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Thursday
May172012

Prison Passion Play

This spring I spent two days at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The prison, one of the largest in the United States, is known for its inmate rodeo and the fact that more than 90 percent of the prisoners, many serving life sentences, will die there. The prison may soon be known for putting on a large production of the Life of Christ complete with camels and horses. The play, two years in the making, was staged, directed and played completely by prisoners. Women playing roles like Mary were bussed in for rehearsals from a nearby women's prison.

Wednesday
May162012

'Ring' Heads

Musical fandom takes many forms. Some people followed the Grateful Dead around for years. Some gathered in a parking lot before a Judas Priest show in the 80s and expressed their love of metal. Some fly around the world for the chance to see Richard Wagner's epic Ring Cycle opera over multiple evenings. Some Wagnerites have seen nearly 50 full cycles. I spent an evening with a few such dedicated "Ring" Heads in New York who'd flocked together for the Metropolitan Opera's new production.

 

Friday
Apr132012

Reviving Bed-Stuy Jazz

When most people think of jazz and New York they think of Harlem or maybe the Village but Brooklyn was once home to numerous jazz clubs as well. Even Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood that most recently was the incubator for hip-hop artists like Notorious B.I.G., was once a jazz hotspot.

Lest that period, when luminaries of modern jazz like Max Roach and Miles Davis played in Bed-Stuy clubs, be forgotten a group of musicians are keeping the jazz alive in the front parlor room of a beautifully restored brownstone. Every Friday, as Austin Considine reports, the session starts off with a headlining artist but can really get cooking as the night rolls on. After the fish fry buffet intermission the mic opens up to the audience. A guitarist steps in, a sax and a trumpet might show up, singers belt out gospel, scat and croon standards and for a few hours the sound of jazz once again fills the streets of Bed-Stuy.

Tuesday
Apr032012

Remembering Earl Scruggs

 

Earl Scruggs, the virtuoso banjo player, died at 88 in March. The day after his death I was on the phone with every banjo player in the New York area I and my colleagues could think of who might have a connection to Scruggs. Noam Pikelny and Chris Eldgridge of the Brooklyn based bluegrass band Punch Brothers agreed to meet at a little folk music venue in Red Hook. I invited Steve Arkin, who had played with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boy's during the height of the bluegrass scene of the 60s, to come down as well. He did and they paid a fitting tribute to Scruggs, picking through his best known tune "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."

We also invited Steve Martin, the actor, comedian and banjo player to sit in. He was in California but Skyped in to pay his respects to Scruggs, who taught him to play "Sally Goodin'" in his style in the late 1960's.

Wednesday
Mar142012

Adventurers and Scientists and Wolverines

 

In February 2012 I traveled to Montana to tag along with Gregg Treinish, biologist Steve Gehman and a group of volunteer outdoors folks as they spent a weekend learning to track and collect samples from one of the tougher animals to study out there, the wolverine.

Treinish's group Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation has been hooking up climbers, trekkers, trans-ocean rowers and other endurance folk with scientists who have asked athletes to look for plant life, whales and ice worms. I wrote about the pros and cons of citizen science of this sort in an accompanying article for the National Section.

Covering the tracking, which often meant hauling up a steep incline or tangling through brush, was no easy task. I'd brought far too much gear (including a small, but heavy tripod) and it was the first time I'd ever snow-shoed. I fell on my camera a few times and was constantly cleaning snow off the lens but I caught the best moments, in my mind anyhow- - finding the scat and Treinish leading his volunteers in a harp-fueled session of the "Wolverine Blues."

 

 

 

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