The Jazz Canary – An Update

As many of my readers know, these days I’d consider myself a big jazz fan. I’ve always liked big band and swing music, but over the past two and a half years I’ve ventured into listening to modern jazz, mostly in live venues in New York City. These forays into the jazz scene in the city have inspired me to want to sing.

I like to sing, but in recent years have confined all of my singing to the car or the shower. This is to protect the ears of the innocent. 😀

And let me say, the thought of getting up in front of an audience to sing is terrifying to me. A lot of people get stage fright, but mine is specific. You can ask me to get up and speak in front of a crowd of hundreds of people – no problem. I can give a lecture, or do a reading and I’ll be fine. But sing? The thought of doing that makes my palms sweat. 🙂

BUT … one beautiful aspect of hanging around musicians is their connections to other musicians, singers and teachers. One of the guys at the jam suggested a jazz vocal teacher with AMAZING credentials.

Yes, I’ve taken the plunge and begun my jazz vocal lessons with Grammy award winning jazz vocalist Roseanna Vitro. Ms. Vitro is, to my mind, nothing short of inspirational. I feel incredibly lucky to spend time with her, and get the benefit of her tutelage.

I’m at the very beginning of my journey, but I can tell I’m in excellent hands with Ms. Vitro. When I get up to sing in public, at some point in the future, I know I’ll be prepared because of her.

It’s a thrilling prospect.

 

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The Amazing Birthday Do-Over

Every year, on my birthday, I try to take extreme precautions. I’m superstitious about that day as I believe it can set the tone for the entire coming year (my own personal “New Year”).

Most years, I plan something for myself… a trip, something interesting, even if that means going away by myself.

Last year I was in Amsterdam on my birthday … solo. It was an interesting birthday (I was serenaded by a band in a blues club in Amsterdam – I was the only one in the bar), but I also found myself feeling lonely many thousands of miles away from home on my own.

So this year, I decided I was not going to go on a trip on my birthday. Instead I was going to stay close to home so I could be around people that care about me.

And in fact, I had a few offers to go out on my birthday. Unfortunately, the choice I made for that particular night was a very bad one. I won’t say anything more about it. Those who know what happened know why it was such a bad night. I’ll leave it there.

However, my very dear friend Michelle, who is so sweet and wonderful offered me a birthday do-over. And this year, I wholeheartedly accepted.

Tonight, Michelle took me to Dirt Candy, a reservation-only vegetarian restaurant in the East Village. People wait months to score a table there, and Michelle had planned well in advance (because she is such an awesome friend!) We had a fantastic meal, it was inventive and tasty.

Afterwards, we had some “time” before her next surprise, so we stopped at a charming bar called Booker and Dax, also in the East Village. We sat and chatted for a while, before heading off to 55 Bar, our final stop.

At Booker and Dax, for part of the birthday do-over!

At Booker and Dax, for part of the birthday do-over!

And what a stop it was! Playing tonight at 55 Bar was the Chris Bergson Band — an amazingly talented blues band.

 

Chris Bergson and his very talented band

Chris Bergson and his very talented band

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Chris Bergson ... and Craig the highly talented sax and keyboard player in the background

Chris Bergson … and Craig the highly talented sax and keyboard player in the background

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This is a YouTube video of Chris Bergson playing at the Jazz Standard, it’s worth watching.

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday this year. Tonight was so incredible, from dinner to a charming stop along the way, and winding up at 55 Bar to watch live blues…truly an amazing night.

And so it is that I can now officially declare my birthday this year to have been phenomenal. (And how lucky am I to have such an amazing friend?!) I’m ready for the rest of the year to come. 🙂

 

 

Cold in July – A hot ticket

If you live in the NYC area and are interested in seeing indie films, there are a few great places to see them, including the IFC Film Center.

So last week when I wandered by the theater, and IFC was advertising a preview of Cold In July, the new Jim Mickle film starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson, I couldn’t resist and snapped up a ticket.

Cold in July

The preview included a Q&A session with director and co-writer Jim Mickle, fellow co-writer and actor Nick Damici and one of the main actors Don Johnson. That was the final bullet in the chamber for me, so to speak.

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Left to right - Jim Mickle, Nick Damici and Don Johnson doing Q&A at the IFC Film Center at the Cold in July preview

Left to right – Jim Mickle, Nick Damici and Don Johnson doing Q&A at the IFC Film Center at the Cold in July preview

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The film is set in Texas and follows Michael C. Hall’s character through a series of horrifying and life changing events, beginning with the shooting of a burglar / intruder into his home and ending … nearly two hours later … with a major scene of carnage.

I take it from Director Mickle’s comments at the preview that given the relatively low budget, the team was ready to make some compromises on certain aspects of the shooting but I must say that this does not look like a low budget film.

The DP did a great job on the look and feel of the place, and the costumes and sets felt authentic to time and place, even though the movie was actually shot in Kingston, upstate  NY rather than Texas. You would not know it to look at the film.

Hall, Shepard and Johnson did an excellent job in their roles. Shepard plays an ex-con just out of prison and he nails the performance by being understated and yet prone to threats and violence. Hall was perfect as the “joe civilian” who is lured into a world far beyond his normal suburban life, and Johnson was wonderful as the colorful bounty hunter. Johnson added a lot of levity and light-touch moments in an overall dark themed film.

The primary issues I had with the movie were the plot inconsistencies, and there were several.

Most glaring, for me, was in the first portion of the film. We’re told someone that is shot and killed is not who the cops are saying it is and Hall and Shepard actually go dig up the body to check. Sure enough, we are told ‘nope, it isn’t the guy we were told.’

Hall becomes a bit obsessed about who is this guy in the grave? It starts nagging at him, so much so that he starts snooping around on his own to find out. This leads him into other predicaments (which is the point, of course.) However, who is in the grave is completely dropped as the movie transitions into the middle segment and we never find out.

I’m not a fan of luring an audience into something using a dead body, and being told it’s “really important” only to have it drop away into nothing, without further explanation.

But, don’t get me wrong, this movie is so well acted and well made that it’s fun to watch. I am NOT a fan of shoot-em-up films with lots of carnage, and yet I felt myself willingly going along for the ride … much like Michael C. Hall’s character.

I’d recommend giving this movie a chance. It’s got a lot to like, especially the wonderful performances by Hall, Shepard and Johnson.

 

My Short Film Adventure – Writing Credit on IMDB!

My first IMDB Film Credit!

My first IMDB Film Credit!

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted an update on my short film adventure, and that’s because filming finished in April and now the short is in post-production.

An editor has been brought on board, and they will produce a rough cut of the film to be reviewed by the Producers, the Director and with luck, me too. 😉

In the meantime, an entry for Jordan’s Jackhammer (working title) has been put on IMDB, and yours truly is listed as the Writer.

Woo Hoo! It’s my first IMDB film credit, and if I have anything to do with it, not my last.

If you want to check it out, there are two links of interest (from my perspective):

Jordan’s Jackhammer: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3703880/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Carol Deminski, Writer: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6467027/?ref_=tt_ov_wr

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The excitement continues!

Beautiful Balinese Percussion at Fat Cat

When I think of Fat Cat, I think of swinging jazz bands. Tonight I happened to be in the city and when I decided to drop by Fat Cat, I had no idea who was going to play.

Boy, was I surprised when I found out.

The Dharma Swara Balinese Ensemble playing at Fat Cat

The Dharma Swara Balinese Ensemble playing at Fat Cat

That’s something that happens in New York City, sometimes you wander into an unexpected event. Then you realize you are having “an experience.”

So it was tonight.

The Dharma Swara organization hosts a “Summer Institute in Balinese Performance” (held in Worcester, MA) and they wanted to come to New York City and play for a crowd hoping folks might be interested to sign up for Bali percussion camp.  http://www.dharmaswarma.org/summerinstitute

Bang a gong, and a drum, and a...

Bang a gong, and a drum, and a…

It’s hard to describe the wonderful music these percussion instruments make in combination, but think xylophones, drums, gongs and flutes all going crazy in barely choreographed chaos.

Then the group took a break and when they came back, they introduced a Bali dancing segment with three lovely ladies in traditional dress holding bowls of rose petals in one hand doing perfectly timed head, hand and body movements to the accompanyment.

Bali dancer with rose petals

Bali dancer with rose petals

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I was so enthralled with the performance I stayed about two hours watching these folks play.

One of my favorite pieces was played by two women who came out with their own mini-xylophones, and they played something called The Drunken Bird (I think?) that is supposed to be traditional.

Drunken Bird Bali percussion

Drunken Bird Bali percussion

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Drumming at Bali percussion

Drumming at Bali percussion

Of coure, I HAVE to mention the wonderful drummers they had throughout the evening. The drumming was always in the front of the ensemble, and leading the entire group through their paces.

Tonight’s Balinese music performance was a stand out for me, and I’ve been to Fat Cat many times.

New York City… you gotta love it.

More Short Film Adventures – Filming the Short!

I am grateful that the Executive Producers Ramon Torres and Mike Karp have given me the go ahead to share top-secret backstage candid shots with you all on the making of our film project. 🙂

First, the cast is amazing! We have a talented set of actors playing the five roles in the movie. We had a table reading of the script on April 23rd. Here is the complete cast:

L - R: Ramon Olmos Torres, Jessica Zinder, Lou Martini, Barbara Ann Davison, and Kristoffer Infante

L – R: Ramon Olmos Torres, Jessica Zinder, Lou Martini, Barbara Ann Davison, and Kristoffer Infante

 

And then, this past weekend I was on the set to watch and participate in the filming. It was SO exciting!! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a film being made, nevermind a film that I wrote being made.

 

It was surreal to see actors speaking my lines, and then when the take was over, having the crew cracking up (the film is a comedy). I was humbled to have several of the actors tell me they loved the script and thought it was funny. I can tell you the actors brought so much to the interpretation, they made whatever I wrote funnier.
Also our director, Hiroshi Hara, is doing an fantastic job!
Here are some candid behind the scenes shots:
Me in the middle being flanked by Kristoffer Infante (Doorman Ralph) and our wonderful Director, Hiroshi Hara!

Me in the middle being flanked by Kristoffer Infante (Doorman Ralph) and our wonderful Director, Hiroshi Hara!

 

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Lou Martini as Allen, the boss!

Lou Martini as Allen, the boss!

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Close up of Lou's lips on the monitor for a very funny moment in the movie

Close up of Lou’s lips on the monitor for a very funny moment in the movie

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It takes a LOT of equipment to make a film, and our crew has been really great including Andy Zou, our Assistant Director in the background

It takes a LOT of equipment to make a film, and our crew has been really great

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Ramon getting a make up touch up and his mic attached. (His character isn't sleeping which is why he looks like that!)

Ramon getting a make up touch up and his mic attached. (His character isn’t sleeping which is why he looks like that!)

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This coming weekend we will shoot the rest of the scenes and complete all of the filming. Everything has been shot on location in New York City, which is such a great backdrop for this story.

Then it’s off to editing for the final “making of the movie” along with the addition of the soundtrack and score and all the other bits needed for final polish.

More on this amazing, wonderful and exciting adventure soon!

My short film adventure, continued

About a month ago I posted My Short Film Adventure, So Far and this is a follow up post to that.

Lesson number one – just when you think the script is finished, it’s not.

It’s been really interesting to see the process unfold on this project, which I have to imagine is very similar to many film projects.

I was brought on board by the two producers of the film to write the script, but none of the rest of the crew had been hired yet. Including the director. Since I’m a newbie in this space, I figured once I delivered a script the producers liked, that’s what would be used. Not quite.

What I came to understand very quickly, is the relationship between the Director and the writer is extremely important. In fact, for future projects I’d want to know who the Director would be and meet that person before undertaking the writing of a script because the Director has to be comfortable with me as a writer and what I’m bringing to the table, and I have to be comfortable with that person as the Director and incorporating elements that person wants to ensure there is a meshing of the vision for the film.

Thankfully, the Director on this film project has been easy to work with and made some good suggestions about script changes and changing the order of scenes I wrote to enhance the overall flow of the film.

Then, the Director of Photography (DP) also made some modifications to the script based on the fact that the way I wrote certain descriptions would have been very expensive to shoot. (Oops, I didn’t realize that one description would have required a fancy crane shot!)

Then, the producers asked me would I mind terribly changing the ending because the location I’d written for the end scene was expensive and was proving difficult to secure. And if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could I change the nature of the pet of one of the characters because of other complications. Sure, I said. No problem. 🙂

And so it is that I’ve now delivered version 15 of the rewritten script, which might just be final. Maybe. Probably.

Except that…

I’m going to go out on a limb here (it’s not much of a limb) and guess that no final script, no matter how perfectly written, is exactly what’s delivered on screen. That’s probably a good thing in many cases.

The director and actors will do their job during the shooting of the film which will enhance and modify whatever is in the script, and then there will be an editing process which I’m sure will shape whatever comes out in the end as the final product for the entire crew’s efforts.

But while I’ve been pondering the script and laboring over whatever changes were needed, the producers have been really hard at work doing everything else. That included hiring a casting agent and casting the five roles in the film. I’m SO EXCITED by the amazing cast they’ve hired. These people are incredible actors with impressive credits to their names, I’m sure they will bring the characters I wrote fully to life!

The locations have mostly been nailed down, the director, DP and sound guy are onboard, and the producers keep going. I can’t even imagine how they are getting all this done so quickly.

But for me, the writer, my big event which is scheduled for next week, is a table reading of the script by the actors. It will be the first time the cast has been fully assembled and hearing the actors reading my dialogue will be thrilling.

Just a few days after that, filming will begin! If I’m given permission, I will bring a camera to the shoot and take photos of “the making of” this film.

So, up next, the actors reading my script together as a group for the first time. How exciting is that?!

My short film adventure, so far

A few weeks ago I got a call from a guy I used to work with to catch up and say hi. He’d just returned from a year rotation overseas so it was good to hear from him.

To my surprise, instead of discussing “work and career stuff” he asked me if I’d like to work on a creative project. Since he knew about my short story publications, he asked if I’d be interested in writing a script for a New York City based short film project he’s putting together.

Yes! I said. Count me in.

I got together with him and the lead actor and discussed the idea for the film with them. I got excited and began brainstorming where the story could go. We decided I’d write a draft within three weeks, and reconnect once the first draft was ready.

Well, I was SO excited about the project, I wrote a 3000 word script (about 12 pages) within less than a week of our first meeting!

I don’t know about anybody else, but I’ve never written 3000 words of anything in a week. I have no idea what happened. Maybe it was pent up writing lurking inside me, but the script spilled out.

I iterated through several versions and then we set a follow up meeting to read through the draft. The follow up meeting went as I expected. I needed to shorten the script, eliminate one of the characters and drop the songs I’d selected (it’s expensive to have music in movies). I got good feedback on the dialogue too, and we agreed the main bones of the script were solid.

And so it is that – as of last night – the revised draft is in their hands, and will be used to “sell” the idea to the actors they want to be involved, the director and others needed to make the film.

In all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve never seen any of my characters come to life and speak their lines. The idea of seeing a script I wrote become an actual film with real actors is unbelievably exciting to me.

More to come on this short film project as it develops!

A Pax on our Houses – or – Endless Winter

The latest snow-hurricane, storm “Pax” has passed, and we hardly had a moment to breathe here in New York City when another dumping of snow is upon us.

Will Winter ever end?

Normally the weather is not of interest to me as a blog topic, but I know I’m not the only person feeling an abnormal amount of cabin fever right now.

The average high temperatures for our area at this time of year should be around 40 degrees. We haven’t come close to that, it seems, in weeks. Certainly not on average.

And I’m sure we’ve had record amounts of snow this year too.

You’d think with all this time indoors that I’d somehow be more productive, but no. I’m as lethargic as a bear in her den, still waiting for Spring.

Still, as the days click by, the sun stays out just a little bit longer. The sun is setting around 5:30pm, and that sunlight holds a lot of promise for the thaw to come.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood – Jersey City view of the Freedom Tower

It was 65 degrees and sunny today – the Freedom Tower looked fantastic glinting one of its jeweled facets in the sunshine.

Beautiful lower Manhattan skyline view from Jersey City - Nov 2013

Beautiful lower Manhattan skyline view from Jersey City – Nov 2013

Also, it’s been made official, while the building itself is 1776 feet (the year of independence for the U.S.) with the architectural spire at its crown, the Freedom Tower is the highest building in the United States.

Sometimes even I can’t believe how lucky I am… this view is only a fifteen minute walk from my apartment!

The Freedom Tower - Nov 2013

The Freedom Tower – Nov 2013

It was a great day for a walk in the neighborhood!

A World Trade Center Milestone!

I’m overjoyed to report that the inside tunnel FROM the PATH train at World Trade Center TO the World Financial Center has re-opened as of: TODAY!

Tunnel entrance from the PATH Train at World Trade to the World Financial Center

Tunnel entrance from the PATH Train at World Trade to the World Financial Center

It has been twelve years since the nightmare of 9/11 and this is the first time that “the old way” of getting from one of side of the West Side Highway to the other side without having to go above ground has been replaced.

Exciting Signs of Progress!

Exciting Signs of Progress!

And how it’s been replaced is beautiful. The “tunnel” is made of white marble, and winds its way from where folks exit the PATH and arrives at a bank of five steep escalators, that look exactly like the bank of escalators that USED to be there … the ones you’ve seen in movies, if you’ve seen movies about NYC that had “Wall Street” themes from the 70’s and 80’s.

When you arrive at the top of the escalators, low and behold, you’re in the Wintergarden area of the World Financial Center overlooking the harbor and the Hudson River promenade which faces Jersey City on the other side.

I nearly cried when I got to the top of those escalators today. I’d been doing the commute from the World Trade Center to the World Financial Center back in the late 90’s, and seeing the tunnel and escalators restored today was very emotional for me.

Aside from the beautiful way the tunnel has been constructed, the rest is not much to look at because Brookside, the building management company which runs the World Financial Center” is still undergoing extensive renovations.

But gliding down that tunnel today, I saw the glimmers of a bright future ahead.

Cultural Gluttony: BB King, The Armory Show and more

This week I’ve binged on culture and this post covers my wanderings.

I saw BB King and Robert Cray live, went to the 100 year retrospective on the Armory Show at the NY Historical Society, and saw blues artist Joe Nemeth for his one night NYC performance.

I've got a golden ticket!

I’ve got a golden ticket!

Read on for details!

BB King and Robert Cray – live at the State Theater

BB King is now 88 years old, and I’d never seen him play live, so it was a treat to see him this week.

His eight piece back-up band, consisting of 4 horns, a keyboardist, drummer, base player and guitarist were great, and from their ages I’d say they’ve been playing with BB a long, long time.

BB with the band - 8 pieces!

BB with the band – 8 pieces!

The State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ is an intimate setting, and for my $100 (USD) ticket I got a seat in the “front balcony” of the theater, above the main hall and overlooking the stage. I could see what was happening on stage clearly, but I wasn’t close enough to get good cell phone photos. Still, you can see some of the stage set-up… :-}

Lovely view of the State Theater stage before the show

Lovely view of the State Theater stage before the show

Robert Cray and his band opened the show with a one hour performance of some of his classic popular blues hits like Strong Persuader, but I’m sorry to say he never played Smoking Gun, probably his biggest hit. Still, Cray’s voice and guitar playing are top notch.

The Robert Cray Band

The Robert Cray Band

It occured to me, during Cray’s set, there’s a reason why he made it as a professional. His stage presence is strong but easy going; he’s so obviously a talented and capable musician.

After Cray’s band finished, the re-set up process created about a 45 minute intermission before BB King’s band came on.

Once BB’s band came on, they played two numbers without him as a warm-up, and then he joined his band and played perhaps five or six songs total to finish the evening.

BB likes to patter with the audience and joke around, which fans know if you’ve seen videos of his performances or listened to his live albums. This performance was no exception, and BB delighted in leading the audience in a sing-a-long of “You Are My Sunshine” and then kidded around with some of the folks down in front near the stage.

It was extremely charming that as his band was playing When the Saints Come Marching In to end the show, BB didn’t really want to leave the stage. People rushed to the front of the auditorium to shake his hand, take his photo and get his autograph… while they still can.

BB King is rushed by adoring fans at the end of the show!

BB King is rushed by adoring fans at the end of the show!

I can’t blame them – BB King is a living Blues legend.

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The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution – new show at the NY Historical Society Museum

Original 1913 Armory Show set up

Original 1913 Armory Show set up

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Cutout of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase in front of the NY Historical Society

Cutout of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase in front of the NY Historical Society

I’d been greatly anticipating seeing this show at the NY Historical Society and finally got the chance to go yesterday. The show will be up until early 2014, so there’s plenty of time to see it.

Duchamp - Nude Descending a Staircase

Duchamp – Nude Descending a Staircase

Travel Tip: Since it’s only the second weekend since the show opened, I’m happy to report it was crowded. Still, tickets are readily available at the museum, you may not need to reserve them online. (I called the museum to check on ticket availability and was told to come in.)

Matisse - Blue Nude - 1907

Matisse – Blue Nude – 1907

This retrospective show is very small compared to the original Armory show, which had hundreds of artworks. In fact, the entire NY Historical Society coverage consisted of two galleries, while a third gallery covered pieces shown “soon after” the Armory show but not from the show itself.

Still, the curators of this show have gone to lengths to explain the original placement of the artworks and the cultural context for the showing of these works. One thing that fascinated me was the curator’s emphasis on how the artists were found for the show. Half of the works at the original show were American, the other half European. There is a lot of good reading material in the show too, and if you’re interested, there is a catalogue for sale.

What surprised me most about the show was that many of the works shown were not only “not shocking” they were traditional landscapes and portraits. It turns out that the organizers of the original Armory show were trying to show viewers an art trajectory, from the classical European, to the American point of view, and then the big divergence with Cubism and Fauvism and so the traditional works were a purposeful lead in, to help the viewer acclimate to what they saw in the final gallery.

Van Gogh - Mountains at St. Remy - 1889

Van Gogh – Mountains at St. Remy – 1889

This final gallery was the only section of the original Armory show which showcased the “new” works, and the public was shocked by them due to their bold colors, multi-varied perspectives, non-traditional forms and in some cases content.

One of my favorite “put-down’s” of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase was that it looked like a “splinter salad.” The reaction was clear: critics of this art were severely challenged to understand the new forms.

Although today’s viewers will likely not be shocked by the Matisse, Duchamp, Gauguin and other paintings and sculptures they see, it’s good to be reminded how new art forms CAN shake viewers up, and CAN challenge them to think about art in new ways.

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Joe Nemeth at Terra Blues, Thurs, Oct 17th

What can you say about Terra Blues on Bleeker Street in NYC except that it’s a Blues Institution. This venue attracts top talent from all over the world to come and play blues, and yes, sometimes the acts are only in town one night – as was the case with Joe Nemeth, a blues harmonica player and five time Grammy nominated musician.

Joe Nemeth - Blues harmonica and lead singer

Joe Nemeth – Blues harmonica and lead singer

Nemeth and his band played a funky blues first set, and then… the electrical power went out for the amps in the back of the stage.

Nemeth was undaunted by the set-back, and sent his band offstage to take a break, while he decided to sing solo, just a boy and his harmonica, and he brought down the house.

Joe Nemeth at Terra Blues in NYC (bad lighting!)

Joe Nemeth and his base player too at Terra Blues (bad lighting!)

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However, after his one solo song, the power had not come back on, and so he too took a break. Unfortunately, many in the audience didn’t wait for the electrical repair and got up and left. Since it was only Thursday night, and I knew I had a busy few days ahead (to see BB King the next night, and then off to the Armory show too) I also decided to call it a night.

Young drummer for the Joe Nemeth band

Young drummer for the Joe Nemeth band

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The very talented lead guitarist for the Joe Nemeth band

The very talented lead guitarist for the Joe Nemeth band

Does it look like I was sitting right next to the stage? Because I was at the very first table next to the stage. I could have almost reached out and touched the lead guitarist’s cowboy boot!

Enjoy!