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Archive for May, 2007

A Jump Start

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

habibieasternidversity.jpgEach spring the green energizes my eyes/artful self and slows down my system due to allergies. I’ve spent the last week or so sleeping much more than is typical for me. Fortunately, life comes in waves and after a lot of sleeping and naps, I eventually come out of it with renewed energy. Today was my breakthrough day and I really enjoyed it.

Saturday the Habibi Dancers (including me as Eudora) performed at a Cultural Diversity event at Eastern High School (walking distance from both the state Capitol building and Foster Community Center where we rehearse). I was delighted to be able to dance with the troupe. It seems that so many of our performances happen on weekends and nights, and with short enough notice that I am already scheduled to teach or sing.

habibieasterndiversity2.jpg

I go to rehearsals religiously but the last three times I’ve performed were the March Aladdin’s restaurant event and two daytime performances, one at a school and one at a hospital (more cultural diversity awareness programming). And I hate to tell you how many months ago those were. It was refreshing and wonderful to get out there on a stage and make people smile. We have such a fun time, that the audience goes along with us for the ride. Very worthwhile!

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After the dance/diversity event I ran over to the East Lansing Art Fair, the first outdoor fair of my year. Altu had a food booth but she had many friends and family members working so she was OK without my help (I may help out Sunday if she needs me).

easterndiversitypleasantgroveschool.jpgI got there for only the last half hour or so. I crammed a lot into that final time. I visited Susan Luks at her booth on M.A.C. Avenue and listened to our friends “Steppin’ in It” and Rachael Davis sing together in a project called Shout Sister Shout, mostly songs from the 30’s and 40’s. I loved it.

easterndiversityhmong.jpg

Of course, I also ate at Altu’s food booth and I did help them wrap up the night, clean and close up the booth for the night. That made me feel useful.

On the way home I sort of moseyed to enjoy the feel of being in a downtown, small as it might be. I wandered into the relatively-new corner shop called Mad Eagle where I chatted first with Laura Bates and then the three owners of the shop. It’s an energetic, funky, high-quality jewelry/gift/clothing shop and I really enjoyed being there. Lots of color tickled my eyes fully.

easterndiversitymexican.jpgThen I got home and instead of my recent exhaustion, I ended up with a bit of a second wind. I did laundry, dishes, tossed old clothing, wound yarn that has been waiting too long for winding, and generally did some catching up that just seemed too overwhelming even yesterday. I don’t know what happened but I’m relieved to find my energy shifting.

easterndiversityafrican.jpgAnd with that I’ll get back to some tossing out and cleaning. It’s almost 2am and Brian’s not back from the jam session after the dance he played tonight. I know the party was really wonderful but my voice is really worn out and I needed to have a silent evening. A party would just have made things worse. I’m still recovering from Dallas and New York, both trips were hard on my voice.

But you know… it was about as perfect a day as it could have been. The sun shone (after a very brief unexpected rain this morning), it was warm but not hot, and there was nothing but good stuff to do, good folks to spend time with, good food to eat.

It is going to be a good summer.

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Photos: Three photos of Habibi Dancers, I’m far right with purple and a head wrap (I’m not sure why our photos taken on the same camera turned out so dark when the rest turned out bright); Pleasant View Performing Arts Magnet School advanced dance program, Lansing Schools Asian Club performing a Hmong dance; one of three Mexican Dance troupes (I think these were actually from Flint), young African Dancers from Lansing (all these photos from Eastern Cultural Diversity Days); Shout Sister Shout (Steppin’ in It plus Rachael Davis) on stage at East Lansing Art Festival.

Finishing: NYC Sunday Concert

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

I’m in a phase of finishing things long left undone. I finished socks I started last year, legwarmers from March, finished some ends on another pair of socks from February, scoped out what the last half-dozen rows will be on a gift knit, am trying to finish my summer calendar/teaching schedule, answer all the emails that have waited too long in my inbox, and write the last of the NYC trip. I need to have some closure before I get moving on the summer season (slow teaching time, heavy studio time).

So back to NYC: I took SO many photos Sunday and none at all Monday though I wish I had. At this point I have developed some and not others, and those which are ready will be the ones you see. I need to go forward and we’ve been home enough to go on to other stories, no matter how good the New York story might be. at least to me.

There was far too much going on for me to capture it all but I still have more photos to show you than space to display them! It’s a lovely problem, indeed.

These performers were on, Sunday, but this is not the order in which they played.

Victoria Vox
Joel Eckhaus
Fred Fallin
Eilidh MacAskill
Steven Sproat
Hot Time Harv & His Roller Coaster of Kicks
M David Hornbuckle & the Dixieland Space Orchestra

nycvictoriaandfriends.jpgI must say that Victoria Vox just amazes me. She’s talented, musical, beautiful, approachable, kind, sweet yet gutsy, and she runs an entire music career from her car and the internet. She plays nearly 300 concerts a year… she was even in Lansing last August when Brian and I were in Minnesota, go figure.

It seems that everybody loves Victoria. Here she is (standing, far left) playing with two musical friends on backup and Yan Yalego from France in the shadows at right with his amazing mouth trumpet. Mind you Victoria does a mouth trumpet (different technique) that is pure and clear and wonderful… Yan’s is more bluesy… so here they shared the stage. two fine trumpets together. Cool. I found a Youtube video of her finishing up her song Ukulele Lady at the fest, if you’d like a quick listen, or see the most amazing Youtube I personally have ever seen… Uking at the Wheel.)

nycjoeleckhaus12.jpgJoel Eckhaus is always a favorite of mine. We have known him as long as we have been traveling the ukulele circuit. He builds instruments (including the beautiful Blue Heaven uke Brian bought from him a year ago in NYC). I’m told he teaches excellent workshops but since I don’t play uke I haven’t experienced one.

Joel also performs, often with very talented friends. And he enjoys occasionally changing the words of a well-known song and turning them upside down. He delivers with total deadpan as the audience chuckles and occasionally groans. He introduced a new one to us at the festival. He has a CD under the group name “Ukulele Eck and the Fabulous Lacklusters.” (Ukulele Ike/Cliff Edwards was one of the most famous popular musicians of the mid-1920’s, so even that is a play on words.)

nycfred.jpgThen came the one-of-a-kind Fred Fallin. He’s a historian and storyteller, a former schoolteacher, and a true champion of all things ukulele. He played us all sorts of numbers from the Tin Pan Alley genre (1920’s popular music which came out of New York City) including historical information before and after each song, to put them into perspective.

Fred will never be able to tell all his stories, he’s so full of knowledge, but he sure is giving it the old college try. I love the photo of Fred expressing himself once more with his hands as he explains. Few people are as passionate about life and music as Fred Fallin, and I am honored to be counted among his friends, though we do not see one another nearly enough.

nyceilidh.jpgEilidh MacAskill, performance artist from Glasgow, Scotland also did her part. This year she is doing a ukulele performance every day, and she’s calling it “Eilidh’s Daily Ukulele Ceilidh.” For those of us who are not familiar with these words, all four of them rhyme perfectly (Aylee’s Daily Ukulele Kaylee, is how I’d maybe spell it). A Ceilidh, as she explains, started as a sort of gathering/party one might have with friends at one’s home… though it has turned into more of a high-energy, perhaps raucous or frenzied thing, and my take on it was maybe they are larger now but that may be me reading into it.

This year she is yet again redefining the ceilidh and making her own uke party every day. She was quite funny in a straight-deadpan sort of way on stage (my kind of humor, I loved it… here she is describing her ukulele, using words usually used to describe a woman’s body and without cracking a smile, it was very funny). Off stage she’s quite fun and engaging. I hope we can go over to the United Kingdom (UK) sometime and make our way around and maybe see her again. We now know folks in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. It would be such fun to go over there and see folks and all these fascinating-sounding places.

Steven Sproat wanycstevensproatandgabriela.jpgs also on Sunday night. He’s another one from the UK and Brian took one of his workshops. He does a good variety of styles including some in the style of George Formby (wildly popular English Uke player/actor who performed from 1921-1961) but he does original material and a very diverse mix of songs from sentimental to energetic.

Steven was joined on stage for one number by his daughter who is shown in this photo. She is an absolute delight… smart, sharp, friendly and talented. I got to know her, once again, sitting at the performer tables selling CDs. She is a master seller and made sure they did not take any of their CDs back on an airplane home. Go, kid (click the last 2 links for Youtube videos of the performance, the first in Formby style… listen to the whole video, don’t miss the final solo which is amazing… second video is with his daughter)!

nychottimeharv.jpg Hot Time Harv and His Roller Coaster of Kicks came on, a very popular NYC band with a slapstick, high-energy, talented musician crew… a large band for a Ukefest.

The guy sitting next to me knew every word. They are extremely good at what they do. My brother would have really loved this act. I prefer subtle over slapstick as a personal choice (face it… I sing love songs), but man, these guys nailed their act and how!

Even if you could turn off the sound for this act, they would be interesting visually. Harv really grabs your eye as he leads the band, and they all have their own unique style. This act is not for everyone and they know that… but as I’ve said here before, nobody makes it in show biz by being vanilla. These guys have it totally figured out. I did get a chance to chat with some of the guys in the band before and after the show (especially the guy with the light-colored hat). I enjoyed the few interactions we had.

nycdixilandspaceorchestra.jpg M David Hornbuckle and the Dixieland Space Orchestra came on as well, I’m not sure in what order again. I missed a lot of their act, but they have a decidedly New Orleans sound when that trombone comes out. They were another band with a fairly large group for the Uke circuit.

If I remember right they had two ukulele players (one was a multi-instrumentalist including the trombone). I grew up with New Orleans/Dixiland jazz, my dad loved it. I’m thrilled to see folks this young doing music with that flavor.

Their costumes were striking… all white head to toe with black flowers. Any style clothing, but all white. It’s clear to me these guys often play where people can dance! It must have been odd for them to have a seated audience, or so it seems to me. Check out two of their NYUkefest pieces at Youtube.

If you are curious for more Youtube videos than I took the time to link, you can get a list of all items for “New York Uke Fest” on Youtube if you click here, and you can pick from the 134 results as you wish. Man, things have changed in just one year on the web. Last year I don’t remember seeing any Youtube videos after the fest… maybe some people had them but I didn’t see them. Cool, huh? You can sort of be the fly on the wall and listen to only those acts that strike your fancy, no travel costs and at your own schedule. Very cool.

Or maybe I’ve said so much you are done with this subject for a year. That’s fine, too. Thanks for tuning in.

New York: Open Mic Friends

Friday, May 18th, 2007

nycalec.jpgThere was so much going on during the weekend of the ukefest, that I couldn’t make everything. I did make a tiny bit of the Saturday night open mic to see our friend Al (Brian has known Al longer than he’s known me) and did get a bunch of photos of his performance.

Sunday I got to see a lot of the open mic. I’m partial to these events, because we were “discovered” in 2003 at the Midwest Ukefest/Indianapolis at an open mic. We played Friday, they asked us to do the open mic the next day, and by Saturday night we were asked to play 3 songs on their main stage. Very important, then, for us to support the folks not yet discovered.

I took a gazillionycwendyandfriend12.jpgn photos of open mic. I am just too tuckered out to develop any more, I need to go forward with being in Michigan at this point. However, the three photos here are of our friend Al from Canada, Wendy (and friend whose name I do not remember), who we met originally at a ukefest in the Pocanos several years back, and our dear friends Jim and Pat who we also met at the Pocanos.

For the record, Jim and Pat were gracious to us on our way out of town Monday, by inviting us to breakfast at their home. They live in Jersey City which we’d never seen. It reminded me of a cross between northern Ann Arbor and Winthrup Massachusetts (just north of Boston). I liked it a great deal.

nycjimandpat.jpgThey had a cat who liked me and who I enjoyed (Brian is allergic so I see cats rarely). They made good strong tea and oatmeal for breakfast for the four of us, and we sat first in their backyard garden until we got sunburned, and then in their beautiful, funky, well-festooned and hand-embellished home. (They both do work for theatre and the rooms are hand-stenciled and painted in wonderful, artful ways). Their forced air heat comes through false fireplaces, really cozy and quaint. There’s nothing like this in Lansing, and I was enthralled by it all.

But the part about Jim and Pat’s house and their hospitality is a tiny bit out of order here, at least as far as a timeline might go. I just felt I’d tell that story while you had a photo of them at Open Mic, and that way I can make the story more compact for you folks.

The Sunday concert recap is next…

Just Checking… Kazoo Production Imminent

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

If I made a batch of one-of-a-kind Hershberger Art Kazoos (polymer clay over metal, sealed with acrylic finish), are there readers out there interested in reserving one? These sell at $45 USD, for those interested.

I haven’t made any in over a year. However, I’m trying to figure out how to finance a one-night trip to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Canadian Book Launch in Toronto next week. Just a few extra sales on my shopping cart (maybe kazoos) would make the trip work.

Rae found us an affordable place to stay if we go. Stephanie (Yarn Harlot) was gracious enough to write and encourage us to come. Now is the time to act.

Kazoo, anyone? I almost never promise before I start… this could be your lucky chance.

New York: Sunday 100% Fun

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

nycbreakfastfruit.jpgSunday was a combination of wondrous things for me in NYC. We met our friends Pat and Jim for breakfast at the Grammercy Diner. The food was beautiful to look at, ordinary food presented well. I love taking photos of plates of food and I gave in to that inclination this day.

I am getting my times mixed up here a bit, but Brian and I wandered around the East Village and found a large flea market we decided to check out. nycpancakesandcurves6.jpgI got a broomstick skirt and a retro early-70’s dress with a wild bright print on it.

I am always on the lookout for costumes to sing in when we play as The Fabulous Heftones, and there were a few lovely pieces that either were in bad repair or sun faded, or just plain would not fit. It was too bad but I didn’t find anything that day. One was so right (but it was very tiny) that it did inspire me to think of the perfect pseudo-flapper dress I could perhaps sew myself.

nycbreakfasteggs.jpgI used to sew a lot, though that was in the days when I was unhappy… and I sort of don’t enjoy going back to that space in my head when I’m sewing now. I think maybe getting a buddy to work with me on the cutting out of the fabric might help me ease in again once I figure out what I want to make. I can get fabrics I like but I’m still working out the details in my mind before I buy any lace or satin.

nycpastries.jpgOn the way back to the theatre I picked up some good tea at the corner. In the display cases they had pastries that reminded me of Montreal. Fresh fruits with glaze, almost artificial-looking in their color, beautiful. In Lansing there are not enough people to buy, for these to be cost-effective at a coffee shop. I have never seen this sort of pastry in Lansing under any circumstances. I had to take a photo.

We went down to the theatre after breakfast and the walk, and then I decided to do another detour to another yarn shop. This one was Downtown Yarn, on Avenue A near 3rd St. My friend from last year, Claire, suggested this shop and she knew their Sunday hours so she encouraged me to get down there. I was all about a walk on a relatively quiet Sunday noontime, and I gave in to that idea easily.

nycfarmmarket.jpgI walked past a park and there was a sort of farmer’s market going on at that point. On Avenue A there were a few breakfast places that looked packed full of young folks dressed up well. I also noted a few Thai places for possible lunch, and in fact did pick up some Pad Siew on the way back to the theatre at one of the spots.

It mostly was quiet at around noon in that area. I noticed how many shops were closed, in a city that supposedly never sleeps. Apparently they just sleep in the morning (like me). I had been warned that the yarn shop would look unassuming from the outside and indeed it had a regular house-like screen door entrance. I went in.

nycdowntownyarn.jpgWhat a nice shop! They were instantly friendly and chatted with me about yarn and the ukulele festival. I was not the first to come down from the fest, and they had noticed the out-of town business pleasantly. I picked one skein of yarn that is from New York State, in many greens (I do this every spring), and went back, stopping for lunch to go on the way back. I also kept my eye out for internet cafes and 24-hour restaurants for future use.

nycminithaicafe.jpgThings were hopping at the theatre, and Ron and Brian were playing music together at the performer’s (CD) tables when I got there. I settled in for lunch and chatted with a number of folks including young Gabriela from the UK, the daughter of Steven Sproat who did a workshop on Saturday that Brian thoroughly enjoyed. She was a sunbeam, with a big smile and an enthusiasm which spread to many of us. We also jammed when we could, though the space was pretty noisy and we could not keep it up long.

At dinner break they closed the theatre and our friend Al from Windsor, Ontario Canada went with us to the area where I’d walked earlier to the yarn shop. The farmer’s market was mostly wrapped up but it’s a large park and we decided to jam there. We stationed ourselves in front of a beautiful covered water drinking fountain (which was used relatively often, which pleased me).

nycronandbrian.jpgWe actually had some clear interest from the crowd. Many people knew of the Ukulele festival in their neighborhood and asked questions. Al took our photos of Brian and I there, and then we asked a bystander to take a shot or two of the three of us.

At one point I started chatting with a woman from the neighborhood while the guys kept playing. She was originally from France but had lived in New York for decades. She was interested in the festival. nycheftonesinpark.jpgIn the end she did come down and go to the Sunday evening concert and at that time I introduced her to Yanni Yalego, the performer from France. They had a nice chat, I guess her sister lives near where he does. Small world. I love it that way.

You know, I keep running into folks in Lansing who insist on thinking that large cities are unfriendly and unsafe. Yes, it is true that there is more of *everything* in a big city, including scary things. But there are more wonderful people, too. And when you go there expecting to find wonderful people, that is exactly what you find.

We found one other person at the park who we hope to stay in touch with. She was a musician, who does Klezmer music. We have a few friends in Lansing who do that as well and we hope to connect them all.

nycparkwithalec.jpgWe are probably going to use Myspace to make those connections happen as quickly as possible. Again, I keep hearing people talk about the down sides of networking online, be it Myspace or something else.

I maintain that there are many ways to get in trouble, with or without a computer. However, there are ways to connect with people who have similar interests (and therefore might be potential actual friends) very quickly on line. I’ve met some very important people in my life from those same-interest connections. I look forward to more of the same. Including the musician in the park in “big, scary” New York City. Except I’d call it “big, wonderful, abundant” New York City. (End of lecture… with big smile on face….)

Saturday Night: More Music

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

nycindiandinner.jpgSaturday night was intense. There was so much to do, so many acts to see, and folks who wanted to buy our CD’s (thank you, every one of you) that I missed out on too much, trying to do it all.

Between the afternoon jamming and CD-selling, and the show, there was a dinner break. A bunch of us all wandered down to the same Indian restaurant we’d visited last year as a group. It was a different group but we had an equally enjoyable time.

I’m embarrassed that I”m not absolutely sure of names… please admire that I’m even trying, and do write if you can correct anyone I’ve named incorrectly. In this photo from left to right is Pat, Brian, Me (Lynn), Janet(?), Ron, John (goes with Janet), and Jim (goes with Pat). I hope. Mind you, a few of these folks I hadn’t met before Saturday that I recall, and I haven’t seen them since this trip. OK, end of disclaimer.

nycukejackson.jpgYou can see that this place is like many near the corner of 1st Avenue and 7th(?, maybe 6th) Street. There is a tendency to decorate with multitudes of “Christmas” lights, especially hot pepper lights. In this particular restaurant which was half a flight of stairs up, the place was maybe the size of a Greyhound bus, packed in like sardines from side to side, and then cram packed height-wise where the tall folks had to duck to be seated. Totally New York. I’m all about that sort of experience, personally.

After dinner we descended upon the Theatre again. There was a second stage going which I didn’t realize until I’d missed Bliss Blood’s new ensemble. For that matter, I stayed out in the lobby with the performer merchandise a lot of the time. Folks had watched our CDs while we were busy on Friday night, and it was our turn to pitch in for the other performers. That meant I missed out on more acts than I would have liked but that’s show business. After all, I’d already seen enough quality acts on Thursday and Friday that I could have gone home saturated. I’m glad I got more under my belt before we went home, though!

The acts on the program for Saturday were these, though I’m pretty sure this is not the order in which they were presented. (Fred Fallin was emcee):

Yalego
John King
NY Ukulele Ensemble
Bosko & Honey’s Ukulele Love In
Sazerac and his Genial Orleanians
The Aloha Boys

nycyanni.jpgYalego is the last name of the performer from Southern France. I called him Yanni, I think his first name is Yan which he told me is not a fully French name… I love talking language but we had little time to pursue that further.

In any case, this guy is a crooner of the finest sort, and he is the master of the mouth trumpet. He opens his mouth like an “ooh” but it sounds just like a muted trumpet, loud and clear. I’ve never heard anything like it. Wow. We all were humbled and amazed. He sang “Nobody Knows You when You’re Down and Out” which you can see on youtube by clicking the link here.

John King is a master of classical music, on ukulele. I heard him several times during the weekend but I missed his stage show. I don’t see any videos of him on Youtube, unfortunately, but trust me about this. Quality.

The NY Ukulele Ensemble did several numbers while I was out of the theatre. nycboskoandhoneyandfredonstage.jpgFortunately there are three videos on Youtube, click here for Ukulele Beach Bum. Uke Jackson, the organizer of NYUkefest (woohoo) sings lead for this ensemble. Though I didn’t get a group shot, the second photo in this post is Uke alone on stage, at one point when he was giving away door prizes (mostly ukuleles, very cool).

Aaaah, Bosko & Honey. Remind me not to wax poetic for three pages on this act alone, but they would deserve it. A young and electric act from Australia, they are fun and focused and pro in all senses of the word. There are few couples in the Uke circuit and I’m pretty sure they are the only other pair we’ve met in person.

nycboskoandhoneyandcraigonstage.jpgThey have a fresh and fun show, playing a far-ranging repertoire. They do some Tin Pan Alley as we do, but they also did a great version of “The Girls Go By” from my youth. Very fine. They both play uke. They do a good number of instrumentals but they also sing.

They were on their way to play in Tokyo after they left NYC. “Honey” is originally from Japan so she writes a bilingual blog (I’m told) and they have fans in Japan. Go, Grrl! The first photo here is the couple on stage with Fred Fallin at far right. The second photo is the couple with Craig Robertson between them, what a great shot this is! There are many Youtube videos of Bosko and Honey on this trip, click here for an instrumental that has a bit less audience chat and a little closer focus than some others (thanks to Mike DaSilva for sharing this one with us).

Sazerac and his Genial Orlenians were next. They were at the festival last year but I had missed them. We talked to the leader several times during the daytime events and I made sure to get in on his act this time.

nycsazerac.jpgI was charmed. It was pretty much a vaudeville-type act, with incredible musicianship and a groaner sort of humor. No mean slams, no obvious off-color stuff, just somewhat-dorky humor with plenty of word play and clever punch lines.

I enjoyed it very much. Corny and cute and very musical. And in the vaudeville style, each bit was short and sweet so that if that particular one didn’t hit your funny bone just so, the next one was sure to please. I can not emphasize too much the quality of the musical performance, but you could lose that between guffaws if you chose. Family fun, delightful. I’m happy to know there are acts like this around yet. It gives me hope. If you want a peek, there’s a Youtube of them playing Moon Man Cheese.

I’m sad to say I missed the Aloha Boys. They are highly-regarded far beyond the ukulele community. I know they have a class musical act that is very enjoyable. Again, I was out at the musician table doing my best to tend to CD sales for as many acts as had CDs out. That is fun in and of itself, and I did enjoy it fully.

nycboskoandhoneyandheftones.jpgAfter the show it was time for more photographic moments. Brian decided he wanted a photo of the “two cute uke couples” so we got in a shot with Bosko and Honey. Aren’t they adorable? It’s as if we are extra in any photo with them. We had chances to talk with them both Saturday and Sunday. Great people, who are serious about their act. It was delightful to get to know them better.

New York Saturday: St. Mark’s & The Sock Man

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Now here is where the story is half sock-fanatic (usually expressed in my knitting) and most of the rest tourist, with just a smidgen of performer.

nycstmarkpurplebuilding.jpgI love New York… the energy, the tall buildings, the ethnic mix, the merchandise opportunities that are just not available in my town, in fact not in my state much of the time. For example, last year we ate at a Moroccan restaurant, and there are none in Michigan.

As those who follow my blog regularly know, I write this as an opportunity to present life as art… food as art, gardening as art, friendship as art, sometimes costuming as art… as well as things that this society always categorizes as art such as music, dance, visual arts.

Today I’ll address costuming… I contend that every time we choose what we will wear to appear in public is a costuming choice. Sometimes the message is “I’m on my day off, leave me alone” and sometimes it is “I love bright color” or “I love fashion magazines,” “I dress for comfort” or even “I love clothing from other countries besides this one.”

nycstmarkautomat.jpgSince I adore color and since I have the great opportunity to costume myself on stages for musical performances, I think often about what I would like to wear on stage. I particularly want to wear bright colors, and if my legs will show I want bright colored hose.

Since Ami Worthen of Mad Tea Party had been by on Friday night, I’d asked her about sources for good colored hose (she also costumes with much thought about her legs, and for spectacular effect I must add). She told me there was a place walking distance from the theatre on St. Mark’s (which I think would be 8th Street if it had a number rather than a name).

Saturday after the improv workshop I decided to shop rather than attend more workshops. Since I don’t play uke, this made sense and I did really enjoy getting out into the city a bit. I headed south on 1st Avenue and turned right (west) on St. Mark’s. I went past many fine and fun places on my way to The Sock Man, and the further I walked the more funky and neighborly it got.

nycstmarkapartments.jpgEarly on my walk I found a purple building, at least purple on the first floor. It appeared vacant on the first floor and there was some graffiti but I was able to get a shiny-looking photo by shooting upward, showing the apartments above. Lovely.

As I kept walking I went past an Automat. Imagine that! In the 1930’s these were very popular in NYC especially… during a time when our music was being played in NYC. You put nickels (at the time) in slots and got food out, at that time on ceramic plates with metal utensils. I just ran around the internet for more information. Wikipedia has an Automat article and this is the web page of the actual shop on St. Mark.

These days, you can pay with bills and there was an ATM on premises if I remember right. Still you put in funds and a door opens, and you take your food out. This one was walk-by mostly, for people on the go. It was a young section of town; it made a lot of sense there.

This was a sort of alternative/indie sort of section of town. There were a few ethnic restaurants, a bunch of gift shops with either ethnic or alternative-lifestyle focuses, a lot of young folks, many of whom were wearing all black but not all. It’s a mixed up, tossed salad city but the flavor here was decidedly young, edgy and funky.

nycstmarksockman.jpgI finally made my way to The Sock Man, a business half a flight down but with a big table out front almost like a sidewalk sale, a huge mess of boxes and piles of socks of every color. Most were cheap and synthetic. I did see some good wool socks but I was in search of bright colored hose, both dressy nylon and perhaps some thick warm cotton ones. I went downstairs and inside.

It was not much wider than a hallway but they wasted no wall space at all. I found several brands, several things that might work. There were argyle hose, leopard prints, plaid, stripes, and solids of every sort. There were fishnets and all sorts of other lacey patterns, mostly black but a few other colors. And there on the very top rung were cotton hose in a half dozen colors, including turquoise. Sold! Well, I had to wait to have someone get them down for me but I was clear on that one right away.

I also found two pair of thinner, more dressy hose in hot pink and purple (no surprise) and a pair of just past the knee capri tights in shiny black for a particular outfit I had at home that I can’t wear as-is. I had to stop there; we are talking $45 on tights! But I found what I had come for and then some, and I enjoyed it very much. I paid and went on my way back.

nycstmarkskateboard.jpgAs I came out of the shop I took a good look at the street. At that point I was in a very livable area, with budding spring trees and a not very busy street. There were deliveries being made and a guy took his skateboard down the middle of the block. I have to wonder if maybe the street is off limits to regular vehicles, as all my photos of that block are car-free.

As I found my way back to the theatre, I saw the only street musicians I ran into all weekend. They were on the corner in front of Village X, a singer and a guitarist who turned his back on me as I took this photo from across the street.

On the way back I detoured down 3rd Avenue and found a sushi place. I got my usual, smoked salmon sashimi and steamed rice, and I got something or another for Brian to eat. I enjoyed having time to knit a little and watch the restaurant (which seemed to maybe also have Korean food, I’m not sure).

nycstmarkbusking.jpgWhat a perfect walk. The best. And now I have some great tights to take me through another season or two. I couldn’t be happier.

New York: Saturday Improv

Friday, May 11th, 2007

On Saturday, there were many interesting workshops, sometimes scheduled at the same time. Brian went to one that was more ukulele-player-oriented and I went to the improv workshop by Yoon Sun Choi (and Khabu on ukulele).

nycimprovworkshop.jpgI was apprehensive. I’m good at improvisation with my visual arts but not much at all for singing. I guess I do well improvising when I dance, so I did do OK but it was a stretch. Stretching is a good thing for creative people.

Yoon Sun and I were the non-ukulele people in the room, she said she hadn’t played one before (she did during the improv exercises). I own one but rarely play, my voice is my primary instrument followed by bass, whistling and kazoo. The workshop adapted fine to a singer in the midst of a circle of ukuleles. First we didn’t use instruments, anyway.

We “passed around” a sound to start. Then we passed a more complex sound. Then we started using our bodies to make other sounds (clapping, tapping hands on lap, stomping) if we wanted to do so. Then we had it so that two people were always making sounds at the same time. The first person would stop and a third would take that person’s place. It was fascinating how most of the time it was atonal, sometimes with a recognizable underlying beat but there was no particular concern with what key anybody was in. For a trained singer, that was a little odd for me but I stayed in the moment and did OK.

nycimprovteam10.jpgLast we broke up into groups of 3 and took turn improvising as a group, rather than passing a sound around. Each group was very different. One group had a lot of rhythm, most played instruments but again did not worry about key. Then it was our turn. I was paired with two other women (there are not as many women as men in the Ukulele circuit) who I had not met previously. At least one of them had heard our act on Friday night so she knew about my work at least a bit.

It turned out that one woman played the uke as a rhythm instrument, keeping a beat. The other woman had determined that she’d like to find a way to sing with me as well as play, so she played an actual chord or series of chords where I felt very comfortable vocalizing. She joined in and it was delightful. It was sort of bluesy, and the only group which ended up sounding relatively like familiar sounds. All good, both the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Here is a photo of the two leaders of the workshop, and then a photo of me with the other two women in my improv group. I believe the woman at right is JoAnn (not sure how she spells it) and the one in the middle has a name starting with J, I think it was Janet. We had a great time.

New York, Friday Night: Showtime!

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Friday night was our concert night for NYUkefest 2007. I must admit, I’m still just thrilled to be on stage… especially in New York. And to share the stage that night with such fine musicians! It is hard to imagine a better time.

The musicians Friday night were (in order, or so I believe):

The Fabulous Heftones
The Mad Tea Party
Craig Robertson
The Strum Bums led by Dan “Cool Hand Uke” Scanlan
Abe Lagrimas Jr.
Greg Hawkes (surprise guest)
The Moonlighters
Dr Sparkles and the Mystic Nomads

It was good to perform first, because that way we could really enjoy the rest of the concert. As usual, I felt loved by the crowd and really enjoyed my time on the stage. I sang better than ever, or so it felt at the time, and Brian was his usual fine self.

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What can I say? There is just nothing like being me when it comes time for this sort of experience. I could not ask for any life other than the one I somehow inhabit these days. I dreamed of this as a child, but it’s better than I thought… it’s more real, there are more relationships involved. It’s also less fairy-tale, and there are still dishes to wash and the rest, but I have more good times and fewer down times than I thought I’d ever have.

I’m not alone on a big stage, I’m with my sweetie on a stage with friends, family and fans surrounding us, and they love us and they let us know. We get to meet these folks after we sing, we chat and hear what they enjoyed best. Sometimes they buy a CD and take our music home with them. I just love this life!

But it was even better than all that. I can not help my status as a fan for so many of the other acts who played the festival. Personally, if my CD of Mad Tea Party’s “Flying Saucers” album was vinyl, I would have needed to replace it by now. I have three of their albums… I’m definitely a fan. And they played directly after us. Can I be just a little emotional about that?

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While they were up on stage, Ami even made a mention to the audience that she felt that “The Fabulous Heftones are aptly named.” Awwww. They hadn’t heard us play last year, as we were on a different night and they didn’t stay for the whole festival as we did. Later Craig Robertson took a photo of them dancing backstage as we sang… more awwww. I loved their set, it was full of the raw energy, showmanship and musicianship we would have expected. Great fun.

After they were done, Craig Robertson (the host of the night’s show) played a few tunes with a whole number of folks. In fact, the photo of us above was taken during our time during Craig’s set. In this photo, he’s with Alli Bee from England at right, and Bliss Blood (The Moonlighters, New York) on musical Saw at left.

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Following Craig was the largest group of the evening, all the way from California. The Strum Bums, led by Dan “Cool Hand Uke” Scanlan. They were energetic, musical and entertaining. I did see them but it was pretty impossible to get a reasonable photo from backstage. You can visit the Flickr NYUkefest photoset I posted a few days ago, for a photo Fred took from the front row.

Abe Lagrimas followed The Strum Bums and Brian saw that part of the show. I missed it, I’m thinking I was out front selling/signing CDs during his piece. I did see him last year as one of the musicians in Akamai Brain Collective, a high-energy musical group with Hawaiian influence but also jazz and many other musical roots. Fred had two photos of Abe’s act, in the above-mentioned Flickr photos.

While the Strum Bums and Abe were playing a few of us were lobbying backstage to get Greg Hawkes his own piece of the show. Since he had come as a “surprise guest” (he is a friend of Craig Robertson’s) they had not placed him as a solo act on the printed schedule.

It didn’t take much to convince the folks in charge to give Greg a set of his own… maybe they had planned on it all along, who knows. In this photo, he is at the front microphone turned toward the camera, and has a friend with him, I think it was Arch. They were playing a song Greg wrote, I think the title was “Sail Away.”

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But we all were delighted to have him come out. (For those who don’t follow band members in popular music, Greg was the keyboardist in the band The Cars and is now touring with The New Cars… will be in Lansing in July at the Common Ground Festival.) He is a great all-around musician, playing ukulele, keyboards and woodwind instruments professionally. He’s also a kind and thoughtful person whose brief company I enjoyed backstage.

I ran around the internet a bit looking for information on Greg and his music, and I found that if I searched on his name at the Midnight Ukulele Disco I found a good number of short videos with Greg featured or in a group of friends. I particularly enjoy the one of The Cars’ hit My Best Friend’s Girl, with three other musicians including Craig Robertson. See it at: http://www.ukuleledisco.com/bestgirl

Then came the next band for whom I’m a total and absolute fan, The Moonlighters led by Bliss Blood. We first heard them in the Pocanos a few years ago at a Ukefest there, and we traded CDs at that point if I remember right. I have several of their CDs and my favorite is “Live in Baden Baden.” Wow.

Last year Bliss and I sat next to one another while selling CDs after shows, so we got to talk a bit. She knits and crochets, and wore a capelet to the theatre that she made (see photo with Craig above). She’s a dynamo on stage, totally professional and musical, yet offstage she’s approachable and kind. I snuck into the audience to hear them, I just could not stand to be backstage once I was done singing, if I could help it.

The photo here was taken by one of our Swedish friends, one more time… he just whispered to me between songs that he had a better angle than I did, and he was right. He had the camera for half a song and got a great shot.

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Last was Dr. Sparkles. His backup band included a man who I talked to quite a bit before the show. The gentleman plays stringed bass as you see in this photo, but he also played tuba for “Oompa Loompa.” Yes, really. Fun stuff! Dr. Sparkles had the best costumes. This night he wore the largest of his hats, but every day he was sparkly (even days he wasn’t on stage) and every day he had a great hat.

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Well, of course I’m a little nerdy and I had to ask Ami and Bliss if we could get a photo of the three of us in our pink/red outfits all together. They agreed in principle but there was so much going on after the concert, and we all were of course doing our best to keep people who wanted CDs happy, signing autographs when we could. In the midst of it all Brian took a photo of me with Bliss and her friend whose name I have sadly forgotten even though I really worked at remembering it…

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And later when things calmed down just a bit, Bliss had left but Ami and I got a chance for a photo:

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I think we look swell together in our fancy red stage gear, wouldn’t you say so? There are not a lot of women in the Ukulele circuit and although I am the most basic of uke players I enjoy being in their company.

Well, that was the big news day for Lynn “Heftone” and it was more fun than I could ever have imagined. Actually, it didn’t end with the show because after they locked the theatre we ended up playing tunes on the sidewalk of the side street, with a few friends of Mad Tea Party (including Sam the mandolin player who took the photo of us with Craig). We just were jamming, but people came out of the bar next door and started throwing down dollar bills and singing along. It was SO New York. So welcoming and yet so citylike. I loved every second.

We walked back to our hotel (thank goodness it was no longer raining as it had been that morning) and we stopped at the Grammercy Diner. I hadn’t had dinner so at 3am I ordered a lovely fresh salad with grilled salmon and olive oil on it. Only in New York!! Never mind that we then didn’t get to bed till 4am and with a full stomach, but it was better than sleeping hungry.

New York, I love you!

Late-Breaking News!

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

We interrupt the account of the New York Ukefest to bring you incredible news! It is 84F (29C) in Lansing, my favorite temperature of all. I always get a little emotional when it gets warm enough that I don’t have to wear layers to protect myself from the environment. I get cold easily (and one rainy day on the back of a motorcycle I got so cold I felt I would never warm up again) so it takes all of 84F degrees to make me feel “safe.” I can get too warm but it takes direct sun or physical exertion to get me there.

Tuesdays are my favorite day. I have Tuesdays mostly “off” work. Sometimes I have an hour of teaching kids to knit, sometimes I go to knitting guild for a few hours. But the daytime is mine, at least until 3pm. I get at least 4 hours alone at home, usually without music or any talking at all. I do end up working on my “day off” but I work at my own pace and without interruptions or deadlines.

Today I am working on the hammock, on my porch. I had a nice salad for lunch, fresh crunchy kohlrabi with tuna, olive oil and dill, when I first got out here. I’m now sipping tea and writing to you. After I post this entry I will be scheduling my classes for the next few months.

It is not as quiet on the porch as it can be inside. The house across the street is having a roof replaced and I can hear construction equipment several blocks away with the “beep beep beep” of big equipment backing up. A main street six blocks from us (Mt. Hope Ave.) is under construction and the detour takes people 1 block from this house. That means some of the detoured folks decide to wander past our house instead of following the signs.

But I also hear birds and scolding squirrels. Soon I will hear the children come home from the school on our street. And I can work online right here in the hammock, thanks to the miracle of a laptop with battery and a wireless internet connection.

Because our porch is several steps up from ground level, and has a 3-foot (~one meter) high wall instead of a railing, I can be on the porch and not be seen by passers-by. It also blocks a little of the traffic noise. I am playing streaming music from the Earthwork Music website to further distract me from the bustle on the street. The Earthwork musicians are friends, so it’s comforting to work while they sing to me.

And as for me, I really prefer the city life where I can get what I need quickly and I can get anywhere I want to go relatively easily. I love walking to the store or Fleetwood Diner, or riding my bike to work, things my rural-living friends can not do.

I love summer weather in Michigan. This is the life!

New York, Friday: Work Day but Fun!

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Friday was our work day for the NY Ukefest, though there was time between the work to have non-work fun as well. Brian was to teach a workshop in the morning on fingerpicking and rags on banjo ukulele (and other ukuleles). Brian has a CD called Music Box Rag by what he calls “The Heftone Banjo Orchestra” which is himself overdubbed many times on different types of banjos. The CD consists of rags and marches, and that I think is what prompted the workshop request.

nycworkshopbrian.jpgWe started at 11am, which is early for me on a regular day and even earlier when we’d been pounding our feet in NYC the day before followed by a late concert. The concert was so wonderful we didn’t want to miss any performers but it made for a short night. Nevertheless, we were excited to do what we were there to do. I sat in on the workshop, playing bass when it was needed to understand the beats of the fingerpicking exercises a little better.

The workshop was well attended considering that Friday is a work day for a lot of folks. We had a great group including our two new Swedish friends (wearing yellow T-shirts in the photo below left), and our friends Pat and Jim who we only see when we go east for Ukulele festivals.

nycworkshopstudents.jpgDuring the middle of the day, the theatre building was open. Most of the time I spent at the performer tables selling CDs and getting to know Evy Meyer (Ukelady), who is from New York and is prolific at recording. She loves to sing and just put out a CD of rounds, which interested me a lot. Singing is my passion, too.

Other performers came and went as well, and we all took turns watching one another’s merchandise while we had to be other places like workshops or buying lunch.

I got my favorite Egyptian food, from the wonderful tiny hole in the wall place on St. Marks avenue, the first shop to open on St. Marks on the north side just east of 1st Avenue. It’s soooo good I have been looking forward to it all year. This food is even better than most of the food I ate in Egypt, very tasty. I love Fava Beans (called foul moudammas, pronounced “fool,” unfortunately, so Americans don’t like how it’s spelled *or* pronounced, but the beans are meaty and flavorful). They had a very garlic version which I really savored. The hummous and other goodies were also great and I enjoyed every bite.

nycviewfromroom.jpgI also walked to the yarn shop on 14th on the north side just west of 2nd Avenue. Diana had written to me about this one, and actually I’d bought a few balls of yarn there last year when we chanced on it by accident. Those balls of yarn turned into really fun legwarmers. This year I bought some dark turquoise fuzzy brushed yarn that looked like mohair but was even softer, and which is a little shiny inside like it’s rayon or something. Really pretty. I got 4 balls thinking I can probably make some sort of wrap with it.

Ami Worthen of Mad Tea Party (this band is incredible, click that link to go to their MySpace page and listen to a handful of their songs) came in sometime late afternoon. We talked a while about stage costumes (we both love brightly colored tights, she favors red striped ones).

Ami knew of a sock/hosiery shop on St. Marks a number of blocks from the theatre and told me where to find it. I saved that adventure for Saturday but was eager to check it out. I remember the first time I ever discovered a shop that was just for socks and hose… it was in Toronto in the mid-1970s and I knew then that I wasn’t alone, it was just my town that didn’t understand. I wasn’t the only person who just loved socks as an artform. Yeah!

We really enjoyed the pace of our day between the workshop and dinner break. I sat at our table to sell CDs and met a lot of great people. Other musicians also sat at the table, all taking turns to get away for food or whatever, so my company changed as the day progressed. It was lovely.

Photos:  Brian explaining fingerpicking technique to the workshop attendees, second shot of a few more attendees (I didn’t get everyone in these two shots, sorry especially to friends Jim and Pat for that oversight), and the view from our hotel room. Look top right for a peek of the Empire State Building.

New York Thursday Night: First Show

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Thursday night was the first concert of the NYUkefest. We were excited to hear a number of acts we had not heard before. The lineup was:

J Walter Hawkes Trio

Lloyd United

Kelli Rae Powell

Craig Chesler

Tim Sweeney

Yoon Sun Choi and the E-String Band, with Khabu on ukulele

It was a fine evening. Everyone was great, everyone had their own style. Folks did not perform in the order listed above (which is from the website) but I’ll list them here in that order since I do not remember exactly who went when…
J. Walter Hawkes had a traditional Jazz feel… and I really wanted to take that shiny upright bass home with me! Here’s a photo:

nycjwalterhawkes16.jpg

Lloyd United is a high-energy band which sometimes has a 60’s British feel but a modern take on lyrics. I had no trouble staying awake during their show! Here’s a photo:

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Kelli Rae Powell is a powerhouse, all there alone on that stage. What a presence. She writes songs you want to listen to, sometimes straight and sometimes with a sense of humor. Loved her… and her dress. Here’s a photo:

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Craig Chesler provided a good variety of musical styles. He had a few friends join him for various numbers and followed Kelli Rae with some more polka dots. Stylin! Here’s a photo of him with a musician who had a lovely voice but whose name I did not retain:

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Tim Sweeny has a crooner feel even when he’s singing original material. He’s also a really good person to chat with. He comes from Boston, where we hope to go sometime with our musical act. I took a lot of photos of Tim, but he moves a lot when he performs and all the shots were blurry. Sigh.

Yoon Sun Choi was the surprise of the festival, to me. She does very freeform improv jazz which I often can not understand well. Her performance, however, mesmerized me.

Her pieces were clearly divided into three parts: a beginning where you could get a sense of the melody and words something close to straight-on (she did the Beatles Drive My Car as her opening number which helped me understand her presentation); then a middle where the group of musicians would improvise very clearly in touch with one another. I particularly had fun watching the percussionist during this part, though my ears had a hard time processing the sounds at times (after all, I focus on 1920’s love songs… my ears just do not listen to modern jazz or anything freeform, ever); then a final piece where they sort of brought it all back together into a form similar to how it was presented at the beginning.

This band is from NYC. The ukulele player, Khabu, used to live in Boulder, CO and he knew a friend of ours in Lansing. Our friend lived in Boulder and was a musician there at the same time. Isn’t the world small?

I was delighted at how accessible this music was for me, even though it was so intensely different than my comfort zone. Here is a photo of the ensemble:

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NYUkefest: Friday Night Concert Photos

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

nycmomandlynnatukefest2007byfredb.jpgMom’s beau of many years, Fred, has shared with us his first-row photographs of Friday night’s concert at the NYUkefest. I have loaded most of them on my Flickr account (this is OK with him, not to worry) as the NY Ukefest 2007 photoset and you can view them either individually or as a slideshow.

If you have not used Flickr much before, there are text details on each photo which you can see if you view them separately… however, if you are viewing as a slideshow you can click on any photo during the slideshow and it will stop and bring up the text for you.

Photo: Mom/Liz and Me/Lynn after the NYUkefest Friday Night Show, in lobby of theatre. I’m wearing a rhinestone necklace that my late father gave to my mother in the early/mid-1950’s.

Videos of NYUkefest on YouTube

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

nycyoutube.jpgRobert Hultman (I think he was one of the guys from Sweden) has posted a good number of videos from the NY Ukefest. He shows a lot of variety, many performers and even at least one short video of a jam session (Thursday morning, mostly our British friends shown, playing Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue) in Stuyvesant Square (the park across from our hotel).

If you go to the page showing us as The Fabulous Heftones singing “Cuddle up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine” you will see a number of other videos from the event listed on the page, right column down a little bit. You will see a small taste of how much fun one weekend can bring.

If you see nothing else today on Youtube, perhaps you’ll go check out Yan Yalego from the South of France, doing “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out” and performing an incredible muted mouth-trumpet. Yes, it sounds like a trumpet but it’s Yan, solo. Do take the time to see this.

There is plenty of good material on the Robert Hultman Youtube page… you’ll like different takes depending on your own musical tastes. Much talent is displayed here, no matter what you choose.