Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Uruguay is pretty sweet, like Argentina without (much) attitude. You get off the ferry in Colonia from Bs. As. and the first thing you notice is how quiet it is. The second thing you notice is how nice everyone is. When you go to Montevideo the comparison with Buenos Aires is even starker- there are no maniac drivers and no maniac pedestrians. Drivers wait to let pedestrians cross, the pedestrians themselves wait to cross, and there are still a few horses pulling carts, just like in the old days. The quarterback would probably still marry the head cheerleader, just like life’s supposed to be, except they don’t play American football here (only Thailand has cheerleading as a standalone art form). Okay, so maybe it’s not Boston to Buenos Aires’s New York, but it’s at least Philadelphia.

Uruguay belongs to a kinder gentler era (remember George Bush without the ‘W’?) when the middle class worked diligently to improve their conditions little by little and poverty was a condition of circumstance, not a social class to be forgotten or exploited. Some things are the same as in Argentina of course- 10am check-out time at hotels (wake up early!), the highest rate of baldness to be found in Latin America (yes!), and the Spanish dialect mutated farthest from the original, in its vernacular form on the verge of mutual intelligibility. This wasn’t so obvious until I said ‘gracias’ to someone and they responded ‘por favor’. Huh? But whereas in Buenos Aires they might hold this up in an outsider’s face for a cheap laugh at his expense (welcome to Thailand), in Uruguay they seem to make every effort at communication. Communication, now there’s a concept! So much for psycholinguistics…

Prices seem a bit lower in Montevideo. You can still get a No-Depression room for barely two figures (don’t try that in Bs. As.), and you can even sit down (sit down!) in an eatery and fill your belly for less than three bucks, on something besides hamburgers or hot dogs if you’re lucky, like maybe spaghetti or ravioli a la bolognesa of course, no baloney. You pay for the old-fashioned prices, though, in a reduction of selection. Chinese restaurants are almost unheard of here and the ones that exist still seem to be in ‘chop suey’ mode. That’s always a bad sign, as if they haven’t yet heard of anything ‘moo goo’ or General what’s-his-name and his famous chicken. The street food seems even more limited than Buenos Aires, and just as devoid of vegetables, what vegetables there are just as devoid of vitamins.

But there are plenty of fancy places too, almost like Buenos Aires, including a traditional market entirely converted to that use (pic #4). Those places are presumably of international standard, though obviously heavily invested in the beef industry. It’s a bit tough for a semi-vegetarian like my self. I hear the wines are good, but I don’t drink alone anymore, and if you thought Argentina was ahead of the game by offering mixed drinks on overnight bus trips, Uruguay one-ups them by giving free whiskey samples in the grocery store. Now that’s service! They don’t even do that in Thailand, and that’s party central! The coffee IS good and it’s maybe even a dime or two cheaper than Bs As. People dance tango in the parks (pic #3) and life is a sentimental affair.

There’s an old central core to the city which is surrounded by water on three sides, but struggling to make the transition to the modern era. Truth be told, somebody should have thought of that at least fifty years ago, before ugly 60’s construction moved in, including the ugliest building I’ve ever seen, right on the edge of a lovely central plaza. I don’t usually revel in ugliness, but this mother’s ugly (pic #2)! Still old town has some parts worth saving and, if realtors’ ads are to be believed, prices are not cheap considering its current mostly dilapidated state, like U$100K for a flat that needs total refurb. Ouch! And this is in a country that demonstrates in the street for a raise in the minimum wage to the equivalent of U$400 per month. It’s all psychological. There’s a sizeable Jewish presence in this part of the world, too, in addition to the well-documented German one.

So by some quirk of fate there just happens to be a ‘percussion festival’ going on this weekend in Montevideo. I couldn’t plan these things out if I wanted. I can’t help but wonder what a percussion festival would be like in Uruguay. With Seattle I got a pretty good idea, but Uruguay? That’s kind of like farms in Berkeley isn’t it? So I went, even shelled out good bucks for it. It wasn’t bad either, though more of a grad student recital than a festival I reckon. It was hardly a drum fest; let’s put it that way. With songs on the program from John Cage and Toru Takemitsu, you know that you’re probably in for something a little different, neither tribal drumming nor tablas. The fact that sheet music accompanied every piece was notable. Some of the same group members rotated through different line-ups and instruments, but PERCEUM, the Ensamble de Percusion de Montevideo, was the linchpin to the entire evening, weaving bells and drums and marimbas into an elaborate tapestry of sonic distinction, complete with choreography in the lighting also. These guys are well traveled and properly lauded in art and music circles and well worth the listen. Some of the students’ pieces were comparatively little more than filler and sometimes wallowed in cutesiness (pic #1), but still worthy efforts.

If I had more time, I might hang out for a while in MV, long enough to find a favorite cafĂ© and bar and maybe a cheap hotel with wi-fi too. That’s crucial. People laugh at my insistence on cheap hotels, but there’s more than money at stake here. It’s part of an ethic, my own if not of backpackers, to see life as lived by regular people, not fancy tourists with their money and their cocaine... well, okay, maybe a little. But as it is there are other wild cards still to play. If they fall through, I can always come back here. The first wild card for this trip was Paraguay, but that’s long past now, filed away in the ‘forgettable’ category. The next even wilder card is Patagonia, written up many times from Theroux to Chatwin. I can’t remember what the big deal was; it sounds pretty boring, though the name is pretty and perfect for sportswear. For me the big deal’s the Arctic Circle, or in this case, the Antarctic. Maybe I’m an extremophile; I like those extreme conditions where the world becomes otherworldly. Of course you can’t go nearly as far south as you can north. Tierra del Fuego’s it. Any further and you have to hitch a ride to Antarctica. It’s only as far south as maybe Juneau is north, but still it’s farther south than either Tasmania or South Africa, the closest contenders from other continents. Hopefully temps will be warming up a little; what’s it like in Juneau in mid-May anyway? If I’m really lucky I’ll catch the aurora australis. That’s better than the midnight sun any day. You can’t have both, not in the same trip anyway.

This particular going to extremes should be especially significant, because that’s where I plan to vote in the US elections. I’ve already got the materials scanned to me and intend to fax them in from Punta Arenas. The people in Coconino County have been very nice and helpful. It’s ironic that that’s in John McCain’s home state. Till then I’ll spend my remaining day in Uruguay roaming the neighborhoods I’ve yet to see. Unfortunately it’s Saturday, so things shut down early. How many of us can remember when the US did that? If you closed all shops on Saturday retail sales would plummet in the US. You should see it here on Sunday. I finally found a warm jacket today so I’m ready for Patagonia. Now with the Uruguayan equivalent of two dollars left in my pocket to last me the next twenty-four hours, my options are pretty limited. Leaving a country with no extra currency to spare is an art. Of course having currency to spare is not the main problem. Having no currency at all is a REAL problem. This can happen even when you’ve got plenty of money in the bank and credit cards to boot. So I sit in the park ruminating, chewing the cud, where I’ve got a rogue wi-fi signal and I can plot trajectories on crystal balls, globes of the world every one, another country’s notch on my belt.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I certainly can’t consider myself any kind of jazz expert, so the Buenos Aires Jazz Fest was as much of an educational experience as anything. The banjo was the first lesson. I was never really sure of how it was used before Earl Scruggs turned it into a picking machine. I assumed it was used in old-time pre-bluegrass ‘string bands’, but that’s about all. Being too lazy to Wiki the mother, I really had no idea that it was a jazz instrument. But sure enough there it was, live and in the flesh, in Buenos Aires’ Antigua Jazz Band a few nights ago. It seems back in the old days guitarists would frequently switch between guitar and banjo, playing both similarly, until Django Reinhardt began to change that, long before blues musicians and Earl Scruggs re-defined both completely. This became clear with my second lesson, a film retrospective on the career of Oscar Aleman, the genius Argentine indio moreno who was a contemporary of Reinhardt and in many ways his equal, some ways his superior. He was surely more of a showman, playing guitar behind his back long before Jimi and Stevie Ray. What do I know? I thought Emmett Ray of Sweet Lowdown was a real person until yesterday. That’s what I get for buying bootleg DVD’s in Thailand and not bothering to read reviews.

But I was afraid this festival was going to be too elementary even for me, as it was front heavy with swing and big bands, what we used to play in the high school ‘stage band.’ Of course I wasn’t paying or queuing for the big international acts like jazz stalwarts Randy Weston and Billy Harper, so had to be content with the local acts I could get for free. That’s why you travel anyway, right? to get the local stuff. Things finally kicked into a more modern gear Saturday afternoon with Escalandrum, a local band influenced by Monk and Miles, but with an unusual twist. I thought it seemed strange to see a drum trap set up on the front line with the other lead instruments, but chalked it up to the drummer’s primacy in the group’s creation. Then I saw drummer Daniel Pipi Piazzola take a solo. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard, an exclusively rhythm instrument totally transformed into something else, cut loose from its usual chores as the band’s internal time clock and given wings to fly. I can’t say it’s the best drum solo of its kind I’ve ever heard, simply because I’ve never heard anything like it. I’ve heard guitars reduced to percussion in some African bands, but never the opposite.

Roxana Amed played some good Joni Mitchell-style folk/jazz, covering ‘Amelia’ thoroughly in Spanish, and Ricardo Cavalli played some real nice saxy jazz, but the next real highlight was with the aptly named PWR3. While beloved Argentine classic rock bassist Machi Rufino may be the spiritual heart of this jazz/rock power trio, it serves mainly as a showcase for the speed-guitar work of Lito Epumer, of equally long renown in Argentine musical circles. He does not disappoint either, inviting comparisons to some of the great lead guitarists of the US/UK-based world of rock & roll. Drummer Christian Judurcha played drums with equal intensity, reminding one of the golden era of Cream/Hendrix-style power trios, albeit without the lyrics, all grown up and gone to jazz. Does that make it jazz? Surely many if not most of these musicians got their start in R & R, and I’m reminded of one of the reasons I like jazz in the first place. I get tired of hearing about who’s doing whom. I’m grown up now and this is an art-music alternative to classical, which leaves my butt without a twitch. It’ll keep you awake.

So the festival finally moved beyond its sleepy beginnings as one lost in its history. I was afraid the DNA of music had taken a turn somewhere and re-speciated, but not so. Interestingly, what there was not much of was Latin jazz, surprising coming from a Latin country, no? That means percussion, congas and the like. The next day rectified that a bit. I’m not sure exactly what they were fusing, but Buenos Aires Jazz Fusion featured percussion more prominently, though the real standout was the multi-instrumental pyrotechnics of Bernardo Baraj on saxes and flute. This band was slick, with Bucky Arcella adding smooth bass grooves while lip-synching like a ventriloquist, and Alejandro Kolinoski wailing on the piano. Next up, Daniel Maza continued the Latin edge to his jazz while converting it to his own style of ‘Uru-funk.’ An excellent big-guy bassist who’s played with some of the world’s great artists, he uses that bass line to ground his thumping funk in something solid, while adding some nice Spanish-language vocals as the dessert’s topping. Walter Malosetti finished the show with the guitarist’s old-master’s touch.

As nice as it is to get any authentic display of the local culture while traveling, it’s also interesting to see how culture is created and evolves, across decades and across continents. It’s interesting to see artists with Italian surnames playing American jazz in Argentina. It’s nice to sit in my room in South America and listen to Thailand’s Carabao. I like crossing borders; I just don’t like the paperwork. Sometimes these trails get lost and re-surface as something entirely different and original, the primal influences as long lost as the grunts and groans that eventually became language. I like making discoveries like this. That’s what brings me here. That’s what keeps me going, that and the desire to fly one of Virgin’s new almost-orbital flights once they get the price down.

Friday, October 17, 2008


So the guy at the Paraguayan consulate in Corrientes says only the consulate in Clorinda, directly across the border from Asuncion, can give visas for a land entry, so it’ll have to wait another day, which is Friday, last day before a 3-day weekend. The only bus is at 8am and I’ve already booked a room anyway, so there is no choice really. The city bus I’m on runs over a motorcyclist caught on the inside track on a right turn, but other than that, there’s no real excitement, just the usual starchy food. Corrientes has nothing much to commend it so that’s when my laptop ol’ Betsy comes in handy for diversion. Only problem is there’s no wi-fi here and this is new Betsy, barely a month old, so I don’t have the encyclopedia nor much of the music yet. But I do have some. This is when that old 60’s Khmer stuff comes in handy. God only knows what they’re thinking in the next room.

Well the quickie two-hour jaunt up to Clorinda becomes a six-hour jaunt, so by the time we pull in, I’m stressing. One quick look around probably leads me to think I wouldn’t really care to overnight in Clorinda either. If that’s not bad enough, the skies are getting pretty uncooperative, the rain’s light hot licks quickly turning into determined drenching sheets. At least the Consulate is cooperative and soon I’m marching off with a proud new visa in my passport. Thorough that I am, I even looked at it before leaving. I should have looked harder. When I got to the Paraguayan side of the border, I wonder why they’re passing my passport around. “Typical Latino bullshit,” I figure. Well, yes, that’s right and wrong. Typical bullshit, but not on the immigration officer’s part. It seems the consul hand-wrote a typographical error, validating my visa today and expiring it yesterday. Huh? Do they want me to time travel?

Well sometimes a five-spot and a telephone call can back-fill the logic that was lacking in the first place, so soon I’m on my way again. If they’d made me go back to correct the visa, of course the logic may have worked out differently and I might have continued on back to Argentina instead. I DID stand on Paraguayan soil after all, so that counts for the country count. Everything counts. Of course if they hassle me on the way out or back in to Argentina, then I may wish I had re-booted. Welcome to Mexico. It would have been just as well, since Asuncion seems to have little of import. Mall culture hasn’t really caught on here yet, about like Phnom Penh. Supermarkets take your small items for purchase and lock them in a bag which can only be opened by the cashier. It kept me from even considering stealing a roll of toothpaste. Wages are higher than Asia, though, almost $350 per month minimum, according to the sign posted on the wall. That’s higher than the AVERAGE wage in Thailand, far above the minimum. So why do they have labor protests here and Thailand has none?

The big thrill is looking at all the chickens roasting on spits, that and people tossing coins down slot machines, hmmm…. Beef takes a back seat here I guess. Maybe P.J. O’Rourke was right the first time. Maybe there is nothing here. Some fine wining and dining always helps, I guess. We’ll see. There’s still time, so on to Ciudad del Este and the falls of Iguazu’. It’s a bit hot already here anyway, barely getting down to 20c at night if at all (that’s high for a low, Homes; trust me). Where’s my spare suitcase full of logic anyway, the old-fashioned Aristotelian kind? The Boolean stuff won’t work here. This world ain’t digital. The coffee sucks real bad, too. Maybe that’s why everybody drinks yerba mate, through a silver filtered straw. It’s not bad, seemingly with some laxative properties. You need it after all that starch and grease… there, I’m relaxed now.

Of course Ciudad del Este is no great shakes either, weird in kind of an Asian border-town sort of way, Chinese-inspired modern construction backing right up to the line that separates nations. But it’s Sunday, so no coolies trudging across the bridge with bundles strapped to backs. So I catch a cab in Paraguay to go through Brazil and on to Argentina. How many places can you do that? For those of you counting countries and too cheap to spring for a Brazil visa, this is a cheap way to cut corners, literally, without the formalities. In retrospect $50 for Paraguay visa and tip seems like a waste, but at least the hotel was cheap, so balanced out. Of course the hotel lady short-changed me while warning me about street thieves, oldest trick in the book. Last time that happened a Peruvian street artist replaced my good note with his counterfeit one while showing me how it’s done. Ouch!

Paraguay’s cheap like Peru and Bolivia, which means poor, and really Argentina’s not so dear outside B.A. Is there anything there worth hanging for? There is. Puerto Iguazu’ is a surrealistic little dream town where the three countries meet, maybe the other Golden Triangle in the Bizarro world of opposites. Something like a cross between Ensenada and Panajachel, it’s calm and beautiful and cheap by B.A. standards, but hardly overrun by backpackers or anything like that, though there are a few scraggly stragglers. The falls of course are to die for, certainly one of the ten great falls in the world if not all natural wonders included. The view of the cataracts themselves from garganta del Diablo is unbelievable, frothy and turbulent, aptly named for those suicidal among us, the walking wounded, future zombies, for whom the mid-air roulette wheels where water sublimes to vapor must represent some kind of witches’ brew of Kabbalistic digital speed dialing 01110100101010100101010 your bar code all or nothing millions of times per second to see whether you live or die, whether today or tomorrow. The Golden Gate is for wimps and wannabes.

For the rest of us it’s a view of God at work as light passes through a prism and light breaks up into an infinite number of possibilities, including life liberty and the pursuit of happy meals. This is the kind of place where you could meet your little brown-skinned third-world soul mate doppelganger, settle down, and pump out some little pot-bellied poopers till your pumper poops out… zzzzz Huh? Did I say something? How long have I been dreaming? I gotta’ get outta’ here. Somewhere back there I found out there’s a jazz festival in B.A. in a few days. I’ve got work to do. Now where’s my suitcase full of spare logic?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


“Clear skies with unlimited visibility,” the pilot said as the plane descends for a landing in Buenos Aires. When’s the last time you heard that? I don’t think I have for, uh, most of my life, maybe since I was a child, and I’m from a rural state. So right away you know you’re in for something a little bit different here. I guess that’s how it got its name. Okay, so what B.A. gains is Santiago’s loss on the other side of that Cordillera in the smog department, so self-congratulatory pats on the back are probably not in order. But still the analogy holds. South America is the one continent that has yet to be ‘done’, or overdone that is, of those that are ‘doable’ of course, so that rules out Antarctica, and Australia is a single country no bigger than mainland US, so that doesn’t really count. But South America is big and beautiful and rich in resources and culture(s), and yet is still relatively under-populated, an empty continent, thick only around the edges, a half-baked pizza, the southern European counterpart to Uncle Sam’s predominantly northern European refugees. And so Buenos Aires patterns itself, an island of European civility in a sea of seeds and cattle, the biggest city in one of the world’s biggest countries, one of the few that could make some reasonable claim to self-sufficiency.

Of course that unlimited visibility is not without some testing by Bonairenses. The tradition of smoking is very much alive and well, thank you, with a passion and a vengeance. People don’t just smoke, they SMOKE, complete with nasty butts flicked to the floor as is the custom in the mother country of old, a world with many bars, and I don’t mean cell-phone signals. Oh sure, they put up signs and cordon off sections, but you know how that works. They put up ‘wi-fi’ signs everywhere too, in cafes especially, even when there is none. It’s just a fashion statement. All the US cafes have them, so it must be cool. The plate glass for cafes comes that way, pre-engraved, Visa and MC too, smokers’ section also. That’s a cruel hoax for us wi-fi users, all plugged in and no place to go. Where’s the consumer protection?

The food sucks; read: ‘too similar to American food’, at least pre-Chinese America. The Chinese don’t seem to have gotten here yet, not in any significant numbers at least, and the ones that have seem to run the inner-city ‘supermarkets’. If there were more, there’d be more Chinese restaurants, long established farther north and west as chifas, and long incorporated into the Peruvian national cuisine, not to mention the business culture, as common members of the Pacific Rim. That’s too bad. Looking for a Chinese restaurant is usually the first thing I do when I enter a new country or city. As it is the food, particularly fast food, is pretty boring, basically variations on starch starch and starch, with a little meat thrown in for flavor in the ubiquitous pizza, hamburgers, and ‘panchos’ (hot dogs) that line the walls of perception. At least they still have empanadas, so I can remember what continent I’m in. The more expensive meals seem to merely shift the meat: starch proportions upward. They have tango and tenors, too, singing and dancing for tips in the pedestrian malls, along with the obligatory hippies peddling their hippie accoutrements. There but for the grace of God…

But it’s a little cold this early in the October springtime, barely hitting 20C if at all (that’s pretty low for a high, Homie; trust me). People crowd the north-facing slopes (it’s the southern hemisphere, remember) at midday like turtles on logs to soak up what they can get for free. At least space heaters are not an unknown item in Argentina, so that helps. Still I’ve got four countries to see in six weeks, so maybe I should head on up to Paraguay where temps will soon be scorching souls and soles. By the time I get back B.A. will only be warmer as summer approaches (they give the running countdown on TV). Paraguay is the trip’s main wild card also, a place where the unexpected might happen. On paper of course it’s the nowhere country, nowhere nothing never no how, the only landlocked country in South America besides Bolivia. But Bolivia of course has some spectacular Andean culture. Does Paraguay have something comparable? They DO have the co-official state language of Guarani’, the only Amerindian language to have crossed over to its conquerors and survived to the present day. I better check it out. Best to play wild cards early in case they take wings. A new law is being proposed in Argentina also which would require visas for Americans. I should make tracks before that goes into effect.

So I do. Fortunately the B.A. bus station is conveniently located, so connections are easy. I like cities with central stations. I’ll just catch an overnighter north to Corrientes and get my visa there, continuing on to Asuncion or Iguazu, whichever works best, then circle back through the other. You’d think in this day and age, visa requirements would be decreasing, but that’s not necessarily so. Part of the problem is ‘reciprocity’, in which countries want to require visas of those countries which require visas of its own citizens, even to the point of charging exactly the same fee. This usually hits US travelers hardest, and then Canada and UK, as these are the strictest countries for entry and the most popular for illegal immigration, not coincidentally. I understand their point but they may be shooting themselves in the foot, as some travelers DO make decisions based on such considerations, like yours truly.

And then of course some of the consequences can be a bit bizarre. While my generally well-funded ex-pat buddies in Thailand sweat and scramble to deal with new toughened immigration requirements there, a little known fact is that citizens from several South American countries can get far more favorable terms of entry there than they, all for free, including those of Peru, one of this continent’s poorest countries. The irony of course is that there are few or no South American tourists there, nor vice versa any Thais here. Thais love to travel, and visas are a hassle, but still South America is hardly at the top of their list, not pretentious enough. In the case of Paraguay though, US citizens are almost alone in the visa requirement, but if I want to visit every country in the world, then that’s the deal. If it’s getting worse before it’s getting better, then I’ll have to hurry.

I get a front row seat on a double-decker bus and head off into the Argentine night. Any thought of missing the scenery is probably misplaced. Argentina rolls under the bus like Nebraska and her mother-in-law, just going on and on about nothing, vast plains dotted with towns and cows. It’s big and it’s beautiful, but in that subtle American way, vast and brooding. It resembles both the US and Mexico in fact, almost equally, Spanish in culture, American in agriculture. Occasionally you can even see a real live gaucho, like a European dandy compared to his US counterpart, but they look cool. I vaguely remember a river passing under us, so that must have been the Parana’ but I couldn’t swear to it. Bumps in the road become minor collisions in my semi-lucid dreams, but at least the Burmese didn’t attack. That’s only happens when I take sleeping pills.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Good ol’ San Fran; I love it. Where else can you go and find a parade celebrating the so-called ‘Summer of Love’? Where else could you go and find that same parade in the fall, a full week after summer’s demise, a full year after an anniversary ending with a 0 or a 5? Where else could you go and find that parade punctuated by cross-traffic maintaining the same red-light/green-light schedule, as if the parade were just an elaborate wedding procession, designed for a hoot and a holler and a quickie in the Mission District before the rigor mortis of marriage sets into your joints and you forgot why you came in the first place. At least it keeps any competition with LA friendly, not like the venom that spews forth with any mention of Nueva York, Towers to Nowhere or that mayor Julie Annie. Vicious rivalry only occurs between equal matches diametrically opposed, contenders to thrones and royalty rights. Esthetically of course, San Fran has no equal, not in this country anyway. LA’s hippest neighborhoods would hardly rate a mention up north. So what if the clocks run a little slow?

This ‘Love Fest’ was the third-cousin twice-removed anyway, kids who got hip in the early nineties, helping the Grateful Dead rake in millions before Jerry ascended. Wavy Gravy wasn’t there, nor any of the old-timers, musicians included. They were all out at Golden Gate Park for the ‘Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival’, featuring some of the best roots music, broadly defined, from both coasts. Where can you find that in LA? LA has some of the best alt-country musicians in the world, but they have to act freak-folkie to sell themselves, while the hard-core worship at the temple of McCabe’s, have Sunday socials at the Echo and try to get a quorum once a year at Safari Sam’s for the dog-and-pony show.

There must have been at least 20,000 people in Golden Gate park last Saturday for a free show, hardly advertised, with a line-up that would rival the Folk Festivals of any major western Canadian city, all splayed across five major stages and many minor ones. LA’s ‘Indie’ fanaticism serves it poorly in this regard, throwing out the old folks with the bath water, while hanging on every word coming out of an infant’s precious precocious mouth. Welcome to Thailand. As if to add insult to LA’s injury, last Thursday Ry Cooder, LA’s own native son and patriarch to both world music and alt-country, played a benefit show at Great American Music Hall, something he swore he’d never do again in LA, for love or money. Ouch!

Of course with five stages going simultaneously, regardless of how staggered the set times or the carefree gaits, you just can’t see everything. If you try you’ll just end up seeing nothing, lost in the crowd and getting tripped in the pee-pee lines. The list of the acts I saw and heard last Saturday afternoon pale in comparison to the list of who I missed, to wit: Peter Rowan, Richard Thompson, Desert Rose Band (Chris Hillman), Del McCoury, and Global Drum Project were my hits; Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Laurie Lewis, Emmy Lou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Guy Clark, Nick Lowe, Dave Alvin, Robert Earl Keen, Jerry jeff Walker, Steve Earle and Asleep at the Wheel my misses, just to name a few. And that doesn’t even count Friday and Sunday, with such country stalwarts as Robert Plant and Elvis Costello to liven up the vibes. Like the name says, it’s ‘hardly strictly’. My God! What a summit meeting! Some Republican nut with a bottle of anthrax and an ax to grind could have wiped out Palin’s most down-home opposition right then and there. That’s truly scary!

Of course this is a world music blog and most of that wasn’t really world music, but I guess the definitions get looser as the desire becomes greater. Hunger speaks all languages. But Global Drum Project, featuring Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain, IS world music at its best and I’d never seen them before, so that was great. Zakir Hussain is the great Indian tabla master of course, who already did a solo show at Grand Performances in LA a few weeks ago, so if there’s anything better than seeing him alone, it’s seeing him with others of like mind and talent. If nothing else they prove definitively that percussion is something to be enjoyed for its own sake up front and center, not something to be relegated to the back line, largely forgotten until it’s not there, unusable if ‘rusty’. Think percussion’s easy, just banging a drum? Try it some time. They’ll be in LA next week. Check them out. Myself I’m going home to Argentina; I hear it’s nice there. I’ll be back.

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