Ithaca Blog

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Nod to Ithaca Festival

The Ithaca Festival, 30th edition, engulfs town this weekend, and big as it is, we think any effort to present a guide to it would fall far short of, as they say, representing.

It would sort of be like writing about a bar and telling you what to drink. You will drink - in the case of the Festival, drink in - what you like, from prodigious choices.

One thing we will note is that Galumpha, nee Second Hand Dance, will perform Sunday at Stewart Park at 7 pm. They are always great, and usually they are a premium ticket wherever they appear, so this is quite an opportunity, to see them in front of a big, hometown crowd, for free.

The other thing we will note is that there is good TCAT bus service to get you to Stewart Park, rather than trying to park a car nearby. Buses run from downtown every 10 minutes. They will stop for you if you are walking along Cayuga Street. The fare is 50 cents, and must be exact - drivers don't make change.

Have fun -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wine Trip, part 4: Thirsty Owl and Cayuga Ridge Wineries

Thirsty Owl Wine Company is one of the trail's newest wineries.

We were at their eatery on its second day of operation. The menu is very limited, but that seemed alright to us. It's not a food court, and you really only need a couple of good things.

We had sandwiches: chicken salad, and turkey panini.

The chicken salad was simple, and good, although the bread was a bit on the ordinary, Strohmeinn's side: too-thick slabs of dry, white bread. Dry and white is okay for wines, but not for $9.50 sandwiches. But we were hungry and it was okay.

The turkey panini was a little more involved, and nicer, with spinach, and slices of tomato.

A smallish side comes with your sandwich. We had potato salad, and cole slaw. I commented on the pleasing crunchiness of the slaw, which drew a comment that crunchiness is pretty much an intrinsic attribute of raw cabbage. Okay, okay, so I am easily pleased.

After lunch, we looked at the wines, but found the overall tasting set-up, and offerings, a little lacking in verve, especially after buzzy Sheldrake Point. So we decided instead to try Cayuga Ridge, which is right next door, and in fact does not even require re-entering your car.

Cayuga Ridge hosts tastings in a barn, with an appealing funkiness. The tasting fee is $1, which is refundable with a purchase.

Despite the informal environment, which extended to a hippie-ish appearance to the youthful bartenders, the tasting was informative, and the workers were chatty and seemed eager to sell. We don't mind a good, strong sales pitch, if it is artful, and we left with a couple of modest purchases. The refund policy, while a modest feature, was not unincentiveful.

We had planned this as our northern-most, turn-around point, but realized that the Knapp Winery is just up the road, and thought it might be interesting, as an older and larger winery. So we soldiered up. We'll continue there in our next installment.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wine Trip, part 3: Sheldrake Point

After proximate, familiar old Frontenac, we drove to Sheldrake Point, a rising star on the trail.

Sheldrake has recently incorporated Simply Red's restaurant, late of Trumansburg, as their eatery.

The winery is about 10 miles north of Trumansburg, and we saw some familiar faces there - musicians, artists, community people - to the extent that we could see the place emerging as a bona fide local hipster hangout.

Adding to the hipster luster is Sheldrake's stated committment to "sustainable practices and sensitivity to the environment."

The parking area was almost filled, and there were many out-of-state plates, so the word about Sheldrake must be spreading not just locally, but far and wide.

In fact, the place was so crowded that we did not compete for a spot at the tasting bar, which was full. We decided this stop would be for informational purposes only.

The mood was much livelier than at any other place we would see. It reminded us a little of the usual ebullient mood at Maxies Restaurant in Ithaca.

The eatery, which retains the name Simply Red's, was also crowded, although it seemed well-managed. We had already decided to eat at Thirsty Owl, the next winery up the road, so we were only slightly tempted to join this gleeful crowd. The decision to split was facilitated a bit by the fact that they were serving a Sunday brunch menu that struck as a little ordinary. The lunch and dinner menus are a bit spicier, with a southern flair, and we will return sometime for that.

The bottom line, then, on Sheldrake is that it is adding a bit of style to the trail, and we will be sure to include it as a full-serve stop when our cosmopolitan visitors are with us.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Quick and Easy Wine Trip, part 2: Frontenac Point

Our idea (see previously posted Intro) was to have a relaxed wine country experience, but to reach a good variety (pardon) of establishments, and use our time well.

We picked our end point first. We figured we would go as far as the Thirsty Owl Wine Company, where they have just opened an eatery, where we'd have lunch.

But we yo-yoed it up there. We'd picked 6 places to go, but decided to see half going north, then go to our end point for lunch, and see the others on the way back, fortified by lunch.

Route 89 is the wine route, and it is a beautiful road, alongside the lake, with no commercial traffic (at least I have never seen any) - in fact, little traffic of any kind.

There are a couple of notable attractions on your way out of town: the Glenwood Pines roadhouse restaurant, and Taughannock State Park. Another day for those.

The first winery on the way north is Frontenac Point. You won't find it on most wine trail publicity. My understanding is that they just aren't association-joining types.

They probably don't have to be. They have the very strong tactical advantage of being first in line on the trail route out of Ithaca.

Frontenac is a small enterprise, and maybe the lack of publicity keeps it quiet, but it is nice like that. We were one of three couples in the small tasting room, which is pleasantly cool and dark.

Frontenac makes 13 wines. Ten are available for tasting.

One of our fundamentals is that the more a wine costs, the harder it is to get us to like it - at least, enough to buy it. And this wine philosophy was borne out by the dessert wines we tried at Frontenac. They have two: an ice wine, and a port. The ice wine is $26, and the port $15. Guess which is better? Enough to buy?

We tried the riesling, as we would at each stop, as the Finger Lakes are increasingly known for riesling. We enjoyed it, but not half again as much as the house white, while it costs half again as much. If you realize that we bought a bottle of the house white, at $8, you are paying attention.

The tasting fee, by the way, is $1 for four samples. The wineries have similar policies, though with some interesting twists, which we shall note.

Our next installment will be a very up-and-coming winery: Sheldrake Point.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Quick and Easy Wine Trip: Intro

We have people visiting this summer, numerously, and they will all want to see the wineries, if not actually for the wine (tasting; buying), then for the nice ride, and because you're supposed to do that when you're here.

But, like New Yorkers who never go to the Statue of Liberty, we are less than fully acquainted with this landmark feature of our region. So we went out this weekend to do a little research.

We want them to see nice ones, but we don't want them going too far, with only a limited time here. We had an inquiry from one prospective guest about Konstantin Frank's winery, for example, and we know Dr. Frank was a big player and makes great stuff, but it is all the way in Hammondsport, and that's a little too much scenery. A quick weekend visit to Ithaca from NYC will already have lots of driving, so we want to minimize that.

We also don't want our people getting too bombed out, or simply too tired. We figure 5 or 6 places is enough to get a sense of the region, and what's offered, without overdoing it.

That was our game plan. We went out seeking success, and think we did pretty well. Details to follow in next installment.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, May 25, 2007

Weekend Activities, May 25 & 26

The big entertainment event this weekend in the United States, one supposes, is the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but our sources say don't bother - the series has jumped the shark completely, so to speak, landing mere inches away from Santa Claus Versus the Martians.

Even the cameo by Keith Richards, we hear, is a disappointment. One wonders if it might not be better, rather than giving Keith lines (pardon the expression), instead to give Keith the impression, with whatever reinforcement he might require, that he is a real-life pirate, and all this is actually happening, and see what he does. That at least would be worth eight dollars to see.

If you are in the mood for a good movie, there are excellent ones this weekend at each of the downtown theaters: The Wind That Shakes the Barley at Cinemapolis, and Waitress and Away From Her at Fall Creek Cinema.

Musical offerings this weekend include a Bob Dylan birthday tribute, with Jamie Notarthomas et al., at Castaways, Friday at 9 p.m.; and Thousands of One at the Rongo, Saturday 10 p.m.

Personally, we are planning to take advantage of the summer weather to visit a couple of wineries this weekend, for summertime reds and whites, we reckon. It won't matter again until next year, but we will let you know whether graduation weekend is a good time or a dumb time for such a trip.

Have fun -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Contest for Week of 25 May - 1 June

This week's contest asks you to identify the late, great American musician whose 81st birthday would have been this week - he died in 1991 - who once casually described his legacy as having "changed music four or five times." Not simply his own music, mind you. Music.

Send your answer to Small World Music,, for a chance at a $10 gift certificate to the store, where currently you will find four-five CDs and LPs of our subject's music, and a lot else.

Winners of last week's quiz are P.J.B., and Tom J., who knew that the most watched TV show in the world is Baywatch, and (and/or, actually) that Bo Diddley was banned from the Ed Sullivan Show after performing his eponymous anthem, "Hey, Bo Diddley" on the live broadcast, when he was supposed to be singing "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Mr. Diddley professed no malice, but simply said he forgot.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Is there any way to think of our elected representatives as anything but traitors, as they betray the call of Americans for an end to the war in Iraq?

The 2006 elections were a mandate for an end to the war. Americans turned away from the Republicans to the Democrats to make it happen. The Democrats made promises and plans, then allowed them to wither and die. They voted today to spend another $120 billion to continue this deadly debacle.

The will of millions of Americans means little to these politicians, next to the billions of dollars involved. The bill they have passed includes a lot of trade-off money for Democratic politicians and patrons.

And of course, the $100 billion-plus that is spent on the war is a large enough amount that, although most of it goes to Republican-friendly patrons, there is enough for the Democrats, too.

The interest of both parties is controlling money. That's their sole concern. Amassing it; appropriating it.

Money is the most potent means to power - and the easiest. Legitimate power, borne of good leadership, is hard to achieve. But money and its strength flows easily, if you don't mind how or why.

The war in Iraq has already lasted longer than World War II, for two reasons. In World War II everyone sacrificed. In this war, the rich don't sacrifice and they don't serve. In World War II, war profiteers were hunted down and prosecuted as criminals. In this war, profiteering by the rich is the goal.

We need to take one step further than the turning away from the Republicans. That's to turn away from the Democrats, too, and towards a third party that will respect the will of the people, and the principles of representative government, rather than the mastery of money.

When you look at what they do - forget about how they talk, or pose; look at how they vote - you realize it's not just our best shot, but our only shot.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Being Mayor in Ithaca

Carolyn Peterson's announcement that she will run for re-election as Ithaca's mayor was made, and met, with a minimum of fanfare, which seems to be her intrinsic style.

You don't hear people saying bad things about Mayor Peterson. On the other hand, you don't hear people saying much about her at all.

Is it calculated? Does the mayor figure that the less heat she generates, the easier it is to get things done?

Maybe so, but then she has the problem of people not knowing what she has done. Perhaps she figures the reputation of quiet competence is sufficient, and appropriate.

It is certainly a change in style from her predecessor, Alan Cohen.

Mayor Cohen was a limelight-loving guy who liked doing sit-ups in public, for instance (he could do a thousand), and seemed to relish the role of ringmaster of city government, although thinking of the city as a circus sometimes became a self-fulfilling image, not always for the good. Mayor Cohen had very public skirmishes with adversaries that frequently descended into bozohood. There has been none of that with Mayor Peterson, who seems not to have an adversary in the world, much less an enemy.

No other candidates have emerged for mayor, yet. Mayor Peterson actually publicly called for other candidacies, in the interests of democracy, which is certainly a high-handed approach, characteristic of Her Honor.

We like Mayor Peterson, but are also interested in energetic democracy, so we also wish to encourage other candidates, and also to offer a little advice.

It seems the best way to take on the mayor is to present a contrast to her easy management style and demeanor. This need not mean public calesthenics; it might mean a respectful but vocal approach to problems that Mayor Peterson's lack of heat, so to speak, is leaving out in the cold.

Race relations is one. Affordable housing is another. Transportation is another.

We have often thought that you could get elected mayor in this town if you promised one thing: to stagger the traffic lights downtown. That could be your whole platform. People would figure if nothing else, they would at least get that.

We are not really advocating that, except as an example of a matter which, minimally, would get people thinking about what they want from their local government.

Hopefully, of course, it is a lot more than happy motoring through town. But a competitive candidate for mayor in Ithaca might want to start simply by getting people talking.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reminder: Dalai Lama Tickets on Sale 23 May

Tickets to see the Dalai Lama in Ithaca next October go on sale tomorrow, at the website for the Namgyal Monastery and Institute for Buddhist Studies,

Hard to say how fast the tickets will go. They will be expensive, although prices are not yet posted. Proceeds go to Namgyal Monastery, a not-for-profit institution.

It would be nice if the D.L. could do a large, free appearance, even a brief one, but there are probably security issues.

Maybe you can catch a D.L. sighting around town. Hillary Clinton had dinner at Lucatelli's.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Weekly Contest: TV Quiz

This week's contest is about a subject we don't cover much in Ithaca Blog: television. So we'll give a choice of questions. One will reward the person with a knowledge of music, a subject we like to cover. The other will reward the person with a generic knowledge of TV.

That second category is a shorter question, so we'll ask that first. What is the most viewed TV show in the world? A hint, or at least clarification: it is not a current show, but one in syndication, available to an estimated one billion people.

The music question has to do with the subject of yesterday's posting, Bo Diddley.

A lot of people know that, in 1967, the Doors were barred from the Ed Sullivan Show after reneging on an agreement to change some purportedly inflammatory lyrics to "Light My Fire" in their live on-air performance. Years earlier, Bo Diddley was banned from the show, also for an abrogated promise to big Ed. What was Bo's transgression?

Send your answer to either question, or both, for a chance to win a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music: Entries will be accepted through Friday, and randomly-selected winner announced late Friday.

Thanks, and good luck!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog and Small World Muisc

Friday, May 18, 2007

Weekend Activities, May 19 & 20

There are a lot of good, veteran local musical favorites playing out this weekend.

Saturday 19 May:

Joejo brings its "cowpunk from Wilseyville" to Castaways. Hunu opens. 9 p.m.

Jennie Stearns and Kathy Ziegler at the ABC Cafe, 9:30 p.m.

Pete Panek and the Blue Cats come down from the Nines to the Lost Dog. 9:30 p.m.

Plastic Nebraska at the Chapter House, 10 p.m.

Sunday 20 May:

Gerald Burke plays country blues at the Farmers Market. This is the third weekend of the Sunday rendition of the Market. 11:30 a.m.

The Small Kings play spirited old-timey tunes at the Shuck'n'Jive series at Maxie's restaurant. 6 p.m.

Mary Lorson at Felicia's Atomic Lounge, 518 W. State St. 7 p.m.

Ave atque avail yourself -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Bo Diddley on the Mend

Rock and roll originator Bo Diddley, 78, suffered a stroke four days ago during a performance in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He was hospitalized and his condition described as "guarded," but he is reportedly making significant progress, is not in physical danger, and may well be able to continue his performing career.

Mr. Diddley's manager, Margo Lewis, says he will need speech therapy, but she believes he will sing and play again.

"We're going to get a guitar for him and put it in his lap and let him entertain people here," Lewis said from the hospital. "People think that would be good therapy for him."

Along with Chuck Berry in the 1950's, Diddley was a key figure in the development of rock and roll music from the blues. As Mr. Berry had a signature guitar riff, Diddley had a signature beat, simply known as the Bo Diddley beat.

Despite his string of pioneering hits, racism kept Diddley from the recognition and financial rewards he deserved, as white imitators surpassed him in earnings and fame.

Mr. Diddley was once asked how he felt about his treatment by society. Always a man of humor as well as intelligence, he simply said, "Man, we a nation of slow understanders."

God bless and get well soon, Bo Diddley.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Christopher Walken for President 2008?

Like many Ithacans, we have an affinity for political action and thought, whether it's making bold predictions about who will win the presidency in 2008 (Al Gore, running as an independent: payback time not just for his debatable loss in 2000, but against the grim machinations of two-party, big money politics that prevented him from expressing the core beliefs and leadership potential he has shown in his public life since), or (we also have an affinity for long sentences) advocating for longshot candidates who might add life and verve to the national discourse.

Of course, we are talking about Christopher Walken.

Can the star of stage and movie screen and Saturday Night Live, the man who has inspired countless mimics, inspire the American electorate with a campaign that, like him, is so strange it is sane?

Not only that, who says he is running?

A campaign website,, exists. It is not clear if it is serious, or even authorized. It is not overtly unserious. If you have a sense of drama and humor combined with your interest in politics, it is hard not to wish that it is serious.

One imagines what a debate would be like between Walken and anyone normal. One imagines that, on TV, it could outdraw the Superbowl. Here is a quote from Walken's site:

I believe in saving money. I believe in having a house. I believe in keeping things clean. I believe in exercise.

People talk about wanting plain talk in politics. Well, you got some there.

You can find a little more on the website. You can also order t-shirts and hats there. Hmmm.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Hours

Monday, May 14, 2007

Dalai Lama Tickets: On Sale May 23

The Dalai Lama will visit Ithaca for the first time since 1991 on October 9 and 10, and will make three public appearances: at Cornell, the State Theater, and Ithaca College.

Tickets will go on sale May 23 at, the website of the Namgyal Monastery and Institute of Buddhist Studies.

Reports are that tickets prices will range from $20 to $125, although the Namgyal Monastery has not yet commented publicly on prices.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dog Torture Suspect Out On Bail

Alexander Atkind, a Cornell student accused of animal abuse in Ithaca last month for beating and pouring bleach on a dog in his care, was released on May 11 from Tompkins County Jail on $20,000 bail.

We imagine that is the last of Atkind in this area. He was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday for a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals, and the case against him was quite clear.

The question remains whether he can be sued in civil court by the dog's owner. Or is that even easier a procedure to skip from?

Any lawyers out there?

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Please, Mr. Postman: Insufficient Postage on Monday's Mail?

The prices of stamps and other postal services go up on Monday, 14 May.

The price of a first class stamp will go from 39 to 41 cents.

The increase has been kept pretty quiet, it seems to us. The only reason we thought of it was because it is bill-paying time here today, and we were considering which we could put off until next week. Then we realized (and confirmed on the Internet) that the price goes up on Monday, and we don't have those supplemental 2-cent stamps around, so we better get everything out today.

Otherwise, I tell you, Chase Cardmember Services would have been the beneficiary, when the payment I owe them on the 18th would have come back to me for insufficient postage on the 16th, too late to get it there on time. Then, hello $30 late fee, goodbye, 12.99% rate. No kidding.

Maybe the post office will be benign and deliver everything in the boxes on Monday. After all, they were unmalicious enough not to raise the prices before Mother's Day, tomorrow.

And maybe the credit card companies will laugh everything off, too, and forgive late payments.

Yeah. What's the expression Wayne Campbell used to use?

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, May 11, 2007

Weekly Contest: Last Week's Answers, and This Week's Question

Our contest last week, in honor of the Kentucky Derby, asked you to submit a song about horses, or mentioning horses, or a single horse, or a race. Here's the list we got.

"Wild Horses", Rolling Stones

"Dead Flowers", Rolling Stones

"Fugue for Tinhorns", from "Guys and Dolls"

"Horse With No Name", America

"Stewball", traditional blues

"Tennessee Stud", Doc Watson, et alia

"Old Grey Mare", traditional

"Mr. Ed" (a theme song's a song, we suppose)

"The Horse", Phish

"The Horse", by "some soul band from the 60's" (we remember the song - an instrumental - and likewise don't know the artist, and didn't bother to look it up).

An eclectic list, to be sure. The randomly-selected winner is Alex, who gets a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music.

For this week's drawing, in honor of Mother's Day, tell us who is your mother's favorite musician. Or one of her favorites. We'll learn something about local tastes across generations. It will be interesting demographic information.

Submit your entry to Small World Music at Entries accepted through Friday morning, and winner announced Friday afternoon.

Thanks -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog and Small World Music

Weekend Activities, May 12 & 13

Friday: Juge Greenspun makes his full foray into the Ithaca music scene with a CD release party at Castaways, 9:30 pm. With the Butane Variations, and guest Gregor Sayet-Bone. 9:30 pm.

Saturday: a gamut of local musicians come out to play for fellow musician Bert Scholl, who is planning treatment for a diagnosis of cancer. Performers include the Sim Redmond Band, Hank Roberts, Kevin Kinsella, Paso Fino, and Bert's band, Route 5. There will be food from Just A Taste, Just Desserts, Ithaca Bakery, Boatyard Grill, Shortstop Deli, and Word of Mouth Catering. There will also be an auction and raffle. The performances start at 8 pm. From 6 - 7:15 pm there is a showing of a documentary about the Gerson Method of cancer treatment that Bert is planning to take. The event is at the Montessori School, 12 Ascot Place, off Triphammer Mall near the Pyramid Mall.

Sunday: Jennie Stearns plays for the final time in her Sunday night series at Felicia's Atomic Lounge. The show is free, there will be special guests, and Felicia's promises a "special Mother's Day present" for moms. 508 W. State St., 7 pm.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Untold Story of the Untold Fans of the Grateful Dead at Cornell

We didn't want to put the State Theater in a tough spot on Grateful Dead Day this past May 8 with one particular aspect of our personal reminiscence of the original May 8 , 1977 show, which is the large number of people who got in to the sold-out show at Barton Hall without tickets.

It might not have been that large a number, relative to the overall crowd. But it was a large percent of the people who came without tickets - like, 100%.

We know, because we let them in.

In 1977, I was 19 years old, a sophomore at Cornell, and somehow in charge of security (with two friends of mine, who shall remain nameless, as I don't have their permission to implicate them) for the Cornell Concert Commission, even though I had hair past my shoulders, weighed 133 pounds (pneumonia that winter), and was a little loose.

The Grateful Dead show sold out, and knowing their crowd, we knew there would be a lot of people showing up without tickets. We weren't worried about it, but the president of the Cornell Concert Commission was. The CCC was a big deal in those days, as a springboard for getting big jobs in the music industry. So the officers tended to be serious and business-like.

Before the show, the president came to address the security people, ushers, and ticket takers. He said there would be a lot of people trying to get in free, and scam and cajole us, and we had to be resolute, and defend the barriers, or something.

So we listened to that, very solemnly, and when the president was finished, we accepted his best wishes and support, and he left us to our duty.

And when he did, we told the crew what we would really like them to do, which was to let everyone in who showed up. With conditions, of course.

Anyone who didn't have a ticket would be asked to come back after everyone with tickets got in. We figured it was only fair to take care of the paying customers first, and then we could see what we were dealing with, numerically.

Then, if you didn't have a ticket, you could gain entry, not for nothing, but also not for money. It wouldn't have been right for us to take money, and we didn't.

Instead, we required anyone without a ticket to do something to contribute to the event. Not money, but they had to give something. Also, not drugs or alcohol. But some token, of some kind.

If they had a ticket to another event, we would honor that. If they got a ticket driving to the show, we would honor that. If they had a coupon to Arby's, or a key chain, or a lucky charm, or a guitar pick, or a pencil, or a cooking utensil, or anything else unorthodox they were willing to give, that would do it.

I remember one guy giving a peanut butter sandwich. We didn't eat it, of course, but he told us he had made the peanut butter sandwich in Tennessee, which we thought was pretty good. We had never seen a sandwich from Tennessee before.

Another guy didn't have anything, so we asked him to spell Tennessee. He did, or at least he tried, so he got in.

The majority of people got in that way: by answering a question, telling a story, performing a dance, doing chin-ups (there was a convenient overhanging bar right in the doorway), or singing a song. We heard "Happy Birthday" a lot that night.

We didn't think we were doing any harm, as there was plenty of room in Barton Hall, and they say there's always room for one more. We considered this a chance to see if that's really true. We were students, you know, and inquisitive about such things.

Cornell didn't really need the money, and they weren't going to let these people in for money, anyhow. So we were in agreement there.

From a security standpoint, we thought, how secure is it to have all these disappointed people milling around outside, when they wanted to be inside, to see the Grateful Dead? We understood that; we wanted to see the Grateful Dead, too. Mightn't they try to figure out some other way - maybe some destructive or violent, or at least obstreperous way - to get in, if there's no way to get a ticket, and their sandwiches and singing won't work? Of course they might.

All those unhappy, shut out people would have made us feel insecure. And we were in charge of security. So we acted.

It was not up to us to act upon stringent security issues for the State Theater show this past week. So we didn't even hint at the possibility - nor the history.

Plus, of course, we are older and wiser now. Aren't we?

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Review: Dark Star Orchestra as the Grateful Dead

The saying used to go, "there is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert," but if that is true, what do you make of Dark Star Orchestra concerts?

You can't say they are nothing like a Grateful Dead concert. The reason people go is because they are a lot like Grateful Dead concerts. Last night at the State Theater, they recreated the Grateful Dead show at Barton Hall from May 8, 1977, and sold the place out.

The DSO sound like the GD, and a couple of the guys ("Garcia" and "Weir") even look like them, and seem to be mimicking their mannerisms.

The show felt the way I remember Grateful Dead shows feeling. People arrived in groups. It was crowded, hot, and noisy, but everyone was smiling, pretty much, or on the verge of it.

The music went on for a long time. People danced together. They danced alone. Quiet guys stood with arms folded, listening. Shirtless big guys swayed and howled. It was fun, harmless fun, and everyone was nice to everybody else, and it felt like the place to be.

What is missing from the show - besides the original guys, obviously - is spontaneity. That was the artistic premium of any Grateful Dead show. It was like a ballgame, in that no matter what you thought would happen, you didn't really know what would happen, and you would invariably be surprised. The band themselves would be surprised.

Now we know everything that happened, and what already happened is all that's going to happen.

But, maybe sometimes that's good enough. It was good enough last night. Dark Star Orchestra and the State Theater did a great job in presenting a piece of Ithaca history, making it live again - if not for real, at least real loud, and fun.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Monday, May 07, 2007

"Grateful Dead" Show Sold Out

The State Theater is sold out for the May 8 concert of the Dark Star Orchestra performing the Grateful Dead's legendary Barton Hall show of May 8, 1977.

Ithaca Blog first announced the show on April 18. We hope and trust our regular readers acted on the early information and got their tickets quickly enough. For all others, our sympathies. We hope you can find some other way to celebrate Grateful Dead Day in Ithaca, as officially proclaimed by Mayor Carolyn Peterson.

There is a story about the 1977 concert that cannot be told until after the 2007 concert. Check back here on 9 May!

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Sunday, May 06, 2007

GrassRoots Performers Announced for 2007

The GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance has announced the performer roster for the 17th annual festival, 19 - 22 July, 2007.

As usual, the festival eschews mainstream stars in favor of lesser-known, but worthy and exciting, musicians of many styles, from around the world.

This year's schedule is especially notable for its global and stylistic breadth. Countries and regions represented include Australia, Taiwan, Mali, Burkina Faso, South Africa, eastern Africa, the Middle East, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, and Native America. Styles include traditional Native American, as well as "Navajo punk"; blues, bluegrass, and old-time, including "guerilla old-time"; jazz, gospel, folk, reggae, cajun, zydeco, rock, country,, and hip hop - including "post-punk laptop rap."

One of the fun things about the festival, year after year, is the emergence of at least one performer from first-time obscurity, to community renown. Last year it was Musafir, from India. Before them, it was the Avett Brothers old-timey band. This year there are many great candidates for discovery - and four days of fun for doing it.

See for more details.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, May 04, 2007

Weekend Activities, May 5 & 6

It's an unusual weekend in that the biggest shows are on Sunday, not Saturday. So we'll work backwards.

Sunday night: Les Yeux Noir at the State Theater. One never knows what the hot new music will be, nor why. Wherefore Jewish gypsy French violin and vocal swing, which is one of the hottest right now? Find it out with this torrid octet tonight, at 7:30 pm.

Sunday afternoon: Bear Fox, Richie Stearns, and Lydia Garrison play a benefit concert for the Akwesasne Freedom School. Ms. Fox sings lovely songs from and about her Native American heritage. There will be corn soup and fry bread. Suggested donation is $8, with kids under 10 free, and child care provided. 3 pm at the Lehman Alternative Community School.

Saturday: The Fountains, I-Town Records artists, at the Chapter House, 10 pm.

Have fun -

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Weekend Contest: Post Time Set List

For this week's contest, we wanted to let you pick the Kentucky Derby winner either outright, or by post position, if you found that easier. Then we realized the contest goes through next Friday, and the race is tomorrow. So anyone who waited until after the race to reply would have a distinct advantage.

So instead we will have a question inspired partly by the Derby, and partly by another big pageant in the sunny southland this weekend, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Here it is:

Simply name a song about either a horse race or a horse. That's it. We'll print the answers, and see how many you know, and we'll select one entry at random for the winner's circle prize of a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music.

Send your entry to Winner will be announced here next weekend.

The winner of last week's contest was Beth, who knew that Barton Hall was once the biggest pillarless room in the world, and that thirty years ago this Tuesday, it was a concert venue for the Grateful Dead. That show will be recreated by the exceptional Dead tribute band, Dark Star Orchstra, at the State Theater on Tuesday. Congratulations to Beth, and thanks to all who entered.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Making Bets on Kentucky Derby Day

Most of the time it is probably just as well that there is no Off-Track Betting in Tompkins County, but it certainly takes some of the mickey out of Kentucky Derby Day.

Cortland County, however, has OTB, in a couple of colorful locations that make for quick, entertaining road trips.

In New York City, if I remember correctly from my well-spent youth, OTB offices have to be a certain distance from bars, lest carefree drunks get wacky. Apparently this is not a concern in Cortland. In Cortland, one OTB is adjacent to a restaurant/bar - with a doorway connecting the bar and the betting parlor - and another is IN a bar, at the St. Charles Hotel.

I visited these two locales at Kentucky Derby time last year.

The St. Charles Hotel is a trip. It is not a luxury hotel. In fact, although there were a number of rooms evident in the large building, there was no explicit hotel activity. I didn't notice a desk, nor a registrar, nor a lobby where these things would be.

But there is a bar. It is a bar in that they serve alcohol. Beyond that, it looks like a rec room. And there is not an OTB parlor per se. The bar itself takes the bets. You make your bets on a weird machine that is part video screen, part ticker-tape. Then you take these slips to the bartender, who takes your money and giffs you bets.

The other location I visited is in a parking plaza on Route 13, next to a restaurant called Uncle Louie's. It is a bona fide OTB location, with televisions, harsh lighting, folding chairs and tables, and papers all over the place. Patrons do not have to go very far for drinks. In fact they do not even have to, say, walk out a door to the outside and then use another door. It's all connected.

We did not have anything in Uncle Louie's, but it seemed a repectable enough place, and the food we saw at tables looked edible. We intend to sample the fare this Friday, when we go to make our bets for this year's rose run. We will also check out the bocce courts. Yes, bocce courts. We will bring our bocce hats.

Both of these places are about as far from the pageantry of Churchill Downs as you can possibly get. On the other hand, they are as close to the action as you can get, around these parts.

They are both also rather removed from the kind of public emporia one finds in Ithaca. Cortland and Ithaca have to be two of the farthest apart, close places you could ever find. For the curious and easily entertained, it is worth experiencing.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hey, George Tenet: You Can't Cheat an Honest Man

George Tenet, ex-director of the CIA, has written a book he is promoting in the media like crazy - really like crazy, with a pronounced lunatic air to his demeanor - about his tenure in the Dick Cheney administration, and the lies that led to the war in Iraq.

Tenet is screaming about being scapegoated as the source of bad intelligence. He says that the administration intended to go to war no matter what the intelligence said, so he is innocent, and he is railing against his portrayal as a guilty party.

But he is a guilty party. He knew the intelligence did not justify war, but he went along with the deceit. He signed on to the whole program. When Colin Powell lied in front of the United Nations, Tenet literally sat at his right hand.

Now he is complaining that he is being singled out for his dishonesty, and cheated of his reputation. Well.

As the saying goes, you can't cheat an honest man.

If Tenet had done what he knew was right, and acted truthfully, this wouldn't be happening to him.

And of course, much more importantly, the war in Iraq might not be happening. The 3,000 American soldiers killed there need not have died. The countless Iraqi lives that have been taken or ruined might still be intact. We might have retained the respect of the world, instead of creating cynicism and hatred the results of which are chilling to contemplate.

We are sorry for your troubles, George. Too bad you didn't think better of yourself, and of your responsibilities. It is entirely too bad.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog