This year’s Ridgewood Music Fest, put on by the Ridgewood Guild, was, by any barometer a smashing success.
It was a fabulous late summer day in Van Neste Square, and the place was jumpin’. Food was provided by several local restaurants, and beer and wine were flowing in the booze garden.
The past few Music Fests from the Ridgewood Guild included jazz and blues artists. This year, the organizers switched it up and showcased local bands. I must admit, my first thought upon hearing that news was “Ugh, if I never hear a cover of Hard To Handle again I’ll be perfectly fine.” My expectations, I found out, were not in line with reality.
These bands, all of whom play locally, and often at bars in Ridgewood and the surrounding area, were performing at a level that simply blew me away. Country music provided by Country Joe and Friends. Bluegrass from Blue Plate Special. R&B by the incredible Eugene Thomas & No Big Deal. Declan Power Band brought the funk (and rock) as advertised. And The Stilettos simply amazed.
Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to catch the sets from Treble and No Money Down, but if the other bands were any indication, I missed something special.
Congrats to everyone who pulled this amazing event together. Looking forward to the next one!
[If you’re in a “tl;dr” sort of mood, you can go directly to the photos of Saylestock 2017, right here.]
The great David Letterman said, during his induction speech of Pearl Jam into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, something that really resonated with me.
“And when I came here to rehearsal this afternoon and heard live music again, I was reminded: Oh my God, what a gift live music is...Never take the opportunity for live music for granted, that’s the message I can bring to you folks tonight.”
A reminder to not take anything for granted, really.
Now, I’m nowhere near the recluse Mr. Letterman seems to be, but when I moved from Hoboken to Ridgewood some 16 years ago, from urban excitement to suburban consistency, I accepted the fact that I would no longer be able to leave my home and walk down the block to Maxwell’s to see a fantastic band, or spend 5 hours after work in NYC to check out some bands at The Mercury Lounge or Brownies. Those days, I figured, were behind me.
And for the most part, they were.
But then after a decade in the relatively sleepy town of Ridgewood, things started popping up. I recall stumbling upon an event called Saylestock, back in 2015. I saw the announcement online somewhere, as you do. It was a fund-raiser for salivary cancer awareness and research in the memory of a local young man named Matt Sayles, and the event would include artists, and a bunch of live bands. Right here in the town square in my sleepy little town. I ran right up to the park that first year, with camera in hand, of course, to be a part of this wonderful event.
I was introduced to a great community of like-minded people and artists and musicians and friends-and-family-of-Matt. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in Ridgewood. The bands were just fantastic. There was folk music, there was jazz, there was bluegrass, there was rock and roll, there was all sorts of great music by fantastic artists, performing for a warm crowd, encased by great vibes.
Every year I’d look forward to the event. It became a thing I’d tell everyone I’d meet in town about. “You live in Ridgewood? You gotta go to Saylestock. It’s excellent!”
This year, I was unfortunately out-of-town and returning that Sunday afternoon. Well I’ll tell you, I couldn’t wait to land in Newark, get home, and get up to the park. I dumped my luggage in the living room, grabbed my cameras, made sure I had batteries and empty memory cards, and managed to get to Saylestock by 2:30 or so. I missed a few acts I’m sorry to say, but gosh did I have a full day of music and positive spirit ahead of me.
An image of David Graham of the Eskimo Brothers that I posted to Facebook quickly became one of the most viewed images of mine. A testament to the rabid fans that surround this band, which in turn is a testament to how friggin’ good the band is.
We met a lovely couple from western Louisiana (as a guy from NJ, I remain unsure as to where that is exactly) while sitting at Robert’s Western World during our last trip to Nashville. We started talking about music and hit it off immediately. People who are passionate about music have a lot in common right out of the gate, I’ve found, throughout my life. This couple, who are big fans of traditional country music, made sure that I didn’t leave Robert’s until the next band, called the Don Kelley Band, hit the stage. And I am clearly happy that they gave me this advice.
So when they texted me later in the night and said The Eskimo Brothers were playing across the street, and I had better come over, well, I just knew I had to check it out. And it turned out my new friends were right, again.
Near as I can tell, and I’m not expert, some of the better bands in Nashville who play on Lower Broadway have a lineup that changes, depending on the night. You might see an amazing bass player one night, and the next night with the same band, it’s a different equally amazing bass player. Indeed, the first night I saw the Eskimo Brothers there was one rhythm section, and the next time I saw them a few days later, it was the rhythm section from Don Kelley’s band. “Slick” Joe Fick on the big bass, and John Radford on drums.
“HEY, I KNOW THOSE GUYS!” I thought to myself, or perhaps really loud out loud while gesturing at the band (hard to say, as most nights/days in Nashville were a blur of music and laughs). Point is, I felt at home all over again, what with having seen The Eskimo Brothers two days prior, and the Don Kelley band several times, and as such, me thinking that after watching these guys play before that I’m actually friends with them or something.
But I have to think there’s something to that, other than me being a weirdo: these players give so much on stage, engage with the audience with so much passion, however small that audience may be, you feel like you know them. They’re connecting with you, if you’re willing to listen to this great music and appreciate it as much as they do. They are making that connection completely easy and leaving themselves open for it. They’re leaving it all on that stage. It’s all there, for you. They are giving everything, for you. And some money in the tip jug if you’re not a complete unappreciative savage.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have my camera with me that second night, which is a rare occurrence for sure. This was due wholly to me deciding to take a voucher from United Airlines at the airport, at the gate, on the way back home, giving up my seat at the last minute, and staying an extra night in Nashville (YAY!)…and then United pulling my wife’s luggage off of the plane instead of mine, leaving me in Nashville for another night, but without clothes, or a jacket, or a camera strap (BOOO!).
Thankfully I had a camera and strap (have strap, will travel, and be able to drink beer and not worry about forgetting the camera) with me that first night, and I knew a good thing when I saw it and started snapping pictures of the band, in between drinking too much tequila and too many Miller High Lifes with my friends from western Louisiana, of course, as you do, in Nashville.
Related: here in fancy ol’ not-far-from-NYC, we’d sometimes drink Miller High Life in an ironic way. The “Champagne of beers” and all. I was never a fan of drinking anything in an ironic way. I drink things I like, and that’s that. Well I’m here to tell you that drinking Miller High Life in Nashville, at a honky tonk, listening to great musicians playing great songs, tastes way better than drinking Miller High Life ironically in New Jersey. Of this you are assured. No irony required to enjoy it.
Back to the band:
The Eskimo Brothers put on a high-energy, frenetic, why-the-hell-aren’t-you-dancing, honky tonk show. Why isn’t this everyone’s wedding band? What is wrong with you people who are getting married and wondering what band should play at your wedding? David Graham is a fantastic player (one of the best I saw in Nashville) and without a doubt a captivating showman. Try to take your eyes off of this guy. You can’t. Or, at least, you shouldn’t. When I see people stumbling out of a bar in Nashville, walking past a band like this, to the front door, I shake my head in disbelief. Why the hell are you leaving? Do you really think there’s something better waiting for you at the next bar? What are you doing in Nashville if this isn’t fulfilling your desires and meeting your expectations and more?
*sigh* Well, there’s no accounting for the taste of people who are “partying” in Nashville these days. But that’s beside the point.
The rest of the band, on both nights, were as tight as a drum. The whole damned package is awesome. I was told The Eskimo Brothers often switch instruments during the shows. I didn’t see that deal happen, but videos on YouTube bear out that fact. And wouldn’t you know it? Graham is also an excellent drummer who puts me to shame (in fairness to me, I don’t try very hard, and always approached drumming as a way to be able to hang out with musicians and occasionally meet girls. I’m simply the worst kind of drummer on every level).
My new friends from Louisiana were dead-right: The Eskimo Brothers are not to be missed if you’re in Nashville looking for great, traditional honky tonk.
If I learned anything from two recent trips to Nashville it’s that Robert’s Western World is the best damned bar on Lower Broadway. While that little strip is filled with bars with bands, Robert’s is the only one that books bands that play onlytraditional country music. You simply cannot go wrong walking into Robert’s. At too many other places, you might hear a band cranking out covers of Tom Petty (not that there’s anything wrong with Tom Petty), but not at Robert’s. Only country here.
At the behest of a lovely couple from Louisiana that we met during a recent trip, we made sure we caught Don Kelley and his band. And boy am I glad we did.
As far as I can tell, Don Kelley gets some of the best players in Nashville to play these gigs. We were utterly blown away by the musicianship of Porter McClister on guitar, “Slick” Joe Fick on the big bass, and a great drummer whose name unfortunately escapes me John Radford on the drums.
And it’s not just the musicianship. The showmanship is top notch. These guys are entertaining and high-energy as all get out. I get the impression Don Kelley runs a tight ship and knows how to keep his guys and the audience going. The professionalism is evident at every turn, and became evident right out of the gate: there was no loud noodling up coming from the stage as they set up. Just four guys methodically plugging in and quietly tuning up. And then, *BOOM!* The show starts. Damn near knocked my tits off at the first note. Continue reading “Don Kelley Band at Robert’s Western World, Nashville”
This past Saturday, my friend contacted me to let me know that her son’s basketball team (The West Milford Wildcats) was going to be in my neck of the woods, playing my hometown team (Ridgewood Hoop Club). Driving 4 minutes to hang out with friends and take some shots of the game sounded a lot better than cleaning out the basement, a plan that quickly disappeared into the ether.
Shooting sports is a blast, but not without its challenges. Especially indoors sports. The lighting in gyms is universally awful. First of all, it’s quite dark (if you don’t believe me, spend some time in a gym in the middle of the day, and then walk outside…you’ll be squinting because it’s so much brighter!). The players are moving blazingly fast, so you’re stuck shooting at high ISOs so you can get a quick shutter speed to stop the motion blur. Second, the lights almost always have a yellowish or greenish tint, which wreaks havoc on anything that has skin. At this particular gym, I was blessed, I mean cursed, with sunlight streaming through windows and doors, mixed with the yellow/green indoor lights, leading to images that have a wide variety of color tones in the shot.
But with a little patience, and a decent amount of post-processing, you can get a images few that that capture the moment, although they will not be qualifying for any Sports Illustrated spreads.
Saturday’s game was a scrimmage, so there weren’t any winners or losers (and I didn’t have to feel bad that I wasn’t rooting for my home town). But these kids played like it was the Super Bowl, or whatever the basketball equivalent is. I was shocked at how many baskets were being made, the speed of the kids, and the heights to which they jumped. Lots of jumping. A very exciting game, and I’d highly recommend checking out your local teams at some point.
American Legion Post 53 sponsors a Veterans Day ceremony every year in Memorial Park at Van Neste Square in Ridgewood, NJ. It’s a well-attended event and something I look forward to attending whenever possible.
This year, the ceremony honored those who served in the Gulf War. As always, American Legion Commander Bob Paoli served some moving and thought-provoking words. Several speakers, including Ridgewood Mayor Susan Knudsen, shared some words and thoughts with a crowd which included veterans from our Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard, along with families, students, citizens and veterans.
Of course I took some photos to remember the day, and hopefully do a bit to honor those who have served.