Archive for March 2008

Cherry Blossoms

March 30, 2008


Washington, DC

Current Earworm (song stuck in my head): Ellis Paul, “Washington, DC, 5/91”

Given all the traveling I do, you’d think I’d be a more skilled tourist.  Like, for instance, if I were going to go to a major city for a few days with my wife for a little vacation, I might realize that a major festival was happening there on the same weekend. 

Since I missed the first part of Deanna’s spring break on tour in Australia, we thought we’d make the most of the last half and head up to DC to poke around for the weekend, hit a few museums and relax. What we didn’t know was that a million other people were also heading to DC for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. DC is designed to hold lots of extra people, so the crowds have been more fun than troublesome. And the cherry blossoms are beautiful. The best they’ve been in years, apparently.

We went to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and the American Indian Museum, caught a Merce Cunningham dance performance and enjoyed some good culinary art as well. Merce taught at Black Mountain College in the fifties along with Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Jasper Johns and a bunch of other luminaries of their time, and I’ve always been interested in the people associated with Black Mountain College. The performance was fascinating, and though modern dance isn’t an art form that I usually connect with deeply, we both enjoyed the show. The third piece involved passing out iPods that were loaded with ten tracks that played randomly, so everyone there had a different soundtrack to the piece. What we didn’t expect was that Merce would actually be there.  He came out on stage in a wheelchair for the final bows.

We stood in line for a long time to view the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. It was worth the wait, and actually encouraging to me that so many people were passionate enough about seeing those documents that they were willing to stand in line.

I think we both agree, though, that the best part of the weekend was the kite festival on the National Mall. There wasn’t much wind, so the kite flying efforts were valiant but sometimes comically ineffectual. Our favorite vignette, we both agreed, was watching a father trying to show his eight-year-old son how to fly a kite, most certainly for the first time. The dad held the line and the boy held the kite and after a few shouted bits of instruction, the boy launched the kite into the air while the dad tugged on the line. 

The kite went up for… maybe fifteen seconds, then nose-dived (nose-dove?) into the ground. The boys’ eyes were lit up and his head swung eagerly back to his Dad as he shouted “Did it work?!”

Deanna and I cracked up (from too far away to be noticed) but it wasn’t really a dumb question in retrospect. If the goal was to have fun, I’d say it worked. 

The goal for Deanna and me was to have fun, too, and to spend some time catching up with each other in a brief window between tours.  It worked.




Somewhat Less Impressive Travel Karma

March 25, 2008

The trip home today involves four flights, the second of which is the thirteen hour jump from Sydney to LA. After my great luck with the three empty seats on the way over, I paid my dues in the dreaded ‘middle seat’ on the way back, with a huge man in the seat in front of me who managed to make his seat recline about twice as far as is usually possible.

Still, I had good neighbors on either side. And I couldn’t help but think of the Iraqi taxi driver I met in Brisbane a few days ago. He immigrated to Australia on a boat with 230 people on it and not enough food and water. It took six weeks. 

All things considered, not a bad flight.

The cool factor was also increased by the fact that I hung out with Guy Davis in the boarding area. He showed me his banjo and played a few tunes, and I showed him my trick with the credit card in the strings.  Watch for it on his next record. 😉  Mike Compton, the mandolin player from the Nashville Bluegrass Band, was hanging out too, then the singer and fiddle player from the Duhks walked up. Note to self: cool musicians hang out at the Sydney airport.

National Folk Festival

March 25, 2008


Canberra, Australia



I’m headed home after the Australian tour, flying from Sydney to Los Angeles. It’s one of those mind-bending thirteen hour flights where you arrive before you left.  …?

For the last few days I’ve been performing at the National Folk Festival in Canberra, Australia’scapital city (nope, it’s not Sydney). I played this festival six years ago and made some good friends, and many of them were there again, so on top of all the great music and general festival fun, I got to spend some good relaxed time with some good relaxed people.  

One family of three actually flew in all the way from New Zealand to see me play. Pretty cool. Little Brianna brought me a necklace that I’ll show you if you catch me at a show some time.


And now I get to go home to Deanna and spend the rest of her school vacation with her, so life’s good. We’re still not sure where we’ll go, which is the best way to take a break as far as I’m concerned.

My old friend Liz Frencham and my new friend Vincent Bradley sat in with me for all three of my festival shows, which was a treat. Liz plays upright bass and sings, and Vincent, a.k.a. ‘Cenzo (pronounced Chenzo), plays trumpet, flugelhorn and harmonica, sings and plays a mean bubble solo on S.S. Bathtub. The first two shows were to capacity crowds of over 1000 and the last one was in the 2500 seat auditorium, and it was full. 

That was great, of course, except that I couldn’t tell jokes about how musicians act on big stages, given that I was on one and all. I’ll have some video clips up soon, so stay tuned.


Bang On

March 18, 2008

Melbourne, Australia

It’s a hot morning in Melbourne, which is nothing unusual, actually.  Brisbane tends to be even hotter, but forty degree days haven’t been uncommon lately, and that’s 104 where I come from.

I’m staying with my old friend Liz Frencham and her very cool beau Steve.  Liz and I played a small festival near here on Sunday and will be meeting up again at Canberra for the National Folk Festival in a few days. I’ve played the National (or the Nash, as it’s often referred to here) once before, about six years ago, and I’m really looking forward to being back there. 

Vocabulary tips for the day:  ‘firing up the barbie’ has nothing to do with dismissing a blonde from her employment, but rather means grilling out on the barbecue. That’s what we did last night, with Vincent, another muzo friend of Liz and Steve’s, then we pulled a mattress and TV out into the yard, as it was just too hot inside, and watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind under the stars. I liked it, by the way. I can’t believe I managed not to see it until now, but it was worth a rental.

“Bang on” means perfect, not instructions on how to play a Billy Jonas song. “Hoon” can be a noun or a verb, and generally refers to young guys who drive loud cars too fast (though I guess old women could hoon if they want to).  So hoons hoon around. Vincent actually said he hooned down here on his motorcycle yesterday and got here faster than usual. I thought this might have descended etymologically from Huns, i.e. marauding ruffians razing villages, but I think it’s more onomatopoeic than that, and actually just refers to the sound the cars make.


The delivery truck dropped off Liz’s new CD of duets yesterday (think she looks happy?), so last night was a bit of a celebration. I’m here for two more days this week before we’ll all head up to the Nash, and we’re hoping to record a duet for the next volume sometime in here. I’ll let you know when we get it together and try to make it available on my web site.

In the meantime, stay cool, as it were.  It’s hard to believe I was in North Dakota two weeks ago…


A few more Brisbane pix

March 16, 2008

Here are just a few more pictures of Brisbane and the University of Queensland:  

View Album

Brisbane wrap up

March 15, 2008


The last day in Brisbane was as good as the first two, taken up mostly by a tour of the city and environs with Judy Magub, who works with the Peace Fellows from the Rotary side, and an evening party where some of the class five Fellows were welcoming the new class six Fellows and answering their questions.

It was great to sit in on that and get a clearer sense of how things will work there in terms of the academics.

Overall impressions:

– The Peace Fellows are an impressive bunch of people, and I’m deeply honored and humbled to be a part of that group.

– This program is going to be seriously challenging for me academically, and that’s good news. It will be a healthy stretch, I think.

– The local Rotary and university folks are incredibly supportive.

– Brisbane is a city. It’s not going to be like living in Black Mountain, or even Asheville. More like Charlotte.

– There is a delightful cultural diversity here, not only around the university but in the city itself. Both Deanna and I love that, and miss it a bit in Black Mountain, though we love living there.

– It’s seriously hot here. To be clear, that’s great news to me, and even better news to Deanna.

– I talk funny. I’ve got lots of vocabulary to learn for daily communication, and I seem to have a strange accent, too.

– This is going to be an absolute blast!


Day 2 in Brisbane

March 14, 2008

Had a great day on campus yesterday with Cassio, a ‘Class 5’ Fellow from Brazil. We rambled all over the campus and had a ball. I met a couple of professors and several Fellows, then went to a class last night, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I took two pages of fairly dense notes even though I’m not in the class.  ;-)Here 20 pictures from the day and the evening before.