Cookie and Josh

Klez Kamp Staffers Cookie Segestien and Joshua Horowitz relax and play a tune between classes:

Andy Statman, Arkansas Traveller, excerpt

From the 2007 Klez Kamp staff concert, Andy Statman and myself work out a little bit on the old Arkansas Traveler.


Ugly Sweater Party

So every year my old pal Lucinda throws a Holiday party at her and her husband's lovely house in the Oak Cliff neighborhood or Dallas. December is the first time we Texans pull out our sweaters from storage, and then only when there's a little nip in the air at night in fact. The concept for her party is that you have to show up with the ugliest sweater you can find. There are prises for the most appalling and vile sweaters. To date, I have been unable to attend but this year I did find a vintage photo of myself in a poorly chosen sweater and submitted it for the contest.

I share with you now, clipped from the Daily Norman (OK) Transcript, 10/28/81, from an article about the naming of the Norman High Student Congress, representing the marching band, yours truly:


The frighteningly swift end of Traditional Culture

It's hard for me to admit it, but in my relatively short life in music I have witnessed the demise of a traditional art here in Texas, Puro Conjunto better known as Tex-Mex music. It's a long sad story that I will relate here someday, but suffice it to say you've probably seen and heard the last of the traditional San Antonio style Mexican American dance band in it's native environment. It sure will live on I'm sure on festival stages here and there, but only as a faint echo of a once vibrant culture. Texas Bohemian and Czech music is on it's knees for years and doesn't look too well, and Brian Marshall has completely shuttered his Polish dance band for simple lack of interest in his own community.

Then I read this Time article on Polka music and it's current status. My folks used to travel from our home in Northern Oklahoma to polka halls in Kansas and Nebraska, and I grew up in a house where Square Dance and Polka music were family activities. It explains a lot about my musical career since. I passed the Times link around to my local Polka people and they shared with me their perspectives.

From Brian Marshall:
"it's happening everywhere...I played in Eunice, LA last Saturday at the The Liberty Theater (with a Cajun band)...a well known gathering place....played to a crowd of about 90 people.

I believe it's just a cycle...there will always be a desire for the traditional styles....but maybe never as prominent as it once was."

And from Jeff Brosch, drummer for Mark Halata & Texavia and son of legendary Texas Czech band leader Jimmy Brosch:

"Interesting article. The decline of Polka is not news to me. I've watched decline for the past 20 years. It started in the late 70's actually. Of coarse I can only base this from playing with my dad. I did get to witness Polka it in it's hey day however. Large crowds, Etc. But even my dad wanted to play something more progressive like country music.
He always found he could draw a bigger crowd if you played everything, not just Polka.

Did I mention? I think Polka is really a blue collar love affair.

I've never met a millionaire that wanted to hire or sponsor a Polka band.
But if you mention a name brand artist then they're all over it. The sky is the limit for payment.

Playing Polka took me to many Czech wedding parties. I was NEVER over paid. Often negotiating downward to play the wedding and stay booked up. The caterer was making $5000 and the band made $500. Make sense?

The next generations of Czechs are more educated, more employed, more successful, therefore more removed from the immigration process of past years. Not really embracing there heritage. So... the culture is simply a VERY watered down version of past generations.

I can't every see this changing again in my lifetime."

Sadly, nor can I.

Insert YOUR culture here and pause for a moment. What do we lose when we let go of an unbroken chain like this? Or do we simply get the culture we deserve?


KGOU and the trick of memory

Found this in my email in box today:

Hello, fellow KGOU alumni: In January, KGOU is celebrating its new studios and the 25th anniversary of becoming a public radio station. You and any significant others are invited to a reunion! When: Saturday, January 19, 2008 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Come and go) Where: KGOU’s new studios, Copeland Hall, Room 313, on the OU campus What: Free pizza and salad buffet There’s a place on our website to leave contact info, RSVP, take virtual tours of the old and new facilities, and share your memories: http://www.kgou.org/reunion.php I know some of you date back to the pre-public radio days (me, too!). Come swap stories and see what has become of KGOU! Laura Knoll Membership Director/Webkeeper KGOU

Here's my RSVP:

Hello Laura,

Though charmed as I am to be included, and genuinely surprised that you found me, I reckon you're not familiar with my tenure there at KGOU as host of "Roots, Rock, Reggae." Nor I guess are you aware with the circumstances of my swift dismissal there and acrimonious departure which would preclude my wanting to be feel even a tad positive, much less nostalgic about a reunion.
I am however cheered by the notion that the guy who gleefully fired me dropped dead soon after, so no chance running into him again any day soon. At least, I hope. Regardless, all the best and congratulations on the milestone, Mark

Oh dear, there are soooo many stories I could tell you about hosting alternative radio is a two-horse Midwestern college town. A lot of my musical life from 1981 up until they kicked me out in 1983 was wrapped up in co-hosting a weekly, 3 hour heavy manners Jamaican Reggae radio show. Back before the Wal-Mart like NPR uniformity was brought on, just like here in Austin today and everywhere everywhere else, there were a handful of pretty damn well programmed Alternative Radio shows in KGOU.

That is, until John Mooneyham played FEAR's "Fuck Christmas" one lovely Christmas Eve. I was actually there in the control room when a boozed up University booster, dragging along his equally inebriated trophy wife, stormed the station hurling epithets and then actually swing punches at the hapless DJ, while myself and a few other local punks mocked and laughed at them gleefully. In the aftermath, we were all one by one singled out and cashiered in the fallout, and when they finally succumbed to the NPR juggernaut, I lost my paying gig there as a Classical announcer, simply by dint of association.

Truth is, I was in that control room quite a bit, sampling the newest releases from the library in the production studio while John, or Kurt on "Fear Of Music" or some other local freak was playing the latest Bauhaus 12 inch dance mix at 2am. For me, it was a finishing school for the radio end of the music business and a genuine education. More than I ever got in the RTF department there I assure you.

It would be years later before I got a chance at the radio again, this time at KUT. But alas, nearly the same series of events occurred here as well, and no longer will you hear my programming on the radio. Trust me when I say I'm not too sad about it however, as anyone can see it's essentially a dying, if not already dead, medium.


Why my hometown is cooler that yours, continued..

OK, let's assume your done with the turkey leftovers like we are here at Casa Hasta no Vista. While everybody else seems to head for the malls, we sleep late, crawl into our PJs and head up Lamar Blvd. to Fuego's.

It's kinda tricky to get to as they are in a terrible location, accessible only from the south bound access road where Hwy 183 meets Lamar. But people, it's well worth the hassle. The menu is California style Mexican which is quite a bit different than the manteca based Tex-Mex we have around here mostly. Pictured is my favorite, the Carne Asada Fries, which are just what is says it is. They have possibly the finest salsa verde in town, though Taqueria Arandas #3 on Burnet Rd. may still hold that title.

It's a little Mom and Pop operation dedicated to the slow food experience of fresh ingredients prepared to order. The experiences we've had there routinely rival the finest gourmet restaurants. Like many small independent businesses, they're struggling to stay open, but folks seem to be catching up with the place. Do your self a favor and check it out. The Cheese Enchilada plate, the Shrimp Scamp and the entire breakfast menu (Lemon Ricotta Pancakes!) all get high marks in our household. Call ahead as they are closed at some mighty odd times. (512) 524-1164


At long last...

Finally, a pop culture term for these snot nosed punks I have to contend with.

Anybody see 60 Minutes tonight? Boy was I happy to see that I'm not the only one who thinks this latest batch of kids coming up is entirely sheltered, over pampered and weak of character. Personally, I thought it was only in the performing arts field where I live and work. But it seems this "me, me, I deserve whatever I want because I'm special" spoon-fed, Mr. Rodgers generation is genuinely pathetic right across the board. (In Austin they tend to gather most regularly on a stage at a overpriced BBQ joint downtown called Lamberts if you feel like checking out such a geek show.)

To be clear, it's not their fault really, it's their idiot parents who thought Hawk a fine first name and that "little Billy just doesn't thrive in a structured environment, so we've worked to create a comforting place where he can find his true nature free of the strictures of traditional society" kinda horse shit I see everyday in my day job. Methinks the white slave trade will soon enough be filled to the brim when these dubiously enfranchised and fully empowered knuckleheads hit the cold reality that the rest of the world has to wake up to every day. ("Hostel, the Series: this time it's for real...")

George Carlin hipped me to this sad trend in 1999 when he riffed on an HBO special called "You Are All Diseased" about "these kids today, they're being raised fruity and soft." (Look, you read this rant and tell me it doesn't ring a bell with you.) Now they have a word for these folks, they're called the
Millennial Generation, and boy do I really dislike the prospect of having to live in a culture where they'll be in charge. Today these dolts think the Weary Boys are Bluegrass and the Moonhangers are mistaken for Country. Amazing as the prospect is, it really could get much worse.

Spare the rod and then answer to these rudderless people of no manner. Argh! I'm so pissed I cannot even write about it without my head exploding!!! Here, read this stuff and pray for me:

Whassup? A Glimpse Into the Attitudes and Beliefs of the Millennial Generation
What ever happened to "show up on time or you're fired."

Here's what:
Managing Millennials In other words, their parents screwed up and now it's your job to tell them how to behave like adults. Can you believe this shit?

Generation X and The Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations ("mentoring?" How about get a job, hippie!!)

Come to think of it, here's a generation that could truly benefit from a National Draft. And not like our old ones where you could buy your way out of it, or get drummed out for "emotional" problems (even our Military is reduced to molly coddling it seems.)
Lord know we'll be making War somewhere in the world for years to come, generations I'll bet.

A few weeks dodging IED's in the Sunni Triangle and I'm sure we'll all be singing a different tune.


Gary Primich Followup

The funniest thing happened last month when I posted a deeply personal note about the untimely passing of my old running buddy and musical compatriot Gary Primich. Not funny "ha, ha," but funny really, really sad.

As if you hadn't noticed, this here "blog" is just for me, my family and anyone else stupid enough to read it. I never imagined that anyone else would turn to it as a news source. Well imagine my shock and surprise to receive at least a dozen of the most hateful and vitriolic comments from anonymous posters using the death of my friend to make vicious personal attacks on me. It's a blog, fer chistsakes, read the description in the left column. Of particular issue to many these gutless cowards was my noting that it was evidently Gary's addiction that killed him. I really should have saved all of them so you could all see just how churlish and mean spirited these missives were, but ultimately I felt no need to infect that sort of negativity into Gary's memorial, a guy who from what I recall never said a bad word about anybody. At least not in my presence.

True enough, I had no possible way of knowing what killed my buddy, but I have had a lot of junkie friends and the one's who died too soon, they died of junk. There's no way to sugar coat it, or speak in codified language; the path of heroin is death. Period. Maybe today, maybe years from now. Just like everybody dies eventually, though most folks try to deny it evidently, junkies (and fat people like myself) die much, much quicker. It's tragic and sad, but as the 400 lb comedian said "it ain't exactly unexpected."

In my opinion to turn your gaze away from this simple truth, to sweep it under your rug, is to be in fact an enabler. Made all the more ignoble in postmortem. "The truth," as my old man was fond of saying, "only hurts a liar."

My old friend Danny Barnes was on all of those Steve James sessions with Gary and me. He too has had his own hard fought battles with substance abuse over the years and on the occasion of hearing of Gary's passing he shared with me these thoughts on the gruesome nature of addiction. I think they bear repeating.

He said "i been thinking about your pal gary and sobriety and the whole thing. you know, alcoholism, drug addiction is a progressive disease. in other words, even if you are not drinking at the moment, the disease gets worse and if you start up again, things get real bad and real dark and real fucked up real quick.

in any AA group of size, once you get in there and get to know everyone, you lose one or two folks a year to the shark of the disease. without fail. maybe more. some guy will quit coming to meetings and the next thing you know he blows his brains out in a drunken rage. or does something really weird and goes to the pen. if a person with the disease doesn't get the program, that's his other options.

i had heard that GP was going to meetings and had put together some sober time. i'm sorry he didn't make it. lots of folks don't make it. he probably did experience some sobriety and maybe had some light in his life. but he must have turned his back on that and went back to the dark place. we've all done that. sometimes it kills us. one of the things that makes sobriety really hard is that you can get fucked up once in a while and it won't get you, but eventually, it does get you. you just don't know when. so better to just stay sober and go to meetings and work the steps and read the book."

Pretty damn wise words if you ask me.

Now to business. An open letter to all you folks who felt the need to drop me a line, hike yourself up on my friend's corpse and use my personal expression of love for him and his life as a platform to tear me down:

I wish you love. I wish you a ray of sunlight that illuminates what must be a very dank place that you find yourself in to spew such bile and hatred. I hope that in your darkest monets, you will hear the sound of Gary's harp and that you will use the purity of his love and honesty as a key to unlock your evidently diseased and withered soul to open to the spiritual commonality of all beings. I hope that you will use the message of the end of his life to inform the rest of yours.

Either that, or you can go fuck yourself. Whichever works for you.

Great, now that's out of the way I'd like to share with you a note a got from Gary's sister. She's referring to the memorial gathering where a lot of Gary's musico pals gathered to celebrate his life, share stories and play his tunes. (Most did by playing his tunes way too loud and playing the harp poorly, effectively putting into sharp focus just how much better he was than anyone else. He would have loved the irony.) It was a generally positive and uplifting event all told, which I hope seals Gary's spirit in our collective memory. I did an acoustic tune with Steve, when my emotions got the better of me and I pulled the bridge clean off my bass when I was playing, wrecking the bass entirely. I wandered around the stage while Steve kept playing looking for some way to rescue the tune, when I saw the drum sticks out on the house trap kit. To save face I sat down and played out the tune on the drums. I had to split so I could wrap up the Rob Curto session I was producing, so I didn't get a chance to talk to any of Gary's kin.

The next day, I got this from Gary's sister:

(The family has asked me not to publish any personal communications. Suffice it to say, I feel quite vidicated.)

And I promised myself I wasn't gonna cry.

And don't forget: Change your oil every 3000 miles.


Fat Man with small Ukulele

Here's a glimpse of my life at my day job, Violins, Etc. I'm nominally in charge of the basses and the "Etc." so the boss decided to have a TV ad that showed what we had in stock presently. (Eagle eyed viewers will note uke master Pops Bayless on mandolin and charango, but some other dude on uke, go figure....)


Recording Forró in Austin

As I write this, we're setting up the studio to record accordionist Rob Cortu and his new trio project.

Rob specializes in a wonderful style of dance music from Northern Brazil called "Forró," and is well know in the NYC area for his bands Forro in the Dark and Forro For All. This new project features himself and fine local percussionist and a Brazilian violinist.

They played an amazing set set at a local club last night and we're in the studio today to try and get some of that all down on tape.


Just Another Day on Eldridge Street

So I was interviewed for the Forward.com about a strange event that took place in NYC recently. I was not invited to it, nor did I think it was a very good idea in the first place. But for some reason I "said publicly want many others would only say privately.." Just my luck, huh? I do appear musically on the podcast as a member of the Klezmer Brass All Stars.

For the record I said quite a bit more in fact, but interviewer John Kalish used only my most charitable statement about the event's dubiously talented organizer. However, the less said about such ill conceived and poorly rendered wastes of time and resources (like a $150K Rockafeller Grant for instance) the better.



Simchas Torah in Waco

Yes Virginia, there are indeed Jews in Waco Texas.

Have been for a mighty long time in fact. Nicest people you'll ever meet as it turns out. I got a call from Mike Levine, the shammes of Temple Rodef Shalom, asking if I could come help celebrate Simchas Torah with his congregation and their relatively new Rabbi. Rebbe Rovi Motem holds the distinction of being the first Reform rabbi ordained in Israel, and he's doing his level best to expose his congregation to every aspect of Jewish religious expression. There was in fact a time you wouldn't have thought twice about hiring a band for any of the important holidays. Now, it's as rare a hens teeth (or a kosher BBQ in Williamson County.)

Here the torahs come down off the bimah. Note the amazing "A frame" design. It was a amazing building in fact.

Mark Rubin and his Jews of the Golden West. Olliver Steck, accordion, Mike Stinnet, clarinet and Steve Schwelling on poik (the traditional drum.) We played as the congregation carried the torahs around us, stopping seven times for particular blessings.

After a motzi and a brucha, a bissl nosh, fun di Tabl music provided.

Well here's a surprise!! This is my sainted Godmother, who travelled all the way from Stillwater OK to see the show, (and her great grand kids too...)

Work like this is very rewarding for me, to perform Jewish music within the context that it was originally intended. We'll come do it for your congregation too. Just drop me a line and we'll work out the details.


London Report, Classical Culture edition

Jeez, I'm falling way behind. Let's scroll back to August now.

So after my 2 weeks with the Youngers, I head home for 4 silly little days and prepare to teach at KlezFest London. There's lots to talk about as far as that goes, but I'll start with a photo play of my one day off there. What does the Okie Jew do in the Dirty Old Town? Well friends, he tries to drapes a little classical culture on his hayseed, no college degree having fat ass.

On my last trip to London 4 years ago, Aaron Alexander and I headed to the British Museum so I could look at the Rosetta Stone. Yes, THE Rosetta Stone. I have no idea why I am entranced by it, but it is how we know a lot of what we know about the ancient world today. So, I see the big rock and then head to Assyrian collections. There I stumble across a series of relief carvings in celebration of a Royal Lion Hunt. Got to tell you people, I was completely blown away by the experience, really moved and in a way I had not planned. Just as I was having one of teh 3 emotional experiences of my life up to that point, the sirens started blaring and we were all kicked out of the Museum thanks to a "suspect device" being found on premises. Bummer of the highest order. On my return trip, I must see it all again.

Well, as soon as put a hand full of change into the admission box, I note that the "Lion Hunt" is out on tour, in China of all places. Oh well, plenty of time to see the rest of the place. Here's my highlights all the same. (Can you believe they let you take pictures of this stuff?):

Everybody said I should check this out, but really Greek culture kinda bores me. Personally, I think they should send this stuff back to Greece. The Brits bought it all off sleazy Turks as it turns out.

Ah, Mexico. Now there's some good old fashioned scary stuff.

Nobody since has had as good a handle on gore fueled, blood thirsty religious practice like the Mayans did. Here's a depiction of an Bird Jaguar's wife running a thorny rope through his tongue as a sacrifice. Please note that Bird himself is holding a needle that he'll be using to the the same thing with, only through his pecker. I kid you not.

Mayan glyphs. Written language as an art form.

Mardis Gras? Not quite. Afro-Peruvian Carnivale get ups. Wild.

The biggest Dias de las Muertos figures I've ever seen, suspended from the ceiling. No artist name given, but they are the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.

In the Roman Briton section, a mock up of the oldest stringed instrument ever discovered.

Aha! Not all the Assyrian stuff is gone. This is one half of a relief that would have stood at either side of a gate. It's like 30 feet tall and breath taking.

Now here's something you don't see every day.

Russian Revolutionary Ceramic Plates.

Collect a whole set!

Here's a Kandinsky...

OK, the camera battery died, but there was a fab collection of Islamic Art that bears mention as well.

I head back to the job site for dinner and a performance. Then Frank London tells me that the famed "Proms" are still on and that starting at 10pm there will be a concert of modern composers. We book it to Royal Albert Hall, pay our 6 pounds and rush up many, many flights of stairs to the standing room only ring at the very top of the Hall.

It's a wonderful performance by the Scottish National Orchestra. Fiddler Cookie Segestein has played that piece before and explains some of the odder aspects, like members of the orchestra each hitting a little glass bar in somewhat random fashion. Live music is just amazing, period, and in this venue with this group its perfectly indescribable.

We walk home, going around Hyde Park and back to the hotel, my feeble brain completely unable to process the depth of art and culture I've been exposed to in a mere 14 hours.

It's days like this that I get on a plane and leave Texas every once and while.


Gary Primich RIP

It is with a deeply wounding sense of loss and grief that I report the passing of my friend Gary Primich. Details are sketchy but his website will remain up with details concerning his funeral and whatever memorials and tributes that I am sure are to follow. All I know today is that Gary was dog sitting for his ex-wife over the weekend, and when she returned this morning she found him dead.

I have a hard time putting into words what Gary meant to me, both professionally and personally. I was honored to play on 3 of his CD's, playing what I consider to be my very personal best blues ensemble work ever. His playing was always a wonder to behold, either recorded or live on stage, being able to intuitively recreate everything good that there was about the blues harp; a major feat when you think about how degraded the instrument had become in the wake of the Blues Brothers and Bruce Willis and similar ilk found clogging the lists of blues jams worldwide. Far more than a simple mimic, he was able to balance the public desire of familiarity by mastering the styles of the greats, yet all the while forming and then setting his own unique sound.

Additionally, he was the best country blues straight harpist that I ever encountered, period. And his work on several Steve James CD's, that I had the great fortune to be on as well, rank up there as the best music I've ever been a part of.

Truth is, the last few years had been mighty rough for Gary. It would be a cheap blues cliche' to say that he was tortured by inner demons, but the rumors that he had fallen into a nasty drug habit had turned out to be shockingly true. A divorce soon followed as did a downturn in his music career. I got him on the phone last year when I heard that he had a successful stint in rehab, and let him know that I would play with him anywhere, anytime if he ever needed a bassist. He seemed genuinely surprised, "You'd play with me?" he asked, as if he didn't think his music worthy. Such was the man.

Not but 2 months ago, guitarist and band leader Steve James was back off the road and I was going out for a bit myself. We sat down at his place, cracked open a bottle and listened to those records again, marveling at every single moment of his playing. We both agreed at how lucky we were to be able to make music at that level, and how he made us sound very good indeed. We both made note to call him just to see how he was doing, and we both did, though he never called back.

Needless to say I am really furious at his exit.

Do yourself a big favor, and get you a Gary Primich CD like Travelin' Mood or Mr. Freeze or anything with Steve James, so that you too can recognize the sense of loss that we who knew him all have now.

"The Travis County Medical Examiner’s office has yet to release a cause of death pending toxicology tests, but Gary Primich’s ex-wife Tina Rosenzwieg, who found the body, said a drug overdose is suspected."


Week Two with the Youngers of Zion

As I mentioned earlier, we get out of the camps relatively unscathed, and I am now to be the guest of Mr. Sapoznik in his Upstate Hillbilly compound. Hank is the consummate host and an ace chef to boot. Once again, I am more than well fed.

The chef at work

Grilled Lamb, veggies, the Sapoznik Family recipe bulbes all served with the National drink of Texas.

A few days later, and several more home cooked meals and we’re off to the East Hampton to meet back up with Steve and Cookie, but with this time Cookie’s BF Josh Horowitz in tow. Hank got a speaking gig at the Reform schul there and he talked them into booking the whole Klez Kamp Roadshow to do a foreshortened version for the weekend.

On the way over there from Hank’s place, we decide to stop in and check on the old Klez Kamp location, the Paramount Hotel. Whoa. What a mess. You could see old place under where it burned down a bot and then the new building project that was basically abandoned in mid construction. It was more than eerie and we were glad to put our backs to it.

The drive to the Hamptons was amazing. 6 hours total and the last hour and a half were speant on the last 30 miles, traffic was so bad. We’re being housed in a fine old Victorian house conveniently located right next door to the synagogue. Our first service is to be part of their Kabbalat Shabbat, which was held right on the beach, not but 3/4 of a mile from the house. Not knowing how to dress for such, we are decked out in stage wear while the congregants are in “beach casual.”

They introduce us and we play a few dance numbers, out on the sands, with little kids running all around. Wild!

Afterwards and back at the big house, we cook up some leftovers found in the fridge from the Kosher cooking classes, drink a few of Steve’s signature martini’s and then sit down to pick a few tunes. Cookie and I work out a couple of really great Beregovsky collected tunes for a duet, though I usually play the string bass. Now I have to transpose to 3 string cello (tuned in 5th) and you all get to hear my thought process as we play down the number.

Shabbes tomorrow will be spent by us resting and by Hank lecturing. Steve, Susan and I make the Saturday morning service, chow on the fine bagels and schmear afterwards and then head off on foot to the beach. This is a rare occurrence for me. I haven’t frolicked in the surf in over a decade and that was the gentle beach of Galveston Bay. This is a beach of another type altogether and until I figure the breaks, I get battered by the crashing waves worse than I have ever experienced. It was, in a word, a solid blast. After a few hours we walk back to the house to nap and be prepared for our post Havdala performance.

Hunger and the need for treyf gets the best of us and we take off down the road in search of a new BBQ joint that just opened up. I had a real hard time being understood at the counter as the prices listed looked like by the pound where I hail from, but they only go by the plate (silly Yankees.) My inquiry about the sausage made the owner nervous, but he swore up and down it was his own version of Elgin (TX) style. Whatever. I order for the team getting ribs, chicken, fatty slices and even burnt ends, all served with taters, pickles and slaw on butcher paper (a technique that well heeled locals seemed to not be able to abide.) The house sauces were disappointing to put it charitably, but the meat was happening and the burnt ends a hit. For rich, disaffected East Coasters, it was just this side of alright However, it's the most I've ever spent on cooked meat in my life. And that was no part of Elgin sausage, btw.

Back at the Schul, they are expecting a big crowd as this band packed the place just 2 years ago. But for reasons unknown they’re staying away in droves tonight. No matter however, the expanded Youngers with PJ’s accordion sounds wonderful and Susan Leviton was great as usual, so the small audience was treated to a very intimate experience in a great sounding room.

The dance classes set for the next afternoon are similarly light, which only 7 or so folks showing up. We set up in a corner of the old schul there and Steve gives them everything he’s got, as if there were 100 of them. Our little quartet does the same, playing over these little gems of tunes from German Goldenshteyn and others. Really, can you beat playing for dancers, no matter how few?

Susan, Jerry, Cookie and PJ all head off for thier respective homes right after the show, leaving me with Hank and Steve. In the morning we find a diner on the way out, Hank hands me off to Steve who will be taking me back into the city. From there, I will catch a flight back to Austin, to languish 4 days at my violin shop.

Then it's back on a plane, this time to London to join the staff of Klezfest UK for a week. Then a stop over in NYC to play dates with Andy Statman. I'll be lucky if I recall half of what actually happened. What I do recall, I'll share with you soon.

Mad Cat Trio Sketch

Danny Barnes sent me this the other day. Didn't know the artist, but I dug how the scan was take right from his sketchbook.

Mad Cat Trio was a local, goof-off project that Barnes and I had with fiddler Erik Hokkanen. It was fun for a time and then it wasn't so we stopped. Did make a nice live CD that might actually get re-issued on CD Baby someday soon. We did the regular Thursday night gig at Jovita's, until they found some one desperate to underbid us by a third. Cornell Hurd and his 11 piece band has been down there ever since, god bless 'em. Good thing they all have dayjobs.

Both Erik and Dan are still out there slugging it out in the clubs these days, albeit in different time zones. You might do yourself a favor and pay to see them sometime. I'd be out there more myself playing that circuit, but the public has spoken about my contributions to the marketplace and I can't make the mortgage payments that way anymore.

Cool sketch though, huh?


Week One with the Youngers of Zion

AKA "Tis Sweet to work with Friends, ” July 26 through August 1st, 2007.

I caught the Block and Hexter shuttle bus out in front of the 92nd Street Y, which I guess is some kind of Jewish Community Center which puzzles me, as “YMCA” back home stands for Young Men’s Christian Association. New York really is Jew-ville after all, so Y means whatever they like up there. I waltz past the metal detectors (what the Fxxx??) and seek out a place to stach my gear. In no time flat, a stern matron kicked me out of the "community room," which had killer fast Wi-Fi and free bad coffee, so I relocated my bass, tuba and packpack to the the front steps of the place. In a town famed for its slice, I find a Israeli run kosher pizza joint and had possibly the worst slice of pizza I’ve ever had in my whole life. This will be an omen of things to come as it turns out.

Dance teacher-martini maker extraordinaire Steven Weintraub has wrangled a gig for the new “Klez Kamp Roadshow” concept at the Block and Hexter Center. They pulled it off a version of this gig last year without me, but this they budgeted enough to make it worth my while to head up there and I look forward to any opportunity to hang out with my Youngers of Zion band mates, no matter what the circumstances. After this week in the Pocono’s we’ll head up to East Hampton NY to glom onto a speaking gig that Henry booked and then subsequently got them to book the whole KK Roadshow experience for a weekend. That’s two whole weeks and I’m not sure my buds can take so much me in such a high dosage.

The week of instruction at Block and Hexter was a new skill set for me. We were essentially to be the live music for Steve’s dance classes and then provide entertainment at night, as well as give the odd lecture on differing topics associated with Jewish and Yiddish Culture. Kind of like a cruise ship gig when I think about it. Only this cruise liner has a median age of 80, keeps glatt kosher kitchen and runs on a fuel procured from incessant complaining. Don’t get me wrong, I dig old people. Just not in these sorts of high concentrations and especially not cranky old Yankees, frumme Jews to top it off. The complaints began even before the bus got to the campsite when the AC unit went kaput some 100 miles away from NYC. Gevault, indeed.

Ok, I’m not going to harp on any of the typical things that you can say about a summer camp arrangement. Anyone who has ever done time at a kosher Jewish Summer camp knows the drill. The food was exactly what one would expect to serve an elderly Jewish couple. That is to say cooked within an inch of its life and utterly devoid of any discernible flavor. But to speak to the positives, I had a clean room with an AC unit, Wi-Fi on demand, a lovely pool and an even lovelier pond which was well stocked with canoes and other water craft all of which I availed myself to. It was generally pleasant and run by decent, mostly happy people. In other words, it wasn’t anything like Circle Lodge.

There was a genuine wild card present however in the person of the camps staff entertainment director, a burly Israeli dame named Esther. Teaching folk dance and programming the evenings shows were her purview all summer and one got the feeling right quick that we were in her house and only just barely tolerated at that. She was all right and everything, but she was a force there when we got there and she’s still there now that we’re gone. Watching her lead dancing was truly a sight to behold, a mixture of enthusiastic prodding and borderline physical abuse. We reckoned she had become entirely immune to the cries of complaint from her elderly charges and had learned to simply manhandle them into submission and quiet, fearful subservience. (When one old lady came to her to tell her AC wasn’t working, Esther’s response was a loud “Are you threatening me!?”) Steve however has experienced working with her many times over the years and has developed his own system of coping mechanisms, which served him well all week.

The only controversy that occurred during our time there was on our very first evenings entertainment. We scheduled a staff concert of sorts where each of the guest lecturer-musicians performed a little something to give the attendees a taste of what to expect from our programming. Susan Leviton, our Yiddish vocalist and visual artist, was well received with her wonderful, unaffected singing. (She’s a real gem actually and was glad to have a whole week to hang out with her and her hubby Jerry.) Youngers played a tune or two and then Michael Wex got up and told a story from one of his books. It was damn funny too, something about having his first nocturnal emission make a stain in the shape of the Israeli flag, or something along those lines. Typically hilarious Wex material.

Funny to me maybe, but incredibly insulting to not but a few of the old frumme couples (not folks who had signed up for the Road Show I am quick to point out, but liggers left over from the week before) who stormed out in a public huff. Most of these people all turned up the next day at his lecture, hectoring him mercilessly with silly questions, and asking loudly I’m not making this up, ‘Why do you hate the Jewish People?” and “How did they let an Anti-Semite like you here?” It got even worse after his lecture when these nut jobs button holed him, screaming at him in English and then talking to one another in front of him in Yiddish AS IF HE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEY WERE SAYING. When he responded to them in his native tongue they quickly switched to Hebrew, to which he again retorted to in kind. Ironical, as they say in my native Oklahoma. With this sort of crowd, Wex kept a low profile for the rest of the week and had lots of great material for his next article in the Jewish Week.

As the food there at the job site was a no go, we made several trips out into the countryside to find good burgers and booze. We were told of a particular joint called the Beacon Bar & Grill and after our first experience there, we came back again and again. Actually, I ate too much. No really, way too much. This whole being away from home and my regular surroundings and Mexican food and stuff, it was all catching up with me in this TV-less, shomer-shabbat rustic retreat. When I wasn’t working, I was writing this damn blog or eating and that was about it. The Beacon provided comfort food in every respect. We ended up there 3 nights in a row and with my taking pictures of everything ordered, I do believe the staff thought I was a food critic or something. It was midway into the signature Beacon burger, a massive meat fest made to resemble the Beacon's logo of a lighthouse, that I realized that I have as very deeply twisted relationship with food and it’s gonna screw me up if I don’t get a handle on it eventually. That said, here's what we ate:

The Beacon Burger, the house's signature dish, served with a side of chili cheese fries. "Angina on a platter." Seriously, I had a hard time downing this mammoth tower of meat.

Cookie contemplates the desert plate.

Hank goes for the Peanut Butter Pie, naturally...


and after....

Henry and Wex discuss the joys apple sauce and rare steak.

It wasn't on the menu, but I was craving a Patty Melt, which the chef made for me special. Again with the chili cheese fries....

Really, the Beacon was just that, a Lighthouse of well prepared meals in a vast sea of institutional kitchens. I'd drive 100 miles out of my way to eat there again.

We play every day for Steve’s dance class, we host lecture-talks on various subjects, including a lively talk about playing Jewish music in Eastern Europe and looking out to see mostly Holocaust survivors in the audience, and basically keep to ourselves. Cookie and I, Midwesterners by birth, avail ourselves of the private ponds many watercraft, including a hilarious attempt at a paddle boat. I redeemed myself later by taking a canoe out solo for a good long trip. The cool of the dark waters of the pond where a welcome respite to the heat of the mosquito-laden airs around the camp.

One evening after our labors, Steve shows up with a DVD collection of a 1950's era cartoon that I had never heard before. We loaded up on snack foods and liquor, moved a TV set into a unused conference room and the proceeded to watch episode after episode of Colonel Bleep. Evidently it was the very first color cartoon for TV, which is mighty odd when you consider less than 10% of the viewing public had a color TV to watch it on. Hank remembers seeing it as a young child, but in black and white. The episodes are in a word, pretty damn weird, with a mix of outrageous scripts interspersed with pointless "educational" content ("Today we go to the Belgian Congo....") Crude, bizarre and amazingly compelling. Especially if you are really, really high. Look it up on You Tube or some such and check it out for yourself, as could go on for hours about it.

Here's some stills that I took in a much addled state:

By the end of the week, we had won the campers over completely, even amongst the frum who gave us static at the beginning.The final concert went great, and even Wex's bit got laughs. Afterwards we experience the "let me tell you a story" session so prevalent at these sort of gigs.

Soon it was off to Henry's cabin in upstate NY to chill out and eat cooked meat for a few days and then we all regroup in East Hampton to do it all over again.

But for now, presented for your edification, Block and Hexter Camper Talent Night featuring Leon on the Accordion.