Saturday, May 31, 2008

Starlight on the Rails

When I wasn't looking and we all had our heads in the pond last week, beloved folk legend Utah Phillips took his leave, passed away in his sleep.

This American has left such a legacy that I can't really begin to write about it here. The hole left by his loss is enormous, but he certainly did his part to make sure we all had plenty to work with when it came his time to go. His recorded stories and his countless songs are golden. Most of them are downright high-larious. There are few today who can approach that style.
There is much to choose from, and you probably know a good many songs, but I'm just going to share this version of a favorite of mine, Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia.
However I suggest you also listen to this track, a story called Amtrack, about an old rail hobo. Truer it is, funnier it is.
Off to line my pockets with rubber so as I can steal soup.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hole in the Muck Bucket

MandoMama is happy to report a fantastic time visiting family and friends in Nashville for PondFest 2008 (photos to come sometime before PondFest 2009). Before the muckin' around began, the kids and I managed to squeeze in an evening walk along Broadway, where my daughter, sporting a new hat, learned why it’s called Music City each time we passed a restaurant or honky tonk. We stepped over to Schermerhorn Symphony Center, one of the real successes these days in new orchestra halls. On Friday we took in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where we pondered the contrast of the long life of Johnny Cash and the short life of Hank Williams, along with the legacy of the Williams family (and Daughter of Mando pondered why she didn't have her own Nudie suit or even a cool Nudie car like Webb Pierce's). The best time of course was spent at their Auntie’s house, playing with their cousin and enjoying their first-ever PondFest. I spent a couple nights sleeping in a tent to the sounds of two tired girls sleeping dreaming up new adventures and the chirping and humming of many happy creatures who live in my sister’s yard.

These golden days spent free from the talons of life’s less pleasant realities are sacred. Moments watching all three kids relaxing together in the hammock, slopping purposefully around in the near-empty pond with Fish Whisperer/Son of Mando and his two younger assistants as we raise a muckus and gather up the last of the fish, digesting each of my son’s pensive observations about Hank Williams’ rise and fall, seeing my daughter’s face light up as we ascended high above Nashville in the glass elevator to our room on the 23rd floor or when we found the perfect new cowgirl hat for her.

Of course I had my own fun, particularly the time spent with my sis, her family, and two of my very dearest friends, Shannon and Ms L. We were just too exhausted to make it to the Station Inn to hear 3 Fox Drive, but we had plenty of music to keep us going while we worked and played. And for me, just being in a city where my musical tastes are actually popular, let alone respected, is a nice change of pace.

These trips always bring on a little life-related ADD. Am I on the right path, can I do something else, is it time to change horses, or even change tracks altogether? Some potentially positive changes at work might provide some distraction a while longer, or might make a drastic decision easier. How important is it really to live in the super-red states of the South just to have a little more of the music I love? Then again, do I want to be pushing uphill the rest of my life trying to make a path for bluegrass in Northeast Ohio just because it would make me happier? Probably not.

So I return to what’s right in front of me while these things sort themselves out a little more and a decision can be rendered. On our day off at home together yesterday, the kids and I planted and potted flowers, turned compost, and listened to Johnny Cash. Tending our little world reminds me that at the moment, the best place for me is with them. After all, home really is where the heart is.

Hank Williams was far from home on his way to Canton, Ohio from Oak Hill WV the New Year's Eve his poor heart gave out. It's a terrible shame, and hoo boy, I'm glad I didn't grow up with the kind of pressure Hank Jr. must have felt. No wonder he collects Civil War cannons (he's got five -- why?). Anyway, here's a smooth Hank Williams tune that's easy on the ears and true to life today. My bucket, my gas tank, and my pocketbook, they've all got holes in 'em. But with good company and a few tunes we'll all get by, by and by.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Too Many

I know I said I wasn't going to post any more this week as I get ready to head to Nashville, but I wanted to throw this song out there to all four or five of my faithful fans, because we've all been through "too many." Come to think of it, some of us have been together when we've had a few "too many." But whether we're slurping an adult beverage or enjoying coffee, I sure am glad for the friends and family I got. I like the way we cheer each other on, even in this little virtual world.

Today on Capitol Hill, five oil execs stood before Congress and testified that there wasn't a thing wrong with the price of oil, and that they're just all "hapless victims" of...of, well, some bullshit about the imaginary supply issue. Three of these bastards make in the millions; the other two couldn't even tell the committee how the hell much money they make. Shitfire, Bubba, I sure do wish I made so much money I didn't have to pay attention!

So, three plus two, that's five too many oil execs.

Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy one called "Too Many," by the talented Ms. Donna Hughes, who's a fine songwriter, classically trained pianist, and a singer who can assemble a pretty fine lineup to back her up.

Enjoy the holiday weekend. That's one thing none of us get too many of.

Too Many

Sunday, May 18, 2008

No More Plastic Castles

I don't know about you all, but I'm still recovering from the last few weeks of international disasters. I'm incapable of conceiving of the scale of human loss and grief across Asia. On top of that there are any number of crises large and small in the lives of everyone around me, and a couple small unknowns creating a little chaos in my own pretty world.

At the same time, I've gained a new momentum and urge to push forward and really start making some noise in real time about bluegrass. I feel re-energized, committed anew, and ready to help bluegrass music take its place among the many opportunities for live music in Northeast Ohio.
I was filling out my IBMA board ballot and was struck by the words of one of the candidates, who spoke in his written statement of the "cultural weight" of bluegrass. That's really what I've been talking about. Bluegrass music does have its own cultural weight, it's place in history, and its place in our everyday musical experience. Like jazz, it is embraced globally but really is born out of an almost uniquely American musical heritage (almost, as both genres pay homage to some roots in Africa, and bluegrass has roots in the UK as well). Everyone likes a little of what they see and hear and sometimes they move toward a certain artist but there is so much out there in bluegrass to be experienced and played. The lines of the genre continue to blur for some while others hold fast to the more traditional -- classical? -- form. It's a musical world unto itself, and plenty big to keep me busy.

There is a lot swirling about in my head, complicated by the fact that the days just keep going faster and faster and I've got a couple challenges laid out before me that have to kind of play out a little bit. Fortunately, at the end of this week my kids and I are outta here for Pondfest 2008. Time with them -- my two favorite people on earth -- and time with the best gift my parents ever gave me -- my little sister -- will ease any burden. To top it off, if we play our cards right, we might get a little live music right there in Music City, and if that happens, I'll be sure to write about it.

Until then I really need to get my butt in gear like it's on fire. I'm going to stand down a while and get my proverbial house in order so that I can concentrate on actualizing my dreams instead of just writing about them here.

One of the things that helped me crystalize what I need to do was listening to a very definitely non-Bluegrass musician today. Ani DiFranco is known and loved by many many folk fans. Her direct and uncompromising style is set in a musical idiom just close enough to get my attention but also different and distinct enough to keep it, as in, "Wake up and deal with this shit RIGHT NOW, MandoMama." So, I am. No more acting like everything is fine and I have my whole life to accomplish my dreams. Every day we see lives cut short. As DiFranco sings in one tune, people live memoryless like happy goldfish all excited over their little plastic castles. That ain't me.

This song is one my friend Dapper Dan sent a while back. It didn't carry on first listen the meaning it carries today. I must have listened to this song 20 times today if I listened to it once. I am prepared to accept the people I love and know and even a few I don't particularly like "as is," but I should be able to expect the same of them. And I shouldn't be expected to just buy into stuff. Dr. Don wrote a pretty tough post a few days ago about the topic of lying and it made me realize how little I really understand about that side of human nature. This song sort of represents my theory that if it were possible to love ourselves, and by extension love each other with real human love rather than the romanticized BS that passes for "love" not to mention the enormous amount of "settling" that goes on, maybe the world would be a less screwy place.

So I'm off to meet myself where I am, in the music, pimping it mercilessly until folks have no choice but to come and pay a dollar and have a listen.

Meanwhile, enjoy one called "As Is" and have a good week.

As Is
Ani DiFranco, from her 1998 release, Little Plastic Castle.

You can’t hide
Behind social graces
So don’t try
To be all touchy feely
‘cause you lie
in my face of all places
but I got no
problem with that really

what bugs me
is that you believe what you’re saying
what bothers me
is that you don’t know how you feel
what scares me
is that while you’re telling me stories
you actually
believe that they are real

I get no illusions about you
Guess what
I never did
When I said
When I said I’ll take it
I meant
I meant as is (as is, as is)

Just give up
And admit you’re an asshole
You would be
In some good company
I think your friends would forgive you
Or maybe I
Am just speaking for me

When I look around
I think this, this is good enough
And I try to laugh
At whatever life brings
‘cause when I look down
I just miss all the good stuff
And when I look up
I just trip over things

I’ve got no illusions about you
Guess what
I never did
When I say
When I say that I’ll take it
I mean
I mean as is

Thursday, May 15, 2008

In Case You Missed It

You probably didn't, because most of the civilized world pays for cable television. I don't and was therefore extremely grateful to Pie for sending this:

It was as if someone collected all the things I've thought about this president and put it into one long beautifully crafted and perfectly executed rant.

If for some reason the vid doesn't launch, click here.

Thank you, Keith. We worry about you, you know.

But we don't worry about Dubya. He's gonna end up in the Devil's Courthouse.
That's the name of a fine tune by the band Mountain Heart. Those fellas may not agree with my politics or with Mr. Olbermann. Truth is, I don't know. But they sure can play and I love and respect them for that. I haven't yet met a bluegrass person with whom I wasn't able to find common ground because we love the music so much. Too bad we can't find something like that to motivate and sew up the rest of the country's terrible wounds so that Keith O wouldn't have to have these rants to sanctify the nation's bitter brewing anger.

Here's Devil's Courthouse, from Mountain Heart's recently released live album, Road that Never Ends, which you can gift to yourself on iTunes like I just did. ;-)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Happy Bluegrass Month

My good friend Pie alerted me last week that May is Bluegrass Month, according to the good folks at Rounder Records. She sent me a link that darn near derailed my day with a fun video you can watch here. If you can get past the shameless (not Shameless) plugs for, it's a lot of fun. And what the heck, Amazon has downloads of those great releases featured on that page for a mere 9 bucks. I do believe I can hear Amazon callin'.

I'm particularly excited by new releases from The Steeldrivers, Sierra Hull, Blue Highway, and the Grascals. Check 'em all out at Amazon and be sure to visit all the artists' web sites to learn where you can hear the real thing this summer.

Also visit the Rounder site here for an introduction to Sierra Hull.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Just Another Day Up the Hill

Today is Mother's Day. I'm sorry I didn't get on here earlier to wish all my favorite mothers a happy mother's day. Some are mothers to cats and some to humans, but all y'all are wonderful at taking care of your families.

For me, Mother's Day is no different from any other day I'm with my kids. I'm just lucky I have 'em at all, and that I haven't allowed them to get hit by a car or a falling tree. To date, no broken bones, one trip to the ER each for a stitch or four, and only enough ear infections between the two of them to count on one hand. These small victories are what we savor, the knowledge that after 13 or so years, the kids are still alive and breathing and in one piece. We only hope it continues until they are old enough and in a position to take care of us in a manner better than that to which we are accustomed.

Meanwhile we sweat and toil and do our best every day to keep our heads above water. Well, at least that's how it is here, today no exception. The song that really goes with today isn't available out there for a quick listen; if I had my way, you'd be hearing Claire Lynch do the Osborn Brothers' old favorite, "Up This Hill and Down". But, Claire is a good match for the day anyway. She's got a certain determined sound that I really like, and her songs are always delivered with terrific punch. Here's one of the first bluegrass tunes to get under my skin five or six years ago. It's called If Wishes Were Horses and I imagine I'm not the only mother singing a tune like this. This is for all those mothers who just can't settle, who will go on being the women they were meant to be along with raising fine people up, no matter what it means, no matter what you have to tell your own mama. Mine did her best, and I'm going to do my best not to let her down by being less than I can be, and that includes letting people get away with the imbecilic stuff that made her crazy when she was still around. Being a lady, she kept her mouth shut and her gun put away, bless her heart.

Happy Mother's Day to all the maverick mamas I'm lucky to know.

If Wishes Were Horses

Friday, May 09, 2008

Stimulus Dollars for Gig Gas

As I stepped into the Beachland Ballroom last night just after The Gibson Brothers and their band started their set, I was not too surprised to find all of about ten people there, maybe a dozen. I didn’t know about the show until Monday, and just didn’t get around to my usual viral marketing tactics beyond the blog of the other day.

After the show, I thanked the band and their companions for coming to Cleveland. It’s a very tough market, and if a venue doesn’t go to market for you, you may end up with a near-empty house.

Today I saw a very cool thing on Drew McManus’ weekly Adaptistration email blast and I wanted to share it with readers in the hopes it will be passed along. Drew has devised a “Gig After Gas” calculator for the per-service musician. I expect that most musicians already use something of this sort when determining whether to pick up a gig, but if not, it can be found here:

How handy, and frankly, how scary. Now that gas in my ‘hood is pushing a whopping THREE DOLLARS EIGHTY CENTS per gallon, I can’t help but be amazed at the drive and dedication the road musician must possess. My 12-tank fill-up the other day was 46 bucks, and although I’m getting a fairly amazing 25 mpg for city driving, it still hurts. If I spent every other day racking up the mileage, and had to take that out on top of my band’s pay, instrument maintenance/repair/replacement, out of pocket health care costs, wardrobe, lodging and meals, marketing, studio fees, phone fees (to stay in touch with managers and family back home), and other odds and ends, I think I’d be tempted to hang it UP.

About halfway into the set, the Gibsons did a swell tune called Picker's Blues. Life on the road is tough enough. I really want to thank Leigh and Eric and the band for coming all this way to play their hearts out. It was a long way to come for a small crowd, but these guys sang and played every note as though we were all in the front row of a sold-out Ryman show. Thank you, thank you all so much for playing that little stage in Cleveland, and bringing your sound to 20 very happy, satisfied ears.

Here's the tune for the folks who weren't able to make it. Be sure to take your stimulus package to a Gibson Brothers show near you.

Picker's Blues

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

My Name Is MandoMama, And I'm Here Because...

I am a music enabler. I am co-musically dependent and try to get other people to take on my music as their own. When I meet a musician or other musical enablers, I feel a bond.

But it's getting a little out of hand. I wrote to a couple of my friends today to announce I had developed a crush on the autoattendant voice of The Toronto Symphony.

I have a serious musical problem.

And it's getting worse.

One of my friends confessed to occasionally tuning in to the bluegrass cable station. The Cleveland Orchestra's Blossom Festival doesn't start for two months but I have the schedule on the fridge. And on Thursday, I will go straight from the annual meeting of one of our clients to The Beachland, where I'll enjoy The Gibson Brothers with a tolerant and musically adventurous pal. Still in my work clothes. I just can't stop.

The Gibsons have been around a while and have featured the best bluegrass musicians on their Sugar Hill recordings. I'm looking forward to seeing them in the intimate Beachland Tavern and taking in some of the tunes from their latest release, Iron & Diamonds.

Dontcha want to come too? You know you do. This is good old-fashioned bluegrass from New York's bit of Appalachia. Makes me almost feel normal to think a couple of guys further north made their whole life out of this stuff. Take a listen to the title track from Iron & Diamonds, or check out the title track from their last release, Red Letter Day.

Not convinced? Just ask Blueberry about the Mother Truckers who will be following up the Gibson Brothers set, and somewhere in there, our own Hayshaker Jones, a local Americana torch band featuring one of the best steel pedal guys I've seen 'round these parts. And the band is fun and friendly and sincere.

Take the steps with me, come along and hear some live bluegrass.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Thank God I'm Not A Horse

Last night while waiting for friends I was goofing around with my Booberry and in raising MSNBC, read the tragic story of Eight Belles, who finished second in yesterday's derby only to be put down, on the track, just a few minutes later because she broke both front ankles.

I was really quite stunned by this story. Because she couldn't stand to be splinted, they couldn't move her off the track so they put her down right there. As beloved as these incredible animals are to those in the racing world, it struck me as incredibly undignified.

I'm sure my reaction is "uninformed", and that folks deeply enmeshed in the world of horse racing could explain to me why they did things the way they did. But even a whole day later, after a wonderful evening and now on a beautiful sunny day, it seems so awful. It is awful.

I know the horse would have to have been put down. I've heard some pretty horrible stories from a friend who has a horse, and some of the things that happen on the track are tragic. It just seems out of whack to put down a horse like that, right away, still on the track, the adrenaline still pumping, the one filly run in the race.

We have a track here in Northeast Ohio but I've never been. Understanding racing is about as cloudy for me as understanding football. There's an entire culture built around it, protocols and a set of standards about how to dress and what to drink. It's not a world I think I could ever really enjoy. But I know it's a world that lots of people do enjoy and even make quite a living on. Knowing how a horse runs, where he or she puts her weight, what kind of track it is, how the other horses are running -- put all these together and the right mathematician can get himself uninvited to a race for good.

Poor Eight Belles. She beat out a lot of boys in this race. She did very well, as they said at the age of just three years she ran the race of her life. Sometimes you have to do that, work harder and sacrifice more just to get ahead of the boys.

So I know I promised, no more tunes from Chameleon, but this one is the right one. It's called Hoss Race, and it's got a clever gallop that I think even Eight Belles would enjoy. So this one's for her.