Tag Archives: Music

Coming Together – A Post About Music

“Lord, the band kept us so busy
We forgot about the time.”

John Perry Barlow

Music is one of the greatest forces in our lives. Music guides us through weddings, graduations, football games and funerals. It is a shared system of communication. Music has led slaves away from their masters, started revolutions under a many dictators, united women in a fight for their rights and generally makes us feel good.

I’m from another country and the Grateful Dead represent one of my favorite facets of American culture. One way Dead fans can connect and experience this music today is through music festivals. Members of the band, many in their sixties, continue to perform late night sets with long, improvisational jams and don’t show any signs of stopping any time soon. When legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995, I was nine years old living with my grandparents in Russia. So when the remaining members, known as The Dead went on tour earlier this year in April, I was thrilled. Among several shows, I was fortunate to be present at the epic Madison Square Garden in New York City on April 25th and the last show of the tour at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington on May 16th.

Free GD Concert in 1966

Eagerly awaited, July carried dates for Gathering of the Vibes, a festival that premiered in 1996 and was accurately dubbed “Deadhead Heaven – A Gathering of the Tribe.” The event then was a forum for music lovers to celebrate the life of Jerry Garcia and each other. The following year it was renamed Gathering of the Vibes and has been mostly hosted in Connecticut’s waterfront Seaside Park. This year was my fourth and favorite year at the Vibes. Musical highlights included Bob Weir performing “Festival,” a late night set by Perpetual Groove, fresh jams from Strangefolk and a sunny Sunday set from Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Other highlights included camping with friends, a powerful but careful storm and a drum circle pounding long after the sun came up. Unfortunately, all of my belongings fell victim to a thief in the final moments of the four day musical celebration.

While still slightly bemoaning my loss, I dropped in to spend some time with a friend who was hosting an event revolving around DJ driven electronic sounds. After hovering by the DJ booth for a few minutes I took off cross-town to see my friend Andy who determined the show must go on despite the conspicuous absence of most of his funk band, Cold Flavor Repair. The drummer and Andy on the keys were the only original members of the usual seven. An enthusiastic bassist and an experienced saxophonist filled in the sound quite well and in my humble opinion, sounded even better.

The following night reggae legend Burning Spear performed in Prospect Park and united a smiling crowd of all ages, gender and color. Friday rolled around and I joined Andy for another gig, this time with a classics cover band from New Jersey. They performed an amazing four hours after which Andy and I loaded up his truck and took off for Vermont to celebrate Jerry Garcia’s birthday on Lake Dunmore’s waterfront.

Star '69 on the Waterfront

The band, Star ’69, and I camped at Waterhouses, a privately owned campground and marina open to the public. Our campsites were spaciously spread out along an overflowing stream. We set up the stage in the afternoon at the main house and spent the early afternoon in the water and on the docks. After  “Iko Iko” to tune up, the band took a break before their first set, 3-5PM. The crowd seemed to wane in the heat. Families who had come in the morning to splash with their children were now heading back for lunch and naps. Suddenly, folks started coming in from across the water on their motor boats and canoes and within a few hours the beach was crowded with lawn chairs and dancing Vermonters. I started to dance too.

There’s something magical about being close to a band. It’s an honor to be able to travel between the worlds of spectator and performer. You can get close to the music, see the sweat glisten on the drummers, watch the guitar scales with your eyes just a few feet away and simply sit inside the stage canopy and let the sound envelop you.Jerry Jam Poster

There’s something about music and there’s even more about music by the Grateful Dead. Originally the Warlocks, the band formed in 1964 and was renamed just a year later when in a dictionary Jerry spotted the title that would make history. With their lyrics and chords, the band continues today to push the boundaries of our existence and consciousness. Bassist Phil Lesh’s “Box of Rain” about his dying father was first played at the Fillmore East in New York City in 1970.  “Sugar Magnolia,” a song about guitarist Bob Weir’s girlfriend, Frankie, is second-most played in concert song of their long career with 596 performances. A beloved classic, “Dark Star” points to the talent of the band and in 1973 was played without interruption for 43:27 min. There’s just something about music that drives us to seek out such information, the story behind the band, the song, the break up, the reunion. It is hard to explain why nearly 15 years later a group of musicians, a business owner and parents and their children decided to come together and celebrate Jerry Garcia’s birthday and the legacy of the Grateful Dead, “The Music Never Stopped.”


The Name That Stuck and Other Kaatskil Tidbits

As the summer draws to an end and let’s admit it is, time spent outdoors becomes ever more precious. At least that’s how I feel. Suddenly I find myself pondering, will it be too cold in Vermont in October? Too buggy in Maine in August? Maybe I should go back to the Catskills. So I pull out the maps, #40 – #44, quadrants of razor thin, waterproof paper of green and beige, red and black lines intersecting, curving, separating, guiding. I lay them out on the floor to form the complete map of the Catskill Mountains. Like a hawk’s (yes, excessive flattery, I agree) my eyes scan for a continuous red line which I’ve yet to follow. My pupils dilate as I zoom in and out of the quadrants, evaluating level of remoteness, transportation options, water sources and most importantly, a new frontier. Then it hits me. I’ve hiked over 85% of these trails. The Escarpment Trail is my final destination. Did I subconsciously save the best for last? Quite possibly.

Wittenberg MountainNow what of this? What of the mountains and towers I’ve climbed and streams I’ve crossed and lakes and rivers I’ve cooled off in? The Catskill Mountains and their people have been good to me. But how much do you or I really know about this magical place?

Originally “Kaatskil” to the 17th century Dutch settlers, the locals preferred to call them the Blue Mountains, in tune with the Green Moutains of Vermont and New Hampshire’s Whites. There are many theories as to how “Catskills” stuck. My favorite is that a Mohican tribe which inhabited the area was led by chief named Cat. This also explains Cat Stevens and possibly the name of my next dog. Located south of Albany but (thank god) far away from New York City, the Catskills are not so much a mountain range as they are a dissected plateau, that is an area that has been uplifted and then severely eroded, leaving behind a “relief,” what we perceive as mountain tops. Real mountains are commonly referred to as orogenic and are formed by magmatic, metamorphic and folding activity. Don’t worry, there is no quiz later. Nevertheless, this 600,000 acre park is stunning.

Any hike rat will appreciate the towns hidden away among the peaks, especially a music rat. The Catskills are always ready to jam. Bearsville Studios just west of Woodstock was opened in 1969 by Albert Grossman manager of Bob Dylan, The Band, Janic Joplin and Todd Rundgren. Among many others, Phish and The Rolling Stones recorded at the studio and the town has retained its hippie vibe and hosts rock, reggae, acoustic and jazz festivals and sessions almost every weekend. You can even join the community drum circle in Woodstock on Sundays 4PM-6PM. No need for skill or instruments, an enormous chest is filled with drums and bells to suit any liking and old timers keep the rhythm even if you can barely stand to listen to yourself play. Click here for a full schedule.

So why not camp out in the Catskills before the summer’s over? Campgrounds are operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and have something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a weekend of hiking, paddling, fishing or just some waterfront reading. Most have free naturalist led programs for children and rent canoes, kayaks and/or rowboats for just $15 for the entire day.

Go to http://reserveamerica.com/ to check for availability and if you have any questions, give the campground a call, those folks put friendly on the map. You don’t even need a car. Catch a Trailways bus to Woodstock and a cab from there to North South Lake campground. Enjoy the fleeting days of summer and let the sun’s warm rays embrace your spirit, this and every year to come.

First Weekend of Summer in New York City

It started with rain, which is unusual and ended with rain, which is even more unusual but all prevailed. Down the street from me Greenhorns were preparing for a farming to the people celebration. The roasting of a goat from Connecticut brought staff, volunteers and neighbors to the corner of Sackett and Henry Streets in Brooklyn despite the steady downpour. Amy and Jen from the local foods veteran,  Just Food, hit home with the message of sustainable, fair and local food for all.


With no promise of the rain letting up, I made my way down to Coney Island. Did you know I grew up on this southernmost tip of Brooklyn? Well, probably not and for me, going to Coney Island is just like driving past the neighborhood where you used to play on your next door neighbor’s lawn.

The mermaids, funksters and musicians were out in full swing. Thanks to waterproof makeup and the modern invention of plastic, all stayed dry, beautiful and open!

2009-06-20 Coney Island

2009-06-20Local BandSunday started off with a drizzle that couldn’t decide if it wanted to stop. In the meantime, musicians gathered to showcase their work at Dubspot, part of Make Music New York, a city wide music showcase on this first day of summer. Talented music maker and long time friend, Tom Phonic needed a little help keeping his drum machines dry but kept the crowd’s feet moving. Ignoring the thunder, Echa, a Seattle/New York hybrid native took control of the sound. The rain eventually forced all to happily relocate to Dan’s Dubspot cafe. Dan pioneered audio production education in New York City and is the founder of Funk Aid, a fundraiser to support AIDS prevention in children in Africa.  You can support Funk Aid by picking up the CD and meeting Dan and his dog, TJ at the Dubspot cafe at 348 W 14th St between 8/9 Avenues.

2009-06-20 Tom on turntabbles

2009-06-20 Seattle dj

From The Dead to Vancouver

Rainy days in Vancouver lead me to coffee shops. One of them, the Amsterdam Café, invites coffee drinkers to bring their joints or purchase them from around the block. Well, disclaimer: the café does not permit any sort of trafficking or sharing. But the confused look on your face will prompt someone to tell you about the bald guy around the corner as you’re walking out.

A view from Vancouver

A view from Vancouver

Vancouver is on the tip of Canada’s westernmost mainland. Just turn around to marvel at the mountains dozing in the fog and remember keep moving if you stopped in an intersection to take a picture! The sea you can smell and hear and sometimes taste if you aren’t too careful with your picnic on the beach.

Vancouver’s neighborhood districts are surprisingly unique. The tourist promenade where you can stop and read about the steel industry or buy 2010 Olympic memorabilia quickly merges into Chinatown once you pass several streets of not so well off residents eager to share their AIDS diagnosis or monetary misfortunes. The Chinatown is sweet! Clean and with a pungent but not overpowering scent which usually lingers near fish markets and fruit stands where the vegetables look dangerous. A few more blocks north and you’ll hit what resembles a business district with record shops and independent bookstores. Walk up the steep hill from the beach and there’s a thrilling area of Japanese restaurants, more record shops, more book stores, bars and specialty bakeries and other shops. South of here is the shopping district, which is still pleasantly arranged and laid back.

A few white rice buns, one Allman Brothers Record and several cups of coffee later I am all charged up and start talking. I usually start off with a sincere compliment such as “Vancouver is such a nice city! It is so beautiful here – the mountains to the right, the bay to the left!” Depending on who I’m talking to I might gush, “All your coffee is fair trade and organic! Your sugar is unprocessed! It’s the standard here and it’s still cheap! I love Vancouver!” After a few minutes of chatting I can’t help but say, “Wow, people here are just so nice and there are so many young people! I am thinking about moving here or studying at the university!”

A view of Whistler

A view of Whistler

I’m winding down towards the evening and take a moment to reflect on the show last night, The Dead at the Gorge. It’s tough to put it into words, to say the least. The magnificent Columbia River couldn’t have been a more appropriate backdrop for this band. They opened with “Music Never Stopped” which if you haven’t heard, please do! The opening notes captivating our ears were throttled forward by the beauty of the river winding through a canyon like gorge. The chill of the air settled over our bodies hot from the day’s sun and we began to dance.

The Dead at the Gorge Amphitheater, WA

The Dead at the Gorge Amphitheater, WA