Newport Folk Festival 2015 Day 1

This year was my fourth year in a row at the Newport Folk Festival. It is by far my favorite musical experience of the year every year. Every single thing you could read about this festival says the same thing, that it’s a music lovers festival all about the music. It’s completely true and that is why I love it so much. I have been to other music festivals where it’s really just an excuse for people to go get drunk and high and oh yeah there happens to be some bands playing to enhance those experiences. At Newport people of all ages (literally from newborns to people ready to fall into the grave) are gathered together to experience the joy of music. Even the musicians love it. Every single one of them gets up on stage and talks about the history of the festival and how much it means to them to be playing it and how the Newport audience is like no other. That and if they’re playing the main stage they all comment on the incredible view of the bay.

The spirit of musical collaboration is also one of the fantastic things about Newport. Musicians pop up in each other’s sets all the time. As best as I can tell Lucius (who played the festival last year) wasn’t even scheduled to play anywhere in the area over the weekend yet members of the band, Holly and Jess showed up and sang in numerous sets during the actual festival as well as some of the after shows that take place in the evening. I saw someone joke on Twitter on Monday that they woke up fully expecting Lucius to make a surprise appearance in their kitchen. It speaks so much to what Newport is that bands who don’t even have an official set show up and play.

This festival really is a music lover’s dream. Every year I think there is no way it can get any better because it’s more amazing every year. Yet somehow they manage to top themselves every year. I am already counting down the days until I can go back next year. Now that I’ve once again regaled you with reasons that I love the festival so much on to the actual bands I saw on day one. I’ll have separate posts for days two and three.

The Goodbye Girls

Every year Newport introduces me to bands I had never heard of before. Once the schedule goes up and I see times I’m not committed to a set already I listen to the bands to decide who I want to check out live. This year for the first set of the festival I went with The Goodbye Girls, which is a band of four women on the fiddle, acoustic guitar, upright bass, and banjo. They also create some beautiful harmonies. Listening to this song, “Devil on my Mind” is what sold me on seeking out their set. They were a lovely way to kick off hte festival.

Joe Pug

Elephant Revival

I only saw about half of Elephant Revival’s set because it overlapped with Leon Bridges, but what I saw I enjoyed. I always love some upbeat folk music with the band members playing all kinds of instruments. It doesn’t look like anyone has posted anything online from their Newport set, but this will give you an idea.

Leon Bridges

I’ve been digging Leon Bridges roots/soul sound for months now, so I was super excited to get to see him live at Newport. I think he was one of the first acts announced as they rolled out their lineup and I immediately fell in love. It was probably within a week or two that I started hearing him played on NPR music stations.

The Lone Bellow

If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time you know that I adore The Lone Bellow and that I’ve seen them numerous times in concert previously. They are always amazing and this set was no different. More than anyone this year they embraced the spirit of collaboration. They played four different songs with other artists from the festival: Leon Bridges, Holly and Jess from Lucius, Sara Watkins, and members of the New Breed Brass Band. You can listen to their full set from NPR music and I highly recommend that you do.

Tallest Man on Earth

I missed the Tallest Man on Earth’s set when he was there two years ago as it conflicted with someone else I wanted to see more. I’m happy I got a chance to see him this time. I love the music and I he was commanding the stage. This is another one that NPR Music recorded and you can listen to if you want.

Watkins Family Hour

While most of the people at Newport were off at the main stage listening to the surprise My Morning Jacket set, I was over at the Quad stage for the Watkins Family Hour because I will follow Sara Watkins wherever she goes. The year we were at Newport she was playing with Jackson Browne as well as doing a solo set, the second year she also had a solo set, last year she was there with the reunion Nickel Creek did for their 25th anniversary, and this year she was there with the Watkins Family Hour. The Watkins Family hour is a monthly live show she and her brother Sean have been doing along with a rotating cast of other people for 12 or 13 years (they couldn’t remember) at Largo in Los Angeles. Fiona Apple is a regular and was there for this. They just recorded their first album that came out the same day as this set. They also used to record the show and put it out as a podcast on the Nerdist podcast network, but that only lasted about a year. I wish they still did it. Unfortunately we wound up leaving about 20 minutes before their set was over because it looked like nasty thunderstorms were rolling in and we didn’t want to be stuck out in the open during a lightning storm. It did rain, but it seems the worst of it skirted to the west of Newport. Oh well. I’m happy I got to see what we did, and I’ll be excited to see Sara back at Newport again next year because I can’t imagine she won’t be there.

The video is from the set they did at one of the after shows Friday night.

It was a great first day and set the tone for a wonderful weekend.

New York City in 26 Hours

At some point this past winter my mother told me she was going to be in New York City for the Romance Writer’s of America conference in July and asked if I wanted to come up and see a Broadway show with her. At first I didn’t think it was going to work out because the time she was going to be there mostly overlapped with when I was going to be in Rhode Island for the Newport Folk Festival (more posts on that to come in the next several days). We figured out that she had some time free on Wednesday, so I could go up and meet her then but I still didn’t know if I wanted to do a day trip to NYC and then turn around and go to Rhode Island the next day. My smart husband pointed out that I didn’t need to come home. I could just stay overnight in New York and then take the train from there to Rhode Island the next day. So that’s what I did and it worked out splendidly.

Originally we were planning on a matinee, but after seeing what shows were going to be open while we were there and consulting some theatre people I know over social media I decided what I really wanted to see was Hamilton. I had heard nothing but amazing things about it’s off-Broadway run and I had loved Lin-Manuel Miranda’s previous show In the Heights. Technically Hamilton was still in previews while we were there, so they weren’t doing Wednesday matinees. We figured out that my mom could swing an evening show, but by that point I had already purchased my train ticket for first thing in the morning. Thus I had most of the day to figure out other things to do. What to do in NYC on a Wednesday afternoon? Why obviously go see another show. I couldn’t pass up seeing the newly Tony award winning musical Fun Home as well.

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After getting into the city I met up with my mom at her hotel and we had time to grab lunch together before she had conference events and I had to get to Fun Home. The musical is based on the graphic novel memoir of the same name by Alison Bechdel. It’s the story about her family, her experience coming to terms with her sexuality and coming out to parents and then finding out that her father lived his life as a closeted gay man. In the show Alison is played at three different ages by three different actresses. I am by far not the first person to say that 11 year old Sydney Lucas who currently plays Small Alison is incredible. If you don’t believe me take a look at her show stopping number “Ring of Keys”. I expect to see much more of this young girl in years to come. It’s a small, intimate show and not what you would typically expect from a Broadway musical necessarily but it works very well. It’s a beautiful show.

Since my mom was going to be busy during dinnertime with a book signing I decided to try and make dinner plans with one of my Twitter friends, Jess. We had actually made plans to meet up once before when I was in NYC last October, but she got horribly ill and had to cancel. So it was great that we finally got a chance to meet up in person. She is just as delightful in real life as she is online. I like knowing that if we lived closer she’s someone I’d want to hang out with in person and no just follow online. I’ve had great luck that all the Twitter friends I’ve met in real life have turned out to be great off-line too. Granted I would never try to meet any of the people I follow online who I didn’t think I would be friends with. I follow people for all sorts of reasons and I don’t necessarily think I would get along with all of them if we met in person. We had an enjoyable dinner, and I hope we’ll manage to get together again at some point.

Then it was time for Hamilton. When I chose that show to see with my mom I was a little bit worried that she might not like it because the music is mostly sung in various forms of rap. I do know she likes history though and figured that the show would be compelling enough that it would be ok. Happily I was right and we both loved it. The show if you’re unfamiliar is the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life. Speaking of talented people, Hamilton is played by Lin-Manuel Miranda who also wrote the book and music for the show. The choreography is also fantastic. It was also great to see Jonathan Groff back on a Broadway stage as King George III (though I’m sorry Looking being canceled is the reason he was available to do it). I was a little surprised that his part was so small, but he made the most of the 10 minutes or so he actually spends on stage. The whole thing was great. I know I’ll be listening to that cast recording a lot once it makes its way into the world.

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Thursday I also had some time to kill on my own before catching my train to Rhode Island. I started off by getting a bagel for breakfast. I’m sure I’ve said it around these parts before, but Baltimore bagels are not good. I am always happy to get a delicious legitimate bagel when I’m in New York. After that I headed down to the 9/11 Memorial. Despite the numerous times I’ve been to New York City since 9/11 happened I had never been down to that area before. I didn’t actually have enough time to go to the museum, so I just wandered around the memorial site. I also wandered a few blocks farther down over to the water and discovered some little park monument thing to the Irish famine that was also need to wander through. The weather was actually gorgeous while I was there, so it was nice to be out along the water.

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After that I had time to grab lunch with my mom before catching my train. It was a jam packed trip, but a most excellent one. I couldn’t have asked for a better day in New York.


Artscape is a large arts festival held every year in Baltimore. it’s billed as America’s largest free arts festival. It’s always the third weekend in July, which means that it’s always pretty much the hottest weekend of the year. Hence the reason that in the 15 years I’ve lived in Baltimore I’ve only been a couple of times. The last time I went was two years ago (I think. Last year seems to recent.) when a friend who used to live right on the edge of Artscape had a party in conjunction with it. We were only out at Artscape for a short time before it started pouring rain, so I didn’t even see much of it that year. I don’t even remember when the last time I went prior to that was. At least since the last time I went where I got to see the entire thing I’m pretty sure Artscape has at least doubled in size.

In some ways it’s your typical street festival with lots of vendors and food booths. Of course at this most of the vendors are artists. There are also a lot of other art related things going on though. There are several music stages outdoors where bands play. You also have other more classical musical performances in some of the theatres surrounding the area as well as dance and theatrical performances. Yesterday there was something with many actors from The Wire performing monologues written by Baltimoreans about their experiences in the unrest surrounding the death of Freddy Grey. The line to get into that was insane as I figured it would be so I didn’t even try to go. There is also a variety of performance art and larger art installations around the festival.

A couple of friends were going down yesterday and I decided that since I didn’t have anything else going on and I hadn’t really done the whole Artscape thing in awhile that I would brave the heat and crowds and go. Plus I feel like I’ve been traveling so much this summer that I have barely spent any time with most of my friends, so I decided rather than sitting inside on my couch I should get out and see some people. It was a fun, although very wilty time. It definitely reminded me of why I never go to Artscape. It’s just too dang hot. It was cool to walk around and look at everything and enjoy a little bit of the music. We didn’t go into any of the performances held in any of the theatres. I don’t think I’ve ever actually done that because I never pay close enough attention to the schedules for those things. It might have been a good idea to get out of the heat for awhile, but oh well. It was a fun afternoon, but unless by some miracle it’s not stupidly hot I’ll probably decide to sit Artscape out for a number of years before I go back again.

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Jason Isbell’s “Something More Than Free”

Remember two years ago when I wrote blog post after blog post about Jason Isbell’s Southeastern album? It’s ok. I know you don’t because despite how many times I’ve extolled my love of him and that album whenever I mention him to my friends they still stare at me with a blank look on their faces. You people have no idea what wonderful music you are missing out on.

Jason Isbell’s most recent album, Something More Than Free, was released this past Friday so I’m going to begin anew with extolling my love. Hopefully you people will come to your senses and listen to me this time. This isn’t actually Jason Isbell’s sophomore album. He’s been around a long time first as part of the Drive By Truckers and then putting out several solo albums, but Southeastern was the album that really made people sit up and take notice and really did seem like a turning point in his music. Therefore in my mind I was thinking of it a little like a sophomore album following a hit one, which is always a little worrisome. I loved Southeastern so much I feared that no matter how good it was there was no way that Something More Than Free would live up to the greatness of Southeastern or my expectations for the new album.

I really needn’t have worried. Every song on Something More Than Free is fantastic. I’ve already listened to it at least a dozen times at this point and would have listened more had my schedule allowed for me to actually be listening to music at any point in the last three days. Every time I listen I change my mind about which song is my favorite, which to me is the mark of a great album. There are plenty of albums I own that the same songs I gravitated towards the first time I listened to it are the only ones I wind up wanting to listen to, but with this one every song has been at the top of my list at some point. At this exact moment “The Life You Chose” and “Hudson Commodore” are really resonating with me, but ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably tell you something different.

Jason Isbell is a brilliant musician and lyricist, so if you know what’s good for you you’ll listen to me this time and give this album a try and then go back and listen to Southeastern. I’ll be seeing him live at the Newport Folk Festival in a few days, and I can not wait to hear some of these songs played live.

The Punch Brothers with Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck at Wolf Trap

Wednesday night I went with my friend Chinwe to see The Punch Brothers with Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck at Wolf Trap. For a change it wasn’t me who was trying to find someone to go to a concert with me. Chinwe actually asked me if I was interested in going with her. As you know Wolf Trap is my favorite venue and I do like the artists so I didn’t hesitate to say yes. We got lawn seats, which I love at Wolf Trap because you can bring in whatever food and drink you want and have a picnic, which we did. Even though it took close to two hours to get there with rush hour traffic (it only takes half that time to get home) we were still there about an hour before the show started so we had plenty of time to sit out and enjoy the beautiful weather and some food before the show started.

Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck were the opening act. If you are not familiar with them they are a banjo duo. I didn’t actually realize until the concert when they were talking about it that they are married. They were really fun. The music was wonderful, but they also had a lot of really amusing stage banter. A lot of it felt fairly rehearsed and would probably be the same thing I’d hear if I saw them again, but it was funny so I don’t mind. My friend Erin rightly pointed out to me that when we were in middle school we thought Béla Fleck and the Flecktones were the most ridiculous music. Oh how little we knew back then.

The Punch Brothers have been at the Newport Folk Festival every year I’ve been there (although they won’t be there this year), but for whatever reason I had never seen them. I guess there was always someone on another stage I wanted to see slightly more. So it was good to finally get a chance to see them live. They are incredible musicians and their harmonies were fantastic.

The whole thing was a great concert and I’m really glad Chinwe asked if I wanted to go.

Cream Cheese Frosting

I was cracking up at this short scene in the new season (3rd) of Orange is the New Black. Don’t worry it’s not at all spoilery if you do watch the show and haven’t gotten to this episode yet, and if you don’t watch you will still perfectly understand what is going on here.

This clip was so hilarious to me because my two favorite types of cake are red velvet and carrot cake. I’ve often said that really I think I just like cream cheese frosting because that is the common denominator between these two types of cake. I obviously disagree that red velvet isn’t a thing, but I do agree that it has gotten out of hand. I grew up in the South where red velvet is very much a thing and was a long time before it became all trendy. Red velvet everything is a bit ridiculous because it’s true it’s a mild chocolate turned red by a ton of red food coloring. Without it being in cake form piled with cream cheese frosting I don’t see the point. Don’t even get me started on people who make red velvet cake or carrot cake with something other than cream cheese frosting. It is an abomination and I won’t stand for it.

So to summarize, cream cheese frosting is delicious and I wish I had some on top of a piece of cake right now.

Idina Menzel at the Hippodrome

Wednesday night I went to see Idina Menzel in concert at the Hippodrome Theatre. She was fantastic. First off she just looked like she was having a good time up on the stage. I always appreciate when performer’s look like they’re having fun and don’t just seem like they’re going through the motions. She also did a good job of singing everything you would probably want her to sing if you’re a fan of her from Broadway plus throwing in some other fun stuff.

She did a number of songs from Wicked. She started off the show with a great performance of “Defying Gravity”. The audience was super into it and it really set the tone for the whole evening. The other two songs from that show that made an appearance were “The Wizard and I” and a small portion of “For Good”. She sang that off-mic and without the backing band. It really demonstrated her incredible voice. I could still hear her perfectly well sitting halfway up the balcony in a fairly large theatre.

She also sang a couple songs from Rent. She dedicated “No Day But Today” to Jonathan Larson who gave her her first big break in that show, but who sadly died the night before it’s first performance off-Broadway. A number of Broadway performers I’ve seen in concert have certain songs they will pick audience members to sing with them. Idina did that with “Take Me or Leave Me”. She actually had four different people do various parts with her. She went down into the audience and sang with two different people from the crowd. I do have to point out for this part she was really a veteran performer thinking of her entire audience as she realized walking farther back in the Orchestra section that the balcony audience probably couldn’t see her anymore and made sure to come back in view for us before they started singing. Most people don’t think of things like that and I really appreciate that she did. Then at the end she had two other people come up on stage with her to finish the song out. The first girl was pretty good. The second girl was decent until the end of her part when she tried to belt out a high note that she couldn’t quite reach. The guy and girl Idina brought up on stage with her were not good at all. They were both way off key and not even in the same wrong key, so that part was kind of painful to listen to. No matter though. I love the fact that she did that and I know the audience members who got to sing with her will never forget it. Those people are probably never going to sing on a stage in front of people like that ever again, and even if they weren’t great it’s awesome that they got up and did it because I certainly wouldn’t.

She of course had to throw in a song from If/Then her most recent Broadway show. I wasn’t super enamored with that show, so I didn’t really know the song because I would have only heard it once when I actually saw it. She rounded out the show with a number of other Broadway songs including “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, a medley of songs sung on Broadway by Ethel Merman, and singing “Tomorrow” as her final song of the evening.

She sang several songs that I wasn’t familiar with that apparently came off of her various albums, which I have never actually listened to. She also sang covers of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Radiohead’s “Creep”. I love a good mashup so I especially appreciated the mashup of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and the Police’s “Roxanne” that she did. Speaking of mashups she of course sang “Let It Go”, which was her final song before the encore. There was a lot of stuff going on with her performance of that song including a mashup somehow at the very end of it with the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Give It Away”. I love things like that. There of course was a lot of audience sing-a-long that she encouraged with that song, but it was also the second time in the show that individual audience members got to sing with her. There were three little girls sitting at various places in the front row and she gave each of them a chance to sing the chorus. It was super sweet and I love that she did that.

One other amusing, at least to me, side note. You may recall the band Vertical Horizon from back in the late 90s/early 2000s. My sophomore year college roommate was obsessed with them long before they ever signed with a major record label and put out the album you probably know if you know them at all. She got me really into them too. Thus when Idina was introducing the people in the band playing with her and she said an on the bass Seth Hurley I was like wait is this the same bass playing Seth Hurley that was in Vertical Horizon back in the day? I looked it up as soon as i got home and sure enough it totally was. He apparently has played bass in backing bands for a trillion people since he left Vertical Horizon, but this is the first time he’s ever popped up for me again at least in a way that I’ve been aware of. It amused me.

It was really a wonderful concert and worth every penny of the not so cheap ticket.

California Trip

It’s been radio silence around these parts recently because I’ve been traveling a lot. My final trip across the country in June was an 11 day trip to California. The American Library Association’s annual conference was held in San Francisco this year. My husband’s parents live about 4 hours north of San Francisco in Redding, California. Since I was going to be so close already we decided it was an opportune time to make a visit out to see them. We don’t get out there as often as we probably should because it’s a pain to get there. You can fly direct into Redding with a connection and for a ton of money, or still pay a lot but fly into another airport direct and then drive up. This time we flew in and out of Oakland because there’s a direct flight to there from Baltimore on Southwest.

Unfortunately our flight out was delayed by 3 hours, which was not ideal. It meant we didn’t actually get to Redding until what felt like 2 in the morning our time. The one nice thing about the flight was that serendipitously our friend Julie wound up on our flight heading out to Oakland for an entirely different reason. She moved away from Baltimore last year, so it was nice to get to catch up with her for a few hours while we were flying across the country.

We were there on Father’s Day, so we went out to a late lunch/early dinner with Paul’s parents and his aunt and uncle who live just down the street from his parents. They also took me out later in the week to celebrate my birthday which had recently passed. There’s not much to do in actual Redding itself, but there are some interesting places to go not too far away.

One day we drove about an hour to McArthur-Burney State Park. We hiked the short way down to Burney Falls waterfall and then around until we reached the recreation area on Britton Lake. It was a beautiful day to spend outdoors and the park was lovely.

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After spending four days in Redding we drove back down to Oakland and dropped off our rental car at the airport then hopped an Uber into San Francisco. Happily my best friend from college Teresa and her husband Brian moved out to San Francisco at the beginning of the year so we were able to stay with them while I was in town for the conference. It was a nice bonus to get to visit with some good friends who I don’t get to see often enough.

My conference didn’t start and Paul didn’t fly back to Baltimore until Friday, so we spent Thursday playing tourist in San Francisco. I had been once before and done most of the major touristy things. Paul hadn’t really done any of them so I told him it was up to him what we were going to do. We started off the morning with a walking tour of the Civic Center area of the city, which has all the major government buildings. It was a free tour put on by the City Guides program out of the San Francisco Public Library. We actually didn’t really do much walking, staying in just a tiny little area, but it was still interesting. Our guide was super enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The tour ended inside of City Hall, which is pretty impressive. There were a ton of people getting married while we were in there. These were not what you would think of as a typical city hall wedding. A lot of them seemed to be real formal affairs with wedding parties in tow. I guess with the backdrop such as it was people wanted to get married there.

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After that based on the recommendation from our tour guide we had lunch inside of the Asian-American Art Museum although we didn’t actually tour the museum itself. After that we wandered over to the convention center so I could get registered. In looking for something to do nearby after that we went to the Cartoon Art Museum. It was pretty small, but had some interesting artwork on display for people who are interested in cartoons, comics, and graphic novels. We we ended the day by walking over to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is the one super touristy thing that we did. It was something we really could have skipped. It was pretty much just a bunch of junky tourist shops and the same crap chain restaurants like Hard Rock, Rain Forest Cafe, and Bubba Gump Shrimp that you see in the tourist trap areas of every major city. It pains me to think of how many people visit cities and just wind up eating at these places. After that we headed back to our friends’ place and got burritos to eat in Golden Gate Park, which is just a couple blocks from their house.

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The rest of my trip was mostly spent conferencing, though I did get a few fun things in. I had a chance to meet up for various meals with librarian friends from around the country. It’s always nice to get to see people that I mostly only ever get to see at conferences or to meet up with people in person who I’ve only ever interacted with online prior to that. I didn’t manage to meet up with everyone I was hoping to, but it’s always impossible to fit everything in. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet up with the people I missed in the future at some point.

There are always tons of authors at the American Library Association conference. For the most part I don’t normally get a chance to go to a lot of author talks. I’m usually in committee meetings or feel like I should be attending sessions that will benefit me professionally. Since I was funding this conference out of pocket and my committee work is much reduced this time around I made some time to do a few more fun sessions than I normally do. Mostly this involved seeing Sarah Vowell and Nick Offerman on Saturday. I did have to leave Sarah Vowell’s talk early, and had considered not going but am really glad I made the time. It turns out the two of them are friends and once they realized they were both going to be there giving book talks a few hours apart they decided to interview each other. So she came out and did a reading for her new book due out in October and then said now I’m going to welcome my friend Nick Offereman to the stage to interview me and then I’ll return the favor later. I’m so glad I got to see both of those sessions. I love them both, and it was super fun to see them together.

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As it happened I was in San Francisco when the Supreme Court ruling came down making same sex marriage legal across the entire country. It also happened to be Pride weekend in San Francisco, which made it a very exciting place to be. It felt extra historical to experience it there. The Pride parade was going down a street that is only a few blocks from the convention center so I did manage to make it out to see a bit of it for about 40 minutes in what I think was a 6+ hour parade. It was actually way more subdued than I was expecting. Mostly at least during the parts I saw it was just large groups of people from various organizations walking and waving flags. Every once in awhile a float would come by, but that was more rare. I don’t know if it was more exciting at other times. At any rate it was really great to be out and see everyone so happy and celebrating. I’m glad I got to be a part of it if even for only a short amount of time.

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Overall it was a great trip. San Francisco was a great city to have a conference in. It was a million times better than last year in Las Vegas or what I’m anticipating next year in Orlando will be.