Sunday, June 29, 2008

You're Never Alone, Really, Sort Of

I really do have the sweetest family.

This morning as I was purchasing all-important underwear with monkeys on it for my daughter, I got a call from one of my cousins, who recently had fairly serious surgery, as did her mother, my aunt. We'd been talking about getting together when they felt better, and she was calling to tell me that my cousins who formerly lived in WV were in town. So I called my sister in law and we threw together a gathering at my brother's place out in the country. Unfortunately I didn't have my kids along but in some ways that made it easier to really visit.

It's almost 11 p.m. and my sister in law called to make sure I made it home (eek, I forgot to call!). As independent as I am, I forget that something could actually happen to me and that I could find myself in trouble, sick, or hurt, or worse, and that not having a partner means that it could be a while before someone found out. My boss will sometimes call in the morning if I'm running a bit behind schedule, to make sure I'm ok. They know I'm typically in the office no later than a few minutes after 8, and if they call at 8:15 and I don't pick up, they worry. I've decided it's not that silly. It's his way of extending the way he takes care of damn near everybody (he's the oldest of 8 kids and the only son) to me and my kids. His wife does the same. I feel very lucky.

I've begun lately to entertain the question of whether I really want a relationship or if I have room for it. I would definitely, at this point, have to make room for it, which means that I'm far pickier than I used to be. That comes at an age when most men and women decide they need to be less picky. But I think that, as much as I love my freedom, there are times when being "it" feels a little old. It's all on me, all the time, and if something happens to me, oh well.

I'm not sure what exactly I should do about this beyond just acknowledge it for now. I've started down the road of online dating, with results I've described here and there on the blog as just this side of tragic. At best, I was introduced to a few nice men who realized they weren't over their last girlfriends/wives/whatever. At worst, either I was being set up to be "corrected" or setting myself up to take on burdens I just don't want to take on at this point in my life. Maybe a few folks have had better results, but, evidently it's no way for me to meet an environmental lawyer who plays the banjo and whose kids, if he has them, are already in college.

Like I said, picky. The Nonexistent Mr. Right has to be smart, treat me with the respect that I deserve because I am also smart, probably plays an instrument, is somewhat driven and enjoys working at SOMETHING at least as much as I do, and hopefully he's passionate about it. And, he doesn't have attached to him some complex co-parenting situation into which I refuse to introduce my own kids (they've been there, are there, done that). The list is actually longer than that, but why even think about it? I'm not, really, just toying.

In the end, I suspect the reason it's even on my mind is that my family and maybe even my kids feel sorry for me that I haven't mated up already. But the longer I stay single, the more I have to do on my own, and chances are I'll still end up alone outside of a sudden illness or freak death that precedes that of any eventual partner. So at least I know I can do it. I just feel a bit guilty for my family worrying about it, even though they are universally pleased for me to be out from under the vapors of a toxic marriage.

One things for sure, I do love the freedom to enjoy, explore, expound on, and expose others to this great music that I've completely fallen in love with. One of my favorite songs from Donna Hughes release, "Gaining Wisdom", is this tune, "Find Me Out On A Mountaintop", because it's so often how I feel. Here it's performed by the fabulous Blue Highway, who will make their way to The Kent Stage on July 11 along with the hottest buzz in bluegrass, the Dixie Bee Liners. Whether I can convince my friends to come along or I go alone, I'll have that night to celebrate the music and savor a little real joy.

Find Me Out on the Mountaintop

Friday, June 27, 2008

To the West, For One Night

Chances are pretty good that you're about as burned out as I am, and maybe more. Part of my weekend remedy for that will be spending Saturday evening (June 28) at The Kent Stage with the decidedly cowboyish Riders in the Sky. Most folks know them from their various contributions to Disney collections..."Woody's Roundup" is probably one most folks can sing. But they've got quite a little recording history and are the rootin'-ist, tootin'-ist Grammy winners any side of Texas.

If you don't really want to see the Indiana Jones movie a third time, lasso your friends or family and bring 'em out for a night with the Riders. Their job is to make sure you all have a durn good time with their brand of fine music makin' in the tradition of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
Saddle up and come on down to The Kent Stage for the 8 p.m. show! Maybe we can hit the waterin' hole after.

Riders in the Sky

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Got Raisins?

Thanks to my sister and her brood, a pure delight landed in my email box Sunday night. It's a concoction called Snacktime by those loveable Canucks, the Barenaked Ladies. Thanks to my sister, my daughter and I can't stop singing this silly song called "Raisins."

Life has been getting a little loopy, and tonight my colleague and I got some very bad news about one of her favorite people. It's the latest smack upside the head reminding us that we are actually never in charge.

When life hands you sour grapes, leave 'em in the sun a couple days, and whistle.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

An Exercise in Restraint

I still can't quite figure out how I got all the way to Sunday night so quickly. But most of last week was a bit of an adventure, from the shrill fire alarm at my hotel outside St. Louis International Airport -- it made my teeth rattle, and convinced me that it would be impossible to sleep through it -- on top of two intensive days of training on a new system, to getting home late and then turning around the next night to retrieve Son of Mando from his exciting week at the Space Academy camp in Huntsville, AL.

A note to those picking up unaccompanied minors: if you take little brother or sister along, be sure to get a pass for them, too. We were all the way through security when they turned us back because my seven-year-old wasn't given a pass by the one Delta ticket agent we could find amidst the tumbleweeds in all of Cleveland Hopkins Airport on a Friday night. Back at security, those two patriots who sent us packing conveniently slipped off for a hard-earned break, having done their part to keep America safe from the likes of me and Daughter of Mando.

What is up with people and their need to satisfy some ridiculous illusion of grandeur? At 8:49 p.m. on a Friday night, there's no emptier place than the Cleveland airport. My daughter and I were literally the ONLY two people anywhere near security. Upon our returning all the way to the Delta baggage office, a far cry from the gate, to get a second pass, he told us that had never happened to him before. This was not a security issue. This was clearly a "let me be a big pain in the ass to this woman and her little girl -- I wanna see 'em jump."

But I don't like to jump. I pulled out my phone, prepared to call X when one of the TSAccidents agreed to walk me through and over the shortcut to baggage. What he should have done is walk me to the gate and waited there while my son deplaned. We raced back up and through and made it with about three minutes to spare.

I don't know what kind of training these people go through but it clearly doesn't include making rational judgements. We've had a fun if exhausting weekend since, during which none of us managed to make life difficult for anyone just because we felt like it.

I have one small consolation. In a little under 30 years, my daughter will be old enough to run for President. In her honor, for putting up with these witless icons of part-time authority, here's a sweet little instrumental off the brand new self-titled Infamous Stringdusters cd. Enjoy this one called Golden Ticket.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tommy Ramone's Long Journey Home

Well, I hope the floodwaters are subsiding because I’m bound for St. Louis in the morning for two unanticipated, last minute days of meetings. It should be mostly good, except for the loss of two working days in an already too-busy week. It will be a change of pace, and maybe the flight will knock that whatever it is out of my ear.

I’ve never been to St. Louis, and I’ve heard some mixed reviews from various arts community folks. Nevertheless it is the home of the St. Louis Symphony, whose dashing music director, David Robertson, just made a big splash out at the Ojai Festival as this year's fest music director.

And a few weeks ago, a little bee told me that Tommy Ramone opened for an up and coming bluegrass band playing there. I refused to believe it. So I looked it up.

Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle! Ramone and guitarist Claudia Tienan have a band called Uncle Monk. You can sample some of their performances by clicking the link and scrolling down to the YouTube offerings.

Yes, that there is the man who practically invented Punk. That's the guy. He's not too bad. I sure am curious as to what led him to play old time, let alone mando.

So, it's my view that maybe St. Louis is a place where unexpected things happen. Anything, in fact. If Tommy Ramone finds his home singing "Long Journey Home," well then, gosh darn it, not only is anything possible, but I am indeed not too far off the mark in my assertion that bluegrass really is for everybody.

I hope the trip goes well although I may wanna be sedated halfway through. But I hope not, 'cause it's time to pimp more IBMA nominees or nominees to be.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Last Dance with Dad

This is a tough father's day, it seems. I don't typically mark it much, since my own father, distant while he lived, died so many years ago. But I feel the lost of others whose fathers have died. A woman I worked with lost her father about 18 months ago. A friend has been at her father's side for the last few weeks after he underwent emergency open heart surgery and suffered all kinds of elaborate complications. Lots of famous dads have passed recently. On Friday we lost Tim Russert, a celebrated family man whose own father became the impetus for both of Russert's books, Big Russ and Me and the follow up, Wisdom of Our Fathers.

In January, former Grascals fiddler Jimmy Mattingly lost his father. Thursday night, Sam Bush's father Charlie passed away. He was 89. I'd like to think that if I don't leave anything else behind I will have brought into the world somebody who will make the world a better place.

I hope you'll listen to this barn-burnin' universal send-off from Sam Bush's 2004 release, King of My World. You're sure to enjoy Sam's fiddling for a change on this one called "Puppies N Knapsacks." If you're a dad, I hope you were duly celebrated, and if you have a dad or know one you like, hope you told him today that he mattered.

Friday, June 13, 2008

This Race Is Over

Couldn't his heart have held on until November 5?
One last whiteboard moment here.
Today just took my breath away. But there is a lot of work to do, a lot of work. So I cried, came home, put on my sneakers, and went to work out until I could feel my own heart thumping against my chest. Tim Russert is gone, but between now and November this country has to engage in a discussion and a selection process that is unprecedented. Who is going to sit in that seat on Sunday morning? Who is going to say things like, "There were no weapons of mass destruction" -- speaking truth to power? How will any of us stand the election without that white board?
My sis and I were trying to pin the death on some sinister conspiracy. Nobody, especially not a top NBC newsman, just drops dead of a heart attack at work. But it turns out that he was sick, he had been controlling the plaque in his arteries with medication and exercise. But a bit of it broke off and killed him.
I tried to find out what Tim Russert's favorite song was. I learned he liked Van Morrison, another good Irishman like himself. I can't think of a better sendoff, really, than Into the Mystic. It's one of my favorite songs ever, so beautiful.
Today we sustained a terrible loss. We lost a talent, an American spirit, a navigator, a renegade. Tim Russert slipped into the Mystic when we weren't looking, to "smell the sea and feel the sky". I feel surprisingly sad, and lost. But he's free, and now we really have to think for ourselves. I hope we can manage.
Peace to you, Tim Russert.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Got Summer?

When you can't stop playing WordTwist with your friends when you should be going to bed, you know something has snapped deep inside. That something is called, "Summer Vacation Is Here."

Getting used to a new routine for us has been a slight adjustment. With summer comes no need for a real bedtime for Son of Mando who is often up later than I am as his brain attempts to untangle the universe for us. There is even a little wear and tear on Daughter who finally conked out at my suggestion last night a bit earlier to cope with the demands of her heavy social calendar. Daughter clearly has made the transition to losing the training wheels thanks to living with boys who have much greater speed without them. I was proud of Son of Mando's subtle strategy that provided the motivation. Try leaving her behind now and see what happens.

Work has not been quite the same with a few personal crises in the office and some big changes to our structure, so it adds to the deep need for a little peace. But it doesn't come. I'm rarely alone except for the brief workout and then only if I slip into iPod world. Playing instruments comes in fits and starts. And the burnout is palpable...I'm WordTwisting to a PBS broadcast of The Cleveland Orchestra while Son of Mando sorts what looks like a five-gallon bucket of change. Bruckner 5 is definintely not change-sorting music, but hey, it's our home team. We enjoy an interview with Franz Welser-Most, our young Music Director, and finally crash.

Striking a balance as a single full-time working mom is tricky. It's not just impossible to please everyone, it's more like, impossible to please anyone, or so it sometimes seems. You can't give your kids, your work, or your self the time all these deserve. In summer it feels even more pronounced-- there should be no schedules, no routines, right, so why does the time fly by so fast?

I wish I knew. As I read recently in a commencement speech, stillness is all too rare. I love to be still, to sit quietly and let thoughts and ideas surface. Lately I just can't seem to find that time, so I begin to bargain with myself that I'll just have to do with less sleep somehow when my kids are here and make up for it when they are not. And when they are not, I'll try to send them my love somehow and think up new ways to be together to capture that precious stillness once in a while.

The big attraction at my sister's during pondfest was this wonderful hammock she'd acquired. There's nothing like a little hammock time to adjust the perspective. Bluegrass is kind of like hammock time, it's got a different attitude. It's still hardworking but it's light on too much formality. You can wear it just about anywhere.

That's one thing I love about this band, Cherryholmes, one of the most impressive groups in bluegrass. These folks have not been doing this all that long, but you'd never know it from listening to or watching them. Here's a favorite instrumental from their sophomore release, Black and White. It's called Darkness on the Delta and I hope you'll give it a listen from the hammock or the porch or in the arms of your favorite sweetie as you soft shoe around the living room.

Darkness on the Delta

Saturday, June 07, 2008

She's My Angel

"You're going to need sneakers for walking."

"But these are commmmfterble!"
"Ok. But I'm not carrying you back up the hill if your feet hurt."
"It's hot. Leave your door open so you can get a breeze."
"Nooooo. The cat will get in and walk all around my head and I won't be able to sleep."
"You won't be able to sleep because it will be too hot in here."

"A, it's 6:30. What are you doing up?"
"Once I wake up I can't get back to sleep."
"I'm going to go wait in the car."
"We're not ready yet. Stay in here where it's cooler."
"Mom, we played outside all day and it was hot and we were fine."
So far this weekend we have managed to agree on one thing, and that's the fact that "She's My Angel", a tune by the Dixie Bee Liners, is pretty darn cute. You can hear the whole thing here.

Catch the buzz at a show near you when you get a chance. Meanwhile, I'm going to rest up because there's another day ahead with my angel tomorrow. And hopefully another, and another.
2006 photo by My Boring Best

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hump Day Two-Fer

Rise Up
Dear readers, my crazy job and life have led me to be REMISS in my shameless pimping of Ohio biggest outdoor bluegrass event of the year. This weekend marks the Seventh Annual Appalachian Uprising in Scottstown, Ohio, nestled in the Appalachian foothills of the heart of it all. Three days of the top bands of bluegrass in the Ohio countryside – what could be better? Four days! Featured artists this year include the Grascals, Nashville Bluegrass Band, the Steel Drivers, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, and Fest favorites Melvin Goins and Sam Bush. There's something for everyone, like the off-beat Avett Brothers. Sample the lineup here.

A big Shout Out to Steve Adamski and Apparition Productions – I hope I can hear all ya’ll all the way up here in Northeast Ohio!

Keel Over at the Kent Stage

Can't make it to Scottstown this weekend? Then join me tomorrow night (Thursday, June 5) at the Kent Stage to hear Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, as they warm up for AU! Keel and his band build their music around some of the best flatpicking in the business and take the sound into some less traditional places with the vocals. An excellent evening of acoustic music in the making. Visit their MySpace page here for a sampling. A particlar favorite of mine is The Ocracoke Song. My sis and I spent many summer days along the Hatteras shoreline, and Ocracoke is a favorite place of hers. It's an island that almost takes you back in time. In this song, there are lots of references to just how close German U boats got to the States. Some of them still sleep at the bottom of the Atlantic there off the Outer Banks.
Summer weather is making a real comeback here this weekend, perfect for picking under the trees. Be sure to keep your instruments safe during the temperature swings.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Nominations Are Open

It’s that time of year again when my inbox is flooded with campaign material of another kind. In October, the International Bluegrass Music Association will present awards in 11 categories to bluegrass musicians for their achievements in the last year. This first ballot is a chance to nominate up to five musicians or groups in each of the categories.

Even though it’s only eleven categories and you can nominate up to five people for each category, this first cut is really hard. When I look back over the last year, I think, what did I listen to? What caught my attention? And how many more artists and songs did I miss on top of that? So now it’s time to hunker down and sort through everything that I’ve heard and seen and narrow it down to the live and recorded performances that I feel represent the best in bluegrass. It’s a good opportunity to put aside what I like and really step back and survey the land of bluegrass for the work that really makes it go.

One of the groups I am so pleased to have been introduced to in the last year is the Dixie Bee Liners, a superb band from Virginia who just happens to be passing through Kent this July 11. They had a Fan Fest showcase last year scheduled for 1:15 a.m., and I remember thinking, “Oh hell, I’m not going to come all the way back up here at 1 in the morning.” But time flies at IBMA, and when I got back to my hotel, I looked at the clock. 1:20 a.m. Dang it! So I’m glad I’ll have a chance to see them right here in my backyard. Hats off to DBL, one of my picks in a couple of categories. You can check out a huge number of their tunes and meet the band on their MySpace page here.

Be sure to pay particular attention to the lusty title track of their new release, Ripe, and Dixie Grey to Black, appropriate in these times of war. Lighten things up with Old Charlie Cross. Of course I love She's My Angel, which reminds me of my own little angel.
To learn more about IBMA and how you can help to support bluegrass music and musicians, visit