Monday, January 31, 2011

Postcards from Vietnam ... Continued

The latest postcard from Vietnam proves the question "which way to the beach?" is not just for California.  Where better to go than Emperor Minh Mang's summer home, located at the south central coast of Vietnam?  The Province of Khanh Hoa is home to lagoons, rivers, and hundreds of islands.
After being in a blizzard in Philly last week, seeing this intriguing and colorful site on the postcard above warmed me.  I had to chuckle, though, in hearing my friend Kevin's account of the day-long, toilet-less bus ride back to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

I had originally scheduled this post to hit the cyberpress on Monday at 6:51 pm and by chance, I reviewed mail at 6:45 pm and I intercepted this second post card from Kevin.  The picturesque Hoang Lien Nature Reserve at Sa Pa in Vietnam consists of metamorphosed sediments and a granitic intrusion. The fascinating landscape below would be an alluring site at which to hold a sunrise or sunset yoga class.
And the whimsical postage stamps are worth taking a peak, too.  Here is a calico cat, double en-stamped.  I wonder what it'd be like to be a postage stamp designer in Vietnam.  Ponderances for another day.  I'm off to Sundance Film Festival.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Smooth Criminal Duet ... This Is Stellar

Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic, natives of Croatia, play Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" in this dueling cellos rendition.  I thought it was so fabulous that I watched it twice.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lyrics, Language, La La La La La La

I'm in love with words. I'll admit it. My former boss told me that once, and it was not meant as a compliment. Oh well, you can't please everyone, and business writing is a whole different ballgame than is blogging, or poetry set to music, which describes most songs.

When words and music mix, the result is ecstasy. Just the same, I censor. I don't want to ruin any perception that you're reading unedited material here.  I'm not the New York Times and it's my blog so I give myself free license to refrain when in my best interests to do so.

I try to pick meaningful, uplifting, or at least representative lyrics when I'm covering a group. Lyrics so complement the musical rhythms, instrumentation, and vocalizations. Many lyrics achieve poetic graciousness outright.

But just for the record, you parents and grandparents out there may want to take a gander at the lyrics of the music your fine young people are listening to. Just to bridge that ever-present generation gap, so to speak.  Here is a site you may want to consult:

You can search by group and song. I'm recommending this site as it does not have the annoying pop up blasting in your face to invite you to add the song you're researching as a cell phone ring tone.

Lyrics have come a long way baby since I was a teen.  Like I have mentioned, we had the Carpenters with their array of sappy but squeaky clean phrases.  And so forgive me, but I have to ask ... what is with the use of the “f” bomb in songs or in between songs? Or an array of other expletives for that matter? People are not paying $75 a ticket to hear musicians stand up in front of the crowd and swear ad infinitum. Well, maybe they are, and, if they are, I just don't get it. There are many people who will provide f-bomb references for free. 

When my family moved to West Covina, California, I became a little more worldly-wise. After all, I was in the fourth grade. I shared some new vocabulary I'd learned on the fence near my school one evening when my dad had the boss over for dinner. Ever since then, I have hated the taste of Dove soap.

I'm not a Puritan, but I'll confess, I save such words for very special occasions like when I get pulled over by a police man … it happened very late one night, and no, I wasn't speeding nor did I run a stop sign nor was alcohol involved. I didn't get a ticket. He only wanted to tell me my headlight was out.

English is not the romance language French is, but with 900,000 words, English is overflowing with descriptive, expressive choices, people.  And that doesn't count the newly created words or those you can make up yourself.  Throw in expletives and too much information every so often for emphasis for emphasis, to add some color perhaps, but when these are the only words in your vocab, you aren't as cool as you might hope.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sundance Music Cafe Left Me Thirsty For Another Drink

For those outside Utah and for those in Utah who are living in a media vacuum ... the Sundance Film Festival started Thursday.  As Utah natives know, Sundance brings film celebrities and wannabes primarily to Park City but also to Salt Lake City (at least to the airport).  For years, my daughter and I had a tradition of going up to Park City's Main Street just to enjoy the scene.  Neither of us are the type to look for the stars ... better to look like one and get invited to a free screening or a party.  And yes, it's happened.  More than once.

So naturally, when my friend asked if I'd like to attend the Sundance ASCAP Music Cafe as her guest, I didn't hesitate to say "yes!"  Off we went up Parley's Canyon toward Park City yesterday around noon.  Parking was ... well, I still don't know why the place is called Park City given the lack of parking at times like this.  But we found a spot convenient to the Main Street shuttle.  Once on Main Street, we scurried right to the Sundance Music Cafe, open only to festival-goers with credentials.  Most days, the facility is known as the Stansfield Art Gallery, located on lower Main.

Walking in the door was a complete energy rush.  Organized by ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), the Sundance Music Cafe promotes emerging and established musicians, such as The Civil Wars.  What a lineup this week is!  If you missed The Civil Wars at the State Room, they'll be playing at Sundance Music Cafe later this week.  A must see, if you have credentials to get in the door.

People with press credentials and huge cameras pushed their way through the throng. Women in high boots and parkas chatted while agent-looking types talked on cell phones. And then there was us.  We chatted up people from New York City and asked about their impressions of Sundance (the film festival).

The assignment to each group playing the Sundance Music Cafe was daunting: set up the stage in 5 or so minutes and play a 30 minute set of your best work.  And oh, by the way, media coverage will be extensive so be ready to have dozens in big cameras right in your face.
Screams erupted when K'NAAN, a Somalian rapper, emerged.  K'NAAN wowed the lift-your-feet-and-you're-probably-still-standing room only crowd with his anthem about his home country intertwined with spoken poetry. That edge-of-your-seat feeling happened for me, despite not having one.  The inspirational messages in his music showed a poignancy rare in rap music.  

Indie rocker  Danko Jones emerged from backstage and peppered his introduction with a litany of "f-bombs."  And then he asked if that vocab was allowed in Utah.  It reminded me of a Nickelback concert a couple years back.  I think it's funny when Utah visitors naively assume Utahns are naive.  Danko's set gave off that loud and boisterous night-club-that-opens-at-11:30 pm rhythm to it, even in the middle of the afternoon.  His music was perfect for dancing, but oddly enough, there wasn't any happening.

Manchester Orchestra has a style like no other Indie rock band I've heard previously.  I liked the creativity and darkness I heard in their songs.  Hailing from Atlanta, the group formed in 2005 shortly after the lead singer, Andy Hull, wrote the group's first album during his senior year of high school. 

British singer/songwriter Julia Fordham and actor/comedian Paul Reiser shared "songs about loves that have died, loves that are dying, loves that you wish would do you a favor and die."  Reiser (a music composition major in college) on the piano and the ever-charming Fordham hushed the crowd with "UnSung Hero." The tribute acknowledges the US troops overseas as well as their families left behind to carry on.

Josh Ritter wove tales of potato bribery from his hometown of Moscow, Idaho. Known widely in music circles for his lyrics, he flowed from folk to country to rock with a simple, storytelling style.  As he led the crowd through his packed set, the guitar built to crescendos then seemed to slow for ponderous tales, without missing a beat.

We emerged from the Sundance Music Cafe to ... alas ... a gentle snowfall.  The wait for the bus in the cold night air was an endurance test for all of us.  The recent "warm" 40 degree weather in Salt Lake City led to our forgetting how cold the mountains can be.  Brrrr.  That said, the Sundance Music Cafe was a completely cool way to spend a Saturday afternoon that left me thirsting to hear more from these musicians ... and lusting for a much better camera.


Friday, January 21, 2011

The Civil Wars ... Serenading the State Room In Stunning Style

The Civil Wars

On their first visit to Utah, John Paul White and Joy Williams -- The Civil Wars -- promised the crowd at The State Room in Salt Lake City on Thursday they'd hear "folk."  Never a million years did I think I'd hear Michael Jackson's trademark "Billie Jean" rendered in folk and that I'd absolutely love it.
Besides "Billie Jean" and "You Are My Sunshine" sung "darkly," the duo sang a host of original material ... "The Tip of My Tongue" and "Dance Me To The End of Love," among others.  Williams' dulcet voice is intoxicating when layered with White's whispery vocals and gentle guitar. Together they led the audience on a aural yin and yang of romantic love in "Poison and Wine," which is available FREE.

Williams is a brunette sprite with a darling tease of a smile.   You'd never hear her California roots when she sings "Barton Hollow."  White, who's actually from Alabama, looks the refined mountain boy-man.  They both wore wedding rings -- or at the least third finger left hand -- yet aren't married to each other.  The stage chemistry between them is completely charming.  Even the chit chat between songs, which typically appeals to me as much as nails on a chalk board, was genuinely likable.

The success that has landed The Civil Wars on the Jay Leno show, the Sundance Film Festival's Music Cafe, and on tour throughout the US despite their short history is easily explained.  The Civil Wars are every music couple's music couple.  Warm, silly, spontaneous, happy, and musically stunning.  Yet their show was minimalist in so many ways: it wasn't long, it wasn't wide ranging in genres, and there wasn't a huge back up band or props.  And besides the acoustical excellence, every minute was exquisitely well orchestrated. 
The audience left energized and wanting more.  It was nearly impossible to navigate in the lobby outside The State Room, as crowds waited for their photo opportunities and demo CD signings with the two.  The Civil Wars has a new album coming out on February 1st and based on the crowd response at The State Room, they'll have a sellout. 

If you missed seeing The Civil Wars at The State Room, you may be able to catch them in Park City at the Sundance Music Cafe during the coming week.  Check their website for details.

Disclosure: Admission $12 + fees of $3.50.  I did NOT receive payment for this review.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Maybe ...


Maybe happiness is a state of mind, not a “door” that opens and closes with the changing events of your life.

Maybe you can’t really “have” anyone or anything besides the inner peace you can find within yourself.

Maybe you should appreciate the lessons you learn every day, not just those learned on the days when your job, your love life, and your finances are going great.

Maybe the happiest people have abundance consciousness, not a continual sense of lacking.

Maybe you should remember the past so that you don’t repeat your mistakes.

Maybe God doesn't make “wrong” people.

Maybe your dreams should be coupled with the solitary will to make them happen.

Maybe you should be slower to stray from the moments that really matter … a walk in the mountains, the smell of a bouquet, or a hug from a child.

Maybe if you miss someone, you should let them know.

Maybe you should ask for forgiveness – and mean it - when you know you have hurt someone.

Maybe once you realize that love is the most powerful force in the world, you can discontinue the hidden rage you carry on the road, to the office, and in the grocery store parking lot.

Maybe you should consider that your actions, whether kind or otherwise, may ripple from those whose lives you touch to the lives of those who they touch, and so on.

Maybe some people don’t seem to need people, but that doesn’t mean you have to act like one of them.

Maybe it doesn’t take blood, sweat, and tears to know that God puts certain people in your life for a reason.

Maybe you should be aware that it’s okay to discard trash, but it’s never okay to discard people.

Maybe when someone does something kind, you should thank them.

Maybe one’s soul mate is found by looking in the mirror first, looking outward second, and looking together in the same direction third, and finally, never looking back.

Maybe you ought to ask people who have been happily together for 50, 60, or 70 years for advice on what really matters in a relationship, instead of consulting, Cosmo, or Oprah.

Maybe you should not be asking for happiness, but trying to spread it everywhere you go.

Maybe you should encourage those you love most to form close bonds with each other, so that after you’re gone, they can look to each other for strength and love.

Maybe you should send love every day to those who touch your life in positive ways.

Maybe you should extend heartfelt forgiveness to those who have touched your life in negative ways, for holding grudges causes wrinkles and heart disease, and it hurts you more than anyone else.

Maybe instead of automatically forwarding emails and posting to Facebook, you should invite your friends to share a coffee with you so they can “get” the message, whatever it is.

Maybe you should take note of these words. Maybe you already have. Only you know for sure.

I wrote "Maybe" about four years ago one random evening.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Swaggering Through the Piper Down On a Saturday Night

Maybe it's in my shanty lace curtain Irish DNA.  I can't get enough. Utah's Irish Rock Band, Swagger, lured me away from other events last night.  Seeing the Temptations in Wendover was tempting til I heard the concert was sold out. A jazz pianist was playing at Sun and Moon Cafe.  Contra dancing at the Ladies Literary Society building in downtown Salt Lake City made the tentative schedule, but I decided to save my feet for Swaggering at Piper Down. Yes, even though I'd just seen the band a mere two weeks ago.
So what is Swagger? Most would say swagger is a way of walking, perhaps when tipsy, or a superciliously arrogant air as one walks in the room.  Utah's Swagger is the collision of boisterous Irish drinking songs and jigs with non-stop rock 'n roll. And ... oh yes, the band's wearing kilts.
Piper Down was where it all started for Swagger in 2007. The Celtic rock genre wasn't an original idea, per se. Bands like Flogging Molly and the Young Dubliners were already touring internationally.  Now leading a busy schedule that includes touring with the Young Dubliners and a multitude of headliner shows in Salt Lake City and Park City, Swagger is rock-i-fying Irish and Scottish traditional music for a growing number of fans in Utah and beyond.

So about last night.  The "traditional" kilt (with plaid probably designed in China) I bought at the now defunct Mervyn's got me free cover.  The friends were already gathered and seated at a long table in the center of Piper Down.  It was so great to see a couple of gal pals that I'd not seen in months! But the minute Swagger opened with their first number, a few fearless souls including me headed for the postage stamp sized dance floor at the foot of the stage.

I kept spying the band's set list, a strategy to conserve energy if an especially lively song was on deck.  Seeing Swagger as the lead band is a whole different experience than seeing them as the "warm up" band.  This was a 34 song lineup ... as opposed to 11 songs played at the recent Park City Harry O's concert with the Young Dubliners.  Keeping in mind, again, Swagger is scarcely four years old.  Yes Flogging Molly has four CD's out, but they started fourteen years ago.  In time, in time.

The Crawford School of Irish Dance ladies were there, in the thick of what was eventually a dancing mob, leading the jigging and reeling.  We tried our best to imitate their finely crafted footwork and infectious enthusiasm for Irish dancing.  And I only ran into the fiddler twice when I was looking down at my feet, which further reinforces how tiny the dance floor was and how close we were to the stage.  Or ... perhaps I should watch where I'm going. Or all of the above.
Photo courtesy of Amy O'Neill Photography

Four hours later ... we were done.  But not before "Morrison's Jig" was heard twice, and songs like Fisherman Blues," "Foggy Dew," and "Cesh Jig" won new fans for Swagger.  Four songs about whiskey ... "Whiskey Before the Break," "Whiskey the Devil," "Whiskey on the Floor," and "Whiskey in the Jar" ... made the lineup. It's a known fact that I don't make the bars here much money as far as my bar tab ... water is free.
So you missed seeing Swagger?  Not to worry.  Upcoming shows a plenty await (click here for their schedule).  One newly minted Swagger fan thought perhaps the band could bump off his favorite local group.  I suppose if he buys a kilt, we'll know for sure. {smile}
Photo courtesy of Amy O'Neill Photography
Disclosure: Admission was FREE with wearing of my kilt. I was NOT compensated for this review.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Patwa Reggae Band: Beam Me To the Beach Scotty

January in Utah is not exactly known to be balmy. And this year is no exception.  The snow, the skiing, the beautiful icicles, and the huge sky that seems to say "aha" after a huge snow storm ... I love it all.  And yet ... winter can make one yearn for, say, a Caribbean cruise. 

Harry O's provided the perfect venue for a mental vacation at Friday night's Patwa gig.  The Park City-based Patwa Reggae Band is named for a Jamaican Creole language known as Patois.  I suppose if Jamaica can have a bobsled team, Park City can have a reggae band.  Despite the ski caps and jackets dotting the undulating crowd, I felt as if I'd been magically transported to a Caribbean island. 
One of us was having a birthday, so celebration was in the air.  A highlight of the evening was a member of the concert posse playing his trumpet during one of the numbers.  And yes, folks, he gave a phenomenal performance.

Reggae emphasis, generally, is on the even-numbered beats, ie 1 2 3 4.  Patwa's reggae repertoire stayed true to traditional reggae, with swing time Jamaican rhythms which produced an almost hypnotic effect on this listener.  Songs were long and accentuated with stage dancers and an exuberant lead singer, Errol Grant, who was jumping, engaging the audience, and traversing the entire stage.  The easy beat made for relaxing, effortless dancing.
By the time an evening of reggae had concluded, I could hear the waves of the ocean nearby and feel the sand in between my toes.  And I was looking for the pool boy.  Imagine my surprise when we walked out to Park City's Main Street to four feet of snow.  {sigh}

The Patwa Reggae Band
Jarryd Wark - Drums
Colin Higgins - Bass
Swainson Holness - Keys
Zach Thomas - Guitar
Errol Grant - Lead Vocals

Photography of beach scenes in Barbados by Angela Fairbanks Photography

Disclosure: Cover was $10. I was NOT compensated for this review.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Utah's Jazzman John Flanders and Double Helix: Egyptian CD Release Party

Double Helix.  Photo: Wikipedia, National Human Genome Research Institute
Woodwind master jazz artist John Flanders and his band, Double Helix, introduced their latest CD "The Go Between" last Sunday.  Before Sunday, "Double Helix" evoked images of science, not jazz.  In previous posts, I have described my sometimes rocky relationship with science.  For the record, the syncopating rhythms and unpredictable improvisation of jazz is less easy for me to understand than other musical genres.  Yet ... on Sunday night at Park City's Egyptian Theater, science met original Utah-born jazz and didn't look back.

Double Helix -- the band -- was formed in 2001.  For those who haven't heard of John Flanders before, he's got quite the performance resume, and has worked with The Temptations, Billy Preston, Wayne Newton, Frankie Avalon, and Ben Folds, to name a few. He's done his share of international tours, television commercials, and jazz festivals including the Park City Jazz Festival.

 On stage, Flanders commanded tenor and alto sax, soprano sax, flute, and keyboards, sometimes one-handedly.  He gave equal strength and passion to his instrumentation during the entire two hour show, and I'm speculating he can easily bench press over 100 pounds with his lips.  One flute number alone was over nine minutes long.  That level of endurance comes with years of experience and untold stamina.

The show's compilation of the band's past CD hits as well as those on the new CD showcased the band's versatility touching on funk, Latin, and even a ballad.  Selections included "La Safe," "Latin Blues," Alkaline" and "The Gardner."   Besides the woodwind-focused delivery, the percussion was a spectrum of sounds and beats.  The music sequence was highlighted by nebulous forms and colored shadows on a screen behind the band.

We found ourselves down in the "green room" with Flanders during the break.  One of the group knows John and was the impetus behind getting us there for the show as well as VIP access to the band.  Small talk and a few photos later, we were back upstairs for the second half of the show.

After the concert, I polled the group to see where Flanders' music "took" them.  The answers ranged from a swanky Latin or South American club to the sea, perhaps on a cruise ship.  One fellow summed up his sentiments with this comment:

"I've never really understood Jazz, so I just closed my eyes and tried to feel the music and see if I could get it to speak to me. I'm afraid I still don't get it, it's random and energetic, hard to follow..... Hey that sounds just like Amy.."
Towards the end of the show, the audience was invited to leave their comfortable chairs and dance at the foot of the stage.  Ah ... at long least.  We don't do well in seats.  The performance built to a finale ... safe to say Flanders was pouring sweat by the finish.   Cheers emanated from the audience at the end of the show, but the band had already made way to the green room so there was no encore.  Still an engaging evening and a chance to hear one of Utah's leading jazz men.

Disclosure: Admission was $12. I was NOT compensated for this review.

Happy Blog-a-versary, FeliciaEvita!

On January 14, 2010, like several million others, I got a hairbrained idea to start blogging.  In the early blogging days I posted on such exotic topics as making laundry soap, bathrooms in New York, keeping wild elephants at bay with powerful hot peppers, and spying cats in my yard, with the occasional post on music.  My theme wasn't consistent though ... I went to New York City and didn't even blog about seeing West Side Story on Broadway.  Imagine.  

The randomized posting methodology continued, more or less, until August when I decided to treat myself to a month of music and then blog about it.  The rest is history, and I'm not looking back.  Yes, I sneak in a few posts on cute puppies, poetry de caffeine, and my friends in far off places, but my passion is concerts, the musicians, the crowds, and the vibe.

In connecting with concert bloggers from other parts of the country, I'm learning: we have a fantastic music scene here in Utah with great concerts, gorgeous outdoor venues, engaging indoor venues, and lots of musical choices.  Many of the concerts are free or tickets are inexpensive by comparison to the larger markets.  It keeps getting better and better.  I hope reading this blog will inspire you to go to a concert now and then.   Look for me with the crowd by the stage.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Heartroot: Coming Full Circle In Spite of the Snow

Heartroot concerts and snow in Utah are highly correlated.  The Heartroot duo, featuring Mindy Dillard and Eric McEuen, was on my follow up list from the first time I saw them back in November.  The first two attempts were thwarted by severe snow and snow packed (not plowed) roads.  The third time was the charm.

Heartroot's concert at the Holladay United Church of Christ began with the exquisite "Teach Me to Love You," sung a capella.  Thereafter, the "typical" configuration was Mindy on banjo, Eric on guitar, but they traded for a few numbers and also reached to their array of instruments on the stage, which was expansive and easily viewed from any seat in the house.

Gnomie is the couple's mascot of sorts and he's been blogging their adventures during their cross country tour, which began in their adoptive hometown of Portland and culminated in Utah with this final concert.  Mindy's appreciation of the childlike was notable throughout the performance.  While in Utah, incidentally, she performed "Snow White and the Submarines," an original operetta created for children of all ages.  Last Saturday evening included learning how to make snail eyes and a few sing alongs.  

The duo's strikingly beautiful harmony, theatrical quality, and dramatic lyrics combined for a final charming tour performance in Mindy's hometown of Salt Lake City.  Playing from their extensive song list, tunes as "It's a Tiny Fish In a Big Ocean," "Break Me Open,"  and the mellow and ponderous "Can I?" made the lineup. 

The second half opened with a gorgeous capella number "Oh Sisters Let's Go Down In the Valley to Pray" and continued with "Love Is a Tanglewood Tree," "There From Here," and "Little Bird," which I have heard and written about previously.  Both Mindy and Eric had written songs about their grandfathers, which they performed.  "Hidden Water" painted a picture of a water dowser while "Grandpa" described a domino-playing grandpa who liked raisin pie. 

The show - which ran well past 90 minutes past the 9 pm published ending time - finished strong with "There From Here," "You've Gotta Move When the Lord Gets Ready," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow, "Angels All Alone," and my favorite, "Guess We Made It Afterall." 

I quickly exited as I was late for a social engagement with friends.  As I walked outside to my car, it was snowing fiercely.  Imagine.