Archive for July, 2007

Teen VPL on Canal Street at Rush Hour

July 31st, 2007

Balance Bar Bare

Into the WABAC machine again…pseudo-nude women pushing products is so 1970s.

This afternoon, another old tippler and I rested our elbows on the wrought-iron fence of the Canal Street Boston Beer Works when they came. In groups of seven and three and four, young women came bearing bags of Balance Bare from Kraft Foods’ Balance Bar folk.
It’s summer. It’s sunny. It’s warm, but this is so 1970s.

None of the 19-year-olds was born when I used to go to the Con-Agg Show (that’s concrete and aggregate to you white-collar types) in Chicago. There were $80,000 and half-million-dollar piece of construction equipment filling the largest exhibit space in the country. Bright yellow Caterpillar, neon green Euclid and shocking red Poclain put track-mounted motorized tractors (bulldozers in common lingo), dump trucks, excavators, graders and the rest out for grown men to climb into. Ironically, back then, it was definitely a man’s business, buying or selling, but women were everywhere, often in bikinis.

Some vendors were pushing dump trucks as big as swimming pools. To prove the point, they’d fill them with water and have half a dozen leggy, busty models in tiny suits sitting on the edge and splashing about (careful not to ruin that hair set). I’d ask some sales managers and they freely admitted they competed months before these shows to hire the most striking models in Chicago.

You might think that millions (worth more now) of dollars of construction equipment would move by specs, recommendations and performance figures. The same managers would say that if a few hot models made the sale, it was a good investment.

We’ve gotten savvier in the past 35 years, or maybe not.

Boston’s Balance Bar’s Balance Bare’s young women weren’t too subtle. Each was bare to match the product name (yuck, yuck, yuck, y’all) in wearing translucent cream colored tights and skin tight top. That’s it. You could count the stitches in their undergarments.

It was the ’70s again, but it was for a $1.69 pseudo-health snack.

Another irony was that about one-third of these promoters were Black. So the cream clothes looked a little odd. At least they appears somewhat less naked.

They were eager to hand out their allotment of bad puns in bags from North Station to Faneuil Hall at rush hour. I took a couple.

I also thought about asking whether they knew how degrading it was. It was the end of the day, but nevertheless, I should have tried a little political education. On the other hand, as one girl after another stood before me popping out behind their little clothing joke, they offered a cheerful grin and a bag reading, “PREPARE TO GO BARE!”

Alas, the lasses, I think, wanted a paycheck, not a lecture or questions. Also, I did not have a camera with me. That’s probably for the good. I don’t believe these young women will want to revisit this afternoon in 35 years.

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Best Free Show: The Music

July 29th, 2007

diunnaIf you’re looking for opera or chamber music, head to the Berkshires. Yet, don’t let folk music limit your thoughts to the hippies of my era. Indeed the Lowell Folk Festival has World Music from many locales — Brazil, Nepal and hither and yon.

We have very different musical loves in our family and the folk there covers it and more. Blues suits me. My uxorial unit loves bluegrass. We split up at one point so I could do some Afro-Cuban, while she did non-Samba music from the Brazilian interior.

If you’ve never been to this festival, click over to the list of this year’s performers. There’s a great chance that you missed them, but that next year’s versions will be as diverse and as good, and that you’ll find someone you are delighted to hear. [Note that almost emtroes all include links to short clips.]

Our consensus favorite this year was Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy. She’s in the picture left. She’s big of bosom, butt and lungs. She admits to huge appetites and you believe every word of her Texas blues.

I can ramble and rant about everyone we heard. That should include the mention of gypsy guitar group (with jazz violin and accordion) Dorado Schmitt & the Django Reinhardt Festival All Star Band. He is a guitar master and French violinist Pierre Blanchard deserves his own mention for his powerful, animated play. (That’s Schmitt seated and Blanchard crouched.)violin

For whatever reasons, many locals don’t seem to attend. That’s easy to tell because of the obvious racial composition at the venues.

Lowell is a very white town, if not by New Hampshire standards, certainly by Boston ones. The last census reports about 69% non-Latino white, nearly 17% Asian, 14% Latino and only 4% African-American.

At most venues, there are obviously far fewer than one of 6 Asians and fewer than one of 7 Latinos. I did not notice a single Black man or woman not connected with a band.

I should ask the organizers what’s up with that.

LFFdanceAmusingly, many of the Boston-area types seem to be drawn from the UU/Yuppie/WASP/Volvo-driving subcultures (include me). One of the sponsors and the live broadcaster is WGBH in Beantown. That’s fine for us, but this is too great a weekend not to draw more diverse audiences. [end rant]

Those who come enjoy and behave themselves. Even at crowded performances, there’s no tension. There are a few festival jerks, like the loud family who arrived for Diunna, and the boys chattered while the dad came and went saying at high volume that he loved this kind of music, which he did not listen to at all. Huh?

There were seven simultaneous venues Saturday (including the street-performance zone). First timers here can quickly get the flavors of each.

Oddly enough, many of what I consider the best acts go on the Boarding House Park stage. This is what GBH simulcasts. This lawn area ends up fairly full, but I’ve never arrived and not been able to spread a sheet for us. Sometimes you can come late and still get right up near the stage. Yet while this probably has the greatest population density, it is also where the greatest percentage of the audience dances. Some, like the quasi-spasmodic guy at left who is always there, solo, but many couples or other combinations swing dance, samba or otherwise in the narrow walkways. No one hassles them (Boston venues could learn from that).

At the JFK Plaza next to the government buildings, there’s a lot more space and a lot less dancing. Go figure. Gonzalo Grau y La Clave Secreta aptly bills themselves as hot Latin dance. Yet Gonzalo felt he had to go out into the audience several times to literally take people by the wrist and bring them up to move. They did and seemed to love it…once he prompted them.

Interestingly, they seem to consider the plaza a closed area. So, it is the only one that allows beer sales and consumption directly next to the music. People don’t come to get drunk on Bud, Bud Light or even Long Hammer IPA, but you’d think it might lead to more dancing.

The plaza also seems to be the most diverse in audience, certainly with the highest concentrations of Latinos and Asians at the festival. Even here, there is no skew to Latin music. The festival does not have a lot of traditional or even new Asian performers, for what it’s worth.

In case you haven’t gotten the message, I love this festival. Also, as Lowell seems to have intended, it brings me back for other things. If there’s one day a year you get to town, make it the Saturday of the festival, and plan your performers before you go.

After we were listened out, I wanted to head home to do my fabulous dinner-from-what’s-in-the-fridge act, but two of our party would have died from starvation in the 40 minutes home. So on the way to the garage, we noticed a bar/restaurants that seemed to have a few seats and went in expecting the minimal.

In fact, at 79 Central, the food at Sangria’s (inactive website) was an okay yawn. It bills itself as Mexican, as in woman’s service magazine tells the homemaker how to make non-offensive food for gringos. They had a small range of draft ales. All of that was low-priced ($4 drafts, $6 sandwiches and $9 dinner plates).

We squeezed onto a tiny table and found ourselves listening to a blues band, three guitars and a harp (amplified mouth harp) with a lead identified in our hour and two sets only as Big Daddy. There are tons of Big Daddy folk and I am not sure who he was, but he was worthy of a nickname and even a cover charge, of which there was none.

We had dinner and drinks with live stage-side music from a solid blues band at Sangria’s. The next time we head to Lowell, I hope they have their site working and announce who’s up. I’ll go.

We declared the day a success.

Part one is here. Cross-posted at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Best Free Show in the State

July 29th, 2007

drumsAgain, the Lowell Folk Festival does it right. It’s free and there’s more good, damned good and great music than you can get to for one, two or three days.

It’s at the end of July, every year in downtown Lowell. There’s some impressive history, tours by canal boat and such to please labor buffs. Lowell also has a summer music series in one of the main folk-festival venues, Boarding House Park. That has loads of individual blues, rock and pop groups for modest ticket prices of around $25.

However, the folk festival offers more, better and different benefits, such as:

  • One evening and two full days into night of music.
  • Dozens of diverse groups in a wide variety of styles.
  • The sweet anguish of finding that you simply cannot get to and hear everyone you want to; invariably there will be conflicting performances on one of the many stages.
  • The even sweeter joy of finding a new favorite every year, as though browsing Amazon or other site gave you 45 minutes to an hour of live music instead of a 32-second recorded clip.
  • A chance to meet a performer, have her sign her CD and tell her how much she rocked.
  • A wide variety of ethnic foods at nearby stands and numerous instant patios for a quick beer between sets.

I got over fearing I shouldn’t talk about this. It’s well attended and like a favorite restaurant, do you tempt others? The fact is, many people in all directions don’t go to Lowell, even for the best all-around music event of the year. Too damned bad for them, and for you if you’re like that.

We’ve been going for most of the past two decades. We have an adult son who slept in a Snugli to drum beats and even through wailing blues. Two others have come willingly most times, although the 13-year-old wasn’t too pleased to miss video-game/Internet time Saturday.

In fact, he was pretty smug on the way up. We had an uncharacteristically late start. Some years, we can do it right by starting around 9:30 a.m. at Faneuil Hall for a musical parade with one of the performing groups, a train ride from North Station (package tickets for families and individuals from the MBTA) and a parade to open the festival for the day in Lowell.

Well, I had picked my groups from the sked and performer lists. The youngest was whiny, until we got on 93. Then he smirked as we got splatters and above 128, a cloud burst from solid black skies. Drivers slowed to 30 or pulled off the road. Nasty to us, a catalyst for, “I guess we’ll have to turn around” from him.

Yet, it was meant to be. It reminded me of a birthday for my whiny second cousin Danny. I think it was his eighth and he had asked to have it at the Dairy Queen a few miles east of Romney, West Virginia. That town is in apple country of the eastern panhandle, surrounded by mountains. It’s lush land and rains a lot there.

It rained and on the way out, Danny cried and complained. It rained harder. His solicitous mom reminded him that there were covered pavilions there and we could have burgers, cake and ice cream in the dry. Crying and complaining continued. Then about 100 yards away, we drove through the rain. He had his DQ picnic and most of us wondered and reveled in continuing to watch the rain that poured straight down like a cartoon a few hundred feet west in a steady curtain for an hour.

So it was in Lowell, right before the exits off 495, we got to dry road. It was the wet curse of the interstates. Our youngest admitted defeat.

Because we came by car, we did the right auto thing, drove right to one of the two big garages in town. They are very close to the venues and the festival deal isn’t bad — $10 flat fee for the day. You should be ashamed if you don’t donate a few bucks to the volunteers with their buckets, but amortized, this is the cheapest music festival you’ll attend.

Next up, the festival music, plus a pleasant surprise on the way out of town. Cross-posted at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Weeping and Whooping and Women of Faith

July 29th, 2007


On the sixth and seventh days, let there be joy and sadness and general acting out…and there was.

A stand-up comedian would find every gender joke in the Amazing Freedom conference, ending up its three-day stand at what we still call the Boston Garden. The stereotype would be to ask what would make men more nervous than over 10,000 women in one room simultaneously weeping, laughing or both?

That’s what organizers Women of Faith, Inc. promised and the Boston Globe reports they delivered down on Causeway Street. This is the first go in Boston, but these emo fests have been happening in the U.S. and Canada for 12 years. The next version, entitled Infinite Grace, will be in the same place about the same weekend, here.

If you take the spokeswoman, Nichole Masker, at her word, these stops fill big arenas because, “The women who come here all say they are overworked and overextended and they need a break. These weekends give them time to be with their girlfriends, and laugh and cry and focus on their faith.”

Fashion note: The clichés keep coming. For a minimum order of 10 at $10 apiece, you can advertise the tour take the worry out of dressing. As WOF puts it, “Save your group members from staring into the closets wondering ‘What should I wear to the conference?’ Outfit your group in our all-new Amazing Freedom Group T-Shirts! It features the phrase “Let Your Spirit Soar” on the front, and the entire Amazing Freedom Conference Schedule on the back – a great reminder of the event you shared together.”

There’s no child care. You’ll need to get your lumpish hubby to take care of your kids for just one weekend, for Pete’s sake!

When you arrive, expect:

  • Inspirational speaker upon inspirational speaker, humorous, heart-rending or both.
  • Lots of Christian music.
  • Prayers and preaching.
  • Box lunches both days.

All this is only from a range of $25 (early registration, group, conference only) to $129 (group premium seating with the pre-conference day).

Whom might you ask would WOF attract in such numbers? Well, that would be fundamental Christian ladies. The statement of faith is fairly winnowing. For example, you are supposed to believe in the Bible as “the inspired, the only infallible, inerrant Word of God.” Then there’s the trinity, and Jesus’ virgin birth, sinless life, bodily resurrection, and salvation only through his grace (no UUs need apply).

The flotilla of speakers are women who’ve been around the block, both in age and experience. Each claims authority of hard times and coming out the other side through Jesus.

One, Patsy Clairmont, says she was a severe agoraphobic and is proof of heavenly transformation. Another, Marilyn Meberg, uses a disturbing juxtaposition in her description — “And did we mention the stories? Whether it’s a hilarious tale of mint tea gone wrong or the heartrending loss of her baby daughter, Marilyn weaves God’s Word together with real life experience to provide hope and encouragement to all who listen.” That a mixture hard for parents to read or hear. Surely she must go from yucks to wailing more gently than it appears.

The conference folk promise metaphorical refreshment. As they put it, “Imagine getting together with your closest girlfriends for a weekend. Think of the laughter you’d share, the tears you’d shed, the FUN you’d have. Now multiply that by 10,000 or so. You’re starting to get the idea.”

The few first-person reviews, like here and here, are pretty vague and predictably spongey. They do, however, imply a satisfied smile.

There’s also a teen version of this, The Revolve Tour. It’s cheaper ($49 to $69, buy your own blessed lunch [$8]). The closest will be in Hartford at the end of September. It’s heavier on music and teeny thingies. Consider:

God or Glam
My life might be revolving around my appearance if I . . .

  • Don’t leave home unless I look perfect
  • Can’t imagine life without lip gloss or hair spray
  • Consider models the most accurate standard of beauty and compare myself to them
  • Bond with every mirror and reflective device I can find
  • Depend on my high maintenance image to win friends and boyfriends
  • Feel jealous when I see beautiful girls
  • Tend to hide out on days I feel ugly
  • Throw a fit over a new zit on my forehead
  • Determine the kind of day I’m going to have by how I look that morning

God Or..

THOUGHT: People who like me for my looks will be gone as soon as someone more beautiful comes along.
Real beauty comes from becoming like Jesus.

VERSE: It is not fancy hair, gold jewelry, or fine clothes that should make you beautiful. No, your beauty should come from within you―the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that will never be destroyed and is very precious to God. 1 Peter 3:3 – 4)

As an aid to teens who live in the tainted world, there’s a tour bus that travels a circuit of Christian youth rock-music festivals (yes, just that). Honk. Honk. It promotes the WOF conferences.

Even though this is the first WOF conference in our fair burg, this subculture clearly has a bunch of women and supporters behind it. Even if I had gotten one of those light blue T-shirt (they come up to XXL, by the bye), I don’t know that I would have been able to get into the Garden for this. It may have been an education, although were I not crying and laughing appropriately, I may have been uncomfortably distinct.

The image of over 10,000 fundamental Christian women emoting in concert in one place at one time will have to suffice.

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This Weekend’s (Free) Lowell Folk Festival

July 26th, 2007

Don’t be a maroon, as Bugs might say. This weekend is the 21st annual Lowell Folk Festival. Be there.

Roll it around in your brain pan — 21 years. If you have never gone to this three-day free festival, 21 times shame on you. It’s fabulous. We don’t miss it.

We never return without at least one new favorite and some CDs. This is where we first heard Bobby Parker live and Shemekia Copeland. I tend toward blues. My uxorial unit plays and love acoustic — like bluegrass. There’s Cajun, gospel and world music.

Did I mention it was free? You can and should make a small donation to the wandering do-gooders for a sticker that shows you support this, and surely you’ll chip in.

Anyway, this year’s schedule is here. The sketches of the groups and artists, most with sample clips is here.

Friday evening through Sunday evening has multiple simultaneous performances within walking distance downtown.

Handicapping Saturday, I went heavy on my daytime favorite styles (links open short clips):

There’s lots of good eating and drinking, both at stands and the restaurants and pubs. The music goes to 11 p.m. or so.

You may hate and avoid music we like, but there’s stuff there you will like.

Cleverly, these Lowellites know that this is likely to bring you back at other times. Yet, if you only go there once a year. This is it. Be there.

Cross-posted at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Fickle Finger of How ’bout That?

July 8th, 2007

Heart-shaped contusion on index finger

The mark of change is protean. The new red heart on my index finger is one, but not a middle-age-crisis symbol.

It did remind me of my early 20s, when I lived at on East Third Street in the East Village, directly across the street from the Hells Angels™. There and then, they’d happily tattoo anyone they liked who was close enough and drunk enough. Their technique was simplicity — wrap the pointy end if a sewing needle almost to the tip in white cotton thread. Dip in indelible ink and prick. Repeat.

My accidental tattoo is less remarkable, which never stops a blogger.

It comes from disassembling the residue of 18 years of three sons’ fun, friendship and fantasy in the form of a play structure. Number one son, just 28, outgrew climbing, reading in, sleeping on and playing with friends around the CedarWorks play structure a lot of years ago, but his 16 and 13-year-old brothers are not all that far out of it, in dad years.

To them, one or two years is a looooong time. Hah!

It time to discard the old playmate. Ironically, it stood the whole time in the shade of a gigantic American beech, whose limbs started over 20 feet above ground and is quite unsuitable for a tree house. Our 10-foot high CedarWorks buddy was the dingy beside the Queen Mary.

Cedar lasts but this was getting a bit unstable as the bottom support structure became one with the ground. The adult son no longer is here and the youngest is at camp, so #2 and I set to the task.

I had forgotten the maybe eight years ago, I had fortified the whole damned thing. The youngest is a rough one. He and his buddies threw themselves on the rope ladder and slide pole repeatedly. They leapt on the movable platform sections and hopped unmercifully on the rungs. By the bye, the structure took it all; it was only my paternal protectionism that inspired me to take nail and hammer to shore every damned rung, dozens of them.

So, Eli and I ended up with a claw hammer, straight-blade screwdriver and needle-nose pliers each to chip into the cedar and expose enough of a rusted nail head to extract it, dozens of them.

About half way through, I twisted and attacked one recalcitrant sliver of steel viciously enough that I snapped the wire-cutter part of the pliers shut on my fingertip. Ah, it was the classic cartoon moment of nonsense symbols and flashing lights. Suddenly I had an instatnt heart tattoo; who knows how long it will remain?

So there we have it. The cedar members will transform into two tree zones in front of the house, which are in need of replacement. The dogs that urinate on them won’t care and I’m sure my sons won’t either. Yet, my wife and I know that the afternoon-into-night of pirate ship and spy perch and fort live on in their pedestrian way.

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Network 23 Stirring Your Brain

July 4th, 2007

Cross-posted from Marry in Massachusetts.

Blipverts took over 20 years, but they may be ready for prime time. In the Max Headroom world of Network 23, Blank Reg, and 20 minutes into the future, flashing, intense advertising could dominate or craze.

In this ADD world now, paying attention and controlling rather than receiving entertainment is just so, so, so 20th Century.

Clear Channel is trying two-second ads on radio in the latest short-attention-span ploy. On over 1,000 stations, they’re plugging in ads for the passive. As the Globe piece describes them, “calls ‘blinks’ and ‘adlets’ that are tucked between music or disc jockey’s chatter. Blinks, in about two seconds, may spit out three or four words like ‘Sweet tea at McDonald’s.’ Adlets, about five seconds, offer a bit more: ‘This Saturday at Rain, it’s a glamorous VIP afterparty hosted by Fergie. Visit'”

Double ha ha here. The article has actual links, where the the mid-20th Century-style Globe is famous for ranting on about websites without hyperlinking. Apparently the subject matter dictated the content, as is apt.

Blipverts in the movie and TV series surely drew on the early TV era fears of the imagined evils of subliminal advertising. The idea is that we can process information much faster than hearing speech, so that a flash message will embed itself in our brains and compel us to consume…as though we needed help in that.

Now seems like a great time for advertisers to try for real. A generation of text-messaging kids, many of whom seldom read news, opinion or fiction, is prime lab fodder for this experiment.

Max himself said a couple of relevant things. And I love, love, l-l-love… love those blip-blip-blip-blipverts!

Yet in his frenzied, disembodied state he could be philosophic too, as in, “But, as a famous person once said, ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.’ And as I – another more famous person – once said, ‘If you don’t teach them to read, you can fool them whenever you like.'”


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