Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Special 2010 - More Florida

Perhaps the saddest bluegrass event of our 2010 year was the death of our friend and bluegrass mentor Jennings Chestnut.  During the early 2000's we were spending a lot of our time in Myrtle Beach and discovered Jennings, his wife Willie, and their music shop in Conway, SC just as I was beginning to struggle along with the banjo.  I went up to Conway for what he refused to call lessons.  "If you run into difficulties, maybe I can help you out a little." he said.  He helped, but even more importantly, he and Miss Willie became our friends, as we spent more time with them we learned to respect and love his gentle southern courtliness, his prickly sense of pride, and his knowledge of the world of bluegrass music.  After a while he allowed us to volunteer at his May festival, Bluegrass on the Waccamaw.  We learned that he was gravely ill with brain cancer, and we visited in his home for an hour or so on our way south.  We learned that he had died on February 14th.  Unable to attend his funeral, we drove north for a memorial service held in Conway on February 21st, at which many of his friends played.  Jennings was well-known as a mandolin maker, bluegrass promoter, luthier, and friend to many.

Jennings Chestnut
Jennings and Miss Willie
at their Mandolin Shop in Conway, SC
Miss Wilie and Daughter Ginger Campbell
at the Memorial Service

Gwen Johnson - Red White & Bluegrass
Daughter of Red White

 Scott Freeman
Samantha Snyder
Zeb Snyder
Bob Cook - Our Friend
from Wilmington, NC

Ginger and Miss Willie
Enjoying the Snyders
Little Roy Lewis is Always ON
Lizzie Long

 Little Roy Lewis
Darin Aldridge

Brooke Aldridge
The day was one of sorrow, warm remembrances, stories that evoked tears and laughter in equal measure, and wonderful music bringing healing and togetherness.

Sabal Palms Bluegrass Festival
Palmdale, FL

Palmdale is a south-central Florida address about twenty miles south of Lake Placid that, apparently, has never existed as a town.  The only sign of activity there is the Sabal Palms RV Resort, which, therefore, makes it a fine location for a small bluegrass festival.  The site worked well for performances, workshops, and jams. 

The James King Band
James King
Preacher Mike Robinson
Valerie Smith - Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike

 Becky Buller - Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike

Becky Buller

Rebekah Long - Liberty Pike

Phil Leadbetter - Touring with Richard Bennett
Richard Bennet
Jarrod Walker

Cory Walker
The Sabal Palm Bluegrass Festival seems to be scheduled for March 4-6, 2011, but there's very little information available as of this date. 

Tomorrow's News Bluegrass Festival
Craig's RV Resort - Arcadia, FL
Craig's RV Resort, just north of Arcadia, FL has long been a strong destination for bluegrass events.  For many years the Southwest Florida Bluegrass Association held monthly bluegrass get togethers there, but moved to a more convenient location a few years ago.  In 2010 Bass & Hall promoted The Tomorrow's News at Craig's, and this year's event will be hosted by K & D Bass, the successor to Bass & Hall.  The effect of the faltering economy on Florida bluegrass events can clearly be seen, but there's clearly an audience and a willingness to try to bring them together.  

Mark Horn - Highway 41 South

J.R. Davis - Highway 41 South

Robert Feathers - Highway 41 South

 Evan Carl - Emcee
Kalyn Hall - Tomorrow's News

Generations Bluegrass

Melissa Wilson - The Wilson Family Band
Will it ever stop raining?

Ricky Stroud - The Hager's Mountain Boys
Never Can Tell Who You'll Find in the Audience
Bruce Sheriden - The Wilson Family Band

 Clint Wilson - The Wilson Family Band

 Keeping Victor Hall Fed - Tomorrow's News
Bryce, Victor & Kalyn Hall

Florida State Bluegrass Festival
Perry, Florida
The Wilson Family Rehearses
A Quiet Moment for Victor and Malieka Hall

The Wilson Family Band
Kenny Smith - The Kenny & Amanda Smith Band
Who could ask for more from a bluegrass band?  A loving couple making music together.  Kenny is one of the most versatile and creative flat pickers around.  Amanda's voice is one of the very best by any standard. They've surrounded themselves with able young pickers and lifted their presentation to create an enjoyable package which complements the lineup at any bluegrass festival.
Amanda Smith
Cadillac Sky
Matt Meneffee

Cadillac Sky has gone through a series of changes over the past several years, always moving to the more progressive side, not to say the more outrageous.  With the recent departure of Bryan Simpson for religious reasons, who has always seemed to be the core of the band's soul, it's difficult to know where they might be heading.  Nevertheless, with brilliant instrumentalists Matt Mennefee on banjo, Andy Moritz on bass, and Ross Holmes on fiddle they will continue being free spirited and creative. David Mayfield, a fine flat-picker and singer, has added to the entertainment value, while attracting a younger, hipper audience with his antics. Simpson's spot has been filled by guitarist Levi Lowery, leaving the mandolin play to be divided between Holmes and Mayfield.  It'll probably take a while for this band to settle into its new personnel.  Cad Sky's profile on MySpace includes "experimental" as one of the words used to describe its music.  That fits pretty well.

Bryan Simpson

David Myfield
Note Demographic Differences in Reaction
Simpson & Mayfield

Andy (Panda) Moritz

 Typical Audience for Cad Sky

The Florida State Bluegrass Festival is usually held during the first weekend of April in Perry, the county seat of Taylor County at The Forest Capital State Park, a small park with excellent facilities for a festival and one of the most beautiful amphitheaters around.  Perry generally offers a good mix of traditional and progressive bluegrass bands as well as plenty of music from Florida groups, befitting its name. The 2011 Festival will be held March 31 - April 3, 2011.

After Perry we started heading north.  Look for the next report to cover the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Festival in Cherryville, NC as well as events surrounding our annual visit to Wilkesboro, NC  for Merlefest.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson - Book Review

WARNING! The book review that follows is quite positive and, I hope, might influence readers to purchase and read it.  Please don't do this until you have read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first book in this trilogy of detective thrillers set in Sweden and translated from Swedish.  My review of the first book can be read here.

The Review - As The Girl Who Played with Fire opens, Mikael Blomgvist has become a celebrity journalist, one of the outcomes of the previous book, and Lisbeth Salander, the strange, damaged, and brilliant computer hacker (and the girl in both titles) is on an extended round the world trip.  Blomqvist's magazine, a crusading journal called Millenium, that often uncovers injustice within the strangling and contorted world of the Swedish welfare state, is overseeing the development of a series of articles and a book dealing with sexual trafficking in a country where sex is common and varied, but importing prostitutes illegal.  Through a series of coincidences, Salander's finger prints are found on the gun used to murder to two crusading journalists.  She is quickly labeled by the press and many of the police as a sadistic, sociopathic murderer who never should have been released from the asylum to which she was committed at age thirteen.  The search for Salander begins, and she has only a very few supporters who don't see her as the guilty person based on circumstantial evidence.Those who read the first novel will feel a sense of dread as possible familiar directions begin to emerge.  Larsson methodically and surprisingly cuts off each anticipated direction as a new plot emerges.

The Lisbeth Salander of the first of these volumes is a deeply damaged, almost paranoid young woman who has somehow survived a grueling childhood which gave her no reason to trust those in authority.  She guards herself with extreme care, never allowing others close to her, revealing her past, or her present, for that matter.  The reader learns of her skills as a cyber sleuth and hacker and comes to recognize her personal strength despite her quirky, prickly personality and capacity for violence.  In the present book, much of her back story becomes an integral part of the narrative as she becomes a more fully developed and rounded (in literary terms, she's still 4'11" tall and weighs about 90 pounds), although she's had some surgery, too.  As the investigation continues, readers learn more about who Lisbeth is and what has caused her to learn to behave the way she does.

The Girl Who Played with Fire is not without its problems for a reader.  Swedish society and culture are quite different from what American readers experience on a daily basis.  Somehow, Sweden comes across as a place where there is tremendous personal freedom bounded by restrictions of custom and law that can both liberate and suffocate.  The Swedes seem to live comfortably within those limitations, but some American readers might find the culture quite alien, particularly the amount of sexual license accepted within the culture.  Readers who've worked their way through Russian novels are familiar with the problem of names.  Some people end up calling characters Bob, Dave, Jane, and Sara, while others try to fake pronunciations they can live with.  The Girl who Played with Fire is filled with characters, almost all of whom have names unfamiliar to our ears and tongues.  Getting a handle on the names and roles of all the characters takes a while, but most all of them settle out in the end. Finally, place names in a strange country present a problem.  It's impossible to imagine many of the settings of this novel.  Incidentally, there are approximately seven kroner to the dollar.  This may help rationalize the conversion of monetary value.
               Stieg Larsson
All that having been said, The Girl Who Played with Fire is an intensely engaging suspense novel with an underlying core of moral outrage that brings the reader along with it.  Larsson's most admirable characters hate men who hate women.  Psychological and physical abuse of women is the major target of this tale, and it is delivered in a searing fashion.  The novel evoked in me two contradictory responses.  At times I needed to get away from the book as its intensity became so great I couldn't bear it.  At other times, especially as I approached the end, I wanted to put the story down to prolong the experience of reading it.  By the end, I was left still wanting more.  Fortunately, there's one more book left in the trilogy.  Sadly, author Stieg Larsson died in 2005 at the age of fifty.  He had completed manuscripts for three novels and there may be a semi-completed fourth as well as outlines for a fifth and sixth novel of a projected ten book series.  There's a novel  in Larsson's story, both before his death and in the problems that have emerged with the execution of his will.  Since, in 2008, Larsson was the second most popular author in the world, the size of his estate is substantial.  None of the matters above interfere or contribute to the reader's enjoyment of this book, but they are interesting in themselves. The dramatic tension coupled with anxiety and fear the book evokes is more than enough reward for anyone who undertakes to read it.

The Girl Who Played with Fire is available in hard cover and trade paperback at all the usual on-line or local outlets.  Support your local independent bookstore.  The third novel in the trilogy, now called The Millenium Trilogy after the name of Blomqvist's magazine, is also available and films of all three books have also been completed with The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo out in Swedish with English sub-titles.  These books are a terrific read, but R rated for violence and sexual subject matter.