Saturday, February 27, 2010

That was no lady, that was my granny

It amuses me greatly that a picture of me in my Granny Goodness costume has been added to the Ladies of the Con's Flickr group.

Banjo versus TV week 102: Daring Foggy Mountain Breakdown

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 2/7/2010 through 2/13/2010.
Banjo 608 hrs, TV ?? hours

I went to Costello's Jam and am now 80% of the way to my free sandwich. See?

During one of my turns at the jam I decided to try Foggy Mountain Breakown, which I limped through.

My banjo instructor, David, was there and he declared it "daring" — which I took to mean "Good for you for trying a song that you clearly weren't ready to play."

So at my lesson later in the week, David had me work on Foggy Mountain Breakown using the version from Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo. I can now play the first part pretty well and am working on the second solo, which has a lot of up-the-neck string bending and some tricky pinky work.

Also in the last week:

  • I'm sure you've been wondering what's with all this TV time. Two answers: Phineas and Ferb. I've been watching episode after episode after episode as the two step-brothers figure out what to do with each day of their summer vacation.

    It's a tremendously fun cartoon that brings to mind childhood days when everything was possible. Reminds me a little of the Henry Reed series. It's just too bad that the show has nothing to do with the banjo. Hey, where's Perry?

    Curse you, Perry the Banjo-Playing Platypus

    Oh, there you are, Perry.
  • I got a new capo. I'd been using the Shubb S5-r capo:

    The "r" is for radiused; my Nechville banjo has a radiused neck. But I've been getting tired of putting the capo on and off the neck so I got a Paige capo which stays on the banjo all the time, resting behind the nut when it's not in use.

    And since my banjo has a tunneled fifth string I got the wider Paige guitar capo instead of a Paige banjo capo. The banjo capo only covers four strings and is designed to slide up only as far as the fifth fret, where it runs into the fifth string capo. But on my banjo the fifth string capo is on the headpiece (at the end of a tunnel) so I can side the wider guitar capo way up the neck.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Banjo versus TV week 101: Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival on the radio

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 1/31/2010 through 2/6/2010.
Banjo 604 hrs, TV 592 hours

The banjo highlight of my week was WLUW's Live 'n' Kickin' Bluegrass show. Why?

Reason #1: David Bragman hosting. Of course, David (my banjo instructor) hosts the show every first Saturday so that's not really why this show was so good. This show was good because of...

Reason #2: Shorty. I had introduced David and Shorty so I took pride in hearing David interview her about Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival, which is coming up in Peoria on March 4-7, 2010. Shorty made a good case for why you should swing over to Peoria that weekend to enjoy the bands and the jamming that she's arranged. (Discounted rooms are still available at the Stoney Creek Inn.)

Reason #3: Playing along. I decided to do a little playing along with the songs and I did pretty well. Yay me!

Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson:

Also in the last week:

  • On the TV front, I watched Meet Dave and really enjoyed it. Shut up.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lincoln Park Zoo

I got your green alligators and long-necked geese...

I had an errand in the neighborhood next to Chicago's free Lincoln Park Zoo. And I had my iPhone with me. So...

Lincoln Park Zoo entrance Tiger at Lincoln Park Zoo Spectacled Caiman at Lincoln Park Zoo #1 Sand Cat at Lincoln Park Zoo #2 Sand Cat at Lincoln Park Zoo #1 2010-02-20 Lincoln Park Zoo 068 Patagonian Cavy at Lincoln Park Zoo Spectacled Caiman at Lincoln Park Zoo #2 Snakes at Lincoln Park Zoo Henkel's Leaf-tailed Gecko at Lincoln Park Zoo Gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo #1 Ape at Lincoln Park Zoo Gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo #2 Small Primate House at Lincoln Park Zoo Mold-A-Rama Machine at Lincoln Park Zoo 009 Mold-A-Rama Gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Redmoon Theater: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

If you see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at Chicago's Redmoon Theater before its run ends on March 7th (and you should!), be warned that it is a tale based on a horror film and that nightmares could follow.

Spirits surround us on every side...they have driven me from hearth and home, from wife and child.

The plot of Redmoon production is different from the plot of the 1920 film. Of course, the 1920 film took a turn away from the original script when the producer decided to blunt its pacifistic message with an odd framing device. I guess he figured that post-World-War Germany didn't need to hear about the dangers of following an evil maniac's commands. But I digress.

The point is, this is a great production. Just be aware that it's a creepy story told with scary puppets.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Welcome to the pull list

I'm starting something new — new to me, anyway. I'm establising a pull list at my local comic shop. (That's Phoenix Comics in Morton Grove, Illinois, by the way. Hi, Craig!)

I've been collecting comics since I was in high school but I've never had a pull list before. I've just poked through the comics on the shelf every week, piled up the good ones in a stack and purchased them. So this pull list thing is a big change.

I'll still have the option of poking through shelves, of course. But now that I'm on a pull list, Craig will have pulled my chosen comics each week and will have them waiting for me.

I'll be tuning the pull list over time, but I'll start with an off-the-top-of-my-head list of the comics that I like most right now. So, ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome to the pull list:

That will do for a start. Later I'll draw on other sources like my stack of recent purchases, various podcasts and such. But the above comics are the ones that spring to mind and which I look forward to the most.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Banjo versus TV week 100: Mammary Glands

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 1/24/2010 through 1/30/2010.
Banjo 603 hrs, TV 589 hours

It was a busy week of non-banjo things. I did manage to attend David Bragman's lecture, "The Banjo, From Africa to the Suburbs" (which I mentioned previously). He gave a nice history of the American banjo experience.

But the lecture was also notable because I met the writer of one of my favorite songs. Here, I snapped a picture.

Mammary glands - wo wo! Mother nature's dairy delight

Here's how it happened.

Various groups of people were chatting after the performance. I joined a conversation already in progress to find that the people were discussing the song Mammary Glands. Since it was one of my favorite songs from the Dr. Demento Show I told the group how much I liked the song and sang the chorus:

Mammary glands - wo wo! Mother nature's dairy delight
You can't make cream or butter cause it's just a human udder
And a natural mammalian sight.

One of the people was particularly pleased to hear how much I liked the song because she was Kristin Lems, the song's writer and performer.

What a treat.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Banjo versus TV week 99: Improvising versus faking

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 1/17/2010 through 1/23/2010.
Banjo 601 hrs, TV 584 hours

I ran across an interesting article, "Improvisation," by Harold Streeter in the June 1979 back issue of The Banjo Newsletter (I'd ordered it up for Jack Hatfield's tablature to Polka on the Banjo.)

Streeter discusses learning a song, improvising and faking.

[T]here is a definite difference between improvising and faking. The word "faking" defines itself well. Meaning simply that the player is not familiar with the song at hand and is therefore not in complete control.

Faking, then, is uncontrolled deviation from the melody, or to put it another way, coming in the front end of a song and hoping you make it out the back end in one piece with a smile on your face.

The capability to improvise upon a song simply means that a player has leared a song well enough in terms of its melody and chord progression that he can either play the melody straight or deviate from it by choice. The point is that the player is in complete control. He can take certain liberties with a song because he chooses to, not because he is unfamiliar with the song, which results in no options at all.

That makes a lot of sense to me. I've encountered a lot of banjo players who eschew tablature and wrote learning of songs in favor of playing along on-the-fly. Which, in Streeter's terms, makes them fakers.

A real improviser, to Streeter, will learn a song well and then riff on it at leisure. I like that idea a lot.

Also in the last week:

  • I had a lot of fun at a jug band jam in Chicago. As I wrote previously, this is regular event held at 9:00pm on the third Monday of each month at the Grafton Pub and sponsored by the Barehand Jugband. You should join!
  • I saw Tim Eriksen perform at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I liked his instrumentals (on a bunch of instruments including the banjo) but what really stood out for me was his use of throat singing. It's a technique that I described in December when I wrote about the Tuvan throat singing group Alash. It's interesting to see the same technique used in both American and Tuvan folk singing.
  • When I started my Banjo versus TV project I put together a presentation that noted the average American watches 3 hours of TV per day. I thought of that when I saw the Slashdot article New Study Shows Youth Plugged In Most of The Day. "Young people now devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to daily media use." Imagine if I spent nearly that amount of time on my banjo.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Tool Academy 3. Happy Valentine's Day!

What a wonderful Valentine's Day present. It's the season three premiere of Tool Academy!

I've tifauxed it and will watch it when I'm properly dressed.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Minnesotans, mark your calendars: 28th Annual Battle of the Jug Bands

I can't make it this year but you should definitely go to the 28th Annual Battle of the Jug Bands in Minneapolis on Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Banjo versus TV week 98: Whoah!

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 1/10/2010 through 1/16/2010.
Banjo 595 hrs, TV 577 hours

Whoah! Look at that scale. I've been putting so little time into the banjo and so much into the boob tube that the TV side is only 18 hours behind the banjo.

It's a busy time for me right now. But I'd better get pickin' or the scale will soon tip into TV side for the first time since I started this project.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

B-Fest 2010 was a great show of bad movies

Caw! Caw!

Big thanks to the organizers of last week's B-Fest, which is held every January at Northwestern University. I had a blast.

My friend Ken Begg has a nice B-Fest Diary 2010 at his site.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mark Your Calendars: Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival

Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival is one of my favorite bluegrass events and it's coming up the first weekend in March.

5th Annual Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival (2010) flyer

This will be my third year attending the festival, which is held annually in East Peoria, Illinois. Shorty, the festival's promoter, puts together a great event with as much emphasis on jamming as on performances. (Take that, Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival, with your broken promises of jamming!)

The best way to enjoy the festival is to book a room at the Stoney Creek Inn (where Shorty has arranged a festival discount) so you can take advantage of the round-the-clock jamming areas. The lodge itself is a comfortable timber-themed kind of place and the staff is very festival-friendly.

This year's performers:

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Santa Tracker: 100 percent

But we need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles in the window, carols at the spinet

We finally matched up some difficult schedules and exchanged the last of our Christmas gifts. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!