More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Merriweather Post Pavilion July 1, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 5:27 pm

Last night I finally got the chance to see Jason Isbell play a show in Maryland. This is the fifth time I’ve seen him live, but oddly the first time in the Baltimore area. The other times he has been at Merriweather he was opening for other bands, and I gladly would have gone just to see him open but I was out of town both times I’m aware of. I actually traveled home from Cape Cod on the day of this concert specifically so I could go to it. I’m very glad I did because it was a great show as always.

Normally when I go to Merriweather I just get lawn seats, but when I bought the tickets I thought I was going to have to drag my husband to go with me. I figured he would be marginally less grumpy about it if we had actual seats in the pavilion. Luckily I found a friend to go with me, so he was spared. The couple of other times I’ve sat inside of the pavilion I haven’t scored seats nearly as close. We were in the right center section about halfway up, so definitely the closest I’ve ever been to the stage at Merriweather. I appreciated actually getting to see the stage for real instead of through the screens for a change.

The Mountain Goats were the opening band. They are one of those bands that I feel like I should like, but I just don’t. I always hear people on NPR music going on about them, which generally means they should be in my wheelhouse, but I had never heard anything by them that inspired me to look into them more. I thought maybe seeing them play would ignite some sort of passion for me, but it didn’t. I didn’t really care for most of the songs they played. So I guess the Mountain Goats are just not for me.

Jason Isbell is, however, very much for me. I’ve been meaning to write up something about his most recent album, The Nashville Sound, which came out a couple of weeks ago. With all the traveling I’ve been doing I just didn’t get the chance. Since they played the majority of the songs from the album I’ll just roll my thoughts on it in here. That way everyone just has one post to ignore instead of two.

Jason Isbell’s last two albums were credited just to him, but the new album brings the return of his band The 400 Unit. It’s a much more rock driven album than Southeastern or Something More Than Free. Since they’re touring promoting The Nashville Sound obviously they focused on playing songs from it, making it a much more rock focused concert than some of the other shows I’ve seen.

Even with the move back to his more Southern rock roots of his Drive-by Truckers years the songs are still incredibly soulful and full of poignant lyrics that drill right into your heart. A good number of the songs on the new album seem very focused on our political times from “Cumberland Gap” and “Last of My Kind” looking at life in small towns and the way people there feel as the world changes around them to songs like “Hope the High Road” and “White Man’s World” that grapple with waking up in a world where people actually voted for Donald Trump to be president and wondering how that happened and coming to terms with white privilege as a white man. There’s also “Anxiety”, the song they opened the show with last night, which really has nothing to with politics but speaks very much to my anxious personality that is only be exacerbated by this political morass we’re living in.

Also from the new album they played “Something to Love”, which is one of the more folk country songs on the album as opposed to the more rock driven stuff. Also in the non-rock genre from that album was the first song of their encore, “If We Were Vampires”, which is the most heartbreakingly beautiful love song you’ll ever hear. It’s all about cherishing the one you love most of all because you know of the limited time you have with them on this earth. As someone who constantly tells my husband that he is not allowed to die first, the lines

“Maybe time running out is a gift
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind”

kill me every time I hear them.

The rest of the show was a mix of songs off of Southeastern and Something More than Free as well as “Decoration Day” and “Never Gonna Change” from his time with the Drive-by Truckers, which he has played at every show I’ve been to so they seem to be standard in his set. “Cover Me Up” was beautiful as always, though I noticed that the cheers for the line “But I sobered up and I swore off that stuff forever this time” seemed much more muted than I’ve experienced in the past. I suspect he’s starting to gain more followers that aren’t as familiar with his backstory. I was also very happy that they played “The Life You Chose” because it’s my favorite song off the Something More than Free album and they didn’t play it either of the previous times I saw them after that album came out.

I saw Jason Isbell tweet earlier in the year that he was going to take a year off from playing festivals and just play venues where he could headline and do a real full set for his fans. I very much appreciate that decision. I am tired of the 8 billion music festivals that exist these days. Pretty much it seems like musical acts are caught up doing nothing but traveling from festival to festival for 6 months out of the year these days, so if you don’t happen to have a music festival near year or can’t/don’t want to pay to go to one then you’re out of luck to see anyone. Plus festival sets are always short. You’re lucky if you get a full hour. I very much love that I got see Jason Isbell play a full two hour set last night with a crowd of people who were there to specifically to see him.

Having that full two hours really did change the dynamic of the show from the previous times I’ve seen him. Two of the times were in fact short hour or less festival sets at the Newport Folk Festival. Last year he was supposed to headline the show I was seeing, but then they moved the show to a larger venue and added Chris Stapleton as the headliner. Technically I think they were supposed to be co-headlining, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like Jason Isbell was the second opening act for Chris Stapleton, who the crowd was definitely there to see. I did see him headline at the 9:30 Club when touring for Southeastern, so he did have a slightly longer set there but was also sick at the time and probably at that point figuring out what his stage personality was going to be like as someone performing newly sober. He definitely did not do a whole lot of between songs talking during that performance either.

Last night with the full two hours it seemed like he felt like had room to breathe. He joked around a lot, he told stories to intro songs, he repeatedly expressed how grateful he was to be there and how much he doesn’t take it for granted. He also introduced every member of the band no less than three times to make sure we knew it’s not just about him up there, but every member of the 400 Unit too. I very much love how much you can tell that he just loves playing music and is appreciating every second of where he is right now. And also the best moment of the night when he started talking to his almost two year old daughter, Mercy, who I then realized was standing just off stage for part of the show. Isbell is married to Amanda Shires who sometimes plays fiddle with the 400 Unit and when they are touring together they bring their daughter along. It was a very sweet moment as was watching him pick up his wife and carry her off stage in giddy happiness at the end of the night after they closed out with a lit performance of The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post”. It was a wonderful show as always.


Joseph at Rams Head on Stage June 13, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 9:25 pm

You might recall that I named Joseph’s album I’m Alone, No You’re Not my favorite album of 2016,┬áthat I wrote about how much I love their song SOS (Overboard), or that when I saw them open for Lucius back in December that I said I couldn’t wait to see them headline a show. Ok, let’s be realistic, you remember exactly none of that. But I did in fact say all that right here on this very blog.

Last night I did get the chance to see them as a headliner at Rams Head on Stage in Annapolis. Rams Head on Stage is one of those seated venues that is tables with optional dinner and drink service. Because Baltimore earns its nickname of Smalltimore I wound up seating directly across the table from someone I used to be in a book club with, but haven’t seen or talked to in a couple of years.

The opening act was a band composed of two brothers aptly named The Dupont Brothers. Since Joseph is a band composed of three sisters they joked about it being a brothers and sisters night. The had sort an etherial folk music sound. They reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who. They were good entertainers and I wouldn’t mind listening to them play live again if I happened to be somewhere they were, but I’m not sure I loved their music enough to keep track of them otherwise.

Joseph was everything I anticipated they would be based on the short set I got to see them play last year. They were super energetic and really commanded the room. Often times I find seated venues, especially ones like this where tables are involved and there’s not really any way for people to stand up to create generally low energy crowds, but they had the crowd super pumped and into the show. Their harmonies as always were amazing. Last time I saw them I said I was disappointed they didn’t play “Blood & Tears”, but I understood because it was such a short set. I started to get a little bit worried that they somehow weren’t going to play it during this show either since they didn’t play it until pretty close to the end of the set list, but they finally did and was probably my favorite part of the night.

Joseph is scheduled to play at the Newport Folk Festival. Normally since I had just seen them I would choose to see someone else that they’re up against instead. In this case, they put on such an amazing show that they cemented a spot in my Newport schedule. They now join the rank of bands who I immediately want to see again as soon as their show is over. I can’t wait to enjoy them with a Newport crowd.

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Neil Diamond’s 50th Anniversary Concert in Baltimore June 11, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 5:00 pm

When I was 11 or 12 (I don’t know the actual age, but I was in 6th grade so it was one of those two) my parents took me to my first concert. It was Neil Diamond. That concert obviously set off a long love of live music. So I couldn’t resist going to see Neil Diamond on his 50th Anniversary Concert Tour.

I also saw him about 11 or 12 years ago at the Verizon Center in DC. He definitely wasn’t as spry as he was even back then. Dude’s 76 though, so I’ll cut him a break. It’s impressive that has enough stamina to get up almost every night and perform for 2+ hours. His voice is still great, so won’t be too concerned with the somewhat lackluster theatrics. That’s never what I’m at a concert for anyway.

At that last concert I was actually surprised by the number of twentysomethings that were in the crowd. The age level was decidedly higher at this show. Granted I’m over a decade older and so would be any of those twentysomethings. I still felt this show skewed older because I didn’t feel like I saw very many people even in my age range. Most everyone I saw was closer to my parents age, which is obviously Neil Diamond’s demographic.

And Neil Diamond does have a following. I heard a number of people around us talking about how many times they had seen him live. And there were definitely some old ladies having some feelings during certain songs and when he flashed up certain pictures of himself in younger years. He used a lot of really great old home movies and concert footage from his career as a backdrop during certain songs, which I thought was really great especially since the tour is celebrating his 50 year career.

He sang most of the songs I wanted to hear and pretty much played all the big hits. I was a little worried that he wasn’t going to play America, which is my favorite Neil Diamond song probably because it’s the first Neil Diamond song I can remember knowing. But it was the final song of the encore. As an American flag image showed up on the screen the crowd went wild because they all knew it was coming. And of course the singalong that was Sweet Caroline was lots of fun. It was a great show to celebrate the long career of an American music icon.

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Outdoors, Friends, Fun: AKA Summer is the Best June 5, 2017

Filed under: Baltimore,Friends,Life — dwhren @ 7:51 am

After a terribly cool, grey, and rainy spring we seem to have finally turned somewhat of a corner and are getting some warmer sunnier weather (of course as I write this it’s supposed to rain and be cooler this week) at least for the past week. It’s been wonderful and has done wonders to improve my mood. Life is just so much more pleasant when the weather is nice enough to do things outside.

The previous weekend there was a 30th birthday party for one of my friends. We got to sit outside on a lovely screened porch and enjoy a firepit out on the patio. I love sitting around a firepit on a summer night.

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The following night one of my friends from college got married at The Elm, which is an event space a few blocks from my house. I was always kind of curious about it, so I’m glad they got married there so I could finally check it out. It was rainy off and on earlier in the day, but it cleared up just in time for them to have their ceremony outside as planned. It was a lovely wedding, and I enjoyed getting to walk there and back. I don’t think I’ll ever go to a wedding closer to the place I’m living than this one.

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On Thursday one of my coworkers and I finally got to try blacksauce kitchen for lunch. I’m a long time lover of their food from the farmers markets and festivals, but I hadn’t yet managed to make it over to the storefront they opened a few months ago. It’s only opened on Thursdays for now and it’s carry out only, so we were waiting for a Thursday when we were both free and the weather was nice enough for us to eat outside. We took our delicious food (blacksauce never disappoints) and ate it on a bench in Sherwood Gardens. It was perfect, at least until the part where we had to go back to work.

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This past Saturday I went down to Georgetown to meet another friend from college who was there for work. We had brunch outside and then wandered around Georgetown for awhile. It was great to catch up with her, and it was nice to walk around Georgetown. It’s been a really long time since I’d been there.

Yesterday my church held its service followed by a potluck brunch outside at the pavilion at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Last year the school that we normally meet at had a water main break and some enterprising person managed to think of and snag the BMI pavilion for our service instead. It worked out so well they decided to do it once every summer. The weather was perfect for it this morning, and it was lovely to sit out and stare at the water and the boats.

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I didn’t get all my steps in earlier in the day, so we went for a walk after dinner. I love that it’s still light enough at 7:30 to go out for a walk. It’s a billion times better than when it gets dark hours earlier in the winter. Everything in this post is why summer is better than winter and why I love it so much.


Songs I Love: Ramblin’ Man by The Allman Brothers May 27, 2017

Filed under: Music,Pop Culture,Songs I Love — dwhren @ 4:26 pm

In honor of Gregg Allman’s passing I present you with a story about the song “Ramblin’ Man”. When I was in 7th grade my family moved from Georgia to Massachusetts. During that summer between my 7th and 8th grade years my sister and I took tennis lessons at a local tennis club along with our neighbor, a boy a few years younger than us who had also just moved there but from England.

Our tennis instructor was a college kid who to my young 12 year old self seemed infinitely older. To reconcile my memory of this guy with the college guys I interact with on a daily basis takes some work because he will forever seem so much older in my mind. At any rate for some reason he made it his goal to teach us all the lyrics to the song “Ramblin’ Man”. I don’t know why he decided that should happen. I suppose some high minded idea that this music he himself was probably just coming to learn of in college was far superior to whatever pop music we were wont to go on about at the time. I still have vivid memories of singing the lyrics to that song while playing tennis long before I could have reliably told you I had ever even heard the actual song.

Every time I have heard that song in my life since then though I have thought back to that summer and that tennis instructor who in his own mind was deciding to elevate my musical tastes. I don’t remember your name, but thanks for the memories. And thanks to The Allman Brothers who did indeed create some wonderful music that this guys was not wrong about the fact that I should know it.



Bon Iver and Hiss Golden Messenger at Merriweather Post Pavilion May 25, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 8:05 pm

Last night I went with my friends Lindsey and Andrew to see Bon Iver and Hiss Golden Messenger at Merriweather Post Pavilion. I missed Bon Iver the last time he was through these parts a number of years ago, so I was excited to finally get to see him live. I got even more excited when they finally announced that his opener was going to be Hiss Golden Messenger, who I also love.

Even though I love both them and was very happy to be able to see them both, in my mind I found them to be somewhat of an odd musical pairing. Hiss Golden Messenger is kind of Southern jammy guitar rock while Bon Iver is whatever Bon Iver is. Wikipedia offered up the genre of folktronica, which I’m going to go with. I expressed my thoughts about how I felt they were an odd concert fit on Twitter and Hiss Golden Messenger actually responded saying they’re all friends. And ultimately after the concert I decided there’s a lot more common DNA there than I really thought. The auto-tuney, more experimental music especially of more recent Bon Iver kind of overshadowed the guitar of it all, but seeing it all live on stage last night made the guitar stand out more to me.

Hiss Golden Messenger was great. I really enjoyed their set. It felt like the music I needed for where I’ve been lately. Their jammy folk rock is well, my jam. I feel like I’m carrying around 800 lbs of anxiety at all times, and I find Hiss Golden Messenger’s music so soothing to my soul. Just sitting there and listening to them jam out was a kind of bliss. My friend Lindsey said their music is perfect for a super hot, sticky summer day and she’s exactly right. Their song “Saturday Song” was one of the inspirations for the Spotify playlist I have called Chill Summer Songs for exactly that kind of it’s too hot to move summer weather. Having that weather instead of the gray, damp, cool weather we did have was the only thing that would have made it more perfect. They played a good mix of stuff from their new album and older albums. Their attempt to create a sing-along to “Heart Like a Levee” fell very flat. Sorry guys, you’re just really not a sing-along kind of band, but I still love the song even if their sing-along idea didn’t work out for them. As we hopefully finally head into warm summer weather I highly recommend giving them a listen.

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Normally when I got to Merriweather I get lawn seats, but for this concert I decided to spring for pavilion seats. My reasoning was two-fold. One I slightly overestimated how popular Bon Iver was. I don’t think the show sold out, although it was decently full. When Merriweather really sells out, I feel like they way oversell the lawn for the amount of space there is and I hate dealing with that especially if the weather turns out lousy like that one Mumford and Sons concert I was at. So thinking Bon Iver might be a sell out situation, I decided I wanted a seat that was actually mine. The other reason I wanted to be inside the pavilion was because I knew his show would be heavily reliant on lights and you can’t really see that very well from the lawn. I was completely correct on that, so I’m glad I made the choice to sit inside the pavilion.

Bon Iver’s set was very heavy on songs from the new album, 22, A Million. In fact he/they played it pretty much straight through from beginning to end before throwing in a handful of songs from other albums at the end. We still got “Holocene”, “Calgary”, and “Skinny Love” which I was happy about. My favorite was “Skinny Love” in which Justin Vernon stayed out on stage solo with a guitar lit in a single spotlight and played. The crowd, which had stayed seated for the entire concert rose to sing along. It was beautiful, and one of those perfect concert moments I love.

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Isle of Palms Trip 2017 May 15, 2017

Filed under: Travel — dwhren @ 8:24 am

This past week we took what has now become our annual trip to Isle of Palms, SC. This is the third year we’ve gone down there in May. I always have vacation time to use up this time of year, and it’s a good time to take a beach vacation before all the schools let out and the beaches get really busy. Isle of Palms is far enough south that it’s generally been warm enough to go to the beach there even in early May.

We rent a condo at one of the places inside of the Wild Dunes resort. There are a couple of places that have one bedroom condos. There are two sets of condos that I really like because they have screened in porches and if you rent one of the ones on the first level than you can walk right out to the beach from your screened in porch, so I try to find one of those that’s available.

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The screened in porch on our condo.

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View from our screened in porch.

Unlike previous years the weather was pretty much perfect this year. The first year we went there was a freak early tropical storm that brewed up and rained out half our vacation. Last year we had some thunderstorms. This year was great. The first few days were in the high 70s, which was a little chilly for sitting out on the beach, especially since Isle of Palms gets some really strong winds out on the beach. But later in the week it was in the 80s and 90s and it was perfect beach weather.

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Full moon over the ocean.

Everyone keeps asking me what we did on our trip and my answer is I went to the beach. Unless you want to count going out to dinner or the one night we went to see Guardians of the Galaxy as doing something. Other than that spent all my time at the beach. I got up and walked the beach every morning, then sat out there and read or just stared at the water until it was time for lunch. After lunch I went back out for a few more hours until I came back in to get ready to go to dinner.

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The water was really calm while we were there this year, which I think made a big difference in the wildlife I saw. In past years I’ve found lots of sand dollars and other big shells. I found two sand dollars the first day, but nothing after that. There were a lot more people at the beach than there were in the other two years we were there for some reason so it might also be that other people were snatching them up before I found them. It also meant I saw a lot more of various types of sea birds diving for fish because they could easily spot them in the calm waters. I also saw some dolphins one day too.

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As I mentioned, as a barrier island, it gets really windy on Isle of Palms. After trying to use a cheap beach umbrella I bought at the grocery store for the past two years and giving up pretty much every day because it was too windy for the umbrella to handle I decided I was going to go properly prepared this year. There’s a rental company on Isle of Palms that rents beach chairs and umbrellas. I noticed that the umbrellas they rented had no problems standing up to the wind, so I wanted to find a professional grade beach umbrella for myself. I found it slightly painful to shell out $200 for a beach umbrella I’ll only use once a year, but I figured if I was renting one I would spending that much in two years anyway. I’m very happy I spent the money because it worked out perfectly. No more umbrella blowing away or breaking on me in the wind this year. After looking I’m pretty sure that the umbrella I bought is actually the same as the umbrellas they rent aside from the color and branding.

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As usual we had some delicious food while we were there. We went back to our two favorite places: Acme Low Country Kitchen, which is the only place on Isle of Palms itself that we’ve found worth eating at, and Crave which is just over the bridge in Mt. Pleasant. We also tried a new to us place called Graze that I really liked though it’s on the far side of Mt. Pleasant so a bit of a trek to get to. We also went into Charleston for a fancy dinner at the Charleston Grille one night. The final night we tried another new to us place called Opal, which I was not a big fan of.

As usual it was a wonderful, relaxing week at the beach. I wish I could go more often. Both the place we stayed in last year and the place we stayed in this year appear to be on the market, so if anyone has an extra $400,000 lying around they want to give me I’ll take it. Since I don’t think that’s going to happen I’ll just look forward to going back and renting a place again next year.