Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris - Book Review

 When I Googled Jeffrey MacDonald it received 2,860,000 results in .20 of a second, so it isn't as if no one cares about a murder case that shocked the country in 1970 when Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was arrested for the brutal murder of his wife and two children in his home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  After a rather long process, MacDonald was convicted of the murders and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.This search suggests that there remains interest in Jeffrey MacDonald. Despite numerous appeals, he remains in prison and continues to deny his guilt. A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris (The Penguin Press, 2012, 524 pages, $29.95) is a ponderous volume filled with lengthy testimony, transcriptions of statements by many of the people involved, numerous maps of the settings involved, and convoluted discussions of the supposed inconsistencies in testimony and evidence. There are extremely tedious pages of transcript from interviews with MacDonald himself and others involved in the investigations and the investigations of the investigations. Such material can only be of interest to those who have an obsessive need to constantly comb material seeking out supposedly conflicting details in an attempt to disprove the findings of several juries. I must admit that I found myself unable to sustain an interest in the obsessive search  for telling details and did not finish reading the book.

Errol Morris
  Photo by: Nubar Alexanian

Writer Errol Morris has himself led a fascinating and idiosyncratic life which could become the center of a first rate film or book, seeking often to lead his life on his own terms, unshackled by conventions or rules. A film by Morris, The Thin Blue Line, was influential in gaining the release of convicted mass murderer Randall Dale Adams through exposing the work of Dr. James Grigson, a professional witness who relied on diagnoses of psychopathology to aide prosecutors in gaining convictions. At least some of the current work relies on a similar argument, that MacDonald is not the sociopath he is pictured as. His career has featured numerous award winning commercials. He was given a Macarther "genius" award in 1989.  The current volume is film like in its layout and composition as well as continuing what Wikipedia describes as his obsessive interest in murder in its use of source materials. All this might work in development of a documentary film, but fails to grab and hold this reader's attention.

A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris is published by Penguin Press (2012) at $29.95. It was provided to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Newell Lodge: October 2012 - Review

Set in a Live Oak Grove

From the fish fry on Monday evening through the closing on Saturday night, Newell Lodge hosts Harvin and Kay Carter, with the able assistance of their daughter Ashley, do everything they can to make their guests happy, comfortable, and well-fed.  Never losing its down home charm and southern flavor, the Newell Lodge crew offers all the amenities of larger and more well-established events in a secluded live oak grove in the midst of the piney woods of south Georgia.  With the able and knowledgeable work of local favorite Robert Wilson and his wizard sound-man, singer/songwriter, and newly-wed son Clint, the Newell Lodge Fall festival came to a rousing end on Saturday night with Nothin' Fancy putting a musical and humorous cap on an enjoyable and low-keyed weekend of fine music and good fellowship. Here's a look in no particular order.

Low Country Boil

Enjoyed by All

The music began on Thursday evening with performances on Friday evening and all day on Saturday. Most bands performed on two days while leaving plenty of time during the day and after closing in the evening for jamming and socializing. The band selection showed a good choice of local bands, up-and-coming bands, and a high quality top-of-the-line band. Meanwhile, the service provided by the willing staff made people's stay a real pleasure. Promoter Harvin Carter has added more water/electric sites while the grounds are scattered with flush toilets and hot shower buildings. The Hold Your Horse Cafe´ serves three meals a day along with home cooked goodies all the time, making it easy for people who would rather not cook.

Hold Your Horses Cafe´

Open Stage
George Wells

Harry Bowen

Irby Brown 
The Thomas Family

The Thomas Family is an earnest and fervent family gospel band. Their performance has shown improvement since last spring, but three full sets stretched their capacity a little too much. The youngest, Sarah Beth, has inherited Katie Wilson's song "Five Pound Possum" as well as showing a winsome enjoyment in performance. Ethan and Joel Thomas have been working hard on their instruments.

Michael Thomas

Amy Thomas

Ethan Thomas

Joel Thomas

Sarah Beth Thomas

Cheryl Watson & Watertown
Cheryl Watson is a singer/songwriter who sings and plays mostly in the Jacksonville area. Her songs are drawn from a wide variety of bluegrass and American/roots regions as well as from other genres. Her singing and play are melodious and pleasant.

Cheryl Watson

Teri LaMarco

Jim Quine

The Golf Cart Brigade

Camping Under the Live Oaks

 Highway 41 South

 Highway 41S is a popular Florida bluegrass band from the Bradenton - Port Charlotte area on the west coast. They play good covers of bluegrass and country standards with enthusiasm and skill. J.R. Davis is well known in the region for his country singing and Donnie Harvey is a very good Scruggs style banjo player whose tasteful backup is a real pleasure to listen to. 

Mark Horn

J.R. Davis

Donnie Harvey

Dave Beaumont

Robert Feathers

Robert Feathers Sings!

J.R. Davis & Irby Brown

The Wilson Family Band

The Wilson Family Band serves as host band for the Newell Lodge Bluegrass Festival. Robert Wilson has sung and played in south Georgia and beyond for a generation. He formed the band when his children became old enough to join him, and now that Clint has married and moved away to college with his new wife Kalyn, the band is playing less often. Clint ran sound for the festival, providing the kind of attention to detail that makes each band sound like it imagines it should. He and Kalyn will debut their new band Montgomery Belle at the March edition of this fine and growing festival.  Meanwhile, daughter Katie's singing and fiddle playing has achieved a new and delightful maturity.

 Robort Wilson

Melissa Wilson

Katie Wilson

Clint Wilson

Kalyn Wilson

 Lonesome Father: Victor Hall

Two Bands to Watch
Breaking Grass

Breaking Grass is an exciting young band hailing from Mississippi. Lead singer Cody Farrar celebrated his twenty-seventh birthday at Newell Lodge by leading his band through three lively sets of music ranging from classic bluegrass through newgrass, swing, grassed pop by Frank Sinatra via Del McCoury, and some songs with a distinct country twang, all without losing a strong sense that this is a first rate bluegrass band, perhaps the best one you haven't head of yet. Don't worry, though, you'll be hearing much more from them in the near future.  The band is remarkably tight for one so young, with strong musicians at each position. Their stagecraft continues to need work, but that will almost certainly come with time, as they look and seem to feel comfortable on stage. We had a brief taste of Breaking Grass at IBMA in Nashville last month and look forward to seeing much more of them in coming years. They're getting increasing air play on satellite and terrestrial radio. Ask for them at your local festival. You won't be sorry.

Cody Farrar

Britt Sheffield

Tyler White

Thelton Vanderford

Zach Wooten

Breaking Grass - Calling Baton Rouge - Video

Promoter Harvin Carter

Boys and their Trucks

Still House

With the addition of Chris Harris as lead singer and on mandolin, Still House is poised to become a break out bluegrass band. Young, enthusiastic, highly skilled and deeply experienced, this band of former sidemen appears ready, with only some hard work and a completed recording, to achieve recognition in the near future. Three members of the band toured as Carrie Hassler's back-up band for several years. Bassist Kameron Keller also plays with Grasstowne. Harris has been singing harmony and playing mandolin for Larry Cordle for several years after a stint with Junior Sisk. Four of the five players come from southwest Virginia or the Piedmont region of North Carolina and have been playing together since they were quite young. Twin brothers Keith and Kevin MacKinnon have known each other all their lives. Their repertoire contains hard driving traditional bluegrass, Chris Harris's well-crafted songs, and covers a some pretty non-traditional bands. Already strong, they need to complete a long in-process recording and reconcile their very busy schedules to become tighter and more polished. Their presentation is already filled with youthful good humor in good taste. This is a band with huge potential.

 Chris Harris

Jamie Harper

Kameron Keller

Keith MacKinnon

Kevin MacKinnon

Look for videos by both Breaking Grass and Still House on my YouTube Channel in about two weeks. I've recorded a good selection of their work, but need to get home to greater band width to upload it.

A Newell Lodge Cottage

Shower Building at Newell Lodge

Jamie Harper & Chris Harper 
watch former band mate Justin Tomlin w/Nothin Fancy 

Nothin' Fancy

Nothin' Fancy has carved out a niche of humor, high standards of musicianship, innovation, and quality through eighteen years of polished performing with very few personnel changes, enabling them establish and maintain a distinctive sound and style that has charmed and entertained festival goers nationally and abroad. Lead singer and principal writer Mike Andes contributes both humorous songs and moving, thought provoking ones while the band presents itself with musical and physical humor. Fiddler Chris Sexton's work on the fiddler's national anthem Orange Blossom Special is a notable piece of work. Over the years, the band has continued to keep its performances fresh by adding to and changing comic bits as well as expanding its catalog. The tour hard and never mail it in. Justin Tomlin has joined the band and fit into the spot long inhabited by Gary Faris with ease and polish. Nothin' Fancy always seems to deliver.

Mike Andes

 Chris Sexton

Mitchell Davis

Tony Shorter

Justin Tomlin

 Justin Tomlin & Mike Andes

Tony Shorter & Mike Andes

Chris Sexton

Harvin Carter - Promoter

 Irby Brown - Emcee

Ashley Carter Mesa & Logan

Newell Lodge Bluegrass Festival in Folkston, Georgia is a relatively new event that deserves to be in your rotation. The setting is peerless, the management is customer oriented and forward looking, the sound is excellent, and the vibe is both friendly and professional.  There's plenty of room to grow and you can help it. The next edition is coming March 7 - 9, 2013. If you're local, be sure to attend. If you're a snobird heading home, make it a regular stop.