Friday, October 29, 2010

Photography: Is it an art or a science?

Never underestimate the value of new social media.  I don't. Love it or loathe it, social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, fosters community, connecting us with friends and neighbors near and far ~ and sometimes, it connects us with others sharing a common interest.  At times, it can even be thought provoking.

Each week on Facebook, London's Tate Modern poses thought-provoking questions in its weekly "Thursday Tate Debate." Although most of the community who participate in this weekly forum are from Great Britain, occasionally, international respondents contribute to the discussion, from near and far ~ covering many, if not most, European Union countries as well as across the pond in the United States, closer to home.  I have participated in a couple of these discussions.

As someone who has visited the Tate Modern, Britain's national gallery of international modern art, several times (it's located on the South Bank of the Thames and is connected to central London and St. Paul's Cathedral via the Millennium Bridge), I appreciate their regular use of new social media as a means of fostering a community sharing an appreciation for art.

This week's debate topic centered on photography, a casual hobby of mine: "Do you think photography is more of an art or a science?"

I posted the following response:  "I think today's use modern digital photography raises the bar for art versus science. Certainly, photography is art because of the use of color and emotion.  Yet, the editing process (in digital photography) allows for science to be a part of the process.  It's a great debate."

Afterward, I started to think about my own photography and the great debate question.  As many of you know, I am fond of photographing our home gardens ~ roses, camellias, rhododendrons, fuchsia and calla lilies ~ often, to create greeting cards for family and friends.

Yesterday, I browsed through a variety of photographs I've shot this year ~ and there were many ~ and found a calla lily that in my opinion can be a catalyst in the debate.  When shown in its natural colors, I think of this photograph of a calla lily as art. However, when I digitally edit the photograph to eliminate its natural color, changing it to black and white, my focus shifts toward thinking of this photograph as a product of science at work.

In color: Calla lily, 2010
In black and white: Calla lily, 2010

Photography:  Is is an art or a science?  I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Classic means baseball, crisp weather

Late October is one of my favorite times of the year for many reasons.

Fall colors arrive
just in time for
baseball's Fall Classic.
For one, the fall Bay Area weather is crisp ~ cooler temperatures mixed with just the right amount of sunshine ~ which makes it ideal for taking brisk walks.  Plus, the beautiful autumn colors have started dotting the neighborhood landscapes.

Best of all, baseball's Fall Classic has arrived.  And this year, it holds an extra-special meaning for me since my local nines, the San Francisco Giants, have made it to the World Series for the first time since 2002.

The Ballpark by the Bay:
Home of the San Francisco Giants
and site of Games 1 and 2
of the 2010 World Series.
This year's World Series starts today in the Bay Area at AT&T Park, which I prefer to think of as the Ballpark by the Bay. Less commercial that way and, in its decade of existence, the ballpark has changed its name three times (from Pac Bell Park to SBC Park to AT&T Park).  Still, it's a wonderful setting for watching a game ~ regular season or World Series ~ with great upper-deck views of San Francisco Bay ~ and, it's not every park that has knothole area (located in right field) for walking in to sneak a peak of the game for free, or a McCovey Cove, the water inlet beyond right field, that's about a 350-foot shot from home plate (a tidy 309 feet to the foul pole).

Giants baseball ~ Torture:
Brian Wilson preserves a 2-1
Giants victory on May 15.
The team's theme this year was coined by Giants broadcaster (and former player) Duane Kuiper:  "Giants baseball (pause) ~ Torture." Dramatic emphasis is placed on the word "torture." Kuiper came up with the moniker on May 15 after the team's maniacal and tattooed closer, Brian Wilson, needed 39 pitches to save an early season, 2-1 home victory for Tim Lincecum over the Houston Astros.  I remember the game well because I was there at the ballpark that day to witness the "torture." The Giants had their fair share of one-run victories in 2010.  They also accumulated a lot of one-run losses, too. Folks, it's the same gut-wrenching feeling, win or lose.

The Ballpark by the Bay provides
parking for ferry boats and
great views of San Francisco Bay.
Plus,  it's only 309 feet to
the right field foul pole.
(Photo: 2009)
Still, it's hard to believe the Giants have emerged as the last team standing from the National League.  It's also improbable that the Texas Rangers, who have never been to the World Series before now, are the last team remaining from the American League.  And, the Giants have never won a World Series in three previous tries (1962, 1989, 2002) since moving from New York to San Francisco in 1958.  So, in the words of Giants infielder Juan Uribe, there's going to be "a lot of happy" for which ever team wins the World Series this year.

Win or lose, a walk along
the Embarcadero from
the ballpark is just one
of the many things for
Giants fans to appreciate.
When you follow a team like the Giants on a day-in, day-out basis as I have this season ~ watching on TV, listening on radio, reading in print and on the Internet ~ it's like a season-long soap opera filled with plenty of ups and downs, and it involves a lot of unusually interesting characters.  I've spent a lot of time since the beginning of the 2010 season watching Kuiper and Mike Krukow describe what I'm watching on TV; a lot of hours listening to Jon Miller and Dave Flemming paint word pictures on the radio and, along with Kuiper and Krukow, after the games during their often-hilarious Post Game Wrap segments; reading Henry Schulman and John Shea's game accounts and columns in the San Francisco Chronicle and Andy Baggarly's San Jose Mercury News "Extra Baggs" blog.

This year's Giants team includes the following cast of characters:

* A youthful, long-haired, two-time Cy Young Award pitcher (Tim Lincecum), who was the object of Philadelphia fans' affectionate whistling during the NLCS.  Perhaps, they thought he looked cute with long hair or had a cute butt.

* A journeyman, tattooed first baseman (Aubrey Huff), who had never been to the post season before now, and who likes to sport colorful "rally" thongs around the team's clubhouse to keep the players loose while providing the press good quotes.

* A switch-hitting outfielder (Andres Torres), who needed an emergency appendectomy last month, then returned to the club healed just in time for the final weekend of the regular season, and who was voted the team's winner of the Willie Mac Award (named for Giants great Willie McCovey), voted by the team's players and coaches as most inspirational player on the team.

* Another outfielder (Cody Ross), who was waived by the Florida Marlins in August and, then, was "accidentally" claimed by the Giants in order to block the San Diego Padres from claiming him.  Ross merely became the starting right fielder in the post season and hit three home runs against the Philadelphia Phillies ~ including two against Roy Halliday ~ and he won the NLCS MVP trophy.  He's been all smiles this week.

* Finally, there's the rookie catcher (Buster Posey), who was recalled to the big leagues in May and not only became a regular by July, but also became the team's cleanup hitter and best clutch performer ~ both at the plate (.305 batting average, 18 homers and 67 RBI) and behind it, guiding a very deep and talented pitching staff like a seasoned veteran. Posey has been the team's MVP and is a deserving candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.

On paper, it says the Giants should have lost to the Phillies in the NLCS and, with a different outcome, it could have been the New York Yankees ~ or even the Minnesota Twins, had they played up to their potential ~ winning the ALCS.  But, the Giants and Rangers have gutted it out with the right amount of clutch hitting, the right amount of clutch pitching, the right amount of dumb luck.  Never underestimate the importance of dumb luck during the post season.  However, to their credit, Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Rangers manager Ron Washington have pulled all the right levers, made all the right moves to get their teams this far.  Now, four more wins closes the deal for one manager and his team.

Little Timmy:
After winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009,
Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum went 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA this season.

So, the scene is set for Game 1:  It's Lincecum against Rangers lefty Cliff Lee, a mid-season acquisition, who has been unflappable and unbeatable in the post season.  Game 2 is Thursday in The City (as locals like to refer to San Francisco as) before the Series shifts to Arlington, Texas, for Games 3 and 4 over the weekend.  Maybe, Cody Ross continues hitting homers like Babe Ruth.  Maybe, Tim Lincecum  comes up big and tosses another 14-strike out gem like he did against the Atlanta Braves during the NL Division Series.  Perhaps, Bengie Molina comes back to haunt his former team.  After all, he was made redundant when it was time for Buster Posey to become the every-day catcher for the Giants and, then, was traded to the Rangers.  Molina knows what it's like to play against the Giants in the World Series.  He was the starting catcher for the victorious Los Angeles Angels against the Giants in the 2002 World Series.

An inspirational Giant:
The Willie McCovey statue is located across
McCovey Cove from the ballpark.
(Photo: 2008)

The Say Hey Kid:
The Willie Mays statue is the focal point of
Willie Mays Plaza in front of the ballpark.

I hope the Giants (finally) win a World Series title for San Francisco.   Do it for Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, all Giants Hall of Famers, who never experienced the thrill of winning a World Series for the San Francisco Giants.  Heck, do it for Will "The Thrill" Clark, who was the charismatic leader of the 1989 Giants that were swept in the Earthquake Series by the Oakland A's.

It would be a lot of fun to join in and be a part of The City's celebration if the Giants win the World Series.  I remember the euphoria of the Twins' 1987 World Series victory when I lived in St. Paul, Minn.  There was "a lot of happy" back then, and the memories of the victory parade carried us through the cold, snowy winter months. However, if the Giants come up short, like they did in 2002 when it was the Barry Bonds Giants, there's always next season to look forward to.  Spring training starts in just a few months.

For now, however, it's all upbeat and smiles around The City and pretty bunting spread around The Ballpark by the Bay. The Giants have the home-field advantage for the first two games. Dumb luck.

Game on. Play ball!

All photos copyright by Michael Dickens (2010, except where noted).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Old friends, new discoveries, sweet melodies

One of the pure pleasures of collecting and adding songs to my iPod is rediscovering the music of our past ~ and of my past ~ and realizing that a certain body of songs, some which were originally written and recorded as much as 50 years ago, not only maintain their relevance today, but also sound pretty good, too.

I like to call this "musical serendipity," the art of making fortunate discoveries by accident.  This applies to songs both in their original form as well as covers by other artists.

This month, musical serendipity found me on several occasions, including the discovery of some poetic chestnuts by Elvis Costello and Cowboy Junkies as well as a cover of one of my all-time favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs.  Plus, I "discovered" a beautiful duet sung by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss that was a cover of a song made popular by the Everly Brothers 50 years ago.  Finally, I made the self-discovery that Belle and Sebastian is my new favorite indie group.  Added up, it's made me thankful and my iPod richer for the experience.

Now to the backstory of my most recent musical serendipity:

Elvis Costello and the Sugarcubes
peforming at the 2010 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
(Photo: Michael Dickens, 2010.)

* As a songwriter and performer, Elvis Costello is comfortable in every imaginable music genre, and his breadth and knowledge as a musicologist continually amazes me.  Earlier this month, I saw him headline the free, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Playing alongside with him were the Sugarcubes, a group of excellent country and bluegrass musicians, whom Costello surrounded himself with and recorded last year's Secret, Profane and Sugarcane album.

During Costello's 15-song, 65-minute set, which included several tunes from his upcoming release, National Ransom (due out Nov. 2), the set list included a lovely acoustic medley of "New Amsterdam," penned for the 1980 album Get Happy!!, which Costello nicely segued with the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away."  It's a medley that he has performed often, and on this afternoon, it was warmly received by the tens of thousands of festival goers crowding the Star Stage on the Lindley Meadow grounds.

While I'm familiar with the Beatles' version of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," a ballad originally sung by John Lennon, which was written for the movie Help!, and added Costello's cover version to my iPod over the summer, I must admit: The waltz-tempo of "New Amsterdam" was a fresh, new discovery for me, even though Costello wrote and recorded the song 30 years ago.  Simply put, "New Amsterdam" is two minutes of melodic brilliance and a welcome addition to my Morning Becomes Eclectic playlist.  As a postscript, I read that the ever-versatile Costello played all of the instruments during the studio recording of "New Amsterdam," which was the name given to the 17th-century Dutch colonial settlement that later became New York City.

* "Powderfinger," by the Canadian alt-country band Cowboy Junkies, is a beautiful 1990 cover of an anti-war song written by fellow Canadian Neil Young that is wonderfully interpreted and sung by lead vocalist Margo Timmins.  I'm a softy for mandolins and accordions, and this version, which appeared on the Cowboy Junkies' 1990 album The Caution Horsesnicely incorporates both with a touch of acoustic guitar.

* Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, he of mega Led Zeppelin fame and she of mega bluegrass fame, combined their amazing vocal and harmonizing talents in the 2007 Grammy Award-winning album Raising Sand.  Recently, I became acquainted with their interpretation of the Mel Tillis ballad "Stick With Me Baby" while listening to the "Morning Becomes Eclectic" music program via  Originally recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1960, the updated version sung by Plant and Krauss is such a subtle-but-sweet melody, and it's very gratifying to listen to (again and again).

* "America," sweetly performed by Lucy Wainwright Roche, is a cover of the Paul Simon tune about the metaphorical journey of two companions who are in search of the true meaning of America that first appeared on Simon and Garfunkel's 1968 album Bookends.  Wainwright Roche, whose half-sibling is Rufus Wainwright, performs "America" with a gifted and refreshingly gorgeous voice.  Hear for yourself:

* Finally, the Scottish band Belle and Sebastian is enjoying a lot of great and deserved acclaim for its current album Write About Love, released earlier this month ~ and I've been listening often to many of the album's songs.  "Read the Blessed Pages" (which you can listen to at: is poignantly sung by the group's lead singer and songwriter, Stuart Murdoch, and reflects his interest in faith:

Love is like a novel
Read the blessed pages
Did I do my best dear?
That is all you ask.

May you find your own musical serendipity.

Happy listening!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

No 'chuntering' allowed on the House floor

One of my favorite bits of TV occurs early each Wednesday at 4 a.m. (Pacific Time) while I am still sound asleep. Across the Atlantic, eight time zones away from California, as London's Big Ben strikes noon (British Time), it's time for Prime Minister's Questions. Thank goodness for my DVR.

You just never know what you might learn from the British.

Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster,
home of the British Parliament.
(Photo: Michael Dickens, 2005.)

Each Wednesday, when Parliament is in session, Prime Minister's Questions (PMQ) takes place on the floor of the British House of Commons, and it is broadcast live in the United States by C-SPAN2 (7 a.m ET/4 a.m. PT). If you've never seen PMQ, it can be best described as a verbal boxing match, full of high drama, that lasts for about 30 minutes and allows for the opposition leader and other members of Parliament of all parties to grill the Prime Minister with questions on important matters of state and foreign affairs.

PMQ also serves its American audience with an up-close, yet entertaining, look at the art and style of British political culture.  Perhaps, our politicians could learn a thing or two from their British counterparts.

My favorite part of PMQ happens early on when David Cameron, the current prime minister, goes face-to-face with the opposition leader.  Until earlier this year, Mr. Cameron was the opposition leader, and believe me, he found utter joy in sparing with former prime minister Gordon Brown. Often, the lively and passionate Cameron got the best of the droll Brown in these exchanges of spirited oratory and debate. Most weeks, Brown looked like he would rather be anywhere than on the floor of the House being put to task by the Tories. Before Brown, Tony Blair took great delight in being quick-witted with his answers and defending the dignity of the Labour Party.

Last week, Mr. Cameron faced new opposition leader Ed Miliband for the first time.

While this first exchange between the leaders of the Conservative (Tory) and Labour parties wasn't particularly memorable ~ in fact, Mr. Miliband appeared a bit nervous ~ what struck me as funny, and got my attention, was when the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, used the power of the English language to defuse the cantankerous cat calls coming from Tory MPs, who were trying to fluster the young Mr. Miliband, while also lecturing them on decorum.

While PMQ isn't quite a no-holds-barred exchange, there's plenty of partisan bantering, whistling, shouts of "Hear, hear" and, occasionally, laughter.  For a moment, you might have thought you were taking in a night of British theater in the West End.  

Thank goodness, the Speaker, who presides over PMQ and determines which members may speak, steps in from time to time to maintain order and civility during the debate and lecture the MPs on courtesy and manners.  This week, not only was Bercow a master thespian, he also played the role of college professor very well, indeed.  To wit:

Mr Speaker: "Order. The Leader of the Opposition will be heard, and if there are colleagues chuntering away who then hope to catch the eye of the Chair, I am afraid they are deluded."

Immediately, I made a mental note to myself:  "Need to look up the word 'chunter' and find out what the Speaker was lecturing the MPs about."  Sure enough, I typed the world "chunter" into the search engine for and here's what I found:


Verb (used without object) British Informal; to grumble or to grouse mildly, or tediously.

Origin: 1590-1600;  original dialect (Midlands, N. England) chunter, chunder, chunner;  cf. Scots channer in same sense; expressive word of obscure origin.

So, there you have it, a new word for the day: chunter.  It rhymes with punter. Now, if only I can find a way to work chunter into a proper conversation among friends.

Yes, you just never know what you might learn from our friends across the ocean.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens, part 12

On Thursday morning, I had just finished taking out the last of the garbage and recycling for that day's pickup and was walking back up the driveway.  I waved at my neighbor across the cul-de-sac who was outside watering her plants.  The time was 8:25 a.m.  It was then that I experienced an "ah-ha" moment. I knew I needed to grab my camera and act fast.  It was too good of a moment not to photograph our roses.

Within two minutes, I was back on the driveway, poised but excited, the sound of the shutter clicking away as I snapped photographs of our roses.  My neighbor stopped what she was doing and, for a moment, observed me taking pictures of our Queen Elizabeth roses.  She understood my "ah-ha" moment and offered me encouragement.

I had observed the interesting way in which the sun peeked through the early morning clouds, reflecting nicely off of the roses, and the swiftness in which the clouds danced across the Bay Area sky overhead.  I wanted to capture my "ah-ha" moment for the ages and share it with others.

This photograph represents the best of the bunch I took of our Queen Elizabeth roses.  I stood facing east and crouched, shooting upward to capture the clouds as a backdrop to the roses, which were at the tip of a six-foot-high vine.  In doing so, it's just the simple enjoyment of nature ~ and the pleasure of our gardens ~ at the right moment of time.

Queen Elizabeth roses
Photographed on Thursday, Oct. 14
 8:27 a.m. PDT

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's all about the shoes, isn't it?

Fashions fade, style is eternal.
~ Yves St. Laurent

Let's face it:  Casual shoes make fashion statements. And, maybe, they reveal something about the personality of the wearer.  It's all about the shoes, isn't it?

An iconic style:
Chuck Taylor All*Star,
Navy (2009).
It used to only
come in black and white.
Marvelous or boring, in basic black or white, even in pink, most of us like our shoes to be stylish as well as being comfortable.  Today, casual shoes come in all designs, sizes, colors and brand names:  Nike, Adidas, Converse Chuck Taylor All*Star, Doc Martens.  Casual can extend to classic wing tips, all-weather Mocs and leather boots, too. The more stylish our shoes are ~ and colorful ~ the better.

Of course, too, casual and stylish sometimes carries a hefty price tag.

Sometimes, we opt for a traditional and recognizable brand just so we fit in.  Yet, a pair of iconic Chuck Taylor All*Star are just a tad more expensive today than a generation, or two, ago.

And just a little more colorful, too.

The colorful Chuck Taylor All*Star
seemed to be the shoe of choice
of Millennials and Gen Xers
at this year's Bumbershoot,
Seattle's music and art festival.
While attending last month's Bumbershoot, Seattle's music and art festival, an event that drew hundreds of thousands of Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to the Seattle Center to see the latest in cutting-edge, indie music ~ and involved a lot of sitting and standing around on grassy lawns and among crowds ~ casual, fashionable footwear was ever-present and, often, attention-getting. Believe me, it was never drab or boring.

Designed for comfort
but far from boring:
Sneakers for him,
suede boots for her,
and blue jeans for both.

Whether lounging with friends at the Broad Street Stage listening to Montreal's Plants and Animals, enjoying a glass of wine near the Fisher Green Stage while watching the Budos Band, or catching an early evening set by Jenny and Johnny on Labor Day in front of the Starbucks Mural Stage, I became fascinated by the lively and very fashionable casual footwear statements being made by Bumbershoot festival-goers of all generations.

We're all young at heart, right?

Here's a small but fairly representative sample of the casual shoes and sneakers I encountered at this year's Bumbershoot:

Classic Dr. Martens:
Recognized around the world for their
uncompromisingly good looks and colors.

Casual yet simple ~ and no baggy pants:
Deck sneakers (left) and Chuck Taylor All*Star (right)

Mod, black and eye-catching:
Black Chuck Taylor All*Star (left)
 and black leather boots (right).

They do go with blue jeans, don't they?:
Classic wing tips (left) and calf-length boots (right).

By the way, I wore a pair of classic (and comfortable) Adidas Stan Smith white leather sneakers to Bumbershoot, a brand and style that I have been wearing on and off since the '70s. For me, they represent a simple, yet classic style ~ and they're extremely comfortable.

Some shoes never go out of style.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Elvis Costello: It's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Last weekend marked the 10th anniversary of the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, philanthropist Warren Hellman's million-dollar bash of a gift to the city of San Francisco. Hardly Strictly has turned into one of the country's premiere music events. This year, I finally took the opportunity to check it out.

About 600,000 music fans, including an estimated 350,000 fans alone on Sunday, flocked to the western end of Golden Gate Park over three days, spread out over six stages, and saw more than 60 music acts celebrating music that was hardly strictly bluegrass.  In fact, not only was bluegrass showcased, but also traditional folk, blues and rock, even jazz.

Gridlock at the Star Stage:
Elvis Costello and the Sugarcubes perform Sunday afternoon
during the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival at Golden Gate Park.

This year's stellar line-up of performers, many of them annual invitees, included:  Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Randy Newman, Patti Smith, Steve Earle, Boz Scaggs, Roseanne Cash, the Avett Brothers, Nick Lowe, Earl Scruggs, Buddy Miller, the Del McCoury Band, Ralph Stanley and Trombone Shorty.  (A complete line-up for the 2010 festival can be found at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival website.)

It was Sunday afternoon's main event, Elvis Costello on the Star Stage, which drew my interest and got me out of the house on a day that I easily could have stayed put in front of the TV watching the Giants clinch the National League West title with their 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres.  However, I had endured too much baseball torture ~ a pair of agonizing Giants losses ~ over the previous 48 hours and needed a change of scenery.

Setting out late Sunday morning via BART and the Muni Metro N-Judah train, my wife and I arrived at Golden Gate Park about two hours before the start of Elvis Costello's set.  We meandered through the festival grounds, catching portions of sets by Hazel Dickens on the Banjo Stage and the Indigo Girls on the Rooster Stage, before descending upon Lindley Meadow, site of the Costello get-together.  Overhead, morning fog lingered and a slight breeze blew in from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

The scene at Lindley Meadow:
There was plenty of green space to spread out and enjoy
the set by jam band Umphrey's McGee.

We packed a mini picnic of snacks, including cheese curds, grapes and cookies.  We checked out a variety of food vendors and settled on baked potatoes with all of the trimmings and, later, grabbed a bag of caramel corn to snack on.  Much to our surprise, there was a flock of cafe tables and folding chairs nearby, and we found an empty one that became ours for the rest of our afternoon at the festival.  As we settled in and enjoyed our lunch, the jam band Umphrey's McGee began their 50-minute set.  We listened with casual interest. Across town, the Giants were taking the field at AT&T Park to face the Padres in the final game of the regular season. The fog started to lift and the sun, finally, made an appearance. Good omen of things to come?

Not surprisingly, there would be about an hour's break after Umphrey's McGee completed their set before Elvis Costello and the Sugarcubes would settle in on the Star Stage, giving ample time for the meadow to fill up.  The stage stood in close proximity to the Towers of Gold Stage, where Randy Newman performed.  His set would bridge the gap until 3:05 p.m., when it was Costello's time to entertain the masses.

As a favor, the audio from Newman's set, which started with the ever-popular "Short People," was piped over the Star Stage sound system, so there was no need for us to leave.  It's a good thing we didn't because the green grass of the Lindley Meadow filled in quickly during the two o'clock hour. We perused sections of the Sunday New York Times that we packed and periodically checked the Giants score on the radio to pass time. They had taken an early 2-0 lead against the Padres.

The Lindley Meadow scene changed during the 2 o'clock hour as
the crowd began filling in the green space in anticipation
of seeing Elvis Costello and the Sugarcubes.

I'm not sure what it is about Elvis Costello that draws the biggest crowds year after year at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. However, his set caused a major gridlock around the Star Stage area, and Costello was, arguably, the day's biggest single draw.  A few brave fans even climbed nearby trees in search of a prime view afforded by sitting on sturdy limbs.  A portion of the sloping meadow near the stage also was jammed with eager fans.

Although we sat at least 100 yards from the stage, we packed a decent pair of binoculars and the nicely-amplified sound system enabled us to hear with clarity what we could always see clearly.

The Star Stage's nicely-amplified sound system enabled us
to hear Elvis Costello and the Sugarcubes with clarity what
our eyes couldn't always see clearly.

The dapper and cheery Costello and the Sugarcubes, his seven-piece backing band that featured Jim Lauderdale on guitar and backing vocals and Jerry Douglas on dobro, took the stage on time, and from 3:05 to 4:10 p.m., they played a nicely-crafted, 15-song set that included some of Costello's new, recent and classic material as well as songs by the other Elvis (Presley), the Beatles, Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones.  

Costello's newest album, "National Ransom" hits U.S. stores and iTunes on November 2, and several songs from it were prominently displayed during his set, including: "National Ransom," "Jimmy Standing in the Rain," and "A Slow Drag with Josephine."  The set started with the classic "Mystery Train," and included a nice medley of his "New Amsterdam" that segued into the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," as well as one of my favorites, "Brilliant Mistake." It concluded with an encore of the Stones' "Happy" that left everyone feeling, well, happy.  The Giants game ended at about the same time, and as the 3-0 final score was announced from the stage as Costello and the Sugarcubes took their final bows, more happy cheers echoed throughout the meadow.

Patti Smith performing Sunday afternoon on the
Towers of Gold Stage at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

As we walked around the perimeter of the Towers of Gold Stage on our way out of the festival, we could see (and hear) Patti Smith performing before a gathering of thousands down in the meadow as the late afternoon sunshine segued to fog, again.  The weather had gone full circle.

Beyond, as we circled the old polo field heading toward the park's exit, we could hear an echo in the distance. It was coming from the Del McCoury Band.  We paused for a moment to enjoy sweet music to our ears.

Bluegrass fiddles, banjos, guitars and mandolins.  We had come to the right place for the afternoon.

The set list for Elvis Costello and the Sugarcubes:
Mystery Train
Blame It On Cain
I Lost You
Medley: New Amsterdam/You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
(The Angels Want to Wear Your) Red Shoes
Brilliant Mistake
The Delivery Man
Jimmie Standing in the Rain
A Slow Drag with Josephine
Friend of the Devil
Sulphur to Sugarcane
Don't Lie to Me
National Ransom
Encore: Happy

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens, part 11

This week's Bay Area heat wave brought a couple of nice surprises to our front yard garden: unexpected blooms. Thanks to three straight days of mercury-rising, 90-degree temperatures, the first blooms for our camellias and the unexpected blooming of our rhododendrons have added a pretty dash of autumn color.

Second-wave rhododendron:
Fall blooms are adding a
pretty dash of autumn color.
We trimmed both our camellia and rhododendron bushes during summer to enable their respective branches more room for new growth. So, imagine my double-take when I stepped outside a couple of days ago to turn on the water sprinkler and discovered new blooms opening up for both of our front-yard bushes.

Unexpected bloom:
Our camellias usually don't
bloom until Halloween.
As I write, two camellia blooms and nine rhododendrons blooms have debuted, and I expect more blooms will open soon. Usually, our camellias open later in the fall season ~ by Halloween ~ then continue through autumn and into winter. While it's not uncommon to have a second wave of rhododendron blooms in the same calendar year (regular blooming occurs in spring), it's not an annual event. Still, it's a welcome sight on a hot day.

Casual but welcome:
An All That Jazz rose opens
its petals and reveals
a vivid salmon orange inside.
Meanwhile, credit the heat wave for bringing a welcome bloom from our All That Jazz rose bush.  Its demeanor may be more casual and the quantity of its blooms less than some of our more productive rose bushes like the Queen Elizabeth and Mr. Lincoln. However, when temperatures rise like they did earlier this week, our All That Jazz choreographs a great entrance in our garden that would make Bob Fosse proud.

Bursting out in blossom ~ painting the dance floor in a vivid salmon orange ~ and singing a Broadway tune.  That's All That Jazz.