Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Go West, Young man !!

Another beautiful morning in Omaha saw me waking up at about 8am and greeting the folks around the breakfast table. No gravy this morning.....just toast and yogurt, very Californian...
I drove to the airport, escorting Pam and her mother for their flight home to Los Angeles and took to the streets of Omaha almost like a native and found my way back to our friends' house in one piece. Picked Chris up and headed west on I 80 for Sutherland, out through Lincoln and beyond....

We left about 11am and arrived in Sutherland just before 4pm. It was an interesting drive, much of the scenery looked a lot like the center of Ireland, rolling fields with scattered trees and the further west we traveled the more cattle we saw. Upon arriving we were met by Mark, our House Concert host and he turned out to be a very hospitable gentlemen. His home is perfect for an intimate concert, the acoustics are terrific. Shortly after, his wife Muriel showed up carrying the evening meal under her arm. Free Range chicken..... the two birds were cut up, floured and "fried" Nebraska style. It was delicious. I'm just saying that because we are in Nebraska, great home cookin'....there was mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon and Yes, you said it ....GRAVY !!!! Now I really think I'm becoming a native....We had a lovely dinner and I got prepared for the show. Earlier I took some nice pics of their home and the surrounding fields, very pastoral and quiet, just lovely.

Round about 7.15 pm people started showing up, all told I'd say there were about forty bodies present for the concert, all seated on folding chairs in the living room. I sat next to the fireplace and began to regale the audience with my Irish history and the heavy sad songs that we are so famous for. Last night's crowd, being Irish and Irish American at Castle Barrett were well used to this kind of material so I was carefully reading the faces of these Sutherlanders to see how much they could stand. Once again, a hardy breed these Nebraskans and with the exception of my yelling at them to pop their Bud lights only between songs, they were once again, very respectful and attentive.

I kept promising them the second set would have much lighter notes and "not to lose faith"....Susan from the "Thunder on the Plains" Irish dance troupe had driven all the way out from Omaha and danced several times to my mandolin accompaniment. She was wonderful as usual. Thank you Susan..... I actually sang some requests as the evening was fairly informal. Mark, our charming host screamed out for "Seven Drunken Nights", much to the elated Bud Light poppers delight. There was no saying no and, trooper that I am, I obliged and pulled no punches, wading past the original Dubliners 1966 recording which reached the Top 10 British pop charts but was censored to five nights not seven, to come to a huge Irish climax, no pun intended and a standing ovation, oops, another pun not intended....

Well, that was it...the last notes were sung and the lights were lowered. Once again, lots more hand shakes and wound down the night with our new friends Muriel and Mark, and the last of the stragglers.

We are going to visit the sand hills in the morning, which I believe is more Prairie scenery. One of the young Bud Light brigade said "We gotta go 'Tankin' "... You know for some reason, with a plane to Los Angeles to catch at 6pm in Omaha and a five hour drive from here in the morning , that sounds like it might be a good idea to go 'Tankin' next's something to do with a big metal barrel or tank, cut in half and twenty people jump in and you roll down the nearest river....with Bud Lights, of course....yeh, maybe next time !!

Until next time, I want to thank everyone in Nebraska who helped us make this tour happen, everyone who put us up and drove us around and yeh, fed us GRAVY !!!! For me the greatest pleasure I have had here was playing and singing for all the new people who have now gotten to know me. I truly look forward to another visit again soon and am returning home to California with a more educated sense of who these people are, what they do and where they live.

I will sign off on this note....something I heard from a native Nebraskan when I arrived here on Saturday last. I told this story tonight to the folks who came to the concert assuring them that this phrase was not to offend only amuse. Apparently there was a contest in recent years to come up with a slogan for the State of Nebraska to encourage tourism in the state. Someone came up with this one .... "Nebraska, Bring Something to Do"..... One way of looking at it...... "I brought it and we did it"...... Thank you everybody for hanging in with me.....'til the next time....K

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Omaha Irish Cultural Institute concert

Today began with a beautiful crisp sunny morning , biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs and the feeling my body was reaching it's normal equilibrium, time wise. Biscuits and gravy have never appeared on my plate before but I'm in Nebraska and it was very good.
Hit the road with my friend Jan and headed for Nebraska City, a town of about seven thousand people on the Missouri river. Used to be a port in the old days for shipping up and down the river. Jan had lived there for a while when she was young and thought I might enjoy the scenery. It's in south eastern Nebraska. We stopped along the way and I walked on the real Prairie, just what it was like when the buffalo roamed back in the day. Most of the Prairie anywhere was ploughed up for wheat and corn and very little of it remains today. There was a certain magnetic feel to it, a very strong earthly pull .... back to the Stephen King thing again....
We visited Arbor Lodge, a quintessential Italianate mansion with fifty two rooms. It's an historic landmark and in poor repair. However, about 1900, the immediate land around the home was planted with trees from all over the world and it is quite the tourist attraction. The owner's name was Morton and he was responsible for the founding of Arbor Day, nationally.
We headed north for Omaha and arrived around 5pm at Castle Barrett, a very interesting building next door to Barrett's Pub. Inside, it had the feeling of a very large reception room complete with oil paintings, a bar and a life size statue of St.Patrick. After a few hellos we went back to some friends for wonderful midwest beef strogganoff, very fortifying for the job ahead...
By the time I got back to the "castle" they were waiting for me ! There were close to one hundred people all sitting in chairs when I walked if to say "OK, we're here, entertain us"... there was a bit of that Presbiterian "pinched" look about a few of them and I did feel just a little intimidated. Not for long, it turned into a wonderful show and rarely have I received such a warm and wholehearted welcome from an extremely appreciative audience.
It was a terrific night overall, and I do look forward to my next visit back. It's quite cold here at the moment, as I write, and their winter here is very severe. They are definitely a hardy people that see their fair share of tough times.
Tomorrow is the long drive west, about four to five hours, to Sutherland. We take Interstate 80 out along the Platte river to the grazing lands of Western Nebraska. The terrain is supposed to get really flat, it's fairly hilly around here, and we will meet cowboys. Sutherland has a population of eleven hundred so I'm looking forward to tomorrow night's tale....should be a very interesting concert....until then......

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lincoln, the Capitol

After a poor nights rest and not enough sleep, I decided to pass on the golf and slept 'til 10am....It was pretty chilly and windy early this morning but by Royal Dublin Golf Club standards in my teens, my dad would have thought it a glorious day. So much for that.

My friend Jan and I headed into town around noon and I was given a tour of the various neighbourhoods in Lincoln and different decades the homes were built. We went by the house where the first serial killer on record in the US killed a family of three just because he liked the car in the driveway. That was shortly after he killed his girfriend's parents and she didn't seem to mind...can't remember his name but Martin Sheen played his character in the movie "Badlands". Yes, I took a picture of the house....took a picture of Warren Buffet's house in Omaha the other day, too !

We spent most of the afternoon browsing the Nebraska Museum of Natural History. I learned a lot about the Great Plains, the Native American tribes and their migration, the railroads and there is definitely a strange feeling atmospherically here, when you realise there's no salt water for fifteen hundreds miles east or west. For someone who grew up on a small island there is a strange vortex claustrophobia about it.... I'm standing in the middle of America.

Having never visited here before it is interesting to pick up on some of the stories of the Great Depression from the locals. We have all heard of or read Steinbeck's classic "The Grapes of Wrath", which tells the story of the Jode family migrating west to California and the hardship they endured. I have met many old folks throughout my years in LA that came out on freight trains and any other way they could. But, there are the stories of those who stayed behind and stuck it out. The land was first destroyed by plouging up the prairie to grow wheat and corn , this being a Government decision only to be followed by the wrath of God with no rain for years, only wind and storms that destroyed just about everything living. I was given a book to read "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan, about the dust storms that destroyed this region in the '30's known as the Dust Bowl, parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska. The most amazing story was that of Black Sunday, April 14th, 1935, the day of the worst "duster" of them all.The storm carried as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig, the storm lasted one afternoon. More than 300,000 tons of the Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day. People were hospitalised with dust pneumonia or "brown plague" they called it. They had no weather warnings in those days, can't even imagine it....Actually, the air is lovely and clean here but there is a strange almost Stephen King feel about the place.

I think I had better go to bed, I'm starting to check the backs of my hands !! Just kidding, maybe it's all the Halloween stuff here, they are very big on giant spiders hanging off the sides of their houses.

Did go to Misty's this evening and had a big end cut and a baked was very good, but my own "Prime" prime rib roast last Thanksgiving from Costco, which I dry aged for a week in my refrigerator was much better...

Tomorrow I will head southeast to Nebraska City for more exploring and then north to Omaha for the concert at Castle Barrett...until the next episode, be safe wherever you are....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nebraska the Heartland, October 2010

It's 1am on Monday morning and the reason for blogging at this time is based on sleep deprivation. I actually blogged at 4am on Sunday morning but failed to save it and the battery ran out on the laptop. Boy, was I annoyed....not my normal expression there, but after all we are in Nebraska. The people are very polite so I must keep up appearances and watch my vocabulary.
To set the story in motion, the events began with the Twilight Lords performing at a private event in San Diego on Friday night. The show was to begin at 6pm at a rowing club on the bay. I left my home in the San Fernando Valley at 1.45pm as planned and arrived somewhat late at 5.15pm.....three and a half hours slogging down the 405. I had the PA and when I landed at the club, Will, Otis and Mark Shark were entertaining the crowd with cool jazz lounge lizard stuff. The familiar strains of "Breezin' " by George Benson greeted me as I lugged the PA into the reception area.
We kicked into high gear immediately and had the crowd rocking on the dancefloor for four hours. The high point of the evening for me was Otis singing Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean", (which I had never played before), and he reading the lyrics Googled from an Iphone by a guest, held in one hand while playing the entire drumkit with his other hand. Now I do know we can play anything...
At the end of the show, packed up, goodbyes said, I headed for home at 10.30pm and made it back in exactly two hours. By the time I was finished packing and hit the sack it was about 2.15am and I had to be up at 3.30am, leave at 4.15am for a flight to Omaha from LAX at 6.30am. You may be getting the sleep deprivation picture by now.
After a stopover in Phoenix, my flight arrived in Omaha at 1.45pm and I was met by manager Chris and her partner Pam who had arrived over the previous two days. I noticed most people were wearing red sweaters and teeshirts in honour of their devotion to "Big Red", yes, the Nebraska "Cornhuskers" were playing against Texas on Saturday....a very serious rivalry. Nothing happens here in Nebraska while "The Game" is on. The football stadium which holds about 85,000 becomes the third largest city in the state when there is a home game. We went right away to the supermarket for a few things and I bought a "Huskers" tee shirt...."When in Rome".... anyway they comment....they may be reading me here in NE...
After watching the game at the home of some relatives of Pam's, my friend Paula Ray came and picked me up and drove Chris and I to Lincoln where we had dinner and enjoyed a birthday party for Paula's friend Bob at her home. Paula was, at one time, President of the Celtic Arts Center in Los Angeles. By 10.45pm I couldn't keep my eyes open and politely retired. I woke up and posted most of what I have just written, at 4am.
It was so quiet here this morning, not a sound except the purring of the laptop and the sound of two sets of feline paws tapping accross the hardwood floors. No sirens, no helicopters...very different from where I live in the SFV. Then again, I'm drawn to exitement.
Went back to bed at 5am and slept 'til almost 11. Paula was making breakfast burritos for us and following breakfast we headed over to the Johnny Carson Theater for sound check for the 2pm concert. The show went very well and I learned, as I performed my program, that Nebraskans are very polite. I was joined at different points in the show by Irish dancers from the local "Thunder on the Plains" troupe and the girls explained to me at the intermission that that's how folks are here in the mid west, quiet, respectful and very appreciative. They did show their appreciation afterwards by purchasing CDs and lots of "Thank you's" for a job well done.
A group of us then went for coffee and then we all parted ways and I am staying in Lincoln with an old friend for the next couple of days. I'm looking forward to a game of golf in the morning at a nearby course and then a bit of touring. Tonight, Monday, we are going to Misty's, the most famous beef restaurant in Lincoln....sorry to all my veggie, vegan friends but there's an end cut of the best prime rib in America with my name on it this evening....
Catch y'all later....have a great day.....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The final day of the tour began with me meeting a lady from InishMaan, the "middle" island of ther Aran Islands group, whom I knew from thirty five years ago. What a coincidence, she was sitting at the next breakfast table and we exchanged numbers and email. It is nice to renew an old aquaintance and have a connection with the island. I would very much like to visit there again. There are only 147 people on the island and it has not changed for decades, unlike the other two islands.
We drove through Oranmore, "The Galway Shawl" township, on our way down to Co. Clare. We stopped at the famous "Burren", an almost lunar landscape of volcanic limestone. There are flowers and other plants here that do not grow anywhere else in Europe. We travelled on to the Cliffs of Moher, eight hundred feet above sea level. It's Ireland's number 2 spot behind Guiness's Brewry and there were plenty of people to prove it. It was once again, a glorious day. I'm just amazed at the weather we've had. Our final leg took us on down past Lahinch golf links, one of Ireland's most famous courses. I was quite jealous as I watched the golfers having a go in such fine weather. Our driver John snook us into Dromoland Castle, a site for every Yank's sore eyes. Truly a splendid example of a medieval castle, turned hotel on beautiful grounds. We actually saw a wedding group arrive with bagpiper leading the couple who arrived in a vintage car. Everyone was "dressed to the nines", looking more like a day at the races....

We had our final dinner together in our lovely hotel tonight, to me, our finest meal so far. We hugged and said goodbye 'til the next tour in the Fall of 2011, which will cover the lower half of Ireland.

Thanks for staying with the blog. For me, another week and a half in Dublin and London. I'll be back to business as usual on the eighth of April....'til then..."Slan agaibh go leir".....

Friday, March 26, 2010

Where was the weather? It was supposed to be raining and dark clouds this whole week. We rose this morning to blue skies and warm sunshine. Following a mostly continental breakfast (no fry up), 16 of us headed for the Aran Islands Ferry. I think most of the others who remained behind were too hung over to make the ocean voyage anyway. We took the bus from our hotel about 15 miles north to Rossaveel and embarked on the ferry to Inish Mor (Big Island). We docked at Kilronan Village and were met by our driver, who took us on a tour of the Island where we visited a 6th century church, possibly the oldest and smallest in Ireland. We were dropped off at the base of the hill on the top of which stands Dun Aongusa, the Fort of Angus, 2,500 years old. The fort stands in a semi-circle with its rear being the edge of 400 ft cliffs high above the Atlantic Ocean. Absolutely awesome to behold. This was the top of the island and the view in all directions was breath-taking.

With an hour and a half to kill following our descent back to the village, we all repared to "The American Bar". I found myself singing in my native Gaelic language by request, much to the amusement of the locals, who turned out to be very friendly and thought my dialect sounded more Donegal. When I told them I had learned most of my Irish on Inish Maan, right next door, they were very impressed and welcoming, suggesting I return to live there. With sad farewells, we headed for the ferry and returned to Galway.

Our whole group dined together in the hotel and I followed with an impromptu performance for one and all. As the sing-song wound down, those who weren't too exhausted from the day's events headed off out for the last night's imbibing in the city's trad music pubs. The rest of us retired for the evening.

Early start in the morning for our final day... later. K

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Woke up to light rain and low clouds this morning which was a pity as we could not see Croagh Patrick, the mountain just outside Westport where St. P fasted for forty days in 435AD. We did, however visit Murrisk Abbey, 12 century Augustinians where Grace O'Malley would have been baptised and married. Right next to it is an eerie copper sculpture of a coffin ship representing the National Famine Memorial, the soft day that was in it lent a quiet moment to all of us.
We travelled out towards Ashleigh falls and in to Leenane where "The Field" was filmed. We drove on both sides of Killery Harbour, an eleven mile long fjiord...the only one in Ireland, which cuts between Mayo and Galway.

Down further south, we stopped at Kylemore Abbey, a Sistercian order of nuns since 1920 but built in the mid 19th century. Still a high school for wealthy young ladies today, this maybe it's last year as a school. We had hot soup and good brown bread for lunch.

We stopped into a Connemara marble factory and got a quick lecture followed by more spending. Then in to Galway City and our hotel, The Imperial on Ayre Square in the town center.
Straight out for fish and chips on Quay Street, followed by a night of trad music, no I took a break tonight, and just got to be up early for our boat trip to Inish Mor in the Aran islands, really looking forward to it...catch up later...
It's been so busy with travel and performing that I had no time to catch up on Tues night. We had a great night in the Great Northern Hotel in Bundoran. We drove further north into Donegal to the village of Ardara and visited a local tweed weaver. Much money was dropped there by all and I was presented with a nice local wool sweater by the owners. We headed back south, passing through Co.Leitrim into Co.Sligo. We visited W.B Yeats's grave in the old churchyard of Drumcliffe before lunch in Sligo town. On into Westport and our Castlecourt Hotel, which is quite nice. Westport, like many places this time of year, is very quiet. Some pubs are closed during the week and our hotel seems to be the only game in town.
After dinner my show started at 10PM and the venue was mostly senior citizens on vacation, many looking pinchfaced and arms crossed waiting for the music. There was a mixup with the PA system and the sound was woeful. It was very difficult to perform and by the end albeit I did a good job, I was quite disgruntled. The venue was very happy as everyone stuck around.

We drove down to Achill island as the sun was splitting the Co.Mayo rocks, a glorious day. Breathtaking scenery and history unfolded before us and all had a truly exellent experience. Ocean vistas, deserted famine villages and Irish coffees, what a great day.
Back to Westport for a bit of shopping late afternoon, Christine and I bought some terrific local food, including my own sister Sandra's Inishturkbeg island smoked salmon, and dined in our suite. Very quiet and a nice pleasant repast before my evening show.
With the same PA system I battled through the evening, this time I was prepared for both the sound and the pinched faces which for some personal efforts to overcome the sound obstacles there were lots of smiles and dancing. A truly great night was had by all and we hit the sack after a long day.
This morning we are off to Connemara and the city of Galway...Later...K

Monday, March 22, 2010

Woke up to soft rain and following a full Irish breakfast headed up north to Donegal. On the way we stopped to visit the Beleek China factory in Co. Fermanagh in the Six Counties of the "wee " North.

We had lunch in Enniskillen and had a walkabout. We reached Bundoran at about 4PM and are staying in the beautiful Great Northeren Hotel on the beach. Very old world and we had a lovely dinner, all together.

Following dessert, we retired to the bar where I gave a two hour unplugged concert. We had a new friend Chris from Port Stewart, Co. Antrim in the North who joined in with his fine tenor voice on several songs. Once again, a terrific impromptu show for our group. Great craic and a lot of laughs. Our driver John regaled us with "Dublin in the Rare Auld Times".....
Once again, we're all tired out and we are off to bed for a 7AM wake up and off further north into Donegal to see a weaving facility and perhaps buy a tweed cap or two...then a long drive southwest to Westport....will catch up tomorrow night...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hello everyone,

What a start.....Got home from the Auld Dubliner at 3AM Sat morn and left for the airport at 5AM. Nice flight to Logan in Boston where the three of us were entertained by a flaming camp waiter named Carmine,who was least that's the word he kept using. We enjoyed a dinner of crabcakes and Margerita pizza and set off on Aer Lingus for Dublin.
Chris, Christine and I landed at 4.30AM, three hours before the main group landed from Chicago and we drank Starbuck's, yes, not my favourite thing to do....but it was all that was open.
Meeting the group at 8AM and joined by our driver Dublin John Costello, we followed initial instructions and, it being Sunday morning, we trekked back in after loading our luggage on the bus and had O'Brian's coffee for breakfast, which was less expensive than the other place....
John then drove us all over the city of Dublin where we saw my old home in Upper Mount Street, all my teenage stomping grounds and eventually ended up in Guinness's brewry where almost everyone drank the "Mother's Milk".
On to the hotel by 2Pm for check-in and a lie down. Picked up my guitar from my sister Brenda and we had dinner with her and returned to the hotel where all were assembled for my show tonight at "The Cusack Stand ", a true Irish watering hole just a couple of blocks from the hotel.
What a night, my brothers Arthur and Raymond showed up and sang and played harmonica, several other musicians including Paul O'Tool ex Young Dubliner and Tony O'Keefe ex Dublin Four gave their best and by the end we were all truly ready for bed which is where I'm going right now. We're up first thing in the morning and will be on the road for Donegal before 9Am...

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's Friday morning and we are gathering ourselves for takeoff tomorrow morning. have to be up at 5AM after we play at the Auld Dubliner in Long Beach. Hope to catch an hour nap in between. What a couple of days over St.Patrick's Day. Performing for the City of Los Angeles at LA Live was a blast but the heat was searing. I'm going home with a tan...

I'll try to keep this a daily journal, I'm sure manager Chris will keep me on my toes to keep it up. Should be fun reporting on the day to day adventures of the group. I'll be back.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Well, we are almost off on our exiting tour of the old country. Buying coats and sweaters and walking shoes, if you don't have them that is....Meeting new friends on the tour and new friends to be made in Ireland along the way.

For those of you on the tour that have never been to ireland you are in for an experience of a lifetime, only to be repeated when you return there another day. The weather looks Irish for the first part of the trip. Bring a small umbrella, looks like rain. Time for a sing song and a few hot toddies.

Looking forward to a great trip with everyone....