Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What Would Frost Do?

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, " Robert Frost once said, and I wonder which one he would choose for Thursday evening if he were still here. He left the planet a little too early in January of 1963 to be a Rolling Stones' fan (although he talks about them a lot in his poem "Mending Wall.")
Those of you who do like to rock might want to think about heading down a road called Wilson Boulevard in Arlington for Keith Richard's birthday party/tribute at IOTA.

The other road, Georgia Avenue, leads us to Silver Spring where DC Brau and the Quarry House are throwing a Calypso party with The Harry Bells. Bring a toy if you are feeling Santa-like. Might be something cool and warm to do, and a good place "to stop without a farmhouse near" on a wintry night so close to the "darkest evening of the year."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rooting Up A Christmas Throwback

Right about now a lot of us are cringing as carols assault our ears wherever we go. Bearing that in mind, December's Song of the Month is one you don't often hear this time of year even though it is seasonal.

But first a little back ground.

photo by Alan Kresse
If you went to the University of Maryland in the last century, you might remember the Varsity Grill in College Park. I imagine at one time or another this little bar on Route 1 served clean shaven football players accompanied by their lanky blonde dates wearing letter jackets. However, by the time I arrived on the scene in the late 1970s, those days were long gone. The Grill was more of a blue collar establishment frequented by biker gangs, and dotted with scruffy college students. The bulk of the Terrapin freshmen could be found across the street dousing themselves with beer at the 'Vous.

photo by Alan Kresse

Never one to fit in anywhere, I felt more at home with the bikers.

Varsity Grill circa 1979/photo by Alan Kresse 
One night, way back when, friends hanging at the Grill were all geared up to see a band playing down the block. Everybody said we had to go check it out. I think we all stumbled through a rear door in the Grill and down an alley to get the Back Room, but those memories are hazy, and I may well be wrong. What I do remember is the place was seething with bodies by the time we walked in. The rickety balcony (which was out of puking range) felt only marginally safer than being in that crazy crowd below which was writhing in front of an even wilder scene on stage. It was the first time I had ever heard of "Root Boy Slim and The Sex Change Band."

That may have been the night the act was banned in College Park, but only temporarily. The band played on - well into the 1980s.  Foster MacKenzie III (aka Root Boy Slim) was a brilliant and witty man given to boisterous excess in all he did. He lived large, and he died too young, but he left DC a legacy of crazy stories and songs. As the old TV commercials used to say- who could forget classics like "Mood Ring?" ? Or "Boogie 'Til You Puke?" And of course (finally getting to the point) "Christmas at K- Mart."

This dark little number confronts our commercial society head on and thus qualifies for DC ROCKS' song of the month. When the rat race of shopping reaches a frenzied pitch,  I say retreat.  Scrounge up something strong to sip on, put your feet up and revive your spirit with a little satire and a nod to Slim who will always be missed in 7-Elevens and old haunts throughout D.C.

P. S. DC ROCKS thanks Alan Kresse for many of the photos in this piece. It sure comes in handy having a college house mate who was sober enough to take great pictures once upon a time. He still is a stellar photographer.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Where Are They Now? Part 2 Outside the Comfort Zone

I guess it's an official series if there are two parts of "Where Are They Now?"  Here's my second story about what's up with high school graduates from the Class of 2011. 

Way before Paris Achenbach started Wilson High school, she knew she loved the great outdoors. She felt like she belonged in the woods as much or more than at her home in Washington, DC. As a high school student, she became deeply concerned about the environment. She also loved playing piano. Progressive and musical Oberlin seemed like a good fit for her when it came time for college, but surprisingly, she never did take a single environmental studies course. Instead she found herself majoring in geology which provided a deeper (hah!)  understanding of our planet. She imagined herself becoming "a bad ass scientist," exploring caves in Greenland and pulling up ice cores to measure climate change.

However, a semester abroad in New Zealand would change her mind and her life. She discovered that however wondrous studying a glacier was in the field, she didn't really like the dryer aftermath of analyzing data. Instead the beautiful countryside further inspired her love of writing and photography so much so that she found herself writing every day.

Back in Ohio, Paris created a blog about college life at Oberlin and went on to graduate with a major in geology and a minor in English. After graduation, Paris returned to DC and spent the next year and a half figuring out what in the world she was going to do next.

This journey included: working on a coffee plantation in Jamaica, teaching kayaking in the San Juan Islands,

and walking the Camino in Spain with her two younger sisters- a journey you can read about here. 

Besides travel, Paris tried to get serious by pursuing career building internships. She worked at the Wilson Center and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. Both positions paid well, and looked good on a resume, but living safely in Washington, writing about disasters elsewhere left Paris feeling disconnected. She describes herself as a 23 year old sponge, longing to soak in different experiences,  ready to launch from her comfort zone- again.  Other friends had volunteered for Americorps' St Bernard Project restoring houses post- Katrina, and that sounded like the ticket for her.

Now Paris is off to New Orleans to live in a city she has never visited, to work with her hands without any construction experience,  and to meet people who are actively trying to make a difference.  (Being able to soak in all the music and culture New Orleans  has to offer is also a definite plus.)  In the spirit of true romance, she did not fly, but took a somewhat grueling 24 hour train ride to her new life, taking in the American South from a ground level window and coping with bathrooms she'd rather not see again. Some might question her mode of transportation, but Paris Achenbach will be the first one to tell you, she has the rest of her life to be comfortable. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tactical Holiday Hints

Holidays can be the best of times and the worst to borrow from Chaz. Dickens. I heard a great tip on the radio this morning which was to employ the same tactics used by hostage negotiators when confronted with tension at the table. Also a friend of mine told me about "fall back" behavior the other day, and it's helpful to be on the lookout fo this pattern of behavior. As he explained it, this psychological phenomenon occurs when usually rational people are under stress. Please allow me to illustrate with a little story. ( fictional, of course) (well, based loosely on random factual type stuff as as all fiction is).

Let's just say you are trying to get a hot turkey dinner, and all the trimmings together for 15 people who are about to walk in the door. You've been baking, cooking, stirring and spilling stuff for hours, but the fruits of your endeavors are coming together and about to land on the table with operatic precision.

Then your eye spots something amiss.

You ask your child to remove their shoes (and balled up socks if it's a boy) from the dining room. (One sock being on the table if  you have more than one boy.)

"In a minute." comes the reply.

Just then the dog throws up and the smoke detector goes off with unrelated fury.

"Get your socks and get a bucket, too. " You say dashing towards the oven.

"Why me?" says the kid.

Suddenly you are out on the back deck, alone, nursing that bottle of wine you were going to serve with dinner and relishing the solitude. This might be considered "fall back behavior."

If you are looking for an outlet from this kind of holiday fervor- or simply a reward for a job well done, you know me, I 'm going to suggest music. Yes, "music which hath charms to soothe a savage breast." ( yes, breast according to William Congreve.)

Music at home can be great in a pinch. I just found out Jimi Hendrix would have been 72 today thanks to WPFW, and  cranking the radio up in the car after dropping off my kids at their dad's felt wonderful. (definitely "fall back" behavior)

But let's get to the one of kind thing known as a live show. On Thanksgiving itself, you can head over to JVs for Dave Chappell, Andy Poxon and crew. Friday night, Valentine Slim will be holding forth at Takoma VFW; the Nighthawks and Skip Castro are at the State Theater.

Last but certainly not least on Saturday-look for the King Soul extravaganza with the Hardway Connection at Bethesda Blues and Jazz.

 If you can fall back with friends to catch you,  you've got something to be thankful for indeed.
Hang in there everybody.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Once Upon A Time

O all you people who love to harken back. Back when the crux of Wisconsin and Western Avenues was known as the District Line and was where, if you were lucky,  your mother might have taken you to get a party dress or a winter coat. Who would have believed that Woodward and Lothrop, one of the bastions of the Washington Shopping Plate, and seemingly as permanent as the Capital itself would go the way of the dinosaur?


ALL of those local department local stores are gone. Dang.

A few years ago massive renovations of the District Line into something akin to Rodeo Drive left me out in the cold. I never go there anymore except when driving through on my way to Magruder's. One exception? I will go to the basement of Clyde's in Chevy Chase. (the "new" one which is almost 20 years old) This Saturday vintage rock will be brought to you by many a Whitman grad in The Vi-Kings, a band who shares my fondness for things gone by.
No cover!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Herndon Meets Squeeze Box

Hey you, Herndonites. Little Red and the Renegades will be rolling your way via the Ice House Cafe and Oyster Bar this Friday night. This might be a haul for denizens of DC, but you all in the Northern climes of the Old Dominion ought to be able to find your way there. Support your scene, Virginia!
A full bar and free music rocks.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hey You Kids

These days movies about the harDCore local scene like "Salad Days: The DC Punk Revolution" and "Punk the Capital" are popping up like a fairy ring of mushrooms around the Beltway. One such film- "Positive Force: More Than a Witness" will be screening this weekend at St Stephen's with all proceeds going to inner city seniors- a positive thing indeed.

While reliving the past is a comfortable and sometimes wonderful place to be, we've still got music being made here and now: live and loud and in person. We've got active musicians that inspired the scene and, by the way, are kind of close to being seniors themselves. These people go back. Way back. Before Fugazi back. Just last week it was the Beatnik Flies show at the Quarry House and Marshall Keith and friends up at the mill. This Friday it'll be right here in town. John Stabb and the aptly named History Repeated will be kicking the line up with 7 Door Sedan, Spidercake and much more at Union Arts DC.

Please support this living thing we call music.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ubangi Slickee Yacht Flies On the Loose this Weekend

Beware there is no sign for the Quarry House, but somehow people follow the clarion call to this basement den of iniquity where there is a plentitude of good beer, bourbon and music.The show this Saturday night featuring The Beatnik Flies and The Yachtsmen will indeed be a wild and wooly one, and the ONLY place to be for all Beatnik Flies, Yachtsmen. (and Slickee Boy fans)

Unless, of course,  you are up at the happening at the Hyattstown Mill with the Ubangis and Marshall Keith.

(Two places at once would work for me.)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Upside Down DC Politics As Usual

The DC voter's guide came out in a timely fashion this year full of helpful information as usual. What was unusual was the DC flag was printed upside down. 


Even funnier was the short lived attempt to claim it was done on purpose "to engage the voter." That was soon followed by full admission that this was just what it was- a big boo-boo. 
(So DC as we like to say here.)

Anyway you look at it, DC politics often turn this town upside down. Stories about council spats, scandals, and misappropriated funds often make national headlines. Marion Barry, the once and future godfather of chocolate city, can always be relied upon to keep things real, but sometimes he makes the news without even trying.
Even without his honor running this year, our mayoral race is turning out to be anything but dull. What should have been an easy win for Muriel Bowser has turned into something of a political nightmare for her thanks to David Catania and Carol "the phoenix" Schwartz who has risen again after a long hiatus. WAMU held a lively forum back in October which might be one of my favorite debates ever. All three candidates involved came into the ring swinging with gloves off. If you are still on the fence, you might want to take a listen.

Washington might be besieged with some of  the worst traffic and is in third place for the most rats in the nation, but  I am happily astounded by how progressive our city has become about embracing personal freedoms such as gay marriage and loosening penalties for marijuana. It's also good to see the uptick in bicycle and river traffic- canoes and crews and kayaks everywhere. (I can remember a time when the Potomac was so polluted, we were told not to go near the water.)

Whatever your view point- please get out out on Tuesday and let it be known. We are the ones that make this city what it is- as much as we can without representation in Congress- but we are also the only ones who can change that. The best way to rock DC is to vote.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Song of the Month Refuses to Die

October's song "The Brain That Refused to Die" is DC's own spooky little number brought to you by the Slickee Boys. This song may live on as a digital download, or perhaps it's buried somewhere in your old vinyl collection, but these days, air play is rare. Still there's a good chance Weasel will play it on Halloween this Friday. (Yes, the stalwart home grown deejay of 'HFS days also refuses to die and still has a radio show going on WTMD.)

Mark Noone, Slickees' front man, often credits Weasel with helping to launch the band's career by giving their songs a boost on the radio. "Brain" was born circa 1980, and soon there after live concerts would not feel complete without guitarist Kim Kane donning the ritualistic mask during their set. (as if his signature fu manchu and long black braid weren't enough)

Although the group has disbanded, the Slickee tribe wove quite a spell in its day, infecting everyone with their raucous energy and creativity throughout the 1980s and reunion gigs up until 2011. This rough footage of the Slickee Boys performing "Brain" at University of Maryland's Colony Ballroom in 1984, will give you some idea of what went on in this crazy fun band whose colorful costumes were as much a part of the show as their music.

 A must on any Halloween sound track.
Keep it alive...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Don't Boo Hoo

I like Autumn.

Yes, I know, I know, it's the end of days, the dimming of the light, and all that sad seasonal disorder disease, but the spectacular fall weather that we've been having here in Washington DC has me jazzed. I love the fluctuating temperatures, the mix of clouds and bodacious blue skies and definitely the random craziness of Halloween.

Speaking of which, come Thursday, David Kitchen's band will be presiding over a Halloween Eve Bash. at JVs Restaurant in Falls Church. This tiny place will be celebrating 67 years next month and expanding its size soon, so hope its "ageless charm" remains in tact. JVs has always been a crazy place to see a rock show, and I imagine Thursday's event will be particularly barmy. What I do know is the band will rock your socks off. Stop by and wish David a happy birthday- he's asking for it.

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.