All posts by Josh Brokaw

This One Thing Communal Kitchens & Music Fests Have In Common!

Originally published as a ‘Reporters’ Notebook’ in the Ithaca Times on July 15, accompanying features on a five-day-a-week community kitchen and the GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance. Photo from a Second Wind Cottages workday, which I wrote up here.

An economics textbook would never call an organization like Loaves and Fishes or GrassRoots classic examples of “horizontal integration.”

There’s no incentive for a community kitchen to expand across the nation to control all the free lunch spots like Rockefeller’s Standard Oil eating up all the refineries in the late 1800s.

There’s far too many artists in this country for one amorphous group of music-lovers based in an office in Trumansburg’s Masonic Lodge to watch all the shows on YouTube and book all the fairgrounds. No one group can monopolize feeding the hungry, whether the nutrition they serve is soup for the stomach or music for the soul.

Yet, those who do the work for these two local institutions are very “horizontally integrated.” Both organizations have only a handful of paid staffers and absolutely could not keep going and growing without volunteer workers that come from all walks of life. And neither Loaves nor GrassRoots hold it against those who keep showing up to feed themselves and don’t take a turn at the dishwashing sink or ticket booth.

“I think the philosophy for 31 years has been we’re all in this together,” Christina Culver of Loaves told me. “We purposely don’t want to be hierarchical and say ‘Oh, here’s these great volunteers helping you, who are the needy.’”

At Loaves, that philosophy shows through as people who come there at low points start asking how they can help, and end up serving people who come in uniform or shirt and tie. And who knows how many salaried daily suit-wearers will be enjoying music and food and yoga at GrassRoots this weekend, while there are broke students and fixed-income retirees working the gates and cleaning the latrines. Taking in all comers and operating generously and freely in one place for years, this is how a daily meal or a now quarterly festival starts getting called a “sweet community,” a “tribe,” a “family.”

There’s all sorts of need in this world, and sometimes it’s dire; organizations like the Red Cross have press agents who constantly remind us that people and resources are getting sent to places around the world to help when flood and famine happen. Sending a few bucks their way via text or Facebook link is doing someone, somewhere, some good.

Every day, though, there is work to be done so that people in Tompkins County have something to eat, something to hear, something to do. Not everyone can show up to cook five times a week, or spend two weeks in July setting up tents. Looking up from the daily grind, though, surely everyone can find a few minutes to look someone in the eye and say, “What can I do to help, here, today?” •

“Because Democracy” Ain’t Enough Of An Argument

An opinion piece originally run in the April 8 Ithaca Times.
School teachers are overpaid! Governor Cuomo is a scumbag! Stop attacking our kids! Let the teachers teach! We have got to stop graduating idiots!
Do I have everybody’s attention now? And if so, have any of these bold statements convinced you of a new belief over how public education should be?
While talking with and listening to many public educators in the course of writing last week’s
cover story (“Fight Still On,” April 1), there were some very fair points made by administrative types that Cuomo’s tactic of withholding school funding numbers till the budget was agreed on wreaks havoc on local schools’ planning. Albany politicking making life no fun for New Yorkers is an old story, and the order of operations that applies to the school funding formula is an obvious symptom of dysfunctional governance. That sort of mess is the newsman’s job to report and interpret until his readers’ eyes droop shut of statistic and acronym fatigue.
Headline­worthy quotes, though, do not come from administrators patiently explaining the effects
of the GEA on their district. They come from a place of real anger at Cuomo’s education agenda – believed by many to be driven by Wall Street hedge fund billionaires that want to privatize schools nationwide – and what one hears from the incensed at rallies and the like is a lot of “stops.” Stop cutting our funding. Stop balancing the budget at the expense of our kids. Stop requiring all these standardized tests that take away our teaching time. Stop funding privately­-run charter schools at the expense of public schools. Leave us alone!
The “leave us alone to teach, we know the kids better, just fund us!” argument hasn’t changed much in at least the past 15 years or so this observer has read the news. It needs updating, because if the crisis is as dire as the public school advocates say, they have some powerful opponents who have already claimed plenty of rhetorical high ground.
Those who argue, with Cuomo, that teachers need to be held to a higher, more measurable standard have some deeply ingrained public beliefs on their side: In short, that education can be measured in results, and so a completed college degree should lead in a straight line to worldly success. If society agrees that the aims of education are to turn out students who go to the best colleges [measured by U.S. News rankings]; then go on to get the best jobs [measured by salary]; and then contribute the most to society [measured by charitable giving] then test, test, and test some more.
The student should be prepared for the hardships of the Global Marketplace, which has ever-
increasing requirements for the “hard” intellectual, STEM skills. Can you build a bridge? asks the Marketplace. Can you code a program that lets teenagers send each other inappropriate photos? Will you provide value to our shareholders? This is the apparent aim of New York City’s Success Academies, if one believes the April 6 report in the New York Times on those schools’ philosophy: Test a lot; everyone sit up straight all the time; somewhat regular peeing-­of­-pants during tests.
Starting with “we do not encourage pants­wetting” might be a good start for public schools advocates to refresh their rhetoric, if creating a class of technical adepts who can beat the Commies to Uranus or best the Chinese in smartphone design is not granted as the only social good. To shape society’s beliefs about what education should be, though, without a reliance on “stops” and “nots,” will require first some reflection on the part of educators. Why do we need public education? [Hint: The answer is not “because democracy,” go deeper]. Then, convince me of your answer.

What’s Wrong With The Silent Pro-Dog Minority

An opinion piece, originally published in the March 11 Ithaca Times

If the Internet is to be believed, a large majority of Ithacans would love to take their dogs for a walk on the Commons whenever the downtown pedestrian mall gets to looking fresh again.

Mayor Svante Myrick asked his Facebook followers their opinion both last September and in late February: should the 40-year-old ban on Commons canines should be lifted? Over the course of a couple hundred comments between the two strings, the Yays outnumbered the Nays about three to one.
“Why not Fido?” asked the online dog lovers. “S/he goes with me everywhere,” they said. “Dogs are everywhere in Europe, and Paris/Rome/Berlin is beautiful.” “Whenever we visit City X (Burlington, Asheville, Portland, any weird little city, really), no one there has any problem with dogs downtown.” Mostly, the affirmatives said “yes,” “yeah,” or “YES YESS YES.”

If one asked a selection of Commons merchants their opinion, several said they welcome in four-legged patrons. If not they seemed unconcerned, even blasé about the issue. One found it “very interesting” that a ban existed, then complained about smoking on the Commons. Some thought allowing dogs might help business, as tourists tend to bring along their pets – especially that yearly tourists-and-their-greyhounds bus. One merchant of 26 years said that dogs have been on the Commons “since Day One” and there’s no way to keep them off, “legally or illegally.”

Economic impact and certainty in enforcement were the two driving reasons why the Commons Advisory Board recommended dogs be legalized. Economic, because merchants have been hard-hit by reconstruction and will take all the business they can get, drool or no. Enforcement is difficult for police because it’s very easy for someone who’s caught with a poodle on the Commons to say “Oh, no, my Fifi is a service dog.” Those papers are easier to acquire than your Wednesday Ithaca Times.

Sniff those winds of prevailing opinion. Stop into a Lake Street tavern where a pit bull has claimed a stool. Watch passing strangers, man or woman, young or old, having an oh-you’re-soooo-cute squeal over one another’s poodle or pit bull. It seemed concluded that Ithaca and its Commons was gone to the dogs.

The only obstacle was a vote of Common Council at their March 4 meeting, where they were to consider a whole package of Commons law rewrites on everything from outdoor dining boundaries to a move-along rule for buskers. This was when Fido’s foes showed up in force. A force of a half-dozen or so, but they were there.

The no-dogs minority had stated their opposition on the Internet strings. They said they were either allergic, or afraid – of doggie disputes, of scaring the kids, of the few ruining it for the many, of poop smeared upon the shiny new Commons pavers. Besides one Ithacan arguing for a statue of Odysseus’ hound, these were the people Council heard talk. And Council said, “Well, dogs can wait,” because councils give more weight to people who show up than those who do not.

Council is not required to read Facebook comments – though 50 or so old-fashioned emails to one alderperson or another, which do go on record, might have changed the debate’s tone. There wasn’t one. And a lively Facebook presence might make national reporters drool, but it doesn’t give Mayor Myrick the power to tell Council to roll over.

Perhaps it’s true that all this means is that “people in Ithaca know the law is soft,” as the one, dog-opposed, Commons merchant who showed up March 4 said. Maybe Ithacans do “laugh at the signs.”
Until Ithacans start telling their government what to put on the signs, though, no one should be whining when on a trip with Toto to the pretty new Commons, an officer says “Get off there! I said, GET OFF!”

Time To Buy Some Frying Pans

Originally published in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on July 11, 2013.
Another local family-owned restaurant succumbed to the pressures of the market this past week.
Patrons and long-time employees of Fox’s Family Restaurant, in Halls, hugged and laughed and cried and told each other they’d becomes friends on Facebook on Saturday evening, as the last night of meals were served at a restaurant that began in the early ’50s as a grocery store and ice cream shop on the corner of Jordan Avenue and Montour Street in Montoursville.
“You don’t know where we’re going to pop up,” waitress Kenna Snyder told a long-time customer as she was leaving. “You’ll find us working in a restaurant and you’ll see us around.”
“I’m really upset about this,” said Betty Jo Soohy, of Hughesville. “They’re family. I’ve been going to a Fox’s since I was 16. It’s just like home cooking, and I got to know all the waitresses’ life stories. Every time I think about it I cry. I never thought there’d be a time when I was going to be alive when there wouldn’t be a Fox’s.”
Long-time regulars don’t know where they’ll eat out now.
“I knew the Foxs since I was a little kid, I was 10 or 11. I went to Canada with Jack and Mary,” said Bill Boyles, of Pennsdale. “We’ve gone here every week — we like to support the hometown people versus the chain.”
“I’ll miss the jokes,” his wife Christine said. “You got to be in on the in-crowd here.”
“These people are like family. They sent flowers to my aunt when she was in the hospital last December,” said Linda Kibbe, of Williamsport. “When my mother was living we’d come two or three times a week. The chains are nice for a change now and then, but it’s so unfortunate to see family businesses struggle.”
Fox’s baked goods and bread were highly regarded in the area. On Saturday some half-price loaves of their Italian, raisin and English muffin breads were all that was left, with only crumbs remaining on trays where their last batches of delicacies were displayed, and their home-style menu bore headings like Serious Salads, Gram’s Cupboard, and I Want a Burger.
Tim Fox, who co-owned the restaurant with his brother Dennis and sister Susie, said that competitive pressure from chain restaurants was one of the reasons they decided to close.
“When Mr. Gleason, who owned the property we have now, decided to sell off some of his farm, the agreement was there would never be an off-ramp to the mall other than this one.”
The last Fox’s opened on June 23, 1976, after time spent in the current Johnson’s Cafe and a location in Muncy opened in 1972 that flooded three times in four years.
“Gleason came over to the restaurant one day, and we were mudding out,” Fox said. “Mom asked, ‘Mr. Gleason, do you have some land for sale?’ He said yes, and Mom put down her shovel and said ‘We’re moving.”
“Our employees, other than a few hostesses and dishwashers, were the same employees for 30-plus years,” Fox continued. “I grew up around these people and now I’m their boss. It’s bittersweet … though Dad built the building himself, it’s just a building. The memories we take forever.”
Holly Baker waited tables at Fox’s for 30 years.
“I’ve been with the family now through thick and thin. The people are so wonderful. Mrs. Fox, when she was alive, everyone got the gospel preached to them. To have to leave and walk out is so hard. I’ll spend a lot of time with my grandchildren this summer, and hopefully by fall find myself another job.”
For the last 23 years, Glen Zarr bussed tables at Fox’s.
“The girls in the bakery made me everything,” he said. “I’ve got to cook myself now. I’ll have to buy myself some frying pans.”

Cornell Protesters Don’t Like Getting Investigated

Originally published in the Ithaca Times on May 6. This is my original draft.

In the week before Cornell’s big Charter Day celebration the weekend of April 24-27, several students active in “#FightTheFee” protests were called in to speak with administrators, or, in two cases, with Cornell police investigator Justin Baum. The student organizers, who had staged two protests during spring 2015 against the university’s proposed $350 health care fee for those not enrolled in Cornell insurance, say the irony of these conversations is that they had nothing scheduled for Charter Day events at all.

“We’re not nearly as cool as they think we are,” said Alex Brown, a Ph.D student in German studies, before Charter Day weekend.

“We anticipate that you will use (Charter Day) as an opportunity to continue your protests,” vice president Susan Murphy wrote students Wyatt Nelson and Michael Ferrer on April 19 in an email requesting a meeting, “and want to discuss with you what we expect to happen over the course of the weekend.”

What did end up happening over Charter Day weekend was an April 26 demonstration announcing the formation of the “Cornell Independent Students’ Union” – an entity organizers say is unrelated to #FightTheFee, though several people are involved in both. That gathering of about 60 students was held outdoors, where protests do not need approval under campus rules.

Where students and faculty say the administration and police crossed a line in the run-up to Charter Day was during Baum’s interview with Daniel Marshall, a class of 2015 undergraduate. It’s the recording of that interview that has students and faculty crying intimidation – some faculty have said it’s the most nervous they have seen the administration since the fight over chopping down Redbud Woods in 2005.

The Interview

In a recording of the approximately 15-minute interview provided to media, Baum first tells Marshall he’s “just in the information finding stage” and that he doesn’t “suspect there will be any charges forthcoming, at least from what I’ve been told.”

Baum was trying to gather information about an image posted on the “Save the Pass” Facebook page in the early morning hours of March 26 that shows an image that says “Welcome the Trustees” projected in the Statler Hall auditorium. (Later that day, protesters welcoming Cornell’s trustees followed them inside Statler Hall, where they made a ruckus outside the closed door meeting).

After Marshall declined to answer questions about what he knew of the picture and some butcher paper that was allegedly hung on the walls, Baum changed his tone. He told Marshall he had “subpoenaed” information from Facebook about page organizers, and had the “ability to charge you with a D-felony and two misdemeanors right now.”

“I don’t want to charge you with burglary, I don’t want to ruin your life,” Baum said. “Your cooperation is going to produce that. If you cooperate with me you will not be charged with a burglary. If you don’t cooperate with me I’m going to charge you with a burglary and probably come into one of your classes the next few days and walk you out in handcuffs.”

Once students posted an online “communique” about the incident, faculty got wind and over 100 had signed their names to a brief letter written by associate professor of history Ray Craib that reads in part: “Flat-footed, heavy-handed, offensive: that sums up the actions of the administration and its police force. Is the central administration that insecure?”

Organizing from the top down

“The administration is our best organizer, and now maybe the CUPD is there,” Marshall said. “Over last two years I’d say our numbers have quadrupled or quintupled.”

Many of those active in the #FightTheFee protests this spring got their start in efforts to save freshman bus passes in spring 2014. While the administration says that protests should not be disruptive, and some students critique actions like the sit-in at Day Hall on Feb. 10, Marshall says that was how the bus pass effort was won.

“They kept saying ‘We don’t have the money – and then suddenly one day the money appeared,” Marshall said. “We had about 50 people outside of Day Hall ready to do a sit-in when Skorton came out with Joe Malina and an entire media crew and said the passes were staying.”

Marshall doesn’t think his job as an activist, though, is “to get people riled up.”
“Our role is to connect the dots on how their policies are affecting people,” Marshall said. “There’s this kind of insistence that ‘You’re here to study, we’re here to administrate’ – this isn’t your role. That might be what a lot of students want to do, but policies they’ve been enacting like budget cuts in the arts college, tuition increases that equal about $4,000 over past 2 years … there’s a growing list of things that are threatening students’ abilities to be here.”

Brown also sees the role of campus organizers as connecting the dots.
“We’ve been careful from the beginning to not make (the health care fee) an issue in isolation from everything else,” Brown said. “It’s connected to low-income students who get promised no-loan financial aid, then are forced to take out loans, when their work-study and summer job won’t cut it as part of their expected student contribution.”

Faculty response

“Overkill is the first word that comes to mind,” Craib said of his feeling when he first learned of the investigation. “The students are asking good questions, the same ones faculty have been asking about the deficits. Maybe the jumpiness is coming from the willingness of the students to do their homework on the trustees.”

Eric Cheyfitz, a professor in English, thinks the investigation “violates both the spirit and the letter of what it means to be a part of the community at Cornell.”
“I think it’s a bad mistake, the administration isn’t getting good advice,” Cheyfitz said. “They’re upping the ante in a battle where they can only become more and more alienated from their constituencies.”

There has been speculation that recent budget cuts have something to do with overbuilding, Cheyfitz said, though no one knows for sure. Arts college faculty sent a letter to the administration on April 23 protesting cuts.

“This whole budget crisis has suddenly materialized out of nowhere,” Cheyfitz said. “That means belt tightening across the board. There’s supposed to be consultation with the faculty senate on these matters and that has not been the case.”

Whatever the motivations behind the investigation, there have been calls for a fuller explanation from the administration than the statement released by Cornell police head Kathy Zoner that stated CUPD “was asked to conduct a criminal investigation into alleged felonious behavior” that was not related to the protests on Feb. 10 or March 26.

“The whole community deserves a full explanation from the Cornell police and Cornell administration of what they did and why they did it,” said Risa Lieberwitz, a professor at the Industrial and Labor Relations school. “If it turns out when we hear all the information that it was an overly aggressive action then there should be consequences.”

Hanging With The Mayor & Chief

Originally published in the Ithaca Times on May 20.

Now that tobacco use is nearly as unhip as one-party machine politics, smoke-filled back rooms are a thing of American political history. Back room consultations over coffee, however, are still alive and well, if the “Coffee with the Mayor & Chief” meetings going on in Ithaca are any indication.

The difference between these meetings with Chief John Barber and Mayor Svante Myrick and the typical back room summit is that no one is summoned to attend. Anyone can come into the public space of the coffee shop, sit down, and have a chat with the leaders of their city and police department.
Two more of these sessions are scheduled this spring for the mornings of May 20 and 27 at the Gimme! Coffee on West State Street. Four have been held this spring, three at local Dunkin’ Donuts.

Citizens attending these sessions might want to have a question or two prepared, since the meetings are not an entirely open affair. There is a sign-up system in place with a place to put one’s questions, so the mayor and chief can have one-on-one conversations with their constituents.
Though taking people in by ones or twos doesn’t quite capture the free-ranging marketplace aesthetic of Athenian democracy to which some idealists might aspire, the measure of privacy does allow people to speak a bit more freely about their issues.

For example, on the morning of May 13 a mother speaking with Barber and Myrick wondered how the city could provide more programs for teenagers. She wasn’t excusing some “punk ass shit” her youngster pulled that brought down trouble, but had looked around for mentorship programs to keep older youth, high school-aged, out of trouble and found little. Barber suggested some places she might go, and then Myrick answered her second question – “What are the city’s quality of life goals?”
“Security,” he said first, “so that people can walk down the street without fear.”
The second, Myrick said, was economic security/affordable housing – “I think we’re better than most cities on the first one, and we’re struggling with the second.”

Helen Kuveke, a West Ender, said that she was concerned with people she sees struggling to walk down the street on their own, under the influence of heroin or other substances.
“I can look out my kitchen window and buy any drug I want,” Kuveke said. Treatment and enforcement are the city’s two avenues of action, she was told, – there are no easy answers to an epidemic that’s gripped rural America for the past 20-plus years.

On the topic of affordable housing, Sean Gannon suggested the city look into guaranteeing loans for housing sales, so “Grandma can get the money from a home, and the grandson can get a house he can afford.” The University of Pennsylvania operates a program in Philadelphia that works to get employees into homes in the city they can afford, Gannon told Barber and Myrick.

Arron Bound, a South Sider, came in to pay the IPD a compliment. He’d seen a street fight broken up by officers a few years ago, in a peaceful manner, and said that in his native Cleveland “they would’ve been thrown to the ground and everybody would have been arrested.”
Bound did have a question for the chief: Why does the department buy so many SUVs, compared to sedans? Isn’t gas mileage an issue?
“Really, the mileage is comparable (with sedan cruisers),” Barber said. “They allow us to carry equipment, put a full cage in it, and they’ve got four-wheel-drive which is really helpful.”

The long, morning lines at Gimme! had both the mayor and chief wondering whether that was just the line for java or if they had far more folks waiting to talk. On this morning, over two hours, they had about 15 conversations. Some heavy issues were raised, and some were more of a hello and a chat. Betsy Herrington came by to say hello and give a hug to Myrick, and met Barber for the first time.
“About 1 out of 10 are coming to see me,” Barber said. “Well, no, for the record, let’s say two out of three.”

Thunder Body’s Medicine Hi-Fi

Posted with photographs on April 25 at

April had just begun, and her fickle ways were surprising the concert-goers stepping outside of The Dock on a Friday evening to have a smoke, get some air, contemplate the placid flood control channel waters over the patio’s railing.

“Oh, it’s raining now,” many said as they stepped out of doors. It had been a temperate, tolerable day that resembled spring after an interminable Ithaca winter. Spring’s changes always surprise after months of snow, cold, cold, and then, snow which is still there even if it’s not coming down.

There was a surprise in store on stage inside, too, where Rochester’s Thunder Body was playing a two-set show. Someone who had just heard of them that day, April 3, and gone online to hear some of their self-described “Medicine Hi-Fi” music would have found a band playing in lots of space – a theremin involved in some of their ambient jams, reggae/dub beats predominating. Dreamy, atmospheric, those were the adjectives this writer expected to be using in a write-up of the show as he entered (albeit based entirely upon some festival recordings cut in the 2013 season).

That laid back beat was certainly in evidence on this evening of 2015, at times. Two-chord riff call-and-response is part of the Thunder Body repertoire, tightly written tunes giving way to spacier jams.

The surprises included a new horn line of Benton Sillick on trumpet and Josh Frisch on low brass, the added brash brass timbre filling in space and adding grandeur to the group’s songs.

There was also the novelty of watching guitarist Sam Snyder play with an “overhand” technique – fingers draped down over the fretboard, rather than curling up from underneath – and filling the space left on this evening by fellow guitarist Dennis Mariano’s absence. The two-tone dub beats didn’t stop Snyder from taking the kind of classic blues-rock pentatonic solo that’s usually called heavy.

(Snyder said after the show that he started playing at a time when he had a broken hand, and thus he developed an unorthodox technique).

Laying down the beat all night was bassist Jeramiah Pacheco, who got to show his chops on a solo near the night’s end; one was left with the impression he could also bring the rumble for a band that had fans who prefer Henry Rollins to Peter Tosh.

Playing the Rhodes and pianet/clavinet was Rachel Orke, who played her accompaniment parts with the easy sway of a veteran church pianist who knows how to make a congregation of staid Episcopals or mainline Presbyterians weave in their pews. (Watch the suburban college kids dance at a show like this that draws them in, and one is struck by how little some populations have gained rhythm since the rock ‘n roll revolution – there are some with moves that look like they are historic reproductions of an American Bandstand episode. It’s good they’re dancing).

And on the drums and lead vocals was Matt O’Brian, who stayed in the pocket with both sticks and voice all night long. Through the echoing effects and Orke tweaking her wah pedal, O’Brian’s vocals and the song rhythms might first remind one of The Police, with a shot of Elvis Costello influenced inflections in his vocals.

One chorus O’Brian repeated over and over, though, reminded one why Thunder Body calls their music medicine, their performances a healing vocation: “Hatred is poison. Anger is toxic. Hatred is poison. Anger is toxic.”

Incidentally, no fights were reported to break out in the parking lot after the show.

Thunder Body will be back in Ithaca for Grass Roots, if not sooner.

That Big Band Sound

Originally posted on, with pictures, on April 21, 2015.

Whatever construction crew members had a hand in building The Haunt should be congratulated on doing a good job. Shoddy work might have resulted in the rock club collapsing the evening of April 16.

Two (literally) big bands played The Haunt that Thursday night, one of those happy meetings of two touring acts that can give great joy to the music fan in this centrally isolated hamlet while blowing some eardrums away.

Turkuaz was on their way down to the Philly suburbs before hauling back to Massachusetts for a Saturday night show and trooping back to central PA by the evening of 4/20.

Sister Sparrow and her Dirty Birds were heading up to Syracuse to play the Westcott Theatre the next evening.

In Ithaca they met on this one evening, and put on a show that justifies all the superlatives both groups have accumulated over their past few years of incessant touring. Turkuaz has been called a “funk army” by Relix; the Wall Street Journal said the Dirty Birds’ sound is “stick-to-your-ribs.”

Like the brash and/or lush timbre that horns provide to a band? These groups got ’em. They are both big bands, if we’re not comparing them to a Count Basie group – Turkuaz had nine players on stage for their set, and Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds numbered seven. Forget the numbers, though, because the sounds are big, real big, and rooted in the Grand American Rock Tradition.

The Dirty Birds opened the show, with a heavy horn riff that took full advantage of Brian Graham’s baritone saxophone’s low end and Phil Rodriguez’s full-bore trumpet blasts. On the harmonica, Jackson Kincheloe danced throughout the night between adding to the horn lines, supporting his sister Arleigh’s vocals, and taking the occasional funky chickachickawahhh solo that’s usually associated with a mid-70s R&B record.

The whole band was tight and wailing, providing a suitable palette of bluesrockinsoul for Ms. Kincheloe – i.e. “Sister Sparrow” – to demonstrate her vocal talents. “Powerhouse,” “sultry & sassy,” “brassy,” all the easy descriptors have been claimed by prior writers – let’s say that Ms. Sparrow can hack it on a tune made known by Aretha – “Dr. Feelgood” – and leave it there.

The only disappointment of the evening was when Turkuaz came onto the stage and were not wearing their multicolored jumpers rocked in all the press photos and at least one Schuylkill County, Pa. festival show a couple summers ago. Even so, the Brooklyn-based group’s production values are still in-your-face and plenty funky.

A Turkuaz show is very much a production, in the best sense – every player knows what he or she is doing and plays their part to its scripted conclusion. And that script ends in people dancing. Most of the attendees don’t dance in as synchronized and slinky a manner as frontwomen Sammi Garett and Shira Elias, but they dance. Unless Turkuaz plays a graveyard, everybody dances.

Behind the soaring lead vocals of saxophonist Josh Schwartz, Turkuaz and the Dirty Birds closed the show with a rendition of “A Little Help From My Friends,” in the classic Joe Cocker style with everybody on stage. Despite the joint effort ,The Haunt did not fall into Cascadilla Creek, so everyone will have to return sometime and give it another try.

Rack up the views to stay alive

Stumbled across this story from Berks County about a woman undergoing chemotherapy for advanced lung cancer. Money’s tight, since she can’t work; her chemo is being provided by an ‘angel doctor.’

Her family hope to solve some of the money problem by winning a viral video campaign sponsored by the computer maker Lenovo, for whom her brother-in-law works. The company is sponsoring an employee “viral video” contest to promote a computer; a video that garners a half-million views will win $50,000. A friend of the brother-in-law entered a video, as he explains:

“I wanted my video to have broad appeal and so I got the cutest person I know, my son, Nick, to star in it. He’s a big soccer fan and so we decided to feature him learning about his favorite player, Brazilian Neymar Jr. This allowed us to feature the convertible Yoga 2 Laptop PC, plus we used it when we shot the stop motion animated introduction as well,” said DeShane.

The video itself is heart-rending to watch – it’s a little kid messing around on some Astroturf in the garage and rambling on about Neymar, with nothing said about the lady with cancer. Except that there are little explainer bubbles popping up throughout telling you about the lady with cancer and how sharing this video can help her out.

Here’s something that Lenovo’s marketing exec said last year:

You need personality. “Every message, every video helps bring personality to our brand,” he says.

And he has examples. Like a video of wine being poured onto a Thinkpad. That clip reached more than 3 million customers thanks to social media.

But Roman’s strategy isn’t just about providing viral content to the masses. It’s about getting the masses to work for his brand.

Viral ‘content’ is possibly good for building brands, since advertising really is just a fight to get a product associated in your mind with anything, anything at all, however randomly, so that perhaps you think about that product more than its competitors and for that obscure reason buy that product when you want/need that product. Viral stuff is good for driving clicks and getting advertising dollars, if you’re a click-hungry entrepreneur.

What “going viral” does not guarantee is any cash payout, unless you’re one of those teenage Vine stars who are now touring and attempting to make their six-second bit into a half-hour routine. Unless there’s some of that brand money available, and then, perhaps, you can win a contest at going viral with cuteness which will pay for cancer treatments.

How long until the protest kids start demanding Equal Twitter Followings for Equal Rights? Because if spreading the word is all anyone can do about anything, turns out that some people have inherently unfair advantages (big butts, Auto-Tune) in building their Social Networks to a point where saying anything there gets some attention.

Thanks for shopping, America

Forgot to put this up as an example of Me Doing Work back when it ran on Thanksgiving. The same sentiments apply to the whole Holiday Season: You are truly an American Hero for going out on days sacred to Christian, Jew, and pagan alike. Even Boxing Day, which a friend in retail said was “way, way worse than Black Friday.”

If you’re feasting with a relative who thinks everything was better back in the day this Thanksgiving, please be kind. There are still people who do not understand that in 21st century America, Thanksgiving is now the day we need to go out and acquire those things that make life worthy of praise.

Go get those presents, America.