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Clockwise, from top left: Blackfriar's Theater in Staunton, VA, home of the American Shakespeare Center; National Cathedral in Guatemala City; church near Volin, SD; engraved stellae at ruins of Copan, Honduras; folk musicians in La Paz, Bolivia.

Culture and Travel montage shadow

Culture-related pages:

Travel photos

Religious blogs & sites

Local drama & music

Other Web links


My favorite movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. Raising Arizona
  4. Fargo
  5. Shawshank Redemption
  6. Field of Dreams
  7. Bull Durham
  8. Fiddler on the Roof
  9. Patton
  10. Bananas
  11. Fort Apache: The Bronx
  12. Broadcast News

June 11, 2019 [LINK / comment]

A history of rock music, Part II:     from H to N

Over the last two months since I left off at "G" (Grateful Dead), I have continued my alphabetically-ordered musical odyssey almost every Wednesday night at the Queen City Brewing open mic events. (My review of Part I: from A to G was on April 17.) Playing in public with greater regularity, I am getting better responses from the audience.

H is for Hootie & the Blowfish: On April 17, open mic host Fritz Horisk instituted a new arrangement such that performers who arrive early get to play more songs than those who arrive later -- such as me, in this case. (Domestic chores often detain me.) That meant that I only got to do three of the four songs I had planned, but as you will see, that worked out for the best. Two of the songs were "first-timers" for me, but I did well enough and got good applause. I didn't use the harmonica on any of them, which is rare for me. HOOTIE! smile

* : first time in public
(This notation applies throughout this post.)

I is for Imagine Dragons: One week later (April 24) I was in a quandary, since the only suitable group I know that starts with "I" is Imagine Dragons, and I only know one song by them. (I ruled out INXS as way too loud for an acoustic instrument.) So, I began by playing the "left-over" song that I was unable to play the week before. That still left two slots open, and I was prepared to resort to one of my own modest musical creations (using the logic that I start with "I"), but that proved unnecessary because of the tight scheduling that night. With a full slate of performers, I only got to do two songs. Just as well. Both were OK, but I felt a bit uncomfortable doing "Radioactive." (Those are some thought-provoking lyrics, by the way: "This is it, the Apocalypse.")

J is for Joe Walsh: The very next week (May 1) I signed up in advance to make sure I got to do four songs. I paid tribute to the bad boy classic rocker who took the Eagles to new heights in the late 1970s. All four songs were "first-timers" for me, and I rose to the occasion by nailing them with technical accuracy and passion. I recently changed the way I playe "Rocky Mountain Way," and it sounded great with the harmonica filling in for the lead guitar. One guy wondered how I was ever going to get through the complex "Life's Been Good," and he was impressed that I pulled it off. That was a good night!

# : with harmonica
* : first time in public
(These notations apply throughout this post.)

K is for Kansas: I missed the next week mainly because I was exhausted from a busy day of chores, and it was just as well, because I really needed to polish the four songs by Kansas, which is very challenging material. They were one of the leading examples of "progressive rock" in the 1970s, along with Yes, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, and Rush. By May 15 I was ready, and I played my heart out. The first and third songs were relatively easy and familiar to most of the folks in the audience, but the second and fourth songs were musically complex and apparently new to almost everyone there. I got polite applause, but I was a little disappointed I didn't make a bigger impact.

L is for Led Zeppelin: And speaking of "challenging material," I had a plate full on May 22, when I decided to tackle one of the best rock groups of all time. I began by noting that my previous week's set (Kansas) kind of went over like a lead balloon, a humorous segue into Led Zeppelin. I started with the mellow "Going to California," and then switched gears with a wailing harmonica on "When the Levee Breaks." Damn, that sounded good! I learned both of those songs relatively recently. The third and fourth songs were ones I have played many times, and they happen to occur in sequence on side one of Led Zeppelin IV! (Indeed, all four songs were from that album.) For "Stairway To Heaven" the harmonica did the flute notes in the introduction, and the lead guitar in the grand finale. It was one of the biggest risks I had ever taken, and this time at least I really pulled it off. Some parts weren't quite as "clean" as I would like, but the audience reaction was fantastic.

Queen City Brewing open mic 22 May 2019

There was a nice-sized crowd at the Queen City Brewing open mic event on May 22, soon after I had finished playing four Led Zeppelin songs. That's Jacqueline standing next to the barrel.

M is for Moody Blues: May 29 went a little easier for me, since I had done all four songs in public before, so it wasn't as hard to prepare. I was poised, and everything sounded fine. I use the harmonica for the flute solo in "Nights In White Satin," and even though it wasn't perfect, it was a vast improvement over the first time I played that song at open mic a couple years earlier. Once again, I got some very warm compliments from the audience and other musicians. In the days that followed, I learned to play another Moody Blues song: "Question," which has some very fast strumming (necessitating a light pick) and striking chord progressions. I look forward to playing that at open mic after I finish my alphabetical sequence.

N is for Neil Young: Likewise, June 5 was a relatively easy night for me, since I had done three of the four songs in public before. In contrast to the rock songs in which my use of the harmonica is rather unorthdox, for Neil Young songs, it is strictly conventional. "Harvest Moon" could have been a little clearner, but it was OK. I prefaced "After the Gold Rush" with an observation that Neil Young has a dual performing character: sometimes he is a sentimental romantic, and sometimes he is a stridently protesting prophet of doom. The last verse of that song involves a spaceship taking refugees away from an ecologically ruined Earth. As the finale, I really got carried away with the the harmonica on "My My, Hey Hey." Once again, folks really enjoyed it.

I am now officially half-way through the alphabet, slightly over, in fact. At my next musical outing (this Wednesday?), I will be on the letter "O," and anyone who knows me very well knows which group's songs I will play!

Staunton Jams 2019

On May 18, Jacqueline and I went downtown to enjoy the last set of the first "Staunton Jams" street concert of the 2019 season. I greeted lots of people I know from church, from music circles, etc. The local rock group Sun Dried Possums was playing, but the amplifiers were too loud, so we retreated a half block away and enjoyed fine malt beverages at Shenandoah Brewing. (I played two solo shows there last year.) Hopefully I can get another gig there before long...

Staunton Jams 18 May 2019

The "Staunton Jams" event on Beverley Street, May 18.

May 16, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Springtime short-distance travels

Last year I didn't get around to summarizing my travels in this blog until August 9, and I'm trying to do better this year. So here are a few quick items about short-distance travels that I have taken (mostly with Jacqueline) during spring. The photos below are the choicest ones of those posted on the Chronological (2019) page. On January 6 I went to Highland County and Bath County with a few others from the Augusta Bird Club, with scenic highlights at Lake Moomaw and the historic bath house in Warm Springs. On March 10 Jacqueline and I went to the Highland County Maple Festival, briefly entering West Virginia northeast of Blue Grass. (We missed that festival the year before.) As usual, we bought a quart of maple syrup and a few other souvenir and craft items.

Maple Festival 2019 in McDowell

Maple Festival 2019 in McDowell, March 10.

On May 4 Jacqueline asked me to go with her to meet with her sister in Richmond, and I seized the opportunity to do some birding in the nearby Dutch Gap area along the James River. (See the separate blog post on birding.) Just like the last time I was there (June 2016), I saw many Zebra Swallowtails. I recently learned that the caterpillars of those butterflies feed on Paw Paw leaves, and indeed I saw many Paw Paw trees in the swampy area through which I hiked. The trail was very wet in places, and at one point it was flooded, so I had to give up and head back.

Boat landing at Dutch Gap

Boat landing at Dutch Gap, southeast of Richmond, May 4.

On our way home, we drove north along Route 1 through south Richmond, where evidence of poverty and strong racial feelings abounds. As we approached downtown Richmond, I asked Jacqueline to take photos of the city skyline as we crossed one of the James River bridges, and she did a good job. Then we drove past Virginia Commonwealth University, which gets bigger every time I see it, and I was struck my a sort of surrealistic mural showing four people with their eyeballs detached, apparently imagining the same dream. I should try to find out more about that mural. Next we entered historic Monument Avenue just a few blocks to the west of VCU. The afternoon lighting was not ideal as we headed west, or else I would have taken more photos.

Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue

Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, May 4.

Finally, on May 6 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and went back to the same area the very next day with some other birders. At one point I saw an azalea bush in full bloom, and it almost seemed to be begging me to take this lush, scenic picture, looking southeast toward the Big Levels area:

Azazleas in the Blue Ridge

Azazleas in the Blue Ridge, May 7.

April 14, 2019 [LINK / comment]

A history of rock music, Part I:     from A to G

It has been four months since my last blog post about music (December 7), so before we begin the main narrative about my current alphabetical "fixation" below, let's first get caught up with my public performances during the holiday season. All but one of those performances (January 15) were at the Wednesday night open mic event at Queen City Brewing, hosted by Fritz Horisk. On December 19 I played a random assortment of songs, two of which were ones I had recently learned, and just one with an explicit Christmas theme. (I need to learn more.) With a low turnout of musicians, we each got to do two extra songs, so I chose "Hummingbird" to call attention to the rare Rufous Hummingbird that had recently appeared in Stuarts Draft, and "Luckenbach, Texas," as a tribute to Ed Lawler, a good friend of mine in the Augusta Bird Club who was a Waylon Jennings fan. Ed passed away in November.

# : with harmonica
* : first time in public
(These notations apply throughout this post.)

On the day after New Year's Day, January 2, I played three songs by the Three Dog Night for the first time. I cleverly introduced the first song as if it were a Christmas carol. The other two songs were likewise "first-timers" for me, making five altogether. They all sounded just fine, and it helped me rebuild my confidence, since I had missed a few weeks late in 2018. It's funny how you can lose the knack for public performing so quickly.

[ NOTE: I originally written "So Far Away" rather than "I Feel the Earth Move," but I had already done that one in December. ]

On January 15, for the first time, I joined Kimball Swanson, Doug Boxley, and Gerry Choate at the Valley Mission, a local shelter for homeless people and folks who are temporarily down on their luck. Those guys have been entertaining the residents roughly once a month for at least a couple years, I believe, and I have to say it was about as rewarding as any other public performance I have done. The folks were extremely appreciative, and some of the kids came up and talked to us after we were done playing. I hope to go back there again later this month. I played along with the other guys and then led them in four of my favorite songs by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils:

Alphabetical progression begins

A is for America: On January 23, I began my weekly series going in alphabetical order more or less by accident. Early in January, Daryl Dragon, "The Captain" in the pop duo "Captain and Tennille" (along with the singer whom he later married, Toni Tennille) passed away. Everybody knows them for the song "Love Will Keep Us Together," but as a sort of tribute to Mr. Dragon, I played a song they did which had previously been recorded by the group America: "Muskrat Love." With an odd rhythm, that song is tougher to play than you might think. Then I played three other America songs, the latter two of which I had done before. They sounded much better this this time.

B is for Beatles: As I prepared for the open mic event on January 30, I started thinking seriously for the first time about going through the entire 26-letter alphabet week by week. There wasn't much doubt that I was going to do the Beatles, although Bob Dylan was a plausible alternative. All four songs were "first-timers" for me, or at least I think so. I may have done "Strawberry Fields Forever" previously, but if so, I didn't make note of it. All four songs came across very well, and host Fritz Horisk (who is a big Beatles fan) was impressed. His opinion carries a lot of weight with me.

C is for Chicago While introducing my songs on February 6, I put more emphasis on the alphabetical progression. It was hard not to do songs by Chicago, since I had just learned most of them during the late summer and fall, and I always enjoy doing songs that are still "fresh" in my mind. My friend from the bird club, Peter Van Acker was there, and I think I did pretty well for the most part. "Beginnings" is quite challenging, and I probably came up a little short on that one.

D is for Doobie Brothers: On March 6, I went with the Doobie Brothers; David Bowie was the only other real choice, and his material is probably too offbeat even for me. The guitar sounded good on all four songs, but I missed a few notes on the harmonica while playing the lead part on "China Grove." The fact that it was Ash Wednesday made the second song all the more appropriate. I had done "Long Train Runnin'" a few times before, and I have it down. The final song was not bad, but didn't elicit as much audience response as I had hoped.

E is for Eagles: There was no doubt about it on March 13: the Eagles are probably my favorite group of all time, and I play over three dozen of their songs. Now a "normal" musician would play some of the Eagles' best-known hit tunes such as "Take It Easy" -- but not me! I felt compelled to probe into the lesser-known "deep cuts" such as "Nightingale" and "Take the Devil," which were from the first Eagles album. (I only learned them recently, in fact.) Then came "Witchy Woman" (the only hit song I played that night) to show off my harmonica playing, and finally the mellow "Love Will Keep Us Alive." That got warm applause.

Also that night, another guy played Tom Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane," which I also do, so I accomanied him on the harmonica (while remaining seated in the back) at the appropriate points in the song. That got knowing smiles.

F is for Fleetwood Mac: March 20 marked the first time I had been to the Queen City Brewing open mic night for three consecutive weeks for several months. I chose Fleetwood Mac, and again, there really wasn't much in the way of alternatives. It's perhaps odd that I haven't played as many Fleetwood Mac songs in public previously, because they used to be (and probably still are) one of my top four or five groups. Three of the songs I played for the first time in public, and two of them ("Gold Dust Woman" and "Go Your Own Way") I played with a capo, which I had only done recently with those particular songs. I barely even needed to [use the] lyric sheets, since all the songs are so familiar to me. They all came across very well, and I got a big round of applause at the end.

G is for Grateful Dead: This past week (April 10) was the letter "G," which opened several possibilities: On multiple occasions I have played songs by the Gin Blossoms, the Goo Goo Dolls, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Guess Who. But instead, I broke new ground by covering the Grateful Dead. When I played at Shenandoah Brewing last year, somebody suggested that I play some of their songs, which at the time seemed rather far-fetched for me. For one thing, I'm not exactly a "dead-head" in terms of lifestyle, and trying to adopt the necessary attitude or persona to do those songs seemed to be quite a stretch. But, as I told the audience, if there is one consistent trait with me in doing music, it is my utter disregard for convention and expectation. So why the hell not? Earlier this year I started learning Grateful Dead songs, and to my amazement, got pretty good at some of them. I started off with their classic, "Truckin'," and I nailed it without any hitch except for a garbled lyric or two. (I never realized it before, but one consistent characteristic of Dead songs is that they are chock full of words sung a a rapid clip.) Apparently Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics to almost all of their songs, and Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir (and perhaps other late-comers) contributed varying amounts of music to each of them. The next two songs went pretty well, but on the final one ("Touch Of Grey") I had to start over switching from a Bb to a C harmonica. (That really adds to the sound of the song, which features a bit more melody than most Grateful Dead songs.) I also messed up a chord at one point and had to start the second verse over again, to my annoyance, but otherwise it sounded great, and once again I got great response from the audience.

This coming week (or else the next week) will be the letter "H," which opens just three possibilities (among groups or artists that I actually play): Heart, Harry Chapin, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Then comes the letter "I," for which the possibilities are very scant indeed.

R.I.P Bill Harlow

I was saddened and rather stunned to learn last month that a local musician passed away: Bill Harlow, one of the two main organizers (along with Bob Brydges) of the open mic events at Barrenridge Vineyards every Thursday night. I played there several times last year, but have been putting it off for the past several months, partly because it's harder for me to get to. Bill played guitar and bass guitar, often in a duo with Bob Brydges, and sometimes with larger groups. Bill was a great musician with a real passion for his craft, and he was always very friendly to me, often inviting me to join the musical fun at Barrenridge. I'm sorry that I didn't do so more often, and I will try to do so in the future.

Major world languages

Language 2002
Chinese * 874 # 1,213
Spanish * 322 329
English * 341 328
Arabic ? 221
Hindi 366 # 182
Bengali 207 181
Portuguese 176 178
Russian * 167 144
Japanese 125 122
German 100 90

# : 2004 data for Chinese pertained only to Mandarin speakers, whereas data for Hindi speakers were defined more broadly.
Asterisks (*) denote the official languages of the United Nations, which also includes French (68 million speakers).

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I speak Spanish, some Portuguese, and have dabbled in German, French, Italian, Russian, Catalan, and Quechua.

Major world religions

Religion 2002
Christians 2,038 2,281
Muslims 1,226 1,553
Hindus 828 943
Chinese folk 389 454
Buddhists 364 463
Sikhs 24 24
Jews 14 15
Local, other 32 379
Non-religious 925 798

The obvious discontinuities in the last two lines of data are of uncertain origin.

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I belong to the Episcopal Church and am annoyed at the recent polarization. According to a Theology quiz, I scored as a "Classical Liberal."

Ten Commandments

  1. Worship ONE God only
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking God's name in vain
  4. Keep Sabbath day holy
  5. Honor parents
  6. No stealing
  7. No murder
  8. No adultery
  9. No bearing false witness
  10. No coveting what others have

Seven deadly sins

  1. Pride
  2. Covetousness
  3. Lust
  4. Anger
  5. Gluttony
  6. Envy
  7. Sloth

Proverbs 6: 16-19

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Romans 12: 17, 21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Serenity Prayer

Reinhold Niebuhr was a leading theologian of the mid-20th Century, and often wrote about foreign policy from a "Christian realist" perspective. From

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.