A Broken String


May 27, 2023-Of course, it happened just as Rick was getting into an extended riff, for his last song of the evening: A string broke, on his electric guitar. With a shrug of his shoulders, the craftsman and artist took out a new string and replaced the errant interrupter, in less than two minutes. Then, he resumed playing a rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Old Love”, from where he had left off-no mean feat of memory. The Bluesman has a limited playlist, but it is surely larger than mine, since I don’t play anything other than a hand drum and a few chords on a piano. He never fails to entertain, this one-man band.

Last-minute events never fail to either aggravate or astonish. Certainly, the buzzer-beating shot by Derrick White, giving the Celtics the win in this evening’s NBA East Semifinals Game 6, will rate among the great turnarounds in professional sports history. Boston teams have done it before-the Red Sox, in 2004 and the Patriots, several times. It was actually the New York Yankees, Penny’s favourite team, who perfected the art of Last Minute Charlie-hood- often coming from behind, in the last half of the ninth inning, and more than once, with two outs.

Mickey Spillane, Al Capone and Dame Nelly Melba said it best, if in a politically-awkward, and in Dame Nelly’s case, self-deprecating, way: “The show’s not over until the fat lady sings”. Nothing is truly over until its last element has transpired. The lengthy tussle over the national debt ceiling is about to come to at least a two-year respite. Let’s hope there is no last-minute broken string.

Anna Mae


May 24, 2023- Before Beyonce, before Rihanna, even before Aretha and Diana, there was Tina Turner. She transcended being treated, and mistreated, as a commodity by her first husband, then by Phil Spector, the latter at least acknowledging her particular vocal talent. She wore it and shook it off, keeping her stage name as a mark of survival.

Anna Mae Bullock was born to an indifferent mother and unsettled father, and frequently made to feel like an appendage. Her grandparents taught her Gospel music and a strong work ethic, which she exhibited throughout her musical and film career. She stuck with Ike Turner for nearly twenty years, until his addiction-fueled, abusive behaviour made her overcome any remaining loyalty or feeling like he had somehow “made” her career. Tina, she remained, and true to her vocal talents, she kept on performing, rejuvenating her career in the 1980s, a decade in which she said she “fit”. Tina Turner remarried, in 2013, finding happiness with her long-time friend and collaborator, Erwin Bach. That same year, she became a citizen of Switzerland, relinquishing her U.S. citizenship. Her last ten years of life were wracked by disease, tempered by her faith in the Divine and the love she shared with her husband.

Tina was the ultimate show artist,and while her view of her native land was harsh-so was much of the life she lived here. She made a grand contribution to American popular music, nonetheless, rejuvenating both her career and the entirety of the genre, at a time when both were in a low ebb. Tina Turner will remain in many hearts, for a long, long time.

The Balancing Dance


May 10, 2023, Flagstaff- The little Amish girl looked at me, quizzically, and asked her mother why I was not watching “The Beverly Hillbillies”, like the rest of the people gathered in the train station waiting room. Her mother responded, “He probably sees that show for what it is-a farce that ridicules people like us.” With that, the family went outside and there they waited for the train, away from television-which the parents despised openly.

Truth be known, I have never been a fan of the insipid- “Dumb and Dumber” and its ilk. Shows that ridicule any group of people have a duty to bring the people in on the joke-or cease and desist. It is healthy to laugh at oneself, within reason. It is not healthy to be on the outside, watching the finger-pointing and hearing the snickers.

I’m told that the Trump “Town Hall”, sponsored by Cable News Network, this evening, was another clown fest. The audience made a spectacle of themselves, laughing almost on cue at the barbs and one-liners thrown out by their idol, in his usual staccato fashion. With that revelation, I had a more appreciative opinion of the station master’s decision to show situation comedies that were come by quite a bit more honestly.

The balance between fact and opinion seems more treacherously off, these days. It’s a dance, for sure, and one in which opinion, unfiltered, manages to stomp on the toes of fact, while gleefully yelling and looking towards its Greek chorus of misfits, knowing it can count on them to keep the party going full tilt.

The balance, if not brought to evenness, will end that sad party in a mass of delusion and dejection-as the Greek chorus, from CNN to OAN, realizes just how badly they have been duped-and like the Jacobins of late Eighteenth Century France. turn on their clown prince-and all that he represents.

The train to Los Angeles is leaving, and for the next few days, I will be going from one end of the Golden State to the other, observing the state of the street people (my term for the unhoused), the present condition of the Central Valley and of the snowpack in Sierra Nevada, I can see much, from the windows of buses and trains, and learn much. from talking with street people in places like Union Station or the tent encampments in downtown Sacramento and Stockton.

Eyes front, America.

Their Melodious Voices


April 29, 2023- The five visitors from Tucson elevated our already high-level celebration of the Ninth Day of the Ridvan Festival, commemorating the day when Baha’u’llah proclaimed His Mission to His family and closest followers, whilst in the Ridvan Garden just north of Baghdad. This was on April 29, 1863. The family led us in two spiritual rounds, then were among the first to offer assistance, when a community member sent a texted appeal after her child was injured in an accident. Their presence alone was a confirmation of the Divine.

This was the first of two amazing musical events, the second being two hours and forty minutes of celestial bliss, courtesy of The Barn Swallows Band (so called, as to distinguish this ensemble of three woman and a man from the all-male group, The Barn Swallows.) The three-part harmony of the women, backed by their male bassist, has not failed to keep me, and their other two dozen or so followers, enthralled, in three appearances at Raven Cafe. They work as hard as I’ve seen any musicians work-taking turns in the lead, with their bandmates joining in vocally or instrumentally, in each and every song. Here, Aurelia sings lead, with Jessica backing vocally and May on banjo. Still have not caught the name of their silent bass player, whose melodies are nonetheless central to the effect of their harmonious vocals and instrumentation.

These ladies are among a multitude of young women who I would gladly claim as daughters, or nieces. (It seems, as the years go by, that Aram, Yunhee and my nieces and nephews are gaining more siblings by the minute-and that is just how my heart functions.) Their work ethic and compassion for others are what draw us in.

A local musician, Jonathan Best, aka Angiolus, led some intrepid dancers to the makeshift floor, after a brief negotiation with Raven’s management. It worked well. I was not, for once, among the dancers-these were ballroom quality steppers. It was from a cozy spot, just in front of the dance floor and stage, that three hours of reverie ensued. I could listen to these folks for more hours on end. They will be on a national tour, after the launch of their first album, on May 13. The schedule is posted on The Barn Swallows Band Facebook page. If they are in your area, I highly recommend a listen.

This special day has always produced something of great value.

An Original DREAMer


April 25, 2023- Back before the DREAM Act, before Mexicans desperate for a better life began arriving in this country en masse, there were Harold and Melvine Bellafanti, and their son, Harold, Jr., coming from Jamaica, and living quietly in an undocumented fashion. The Bellafantis only wanted to lift themselves up through hard work. Harold was a chef, and Melvine, a housekeeper. The three found housing where they could, with young Harry spending eight years with a grandmother in Kingston, where he attended the well-regarded Wolmer’s Preparatory Academy, before returning to New York for his high school study. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Then came his introduction to theater, where, with his friend Sidney Poitier, he would purchase a single ticket, trading off with Sidney so that each of them would watch an act, then trade off the seat, after filling in the other about what he’d seen and heard. He took acting classes with The New School, alongside a who’s who of up and coming actors, including Marlon Brando and Tony Curtis. Paying for those classes involved singing with Charlie Parker’s band; then, as a folk singer, on his own. His “Banana Boat Song” was one of the first tunes I remember hearing in the 1950s.

Harry became concerned with the conditions in which his fellow Blacks lived. Although a biracial person (both his parents were half-White), Harry Belafonte experienced his share of bigotry, yet refused to let that lead to shutting Whites out from the social dialogue. He became friends with Frank Sinatra, and through Ol’ Blue Eyes and other Rat Pack members, he came to know John F. Kennedy. Harry was an advisor to the Peace Corps, while also becoming close to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and increasingly involving himself in the Civil Rights movement.

Harry Belafonte never ceased his work in advancing social justice, while also continuously networking to bring political conservatives along in the process. One of his friends was the fiercely progressive Marlon Brando; another, the equally fierce conservative, Charlton Heston. Brando admired Harry’s feistiness and Heston, his work ethic. Harry’s only concern was social justice. In that vein, he left out no one, even befriending Fidel Castro, who he brought around to liking hip hop. He was reportedly not shy about admonishing Castro to let up on his more repressive policies, though how successful that effort was is open to question. He also furiously opposed both Islamism and the Bush Administration’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan-as well as many of the policies espoused by Bill and Hillary Clinton, the latter becoming his bitter enemy, due to his reaching out to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and opposing the invasion of Iraq.

Harry Belafonte was married to three different women, during the course of his life. His one true love, though, was justice. The polymath, patriot and artist Harold Bellafanti, Jr. deserves the gratitude of all, regardless of any differences one may have with his political sentiments. May he rest in power.

Many Jobs, Few Tasks


April 22, 2023- Earth Day called me to get up on a workday schedule, so by 5:30, I was groomed and dressed. There were four stops and a Zoom call waiting, so after reading the newspaper and saying a few prayers, it was off to Courthouse Square. There was not a whole lot to do at Stop # 1, an environmental group’s booth, between 8:15, when I finally found the booth, and 8:50, when it was time to race back for the Zoom call.

It seemed imperative that I join the call, since I had been absent for two weeks, due to my Red Cross deployment. The moderator of the call has had a hard time with my absence-service to the wider community is apparently not his thing, if it conflicts with his Zoom work. As it happened, he was absent today, but his trusted assistant was glad I was on the call-and has no issue with someone being away due to working with the Red Cross.

After the call ended, I stopped in, briefly, at an American Legion Auxiliary rummage sale-picking up an extra pair of sunglasses(to replace the pair that was lost during my sheltering activity) and a cake to bring to my substituting assignment on Monday. Then, it was off to Farmers’ Market, getting a week’s supply of microgreens and catching up with friend Melissa.

Job #3 was back at the Firewise section of Courthouse Square’s Earth Day, and I got to the Red Cross booth four minutes late, which led to a mild chastisement from the woman tending the booth and groans from the man who had been there since 7 a.m. Water off this duck’s back! I give a lot of myself and no longer fret about people who are overly sensitive at slight lapses of punctuality.

After an hour, in which I greeted seven visitors and explained a bit about our mission, it was back to Farmers’ Market-this time to help a group of college students break down the tents, and put away the folding tables and chairs. With an increased efficiency, on the part of the new team lead, we were finished in less than an hour.

Job #5 was back at the Red Cross booth. This time, I was early, and the tent was folded up and put away a bit after 2 p.m.

There were big crowds at both Courthouse Square and Farmers’ Market, as people are finally comfortable with being at our community’s traditional events. Chalk-It-Up is back, after a three-year hiatus! More on that delightful artistic festival, in tomorrow’s post.

It was a fine day, and not as strenuous as it might have been, had there not been full teams at each location. Topping the day were two relaxing musical events: The Bourbon Knights performed ’60s Golden Oldies and some original tunes, at Rafter Eleven, while friend Stephy Leigh, accompanied by Jonah Howard, of Cross-Eyed Possum, performed two sets of her original music, with a few covers thrown in, at Raven Cafe.

Being back at Home Base has its rewards, great music being chief among them.

Green Carpet of the Heart


March 17, 2023- The darling girl owned the room, as soon as she and her mother entered. One of those people whose smiling eyes could melt the iciest heart, she engaged anyone who would listen in a few minutes of banter. We know each other from somewhere, and her mother is a doppelganger for a much loved friend who lives outside Portland, OR. We greeted each other cheerfully, but as strangers, as if meeting for the first time. Her grandmother showed up, a while later, as the Raven Cafe’s grand re-opening proceeded, with the Joe Booth Band, a rousing bluegrass and rockabilly ensemble, got the proceedings going.

Nonna mistook me for one of the owners, as I was sitting close to their table, in a small wooden chair by the water station, with the beer and wine menu overhead. I guess the father of one of the owners overheard and came over, interrupting my description of the t-shirt that had caught her interest, and making sure that the ladies knew who he was, before walking off to his next conversation. Normality has returned quickly to the Raven, after it was closed for a month, for structural repairs.

As Joe and the guys readied for their second set, they brought the sister of a friend on stage, for her first public performance. She held her own, for two songs, and seems to be a quick study on the fiddle. There was a goodly amount of dancing, mostly by the women and girls, wherever they could find space. The girl I mentioned at the outset was up there with the rest, dancing her heart out. This time, I contented myself with bouncing lightly in my chair-not really needing to be all that conspicuous. It was enough to see so many people enjoying themselves on the scattered open spaces.

Today being St. Patrick’s Day and, by happenstance, the 29th anniversary of my youngest brother’s passing, there was a bittersweet air. This time in March has ever seemed like a time of new life, at least in the northern hemisphere- the unrolling of a green carpet. Brian’s passing marked the end of a fair period of suffering and decline, so he moved on to his own new life-as his sister-in-law would, nearly 26 years later. Festivities such as this evening’s comfort me, as a kind of green carpet of the heart. Maybe the mother and daughter, who were so happy to meet me, are angels sent to make sure that the message of joy supersedes any lingering sorrow.

It is a blessing to have the Raven open again.

Inner and Outer Lights


March 4, 2023- I found my friend, Pam, right inside the gate to M3F, by the medium-sized stage’s sound crew. She was alternating between rolling her hoops and ecstatic dancing-as usual, when at a live music festival, which she has largely made her life these days.

McDowell Mountain Music Festival is not held anywhere near the McDowell Mountains, anymore. It has found a home, the first weekend of March, at Margaret Hance Park, in downtown Phoenix. Performance Art, such as Pam offers, is as much a part of these music festivals as the bands themselves. I attend M3F, so long as life does not take me elsewhere, because its revenues are donated to charity. The city offers the space, gratis, and volunteers provide security (backed by the Phoenix Police Department) and clean-up. So, my ticket purchase is money I consider well-spent.

The day started with my usual Saturday morning routine: Worldwide Celebration of Life (online) and a visit to Farmer’s Market. Then, there was a monthly meeting of Post 6, American Legion, which strayed far longer than I had hoped it would-as a few people were exercised and long-winded, about a certain issue (which always gets some people exercised and indignant, to the point where they are not listening to one another).

I made it down to M3F, about two hours after I had said I’d get there, but no matter. Pam was having a great time; there were many of her other friends, who live in the Phoenix area, already there and various children, teens and young adults were borrowing her hoops for their own enjoyment. It was quite a mini-concert, all its own.

We went, back and forth, between the three stages-with me toting my blanket and whatever she could not carry of her own sizable load. Since I am not a hooper, I got in some dancing, at times vigourous, as a means to cardiopulmonary exercise. It was a joy just to tap into her at times manic energy and keep up my physical coordination-which has only come about in adulthood. (I was the klutz of klutzes, until about my 21st year-and even afterward, sports like volleyball eluded me.)

Given my current weight reduction plan, finding a solid meal that fits that plan took a bit of discernment, in the Food Court-a collection of food trucks. I was saved by the bowl! A paper bowl of BBQ Sundae-pulled pork, baked beans and cole slaw, took care of the dinner matter.

As the evening progressed, we found that shy young children were captivated by Pam’s antics and energy, and delighted in coming forward to hoop dance with her. Their parents were equally pleased to see the kids having a good time, as the music itself often addressed adult themes, using lyrics and banter more suitable for a bar or club, to the extent it was suitable at all.

All in all, though, M3F is a good affair. I don’t go to many music festivals, but this one is a keeper.

Medleys of Hits


February 12, 2023- The past two nights have been spent at Raven Cafe, enjoying two very different musical groups, who were also surrounded by two very different, though equally enthusiastic, groups of followers. Cross-Eyed Possum, a rock and blues trio, played Friday night, surrounded mostly by a close-knit group of family and friends. Their fare ranged from The Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree” to “Back Where I Began”, an original song that wistfully describes the pull of home, even as one makes plans to move forward in life. Basically, I felt the energy of people who are most comfortable when in their own family circle-though this energy was less pronounced than in the first few times I have seen Possum perform here.

Last night, a much more effusive, and welcoming, air, complete with a packed house, greeted me, as Galactogogues were back. I have described this family band in an earlier post. Meg, the matriarch, again led her children and in-laws on a musical journey, ranging from Jimmy Rogers’ “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” to the somber bluegrass tune, “Pretty Polly”. Their original songs celebrate the natural world and underscore the challenges faced by women and girls, but not in a woeful manner. The huge audience actively participated in the festivities, tonight, with much more dancing and singing along than in last night’s group. There was just a more fanciful air, and less wariness of those outside the inner circle, if indeed the Bohrmann family even has such a thing.

I say this, not as a critique of my own reception, as I basically sit, listen and observe-taking the time to chat with a few friends who happen by my table. A more objective sense was derived by noting the response to each setting of another man, slightly older than me, who makes a point of introducing himself to several people in a group. His shy, but pleasant air usually leads to his sitting in the midst of the house and chatting up a few people around him. On Friday, he sat away from the crowd; on Saturday, he was in the thick of things. I personally felt a lot more relaxed with the Galactogogues crowd, as well.

Tonight, I took in the Super Bowl, with a small group of people, few of whom I know personally, at the American Legion Post. older We watched as the popular synthetic and R&B singer, Rihanna, made her first live musical appearance in five years, as part of the halftime show. It featured a medley of her most popular tunes, with her voice clear as ever. The dance routines were not my favourite style of dance, but judging from the television commentary, the show went over well with many people. The mostly older crowd here gave her a thumbs down, but that seems par for the course. People forget the way our parents’ generation disapproved of our tastes in music.

Cold Shoulder


January 28, 2023- Both of my favourite Prescott weekend haunts were nearly deserted, this evening. It’s shoulder season-the slow period between mid-January and St. Patrick’s Day, when a single person can actually expect to have a table of four to self-for nearly a whole evening. I ask you, who needs a table of four to oneself? It makes my night-or day, for that matter, to share a table, or give away seats to couples or foursomes who need an extra chair or two, at their table. Sometimes, I even get invited to join the gathering.

The artists, at both Rafter Eleven and Raven Cafe, were fine musicians and got plenty of applause, and tips, from those of us who came to listen. Steve Miller ( no, not the Gangster of Love, but a joyful singer, nonetheless) offered up a couple of hours’ worth of Golden Oldies-including some from the ’90s and 2000s, to a nearly empty Rafter. No matter, Steve has been here several times-and played to a packed house. At Raven, Remi Goode, a five-piece folk and blues-oriented band, named for its front person, found themselves the main event for the evening, as a local band that was to be headlining found themselves unavailable. Remi and Co. were fresh from a visit to Nashville, where they had done several gigs. They were up to the evening and did three imaginative and well-balanced sets. They made a lovely point, that Prescott is a good place to stop, on the way back from a Nashville road trip. I can think of a few places along the way that would also have been nice stops-but this town is one of a kind, so who am I to be a wet blanket?

A mysterious couple came in, not long before I left. First, the man entered, stood next to my table and seemed very nervous-wanting to applaud, while Remi was still singing-even asking me when they were going to stop. The woman came in, shortly after, smiled wanly at him and went straight to the back. Man followed her, at a discrete distance. About ten minutes later, they both came back-and woman went straight out the door. Man watched her leave, wistfully, and left himself, five minutes later. I just had an inkling that they were working something out, but the cold shoulder she seemed to be giving him indicated it wasn’t happening.

Shoulder season is slow, but has its moments.