I'm off-grid at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival this weekend. Here are 10 songs with no particular reason other than I like them (just happens I must be in a male songwriter mood, I guess). Also, check out some of Mike Dobbs's favorites.

1. Tom Waits, "Step Right Up" (With tuning!)

2. Michael Franti & Spearhead, "What I Be"

3. Jackopierce, "Vineyard"

4. Spring Heeled Jack, "Jolene"

5. Seth Horan, "Something Pretty" (You won't see that hair at the CNY house concert!)

6. Cheb Tarik, "L'histoire"

7. James O'Brien, "After the Prom"

8. Hank Williams, "Honky Tonkin'"

9. Ellis Paul, "Take All The Sky You Need"

10. Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah"

2010 Shaun Luu Horror Fest

I got this press release regarding the 2010 Shaun Luu Horror Fest, which will raise money for Golisano Children's Hospital and the Westcott Community Center. Last year, the festival kicked off a successful $10,000 campaign to raise money for a nursing station at Golisano Children's Hospital. Hopefully you'll be able to get out and support the event!


The 2010 Shaun Luu Horror Fest will take place Friday, June 11th to  Sunday, June 13th, with all raised funds to benefit the Westcott Community Center and Upstate Medical University and Golisano Children's Hospital.

The 2009 Shaun Luu Horror Fest completed a pledge of $10,000 to Upstate Golisano Children's Hosptial in memory of Shaun Luu.  Shaun died in 2005 at 23 after a long battle with brain cancer.   The horror movie/ music festival raised $5,840, which included a $1,775 contribution from the Palace Theatre, a host of the film festival.  The latter gift represents a portion of the proceeds from the theatre's monthly "Brew & View" 35mm themed film series.

This year’s events kick off at 6:30 pm on June 11th with a six-band bill at the Westcott Community Center, followed by horror films at The Palace Theatre from 12 pm, Saturday, June 12th until 5 am Sunday, June 13th.  The horror fest wraps up with an all-day music fest at Monirae’s starting at 12 pm, followed by an afterparty hosted by the Half Penny Pub in Armory Square at 12 am, June 14th.

The following is a detailed schedule of events:


Friday June 11th @ Westcott Community Center - benefit for Community Center
6pm doors open/ all ages/ $7
6:30pm - music


Westcott Community Center
826 Euclid Avenue
Syracuse - (315) 478-8634

DAY 2 -

@ The Palace Theatre
2384 James St. Syracuse, NY

All movies on original 35mm film!
All ages matinee, Noon-3:30pm, $8.00

Adults 16+, 4:30pm, $20.00
DEATH RACE 2000 (Corman version)
STREET TRASH (Q & A and FIRST ever Live Commentary over 35mm print with Writer Roy Frumkes)
TORTURE DUNGEON (1970 Andy Milligan film)

Planning to come to all 10 movies? Get in for just $20!

This is a tentative. Films may run ahead or behind schedule. Use this as a general guide.

2:00-3:30pm : THE GATE
3:30pm - 4:15pm : DINNER BREAK
4:30 - 7:30pm : DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)/ HENRY PORTRAIT OF SERIAL KILLER (1986)
7:30pm - 7:45pm : Break
7:45pm - 10:00pm : STREET TRASH/ TORTURE DUNGEON (1970)
10:00pm - 10:15pm : Break

Sunday June 13th - 100% benefit towards Golisano Childrens Hospital and Upstate Medical Center
688 County Route 10
Pennellville, NY 13132-3314
(315) 668-1248

( 16 BANDS ONLY $10)
Doors open at noon/ all ages w/ re-entry
first band 12:30pm. Show goes down at 11:30pm
Band line up from headliner to opener



Sunday Night MIDNIGHT- 2am Post Party @ The Half Penny Pub - 21 and over FREE SHOW )
Night Owls

The Half Penny Pub
321 West Fayette Street
Syracuse, NY 13202-1201
(315) 478-3091

The truth: The Internet is a great big rumor mill

I tend to check Google Trends in the morning. It's one of the things I do in terms of a morning coffee ritual when I get to work. For those not familiar, it's a list of the things people are searching for on Google; typically it's updated every hour or so, but sometimes it goes on for a few hours before it updates. Whatever.

Frequently, it's people wanting to watch one of last night's TV episodes. There's usually something that's been featured either on The Today Show or Good Morning America. Sometimes there's sports scores. And sometimes it's people in a large enough market searching for school closings.

And then sometimes it's dead celebrities. The Internet loves to kill people. Failing that, maybe the Internet is retiring athletes mid-season.

Tuesday morning, there were two. The top search was justin bieber dead; the second hottest search was casey johnson dead.

Being a pop-culture-ophobe (OK, not really, but I'm pretty dim when it comes to this stuff), I'd never heard of either of these people. Which means that I had to wade through the search results to figure out who they were, never mind if they were actually dead.

Bieber, it turns out, is a 15-year-old kid who is some sort of pop sensation or something. He appears to be living and breathing and making teenage girls cry with his sensitivity instead of in mourning. This, apparently was not the first time the Internet killed Justin Beiber (via WikiAnswers:

Casey Johnson is the great-great-granddaughter of one of the founders of the Johnson & Johnson Company (if you've ever read a label on anything in a bathroom, you've heard of them). She's also the daughter of Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets.

Casey Johnson is, in fact, dead. She died this week at the age of 30, and at this writing, we're not sure why.

So, what did we learn from this? That Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes was correct: Newspapers (and other traditional news outlets) are going to turn into truth filters.

While we'll get most of our news from places like Twitter or Facebook (not necessarily those places, but places like them), where we select who we get the news from so the news will be relevant to us, we'll still need places like The New York Times to tell us whether the news we got is actually true.

The lesson: If you're not sure, check with someone you trust. Don't freak out over something you heard from someone who heard from somewhere that something may or may not have happened, which means it absolutely did.

Just like in many aspects of your life, you need to actually use your brain to use the Internet effectively.

Thank YOU for 2009, and happy 2010

Two songs to end 2009.

1. Auld Lang Syne. Robert Burns wrote this in 1788. I'm not really sure how it became a New Year's tune, but the lyrics speak to friendships across time and space. It's traditionally sung slowly, almost mournfully, as Dougie MacLean sings it here. The final verse is about raising a toast.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere
and gie's a hand o’ thine
and we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught
for auld lang syne.

If your Scots is wanting, here's a rough translation:

And here's a hand, my trusty friend
and give us a hand of thine
we'll take a right good-will drink
for old times gone by.

I've always thought that was too somber a note to go out on; it makes me believe the friends drinking their toast are parting for too long a time. Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You" is how I prefer to think about those around me. So, here's to you. I hope you dance into 2010.

Thanks for you. I hope you dance into the new year.

Book review: The Protest Singer

Too many books have been written about me, at too great length. What's needed is a book that can be read in one sitting.

Alec Wilkinson writes that he was worried Pete Seeger would not agree to another biography, so when the folk icon told him to write something brief and readable, Wilkinson must have been thrilled. He succeeds in the task with The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

Seeger turned 90 this year, and while longevity runs in his family, his voice is starting to falter and, well, he's 90. He's active, but by necessity less so than in his younger years. He's still an active voice for workers' rights and for the First Amendment, and if you don't know much about him or of his music, you really should catch up.

His stepmother told him once that he had "a talent for song leading," and that he should develop it, and develop it he did. Watch that video above. He sings one line, waves his hand, and if he didn't do anything the rest of the song, no one would have noticed. That was recorded in 1993; compare it to a video taken 30 years earlier. One line, and everybody's singing.

Seeger's life story is a great narrative. He used to hop boxcars with his banjo and ride with Woody Guthrie. He was drafted during the second World War, and later wound up blacklisted by HUAC. He took a "world tour" with his family as a cover while the last of the blacklisting faded out. He built the first home he and his wife Toshi lived in, a log cabin in Beacon, N.Y. (they still live on the property, though in a house that was built later).

He has stood up for workers' rights, civil rights and all sorts of other things. Even into his 80s, he'd stand outside in the rain on the side of a highway with a sign that said, "Peace."

To me, his legacy is song and song leading. There's nothing better you can do with a guitar than get everyone around you singing, in key or out, the right words or not. Seeger truly is an American treasure, and Wilkinson's book will take you little enough time to read that you'll have plenty of energy to do more research, listen to some music, and maybe pick up your guitar and play some songs.

Feeling thankful for the small things today

I turn 33 years old today. And I think 33 is going to be a good year for me.

I didn't feel like 30 was a milestone year. And with ups and downs along the way, I think 32 was a good upswing.

I'm learning more about myself. I'm more conscious of what my body is telling me, and while I won't be reaching for my walker any time soon, I'm recognizing that I take longer to warm up, need to stretch more often, and wind up with more creaks and pops in the morning than I used to.

If Harry Chapin is a model – and he's as good as any other, I guess – 33 is the year you kind of stop kidding yourself (read all the way through that song; it's worth it).

Poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats were both dead before they turned 33, as were rockers Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and Kurt Cobain. New York Giants great Tiki Barber had retired by 33, and both Mozart and Charlie Parker were in the last two years of their lives (Parker died at 34, Mozart at 35).

Those were all people who had great impacts on their professions, and for the most part, they had stopped affecting anything well before they were 33. I don't find that depressing so much as I see it a call to action.

So, here's to me, but here's to you, also. I plan to have a great year, but I can't do it alone. You're coming with me.


Photo by emmyboop, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 By Attribution license. And the song is, of course, by Cracker.


My bar mitzvah was Saturday morning, November 11, 1989. Some of you who read this blog are very familiar with what a bar mitzvah is; I'll beg your patience for a few moments. I'm sure the rest of you have an idea of what a bar mitzvah is, but perhaps not the full significance.

The word bar means "son of" (bat means "daughter of," which is why we use that for girls). Mitzvah, on the other hand, has two definitions. It means both "commandment" and "good deed." The transition from boyhood to manhood, in terms of the Jewish faith, takes place when one becomes a "son of the commandment" – that is, a child becomes responsible for following the rules himself, rather than having his parents take responsibility for his actions.

In the Old Testament, there are 613 commandments to follow. 365 of them are thou shalt nots – they're prohibitions on doing something (like killing and stealing). The other 248 are things you're required to do (like honoring your parents and leaving a corner of your field unharvested for the poor of the community to take).

Growing up, in religious school, we are taught to do mitzvot (the plural of mitzvah), like donating to charity and volunteering at nursing homes. We are taught that these are good deeds, but if we were to take a closer look at the language, we'd find out that this was just the stuff we're supposed to do. They are good deeds. for sure, but they're also commandments.

In other words, you don't get an award for doing right by people. You just do right by people. If the core of the Bible really is "treat your neighbor as you would be treated," it's a good code to run by.

But things in 1989 weren't all about doing the things you're supposed to do for the people you're supposed to take care of.

On June 4 of that year, my sister turned 7. Also on June 4, tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square, China, effectively ending seven weeks of protests by people with a variety of different causes.

Those tanks rolled right over Chinese citizens, crushing them. Something on the order of 500 people died, with many more arrested. The world was changing. I was 12, and even I could smell it.

On November 9 of that year, while I was in the final preparations for my bar mitzvah, citizens were at it again, but this time they won: the Berlin Wall came down.

Two years later, I was in my maternal grandparents' basement, listening to the new Walkman my paternal grandmother had given me (actually, she got one for each of the three of us; and she lived across the street from my maternal grandparents, so we always got to see them all in one trip), when I stumbled across the news that brought all the stuff from 1989 together: Moscow fell.

The world was changing – and now it had changed. And it was people who changed it, in spite of their governments, not with them.

Give this a listen, a close listen, and check out the background images (sorry, EMI decided not to let me embed it – they should have just put a watermark on it and let it go).

Photo of the Berlin Wall, Nov. 9, 1989, by Sue Ream, used under a Creative Commons 3.0 By Attribution License.

It’s Sunday. Cowboy Junkies, anyone?

I mentioned a couple of months ago that one of the first voices I ever fell in love with was that of Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies. I had taken a copy of the The Trinity Sessions out of the library.

Trinity turns 20 this year, and they're re-recording it and taking it on tour, doing a DVD, the whole bit. I didn't know then that it would be a seminal album, the way I knew Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" would be loved by millions of people across decades. I thought it was my little secret.

It wasn't.

Margo and brother Michael, who did much of the writing on that album (although not for "Sweet Jane," above, which was a Velvet Underground tune), are on To the Best of Our Knowledge this week. You can give a listen online if your local public radio station doesn't carry it.

CD Review: “Propaganda” by The Icon And The Axe

As I get older, I'm getting a better handle on what I truly enjoy in music. "What I truly enjoy" is frequently different from what I choose to listen to, and from what I play when I play music.

When I'm listening to music, I tend to do so with some purpose or other in mind, whether I'm trying to pump myself up for a workout or some work around the house, putting on some gentle background stuff just as an aural foundation, something to sing along with while I cook, you get the point.

But when I'm truly enjoying music, it's something to envelop me, something I can lay around the house and feel like I'm somewhere inside it. I don't have to be able to pick out the words, and to tell you the truth, I frequently won't learn them. It's about being lost in the sound.

I find that I enjoy minimalist tendencies with huge sound. That's a fairly tough order – it's a balance between doing only the minimum necessary to get your musical point across one minute and filling a universe with sound the next. And I still have to like your vocalist.

The Icon And The Axe (web site - MySpace) fill this role for me with their debut album "Propaganda."

Jamie Glisson's voice has all the stuff I liked of Dolores Mary O'Riordan Burton's voice (you'll remember her from the Cranberries), with none of the stuff I didn't – it's breathy without being harsh, it's aggressive but not angry.

The accompaniment is sometimes just picked guitar and sometimes full-on chord play with driving drum line. It's the sort of thing that could play well on an acoustic stage or as a symphonic arrangement.

And this is what I'm enjoying these days.

See also Mark Bialczak's review.

Legal disclosure: CD provided by Aux Records