Friday, April 24, 2015

Garnet Valley Jazz with Denis DiBlasio

As someone with a lifelong love of music, and an interest in jazz in particular, I was excited to see what "Garnet Valley Jazz Night 2015" would be like. Turns out it was better than I would have imagined...

Over the course of the 2 hour concert, there were performances by a variety of Middle School and High School jazz ensembles and combos, interspersed with solos and duets. I was amazed at the quality of the music, and the fact that many of these high school kids could improvise solos without it sounding like a disjointed mess. Throughout the evening, guest artist Denis DiBlasio joined in with the student groups.

I won't repeat the (very) long and distinguished career of DiBlasio (Yamaha artist profile here), but the short version is that he played with Maynard Ferguson's band in the 1980's, serving as his musical director for 5 years, and now runs the Jazz program at Rowan University in New Jersey, where apparently one of his students was Steve Selfridge, one of our music teachers, and one of the driving forces behind the jazz program.

DiBlasio plays baritone sax and flute, and hearing him play with our kids was pretty cool. The truly amazing part was at the end of the concert, when he about five songs with his own quartet (all recent graduates of the Masters program he oversees at Rowan). Simply incredible, and a real treat to see such accomplished musicians in a small intimate setting (we were in about row 5).

A clip of DiBlasio playing with Maynard Ferguson in Montreal in 1982 is here. He is the burly dark haired bearded sax player first seen at around the 1:00 minute mark, and taking center stage at around minute 21:30...  Another classic tune, "Salt Peanuts" is here with an extended solo right out of the gate. I'm not much for the scat singing, but I get its place in jazz history. Anyway...

The evening ended with Steve Selfridge joining DiBlasio and his quartet for a final song. I've known that Mr. Selfridge is great at teaching the young kids (his main job is in the elementary school), and I knew he could play lots of instruments very well, beyond just the reeds he specializes in, but I had no idea how good he really was. He lit it up on sax with extended improv solos of his own.

The concert was a real treat, and I am glad that we went even though we had no direct involvement in it (i.e. kids of our own playing). I didn't know that there was a professional guest, which turned out to be a very nice surprise. Being a trumpet player back in my youth, it has been fascinating watching old Maynard Ferguson concert footage. It's always nice when something unexpectedly expands your horizons... And we are fortunate to be in a school district with such a great music program.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Daily Nugget - Tommy Emmanuel

Tears in Heaven, by Tommy Emmanuel and Igor Presnyakov

Lovely.... There's just something about a sad song that always seems true...

Or for something more...hopeful... Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stan Hochman

Stan Hochman
It was with great sadness that I heard that legendary Philadelphia sportswriter and columnist Stan Hochman died today at the age of 86 after a brief illness.

Angelo Cataldi and the morning team on WIP radio styled Hochman as "the grand imperial poobah of Philadelphia sports" and I guess in many ways that was true. Hochman was one of the old guard of local sportswriters that included such luminaries as Frank Dolson, Ray Didinger and Bill Lyon; a holdover from a time when people got their sports news and commentary largely from reading the newspaper. He wrote for the Daily News for over 50 years, and was a staple on TV and radio.

Up until just a few weeks ago, Hochman sill did a weekly call-in to WIP to give his take on the week's sports news. To the very end he was insightful, wise and entertaining. By all accounts, he was as good a man as he was a writer.

Rest in peace, Stan.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Dragon Magazine - Memory Lane

Dragon #70, February 1983
Now that we are playing some Dungeons & Dragons again after all these years, I was checking out some old D&D stuff on eBay, and ended up buying several good-sized cheap lots of Dragon magazines from the era of my adolescent days. When I got back from the short-circuited Shenandoah trip, I had a large and very heavy box containing almost every issue between #s 67-135 waiting for me (I did say large lots...all from the same seller). These issues are from late 1982 through July 1988, which would be basically high school and college.

This stuff certainly brings back memories, as I routinely bought or subscribed to this magazine through much of the very late 1970's and early 1980's (I sold all these magazines on eBay maybe 10 or 12 years ago...). In the few issues I have thumbed through thus far, I have already re-read some things I distinctly remember from back then. The issues numbered higher than about #100 don't look very familiar, so these are probably from after we stopped playing (and we all would have been in college so that makes sense).

Based on a very limited sample size of issue-flipping, some initial observations come to mind...

It is an interesting journey back into roll playing game history, as many of the authors of the articles in the early '80s issues are the "royalty" of Golden Age AD&D (some of whom are now dead): Gary Gygax, Ed Greenwood, Len Lakofka, Kim Mohan, Roger Moore, Lewis Pulsipher, etc.

The game, already in the early 1980's, was well on the road towards becoming the ridiculously over-complicated over-detailed monstrosity that it apparently became after we stopped playing back in the old days. The relatively new 5th edition we are playing now is very much a step backwards from the level of complexity and micro-detail that I am seeing even in 1982 and 1983 issues. For example, the issue I just set down (#70 - February 1983) has a article on NPC (non player character) smiths, and how many "smith" experience points they need for each level (there are 12 levels), and which levels can craft or repair which items, and so on and so on and so on. For 3 full small-print pages. I'm not quite sure why anyone would want to bog down in a level of detail regarding a smith other than "can I buy X, Y, or Z item from him, or can he fix this item?", but to each his own.

Some of the material holds up well conceptually, and can still be used as inspiration or food for thought to someone playing now.

A lot of the material is space-filling junk that I find of no interest other than as a historical footnote or as a vehicle for taking a trip down memory lane and recapturing a little piece of lost youth. In hindsight, some looks like little more than contributing editors banging out a few contractually required articles in order to cash a paycheck, or others simply filling the page count of the magazine, but I guess that is being cynical. Probably true though...

There is incessant dialogue about, warnings on, and clarifications regarding what is put forth in the magazine "for your consideration, Gentle Readers" (a phrase they seem to love) versus what is "official." The short version of which is stated bluntly and repeatedly: anything Gary Gygax says is directly from the mouth of god and therefore official; anything else is not. This is interesting in hindsight knowing that at a point in the not-too-distant future, Gygax, the primary creator of D&D/AD&D and its real driving force, would be ousted from TSR and there would be many years of acrimony following that. In the early '80s, we are still very much circled around the feet of the master, and are being told to worship accordingly. Blasphemers beware.

The advertisements for the then-current products (and their prices!) are as much of a walk down memory lane as anything.

Some of the artwork is pretty cheesy and cartoonish, but some is very good.

All told, this is looking like it will be an entertaining minor expense, costing less than half the sticker price of the magazines when they were new 30 years ago. And I'm sure a few ideas culled from here will make it into our gaming sessions.

Overall, there is more junk in here than not, but interesting nonetheless.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Old Rag Mountain

April 3, 2015, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

This was the best part of my abbreviated Shenandoah trip. Being out in the woods is a good thing, no matter what.

Friday morning 8:45am, we arrive in the parking lot for the trailhead. It is overcast with intermittent sprinkles of rain. The forecast is for rain off and on in the morning, with chances of thunderstorms throughout much of the afternoon and early evening. Winds are gusty and persistent, and are supposed to get even stronger as the day wears on. Temps begin in the high 50's and are supposed to get into the low 70's in the afternoon.
Weakley Run

This hike is on National Park Service lands for Shenandoah National Park, and this is such a popular hike that there is a ranger shed at the parking lot for collecting fees. We pay the $15 weeklong pass per car, and make sandwiches. This is a very popular hike, and the parking lot, which is quite large, routinely fills up. Between the crappy forecast and the fact that it is Good Friday, there are only a handful of cars in the lot when we set out at around 9:15.

The first 0.8 miles of the hike is up a paved (but largely unused) dead end road that ends at the real trailhead. We bear left up the hill on the Ridge Trail, which will rise gently for a little while before switchbacking up the shoulder of the mountain. Over the course of the first three miles of this 8 mile loop, there will be some hard climbing, rock scrambling, and hand over hand climbing before attaining the summit. The views from the top are supposedly worth the routine crowds, but with today's overcast skies and rain, there might not be too much to see.
More Weakley Run

As we start up the Ridge Trail, I notice almost immediately that while my legs feel good, I have no wind whatsoever. I am not a great climber under any circumstances, but this is noticeably unusual. Not in the sense that I am worried about having a heart attack or being in any kind of distress, I am just very tired and find it hard to catch my breath. We are only perhaps 1 mile up the real trail when I decide that I need to do what is right for me, and tell the group that I will hike the easier loop around the bottom of the mountain and meet them somewhere on the far side.

We have seen few people to this point, but as I hike back down toward the trailhead I pass 7 or 8 groups of people, averaging 3-5 people per group, who are going up. I am feeling fine now that I am not climbing, but I am coughing some, so I am starting to think maybe the cold I had earlier in the week is lingering.
Stone cairns

Back at the trailhead (0.8 miles from the lot), I head the other way around the loop on an old fire road that is the Weakley Hollow Trail. The first mile of this parallels the banks of Weakley Run, a picturesque mountain stream. Knowing I have time to kill while the others do the tough work, I spend a decent amount of time rock hopping around the stream and taking pictures and video.

Further up the trail, the stream veers off and the hiking gets quieter. Ted has given me one of a pair of his walkie talkies, and somewhere on the lower Weakley Hollow Trail, I get an announcement that they have reached the summit.
Yet more Weakley Run

The hollow I am hiking through has signs of settlement from long ago in the form of rough stone walls and stone cairns whose purpose I cannot fathom. They are rectangular in shape, made of the same fieldstone as the walls, but are not hollow like foundations would be, and seem to be solid up to a height of several feet. Curious. I like old stuff like this. Which I guess explains the Archaeology college degree.

About 2.5 miles up this trail, the Saddle Ridge trail goes up the other side of the mountain. The guys will be coming down this way. I'm feeling OK going slow, so I will go partway up and meet them. Somewhere around this time I get another announcement that they reached the actual summit. In the overcast, they couldn't tell that the first high point they reached was a false summit, and they had another section of difficult trail and climbing to reach the real summit.
Saddle Ridge Trail, toward Skyline Drive

On my side, I climbed a little ways past the Old Rag Day Shelter (a small open sided picnic hut), and sat on a large boulder and had a peaceful wait for the others. After a while, they came down the trail, and we did an uneventful 3.4 (ish) miles back to the car, arriving at about 2:30pm.

All told, I hiked an easy 9 miles at a leisurely pace, according to the GPS. The others did about 8 miles, but a much more difficult hike to be sure.
Old Rag Mountain from Skyline Drive

I'm happy that the guys had some visibility at the top of the mountain and were able to get partial views off the mountain. Not completely clear views, but certainly better than the total overcast and zero visibility they could have gotten.

As for me, the idea of summiting a mountain isn't the be-all and end-all of a successful hike, but I do hate missing a good vista and the related photo ops. Fortunately, I also like streams, rocks and laurel thickets, and I got to see plenty of those.
Old Rag Mountain - Part of my hike

Notes on the hike track: Parking lot is at upper right. The gray area is the 0.8 miles to get to the actual National Park Boundary and the start of the real hike. I forgot to turn on my GPS, but the first mile or so of the Ridge Trail goes almost due south from where the gray and green areas meet. It switchbacks up onto the ridge line, and then climbs west/southwest up to the summit (at 3291 feet; the elevation gain from parking is about 2510 feet). From the summit, it drops west/northwest along the ridge line to meet up with my hike track. The loop is typically done clockwise, as the guys did. In total, it is listed as an 8 mile loop. My linear out and back shown here is about 3.5 miles each way, with an added 1 mile out and 1 mile back that is not shown. Total for me is therefore around 9 miles.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Shenandoah and Bust

I would like to say that the above should be a rallying cry of Shenandoah or Bust!, but unfortunately for me, the title, as it stands, is accurate. I went to the Shenandoah. And it was a bust. Perhaps "bust" is too strong a characterization. Other trips have certainly had their challenges, but this was the most disappointing.

Earlier in the week leading up to our Thursday afternoon departure, I had not been feeling well, and had been running a fever a few days prior. By Thursday, I was feeling mostly back to normal, and the biggest concern I had was for an unseasonably chilly and possibly rainy forecast.

Sun and clouds over Shenandoah National Park
Thursday afternoon we got on the road in two cars earlier than expected, leaving Dave's at about 4:45pm. Including a brief Wendy's dinner stop, we were at the Quality Inn in Culpeper Virginia, half an hour from Friday's planned hike - Old Rag Mountain - by about 10pm. Old Rag Mountain (Ridge and Saddle trails) is one of the more difficult (and popular) signature hikes of Shenandoah National Park.

Friday was a rainy forecast, but the desire to do Old Rag Mountain not on a Saturday, due to potential crowding on the trails, had everyone in universal agreement that bringing rain gear and making the best of it was what we needed to do. I will post my day's hike separately, along with a partial GPS track and some nice pictures, but the short summary version here is that everyone else went up and over the summit of the mountain and down the other side (an 8 mile loop with some very difficult climbing) while I went up the first 1.8 miles, and then spent the next 7.2 miles backtracking, looping around the base of the mountain and meeting them on the other side, then backtracking again to finish the loop with them. I'm not a good elevation climber to begin with, but I just didn't have any wind at all. That's unusual even for me. So at 9 easy miles, I actually put in more mileage than they did (they just did all the difficult and fun miles).

Stream below Old Rag Mountain
Friday night. The day's intermittent rains continued, and the breeze picked up noticeably. Setting up tents was a comical interlude of windblown tent pieces flying around, but everything was eventually set up and firmly staked down as best we could. The forecast for the night was rainy, cold and very windy.

Despite the chill and the damp, it wasn't safe (or practical) to light a fire because of the high winds, and a charcoal fire to cook steaks, potatoes and veggies wasn't going to work either. So we swapped planned dinners and used the camp stove to reheat frozen turkey chili. It was a serviceable dinner in lousy conditions. It was around this time that Phil's "party tent" (pavilion thing) caught an especially strong gust of wind and did a Mary Poppins off into the underbrush, hopelessly bending its aluminum frame [And thus a veteran of many many trips over the years found its final rest in a dumpster].

With no more shelter outside of the tents, and continued rain and gusty winds, we adjourned to our tents for a little makeshift reading and sleep. The sleep part ended up being problematic. I was cold to begin with, and not feeling all that well. I wore long johns and sweatpants to bed, along with thick wool socks, a thermal top and tshirt, and a wool cap. The gusty winds were extremely loud and buffeted the tent mercilessly. I'm almost amazed that the tents stayed up properly through the night, which is a testament to how well they are built. There was rain off and on until probably after midnight, and when the rain and winds finally subsided, the temperature dropped. A lot. [The car thermometer the next morning at 8am would show 35 degrees F]. I know I slept off and on throughout the night, but my main memory is of shivering, shaking, chills and chattering teeth. At one point I put my heavy fleece jacket on and it didn't help much. When we got up in the morning, I felt terrible and couldn't get warm. I would have put my winter coat on, but my extra warm stuff that was in the tent had all gotten wet. We found out later that the ground cloth under my side of the tent had blown out of place, and the wet ground was wicking up through the floor. Shoes, coat, gloves all soaked through. Swell.

Remnants of days gone by
Saturday morning. Over a cup of coffee around the picnic table, we had some snow flurries. Clearly, Mother Nature was mocking me. We then went to the little restaurant down the road from the campground and had a hot breakfast, which didn't interest me much. We went back to the campsite to prepare for a hike, which I didn't feel up to at all. There was talk of breaking camp later that day and doing the last night in a motel (Saturday night was forecast for clear but just as cold if not colder).

Saturday. Ultimately, once we figured out that 3 people and the necessary gear would fit in one car, I loaded all the non-essential stuff into my car and drove home. The views along Skyline Drive leaving the park were amazing, as it had mostly cleared overnight, and I took a few decent pictures. The drive home was uneventful, but not particularly pleasant, as I was still having chills and was very tired. I stopped in Warrenton VA to get a drink (and a convenient geocache in the parking lot), and was safely home by 4:15pm. I think this was a better choice than to have everyone change their plans to accommodate me.

So, as my daughter Grace would say, epic fail. Or if not Epic, at least Fail. Not that it was a total loss, insofar as the camaraderie is always great, and the hiking for me on Friday was still pretty nice. Bailing on your comrades totally sucks though. In wargaming terms, this would be best described as a unit reaching its Break point and then executing an extended Rout move (off the table and out of the game entirely).

Sunday postscript. Sleeping in my own (warm) bed was certainly nice, but I am definitely sick, so I guess I can soothe my wounded pride with the fact that there was more at play here than just being out of shape and not liking the cold. Small consolation...