SITP, Part 3: I Heart Sioux City. Mostly.

July 12, 2010

Because all good things must come to an end, and we must resume talking about violins, it’s time to finish up Saturday in the Park.  SITP had a few issues. But then, what outdoor event doesn’t?

Rant: There are never enough port-o-potties. They could put out 1,000 and they would all be full. And there would still be lines.

LOL moment: the code for the Sioux City airport is SUX.  Now that’s an airport I’d want to frequent regularly.

Rant: Santana’s crew installed a lovely HD big screen on the back wall of the shell. It would have improved the experience immensely if said screen had been operational for all the bands, not just for Santana. So, it might be worthwhile for the organizers, or the city, to invest in a screen and hire a crew to man the cameras.

Rant: There needed to be more shuttle buses.  We opted to walk the two miles back to the car at 11:30 at night instead of waiting in line for two hours with an amped but tired pre-schooler.

Rave: Sioux City scores lots of points for a safe street to walk those two miles back, apparently accomplished with invisible police (since the the visible ones were all on duty inside the park, or directing traffic).

Rant: If the park is going to segregate beer drinkers, then the management should also restrict smoking to designated areas, instead of relying on those stupid signs telling us that the State of Iowa has a Smoke-Free Air Law and urging people to please obey. I don’t think the law applied to that event, but if you must, either enforce it or designate an area for smokers. Frankly, I was more bothered by some of the really nasty smelling wood that the barbeque pits were burning.   It was foul, like really cheap cigars.

Idea! (Ding!) It could be a real moneymaker if you install a coin-op system on the port-o-potties.

Extended Rant on Profiteering: A 20-ounce bottle of water was $2, and there wasn’t a visible drinking fountain in sight.  Coolers were banned.

We knew from the festival website that there would be ATMs, just in case we ran out of cash.  What the website conveniently forgot to mention — The Dad happened to overhear when he was in line buying something — was that the ATMs were located in the beer tents.

Two issues are, or should be, immediately evident. First, you had to be 21 to enter the beer tent. Second, beer tent admission was $5 per person. Soooo. If you are under 21 and out of cash, you’ve got a problem. If you are legal, you have to buy a beer in order to access the ATM. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, you’ve got a problem. If you don’t want a beer — only cash — you’ve got a problem.  If you’ve got kids in tow, you’ve got a problem. If you are out of cash, you have a problem. Um, Houston?  Granted, if you had a “problem” you could fight the wall-to-wall sea of people to get back on the shuttle, go back downtown and find another ATM, which is really welcoming and hospitable to the tens of thousands of people who came significant distances to be part of the day. That is just greedy and mean. Period. (And possibly illegal, since it was a public park?) [Note: if my reading of the situation is incorrect, please feel free to set the record straight. We didn’t need to use an ATM, and I didn’t hear about their location until the walk back to the car.]

Then The Dad got to thinking about how much money a body could make selling pop or popcorn or hot dogs at an event like this. It’s obscene. Some of the smaller vendors, I’m guessing, made more in one day than they do in a week, because people were forced to pay twice the normal amount for food or drinks.  (For the record, I noticed several in my immediate area who had snuck food into the park in their backpacks, which were, according to the signage, subject to search.)

I know the vendor’s kids have to eat too, and he has to pay his employees and the suppliers and the rent, but isn’t there a limit? On the other hand, prices are not as bad, or as volatile,  in the Midwest as they are on either coast.  I guess we’ve got it pretty good, when you consider the other options.

Overall though, the good outweighed the bad. I saw two guys on my Concert Bucket List for less than what a single ticket would have cost to one of their regular shows.  We’ll be back at some point. Thank you, Sioux City, for a wonderful day!

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SITP, Part 2: In Which I Render Myself Permanently Unemployable

July 9, 2010

[NOTE:  No violin talk today.  Maybe next time.  Meanwhile, this post may not be suitable for younger readers.   Or potential employers who might have googled me. ]

Shortly before the end of the show Saturday night,  Carlos Santana made it known to the audience that he favors legalizing cannabis.  At least one person in the audience thought his statement was offensive.  Why?

Because there were kids in the park.

The “offense” made the paper.  For the record, the audience did not agree with the offended party, indicating such by cheering.  Loudly.

Of the things I found offensive at SITP, Santana’s stance on cannabis wasn’t one of them.  Anyone who keeps up with Santana (and many other popular artists as well) already knew his position.  The fact that a significant portion of our population favors legalization of marijuana isn’t news either.  Even as a non-user, I can find more compelling logical reasons why cannabis should be legalized, regulated and taxed like nicotine and alcohol, than to continue the status quo.

So, let’s carry this a little further because I have questions about offensiveness.  For example, if it’s not appropriate for a public figure to advocate legalization of a widespread activity from a public platform, then please tell me:

  • Why it’s OK for children to be subjected to listening to their parents, politicians or other public figures (like radio and TV personalities) disrespect the office of the president of the United States or the man who holds it with a venom usually reserved for mass murderers and child molesters.
  • Why is it OK to be ugly, mean, or dishonest when you disagree with someone?
  • Why is it now acceptable to hint around at instigating treason or anarchy if you don’t like the government?
  • Why is it acceptable for children to watch their parents drink alcohol?  Or snuggle?  After all, those things might lead to (shhh) casual, non-procreative sex.
  • Or talk trash about their spouse, friends, neighbors or cubiemates?
  • Or put on a show by constantly overconsuming and overspending?
  • When did religious and political hypocrisy become a positive character trait?
  • Since when is smoking pot more “wrong” than lying, cheating, stealing or coveting?

Where do you stop with the policing and legislating of morality? Isn’t there a point where the whole discussion becomes a farce? The fact that I have to ask questions like that deeply offends me.  And Mr. Offended is worried about kids hearing the word “marijuana.”

You know what most offended me about SITP?

  • Men (and women!) with various combinations of beer guts, back hair, farmer’s tans and badly-executed ink insisting on dancing shirtless. In groups.
  • Countless people who didn’t say no to crack. (Old plumber’s joke. Think about it.)
  • Teenage girls (and, unfortunately, grown women) dressed like they were going to a strip club. Except that strip clubs generally require more clothing.
  • The obscene prices for food and beverages.
  • The people directly behind me who talked loudly and in detail about their friends’ sexual proclivities. They also named names.
  • And now that the Journal has given Mr. Offended a platform, people who think they know more than I do about protecting and nurturing my child, about what’s OK for him to be exposed to and hear. For that matter, deciding the same about everybody else’s kids, too. News flash! It’s not your job or responsibility.

I chose to overlook all the irritations because of the great free (!)  music.  Unless we’re planning to take a page from the Taliban and redefine offensive, the things on my list are never going to change.  However, I can choose how to react.  I can choose not to look, not to participate, not to let it ruin my day.  I can focus my ears in a different direction.  I can concentrate on the moment.  On what’s important.  On what really matters.  The offenses were minor annoyances when you consider the bigger picture.

  • People are losing their jobs and homes.
  • Our financial, political, and judicial systems are being gutted by corporate greed not seen since the 1920s.
  • We give corporate giants a pass even as they flagrantly violate laws and deliberately ignore basic human decency, in the name of “free markets” or “capitalism.”
  • Civil rights and human rights are quickly becoming optional, and we are riding carelessly down the road of institutionalized discrimination.
  • We are making a toxic soup out of our planet.
  • Civility and decency have gone out the window.
  • Our country is no longer welcoming and tolerant of diversity.
  • Elected officials and ordinary citizens are treading dangerously close to treason and inciting anarchy by the positions they are supporting.

These are the things that will kill the United States.  Yet depending on whose polls you read, people are more worried about whether gay people can buy marriage licenses or adopt children and whether women should continue to have access to safe and legal reproductive health care.  Many of our problems would solve themselves if more people would start practicing Jesus’s admonitions to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

It seems pretty clear that we have more important things to worry about, things that are crucial to our survival and prosperity as a nation, than whether kids heard the word “marijuana” from a public stage?


Opinion: Saturday In the Park; Sioux City, Iowa; July 3, 2010.

July 7, 2010

As promised earlier, a sort-of review of our trip to Sioux City last Saturday to see Steve Winwood and Carlos Santana. This post has nothing whatsoever to do with violins, if it matters.  However, it might tie in later, say in part 3.

Have you ever gotten Goosebumps?  The kind that are the size of manhole covers and stay with you for several minutes, refreshing with every new song?  Sioux City’s 20th anniversary Saturday in the Park festival provided countless moments like that.

Grandview Park was the venue for this free admission festival, with its magnificent old trees and rare views of stars at night (literally — there wasn’t any lighting except for the stage lights and vendors.)  The bandshell, a fixture of many midwestern towns, was larger than most and accommodated everyone’s equipment and personnel with ease.

Steve Winwood opened for Carlos Santana as the headline mainstage acts.  There was another, smaller stage that catered to alternative, punk and rap fans. I’m guessing it was mostly local bands, but there wasn’t any coverage in the paper, so if you know more about this part, feel free to leave a comment.  And the other mainstage bands were varied and excellent.  I rarely buy music anymore — it has to be really spectacular for me to even consider it — but I’d buy much of their stuff.  If you don’t want to read this whole post, I can sum it up the entire day in a word: Awesome!  Or in Santana’s word: Perfect!

We  — The Dad, Eric and I — arrived about three hours later than we had planned (normal for us) and as a result, got worse seats than we had planned.  We couldn’t see the left side of the stage, but we also weren’t up to traipsing through people’s blankets and stuff to finding a closer or better vantage point. So.

I really, really wanted to hear the opening band, Indigenous,  a blues-based Nakota band from Yankton, but we were too late.  Drat.  Indigenous has some excellent music available and I am going to make a point of seeing them live, soon.

When we got there, Eric was starving.  So he and The Dad went off to find sustenance (and something for me to drink) while I caught the end of the day’s second band, Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys.  The band hails from New Orleans.  Miss Amanda is a fiddler/vocalist/jumper-around-on-stager.  The band was OK.  I mean, she’s not Alison Krauss or Mark Wood.  Or Charlie Daniels.  The cover of The Devil Went Down To Georgia was a bit mild.  Overall, a good band but not my favorite of the day.

The third group, Los Angeles-based Fitz and the Tantrums was spectacular.  I don’t know why they aren’t a top 40 group.  Because there isn’t a guitar (?!)  in the group? Any producers out there want to venture a guess?  They were a little overdressed for the weather — dark suits and ties, a la The Blues Brothers; the drummer eventually shed his jacket — but their cover of Sweet Dreams was one of the best I’ve ever heard.  Come to think of it, the suits and ties were rather Lennox-y.  Lennox-esque?  Yeah.  And The Tantrums are putting out suitably impressive stuff of their own.  I’m looking for them to make it big really soon.  Take a listen.

Next up was Michael Franti and Spearhead. They got plenty of space in the paper so I won’t give much here,  except to say that Franti jumped up on an instrument crate about twenty feet in front of me to sing, and I got video (!) before the sea of Fran-atics closed around so that no one else could see.  Except that my phone refuses to tell me where it is.  I’m sure I’ll find it eventually.  (The Dad was suitably impressed when I told him later.)  Spearhead’s cover of Billie Jean was a little out of place and wasn’t as good as the reviewer would have you believe.  I was there.  Heh.  Mr. Franti can moonwalk pretty well though, and kick a soccer ball.  And play guitar. And dance. He definitely won the Red Bull trophy for “Most Energetic Performer”.  I wonder though — Spearhead seemed like an odd choice as a warm up for Winwood.  It was good, but I personally preferred The Tantrums.

It took a little longer to change the set for Steve Winwood than for the groups prior, but it was worth it.  Mr. Winwood turned 63 in May, but he sounds like he’s still in the Spencer Davis Group.  Here’s the same song thirty years later. It didn’t sound any different, except for a much smaller band.  My gosh, what a voice!  Here’s another example.   If anything, Winwood’s voice has matured, but in a good way. It sounds richer, fuller and more in control than it did forty years ago.  It was surreal, sorta like sitting there listening to all my CDs, on The Dad’s exquisite ESS Tempest speakers.  Except it was LIVE!  Winwood’s set was a little short, which was a real shame.  So many great songs, such an incredibly versatile and virtuosic musician, so little time.  It was threatening to storm (there was thunder) and I think they ended early because of that.  People started leaving in droves.  Their loss.  The sky rumbled, the clouds raced through, it sprinkled about 15 drops and then…

Santana took the stage.

I have always thought that, as a guitarist, Mr. Santana should have shared the “God” billing with Eric Clapton.  The man can shred.

Santana’s band is about as close to perfection as you can get: three drummers, plus two lead vocalists contributing maracas and tambourines. Add a trumpet, trombone, keyboardist and Santana and you have a band that literally sounds ageless, timeless and limitless.  And two of the drummers alternately sat in with Spearhead and (I think) Amanda Shaw, who in turn assisted on one of Spearhead’s songs.  I wonder if it’s as cool for young, up-and-comers to work with established artists like Raul Rekow and Karl Perazzo, as it is for young violinists to work with, say, Itzhak Perlman or Midori?

I read an interview a long time ago where Santana likened playing music to lovemaking. (Just thought I’d throw that out to see if you were paying attention.)  (This isn’t the exact article but he says sort of the same thing.  Also, Santana’s description of how to spin out a melodic line is priceless. And funny.)  And that is part of what makes him — and other lyrically oriented guitarists — so satisfying to hear.  And watch.  Because if you’re like me, seeing how he does it and trying to figure out the mechanics, are just as important as hearing what he’s doing.

Again, the price of admission ended up being price-less after hearing Santana’s cover of Cream’s White Room.  Clapton hasn’t played it like that in years. (Said while kneeling reverently toward Crossroads.)  The last time I saw him really shred White Room was in 2005 at Royal Albert Hall (I’ve seen it live two times since then, as well).   The video is here.  We  — The Dad and I, and captive-listener Eric — were sitting directly stage right of the band in the first balcony, but unfortunately just out of camera range.

Watching Santana is a sight to behold.  If you didn’t click the link earlier, do it now.  Or nowThis one is good too.  (Sorry — it’s hard to pick a favorite!)  He makes it look easy, as is typical with truly great musicians.  When you watch guitar gods, it looks like they aren’t working at all, and it seems to be a pretty common trait to all of them:  Santana, Clapton, SRV, Hendrix, Jimmy Page, B.B. King, Chet Atkins, etc.  Economy of motion allows them to have complete control over what they are doing, and over what their guitars are doing.  It’s hard to do that when you’re jumping around like a maniac on the stage.  It’s also really hard to describe the mastery involved and what it looks like.  Suffice it to say that Santana’s technique looks like a combination of pure concentration and pure joy.  With a dose of axe-wielding and shredding when required and appropriate.  Because, you know how SOME concertgoers don’t think they’ve been to a concert if they haven’t seen the required theatrics on stage.  It’s amazing to me how many rock guitarists, the REALLY good ones, are ultra-conservative and reserved.

And then there were fireworks.  Oooh! Aaah!

Then we walked two miles back to the car, instead of waiting for two hours for the shuttle bus to take us back to the car.  And Eric has formally been initiated for surviving his first rock concert (if you don’t count Cream, ZZ Top, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and Anthony Gomes while he was percolating).

But “free” always ALWAYS infers the opposite, and this festival sticks with tradition, giving “free” an entirely new meaning. That’s another post.