Holly Golightly

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This was a big week for me and Susan. We had shows 2 nights in a row and in between we were celebrating my parents’ 58th (!) wedding anniversary. Friday, before our show, we had the pleasure of dining at Vetri for an absolute stellar meal. Good thing I am not blogging about food- I could not do this meal justice.

After dinner, we headed off to the Fire at 4th and Girard for the Holly Golightly show. It was quite the switch from the finest dining in the city to the diviest bar in the city. I know there is a metaphor in there somewhere….

A couple days before, I had gotten a text from my lovely friend Karen Gross, who was asked to open for Holly. She was most pleased to learn it was already on my docket, but even happier to open for one of her heroes. So we go there in time fro Karen Gross and the Love Notes (nee love Notes). They were spectacular as usual. If you remember, the Love Notes were a super band formed by friends for another friend’s wedding. They are now branching out and I was happy to listen to originals. Total bonus to the Holly show.

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In case you are not familiar with The Fire, it is a bar first, music venue second. One could describe it as intimate, charming, small or really, really tiny. It holds a max of about 25 people. And that is with everyone standing. So, though my knees buckled a little, I was kind of thrilled (ok, really thrilled) when Holly hit me with her guitar case on the way to the stage.

Holly Golightly is a British singer songwriter named after the character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Really. She came out swinging, singing and strumming. It was just her and her partner/ husband/ friend? playing the keyboards and they just played for about an hour. She chatted the whole time. She responded to comments (great boots), she drank whiskey, she

FullSizeRender-1 copyplayed her heart out. As I was listening to her, I kept thinking badass. I know that I used that word a lot in reference to Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes. Don’t get me wrong, Brittany Howard is a badass, but there is something to be said for the musician that is still in the game and playing where she can. Sure, everyone wants to play the Mann and the big venues. But how many people play the little halls, the dives, the Fires? She has been around since 1995 and has produced 26 albums and she is playing The Fire. The Fire. That is as badass as it gets.

22 shows to go, 222 days left…

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The whole ticket

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Old 97’s

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When I first announced this quest for the next year, friends from far and wide offered suggestions and offers to attend a show with me. It is so great to share the gift of music and a lot of these suggestions are bands that I may not necessarily see or are the favorites of the suggestee. Thursday was the both and off I went to join my friend Happi to see the Old 97’s at Union Transfer. The show was actually a birthday present from her and Christa, sadly for us Christa (not for her, she is in Italy) was away and could not join us.

We got to the show during the second opening act and somehow got talking and I almost forgot my own rule- go listen to the opening band. So, we are chatting away and I was like ”hey guys,’ do you hear that? We should head in.” Wow, was I glad we did. The Banditos were amazing. “Originally from Birmingham, AL, Banditos is a group – more like a gang, actually – of six 20-somethings, nowadays operating out of Nashville.” Fronted by a woman with five burly hipster guys rocking out (one with a boisterous banjo) behind her, she was a cross between Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes and Janis Joplin. They ended with a version of “I put a spell on you” and they sure did. I cannot wait to see what they will do in the years to come.

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You can actually see her face here, usually she was a swirl of hair.

Now, I was even more psyched for the main act. The Old 97’s, as my friend Karen perfectly put it when I asked if she wanted to join us “I have a feeling the show would be one of those how-am-I-not-listening-to-this-band-all-the-time-already.” Over the summer, before I even knew I was going to see them, I got enthralled by their song “Longer than you have been alive.” To me it was an instant classic, the likes of “Turn the Page,” by Bob Seger about being on the road touring. Except not depressing.

The crowd was age appropriate, i.e. old and my age, and they were all really psyched to see these guys. I love the anticipation of the crowd before a show starts. The band came on stage during a Gipsy Kings version of Hotel California, which was a rumba/ salsa version of the tune.   Usually when a band starts coming on stage, the background music stops. Not this time, the Old 97’s came out dancing to the song for about 30 seconds. That was a very good start and I knew I was in for a treat.

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Rhett Miller definitely had a Jackson Browne vibe to him. He could have been 25 or 72 years old. I am sure there is a Dorian Gray photo somewhere in his attic.

The band came out and did not stop. I mean, did not stop. They are like the greatest bar band you would ever want to see. High energy, fun, thankful you are there and just ready to rock and roll. Audience members would yell stuff out to them and they would answer. And not in a snarky way, but more like in a “thanks for coming out, let’s chat in between songs” kind of way. I would describe them as speed alt country. I know alternative music, I know country and now I know speed alt country. They do a lot of high-energy songs, and on the surface kind of frat boy stuff, i.e. “let’s get drunk and get it on.” However, I think there is so much more to their songs, it almost seems like they are making fun of the good ole boys. I could not get Happi or Susan to agree with me on that, but, hey this is my blog so I am putting it in and now it is true. Rhett Miller also kept doing this swirly arm thing, which he made look effortless. So much so that I tried it later, not on stage, not singing, not playing an instrument and I twisted my arm immediately. For the encore, Rhett came out and played a solo and acoustic version of a song, which was hauntingly beautiful and could not have been more different than the set of rollicking music. Murry, the bassist and a crowd favorite, then also came out for a solo. There was this really sweet moment when Rhett handed Murry his guitar and stepped into the background to provide some background vocals. It was just such an intimate moment. After all of the rocking and rolling, the encores are what I most enjoyed. “Rock and roll’s been good to them (and me) so far,” for sure.

23 shows to go, 223 days left…

The Festy Experience

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With my long relationship with music, it may be surprising that I have not been going to music festivals my whole life.  I only got into the whole thing after my oldest, in terms of knowing her not her age, friend Susan’s wedding in 1991.  And it was a throwaway invitation.  After a wonderful, bonding type wedding weekend, one of my new best friends casually mentioned over his shoulder as he was driving away, “hey Sheila, you should come to Winterhawk with us.  I think you would like it.”  Boom, I did not need much more.    Note: do not invite me to something if you don’t want me there.  Seriously. I will show up.  Really.  I mean, I once attended a wedding I was invited to the day before.  You have been warned.

Our group then spent the next 25 years, off and on, heading to the Berkshire Mountains the third weekend in July for a weekend of camping, cooking, laughing, and most importantly, hours and hours of bluegrass music at the Greyfox Bluegrass Festival (nee Winterhawk).  It was there when I first saw Allison Krause at a mere 17 years old, Chris Thile at 16, learned how to air yodel and the difference between a mandolin and a banjo.  I sent back Kazakh vodka the year I lived abroad and kissed the campground when I returned the following year.  We slowly went from the young kids who stayed up all night long and got shushed by the old timers we made fun of to becoming the old timers and shushing the young’uns.  Sadly, we have not gone in the last few years as it started to feel more like an endurance test than a fun weekend.  This is a long way to say I was totally psyched to be invited to join friends for a bluegrass festival that was a 15 minute walk from their home.  I bought my ticket before they could change their minds.IMG_4883

I showed up at Jennie and Scott’s beautiful vacation-but-they-live-in-full-time home on the Thursday before Columbus Day weekend for the Festy Experience.  The Festy Experience is in its 6th year and held annually at Devil’s Backbone Brewery (DB) in Nelson County, Virginia.  Nelson County is known for having more breweries than stoplights. There are 45 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the county all nestled within the Blue Ridge Parkway. DB is one of the fastest growing breweries in the country that not only has some tasty beer, but incredibly smart management, because they hired my friends away from me, I mean Philly, no, I mean me.  Jenny and Scott’s whole set-up is pretty sweet, if you know, you enjoy beautiful scenery, ideal weather, gorgeous mountain ranges, easy to hard hiking trails, access to national state parks, an excellent Saturday farmer’s market and nice people.  You know, only if you are into those type of things.

We headed down to the festival Friday afternoon to check out the set-up and have a plan in place for the weekend.  It is hosted by the Infamous Stringdusters and they are in a full blown set by the time we got there.  These guys are good.  Fun, hip, tight, tight band with a bit of new grass but with lots of respect to old school Del McCoury/ Bill Monroe bluegrass as well.  I immediately started wiggling (someone’s recent, and sadly accurate, description of my dancing at times) and took a deep bluegrass breath.  After missing a couple years of Winterhawk, I was glad to be home.

On Friday night, we seemed to only catch the Stringdusters, so we saw a couple sets of them. Not true, we did go over to the smaller stage and caught a Pennsylvania bluegrass band. During the first song, Jen and I turned to each other and simultaneously said “these guys are bad.” Now, if you can guess anything from me, it is an unusual day when I don’t like a band, let alone think a band is bad. I mean, I am seeing 50 bands this year.   Cripes, I love music. I am not a music critic, I am music fan. So, I do not say a band is bad lightly, if ever. These guys were bad. We left that stage and headed back to catch another Stringdusters set. This one from backstage. Yup, for the first time in my life I had an all access pass and I was not letting go.

IMG_4897   IMG_4915It was exactly how I imagined back stage, musicians wandering around, clean porta potties, food trucks and beer, not free, mind you, but for $2 a cup I was very happy.     Best of all, I was allowed just to walk up the steps and hang out on the side of the stage and watch the show from there. I was in heaven. It was from this vantage point when the Stringdusters played a sweet Grateful Dead cover of “Jack Straw.” Only one of my favorite Dead songs and there is very little I love more than a bluegrass Dead cover. I was in heaven. I am not sure my feet touched the ground on the way home.

The next morning we set out for our next day of behind the scenes listening. Unfortunately, there was no backstage at the smaller stage but we had to see the Love Canons, a 80s cover bluegrass band. They were fun, really fun. I mean where else can you find a bunch of aging hippies singing at the top of their lungs “you have to fight for your right to party.” As it turns out, I just don’t love a Dead bluegrass cover, I love any bluegrass cover. I am not sure how else to explain that I dug the whole set of songs that I would never describes as loving, including Sledgehammer, Centerfold, Danger Zone and Maniac. Though I think they could have used even more banjo, they were the most fun band I saw during the weekend and my festival find. We then headed back to the main stage for Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, the headliners.

As were back stage getting ready, I see a very familiar head of hair. Before I even knew what I was doing, I was sprinting across the space yelling “Mr. Lovett, Mr. Lovett.”   IMG_4952And then we chatted. Yup, I chatted with Lyle Lovett and have the picture to prove it. He then needed to get ready for his set so headed back into his bus. Interestingly enough, right after that encounter, the roadies put up police caution tape around his and Sam Bush’s buses. I am not saying that our chat and that action was connected, but the timing was definitely curious.We headed out front and listened to a beautiful and intimate set. Clearly friends who admired each other, John and John traded songs and stories as the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains. While there is always a new music find at each festival, there is always a “moment” too. The culmination of the music, your friends, the comraderie of the crowd, the accumulated dirt, the scenery, etc. All of this leads to your festival moment. And, this was mine.

IMG_5002As we reflected the next day, Jen and I came to the conclusion that it is much different camping at a bluegrass festival than attending one on a daily basis. The music was good, but not enough. I was too clean. I got a good night’s sleep each day and I took real showers. Bluegrass is not just a type of music, it is a lifestyle and it hard to truly incorporate as a day tripper. I also realized that I am not quite done with Greyfox, endurance test be damned. (Chawbacon, see you on the hill 2016!)

25 shows to go, 235 days left…

24 shows to go, 234 days left…

Dear Joni. An Evening Celebrating Joni Mitchell.

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I am not sure I am all that unique in my love of Joni Mitchell. I think it was pretty typical, if not inevitable, that I discovered Joni and her poetry during epic late nights with friends discussing life and love over cigarettes and wine in the 80s. However, most have probably grown out of it. Me, not so much. I stubbornly stick to my love of Joni.

I have only see Joni twice in concert and both shows were in the same week. I am so grateful that I did get to see her that Tuesday and Friday the week of my 35th birthday. Both shows were epic for a variety of reasons, one being that she was backed by a 70 piece symphony. So, I was very excited, bordering on inappropriate, when my good friend Patty McMahon, told me she was producing “Dear Joni- An Evening Celebrating the Music of Joni Mitchell.”

There are a couple of things you need to know about my friend Patty. One, she has an absolutely awesome voice. Two, I think I am more confident in her awesome voice than she is. And three, her love of Joni rivals mine.  I knew that if she was doing this- it would be good and there was no chance it would be a disservice to our gal, Joni. I have always secretly hoped that she was going to do something like this where I could spend a whole evening listening to her sing. And, on an unusually cool night for October, I got my wish and made my way to Fergie’s Pub for a warm night of Joni.

I was enthralled from the first note to the last sing along verse of the Circle Game. I would go as far as to say I was downright giddy throughout the evening. In addition to Patty, she put together this wonderful assortment of people to sing and play. And I was so happy to learn that my friends Karen and Dan were a part of the evening. At our friends’ wedding last year, there was a super group of musician friends who came together, the Love Notes, to perform for the happy couple. Almost as rare as a Joni concert, the Love Notes were reunited (except for one) for this show.

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Karen Gross and Dan Creskoff, 2 of the 4 Love Notes.

As the evening wore on and different musicians played their interpretations of Joni songs, I realized that I was not alone in my stubborn loyalty to this musician. Love for Joni stretches far and wide and spans years. It was nice to be part of this new Joni community for an evening.   As I listened to the music, learned some new Joni anecdotes that Patty turned me onto, I thought of my own “Joni” moments. While some were cringe worthy, some were also hopeful, which seemed like a perfect allegory for Joni’s music.

Thank you, Joni Mitchell, and thank you, Patty McMahon, thank you.

26 shows to go, 240 days left…