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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2008/09/23
by Mike Gruenberg

My Summer Vacation

In My Life
Cant believe the summer is over! Thankfully, the kids are back in school. Had so many barbecues that I finally used up all the propane for the grill. These are some of the most common elements of conversations heard as we all say good-bye to the summer. However, the most popular question concerning the summer usually is, how was your summer vacation?
My summer vacation was pretty cool. We went out west to Yellowstone Park. While there, we visited the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole and of course, watched Old Faithful at Yellowstone. We went white water rafting on the Snake River, saw Bison, Elk, Eagles, etc. at Yellowstone and had a relaxing summer.
However, the true test of how I enjoyed the summer usually revolves around the music shows that I had the good fortune to attend. This year, the description of the musical acts seen can be best described as familiar, new and always reliable. The one trait of all three was that each performance was worthy of incredible praise. Each concert seen was at a different venue which gave added color to the evening.
The Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is located on 100 acres in Vienna, Virginia farmland near Washington, DC. The land was donated to the U.S. Government, as well as the funds for construction of a 6,800-seat indoor/outdoor theater. The gift was accepted by an Act of Congress in 1966 and Wolf Trap’s larger venue, the Filene Center, opened in 1971. The Filene Center season usually runs from the end of May to the beginning of September with an average of 90 performances each year. It is a beautiful setting for a concert. Each year, a variety of music, dance and theater will grace the stage at Wolf Trap. Its kind of an upscale venue, but people from all walks of life are in attendance.
On a beautiful night in June, we saw Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby with the Kentucky Thunder. The opening act was Bela Fleck Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet. Rounding out the quartet with Bela and Abigail were Casey Driessen, and Ben Sollee. This was the always reliable concert and it was a perfect concert held on a perfect evening.
The second concert we attended was held at Merriweather Post in Maryland., In the early 1960’s, world renowned architect Frank Gehry was asked to design an outdoor venue that would least disturb the natural topography of the donated Merriweather site. He did and the pavilion opened in 1967. Its acoustics are considered by most musicians to be the best among outdoor venues. It is a great setting for a concert. Much like Wolf Trap, a wide variety of musical acts appears there each year.
The difference to me on the night we were there was that the crowd was more suited to the people I knew in the 60s. It seemed to me that if I yelled out, Who saw Blood, Sweat & Tears at the Fillmore East in 1970? twenty five people would have raised their hands and I probably would have known most of them. My generation may have lost some hair, gained some pounds and shed some flexibility, but the crowd made me feel real comfortable. I was home, among friends,
On this particular night, we saw The Steve Miller Band. Opening for Steve was Joe Cocker. Joe, who will be inextricably tied to his imitator, the late John Belushi was amazing. Much like his contemporaries sitting in the audience, Joe has less hair and more girth than he had when he headlined the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in the 70s. But he has not lost a note from that gravelly voice. Dont know how he does it after all these years, but Joe was great. Steve Miller, equally impressive looks like your accountant. Short hair, button down shirt, in good physical shape and has the most fluid style of guitar playing this side of Mark Knopfler.
Featured in the Steve Miller Band was an old favorite of mine, Norton Buffalo. He is regarded as one of the most versatile and talented harmonica players in the music business. Take a look at any of your albums that has guest harmonica player and I bet the name is Norton Buffalo. He has been with Steve for the last 32 years, but has also been a valued guest on many recoding sessions and concert dates. By the way, the harmonica solo on Bonnie Raitts Runaway is Nortons.

The concert was great. The acoustics were as advertised and the night was magical. This was the concert best be described as familiar but that only describes the fact that Ive heard both these performers many times before and have a full collection of their 45s, LPs and CDs. These guys are still rockin. Dont miss this concert if the tour if it comes to your town.
While on our Idaho, Montana and Wyoming vacation this summer, we rented a house in a town called Driggs, which is located in Idaho. Driggs, is the County seat for Teton County, Idaho. According to the Chamber of Commerce, Nestled at an elevation of 6200 ft between the majestic Tetons and the beautiful Big Hole Mountains, Driggs has a diverse population of approximately 1300 people in an incorporated area of nearly 350 acres. What it doesnt tell you is that this is really nice place to live with really nice people living there. I wandered into the local music store, Big Hole Music and had a great conversation with the lady who owns the store. I bought some vinyl there and was delayed a bit because I was petting her dog named Myles. Also has some great coffee there at a place called Java, The Hut where they advertise great coffee and nice ladies working there. Both facts are true.
On Thursday nights in Driggs, they have concerts. Since we were there on a Thursday night, we went into town and were treated to a great concert by an up and coming soon-to-be star, Jackie Greene. He had an excellent band backing him, but clearly Jackie was the main attraction. He played blues like he came from the Mississippi delta on a keyboard. Took lead guitar solos on his self-written tunes while he wasnt singing. He slowed down the pace with his acoustic guitar that sounded great against the Idaho night. That night, I bought his latest album, Giving Up the Ghost and continue to play it all the time. When not on tour with is band, he will be appearing with Phil Lesh and Friends on their touring schedule.
So, how was my summer?
Pretty good!

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