A Month of Festivals: German Alps Festival

The German Alps Festival in Hunter, NY, is circled on the calendar every year for a number of reasons. Do I go to see 18-time Grammy winner Jimmy Sturr and the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra? Sure. Do I go to get sauerbraten? Yeah, kind of. Do I go to see what musical freaks of nature they have brought over "direct from Germany"? Absolutely. And, while we're on that subject, if you will permit me to brag for a moment, it is because of the promoters of the German Alps Festival that--brace yourself, hipsters--I have actually seen German pop sensation Heino live and in person. Oh, I don't remember much about it because I was a young lad at the time, but when you see a guy like this, you don't lose the memory entirely.

Now that I've spent the last 15 minutes looking at Heino clips on YouTube, I've forgotten what my point was...oh, yeah, now I remember. I do my best to get to the German Alps Festival for all the reasons mentioned above, but also because of the memories of summers in the Catskills and the festivals at Hunter Mountain. Though there are now really just two festivals still running at Hunter Mountain (the Celtic is the other), and they are operating on a much smaller scale than the glory days, there used to be a summer full of festivals at Hunter Mountain, from the cultural ones--Italian, Polish, American Indian--to the music-based ones--the Country Music Festival (split into two parts and with lineups that I was generally indifferent to then but now readily drool over...though I did see Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson there) and Rockstalgia (added at the end of the glory days; I think that's the one where I saw Carl Perkins).

But the crown jewel was always the German Alps Festival, which at its peak ran for an entire month and seemed to always have, in addition to a large brass band with a name like Stadtkapelle Gundelfingen (sadly, not on YouTube), this lunatic named Tony Marshall, whom my mom was quite fond of, as the headline act.

Must...not...look...for...more...Tony Marshall...clips...must focus...

And there would be lots of oom-pah music, the fantastically named appelflappen (which I think is actually Dutch, but no matter) dessert, a guy playing a zither in the ski lodge, someone playing either the saw or musical glasses (or both) in a side tent, at least a few Chicken Dances a day (my mom had--and probably still has--her own Chicken Dance hat), and plastic souvenir cup after plastic souvenir cup of Dinkel Acker beer (I didn't drink it, but it sure was fun to say), generally full for only a short period of time before they would be stacked high on the checkered-tablecloth-covered tables in the main tent, which was pretty enormous and almost always close to full. And there was another big tent full of tchotchkes, German or otherwise, for sale, which always pretty much had the same vendors in it but nevertheless was good for at least an hour's worth of wandering every year. The whole thing, in fact, didn't change all that much from year to year (except for the year Heino and Hannelore came...that was a big deal), but it was the reliability that made it great. I don't ever remember having a bad time at the German Alps Festival, or any of the festivals at Hunter Mountain.

But things are different now. Several years ago, they stopped putting up the giant main tent in the parking lot and instead set up a smaller tent closer to the ski lodge for the entertainment. The big tchotchke tent, as well as the one or two smaller ones, went away, too, and there were now only a handful of vendors in the ski lodge and in the area around the music tent. Neither Tony Marshall nor Heino were in the budget anymore. No one played the saw or glasses. And, worst of all, there were no more plastic souvenir cups and no more Dinkel Acker (replaced by Warsteiner, which is fun to say, too, but not as fun as Dinkel Acker).

Still, I go. For the good times had and the good times still to be had, even if it's not 1988 anymore. After all, Jimmy Sturr's still there, they're still making sauerbraten, and, as this video I took last year and will now repost for your entertainment shows, the Germans still know how to party.

This year, I subjected not only my mother to the gem├╝tlichkeit (look it up...it's good to learn new words), but also two retired journalists and their sons. But, of course, first we stopped at Sweet Sue's in Phoenicia and I ate this (or most of it).

Then after the pancakes were sufficiently digested, we headed to Hunter Mountain. The two retired journalists knew what they were getting into, as they are repeat customers. The young boys were a little more taken aback, as will happen to the first-timer. But after some solid rock-wall climbing, they seemed a little more at ease, though I did capture the older boy in a pose struck by every first-time attendee: The What Exactly Is All This and Why Am I Here? stance.

If the Enzian Bavarian Band did "Rucki Zucki" this year, I missed it. I did hear another band do it, but it wasn't as strong. Oh well. At least I got to see some of the Schuhplattlers. What are they, you ask? Maybe these photos will refresh your memories of "National Lampoon's European Vacation":

If the Schuhplattlers stop coming to the German Alps Festival, I might have to stop going too.

Sadly, the boys were dragging and a little lemonade-drunk by the time the first notes of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" were struck, which is, of course, the signal that the Jimmy Sturr show is about to begin. So we headed out and, after stopping to get their things together at the Family Compound, they headed back home...but not before they dropped me back at the festival for the nighttime portion of the show.

I stopped in to see my boys in the Enzian Bavarian Band do their final set of the day, a mainly low-key affair that I'm pretty sure featured "Edelweiss," only because I'm pretty sure every set I've seen them do features "Edelweiss." I must admit, after 25 years I think I'm starting to warm up to the song.

Then I went back to the main tent to see my fellow Ithaca Bomber Alex Meixner kick some polka ass with his quartet. We attended school at the same time and, though I knew of his polka heritage from an article in the school newspaper, I somehow never sought him out and became his best friend ever as we sang Frankie Yankovic songs and debated the merits of the oberek. Alas, a missed opportunity. But I've seen him several times after college, and he's quite good. Anybody who can play the trumpet and accordion equally well really deserves your respect. And if not for that, then at least give him props for stage clothes.

After Meixner came the second Jimmy Sturr set, which is generally the looser and decidedly less traditional set of the day. There are almost never any straight polkas in the evening set. It's mainly oldies, which Mr. Sturr can do because most of the tour buses full of older people of German heritage have departed for the day. In my observations, the Germans don't care much for modernity when it comes to their polka music. Last year, a gentleman at my table stood up during Sturr's early set and yelled, "Play some German music" in that vaguely menacing German accent that makes everything sound like someone might be killed soon if heed is not paid. I get the impression that the older German folk aren't huge Jimmy Sturr fans. Hey, they've been wrong about other things in the past, too (don't mention the war). I still like Jimmy Sturr, though, even during the rock set.

Then, because I'm 33 years old, my mom came to pick me up from the concert and we headed back to the Family Compound, another German Alps Festival in the books.

Auf wiedersehen, Hunter Mountain.


Shock and Wow

I had already bought my ticket to the Pete Seeger show when I noticed on the Bearsville Theater website that what was billed as a Pete Seeger Performance and Book Signing was now "Radio Woodstock and The Smile Revolution Presents [sic] Pete Seeger with special guests Princess Wow and Roland." I was not familiar with Princess Wow, Roland, or The Smile Revolution, but the mere appearance of the words together did not inspire hope, particularly since I would be taking the bus to Bearsville roughly nine hours after I'd returned from bowling 10 (and a 1/2) games in five states. I suspected that I would be in no mood for princesses on Sunday afternoon. I did a Google search and grew no more hopeful.

But the money was already spent, so, after some 8 a.m. churching, it was back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (I'm hoping they'll name a gate for me one day) for the Trailways bus to Bearsville. I was a little bleary-eyed, but I rallied when we got to Kingston, at which point our driver told us we had a seven-minute break before we continued in. Seven minutes is about two more minutes than I need to run to Deising's Bakery, quickly get two things that look good (in this case, a cheese danish and a cherry cheese danish), and dart back to the bus. As I polished off the cheese danish back on the bus, I was feeling much better about this Princess Wow thing. Deising's cures all.

When we pulled in to Bearsville at a little after noon, there was already a long line of people waiting to get in, a product of the Bearsville Theater's excellent policy to not mail out tickets or let you print them at home (some people had physical tickets, so I'm guessing they sell tickets at the box office). So, basically, 98 percent of the people had to get their tickets at the will call window. Good thinking, hippies. Oh well, at least I got to see Pete Seeger arrive.

I finally got inside after about a half-hour, but the line behind me was still plenty long. So it seemed like the 1 p.m. start was not going to happen. I picked up my autographed copy of Where Have All The Flowers Gone (part of my special $40 admission ticket, which was a swell deal). Despite the initial billing, I figured Mr. Seeger wouldn't actually be signing the books, so I wasn't surprised to see the books presigned. And I was happy to see that he'd drawn the banjo with his signature, giving me my second banjo Pete Seeger autograph (I have two without, too...it's a fun life I have). And now that I had the book, I had something to read if/when my interest in Princess Wow dissipated.

It was getting close to 2 and the show still hadn't started yet, so there was a little tension in the air. I was getting a little tired of hearing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" for the third time. The standing-room-only people were getting a little fidgety. And a woman in the row in front of me actually asked a group whose folding-chair seats hadn't been set up to go settle the matter somewhere else because all the discussion was bothering her.

Finally, after the second, maybe third time around of Michael Jackson singing Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," Princess Wow emerged from the wings, in an outfit highlighted by a large hat, a blue wig, and tie-dyed pants. This was not a promising start. But then when she had to compose herself to tell the story of why The Smile Revolution was important to her, I started to feel bad for my poor attitude toward the Princess.

She related how her father never smiled much and so neither did she, but one of the last times she visited him before he passed on, he gave her a big smile. From that point forward, she vowed to share the power of a smile with the world, because she knew what a joy it was to see that smile on her dad's face before he died. And, so, The Smile Revolution was born.

She had the crowd now.

And that was the last time she did.

After talking about The Smile Revolution for a bit, she then introduced her husband Roland to lead his band in the theme song of The Smile Revolution, with the help of the children who were watching the show on the stage. The song was, um, not so good, and it seemed to go on just short of forever. I could feel the crowd starting to turn, but the fact that children were involved ensured some polite applause at song's end.

Princess Wow then came back on stage. I think it was at this point that she started talking more about how she became Princess Wow and her life philosophies. One major chunk of her time on stage was devoted to how we should stop using the word "old" when describing our age and replace it with "new." So, for instance, I am not 33 years old; I am 33 years new! Exciting! And then she related how she starts every day by saying, "I'm fresh and new."

At this point, I was mainly looking down at my book and occasionally the floor and thinking about heading out to the lobby until this was over. I was all the way in the back of the theater, so I could've snuck out without too much fuss, but I figured that might be rude. And I didn't want to give Jersey a bad mark in the eyes of the people of Bearsville.

But the people of Bearsville, or at least a healthy portion of the people in the Bearsville Theater, had no such aversion to rudeness. Because just about the time the good Princess started talking about why she started buying wigs, someone yelled out, "We want Pete!" And then more people joined in the vocal uprising. Soon after, people started stomping their feet on the wooden floor as the Princess persevered.

Wow, did it get awkward.

The Princess introduced local songwriter Tom Pacheco to do a song, and he avoided being booed, though his song wasn't exactly a thrill ride either. I suspect, however, that the song's message of "the world was better before these darn kids got hold of it" offered more appeal to the saltier elements in the crowd than the "everybody smile and be happy" vibe of Princess Wow.

And speaking of Ms. Wow, she came back on stage after Pacheco was done, talked a little bit more (reading quotes from index cards) as the natives grew more restless, and then called out Roland and his band for another number. And that was when I heard the loudest communal groan I've ever heard at a concert. I was torn between laughter and feelings of pity, so I combined the two by hanging my head, staring at the floor, and laughing. And, to be fair, as I was laughing, I was also smiling. So I really was doing the work of The Smile Revolution. I'm fresh and new!

To their credit, Roland (and band) and Princess Wow never let the crowd see them sweat and just kept plowing through their portion of the show. But when Roland wrapped up his second song (slightly more tolerable than the first), and Princess Wow came back out and started talking about how Roland had met Pete, the crowd had had enough. At this point, if there had been a stake, they might've tied her to it. As Princess Wow told the story of Roland hitchhiking across the country and then looking for a way to meet Pete Seeger, a voice cried out, "I want to meet Pete!"





Some people were lucky enough to be at the Manchester Free Trade Hall to hear a disgruntled folkie yell "Judas!" at Bob Dylan. I will settle for hearing a disgruntled folkie yell "I want to meet Pete!" at a woman in a blue wig named Princess Wow. And I'm OK with that.

After the Princess hurried through her intro of Mr. Seeger, the crowd finally was sated by the appearance of the 91-year-old man they had come to see. He is, naturally, not at the peak of his powers anymore, but some concerts are more about just being in the same room as the performer rather than the actual performance. Mr. Seeger spent his 90 minutes on stage going through selected songs in the book, chapter by chapter, telling stories and leading singalongs among the now relieved and fully engaged crowd. He also invited women on stage to sing one song, at which point the woman in the row in front of me who had earlier pitched a fit at people talking in her presence practically sprinted out of her seat. Her sprint came as little surprise, for she had spent most of the show laughing at everything that came out of Pete Seeger's mouth, regardless of whether it was intended to be humorous or was a simple statement of fact. She was certainly pleased to be in the same room as Mr. Seeger (and she was, to the best of my knowledge, accepting of Princess Wow and Roland) and jumped at the chance to be on the same stage as her hero (to be fair, if he had asked for dudes to come up, I might've sprinted, too). Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of the women on stage didn't translate into something musically inspiring, but, hey, they tried. And they've sung on a stage with Pete Seeger, so they've got that going for them.

Mr. Seeger also had banjo players Eric Weissberg (of "Dueling Banjos" fame) and Bill Keith come out to play two songs in the middle of his "set," which was a nice bonus. They returned, along with the Princess Wow and Roland crew, for the big finale. Afterward, a line formed by the merch table, which seemed odd to me, because I couldn't imagine Pete Seeger sitting down to sign autographs for a few hundred people after being on stage for 90 minutes. But I had my "Goofing Off Suite" record with me just in case, so I hopped on line. But Mr. Seeger headed out after blowing a kiss to the crowd, at which point a crowd surrounded him outside (while everybody on line inexplicably stayed in place as they watched him leave). Before I left, I inquired about the price of the signed event posters.

"They're a hundred dollars," the woman at the merch table told me. "The proceeds go to The Smile Revolution."

"Um, OK, thanks," I said, wondering what exactly is the overhead on something whose main goal is to have people smile more. Seems to me you don't need a lot of funds for something like that, though I guess those blue wigs and tie-dyed pants don't buy themselves.

When I made my way outside, there was a woman with a parrot on her shoulder standing next to a slightly bewildered Mr. Seeger, I guess trying to get a picture with him. I'm not sure that picture ever happened, but I snapped a few parrot-less photos before walking back to Woodstock and finishing that cherry cheese danish.

In a capper to my weekend, I completely forgot that Sunday is Drum Circle Day in Woodstock, and said drum circle, which featured roughly 50 drummers, was directly across the street from the bus stop (I thought about filming a bit of it for you, but why should you have to suffer?). So as I waited for the bus, I got a taste of what hell would be like for about a half hour. I promise to do better, God.

But eventually the wheels on the bus went round and round, I got home at a reasonable hour, and my weekend of bowling, blues, banjos, and belligerent folkies came to an end.

With a smile.


Five States, Ten (and a Half) Games, One Man (With Lots of Help)

A nap almost killed it.

I knew I would have to sneak in some sleep, so I figured a little two-hour nap around 9 p.m. would be just what the doctor ordered--if, in fact, doctors were ordering five-states-in-one-day bowling tours to celebrate World Record Day (the culmination of National Bowling Week, as if I had to tell you), which I'm pretty sure they're not. Then again, I don't go to the doctor that often, so things might have changed.

Anyway, the two-hour nap would give me time to get to Bowl Rite Lanes in Union City, NJ, just before midnight, start my two games at the stroke of midnight, hop on the bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and then hoof it down to Lucky Strike Lanes on the West Side Highway (Leisure Time Bowl in the Port, the obvious choice, only lets you bowl by the hour on Fridays and Saturdays, and $60 seemed like a bit much for a quest that would only really mean anything to me). Then I could go home to sneak another hour or two of sleep, get up to go back to the Port Authority and catch a bus to Philly, bowl a couple of games at Pep Bowl in Philly around 10 a.m., take the train to the Riverfront Blues Festival in Wilmington, DE, for a break, and then meet up with my friend in Delaware (provided his nine-months-pregnant wife didn't decide to give birth) to conclude the tour at Elk Lanes in Elkton, MD, and First State Lanes in Wilmington, all before the grand finale back at the Riverfront Blues Fest.

Seems simple, no?

Well, I overslept. And when I woke up and saw it was 11:45, my mind started racing. Should I still carry on? Should I skip Jersey and hope I had time to get somewhere near the Delaware border when I went down? Should I skip New York and just make it a four-state bowling tour? Should I maybe just drop the whole idea and not run around like an imbecile on a Saturday?

I still didn't know what I'd do when I got to the Newport Light Rail station around midnight. But if I was gonna do this, I really wanted to start in Jersey. So I decided to press on to Union City and hope that the buses were still running out of Union City to NYC, where, if they were, I would still have enough time to get to Lucky Strike (which I recalled as closing at 3) and get back on track. Sure, the extra two hours of sleep I'd hoped to get would be out, but I would probably be tired enough to sleep on the bus to Philly. And who needs sleep anyway?

And, so at around 12:50 a.m., after walking from the 9th Street Light Rail stop in Hoboken all the way to Bowl Rite, the Five-State Bowling Tour was on.

I didn't take many pictures at this stop, because I was just trying to bowl fast and get moving. Plus, when you're by yourself at a bowling alley on top of a CVS pharmacy at 1 a.m., taking pictures doesn't really seems like a fine idea.

I felt pretty good bowling, until midway through the first game, when I started getting a little light-headed (probably due to the half-hour walk/sprint through Union City carrying a bowling ball bag, but it's hard to say). I was almost able to hit my average over two games (164 and 131), which, all things considered, was a decent feat.

Then it was time for the walk to the bus stop, another 20-25 minutes or so. I knew there was a bus that could take me to the bus stop I needed to go to, but I wasn't sure if it was still running, so I just headed out on my own. I also thought about taking a cab into NYC, but I'm against cabs as a rule, and I didn't feel like breaking any rules.

I eventually made it to the bus stop and then began praying there was still a bus going into the city. I saw one of the gypsy shuttles coming back from the city, but nothing heading in. Finally, as I was about to suck it up and call a cab, the 190 bus appeared and all was right with the world. I would be at the Port a little before 2 a.m. and would still have enough time for my first trip to Lucky Strike. Phew.

So, I get to Lucky Strike, walk through the door, and...

"We're closed."



"Um, what time did you close?"

"We shut down at 2."

I was going to explain to him that I was pretty sure the website said 3 a.m., but he was significantly larger than me and seemed genuinely disgusted by my presence. So I just walked back out the door. And, to be fair, I was completely wrong. The website actually says they're open until 4 a.m.. Pigs.

So, what to do? Well, I knew Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg was open until 4, and as much as I didn't want to go all the way to Williamsburg at 2 a.m. (or, truth be told, any time of day), I didn't have much of a choice. So, I hopped on the A train to 14th, got on the L, and made it to Brooklyn Bowl a little before 3. All right. Back on track. That's a right on Wythe, and...

"Hey, buddy, we're closed."



"But I thought your website said you were open until 4."

"Yeah, we're closed. Manager just gave the call that we're closing."


Take your hipster bowling alley and stick it up your ass.

This wasn't looking good. Brooklyn Bowl was my last shot for the night/early morning. The only other option I had at this point to keep the tour alive was to eat my nonrefundable bus ticket to Philly, get a train or bus directly to Wilmington instead, bowl somewhere in NYC in the morning (or, later in the morning), and hope to have enough time to get to an alley in Pennsylvania between blues festival sets and games in Maryland and Delaware.

But that would be a lot of work. And to what end? To satisfy you, dear, sweet three readers? To top last year's five-borough bowling tour, which, as far I could tell, no one was asking me to top?

As I walked home from the PATH train around 4:30, after my train had been delayed and had to return to Christopher Street about two minutes after we left Christopher Street because there was "an emergency" in the Hoboken station (re: some numbnuts probably puked on the train after leaving Bahama Mama's), I decided that, for reasons completely and utterly unknown, I had to persevere. Somewhere, the bugles were sounding. Somewhere, the spirit of Earl Anthony was urging me not to quit. Somewhere, Mickey was telling me, 'Get up, you son of a bitch. Mickey loves you."

Or maybe I was delirious on two hours' sleep and hearing things.

Whatever the case, I got on the computer when I got back to my apartment, sussed out the possibilities, and regrouped. There were two bowling alleys in Brooklyn that opened at 9, and an Amtrak from Penn Station that would get me to Wilmington right on time. Unfortunately, Amtrak's fare system blows, and that train would've cost me $90. In the words of the great Roger Rabbit, "I may be idiotic, but I'm not stupid." So I went with a Greyhound that would allegedly get me to Wilmington about 15 minutes after Matt "Guitar" Murphy's set started but realistically, once Saturday New Jersey Turnpike traffic was figured in, probably would get me to Wilmington just in time to miss Matt "Guitar" Murphy's entire set. But if I had to sacrifice that to keep the Five-State Bowling Tour alive, so be it. Sorry, Mr. "Guitar" Murphy.

So, things were back on track again. I would sleep for a few hours, leave my apartment at 8:30, and get to Melody Lanes in Brooklyn by 10 for a quick two games before going back to the Port Authority for the 11:30 bus to Wilmington. I printed out a set of directions to the AMF Conchester Lanes in Boothwyn, PA, the closest alley in Pennsylvania, went to sleep, and hoped that tomorr, er, three hours from now, would be better.

I didn't oversleep the second time around, and I made it to Melody Lanes in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn just around 10 a.m. Stunningly, no one else was bowling, so I had the whole place to myself. And, as another bonus, the interior was so bright that I had no trouble staying awake.

I'm not sure if you've ever bowled in an empty bowling alley on a Saturday morning while "In Da Club" plays over the in-lanes PA, but if you haven't, I highly recommend the experience. Once again, I was pretty consistent, and I managed to improve slightly on my Jersey performance, with a 161 and a 154. I also messed around with the timer feature on my camera to take some action photos for you. And also, so you can see just how white my legs are.

I was back on the subway by 10:35 and just did make it in time to get on the Wilmington bus (in a moment of stupidity, I left my Greyhound tickets under will call, something one should never, ever do because it forces you to rely on the allegedly helpful Greyhound computer terminals, which consistently don't work). As expected, we hit lots of traffic and, as also expected every time I get on a bus, there was almost a fight on the bus when, two hours into the trip, a guy decided that he didn't want to hear the guy two rows behind him talk anymore. And once he expressed that opinion, the next 20 minutes were filled with the sound of the talking (and much, much larger) gentleman expressing disbelief at being spoken to that way. Good times.

Anyway, the bus pulled into Wilmington just as they were striking the stage after Murphy's set (the festival was next to the bus and train stations, which, if everything had worked out as planned--or if anything had worked out as planned--would've been very fortuitous), so I waited outside the bus station for my friend to pick me up (I had called him when we were getting ready to cross into Delaware).

I knew his wife was due to give birth at any moment, and I suppose if I had really thought about it, I might've been able to predict that she and their three-year-old son
would come along, too. It would, after all, be much better if my friend were around as his wife went into labor, rather than in, say, Elkton, MD. But since I'd been running train and bus schedules through my head for a week, I was a little surprised to see that the whole family had come to pick me up and join my adventure. After working through my guilt about dragging a nine-months-pregnant woman and a three-year-old child across at least two states (Pennsylvania still wasn't a definite yet), however, I embraced the "more, the merrier" approach and grew excited at the thought of having the whole family along for the ride. Plus, it was the three-year-old's first bowling excursion, so I felt proud to be able to make it part of such a memorable day.

The first stop was the kind-of-run-down but kind-of-awesome Elk Lanes in Elkton, MD. According to the sign on their door, they weren't even supposed to be open for another hour or so (need I say that their website said otherwise?), but there was a birthday party going on, so we walked in and began on State #3. We even got to use a newly constructed ball ramp, or at least the three-year-old did. I declined.

Elk Lanes was easily the least fancy stop on the tour, but I am a fan of all things not fancy, so I felt pretty comfortable. There was also a jukebox, so I helped DJ the birthday party, with a ton of selections (Four Tops, ABBA, Michael Jackson, Sam Cooke) I'm sure the preteens and teens hated immensely. As I chose the songs, though, I was careful not to repeat a mistake I made at the Bowl-o-Drome in Ithaca once, when it was just me and a birthday party and I forgot that "Misirlou" on the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack is preceded by a scene from the movie that features, oh, language 10-year-olds probably shouldn't be exposed to, particularly at loud volumes. Oopsie.

With plenty of good music playing, I recovered from a shaky first game (143) and rebounded with a 182 in the second. The three-year-old seemed to be enjoying his bowling experience, despite a few balls that didn't make it all the way down the alley after he got bored with the ramp. So it felt like, finally, the Five-State Bowling Tour was in the proper gear.

The next stop was back in Delaware, at the First State Lanes in Wilmington. It was a bit more high-tech than the Elk (and with a nice billiards room in the back, too), but no less enjoyable. And they also had one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

That, good people, is a plastic bowling pin bottle that you can fill with soda for $6. Absolutely phenomenal. It made Lucky Strike and Brooklyn Bowl a distant memory.

I didn't bowl particularly well at First State (152 and 137), but who cares? I got a bowling pin bottle! I also bowled about half of the three-year-old's game, because he grew tired of bowling right about the time the french fries arrived, and his dad had tweaked something in his forearm and was having enough trouble finishing his own game (yet, he still beat me, so I think I was hustled by the both of them). So I stepped up and gave him a few good frames to end his day on the lanes and add a little bonus to mine.

My friend thought the tour was over at this point, as it was getting closer to 8:30 and dinner was of the essence for the nine-months-pregnant woman and the hungry child. Unfortunately for them, I'm a stubborn jerk, and I reckoned that there was still enough time to make the dream come true. I told them they could just drop me off in Boothwyn and get something to eat while I bowled, but eventually the decision was made to sit and watch me bowl Game 9 (and 1/2) and thus complete the Five-State Bowling Tour.

And, so that is what happened. We made it to the AMF Conchester Lanes in Boothwyn around 7 p.m., and I fought my way through the sluggishness that was starting to overtake me as I bowled a 149 in Game 9 (and 1/2). There was much applause from my posse, until I informed them that I kinda wanted to bowl Game 10 (and 1/2). I couldn't end on a below-average game. They, understandably, looked at me like I was a lunatic, but, to their credit, let me continue on my quest (though my friend expressed concern about what would happen if I bowled another below-average game). There is a special place in heaven for all them, and also for the little girl that has, as of this writing, still not made her way into the world.

For poetry's sake, let's say I bowled my last game for that unborn child and her folks, because, just as I did last year on the Five-Borough Bowling Tour, I saved my best game for last.

That open frame kind of kills me (would've broken 200 with a mark there), but I was still pleased with a 193 to wrap up the day.

Then we ate dinner at a nearby diner, they dropped me off at the blues festival, I had a good time there, and I made it back home just about 24 hours after the Five-State Bowling Tour began, a true success if ever there was one.

And then I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to get on another bus to go see Pete Seeger and someone called Princess Wow in upstate New York. Wait until you hear that story.


A Month of Festivals: Riverfront Blues Festival

This should have been a larger post, and there should have been much better pictures. But because of the sheer disregard for the after-hours bowler displayed by both Lucky Strike Lanes in Manhattan and Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg (and, to a lesser extent, Leisure Time Bowl in Manhattan), I did not make it to the Riverfront Blues Festival in Wilmington, DE, to see Matt "Guitar" Murphy, inexplicably snubbed by the Academy for Best Supporting Actor for his star turn as Matt "Guitar" Murphy in "The Blues Brothers," at 1:30 in the afternoon. At 1:30, I was on a bus somewhere in New Jersey, having made it past the heavy turnpike traffic but still not close enough to Wilmington to ensure that I would see any portion of the set by Matt "Guitar" Murphy and the Nouveaux Honkies. And because of my quest for the rest of the day, I didn't exactly have a prime spot when I finally got to the festival around 8:30. So, that, combined with the fact that I was using my auxiliary camera because it was smaller (an important thing to consider when you're already carrying a bowling ball across five states), means good photos were hard to come by.

But all those complications are a story for another post, a post detailing the thrilling journey of a New Jersey-based man and his quest to bowl in five states in one day. For this post, I will focus only on the 70 minutes or so I wound up spending at the Riverfront Blues Festival, where I arrived just in time to see the Perfect Age of Rock and Roll Blues Band.

The Perfect Age of Rock and Roll Blues Band (so named because "The Perfect Age of Rock and Roll" is the name of a movie in which said band is featured) clocks in at a combined age somewhere around 470 years. There's drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (74), bass player Bob Stroger (78 [unconfirmed]), harmonica player George "Mojo" Buford (80), guitarist Hubert Sumlin (78), youngster (and owner of my favorite music nickname) guitarist "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin (61), and piano player (and fervent smoker) Pinetop Perkins (97).

Not a bad band to see on a nice summer night.

The show started with just Margolin, Stroger, and Smith on stage, and after each of those three guys had their turn at the mike, they brought out the others one at a time, starting with Buford, who still plays a pretty strong harmonica for an 80-year-old guy. Sumlin came out next, trailed closely by an oxygen tank, which I suppose you can take one of two ways: (1) it's one of the saddest things you've ever seen, because a 78-year-old man shouldn't have to be dragging himself out to play with an oxygen tank or (2) you've never seen anything quite as badass as a 78-year-old man so into performing that he'll even play while hooked into an oxygen tank. I choose to go with the latter, though there's likely some financial element tied into him still playing at this stage in the game, particularly since there has been a steady stream of shows raising money for Sumlin's medical expenses.

Sumlin definitely took a song or two to get going, but once he settled in, he shot off some strong solos. And when a song ended and the applause grew in the park, Sumlin's simple hand-over-heart gesture was the perfect portrait of why live music is so important, for everyone involved.

Soon, Margolin announced it was "star time," and the 97-year-old Perkins took the stage. He too took a little while to get into the swing of things, but he was soon there, and though it seemed, oh, a trifle odd that he essentially did the same two songs twice, well, it's Pinetop Perkins. I'm giving him leeway.

I had to bolt a little early to make sure I got my Amtrak home, but I could still see the stage and hear "Got My Mojo Working" just fine from the train platform. The Riverfront Blues Festival didn't turn out quite as planned for me, but seeing a band like The Perfect Age of Rock and Roll Blues Band was a damn fine way to cap a damn fine day.

More on the rest of the day coming soon...


A Month of Festivals: Newport Folk Festival

So, I'm now in my third straight weekend of travel. I guess now's as good a time as any to start writing up some recaps for the three of you reading this blog. And awaaaaaaaay we go...

The plan was to get to the Newport Folk Festival sometime in the early afternoon on Saturday. But the best-laid schemes of mice, men, and anyone taking 1-95 through Connecticut gang aft agley. So, as the family truckster crawled through Connecticut with my sister behind the wheel, me in the navigator seat, and my mom in the back, we figured we might as well make some dreams come true and take a little pit stop before our officially planned brunch break. And that is how it came to be that, after several trips to New England and several glimpses of the sign, we wound up at Super Duper Weenie in Fairfield, CT, at a little after 11 a.m. on a Saturday.

I suppose I could have just bought the t-shirt and headed back into the car, but it didn't seem right to buy the shirt without sampling the goods. So I got a Chicagoan, and though I'd stop short of calling it super duper, it wasn't half bad.

And what do you eat after you shove a hot dog down your throat at 11:30 a.m.? Why, pancakes, of course--specifically the Coconut Crunch pancakes at Chip's in Orange, CT. The pancakes were much more super duper than the weenie.

After that, we headed back out into the Connecticut traffic and moved in fits and starts the rest of the way, until we finally made it to Fort Adams State Park in Newport at just around 4 p.m. We'd missed a bunch of bands, but there was still enough to see to make the day worthwhile (plus, we already had tickets, so it seemed like a good idea to use them). And sitting out along the water as the day grew short wasn't such a bad place to be, music or no music.

I scoped out the new layout with my sister, and the new stage inside the fort, where Dawes was playing when we got there, was definitely an upgrade from last year. Plus, it was just cool to be inside the fort. The second stage, where Doc Watson held court as we passed by, had made a 90-degree turn from last year, which I think may have actually been a turn for the worse, as it was harder to see from outside the tent, and the traffic into and out of the stage seemed a little more hectic than last year.

But I only really have minor complaints like that when it comes to the Newport Folk Festival (I suspect if I drove, I'd be more apt to complain, but, hey, stubbornness has its privileges...and thanks, Laura [and Sam, for last year's efforts]). And since the sun was not nearly as broiling as last year, it was a much more pleasant, less sweaty experience this time around.

The highlights of the first day for me were Andrew Bird covering Bob Dylan's "Oh, Sister" and John Prine's whole set, which ended with Prine and Jim James from My Morning Jacket (or Yim Yames, if you prefer) singing "All the Best," before bringing Jim Rooney on stage to close with "Paradise." And, thanks to my favorite part of the Newport Folk Festival--its generous, you-can-come-to-the-front-to-take-pictures-for-the-first-three-songs-of-a-set policy, I got one of my favorite pictures ever, of Prine.

And we got a special music bonus as we waited on the shuttle line to get back to the parking lot--a performance by the What Cheer? Brigade, a roving, ragtag brass band of sorts who played sets throughout the park on Saturday and Sunday. Check them out if you get the chance.

After the postshow family collapse on Saturday night, we were up and at 'em again early Saturday morning. I was up and at 'em a bit earlier than the ladies, as I had churching to do, right after some johnnycakes at the nearby diner (the 'cakes were OK, but nothing worth switching teams and risking your cushy mafia career over). When I returned to the hotel, a quick dropoff so I could pin down a spot on the main lawn for the day quickly turned into "we might as well just all stay and cobble together breakfast from Clif bar samples and free Stonyfield Farms yogurt." My mom and sis holed up under the tent at the second stage and saw Cory Chisel and the Punch Brothers while I took in Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. My camera, seemingly believing that it had done its job for the weekend after the top-notch Prine photo, decided to take most of Sunday off and gave me all sorts of problems throughout the day. Still, I eked out a couple of good ones in the early part of the day among strong sets from both Rodriguez-Seeger and Jones.

I also snuck a picture of the festival impresario, and generally swell guy, George Wein, without whom I would have not been able to get in a car on a Saturday afternoon with my family, have a hot dog and pancakes, and see some of my favorite musicians.

The fam reconvened on the main lawn for the Avett Brothers' set, though my sister and I left my mom to head up front early on. After a little confusion, I made my way up to the photo section while my sister chilled in the new Standing Area right behind the photo section. She was originally skeptical of positioning herself in the tightly packed space, but when I made my way back to where my mom was, she was firmly entrenched, trying unsuccessfully to keep her freshly unstitched kneecap in place and unaffected by "Colorshow." She failed. Sorry, doc. The knee made it through OK, though. And the Avetts came through with another good set, even playing a new song that sounded right in place with the others.

I darted during "I and Love and You" to get to the second stage to see the end of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's set and grab a spot for the Felice Brothers' set. The booking of the Avetts and the PHJB at the same time was the big scheduling bummer of the weekend, but I cut it a little bit by making a rare trip to the Music Hall of Williamsburg Friday night to see the PHJB open for (and play a few songs with) Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, and Yim Yames (all three of whom also played at Newport). That show left me sufficiently satisfied (and was one of the best I've seen this year), but I still wanted to see if I could catch a few PHJB songs at Newport. I got there in time to see the end of "St. James Infirmary" with Yames and the set-closing "We Shall Overcome" with Rodriguez-Seeger. I highly, highly recommend checking out the PHJB at City Winery on November 3.

The Felice Brothers were also stellar, though perhaps not the best keepers of time in the world. They underestimated their allotted time on stage and wound up having to be coaxed back on stage to play two or three more songs simply because there was more than enough time to do so. But they got everybody moving during "Frankie's Gun" and "Take This Bread" before making way for the hippie mayhem of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, at which point my mom and I headed back to the main stage to catch the end of The Swell Season, whom I enjoyed much more than the last time I saw them, particularly during covers of "Into the Mystic" and "The Auld Triangle."

Then the family again reconvened for the headliners, the Levon Helm Band, whom you may have heard that I like quite a bit. I headed up to the photo pit, where I quickly became involved in what my have been the most annoying 20 minutes of my life. It began like this:

Shirtless Guy: So, who's playing next here?
Me: [Wondering why he's up this close if he has no idea who's playing] Levon Helm.
SG: Who?
Me: Levon Helm.
SG: And who is that?
Me: [Slowly losing mind] He was the drummer for The Band.
SG: What band?
Me: [Seeing where this is going, ready to cry] THE Band.
SG: Oh, THE Band?
Me: Yeah. (SG's still perplexed.) They're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Played behind Dylan. All that stuff.
SG: Oh, so I guess I should know who he is.
Me: [Words starting to fail] Yeah. I guess.

Then, before I could recover fully from that, the woman on the other side of me started talking to me about how she used to work for a record label that put out solo records by Levon, Rick Danko ("before he died," she helpfully added), and Garth Hudson. So, making conversation, I mentioned that I had those records, which was the wrong move, because now I had apparently demonstrated a willingness to talk not only before the show started but as it was going on and I was trying desperately to get my camera to stop focusing on the wall behind Levon rather than Levon himself so I could get one decent picture. So, I fielded comments on how Garth and Maud Hudson are broke, Garth is fried, musicians have a hard life, Levon was a financial success because he was in "Coal Miner's Daughter," and on and on and on. Then, as I was singing along to "Ophelia" and taking photos (not an easy task to begin with), she asked, "Is this one of The Band's songs?" Oh boy.

I should also point out that this was after she was trying to tell Shirtless Guy, whom I'm assuming she was friends with, about the songs of The Band. She remembered "Up On Cripple Creek," then faltered. So, of course, she asked me.

Annoying Woman: What are some of the other songs The Band does?
Me: [While taking photos) I don't know. There are lots of them. "The Weight."
AW: And how does that one go again?

And then, when Levon came out, her first comment was "He looks old." "That's because he is," I responded, because, I think we can call 70 old, right?

It was a long three songs, through no fault of Levon and his band. But between Shirtless Guy, Annoying Woman, and another Drunken Woman who seemingly thought guitarist Larry Campbell was Levon Helm, I was more than happy to depart when the fourth song, the relatively new and pretty damn incredible Levon Helm Band cover of Sam Cooke's "(Aint That) Good News" started. I got one in-focus Levon picture and a few salvageable, wall-focused ones.

After watching the Mountain Jam Levon and Friends show online, I was sort of expecting a star-studded finale (the rumor floating among the bright lights in the photo pit was that Jimmy Buffett was going to play a few songs, which would have made me cry, just not in a good way). Unfortunately, all we got was Glen Hansard from the Swell Season and Richie Havens on "The Weight," which Richie Havens knows neither the words nor melody to. He was similarly shaky on the festival-closing "I Shall Be Released," which featured all of the festival acts that cared to be on stage, including members of the Felice Brothers, The Low Anthem, Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three (who were staying at our hotel), Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Aoife O'Donovan, Sarah Jarosz, and many others.

And then the sun set on another Newport Folk Festival.

We spent the night in Newport and did some sightseeing on Monday before heading home (and making a first-time stop at the spinoff Eveready Diner in Brewster, NY), deftly avoiding I-95 and visiting the pottery shops and antique centers of Connecticut as we made our way.

All in all, a strong start to A Month of Festivals.