Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Fourth Watcher (Poke Rafferty #2) by Timothy Hallinan




In The Fourth Watcher: Poke Rafferty Thriller #2 (Harper Collins, 2009, 324 pages, $7.99) author Timothy Hallinan takes the Bangkok based travel writer, problem solver, family man, and seeker of adrenaline rushes another step deeper into life in his chosen home of Bangkok, while opening wider and wider cracks into the story of what makes him tick. Again, Hallinan creates the steamy environment of this tropical city, always on the verge of a tropical downpour and super-saturated with an atmosphere just about ready to let loose. The weather stands as a metaphor for the overheated political, social, sexual environment of what can arguably be called the sex-tourism capital of the world. It's an appropriate place for Poke to have settled, as his metier is tourism from the seamy side. Poke is practicing evasion tactics, trying to recognize and escape being followed by a team, which his friend Arnold Prettyman, a retired spy, has assembled to help train him. Thinking he has identified and shaken the followers, Poke comes up against a beautiful Chinese woman who shoots him in the face, with a dissolving pellet and disappears.

Poke has been carrying a ring around in his pocket, struggling to work up enough courage to ask, once again, for his lover and companion Rose to marry him. Rose, an unspeakably and believably beautiful woman, has been with Poke since he liberated, rescued, freed, you-name-it her from her previous job as a nude dancer and prostitute in the sex district of Bangkok. She now runs a domestic cleaning service with her friend Pansy. Together they have adopted a Thai street child named Miaow, at once fragile, resourceful, damaged, and brilliant. Rose has just accepted Poke's proposal, when the police arrive at the door to arrest her for distributing counterfeit Thai and U.S. currency, and the story is on. Hallinan is one of the best in the business at creating cliff hanger chapter endings, making it nearly impossible to unwrap oneself from one of his books before reaching the end. The ability to create and direct dramatic tension to just below the unbearable point is a great skill, which Hallinan possesses in gobs.

Writing a series of novels gives a writer an enlarged window in which to fill in the details and nuances of the heroes back-story. In his Travis McGee novels, John D. McDonald never really did this. Although there were continuing characters and occasional references to incidents in past books, McDonald made no real effort to disclose formative events in McGee's life. I would say this was true with the Spenser novels of Robert B. Parker, too. On the other hand, in James Lee Burke's Dave Roubichaux stories, the character develops, ages, and changes through the years. In The Fourth Watcher, we meet Poke's father and his Chinese half sister, which reveals more of the motivation for his disdain for his own background as well as his need to gather, cherish, and grow a family composed of damaged birds. This opportunity to look into the genesis of a character works very well for me, as Poke becomes more complex and interesting.

In The Fourth Watcher Hallinan introduces Frank, Poke's estranged father who had left Poke's mother many years before to return to China, as well as a beautiful and skilled half sister he never before new existed. The plot revolves around counterfeiting orchestrated by Korea and Frank's efforts to escape the clutches of a vicious Chinese overlord. Meanwhile, the domestic issues confronting Poke continue to develop, as does his friendship and guarded partnership with the English education, Thai policeman, Arthit. All told this is an absorbing and hard-driving thriller that, from time to time, forced me to set it aside to allow my own excitement to be reduced. That's always a good signal for me.

Timothy Hallinan


Tim Hallinan is one of the most accessible of writers. He lives an active social media life on FaceBook and can be contacted through that or through the contact page on his web site. He responds to good questions with thoughtful answers that truly contribute to a reader's sense of contact with the characters in his books and with him. His web site also contains a section called Finish Your Novel, providing a wonderful resource for aspiring writers about the writing process and how he's developed his own skills. He's thoughtful, articulate, and generous in his approach to mentoring other writers and sharing his own experience.


The Fourth Watcher: Poke Rafferty Thriller #2 ( Harper Collins, 2009, 324 pages, $7.99) presents high tension and adventure while advancing the experiences and character of the Poke Rafferty character. I recommend it wholeheartedly to readers wishing to fill in their experience with Poke. I also am finding it quite gratifying to read through the stories chronologically, although that's not necessary. I bought the book used through Thrift Books, which I find to be a useful place to purchase print books these days, when I don't want to pay Amazon prices. I recommend all of Hallinan's books I've read so far and am looking forward to more. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Big Lick Bluegrass Festival in Oakboro, NC - April 9 - 11, 2015



The twelth annual Big Lick Bluegrass Festival was take place at the Big Lick Festival Park in Oakboro, NC (640 Oak Ridge Road Hwy 205) from April 9 - 11. Promoted by Jeff & Tammy Branch at the attractive Big Lick Park. This festival has consistently improved its lineup and attendance. There's plenty of space for camping, although hookups are limited. A good variety of vendors provide a range of fair and festival food. There's lots of jamming as well as an busy open mic evening on Thursday. A good sized shade (weather) tent is provided, although much of the seating is outside, rain or shine.

The Lineup
Bethel University Renaissance Band
 .
Bethel University is a small, Christian college located in McKenzie, TN which has a deep commitment to arts shown in its Renaissance Program, which includes a bluegrass band mentored by Nashville veteran performer, coach, producer, and more Stephen Mougin. The band features skilled young pickers filled with enthusiasm. They appear at Big Lick, this year, for the third time. You'll enjoy their work.


Bass Mountain Boys Reunion

The Bass Mountain Boys, based in North Carolina, were a popular touring and recording band back in the nineties before disbanding after the unfortunate death of John Mannes. They have been performing recently as a reunion band with great enthusiasm from both the band and their audiences. Look for a treat when you meet this enjoyable, traditional band.

John Ridge

Mike Wilson

Spinney Brothers

The Spinney Brothers are Canada's bluegrass gift to the U.S, bluegrass festivals with their presentation of traditional bluegrass and classic country leavened with old sounding new songs. Good show with lots of earnestness and enthusiasm.

Rick and Alan Spinney


Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Junior Sisk is probably the best interpreter of Ralph Stanley's mountain style music on tour today. His band had had several changes, which I expect to add some value. Jamie Harper has already brought some strength and Cameron Keller on bass has been attracting attention for several years. Look for a strong performance here.

Darrell Webb Band

The Darrell Webb Band offers diversity and traditionalism in a single package. He has played with some of the best bands in the business. He sings traditional high lonesome songs as well as more inward looking material he has written. Look for hot instrumental work and good singing. 

Joe Mulllins & the Radio Ramblers

Joe Mullins has consistently improved his band through the last three years. The latest addition is Jason Barrie, fresh off several years with Doyle Lawson. The band has become increasingly animated to complement its always good singing.

Joe Mullins

Deeper Shade of Blue

Deeper Shade of Blue is a regional band with no real pretensions of becoming a national band, even though they might succeed at that level. They play with enthusiasm which has earned them a loyal local regional audience.

Jim Fraley

The Details



For Further Information Contact Jeff Branch: jbranch205@windstream.net or call (704) 985-6987

How to Find Big Lick Bluegrass Festival
Place your location in the space marked o
and click "enter"


Big Lick will be our first North Carolina event this year, and we're looking forward to it. See you there!

Monday, March 23, 2015

An Inexpensive Lighting System You can Install



Newell Lodge offers one of the best venues for small to mid-sized bluegrass festivals. Built in a live oak hammock deep in the piney woods of south Georgia, the Lodge features a grove of lovely, unspoiled, majestic trees, a small restaurant, comfortable guest houses, and a stage which offers wonderful sound and stage lighting that's both effective. You can buy all the materials necessary to install this inexpensive lighting system at your local home center or hardware store. Many stages, especially at local venues and with sound men who cannot afford to provide a first-rate lighting setup or a lighting tech rely on limited knowledge and inadequate equipment to provide weak lighting, poorly balanced in both color and amount of light. The advent of LED lighting, with its ghostly colors and inadequate color balancing systems has only made things worse. Flourescent lights provide inadequate light with weird colors. Here's what Newell Lodge has done to provide a solid lighting system:


Light across the front is provided by two banks of these outside lighting fixtures.  Four across the front of the Newell Lodge sign designed and aimed to light the band, and three behing the sign to provide back lighting, helping to eliminate shadows. They have all been pre-aimed and require no adjustments during the festival. There are light switches on the wall beside one of the doors and a switch box hidden behind the green cutout guitar. Notice that there is blown in insulation between the joists, providing nearly complete deadening of echos coming off the planes of the stage, which is roughly 30' by 30'.  

Overall Stage Set-up

Footlights



Most bluegrass stages do not provide foot lights, which are quite necessary. Due to both bluegrass custom (cf. Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers) cowboy hats are part of the traditional bluegrass uniform. More recently, many band members wear various kinds of baseball caps while they perform. Such headwear, unless very carefully set at a high angle, places a shadow over the forehead and eyes of performers. These simple footlights eliminate the shadow completely, allowing even hats that are pulled own to be worn without risk.


Side-Lighting

Two sets of side lights are set on either side of the stage. These contribute to further reducing unwanted shadows. Plugs for the setup are placed low along the walls. An inexpensive indoor-outdoor carpet further reduces echo and provides a comfortable footing for musicians. 



Result

This picture of the Lonesome River Band was taken without flash during their evening performance. Taken without a flash at f4, 1/60 second, ISO 1400, easily achievable numbers with any point and shoot camera.



Here's a link to an inexpensive stage light dimmer  you can order from Amazon, if you wish to have greater control. Because the color of the lights presented here isn't a factor, you won't need to do any work balancing color.


An effective stage lighting system can be added to your stage, making the experience for fans much richer for a relatively small investment. Price it out for yourself to see if doing so would work well for you. There are many adaptations that can/should be made to this basic system to improve it. In my opinion, multi-color LED pots is NOT one of them unless you have pretty good skill at balancing color and a good lighting board. However, this system should be easy to adapt to your skills and needs.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The End of College by Kevin Carey - Book Review




In The End of College: Creating theFuture of Learning and the University of Everywhere (Riverhead Books, 2015, 288 pages, $27.95/11.99), Kevin Carey presents a view of the modern American hybrid university as dysfunctional and ineffective on the basis of learning, cost, and inappropriateness for the contemporary high tech world in which learning and learners are widely dispersed while educational opportunity is closely held, elitist, and unfocused. His argument is persuasive and his examples of a cheap, learning-based, highly computerized, and virtually free emerging alternative is both inspiring and more than a little unsettling. While the examples of new alternatives for learning and research are clear and real, he is considerably less effective at presenting alternatives for many of the goals of college life, including development of relationship skills, learning to live in a more diverse interpersonal world, and the essentially social nature of youth. His narrative also falls short in supporting his claim of a virtually free education, because the enterprise he describes is hugely expensive, yet he doesn't explain effectively a structure for providing financial support for the development of courses and learning experiences. Nevertheless, this is an important book presenting a seemingly utopian view of a future where opportunity is based on what people have learned and how they perform rather than how well they have taken tests and what they can afford.

Carey makes a strong case for the obsolescence of the contemporary multi-layered university, which he characterizes as the “hybrid university.” He presents a solid history of teaching and learning, going back to the days of Socrates sitting in the Forum of Athens throwing questions at his small group of students. He spends a good deal of time on how, as the dark ages were coming to an end, learning communities developed in Bologna, Paris, and in England, first at Oxford and later at Cambridge, where students came together in groups (called colleges) which organized together to form universities. In America, the first college was founded at Harvard in 1636, largely as a place to train ministers, who spread the gospel and essential learning first throughout the colonies and then across the nation. Harvard was, and remains, the model for the elite American college. However, as America emerged as a nation and spread across its vast continent, three conflicting goals emerged: education for liberal arts, education for vocational ends, and research brought together in what Carey describes as the hybrid university.

Because the hybrid university distributes its rewards based on the research it produces, the goal of teaching undergraduates has become less and less important, although they are necessary for the money they bring in, and to stand as the base of a pyramid with august scholars, teaching few, if any, courses, at the top. This structure is complicated by the difficulty, impossibility, of finding accurate ways to measure learning, set standards, agree to core learning experiences, or define an educated person. The system becomes based on the accumulation of (usually) 120 credit hours distributed among three hour, fifteen week courses and lasting, ideally, four years. Awarding of degrees is, thus, based on time spent rather than material learned. The brand name of the institution becomes increasingly important for being hired in high paying positions, allowing Harvard, Yale, Stanford and their like to emerge as the schools of choice for primarily those who can afford it and gain admission. Thus admission becomes increasingly expensive and families become willing to assume crushing levels of debt. While American colleges and universities have been democratized by the development of land grant colleges specializing in agriculture and technology and community colleges providing low level arts and vocational experiences for high school graduates, the system is top heavy, expensive, and not clearly learning oriented.

But Carey's book is not merely an indictment. He presents what he calls the University of Everywhere and gives clear and clearly superior examples of how it is emerging as the computer becomes increasingly interactive, cheap, ubiquitous and competitive. The centers of this progress are located in some of the hybrid universities Carey has been writing about: Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Stanford. Particularly at these institutions, scholars and technical wizards have recognized the capacity of the computer to respond at the keystroke level to how and what students are learning in order to pace additional instruction at precisely the right speed to assure learning and retention, while developing ways to recognize accomplishment and demonstrate such acquisition to potential employers. In other words, they have revolutionized instruction, evaluation, and certification. This revolution has been developed largely in the soup of start-up corporations surrounding Palo Alto, California (Silicon Valley) and Boston, where vast amounts of venture capital have been made available for people developing ideas about how to tap the broad world of those seeking to improve their lives through eduction, numbering in the billions.

The solutions are based upon the development of MOOCs. Mass Open Online Courses, which can and are made available at little or no cost to students seeking the skills and knowledge made available. Carey writes about the precursor instructional tools (computer assisted education, so-called distance learning, online lectures, and more), presenting them as early primitive efforts in what is an increasingly sophisticated, interactive, and evolving technology. The courses are apparently more widely distributed in math, science, and foreign languages because they are easier to sequence and measure, but also encompass almost the entire universe of introductory and some highly advanced areas of study. As prestige schools begin to offer them, they are, surprisingly, enrolling hundreds of thousands of students from around the world, some from remote areas like Mongolia, where a young student made such an impression he has been awarded a scholarship at MIT. This information is all presented through interesting and lively interviews with and profiles of the innovators, both scholars and entrepreneurs who are making it all not only possible to achieve, but happen now.

While Carey is quite persuasive in presenting the flaws in the hybrid university, and coruscating in his indictment of the importance of big-time sports, college as a sort of late adolescent summer camp teaching sexual and alcoholic mores, he's less thoughtful about how future academic communities will develop and how the humanities will be taught and learned. It remains true that there doesn't seem to be a practical substitute for placing bright students in a seminar setting with thoughtful, attentive, and skillful teacher exploring great ideas. However, this interaction rarely occurs anywhere but in the most pricey and elitist institutions and at the very top of the higher education pyramid. Meanwhile, the ends of training for mass employment in a rapidly changing job environment can be met for motivated students best through online MOOCs. Such students are available among the masses, ambitious people around the developing world, although they appear to be increasingly rare in the United States. Carey is also vague, at best, about how all this will be paid for, except to emphasize that economies of scale make the per unit cost of online education inexpensive. The words advertising and sales are not found in this book.

Kevin Carey


Kevin Carey directs the Education Policy Program at New America, a non-profit policy institute addressing the next generation of issues facing the United States. He is widely published in pre-kindergarten through higher education issues. He has worked in policy and budget areas for the state of Indiana. A graduate of SUNY-Binghampton and Ohio State, he lives with his wife and daughter in Washington, D.C.

The End of College: Creating theFuture of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Carey (Riverhead Books, 2015, 288 pages, $27.95/11.99) is an important, engaging, and thought provoking book about the changes in higher education to be brought about by the world wide pervasiveness of computers and the economies of scale created by them. His narrative style relies on anecdotal accounts of the involvement of universities, scholars, and entrepreneurs in developing and popularizing this new approach to learning. The book is aimed at the thoughtful general reader, parents exploring with their children the choices they need to make in this new world, and their offspring, who are discovering this alternative on their own. He examines the inertia, even resistance, sure to be encountered from the colleges and universities as they confront re-purposing their missions, plants, and processes. Carey generally ignores the nature of adolescent development as it applies to higher education; his grasp of the technical seems clearer than of the human, but the human impact is also more muddy. While this book has some flaws, I still recommend it highly. I received TheEnd of College from the publisher through Edelweiss as an electronic galley which I read on my Kindle app.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

World Gone By by Dennis Lehane - Book Review




It's been a pleasure watching Dennis Lehane grow as a writer through the past two decades. I first picked up his work in the Kinsey-Genarro series of detective mysteries in the late nineties as this smart couple attacked crime in the Boston area, with particular attention to Dorchester. Then, with Shutter Island and Mystic River his writing, while still involved with the neighborhood, family, and organized crime began to take on a greater seriousness and attract wider attention. Both were turned into successful films with Mystic River winning or nominated for several Academy Awards while Shutter Island became the highest grossing Martin Scorsese film up to that time. The Given Day placed Lehane in a new category as a writer of a large concept historical novel set in Boston during the post World War I period of the 1919 influenza epidemic and the Boston police riots. In scope and ambition this large novel following several families attacks issues of ethnicity, race, corruption, and family that are also found in World Gone By (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015, 320 pages, $27.99/12.99). Lehane's ever-widening world view and willingness to take on new challenges of style and scope place this book way beyond crime fiction as a genre and further establish Dennis Lehane as a superb literary stylist while always remaining a first-rate story teller.

While World Gone By is characterized as the final book in the Joe Coughlin trilogy, I saw only traces of the previous world built in The Given Day while I somehow missed Live By Night entirely. Though I'm usually acutely aware, as a reader, that I'm picking up a series in the middle, World Gone By is a fully realized stand-alone novel set in the Tampa, FL during the midst of World War II. I didn't read the book as genre fiction, as a crime novel, but rather as an allegory exploring the effects of a life of violent crime upon family, self-awareness, relationships, as well as personal and societal ethics. As with The Given Day. the novel places its characters in a time when the vast social changes wrought by war are coming home to rest in one notoriously infested city, Tampa. Coughlin, though still a young man in his early forties, has retired as boss of the Bartolo crime family to which he has risen on merit despite not being Italian. He's consistently portrayed as a person who is well-loved because of his humor, intelligence, resourcefulness, and danger. A loving father and friend, he is also a cold-blooded, remorseless killer. Lehane's ability to move seamlessly from intimate family settings to the most violent encounters reflecting the ebb and flow of power within “our thing” are part of the delight and horror of reading this book. As the story unwinds, the effects of this life take on a metaphysical awareness in Coughlin's life as his existence is increasingly haunted with ghosts from his past. While the name isn't there, it's quite clear the PTSD is much on Lehane's mind.

Theresa del Fresco, a vicious contract killer, has been given an incredible deal by Tampa's DA, sending her to jail for five years. Within hours of boarding the transport vehicle to Raiford prison, she twice has to defend herself against murder attempts. She reaches out to former boss Coughlin with a name that instantly draws him to a meeting with her in prison, where she reveals to him, in exchange for a favor, that he himself is the target of a contract to be executed on Ash Wednesday, less than two weeks away. With danger increasing each day, Coughlin meets with a rival mob boss on a river boat on the Peace River, journeys to Cuba, and forces a rival black gang member, with the wonderful name of Mantooth Dix, to commit suicide by attacking his rivals. Coughlin, because of his charm and danger, can move easily between various elements of Tampa's political, social, criminal, and economic world, while his life seems to be unthreatened, he's increasingly beset by the anxiety his search for the hidden enemy engenders in him as Ash Wednesday approaches. His concerns settle on his beloved young son, Tomas. Themes of love, loss, family, loyalty, power, influence, and change interweave in this complex yet extremely satisfying novel.

It's been a pleasure watching Dennis Lehane grow as a writer through the past two decades. I first picked up his work in the Kinsey-Genarro series of detective mysteries in the late nineties as this smart couple attacked crime in the Boston area, with particular attention to Dorchester. Then, with Shutter Island and Mystic River his writing, while still involved with the neighborhood, family, and organized crime began to take on a greater seriousness and attract wider attention. Both were turned into successful films with Mystic River winning or nominated for several Academy Awards while Shutter Island became the highest grossing Martin Scorsese film up to that time. The Given Day placed Lehane in a new category as a writer of a large concept historical novel set in Boston during the post World War I period of the 1919 influenza epidemic and the Boston police riots. In scope and ambition this large novel following several families attacks issues of ethnicity, race, corruption, and family that are also found in World Gone By (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015, 320 pages, $27.99/12.99). Lehane's ever-widening world view and willingness to take on new challenges of style and scope place this book way beyond crime fiction as a genre and further establish Dennis Lehane as a superb literary stylist while always remaining a first-rate story teller.

While World Gone By is characterized as the final book in the Joe Coughlin trilogy, I saw only traces of the previous world built in The Given Day while I somehow missed Live By Night entirely. Though I'm usually acutely aware, as a reader, that I'm picking up a series in the middle, World Gone By is a fully realized stand-alone novel set in the Tampa, FL during the midst of World War II. I didn't read the book as genre fiction, as a crime novel, but rather as an allegory exploring the effects of a life of violent crime upon family, self-awareness, relationships, as well as personal and societal ethics. As with The Given Day. the novel places its characters in a time when the vast social changes wrought by war are coming home to rest in one notoriously infested city, Tampa. Coughlin, though still a young man in his early forties, has retired as boss of the Bartolo crime family to which he has risen on merit despite not being Italian. He's consistently portrayed as a person who is well-loved because of his humor, intelligence, resourcefulness, and danger. A loving father and friend, he is also a cold-blooded, remorseless killer. Lehane's ability to move seamlessly from intimate family settings to the most violent encounters reflecting the ebb and flow of power within “our thing” are part of the delight and horror of reading this book. As the story unwinds, the effects of this life take on a metaphysical awareness in Coughlin's life as his existence is increasingly haunted with ghosts from his past. While the name isn't there, it's quite clear the PTSD is much on Lehane's mind.

Theresa del Fresco, a vicious contract killer, has been given an incredible deal by Tampa's DA, sending her to jail for five years. Within hours of boarding the transport vehicle to Raiford prison, she twice has to defend herself against murder attempts. She reaches out to former boss Coughlin with a name that instantly draws him to a meeting with her in prison, where she reveals to him, in exchange for a favor, that he himself is the target of a contract to be executed on Ash Wednesday, less than two weeks away. With danger increasing each day, Coughlin meets with a rival mob boss on a river boat on the Peace River, journeys to Cuba, and forces a rival black gang member, with the wonderful name of Mantooth Dix, to commit suicide by attacking his rivals. Coughlin, because of his charm and danger, can move easily between various elements of Tampa's political, social, criminal, and economic world, while his life seems to be unthreatened, he's increasingly beset by the anxiety his search for the hidden enemy engenders in him as Ash Wednesday approaches. His concerns settle on his beloved young son, Tomas. Themes of love, loss, family, loyalty, power, influence, and change interweave in this complex yet extremely satisfying novel.

Dennis Lehane was born in the Dorchester section of Boston, a predominantly Irish neighborhood. He graduated from Boston College High School (a Jesuit prep school), Eckherd College in St. Petersburg, FL and the writing program at Florida International University in Miami. He has published nine novels, many of which have been best sellers and written for major television shows like The Wire as well as serving as a technical adviser for HBO's Boardwalk Empire. His writing has stayed pretty close to home, largely writing about Boston and Florida. His books have been widely acclaimed, winning many awards. Lehane teaches writing at several colleges and writing workshops. He and his family alternate between living in Massachusetts and California.

Dennis Lehane's World Gone By (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015, 320 pages, $27.99/12.99) is a riveting novel set largely in the Tampa of 1943, when World War II was at its height. It completes the trilogy of books containing the character Joe Coughlin, although it is a completely satisfactory stand alone novel. The riveting narrative picks up pace quickly and forces the reader to keep reading. For me, as happens with the best novels I read, the dramatic tension becomes so great I was forced, at times, to put it down and cool off. Lehane continues on his track of elevating crime fiction beyond simple genre writing for consumers of such stuff and lifting it into the rarefied air of real literature. He joins writers like George Peleconose and the best of Elmore Leonard in this effort. I recommend this book without reservation. World Gone By was supplied to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours. I read it in a trade paperback edition.

Dennis Lehane


Dennis Lehane was born in the Dorchester section of Boston, a predominantly Irish neighborhood. He graduated from Boston College High School (a Jesuit prep school), Eckherd College in St. Petersburg, FL and the writing program at Florida International University in Miami. He has published nine novels, many of which have been best sellers and written for major television shows like The Wire as well as serving as a technical adviser for HBO's Boardwalk Empire. His writing has stayed pretty close to home, largely writing about Boston and Florida. His books have been widely acclaimed, winning many awards. Lehane teaches writing at several colleges and writing workshops. He and his family alternate between living in Massachusetts and California.

Dennis Lehane's World Gone By (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015, 320 pages, $27.99/12.99) is a riveting novel set largely in the Tampa of 1943, when World War II was at its height. It completes the trilogy of books containing the character Joe Coughlin, although it is a completely satisfactory stand alone novel. The riveting narrative picks up pace quickly and forces the reader to keep reading. For me, as happens with the best novels I read, the dramatic tension becomes so great I was forced, at times, to put it down and cool off. Lehane continues on his track of elevating crime fiction beyond simple genre writing for consumers of such stuff and lifting it into the rarefied air of real literature. He joins writers like George Peleconose and the best of Elmore Leonard in this effort. I recommend this book without reservation. World Gone By was supplied to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours. I read it in a trade paperback edition.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Newell Lodge - Spring 2015 - Review



Newell Lodge lies off U.S. route 1 headed six or seven miles north of the small town of Folkston, GA. Turn right and head down a hardened sand road past acres of recently harvested timber land and turn left at the sign onto a narrower sand road surrounded by pine forest. After a couple of miles there's an imperceptible rise in elevation, perhaps four or five feet, where the vegetation changes from pine into a lovely, secluded live oak grove, many of the trees wrapped with fairy lights keeping the world alive and slightly glittering through each night. Newell Lodge is a magical place to host a bluegrass festival. After four years, it has still failed to attract a significant audience for programs that have been designed to attract a local and regional audience with bands they know as well as to introduce new, but never far out, emerging bands and solidly excellent national bands. This weekend, despite fears of bad weather, a pretty good audience came and stayed. The highlight of the weekend was the long set presented by the Lonesome River Band, which closed the festival on Saturday evening, but there was much to enjoy, inspire, or speculate about the potential of other bands on view. Let's take a look at the show.

The King Family Band

Newell Lodge, through booker and sound man Clint Wilson, has provided many opportunities throughout its history for local gospel family bands to have a performance platform. Some have moved on to a larger stage (Flatt Lonesome and Trinity River were both featured at Newell Lodge early in their performing careers) while others are still in their formative stages, and may or may not remain there. The King Family comes from Hoboken, GA and are in their nascent stages as a performing band. They're pleasant, and the Newell Lodge stage introduced them to a new audience for their primarily bluegrass gospel music.

John King

Amanda King

Aubrey King

Allie & Amanda King

Josh Griffith

Backstage Warmup Tent

Big Cypress

 Big Cypress is a regional bluegrass band from Trenton (a small crossroads town near the Big Bend region of Florida west of Gainesville) which has been performing at events around the area for several years. Featuring singer/songwriter Kim Heirsoux (Slaughter), whose songs are lively, funny, and thoughtful, and a good variety of traditional material, the band acquitted itself well.

Kim Heirsoux & Randy Slaughter

Randy Slaughter

Randy Lewis

Ricky Downing

David McBrady

Kim Heirsoux (Slaughter)

Hold Your Horses Cafe

 Emcee Irby Brown

BlueRoad

BlueRoad is a very promising bluegrass band from North Georgia just getting off the ground. They combine high impact music written from within the band and their own arrangements of bluegrass standards like "Old Home Place" that force a listener to pay attention to an old song in a new way. They exhibit an attractive, at least to me, sense of edginess along with a sort-of puppy like enthusiasm. However, they still have considerable work to do to become a first rate band. At present they need to improve their musicianship and the band must become much tighter, both matters of discipline and hard work. They had enough material for one good set, but were confronted with having insufficient material to keep from repeating the same songs that were fresh and interesting in their first set three times. Nevertheless, this is a band worth keeping a close eye on as they develop their skills and material.

Hayden Bramlett

Matt Southern

Josh Hollifield

Greg Fleming

Dylan Smith

Norman Winter & friend Katie Wilson


Amanda Cook & Kennesaw Mountain


Amanda Cook is a good bluegrass singer/songwriter. She has a pleasant voice, which makes no attempt to imitate, as do so many others, the top two or three female bluegrass singers on the circuit today. She has the potential to attract at least regional notice, but she needs a stronger band backing her and more experience, both of which will be available for someone who can sing and write like she can.

Amanda Cook

Scotty French

Carolyne Hood

Chrystal Owens


Peter McCartney

Amanda Cook

Amanda Cook Rehearsing 



A Quiet Bluegrass Fan

Clint Wilson - Sound

Clint Wilson is one of the very best sound men around. He combines technical skill, a great ear, and good taste to produce crystal clear sound. Unlike many comprehensive sound companies, he knows what bluegrass should sound like and produces that sound while allowing each band to sound unique. 

Brandon Bostic - Sound

Gary Waldrep

Gary Waldrep is a first rate entertainer who has put together a band which has showmanship, enthusiasm, and strong musicality rolled into an effective unit. Several years ago, when we first saw Mickey Boles on mandolin with this band, I would have bet that he wouldn't last very long. However, Waldrep has found a way to harness his strengths and blend his high energy enthusiasm into an important part of the show. His impression of Chuck Berry is classic! Mindy Rakestraw, one of the original Daughters of Bluegrass brought together by Lorraine Jordan, has a fine resonant, strong singing voice ideal for every kind of song from love songs to gospel as well as playing first rate rhythm guitar. Waldrep himself continues to knit this all into a varied, entertaining, and sometimes amusing combination of secular and gospel material.

Gary Waldrep

Mickey Boles

Mindy Rakestraw

Donna Townsel

Gary Waldrep & Mickey Boles



Bill Warren

Mountain Faith

Mountain Faith has earned my "Surprise Band of the Festival" award for the weekend. Although I may have seen them briefly at IBMA, the last time we saw them in performance was at RenoFest, in the band contest, several years ago. Since then, they have worked hard, really hard, traveling and performing at festivals and in churches. A look at their current schedule suggests that they are playing an increased number and improved quality of festivals while continuing to work in churches throughout the midwest and southeast. Summer McMahan, principal singer and fiddler for the band, has become a powerful, convincing singer and more than adequate fiddler. Her brother, Brayden, plays a strong banjo and sings fine harmony. The duo is separated in age by less than a year. Luke Dotson on guitar adds another able voice and good picking to the mix. The recent addition of young and experienced Cory Piatt to the band has lifted it to another level. His skill and enthusiasm have helped the band begin to work towards new heights. Sam McMahan, on bass, is noticeable for the disparity of age he injects into the band, yet his enthusiasm and able work as band emcee are useful. Mountain Faith has a new recording out from Mountain Fever Records. Sam McMahan emphasized his realization that the band needs to expand its repertoire to build more of a national audience. Their new CD demonstrates that they are engaged in achieving this goal. Despite performing four sets at Newell Lodge, Mountain Faith only repeated a few. This is distinctly a band for promoters around the nation to consider booking and a serious contender for IBMA Emerging Band of the Year in 2015. 

Summer McMahan

Brayden McMahan


Luke Dotson

Cory Piatt


Sam McMahan

Luke Dotson & Summer McMahan

Sammy Shelor's New Bus

For a road warrior like Sammy Shelor and his Lonesome River Band, a bus is a necessary part of doing business. His last bus had over 900,000 miles on it and required Sammy to spend way too much time underneath it and too much money on repairs. Working with Don Wilson, who builds both buses and guitars, Sammy has a new, reconditioned bus which will stand him in good stead for many years. In fact, Wilson referred to it as a "lifetime" acquisition. Here's a peek inside:

Sammy on the Phone in the Main Cabin

Looking Forward

Sammy's Bunk

The Refrigerator

 The Lonesome River Band



More than thirty years down the road and with many notable alumni, the current version of The Lonesome River Band is arguably the best they've ever been. As a closing band, they have no peer with their driving, often hard edged, and rock inflected music, they not only please an audience, they excite it. Sammy Shelor has won too many awards to have room for them in the new bus. Brandon Rickman continues to write fine songs to add to the collection he recorded a few years ago, and the recordings keep coming. Barry Reed is a superb bass player providing a strong, driving beat as well as subtle, thoughtful jazzlike solos. Randy Jones is not nearly noticed enough for both his tenor singing and his mandolin mastery. Mike Hartgrove digs deep on the fiddle, always delivering heartfelt emotion. LRB is always right where they belong, at or near the top of any lineup they're included in, and there aren't enough Saturday nights to make them closing band at every festival they play.

Sammy Shelor

Barry Reed


Randy Jones

Mike Hartgrove

Brandon Rickman


Sammy Shelor

Newell Lodge Summation

Newell Lodge is one of the most beautiful venues there is. The grove of mature live oak trees creates shade and a sense of location that's beyond comparison. Owner Harvin Carter has, with the able help of Robert and Clint Wilson, developed a stage that's both spacious, sound-friendly, and well-lighted. Harvin's original conception of a multi-use facility that includes comfortable, spacious cabins, a small restaurant, stables and a gazebo can be used for weddings, riding events, concerts, group get-togethers, and bluegrass festivals. 

So far, despite offering some fine national bands and a good assortment of regional and local ones, Newell Lodge has been unable to attract strong enough crowds to become self-sustaining. Very few bands are capable of delivering four sets of first-rate material, and too many were asked to do so this weekend. As Harvin Carter has handed over direct management of the bluegrass festival to his daughter Ashley and full-time bluegrass entrepreneur Ernie Evans (Evans Media Source) it is hoped that publicity will reach out much further and the lineups will be broadened and strengthened. The venue, the concerts, and the festivals have the capacity to become an economic engine in an economically challenged county. We sincerely hope that the surrounding area will provide greater support in the future and that travelers will find Newell Lodge to put on their bluegrass schedules. 

Ashley Carter

Cory Piatt with Sarah Beth Thomas


Gospel Jam on Saturday Morning

Robert Wilson

Wally



Harvin Carter


Follow Me on FaceBook