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.....