Concert Review: The Greater New Bedford Summerfest

July 3, 2010
The Greater New Bedford Summerfest at New Bedford Whaling National Park in New Bedford, MA

Peter Mulvey displaying some guitar mastery on "Black Rabbit."

Summerfest is a great weekend-long event in which the historic district of this storied whaling town is turned into one big folk music and arts festival.  The breadth of folk music spans contemporary folk music and more traditional and international styles.  The festival draws some great headliners and  yet the tickets are only $15/day or $20/weekend.  Despite only my positive feelings for the festival this is only the second time I’ve attended and the last time was ten years ago.  I need to make this a more regular tradition.

I attended the festival with my mother, wife and toddler son and we all had a great time.  We attended the following three performances:

  • Peter Mulvey at the Custom House Stage – the singer/songwriter is one of our all-time favorites and his set included fine guitar work, inspired lyrics, and even impressive readings of letters he wrote for his nieces and nephews.
  • The Irish Session at the Busker Stage – a big change from the large Custom House tent, this “stage” was just a small tent set-up on a street corner for local musicians.  Peter got up to dance around a street sign and  a little girl his age joined him.  This was the highlight of the festival for me.
  • Rosin Up Your Bow: great fiddlers (Jeremy Kittel, Guy Fletcher, Doug Lamey, Jake Armerding, & Ruairidh MacMillan) at the Centre Street Stage –  This stage was set on a charming hillside and cobblestone street surrounded by historic buildings.  What a place to listen to traditional fiddle tunes and watch Peter run about.
Peter improvises to the jigs and reels of the Irish Session.

In addition to the music we enjoyed a pizza supper at Pizans New York Style Pizza and Peter climbed on whaling tools in a small park.  It’s a great event where we could all enjoy the music and feel safe with Peter running about in the streets.  As noted above I need to attend this festival again and also need to visit and explore historic New Bedford even when there’s not a festival going on.

New England maritime charm on Centre St.

Concert Review: They Might Be Giants

May 23, 2010 at 12 noon
They Might Be Giants at The Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA

One of the many great images from Chris Devers' photostream on Flickr.

This is a long overview review for a fun and special concert which doubled as a benefit for Boston By Foot.  Family connections were involved as Giant John Flansbergh is son of Boston By Foot founder and president Polly Flansburgh.  Family connections were involved for me as well as I brought my son to this Family Concert for his first rock and roll show.  I actually saw TMBG as my second rock concert ever way back in 1991.  I was 18, so Peter is way ahead of me going to concerts at 2 and 1/2.  I thought Peter might be at the young end of the attendees even at a family concert, but in reality 6 years seemed to be the upper limit of the children’s age range and there were many toddlers and even infants.

Musically, a TMBG family concert is not all too different from the shows that they play for adults.  I like that they didn’t tone down the concert experience which included guitar and drum solos, screeching feedback, flashing lights and effects.  Some elements were specially targeted at the kids like confetti cannons that almost stole the show and a couple of songs performed by the two Johns as sock puppets called The Avatars of They.

The playlist came mostly from the bands excellent children’s albums No!, Here Comes the ABC’s, Here Comes the 123’s, and Here Comes Science.  Favorites included “Seven Days of the Week (I Never Go To Work),” “High Five,” and “I’m a Paleontologist.” They also played some songs off their “grown-up” recordings such as “Particle Man” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” which blended seamlessly into the set. It’s interesting that the song “Older” can sound like a grim reminder of mortality for adults or a song about growing up for the kids.  It was a fun show and everybody got and boogied along with the music, or if they weren’t able to stand yet had a parent pick them up to dance.

Set List (via This Might Be a Wiki)

* Hot Dog! intro (On PA)
* Fibber Island
* Meet The Elements
* Bed Bed Bed
* I Never Go To Work
* Clap Your Hands
* Kids Go!
* One Dozen Monkeys
* Eight Hundred And Thirteen Mile Car Trip
* High Five!
* Why Does The Sun Shine? (Katharine Hepburn/Jazz Hands version)
* Pirate Girls Nine
* The Famous Polka
* Boston by foot rap
* Roy G. Biv (false start)
* Roy G. Biv
* Free Ride
* What Is A Shooting Star? (performed by The Avatars Of They)
* In The Middle, In The Middle, In The Middle (performed by The Avatars Of They)
* Free Ride
* I Am A Paleontologist
* Older
* Particle Man
* Graveyard
* Doctor Worm
* Istanbul (Not Constantinople)


* Alphabet Of Nations

Book Review: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Author: Walter Isaacson
Title: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Publication Info:  RecordedBooks (2003), Audio CD
ISBN: 1402592957

Summary/Review:  I’ve been learning more about this early American leader for my BBF walking tour and I find him increasingly fascinating the more I learn about him.  Isaacson writes a lively narrative with a good balance between historical accuracy and popular history as well as warts & all without sensationalism.

I won’t go into a detailed summary of the book but here are a few elements that stand out for me:

  • Isaacson goes beyond simple biographical details and makes a good attempt at an intellectual history of Franklin, especially in the earlier parts of the book.
  • Franklin, for all his virtues, was not above getting dirty in politics.  It’s interesting to compare to the recent book I read about Aaron Burr and how differently their posthumous reputations have been adjudged when they were both very much men of their times.  Then there’s the  idolatrous manner in which the Founding Fathers are revered in comparison to today’s “corrupt politicians” which just isn’t realistic.
  • Franklin had an interesting habit of forming a surrogate family around him when he was away from home for extended periods, acting in an avuncular role for bright young women and his own grandsons.  Yet he was often distant from his own children and spent many, many years separated from his wife.
  • Another interesting contrast:  Franklin has been called “the first American” and famously wore frontier-style clothing when visiting the French court, yet he seemed to jump at any opportunity to go to Europe and lived abroad in London and Paris for extended portions of his life.

All in all this is a great introduction to a fascinating and hard to understand man.

Recommended books: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Game From Where I Stand by Doug Glanville

Author: Doug Glanville
Title: The game from where I stand : a ballplayer’s inside view
Publication Info: New York : Times Books, c2010.
ISBN: 9780805091595

Summary/Review: Doug Glanville always stood out as one of baseball’s friendliest and most intelligent players (even if he did play most of his career with the Phillies) and in his retirement has taken up a second career as an insightful sports writer.  I was eager to read this book about his life in baseball which I received through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Glanville breaks up several aspects of baseball  – on and of the field — into different sections to give the insider perspective on the mundane details of a ballplayer’s life.  While this has some interesting insights at times, unfortunately the mundane detail makes for a mundane book.  I’m also disappointed that when it comes to performance enhancing drugs, Glanville condemns them but really holds back on saying anything the might be even slightly controversial. Still, I appreciate Glanville’s effort to try to do something different and make a thoughtful effort at letting the fan in on the behind-the-scenes part of the game.

If you’re looking at a detailed look at the life of a baseball player this may be the book for you.  On the other hand there are plenty of more entertaining books about baseball.

Recommended books: Why Time Begins on Opening Day by Thomas Boswell, In the Ballpark: The Working Lives of Baseball People by George Gmelch, and Out of My League by George Plimpton.
Rating: **1/2