Beer and Bluegrass

Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen

Beer and bluegrass.  Betcha never thought of that combination before.

Yeah, right.

At a festival that took “parking lot picking” to its logical conclusion (i.e., it was held in a parking lot next to the Clarendon Courthouse Metro Station), Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen rode to the rescue when the organizers of the Clarendon Arts & Crafts Beer Festival’s Acoustic Music tent were struggling with a bad sound system and horrible logistics (the sets were almost an hour late in starting). When the Dirty Kitchen band finally began their set  in the tent’s lengthening shadows, we were only ten minutes away from the festival’s posted closing hour.

Somehow, with six Virginia Craft Brewers and about a dozen local food trucks to choose from, it didn’t seem to matter!

Christie LeneeThe artist who was really shortchanged in the logistical and sound mess was Christie Lenee.

This finger-style guitar tapper was new to me, but she has obviously been making waves in the acoustic music world for a while. Her inventive sound reminded me of Michael Hedges, but she clearly has taken a range of influences and made them her own.

She began with the beautiful Breath of Spring from a new all-instrumental CD entitled Chasing Infinity.  Four tunes later, she had to call it a night to make way for the headliners.  It was much too short, but enough to whet the appetite for more.

Take the time to listen to her studio version of Breath of Spring:

After Lenee’s too-brief set, mandolinist Solivan and his band – fresh from winning the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Instrumental Band of the Year award – tore into those bluegrass standards The Letter and Ain’t No Sunshine. Banjoist Mike Mumford’s Line Drive gave him room to stretch out, and the entire band showed their considerable chops on a tune I requested of Frank before the show – Tony Rice’s Is That So. Chris Luquette on guitar led the way, followed by Solivan on fiddle, Mumford on banjo, and Danny Booth on bass.  Dirty Kitchen didn’t hit too many songs from the new album Cold Spell, but they did showcase She Said She Will. The band played their full hour set and may have kept going, except that the cops were shutting us down.

At the end of the evening, it was a satisfying festival and a very satisfying show by FS&DK.  We’ll go out with the video of She Said She Will (and don’t try and say that three times fast, as WAMU’s Katy Daley finds out at the front of the clip).

Enjoy!

More to come…

DJB

Cheerfulness

Dale Chihuly Art WorkIn the recently published The Keillor Reader, Garrison Keillor begins the book’s final essay with these insights:

Cheerfulness is a choice, like choosing what color socks to wear, the black or the red. Happiness is something that occurs, or it doesn’t, and don’t hold your breath. Joy is a theological idea, pretty rare among us mortals and what many people refer to as “joy” is what I would call “bragging.” Bliss is brief, about five seconds for the male, fifteen for the female. Contentment is something that belongs to older cultures: Americans are a hungry, restless people, ever in search of the rainbow, the true source, the big secret. Euphoria is a drug.

Keillor wrote the essay on cheerfulness after his mother died at age ninety-seven. He noted that she possessed cheerfulness, as did his father, but that it was a new topic for him. Yet as he realized in the writing, he is a cheerful man.  Later in the essay he notes:

Cheerfulness is a great American virtue, found in Emerson, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, even in Mark Twain: Don’t be held hostage by the past, the bonehead mistakes, the staggering losses, the betrayals of trust. Look ahead. Improve the day. Grow flowers. Walk in the woods. Be resilient. Clear away the wreckage and make spaghetti sauce. Power and influence are shadows, illusions. As Solomon said, the race is not to the big shots nor the battle to the tall nor success to a guy with connections.

I got to thinking about this as I realized how I chose to be cheerful – and how I chose to spend my time (and yes, the two may be related) – on the Saturday of the Columbus Day weekend. This is the last three-day weekend before what appears – on my calendar – to be a grueling stretch of meetings and travel. Columbus Day is a three-day weekend without a focus, and I like that. We don’t gather around a big turkey dinner or give gifts on Columbus Day weekend. There is no Columbus Eve special liturgy at St. Albans. The closest thing I have to a commitment this weekend is that we bought  tickets to drink craft beer and listen to Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen play marvelous bluegrass in Arlington on Sunday afternoon. Without realizing it, I had specifically scheduled a cheerful weekend.

When we are home, our Saturday’s always begin with a 9 a.m. run to the farmer’s market, to ensure that we arrive in time to secure our two dozen eggs from Evensong Farm. This could be seen as a chore, but Candice and I have chosen to see it as pleasurable, even on a rainy day. As we buy our four bags of the bounty of the earth, we chat with our favorite farmers, catch up with Sue on Mel’s health, sample some apples and cheese, and take a stroll through the market. That’s followed by a spur-of-the-moment decision to have a chi latte at Kefa Cafe, our favorite independent coffee shop in Silver Spring.

I had some things on my to-do list, but not too much. Idleness was really the point. Writing was on my list, but it was not related to work.  I had reconnected recently with a wonderful couple – retired professors at Andover – who I met on a National Trust tour of the Black Sea about ten years ago.  Ed and Ruth love baseball, and one of their sons works for the Red Sox. Ed has been reading my recent posts about the Nats season, and wrote with some encouragement about the writing and – eventually – with condolences about the Nats. I confided to Ed that I had a fantasy about how this year’s World Series played out, and that email exchange became the rough draft of a Saturday afternoon blog post. I chortled (literally) as I wrote and edited my fantasy, and loved spending time watching an old clip from 1985, as the hated Cardinals lost the argument with Dan Denkinger (again) and also lost the game and the Series (again).

Keillor suggests that cheerfulness is a “habit you assume in the morning and hang on to as best you can for the rest of the day.”  It is, he says later in describing his mother’s cheerfulness, “that spiritual awareness that Buddhism holds up as enlightenment, in which one does not covet more than one’s small lot, one is free of animosity, and one lives in the immediate present, day by day, without dread of what might befall.” That sounds right to me.

So yesterday I finished the Keillor book (uneven but recommended); read a short book on idle pleasures (Philosophizing:  Sometimes you have to talk to find out what you think); sang and played guitar for an hour or so; sat with Candice over a fall dinner and together watched the last five innings of the Orioles/Royals game; read Joe Posnanski’s wonderful blog and learned a new word:  Yostify*; checked out some music of the people on the wonderful Fiddlefreak web site; and had a nice scotch on the rocks before heading to bed.

(*Yostify (yo-stah-fy), verb: give an explanation that is more irrational than the irrational decision.

[In speaking about the 7th inning of Game 4 of the NLDS] Matt Williams yostified that he didn’t use Clippard because it was the seventh inning, which is not Clippard’s inning — this is bizarre yostimony that Ned Yost [manager of the KC Royals] himself has used.

The reason he didn’t use Strasburg, it seems, had something to do with his plan to not use Strasburg except in case of an emergency [and facing elimination in the 7th inning doesn't, I suppose, qualify as an emergency].)

Was any of it earth-shattering? No. Did it lighten my work load next week? Well, no…but that wasn’t the point. The work will be there, and I am prepared to do that work and welcome it, in its own time. I’ll get the job done and will enjoy it, in its own way. But I’ll do so with a bit more cheerfulness of heart because of farmer’s markets, mushrooms, books, baseball writers, good friends, and the most amazing version of John Hardy you’ll ever hear, played by the incomparable Bryan Sutton and Michael Daves (thanks to Fiddlefreak for the tip).

More to come…

DJB

My 2014 World Series Fantasy

BaseballI know I’m now expected to cheer for the almost-hometown Orioles to make the World Series, as the Nationals have succumbed to the Giants.  The O’s have a good team this year, and I’d be happy to see them in the Series.  They deserve all the positive things that may come their way (although that Game 1 loss wasn’t a good start.)

But…I keep having this recurring fantasy about the 2014 World Series. It goes back to my hatred of the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2012 NLDS, when we were one strike from winning and couldn’t put it away.  This year’s loss to the Giants hurt, but not like that, since 2012 was so gut wrenching coming as it did at home in Game 5.

No, for my fantasy I’d like to see a replay of the 1985 World Series. You remember the “Show-Me Series” (or the “I-70 Series” depending on your preference): the only World Series between Missouri’s two baseball teams – the regal Cardinals and the expansion Royals.  In Game 6, with the Cardinals leading the series 3 games to 2, they were three outs away from taking the championship, when umpire Don Denkinger intervened. Here’s the synopsis from Real Clear Sports:

St. Louis was leading Kansas City three games to two in the 1985 World Series. And with a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning of Game 6 the Cardinals were on the verge of claiming the title. Then, Jorge Orta of the Royals led off the inning and hit a high hopper to the right side of the infield. First baseman Jack Clark moved over to field it and threw to pitcher Todd Worrell covering the base. Orta was clearly out but umpire Don Denkinger ruled that Worrell had missed the bag and called Orta safe. St. Louis argued vehemently, and fruitlessly, and the Royals went on to score two runs and win the game.

In Game 7, Denkinger had home plate duties and the Cardinals were off their game, getting crushed by Kansas City as the Royals took home the crown with an 11-0 rout. For a while Denkinger received threats over the call, but managed to maintain a sense of humor about it. He now owns a painting of the play and often autographs photographs of it, usually photos that show Worrell holding the ball with Orta’s foot about to come down on the bag. Of all the calls on this list, this is perhaps the most influential as it potentially changed the outcome of a World Series.

So my fantasy:  it is Game 7 of the World Series in 2014.  The critical game is in Kansas City (thank you Bud Selig for screwing up the World Series home field advantage in order to boost a meaningless All-Star game).  The series is tied 3-3 and it is the bottom of the ninth.  The Cardinals are ahead by one run. The Royals have runners on second and third.  A bloop single to right plates the runner on third, and the speedster on second motors home, resulting in a play at the plate.  Ball and runner arrive at the same time. The ump calls the runner out.

Pandemonium erupts in KC, as the fans boo.  But in 2014 we have VIDEO REVIEW!  So Ned Yost (who has probably made about 10 bad managerial decisions already this series) comes out and asks for a second look.  The video crew in New York takes a looooong time to review the play. And then the call comes back to the umpires on the field.  They take off their headsets…and give the call.

The runner was safe!

The Royals win the series! Joyful pandemonium erupts again in KC. George Brett runs around the field with the team pulling out his hair for joy.

The Cardinals get to swear about how unfair it is to have lost without video review in 1985 and with video review in 2014.

And everyone else smiles.

Wouldn’t that be delicious?

Enjoy the blown call in 1985 in the video below. It shows the entire bottom of the 9th, and it is a delightful way to spend 13 minutes. (If you want the cliff notes version, there’s a one minute video if you click on this Real Clear Sports link.)

More to come…

DJB

Nats Forget Basics and Lose a Season

Baseball/BasketballCrash Davis said it best.

Baseball is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball…

Last evening and early this morning as they faced an elimination game, the Nats forgot how to throw the ball, catch the ball, and hit the ball. And so – no surprise – their season ended.

Throw the ball.  A simple task.  Unless you are Gio Gonzalez and can’t throw a strike with the bases loaded. Unless you are Aaron Barrett, and can’t find your catcher on two consecutive tosses (including an intentional Ball 4). Unless you are Adam LaRoche and you throw home when no one is actually coming home.

Catch the ball.  Another simple task.  Unless you are Gio (there he is again), and you do your best Billy Buckner impersonation and can’t pick up a gift of a double play ball that dribbles through your legs.  Unless you are Gio, Anthony Rendon, and Wilson Ramos who converge on a sacrifice bunt – a gift of an out – and no one catches the ball.

Hit the ball.  A not so simple task, but something that professional baseball players are paid to do. Unless you are…oh, hell, unless you are everybody in the lineup not named Bryce Harper (and Anthony Rendon earlier in the series).

The Nats lost a series they should have won, because they didn’t do the basics while the San Francisco Giants did.  Their by-the-book manager tempted the baseball gods in Game 2 and lost that bet, and then last night he stuck by “what we’ve done all year” and got beat in the 7th with less than our best pitchers on the mound.  Ryan Zimmerman was 1 for 4 as a pinch hitter, but he stayed in the dugout the entire series instead of coming in for the totally ineffective LaRoche at first base. It was pretty clear by Game 2 that LaRoche was not swinging the bat, but Matt stayed with him throughout the series. The Nats got very good pitching from their starters, but a couple of brain-dead plays in Games 1 and 4 negated that effort. (See LaRoche and Gio.) However, Matt Williams’ pitching decisions were questionable from the beginning, as Gio became the 4th starter over Tanner Roark – in spite of a so-so year and Gio’s tendency to (how shall I say this delicately) get “excited and do stupid things” in the playoffs.

Three Nats showed the type of smarts and resiliency in this series that the entire team will need to find to win. Jordan Zimmermann deserved a much better fate in Game 2 than the horrible no-decision he received after 8 2/3s innings of lights-out pitching.  Doug Fister demonstrated a professionalism in his task during Game 3 that other Nats pitchers (I’m looking at you Gio) can only dream about.

And Bryce Harper finally arrived.  Last night he hit McCovey Cove after barely missing in Game 3, but more than that he had professional at-bats and played sparkling defense in left field.  When he hits his 22nd birthday in a few weeks, Harper will be looking at the brightest of futures.  Would anyone have taken Mike Trout’s 2014 postseason over Harper’s?  I don’t think so.

In a couple of days I’ll write a post of appreciation to these guys for the great 2014 season they gave us.  Right now – less than 4 hours after the stinging loss that means the party is over – I have to agree with Tom Boswell that it should be.

The quote from the movie Bull Durham that I mention at the top comes from Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, quoting Crash Davis.  And the full quote goes like this:

A good friend of mine used to say, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Think about that for a while.

Last night and this morning, while it was raining here in Washington, the Nats lost a game and a season.

More to come…

DJB

In Doug We Trust

Nationals LogoSee you tomorrow!

The Nationals finally played a sharp, aggressive game; had a great effort from pitcher Doug Fister; and turned the tables on the Giants when Madison Bumgarner took a sacrifice bunt and made an errant throw into the left field corner. Two runs later the Nats had a lead that quickly grew to three, and all of a sudden it appears we have a series!

Bryce’s bomb in the 9th came tantalizingly close to McCovey Cove (how cool would that have been), but his sliding catch a couple of innings earlier was probably more important, as it helped keep the Giants scoreless at the time.

We’ll have another game tomorrow.  Can’t ask for anything else this time of year.

As Harper said to begin his post-game interview, “In Doug we trust.” Indeed!

More to come…

DJB

Matt, You Have to Trust Your Pitcher’s Heart

NLDS Game 2Last night was tough.  No doubt about it.

A sunny and cool afternoon turned into a cold and cruel evening at Nationals Park, as we were reminded that sometimes the best managers do nothing in critical situations. They trust their players.

Matt Williams is a rookie manager who has had a fine run in his first year, leading the Nats to the best record in the National League. But in what was close to a do-or-die game last evening, he over-managed.  And we were reminded that he is still a rookie.

Jordan Zimmermann was one out away from completing two of the most stunning back-to-back pitching performances in baseball history.  How to follow-up a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season?  Oh, how about taking a 3-hitter within one out of a complete game shutout when your team is down one game in the NLDS.  He had easily handled the heart of the Giants order the last two times he faced them, so who cares if their 3-4-5 hitters are coming up. Zimm had proven he could take them.

But he never got the chance. After one in a series of questionable ball-strike calls this series, he walked a man – his first of the evening.  He was at 100 pitches, which is 4 less than he threw last Sunday. Matt Williams pops up out of the dugout and signals for closer Drew Storen – he of the 2012 NLDS nightmare. He doesn’t even give Zimmermann the chance to talk him out of it, as he did with Doug Fister in the last week of the season.

And, you know the rest.  Storen gives up two hits that tie the game. The first nine was such fun, let’s play another nine – which takes about twice as long! Candice and I finally have to abandon the stadium after 11 because it was so cold and the winds were whipping through us.  (Plus, not being in our regular seats, we were tired of the beer from the “fans” (and I use that term loosely) behind us ending up on our seats, not to mention the rally towels hitting us in the head.)

We “watched” on my iPhone while taking the metro to Silver Spring and made it home for the 14th, where we turned on the radio.  (Don’t get me started about the stupidity of MLB putting postseason games on networks where you have to buy premium cable packages.  That’s no way to build up a fan base.)  And we were in bed “watching” again on the MLB app on the iPhone when Belt hit his home run in the 18th.

All of that never should have happened.  Matt should have pulled a Johnny Keane, who – when asked after the seventh game of the 1964 World Series why he stayed with Bob Gibson in the 9th although he was obviously tiring – said, “I had a commitment to his heart.”

Zimm, we were there with you.  Just wish your manager had been there as well.

More to come…

DJB

Congratulations 2014 International Bluegrass Award Winners

Dear Sister It took 10 months, but the 2014 International Bluegrass Awards caught up with my Best of Bluegrass 2013 post from December. Turns out, my picks were prescient.

The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards were presented on Thursday evening in Raleigh, NC.  Three of my five choices from the end of the year were winners at the IBMA showcase.

Let’s begin with congratulations to Claire Lynch for winning the “Song of the Year” award for Dear Sister.  I recognized this as a special song back in 2012, and have loved this tale taken from letters written before the Civil War Battle of Stones River in my hometown of Murfreesboro. Claire co-wrote this lovely tune with Louisa Branscomb. It is one of her best ever, and highly deserving of the award.

Claire Lynch with DJB

Thursday was a big night for banjo phenom Noam Pikelny. His Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe – one of my picks in December – won Album of the Year at IBMA. This is not just a terrific concept album, it is a terrific album period. Fantastic music from a group of amazing musicians.

Noam Pikelney

Pikelny also took home a second IBMA award – Banjo Player of the Year – which is only fitting for a banjo master who takes a classic fiddler album and makes it his own.

Frank Solivan and Chris Luquette

Another pick from my Best of Bluegrass 2013 post – Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen – took away IBMA Honors as Instrumental Group of the Year. I wrote about their handling of the Tony Rice instrumental Is That So earlier this year, which convinced me they could tackle just about anything. Congratulations to this DC-area band, which is playing in Arlington on October 12th.

John Starling and Tom GrayFinally, I also want to congratulate bass player extraordinaire and my friend Tom Gray, who was inducted – for the second time – into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame this time as a member of the original Seldom Scene.

The three surviving members – Tom, John Starling, and Ben Eldridge – were honored in Raleigh and then joined the current band to play Wait a Minute.  When I spoke with Tom’s daughter Julie this morning at the Silver Spring Farmers Market, it was clear she was so proud of her dad.

She should be…what a wonderful musician and gentleman.

So there you have it.  A wrap-up to a great year of music. There were many other terrific award winners you should check out, but I especially want to congratulate Tom, Claire, and those musicians who have touched me for years.

Let’s go out with the Claire Lynch Band performing the beautiful Dear Sister at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country, here in the nation’s capitol.  Well worth a listen.

More to come…

DJB

 

 

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