April 28, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Wilson!

What more can I say about recording artist Steven Wilson? The last time I saw him live in concert was back in September of 2010 in support of Porcupine Tree's album "The Incident." In the roughly two and a half years since then, he has brought the word "prolific" to an entirely new level. Producing two solo efforts (the double "Grace For Drowning" and, what I consider to be his magnum opus, "The Raven That Refused To Sing"), a double live Porcupine Tree album "Octane Twisted," a live DVD "Get All You Deserve," Blackfield's "Welcome To My DNA," and "Storm Corrosion" with Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, while keeping a steady schedule of touring, he has released in a short time what would perhaps be an entire career's worth of material for many bands. It is really mind-blowing when one takes into consideration the vast catalog of music that he has already produced with Porcupine Tree and there is still the sense that he is only getting started. Steven Wilson is a true Renaissance man.

I believe that his latest album is an absolute masterstroke and I knew that I couldn't miss out on his concert on Friday, April 26th at Best Buy Theater in Manhattan. This time out, he hit the stage with an incredible lineup of musicians: Marco Minnemann on drums, Guthrie Govan on guitar, NYC's own Adam Holzman on keyboards, Theo Travis on saxophone/flute, and an extremely entertaining bassist/stick player in the person of Nick Beggs. Being that Best Buy is a general admission club, I leaned up against a pillar and simply watched some of the top players in the world creating some of the most inspired sounds I've ever heard. As I watched, I got the sense that I was witnessing the very pinnacle of musical expression. It was that good.

After the show had let out and I was walking back to Penn Station to get the train, I noticed a man about two blocks ahead of me drop something on to the sidewalk. When I reached that point, I noticed that he had lost his Steven Wilson concert shirt. I quickly picked it up and made a dash toward him. I caught up with him at a crosswalk. When he finally realized that he had lost his shirt and I had returned it to him, he was so happy. He kept saying that I made his night. Of course, I had just been at the same concert as him and knew that his night was already quite good. When I finally made it to the Penn Station, I bought an iced tea for myself, a slice of pizza for a homeless man, and then I climbed aboard my train. The rest is history...

"Each of you
should give what you have decided
in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver."

~2 Corinthians 9:7


April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

I'm feeling very much into the spirit of Earth Day this year. Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time outdoors and I accomplished a huge amount of work in the yard. My thumb is getting greener by the minute and I'm happy to report that things are almost ready for the warm months. I should be getting a delivery of 8 yards of mulch this afternoon; once I have that spread throughout the flower beds, it will just be a matter of planting a few flats of annuals to add color. Yesterday, I even heated up the barbeque for the first time. Ah, life is sweet!

Aside from the great outdoors, this weekend was also all about my son. On Saturday, we went to see him get his promotion at Tae Kwon Do. This time he advanced to a purple/black belt. It makes me so happy to see him doing well at something he loves. The ceremonies are always very exciting. Afterwards, we celebrated with his friends at a frozen yogurt place. It was a beautiful day.

We also got to work on his photographic geometric shapes project. You might recall that we went to Philadelphia with this assignment in mind. I think that it came out quite good. Here are the pictures that we took:

"This day I call the heavens and the earth
as witnesses against you that I have set before you
life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life,
so that you and your children may live."

~Deuteronomy 30:19


April 13, 2013

Starting the Avant Gardening (and Lots of Other Things Too)

With the series of warm days that just swept through the New York area, I seized the opportunity to commence yard preparations for the Avant Garden Poetry Amphitheatre's second season. Thus far, I've raked out all of the flower beds and done most of the edging. I was happy to find that Hurricane Sandy did only mild damage to a few of the shrubs. There is still a colossal amount of work to be done (the amphitheatre's interior needs to be painted and the gardens need mulching and planting), but I'm feeling really good about it all. If everything goes smoothly and the weekends keep bringing good weather, Season II should be ready to kick off by late May or early June.

On top of that, I've also been preparing for several shows that are coming up in the near future. Firstly, I'm in the process of memorizing a script for the Bare Bones Theatre Group Showcase next month. The class has been a great experience and it has inspired me to think about a lot of new elements and possibilities in my performances. I've learned a lot. It was suggested a while ago that I host the end-of class party at the Avant Garden and I'm definitely keen on that idea.

I've also been brushing up on my "Whitman Sampler" program for a performance at the Summit School (which I am greatly looking forward to) as well as putting together a Memorial Day show for the LI Poetry Place. There's definitely a lot going on at the moment, but I must say that I'm enjoying it all. Love & light...

"Come to me,
all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest."

~Matthew 11:28


April 9, 2013

Philadelphia with Flat Stanley; Day 3: Springtime In Valley Forge

At about 8:15AM, after checking out of the Travelodge and loading our bags into the trunk of the car, I set the GPS for a street in the town of King of Prussia, PA. There would still be enough time to make one more stop on this trip and that would be at Valley Forge National Historical Park. Our last day of adventuring would be spent in the place where the Continental Army made its encampment under General George Washington during the harsh winter of 1777-1778. Without proper shelter, food, or provisions, the army met with hard times. As New York's Governor Morris would attest: "An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes naked, starved, sick and discouraged." Then, on June 18, 1778, against all odds, this same impoverished army would reemerge from Valley Forge as a supreme fighting force ready to meet the British. This was to be the turning point of the Revolutionary War. 

After a brief stop at the Visitor Center to see the displays and to fetch a map of the area, we climbed back into the car to take the driving tour. While these rolling green hills are now an idyllic setting for picnicking families, bicyclists, and joggers, there are still plenty of traces of Old-World Valley Forge to give one a mental image of the way that the place must have appeared so long ago during those fateful winter months. There are stretches of land that were once redoubts that are still riddled with logged cabins and monuments. Costumed soldiers were on hand at these locations to explain a little bit about history and military life. There are also lots of cannons to be seen at the Artillery Park.

One of my favorite spots on the tour is the beautiful National Memorial Arch. This arch was dedicated in 1917 to commemorate the soldiers that spent the winter in Valley Forge. Its cobblestone walkways and billowing flag in background made for a beautiful setting.

Another cool sight is George Washington's Headquarters in the Isaac Potts House. This location was the hub of camp activities in 1777. Plaques describe it as the "Pentagon" of its time. As I leaned my shoulder against the old hearth, I couldn't help but think that George Washington himself may have leaned on that same spot at one time. I can only guess at the thoughts that must have been weighing on his mind.

As afternoon rolled on, Valley Forge National Historic Park had one more treat to share: the Washington Memorial Chapel. With ornate woodworking and stained glass windows, this 1900s church honors the service of America's first president. Having seen all that we wanted to see on this road trip, my family and I walked slowly back to the car remarking on how much we enjoyed our adventure. I think Flat Stanley really liked it too. My daughter got an A+ on the project. (*Note - Stanley shows up five times in this post.) Love & light...

"For I reckon
that the sufferings of this present time
are not worthy to be compared with the glory
which shall be revealed in us."

~Romans 8:18


April 6, 2013

Philadelphia with Flat Stanley; Day 2: Coins, Stars, and Ships

During the two nights of this trip, I stayed at a Travelodge in New Jersey. As far as last minute hotel bookings go, the price for this one was just right, though the location did mean that I would have to cross the Benjamin Franklin Bridge each morning to get into Philadelphia. Of course, even with this little bit of added commute time, I still would have a few hours to myself in the room. I'm what you might call an early riser. For this very reason, I make sure to add a new album into my iPod before departing on any trip. For this adventure, I purchased Dream Theater's triple live album "Score: 20th Anniversary World Tour." It's a well-produced effort. I really love the fact that some of the songs are performed with an orchestra. The orchestra/rock band combination can sometimes be a dicey undertaking, but I think that Dream Theater did a really good job of it here. The sound is balanced and rich. With this being a 3-CD set, I had plenty of music to keep me busy while I was waiting for Philadelphia to rise and shine.

While my family and I have already visited Philadelphia a few times in the past, there are always more sights to see. We would begin Day 2 with a walk around the historic area that makes up and borders the Independence Mall. At 9:00AM, we arrived at the U.S. Mint for a plant tour. Here, we learned all about the various stages that go into the making of a coin: Art, Die Making, Blanking, Annealing & Upsetting, Striking, Inspecting, and Bagging. From an upper observation hallway, we were able to watch the operations happening on the ground floor. It was really cool to see conveyor belts full of freshly-pressed coins rolling by. It amazed me to learn that the U.S. Mint can turn out 1 million coins in half an hour.  Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the facility so I couldn't capture the scene.

From the Mint, it was only two blocks to the home of America's most famous flag maker, Betsy Ross. We ambled through the tiny corridors, passing rooms filled with old furnishings, until we chanced upon Betsy herself. In her sewing room, she taught the tour group how to cut a perfect five-pointed star by folding the paper a certain way and making one snip with the scissors. A neat little trick.

Our day continued with lunch in the Independence Visitor Center where we listened to a man playing patriotic songs on a Hammered Dulcimer, and then it was time for Flat Stanley to have his picture taken in front of the Liberty Bell. The queue line to enter the pavilion was quite long, but it was such a beautiful, sunny afternoon that I didn't mind the wait at all. (*Note - Flat Stanley appears 5 times in this post.)

From there, it was only a short stroll down Walnut Street to Penn's Landing and the Independence Seaport Museum, home to all things nautical. As I have always been a big fan of maritime adventures, I found this place to be fascinating. Along with the two-story museum building, the tour also includes the exploring of two vessels: the USS Becuna (a WWII submarine) and Commodore George Dewey's 1892 Cruiser USS Olympia.

"My son, despise not
the chastening of the Lord;
neither be weary of his correction: 
For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth;
even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."

~Proverbs 3:11-12