Saturday, December 13, 2008

Best Books of 2008

The New York Times just announced their Ten Best Books of 2008, which is as good a reason as any to survey my own reading for the year. While I did read one book on the list, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, my reading tends not to be quite as current, although Roberto Bolano’s 2666 is on my Christmas list.

My reading this year was not quite as novel-heavy as in recent years. For some reason I began the year by reading about half of The Reformation by Will Durant and ended it by getting heavily into short stories, occasioned in part by the death of David Foster Wallace, which inspired me to return to some of his short story collections I hadn’t finished and also explore some of the short fiction he’d included on the syllabus of a course he had been teaching, which was posted online by one of his students in one of the many tributes to DFW that either appeared or were overloaded with contributions after his death.

In the middle of the year, there were a number of false starts that confounded me: The Innocent, by Ian McEwan; Author, Author, by David Lodge; The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk; American Studies (OK, not a novel), by Louis Menand; and The Dean’s December, by Saul Bellow, all of which were written by authors I admire, but whose work didn’t stick this time, although I imagine I will return to some of them at some point in the future.

I got out of my novelistic doldrums with The Confidential Agent, by Graham Greene, my first venture into his “oh so British” world and definitely not my last. Was it a coincidence that I received The Complete Monty Python on DVD for my birthday, soon after finishing it? Perhaps. At any rate, in August I was rewarded with the two best books I read this year, which were actually both published in 2008. So, in addition to short stories and essays by Roberto Bolano, Orhan Pamuk, Donald Barthelme, John Updike, TC Boyle, Edward P. Jones, and others whose names escape me at the moment, here are the Best (somewhat recently published) Books (I read in) 2008, with just a couple annotations:

Atmospheric Disturbances, Rivka Galchen
An exasperating and claustrophobic book that doesn’t resolve in any conventionally satisfying way, but the writing is brilliant and the meditations on identity, existence, and the perplexing nature of relationships that don’t evolve even as the individuals in those relationships mutate, grow, and shrivel, are unique and thought-provoking. Some of the technical minutiae and digressions evoke a “guy book” author like Richard Powers, say, but Galchen gives it her own decidedly female twist, although it is hard to imagine any woman having this much patience and fondness for the irascible, annoying, and mule-headed main (male) character.

Netherland, Joseph O’Neill

Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

Oblivion, David Foster Wallace
DFW’s death this fall hit me hard, and I’ve been going back and reading the stories in his various short story/essay collections that I didn’t read when they first came out. As with most short story collections, it’s best to read them one at a time. When this collection, his last fiction publication, came out, I considered it nearly unreadable. I was wrong. The “missive beyond the grave” of the suicide in “Good Old Neon” has been given new significance after DFW’s own suicide. And stories like “Another Pioneer” and “Oblivion” are beautiful, profound, revolutionary, and riveting to the word-wise. I also read or re-read “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” his best non-fiction collection, and I’ve gone back to “Girl With Curious Hair” and “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” discovering, as I’d thought, that BIwHM is really the only unreadable DFW opus, although the shortness of many of the pieces makes them less daunting.

The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai

The Ministry of Special Cases, Nathan Englander

The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

Monday, December 1, 2008

This Is Cool

You don't need no fancy instruments to make music:

The First International Body Music Festival Opens This Week - Tickets on Sale Now!

BARBATUQUES Sao Paulo, Brazil
SLAMMIN All-Body Band Oakland, CA
KEKEÇA Istanbul, Turkey
THE KECAK PROJECT Bali, Indonesia and Oakland, CA
LOOP-IT Bordeaux, France
SANDY SILVA Montreal, Canada

Teacher Training Workshop
Incorporating Body Music into Elementary Curricula
First Unitarian Church, Oakland
4-6pm $15

Teen Workshop, Destiny Arts Center, Oakland
12-18 yrs., 4:30-6, FREE

Body Music Open Mic, Club Anton, Oakland
21+ 8pm, $10, get up and show it!

Lecture/Demonstration, Oakland Museum of California
Join a discussion with the artists about their work
8pm, $10/$5 Museum members

Theater Artaud, San Francisco
Evening Concerts - Different Program Every Night
Family Matinee Sunday Afternoon
Workshops in Body Music, Throatsinging, Beatboxing, Turkish Rhythms, Balinese Kecak, plus The Big Sing Sunday morning with Linda Tillery, Rhiannon and more...

Full schedule/details:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Joan Baez at Herbst Theater

Joan Baez’s new CD Day After Tomorrow has been creating a bit of a stir lately. Produced by Steve Earle, with all-acoustic instrumentation and an all-star Nashville band—Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Viktor Krauss, Kenny Malone—the album is one of Joan’s best in many years and has even made Amazon’s Top Ten folk albums of 2008. But the recording pales in comparison to Joan’s live show and rockin’ new band: John Doyle on guitar and mandola; Dirk Powell on banjo, mandolin, accordion, and fiddle; and Todd Phillips on acoustic bass guitar.

I got to see them last week at the luxurious Herbst Theater in San Francisco. Joan sang some songs from the new CD (Steve Earle’s “God Is God,” Eliza Gilkyson’s “Rose of Sharon,” Elvis Costello’s “Scarlet Tide”) as well as many of her early folk classics (“The Lily of the West,” “Fennario,” “Joe Hill”) and some that she described as “what you came to hear” (“Farewell Angelina,” “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word,” “Love Song to a Stranger,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”). Joan has a special affection for Steve Earle’s songs, which is perhaps not surprising considering their sympatico political leanings, and her versions of Earle’s “Christmas in Washington” and “Jerusalem” were highlights.

Joan onstage was charming. Though she looked a bit tired and frail (this is her 50th year as a performer), she pulled off the 90-minute show without faltering, injecting humor even at the end of a solo “Diamonds and Rust” (altering the final line “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid” to “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I got the Grammy”).

The new band was brilliant, creating a rich bed beneath Joan’s strong vocals, weaving punchy, spontaneous guitar and bass lines, colored by whatever instrument Powell had in his hand at the moment. Particularly nice were Powell’s Cajun fiddle on “Farewell Angelina” and Doyle’s solo guitar backup on “Christmas In Washington.” Joan and the band are continuing to tour this winter and spring. If you’ve ever had any affection for her singing and point of view and want to hear her with a great acoustic band, I’d recommend catching a show on this tour.

And oh yeah, I may be filling in for John Doyle on a few gigs this spring!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Writing About Music, Pt. 2

I suppose that music is no less appropriate a subject for a writer than boating, flowers, suicide, marketing, teen pregnancy, vacation rentals, or any other subject that becomes a pretext for a writer’s self-examination/promotion. Often the accompanying photography (that accompanies writing-about-musician[s]) can be quite a bit more attractive. And I suppose that experts in any of these subjects may feel that writing-about-the-[subject of their expertise] is usually just as annoying and useless as I feel that writing-about-music is. But, still.

One problem with writing about music is that everybody has their own tastes in music, which may have been formed by actual listening but is more often simply the unconscious consensus of one’s post-pubescent social group. Much as political opinions/persuasions are often based on one’s parents opinions, musical taste is usually based on the tastes of one’s high school or college social scene. So any writer who writes about music that you would tend to even bother reading is probably going to have to be the kind of person you went to college with, or who went to the same sort of college you did, or who hung out at the same sort of bar/café/library/mall/salon/park/race track you and your friends did during the same general time period.

And because musical tastes are defined by a social group, most of whom are not musicians or musical experts of any sort, in writing-about-music there is no deference toward “experts”—musicians, etc., which is probably as it should be. I mean, it’s just music, right? Why let anybody (except, of course, your best friends in highschool/college) tell you what music to enjoy, anymore than you would let someone tell you what food to enjoy. Music is a sensual experience. But then, so is reading—at least for me. And there are literary experts, people whose taste you defer to simply because they can write better than you, or have read more than you, or have had some sort of literary honorific bestowed upon them. Now you aren’t going to necessarily agree with them, but if you stumble upon John Updike or Dave Eggers or Orhan Pamuk at a party, you’re going to ask them what they’re reading. And you’re probably going to go out and buy whatever it is they’re reading and try to read it yourself, if only so you can share to some extent in their world. But would you necessarily go out and buy the musical recommendation of someone like, I don’t know, Chris Potter or John Adams or Jenny Lewis or Mark Knopfler? Well, I probably would, in at least two of those cases, and yes you might too, which is why in some publications, including the newspaper of record, it is popular to have musicians write-about-music that they’re listening to, and . . . hmm, this isn’t going quite the way I’d intended.
--to be continued

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Writing About Music. Pt. 1

Writing-about-music is what I do, much of the time, especially when I need to make money and opportunities for playing music are slim, but it is a strange thing and rarely successful, except as a way for musicians and other overeducated liberal arts majors to make money. I hate to use the old “dancing about architecture” cliché, but it is, like many cliché’s, apt. Or rather perhaps, “dancing badly about architecture” is more appropriate. Because those people who do actually attempt to write about music--as opposed to those who manufacture writing-about-oneself-in-relation-to music or writing-about-the-lives-of-celebrity/musicians or writing-about-the-effect-of-a-celebrity/musician-and-his-activities-both-public-and-private-on-a-particular-social-aggregate, which is, of course, what most writing-about-music is or has become, at least, pop-culture-writing-about-music--will never really succeed. Writing-about-music will never convey or capture anything that music does; reading writing-about-music will never be more worth your time than listening to or playing music. Which may be why writers-who-write-about-music are probably better off not knowing much about music.

This pedantically begun screed is written in response to the receipt of a recent collection of music writing, published in book form by a music magazine that has recently succumbed to market pressures and “gone under,” surfacing a handful of months later as a website and book-a-zine (their word not mine). I would have normally have ignored such a book, but I was a sometime fan of this unnamed magazine, and was curious about its evolution. Not only that, but some of my friends were featured both on the cover and inside. I quickly grew despondent, however, as I scanned some of the articles, as I realized that none of this, though technically well-written, even approached the music that these people made, and inspiring me to attempt this even more ludicrous project: writing-about-writing-about-music.
--to be continued

Saturday, November 8, 2008

New Website

Since my old website became difficult to manage, I've switched to a wordpress site, and scottnyaard. com will soon point to it (I hope). I'll continue with this blog, and it will mostly be about "not me." The new website/blog will be about "me."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Have a Dream

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

--Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hardly Strictly BG

I had a great time playing at last weekend’s free bluegrass (and beyond) megafest in Golden Gate Park, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. This year I was playing with the Bill Evans String Summit, which included Bill on banjo, Megan Lynch and Alex Hargreaves on fiddles, Steve Smith on mandolin, Bill Amatneek on bass, and yours truly on guitar. I’ve been amazed at the quality of the sound at this festival, which has three huge stages and a couple of medium-size stages, including the Porch Stage, where we held forth. Though an all-acoustic band like ours might be leery of the rock ‘n’ roll proportions of this fest, the sound in my experience has been fantastic, both for audience and performer. I’ve never heard a festival stagehand say to me (as I did Sunday) “You probably want more guitar in your monitor than that, don’t you?” and then proceed to get it for me.

After our set, we braved the (estimated 100,000 strong) crowd to try to catch a little of Elvis Costello’s set. Though I didn’t get close enough to actually see Elvis, I did hear him sing a sweet, mournful duet with Emmylou Harris on “Love Hurts” and rage garage-band-style through “What’s So Funny (‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding).” After catching some of Ricky Skaggs’ trad bluegrass set, highlighted by the pyrotechnics of guitarist Cody Kilby and fiddler Andy Leftwich, and watching the Bad Livers busk outside the mainstage backstage area, we retreated from the crowds and settled in at the Porch Stage. This is one stage where you can actually see the performers and even grab a comfy spot on the lawn, and here we were treated to a rousing set by Justin Townes Earle (who alternated his own swingy originals with covers of songs by Blind Blake, Arthur Smith, and the Replacements) and a sweet acoustic set by folk diva Maura O’Connell. And we even discovered a great new Vietnamese restaurant on our (long) walk back to the car.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Palin-ese, or Rather, Unease

From today's NYTimes

On the “CBS Evening News” on Thursday, Katie Couric asked Ms. Palin what she meant when she cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as foreign affairs experience. Ms. Palin could have anticipated the question — the topic of their interview, pegged to her visit to the United Nations was foreign affairs. Yet Ms. Palin’s answer was surprisingly wobbly: her words tumbled out fast and choppily, like an outboard motor loosened from the stern.

“That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land — boundary that we have with — Canada,” she replied. She mentioned the jokes made at her expense and seemed for a moment at a loss for the word “caricature.” “It — it’s funny that a comment like that was — kind of made to — cari — I don’t know, you know? Reporters —”

Ms. Couric stepped in. “Mocked?” Ms. Palin looked relieved and even grateful for the help. “Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.”

Ms. Couric pressed her again to explain the geographic point. “Well, it certainly does,” Ms. Palin said, “because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, they're in the state that I am the executive of.”

Ms. Couric asked the governor if she had ever been involved in negotiations, for example, with her Russian neighbors.

“We have trade missions back and forth,” Ms. Palin said. “We — we do — it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border.”

Ms. Palin, looking at Ms. Couric intently, kept on going. “It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to — to our state.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

David Foster Wallace reading

New Bluegrass Albums

A few new bluegrass albums have made it across my desk and into the iTunes folder lately. Here are some capsule reviews. (I’ll be going on about Cherryholmes in an upcoming profile in Acoustic Guitar.)

Cherryholmes, III (five stars)
Yes!!! There is hope for contemporary bluegrass. This is like Nickel Creek with banjo--or AKUS pre-CMA awards. Cia Leigh Cherryholmes is my favorite young bluegrass-related singer, she writes edgy songs, and plays banjo like Ron Block on steroids. Skip Cherryholmes is a total rhythm guitar monster. The sort of over-the-top metal-ish chord stuff is very cool and the whole mash/thrash rhythm thing makes total sense when played with this sense of abandon and rock and roll energy. “Sumatra” is the coolest bluegrass instrumental I’ve heard in a long time.

Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Leavin' Town (four stars)
Totally great pre-Lonesome River Band bluegrass. If you, like me, heard a band like this at your local pizza parlor at an impressionable age, it could change your life. Go to the Bluegrass Blog and vote for 'em in every category you can.

Cadillac Sky, Gravity's Our Enemy (three stars)
These guys are all great players, but the vocals and songs are too much like those pop country bands I only hear when I accidentally turn on the CMA Awards or get to a movie at a multiplex too early. I really don’t like contemporary country music, whether it’s played by an arena rock band, a contestant on American Idol, or a quintet of young bluegrass virtuosi. But obviously millions of people love it. It’s just not my thing. Good luck to these boys, though. They should go far.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More DFW

Here's an edited transcript (minus coughing, etc.) of the Kenyon College speech.

Punch Brothers

I wrote this awhile ago, but Acoustic Guitar finally published it here. Lately, I've been getting into Chris's new CD with Edgar Meyer. When does this guy sleep?

Punch Brothers

The Punch Brothers are a new band composed of some of the hottest young musicians in bluegrass—Chris Thile (mandolin and lead vocals), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Greg Garrison (bass), Noam Pikelny (banjo), and Gabe Witcher (fiddle), but there is little here that traditional bluegrass fans will recognize. Combining early-20th-century harmonic ambiguity and dissonance, angsty alt-pop-influenced lyrics and rhythms, and pastoral minimalist counterpoint, as well as contemporary folk and bluegrass, the Punch Brothers have created a new kind of string music as revolutionary and distinct as that of Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Django Reinhardt, or Alison Krauss, but it’s hard to imagine Punch Music becoming a musical genre. This will not be easy music for musicians to imitate. Time signatures and tonal centers shift regularly, there is rarely a clear delineation between soloist and accompaniment, and written and improvised sections merge seamlessly. The core of the album is Thile’s four-movement, 42-minute suite “The Blind Leaving the Blind,”written in reaction to his recent divorce. Though each movement includes lyrics and vocal melodies (many of which are hauntingly gorgeous), Thile eschews any regular kind of song form; the vocal sections are just one part of the whole, integrated with the breathtaking instrumental work. The suite is bookended by four shorter pieces written by the band. The dissonant bluegrass of the leadoff track, “Punch Bowl,” gets you ready for the expansive central suite, while the three concluding pieces operate as both a series of epilogues and a preview of the next Punch Brothers group effort, although it may take awhile to completely recover from the auditory effect of this Punch. (Nonesuch,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

David Foster Wallace 1962-2008

I was pretty devastated by the death of David Foster Wallace this week, and I've been trying to find something to say about him and his writing that would be fitting and approach the way I feel about him/it.

A.O. Scott got it right in today's NY Times:

"The Best Mind of His Generation"

For the uninitiated, check out DFW's brilliant essay, Tense Present, on English grammar and usage, originally published in Harper's, also included in Consider the Lobster.

Appreciation and mourning in Paper Cuts.

The Howling Fantods, DFW fan website.

From the commencement address DFW gave at Kenyon College in 2005:

"Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

"They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

"And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. ... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

"That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Junior Nationals

Joey had a great Nationals, but I thought I'd let him tell you about it:

Tuesday, Aug. 5
After the long drive down on Monday we spent the night at my uncle’s house in Irvine, and I had time to put together my odd aero setup so I could have it ready for test-riding the TT course. We arrived at the hotel in time to meet up with the other Swifties and get ready for the ride. The TT course started out on a mostly flat bike path for a mile. Then we got on the main road and started the three-mile climb. The climb was not steep but it was long enough to hurt and there was no shade!!!! After that it was all downhill until the turnaround. Then it was as hard as you can go the last kilometer up to the finish! After checking out the 11k course that Stanley and I would do, we rode the rest of the 18k course, did a few pyramids, and rode back. We spent the rest of the day driving to the host hotel to register, chilling, and taking naps. Before we went to bed we had a team meeting to discuss the upcoming race!

Wednesday, Aug. 6
National Championship Time Trial
Result: 20th place, 1:33 behind the winner.

On the morning of the time trial we didn’t have to get up that early. Stanley and I had very late start times so we went for a morning ride to loosen up. After that we got to hang around until almost one thirty in the afternoon, and then I rode over to the course with my Dad. The warm-up parking lot was wide open without any shade, so Stephen Gerber had run over to WalMart to buy the team a tent for warmup. After doing my pyramids I made my way down to the start and got in line behind the guy who would be starting in front of me.
On the course, I quickly got myself up to speed and tried to hold a steady fast pace. After almost a mile on the bike path my legs were feeling good and I had finally caught sight of the guy in front of me. I didn’t make up that much ground on him until I started the climb. Then he visibly slowed down and I caught him in no time. The hill was longer than I remembered and by the time I got to the top I had passed another guy, too. After that it was all downhill until the turnaround, which coincidentally was also the 1K to go mark! Upon seeing the final “K” sign I went for it as hard as I could go! After crossing the line I did roll-out and waited around for results. I thought I might have done pretty well because I passed two guys and wasn’t passed by anyone. When results finally showed up I was in 20th place, but just 1:33 behind the leader, John Funk, and five seconds in front of Marcus Smith, the guy who I had only beaten three times before (one of which was Nationals TT two years ago!). Obviously there were lots of good guys in my age group. Two years ago, John Funk won and I was 2:20 behind him, but ended up in sixth, just six seconds off the podium. Team Swift in general had a good race. Stanley got an awesome fourth, Ryan got fifth, and Ashlyn got sixth!!!

Thursday, Aug. 7
National Championship Criterium
Result: 35th place, pack finish.

The day after the TT and the day of the crit, I had to get up a little bit early to give me time to warm up and still watch a bit of racing! Stanley’s race was first, so I got to watch him for a bit before I started to warm up.
The whistle blew and we were off! As soon as we went around the first turn it was clear to me that I would be very lucky to finish the race without crashing. Most of the guys in my field would slam on the brakes when starting a corner, even when the pack slowed a bit, but I managed to stay out of trouble and hold a good enough position to not get dropped. With one lap to go I had great position up at the front but on the second-to-last turn the guy in front of me totally slammed on the brakes. Not wanting to crash on the last lap I got out of his way, which meant out of the main pack, and by the time I had gotten back up to speed I was dangling on the back. On the final stretch I managed to catch up with some other Nor-Cal guys, Tyler Hanson and Chris LaBerge, who were also on the back, and I sprinted it out with them.
Immediately after my race Ashlyn started hers. We stuck around to see Ashlyn get sixth and Ryan finish a spectacular third!!!!

Friday, Aug. 8
National Championship Road Race
Result: 15th place, pack finish.

The schedule of the road race was very similar to the previous day of racing. Stanley went off first, then me, then Ashlyn etc. But this time I didn’t get to watch Stanley’s race while I warmed up.
I would be doing three laps of an odd course. The start/finish line was on top of a small hill. The race would start by going down one side of the hill, and finish going up the other side after circling around a high school for a while!
After being delayed for a while on the start line, the group got off to a slow start down the hill. But not for long. As soon as we hit the first small incline, the attacking started. The group had not even gone half a lap but still they were totally devoted to one thing: going as fast as possible! The attacks kept on going and finally a small three-man break managed to stay away for more than a lap. On the climb up to the finish on the second lap I found an opening and flew up the side of the pack to the front.But on the final lap the pack really turned up the gas to bring the break back, and I lost my good position in the tight chicanes through the high school. On the start of the last climb we managed to catch the group!
The field was going all out now, a couple of guys got overexcited and crashed, causing a small pile up. Then another guy went down right next to me, his bike went spinning through the air, coming within a foot of hitting my head, but I was able to hold my position. Two guys crashed towards the end of the race and during the sprint, some people who had given all their effort trying to stay with the group fell behind. I ended up sprinting it out with the remainder of my group, which was only about 14. I just managed to make it past all the stragglers in the last hundred meters! I ended up in a satisfying 15th, the last one in the leading group--but at least I was in the lead group! John Funk and Alexander Freund, who had finished 1-2 in the TT, separated by just one tenth of a second, finished 10th and 12th, so 15th was very satisfying.

Like the day before, we stuck around to see the other Swifties race. Ashlyn got on the podium in fifth with an awesome race. But then came the first race tragedy--Ryan crashed and broke his collarbone and was rushed off to the hospital! It was the fourth (or fifth?) broken collarbone of the season for Team Swift but one of the worst times to crash!! We really thought that Ryan was going to win the 15-16 RR.
After taking care of Ryan’s bike, Stanley, Greg, Ashlyn, Stephen, and I decided to celebrate the end of a good year by doing some high-speed go-karting, loving the fact of seeing how fast you could go with so little effort! The parents dominated but Stanley gave them a run for their money (he’d already had some experience of how fast you could really go around those tight corners).

Saturday and Sunday
The rest of our time in LA we spent watching other racing and chilling. We stayed long enough to see Tyler’s and Lindsay’s races, and to congratulate them on their second and eleventh places. After that it was time for us to start the long ride back to Nor-Cal!!!!



Joey Nygaard

Friday, July 18, 2008

Contemporary String Band Workshop

I'm going to be participating in a new workshop put on by the Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, WA, and directed by his honor, the Right Reverend Darol Anger, otherwise known as the Legendary Fiddling Weirdo (well at least to some). Also on the lecturer's side of the podium will be Tristan Clarridge, who just won his 47th (or something, I lost count) National Fiddling Championship (at the age of 22?) and the inimitable Matt Flinner, mando king supreme. It will be in November (13-16 to be exact), not the warmest time to visit the Northwest, but a time when post-summer festival withdrawal has got most of us by the short hairs. Should be fun. Check it out!

Contemporary String Band Workshop

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cool 2008 Albums

Looking at my list of Best of 2007, I realize I haven't said much about 2008 albums, so here's a list that could make the Best of 2008:

Kate Rusby, Awkward Annie
Tim O'Brien, Chameleon
Dave Douglas, Moonshine
Eliza Carthy, Dreams of Breathing Underwater
Cassandra Wilson, Loverly
Joan as Policewoman, To Survive
Crooked Still, Still Crooked
Dan Tyminski, Wheels
Karine Polwart, This Earthly Spell
Annbjorg Lien, Waltz with Me

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Joey Hangs with the Elite 4s

Joey finished with the Cat 4 pack for the first time last Saturday, at the Coyote Creek Circuit Race, a 1.9-mile circuit with a 100-foot climb that the 4s circled 10 times in 45 minutes--you do the math. Here's his report:

We left in the morning preparing for a fun change from the usual juniors races. It was my first cat 4 road race and I was determined to stay with the pack for as long as I could, but being only a 2 mile circuit and having a fair-sized climb I wasn’t too worried. Starting at the front of the group off the line gave me a perfect position for the climb, which the group sped up the climb and started down the small descent. While turning onto the longer flat section of the couse, the man in front of me’s rear tire blew out and he slid out, but he managed not to fall and kept his balance. Not wanting to crash again, I decided to take it easy on the descent but not so easy that I would get dropped.

With 5 laps to go I was comfortably in the pack and feeling great, so great in fact I was beginning to wonder if I could hang on ‘til the finish!! With two laps to go I was sure I could do it and it even passed through my mind that it would be fun to try an attack up the climb, but I couldn’t get a good enough position. With one lap remaining, the pack started to really hammer and I had to fight to stay in position. When the group got to the last climb up to the finish line I had lost some ground but was still barely with the group. Once the sprint started, the field split and I was near the front of the second group only 15 meters behind the lead group!!

I was very proud of myself after the race. It was my first cat 4 race that I had finished with the pack and it encouraged me to do more 4s road races. The race also was great for my bike handling skills considering there were some very sketchy riders (including the rider who caused the crash at the Wente Crit that broke my collarbone) and corners.

Sadly I was the only Swiftie there but a few friendly Roaring Mouse riders we knew from rides were good company!!!!!
Joey Nygaard

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Eliza Carthy

Eliza Carthy may very well be my favorite singer. Her combination of vocal power and restrained passion tends to produced renditions of songs that immediately become definitive to my ears. Her songwriting, on the other hand, is something I haven't quite gotten. My favorite recordings are those, like Anglicana and Rice, that primarily stick to traditional material. Her "pop" folk-rock records are a taste that I've not yet acquired. Until now . . . I think. Her latest, Dreams of Breathing Underwater, is a record that, unlike Angels and Cigarettes, her last recording of original songs, will likely remain in my CD player for quite some time.

I think the problem with Eliza is her lack of irony. Her lyrics tend not to scan, but that doesn't necessarily phase me. I'm a big fan of Jenny Lewis, who shares a certain lyrical irregularity with Eliza. But Jenny's songs are filled with irony and subtle humor. Eliza's are not, and her music is not. It's hard to imagine her writing these tragicomic songs about anyone other than herself. And occasionally we get a little more personal information than we'd like. I really don't need to know, for instance, that she has "given blow jobs on couches to men who didn't want me anymore," as she wrote in "The Company of Men." Of course, I may be like those people who think that Richard Thompson "should lighten up." Maybe I don't get it. It wouldn't be the first time. But the one real misstep here illustrates the problem. Had "Mr. Magnifico" been sung by Richard Thompson, with tongue firmly planted in cheek and electric guitar set on stun, it would have worked. Here it's semi-narrated by one Tim Matthew with obbligato by a trumpet-playing refugee from Marty Robbins' band. The effect is more Benny Hill than Monty Python, to exhaust my knowledge of British TV humour.

The good news, though is that there is just one of these (OK, maybe two, I haven't decided about "Little Bigman" yet) and that Eliza has written a brace of excellent songs--including "Rows of Angels," "Rosalie," "Like I Care," "Hug You Like a Mountain," and "Lavenders," and that's the first time I've ever been able to say that. I may not be quoting any of her lyrics as my favorites, but the wedding of music to lyric and vocal on this CD ranks with her classic trad material, and the CD is marked by numerous brilliant musical moments--such as the gorgeous and loose folk string sections that come and go throughout the CD; the distorted guitar, horn, and accordion line that ends "Like I Care"; the luscious vocal trio (with Eddie Reader and Heather McCleod) on "Lavenders"; and the stunning combination of sweet violins, wah-wah-ish guitar noises, and ashcan drum-kittery on "Simple Things," to name just a few. Though hearing her voice on this recording in some ways makes this old fogey long for another of her trad records, I have a feeling this one will stay with me for quite awhile and may soon rank with my favorite "new song" recordings. Time will tell. For now, I'll just go give it another spin.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Junior Points Series Podium

After missing two of the Junior Points Series races (and most of the regional championships) with a broken collarbone, Joey was surprised last weekend to find out that he'd finished 5th in the points series. So surprised in fact, that he had no team hat, shirt, or vest nearby when the podium was announced. He at least remembered to take off his helmet (notice white object lying behind his feet).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Supreme Idiocy

The recent decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn the handgun ban in Washington D.C. defies credulity. In the San Francisco Chronicle the story recounting the Stupefyingly Insane Court's reasoning ran side-by-side with the story of a man and his two teenage sons who were brutally murdered in their car because their car had momentarily blocked the path of the gunman's car.

A photo in the Chronicle showed a bunch of gun nuts celebrating the decision, including a man holding a crude placard that read "If guns kill people, do pencils misspell words?" Thus clearly identifying the lunacy of people who can equate the murder of a human being with a misspelled word.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A gig this Thursday

I haven't been using this blog for gig promotion, or any other kind really, but I'm not sure why. So here goes.

Marsha Genensky, Scott Nygaard, and Paul Kotapish

June 19, 8 pm, Freight and Salvage, Berkeley, CA,

Though they come from different musical backgrounds, Anonymous 4 vocalist Marsha Genensky, Grammy-winning bluegrass guitarist Scott Nygaard, and virtuoso Celtic/old-time mandolinist Paul Kotapish are united by their love of traditional American music. Marsha made her mark as founding member of the vocal quartet Anonymous 4, with 18 chart-topping recordings of medieval and contemporary classical music and traditional American song. Scott has performed and recorded with Tim O’Brien, Laurie Lewis, Chris Thile, Jerry Douglas, Darol Anger, and others, and released two acclaimed CDs of his instrumental music. Paul has contributed his mandolin and guitar chops to Kevin Burke’s Open House, Wake the Dead, the Hillbillies from Mars, and numerous West Coast Celtic and old-time groups. This unique evening of solos, duos, and trios will feature their elegant and inspired arrangements of Appalachian ballads, mountain fiddle tunes, and old-time songs.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Clifford Brown on Soupy Sales TV Show

The greatest trumpeter ever. I love at the end where Clifford plays while Soupy does the "Soupy Shuffle."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Valley Tan and SFBG&OTF

My friend Tara Shupe just started Valley Tan, a groovy little acoustic music magazine mostly about the Salt Lake music scene. I agreed to write some stuff for it, but since I know almost nothing about Salt Lake, I decided to write about the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time fest. Check it out at Valley Tan or keep reading.

San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Festival
By Scott Nygaard

For most San Francisco residents, mention of their “local bluegrass festival” immediately brings to mind the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the annual Indian summer event in Golden Gate Park for which local billionaire/banjoist Warren Hellman imports a large number of the people you think of when the term Americana is bandied about (thus the “hardly” part of the name) for half a million freeloading music-loving party goers. But for the local bluegrass community, the real San Francisco bluegrass festival occurs in the doldrums of midwinter, when the musician-run San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Music festival takes over a slew of local venues for nine days of concerts, square dances, workshops, films, jam sessions, and community building.

While the Hardly Strictly festival favors Nashville-based headliners like Del McCoury, Emmylou Harris, and Ricky Skaggs, along with such not-even-close-to-bluegrass acts like Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, and this year’s oddity Boz Scaggs (Ricky’s long-lost second cousin twice removed?), and generally gives the local bluegrass scene the cold shoulder, the SFBG&OT fest revels in the multifaceted local bluegrass and old-time scene, while importing a healthy dose of the Portland old-time crowd and even a few choice trad headliners like the Foghorn String Band, Ralph Stanley, Danny Barnes, or this year’s score, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Venues include local acoustic hangouts like the Freight and Salvage, Noe Valley Ministry, Plough and Stars, and Atlas Cafe, along with a few less-trafficked settings (whose denizens appear a bit surprised to see banjos and mandolins in their midst) like the Make-Out Room, Swedish American Hall, and the Verdi Club, an old Italian-American social club in San Francisco’s Mission District that hosted a day of workshops and concerts I was fortunate to be a part of this year.

Since it was Super Bowl Sunday and most bluegrass fans had never heard of the Verdi Club, turnout was not quite as robust as the organizers had hoped (though the festival is not heavily promoted, many SBFBG&OT fest concerts are sell-outs), but not as bad as some had feared. With guitar workshops by Jim Nunally (who had performed two nights earlier with David Grisman’s Bluegrass Experience) and myself, mandolin workshops by Eric Thompson and Ida Viper’s Brian Oberlin, a fiddle workshop by the Crooked Jades’ Sophie Vitells, and an old-time banjo workshop by Mark Petteys, the day got off to a sleepy start but was in high spirits by the time the late afternoon jam session broke up and the evening concert kicked off.

The lineup that night typified the eclectic and charming nature of the local San Francisco scene, which, while still reeling under the effects of the Summer of Love to some extent, is also home to a rabidly traditional “play-me-something-I’m-used-to” contingent. Leading off the night was Jimmie Rodgers acolyte Toshio Hirano with note-perfect guitar-and-vocal renditions of classic Rodgers and Hank Williams songs. Hirano was followed by the duo of myself and Celtic/old-time mandolinist Paul Kotapish. Up next was the Mercury Dimes, a rollicking Charlie Poole-ish string band that featured the twin fiddles of Elise Engelberg and Michael Follstad and the ragged-but-right old-timey singing of guitarist Matt Knoth and guest banjoist (and festival organizer) Tom Lucas.

After that, I was back at work as the “second guitarist” with Eric Thompson’s Kleptograss, a collection of Bay Area stalwarts that includes Jody Stecher on mandolin and banjo, Paul Shelasky on fiddle and momentously bad jokes, Paul Knight on bass, and Thompson on guitar, mandolin, clawhammer banjo, and Puerto Rican ten-string cuatro (which, by the way, is even harder to tune than a mandolin). If there were any ghosts of the old Verdi Club regulars lingering in the rafters they might have been less surprised than the bluegrass crowd to hear the Greek kalamatiano and Puerto Rican tunes that pepper Kleptograss’s repertoire of fiddle tunes, Gypsy swing, and Muddy Waters blues, but if the “extreme eclectic” repertoire bothered anyone in the audience (spectral or corporeal), they politely kept it to themselves. Closing the show was local bluegrass favorite, the Brewglass Boys, this night missing their leader Belle Monroe, who was snowbound in the far reaches of Nevada and whose progress (or lack thereof) was regularly monitored by the evening’s emcee, Chuck Poling.

But this was just one night of many at this year’s San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time festival. Other festivalgoers were treated to the likes of Peter Rowan, Town Mountain, the Freight Hoppers, the Crooked Jades (with new member Rose Sinclair on banjo and slide guitar), the Spring Creek Bluegrass Band, and Jackstraw, not to mention local up-and-comers Homespun Rowdy, the Whoreshoes, and the Barefoot Nellies. With all that talent, I doubt anyone was longing for a Skaggs (either Ricky or Boz).

Monday, March 31, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I recently started getting Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac" delivered to me daily by email. The "Almanac" begins with a poem, and it's really no surprise, but I have a very different taste in poetry than Garrison Keillor. So I thought I'd start posting a few poems I might choose if I were in charge of the poems at "The Writer's Almanac." Of course, I'm going to have to respect copyright, so I'll start with something from the 12th century. I've wondered if Pablo Neruda might have been familiar with this one.


Every night I scan
the heavens with my eyes
seeking the star
that you are contemplating.

I question travellers
from the four corners of the earth
hoping to meet one
who has breathed your fragrance.

When the wind blows
I make sure it blows in my face:
the breeze might bring me
news of you.

I wander over roads
without aim, without purpose.
Perhaps a song
will sound your name.

Secretly I study
every face I see
hoping against hope
to glimpse a trace of your beauty.

--Abu Bakr al-Turtushi

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Remembering Matt and Kristy

The cycling community has really pulled together over this horrible incident. Joey did the Tuesday night Golden Gate Park ride with the Roaring Mouse team, and it was good to see our friends from that team. There are all sorts of events and memorial sites up.

Remembering Kristy

Remembering Matt

We'll miss the memorial ride on Sunday, but here's info:

Team Roaring Mouse Cycles and Third Pillar Racing Team are holding a joint memorial ride this Saturday March 15th, to honor the lives of Kristy Gough and Matt Peterson, our two teammates killed on Steven's Creek Canyon last Sunday while on a training ride. We welcome friends, family, fellow cyclists and all those whose lives have been touched by Matt and Kristy. Our ride will include a visit to the site of the crash site for those to share their memories.

When: Saturday, March 15th

Where: Leaving from Foothill College
12345 El Monte Road,
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022

Google map to location:

**We kindly request you do NOT drive out to the crash site during this time, as we need to keep cars to a minimum in the area, given the road conditions.

Time: Meet at 2:30pm, ride by 3pm

Length: 30-45 minutes to the crash site. Base pace (ie, mellow). No drop.

Start @ Foothill College (Parking Lot #1, near the football stadium; see link above for map)

- Left on El Monte
- Right on Foothill Expressway
- Continue on Steven's Creek Canyon
- Return

Route directions via Google:

**Press are welcome to attend, however we request respect during our ride. It would mean the most to us if press were to accompany us on their bikes, as we are all cyclists this week.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Tragic Loss

The Bay Area Cycling community is in shock from the loss of two of its own yesterday. From the SF Chronicle:

Sheriff's deputy hits cyclists, killing 2

(03-09) 20:42 PDT Cupertino -- A rookie Santa Clara County deputy sheriff patrolling a winding Cupertino road Sunday morning veered into the opposite lane of traffic and struck three bicyclists, killing two, including a rising star in the Bay Area cycling community, authorities said.

Authorities did not release the names of the riders who were killed, but friends identified them as Kristy Gough, 30, of San Leandro and Matt Peterson, 29, of San Francisco. The third cyclist, whose name was not released, was listed in critical condition Sunday night at Stanford University Medical Center.

Gough was a professional triathlete who recently took up road racing and who friends said won every race she entered this year. She and Peterson, also an amateur road racing cyclist, both won their divisions in a March 1 road racing event in downtown Merced.

My condolences to all who knew Kristy and Matt and best wishes to the unidentified cyclist still in the hospital. As they say, be careful out there people.

I didn't know Matt or Kristy, but I'd been hearing about Kristy, and I know a few of Matt's temmates. It turns out their teams met for a training ride at the same spot Joey and I went for a training ride yesterday--Canada Rd. But Joey had been sick for a couple days and we did an easy and shortish ride, not venturing up into the hills. Matt had just won his first race--the Merco Criterium, and Kristy, a champion triathlete, just started racing this year. Here are her USACycling results--8 races, 8 wins.

03/02/2008 - Merco Credit Union Foothills Road Race - Road Race - Cat 3/4
1 Kristy Gough 274487 00:00.0 649 Third Pillar

03/01/2008 - Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic Downtown GP - Criterium - Cat 3/4
1 Kristy Gough 274487 00:00.0 862 Third Pillar

02/24/2008 - Original Merced Criterium - Criterium - Cat 3
1 Kristy Gough 274487 00:00:00.00 804 Third Pillar

02/17/2008 - Pine Flat Road Race - Road Race - Cat 4
1 Kristy Gough 274487

02/16/2008 - Cantua Creek Road Race - Road Race - Cat 4
1 Kristy Gough 274487 00:00:00.00 905 Third Pillar

02/16/2008 - Snelling Road Race - Road Race - Cat 3
1 Kristy Gough 274487 00:00.0 906 Third Pillar

02/10/2008 - Cherry Pie Criterium - Criterium - Cat 4
1 Kristy Gough 274487

3rd Pillar

01/26/2008 - Early Bird Road Race - Road Race - Cat 4
1 Kristy Gough 0


Friday, March 7, 2008


Yikes, it's been almost 3 months since my last blog! This part-time editing job and raft of gigs with various folks has kept me pretty busy. Plus I just got out of the habit, I guess. I could go on and on about all the things I've been doing, but--boring. So I'll just mention a couple cool albums I've heard recently.

First off, Petri Hakala's Trad. Petri is an amazing mandolin player from Finland, and on this solo CD he plays, you guessed it, traditional Finnish tunes, on mandolins, mandola, mandocello, and guitar. I've had the pleasure of playing with Petri in the past and he's right up there with the best American mando players. His tone and fluidity are fantastic and he even plays a Gilchrist, which most players seem to regard as the best newly made mandolins. The CD is solo in that nobody else plays on it, but Petri overdubs other parts for a very nice sound that doesn't stray too far from the traditional polskas and waltzes. His guitar playing is a revelation for me--I didn't even know he played guitar--but it's his clean and crisp mando playing that is the main attraction.
David Grier has also released a solo CD recently--Live at the Linda. In David's case, it is entirely solo, just David and his 1946 Martin D-28. It will come as no surprise to anyone who's heard David that this is a phenomenal guitar record. There's no one who can do what David does with such taste and ease. What I love about this CD is the tone of David's guitar, which is difficult to render in a live setting. It may be due to the fact that David is playing a D-28, rather than his previously favored D-18, but David's tone on this CD is the best I've heard, remarkably lush and rich. It's enough to excuse the covers of "Killing Me Softly" and "America the Beautiful" and the bad jokes told between songs. Actually the "Glass Eye" joke is a good one.