Anne and I have been watching the PBS documentary series, Country Music, which is produced by Ken Burns, the most distinguished of our high school alumnus. He graduated the year before us. We’ve watched the first four episodes and plan on tuning in again, when the series starts back up tomorrow. I’ve never been as big a fan of country music as with other musical genres. I guess that I’m just too much the city boy, but I do like the stories that they tell. From the country classics to the silly one off songs, there is something quintessentially American about their stories. In typical Burns fashion, he has segmented the bigger story into episodes that encapsulate the musical genre’s successive periods. Beginning with old sepia tone photos that are brought to life again with a panning camera, and which by episode four film has supplanted. I found the series playlist on Spotify and am listening to it while I write this post, except when Patsy Cline’s Crazy comes on and Anne demands a dance. One criticism of the series is that it is too personality driven, especially in the later yet unseen episodes. Even with sixteen hours of storytelling, not everyone’s favorite singer will get their due. Next time that we’re in Nashville, it would be nice to visit one of Broadway’s honkytonks again.
The Festival of Nations is always held at this time of year in Tower Grove Park. In the past, the weather has been abominable, usually both hot and humid. Not this year though. You couldn’t ask for better weather than today’s. Anne and I bicycled to the festival, thus avoiding its chronic parking problems. We arrived early enough to beat most of the crowd. We filled up on Jamaican BBQ rib tips that came with a side of cabbage. Properly fueled, we toured the arts and crafts booths. We saw a few things that we could have bought, but in the end, we came up empty-handed. After all of this tough shopping, we replenished ourselves with Nepalese samosas. There may not have been any heat or humidity, but there was still plenty of humanity and as the crowd closed in, we grabbed some lawn space and watched a few of the many musical acts that the festival hosts.
The first act that we saw was a Mexican mariachi band. They had all of the little kids in the audience up and dancing when they played the popular song, Baby Shark Dance, which of course Anne knew all about. Next up was a Filipino dance group. This group seemed representative of many of the performers that we’ve seen over the nineteen years that we have been going to this festival. Focused on maintaining cultural heritage amid America’s melting pot, it featured mainly children, mainly girls, who have been taught some of the ways from the old country. I especially liked what I call the candle dance. I would look it up on the festival’s website, but as you can imagine, it is being slammed now. In this dance two young women, each hold two red candles, with a third balanced on their heads. The question arose as to whether those were real candles or faux LED candles? Zooming in on one, I could see the melting candle wax which then begged the question, after each performance, do they have to pick wax out of their hair? The final act that we saw is the pictured Brazilian samba dancers. The high energy lead dancer stole the show. After them, with feet that had gone to sleep, I unsteadily got to my feet again and we stumbled back to our bikes.
With all of the rancor that is daily being spewed forth from the #RacistInChief, this day’s interlude offered a welcome relief. It felt like a balm, to see so many people, of so many nationalities, celebrating together. People of every race and ethnicity cooking and eating together, singing and dancing together and most importantly talking and being together. Love can conquer hate. So, let’s do it!
On Friday, the cover of the Post-Dispatch’s Get Out section announced that Randy Rainbow would be performing live at the Pageant on Saturday. Why not? So, I scored a pair of primo tickets. We’ve been following his YouTube videos for some time and have been loving the likes of Desperate Cheeto, Yes! We Have No Steve Bannon!, Alternative Facts, and Rudy and the Beast. His schtick is to marry popular show tunes with pointed political satire that skewers the current administration. Collectively, they have over a 100 million views. He produces these videos himself, which showcase his love-hate relationship with Trump, “We are all going to die, but he has been so good for my career.” Randy Rainbow is his given name, his mother “wanted the gayest son possible and she got him.” Jewish, he grew up in Broward County, but now splits his time between there, NYC and near constant touring.
Accompanied by a four piece band and a big screen projected TV, each number would begin with a replaying of a video’s intro, giving him time for a quick costume change. Then he would come out to sing. I wondered how this was going to work, since much of his work uses a lot of green screen and the highly edited repartee with his interview subjects couldn’t be duplicated live. His show was 90 minutes, which included a Q&A with the audience or tea talk.
This was our first time in the Pageant, a U-City Loop Joe Edwards property. Since he owns most of the Loop now, he must have made a fortune that night, because business was really booming. Delmar was an end-to-end traffic jam. Afterwards, we got home just in time to catch the opening of SNL. Quite a night, quite a weekend! I wonder if anything new will be on the tellie tonight?
We saw Beautiful – The Carole King Musical last night at the Fox. We had seen this show before, when we were in London, but it was good to see it again. This musical tells the story of her songwriting career from her high school debut to her appearance at Carnegie Hall, after the release of Tapestry. I prepped for the evening’s show by listening to the soundtrack, which I had on steady rotation, while I was also preparing for next week’s plaster/paint extravaganza. I did catch the noon local NPR show that interviewed Paul Blake, the Beautiful producer. Blake had been the Muny impresario for decades and on opening night, he would introduce each week’s show. I had hoped that he would do the same for the Saint Louis debut of Beautiful, but it was not to be. After the show we did see John, my former colleague and mentor. He told me about a regular luncheon of retired Boeing engineers that I now plan to attend. You can look for me there, sitting at the old guy’s table.
Anne and I attended our first rock concert, since when? I think that it was Billy Joel in the Checkerdome, in the eighties. It might have been The Arena by then, but he remembered it as the Checkerdome. He also recalled its awful acoustics. Last night’s concert was part of the Maplewood Summer Concert Series, held in Ryan Hummert Park. The band was The Retro Nerds, an 80s tribute band. While they did their sound checks, we lounged on the lawn and picnicked.
First act highlights included Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean and Thriller. I ain’t the one… There was a news splash this week that an Eagle’s greatest hit album had surpassed Michael’s Thriller album, as the all time best-selling record. Excuse me! Isn’t it stacking the deck to combine five years of work into one compilation and then call it the best-selling album. The Eagle’s actual best-selling album is Hotel California, which still trails Thriller. Sorry for the rant, but I don’t think that Retro Nerds played any of the Eagle’s biggest hits.
Other notable songs (i.e. tunes that I recognized) were Whip It by Devo, Van Halen’s Jump and Journey’s Someday Love Will Find You. If you want to see Retro Nerds they will be opening at Comic-Con in Chicago tomorrow. Other sentimental favorites include Safety Dance by Men Without Hats. Footloose by Kenny Loggins and Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music.
Several times during the concert the lead vocalist (Jason Nelson) referred to the day as Friday, as if it was already the weekend, but maybe for a touring rock band, Friday is their Monday. At the time, I just laughed it off as another retired guy joke, not having to go to work tomorrow. It was with a dawning realization that we awoke on Thursday morning that it was not the weekend yet.
During intermission, one of Anne’s kiddo’s made several drivebys. Anne also rescued the beanie hat of one of the band members that had gotten caught in a low tree branch. Not to be too much the fashionista, but you can only rock white shorts and a red satin tank top, while holding the guitar. Much of their repertoire I didn’t recognize, but I attribute that to listening to too much Raffi in the late 80s. Their finale was Fight for Your Right to Party by the Beastie Boys and their encore was Jumping by INXS. It was a fun concert and a perfect night.