Monday, August 6, 2007

Third Time's a Charm

Rhett Miller

Like I mentioned last post, last weekend I was lucky enough to see my favorite band, the Old 97's for the third time in three years. A friend and fellow-fan told me she was seeing the 97's in Dallas, so I checked their website since I hadn't in a while. And whaddya know if they weren't going to be in Baltimore the very next weekend! Google maps told me it was just an hour drive so I immediately decided I would go to the show.

I didn't even check the details on the venue, Artscape, until the next day. And that was surprise #2: Artscape was a weekend-long, completely free arts festival. Now I knew I had scored big time.

But the best part of the story is that, working at Folkways, I had heard that the lady who worked with Smithsonian Global Sound knew Rhett Miller, the lead singer for the Old 97's! I talked to Amy and, sure enough, her boyfriend had recently played guitar with Rhett while he was on a solo tour. Actually, Rhett had set them up. She said Rhett was a sweetie and that I should say hey if I got a chance. So then I decided I would try to meet the guys at the show. (FYI - that's Rhett belting one out, head band and all, up top)

So the whole week at work I was super pumped about the show. I even downloaded some music to listen to and set a picture of Rhett as my computer background at the office. When Saturday rolled around, I woke up and enjoyed a nice hour drive blaring the music and not trying wreck northbound on 95. Getting to Baltimore was a nice drive, and it is a beautiful city. Until I came up the hill over looking the city, I had no idea how massive it was.

Like I said, Artscape was a big festival, so I got there in plenty of time to explore before the band went on at 8:30. There was every type of art work you could imagine, lots of good albeit overpriced food, and constant music on three stages all day, each day. They had everything from rock to blues to rap to zydeco. In addition to the music and art, there were random little things, like the fashion show. I was exploring the festival area, which is huge and covered a section of downtown Baltimore, when I came up on this mock runway. I walked over and there was like an amateur fashion show going on. It was pretty neat - they were featuring local designers. Even though it wasn't big time or anything, it was cool to see a pretty much real fashion show.

Another interesting thing they had was a row of cars done up in all different kinds of wacky and crazy themes.


This one, I’ll call it the Woodtruck, was by far the coolest. It really must have taken a long time to put this one together. And if you look closely you can see it even had a giant bird’s nest and blue robin eggs in the back!

After grabbing some delicious jerk chicken cooked fair-style over a huge makeshift grill, as well as going through the Smoothie King free sample line twice, I headed over to the stage where the show was gonna be. When I got there another band was finishing up, the Avett Brothers, and they were pretty neat.

The Avett Brothers

As you can see, they had a guy on upright bass, banjo, and guitar and their sound has some obvious mountain/bluegrass/old time roots. But then they themselves seemed like indy punk rockers and they would scream out the lyrics at times. Either way, they are a really unique band. The last song they played was so good I went and asked the guy selling cd's if they had one with that on it. He said they did, but since he was an honest guy let me know it was a bad cut and I could find a better one on a different CD he didn't have. I checked it out when I got home and fell in love. I downloaded it for now, but as soon as I get some cash I plan on buying it.

But then the real show kicked off. The Old 97’s, as always, put on a great show full of rollickin tunes as well as some slower-paced wailers for breathing room. They just had so much energy and the crowd was loving it.

Ken Bethea

There’s guitarist Ken Bethea ripping it up. And the action was just like that, from the first notes to the last chords of “Timebomb.” Although I was sad to see it end, there was still one more treat in store for me. I hung around after the guys went off the stage and ended up chatting with Ken for a bit about Knoxville and the Simpsons. He was a super nice guy.

Murry Hammond and Me

Then I caught up with Murry Hammond, backup vocals and bass, to tell him he did a great Merle Haggard cover. That’s him above, complete with his patented weird glasses and cowboy shirt look.

Rhett Miller and Me

To top it all off, I was able to get Rhett’s attention right before some crew lady told him it was time to go. I told him how I knew Amy and he was like “ya cool Amy’s great.” Then when I asked my name and I told him, he said the now famous quote: “Wow, you should be a writer.” I thought that was funny and would make a good story, just like the goofy picture I took with him. After that he said “hey man I gotta go” and I was like “Sure take care.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I met the Old 97’s. None of it is probably too impressive to most people, but it’s really cool to talk to your favorite band.

Great concerts aside, intern life has been slowly winding down. A while ago Katie left, and just last Friday was Catherine’s last day. I’m done this Friday, and it really has flown by.

the intern gang

Here is the Folkways intern crew, or atleast most of it. From left to right: Catherine, Katie, Aleysia, me, and Andrew. Interning at Folkways was a really great experience. I got to meet a lot of interesting people from all over. We had people from Tennessee, Virginia, Maine, New York, and Germany, while representing schools such as Rice, William & Mary, U of Toronto, and, of course, CENTENARY!!

Seriously though, if anyone is looking for a neat internship experience, the Smithsonian should definitely be on your list. I’m not trying to plug it, but with so many museums and centers there really is something for all academic interests and professional goals. And in general, interning is a great way to meet interesting people and see a new side of the world.

I realize this is starting to sound a bit campy, so I’ll sign off for now. See you guys later,


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

DC...A Monumental City

What's up everybody? Well, I'm just at the halfway point of my amazing experience here in the Federal City (George Washington referred to it as this, as he was too humble to speak of a city named after him) and I still feel like I have so much left to see. I have done a lot of it, but in a place like DC there is always stuff you gotta save for next time.

Obviously one thing that makes DC special is the great selection of monuments. I have to say that this has been one of my favorite parts of the city. When I visited Europe, it was amazing to see all of their historic and important buildings. But DC, although it may not be as old, is definitely a special place. It sounds cheesy, but seeing the Arc de Triomphe or the Colosseum isn't as important if you are a tourist. The same goes for DC; standing at the Lincoln Memorial or reading the inscriptions at the Jefferson Memorial is a truly awe-inspiring experience when you know that everything you are seeing is part of your history and your country.

...can't you hear the Star-Spangled Banner playing? Since a wise man once told me that your history essays shouldn't end exhibiting that feeling, I'll move on.

This is a quote from FDR placed at the National World War II Memorial.

Apparently people were worried that this new memorial would disrupt the view from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. I'm glad they were worried, but it looks like it turned out okay to me.

This is the Freedom Wall. There are about 4,000 stars on it, each one representing 100 American dead during World War II.

All the states have a pillar encircling the memorial. I don't know what order was chosen, but for some reason Tennessee and Louisiana, the two states where I've spent most of my life, are right next to each other.

Of course I had to try my hand at one of the most famous photo spots in the country...what do you think?

Here's Lincoln - that pretty much says it all. Always ranked as one of the greatest US Presidents, reading the selections from his greatest speeches was quite moving, even though I had heard all the words before.

This is the Korean War Veterans Memorial. This was another new one for me, and I think it may be a new favorite. It's pretty simple - just about a dozen or so slightly greater than life size statues of men on the march, with a photographic wall in the background to further set the setting. I like how it portrayed the people as they would have been, rather than just use an austere building to commemorate them. Also, that shot at the top is a close-up on one of the soldiers.

When I went to DC with the Safety Patrol in 4th grade (yea, I wore a little orange sash and told kids a year younger than me to walk in the halls) the Jefferson Memorial was my favorite. Seeing it now, I feel like the water around it got smaller. I could have sworn that it was on the coast, like, at the ocean. Other than that, it's still my favorite Memorial. I love the bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson in the middle. Oddly, Jefferson is one of my favorite Presidents now. Maybe I subconsciously chose that because I liked his monument as a kid. Who knows?

IN RECENT NEWS my faaaavorite band, the Old 97s is coming to the area - Baltimore to be precise. That may not mean much for a lot of people, but it is huuuuge for me. This will be my third time seeing them. The other two were road trips to Texas, complete with late drives back home after the show, freshman and junior year at Cent. Maybe when you are at Centenary next year we'll both be lucky enough to have an area show. If you like their music and it happens, we will ride together.

In between the folklife festival and perusing the many monuments and sites, my girlfriend Ali came up to visit me and the Capitol for a few days, though I'm not sure which she was was really hurtin to see. We had a blast visiting museums, eating (which, in all honesty, was probably the highlight of our trip), and waterparking. We also enjoyed the 4th of July celebrations, tho we opted for the less-hectic/more free food version at the home of family I'm staying with. I'll try and chuck up some photos of that as soon as I get a hold of em.

P.S. For those of you who don't know, Ali is the standout keeper for the Centenary Ladies Soccer team. She was named 1st Team All-Louisiana by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, and it's also a well-kept secret that she has the Centenary record for both most saves in a game and in a season. She also ranked 4th in the nation among D-1 goalies in saves per game her sophomore year. Since this blog isn't about her, I'll stop. But that does give you one more reason to come to Centenary and help the ladies make their first winning season since I've been here. I bet that little tidbit is yet another well-kept secret around here.

But it's no secret that Centenary athletics needs allll the support it can muster. If you do come to Centenary in the future, you have to sign my online but nevertheless legally binding contract to come to one athletic event every two weeks and cheer on the Gents (or whatever they are by the time you make it). That, our new AD and the revamped image of our conference, the Summit League, and Ole Cent should be well on its way to reclaiming the glory days of stomping Notre Dame, Texas, and LSU in to the mud.

Like I promised two blogs ago, here's the shot from my buildings rooftop. Its a really nice secret up there. Me and other interns like to go up there and have lunch, warm up (its frigid in the office) and gossip about our crazy bosses...someone remind me to tell you all about my one boss, Richard James Burgess - there's a lot to tell. In the picture you can see the National Museum of Air and Space, the National Museum of the American Indian (yes, the Smithsonian doesn't say Native American), and the US Capitol Building. The latter two are among that list of sites I was talking about earlier that I still need to see. With that in mind, I need a full days' energy for tomorrow so I can keep it all up. I'll send you off with two of my attempts at artistic photography. Subject: the oddly-two-toned Washington Monument.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Post-Festival Wrap Up

It's been really crazy here lately. The Folklife Festival finished up this past Sunday. It sure was a blast, but I'm glad to be back in my normal routine.

If you didn't catch my ridiculously extensive post detailing the festival last time, it was all about the folk traditions, musical and otherwise, of Virginia, Northern Ireland, and the Mekong River. Most of the time I worked in the Festival Marketplace, trying to hawk CD's to literally thousands of people. Since there were separate cashiers for everything, all me and the other interns did (as well as some of my bosses) was answer questions people had and basically just talk about every type of folk and world music you can imagine, be it with each other or the people coming through. For me at least, that was really fun. Whenever that was boring though, we could bounce around the festival listening to music and watching demonstrations.

At the risk of sounding fat, one of the funnest parts was eating ;) To go along with the theme, there was food from all the different cultures. We had everything from sweet basil chicken from Thailand to West African barbecue chicken with peanut sauce to Irish sausages rolled and baked in puffed pastry served with baked beans. But the best part was that it was all free to interns, including the delicious fresh squeezed lemonade, limeade, and mango juice.

But my actual favorite part of the festival was all the great music available all day and every night for free. With so much going on, I didn't get to see all the people I wanted to but I still heard plenty of great music. One of the most enjoyable was the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert. At the end a cajun fiddle group BeauSoleil played a great blend of authentic Cajun fiddle tunes well into the night. It really made me glad that I've gotten to experience Lousiana and Centenary (I know Shreveport isn't exactly Cajun-land, but hey, it's way closer than Tennessee). I wished I had some crawfish to chow down on - thanks to Maggie/Megan for showing me how to eat it and Tim for buying it for us every spring: yes, if you have no other reason, you can come to Centenary for the free crawfish boil during Preview Weekend.

Here are some shots I took while audio logging at one of the Virginia stages. Every performance and talk was recorded so that researchers can listen to first hand explanations of different cultures from around the world.

Click for VIDEO!

This is Scott Fore, a Virginia native and self-taught flatpicking guitarist who has won numerous national awards and contests. (This time, instead of bigger pictures, clicking the photos will take you to a link of a short, low quality video I filmed of the people performing)

Click for VIDEO!

Here is the Bou Counta Ndiaye Ensemble, a group of traditional griot singers and musicians from Senegal. They sing in Wolof, the indigenous language of the region, and their songs are about wars, kings, and basically the history of their people. After taking Francophone African Literature and learning about these traditions this past fall, actually getting to see an example of authentic West African culture was a rare and welcomed treat.

Click for VIDEO!

But my favorite group was Cephas & Wiggins, a Piedmont blues duo that I have to say felt like some of the most authentic music I had ever heard. Listening to it almost made me wish that everyone I know left me and my dog died, just so I could sing the Blues like they did. Every time they finished performing people would rush to the marketplace to buy their CD's. Although it's no substitute for the real thing, click on the picture to check out a lil clip of Cephas explaining the difference between Piedmont and Delta Blues.

Click for VIDEO!

Another great band was No Speed Limit, a bluegrass group out of Virginia. They played some great tunes during the first week of the festival and were one of the most popular requests at the marketplace. Click the photo to see them do a hard-driving rendition of an old song, "Ruby" and the guitarist even gets in some Deep Purple improv toward the end.

As you can tell there was a variety of music, and all of that was just from Virginia. At the other end of the mall were the Irish doing their thing with their cool accents, and in between the Mekong participants were bringing something from the other side of the world. All in all it was awesome.

If the Folklife Festival sounds like something you might like, then you should definitely try to make it next year. I hear Texas is going to be one of the cultures featured, and field researchers are already scouring that huge, greasy state (or atleast, that's what a local once described it to me as) for participants. Since 85% of Centenary is from Tejas, I'm sure yall will all enjoy whatever they got going on next Summer.

I think Piper is already asleep here, and I'm tired too. See ya next time.

Piper says hello!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What's Up?...From the Most Powerful City in the World

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Welcome back to your one and only virtual location to experience DC vicariously through me.

It has been pretty exciting around here recently, especially since the days leading up to the annual Folklife Festival are winding down. This year is one of the biggest festivals in a long time in terms of the number of participants. The cultures represented for the 2007 Festival are from the Mekong River area, Northern Ireland, and the historic Roots of Virginia. I'm super excited that I ended up coming to work during this festival. I've always been allured by the sounds of the erhu or Chinese Violin. And if you've ever ridden in my car or listened to my radio show on the exquisite KSCL 91.3 FM, then you know that I really enjoy bluegrass, folk, and other types of old-time music. Coming from Tennessee, I have a special appreciation for the traditional music of Appalachia. Appalachian culture is also very prevalent in Virginia, and the people who migrated to this area often brought with them the heritage and culture of Celtic tradition. These people came from the British Isles, so the Northern Ireland and Historic Virginia components of the 2007 Festival should be a blast for anyone enjoying that type of music. If you're in the area next week, here's a sample of the type of music you might hear.

But enough of the history lesson. Chummin' around DC has just been great. I've been here for 2 weeks, and I still feel like I've hardly seen anything! I usually work 10-2ish, and I use the rest of the time to explore what the capital has to offer.

My day starts off with a commute via the Virginia Railway Express. It's a tad on the long side, but I get to read/sleep so no biggy. The train drops me off right by my building, located just South of the National Mall.

Capital Gallery

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It's a really nice building, recently renovated with a couple shops and restaurants downstairs. I also recently discovered that there is a penthouse roof, and since then, me and some other interns have went up there for lunch with a great view of the Potomac, the Capital, and the Washington Monument (a shot from up there guaranteed for next blog!). In fact, if you click and zoom in on that pic you can see four people scoping out the view.

Work is, well, work. We do things like go through stacks and stacks of music magazines looking for mentions of Folkways releases and artists (e.g. Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Lucinda Williams), look up addresses for libraries and potential customers in New Zealand, Switzerland, Turkey, Finland and the rest of the world, label and shrink wrap CD's with a glorified hairdryer (which is really neat for the first 10 minutes and then awful for the next 2 hours), and all sorts of other things. But the best part is the laid back atmosphere that everyone has, from the interns all the way up to the Center director, Richard Kurin. Whether we're doing fun stuff or not so fun stuff, we can always grab a CD from the huuuuge collection and listen while we work. One day we listened to a CD called Por Por, which is a new release from Ghana where everything is played on instruments made from old car parts! Another time we played a Paul Robeson recording, who I had just learned about in my 20th Century US History course with Dr. Shepherd.

But the real fun comes when I leave work and wander about the city. Somedays its fun to just sit under a tree and read, other times you wanna go see it all...these latter days usually don't happen in conjunction with the blisteringly hot days. So far I've only seen about 1/4 of the National Gallery of Art, and that took me two days.

National Gallery of Art rotunda

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The collection is huge, and the building has two indoor gardens that are really nice to sit and relax in. I saw lots of neat paintings, including some by Raphael and the only Da Vinci in the United States. However, this one, called The Nativity by Lorenzo Lotto, was the most striking.

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I thought it was weird to have a crucifix hanging in the room where Jesus was born. I looked it up later but could only find something saying that it was a foreshadowing of the infant's fate, which was what I figured anyways. Still, it shows that even if you thought you've seen every Madonna and nativity painting out there, some have different little things to make them unique.

I recently started going through the National Museum of Natural History. It is also humongous, and its even worse because instead of just pictures, it's full of complex diaramas and diagrams explaining all the artifacts and exhibits. That makes it super interesting and at the same time super long to go through. That is if you actually want to learn everything. Most of the patrons here, however, are twelve and under and are thus satisfied by going "AHHHHHHH!!" when they see the skeletons of the T-Rex and the triceratops.

Allosaurus Fragilis Late Jurassic (150-140 million years ago), found in Colorado

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This dude could eat this other lame guy, who only ate grass like a cow:

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Of course, it's important to remember why all of these museums exist and are free. At the risk of sounding cheesy, the Smithsonian's mission is the 'increase and diffusion of knowledge' and that is the standard that all of the museums and centers, even mine, which deals with folk music, are held to. It all started with this guy, James Smithson...

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...who had his money bequethed to the United States to set up an institution to carry out that goal. Thanks to him, I have a job ;)

So that's what my daily life has been like so far. Evenings are all about eating, relaxing with the dog and family (not my own, the host family) and going to sleep to start all over again. Some new dogs were in the house this weekend, about 15 of em! And they were all water dogs. They were here doing water training, which is something their owners make them do I guess to justify spending hundred's of dollars on the dog in the first place. They did all sorts of crazy things like...jump in the water, swim, and bring back a buoy. I just learned that buoy can be a hard word to look up and spell. Here's a shot of Piper's bud Lulu. She's sportin a lion cut, the traditional clip used for PWD's in show.

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OKAAAAAY, I guess that'll be all for now. Here's a little video that explains what the Folklife Festival is all about. If you watch the whole thing, you will see a secret on how to get a full ride to Centenary...I'm not kidding, watch it!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

An Adventure Begins!

Hello world (read: bored high school students looking at this web site because their mom told them to and all others who are reading specifically because they love me).

As you may or may not know, I am in the early stages of a summer internship with the Smithsonian in D.C. Centenary College of Louisiana has been generous enough to A) pay me money to write about all of my amazing (and not so great) experiences and, more importantly, B) publish it on the web so that all of you can read and decide if a place like Centenary might be for you. So waita go lil' Cent. But enough introduction.

I got to Virginia, where I'm staying with a family of three, on Thursday. I gotta say it's a great place to be. They are all really nice, have a beautiful house in an upscale country club, and, best of all, they aren't making me pay a dime. Although they warned me that the commute might be difficult, I went ahead and decided to stay here.

Friday I did a practice run of getting into DC. It was relatively painless and didn't feel as long as it actually took. The best part is the train drops me off right by the building I'll be working in. Specifically, I'm working with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, which is a division of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The office is just south of the Mall: here's a link to a google map of exactly where I work. You can't really tell it from there, but the building, Capital Gallery, is one of the nicest in the area.

On Friday I met John Smith, head of International Sales & Marketing, who is my on-paper supervisor. We basically chatted about what's coming up and he introduced me to some other people I would be working with. The entire office was really laid back; many people wore t-shirts or shorts, and everyone was friendly and approachable. Since a couple of people had expressed feelings that I should wear nice clothes to work but I told them that I would probably be fine, I felt a little vindicated after seeing one intern in gym shorts and a t-shirt. Here's to hoping I never have to grow up and wear a shirt and tie!

I don't know much of what I'll be doing, but everything John Smith (I know, what a name) talked about sounded fun. One thing that is going to be really cool is working with the annual Folklife Festival, which is a huge deal every summer when they bring in all sorts of musicians, craftsmen, and storytellers from different cultures around the world. This year there are three groups: the Mekong River valley in Southeast Asia, Northern Ireland, and historic Virginia (it's the 400th anniversary of Jamestown this year). John said something I would need to do here would be documenting stages, recording performances and taking notes on it all. Being a Centenary DJ with a special interest in Americana music, this is going to be a blast. The music from Northern Ireland should be especially cool, because one of my favorite genres, Bluegrass, traces its roots back to Celtic folk music.

Needless to say, as a history major who would really like to be a teacher or professor, but also has a passion for music and a secret desire to work with it as a fun job, this whole experience is going to be great because it will show me some different options for a career. One person that works there is an ethnomusicologist - how cool is that!

Anyways, I think that's enough for one day. I'll have a lot more once everything gets going here. I didn't take my camera to DC, but I do have a picture of the view from my bedroom here at Casa Melson.

(you can click both of these pics to get a fullsize image)

room with a view - click to enlarge

And here is a pic of the family dog, Old Salt Sandpiper by the Sea, aka Sandpiper, aka Sandpipe, aka Piper, aka Pipe, hanging out on my bed while I type this blog. She is a Portuguese Water Dog. If you look close there is a hat and glasses, but I'm not sure who those belong to...

piper on the bed - click to enlarge

Okay kids, keep enjoying the summer, because it's going to be gone before ya know it. Holler!