Saturday, November 25, 2006

Today's weeper

Damn you, Linda Ronstadt.

"Long Long Time"
Thanks, kids

As a writer and singer of honkytonk music, I'm always a little uncomfortable when I play for children. The best country music is grown-up music, and the songs I sing touch on bedrock country themes: infidelity, despair, substance abuse. If I'm performing at a minor-league baseball game or a baby shower, and I have played both, I always wonder whether the kids in the audience later ask their parents, "What did that man mean when he sang, 'Jack Daniels, if you please, knock me to my knees'?"

But a few weeks ago I sang at an afternoon open house held by a potter friend, and I was struck by something. Watching the folks who came in (you may not know it, but musicians are always attentively watching the audience), I realized that the adults may not have even observed right away that the music was live. They looked at the pottery, the food, each other and then, maybe, me. Which is fine, of course! I wasn't the main attraction.

When young kids came in, though, the first thing they looked at was me. Their eyes got big at the sight of me and my guitar, and they appeared awestruck at the mere fact that I was making music. Many of them started dancing the moment they heard me, and some of them were so fascinated that had to be pulled out of the room by their parents.

It's nice to be noticed, and more and more I realize that kids just get music, on some basic level. They don't really care what kind it is, either, and they don't care that a song like -- to choose one I perform a lot -- Waylon Jennings' "Good Ol' Boys" has specific pop-culture associations, mostly kitschy, for many adults who hear it. Kids simply like it, and this is instructive. It's okay to simply like stuff, just because.

I'm reminded of another show, one I played last summer at a beach volleyball event out in Lake Mills. Turnout was poor because all day it threatened to rain, and most of the people who did come were playing volleyball far from the picnic shelter where my trio had set up. But at one point, a group of seven or eight children filled a picnic table right in front of us, and they listened in a very focused way, danced a bit, and cheered every song. During a break one of the kids, a boy of about 6, came up and said, "You know what? You're my favorite group." That meant a lot more to me than he probably realized.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Save big money

Check out my Black Friday shopping dispatch on

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Know when to hold 'em

When Ereck and I threw a dinner party last weekend, we contemplated getting a card game going. That didn't happen -- at the party, it was late by the time someone brought up the idea -- but beforehand I did indeed do a little preparation for the only card game I know how to play in a group of seven or so, poker. I made sure I had enough chips, and I reviewed the rules of a few variants.

Among the variants I reviewed was Texas hold 'em, the game that, as anyone with basic cable television knows, is an ongoing fad. But let it be said: I have never played Texas hold 'em. Back when I was a regular poker player, ten or so years ago, it had not become a national obsession. So when a group of us got together for a nickel-ante game once or twice a month, we mostly played the fancifully named stud variations familiar to generations of living-room gamblers, like baseball, Kankakee and -- my personal favorite -- follow the queen. The matches were fun and had far more to do with enjoying the company of friends than they did competitiveness (with the exception of one particularly memorable round of guts).

My question is, now that Texas hold 'em has so thoroughly permeated poker consciousness, is it considered gauche, even at a friendly living-room game, to play anything except Texas hold 'em? Can a dealer still call follow the queen and not be razzed mercilessly? What if said dealer really, really likes follow the queen?

My other question is, what aside from poker is a good card game for a group of seven or so?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Requiesat in pace, Robert Altman. He directed my favorite film, Nashville.