Alison Krauss–Live at Chastain Amphitheater

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I receive many emails from promoters and venues regarding upcoming concerts.  I saw one that mentioned Alison Krauss at Chastain and immediately plotted my entertainment plans.  The only problem was that my wife isn’t really a country or bluegrass fan, but the opener, David Gray, was a seasonal favorite back in 1999 when “Babylon” held sway on the radio.  I also knew that my stepmom was a fan, so invited her and my dad; a foursome was made.  Now committed, I joined her website fan club to get a presale code, which paid off.  Good seats! 


Fast forward. 

David Gray has a good interactive manner and a strong voice.  Despite a limited vocal range, he bleeds earnestness which is important as his songs generally center around relationship challenges which call for just that.  I had two problems, though. 

1) He has a consistent trait for taking a good 4:00 song and extending it with the refrain until the repetition dulls the senses.  Given Chastain’s aggravating but understandable 11:00 p.m. sound curfew on concerts due to its location in a residential area, after about the fifth or sixth song, I’m thinking, “Play ‘Babylon’ and exit the stage, please.”  Not so.  After playing unaccompanied for a while, he brought in several of Krauss’ band members to support him, which helped, though I was wondering why Krauss would share a pretty good light show on the opening act.  That’s typically not done.


2)  That’s because he wasn’t an opening act.  It was a co-headlining tour, I find after the event.  This was not obvious in the marketing or evidenced by the slowly filling crowd during his set.  Had I known that I would get 1:15 of Krauss, I would have passed on the (not inexpensive) show. 

It is what is, right?  For one, it was a perfect, early fall night for watching an outdoor concert. 

So, David Gray.  Credit to him, he played like everyone was there to see him.  He’s an engaging performer, and on a song by song basis, he was pretty good. The unaccompanied songs featured his voice well, which does not seem to have suffered in strength over the years.  Still, one song like that is a treat, but by the time his band joined in (not Krauss’ obviously), the crowd was more than ready for a little pulse to his music.  He played pretty heavily from White Ladder, but most regrettably he included “Say Hello Wave Goodbye.”  At somewhere beyond halfway of his set, we agreed in post-concert thoughts that we were hoping that his long goodbye was his final song.   Not to belabor the point, but even on the record it’s 9:04 long.   In any case, “Sail Away,” “Please Forgive Me,” and “Babylon” were excellent.


Through the intermission, the stage was changed over, including his stage lights (which were superior to Krauss’ minimalist presentation).  The house music, by the way, featured some old Herb Alpert tunes, which didn’t fit the music of either artist, but was kind of fun.  Amazon has a CD on its way… In any case, it was clear that we would not be getting the duration of Alison Kraus for which we hoped – but we didn’t know that we weren’t getting the show we had hoped for either.

Krauss managed to squeeze in a lot of songs.  Part of this is is due to the brevity of her songs.  The other is that she included a good number of traditional/spiritual songs which in addition to being brief were almost presented as a suite. 

Another disappointing aspect was that this is a tour without Union Station, her killer bluegrass band.  Her touring band shared two of those musicians, but the direction of this tour is more towards traditional songs, which would be obvious to fans who appreciate the Cox Family, who accompany her on this tour and were a large part of her early career.   Sadly, the show was absent much in the way of bluegrass instrumentalism or Krauss’ fiddle playing. 


The show featured five songs from her new album, Windy City, which fit pretty well with her other latter era songs.  Krauss has a special voice, and every nuance could be heard clearly, but this is especially appreciated on unhurried songs that allow space for her voice to soar.  The sound system was crystal clear for both artists, but songs like “The Lucky One,” “I Never Cared for You,” “Stay,” and “Ghost in This House,” the last literally causing goosebumps, indicate that her recording engineers can just hit “record” and leave it alone.


The concert ended with some irony, as clearly the fans were caught short on the co-billing, and her last song was cut short when the house staff pulled the plug. 

Hey, Chastain.  Maybe start shows a little earlier?

(Likely) Set list:

  • River in the Rain
  • I Never Cared for You
  • Stay
  • Forget About It
  • Baby, Now That I’ve Found You
  • Broadway
  • Ghost in This House
  • The Lucky One
  • Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us
  • It’s Goodbye and So Long to You
  • Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
  • Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby
  • I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)
  • Down to the River to Pray
  • Restless
  • Gentle on My Mind
  • Losing You
  • Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues
  • When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart
  • Walk Over God’s Heaven
  • When I’ve Done the Best I Can, I Want My Crown
  • When You Say Nothing at All
  • A Living Prayer

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It doesn’t take Hilary Clinton, the DNC, or any number of companies under investigation to understand that emails hang around a long time, on one server or another, unless extraordinary efforts are made to be rid of them.   Handwritten letters? Tossed in the trash, or tossed in a drawer or a box or somewhere.

Several years ago, when my mom downsized from her house to a retirement apartment, the transition was a rushed affair with my mom focusing on the few belongings she chose to keep while turning a blind eye to the myriad of things donated or thrown out without close examination.  Firm closing dates force that, as well as a lifetime of accumulation. 

There were a few things I pulled aside as I plied through her things, including a letter from my grandmother to my mom.  It looked old, and the first few lines drew my interest to preserve it and read it later.  I recently re-discovered it and read it in full.  My mom would have been 20 years old when she received this:

Thursday Oct. 8, 53

Dear Doris,

I am glad to hear you have work to do.

Sometimes we may wonder why things happen as they do when we did not think it should be that way or was not what we wanted, but there is a reason.

We are born not knowing sorrow nor gladness, labour or love, hardship and prosperity, hate or vanities, war or peace.

Through out our life we experience each of these then we die as we we were born, except that we have shown God how we can accept each of these, how we suffer or rejoice with each one.  That must be our trial as we enter the Gates of Heaven. How can we rejoice if we have not known sorrow.  How can we know love if we have not seen hate.  How can we enjoy the peace to come if we have not known hardship.

“As he came forth out of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he comes and shall take nothing of his labour that he may carry away in his hand.”

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the Heaven.  A time to be born, a time to die.  A time to plant and a time to pluck up.  A time to weep and a time to mourn.  A time to break down and a time to build up.  A time to get and a time to lose.”

“What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?  I know that there is no good in them but for a man to rejoice and do good with his life which God giveth him for it is his portion.”  Eccl.

So it is Doris.  We must find some enjoyment out of what we do, no matter how much we dislike it.  There is a reason for each of these things, some lesson in it you must learn before you go out.  If you have a smile and a good thought for each one you meet and look for that something good in everything you do, then your days work is done and tomorrow will come in its own way no matter how you will it.  Happiness always comes in the most unexpected ways.  Enjoy what you have to do, Doris.  I believe that is the key  to happiness.  Let God walk beside you and you will never walk alone.



I mailed this back to my mom and asked her what she remembered of it.  She was very pleased to receive it, as it was at least one precious letter that she obviously had kept for many years.  She’ll keep it still.  I gather that this letter was a reminder of much advice received and possibly the best traits of her mom that she remembers.  I could wax poetic about the power of words, but, I don’t need to, right?

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The War on Drugs – Live at the Tabernacle

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Sold out.  Maybe there were more people than that, or else the abundant youthfulness of the crowd drew more to the floor rather than for the balcony seats.  We sat.  Thanks, kids.


This was my second show by this band, and both times I walked away… liking them?  I do like most of the songs on their last two CDs.  It’s rock, but it’s easy on the ears – not junk food by any means, but not a heavy meal, either.  The songs that succeed best generally start slower or with a relatively muted blend of instruments which build gradually to a moment where the catharsis happens – maybe it’s a strong guitar lead, maybe it’s just the drummer striking his kit rather than tapping them – but at that moment the aggression of rock ‘n roll is due, and it finally breaks through. 


In concert, it’s similar, except you trade the audio clarity from home speakers or a earbuds for the visuals, the shared experience, the pulsing vibrations from music played loud… and auditory processes that take a while to sort out the sounds in the venue. 

This is actually a strength for seeing this band live.  The drummer isn’t asked to do anything beyond sophomore level metronome classes, the keyboards (up to three at once) are easily heard because they don’t compete for sonic space, and the rhythm guitar is, well, pretty much not heard.  But an aural palate with this in the background leaves ample foreground space – Adam Granduciel’s voice, his lead guitar, and the particularly splendid moments when a baritone sax claims the venue.

Imagine, perhaps, a mid-80’s E-Street band backing playing “The Boys of Summer” with a vocalist who is not seeking attention and whose words, live anyway, are mostly indecipherable.  But that’s okay, his voice is the emotive influence that leads to the aforementioned guitar pyrotechnics or the bari-sax.


Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good singer with good lyrics, but you need to know the lyrics if it’s important for you to enjoy hearing the songs live – at this venue anyway.  In any case, this show started out hot.  The first three songs (“Holding On,” “Pain,” and “An Ocean Between the Waves”) set a pace that makes one think, “We’re in for a helluva night!”  And, that, of course, is unsustainable.  After the fifth song, “Red Eyes,” the show settled into an enjoyable and listenable evening.  Located elsewhere, you might be listening to those songs while playing cards with friends and tapping your foot.


“Eyes to the Wind,” the closer for the regular set, picked up the pace and made for a decent sendoff, but it wasn’t until “Under the Pressure” in the encore that the band reclaimed an elevated audience enthusiasm.  The finale, “In Reverse,” is a fine song, but it served as a reminder of the inadequate pacing of the show and, well, gee, it’s a work night.  Time to leave anyway.


  1. Holding On
  2. Pain
  3. An Ocean in Between the Waves
  4. Strangest Thing
  5. Red Eyes
  6. Knocked Down
  7. Lost in the Dream
  8. Buenos Aires Beach
  9. In Chains
  10. Up All Night
  11. Nothing to Find
  12. You Don't Have to Go
  13. Eyes to the Wind

  14. Encore:
  15. Burning
  16. Under the Pressure
  17. In Reverse

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DragonCon 2017 – By the Numbers

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Hello, SurveyMonkey.  When I don’t know what I thought about this year’s Labor Day geek fest known as DragonCon, I now have objective data.  Granted that this may be only a 5% sample of registrants, but… let’s see how this supports my view as the Con unfolded.

This was the 9th DragonCon for my wife and me, a span that has seen the crowd increase from an estimated 30,000 to 80,000+.  As the Con is conducted primarily in host hotels, something has to give.  And it has.  Three host hotels expanded to four, then five, and now also includes the AmericasMart, all within a reasonable walk.   I’m not sure what may have changed this year, but I think more panels filled up (and sooner), and there was a general improvement in movement through hotel lobbies, the chokepoints of the Con.

Well, Survey Monkey, tell us about these 80,000+ people?


So, a quarter of those are essentially newcomers, over half are regulars, and after 10 Cons, it appears people start to lose interest.   Sadly, there is no demographics included, but I’ll just say that observationally, it’s gotten younger in the last few years, and not just because I’m getting older.

That begs the question, are we prime candidates for the attendance drop off?  Well, not next year, as the early registration price is too appealing, but the idea of skipping the next one did enter our mind, whereas usually we leave somewhat tired but somewhat aggrieved that we have to wait a full year to the next one.

We also changed things a bit this year as we chose to stay in a hotel rather than commuting daily.  Due to the four night minimum stay, we arrived Thursday, the day before the Con kicks off, to find a large, already in costumed regalia, on the streets, in the lobbies and in the bars, party started.  Seeing which day of the week that the Con began for respondents verified this, though I had no idea it would shape this way.


For one, regardless of how they advertise, DragonCon is a three day convention, Fri-Sun.  Thursday night there are a number of gatherings for like-minded people, but very little programming from a presenter standpoint.  And while Monday morning and early afternoon have a fair number of panels, sorry.  People are packing and getting out of their hotels for the close of the holiday weekend.  A peek into a near empty Battlestar Galactica ballroom confirmed this.  While factually true that the Con touches five days, it’s still a lie.

Also, these stats surprisingly uphold my Saturday observation that while the streets were full, the lines and press of people was not particularly worse than Friday.  One day passes, I think, had limited availability this year, particularly pre-Con, so either more people chose to attend the whole thing or skipped coming at all.  That’s a win.

And then there’s the overall opinion about DragonCon 2017.


I don’t know that I have an opinion on these statistics, as there are so many things that attendees may seek in the Con that I don’t share.  For me, it was “Good.”  For being a volunteer event that the industry doesn’t really support like, say, Comic-Con, there remains a lot of untapped potential to draw interest, and the SurveyMonkey asked for suggestions. 

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DragonCon – 2017

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Hello, Nathan Fillion.  It’s been a while, 2008, actually, as you skipped the ensuing years filming “Castle.”   Welcome back.

What started off as an “easy” Friday morning decision for a 10:00 a.m. panel became rather interesting.  First, Fillion was only on site Friday, so fans only had a choice of two panels.  Translated: large crowds, especially for the beginning of the Con.  We got in line early, about 8:40 a.m. or so.  It was already lengthy.  As it turned out, some 2,000 people would gather in an another ballroom to watch his session on a screen.  Actually, this isn’t a big deal because even in the larger conference rooms, people can say they’ve “seen” the celebrity, but many in the back watch the screens as well.  In our case, we didn’t settle for the queued seats but found an empty pair of seats closer to the front.

A couple of memorable moments include a question about how he maintains his rugged handsomeness…  In infomercial voice, “My secret is really simple.  Keep your distance. (dramatic pause) My secret to good hair… don’t fight it, man… (dramatic pause) Gentlemen, always smell good.  I don’t mean Axe body spray… If you’re going to wear cologne, two sprays in the air and walk through it.  (dramatic pause).  Be clean man.  April breeze.”  Then he couldn’t keep a straight face any longer.


Throughout the session, he paid particular attention to each questioner, asking their names and relating them to relax their nerves.  This prevailing kindness was also reflected in his closing comment, “I can’t imagine my life without days like this.  You guys warm my heart. Thank you.”

Maybe it’s not so good to start off a Con at the pinnacle.

Lord British, or Richard Garriott.  Garriott is a regular at DragonCon, and this appearance seemed to slightly push his autobiography, Explore Create.  And he has plenty to tell. Garriott created the online game Ultima, and reaped the financial rewards to enjoy life on his terms.  He continues with game development, and among other subjects, demonstrated the research and thoughtfulness he puts into any subject, such as the development of languages, written or visual, for use in his video games.  He reportedly paid $30M to follow his father, a Skylab astronaut, into space, visiting the  International Space Station, where it seems he interred some of James’ Doohan’s ashes and created a registered geocache.  Garriott has took a deep sea sub to the Titanic, where he recounted the dangers of being too trusting of safety features, as well as a rock climbing descent for which he was unprepared and untethered.  In any case, a very interesting person and well worth a listen.


Attack of the Celebrity Improv.  After doing other things for the afternoon, we watched this, sort of an amateurish “Whose Line is it Anyway?”  I didn’t know any of the “celebrities,” but it was entertaining, though often stifled by ridiculous audience suggestions for roles and situations.

Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Surprisingly, I hadn’t been to a panel of this cast, who attend periodically in ones and twos.  Like many favorite shows, there is obvious camaraderie and friendship that remained well beyond the show.  All the questions were common and predictable but answered in comedic ways.  The only “new” factoid was that Brent Spiner revealed that a crew member forgot a second Data suit when they filmed in the desert, and the stunt person had already used it, leaving it soaked in sweat.  You can read the full summary here, but it was obvious the other actors were pleased with both the revelation and how he handled it. 


Starship Troopers.  I liked the movie, which barely resembles the Heinlein book after which it is named (because Heinlein references were adapted to the script after it had been written).  The plot has a relaxed approach to sexuality and nudity, and, twenty years later, it seems the actors were perfectly cast, as in, they haven’t changed much.  In fact, it doesn’t seem like they aged much either. In any case, it was an entertaining hour.


“Unbelievable” the Movie.  Okay, you tell me it’s a lighthearted “Star Trek” parody featuring 40 Star Trek actors from its various versions over the years.  I’m interested.  I’m hopeful but doubtful after its producers share how “they” – as in people in power - don’t want the film to be shown.  It’s unbelievably bad.  I don’t know whether it’s a personal tendency to see things to their end (think Iron Fist) or fear of crushing their spirits with an early departure, but in any case, I passed that crisis moment five minutes into the movie and suffered through it.  It’s obvious that the actors have lost all self-respect and participated without consulting an agent or, well, anyone.  There were other panels we were considering afterwards, but I left drained and ready for bed.

Crypto Wars. Call this work-related and generally of interest.  Let’s check the notes.  Netscape Navigator, which I used in the day, was built with weak encryption so that intelligence services could monitor traffic.  WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has encrypted communications.  Many foreign governments hate that, like Brazil, who is demanding back door access.  China requires companies to comply with information requests (I.e. your data), Kazakhstan requires a back door in software used in their country for censorship purposes.  Australia wants back doors for international data to assist law enforcement.  There are a lot of political motivations, and it’s less about actual security issues.

Fiveeyes… yeah, read about that.  Should they agree on a backdoor, that’s the end of any expectation that encryption will ensure privacy.  Any company on the internet will have to build to permit their requirements, or otherwise write specific software for each country in which their software is sold.  Essentially, you don’t know what backdoor access comes with every software upgrade that comes your way.  Then it was on to the Investigatory Powers Act.  No problem, we can’t spy on our own people so much, but we can just get the information from the U.K. who can.  Also, as there is no anti-hacking law, the FBI says they have sufficient authority to do so.  No one really knows what data is being collected.

It’s the kind of panel that leaves you wanting a warm puppy.

Chuck – Zachery Levi.  Remember the TV show, with the Intersect?  Well, Zachery Levi attended his first DragonCon, and while he was much more serious than I imagined, it was obvious that the hopefulness and concern that Chuck had in each episode directly reflects the life and goals for Levi, who is wounded when things don’t work the way they should.  This summary from an earlier panel is similar to what we heard, but like most Chuck fans, I hope he finds continued success (in the context of something I really want to watch) and am disappointed he hasn’t already found it.


Additional photos of panels and costumes can be viewed HERE.

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Forecastle Festival 2017

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Crowds, summer heat, portable bathrooms.  These were the reasons against accepting my concert buddy’s invitation to Forecast Festival, located in his hometown of Louisville, KY.  They weren’t compelling reasons to not go, just part of the deal.   It’s not so different from going to a concert in Atlanta and dealing with standing on concrete floors for hours after sitting through congested highways.  You do what you gotta do.

Forecastle is a three day festival – neither of us had a desire for a full weekend, so we picked the third day – my concert buddy’s favorite due to PJ Harvey, mine because of Spoon, a fairly lackluster Saturday lineup, and, hey, don’t argue with the Cruise Director.   So, let’s begin. 

#1.  Where’s the line?  A quick frisk and we were in.


#2. Hey!  A beach party!  Well, the festival is located on the banks of the Ohio River (as I gaze from KY to IN, but, then, the Mississippi River starts in Minnesota so I guess it’s okay).


#3.  Stuff.  I like stuff.  If I went to the whole festival, maybe I’d drop the cash for the $30 souvenir T-Shirt.  But for only one day… nope.  And, nope again for the $10 boxer.


#3.  Festival goodwill. Bring in your own sealed water bottle and you can refill it for free at the hydration station!  Well played.  Didn’t use it once.


#4.  It’s a music festival!  What the?  (consults the Festival app)  Oops.  Wrong stage.


#6.  Right stage.  COIN, “bright, synth-spiked indie pop.”  Yeah, not for me, for what they do, they do well.  The show was delivered with a lot of enthusiasm and with a surprising strange presence given the seeming youth of their lead singer.


All of that goes to show why there was no one at that other stage and were gathered here, almost all of them 25 years old or younger.  A band on their way up, I’d say.


#7.  Well, it turns out the average age was probably south of 25. Therefore, these guys’ wardrobes make sense in context.  For their needs, they were later seen with girls on their arms, soooo, good investment guys.


#8.  Sierra Nevada was a sponsor for the festival, and this collaboration with Treehouse brewing, East Meets West IPA, was a great surprise.  This is why I didn’t visit the hydration station.  Treehouse is my fav, and it begged repeats.


#9. Aaron Lee Tasjan.  He/they were the next band up and… they won “Best of the Day.”  Tasjan is a singer/songwriter at the core, but compared to his recordings (which I listened to afterwards), this was much more a rock show.  Even his delicate songs sounded strong with the punch.  He definitely held the over 25 crowd, but he deserved more.  His latest CD should arrive at my door Tuesday.  Thank you, as always, Amazon. 





#10.  Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires.  We left a show that we were very much enjoying to go to one that we expected to very much enjoy.  There has been a resurgence in funk/soul bands of late, many of them anchored by a previous generation newly “discovered” and now finding an audience.  It was a completely different vibe from Tasjan, of course, but I don’t think that influenced my opinion.  This band didn’t rise to expectations.  


#11.  Foxygen.  I listened in advance.  Decent.  In person… Decent.  I probably should have listened to them more carefully, as they demonstrated that they have a variety of music styles well suited to festival audiences,.  As the photo below shows, he’s got a bit of McCartney in him, mime face notwithstanding.  I wouldn’t pay to see them as a headliner, but they were a good addition for the day.



12.  Big Thief.  Stole my time. 

13. Conor Oberst.  Critics darling.  But if I want earnest, I’ll just skip to Damien Rice, who fills that niche in a single CD.  Good band, but didn’t really hold my attention.

14.  PJ Harvey.  My concert buddy said she was good.  I took a break in the shade, reflecting on my IPAs.

15.  Spoon.  I’ve wanted to see them, and now I have.  I like a good number of their songs – simple, upbeat.  And dang if they don’t sound just the same in concert (not a good thing for simple music).  And, with zero stage presence, I’ve no need to see them again.

15.5 We skipped Weezer, the closer, just because.  Well, because we had to get up, and, really, other than that odd song on the radio (like “Buddy Holly”) I really have no use for them.  The under 25’s appeared to rush that way after Spoon for the “oldies” act though.

16.  Elsewhere around the show… given the demographics, I expected a lot more tattoos.  Here’s a couple.  The left one says “Welcome to the tragic kingdom,” no doubt No Doubt. Nevertheless, it might be a warning sign to guys?  I would have asked the one on the right what the story is, but it’s kind of hard to hear at these things anyway, but, given the detail, I don’t think I’d be disappointed in the story.


Here’s where all the cool kids hang out… Yeah, in the shade.  Where they had to listen to a DJ.  Sense the excitement?


The even cooler ones hang out here.


I saw this guy a few times during the day.   A lot of work for a little advertising.


Overall, the festival was a lot less crowded than I expected (the crowd built to the evening, but there were no lines for anything), and other than people holding cups of beer, it was very much a G rated affair.  One benefit of the great weather (mid 80’s, low humidity) was that someone was able to comfortably wear her mom’s jeans from the real festival days.  Well, okay.  Maybe these were made in China, but it’s the spirit that counts.


Overall, glad I went, and this particular festival overcame my initial fears – no overwhelming crowds, no oppressive heat, no lines at the portable johns – which were cool because they were placed under the bridge.  This festival did everything well.

One the better songs from Tasjan.

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Woodford Reserve Distillery Tour

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This is the second major Kentucky bourbon distillery I’ve visited, but the first on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Pay to play, perhaps? 


Like Keeneland Race Track, part of the attraction of this visit was the drive through the beautiful Kentucky countryside.  We arrived about 15 minutes early for the 10:00 tour, which departed maybe 10 minutes thereafter.  The tours are offered by the hour, but it appears they cycle through about every 15 minutes.  The lobby, as expected, is beautiful, and they have a shop for your souvenirs and “end product.”


The tour begins with an introduction on the reception center’s porch, then involves getting on a small bus to circle around to the distillery.  It’s not that far as a bird flies, but no doubt many people’s feet have flown down the fairly steep steps between the two.


Observing the distillery, the tour guide talks about the history of the grounds – this the oldest of the nine (major) bourbon distilleries in operation in Kentucky (as of 2010).  The building was built for this purpose, but went through a series of ownerships until Brown-Foreman purchased in in 1941, then closed it in 1968 when public tastes moved away from bourbon.  They sold it in 1971 and repurchased it in 1993, after apparently being fully abandoned and left as a plaything for the kids of the idle rich who lived nearby.


Inside, the facility has been beautifully restored and remains in operation.  They have a separate distillery elsewhere on the property.  You get the usual talking tour about mash and fermentation, the latter of which you can lean over for a whiff and taste from a provided sample.  Not good, not terrible and not to be repeated.  The tour is helped by speakers so you can hear the guide’s narrative over the background din.


The distillery has been expanding and renovating since 2013, including these copper distillation pots.


Our guide was a good entertainer, and if you aren’t familiar with distilleries, you would learn a good bit.  One thing you learn is that their barrels sit around for many years, on average seven for Woodford.  Adjacent is one of their warehouses, with thick stone walls that reportedly keep a fairly even temperature year round inside.


The plugging and positioning of barrels was not reviewed, but it’s an interesting process to position them correctly because otherwise they just sit there, losing alcohol by volume over the years while accruing in value.


Then, you get on the bus and go back to the visitor center which has a handy tasting room.  The size of tours are limited in part to the bus and in part to the number of seats at the table.  Everyone got two samples – their Distiller’s Select and their Double Oaked bourbons.


What follows is a decent group instruction and discussion of how to sip bourbon and the flavors detected after your palate is acclimated (the first sip is to essentially burn, the second is more about the acclimation) and then… subtle notes of whatever fruits and veggies you care to observe – well, okay then.  Caramel, cocoa, oak, butterscotch, but you can say anything and get away with it.

The double oaked had more of the wood color and flavor, as it is aged in separate charred oak barrels, the latter “deeply toasted before charring.”  Smooth and great flavor, but, of course, it comes at a price. 

For those afraid of straight bourbon, there are ice urns positioned around the table, as shown above.  They also provide a bourbon flavored chocolate, which is delicious.  Overall, the tour was great and I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed, despite the awkwardness of the buses.

We shortly after stopped at a local legend for our take home chocolates, “invented” when the namesake Ruth Booe “overheard a friend remark that the two best tastes in the world were a sip of bourbon and Miss Booe’s mint candy.” 


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Long Strange Trip

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I’m not a stranger to biographies of musicians and bands.  The backstories are often interesting, and they offer glimpses of what the celebrity experience is like in the quiet moments when the lights are off and the audience adulation is absent.  Long-Strange-Trip

I’m not a Grateful Dead fan, and I won’t become one, but it’s not for a lack of respect of their accomplishments.  So, Amazon’s Long Strange Trip was not an imperative, but of interest and certainly easier than reading a book.  And the band remains relevant, whether in the form of the musical offspring of its remaining band members, various cover bands, jam bands like Widespread Panic or the stickers on cars or T-shirts worn by “Deadheads.”  (My last remembered observation was form NBA player Bill Walton at the Atlanta airport, sporting Dead gear…)

In any case, the following holds true for many:

Q: What did the Deadhead say when he ran out of drugs?
A: Man, this music sucks.

I haven’t tried drugs and thus lacked their influence when I sampled the band’s music.  In the early ‘80’s, I had already investigated the music of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Even at that age, I saw it as my sister’s generation, who was 11 years older.  It didn’t reflect the “now,” about which Garcia commented: “It’s tough to come to an adventure in this new lame America.”  I had friends at the time, and would see others over the next decade, who become latter-era Deadheads.  I get that many seek to latch onto something greater than themselves and be a part of it – we all do in our way – but… why the Dead? 

One interviewed megafan grants absolution for these latter day adjuncts:  

“I’ve seen kids now who are too young to ever have seen Jerry Garcia and yet they’re just as much a Deadhead as people my age ever were in the 70’s.  I don’t feel like anything has been diluted or lost, and the one sad thing that I would relieve them of is their feeling that they missed it because the thing that the Dead and the Deadheads created together will keep working its magic in whatever form its transmitted into the future.”

Sorry!  It’s just a bunch of people who missed out on the hippie era and will continually ask, “Wow, I wonder what this used to really be like!”  And then throw in the perspective of the speaker, proud to be a legitimate deadhead but perhaps desperate that his experience, to mean something significant, must necessarily endure.  The music will, in any case.      

The Grateful Dead’s music, as any other, is a personal thing.  There’s not enough about it for me to really like – no melody or key refrain - but there’s enough to the musicianship and the spirit for which it was intended for me to understand why other people might.  Long jams don’t appeal to me, at least without a scorching guitar, and while the band certainly has suitable vocalists, none of them appeal to me.  That’s okay – the world of Rock and Roll is full of vocalists who can’t “sing” but are perfect for what they do.  Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Bruce Springsteen… Don’t get offended anyone.

The above hopefully serves as a suitable disclaimer as I review the movie, essentially admitting that I’m as objective as the next biased person.

Long Strange Trip includes six episodes that trace the band chronologically, totaling about a four hour investment of time if skipping the credits.  It does a very nice job of interviewing surviving band members and others who were close to the band.   The details of the times, the places, the personalities, the development of the band’s style (bluegrass, anyone?) and the trials overcome on the way to their ultimate success are exactly what the viewer hopes to see. 

Visually, there is much to like.  The imagery, archival footage of places and concerts, snippets of video of band members behind the scenes, etc. add great visuals to keep pace with a crisp narrative.  The movie holds to its themes and does not linger or extrapolate too long on any particular subject or period of time.  And, of course, it’s mostly about Jerry Garcia.

The movie features the band’s music as their styles and skills evolved, this in uncritical terms, unless praise counts.  It’s often heard in the background during general narratives and is addressed more directly when speaking to the contributions of specific band members.  It’s presumed that the viewer is a fan, though more probably a fan of their concerts rather than (studio) recordings.  

The early years of the San Francisco hippie culture were of the most interest, and Garcia’s overarching commitment to “fun” is introduced early – succinctly put by bandmate Bob Weir: 

“In eternity nothing will be remembered of you.  So why not just have fun?”

Nihilists rejoice!  Fun.  Free from authority and rules.  Working for the enjoyment of something without a particular purpose.  Sounds nice.  In other words, that’s autonomy – self law.  The remainder of the movie details a career of excesses in and around the band.  Fun, it is seen, is very much a thing of the moment, but the indulgences permitted in a one word litmus test for practical living reach their logical conclusions…  Rampant drug use, living/touring with an unwieldy entourage, the continual partying during lengthy tours, the problems encountered when no one wants to take authority and make decisions and a general neglect of personal health risks.  These built the band’s culture as much as they decreed its eventual end. 

Curiously lacking is any criticism between the surviving band members themselves.  It suggests that a deeper story is still out there waiting to be told as the only faults revealed are about those band members who have passed away, including Garcia.  The pride they take in their career is evident, but as evident is their regret regarding Garcia’s death, but not to the point where anyone admits they should have helped their friend and de facto leader who visibly needed an intervention. 

Perhaps to justify this, they speak of Garcia’s “toughness,” his energy, his push to tour constantly, his recurring drug relapses.  And none of them seemed to register shock when he died of a heart attack.   With friends like these…  Had Garcia died earlier along with Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison, they would have merited only a footnote in music history.  Part of their legacy is that they survived as long as they did.

But they’re not the Grateful Survivors.  I particularly liked the opening of the movie which begins with a thematically suited stanza of a poem by Emily Dickinson:

  • Because I could not stop for Death -
  • He kindly stopped for me -
  • The Carriage held but just Ourselves -
  • And Immortality.

The movie takes that focus on death and relates it to the passing of Garcia’s father in his youth and links it to the suitability of the band’s name.   Death is a more frequent subject to their songs than I realized, but it’s easily missed due to the the optimism in the tunes themselves, general inattention to the lyrics or the celebratory reaction of their audiences regardless of the subject.  Renewal, freedom, escapism – the band’s avowed fun celebrates life while both mocking and conceding its eventual end.


The day Garcia died, a music buddy asked me, “Is Jerry Garcia grateful?”  By the film’s recounting of Garcia’s latter years, the answer seems to be “yes.”  His lack of anonymity to enjoy going out in public (thereby trapped in hotels), a relapse into his drug addiction, and the responsibilities of shouldering a band which supported the livelihoods of so many more than suggest that the fun was over. 

Bob Weir’s reflections at the end of the movie fairly well sum the outworking of the band’s philosophy:

  • “Jerry wasn’t interested in building something that would stand the test of time, but I don’t think that what we see as time can put an end to what we had…  Those moments are more alive than anything a heart pumps out.  That’s what we were living for and that was what we were trying to coax through on any given night onstage. That was the fun.  That was the fun that he was talking about.  That’s eternity.”  

Assigning metaphysical value to music is a dicey proposition, but we each justify our time on earth in different ways.  Perhaps their accomplishments and the accolades of millions provide some solace to the costs of the “fun.”

Long Strange Trip succeeds as both a documentary of music history and human nature.

5 of 5 STARS_thumb

(Go Austin, Go!)

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