Tuesday, June 05, 2012

last bit of USA

I've been back from Wisconsin for a week now, time to catch up on some blogging...

There was the 15th annual WORT block party, organised by old friend Maggie Weiser (seen a few weeks earlier fronting Reptile Palace Orchestra in Stevens Point) down in Madison. It was a beautiful sunny, breezy afternoon and Peter Fee and I ended up sitting out on his back porch chatting for quite a while before cycling over. Unfortunately, this meant that we missed the blazing bluegrass sounds of High Water, Malian fusion from Tani Diakte and friends, and a couple of other things. But no matter. When we arrived, 80's retro/electro/new wave band Sexy Ester were rocking out to great effect. Supercool singer Lyndsay Evans (in shades and Bowie T-shirt) could have been a mega popstar in the 80s, with the voice and the moves, but is probably happier being what she is in the 2010's. Their sound is a kind of distillation of everything good about the 1980s. At one point the keyboard player emerged from behind his synths wielding a keytar and cheesy grin — perfect. Next up were the Forward! Marching Band, a very liberal interpretation of the marching band tradition which emerged out of the anti-Governor protests in Madison just over a year ago. Along with some marching band faves ("When the Saints Go Marching In", etc.), we got Billy Bragg's "There is Power in a Union" back-to-back with a superb arrangement of Wisconsin's own Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" — I love Madison! Unfortunately the evil Walker won the gubernatorial recall election since then, bad news for Wisconsin... Finishing the event were "Weapons of Mass Defunktion", a live hiphop band, postive, uplifting, multiracial and socially conscious, as you'd expect at an event like this. The local brewing guild had supplied all the beer for free, and were tending the bar voluntarily, so the event brings in a good few $1000 for what could possibly be America's finest community radio station. And I even picked up a CD of Led Bib's Bring Your Own from the record stall for $2!

The last week was spent exploring northern Wisconsin, including the Apostle Islands (in Lake Superior) with sister Luna. Lots of quiet wilderness time, meditation, yoga, and some saz/voice jams. She taught me a setting of the Song of Paldarbom (a contemplative lyric attributed to the 11th century Tibetan Shepa Dorje, the yogi Milarepa), of which I made a rough recording.

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During the remainder of my time in Stevens Point I got to jam a few more times with Dan Miller in Gretchen's garage (he played some acoustic guitar in the later sessions, the earlier ones all being electric). This all got recorded on a decent mic and I'm now awaiting the files from Dan. We're both going to create our own edits from the many hours of recording. These sessions were easily the musical highlight of my time in Point.

We also attempted to play at the Thursday night open mic at Fill's Bar on Patch Street (which looks like a warehouse from the outside). This is run by Denny, who I played with at an Elbow Room 'song swap' the evening before ("Dead Flowers" by the Stones, "Hickory Wind" by Gram Parsons, and one of his own songs)...he was eager to have me come along to his session, and Dan was also free that evening. We got there far too early, so decided to go back outside and enjoy the sunny evening, jamming by the Little Plover River near the railway bridge. It's a shame I didn't record this, as we played some especially fluid music, with the sound of grinding, colliding freight cars coming and going, and a background pulse of 'spring peepers' (little frogs). Would have made an interesting recording. Our attempt to play free acoustic space music to a bemused barroom wasn't quite as satisfying, but I'm glad we did it, and there were a handful of people there (musicians mostly) who seemed to get it. There were a few minutes to spare after our longish jam piece, so I finished off with a high-energy version of the Armenian tune "Ambee Dagez" which I always seem to fall back on on such occasions.

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Stef from Sloppy Joe came over one evening with guitar, banjo and friend Laura (now part of local bluegrass band the Back Alley Blossoms) from down the road, with her double bass. I'd lit a fire in my mum and dad's back garden, so we got to entertain them with a variety of songs Stef felt like singing that afternoon. Laura was just learning her first few notes on the bass this time last year, has come a long way since. The best stuff (as usual) didn't get recorded, in fact the only thing that came out OK was a cover of The Faces "Ooh La La" (my mum clearly enjoyed this, then was taken aback when I told her it was originally sung by the ghastly Rod Stewart...)

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The session was cut short when we realised Clara the cat had escaped through an open gate and was out wandering the Stevens Point night. This was an unfortunate turn of events, but she turned up unscathed a week later. And Mum and Dad don't often get to hear me play saz with anyone else, so a particularly pleasant evening (Stef was even able to fulfil my dad's request with a version of "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?").

And then there was the "Mass Guitar Incident!"! As part of the Portage County Arts Walk on the evening of 18/05/12, several dozen guitarists (plus me, a banjo, an acoustic bass, possibly a few other maverick strings) gathered in the town square to play en masse for an assembled crowd. The chosen songs were "King of the Road" and "Doo Wah Diddy", the sort of thing anyone can play with a few chords. My dad's a fan of "King of the Road", I remember him playing the 7" when I was a kid — one of a small collection of singles he had...and it was his birthday the next day...so he came down to listen. Unfortunately, the location was all wrong — the year before (the first MGI) had been in an enclosed side street of Main Street, and that had reasonable acoustics. This time we were right in front of the new (and surprisingly loud) fountain, competing with that, the sound of kids splashing in it raucously (it was a hot sunny evening), traffic, etc. So despite the dozens of guitars, no one could hear anything properly! But both songs got played (after an overly long photo shoot) and then that was it. More songs next time, I think (and back to the previous location). It was great to see just about everyone I've ever played music with in town there though (the Ludeman sisters, Jeff LaMarche, Chas and Jerry, Ed Smith, Tom from the Clark Place, et al.)

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