December 20, 2007
Well, I managed to stay alive (so far!) again this year, and with some amount of fun to show for it. Each new day is a blessing, certain sure. And, since you heard nothing from me at this time last year, here's a catch-up for those who might be interested -- and so I can remind myself by looking back at this missive at some future time. Here are some of the activities that 2007 brought my way.
The highlight of the year came early. Based on his and my respective music sites, my guitar-playing buddy, Gypsy Lou, and I were chosen to showcase our rendition of the roots American music called 'Cajun' to the people living in the middle of Thailand. Ah, yes, the power of the Internet!
Located in Nakhon Sawan, a city of about 750,000 (of whom approximately zero residents that I met spoke English...) the 2nd World Music Festival was a once-in-a-lifetime event I hope to repeat a few more times. I'm proud to say that after our performances the organizer, Todd Tongdee, invited me to come back and perform again.
The 2nd World Festival centered around Chinese New Year, though our performance responses are better explained by the fact they centered around Valentine's Day (our Cajun performances were the 14th and 15th). At least you should have seen how wild everyone went for the 20# of Mardi Gras beads I schlepped over to throw from the stage... I was afraid someone would get trampled as people lunged to catch them as we threw them from the tall stage. I know this was at least partly due to excitement over the potential for giving their sweethearts a strand of the 'precious' beads for a present.
The total Festival actually went on for 11 nights, 9pm to midnight, and featured absolutely top performers from around the world. I now have contacts in India, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and, of course, Thailand. I think because of the strange instrument I played I was sort of sought after for photos, and I was told the dark-haired person you see is me with in the photo was the "Bob Dylan of Thailand."
Here's about a 1-minute video clip of the performers who were on stage when I first got to the Festival. I wish I could tell you what they were called.
One of the emphasis items Todd places on his choice of performers is what might be called 'heart' or 'connection.' He was uncanny in what I saw of his ability to get giving, caring musicians of depth together in one place. Every one of the people I met throughout the event seemed uniquely special, something I've not experienced on such scale ever before. Below is a short video snippet of one performance. I think these particular folks were from Vietnam, but can no longer recall for sure.
Music at 2nd World Music Festival
One night I'll never forget was after our second performance night, which also included the Sri Lanken drummer/dancers (shown in one of the frames below), a Cambodian flute-led group and several other nationalities. A group of perhaps 20 of us were sitting in the courtyard of our hotel (which was all taken up by musicians). We'd had our showers and a few minutes rest in our rooms before coming down for food and conviviality.
It was maybe 2am and, except for those with each of us from our respective countries, we had no words of common language among us. As entertainment, I was playing my scrubboard tie in accompaniment to an acoustic guitar player who was part of Todd's contingent. When the Sri Lankan drummers, especially, saw/heard my zydeco tie, they simply couldn't believe their eyes/ears. At one point I went over to let each, in turn, try their hand at playing it.
While one guy was doing so, I got an idea. I ran up to my room and came down with the drumstick bag I'd hauled over there and used just that one time. It was well worth the transport hassle. The bag contained perhaps a dozen drumsticks of differing types in it. I put the bag open onto one of the Sri Lanken's tables, then started hauling items into the area that I thought would be percussive or melodic (and that I didn't think would break). These included a couple larger containers that I had to get help to move.
At first the Sri Lankan contingent were incredulous that what it looked like I had in mind was okay to take part in. Hitting on hotel property?! Then, looking at Todd's smile, they realized that, as we might say in the U.S., they "weren't in Kansas anymore."
We all started banging on things and no doubt woke up the entire periphery of the rooms around us, some of whom came down to join in. Although it only went on for about 45 minutes, there was a bond created that is difficult to describe now, in retrospect. Suffice that the next day it was easy to see when two of the different nationality members who had been participants met up. Though each still couldn't speak a lick of the other's language, the smiles and, often, heartfelt hugs, said it all.
The Festival stage is the largest I'd ever performed on, with many thousands of people in the outdoor concert area and throughout the periphery. They absolutely loved our music, and especially my 'rub bear' instrument. It's well liked here in the U.S. when I appear, but I hadn't thought of what Thais would think of an instrument with the head of a polar bear -- keep in mind that these are people to whom snow is mostly only a concept. Everyone wanted to touch the bear, show it to family members, etc. The looks on children's faces when I got close-up are memorable still.
It was also my first time to be treated like a real rock star; I think I could get used to it in time... After each performance in the 80-some degree evening heat my thin cotton clothing would be absolutely sweat-soaked through. A somewhat odd part was that, when I went back through the crowd after the performance to sight-see, people would reach out to touch my shirt. I'm not sure that's something that would wear well in the long term, though all seemed well intentioned in their actions. They just wanted, it appeared, to be a little more 'part' of the event.
I especially liked how Todd invited -- insisted, really -- me to use my cell phone to get any needed info and as the way to get back to base while in Nakhon Sawan. (Phones are inexpensive to buy and cheap minutes are available at all convenience-type stores and elsewhere. Think 7-11; literally.) When we got there, Todd programmed into my phone the cell number of his second-in-command, and insisted that I call any time I needed to get back to the festival hotel or had other questions.
If you have the time to take a look at one of our shows, here's about 20 minutes of the night we headlined.
Gypsy Lou & Ranger at 2nd World Music Festival, Thailand, 2.15.2007
So, the typical thing was to walk or take a 'tuk-tuk' taxi to who knew where in the city. Getting lost was very easy and lots of fun. There in the middle of the country it was quite provincial to the American eye, even in such a large city. Though others saw dogs hanging in the butcher shops as food, for example, it's a sight I missed...
I absolutely loved the mannikins the Thais employ to sell clothing. These offer an insight into the 'good humor attitude' that so pervades the culture. When I'd want to take pictures (or be in pictures with them) in store windows, the shopkeepers were invariably gracious and cheerful in allowing the posing to take place.
However, I digress: When it was time for the performer's dinner or something else I needed to get back to the hotel for, I would find a policeman or available taxi driver, push the right button on the phone, hand it over, they would talk back and forth in Thai, and in minutes I'd find myself back at the hotel. BTW, what the helpful policeman would do is immediately stop traffic at the first taxi that went by, explain to the driver where to take me and there would be smiles and nods all around. I'm sure it probably helped that I was part of the Festival.
I wrote an extensive and detailed blog while traveling, which included my side stops in Singapore and Japan, and there were lots of photo slideshows. However, the server files went away due to operator error (mine!) and, though I have much of the info in text files on my laptop, simply haven't found the time to put it all back up again. I will, though, and I'll put a link to the blog here once I get it reassembled.
In addition to being at the festival for four days, I spent the better part of a month traveling around the upper and western portion of Thailand, basing in Chiang Mai. My only other visit to the country, a couple years ago, I was mostly on one of the offshore islands, Koa Tao. This time, I was able to visit with three sets of friends who live in Thailand.
You may have seen Gary, who is married to Thai native, Jai, in one of the mannikin frames. They live half the time in Bellingham, near me, and the rest in a lovely home they've built for themselves in a NW Thai town called 'Tak.'
I especially enjoyed visiting the fabulous current Buddhist shrines, as well as the centuries-old ruins that dot the countryside. Some of this was done from the back of a rented 150cc motorcycle I managed to get around on even though Thais drive on the 'wrong' side of the road.
As many who have gone before me, I absolutely fell in love with the people of Thailand. They are mostly poor by our standards, as is the case in most 2nd world countries, but there's not a significant beggar/starving component in view. In fact, I see more begging here in the U.S.
What the country's Buddhist majority do have in common is the spiritual/cultural desire to do what they call "making merit." These are 'pay it forward' acts of daily assistance and kindness to others that will serve to raise their spiritual resonance; what we might call 'karma.' The practice there is very real and wonderful to be around as well as to take part in.
As you might imagine, re-acclimating was tough when I got back. Belinda had kept the place from falling apart in the snow of winter, so that helped a lot. Then, in April, Belinda and her daughter, Teresa, decided to move back to their former residence in Bellingham. We still talk, email and get together on occasion.
Belinda's new/old place is located next to an Audubon protected wetlands area, which provides a steady source of nature photo opportunities. By the way, her close-up (macro) photography has gotten even better, though I wouldn't have thought that possible. She has a knack for getting within inches of her entomological subjects without disturbing them; in fact, she likes to "make friends" with them. I consider her the 'Horse Whisperer' of the insect world.
Belinda's latest photos can be found on her Flickr.com website. Her images include an unbelieveable picture she captured a month or so ago of an eagle carrying a huge branch in its talons, which she titled, "Home Improvements." Belinda's latest photos are on her Flickr.com site.
She also was nice enough to take the time to do an 'Elf Yourself' of all of us still here at Rangerville: Belle, Frankie, Lily and myself. I think you'll agree that the elf clip is pretty hilarious!
For the first time ever, this year I attended Oregon Country Faire with overnight camping privileges. (The only other day I was ever there a number of years ago it was beastly hot and we were almost grateful to get back to the camper and head for the beach.) It's quite an event to see, with I don't know how many tens of thousands of visitors each day. Only a relatively small number of people get stayover passes, which I wangled this year by having a friend with a booth who had passes for which she invited me to do a work trade-out.
The Faire is truly a throwback to the energy of the '60s, with wondrous effort put into things like costuming, theater and music. The communal hub is perhaps the large sauna/shower area, which contained at least a hundred naked people each time I went to clean mysel up, usually early in the morning or late at night. My first time in was the best: At the edge of the hot soak pool stood a naked guy singing along with playing his acoustic guitar, conducting sing-alongs with the twenty or so folks in the water.
Twice a day there's a musical parade through the grounds, which I participated in a few times. If you want to take the time, here's a 1-minute video snippet. At the end are featured two of my friends who happened to be on the balcony with me at that particular time, Bill and Jules.
Baby Gramps and "The King" Curtis
You might also like this 1-minute video snippet of some talented bucket players.
Bucket Drumming Snippet
One of the things that made OCF so fun was that I ride-shared down and back with a long-time friend, Kathleen, who I simply don't get to see enough of. You'll see her in one of the frames between those statue guys shown below. We had so much fun discussing our respective (and similar) worldviews going both ways that the 6- or 8-hour road trip went by quickly.
By night, especially, the Faire is truly a magical place, with all manner of luminous objects set around the periphery of the acreage of the place. With the naturally occurring mist in the wetlands areas and subtle lighting the organizers have had so many years to perfect, the effect is mesmerizing.
Luminous Objects at OCF
One evening I was sitting on the balcony overlook of our rustic vendor booth and noticed that a number of people in the clearing between the other booths below me were dancing in unison. Inexplicably, once in awhile people would peel off into the clearing from the line of hundreds per minute passing by in both directions, go purposefully into the far side of the dancing throng and then, darned if they wouldn't soon be dancing in what appeared to be the same rhythm. For almost an hour it was, to me and the rest of those on our balcony, sure 'nuff a mystery.
I finally learned that one of the nearby booths was sponsoring a 'silent rave.' Word of it had been distributed around the Faire, though no one around our booth had heard of it. People knew to go to the booth across from us to get a wireless earpiece transmitter of some kind that picked up the music being broadcast from their booth. What a great concept! Not only quiet but entertaining for all the watchers and participants alike.
Perhaps my favorite thing to discover at the Faire was a person who made and gave away peace necklaces. These were so called because each had the word 'peace' engraved onto baked (and sometimes glazed) clay necklace charms, each about the size of your thumb and forefinger circled. He had them in several dozen languages and, as seen by the picture, had made almost 400,000 of them as of that time. Although he took donations, everyone was invited to pick one whether they donated or not. I wish I had his website; if anyone reading this does, please let me know.
An amusing anecdote: Many women at the Faire had their breasts painted, typically with flowers of some variety. Bill told me the regular who had the best painting booth (not a bad job if you can get it...) had had to resort to putting tags on each of his 'masterpieces' long enough to take a picture of the flower type, so he wouldn't duplicate any flower design. (Imagine the horror in meeting someone whose boobs were painted exactly the same!) As you can see, there were other paint jobs happening, as well.
July also brought me another fine adventure, this time along with the Whidbey Island-based band I play with, Zydeco Explosion. The bandleader, Ken, has a wondrous property on the water at Lasqueti Island, which is reachable by foot ferry only from Vancouver Island. He set up a gig for us at the island's only venue, the Blue Roof Tavern, so named because that's what one sees from the ferry when coming in to the dock. Mostly it was a grand excuse for a few days away on one of the Queen Charlotte Islands, what I think is one of the most beautiful settings in the world. Guess that's why I live in this area despite the weather challenges in the winter.
As another plus, our guitar player, Jim, is a commercial pilot who flies throughout the San Juan/Queen Charlotte islands on a daily basis. For the price of gas sharing, he flew our sax player, Thomas, and myself up to the foot ferry landing in his 4-seater plane. Though no doubt a busman's holiday junket for Jim, I found the trip through the islands by air to be a magical highlight of the year. It's a great place to play music, too, since there aren't really any rules on the island about closing times, etc. As you can see, my rubboard became raccoon head-topped for the occasion of such a wilderness, island event.
Another momentous playing opportunity (can you tell I still love the music that I've kept in my life now for so long?!) presented itself in August, when Zydeco Explosion backed up 'the Grandmaster of Zydeco,' Jude Taylor. What an accordian player Jude is, as well as singer, all around stage hound and truly nice person. This was our second year to back him for some Pacific NW engagements.
Jude is from Grand Coutou, Louisiana, an area that has been hard hit by the ongoing tourist drought from Katrina. Some of the local riverboats and clubs he used to play no longer even exist. Before our performances, Jude taught accordian to attendees of Port Townsend's week-long Centrum Music Festival.
Then, we backed him for the festival's last two nights at PT's best venue, The Upstage, where we had more than capacity houses both nights. His brother Michael, a fine guitar player, was here to play from that point, as well. After that, we had him with us for three of our Zydeco Explosion gigs before backing him for a last performance at Bellingham's premier music venue, Wild Buffalo. I put together a compilation CD of the two PT nights which is fun as a vehicle to remember it all.
Oh, and the other musical thrill this fall: I wangled my way onstage with Tab Benoit, a cajun/blues hero of Gypsy Lou's, especially. What a wonderful stage presence, though with his chops it's no wonder he has the rest, as well. Lou and I went about 50 miles south to the Tulalip Casino to see Tab play on July 4th.
Since Lou and I play a number of Tab's songs -- and since Tab's trio does not include a rubboard player -- about halfway through his one long set I brought out my rub bear and set it facing the stage. Sure enough, he was flashed when he saw it and invited "the owner of that rubboard unlike anything I've ever seen" to come up and play it with him.
A cool part is that I had along my iPod, which I left recording. (It's outfitted with one of those new CD quality recording mics.) So, the music from that part of the set is memorialized. I'm glad to be able to say I played well and feel sure I could be invited to join Tab and his band again when he's in the area. It was truly an honor to be onstage with a Grammy nominee like Tab Benoit.
Spearheaded by friends Barb and Sarah, who started gathering glass items to make statuary as an art thing to do this summer, we had a fun new art area to explore. I resisted for several weeks of their excited garage sale expostulations before finally succumbing to looking for (especially colored) glass items, as well. Once we found the right glue to use for both moisture and freezing (we hope!) we had some get-togethers here that produced some very nice pieces. I have one with a votive candle holder upstairs in the corner of my bedroom that is commented upon whenever someone sees it. The ones shown were built by Barb.
I guess I'd be remiss not to mention this year's Rangerville Party. If you were there, you might want to take a look at the pictures. It was held in early June, as is the norm, and someone counted over 400 people here at one point in time. All with wonderful, ready-to-assist attitudes, as usual. I've never heard even voices raised in argument in over 15 years of hosting these events.
The fire-spinners, Holly and Anna, were especially on their games this year. Wow, the shows they put on for everyone left our mouths hanging open -- good thing it was dark. And, after that, we lit the best burning sculpture yet, a king cobra that was almost 20-feet tall. Once the tail got started, which was along the ground, the fire went like a largish fuse up the structure to a simply marvellous conflagration. Oooh. Ahhhh.
The summer brought a couple new denizens to the woods here at Rangerville. You just have to know which path to travel on. They were built in late summer, such that they didn't even get names before the onset of winter. Guess there will be time for that if they make it through to spring.
Another wonderful results landscaping project, not shown, was to make a sitting area at the base of the cedar that fell over a few years back and which now leans -- still growing -- over the meadow in front of the outdoor stage. I installed a small burbling pond at its base and levelled about a 20' x 20' area behind that. It's a magical spot that can only get better with time.
The venerable Pegasus sculpture got a 'fabric lift' this summer, though we ran out of weather to get his/her new coat finished. That will wait for spring, as well. However, s/he also got outfitted with a lovely unicorn horn, as you can see, which provides a whole new look. Mother Nature, her companion, is starting to look a bit crusty by comparison so she's due for a bit of a replenish next year, too.
This was actually a summer of performing facelifts and preservations all around the place. I pressure washed everything open to that technique, including both sides of the picket fence, all the decks and a couple of out-buildings. I'm hoping to do the shakes on the house next year. Then, I applied wood preservative onto all the bare wood everywhere. Whew!
Unquestionably, the most fun of all those involved the upper deck, which has a torchdown roof that I keep a roof coating on. After cleaning it off with the pressure washer, I put several coats of white, mastic roof coating down. Then, (this is where the fun came in...) in the spirit of Tom Sawyer invited over some people to paint the 12' by 16' 'canvas.' Ruth the artist was our spiritual and topical leader; she talked to everyone first about how no matter what we did would turn out great and then left for a walk. Artists included Chuck and his daughter, Coral, my cousin, Kerstin, and I think someone else I'm forgetting at the moment. I had collected about a dozen cans of different colors of acrylic paint, and at some point they were all used. In the span of a couple hours the white deck was transformed into an enormous painting. It still makes me smile every time I look out that direction.
Well, there you have it: That's what I recall of the fun stuff, and aren't photos a fun way to help do that! There's been plenty in between, goodness knows, and not all necessarily all that enjoyable.
I am proud of my 'World's Largest Power Sweeping Resource' website, WorldSweeper.com. That's where I put the majority of my business time, though also build advertisements and websites for a few companies, as well. Although there's an industry magazine, they know virtually nothing about the topic so my challenge is to stay up with whatever's the latest in techniques, equipment, etc.
With the field of stormwater runoff pollution control such an emerging issue, that's not so easy. I assisted the Public Works Department of Washington, D.C., with developing a 'sweep-off protocol' a couple of months ago, and that was a good project to be involved with. As the environmental issues come more to the burner with the election coming up, I think there will be more of that sort of need to come.
The national publication 'Better Roads' also featured two of my articles this year and, in conjunction with my friends Saphir and Nate at WorldPeaceEmerging.com, I wrote a book on biodiesel called 'The Rise of Biodiesel.' I felt very good about the way it turned out, and that received validation when the book won an APEX Award for Publication Excellence earlier this year.
Now, if we can just figure out the best ways to get it dispersed widely! BTW, if you want to read the TOC and first chapter, I'm allowed to make those available. Here's where it's located in a pdf file if you want to take a look.
Except for some unfortunate 'old business' I'd find things much happier overall. Unfortunately, the Texas-based, public company that now owns the sweeper manufacturer that was my sponsor for so many years appears to have done some things to my site that weren't, shall we say, above board. That company discontinued its sponsorship of my work several years ago, but it appears their management might not want my site to succeed on its own without their inclusion, either. In addition to website hacks I've endured, there also appear to be some shady things being done in other parts of the industry that need to be exposed to the light of day.
So -- just call me Crusader Rabbit -- I'm in the second year of a legal battle I enjoined with the company that should get to the bottom of it all sometime in the coming year. I can sure advise that it's messy and expensive. However, because of the severity of what's occurred, I'm committed to seeing it through to the end, though suing a public company is not something I recommend in general.
So, that's more than just an update. Funny how these newsletters can get a life of their own. Last year I didn't do one, and this year's became a tome.
Gypsy Lou is back in Thailand, playing regularly at clubs and other venues in and around Chiang Mai. For me, this is not a year I can afford to return there or elsewhere; I have neither time nor money for such a venture. Some day, though, I would like to see more of that part of Asia, as well as Indonesia. Something about that part of the world resonates inside me.
I hope this missive finds your own life running on all cylinders, that you're overwhelmed with true enjoyment on a daily basis and able to retain recognition about how wonderful is this special consciousness we have available to us. And, the luxury we all live in here in America. As a wonderful Christmas PowerPoint presentation called Christmas Blessings that my sister, Sherry, sent to me includes: "If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back and a roof over your head, you're richer than 75% of the people in the world." Amen.
If you are in the area, be sure to come by to say 'Hi.' There are lots of places to sit and have a heartfelt conversation. And, goodness knows there are so many of you it would be great to see face-to-face once again. Until then, see you in cyberspace!