Thursday, April 24, 2014

Acoustic Stories: Pickin' for the Prez and Other Unamplified Stories by Bill Amatneek - Book Review




Acoustic Stories: Pickin' for thePrez and Other Unamplified Stories by Bill Amatneek is self-published series of thirty-three tales and vignettes first published in 2003 and now updated, with a few new chapters and released in 2013. The stories, clearly labeled as based on Amatneek's experiences, but, perhaps, embellished and run through the wringer of memory and nostalgia, and then burnished to an often polished and lyrical shimmer, shine through the years of experience and memory. While self publishing still lies on the fringes of the publishing world, it should not be looked upon as barren ground. Many new books are self-published these days, and a good portion of these are at least readable, while some have become best sellers, thanks largely to the new distribution patterns championed by Amazon. Amatneek, in his introduction, cautions the reader that although there are thirty-three chapters which might ask to be skimmed, readers should read the book straight through to pick up all the nuances and inter-relationships. I found, however, that while I read all the chapters through faithfully, some are much better than others, and a few might better have been left out of this 2nd edition altogether.

Bill Amatneek Playing Bass at
The 1963 Philadelphia Folk Festival


Bill Amatneek grew up in Manhattan's Greenwich Village during the 1950's and 1960's during the folk craze at a time when people like Pete Seeger and his band The Weavers were often guests in his home because his Dad was an engineer for Consumer Reports, and the latest in recording devices were often available in his home for musicians to be able to hear themselves. Amatneek was a regular in the folk scene, attended the first Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1963, began playing the bass, and eventually left for the West Coast, where he has been a regular on the music scene playing bluegrass, jazz, folk, and ethnic music in a number of settings, sometimes as a regular with a band, and at others as a fill-in for bands making a western swing. His stories are all filtered through his very personal lens and brand of left wing politics, which I often found myself agreeing with while, at the same time, wishing he had left them out of the complex, inter-related mix. His writing,when he focuses on putting what he hears onto paper, often shows the greatest insight, and was the part of his stories I appreciated most.

With the Bill Keith Unit in Paris
Tony Rice, Bill Amatneek, Bill Keith, David Grisman, Daryl Anger


He writes with insight about Tony Rice's passion and precision in powering out the famous Clarence White guitar. His views of Rice's tone and drive gave me insights I have read from no-one else. He accompanied the David Grisman Quintet to Paris where he details the Rice and Grisman's discovery of a Gypsy luthier who had a large supply of tortoise shell picks he was willing to let them pick through. The profile of Lou Gottlieb, organizer and the force behind the Limelighters, helped me better understand this group I loved so much in the late 1950's and early sixties. Gottlieb's forcing him to take a close look at the lyrics of “Danny Boy” provides a lesson into finding one's way into a song. Many of Amatneek's tales capture that period through the sixties and seventies with a level of respect and love both rare and unfashionable today. He refers to people who are too young, who've only known “the Greed,” as having forgotten the communal ideals of the counter-culture, or hippie days. I found his description of his visit to France for the D-day fortieth anniversary and the dedication of monument to the Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War held in San Francisco to be less rewarding, but they might reach successfully into other people's hearts. So much has been written about Pete Seeger that Amatneek has little to add to the story. For people interested in how to get the good interview, his afternoon with Aretha Franklin speaks volumes. His chapters, I think new chapters in this addition of the book, on Roland White and Jim Hurst are wonderful. In the chapter on Hurst he captures the dilemma of bluegrass music in the 21st century. With chapters on Bill Monroe and Eric Bibb he finds a way to access the essential blues elements in bluegrass while exploring the issue of race in America in almost the same breath. And don't miss the love affair in his mind with Mary Travers through the decades.

Bill Amatneek


In his Preface to this edition, Amatneek is clear that a story-teller has a different responsibility than a journalist when it comes to separating truth from facts. Journalists, typically are charged with finding facts and allowing the reader to infer the facts. A story teller is more likely to spin a tale which seeks to illuminate truths he finds in his experiences. Whether such truths will be experienced in the same way by different readers or how the author wishes is up in the air, and should be so. So, as Amatneek wends his way from the folk sixties to the multi-culural twenty-first century, finding himself playing bass in a belly-dance band, the reader is treated to the lifetime of experiences and insights gained by a seeker of truth who had the opportunity to play with some of the finest musicians of his era. Many of the stories are engaging and illuminating. The writing is filled with both love and insight. Acoustic Stories was provided to me by the author in a hardback format, which, these days, is unusual for me. It can be ordered from the author at www.acousticstories.com. or Amazon for $27.00

Acoustic Stories: Pickin' for the Prez and Other Unamplified Stories by Bill Amatneek - Book Review


Acoustic Stories: Pickin' for thePrez and Other Unamplified Stories by Bill Amatneek is self-published series of thirty-three tales and vignettes first published in 2003 and now updated, with a few new chapters and released in 2013. The stories, clearly labeled as based on Amatneek's experiences but, perhaps, embellished and run through the wringer of memory and nostalgia, and then burnished to an often polished and lyrical shimmer shining through the years of experience and memory. While self publishing still lies on the fringes of the publishing world, it should not be looked upon as barren ground. Many new books are self-published these days, and a good portion of these are at least readable, while some have become best sellers, thanks largely to the new distribution patterns championed by Amazon. Amatneek, in his introduction, cautions the reader that although there are thirty-three chapters which might ask to be skimmed, readers should read the book straight through to pick up all the nuances and inter-relationships. I found, however, that while I read all the chapters through faithfully, some are much better than others, and a few might better have been left out of this 2nd edition altogether.

Bill Amatneek grew up in Manhattan's Greenwich Village during the 1950's and 1960's during the folk craze at a time when people like Pete Seeger and his band The Weavers were often guests in his home because his Dad was an engineer for Consumer Reports, and the latest in recording devices were often available in his home for musicians to be able to hear themselves. Amatneek was a regular in the folk scene, attended the first Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1963, began playing the bass, and eventually left for the West Coast, where he has been a regular on the music scene playing bluegrass, jazz, folk, and ethnic music in a number of settings, sometimes as a regular with a band, and at others as a fill-in for bands making a western swing. His stories are all filtered through his very personal lens and brand of left wing politics, which I often found myself agreeing with while, at the same time, wishing he had left them out of the complex, inter-related mix. His writing focuses on putting what he hears onto paper often shows the greatest insight, and was the part of his stories I appreciated most.

He writes with insight about Tony Rice's passion and precision in powering out the famous Clarence White guitar. His views of Rice's tone and drive gave me insights I have read from no-one else. He accompanied the David Grisman Quintet to Paris where he details the Rice and Grisman's discovery of a Gypsy luthier who had a large supply of tortoise shell picks he was willing to let them pick through. The profile of Lou Gottlieb, organizer and the force behind the Limelighters, helped me better understand this group I loved so much in the late 1950's and early sixties. Gottlieb's forcing him to take a close look at the lyrics of “Danny Boy” provides a lesson into finding one's way into a song. Many of Amatneek's tales capture that period through the sixties and seventies with a level of respect and love both rare and unfashionable today. He refers to people who are too young, who've only known “the Greed,” as having forgotten the communal ideals of the counter-culture, or hippie days. I found his description of his visit to France for the D-day fortieth anniversary and the dedication of monument to the Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War held in San Francisco to be less rewarding, but they might reach successfully into other people's hearts. So much has been written about Pete Seeger that Amatneek has little to add to the story. For people interested in how to get the good interview, his afternoon with Aretha Franklin speaks volumes. His chapters, I think new chapters in this addition of the book, on Roland White and Jim Hurst are wonderful. In the chapter on Hurst he captures the dilemma of bluegrass music in the 21st century. With chapters on Bill Monroe and Eric Bibb he finds a way to access the essential blues elements in bluegrass while exploring the issue of race in America in almost the same breath. And don't miss the love affair in his mind with Mary Travers through the decades.

In his Preface to this edition, Amatneek is clear that a story-teller has a different responsibility than a journalist when it comes to separating truth from facts. Journalists, typically are charged with finding facts and allowing the reader to infer the facts. A story teller is more likely to spin a tale which seeks to illuminate truths he finds in his experiences. Whether such truths will be experienced in the same way by different readers or how the author wishes is up in the air, and should be so. So, as Amatneek wends his way from the folk sixties to the multi-culural twenty-first century, finding himself playing bass in a belly-dance band, the reader is treated to the lifetime of experiences and insights gained by a seeker of truth who had the opportunity to play with some of the finest musicians of his era. Many of the stories are engaging and illuminating. The writing is filled with both love and insight. Acoustic Stories was provided to me by the author in a hardback format, which, these days, is unusual for me. It can be ordered from the author at www.acousticstories.com.








A Summer to Remember: Bill Veeck, Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller, and the 1948 Cleveland Indians - Book Review




A Summer to Remember: Bill Veeck, Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller and the 1948 Indians by Lew Freedman (Sports Publishing, 2014, 304 pages, $24.95) reprises the 1948 Cleveland Indians run for the pennant, their first real shot at glory since the 1920 season when they went to the World Series. The book is a minor feast for anyone who grew up in the late forties and early fifties and became a baseball fan. My own acquaintance with this team was actually its 1954 iteration which won more games in a season than any other team before or since while defeating the Yankees in an epic sold out double header at Yankee Stadium in September, a game I attended with my Uncle Frank Mollenhauer, who had played sandlot ball across from Yankee Stadium when Babe Ruth played there. But many of the standouts on that team were still playing when I was lucky enough to stand through fourteen innings before getting a seat in the middle of the second game. But in 1947, Bill Veeck (as in wreck) had managed to gain ownership of the Indian's franchise, with (as usual) someone else's money, installed shortstop Lou Boudreau as one of the last player/managers in major league baseball, and proceeded to provide him with the material to become competitive while filling Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, the largest park in baseball at the time, to the brim with eager fans.

Bill Veeck


Veeck brought some of the greats of baseball lore to create a scratching, fighting, team that would contend for the 1948 pennant for the entire season. Bob Feller, Larry Doby, Bob Lemon, Satchell Paige, Dale Mitchel, and one year wonder Gene Breardon, a knuckleballer who won twenty games for his only good major league year, came together for signature years and brought the 1948 American League pennant home. Hall of Famer Tris Speaker was brought out of retirement to coach the outfielders, particularly Larry Doby, and the recently retired great Hank Greenburg became the team's general manager. From the start, it promised to be an exciting year, although few thought at the beginning of the season the team was quite ready for a pennant run.

Player/Manager Lou Boudreau


Only three years after the end of World War II, many of the players had lost two or three of their prime playing years to military service. Bob Feller, who played his first major league game in 1936 at age 16 was seen as a slightly over-the-hill veteran. Larry Doby, hired in 1947, was the first African American player in the American League. Not receiving the attention or preparation that Jackie Robinson had benefited from with Dodger owner Branch Rickey, Doby still had to learn to play outfield and form himself into the Hall of Fame star he became. Bob Lemon was at the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. I saw him pitch a masterpiece in that second game of the 1954 double-header in Yankee Stadium. Perhaps the most well-publicized addition to the pitching staff was the veteran black pitcher Leroy Satchell Paige, at an indeterminate age, somewhere around 42, he had toiled in the Negro leagues and barnstormed with white teams since the late 1920's  without a real shot at the bigs. Freeman's chapter-long profiles of these key players stand out as the highlights of the book. In addition, his pictures of fill-in and marginal additions to the squad, men like Hal Peak and Thurman Tucker, fill out the team and provide a strong picture of all that goes together to develop a winning team.

Bob Feller


Lou Boudreau emerges as the glue and drive that brings this team assembled by Veeck together to win the pennant. Boudreau was already recognized as a standout player, and in 1948 had perhaps his finest year ever in a Hall of Fame career. In 1948 batting .355 with 8 home runs, and 106 RBI's while being named the American League's Most Valuable Player and Sport magazine's player of the year across all sports. He managed to do this while maintaining the balance and perspective to provide strong leadership to a team from disparate backgrounds which had to learn to play and live together.

Satchel Paige


Bill Veeck shares the limelight with Boudreau, although, in a very real sense, Veeck never shared the limelight with anyone. Veeck, one of baseball's unique and important characters, was a baseball man from childhood, working for his father, who owned the Chicago White Sox for a while. He grew up in baseball, and brought an iconoclastic enthusiasm to building teams and promoting baseball. He invented “Lady's Day,” and, as owner of the St. Louis Browns, brought midget Eddie Gaedel to bat, when he needed to get a man on base by earning a walk. His promotions and out-sized personality were essential to the Indians' success in 1948.

Larry Doby


Lew Freedman is the author of more than 70 books about sports and Alaska. He has won more than 250 awards and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, the Anchorage Daily News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He has also written for a variety of web sites and with several major league ball players on their autobiographies. He and his wife Debra live in Indiana.

Lew Freedman


All this is accomplished in a year in which the pennant race couldn't have been tighter with the Yankees, Red Sox, and even the Philadelphia A's competing with the Indians down to the wire, for a one game playoff at the end of the season against the hungry, Ted Williams led Red Sox. Author Lew Freeman hs managed to assemble a book which maintains the reader's interest despite what could be a mind numbing exercise in box scores without relevant detail. By accessing the newspapers of the day as well as the memories of the few players and fans remaining alive, and the later reminiscences of players deemed worthy of their own books, Freeman brings the era and the season to life. A Summer to Remember: Bill Veeck, Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller and the 1948 Indians by Lew Freedman (Sports Publishing, 2014, 304 pages, $24.95) was provided to me by the publisher as an electronic galley by Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, NC - Our Visit


We first came to Shelby, NC in the fall of 2009 to visit a friend we had made on the Internet. We first knew him as Dr. Tom Bibey, who wrote a wonderful blog about being a small town doctor, a bluegrass musician, and a writer. It was warm, funny, and, to us, a deep mystery, because we soon realized that Tom Bibey was not the author's name. After several months of dancing around each other, the author revealed himself to us as Dr. Bobby Jones, indeed a family physician, musician, golfer, and writer who lived and worked in the small town of Shelby, and had played for many years in a band with Horace Scruggs, Earl Scruggs' brother. We met Dr. Bobby, as he was known throughout his bluegrass world, at a small, indoor festival run by Lorraine Jordan in Burlington, NC, and scheduled ourselves to come to Shelby for a visit later in the Fall. While there, he took us to the Bomb Shelter, a regional jam session, where we met Darin Aldridge, and a lot of his other bluegrass friends. He also took us to see the grave of country singer Don Gibson, and to the tiny nearby community of Flint Hill, where we visited the run-down Earl Scruggs' childhood homestead.

Scruggs Homestead in Flint Hill

He told us about a plan, then under way, to redevelop the long-closed Shelby County Courthouse, in the center of "uptown" Shelby as a museum dedicated to the life and work of the man who changed country music and redefined the banjo when he joined Bill Monroe's band in 1945. This winter, in a huge gala attended by music luminaries, the Earl Scruggs Center opened in Shelby, NC on January 11, 2014 to great acclaim. We were able to visit there in late March.

The Earl Scruggs Center

Cleveland County Court House



Scruggs Center Welcome Center

Main Desk at Welcome Center

Irene & Marta Jones
Shopping at the Well-Stocked Gift Shop

After several years of fund raising and under the auspices of Destination Cleveland County and with the full cooperation of the Scruggs family, those remaining in the region and Earl's sons in Nashville, the Earl Scruggs Center opened with visitors from Nashville including Randy and Gary Scruggs, Vince Gill, Sam Bush, Travis Tritt, Rob Ickes, Jim Mills as well as Governor Pat McCrory and Congressman Patrick McHenry. Darin and Brooke Aldridge, local bluegrass band and Nashville stars, performed at the opening ceremonies.


Flash Mob Performing "Reuben's Train"
at
United Methodist Church in Shelby



The Scruggs Center has successfully striven to place the life and times of Earl Scruggs within the context of southern culture in general and Cleveland County in particular. Located on the southwestern edge of the once rich Piedmont region, which prospered under a combination of growing cotton to supply a vast structure of textile mills, attracted away from New England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by the low labor costs and absence of labor unions. The region also had a rich and varied musical climate, celebrated by the Center. Earl Scruggs was born on January 6, 1924. The family was musically oriented, and Earl grew up in a musical environment, discovering a sophisticated three finger style of picking the banjo that was influenced by ealier claw hammer, two finger and three finger pickers. Scruggs' style, however, achieved musical prominence when he and Lester Flatt joined Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys in 1945. The Scruggs Center, through its interactive exhibits, films, and displays looks at Scruggs in whole, rather than through the lens of the few brief years he worked with Bill Monroe or the longer period of success with Lester Flatt. Earl Scruggs and his technique are seen as developing within the social, economic, and racial environment of the deep South in the mid-twentieth century. For Earl Scruggs, leaving work in a textile mill to become a professional performer was a natural step. No one could have predicted the profound influence his banjo picking would have on country and bluegrass music through the next fifty or more years.


Introductory Film

Young Earl


Typical of the high technology and thoughtful presentation characterizing the Scruggs Center are the innovative electronic table which has six stations permitting visitors to explore the place, genre, artist, influence, and instrument into relationship with each other. By tapping the intersection of two crossed strings, many elements come together to create bluegrass music can be explored. This magnificent table alone can take up hours of a visitors time, as the strings are played, and you can even jam together.

Museum Director Emily Eppley Shows Marta and Irene
the Musical Table


In another interactive exhibit, three styles of banjo playing (clawhammer, two finger, and three finger) are demonstrated through a window from below, clearly showing the hand actions required. By twisting the dials, one can slow down the hand action, getting a clear idea of the motions required by each style. (As a sidelight, this would be a magnificent technique to use to teach the banjo roles to a beginner.) Cleveland County Community College professor Al Dunkleman and instrumental great Darin Aldridge demonstrate the two styles.
Al Dunkleman & Darin Aldridge 
Demonstrate Picking Styles

Many bluegrass adherents prefer to picture Earl Scruggs' adventuresome approach and spirit as reaching its ultimate with his work in bluegrass music, downplaying his questing spirit which took him on the road for a number of years playing a variety of musical styles including folk and rock and roll with his family and friends for many years as the Earl Scruggs Review. For a period of time, this band was the second most popular college campus band in the country. Films show the Earl Scruggs Review in performance, as well as contemporary banjo greats like Bela Fleck and Chris Pandolfi attesting to Earl's influence in changing the way the banjo was perceived and played as well as attesting to his questing musical spirit.

The Earl Scruggs Center places Earl and his great work in the context of the culture and economy of his time in a small southern city just a few miles north of the South Carolina border. Earl grew up during the hard times of the depression, when music made in the family, church, and neighborhood was one of the few escapes from the drudgery of the cotton field and the mill. By the time Earl was a young teenager, he was recognized for the distinctive style and syncopation he had developed on the banjo, while working in a nearby textile mill, before escaping to reach for his musical destiny, still in his early twenties. 


The Cotton Industry

Farming

Contributions of African Americans to the 
Sourthern Musical Tradition


Social Change Throughout the Region

   The Scruggs's Turn Toward Rock Music

Local Voices Heard From




 The Late Dr. Bobby Jones (Dr. Tom Bibey)


Darin Aldridge, Irene, Marta Jones, Me


In addition to coming to Shelby to soak up the museum, be sure to set aside some time to explore the town square built around the old Courthouse. A selection of quality restaurants and shops have been renewed around the square to go with the magnificent work done to restore and repurpose the Court House. Also, take a trip to Shelby City Park to visit the wonderful restored carousel there.

Carousel in Shelby City Park

Information about hours and admission to the Earl Scruggs Center can be found HERE. Make sure you take the opportunity to capture this fine museum to increase your appreciation of Earl Scruggs the man and the musician.

How to Get to the Earl Scruggs Center
enter your current location in the zero to see a 
customized map



Earl Scruggs

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Divide by Matt Taibbi - Book Review




Matt Taibbi's new book The Divide:American Justice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (Random House; Spiegal & Grau, 2014, 448 pages, $27.00) is certain to make you angry, whatever side of the political spectrum you inhabit. The simple thesis of the book is that America's justice system is deeply divided along lines of race, culture, class, and (most of all) wealth into two distinct groups receiving distinctly different treatment at the hands of the police, the courts, and the political system. The genius of the book is how Taibbi hammers home his evidence to build an overwhelming indictment of not only injustice the system, but how much it costs all of us in lost opportunity and wealth. Taibbi builds his case by being a terrific story teller. He takes the reader into the homes, the offices, and courts with riveting interviews and loads of solidly compiled evidence to evoke, at first, some disbelief, but ultimately a deep conviction that something is wrong here, and we need to become outraged enough to do something about it. The reader is left, like Howard Beale in the Paddy Cheyevsky/Sidmey Lumet Film Network, leaning out the window screaming, “I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take any more!”

Taibbi develops his premise by telling, in alternating chapters, stories about the poor, mostly black and Hispanic people, who are systematically treated with disrespect and humiliating injustice by the police, the courts, and the government with examples from the world of banking and high finance in which the institutions are deemed “too big to fail” and neither institutions nor individuals are seriously punished for their frauds (for crimes of fraud they certainly are) because of a doctrine of possible “collateral damage” to the innocent developed by Eric Holder when he served in the Attorney General's office under President Bill Clinton. Don't let Eric Holder's name set your heart a-pounding, though, as both Democrats and Republicans, including each of our last three Presidents, come in for their well-deserved share of the blame for the current shameful situation.

Taibbi asks the reader to consider the question of why some criminals go free while others committing “the same crime suffer the full weight of the states' power?” He argues that through the 1980's and 1990's the Justice Department had brought criminal charges against Boesky, Milkken, Keating and others as well as bank fraud cases against Drexel Burnham Lambert, Suisse Bank, and Bankers' Trust. More than 800 people were sent to jail as a result of the savings and loan crisis. Eric Holder's, at the time little noticed, 1999 memo urges prosecutors to consider the “collateral consequences” (that is the possible damage to innocent employees and stock holders caught up in the crimes of corporations and individuals within the corporations) might have. Combined with globalization and the “too big to fail” doctrine, this memo made attaining more convictions increasingly difficult. In the Obama administration, this difficulty combined with a deep concern about bringing cases that would be difficult and time consuming to win in which the weak became the object of prosecution leading to jail time, while the powerful either paid fines or were left alone. In stunning detail, Taibbi tells the story of the massive fraud perpetrated against the public by the sale of Lehman Brothers to Barclay Bank, in which hundreds of billions of dollars where lost while individual bankers were richly rewarded without risk. Meanwhile, the prosecutors preen at jailing Bernie Madoff while the banks who cooperated in his fraud go scot free.

The other side of the equation is represented by a number of individuals who become victims of either the mindless or vicious application of the criminal and civil justice system to the poor and powerless. We see the effect of New York City's stop and frisk law on the poor and the black. People merely minding their own business talking to friends on the street encounter teams of police who jam them against walls and, if they find no incriminating evidence, manufacture it to obtain an arrest and fill out their citation books' quotas. Once in “the system,” they are subjected to the mindless indignities of lazy, tired judges and overworked, cynical public defenders. The system works to keep people, even those with jobs and homes, from meeting their responsibilities, leading to their being fired and even more unable to pay too large fines for being, perhaps, in the wrong place at the wrong time. While “collateral consequences” were being recognized for massive corporate misdeeds, the consequences of wholesale arrests on the families and lives of poor people were never considered in a country with over 2,000,000 people in jail, many in profit-making private prisons whose congressional lobby is one of the most powerful in Washington, D.C. Placing the two systems of “Justice” side-by-side points to an inequity in society which always benefits the white and the wealthy. The reader must sit by in disgust at the waste and inefficiency of the systematic flaws, while lives with some hope in them are ruined for behavior that would be overlooked if the perpetrator were white or lived in the suburbs.

The only way to understand the chaos of the courts and police system or the failure to achieve justice in the world of banking and finance is through an anecdotal approach, which Taibbi has mastered. His accounts of the plight of undocumented workers and even a corporate whistle blower whose life is nearly destroyed by pointing out Chase bank's fraud in mortgage foreclosures fills the reader with a realization of the hopelessness, weariness, boredom, and desperation of the residents, police, lawyers, and judges caught in a system relying on phony data. Meanwhile, the defendants in the Gen Re and AIG cases go umpunished because of mercy pleas to a credulous judge. Taibbi, because of his skill as a story teller, puts a human face on the undocumented immigrants seeking only to find work and their American born children who become “collateral damage.” Taibbi says, the “nasty anti-social behavior of Wall Street crooks went almost completely unpunished: the system failed due to a combination of corruption, regulatory capture, pusillanimity of government officials, structural biases in the civil courts, and other causes.” Taibbi argues that the only way to fully understand the differences in the way fraud is treated across the divide is to see the way different people across the social scale are treated. He presents so many well-documented and researched examples that they become overwhelming.

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is an American author and journalist writing on politics, the media, finance, and sports for Rolling Stone and Men's Journal. We grew up in Boston and was educated at Concord Academy and Bard College. His writings have been seen as somewhat controversial. He lives in New Jersey.

With the publication of The Divide: American Justice in the Ageof the Wealth Gap (Random House; Spiegal & Grau, 2014, 448 pages, $27.00) Matt Taibbi seems to have developed an increased maturity in his analysis and presentation. While his writing may be seen by some as sometimes overheated hyperbole, for the most part his outrage is controlled, his reasoning well-supported, and the case he develops deeply convincing. His argument that there is a deep divide between rich and poor, black and white in the American systems of criminal and civil justice seems incontrovertible. The Divide was provided to me as an electronic galley by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read in on my Kindle.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

HoustonFest 2014 - Preview



HoustonFest will take place on May 2 - 3, 2014 at Felt Park in Galax, VA. Unlike any other festival we attend, HoustonFest is a celebration of the life of Houston Caldwell expressing this dedication through its commitment to youth and young people's music. Houston Caldwell was only nineteen when his life was cut off in a motorcycle accident while returning from having competed in the banjo contest at Merlefest. In his short life he had made friends throughout the bluegrass world, been an active member of the Galax Fire Department, and had just completed Army basic training. All these commitments are on full display at HoustonFest. But HoustonFest is far from being a glum or sad occasion. Rather, it is a celebration of Houston's life through music, song, dance, and performance, all with an emphasis on developing young musicians who will be both in the forefront of national performers and remain the background of bluegrass and traditional music through their participation in local jams and events. As is fitting for this storied location, HoustonFest celebrates both bluegrass and old-time music in many manifestations.

Houston Caldwell

The HoustonFest team, including members of Houston's family and many local organizers, has announced a number of Special Events for this year's HoustonFest. The winners of 2013 Scholarships will be presented in a special showcase.

2013 Scholarship Winners



Take a look at the breadth and comprehensiveness of the Houston Caldwell Scholarship Program here. Another featured project will be the Close Kin: Our Roots Run Deep, blending elements of old-time and bluegrass music in a film. A headline event will present Banjo Blitz in which three previous winners of the Steve Martin Excellence in banjo award will perform. Look for Sammy Shelor, Jens Kruger, and Mark Johnson to show three distinctive banjo styles at the highest level. A donated 2004 Cadillac deVille will be raffled.  Finally, Dr. Ralph Stanley will be making his last performance at Galax during this year's HoustonFest. One of the great performers from the first generation of bluegrass greats, Dr. Ralph's appearance at HoustonFest is particularly appropriate, as his style blends elements of old-time mountain music with bluegrass in a unique fashion.

Dr. Ralph Stanley


HoustonFest is probably less about the headline bands than any other festival we attend, and yet the bands are there. The schedule is complex, featuring three stages: The Main Stage, Camp Houston Stage, and the Firehouse Stage. Featured events and performers will appear on all the stages for both days, although youth bands and workshops will dominate on the two subsidiary stages. If you want to see the music stars of the future, to be able to say that you saw a performer when just a youngster, Camp Houston and the Firehouse Stages are where you want to be. Here's the whole schedule. Nevertheless, the Main Stage will feature some of the greats of bluegrass:

The Whites


Sierra Hull

Balsam Range


Lonesome River Band


Banjo Jubilation: Shelor, Kruger, Johnson






The Kruger Brothers

Blue Highway

The Boxcars
Adam Steffey

The Details

There is limited camping available on the Felt Park site with some electric, but no water hookups available. There are several nearby full-service campgrounds. You can buy tickets online, at some Galax stores, or at the Gate. Food and craft vendors abound on site. Enjoy their offerings and support their efforts. For more details, study the HoustonFest web site.

How to Get to HoustonFest
on the map below, input your location in the o


The Scene

In the end, however, HoustonFest is about kids performing and being given opportunities to gain additional experience and training. Your support of these activities is important! Here are some views of the scene you'll enjoy when you attend HoustonFest:

Festival Merch Shop

Clogging Deck


Hayden & Tess Caldwell

Vendors Row





















Come out to HoustonFest and have a great time while supporting its mission of developing young musicians. You won't be sorry.

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