Friday, December 21, 2007

Acoustic Guitar

I've got three articles in the latest issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine: a feature on Steve Earle, a lesson with Nina Gerber, and a review of a cool little Collings 0-1A.

And speaking of Acoustic Guitar, I'll be back in the office on a part-time basis starting in January. And I'm hoping my new title of Senior Editor isn't just a reflection of my age.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Clive and Christine

I've been trying to post a couple of YouTube videos but it doesn't seem to be working, so I'll have to resort to the old style--posting links.

The CD player in my home stereo has developed an annoying and apparently incurable case of the hiccups, so I've been spinning a lot of LPS, you know, vinyl? One gem I dug out was this:

I remember the night I got it. It was at a Michelle Shocked concert, actually--her first tour. I didn't much like Michelle's show--I'd been dragged to it by a friend--but she was on the same record company as Clive and Christine (Cooking Vinyl), and this LP was for sale at their record table. I had seen them in Richard Thompson's band a couple months earlier, so I bought it and stayed up half the night listening to it, over and over.

Listening to it again inspired a YouTube search that turned up this amazing performance, reminding me what an incredible musical partnership this was.

Clive and Christine Live

And definitely check out this relic of the '80s--Clive with Christine singing harmony (nice go-go boots) and Richard Thompson on lead guitar.

Clive with RT and CC

Dwelling in the past is never recommended for too long. Here's Amazing Christine singing "Amazing Grace" last year.

Amazing Grace

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


The amazing Azam Ali singing. But what the heck kinda cello/oud thingy is Loga Ramin Torkian playing?

2-Mile Challenge

Clif Bar's 2-Mile Challenge site is pretty cool, if only to remind you how close you are to things you might still think about driving to. Of course, in San Francisco, there might be a couple hundred feet of climbing or urban traffic nightmare involved in any 2-mile ride, but . . .

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Take some time, and learn how to play"

There's a great review of the video games Rock Star and Guitar Hero in today's Chronicle. Sample:

"If this were strictly a review, Rock Band from Electronic Arts - and its first cousin Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock from Activision - would probably both have the Little Man jumping out of his chair. In terms of entertainment value, it doesn't get much better than these two titles.
But something still seems fundamentally wrong when you pick up the video games, which both require that you press an ever-changing sequence of colored buttons to simulate playing the guitar and bass. (Rock Band also has a microphone for karaoke and a small drum kit.) What kid will ever want to pick up a real guitar, when learning to play a fake one is so easy? If Rock Band had been available in the late 1980s, would we even have a Green Day - or just three more no-name slackers killing a lot of time in their parents' basement?"

Sample #2:

"I don't think the makers of Rock Band have to be banned, boycotted or even need to apologize. But both games should definitely be accompanied by the following disclaimer:
1. No matter how good you get at Rock Band, you will never play the Coachella festival.
2. Nobody ever won his soul back from the real devil playing the ax that came with Guitar Hero III.
3. Playing a Guitar Hero or Rock Band guitar is a fairly effective form of birth control. Seriously, look at yourself in the mirror. No one who sees you playing this thing will want to have sex with you.
4. The plastic Guitar Hero guitar is pretty much useless around the campfire. (Even as kindling.)
5. If you get "Mississippi Queen" stuck in your head for more than two hours, consult a physician immediately.

Devon Sproule

The January issue of Acoustic Guitar is out, with my feature on Clarence White and profile of Devon Sproule. Unfortunately there's a typo in the article on Devon. The flat symbol (b) got deleted from the Eb in the following sentence, making it appear as if I think that Bb is a good chord for modulating to the key of E and forever tarnishing my reputation as a theory nerd.

"After four repetitions of that progression, the Bb/D lets Sproule modulate neatly into Eb for the soaring (I–vi–IV–V) chorus."

Ah well, I'll live. And as with all these short profiles, there are usually nice moments from the interview that don't make it into print, because of word limitations. So here's an excerpt from my interview with Devon:

Do you usually write with the guitar in hand?
I’ve started writing more around refrains—coming up with a one- or two-sentence refrain for a song. Those things usually take the longest, of the process. After that, the mystery or intimidating part is gone, and I can fill in the puzzle around it.

Is there an example of that on the new record?
Yeah, there’s a few—“Let’s Go Out,” “Stop By Any Time,” even “Old Virginia Block” is that way. I knew what I was aiming for at the end of each verse. Some of those are a little more stream-of-consciousness writing, and then it's a matter of going through the thesaurus and the rhyme dictionary and tightening up the stream-of-consciousness thing. There are a few other ones—“Does the Day Feel Long” is kind of experimenting with having a refrain that comes in not at the end of each verse or at the beginning of each chorus but that just pokes its head up once in awhile. Yeah, mostly the sort of jazz or swing-structured songs—the “Great American Songbook” songs. That’s what I wrote in my press release at least.

Well, you’re American, or Canadian—North American.
I pretty much identify myself as a Virginian, until I’m applying for a Canadian Arts Council grant, and then I’m all Canada—another Joni Mitchell.

The new album almost paints a portrait of a social scene—a neighborhood or group of friends. How much of this is observation and how much is invented?
It’s mostly personal. I got married a couple years ago, and I was writing most of these songs during and about that time. I was kind of digging having my own space. When one gets married, because you’ve chosen this person to spend all your time with, your social life really gets down to the important stuff. So I just have a few friends, but they’re really awesome. They’re all older than me, and smarter than me, and have these amazing vocabularies. They’re either great songwriters or doctoral candidates in the English department at U VA or whatever. That’s so fun having that kind of family.

And my husband and I we like to drink [laughs]. My girlfriend Danielle got the roughs for the record and she said, “I love it so much, but I’m worried because you mention drinking in almost every song.” And I realize that it is kind of a big part of my life, but there’s this beautiful language that works with it—that comes with it. I feel like there’s always a way to say something nice about drinking or the social stuff around it, or the problems with it, which I’ve started to encounter [laughs].

Do you keep a journal or ever put yourself in a place and try to imagine yourself there?
It’s a little bit of both. When I’m having long drives, I’ll turn off the book on tape and try to comb through my recent experiences and see if there are any interesting snapshots. I’ll try to think of the most interesting way to word them and then write those down. Actually my friend just gave me a little hand recorder thing. I haven’t used it yet, but I’m excited about becoming a safer driver with that.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Uncle Earl - Streak O' Lean, Streak O'Fat

The brilliant g'earls of Uncle Earl.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Sunday we went on a tour of long 12-percent grades in Eastern Sonoma County. This wasn't our intention when we started, but we were tagging along with a Team Swift teammate and his dad, who live in Petaluma, and I neglected to look closely at the map before we took off. We went over Sonoma Mountain twice (once each way) and then started up Trinity Grade, before we came to our senses. About a mile and a half up Trinity, Joey--who was leading the group--rounded a turn and saw that it was going to continue at 12 percent or so for awhile (see the photo above--last year's Tour of California on the same climb), said to himself "this is stupid," and turned around.

This would have been a great hard training ride in the middle of the season, but when we've barely got any miles in our legs and are just riding once a week or so? Nada. When I went back and looked at my Sonoma County bike map, I counted seven 3-arrow climbs on our 40-mile loop. Climbing is one thing, blowing out your knees when you're just supposed to be riding base miles is another. Fortunately we didn't hurt ourselves, but the moral of the story is: Always check your map.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The American Idea

In its latest edition, its 150th anniversary issue, the Atlantic magazine asked a number of writers, politicians, artists, scientists, and other thinkers to reflect on the future of “the American idea” in “around 300 words.” Somehow I was overlooked, so I will take a stab at it here.

Three little words that seem so pure and virtuous, yet themselves define the contradictions inherent in the phrase. First “the,” the definitive article that implies a single American idea, encompassing the populist American exclusion, arrogance, and belligerence of “my country, right or wrong,” “love it or leave it,” and “if you ain’t fer us, yer ag’in’ us.”

Second, “American,” which connotes both an inclusiveness and a wrongheaded arrogance. There are, after all, as any good PC-er will tell you, many countries in North and South America, yet America is usually defined as a single country: the United States of America, the name of which represents a very American concept--unity amid diversity, a melting pot of cultures.

And then that third word, “idea,” bringing to mind the great “American” virtues of independent thinking (a concept nurtured, if not born, in Greece), entrepreneurship (derived from a French word), and avant-garde (another French word) creativity.

America is above all a land of contradictions, of convenient ignorance, where the anti-immigrant throng fears what its ancestors (immigrants, of course) once wreaked upon the original “Americans”--the destruction of a way of life. To some, the American idea is that all persons, whatever their race, creed, religion, or ancestry, should be able to contribute equally to society, to live their lives the way they want, and to be compensated fairly for their labors, but of course this does not happen in America. It may be true that “anyone” can do this--grow up to be President, rich and happy, an American Idol, etc., but the American idea has never been that “everyone” can. This is why socialism is un-American, and capitalism, unrestrained by anything other than cronyism and the legal bribery perpetrated by lobbyism, is American.

But, of course, I am also a contradiction. Here I am complaining that the American idea is more individualistic than collectivist, yet I’m a musician who plays “unpopular” music, ignoring the tastes of the majority; a devoted father who insists on a capricious career that involves large chunks of time away from my family instead of conforming to the societal norm of a salaried, corporate, home-every-night job; and an anti-church socialist who decries the self-centered, materialist ways of the decidedly church-going, capitalist society I live in. In short, an individual, an entrepreneur (though hardly a successful one), a true American. At least, I like to think so. You got a problem with that?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Team Swift Ride

The Team Swift Cycle with Champions ride Sunday was great. My brother Steve joined Joey and me this year, making it a nice Nygaard family event, and though the list of celebrities wasn't quite as dazzling as in previous years (which have included Freddie Rodriguez, Chris Horner, Roberto Gaggioli, and others) the weather was gorgeous and the riding fast and fun. Joey finished the 50-miler with the front group of pros (including some members of the BMC team) and older Swifties, and I didn't get dropped as badly as in past years. I've been taking my own advice to Joey lately ("just don't get dropped") and made it to the turnaround at 27 miles in the lead group. Then the attacks started and I got dropped but rolled into the rest stop (at 37 miles) with Joey's coach, Laura Charameda. Joey hasn't been riding that much recently. After taking most of the summer off, we rode a couple hard 35-milers in the last couple weeks to get ready. But he was flying on Sunday, taking his turn in the paceline (that's him riding third wheel above) to bring back one attack early on. The lead group really takes off on a short climb about 5-7 miles from the end, and he hung in there, going 35 mph on the flat at one point. Not bad for an 85-pound 13-year-old.
Photo (c) Veronika Lenzi,

Nathan again

After rereading my interview excerpt with Nathan below, I realized that if you haven't heard the band, the references to the Eurythmics, Journey, Boney M, etc. might be misleading. So, to correct that and let you know just how amazing these folks are, here's an MP3 of "Discarded Debris" that is different from the version on Jimson Weed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yes on A, No on H

For San Francisco bike folks (and for everyone else too, really), it'll be a very clear choice this election day, at least for two local props. Let's see, do we want more money for Muni (as if you had to ask)? OK then that's a "yes" on Proposition A. And do we want room in the City for up to 20,000 more motor vehicles? Huh? I don't think so. As if there aren't enough WMDs (Weapons piloted by Moronic Drivers) in the city already. Amazingly Proposition H would also classify Hummers as "low-emission vehicles." Hey, they're only low-emission if you don't drive them!

For more info, check out the SF Bike Coalition's page about the props, or Transit not Traffic.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Russ Barenberg, Nathan, etc.

I have three stories in the new (December) issue of Acoustic Guitar: a feature lesson with Russ Barenberg, a profile of the band Nathan, and a review of a Baden dreadnought. The interview with Keri and Shelley from Nathan was great, but I had to boil it all down to a short profile for the magazine. So here's a bit of the interview, conducted over cappuccinos and pastries at a cafe in Berkeley:

What were your first musical experiences?
Shelley Marshall: I played accordion as a kid. My parents are Slavic, Russian and Polish, so they put me into accordion lessons, thinking it was the hippest thing you could do for your kid and affordable at the same time. I thought it was pretty normal until about grade 4. My dad played banjo, so we always had a banjo lying around. I picked it up about 3 years ago. And a guitar was always lying around. I had older brothers and sisters so by the time I was able to play stuff by ear I was playing Boney M and Meat Loaf and the Clash and Jimi Hendrix. Kind of classic rock through the ‘80s; that’s when I turned the radio off.

Keri Latimer: Sounds like me. We didn’t really have any musical things in our family. I really wanted to play piano when I was little, but we didn’t have a piano, so I had this piece of cardboard with piano keys, like a cardboard piano that didn’t make any noise. I took group lessons before elementary school, but it sucked really bad. My mom said it makes her feel really sad to remember me playing on this piece of cardboard. As I got older I really wanted to play guitar, starting with ‘80s music, Eurythmics. And I played Journey on the piano, to make myself cry. All that adolescent angst, you know.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?
Keri: I wrote my first song when we moved from Calgary to Lethbridge, in the backseat of the car. It was like “I’ve lost it, I’m never gonna find it, but if I do I’ll guard it well and always walk behind it, where I can see it, and I won’t lose it again.” It was called “Happiness.” [laughs] I was so sad to move.

Shelley: That’s good, I like that. We should rework that one.

Keri: How about your first song?

Shelley: Grade 7, I had my first all-girl band, with stolen band instruments, we called it Petty Larceny. We had “Mating Call of the Mongoose” and “ET Go Home,” silly adolescent songs. I played solos, like every key on the piano down chromatically. I mostly wrote instrumental stuff until I started playing with Keri. I’m not a singer. I never thought of myself as one.

Keri: But you are a singer.

Shelley: On an album it’s nice to have a different, not-so-nice voice so that when Keri’s songs come on it’s like, “Ah.”

Keri: This is our eternal fight.

Shelley: The diversity is nice. I’m not a singer, but I like to write songs.

Was there a particular song or singer that made you think “I want to do that”?
Keri: According to my parents and grandparents I sang since I could walk—you know, right away. I used to love to hog the spotlight. I knew every song when I was 2—Christmas carols and . . . any opportunity there was to get up on any platform and sing some songs, that’s what I did. I got shyer as I got older, I think. Now I’m up there wondering “What am I doing up here?” But when I heard the Eurythmics—it could have been the musical style, but it definitely was her voice too. I remember going “Whoah, I love this woman.”

Was that when you thought “I want to do this, I want to be a musician.”?
Keri: I always knew. When I played Barbies I was the musician. I always wanted to do it.

Shelley: There are so many bands and performers I’ve heard and said “Oh I want to be that person so much.” Like Boney M, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young (when I was younger), a lot of people that don’t sing really well. I’d say “How do they get away with that?” I always loved the idea of being in a band. But I never thought I’d do it seriously.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Josefin's Waltz Live at StringNation 2007

This was quite an amazing moment, but it's pretty funny to see all the impatient folks behind Roger and me as we play the intro.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another Online Lesson

Check out Acoustic Guitar's new website, which features my latest lesson: All About Jazz Chords.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Camps 2008

I'll be teaching at two new camps next year (well, new for me): Sore Fingers Week, in Oxfordshire, England, March 24-48 and Guitar Week at the Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, NC, July 27-Aug. 2. Besides being two highly regarded music camps, which I've heard about for many years, they are in two of my favorite places in the world--England and the mountains of North Carolina. Should be fun.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Roger and Me

I got together a couple weeks ago with Swedish guitarist Roger Tallroth to start work on our duo album. It was a great couple days of rehearsing and getting to know each other's playing better and it ended with a few recorded sketches, which will be fleshed out, added to, and finalized some time in 2008. It'll mostly be original tunes--mine and Roger's, and should be quite interesting. I'm very excited about it. We sort of fell into a natural role of Roger as accompanist and me as melody player. But that designation doesn't begin to describe what's going on. Roger completely reinvents the idea of accompanist. Everything is fair game for variation when he plays, and he slides in and out of harmonies, counterpoint, and polyrhythms with incredible ease. I often found myself holding on for dear life, just trying to play the melody to a couple of his polskas. We had about a half hour of daylight left for a few pictures on the top of Bernal Heights. Anne Hamersky is the photographer, of course.

Photos: (c) 2007, Anne Hamersky,

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Steve Earle

I interviewed Steve Earle a couple weeks ago, mostly about his new album, Washington Square Serenade, which was released Tuesday. I'm finishing up the article for Acoustic Guitar, but here's a quote that probably won't make the article:

In “Tennessee Blues” you say “this ain’t never been my home.” Do you feel that way about Nashville?
Yeah, I mean, I hope nobody takes offense to it, but I don’t think there’s any secret that we butted heads for 32 years. I’m here right now, I still have a house here, but I’m a lot more comfortable in New York. It was a lot of things. I was able to live here for 30 years mainly ‘cause I was gone a lot. I was never particularly comfortable here, the town was never particularly comfortable with me. I was OK with that, I was OK with being uncomfortable. And I was intentionally antagonistic at times.

It was a couple of things. The last couple of elections made me want to not, at least on my days off, feel like I was behind enemy lines. I’ve said it before, to look out my front door and see a mixed-race, same-sex couple holding hands made me feel safe, after what’s happened. And the other thing is, I’m getting older and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I finally managed to quit smoking a couple of years ago, and where you’re seriously overmarried like I am, you start taking better care of yourself. I don’t know, I may be around for awhile now. I certainly missed the “live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse” thing. I missed the boat on that, so now I gotta figure out another plan. If I had something debilitating happen to me, like a stroke or a heart attack, is this where I want to get my wings clipped? I’d rather be one of those old Commies in the Village that runs over my foot with their motorized wheelchair every once in awhile than be stuck here, if I get to where I can’t travel.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Beppe Gambetta

I got to hang out for a bit with Beppe Gambetta last week, interviewing him for an upcoming Acoustic Guitar Feature Lesson. He talked a lot about (and demonstrated) these wild down-down-up picking things he's been doing--how he's discovered connections to Sardinian folk music, Irish triplet ornaments, Nick Lucas's playing, and all sorts of other things. Cool and crazy stuff, which will be laid out in notation in the lesson (you can hear a lot of it on his new CD, Slade Stomp).

That's Beppe's lovely wife Federica in the middle photo. BTW, I'm thinking of starting a League of Tall Guitar Players. Beppe, me, Roger Tallroth, John Doyle, Dan Crary, Tony Marcus . . . let's see, who else? Bill Frisell? They'd have to be at least 6 feet tall physically, and of course, tall, musically as well, I suppose. Silly idea, I know.

Photos: (c) 2007, Anne Hamersky,

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lang and Venuti with Paul Whiteman

Unbelievable performance by Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti about 30 seconds in.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I love this. I think it'll be part of Bicycle Film Festival in SF this weekend.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

Martha Scanlan

It seems like years since I've blogged. Way too busy with other things--vacationing in Hawaii, getting ready for some Websters gigs and a demo recording session with Roger Tallroth, some bike riding, and writing numerous articles. Acoustic Guitar finally published my profile of Martha Scanlan, and there should be profiles of Nathan and Devon Sproule (as well as features on Russ Barenberg and Clarence White) in upcoming issues. And Strings magazine published my profile of Oisin McAuley.

I'm also waiting to see if I get an interview with Steve Earle, for another feature. That'll be fun. He's never at a loss for words.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Online Lesson

My Theme and Variations lesson is posted at Acoustic Guitar's website, completely with recording. The first time I've ever recorded any Mozart--though it is only two measures.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Last night I saw the new indie movie Once, which I would highly recommend to anyone, really, but mostly to anyone who has ever been frustrated with the way music and musicians are treated on the big and small screens. This is the most realistic treatment of musicians and the way they work that I've ever seen. There's no overblown Rocky approach, songs are allowed to be performed, usually on the street, in rehearsal, or as they are being written, in their entirety. This is almost unheard of on film or documentaries (other than concert films), since filmmakers seem to think that allowing an entire piece of music to be heard would put a film audience to sleep.

The movie stars Glen Hansard, lead singer of the Irish band, the Frames, and Marketa Irglova, both musicians, and until this movie, nonactors. Hansard was originally signed up as songwriter and consultant but when the intended star (Cillian Murphy) became unavailable, he was recruited. His performances with Irglova are stunning and while it ostensibly centers on their budding romance and musical collaboration, by the end you realize that the film portrays the sort of fleeting, temporary (thus the title, Once) musical interactions that happen all the time in the music world, and that are what keep musicians doing what they do. It doesn't hurt that Hansard's songs are catchy and literate (and that his performances are powerful and heartfelt) and that Irglova is one of the most charming screen presences I've seen in awhile. Definitely a movie not to be missed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

New Team Swift Blog

I created a blog for Joey's bike racing team, Team Swift, so some of the bike stuff here will probably migrate over there, plus more results, race reports, etc. from the whole team.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ashlyn Gerber, National Champ

Joey's Team Swift teammate Ashlyn Gerber won the 13-14 National Criterium Championship yesterday!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sheet Music

I was looking for the lyrics to the old song "Avalon" for a lesson I'm writing for Acoustic Guitar, and I stumbled upon this old sheet music. But the best one I found was this one for "Chinatown." As they say, they don't make 'em like they used to.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Haruki Murakami on Music

From an essay in the NYTimes book review:

Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.

Friday, July 6, 2007

One Hour in Hungary by Vasen

A great tune by a great band. I like to think of the title as "One Hour in Hungry." I'm posting this here partly so I can learn it

Thursday, July 5, 2007


OK, I promised myself I wouldn't get too political in this blog, but this is kind of interesting--and peripherally related to music.

One of the topics of the TGIFriday's crew at Kaufman Kamp was how few people in the US actually vote. Beppe and Tony were both amazed at the low percentage of voter turnout. This week I'm working on a story on the band Nathan, and songwriter Keri Latimer had this to say about her politics (or lack thereof):

"I’m not very political at all. Or I can’t seem to follow politics, because they frustrate me and then my frustration leads me to just turn everything off and then I become stupid about it all. So I can’t talk politics with anybody. "Scarecrow" [which features the refrain 'I feel a podium under my feet] is my song about politicians, how I see them in general. Most politicians just like to be up on the platform, waving their arms around. It’s so strange, it’s accepted now that the parties will pander to what they think the majority of the people want instead of taking a stand on something and sticking to it. It’s all a matter of polls, and 'If everyone wants this, we’ll say we’re going to do that.' And everyone knows that they’re not really going to. So how can you even vote nowadays when you know that nobody really means what they say? It’s really strange that we all just go along with it. [In 'Scarecrow'] I was thinking of them like scarecrows and how they want you to believe that they’re guarding the fields, but they secretly want to be crows."

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

DAROS on YouTube

Here's a rockin' tune from the StringNation festival with Brittany Haas tearing up "Duck River." How does she do that?

Kaufman Kamp

Well, I’ve been off the blog for awhile. Too many other things to do, I guess. But I thought I should post something about my week at Kaufman Kamp. Steve Kaufman had been asking me for a few years, and I’d declined, mostly because when I was working it would have meant taking a week of vacation time to do it. Had I known how much fun it was, I would have made more of an effort to get there. Steve is not only a great guitarist and businessman, but puts on an incredible event.

The teaching format was a little different than other camps I’ve been to, where I either had the same guitarists for a week, or had two to five classes that meet daily. At Kaufman Kamp, the guitarists are split into groups by level and rotate through all the guitar instructors (of which there were nine the week I was there). This means you see every group once, for two hours. It took me awhile to figure out how to teach that way, but it worked well. You end up teaching real concepts and spending very little time saying “put your second finger on the third fret . . . no the third fret . . . no your second finger.

It was also a good hang and I met and re-met lots of great folks. I shared a cab to Kamp with the legendary banjoist Pat Cloud, who currently has the great misfortune to be living in my hometown of Long Beach, CA. He’s an amazing banjo player—none like him really: bebop and jazz lines on melodic banjo—crazy. And he’s a fun guy to hang with—favorite line: “Where does the time come from?” I spent a couple post-concert evenings at the local TGIFridays imbibing Sam Adams with Beppe Gambetta, his wife Frederica, Casey Henry, and Tony McManus, who kept us in stitches until they kicked us out: One of his gems: “I come from Paisley, Scotland, which is known for being the stingiest place in Scotland. At Christmas every year, a man there takes his children to visit Santa’s grave.” I also enjoyed hanging with Rolly Brown, Adam Granger, Mike Kaufman, Steve Kilby, Jim Baggett, and Marcy Marxer.

There was also an incredible group of mandolin instructors: Alan Bibey, John Moore, Don Stiernberg, Roland White, Radim Zenkl, and the unsung Emory Lester, who, if he was in the right band would be winning IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year for the next decade. I was thrilled that he asked me to play a tune with him on his concert set.

As for the Kampers, this was one of the largest and most cohesive groups of students I’d ever seen. Great players—ages 12 to well, I don’t know, but there were a few downright old guys. They all seemed to look after each other, have a great time together, and as Rolly Brown commented at the end of the week, there wasn’t a dud class the whole week.

On the last night I played my 20-minute concert set. I was a little nervous, but it went OK—I got Tony McManus to play “Josefin’s Waltz” with me and ended with “Richmond Blues,” with Steve K joining in. Then after I went backstage, Steve told me they wanted me onstage again. There were no encores, so I thought they just wanted me to take a little bow or something. But no, they were presenting me with the Kaufy Award—for “contributions to flatpicking.” What a shock and an honor. I was very moved and couldn’t really think of much to say. But it was a nice cap to the week, and made me feel very welcome in East Tennessee. Thanks, Steve.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

New NorCal Juniors Cycling Blog

Another parent has started a juniors cycling blog that features a nice picture of Joey gritting his teeth at the start of the Dunlap Time Trial. I'm not sure how many other blogs feature juniors race reports and photos. I know the AMD blog does, occasionally. There should be more.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Junior Regional Championships

Joey just finished doing all three Northern California Junior Regional Championships--one a week for the last three weekends.

The first one was the Panoche Pass road race, a 24-mile out and back course. It was supposed to be fairly hilly, so we thought it might be a good one for him, but we rode the course the day before and discovered that the 12-miles after the turnaround was pretty much all downhill into a headwind. Since Joey is anywhere from 40-70 pounds lighter than some of the big 13-14s he decided his goal was just to stay with the group until the turnaround (at the top of the only real climb). This he managed to do, and was fourth over the top, but then he got dropped on the descent and rode mostly alone to the finish. Nonetheless, his 6th place was none too shabby, especially considering he beat James LaBerge, who would win the criterium championship a week later.

Speaking of the crit championship, a flat course against big thighs--not Joey's forte. But the race split immediately with a group of the big 4 going off the front. Joey stayed with the second group, got boxed out in the final sprint, and finished 9th.

Yesterday was the Dunlap Time Trial in Winters, one of Joey's favorites. His goal was to beat Marcus Smith's time, since he knew that with a flat time trial he wouldn't be able to match the bigger older kids. He rode well and finished just 5 seconds behind Marcus in 6th place. I figured that Marcus's rear disc wheel gave him at least a 5-second advantage, so in my book it was a dead heat. Joey however wasn't buying it. While looking at the results he said, "Not sixth again. It's always sixth. It started at Nationals." Some kid he'd beaten overheard him and said "You got sixth at Nationals? Wow!" Good to be reminded that there ain't nothin' wrong with sixth place.

Here's a nice photo of Joey in his full TT gear. And here's a cool video of the Crit championships. Notice Joey going hard on the inside right from the gun.

Revised Tune

Way back in December I posted a tune I'd written. Well, it's gone through a number of revisions, and here it is now. Hopefully this is the final version (although I'm still not sure about the chords), and it has yet another stupid title (but not as bad as the first).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thought for Food

Two great quotes from David Foster Wallace's Everything and More, A Compact History of Infinity.

"The dreads and dangers of abstract thinking are a big reason why we now all like to stay so busy and bombarded with stimuli all the time."

"Never before have there been so many gaping chasms between what the world seems to be and what science tells us it is."

New Swedes

Well, I haven't been blogging for awhile. A local community tragedy has been consuming mind and body for the last two weeks, and, well, blogging just seemed a bit silly.

At any rate, I had a great time hanging out with the tall men in the Swedish band Vasen at the StringNation festival and have been listening nonstop to their new CD, Linnaeus Vasen, as well as the new CD by Olov Johannson (Vasen's nyckelharpist), I Lust Och Glod, and three Swedish CDs that arrived in the mail while I was gone: Lena Willemark's Alvdalens Elektriska, the Ale Moller Band's brilliant new CD Djef Djel and Sofia Karlsson's Visor Fran Vinden, all of which are highly recommended (available at CDRoots). More on the wonders of each of them soon.

Meanwhile, here's the first tune on Linnaeus Vasen.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

String Nation

The String Nation festival starts tomorrow, in Camden, New Jersey. This is Darol's brainchild, the first festival of contemporary world string band music. And while some festivals start small, Darol and festival director Joseph Milano decided to go all out in their first venture and get some of the best Irish, Swedish, Brazilian, and American string musicians in the world. Vasen, Tim O'Brien, Seamus Egan, Mike Marshall, Hamilton de Holanda, and of course Darol and me and the Republic of Strings, which will expand to twice or thrice its size for this gig. And from what I hear, every hot young string player on the East Coast (and beyond) who doesn't have a gig this weekend is going to be there. It should be too much fun.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

More Cat's Hill Photos

Anne put up a gallery of her Cat's Hill photos. They take a little while to load, but they're worth it. Wish I'd been there.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Cat's Hill

Well, I missed Cat's Hill again this year, but Anne just sent me this photo. I assume this is not the reason Joey finished off the Cat's Hill podium for the first time since he started racing. Just kidding, Joe. He said he felt good, but had trouble getting clipped in and by the time he did the group was gone and he was weaving between 10-12 kids to get going. At only three short (but brutal) laps, it's pretty much a sprint from the gun. Joey did end up riding most of the race with Katrina Howard, two-time National Champion at only age 11, which is who he rode with the first time he rode Cat's Hill two years ago.

Joey's teammate Brentley won the 13-14s, his second Junior Points Series win in a row. He's getting to be a pretty formidable rider (he also almost won a Cat 5 crit in Santa Rosa a couple weeks ago), and has got to be a good bet for a podium spot at Nationals for Team Swift. It apparently was a good day all around. Our friend Courtenay Brown was third in the Women's Pro race and another Swiftie, Ryan, was fourth in the 15-16s (I haven't seen results of the 17-18 race but I heard Ethan and Tyler were both very active at the front.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Indie Coffee

While Googling to doublecheck the name of the coffee shop I went to in downtown Charlottesville, VA, last weekend, Mudhouse, I came upon this great resource:

As I battle the increasingly milky Starbucks latte (you'd think a Triple Tall Latte would do the trick, but no) and discover that non-Bay Area Peets' drinks are weaker than the originals, Indie Coffeshops are about the only places left for real coffee.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Tony Rice

My Tony Rice interview is now on the stands (and online) in the current issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, with great photos by the miraculous Anne Hamersky.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I interviewed Keri Latimer and Shelley Marshall of Nathan today--sipping cappuccinos at Cafe Fanny in Berkeley, seated outside next to the parking lot as the trucks and Volvos roared by (I hope my little tape recorder captured everything).

This is one band that absolutely needs to be better known, and it may be time to do some proselytizing. They played Sunday night at the Freight and Salvage (I missed it due to a gig in Felton with Bill Evans) and seemed pretty happy with the gig, although they said there were only 20 people there. What? How can that be? Why isn't this band famous (or at least able to draw a couple hundred people in a supposedly hip, tuned-in place like the SF Bay Area). They've got two cute gals leading the band, one of whom plays the accordion and banjo and electric guitar; Keri is the best lyricist in pop music; they're funny; their songs are stuffed full of hooks and cool guitar lines.

OK, you're wondering about that "best lyricist in pop music" line. Examples:

I feel a podium under my feet / empty crates, encyclopedia
I feel a podium under my feet / sound alarms, invite the media


Refrigerator hums a song it claims the TV taught it
Just before it flickered out, left us fending for ourselves


Who needs pictures when there's music,talking walls and next-door neighbors,ceiling creaks and radiators


I’m going down the highway with a suitcase full of all my bad ideas
Going to check them out, See what I have been missing all these years


And as sure as a sharp corner comes a jack-knife kind of creepiness / Sweeps up and over me


there’s a sparkle in me wanting some catastrophe to drop whatever it is doing and come rushing

So maybe it's that part about them being funny. I mean all serious pop stars are of course . . . serious. Whatever, this is a band that needs to be on everyone's iPod, now. I'm ashamed to say I still haven't actually seen them perform. We can just be thankful that in Winnipeg, as Keri says, "if you can sign your name, you can get a grant" which is what's keeping them going to some degree. I assume they're bigger in their hometown and other hip spots in Canada.

Here's an MP3 of "Discarded Debris."

Wente Road Race

Well, I could write a report from Joey's race on Saturday, but I'll let him this time:

Josef Nygaard
Wente Vineyards Road Race
April 21, 2007
Jr 15-16

The race was at twelve o’clock in the afternoon. We got to the race around ten so we had a good two hours before the start. It was my first big points series race since Cherry Pie, so it was nice to see a few familiar faces. I was racing the 15-16 race because they didn’t have a 13-14 category, but there were a few other 13-14s racing too, including my teammate Brentley.

When the race stated it was very slow until we got to the first hill. Then the 15-16s started to notch up the pace a little and Brentley and I got dropped. Brentley and I rode together for a few miles then Brentley blew me away on the descent and I pretty much rode by myself for the rest of the race. So I kind of ended up doing a 25-mile time trial, since the rest of the 13-14s were either behind or in front of me and I wasn’t supposed to ride with the other adult categories.

I’d been training really hard lately, but I hadn’t raced any big races for awhile, so I wasn’t sure how I would do. My goal before the race was to stay with Marcus Smith, who had podiumed twice at Nationals last summer and who I had only beaten once before (by one second in the time trial at Nationals). Brentley and I dropped him on the first climb and at the end of the race I had beaten him by more than 5 minutes. I felt terrific about my race.

It was a great day for Team Swift all around. Ryan got 5th in the 15-16 race and Tyler won the 17-18s! And if they had separated the 13-14s, Brentley would have gotten second and I would have gotten third.
Josef Nygaard
Team Swift
Age 12

Friday, April 6, 2007

More on CM Ride

One rider's account of the incident:

This was towards the end of the ride (after splitting off and dissipating). We had about 30 people by the time we were leaving Japantown when I heard a noise, which I could even hear over the music, and I turned my head to see a minivan on my left just having run over a bike and saw the rider on the ground. Riders nearby yelled at the driver to stop and the minivan just sped away. Many people in the ride chased after the van and surrounded it after catching up with it at the red light. The driver had her hand pressed on the horn the entire time. The cops got there pretty much right away as they were following right behind us. I rode away with the rest of the ride but some people stayed behind to deal with the cops. I didn't see the rear window get smashed but I can say that I only saw the couple sitting in the front of the minivan as the rest of the windows were heavily tinted and we could not see that there was anyone else in the vehicle.

The driver's response to the idea that she had hit a rider was "that's ridiculous."

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Cars Rule the World

If there was ever any doubt that cars and their drivers rule the world, the front page article in the Chronicle about the woman whose rear car window was broken and whose daughters were “terrorized” by Critical Mass cyclists confirms it. How about kids who are actually hit by cars while riding their bikes? Unfortunately, you’ll never see any reports about this, though it happens all the time. If the Chronicle were to run a story every time a cyclist was “attacked” or “terrorized,” it would have to become a daily column.

I don’t think Critical Mass’s approach--creating as much of a nuisance with bicycles once a month as cars create every day--is an effective way of promoting bicycle rights (those “terrorized” girls are certainly unlikely to become bike activists), but it has been relatively harmless. Complaints that Critical Mass riders break the law by rolling through red lights and stop signs seems odd in a city where double parking (illegal in the state of California) is a way of life.

What’s amazing is that in Matier and Ross’s original report there is obviously no concern that the woman may have actually hit one of the cyclists. Clearly this is so common it’s not worth their concern. And the fact that the cyclist rode off without confronting the woman is not evidence that it didn’t happen. He’s probably just had the usual cyclist’s experience with reporting collisions with automobiles, bike vandalism, or stolen bikes to the police.

As for the woman’s broken window (which will supposedly cost $5,300 to fix?), well, welcome to the big city, whiny suburban mom. My little Toyota Corolla has suffered four broken windows on the streets of SF since I bought it nine years ago, and though I’ve duly reported them, nothing has ever come of it (no surprise to me). I’ve had two stolen bikes (reported to police with, of course, no results) and one serious accident in which the driver drove off after threatening to make me pay for the scratches to his bumper--though he had pulled into the street right in front of me. With only a totalled front wheel (and a thoroughly bruised body) the police, when contacted later, would only give me the driver’s phone number, but suggested that since I had no real injuries (OK, you slam into a car going 25 mph, flip up and over the hood, land first on your helmet and then on your butt and tell me you have “no real injuries”) and minimal replacement cost for a new wheel, there wasn’t much point in pursuing it. But I consider that I’ve had a relatively benign expericence as a cyclist in San Francisco. I just don’t rely on the police for help (I assume they have better things to do). Whiny suburban mom, on the other hand, seems to have higher expectations.

Of course, I don’t condone the act of violence that created the broken window, but it’s amazing how many people are criticizing cyclists. Here we are in this progressive part of the state where we pat ourselves on the back because we’re supposedly helping to end climate change by remembering to toss our newspapers and plastic containers in a recycling bin or turn off appliances that aren’t in use, but few people are willing to take real action and give up their carbon-spewing WMDD’s (wheeled, motorized destructive devices), an act that may increasingly be seen as heroic.

Maybe it’s time for Critical Mass to change its tactics. I mean it’s nice to go for a bike ride around the city once a month, but nobody is going to be convinced that cars are a nuisance by watching bikes create the same nuisance. Here’s an idea. Everyone who has ever done a Critical Mass ride go out and buy a $100, $500 car, anything you think that will get you as far as the Golden Gate Bridge, then toss the pink slip (don’t register it, of course) so it can’t be traced to you, and at 7 am on May 1, drive to the toll plaza of the Golden Gate Bridge (either side) park your car in the road, get out, lock the door, and walk away. You think a bunch of cyclists cruising through the streets causes chaos, you ain’t seen nothin’.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Idle Americans

As a confirmed anti-TV snob, I have not seen an entire episode of the current water-cooler fave--American Idol. Until last night. With Anne and Joey in the jungles of Guatemala and me slightly bleary from trying to record a solo album in my bedroom while they're gone (more on that later), I sat down for a bit of mindless diversion and actually watched an entire episode of "Karaoke Without Irony."

I think what surprised me most was how lame the "judges" were. I mean, these three are presumably paid quite a lot to do what? Almost nothing, it seems. You'd think they could find an unemployed sitcom writer who could punch up a few clever lines for them to resort to when their brains failed (which appears to be often). Pitchy? How many times did Randy Jackson use that? And what does singing in tune have to do with being a pop star? I certainly prefer it when people sing in tune but that has never had anything to do with popularity (or creativity or style for that matter).

I was actually quite affected by the contestants, most of whom have some talent and are clearly earnest in their desire to find a venue for it. But why was their no mention of the fact that they were all incredibly wooden? I mean Paula Abdul is a dancer, right? I don't know, maybe this has come up before, but one of the contestants (names escape me) who was singing her ass off, looked like she was walking on stilts. Doesn't an ability to move in time really have more to do with being a pop star than how "pitchy" you are? Oh well, probably my first and last experience with AI, although I do see how people can get hooked on it--kind of like being addicted to Krispy Kremes.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Ronde Van Brisbeen

Joey did another Cat 4 race this weekend. The Ronde Van Brisbeen circuit race, which takes place about 5 miles from our house. They do 1.7-mile laps for 50 minutes, and it's all up and down--long downhill and long climb, but not too steep--about 100 feet per lap. He had the most trouble staying in the group on the downhills. He's just so little that guys were flying by him while he was spun out in his biggest gear. He stayed with them for about one and a half laps, but they did the first lap in 3:30, for an average speed, I think, of 31 mph!! He was pulled after 20 minutes and five laps, but he'd gone 8.5 miles, for an average speed of 25.5 mph--on a course in which he climbed 500 feet!! He had fun, though, the little monster. "That was a heck of an interval," he said with a big smile on his face.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oisin McAuley

Just got off the phone with Oisin, interviewing him for an article that will appear in Strings magazine, though I'm not sure when exactly. A very interesting guy. His background and wide-ranging interests remind me of a lot of young American fiddlers--classical and traditional music training, Scottish influence from growing up in Donegal, interested in jazz, spent a year in Brittany playing and learning tunes, can play kickass traditional fiddle but is also very into improvising (a rarety for Irish musicians, mainly, I think, because their brains are filled with the thousands of tunes they have to be able to pull up at any given seisun). He's now living in Boston, where he'll undoubtedly soak up even more music. Watch out!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Joey raced for the first time in over a month this weekend at the ColaVita Sutter Home Corporate Crit in Santa Rosa and did great--he placed second in the Junior 12-14 race and rode with the group for about 5 laps in the Cat 4 race.

His attack right after the prime sprint (just like we'd talked about on the way to the race) split the junior field, with only one other racer able to follow. Joey and the other kid (a teammate, Brentley, who, at 6'3" barely qualifies as a kid, yet is only 13) worked together and easily outdistanced the rest of the field, then Brentley attacked on the penultimate lap and Joey couldn't match his strength. (Joey had planned to attack on the last lap, right after Brentley's pull, hoping to catch him out enough to get a gap he might be able to maintain to the finish line, but alas . . .)

It was his first Cat 4 race and he hung in (at speeds of 27-30 mph) for 5 laps. After he was dropped he lost touch pretty quick and was pulled as the field (75-80 racers?) was getting close to lapping him.

He really enjoyed both races, which is great because he usually doesn't get too excited about flat crits. But as he's getting stronger, he doesn't have to rely on hills to drop other racers. And Cat 4 races are a good way for him to get some speed training in. I certainly can't get him going that fast on our own.

There are some good photos here. That's Joey leading the pack on the second page, photo #0012. Joey's riding next to Brentley in #0011.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Best Online Record Store

If I won the lottery, one of the first things I'd do is send a big pile of money to CD Roots and tell resident world-music guru Cliff Furnald to send me one copy of everything he gets in. It's about the only place to get contemporary Nordic music in the US and there's just piles of great stuff from every corner of the world you'd care to dip your ears into. I'm too broke to partake of much these days, but I go by often and drool.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Cool New Music

I haven't been writing about music here much lately, most likely because I've been busy writing about it for print publications. But there are a few new CDs that have caught my ear, some of which I hope to soon be writing about for trad media.

Nathan, Key Principles

This band's 2004 CD Jimson Weed was one of my favorite recordings that year. And if this one doesn't knock me out quite so much, it's probably because I know what to expect (or hope for). Primary singer and songwriter Keri Latimer (previously McTige) is one of my favorite lyricists. I noticed many reviews of Jimson Weed described the music as "creepy" but unless that word has come to mean "inventive, funny, and poignant" I'd have to disagree.

Oisin McAuley, Far from the Hills of Donegal
There are a lot of great Irish fiddlers around, but how many of them can improvise? OK there are also a bunch of young hotshots in the US who can do anything, but how many Irish fiddlers can improvise and make it sound totally traditional while groovin' like a mofo? As far as I can tell, just one--Oisin McAuley. He also manages to imitate the Irish pipes' sliding and wailing to a greater degree than anyone I've heard.

Devon Sproule, Keep Your Silver Shined
Another great young songwriter and guitarist (and singer). What I like most about Devon is how she's internalized the jazz and swing music that color her songs. Instead of trying to write a "jazz standard" or simply imitate swing music, she uses jazz's harmonic and rhythmic signatures as part of the music she draws on to construct her songs.

Adam Rogers, Time and the Infinite
I don't have much use for anything approaching mainstream jazz guitar these days. The music has become so cliched, and the harmonic approach (ii-V-I's till the cows come home) bores me. Adam Rogers' first trio record is a little more mainstream than his last few, which featured Chris Potter's saxophone and Edward Simon's piano. While he plays a few standards here, he also explores some modern semi-classical harmonic ideas, and his single-note soloing continues to be some of the most inventive and fluid around.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Well, it wasn't the longest or hardest ride I've done, but the Solvang half Century Joey and I (and my brother Dane) did this weekend was definitely my fastest long ride. Spurred on by Joey, who cannot ride slowly, I averaged 16.7 mph for the 50 miles. Joey averaged 17.2, and would have been faster if he hadn't spent a few miles dawdling along waiting for us.

The Solvang 50 is an interesting ride. It attracts thousands of people, many of whom look like they don't know what they've gotten into, presumably having been talked into the ride by bike-crazy family members. There were people walking up slopes that barely qualify as a hill to us northern CA hill-crazy types. But it was cool to see so many people trying it--people who wouldn't have made it to the 20-mile rest stop on the Marin Century.

Most of the hardcore cyclists seem to have opted for the 100, but we thought that was a bit much for Joey, who'd only ridden a couple of fast 40-milers before (and I hadn't ridden farther than 50 since the Marin metric century a couple years ago). Considering Joey finished off the last 3 miles of the ride by hammering at about 23 mph (and dropping absolutely everyone in sight--including a couple of tri-geeks who'd passed us earlier on a long downhill), I think he probably could have gone a bit farther, but not 100. Next year.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Shovels and Other Tools

Here's Anne's latest Soundslide, this time some gorgeous photos of shovels (didn't know that was possible, did you?) accompanied by me and Chris Webster.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Hans Groiner: The Music of Thelonius Monk

OK, I promise this blog will not turn into a pile of YouTube videos, but this is hilarious. And is somewhat related to the videos I posted below.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This is Just Plain Wrong

Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby doing Rick James' "Superfreak"? AAAAGGGHHHH!!!!!

More Bluegrass Schlock Rock

I just found this version of David Lee Roth doing "Jump" bluegrass style. At least it's kinda funny. That's John Jorgenson on mandolin, Scott Vestal on banjo, Stephan Dudash on violin, Rob Ickes on Dobro, maybe Brad Davis on guitar, not sure about the others. And I never realized before how much DLR's voice sounds like John Hiatt's.

Riding and Climbing

It's been a week since Joey and I were on the bikes. After getting some great rides in during the Tour of California, the rain hit (and I went to North Carolina for a gig), but today was beautiful. I don't know how he does it, but Joey just keeps getting faster on the climbs (no, I'm not getting slower). And of course, when I finally catch up with him and ask how he's feeling, he just says "OK."

Last week Team Swift had a fundraising ride with Andy Hampsten that included a race up Harrison Grade in the hills west of Santa Rosa. Joey managed to beat all of his teammates except for 16-year-old Tyler Brandt, who beat Andy Hampsten! I'd actually been dropped on a shorter climb before we got to Harrison but when we got to the climb there was still a group of about 5 or 6 of us slow adults together. I managed to drop all but 1 person, who took off while I was waiting for a friend on the false flat just before the top. That felt good. Maybe I can convince all of them to ride Mt San Bruno next year, so I won't finish last in my division again.

Tomorrow afternoon we're going on a ride with Tyler in Marin. Well, I say "we," but my guess is I'll get dropped pretty quick, definitely at the first climb.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Now Waite Just a Minute

I just got this publicity bulletin from Rounder Records:

--John Waite is heading out on a few dates in support of his critically acclaimed album DOWNTOWN….Journey of a Heart (Rounder Records). The upcoming tour dates follow-up Waite’s performance of his hit single, “Missing You” with Label-mate, Alison Krauss on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.--

Alison Krauss and John Waite? And John Waite on Rounder? What is the world coming to? I managed to find their version of "Missing You" on YouTube, and it's just as horrible as you'd imagine. Not much different than the original, or what I remember of it anyway, except that a banjo is now playing the keyboard part. Yuck.

Somehow the entire world is embracing bluegrass. Tomorrow I'm interviewing Tommy Ramone (the drummer for the Ramones), who has a new "bluegrass" album out. Actually it's a pretty funky little disk, more like something someone would have done in their garage about 20 years ago and more old-timey than bluegrass, but I much prefer it to the bluegrass/arena-rock of "Missing You."

To continue in this vein, I've also got in the house for review Takamine's new "bluegrass model." Takamine making a "bluegrass" guitar? It's pretty damn good, but it makes me wonder, when did bluegrass get so mainstream, and how come I ain't reaping any benefits from it? Well, I guess I don't play anything that could really be called "mainstream" or "bluegrass." Maybe I should do something about that. Perhaps a bluegrass band that does all '80s hits? Yikes! Hmm, maybe a bluegrass band that does all Crowded House and Police songs? I could get into that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pies Weekend

It was the first big bike-racing weekend of the year in Northern California last weekend, with the Apple Pie Crit in Santa Rosa and a big-money crit in Martinez on Saturday and the Cherry Pie Crit on Sunday. Joey got third in the 10-12 race at Cherry Pie last year and liked it a lot--it's a crit with a hill, his favorite kind as it usually gets rid of the big sprinter kids.

We go to Apple Pie mostly because it's in Santa Rosa, where Team Swift is based, and there's usually a pretty good turn-out of the local Swifties who tend not to go to regional races. But with an 8 am start time for the juniors race and rain, once again it was mostly the hard-core Swifties who showed up. The juniors race was divided into two categories--12-15 and 16-18, though they all raced together.

After getting dropped by the older juniors, which included some Cat 2 kids from the Davis Bike Club, Joey settled in with a 13-year-old teammate, Julian, but dropped him after a few laps when he took a pull and inadvertently got a big gap. Then when a group of older kids (including 14-year-old Brentley, who is 6'3"!!) came by, he got on Brentley's wheel and rode with him to the end. They got confused about laps at the finish, and only sprinted the last 50 feet or so (after hearing me yell, "sprint, sprint!"). Joey ended up in 4th in the 12-15 division and won enough money to pay for his entry fee and the Golden Gate Bridge toll (although of course it's actually going into his savings account). We only hung around long enough to pick up his prize, since by then we were completely soaked. I'm glad I learned the hard way to bring a change of clothes to races/rides.

Sunday was also an early start for Joey: 7:40! And we actually arrived (6:45) in the dark (crazy). Cherry Pie is the first race in the junior points series so most of the best kids in Northern California show up. That was certainly the case Sunday. Joey's at the low end of the 13-14 category this year, and after seeing who was there, we figured Joey would be doing great if he finished top 5. He seemed to be feeling good, but he was at the back of the group on the first climb and was a little nervous about the curve at the bottom of the first downhill. So, without really realizing what was happening he got dropped in the middle of the second lap. The group of 8 kids in front were all pretty hard-core and never slowed enough for him to catch back on. He ended up riding with a kid from Davis (who won the 10-12 race) for the rest of the race. The kid was willing to pull, but Joey said every time he took a pull they slowed down. The race direction was reversed this year and the climb got longer and not as steep, so it was less of a climber's course. For example, a great young sprinter from Davis finished second, but Joey beat him by more than 6 minutes at Mt. San Bruno just a month ago.

Joey ended up in 8th, and considering the group in front, he may not have finished much higher than that even if he'd stayed with the group. But he was pretty bummed about getting dropped. He's been so busy with his basketball team (who are playing in the league championship game tomorrow) and other school stuff, as well as being sick for a few days last week, we haven't really been "training." We've gotten a few rides in but they haven't really been hard rides. So it looks like it's time to start training.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Live Music Online

There's a nice streaming audio concert of the Sara Watkins version of the Republic of Strings recorded in Kent, Ohio last spring at Folk Alley. It actually sounds pretty good, and it's a good hit of Sara's great fiddling (and singing) on something other than Nickel Creek tunes. Oh yeah, that's Tristan Clarridge on cello, along with the old guys, me and Darol.

And there's a show the Anonymous 4 (with Darol and me) recorded for St. Paul Sunday. It's more about the A4 than us, but there's a fair amount of fiddle and guitar (and me trying to explain capos to classical music host Bill McGlaughlin).

Grammy Madness

In my job as music editor at KeepMedia, I've been thumbing through lots of pre-Grammy PR and commentary (mostly speculation on who will win), which has reminded me of the time I went to the Grammies (1997). I was actually up for a couple (sorta three): Country Instrumental (for a track from a Bill Monroe tribute album recorded with Chris Thile, Vassar Clements, Richard Greene, and Todd Phillips) and Bluegrass Album (Tim O'Brien's "Red On Blonde," which Tim said he considered a band album, even though the Grammies and his record company didn't). The Monroe tribute album was also up for Bluegrass Album, but I only played on a couple tracks, and didn't really consider it "my" nomination.

It was a very strange affair, starting with the act of picking up my tickets. February in NYC, right? I had all day to wander the city (Anne was flying in on the redeye later that night), after which I went by the big, fancy hotel that was hosting the celebrations to pick them up. There was a line, of course, and everyone there other than me was a flunky picking up their boss's tickets. I had a backpack and was wearing hiking boots and a winter jacket, definitely way out of place, and they were very amused when I said that I was actually the person whose name was on the tickets. The woman asked "Oh, are you nominated?"--obviously, no music mogul would dress like that in NY--and wished me luck.

The party the night before was a trip, but kinda boring. I met Pete Seeger, and the Grammy prez at the time, Michael Green (you know the guy who used to get up every year and make the serious, dull speech?) shook my hand. The music in the ballroom was the band from the "Late, Late Show"--hip lounge music. Well not really hip, just covers cranked out by famous musicians.

Our awards were, of course, given out during the afternoon (pre-tel) show. It was spot-the-famous-musician time on the floor of Madison Square Garden. Let's see, Beck walked by at one point (he wasn't quite so famous then), and I got to see both Cassandra Wilson and Pete Seeger literally sprint to the stage so they could give an acceptance speech (the officials were very adamant that any winner who wanted to say anything had to get to the stage pronto). Hillary Clinton won a "spoken word" award, and was promptly escorted out by Secret Service.

I didn't win (the Bill Monroe tribute won for Bluegrass Album), but Shawn Colvin was one of the presenters for Country Instrumental, and Anne was very excited to hear my name come out of Shawn's mouth. (I was too, I guess, I mean, yeah, of course I was. Probably the last time that'll happen.) I actually thought we might have had a chance, because of Vassar, and since Todd and I were the only ones of the five of us in attendance, I would have actually been able to do the acceptance speech thang. But of course, Chet Atkins was also nominated, so . . . need you ask?

After the pre-tel we took our seats up in the nosebleed section and watched the main show. Anne and I sat with Mollie O'Brien and her husband Rich Moore, and word from Mollie was that the women's room was insane. I must admit I saw more cleavage and blonde hair at that show than in any other place I've ever been. Lots of dolled up dates--probably there with the music biz guys who are the only ones who actually buy tickets, which are too expensive for non-star musicians, who only show up when nominated.)

After the show we took the subway to a big shebang at the aforementioned hotel. We wandered in and out of rooms, sat and had a drink at the piano bar (McCoy Tyner, ignored by most everyone, except the four bluegrass musicians in the room), and went home almost early--2 am. Definitely worth it though.

And though I didn't get a little statue (there were probably 40 musicians on the Monroe tribute), Todd did eventually make up T-shirts that said "I was on the bluegrass album of the year, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

Friday, February 2, 2007

Go For a Ride with Andy Hampsten

Well, the Tour of California is right around the corner. Oddly enough, Joey is out of school that week, Feb 18-25 (some people refer to it as "ski week," but we call it "bike week"). And since Stage 1 ends in Santa Rosa, home of Joey's team, Team Swift, the team is having a fundraiser/ride on Mon. Feb. 19. This year's special guest is Andy Hampsten. So if you want to go for a ride with the only American winner of the Giro D'Italia and a bunch of young bike-racing stars, it'll only cost ya, well, actually nothing. Details below and at the Team Swift website. You can also purchase raffle tickets (prizes include a full-carbon BMC bike) by emailing me at (email link is in my profile).

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Jazz Ain't Dead

But sometimes it feels like it's either asleep, or spending too much time in front of the mirror.

Nice article here. Mike Zwerin commenting on the Jazz Educators conference, attended by 8,000 people! He says this as a joke (sort of), but I think he has a point:

"I couldn't help wondering if all of the time, energy, know- how, and money might have been better invested in subsidizing saloons and striptease clubs like those where an older generation of musicians learned to play the music."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hot off the Presses

Tim O'Brien's latest song, which chronicles a wacky story I hadn't known about. Sing to the tune of "Pretty Boy Floyd" or hear Tim sing it on his website (with Jerry Douglas on Dobro).

The Ballad Of Christopher Daniel Gay © 2007 Tim O’Brien
(date of creation Jan 28, 2007)

Come all you good time people and a story I will tell
Of Christopher Daniel Gay, you bloggers know him well
His mama said his heart was as big as his head
And he became a car thief to keep his family fed

The cops stopped him in Texas where he was on the lamb
They found out from headquarters that he was wanted in Alabam
The Prisoner Transport Service was takin him back to pay
It was at a road side pit stop he made his get away

Stole a pickup in Carolina, then a Wal-Mart truck with eighteen wheels
He drove toward his dyin mama in the Cheatham county hills
And it’s down those lanes and back roads the police made their chase
And he almost made her trailer, he almost saw her face

A witness said it sounded like a barn a fallin hard
When he ran that semi off the road into the neighbor’s yard
He ran off through the woods to a Whites Creek tour bus lot
He picked a silver and blue one and ran that diesel hot

His mama told the papers, “What he done was wrong
But” she said “he also knows his mama don’t have long
The county sheriff said that if he turned himself in
They’d take him to his dyin mama before they took him to the pen

It was down in Lakeland, Florida he stopped at a NASCAR track
They wrote down his license number and they finally brought him back
Now the chase it started Sunday, and when Saturday evening fell
They caught him in a tour bus that belonged to belonged to Crystal Gayle

As I tell you all this story, I wouldn’t be surprised
If the color of that stage coach matched his mama’s eyes
It’s through this world I’ve rambled and through this world I’ve roamed
But I never knew an outlaw with a tour bus for his home

If anybody wanted these lyrics for to get
Just type and click your browser on Tim O’Brien dot net

Monday, January 29, 2007

Nordic Music Videos

Before there was YouTube there was A great collection of commercially made and "recorded in the field" videos of northern European folk music. I mostly go to the Sweden section. Lots of great stuff from Swap, Frifot, Vasen, etc., but my favorite may be guitarist Ole Lindvall. Flatpicking polskas on a nylon-string guitar! My new guitar hero.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pedal and Steer

Check out this very cool multimedia "Soundslide" that Anne has put together about our son, Josef, and his bike racing. OK, I'm in there, too, a little too much probably, but the photos are, of course, exquisite.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bluegrass Songs: The Good, the Bad, and the All Too Ugly

I recently received two new releases from Sugar Hill Records: Martha Scanlan’s "The West Was Burning" and the Infamous Stringdusters "Fork in the Road," which illustrate the opposite extremes of songwriting quality found in old-time and bluegrass today. Both are excellent records—the Stringdusters are each among the hottest young practitioners of their chosen instruments and their band sound will endear them to fans of the Lonesome River Band, Blue Highway, and Alison Krauss. But, unfortunately, like a lot of bluegrass bands these days, the songs they choose to sing . . . suck! Big time.

“Love, love, love / Is my destination.” What? Are you kidding me? Now, someone like Del McCoury could possibly get away with singing a song that banal (too execrable to be simply clich├ęd), not only because Del’s voice transforms anything he sings, but also because he’d sing it with a bit of a twinkle in his voice, a sly acknowledgment that “this is kind of silly, isn’t it?—but fun.” Most of today’s bluegrass singers don’t get this, delivering horrid songs like “My Destination” (or “Starry Night” which repeats “At night, I dream about you / In my dreams, I hold you [dramatic pause] tight”) in all seriousness, making you almost wonder if they’d listened to the words at all or whether they’d simply strung together a series of nonsensical syllables that by chance had formed themselves into this Neanderthal-speak. Now what flummoxes me is: at what point does anyone think to themselves (certainly not aloud) “Here’s a song we should record?” As opposed to covering some great song like “Little Georgia Rose” or some other bluegrass standard.

Seriously, something has to be done about this. Bluegrass cannot possibly survive the increasing inanity of its material, which, if it gets much worse will decline to the level of MySpace “comments.” I don’t mean to pick on the Stringdusters. The lyric writing in these songs is really no worse than most of the bluegrass recordings I’ve heard lately, which is one reason I have such a hard time listening to “contemporary bluegrass,” but for some reason I expected them to know better—or try harder. Maybe next time.

Unfortunately, Martha Scanlan’s lyrics may not be much of a guide for bluegrass musicians looking for good songwriting models, as they approach a level of poetry that will scarcely be recognizable as song to people struggling to escape from the tortured syntax of “My Destination.” At first listen Scanlan’s songs would seem to be modeled on those of Gillian Welch or perhaps the Be Good Tanyas. This impression comes in part from her musical backdrop of old-time music and simple honky-tonk grooves (an inspired pairing of producer Dirk Powell’s backwoods instrumental virtuosity and Levon Helm’s roadhouse pulse). But Scanlan’s verse is more cinematic and visual, with inspired descriptive touches that leave you longing for places you’ve never been.

Contrast “At night, I dream about you / In my dreams, I hold you tight” with

I only want to dream about you / The dollar I could spend but I should save
Just to see my fingers in your hair / The golden wheat around us
And beneath us where we lay

This isn’t particularly the most striking or memorable of Scanlan’s verse, just an obvious comparison. This, of course, points up the essence of good songwriting (and most good writing). We should be able to see the people and places you’re talking about in your songs. (And I’m sorry, a “blue-eyed girl from Virginia,” if that’s all the information I’ve got to go on, shows me nothing.)

Gillian Welch is probably a better model for aspiring bluegrass songwriters, since she keeps her songs narrowly focused and concrete enough for her favorite singers (Ralph Stanley, Norman Blake) to sing, but projects clear images onto your mind’s screen.

So if you’re curious about the latest roots poet (and you like minimalist, earthy grooves), check out Martha; if you want to hear the best pickers around (and you don’t really listen to the words anyway), go for the Stringdusters.