Saturday, October 27, 2012

Good Time Girls Gore and Lore Tour – Bellingham – October 27th, 2012

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Good Time Girls Gore and Lore Tour – Bellingham

October 27th, 2012

The appropriately dark and stormy night begins in the radiator warmth of the Black Drop Coffee House, the air redolent with beautiful coffee aroma. 17 stalwart souls have gathered to take the Good Time Girls Gore and Lore Tour of downtown Bellingham. Our Virgil for the evening is the lovely “Francine” (a.k.a. Jane Burleigh), dressed in 1930s attire clothing, who informs us that she perished under one of the local streetcars before “people catchers” were installed. Each of us is given a newspaper style handout full of murder stories and macabre details.

Then Francine introduces Chuck Crooks from B.O.O.O. or Bellingham Observers of the Odd and Obscure. Chuck plays a few E.V.P. (electronic voice phenomenon) recordings from when members of B.O.O.O. were investigating Bayview Cemetery. In one, you can hear some people talking and then an eerie breathy voice saying: “I keep myself awake as long as I can.” I look around at the skeptical faces and note just the tiniest bit of freak-out as Chuck plays it back for us a few times.

Francine leads us out into the elements, down the rainy streets to the Old City Hall building. After a bit of Bellingham history, she shows us where the entrance to the basement jail once was, just beneath the Mayor’s office. A reputed story goes, she says, that one night they arrested a strange man, presumed to be intoxicated, and placed him in a cell by himself. The next morning they came in to discover a painting of Leonardo’s Last Supper on the walls… painted in the man’s blood. Nice.

Just next door at the old Fire Department, Francine directs our attention to Bellingham Towers and cheerfully told us about how in April of 1929 the fireman witnessed a man, despondent over stock market losses, commit suicide by jumping from the upper floors. I enjoyed how she added that the fireman responded, you know, to go “clean up the mess.”

We then walk down to the corner in front of Old Town Café, where Francine informs, with evocative photographs that we pass around, that there was once a Funeral Home in this location. She provides an entertaining history of embalming and makes certain that we note the presence of the woman in the picture. Necessary, she says, to prepare the female corpses with propriety. We walk a down the street a bit, almost to the front of Old Town, where we are told about an assortment of ghostly occurrences, from plates levitating to the persistent odor of smoke at certain times of the day.

We are now only about halfway through the hour-long tour. I look around at the other members of the tour and can see that all of them are intensely caught up in the weird, the gore and lore, of Bellingham. No one seems to mind the rain. If anything, it adds to the atmosphere. It is a wonderful to be led around by an informative and entertaining guide through the city and stand immersed within its history. I am tempted to recount all of the fascinating dark history that I was shown that night, but I will leave that to the Good Time Girls. Suffice it to say, that gore got gorier and the lore even more interesting.

The Good Time Girls offer a variety of historical activities throughout the year here in Bellingham: most notably, the Sin and Gin tour, exploring the colorful history of brothels in the early days of the city. Each of these now also has a Fairhaven version, which has gotten high praise. They also produce Wild West Variety shows, involve themselves in a many charitable shows and have an enchanting Victorian Christmas Caroling tour in December. I have only the highest recommendations for all of their productions. The Good Time Girls bring the lesser known, but far more interesting, aspects of our local history to vivid life and, by doing this, help to create a richer character of the city that we all live within. The local schools and colleges should take note and start incorporating GTG tours into their curriculum. They make history fun, exciting and… yes, very sexy.

Update: Please check out the Bureau of Historical Investigation for more information

Related on Bellingham Reviews:

Bureau of Historical Investigation
Bayview Cemetery
Washington State Archives

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Rejected LBDL Design

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sarah in the Wild at Honey Moon and Sarah Goodin’s New EP and Spinner Productions

Sarah in the Wild - Honey Moon

October 19th, 2012

There are few singers who can compel a buzzing capacity crowd into instant silence. Fewer who can keep them quiet and suddenly reverent. Even more rare, are the one or two that can charm each listener to feel they are being singularly addressed. Sarah Goodin is such a singer. She is behind the microphone at the Honey Moon. The rich and subtle registers of her voice thread golden through an a capella Nature Boy. The words hang in the air like Chinese lanterns, rising with fire, lingering like ghosts.

The occasion is the debut of her new band, with the, perhaps provisional, name of Sarah in the Wild. Sarah handles vocals and guitar. Cade Capp is on drums and Jake Werrion plays bass. From the number of people in attendance, there is a high level of anticipation to hear what they will sound like. Sarah is opening with a solo set before Cade and Jake come up to join her.

She takes possession of the next song, Call It What You Will, by the inimitable Joe Pug. She follows this with the title song off of her recent EP Sleep. A plaintive invocation to insomnia and deep night desire, the song seems simultaneously like an ancient prayer, a lullaby to a child or a note written to a lost lover. You imagine Durer’s Angel of Melancholy quietly humming this melody as the sands of time run out. Next up is an almost joyful reading of Tennessee Waltz full of haunted Appalachian ache which prompts a lively interaction with the crowd. Her rendition of Eliot Smith’s Between the Bars is simply beautiful: the juxtaposition of the female voice in the male role, singing the drinker’s song, the late night lonely promises of empty hope and broken dreams. These are the sorrow filled songs that Sarah Goodin can sing like no other.

After a short break, the highly anticipated band gathers together. Jake and Cade lay down a deep slow beat, throbbing bass line, hooking straight into dark voodoo centers in the brain. Sarah snarls out the wicked lyrics of Dylan’s Man in a Long Black Coat: “Somebody said from the bible he'd quote / There was dust on the man in the long black coat.” The band ignites the song into a slow burn with rising intensity and back into the tribal voodoo beat.  The crowd erupts into a huge applause.

Everyone knows that Sarah Goodin is a great singer. And there might have been a few – but not really - that worried how she would translate into a band. Now, one song in, there is no doubt: Sarah in the Wild, the band, is great. They follow with a set composed of the songs from Sarah’s EP and ones that will be on her forthcoming full length album. Icarus Into the Sea is a beautiful set piece, luminous with lyrical intensity. Home is transformed by the band, Cade’s drumming like tribal poetry: at just the right intensity with just the right rhythmic complexity. Jake’s bass steady and pure, out in front, reminiscent of Mark Sandman’s sound in Morphine. They sound tight and well practiced. They sound like a band you could listen to all night.

They finish with a cover of Radiohead’s Creep which is so good that it drives the crowd into a sort of Bacchanalian frenzy. Everyone is singing, dancing, smiling, laughing, enraptured by the beautiful music of Sarah in the Wild. At the end, there is an obligatory encore with M.Ward’s Big Boat. Then: sustained applause. Everyone left wanting more. As the musicians lay down there instruments, I watch as a surge of fans and well-wishers surround them with congratulations and gratitude. In the back corner is a beautiful older woman with her eyes closed, smile on her face, lost in the memory of the music. There is more laughter than words. Good omens abound.

Poster by S. Casey

Sarah Goodin’s New EP and Spinner Productions: Good for the Soul

I am sitting in the heart of the Spinner recording studio talking to Sarah Goodin, Dave Brown and Brett Steelhammer about the process of recording Sarah’s new EP, Sleep. With the larger recording rooms still under construction, this smaller interior space feels like a comfortable living room filled with state of the art recording equipment, empty coffee cups from the Black Drop and a pile of pillows in the corner. You get the sense that Dave and Brett spend a lot of time here.

In 2011, Spinner was commissioned to produce a new Sea to Ski promo and Sarah was brought in to sing. Feeling a good connection with Dave and Brett, she approached them later to help her record some covers for a CD to sell at her performances. “It was easy with Sarah because her ideas and songs came through quickly,” said Dave. Sarah could only afford to complete one cover, the Cole Porter standard, “So Nice To Come Home To.” Dave and Brett were impressed at how much “she made the song hers.”

Knowing a good thing when they heard it, Spinner then approached Sarah about doing an EP of original material – “off the clock.” Over the next 5 months, they began working on the 4 song EP, Sleep - each of them juggling children, school, work, other artists, in order to make time to finish the project. Sarah says, “It was hard because I wanted to be here more. I would be in class thinking about the songs. And I would be at home getting ready to fall asleep and thinking about the songs.” After a moment she adds, “I can’t imagine working with anyone else. These guys have been incredibly patient with me. I have been able to be a part of every step, of every process – even when they may not have wanted me to be. They let me watch and it has just been incredible. Because I feel like these are my babies, these are my own songs.”

Dave emphasizes the collaborative nature of the recording process, “the exciting thing is that we were able to help produce Sarah’s music, to bring it from the 2nd to the 3rd dimension and still let it be Sarah Goodin, the songs she wrote. Sarah is what ties the songs together.” Brett says, “She is so good at putting emotion into the vocals, her songs are so genuine that I know that when I first heard them, I thought this is definitely something that people will like. The major challenge is getting the release out there and getting it to stand out amongst the thousands and thousands of other releases.”

Spinner and Sarah produced a beautiful video for the single, Sleep, which chalked up over 1200 hits in a short time. Dave says there will definitely be more videos for the EP. And, along her many local performances, there is a West Coast tour in the works.

Sarah tells me: “What is so amazing to me is that I came in here initially just to record some music. I didn’t know anything. I thought I would just sit down and play music and then I would be ready. But Dave and Brett are not just good at recording. The video is amazing. And the fact that they had the vision to do something like that and it wasn’t hokey and cheesy. It has just been so amazing.”

When asked about the financial aspect of investing so much time and energy into an artist, Dave tells me that what is most important is to first “work your ass off. Get the best quality. Be true to the music. And the money next. Good things follow. To work this way, not worried about hourly rates and financial pressures, off the clock, it is your own personal time and you are interested and invested in what you are doing, that is a cool way to work.” Brett adds appropriately, “it is good for the soul to put an EP out.”

The result of this labor of love is a beautiful, textured and elegantly produced set of 4 stunning original songs by one of the most talented singer songwriters in Bellingham. You can tell that the creation, performance and production of Sarah Goodin’s music is the foremost concern in every element of the EP. As it should be.

Sarah tells me: Recording this EP has been the best, the most fun, the most inspired I have ever been. Hands down ever and I think it is only going to get better.”

This article originally appeared in What's Up!

Rejected Poster - S. Casey

Rejected Poster - S. Casey

Rejected Poster - S. Casey - Tribute to Wynn Bullock

Rejected Poster - S. Casey

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Brian Blade and Mama Rosa - Blue Horse - Sept. 11, 2012

Brian Blade and Mama Rosa - Blue Horse

Sept. 11, 2012

The evening begins with the clarion call of a coal train whistle in the distance. Brian Blade and the Mama Rosa Band are assembled on the revamped stage at the Blue Horse listening, smiling as the sound fades into a slow dirge on the keyboards. Blade is singing there is “no fear of darkness with you by my side.” Only moments into the performance and there is a sense of experiencing something extraordinary. There is a beautiful gospel intensity filling the room, a sudden spiritual quality. Then, the songs is over, a fragment from a lost rock opera, opening up the possibilities of the music, reconstructing the expectations of the night. The capacity crowd is transfixed.

A recommendation by Julian Macdonough, never to be taken lightly, brought me down here. Blade is a well-known jazz drummer and composer who performs with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, as well as leading his own band, The Brian Blade Fellowship. Mama Rosa evolved out of a series of intensely personal recordings he made at home. At the encouragement of Daniel Lanois, he shaped with into an evocative and lyrical song cycle. I was curious to see how Blade’s jazz sensibilities translated to a more singer-songwriter oriented format. The current iteration of the band features Kelly Jones on keyboards and vocals, Goffrey Moore on guitar, Chris Thomas on bass and Steve Nistor on drums.

Three songs in, there are soulful echoes of Bobby Womack, elements of Across 100th Street. Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man. Something there of Beck from Sea Change. The songs trail off, segueing into each other seamlessly, underlining the interconnectedness to each other. The qualities of gentle and accomplished experimentation with structure and form lead me to slightly muse what Jimi Hendrix would have sounded like if he were still alive and performing.

What follows is the deeply spiritual, Mercy Angel.  “Feel the sunshine on my skin / It must be you smiling within / From above, I feel your love fall downward / Troubled waters wash over me.” Beautifully accompanied on vocals by Kelly Jones. Blade’s guitar has a sharp, percussive quality. Moore’s lead creating unexpected whips and wails of sound almost of time, transcending time signatures, rising from deep spaces with the music and then moving out front and center. Thomas and Nistor constructing solid architectures of sound around them. There is a slow build from plaintive solitary exploration to a communal celebration. Then the return to the solitary singer addressing his angel. There is an intimacy here, like witnessing someone say their prayers. It is beautiful and transcendent.

These songs are vignettes into the spiritual world of the singer. They are studies in sonic textures and modes, as a means of self-exploration through musical expression. In an interview, Blade said, "Revealing more of ourselves is always daunting, but I feel like I need to keep challenging myself and peeling away layers to get to the core of who I am and what I have to offer."  

After a short break, the second set resumes the atmospheric gospel tones with rounded, soft sculpted chords. The phrase “come down to the old country” evokes a small country church choir. This builds up through ecstatic repetition into musical vocalizations that move beyond language and pure sound. Expressive sounds, chants, the speaking in tongues. The band is more relaxed. The music is more open. Song structures are broken apart and there is space for a sort of dynamic improvisation to occur. At one point, Brian says to the audience: “Being with people you love and trust allows you possibilities of chance taking, that you have shoulders to lean on, so let’s take a chance....”

The extraordinary song, At the Centerline, quotes the Serenity Prayer, following with the sublime line: “mercy hold us when we fall.” The crowd at the Blue Horse seem to be hanging on every note, intent on following the narrative of the music all the way through. There is rare and beautiful intensity of quiet participation in the unfolding of the performance.

Penultimate is a cover of Fire and Brimstone by Link Wray, which sets ablaze all of the introspective spiritual intensity and provides a cathartic release for the room. Images of the Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God dancing to the devil’s music in a small country church a hot summer night.

An encore comes without question. Steve Nistor rumbling the drums darkly. Chris Thomas’ deep bass voice balanced beautifully with Kelly Jones’ and Brain Blade in the middle singing: “they tell me of a home.” Goffrey Moore’s guitar is blistering the air up on the stage. A supreme moment held there, sustained, harmonious. And then, in one of those poetic and magical moments, the distant whistle of the train rises out of darkness to announce the end.

Brian Blade - Black Drop Coffeehouse - 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Jeffrey Foucault - Redlight - September 8, 2012

Jeffrey Foucault - Redlight

September 8, 2012

A few Saturdays back I was walking past the Redlight on the way home and, noting there was space at the bar, decided to go on in and have a couple of drinks. I vaguely remembered that someone named Foucault was playing there. I amused myself for a moment imagining what a post-structuralist folk singer might sound like. A quick online check revealed that Jeffrey Foucault, no relation to the French philosopher, was performing. 

The Redlight is always a good space for intimate shows. Chairs and tables were arranged in a circle around Foucault, who performed without amplification. An appreciative group had gathered around him. Foucault, who grew up in Whitewater, Wisconsin and spent Sundays either going to church or ice fishing (according to his press release), played with a quiet intensity, engaging audience in dialogue and telling amusing anecdotes between songs. In an interview during the Sound Pass Sessions, Foucault spoke of the “magic number for a room” as being the required number of people in the audience to get a feedback look and establish a connection, to have a sense of community. It was clear that the magic number had been reached on this evening. Everyone there felt as if there were witness to a special performance. 

Foucault’s voice has a warm lived-in quality that captures your attention. His songwriting skills, as evidenced on songs such as One for Sorrow and Ghost Repeater, are extraordinary, as is his guitar playing. You sense a narrative thread weaving through his music. You listen closer with each new song to try to figure out its traces. His music explores some of the darker aspects of the 21st century American Dream with an honesty and integrity to the Word. Think of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Anais Mitchell, Jay Farrar. Here’s hoping that the next time he comes through Bellingham, that magic number of his will be much higher.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Psych Country Review and Spur at The Redlight - Friday, August 24

Psych Country Review - source

Psych Country Review and Spur at The Redlight

Friday, August 24, 2012

At the bar with a glass of blood red wine and the heartbreaking lonely sound of a pedal steel guitar echoing in the evening ambience of The Redlight. Psych Country Review from Corvallis, Oregon is gathering together. Cowboy hats and beards. They start off with an excellent Waylon Jennings cover, Lonesome O'nry and Mean. Big country sound for the small space. Julia Rosen’s vocals spark immediate associations with Neko Case and Maria McKee - hints of Patsy Cline. They follow with another cover, Mental Revenge, and I figure any band that starts off a set with two Waylon Jennings songs will most likely do no wrong. Barry Walker’s pedal steel traces elegant musical lines through Jawsh Holmes excellent guitar work. Ronjon Datta’s boardwork is subtle and evocative. Jake Sellers drumming is restrained but perfect for the small space and is tightly linked with Travis Whitmer’s solid bass guitar. Beautiful country music played from down deep in the soul in such a way that seems to work a weird alchemy, turning pain into expressive joy. 

Third song in, an original, Prisoner’s Dilemma, begins in a semi-dissonant cacophony, Spaghetti Western guitar, Gypsy caravan rhythms before unfolding into a slow burning ballad of betrayal. The band all seem like caged tigers, Rosen’s vocals so strong she probably doesn’t even need the mic, guitar and pedal steel uncoiling riffs around her. There is a feeling however that the constraint of the small room is focusing the music, concentrating it in order to transcend the limitations of the form. One of my favorite qualities of The Redlight is when people are up and dancing, as they are now, the whole place moves: floorboards bending, bar swaying, the walls warping to the deep American Pulse of the Psych Country sound. It is Thomas Hart Benton painting “The Sources of Country Music” come to life. They follow with A Song for Hal, a slow piece with beautiful layers of sound from the bass and pedal steel, the guitar plaintive. Traces of Uncle Tupelo and Gram Parsons. An electric and slightly overclocked cover of Dwight Yoakum’s Guitars, Cadillacs caps off the excellent set. 

Next up is Spur. One of the handful of regular groups that plays down the street at Cap’s. Like the Cherry Blossom Family Delivery, Spur has an intentional laid back, almost drunken, country sound. It’s hard to define – which is one of the qualities that makes it interesting. Songs for broken, lost and lonely souls, soundtrack for the memories that gather together at the bottom of the bottle. They come on, announcing: “We are Spur: cowboy boots and flip-flops, breaking down the barriers.” Start off with an original, Another Train Song, the sound falling together like a gang of drunken cowboys on dreaming horses. They follow with a slowed down cover of Johnny Horton’s Springtime in Alaska: “The song she kept singin' made a man's blood run cold / When it's Springtime in Alaska, it's forty below.” One of those old cowboy songs that no one plays anymore and everyone loves and Spur makes relevant and cool. 

A few songs later a poignant and evocative cover of the Theme Song from the Searchers, full of alienation and abandonment: “What make a man turn his back on home?” The black silhouette of John Wayne in the doorway walking away into the desert. This is Old West Gothic, dark country music, Walker’s pedal steel arabesques are ghosts wailing on the train, Shaw’s alternating bass walking across a dead land in a fevered dream full of doomed cowboy nostalgia, enormous piles of buffalo skulls shivering while Yayoi rings Tibetan bells and Valerie wails on the flute. Kevin’s slow brush on the drums like Shiva’s breath. Shane’s vocals full of lonely laconic hard won wisdom. Then an original by Walker, Don't stop by (my dreams tonight), a song so lovely that it brings to Hart Crane’s Bridge to mind: a structure purely evocative of loss and memory. Next, a cover of Ernest Tubb’s Driving Nails In My Coffin has everyone drinking. Further down the line, an almost signature cover for Spur, Ghost Riders in the Sky, is hauntingly performed in such a way that it could be the soundtrack to Holbein’s Dance of Death. Something beautiful and strange is in the room: weird whistles and chimes, sad stringed instruments and haunting rhythms, music composed of dark fragments of a lost western dream… in other words, Spur.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tales From the Road – Scot Casey and Havilah Rand’s Desolation of America Road Trip - August 2012

Photo by S. Casey

Tales From the Road – Scot Casey and Havilah Rand’s Desolation of America Road Trip

August 2012

It was one of those experiences in your life that you look back upon with wonder and terror. I imagine Dante, having just emerged from the horrors of the Inferno, being possessed of the same thoughts. Or Marlow, drifting out of the Heart of Darkness, “the horror, the horror” an insane whisper repeating in his brain. And it all started out so innocent and beautiful…

A month or so ago, I was walking out of the Green Frog after my usual dinner of peanuts and Rainier. As I walked past the Redlight, Havilah Rand, recently returned from Thailand, hollered me down. We shared a bottle or two of excellent wine and that was where it all began: she was moving back from Austin to Bellingham, driving a truck full of her possessions. And seeing as I still had a garage full of books to move up to Bellingham, we decided to go in together on the truck rental and drive back together. And, here was the beauty of the plan; we would try to play shows together along the way. Something like beauty and the beast or the rose and the skull. We would play in truck stops and gas stations if we had to, filming it all with phones and an iPad. It all sounded so nice and easy and what could possibly go wrong - as so many things do after a couple of bottles of wine.

I flew down to Austin a few days before we were to leave, spending a few days saying goodbye to a city that had been my home for over 20 years. Our first show was on Thursday night at The Local (formerly The Texas Showdown and before that, the legendary punk club, Raul’s.) Havilah and I met earlier for dinner and several potent margaritas at Trudy’s. She started off the set at The Local and just blew everyone away – as I knew she would. Her set was polished and professional and full of laughter and lightness, the moon and the surf on a beautiful night. As I took the stage, I noticed a lot of familiar faces in the crowd – more than a few that I mention in some of my songs in a less than favorable light. It was good to be up in front of old friends and familiar faces from when I was a bartender there. However, I felt like I sang like a drunk in a midnight choir.

Afterwards, I was surprised when many of the people unfavorably mentioned in my songs came forward to say how happy that I put them in a song. A dozen or so shots of tequila sat on the bar for Havilah and I. Around shot six and some challenging conversation about music for graveyards, we found ourselves in route to the Texas State Cemetery, where we played an inebriated set on Arch Stanton’s grave. It was well attended by the living and the dead.

We left the next morning, insanely hung-over, irritable and probably still half drunk. My skin smelled like Tequila and bones. The truck was filled with books, guitars, and whatever had remained for each of us in Austin. The city was burning in 100-degree heat. The whole world seemed to be black and white with sharp razor like teeth that chewed into our eyes and made our brain ache with pain. We kept language to a minimum. I thought several times about just driving 90 mph straight into an embankment to just put myself out of the pain.

We stopped in Marble Falls at the Fuel Coffee House to get some coffee. Havilah’s name was there on the door for a show that got flooded out earlier in the month. The coffee was good. We grabbed our guitars and headed over to the main plaza with the imposing courthouse and clock tower. There was a small car show going on. We chose a spot under a shady pecan tree and played for about an hour, earning some extra gas money. It seemed a good omen and we were in much better spirits when we got back on the road. There seemed to be wildflowers everywhere and even the cows were smiling in the fields, horses waved at us as we drove by and bluebirds flew around the truck like dolphins. The world was suddenly a Technicolor dream and the highway was the yellow brick road leading home. For that brief period of time, we had hope.

Somewhere around Amarillo, something happened. Or rather, it didn’t happen. Nothing happened. Let me explain: we had been driving for over 12 hours, seeing all manner of landscape and interesting objects along the way. After Marble Falls, it almost became beautiful. Then, after Amarillo, it was as if the same view locked into place. We kept driving and driving and everything seemed the same. The same Rip Griffin gas station. The same Ramada Inn. The same McDonald’s. The same generic strip malls. Neither of us said anything to the other but by the time we pulled into the Ramada Inn in Pueblo, Colorado, we both sensed the weirdness.

We asked the manager – 22 years old, defeated, burned out eyes of a old man - if we could play a set “for our film” in the lobby. He told us it was against corporate policy to allow music in the lobby. He suggested the Applebee’s down the highway. At the Applebee’s we were also told that it was against company policy to allow live music. We decided to stay for a drink, take some miles off the road before tomorrow. But we were told that in honor of Veteran’s Day, no alcohol was being served. We asked where the Veteran’s might go to drink but only received a shrug as a reply. We headed back to the motel, full of spleen and venom.

The next morning we stopped at a Starbuck’s to have the worst cup of coffee we had ever had from what might have been the most blissfully ignorant and happy barista in the world. We told her we were filming a movie and would like to play a couple of songs in front, outside. She had to ask the manager. The manager, predictably, told us music was not allowed. We pulled into a gas station with fake cactus plants and tried to play a set at the pump while we were filling up. A speaker on top of the pump alerted us with a monotonic tone that if we did not stop playing music, they would call the police.

Back on the road, all suspicions were confirmed: the same view, the same types of cars, same corporate chain businesses. It was as if a Cult of Sameness had infected all of the United States. We kept trying to find one diner, one local restaurant, god, please god, a local bar, a musical venue. But there was nothing. It was all the same. Even the landscape seemed transformed into one long long road leading into the horizon, sky full of featureless clouds, all around us… aspects of the Waste Land.

Havilah and I started getting a little deranged. To pass the time we made podcasts on the worst things you have ever tasted, smelled, put in your mouth. (You may, if you care, listen to these at: ) The phrases, “a dead dog’s butt” and “a prostitute at 4 in the morning” caused uncontrollable laughter. We listened to the Hunger Games, cracking up at particularly brutal passages, playing them over and over. Time and again we stopped to play music and were told it was against policy, not allowed, forbidden, illegal. Havilah was almost arrested at a rest stop outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming for refusing to cease and desist while performing.

Everything became a horrible desolation for us. A hell of sameness and no music. Then, after nearly 40 hours of driving through this we pulled into Bellingham. Home. Finally. We drove down State Street: Shakedown, Honey Moon, Redlight, Green Frog. Music everywhere. We stopped at Cap’s. O Sweet Nectar of Life! Tequila, beer and popcorn never tasted so good.

Later, we walked to Railroad and Holly and played a few songs each to an appreciative crowd and two cops on bicycles. So damn happy to have escaped the Horror of Sameness, the Desolation of America and back to a city with local identity, eccentricity and beautiful insanity.

Originally published in What's Up!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kit Nelson, Shawnee Kilgore and Daisy O'Connor - The Green Frog - August 2, 2012

Kit Nelson, Shawnee Kilgore and Daisy O'Connor – The Green Frog

August 2, 2012

There is some sort of weird nexus between Bellingham and Austin, Texas. Witness the harmonic convergence of Kit Nelson, Shawnee Kilgore and Daisy O'Connor at the Green Frog. Three extremely talented singer-songwriters sharing the steamy stage at the Frog to a happy boisterous crowd. 

Unfortunately, I arrive too late to hear Daisy O’Connor (Bellingham native moved to Austin) or Shawnee Kilgore (from Austin). Both are very talented songwriters and singers. I have heard great things about both of them. And their online music is beautiful. Both have subtle senses of humor and a clever way with words. I am sorry the Junkie show at the Honey Moon kept me too late. 

When I walk into the Green Frog, Kit Nelson in on stage doing what she does best, flirting, taunting and amazing the crowd. It is a warm night, the crowd is sweaty and loud. Kit looks as if she is air-conditioned, having made a deal with the devil to always look collected and cool. She plays an excellent, almost angry, rendition of her ode to an ex, “God Must Have Been in a Rush,” then segues into an fiery “Mama Will You Bail Me Out.” Someone in the audience requests “Wild Horses” and Kit sets down the guitar and plays a beautiful cover. She keeps up the between song banter, yelling at the audience, telling them that they are sons of bitches and having them love her even more. Later, bringing Jenni Potts up to sing a sublime harmony on “Everybody’s Dreaming.” 

Austin seems to have given her a little more edge. Or maybe it was just being back in Bellingham. Everyone in the crowd seemed a personal friend, happy to have her back at the Green Frog. Here’s hoping she and Shawnee and Daisy play a few more shows before they return. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ken Loaf at the Shakedown Wednesday, July 20, 2012

Ken Loaf as Meat Loaf - Shakedown 2012
Photo by S. Casey

Ken Loaf at the Shakedown

Wednesday, July 20, 2012

Waiting for the spectacle. This evening is all about the magnificence of Ken Loaf. Ken sings Meat Loaf songs at the local karaoke nights. Along with his “producer,” Zach Zinn, he hope to get enough money from this show to attend a Meat Loaf concert. Now, he is standing on the stage ramp at the Shakdown, collecting his thoughts, perhaps working himself up to channel the force of musical nature that is Michael Lee Aday. 

There is method to his madness, allowing the anticipation to build, more shots to be downed. The crowd is drunk and getting slightly unruly. Zack Zinn, master of all things karaoke, is on stage introducing. Then Ken Loaf ascends in all of his majesty of scarves and perspiration, announces he is "ready to rock.” The crowd is chanting: “Let’s Go! Ken Loaf!” over and over. 

It begins... Ken has the suit, the scarf, the hair, the beard, the comportment and gravitas of Meat Loaf down to an art. The red scarf there in his hand like a ribbon of blood. All the drama in his expression: the bulging eyes, the trembling high notes. Ken has an excellent voice. This is karaoke taken to the nth extreme, karaoke porn. There is something sweet about it all. No trains wrecking at all.  Just one car stopped at the station for a man who is obsessed with Meat Loaf: Ken Loaf. With each song, he gains more confidence, becomes more Meat Loafian. The crowd waving lit lighters, chanting as Ken Loaf takes another shot. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” shines like a diamond. “I’d Do Anything for Love” is performed as a Mystery Play where the spirit of Meat Loaf is crucified on the form of Ken Loaf and all the beauty and pain emerge as pure song. 

Ken Loaf as Meat Loaf - Shakedown 2012
Photo by S. Casey

Ken Loaf as Meat Loaf - Shakedown 2012
Photo by S. Casey

Ken Loaf as Meat Loaf - Shakedown 2012
Photo by S. Casey

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Buddha on the Side of the Road

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” - Lin Chi

I walk or ride my bike down North Garden street nearly every day on my way in to the Black Drop . I consider it to be one of the most beautiful walks in the world - stunning views of the bay in the distance beyond the all the beautiful homes, each with their own private signature garden. Often, in the early morning or late evening, I see deer walking slowly by, grazing, unafraid. 

When I first moved into this part of town, I mentioned my path to someone who then asked if I noticed the Buddha along my way. I had not. There was laughter and she said: "He's right there. You have been walking past the Buddha every day without even knowing it."

After that, I made it a ritual to stop by the Buddha, pay my respects, sometimes utter a simple prayer, sometimes just a nod of recognition. Every so often, I would pass by, lost in my thoughts, until a gentle tug brought me into the present moment where I would look up and realize I'd almost gone by without acknowledgment. "Hey, Buddha!" Always smiling. 

Now and then, I started taking photographs. Just whenever the mood would strike me. It was interesting to note all the changes in my life in relation to the relative changelessness of the Buddha. I admit to standing there in front of him, filled with some transient pain or sorrow, and noting what I believed to be a hint of mockery in that smile. Then, days later, in a better mood, noting how the smile was now knowing, understanding, sharing in the source of my joy. 

There are always new offerings, adornments. A hat in the winter, a necklace, stones, bones, flowers, sometimes a beer can, folded slips of paper, large leaves. Everyday it changes, rearranges, subtle haiku repositionings of the totems. 

Plants and flowers grow around him. Behind him is a small tree that rises like the Hindu cobra Shesha. To his right is a small gate with steps beyond it leading up to a home. It is rarely left open. But when it is, I always have a sense of invitation. Not to climb up the stairs to the house. But to pass through another gate entirely. 

A monk asked Nansen: 
"Is there a teaching no master ever preached before?"
Nansen said: "Yes, there is." 
"What is it?" asked the monk. 
Nansen replied: "It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things."

Mumon's comment: 
Old Nansen gave away his treasure-words. He must have been greatly upset. Nansen was too kind and lost his treasure. Truly, words have no power. Even though the mountain becomes the sea, Words cannot open another's mind.

A monk asked Seijo:  
 "I understand that a Buddha who lived before recorded history sat in meditation for ten cycles of existence and could not realize the highest truth, and so could not become fully emancipated. Why was this so?"   
Seijo replied: "Your question is self-explanatory."   
The monk asked: "Since the Buddha was meditating, why could he not fulfill Buddhahood?"  
 Seijo said: "He was not a Buddha."

atabi ni yande / yume wa kareno wo / kake meguru 

falling sick on a journey / my dream goes wandering / over a field of dried grass 

- Basho, death haiku

Picasa Web Album of the Bellingham Buddha

Teddy Bear Cove: Seems Like A Dream

Someone took me here once. The late and tired light of an early evening resting under the green canopied curves of the winding road out there. Windows down in the truck, rolling with the ocean back and forth sway of the road, conversation rising and falling in short fugue like fragments, still a chill in the air, but the cab of the truck is warm. The only car in the small pull-off for parking. Wanting to just sit on the tailgate and watch the sun or earth or everything in our minds set, wanting to wait for the stars to shine brighter than the day.

Crossing the tracks and it seems like we have been here before, in some other configuration, walking along the rails, watching for the trains, but not with each other. Not with such a sense of separation haunting everything. Some moonlit night from another time. Rails like black spokes running from the center of the world's wheel to the blue outer edges of the Universe, the hem of the known world hanging like a curtain just there beyond, where the rails come together in a vanishing point, a place paradoxically in the memory and not yet.

On the other side, it is colder and I am alone, walking down pathways where I once had company. Every object is weighted and heavy with memory. Madrona trees rattle like skeletons in the wind. There is distant thunder. Perhaps a storm. Maybe a train. The sense of being out of time, out of place. Waterlogged with memory, driftwood upon the beach. Everything lost. Now turned back. The tide's persistent tugging of the world into Oblivion.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Modsock: A Candy Store For Your Feet

Update December 2014: Modsock now has their own sock line and they are clever, beautiful and make great Xmas gifts! Check out the photos below. Keep scrolling down for the review!

The ever ebullient Urania opened ModSock on December of 2011 in a beautiful space full of light and modernist architectural flairs. Hardwood floors and high ceilings all work to give the shop a luminous and cheerful atmosphere. The entrance is framed with two long display windows which are used to maximum effect with amusingly themed presentations.

The selection is amazing, almost hallucinogenic, like stepping into a color wheel, thousands of shades and designs, shapes, textures. All presented with a sense of elegance, style and humor. I particularly like to stand in front of the section with the socks with clever words and amuse myself over the juxtapositions: MEAT TOFU GAY BADASS ZOMBIE GROOM.

They have socks for everyone, young and old, small or large, thick or thin: super comfortable merino and cashmere wool socks, toe socks (be sure to read the amusing modifications on the labels), over the knee socks. It is almost Dr. Seussian how many socks they have: red socks, blue socks, socks you never knew socks, so many socks just for you socks! 

However, what makes ModSock unique is they are more than just a sock store. They also involve themselves in local events, staying open late for ArtWalks, having live figure drawing events, sock-hops and photo-ops with a live sock monkey. The prices are reasonable and very friendly. And it seems like there is always a special or a sale going on. Follow them on FaceBook for announcements. They also have a punch card that offers $10 off.  If you are looking for great gifts for anyone on any occasion, ModSock is the place to go. 
1323 Cornwall Ave. 

All photographs by Ashley Berger and Scot Casey 

Photo by Django Boren
Photo by Django Boren