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Those Who Toil On The Day For Laborers

Last Labor Day, 2013, I was scheduled to work at the newspaper that shall not be named. As I had absolutely no assignments, instead of doing what was expected – going into the office and staring at the computer in case who knows what happened besides a police thing (to which I was not assigned) – I kicked around the local mall and talked to people who were working on Labor Day.

Since it’s a federal holiday, no one expects to get mail, do any banking, or go to court on Labor Day.

When it comes to shopping and eating out on a day that some have off work, it’s a more hit-and-miss proposition.

Many of the national chains and car dealers call the holiday their second biggest shopping weekend of the year, behind Thanksgiving. The holiday was instituted by President Grover Cleveland in 1894 as an alternative to the May 1 holiday many countries have adopted to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket riot in Chicago, which occurred during a strike for the eight-hour workday.

Around Hughesville, the locally owned businesses were mostly misses for those looking to shop or eat.

Freezer’s Auto Parts, Mark’s Shoes, the Spartan Pub, and Springman’s Country Store were just some of the businesses taking the day off. Only the beer distributor, the tobacco store, and the gas station were open.

Neal Babb and his ladyfriend Wendy pulled into the TJ’s Market lot in Hughesville for some hoagies in early afternoon and found nothing but disappointment.

“It’s Labor Day and nothing is open,” Babb said. “People should be laboring. I worked today, I just got off.”

Around the mall, the chains were open for consumption.

“It’s a perfect time to pick up items you need for fall family get-togethers,” the Big Lots public address told shoppers. “Take advantage of great deals now.”

Michelle Parker was stocking the Halloween shelves with such necessities as $10 Teardrop Petticoats and Haunted Mirror Ghouls that sell for $17.50.

“It’s fun, fun,” Parker said as she shelved a bin full of Venetian Raven Masks. “You just can’t pay attention to the dates. It’s just another day.”

On an oppressive, humid day that never got around to raining, sales were quickest in the morning.

“It was crazy” at Macy’s to begin the day, Misses clothing associate Rita Koch said as she chattered with her comrades. “You think ‘where are they coming from? Did it start raining?’ There are a lot of people getting ready for fall. Kids getting things to wear to the football games, college kids home getting things to take back. You have to make it fun for Labor Day.”

The weather has a strong correlation with how busy stores get, according to several retail workers: the nicer it is outside, the more people stay out of the mall.

The rain holding off and keeping business down isn’t necessarily a good thing for Sears salesmen who are paid on commission.
“We were pretty busy earlier,” one salesman said, who asked not to be named. “If it rains on a holiday, in retail, forget about it. Today, everyone’s out eating, drinking, having fun.”

Jamie Homnick was stocking romance novels at BAM!, where Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is still holding down the number one spot in paperback sales despite the bookstore recently replacing 10 feet of its upfront book display with racks of T-shirts bearing mottoes like “Make Bacon Not War” and “Zombie Attack Survival Kit.”

“It’s been terrible,” Homnick said. “Terribly busy. All I’m thinking about is food.”

“A long day” was the general sentiment among employees folding Levi’s at Sears, inventorying Disney backpacks at Target, and selling Nikes at the Finish Line.

“I heard there was some sort of concert here,” said a Finish Line saleswoman. “I didn’t hear it. Sometimes it’s quiet, and then sometimes everyone comes in all at once.”

Of the workers surveyed, some were getting time and a half for their holiday work, some were getting a couple dollars more an hour, some weren’t getting paid anything extra, and some weren’t sure.

“It depends who you are,” one Target employee said.

Little League Rolls In Over The Hills

Little League begins. A soaked day, the diamonds unusable. 12-year-olds enjoy free sunglasses.

The most stylish gift, a pair of sunglasses by a certain pricey brand, had some of the guys getting rid of glasses they had brought to South Williamsport.

“A couple of the kids on the team had ‘Foakleys’ and they just threw them away,” Bourque said. “They showed us a test where they fired BBs at (the sunglasses) and they didn’t make a mark.”

Kansas (the state) Won’t Buy Lunch For Kansas (the band)

Here’s a preview for Kansas playing a Sunbury winery’s annual classic rock show

In the last few years, Kansas, the band behind hits like “Carry On My Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind,” has performed numerous live shows with full orchestras all over the world. On July 7, the group will collaborate with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra for a one-time-only, outdoor show at the Spyglass Ridge Winery, 105 Carroll St.

Kansas has made a habit of playing with symphony orchestras since 1998, when the band collaborated with the London Symphony Orchestra on the studio album “Always Never the Same.”

“Getting all (the music) charted (for orchestra) is the tough part,” says guitarist Rich Williams. “Once you have that, it makes it a lot easier—and having the album done, that was something to put in the hands of symphony directors, which was a big help.”

The band released “There’s Know Place Like Home” in October 2009, a concert DVD/double album recorded with the Washburn University orchestra in their hometown of Topeka. Since then the band has embarked on a string of concerts with collegiate orchestras and other organizations. Proceeds from their shows with scholastic organizations go into scholarship funds.

“It’s a turnkey deal,” Williams says. “The orchestra shows have been very popular—we give the colleges a cut of the merchandise, and we show up and do long sound checks the day of the performance; for us, there’s just a lot more people on stage, and since they follow us, it’s not bad for us at all.”

“Everything goes smoothly unless the conductor falls off us — which they don’t, usually — and those guys do have a long day of it,” Williams adds. “You can tell which orchestras have been practicing at home or not.”

Kansas still plays plentiful dates every year, but their touring life, once an on-the-bus stop-to-stop grind, no longer resembles Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” chronicle of cross-country travel. They’re now frequent fliers.

“The ideal situation is we take off on Friday, and we’re home on Sunday—we fly everywhere,” Williams says. “Our equipment’s on the ground, but maintaining a bus just isn’t worth it; what if you’re in Wyoming one night, and then in Arkansas or something? It’s just too much driving.”

That doesn’t mean Kansas doesn’t play far away from home: Indonesia and Australia are two of the international destinations the band has played recently.

It’s not always been a story of easy cruising for the band. After Kansas sold over four million copies of their “Leftoverture” and “Point of Know Return” albums in the mid-Seventies and enjoyed steady if more modest success throughout most of the Eighties, there was a time when a break was forced on the group.

“23 years ago, I think, everybody told us ‘go home, nobody cares,’” Williams says. “We kind of did — we went home and waited, and then an offer from Germany came in to play for a couple of weeks.”

The band met their overseas obligations, then decided to play a homecoming show upon returning to the States.

“We played that show as a ‘hey, why not?’ thing, and then we wondered ‘what if we do that every year?’ and then one show turned into two weeks and then three and five weeks, and we’ve been playing ever since,” Williams says. “Everybody grossly underestimated our fanbase — after all that, we book ourselves and manage ourselves — we’re not tied to anybody.”

Though Kansas began their career in the vinyl era, the band is fully attuned to the advantages of managing themselves in the digital age.

“People buy songs and stuff off Facebook and the web page,” Williams says. “The days of working with the record company who’ll pay you and then screw you blind is over—we had the worst contract known to man, and made pennies on the dollar; it was grocery money, really.”

Though Kansas didn’t get rich off their hits, Williams says the band still feels fortunate that their career turned out so well.

“The (record companies) refused to change with the times, they’re committing suicide, and I couldn’t be happier for them,” Williams says. “We were on the top of the heap—there were thousands and thousands of artists that had their lawyer look at (the contract) and they got screwed: no one ever heard their name again”

There’s little mystery behind the band’s moniker; like other bands that formed in the late Sixties and took on a place name—like Boston, Chicago or America—Kansas is from Kansas.

“I’d like to give you an artsy-fartsy clever answer,” Williams says. “But we’re just a band from Kansas. There were a bunch of guys who played in Kansas who played together under the name White Clover who were under contract with Kirshner (Records), and needed to get out, and White Clover was a shitty name, so we went with Kansas, and it worked.”

Nevermind the nomenclature, though: any trip to Pennsylvania is a homecoming for this band from Topeka.

“Pennsylvania was always the most pro-Kansas state we played,” says Williams. “We couldn’t get a free lunch in Kansas anywhere. We might not still be able to, and we were selling out in Pennsylvania, we were headlining there when we were opening everywhere else. We always look forward to coming back.”

Kansas plays a rain-or-shine show July 7 with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, directed by Geraldo Edelstein, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $42.50. Food and wine will be available on the premises, and gates open at 5 p.m.

Zucchini Moon II: A Musical Interlude At The Kempton Art Farm

Published Aug. 8, 2013 in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. Zucchini Moon III kicks off July 18 in Kempton.

KEMPTON – If there are no second acts in American life, as Scott Fitzgerald once thought and then found to be untrue, it’s not because Americans are particularly unforgiving – witness the tight schedule of shame and reappearance some of our politicians keep  – but because we’ve never learned how to put an end to Act One.

Modern life is an ongoing farce of artificial demands that will not stop itself; its logic is to go on and on, then ask for more. People are lining up on Thanksgiving morning to buy TVs these days, for the love of Miles Standish. Man must make his own times and places for a break, an interlude, whenever and wherever he can.

The “interlude’ was initially its own sort of farce. Like we have trampoline dunkers and cheerleaders during the timeouts of basketball games, the medieval morality plays had interludes to keep the crowds engaged between tales of a traveller encountering Charity and Chastity and all the other virtues in some fantastic land.

Now that life is so fast-paced and farcical, and vacations often are more stressful than dull days at the desk or machine, our truest interludes, our breaks from the everyday, are ones of leisure and peace. Go out to a small festival, one where you’re not all crowded up against one another, and sometimes a few days of true interlude can be found.

Such was the case at the second Zucchini Moon, a gathering at a working farm in this northern corner of Berks County put on by Alex Archambault of Grateful Acres Veggie Farm.  In these hills, within a mile of the nearest stoplight/interstate interchange, you can find a tavern that still has the fryer and grill behind the bar; a Country Store that sells Rocky Mountain oysters from a goat; and a sleekly finished wine tasting room for the bypassing bougies looking for a daytime vino fix.

Up on the farm, campers found their breaks from the heat in the pond, complete with overhanging zip line, and found their breaks from the relentless beat of modern life in the music, which was full of push and pull, tension and release, and all manner of interludes, whether the texture and timbre of the music came from a digital processor or a lone foot stomping on the wooden stage.

Face & the Filthies perform at Zucchini Moon II. Photo/Matthew Bradwell

The Boiled Owls, of the Lehigh Valley, take the acoustic approach: inside their bluegrassy songs, sung with humorous vim by lead singer Christopher Murphy, they spare no joy in strumming one more time through a simple bridge. Then they make that hard stop, with the banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass and box all hitting at once and going silent. Then they start back up into those simple chords, and again, all the way to the end.

You You Dark Forest, of Reading, played “traditional” rock rhythm that moved the heads to banging in a dozen different tempos. And Muppet’s Titanium Stardust Machine twirled saxophone, keyboards, and drums into long interludes from structure and reason.

Face and the Filthies, of Philadelphia, used some classical interludes during their Friday night set. Armed with an unorthodox instrumentation, cellist Sam Frier, beatboxer Brendan O’Hara, pianist KayCee Garringer, and pianist/vibist Danny Wood scraped and plinked and spat and bounced through originals and covers, sometimes with a surprising heaviness. They then took a minute here and there to push reset in the minds of the audience by stealing a minute of music from a dead German or Lauryn Hill. The familiar melody was stated, then ended abruptly, without more notes that everyone expected to hear. Those moments of Huh? are when people stop and feel that they’ve been granted a break in the action for a minute. Or, too rarely, for a whole weekend.


Face & the Filthies on original tune “Tucked So Tight.”

The Boiled Owls with an as yet unidentified song: