Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Heritage by Howard Bryant - Book Review

The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patiotism by Howard Bryant (Beacon Press, 2018, 288 pages, $26.95/18.99) begins and ends with Colin Kaepernick, the black American football player who, when he’d had enough, decided to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem before kickoff of his now former team, the San Francisco 48ers in protest against the treatment of young black men at the hands of police across the country. Between these bookends lies a rich history of the political and social involvement of black athletes from the 1920’s to he present. Bryant writes highly readable prose, supported by anecdote and statistics to show the evolution and devolution of the super-stars during three distinct periods. The book is persuasive and interesting. Many people who read it will nod as the book rushes by and cheer at the conclusions. Lots of readers, less inclined to hear and understand, won’t like what they read.

After introducing the problem and model represented by Kaepernick, Bryant takes the reader back to the mid-twentieth century by introducing one of my own musical and political heroes, Paul Robeson, who, as a black student at Rutgers in the 1920’s twice recognized as a consensus All-American football football player and class valedictorian, graduated from Columbia Law School and established himself as an actor, singer (Old Man River and Water Boy), flirted with Communism before being deprived of his passport by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and became a hero of the civil rights movement before his death in the 1965.

Bryant recognizes black athletes as creating a heritage of advancement and courage in the face of pre-war Jim Crow America and the world of increased opportunity represented by their return to an America changed by World War II and Harry Truman’s elimination of racial discrimination in the armed services. There athletes, represented by the likes of Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Joe Lewis, Jim Brown, Kurt Flood, professor Harry Edwards, Muhammad Ali and others established the place of black athletes to play and to speak out. Many, like Kurt Flood, John Carlos, and Muhammed Ali all sacrificed years of their professional lives as the organized sport and public resistance shortened or ended their careers. Their sacrifices and successes served to pave the way for others.“We had to take care of each other,” former baseball player and manager Dusty Baker said. “There weren’t that many of us. You knew the game didn’t always want you. You had to pass on what you knew, like, prepare the ones that were coming. That was your responsibility.” While sports provided an entree to wealth and fame, black intelligence and thoughtfulness were denied or ignored.

The second era, characterized by Bryan as the period of “Shut up and play!” featured the emergence of superb athletes who were able to dominate their sport, but were, at the same time, willing and able to characterize themselves as virtually race-less. While obviously men of color, their demeanor and dominance of their sport occurred in a time where their salaries as players were dwarfed by their income from product endorsements and public appearances. Athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, O,J. Simpson preferred to duck social issues, while living lavish lifestyles and not speaking out on social issues, despite the fact that many able and talented black athletes were not being rewarded in the ways that they the stars,were. Bryant argues, “that for all the money, the players were still black, and the minute any one of them ran afoul of the white mainstream public, either by decline in play or by specifically taking a political stand that advocated for African Americans, that same public would be quick to turn on him.”

Then, two commercial airliners were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 killing 2997 people and the world changed. Patriotism blossomed. The U.S. had eliminated compulsory military service in 1973, and all our armed services were staffed by volunteers. These two events ushered in a period of patriotic fervor eagerly promoted and paid for by professional sports. Policing that increasingly used military hardware and former members of the military to staff its force. Meanwhile, proliferating police illegal shootings and violence against the black community coincided with patriotic celebrations held in stadiums and on playing fields around the country. A new era of resistance to black issues came up against a new voice of African Americans with the money and the self-awareness to speak out on the issues confronting them as they became the majority of athletes in both the NFL and the NBA. Bryant characterizes this period as “The Awakening.” Black athletes’ voices were heard and their money was spent to help speak for them. LaBron James, Carmello Anthony, and, perhaps most visibly, Colin Kaepernick became symbols of the new willingness to speak out and contribute cash to causes. Bryant comments, “The real reclamation is when you decide to get on the bus. Where do you get on the bus? Where will you participate? The question will be, ‘What did you do for the people? What did you do with your wealth? Can I impact the life of a young person when it counts, not when it’s safe?”

Howard Bryant

Howard Bryant is a sports journalist and television personality appearing on both the radio and television. He often appears on the ESPN program The Sports Reporters as well as NPR’s Weekend Edtion. He has steadily risen from local beat to national prominence as a reporter and commentator. The Heritage is his fifth book.

Any white reader expecting The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patiotism by Howard Bryant (Beacon Press, 2018, 288 pages, $26.95/18.99) to provide comfort, should be warned. This book, read with an open and attentive mind will make you uncomfortable. Bryant’s narrative is compelling, his story-telling superb, his use of examples cogent and on-point, and the case he builds strong. The nexus of racism, changed definitions of patriotism, courage and avarice, and white complicity to silence the black athlete are difficult or impossible to deny. I highly recommend this book to any reader eager to understand the role of sport within today’s politics and divisions. I was provide the book as a pre-publication download by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle app.

Please remember that titles I review are linked to and ordering through the links in the text or the portal on my blog will result in a small commission to me. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival 2018 - Preview

The Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival will run at Strawberry Park RV Campground in Preston, CT from May 31st through June 3, 2018. This year, as has once again become usual at Strawberry Park, the lineup is filled with blockbuster bands from traditional to more progressive. Producer Carl Landi has worked hard to put together another crowd pleasing show featuring national and regional headliners. There will plenty of free camping in the "Camping in the Rough" area with full access to use of all facilities. Sixty spaces will be set aside for avid jammers on the ball field, free for the festival with a paid full weekend staff. Day visitors wishing to stay beyond posted departure times may arrange to do so for an additional fee of $10.00. Further information can be found below in the section devoted to tickets. Over the years, Strawberry Park has forged a record for providing top notch bluegrass in a campground convenient for attendees from New York to Boston, as well as the rest of New England.

I've begun posting characteristic videos with each of the band profiles for you to enjoy as you contemplate this fine event.

The Bands
Rhonda Vincent & the Rage (Th,Fr)

Rhonda Vincent has been a high profile performer in bluegrass and country music for over a generation. In 2000 the Wall Street Journal called her "the queen of bluegrass." Active since 1970, first with her family band, later in a her own band as well. After a fling with country music in the 1990's, Rhonda returned to bluegrass, where she has been named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year eight times over a period of sixteen years. Her band is always filled with top performers in their own right, with Josh Williams, three time guitar player of the year, leading the way. One of the hardest working of all bluegrass artists, Rhonda can be relied upon for a terrific performance. Be sure to stop by the Rhonda Vincent Boutique to purchase a CD or a t-shirt as well as to greet the Queen herself. 

Jam with Rhonda & the Rage (Th)

SteelDrivers - Saturday

When the SteelDrivers hit the bluegrass world in 2005 with Chris Stapleton, now recognized as one of the top singer/songwriters in Nashville, they turned the bluegrass world upside down. By bringing the rock sensibility with a blues emphasis along with a publicly acknowledged enjoyment of adult beverages to the bluegrass stage, they cultivated new fans, converted some to a wider range in the music, and turned some off. While three of the original members remain (Richard Bailey, Tammy Rogers, and Mike Fleming) to maintain the original vibe, and Brent Truitt has strengthened the band, they have had difficulty finding and retaining a lead vocalist who provides the range of singing Stapleton championed. Nevertheless, for those of us who've come to love their music (I admit to their being an acquired taste for me), they are always a welcome addition and change of pace on any bluegrass stage. The SteelDrivers won the best bluegrass album Grammy in 2015.

Kruger Brothers - Saturday

The Kruger Brothers arrived in the U.S. from their native Switzerland in 2002 in order to live in Wilkes County, NC, the home of one of their musical heroes, Doc Watson. While their roots lie in folk music, which they toured Europe busking. and polishing their skills for years, their development has transcended the limits of genre as their questing musical spirit has been constantly extended. Today, they customarily play at bluegrass festivals as well as before large, eclectic audiences accompanied by a chamber symphony in concert halls and large open air venues before appreciative audiences who travel large distances to bask in their generous musical spirits. We always welcome the opportunity to hear the Krugers play and spend some time with them. 


Gibson Brothers - Friday

Because of their consistently thought provoking and uplifting song writing combined with the charm of their brotherly edginess, the Gibson Brothers have become one of the most reliable draws and delightful performers in bluegrass music. Always staying well within the musical confines of the bluegrass format, their music explores contemporary themes and traditional lifestyles with insight and forthrightness. Their banter and mastery of the pace of their performances stands as a model of showmanship for lesser bands. 

Lonely Heartstring Band (Sa)

The Lonely Heartstring Band uses brilliant instrumentals featuring Gabe Hirshfeld on banjo with Matt Witler on mandolin and tight harmonies featuring the twin brother duo of George and Charles Clements with Patrick McGonigle. They stay well within a tradtional bluegrass template while performing new songs from within the band along with covers of challenging rock songs I've never heard from any other bluegrass band, ranging from Beatles to Credence Clearwater Revival and Paul Simon. Their version of John Hartford's "Steam Powered Aereoplane" is near perfect. They've forsaken the raw roughness of traditional bluegrass for a smooth urban sound not quite heard before. 

Dry Brand Fire Squad (Sa, Su)

Dry Branch Fire Squad has been a featured performer at Strawberry Park since the beginning, missing only one year out of the forty that have already passed. Ron Thomason's humorous observations on the world he grew up in and the world we have come to currently live in are further enlivened by his appreciation for the ironies of our contemporary world and the wisdom of the hillbilly one he grew up in. The Sunday morning gospel performance by Dry Branch Fire Squad along with Ron Thomason's "sermon" is seen as a signature closing act of the festival on Sunday morning, even though many people remain into the early afternoon for the closing bands. 

Dailey & Vincent (Fr)

Dailey & Vincent hit the trail in 2007 with a band, when featured musicians Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent left established headliner bands to form their own aggregation. They were greeted with huge enthusiasm and acclaim, winning IBMA Entertainer of the Year in three successive years, 2008 - 2010. Through the years, they have increased the size and scope of their band while seeking to broaden their audience, successfully finding new audiences for a fast-paced show which combines bluegrass, country, and gospel music delivered with broad humor and variety. They will close Friday night with a single ninety minute set. 

Mile Twelve (Fr)

Mile Twelve has its roots in Boston with tentacles reaching all the way to New Zealand, where the talented banjo player BB Bowness hails from. This group is musically well-honed with songs running the gamut from traditional bluegrass to Elton John adaptations. They've been growing in what goes on between the songs, while their music has been on an upward trajectory starting from "good with promise" towards "consistently excellent." This is a band to keep your eyes on. 

Rocket Man - Elton John

Sideline (Sa)

Sideline, making its first appearance at Strawberry Park, has gone from a startup band of established veterans seeking a few gigs during the slow season, to a band in a wrapped bus wearing out the roads with nearly 100 dates a year. Three of the original band remain, while the addition of Troy Boone on mandolin and Bailey Coe on guitar and vocals, have improved the band. Original fiddler, Nathan Aldridge, has moved on, to be replaced by Daniel Greeson, who's both young and deeply experienced. Specializing in first and second generation bluegrass delivered with high energy and deep skill, the core of the band, consisting of Jason Moore, Skip Cherryholmes,  and  Steve Dilling, one of the best band emcees in history, continues to improve. They come to each festival prepared to entertain and spread bluegrass. 

Thunder Dan - Sideline (Official)

Twisted Pine (Th)

Twisted Pine is a rootsy bluegrass-based string band bringing jazz and rock to bluegrass and Americana festivals while winning band contests. This is the third years Twisted Pine has come to Strawberry Park, and I look forward to hearing and watching their growth as a band. 

21 & Rising

Box Car Lilies (Fr)
Jenny Goodspeed

Stephanie Marshall

The Boxcar Lillies have been improving each year they've appeared at Strawberry Park, seemingly molding their band before our eyes. What's emerged is a delightful range of folk-Americana, singer/songwriter musicality that communicates pure enjoyment and enthusiasm while showcasing the blend of the two lead singers' voices. Be sure to come to the stage on Friday at noon to catch their performance. I'll be there...for sure!

I Wish It Was a Freight Train

The Stockwell Brothers (TBD)

The Stockwell Brothers have been a highly recognized and appreciated eclectic band around New England, but especially in Vermont and New Hampshire for a generation. Bruce, a banjo stylist of rare versatility and taste, won the Merlefest band contest some years ago, and is a highly sought after banjo teacher for years, despite the fact he toured as a rock and roll electric guitarist "back in the day." Brother Barry has developed the Next Stage in Putney, VT as a go-to venue for a range of music as well as theatrical performances. Brother Al runs a recording studio in Brattleboro. Meanwhile, sister-in-law Kelly, Bruce's spouse, has helped build the reach of the always reliable band to new and interesting venues.  

Stockwell - Just An Old Hobo

Blackstone Valley Boys (Sa, Su)

The Blackwell Valley Boys is a quartet of well-known New England bluegrass musicians based in nearby Massachusetts. They clearly enjoy themselves and their enjoyment captures the audience. 

Gail Wade (TBD)

We've seen Gail Wade as far away from New England as WDVX's Blue Plate Special in Knoxville, and Bristol Rhythm and Roots in Bristol VA/TN where the state line runs down the middle of main street. In New England she can be seen with her own trio, in the Hot Flashes, and as a single singer/songwriter. In each case she brings shimmering, well-crafted songs along with strong rhythm guitar. 

Gale Wade - Wash Me Down

Strawberry Park has, traditionally, also featured excellent workshops, now being showcased on a small stage in the snack bar area. As of this writing, no schedule has been posted. I'll include it as soon as it becomes available.


This festival has recovered from damage which would have destroyed less well-established events by building its lineup while listening to the complaints and needs of those who attend and adjusting to them. Plaudits for this go to Carl Landi, the festival manager, whose attention to detail and quick learning have done the trick. 

Carl Landi

The Details:

Tickets: Tickets can be ordered online using a form like the one below. Here's the Link.

You can also call Strawberry Park at  1800-356-2460 to purchase tickets or make camping reservations. The range of alternatives for camping and admission. 

Camping: Strawberry Park is a comprehensive resort campground with a variety of accommodations available including full service campsites, rental camping units, and in-the-rough camping in both an overflow area and a sixty site "jamming" area on a ball field above the main campground. Here's a link to the 2018 Camping Rates. Note that special information about the bluegrass festival can be found on the column to the right. 

A number of hotels and motels are available in the area, including, for those who are intrested, at the casino.

Many activities are available on the Strawberry Park campus for people attending the bluegrass festival. The pools are open, as are the tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and much more take a look at their web site here, for more sense of its breadth of opportunities.

Snack Bar

Vendor Area

How to Get to Strawberry Park
Click on the map then place your location in the Zero 
Click for your route

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival is one of the oldest continuing festivals in New England, if not the country. It has a storied place in bluegrass history, which will continue into the future. Hope to see you there.