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Diary of a Married Groupie

SC4M: Americana Music Festival in South Central…England!

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SC4M Festival is an annual Americana music festival in South Central England–Winchester, to be precise. This year’s Festival will prove to be a great success. It’s a guaranteed “No Mud” event, as all shows are inside The Railway Inn in two locations: The Attic and The Barn (not a real barn–but a larger room inside the venue). The line-up alone is worth a drool, including headliner John Murry and festival mascot Peter Bruntnell. The festival begins at noon and runs into the wee hours. Check the full lineup and schedule here.

I posted a more concise article for No Depression here.

Oliver Gray, founder and promoter of SC4M, is a language instructor, author, musician, and all ’round music lover. Over the last dozen years or so, he’s been dipping his toes in that river of Americana music and its related tributaries and booking The Railway with the genre’s best artists. The annual non-profit festival is going on its seventh season at The Railway. According to Oliver, he founded SC4M “not to make money…but simply for fun, and because if we didn’t bring Americana to Winchester, no other bugger would. We had to accept from the start that this would be a hobby and not a business. Over the years, if you add everything up, we have made quite a substantial net loss, but had a huge amount of fun and satisfaction.” Oliver and his wife Birgit even offer up rooms in their home to the artists in order to keep expenses at a minimum.

I had the pleasure of meeting The Grays in April:

The rain poured down the day my husband Pat and I were supposed to meet Oliver Gray in a little village on the outskirts of Winchester. After touring Winchester Cathedral and paying my respects to beloved author Jane Austen (i.e., crying my eyes out at her grave), we hired a taxi to take us into the village.

We were originally going to meet Oliver at a local pub, but due to the incessant rain, he invited us over to his home instead, as he didn’t feel like venturing out. He gave us his address. That’s it? There were no numbered streets or house addresses–only names in the style of manor houses posted willy-nilly in front gardens and near doorways (think of your favorite English novel: Wuthering Heights, Thornfield Hall, Mansfield Park, etc., but in an average, residential neighborhood)–it was nearly impossible for us to find his home. Our taxi driver gave up and drove off a few minutes earlier after cruising up and down the neighborhood and checking Google Earth. We were stranded. “It’s got to be on this street, according to the GPS,” Pat said. Frustration etched his voice as the rain dripped off the hood of his jacket.

I looked up, and a familiar-looking man crossed the street and approached us. After a tentative introduction to make sure we were indeed Lisa and Pat (and he was indeed Oliver), he guided us directly across the street and up a set of stairs to his lovely home. Their house sign was posted high, near some shrubbery–we’d never looked up. He sat us down, served us tea, and said, “My wife Birgit asked me how I came to know you, and I really don’t recall. Right. So. How do I know you?” Laughter ensued as we became acquainted with each other.

As a writer and lover of music myself, I found Oliver through a Facebook group called Rollercoaster Records. I noticed we had several mutual musical friends. When I realized Oliver booked The Railway, I contacted him to inform him we’d be in town on holiday in April and hoped to meet up or go to a show. Unfortunately, our Winchester visit was on a Monday, and we missed a few shows around town by a matter of days; but we hit a home run by spending time with Oliver and Birgit that day.

Back to SC4M…

Oliver has a lively article on his SC4M page regarding the formation of SC4M, the festival, and the various mishaps of being in the booking/promotion business including flaky agents, drunken behavior, and a near murder, just to name a few. Of course, even the worst incidents are canceled out by fantastic bands, sold-out shows, and life-long friendships with artists and patrons. There is also a section dedicated to the nearly disastrous 2013 festival, and other bits of lore that took place over the last decade.

I included a snippet of Oliver’s article, which includes the birth of SC4M:

“It was at the Tower Arts Centre in Winchester and it must have been February 2000. My friend Richard had begged me to come and see a guy called Peter Bruntnell.

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“I had always had a strong prejudice against country music, with its attendant visions, in my mind, of soppy lyrics and redneck attitudes. It wasn’t rock. But Peter Bruntnell and his band did rock – like hell. The ridiculously young James Walbourne was simply one the best and wildest electric guitar players I had ever seen. There weren’t many people there, but that evening changed my life. Richard and I decided to become alt-country impresarios. Not to make money…but simply for fun, and because if we didn’t bring Americana to Winchester, no other bugger would.”

And so began Oliver’s foray into the world of promoting Americana music in Winchester.

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The Railway Inn, Winchester, UK

“We also had the perfect venue, in the form of The Railway in Winchester, a cosy pub that has a back room that feels just like a Texas roadhouse, with black walls, a sticky floor and a sweaty rock and roll vibe….We certainly didn’t think we’d still be doing it [thirteen] years later.”

The Lucky Mascot Returns:

“If you look at the list of our shows, you’ll see that the first one (on May 1, 2003) featured, naturally, Peter Bruntnell. Well, it would have to. The Bruntosaurus, as he is affectionately known, has played for us over twenty times…Peter is officially designated as our lucky mascot. In our opinion, he is the UK’s premier songwriter, but far more importantly, he is an absolute legend as a person. Luckily, our audience shares our enthusiasm and any show he features in will always draw a healthy crowd.”

Recently, I asked Pete Bruntnell about his experiences playing SC4M:

“We’ve been playing in Winchester for quite a few years now thanks to Oliver and Birgit. It’s always one we look forward to what with the great atmosphere they create, and the cheese and wine back at Chez Oliver’s after. If every town had an Oliver I’d be a rich musician!

Pete’s latest video, “Mr. Sunshine” is featured on his new album Nos Da Comrade:

Per Oliver, the 2016 lineup will be smashing with John Murry’s return to the stage:

“Since he more or less demolished the place two years ago, we’ve been gagging to have John Murry back, this time in duo format with Neil Quigley. Headlining in the Attic we have one of Winchester’s greatest success stories, This Is The Kit, featuring Kate Stables and Rozi Plain. A massive bonus this year is a solo slot from our special guest Andrew Combs, whom we love to death.”

John Murry gave an emotional tribute to the Grays:

“Oliver and Birgit Gray mean more to me than I could ever fully express in words (and I’m told that I have a way with those damn things, though I’m unsure as to whether those who say that I do mean that I use them artistically or that my use of them tends to get me in trouble quite often…). Everything they do, they do out of the love; the love of music, the love of art, and the love of the artist.

“Playing SC4M and Winchester and, in earlier days, Southampton, has always felt like a brief vacation from the pressures of touring while staying with the Gray’s. I’m certain that, if shows I have done have been good, then the ones I have done in Winchester must have been some of the best I have ever done. Like playing for family I have never really had, I have always wanted to give those shows more than I have in me to give, only to see the wry excited smile that creeps across Oliver’s face as he stands in the audience that indicates I have done well. He’s the finest musical barometer I have ever met. His taste is immaculate, his understanding of the art behind it all is immense, and his love of rock and roll is insatiable. He and Birgit have seen more amazing acts perform than most of us could see in multiple lifetimes. They are heroic to me. Sincerely. Not because they ask nothing in return for the love, hard work, and money they put creating and promoting each yearly SC4M festival, but because they do it out of a sense of duty and responsibility with a dignity and humanity almost alien to the selfish world we live in today. I’ve played large festivals on a few continents, but I have yet to play a festival as superbly curated and consistently amazing to both perform at and attend as SC4M, and I doubt I ever will. It is more than an honor to headline this year’s festival, it’s a challenge. I WILL make Oliver and Birgit dance or cry or something! I have to. They’d expect nothing less. From any of us.”

Murry rocked The Railway in 2013:

Meanwhile, back at Chez Oliver’s…

Besides booking The Railway throughout the year and the annual SC4M Festival, Oliver and Birgit also host intimate shows in a beautiful pine-wrapped outbuilding on their property called Swiss Cottage. It’s quite a treat to meet a couple who love music so much that they built a place for bands to play on their property. It holds about 30-40 people, and the top-notch musicians who are invited to play at either venue are also invited to sleep in the Grays’ home, just steps from the cottage. Money collected for the shows goes directly into the artists’ hands.

The Grays support not only UK and European artists, but also American artists. Some Americans have actually enjoyed much more success overseas than in the US. There are too many bands to list, but a few who played Winchester include: John Murry, Richmond Fontaine, Jeff Finlin, The Believers, Dead Rock West, Chuck Prophet, and Fernando Viciconte.

I’ve played Swiss Cottage, too–well, okay, I played a mean round of ping-pong in Swiss Cottage on a rainy Monday afternoon.

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Craig Aspen, Oliver Gray, and Cynthia Frazzini at Swiss Cottage

Craig Aspen of The Believers, a Seattle band currently residing in Nashville, recalls his experience of their short stay with the Grays:

“Simply put, Oliver Gray is a taste maker. The Believers included The Railway on our last tour to the UK, because Oliver was booking acts that we loved and had shared the stage with back home in the States. People like Chuck Prophet and Jesse Sykes.
“I remember Cyd [Cynthia Frazzini] and I waking up very jet-lagged and rehearsing while Oliver and Birgit cooked dinner. After we ate, Cynthia went back to bed. Oliver and I went out for pints. I don’t care what anyone says, the best beer is made in England so don’t miss a chance to get out to the pub.
“We ended up at The Railway on a double bill with our friends from LA – Dead Rock West. What a great night. And then we were ‘off’ to the next place the morning after and didn’t even get to see The Winchester Cathedral. That’s always how it goes on tour…”

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The rain stopped. Oliver gave us a historical walking tour through the village. We strolled across the bridges of the twin rivers and arrived at the small train station to catch our ride home. Pat and I had a lovely time, and we were so pleasantly surprised by the Grays’ hospitality to a couple of Yankee strangers who shared their love of music.

If you plan on being anywhere near the UK in September, grab some tickets to SC4M Festival and go!

Support Oliver and Birgit and their unwavering commitment to bringing quality music to Winchester. Purchase Railway Tickets for SC4M here

See the complete SC4M lineup here

SC4M’s Facebook Page

Support the independent artists who venture to your city and play in small clubs and venues. Support quality music.

 

 

 

August 10, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Oliver Gray, SC4M, The Railway, Uncategorized, Winchester Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Massy Ferguson: Chasing Anti-Heroes and Hitting The Mark at The Triple Door

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Massy Ferguson at The Triple Door June 17, 2016. L-R: Tony Mann-keys; Ethan Anderson-vocs, bass; Dave Goedde-drums; Adam Monda-vocs, guitar (not pictured: Fred Slater-keys). Photo Credit: Jacob Knight

A Massy Ferguson show always turns into one big audience-participation party, but this night was even more festive because each guest received a copy of their new album, Run It Right Into The Wall with the purchase of their ticket. Hence the official name for the evening: The “Everyone Gets An Album” Release Party.

A few weeks before the show, Massy Ferguson hyped it up online, blasting us with Facebook and Twitter posts, videos, teasers, pictures, and album review links. Paul Kerr, prolific writer of the music blog Blabber ‘n’ Smoke recently gave a thumbs up to Massy’s new album, calling it a “solid slice of gritty roots rock”. Check out his lively review here: https://paulkerr.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/massy-ferguson-run-it-right-into-the-wall-at-the-helm-records/

By showtime, The Triple Door was nearly sold out, with only a few empty seats scattered about the venue. People who purchased VIP tickets (a mere $16 more than regular admission) were also treated to a pre-show party and meet ‘n’ greet in The Green Room which included food, signed CD’s, and a cassette (yes, an actual audio cassette) of the new album. Dig out the boom boxes and find a pencil!

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Ethan Anderson: Chasing anti-heroes. Photo Credit: Jacob Knight

Ethan Anderson, bassist and frontman for MF, officially kicked off the night by reading a heartfelt speech about the conception of this album, calling it the record Massy Ferguson was born to write. He spoke of all of the steps it took to get to this point in the life of the band. He spoke of his anti-heroes–those bands who were on the fringe, who didn’t swim in the main stream, such as The Replacements, Wilco, Son Volt, and The Boss himself, back in his Nebraska days. They were his mentors, his idols–just out of reach. Some he literally just missed in a green room or on a stage. Their latest album sonically touches these anti-heroes, but as more of an homage–never an imitation. They have a signature sound, and this one hits all the marks that make them Massy Ferguson. Maybe it’s a little more rockin’ than their previous albums; but as Ethan said, “They always were at their best with rock first, twang after.”

Keeping a band together for ten years is quite a feat these days, especially when one is on the left side of the dial, trying to make ends meet–trying to make it. Roll the video…

Following the speech and video, Nick Foster Band, a seven-piece Americana ensemble, primed the audience for party time. Foster, on acoustic guitar and vocals, shared beautiful harmonies with Jazmarae Beebe. The rest of the band was equally impressive on soulful folk songs and full-bodied jams.

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Nick Foster Band. Photo Credit: Rich Zollner Photography

DJ Indica Jones kept the festivities going between sets with some great spins from 80’s and 90’s pop, rock, and hip-hop. He involved the audience in sing-alongs and let them finish choruses with songs like Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”. He danced along, grooving to his own beat.

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DJ Indica Jones doing his thang. Photo Credit: Rich Zollner Photography.

The curtain rose and Massy Ferguson started their long set with five new tracks from Run It Right Into The Wall. All songs on the album except one were written by Massy Ferguson. The exception is “Firewater”, written by UK rocker Dave Woodcock (Dave Woodcock and the Dead Comedians). This up-tempo, jangling rocker fired up the audience as Adam Monda fueled them with his trusty #5 Fender. A makeshift dance floor started in the aisle.

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Ethan Anderson, Adam Monda, and Fred Slater. Photo Credit: Jacob Knight

They continued with some favorites, including “Renegade” and “Backwoods”, the latter receiving help from the audience as they clapped along to the beat.

Another new one, “Dogbone” includes a Creedence-inspired riff. During the song, Rainier tallboys magically appeared on the stage. While Adam dove into a psychedelic solo, Ethan rolled over onto the stage (with his bass, which is quite a feat), grabbed a beer, took a sip, and popped back up. The stage lighting matched the colors of their new album. Bonus.

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Ethan grabbing a Rainier and saving the bass. Photo Credit: Rich Zollner Photography.

Ethan interrupted the show to mention they have two new t-shirts designed by drummer Dave Goedde in the merch booth. Dave also designed the album’s cool cover. Ethan then threw two shirts out to the cheering audience before raising his Rainier for his traditional toast, in several languages.

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Dave Goedde kept a steady beat all night. Photo Credit: Jacob Knight

“Every time I say Hello, you answer…Hello!” Ethan yelled to the crowd, and they happily shouted along to this poppy tune from Victory & Ruins.

Ethan later dedicated “Set The Sun” to a friend in the crowd who was having a birthday this evening.What a perfect way to celebrate.

“Lagrande” from the EP Damaged Goods featured Tony Mann on keys, filling in for Fred Slater. Tony just recently moved back to the US from Costa Rica, and was a member of Massy Ferguson from its inception. It was great to see Tony play with the band again.

“Atlantic City”, a cover by Bruce Springsteen, reminded Ethan of driving home with Adam after a late night in Roslyn, a tiny resort town east of the mountains. The audience sang along to the somber, repetitive chorus.

Massy Ferguson blasted back from “Atlantic City” with “Front Page News”, an angry rocker, and the dance floor spread into the aisles. They kept the momentum going with “Powder Blue” –always a great song to do near the end when everyone is primed to yell “Powder Blue!” at the top of their lungs on Ethan’s cue.

The last song,  “Into The Wall” allowed the crowd to breathe briefly while nodding their heads to the pensive title track.

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The Almighty Flute! Photo Credit: Rich Zollner Photography.

Ethan then invited the entire audience onstage, and soon the stage was packed with happy revelers and dancers. He handed his bass to another capable musician while he brought out his almighty flute, a bittersweet sign that the rowdy night was coming to an end. They finished their high-energy set with a cover of “Can’t You See”, but the flute malfunctioned. It was missing an end piece. A roadie tried to do an emergency repair, but it didn’t hold. Ethan tore that thing apart as the dancers and revelers continued on, not caring or noticing that the flute solo was abandoned.

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Big Finish! Photo Credit: Rich Zollner Photography.

Ethan Anderson might have missed his anti-heroes, but tonight, he and the band hit their mark.”They exceeded the hype!” said a friend when the party was over.

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Ethan Anderson, Fred Slater, Adam Monda, and Dave Goedde somewhere in England. Photo Credit: Ethan Anderson

A few days later, Massy Ferguson revived the party and ran it right into The UK the rest of June and into the first week of July. The tour included shows in Bath, Brighton, London, and Scheffield, among others, culminating with a grand finale at Maverick Festival in Suffolk where they shared the stage with the brilliant UK-Americana artist Peter Bruntnell.

See their website for news, merch, and upcoming shows here: http://massyfergusonband.com/

Support the independent artists who venture to your city and play small clubs and venues.  Support quality music.

 

 

 

 

 

July 9, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Americana, Massy Ferguson, Rock, Seattle Rock, The Triple Door | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Past Shows, Future Shows, and Cool Projects

I can’t keep up with the shows we’ve attended, nor do I have time to write full reviews, so I thought I’d do a brief summary of some artists to keep in your radar.

Vaudeville Etiquette, psych-Americana sweethearts from Seattle, threw a helluva CD release party on Saturday, May 7, at Neumos. What an absolute party it was. Their sophomore album, entitled Aura Vista Motel represents the polished versions of songs they’ve been playing live for months now.

Although I’ve seen them play several times, the energy they brought to the party was palpable. Their five-person band, co-fronted by Bradley Laina and Tayler Lynn, expanded to eight and exploded with sonic and visual delights.

Check tour dates for tons of shows coming up in June and July here: http://www.vaudevilleetiquette.com/#!tour/ck0q

 

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Last weekend, we saw Ted Leo (sans The Pharmacists) in a solo show at Barboza, the intimate space in the basement of Neumos.

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Aimee Mann and Ted Leo of The Both

It was fantastic to see Ted Leo in such a small venue. We saw the full band at The Showbox back in 2007,  but due to events beyond our control, we had to leave early. It was super loud, too, almost unbearably so. At this solo event, he politely asked the audience if he should turn down the amp on his electric guitar. It was a Greatest Hits Night, but he also showcased a recent project called The Both with Aimee Mann, who was also a surprise guest on a few songs. Their harmonies were gorgeous. In between songs, and even during some, Ted kept us in stitches with little anecdotes and forgotten lines. Afterward, he graciously allowed us to have a few words, even going as far as telling us to tell our college-aged son to do well on his finals and stay in school. Sweet!

Coming up this Thursday, June 9, is a show at Hotel Albatross in Ballard with Portland’s Fernando, Austin Lucas and Adam Faucett . Looking forward to their unique styles, blending alt-country, folk, and Americana.

Next week: Newlyweds Ian McFeron and Alisa Milner will play an outdoor set of their lovely Americana music on the grounds of McMenamins/Anderson School in Bothell on Thursday, June 16.

 

On June 17 we will attend Massy Ferguson’s release party! Super excited for this show. They always bring the fun. See my previous links or their website for more info. Also, their June UK tour dates are up!

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Tom Petty and his band Mudcrutch play The Fillmore in San Francisco Sunday and Monday, celebrating their second album in 8 years, properly titled, 2. No Seattle dates, unfortunately.

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We saw Mudcrutch in 2008 at The Troubadour in Hollywood: https://aplscruf.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/tom-petty-with-mudcrutch-at-the-troubadour-05-02-2008/

More fun at the end of June when John Doe, Jesse Dayton, DJ Bonebrake, and Cindy Wasserman “Brang It” to The Tractor Tavern June 29! This one should sell out.

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Thee John Doe. Photo by Jim Herrington

See my review of John Doe’s show at The Triple Door here: https://aplscruf.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/john-doe-reigns-at-the-triple-door-seattle-june-19-2015/

In July, a few shows to start off the Independence Day weekend with a Bang, including The Paperboys , the MexiCanadiAmericanaIrishFolk band, who will play The Tractor July 1.

The Swearengens, another Ballard Americana staple, will also play The Sunset July 1. If you time it right, you might see both the same night. Just hoof it up or down Ballard Ave.

On Sunday, July 3, those La Lucha-wearing surf rockers, Los Straitjackets will sell out The Tractor.

Down South and other far away lands, more great news:

Austin darling Jeremy Nail’s tour hits Nashville and NYC, among other cities. Fantastic Press keeps rolling in for this talented singer-songwriter.

Jeff Finlin’s new book of prose, The Seduction of Radha is now available. Check his website often for more good news, including new albums, books, and his new organization, Recover.Yoga.

Willie Sugarcapps keeps moving up the Americana charts and is getting great press for their new release, Paradise Right Here.

Dean Owens recently recorded a haunting song called “Cotton Snow”,  about The Battle of Franklin. See Paul Kerr’s Blabber ‘n’ Smoke review which includes more information about Dean’s previous and current projects here: https://paulkerr.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/dean-owens-with-dave-coleman-cotton-snow-single-release-drumfire-records/

He also paid a heartfelt tribute to Muhammad Ali in the audio below. Watch his site or follow him on FB for upcoming projects.

https://soundcloud.com/search?q=scary%20biscuit/louisville-lip-rf

 

Whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it all. More fun is on the way, so it’s time to re-charge.

June 8, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Americana, Rock, Roots Rock, Seattle Rock | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aaron Lee Tasjan was Smokin’ at Anderson School

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Brian Wright and Aaron Lee Tasjan

It was another one of those nights where we looked around and wondered where the hell everybody was. Why wasn’t the entire city stuffed in this old gym watching this talented band from East Nashville? It was a free show! Just walk in, that’s all they had to do! It was a Wednesday in Bothell, for one thing.

McMenamins, an Oregon-based hotel, brewery, and restaurant chain, recently opened another fine facility here in Bothell, a neighboring town about 30 minutes northeast of downtown Seattle. The old Anderson School property has been transformed into a beautiful hotel, a large restaurant, several intimate bars and outdoor spaces, a pool with a tiki bar perched above it, a movie theater, and music venues. One venue is in a classroom-sized space; another, an outdoor stage in the courtyard; and the main venue is located in the old gym–or maybe it was the old cafeteria. Regardless, you know the look: a big box with high ceilings. It’s a good space for wedding receptions or class reunions, but an awkward space when you, as a band, have to play in front of a paltry crowd of 25, seated ’round a few round tables. Unfortunately, this is where Aaron Lee Tasjan and his band The Stoned Faces were set to play.

It was a beautiful evening, and there were lots of people milling around outside, sitting near the wood fire pits and propane heaters, eating and drinking. Inside, the bars, booths, and tables were fairly full for a Wednesday. We ate dinner outside first, and made it just in time to see the band load in on the low stage at the front of the gaping venue.

The two-set show started around 7:00.

Aaron Lee briefly introduced himself and explained how he is from East Nashville, not that Other Nashville…and dove into the first set with E.N.S.A.A.T.: “East Nashville Song About A Train”. Here’s a similar version he played at Red Clay Music Foundry:

“Junk Food and Drugs” shows off ALT’s guitar pickin’ prowess:

“12 Bar Blues” not to be confused with George Harrison’s lil’ ditty, “For Your Blues”–This humorous song had to do with the twelve bars the narrator in the song frequented. Watch below as he sing-talks his way through each bar.

One cannot help but make comparisons to Todd Snider, his East Nashvillian neighbor and occasional stage partner. Influences are found in his humorous anecdotes, drug-saturated characters, and even in a few of the melodies. More than once, I leaned over to husband Pat and whispered, “This could be a Todd song!” But Aaron Lee has a voice and a skill on guitar that goes unmatched. His upper register has a clarity to it that gave me chills, and at times, reminding me of Rodney Crowell. His nasty garage riffs and blues-laced jams were dazzling–techniques likely honed from his days with New York Dolls and Drivin’ and Cryin’. This was a rock band at times, under the heavy influence of East Nashville.

During the short intermission, both Brian and Aaron Lee greeted their fans and seemed appreciative to those who did make it to the show. More people trickled in by the time they jumped back on the stage.

“In My Life” the Beatles cover, was the first song of the mostly acoustic second set. It was a sweet rendition–just Aaron Lee, his beautiful tenor voice, and his acoustic guitar.

The spotlight then shifted to Brian Wright, a singer-songwriter and skillful guitarist in his own right. His voice surprised me. It had a rich, deeper tone that evoked emotion.

Just like Nashville needs a train song, they also require a murder ballad. Brian’s ballad is called “Maria Sugarcane”:

Brian also gave a shout-out to the late great Guy Clark and covered a moving rendition of his song, “El Coyote”.

Brian stopped to take a sip of his drink. Someone yelled out “Whiskey?” He turned, with a comedic pause and said, “It’s almost summer. It’s tequila–I’m not a savage!”

Meanwhile, Aaron happily picked along in support, adding harmonies where required. Wright had a fan in the sparse audience who knew all of his songs and requested one he hadn’t played in a while. He obliged, and told her that when the song is over, she’ll either thank him, or he’ll have to apologize. He donned his harmonica and played seemingly without any foul-ups, since she let out a whoop and applause at the end, along with the rest of the crowd.

During this second set, more people wandered in and took their places at back tables or stood along the sides by the bar. Maybe a total 50 people attended. It was so surprising, considering there was no admission fee. The double doors were propped open, letting their bluesy, twangy sound flow into the courtyard.

“$66.00 Blues” was part of the Big Finish of the evening. They brought up the rest of the talented band and jammed their way into Tom Petty’s “Refugee” and back, topping off the the fine set with a big ol’ cherry.

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ALT and The Stoned Faces: Brian Wright (guitar, vox), Jordan Solly Levine (drums), Aaron Lee Tasjan (guitar, vox), and Keith Christopher (bass)

Check ALT’s website for current merch, more information and updates regarding a new album dropping in October, and other tour news.

Check Brian Wright’s website for more info and purchase his new album, Rattle Their Chains.

Read more about Aaron Lee Tasjan and his band here:

http://nodepression.com/album-review/aaron-lee-tasjan-heads-east-nashville%E2%80%99s-songwriting-new-wave

 

June 3, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Alt-Country, Americana, Brian Wright, East Nashville, McMenamins | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Makin’ It with Massy Ferguson

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Congratulations go out to Seattle’s own Massy Ferguson, for recently acquiring a UK label, At The Helm Records, to support their upcoming album, Run It Right Into The Wall.

Frontman Ethan Anderson and the boys will host a CD release party here at The Triple Door on Friday, June 17th. The show is nearly sold out, with only a few seats left at this writing.

Soon after, they’re heading across The Pond to continue the festivities.

The UK tour is from June 22nd through July 3rd, and includes a CD launch party. Other show announcements will pop up soon, so check their website or Facebook often for updates.

Their first official video from the album is aptly called “Makin’ It”, and was recently featured on Huffington Post. Read it here (scroll down a bit):http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chats-with-barenaked-ladies-ed-robertson-wpremiere_us_573a8399e4b07a3866046392

See you at the party!

May 28, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Americana, Massy Ferguson, Rock, Seattle Rock | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Bruntnell’s Nos Da Comrade – Five Stars

Nos Da Comrade - Peter Bruntnell

I wrote a short, five-star Amazon review of Peter Bruntnell’s latest album, Nos Da Comrade (2016). It’s a must-buy for Americana/pop/rock fans.

Check out a detailed, glowing review from Paul Kerr of Blabber ‘n’ Smoke here: https://paulkerr.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/peter-bruntnell-nos-da-comrade-domestico-records/

Purchase his merch through Amazon or directly from Peter here: http://peterbruntnell.net/store.php

Watch the video of the first song  on the album, “Mr. Sunshine”:

 

 

May 26, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Americana, Peter Bruntnell, Pop / Rock | , , , , | 2 Comments

Flight To Mars Astounds at The Showbox

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Mike McCready and Tim DiJulio of Flight To Mars

Flight To Mars, once again, put on an astounding show at The Showbox, the second of the two-night benefit.

Flight to Mars, a UFO tribute band, features Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready (guitar), Paul Passereli (lead vocals), Tim DiJulio (guitar), Mike Musburger (drums), Gary Westlake (bass), as well as other musical guests. The show is the 14th annual benefit for the Crohn’s and Colititis Foundation of America (CCFA). The proceeds also benefit Camp Oasis, for kids with Crohn’s and Colitis.Throughout the night, there were auctions, announcements, raffles, and lots of top-notch music.This is the fourth time we’ve seen this show, and it keeps getting better and better.

The opener this year included a phenomenal David Bowie tribute, with many special guests (I do not have all of the names yet–will add as I find them), including a Prince look-alike (although no Prince songs were included, but he did sing and have a couple of grinding solos on Bowie songs), TKO frontman Brad Sinsel, Kim Virant, Grace Love, Jeff Rouse (bass), Barrett Martin (drums), Sean P. Bates (vocals – I get CHILLS each time I hear him!) Kathy Moore (who kicked ass on guitar), Justin Davis (guitar), Chris Friel (drums), brother Rick Friel (who also helped out with auction and was on bass for the tribute to Lemmy with Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”), Mike “The Milkman” Musburger on drums, a keyboard player, additional vocalists, and lots of switching around between artists on vox and instruments.

Click on individual pics for a closer view…

I could have been satisfied with just that part of the show for the $25 ticket. But more was to come, and Paul Passereli and the boys saddled up for Flight To Mars, the UFO cover band. The usual songs were sung, with a few guests coming and going: Doctor Doctor, Love to Love, Mother Mary, Lights Out, Cherry, Too Hot to Handle, Rock Bottom, etc. So great, so loud, so rockin’.

Best image of the night (not caught in my camera’s eye): Mike strumming next to Tim, listening to Tim’s blistering solo. Mike stops, looks directly at us, smiles and says, “Fu*@k!” in admiration of Tim’s guitar prowess.

Another jaw dropping moment included Mike McCready’s destroying his Gibson Flying V, smashing it into an amp and pounding it to pieces on the stage. Crazy! John Hiatt would not be amused.

What a fantastic night of classic rock, and for a great cause. I’m curious to know how much money was raised for CCFA.

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May 22, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Flight to Mars, Music, Seattle Rock, The Showbox | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flight to Mars at the Showbox Tonight! May 21, 2016

 

Once again, it’s time for Flight To Mars! See my 2011 post below. It’s gonna ROCK. For a good cause, too.

Aplscruf's Music Blog

Tim DiJulio and Mike McCready

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Showbox at the Market

Seattle, WA

The Flight to Mars show on Friday, April 8 at The Showbox was the kind of loud that reverberates in the chest cavity and rings in the ears hours later. It was a two-fisted-devil-horn evening; too much RAWK for one hand!

Flight to Mars, a UFO tribute band, features Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready (guitar), Paul Passereli (lead vocals), Tim DiJulio (guitar), Mike Musburger (drums), Gary Westlake (bass), and Ty Bailie (keys). The show was the the 9th annual benefit for the Crohn’s and Colititis Foundation of America (CCFA). Up to this point, the benefit concerts have earned a total of almost $200,000 for the Foundation.  Some of the proceeds also benefit Camp Oasis, for kids with Crohn’s and Colitis.  The show was also being broadcast live on Sirius’ Pearl Jam Radio. …

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May 21, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Flight to Mars, Seattle Rock, The Showbox | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Richmond Fontaine’s Swan Song in Seattle

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Richmond Fontaine played a final show in Seattle at The Sunset on May 14, 2016. L-R: Dan Eccles (guitar), Willy Vlautin (vocals, guitar), Freddy Trujillo (bass), Sean Oldham (drums). Photo Credit: Alicia Rose

It was a night full of contradictions. I’d never heard of Richmond Fontaine until just a few months ago. The Portland band have been around over 20 years. Last Saturday, they played a final show in Seattle. I’m now a new fan of a band that is breaking up. Great. I’m late to the party–er, funeral once again.

I witnessed a band’s wake before–Seattle’s North Twin, who delivered their own coup de grace just down the street at The Tractor about six years ago. I prefer it that way; at least there’s some closure. The death of Richmond Fontaine will be prolonged a few more months; but here in Seattle, they celebrated their long life surrounded by friends and musical family. There will be at least one more show in Oregon, and an Ireland/UK farewell tour in October before they pull the plug. They’re ending amicably and leaving us with a parting gift: a fantastic new album fittingly titled You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To.

I binge-listened to RF’s albums over the last few weeks, trying to catch up before we hit the show. Frontman and acclaimed author Willy Vlautin‘s lyrics paint desolate pictures of the downtrodden, lonely, broke, the unlucky, the abandoned–the outcasts of society. Tales of addiction, break-ups, desperation, and downward spirals are common themes throughout the ten albums. Some characters are likable losers who were dealt a bad hand in life or have paid dearly for their bad choices. But there is also a feeling, just a glimmer, a hint, that once in a while, one of those effed-up kids he writes and sings about is going to be alright. Each day that I listened, I always circled back to their latest  release, the thirteen songs on You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To. It’s depressing as hell at times, and yet I wanted to hear it again and again. I connected and empathized with the characters. The up-tempo melodies of some of the songs offset the melancholy lyrics. Balance.

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Willy Vlautin – Illustration by Nate Beaty

I also read Willy Vlautin’s first of four books called The Motel Life. Although the heartbreaking story and sympathetic characters absolutely gutted me, I wanted to read more and was sad that it had to end. I plan on purchasing the rest of his books. Feel free to do the same here: http://willyvlautin.com/store/ Rumor has it, his fifth book is in the works. According to Willy, when his personal life is falling apart, he writes songs. When he’s healthy, out jogging, he’s probably writing a book. Strangely, I had his name and the book’s title in my phone under “Books to Read” for a year–a strong recommendation from my friend Kari, artist and loving partner of David Corley, who also spent time with Willy and Co. in Ireland. I never made the connection until just recently.

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Be sure to purchase their merch!

I also was told by a friend, Oliver Gray (who is mentioned in the liner notes of at least one of RF’s albums), that Willy’s books must be read in order of publication. Oliver is not only a superfan, but a venue owner, promoter, music critic, and author. He has hosted RF shows in England for many years (RF has a huge cult following in The UK and Ireland) and befriended the band in the process. I just met Oliver in person while we were on holiday near London in April, just days before I found out about RF’s show date in Seattle.

One thing I love about live music is how it brings strangers together, bonding over the common love of a band. I made another new friend after I announced on Facebook I was attending this show. Allison, a superfan from Canada, traveled to Seattle with her husband Tony, and we met up at Hattie’s Hat for a chat beforehand. We have several mutual, music-loving friends, so it was only natural that we should eventually meet and instantly bond (while our patient husbands sat idly by). Although she’s been a fan for years, she had never seen RF in person, so she was thrilled to experience this final show.

The day of the show was dark, gloomy, and rainy–so contradictory to the blue-sky day before, which sizzled Seattle with record-breaking temperatures.

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We made our way to the very front of the stage, right after the doors opened. There is nothing like standing in the front row of an intimate venue. I love watching the band, up close and personal. I like catching their nuances: the onstage banter and inside jokes; a grimace while hitting a big chord; a tapping foot; a sly, knowing smile when a rare wrong note is hit; nimble fingers finding the frets; glances and nods when things are going well. RF was no exception. One could tell they have a healthy, brotherly bond with each other, even though their band was on its way out.

If they love each other so much, why are they breaking up? Read and listen to Willy Vlautin’s answers here:

Willy Vlautin was interviewed recently by Casey Jarman of Portland Monthly : http://www.pdxmonthly.com/articles/2016/4/15/willy-vlautin-on-richmond-fontaine-s-farewell-and-the-price-of-living-hard

While in Ireland, Willy also spoke with Martin Bridgeman on a radio broadcast regarding the breakup, the new album, and the crafting of his songs and stories: http://kclr96fm.com/folkroots-interview-willy-vlautin-152016/

The mature audience knew their band and were there to give them a final sendoff with support and love. Although I was a newbie here, I still felt accepted and comfortable among them. It was fun to watch the crowd, too, as many sang along with Willy or nodded their heads in acknowledgement to a song, and loudly clapped and whooped after each one.

Richmond Fontaine began the set with my favorite song off their new album called “Wake Up Ray”. Here is a live version from Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Willy’s lyrics tear at my heart:

Wake Up Ray

It ain’t no use, ain’t no use
Maybe some guys just ain’t meant to
I was living in Montana once and I was married
For a while it rolled so easy
But she got to where she couldn’t stand our place
She got to where she cringed at the way I slept and ate
I bought her a bird, a finch she called little Joe
And then one night she blew into a rage
In a snowstorm she ran outside and opened up the cage

Wake up Ray let’s get out of here
This town’s done nothing it’s clear but try to do us in

Wake up Ray, the sun’s coming up and still I can’t stop thinking
How can someone you love so much grow against you so?
All I did, all I did was try to toe that line
The same line you see everyone else toe
Now all I remember is running through the snow
Looking for Little Joe as the wind blowed

Wake up Ray, I need a cup of coffee in a bad way
Let’s get out of here this town ain’t done nothing
It’s clear but try to do us in

The Seattle show included most songs from their latest album and also dove into tracks from the last two decades.There were some last-minute changes to the original list, too. Their stage performance was tight, energized and faster-paced than some of their recorded songs–fueled, I’m sure, by the enthusiastic audience. Early on, longtime fans shouted out song requests, and Willy acknowledged a few with a wide-eyed nod, or laughed at their persistence.

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Willy would stop once in a while and explain the origin of a song, such as the dark and ominous “Hallway” from 2003’s Post to Wire. He said he used to meet a friend for breakfast at a cafe, and one day he didn’t show up. Willy went to his house and found the friend in his tighty-whities, hiding in the hall with a gun. Apparently, he was on a coke binge and had been up for three days. “He almost shot me that day. I never met him for breakfast after that.”

“Let’s Hit One More Place” from the new album was dedicated to Scott McCaughey of The Minus 5, who headlined this night. Willy said he’s been a fan of The Minus 5 for 20 years, and channeled Scott when he wrote this song.

“Two Friends Lost At Sea” was based on another true story. One of Willy’s favorite Portland punk bands was Dead Moon. When people are excited about a band, they like to tell their friends. Sometimes, that leads to a wonderful shared experience. Other times, like in Willy’s case, it ruins the band for them. He made the mistake of introducing a girlfriend to the band. Later, she broke up with him. The next time he saw her was at Dead Moon’s show. She was making out with some new guy in the front row. Ruined.

Although he seemed a little shy onstage and mostly sang with his eyes closed, he was very personable, friendly, and humble in the merch line before and after the show. He greeted each fan, listened intently to their stories, and seemed grateful to them for showing up. There’s a self-deprecating charm about him, as if he is genuinely surprised by his fame and the fact that his books and music are treasured by so many people around the world.

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Freddy Trujillo and Willy Vlautin

Dan Eccles on lead guitar, just rocked. He was so entertaining to watch as he grimaced and head-banged through the set, his long hair trying to keep up with the beat. His nimble fingers delicately found each chord on the slower folk songs, but slammed the power chords with a full-body gyration. He had a minimal amount of pedals, but made excellent use of them to alter the sound to match a pedal steel guitar, add some serious fuzz, or the emphasize the twang in his Telecaster.

One of the last rocking songs of the evening, “Lost in The Trees” is from 2011’s The High Country. They also played this song at Kilkenny Roots Festival in early May, and are favorite performers there. Below, you can hear Freddy’s thumping bass, watch Dan shred that Tele, and be amazed at how seemingly effortless Sean is at holding the steady, commanding beat on drums. Willy’s grim lyrics and monotone vocals on this song give it a punk edge.

Near the end, a fan threw a Winner’s Casino (an actual casino and a song from 2002’s Winnemucca) satin baseball-style jacket, up on stage as they played their final song. Willy sported a big grin as he played. They later posed for a photo with the jacket, all smiles. It was a great way to close the night and to find closure with this beloved band.

Like some of Willy Vlautin’s characters in his songs and stories, the band mates are probably going to be alright after the breakup.Willy, Sean Oldham, and Freddy Trujillo are already members of another band called The Delines. Willy is planning to spend some time working on his next book. Dan Eccles also plays in a band with Portland legend Fernando Viciconte.

We can’t go back, but we can look ahead. They’re still with us, just transformed and scattered into new entities.

Bitter and sweet.

____________

Check out Richmond Fontaine’s tour updates for the rest of the year here:  http://richmondfontaine.com/dates

Listen and purchase their music through Bandcamp here: http://richmondfontaine.bandcamp.com/

I also posted a version of this piece to No Depression here: http://nodepression.com/live-review/richmond-fontaines-swan-song-seattle

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 18, 2016 Posted by | 2016, Alt-Country, Americana, Richmond Fontaine, The Sunset Tavern, Willy Vlautin | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

European Holiday 2016

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Let’s take a break from music for just a moment and fly across The Pond, shall we?

Eight years ago, we took a vacation to the UK and Europe and I posted my journal here. We spent three nights in London and surrounding areas and visited family. We then spent a dozen days in Italy, stopping in Venice, Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Rome.We took our son, then twelve years old, and our two best friends, M and J. We vowed to return soon, but life got in the way.

We finally started getting serious about returning again last summer. We met with M & J last fall and sketched out a plan for April 2016, this trip not involving our son, who is now in college. That did not go over so well, but he understood.

After some brief meetings with our friends M&J who were to accompany us on our first week in Italy, Pat arranged most of the hotels and flights and coordinated with M&J, who would fly in on their own to Venice a day after we arrived. We worked together to figure out what we would do in each city, but for the most part, we left it open-ended. If we felt like it, we’d take a tour. If the weather cooperated, we’d go. We weren’t so booked up that our days were stressful.

One of the most helpful websites we use is from a local travel guru named Rick Steves. He’s had a travel show on public TV for a couple of decades, and publishes guidebooks on Europe. His practical guidebooks and videos give a wealth of information on transportation, lodging, food, culture, history, and tourist tips for hundreds of European cities.

So April 1, we boarded a plane at Sea-Tac Airport and didn’t come back until April 15.Wow, what a trip. All life’s regular worries were left at home. We weathered seven plane rides, a dozen trains, a few ferries, tour boats, and cars. Two weeks, totally smooth, for the most part. Yes, there was increased security at the airports, big deal. Expected. Yes, I got searched a few times. Pat laughed. I blame the 30+ lb. backpack I was lugging. Yes, we got lost temporarily looking for hotels–but no meltdowns, no hurt feelings. Everything else just fell into place. We made all our connections on time, by plane, train or otherwise.

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Venice, at Rialto Bridge Vaporetto stop

Pat and I arrived in Venice and it seemed quick, considering it took most of a day to get there. We walked down to the boat dock from the airport and got on the Orange (Arancia) Alilaguna boat that slowly made its way through the long passage in choppy waters, over to the Rialto Bridge. It took just about an hour to arrive at our dock. After some confusion as to the location of our B&B hotel, Ca’Delle Acque,  we wandered right past it and backtracked to the front door, tucked away in a narrow alley.

Our host, “Mr. Richard” at Ca’ Delle Acque, has his “office” behind a curtain, under the stairs by the front door. Sweet man, looks more Croatian than Italian, with his round, shaved head and big green eyes, buff arms in a polo shirt with the collar up. Shows up each morning from behind the curtain with a tray full of breakfast goodies, including proscuitto, cheese, croissants, and just-poured cappuccino. He quietly walks up to our room and sets the tray down, backs out of the room and closes the door with a bowed head, like he was  our personal valet and we were movie stars at the poshest hotel in L.A .

We checked in to our little place and enjoyed our first glass of vino in a little trattoria called  Trattoria Al Gazzettino  located just a few steps from our B&B (see pic below–our B&B has the green shutters just past the sign). It’s tiny, and fills up every night. We were starving Americans and went for an early 4:00 dinner, and were the only ones in the place. They treated us right, and the food was delicious. The owner or manager was sweet and very funny, once he realized we were so grateful to eat early and savored every delicious dish.

“You want to make reservation for 9 pm?”

“No, how ’bout now?

We had two kinds of salad. One had fresh tuna, arugula, fresh mozzarella, and ripe tomatoes, and corn; one was a citrus chicken. They brought bread sticks and rolls, too. We passed on dessert, but they brought us lemoncello with tiny lemon cookies, and a sweet, iced, fizzy wine that tasted like grape juice. At the end of the meal, they gave us a bag of dried pasta! We weren’t exactly sure where we could pack that, but we took it anyway. They even brought out a big scrapbook where you can write a review, sign your name, and tape a business card, or tape a small bill or coin from your country. It was fun to read all the signatures and notes from all over the world.

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Our first meal in Venice: Trattoria Al Gazzettino, next door to our green-shuttered B&B Ca’ Delle Acque

Although we were tired, adrenaline and sheer willpower forced us to stay up until we could get our internal clocks turned around. We wandered San Marco square and felt at home again. There’s something about Venice–I feel so comfortable there.

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Venice – A crumbling, sinking beauty. There is a beauty there that I cannot explain. It’s gritty, dirty, unkempt. Odors of urine, sewer, salt water arise from its surface. But I also smell the beautiful aromas of coffee, wine, basil, garlic, tomatoes, meats, and fish wafting from the multitude of trattorias, osterias, cafes, cantinas, and markets throughout the back alleys and piazzas.

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Cicchetti behind the glass counter at Cantina do Mori, circa 1462

Cantina do Mori, one of the oldest cantinas around, pre-Columbus. Great for ciccetti and a glass of wine.

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There is beauty everywhere, down every street, if you know what to look for. From our little room, perched a floor up from a shopping alley, we could open the green shutters and hear the chatter of the people walking around. Late at night, groups of men and women, heels clacking on the stone walkways, wandered home from the bars. The clanging of the tower bell echoed throughout the neighborhood. I love that sound most of all.

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The bello Gondoliers, in their striped uniforms and straw hats entertain us from their watery perch. Uniforms and gondolas all slightly different, like snowflakes, representing their family’s line. “Gondola-gondola-gondola!” they shout from the bridges and their gondolas, checking out potential passengers.

Waiters in tuxedos standing in front of their restaurants, beg you to stop by for a drink or a bite. “Buon Giorno! Would you like a glass of wine? Please, come in! Hungry for dinner?” or in the evening, “Buona Sera!”

Seven-year-old boys heavily involved in a game of football(soccer) against the side of a church wall in the adjacent square, arguing over a play. Hands on hips, yelling in Italian in squeaky, high voices.

Loading docks, garbage barges with strong, dirty men collecting bags off the sides of the canals; water spigots with animal faces spewing cold, clean water from The Alps; sculptures and gargoyles on even the simplest of buildings; door knockers with grotesque faces. All beauty to me.

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San Marco Basilica, rising from the water and the flooded piazza (it floods every year–not this trip–but they still had the raised platforms stacked up, ready for the next one) like a crazy quilt of religious, architectural and artistic delights for the senses. Golden mosaics, spires to the sky, marble, and copper.

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What I loved most, though (and you can purchase a separate ticket for 5 Euro) is inside the Basilica museum, located up a steep set of stairs inside and to the right of the main entrance. It’s small, but inside are my favorite Quadriga–Four Horses, maybe 2,000 years old, larger than life, made of 98% copper. Snorting, neighing, stomping their feet, ready for battle. Or a race. How many men touched them and encased them in crates and hauled them away from their homeland? Where is home anyway? Constantinople? No one seems to know, exactly from where they came.When we visited 8 years ago, I couldn’t stop crying when I saw them.Good god, all those Jesuses and Marys, Michelangelos and Leonardos, and I cry over four horses! Same thing this time, too. I don’t know what it is about them. I think there’s a word for having an emotional reaction to a piece of art, but I never remember it. I promised them I’d be back yet again. (The horses on top of San Marco shown below are replicas. They brought in the original Quadriga in the 1980’s to protect them from pollution and placed them in the museum–no pictures allowed)

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Replicas of The Quadriga on top of San Marco Basilica

Outside the Basilica, on the Piazza, small tables and chairs line the square ready for the cafe fresco diners and drinkers, but the weather is chilly. Most chairs stay empty this time of year. Waves of people come and go, a sign a cruise ship has landed.

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An Italian Navy officer in fatigues strutted around the square with two other gentlemen in dress blues. For our protection, but also for gawking. The man in fatigues, head shaved close, black beret, is stunning. Face with 5 o’clock shadow, hard jaw jutting forward, tall, hard build. I wanted his picture, but I know they do not need distractions during these times of uncertainty. Let him do his job. There has been some horrible acts of violence on innocents this year and last. But as my mom says, “If we wait for world peace, we’d never go anywhere!” Take a chance and Get Out.

We also went to Harry’s Bar, where Papa Hemingway used to hang, just left of San Marco. Super expensive, but a fun experience.

Click on individual pics below for a closer view…

Burano and Murano, islands worth visiting. So different than the main island. Colorful, quiet, compact, full of artists’ wares, from lace, linen, glass, and sculptures.

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Island of Burano, Venice

 

Click on individual pictures for a better view.

After three lovely nights in Venice (I really could spend two weeks there and explore the entire island by foot and boat), we headed South to Sorrento by high-speed train. Traffic is nuts here. It spills over from Napoli and surrounding cities along the coast. You’ll notice most all of the cars have large gashes on the sides or dented bumpers. It’s pretty much lawless on the streets! We hired a driver Domenico, aka Mimmo, from smiletravecarsorrento.com.  who picked us up at the station in Napoli. Worth the euro, that’s for sure, and saved us from schlepping our bags on to another train and wandering the town to find our hotel. He was humorous, informative, and was born in Sorrento. He knows his way around the city. Mimmo’s quotes: “Traffic signs are just a suggestion!” and “People in Napoli don’t park their cars, they abandon them!”

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There is a main square in Sorrento called Piazza Tasso. Fauno Bar sits right in the middle. Grab a glass of wine and they’ll serve lots of extra snacks. We had fun people-watching outside under the massive umbrellas. A fun, touristy experience was at Taverna Allegra, located down an alley close to Fauno Bar.

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The owners are kind and friendly, and when we were there, they serenaded us with a guitarist. The food was excellent, too. They had a large assortment of fresh fish on display. We tried a couple of local Sorrentine red wines. Best we had on the trip for 16 Euro–for the whole bottle.

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We also hit a meat market/salumeria type place that also had great food and dried meats for picnics, takeaways, etc. It was called La Cantinaccia del Popolo. Ask for Pepe. You can’t miss him.

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On our second day, we took a boat ride to Capri. Go EARLY. The lines queue up.

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The view of the marina from our lovely Grand Royal Hotel. Catch the boat to Capri there.

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Capri Marina

Capri and Anacapri – A quick boat ride and a crowded marina. But wait, open-air taxis? Let’s take a chance! Twenty-five bucks? For all of us? YES. Perfect. A narrow, winding road takes us up and over the island, with breathtaking views of the hillside and sea.

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The houses are different here, mostly white stucco, following the look of the Greeks. On to Anacapri! The village was practically deserted! The tourists went to Capri first. We were one of the first to show up. We were okay with that. It was so beautiful. We wandered through linen and ceramic shops, promising to be back through after our walk.

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We got lost in a neighborhood with tight streets and alleys, barely wide enough for the little tuk-tuk style, three-wheeled delivery trucks. It was interesting walking through these working family homes. They were obviously much better off here than many places we visited in Italy. Small apartments and larger homes, beautifully cared for, clean. Quiet. Everyone was at work, I’m sure.

I was getting hungry. A little pathway led to a restaurant called La Trattoria Il Solitario where we had the best linguini in lemon sauce. It was like dessert! And they bottle their own wine. Excellent white wine.Our young waiter, Nello, probably the son of the owners, carefully peeled off the label for us for a souvenir. Lemon trees grew around the garden where we sat, under an umbrella outside. So lovely. We also had bruschetta with those ripe red tomatoes we looked so forward to.

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Back to Capri – the taxi driver dropped us off at the top of the hill, and we wandered around through more shops. Crowds were heavier here. We decided to walk down to the marina, a downhill path behind houses, down alleys, and with scenic shots of the hillside all around. It was shaded and fun to get a different perspective of the island. People walking up, exhausted. “Are we almost to the top?” No, you have a long way to go. Ha

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We stopped for gelato before heading to the marina, where there was a large painting on canvas of a sweet retriever and a huge lemon. I named it, “Dog Humping Lemon”. I need to send that pic to our son, in remembrance of “Boy Humping Eagle” sculpture at Pitti Palace gardens from our wanderings in Florence so many years ago.

Pomeii the next day – We took the Circumvesuviana train, which stops right at the entrance to Pompeii. On the way north, there is a slum–ancient, dirty gray apartments strewn with trash and hanging laundry that we passed by on the train. How do they get by day-to-day? Scrappy, young teenage boys entered the train, at the next stop down from the slums, smack talkin’ in Italian, roughing each other up, getting one kid in a headlock. Fight? Nah, just playin’ like boys do.

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There were four of us, but we chose to do a self-guided tour using one of the hand-held devices and a set of ear buds. We thought we could put it on speakerphone, but it would not do that, so we’d have to pass the thing around and try to coordinate where we were with a very difficult-to-follow numbered map. We’d probably go with a tour guide next time (you can hire one right at the entrance or through our hotel), if we ever go back. We were there four hours, and still missed a big section.

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We did see an intact amphitheatre, a bath house, and a strip mall where they served hot food at counters in big clay pots. Fascinating. And Vesuvius always looms above as you walk around. A bit spooky! The most treasured artifacts are in the Napoli museum, though. They have a few on display in a structure in the middle of the amphitheatre, and we missed the small museum at the entrance. Four hours and we were spent. We ate at an outdoor dining area outside the main entrance. Lots of good food and great service. They even gave us two loaves of bread to take home with our leftovers.

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A big amphitheatre, fully intact, was quite a sight. Hard to imagine what it looked like full of people, with slaves fighting beasts, etc.

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I need to get a book that shows pics of what it most likely looked like intact as a true city. The intricate details I enjoyed the most: tiny white and gray tiles in geometric patterns carefully laid on a floor of a rich person’s home.

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Frescoes that looked like they were from the 1600’s, not the 00’s. Red and gold paint.

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Still life paintings of simple things like a bird with a piece of fruit or more erotic paintings in brothels–somehow, we missed those rooms.

I think we were tired, and decided to forego a whole section of buildings. The layout of the city was enormous, much bigger than imagined. Pompeii, with Vesuvius looming, ever-present always watching. After four hours, it just all started looking like a big pile of rocks.

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The next day, we took a cheap hop-on-hop-off tour bus (10 euro) http://www.sorrento.city-sightseeing.it/eng/ to Amalfi and Positano.

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It’s the best way to get there, unless you hire a skilled driver. We caught the bus at the Circumvesuviana train station right in Sorrento, just a couple blocks off the main square. They give you ear buds and a recorded tour as you drive around the steep cliffs into the villages. We took it all the way to Amalfi first–took about 1.5 hours. More twists and turns, and narrow streets. The bus’ mirror just barely scrapes by oncoming traffic. Lonely castles and villas cut into the rocks. Closer to Positano, more homes built into the hillsides, merging closer together within the two towns, several miles apart. We visited St. Andrews church, browsed the shops, had cappuccino and cookies, chilled. Took a boat back to Positano, where we did the same thing before catching another bus at the top of the steep hill.

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Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea – Amalfi

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Back to our beautiful Royal Grand Hotel on the cliffs of Sorrento, waiters in cream-colored tuxes serve us breakfast and cappuccino, away from reality for four days. From the dining area, the floor-to-ceiling windows don’t show quite all of the coast line.

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Terrace window – Vesuvius ever-present

You can see the beautiful palms and garden, with the smell of wisteria and gardenia and jasmine looming above in trellises and shrubs and orange and lemon trees.

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Little pathways take you to a tiled patio that stretches for yards left and right. Walk to the iron railing and be swept away from the view of the sea, the marina, and Mount Vesuvius in the distance. It’s a view like no other.

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Our room was on the other side, facing a busy street, but had lovely views of the surrounding hillsides. Unfortunately at night, the orchardists burn their sticks and compost, creating a smoky layer that turned our room into a campfire. We awoke sneezing and coughing from the smoky air. The street was noisy, too, but it was kind of interesting to lie there and listen to the crowd noise.

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Lemon grove below our hotel window. Lemons are a specialty here, and even small, backyard gardens grow them commercially.

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The beauty here is different than Venice, a warmer more California environment. More decadent and upscale–and heavy with traffic. Palm trees, succulents, flowering shrubs. Beautiful gardens and parks. And traffic. I didn’t expect that. Thought it would be more like Cinque Terre, isolated from the rest of the population. No, it’s like Napoli just continues around the coast and into the hillside, even though there are many towns between here and there. They’re all connected. But step to the other side of the hotel–the cliffside of the Grand Hotel Royal for an amazing cliffside view. Vesuvius reigns in the distance. The boat marina is miniature, with toy ferries coming in and out of the harbor, taking the tiny people away to Capri and Amalfi.

It was hard to leave the stunning beauty of Sorrento. I could have used a couple more days to rest and explore.

But we had to catch a train to Rome. A crazy day. Driver Mimmo gave us all hugs when he left us, sweet man, at the Napoli train station. From there, we had to train into Rome, and catch a connecting train to the airport. We flew from Rome to London. Mimmo asked, “Why do you not just fly from Napoli?” Good friggin’ question. No one remembered. Air miles, perhaps??

We dropped our bags at our hotel in Heathrow and headed out to London (about 40 minutes by taxi), to The Monkey Puzzle pub for proper fish n chips. The manager didn’t realize a) we were American, and b) that we’d just arrived from Italy, and c) we only came out from Heathrow to go to his pub! He followed us out the door, so grateful for our visit. He did call us a taxi and it was only 30 pounds for our return. That day was pretty much shot.

M & J left the next day for home. We continued on to Wokingham, a sleepy little town in the middle of sheep pastures, is now the current place of residence for dear relations on my father’s side. My uncle picked us up and drove us to their home. That afternoon, we made a road trip to Oxford. They had a doctor appointment, so we tooled around and hoped some of the smart people around us would rub off. We had tea and scones, went to a pub for lunch and ale, and generally just wandered. We didn’t make it back to our Pheasant Inn until almost 8 pm. Fun fact: establishments close around 6 on Sundays, by Law. We noticed many eateries closed early in Oxford, too. We had to order Domino’s Pizza for dinner!

The next day turned stormy, but we drove with my relations to Winchester, another long drive in bad weather. In Winchester (after crying over Jane Austen’s grave), we toured the Cathedral, which was breathtaking. Massive. And visiting Dear Jane Austen was definitely a highlight. I had chills from head to toe as the tears ran down my face. I was a shaky, emotional wreck. More “Sensibility” than “Sense”.

Back to my music side. A musical fantasy of mine would be to go to Europe and hit some music festivals. We planned too far in advance this time (had to buy airline tickets when the price was right and use our air miles) to know who was playing where. Of course, as the date drew near, we realized we were missing several acts in various locations, including Winchester, London, and Amsterdam by two or three days, and the big Kilkenny Roots Festival by two weeks.

I did do my homework before we left and met up with Oliver Gray, a music promoter and author near Winchester. We had tea and lunch, talked about music, local bands, and mutual friends.  We then “toured” Swiss Cottage, which has a seating capacity of 30 people (40 with standing room), and played a mean round of ping-pong. So much fun. He walked us through the beautiful village to the train station and threatened to come visit us in Seattle in the next few years.

Back to Winnersh station, close to our Pheasant Inn – tough boys, kicking and swearing at each other, again, just playin’, scrappy English-style this time. Leather jackets and swagger. One more  flick of a finger before jumping off the train, just as doors close and the train pulls from the station.

The next day, we said our goodbyes to our English relations and headed back to Heathrow in the afternoon after having a lovely lunch in an old establishment called The Bull Inn at Bisham.

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London to Amsterdam, our last stop for two quick, beautiful nights. Amsterdam has it going on. Organized, clean, easy transportation system, beautiful long-legged women on bicycles, a city in motion.Thousands and thousands of bicycles. Delicious food. Our host at Barangay B&B says, “You don’t need to tip more than about 5%. We pay our waiters a Living Wage.”  Pot smoke wafting from coffeeshops, restaurants in any international flavor, Heineken signs, a few red lights (low-rent–we skipped The District), Sexmuseum, canal boat tour–canals only seem to be used for tours now.

We also received a room upgrade from our nice hosts to a studio apartment, complete with living room, kitchen and dining area. It was so nice, and decorated in a tropical style. We even had a little courtyard with plants that let in some light and breeze. The building was from 1777, and was well cared for, like most of the buildings here.

The first night, although we planned to go see Brian Fallon at Melkweg (Milky Way) on the other side of town, we just decided to wander. We were tired from our long day traveling. We did do a canal boat tour that afternoon (P fell asleep) and later had delicious Rijsttafel (rice table) at Long Pura Indonesian Restaurant.

The next day, we went to the Sexmuseum on a dare from my cousin. Interesting, disturbing, hilarious.

We later took a tram (easy to catch one just outside the train station) across town to check out where Melkweg sat, just to see the neighborhood. We walked in to Eat at Jo’s Cafe, located inside Melkweg. Although we’d missed the show last night, we had a blast chatting with the owners, and even received a short tour of the venue. Great food, great beer selection, too.

That evening, we strolled the town and had Spanish Tappas for dinner as we watched the sun set over the canal.

Overall, a wonderful, memorable vacation.

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I guess what I wouldn’t do again is take 7 airplane rides in two weeks. That was a bit excessive, and we spent lots of hours in airports and train stations getting to the airports. The payoff was, P was able to use his air miles and get the two major flights from the US to Amsterdam and back for less than $150. How can you beat that?? But it meant flying Seattle-to-Portland-to-Amsterdam-to-Venice the first day!? I think if I could at all afford it, I would also go Business Class and get the comfy lie-down seats. It’s just so uncomfortable to be squished into such a tiny space for 10 hours. A huge expense, though, to fly first class without air miles.

I also wouldn’t take a backpack unless it had a convertible wheel base (with the new four-wheel system) and handle. I had too much trouble, first of all, with security; secondly, I did not have a comfortable enough waist strap to keep the weight on my hips. When we had to walk several hundred yards through an airport, I would be exhausted by the time we reached the gate. Having the option to be hands-free, though, is crucial for getting on/off trains and walking through tiny aisles or on cobblestone streets.

I’d also love to plan a trip around a music festival. That would be dreamy. I never feel like we stay long enough in one place, either. Hotels are cheap in April, and the tourist crush doesn’t come for another month or two. We lucked out on weather at each stop. Winchester was the only place where it rained hard, but it cleared up by the late afternoon.

Next time, next time…I’d better start saving now!

May 7, 2016 Posted by | Amsterdam Travel, Italy Travel, Travel, UK Travel | , , , | 4 Comments

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