Archive for the ‘Jamaica Plain’ Category

White Squirrel Fest #6

September 10th, 2016

The JP Music Fest is a tot by Boston standard, but really they’ve pulled off six annual versions now.

We enjoyed a few hours there. As a note, the hipster quotient was low today. For example, I only counted two Trilby hats.

Here follow a few snaps of groups we heard in a few hours. I recommend following the links and listening to each. You can also catch a track from each at the JPMusicFest site.

The festival is this time each year, runs with continuous music from noon to 7, offers a wide variety, and is free.

Merrie Amsterburg plays a wide variety of instruments, including allegedly a washing machine. She was on the electric mandolin in JP. merrie3
amechoes2 America Echoes reminds audiences they are identical twins, Laura and Nina Ganci.
The America Echoes women do R&B and folk, electric and acoustic. amechoes6
boxofbirds1 Box of Birds is a folk rock quartet. Steph Durwin leads the vocals.
Guitarist Charlie Gargano of Box of Birds sang too. boxofbirds4
louder1 Louder Than Milk is a very local fun and funny country-like band.
Louder Than Milk has a drummer vocalist too, Jay Page (h.t. to Bridget Murphy). louderthanmilk


On the way to the festival, we had a mini-concert from a wee flutist trying to get the ducks and her brother to listen.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

JP Porchfest Again

July 9th, 2016

We’ve gone to all the JP Porchests. Truth be told, that’s a small deal. Today’s was the third annual. Yeah, yeah, it’s spottier than say the Lowell Folk Festival, but no matter what music you like, they got it and if you don’t like one group, look at the event map or simply wander the neighborhood. There are 100 or so in play at any moment.

I finally relaxed on this one. Previously, I’d planned the long day from noon into evening, hopping in 15 to 20 to 30 minute listens. I wanted to get the maximum aural and visual exposure. This year, I sussed out the performers in advance off the Porchfest site and simply picked several to listen to a long concert with each.

Liv Greene is apparently a Tufts senior and likely older than she looks. Her voice and song writing are plenty mature. She is wont to compose morose lyrics that she mixes with folk cover songs. She pulls off her sad tunes with strong guitar to match her sweet voice.

We saw her later playing with Liv Brook in the duo they call Liv and Letliv, doing Appalachian songs to guitar and fiddle. I grew up with WV hillbilly music. They’d do just fine on Jersey Mountain.

Aurora Birch was starkly slender and dressed all in black. She closed her eyes when she sang. She could seem forbidding except for her frequent gesticulations and grins between songs. She clearly enjoyed herself. She switch among several acoustic and one electric guitar and jocularly regretted not also playing her banjo. abirch1
Fiona Corinne followed the sincere and subtle Aurora Birch…in a very different style. She let us know that she grew up in the world of musical theater. She proved it with the strongest voice of my afternoon. fionac1
Boston’s poet laureate, Danielle Legros Georges, was serious and politically aware. dlgeorges
Allysen Callery accompanied her ethereal voice with finger-style guitar. allysen

We heard snatches of several of the many dozens of performers, but those were ones I dove deeply into. I think that suits me better than trying to catch as many as possible. This is like my beloved Lowell Folk Festival. The key is to pore over the schedule carefully and map an itinerary.

Lowell is an absolute must, but JP’s Porchfest is damned good. Each is well worth hitting the schedule in advance and plotting your performance. Oh, and like Lowell, this one is free too.

Boston choo-choo ka-ching

March 3rd, 2016

fairmounttoot-213x300With a very jovial CYA delivery, MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola chuckled his way through good-natured insults from Boston City Councilors last evening. He was at the Hyde Park Muni building for a hearing of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Transportation Committee (alas, no Amy Poehler cameo).

It was a very Boston, very city-government two hours entertainment. We got no denouement, but yet, a promise of more bureaucratic theater. It all may resolve well.

We recently saw that with related commuter-rail matters, specifically the Fairmount line. While we rail about commuter rail, Boston is a positive legend in transit circles nationally and internationally. Our local community groups badgered the commonwealth and feds into bring service and stations on the Fairmount Line (a.k.a. Indigo Line) to the underserved largely black and poor citizens. We also pushed successfully for both more frequent service and more than 50% fare drop to a fairer fare equal to a subway trip to Fairmount Station.

Hence the committee meeting. It had the heavy-fingered title of Order for a hearing Regarding Inconsistencies in Commuter Rail Fares and the Effect of This Policy on Local Communities. It resulted from well-justified whining by residents of neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods.

Unfair fares?

Commuter rail fares in Boston range from $2.10 to $6.25 per one-way trip. These differences relate — but arbitrarily — to MBTA zones, which only kind of tie to distance from major city rail hubs (mostly South Station). Moreover, a short walk or drive away can make that nearly 300% differential, and again, these are all within the city limits.

Then cue the Mommy-Jane-got-something-I-didn’t calls. The Fairmount neighborhood (mine) lobbied and otherwise worked the system for years go get the service, frequency, stations, and BANG! drop from $5.75 to $2.10 a trip. Readville and Hyde Park Stations, only a short distance away are still at $5.75 and $6.25 a trip. Those around them are aware that out-of-Boston stations like West Medford are at $2.10. (Insert understandable foot stomping.)

Last evening’s very civil hearing got into all of these. Three Councilors spoke their unanimous support for fare equity within city limits. They made it plain their constituents were wired about that happening.

Those who showed

Those who appeared in person and were mentioned as supporters were perhaps as telling as who did not. On the dais were:

  • District Councilor for Hyde Park Tim McCarthy
  • At-Large Councilor and Council President Michelle Wu
  • District Councilor for Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury (and Roslindale sliver) Matt O’Malley

McCarthy cited some of the legislators for those neighborhoods who supported lower fares in-town, including Representatives Liz Malia,, Russel Holmes and Angelo Scaccia, and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz.

Note who didn’t bother, including all the Parks etc Committee members:

  • Chair Salvatore LaMattina
  • Vice Chair Bill Linehan
  • Frank Baker
  • Annissa Essaibi-George
  • Mark Ciommo

Perhaps they weren’t aware they could take the Fairmount Line and get off 100 yards from the municipal building.

Wu brought the prestige of the Council boss. She also worked the room before the hearing and captured snatches from several of us. For example, Gov. Mike Dukakis has long been a mass-transit rider and advocate. He and I both testified at a few public meetings, he was my my Left Ahead show a couple of times and we’ve even corresponded on fares. When Wu approached me at the Muni, I told her that I’d like to see the T as free with money spent on service, maintenance and security instead of fare collection, while Dukakis said he’d like a $1 trip for all. At yesterday’s hearing, from the dais she parroted that some would like free or $1 fares. I sincerely appreciated her saying that. She’s a skilled pol.

McCarthy has a pre-Council career of constituent services. He spoke of reason and fairness, particularly for the stations in Hyde Park on the two lines.

Sit-down comics

O’Malley was charming as he always is. He can out-jolly even DePaola. He said the fare issue was “a problem with a pretty simple solution, as is dropping all in-Boston fares to $2.10. “We can solve the problem and have an early night,” he added with the requisite chuckle.

Before dumping on DePaola as the T representative, O’Malley also apologized in advance. He linked the GM to a Yankee in Fenway Park, acknowledging that most commuters in  the system had terrible thoughts about the MBTA, particularly in light of the failures to operate last year in record snows (and under the previous GM).

Nonplussed, DePaola confirmed there’d be no resolution at the hearing. He pleaded bureaucrat with no portfolio. That is, he came into the meeting without power beyond listening and responding to direct questions that did not involve promises.

He cited the powers that be:

  • Governor Charles D. Baker
  • The 11-member MassDOT board
  • Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack
  • I think he even mentioned the five-member Fiscal and Management Control Board

Baker is a professional bureaucrat. He knows how to wall himself off and is better insulated than a hipster dressed for downhill skiing. DePaola reveled is padding himself.

As he put it, the fares and related issues are all major policy concerns. He praised the questions and concerns from the audience as well as the trio of Councilors as “great ideas.” Then he was at his CYA best with, “We’re the troops. We deliver the service. The policy comes to us from those who make it.”

That was short of don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you lingo, but not by much.

T probation periods

I’d add that when the Fairground frequency increase and fare decrease came, they were on trial bases. They were on six and 12 month tests. If ridership and revenue seemed to justify them, the MBTA would (fanfare for noblesse oblige) kindly keep them in place.

Apparently, we near Fairmount Station did OK. The T queen bees would still like better numbers but we passed the minimal, it seems. The irony is that they really don’t other to count, not under the old crew or the new Keolis one. Many Fairmount Line trains have conductors who do not have the time (or interest) to collect fare. Those who do grunt approval of smartphone purchases and monthly passes waved in front of them. They simply don’t count the actual number of passengers per trip.

DePaola made much of the T subsidizing commuter-rail at $4 per passenger trip, in contrast to 65¢ on the subway or trolley. We have to trust those are accurate figures and that they amount to the $200 million a year shortfall the T provides.

McCarthy noted that among the 175 communities who pay some annual fees to the T, Boston is by far the largest contributor. He contended that we deserve a break, at the least that all commuter-rail stops in city limits should have the same fare (as in $2.10).

DePaola rejoined that 50 rail stops were within the distance of the farthest Boston-limit distances from South Station, so that would be a big deal. If Boston gets that, then everyone will want it. Whaaa.

My sense of the hearing (and speakers) was that we might be headed to another, bigger trial. That might mean after more headings and sloth-like action by the T bureaucracy, stations like the four in West Roxbury and Roslindale might get Fairmount-style tests. If lowered fares bring in more riders and fuller parking lots, the T gods just might nod approving on the peasants.


Elves working on JP Porchfest

February 8th, 2015

111 bands this year for the JP Porchfest…plus:

  • theater performances
  • storytelling stage
  • dance stage(s)
  • circus acts

We were in the group who fought the rages of winter to fill the hall at the First Baptist to view the wee documentary of the first version last year. The website and FB page have details already on the second annual one, on the sked for Saturday, July 11th from noon to 6PM.

Band signups start in mid-March. The organizers have been churning along for months though. Watch the sites for ways to volunteer and announcements of the musical/potable/comestible fundraisers.

At today’s show, you missed free seltzer, popcorn and Hersey’s kisses…plus a lengthy performance by Jamaica Plain Honk.

jph3 jph5
jph4 jph2


The Mayor is Dead. Long Live the Mayor.

November 22nd, 2014

clearytreeIt’s the season or at least a season. The recently retired and more recently dead former Mayor Tom Menino clearly had a big saved spot in his big old heart for Christmas and its leading events. He went by Escalade from one Boston neighborhood to another, shameless in his enjoyment of the holiday trolleys and tree lightings. He seemed to be everyone’s dad or granddad.

I can only recall him once missing the lighting of the Anderson tree in our shared Hyde Park neighborhood. He was too feeble that year. His wife Angela stood on the platform for him and performed his greetings and wishes. That itself was remarkable.

For decades, she had preferred to have her people-loving hubby meet-and-greet. Even on the annual July 12th block party celebrating the city while celebrating Tom’s ascendancy to the mayoralty when Ray Flynn scurried off to the Vatican with delusions of legacy and maybe even closeness to God, Angela absented herself while Tom stood in the street glad-handling and chatting up us all.

Yet when needed, she did not let her husband down. She became the first lady of the city.

Now Martin J. (Marty) Walsh rolls into Menino-land in eight days to figuratively flip the switch and by so doing stake a local claim. I”ll be there to see how he carries himself.

So far, the new version of Da Mare has not been as visible in these parts and certainly has not brought the personable Menino character. I’ve observed him at several events and found him rather dour in contrast to the avuncular Menino.  There may be some jollity in him, but he doesn’t let it out much.

walsh1I admit that to Tom Menino I was a constituent. He treated me as such. I had many contracts with him, at political events, when he was a guest on my Left Ahead podcast, when I advocated for or thanked him for bicycle doings, at business openings, in random meetings, and of course at the annual tree lighting.

He remembered…my name, my precinct, that I was a poll warden, that I shared his love of cycling, that I’d  moved from JP to HP (the proper order of things in his judgment, that I had healed from a badly broken leg when he was having his own nether region problems, what my sons had been about. In other words, he was both an empathetic guy and a skilled pol.

I never saw the allegedly hard-boiled Mr. Mayor. I thought of that recently when a police officer who had been one of his union’s officials involved in contract negotiations fairly snorted at the lore of the late Mayor. He saw the thunderbolts and said there definitely were two distinct sides to him.

So hail Marty Walsh, the obscure state rep following the longest serving, fervently popular chief exec of Boston. He inherited the stereotypical urban ills of crime and unemployment, but primarily a city in very good shape. Now what?

Tom Menino always seems to have been Tom Menino. He was personable and above all else loved both his city and its residents. He seemed to recharge with every moment taking your hand or learning more about you — interests, problems, anything.

So far, Walsh has lacked the tiny, constant Menino touches. For one, as a long-time poll worker, I think of the preliminary, primary and general election days. A few pols, like Rep. Liz Malia, show up at polling places with coffee, doughnuts or sandwiches for those of us who spend 14 or 25 hours there. Menino’s people never missed an election or a polling place.

I thought too of the day of Menino’s sudden death announcement. Coincidentally, Walsh was scheduled to appear on River Street in Hyde Park to dedicate a pocket park, really a dreadful patch of paving stones next to a convenience store, badly in need of what my grandmother would have called a bum bench. Walsh didn’t show. The half dozen of us there in case he did were not surprised. On the other hand, Tom Menino would never have left constituents hanging. He either would have had an aide appear to announce a postponement or would have gotten a cop from the station across the street to do that.

I’ll be fascinated to see how the new Mayor handles hoi polloi.


Urban critters

August 20th, 2014

We see coyotes, raccoon, opossums and such in our part of Boston. I scouted out a few more today at Forest Hills Cemetery and the in-town Audubon nature center.

In Lake Hibiscus in the middle of the graveyard, I was surprised to see a pretty big snapping turtle (surely undocumented immigrant). It was pretty creepy. It came from maybe 30 feet off-shore and surfaced just below me by the tiny rocky beach. As I moved about 100 feet along the shore, it tracked me. I began to feel like it was viewing me as a two-legged fish…a snack.

The lake has regular turtles, cormorants, and of course the usual ducks and geese.

A short distance down Walk Hill, I trotted the fox trail (el sendero del zorro on the sign). The hen turkeys did the turkey trot faster. They did not want to chat or play.

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Cormorants in the cemetery lake were chowing down on little fish. corm1
corm5 Several cormorants used the boulders as bases to flap and dry off.
The snapping turtle seemed to find me fascinating…maybe edible.

Less spookily, was he used to someone on land tossing bread?

smallerturtle The shiny to-scale turtles like the warming rocks in the cemetery lake.
The wild turkey hens were not happy with my being on their trail. They quickly repaired elsewhere. turkeyleave
snap2 [Jaws theme here] The snapper followed me along the shore and several times stuck its anaconda neck out to get closer.

JP tries Porchfest

July 20th, 2014

Jamaica Plain did a fine job copying other such events in its first JP Porchfest yesterday. 50 or so groups performed at 35 venues, most of them quite literally porches.

I careered among many venues, playing a speed-listening version of the Odyssey. To my ear, there was a little terrible music, but most was good and some superb. With so much simultaneously in the works, no one was stuck anywhere. Here’s hoping this becomes annual.

As a disclaimer, several shots here are of a group where my wife sings and plays. I’m prejudiced. They jam weekly and perform as features on occasionally, largely bluegrass. Their road group has taken to call themselves Still Here.

Among some of the gems I found was Damn Tall Buildings, Rebecca Hope, and Outrageous fortune. As an indication of the event’s diversity, they play respectively bluegrass/blues, up tempo ballads, and swing. Click over to the event site for a list, many of which have videos.

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Avery ‘Montana’ Ballotta of Damn Tall Buildings dtb2
rhope1 Rebecca Hope
A couple of the Outrageous Fortune gang fortune3
stillh8 Still Here’s mando player, surely the best gurning of Porchfest
My uxorial unit for Still Here. She’s the primary family musician. stillh2
stillh6 Of course Still Here had the mandatory bluegrass components, including dobro…
…and a banjo stillh7

Landscape Flames

January 26th, 2014

Putting the lie to the stereotyped drabness of Boston winters are a few gaudy treasures in the arboretum. I trotted the hills — so you don’t have to — in the gelid, windswept park.

As it turns out, the Arnold folk put a little but not too much effort in year round color as points of interest. There are areas lined with dogwood bushes, drab when the longer-lived flowering shrubs are showing off, but striking in their yellow or red branches when leaves are gone. Otherwise, red is the color that dominates above the snow and in the bitterest wind.

If you’re up for it, and be aware there were joggers in shorts with purplish legs, you can find lots of spots of color on the main road (Meadow becomes Bussey Hill becomes Valley becomes Hemlock Hill).

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Tall European cranberry bushes are flush with fruit. ecranberry
virburnum Several varieties of viburnum maintain
their berries.
Another of the many colorful viburnum bushes. viburnum
sumac Bussey Hill has staghorn sumac at the top,
along with vistas of Boston Skyline and
peeks of the Blue Hills.
A few bushes, like this Poiret barberry, have delicate fruit. barberry
highbush Beyond berries, the branches and canes
of some, like the Highbush blueberry,
expose colorful bark when the leaves
have fallen.
Some of the most intense colors were on the dogwood bushes, here in red… redcornus

…and a little subtler in yellow.
Some of the less splashy visual include the Korean Yodogawa azalea, which look like star anise on the bush. yamazalea

A delicate delight was the Ozark
witch hazel’s flowers.



Train to Gorillas

November 29th, 2013



The quasi-suburban parts of Boston can have their own simple pleasures. Mine today came from an excursion, train time, zoo time!

Here in Hyde Park, as in Roslindale and West Roxbury, we all seem proud of being part of the city, yet very aware we can’t reasonably walk across the central fist of it as you can from Beason Hill or the South or West Ends. Standout successes like the recent new stations and skeds of the Indigo (Fairmount) Line are big deals down here.

For 10 years, we lived right downtown and then for 21, we were in JP, right below Forest Hills. Now in lower Hyde Park, it’s a trek and rigmarole to get places. I and one of my sons bike frequently (it’s quicker to get to Porter Square on two wheels than by T or God forfend by four). We have to plan. Until recently too the infrequent commuter rail just down the hill from us was also $5.50 a trip and only went as far as South Station.

I’ve been taking the zap, pow, wow improved Fairmount line regularly and grokking it. They dropped the fare to subway prices ($2 a trip) and roughly doubled the frequency. There is also a subtext. This is Thomas Michael Menino’s turf also and part of the idea was to pay attention to the Mayor and District Councilor Rob Consalvo in fostering development in Logan Square, a few hundred yards from the Fairmount stop. Moreover, personally, I got my geezer card from the MBTA, so one way is half price — a buck.

Freebie Road Trip

Today was a trial run for many who had not caught the T fever and fervor. Touted in the local weekly, in flyers at the Y and such, the notice was that today at 11:45 AM, we could gather at the Fairmount Grille and head for the 12:03 PM train. We’d get free round-trip fare.

Every station had its attraction. In particular, New Market was the big honking blue-collar South Bay shopping center with anything your little heart desires. Honestly, as much as I bike and sometimes drive around there, I reeled at the mentions of Four Corners and a short walk to the Franklin Park Zoo. I had never gotten off the Fairmount line at that stop and in my rigid mind thought it must not practical…too far.



I decided to do the zoo stop, assured a lackey would appear to lead me. Turns out, I was the only fool headed to the animals in the cold. When we gathered at the Fairmount Grille before heading to the stop, people were talking about shopping, either at South Bay or downtown. Joe Cosgrove (right), the MBTA’s director of planning and development, and Mat Thall, the interim executive director of the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation, spoke, but did not pitch Franklin Park. We heard that the $2 fare was an experiment, for both Fairmount and as a test for other Boston neighborhood commuter lines shackled to absurdly high fares despite being in Boston city limits. We heard that the Fairmount traffic had spiked 47% since the fare change, and mostly we heard that we had to talk it up.

Clearly, I”m self-interested, but I think it’s worth it. Sure to the rail geeks, Boston has a reputation far beyond our boundaries for how hard the CDCs pushed for the Indigo Line work that has produced the improvements after almost two decades. Honestly, I can attest that we are a model for the hemisphere for the accomplishments. More personally, I want to see weekend service and trains that leave downtown for my neighborhood after the current latest, 9:40 PM. I want to be able to go to the Haymarket on Saturday, thank you very much. Let’s be a real city.

Gorillas, No Giraffes

My hick mindset had the zoo out of range. Despite my frequent bike rides down Columbia, up Blue Hill, through Franklin Park, past Forest Hills, the length of Mass Ave and all of the convoluted Washington Street in various neighborhoods, I fell into the Geneva Ave/Four Corners is distant gang turf. I was ignorant.

Sure enough, I ended up being the only bozo getting off the train at Four Corners. At Fairmount, the conductor was amused and amusing. He was the veritable gang of us, highly unusual for 12:03 PM on a weekday and did a great double take as he greeted us. I was literally the only Four Corners stop requester and the only one who exited for the zoo instead of consumer/Black Friday choices.


As promised, a pleasant young man, Hanad, was there to shepherd me. Turns out, as I was the only one, he didn’t even bother putting me through the half-priced-day gate. I got in for free. So there, shoppers.

Sure, a cold November day is not primo. Many animals are not the slightest bit interested in playing the game below 65F. Even my favorite beasts of all, giraffes, were bunked or huddling inside. No tigers, a single lion, no roos, maybe a third of the areas and cages said exhibit not open. Harrumph, as the expression goes.

Yet there was plenty to see. The parents with kids in strollers and racing ahead of them squealing about dark jungles, warthogs, gorillas and such had a great time. So did I.

(I’ll post some pix on Flickr and update with a link here.)

For the logistics minded, the walk from the Four Corners stop to the zoo entrance is eight minutes. It’s exit the station to the South onto Washington, go four short blocks, then seven short blocks up Columbia to the zoo. It’s a devil of a lot easier and closer than by Orange line or some wacky bus combo.If you want to start from South Station or Hyde Park, this is it. It’s in my mental maps.

We can be as provincial as Manhattanites and a question I heard in the Fairmoumt Grille and on the platform was what can you see in late November at a zoo? Lots, sports fans. The Tropical Forest was fully stocked; the great apes, warthogs, pygmy hippo, wacky carrion birds and more are crowd pleasers.  Nearby in Bird’s World, ibises and lurid finches and parakeets play, while the huge green keas wail and shriek.

A male lion showed off endlessly and on and on and on.

I earned bragging rights for going to the cold-weather zoo, doubled by taking the commuter rail.

Fiddles and such in JP church

November 23rd, 2013

Nothing like a coffeehouse, except there was coffee and tea in the back room, but as concerts in UU churches go, JP’s version worked well last night. We heard first Cat and the Moon, and then The Bombadils.

There’s more folk, bluegrass, acoustic, Celtic and such concert coming up. Some are listed at the notloB site. The next one at First Church JP is a kind of battle of four string quartets on Dec. 7th, Saturday.

Here’s a few snaps from yesterday. The lighting was grim. Only a few were usable. We had positive memories of the space though. Two of our sons attended Kids Arts there for years after school.

These concerts are enjoyable, easily accessible and inexpensive ($13 in this case) evenings.

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License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The fiddlers were clearly the hits of the evening. Each band featured one. Here The Bombadils’ Sarah Frank blends strings and vocals. bombsara
catricky Cat and the Moon’s Ricky Mier on banjo.
The Cat of Cat and the Moon is Kathleen Parks. catcat
She’s a Berklee student who started with Irish music as a kid fiddler and does all and sundry now.
Sarah Bombsfrank
bombevan The Bomadils are from various parts of Canada. Here bassist Evan Stewart plays.
If I had to pick, I think Sarah was having the most fun. Bombsarahf

I think this is Eamon Sefton, of Cat and the Moon. Another Berklee student, here he went from his acoustic guitar to an Irish drum.