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Friday, October 24, 2014

A Hell Bent Double Feature



This Saturday night where in the world could you see two movies for a mere $5?

Why Greenbelt's Utopia Film Festival, of course, which will be featuring a retrospective of the still alive and kicking local film meister- Jeff Krulik. "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" is a gem of a time capsule hearkening back to the glory days of our pre-apocalyptic youth by focusing on a 1986  Judas Priest tail gate party at the now decimated Capital Centre.

And don't worry if you are or are not a fan of Led Zeppelin the band. The film "Did Led Zeppelin Play Here?" explores our local music scene on a far deeper level than the question poses- exploring the extraordinary rich variety of big name acts that played places like the Alexandria Roller Rink and the Wheaton Youth Center. In between films Jeff Krulik himself will be hanging around to answer everything inquiring minds want to know.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Missing: One Local Hero




Duke Ellington School of the Arts is having a very rough year. First off the school building is under going a major renovation, and the school is now operating in a swing space downtown. But even more traumatic than the move, principal, John Payne, died suddenly on October 9th. We knew Father Payne as the prefect of discipline while my son was going to Ellington, and we got to meet him early on while Kit was still at Hardy Middle School.  (I think he was in sixth grade the day he and a friend decided it'd be fun to light a pumpkin on fire in a trash can at their bus stop - right near the big green chair.) That was before we even knew Kit would end up at high school there.




Kit who is now 21 writes:

"Sometimes you can't help taking people for granted, without realizing it. Father Payne is one of those people that I took for granted because he was such strong force in my life I never even considered that one day he would not be there. Whether I was in trouble or he was simply reaching out, John Payne was always there for me and had my best interests at heart, and I was in trouble a lot. He will be missed by everyone that had the pleasure of knowing him, and I can not think of a single word that can describe the hole he leaves behind in this world. He was the type of person whose spirit words can not capture. i will always remember him and be thankful for every day I knew him."



Father Payne had a huge impact on our community. I mentioned him in a piece I wrote last year as being a local hero, and then yesterday saw a posting by my good friend Bobby Lee Birdsong echoing that very sentiment. Bobby was writing about tuning a piano at the National Shrine for Father Payne's mass today:

"I had a rather reverberant early Sunday eve just now, tuning a Steinway L grand piano at the National Shrine, empty of all but a few visitors. Sadly, this is for a funeral mass to be held tomorrow morning for Father John Payne, the beloved principal of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, who died unexpectedly last week at age 53, and who dedicated his life to God (a priest in the Augustinian Order), and to arts education. A truly awesome individual who bettered the lives and souls of thousands of DC art kids, and a true local hero. RIP Father Payne."

 (In lieu of flowers, gifts may be sent to the Ellington Fund, 2001 10th St., NW, Washington, DC 20001 or online at http://www.ellingtonschool.org/ellington-fund/donate-now/, indicate gift in memory of Father Payne)







Thursday, October 16, 2014

DC Rocks at the Movies




Most movies set in and around Washington are centered around federal dramas, not our own local scene. I might make an exception for "The Exorcist" because it was allegedly based on a Maryland boy who went to the then Jesuit run Georgetown Hospital for his exorcism. The movie was big news when it first opened here in 1973, but I wouldn't get up my courage to see it see it for years, though I could always point out those steep eerie steps near Key Bridge.



Oh, and "All the Presidents Men" came very close to home for me- not for the Washington Post angle so much as because one of the major players, E. Howard Hunt, lived next door to my family during the Watergate era. I remember my mom took him a casserole when he got out of jail, and he brought back the pan.



And who could forget "The Happy Hooker  Goes to Washington?" Well, me for one, but I''ll bet it played at the Key in Georgetown where the midnight showing of "Rocky Horror" reigned for years.

But I digress.

Hankering for a movie about DC natives and topics? Check out the Decade of Docs in Our City Film Festival. This event includes films that examine issues like our lack of voting rights and  our rapidly changing neighborhoods, Ballou's marching band program, the era of Cool Disco Dan, graffiti bandit, and The Bayou, a long gone night club with a great musical pedigree.




Friday, October 3, 2014

Conveniently Yours



Daytime, night time, Saturday, too…
(Anybody remember that catchy little bit o' advertising?)

This weekend Takoma Park, Md might have the corner on live music starting Saturday night with King Soul at the Takoma VFW. If you are tired of spending too much for a night out, let me tell you, the price of a cocktail at this place is as old school as this great little joint.
Then if you get home early enough, and still have yer get up and go the next day, why not take the whole family to the Takoma Park Street Festival  on Sunday.  All of old town will be closed to traffic with 3 stages-one at either end and one in the middle. It's back to bands- over 15 acts - all day long from 11 a.m. 'til round 5 pm. Free.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hang with Your Hometown



An unusual gig is coming up this Friday at the Birchmere - a sort of Western themed musical called Hangtown Dancehall - spearheaded by ex- pat Washingtonian Eric Brace and Karl Straub. This one of a kind project involves a cavalcade of local musicians and features another formerly local player Kelly Willis as well.  Since Eric used to write  the "Nightwatch" colum for the Washington Post, I thought I'd let him tell you how this collaboration came about. His story includes a lot of old local stuff which I'm always a sucker for:


"I first encountered Karl Straub in the early '90s at Alice Despard's little club Roratonga Rodeo. Alice had opened Roratonga Rodeo in Clarendon in, perhaps, 1991, wayyyyy before Clarendon was cool. Before the Whole Foods!  I was in two bands then: One was called The Beggars, and I was playing bass in Kevin Johnson & the Linemen. Both bands played at the Roratonga Rodeo, and it became a hang out even when I wasn't playing. I'd park in the crumbling lot of the empty Sears (where the Barnes & Noble is now) and spend hours at Roratonga's little bar. (Alice transformed it into Galaxy Hut a few years later.) 

And the Rodeo was where I first saw Karl's band -The Graverobbers- which immediately became my favorite group in town. They also had a Sunday night residency at IOTA when that opened in '93, back when it was 1/3 the size it is now. I loved the band's bash-it-out garage rock, loved Karl's singing and guitar playing, but especially his songwriting -- surreal lyrics floating over spectacular melodies and chord progressions.

Karl was also one of my inspirations for starting my band Last Train Home, partly because there were songs of his I always wanted to sing like "Tonight" and "It Doesn't Matter." 

But I always wanted to be in a band and collaborate more with Karl. We would have long conversations about songwriting, guitar playing and a myriad of things like Ernst Lubtisch's pre-Hollywood musicals.

The Gold Rush was always in my head. Being a kid in Northern California, I always imagined digging up a big old gold nugget. As an adult I read up on the history of that time, and was hit by how many great songs could be written about it. As I started crafting a story line to hold the music together, I remembered Karl's thoughts on movie scores, and I asked him if he would be up for composing an overture to the whole thing. (He had recently gotten a degree in composition from Howard University.)
He said he'd get right on it. 

That never happened.

But he did become part of the whole process. He co-wrote much of "Hangtown Dancehall" with me as well as some of my favorite moments all by his lonesome including "Smile and a Little Skin" and "Hangtown Fry." 

For more details, here's a review of the show from Steve Kiviat  or just come and see for yourself.  It's sure to be a hometown kind of thing with lots of reunions going on both on stage and in the audience.




Thursday, September 25, 2014

Going Back


DC ROCKS' Song of the Month is "Goin' Back"- a must for all you DC music fans to add to your playlists.  Although the song credits go to Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the only version I really like is by DC 's own Nils Lofgren.

Nils might be nationally known as a guitar slinger (and acrobat) for  Bruce Springsteen, but around here everyone likes to tell stories that swirl around his roots in Bethesda, his early escapades with Neil Young and of course, his band Grin. It seems like countless fans of a certain age either know him or his brother, or heard the band practicing in a garage somewhere. Grin even played Fort Reno way back when. But it was just after Grin and way before Springsteen that Nils came out with a solo album which included "Going Back."The Byrds did it. Carole King did it. Freddie Mercury did it for Pete's sake. Phil Collins has a beautiful version, but to me Nils is the only one that lifts this song out of its sugar glazed gauze and puts it on solid ground.

His version lacks sentimentality which is hard to do with a song so deeply steeped in nostalgia. I don't know if it's the up beat or the piano, but in the end, this song defies its title and is as much about moving forward as it is about going back.  I think Nils Lofgren is the one that delivers that message with joy. Play it if you can.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Get Out



September weather can be dang near perfect in DC so now is a good time for a walk-about. This Saturday check out my favorite food and music frenzy- the H Street Festival which is a huge yet still eclectic celebration of a neighborhood. Make sure you get a piece of one of those  Dangerously Delicious Pies. (the most deadly being the Baltimore Bomb)  These hefty slices of heaven are brought to you by a musician who honed his baking skills while touring and managed to bake his way off the floor by the cat box to a couch. Now he has his own shops- two in DC and one in Baltimore.

Also in the mix are multiple stages, sometimes every block, and all kinds of activities and bands including MH and his Orchestra, Little Red and the Renegades and Vintage 18.