Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Please, no Olympics star for Chicago

I was indifferent to a Chicago Olympics in 2016 until I came across a terrible idea that will be proposed by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) if Chicago is awarded the 2016 Olympic Games. I'd like to put this image out there...

No 5th Star for the Chicago Olympics

...for use by anybody who, like me, does NOT want to see another star added to the Chicago flag if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics.

Chicago's current flag...

The flag that works for the City That Works

...has four stars representing four significant events in Chicago history:

  1. Fort Dearborn, a true Chicago landmark without which our city might never have happened.
  2. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, one of the most significant things ever to happen to our city.
  3. World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, whose White City inspired visitor Katharine Lee Bates to write about "alabaster cities" in her poem "America the Beautiful" and whose legacy include the housing of several of Chicago's great museums.
  4. The Century of Progress Exposition (1933-1934), a year-long celebration of Chicago's centennial.

The big four events were things that benefited, celebrated or – in the case of The Fire – devasted Chicago as a community. An Olympics event doesn't even come close in significance to the least of these. These were big, once-in-a-lifetime things. Compare that to the Olympics which somebody, somewhere, hosts every other year.

So that's how I came to oppose Chicago's Olympic bid. If the bid gets accepted next week, I'll bet there's no way to stop this terrible idea from inflicting itself on my city's flag. You can see in the artwork for the Chicago 2016 organization...

Chicago 2016 Olympics applicant city

...that they've been thinking about this fifth star idea all along. If Chicago gets the Olympics then sure as night follows sunset we'll be stuck with this thing on our flag.

No Chicago Olympics. And definitely, definitely no fifth star for such a paltry event.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I just now got the joke

I was straightening up some videos and I caught a glimpse of the tagline for Mystery Men.

No, the guy at the pro shop did it.

"They're not your average superheroes."

See, I just now got that joke. Because they're below average. So they're not average. Get it?

Yeah, like you've never taken ten years to get a joke.

Decision to make

I've got a decision to make about the weekend after next.

Do I travel to Louisville, Kentucky, for the National Jug Band Jubilee?

Here's what Arlo Leach said about the event in the Jug Band Yahoo! group:

Hi everyone,

It's September and that means the Jug Band Jubilee is just around the corner! I'm really excited about this year's event, so I made a list of reasons you should consider traveling to Louisville on Sept. 19:

1) The Old Southern Jug Blowers. This is the amazingly authentic jug band from Japan that many of you have seen on YouTube or in the Chasin' Gus' Ghost documentary. They're coming all the way to Louisville for their U.S. debut.

2) Earl McDonald's new gravestone. After locating the grave site of the first commercially recorded jug player, and kicking off a fundraising effort for his gravestone at last year's Jubilee, we are now ready to dedicate the gravestone with a ceremony at Louisville Cemetery on Friday, 9/18.

3) New bands. I believe this is the first year the Jubilee has booked a West Coast band, Devine's Jug Band from San Francisco, and an Upper Midwest band, the Deep Fried Pickle Project from Coloma, MI. It's the only jug band event I know of with a national scope.

4) Big jams. Last year's event was followed by a raucous, late-night jam, but it came together at the last moment and some attendees missed out. This year it will be more official, with a large room booked at the event hotel just for us. Learn new songs and make new friends!

5) Reasonable weather. On last year's mid-August date, I drank twelve bottles of water and was still dehydrated. I'm told Louisville is much more pleasant in September.

Here's more info:

I hope to see you there!


Or do I stay here in Chicago and go to three different events?

  1. Friday night's CD release party for The Henhouse Prowlers

    Come join the Henhouse Prowlers as they celebrate the release of their latest album: A Dark Rumor. This special concert will be held at Bill’s Blues in Evanston, Illinois on Friday September 18th at 9:00 PM. A Dark Rumor is a collection of new and road tested material from Chicago’s favorite bluegrass pickers. The twelve song album, which will be available for the first time at the show, features 10 original compositions. Guitarist Ben Benedict contributes three songs and additionally sings crowd favorite “10 Miles More” written by the talented Naomi Ashley. Ad hoc Prowler and longtime band collaborator James Weigel assists in the singing and lends his pen to the lyrics five tunes. Rounding out the album are takes on The Stonemans “Turn me Loose” and the ballad “Angeline Malone” by the California ensemble Strungover. Closing out the album is fiddler Ryan Hinshaw’s instrumental “Hadley’s Lament” In addition to the touring band members other instrumentalists include James Weigel on Dobro and bluegrass legend Don Sternberg on mandolin.
  2. Saturday night's performance by the Hard Times Bluegrass Band at Harper College

    CMC's Made in America Concert Series kicks off with this highly charged acoustic ensemble featuring Keith Baumann. The Hard Times Bluegrass Band delivers the best in bluegrass music, with mandolin, guitar, banjo, dobro, stellar picking and powerful vocals.
  3. Sunday's WFMT Midnight Special Folk Festival

    Special guest and Grammy-winning performer Kathy Mattea is joined by six of today's most polished and compelling folk and roots musicians for a lively, four-hour celebration of songs with substance.

    Artists include the Austin Lounge Lizards, Haines & Leighton, John McCutcheon, Claudia Schmidt, Michael Smith and Randall Williams - all sharing masterful songs that are touching and topical, sublime and satirical.

Banjo versus TV week 79: Better banjo through a little plastic foot?

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 8/30/2009 through 9/5/2009.
Banjo 502 hrs, TV 438 hours

I've been trying to figure out a way to get my right hand third finger to be a solid foundation upon which I can play.

I saw a banjo player at RockyGrass who had a very well-anchored third finger. As he played, that third finger of his stayed planted and didn't budge. I asked him how he got his fingers to do that that.

He was glad I asked, because it was something he was very proud of.

He'd taken a little plastic foot and put it on his banjo head where he wanted his third finger to be planted. Then he played his banjo that way for a few months. At the end of that time, he said, he removed the little foot and played without it.

He said his right hand foundation has been solid ever since.

I've decided to try this myself.

I took a plastic foot (the kind you put under something to prevent it from sliding)...

I took a plastic foot (the kind you put under something to prevent it from sliding)...

...and cut a round hole in it...

...and cut a round hole in it... create a crescent-shaped sticky foot... create a crescent-shaped sticky foot...

...which I applied to my banjo...

...which I applied to my banjo... I'd have a place to park my right hand third finger. I'd have a place to park my right hand third finger.

I'll try it for a few months and see what happens. Stay tuned.

Also in the last week:

  • Went to the first-Tuesday-of-the-month jam at the Red Line Tap in Chicago.

    • Mandolin
    • Tenor banjo
    • Dobro
    • Upright bass
    • Harmonica
    • Four 5-string banjos
    • I'll Fly Away (G)
    • Why Don't You Tell Me So? (G)
    • Blue Ridge Mountain Blues (Bb)
    • Wagon Wheel (A)
    • Sweet Heaven (G)
    • Shortenin' Bread (G)
    • Foggy Mountain Top (G)
    • Cumberland Gap (G)
    • Dark Hollow (G)
    • Rain and Snow (all G and F chords)
    • Montana Cowboy (G)
    • Little Joe (A)
    • Wabash Cannonball (G)

    I discovered that Shortenin' Bread works great as a solo for the bluegrass version of Cumberland Gap.

    We decided we were going to work up Rocky Top for next month.
  • I pre-ordered the rerelease of Flatt & Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Banjo:

    Flatt and Scruggs - Foggy Mountain Banjo
  • I've really enjoyed Fifty Years Of Bluegrass Hits, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. This week I rounded out the collection by buying Vol. 3 and Vol. 4.

    Various Artists - 50 Years of Bluegrass Hits vol. 3 Various Artists - 50 Years of Bluegrass Hits vol. 4
  • Q: Is there anything cuter than a little kid playing J.R.'s sawed-off banjo?

    A: No, there is not.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Banjo versus TV week 78: Working on Preamble again

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 8/23/2009 through 8/29/2009.
Banjo 495 hrs, TV 433 hours

I spent a little time on a project that I intermittently spend a little time on: Tabbing out Preamble from Schoolhouse Rock.

You know the song because you're exactly like me and you grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 1970s.

Early on in my banjo career I performed Preamble in a recital...

J.R.'s banjo debut

...complete with a sing-along slide show...


...and it was a hit. But all I did was strum, strum, strum because I didn't know how to do bluegrass rolls at the time. As my skills progress I occasionally revisit this project and write up a little more of the tablature.

Here's what I added this last week. It's the first few bars of the song, after the "Hey do you know about the USA?" introduction:

Also in the last week:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Banjo versus TV week 77: Plucky Rosenthal

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 8/16/2009 through 8/22/2009.
Banjo 489 hrs, TV 431 hours

My find of the week is Plucky Rosenthal. She was on the stage at the Red Line Tap (prior to a performance of The Mudflapps) and she was wonderful.

Picture Fanny Brice, as portrayed by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, playing the banjo...

2009-08-22 Plucky Rosenthal with banjo

... and ("Costume change!") the ukulele...

2009-08-22 Plucky Rosenthal with ukulele

...and you get the idea.

She played some of her own songs (My Headless Man, My Heart Belongs to Harry [Truman]) and some standards (Surfer Girl, Lydia the Tattooed Lady, Yes Sir, That's My Baby and a version of Sitting on Top of the World that morphed strangely and beautifully into The Cranberries' Linger).

Her version of Ukulele Lady is the only one I've ever heard that sounds flirtacious instead of imperial/colonial.

You should see if you can make one of her appearances. She's also available for parties.

Also in the last week:

  • My other find of the week – also at that Mudflapps performance – is the SwirlyGig. It's the drink holder that fits on your microphone stand.

  • Didn't make it to Costello's Jam again due to travel. Will I ever get my free sandwich?
  • The upcoming movie Zombieland has:
    • Zombies
    • Banjos
    • Woody Harrelson
    What's not to love?

    Don't believe me? See the trailer.

  • -->

Muzik Masti at Agile2009

The Agile2009 conference (at which I co-presented an Abbott/AgileTek experience report, Moving to Agile in an FDA Regulated Environment) has an annual tradition called Muzik Masti, which gives the musically-inclined conference-goers a chance to jam.

2009-08-25 Muzik Masti at Agile2009 022 2009-08-25 Muzik Masti at Agile2009 004 2009-08-25 Muzik Masti at Agile2009 019 2009-08-25 Muzik Masti at Agile2009 012 2009-08-25 Muzik Masti at Agile2009 013

It was a little awkward at first, since the various musicians there came from different backgrounds and we had trouble finding a song that we all knew. So we mostly did instrumental improv.

Then someone had the genius idea to use the various agile conference literature as lyrical poetry. That was fun. And funny, in a way that's hard to describe but that I hope comes across well in this low quality video:

They called this year's event Muzik Masti Unplugged, since they didn't have permission to have electified instruments. So I brought some of my jug band instruments (gutbucket, washboard, banjo) to show people how they did it loud in the pre-electical days.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Banjo versus TV week 76: Earl again. Also, peaches with maple syrup.

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 8/9/2009 through 8/15/2009.
Banjo 483 hrs, TV 422 hours

You'll recall how my friend Warren and I had the best weekend ever seeing the Scruggs band perform in Warren's home state of Colorado a few weeks back. Well, we realized at the time that Earl and friends would be performing in Michigan which, although it's not Chicago, is nonetheless my part of the country. So we made arrangements to meet up and see the band again at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

The evening kicked off with opening act Green Sky Bluegrass, a jamming kind of bluegrass group from Michigan.

Green Sky Bluegrass opens for Earl Scruggs in Grand Rapids, MI

But the real draw, of course, was Earl Scruggs.

The redhead had told me that my pictures of Earl from Colorado didn't capture his happiness, so I tried to pay a little more attention to the timing of the shots. I hope you can see that Earl is happy to be on the stage, 'cause that's how it came across.

Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #6

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park #1 Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park #2 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #14 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #1 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #2 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #3 Randy Scruggs in Grand Rapids, MI Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #4 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #5 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #6 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #7 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #8 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #9 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #10 Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends in Grand Rapids, MI #11

Speaking of happy, it was fiddler Hoot Hester's birthday so the band gave him a cake and we all wished him a happy birthday.

Hoot Hester's birthday, on stage with Earl Scruggs in Grand Rapids, MI

After the performance I got a chance to go backstage with Warren and say hello to the band. They remembered me, which was nice. 'Tis sweet to be remembered, you know.

Also in the last week:

  • David and I met up with Warren and some of Warren's old friends in Grand Rapids. And we jammed. What a lot of fun.

    I'm so glad I was travelling with my washtub bass.
  • I am quite embarrassed to discover that my banjo instructor, whom I've been calling Dave for more than a year now, prefers to be called David. Now I'm going to have to go back and edit...let's see now...30 posts that call him "Dave". Fortunately I keep all of these posts under source control so that's not so hard. But still.
  • My new-to-me Nechville banjo arrived in the mail! I just love it. It looks great and sounds even better.

    Here's its former owner, Kyle James Hauser, playing it at RockyGrass.

    Kyle, by the way, plays in the 4-fingered style of Crooked Still's Greg Liszt, which you can see on the video I took of Greg at Four Corner's Folk Festival last year.

    While we're watching videos of more-talented-that-I musicians playing my banjo, here's Jim Marsh.

  • I followed through on a year-old promise and lead a jam for some friends that I see once a year. More on this in future posts when I catch up on my way-overdue summaries of my banjo lessons.
  • A simple family recipe from Heidi, the wife of Warren's friend George: sliced peaches with maple syrup on top. Yum!