Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Last Thursday afternoon, while hanging out across the street on Highland Avenue with my friends Boyd and Robert, we saw a '72 Dodge van covered with 1,705 cameras pull up to the offices of the Big Bend Sentinel which Robert edits. So we walked over to talk to a man and a woman who emerged from the van.
He started talking about wanting to make Marfa a satellite city for the big Art Car parade which is held in Houston every April so Art Cartisans in the region could caravan to H-Town. After talking about Art Cars, which the man seemed to know a lot about, I asked if he knew Harrod Blank.
"I'm Harrod Blank," he replied, setting off a long conversation about Art Cars, his film Wild Wheels, his book, Art Cars, his writings on various subjects including Burning Man, and his father, the documentary filmmaker Les Blank, for whom my wife, Kris Cummings, worked back in 1978 on the film "Always For Pleasure" that celebrated New Orleans music. Harrod, who lives behind his father's house in Berkeley, CA is moving to Douglas, Arizona. Why? "Because I can afford to live there," he said.
Robert took photos of the couple and the vehicle for the newspaper.
We walked around the car and checked out the cameras, most of which are functional, Harrod said.
Boyd poked his nose inside the driver's window.
Harrod sold us postcards of his art before going on his way. Check out his wonderful world at www.harrodblank.com
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I give him props for tackling a touchy and very subject topic that inspires fightin' words,' and for citing Robb Walsh and his most excellent book on the history of the subject.
Having had several discussions with Robb on this subject in the past, I couldn't help but weigh in on the discussion thread following Drape's blog, an exercise in which I rarely partake:
As it was, I was first on the thread and what followed was a most interesting meander through
Tex-Mex with most others' opinion of course wrong-headed and way off base although Tex-Mex in Paris inspired its own blog (note to those folks, you can't talk Tex-Mex in Paris pre-Mario even without talking about Le Studio, which I believe was started up by two guys from Dallas back in the early eighties. I do remember it was good enough to return to several times. Number Twenty Five, down towards the bottom of the thread, made what was already a pretty great week. Thanks, whoever you are. Plus, you're on the money on the other comments.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
You’ve heard the accordion jokes:
What did people say when the ship loaded with accordions sank in the ocean?
Well, it's a start.
The song most requested of accordionists?
Can you play Far, Far Away.
What do a true music lover and an accordionist have in common?
No one was telling accordion jokes at the Arneson River Theatre Friday night in
This was an evening of accordion artistry, with San Antonio as the musical as well as physical centerpiece of the night’s music, small wonder since the accordion is regarded as the National Instrument of Texas, played by a number of different cultures and accompanied by voices singing in English, Spanish, French, Czech, and German.
San Antonio was founded more in the 1700s at La Villita, the site of the accordion festival, by immigrants from the Canary Islands, the home of opening act Brandan, a young under-40 sextet formed around a timple, a stringed instrument that looks like a ukulele but sounds like a mandolin, played by Benito Cabrera and the piano keyboard accordion played by Jeremias Martin. The group’s emphasis was on traditional sounds with hints of Irish reels and gypsy swing creeping into the lilting instrumental melodies that had me wondering if they were about to break into “Stairway to Heaven.” There was no Led Zeppelin quoted, however, nor much showmanship and even less patter from the stage other than an apology in broken English for not speaking English well – much of the crowd of 1,000 perfectly understood their more detailed explanation in Spanish. But the timple-accordion combo did sometimes recalled the harp-guitar blending of son jarocho music from
Chango Spasiuk, the man and the quintet of the same name from the Misiones region of northeastern
The last song of the set was a tango, the national sound of Argentina, and the reason one couple showed up at the Arneson. The couple seethed sexuality (the man, dressed in black, wore a black fedora with a Royal Flush of playing cards in his hat band) and their dance by the riverside drew as many cheers from the audience as the band did, with cameras flashing to capture their dramatic, passionate syncopated moves.
The evening concluded with all three accordionists taking the stage to play a huapango, rooted in Mexican traditions and concluding with “Viva Seguin” the instrumental polka written by Santiago Jimenez, Jr.’s father more than seventy years ago. If Jimenez had an edge over the other accordionists, Spasiuk gave him a run for his money with his own riffs.
There isn’t a prettier venue in Texas for hearing music than the Arneson River Theatre with the San Antonio River separating the stage from the audience and a backdrop of mission-style stone arches flanked by ancient palms, despite the steady procession of passing tourist barges and the tacky banners advertising Bud Light and other sponsors draped at the foot of the stage, behind it, and on both sides. Those drawbacks were trumped by the sight of ducks on the water and a small Great Blue Heron winging past. Between those visuals and the sounds pouring from the stage Friday night, it was one of those Nowhere Else but
dancing to the Chanky0Chank with Pollard-Ardoin
The festival continued through the weekend on three stages around La Villita. On Saturday the Cajun-Creole ensemble led by Ed Pollard and Lawrence Ardoin had the crowds rocking with infectious “chanky-chank” music from southwest
Yuri Yunakov Ensemble smokin'
But for me, the biggest revelation of the festival was the Roma music and dance of the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble. Playing what the great unwashed would describe as gypsy music and what began as Bulgarian wedding music, leader Yunakov fused his tenor sax with a cornet and a piano key accordion into a wicked harmony that whipped the band and the audience into an intense frenzy. Yunakov built on that collaborative energy to launch into extraterrestrial free jazz riffs that entered the realm of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Ornette Coleman while physically demonstrating the joy of music in a way that my wife says she hadn’t seen since Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band ruled the planet. Whether he’s the
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Over the course of thirty minutes, Texas Fred had me barking. Actually, it was Chubby Carrier, covering “Dog Hill” the song made famous by Boozoo Chavis, singing about going to a place “where the pretty women at” interspersing the verses with carnal “woof-woof”s - Zydeco women love that. Then it was Nathan Williams’ declaration of wisdom, “I Was Born at Night (But I Wasn’t Born Last Night)” making sure no woman was going to pull one on him as he squeezed his box while the rest of the Zydeco Cha Chas rolled behind him, the Zydeco Force doing some more barking on “Shaggy Dog Two-Step,” Beau Jocque rolling around in the gutter doing his best Howlin’ Wolf asking “Woman, Why You Wanna Drive Me Crazy?” Somewhere inbetween Step Rideau and his Zydeco Outlaws burned raw heat, showing why he’s got the stuff to be invoked by UGK, the lords of Texas rap, representing Port Arthur and all of the greater H-Town megapolis.
Step Rideau (photo by James Fisher)
Boozoo Chavis (photo by Michelle Leder, taken two days before his death in Austin in 2001)