Monday, October 26, 2015

Left Bank Metro, Paris, 1997

This photograph taken near the Seine during a long Thanksgiving weekend in 1997 is a favorite of mine. The bare trees, the wet streets, the women in high heels dressed up for shopping, the gendarmes strolling, the woman waiting for someone, the yellow awning of the famous bookstore, the kiosk, and the metro stop all seem like quintessential Paris to me. 

Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1997

In 1997, my wife and I took a Thanksgiving trip to Paris, courtesy of a ACIS, a student travel group we have led trips for. It's cold, rainy, and the sun comes up late and sets early in Paris this time of year. It's also at its most beautiful. We stumbled upon what has been one of our favorite parts of Paris, returning each time we visit. Rue Mouffetard is one of the world's great market streets, stretching a half mile or more and filled with markets, restaurants, bistros, specialty shops, and bars. This particular day we came across some musicians busking for francs.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Joe Jackson

The main reason I went to HSB this year was the attraction of Joe Jackson. I've been a fan since his first record in the late 70's, and I think his last two are among the best he's ever recorded, including Fast Forward, the new one I've been listening non-stop to since I got it Monday. He's never been a showman. The lure is the music. The two teenagers in love in front of me clearly didn't get it, but they were pretty much digging each other to the point of distraction. All was going along swimmingly until Joe took off his dark glasses. Yikes! Bad face lift warning! Once he put them back on, I was able to concentrate on the music rather than wondering, "What the hell was he thinking?" Jackson is a superb musician, songwriter, singer and arranger. The crowd of over 20,000 clearly agreed with my assessment. Waiting over 5 hours for him to step on stage was worth it.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, The Waco Brothers

I had heard of the Waco Brothers as they have played Hardly Strictly a few times before, but knew nothing about them. They led off the morning with an energetic and visually entertaining set, marred by speakers clipping or cutting out every few minutes. The volume was turned down for the subsequent acts thankfully. The band is from Chicago but their leader, Jon Langford, is from Wales and led a fairly popular punk band in England, the Mekons. No one in the band is blessed with a great voice and the songs aren't instantly memorable, but they're fun to watch jump around with reckless abandon. Another example of the tremendous diversity of acts at HSB. At this point in the show, the acres of grass behind thiose of us up near the front was empty, and a walk to the food vendors was no big deal. Later in the day there were probably 20,000 people there.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Lera Lynn

I had never heard of Lera Lynn until last Saturday and wasn't expecting too much, but her bio in the program was interesting, so I approached her set with an open mind. I was not disappointed. She has a beautiful voice and, more importantly to me, writes great songs. Accompanied by bass, drums and baritone guitar with a very noirish distinctive sound, she put on a terrific 55 minute set. I had actually seen her before without knowing it. She had a recurring role in the second season of True Detective, which I confess I didn't finish, She played a singer in a dive bar where the two protagonists meet every episode and she sings in the background. She worked with the legendary T-Bone Burnett on the soundtrack for the show.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, San Francisco, Boz Scaggs

On Saturday, October 2, 2015, I made my first trip up to the city in three years to attend Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park. The logistics of going to the show have gotten worse. The parking is a nightmare, the crowds are suffocating, and going from one stage to another is a waste of time if you want to actually see the performance. Upwards of 700,000 people flock to San Francisco every year for the three day, completely free lineup of both big and lesser known acts. My strategy now is to pick one of the seven stages, get there about 10;45, plop my chair down, have a bite to eat, and wait an hour for the show to start. This year I picked the Tower of Gold stage which was featuring The Waco Brothers, Lera Lynn, Boz Scaggs as the headliner, and Joe Jackson. Between sets I was able to walk over to the adjacent stage and get a taste of Paul Weller and The Milk Carton Kids. Neither was worth the effort. Pictured above is Boz Scaggs, a San Francisco institution who got his start in the Steve Miller Band before branching out on his own in the early 70's. He had a powerhouse band and still has that silky smooth voice with a lot of Texas in it. It's just not as powerful as it once was. His bluesy guitar playing is still as sweet as ever. I haven't seen him live in many years, and it was great to get the chance once again. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Dublin, Part 3

All these photographs were taken in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. I just wish I had had some warmer clothes, but I sure didn't need them in Spain.

Dublin, Part 2

In about five hours, I was able to do some walking, take some photographs, get a pint, and have an early dinner of fish and chips before trying to find the number 4 bus back to my hotel. Dublin was cold, crowded, and very hectic on the high streets. Getting off those streets and into Temple Bar was a relief.

Dublin, Ireland: The Temple Bar

I knew that I was going to change planes in Dublin on my way back from Spain, I didn't know that I would spend the night and over 300 Euros for the pleasure. After arriving in Dublin from Madrid with over two hours to spare until my flight to San Francisco, I walked from one terminal to the next without rushing. I got to the check-in counter and tried to get my boarding pass, but was told the flight was already closed and I would have to see Aer Lingus to book another flight. It turns out, the fine print on my reservation said to be at the counter no more than 75 minutes before the flight. I got there at 70 minutes. Passengers going to the United States have to clear customs in Dublin, not in the US city. Bummer! I got booked for a flight 24 hours later and got an airport hotel. I was not a happy camper at this point. So, very underdressed for the cold, breezy Dublin weather, I took a city bus into the center and made the best of it. I finally stumbled on to the Temple Bar area of the city and went to the bar of the same name for a pint of Guiness and some live music. While extremely touristy, the bar was lively, colorful and fun.