Ithaca Blog

Friday, February 29, 2008

What's Doing, Feb. 29 - March 2

Friday 2/29: Richie Stearns, Pat Burke, and Steve Selin play happy hour at Felicia's. The configuration is a preview of the new Evil City String Band (with bassist Ben Gould, who does not appear tonight), which is meant to be a permanent thing, with a CD out before long. 5:30 pm.

Saturday 3/1: Gadje plays gypsy music at the ABC Cafe, 10 pm. Across the street, at the same time, J-san and the Analogue Sons are at the Chapter House.

Sunday 3/2: Dan Zanes brings his "Woodstock for kids" to the State Theater, 3 pm. Adults $20, kids and seniors $15.

Aro Veno plays a midday show at the Common Ground, from 3 - 5 pm, featuring material from her new CD, Barefoot in the Grapes. At 5:00, there is a special $5 linguine and meatballs dinner with salad and soup.

The Hogwarshers at Maxie's, 7:30 pm.

Have a good weekend -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cornell Basketball Season: Chance to Clinch This Weekend

Undefeated in the Ivy League, Cornell's men's basketball hosts Dartmouth on Friday and Harvard on Saturday with a chance to clinch the league championship.

Cornell is poised to become the first Ivy League champion other than Penn or Princeton in twenty years.

Harvard is an accredited school located in New England. Among its graduates is George W. Bush, who completed an advanced program there.

Dartmouth is reportedly a United States college, although no one has ever seen it or can name any of its faculty or graduates.

Both games are at 7 pm. Tickets are only $6 and available by phone from 254-BEAR. Seating is general admission.

Steve "Sportsbeat" Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Starbucks' Espresso Taste Test

We stopped at Starbucks this morning, after a trip to the post office, mostly to see if the baristas were sporting armbands (see yesterday's I.Blog post). They weren't. We were a little disappointed, actually.

We figured as long as we were there, we would check out their operations.

An old rule in quickie restaurant reviews is that the plainest thing on the menu will tell a lot about a place.

We decided to try the espresso, which is not as plain as coffee, except in Italy, where it is favored over cups of coffee, because it is faster to drink (hence the name). It requires a little expertise to make, and has a certain lore about it, and important details to its presentation.

For instance, when you order it to stay (really the only way it should be ordered, since to-go espresso will be stone cold before long), do they serve it the way they should, in a proper porcelain shot cup? Or in a dimwit giganto paper cup?

We are happy to report that we were served the drink properly, in a standard espresso cup, on a saucer.

It looked right, and tasted fine as we threw it back. No bitterness and no burnt taste. That's good; but we thought, after leaving, that the taste was actually pretty negligible. Two blocks away, the drink was a dim memory.

The reason for the worldwide Starbucks closing yesterday was to provide a refresher course for the baristas and managers in product, serving, and overall Starbucks experience. Company chiefs said they were concerned about "watering down," which was probably not meant literally. Ironically, though, that's a literal description of what we got.

It is a tough thing to have both surprise and sameness as corporate goals. We will bet on sameness at Starbucks in the end.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Coffeehouse Doings and Goings Downtown

We're sorry to note the closing of Juna's coffeehouse on the Commons. Juna's was a locally-owned place that took a hit when Starbucks came to the Hilton hotel, about 500 feet away.

Meanwhile, Starbucks is closing world-wide for three hours this evening, for a franchise seminar of some type. A newspaper in England speculated that it was to teach them how to make coffee.

Some time back, the Onion satirical newspaper ran a piece about Starbucks that emerges now as comically prescient. They had Starbucks closing early one day, shuttering its windows, to prepare for "Phase 2" of their organizational mission. Baristas would appear the next day with logo armbands and a robotic but purposeful demeanor.

Does life follow art? We'll know tomorrow. If you go for a look, note that the Starbucks here has two egresses, in case you need to escape.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Monday, February 25, 2008

John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett

We normally don't post on Mondays, but there have been a lot of hits on our site for John Hiatt-Lyle Lovett State Theater Review, so we will try quickly to oblige.

If you missed it, of course, you missed it. The show was a complete sell-out: within days of its announcement.

There was a big sense of anticipation to the night. The proceedings were a little more refined than normal, perhaps reflecting the status of these stars. It wasn't quite hushed (there were calls for requests, and shouts of love), but you got the feeling no one wanted to miss a word or moment.

Lovett and Hiatt sat knee-to-knee on a well-lit stage. They alternated songs, not chiming in much together, although Hiatt sang harmony on three or four of Lovett's numbers, and played lead on a few.

The interchange came mostly between songs, when they conversed. Lovett informally adopted the role of emcee, with questions for Hiatt about his life, upbringing, and work. Hiatt talked about an overweight childhood, stealing a Ford Thunderbird at age 14 (inspiration for a well-known song), his early career opening for John Lee Hooker, John Hammond, and others, when he hitchhiked between gigs to save money, his big break playing Fender Telecaster for Ry Cooder's band in the early 1980's, and sleeping in the bed the Dalai Lama slept in, at La Tourelle last night.

Lovett spoke some about his father, his Lutheran upbringing, his own worst misstep as a child (letting a cow out of his uncle's barn), early days in Texas and introduction to Nashville as a star in the late 1980's, and an early influence: a music teacher who came to Texas from Ithaca. Lovett said it was his first trip to Ithaca, "and I hope not my last."

It was a charming performance. Both men seemed impeccably humble, despite their stardom. Their conversation was introspective but engaging. They were funny. They were nice.

Seeing Lovett sing live, and unadorned, added a large dose of personality and soulfulness to his music. His voice is fine, but ordinarily does not convey much emotion, at least not of a revelatory type. Last night there was heart to the well-shaped notes.

Hiatt, on the other hand, has a gutteral but wailing voice that makes the ordinary sound eerie. His guitar playing is forceful and filled with feeling. Towards the end of the show he left his heart, one felt, with a lover's song pleading and promising faith. It would make a perfect wedding song, if it wasn't so real.

They finished their encore with the prison worksong, "Ain't No More Cane." They played for almost three hours, without a break. The set list of their last show, in Albany, was considerably less. It was the aura and the ambience of the State Theater that brought more, we think. Maybe, too, the Dalai Lama's bed.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, February 22, 2008

What's Doing, Feb. 22 - 24

Fri. 2/22: Some of the scarcest real estate in town is space at Felicia's Atomic Lounge when there is first-rate happy hour music, like tonight, with Chad Crumm and friends. 508 W. State St., 5:30 pm.

Sat. 2/23: Ithaca modern old-timey music abounds tonight, with the Chicken Chokers at Castaways at 9 pm, and Boy With A Fish at the Chapter House at 10.

The Nields bring their sisterly harmonies and catchy folk-rock tunes to Goldwin Smith Hall at 8 pm for a Cornell Folk Song Club show. Discounted advance tickets at Small World Music.

Sun. 2/24: Plenty of cash and luck might score you a spare ticket outside the State Theater for tonight's Lyle Lovett - John Hiatt show, long since sold out. (Just thought we'd mention, two consecutive sells-out for the resurgent State, after Taj Mahal last night.)

If that's not happening, Juge Greenspun is, at Maxie's, 7:30.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wegman's Celebrates 20 Years in Ithaca

Wegman's supermarket, the bulwark of big-time food retailing on S. Meadow St. , is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Ithaca this week.

Wegman's started in 1916 in Rochester as a family operation called the Rochester Food and Vegetable Company. It remains family-run and privately-held, with 70 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia.

The company has been recognized for retailing excellence by the Food Network cable channel, which named it "Best Grocery Store" in 2007. For six consecutive years, Wegman's has appeared in the top 10 of Fortune magazine's annual "100 Best Companies to Work For" list.

Longtime Ithacans can recall food shopping in the days before Wegman's as drab and occasionally disgusting. It was a must, for instance, to open all packaged meats once home to check the flip side for grayness.

A business recruiter in Ithaca told us this week that a visit to Wegman's is a recommended stop for job candidates from cities such as New York and Boston.

The store will celebrate tomorrow, Saturday 23 Feb., with cake and a DJ in the store from 2 - 4 pm.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Taj Mahal at State Theater, 21 February: Tickets Going, Going,...

There are still some tickets available right now for Taj Mahal's show at the State Theater tonight, and they might hold some for sale at the door, but it looks like it will be a sell-out for the legendary blues guy.

The State has featured some remarkably renowned artists of late. The Lyle Lovett - John Hiatt show sold out within days.

Take a look at the State's website to check upcoming shows, and not get shut out. There will be a large rumble soon for the upcoming Los Lobos show.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Tonight, Wed. 20 Feb.

A full eclipse of the moon occurs tonight, beginning at 8:43 and peaking about 2 hours later.

It should be readily observable, if the night is relatively cloudless. There is a chance of snow in the northeast that could obscure the sight.

The moon will fall into the shadow of the Earth. It will not disappear from sight, but will be visible by the light of the Earth's atmosphere, in reddish hues.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cornell Basketball in Spotlight

Usually, basketball in central New York means Syracuse. This year, the Orange have to make room for the Big Red of Cornell, who are attracting attention with undefeated conference play so far in the Ivy League.

A Cornell championship would be the first in the Ivy League by a team other than perennial powerhouses Penn and Princeton since 1988 (when Cornell won).

An article in today's New York Times notes that Cornell always has the most grueling travel schedule in the league, due to geographic remoteness. This past weekend, the Big Red had road games on consecutive nights at Harvard and Dartmouth.

The Times article should interest even non-sport fans in Ithaca. The on-line version features a slide show presentation, with details about life at Cornell in particular and Ithaca in general. The team stops at Aiello's in Whitney Point for lunch, for example. The paper reports that the team eats "$348 worth of chicken Parmesan."

Cornell's next two games are versus Ivy rivals Yale and Brown, at home. Yale is this Friday, and Brown this Saturday, at 7 pm. Tickets will be scarce, but the game is broadcast on radio on WPIE 1160-am.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Monday, February 18, 2008

Welcome, Teachers, to Ithaca - and to Small World Music

This is "Welcome, Teachers" week in Ithaca, with about 2,000 teachers expected to spend vacations here, enjoying the large promotional campaign put on by our town and Chamber of Commerce.

Education and tourism are important in Ithaca. So is music. So we wish to join the festivities here at Small World Music by offering 10% off all purchases to Ithaca's esteemed guests.

Just identify yourself as part of the campaign when you come visit. Small World Music is open 11 am - 6 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. We're at 614 W. State Street, six blocks west of the Commons, down the driveway.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog and Small World Music

Friday, February 15, 2008

Free Calendars from Putumayo Music at Small World Music

The ides of February is Calendar Liberation Day at Small World Music, via Putumayo World Music, our music company friends who have sent us a load of promotional calendars which we are giving away, along with some music sampler CD's from Putumayo.

It's a nice calendar. It's how we found out today is Nirvana Day (see previous post).

Come in and get yours. Small World Music is at 614 W. State St., down the driveway. Hours are 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sundays and Mondays.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog and Small World Music

Lots of Local Music, 15 - 17 Feb.

Lots of big names in local music perform this weekend.

Fri. 2/15: They hardly need more publicity for this gig, as they pack it past capacity regularly, but Burke and Bone play Felicia's Atomic Lounge at Happy Hour. 508 W. State St.

Sat 2/16: In what's billed as a Valentine's Day Show at the Lost Dog on S. Cayuga St.: Sim Redmond Band, Richie Stearns, and Crow Greenspun. 7 pm.

Donna the Buffalo with Keith Frank and band at Castaways. 8 pm.

Overnight sensations Candypants and the Sutras, at the Chapter House, 10 pm.

Sun. 2/17: Keith Frank at the Rongo in Trumansburg. 6 pm.

Mustard's Retreat at Bound for Glory at Anabel Taylor Hall. First set at 8:30 pm.

Have fun -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Jimmy Breslin's New Book, "The Good Rat"

It is a great occasion for any reader, particularly New York readers, when Jimmy Breslin writes something new. His new book, The Good Rat, was released this month. It's a true story of the demise of the Mafia and changing times in the streets of New York.

The saying goes that change is the only constant in New York. No one gets it right like Breslin, who has been writing the life of the city for four decades.

For "Sopranos" fans lamenting the end of the TV series, this book could help, although what it really does is show the contrivance of the show, where stereotyped scenes and weird turns of plot were deemed necessary to provide drama. Breslin shows that the deepest dramas in life come from the most mundane circumstances, with desperation at the root. He relieves the tension with humor that is both deadpan and sparkling.

The Good Rat is available at the Bookery in the Dewitt Mall, a great local outfit that accepts local coin, Ithaca Hours.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Feb. 15: Happy Nirvana Day, and Weekend Contest

Today, 15 Feb., is celebrated by Buddhists as Nirvana Day, commemorating the death of the Buddha at age 80, as he reached Enlightenment: the end of rebirth, and beginning of peace.

Ironic, isn't it, that yesterday the Western world had St. Valentine's Day, a tribute to longing and desire as flames of life, while today Buddhists celebrate the exact opposite, the cessation of desire, as the source of happiness.

Well, it strikes us as ironic, anyway. It also strikes us as ironic that the Bee Gees and Missing Persons both had songs called "Words", but the songs are very different.

Here's our weekend contest. Tell us your preference, Valentine's Day or Nirvana Day. Desire or none. Bee Gees or Missing Persons. Cheesecake or cannoli. We don't care what it is. Enlighten us. No kidding.

We'll select a random entry as winner of a $10 gift certificate to Small World Music. Post a reply here at Ithaca Blog, or write Small World Music at

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog and Small World Music

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

If Music Be the Food of Love: Valentine's Day Sale at Small World Music

"If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it...", says Duke Orsino in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

We second that emotion, as that other great poet, Smokey Robinson, says. So at Small World Music, through Valentine's Day, we are offering Ithaca Blog readers 10% off all purchases.

Duke Orsino was a guy who liked a bargain. He continues,

"O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price... " (emphasis ours)

... Sounds like he's talking about us. And again, when he concludes,

"... it alone is high fantastical."

We hope to see you soon.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog and Small World Music

Valentine's Day Tip for the Unattached

Here's our once-a-year foray into the realm of lonelyheart's blogging.

Valentine's Day: worst day of the year for the unattached. Right?

Wrong. Day of biggest opportunity.

Here's the simple gimmick: on Feb. 14, wear black. Black slacks, black pullover, black jacket.

At work, at the bar after work, at any place conducive to conversation, you are now wearing a calling card that announces your situation, and your intention to improve it.

You say good morning to the office superstar, or good evening to the most fascinating-looking person in the bar, and mention that they are not wearing black on Valentine's Day, which means they must be attached. Black on Valentine's Day, you explain, is the uniform of the bereft. Say "of the losers" if you think self-effacement will help. You congratulate them on their status and wish them luck.

The rest of the script is up to you.

If you want to invite us to the wedding, great.

Be good & have fun -
Dr. Love
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, February 08, 2008

Weekend Shows, Feb. 8 - 10

Fri. 2/8: Scythian was a hit at GrassRoots Festival, with an exuberant, multicultural sound reflecting a new style of Celtic music, of the modern immigrant (not emigrant) Ireland. Tonight at Castaways, 9 pm.

Sat. 2/9: Colleen Kattau, another GrassRoots favorite, and Kelly Birtch, an extraordinary guitarist, perform for the Crossing Borders series, Upstairs at Pancho Villa, 602 W. State St., 9 pm.

Kaplan-Shaw Blues Trio play both original and classic blues. At the Rongo in T-burg, 9 pm.

Sun. 2/10: At ABC Cafe's brunch, keyboardist Michael Stark, recent Ithaca Times cover boy. Performance starts 11 am; go earlier for a seat.

Jennie Stearns returns to Felicia's Atomic Lounge, 508 W. State St., 7 pm.

Johnny Dowd, Kim Caso, and Richie Stearns get together for an evening of down-home helter-skelter at Maxie's, 635 W. State St., 7:30 pm. (Richie was just here at Small World Music, read this, and suggested instead, "hillbilly helter-skelter." Your call. )

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Amy Goodman Interview in Progressive Magazine

The current issue of Progressive magazine features a cover story/interview with radio journalist Amy Goodman, the first we have ever seen. It is well-crafted and informative, and not fawning, which is probably a difficult stance, as Ms. Goodman is unequivocally the bravest, most scrupulous and principled, and simply best journalist in America.

Ms. Goodman hosts Democracy Now!, a fiercely independent radio and television news show. "Speaking Truth to Power" and "The Exception to the Rulers" are mottos and guiding tenets of the show, which has aired since 1996.

The powers that Democracy Now! fights are not just corporate and political, but other media. As she says in the Progressive interview,

The media act as megaphone for those in power ... In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Democrats joined with Republicans in authorizing war. The media overwhelmingly presented that point of view, the pro-war position, even though most people in this country were opposed to the war.

When other media cover, for instance, the issue of waterboarding, they interview career politicians who speak in semantics and give rationales for what common sense says is a deplorable and ineffectual practice. Ms. Goodman, instead, interviews a victim of the practice:

On Democracy Now, we've just interviewed Henri Alleg, the French journalist who was in Algeria, now in his eighties, who describes waterboarding as if it were yesterday. Because when you yourself are tortured, you never forget. He described what it meant to feel like he was suffocating, not "simulated drowning" but actually drowning.

Ms. Goodman has made two public appearances in Ithaca, to overflow crowds, most recently at Ithaca College. On the air she gives the impression of a hard-working and well-prepared journalist. In person, speaking rather than interviewing, she imparts an aspect of actual genius, not just for her command of facts and her ability to interpret and explain, but for a dissident view of politics and society - as Newton and Einstein had dissident views of physics, Darwin of biology, Picasso of painting, Miles Davis of music, James Joyce of literature, etc. - that can only come from genius (as an attribute, not an accolade), and can cause revolutionary change.

Democracy Now can be heard in Ithaca weekdays at 9 a.m. on WEOS, 88.1 FM.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lynne Jackier, Drop-In Center Leader, Voted Peacemaker of the Year

A letter from Will Fudeman to the Journal on Monday reminded us of an item we meant to note in Ithaca Blog: the Peacemaker Award that went this year to Lynne Jackier, the longtime ( now emerita) director of the Drop-In Children's Center.

The award is presented annually on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by the Community Dispute Resolution Center.

We re-print here a lightly edited version of Will's letter. Will mentions a fundraising effort for the Drop-In Center which Small World Music happily supports:

In her brief comments after receiving the Peacemaker Award from CDRC at the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast on Jan. 19, Lynne Jackier directed our attention to the teachers who work with young children for low salaries and the uncertain finances of the Drop-In Children's Center which she worked so hard to create.

We can support the Center by making tax deductible donations to Drop-In Children's Center, 506 First Street, Ithaca NY 14850.

We can also purchase the double-CD, "Families Are a Rainbow" - with songs for families from many Ithaca-area musicians. The set includes great performances from Radio London, Mamadou Diabate, Fe Nunn, Mbusi, the Horseflies, Joday Kessler, Tom Knight, Jeremy Werbin, and others. It's an ideal gift for families all over.

The album is available at Ithaca Guitar Works, Small World Music, and from the Center.

Please choose to support the center, which supports families and young children in our community.

Let us note that the full purchase price, $19.95, for the 2-CD set goes to the Center in its entirety.

For our farther-flung Ithaca Blog readers, please note that we are happy to fill mail orders. Postage will cost an additional $2. Residents of New York state will also need to include $1.60 NYS sales tax. Write to us at, or phone Small World Music at 607/256-0428.

Thanks for the reminder, Will, and congratulations, Lynne.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog and Small World Music

Obama Landslide in City of Ithaca

Barack Obama won a landslide vote in the city of Ithaca in the Democratic presidential primary, with over two-thirds of the vote over New York senator Hillary Clinton.

Voter turnout was exceptional, with almost 50% of registered Democrats voting.

Ithaca Blog will attempt to reach Obama campaign coordinators in Ithaca to discuss what the overwhelming victory might mean for Obama's campaign strategy.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Tuesday Evening, 5 Feb.: There's Still Time to Vote

There's an old cynical bromide about voting that says don't do it, it only encourages them.

Like most cynicism, it doesn't help anything, except a lazy conscience. The applicable bromide, we think, is vote, and let them know you are paying attention.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Happy Mardi Gras

We are certainly on proverbial New Orleans time by wishing everyone a happy Mardi Gras day as it is technically almost over. Nonetheless: laissez les bon temps roulez, cheres.

If you ever want to leave the U.S. without a passport, just go to New Orleans. We'll never forget entering the New Orleans' Louis Armstrong Airport for the first time, and hearing not regular airport muzak around us, but "Hey Pocky Way" by the Neville Brothers.

The Big Easy can also exist as a state of mind. We can help provide the accoutrements for that at Small World Music, where we have New Orleans music at 10% off this week. Professor Longhair, the Nevilles, Irma Thomas, Balfa Toujours, Keith Frank, Louis Armstrong, all them cats and kittens.

Red beans and ricely,
Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog and Small World Music

Another Pedestrian Hit on Court and Washington Streets

Yesterday a pedestrian in the crosswalk at Court and Washington Streets was struck by a vehicle and hospitalized with head injuries. Last year a man was killed by a vehicle at the same intersection.

The intersection is not a particularly busy one. The cause seems to be a rampant hurriedness and lack of care by drivers in the city in general, as we wrote in a posting in Ithaca Blog last week. We called for more diligent enforcement of traffic laws by the police, a call we are sorry to have to repeat so soon.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, February 01, 2008

Goings-On About Town, Feb. 1 - 3

Friday 2/1: The Small Kings play street-corner-style rocking jug and folk music at Uncle Joe's, 302 W. Green St., 6 pm.

Alash Ensemble Throat Singers from Tuva in a free show at Barnes Hall at Cornell, 7:30 pm.

Saturday 2/2: Ani Difranco at the State Theater. Selling out fast. 8 pm.

Lou and Peter Berryman write and sing funny songs. Very literate and entertaining, and should definitely be seen. The Cornell Folk Song Club presents, at Goldwin Smith Hall at Cornell. Advance tickets available at Small World Music.

Sunday 2/3: Folk singers Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen challenge the NFL in a free show at Bound For Glory, Anabel Taylor Hall at Cornell.

Foul Weather Thwarts Chicken Meals

The inclement weather has lead to the cancellation of today's chicken meal benefit for Love Know No Bounds, the New Orleans relief group (see yesterday's Ithaca Blog posting).

The event is re-scheduled for next Friday, 8 February.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog