Superstars and Scene Stealing Students – 2013 Panama Jazz Festival, Panama City, Panama

10th annual Panama Jazz FestivalThe superstar-studded lineup for the live concerts capping off the week-long 10th annual Panama Jazz Festival, held this month in Panama City, was impressive. Jazz icon and 14 Grammy-award-winning pianist and composer Herbie Hancock. Two time Latin Grammy winning singer Susana Baca. Panamanian actor and musician Rubén Blades. Improvisational guitarist and Grammy nominee Bill Frisell. Miles Davis contemporary, multiple Grammy winner and revered composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter along with his stellar quartet. Little did we know we would be blown away by some scene stealing students.

The Danilo Pérez Foundation

Acclaimed Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Pérez had an idea. What if he could pass some of his skills on to Panamanian children? How would that change their lives? How would it change Panama?

Hard work and a cadre of partners who shared his vision resulted in the creation of the Fundacion Danilo Pérez (Danilo Pérez Foundation) in 2005 in a donated building In a quickly gentrifying neighborhood of Panama City called Casco Viejo on what is now the border between “new” Casco Viejo and the still downtrodden El Chorillo neighborhood. Here, a staff of teachers (many of them former foundation students) teach jazz to any child who wants to learn. And man do they learn. A dizzying number of foundation students go on to graduate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston as well as other international music schools.

As if running the foundation and changing children’s lives with music isn’t enough, Pérez, a Fulbright Scholar, is also the founder and artistic director of the Panama Jazz Festival, the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music and is part of the Grammy winning Wayne Shorter Quartet. In November 2012 he was also named a UNESCO Artist for Peace

Danilo Perez on piano with Ruben Blades listening in during the closing concert of the Panama Jazz Festival

Danilo Pérez on piano with fellow Panamanian musician Rubén Blades.

A very, very hard act to follow

The Panama Jazz Festival week was filled with daytime workshops during which internationally acclaimed jazz musicians worked with Panamanian hopefuls and late night jam sessions during which an open stage policy encouraged creative collaboration.

It was fitting that the three night Jazz Festival concert series at Theater Anayansi, a well-attended highlight of the event, was kicked off by a group comprised of some of the foundation’s up and coming pint-sized stars. They not only opened the concert series, they blew the lid off of it.

The group of boys, dressed in tuxedos and struts, teased, toyed and tantalized their way through two songs, including the classic, Cantaloupe Island. Daring solos were performed. Brave musical chances were taken. Smiles were flashed. The audience was on their feet.

Jazz kids from Danilo Perez Foundation performing Jazz Fest

Danilo Pérez Foundation jazz students showed us all how it’s done during the opening night of the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival concert series.

 

Kids from the Dailo Perez Foundation

Not too young for fame – Danilo Pérez Foundation jazz students after getting a standing ovation during their performance as the opening act of the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival concert series.

Poor Herbie Hancock

Even a jazz legend like Hancock had to admit that the students were a hard act to follow but he took the stage anyway as the headliner of the night and did his own roof-blowing-off on the piano, including his own rendition of Cantaloupe Island (a song he composed). 

We loved it. But we also secretly wished the kids would come back out.

Herbie Hancock piano Panama Jazz festival

Jazz legend Herbie Hancock during the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival.

 

Herbie Hancock piano 10th annual Panama Jazz festival

Jazz legend Herbie Hancock during the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival. Isn’t that an awesome stage shirt?

Sleeping with the stars

The Hotel El Panama was the host hotel for the Panama Jazz Festival and despite written rules forbidding guests from “bringing in musicians” all of the festival’s big names were staying there. We were too and this meant we had the chance to get a picture of Eric with Herbie Hancock in the lobby.

Herbie Hancock at Hotel El Panama Jazz Fest

Eric with Herbie Hancock in the lobby of the El Panama hotel during the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival.

We were also sitting at the table next to Susana Baca and her crew at breakfast one morning when they opened one of the local papers to discover a big spread on the singer including an enormous pull quote that read “Of course I’m a diva”. This inspired raucous laughter from the group.

A diva in action

We got the chance to see the diva in action during the concert the following night but first Bill Frisell and his band, including Jenny Scheinman on violin, Tony Scherr on bass, Greg Leisz on peddle steel and Kenny Wollesen on drums took the stage. This was familiar ground for us. We’ve seen Frisell perform several times and enjoyed other band members during performances in other groups when we were still living in New York City and seeing some of the best live music in the world. 

For this occasion the quintet hurtled into imaginative re-thinkings of Beatles and Jogn Lennon classics which were fresh and familiar at the same time. You can check out these reinterpretations on Frisell’s resent album, All we are saying…

Bill Frisell quintet performs Beatles & John Lenon All we are saying - Panama Jazz Festival

Inventive jazz guitarist Bill Frisell (far right) with is quintet during the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival.

Then it was diva time and Susana Baca took the stage barefoot and wearing a gently two-tone flowing dress clearly custom tailored to allow her to sweep and float across the stage. A large part of her considerable presence had nothing to do with her lauded voice. She tip-toed, she gestured, she smiled her whole-face smile.

Her voice–sometimes sounding like a one-woman version of the Buena Vista Social Club–was not always strong. Her presence, however, was. Did we mention that she is also the Minister of Culture in her native Peru?

Yeah. Diva.

Susana Baca Panama Jazz Festival

Two time Grammy winning Peruvian songstress Susana Baca and her group performing at the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival.

 

Susana Baca 10th annual Panama Jazz Festival

Though her voice has won her two Grammy Awards,  it was Susana Baca’s overall stage-presence that kept the audience mesmerized during her performance at the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival.

You can’t keep a good jazz man down

Unbeknownst to most concert goers, Wayne Shorter had been in the hospital during the 24 hours before he took the stage with the rest of his quartet: Danilo Pérez on piano, John Patitucci on upright bass, Brian Blade on drums.

Shorter’s performance was only fleetingly affected by the fact that he wasn’t feeling well and his set was punctuated with moments when he masterfully found exactly the right time and place to blow his horn as his band raged around him. Understatement at its finest.

The real fun was watching the grinning good time John and Brian were having as they riffed off each other and the crowd favorite was clearly hometown boy Pérez on piano.

Wayne Shorter Quartet Danilo Perez John Patitucci Brian Blade - Panama Jazz Festival

The Wayne Shorter Quartet with Danilo Pérez on piano, John Patitucci on upright bass and Brian Blade on drums backing up the jazz master.

 

Wayne Shorter and John Patitucci - Panama Jazz Festival

Wayne Shorter and John Patitucci jam it out during the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival.

Panama Jazz Festival finale in the City of Knowledge 

The Panama Jazz Festival is traditionally capped off with a full afternoon and evening of free performances that bring together the musicians that have been featured during the previous week of music. In years past this popular free event had been held in a park in the Casco Viejo neighborhood but with gentrification projects tearing up the streets in that part of town and the number of festival growers swelling a new location had to be found this year.

The co-called “City of Knowledge” area of Panama City was chosen. This area, which was once part of the US-controlled Canal Zone, is now a sort of think tank managed by a non-profit organization committed to “exchange, growth, and innovation” in Panama.

Panama Jazz festival stage at City of Knowledge

The Panama Jazz Festival ended with a free outdoor concert which was held in the “City of Knowledge” this year.

A large grassy area within the City of Knowledge development proved the right spot for the finale, though we have to say that the much-anticipated performance by Rubén Blades (locals pronounced his last name “Blah – dess” by the way) was a snoozer anchored by a lethargic version of “Mack the Knife.” Where was the Latin Jazz and Afro Cuban music this former Panamanian tourism minister and Presidential candidate is also known for?

Ruben Blades singing Mack the Knife at Panama Jazz Festival

Panamanian actor, musician and one-time Presidential candidate Rubén Blades during the closing concert of the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival.

Luckily, a slew of superstars, foundation professors, Pérez and many others returned to the stage for a jam-packed jam session with the Panama Jazz Festival Big Band for an appropriately raucous end to the event.

Sasana Baca closing concert of Panama Jazz Festival with Danilo Perez & the Panama Jazz festival Big Band

Danilo Pérez (left) directing traffic as Susana Baca spearheads a full stage of musical talent as part of the closing concert festivities of the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival.

 

Italian saxiphonist Marco Pignataro Managing Director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute

Closing concert goodness as the 2013 Panama Jazz Festival comes to an end.

 

TIP

When you’re visiting the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City stop by the Danilo Pérez Foundation and check out what they’re doing and make a donation if you can. If you’re lucky, some of their rockin’ students will be burning it up.

 


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17 Reasons NOT to Blow Off the Capital – San José, Costa Rica

San José, Costa Rica gets a bad rap. Sure, some of the capital city’s once-grand architecture has seen better days and the streets can get jammed up and there are still some seedy spots. But while most travelers land at San José’s airport and high tail it to the country’s beaches, jungles and volcanoes, we spent more than a month (off and on) in San José during the course of our five months in Costa Rica. The city grew on us and we ultimately found 17 reasons (from boutique hotels to roller derby girls to iconic ice cream) not to blow off the country’s largest city.

1. Egg nog ice cream – Okay, it wasn’t meant to taste like egg nog, but the frozen treat that’s been sold at La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora in San José’s 130 year old Central Market for more than 100 years nails it with nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and rich, custardy goodness. It’s even the same color as egg nog. Locals like it even more with (shrug) cubes of reg Jell-O in it.

La Sorbeteria de Lolo Mora - central Market, San Jose, Costa Rica

Delicious, custardy ice cream has been made and sold at this Central Market stand in San José, Costa Rica for more than 100 years.

2. Mouthwatering soup – In the Central Market annex, across the street from the main market building, wander around until you find a tiny eatery called Mariscos Poseidon. Sit down. Order the seafood soup (about US$2). You’re welcome.

Mariscos Posiden - San Jose, Costa Rica

We’ve got post fish soup smiles at Mariscos Poseidon in the Central Market annex in San José, Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of our friend Dos

3. Best bargain bed and breakfast - At US$30 for a clean and comfortable double room with a pristine shared bath, WiFi, cable TV, free parking and the largest, most varied and most deliciously fresh free breakfast buffet in Central America you simply can’t beat Hotel Aranjuez, about a 10 minute walk from the city center. It’s not the cheapest place to stay in San José but we believe it’s the best value for money. Reservations are a must.

4. Cool design on display – The Contemporary Art & Design Museum (Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo in Spanish) is located in a former distillery so it’s got the requisite hip warehouse vibe. Mixed media installations rotate regularly and the whole place feels a bit like a loft gallery in Brooklyn (US$3, free to all on Mondays).

5. Bikers on a mission – Roberto and Ayal started ChepeCletas (a combination of chepe, slang for downtown San José, and cleta which is Spanish for bike cleat) as a campaign to have fewer cars and more bikes in the city center. It quickly morphed into a crusade to reinvent and revitalize San José for locals and for travelers. ChepeCletas now offers tours of the city (day and night) on bikes or on foot. Tours are lead by locals with insights and personal history in the city. These “guides” share fascinating little-known facts and anecdotes that bring San José to life.

6. Great graffiti – Street artists in San José have taken graffiti to a new level and many walls around town are enlivened by a variety of styles. Like these:

San Jose, Costa Rica street art grafitti

Great grafitti in San José, Costa Rica.

San Jose, Costa Rica street art grafitti

Great grafitti in San José, Costa Rica.

7. Italian hotel style – San José has hostels up the ying yang. It has international chain hotels. It even has interesting locally-owned B&Bs and business class hotels, including the Hotel Presidente. What’s been missing is a central, reasonably priced boutique hotel. That is until Mansion del Parque Bolivar Hotel opened in early 2012. Italian owned (and it shows), this former mansion is now a five room retreat featuring free European style breakfast on the patio. Check out our full review.

8. Roller derby girls – They go by the name Panties Dinamita (dynamite panties) and they entered the roller derby ring in early 2011 with all the usual trappings including tattoos, dyed hair and playfully bad attitudes. You’re welcome to watch practice sessions as well as scheduled battles against the two other roller derby teams in Costa Rica.

9. Site of the military’s last stand – Costa Rica hasn’t had a military since it was disbanded by President José María Hipólito Figueres Ferrer in 1948. The site where that historic proclamation was made, ironically a former military fort, is now the National Museum of Costa Rica (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica in Spanish). It’s a great place to get a taste of everything from ancient art, to pre-Columbian gold (unless you’re a gold freak skip the Costa Rica Gold Museum which is just plain overwhelming and costs US$11 to get in to) to mysterious huge round stones to amazingly ornate matates (grinding stones) like we’ve never seen before. It’s all displayed in a peaceful setting which includes a huge butterfly enclosure (US$8).

National Museum of Costa Rica,  San Jose

The National Museum of Costa Rica in San José.

10. Culture on the cheap – The National Theater of Costa Rica (Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica in Spanish), in downtown San José, was modeled on the Paris Opera House and it’s an eye popper with sculptures, paintings and furnishings that seem straight out of, well, Paris. And that was the idea. Opened in 1897, the theater was built in grand style with money generated by a controversial tax on coffee. Initially, it was meant exclusively for Costa Rica’s elite. These days an excellent, one hour, info-filled guided tour is available (US$7 per person) and on most Tuesdays the theater hosts “Theater at Noon”–short performances by world-class performers for less than US$5. The theater lobby is also home to the best coffee shop in town and the best gift shop in town, full of quality Costa Rican made products including organic coffee from Finca Rosa Blanca and organic Sibu chocolate.

National Theater of Costa Rica,  San Jose Opera House

The National Theater of Costa Rica,opened in 1897, was modeled on the Paris Opera House.

National Theater of Costa Rica interior -  San Jose Opera House

Inside the opulent National Theater of Costa Rica in San José.

11. Sunday strolling – Every Sunday San Jose’s main drag, Paseo Colon which connects downtown with the city’s largest park (see below), is closed to traffic and turned into a pedestrian street which attracts families and couples. It’s a great idea and a relaxing way to mingle with city residents.

12. Free art in the park – The city’s first airport is now the huge and popular La Sabana Metropolitan Park (Parque Metropolitano La Sabana in Spanish). The former terminal is now the Costa Rica Art Museum (Museo de Arte Costarricense in Spanish). Rotating exhibits of modern art from local artists now fill the rooms instead of passengers and admission is always free.

Costa Rica Art Museum - San Jose

The Costa Rica Art Museum in San José puts on rotating exhibits showcasing Costa Rican artists’ work and admission is always free.

13. Happening eats – La Esquina Buenos Aires restaurant serves up fantastic beef (and pasta and fish), the most affordable glass of wine in the city ($5 for a massive pour of the restaurant’s house red or house white) and has knowledgeable and accommodating waiters. No wonder La Esquina is buzzing with locals and visitors mingling at the festive bar and lingering over tables most nights.

14. Chic shopping – eÑe boutique, right around the corner from Mansion del Parque Bolivar Hotel, is one of the chicest shops in San José (look for the very cool red neon Ñ in the window at 7th Avenue and 13th Street). Everything they sell is locally designed and made including cool tees, handmade leather bags, retro dresses, playful jewelry, stylish journals and notebooks and more.

15. Live music – Anyone who knows us knows that live music is one of the things we miss most from our former lives as New Yorkers. It’s been a struggle finding concerts, live music and music festivals since moving south of Mexico but in San José we were pleasantly surprised by the booming live music scene. We had a great time at the two day Festival Imperial featuring Bjork, Cypress Hill, Gogol Bordello, Moby, LMFAO, TV on the Radio and more and the city’s new National Stadium has already hosted concerts by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Elton John, Shakira, Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga just to name a few. Coldplay is coming in 2013.

Bjork - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Bjork doing her thing on Day 2 of Festival Imperial 2012 in San José, Costa Rica.

Flaming Lips - Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

The Flaming Lips during Day 1 of Festival Imperial 2012 in San José, Costa Rica.

16. Presidential tree -  In 1963 US President John F. Kennedy planted a ceiba tree on the manicured grounds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (also called Casa Amarilla). Sadly, it had to be cut down but you can still see the spot where it used to stand.

Casa Amarilla, Foreign Ministry - San Jose, Costa Rica

US President John F. Kennedy planted a ceiba tree in that corner of the grounds in front of the Foreign Ministry in San José, Costa Rica. Sadly, it had to be cut down.

17. The weather — At nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level temps are more moderate in San José than in most other steamy places in the country. It was nice to break out the jeans.

In the burbs

San José sprawls a bit like Los Angeles does with self-contained mini-city suburbs all around the downtown area. If you’ve got your own wheels and want to experience the chic, modern suburbs of Escazu and Santa Ana we highly recommend Casa de Las Tias where flawless hosts Xavier and PIlar will get you settled into one of their seven homey rooms. Breakfast in their gorgeous garden (included) is NOT to be missed.  Or splash out at minimalist Casa Cristal, a romantic hideaway with expansive views down the valley to central San José.

Either way, eat at Da Marco Italian Restaurant in Santa Ana. When we asked the Italian owner of Mansion Parque del Bolivar Hotel where the best Italian food in Costa Rica was this is where he sent us and it did not disappoint. The chef, from Verona, turns out freshly baked focaccia and home made pasta (the seafood tagliatelle rocked when drizzled with house spiked chili oil), nine different types of risotto, fish dishes, meat dishes and more along with a wide-ranging wine list.

Coming in early 2013: 8ctavo Rooftop Restaurant & Lounge is being opened by our friends Mike and Jon on top of the new Sonesta Hotel & Casino in Escazu. We are so sorry we won’t be in town for that!

 

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Photo Essay: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge, which spans San Francisco Bay, turns 75 this year. This iconic bridge has inspired poets, film makers, photographers and musicians for decades with its signature color (drably called International Orange), its sweeping suspension design and its ever-changing wardrobe of fog and sun.

Golden gate bridge - Fog

Golden Gate Bridge

Eric has photographed the heck out of the Golden Gate Bridge and the occasion of its 75th birthday seemed like the right time to share a few shots.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

The birthday of such a bridge inspired two very different brand new musical tributes. Mickey Hart, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and former drummer for the Grateful Dead, composed a “musical soundscape based on the real sounds of the bridge.” 

Listen to a live recording of the Mickey Hart Band performing the composition at the Golden Gate Bridge 75th Birthday Celebration at Crissy Field:

Decades ago Hart tried to scale the bridge to record sounds made by the structure which he calls a “giant wind-harp.” He was promptly arrested. Twice. This time things went more smoothly and Hart and his team capture the sounds they were after. Hart performed his composition as part of the Golden Gate Bridge’s birthday bash by playing a 27 foot stainless steel replica of the bridge which was built by engineers at San Francisco’s awesome Exploratorium

Golden Gate Bridge sunset

Golden Gate Bridge

Meanwhile, James Kellaris, a University of California marketing professor and “part-time” musician, won a contest put on by the San Francisco Mandolin Orchestra (who knew there was such a thing?) to compose a birthday song for the bridge.

He composed a mandolin ditty he calls “Chrysopylae Reflections,” referencing the Greek term “chrysopylae” which, according to Kellaris, means “golden gate.” Who are we to argue with a man with a mandolin?

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge Fog

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden gate Bridge panorama

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge - sunset

 

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Music Festival Central America Style – Festival Imperial DAY 2, Costa Rica

Crowd - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Ready for Day 2 of the Festival Imperial 2012 music festival in Costa Rica.

We love live music. Before embarking on our Journey we spent a lot of time seeing live music and going to music festivals around the US including BonnarooHigh SierraGathering of the VibesMountain JamJam Cruise, Langerado, etc. The concept of the multi-day, outdoor, multi-stage music festival is not well established in Central America but we’re happy to report that after a four year absence the Festival Imperial in Costa Rica came back with a vengeance this past weekend and we were there.

Put on by the folks who do Lollapalooza, the two day lineup included The Flaming Lips, TV on the Radio, LMFAO, Bjork, Thievery Corporation, Cypress Hill, Moby (doing a DJ set), Skrillex, Maroon 5 and Gogol Bordello plus some great bands we were happy to discover. Many of these same artists are continuing down to Lollapalooza Chile and Lollapalooza Brazil over the next two weekends.

If it looks, smells, tastes and sounds like a music festival…

Held in appropriately dusty and sunny conditions at speedway near the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, Imperial Festival had all the usual trappings: three stages, semi-smelly porta-potties and a bunch of food vendors some selling fast food junk or freshly made chifrijo, which is pretty much the national dish of Costa Rica made with rice, beans, pico de gallo and pork.

Plenty of recycling bins and an on-site sorting and crushing facility and a kick ass crew kept things remarkably clean. There was even a small strip of stalls selling better-than-usual clothes and jewelry from local, hip boutiques like Hija de Tigre. Oh, and beer. The whole festival was sponsored by Imperial, the biggest brand of beer in Costa Rica, and there was plenty of the unremarkable stuff on hand though it was no bargain at US$3 per can. Where’s the Sweetwater or Sixpoint tent when you need it?

We were there for the music anyway. Day 1 of Festival Imperial was awesome. Here’s what moved us, scared us and surprised us on Day 2.

Hard to say, easy to dance to

Sonambulo. It doesn’t roll off your tongue but this band will have you rolling your hips. That’s what happens when a bunch of guys (the full band is 11 members strong) from places like Cuba,  El Salvador, Costa Rica and Colombia get together. Though Sonambulao means sleepwalker there was no sleeping or walking involved in their set as the band cranked out what they call “Psico Tropical” sound. Just when we thought we were in the midst of a classically infectious cumbia, for example, the band threw in some trippy keyboards, keeping the crowd on their toes literally and figuratively.

Sonambulo - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Sonambulo got the dancing started early on Day 2 of the Festival Imperial 2012 music festival in Costa Rica with their “Psico Tropical” pan Latin sound.

One of the greatest things about Festival Imperial was that performances on the two main stages never overlapped. This meant we never had to make agonizing Bonnaroo-style decisions about which act to sacrifice in order to see another one. Find just the right vantage point between the two main stages and you could practically treat the festival like a ping-pong match and never do much more than move your head from left to right to catch acts on both main stages.

 

TV on the Radio on Stage at the Festival in Costa Rica

Sure we’d been hearing the buzz about TV on the Radio (we’re in Central America, not under a rock) but we’d never seen them live and, frankly, they should be called TV on the Radio on Stage because seeing them live is the only way to fully appreciate lead singer Tunde Adebimpe’s arms, which must be the longest and most flexible in the industry. We also loved that the bass player looks like Harvard Professor, author and commentator Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. after a bender.

TV On the Radio during Day 2 of the Festival Imperial 2012 music festival in Costa Rica.

Tunde waves those amazing arms around a lot, one of the few constants in a performance that ran the vocal gamut. Close your eyes at a TV on the Radio show and you might swear the band was changing up singers, toggling between Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals, Prince and Michael Jackson depending on whether they’d dialed up a ballad, a ska shaker or a fully eclectic alt rock anthem.

TV On the Radio - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

TV On the Radio during Day 2 of the Festival Imperial 2012 music festival in Costa Rica.

And now we would like to make a random, humble suggestion: 86 the thunder sticks. They must have handed out 75,000 inflatable thunder sticks during Festival Imperial creating a sea of ad-clad obstacles in between us and the stage and leaving behind tons of plastic trash.

 

Thievery Corporation steals the show

“I wish America had no army,” said Thievery Corporation co-founder Rob Garza when asked during a press conference what he thought of the fact that Costa Rica hasn’t had an army since 1949. Par for the course from a driving force behind the hottest band with a conscience.

Thievery Corporation - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

The Thievery Corporation gang upped the political IQ on Day 2 of the Festival Imperial 2012 music festival in Costa Rica.

Thievery Corporation got things rolling with an anti IMF rap (International Mother F…ers) but this band makes even global financial shenanigans fun with a bottomless roster of singers,  a sitar player on a white settee, turntables and a bass player who somehow managed to dance as hard as the crowd.

Thievery Corporation - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Thievery Corporation on stage at the Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

The overall effect was Massive Attack after a stint in the Peace Corps. Hip, sexy energy, smart words, haunting vocals.

Not only do we agree with Garza’s music we also agree with his assessment of Festival Imperial which he praised for its “eclectic” line up. Unlike many US music festivals Festival Imperial was not booked through the prism of one musical genre or even one definition of what’s popular or mainstream. Come to think of it, radio stations in Costa Rica tend to mix it up the same way.

Thievery Corporation - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Thievery Corporation at Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

 

And speaking of eclectic….

Now for something completely different

Shaved head and long hair. Cool and dorky. Distorted and melodic. Much-hyped Skrillex, who looks like a creepy loser kid from an episode of The Brady Bunch, produced something between brown noise and the sound one imagines mice would make if you fed them acid and gave them paperclips and tin foil to play with. We actually mean that in a good way…

And he’s so small!

Skrillex - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Skrillex doing that thing he does on Day 2 of Festival Imperial 2012 Costa Rica. 

DJ Shadow - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

In addition to Skrillex, Festival Imperial 2012 also featured the DJ stylings of Diplo’s Major Lazer, Hot Chip, Moby and DJ Shadow (pictured here).

 

Were we really bored by Bjork?

Bjork - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Bjork and her avant-garde choir at Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

For an artist so defined by visuals it was disappointing that you had to be within 30 feet of the stage to get a proper view of the show Bjork presented. Instead of using the stage-side mega screens to simulcast from the stage, she used them to show video footage of lava splitting the earth apart and starfish moving in fast-mo. Cool, yes, but those same images were being shown behind the stage as well and what 90% of the crowd was really hungry for was a good look at Bjork.

Bjork - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Bjork being Bjork and, yes, that’s an inflatable dress.

We did our best. We can tell you that Bjork was wearing a stiff, matronly orange wig and a deep plastic dress with inflatable fat lady bulges at the hips and breasts. She was backed by a disturbing number of blondes dressed in sequined versions of choir robes. Together, these women produced a soaring cacophony of voices which almost made up for the dearth of musical instruments on stage (no, a laptop doesn’t count).

Bjork does get our Best Gracias of the Day award, however. Petite, sweet and with perfectly rolled Rs.

Bjork - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Bjork on Day 2 of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

 

From The Temptations to The Contemptible

We managed to miss most of the LMFAO mania but a few songs have been unavoidable. Up until today we actually got a kick out of hearing LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It on the radio in the truck. We even started singing along to the ridiculously earnest line “I work out.” Those days ended as soon as we saw LMFAO live.

Well-known fact: LMFAO was created by Redfoo and his cousin SkyBlu (not their real names). Little-known fact: Redfoo is the son of musical legend Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, and SkyBlu is Mr. Gordy’s grandson. SkyBlue couldn’t make it to Festival Imperial show but the whole thing was so pre-packaged that he wasn’t even missed. Hell, they probably could have both stayed home and the crowd still would have worked itself into a frenzy as if pure pheromones were being misted from the stage. And perhaps they were.

LMFAO - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Redfoo and his mystifying crew (what’s up with that dude on the left?) get the LMFAO shenanigans started at Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica. 

The show was a mash up of Romper Room, a low budget Japanese sex show and a Jane Fonda workout tape with glimpses of the resort wear catalog from International Male. Toss in dry humping backup dancers, as many hot button words as you can think of and more costume changes than Madonna and you’ve about got it. (Redfoo has said he wants to focus on the band’s clothing line and live shows have become fashion shows for his lurid, lyrca, lyric-splashed gear.)

LMFAO attracted one of the largest and youngest crowds of the festival and elicited the most enthusiastic reactions–mostly in the form of teenage girls squealing and screaming whenever Redfoo asked “Where my bitches at?” which was often.

LMFAO - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

LMFAO, keepin’ it classy.

LMFAO - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Jane Fonda’s lawyers take note…LMFAO on stage during Day 2 of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

There is a chance that we were repulsed by the LMFAO show because we’re not 19 years old and anything that involves raping zebras and t-shrts that say “I am not a whore” worn by women (and men) acting like whores just pisses us off (you can buy that t-shirt, btw, on the LMFAO website!).

LMFAO - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

LFMAO Lesson #483: If you have to say “I Am Not A Whore” you probably…

There’s a much greater chance, however, that we were repulsed by the LMFAO show because it sucked. Despite the fact that we could hear our own brain cells dying the longer we stood in the crowd, we stayed.  We wanted to Laugh Our F…ing Asses Off with the band at their fantastic joke on the music industry.  We were waiting for the tongue to go in the cheek–hell, Redfoo had been singing about his tongue going everywhere else.

But Redfoo never broke character, never let the audience in on what we hope and pray is a joke meant to highlight just how easy it is to descend low enough to reach the heights of pop music. Instead we got a musical roofie: it hits you, you wake up later, then desperately want a shower.

Are these guys really the spawn of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy? The same man who brought us the Jackson 5, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and more? Shudder.

Redfoo LMFAO - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

LMFAO Redfoo, totally not sorry for party rocking.

 

Thank you and good night!

Thank you Festival Imperial 2012 and Hotel Presidente, where we were hosted in a huge room with festival weekend rebound essentials: sound-proof windows, a mini fridge and an awesome breakfast buffet served until 10.

The end of Festival Imperial is not the end of the noteworthy live music in Costa Rica, by the way. In May 2012 Bob Dylan will perform in San Jose and Paul McCartney is coming too though dates for McCartney haven’t been announced.

Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Enjoying sunset and a few minutes between sets at Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

 

Other musical moments on the road…

We’ve managed to see a smattering of live music since our Trans-Americas Journey started back in 2006. We kicked off the Journey with a visit to the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans (we made it to Jazz Fest a total of three times on the Journey). Our path crossed with that of our favorite epic percussionist, Mike Dillon, in the US and in Canada. Our most recent music festival was the invitation-only Black Sheep Family Festival in Oregon way back in 2008.

Oh, and we once drove 2,000 miles from the tip of Baja to Boulder, Colorado for a two-night run by one of our favorite bands ever, Bustle in Your Hedgerow–a vocal-free, totally raging Led Zeppelin cover band made up of keyboard killer Marco Benevento, bad ass drummer Joe Russo (currently on tour with Further), Ween man Dave Dreiwitz and awesome guitarist Scott Metzger who wrote our very own theme song. Did we mention that we have a theme song? Go to the bottom or our homepage to play it!

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Music Festival, Central America Style – Festival Imperial DAY 1, Costa Rica

Festival Imperial 2012 Costa Rica MusicIt has been mentioned before that WE LOVE MUSIC. Before embarking on our Journey we spent a lot of time seeing live music and going to music festivals around the US including Bonnaroo, High Sierra, Gathering of the Vibes, Mountain Jam, Jam Cruise, Langerado, etc. While the concept of the multi-day, outdoor, multi-stage music festival is not well established in Central America we are pleased to announce that after a four year absence the Festival Imperial in Costa Rica came back with a vengeance this past weekend and we were there.

Put on by the folks who do Lollapalooza, the two day lineup included The Flaming Lips, TV on the Radio, LMFAO, Bjork, Thievery Corporation, Cypress Hill, Moby (doing a DJ set), Skrillex, Maroon 5 and Gogol Bordello plus some great bands we were happy to discover. Many of these same artists are continuing down to Lollapalooza Chile and Lollapalooza Brazil over the next two weekends. Convenient, right?

It looks, smells, tastes and sounds like a festival…

Held in appropriately dusty and sunny conditions at speedway near the Costan Rican capital of San Jose, Imperial Festival had all the usual trappings: three stages, semi-smelly porta-potties and a bunch of food vendors some selling fast food junk or freshly made chifrijo, which is pretty much the national dish of Costa Rica made with rice, beans, pico de gallo and pork. There were plenty of recycling bins and an on-site sorting and crushing facility and a kick ass crew kept things remarkably clean.

Festival Imperial 2012 - Guacima, Costa Rica

Crowds at Day 1 of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

There was even a small strip of stalls selling better-than-usual clothes and jewelry from local, hip boutiques like Hija de Tigre. Oh, and beer. The whole festival was sponsored by Imperial, the biggest brand of beer in Costa Rica, and there was plenty of the unremarkable stuff on hand though it was no bargain at US$3 per can. Where’s the Sweetwater or Sixpoint tent when you need it?

We were there for the music anyway. Here’s what got us going on Day 1 of the 2012 Festival Imperial.

 

We broke out the ear plugs for Gogol Bordello (in a good way)

Gogol Bordello Festival Imperial 2012 Costa Rica

Gogol Bordello managed just the right blend of energy and butt-crack.

During our very first show on the very first day of the festival we got to use the Etymotic Research ear plugs we’ve been carting around for years since we’d positioned ourselves right up front by a tower of speakers. Gogol Bordello rocked it like they were playing a 3 am set to a tweaking crowd even though it was only 1:00 in the afternoon and most festival goers were still figuring out where to buy drink tickets.

Gogol Bordello Festival Imperial 2012 Costa Rica

Just part of the global Gogol Bordello gang during their high-energy hijinx on Day 1 of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

The crowd of skinny hipster dudes and big-bottomed, 80s-loving girls quickly got swept up in the onstage antics of this UN of a band (members hail from Ukraine, the US, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Israel). For the next hour or so (too short) Gogol Bordello raged. There was jumping. There was butt-crack. There was onstage drinking. Best moment: Eugene Hutz opening another bottle of wine on stage without missing a beat then drinking straight from the bottle. Glasses are for sissies.

Gogol Bordello Festival Imperial 2012 Costa Rica

Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz brandishing the first bottle of wine that he consumed on stage on the first day of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

 

High hopes for Ximena

Next up was Ximena Sariñana a Mexican singer/songwriter/actress who attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, her debut album was called “one of the strongest debuts from a female singer-songwriter since Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me” by Rolling Stone, and Ximena was nominated for two Latin Grammys. We had high hopes. Unfortunately, her set was a snoozer. The vocals weren’t mixed well (a huge problem for a performer like her) and her overall presence seemed small and quiet. The stage seemed too big for her and her perky red dress.

Lucha T - Festival Imperial 2012 Costa Rica

This guy’s Señor T tee and a Lucha Libre mask got a thumbs up from us at Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

Ximena’s set did give us some time to check out the slowly swelling crowd (organizers estimate that 30,000 tickets were sold for the first day of the festival). A third of the folks could have been at any music festival in the US: Sonic Youth t-shirts, a bare-chested man with a stuffed animal wrapped around his neck, tattoos, lots of homemade jewelry, hip belt purses, guys with discs in their earlobes. Yeah, there were even a few bozos walking around wearing those knitted Rasta caps with the fake dreads sewn into them…

We liked the local twists on the festival scene too, like the guy we saw wearing the mask of his favorite Lucha Libre star.

 

 

Best t-shirt of the day: “The moustache is the key to the outfit” worn by a kid with the lamest bit of fluff on his upper lip.

 

Well, hello The Great Wilderness, Manchester Orchestra and Cage the Elephant!

Paola Rogue, The Great Wilderness - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Paola Rogue of The Great Wilderness, a mostly-girl quartet from Costa Rica which was our first find of Festival Imperial 2012.

The Great Wilderness is a quartet from San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica, not the one in California) comprised of three chick guitarists and a dude on drums. They took over the smallest stage at the festival with what they call “Dream Rock.” We call it a great mash-up of early Go-Gos and late Hole. Also loved their thrift store look, floppy hair and the fact that their blog (in English and Spanish like their songs) is called We Cannot Sing.

 

 

The Great Wilderness - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

The Great Wilderness, our first find of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

Take a trip into The Great Wilderness with their video for Dark Horse…

 

The Great Wilderness performed at SXSW this year and they completely held our attention until it was time for another Festival Imperial discovery…

If you like brutally honest lyrics and driving rock and you can get past the bushy beards (there are two epic examples in this band) then you’re gonna love Manchester Orchestra. We slipped right into their grinding set which had twinges of both My Morning Jacket (the band’s second album was produced by the same guy who did some MMJ albums) and Nirvana, often at the same time. What was just as appealing was lead singer Andy Hull’s genuine delight about being at the festival. “We had no idea there would be so many people here,” he practically giggled at one point.

Matthew Shultz, Cage the Elephant - Festival Imperial 2012, Costa Rica

Hyperkinetic Matthew Shultz of Cage the Elephant during the band’s set on Day 1 of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica. He cannot be caged. Don’t even try. 

Manchester Orchestra is from Atlanta and has been around in one form or another since 2004. We’re not quite sure how we missed three whole albums from these guys but we’re glad we’re aware of them now.

Another find? Cage the Elephant. If we had reliable access to a TV and US programming we would have known that Cage the Elephant has performed on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award in 2011. As it was, the band’s insanely high-energy performance (exhausting just to watch) was all new to us. Honestly, the lead singer is just a long-haired blur and it would have been entertaining just to watch his antics even if he wasn’t shouting/singing at the same time. Think angry Beck all hopped upon something.

 

Still insane in the membrane

We haven’t seen Cypress Hill perform live since the early ’90s when the band was breaking out and playing all over the place, including at our beloved (long closed) Wetlands club in New York City. So the guys are older and pudgier than we remember (frankly, so are we) but they still put on a super high (no pun intended) energy show full of what amounted to a medley of hits.

Cypress Hill - Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

Cypress Hill during Day 1 of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

Despite the fact that the median age of the crowd was mid 20s everyone seemed to know all the words. The rail was dominated by women (the opposite of how I remember it back in the day) and about 47 seconds into the Cypress Hill set a kid standing next to us took a joint out of an Altoids tin (where are we?). When B-Real lit up a huge spliff the crowd went wild.

Cypress Hill, B-Real Insane In The Membrane - Festival Imperial 2012 Costa Rica

B-Real, still Insane in the Membrane.

Unexpected plus of attending a music festival in Latin America: Generally speaking, you are the tallest person in the crowd and so are your North American friends. That’s part of the reason we were able to walk right into our friends Mike and Jon in the Cypress Hill crowd.

 

And now that song from all those commercials is stuck in our heads

Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne Bubble - Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

Boy in a bubble…Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips surfs the crowd his way during Day 1 of Festival Imperial in Costa Rica.

The Flaming Lips were one of the most hotly anticipated acts of the festival and we were looking forward to seeing their smart guy circus act again too. Technicolor video of a dancing naked woman flashed as dancers dressed as Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Lion or The Scarecrow grooved on stage. Then the band launched into a Black Sabbath tune and ring leader Wayne Coyne launched himself into the audience in his signature huge clear bubble.

Flaming Lips - Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

The always uplifting and colorful antics of The Flaming Lips.

Flaming Lips, eyeball - Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

The Flaming Lips assert their omnipotence through sound and video and sheer creativity on Day 1 of Festival Imperial 2021 in Costa Rica.

So begins a Flaming Lips ride which included more awesome video, a 10′ tall green alien and about 3,000 pounds of confetti and streamers. Wayne seemed a bit disappointed that the crowd wasn’t louder, but we found the Costa Rican fans a bit subdued in general. Though every lanky, earnest guy around us was singing along to every song no one seemed very interested in shouting or pumping their fists in the air which prompted Wayne to holler “Come on!” even more than usual.

Flaming Lips - Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

The Flaming Lips share the love during Day 1 of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

Of course The Flaming Lips played “Do You Realize?” and that anthem, which was inspired by a band member’s struggles while detoxing off heroin but has been used in half a dozen commercials nonetheless, is still stuck in our heads.

Best “gracias” of the day: The Flaming Lips keyboardist Steve Drozd who playfully whispered “gracias” in a falsetto after every song.

Wayne Coyne, Flaming Lips - Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

Wayne Coyne rallying the crowd during The Flaming Lips’ set on Day 1 of Festival Imperial 2012 in Costa Rica.

Flaming Lips - Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

The Flaming Lips make every day New Year’s Eve.

 

We skipped Maroon 5, deal with it

Though Maroon 5 attracted the biggest crowds of Day 1 (mostly screaming girls) and their ditties are positively unavoidable on Costa Rican radio we just aren’t that into them, especially with Adam Levine wearing a Bowie t-shirt doing a song called Moves Like Jagger with absolutely no hint of irony. Instead, we sat in the press tent and enjoyed a cold Imperial.

Thank you Festival Imperial 2012 and Hotel Presidente, where we were hosted in a huge room with festival weekend rebound essentials: sound-proof windows, a mini fridge and an awesome breakfast buffet served until 10.

The end of Festival Imperial is not the end of the noteworthy live music in Costa Rica, by the way. In May of 2012 Bob Dylan will perform in San Jose and Paul McCartney is also coming to Costa Rica though dates have not been announced yet.

 

Festival Imperial, Costa Rica

Festival Imperial

 

Other musical moments on the road…

We’ve managed to see a smattering of live music since our Trans-Americas Journey started back in 2006. We kicked off the Journey with a visit to the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans (we made it to Jazz Fest a total of three times on the Journey). Our path crossed with that of our favorite epic percussionist, Mike Dillon, in the US and in Canada. Our most recent music festival was the invitation-only Black Sheep Family Festival in Oregon way back in 2008.

Oh, and we once drove 2,000 miles from the tip of Baja to Boulder, Colorado for a two-night run by one of our favorite bands ever, Bustle in Your Hedgerow–a vocal-free, totally raging Led Zeppelin cover band made up of keyboard killer Marco Benevento, bad ass drummer Joe Russo (currently on tour with Further), Ween man Dave Dreiwitz and awesome guitarist Scott Metzger who wrote our very own theme song. Did we mention that we have a theme song? Go to the bottom or our homepage to play it.

 

Read more about travel in Costa Rica


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Live is Good – New York City

One often overlooked reason to visit New York City is its live music scene. That’s one of the main things we miss about living in Manhattan since we left the city in 2006 to embark on the Trans-Americas Journey. Every night at all hours there are hundreds of clubs and venues around the city playing every kind of  music to every kind of crowd.

We recently returned “home” for a brief visit with family and friends we haven’t seen in almost three years (that’s why you haven’t heard much from us over the past few weeks). During our time in NYC we saw as much live music as possible in lots of new (to us) venues. We’re back in Guatemala now and new posts from the road are in the works. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of some of the venues we visited and the best music we heard during our live music binge, NYC style.


Venue: Sullivan Hall
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village, Manhattan
Vibe: The long narrow layout, ample approachable bar and low ceiling of Sullivan Hall are pleasantly reminiscent of  one of our all-time favorite venues–a place called Tribeca Rock Club, may it rest in peace.
The band we saw: Bonerama,a wonderful horn-based New Orleans funky funk fun machine, was in the midst of a weekly residency at Sullivan Hall and we caught them one night along with special guests Kyle Hollingsworth (from the band The String Cheese Incident), guitar wiz Steve Kimock, as well as one of the best young keyboard players in the world, Jonathan Batiste of the legendary Louisiana musical family. Dancing ensued.

Bonerama performing at Sullivan Hall. Photo courtesy of our friend music photographer Dino Perrucci.



Venue: Brooklyn Bowl
Neighborhood: Williamsburg Brooklyn
Vibe: This place was opened by Pete Shapiro, the man behind a club called The Wetlands which was one of the city’s most iconic and tempo-setting live music joints until it closed in 2001. Brooklyn Bowl doesn’t look like The Wetlands (which somehow managed to merge grungy, hippy and head-bangy in both decor and music). Instead, the spacious Brooklyn Bowl’s got a studied design (urban roadhouse) plus bowling lanes right next to the stage. There’s also awesome southern comfort food provided by a restaurant group called Blue Ribbon. We quickly understood what all of our friends have been raving about. Brooklyn Bowl looks and feels franchise ready—-as if the place was opened as a brand ready to roll out across the country as a hipper more relevant version of The House of Blues–and national expansion rumors are already circulating (heads up).
The band we saw: The New Mastersounds delivered their Brit funk (think classic Meters) to a sold out crowd. We’ve been into this band since we saw them at the High Sierra Music Festival years ago. And we still love them. But when did guitarist Eddie Roberts start looking so much like actor Ewan McGregor? Check the band out for yourself by watching Coals to Newcastle, a very cool rockumentary about the band made by our friend Marca, when it comes to your town (don’t blink: Eric is in the  movie for a few seconds).


New Master Sounds performing at Brooklyn Bowl. Dino Perrucci

New Mastersounds performing at Brooklyn Bowl. Photo courtesy of our friend music photographer Dino Perrucci.



Venue: Ace of Clubs
Neighborhood: NoHo Manhattan
Vibe: Insider basement. This place is stripped down to just the basics: bar, stage, band.
The band we saw: We made it to Ace of Clubs twice. First to see Disgrace, a temporary acoustic project with three of the guys from the band moe. The next time we ventured down the creaky stairs to Ace of Clubs was to see a band called American Babies featuring appearances by two of the original band members: our friends Scott Metzger on guitar and Joe Russo on Russo on drums. Both bands delivered inventive, experimental sets which were just right for the intimate room.


Venue: Madison Square Garden
Neighborhood: Midtown Manhattan
Vibe: Mega star Zamboni. This is where the biggest acts (from music to sports to politics) come to strut their stuff. As they say, if you can make it here…
The band we saw: Eric traveled around the country to see more than 200 Grateful Dead shows back in the day (including some shows at Madison Square Garden). A band called Further is the latest post-Jerry Garcia incarnation of the music and the band features Bob Weir and Phil Lesh from the original GD lineup plus a new cast of strong musicians including our friend Joe Russo on drums. Joe rocked it up there on the big stage–especially during the opening minutes of the band’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time.” We couldn’t be prouder.


Further (Grateful Dead) at Madison Square Garden Greg Aiello

Further performing at Madison Square Garden with our friend Joe Russo on drums. Photo courtesy of another friend, Greg Aiello.



Venue: Rockwood Music Hall
Neighborhood: Lower East Side Manhattan
Vibe: The tiny footprint and all-glass storefront of this bar/stage gives this venue a voyeuristic speakeasy feel.
The band we saw: Kelli Scarr is a singer/songwriter with an ethereal voice (she’s a Moby favorite and he sometimes shows up at her gigs). Backed by the expressiveness of Scott Metzger on guitar, the rock train of Andrew Southern (from the band RANA) on bass and the foundation of a guy named Taylor on drums this was an intimate mellow show as Kelli and crew tried out some new songs.



Venue: Roseland Ballroom
Neighborhood: Midtown Manhattan
Vibe: This 3,200 capacity venue is housed in a building that was constructed in the ’20s as an ice-skating rink. Today the faded glory is heavy on the faded and the sound isn’t always to hot but we were lured inside by a once-in-a-decade show…
The band we saw: We dropped into Roseland to take part in a benefit concert called Another One for Woody which celebrated the life of bassist Allan Woody (Allman Brothers, Govt’ Mule) who passed away 10 years ago. The mega-star-studded five hour concert featured current members of Govt’ Mule, the Allman Brothers Band, and Luther and Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars just to name a few. The emotional rockfest was capped off with a moving performance by Allan Woody’s daughter Savannah.


Warren Haynes (right) and Derek Trucks performing at the Another One For Woody Benefit Concert at Roseland Ballroom. Photo courtesy of our friend music photographer Dino Perrucci.



 

TIPS
Oh, and while we were back in NYC we also discovered the perfect hoodie to wear when you go to see live music: the Scottevest Ultimate Hoodie Microfleece looks great, ties easily around your waist if you heat up from all that dancing and it’s built to carry all your stuff with ingenious secure pockets that easily and securely handle concert essentials including keys, cell phone, wallet, lip gloss, chewing gum, a small camera,  id. even your MP3 player (in its own clear interior pocket that lets you see and work the controls without taking the unit out). Perfect for those times (like seeng live music) when you don’t want to stuff into your pockets or bother carrying a purse or a bag.

Also: Artisenal prints of fantastic live music photographs make awesome gifts!Check out Dino Perrucci’s work and Greg Aiello’s work.





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Going Gaga – Mexico

We’ve missed most of the Lady Gaga phenomenon and we’re shedding no tears about that (we do love music, just not that kind of music).

However, her single Alejandro has proven inescapable here in Mexico where radio stations play the single–and its many remixes–mercilessly. Alejandro isn’t exactly a lyrically complicated song (there’s basically one refrain) but there is a reference to “hot like Mexico” and one line in Spanish in the Alejandro song lyrics. Some djs are reverential about the song and others mock Ms. Gaga’s pronunciation but they play the song nonetheless and now we can’t get the damn thing out of our heads.

Ale-ale-jandro! Ale-ale-jandro!

Anyway, apparently Lady Gaga chose Alejandro as the third single off  her album The Fame Monster all by herself and the racy video (which we just saw this week) was directed by Steven Klein. The nun get-up, the gay couples and the general bumping and grinding reminded us how much we have to thank Madonna (another Steven Klein favorite) for.

It also reminded us that one of the reasons we love Mexico is that it can get behind a song and a video like this and still be super-Catholic. Perhaps that’s why it’s called pop culture.

Ale-ale-jandro…




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Singing the Praises – Puebla, Mexico

moe. is a band (and, yes, that’s how the band name is spelled). Their songs are clever and catchy and courageous–much like the five band members themselves. This has made moe. very popular among smart folks who like to dance and smile, like our super friend Jenn Ritchie who is great at both dancing and smiling (among other things).

moe.

As followers of the Trans-Americas Journey know, we miss the live music scene we left behind when we left NYC in 2006. Out here on the road we get a fix of our favorites by listening to the Jam On channel on XM Satellite Radio. That’s where we heard one of moe.’s latest songs which is called Puebla. As we listened to the song we started wondering: is this a song about Puebla the actual city or does the band mean pueblo as in the Spanish word for any old village?

Our friend Jenn took our question straight to the band and here’s what moe. guitarist Al Schnier had to say:

“Puebla the song is about the victory in the town of Puebla in 1862 during the Franco-Mexican War.  It was a small, but significant, battle in which the outnumbered Mexicans gained some much needed momentum over French invaders and it took place in the town of  Puebla on May 5th. In the US we drink Coronas after work and have taco day at school to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but  I was reading about Cinco De Mayo and I was intrigued by the real story of Puebla.”


As we leave the city of Puebla after nine days of sampling mole and crunching on grasshoppers and enjoying Chile en Nogada and seeing awesome hotels (Casona de la China Poblana, La Purificadora, Casa Reyna), going to cooking school at Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía, touring museums, seeing tons of Talavera tile, catching fleeting glimpses of the nearly 18,000 foot high still-active Popocatepetl volcano (David, we need more of your pronunciation lessons!) and tasting some very special Mexican wines it seems like an appropriate time to share moe.’s take on the town and the seminal battle in Puebla.

Listen to: moe. – Puebla (Recorded in the Sirius/XM studios on 7/6/10)

 

This is not the first time moe. has sung the praises of Mexico. Here’s another infectious moe. ditty about Al’s real life 21st birthday adventure in Mexico. Which leads us to one “moe.” question for the band: Isn’t it time for a south of the border tour?

Listen to: moe. – Mexico (From the live album, Dr. Stan’s Prescription Volume 1)

Buy moe. CDs or download moe. music OR download track from Mexico


Oh, did we mention that Al’s side project (sadly, momentarily on hold) is called Al & The Transamericans? Yeah, kismet.

Dr.


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Goodbye, Guadalajara

All told we’ve now spent more than three months in and around Guadalajara and, as we prepare to finally move on, we wanted to share a few of heartfelt and (we hope) helpful observations about Mexico’s second largest city.

The Zócalo is anchored by the Guadalajara Cathedral or Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima.

 

Best fish tacos: Taco Fish on La Paz. Yeah, 16 pesos is a whole lot to pay for a taco in Mexico, but this street spot slings expertly fried fish and shrimp tacos with all the fixin’s. The crowd speaks for itself. Warning: unless you’re an NFL quarterback (Go Saints!) do NOT order more than two. They’re huge as well as delicious.

Best old-guy bar: Molacho. There’s no sign. Go to the corner of Alcalde and Juan Manuel right in downtown and take the stairs off Juan Manuel up to the bar which is on the second floor above the Farmacias Guadalajara on the corner. What you’ll get is old guys galore (including one playing a baby grand piano, if you’re lucky) plus botanas (free bar snacks) galore, including tacos and tostadas and even soup. People rave about a place called Cantina La Fuente, but we found it to be too big and not very welcoming. Plus, there’s no baby grand piano and no botanas.

 

Palacio de Gobierno in Guadalajara, one of the few historic buildings left standing in the city.

 

Most disturbing corporate mascot: The Farmacias Similares guy. Okay, this is a national chain of pharmacies and you see them all over Mexico. However, there seemed to be even more of them than usual in Guadalajara–all with some poor guy dressed up like the chain’s perpetually smiling fake pharmacist mascot prancing around out front. There’s just something about this guy that makes us want to whack him in the head…

This kid likes the ubiquitous Farmacias Similares mascot way more than we do.

 

Best market and best market vendor: In Guadalajara the impressively massive Mercado Libertad gets all the attention and it MUST be visited. But our favorite go-to market (as in we went there every single day for lunch and sometimes later for dinner too) was the comparatively tiny Mercado Corona. Great food vendors (from tacos to seafood to carnitas) and the second floor is full of stalls selling potions and lotions and sprays meant to fix anything that might possibly be wrong with your life. Want more success at work? Pick up a can of Call Client, whose label proclaims that it contains “Genuine Spray.” Got problems with gossipy friends or a chatty-Cathy spouse? Both are easily handled by a product called “Shut Your Mouth.” Even better than that is our favorite market vendor, the perpetually happy man who runs a small health-food/juice bar stand on the market’s first floor. Not only did he make the best aguas frescas (water infused with fresh fruit) we’ve had in Mexico, he always spent time to help us with our Spanish too. tip: mix strawberry (fresa) with lime (limon).

Smartest urban quirk: the walking/running man.Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city (after the vastly more-huge Mexico City) and it runs remarkably smoothly thanks to a whole host of tools and rules that keep even the sometimes congested downtown under control. One such tool is liberal installation of fabulous crosswalk lights that now only countdown the number of seconds that you have left to cross the street but also displays a moving human who speeds up its pace as the seconds tick away. If nothing else, this walking/running man made us smile every morning on our way to Spanish language school. Mexico City could learn a lesson here.

 

Best totally different places to see live music: Casa  Bariachi and On the Rocks. Guadalajarans (aka Tapatios) love their live music–from traditional Mariachi (which Tapatios will claim was invented in Guadalajara) to modern rock. Our favorite place to see massive mariachi bands with a rotating cast of sit-in starts is Casa Bariachi, an enormous festive place that is almost always packed with tables full of Mexican families or Mexican women on a raucous (tequila-fueled) ladies’ night out. It’s unbeatable. For live rock we stumbled upon a place called On the Rocks which is run by a gregarious guy named Isaac who makes sure the waitresses are smiley and speedy and the bands (which usually play covers of US and European rock songs in English and in Spanish) are of high quality. His own band performs on Wednesday nights.

Most confusing moment: trying to figure out when/where the futbol (soccer) games were. Guadalajarans, like most Mexicans, are crazy for soccer. Here the two top teams are Chivas and the Liones Negros. We were understandably anxious to see one or both teams play, but our initial research on their official team web sites and the local sports pages left us totally confused about where and when the teams were playing. We even asked friends with much better Spanish than ours to do the same. None of us could figure it out. When we finally did get the hang of how to know which team was the home team and, therefore, where the  game was taking place we’d already missed a bunch of matched. We never did get to a game…

Most uninhibited fountain: Along a pedestrian mall in downtown Guadalajara is a fountain. That’s not the the remarkable part. The remarkable part is that the fountain consists of a group of small boys cast in bronze, all of them peeing into the center of the fountain. It’s called the “kids peeing” fountain.

Yep. This is a fountain full of bronze boys peeing.

 

Greatest family ever: the Delgadillo/Sanchez/Hellyer clan. The generosity, help, support and overall wonderfulness of every single member of this family not only made our time in Guadalajara immeasurably easier and more enjoyable but also added to our understanding of one of the greatest things about Mexico in general: the generosity and pride of the people. We literally can’t thank them enough for feeding us and letting us stay with them and putting up with our rickety Spanish and making us feel like we were part of the family. We look forward to continuing the friendships we started in the Guadalajara area long after we’ve moved on.

Karen is all ears sitting on one of the whimsical sculptures by Alejandro Colunga in Plaza Tapatía in front of the mural-filled Hospicio Cabañas.


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We Talk Pretty One Day – Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

Learning a new language is hard. If you don’t know what we’re talking about then you never learned a second language OR you’re one of those freaks who love to conjugate verbs, gobble up new grammar like it’s gummy bears, can’t wait to wade through new vocabulary and says things like “Next, I think I’ll learn Swahili…”. Yeah, we’re talking about YOU Megan.

Anyway, we’ve just completed five weeks of Spanish language immersion classes at a school in Guadalajara called IMAC. With the help of our teacher Saray (pitcure a 23 year old Spanish-speaking Julie McCoy after a few double espressos), we learned four new tenses, a ton of new vocabulary and more grammar rules then we remember ever learning in English.  Right now it’s all a muddle of Spanglish in our heads.

Why did we choose to torture ourselves at IMAC as opposed to any of the other language school options in Guadalajara like CEPE or the Harvest Language Center? Well, after fairly exhaustive comparative research, it became clear that most language schools are essentially the same and you’re just  not going to know which one works  best for you until you’re sitting there in class. Also, IMAC was offering a two-for-one special.

Conicidentally, near the end of our course, the “Travel with Val” program on NY1, a local news station in our hometown of New York City, aired a segment on IMAC.

So, did we learn how to comprehend, read, write and speak Spanish? This post is in English, isn’t it? Seriously, we know a LOT more about speaking, reading, writing and understanding Spanish then we did five weeks ago–and certainly more than we did after graduating from our weak high school Spanish classes. Karen’s two big take-aways from two years of high school Spanish are that she knows all of the words to Cielito Lindo and she can remember that her “Spanish” name was Ramona. Thanks, public school.

However, it’s going to take a heck of a lot more than five weeks to get us speaking with confidence, but we’re on our way. Our skills are WAY better than this guy’s

We have to say, we came up with what must rank as the best gracias por todo gift a Spanish language student ever gave their 23-year-old female teacher: access to the set where Alejandro Fernández–a singer almost inconceiveably huge in Latin America–was shooting his latest music video. Many thanks, also, to our friend Pepe Homs, an executive producer at  Cedro Films and co-owner of the awesome Casa del Atrio in the city of Queretaro, for making dreams come true. Again.

Trust us when we tell you that Alejandro Fernández is hotter (and more universally appealing) than a cross between Justin Timberlake, the Jonas Brothers, Frank Sinatra and Barry White. Oh, and he’s about to embark on an eight city, month-long tour of the US in the spring so check your local listings.

Where are we headed next? Don’t you know not to ask us that by now? All we can tell you with any certainty is that wherever we go, they’ll speak Spanish when we get there.

 

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How you can support the Trans-Americas Journey:

If you are interested in learning Spanish, check out our Amazon store for our personally recomended Spanish language learning products and resources.

Listen to and buy Alejandro Fernández’s new Album, Dos Mundos (Two Worlds) – Two albums produced and released at the same time. One is a pop album (Evolución), the other contains traditional ranchera and mariachi music (Tradición).

 

Note: If you purchase any of these products from the Amazon or iTunes links above, you help fund on our Journey just a little bit, without paying a penny more. As they say, muchas gracias.

 


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