Jonathan Richman in My Backyard

17 Sep

Jerry Encoe at the Robot Rocket Residence, photo by Craig Fergus
Once I had a dream that Jonathan Richman, one of my favorite musicians of all time, played a show in my backyard. I had been trying to book him—in real life—for six years, starting with a big benefit concert I organized in high school and then for the KDVS music festival when I was in college. And here he was—in my dreams—at my house.

I posted something about it on Facebook, and my musician buddy Michael Ulrich said something like, “Well I can curl my hair, wear a striped shirt and play some covers.” And the planning for the Robot Rocket Residence’s Open Mic Jonathan Richman Cover Night began.

We held the show a few days before I moved out, five years ago this week. I opened the night, with my roommate Sally Hensel on a drum, with a recitation of “I Eat with Gusto, Damn! You Bet” (also the very first track of my very first radio show). I also sang by myself, for the first and only time, with my cousin Jojo Brandel on guitar (Julia Sweeney from SNL sings this song with Jonathan).


Jojo took the stage alone for a Modern Lovers jam.


Craig Fergus did a jive-talkin’ “Abominable Snowman in the Market.”


Michael did not curl his hair or wear a striped shirt, but he had pretty dead-on Jonathan mannerisms. (By this time, some punk kids had showed up to party and were making a ruckus. Sorry.)


Ian Cameron rocked “Egyptian Reggae” (in a striped shirt),  Jerry Encoe borrowed Sally’s Fender Stratocaster to play “Fender Stratocaster,” and Joe Finkel led us in a group chorus of “Roadrunner.”

All kinds of magic happened in that home in the four years I lived there, and this night was a wonderfully fitting conclusion to my Robot Rocket reign.

Smithsonian Dream Sounds

22 Jun

As I mentioned before, my colleagues and I have been working overtime preparing for the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which opens June 25. Even in my dreams, I’ve been proofreading blog posts in Word and editing lines of code in Dreamweaver.

This morning, I dreamt that one of our representatives from Kenya was giving a tour of the festival grounds in her native language, consisting entirely of click consonants. I woke up to realize it was this damn bird outside my window.

It’s America

10 Jun

Am I dreaming?

Today I got off work at 8 p.m., feeling accomplished and loopy after 10 hours under fluorescent lights, and started biking home. The long way home!

I walked through the near-future site of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the reason we’re all working overtime. I rode past the growing skeleton of the far-future Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I rode up to the Washington Monument for the first time since its recent unsheathing, ran my fingers along its marble surface.

Sitting under the ring of American flags, watching the sunset over the west end of the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial and strings of Segway tours, I was thinking, I am awfully lucky to be in the place, at this time.

And THEN this terrible country band started playing this terribly patriotic song on a stage behind me, and for a second I thought I was hallucinating.

Hugh Masekela at the Opera

8 Apr

hugh masekela
I met Hugh Masekela today!

The 75-year-old South African jazz artist made the rounds at a few Smithsonian locations, concluding with an interview in our office at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He talked about social justice and sustaining cultural heritage through music, with representatives from the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Howard University, WPFW and more.

He was explaining something about how historically Europe has preserved its arts much more thoroughly than Africa has. Offhandedly he said, “I was kicked out of an opera once,” the first opera he ever saw. I started recording.

He’s a sweet, funny guy. He gave everyone in the office hugs instead of shaking hands. And he also gave me a KDVS station ID!

Songs of Okinawa

31 Mar

elisa with shinobu matsuda
This never ending winter has been punctuated by a few amazing musical experiences, and at the top of that list is a free concert at the Freer Gallery of Art last month, Songs of Okinawa featuring The Ryukyuans.

The four musicians played traditional folk songs from their native Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa, Yaeyama and Miyako) on the standard sanshin fiddle and shima-daiko drums, plus original songs adding acoustic guitar.

Every song seemed so familiar, brought me right back to adventuring in Okinawa with my family, brought a tear to my eye!

The one woman in the group, Shinobu Matsuda, performed a few songs alone with only drum accompaniment. Each one was captivating. Her sanshin (above) has been in her family for over 100 years, passed down from her grandfather to father to her, and she introduced this “pop” song as her father’s favorite:

“Moashibi Chijuya” (as you can hear, she’s a badass)

They did a song I featured once before, when I complained I couldn’t translate the lyrics. Luckily singer Isamu Shimoji prefaced with an explanation: “I love you, I need you, I want you/ Hold me tight/ Love. Very, very simple song.”

“Kanayo / Amakaa”

They closed with a contemporary song that got everyone on their feet dancing and some finger-whistling along. Isamu began saying the title translates to “Summer Solstice, Southerly Wind.” “I don’t know why.” (Haha, and I’m just now noticing that he’s the composer).

“Kaa chi pai” (cut off due to dead battery)

If you want to read more about the concert and some history of Okinawa and its folk music, I wrote a short article for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival blog.

Thanks for All the Memorex

14 Mar

cassette tape pinata
Today marks three years of Adventures in Audio and 200 posts!

For something silly, here’s what I created the first time I used the AT&T Text-to-Speech Demo. Sometimes it pops up in my iTunes and always cracks me up.

For something retrospective, here are some stats from the last three years:

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts

  1. Pavement Live on KDVS
  2. Calvin Johnson on the Occupy Movement
  3. The McDonald’s Menu Song
  4. The 7-Up “Uncola” Song
  5. Radio Show: Folk Music of Peru

Top 5 Most Views from Non-English-Speaking Countries

  1. Japan
  2. Indonesia
  3. France
  4. Germany
  5. Malaysia

Best 5 Google Search Terms That Brought People Here

  1. kieran hebden eyes (FYF Fest: Four Tet)
  2. rumba beats for ice cream truck music (Ice Cream Beat)
  3. yolo (KDVS Wins! Station ID)
    (probably not what they were looking for)
  4. japan naked curling (Moe Meguro Practice Session)
    (also probably not what they were looking for)
  5. “I tried to stick around for punk kids Heller Keller, but watching one of the singers put out a cigarette on the ground inside the gallery and then tell the audience ‘fuck all you guys’ three times in five minutes was my limit. If that were my venue, I wouldn’t invite them to play again.” (Ema and Her Lady Parts)
    I just Googled this myself and found that Heller Keller has been using this quote from my post as their bio on Bandcamp. I mean, that’s pretty great.

Thanks for reading and listening! Many more audio adventures to come.

Meridian Hill Drum Circle

13 Mar

Meridian Hill Park drum circle

There’s a drum circle in Washington, D.C., that meets (nearly) every Sunday afternoon at the top of Meridian Hill Park. According to legend (a.k.a. this Washington City Paper article), some newly freed slaves danced and celebrated emancipation at this park in 1862. The weekly tradition began after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965.

I carried my bike up like a hundred steps to see them a few weeks ago. They stalled until a guy named Lizard or Owl or something rolled up on a bike with a conga on his back and a full-sized marching band-style bass drum on his handlebars. It was pretty jammin’.

I would have jumped in with some samba school breaks, but no one offered me an instrument! Next time I’ll come prepared.


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