Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Epic Summer Update 1 -- MUSIC!!

We're just getting started on our summer, and it's kicked off with a feast of music.  

A week ago Thursday, my friend Tom and I went to see The National.  We tailgated some beforehand, as the rain rolled into the area.  When we went into Merriweather, we found our seats -- in the center of row 9, i.e., great location!  But then when the opening band, The Dirty Projectors, started up, we started to worry some.  They sounded awful -- the bass overpowered everything, lots of distortion.  We went outside and on the speakers outside of the tent it sounded much cleaner.  Not that we enjoyed it any more -- the harmonic dissonance (or whatever you want to call it) of the the band's vocals didn't appeal to either of us.  When The National finally took the stage, we were relieved to hear that the acoustics were excellent, despite what we heard from the opener.  

And the show was fantastic.  I would have preferred more songs from Boxer than we heard, and I didn't think much of one of the new songs, Fireproof, but no real complaints.  The closing trio of Mr. November, Terrible Love, and acoustic Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks was the highlight of my evening.  Evidently it's a common close-out for them, but as I hadn't seen them before, I was delighted.

The National (photo by Tom)
This past weekend, we finally made it up to the Clearwater Festival, a music festival on the Hudson River, created by Pete Seeger to restore the Hudson and keep it clean.  Our friends Kim and Larry have been pushing us to join them for years, but in the past we'd always had a conflict in our schedule. 

On Saturday our families went up there (our friends have two children as well), hung out in the back of the main stage area, and took the kids on little trips around the festival to see other attractions.  We also met up with friends of Kathy from back home, who also came for the festival.  The acoustics were great, even as far away as we were, but because I wasn't really able to see anyone, in many ways it didn't really feel like we were at a concert.  

Non-musical aside:  Later in the day, while the kids were playing at the beach, I was hanging at our base camp, and a lightning bug landed on my arm.  And started crawling along my arm, and hand, and fingers.  After around 20 minutes, I jokingly named it Sparky.  And when my family returned, I told Emelia that we had a pet firefly.  Since our dog Nora had died in January, we had been petless.  We're planning to get a dog at the end of the summer, when we stop traveling, but I had it in me to joke about having Sparky the firefly be our pet instead of getting a dog.  And Emelia jumped right on board with that idea.  She loves bugs of all varieties -- in fact, she was a pillbug for Halloween!  Kathy sent me to get dinner for the family, so I let Sparky climb onto Emelia's arm, and away I went.  I know I should have seen it coming, but I didn't -- upon my return Emelia was sobbing in Kathy's lap because Sparky had flown away in my absence.  I mean, it was inevitable that Sparky would leave at dusk, but poor Emelia hadn't thought about it (and of course, I hadn't thought about what that inevitability would do to Emelia).  Until I returned, Emelia had been doubly burdened, because she thought I'd be mad at her because Sparky flew away while in her care.  Kathy and I both did what we could to assure her that Sparky would be happier there where it lived, among its brothers and sisters, but it took quite a while to ease my daughter's mind.  Needless to say, Kathy has threatened to kill me if I ever do something like that again.

The sets I saw that day, in whole or in part -- 

  • Judy Collins
  • Antibalas
  • The Lone Bellow
  • David Bromberg Quintet
  • Acoustic Hot Tuna
  • Mavis Staples

Sunday we got a sitter to watch the four kids, and it was just the adults.  Kathy really enjoyed the down time that came from not having the girls around.  Needless to say, we took in a lot more of the music, and also set up closer to the stage.  It also was far easier to go to other stages to see other acts.  In addition, I got to meet in real life one of my friends -- fun!  The musical highlight of the day was seeing Jason Isbell, whose new album, Southeastern, is one I've been listening to constantly since before it came out last week.  A special bonus was having Patterson Hood, frontman of the Drive-By Truckers (Isbell's former band), join Isbell on stage, and then having Isbell return the favor during Hood's set.  Between those two sets and the closing performance by Son Volt, I was treated to a great afternoon of Americana.

Isbell (L) joining Hood (R) during Hood's set

The sets I saw on Sunday, in whole or in part --
  • Buffy-Sainte Marie
  • Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt
  • Vieux Farke Toure
  • Jason Isbell
  • Patterson Hood Band
  • Acoustic Hot Tuna and Pete Kimock
  • Keller Williams and The Travelin' McCourys
  • Son Volt

Relaxing on Sunday at Clearwater
We drove home on Monday, and after dinner I went out to one more show, this time with Mike Doughty opening for Low.  I got there right before the doors opened, and plopped down in the middle of the third row.  I was pretty beat from the weekend, but I'm very glad I went -- Low was fantastic.  Surprisingly, they also were happy -- frontman Alan Sparhawk isn't known for being warm, but he really did warm up and engage with the small crowd that saw them.  As for Doughty, I like how he sounds, but unfortunately, his songs lacked variety stylistically, and so got fairly boring all too quickly.

My next show isn't for another few weeks, which is a good thing, because I could use the rest.  Not that I'm getting any -- the next part of Epic Summer kicks off tomorrow morning with a 6:10am flight out of BWI.

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