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The Newport Folk Festival

August 18, 2009

So, we’re taking a brief break from the European odyssey that I swear I’m working on writing about (apologies for being bad lately) and going to a more recent time, and a much closer place: Newport, RI, on the first weekend of August. This was the weekend that I went to the 50th Annual Newport Folk Festival with my dad, and it was a lot of fun.

Well, mostly. The drive down from Boston didn’t go so well, as I had a migraine, and for me that means a lot of nausea and semi-projectile vomiting. Which of course does not mix well with a two-hour car ride. Oh well. Things got better once we got there, and weren’t moving. The festival as a whole really appealed, I think, to a lot of different groups. My dad was primarily going for the old folky-type performers but was interested in some of the newer indie bands that were playing, and the opposite was mostly true for me. When we got there we could see that there was a huge age range, which was even reflected in the artists themselves—twenty-somethings playing right alongside the 90-year-old Pete Seeger.

The first band we saw (most of) was the Avett Brothers, a band that I had discovered through the NPR Live Concert Podcast. In fact, the whole reason I was there that weekend was pretty much because of that podcast. I had downloaded a few concerts from last year’s festival, and that was how I found out about it. I also found out about many of the bands that were playing there through that service. The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, and others, I had known about before, but some of my favorite bands (now, anyway) such as Neko Case, and actually the Avett Brothers too, were completely unknown to me before NPR came along. So thank you, NPR, for that.

We wandered around back and forth between some concerts after that, from the Low Anthem which both of us had heard one or two songs of before and liked, but their live performance left a lot to be desired, sadly. We also saw Mavis Staples, part of the original Staple Singers, and a great gospel performer, as well as just a great performer. One of our issues with the Low Anthem was that they weren’t very lively; they sounded like they felt similar to how I was feeling. Mavis Staples was, as you might expect a large black gospel-singing women to be, very active, coercing the audience to participate, and it was a really fun show. We headed back to the main stage after that to hear the Fleet Foxes, who had sort of the same problem as the Low Anthem (it was very hot, so I don’t blame most of these people.) I heard a little of Iron and Wine, and then saw the entirety of the Decemberists’ set.

Which was pretty good. They still played a bunch of songs from the Hazards of Love, which I don’t like nearly as much as their other stuff, but there was a good deal of that too. There was also a reenactment of Bob Dylan going electric with the somewhat confusing addition of a squirrel, which was funny.

Finally, Pete Seeger took the stage with his grandson, and, although he couldn’t sing himself, led us all in song, which was great. At the end of the day we went back into Newport, ate at a nice Italian restaurant, and went to sleep on my uncle’s boat.

The next day we went back. This was my first experience with a multi-day music festival—as I had to give up my Bonnaroo tickets last year due to a scheduling conflict—and it was a little weird to be back in the same place, hearing music at 11 in the morning. But it was fun. We started off with Josh Ritter, who was pretty good, but at the end of his set I went to catch the end of two bands I had never heard of before who were playing at the other two stages simultaneously. One, David Rawlings Machine, was nothing interesting. However, the other, Dala, was basically the best thing ever. They’re two Canadian girls singing jazzy folk with super close harmony, and what’s more, they looked like they were having a ball doing it, which added so much. Within about 30 seconds I was hooked. And so too, apparently, was everyone else. I had never really understood why concert blogs and so on would say that an act was the “breakout performance” at a particular festival. Now I know. It was clear that everyone—most of whom, I assume, had never heard this band before—absolutely loved them. They even got invited out to play a song at the mainstage, unscheduled. This didn’t happen with any other bands, so even the arrangers of the concerts must have known. My dad and I bought both of the CDs they brought, and listened to them on the way back home. So, Dala is awesome.

My other favorite act of the day was Neko Case, who I got hooked on, as I mentioned, through the live concerts broadcast on the NPR podcast. She always has entertaining banter (although less so at Newport than other concerts) and the singing and songwriting is really wonderful. She also has a song, “I Wish I Was the Moon,” that is confusingly consistently different live than it is recorded. Live, there’s always an amazing hawaiian steel guitar part that simply doesn’t exist in the recording, but all of the now four concerts of hers I’ve heard she’s done it the same way. Weird. Anyway, she played that, and it was awesome.

Arlo Guthrie was also there, who was a lot of fun. He was really good at guitar, and his songs were well done. His between song stories were also great—my dad told me that in the past he had been more famous for those than for any actual musical talent, but apparently that has changed in the interim. Another legend that performed was Joan Baez, who I had never knowingly heard before. I was really impressed, even at her age, and so I can’t imagine what she once sounded like. Judy Collins also sang, and I was also impressed, but she seemed like a weirder person so I liked her less. Baez also did a very good Dylan impression briefly during her performance of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which was one of the best I’ve heard (I suppose it makes sense given their connections).

Finally, Pete Seeger came out again, and led another sing along. At this time it was misting and starting to rain, but we stuck to it until the end. Even in the rain the venue was really beautiful. The big bridge leading to Newport was slowly disappearing as the music went on. Fort Adams State Park sits on a point outside Newport, with the stage against the huge wall of the fort looking out to the ocean. Apparently the festival used to be inside the fort but it simply got too big so they moved it outside. There were a LOT of people there, but it wasn’t difficult getting a place where we could see the stage.

All in all it was a really great experience, and I’ll definitely think about going again next year. Oh, also, listen to Dala. Here’s their newest single (unfortunately I can’t embed it so you’ll have to click on the link). Enjoy!

Levi Blues

Copenhagen: The City of Lights

August 5, 2009

Yes, I know that that’s Paris. Shh. But seriously, those Danes really know their lights. Take a look at this:

IMG_1096This is Tivoli, the big amusement park slash garden in the middle of Copenhagen. Not only did everything look like this at night, there was also a sound and light show every night shortly before closing. With lasers! And weird soundtrack-like music! And fog machines! It was pretty sweet. When I was there, we went on one ride, but primarily we just wandered around at all the cool scenery. We also went right before sunset, so we saw the transformation from the typical into the illuminated, which was fun.

But Tivoli was by no means the only spectacularly-lit part of Copenhagen. Even something as simple as signage was interesting. There were two neon signs, one for a bank and one for waste management, which had 30-second long sequences of lights and actions, which was unexpected, to say the least. Unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me upload videos. Take my word that they were cool.

Even stationary ads were still impressive. This is from the main square around the city hall.

IMG_1104And yes, the thermometer changed with the temperature. This one was cool too.

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Finally, on my last day, I went to the Danish Design Center, which is a place with continually changing exhibits on the various new frontiers of design, architecture, and engineering. And of course, what was the current exhibit? Lighting! Yay! They had all sorts of cool lights from fiber optics to organic light to color changing, pretty much anything you could think of.

Despite being insanely expensive, Copenhagen was pretty awesome. And I did do other things than look at lights, but that was a big part of it. I suppose I saw this, too.

IMG_1116Hurray for the Little Mermaid. Until next time!

Blood-Colored Socks!

July 29, 2009

I couldn’t think of another synonym for Red. Anyway, apologies for not writing in a while, I’ve been doing pretty badly in terms of getting things done recently. However, two nights ago, I did something that I have waited all 22 years of my life to do: I went to Fenway and saw the Red Sox! Actually, I just saw the Red Sox, since I had never seen them anywhere else, either.

It was pretty awesome. Tickets were only 20, and we didn’t stand in line for very long. They were standing tickets, but there was enough place to lean so it wasn’t that bad, and we stole some seats after the 7th inning when people were beginning to leave. The game was against the Oakland A’s, who were trounced 8-2.

The whole thing seemed really small to me. Yes, I know what you’re going to say, Fenway is a tiny place (which is actually good for being able to see things), but it wasn’t just the outfield. Even the infield seemed small. I always sort of thought that the major leagues were larger, but 60 feet and 6 inches from the mound to home really isn’t that far. It was cool though, because you could see very easily what was going on. Things are a lot more continuous in life than they are on TV. However, at one point I was looking around the stadium to try to find the display where they should how many people were on base, and it took me about 30 seconds to realise that didn’t exist, because you could, you know, look at the field.

I was also happy because I ended up going pretty much by happenstance. I was about to bike away from my dorm, when a friend passed through the door, and she said she was going to the Red Sox, so I tagged along. I didn’t really expect it to be that easy, since I hadn’t done it ever, assuming that it was difficult and expensive, but it was basically the best thing ever. I plan to go again may times, now that I know how (and I know that there are almost always day-of tickets available)

The City of Hamburg, or Free Things We Paid For Anyway

July 11, 2009

Finally! A blog on Europe! Only three months after the fact… But, without any further ado…

We didn’t go to Hamburg for any other reason than that the flight there was literally 1 penny. Plus tax. But I ended up really enjoying it, although I’m pretty glad we didn’t spend any more than two days there, i think we would have gotten pretty bored pretty quickly if we had stayed.

Our flight there was at 6 in themorning, meaning that we had had to go the airport the night before, sleep on the floor, and then fly, since there were no buses to Stansted that early in the morning. This was uncomfortable, but tolerable. We landed after an incredibly short flight in Lübeck airport, which is actually a separate city, 45 minutes outside of Hamburg. But there was an airport shuttle to and from the city conveniently scheduled to leave just after every flight in. Keyword there: conveniently. We got to the bus, it was full, and we saw another bus coming, so we figured we would just get on that one. We talk to the driver, I say my first German sentence in about a year or so (“There is nothing seats,” or something similar—trying to be “there weren’t any seats”), as I somehow become the spokesperson for a group of four or five of us, and we are informed that, because of the schedule, this bus won’t leave for another two hours. Unfortunate. We all pile on a city bus to Lübeck center, somehow find a train to Hamburg that’s only slightly more expensive than the bus would have been, and get on.

We get to Hamburg, pay for tickets on the subway, and get to our hotel. Now, throughout this journey, we never have to validate our tickets, or show them to anyone, or put them in a machine, or anything. This confuses me, but I figure it’s just a fluke. The hotel is very nice, very new (it had opened about a week before we got there) and had a wonderful breakfast buffet, which cost 5 euros. Or did it? We paid for it each day, but, just like the subway, we never got our guest cards checked, we could have just walked in and ate. Sigh.

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The main thing we did while in Hamburg was take a free walking tour. This is run by an outfit that apparently has branches in many major European cities, that run tips-only tours. Ours was a lot of fun. Just like the hotel, they had just opened the Hamburg branch about a week ago, so they were still fresh-faced and not yet jaded from saying the same thing every day. There were a surprising amount of cool things in Hamburg, despite it being, for us anyway a waypoint. It was a massive center of trade, so there were a lot of counting houses for the shipping companies, including one that has the pointiest corner of any building in Europe. Pretty pointy. At the end of this tour, after we saw a lot of Hamburg, including some new bits that were being built, like a new concert hall, we of course tipped the guide. Yet another free thing.

There were also a lot of cool churches, many completely destroyed by bombing during World War II. One only had its tower, everything else was gone. We also visited the botanical garden, which was really hot but calming, after a long day of traveling. The final thing we did was to visit the City Hall. This was a very impressive building, both inside and outside, and although we didn’t get to spend all that much time inside, I was very happy. The tour rushed us through, and the guide randomly had a french accent, which I didn’t quite understand, but it was cool.

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Hamburg was surprisingly fun. We went on a boat for some of the time, looking at the city from the water, and it was a nice (although in places sketchy) place to wander around. And despite buying a three day public transportation pass, this never got checked once, throughout our three days. However, I was soon to discover that this was the rule rather than the exception in European transport systems. Coming from London, this was hard to get used to, but it was nice that they believed enough in the honor system to make it work.

That’s a rough overview of Hamburg. comment if you want to know more, or see more pictures, and I’ll try to accommodate you. This is really the first of my travelogue type posts so I’m still getting used to it. Next stop, Copenhagen!

Hieroglyphics!

June 22, 2009

So, I have many projects for the summer (and I swear one is writing about Europe!!), and one is to attempt to learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphics. I’ve had a book for some time now, titled (aptly) “How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphics,” and I’ve gotten through Chapter One about three times now, but that was about it. Until today! When I embarked on the journey that was Chapter Two. And it’s going pretty well. At the end of the chapter they expected me to get data out of this incredibly badly reproduced version of the Abydos king-list, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I’d like to hope (and I think it’s probably true) that if faced with the same thing, and entrusted with the same task (figure out what kings were missing from the list) I could actually do it. But with a 6 inch, incredibly dark, low-contrast version of it, no dice. It’s a little disappointing to fail miserably at the final capstone of the chapter, but I think my blame is in the correct place. I could barely make out the glyphs—I couldn’t get more than a few lines—but if I could see them, I could read them.

The most impressive thing for me so far, though, is how quickly this is going, and how much I’ve learned so far. Take the following for example:

HieroglyphicsNow, granted, that is copied by mouse from the book, and I’m even worse at drawing on the computer than I am drawing by hand, so probably even an Egyptian scholar couldn’t read it. But you can get the idea. Before today, that looked roughly like “stick, pizza, croquet, baseball bat, banjo, cartouche, teepee, ankh [that one’s right—well, ‘nḫ], eye, snake,” or pretty much that. I have to say that I do in fact remember some of the following by remembering things like “teepee” or “banjo,” but it still works out to the same thing.

After reading and working on Chapter Two, the writing (whether it will tomorrow or not) looks to me like a bunch of sounds which I don’t want to slowly copy all the phonetic characters for. And those sounds, at least for now, translate easily in my head to: “Regnal year 25 under the person of the perfect god, the lord of the two lands Nimaatre, given life like Re enduringly.” Which is just awesome. It’s only a date, but the fact that I can look at that random mess of symbols above and understand what it means is just incredible to me.

There’s clearly a lot I still have to learn, and I also have no idea how much of this I’ll really retain, but if I keep at it I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to keep a fair percentage of it. Practice practice practice, I suppose.

I thought I should share (and boast, however little there actually is to boast about).

The Decemberists’ “A Short Fazed Hovel” Tour

June 11, 2009

I preface this with the fact that I am no longer in Europe. I’m going to keep this blog on, however, as a day-to-day thing, and I promise I will write on the various places I went when touring the Continent, I just haven’t organized my thoughts yet.

Anyway, I went to a Decemberists concert last night, which was really great. It’s a concert on their “A Short Fazed Hovel” tour, which, as far as I can tell (since I haven’t actually checked it) appears to be an anagram of “The Hazards of Love,” the title of their newest album. Now, these concerts are not your typical ones, as they are separated into two main acts. In the first, which is the really interesting part, the band performs the album. Non-stop. In its entirety. This wouldn’t necessarily be as incredible if it weren’t a folk opera concept album, with essentially no space between tracks, one long uninterrupted storyline. The second set is some of their older stuff, fan favorites and the like.

This was one of the now many concerts I have managed to get to through the wonders of craigslist. There are always tickets available there, often for a much-reduced price (we got ours for 50% off, only 25 dollars), but it is a little nerve-wracking trying to get an offer that is a good price and hasn’t been taken already. There’s also the common issue of having to find a place and time to meet up to make the exchange. Nevertheless, we managed to do it, with only one problem (which was my fault), of trusting the time someone had posted on craigslist. This could have been worse, but all that actually happened was that we missed the opener. It was someone I had never heard of (Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3), so it’s no great loss. A little sad, but not too bad.

Last night was not a great night for a concert. Well, let me restate that. Last night was not a great night for an outside concert. This was at the Bank of America Pavilion, in Boston MA. I actually love this venue; it’s right by the ocean, and has a huge canopy over the seats and stage. There’s hardly a bad seat in the house, and it’s a great summer place. That is, when the weather is summery. It was raining, foggy, and pretty much freezing when we were there. The awning sort of helped, but it still blew in from the sides (which we were sitting at).

Nevertheless, when the music started, it didn’t really matter. I got pulled in immediately to the story of the album, and although there wasn’t as much acting out as I was expecting (and had come to expect from the [one] concert I had been to previously), it was still really great. One of my goals for the night, actually, was to udnerstand the story, because I am really bad at noticing lyrics of songs, and of course that is vital in something with a narrative. What I gathered was this. Shape-shifting orphan taken in by the forest falls in love with a member of a harem, they have a tryst. The orphan wants to go back to the world of men, which angers his mother, the forest, so she helps another evil man to abscond with the woman. They flee over a river, the orphan follows, the evil man is killed by the sins of his past, and the orphan and woman die in love as a result. Bittersweet, I suppose.

The music is really good; the more I listen to it, the more I like it (and hearing it live didn’t hurt). I was suspicious at first, because it wasn’t quite as tuneful as I had found their earlier stuff. And it was amazing to hear them do it non-stop for an hour. Not everyone was performing at any given moment, but still, it was a lot of fun.

The second set was fun too. It was clear that since they had such an exact program for the first, they really decided to do whatever the hell they wanted to in the second. They played a bunch of random songs, including Colin Meloy’s “worst song ever written,” a cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You” (sung by the great female singers of the Hazards of Love—Becky Stark [of Lavender Diamond] and Shara Worden [of My Brightest Diamond]), and a pretty much insane version of The Chimbley Sweep. This last was the most entertaining, perhaps, as they decided to do away with musicality halfway through. Colin Meloy and the lead guitarist, Chris Funk, swapped purposely apathetic solos back and forth, eventually handing their guitars off to the audience so they could do not much better. This was mind-boggling but hilarious, and went on for a very long time. The drummer also got up and danced with a towel for a while, while Meloy took over on the drums. This eventually reverted back to the original song, and the set finished up. The encore ended with a nice audience-participation-heavy version of “Sons and Daughters,” which lends itself easily to the sadness at the end of the concert.

We walked back to North Station in the mist, and took the late train back home. I really enjoyed the whole night, and if you have an opportunity to check out this tour, I’d really recommend it. I’m very tempted to see the Decemberists again in August at the Newport Folk Festival, although to be honest that desire is heavily influenced by the other performers there. And, I’m hopefully going back to the Bank of America Pavilion next Friday to see Andrew Bird. I’ll let you know how that is.

Mike Mignola Went to Central Europe

May 15, 2009

This is a teaser for the various posts I will hopefully be writing in the next few days on my Europe trip. In Prague and Vienna, I saw some things that looked very familiar. Well, not quite familiar, but the style was very clear. I’m pretty sure Mike Mignola must have gotten some of his ideas from these buildings and sculptures, which wouldn’t surprise me at all, since half of his stuff is set around eastern Europe.

First, in St. Vitus’ Cathedral, in Prague, there were

a lot of stained glass windows, of many different styles. One stood out in particular, however. Instead of halos, the saints all had little flames above their heads. This was very Hellboy-ish, and add to that some people in a separate window who were very Mignola-esque, and you’ve got Exhibit A:

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And Exhibit B:

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(I’m still having issues with the sizing of photos, bear with me.)

So, Prague seemed very dark and evil. But less so Vienna, the city of culture and coffeehouses, right? Of course not. In the plaza in front of one of the entrances to the Hofburg, (one of) the royal palace(s) of the Hapsburgs, there were two fountains flanking the door. One represented the Austrian Empire (represented I believe by Hercules) triumphing over enemies of the sea, and the other Austria displaying its land power (still Hercules). Now, these were built sometime in the 19th century (maybe 18th?). One wouldn’t expect anything too out of the ordinary, but I believe, if I were Emperor Franz Josef, and these were presented to me, my first comments would probably be something along the lines of, “AAAAAH!!! What is that? It’s awesome! Slash terrifying!” because that’s how Franzi spoke. (You can actually hear a recording of his voice if you tour the Hofburg or Schonbrun. He doesn’t sound like that.) It’s really the sea-power statue that impressed me so much. Once again, I think it would have impressed Mignola as well. Because right near some incredibly detailed and pretty sweet mermen and Hercules, there’s this BAMF crawling up the side of a rock:

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Scary as hell. Look at the ear detail and everything! Looks like something Hellboy would fight, just to push the point home once more. I’ve tried to find some pictures online of what I’m talking about, in terms of Mignola’s style, but haven’t really come across anything demonstrative. Just read the comics, it’ll be worth it, I swear!

More to come.