Solid Sound 2015: The Spirit was There Despite the Rain

Terry Adams is still the original high energy piano man, and his current crop of musicians carry the spirit of the Q quite nicely.

Terry Adams is still the original high energy piano man, and his current crop of musicians carry the spirit of the Q quite nicely.

You see a whole lot of hats at the Solid Sound Festival.

You see a whole lot of hats at the Solid Sound Festival.

Every two years Wilco gathers the faithful at a fantastic venue for a festival…instead of a mountain slope ski area or a farmer’s alfalfa fields, they choose the run-down small city of North Adams where the biggest museum in the US is improbably located.  Then they turn this former factory complex, now Mass MOCA, into a World of Wilco for three days of music, the arts, and thousands of out of town visitors.

Deadpan comedian John Hodgman can make me laugh very easily, and he was hilarious in the Hunter Auditorium for Solid Sound.

Deadpan comedian John Hodgman can make me laugh very easily, and he was hilarious in the Hunter Auditorium for Solid Sound.

Once again we got to enjoy the festival and the only disappointment was the rain, which we could have taken more preparations for. On Saturday we joined the throngs in the sold out venue to enjoy the high energy shows of NRBQ and Richard Thompson.  Q, as most older fans know, is now made up of just one former band member, Terry Adams. But he’s found some high octane band members who rock with the same exuberance and charisma as the original, I must say, after seeing them a few different occasions.

What I like about Solid Sound is that it’s held every two years, so you always are excited about it coming around. Many more events should adopt this bi-annual schedule, it makes you totally want to go see it. It gives the band the room they need to fit in tours and it’s just a better way to run a fest.

The volunteers are always super friendly, there are no authoritative jerks to bring down the vibe, even when they are checking bags it’s with a spirit of Wilco–relaxed, fun, and let’s all have a good time.  This year the food lines were shorter despite the sell-out, and it was a pleasure not to have to sweat as badly as we did in 2013, when it was about 90 degrees the whole time.

Had we brought umbrellas and full rain gear, (and had we been a few years younger), my pal Bill and I would have stayed for the whole Wilco show. But as the drops became more and more frequent, we packed up our stuff and headed out, we’ll have to enjoy some of the videos I found on Facebook. But till 2017, it was a fantastic show and I hope everyone had as much fun as we did!

Green River Festival 2015: Shopping, Music and Community

You can go shopping, learn about guitars, or even join the Peace Corps at this year's Green River Festival.

You can go shopping, learn about guitars, or even join the Peace Corps at this year’s Green River Festival. Doug Mason photo.

I know a lot of the people in the Valley who are eagerly waiting for a chance to again relax on the green lawns at GCC for the Green River Festival.  And some of the more than 9000 fans who are coming will inevitably end up doing some shopping too. That’s because a feature of the fest again this year is the Maker’s Market, where local and regional craftspeople and vendors offer a huge array of goodies.  You’ll find one-of-a-kind clothing and jewelry and you can also meet and schmooze with a group of three luthiers (stringed instrument makers) who will have booths at this year’s GRF.

Healy Guitars  and Goat Peak  both of Easthampton,  and Homebody Guitars out of Putney Vermont will bring instruments to strum, and best of all, experts you can chat up about your guitar and violin questions.   Not only will the vendors be selling, but you can get information from local organizations like Dial Self, The Food Bank of Western Mass, Northampton Prevention Coalition, and even the Peace Corps!  Who knows  you may end up taking off on the journey of your life if you get signed up for the latter.

Yes indeed, there are many things you can learn about and shop for and listen to at the Fest. But for many of us, especially us old-timers, the best part is setting up our ‘camp’ with our chairs, getting a good spot right in the first row of the umbrella section, and then hunkering down and meeting and greeting.  Mary especially enjoys people watching, and I like to bounce between the stages, throw a frisbee, and some times even take a little nap.

Whatever you want to do, make sure you don’t miss this year’s Green River Festival, July 10-12, at Greenfield Community College.

Taste of Amherst: Watching Speed Eaters Compete

Four contestants vied for the prize of a rock climbing gift certificate by eating five taste dishes as fast as they could.

Four contestants vied for the prize of a rock climbing gift certificate by eating five taste dishes as fast as they could.

The Antonio's Pizza employee who ate the fastest of all.

The Antonio’s Pizza employee who ate the fastest of all.

The Johnny Memphis band sounded great at the 2015 Taste of Amherst on Sunday.

The Johnny Memphis band sounded great at the 2015 Taste of Amherst on Sunday.

I always enjoy going down to the Taste of Amherst, though I usually manage to steer clear when rains threaten.  This year we went over on Sunday and I got a chance to see some of the friends who I always seem to see just at this event.  Tony Maroulis, who is the link between UMass and the town of Amherst, was the MC of the event that pitted four people against eachother to see who could eat a batch of festival foods the fastest.  The honor went to a chap who works at Antonio’s Pizza, who scarfed it all down, as you can see, in record time.

We also got to see my cousin Paul play in the Johnny Memphis band, and his singing and sax on ‘Yeh Yeh” by Georgie Fame was most excellent.  We visited with friends, we ate ice cream from our friends at Maple Valley, and we watched the gorgers gorge. A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

 

 

Bourillon-Dorleans: A Cave with a Sense of Humor

Carvings in the limestone cave at Dom. Bouillon-Dorleans.

Carvings in the limestone cave at Dom. Bouillon-Dorleans.

Each of the 34 carvings help tell the story of wine in the Loire Valley over the centuries.

Each of the 34 carvings help tell the story of wine in the Loire Valley over the centuries.

The drive in the summer sunshine from Tours to Rochecorbon provided me with one of those transcendent moments that make my travels so fulfulling. I had a zippy new car, a Volvo hatchback, I had music streaming from my phone to the well-tuned speakers, and I had an exciting destination, meeting a winemaker in his cave.  All in all, it added up to a great way to spend the morning.

I was en route to meet Frederic Bourillon, third-generation owner of Domaine Bourillon-Dorleans. We met the garrulous winemaker in his very deep cave.  Carved out of the limestone, this particular winery boasts one of the longest caves in the Loire.

Frederic had lit candles and Mozart was playing throughout the cave for what he calls the “Gastronomic walk,” and we dug into some smoked salmon and the first tasting of many wines at stations we’d find as we made our way deeper into the cave. Normally he’d be serving us oysters on the half shell but today the salmon was an apt substitute. “Touring this cave takes five senses,” Fred said.

Fred Bouillon samples some very young wine in his cave.

Fred Bourillon samples some very young wine in his cave.

Many famous people have taken this tour, Fred told us. Ambassasors and celebrities, along with people from every country. Last week he had a group from Kazakhstan, and he’s entertained many people here. After our visit, I can see why, since he’s a very entertaining fellow, the wines are tasty, and the snacks and art are first rate.

These were called Rupestrian caves, the name refers to the carved artwork that adorned the soft limestone walls that we observed every time we turned a corner. Each of the 34 carvings helps tell the story of wine, from the Cambrian era 500 million years ago with the ancestors of vertebrae, to St Martin, the patron saint of the Loire, to the effects the wine can have on humans to Jonah inside the whale enjoying a glass of wine.

Fred’s commentary added to the fun, and he had snacks at strategic stops along the way as we went further and further into the cave.

Not only does Domaine Bourillon have the most fun of any wine tasting tour I’ve ever been on, he’s an innovator. Fred showed us a wine label that contains the Vouvray scent on the label after you scratch it!

Domaine Bourillon-Dorleans, 30 bis rue de Vaufoyard, Rochecorbon. 33 (0)2 47 52 83 07

The Tenderness of the Very Early Morning

There is something I love about early mornings, and experiencing the first few hours of the world as it is waking up.  I remember the days when I’d be the cafe opener, and arrive ready for work at 5:45 am, getting everything ready for the customers who would begin streaming in around 7.  There was always something tender, something fragile, as if it would hurt them if we raised our voice at that hour. I had an employee named Alan who seemed not to realize this and he would be loud and somewhat aggressive in that early hour, and it never seemed right.  That’s part of why I didn’t resist when he quit in a huff and walked out. He did not understand early morning tenderness.

Before you have had your coffee you’re in a certain vague, unhinged state. You need to get that first few sips in you, let the caffeine work, and then you’re ready to go about your business and negotiate with the world.  It’s that gentle time in the early morning hours that I enjoy being a part of.   Now I’m sitting outside a cafe in Greenfield, the sun is streaming down and the birds are chirping, and there are people walking all around.  A woman pushes a baby carriage while wearing pajamas. Never understood that, but she sure isn’t alone. A group of three young toughs walk by me, tattooed and somewhat ominous looking—one of them mutters ‘how you doin?’  as if I”m an authority figure they need to placate.

It’s getting louder now at 8:35, where is my breakfast buddy?  Did he forget our meeting? I bet not, he’s just running a little late.  I hold back from ordering here at the Brass Buckle because I want to approach the counter with him at the same time. I have an interesting day ahead and this is just the beginning.  A guy rides past on a bike with a backpack, you can tell he’s not riding that bike for fun, no, it’s a DWI ride, I”m sure he surrendered his license a while ago, and as his destination is the Vic, a dive bar that’s open now serving shots and beers, that confirms my hunch. Ahh Greenfield.  The benches next to the pizza joint are already full, and down the street come more and more folks who look like they spent the night out there.  

Chinon: A Perfect Loire Town Complete with Castle

Chinon is a small town of about 8000 that is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a castle on a bluff overlooking the Vienne river.

Chinon is a small town of about 8000 that is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a castle on a bluff overlooking the Vienne river.

The Loire Valley is full of magnificent towns, and hundreds of vineyards strung along the sides of its rivers, the Loire, Cher and Vienne.  We asked the folks who promote wine travel here to tell us what they thought was the most beautiful town to represent the region in the ‘Small Towns, Big Wines’ campaign and they answered, “Chinon.”   I couldn’t wait to get to see their selected town and when I got there, I quickly saw why it was chosen.

Chateau de Chinon

The Chateau de Chinon is a Middle Ages fortress sitting atop a bluff.

Vienne river in Chinon.

The river is part of what makes Chinon one of the most beautiful towns in the Loire.

Video screens in adjoining rooms tell the story of the Fortress of Chinon with actors portraying historic Medievel characters.

Video screens in adjoining rooms tell the story of the Fortress of Chinon with actors portraying historic Medievel characters.

It starts with a castle–a fortress, really, and this one in Chinon goes back to the Middle Ages.  Many of the castles here are not as old, but the well-preserved Fortress that sits atop a high bluff is King Arthur era all the way.  It’s perched up high, and down below, the blue Vienne river runs along the town. Inside the Chateau de Chinon there are videos that play the story of what happened here throughout the many rooms you see in the visit.  Chinon has caught the world’s eye, in 2000, it was annointed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On a brilliant sunny morning, we walked through the castle and onto the green lawns that surround the big fortress, looking out to the vast expanse of green vineyards, the lush river valley, and just below the cliff, the preserved ancient village, where the rooftops all still look like the Middle ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. No telephone wires, no ugly billboards, just the monochrome of how things used to look before modern day.

We took a lift down 75 feet from the castle to the village and strolled until we got to the town square. People were happily sitting at the cafes, sipping coffees and taking in the sun.  Today about 8000 people are lucky enough to call Chinon home.  There is a lovely bridge across the Vienne with graceful arches that reminded me of Chenonceau.

I’m not sure what it is exactly but Chinon is simply one of most perfect towns in France and there is no doubt the folks who chose it got it right!