More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

New York Theatre Weekend August 8, 2017

Filed under: Friends,Pop Culture,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 8:12 pm

This Broadway season has had an unusual number of shows I was dying to see including several plays. A lot of times I don’t get too sad about not getting to see some musicals on Broadway because I know they’ll eventually tour and I’ll see them then. That doesn’t really happen with plays in the same way, so I was exceptionally keen to get up to New York and see a number of shows.

April, May, and June were too crazy with other travel and things going on in my life, so I wasn’t able to go up at any point in the spring. My passion to make this happen got reignited after watching the Tony Awards at the beginning of June. Sadly, I did not realize until that night when I started thinking about planning a trip that two of the plays I wanted to see were closing June 25. There was no way I was going to be able to make it to New York before then, so I was very sad that I was going to miss out on seeing Sweat and Indecent.

But then the theatre gods smiled upon me and I got a little bit of a reprieve. I did indeed miss out on Sweat, but they wound up extending the run of Indecent at the last minute through August 6. After I found that out I vowed to make it up before it closed for real. I also planned to see Doll’s House, Part 2 during the weekend. It supposedly is not closing until January, but if it continues to be as empty as it was on Sunday, I suspect it’s not going to make it that long. I also decided I could fit in three shows over the weekend, especially since everything I wanted to see was only 90-100 minutes with no intermission, so I also added in the musical that was highest on my list, Come From Away.

I took the train up early on Saturday morning. I was happy that all my trains ran on time despite all the crazy track work that is happening at Penn Station right now and ruining everyone’s life. In a Smalltimore moment I wound up in a train car with another librarian from Baltimore that I know who was going up to New York for the weekend with her daughter. They were seeing Come From Away at the same time I was. I stayed with a friend who lives in mid-town, which of course was super convenient for all the theatre I had planned. It was nice to spend time with her between  all my shows.

The first show I saw was Come From Away. I loved every show I saw over the weekend, but Come From Away was probably my favorite. It’s a musical based on the true story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland that wound up taking in 7,000 plane passengers after their planes were diverted there when U. S. airspace closed on 9/11. The music has sort of a Gaelic feeling to it with both rock and folk influences. I loved everything about this show. It’s funny, moving, I adored the music and dance, it made me cry, and it reminded me that humanity does have good in it even when it’s being horrible. If you get the chance I highly recommend seeing this show. It’s probably the Broadway show I’ve loved the most since seeing Hamilton.

Saturday night I went to see Indecent. It is also based on a true story about the life of the play The God of Vengeance and the people involved with it.. It was written in 1905 by a Jewish Pole and was the first play to feature two women kissing on stage. It was an international sensation until anti-Semitism grew stronger around the world and obscenity charges were brought against the actors during a 1923 production in New York. The story continues into the 1950s after World War II when many of those involved with the play are killed. It’s a great story about the power of art and love to prevail over the worst in humanity. I do wish that I had read The God of Vengeance prior to seeing it, but I’m probably still going to read it now to get a better understanding to reflect on.

My final show of the weekend was A Doll’s House, Part 2. It’s a newly written play, but it is a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House. It takes place 15 years after the events in the original play with Nora returning to confront the husband she left after she finds out that he had never filed their divorce papers. The original play is pretty serious, so I was not actually anticipating how humorous A Doll’s House, Part 2 was going to be. It’s a very dry, sarcastic humor but very amusing nonetheless. I just missed seeing the original cast which included Laurie Metcalf who won a Tony for the role, but Julie White does an excellent job in the role of Nora. I would highly recommend this show as well if you can see it before it closes in January. You don’t even really need to be familiar with A Doll’s House to enjoy it. The play pretty much sets up everything you need to know. There was only one line that I think probably would be lost on you if you hadn’t seen the original show but it doesn’t really affect anything.

It was a great weekend with three great shows. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect weekend of theatre. I’ll definitely have to do it again sometime.

 

 

 

 

American Acoustic at Wolf Trap August 3, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 9:53 pm

I always try to make it down to Wolf Trap for a show at least once per summer because as I’ve mentioned many times before it’s one of my favorite venues. Last night was the night for this summer. It really is a testament to how much I love it that I’m willing to deal with rush hour traffic in both Baltimore and DC to get down there. Last night’s drive was particularly terrible because we drove down in thunderstorms pretty much the entire way. There was one particularly harrowing part where we could barely see the road it was raining so hard.

Despite the awful weather during the drive, the weather gods continued to smile on me this week because we got no rain once we actually got to the venue. There were a couple flashes of lightning, but it didn’t wind up amounting to anything thankfully. In fact it turned out to be the perfect barefoot, blue jean summer night. It’s my favorite kind of weather. The fact that the show was acoustic meant that the music wasn’t super loud, and you could hear the cicadas in the trees as well. It really was the perfect summer atmosphere in one of my favorite places.

The performance I went to see last night was the American Acoustic tour which featured The Punch Brothers, I’m With Her (a supergroup composed of Sarah Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan), and Julian Lage. Each of them played some songs on their own, but even in their individual sets there was lots of collaboration between them with various members of each of the groups coming out to join each other on songs. Then at the end they played a number of songs all together.

I pretty much have to agree with exactly what I heard a guy walking out in front of us say. My favorite parts of the show were the ones featuring the members of I’m With Her because I’m a huge sucker for some female harmonies. And as he said, I too still miss Nickel Creek, and loved the few Nickel Creek songs they played. It was an excellent night of music all around though. Everything about the night was well worth the less than fun trip to get there.

 

The 2017 Newport Folk Festival August 1, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture,Travel — dwhren @ 9:06 pm

As we’ve done for the past 6 years we headed up to Rhode Island the last weekend of July for the Newport Folk Festival. It’s always my favorite weekend of the year. As always it was a magical experience from the weather to the music. Heading into the weekend it looked like we were going to get rained on a lot. I literally took up half my suitcase with rain boots in preparation for being soaking wet. Instead it wound up being one of the best weather weekends we’ve had at Newport. It was chilly, grey, and super windy on Saturday from the nor’easter that came through the mid-Atlantic over the weekend, but somehow was kept just south of the Rhode Island coast. Unlike a lot of people who apparently don’t know how to check a weather forecast, I came prepared and was appropriately clothed so it wasn’t too bad. Sunday was perfect.

I know no one cares, so I won’t bore you with a play by play of who I saw play, but I’ll just share some of the best moments from the weekend. I always enjoy when artists have what I like to think of as a “Newport moment” where they just become overwhelmed by the fact that they’re playing this historic festival. That happened to Big Thief on Friday. The lead singer stopped partway through her set and said I’m shaking. It just doesn’t seem right to keep playing through my set like this is a normal show. I don’t know what to play right now, at which point people in the crowd started shouting out song suggestions. She was completely overwhelmed saying I can’t believe you guys know the name of my songs. She finally settled on a song, but asked to start it over and put down her guitar and just let the rest of the band back her while she picked up the microphone and sang and danced. The crowd gave them a standing ovation at the end of the song. Newport, man.

Nancy and Beth featuring Nick Offerman, which is the sort of vaudeville show put on by Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt. It was just ridiculous amounts of fun, and I appreciate that they stuck around the rest of the weekend and popped up in various places.

Grandma’s Hands Band was a special treat. I knew it was a tribute to the songs of Bill Withers (Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine, Lovely Day to name a few), but there wasn’t any information released ahead of time about who would be participating in it. This was just one of the many moments of the festival when you trust producer Jay Sweet and show up for something amazing. I’m constantly stage hopping so I very rarely make it in time for the pre-set announcement of who is playing. Assuming they actually did say from the top who was on stage I missed it, so I was incredibly delighted to realize that the distinctive sounds of M. C. Taylor (aka Hiss Golden Messenger) were coming from the stage. He played together with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) and Phil Cook plus a number of other guest singers. The whole thing was a real treat and again something just so signature Newport. What other music festival creates multiple tribute sets (there was also one for the songs of Chuck Berry).

As I mentioned in a previous post after seeing Joseph perform in Annapolis a few weeks ago, they definitely earned themselves a spot in my Newport lineup. They did not disappoint. They were equally as amazing and blew the crowd away. And they participated in another venerable Newport tradition in which an artist who is not on the bill for the weekend at all shows up and joins in other people’s sets. In this instance it was Zach Williams from The Lone Bellow who joined them to sing Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. Definitely one of my highlights of the weekend.

Starting off my Sunday with Choir! Choir! Choir! was a wonderful experience. If you’re not familiar Choir! Choir! Choir! was started by two guys from Toronto just inviting people to get together and sing via a Facebook event. In the years since it has taken over their lives. For 40 minutes they amused the crowd with their humor and eventually turned us into a choir teaching us to sing in two part harmony Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Nothing better than joining my folk family in a beautiful sing-a-long.

Rhiannon Giddons was one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Again you could just feel her excitement and awe at getting to perform on the Newport stage. One of her band mates told a wonderful story about how his father-in-law played the first Cajun two-step set back in the 60s. Prior to arriving they were panned in the Newport paper and worried they were going to show up and get booed off the stage. Instead the crowd went wild for them and he wrote a song about the experience that Rhiannon Giddons and her band played. The whole set was fantastic.

Speak Out was another random set I didn’t really know what I was getting into going in. I heard Jay Sweet talk about it on the All Songs Considered podcast. He basically said that after the election he had many artists contact him about wanting to come to Newport this year to be a part of it even if only for a song because of what Newport is and the meaning of folk music. Last year’s festival seemed very political to me. A lot of artists spoke out against Trump and things that were happening at this time last year, so I sort of expected it to be even more so like that this year. Instead it wasn’t at all, and ultimately I was glad for it. I’m so inundated with politics every other second of my life these days, it actually felt really great to disconnect from it all and celebrate through song for a change. Even during a set entitled Speak Out, no one actually spoke in just words. The entire thing was songs. It was artists both again on this year’s bill and those who showed up just to sing a song bringing back old protest songs to help fight another day. Zach Williams showed up again as did Sharon Van Etten and Margo Price who I had not seen around the rest of the weekend. I of course should not have been surprised the Jess and Holly from Lucius showed up during this one too. They have come back to Newport every year since the first time they performed whether they were on the bill or not. I was jokingly making up a Newport bingo card for the weekend and my husband said I needed to put a Jess and Holly sighting on there. He’s not wrong. Listening to them sing O-o-o-h Child backed by the Berklee Gospel Choir and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was another highlight of my weekend.

This year’s closing headliner for the festival was the legendary John Prine. I have heard so many artists cover his song “Angel from Montgomery”, it was a real treat to finally get to hear him sing it. In that same All Songs Considered interview I mentioned, Jay Sweet said that he could not give time to everyone who had asked him to sing with John Prine during his set. A lot of people came out and sang with him including Margo Price, Jim James, Nathaniel Rateliffe, and Jess and Holly. The biggest surprise of all was Roger Waters. He headlined last year and sang a John Prine song during his set. This year he came back to sing a song with John Prine because what even is this festival. How does someone like Roger Waters just stop in to a sing a single song. That’s how special this is. There really aren’t words to convey it even though I try every year.

It was another amazing weekend that helped to restore my weary soul.

 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40th Anniversary Concert Tour at Royal Farms Arena July 25, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 8:54 pm

This past Sunday I went to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on their 40th Anniversary Concert Tour at Royal Farms Arena. It’s the third time I’ve seen Tom Petty live, but the first time I’ve managed to stay for the entire set. The first time I saw him was on the Wildflowers tour back when I was in high school. I went with my friends, my sister, and her boyfriend. My sister insisted on leaving before the encore and since her boyfriend drove we all wound up having to leave on her whim. A few years ago I went to one day of the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware. The day we went Tom Petty was the headliner, but this time I was the one who wanted to leave before it was over. He didn’t go on until almost midnight and we had an almost 2 hour drive home, so I wanted to cut out before the crowd left and resulted in us spending that long just trying to get out of the parking lot.

I’ve loved Tom Petty for a long time. I always say that my first indication that my love of my music was more shall we say intense and different than my friends should have been that while all my middle school aged friends were freaking out over NKOTB, I was over in the corner in love with Tom Petty’s song “Won’t Back Down”. Full Moon Fever was one of the first CDs I ever bought. Tom Petty is the only artist for whom I owned a box set. And I’ve long said that if I played baseball my walk up song would be “American Girl”. So basically what I’m saying is my love for Tom Petty is long and deep. So I was very excited to get to celebrate this milestone with him.

The opener was Peter Wolf formerly of the J. Geils Band so I found out. My husband was astonished I didn’t know that, but I said I never really cared for the J. Geils Band. There is something about their sound that I find off-putting. That held true listening to his set. I have no idea how many of the songs he played were J. Geils stuff versus his solo stuff because I only recognized one song, but certainly the songs that had that J. Geils feel to them I liked much less than the other ones.

Tom Petty’s set however was A+. It was like it was custom made for me. He did mostly just play his big hits, so it’s not like I was looking for him to dig very deep. However, there were a few pulls that I had hoped he’d play that I never dreamed he would. I have always loved the song “Yer So Bad”. I mean it was a single, so it had radio play but I don’t think it was ever a huge hit so I never really expected him to play it. I was super delighted when he did.

Wildflowers is decidedly my favorite Tom Petty album, and from what I read in his biography by Warren Zanes, which I highly recommend reading if you’re a Tom Petty fan, Tom Petty also views it as his best work. Thus I wasn’t super surprised that in addition to playing a couple of other songs from the album at other points in the show, he did a mini-set of songs from the Wildflowers album in the middle of the show. In addition to the title song, which is probably my favorite Tom Petty song ever, and “It’s Good to Be King”, he also played “Crawling Back to You”. As he pointed out it was a song that was never released as a single and thus something they rarely play. It’s definitely my second favorite song off of Wildflowers and might rank that high among all his songs for me. Until I was singing along with it, I had forgotten that I actually had used some lyrics from that song as my email signature my freshman year of college. I could not be happier that I got to hear him play it live.

The rest of the show was basically a string of hit singles spanning from the opening song they played, “Rockin’ Around (With You)”, which is the first song they ever recorded up through his most recent single from 2014, “The Forgotten Man”. It was one giant sing-a-long for 2+ hours. It was so much fun and was exactly what I was hoping for in the show.

I don’t know if he’ll stick to it or not, but I did read going into this tour that Tom Petty said he suspects it will be his last big tour. When he chooses to play live it will be some one off shows in smaller clubs. If this does wind up being his last big hurrah, he’s going out on a hell of a high note and I’m glad I got to be there for it.

 

The Big Sick July 10, 2017

Filed under: Movies,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 9:11 pm

I love romantic comedies and dearly miss them. There have been very few rom-coms even made in the past decade or so and the few that have been made have pretty much all been garbage. Hollywood is apparently not interested in rom-coms anymore. They are not bankable overseas I would imagine, and that is apparently the only thing that matters anymore. I enjoy a good superhero film as much as anyone, but I’m really not interested in watching nothing but people blowing stuff up. Same thing for television where everything is now a prestige drama. Sometimes you just want to watch one of those blue sky USA shows that they no longer make but I loved. Sometimes I just want to watch something amusing and sweet that makes me leave the theater with a big smile on my face. Happily there is finally a movie out there that made me do just that.

This past Friday I finally got to see The Big Sick, which I had anxiously been awaiting since I first heard about it months ago coming out of some of the film festivals. The movie is loosely based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon. They wrote the movie and Kumail stars in it as himself along with Zoe Kazan playing Emily. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily’s parents.

The general story is that a few months into their relationship Emily winds up in a coma and Kumail develops a relationship with her parents and realizes how much Emily means to  him, which means he’s going to finally have to defy his Pakistani parents’ wishes for him to marry a Pakistani girl.

It’s a wonderful, hilarious, and heartfelt romantic comedy that probably is a little bit more com than rom, which makes sense since the female protagonist half of the relationship spends about a third of the movie in a coma. I laughed a ton and rooted for the couple to get together. All the things I’m supposed to do in a romantic comedy. I can only hope that this movie is a harbinger of more movies like it to come.

The Big Sick has been slowly rolling out into theaters across the country like they tend to do for smaller independent movies. If it hasn’t already, hopefully it will soon show up in a theater near you. Once it does run, don’t walk, to go see it. You won’t be sorry I promise you. Plus the better this movie does in theaters the more likely more movies like it will follow.

 

Cape Cod July 6, 2017

Filed under: Family,Travel — dwhren @ 7:57 am

After finishing up my conference in Chicago, I flew to Boston and headed out to Cape Cod where my sister and her family had rented a house for the week. I had mentioned I had a lot of vacation time to use by the end of June so she said why don’t you come to the Cape. We have plenty of room, and indeed they did. It worked out well for the rotating cast of my brother-in-law’s family who came in for a day or two from Boston while I was there.

My nieces are 8 and 5 now. It was good to see them since it had been six months since the last time I had seen them. They had lots of cousins coming in and out to play with though, so Aunt Danielle was much less interesting.

The house was really nice. It was about a half mile walk to the beach, which was a little farther than one might have wanted especially with kids but it worked out okay. I didn’t mind the walk and the kids were mostly troopers about it. We didn’t really wind up spending that much time on the beach anyway as it was chilly. The temperatures were only in the low 70s and with the strong sea breeze blowing in on us it was cold to sit out there. We never spent more than two hours down there on a given day and most days we were only out there for about an hour. This is why I don’t normally take beach vacations in New England.

One morning we also went on a seal cruise on the Monomoy Ferry. That was very cool in all senses of that word. We got to see a lot of seals and our guide was very informative. I learned a lot about seals, sharks, and the way the coastline changes in that area according to a specific pattern.

We were staying in Chatham, so a couple of days we went into the downtown area and walked around the shops on Main Street and let the kids play on the playground down there. It was a cute little area full of things I’m too poor to buy. I looked at one dress I liked and immediately put it right back on the rack when I saw the price tag reading $268.

We also went mini-golfing one afternoon. I am decidedly terrible at mini-golf, but I love it. I don’t do it nearly enough. It’s been years since the last time I went.

I also enjoyed our delicious seafood dinners with seafood from the fish market in town. We had some great salmon, halibut, shrimp, scallops, and of course lobster over the course of the four days I was there. I wish we had a really great place to buy seafood. I usually wind up getting it at Whole Foods for a billion dollars.

It was a lovely trip and much better than going to roast in Arizona to see my sister and family in June like I normally do.

 

Conferencing in Chicago July 3, 2017

Filed under: Family,Friends,Travel,Work — dwhren @ 7:59 am

Last week I set out on a trip that took me to Chicago for a conference and to Cape Cod for a short vacation with my family. I’m going to write about Chicago in this post and Cape Cod in the next one. This year’s annual American Library Association conference was in Chicago. As I am sure I’ve probably mentioned here before, I hate Chicago for this particular conference. Chicago is a fine city, but its convention center is in a terrible location not near to anything. You have to rely on shuttle buses to get back and forth from hotels as it’s not walkable to anywhere. After my last experience doing this a few years ago I decided I was going to skip the conference this year, but then an opportunity for me to be on a panel at the conference came up so I wound up going anyway.

It turned out to be a lovely conference, and I’m glad I went despite my still existing hatred of the logistics of the convention center. Luckily this time everything I had to be at and most of the stuff I wanted to be at was either scheduled in the convention center or the hotel attached to it, so I was able to just go over there in the morning and stay through the afternoon instead of trying to maneuver back and forth between the convention center and hotels for meetings multiple times per day. I also learned from my last trip and made reservations at a hotel that made it more convenient to get back and forth on the shuttle buses than the one I stayed at last time while also still leaving me walkable to lots of things to do in the evenings.

I had a great time at the conference. It was productive in that my panel went well as did the other program one of my committees was involved in planning. I’m not sure that I wound up going to anything that was super enlightening to me, but I left feeling good about my profession and my place in it so I’ll count it as a win.

The weather while I was there was pretty good. Friday night I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play with me. My hotel was very close to Millennium Park where they were having a free Stravinksy concert, so I grabbed some take out and went over to listen to it. It was a lovely evening sitting outside in some beautiful weather listening to music.

Saturday night I got to meet up with an old friend who I used to work at Barnes & Noble with in Baltimore, but who moved to Chicago a number of years ago. It was great to catch up with her face to face rather than just over Facebook for a change.

I got to do the same on Sunday with another friend who just left Baltimore six short weeks ago for a job after finishing her masters at Hopkins. When she told me she was moving to Chicago, I told her I was going to be there for a conference and we should get together while I was in town because she wasn’t getting rid of me that easily. It hadn’t been that long since I’d seen her, but I got find out how she’s faring in her new life and then be sad all over again that this person I like very much is now so far away from me.

Sunday afternoon I also got to finally put a real face to a Twitter pal over lunch. She is also a big music fan like I am and we’re always making each other jealous of the concerts we’re at from across the country. Of course she lives in Colorado so always gets to pull out the Red Rocks card. One day, Red Rocks, one day. It was fun to meet up with her and chat in real life for a change.

I wasn’t really looking forward to this conference at all, but it wound up being a good time and I’m really glad I wound up going.