January 31, 2012
Music Eve 1, Courses, ME Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 5
A half-filled, chilly ballroom might scare some people. I find it makes the night more intimate; makes it easier to meet the audience from their seat, and provides a darn good view.
All the way from near-Nashville, USA, George Harper’s happy train pulled out of the station right on time, picked up pace appropriately and kept the pickin’ speed steady. Lyrical stories - snapshots of life - rolled like wafting steam through the air, through shoes and boots and sneakers, right down to toes happy to be tapping along. The last Harper stop came along a little earlier than I’d have liked. The good news was the short set was a perfect little tease with the promise more would be coming over the course of the next few evenings. Of course, amid songs of humor and snap-shot stanzas of life, there was a message in there; sort of special one, especially for me, especially for now. “When you try to make sense of it all, it will bring you to your knees. Just thank GOD at the end of the day, of the day.”
Sweet George was followed by what couldn’t be a more polar-ly opposite, exactly-the-same-roots band. Introduced as “The most tattooed bluegrass band in the world,” G-Runs and Roses arrived on stage baring colorful sleeves and an upbeat, slightly nervous and high energy attitude. For a bit it seemed like they were playing to and feeding off each other before they tentatively noticed the audience. Not surprising when the members hail collectively from far away Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Very surprising when they launched special effects vocals without the use of special effect equipment - taking the heavy metal wall of sound to a vocal bluegrass level. G-Runs heated up a near frozen, over-air conditioned ballroom with more classics than you’re likely to find on country radio. From their righteous rendition of Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” to the inspiringly transformed Simon and Garfunkle classic “Leaves that are Green” G-Runs honed their sound playing country songs on their travelling bus. Their five-dimensional rendition of Clint Black’s “Better Man” couldn’t have been played by better men.
By the time Tupelo took the stage, I’d already been sated, fed three courses: teaser Tupelo appetizer, traditional Harper fare, progressive G-Runs dessert. Tupelo again, twice in one evening, in venues as close as one Longford block, and as far apart house-wise as could be, made for a fabulous nightcap. Again, surpassing expectancy by giving their all to a not sold-out crowd, the new bluegrass/saxophone sounds blew off the stage. Like saxy-bluegrass sarcasm, James Cramer’s musical soul frazzled out through his hair, zapping the audience into participation. They turned the ballroom into an intimate pub and then the pub into a reception lounge, where suddenly you’re sitting on your home couch having a chat about the unimportance of politics and allegiances, and the truthfulness of proud love and collective voices. Tupelo completely won over a mainly older crowd of traditionalists with amazing ease, all the while encouraging a bluegrass-jitterbug mosh pit. At the end of this first evening’s entertainment, there was no one unsure of the wide range potential or the future of bluegrass left in the room.
Soup to nuts, from George Harper to G-Runs and Tupelo (twice), soaking in and soaking up a much needed medicinal music infusion, all have now been permanently added the soundtrack of my life. If I had to go home right now, I’d be satisfied with the journey, just to have been here for this one day and one night.
Yet, the night was still young….
January 22, 2012
Music Eve 1, ME Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 4
Ach, well, it seems my timing was off a bit, although, I ran into some other lately-type festival folks outside the pub door. It’s been so long, I had to laugh at my own entrance. I’d forgotten bar set-up usually required the band to be up front, door-side. So, along with my acquaintances, we stepped into the set, bringing a cool breeze, a bit of rain, and a distracting commotion. To the side we scuttled, to the back as far from the action as space would allow. Along the way, I surprisingly encountered several slightly familiar faces. Although, by their reactions when I said hello; some of them were indeed merely familiar looking strangers.
A short step here or there to at least get a line of sight on the band, slowly landed me a straight shot less than five feet away. At a tall table strewn with table tents, single CD’s, and someone willing to by me a Guinness, I found myself the subject of some inquisitive looks. It dawned on me eventually that I’d placed myself in a much more prominent position than warranted. I realized I was smiling and something was expected of me. So, I nodded, accepted and gave way more greets than I’d imagined I would. Especially since I expected to be a casual, hang back observer. But I suppose that’s the price for having been given good reason to wide smile.
After two riling, completely and competently energetic offerings, Tupelo took a break along with all in attendance, most of Ireland and many world-wide, to raise a darkened pint to Mr. Guinness. I took a good long gulp of my draught, and a good long look around at about 80 celebratory pubbers. Gotta give great big props to a band who gives huge performances in small places to small crowds.
One brilliant final song, the new single, and it was time to move on. I snagged a World Guinness Celebration coaster for my memorabilia, although what I really wanted was a snippet of the swag streamer, and wandered back to the Arms, rolling along with the crowd, the music and performance adrenaline pulsing through me, smiling.
And the first evening was only getting started…
January 17, 2012
-Up, Me Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 3
Within 24 hours, I am simply at ease on the streets of Longford. I am the third body in the staffing office today, keeping busy sorting and folding festival t-shirts, creating merchandise displays, continuing to update artist packages, selling tickets and programs, providing breaks for the other gals. I happily wander to the convenience store in search of a short solo lunch. Much like a 7-11 but with a soup and sandwich station, too. The offerings are the same, but still nothing is at all familiar. Could be I’m just lagging again but – the brands are all different, and I’m simply stumped.
I’m too boggled to decide, so I settle on the pre-made case, surprised to find something just up my alley. A chicken breast covered in coleslaw, nested on a thin bed of stuffing, all stuffed into white bread. Makes me laugh because I’ve apparently found myself in a country that eats as I do – creatively! I grab a single serving size of cheese and onion chips, and something familiar, at last - a bottled Coke! I add a single serve package of chocolate drops – they look like M&M’s, so I figure they’ll be fine, and they are. The chips however, are icky: chalky and onion-y like raw onions on a salad bar. Not at all like Ruffles!
I enjoy my pick-up fare on the town square, benching it in the intermittent sunshine, before heading back to my post inside. Word has gotten out that the silent auction banjo by Clareen Banjo created for the 10th anniversary of the festival is on display. Not at the office though, it’s down at The Arms, so we direct folks that way. Weekend-pass wrist bands are selling sporadically, as are tickets for this evening’s show.
So far, sales are down from the previous year, but there are always door sales, and the hope is they will be high. It is only Thursday night, after all. There are three more days and nights of events and shows. Even in a down-turn economy, the shows are worth way more than the price. As the afternoon winds down, I head back towards the hotel.
I pop into the meat market to get a tide-me-over. I’m counting on a 20 minute nap before the evening’s first double event of a record release party for the band Tupelo combined with the third yearly celebration of Arthur’s Day. I’ll freshen up, coffee up, eat up my roasted veggie wrap, look up the way to Fox’s pub, and jump back into the fray – on the uptake, all within 60 minutes.
January 10, 2012
Snooze, ME Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 2
OK, there’s a reason GOD lead someone to invent the snooze button. I hit mine until 8:30 am, only finally motivated by the chance of missing complimentary breakfast. It’s truly only 3:30 am which explains my slight unwillingness, but instant room-packet Irish breakfast coffee is marvelous, and marvelously inspiring. I stumble reluctantly toward the shower arguing with myself that clean is necessary and cold will help stimulate my synapses. Even better stimulation is hot water – and I’ve got some this morning!
Breakfast is a pleasant surprise of served buffet. I stock up and settle down, not sure what the day will bring. One fried egg, one triangular hash brown, brown bread and butter, broiled tomatoes, beans, orange juice, and an apple for later land and on my tray. I passed on the sausages and porridge – I’ll get to them tomorrow. The cozy nooks and café tables are nearly full, but I wander in deep and around a tight corner, up a stair or two, I find a sweet little corner with a lounger and side table to enjoy the fare. Though sweetly atmospheric, the old hotel filled with old upholstery and old book makes Benadryl a necessity, so another cup of coffee is in order.
Filled and caffeine-full of steam, I head off down Main Street. My plan is to stop into the pharmacy to find a smaller notebook – one that will handily fit in my child-size backpack. Didn’t find one, though. So, a block down I cross over and through light morning traffic, headed to a stationery store. No luck there, either. No panic, though. I still have a few pages left in the mini booklet gifted to me for last fall’s writing class, and I should be sufficiently busy not to have much not writing time, anyway. Next stop; JKB Festival office.
January 03, 2012
Right, ME Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 1
Every moment makes us a little bit wiser.
Like the one where you find yourself exactly where you think you’re supposed to be for a change. This is why I made this trip: to find myself at an intimate dinner where once again it’s proven – people who love music love each other. Sitting down to a simple and simply amazing dinner with unspoken credentials, macaroni and gravy, garlic bread, salad and plenty of red and white wine. An atmosphere of comfort among strangers, served up in a home of new tradition: remodeled stone, modernized with ¾ windows overlooking Kilglass Lake and a music room with sweeping views of rolling hills and peace. I could write here forever, which inspires a forward dream – there must be a B&B or cottage for rent for me next go ‘round.
In the meantime though, blue grass artists, music professionals, spouses and children, a friendly dog named Maxine, festival volunteers, the two owners/crafters and two representatives from Deering, the leading American banjo company are all perfect convivial companions.
There’s a great deal of laughter, new-found fondness, and a detailed discussion regarding the virtues and rarity of original Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, and the need to smuggle some away in suitcases when visitors to America return to Ireland. There’s also the happy discovery that I’m not the only newcomer to Ireland, and not the only one who a few glasses in realizes that jet lag is really real.
I make the decision to leave this perfect night beaming, and with a touch of regret that a jam session has just begun. But, again, I find I am still in that perfect place bubble. Sharing a back seat ride with a young college graduate from Worcester, MA, I get to enjoy her contagious spark. She hates her phone carrier, too – and they’re different from mine! She helps me figure out the way to old fashioned text from the borrowed throw-away, and we discuss a surprising number of common in-common things in a very short while.
I bounce my way back to my room without any trouble. I’m exhausted, giddy, and have acclimated nicely into a new favorite saying: feckin’ right! Time for a face wash, Motrin, alarm set for 8 am breakfast, so pleased to know I’ll soon drift off smiling – can’t help it.