Revku CXXIII (The Final Revku...For Now)

First came the Deadheads
Now children are showing up
I wonder who's next

Los Lobos, City Winery, NYC, 12/31/09

And so ends the yearlong revku experiment. Hope you enjoyed it. It was fun, but I'm looking forward to coming home from a show and not trying to sum up what I just saw/heard in seventeen syllables

Songs From 2009 That I Like (Or, A Coaster): The Liner Notes

At the end of every year (or at least the last seven or so), I put together a CD of songs from that year that I found particularly enjoyable. It's not necessarily a best of (time constraints and a rule of one song per artist limit things a bit), but it's close enough. This year's offering, unimaginatively titled "Songs From 2009 That I Like (Or, A Coaster)" (though I'm pretty sure some of them wound up titled "Songs That I Like From 2009 (Or, A Coaster)," because it was late and I was tired...consider these the Billy Ripken error cards), hit the streets a few weeks ago. What follows is some thoughts on my choices.

1. "Seven Nation Army" by the Oak Ridge Boys (from "The Boys Are Back")

The normally laudable country music website The 9513 recently called this one of the worst country songs of 2009. They're dead wrong on that one. When I first heard mention of the song on The 9513, I was prepared for the worst. I laughed the first time through, and then immediately wanted to hear it again. I have yet to grow tired of it. Joe Bonsall's high tenor in the background is aces.

2. "County" by Slo-Mo (from "Gimme What You Got")

This was a late addition to "SF2TIL(O,AC)," I liked this song the first time I heard it, when someone posted a clip of a live performance on Facebook, but I didn't get around to buying the disc until November (the day I met Danny Bonaduce, in fact). To the best of my knowledge, no one's making music that comes close to sounding like what Slo-Mo (the band, as opposed to the man) is doing.

3. "The Long Way" by The Bottle Rockets (from "Lean Forward")

An even later addition, again mainly because of laziness in purchasing habits. Another good one from the boys from Festus.

4. "So Damn Easy" by Maybe Pete (from "Pancakes and Martinis")

I resisted the urge to include the song on "Pancakes and Martinis" that features my vocal stylings (inexplicably buried in the mix) and went with this one instead. You should buy the CD. Well, you should buy all the CDs from these artists (maybe not the Oak Ridge Boys; I only bought the single), but you should buy Maybe Pete's first. I'll sign it free of charge. (Note: This song was swapped out with "Bumble Bee" by Heavy Trash in Version 2.0, the version that went to members of Maybe Pete.)

5. "It Comes To Me Naturally" by Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles (from "The Stars Are Out")

You can't go wrong with an NRBQ cover. If a band covers "Captain Lou" in 2010, I guarantee prime placement on next year's disc.

6. "Doin' the Devil's Work" by John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives (from "Spills and Thrills")

I'd known of John Paul Keith for awhile, via his inclusion in the Viceroys, who preceded the V-Roys, featuring Mic Harrison and Scott Miller, former (and, in Miller's case, current) Sigman Year-End CD artists. But it wasn't until I saw him at Southpaw in Brooklyn that I heard his music. And I like it.

7. "Washing Machine (Revisited)" by Amy LaVere (from "Died Of Love")

I'm glad she re-recorded it, because I had a hard time leaving it off of the 2007 disc. This version is a little harder than the original, and the entire EP is pretty great. Buy this one right after the Maybe Pete one. They're both EPs, so you can definitely afford to get both of them.

8. "Wash & Fold" by Daddy (from "For A Second Time")

Nothing wrong with the Bo Diddley beat. Another great band, with Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack at the helm.

9. "Think It Over" by Trampled By Turtles (from "Duluth")

Fast songs are fun, no? Go see Trampled by Turtles live if they pass through your town. Or near your town. Or anywhere you can get to in under two hours or so. You'll never have more fun watching guys sitting on folding chairs play music.

10. "Hung Up On Me" by Those Darlins (from "Those Darlins")

Also pretty fun live. And they're back in the NYC area in February. See you at Maxwell's February 3, OK?

11. "I Hate Your Ugly Face" by Kris Kristofferson (from "Closer To The Bone")

At the age of 11, when Kristofferson claims to have written this song, I was way too consumed with professional wrestling to compose a line like "Your skin is tan like leather/It looks just like a heifer's." So, I blame Hulk Hogan for torpedoing my songwriting career before it even got started. Thanks, brother.

12. "Happiness Bleeds" by Wussy (from "Wussy")

Though their name originally brought me to one of their shows, I continue to like what I hear from Wussy. And, just so you know, when I saw them, they acknowledged the Yusuf Islam/"Wild World" influence on the "la la la"s.

13. "Kingfish" by Levon Helm (from "Electric Dirt")

Happiness is Levon Helm singing a Randy Newman song with a full horn section. And, in case you were wondering, the best-sung line of the year is "I'm a crack-uh."

14. "Mama's Pearl" by Robbie Fulks (from "50-Vc. Doberman" [mp3 only])

Fulks says he plans to release his long-awaited Michael Jackson tribute CD in 2010, so there's a better-than-average chance that Fulks will reappear on next year's CD. I assume this song will be on that CD, so get your money ready. Or go buy "50-Vc. Doberman," a collection of 50 mp3s that Fulks is offering on his website for $35. There are plenty of great songs from his own pen among the 50.

15. "Kiss" by Killian Mansfield (from "Somewhere Else")

Read this, then buy the CD, or at least make a donation to the Killian Mansfield Foundation.

16. "Sad Clown" by The Droge & Summers Blend (from "Volume One")

I was excited to find word of a new Pete Droge CD (I still think "Necktie Second" and "Find a Door" are pretty damn fine albums) and glad to see that he and Elaine Summers got hitched. They write and sing really good songs, and this is the best of the lot on the EP. Here's hoping "Volume 2" is coming soon.

17. "Tin Man" by The Avett Brothers (from "I And Love And You")

Hey, did you know I like the Avett Brothers? This was probably the song I was most looking forward to hearing on their new CD, and I wasn't disappointed (plus, there's a tuba on it).

18. "Ellis County" by Buddy & Julie Miller (from "Written In Chalk")

Every disc involving Buddy Miller generally has at least one song that completely knocks me out. This was the one off "Written in Chalk" that did the trick.

19. "Greencastle Blues" by Todd Snider (from "The Excitement Plan")

He sure does have quite a few songs that mention run-ins with cops, but this one's particularly good.

20. "Cigarettes and Wine" by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit (from "Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit")

I generally don't like songs that run over six minutes, but if Isbell wrote a 15-minute song with lyrics like these, I'm pretty sure I'd love it.

21. "Forgetful Heart" by Bob Dylan (from "Together Through Life")

Yes, "Must Be Santa" was the better Dylan performance in 2009, but I couldn't put a Christmas song on the disc, no matter how great it was. So, I went with this one, which went right past me on the first few listens but took hold after seeing Mr. Dylan sing the song center stage at the Bethel Woods pavilion in August. That "if indeed there ever was a door" closer is a doozy.

22. "I'm Right Here, My Love" by Scott Miller & The Commonwealth (w/ Patty Griffin) (from "For Crying Out Loud")

I've heard this song enough now that it doesn't leave me emotionally drained at the end, but it took a few dozen listens to make that happen. Patty Griffin makes everything better, but Miller's lyrics gave her a pretty good head start.

23. "The Crooked Line" by Elvis Costello (w/ Emmylou Harris) (from "Secret, Profane and Sugarcane")

This is the best track on a CD that's a little too polished to be great, and it's placed at the end because ending with "I'm Right Here, My Love" would have been way too depressing.

Songs that almost made it: "My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died" (The Sweetback Sisters), "Hey Ya" (Booker T. Jones), "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" (Will Hoge), "True Colors" (Caroline Herring), "I Wish It Was Friday" (Chuck Mead), "Que Sera, Sera" (Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women), "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)" (David Rawlings Machine), "Box Store" (Deano Waco), "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?" (Del McCoury Band), "Maybe I Can Paint Over That" (Guy Clark), "They Killed John Henry" (Justin Townes Earle), "Shankill Butchers" (Sarah Jarosz), "The Sound Asleep" (Sometymes Why), "Willie Mays" (Terry Anderson and the Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team), and "I Go To Sleep" (Works Progress Administration)


The Year in Celebrity Pictures

It wasn't a particularly strong year for celebrity photos, but there were a few winners in the bunch. Here's the entire output for 2009--15 photos, ranked for your pleasure. Or my pleasure. Somebody's pleasure.

15. Paul D'Amato (taken at the Arena at the Harbor Yard, Bridgeport, CT)

D'Amato, best known (well, only known, at least to those outside of his family and circle of friends) as Tim "Dr. Hook" McCracken, did an appearance on the concourse at the arena before and during the Bridgeport Sound Tigers game. He was a particularly amiable chap, especially in light of the fact that my friend Bill had him sign about a dozen photos for the members of the legendary Ithaca College intramural floor hockey champions, the Charlestown Chiefs.

14. Benmont Tench (taken in the Public Theater lobby, NYC)

After my second Benmont Tench concert sighting in about a month's time (this time as a member of W.P.A.), I figured I oughta get a picture with the man with one of the greatest names in rock and roll. We talked a little bit about the Big Surprise Tour, and after he signed an autograph for a woman in the lobby (that's her pen), the Heartbreaker and I posed for this shot.

13. Cousin Brucie Morrow (taken at the Columbus Circle Borders, NYC)

The first of two photos in this year's "Celebrity Photos That My Dad Would Have Enjoyed" series. I had to make my way through a very long question-and-answer/trivia session (which involved a few questions and a lot of answers, along with a suggestion from Cousin Brucie that if someone wanted to ask him a question about the Beatles at Shea, he'd be happy to answer it) and was situated in line behind some rabid Brucie-heads (one of whom pooh-poohed the idea of Michael Jackson as "King of Pop" and added that Ben Vereen was a much better dancer...twice in about five minutes). But it all worked out in the end, and I like to think my CBS-FM-loving dad would have approved. Plus, I have a book signed to "Cousin James."

12. DMC (taken at J&R Music World, NYC)

Almost missed out on this one, because I got there late and DMC was making his way to the door as I arrived. Fortunately, he is a kind man willing to stop for a picture with just about anyone, so I had time to get the picture with him, buy a "Tougher Than Leather" LP (Merry Christmas, Josh) and a Run DMC greatest hits CD at the store, and get both items signed. So it was a good day.

11. Guy Fieri (taken at the Columbus Circle Borders, NYC)

Yes, he's kind of annoying, and, yes, that is a ridiculous shirt he's wearing, but he does host one of my favorite shows and alerts me to places like the Eveready Diner in Hyde Park, NY. So, Guy Fieri is A-OK with me (though the TGIFriday's commercials still bug me). He also had his own photographer taking pictures that would be uploaded to his website, so that took away my usual Moment of Celebrity Photo Fear, where I hand my camera to a complete stranger and hope for the best.

10. Howard Hesseman (taken at Chiller Theatre, Parsippany, NJ)

He is Dr. Johnny Fever to most, but, to me, he is a little bit Charlie Moore from "Head of the Class" and mostly Captain Pete Lassard from "Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment" (some days my favorite in the series; sometimes it's "Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol"). When I told him after the picture was taken that I enjoyed him most in "Police Academy 2" and that I would probably be the only person that brought that movie up over the course of the weekend, he smiled and agreed. And then, after I was out of earshot, he likely mumbled something about the weird "Police Academy" nut he just took a picture with and how he better get another acting job soon.

9. Mickey Rooney (taken at Chiller Theatre, Parsippany, NJ)

I cropped his wife out of the photo because, though I'm sure she's a swell lady, I don't want a picture with Jan Rooney. I want a picture with Mickey Rooney, the guy who recorded those increasingly tense promo spots included on the "Celebrities at Their Worst" CD that culminated with the angriest "Hello, all you nice people" you'll ever hear. And I believe he's done other things. I was on line behind a woman who just wanted to talk to Mr. Rooney. Mr. Rooney's handler said she was welcome to do so, but she should speak up and under no circumstances was she to attempt to shake hands with Mr. Rooney (a swine flu precaution, I'm guessing, and a pretty sane policy at Chiller, quite frankly). So what followed was an awkward, no-contact interaction that involved a lot of shouting. I don't think it went well. But our photo came out swell.

8. Mitch Fritz (taken at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY)

Unless you are a diehard Palm Isle reader (and, considering we haven't posted anything in three months, your hard death is probably imminent), you probably don't know the sheer glee that overcame me as I was walking the concourse at the Nassau Coliseum between periods of a Sound Tigers playoff game and spotted Islanders enforcer/frequent healthy scratch Mitch Fritz (kinda hard to miss, as you may have noticed). It was a glorious culmination of yet another difficult season as an Islanders fan. Mitch Fritz! (Clap! Clap!) Mitch Fritz! (Clap! Clap!)

7. Jon "Bowser" Bauman (taken at Chiller Theatre, Parsippany, NJ)

I forget how much I paid for the autograph/photo with combo from Bowser, but I'm certain it was more than I can afford. But, I did grow up watching "Sha Na Na," courtesy of my dad, and, well, this is a pretty swell photo (and he signed "Grease for Peace" on my album). I was informed by another member of my party at Chiller that Bowser was totally checking her out during my interaction with him. I guess I'm not pretty enough.

6. Duff Goldman (taken at Ace of Clubs, NYC)

Even though I think Carlo's Bake Shop (from TLC's "Cake Boss") is a better, truer bakery than "Ace of Cakes"' Charm City Cakes, "Ace of Cakes" was first out of the box and probably a better, more entertaining show. And Duff is a cool guy. I saw his band (...soihadto, hence the sticker on my shirt) play at Ace of Clubs, and by the end of the set, there were more people on stage than in the audience. But the band didn't seem to mind that much and, in fact, laughed right after they played their last note to the sound of about four sets of hands clapping. Duff and I talked a little about the Avett Brothers (soon to appear in an episode of "Ace of Cakes") after the show, and later on he posed for this (the first and better of the two shots).

5. Hank Williams Jr. (taken outside of NBC Studios, NYC)

It's the second picture I have with Bocephus and, though, it's a bit blurry, I like it better than the first. For a solid reason why, look no further than that thing around his neck. I wasn't going to go for the picture with him, but his car wasn't there to meet him, so I grabbed this photo and got a bunch of records signed. A rare case in my collecting career where things went better than expected.

4. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (taken at Bookends, Ridgewood, NJ)

This was a front runner for the Holiday Greeting, and I suppose if I had chosen purely based on the person with the most hero-like qualities, it would have been Sully by a landslide. But the Holiday Greeting formula is way more complicated than that (plus I wasn't confident that enough people knew what Sully looked like), so Sully didn't make the cut. If only he had appeared on a sitcom at some point in his life rather than successfully landing a plane in the Hudson River...

3. Billy Mays (taken at the Big Apple BBQ, NYC)

A little too morbid for the Holiday Greeting, but probably would've been a good choice. He now holds the distinction of being the celebrity (assuming you want to give him that title) who died the soonest after having his/her picture taken with me (previous record holder: I have absolutely no idea). I wasn't totally aiming to get a picture with him that day, but, well, he was there and I was there, so I thought, "Why not?" Before the photo was taken, Mr. Mays insisted, "You gotta do the thumbs up." So I did. Good call, sir. Rest in peace.

1. (tie) Danny Bonaduce (taken at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, Oaks, PA)

He was an hour late for his appearance at the record fair, and I was starting to wonder if my train-to-train-to-train-to-train-to-bus-to-expo-center journey was going to end with only a few cool records to show for my efforts. But he eventually showed up, and this photo was taken. Unfortunately, it is an entirely-too-intimate (albeit cut-off) portrait of my head, because I was taking photos of Mr. Bonaduce before I stepped to the front of the line and forgot to set the zoom back for the radio station intern (who seemed jacked up on speed) I handed my camera to. A normal person would've set the zoom back on his own once seeing this frightening sight on a screen, but it turns out this guy wasn't normal. Instead I think he may have actually increased the zoom. Enjoy my nose hairs. On the bright side, it is also an intimate look at Danny Bonaduce's face, which is always entertaining. Also, he did not shake my foundation while I was there, which was cool (if I have to explain the reference, you should be ashamed).

1. (tie) Mark-Paul Gosselaar (taken outside the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, NYC)

I had hoped that opening night for "The Understudy," in which Mr. Gosselaar is currently appearing, would attract some support from "Saved by the Bell" cast members, but none materialized, not even Mr. Tuttle or Rod Belding (Clive Davis was there, but I'm pretty sure he never appeared on "Saved by the Bell"). But, as I was getting ready to call it a night, someone offered me a free ticket to the show, which I'd planned on seeing anyway. So I quickly took the ticket, enjoyed the show, and then stuck around afterward to get this picture. It is my second picture with Mr. Gosselaar, and clearly the better of the two. I recently headed back to get two copies of the picture signed for both me and my friend Sarah, who has the world's only collection of photos signed by me and "Saved by the Bell" cast members. Someday, she will be ridiculously rich because of this.

As always, I don't know if this tradition will continue, but if it does, I hope to get the Holiday Greeting pictures taken a little earlier this year. Both Holiday Greeting photos were taken in November, and the whole enterprise was nearly torpedoed when a Mohegan Sun security guard informed me and a few other people that we were not to bother Alan Thicke. Very disappointing.

So, anyway, here's hoping that 2010 brings a smoother Holiday Greeting Photo process. I've already got some leads. Stay tuned...


George Michael RIP

I like some Wham! songs just fine and if "Faith" comes on the radio, I'm probably not turning it off, but when it comes down to it, the far more important George Michael in my life was the guy who pressed the buttons on the Sports Machine. And that guy died Thursday at the age of 70.

I have said what I had to say about Mr. Michael and his Sports Machine before, so I will just add, rest in peace, George Michael. Thanks for the Machine.


If I Had a Heart, I Might've Left It in San Francisco

Remember, like, two-and-a-half months ago when I wrote that I was going to San Francisco? No? Well, it's true, I did. And I did. And since I got back, I have been slammed with lots of work, a few other quick trips, and general malaise (can one be slammed with malaise?). So I never wrote a proper recap. Here's the attempt to rectify that.

Day 1

My first day was my day to not be a freeloading houseguest with my hosts in Oakland. The Finches are always nice enough to tell me they'd be happy to have me anytime, so I figured that the weekend of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival was as good a time as any. But seeing as the festival was going to take up three full days of my trip, and I wanted to spend one of the other days checking out a Giants game at AT&T Park, that meant I wouldn't have a ton of time to spend with the Finches, particularly their awesome boys, Marcus and Dean. On festival days, I pretty much saw them for an hour in the morning and that was it.

On Day 1, however, we packed as much fun as possible into the late afternoon and early evening, and within minutes of me stepping foot in the Finch house, I was whisked away by Marcus for playtime and bughouse admiring. And though I saw some great music at the festival, I think playtime with Marcus and Dean was the bigger highlight of the trip. And dinner courtesy of the Finches was pretty damn great, too.

By the way, no photos of the kids, due to Tinsel and Rot's strict No Photos of Minors Who Have Sprung From the Loins of People I Know (Unless They're Really Great Photos) policy. It doesn't feel right to have pictures of me and Brigitte Nielsen alongside pictures of my friends' kids.

Day 2

When I booked the trip, I didn't even think to look to see if the Giants were in town. Then I saw that, not only were they in town, but they had a day game on the lone full non-festival day of the trip. Score! Then, I thought, "Well, it'd be cool if I could see Cy Young Award winner and probable weed enthusiast Tim Lincecum pitch." Sure enough he did. Score again! Every vacation should go this well.

After taking the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco (it goes right under the Bay Bridge, making it a slightly cooler trip than the Staten Island Ferry, though, on the minus side, there were far fewer crazy people), I stopped at the farmers' market at the ferry terminal and discovered my new favorite fruit--the pluot. If you're ever wondering what to get me for any occasion, I recommend dried pluots (or the real thing, if they're in season). I tore through my first, worried that I wouldn't be able to bring them into AT&T Park, but my fears were unfounded, which made me wish I (a) didn't eat one like a man heading to the electric chair and (b) bought more. But I rectified that at the Saturday farmers' market.

Then, it was on to the game. I wanted to get there right when gates open, in the hopes of seeing some batting practice. Then when I got into the stadium and saw an empty field, I realized that it was both a day game after a night game and the next-to-last series of the season for two teams out of the playoffs, so why would the teams take batting practice? So much for that plan.

I now had two hours to kill, so I explored pretty much every inch of the park, from the Levi's Landing in right field to the open-air press box behind home plate to the giant glove and Coke bottle in left field. A few weeks before the trip, I discovered that the Coke bottle was actually a functional slide. So the inner debate about whether or not to go on the slide began. And that debate continued as I stood in front of the bottle, desperately hoping to see a full-grown human being go down the slide alone to make it seem more socially acceptable. Finally, I saw a group of older teens head for the slide and thought, "Hey, close enough." So I headed up to the slide. Come on, how many times am I gonna have the chance to slide down the Coke bottle at AT&T Park? Carpe diem, no?

You may be surprised to find out that the slide is not really built for a 32-year-old man (I know, I know, I should sue, but I'm willing to let it, er, slide). So, climbing up the tiny ladder not made for my body and then contorting my legs into a position in which I would be able to both descend down the slide and not end up in the hospital upon said descent was not a particularly easy task. But, fear not gentle reader, I did it. And my knee only hurt for, like, six hours afterward, so it all went just fine. I pondered filming the slide down for your enjoyment, but, really, I can only do so much to look like a buffoon in public before my embarrassment threshold is crossed. And, in case you're wondering where my embarrassment threshold rests, look no further than carrying a camera in my hand while going down a children's slide.

Before I knew it, it was game time, and Lincecum was throwing the first pitch. All in all, it wasn't a particularly well-played game, but I saw Lincecum, Dan Haren, and Randy Johnson (in what should, if he has any sense, be one of his last appearances) pitch, had a pretty solid turkey sandwich, got to hear the Giants faithful give Rich Aurilia a standing O during his last home game as a Giant, and saw the home team win, 7-3. Plus, I got a rad Lincecum winter hat that has rarely left my head since I got home.

After the game, I checked out City Lights Bookstore (because I foolishly forgot to go last year), the slightly odd Beat Museum (featuring Allen Ginsberg's organ...write your own joke), and some other points of interest in North Beach (including The Stinking Rose, immortalized in "The Real World San Francisco"...probably should've looked for the house, too).

On the ferry ride back, I preached the You Must Go to a Ramble sermon to some guys from western New York who spotted my Levon Helm jacket. One of them was some sort of lip balm entrepreneur, because he handed me a few and told me to give them to the two women seated next to and across from me, because "they're gonna love 'em." He thought they were with me, and when he realized they weren't, pushed me even harder to give them the lip balm, making for an awkward exchange between me and a middle-aged lip-balm entrepreneur who was trying to live vicariously through me. I tried to give him back the friggin' lip balm so he'd stop talking to me, but he would have none of it. But I did not execute the "hey-here's-some-lip-balm-now-why-don't-we-go-back-to-my-cousin's-place-and-make-out-in-the-attic-while-the-kids-are-sleeping" gambit Mr. Lip Balm so desperately wanted to see come to fruition.

I got back at a reasonable enough hour to see the kids still awake (and have more good home cooking), so more fun was had. After showing me various jumping and flopping tricks on the living room furniture, Marcus informed me that he was cooler than I was, which, after thinking it over, I kind of had to concede. However, I informed him that I could whistle, and he couldn't, so I think I'm a little closer to at least being as cool as he is. It's a daily struggle.

Day 3

Friday was the opening day of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, which meant the kickoff afternoon set from MC Hammer. Yes, MC Hammer. It was a little challenging finding a good spot to take in the Hammer Experience, as the show was intended for the children of the Bay Area, who had arrived en masse in an impressive fleet of yellow school buses. The non-teaching adults (when a security guard asked me if I was a teacher, I thought about lying just for a second, so I could get a better sightline) congregated on the sidelines, peeking around hills and tree branches to get a glimpse of Hammer Time. Some even took to climbing.

I stayed on the ground and moved around looking for a decent camera angle. Eventually, I gave up and just enjoyed the show. And, yes, "U Can't Touch This" was badass.

With a few hours to kill before the set at the main stage began, I decided I'd rather just put down my jacket and (largely empty) bag at a spot on the lawn and then come back later in the afternoon to see John Prine and Lyle Lovett. Everyone around me looked pretty friendly, and I made note of the beach umbrella and bulldog behind me in case I couldn't find my spot when I got back.

I walked through a good portion of Golden Gate Park, eventually winding my way to Amoeba Records, where I picked up a bunch of cool records (that was so many records ago, I can't rightly recall what was in that batch, other than a Tennessee Ernie Ford "Jolly Green Giant" record and an old W.C. Fields record, but it was cool). I got back to the park in the middle of The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello's) set and found the lawn pretty damn full. But I made my way over to the area where I suspected my bag and jacket would be and soon saw the beach umbrella (and a very tired bulldog). Unfortunately, I didn't see my jacket or bag. Hmmm. I plopped myself down and started panicking a bit (mainly over the Levon Helm hoodie that I now suspected might be gone), looking all around for a sign of my stuff. Finally, underneath a blanket and slightly obscured by two large camping chairs that were not there when I left, I found my stuff. Phew. Soon after, Steve Earle and Allison Moorer came out and pogoed to Morello's version of "This Land Is Your Land," and I joined them. Order had been restored to my musical universe.

John Prine and Lyle Lovett were both great, though my enjoyment of the Prine set was slightly offset by the fact that my "area" now consisted of a patch of grass slightly larger than a record album and my knees were in my nose for most of the set. But when Prine sang "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," none of that mattered. And bringing Hayes Carll out to sing "Paradise" wasn't bad either. Prine came back during Lovett's set, which started with "Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel" (in which the phrase "choke my chicken" is happily repeated quite often) and hit particularly awesome heights when backup singers Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens joined in.

All in all, a pretty good day in the park. Of course, that was not enough for me, so I went to go see Jon Langford, the Sadies, Sally Timms, Rico Bell, and Rosie Flores at the Swedish American Hall. I missed the first set because I made the mistake of taking the bus through Haight Ashbury (going through there twice in one day is more than any normal man can handle), but the second set was, as is the norm at any show involving Jon Langford, ridiculously entertaining. If you don't enjoy yourself at a show where Jon Langford is on the stage, there's something irredeemably wrong with you.

It wasn't too late when the show ended, and the Finches were nice enough to give me a key to their house and instructions to come back whenever I wanted, so I felt obligated to check out the diner I passed on my way to the Swedish American Hall. If I see a sign like this, I can't walk past it twice without going in.

The It's Tops Coffee Shop gets a hearty thumbs up from me. My only regret is that I'd had pancakes for breakfast, so I felt it would be wrong to have pancakes twice in one day. I might've been delirious from all the music.

I checked the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Twitter feed when I got back Friday night and saw a Tweet from Friday afternoon that said Robert Plant was going to join Buddy Miller for a few songs at the Great American Music Hall that night. Well, that would've been cool to see, I thought, but, hey, Buddy Miller's playing Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Saturday. If Robert Plant can wake up by noon and get to the Towers of Gold stage, maybe he'll sing a few songs with Miller then.

Day 4

He did. Right after Emmylou Harris sang a few songs with Miller. Nice.

Starting off the first full day of the festival seeing Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, and Robert Plant didn't suck. At that point, I could've been raped by a hippie in the woods after he forced hash brownies down my throat while singing "Uncle John's Band" and I still would've given Hardly Strictly Bluegrass the biggest seal of approval I possibly could.

And, amazingly, that's just what happened. The hippie's name was Sunshine, and he had a decent tenor. The brownies were a touch dry.

I kid. Or, do I?

No, really, I kid. The rest of the day was full of a ton of great music. As Miller's set started, I parked my gear more successfully at the Star Stage, which was back-to-back with the Towers of Gold Stage. So, after sneaking a peak at the end of Guy Clark's set at the Rooster Stage and getting the general lay of the land, I went back and forth between those two stages for a few hours (successfully finding a path in the woods that could get me from one stage to the other in about three minutes), seeing Miller and company, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women (whose fiddle player Amy Farris was found dead earlier in the week), and Okkervil River before checking out the action at some of the other stages. I had to make the tough decision between the Old 97's and Billy Joe Shaver, but went with Shaver, a decision I don't regret at all (even though Langford joined the Old 97's for "Over the Cliff"). If there were a cable network devoted solely to Billy Joe Shaver, I don't think I'd ever leave my house. I've heard most of the jokes and between-song patter by now, but that doesn't make it any less great when I hear it again. And, of course, there are the songs. I must've missed "Georgia on a Fast Train" (damn!), but "Live Forever" and "Try Again" were just fine, thank you.

Then, I took my first long (and musically satisfying) excursion of the day, checking out The Duhks, who were running late on the Porch Stage (the smallest of the five stages), for 20 minutes or so before taking the back way past the Banjo Stage as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings sang "Look at Miss Ohio," which then blended into Rosie Flores, Jon Langford, and the Sadies doing "Big River" on the Arrow Stage, before I reached my final destination of the Towers of Gold Stage, where pretty Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives were doing their thing. As I settled in at the front of the stage and thought about all the great music I'd heard just getting to the stage, I realized that life wasn't bad at all.

It was pretty easy throughout to weasel my way into a good spot without blocking people
, but I probably overstepped my bounds during my one trip onto the main lawn at the Banjo Stage to see Steve Earle and the Bluegrass Dukes. Just enough people were bailing because of the wind that had picked up over the course of the afternoon that I was able to work my way to the middle of the lawn for most of the set. I crouched as best I could and made sure I wasn't standing directly in front of anyone. I like to think I was pretty successful, and no one told me otherwise, so all was good. And it was cool to see Steve Earle with a band again, albeit a bluegrass one and not the hard-rocking Dukes. But a bluegrass band with Darrell Scott, Casey Driessen, Tim O'Brien, and Dennis Crouch aint nothing to sniff at.

Eight hours of music was enough for me, so I headed back toward Oakland.

Day 5

After the requisite churching in Oakland and a rough go through 49ers' traffic, it was back to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Booker T and the Drive By Truckers on the Arrow Stage. Seeing as Booker T and the DBTs didn't have any other dates booked, I figured this might be my last chance to see them supporting Booker T's "Potato Hole." Their set, in fact, was one of the main deciding factors in going to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and though it didn't beat Saturday's first set, it was still a good time. There was yet another brief moment of panic when I made my way out of the crowd and realized I didn't have my Levon hoodie, but I retraced my steps (probably annoying a good portion of the crowd) and found it, just in time to see Booker T pick up the guitar and sing "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay."

Then it was up the hill and through the trees to see the Chieftains (well, I mostly heard them) on the Star Stage before heading back to the Arrow to see a little bit of Rodney Crowell and the Outsiders (and special guest Rosie Flores on "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight"). Then I made my first real foray into the lawn area at the Rooster Stage to see Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue. I wanted to make sure I saw at least one band per day that I knew nothing about (Okkervil River was Saturday's band), and the bio for Farris piqued my interest, so to the Rooster Stage I went. I was able to once again find a good, nonintrusive spot up front and then thoroughly enjoyed Farris's gospel-tinged set, highlighted by the vocals of the McCrary sisters, Anna and Regina (the latter of whom also sang with Buddy Miller on Saturday).

I was tempted to stay for Mavis Staples, but since I'd seen her at Newport, I headed back to the Arrow Stage to see the end of Aimee Mann's set, and then wormed my way onto the rail for Todd Snider's set. When I saw the crew setting up for a band, I got excited, as it had been a few years since I'd seen Snider with a band. For this show, he was backed by Great American Taxi, and though the set was good, all the setting up seemed to cut into Snider's allotted set time--and prevented me from making it to the Porch Stage to see Elizabeth Cook's set. I thought about cutting out halfway through Snider's set to see Cook, but then I realized I was comfortable and in a good spot, so I stayed put.

The hardest part of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is just accepting that you're gonna miss out on some stuff you want to see. Aside from missing Cook, I missed just about every band on the Banjo Stage over the weekend, including the unbeatable back-to-back-to-back of Doc Watson
(though I did hear him sing "Workin' Man Blues" while grabbing some food), Earl Scruggs, Dr. Ralph Stanley, and Del McCoury. But, after checking out the Knitters on the Rooster Stage (and receiving several offers to buy a beer because I was standing next to someone's cooler), I did make it over to the Banjo Stage to see a little bit of Emmylou Harris before calling it a weekend and trying out some California pizza (not awful) on the way home. I appreciated their abandonment of "You've Tried the Rest, Now Try the Best" in favor of "You've Tried Them All, Now Try Pasquale's."

Over the course of three days in Golden Gate Park, I saw full or significant portions of sets from 20 different bands, got some solid exercise going from stage to stage, and had maybe the best musical experience ever--certainly the best I've ever had at a large festival. I'd like to go back next year. You oughta be there, too.

Day 6

And then I had to go home, to dreams of the next vacation.



Where the "Wild Thing" is
And brother Jon's on the phone
Many stories told

Chip Taylor and Kendel Carson, Living Room, NYC, 12/14/09


Revku CXXI

Some Christmas magic
Hark the herald Levon sings
To all, a good night

The Levon Helm Band/Joe Louis Walker/The Dirty Guv'nahs, Levon Helm Studios, Woodstock, NY, 12/12/09


Revku CXX

Concerts in bookstores
A perfect combination
Plus, good knishes

Rhett Miller/Jill Hennessy, Housing Works Used Book Café, NYC, 11/7/09


He'll go down in history

I have seen many great things in my time here on earth. I have seen two presidential inaugurations. I have seen my friends marry great people and watched as they became parents to beautiful children. I have seen the Nassau Coliseum erupt in joy after a successful Shawn Bates penalty shot. I have seen Bob Dylan in concert a few dozen times.

These are all amazing things, and I am so happy that I have seen them. But Sunday afternoon, in the John J. Breslin Jr. Theater at Felician College in Lodi, NJ, I saw something so awe-inspiring, so magical that I am not certain that the aforementioned moments can top them.

Yes, on Sunday afternoon, while sitting among many, many senior citizens, I saw a costumed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dancing and "playing" an accordion.

What a wonderful world.

Revku CXIX

Joy comes to the world
From a birth in Bethlehem
And accordions

The Jimmy Sturr Christmas Show (w/special guest Tommy Cash), John J. Breslin Theatre at Felician College, Lodi, NJ, 12/6/09


Yes Sturr

I expected that the yearly joy of scanning the list of Grammy nominees would not be quite as joyful this year, now that the Best Polka Album category is no more, ostensibly leaving Jimmy Sturr out in the cold.

But you can't stop Jimmy Sturr. And that's why he still managed to get nominated this year, for Best Traditional Folk Album despite the fact that his music is both barely traditional and hardly folk.

At this point, you can only tip your hat, haters.


What I Liked About November

*The first trip to Di Fara, Brooklyn, NY
*Seeing Elvis Costello at City Winery, NYC
*The Avett Brothers on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon"
*The BSS Reunion (w/pizza), Jimmy Max, Staten Island, NY

*Pumpkin pancakes, Sweet Sue's, Phoenicia, NY, and pumpkin square, Deising's Bakery, Kingston, NY
*John Fogerty, NJPAC, Newark, NJ
*Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble, Woodstock, NY
*Wrapping up (I think) the photos for the Sigman Holiday Greeting

*Tony Clifton going until 2:45 a.m., Santos Party House, NYC
*Seeing the Islanders play a good third period (and win) live
*Thanksgiving with the fam, Middletown, NJ
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places