Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lucky Supreme: A Novel of Many Crimes by Jeff Johnson - Book Review

Lucky Supreme: A Novel of Many Crimes (A Darby Holland Crime Novel) by Jeff Johnson (Arcade Publishing, 2017, 300 pages, $24.99/14.64) opened the world of tattoo culture to me, introducing me to people I don't know in a world I've always approached with suspicion. Lucky Supreme is a tattoo parlor in Portland's Old Town, the rapidly gentrifying former center for a thriving counter culture of run-down shops, taco joints, and Lucky Supreme. It seems its owner, Darby Holland, has learned of the reappearance of Jason Bling, who had once been his employee, but who had stolen valuable tattoo artwork (flash) from the walls of his shop, and disappeared. The mores of the tattoo world demand that he track down Bling and return the flash to its rightful place on the walls of his shop. Johnson's colorful language and crisp, pointed descriptions of both people and settings, get the story rolling, as a new vocabulary emerges for me.

Darby Holland, somewhere in his mid-thirties, has had an eventful, often disconnected, and turbulent life lived in America's underbelly, experienced with frequent violence and dislocation. He has survived, at least partly, by drawing his experience, which has led him to first an apprenticeship and later ownership in Lucky Supreme. With his rise to owning the tattoo parlor has come a place in this often dysfunctional community featuring a large cast of finely drawn characters. They include his erstwhile girlfriend Delia, Gomez, the owner of a Taco shop and Dmitri, proprietor of “mitri's izza” who owns the dilapidated building containing Lucky Supreme as well as other buildings in the neighborhood. There's also a motley collection of hookers, addicts, gang members, and others, almost all of whom view Darby as someone they want to protect.

As a result of Darby's successful search for Jason Bling, he discovers that the story is much more complicated than he thought it might be, while he's led to a series of interactions with a mysterious Korean businessman. The action sequences are well rendered, the descriptions imaginative, highly visual, and somewhat surreal, as you might expect from a character and writer who's a visual artist as well as a linguistic one. The journey of raped and abandoned early teen to owner of a high quality tattoo shop fills the mind and heart with equal parts of empathy and disgust as well pleasing with blasts of unforgettable writing. Readers often skim this kind of passage, eager to return to the action. Don't do it, if you like fine, from-the-gut writing that scratches the painful itches. New words kept lurching out at me, sending me to Wikipedia or the tattoo lingo web site. For those seeking greater, and easier access to the language of the tattoo culture, take a look at this article.

Jeff Johnson

Artist, writer and musician Jeff Johnson currently lives in Portland, Oregon. His blogs at Will Fight Evil 4 Food. Jeff Johnson is the author of Tattoo Machine, Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink, the novels Everything Under The Moon, Knottspeed, A Love Story, Lucky Supreme, A Novel of Many Crimes (Book One in the Darby Holland Crime Series), A Long Crazy Burn (Book Two in the Darby Holland Crime Series), Deadbomb Bingo Ray, and the short story collection Munez, The Monterey Stories. (from his Goodreads profile) In an interview in Time Magazine, Johnson responded, when asked about his favorite story about his job, “I guess it depends entirely on what mood I'm in. A lot of people ask me, "What is your main regret?" I have to say that every tattoo artist will have the same answer to this question, and it's that eventually, one day, everything you made will be gone. There will be a time when my life's work will vanish from this world. And that's the real, only downside to tattooing — that it's on people, and people just don't last forever. But if that's the only downside, then it's really not that bad, you know?” Johnson's writing and his response to this question lead me to want to read more of his work.

In Lucky Supreme: A Novel of Many Crimes (A Darby Holland Crime Novel) , author Jeff Johnson has presented a taughtly written, gritty, humorous, and violent picture of an underclass community many readers are not familiar with. His world of the tattoo parlor in a declining neighborhood contrasts sharply with the strip mall operations most of us see along the highway in more accessible and acceptable neighborhoods. He's discovered an engaging protagonist whose lifestyle he makes recognizable, even though it may seem alien. That's a tall order, which he carries off with rarefied good writing. I read the book as an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle app.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival - May 18 - 21, 2017 - Preview

The Granite Hill Camping Resort is one of the finest commercial campgrounds available to support live music and present it to big crowds. Located adjacent to one of the nation's most hallowed and visited historical sites, the Gettysburg battlefield, Granite Hill attracts thousands of campers who come to visit the historical site. It also offers many themed weekends, including two bluegrass festivals. The grounds are spacious. The terrain is varied. Accommodations range from full hookup camping sites, to rough camping on tree-lined meadows and woods only a short walk from the huge main stage and the various activity centers.You can find a detailed map here. In August, festival goers can watch and listen to music from the main stage from the large swimming pool beside it. It's hard to imagine a better site.

The Main Stage

The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival is one of the most prestigious and long-running festivals in the country. Convenient to population centers from New York to Richmond, it attracts people from all over the U.S. as well as some foreign visitors. The lineups are varied and broad. If you don't like a particular band, the next one up is likely to be one of your favorites. Take a look at the lineup. 

The Lineup

Blue Moon Rising - Chris West

Chris West, an able singer/songwriter, many of whose songs have been well received by the bluegrass audience, founded Blue Moon Rising in the early part of this century. Songs like This Old Martin Box received recognition and have been widely covered. The present band is partially a reunion band with a couple of new members. Look for a spirited performance of familiar and new songs from Chris and his band. 

Darin & Brooke Alderidge

Darin & Brooke Aldridge have a new CD Faster and Farther in current release demonstrating the range and variety of colors they have added to their music. New band members have strengthened the band as well. On Thursday, they will appear as the Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band, while on Friday they will appear with John Cowan in what has been a successful, ground-breaking tour for everyone involved. Don't miss them in either configuration to appreciate the versatility they have developed.


The SteelDrivers

The SteelDrivers, the band that put the blues back in bluegrass, have been nominated for a Grammy and have enriched the bluegrass world with a selection of songs, largely written from within the band, which have become standard fare for bands seeking variety to cover. The addition of Gary Nichols to the band has turned out to widen their musical vocabulary. The four remaining members of the band each stand out on their own and as members of the ensemble. They're always a favorite at Gettysburg. 

Gary Nichols

Blue Highway
Shawn Lane

Blue Highway continues to be one of the powerhouse bands in bluegrass. Shawn Lane is a prodigious song writer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer. He joins bassist Wayne Taylor and guitarist Tim Stafford in providing more creative punch than any other band in bluegrass. Young Gaven Largent, meanwhile, has accomplished the seemingly impossible task of replacing the departed Rob Ickes on Dobro, contributing his own distinctive licks while continuing the tradition established by his predecessor.

Gaven Largent

Steve Dilling, Jason Moore, Troy Boone

It's no longer possible to consider this hard working, hard driving band as anybody's sideline project. With over 100  dates last year, Sideline is a full-time project. Their song selection, chosen from mostly the second and third generation of bluegrass, combines with instrumental excellence and delightful repartee to provide an exciting show each time they appear. New band members, Brad Hudson on Dobro and Troy Boone on mandolin (both are excellent singers, too) deepens and extends this band. They'll perform on both Thursday and Saturday.

Brad Hudson

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out

Russell Moore formed IIIrd Tyme Out more tan  twenty-five years ago, and has established a record for musical excellence unsurpassed in modern bluegrass. Their repertoire ranges from Bill Monroe to John Denver, Carl Jackson, including some jazz and western swing to produce an always entertaining and varied headline show. Russell has been awarded IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year five times over a seventeen year period, showing a level of consistent excellence unusual in any music. Wayne Benson, one of the finest mandolin players around, renowned as a soloist, teacher, and student of the instrument, brings huge versatility to the band. 

Russell Moore, Jerry Cole, Wayne Benson

John Cowan (with Darin & Brooke Aldridge)

John Cowan has been a major force in contemporary bluegrass music since he first came on the national scene with the New Grass Revival more than forty years ago. His clear, ringing tenor voice contributed to their unique sound and continuing popularity, despite having disbanded more than twenty years ago. Over the years, John has fronted his own band, been a central member of rock band the Doobie Brothers, and now touring with Darin & Brooke Aldridge, creating a new sound drawing together. You'll found this distinctive sound to be inspiring and exciting.  

The Gibson Brothers 

The Gibson Brothers' new CD In the Ground offers a treat they've never had sufficient confidence to undertake before. All thirteen songs are never before recorded Gibson Brothers compositions. In my review of this collection I wrote, "Like a sophisticated classical song cycle, each song stands alone, but as a part of the greater whole each encompasses the Gibson Brothers' lives and experience, taking on a greater meaning in context." The Gibson Brothers are not strangers to Gettysburg. Anyone in the audience new to this band will find them as hear warmingly approachable, musically and personally, as their already well-established fan base does.

Volume V
Glenn Harrell

Glenn Harrell, who hails from Mississippi, has assembled a first rate band of fine pickers and singers. Their musical choices include plenty of straight ahead bluegrass and bluegrass gospel music. Glenn's fine voice and his able fiddle play is complemented by his very good band. The recent addition of mandolin tyro Jacob Burleson, brings true mandolin virtuoso performance to the band. If you haven't heard them before, you'll find Volume V to be a treat. 

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper

Mike Cleveland has been the premier traditional fiddle player in bluegrass music for most of the past fifteen years. He is, seemingly, able to play in the style of any fiddle players from the first couple of generations of bluegrass as well as having his own distinctive approach. He's surrounded himself with top shelf musicians like mandolinist Nathan Livers and singer/guitarist Joshua Richardson. This band plays more instrumental music than many bluegrass bands,befitting the nature of the instrument and Mike's preferences. The songs are powerful and wonderfully presented.

Volley Ball Court Becomes a Convenient Sand Box

Sometimes It Gets a Little Chilly

The Soggy Bottom Boys

The Soggy Bottom Boys were a fictional band appearing in the 2000 film "Oh, Brother, Where Art Though?" The voices consisted of  Dan Tyminski sing the lead played by George Clooney,Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Ron Block on banjo, Barry Bales on bass, Mike Compton on mandolin, Pat Enright on guitar and vocals, and Jerry Douglas on Dobro. They appeared in this configuration at the Red Hat Amphitheater during Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh last year. I could find no other information about this band online, so I'll have to go with that. Thanks to my friend Stacy Chandler who wrote the article about their performance in the Raleigh News Oberver.

Read more here:

The Seldom Scene
Rickie Simpkins

The legendary Seldom Scene has been frequently seen at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival where they have appeared regularly at both the May and August festivals since the beginning. They will play from their well-loved catalog, which they often go deep into, on Saturday with an additional long set on Sunday afternoon. Rickie Simpkins has succeeded long-time banjo player Ben Eldridge, adding new flavors to The Scene, which has never had a regular fiddle player before. His brother, Ronnie has been a mainstay of the band on bass. No member of the original Seldom Scene remains, but their distinctive bluegrass editions of rock songs and folk music from the seventies has changed bluegrass forever...and for the better. 

Ronnie Simpkins

Dry Branch Fire Squad
Ron Thomason

Ron Thomason reigns as the premier story-teller, humorist in bluegrass music. Dry Branch Fire Squad plays mostly very traditional classic bluegrass in a rough hewn, almost primitive way. His wry humor is as modern as yesterday, as his observations on the ironies of the world and the human condition. Thomason, too, has been a regular at Gettysburg since the beginning, and will perform on both Saturday and Sunday.

Rhonda Vincent and the Rage

Rhonda Vincent remains one of the hardest working and most reliable draws in the bluegrass world. Noted for her fine lead voice, she's also one of the busiest harmony singers in Nashville, performing on countless records. Rhonda's also known as the hardest working person in the genre, on-stage and at the merchandise table, where she stays 'til the last fan is satisfied. Each member of the Rage is a bluegrass star in his or her (Sally Berry - Rhonda's daughter) own right. This highly polished show is one you won't want to miss.

Hunter Berry


Dry Branch Fire Squad
Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass
Danny Paisley

Danny Paisley succeeded to the leadership of The Southern Grass a little over a decade ago with the passing of his father, Bob. He sings mountain style bluegrass in a traditional style, even though he's more than a generation removed from the families ancestral home in Ashe County, NC. From their home in Chester County, PA, the Paisley band has entertained fans across the country. The hard touring paid off last year, as IBMA finally recognized his excellence by naming him Male Vocalist of the Year. His son, Ryan, now seventeen, has emerged as a leading mandolin player. 

Ryan Paisley

The Seldom Scene

Workshops: A full schedule of workshops will be offered at the workshop tent during the festival. They include question and answer sessions, how-to sessions, and jamming sessions, along with whatever individual artists decide they might wish to do. There's always plenty of interesting events taking place there. The All-Star Jam, held late on Friday afternoon is always fun and jam packed. The remainder of the workshop schedule will be filled in during the coming weeks. If you're interested in them, keep an eye on the bottom of the schedule, here.

Year after year, Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival has provided a first rate bluegrass experience in a beautiful setting, just as spring is reaching its height in south-central, rural Gettysburg, right near the famous battlefield. Several years ago, Rich Winkleman took over the campground and the festival from founders his in-laws, founders Joe & Lil Cornett.

Promoter Rich Winkleman

The Details
Tickets: You can obtain tickets by calling Granite Hill Camping Resort at 1-800-642-8368. If you call you can charge your tickets and camping. Cash only at the gate. Advance ticket sales end on May 11. For ticket pricing and information, click here

Camping:There are still a few full hookup and/or water and electric sites left, as well as a couple of camping cabins available for the festival. A quick call to  (717) 642-8749 might yield desirable results. Information about the costs of camping may be found here. Remember, all people registering for full hookup sites must purchase a full week of camping and a four day ticket to the festival. Camping cabins must be occupied by four four-day attendees. The grounds of Granite Hill are large and spacious. There is virtually unlimited rough camping in more remote areas around the grounds. Many people, who have been coming for years, set up compounds with their friends where jamming and partying are the order of the day. Granite Hill emphasizes (in the FAQs) that they never, ever turn a camper away.

The Chair Drop: Attendees wishing to place their chairs in favored positions must be on-site on Sunday afternoon in order to line up. Very early arrivals put their bag chairs on the ground to create a line. At 3:00 PM, Rich Winkleman comes down to start the line moving. While people hurry, they walk to the place they wish to sit and in a much more orderly fashion than we've seen at other festivals, place their seats, which are then not moved except to make the rows a little more orderly. There is a shade tent at the top of the hill, which many people prefer to sitting in the sun at the front. 

Wernick Style Jam Camp: Ira Gitlin, well known Washington area teacher and multi-instrumental performer will be conducting a Wernick Style Jam Camp. Jam Camp is aimed at beginner or novice pickers who want to play bluegrass instruments (guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, or Dobro) better and learn to jam with others. For many people, the two and a half days of Jam Camp starting Monday before the festival begins are the highlight of the week. They seem to be getting together to jam all weekend long. Ira also is the director of the Kids Academy at the August festival, as well as other similar offerings at other events.

Ira Gitlin

Session at Jam Camp

Vendors: A number of food vendors offer a wider then usual selection of both healthy and fair food. Look for Uncle Moe's serving fried fish, Antietam ice-cream with some of the best ice-cream anywhere. (Pennsylvania has long been known as a great ice-cream state because of its stringent dairy regulation.) You can get a range of sandwiches as well as other choices. Furthermore, a number of craft vendors are present as well as bluegrass instruments including Eastman, Martin, and a variety of new and used instruments.

How to Get to Gettysburg
Open the map and place your location in the spot marked "O"
Your Route will appear

This year's Spring Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival is the 74th iteration of an event that offers great bands from a beautiful setting with very fine sound provided by Southard Audio is as good as you'll find anywhere. For regulars, Gettysburg is the first festival of the season. For some, it's one of the few they attend. Many people from around the country, indeed the bluegrass world, consider this to be a bucket list festival, one they need to get to at least once before they die. Regardless of the weather, you'll enjoy a positive experience at this old and respected, even loved and revered, See you there!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Meating Room by T. Frank Muir - Book Review

The Meating Room: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation by T. Frank Muir (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2017, 366 pages, $10.39/9.87) is the fifth in a series of police procedurals set in St. Andrews, Scotland, featuring Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Andy Gilchrist. These stories always seem to take place on the dark, cold, winter heaths surrounding the ancient city of St. Andrews, where the fabled Old Course, the most hallowed place in golf, is merely a part of the map while the gritty nature of Scottish criminal existence if foregrounded. The crimes are gruesome, the police officials and on-the-ground grunts are working people with their own problems, flaws, and strengths, the plots complex, and the story-telling superb.

On a chilly morning along the seaside, Maggie Ferguson, out walking her dog, discovers a car sitting on the heath with its motor running and a hose running from the exhaust pipe through the driver's side window. A second look reveals a neatly dressed man in the front seat, apparently dead. In due course, DCI Gilchrist, accompanied by fellow officer, DS Jessie Strange, arrives. After a cursory inspection, awaiting further detailed inspection by the SOCO's, they begin to suspect the death is not a result of a simple suicide. (One of the problems raised by British police procedurals is the abundance of acronyms involved in police rankings. For those interested in decoding them, here's a link. Be warned – there are 271 of them:

As the somewhat convoluted plot emerges, it appears that the body is one Brian McCormack, who, along with his partner Thomas Magner, owns an apparently prosperous holding company. In the early stages of the investigation, McCormack's wife and children are found at home, dead in their beds, with the wife gruesomely dissected. Instinct points towards Magner,but he is well covered with a seemingly unbreakable alibi. Nevertheless, as the police look further, more suspicious deaths are uncovered and unusual relationships emerge.

Muir's novels operate on three levels. The crime is at the forefront, but vying for attention are the complex personal lives of Andy Gilchrist, Jessie Strange, and other members of the St. Andrews investigative team. They all spend significant amounts of time in local pubs, where they consume a good deal of alcohol and interact. Andy's secret lover is the police pathologist, while Jessie tries to avoid the advances of a former boss in a different jurisdiction. Political and bureaucratic issues form the third leg of Muir's stories. The personal costs of a career in police work are always present, and well represented as issues confounding the investigations. Meanwhile, Andy Gilchrist emerges as a canny, insightful, and often impulsively action oriented officer whose instincts often overcome his good sense. As the solution to the crime approaches, the situation becomes more dangerous, tense, and driving. Muir is a master at building tension with the three strands running parallel to each other, wherein lies much of the intense interest and delight in reading his novels.

T. Frank Muir

Born in Glasgow, Frank Muir was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells. Thirty-plus years of living and working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country. Now a dual US/UK citizen, Frank makes his home in the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, from where he visits St. Andrews regularly to research in the town’s many pubs and restaurants. (From Soho Press Web site)

With The Meating Room: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2017, 366 pages, $10.39/9.87). T. Frank Muir has produced the most persuasive and thought provoking of his DCI Gilchrist books. Gilchrist has become deeper and more human, always struggling with his own problems with women, his children, and alcohol while providing nurture and instruction to his subordinates. I received the book as an Advanced Readers Copy through Edelweiss: Above the Treeline. I read it on my Kindle app.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Drive Time Bluegrass at Lorraine's Coffee Shop & Music

Lorraine's Coffee House & Music, located at 101 Timber Pointe Lane in Garner, NC, just a few miles south of Raleigh, NC offers live music in a wholesome, smoke-free environment four evenings a week. In a day when live music venues are becoming fewer and fewer, this bluegrass band leader and regional business executive has provided a venue for showcasing young up-and-coming regional bands as well as more well-known regional and national bands with a place to play week-day drive through gigs. The food is simple and tasty, the environment friendly, and the music interesting running from bluegrass to Americana, jazz, and folk music. When you're in Raleigh, it's worth looking at the schedule to see if anything's coming up you might enjoy. 

Drive Time Bluegrass Band - Many a Mile

Drive Time Bluegrass Band

Drive Time Bluegrass consists of five young bluegrass pickers, some with considerable experience, others newer to stage, if not so new to jamming and the music. Drive time presented a solid two hours of bluegrass on Friday night, consisting mostly of well-known bluegrass tunes ranging from the early days  to more contemporary bands they've heard and admired. The selections gave plenty of respect to The Lonesome River Band, IIIrd Tyme Out, Jimmie Martin, and the Stanley Brothers, among others. People who enjoy traditional and neo-traditional bluegrass music with strong picking from promising bands couldn't help enjoying themselves. 

Tyler Jackson

Bailey Coe

Grayson Tuttle & Austyn Howell

Austin Koerner

With four voices, the band showed strong vocal versatility and instrumental skill. There's always a question with a young band how much they want to work and how much time and energy they wish to put into building both their repertoire and their bookings. This band bears watching. We had a good evening with them and the friends and family who showed up to support them.

Jessica & Ronnie Jackson and Friend

Drive Time Bluegrass Band - Honey, You Don't Know My Mind