Outside Lands: Day Three

August 26, 2008

I intended to write this post yesterday but the three days of fantastic music soaked up all of my energy. I still can’t quite get over how special this festival was and I’ll be amazed if they can get as impressive of a lineup next year (hopefully San Francisco won’t object to having the festival again either).

I busted my ass Sunday morning to make sure I had enough time to blog about Saturday and still be able to get to the park before ALO started at 1. I managed to get there around 12:30 which was early enough to land me a spot right up by the stage. I first saw ALO when they opened for Jack Johnson at the Greek Theater, same concert they filmed A Weekend at the Greek at. Based off of the audience participation and how many people showed up for the show it seems like the band is building a good fan base, including myself.

Next up was Stars. I haven’t spent much time listening to Stars but they were at the same stage as ALO so I figured I’d give them a listen. There was a bit of conflict inside me because The Mother Hips were playing at the same time and I’m a fan of them and their lead guy Tim Bluhm. The Stars show wasn’t bad but in hindsight I wish I would have gone to The Mother Hips. But I did head out a bit early to get to the next show, Bon Iver.

Bon Iver (french for “good winter”) is one hell of an artist and performer. He wrote and recorded most of his first album during a four month stay in a hunting cabin in Wisconsin and it generated a very unique and fascinating feeling for the album. His shows feature a massive amount of percussion, sometimes played by every member in the band. I was shocked at how big the crowd was for his show and even more shocked at how involved they were.  I’ve never heard an audience sing like they did during the song The Wolves, it was really very amazing and something that will be difficult to experience again.

Because of Bon Iver I wasn’t able to catch the opening of Andrew Bird which is a bummer but a conscious choice. I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird since the release of Swimming Hour. His music is probably difficult for most people to really get into but it is well worth the effort. At his shows, Bird plays both a violin and an electric guitar, mixing them together quite skillfully with a looper.

After the Andrew Bird show my day hit a bit of a Lull for a while. Jack Johnson was the closing act for the day and I’m such a huge fan that I couldn’t stand the thought of not having a good spot, this didn’t come without some costs.

I was going to miss out on most of the Broken Social Scene set as well as all of Wilco. I’ve seen Wilco a number of times so I was able to deal with that loss. So I headed over to the Lands End stage where Jack would be playing in 2.5 hours. I was actually able to get shockingly close to the stage, especially when the act before Jack started to play and people shifted around. That act was Rodrigo y Gabriela and honestly I could have done without them.

Their set started out quite impressive and it’s obvious that both of them are quite talented but in my mind their set lacked depth. It was just the two of them on stage with acoustic guitars and it’s essentially an hour long jam session between the two of them. It’s an impressive jam session but that’s all it was. No lyrics and highly repetitive. The crowd was the most energetic when Rodrigo would work in some familiar chords from popular songs. I’m not sure, but this might tell you something about what sticks with people and what they want to hear. But don’t get me wrong, I respect their talent, it was just a bit much for me after 30 minutes.

After their set we had a 45 minute break until Jack came on. It was so crowded up in the front that during this time I couldn’t sit down or really even move but somehow the time managed to fly by.

Anyone that knows my musical tastes probably knows how much I love Jack Johnson. I’ve been listening to him since the beginning of his career and no artist resonates with me more than he does. His music has this fantastic ability of being laid back while delivering an amazingly powerful message and that mood is paralleled perfectly in his live performances.

Jack Johnson breaking out the electric guitar

Merlo Podlewski doing some freestyle rapping

Merlo Podlewski doing some freestyle rapping

Zach Gill up front with his accordion

Zach Gill up front with his accordion

This mood makes for a show that has a hard time going wrong. During the performance on Sunday there was this spider on Jack’s microphone that simply wouldn’t go away and as you can imagine, Jack was finding it hard to sing into this mic. But instead of letting it bother him he simply shared with us (in the middle of a song) what he was seeing and we all had a laugh. Being this playful with the crowd really seems to get people involved.

This involvement is what makes the live shows so powerful. Everyone sings, even those that truly suck at singing and it’s great. To have that many people together singing songs about what’s gone so wrong in this world as well as all the things that are so right is something that I find so comforting that it’s hard to express in words.

For me this is what life is all about, weekends like this. Like so many other things in our lives, most days go by without leaving any imprint in our memory. They tend to blur together into a stream of events rather than individual moments. But it’s the points in life that are jagged that you can’t forget. Moments that break your cycle and put you somewhere totally different for a while. This festival is one of those moments and because of that it’s something that will stay in my memory for as long as I have one. Thanks to everyone involved in the festival for breaking my cycle and the tens of thousands of others that also attended.

Advertisements

Outside Lands: Day Two

August 24, 2008

For the last couple years I’ve been going to the Austin City Limits Music Festival and I’ve been fortunate enough to have my best friends there with me. So being at the Outside Lands festival without them makes me a bit sad, especially with the amazing lineup that they have.

The beginning of the day didn’t feature any artists that I was hugely familiar with so I decided that I’d do some live music browsing. This is one of the greatest things about large music festivals, with three bands playing at any given time you can sample a bunch of new artists and see what they are like in their element. I checked out a couple songs from Dredg then made my way over to long time locals The Coup. The Coup was playing at a stage right next to the festival merchandise area and I wanted to pick up one of the festival posters, so I ducked out a little early to go pick one up.

This is where I have my only complaint of the festival, merchandise. Tons of people want to buy t-shirts and other memorabilia at these festivals but it appears like they didn’t plan all that well for this one. Granted it is the first time they are putting on this festival so I will cut them a little slack, but there’s plenty of other festivals to model things after.

All I wanted was a poster, simple enough. I had seen them on Friday but got so annoyed with the people running the booth that I gave up and decided to come back early Saturday. I was shocked and very disappointed when I learned that the posters had already sold out! How could they be running out of things when it’s just a couple hours into the second day of a three day festival? I’m not sure but I wish it wasn’t the case.

Fortunately there is plenty of good music to cheer me up and I was going to go check out Liars. I listened to their opening song and honestly wasn’t feeling them so I moved on to see what Sean Hayes was like. Good choice on my part, Hayes was fantastic. He had a really playful and fun mood about him and it was clear that he was excited to be there.

M Ward was playing right next door after Sean Hayes closed his set so it was a no brainer to go check him out. His set was very easy to listen to, even if you aren’t familiar with his music but I only stuck around for the first half of it. Donavon Frankenreiter was playing shortly and I needed to be up front for that show.

Donavon Frankenreiter

Donavon Frankenreiter

I got to Donavon Frankenreiter’s set about an hour early and people were already starting to gather. Fortunately I was only a few feet from the stage and incredibly excited to be there. My best friend Alex turned me on to his music a few years ago and somehow I hadn’t managed to see him in concert yet, a problem that would soon be resolved.

During the 35 minute set he managed to play songs from both of his full length albums including two of my favorites “Free” and “Move By Yourself”. I love artists like Frankenreiter because they have passion for the songs that they sing and respect for the people that listen to them and it’s never more evident than when they are playing a live show.

About to hand the mic to the crowd

About to hand the mic to the crowd

On many occasions I’ve tried to explain to people why I love going to live shows where I can be right in the front of the audience, especially smaller venues and artists that aren’t mainstream. This show by Frankenreiter is the prefect example of why I am so addicted to these types of concerts. He closed his set by playing “It Don’t Matter”, not only is this a fantastic song, his performance was truly amazing. The chorus of the song goes “If it don’t matter to you, it don’t matter to me” and at the end of the song Donavon climbed down off the stage and into the crowd bring along the mic. He then gave the mic to the crowd and allowed us to sing into it. This was one of the greatest moments of my life because I was right there, singing the chorus into the mic at a Donavon Frankenreiter show. The trust that you have to have with your crowd to do that is something that you simply don’t find with larger artists. Simply amazing. I just hope our singing didn’t suck.

I was so excited that I immediately had to call Alex and share the experience with him while walking to the Ben Harper show. I’ve seen Ben Harper a number of times so I hung out in the back of the pack for the first few songs then made my way over to the Sutro stage because Cake was performing shortly. I became a Cake fan after the radio stopped over playing “The Distance” but I’ve also never seen them in live.

I got to the stage where Cake was playing early enough to once again be right in the front. Cake has such a deep bench when it comes to great songs to play and they had no problem filling the hour with a crowd pleasing set. They even took a moment during the show to give away a potted tree to a fan that was able to tell them what type of tree it was. In exchange for this tree, the person had to plant it and send Cake a picture of the tree to put on their website every couple years. I personally think this is such an awesome and creative thing for them to do.

The crowd was so pleased with the set that at the end of it almost nobody left. We all stood there cheering and chanting, trying to get them to come back on the stage. This almost never happens at a music festival because they have to adhere to such tight schedules and I think it made some people kind of nervous. Here we had at least 10,000 people all wanting the set to continue but the sad fact is that it can’t, and it didn’t. But it was still a fantastic show and a fantastic crowd.

The last act for the day was Tom Petty. I like Tom Petty but I don’t love him, I can listen to his music but I won’t buy any of it. Mostly because he’s too popular and that makes it really hard to get up close and interact with the performance. So with 30 minutes left of the set I decided to beat the crowds and head out early.

Even though I didn’t have my best friends around to enjoy such an amazing day, it was still exactly that, an amazing day. The only thing that I expect will beat it is day three: ALO, The Mother Hips, Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Broken Social Scene, Rogue Wave, Widespread Panic, Wilco and best of all Jack Johnson.

Outside Lands: Day One

August 23, 2008

Yesterday was the first day of the first ever Outside Lands music festival and so far I’m having a blast.

I talked Evan into joining me for the day so we left for Golden Gate Park around 4pm.  Given that parking around the park is hard enough on a regular weekend we figured it would be exceptionally painful for this event.  However, we easily found a spot just four blocks south of the park off of 19th street.  That left us with about 20 blocks to walk but I was honestly expecting things to be worse.

As soon as I took my bag out of the car I realized something, I forgot my pass! How could I do such a thing. I managed to remember sunscreen, a flashlight, a blanket, two cameras, extra batteries and a water bottle but not the most important item. At first I wanted to drive back to my place and pick it up but Evan talked some sense into me. We figured it would be better to just buy a new ticket for the day and not miss two hours of the festival going to get mine.

During our 20 block walk, we thought up a few other ideas as well. The show wasn’t sold out so maybe I could pick up a ticket for less than face value. It’s also a big park so maybe there is a chance that I could sneak in, after all it wouldn’t even be stealing. But before we tried anything the plan was to see if they could just reissue my ticket.  After about 30 minutes waiting in line, a new ticket was in hand. Smiles all around.

First up we caught the end of Black Mountain who I’d never heard of but was really quite talented so I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of them. Next up we headed over to check out Manu Chao, another band that I didn’t have a chance to check out beforehand. We stuck around for a while but cut out early because Lyrics Born was going to be playing at the stage next door.

I love Blackalicious and Lyrics Born has worked with them and others on many occasions so I was excited to check them out. The show was fantastic, loud, packed with people, very energetic and all around entertaining. I was quite pleased that we cut out of Manu Chao early to get a good spot.

Next up was Radiohead, the headliner for the night. I’ve listened to Radiohead off and on but have never called myself a fan. But when I learned that they would be at the festival I figured that I needed to really sit down and listen to their albums. In the process I found myself really enjoying a number of the tracks from In Rainbows so I was quite excited to see them in concert.

Because we checked out Lyrics Born beforehand, we weren’t all that close to the stage which is a bit of a bummer because it was a pretty cool show. But the biggest bummer was that during the performance the audio completely cut out, twice. I’m curious what the cause was but thankfully the problem was resolved both times and the show continued.

Overall day one was a ton of fun and I can’t wait to get there today.

Bohlman On Orbit

August 10, 2008

Last Friday was Mark Logic’s summer BBQ and in the tradition of things getting better every year, this year it was held in Saratoga Springs. Given that there is some fantastic riding in this area, Evan, John and I decided that we should do some cycling before the BBQ started. We did a quick 9 mile loop up Hwy 9, down Redwood Gulch and then back to Saratoga Springs via Mt Eden and Pierce Rd. It was a great ride to start off the day with.

However, after Evan and I got some food in us and were totally annihilated in foosball we started thinking that we should go for another ride. I’d heard from my friend Bill of this fantastically difficult climb in the area called Bohlman On Orbit. Bill was quite insistent that this was one of the hardest climbs in the area so I suggested to Evan that we give it a go, he was game.

The climb starts right off of 6th Street in downtown Saratoga at an elevation of about 600 feet. After a small bit of residential area the road narrows and the grade increases to about 10%. Ten minutes into the climb the grade had not let up, Evan and I started wondering if it was going to flatten out at all and give us a little break. We jinxed ourselves.

20% Grade on a section of Bohlman

20% grade on a section of Bohlman

Turns out Bill was right, this climb is relentless. The road is filled with switchbacks and they aren’t just for looks, this road seriously needs them. If you don’t find the average grade of 10% challenging enough don’t get depressed, harder sections are ahead.

One of the toughest parts of this climb is the mental exhaustion. Things get challenging when you’re working fairly hard on a climb and the road is steeper than normal yet you look up ahead and don’t quite believe your eyes. You think to yourself, how can this be? A quick check of the cycling computer tells you that you’re on a 12% grade and yet it appears to be flat in contrast to what you will soon be facing. To top things off you can see a corner up ahead and this is the point where the optimistic viewpoint of thinking, “it may flatten out after the bend” is lost.

Pessimism proves to be right as you find out that the climb leading up to the turn is a 20% grade, the turn itself is 22% and then it settles right back down to an all too familiar 20% grade.

After about 1000 feet of this painful climbing there is a Y in the road. Bohlman continues to the right and On Orbit goes off to the left. Knowing that On Orbit is the steeper of the two, Evan and I naturally had to take it.

Riding up On Orbit Evan made the observation that the road is very correctly named because we thought for sure that we had climbed enough to actually be orbiting the Earth. Evan was clearly feeling a bit stronger than I was because all I could think of was how insane this climb is. Shortly after this Evan and I both agreed that to really be into cycling there has to be a part of you that deep down loves pain. So I think we’re in agreement on how difficult this road is.

Life On Orbit isn’t all bad however, the views are quite spectacular and it gives you a great feeling of accomplishment. There’s also one section that is about 1/10th of a mile long where the grade is a very welcome 6% (as a comparison, interstate 70 that passes through the Colorado Rockies is roughly a 6% grade). But make no mistake, On Orbit is brutal and an absolute ass kicker. The average grade is about 14% with sections going up to 22% and is just over a half mile long.

Once you reach the top of On Orbit there is a slight downhill section before it meets up with Bohlman again. The speed of this 100 foot descent feels quite nice and cools you down a bit before the last 500 feet to the top. The climb calms down a bit after it meets up with Bohlman. There is a couple sections with a 16% grade but overall if you’ve made it this far, making it to the top shouldn’t be a problem.

The last half mile or so runs along the ridge line at the top. It’s a perfect time to relax a little bit and look around at what you’ve accomplished. Bohlman is a dead end at the top, however, there is a fire road that continues on and connects up with Montevina Road after about a mile. Taking this will eventually get you close to the intersection of Black Rd and Hwy 17. I think the next time I do this climb I’m going to continue on this path and turn the ride into a loop (Bohlman, Montevina, Black, Skyline, Hwy 9).

So overall I loved the climb. It has all the right ingredients, challenging, beautiful views, low traffic and can be accomplished. You won’t find me doing it every week, but once a month would be fine with me.

My Questions

August 9, 2008

It’s amazing what you can find out about a person with a couple of simple questions. This can be both fun and important when meeting someone new and a couple of years ago two questions popped into my head that I’ve been asking people ever since. My questions aren’t all that original, but I love them all the same.

Sometimes in interviews you get asked questions like, “if you were a fruit, what fruit would you be”. While it can be fun to watch people squirm over abstract questions like that, I’m not convinced that they tell you much about a person. All you really find out is how comfortable they are with abstractions, maybe it’s useful when interviewing someone for a management role but not useful in getting to know them.

I like questions that can start conversations. If someone tells me that they’d be an apple, what am I going to ask them after that? No matter what the follow-up question is, it would take a very special person to turn that into an interesting conversation. So asking someone what type of fruit they’d be almost feels like you’re setting them up to fail.

In general I don’t think it matters what question(s) you ask a person, as long as those questions can start a conversation. My two favorite questions are, “where would you go if time and money weren’t factors?” and “what would you learn if time and ability wasn’t an issue?”. I love these questions because the answers I get are so insightful.

These questions can tell you so much about a person because there is more to the answer than the answer itself. If someone replies, “I don’t know” to either of these questions you can probably assume that they aren’t dreamers or maybe that they are very shy. I’d suggest ending the conversation if they reply with, “I’ve already been everywhere and know everything”.

You can also get insights on someone’s past with these two questions. If they reply very quickly and with great detail it’s likely that the person really loves to travel and always has ideas for trips. What does it tell you about a person if they answered with the Egyptian pyramids (maybe a history fan), Darfur (could be a caring person), the Moon (trail blazer) or the Jedi Temple from Star Wars (might not be grounded in reality)?

The answers for what you’d learn are especially interesting, simply because time is more of a restriction than ability. However, some people don’t recognize this which makes me wonder how confident they are in themselves. Also, from what I can tell most people would choose to learn something in a totally different area than their day to day life. This is very interesting but not all that surprising when you think about it.

The nice thing about these questions is that there is absolutely no wrong answers, only insightful answers. Maybe we’ll both discover that we have a lot in common, maybe our own dreams will even be expanded or maybe we’ll both realize that we’re not likely to get along. These are all fantastic outcomes in my mind.

So if I haven’t asked you these questions yet, you’ve got time to think up some answers. Even better yet, surprise me with some questions of your own and we’re sure to have a great conversation.

The Language of Weather

August 8, 2008

I firmly believe that one of the weirdest things you could possibly watch on TV is the news, especially the weather reports. Have you ever noticed that no matter what the forecast is, the meteorologist always seems oddly excited? Even when telling the viewers that the next seven days will not bring the rain that they need or will be dangerously hot, they still deliver it with a smile and optimistic viewpoint. They might even try to cheer us up by expressing hope for things getting better next week. But the worst offense is using language to dress things up by making the situation sound better than it really is.

This is where I think something should change. Language is such an important thing to be conscious about, especially when used to communicate our environmental state. I believe the most frequent misuse of language in weather reports is referring to things as records. We constantly hear things like “we set a new record high of 108 degrees today” and it needs to stop.

The word record almost makes you feel like we accomplished something. Growing up I honestly was excited when we set a new weather record, made me feel like I had lived through an important event in history. I think most of us are quite aware today that setting these records isn’t anything to be proud about. However, the word record has such a positive connotation that it doesn’t accurately convey the situation.

So how do we communicate that these increasingly severe weather events aren’t what we’re looking for? A good first step is changing the language we use to describe them. What if instead of saying that today set a new record high, we said that today we lost our previous high. Using the word lost almost makes you depressed, it might even provoke a competitive response.

Ultimately I think it is hard to get our nation to truly take action and change our behavior because climate change is a rather abstract and difficult thing to comprehend. But the weather is all about our climate and it’s something that people are actually drawn to and can feel. So in many ways weather reports are the perfect setting to remind people of the impact that we have.

Imagine the changes that could take place if we stopped saying, “I’m sick of this weather” and started saying “I’m sick of how we’re screwing up the weather”. The latter of those two is an empowering statement because it points the finger at someone, us. It also sends the message that we have the power and desire to change what frustrates us.

Thankfully we all have good intentions and I firmly believe that with the right motivation those good intentions turn into good actions. So along with changing the language that we use to describe the weather, it would be great if we got tips on how to do our part to help our environment whenever we lose a previous high. Tips like how much your fuel economy drops as your speed increases.

After all, informing people of the road that we are on is important, but that only creates good intentions. Educating people on how they can help might turn those intentions into actions.

I’ve been on a JJ Grey & Mofro kick for a fairly long time but this last week was exceptionally filled with their music. This is partly due to the fact that I purchased a couple tickets to their upcoming show at The Independent on September 13th and also because I picked up their second album, Lochloosa.

JJ Grey is based out of Jacksonville, Florida and released their first album, Blackwater, in 2001. Then in 2004 they released Lochloosa and in 2007 they treated us with Country Ghetto. Their sound is somewhat unique to my collection and because of that it took me a little while to really get into. Thankfully the lyrics were strong enough to keep me engaged and eventually engrossed in the music.

In fact, it’s not just the lyrics, it’s the passion that they convey. In my opinion, Grey isn’t just making music for fun and money, he’s got something to say. Many tracks are full of advice or express a love for the environment while others border on political or deal with relationships. I think it takes a good amount of courage to be this honest and passionate with anyone willing to listen, especially when most of the population won’t see eye to eye with you on some things.

Blackwater album cover by JJ Grey and Mofro

Blackwater

Blackwater – This album is a mix of both serious and simply fun songs. This mix makes it a pretty easy album to just sit back and relax to but not bore you.

Favorite tracks:

Free
Some people think they’re free
if they get to do just what they want to do
and do nothing, nothing else
This song is all about what it means to truly live free (as in freedom) and that living free doesn’t have anything to do with wealth or possessions.
Florida
Now skyscrapers and superhighways
are carved through the heart of Florida
Building sub-divisions while the swamps are drained
makin’ room for people and amusement parks
I visited Orlando last year for a conference and really didn’t enjoy the city. It seemed to be a culmination of all the craziness that is the United Sates, so this song resonates with me fairly strongly.
Brighter Days
Boy you about to hit the bottom
I’ll be alone
I feel I’m movin’ where to a land you never saw
Thankfully I can’t relate to every aspect of this song, but at the same time it always reminds me of my move from Iowa to California. The song touches nicely on how difficult it can be to leave what’s comfortable knowing that hard times are bound to follow.
Lochloosa

Lochloosa

Lochloosa – This album has a lot of the same feelings and themes as Blackwater but with more music and less filler. The lyrics on this album are as strong as ever and musically I feel like it is more expansive than Blackwater.

Favorite tracks:

Lochloosa
All we need is one more damn developer
Tearing her heart out
All we need is one more Mickey Mouse
Another golf course another country club
Another gated community
This track is quite similar in its message as Florida off of Blackwater. While some might see this as a lack of creativity, I see it as continued exploration of something that is clearly important to Grey.
The Wrong Side
Time ain’t standing still
And there ain’t no way to get it back
All this looking over my shoulder
A bad habit
I like this track simply because Grey appears to be reflecting on how he’s spent his life and is trying to deal with some regrets. We all have regrets and sometimes it’s hard not to fixate on them but the song reminds us that it’s a bad habit, always a good thing to keep in mind.
The Long Way Home
No effort, no gain
No effort, stay the same
No don’t you ever try to live a lie
This song also has some parallels to Brighter Days from Blackwater which is probably why I latched onto it quickly. But after hearing it a few times I realized that the song is more about asking yourself what type of person you are.
Country Ghetto

Country Ghetto

Country Ghetto – This is their latest album and in my opinion it is the most varied album both musically and lyrically out of the three. Topics vary from political to personal relationships while keeping an undertone of love for nature and the simple life.

Favorite tracks:

War
Ain’t but one thing that’s for sure
Everybody want some more
No one gonna do what’s “right”
All we’ll do is fight
This track opens up the album with a bang. A bit more up tempo and charged than anything on the previous two albums. It almost a similar feel to How Come by Ray LaMontagne but with more of an electric flavor.
Country Ghetto
Little boy you ain’t never take a dime from the man
Starve to death before you live by a government handout
They call us poverty
Life in a country ghetto
Musically this song is surprisingly appealing to me and lyrically it’s quite interesting. It seems to confront the stereotypes that typically surround people living in the rural south and it does so with pride.
By My Side
Hear these fools tell you who you are
but you don’t hear a doggone thing
And maybe that’s why, why I love you
This is one of the examples where Grey gets more into personal relationships. While there’s no shortage of music about love, this song isn’t sappy about it which is refreshing and uplifting.