Archive for December, 2009

toast of the nation 2009/2010

the bad plus: pianist ethan iverson, drummer dave king and bassist reid anderson. photo by john christenson.

the bad plus: pianist ethan iverson, drummer dave king and bassist reid anderson. photo by john christenson.

One is to hard pressed to offer an evening by the radio as recommended entertainment for New Year’s Eve. But National Public Radio has long been reaching in earnest to jazz fans around the country with live concert broadcasts that make a very good case for staying in as the year concludes.

At the very least, NPR’s Toast of the Nation, which will be carried regionally on WEKU-FM, bids us to check the airwaves from whatever port your New Year’s Eve activities take you tonight.

Here’s the lineup of outstanding live radio jazz on tap for Toast of the Nation:

+ 8 p.m.: Israeli born tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Anat Cohen and her quartet from the Performance Center of the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

+ 9:30 p.m.: Guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli performing his Dear Mr. Sinatra program from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

+ 11 p.m.: The Bad Plus with original trio works and a variety of vintage and recent standards from The Village Vanguard in New York.

+ 12:15 a.m.: New Orleans trumpeter and “cultural ambassador” Irvin Mayfield from The Dakota in Minneapolis.

+ 1:30 a.m.: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy honoring the music of Cab Calloway and more from the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

critic's pick 104

December 21. For much of the world, that translates into four days and counting until Christmas. But if you live in Baltimore, it this year became Frank Zappa Day – a posthumous honor bequeathed by the city that served as the birthplace of the great guitarist, composer and social critic.

But for the rest of us, buried as we were in 11th hour holiday stressfests, Frank Zappa Day seemed a somewhat distant celebration. But then again, the day also saw the release of a wonderful archival recording titled philly ’76 that highlights one of the least chronicled phases of the great Zappa’s touring career. Well, Happy Frank Zappa Day after all.

Recorded at The Spectrum (which closed, oddly enough, in October), the performance making up philly ’76 was given a mere nine days after Zappa’s Zoot Allures album was released. It matches him with a fearsome sextet (a vastly smaller unit than many of Zappa’s touring bands) that included future prog-pop stylists Eddie Jobson, Patrick O’ Hearn and Terry Bozzio (on keyboards, bass and drums, respectively). The show was also part of the first tour to feature longtime Zappa stage foil and co-guitarist Ray White, as well as a young gospel-based singer by the name Bianca Odin who is a catalyst for much of the jocularity on philly ’76.

Odin translates the murky 1973 rocker Dirty Love into a bit of Sly Stone style funk pumped up to near disco levels by Bozzio. A similar sense of sass dominates the vocal dervishes that drive the Zoot Allures joyride Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station.

Needless to say, Zappa himself is clearly the point of fascination here. His lighter moments, brushed with cynicism as they are, become almost vaudevillian, as in a spoken reverie about God’s “first mistake” (The Poodle Lecture) and the 1970 rock ‘n’ roll union manifesto Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink. And then there is the cover of the 1957 Cadets doo-wop hit Stranded in the Jungle that finds Zappa and his funky choristers in full song and dance mode before toppling headfirst into the Zoot Allures pop-soul of Find Her Finer.

For many, though, the strength of any Zappa live set hinges on the quality and quantity of guitarwork. On philly ’76 we get 19 glorious minutes of Black Napkins. Zappa’s introduction about playing the piece days earlier on The Mike Douglas Show suggests more levity. But what follows is a slow, solemn and meditative groove along with a headspinning solo by Jobson on violin before Zappa picks up the guitar and sends the tune to the heavens.

OK, so Dec. 21 has past. And we don’t live in Baltimore. But spend some serious time with philly ’76 and any day can be Frank Zappa Day.

(philly ’76 is available primarily through mail order. For information, go to

Viacom comes ’round to ‘Dance 360’.(Dance 360)(Brief Article)

Daily Variety February 17, 2004 | Oei, Lily Viacom Station Groups have picked up competitive hip-hop dance show “Dance 360” and skedded it for a fall bow.

In the show, dancers battle each other to win the approval of an audience seated in the round. Half-hour strip will be hosted by Kel Mitchell (“Keenan and Kel”) and actor-rapper Fredo Starr (“Moesha”). see here keenan and kel

Produced by Hat to the Back Prods., “Dance 360” was developed for Viacom’s UPN stations and L.A. independent station KCAL, which also will carry the show. website keenan and kel

“Throughout the last couple of years we’ve been looking to infuse our UPN stations with fresh, original programming,” said Dennis Swanson, exec VP and chief operating officer of Viacom Television Stations Group, “and we’re confident ‘Dance 360’ will strike a chord with our target demographic.” Distributor Paramount Domestic Television is aiming for young adult viewers in early fringe.

Show is exec produced by Claude Brooks and Ralph Farquhar.

Oei, Lily

on tv: the 2009 kennedy center honors

kennedy center honors 2009. standing: robert deniro, bruce springsteen, mel brooks. seated: grace bumbry, dave brubeck. photo by ron sachs/getty.

kennedy center honors 2009. standing: robert deniro, bruce springsteen and mel brooks. seated: grace bumbry and dave brubeck. photo by ron sachs/getty.

One of the few non-sports related TV highlights during the dead week between Christmas and New Year’s is the annual Kennedy Center Honors. Taped at a ceremony held during the first week of December with the President of the United States presiding, the Honors are awarded for lifetime achievement in the performing arts.

In doing so, there is at least one exemplary tribute given to the honorees that makes the broadcast worth watching. Last year’s highlight, Bettye LaVette’s torch-like revision of The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me is going to be tough to beat. But the extraordinary caliber of this year’s honorees should trigger some fine follow-ups.

This year’s Kennedy Center Honors airs at 9 tonight on CBS. Piggyback it to the ESPN2 broadcast of the 7 p.m. UK/Hartford game and you have a pretty fine evening of home entertainment at hand. Just the thing for a winter night.

Here the artists being celebrated at tonight’s broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors.

+ Bruce Springsteen, 60 – “The Boss.” Though he is the youngest of the honorees, Springsteen’s storied rock and roll career is nearly 38 years old. Look for tributes by Jon Stewart, Ron Kovic, Ben Harper, Jennifer Nettles, John Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge, Eddie Vedder and Sting.

+ Robert DeNiro, 66 – The Oscar winning film actor famous for Raging Bull, The Dear Hunter, Taxi Driver and scores of uncompromisingly dramatic movies. Look for tributes by Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton and Sharon Stone.

+ Grace Bumbry, 72 – The landmark mezzo-soprano who broke down barriers for African-American vocalists in the world of opera. Ironically, Bumbry performed at the very first Kennedy Center Honors ceremony as part of a tribute to the legendary soprano Marian Anderson. Look for tributes by Aretha Franklin, Simon Estes and Angela Gheorghiu.

+ Mel Brooks, 83 – The veteran comic who created the sidesplitting films and musicals The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Look for tributes by Carl Reiner, Jack Black, Frank Langella, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beach and Martin Short.

+ Dave Brubeck, 89 – The jazz pianist who is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking Time Out album. Look for tributes by Herbie Hancock, a quintet featuring Bill Charlap, Miguel Zenon, Jon Faddis, Christian McBride and Bill Stewart, the U.S. Army Field Band’s Jazz Ambassadors and sons Darius, Chris, Matthew and Dan Brubeck.

This year’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony was held in Washington on Dec. 6 – Dave Brubeck’s 89th birthday.

the top albums of 2009

It tells you something. When the top four selling albums of 2009 according to iTunes turn out to be 2008 releases (records by Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga and the first Twilight soundtrack), you start suspecting that this hasn’t exactly been the most remarkable year for contemporary music.

But there were delights – often smaller, less obvious ones. In fact, when compiling an annual critic’s pick list of the best albums of the year, there were enough leftovers to make the list an even 20. Among those missing the final cut were fine recordings by Son Volt, St. Vincent, Elvis Costello, David Sylvian, John Doe and the Sadies, Heartless Bastards, PJ Harvey and John Parish, The Flatlanders and Lyle Lovett.

But here is what was won out – an extraordinary pack I’m proud to call my Top 10 album list for 2009. And for once, the picks are presented in no particular order. They all stand on the same high ground.

allen toussaint: the bright mississippi

allen toussaint: the bright mississippi

+ Allen Toussaint: The Bright Mississippi – On this Joe Henry-produced recording, the roots, blues and jazz elegance of the mighty Toussaint’s piano voice are placed front and center. Inspiration from his native New Orleans still abounds. But so does an instrumental tone that can only come from a learned pop elder.

bela fleck: throw down your heart

bela fleck: throw down your heart

+ Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart – In tracing the roots of the banjo back to African shores, Fleck has designed a world music overview of often stunning depth. With help from such African pioneers as Toumani Diabate, Vusi Mahlasela and Oumou Sangare, Fleck’s search for musical heritage becomes a joyous cultural adventure.

nels cline: coward

nels cline: coward

+ Nels Cline: Coward A one-man-band guitar escapade with acoustic moments that recall such master composer/stylists as Ralph Towner (Prayer Wheel), jagged electric jaunts reminiscent of Thurston Moore (the aptly named Thurston Road) and a compositional sweep that is nothing short of orchestral.

rosanne cash: the list

rosanne cash: the list

+ Rosanne Cash: The List – The story goes that the 12 songs on this album were pulled from a much larger list compiled by Cash’s storied father as a primer of essential music for any aspiring country singer. The younger Cash takes on the lesson with an honest, unforced vocal command and an endearing sense of country-pop faith.

jon hassell: last night the moon...

jon hassell: last night the moon...

+ Jon Hassell: Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street Trumpeter Hassell’s newest  “fourth world music” venture embraces fascinating ambience. The trumpet speaks in short, often abrupt outbursts colored by violin and electronics. The resulting music is indefinably warm and wondrous.

wilco: wilco (the album)

wilco: wilco (the album)

+ Wilco: Wilco (the album) Match a library of pop smarts, from Jeff Tweedy’s world weary meditations to nicely aloof ensemble rockers, with the cunning musicianship of drummer (and University of Kentucky) alum Glenn Kotche and guitarist Nels Cline and you have Wilco’s loosest and most blissfully summery album to date.

hem: twelfth night

hem: twelfth night

+ Hem: Twelfth Night – This is a stylistic but not geographic departure for Brooklyn folk-popsters Hem. Instead of more song oriented fare, the ensemble goes Celtic to provide a merry soundtrack for last summer’s Central Park production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A delightful, time-tripping pop surprise.

joe henry: blood from stars

joe henry: blood from stars

+ Joe Henry: Blood From Stars – Producer Henry turns back to his own music to combine the rootsy authority of T Bone Burnett, the pop circus surrealism of Tom Waits and a lyrical romantic streak all his own. He then augments the mix with a nocturnal, noir-like jazz accent. Needless to say, nothing last year sounded as original as Blood From Stars.

steve earle: townes

steve earle: townes

+ Steve Earle: Townes The roots Earle shares with the mentoring Texas songsmith Townes Van Zandt are vast. But the magic of Townes is that it ultimately sounds very much like an Earle album, with Van Zandt’s torn characters done up with regal but ragged devotion by his one time protégé.

u2: no line on the horizon

u2: no line on the horizon

+ U2: No Line on the Horizon – Put it against The Unforgettable Fire or even All That You Can’t Leave Behind and it pales. But on its own, No Line offers rock ‘n’ roll empowered by its own righteousness. Bono still sings like a zealot, The Edge still possesses a monstrously lean guitar attack and songs like Breathe still rock like mad.


States News Service March 6, 2012 HARRISBURG, PA — The following information was released by the Pennsylvania Republican Party: organizing for america

Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason released the following statement regarding President Obama’s newest campaign office in Harrisburg:

“No number of offices, yard signs or even Presidential visits will fool voters into believing that President Obama has helped economic growth in Pennsylvania or keep rising gas prices from skyrocketing. As President Obama continues to bring his massive, billion-dollar campaign to Pennsylvania to disguise his failed policies, we’ll be ready to work with a broad coalition of voters who are anxious to hold him accountable for his failed record at the polls this year.” Chairman Gleason continued, “I’m sure that Senator Casey will be leaning on President Obama’s billion dollar campaign this year as he struggles to defend their joint record of disappointment. After all, Bob Casey and Barack Obama have been best friends in Washington, D.C. agreeing 98% of the time- why wouldn’t they help each other this year? Casey has led the charge for the more taxes and more spending agenda. It’s thanks to the failed Obama-Casey energy policies that Pennsylvanians are struggling with paying for gas that is nearly $4.00 a gallon. web site organizing for america

“To get our Commonwealth and our country back on the right track after the disastrous tenure of President Obama and Senator Casey, we look forward to delivering Pennsylvania for the Republican presidential nominee as well as Steve Welch for U.S. Senate.” Download our infographic here.


vic chesnutt, 1945-2009

vic chesnutt in 2008. photo by sandlin gaither.

vic chesnutt in 2008. photo by sandlin gaither.

Vic Chesnutt may have been one of the most unintentionally subversive songwriters of the last few decades. Listen to his debut album, 1990’s Little (a record he proudly proclaimed as “idiosyncratic”), 2003’s comparatively mainstream Silver Lake or his two most recent works – 2007’s North Star Deserter and 2009’s At the Cut – and you heard the music of an uneasy poet wrestling with themes of mortality that often shifted gears from brittle folk soundscapes to Joe Henry-like pop impressionism.

A household name Chesnutt wasn’t. But his music got into the heads of a loyal cult following and was widely championed by several of his Athens, Ga.-area contemporaries – most notably R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who produced Little and the 1992 followup West of Rome, and members of Widespread Panic, which Chesnutt performed with in a collaborative combo called Brute.

So inspiring was his music that the 1996 benefit album Sweet Relief II for musicians with medical and financial hardships was devoted entirely to Chesnutt songs as covered by R.E.M., Nanci Griffith, Indigo Girls, Joe Henry (with sister-in-law Madonna), Garbage and Smashing Pumpkins.

Chesnutt’s personal profile certainly fit the cause of Sweet Relief II. Partially paralyzed following a 1983 auto accident, Chesnutt worked, recorded and toured in a wheelchair. His most recent tour wound up in Austin, Texas earlier this month.

All of this makes Chesnutt’s death last week one heck of a jolt. Having fallen into a coma, reportedly due to an overdose of muscle relaxants, he died at age 45 on Christmas Eve.

“I’ve been around the world and still feel like the song I wrote yesterday has as much to say as the songs I wrote in the ‘80s,” Chesnutt told me in an interview prior to an October 2004 performance at The Dame. “But I write from the inside out. Songs can be both autobiographical and completely fictional – sometimes within the same line.”

Recommended listening: the aforementioned Silver Lake and 1998’s The Salesman and Bernadette (a collaboration with the Southern pop surrealists Lambchop) for their musical daring; West of Rome and 1995’s Is the Actor Happy? for their songs’ doleful detail.

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wassail time

"merry old santa claus" by thomas nast. first published in harper's weekly on jan. 1, 1881.

It’s nearly 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve – time to wrap things up here at The Musical Box before Father Christmas heads to the open skies. We’ll be on holiday, enjoying Santa’s generous nature and a merry wassail or two, for a  few days. But check back over the weekend. We still have some final business to conclude for 2009, including our list of the year’s best albums and concert performances.

Until then, have a wonderful, fun and safe holiday. Be happy. Be thankful. And watch the skies. Santa rides tonight!

(The above depiction of “Merry Old Santa Claus” is by Thomas Nast and first appeared in Harper’s Weekly on Jan. 1, 1881.)

home stretch holiday shopping guide

This shopping list of a story originally ran in the Herald-Leader on Black Friday. The intent, as it has been every November, was to offer a few recommendations for the musically inclined on your holiday gift list. I’ve run one of these every year since the early ’80s.

For one reason or another, we never posted this year’s roundup here at The Musical Box. So with Christmas Eve upon us, here it is again for 11th hour shoppers: 30 critic’s pick choices of recent holiday releases. These are all recordings I’ve listened to, enjoyed and, as a result, recommend. Simple as that.

john abercrombie: wait till you see her

john abercrombie: wait till you see her

+ John Abercrombie Quartet: Wait Till You See Her – One of the ECM label’s most acclaimed guitarists in a violin-chilled quartet session.

+ The Blind Boys of Alabama: Duets – The longstanding gospel group sings with Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt and more.

+ Sam Bush: Circles Around Me – Kentucky Music Hall of Famer explores bluegrass, newgrass and sublime stringed things.

+ Rosanne Cash: The List – A covers primer by the First Lady of progressively minded traditional country music.

+ Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 – The pop poet laureate presents a CD/DVD performance from the British Woodstock.

miles davis: complete columbis album collection

miles davis: the complete columbia album collection

+ Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection – For big jazz budgets, a package of 52 albums on 70 discs that spans 36 years of music.

+ The Doors: Live in New York – A 6-CD set chronicling four January 1970 shows. The best sounding Doors live set yet.

+ Tinsley Ellis: Speak No Evil – Chicago’s Alligator label serves up its finest guitar blues-rock-soul record of the year.

+ Liam Finn + Eliza Jane: Champagne in Seashells – The acclaimed Aussie pop stylists offer a freshly diverse but criminally brief EP disc.

+ Rosie Flores and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts: Girl of the Century – The Rockabilly Filly teams with famed punk/alt country Welshman Jon Langford.

jan garbarek group: dresden

jan garbarek group: dresden

+ Jan Garbarek Group: DresdenAn at-times gloriously haunting live recording by the pioneering ECM saxophonist.

+ Jerry Garcia Band: Let It Rock – The Grateful Dead guitarist shines in a 1975 live set with keyboardist Nicky Hopkins.

+ Gov’t Mule: By a Thread – Warren Haynes presents more meat-and-potatoes rock with an often darkly spiritual cast.

+ Hem: Twelfth Night – A stunningly beautiful Shakespearean soundtrack full of light strings and Celtic-style fancy.

+ Keith Jarrett: Testament – Two more sterling Jarrett solo piano concerts, all improvised, spread over three discs.

king crimson: in the court of the crimson king

king crimson: in the court of the crimson king

+ King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King – A 40 year old, but still timeless, prog/psychedelic classic re-mastered with extra delights.

+ Robert Earl Keen: The Rose Hotel – A travelogue album of sorts, The Rose Hotel still shines with Keen’s Lone Star cunning.

+ The Kentucky HeadHunters: Authorized Bootleg – This live archival find from 1990 captures the HeadHunters’ early electric country gusto.

+ Mark Knopfler: Get Lucky – Knopfler recalls the rootsy The Ragpickers’ Dream more than Dire Straits on his newest.

+ Fela Kuti: The Best of the Black President – A sampler of irrepressible Afro-Pop soul and a preface to a 2010 Fela reissue series.

los lobos: los lobos goes disney

los lobos: los lobos goes disney

+ Los Lobos: Los Lobos Goes Disney – This guaranteed holiday pick-me-up offers Latin-rocking takes on popular Disney tunes

+ Lyle Lovett: Natural Forces – A mix of originals and Texas-related covers done up with typically regal Lovett finesse.

+ Paul McCartney: Good Evening New York City – Sir Paul offers a 3 CD/DVD set of his Citi Field shows at 1/10 the cost of an actual ticket.

+ The Del McCoury Band: Family Circle – McCoury’s best arranged and performed session of traditional bluegrass in a decade.

+ Pearl Jam: Backspacer – Surprises like the Beach Boys-dipped Speed of Sound pepper the sure-footed PJ drive.

tom petty and the heartbreakers: the live anthology

tom petty and the heartbreakers: the live anthology

+ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology – The bargain of the season: four discs of live Petty from three decades for about $25.

+ Pink Martini: Splendor in the Grass – A multilingual, elegantly crafted and exotically inclined cure for winter blues.

+ Chuck Prophet: Let Freedom Ring – Though lean and bleak in spots, Freedom still abounds with Americana ingenuity.

+ Dave Rawlings Machine: A Friend of a Friend – Gillian Welch mate Rawlings takes the wheel for wicked and delicate string serenades.

+ R.E.M.: Live at the Olympia – A wonderfully scrappy sounding concert set by R.E.M. with a career-spanning repertoire.

richard thompson: walking on a wire

richard thompson: walking on a wire

+ Richard Thompson: Walking on a Wire – The great British guitarist/songsmith shines on this four-disc career retrospective.

+ 7 Worlds Collide: The Sun Came Out – Members of Crowded House, Wilco and more team on a benefit album for Oxfam.

+ Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys: Can’t You Hear the Mountains Calling –  1981 bluegrass re-issue featuring Stanley and Eastern Kentucky native Charlie Sizemore.

+ Tom Waits: Glitter and Doom Live – A dark, scorched carnival of a concert recording from the brilliantly mercurial Waits.

+ Steve Wariner: My Tribute to Chet Atkins – At long last, Wariner’s guitar-happy salute to his friend and mentor hits the streets.

critic's pick 103

sting: on a winter's night

sting: if on a winter's night

Nobody could pull off a record like If on a Winter’s Night… but the ol’ Sting-meister.

This isn’t to say exactly that designing a seasonal record far removed from Christmas music convention (and from Christmas itself, for that matter) to explore folk and literary traditions from five centuries is beyond the grasp of other artists. Certainly there are scores of rustic traditional ensembles out of England – the outstanding a cappella group The Watersons comes to mind – that have delved into such wintry fascination. But few possess the commercial clout Sting has at his fingertips to fashion a recording like this with such high profile possibilities.

Owing more to his 2006 Renaissance-flavored lute fest Songs from the Labyrinth than any of his pop recordings with or without The Police, Winter’s Night is light in musical tone but weighty and often brooding in its narrative detail. Electric instruments are scarce as Sting works with a core ensemble of acoustic guitar, cello, violin (from the extraordinary Newcastle traditionalist Kathryn Tickell) and recorder although the music regularly swells with jazz and Eastern references (like the mix of oud and harmonium on There is No Rose of Such Virtue). Similarly, the repertoire covers works by Henry Purcell, J.S. Bach, and Franz Schubert, newly designed music for a Robert Louis Stevenson poem (the dark and decidedly non-Yuletide Christmas at Sea) and a pair of Sting originals (including a melodeon-charged remake of The Hounds of Winter).

Sting may seem like he’s up a tree to many as he forges music that is not simply for winter but for the very dead of winter. The tightrope he walks between celebration of, as termed in the album’s liner notes, “a light and life at the centre of the darkness that is winter” and overly precious folky pretension is very fine.

But there is an undeniable appeal – intimacy, almost – in the icy, ancient atmosphere Sting creates. On The Hurdy Gurdy Man (not the ‘60s Donovan hit, but a mix of Schubert and a Wilhelm Miller poem), Sting sings with earnest weariness against an ever-so-slight arrangement of guitar, melodeon and violin. Ditto for the chamber-style stateliness he lends to Purcell’s Now Winter Comes Slowly.

Warmer in its wintry feel is the 17th century German hymn Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming by Michael Praetorius. Though adorned with an orchestral and choir arrangement, the song is colored just as profoundly by Tickell on Northumbrian pipes and the whispery moan that is Sting’s preferred vocal accent throughout the record.

Sure, a ghost of Christmas past is summoned when the melody of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen blows through the otherwise Halloween-themed Soul Cake. But that’s the extent of familiar holiday spirits on If on a Winter’s Night…, an album that serves more as a log in the fire for the frosty evenings ahead.


Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) June 3, 2009 | Walker, Melissa Byline: MELISSA WALKER; STAFF WRITER ANDOVER Andover Family Fun Fest Parade, craft show, 5k run/walk, beer garden, food vendors and live entertainment. July 10-11. Free. City Hall Complex, 1685 Crosstown Blvd. NW. 763-755-5100.

ANOKA Anoka Riverfest and Craft Fair More than 150 crafters and artisans will display and sell their wares, plus entertainment, skate competitions and boat rides. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. July 11. Downtown Anoka. 763-576-2700.

ANOKA COUNTY FAIR Live entertainment, tractor pull, midway rides, craft and animal exhibits. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. July 21-25; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. July 26. Anoka County Fairgrounds, 3203 NW. St. Francis Blvd.

BLAINE Blaine’s Blazin’ 4th Festival Carnival and live music, parade, craft show and vendor fair, helicopter rides, live music. June 26-28. Aquatore Park, 9191 NE. Lincoln St. Continues July 4 with an 8k run, 9 a.m., and fireworks, 9 p.m. at the National Sports Center, 1700 105th Av. NE.

BROOKLYN CENTER Earle Brown Days Parade, golf tournament, kids’ fishing contest, games, live entertainment, craft and business expo, ice cream social. Fireworks at 10 p.m. June 27. June 25-28. Central Park, 6301 Shingle Creek Pkwy. 763-569-3400. www.cityofbrooklyn

BROOKLYN PARK Tater Daze Parade at 6:30 p.m. June 18. Carnival, Spud Run, craft fair, sports tournaments, fireworks and live entertainment. Fireworks at 10 p.m. June 20. 5-11:30 p.m. June 19; 9 a.m.-11:30 p.m. June 20; noon-6 p.m. June 21. Noble Sports Park, 4701 97th Av.

CHAMPLIN Father Hennepin Festival Carnival, petting zoo, contests, bicycle stunt show, live entertainment and parade. Fireworks at 10:45 p.m. June 13 over Mill Pond. June 12-14. Free. Mississippi Point Park, 651 West River Rd.

COLUMBIA HEIGHTS Columbia Heights Jamboree Kids fishing clinic, carnival, parade, sports tournaments and “Heights Idol”; fireworks at dusk June 27. 5 p.m. June 25; 1 p.m. June 26-28. Huset Park, 3965 Jefferson St. 763-781-0527.

COON RAPIDS Coon Rapids JULY 4th Celebration Sponsored by the Coon Rapids Fire Fighters and Lions, featuring a midway. 3 p.m. July 2-3; noon July 4-5. Parade at 6 p.m. July 2. Fireworks 10 p.m. July 4. Sand Creek Athletic Field and Park, 940 NW. Northdale Blvd. 763-767-6565, ext. 601. in our site maple grove community center

FALCON HEIGHTS Back to the `50s Weekend More than 11,000 street rods, custom, classics and restored vehicles from 1964 and earlier. Automotive exhibits, craft fair, swap meet, musical concerts and more. 8 a.m.-10 p.m. June 19- 20; 6 a.m.- 3 p.m. June 21. $10. 12 and under free with each paid adult. State Fairgrounds, 1265 N. Snelling Av.

FRIDLEY Fridley `49er Days Street dances, tournaments, Run for Fun, car show, live entertainment and food concessions. Carnival at Fridley Community Center. 5-11 p.m. June 25; 9 a.m.-11 p.m. June 26-27. Fireworks June 27 at Commons Park, 10 p.m.

MAPLE GROVE Maple Grove Days Art fair, parade, games, live entertainment and fireworks. July 9-12. Maple Grove Community Center, 12951 Weaver Lake Rd.

MAPLEWOOD Maplewood JULY 4th Celebration All-American Lumberjack show, food vendors, inflatables, family games and fireworks at dusk. 5-10:30 p.m. July 4, Hazelwood Park, 1663 Cty. Rd. C.

RAMSEY COUNTY FAIR Live music, food, petting zoo, fireworks, carnival rides, parade. 5-11 p.m. July 8-9; noon-midnight July 10-11; noon-9:30 p.m. July 12. Free. Ramsey County Fairgrounds, Frost and White Bear Av.

New Hope Duk Duk Daze Kiddie parade, carnival rides, fireworks, live music and more. July 17-19. Northwood Park, 38th and Boon Avs. ROBBINSDALE Whiz Bang Days Carnival, block party, parade, sidewalk sale and live entertainment. Fireworks at dusk July 12. July 9-12. Lakeview Terrace Park, 3500 Beard Av. N.

ROSEVILLE Rosefest Live music, medallion hunt, wellness fair, disc golf tournament, parade, Run/Roll for the Roses, Taste of Rosefest and live entertainment. Various times and locations throughout Roseville. See website for detailed information. June 21-28.

FREEDOM FESTIVAL PARTY IN THE PARK Live music, kids games, a climbing wall, crafts, adult softball tournament, and fireworks at dusk. July 4. Central Park, Lexington Av. and County Rd. C. see here maple grove community center

SHOREVIEW Slice of Shoreview Art fair, live entertainment, carnival and petting zoo. July 24-26. Island Lake Park, 3655 N. Victoria St. 651-303-4667. www.

St. francis Pioneer Days Parade, live entertainment and craft vendors. June 12-14. St. Francis Community Park, along Hwy. 47, south of St. Francis Elementary.

ST. PAUL ST. ANTHONY PARK ARTS FESTIVAL More than 100 artists displaying pottery, fiber arts, jewelry and paintings. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. June 6. St. Anthony Park Carnegie Library, 2245 Como Av. www

GRAND OLD DAY Live music, family fun area, children’s parade, teen battle of the bands, Minnesota RollerGirls, cultural arts and performances. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. June 7. On Grand Av. 651-699-0029.

TWIN CITIES JAZZ FESTIVAL June 18-20. Free concerts in Mears Park, 5th St. and Sibley. Additional charge for concerts at the Artists Quarter and Hat Trick Lounge. For complete information go to

RONDO DAYS FESTIVAL Parade, 5K walk/run, live music, food, vendors. Festival at 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. July 18. Martin Luther King Park, St. Paul, 270 N. Kent St. Drill team competition at 6 p.m. at St. Paul Central High School, 275 Lexington Pkwy. 651-646-6597. Irish Fair of Minnesota Irish music, sheep herding demonstrations, Run with the Celts, sports, food, marketplace and more. 3-11 p.m. Aug. 7; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Aug. 8; 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Aug. 9. Harriet Island, Plato Blvd. and Justus Ohage Blvd.

PABA FEST Ethnic dance performances, food and merchandise sales, and live entertainment. Held on Payne Av. between York and Jenks Sts. Noon-6 p.m. (Kids’ fun run, 11:30 a.m.) Sept. 12. 651-771-1152. STILLWATER Stillwater JULY 4th Fireworks Family activities and entertainment. Fireworks at 10 p.m. in downtown Stillwater. July 4. Free. Lowell Park, on Main St. 651-430-8800.

LUMBERJACK DAYS Music featuring national acts, the Stihl Timbersports Championships of professional lumberjacks, arts and crafts, 19th-century-style baseball and family activities. Fee for some music concerts. Thunder in the Valley fireworks spectacular at 10:05 p.m. July 26. Festival held July 23-26. Lowell Park, on Main St.

VADNAIS HEIGHTS TASTE OF VADNAIS Foods from local restaurants and eateries, music by John Evans, Dan Perry and Friends, and other family entertainment. 6-9 p.m. June 11. City Hall, 800 E. Cty. Rd. E.

VADNAIS HEIGHTS DAY IN THE PARK Ice cream social and entertainment by Sticks and Tones. 6:30-8 p.m. July 8. Community Park, 661 E. Cty. Rd. F.

HERITAGE DAYS AND BOOYA Senior picnic, pig roast, live music, car show, medallion hunt (begins Aug. 10), parade, fire truck rides, and entertainment and games. Aug. 12-16. Community Park, 661 E. County Rd. F. 651-204-6000.

WHITE BEAR LAKE MARKETFEST Held in downtown White Bear Lake, this event includes fine art, live entertainment, children’s activities, farmers market and more. 6-9 p.m. Thursdays June 18-July 30. Downtown White Bear Lake, 4701 Hwy 61.

Melissa Walker – 612-673-4461 Walker, Melissa

in performance: riders in the sky

riders in the sky. clockwise from left: joey the cowpolka king, woody paul, too slim and ranger doug.

riders in the sky. clockwise from left: accordionist joey the cowpolka king, fiddler woody paul, bassist too slim and guitarist ranger doug.

Santa caps on the cattle skulls, colored lights dangling from cardboard cacti, the festive show-opening chords of Deck the Bunkhouse Walls – it all signaled the return of Riders in the Sky’s annual Christmas concert last night at the Kentucky Theatre.

Sure, the University of Kentucky’s record-busting 2000th basketball win a few blocks away at Rupp Arena was the biggest deal going down downtown. But kicking off one’s proverbial muddy boots to the sounds of Grammy winning singing cowboys serving up vintage polkas, fiddle swing tunes and, of course, seasonal carols offered far cozier pleasures – especially with Christmas itself only days away.

Obviously, tradition played highly into such charm, whether it was through the hushed harmonies that backed up bassist Too Slim during Corn, Water and Wood or the reference (again by Too Slim) leading into a decidedly non-holiday run-through of the Rawhide theme to a television age when there were “three channels and plenty to watch.” Hearing the group channel that most celebrated of Yuletide singing cowboys, Gene Autry, for crisp deliveries of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Here Comes Santa Claus was equally enjoyable.

The program also revealed its own sense of tradition. Familiarities were plentiful to anyone who has been a regular patron to these programs over the years, from Too Slim’s modern day variation of The Night Before Christmas (recited in character as a Festus-style sidekick named Sidemeat) to the cowpoke aphorisms dispensed near the show’s conclusion (“May the horse be with you.”).

But there were also new treats last night that were just as unaffected and engaging as the crowd-pleasing bits. On the traditional Yuletide side was a Western swing version of Winter Wonderland gingerly propelled by fiddler Woody Paul and accordionist Joey the Cowpolka King. Falling closer to the borderline was a spiritually regal ballad written and sung by guitarist/frontman Ranger Doug with subtle Tex Mex colors of guitar and accordion titled Virgen Maria (Why Are You Weeping?).

But the emotive simplicity of this kind of program was crowned by perhaps its most obvious moment – an encore version of I’ll Be Home for Christmas, the familiar war-era prayer for peace that was performed as a hushed sing-a-long. It was an appropriate farewell, one that was full of hope, innocence and no small measure of fancy – much like Christmas itself.

one last saddle stop before christmas

After Monday, Riders in the Sky will hang up their hats and head for the coral.

No, the long-running, Grammy-winning singing cowboy troupe isn’t calling it a day after 32 years of bringing harmony-rich Western music, swing savvy instrumentals and a healthy slab of bunkhouse humor to audiences around the country. It’s just that its annual Christmas concert at the Kentucky Theatre this year falls just a few days before Christmas itself. There will just enough time for the Riders to hit the trail home for the holidays after the Monday concert winds up another performance year.

Of course, that makes it sound like the quartet of guitarist Ranger Doug (Douglas Green), fiddler Woody Paul (Paul Chrisman), bassist Too Slim (Fred LaBour) and accordionist Joey the Cowpolka King (Joey Miskulin) get to indulge in a lengthy winter break back on the ranch. No such luck. Come mid January, Riders in the Sky will take to the road again and tour clear through the summer.

“That’s been our life for 32 years now,” Green said last week by phone while enroute to a Greensboro, North Carolina performance. “There is no reason to change anything now.”

Indeed not. Initially viewed as revivalist of a singing tradition that champions such cowboy stars as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Riders in the Sky has fashioned its ultra authentic Western music into television shows, a serial-like radio series, hit film soundtracks and, of course, holiday music.

The latter’s connection to singing cowboy tradition is extensive. It was, in fact, Autry that first popularized Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Here Comes Santa Claus (which he composed) and Frosty the Snowman.

The Autry inspiration abounds in the Riders’ holiday shows along with holiday cowboy polkas, some seasonal vaudeville from LaBour (Sidemeat’s Christmas Goose), gentler spiritual fare (Corn, Water and Wood) and even some vintage country Yuletide fare (the often-covered Tex Logan classic Christmas Time’s A-Coming).

It’s all G-rated as can be, in keeping with a brand of country and Western music produced in an altogether more innocent age.

“I think that’s what people enjoy so much about the season, too – the entire innocence of it,” Green said. “It’s the fact that people do smile at you in the street. All of a sudden everyone’s excited about getting something for their kids or their spouse. There is an undeniable magic to this time of year.”

But what of the tunes that don’t have a specific Western or holiday heritage? How can, say, Jingle Bells or I’ll Be Home for Christmas work in a program that still boasts such non Yuletide cowboy favorites as Happy Trails, Wah Hoo and the 60 year old anthem that gave the group its name, Ghost Riders in the Sky?

“What we do is approach each song with the idea of how we can make it into a Riders classic. It’s a challenge because you’ve been hearing these songs on the radio every day, all day, since Thanksgiving. You hear them in all kinds of versions, too, from swing to pop to classical. It’s overwhelming, really. So we just try to put our stamp to it with our own particular sound and arrange it so that it’s a little bit unique.”

Such a stamp is evident on two holiday albums that Riders released during the ‘90s – 1992’s Merry Christmas from Harmony Ranch (where Deck the Halls becomes Deck the Bunkhouse Walls) and 1999’s Christmas the Cowboy Way (where The Last Christmas Medley You’ll Ever Need to Hear sets snippets of a dozen or so carols to the tune of Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow).

But anyone thinking the Riders treat holiday music as parody need to check out the group’s crisply harmonious take on The Friendly Beasts (cut for Christmas the Cowboy Way but regularly revisited during the holiday shows) that brings to mind the sterling country version of the tune cut in 1961 by the Louvin Brothers.

Of course, what ultimately sells the harmony, humor and rich singing cowboy tradition of any Riders recording – be it a holiday classic or not – is a resilient band spirit has long fueled the quartet onstage and off.

“We’re extremely lucky in that respect,” Green said. “Most groups don’t have that bond, which is why so few last 30 years or more.

“We were laughing about that today at lunch. The sound man at the venue we were playing was telling us about a band whose members showed up for a show separately, didn’t speak to each other at soundcheck and left afterwards in separate cars.

“I mean, holy cow, how would you like to live like that? It would be like digging ditches for a living.”

Riders in the Sky perform at 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main. Tickets are $14.50 (children 16 and under) and $18.50 (adult). Call (859) 231-7924.

Raiders to bench Pope; Harris to start.(Knight Ridder Newspapers)

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service December 12, 2001 | Ryan, John Well, it’s official. The Raiders have singled out Marquez Pope.

Johnnie Harris will replace Pope as the starting strong safety Saturday in San Diego. That’s the only lineup change, following days of talk from players and coaches that nobody is solely responsible for the defense’s collapse in the past six weeks. how many plays did shakespeare write

“I don’t feel that I should be benched,” Pope said Wednesday. “It doesn’t look right. None of this looks right. It’s been in the paper, `We don’t point fingers, we’re not saying this.’ There’s something I’m missing.” Coach Jon Gruden clearly is wary of causing a locker room controversy. He initially declined to say who was starting. After being told Harris and Pope had discussed the matter with reporters, Gruden asked, “Whatever happened to the old days?” Finally, he confirmed that Harris has the job for now, although he was quick to add that Pope would play.

“I don’t want to pit two players against one another in the media,” Gruden said. “Right now we’re just looking for a change of pace, let Marquez come off the bench and observe for a little bit. You’ve seen it happen in major league baseball, you’ve seen it happen in the NBA a lot.” Safe to say, Pope isn’t trying to win the Sixth Man Award. Although Gruden said all of the safeties will play, Pope expects to be on the field only for short-yardage and third-down situations.

“This is a team situation,” he said. “A team is a team. Eleven guys giving effort….When you get singled out, you think about the words. People talk about not singling out, and you look at this and you know this doesn’t make any sense.” Harris replaced Pope to start the second half Sunday against Kansas City, a game in which the Raiders gave up 204 yards on the ground and 447 overall. The Raiders won 28-26 to improve to 9-3, but their defense in the middle of a crisis.

Harris, 29, thinks he can help. A third-year player with experience in the arena and Canadian leagues, he started two games last season while Pope was injured. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he is bigger than Pope. He has played both safety positions and even a little at cornerback, and he plays special teams.

During practice last week, Harris asked coaches to give him a shot. On Sunday, the Chiefs scored 17 points in the first half and nine in the second. Harris led the team with seven solo tackles and leaped to swat a deep pass off Tony Gonzalez’s fingertips in the fourth quarter.

“I’ve just been trying to get my point across all year,” Harris said. “I didn’t want to go to them while we were winning and try to stir up stuff. I just waited until the time was right, and then I said something.” The Raiders are in no position to refuse help. On Nov. 5, they had the fourth-best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 92 yards a game. But in their past five games they have allowed an average of 194.6 yards on the ground, and their season average of 134.8 is the league’s fourth-worst. The Raiders are 3-2 in that stretch only because of their offense; they are scoring 30 points a game. here how many plays did shakespeare write

The halftime move to Harris was a clear sign of where coaches thought the problem lay, and Pope and free safety Anthony Dorsett have felt they were in the spotlight since then. In addition to Harris’ insertion in the starting lineup, the Raiders have been giving rookie Derrick Gibson more practice time at free safety.

“What do the safeties do that’s so bad in this defense?” Dorsett said Monday. “How many plays have I made? How many plays has this guy made? Where is the breakdown? If someone misses a tackle, there’s 10 other people on the field to make the tackle.” Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan agrees to a point. Sometimes, such as San Diego’s 67-yard reverse for a touchdown on its first play Nov. 18, a cornerback is the last line of defense in zone coverages.

But that wasn’t the case Sunday when Kansas City running back Priest Holmes took a screen pass and went 67 yards for a touchdown.

“The situation the other day was a safety situation,” Bresnahan said. “If he gets over the top and makes a cut back in, Charles Woodson’s right there and the ball’s tackled at 17 to 18 yards. But I’m not pointing fingers.” But the lineup card is.

___ Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Ryan, John

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