Me and Douglas Closson are playing songs in our usual Irish/country/pirate style on Sat March 21. Plus a few ace musical guests who will blow you away. They definitely blow me away. There’s not enough practice time between now and the gig to ever be worthy.

Saturday, March 21, 7-9 PM
High Street Station Cafe
Food, wine & beer available
Cover: $10

I’m on the lineup!

Songwriters’ Night
Featuring Steve Witt, Yolanda Cazessus, David Kent, C, Graham Hill, & Skye Alexander
Friday, Feb 27, 7-9:30pm
High Street Station Café
$5-15
Beer, wine and food available

Song Writer's Night Feb. 27 (4)

 

I am amazed to announce that my CD is done. It took almost 2 years and several mini-identity crises, but it is done!

The album title is “EP” because it turned out to be 4 songs instead of the original 10. There is music laid down for the other 6 songs, but it was just saner to turn this big solo project into a snack-sized EP for now. There are reasons to do with mercy – does the world really need another recording of an obscure murder ballad that clocks in at over 5 minutes? I think no. The unreleased “Bonny Farday” will show up on Ebay one day, and that’s when I’ll know I’ve hit the big time.

My engineer James Boblak said sometime along the 2-year road that he was considering a career as a therapist since he already practically did the job, and boy, did that come true the day I “woke up” after another sleepless night to ask him to remix 2 wrong notes in one song even though I had already signed off on the master. I drove to Half Moon Bay that Sunday to drop off my newly remastered master with the lovely Rainier and Naomi of Sienna Digital on a fine foggy morning, listening to A Prairie Home Companion and driving out of radio reach the very second Karan Casey came on the show with Lúnasa, which has to be significant timing on some universe level. I spent a long night renewing my relationship with carpal tunnel as I put together my DIY packaging while I watched Twenty Feet From Stardom, which will, even if you’re not in the act of rubber-stamping your name in glitter ink on your own CD, make you cry.

The songs on the EP are with Douglas Closson on that guitar part that sounds so nice, Stacey Pelinka on flute, Elizabeth Vandervennet on cello, James Boblak on bass and Nora Martin on harmony vocals. And me on the other guitar part, which was a major accomplishment for lowly guitar hack me. They all know, but I’ll just tell you guys how awed I am that those great musicians were willing to become indelible on my project.

And because I didn’t do liner notes (the world moves too fast for liner notes now), I should say that each of my songs has a mountain of meaning. I learned “Harvest Gypsies” from Kris Drever’s album Black Water, which Nadja and I bought in a record store in Skye (the real Skye) on our honeymoon; 7 years later I’m still listening to it at least once a week. “Pretty Saro” was the song that inspired Julee Glaub Weems and Mark Weems’ band name, Little Windows, and when I spent a week with them at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina 2 years ago I knew I had to honor the way that place and that music just reached down into my soul and changed me. My friend David West gave me a book of songs collected in the Appalachian region by John Jacob Niles, mostly Child ballads that crossed the water and became uniquely American over generations, and that’s where I found this version of “The Mermaid.” And the wonderful singer and traditional music expert Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh taught me “I Once Loved A Lass” when she came here on tour in 2007 and I got to take a lesson with her. Mostly, folk musicians learn repertoire from recordings (I’m seriously considering that YouTube upgrade where you can skip the ads), so it’s pretty great to participate in the original tradition of singing a song that was given to me in person by another singer.

You can hear the songs on Bandcamp. Hand-stamped real CDs available!

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So last weekend I figured out how creativity works.

On Saturday morning I was teaching my 7-year-old student like I do every Saturday morning. Her song at the moment is “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. She’d learned the melody and the words, so it was time for interpretation – injecting mood and story into the song, plus the dozens of other micro-decisions a singer makes about phrasing, timing, all that. Maybe we would add some gestures. Definitely we would build in dynamics. My friend Anne, who is a splendid singer, calls that process “inhabiting a song.” But sometimes when you’re 7, it helps to have some concrete suggestions, so to figure out the right mood for the song, I asked my student to imagine showing a friend something absolutely wonderful that would make their whole life better. I was about to add “like what if they had never tasted ice cream before?”

“Like singing?” she said.

I mean, this is a great kid anyway. She probably bubbles over with just as much enthusiasm when it’s her turn to wash the dishes. But to hear someone choose singing as the thing that opens up their world? Especially when I’m her music teacher? That just kills the sorrow. Just for a minute.

Then I went to the bluegrass slow jam like I do on Sundays whenever I can. I’ve been going for a few months, and I’ve gotten into a comfy groove of playing chords, singing harmony, and looking at my shoes whenever it was time for leads. I’ve learned a huge amount in that room about ensemble playing, harmony singing, the traditions attached to certain songs, and just the whole grand back catalogue of country music. In fact I’m in danger of going all fangirl and blowing what’s left of my cool whenever I talk about it. But there’s some extreme instrumental chops in that room, and I’m still new to guitar, so I never wanted to waste the real musicians’ time by trying to play a lead part until I saw other people push themselves to start picking leads there. I started pushing myself at home, and this week I finally stuck both feet in the water and played a lead on “I’ll Fly Away.” At the slowest tempo in history. And don’t get me wrong, I still suck. This isn’t The Karate Kid; I won’t be a bluegrass guitar blackbelt by Halloween. But still.

My friend Matt talked at writing group this week about the layers of learning a craft. At first there’s the difference between nothing and something – hey, I wrote my first story / picked my first lead / made my first pie crust. It might be a soggy blob of wet flour, but it’s a form, where there was nothingness before. Then we start refining our craft and our standards for ourselves shift upward and we go back and read that first story and want to file off our fingerprints and move to Nunavut where they don’t have Facebook so no one can find out we were ever beginners.

But that first time you create something where there was nothing before? If you’re lucky enough to try it in a room where no one will demolish you with shame? It will make you stupid with elation and people will ask if they can have a hit of whatever you’re on. For days you’ll be sneaking on YouTube at work to listen to every version of “Old Love Letters” and at home you can’t write because your guitar is sitting there smiling at you saying “let’s play.” It will make you feel like you can shake off the cold iron shackles on your feet. Or as I used to think it went, and this would prove my point even better, “gol-darn shackles.”

Douglas Closson and I are playing some of our Irish/pirate/country songs at the Harding Carnival on Sunday, Oct 5. We go on at 11, followed by many awesome carnival-y acts. I heard a rumor about Clowns Not Bombs … I LOVE Clowns Not Bombs.

When: 10/5/14, 11:00 AM

Where: Harding Field, Ashbury Ave at Fairmount Ave, El Cerrito

How much: Admission to the carnival is $5 or bring a cake, cookies or pie for 1 free admission (limit I baked good per family).

Again with the solo gigs! I’m the featured act at The Fireside Lounge open mic in Alameda on Wednesday, August 20. I’ll do a short set of Celtic and Americana songs, surrounded before and after by open mic regulars who are all far better musicians than I, if tonight was any indication. Open mic starts at 8, I go on sometime after 9.
 
 
Wednesday, August 20
Open mic signup at 8:00 PM
1453 Webster Street
Alameda, CA 94501
Beer and spirits harder and softer
No cover

The first 2 tracks from my sometime-to-be-done album are done! They’re up over on the Music page.

I fell in love with Boo Hewerdine’s song Harvest Gypsies when I first heard Kris Drever’s version. This is Boo singing it.

I’m the feature at the High Street Station Cafe Open Mic on Thursday, July 17. I’ll do a short set of Irish and American songs from that sometime-to-be-released album. Open mic is before and after the feature slot, so step on up if the spirit calls to you!

Thursday, July 17
7:00 – 9:30 / open mic signup at 6:30
High Street Station Cafe
1303 High Street
Alameda, CA 94501
No cover
Beer, wine & food served
Hosted by Steve Witt

The last leg of our Costa Rica trip was the most remote. We left Manuel Antonio by shuttle bus and went down the coast to the town of Sierpe, which is as far as the road would take us.

Here’s a classic view of the Costa Rica highway.

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From Sierpe, you can only reach Drake Bay by boat. We piled selves and backpacks into the motorboat at the dock. Nadja made a run for the pipa seller at the last minute. Pipa turned out to be a good delivery system for the guaro (sugar cane liquor) we still had left over from Manuel Antonio. Here we are turning a regular riverboat into a party boat with Sally and Lauren (they must be the ones taking the pictures), the British ladies we met on the shuttle.

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The boat took us from river to ocean, and at the beach at Drake Bay, we all jumped into the water to wade to shore. A jeep met us at the road and drove us up the hill to Cabinas Manolo, our hostel.

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There are only two roads in the town of Drake Bay, and the only place for meals or coffee was the hostel restaurant. We had salad (me) and arroz con pollo (Nadja) and walked down the hill to the beach to wait out the heat until that night’s entertainment: a walking tour through the jungle with Tracie the Bug Lady.

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Cane toad.  Do not lick.

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Sunset in Drake Bay

I was kind of amazed by the night tour. We saw spiders on spider-lookers’ top ten lists, including an oh-so-clever trapdoor spider that can feel its enemies walking on the ground above it. We heard a treeful of cicadas, who are so busy mating and eating all day that they need all night to take care of bathroom time. Apparently there’s a local drinking expression, “having to piss like a cicada.” We saw a velvet worm – one of the first animals to walk, and one that has not changed since that early evolution. Fossils of velvet worms have been found that look exactly like the ones you can find alive. The Drake Bay area of Costa Rica is one of the very few places in the world you can find them at all. And we saw a crocodile. Well, with our headlamps we saw the orange “eyeshine” of a crocodile, which are notoriously well camouflaged even in daylight. That was just as scary as you think.

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There’s that tailless whip scorpion again

One sight we did not see was the turnoff to the road back to the hostel after the tour. There are two roads, and we took the road that is way, way less traveled, certainly by tourists. We got quite a lot of exercise finding our way back. We missed dinner by, oh, hours. We ate the last of our almonds in our room, washed off the bug spray, and checked for scorpions before falling asleep.

The next day was our last full day in Costa Rica. Nadja took a daylong tour to Sirena Ranger Station, but since I’d left my boots in Manuel Antonio, I couldn’t go. I was pretty crushed to miss my last chance to see sloths, not to mention more birds and monkeys and the amazing plant life we’ve barely even had a chance to talk about here! But Nadja caught it all on camera. She never got a sloth sighting either, but yes to macaws, monkeys, lizards, and a tapir trying to take a nap.

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And then it was goodbye. The last morning we took a taxi that drove us right through a flooded creek to the microscopic Drake Bay airport, a teeny-weeny plane to San Jose, and a bigger plane home, stopping only for the usual re-entry mental health evaluation in the form of lost luggage in Fort Lauderdale.

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The Drake Bay airport

We were deep-fried in sunscreen, bitten by every flying thing in the jungle that has teeth or a stinger, and my boots were gone, but no regrets. Costa Rica is an amazing place. And sure enough, that craving for homemade salsa lizano is crushing me.

Manuel Antonio. I wanted to like this place. American queers have been coming here for decades, and on paper it was perfect: a beautiful national park with postcard beaches, sunsets over the Pacific, and no fear of any homophobic twitchiness (not that I encountered an ounce of homophobia in Costa Rica. I didn’t. Which is astonishing given that for most of my life I could hardly check out a library book in the US without having to answer for my lack of husbandry). But inevitably, a place that’s been treasured by American tourists for decades can become … touristy. Lots of things for sale in large American-dollar prices, lots of Americans. And the sweaty, hot heat.

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Friendly Manuel Antonio

 

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Waiting out the sun

There’s only one main drag in Manuel Antonio and we were right on it. The friendly hostel manager dropped us off at our guest house in his smoky little Toyota and warned us about the thieves, and then we were on our own to go stick our heads in the ice cream freezer at the Mini Super across the noisy road.

I will say we ate great food in Manuel Antonio. Fresh vegetables and those lovely unsweetened smoothies made up for a lot. That half hour with a white-faced capuchin monkey family sitting in a tree watching us eat local grilled fish and salad was a nice break.

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Manuel Antonio National Park was aces. It’s small, but that meant we could see most of it in one visit and not get that Fear Of Missing Something. We started at about 7 AM to try to get ahead of the worst heat, and we bagged a good sightings list, including some excellent iguanas and spiders, more capuchin and howler monkeys, a Jesus Christ lizard (they walk on water), and a whole commuter belt of morpho butterflies — huge creatures with irridescent blue-purple wings, all slowly flying in the same direction early in the morning. The way they drifted around the visitors made it seem like they had all the dreamy friendliness of our 3-year-old niece Annabelle. I really thought one of them was going to stop for a chat about what pirates eat.

Handsome fellow

Handsome fellow

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Nice day for fishing

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Intrepid voyagers

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Jesus Christ

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