America Meets The Beatles! At Bethel Woods


Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, is an oasis nestled in the Catskill Mountains, about two hours northwest of New York City, at the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival in Bethel, New york. It hosts a wide range of events from April through January and its museum, The Museum at Bethel Woods, is dedicated to the study and exhibit of the social, political, and cultural events of the 1960s, including Woodstock, and the preservation of the site and artifacts from that period in music history.

In celebration of this year’s 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival in America, the musem has launched a special exhibit, America Meets the Beatles! On Thursday, I was invited to take a sneak peek at the unique presentation, which is actually two exhibits in one, featuring photographs from Life photographer Bill Eppridge and memorabilia from local collector Rod Mandeville.

Eppridge’s photos come with their own fascinating story. He was assigned by Life to cover the Fab Four’s arrive in the US for their iconic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was so impressed by the group and their scores of screaming fans that he arranged to follow them for the next six days shooting intimate photos.

The Beatles traveling by train on their first US trip.

The Beatles traveling by train on their first US trip.

The magazine published four of his photos and then lost all of his negatives. The negatives were found more than a decade later, after The Beatles had already broken up. Useless at that time, Eppridge set them aside. Therefore, many of them have never been seen by the public. Unfortunately, he passed away before the exhibit was completed, but his wife carried on with the project.

Ringo Starr reads about the ongoing events in 1963.

Ringo Starr reads about the ongoing events in 1963.

The photographs are a compelling behind-the-scenes look at what that first US tour must have been like for the boys from Liverpool, revealing intimate glimpses of their excitement in the first few days of the British Invasion. They also give a window into the cultural and political climate at the time.

Rod Mandeville of Jeffersonville, New York, may be one of the biggest Beatles collectors in the US. His home is teaming with memorabilia including posters, pins, fan club mailings, figurines, fan magazines, and much more. Some of these items form the heart of the other half of the exhibit. You can also see an actual suit worn by Paul McCartney in 1963, on loan from another private collection. One of my favorite displays was the 1960s living room, complete with an antique television showing the Ed Sullivan Show and old magazines you can thumb through, including the TV Guide from the week of the Beatles first US television appearance.

Part of Rod Mandeville's collection of Beatles memorabilia.

Part of Rod Mandeville’s collection of Beatles memorabilia.

The America Meets the Beatles! exhibit runs through August 17, so you have all summer to visit. To support the exhibit, the museum will be hosting several speakers who are Beatles experts and showing several Beatles films, including Good Ol’ Freda this Saturday. The direct from Broadway show Rain—A Tribute to the Beatles will be performed in June.

Check the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts website for a complete list of this summer’s events and concerts, as well as museum hours.


Memphis for Music Lovers

Music is everywhere in Memphis.

Memphis is paradise for music lovers. I had only visited the city once before, and it was only a one-night stay due to an overbooked flight. I saw Graceland, Sun Studios, Beale Street, and that was about it. It was long before I began writing about music, and this trip was long overdue. Visiting Memphis was a fantastic and enlightening experience.

Before heading out for a day of touring have breakfast at the Arcade Restaurant on the corner of South Main and G. E. Patterson. Not only is this the oldest restaurant in the city, it was also one of Elvis’s favorites, and you can still sit in his booth. The diner has a real nostalgic feel that has attracted writers and filmmakers. Scenes from Mystery Train, Great Balls of Fire, The Client, The Firm, 21 Grams, Walk the Line, My Blueberry Nights, and others were filmed inside the Arcade.

Historic Arcade Restaurant.

The historic Arcade Restaurant.

The best place to start a visit to Memphis is at one of the city’s fine music museums. The Rock ‘n’ Soul museum, conveniently located near many hotels in the Fedex Forum (across the street from Gibson guitars!) tells the story of how the many genres of music from gospel to blues to soul combined and morphed into rock. It’s a relatively small museum, but jam packed with information so you’ll want at least a couple hours here. There are many listening stations each allowing you to sample tunes to your heart’s content.

A collection of vintage harmonicas in the Rock 'n' Soul Museum.

If you are a guitar aficionado, or just interested in how instruments are made, hop into the Gibson Guitar factory just across the street. For $10 per person you can get a first-hand look at the process of building a guitar from binding to neck fitting to painting to tuning. The 45-minute tours are given on the hour from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Gibson factory.

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music at Soulsville, USA, is a monument to the genre that flourished in Memphis in the ’60s and ’70s. Stax Records launched the careers of such legendary artists as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Booker T, & the MG, but it’s most important legacy may be as an oasis of racial harmony during a very troubling period in American history. This is a really cool place. Take note of the state-of-the art Soulsville Charter School and Soulsville Music Academy next door. What great assets for Memphis’s next generation of musicians.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the former site of Stax Records.

Another museum you won’t want to miss is Sun Studio. Referred to as the birthplace of rock and roll, this small studio and its tour are an entertaining must. If you’ve seen the show Million Dollar Quartet, this is where it all took place. You almost feel like you might bump into Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, or Elvis Presley just hanging around the studio. One of the coolest things about Sun Studio is that it still operates as a recording studio in the evening—making it the only working recording studio in the US that’s been designated a National Historic Landmark. You can schedule a quick karaoke-like recording, or even a professional recording using the same vintage ribbon mikes and analog tube gear as Elvis did, or get the best of both worlds by combining the warmth of tube gear with the ease of digital audio. You’d be in good company—musicians like Justin Townes, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Lee Rocker, and many more, have recorded here.

Sun Studio

Music icons, especially those recalling Elvis, are everywhere in Memphis. Many of the other attractions refer to Graceland as the “mother ship.” There’s a shuttle that runs between Graceland and Sun Studios every hour, so following your visit to Sun is probably the most convenient time to see Graceland. The sprawling complex including the mansion, trophy room, Elvis’s car collection, and airplanes is very commercialized, but still well worth a visit. The audio tour is a must.


Inside Graceland.

The picture of the Memphis music scene and how it evolved is not complete without a visit to the National Civil Rights museum, located at the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. This is truly an emotional site, and anyone who visits it can’t help but be touched. Be warned that this museum is due for a major renovation beginning in 2012, so parts of it may be closed.

If you want to take in some specialized shopping. Local guitar maker St. Blues will be happy to show you around their custom workshop and describe how they hand-build each instrument. You can browse their selection of fine, handmade guitars. You may even want to bring home a souvenir cigar box guitar.

A behind-the-scenes look at how St. Blues guitars are handmade at the Memphis workshop.

If percussion is more your thing, Memphis Drum Shop is world-renowned for their drums, including vintage kits, and the world’s largest cymbal inventory. This store is a percussionist’s dream and you could easily spend an entire afternoon browsing. The drum shop sometimes hosts clinics, demos, and benefits featuring well-known and local artists. The latest addition to this incredible facility is its Gong Room, where you can get a sonic massage on the last Saturday of every month. This is an sensory experience you won’t soon forget.

Memphis Drum Shop has the world's largest cymbal inventory.

No trip to Memphis would be complete without a walk on Beale St. Aside from the many venues with fine live music, you can see the famous Memphis flippers who backflip down the street for tips, A. Schwab, the oldest retail establishment on Beale, an exhibit of civil rights photographs by Ernest Withers, and the home of W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues.

Beale Street

Home of W.C. Handy, the Father of Blues

When you are tired of the hustle and bustle step into Itta Bena on the third floor above B.B. King’s. Modeled after the speakeasies of the 1920s, there’s live music on the weekends. Or head to the Center for Southern Folklore on South Main Street. On most Saturday and Friday nights you can hear local artists performing live blues, jazz, or R&B. On Labor Day weekend the Center holds its annual Memphis Music and Heritage Festival.

Music in San Antonio

Banner for the launch of San Antonio's Year of Jazz.

On October 22 I landed in San Antonio, Texas, to learn more about the city’s music scene and attend the launch of San Antonio’s Year of Jazz. This celebration marks Trinity University radio station KRTU’s 10th anniversary of airing a jazz-driven format and will feature one year of monthly jazz events at different city venues. (For a list of planned events and the schedule visit The launch, called “Sunday in Brackenridge Park: Jazz Family Showcase,” included a day full of family events and entertainment in a very beautiful setting. The pinnacle of the celebration was the premier of Aaron Prado’s San Antonio Jazz Suite performed by the King William Jazz Collective and narrated and introduced by former San Antonio Spur Sean Elliot. Following was a performance by the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra.

Aaron Prado premiering his San Antonio Jazz Suite

San Antonio Symphony in Breckenridge Park's Sunken Garden Theater.

While in San Antonio I had the chance to take in plenty of other musical highlights in and around the city. On Sunday I had the pleasure of attending mariachi mass at Mission San José. This was really a special experience and I would encourage anyone visiting the city on a Sunday to attend a mariachi mass. San Antonio is known for its five missions—Concepción, San José, San Jaun, Espada, and of course, the Alamo. All but the Alamo offer mass on Sundays, but only Concepción and San José have mariachi mass. It truly was an uplifting, unique experience.

Mariachi mass at Mission San José.

Among interesting venues I visited were Carmens de la Calle Café, where I heard Austin drummer Brannen Temple play in a trio, and Jim Cullum’s Landing where I heard a jazz quartet with KRTU’s own Kory Cook on drums. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band performs Tuesday through Saturday nights at the Landing.

Carmens de la Calle Café.

About half-way between San Antonio and Austin is Gruene (pronounced green) Hall, which has live music seven days a week. Built in 1878, Gruene Hall is the oldest continually running dance hall in Texas, and many great songwriters and musicians have graced its stage, including George Strait, Lyle Lovett, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Bruce and Charlie Robins. The venue features live, original music seven days a week. There wasn’t much dancing going on during the evening I was there, but I enjoyed Tuesday Night Song Swap, where Adam Carroll, Brian Keane, and Owen Temple shared their songs and humor. 

Gruene Hall, the oldest continuously running dance hall in Texas.

Owen Temple, Brian Keane, and Adam Carroll entertain during Thursday Night Song Swap at Gruene Hall.

Other larger concert venues in San Antonio include the ornate Majestic Theater completed in 1929 and Arneson River Theatre, located in San Antonio’s oldest village, La Villita. At this picturesque little theater the stage and audience are separated by San Antonio’s River Walk, which runs through the center of the city.

Inside the ornate Majestic Theater completed in 1929.

Arneson River Theatre, located in San Antonio’s oldest village, La Villita.

During my visit, I discovered that San Antonio has a very rich cultural heritage and that the community works very hard to celebrate and preserve those traditions. JoAnne Andera, director of special events at the Institute of Texas Cultures showed me around the institute’s museum, which features, among many other noteworthy exhibits, displays of instruments brought to Texas by immigrants. She also told me all about the The Texas Folklife Festival, modeled after the Smithsonian’s Washington, D.C. Folklife Festival. The festival brings together different Texas ethnic groups to celebrate and share their music and traditions. Proceeds from the event are given back to the participating cultures so the customs continue to stay alive. The first Texas Folklife Festival was held in 1972, on the grounds of the Institute in HemisFair Park. In its 41st year, the 2012 Folklife Festival will be held June 8-10.

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, on San Antonio’s West side, preserves, promotes, and develops the arts and culture of Chicano, Latino, and Native American peoples in dance, literature, media arts, theater arts, visual arts, and Xicano music. On the east side of San Antonio, the Carver Community Cultural Center has a long history of supporting San Antonio’s African American community. It began as San Antonio’s black library and auditorium, and many famous jazz musicians who came to perform in the city jammed at the auditorium until the wee hours of the morning. Later, it was a staging center for civil rights protests. Today, its mission is to celebrate the diverse cultures of our world, nation and community, with emphasis on its African and African-American heritage, by providing artistic presentations, community outreach activities, and educational programs.

Chef Johnny's Tamarind Margarita at La Gloria Mexican restaurant.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the fine food! There is practically every kind of food imaginable available in San Antonio, but of course the Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants are superb. One restaurant that I particularly enjoyed was La Gloria, a Mexican restaurant specializing in the street foods of Mexico. Owner and chef, Johnny Hernandez, travels frequently on recipe seeking adventures into Mexico. The food and drinks were authentic, inventive, and delicious. Johnny clearly has a passion for his work!

Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands in Somerville, MA

Host band Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society of Somerville, MA.

Last weekend I went to the Honk Festival in the Boston suburb of Somerville. It was awesome, exceeding my expectations in every way. It is also nearly impossible to describe. Loud and fun, the colorful bands played, danced, and paraded in parks and alleys around Davis Square on Saturday. There were lots of horns, drums, stilt walkers, dancers, and hula hoops, and not a single stage. That’s one thing that makes Honk so special, the lack of boundary between audience and performers.

What Cheer? Brigade from Providence, RI, performs among the spectators.

Some of the musicians involved were local and others traveled from locations around the country, from the Brass Messengers of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble from Montreal, Quebec, to the Minor Mishap Marching Band of Austin, Texas.

Environmental Encroachment band of Chicago, IL, wowed the crowds with fun antics and unique costumes.

Though billed as a festival of activist street bands, I think political agendas were secondary for Friday, September 30 through Monday, October 3. The mission was spreading the joy of music and taking back public space for the purpose of sharing music.

Musicians "took back" the streets of Davis Square, at least for the weekend.

Honk is a completely grassroots, nonprofit operation with no promoters and no outside food vendors or stalls selling junk. So, the area businesses and residents benefit from the festival, and in turn, show their appreciation by donating funds, as well as housing and food, for visiting bands.

I know lots of people who can hula hoop, a few that can play trombone, but I've never seen anyone do both at the same time before.

Host band Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band of Somerville began the festival in 2006 in an effort to connect with other similar-minded street bands. It was such a success that it has become an annual event, usually held Friday through Monday on Columbus Day weekend.

Seed & Feed Marching Abominable from Atlanta, GE.

Sunday there was a Honk parade that brought the band’s and other community groups from Davis Square to Harvard Square, where they entertained at an Oktoberfest celebration. That evening the bands took to the water at Boston Harbor where they performed and cruised aboard the Provincetown II. Monday a Honk Symposium was held at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, followed by performances at Boys and Girls Clubs around greater Boston.

Extraordinary Rendition Band from Providence, RI.

Some Honk participants from other states have been so affected by it that they went home and started their own “Honk band” and in some cases their own Honk festival, including Pronk in Providence, Rhode, Island; Bronk in Brooklyn, New York; HonkWest in Seattle, Washington; and HonkTex in Austin, Texas.

The Bread & Puppet Circus Band from Glover, VT, has been an activist band for many years.

Ithaca Porchfest 2011

Last Sunday was Porchfest in Ithaca, New York. It was a really cool event and so simple. Throughout the city’s Fall’s Creek neighborhood musicians of all ages played every genre of music imaginable, from Celtic to classical to indie rock, all on porches and in front yards. What a great grassroots event! Local organizations opened their facilities to people visiting for the event, while some nonprofits sold baked refreshments and lemonade. People of all ages walked around and rode bicycles, enjoying the music.

Black Walnut Band

The idea of Porchfest came to co-organizers Lesley Green and Gretchen Hildreth one day when Green was outdoors playing ukulele with her husband and Hildreth was walking by. They began chatting about on how nice it was to hear music played in the neighborhood and the two came upon the idea of Porchfest, which began in September 2007 with 20 bands.

Ithaca's Southern Old Time Jam

This year Porchfest featured 95 bands (that’s 300 musicians!), and visitors to the event have been so inspired that annual Porchfests have sprung up in other places—Belleville, Ontario (September); Somerville, Massachusetts (May); Larchmere, Ohio (June); Napa, and California (July).

Two members of the Rosie Rocca Trio.

Look for an article about Porchfest in the February/March issue of Making Music.