we would love the seats, and the performance, but we were both nervous about the abilities of the stars. I don’t want to turn this into a mystery novel, so I’ll dispense with the suspense. We knew within the first few notes that Glinda (played by Kendra Kassebaum) sang, that she was not going to cut it, by our standards. She has an excellent voice, but she doesn’t put it together for this role. Not even all that close. She’s by no means awful (like the understudy I wrote about), but it was passable, at best. OK, we still had anticipation of how Elphaba would sound.

She comes on in the second song, but doesn’t sing until the third. In the second song, it was obvious that Elphaba (played by Julia Murney) was an excellent actress. We were not disappointed in the acting of any of the previous leads (other than the understudy), but we typically sat much further back, so you don’t really appreciate facial expressions, etc. In fact, everything was far more interesting this close up, and I was painfully aware that it would be easy to get trapped into only wanting to see shows where the seats were this good. Given how much we’ve enjoyed so many other shows, and Wicked in particular, from much worse seats, that would be a real mistake!

Then we got to song #3, the first of many that showcase (or can) Elphaba’s talent and range, “The Wizard and I”. As with Glinda, it was obvious in the first few notes that Julia didn’t have it. She’s not bad either (though I believe that the raw vocal talent between the two lies in Kendra, not Julia). There are two problems with Julia’s voice:

  1. She can’t transition ranges smoothly. She might be able to sing in a particular range (high or low) reasonably well, but when she switches (which this role does frequently), her voice often cracks, or does something else that is less than stellar.
  2. She has no power, and when she pushed the notes that require it, I felt badly for her. Also, she couldn’t hit the highest of notes required by the role.

The last problem, though it was relatively minor, is that each of them brought their own special little styling or phrasing to their solos. None was over the top (as was the case with the oft-mentioned understudy), but it’s annoying nonetheless (I’ll expound momentarily on that theme). That said, one surprising positive note was that there was little fooling around when they sang harmonies together, and for the most part, it was pleasant and reasonably done, but most certainly not spine chilling!

The closest I’ve ever sat before yesterday was 22 rows back (so 18 rows further than yesterday). Lois had a single seat in row L once, when we bought an extra ticket for a surprise visitor from England. I sat with our other two friends in the balcony that day. Even in row L, which was only 12 rows further than yesterday, Lois says she saw so many new things from the close-up seats. That’s not a major statement though, since those of you who know Lois, know she’s essentially legally blind (no, for those of who don’t know Lois, that’s not a joke, or a crack at my wife). So, she was particularly thrilled to see things that I had easily seen before, even from far away. I think it made the performance magical for her, even though she felt the same way (if not even more critical) about the singing of the leads.

Now my exposition on styling and phrasing. Feel free to skip this rant, or the rest of the post, if all you came for was a review on this performance of Wicked. You’ve gotten that already. πŸ˜‰

I completely understand (but don’t like!) when a musical group that has been around for ages gets tired of playing the hits in exactly the same way each and every day. From my perspective, it’s still incumbent upon them to deliver what their paying audiences expect, but at least I understand it.

In some cases, they have good reasons/excuses. Bruce Hornsby is now teamed with Ricky Skaggs. When they perform, it’s mostly a Bluegrass theme, and it gave Bruce the opportunity to update some of his big hits in a radical way, but perhaps still appreciated by the fans who came to hear Bluegrass!

For a different perspective, I always love to listen to the live version of Mr. Bojangles by David Bromberg. The song was written by Jerry Jeff Walker. As an aside, Lois and I attended a benefit in Austin, TX in May 2006, with a lot of famous people presenting and/or performing. One was Jerry Jeff, who sang Mr. Bojangles (wonderfully!), and we were about 15 feet away from him! David tells (in the middle of the song) how he and Jerry Jeff used to play the song together live every night (forever), and how he (David) never tired of it. On the other hand, Jerry Jeff did, and after they would perform it for the audience, they’d play it for themselves, and “do horrible things to it“, so I really do understand.

The other excuse/reason to muck with a song would be if you were playing it to the same audience frequently, and you might expect that they would appreciate hearing it differently.

Unfortunately, none of those situations applies to a Broadway play. The overwhelming majority of theater goers are seeing any given show for the first time (and likely only time for that show). Second, the cast didn’t write the songs, and rarely have been in a given role for that long, and shouldn’t have the need for artistic freedom with the piece. Not to mention that there is (or should be!) a director involved, ensuring the quality.

Theater goers should easily fall into one of three categories:

  1. Never seen or heard the show/music before. While you can argue that they might like the stylized version, or least not know or care about the difference, I doubt you could argue that they would like the original (often Tony-winning!) version any less.
  2. Been to the show. Well, they’re coming back for more. πŸ˜‰ Unless they saw this specific cast, doing this specific stylized version, odds are that this group will be at least somewhat disappointed.
  3. Never been to the show, but listen to the CD. This might be the largest group, but certainly is second behind #1 if not. This group only knows the gold standard for how the music is meant to be sung. If they’ve listened to the CD more than once (or, in my case, over 1000 times, no exaggeration), they have no choice but to be disappointed. The correct version is imprinted on their brains. πŸ˜‰

There must be thousands, if not 10’s of thousands of ultra-talented actors/singers out there who would kill for an opportunity to star in Wicked. Here’s why I simply can’t comprehend the way the show is being performed (and I’m sure there has to be something wrong with me, or my thought process):

For the auditions, tell people that they have to listen to the Original Cast CD 1000 times, and come back when they can sing it note for note. Only then, do you audition for the acting part of the role.

What could be simpler? No styling, no phrasing, no ad-libing of any kind. You can either nail the songs or you can’t. If not, then Next!

But, for some reason, perhaps that the Director is bored hearing the same show every day, they allow the improvisations to continue, and they continue to recruit sub-par singers…

OK, it’s finally off my chest (sort of). Both Lois and I are decidedly against seeing it again with these two ladies in the lead. Here’s hoping they get swapped out sooner rather than later. That said, both of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience yesterday, and got to concentrate on other aspects of the show, which were delightful from our up-front perspective. I’m still laughing at the woman who reviewed the story as weak, the sets as weak, and the singing as fantastic. Oh well, that’s what makes the world interesting. πŸ™‚

So, is there a lesson learned here? Yes, trust YouTube! Seriously, it was obvious even from the really poor quality of the cell-phone made YouTube videos of both leads that this was not a role they could handle. The seats were too good, and everything else about the opportunity as it unfolded was awesome, that we really couldn’t pass it up. But, I know to trust my instincts in the future, and go with the force, Luke…

Both Fiyero and The Wizard were played by actors new to us in their respective roles. The Wizard is a character actor whom we’ve seen on TV hundreds of times! Both were outstanding, and added thoroughly to our enjoyment of the show.

The above obviously qualifies for both the Broadway and Music categories, thus rounding out all of my previous categories (with one exception, which I’ll get to next). Hopefully, it was obvious to you that the performances of the two leads was the second reason that this post qualified for the Frustration category…

If you needed any proof of why Lois and I are together after so many years, I’ll share an honest-to-goodness story from yesterday, which is not as uncommon as you might think. During the performance, I was thinking that if I were Bill Gates, I would rent out the theater on a Monday when it was dark, pay Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (the two original leads, and both are on the Original Cast CD) to join the remainder of the current cast and chorus (or, if I really was Bill Gates, probably bring back the entire original cast for the night), and invite 2000 of my closest friends, to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime good time.

At intermission, Lois turns to me and says: “Wouldn’t it be great if we were rich, and we could pay Stephen Schwartz (the creator of the Wicked Musical) to get Kristin and/or Katie Kate Reinders back together with Idina or Eden Mendoza Espinosa (thanks very much to Steph for correcting my hurried mistakes in the comment below!), for just one night, and invite all of our friends?”

Folks, I’m not kidding. We’re too alike for our own good. The difference between us is that Lois only wished to be rich enough to pull it off. I wished to have the kind of money Bill Gates has, so that pulling it off wouldn’t make a dent, or seem even a little unusual for me to do. πŸ˜‰

I’m telling this next part out of order, because it is 100% inconsequential, other than it is a perfectly valid reason to tag this post with the final category, VoIP. πŸ™‚ While I was out walking, Lois called my cell phone, something she rarely does. She let me know that she couldn’t dial out normally from the apartment, but had to add a prefix of “9”, which routes through our external VoIP provider (see, a legitimate use of the VoIP category). Turns out that calls routed through our house line (which is our default) were failing because the house router got a new dynamic address from Verizon FIOS that was not in the previous ranges, and the firewall at the apartment didn’t like the new address. Problem solved easily this morning…

So, you think you’re done reading? I beg to differ. Our day was not over yet, as this was about Sunday, not just Wicked. πŸ˜‰

We went back to the apartment, packed up, and headed back to the house. On the way home, we listened to another Girlyman CD (Remember Who I am), and it too is excellent! Just as we were pulling in to our cul-de-sac, a car pulled in behind us. Our neighbors two doors down were coming home from the movies. We’re nuts about both of them (and their daughter), and even though we live 200 feet apart, we rarely get to spend quality time with them given each of our schedules.

So, after 10 seconds of schmoozing in the cul-de-sac, we unpacked our car and walked over to their house. We hung out for nearly 2 hours, and then got home and collapsed, watching two 1/2 hour comedies to unwind (both were hysterical), and then dropped off on the early side.

Finally, something not really related to Sunday. Aside from Wicked yesterday, which was a last minute thought, I have been unable to play in any of the weekly Sunday big tourneys in August so far. This has been marginally disappointing, given my excellent (if lucky) results in July. I did play in a number of qualifiers during the month, even knowing I couldn’t play that week, because you are permitted to unregister a seat, and get Tournament Dollars (TDs) which you can use to register into a future tournament. That said, since I knew I couldn’t play, I didn’t enter many qualifiers. I didn’t win the seat in any of them…

Today, while writing this blog, I decided to try my hand at a qualifier, given that I’m likely to be free (for the first time in a month!) this coming Sunday. I put up $15.50, and top three players out of 40 would win an entry. I came third, and won the seat! So, in the first try to win a seat in the first tournament that I can actually play in, for the least amount I could realistically spend to get in, I got the seat. Woo Hoo. Happy endings all around. πŸ™‚

P.S. Even though this post is incredibly long, somehow, I feel that I’ve left out something important from yesterday. Oh well, I should have logged on last night after all. πŸ˜‰

Girlyman

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No, I’m not looking to pick a fight with you. πŸ˜‰

Girlyman is a fantastic acoustic group (well, they do use an electric guitar more as a bass, but essentially, they are acoustic). I had never heard of them. Once we locked in the tickets for Spamalot and decided to do a matinΓ©e, I searched a bit for something fun to do Sunday evening.

Lois and I both really love Joe’s Pub. It’s a really small venue, so every show there is intimate, and they are rarely too loud, which is one small complaint that we have from some other venues. So, one of the first places I checked was their site. Sure enough, they had a show that wasn’t sold out, Girlyman. I probably noticed it in my original scan of things to do for the weekend, but since I didn’t recognize them, and didn’t know whether we’d do Broadway in the evening, I didn’t focus on it.

This time, I went to their website (linked above with their name), and the music instantly started playing (Joyful Sign, the title track of their new CD). I was mesmerized. The other songs on the site are really great too, so you can freely discover this great band for yourself.

Lois and I are nuts about beautiful harmonies. In fact, one of our complaints is that many groups that excel in harmonizing, think it’s more appropriate to be understated in its use, a point with which we vigorously disagree. Little Big Town (blogged about in my Martina McBride update) are one exception, a group that understands the harmonies as one of their big strengths.

So too with Girlyman. The three of them sing so beautifully together, that it would be a shame for them to spend too much time singing solos. They pass the solos around very generously as well (none of them hog the mike), but they spend more time singing harmony than solo (both two at a time, and mostly three at a time). Wow.

Knowing absolutely zero about them before the show, it was reasonably obvious to us that they were gay when they came on the stage. At least two of them were obvious, but I’m betting all three are gay. They didn’t abuse that fact and turn the show into a political opportunity, but they sprinkled their show with enough humorous comments as to be proud of who they are, without offending anyone who would rather not know (at least, they didn’t offend any of us in any way).

One subtle example: when they introduced the song Through the Sunrise (also highlighted on their myspace site), they first said it was Bluegrass. Then they corrected themselves and said: “Or in our case, we like to call it Pinkgrass.” After people chuckled a bit, they went on to play the song, and the entire audience (us included) clapped the beat for them the entire song. Tons of fun!

They used to live in NY (Brooklyn to be specific) for a number of years. At least two of them moved to Atlanta recently. They joked that it was ironic that they were playing more often in NYC now that they lived in Atlanta. Someone from the audience yelled out “Move back here!”. To which they quickly (and wittily) replied: “Why, you want us to play here less often?” πŸ™‚

We bought two of their three CD’s after the show, and our godson got them to autograph the latest one, which is cool. We look forward to seeing them again, as soon as they’re back in NY!