Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds with Pickup at Sullivan Hall 6-23-10

After beginning the evening by listening to fantastic performances from jazz titans McCoy Tyner, Ravi Coltrane, Esperanza Spalding, Francisco Mela, Stanley Clarke, and Hiromi from the perch of a large rock outside of Central Park's Summerstage, I made my way down to the Village to grab a refreshing Great Divide Belgian IPA and a bowl of 7 Pepper Chili at Blind Tiger Ale House. Then I ventured on to the evening's main event at Sullivan Hall.

Toy Soldiers were the listed openers on this bill, but they did not show. They had some sort of van breakdown in Philly. It was their loss, not ours. Way to blow your New York venue debut, guys.

Pickup with Trevor Exeter and John Kimock was a little heady but not too esoteric. It didn’t seem to grab most of my fellow Freaks (and I’d say there were around 15-20 in attendance), who were hanging outside during most of the set. Trevor was singing while playing some weird arpeggios that were run through a series of pedals to create a sort of electronica sound. It was unique, and I enjoyed it. They closed with a very short cover of a well-known Bill Withers tune, which I don't quite recall but believe was "Use Me."

As for Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, I will forever label this show as “The Awakening” because while I’ve had a great time at their shows in the past, this was the one where I really got it. In talking to some of their longtime fans, I learned that last night’s set wasn’t particularly “better” than others, but the environment was certainly one of the best the band’s had at any of their shows. The room was far from full, but everyone pressed up to the front and most of us danced our asses off. It was a bigger than usual stage for them, and they filled it out well with lead singer Arleigh Kincheloe taking charge and commanding attention.

I really love how this band is an incredibly tight nine-piece ensemble that works so well together, yet all of its members are polished enough that they can really seize the moment when given the spotlight for solos. For whatever reason, that seems to be an anomaly among most bands-- either they’re an all-star lineup of people needing room to shine or they’re the kind of ensemble where the whole is far greater than the individual parts. I get the sense that while the Dirty Birds are particularly skilled at playing together, you could cherrypick a couple of them and start a great trio or quartet with little effort.

And Arleigh’s performance had me simply transfixed. There was one moment when I was thinking, “You know, this young lady could really…wait a sec…oh….wow…did she just…uh-huh…yes…wow….just…wow…I hope no one saw me drool all over myself…Hell, I don’t care, I can’t look away….wait…oh, man….damn….can’t she just stand still and act a little less sultry for just one second? I was about to think of something brilliant, but I’ve completely lost my train of thought. Thanks a lot!...oh, yes…thank you very, very much….”

To be perfectly honest, I had to stay off to the side because I was afraid of how much power she could potentially wield over me by making eye contact. From my vantage point, her performance was nothing short of spellbinding, and without thinking, I would have cut out someone’s vital organs with a butter knife if she’d asked me to do so. I’ve seen Arleigh on stage before, and I’ve hung out with her a few times at Jazz Fest, but I’ve never seen her demonstrate such a heightened level of raw sexuality.

The only knock I’d put on her is for less-than stellar diction, as I often had a hard time deciphering lyrics. Part of that seems to be a vocal choice that she’s made (because she certainly speaks normally), but I would throttle that back just a tad for clarity’s sake. Otherwise, she shouldn’t change a damn thing.

If you want a funky, reggae/ska-infused evening steaming with the scent of late night seduction, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds are the band for you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Going Furthur 2-23-10 Radio City Music Hall - New York, NY

I was rather happy with last night’s Furthur. If this is how the music of the Grateful Dead is going to live for the foreseeable future, it’s in very protective hands.

This band feels somewhat like the merging of Ratdog and Phil & Friends with the least desirable parts of each (and the truly experimental elements) all falling by the wayside. Weir isn’t choking the jams like he does in Ratdog and Phil isn’t trying to orchestrate everything like he does in Phil & Friends. Of course, the difference maker here is John Kadlecik, who is playing the lead guitar lines we all know and love. He’s really the one who’s making this music accessible to the masses, whereas Phil & Friends were always trying to take it into some fusion-inspired direction, while Ratdog was going for a more sparse sound. Kadlecik is putting the rounded edges on this beast, ensuring that nothing pointy sticks out and pokes you in the eye. Whether or not you want your beast with rounded edges is a different story.

The opening “Other One Jam” was solid, and it was unexpectedly great when they suddenly shifted into “Playin’ In the Band.” However, the buttery smooth transition into an Eric Clapton-style “After Midnight” was the moment when the band truly shifted gears. Thanks to Sir Joe Russo laying in the pocket, everything became tre funky. Kadlecik took the charge and started dishing out his first major statements of the evening, throwing us back to 1970 with intensity. However, disappointment was afoot as soon as backup singers Zoe Ellis and Sunshine Garcia Becker had their chance to sing one of the greatest lines ever written for backup singer: “What it is all about, What it is all about!” Unfortunately, in a moment that begs for the backup singers to cut loose and wail, they delivered the straightest, most soulless rendition of these lyrics I’ve ever heard. They were perfectly on pitch, but everything out of their mouths sounded incredibly square, almost as if they were singing chamber music. This would become a running theme throughout the night, but these two also had their virtues because every time they sang the lyrics in unison with the big three, the vocals were mixed perfectly and sounded excellent. It seems as though the rigid styling that makes them ideal backup singers also makes their sound less than ideal when singing their own lines. By the way, Sunshine Garcia Becker is apparently no relation to Jerry, but her fate to sing this music was obviously predetermined by her parents on her birth certificate.

“They Love Each Other” relished in the mid-‘70s Jerry Garcia Band groove, and “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was a rousing crowd pleaser. On the whole, Weir’s vocals over the course of the night were surprisingly good (for Bob Weir circa 2010), and when he couldn’t sustain the notes, the entire audience was more than willing to fill in the gaps. I honestly can’t recall a live version of “Masterpiece” that I’ve enjoyed more than this one with it’s full-throated sing-a-long and happy vibe. “The Race Is On” was a nice, rare boogie, perfect for a little swing dancing in the aisle with Ms. The, although that was the first time that I’ve ever attempted swing dancing on a 35 degree incline, and thankfully, no ankles were broken. The “Dear Mr. Fantasy” that followed was dripping in psychedelia, despite failing to take advantage of the backup singers. Kadlecik led a little jamlet out of this one, heavily teasing “Hey Jude” before the band dissolved into a Jeff Chimenti solo that seemed to be prompted by Phil. I hadn’t really noticed Chimenti up until this point, but if this was his time to shine, he sure as Hell took advantage of it. Simply put, the man cut loose on the baby grand like a dosed version of Professor Longhair. He was dropping into this wild, barrelhouse piano groove that kept revolving around a captivatingly odd riff. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this moment featured some of the finest keyboard work to be heard on a stage with Lesh and Weir since 1992, if not 1974. It was *that* good.

The solo wove its way into Ratdog’s “Two Djinn,” a number I haven’t heard in at least 10 years. This one was lengthy, and every time I kept thinking, “Okay, Bob, you’re boring me,” they went right into this very catchy hook that sucked everyone back in. The “Samson and Delilah” set closer was thunderous, wailing, and right on point. No complaints there.

I went to visit friends during setbreak and found myself in a great seat all the way down on house left with plenty of room to move during a “Viola Lee Blues” opener that was more funky than psychedelic. Keeping with the funkdafied theme, they leapt right into a fantastic “Shakedown Street” that had everyone up and grooving. Shortly after the start, people returned to the seats I was occupied. The very nice young woman kindly offered to share her space, but I needed room to dance, so I gratefully declined. Apparently, that was not okay with her because she said, “No, really you can stay.”

“Thank you, that’s very generous, but I’m going to go,” I replied.

“I’m serious. It’s okay. We can share the space,” she said.

“I appreciate that, but I’m going to find some more room.”

“Really, I don’t mind!”

“Ummm…I’m going now.”

Having escaped the clutches of her generosity, I found myself moving back a bit in the center left aisle, getting a perfect view with excellent sound. The security was also super chill, and they never hassled me at all. The fairly relaxed vibe of the staff really added to the excellent ambiance and sound in Radio City.

I need to add that the band did some cool things to the arrangement of “Shakedown,” adding in a few stops and turns and a great “Shake it down, shake it down, shake it down, shake it down now” vocal section that seemed to be ripped right out of the Commodores’ “Brick House.” And with the aid of Russo, Kadlecik was really working the tension-and-release solos to thrilling effect.

The resulting “Hard to Handle” had a very odd feel to it. The 8-6-71 version with Pigpen is one of the high watermarks for the Grateful Dead, and if that dog-in-heat version was NC-17, last night’s rendition was rated G and appropriate for preschoolers. Somehow they’d stripped the song of its raw sexuality and left a cute, purple Teletubby in its place. That being said, I kind of enjoyed it, which probably makes me gay in the eyes of the late Jerry Falwell.

“Deal” continued the hot streak with some of the most searing leads of the night from Kadlecik. Chimenti also took advantage of another all-too-rare opportunity to bust out some rollicking piano chops, often getting the best of Kadlecik in their back-and-forth sections. The whole band was really locked in here, and the much of the house was rockin’ with “Mason’s Children”…but then they deep-sixed all the energy in the room by moving into “Days Between.” Truthfully, Weir delivered a fine version of this song, but it really took the wind out of a lot of sails. Down front, the vast majority of the aging audience took sat down in those cushy seats to wait out this one. For me, the momentum of the set was lost, and while the resulting “Let It Grow” had plenty of excellent moments, I now felt like I was in a different show. As a result, the closing “Franklin’s Tower” never truly soared as it normally does when coming out of the buildup from “Help On the Way->Slipknot!” It should be noted that people cheered for the rare Phil-led vocal, which wasn’t much to write home about but was still a welcome change of pace from Weir’s horrendous Shatner-ized versions from 2009. The “Johnny B. Goode” encore was little more than standard.

As far as a light show goes, I personally find this setup to be rather weak. They have very few lights and seem to have invested most of their money in a gigantic LED screen that naturally looks rather pixelated up close and appears to be a lot clearer from a distance. The images they showed were often very incongruous with the music, and I’d imagine the shots of barbed wire flying in your face during “Let It Grow” must have been mildly horrifying for anyone who’d paid a visit to Dr. Hoffman. It’s no secret that these tours are now thinly-veiled money-grabs for Lesh and Weir, but if you’re going to charge people an arm-and-a-leg for tickets, you need to deliver more than just excellent music. People are paying for a performance, and if we’re shelling out at a significantly higher price than we did in the past, it’s time to shoot off some lasers, inflate a pig, or at least light someone on fire. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Was anything last night ground-breaking, Earth-shaking, or even “the shit”? No way, Jose. But were there any trainwrecks? No, not at all. I hesitate to call the show “safe,” but the element of risk was certainly missing. That may be part and parcel of this relatively new band’s philosophy, but it’s probably a little too early to tell. On the positive side, Russo adds plenty of vitality to the drumming, never settling for the kind of heavy-handed pedestrian beats which had previously plagued many of the ballads. In the realm of percussion, I’m not quite sure what Jay Lane adds to the mix, but nothing he did stuck out like a sore thumb, so I can’t complain. The new-found trust in Kadlecik is what seems to have really improved the sound of this group. They’re wisely letting him sing lead more often, and they’re giving him space to shine. Unfortunately, he’s not always taking advantage of these opportunities and doesn’t quite consistently sound like a guitarist leading a band, which is probably because he’s not one of the two leaders. Of course, his playing is as Garcia-esque as we’re ever going to hear, although he is wrapping each and every one of Garcia’s lines in bubbles, removing any daring edges from the work. Again, it’s all very protected and enjoyable, and hopefully, this is the foundation for a musical experience that will eventually embrace the unexpected and take some risks. Until that time, these shows will remain nothing more than pleasantly fun. No harm, no foul.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Subway Collaboration

12:13 AM 2-17-10
42nd St Port Authority Subway Station Uptown & Queens Platform

The coolest thing just happened.

I descended the stairs to the platform for the E-train and I saw a subway bard with an acoustic guitar sitting on the bench near the map.

Now for years I've been wanting to relive a magical late night moment that occurred in this exact spot. On that particular evening, a very different middle aged subway bard led an entire platform in a 3AM soul sing-along, including "My Girl," "Bring It on Home to Me," and other '60s classics. He was amazingly charismatic, and I wouldn't hesitate to call him the greatest solo subway performer I've ever seen. I would often try to find him in order to recapture that moment of spontaneous simultaneous vocal jubilation, but it was never meant to be.

Subsequent performances on this very "stage" would include the fragile old lady with the huge sunglasses who would play mind-numbingly simple but poorly executed "melodies" on her synthesizer and never receive more than occasional pity pocket change for her efforts, as well as some oddball trios featuring djembe, trumpet, and pan flute.

In other words, the stage had seen better days.

That held true until this evening when I saw a white-haired woman whisper something to tonight's troubadour. I figured I'd at least give him eight bars to prove himself before donning my headphones and walking away, so he began by playing some classically influenced arpeggios. (I DID say he was a bard.) This quickly became the intro to Stevie Nicks' "Landslide." He was thankfully not playing the Taylor Swift arrangement, so he was singing on key. To be perfectly honest, his was a fine version of the song, filled with pathos and emotion.

But then came the unexpected.

At the other end of the bench, a young guy started freestyling on top of the bard's playing. His rapping took everyone by surprise, and the platform was suddenly...well...rapt with attention toward the bizarre duet. The bard, presumably not a hip hop fan, seemed quite annoyed and tried to play louder. The white-haired woman shook her head in disappointment because this rapping was not what she had requested. Everyone else just stood there staring, waiting to see what would happen. The bard looked like the pacifist type, but he was clearly irritated and reaching his breaking point. Would he just stop playing, yell, or smash his guitar into the rapper's cranium? It was hard to get much of a read on the rapper, so I had no idea if his goals were collaborative or antagonistic, and what would he do if someone tried to stop him?

It was a tense situation, but in the midst of all this tension, some oddly beautiful music was being made. Never in a million years would I pick "Landslide" as the perfect background for hip hop, but this guy was making it work. Now I wasn't able to understand much of his lyrics, but they did seem to be positive. (Had he taken this opportunity to rap about violence, misogyny, or the size of his genitalia, it would have been rather tacky but fantastically incongruous when juxtaposed with Fleetwood Mac.) Somehow he appeared to be perfectly in sync with the song, deftly matching the bard's dynamic and tempo changes with impressive style.

The longer this went on, the less resistant everyone became. While the bard never fully embraced his rapping collaborator, by the end of the song, both the bard and the white-haired woman cracked the faintest of smiles. The beauty of collaborative music had triumphed over pessimism! The rapper calmly got up and walked away, disappearing into the shadows without acknowledgement. I dropped a buck in the bard's guitar case, the E-train arrived, and another great musical moment in subway history was in the books.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday, August 01, 2009

What the Fuck Is Wrong With You People?

As I sat at home yesterday, frantically refreshing the Doppler on, I wondered how much I really care about Soulive. I used to love this band circa 2000 and 2001, but somewhere along the way, I lost interest. It’s been so damn long that I don’t recall what drove me away, but I think it may have coincided with the moment when they stopped wearing suits on stage. Anyone who has seen my disheveled appearance knows that I’m far from a disciple of the fashion police, but I seem to recall their sound taking a different direction once the suits disappeared. They lost a little of their connection to the old school funk and veered off on a path that no longer appealed to me. Of course, this was all so long ago that I could be grossly misreading Soulive’s history. The fact remains that when it comes to music, I’m a highly judgmental sonofabitch, and when I’m faced with the embarrassment of musical riches that New York City provides on a daily basis, I’m (often unfairly) quick to the cut the cord on a band that has a couple of mediocre shows. Sometimes, it’s two strikes and you’re out.

So the question remained: Did I like Soulive enough to stand out in a deluge of rain while they would play their 10th Anniversary Celebration gig? I had been to Celebrate Brooklyn the night before for a uncharacteristically fair set from Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens and a phenomenal set from Burning Spear. It was probably the first time I’d gone to the Prospect Park Bandshell solo, and I instantly made friends while surrounded by every Jamaican living in the city of New York, all of whom made significant contributions to a cloud laced with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol that permanently hung over the lawn like the fog in the San Francisco Bay. While Thursday was fun, did I want to take the solo plunge again? Citing the rain and their fear of melting, my Nervous Nellie friends had previously made firm commitments to this show but were now withdrawing faster than a sixteen year old without protection in the backseat of a Ford Escort. For a few hours, I fell under their pessimistic spell until I finally realized that a man who lives a full-throttle lifestyle does not take nights off because of rain. No, sir, it was time to man-up and do this thing.

I didn’t arrive to the park until 9:00, and even though I pleaded with others WHO ACTUALLY LIVE WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF THE PARK to join, I was met with pathetic text excuses:

“I think it might be canceled.”

“You’re only gonna see one hour of music.”

“You might stub your toe.”

Nevertheless, I arrived to see Soulive tearing it up in a nasty way for an appreciative but small crowd. The rain had rendered the muddy lawn vacant, and the puddles on the seats caused everyone remaining to get up on their feet. This all resulted in an excellent dance-a-thon, and Soulive delivered. It had been at least six years since I’d seen a full Soulive show, and either Neal Evans has grown tremendously over that time or I have a terrible memory. In any case, his ability to mimic a bass guitar with the lefthand on his keys is now unrivaled. By the end of the show, he was laying down the most ridiculous, funked-out basslines with a hyperkinetic blazing speed that bass guitarists could only dream of matching. Guitarist Eric Krasno was a perfect foil, displaying aggressiveness and bite, and drummer Alan Evans put some dip in my hip with thumping beats. Rounding out the lineup, the Shady Horns dropped some 1970s-inflected soul into the proceedings, and guitarist John Scofield sat in and showed why he’s still a badass at 57 years of age.

Scofield and Krasno duel. - Photo by Allison Murphy Photography

The finale was Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America” jammed into Sly and The Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay,” featuring vocals from Nigel Hall, as well as Ivan Neville and Tony Hall of Dumpstaphunk, whose set I sadly missed while foolishly debating with the rain.

Nigel Hall on the vocals. - Photo by Allison Murphy Photography

Nigel Hall and Tony Hall get into it. - Photo by Allison Murphy Photography

The Grand Finale. - Photo by

Download the show at or stream it here:

I was feeling too good to quit now, and after attempting in vain to get some Park Slope friends to redeem themselves and salvage the evening, I journeyed onward to Barbes, the tiny little bar with music that’s the hidden gem of Brooklyn. Someone earlier asked me who was playing, and I responded by saying, “Does it matter?” 90% of my visits to Barbes have featured musicians I’ve never heard of before, but they’re always phenomenal. Last night was no exception.

Scott Kettner’s Forro Brass Band was holding court in the backroom, which was naturally crowded but not uncomfortably so. When I walked in, they were deep in the midst of a sweaty samba jam, and I had never seen a crowd like this at Barbes. Usually, you see a mix of people that are attentively enjoying the music, a couple of dancers, the occasional talker who was dragged there by her friends, and a hipster or two who mistakenly wandered southward from Union Hall. However, last night the backroom was a slithering pit of lithe bodies dancing salsa, cha-cha, and just undulating to the heavily addictive, pulsating percussive grooves laid down by Kettner. The horns added some brightness and flair, and guest guitarist Jesse Lenat brought a rollicking country soul feel to the ensemble. It didn’t take long before they had a whole New Orleans thang goin’ on, and this unique hybrid of secondline, Brazilian, and bouncing blues created a wild Carnival atmosphere in the backroom. The closer of “Big Leg Woman” had everyone doing a crazed strut, and the encore, which was desperately squeezed in before midnight, had us all singing on a full-throated call-and-response to “When I Lay My Burden Down.” It was a highly charged ending to a great night of music, a stellar evening that would be capped by slice from Smiling Pizza and a miraculous appearance by the ever-elusive G-train.

I only wish some of you people in Park Slope could have gotten off of your lazy asses to experience it!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"I Want To Take You Higher!" - THE Show of the Year 7.16.09

Thursday’s triple-header began at Union Square, where despite an earlier threat of rain, Buzz Universe took the stage with a radiant sun setting across them. They gradually built a large crowd and entranced many with their galloping grooves delicately seasoned with Latin spices. The gig was a lot of fun, and I would have loved to have stayed, but after 30 minutes, I needed to get downtown to Castle Clinton for Destination 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Castle Clinton is an 1812-era fort that was built to protect Lower Manhattan but was never actually attacked. After outgrowing its use as a military installation, it eventually became a beer garden, a covered opera house, and then an immigrant processing center before losing its roof while returning to original form and serving as a national park. Now the River to River concert series hosts events there to a mostly seated, polite audience.

Photo courtesy of

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, many of the city's myriad of free concerts are paying tribute to the performers of the legendary three-day Aquarian Exposition. Last night, the incredibly talented Steven Bernstein and his Millennial Territory Orchestra (along with plenty of all-star guests, such as Bernie Worrell and Vernon Reid) paid homage to Sly & The Family Stone in a thrilling 90 minute performance that nearly rocked Castle Clinton to it's nearly 200-year-old foundation.

Bernie Worrell - Photo courtesy of

Vernon Reid - Photo courtesy of

After the band made their way through an instrumental opening, we found ourselves wriggling inside "Stand." The gloves came off, and the funk was dropped in a serious way. I immediately took the advice of the lyrics and knew that sitting was no longer an option. I made my way into a roped-off area where the funked-out freaks cut loose with abandon while remaining separated from the seated folk, who looked at us with a mixture of curiosity and longing, as if they secretly wanted to join the wild animals in the cage but were too white to do so. Nevertheless, many of the heavy-assed crowd gave the band a standing ovation, and I knew that even though we were only one song in, this was going to be a stellar evening beyond compare.

"Fun" jammed straight into "M'lady," which took about 2 seconds to initiate the liftoff sequence. This was so…damn…fon-kay. Some of the baddest reeds I’ll ever hear were swirling around this gem.

Photo courtesy of

While the funkiness was fantastic, it wasn’t until Shilpa Ray took the stage that I realized we were witnessing greatness. After Bernstein reminded everyone of Sly’s famous quote “Don’t hate the black; don’t hate the white. If you get bit, hate the bite,” Ray began singing what may be the most cathartic version of “Everyday People” to be heard in the last 30 or so years. Accompanied by the ancient, hypnotic Eastern drones of her harmonium, she led the ensemble through a tremendously pensive rendition of this iconic song of togetherness. I hesitate to use these words because I think they have become little more than cliché, but I truly felt chills run up and down my spine while listening to her voice, a voice so simple and pure that it sounded like a matte finish. These lyrics were hitting home, and when a cynic like me is suddenly filled with an overwhelming rush of naïveté and love that can make you believe we can bring the whole world together--- well, that’s the power of artistic genius. The Millennial Territory Orchestra took a brilliant work, reinvented it and twisted it through the dueling prisms of modern times and archaic musical styles to add a whole new level of depth and understanding.

Shilpa Ray wailing and playing harmoninum - Photo courtesy of

That’s when I knew that this was no ordinary show. Nay, we were witnessing the Show of the Year.

Mind you, this is not a mark of exaggeration. There was a rare level of inventiveness and virtuoso musicianship on display in this show, and the results were deeply affecting everyone within earshot. Those who were seated, swayed with rapt attention, while those who stood experienced involuntary muscle spasms, as waves of kinetic energy rifled through the air.

And who the Hell takes Larry Graham’s signature funk-throttling electric basslines and divvies them up between an acoustic upright bass and a horn section while weaving in interludes laced with klezmer to yield stellar results? Steven Bernstein, that’s who!

Steven Bernstein - Photo courtesy of

There was no let up here. Every arrangement and performance of every song was nothing less than a building block in one phenomenally moving experience. Martha Wainwright delivered an over-dramatic version of “Que Sera Sera” but it was so heartfelt that we all bought into every uplifting word of it.

Martha Wainwright - Photo courtesy of

Dean Bowman brought a bafflingly broad vocal range to sing lines that were all over the scale in a jubilant “Sing a Simple Song.”

Dean Bowman - Photo courtesy of

And then came the finale.

After sitting for nearly 90 minutes, the crowd finally broke free from the chains of their chairs on “Dance to the Music.” Leaping to their feet, people sang and bounced around to the modern-day Ode to Joy. Those of us who had already been dancing took this as our cue to begin the epic full-body freakout—well, at least I did. I’m not really sure what the people around me were doing because I was in a total trance. My movements were no longer voluntary. The music of Sly Stone was commanding my central nervous system, and his lyrics of unrepentant bliss had permeated even the darkest corners of my soul. When “I Want To Take You Higher” and “Music Lover” had been weaved in, we all responded by shouting “HIGHER!” Each one was challenging Bernstein to take us to loftier heights, and he and his compatriots had just enough rocket fuel to blow that old fort to shreds.

Photo courtesy of

"I Want To Take You HIGH-ER!"
Photo courtesy of

Bernstein lifts off on the final note
Photo courtesy of

It was a simply stunning ending to a mindblowing concert. I was covered in sweat and pulsating with adrenaline. I needed more, so I quickly convinced my business manager to hop in a cab with me in a mad dash to climb nearly 100 blocks north to Lincoln Center for the last hour of the Ponderosa Stomp. We were overflowing with energy, so we engaged our poor cabbie in a bout of rapid-fire conversation and questioning that probably bordered on interrogation. He was initially scared of us, but by the end of the ride, he was talking and opening up in a way that he probably hasn’t in many years. We did our best to convince him to stop being a hermit, give up his addiction to Off-Track Betting, and get out to go see live music.

Unfortunately, what we saw of the Ponderosa Stomp was a bit of a letdown. We were far too wired to appreciate William Bell’s ballad-heavy set, including “You Don’t You Miss Your Water.” It didn’t help that I kept thinking William Bell was Archie Bell, expecting a “Tighten Up” that never arrived. While the show ended on a high note with The Bobbettes’ “I Shot Mr. Lee,” it really just paled in comparison to what we had experienced at Castle Clinton. The disappointment was inevitable because once you’ve been to the mountaintop, there’s nowhere to go but down.

It may seem ridiculous, but I cannot throw enough ebullient praise in the direction of Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra. Their show had a little something to please everyone from the jazz snobs to the fist-pumping lovers of shredding guitars to the indie rock whores to the klezmer-addicted Hassidim to the funk-worshipping lapsed Jews. Over a day later, I remain convinced that those in attendance witnessed the show of the year. As a matter of fact, I will publicly challenge anyone who attended that show to prove me wrong. I am adamant about the unprecedented level of inspired wizardry that took place on that stage, and if you want to debate me on this, go for it. I’ll just warn you now that you had better have your shit together because if you haven’t noticed, I feel kinda strongly about this subject, and I will come prepared with full color charts and graphs in tow.

You had better accept it or you betta bring it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Consider the Thursday Night Tripleheader

Dear Friends,

July finds us deep in the throws of a plague of phenomenal music. It is absolutely criminal that we must face so many daunting choices for entertainment each evening, and so much of it is devilishly free. I abhor this situation, and I’m tired of suffering from FOMS (Fear Of Missing Something). This Thursday features an extraordinarily cruel spate of options, and I feel as though the only way to combat this conundrum is by attempting to see as much as humanly possible. Therefore, I invite you to entertain the Thursday Night Tripleheader.

The best part of this exciting endeavor is that the music won’t cost you one red cent. Sadly, we’re only scratching the surface of Thursday’s free musical delights, and if anyone has devised an inexpensive way to stop time, please get in touch because I’d also like to catch Man Man at East River Park, Kronos Quartet with Luminescent Orchestrii at Celebrate Brooklyn, as well as Credence Clearwater Revisited, Mountain, and John Sebastian at Asser Levy Seaside Park in Coney Island.

But I digress…back to the tripleheader at hand.

Any successful tripleheader begins with a plan and advance scouting, so if you follow this schedule, all your Thursday evening dreams will come true:

5:00 PM – Get way downtown (or send a proxy on your behalf) to Castle Clinton, where tickets will be distributed for that evening’s Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra’s tribute to Sly & the Family Stone. I don’t know how long it will take for these tickets to be distributed, but the venue only holds about 750.

6:00 PM – Get thee up to Union Square, where Freaks’ fav Buzz Universe will be headlining Summer in the Square for an hour set of Latin-tinged, butt-shakin’ grooves.

6:35 PM – Depart Union Square with expediency and get on the 4/5 to Bowling Green. This should get us to the show just in time.

7:00 PM – Arrive at Castle Clinton for Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra’s tribute to Sly & the Family Stone. Yeah, we’ll be in the back, but that’s fine because we’ll want to dance. If you want to sit down during a Sly & The Family Stone Tribute, please do not consider doing the Thursday Night Tripleheader, rather you should go straight to the city morgue because you are probably dead.

8:30ish PM – The show ends. We have grooved with the best of ‘em, but we’re just getting warmed up. Unfortunately, we have no time to socialize, chit-chat, or even wave goodbye. We are on a mission, and we need to make like Christopher Cross and run…run like the wind! We’ll be getting our asses uptown to Lincoln Center post-haste. Hopstop says both the 1 train and a cab will each take 36 minutes, so we’ll gauge the weather, consult our astrologists, and decide on a transportation method and GO, BABY GO!

9:00ish PM – We arrive at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Swing to catch the last hour of the Ponderosa Stomp’s presentation of Get Down! This bill features some funky-ass performers, including William Bell, Harvey Scales, and The Bobettes, with The Bo-Keys. Do you doubt the awesome funk power of this lineup? Well, after you listen to the clips on this link, ye shall doubt no more:

10:00 PM – The show ends. We just did 3 shows in 4 hours and traveled all over Manhattan. But it’s only 10:00… Could there be a quadruple header in our future?....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Birthday a la Solitude

When you tell people that you're celebrating your birthday by dining solo, the reaction ranges from "That's so sad!" to "That's so awesome!" Many thought there was a good chance I'd end the evening either in my bathtub with my wrists slit or sitting at home with a smile on my face. Because I have an aversion to the sight of my own blood, I opted for the latter.

While my birthday fell on a Wednesday, it was only appropriate to celebrate the night before on Fat Tuesday. After Ryan and Sarah treated me to an excellent dinner at Vynl that included a deliciously rich Black Truffle Mac 'n Cheese special (apparently, this recipe was the winner on Top Chef Season One), a gaggle of my closest friends gathered for a great Nola-style throwdown at Sullivan Hall featuring The Funky Fritters and Bill Malchow & The Go-Cup All-Stars (with a 4 piece horn section and backup singers!) playing the classic album, Dr. John's Gumbo. I had a blast and got down and funked it up with my good buddy John Jameson by my side. Amazingly, I avoided drinking too much (a first) and woke up in my bed instead of on the living room floor under the coffee table (yet another first).

I decided that Wednesday's celebration would be a little more subdued. Upon reading that some of the best cassoulet in the city is served at Jarnac, I had found my target. I wanted to go by myself because I find that the rare, solo dinner is the best way to appreciate what you're eating. The distractions, needs, and complications of others are removed, and all that remains are you and your delectable meal. Dining solo gives you all the time in the world to slowly savor and focus on every bite of your food. (If you think this is a pretentious load of bullshit, piss off! It's my party, and I'll cry in my food if I want to!)

Jarnac is in a quaint little room in the West Village, just below the obnoxious Meat-Packing District. As soon as I entered, I was greeted warmly by the jovial staff, especially the fun-loving owner, Tony. Including the owner, a team of four people waited on the tables and tended bar interchangeably, everyone constantly shifting responsibilities and no one claiming specific tables as their own territory. I'm sure this cannot be the only restaurant that approaches service in this logical yet casual way, but this was the first time I'd experienced it. Everyone was so warm and friendly that I really felt at home the entire time.

Initially, I thought I'd be good and forgo the alcohol for a nice, restrained meal. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was a dumb idea because the words “restrained” and “Brian Ferdman” do not belong in the same sentence. Upon considering that all three of my readers seem to be disappointed when I write about anything that isn’t completely gluttonous, I decided to throw caution to the wind because you only turn 33 once. I started with a French 75, a cocktail that I first became a fan of in New Orleans. Jarnac’s version mixed the standard cognac and champagne, but there was more than the normal amount of citrus in it. Normally, a French 75 tends to be a sweeter drink, but this creation was quite tart and a refreshing way to begin the meal.

I made a nice choice with the Roasted Bosc Pear, Red and Gold Beets with Forme d’Ambert Dressing. This was a well-composed dish, as the flavors seemed to reveal themselves in shades of one another. First you had the sweetness of what I believe were candied pecans. Then things scaled back a tad with the sweet roasted pear, which was followed by the mellower sweetness of the red beets and the semi-sweet but slightly savory gold beets. Put all of this on some peppery arugula with a little chive, lightly toss on some mild cheese dressing, and you got yourself a winner.

For the main course, I went with the much-vaunted Cassoulet along with a side of Carmelized Baby Brussel Sprouts and a glass of Côte du Rhone. This cassoulet was a dynamite concoction, and there’s a reason why it takes the chef three days to prepare it. Duck confit, pork cheeks, and some truly stellar, savory pork sausage all sat in a bubbling hot dish with plenty of white beans, tomato, herbs, and garlic. It was a mouthwateringly brilliant combination and certainly the best cassoulet I’ve ever eaten.

The baby Brussel sprouts provided a nice bitter contrast. The carmelization was essential to their flavor, although I have to admit that I found their texture to be a little mushy. I’m not sure if this lack of density can be attributed to their young age and small size or the fact that they might not have been parboiled and shocked prior to sautéing.

Cassoulet demolished. (Inexplicably, my boss always says that it's impolite to finish all of the food on your plate. She says you should always leave something, so I felt generous and left a bone.)

Upon finishing all of that food, I was more than full, but a waitress was really twisting my arm to order dessert. Finally, I chose something that seemed small and wouldn’t put me to sleep—Vanilla Gelato with a Shot of Espresso. The waiters delivered the dish with their back to the table, waiting until the last second to reveal the candle nestled in a small cookie on the plate. The dessert was another winning combo, as the waitress poured the espresso on top of the gelato to create the coffee equivalent of a root beer float. It was a great finale and was further enhanced by some complimentary champagne. This champagne had a sweeter, peach flavor and was made with Semillon grapes. I believe it was called Clos du Somethingfrench. As soon as I’d finished my glass, Tony immediately filled it up again, and had I not insisted on the check, I’d probably be still be there, on my 17th glass and thinking about sleeping on the floor.

Much has been made about New York restaurants rolling out the red carpet in an attempt to persuade guests to come back again soon. I don’t know if that’s what was happening at Jarnac, but I really don’t care. French restaurants aren’t typically lighthearted, fun places to eat, but this staff seemed to be having a great time, which naturally rubbed off on the customers. The synthesis of well-crafted food and friendly service certainly made for a fantastic birthday meal and effectively ensured I will return to Jarnac in the near future.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some People REALLY Hate Me

A very funny thing happened on Friday night.

I went to Banjo Jim’s to meet my friend, Portia. (NOTE: The names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty.) We were there to see Adrienne Young, backed by members of Railroad Earth, including Tim Carbone, John Skehan, Johnny Grubb, and Andy Goessling, a conglomeration that is often referred to as The Shockenaw Mountain Boys. It was an awesome show, and I told Portia that I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen that many virtuosos in such a tiny room. When the band started, the joint was filled (around 25 people), but it was comfortably filled. By the time the set ended, around 10-15 more people had arrived, which forced the manager to turn on the air conditioner…on a night when it was 30 degrees outside! Nevertheless, there was tremendous energy in the room, as everyone was whoopin’ and hollerin’ after every blazing run down the frets by the Railroad Earth guys, who were really on fire.

It was also a rare chance for New York folk to see these guys in a different element, particularly Andy Goessling, who normally plays the role of “the quiet one.” In fact, during soundcheck, they asked Andy to say something on his mic and “keep talking,” which caused a guy to turn to me and say, “Who are they kidding? He hasn’t said anything in four years!” Something must have been in the air last night because Andy suddenly became very Biden-esque, loquaciously grabbing the mic during tuning, telling jokes that weren’t very funny, but we all gave him a big laugh anyway because it was funny to see him play the role of comic relief.

Somewhat amazingly, the guys were not really familiar with Adrienne and had only rehearsed with her for a few hours prior to the gig. Nevertheless, they culled together a setlist of her originals and some choice covers, including a thrilling bluegrass rendition of “Midnight Rider.”

Adrienne played clawhammer banjo, a style of playing that you rarely hear these days. She also shifted off to play some snare with brushes for a number. Her voice had an earthy twang, and it was obvious that she writes some great songs. Could she instrumentally hang with The Shockenaw Mountain Boys? Honestly, not many people can because their talents and skills reside on another plane. However, she added nice texture to the sound, and her singing and compositions gave them a launching pad for their swirling solos. Her show closer, “Jump the Broom,” was especially fine, and the entire bar was going nuts after its wild (and seemingly impromptu) breakdown. There was no way that the musicians were escaping without one more, and the loudest 40 people in New York City made sure they would play an encore. “Ragtime Annie Lee” is probably my favorite encore that I’ve seen from Railroad Earth because I love how they keep ramping up the tempo to truly insane levels. Such was the case Friday night, as they took they song to a frenetic pace…and then continued to kick it up several more notches. Ms. Young’s eyeballs started to bulge out of her head with every tempo increase, and when she finally realized the song was ending, she had this hysterically funny look of relief on her face. It was priceless.

Afterwards, Portia and I set out to get some dinner. Cassius, a friend of hers whom I had just met, said he would join us in a bit, so we walked over to Mercadito and put our name on the list.

Sidenote: Thanks to a delectable lunch at Artichoke Basille, I was still rather full. I had been wanting to visit the fabled pizzeria in a space the size of a broom closet for some time now and was thrilled to try both their crab slice and their artichoke-spinach slice. The crab was deliciously luscious and rich, and the artichoke-spinach was like having a huge terrine of creamy artichoke-spinach dip on a big, thick slice. If you like those flavors, you will love this slice. Thankfully, I do! I will say it’s a pain in the ass to eat because the slice is so fresh and lava hot, and it’s loaded with toppings that slosh around everywhere. This is no high-end joint, so if you get a little messy, that’s okay. The prices ($4 for each slice) are a real bargain because the artichoke-spinach slice is hearty enough to qualify as a meal for most people. I also have to mention the friendly reg-u-lah guy vibe the men who work there exude. I will definitely be back.

Meanwhile, back in the recent past…

While waiting for a table at the tiny and cramped Mercadito, we went across the street for a drink at Rue B, a charming little spot with welcoming décor, fine cocktails, and an inoffensive if not noteworthy jazz trio. We had some fancy but not very memorable drinks before Cassius joined us. Being a generous lad, he graciously bought me a margarita.

We then went over to Mercadito, where we ordered margaritas from a very attractive and helpful bartender. Since I’m a fan of good tequila, Cassius asked for my recommendation. I suggested he opt for Herradura Blanco, which is exceptionally smooth and blends well in margaritas. I opted for a Pepino Margarita, which subtly combined cucumber, lime, and chile de arbol into one fantastically refreshing concoction. Portia ordered the Jamaica Margarita with hibiscus, lime, and orange juice. For dinner, we all split an order of smoky, house-made chorizo and a large house salad with corn, jicama, queso fresco, and a tasty chipotle vinaigrette. Portia ordered the Corn Masa Quesadillas, which were more like little Mexican calzones. Cassius ordered the Carne Tacos, loaded with succulent rosemary grilled steak, potato-rajas fondue, and avocado-tomatillo salsa. His was an excellent choice. However, we universally agreed that I hit the jackpot when I went with the Estilo Baja Tacos, which featured beer-battered mahi mahi, Mexican-style cole slaw, and chipotle aioli. I only chose to eat at Mercadito last night after reading this article rating it as having served the best fish tacos in NYC, and even though the fish tacos I ordered were not the same as the ones featured in the review, they were so light and airy and had a wonderful blend of juicy flavors. I savored each and every bite.

After dinner, I returned from the restroom, and Cassisus asked, “So Brian, are you going to write a review of the show for”

I immediately asked him how he knew I wrote for that site, and he just sat there smiling. I then asked Portia if she had told him who I was and what I did, and she said she hadn’t.

“You’re Brian Ferdman. You know Rainbow Brutus, right?”

Well yes, and yes, but that didn’t explain how he knew my last name without anyone telling him. I began to get a little uncomfortable but also incredibly curious as to where this was headed. He asked if I had seen any of the recent Phil Lesh and Friends shows, and I told him that I saw one, and it was mostly okay with a stellar ending, but the band would be better served with a dominant lead guitarist. He replied that he had seen all of the recent Phil shows and then asked, “So you wrote that review of the S.O.B.’s show that was posted on, right?”


Now I knew what was happening. That particular Phil show was one of the worst concerts I have ever seen. It was disjointed, uncomfortable, and unprofessional, and naturally, I wrote one of the harshest reviews I’ve ever written in response. This royally pissed off the collective of sycophantic apologists who reside at, people who think we should be eternally “grateful” for every note of music, praising everything we hear. You know, I not-so-humbly disagree with their philosophy and believe that if every piece of art is praised, the praise is worthless. I call it like I see it, and the brilliant moments receive ebullient praise while the horrendous experiences are described as such. It’s called being honest and fair, but many feel that any sort of criticism is unfair.

I’ve been known to enjoy a good argument or two, so I tried to reason with Cassius, who was now very drunk and close to foaming at the mouth. Not surprisingly, he was not interested in my rationale and laid into me on a variety of topics, such as my complaining about the ticket price (I had said that the $50 show made Phil & Friends the most expensive bar band in America), the fact that I like Warren Haynes (guilty as charged, no apology necessary), and the notion that I’m a Trey “Anastahsio” (sic) and Phish apologist. On the latter front, he deridingly asked if I was going to Hampton, and I told him that I didn’t even try because I think Phish won’t sound very good until they get their feet wet again. My response didn’t seem to faze him, as he went on a rant that involved the words “fuckin’ Phish” several times. Why is it that people who dislike Phish are always filled with such vitriol?

Circling back to my comments on the Phil show, he actually said, "YOU'RE the reason why Phil can't play small clubs anymore!" Seeing as how that's a totally absurd statement, I tried to argue that little ol' me has absolutely no effect on the venues where bands play, and why on Earth would Phil not be able to sell tickets to a 400-person venue when he just successfully sold plenty of tickets to a fourteen-night run in a 2,500 person venue?

However, he wasn't going to let me talk. He had waited a long time for this moment, and it was his time to shine.

"Your review was on the Internet-- it was seen by thousands of people!"

I hate to break his heart, but an average of seven people visit my blog daily; four of them are looking to pimp their junk technology website from Southeast Asia, two want to sell me a mail-order bride from Ukraine, and one is a deposed Nigerian prince who wants to deposit a large sum of money in my bank account. On the rare day when I actually post something, I pimp it to my friends and family, and about 50 of them click on it, mostly skimming and looking for pictures. Generally, only one person reads the entire long-winded entry. (Thanks, Mom!)

"Everyone listens to what you have to say, and all you do is rain on everyone’s parade."

Not true. The deposed Nigerian prince thinks I’m a positive and kind-hearted person, and that’s why he comes to me for assistance.

"No one cares what you have to say," he continued, completely contradicting everything he had previously said. Then, while leaving the jaws of the friendly lesbian couple to our left agape, stood up and shouted, "Everyone thinks Brian Ferguson (sic) is just a pompous, self-absorbed asshole, and Rainbow Brutus thinks so, too!"

Crestfallen, I looked upward and whispered, "Et tu, Bruté?"

And in a drunken, zigzagging flash, he raced out the door.

Wow. I was truly amazed by what had just transpired. Then I realized that I have finally made it, because I have my very own stalker. Now I know what it's like to be Paula Abdul! Knowing your stalker thinks you are a cold-hearted snake and picking up on all of that negative vibeology really improves the promise of a new day.

Ironically, in desperately trying to meet me face-to-face for over a year to tell me that I have a big ego, dear Cassius only served to swell my ego to epic proportions. Now that I have my own stalker, I am completely and totally full of myself, and I have the biggest head you've ever seen. Mom and Dad, I'm sorry that I won't be home for Thanksgiving because I can't fit my noggin through the front door.

I've always thought that my opinion on music is ultimately worthless to others because when it comes to art, the only opinion that matters is your own. I’ve just been writing these long-winded pieces to amuse myself, but now Cassius has made me realize that the influence of this little blog is rather far-reaching. Yes, my friends, I have truly arrived and my Intelligent Rectum is a global force to be reckoned with. Since I am apparently all-powerful, I’ve decided to use my powers for good. Therefore, I am officially finished with writing about music, food, and drink and have decided to focus on global affairs. Obviously, Cassius would back me up on the fact that if there is anyone who wields enough clout to solve the world’s problems, it’s me.

Consider this your warning, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because my Intelligent Rectum is coming for you.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys at Drom 10-7-08

Hot damn! This show was great!

It was my first visit to Drom, and I'll definitely go back. I've wanted to visit this club that specializes in world music (typically of the Eastern European variety) for about a year now, and I’m happy to report that it’s very nice inside with good sound. There is a decent amount of open space to sit or stand at the bar (far more room than a place like the Blue Note), but the ideal view is from the tables, which carry a $20 minimum that is easily met with their fine array of tapas. Senor Hochstat and I made this journey, and amongst the small plates we shared, I'd definitely recommend the Deep-Fried Okra with Sea Salt and Lemon and the Spanish Chorizo in Turkish Chili Pepper Sauce. The sauce was so damn tasty that I lapped it up with what must have been half a loaf of bread. I also had a Turkish beer, Effe, which was like a more flavorful pilsner. Believe it or not, “flavorful pilsner” is not an oxymoron.

Clarinetist Margo Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys (Barry Mitterhoff, Kenny Kosek, Joe Selly, and Marty Confurius) came on stage around 8:30 and the fairly crowded house was treated to a phenomenal blend of klezmer and bluegrass. Others have mined the "Jewgrass" hybrid territory before (offhand, Hypnotic Clambake as well as Andy Statman and David Grisman's collaborations come to mind), but there was something different about this lineup, and I think it was Leverett's clarinet. Capable of oozing Eastern European sorrow and klezmerized unbridled joy, it was a great treat to really hear her delve into the traditional bluegrass numbers, such as "Lee Highway Blues." While there, she fit in perfectly. Her sound was very different than other reed players who’ve worked in this genre, forgoing the emotionally detached and smooth styles of Paul McCandless or Jeff Coffin and moving more toward an imitation of a mandolin or fiddle. I don’t know the term for it (I’m sure someone can correct me), but she was able to duplicate that sound mandolin and fiddle players make when they’re accompanying a soloist by just plucking on the upbeats. It was very cool.

There were special guests galore, including vocalist Jen Larsen from local bluegrass band Straight Drive, who sounded nice on “Lil’ Moses,” Klezmatics drummer David Licht, who was ripping it up all night long in a unique style that relied solely upon brushwork, and banjo machine Tony Trischka, who brought an amazing level of virtuosity and tasteful fills to the ensemble. Of course, everyone was buzzed to see Jorma Kaukonen, who had taught a class upstate earlier that day and rode in a car to come to this gig, only to immediately make the 3.5 hour trip back afterward. It was hilarious to watch the musicians fumble around and trip over each other on the tiny stage, as they attempted to untangle a web of powerstrips and microphone cables in order to get Jorma plugged in. I believe his first song was called “Electric Kugel,” and with him heavily in the mix, this became some sort of weird psychedelic kosher cowboy odyssey. He switched to acoustic for the next and last song of the set, which was more of a straight-ahead pickin’ number.

This really was a special show, and I can’t thank Gayle Kaufman enough for bringing it to my attention. I gave their new album, 2nd Avenue Square Dance, a quick listen this morning, and it’s great. It, too, is loaded with guests. In addition to those musicians mentioned above, the album boasts Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Bryn Bright, Hazel Dickens, and many more on mostly lively instrumental tracks. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of EITHER bluegrass or klezmer because more than likely, you will become a fan of both genres by the time you finish hearing it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who's in for Oktoberfest @ The Beer Garden?

Is anyone interested in going to Oktoberfest at the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall in Astoria?

Because this is Queens, i.e. the land of no common sense, Oktoberfest is held in September, more specifically, Saturday, September 27th at noon.

I've gone the past two years, and I've gotten quite intoxicated each time. It happens.

There's a $10 cover charge, and I would strongly suggest arriving at 11AM (it opens at noon), as a line will form to get inside. It's vital to be there early to not only grab a table but also to get those coveted pitchers. If I remember correctly (and considering how much I drank, that's debatable), the pitchers of Czech, German, and Belgian beer were rather affordable. It's also important to get there early so that you're tired of drinking and want to leave before the fratboys in plastic lederhosen take over the joint.

The Beer Garden gets so crowded these days that Oktoberfest seems to be my only annual appearance there. If you're ever going to visit it, it's probably the day to go because not only does everyone get smashed, but there are also oom-pah bands...and lasers...okay, maybe not lasers...but there will be people drunkenly dancing, which is just like lasers...except that it's not.

In any case, they limit the number of people they allow inside, so it doesn't get too crowded and the beer lines are manageable. Last year, they served roasted pig and kielbasa with dumplings. For vegetarians, I think they had something exciting like potatoes. Don't look at me, chief. I didn't create the cuisine of Eastern Europe. If you want something green, they might have rotten potatoes. Are you enticed yet?

Anyway, here's the tentative plan:

11:00AM - Arrive at Beer Garden and get in line. If coming from foreign boroughs, be sure to avoid arriving fashionably late and pissing off your friends who have waited all day long.

11:01AM - People from foreign boroughs complain about their commute, exaggerating how long it took them to get there on the train, bitching about having to travel "all the way to Queens."

11:02AM - People from Queens seethe internally towards Brian for inviting narcissists from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

11:08AM - Someone has to pee.

11:25AM - Someone is late driving in from Brooklyn and calls to complain about how confusing the streets of Queens are, despite the fact that Astoria is arranged with far more common sense than hallowed Park Slope.

11:40AM - To break up the mundane routine of waiting, Brian tells an inappropriate story that he thinks is hilarious.

11:41AM - Awkward silence.

11:59AM - Someone who believes Manhattan is the center of the universe arrives, bitching about the trains, even though everyone knows that she/he just woke up and got on a train 25 minutes ago.

12:01PM - Our large group secures a table.

12:02PM - We begin drinking pitchers of Hoegaarden, Spaten, Pilsner Urquell, etc.

12:03PM - Nicky Ray spills beer on someone.

12:59PM - Brian inspects roasted pig on a spit, declares it to be inferior, but states, "I will eat it anyway."

1:10PM - The first band ends, and a bus load of tourists from Texas leaves. Everyone is puzzled as to why/how they got here.

1:11PM - As the Texan bus pulls away, a hipster slaps an "Obama For Change" sticker on it. Victory is declared.

1:15PM - Fox News reports that crazed Obama fanatics are vandalizing vehicles of McCain supporters across America.

1:16PM - The McCain campaign declares the hipster's actions to be sexist and an obvious example that Obama wants to raise taxes on the middle class and teach Kindergarteners to have sex.

1:17PM - Republicans everywhere chant "Drill, baby, drill!" for no apparent reason.

1:30PM - Food is consumed.

1:45PM - Beer is consumed at a much faster pace.

2:30PM - Several individuals in our party are tempted to get up and dance the polka.

2:35PM - Several individuals in our party realize that their motor-skills have declined significantly.

2:40PM - After watching the first dancers fall down, several individuals in our party feel relieved that they decided to sit this one out.

2:50PM - Dancers start dropping like flies; torn MCLs are arriving like presents on Christmas.

3:00PM - J-R pukes under table then brags about how he will run a marathon tomorrow in record time.

3:15PM - Fratboys arrive and begin applying plastic lederhosen.

3:25PM - Our party has seen enough.

3:30PM - We stagger out in a zig-zag motion, singing theme songs to 1970s television shows in harmonic chord structures that have yet to be invented.

3:40PM - Someone reminds Gerrard that he's not allowed to walk around on the streets of Astoria in the daytime without pants.

3:42PM - Brian attempts to tear down No Parking sign.

3:43PM - Brian gives up, realizing that not only is he no longer in college, but he is also no longer strong enough to pull said sign out of the ground.

3:44PM - Brian weeps inside.

4:00PM - We arrive at a festive Greek restaurant in Astoria, perhaps Zenon Taverna or any other place that is willing to accommodate a phalanx of drunken people.

5:30PM - To the relief of the restaurant staff, we leave without breaking any more than 9 plates and 7 glasses.

5:48PM - Brian falls asleep on couch, waking up in puddle of drool hours later.


Who's in?